Living Beyond the Rim

Only 5 percent of 5 million tourists that annually visit the Grand Canyon venture beyond the rim.  They do not mount a donkey or hike a trail to explore the rugged and interesting world below.  Some tourists are like drive-by-shooters; snapping shots with their camera, but not engaging in the world they are viewing through the lens.  Like these tourists, sometimes I find myself skimming through life without fully engaging in it.   Then, I’m living at the surface and avoiding the depth in my own soul and in the soul of others.  However, life is too precious to miss by passing  through it, as a casual observer.

Thoreau, in pursuit of life, built a small cabin on borrowed land near Walden pond.  He writes,

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…… Henry David Thoreau.

Moving beyond the rim requires leaving the comfort of the crowd above to face our inner fears and the vast world below.  It is the inward journey that leads to God.  Living life fully engaged we wake up, take notice, simplify and “put to rout all that is not life.”  We discover stillness and an awareness of God, who is life eternal.  We find a path that is good and a place that is restful for our souls.

 This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the cross-roads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16

In this pursuit we will also discover delight.  This is the ability of childlike wonder that marvels at all life’s many colors and shapes.   In this same way, we delight in the Lord who made our varied and vast world and whose character is like the world he made.

Peter in the Bible speaks of “rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory!” and David says, “I would go unto God, unto God my exceeding joy!”

There is really nothing ordinary about the life of a believer in the divine, — once they have decided to go beyond the rim.

 

 

Home for Christmas 2013

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Tomorrow, the days start getting longer and lighter.  Hope this Christmas, you enjoy the light of Christ, and the wonder of His goodness.

Bob and I are both up early this morning.  My recital was last night, and I think I am still enjoying the afterglow. Now to move on to our Christmas pageant on Sunday.  Looking forward to see our church children participate.

We bought our groceries yesterday for our girls coming home.  Carissa and Brett arrive on Christmas Eve, and Emily and Marshall on Christmas Day.  With Abbey, Bob’s brother’s daughter, living with us, that will make seven people in our home for over Christmas.  Can hardly wait for all the interaction.  What a treasure they all are to both of us.

We are hoping that amidst all the activity, our guests have a few restful moments.  Emily will be finishing off her thesis in the new year, and then will graduate with a Masters degree as a Nurse Practitioner.  Marshall is continuing to work at the Alberta Legislature as a Legislative Assistant.  With the recent cabinet shuffle, work may look different for him upon his return.   Carissa has spent all fall doing a teaching practicum in Dalmeny, Saskatchewan, and will graduate with a Bachelor of Education this spring.  Brett works for Saskatchewan Health in their tech department, keeping the computers running in many of the hospitals in his province.  Abbey moved from Orlando Florida, via Powell River, where she spent the winter with Bob’s sister, Susan.  Shortly after moving here last May, she got herself a job at the Hyatt in downtown Calgary, as a receptionist in their spa.  The weather here is giving her the snowiest, and possibly the coldest winter, in some time.

Bob and I have been in Evangel, and on Erin Woods Dr. now for fifteen years.  We are doing much the same, but church work is always evolving, and we are presently in a very happy spot in our journey here.  A highlight of our year was an Alaskan cruise.  What fun we had together.

Bob’s mom is great.  We saw her both at our nephew’s wedding last January in Orlando, and this summer in Vancouver at the end of our cruise.  My Dad was in hospital at the beginning of the year, and is now living at Prince of Peace, where we moved him on my birthday.  My Mom, unfortunately, has had a very difficult year, and is presently waiting for a Nursing Home to open for her.  Thanks for all your prayers and support for our family in the past year.

Looking forward to 2014.  It will have it’s challenges, but I am determined to make time to quiet my heart, and remember God’s goodness each day this coming year.  And it looks like it will also be a year of celebration for our family with two graduations.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas.  God bless you all, near and far.  It has been fun keeping in touch with you.  We love you.
Bob and Sandra

The Bully and the Baby

Young Tom would come to class with a hat pulled down over his eyes, and he never smiled. In and out of foster homes for many years, this young boy was very lonely and very angry. Mean to his classmates, belligerent, disruptive in class – he had no friends. When the Roots of Empathy Instructor brought a young single mom and baby to the class, the teacher was worried that Tom might harm the baby. Upon the advice of the ROE staff, he was placed right next to the baby. Imagine Tom’s reaction when the baby smiled at him. During the first class visit, the boy smiled and interacted with the infant. During the second visit, he took off his hat when he was near the baby. And, at the third visit, he brought a dirty pink feather to tickle the bottom of the baby’s feet. What Canadian founder of Roots of Empathy, Mary Gordon, has discovered is the disarming power of the infant in the presence of the bully.

And one starry night in a stable in Bethlehem a young mother gave birth to a baby whom the Prophet said will be called Immanuel, God is with us. Into the power hungry world, of gladiator fights and public executions, God came humble, meek and weak. The aggression became so intense she had to flee to the desert for a while to escape.

I love the story of Christmas but how can I get my head and heart around the mystery of the creator of the universe nursing on Mary’s lap? Christmas, it seems, is meant to disarm us, to leave us defenceless in his presence.

One of the church fathers has beautifully stated it like this,

“Nature teaches us all the value of infancy. Over what barbarity is infancy not victorious? Father’s know it well and mothers feel it, everyone experiences it, man’s very bowels bear witness to the fact. And so it was in infancy that He wanted to be born. He wanted to be loved, not feared.”

We all have a shadow side, a nemesis that if left not owned and reclaimed, could potentially destroy us, just as the person who cannot identify with weakness, becomes a bully and their rage at weakness causes their downfall. In taking upon himself the full weakness of human form, Jesus shifted human power structures forever. In Christ, crying in the manger and dying in weakness on the cross, we are invited to embrace our shadow side and discover his grace and acceptance. The Christian call is not to move away from being human but is an appeal to a fuller more complete humanity, as we were created to be.

“Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected so we might know that Love would go that far?” ― Francesca Battistelli

Inside Out

“Make an impact”, “Realize your potential”, “Change the world”.  Sometimes I get weary with all the striving and the pressure our students (and myself) face with trying to make a difference in the world.  Is that what God intends?  I get to be at a significant crossroads in people’s lives and help them discern what their ambitions mean in the light of living Christianly.  What sort of compassion, generosity, diligence is required in our daily lives when we seek to honour God?  I am very thankful for all you who work as unto the Lord and seek to be obedient, faithful witnesses in and through your work and daily activities. Glad we are in this together!

A couple weeks ago I shared with some students who seemed particularly driven. In the midst of our leadership and influence it is critical that we are nurtured by our Source and Life-Giver.  As the prophet Isaiah wrote his challenge from God, will we accept that,

 “‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,in quietness and trust is your strength”?

Yesterday I met with several pastors and leaders from the Mount Royal U area including our MRU chaplains, Kristal Hoff and Art Kung(picture below). During our prayer time Kristal also shared this scripture. I was struck by how much we want to work from the outside in but God insists that somehow things work from the inside out.

MRU chaplains

As Paul writes in Romans 12:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

From Kelly Johnson, Chaplian at University of Calgary

Learning How to Lead in New Ways

Q. What are the most significant challenges that Executive Leaders of church systems are currently facing?

There are a multitude of things that the Executive Leaders of church denominations are dealing with, many of which are new to the American church. I would summarize the biggest issues in three ways. Pew Research titles one of the main dilemmas as “The Rise of the Nones”; in other words, by the largest margin in American history, about one-third of those under age 30 say they have no religion. This is significant for the church in that we are no longer working from commonly shared cultural values and assumptions. Many young people are either leaving the church, or never had a significant relationship to begin with.

Furthermore, the phenomenal growth of various ethnic communities (especially Latinos and Asians) have created fascinating new dynamics. Latino Americans are converting to evangelical Christianity in record numbers, which offers up huge potential for denominational growth. But the intricacies of multi-lingual and multi-generational dynamics within each ethnic group requires discernment and expertise, and some denominations have limited experience in those arenas.

Lastly, denominations continue to face the unchanging problem of younger generations living in tension with the expectations of older generations, all of whom need to live together within the church. And we are not talking cosmetic issues like style of music or clothing worn in church. It’s much more a question of substance over style. Millennials have expressed that Christianity is gaining a reputation for touting shallow, anti-science, and sexually repressive teachings. They want to engage in deep and complex dialogue over these issues, refusing to accept “evidence that demands a verdict” sort of answers.

I sum up all the challenges with this simple statement: “In many ways, the Church is answering questions that people are not asking.”

Q. What are the ways in which you are experimenting and learning how to lead in new ways in order to address these challenges?

Free Methodists emerge out of Wesleyan and Anglican traditions. As such, we have a parochial history, and for our churches in Southern California, we are encouraging our leaders to fight against the freeway culture of our region, and instead build tight-knit church communities in the heart of the neighborhoods in which their churches live and exist. As the world gets bigger and more complex through globalization and technology, we are finding that people want authentic connections that a parish-minded approach can offer.

To reach the “Nones” and disaffected Christian Millennials, we started a robust internship program in 2011. Drawing from local Christian colleges, we have had twenty-five interns in the last three summers, twenty-two of whom were completely unfamiliar with our Free Methodist denomination. Almost every single one has since joined us. They tell us that our five essential freedoms (the reasons we call ourselves Free Methodists) were the main reasons they are staying. The more we function like a movement, and less like an institution, the more we connect with the Millennial generation.

Based on what we are learning from The Missional Network, among others, we have started some new ministry initiatives built around the concepts of Luke 10, where Jesus sent the disciples to enter towns and villages, but wait to be invited in. Rather than coming with a strategic plan or an agenda, we are seeking to understand “the art of neighboring,” especially as we enter ethnic communities. We hope to craft new expressions of the church together.

Reflections from Kelly Soifer

Director of Recruiting & Leadership Development for the Free Methodist Church in Southern California and the Center for Transformational Leadership at Azusa Pacific University

via Learning How to Lead in New Ways.

Detectives of the Divine

My daughter called me in a panic one morning.

Her car was acting weird, sliding sideways on the ice and snow, as she attempted to drive along a busy, backed up highway.  At one point she couldn’t move at all, when someone offered to push her.  Then someone else driving by noticed that her rear wheel was not turning. When she called me, I told her to pump the parking brake a couple of times to loosen it.  It was a long shot but surprisingly it worked and she was on her way again to her job.  As we chatted, she recalled that no less than four people had already helped her to get to work that day.

It felt so strange to be able to communicate over the miles and in the midst of traffic find a quick solution to her problem. This event reminded me of the way God is able to quickly respond to our emergency prayers and send help. King David prayed in the Psalms, “Lord make haste to help me.”(Psa. 70:1) It is not a good idea to always rely on emergency prayers but at the same time it is good to know God is present now and can send help in an instant. The difficulty is we are not alway aware of God in those moment of distress. Yet, it is possible to learn to be more present to the divine in midst of our fast paced life. We do not need to let hurry invade every part of our lives nor allow the tyranny of the urgent to rule us.

I recently read that bedtime stories can now be squeezed into sixty-second sound bites. Various authors have now condensed fairy tale classics for busy parents. Carl Honore writing about this in “The Praise of Slowness” says,

“ …my whole life has turned into an exercise in hurry, in packing more and more into every hour. I am a Scrooge with a stop watch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time.”

If we are not careful hurry will fill our lives and we will miss something valuable, including the ability to enjoy the gift of life.

To see the gift within the rush of life takes attention.   All God’s gifts deserve our observation, the small as well as the large, especially in light of the giver.  I like to believe that the gift of a good neighbour who shovels my walk, or the driver who notices my daughter’s car wheel is not rotating, are displays of God’s care.

Barbara Brown Taylor in “The Preaching Life” describes how a friend’s sermon transformed her outlook. She says, “When the service was over that day, I walked out into a God-enchanted world, where I could not wait to find further clues of heaven on earth. Every leaf, every ant, every shiny rock called out to me… I became a detective of divinity, collecting evidence of God’s genius and admiring the tracks left for me to follow.

Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more – a grateful heart,
Not thankful when it pleases me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.

George Herbert

Friendship, Servanthood and Love

Sometimes when I think of obedience, I’m reminded of those schools for training dogs. Their obedience is won with treats and repetition. Who hasn’t at sometime been told not to ask questions, but just do it? Maybe in the military such unquestioned obedience is a virtue, but in all other relationships, it leaves a person feeling alone, even unwanted. So when people talk about obedience to God, I naturally get a bit suspicious.

“Relationships first” is the way many cultures in our world get things done. Western businessmen are known to lose patience at the perceived time wasted in building rapport when travelling abroad. However, it is really mostly our industrial based European cultures that are more task oriented. I believe God is more relational than task oriented. In the stories of the Bible, God seems quite willing to put his plans on hold while working with a prophet like Jonah, or with his stubborn people on the way to the Promised Land.

A servant or employee is often expected to say, ‘Yes sir,’ whether he has an understanding of what the boss is doing or not. I imagine in some factories of the world, people have no clue what they are making or how it will be used.  Friends, on the other hand, talk it over and get on the same page.   When Jesus spoke about obedience and servanthood, it was not a militaristic or industrial age type of command. Rather, He spoke about friendship with God and love in the same sentence.

“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

God has invited us into a relationship of understanding that moves us from slavery into a new kind of servanthood. When God was planning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he talked to Abraham, his friend, about it.

“Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7)

This invitation is given to us to enter into a friendship that will include our whole being; mind, will, emotions, body and soul. God speaks to the listening heart, through many avenues.  Our awareness of  His Spirit’s promptings will mean being more in tune with our emotions and longings.   In this way knowledge of God and awareness of our own feelings are interconnected.  Emotional intelligence enhances our spiritual awareness.

“With honest and open prayer, we come to recognize how our fear, anger, sadness, joy, or longing relate to the promptings of God’s Spirit and how the force of our emotions can be used to further God’s purpose in our own lives and the wider universe.” Kathleen Fischer

The Brotherhood of the Towel

Famed conductor and music instructor Ben Zander starts his school year by announcing to the class that your grade for the year is an A.  The one condition is that they write a letter now, dated May at the end of the class year.  The letter must begin, Dear Mr. Zander,  I got my A because.  They are then to describe the student they are going to become through that year.  (see: How to give an A)

It seems to me, God does this same thing with us.  Jesus, sitting with his disciple said,

 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  John 15

Jesus and his disciples were a kind of brotherhood of the the towel. Jesus was the chief servant washing their feet and calling them friends.  We discover in friendship with Jesus a new motivation to serve, which is love.

When we are given that A before we deserve one, it takes away the nagging self doubt that keeps knocking us out,  “Will I be good enough”, or “am I loved?”    In serving God, I have sometimes struggled with a kind of performance anxiety.    I can relate to the words of the  DC talk song,

What if I stumble
What if I fall?
What if I lose my step
And I make fools of us all?

Will the love continue
When my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble
And what if I fall?

However, I’m learning,  this  focus on oneself and our inadequacies is not fruitful.   Instead a gentle focus on the unfailing love of God is the path to growth.

These words of Richard Foster are a great reminder that above all God just wants our presence.

“… Today the heart of God is an open wound of love.  He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to him. He grieves that we have forgotten him.  He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness.  He longs for our presence.

And he is inviting you – and me- to come home where we belong, to come home to that for which we were created.  His arms are stretched out wide to receive us.  He heart is enlarged to take us in.

For too long we have been in a far away country; a country of noise and hurry and crowds, a country of climb and push and shove, a country of frustration and fear and intimidation.  And he welcomes us home; home to friendship and fellowship and openness, home to intimacy and acceptance and affirmation. “ Richard Foster.

The Elusive Spirit

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

Snow leopards are one of the world’s rarest, most elusive and little studied large animals. They are generally very shy and well camouflaged, and hardly ever seen. Most encounters involve villagers looking for firewood or herding animals. The first photograph of one in the wild was taken in 1970 by the legendary zoologist George Schaller. Its long tail gives it amazing balance as it scales mountains as high as 18,000 feet. Known to catch a falling rock with its paw, the snow leopard can sneak up on its prey and not to be heard.  It is so elusive the locals call him the Holy Spirit of the mountains.

Have you ever felt like God’s presence is as elusive as the snow leopard? He shows up, it seems, in his time and usually by surprise. Then, just as often it feels as if he has left you waiting for some sign or sense that he is near. Living in this linear time bound world, I can easily miss precious, life changing, “sightings” when God is breaking in. The feeling that life is somewhere up ahead and that I must strive for it, or that life is behind in some former lost and lamented time, can squeeze life now in God out. However, God is always in the Eternal Now, as Thomas Kelly describes it. Behind this busy active life of time and place, the Eternal Now of God is knocking, and He desires to enter our world through us and change time for eternity. This invasion of God’s presence can be upsetting to a life driven by the ticking of the clock of progress. Don’t we sometimes look upon those who are yielding to the Eternal Presence as odd and out of place? Yet, we intuitively know there is something entirely credible about their compliance to God.   Sighting are not as rare for those who wait on God, those who learn to live in both times zones simultaneously – time now and Eternal Now.   Yes, and that is the Christian calling and joy.

“The sooner we stop thinking we are the energetic operators of religion and discover that God is at work, as the aggressor, the invader, the initiator, so much the sooner do we discover that our task is to call men to be still and know, listen, hearken in quiet invitation to the subtle promptings of the Divine. “ (Thomas Kelly)