Tag Archives: God

 Where is God when you need Him?

I love my friends!  I’m blessed and very fortunate to say that I have many.   Not just acquaintances or people I merely like, but many genuine and good friends.  My friends are diverse and come from every walk of life.  They’re a melting pot of humanity and experience.  I love them all! (I love each of you dearly).

I learn from each of my friends and sometimes, I learn from their interactions with each other.  Occasionally, those interactions strike a chord within me and compel me to reflect on what they’re saying and what it causes me to think.  The outcome, is the result of how I understand their dialog and what it has caused me to reflect upon based upon my own understanding and experience.

One such occurrence happened recently between two of my friends. Let’s call them… Thelma and Louise.   Thelma made an initial post on Facebook which almost made it past me (almost).  It was within the context of the following dialog with Louise which challenged me to consider how I felt during the unfolding of their discussion:

Thelma: “Perhaps, God is with us all the more in the worst of times.”

Louise: “I’d have to disagree. That would make his presence dependent upon our emotional condition. That is no God at all.”

Thelma: “You’re right. But my point was that if it is in the worst of times that we feel alone and without God, HE IS THERE. It is just hard to see him… If that makes sense. It’s easy to see God in the good, harder in the bad… That’s what I’m trying to say.”

I wanted to write to both, but specifically to Thelma.  While writing my reply to her, I was really challenged to understand what this question looked like in my own life experience.   The result is this blog post.

As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to find and sense God throughout my day(s).  In some ways, it seems odd for me to say that, because sometimes… I doubt!  I’ve been witness to miracles and yet… I still, sometimes experience doubt.  When I thought about this question in the context of my doubt, I realize that my doubt is rooted in my frailty and need, not in the lack of God’s presence in my life… He’s there, but my emotion and need crowds Him out at times.  This is especially ironic since I’m the one calling out to Him in my moments of need and vulnerability.

I have felt as Thelma describes, but as I’ve grown to know God, I realize, as Thelma and Louise both say, He IS there.  It’s in my times of sadness or despair however that I sometimes still feel alone.  Being on my own for the past number of years, you can imagine I’ve had opportunity to experience this feeling more than once or twice.  Moving away from my home of 42 years was particularly challenging because I was moving to a place where I really knew only two people.  Of course, there were more than that, but local to me, there were only two.  I felt very alone and isolated.  Bless those two friends for their seemingly infinite patience.  They’ve helped me forge some great new friendships as did the Pastor of my new Church family.  I was welcomed from the moment moved to my new community and when I walked through the front doors of my new Church (Bless you YAC).

So… need!  Yep, we all have them and that’s not a bad thing.  In fact, knowing and understanding our needs is very healthy for us as they will guide us in our relationships and their definition.

Occasionally though, our needs can get in our way.  Knowing who we are and what makes us tick, understanding the things that motivate us and define who we are is essential; but letting those needs overwhelm who we are is where we can get off track.  Sometimes, we may need so much that the need in itself becomes fear… and who wants to live in fear?

So, to get back to Thelma’s question, is God more prevalent or present in the worst of times?  Well, if you sense God more in the worst of times, Bless you because at least you know you’re not alone, but as Louise states, He’s always there!  I think it’s a matter of us needing God more when times get tough.  When things are going well, most of us (if we’re honest) will say “thank you God” and move on with our day.  Sometimes, we’ll offer praise and thanks, but good times are easy to let happen, even take for granted.  It’s in our times of great need or even fear, that we’re compelled to cry out!  It’s in those moments that we more acutely need to feel God’s presence and so, we pray, weep, get angry or whatever we feel we need to do in the moment.  Notice a thread here?  Who’s doing the changing?  God’s is constant and consistent, but WE change with our need.  During good times, we need less or maybe, are less dependent, than we are during times of trial or desperation.

I think the healthy path here is to try to walk with God ALL of the time.   It is a friendship… a relationship.  When you value someone, you make time for them.  You go out of your way for them, because the relationship is important to you.  That can become difficult at times, because we can become focused on our lives.  We tend to focus on what’s in front of us.  It takes effort to maintain a relationship.  If it’s a healthy relationship, that effort may appear “effortless”, but make no mistake, you’re still making a choice.  The same holds true in our relationship with God.   We need to make time to acknowledge and spend time with God!  That effort may be through prayer, reading scripture or going for a walk and simply talking to God.

I try to include God in my day, wherever I am or go.  I have grown to a point in my faith that God simply IS!  He’s a part of me and I walk with Him through all things, good and bad.    That doesn’t make it easy or easier, I just permit myself to allow God and His wisdom into my life, no matter where I am.    While that hasn’t always been the case, I’m grateful to say that I think my relationship with God is for the most part, fairly balanced.   What I mean to say is that I believe I have a reasonably healthy relationship with God.  Sometimes, I have to remember to let him have a part in my walk, but that doesn’t happen as often now.   With that said however, I find that I will cry out more when my need or dependence is greater, though I think that’s true in most any relationship.  It’s OK to ask for help and in fact, it’s healthy as long as you also appreciate that when we ask for help, we must do our part too and accept that help.  Sometimes, the help may not be what “we” want to hear or see, but if we’re going to learn or grow in the situation from the help we receive, we need to put our ego down and reflect!

Where is God when we need him?   I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you that in my experience, He’s always been with me.  On one occasion, I even demanded he show up!  I was feeling very alone and vulnerable!  I very much needed to feel his presence in my life!  I was on my knees sobbing and utterly vulnerable.  My understanding of His presence in my life wasn’t enough… I really needed to “feel” God’s presence and in that moment He came through for me!  It was personal, but I was touched and assured of His love, compassion and presence.  I’m truly grateful for God’s love in that moment, but I had to do my part too.  I had to ask!  I had to be willing to be vulnerable and ask!

Your relationship with God is between you and God.  Some might say that it seems one sided.  I’ve even felt that way in the past, but I realized I was being selfish.  I realized that God is with me everywhere I go, all of the time!  I realized that because faith is a part of my relationship with God and that since He’s always there long before I need him, I have to do my part to ask for help, look for or listen to Him.

Is God more prevalent during our darkest hours, our times of trial or deeper need?  No,  It’s just happens that in those times, we’re more dependent and in need of consolation or reassurance.  If you feel I’m wrong, then ask yourself this… when you’re in a troubling situation, do you phone a friend, reach out to your Mom or Dad or someone you trust, simply because you don’t want to be alone?  We’re wired for relationship and need more when times get tough and that’s OK, because the alternative… well… that’s another post!

Religion and barf bags…

It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything truly thought provoking and then… I came across an article, written by a guy named Chris Kratzer, entitled:

“Why modern Christianity makes people vomit”.

http://chriskratzer.com/why-modern-christianity-makes-people-vomit-2/

I knew I wanted to read the article, but I waited until this morning because I wanted to give myself time to honestly evaluate whether it offered anything of value or challenged me in any way.  I guess I found it engaging because I’ve written something of a response to it.  One of the things I found most notable about the article were the comments.  One person “Matthew” offered his very “real” and direct life experience at the hands of what this article calls out.  (Matthew’s comment is below)

http://chriskratzer.com/why-modern-christianity-makes-people-vomit-2/#comment-129199

I found both very thought provoking to say the least.  I’ve been where Chris describes a number of times and I’ve also been surrounded by a “grace first” church congregation (and still am).  I’ve also spent a good deal of time during the last 4 years of my life as a single man hoping to find a relationship with someone who shares my faith.  During my search, I encountered in the online “Christian” world  much of what Chris describes in his article.

I was raised by two very loving and kind parents (unlike Matthew) who were heavily indentured into “religion”.  That’s not to say they both didn’t love Jesus… but it is to say that they allowed ritualism to blend into their faith, which then they tried to “have” me follow in too.

Long ago, I decided for myself that religion itself can be truly manipulative in nature (this is not restricted to Christianity alone), but in the same statement, I also acknowledge that’s not what Jesus came to teach or model, nor is it what many people of faith view as the basis for their life in faith.  That said, this was not my take away from the article.

You see (and I agree with a lot of things Matthew mentions in his comments), the one thing the article does not speak to is self-reflection and personal accountability.  The article goes a long way in exposing the underbelly of religious Christianity.  How it is rife with legalism and judgementalism, but it does not directly talk about the root of both of those labels which is based in a lack of choice and personal accountability.  “Matthew” in his comments, appears to have taken a very sober inventory of his life and has made a decision based on what he’s learned in the face of what he’s been taught and seen demonstrated in his life (sadly… he had, what by his account seems like an awful example and teaching).  Matthew’s taken the time to reflect on himself and his experience instead of blaming others as his mother modeled.  Some would call her actions “blind faith”.  I call it deliberate ignorance because it requires no personal accountability or action, just blind, unconfirmed or acknowledged obedience.  A very good friend (who also happens to be a pastor) once said to me “if you don’t question your faith, your faith is questionable”.  Damn straight!  Why do you believe what you believe and what do you stand for?

Unfortunately, there is much of modern Christianity that appears to the world as Chris’s article describes… it’s easier to label someone as horrible or sinful (insert your descriptor of choice here) to make yourself feel better about your own crap!  It’s easier to point a finger than it is to look at yourself.  The sad part though is that this behaviour is not held exclusive to religious behaviour, though the hypocrisy is far more common and prevalent.

Chris (the author), seemingly in frustration, appears to label the people he alludes to rather than simply handing them a mirror.  What they choose to do with that mirror is up to them, just as it was Matthew’s choice to turn away from God (my words), or deny His existence altogether.   Matthew evaluated for himself and made a choice.

It’s no secret that religion has been used as a tool or weapon of manipulation throughout history and my words or the words in Chris’s article are not likely to change that.

Jesus died for us to bring us freedom and yet, we still cling to and deal with chains!   I know that Christ was one tough Hombre when he needed to be, but in all things He taught and lived, He simply presented and modeled truth.  The rest is up to us to weigh and decide.   God leaves the choice to us.

Sadly, there are many who hide behind or twist God’s message to us to make their own crap seem more justifiable by manipulating or quoting scripture out of context to suit their means or worse… to whip and torture people with guilt and shame.  In the end though, they’re rationalizations and nothing more.    The result however, is that children and people who just need someone to be human and walk with them are judged as sinful and are scorned for their vulnerability and honesty.  They wind up being chastised for being honest and reaching out for help.  I suppose you could say that they too are being handed a mirror, but that mirror comes with a context of disdain and judgment rather than being offered in humility and love.

I have no idea of what it was like for “Matthew” to live what he has, but I do know what it was like to live what I have and that’s what I can own and more importantly, reflect and share.  I can offer to sit with someone like Matthew and reflect what I see when I look in my own mirror in the face of my life experience.  Hopefully, I will be honest with myself about what I see and Matthew will see the sincerity and integrity in my account, through my humility and humanity.

Chris’s article mentions (please read the article to get the whole context):

“Nothing enflames the passion of your cause more than to discover a new enemy. If you can’t find a real one, you simply string one together—homosexuality, liberality, wars against Christianity, prayer in schools, transgender equality—always some ax to grind. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails than to be absent of sin-targets for which to take your self-righteous aim— those who sin differently than you, your favorite sitting duck.”

While this seems an accurate account, it doesn’t mention the downside of identifying this without offering some personal experience or testimony.  It winds up achieving  the very thing you’re upset about.  To be honest… I agree with nearly everything Chris writes in his article, but the article only identifies the behaviour so many have come to suffer from or revile.  It doesn’t challenge the reader or the subject of his text (religious, judgemental people) to take a look at themselves before looking for something or someone else to blame so their living is easier to bear or justify.

As someone who leads in worship, I was a little startled by these words:

“Where are the choruses, “My life sucks right now, and so does God?” I know, that would be too raw and real to where many are truly at I guess— doesn’t fit a starch-ironed, pleated theology, or look good on LED-shaded projection screens.”

Worship is a lot more than lights and music… it’s a willingness to sit with someone or welcome them in their pain or joy and share your shoulder and honest experience too.  It’s also about being vulnerable when singing “Lord, I need you, Oh, how I need you”, because you honestly find yourself doing that whether you’re crying in a pew, singing from the stage or all alone in your bedroom at night.  Gratefully, I “live” in a church where humanity, humility and grace come first.  Where everyone is aware that someone walking through the doors may have used what seems like their last bit of strength to be there and the last thing they need is to have their ass kicked by “religion”.   I also want to add… not all songs sung in church are about feel good praise and worship.   Many dig deep and say… life hurts, but there is a flip side…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgGUKWiw7Wk

Thanks J.J. … this is a personal favourite… and then there’s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEn74zP1glQ

Which has seen me wondering this on more than one occasion.

Modern Christianity itself doesn’t make people vomit, it’s some of the people practicing it that makes them ill!  When people find out that I’m a “Jesus follower”, they immediately say “oh, you’re religious”, to which I reply… “No, my faith is in Christ because He meets me where I live!  My life isn’t about rules, it’s about choice.”  The article misses something very important.  The “Christians” it mentions are using the Bible as a hammer, rather than a mirror.

I used to get “sick” myself and on some occasions, I even allowed myself to be hurt or angered by much of the rhetoric and judgmental garbage the article identifies.  Then I realized that the very people who are pointing their fingers and looking down their noses are also in pain.  They too need grace and forgiveness… they just don’t realize it because they’ve been taught to and find it easier, even convenient to judge, hate and fear rather than be humble, vulnerable and self-reflective  enough to ask for help and receive love.

I apologize for the long winded response, but if there’s a part 2 to the article, I think it’s what I mentioned in my response to “Joe” who asks about a “next steps” proposition.

The next steps are simple… take an honest inventory of your life and be prepared to be completely honest with yourself about what you see.  Be honest with yourself about the good and the bad and then, be willing to own it.  The rest may be hard because, if you don’t like what you honestly see, it probably requires action and accountability.  The steps are simple, I didn’t say the work would be.   It isn’t for me!

This article itself points a finger, but doesn’t propose a solution (though I think it’s implied).   The solution is to ask yourself with no one else around… Who are you really?  What do you honestly believe if there’s no one there to judge you?  Do you like who you are, your convictions and how you’re living?   Do you like the choices you make for yourself?

Now, with that in mind, act based on your answers about yourself and if that seems overwhelming… ask for help and be prepared to be honest and vulnerable.  Hopefully you’ll find someone just as flawed as you are to help and encourage you… just like I did.

A good friend of mine sent this to me yesterday… the timing seems a little uncanny, but maybe this will help you when it comes time to finding that honest someone…

Character and words

Expand on your faith???

Recently, someone called me out on a statement I’ve been known to make from time to time.  I’ve been quoted as saying that I’m “Christian, but not religious”.  That person really called me to task and asked me to expand on what that means to me exactly.  I think I’ve always had a comfortable understanding what that means to me, but I’ve never had to paint that picture or define what I truly mean when I make that statement.  Going through a period in my life where Faith is truly all I have to lean on, I was challenged to discern my feelings, situation, experience, challenges, triumphs and relationships to arrive at a response that is not just “off the cuff”.

Having recently moved to a new community and beginning the process of making new connections can make for a lot fun and excitement, but there are significant periods of time where, it’s just me (of course, God is there too).  It’s during those times where my faith and my relationship with God really gets put to the test.

When writing my response, I didn’t have to hesitate, I just had to try to define what my walk looks like.

Here’s the result….

“Expand on my faith… hmmm… that I can do. It’s odd you should ask me this… today especially. I was recently in the office of the pastor of my Church. We’re in the process of getting to know each other and becoming friends. I was telling him about my faith and what it’s based on.  Beyond what we were talking about (though some of this was a part of the discussion), It’s not based on my showing up in Church on Sunday, singing on a worship team or serving people in some way in the hope that I’m doing something good or of value.

Faith is about trust, respect, and integrity. It’s knowing that while Christ was here, he was not here to tell people how to live their lives, but rather, to show us.  He did not want to force us, but to give us an alternative, an example. Mostly though, I believe Christ was here to love us. This is not some fantasy I believe. Far from it. I truly believe Christ was here, I believe he lives on and I truly believe that one day (which no one will know until it happens) He will come again.

Faith is not something you talk about, or some expressions you make, it’s something you live. Just because I talk about Jesus with confidence doesn’t make me faithful. Trusting in Him, in what He’s teaching me and acting on that understanding reveals my faith.  Trusting that He’s here with me and walking with me, even when it would be easier to depend on what I know or what I can see is an example of my faith.  For me, faith is trusting what Christ is trying to show me in order to choose to truly live the life He’s created for me.

If you’ve chosen to read this far, I’ll share with you that I don’t use God or Jesus 10 times in each sentence. I don’t say “praise God” or “Hallelujah” every other sentence.  Words don’t make me faithful or reveal my faith.  I’m just a regular person like everyone else. My life is not perfect and I suffer the same trials as everyone else. Choosing to follow my life in faith does not guarantee that it will be perfect or that I am perfect. I’m just as flawed as anyone living on Earth. To be honest, there are many “people of faith” who do more to steer folks away from a possible relationship with God because of their “religious” views, expressions and actions than there are who lead others to him because of how they choose to demonstrate their “belief”.  It’s much harder to love someone you don’t agree with, whose viewpoint you don’t share and whose lifestyle choices clash with your own than it is to point a finger at them and tell them you don’t agree with them or that they’re wrong.  Don’t misunderstand, sometimes we need to share the kind truth with each other, but we must be careful to ensure it’s more about truth than our comfortable perspective.

I don’t live my life following Christ because there’s a set of rules I must adhere to. I do not live in fear, but rather, I live my life with a healthy love and respect for God. I want to understand why God shares a path for us in the way that He does. He doesn’t ask us to follow Him because he’s a control freak. He’s God. He doesn’t need to. Instead, I truly believe that he has our best interests at heart and wants us to learn why he provided the wisdom and path that he has. This is not blind obedience we’re called to. It’s really no different than the love a parent would show and guide a child with. God’s word to us is for our benefit and it is shared out of love and a desire to see us thrive.

I could go on but I’m pretty sure you get the picture. So… if you would like to have an honest and open discussion about it sometime, I’d be more than happy to share time with you. If not, I completely understand, but this is who I am. God put within me a heart of love, though it’s taken me years to finally come to the point where I may be humble enough to share it with someone. Time will tell that tale.

Cheers,
Tim”

We never did share that conversation, though I did receive a reply which let me know what I shared was understood and appreciated.

We don’t need to agree to live and love together, but we do need to be respectful and that…. sometimes, takes faith.

Have a great weekend and remember while you’re following your nose, there is much you can lean on because you’re loved and valued.  In that, you can have faith.

Life lies beyond our fear

It’s been a long while since we’ve chatted, or more accurately put, I’ve poured out my heart and mind.  Thank you once again for your willingness to read if you choose to do so.

2014 was a whirlwind and a roller coaster to say the very least.  There were many harrowing moments in the past year which caused me to have a good look, take action and allow significant change into my life.  Of course, most of my troubles were (and are) first world problems and really, if I’m honest, they were about risking my comfort.  While that’s not an entirely fair statement, the choices I made were important to my growth as a person, a man and a Christian and they were voluntary.  I had a choice in the matter.  It was mine to choose in terms of what direction my life would take.  I’m so very blessed and fortunate to have the gifts and abilities that I’ve been so very abundantly provided with.  I’m grateful to God every day for the many talents and abilities He’s given me.  I truly hope I’ve honoured Him in the way I choose to use them and in how they make me feel.  I honestly believe that by using our talents, by enjoying and reveling in them, we honour and please God.  I’m sure He delights in seeing us use our gifts and abilities in ways that are both joyful and steeped in servant-hood.

It’s been my experience that when we enter a relationship with God, we have to do one very important thing.  We have to give our “yes” to Him.  What does that mean exactly?  I can’t answer that for you, but I can describe what it’s been like for me.  When I first accepted God into my life some 30 years ago (this June), I was aware that change would come as a result of my new found relationship, but I didn’t take the time to really consider what that meant.  I didn’t take the time to truly learn what being a follower of Jesus was or that I even needed to.  I was just a fan!  I stood on the sidelines of my faith and did little to engage or encounter God.  Sure, I was definitely in love with God and his abundant creation, but I was little more than a kumbaya Christian.  Let’s all feel nice and treat each other nicely.  While that’s a noble and worthy pursuit that we’d all do well to engage in, there’s an awful lot more to living out this life in a relationship with God (thanks to a very good friend for teaching me this about myself and my journey).

A long story made short, I floundered for some twenty years and then, one day, I met someone whom I confidently believe God used to speak to me and say “OK sonny… enough is enough!”  I’m grateful that in his gracious way, He used a kind hand to speak to me rather than grabbing me by the scruff of the neck to get my attention (believe me, he’s let me hit the brick wall a few times too).  In this case, my heart was involved because of another of his children but because of that encounter, He and I had the opportunity to get to know one another.  I hear myself say that and realize that’s not what I should truly say.  God was there and waiting for me the whole time.  It was up to me to say hello or at least, to return His hello.  I did nothing of the sort because I had my ideas and had locked God neatly away within them.  I put God into a storage box and pulled him out whenever it was convenient.  How nice for me!  That all changed for me one day nearly 11 years ago now and the change progression has been slowly and steadily increasing for the better.  I’ve learned that while I still have moments of being a fan on the sidelines of faith, more and more, I’m an active follower of Jesus!  If you know me now or are someone who calls me friend, you know that my faith is core to who I am today.  It’s been a shaky, scary, bumpy and often frustrating and terrifying process, but I’m still here and I’m still hanging on!  I won’t let go and there’s a reason.

There are those who would say… “Hey Tim… that’s just what you believe.  I get ya, but I call it something else entirely.”  To that I would reply… I’m glad you see it that way and I’m glad you are willing to give me the space and grace to walk out this path that I’m on.  I’m just as willing to respect you in your journey too.  Hopefully along the way, we can check in with each other to see how each of us are doing and describe what our experience has looked like during the course of our lives.  You see, I think that’s how God (in part) works.  He lives within us and as we share and struggle together, we get to know Him through one another.  That’s not a romantic notion I hold.  I truly believe that’s part of our purpose while we’re here.  We encounter God (in part) though our interactions.

Anyway, I digress… what I’m here to tell you today is that I’ve learned something valuable in the last few years… this last year especially.  Life lies beyond our fears!  If  you know me, you know that’s quite a statement for me to make.  I like my life to be neat and tidy (not just my kitchen counters).  Change is not something I do well.   Sure, there are some forms of change that embrace well, but for the most part, when it comes to my life, I like things to be exactly where and how I place them.  Stepping outside my comfort zone is not something I do or do as often as I should.  That all changed for me last year.  I decided to shut down my personal consulting practice and join a large software company.  It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done.  It shook me to my core, but something told me that I needed to do it.  At the time, I thought it was necessary in terms of dealing with my physical and emotional health, but I’ve come to learn that there was more to it than that.  I truly believe that there was a part of my life that needed to change because God has been preparing me for something.  What that fully is has yet to be revealed exactly, but I do know that I’m being prompted to change and trust during this season of change because my growth requires it.  I can’t begin to describe how uncomfortable has made me feel because in the midst of the process, there is so much self-doubt.  Am I doing the right thing?  Am I making the right choice?  Can I trust what I’m doing?  The common theme there is ME.  I’ve not been acting with any faith that what I’m being drawn to do can be trusted.  I know (and fully believe) that it is up to me to choose what I do from day to day.

Does God hand pick each of my steps?  Well, I believe He creates a path for me to follow and that I’m free to follow it.   I believe God creates a healthy and orderly path for me to follow, but that path will also be intertwined with what life brings.  That’s the tough and challenging part of faith.  God is not a puppet master!  He gives each of us the gift of choice or free will… but trusting in the path I perceive He’s created for me allows me to put my faith into action and also aligns me with His  will.  I absolutely believe to my core that God wants nothing but good for me and I also believe he’s not going to put me in harm’s way.  It is up to me to learn, to listen and trust to God when I’m choosing a new path.  Sometimes, our parents give us a nudge out the door or in a direction that they feel is in our best interests and I don’t think God is any different.  I honestly believe I became stagnant in my life.  I was waiting for stuff to happen and became entrenched in the sidelines while waiting.   During that time however, God has been teaching me and equipping me for the change I’m now embarking upon.  He was teaching me that He’ll be there throughout and if I just trust in Him… I’ll be OK.  That’s not to say that life won’t get hard or messy, even dangerous, but I can count on his constancy and sovereignty to see me through because I can trust in His love for me and His desire for me to thrive.

Life begins beyond our fears… what a great statement!  It certainly does, but what’s even more encouraging and exciting though is that God will be there waiting to help us each step of the way.  There’s no place I can go where He won’t be with me and I find that very comforting.  While I may have moments where I’m scared and unsure, I also know that my potential and growth will be limited by my fear if I allow it.  I don’t for a moment think that living in fear is what God has in store for any of us.  Giving my YES to God each day and saying… “I don’t know what’s coming, but I know I can trust you for what I need in the days that are to come”.   Stepping forward in faith and living through it is what I’m going to do!  I don’t know what life will bring, but I do know that if I trust in what I’ve been taught and am being taught, I’ll be just fine… no matter the circumstance.

Sometimes, being a follower and not just a fan means taking action in your own life as much as it does taking action in the lives of others.  Sometimes, we need to take care of ourselves in order to be a bigger part of the Kingdom!  Fan or follower?  Sometimes, I’m still a fan, but more and more, I’m finding myself to be a follower  and I’m so grateful for what that brings in my life.  Laying our lives down may seem a tough thing to do, but what’s exceptional about it is that God will give us all kinds of grace in the process.  We just need to be willing to let Him in and to learn to trust Him.

For what it’s worth, it’s just like when I let go of the airplane when I tried skydiving, I not only felt exhilaration when I let go, I also felt the peace that followed during the journey to the ground and my friends waiting there.  Skydiving started out to be a terrifying roller coaster experience filled with terror, uncertainty and excitement.  Learning what I needed to be able to skydive was filled with scary moments which were followed by confidence and then fear again.  When I finally got into the airplane to make the actual jump… the reality of my situation became acute and I once again found myself terrified!  The coolest part of the experience though, was when I said to the jump-master “I don’t think I can do this”.  He calmly said “Just lean forward and let me check your pack and chute and if you still feel the same, you don’t have to go.”  From that moment forward, what I’d learned that day kicked in and I just followed what I’d been taught.  It was easy because I was able to step out on what I’d been shown with some confidence and faith.  I still didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I’d been well prepared for the experience.  Life is like that too.  All we need to do is trust in what we have and what we’ve been given… and the rest… that’s the journey.

To those of you who’ve been a part of my journey, those brave souls who’ve been willing to listen to me vent my fear or trepidation, thank you for your kindness and support!  I cherish each and every one of you!  To my Dad… thanks for being such a good example of patience, grace and honesty and for always being there.  To Scott… Seriously dude… I think we’re finally getting even  J To John & Christine… thanks for always being willing to be there and for teaching me the true meaning of friendship.  To Larry & Barb, Brian & Dar, Mike & Liz, Tim & Melissa, Anthony & Jana, Tim & Jo, Don & Chris, Arden & Pat, Barry & Lynda and the countless others who’ve been a part of my growth, words escape me, but thank you and I love you!

Fan or Follower, you must decide that for yourself, but try to remember to be kind to yourself in the process.  It’s not easy to follow, but I can promise you this… if you do follow, God will not ever leave you stranded.  He’ll always be there for you because I can tell you with certainty… He’s always been there for me!

Pastors… who are they really?

Christianity is a bumpy ride at best… if anyone says differently, they’re not being honest or they’re not living life! I don’t care who you are, life can definitely be hard (even when it seems to be going well). Choosing to follow Jesus is not a promise of sugar cane lollipops and clean sheets! Following Christ is a demanding choice that brings with it the promise of a healthier life if we choose to follow the example that Jesus taught and what God promises.

I’ve been more challenged in my latter adult life than at any other time, because I choose to follow Christ! I choose to make the hard choices I do to help me live the best life I can. I can’t say I get it right all of the time or even most of the time for that matter, but it’s incredible to know the difference because it means I have a path to follow and a guide to help show the way. It gives me hope!

God does want not tell us how to live our lives in terms of what we choose to do when buying a house, what we want for a career, where we want to live or what colour to paint the bathroom. I do believe though, that He hopes we’ll share or offer our choices to Him and ask for His guidance and wisdom. I know there are probably some people who just read that who may in part disagree with me. That’s completely OK… that’s between you and God to wrestle with. I’ll continue to engage God and wrestle with that stuff too.

I suppose this is where our Pastors come into the picture. What a huge responsibility they have. They have to be available for questions or thoughts like I just mentioned. They also have to be there for us as we struggle through our challenges, losses and triumphs. They’re an amazing group of people wouldn’t you agree? They choose to be an earthly guide to us as they present the Word or Message of God. They do this not just every Sunday, but every day! Every single day, our Pastors are on the spot because they must lead lives of example; the example that Jesus left for all of us to follow. That is an awesome responsibility! Not only must our Pastors lead lives of example, but their husbands or wives also share and present a similar example. On top of that, they must try to live out in their own lives the same advice they offer us. Talk about a hard road to walk!

While they engage in this life of service, they knowingly choose to be held by God to a higher standard! They are held accountable because they have chosen to publicly accept the responsibility for leading His people in a life committed to following Jesus Christ! WOW! I don’t know about you, but to me that seems like a pretty incredible responsibility to accept! To add even more responsibility, they must do what I just described with absolute grace and humility! When you think about it, it’s a pretty incredible life choice to make!

I hope by now you’re beginning to see my point. Our Pastors are pretty incredible people who have taken on an awesome responsibility! It’s been my privilege to make and maintain deeply bonded friendships with nearly all of the Pastors and families who have come into my life! I’m getting a little choked up thinking about it actually! Some of the very best friends I’ve ever had are Pastors! If you’ve known me for most of my life, you’d quickly realize how bizarre and unusual that sounds! I spent the 80% of my life outside of any form of Church or organized religion. I still do not consider myself a religious person, but I am definitely a deeply committed man of faith and follower of Jesus Christ! I’ve been a follower walking in grace for nearly 30 years, but I’ve not been involved in a church or with any pastors for the majority of it. In fact, it’s only in the last 10 years of my life where I’ve really become closely connected with any church or pastors. There’s a long story to my testimony and maybe one day, I’ll write about it, but this is about pastors and so I’ll continue to focus my thoughts on them. To do that though, I’ll have to share a little bit of what I’ve seen through my friendships with them.

Probably the most significant thing I’ve notice is THAT THEY’RE PEOPLE TOO! They experience the same struggles and trials in life that we do. They have to pay bills, maintain mortgages, raise children, buy food, face trials and cry tears like the rest of us do. When it comes to experiencing all that life can bring, they are no less subject to the trials of life than we are! I won’t share specifics about what I’ve seen, but I can tell you that what I’ve seen is no less challenging than anything I’ve faced in my lifetime.

When our pastors have trouble with their children, who can they turn to? Of course, they can and will turn to God, but it’s also nice and real to need a certain amount of human support too. They’re there for us when we need them… are we just as available to them when they need us? When their kids or family get sick, when they maybe having a marital or relational problem or when they’re struggling in their faith just like we do, who here on Earth can they turn to?

So far, I’ve only focused on the stuff life can bring their way, but what about the stuff that really doesn’t belong to them like our expectations of them? Do we consider that they have lives and trials just like we have when we say we need them? Are we aware of the difficult decisions they must make like whether or not to help someone financially? They have to make financial decisions every single day with funds entrusted to them by their congregation and by God! They must discern whether someone is truly in need or is fabricating a story just to get a hand out. They choose to help guide our children, teens and young adults and they have to deal with our expectations of how they’re to do that too.

Who do they turn to when they have troubles within their own pastoral community? Managing a staff of church employees and pastoral staff is no different than managing regular employees because they’re all regular people, but who can they talk to about it. Peer review and experience are important resources to lean on when making business and staffing decisions and they exist beyond the church. Are we available without judgment and in confidence?

Who do they turn to when they’re struggling with a problem themselves? What if they need someone who isn’t in the pastoral community to listen to them because they need someone who has shared the same experience? What if they need to turn to you for help, would you be ready or willing? I don’t necessarily want to talk with my girlfriend about everything. I may be struggling in a relationship issue with her and I need to hear another perspective before I try to discuss it with her. I’m not saying that we should air our laundry publicly, but sometimes, it’s helpful to say what you’re thinking to someone else and have them reflect back to you what they heard you say. Maybe the issue is all me and I need a checkup from the neck up. Our pastors needs are no different.

I think we have an conception or understanding that our Pastors are infinitely wise, their lives are largely without trouble or trial and that they probably don’t need us. Well, guess again! They’re people just like us and they need the same love and grace we do! They’re no less human and therefore no less prone to the trials or temptations in life that we are.

I’ve seen in a few cases where people live their faith lives vicariously through their pastor. They “do what they do” and happily accept the grace they receive from their pastor or friends, but are very quick to judge a pastor when they fall in the same things they’re guilty of because their expectation is that their pastor is beyond sin! Well… I’d rather have a sinful, repentant and real pastor than a fake, holier than thou pastor any day of the week and twice on Sunday!

I happened to be at an event recently where my pastor and his wife wept openly while they watched their son admit to a part of his life he’d been struggling with. It was not easy for their son to admit to and it was no easier for my friends to watch their son make his obviously honest and sincere testimony! What I can tell you is this… they were not crying because they felt shame or guilt because of what their son was publicly offering in his testimony. They were weeping tears of joy because their child had claimed freedom from the dominion of pain they’d been labouring under and the guilt and shame of that past. What was my response? I cried with them, held them and supported them too because they’re my friends and I love them!

Pastors have kids who have to go through the same teenage years that ours do… those waters can be shark infested at the best of times and it’s no different for them. They have illness, financial challenge, need for retirement and other challenges to face within their own families and lives just like we do. They do all of that and still listen to our burdens and suffering because let’s face it, most of the time we need their counsel when things aren’t going too well in our lives. We usually need them when we have a difficult challenge or question we’re facing and we want or need their time to work through that stuff. They share with us as we watch our kids being born and they weep with us when we lay our loved ones to rest. All the while, they’re facing the same stuff in their own lives!

I think we should have a national “love your pastor” day because they definitely deserve our love and respect! One day seems too little considering they give back to and serve us nearly every day. Think about that… they’re living a pastoral life every day of their life. Here’s a challenge from me to you. Make a day in your own life to honour or thank your pastor… just as they do for you each and every day of theirs.

I have to say that I’m overwhelmed when I think of all of the pastors who’ve been giving, loving and kind to me. They’ve sacrificed their time when I’ve needed them. They’ve been there to help guide me through very difficult moments in life and in my faith. God has richly blessed me by allowing me to become closely connected with my pastors! They are among the wisest and most gracious people I’ve ever met. Not because they bear the title pastor, but because they choose to be kind, gracious, humble, truthful and above all, human!

I’m writing this today because I want to honour the pastors who’ve always been there for me and who continue to remain willing to be there for me. Beyond that, they choose to call me friend and share friendship and life with me! What a blessing they are. I’ve been told that no matter where I am or what time of the day it may be, I’m always welcome to call… not because I’m anyone special, but because they truly love me, care for me and want the very best for me!

What an amazing blessing our pastors are to us each and every day… let’s all take time to give them a hug and tell them that we not only we appreciate what they do for us, but why! Tell your pastor that you love them if you do and how they’ve helped you or helped shape your life. Worshiping God is about more than music. Worshiping God is about recognizing and rejoicing in his blessing and provision for us. Celebrating your pastors and their families with love and acknowledgment of their life choice is God honouring worship too, not to mention, it’s just kind appreciation for all of the love and sacrifice we receive from them every day.

Larry, Don, Arden, Mike, Sara, Heather, BrianD, BrianT, Ed, Lynda, Doug, TimB, TimD, Scott, Rick, Anthony, Nate and any that I’ve missed; to you and your families, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all of the love, care, compassion and patience you’ve shared with me over the years. Thank you for loving me enough to kick my butt when I’ve needed it. Thank you for always being willing to ask the hard questions and then walk through them with me. Thank you for trusting me with your confidence when you’ve needed my friendship and thank you especially for always being real people! You’re a light unto my path and my life would not be the same without your loving friendship!

Always and with love,
Tim