Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Confessions From A Passive Priest

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

In the Bible, the Old Testament priests were  meant to be mediators between God and his people.  A mediator is someone who bridges the gap between two people.

In the New Testament, Peter writes that as God’s people we are all being formed into a “royal priesthood.”  Many Protestants find that title a little odd, or even suspicious.  After all, Jesus is our high priest (Heb. 3:1; 4:14; 6:20), so through him we no longer need someone to be a bridge between us and God, right?

Right.  But as Christians, we are called to be a royal priesthood in the sense that we are to bring God’s love, grace and beauty to the world, and bring the world’s pain, evil, and suffering to God.  As Jesus’ royal priests, Christians should be people who are known for bringing the healing, forgiving, gracious love of God to the world, while bringing the chaos of the world to God.

I spoke about this recently at church (the sermon “Saving Grace” at www.grindstonechurch.com), and I’ve been reflecting on how passive I’ve been for much of my Christian life as a “priest.”  I see how I’ve been willing to be that bridge between the shalom of God and the world’s chaos, but I don’t tend to actively look for opportunities to mediate God’s grace and love to the world.  In other words, I’ve been a very passive priest.

It’s a lot more comfortable and convenient to be a passive priest.  You get to serve on your own terms and in your preferred environment–your preferred “temple.”  After a while you’ve come to identify the places in your life where it “works” for you to give and love, and subtly make others rearrange their needs accordingly.  You become a priest, but only in the most formal sense of the word.

Being a part of Jesus’ royal priesthood, however, involves a radically different vision for your life.  That’s because Jesus’ preferred environment–his preferred “temple”–isn’t the church or specific religious place where the “real” ministry happens; it’s the whole world. So Jesus tells his priests to go into all of the world (Matthew 28:19) and invite others into this priesthood.

When I think about that vision, I feel ashamed at how far I live from that calling and mission.  I’m embarrassed to admit how quickly I sidestep opportunities that would propel me into places that would demand I dig deep with God and others.  I’m embarrassed to admit how quickly I retreat into “church work,” and label my cowardice “ministry.”

How do I move beyond this heart and mind-set?  How do I change?  I don’t know.  I really don’t.

I’ll just keep looking at Jesus.  I’m keep studying him, reading about him, and meditating on his life and message.  I’ll keep the author and perfector of my faith ever before me.  Because as scary as it is, the more I fix my eyes on Jesus, the more I sense God forming me into a royal priest who strikes out everyday to bring the shalom of God into the world, and bring the brokenness of the world back to God.

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On The Threshold Of A New Land: Three Lessons From Deuteronomy

I read through Deuteronomy several times recently for a message that closed out a teaching series our church was doing on the Pentateuch.  Deuteronomy is a fascinating book that is incredibly powerful when it’s understood in it’s narrative context.

Here’s the story Deuteronomy finds itself in.  The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (called the Israelites) are enslaved and oppressed in Egypt.  God sends a deliverer (Moses) through which he performs signs and wonders that both challenge the authority of Egypt’s gods (including Pharaoh–believed to be a god), and force Pharaoh’s hand in letting the Israelites go that they may be free to worship the LORD (Yahweh) in the wilderness.

Israel takes part in an exodus (“exiting”) from Egypt and are led by God into the wilderness (desert), where God enters into a covenant relationship with them through the giving of the law (Ten commandments and the Mosaic law of Leviticus).  The people are humbled, excited, but also terrified that the true and living God would actually bind himself to them in a covenant!  Who are they to deserve such a gift?!?!

God then leads them through a time of testing in the desert, to prepare them to be his people, for his glory and the world’s good.  They rebel.  They complain.  They reject God’s leadership in several ways, so God condemns those 20 years of age and up to death in the wilderness for their stubbornness and lack of trust.  When that generation has died off (40 years), God brings then succeeding generation of Israelites to the plains of Moab, which were located south-east to modern day Israel.  There, Moses gives three “sermons” to the people.  Deuteronomy is basically the record of those sermons.

As I studied Deuteronomy, three major themes stuck out to me.  On the threshold of moving into a new land and taking an enormous step in their identity as God’s people, God through Moses called them to three major commitments:

1.  Remember the LORD; Remember your story. 16 times God tells his people to remember who he is, who they are, where they’ve come from, why they are here.  11 times God says “don’t forget.”  Don’t forget your oppression.  Don’t forget Egypt.  Don’t forget my deliverance.  Don’t forget that you are here because of me.  In what may be the emotional climax of Deuteronomy, God reminds the Israelites why he has redeemed them from Egypt:

“7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

2.  Smash your idols. God warns the people again and again that there will be seductive forces once they enter into Canaan.  They aren’t to “play with fire,” that is, toy with the anti-human, anti-God practices of the pagans they find in the land.  They are to smash the idols and smash any intention to build their own.  The LORD is there God; there is no other.

“1 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess-as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. 4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way” (Deuteronomy 12:1-4).

3. Embed the text into your life.  Moses recaps much of the covenant law given to Israel at Sinai, challenging them to integrate God’s wisdom and revelation into every aspect of their life as a community.  The Text is to be central for them as a people.  One of my favourite verses from Deuteronomy sums this point up nicely:

“45 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. 47 They are not just idle words for you-they are your life(Deuteronomy 32:45-47, emphasis mine).

As I reflected on those three themes, I came to see how important they are to those entering into a “new land.”  Whether we’re talking about a dating relationship, marriage, university/college, a new career, parenthood, etc., we’re often a little too eager to jump right into the next phase of what God has in store for us.  Studying Deuteronomy really helped me see the importance of not just rushing into the new, beautiful, exciting thing God is opening up to me.  Instead, I need to get better at pausing on our own Moab in order to remember the Lord; remember my story.  Smash my idols.  Embed the text into my life.

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Speaking at Today’s Teens Conference

Hi everyone,

I’ve been invited to lead a workshop at the 2011 Today’s Teens Conference being held February 26th at The Meeting House’s Oakville site.

Are you planning on attending?  I’ve never been, but a few people I know have gone in the past and said it was an excellent one day event.

I’m one of the morning break-out sessions (11:00am), and I’ve been asked to speak on the topic of helping students share their faith. That isn’t a topic that I feel lies within my expertise.  That being said, as the conference gets closer I’m getting excited about sharing some insights that I think will be very helpful to both students and youth workers.  Evangelism isn’t my strong suit (I’ll talk a bit about why during my session), but over the last year I’ve noticed my heart is pulled more and more towards making the gospel accessible to those who are genuinely “unchurched.”

My session is (appropriately) titled “Helping Students Share Their Faith.”  The first half of my talk will engage the question, “What are we sharing?  What is the gospel?”  The second half of my talk will be sharing practical ways we can connect this gospel (“good news”) message to hearers who have no frame of reference when it comes to Jesus/God/the Bible.

Hope to see some of you there!

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Beginning To Live For The First Time

A Christmas morning reflection via Richard Rohr that perfectly captures the power and glory of Christmas:

On this Christmas Day, let me begin with a quote from the twentieth-century writer G. K. Chesterton:  “When a person has found something which he prefers to life itself, he for the first time has begun to live.”

Jesus in his proclamation of the kingdom told us what we could prefer to life itself.  The Bible ends by telling us we are called to be a people who could say, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20), who could welcome something more than business as usual and live in God’s Big Picture.  We all have to ask for the grace to prefer something to our small life because we have been offered the Shared Life, the One Life, the Eternal Life, God’s Life that became visible for us in this world as Jesus.

What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself.  Well here is the wonderful surprise:  God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves.  The irony is that we actually and finally find ourselves, but now in a whole new and much larger field of meaning.

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Farewell to Facebook?

When I studied for a year at the Institute for Christian Studies, one of my assigned readings was The Fall of Interpretation by James K.A. Smith.  I remember really enjoying Smith’s perspective as well as his writing style, and I ‘ve followed his rise to his current positions of Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College and Executive Director, Society of Christian Philosophers.  His latest book Desiring the Kingdom is on my to-read list and was recently awarded The Word Guild Award in Leadership/Theoretical, as well the Christianity Today 2010 Book Award in Theology/Ethics.

I happened upon a recent blog of his entitled “Farewell to Facebook,” where Smith provides a brief overview of why he has decided to delete his Facebook account after only a few months.  He writes:

There are multiple factors in this decision. For instance, I finally joined Facebook to stay connected with my son who left for college. But now everything I know about him through Facebook I wish I didn’t! I also find that Facebook has taken away from what blogging I did–and I think blogging is a much better exercise for a writer than dashing off status updates.

Later he candidly admits:

Facebook plays into all of my vices: my pride and arrogance, my self-centeredness, my penchant for vainglory. Most of all, Facebook feeds and fuels my addictive personality, especially when it comes to communication.

Email, as you can imagine, took this to ridiculous new levels, precisely because email can arrive 24 hours a day. You can guess what this does to someone who’s already addictively fixated on snail mail that arrives just once a day. Facebook, of course, just added another layer of fixation on such “connection,” while also creating a quick and easy outlet for expression that is always a veiled cry for attention.

And closes his post with the following:

What’s at issue here is precisely the fact that Facebook is an environment of practice which inculcates in us certain habits which then shape our orientation to the world–indeed, they make our worlds. So, in the spirit of Desiring the Kingdom, I started to take a “practices audit” of my Facebook patterns. The results weren’t pretty.

While I certainly can appreciate several of Smith’s concerns (namely the issues of pride and addictive patterns being amplified through Facebook), I tend to see moves like his to be overreactions.  Sure, deleting Facebook is probably a valid exercise for some people, but there’s are many reasons why social networks are so popular, and those reasons extend beyond the immediacy of communication or the ability to share “veiled cries for attention” (a comment of Smith’s that I felt was a bit telling). 

Facebook, like any social network, comes with all sorts of challenges and opportunities.  The potential for abuse and misuse is enormous, but in what area of life is this not the case?  I don’t think Facebook challenges us with anything new.  At their heart social networks disclose our longing to “not be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and often reveal creative ways of connecting that are real and legitimate, although different from face-to-face communication.

I’m a deeply vain person myself, so I appreciated Smith’s candor at this point.  I’d love it if others liked, respected, and admired me.  Facebook does provide a vehicle through which I can self-promote and self-proclaim to help achieve those ends.  But over time–and because I’ve stuck with it–I’ve learned to confront those demons that Facebook initially spurned in me.  Was Facebook the problem?  Hardly.  Facebook simply amplified what was already inside:  pride and vanity.  I imagine that had I, out of righteous intentions, deleted my Facebook account when I became aware of it’s pull on these areas, my heart would have found a way to celebrate the fact that I was “above” people who used Facebook to prop up their self-esteem, pride, and ego.  I would have found a way to see my deletion of Facebook as evidence of being spiritually elite.

And that’s why I stick with it.  Not because the temptations aren’t there, but because we need Christians who are willing to think deeply and Christianly about social networks while participating in them.  The Facebook’s of the world aren’t going away, and I’m not a fan of the “this could be troublesome, so let’s jump ship” mode of Christian “engagement” with culture.

Kudos to James K.A. Smith if he honestly believes his life and discipleship practice is enhanced by walking away from Facebook.  Personally, I wish he would have decided differently, because his voice is a desperately needed one that could be deep vision and wisdom to those of us desiring the kingdom in this sphere of life.

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Thrones and High Chairs

I’ve been listening through Richard Rohr’s CD set “Fire from Heaven” over the last few weeks.  It’s a recording from a men’s retreat that focused on helping men (re)claim their identity in Christ.  It’s definitely geared towards those middle-aged and beyond, but I’ve found the talks very helpful on a number of levels.

A few days ago, I had the CD playing in my car, and in the midst of talking about men, authority, and leadership, Rohr just kind of threw out a metaphor and moved on.  I guess when you have tomes of wisdom, you can’t stop to unpack each insight, but his “throwaway” really struck me.

Rohr was discussing men and the two ways they veer towards holding leadership, authority, and power in their lives.  He said all men at some deep, unconscious level, want to be kings.  By kings, Rohr was referring to the archetypal king who embodies wisdom, justice, power, authority and grace.  Rohr mentioned that men will either occupy high chairs or thrones, depending on which path of spiritual growth they take (or refuse to take).

He said if men don’t mature beyond a “what’s in it for me?” worldview and grow up in God–really grow up–they’ll  likely become “high-chair tyrants” when they find themselves in positions of leadership.  The feet of a child in a high chair never touch the ground.  A high chair tyrant is childish and isn’t connected to reality–he isn’t grounded.  He usually lives out of arrogance and ignorance (I think this is a good summation of a lot of leadership in our world today).  One of the problems with high-chair tyrants is that they are unaware of how disconnected and ungrounded they are.  When someone is brave enough to confront them, any challenge is dismissed because it’s coming from one of the “common folk.”

However, Rohr notes that one of the main differences between a high chair and a throne is that, when sitting on a throne, one’s feet touch the ground.  A king is literally grounded, in touch with the earth, the community–it touch with what is real.   His authority, power and leadership are rooted in his experience with the earth (i.e., reality), and not his own ideas or ego-driven assumptions.

My experience tells me that the high chair will always be tempting, because it offers a shortcut to attention and authority without much work.  Just get a title or a position and start bossing people around–after all, you’re in control now!  You can even throw tantrums and often get what you want because of fear.

But the path towards kingship, the path that will shape us into leaders who are grounded in truth and live to serve while holding our kingdoms together, that path demands deep soul work.  It means confronting demons and a relentless commitment to live in reality, not in the fantasy of what we’d prefer.  Easier said than done, especially as one comes into successive levels of power and authority.

May we seek the narrow way; the way of the King.  Through his leadership, may we be refined into men who sit on thrones and not high chairs.

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Submitting My Manuscript

After self-publishing Mere Disciple this past summer, I started putting together an official manuscript submission for Christian publishers in order to see if someone would be interested in picking it up.  I discovered that all of the significant Christian publishers routinely comb through the manuscripts found at Christianmanuscriptsubmissions.com, so that’s where I started to put together my proposal.

Early into the process I decided to get some professional advice through an “author management company,” and  was eventually connected to Jenni Burke from D.C. Jacobson and Associates.  Part of her speciality is helping to craft quality proposals that “stick out” to potential publishers.

For the last few months we’ve gone back and forth editing and tweaking the Mere Disciple manuscript, and today all the necessary changes were formalized and the process was completed.  For the next six months literary agents from the major Christian publishing houses will be able to view my proposal and decide whether or not they’d like to follow up with me.

Working with Jenni was a great experience.  She was certainly tough on me at points, but she definitely took what would have been a ho-hum submission and made it something much more coherent and attractive to potential publishers.  As an added bonus, my manuscript was awarded the special silver “Critiqued & Edited” badge.  With thousands of manuscripts live on the site at any one time, these badges help publishers identify projects that have been professionally evaluated and deemed worthy of a publisher’s investment.

I’ve always seen Mere Disciple as a personal project and gift to the emerging leaders at Grindstone.  However, it’s been extremely rewarding to hear that its influence has extended beyond Grindstone to many people (both young and old) who’ve shared with me the impact it’s had on their lives.  Although it’s rough around the edges in parts, I still see an enormous potential for Mere Disciple to be a foundational resource in the lives of emerging leaders.  I hope a publisher out there agrees with me and is willing to help me nurture the book’s full potential.

I’ll keep everyone updated on any rumblings that occur over the next six months.

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We Are All Immigrants

The following reflection is an important one during this (U.S.) Thanksgiving holiday, especially in light of the debates that are occuring in both the United States and Canada related to immigration laws and reforms to the immigration system:

“Yahweh and the prophets repeatedly warned the Jews never to forget their own former status as foreigners in Egypt.  It is into this history that Jesus is born and becomes an immigrant in a foreign land himself along with Mary and Joseph in Egypt (Matthew 2:15).  It is astounding one-sidedness, and even chosen blindness, that allows pious Christians to forget and ignore this.

A Christian by identification with Jesus must by necessity identify with those that he called ‘blessed’ by at least four different standards (Matthew 5:3-6, 10).  He told us that if we did not ‘welcome the stranger’ we were ‘cursed’ (Matthew 25:40), and yet, this has had almost no effect on the typical Christian’s attitude toward outsiders in almost all countries. 

I have little patience with people who call the USA a Christian nation when I see our attitude toward the very poor who are doing all the hard jobs that we are unwilling to do. Such self serving hypocrisy will meet a firm judgment later, and deserves our judgment now.

‘Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.’  (President Franklin Roosevelt to the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939).  Remember, the Pilgrims we Americans celebrate on this National Day of Thanksgiving were immigrants, too!”

~ Fr. Richard Rohr, A Lever and a Place to Stand (CD) and Contemplation in Action (book).

We are all foreigners, and we are all called to show hospitality.  We are all strangers, and we are all called to welcome and bless.  We are all immigrants, and we are all called to build community–and hope–with our neighbours.

 

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