Tag Archives: Healing

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

Advertisements

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!

Appreciating those in our lives…

It’s easy to overlook important relationships in our lives. It seems that we more easily maintain work relationships, or those with close friends whom we relate to best and see often because there is something in it for us; gratification, a sense of belonging, validation, you pick the reason.  There are however, relationships that should be closer to us but take a great deal more effort to maintain for whatever reason; distance, dissimilar interests, age… again, you pick the reason. I lump myself into the latter category too. I’m a very busy, self-employed man who has little trouble filling in the hours and minutes of the day and I often have to work to stay connected to those that matter most to me…. I’m not always successful and in fact, I believe I often fall short. It’s when I read a story like the one at the bottom of this post that I’m reminded of the importance of nurturing important relationships… whether they are with our Mother, Father, Sister, Brother… or most especially, with Jesus. That’s right… I have to remind myself that he’s an active part of my life and I have to remember to invite him into it. It’s easy to pray, offer thanks… the easy, warm and fuzzy stuff, but I need to remember to allow him into my life as my Lord, brother, confidant, accountability partner and friend.

Making time for someone special in your life doesn’t need to be a big production. It can be a coffee, a phone call, a trip to the mall or the dump, fishing, you name what works for you… in the end, a two minute phone call to let someone know that they’re a part of your thoughts that day. Letting them know that they matter to you can become a memory that lasts a lifetime.

My Mother died six years ago… I often think of her and I truly miss her. I remember how we shared time together but also how we did not! I know she would have liked to have been a greater part of my life and it was significantly in my hands to allow that to happen. I often reminisce on how I’d planned to take her on a road trip to Whistler, BC for the day… just her, me and the wind in our hair. Many years and plenty of excuses later, she’s gone and sadly, that trip didn’t happen. I have forgiven in myself this situation and prayed for forgiveness to God also. The point here is, it doesn’t have to be a trip to Whistler; it could be a drive to the coffee shop, the park or just a drive through the country to share time together. Making time form those who are important to you is what makes the difference between a casual, convenient relationship and one that is worthy of the person who loves you and affords you the same.

My Dad is always willing to say “Yes… of course” when I ask him. Last week, I asked if he’d like to come for a ride with me… just to purchase some food for my Dog. Yes was the answer and even though it was only a half our trip, we enjoyed ourselves and shared time. I’m grateful for that simple memory and the countless others I have of my Dad as I remember him on his 79th birthday and this Father’s Day!
I pray we can all make an effort to care for those important relationships that take more work to maintain but have such great value. This writing was not out of guilt or hard memory, on the contrary, it was spawned out of the lovely memories I have of my Mom and Dad and the other friends and family who have shown me such great love and care over the years… it’s a reminder for me to continue to make the extra effort to connect and remain connected.
So… all of that said, Happy Father’s Day.

Do have a great week, make time to connect with those significant relationships in your life and enjoy the read below!

Tim

PS… I’m not responsible for the story below, I just found it very touching. It’s what inspired me to write the preface above.

———————————————————–

After 21 years of marriage, my wife wanted me to take another woman out to dinner and a movie. She said, “I love you, but I know this other woman loves you and would love to spend some time with you.”

The other woman that my wife wanted me to visit was my MOTHER, who has been a widow for 19 years, but the demands of my work and my three children had made it possible to visit her only occasionally. That night I called to invite her to go out for dinner and a movie. “What’s wrong, are you well?” she asked.

My mother is the type of woman who suspects that a late night call or a surprise invitation is a sign of bad news. “I thought that it would be pleasant to spend some time with you,” I responded. “Just the two of us.” She thought about it for a moment, and then said, “I would like that very much.”

That Friday after work, as I drove over to pick her up I was a bit nervous. When I arrived at her house, I noticed that she, too, seemed to be nervous about our date. She waited in the door with her coat on. She had curled her hair and was wearing the dress that she had worn to celebrate her last wedding anniversary. She smiled from a face that was as radiant as an angel’s. “I told my friends that I was going to go out with my son, and they were impressed, “she said, as she got into the car. “They can’t wait to hear about our meeting.”

We went to a restaurant that, although not elegant, was very nice and cozy. My mother took my arm as if she were the First Lady. After we sat down, I had to read the menu. Her eyes could only read large print. Half way through the entries, I lifted my eyes and saw Mom sitting there staring at me. A nostalgic smile was on her lips. “It was I who used to have to read the menu when you were small,” she said. “Then it’s time that you relax and let me return the favor,” I responded. During the dinner, we had an agreeable conversation – nothing extraordinary but catching up on recent events of each other’s life. We talked so much that we missed the movie. As we arrived at her house later, she said, “I’ll go out with you again, but only if you let me invite you.” I agreed.

“How was your dinner date?” asked my wife when I got home. “Very nice. Much more so than I could have imagined,” I answered.

A few days later, my mother died of a massive heart attack. It happened so suddenly that I didn’t have a chance to do anything for her. Sometime later, I received an envelope with a copy of a restaurant receipt from the same place mother and I had dined. An attached note said: “I paid this bill in advance. I wasn’t sure that I could be there; but nevertheless, I paid for two plates – one for you and the other for your wife. You will never know what that night meant for me. I love you, son.”

At that moment, I understood the importance of saying in time: “I LOVE YOU” and to give our loved ones the time that they deserve. Nothing in life is more important than your family. Give them the time they deserve, because these things cannot be put off till “some other time.”

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

Hearing from God

As it often happens on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I find myself lounging for the first couple of hours of the day with my coffee and my laptop. I’m an early riser and because I’m usually up before the rest of humanity, I do something that allows me to be silent and still and that feeds my heart and mind. I read and enjoy the nectar produced by pouring hot water over carefully roasted beans and then blending that nectar with cream… but I digress.

The results of my reading usually find me inspired or challenged by a topic. Today, as I often do, I was reading a blog post at Relevant magazine. The post I’m referring to was about God’s hearing voice or waiting in what we feel is His silence (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/3-reasons-god-silent#h7EARcT5zmWlUuOV.99).  It was an interesting read and for the most part, I agree and feel similarly, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

At the bottom of the blog article, there is a place for reader comments. My writing today is in response to a question posed by a reader named “Jennifer” who asked “What if you kind of feel like you have never “heard” from God? Could someone explain what hearing from God means?”

I too have felt like this in the past. I wondered what it would feel like, look like or sound like if I were to hear from God. I didn’t have the first clue what hearing from God would resemble. Jennifer… I’m going to try to answer your question, because it’s a tough one and it may challenge us both. You’re going to have to be a little patient with me though… I’m going to share my experience and my take on how it might happen or at least, how it’s happened for me.

What I’ve come to learn about “hearing” from God is this. Hearing from God is like hearing from anyone else… we have to play an active role in our relationship with Him and we have to be willing to communicate. Communicating means listening as much as it does talking. It also means being a little sensitive or perceptive toward God just as we must when we get know friends and family in our life. We learn those little unspoken mannerisms particular to them.

When we listen, do we know what to listen for when it comes to hearing from God? Does it sound like a booming voice? Is it a quiet whisper? In my experience, I’ve sensed God’s leading or voice, but I’ve also actually “heard” audibly and directly from God. Before you say “Really?” and roll your eyes, please let me explain. When I heard God’s voice, it was something that was completely unexpected! It was in a location that I would have thought would be the last place on Earth that I would have experienced God actually speaking to me. That’s exactly what happened to me though.

I was standing in a restaurant/bar in one of the major casino properties in Vegas when I was given a verbal and direct account by God of what was about to occur in the next few minutes. I can’t share the details of what he said to me as this involves more than just me. What I can say though, is that it was an amazing and powerful experience in which God used me in someone else’s life… to show them love and acceptance. God told me “word for word” what was I was about to hear… I did not hear Him tell me how to respond. He simply told me, in great detail, what was about to occur. Now… I have to tell you, having this happen to me while enjoying a beer in a restaurant/bar in Vegas was not lost on me. I’m here to tell you that I was a little more than blown out of my socks. I just stood there, leaning against a shelf, holding my beer and listening to the Author of the Universe tell me what was going to happen next.

I didn’t know why at the time God chose to speak to me, but I just listened (for about 3 minutes).  Call it 1 minute after God had shared with me what He wanted me to know, I was approached by this person and what happened thereafter had me holding my jaw from hitting the floor!  What I heard was exactly what God had told me that I would hear.  This person shared the same statements and the same questions God said they would… VERBATIM!  Yup… my mind was blown, but as a result what God had revealed to me, I was also quite prepared and at peace. The other person however… was a little more than surprised that I had such clarity in our situation considering I’d only met them a couple of hours beforehand and we’d not spoken ten words to each other. I was however, able to be used by God in this person’s life for the next 4 hours. We talked and connected because I had been prepared for this conversation by what God shared with me and by His Holy Spirit. I was led by and open to what God was doing. Why did God choose me to share this experience with this person? I don’t honestly know! I suppose he’d been preparing me for some time in various ways before this event actually happened. What I do know, is that it happened and that I’m humbled and grateful to have been a part!

I heard God clearly and directly before this person came over to talk to me and share with me what they needed to. God’s voice was clear and distinct, but I couldn’t describe what it sounded like if you were to ask. As I mentioned, this person was a complete stranger to me before that day began. I’d only become acquainted with them a few hours before our experience together. What I heard just before our experience was God’s audible (to me) voice. What I heard and felt afterward was a peaceful guiding of my mind and heart through the rest of the conversation that followed. God used the experiences of my life and also my life with Him to witness to another. At first, God’s voice was audible and then, it became spiritual. It was easy to follow because I was open to it. God was in my heart and guided me every step of the way. I know that God loved this other person enough to bring us together to answer some questions that they’d been seeking and suffering in their life. He talked to us and through us both, but make no mistake… it all began with God actually speaking to me in an audible form! I heard His voice.

So, after my regurgitation… what am I saying about hearing God’s voice? God can speak to us in many ways, but rest assured that He does speak to us! He can speak audibly to us, though I can tell you that in my experience, it’s rare. What I just described was the only time in my life where I’d actually heard God talk to me directly in an audible form… at least, that I’m aware of. God can speak through scripture. He can speak through the life of another or through a direct human interaction. He can use a tree or an eagle. He can us the laughter or tears of a child. He is not limited in any way. We however are limited in our ability to hear Him because OUR perceptions, intelligence and doubt get in the way.

Something I’ve come to learn about God is that He’s very direct. He lets me know what He’s thinking, but it’s up to me to listen or see what He’s trying to tell me. I have to do my part. I have to remain aware and sensitive. That can happen through prayer sometimes, but mostly, for me it happens through living my life. God does speak to us and answer us, but WE have to get out of the way to hear it! There was a time in my life when God was giving me answers. In fact, He was probably shouting at me, but I wasn’t listening to him at all! That said, He never stopped trying to share with me what He wanted me to know. He never stopped pursuing me!

My point here is that God is not limited in the way that He communicates with us and that His communication with us is unique to us! It’s between Me and God as much as your communication is between YOU and God. It all starts with letting God into your heart and then spending time with him. You may feel a peace that you can’t explain. You may hear His voice directly. You may read a piece of scripture that speaks to you. You may hear an answer that comes from another person who may be a complete stranger or a trusted friend. You will know that it is God though. You will know it because it will be clear and undeniable truth. God is direct and purposeful and He wastes nothing!

My inspiration to write this post came because I read a question asked by someone I’ve never met or am likely to meet. It came because I saw something in the words that spoke to me. There was something about the question that prompted me to write this today. I don’t know if it will help or if it even answers Jennifer’s question, but I did sense that God wanted me to try. God spoke to me through the question of another because he needed me to know the answer to something that I’m going through right now. He also needed me to know that He’s there even though the answers I’m searching for right now seem elusive and hard to see. Now that I’m here, I see much of what I’ve been missing because I’ve been getting in the way.

There is a great DVD series by Bill Hybels called “Whispers”, which is an excellent resource that speaks to this very question that I would recommend anyone watch.

I am quite sure that there will be some people who will read this and think… “yeah… another God following nutbar!”. Honestly, if I read what you just did, I’d have my doubts too. It seems so far fetched and anyone with some patience and a keyboard could conjur up a story like this. If that’s what you think, that’s OK, you don’t have to believe a word I’ve shared. All I can do is to tell you is that this really happened to me. If you’re reading this and doubting what I’ve said, ask yourself this… “Tim will never meet me, he has no agenda in my life and he’ll likely never be aware of what happens to me… why did he take the time to write this?” I could offer you the answer here, but I’d rather you ask it by making a comment. Better still though… I hope you’ll try to answer it for yourself and maybe even ask God in the process. I promise you, God is listening and He would absolutely love to hear from you! He will answer, just be still and wait on Him… His answer may be subtle, but it will come.

I know this whole article sounds cryptic and weird, but that’s was my experience. God’s voice or method of communication is as varied as we are! Because of that, how He reveals Himself to us is personal and unique to us. I can tell you is that the best way to hear Him is to talk to Him and then, live your life. There is a lot of “noise” experienced while living life, but if you look or listen carefully, you’ll hear from God… You’ll know it’s Him because what you hear will be clear and identifiable truth. Absolute truth! You just need to be honest with yourself about what you hear! It may be very hard to hear, but trust that it will be exactly what you need to hear because God loves you and cares enough about you to tell you… and He’ll never stop! Ever!