“Discipline”

February 18th

Growing up in a Roman Catholic household meant the season of Lent was taken very seriously. Lent begins forty-six days before Easter and is marked by the sombre ceremony of Ash Wednesday. The Ash Wednesday ceremony involves placing ashes on one’s forehead as a reminder that we were made from dust and that we will one day return to dust. From that moment until the Easter celebration, people are called to reflect on their own sin and how they have fallen short of God’s expectations of them.
Along with this sombre period of reflection, a personal sacrifice is often performed. This usually consists of giving up something one cherishes, a small but noteworthy effort that points to Jesus’ even greater sacrifice. This year I’ll be giving up Chocolate for Lent. This might not seem like a big deal, but when you consider that whenever I make coffee at home, I substitute a spoon of sugar with a spoon of Chocolate powder, you realize that it’s a significant part of my daily routine. It’s such a part of who I am that it will be a big enough challenge not to automatically open the cupboard and reach for the Nestlé’s Quick canister.
Sacrificing something for Lent might seem a little bit over the top, and I’ll admit, sometimes I wonder if it’s too much, but it always boils down to one word for me: discipline. Discipline is a rigid practice; it’s also a way of making amends for having blown it. As a human being, I know I’ve made countless mistakes without realizing it. None of them might seem huge, but they are still sins, still ways I’ve let God down. Easter is all about God’s grace and mercy and Christ’s self-sacrifice that allows for our forgiveness. So, for me to prepare for understanding and celebrating that gift fully, Lent is discipline I take seriously. It’s a time fo reflect on my part in Christ’s crucifixion, and to make a sacrifice that helps me to be more disciplined in my prayerful pondering on God’s great love for me despite my shortcomings.
This practice of sacrifice and reflection isn’t for everybody. If you weren’t raised in a household that practices Lent faithfully, it might be hard to understand, but the underlying discipline of prayer and calling oneself to account should be straightforward. As people of faith that believe Jesus died for our sins, it’s important to remember that we continue to sin and that we must continually seek God’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit’s help to do better. For me, the discipline around Lent helps me deal with my sin throughout the year. How about you? How do you acknowledge your own sin? What discipline do you practice to reflect on the fact that Jesus not only died for us, He also died because of us?

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“Arrogance”

February 11th

arrogance (n.)
“a manifest feeling of superiority of one’s worth or importance, combined with contempt of others”
Some of my colleagues in Ministry have expressed their disgust at those who pass themselves off as Christians yet demonstrate nothing of Christ in their lives. I’ve wondered myself about so-called followers of Jesus who seem to think that following Him means doing the exact opposite of what He either modelled or called for. The “Christian Right” or Evangelical Christians (or at least a certain number of them) have tainted the world’s view of our faith and have largely embarrassed the rest of us. Not that we’re perfect, by any means, but there is something about them that rubs everyone the wrong way.
I was wondering about what it is that sets them apart, or why it is that they are so irritating to many, and suddenly one word came to mind: Arrogance. That’s it! The perfect word. Arrogance connotes a sense of superiority and contempt of others and that’s exactly the attitude of many less-than-Christlike Christians. Another way of looking at it is that it’s all about them: they have the answers, they have the wisdom, they have God’s ear in a way that the rest of us don’t. Coupled with an outrageous and misguided sense of nationalism, it leads to an attitude that is racist, anti-LGBTQ and xenophobic. In other words, their arrogance makes them anything but Christ-like.
Jesus had some pretty strong opinions. He didn’t hold back when he called the Jewish leaders and ruling class to account but did have great compassion for everyone. When someone came to Him in need or seeking guidance, He helped them, regardless of who they were. Whether it was a woman sneaking up from behind or a rich ruler with nothing to lose, Jesus dealt with them patiently and kindly. Not everyone accepted His wisdom or healing, but no-one was ever rejected by Him.
To be Christian is to follow Jesus humbly. It means loving others whether or not others deem them worthy or not. Through Christ’s eyes, everyone is worthy; we are superior to no-one. We are all equal, created in God’s image, as was Jesus, God’s Son. To see a neighbour, friend or stranger is to see an image of Jesus, or maybe even God. More importantly, when others look at us, they should not simply see an image of Jesus; they should feel and know His love and compassion. There can be no arrogance in one who follows Jesus truly.

“Silence”

February 4th

Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign is aimed at breaking the stigma around Mental Illness and opening up healing conversations between sufferers and those who would like to help them. This is a wonderful effort that raises awareness of an often debilitating illness whilst offering a positive way to make a difference.
One important aspect of “Let’s Talk” is what I would like to call “Present Silence”. Present Silence means being with a person and allowing them the space to talk freely. I mention this because, all too often, we like to solve problems by talking to them, by voicing our opinions or giving advice or, in the case of depression or anxiety, telling folks to cheer up and get over it. Present Silence avoids those usually useless offerings; it gives a person room to say what they need to say. More importantly, it allows them to feel what they are feeling without judgement or the need to suddenly get better. Often, simply being with a person in friendship and love speaks far more loudly than words.
Christ chose very carefully when to talk to people. He didn’t interrupt. He listened. He asked questions. Sometimes he offered complete silence. God invites us to silence as well, so that we can listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, or simply hear the birds singing. As much as we need to talk to our Creator, we also need Silent Presence, so that God can take an active part in our conversation.
Let’s Talk. Let’s be a listening ear to those suffering from Depression, Anxiety or other forms of mental illness. Let’s offer them our support and caring hearts as they take the journey towards healing and dealing with their conditions. And if you are the one who needs a listening ear, let someone know. Help those who would love to help you know you are in need; trust them just enough to start the conversation. Together, we can work through it. With God’s help, we can bring Mental Illness to light and stop shoving it to the side as something embarrassing or shameful.
Let’s Talk. To one another, to someone in need, to someone who can help, to someone who needs to know they are part of the problem, to someone who is looking for a solution.
Let’s Talk. Let’s pray for God’s support, the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, and the healing hands of Christ.
Let’s Talk. And let’s leave room for silence, listening so that we can understand, and so that our Silent Presence can speak to the love that needs no words.

“Carefree”

January 28th

Chicken Little warned her friends that the sky was falling. It wasn’t. And the story didn’t end well for Chicken Little. Not a happy story, really; it was a cautionary tale against causing panic and the resulting inability to think clearly, which was what led to the demise of the title character.
For as long as Christians have been around, there hasmf been a small group of “Chicken Littles” predicting the ultimate demise of society and the imminent return of Christ. Jesus’ return is a good thing, something Christians anticipate as the dawning of a new, perfect age. The demise of society, and assorted predictions of that event, is not a good thing at all. While Christ’s return and reign marks the ultimate season of joy and fulfillment for His followers, the preceding calamities and collapse of the evil world as we know it is simply fear-mongering that serves no purpose whatsoever.
Jesus Himself tells us that we are not to know when he’s coming back. Jesus doesn’t want us waiting idly by. Nor does Jesus want us to change how we act once we realize that His return is around the corner. If we are to call ourselves Christians then our lives are meant to be Christ-like every conscious moment. If we are truly followers, sheep, disciples, apostles or whatever title we choose for ourselves, it means that’s a life choice that guides everything we do, say and are, right now, not later.
Living as followers of Christ is a joyful, liberating thing. We are freed from the guilt of our mistakes; we are empowered to love one another as Christ loves us. We are invited to live joyfully, praising God by living justly, mercifully and hopefully. It doesn’t mean life is perfect or pain-free; but there is a sense of being carefree that is very much a part of the joy of knowing that God is with us in both our joy and sorrow, and that living in a Christ-like way brings about a positive change in our immediate environment and even the world at large.
I’m looking forward to the day Jesus returns. It will be wonderful. But until that unknown day, I’m not worrying or stressing about the things that I can’t control or the unpleasant things happening around me. Rather than worrying, I try to make a positive difference; when that doesn’t work, I hand my worries over to God in prayer, trusting that our Creator can handle them. God cares very much about what’s happening to us. That’s why we have Christ with us. Jesus is the ultimate sign of God’s concern, love and care for us. And because God cares so much, I choose to truth my Creator and live a carefree, Christ-like life.

“Ebenezer”

January 21st

When Christopher Columbus “discovered” America he was greeted warmly the native Taino people. The warm reception was not reciprocated. Columbus and his men mercilessly slaughtered the Taino. A culture that had flourished for millennia was almost entirely wiped out in just a few decades. Te survivors were made slaves; a once proud, welcoming people were reduced to nothing.
This is how the Americas were populated by Europeans and Great Britain. The native populations were massacred in the name of conquest and the national interest of the invaders; there was no mercy.
It is a shocking, embarrassing truth about those of us who live in North, Central and South America. Our blessings were earned through violence. Our assumed cultural superiority caused our forebears to see Native peoples as worthless; they were either impediments to progress or slaves in waiting. They were not people; their cultures were primitive and not worth maintaining.
This isn’t just recent history; neither is it restricted to European settlers. The Hebrew people were also people of conquest; the land of milk and honey and the vast nation promised by God were acquired through violence and the slaughter of anyone who got in the way.
At the end of one such violent event in which the Philistine army was all but wiped out, Samuel, God’s Priest, set up a memorial stone and named it Ebenezer in honour of the victory. For the people of Israel it was a reminder of God’s help in a moment of crisis. But we can’t forget that in that instance, God’s help consisted of killing an oncoming army.
Yet we have forgotten that history; you can find schools and churches named Ebenezer, because it means “God Helps”. That’s a great sentiment, but we should never separate it from it’s origins in battle. To do so means we have forgotten our violent past or whitewashed it as simply part of God’s plan.
In Jesus we learned the truth of God’s plan; it was never about conquest or violence; God’s plan for humanity was to be loved and to love in return. The violence that has been part of human history is not the true will of our Creator. Putting God’s name on our wars and conquests is not what Jesus revealed to be the path to God’s heart. We can never forget that.
We can’t forget our violent past, but we can’t celebrate it either. Instead we must remember it with caution and an eye to never repeating it. Our future does not lie in conquest or victory in war. Our future is found in Jesus’ law of love and living it out as best we can.
It’s not an easy path but it is the only path.

“Temptation”

January 14th

I remember the first evening Lois and I arrived in Chatham: we pulled into town sometime around very-dark O’clock and were greeted by the bright lights and neon signs of all the businesses up and down St. Clair Street. (For non-Chathamites, that’s were all the new and more modern stuff is concentrated…) There was little doubt that those enterprises meant business! They wanted customers to know they were there, ready to receive their cash, even though, since it was after business-hours, most of the places were closed. Nevertheless, they were clearly out to tempt people into stepping through their doors and spending as much as they could afford.
Temptation is a big thing: it can get us into all kinds of trouble, either by spending more than we can afford, or doing things that might be embarrassing or dangerous, or simply causing guilt and shame over having done something we know we should have avoided. Temptation is so important it even gets its own write-up in the Bible, with the devil trying to lead Jesus astray, but having no success whatsoever.
Temptation, however, has something of a bad and undeserved rap. Sure, we associate it mostly with taking that extra piece of candy despite what our belt advises, it doesn’t have to be so. There are many good things we can do as well as naughty ones and there’s nothing wrong with falling into temptation and doing the right thing.
Of course, that means valuing good, noble and holy pursuits just as much as the ones that lead us astray. Trouble is, we don’t always associate the rewards of being or doing good with the fun of shopping for ourselves or having that extra slice of pie that tastes o-so-good, despite the pressure it puts on our knees. I don’t know why falling for temptation seems worth the risk when it comes to the less helpful things, and why it’s less than attractive to do what’s right. But I’d like to change that way of thinking.
I’d like helping others or loving your neighbour or taking care of a stranger to be just as tempting as helping yourself, loving naughty things and getting someone else to take care of the bill. And I’d love it even more if we all fell into temptation and did really nice, noble and holy things a lot more often. It didn’t take much prodding for Jesus to do the right thing. When it came to loving and caring for others, Jesus was very easily tempted. And as far as doing naughty things, well, Jesus knew where to draw the line and resist their bright, gaudy lures. How about you? Can I tempt you to do something Christ-like today?

“Discipleship”

January 7th

I have worked with some pretty interesting folks over the years. A semi-pro golfer; an adventurer who quit work to cycle around the world; a member of Session who helped start the SWAT program in Toronto; a world-renown Oncologist. In my careers as a Computer Technician or a Minister the folks that slung wrenches or practiced their faith alongside me were a varied lot.
What brings them together in my mind aren’t the common tasks we laboured over or our great individual differences; what unites them is their great discipline. Each of them focused and practiced a unique skill set. They trained hard in order to reach their level of accomplishment; they devoted themselves heart and soul to what filled them with joy and complimented their natural gifts.
Jesus called a varied group of people to follow Him when He was alive. A wide variety of folks with unique talent sets became His disciples after His death and resurrection. The devoted followers carried on in His name, working to serve others and spread the Good News He offered to all humanity.
This required discipline. It required them to focus on what was Christ-like within themselves and to pay attention to His will and ways rather than their own. That a man whose visible public service lasted only two or three years caused a movement that has lasted centuries is a testament to the discipline of the faithful disciples that took up His cause. They were steadfast. They concentrated on the task at hand. They modelled true Discipleship.
Discipleship isn’t just a title we carry or something for other folks to do. To follow and to serve Jesus is a discipline to be practiced as the central theme of our life. I know that I need to be a better disciple. I have to practice Christ-like discipline more faithfully and fervently. I have to take better control of everything I do so that I can be better equipped to fulfill Christ’s call to me.
Discipleship isn’t cheap. It costs us our very lives; we don’t choose to do it in addition to everything else piled on our plate; it is the main reason for everything we do, the foundation upon which we build our lives. Hobbies that fulfil and relax us help us to be more joyful followers. Paid or unpaid occupations contribute to our well-being and build up the fabric of our society. Education, entertainment, rest, and everything else is a part of our Discipleship to Christ, defining and shaping our unique contribution to our service.
Discipleship is easy. It doesn’t call for special training; it doesn’t need any financial investment. All it needs is that you love others as Christ has loved you.
I’ve worked with some pretty interesting folks over the years, but none were as interesting as those who modelled pure and loving Discipleship.