Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Listening Ear - Discipleship 117

Many of the posts that I have shared regarding discipleship may not be rocket science. Some of these topics, however, seem to have been forgotten, postponed or devalued in our well-intentioned pursuit to make disciples. Today's topic is one of these "no-brainer" concepts that I think we've forgotten.

I think one of the greatest parts of discipling others is that of listening to them. Jesus modelled this for us as He listened to countless questions and comments from not only His closest 12 comrades, but others as well (Nicodemus comes to mind).

What I am learning in youth ministry reminds me of this simple concept of listening to others. My wife and I were chatting today about the journey we've been on together for the last 6 years as a married couple. We both could point to times when we felt led by God in a certain direction, only to receive opposition from people regarding our pursuit. This whole idea got me thinking today about this concept of listening. Take the story of Job for instance. Job had the life that many of us dream of (independently wealthy, healthy family, friends and plenty of success). In an instant, all that Job had was taken from him. In this moment of transparency, Job doesn't blame God for his set of circumstances (although Job does ask God a lot of questions). In the counsel of his wife and friends, however, Job is encouraged to blame God for this trouble in his life. The story continues to unfold with the culmination of restoration as all that Job had was given back to him in God's timing.

What speaks to me about discipleship from the story of Job today is the "counsel" of Job's friends. These well-intentioned, thoughtfully spoken men saw this set of circumstances in Job's life as an opportunity to speak into him. It was like looking in a mirror this morning as I pondered this story. How many times have I seen grief, chaos and calamity as the opportunity to speak truth into someone else's life by using words. Yet what I failed to realize is that in this moment, those struggling with pain, grief, sorrow and hurt often do not need anything more than a listening ear. If you think about it, sometimes when we step up to speak, we may unintentionally be diminishing the work of God in that person's life. We know that God works through suffering in a way that we cannot comprehend from a human standpoint. But in our devotion to the task at hand and perhaps our zeal for the gospel, we forget to simply pause to listen to those who are in need.

Maybe we fall back into default mode during these times of crisis where we want to fill up the space with words so that it feels like we are accomplishing something. Or maybe we simply do not want to see this other person experience life to the full before we do. I wonder how much of what we do and say is motivated by something other than love? I know in those moments when I allow myself to be truly honest, I am shocked at where my motivation comes from at times.

How about this: the next time a friend or neighbour is experiencing darkness, pain or hurt do these three things - listen, pray and remain. Take the time to listen to them, to pray for them and remain connected not only with the person, but also with their pain or hurt. It may not be rocket science, but it seems to be something we've forgotten to practice over time. I think when we embrace these three practices we give God room to continue to work through this other person's life, and I know that I'd rather have God doing the transformation in another person's life then me trying to do the best that I can. Good intentions don't really get us very far, but the transformation of the power of God's Spirit alive and active in our world is what truly does the changing of lives. Maybe our role is simply to partner with what God is doing by letting God be God and us simply being who we were created to be: human beings made in the image of the Almighty who are yearning to embrace the life we were created to live...life to the full.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Little Too Much Salt - Discipleship 116

Have you ever had a meal that was too salty to eat? I know I have. One time in particular stands out in my mind. Invited over for dinner at someone else's home, the meal they had prepared looked amazing. Beef roast, potatoes, fresh peas and a garden salad. My mouth was salivating in anticipation of my first bite. I loaded up my plate with utter glee...and then came the first bite...TOO MUCH SALT!! The meat was so salty that I literally couldn't drink enough water to wash away the saline residue from my mouth. I shudder to think how much overage I had in terms of my daily sodium allotment!!

The last few weeks I have been blogging about the theme of discipleship as it is a particular passion of mine. Discipleship is a Christianese word that simply means devoted follower. The concept of a devoted follower or loyal fan is not a foreign paradigm for our society. Whether we routinely shop at the same set of stores for our wants or needs, or we religiously follow our favourite sports teams no matter how poorly they may be doing at the moment, we as humans are very familiar with the idea of being a devoted follower.

In the church world, our key emphasis is about helping to create disciples (devoted followers & loyal fans) of Jesus Christ. Much of what we do in church should reflect this mission of creating more disciples. I have to wonder at times though if the rest of the world, those that aren't familiar with or connect to the church, look at what the church is about and are truly excited about what they see...until they have their first bite and find that the salt is a little overwhelming.

In the book of Matthew (one of the gospels in the Bible), Jesus instructs his followers to be the salt of the earth. In this metaphor Jesus challenges those who seek to follow after Him to be a preservative and so bring out the flavour of the world at large. In cooking, salt is used in this way...but when you have too much salt it ruins the meal. Where we as the church become a little to salty (even for our own taste) is when we no longer consider how we can bring the people from the fringe or the margins into the community at large. When we are internally focused as a faith community, we become too salty and we lose our effectiveness and relevance in the world.

So what are some of the signs of a salty church? A couple come to mind. The first is a church that is steeped in Christianese. If a community of faith speaks a language that only that community understands, there is an immediate disconnect with the rest of the world at large. If we truly believe that the church isn't about being a secret club or society, then we must make the effort to develop a common language that is easily understood by people inside and outside of the faith community. I'm not advocating for the watering down of truth, but I am suggesting that how we communicate the truth about Jesus Christ must resonate with a broader spectrum than those who are inside the community of faith. A great example of this is a church that prioritizes serving the community in which they are situated. The motivation for this church's acts of service isn't self-preservation, it's all about intentionally loving the greater community and extending the invitation to those on the fringe to become a part of the community in some way. A great example of this is when a church actively participates in a community cleanup or restoration project in conjunction with the community itself. These actions create a common language from which the broader community (the church & the fringe) can connect with one another.

The second sign of a salty church that comes to mind is a church that has unspoken expectations of its' members. When we frown upon others for how they dress when they come into the church building, or for what colour their hair is, or for tattoos, or for some other aesthetic so-called issue, we shift our focus from what is important to what is irrelevant. Looking at the life of Jesus, He was a master at connecting with those on the fringe. One of my favourite stories is that of Zaccheus. Craving to see and experience who Jesus is, Zaccheus climbed a tree to view Jesus from a distance. Passing by the tree where Zaccheus was perched, Jesus stopped and extended an invitation to Zach to join the community. The story continues from this point and what is truly evident is that Zach's experience of Jesus led to life change.
Broken, battered, bruised and on the fringe. Is the church willing to invite people into the community who don't look like us or talk like us?

Think about this the next time you are anticipating a great meal: Are you too salty, or does your life possess just the right amount of flavour to enhance not only your own experience of Jesus but also that those who are on the fringe?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Giving to Gain - Discipleship 115

The Christmas season always bring with it a wealth of emotion and experience. There is anticipation for the opening of presents, the chilling with family & friends, and the eating of food. There is the solemness of another year having gone by so quickly. There is the thought of how fortunate one may be to not have to fight for your next meal. But what I am learning more about this Christmas than any other is the principle and discipline of giving to gain.

I am not referring to a health & wealth version of the gospel that is misleading to many who buy into this line of thinking. What I am focusing on is the idea of investment during the holiday season. There is much preparation that goes into Christmas. We plan food menus, gift purchasing, gift wrapping/unveiling, social activities and perhaps ways to give back to others through volunteering or serving the less fortunate. All of this effort and energy is an investment; we are giving of ourselves in order to gain something in return. It's not a bad thing to think about what you are getting out of an experience. It's good to be aware of the benefit that an experience has for your own personal growth and development as a person. I guess it all boils down to your definition or motivation for gaining something from an experience.

For example, if the only reason you give a gift to someone on Christmas is so that you will receive one in return, are you really giving a gift? If the only reason you serve others is so that someone will notice your effort and give you a pat on the back and an ego boost, are you really invested in caring for others?

As I head into this Christmas season I find myself focusing more on this idea of giving to gain. Am I giving of myself to others in relationship in order to gain something in return? What is my motivation behind my desire to give? As a dad, I hope that my children see that as I invest in them or give to them, my desire is to gain a wider appreciation for being a parent. I do hope my children reciprocate my affection and care for them, but I do not love with this potential gain of love in mind. I simply love to gain a wider appreciation for love.

We're a week away from Christmas. What are you hoping to gain through giving this season?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Loving Justice - Discipleship 114

Today I am playing the role of both nurse and nanny as my wife is recovering from oral surgery, and my two children have chosen to pick this day as limit testing day! The kicker for me in this all is that empathy is not one of my strong suits. Compassion is something that I learn more about each day. Two of the people (outside of Jesus) that have the most impact on me in this fashion are my wife and my daughter.

With Bonny out of commission in terms of the regular routine around the house today, I'm subbing in where I can. Part of my subbing routine has included nap time (which is currently happening for the 3 aforementioned family members). My daughter Saydie has chosen nap time to push limits today. But during one of our many special conversations, Saydie's compassion has yet again overwhelmed her father's heart. I laid her down for her nap, only to hear her open her bedroom door and call out to me a few moments later. I trudged back upstairs and got her back into her bed. Hoping to give her some wisdom about nap time I uttered the words, "Saydie, it's time to get cozy in your bed. You have a nice cozy bed and you are so blessed because not everyone in our world has a nice cozy bed to sleep in." She stared up at me with a look of confusion and replied, "How come Daddy?" I shared with her about the blessing that we have as a family to have a home and cozy beds, and how not everyone in the world has the things that we have to use. Our conversation continued for a few moments with Saydie referencing our sponsored child Deborah and her desire to make sure Deborah has a cozy place to sleep each night. After a few moments of silence I asked Saydie what she was thinking about. Her answer kind of took be back for a moment. "I'm thinking about how we need to buy beds for little boys and girls that don't have a cozy place to sleep." Tears welling up in my eyes I asked my daughter, "where are we going to get the money to do this pal?" "Well Dad," she replied confidently, "we can use some of the pennies from my piggy bank...but maybe not all of them." I said to her that if she was willing to use some of her pennies, I would be willing to use some of mine. So once nap time is over, looks like we are going shopping for beds online.

Discipleship is a mutual learning experience for both the mentor and mentoree. In this particular story, my daughter Saydie taught me about compassion, while I taught her about stewardship and loving justice.

It's these relational moments that speak to more about God's love in action that program based connections ever could. How is your life reflecting a love for justice and a willingness to tangibly demonstrate that God is alive in the world today?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Learning from the Next Generation - Discipleship 113

Every person on earth has something to offer the community at large. Being a dad has taught me a lot about what it means to be a human being and a follower of Jesus Christ. My own children teach me about things like grace, mercy and forgiveness each day. What if we would take the time to listen to others more intentionally? Imagine what it may be like in church or in other places as the next generation is involved at every level of the organization as a whole?

This video is a great conversation piece on how we can learn from the emerging generations.

A Little Something from Psalm 8

 Had a lot of fun with this one.