“Jesus”

December 2nd

As December approaches and Christmas draws near, we’re starting to see signs, Facebook posts and bumper stickers urging us to “put “Christ” back in Christmas. Fair enough. Lots of folks and businesses see the celebration of Jesus’ birthday as unimportant to the business and holiday aspect of the season. Watch any number of Christmas movies on the air right now and you’ll be lucky to pick up any religious or theological concepts. Most likely it’s about an overworked pretty person and how they meet the perfect mate over a glass of Christmas cheer.
So, I get it when people say they want Christ to be the focus of Christmas once again. It bugs me when it’s nothing more than an occasion to have a party or to regift that ugly sweater some well meaning co-worker gave you. But I don’t think that putting Christ back into Christmas is the answer. I think the answer is far deeper than that. I think we need to put Jesus back into our hearts and let Him handle the rest.
When we say Christ we’re referring to a very specific aspect of God’s earthly presence. Christ means “the anointed one”; it is a term that has a singular meaning that conveys both power and privilege. But when we say “Jesus” we’re uttering a simple name, God’s Word made flesh without a doubt, but we’re also speaking a very personal, human name.
By putting Jesus at the center of our lives, or deep in our hearts, we don’t transform a season; we transform ourselves. When Jesus is the reason for our existence, we are invited to love more deeply, care more openly and serve more earnestly. Jesus spoke to his friends as both a companion and a leader. He taught them. He leaned on them. He modelled forgiveness, mercy, grace and joy to them. When we open our hearts to let Jesus do for us what He did for his most intimate followers we are a new creation, perfect and perfectly lovable and worthy to be in relationship with God, our Creator.
It would be great if everyone recognized and celebrated the Christ in Christmas. But it would be even better if we all lived for and through Jesus, not just for a season during the year but every moment God offers us on planet Earth. Why not give yourself the greatest gift ever offered? Why not let Jesus into your heart?

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“Car-pe Tempore”

November 25th

I’ve had something funny happening with my voice/throat lately that has limited my ability to sing as well as I would like. It’s been getting better, but my voice is still not quite at full-capacity. At my most recent voice lesson the teacher suggested that I practice every day, gently, and maybe for shorter periods. Excellent advice, and I’m trying to take it seriously, but you know how it is: there’s other, more important stuff to be done, it’s nice to have absolute privacy, it’s hard to remember, time is limited, and a million other excuses get in the way. I mean, these “Thoughts” aren’t going to write themselves while I sing in the office.
Still, it matters; I want to be able to sing and to have my voice at full capacity, so today, on the drive to a Pastoral visit, I sang. My parishioner lives about 20 minutes away, giving me around 15 minutes to do warm-ups and gentle exercises. Alone in my vehicle with a nice chunk of time on my hands, I seized the opportunity to do something that matters to me, besides being one of those soul-satisfying things that one should do more often.
Carpe Diem! Seize the day! Or, in this case, Car-pe Diem; seize the day automobile style! Well, even more accurately, Car-pe Tempore, seize the moment! I’ve written before about seizing life (Carpe Vitaem) and lots of folks have encouraged folks to seize the day, but sometimes those concepts are too big to handle; sometimes, like today for me, you simply need to seize the moment to do something that matters, or that you might not otherwise work into your schedule. Sometimes you just need to recognize an opportunity and grab it before it gets away.
There are a couple of good reasons for seizing the moment; first, it lets you do something you might not get done; second, it can be the start of a larger discipline involving that particular thing you want to do. For me, singing in the car was the first shot at not just finding the right moment, but creating a continuing series of moments in which I can work on my voice. You might have other healthy, helpful habits you might want to cultivate. Doing so may seem like a momentous undertaking, but if you seize the moment and start off a bit at a time, that monumental task will become more manageable as you realize that the time you took was not at all wasted, and fit into your schedule despite what you might have thought.
God has given us gifts to use; sometimes they need to be cultivated and grown; mostly, they need to be used. Think of them both in long term and short term ways. You have a lifetime in which to use them, but that lifetime is broken up into moments and opportunities. There are occasions when it’s a big move, a “Carpe Diem” moment when you seize life and change everything. But there are many more little “Carpe Tempore” moments when you can seize the moment to do something you love. Go ahead; take this moment, right now, to enjoy whatever unique gift God has blessed you with.

“Drawn In”

November 18th

A Play or a Musical is more than just words or lyrics. It is a whole world created out of dialogue, lyrics, scenery and costumes. While the audience might be sitting in an auditorium in Coldwater, 2018, the show they are watching invites them into a whole different world and, quite often, era. “The King And I” is set in far-off Siam, during the American Civil war. If everything works and all of the other elements of the show come together, then the audience magically leaves their time and place and enters into a completely different location and time-zone. In short, they are drawn in.
To be told, as an actor, that you drew the audience in, is the highest possible compliment. It means that they became part of the story, that they were engaged by the words and music, that their hearts, minds and maybe even their souls, were transported into the world you helped create. There is no greater feeling than to have brought a story alive in such a way that the listener became part of that imaginary time and place.
Being “drawn in” isn’t limited to the theatre, however. Engaging people, folks who are interesting or do interesting things, have a way of drawing you into their unique world. A teacher draws her students into a place of learning and understanding. A waiter draws you into a place of comfort and ease so that you can enjoy your meal and perhaps even dare to try something you’ve never tried before. Being drawn in isn’t limited to professions or callings; we all have a certain gift of drawing others into our lives. When we’re sick or sad, good people come to our side with words or deeds to comfort and heal us. When we’re motivated by a cause, our supporters stand by our sides in solidarity. Even the simple act of being ourselves draws folks close to us in friendship and caring relationships.
Being drawn into a play or a person’s life changes us. We learn something about people or world events from a well-done musical; we expand our circle of care and broaden our horizons in the friends and acquaintances that draw us into their lives, or that we draw into ours. To be drawn in is to be empowered to walk alongside a worthy cause or to mature and grow when we encounter someone or something new and strange.
Our Creator God can seem remote and distant; how can we approach an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving and so much greater-than-us being who lives in heaven? But through caring people, and through Jesus Himself, we can be drawn into God’s heart. Being made in a unique expression of God’s image, each of us reveals our Creator in our own way, and in turn, we can see different aspects of God in the people who truly reflect our Creator’s image. In other words, those who follow Christ’s example of love, service and caring don’t just draw folks into their lives; they draw them into God’s love. I don’t know about you, but I think it would be the highest compliment I could receive if someone told me I had drawn them into God’s own heart.

“Small Things”

November 11th

I recently built a “helm”, a ship’s steering wheel, for a production of “The King And I”. Although it took me about two hours to make the thing, it will appear only for a total of about ten minutes in the entire play. In fact, it’s just an added extra, to help create a more ship-like feeling for one scene. It might seem like a lot of effort for something that’s not critical to the success of the production but, as the saying goes, every little bit helps. Even one added detail, like a ship’s helm, contributes to the sense that the audience is on board with the actors rather than simply sitting in an auditorium.
While the prop I built adds to the play, it probably won’t stand out; folks won’t remember it as the best feature of the performance. But, sometimes small details work in the opposite way; sometimes a wee, tiny thing will stand out in our memories, helping to reinforce the moment rather than taking away from it. A couple of years after my father’s death, I found myself sitting on a mountainside in the exact spot I had been with him on a previous vacation. That one moment in my memory came back to me and opened a floodgate of healing tears, helping me to bring my grief to completion and allowing me to move on to remember Papa without pain.
A sight, a sound, a place, a word; all can stand out in our minds as a marker to a bigger, more significant thing. They can draws into a moment of joy or sorrow or even release. And there are times when we are that sight, sound, place or word; there are occasions when we are the brief moment in a person’s life that takes them elsewhere, that moves them or touches them in a deep way, even though we might not be the centre or most important thing in that memory; rather, we can be the starting point, the trigger or the key that moves them to another place and time.
Just like the helm that appears in one brief scene, even a small thing can matter greatly; every little bit helps. And so we should be conscious that what we say and do matters to those around us. What seems trivial and silly to us may point them to a deep, meaningful memory; a word tossed off casually or flippantly might draw forth a instance of sorrow or joy; a touch or gesture can create a more significant feeling that words cannot fully draw out.
In our everyday, mundane and even hum-drum interactions with others, every little bit matters; every wee thing counts; no detail is too insignificant, no exchange totally meaningless. Everything we do, say and are makes a difference in the lives of everyone we meet.

“Huh?”

November 4th

We humans are never just one thing. We have different roles in life, depending on what we’re trying to accomplish, our gifts, experience and the many different events and people that have shaped our lives. I’m a Pastor, husband, father, wanna-be-woodworker, maker, writer, musician, actor and overall positive thinker. And, believe it or not, I am also a Secret Agent!
No, not a spy like Ethan Hunt of Mission Impossible fame, and certainly not a Double-O agent with a license to kill (although I am Double-Double agent with a license to amuse slightly). Rather, I am a trained professional secret-keeper. Tell me your story, share with me a private moment, talk to me about which Bond was the best, and if it’s in the context of anything but a broader conversation with a whole bunch of trivia nerds, it is absolutely safe with me. I will never share, reveal or hint at what we talk about with another person if is revealed to me in privacy, or in my capacity as a Pastor.
Now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, except for his wife. Surely he talks to her about things that happen and the people he meets.” To which Lois would answer, “Nope. Never. Uh-uh. Not a chance.” What happens between you and me, unless it’s something you explicitly say I can share with others, stays between you and me. Period. No exceptions.
Of course, this does lead to the occasional embarrassing moment for Lois. Sometimes folks will assume I have told her about the funny story you told me about your strange uncle. But, if I have my Pastor’s hat on, not a chance. It will never happen. All you will get from her in response is either a blank stare, or a quizzical “Huh?” or both, if you’re lucky. Maybe you’ve shared with me plans you have for the church, or for some other thing that might involve Lois. But, unless you let me know it’s safe to let her in, it’s your idea, your plan, and until you’re ready to reveal it to a broader audience, I will say nothing. Nada. Zip.
The reason I’m so strict about maintaining radio-silence is two-fold. First, it’s a matter of trust. When you entrust me with something about yourself, I want you to know it’s safe with me. Unless it’s a matter with legal ramifications, like abuse, then I keep my lips shut; your trust in me is my command to shut-up and maintain confidentiality. The other thing that makes me keep your secrets is simply to protect you, myself, and others, whether it’s Lois or folks on the street. If I don’t tell your story to others, you are safe. I am safe, too, because I don’t expose myself to losing your trust, or to drawing curious, gossipy ears into places they don’t belong. Finally, I protect Lois and others by maintaining your privacy, first by not giving them the opportunity to mess up and say things out of turn, but also by not exposing them to any the pain within your story.
So, now you know my not-so-secret identity as a Secret Agent. What stories you share with me, stay with me. Period. Even if it means you get the occasional blank stare from Lois should you choose to share something with her. Better for her to be a bit embarrassed about being in the dark, than for you do be let down by me should I breach your trust.

“Stories”

October 28th

If you hang around with me long enough, you’ll learn that I am a bit of a story-teller and that I love to hear other people’s stories. It’s probably why I love good movies that get into a person’s character. I love to hear how someone got to where they are; for me it’s both a way to connect with people (even if they are just imaginary comic book characters) and to get a better, bigger picture of human beings and the world in which we live.
Mind you, I realize that maybe I don’t give as much as I get. In conversations I’m usually the first one to ask “what do you like to do?” or “how did you get from where you were to where you are?”. I am not, however, likely to initiate my own story, or even give you a lot of room to ask for it. Yes, I know, I have issues…
As much as I like hearing people tell their personal story and explore their journey I am not a big fan of the second-hand story. If, in the course of our discourse I ask someone to tell me about another person, it’s a very carefully expressed request. It’s not a “tell me all the dirt” question; I’m looking for information about how that person connects to the stories we’re telling each other or perhaps even living out together through our common interests.
It is a very fine line that I tread gently, if not always successfully. If, in the course of telling someone my story, I get asked about one of the people that populate it, I offer enough information to fill in the necessary blanks, and no more. Or, if I’ve been hurt by someone, I might share what happened to the appropriate listening ear in order to get guidance on how to proceed towards healing, fixing and forgiveness. And it’s the same the other way ‘round. There are moments in telling our stories that other characters make an appearance and we need to explain how and why they fit in.
Where I draw the line, however, is in hearing or sharing second hand stories out of context. I try to be very careful about how I talk about others, and I am conscious how easily a seemingly polite or innocent start of a story can quickly lead into an opinion-fest that is neither kind nor healthy. Some folks, however, have a hard time respecting that line; some just hop over it with great glee and delight in order to share a piece of juicy gossip or a tidbit of a racy story.
We all have stories to tell. And we all have ears to hear the stories of the people we meet. And sometimes those stories involve second or third parties whose roles need explanation and a little bit of added story-telling. We are not, however, called to tell the stories of others when they are more gossip than information. Sometimes silence is a virtue and a juicy tidbit is best left unshared. That’s my story for today…

“Acknowledgement”

October 21st

The “#metoo” movement and the recent appointment of a United States Federal Supreme Court Judge who has been accused of sexual assault speak to issues of accusation and innocence. In both the Canadian and American justice systems, the accused is automatically assumed to be innocent until the charges are proven in court. It is up to the appropriate Prosecutor to decide whether or not the accuser is sufficiently believable and there is enough evidence before proceeding with a trial and prosecution.
For most people, this sounds like a pretty fair system. For a person who claims to follow the Christian faith, however, this should sound rather unusual. Here’s why. One of the things we Christians believe is that we are inherently guilty of sin. It doesn’t matter what the specific sin might be; we are assumed to be guilty because, thanks the Garden of Eden incident, we live in a fallen world.
Granted, that assumption of guilt doesn’t always mean that we are guilty. Most of us can make it several days without breaking one of God’s rules. Some folks can even go for a few weeks and never once do something wrong. But the principle remains. We are, as fallen creatures, naturally prone to sin and, therefore, assumed to be guilty.
This shouldn’t cause you to feel bad about yourself. The fact that we all lean towards doing naughty things, that the potential exists within us with every choice we make or action we take, does not force us to do so. It’s simply an admission that we’re not perfect and that we’re just as likely to get things wrong as we are to get them right.
While this might seem to be a troubling situation, there are a few things that should ease your sense of guilt or foreboding. First off, knowing that we’re imperfect gives us incentive to do better. With every choice and action we have an opportunity to get it right, or at least to do our best. Then there’s the fact that God has equipped us with the information we need in order not to blow it. Between the original Ten Commandments, Jesus’ commandment for us to love as we would be loved, and His own example and teachings, we are well equipped to rise above our fallen state. In addition to those physical aids, we also have the Holy Spirit’s guidance and empowerment helping us steer away from mistakes in order to follow the path of goodness and justice.
The biggest reason for not feeling guilty or ashamed is that God is merciful, just and loving. Out of that mercy, justice and love, God has forgiven us our sins and will continue to do so every time we blow it. We might be fallen creatures, but God will never let us stay down. As long as we admit to the truth God will lift us up and restore us through the Christ-purchased forgiveness provided for us.
Yes, we are less than perfect. But if we are willing to live with that reality and take responsibility for our actions, then we can work towards being the best God made us to be. Knowing the truth about ourselves is half the battle; recognizing our potential and living up to God’s hopes and expectations for us is all it takes to move us from guilt to innocence.