Friday, March 8, 2013

Lessons From the Barber's Chair

This morning I was getting my hair cut and it dawned on me. I have trust issues. There I was in the chair wringing my hands, my whole body tensed up and second guessing every move this professional hair dresser made. In a split second, I realized the ridiculousness of my nerves. Maria, the woman cutting my hair this morning, was clearly capable. She was well trained. No doubt she had cut the hair of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Of the two of us, she was obviously better suited to know what approaches and techniques were appropriate to cut my mop. With this in mind, I felt like I had a decision before me. Would I continue to experience the internal turmoil of second guessing what she was doing, or would I entrust my hair to her care and sit back and relax?

I wonder if we often apply this type of nervousness and lack of trust to life in other ways. How often to do we find ourselves wringing our hands, physically consumed with worry and trying to figure our way through a situation that is beyond us? When we do this, we are ignoring the reality that we can have at our disposal the resources of Heaven to help guide us and empower where ever life takes us. 

But trust can be a tough thing to do. It means that we are saying that we do not have the wisdom or the resources that we need. It is a cry for help. It is an easier thing to talk about than it is to do. For me, I like to be in control. I like to know what is going to happen next. To trust God is humbling, it means recognizing that God is better qualified that I am to give direction to my life and that I am open to God reshaping my hopes and dreams. This can be scary. 

Scripture calls us to pause and realize that God is worthy of our trust ((Ps. 46:10) and invites us to lean on his ways instead of our own wisdom (Prov. 3:5-6). Indeed we would be wise to realize that the Lord's wisdom is beyond us (Is. 55:8-9) and that this is a good thing as our own wisdom can often be found to be lacking.

And so I think that the same decision is before us each and every day as was before me as I was sitting in that barber's chair this morning. Are we going to continue with the turmoil of trying to figure things out on our own, or are we going to place our trust in the One who is more than capable of caring for us and allow him to lead and guide us? As scary as trust can be, when we place our trust in the right places, the results can be amazing. 

PS I think that my haircut looks pretty good!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Everybody Welcome

There is a sign on the door of my gym that says "everybody welcome". It is a play on words that makes me smile and reflect. What they want is for people to believe that their gym is not for people who are physical specimens of health, but that all body types are welcome to come and take steps towards physical health. The slogan is supported by before and after pictures of ordinary people who have apparently had their lives transformed by their club membership and/or the help of a personal trainer. It's good advertising. 

To be honest I like this slogan. It captures for me what I think a gym should be all about -  a bunch of out of shape people who realize that something needs to change. The goal does not need to be that they enter beauty pageants but that they simply are trying to move towards being healthier. There is even a part of my brain that can envision shouts of celebration when someone who has never been to the gym before comes for the first time and people clamor to show them around. 

In a similar way, I think that this is what the church is to be all about. That we have a sign on our door that says that everybody is welcome and we acknowledge that we exist to help people who are spiritually unhealthy and searching to move forward into spiritual healthy and vitality. 

Unfortunately the reality of my gym is that is doesn't always feel like everybody is actually welcome all the time. Sure no one actually screens out the fat people, but there are an awful lot of buff people walking around and making the rest of us nervous. These are the people who make spandex look good and, no matter what time of day you decide to workout, are always there. The result is that I don't always feel like I can relax and be the recovering fat guy that I truly am. I know that it is not wise to be comparing myself to others but it is not hard to feel inadequate, weak and hopeless at times. 

I have to wonder if people feel this way about the church at times too. Sure the church has an open door policy, but I think we can present like we have it all together a bit too much and freak out those who really need to be there. I am not sure this means being disingenuous about the spiritual victories that we may have seen, but I think it means speaking of them in such a way that is encouraging and inviting.

In closing, I have always thought that the church should be thought of more often as a support group sort of like AA. As a church we are a gathering of people who have been rescued from sin by Jesus. We gather not as people who have it all together but as people who are recovering sinners, seeking to grow into the fullness of Christ. Each of us is fully dependent upon God for this transformation to take place and we look to each other for encouragement and support in the journey. 

May we be communities of faith where EVERYBODY is truly welcome!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Low Expectations= Big Surprise!

Last weekend my youth group did the 30 Hour Famine. As expected the not eating part was difficult for some but this was made up for by an all-night event that was a lot of fun. But the point of this short post is that I learned a valuable lesson through this event - do not underestimate students!

Way back when we started talking up the 30 Hour Famine I set our group fundraising goal at $750 believing that this was an achievable goal for us. As soon as this goal was announced one of my students stated that it was too low and that we should be aiming for $1000. To be honest I wasn't so sure of her confidence. I had this voice in the back of my head saying that the fundraising goal needed to be lower and that if we set it too high that we would be setting ourselves up for failure. So I ignored her.

Three weeks before our famine event our progress didn't look good and I was sure that we had failed. After weeks of informing our students about the plight of exploited children it appeared as thought only one student was really trying to raise funds. After a few phone calls I concluded that we would be fortunate to reach $500 and that $750 was definitely out of reach.

It is now 5 days after our famine event. Physically I have almost recovered but emotionally I am still in awe. This group of students that I expected so little from came through and raised over $1400 to help exploited children! As I reflect, I realize that I had fallen victim to a mindset that many have - one that expects little from our teens. This stands as a reminder to me that our students are capable of much more that we often are willing to given them credit for and they will often surprise us at the amazing things that they do.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Pursuit of Health

Its a New Year and with the New Year often comes resolutions for change. Two weeks ago a friend and I talked about something that we were both seeking to change. We wanted to become healthier. For both of use this means a renewed commitment to exercise as well as being more careful about what we eat. And so our conversation covered topics like nutrition, exercise routines, the gym, what we weighted...all of what you might expect. But then he dropped a word of reflection on me that is staying with me. He referred to 1 Corinthians 6:19.  

If you have grown up in the church you have probably heard this verse referred to in talks about drugs, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, tattoos, piercings and many other things. Indeed, there are many good reasons why we ought to reflect on this verse. But what my friend was suggesting was that perhaps we should be reflecting on this verse in terms of the conversation that we were having. I am embarrassed to say that I had not thought about this at all. 

As the weeks have passed I have begun to get into the routine of exercise and trying to be more aware of what I eat, I find myself reflecting on this verse again and again. While there is an immediate context that the Apostle Paul writes, I think that an overarching principle that we can glean from it is that we are to bring glory to God through the use of our bodies...and maybe living an unhealthy lifestyle of watching TV, eating cheeseburgers and potentially developing a health condition as a result, does not bring glory to God. 

I know that a lot could be said on this topic, but at this point I will offer two reflections:
  • How we treat our own bodies can be a testimony to how much we value ourselves as a part of God's creation. If we abuse them by neglect and poor nutrition, aren't we saying that we don't care for what God gave us? Isn't this an issue of stewardship? 
  • As Christians we are to be agents of kingdom-change and participants in God's agenda. As we care for the body that God gave us, we will find ourselves with greater capacities to serve than we would if we neglected our health. 
In writing what I have, I am acutely aware that for many people healthy food is unaffordable and a gym membership is a privilege reserved for the wealthy. Does this mean that the poor cannot honour God? Indeed we would be wise to be wary of how we apply these principles so not to exclude those who are limited by finances or, for that matter, existing health concerns.

I am also aware that there are people in our culture who seem to take their health very seriously to the point that their physical bodies become an idol. I do not believe that scripture gives license for this type of health-conciousness. While we are to take care of ourselves, we cannot allow the pursuit of health to direct every action of our lives and become THE goal, when I believe it is supposed to be something that can enable a greater service of God.

In conclusion, my friend and I both have reasons for why we want to be in better shape. To be honest some of them are pretty selfish. But the reality is that these selfish reasons can only motivate me for so long. While it is still too early to tell for sure, I believe that what I have written about is something that will resonate more deeply than another diet or exercise regiment. It is a theological  understanding that says that how I treat my body matters. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

It can be the small things...

My wife and I live in a small-ish apartment building and we really don’t know our at all. This has always struck me as being funny. I mean think about it, we live within inches of two families and within a few yards of many others. If we are honest, we kind of like it this way – we are introverts and like to have a quiet place to escape and recharge. But we will acknowledge that there is something strange about this and that maybe, just maybe, we should take some steps to connect on some level with our neighbours.

This Christmas we decided to do something for our neighbours. We bought each apartment on our floor a box of chocolates and Michelle wrote a card to accompany it. Really it was nothing special and cost us a total of $30. In keeping with our anti-social behaviour, I snuck around a few days before Christmas and placed these small gifts on people’s door steps so that they could be found without having to actually talk with our neighbours.

To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect. The gifts were pretty nominal and we weren’t looking for any reciprocity. In hindsight I think that the point of giving these gifts were more for us – to get us thinking about connecting with our neighbours – than it was about whether our neighbours appreciated their chocolates or not…although if they enjoyed it would be even better!

A few days after we gave out these gifts we arrived home to find two notes of thanks had been slide under our door. Both were nice but one of them has caused me to reflect more (see the photo below). It was from an older neighbour whom I had met once before. She was largely confined to her apartment and my only prior interaction with her had been in the laundry room where I found a chair for her to sit on while she waited for her laundry to finish. Michelle and I were both moved by her note. We really didn’t feel like we had done anything special but her note conveyed that our small gift had had a significant impact on her. Really our action was pretty much the least we could have done but her reaction has stimulated some reflection about what it means to have a positive impact on those around us.

The reality is that sometimes I can make things a bigger deal than they ought to be. When we started thinking about how we could connect with our neighbours I immediately thought of grand gestures and things that would take a lot of time, resources and energy to make happen. But in light of this woman’s reaction, I have been struck by how simple it should be.

I recently read someone’s twitter description of themselves and their ministry and included in it was “to be a good neighbour”. Indeed there is a simplicity to this that Jesus calls his followers to be - to love our neighbours as ourselves. We would be wise to remember that this is not a programmed strategy but rather a way of living. It is simple, day by day, looking for opportunities to let the love of Christ permeate what we do and naturally flow into how we relate to those we bump into in the ordinariness of our lives.   

May we seek to be people who are aware that our daily interactions with others matter and aware that ordinary acts of kindness often stand out in contrast to the world that we live in.