Archive

Archive for the ‘Lessons in Serving’ Category

Waiting… and waiting

I am in a time of waiting. I suppose that is appropriate given that it is also Advent, a season in the church life in which we wait and prepare for the Christ child. But I have been waiting longer than advent.

At first, the waiting was a welcomed time in my life. 2016 has been an intense year for me with many challenges, many hard learnings and, thankfully, some beauty to keep me going. I wrote a major paper this summer culminating practical learning, Biblical studies and research. I am proud of that paper and proud of the mark and comments from my professor. At the end of the summer, I felt that I needed to take some time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. I also felt that I needed a break from school and that I would like to find work to stabilize and improve finances.

For a couple of months, I enjoyed reading, hanging out with my cat and rabbits, connecting with people, swimming most days. And I’ve been applying to everything I am qualified for, open to where God might lead me.

I was offered a job. I was a bit surprised at this given the questions that they asked and what would match the particular setting and what my answers and beliefs are. After prayer and talking with my mentors, I felt that I needed to turn it down. I felt like God was saying to me, “Wait – I have something perfect for you.”

I’ve never had the privilege of being able to turn down a job before and I have to say I was not at rest after I turned it down, even though in my heart I knew that it was the right thing to do. And then the confirmations came that I had done the right thing. The biggest confirmation was attending another church that I applied to and walking through the area realizing that the setting was far more along the lines of what makes my heart excited. I think I was enticed by the monthly paycheque and a common theme these days in my life is that I need to rely on God alone.

I believed that the church that I visited was where God wanted me to be. They accepted applications until the end of November and I haven’t heard from them. Either they have been exploring other candidates or they are caught up in advent and Christmas stuff – both are good possibilities. I am still hopeful.

But this season of waiting… is now hard. I’ve been making the most of this time. But I long for more. I long to be contributing in some way. I want to serve in ministry again. I am so darn ready for that “something else” that I felt God promising me. I don’t want to wait anymore!

The meditation for the 17th day of the month in the second celtic daily prayer book spoke to me today:

What God may hereafter require of you,
you must not give yourself the least trouble about.

Everything He gives you to do,
you must do as well as ever you can.

That is the best possible preparation
for what He may want you to do next.

If people would but do what they have to do,
they would always find themselves ready for what came next.

George MacDonald

God has directed me during this time of waiting. It’s not exactly what I would have chosen for these past four months.

But – I am involved in ministry. I have been devoting time to pray. Not because I’m some holy person or anything. But out of recognition that I cannot do anything to change lives, situations or fix things. And that ultimately it is God at work. I’m inspired by the Alpha program where people commit to pray in a separate room throughout the whole teaching and discussion time. There are ministries working with people who do not know God and I know that the evil one has his ways of trying to prevent this from happening. My ministry right now is to pray.

And I’ve been studying the book of Isaiah. Again, not because I want to be super holy or anything. But this book has intimidated me with its 66 chapters and different genres and some of it’s really harsh passages. Any time I’ve had the opportunity to write on Isaiah – I choose anything not Isaiah. But it’s such a foundational book that needs too be studied if I am going to shepherd and pastor any community.

George MacDonald’s words encourage me that I am not only in a season of waiting, but in a season of preparation for what is to come. And while I wish to be a part of something more, I do believe these tasks are God-directed and I must do them well. They will prepare me for what comes next. But also must be continued as the fuel for whatever comes next and now is the time to establish patterns and commitment while I am waiting.

Waiting is hard.

But waiting need not be passive. It is a time of preparation.

And so I wait.

 

Songs of Ascent: Arrival

INTRODUCTION

I remember the first trip that I had planned for myself. I was traveling to Victoria, BC to visit some good friends. There was a lot of preparation for this trip – I was in the midst of intense planning that didn’t seem like it could afford two weeks off. There was paper work to get in place and meetings to happen. A couple of days before I left, a meeting happened that jeopardized the whole project. My journey to Victoria started in a state of confusion, being overwhelmed and wondering if God was truly with me. I imagine that is how some of the Israelites felt as they journeyed from Meshech and the desert to Jerusalem. A journey that started with the Israelites asking hard questions, proclaiming “woe is me” and wondering where God was in all of this as Jerusalem stood far away.

After a five hour flight, the plane descended into one of the most magnificent sunsets I have ever seen. The sun glistened on the waters and the colours of pink, orange and purple were brilliant – so brilliant that I can still picture that moment in my mind. Once landed, I was greeted by my friends who ran over to me. I had arrived – and it was wonderful. I remember being so filled with happiness that I was practically jumping for joy. I had made it in my journey to Victoria and it was good.

Today’s Psalms of Ascent are ones that celebrate having reached Jerusalem and how good that was. I invite you to turn with me to your pew Bibles.

PSALM 132

We begin today by looking at Psalm 132. This psalm stands out in the Songs of Ascents. It’s a longer psalm than the others and doesn’t seem to be a song in the same way. It seems to be a reenactment of a story that the Israelites had known well (2 Samuel 6-7). David had been trying to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The Ark was where God was believed to dwell. When the ark was present in a person’s home, that family was blessed. When the ark was present in battle, that nation would be strong. It was considered holy – so holy that irreverent acts led to death. David struggled to bring this ark to Jerusalem, which is what the psalmist is referring to when he asks God to remember how David was deeply oppressed and brought low by this task.

David also wanted to build a house for the Lord – a Temple. Let’s pause for a moment. The psalmist tells us that David swore to the Lord, that he vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob:

“I will not enter my house

or go to my bed,

I will allow no sleep to my eyes

or slumber to my eyelids,

till I find a place for the Lord,

a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (NIV)

David had decided that God needed a house. And David had decided he would not rest until God had a house.

The plan seems well-intentioned. Let us go into His dwelling place; Let us worship at His footstool (NRSV). It would be a place of worship. Where the priests would be clothed with righteousness and the godly ones sing for joy.

The story in 2 Samuel (7:5-7) tells us what God thought of this plan. God gave a vision to Nathan the prophet:

Go and say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent… Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built Me a house of Cedar? (NRSV)

David’s plan is backwards. God had always directed where the Ark of the Covenant would go by the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day (Wilcock, pg. 241). God does not need David to build a house for Him. Instead, God has chosen Jerusalem to be his resting place. God has chosen to bless the people of Israel by making Jerusalem his home.

And it is good. God will abundantly bless Jerusalem with provision, satisfy the needy with bread. God will clothe the priests with salvation and the godly ones will sing aloud for joy.

I wonder… are there times in our own lives when we insist on doing things our way and God has other plans? Perhaps God wants to bless us with his presence and more than what we imagined and we need to surrender our own desires and plans to God.

Psalm 132 also points forward. During God’s response to David, the Lord makes three references to the future leadership on the throne of David. First, he says Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne. Second, that his sons shall sit upon your throne forever. And that in Jerusalem, the Lord will cause the horn of David to spring forth. This latter reference also means to blossom, perhaps playing on the words to spring forth. It is a reference for giving birth. There is also a reference to preparation for God’s anointed one – which is sometimes translated as Messiah.

Here we see a reference to the coming of Jesus. God will bless the line of David and through David will bring the anointed one, the Messiah. Through this Messiah, the enemies will be clothed with shame but the Messiah’s crown will shine. This coming of the Messiah will be good. The Lord will make his dwelling place among the people for ever and ever. The hungry will be fed, the searching will be blessed. There will be singing and dancing in joy among the godly ones.

PSALM 133

Arriving in Jerusalem, with God abiding there and promising to send continual blessings through the anointed one is a glorious thing. What a different place the Israelites are in from the beginning of their journey! Here we move into our next psalm. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! The Israelites prior to this journey would likely have been scattered. Jerusalem would be a point when all the Israelites would gather together in community.

Imagine for a moment how good it feels when someone returns to the church for a visit after moving away. It is a time of rejoicing and celebrating in one another’s lives. It’s a time to catch up and see what God has done. Now imagine the joy that would be experienced if all Christians came and gathered together to share what God has done in their lives and to celebrate each other. How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity!

The psalmist likens this joy to two different images. The fragrant oil upon Aaron’s head is spilling over his head and down past the edge of his robes. This image of Aaron’s beard may be strange for us. For the Israelites, they would have connected themselves with the patriarchs, with family lines. The image of precious oil coming down Aaron’s beard was a poetic way of saying that the line of Aaron and all who are connected with him are blessed.

The second image is the mountain of Hermon which experienced significant air moisture and dew. The unity of the Israelites gathering was like the dew of Hermon overflowing and coming down upon the mountains of Zion. The dew is so great that it cannot be contained.

Here as the Israelites journey up to Jerusalem, the blessings of God are coming down. The psalmist mentions this coming down of blessings three times, giving us a sense that this community is overflowing with blessings and goodness (Wilcock, pg. 244).

PSALM 134

And now the Israelites have gathered in blessed community and much like we are gathered here today, they gathered to worship the God of all blessings. So I invite you to say psalm 134 with me.

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord

who minister by night in the house of the Lord.

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary

and praise the Lord.

May the Lord bless you from Zion,

he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

The journey ends with a call to worship – we are to bless the Lord. Day and night, we are to thank him, to praise him, to worship him.

And the Lord who made heaven and earth blesses us. The Lord that brought us safely to this day and to this place of worship, blesses us. The Lord who brings us into community, blesses us.

APPLICATION

How do we bless the Lord? One author writes that “to bless God means to recognize his great richness, strength, and gracious bounty and to express our gratitude and delight in seeing and experiencing it” (Piper). At the end of morning prayer, the leader says “Let us bless the Lord” and the rest of us respond “Thanks be to God”. In our liturgy, we recognize that all that we have experienced in worship has been given to us through God’s grace.

How do we bless the Lord in our everyday lives? As we attend to our jobs that demand much of our time? As we care for our family members day and night? Or perhaps some of us here today are called to bless God in the midst of want and need – whether that be needing a job or wanting a family or something else? How do we cultivate gratitude in our daily lives?

How do we become a community in which all people are welcomed into our midst and experience the precious oil and the dew of Hermon over flowing? Is our community one in which the stranger, the outsider can find a home? People who are not like us? Who look different? Act different? Believe different? The journey of ascents was likely for Israelites – but the horn of David, the one whose crown will glisten – came for all people. Christ came so that all may experience the blessings of God. After all, this is God’s home and God will decide who will dwell in his holy house.

CONCLUSION

Today, as we end our time with the psalms of ascents, let us look back over the past few weeks and the journey that God has taken each of us individually and as a church collectively. Let us celebrate and bless the Lord for all he has done and for bringing us to this day, to this point in our journey. Let us give thanks for His presence that he blesses us with. Let us give thanks for one another and the beautiful community we have here. And let us worship the Lord in his house today and every day. Amen.

He went away grieving: A reflection on Mark 10:17-22

He was shocked and went away grieving for he had many possessions. The Gospel of Matthew tells us this man was rich and the Gospel of Luke tells us he was a young ruler and so this man has traditionally been referred to as the rich young ruler.

It was custom in those days to seek a teacher who is both educated in the scriptures and draws in a crowd by their teaching to ask them what they might do to inherit eternal life. This wasn’t so much a reference to the future as to the here and now. A typical teacher would answer by giving their take on the law and in particular the commandments and would invite the inquirer to follow their sect (NT Wright).

This young man didn’t quietly seek Jesus. Instead he ran to him and knelt in front of him. Here is a man who understands that this Jesus is someone special. The rich young ruler was there to ask Jesus what he thought of the law and what kind of movement he was leading.

I can imagine Jesus playing with the rich young ruler to see how much he really understands when he calls Jesus “good”. Jesus replies by asking, “Why do you call me good? Only one is good and that is God.” This is more than about words. It is about Jesus’ divinity. By claiming that Jesus is good, did the rich young ruler realize he was claiming that Jesus was God?

Jesus then answers his question – you know the commandments:

You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother

The rich young ruler says that he has been keeping these commandments since he was young.

Jesus loved him. There is something admirable about someone who is trying to keep the 10 commandments and is seeking the truth. Then Jesus gazes deeply into the young man’s eyes with a piercing love that sees right into the soul. “You lack one thing”

Notice which of the 10 commandments Jesus did not mention:

  • Putting God first
  • No idols before God
  • Not taking God’s name in vain
  • The sabbath
  • and covetousness

Once again, Jesus gets at the heart of the matter. The rich young ruler was so attached to his wealth that he couldn’t sell everything to put God first and follow Jesus.

So the rich young ruler went away deeply sad.

He relied on his own wealth too much to rely on God.

Afterwards, Jesus says to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” and that it will be “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”

The problem here is not the wealth itself. I know many faithful and wealthy people who serve God and who use their wealth to generously fund God’s mission around the world. The problem is not what you have in your bank account.

The problem is the attachment to money. The problem may not even be related to money. The problem is relying on something other than God.

Probably searching their own hearts, the disciples ask Who can be saved then? If a rich young ruler who is following most of the commandments and seeking the Good teacher cannot be saved because of the wealth is there any hope for me?

Jesus replies: With people it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.”

So what about us? For some of us, this is our second worship service we are attending today. We try to live a good life, though we admittedly do not live a perfect life. We seek God in prayer and His word. If you and I sat down with Jesus today and asked what we must do to inherit eternal life, what would he say as he lovingly peers into our souls? What would he say to you that you need to hear so that you could trust him more?

Perhaps because I have been a perpetual student, I’ve been protected from the attachment to wealth. But I am not protected from doing things on my own strength.

Often in ministry, I am tempted to think and act as if it all depends on me and that I must care for the person out of my strength instead of looking to the God who cares for the person more than I ever could. I rely on myself, my gifts, my strengths, my skills and sometimes forget all together that really it is only God who can transform, heal and change a person. As I imagine Jesus lovingly peering into my soul as I reflect on this passage, I imagine him saying to trust him, to lean on him, to forget myself.

I might walk away deeply grieved and saddened for this often seems impossible for me.

But I know this is not the end of the story. For God is in the business of making the impossible possible. All we need to do is trust and to follow Jesus. We need to take that next step. For the rich young ruler, it was to sell his belongings. For me, it might be to remember that God is the only one who saves.

The sad thing is that the rich young ruler walked away. He just couldn’t do it. He didn’t ask for help. He just walked away in grief.

May we let Christ peer lovingly into our souls and speak to what we lack. May we also turn towards Christ in response instead of walking away. May we see that God takes what is impossible for us and makes it possible in him. Amen.

Trusting God

It was one November night. I had a long day at school. I was tired. And I got a Facebook message: “Can you help us?”

I put my school work down, grabbed my phone and a book, and hopped onto the streetcar to meet with a family in crisis. And I entered a story that truly broke my heart. And as I have watched it unfold, I have shed many tears and had sleepless nights thinking about the people involved and wondering where the heck God was in all of this mess.

As my heart continued to break and I became more entrenched in the story, people who love me kept telling me that I need to entrust this family to God.

What?

Sorry, but I know all to well what that can look like. There is a reflection in the Celtic Daily Prayer (Book 2) that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I feel like a whole community gets it.

Once you’ve heard a child cry out to heaven for help,
and go unanswered, nothing’s ever the same again.
Nothing. Even God changes.

But there is a healing hand at work
that cannot be deflected from its purpose.
I just can’t make sense of it, other than to cry.
Those tears are part of what it is to be a monk.

Out there, in the world, it can be very cold.
It seems to be about luck, good and bad,
and the distribution is absurd.

We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair,
faith and doubt, life and death, all the opposites.

William Brodrick

It’s true – once you’ve heard a child cry out to heaven for help and that cry go unanswered, nothing’s the same.

And yet I am to entrust the people I am called to serve to God?

In the past week, I’ve felt God saying to me that I need to learn to trust him, really trust him, with the people who I care about – trusting that he loves them more than I ever could. Knowing that he sees the big picture and I only see a glimpse. That he knows what is infinitely good for them – and for me – which is something that I’ll never be able to see with the limits of my finite mind. And that I need to learn this if I want any hope of serving in ministry without burning out.

And so, with fear and trembling, I’m doing things a bit differently this semester. I’m taking a full slate of courses. There are details to figure out. Like how I’m going to pay for them! But God has always provided so I’m not that worried. But there are five awesome courses on scripture, prayer, preaching, integration and evangelism.

And I’m pulling back a little bit from full time ministry. I’ll still be heavily involved. I just won’t be as obsessively involved as I was last term. I won’t have the time to constantly check up on people (when it was needed or not). I will have to learn to entrust them to God.

Make my heart to grow

There is a prayer in the Northumbria Community that I really love called Saranam (Refuge). Whenever it comes up in the monthly cycle of prayers and meditations, I pull it out and put it on my Facebook.

Make my heart to grow
as great as Thine,
so through my hurt
Your love may shine,
my love be Yours,
Your love be mine,
saranam, saranam, saranam.

Today is different.

Today I realize God has been answering my prayer.

Today I realize I’ve prayed a dangerous prayer in a sense.

Over the past few months, I have been continually made aware of brokenness in our world. Families struggling to make ends meet. People struggling to get to today’s end.

Stories that I cannot write on here. Stories that are not mine to tell.

Stories that break my heart. I mean – really break my heart. Stories that make my heart hurt so much I cannot help but let the tears pour out.

Stories that take me to the end of my knowledge and experience and then push me beyond.

Stories that I wish sometimes I could wake up and find that the world is a happy place after all.

I prayed for this. Not in these words. But I prayed that God would enlarge my heart to make it as big as his. Through this prayer, I’ve asked God to show me – really show me – what he sees in the world, in the lives of those around me. I’ve asked for a heart to hold what He holds.

And that is why it is a dangerous prayer. For I have wept more tears in the past few months than I can ever remember. This glimpse I have into my portion of the world is heart breaking.

And maybe the only thing that is comforting as my heart keeps breaking is that found in the God who is revealing these things to me – his heart breaks. He understands. And he is big enough to hold my heart as it breaks while he shows me what I need to see for my heart to grow as big as his.

Everything – A reflection on Matthew 13:44-46

A short reflection that I preached for a Taize service on Sunday.

Introduction

Anh Cao knows something about doing everything he can to attain a degree from the University of Toronto. He is a Vietnamese student who had straight A-plus marks and received numerous prizes upon graduation. The surprising thing about this gifted scholar is that he lived in a homeless shelter in order to pursue his degree. His studies were so important to him that he gave up everything for one thing.

Tonight’s parables are short descriptions of the kingdom of heaven that shift from the giver of salvation to our response. In each parable, the seekers sell all that they have in response to the treasure they have found.

God gives the treasure

In both parables, the treasure is already hidden. The treasure is already in the field and the pearl is already out there. The person who finds the treasure is not responsible for its creation. In the same way, the treasure of salvation has already been given to us. Christ has given his life for us so that we can have eternal life but also experience joy and peace in this world.

Response in the Parables

In the first parable, the person happens to find the hidden treasure and realizes that he has been looking for it all along. He then sells all that he had to buy the field. In the second parable, the person is searching for the finest pearls and finds what he is looking for. When he finds it, he realizes it is worth selling everything he has in order to buy it.

For Anh, he sought a university degree with all that he had. He gave up the comforts of home when it was the choice between living in a shelter or continuing his studies.

But for Christians, we have a treasure far greater than any university degree could give us. We have been given the promise of salvation and the presence of the Holy Spirit. We have found a treasure that gives us peace and joy that transcends all understanding and circumstances.

The merchant likely had other pearls that he had collected – each of them probably worth something and beautiful in their own right. Like the merchant, we might need to discern between what is good – and what is better.

Our response

I wonder what it would look like to give up everything for the kingdom of God – if you and I gave up everything we had to love God and love our neighbours. I wonder what things we would need to let go? How would our days be ordered differently?

Perhaps we are not ready to give up everything? Maybe our own comfort stands in the way. Maybe we are afraid. Maybe we would rather dip our toes into the water before jumping in with both feet. But I wonder how each of us can take a step closer to giving all we are to God.

Conclusion

I’d like to close with the words of one writer:

“Each of these tales requires everything. And each requires just one thing. The price for the treasures of God is everything we have.” (Nancy Rockwell)

The Work that is to Be

Supermoon 2013

Supermoon 2013

Some of my readers know that there has been a significant change in my life. On Sunday, I was commissioned and prayed for as I began a 3 month full time placement  – 2 credit internship at a church. The location hasn’t changed – I’m still worshiping at the same church and running a youth drop-in at another church building that is now part of the parish. I’m still doing many of the same tasks, thinking about the same things and filling my time as I usually do. There are extra things I need to do (like preaching and other churchy things). I’m actually working more or less the same hours too.

Yet this is a significant change for several reasons. First, I am moving forward and closer to what God has called me to be and do. In a couple of months, I will be two credits closer to a Masters of Divinity. Second, I am accountable to my supervisor, the church leadership, the congregation and my school in a different way. This doesn’t (hopefully!) impact how I conduct myself in terms of morality. But I am not used to having so many eyes – and scheduled conversations and evaluations – as I go about doing my work. I think this is ultimately healthier – but it’s different. Third (can you tell I’ve been writing academic papers lately???), I’m officially full time.

This last one has been on my mind a lot. I’m officially full time. Before May, I was unofficially full time by choice. But if I wanted to take a day or two or three off, I could and no one would care – or likely even notice. It meant that if I needed to attend to health, to rest longer, to hang out with the family upstairs I could. Now it’s a little different. Of course there are more than 40 hours in the week. But some of those hours are taken up with sleeping, housework and errands, commuting, teaching piano and other things. It’s not quite the same!

Today has been a full day. Admin work, meetings, piano student, another meeting. It was a day when I “switched hats” several times. I worked hard and diligently – with a small to do list left for the end of the day.

But I am tired. It is night time and I must sleep. That to do list must wait until tomorrow. The little voice that lives in my head tried to persuade me otherwise. And then I read compline from the Northumbria Community.

Father, bless the work that is done,
and the work that is to be.

The work is not done. But the day is done.

Now it is time for sleep – entrusting all that has – and has not been done in God’s hands.