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Church clothes

P81

(image credit to Tyler Bennicke)

 

Put on your Sunday best.

When I started attending church as a teenager, I went out and bought new clothes. I don’t have any church clothes, I thought, so I went to procure some so I’d be able to dress properly for church.

I look back on teenage me now, and I realize just how little I knew about what ‘church’ really was. That church that I started attending wound up being absolutely foundational to my growth as a Christian, and God used the people in that congregation to dramatically change the course of my life.

But it wasn’t about my clothes. Those people, whom I love dearly, didn’t invest in my life because I wore the ‘right clothes’ (heck, with my fashion sense, those two words almost never go together anyway!); they weren’t nearly as concerned with what was on the outside as with what was on the inside.

These days, while people have a great many different views on what appropriate attire is for Sunday worship, there’s one outfit that remains unfortunately consistent — let’s call it ‘our Sunday best.’

It’s the idea that when we go to church, everyone is on their best behavior, puts their best foot forward, gets their best ‘I’m doing great’ smile and tells everyone how awesome everything is going.

This is a far bigger issue than clothing will ever be, and it’s one of the greatest battles the church faces. As long as people believe that being a Christian means having their lives in order, they’ll keep pretending that they do, hiding the fact that they need healing as much as the rest of us do.

Many churches already recognize this, and are taking steps to care for those who are taking care of the people who are hurting, but they can only care for those who are willing to admit when they are hurting. It’s only the people who are willing to show their insides who can be best served by the church.

But here’s where it gets a little more difficult — it’s the people who have opened up and been willing to receive help with their hurts who are best able to serve those who are taking the step to open up and expose their own hurts.

It’s that cycle of growth that’s what the Church needs to truly be effective in our world, but it takes more people who are willing to step up and admit that they’re not perfect, that they don’t have it all together, and that they need others to help them experience God’s healing.

What hurts are you holding on to that can only be healed in community?

P50

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake!

So, I know it’s not anywhere near Christmas, and I actually have a rather unhealthy dislike of this song, but I’ll readily admit that I’m the guy who hears it and thinks, “hey, that line describes our relationship with God!”

God already knows all our faults — He knows the secrets, the lies, the hurts, the sorrows that cause us to keep the walls up around others.

We don’t need to pretend with God, but we forget that because we grow accustomed to pretending with everyone else (after all, aren’t we all taught as children that the appropriate response to “How are you?” is “Fine, thanks. How are you?”).

Let me pause for a moment to say that I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I’m really good at keeping secrets and really bad at opening up to people, and it all boils down to fear and pride.

We’re scared of what people will think if they see how broken we really are, and we’re too proud to ask for help. If we’re really honest with ourselves, this is the very thing that keeps us from opening up to God as well, and letting Him do His work in us.

We bury our true feelings so that no one will see, and we think that God won’t see either. Oh, we say that we know God sees our hearts, but we don’t live like it. We bury our sins so no one will see, and because we know that we’re forgiven, we don’t deal with the heart issues that led us to that sin in the first place, and before we know it, we’re caught up in the same sin again.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5.16)

When we choose to live inside out, we’re choosing to show others our dark side so that we can have help and support in overcoming it. Opening up allows others to walk the road with us, to encourage us, and to challenge us, so that we can grow together in community.

You’ll find that the support of a community is worth overcoming the fear of confession.

What secrets do you keep that you’re scared to let others in on?

Inside Out?

The world sees the part of us that we choose to show off. We tend to be defined by our actions, because that’s what people can see.

“People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

This is, quite simply, a statement of fact. Human beings can only see the outside, and (let’s face it) we’re quite talented at hiding what’s underneath.

But…

What if others COULD see beyond our words and actions, look beyond the masks we wear, and see our hearts?

What if people could see in us what God already sees?

Scared yet?

This is the experiment I’m proposing:

Live life inside out

Choose to show others what’s really going on inside you. Be honest in every aspect of your life, and take off the masks that keep your heart hidden from others.

For many of us, we’re so used to hiding our true selves from the people we meet that we can’t fathom being that honest with anyone.

“It would be a big mess. No one would want to be around me if they knew what I really thought.”

That’s where everything starts to change. We start to become more conscious of our motives when we’re inside out. We start to think more clearly about attitudes that hurt others, and hopefully, those attitudes begin to change.

Ultimately, though, we’re still broken people — it’s just as likely that this could be an experiment in how to lose friends and alienate people. But the bigger story is this: that deep down, we all desire to be better people, to be more than we are.

God already sees what’s going on in our hearts. If we let others see inside, then the importance of our attitude becomes that much more real, and we get the opportunity to grow into the person that we’re meant to be.

So, this marks the beginning of an experiment, and this blog will be home to my thoughts on its development.

Feel free to journey with me on it.

What do you think? Is living life inside out worth trying, or is it a recipe for disaster?

“off work indefinitely…”

Those are the words on the piece of paper that the doctor handed me just over two weeks ago — the words that have been ringing through my head for the last 16+ days…

Now I’m sitting on a train, heading toward another week of tests to try an figure out what it is that’s going on inside my body that has turned my life into little more than a collection of waiting periods between doctor’s visits.

I don’t normally put health concerns on the Internet (mainly as a reaction against the folks who post status updates featuring pictures of the pile of used tissues because they got the sniffles today), but so many of you have been praying for me (and more!), that I figured it was time to end my inadvertent social media hiatus and let you all know what’s going on.

I’m not going to share the entire story here, as it’s rather long and quite involved, but I you’d like to know more than what I’m posting here, send me an email and I’ll share a little more.

Shannon, Zoe and I have been staying in Moncton for much of the last two weeks, but for this week, I’m on my way back to Nova Scotia by myself as Shannon is working for the next two weeks at the daycare (hence the train).

This week has two tests lined up, one that seemed a little out of the blue (a CT scan), and another (an MRI) that came about due to a lot of prayer (and more than a few phone calls).

We’ve been praying for a long time that we’d finally find an answer to this problem, and our hope is that these tests will go a long way toward finding that answer, and lead to a solution that will finally have me feeling well so I can get back to being a husband, father, and pastor instead of the burden that I feel like most days now.

Thank you again to all of you who have been praying over the last weeks — as difficult as it has been, knowing that so many people are praying has meant a lot. This has been a real exercise in learning to trust that God has the end game in mind, and I’m (slowly) learning to ask for help when I need it (since I seem to need a lot of it these days).

My own prayer has been that I would simply be willing to surrender all of this to God. I know he has all of this worked out — He knows what the problem is, He knows the solution, and ultimately, He is in control. As I fight this illness, I need to remember to stop fighting God and let Him work in me, knowing that it’s in our surrender that God wins.

we raise our white flag
we surrender
all to You
all for You
we raise our white flag
the war is over
love has come
Your love has won

I’ve written another guest post over at Easter Challenge 2012, this week it’s on Matthew 9-12.

Easter Challenge 2012

It always amazes me the breadth of different things that stand out in scripture every time you read through it. As I read, I remarked other things I’ve taken notice of in the past, but as I looked at my notes, there was one theme that seemed to stand out to me this time around:

Words.

This intrigued me as I looked over the verses I had highlighted, but it’s true:

Jesus made a big deal of words.

“For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

The Gospel writers were very deliberate in their recording of Jesus’ words. They wanted to make sure that Jesus’ teachings were as clear as possible for their audiences, and not hindered by details that didn’t fit with their message. That’s why there are differences in the Gospel accounts—each author sought to distill the story…

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Acts 5-8

I wrote a guest post for the Bridgewater Young Adults Group’s Easter Challenge – Check it out here.

Movember Approaches

This might be a bit of a departure from my ‘usual’ writing topic, but I think it’s something we can all take part in, and change the face of men’s health!

*Quoted from movember.com:
It’s Movember, the month formerly known as November, dedicated to growing moustaches and raising awareness and funds for men’s health issues, specifically cancers affecting men. Please support my efforts by making a donation at http://mobro.co/neverdar/d.

We only have a month to grow and support these Movember moustaches, so please come along for the ride.

Thank you for donating at http://mobro.co/neverdar/d and for helping me change the face of men’s health. Go the Mo!

Lots more information is available on movember.com, as well as info on how you can join in and grow your mo for men’s health!

The Fear of God

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1.7

God loves you. God wants the very best for you. He has a wonderful plan for your life.

These are just some of the ways that we try to describe God to people.

We tell people to respond to this character of God with love and joy. We assure people that we can come to our loving Father boldly, because we are His children.

I think that we’re missing something in the exclusive use of this kind of language. I don’t think we get a complete picture of who God is when when we focus exclusively on this calm, safe language about God’s character.

When we look at the Old Testament language that describes how we should respond to God, we see dozens of verses like the one above, with a word that we don’t often teach.

Fear.

When we see in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” and compare that with all of the commands in the Bible to “fear the Lord,” we begin to get a more complete picture of God.

Even the most loving of fathers needs to discipline his children from time to time. The whole of Israel’s history is filled with God punishing His children when they disobeyed.

But the story doesn’t end there. God is indeed a loving father. He wants only the best for His children. When Israel returned to God in humility and repentance, God forgave and restored them. When we see God in this light, we can truly understand and appreciate His love, because we know He actually cares about what we do.

In this consequence-free society that we see around us, we often get caught up in the image that God doesn’t care what we do because He loves us. But love without consequence isn’t love – it’s apathy.

A loving father cares if his kids are hurting themselves or others. He punishes his children for their disobedience, and he forgives when they repent.

An apathetic father doesn’t need to forgive, because his kids ‘haven’t done anything wrong.’ An apathetic god wouldn’t need to send his son to redeem his children, because they wouldn’t need redemption.

I think it’s perfectly healthy for a child to be fearful of punishment for doing wrong. But that child also needs to know that the punishment comes from love and concern, and that forgiveness is always available.

The fear of the Lord may be the beginning of knowledge, but it’s certainly not the end.

When have you felt the ‘fear of God’?

For more on this topic, check out Francis Chan’s BasicFear God DVD

Enter Diligence

So earlier this spring, I spent two months blogging daily (elsewhere) and thoroughly enjoyed the discipline (although it was difficult at times).

In the process of such diligent writing, it occurred to me how much I had been neglecting my own blog space over the years, and I determined that I would write more often and with a clear goal in mind.

So, on that note, I’ll be walking through the book of Proverbs over the next several weeks, and posting short devotional thoughts every couple of days or so.

Part two of this grand adventure will be to return to participation in Sunday Setlists over at theworshipcommunity.com

At some point, this blog may evolve into something with a little more purpose, but for now, if you’re reading, I appreciate any feedback you’d like to offer.

Here’s to diligence.

Contention

It’s been quite some time since I actually posted, so I thought I’d jump back in with some theology.

The story of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32 has always been one of my favourite Old Testament stories:

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

There are any number of deep thoughts in this passage, but the one that has been on my mind of late is the giving of the name ‘Israel’ to Jacob.

As is common in the Bible, a change of name is an indication of a change of destiny, but my thoughts center on the choice of the name. Now, I’m not trying to say anything against 3000+ years of history, but I find it interesting that we would have the name Israel as the choice here. The name Israel is translated ‘he contends with God,’ which has an obvious relation to the scene here in the passage, and is a clear improvement on Jacob, which means ‘heel.’

Or is it?

Is the renaming of Jacob, in fact, a sign of the blessing that he received from God, or is it meant to serve as a warning? Consistently through the next thousand years, the people of Israel will be in contention with God, going through this cycle of rejection, reprimand, repentance and restoration. I wonder if the choice of name itself is meant to serve as a prophetic word that the people are meant to learn from rather than to perpetuate.

I could be entirely out to lunch on this, but I still think that there’s a message in this for us, and it’s that we ought to be pursuing a life of obedience to God rather than being in contention with Him.

Are you contending with God over something at the moment? Maybe it’s time to realize that He can knock your hip out of joint any time He likes, and that it’s better to obey the One who is greater by far than us.