Thursday, January 17, 2013

Christian Unity & Theological/Church Heritage

Tomorrow begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan18-25). A week of becoming more aware and appreciative of the great variety of ways of adoring God. "A week where people realize, perhaps for the first time, that their neighbours' ways are not so strange." Sunday evening our ministerial association will be hosting an ecumenical service, facilitated by a number of people from a variety of denominations. An evening when a myriad of theological and church heritages will be represented and united together in worship of our one God. As a matter of coincidental timing I was recently asked to write a short paper describing my own theological and church heritage. An interesting topic for one who was not raised in a church family. I'm not sure this is the response they were looking for but it was what the received, at least in part. I thought it might be a fitting blog post given the upcoming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

My theological and church heritage is initiated first by my personal relationship with God. As a child I was not raised in a Church home, however I have had a love for God from as far back as I can recall. It is as though God has been wooing me from the day of my creation. I was always drawn to churches with their large stained glass windows, and beautiful Sunday morning bells. The memories of the churches I rarely attended are still very vivid. I can clearly see myself as a child sitting by the window on a Sunday morning, watching as people young and old, dressed in their Sunday best walked to church under the dawning sun. I can still hear the beautiful sounds of the bells ringing out enticing people to come. I can remember by name, the Sunday school teacher who taught me about Jesus the handful of times my aunt took me to the United church when I came to visit her. I remember Mrs. Kelly my public school teacher who gave us colourful books, almost like comic books depicting the stories of the bible. At the age of about 10 or 11, I started taking myself to church. I lived on an Air force base and the United Church was not to far from my home. I got involved in choir, and was the youngest and perhaps only non-grey haired member, for the short time that I attended.

As I entered my teen and young adult years, any embryonic thoughts of God were placed in my back pocket and the church was left behind. I moved out at 17 and as a result, finishing school, work, athletics and years later friends, partying and aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder took precedence. Yet even through these times, I could sense God's presence, His continued wooing. Then when I was about 24 I realized it was time for a change, it was time to respond to God's invitation, whatever that meant. I moved from Toronto to be closer to some of my family (this in and of itself is a work of God). I asked my Landlord where the closest United Church was and she instead invited me to attend her Free Methodist church, a denomination I had never heard of before. In fact I was not very familiar with many things of church still. I accepted her invitation and began going every Sunday to the FM church. I started to listen for God, and I heard about not only how much God loved me, which I never doubted, but what it meant to live for God, something I hadn't heard or at least recognized, during my minimal United Church experience. I started attending Bible Study, and the more I pressed in to God, the more He poured into me. It was not long after that, that I gave my life to the Lord, He always had my heart, at least in my ignorant understanding of what that meant, but now He had my life. Very quickly and dramatically my life changed. I started a youth ministry at our church about a year later, and subsequently became a lay pastor within the Free Methodist Church in Canada. With whom I now approximately 13 years later, serve as an associate pastor at a fabulous church.

I am an avid reader, and a lover of learning and academia. Before I accepted Christ, I had learned a bit about Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism, Scientology and other "religions" to get a better understanding of who this God is that was wooing me. In the end I knew it was Christ - it made perfect sense and confirmed what I already knew in my heart. So too it was with my Church/Theological heritage. While I loved the FM Church, I wanted to more about it. I studied, taking the myriad of courses offered by the denomination such as "The Heart of Free Methodism" and "Wesleyan Theology" among others, and fell in love with our heritage, our foundations, John Wesley and our ethos. I considered Calvinism vs. Armenianism. I experienced Baptist, Pentecostal, Salvation Army, Christian Reform, and United Church services among others, yet each time it was confirmed that the Free Methodist Church in Canada, is where God was and continues to call me to serve. Not that I do not find value in the other expressions of the Christian faith, indeed I do, in fact I have filled the pulpit in each of those denominations. Nor do I think that we as a Free Methodist denomination have everything right, cause we don't, but my theological and church heritage is Free Methodist. It is not my heritage because it is the church of my Father, or the church of my friends, it is my heritage because it is the church God has placed me in, and called me to serve, and for this distinction I am grateful. 

I am grateful for the FMCiC and plan (as God sees fit) to spend the rest of my days serving God and others as part of this particular expression of the body of Christ.  That being said, I'm not sure God is overly concerned about my theological and Church Heritage. So I hope that I can pass on first and foremost my passion for our one true God and as an aside my appreciation for the FMC.  I hope I pass down a heritage of teaching others how to think and not what to think.  In doing so, I pray they will listen and discern where it is God is leading them, and will faithfully serve where God calls them to.  I pray that our theological and church heritages do not continue to be the stumbling blocks to unity among the body of Christ, or more pointedly, to others coming to know Christ and his life saving and life transforming power in a real and personal way.  I pray as we are called to pray this week for Christian Unity - ONE CHURCH united under the headship of Christ our Lord and Saviour.

I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. ~John 17:23

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Don't Feel The Need to Fight for My Right to Lead

I am blessed to serve in the Free Methodist Church, which is egalitarian by nature, holding the view, that the Bible teaches the fundamental equality of women and men of all racial and ethnic mixes, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and the overarching principles of scripture.  I believe, as does the FMCiC that all people have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God; and are called to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race.  That being said, there are still individuals within our denomination, and obviously those of other denominations that would not readily accept a woman in leadership.  Some of these objections are due to an arguably misinformed biblical interpretation.  The other objections are simply preference.  

The reality of my experience has been that there is more than one congregation out there, where a significant part of the adherents and membership would prefer a male Senior Pastor. I have had in depth, ongoing, conversations with individuals (men & women) who maintain this preference. They understand the FM stance, love being FM, but maintain their PREFERENCE that the senior pastor be male. I also understand in part the reason for their preference, I may not always agree, but understand. If enough people in the congregation prefer this - than that is the direction they will head.  

Now I could apply, and fight for my right to lead, and If I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was called to a particular church that held these preferences I would apply and gently respond to their issue of preferences, trusting God to work in and through the process, (I've had to weigh this before). However if the definitive call was not there, I would respect their preferences (while keeping the conversation open in order to broaden both our perspectives and understanding) and move on, understanding every church has preferences but God has a plan.  

Some would say that when it comes to the hiring process this is discrimination and that we should not tolerate it.  I am in complete agreement, that it is sad that anyone has to face any sort of discrimination. It is discouraging that applicants and employees are not always attuned or obedient to the Lord's guiding.  I recognize that the church needs to mature in many areas including but not exclusive of this one.  Thank God for His sanctifying grace.

I also recognize however that I make up the church and there are areas that I need to focus on in my own spiritual growth and maturity in order to positively affect the whole.  I say this because my personal experience in this area of struggle as a woman in ministry was one that brought about some maturing.  My initial response was one of resentment, bitterness, confusion and frustration.  All fair but none very productive.  As I prayed and reasoned, and left room for open discussions with individuals of differing opinions, I came to the conclusion that my desire and call is to serve God and others well. This means going where God sends me, probably where I can be most effective given the time and place.  As I said in yesterday's post, I personally want the focus of my calling as pastor, and for my time and energies, to be about drawing people into a saving relationship with Christ and less about fighting this battle.

I realized that going to a church that is truly not ready for a woman senior pastor, where many will struggle with receiving, is not effective for me or for them and since it is really not about me, I figured let them have their senior male pastor, who will hopefully bring them to a place of understanding and maturity.

That being said, I am not condoning or accepting this preference, instead I want to walk alongside people and help them mature in their biblical understandings, and allow God to work in and through me, so that I might provide a positive and desirable example of a woman in leadership, so that they can overcome any inbred preferences.

My experience has been that the best way to do this is through relationship, even with those whose preferences are different from mine.  In getting to know them, and they me, I feel like I am gaining their respect as a pastor regardless of my gender.  One man said to me the first time he heard me speak, that my sermon was very powerful...for a woman.  I received it as a back handed compliment, but then realized that perhaps he had not heard very many, if any female preachers.  He had since been under my tutelage in discipleship classes, and though we did not always agree, I definitely felt that He respected me and the calling God has placed on me. 

I also believe that discrimination/preferences of all sorts take place in the hiring process, inside and outside of the church, though perhaps never labelled or presented as such.  Admittedly another area of maturing for myself, because in the interest of authenticity I have preferences, though God helping me, hopefully they do not get in the way of His will.

I've not yet felt the Need to Fight for my Right to Lead.  The Lord has led me to incredible positions of pastoral leadership that I am privileged to serve in and for that I am grateful.  I pray and know the Lord will do the same for each woman that he has equipped and called to pastoral ministry.  There may however, come a time, when I do face opposition in seeing God's will come to fruition, whether that be personally or on behalf of others. At that time, I will stand up and press forward knowing that it is the Lord who fights for me.  Till then, I will continue to serve where the Lord has placed me.  I will attentively listen for the voice of God, and pray that others do the same, and trust that in the end, the guidance and will of God wins out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Women Can't What!?

The women in ministry fight/debate is not one, that I have fully engaged in.  It is not that I do not believe that women could, should and have historically been equipped and enabled by God to lead His people, cause I certainly do.  It is simply that, as a pastor this is not the focus of the ministry God has called me to and YES God has called me to pastoral ministry, as confirmed by others, the gifts and opportunities the Lord has afforded me, and as evident by the fruit of my ministry. My focus is on preaching the Gospel, loving and serving His people, and discipling them to walk in His will and ways, allowing God to work in and through me,  that others might come to know Him in a real and personal way, so as to live redemptive lives of transformation.  Should teachable moments arise that allow me to speak to this matter of women in pastoral leadership, than I am happy to engage in the discussion, but it is not the major mandate the Lord has given me for my ministry. Rachel Held Evans among others have been inspired, equipped and enabled to do so and Dr. Ben Witherington, considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, has provided some theological interpretation on women in ministry.

This being said I've had a few people recently engage me in this discussion, on women in pastoral leadership.  Now I can make theological arguments with the best of them, but the answer I often close with, is the one that compels me most of all, a very simplistic understanding.  Having been gifted for, and called to pastoral leadership, I have two choices.  When this life is over, either I apologize to God, for taking advantage of the opportunities he has provided me to preach the Good news, lead others closer to His throne of Grace, build up the body of Christ, and spend my life discipling and mentoring others, even though I am a woman. Or I apologize for not not preaching the good news, leading others closer to His throne of Grace, building up the body of Christ, and spending my life discipling and mentoring others.  Which is going to offend God more? The fact that I used the gifts and opportunities He has blessed me with to Glorify Him by loving, serving and leading others in the ways that I have been equipped and enabled to do so, or not taking opportunities to do these things, because I am a woman.

Tomorrow - the other side of the story: Why I Might NOT Fight for My Right to Lead.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


"You have led in Your steadfast love the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them by Your strength to Your Holy abode." ~ Exodus 15:13

God Almighty, full of grace and mercy, it is in love that You lead us, may we always follow, knowing that wherever You lead us, it is out of love for us.  Help us not to get ahead of You and so drown in our own pride and foolish plans.  You have redeemed each of us for a purpose, lead us in Your will and ways.  Even when we are led to places that seem unbearable with obstacles insurmountable, may we rely on Your strength to guide us through.  Increase in us faith, so that we stop trying to take the lead, to do things in our own strength.  May we simply, faithfully follow wherever You lead.  Forgive us for when we get in front of You, instead may You oh Lord always be at the forefront, everything we do pointing to you - leading others to you, as we follow You. We ask this in the name of Christ. Amen

"The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way" Psalm 37:23

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Watch and see what God will do.

"The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" ~Exodus 14:14

The battles are not yours to fight, the war not yours to win.  God is in control, you need only to trust in Him.  Don't make situations worse by talking, gossiping, venting to others.  Don't make situations worse by arguing, defending, debating your position. 

Stop trying so hard! Stop and Listen.  Be Silent

God is not asking you to do anything - simply, "Fear not, Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today" ~Exodus 14:13


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rather give up life than give in to singleness?

I believe marriage is a wonderful thing, when two people come together in such a way that love is multiplied, their joys doubled, and burdens halved.  I believe marriage is a Godly thing, when each person is able, through their union, to pursue the plans and purposes God has for them.  I believe marriage is fabulous, when God is the center and the relationship finds them drawing closer to Him and closer to one another.

I have always wanted to be married and to have a family.  Perhaps even more so after becoming a Christian, when a desire was birthed within me to leave a legacy of Christ like living and loving, for my children to pick up and pass down generation to generation.

I still want to be married and to have a family, but more than this I have come to a place in my life and in my spiritual walk where I'm more than willing to surrender that desire, in exchange for what God desires for me.  Of course many of us say this. In fact I have thought this many times in the past about marriage, but I was never really committed to the idea.  I am now. It didn't happen over night, it took years, but I have more than accepted that it may be God's will for me that I remain single. I have actually embraced this possibility and see the benefits of it.

I didn't expect however, that embracing such a possibility would result in an outpouring of concern from some in the Christian community.  It's as if the family of God thinks I have given up on life.  No Cathleen, keep fighting, keep breathing, this is not the end - God has someone for you, hold on!!!!!!!  

Maybe God does have someone for me, and if so - Wahooooo!!!! bring on "Charles Ingalls", praise be to God!.  However if not, then Wahoooooo!!! Praise be to God, just the same.

Here's the thing, as much as I believe in marriage, I do not believe it's the be all and end all for Christian women. I've come to realize that perhaps my getting married would be a hindrance to the plans and purposes God has for me.  If this is the case, than I shall pass on wedded bliss thank you very much.  What God has planned for me, is better than anything I can plan for myself.

If I look back on my life, I can see NOW, the benefits of my singleness in my Christian walk, the breadth of ministry it has allowed me.  The single focus it has afforded me.  Perhaps this is God's plan for me, in order that I may be more effective for Him and others, not for just right now but forever. 

This is where I'm at, but we are all at different places along this journey, and  for some, right now, the thought of such a possibility for their life, elicits copious amounts of anxiety.  Admittedly the title of this blog is a bit of an exaggerated question, but for some it seems the thought of having to sacrifice their life for Christ, would be easier than having to surrender to a life of singleness for Christ.  This reminded  me of the story of the Rich Young Ruler and I found myself wondering how we would respond if Jesus said to us, "in order to grab hold of the abundant life I have for you, embrace a life of singleness and follow me".  Would we, at these words be saddened, and go away grieving, unwilling to give up our desires, for what God desires of us? Would we respond much the same way the Rich Young Ruler did when Jesus answered his question "What must I do to inherit eternal life", by telling him to sell all he owned and follow Him.

I am in  no way suggesting that it is better for all to be single, certainly not. I am affirming that it is best to place all our desires in God's hands, not holding to tightly to anything, lest we be unable to grab hold of all God has for us.  I do not know my future, whether I shall be married or not, but I do know that I can trust my future to God.  It is faith that allows us to be content in all things, a growing trust that allows us to relinquish control to the one truly in control and find peace in the places God brings us. 

So ladies, whether, single, married, dating or divorced, as Valentines Day rushes upon us, let's celebrate the God who loves us extravagantly and praise Him. May we grow in faith, and in the confidence of  knowing that the plans and purposes God has for us are better than anything we can dream for ourselves.

Friday, January 13, 2012


I don't know when it happened.  It certainly did not happen all it once.  It was not even a conscious decision.  Over the years I have just gradually transitioned into living a simpler life.  I have always had a thread of yearning for days gone by, for things to be slower and simpler, but it certainly was not evidenced in my lifestyle.  However as of late, the transition from consumer to minimalist (I have discovered the name of my increasing condition) has become more obvious.  So much so, that a panicked messaged from a beloved Aunt and a resulting conversation has warranted this post.

As 2012 ushered in, I began ushering out the clutter in my home.  Not a result of a New Year's resolution, as I did not make any of those, figuring my 36-4-36 challenge was more than sufficient.  I certainly had made no preconceived conscious decision to start getting rid of stuff, but that is what transpired.  

It began with purging my closet full of clothes.  Full to the point that I was always looking for hangers I didn't have, and physically forcing jeans to hang in the slight crack that remained beside the sweaters.  Then on to my dresser - up till now having to squish the shirts down so I could close the drawers.  Next my coat closet, hats that I have never worn, falling from grace as I slid open the doors.  In the end I had filled 3 boxes with stuff I didn't need, and still had more than I needed left over.  I posted a pic of my accomplishment on Facebook, thinking there may be someone in need who could use these things, and guess what - there was, the clothes are now being donated to a worthy cause.

I was fueled by the sense of freedom I had attained, endorphins compelling me to keep going, so next was my DVD's.  I went through them all - keeping only a few of my favourites.  I was able to sell 60 of them and pay off a bill earlier than I had expected, the remainder I donated to my church's lending library.  My CD's were daunting, hundreds of jewel cases, filled with everything from Techno and Rave to Opera and Classical and everything in between.  20 years+ of accumulated musical therapy, most of which I had not touched in 15 years.  Again I sorted through them, keeping a few favourites and boxed up the rest for interested individuals to take as they pleased.

There in my living room it loomed - the entertainment centre.  Which leaned just enough to the left to make it noticeable. Big - bulky - unnecessary, so out it went, along with the 5 disk CD player (which I am pleased will be put to good use by my Nephew's mom in her child care centre).  Both my DVD player and laptop work just fine for playing CD's.

Finally - at least for this round of decluttering, was to tackle my hope chest.  An antique trunk, filled with great memories and lots of junk.  As I went through, disposing of the clutter so as to better preserve the valuable memories it contained, I was taught many a lesson.

#1) Catching wedding bouquets is not a good indicator of your chances of being married (I found at least 3 in there) 

#2) The glory and identity that comes with winning medals will fade long before the writing on the medals 

#3) Grandmas are experts in grace when it comes to their grandchildren, and they make the best baby outfits (maybe one day I will get to use the one she made and gave me for when I have a daughter) 

#4) The McDonald's Flintstones T-shirt I placed in there in 1994 is now worth $30.

It was after posting these little anecdotes, that things became concerning for some. My Aunt, had been following my progress via Facebook and was the one to vocalize her concern by way of a message.  What is going on?  Why are you getting rid of all your stuff?  Do you need money? 

I panicked!  How do I explain the why?  She's going to think I am crazy.  I didn't need money, in fact except for the few DVD's I sold, I was giving everything else away. Admittedly,  I started out not knowing exactly why I felt compelled to do this - but as I went through the process it became very clear to me.  I was choosing freedom, I was choosing to take control over my life.  I was choosing what was important to me, I cherish memories far more than I do things - So I would rather expunge myself of stuff, so that I might have more resources available to create fabulous memories.  More than this I do not want money and things to become the stumbling blocks to my being able to do what I love.  For example, as a pastor I do not want my salary or a church's finances to determine whether or not I can afford to be in full time ministry - because that is what I love to do. So I choose to live in such a way that I have the freedom to serve regardless (more finances more opportunities to bless - less finances I can transition into a lifestyle that allows me to continue to serve regardless). 

After my Aunt and I talked she was comforted, knowing that, I've not gone off the deep end, I'm too young for a mid life crisis, and I wasn't under any compulsion or coercion.  In fact after I explained it, she could understand my motivation.  This transition is simply one of choosing what is important to me, and then creating a lifestyle that will afford me the opportunity to grab hold of it.  The process is no where near complete, there are many more drawers and cupboards to clean out - and many more lifestyle changes to be made, purging distractions, unnecessary accumulation & stuff from my life. Throwing off anything that hinders, or robs others. It has been a process free of regrets - and perhaps long overdue, with undoubtedly many more lessons along the way :D

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I was struck by a verse I read in my devotions.  It was from Paul who said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."  It caused me to consider, do I live a life, privately and publicly, such that I'd be comfortable encouraging others to follow me because I'm faithfully following the example of Christ?  As a pastor, (or perhaps for you as a parent, as a friend, coworker, or as a family member) do I serve God and others, in such a way that I could have the confidence to offer such an invitation, trusting that it would bring God glory and be to their spiritual benefit?

Christ is our ultimate example, no man or other example will ever take precedence, however I am thankful for the couple truly faithful examples of great pastors, God has placed in my midst.  Those who demonstrate simply by way of their living, what it means to love and serve God and others well, not perfect but pressing in and pressing on. Pastors, who I know in following, will lead me closer to Christ.  Pastors who in following,  will demonstrate for me, what in means to walk in His will and ways.

I pray to this end, that God helping me, I may live my life, so that I could say with ever increasing confidence & authenticity: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."


I am not a great pastor, though I'm trying to be, God helping me. I recently spent the afternoon in visitation with a widow of a great pastor, and I found myself longing for what seems at times, to be the wisdom and ways of days gone by. I left our time together, keenly aware of just how important certain areas of ministry really are, and trying to discern what it is that makes for great pastors. I deduced it to 4 qualities that I believe are integral if one aspires to be a great Godly pastor.

1. Learn - A love of learning, specifically as it pertains to God's word.  Knowing how to think is arguably more important than knowing what to think.

2. Live - Living out all that we learn through God's word, striving to live as Christ lived, walking in His will and ways.  I've always respected pastors whose lives preached a better a sermon Monday to Saturday than their message Sunday morning.

3. Listen - The ability to hear the heart of God and others. That means faithful, intimate prayer in order to hear from God. As well as visitation and/or fellowship in order to hear the heart of others. I believe relationship building both with God and others, is integral to discipling and thus to being a great pastor.  Furthermore I have come to experience that relationship building only enhances our preaching, teaching etc, causing it to be more effective.

4. Love - Love for God and others, a real love evident by actions, a love without thought of return.

Nothing profound, quite simple really: LEARN-LIVE-LISTEN-LOVE

Monday, November 7, 2011

O' Christmas Tree, Do We Really Need Thee?

I have been thinking a lot this week, about Christmas Trees.

Perhaps it's because each time I log in to Facebook, my news feed informs me that another spirited individual has successfully planted a coniferous tree in their living room and adorned it with bright lights and sparkly tinsel. Perhaps it is the shock and look of askance I get, when people learn that I have never, in all my 18 years of living on my own, ever put up a Christmas Tree or Christmas Decorations.  It is not that I am against the putting up of a Christmas Tree, in fact I take great delight in the beauty of the Tannenbaum. For me it's always simply been a matter of circumstance and priority.  I am a single woman, no children, living on my own, to put up a tree just seems impractical.  I celebrate Christmas day with my family, so I'm not even home on the joyous occasion.  Money has never been so ample, that I thought a Christmas tree and decorations were worth the cost. I would rather spend that money on gas to visit someone I have not seen in a long time or taking a friend out for dinner.

I always told myself that when I get married, or when I have children, I will have a tree. I would carry on the tradition my mom started with her 4 children, of putting up and decorating the Christmas tree after watching the live airing of the Toronto Santa Clause Parade on Global.  I have, however, been questioning that logic this week and I think I have come to the resolute conclusion, that single or married, with children or childless, I will never be putting up a Christmas Tree.  Some might say I am a Scrooge, all bah-hum-bug about the season but really what does a Christmas Tree have to do with the true spirit of Christmas.

Christmas is about the gift we were given in Christ. His birth in a manager, living among us, growing up to be the Saviour of the world, ultimately sacrificing His life for ours.  Christmas is about sacrifice, giving up so others can have. 

I started to research the cost of Christmas Trees.  If you purchase a real tree, each year you will spend a minimum of $30 - $200.  An Artificial Tree is anywhere from $99.99 - $599.99 (Really $600.00 on a Christmas Tree).  Then you have the cost of ornaments, and garland, tinsel and the ever coveted perfect angel/star Topper.  Some may argue that you buy it once and then you are set, it's an investment.  True I suppose, if you are buying an artificial tree, but even then you are updating the ornaments and the accessories every year, and I have been to Hallmark and Walmart and they aren't cheap, and let's not forget the added cost to your electricity bill. It all adds up, in fact here are some of the numbers, $73.9 million - The value of farm cash receipts for Christmas trees in Canada in 2005. $196.2 million - The value of Christmas decorations imported to Canada in 2005. The bulk ($175.3 million) came from China, with Russia and some Eastern European nations supplying much of the remainder.  A lot of money spent on 60 days of fabricated beauty that symbolizes what exactly?

So with that in mind I am giving up any notion of ever having a Christmas Tree.  I am going to start a new tradition. At the beginning of November, I am going to legitimately estimate, what I would have spent that year on a Christmas Tree and/or decorations and then after the Santa Clause parade, I will go out (friends, spouse and/or children in hand), and we will purchase items to give away to those in need.  Maybe gift certificates for the homeless, turkeys for the local soup kitchen, or a thank you gift for someone who serves with our Fire Department.  Perhaps one year I will I simply buy random gifts and hand them out to random strangers (oh wait we are dong that this year - Video Post to come in December ). Perhaps I will start a "Tree Free Christmas" Campaign and encourage each person in my community to give the money they would have spent on a tree or ornaments in support of a local charity that I'm passionate about.

What I have come to realize is that I do not need a Christmas tree. In all my 18 years without one, I have never missed it, and as far as I can tell, no one else close to me has been traumatized by my not having one. If you love your Christmas tree, than, please do not take offense at my recent personal conviction. Should I happen to ever pass by your home, and see your ornately decorated tree, shining brightly in your window, I will not pass judgement but rather will enjoy the nostalgic memories and beauty it offers.

If you have read this post, and something is stirring within you, if this resonates in your spirit, why not consider joining me for a Tree Free Christmas. Want something a little more committal, jump in with both feet, and sell your artificial tree and ornaments on Kijiji, giving the money to a cause of your choosing.  Why not use Facebook or local media to start your own "Tree Free Christmas" Campaign in support of a charity in your community.

If you are thinking to yourself, I already give extra at Christmas time, thank-you. Thank-you for truly getting into the Christmas spirit.  Can I challenge you though? Can you give a little more? Could you, would you, for one year, give up the Christmas Tree, the garland, the ornaments, the topper, and take that money and spend it in a way that will brighten someone else's day?  Even if you only buy one new ornament a year, why not give it up this year, and give back to one more person in need. I know it will be a sacrifice - but I assure you, that the gift is in the giving.  Why not consider doing it this year?  Who knows maybe it will become a new tradition for you and your family as well.

Leave a comment and  let me know your thoughts? Do We Really Need Thee Christmas Tree?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Not a Fan...

I have never been much of a fan of "Church" curriculum, perhaps in part because when I first started in ministry I did not know there was such a thing, so I created my own (which others may not have been a fan, also because some of what I have seen has been trite or a reworked production of many that have gone before..

However at the recommendation of a pastor from our email list-serve,  I have recently been checking out this "Not a Fan" curriculum.  I first went to the site and I enjoyed the testimonial clips and the preview of one of the powerful small group videos. So I am ordering this small group video study to use with our Young Adults and then implement it with our church as a small group study after that. 

Being a bit of a bibliophile I bought the book to read as I wait. I have only read the preface so far, so I can not give you a fair assessment but if the preface is anything like the rest of the book I am excited.  With that in mind let me share with you the preface (it's worth the read), perhaps it will resonate with you as well, and encourage you to check out the book.

It's a Thursday afternoon and I am sitting in the church sanctuary.  It's empty now, but Easter is only a few days away.  More than thirty thousand people will likely come to the weekend services, and I have no idea what I'm going to say to them.  I can feel the pressure mounting as I sit there hoping that a sermon will come to mind.   I look around at the empty seats hoping some inspiration will come.  Instead there's just more perspiration.  I wipe the sweat off my brow and look down.  This sermon needs to be good.  There are some people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter (we call the "Creasters").  I want to make sure they all come back.  What could I say to get their attention?  How can I make my message more appealing?  Is there something creative I could do that would be a big hit and get people talking?

Still nothing.  There is a Bible in the chair in front of me.  I grab it.  I can't think of a scripture to turn to.  I've spent my life studying this book and I can't think of one passage that will "wow" the Creasters. I consider using it the was I did as a kid.  Kind of like a magic 8 Ball, you ask a question, open up the Bible and point to the page, and whatever it says answers your questions.

Finally a thought crosses my mind:  I wonder what Jesus taught whenever He had big crowds.  What I discovered would change me forever.  Not just as a preacher, but as a follower of Christ.  I found that when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was like to cause them to leave.

In that empty sanctuary I read of one such occasion in John chapter 6.  Jesus is addressing a crowd that has likely grown to more than five thousand.  Jesus has never been more popular.  Word has spread about His miraculous healings and his inspirational teaching.  This crowd of thousands has come to cheer him on.

After a full day of teaching, Jesus knows the people are getting hungry, and so he turns to his disciples and asks what all these people will do for food.  One of the disciples, Philip, tells Jesus that even with eight month's wages , it wouldn't be enough money to buy bread for everyone to have a bite.  from Philip's perspective, there really wasn't anything that could be done. But another disciple, Andrew, has been scanning the crowd and he tells Jesus of a boy who has five loaves and two small fish.  Jesus takes the boy's sack lunch and with it he feeds the entire crowd.  In fact,m the Bible tells us that even after everyone had their fill, there was still plenty left over.

After dinner the crowd decides to camp out for the night so they can be with Jesus the next day.  These are some big-time fans of Jesus.  The next morning when the crowd wakes up and they're hungry again, they look around for Jesus, aka their meal ticket, but he's nowhere to be found.  These fans are hoping for an encore performance.  Eventually they realize that Jesus and His disciples have crossed over to the other side of the lake.  By the time they catch up to Jesus they're starving.  They've missed their chance to order breakfast and they are ready to find out what's on the lunch menu.  But Jesus has decided to shut down the "all you can eat" buffet.  He's not handing out any more free samples.  in verse 26 Jesus says to the crowd: "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill"

Jesus knows that these people are not going to all the trouble and sacrifice because they are following him, but because they want some free food.  Was it Jesus they wanted, or were they only interested in what He could do for them?  In verse 35 Jesus offers himself, but the question is, would that be enough? " Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty""

Jesus says, I am the bread of life.  Suddenly Jesus is the only thing on the menu.  The crowd has to decide if he will satisfy or if they are hungry for something more.  Here's what we read at the end of the chapter: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (John 6:66)"

Many of the fans turn to go home.  I was struck by the fact that Jesus doesn't chase after them. He doesn't soften his message to make it more appealing.  He doesn't send the disciples chasing after them with a creative handout inviting them to come back for a "build your own sundae" ice cream social.  He seems okay with the fact that his popularity has plummeted.

As I sat in the sanctuary surrounded by thousands of empty seats, here's what became clear to me: it wasn't the size of the crowds Jesus cared about; it was their lever of commitment.

I put the Bible back in the chair in front of me.

I cried.

God, I am sorry.

Almost, as soon as I said it to him, I knew it needed to go further.  A few days later on Easter Sunday, a crowd of thousands gathered and I began my sermon with a choked up apology.  I told the crowd that I was wrong for being too concerned with what they would think and how many of them would come back.  I think over the years my intentions were good; I wanted to make Jesus look as attractive as possible so that people would come to find eternal life in him.  I was offering the people Jesus, but I was handing out a lot of free dread.  In the process I cheapened the gospel.

Imagine it this way.  Imagine that my oldest daughter turns twenty-five.  She isn't married but she really wants to be.  I decide I'm going to help make that happen.  So, imagine I take out an ad in the newspaper, put up a billboard sign, and make up T-shirts begging someone to choose her.  I even offer some attractive gifts as incentives.  Doesn't that cheapen who she is?  Wouldn't that make it seem that whoever came to her would be doing her a favour?  I would never do that.  I would set the standard high. I would do background checks and lie detector tests.  There would be lengthy applications that must be filled out in triplicate.  References would be checked and hidden cameras installed.  If you want to have a relationship with her, you better be prepared to give her the best of everything you have.  I don't want to just hear you say that you love her; I want to know that you are committed to her.  I want to know that you would give your life for her.

Too often in my preaching I have tried to talk people into following Jesus.  I wanted to make following him as appealing, comfortable, and convenient as possible.  And I want to say that I am sorry.  I know it's strange to start off a book with an apology, but I want you to know that the journey I'm inviting you on is one that I've been traveling.  It's a journey I continue to be on, and I should tell you it hasn't been easy.  It was more comfortable being part of the crowd.

I know typically you put something in the introduction that makes people want to read the book.  You have a celebrity write it, or you have someone else write it so that person can tell all the readers how great the writer is. At the very least the author should write something in the introduction of a book that makes people want to read it.  I'm not sure if I've done that...probably not.  My guess is an apology from a man who got it wrong for a long time doesn't exactly inspire confidence.  But I just want to be clear that this book is not just information on a page or a pastors' commentary on the Scriptures.  This book is written by one of those in the crowd of John 6 who thought Jesus was great but was really in it for the free meals.

I hope you will read this book and discover with me what it really means to follow Jesus.  I will talk more about repentance than forgiveness, more about surrender than salvation, more about brokenness than happiness, and more about death than about life.  The truth is, if you are looking for a book about following Jesus that lays out a comfortable and reassuring path, you find it here.  Don't get me wrong, I want you to keep reading: I just want to be up-front and let you know there won't be a lot of free bread.         

Now to some the preface may seem a little harsh and unbalanced but as I scanned through the chapters, It seems that the book is well rounded,  as encouraging as it is challenging, and I am looking forward to reading it.

If you have already read it please feel free to share your reviews. 

If this has peeked your interest, why not pick up a copy and read along with me and we can share our thoughts.