Work: Chasing after the wind.

Does work ever get you down? You are not alone. The author of Ecclesiastes lamented his work too:

“What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.”  (Eccl. 2:22, 23)

It seems healthy to me to occasionally look at work from this “under the sun” view of Ecclesiastes.  It prevents us from making too much of it.  Apart from a few classic works of art and music, some cool inventions and buildings, what is gained from the last 100 years of toil?  Are we in the brave new world?  Who will remember the great contributions of the 20th century a decade from now? Perhaps the likes of Gandhi, Churchill and Mother Teresa will be remembered, but what of the billions of ordinary people who we never heard of in the first place? In my own experience, I like to know the “why” of doing something. However, this can be idealism.

There may not be a point to everything I do except that it needs to be done. Yet, I must believe there is a divine point to all things or I am a practical atheist.

My view of work is changing. I expect less fulfillment from it and that keeps me balanced and encourages me to take some time to “work at” some fun things too.

However, laziness, isn’t an option either, since experience and scripture both indicate that slothfulness generally ends in poverty or dishonor. (click for Proverbs) So, we work, under the sun, but we do not have to submit to its despair.  Rather, work can be enjoyed when we find a purpose “above the sun” for what we do.

Above the sun, we work for the coming Kingdom of God that is already here.  Working in two kingdoms creates a healthy tension.  We may find we are pulled between the futility of striving after the wind and the hopefulness of changing the world through Christ.  It is not our politics or our corporations that will create meaningful change; it is the Christian working under the sun with an above the sun vision.  So much work today is motivated by envy and competition.  A higher, nobler motivation is love for God and for my neighbor. This way we work for something more rewarding than praise of man or financial reward, and work recovers a sense of meaning and joy for us.

 “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.”  (Colossians 3:23,24)

My Pep Talk

There are times of sowing and times of reaping in life and in ministry. Sometimes the sowing takes years, but reaping will come. It’s the law of nature.  In those times of sowing, I have often had to give myself a pep talk.

It would go something like this:

Satan would like to discourage you, and keep you from continuing to do God’s work.  It would be easy to get bitter, instead of working with a genuine heart of love. So be diligent to guard your heart, and determine to remain true to the call that God has placed on you. Keep true in your love for God, and trust Him to work things out for your good:  whether you presently see results or not; whether, the very ones you serve appreciate what you are doing or not; whether critics, peers, family, friends, superiors, or even you yourself question what you are doing. What God has begun, he will continue until the day He calls you home. Wouldn’t it be a shame to give up, just before the harvest begins? Don’t lose heart. The Bible tells you to work, in season and out. A crown of life is waiting for those who persevere. Carry on. Don’t be concerned about who gets the credit down here. The one keeping records is God, and He is good. All the time! Be encouraged, and surround yourself with others who will encourage you. Cry out to God, and let Him know how you feel. He promises that those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. Keep sowing good seed. It will come back to you. God keeps His promises. Finally, don’t look for another field to serve, without hearing God’s direction to start over new. There is so much good in remaining steadfast. Many valuable lessons remain unlearned by just giving up, and starting somewhere else. Besides, sheep, like grass, are very much the same on either side of the fence.  There is value in learning how to relate well with the same people. Iron does sharpen iron, but that does not happen if you never get to know anyone well enough to rub them the wrong way, or for you to resolve your differences.  And mostly, remember, you are of value to God, right where you are.  Now  I have this talk in print, to read the next time I am feeling low.

The Safest Place On Earth

What is your happy place? For me, it’s a lakeside cabin in Temagami, Ontario where I spent my summers growing up like Davy Crockett. (I’ve even saved my trusty hunting/whittling knife from those days.) Others may find their happy place in a more urban setting, like a local cafe or in the magic of Disney World.

We are, more than ever, a society of wanderers, living among strangers, which can become unsettling. As families get smaller, and are often separated by too many long miles to travel, it’s easy to feel restless and even disoriented.

In our transient times, we need more than ever to rediscover a home for our hearts, and the safest place I know is God’s heart. More than one child has explained to me their connection to God by saying, “God asked me into his heart.” The old hymnist also penned this concept in these words: “There is a place of quiet rest near to the heart of God.” This is a safe place like no other on earth. In Isaiah an invitation is given,

 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

Isaiah 30:15

We remain strangers to others and to ourselves when we seek our home outside of the centre, Jesus Christ. Perhaps we will look to our politicians, our economic systems, our technology, or our religion. Each of these places, in some way, have failed to provide us with security. Or we might find comfort in a number of over indulgences, which only leave us needing to diet or therapy.

The security our hearts need is found in God. To find that safety, we must have what one person called “naked trust,” which means God, plus nothing else, is holding on to our lives. In Proverbs we are instructed to guard our hearts. This practice of guarding goes two ways: guard the treasure of God’s Word in your heart; and that Word will also guard you.

My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Prov. 4: 20-23

Love to Love

Georgia Porcupine

Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. Prov 4:23

Living with an open heart is a risky choice that takes courage and wisdom. The act of living generously can expose us to those who might take advantage. The disposition of trusting can leave a person vulnerable to the cold reality of the con. However, the alternative of a closed or guarded heart robs us of the gift of life. The practice of staying open in the face of every temptation to do otherwise is possible if our protection comes from God.

Joyce Meyers in a recent video clips said, “If you’re not willing to be hurt, then you’re not able to love. If you shut other people out, you also imprison yourself.”

To keep your heart is not the same as self-protection. A porcupine normally flares its quills when it is frightened or in danger. Ironically, my daughter recently pet a porcupine. When Georgia the porcupine was a baby, her family died crossing the road, and she was found in a ditch, alone and vulnerable. The local zoo decided to take it in, nurse it to independence, and integrate it back into the wild. It wasn’t long until they realized, Georgia the porcupine would never go back into the wild. Georgia became very calm around other animals and people during her time at the zoo. Georgia was socialized. For Georgia, the highlight of her day is when she is centre stage for a visiting group who all come to pet her and touch her quills.

The vulnerability of an open heart requires discernment.   Thomas Keating writes in the book, Open Mind, Open Heart, about the practice of being flexible.

“The fruit of ‘guard of the heart’ is the habitual willingness to change our plans at a moment’s notice. It disposes us to accept painful situations as they arise.”

Another discipline he mentions is the practice of unconditional acceptance. A friend of ours wears a bracelet that says, “Love to Love” as a reminder that when people are hard to love, love them for love’s sake. This is the practice of keeping the heart by guarding against resentment.

Jesus shows us, by his supreme example while dying on the cross, how to keep the heart open to God in the midst of hatred. His cry, “Father forgive them,” is a prayer we can all practice at those moments when cruelty threatens to shut us down.

It takes wisdom to stay open when our hearts are at stake.  Openness to God’s Spirit is a way to allow our hearts a divine protection while remaining in the flow of life. Then from deep within He springs up in us with hope, courage and faith.

As Scripture says, ‘Streams of living water will flow from deep within the person who believes in me.'” John 7:38

The Alphabet Prayer

One Sunday morning, a young shepherd boy was caring for his sheep when he heard the bells of the church ringing. Watching the people walk by on their way to church, he thought, “I would like to talk to God, but what can I say to him?”

He had never been taught a prayer. So, kneeling down, he began to recite the alphabet. Although the boy was hidden from view, one of the men going to church heard the boy’s voice. Peering through the bush, he saw the small boy kneeling with his hands folded and his eyes closed, continuing to say, “V, W, X, Y, Z . . . A, B, C . . .”

He interrupted the boy. “What are you doing, child?” he asked.

The boy replied, “Praying.”

The man seemed surprised and said, “But why are you reciting the alphabet?”

The boy explained, “I don’t know how to pray. But I want God to take care of me and my sheep. So I prayed the alphabet, hoping God could make the letters into words. He’ll know what I want and what to say.”

The man smiled and said, “Bless your heart, God will!” And he carried on to church, knowing that he had already heard the finest sermon he could possibly hear that day. His encounter with this young shepherd boy reminded him of Jesus’ teaching,

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:3,4.


Family Reunion

Have you ever had one of those uncomfortable family reunions, a kind of “Meet the Fockers” part three? You are not alone. One biblical family get-together that I can relate to is the reunion of Jacob and Esau.

Jacobs reunion with his brother Esau was like facing a ghost of the past. Family life in their home was one of divided loyalties. Jacob, Rachel’s favourite son and the younger twin, was the homebody; while Esau, dad’s favourite, was the hunter and outdoors man. Children are not always like their parents. Sometime a jock dad has an artsy son and an introverted Dad has a social butterfly for a daughter. In my case, both my daughters are more to the extroverted side than me. Differences are great, but it can create favouritism if parents are not self aware. The missteps in the family of origins can have a lasting effect on our relationships and choices in life if left unacknowledged. Jacob made his choice in his youthful zeal to follow his mother’s guidance and steal something that belonged to his older brother — his blessing. The fallout in the home was enough to divide the family, and sent Jacob to the wilderness and eventually to the home of Uncle Laban,the brother of his mother, who was like her in his deceptiveness. Some sins just seem to run in the family. The long years of serving Laban, in exchange for his daughter, were the making and breaking of Jacob. In Laban, he came face to face with himself and ultimately God. This brings me to my favourite part of the story, the reunion of the brothers. Twenty years of working for Laban were enough for Jacob and his family. However, setting off for home meant meeting one of his own personal giants, Esau. Would Esau receive him or finally get his revenge? When Jacob left it was at the threat of his life. The story has a happy ending, but not until Jacob has spent one long night wrestling with the angel of the Lord. The next day, Jacob limping and nervous meets Esau saying,

Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it. Gen. 33:11.

Jacob is repentant and transformed, from a man who deceives to a man who blesses; from Jacob to Israel.

Our past so often comes back at us, like a ghost, threatening to haunt our steps or stop us in our tracks. The good news is that God uses these very relationships to bring out His best in us.





Trust Jump

A heart of trust is discovered on the outskirts of the familiar and the known.  As one poet said,

When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for you to stand upon, or, you will be taught how to fly.   Patrick Overton

I’m not one for heights but I couldn’t pass on a chance to join a couple young guys in their reckless and wild jump of a rock into the cold lake below.  Once my feet left the rock, hoping this was a good idea, I was fully committed.    It takes courage to move beyond the limits of our experience and into a realm we have yet to discover.  This is the realm where Google maps have yet to go, and where there are few guides to lead us. This last frontier is spiritual, and there is One who will lead us if we will trust him.

Trust is a matter of the heart according to the Proverbs.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Prov 3: 5,6

It involves a certainty that there is an author and director behind the scenes of our life.

By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.  Prov 3:19

The one who has gone this path ahead of us is Jesus.  He said of himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  (John 14) The Bible also states that he is the Word and through him all things were made. (John 1)  Therefore, we can have great assurance in our guide.

Knowing about God and trusting in Him is not the same thing.  I can know about aerodynamics and yet never dare to fly.  Religion can help us get to the edge of the light, but it is the person of Jesus Christ who holds our hand in the dark.  We are not alone; one is walking the road with us and removing the obstacles that can trip us up.

Nothing intensifies the mind like uncertainly and danger.  Trust is not passive; rather it is like the thrill of jumping from a rock into the lake below.  You feel in the moment fully alive.



Chasing the Wind

The new iphone goes on sale today and Apple is expected to sell 10 million this weekend. This will be the largest consumer electronics debut in history. One young buyer is quoted as saying, “There is nothing cooler than being the first. Now I am going to go home and unpack it slowly and with joy — this is going to be better than sex.” So, consumerism is alive and well. For many families, however, it will be another thing to try to say no to.

We are inundated daily with powerful & creative messages aimed at convincing us to spend.

It turns out that the world spent $5.3 billion on mobile ads (from display, to search, to messaging) overall in 2011, and it turns out that Asia is laying out the most capital.

Restaurants spent $5.875 billion on measured advertising in 2011, up 4.4% from the previous year, according to new data from Kantar Media. Not surprisingly, McDonald’s tops the list with 963 million spent on advertising.

So often the only reason we want something is to impress someone or to get something they have. The result is a me centred view of life. Jesus warned against this when he said, “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, and cast away himself?” Luke 9:25 The irony of it is that while we are getting more things we are becoming less of a person. In order to avoid the pressure of consumerism, that’s a good thing to remember.

In Ecclesiastes the author has had personal experience with the limitless pursuit of wealth and in his experience it’s like chasing after the wind.

What can families do in response to this intense consumer pressure? Teaching and practising generosity is a great counter cultural move. Avoiding consumer debt is a must. Explain to children that money is limited and we have choices. Get them involved in the choices. With our kids, we used an allowance in which we matched their flyer route earnings. Discretionary spending such as clothes, movies, and gadgets, was up to them. They wanted expensive running shoes back then, not electronic gadgets like now.

Enjoy what good things you have and be content. More of a good thing is not better. Don’t let temporary things take on any kind of ultimate meaning. The void that we are trying to fill is spiritual and only God can fill it. When we lose ourselves in this culture the way to recover a sense of our true self is to turn back to our true source which is God. And when the wind blows, just take them to the park to fly a kite.

Heart of Gold

A heart of gold is not something you come by every day.  Like Neil Young, you might just find yourself singing, “I’m getting old,” before you find one.  Although it is hard, it isn’t impossible if we mine for a golden heart in the right places.   Truthfully, gold mining itself can look rather foolish. To quote Warren Buffet, “[Gold] gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it.  It has no utility.  Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.”  However, when it comes to the matters of the heart and finding wisdom, the diligence of a miner pays great rewards. Wisdom offers benefits to the seeker that are far beyond the worth of gold.

Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.

Prov. 3:16-18

Proverbs promise that Wisdom will be found by those who seek her with all the diligence of a miner.

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.

Prov. 2: 1-5

There is a progression in the intensity of the true seeker of wisdom. The person who desires wisdom must first passively accept wisdom’s words. It requires ears that are attentive and a heart that is still enough to perceive wisdom’s whisper. God speaks to our hearts when we are still enough in our soul to hear him. The son in these verses is challenged to do more than passively listen though. He must also call out for insight. Then the son must search for wisdom as for a hidden treasure. There are treasures of wisdom stored up for those who will apply their hearts with diligence to the pursuit. Veins of precious ore are discovered by miners through drilling deep into the heart of the earth.  In the same way, God has spiritual treasures for us to hide deep within our hearts. Once they are discovered, many others will find joy and be blessed by that treasure. However, as in mining, we have to believe that God has treasures for us to store in our hearts, and that as we do, we will discover our own heart to  be a heart of gold.

Church as a Third Culture Place

The concept of the third place was initially coined by author Ray Oldenburg in the book “The Great Good Place.”   Famously, Starbucks built their business model on the idea that people need a third place other than home and work for community inspired the likes of Starbucks.  They envisioned their stores to be,   “A place for conversation and a sense of community.   A third place between work and home.”

Naturally, as a church leader, it makes sense to me that people need a third place of community outside of work and home, and for centuries church has been that place.

In developing our mission at Evangel we have intentionally worked at promoting the value of community among us.  For example, once a month our Sunday worship becomes something of a coffee house where we do face to face church around tables in our hall.

Recently, however, I was introduced to another concept through a book by Dave Gibbons called, “The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid leadership for a Third Culture Church.”   The idea of third culture comes from a study called:  Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

The study concerns third culture kids like missionary kids, military brats, children of diplomats, or people who have attended international schools.  These children, growing up in a culture other than the culture of their parents, have learned to live in two cultures without identifying completely with either.  They are according to the study, “citizens of the world.”

There are a few third culture kids in our community and the number is bound to increase as the children of first generation Canadians adapt.

Putting these two concepts together, it seems to me, the church of today and tomorrow has the potential to be both a third place and a third culture.

I’m still unpacking in my mind what this might look like.   As a kingdom citizen I have a sense of being in the world but not of it, of being not fully at home in the world.   In the words of Augustine,

you have made us for yourself
and our hearts are restless
’till they find their rest in you.’ St Augustine

This Christian worldview is a unique strength in a society of the displaced who are hungry for community and a home.  We of all people know what it means to be the community of the dispersed, a third culture place.

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