“Standards”

April 7th

Way back when, I was considering writing a book of children’s stories, a “how-to” manual for fellow ministers who weren’t as creative or were simply looking to ease their Sunday prep duties. The book was to include diagrams and illustrations so make the teaching easier, as many people are visual learners rather than readers. I even had a friend in mine to handle the drawings, so I was all set.
Except I wasn’t.
After talking to my friend and a couple of others in the publishing business, it turns out that publishers want their own artists to illustrate their books. This, and a few other factors, led to me drop the project, but I always wondered why publishers would be such sticklers about who did their drawings.
A recent conversation with an artist who was illustrating a book for a friend that was to be published privately finally filled in that blank. It turns out, quite logically, that publishers have their own standards for what is to appear in their books. Choosing their own illustrators gives them a known quantity and greater control over the finished product. While I might have a brilliant artist in mind, the publishing house doesn’t necessarily know that. What’s more, what I look for in a drawing might not fit the particular style or standard for the publisher, so even though my friend might be a fabulous artist, they might not be the kind of fabulous the publisher is looking for.
Publishing standards might vary from company to company, and from business to business, but if they are going to stay viable they all have to follow similar standards for both customers and employees. Fairness, honesty, kindness are the minimum standard companies have to expect of the people they hire and serve, standards which hopefully reflect the expectations of the particular society in which those companies operate.
Followers of Christ have a high standard to follow. His expectations for us are more than just honouring one another. Jesus calls us to love our neighbour, the stranger in our midst, and even our enemies. That love includes caring for them, feeding them, supporting them, and generally doing to and for them what we would like to have done to and for us. Jesus’ standards for us are high, but they are also remarkably easy and equal across the board.
There are no exemptions or special cases. No one is to be left out or avoided. Everyone is included. Everyone is welcomed. Sadly, standard behaviour for Jesus isn’t so for a lot of people. It is my prayer, however, that one day no one will give it a second thought. My prayer is that one day, Jesus’ high standard for humanity is nothing more than second nature.

Advertisements

“Sharpeners”

March 31st

“Iron sharpens iron” is a popular phrase I’ve heard tossed about. It’s right out of the Bible, so you’d think it must be true, but in reality, it’s not completely accurate. In fact, it makes me laugh and groan every time I hear it. Sure, it sounds good, but if you follow that advice literally, you will soon find that it’s not true at all. Take two knives that are identical other than their degree of sharpness and rub the blades together so that one may sharpen the other. Actually, don’t do that. It’s not a good idea, because you’ll end up with two equally dull blades. Iron does not sharpen iron when it’s the same hardness. If the phrase is to be true, it should be “Harder iron sharpens softer iron”.
The Bible uses that phrase to describe a healthy human relationship that benefits both people. It’s a great metaphor, since we can help each other get better and grow. But in order for us to truly mature and move ahead, just like harder iron will sharpen softer iron, it’s good to be in relationship with someone who is a bit ahead of us on the learning journey.
Mentors, counsellors, teachers, elders, wise-women or wise-men all have experience and training beyond that of others. Their skills and wisdom can guide us along treacherous paths, steer us through the mazes and labyrinths that confuse us, or simply walk alongside listening and letting us vent when we’re filled to the brim.
At times we can be the ones that can bless others. Our own hard-earned life-lessons can often benefit others. We can be a source of information or inspiration to those following in our footsteps and maybe even help them avoid some of the potholes and pitfalls that might have tripped us up.
Mentorship or fellow-sharpening can be requested or sought after in a formal way or can take place without planning or any formality whatsoever. It’s the relationship that matters. When we are willing to share our lives with one another, we help each other become better persons. Experienced craftsmen pass their art on to eager apprentices. Parents guide their children to become independent human beings. The one who’s been through the wringer shows her friend what it means to be resilient and maybe even how to avoid that pain. What I have experienced in my life can bless you, just as your life’s journey can bless mine.
Humans, when we love and support one another, when we’re willing to share our blessings or disasters, or simply by a caring, listening ear, can sharpen fellow humans as we make our way through life together.

“Oops”

March 24th

Somebody, somewhere is saying to themselves: “Oops!” as I write these very words. Some of them will regret that moment forever. Some will carry on as if it never happened. Some will say, “I’ll never do that again in my life.” And some will say, “I wonder what I can learn from that?”
That last one is the one I’d like to focus on. The learning moment. The failure that leads to future success. The opportunity knocking in the midst of the ruin and rubble of an “Oops!”.
Was it simply a bad choice, like not taking a minute to cool off and calm down before firing off a foul-mouthed text? Or wasn’t there enough time spent mastering the skill before showing off? Maybe that prank or joke was the wrong thing at the wrongest of times. The variety of “Oops” options is even greater than the number of we humans occupying the earth, but generally they all boil down to a few factors, most of which are within our control.
Acting in haste, not being prepared, saying or doing inappropriate things, wanting too much, being self-centered or never saying or doing those soul-satisfying things that are just what we need are the biggest reasons for our “Oops” occasions. And the best part of these things is that none are without remedy. We might not be able to fix what we’ve just blown or broken, but we can look back and learn from that embarrassing, hurtful, or stupid thing.
God has provided us with great wisdom. But that wisdom is not complete, nor will it ever be. There is much to learn about our world, our neighbours, God, and ourselves. There is more in Creation than we will fully grasp, but what we can learn and understand is more than enough to see us through to a fulfilling, meaningful life that satisfies our souls and gives God a reason to smile. We learn many lessons by the example offered by others, listening to good teachers and mentors and our own study and research. But we can learn from our “Oopses” as well. Each one gives us a chance to see what worked and what didn’t, a new insight into how we made our choices or a deeper understanding of a particular person or situation.
The biggest downside to our “Oops” moments, other than the obvious ill-effects they cause, is when we fail to learn from them. The aftermath of a disaster we’ve caused is a classroom, an opportunity to do better, a place from which to pick up and try again or maybe even to start all over.
It’s best, of course, to avoid the “Oops” option as best we can. Given the reality of we humans, that’s most likely an impossible option. So, all I can suggest is that when you do have an “Oops”, that you learn from it, so that you can avoid having to add to that word the phrase “I did it again”.

“Hope”

March 17th

It’s been a week of disasters. An airplane crash; a school collapsed; two young men killed several of their fellow students before killing themselves. these are truly horrid events. So much grief has been caused, lives taken or ruined, communities devastated locally and globally.
While these three horrible things took place in different countries and are all vastly different in themselves, they share one thing in common: they were caused by human failure. The plane crashed because of badly designed software; the school collapsed because of shoddy work; the students murdered their classmates because their society did not give them the skills they needed to cope. Three unique moments, bound by human failings.
There is despair but there is also hope, because human beings are involved. These were not natural events beyond human skill or knowledge to tackle. These were things well within the capacity of people to handle. This is the source of hope in these tragedies: there are lessons to be learned; there are better models to follow; there is the possibility for people to learn and grow and change so that things like this won’t happen again soon.
God did not create us to harm one another. God did not create us to take dangerous short cuts or follow the lazy path. As God’s children, created in God’s image, we are beings of intelligence and imagination. We have the tools we need built into our DNA and in our Spirituality. It is a question of choice, and within that question of choice, a matter of knowing what constitutes a good, healthy decision.
Through Jesus God models a loving, caring life that serves humanity best. It is a life of service and support. It is a life that challenges those who take advantage of others. It is a life of joy that finds its greatest joy in seeing that everyone is able to enjoy life and live it to the fullest. It is a life of compassion the looks to the needs of others. It is a life that loves as one would be loved.
There is a need to grieve and mourn what has been lost or stolen in the three recent disasters that made global headlines, and in those painful events that will never make the news, but hurt just as much. But even in our grief and pain there is a glimmer of hope in the possibility of bringing about meaningful, lasting, change.
We know it’s possible. When Jesus died on the cross, all hope was lost for His followers. Yet in the wake of His death they carried on, inspired by His resurrection and by His life as a whole. Out of that tragedy there was positive, meaningful, lasting change. From many other disasters, humanity has brought about meaningful, lasting change. Let’s make sure that we do our part to do the same thing now, and however often it takes to get it right.

“Give It Up!”

March 10th

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That’s what Jesus told his disciples, just as he was telling them that He saw them as His friends. Jesus then went on to give up his life for His friends, showing them just how great His love for them was. But His crucifixion wasn’t just for them. He gave His life for all those people who would be His friend.
Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection are the greatest gifts humanity has ever received. These are the transformative events that set things straight between God and humanity. They are the timeless acts of forgiveness and restoration that come into play whenever we blow it and need to be set straight with God again.
Jesus gave everything He was up for us. In order to die, He had to give up His godliness because gods can’t die; only frail and failing humans face death, so Jesus had to abandon His godly power in order to suffer like an ordinary human did. Jesus gave up His free will, choosing to do what God expected of Him, rather than avoiding the shame of abandoning His godliness and the pain and emptiness of dying.
Jesus expects us to give our lives for our friends if we love them. He expects us to give up the things that get in the way of our full commitment to Him: wealth, behaviour, traditions, ego, even our friends and family. Whatever gets in the way of loving as Jesus loves us, serving as Jesus serves us, or simply living as Jesus lived, has to go. We have to give it up.
Jesus’ death and resurrection are the greatest gifts God ever gave humanity. Jesus gave His all so that we might have all that a whole and healthy relationship with God offers us. As we approach the day we honour and celebrate that great gift, I invite you to give up some time in order to reflect on your role in Jesus’ death, and what your renewed relationship with God means to you. Jesus invites those who would follow Him to give up whatever keeps them from doing so whole-heartedly. To paraphrase His own thought: greater love for Jesus no one has than this: to give up our lives for Him.
That doesn’t mean we have to die for Jesus. It means we are called to give up whatever it is in our life that is not true to the life God expects us to live, to give up what we think matters but actually doesn’t matter at all in our love and service of Jesus.
It’s a big thing to ask, but, in this season of Lent, this season of preparation for the Easter miracle, I invite you to give up a bit of time to think about how much Jesus loves you, and how much you love Jesus. Jesus’ great love for you cost Jesus His life. Is your love for Jesus just as great?

“Satan”

March 3rd

I don’t talk about Satan very much; in fact, I don’t really give the devil much thought at all, but lately some comments from an acquaintance have put him in my mind, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on Jesus’ chief enemy.
The comments shared by my acquaintance are of the “Satan’s running rampant” genre. According to him, people are falling to the devil’s temptations left, right and centre, which is why the world is the way it is. Well, I disagree, totally and completely. The reason things are the way they are have nothing to do with Satan and everything to do with us. That’s it, that’s all. We humans are the only ones responsible for the current state of affairs, good or bad.
Sure, Satan appears in the Bible, so there is some justification for blaming him for bad things. But here’s the thing: the Israelites didn’t grumble against Moses when they were wandering in the desert because of Satan. That was completely on them. Nor did David do the stupid things he did in order to get Bathsheba for himself thanks to Satan’s suggestion. David came up with his foul plan all on himself. Ok, Jesus exorcised demons that caused people grief, but that grief did not consist of those unfortunate people doing bad things; the demonic influence threw them into fits and convulsions, not into acts of disobedience or fulfilling their lustful desires.
But Satan tempted Jesus, you say, and he caused Job great pain. Yes, and yes. But notice that Satan only tempted Jesus and did not force our Saviour to do anything bad. And as far as poor Job was concerned, again, Satan caused great suffering but he did not cause Job do evil things. Then, once he turned Job’s life upside down, we never hear from Satan again, nor is he ever mentioned again. In fact, the book of Job doesn’t fit easily into the greater history of God, Israel and Jesus. So, taking it as a good source of information about Satan’s work and influence is the wrong way to read it. Job is really a story about character rather than how the devil works.
The bottom line regarding Satan’s influence? The world as it is today is not due to angels or demons; it’s all on us. Our pain is caused by our ignorance and hatred. Our joy and good things are thanks to God’s provision for Creation; God made the world good and beautiful. We humans contribute to that beauty by honouring God and living the way Jesus taught us to. When we choose our own way over God’s, things go sour. When we live together in love, the world is a beautiful place. It’s that simple.

“Seasons”

February 24th

It happens twice a year, once in summer and once in winter, without fail. There is one day in summer and one in winter that I’m taking a walk, look around at the snow or a freshly mown lawn, and think to myself: “Wow! How can all this possibly become winter/summer one day?” After all, we settle into those seasons like a pair of warm, comfortable socks, or cool, funky sandals, depending on the need. The entire world, or at least what we know of it in our locale, seems utterly and totally one or the other. Snowmobiles patrol the trails, skiers seek the freshest powder, hot-chocolate sales go through the roof and everyone is rosy-cheeked and decked out as if they’re headed for a trek to Antarctica. Or, kayaks patrol the rivers, campers are seeking the most scenic spot, lemonade sales go through the roof and everyone is tanned and decked out as if it’s the hottest day in Hawaii.
On those two days, the world seems set and firmly fixed in place. Winter is here to stay and summer is just a dream. Or summer is here to stay and winter is just a dream. A few moments later, the sensation passes and I come to my senses. I know that despite the apparent impossibility of experiencing such a seasonal shift, it is a relentless reality. Winter will give way to Spring which will be followed by Summer, Fall and then Winter again. But just as we can count on the regularity of the weather patterns, I know that there will be a day in summer when winter seems impossible followed by its seasonal opposite in winter.
As we grow accustomed to the way things are, change seems impossible, unimaginable and even maybe unlikely. It’s the way things are and we adapt to the situation as it is, settling into its rhythms and nuances, putting down roots and equipping ourselves with the right gear for the occasion. But just as summer sandals and beach umbrellas disappear from store shelves after Labour Day (if not sooner…) nothing ever lasts forever. Things will not be as they were even a day or a moment before.
I wonder, sometimes, if God feels this way about us. No matter how hard we try not to, we make mistakes. We hurt one another. We insult our heavenly Creator. We cause ourselves pain. I wonder if God ever has a moment of “Well, this is it. They’re stuck in their sin forever, they will never change.” Yet even as I wonder I know that God makes sure that we don’t stay in that place forever. Through kind friends, mentors, teachers and the Holy Spirit, God has given us the tools to break out of our folly and step away from our faux-pas. What’s more, God forgives us every time we blow it and frees us to try again.
Of course, I hope that the wintry seasons of folly and faux pas don’t last too long, and that our summery times of moving forward and honouring God seem to go on forever.