Goals and Dreams

I am not, by nature, a goal oriented type of guy.  I’m much more naturally a laid back, take-it-as-it-comes sort.  But over the years I’ve leaned to value and appreciate the power of goals and dreams in a person’s life, but I’ve also learned that it’s critical to keep those goals and dreams in proper perspective.  We need to learn to live with an eternal perspective.  Let me explain.

For years I had a dream to begin a retreat center specifically for pastors and other full-time ministry people who were struggling, wounded, burnt-out, or just needed some rest and refocus time.  My dream was that this retreat center would be structured around a small working ranch.  This was a dream and a passion that motivated and moved me.  Every experience and opportunity was evaluated against how it might prepare, equip, and move me towards fulfilling that dream.  In fact I began pastoring in large part because I could see how that would be another step leading me to that ministry center.

And it’s not as though this was something I wanted that God didn’t.  I am still certain that it was God who planted that dream, and it was with a sincere desire to serve God that I pursued it.  But through that process I have come to understand that there is a greater goal: Jesus himself.  And the ultimate fulfillment of the goal of knowing Jesus will be when he returns.  This is partly what Paul was speaking of in 1 Corinthians 15 where he speaks of the resurrection.  One person has paraphrased what he said in verse 32 this way.  “It’s resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live.”  An eternal perspective.

I’m no longer pursuing the dream of a ranch retreat center.  God used that to turn me to other dreams and goals.  Corrie ten Boom once said, “I’ve learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when the Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me!”  All my goals, even a basic as what I hope to accomplish today, I need to hold loosely before God knowing that as I do he will accomplish much greater things than I could even dream of that will be of eternal value.

Pursue your dreams passionately, but hold them loosely before God.

Leaning On My Own Understanding

I always loved going to my grandparents farm.  Some of my favorite childhood memories happened on that farm, both from when Grandpa and Grandma lived there and later when they moved to town and my uncle began farming it.

Still, not every memory from there is a sweet one, though most of the less pleasant events were of my own doing.  Like the time I was given one of my first real on-my-own farm responsibilities.  I was probably 12 and Uncle Dean had recently taken over the farm.  He had been cleaning up some of the junk that accumulates over the years and had given my younger siblings and me the job of loading it all onto the old grain truck.  The good part was that then I would get to drive the couple of miles North on the road allowance to dump it all into the pit that was used for that purpose.

We were to load the junk and then wait for Uncle Dean to come give me some instructions on driving the truck before we set off.  We finished loading and waited for I’m sure it was at least 10 minutes before my patience ran out and my eagerness to drive the truck took over.  I told the other kids to pile in certain that I knew how to drive the old standard and as long as I got the job done it would be fine.  It was easy to rationalize that there was work that needed to be done, and besides it wasn’t like I didn’t have permission to drive the truck.

I got there having stalled the truck only a couple of times, managed to back up to the pit and unload without incident, and was just beginning the journey back when we ran out of gas.  Not to worry, the truck had a slip tank. I could just fill the gas tank certain that no one would be the wiser.  I even filled the tank right to the top to make sure we had enough to get back.  What a conscientious kid!

But the truck wouldn’t start.  I tried and tried, first pumping the gas pedal then flooring it, then letting off altogether, all the while the engine turning over slower and slower, but to no avail.  I never gave up hope till I saw Uncle Dean’s pick-up coming across the field and then I knew I was in trouble.

Had I waited on directions I’d have learned there was diesel not gasoline in the slip tank.  Instead Uncle Dean had to drain a full tank of fuel, haul some gas out and boost the truck to get it back home (I had killed the battery trying to start it), all because I tried to do the job trusting in my own wisdom and ability.

While this illustration is certainly limited, too often we do God’s work like that.  Even the phrase “doing God’s work” is rather presumptuous because it is God who works in us giving us both the desire and the power to do what pleases him (Philippians 2:13). But we can get so eager to do God’s work, and so preoccupied with what we assume his work to be that we don’t give him time or space to do the work that really matters to him.  All God wants for us to do is summed up in Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Jesus never took a step or even spoke a word unless he had heard it from the Father first.  That’s the sort of connectedness and relationship God intends for us too.

Biker to the Bikers

A while back the mother of a young girl pointed me out to her daughter because they saw my picture in the local paper every week.  But when the little girl saw me she said, “But mommy, where’s his cowboy hat?”  I got a chuckle out of that, especially because a few years ago I never went anywhere without it.  In fact when I worked at Rafter Six Guest Ranch, just before I began pastoring, I wore the whole shebang every day.  I once walked into the Cochrane IGA with my spurs a–jingling not even realizing it till I noticed people looking at me a little funny.

That style suited my first church in South West Saskatchewan very well with all the ranch country down there.  It worked because I identified with the people in the church and community.  Most of my visitation involved some sort of ranch or farm activity.  I was at one of our folk’s ranch the one day and he introduced me to his neighbor who happened to be over.  “This is David. He’s the pastor from Golden Prairie.”  His neighbor responded, “Oh, what pasture do you manage?”  I laughed as I corrected him, especially because you could read the near panic in his eyes trying to remember if he’d said anything he now regretted.  Sunday mornings I wore my old fashioned riding britches, complete with leather suspenders, and the pant legs tucked into my buckaroo styled cowboy boots (much to Wendy’s chagrin).

When we moved to Falkland in the interior of BC I wrongly assumed it would be the same culture.  But it was different there and even though I came to realize that, I never made a real effort to identify with that culture.  Not that I didn’t get involved in the community, and I untucked my pant legs from my boots, but I still just kept trying to insert my own culture into theirs.  I never really identified myself with the local culture.

Paul said that when he was with the Greeks, he became Greek; when he was with the Jews he became Jewish.  He made the effort to identify with the local culture he was seeking to serve and express Jesus to.  In doing so he was saying, “You are worthwhile.  You are treasured.  You are worth knowing and understanding, and Jesus values you and wants a relationship with you too.”  Jesus doesn’t want to get rid of our cultural identity, he wants to transform it.

So now here in Benalto my hat is a helmet, my “horse” has two wheels, and I wear a Christian Motorcycle Association patched leather vest.  But wherever I’m at and whoever I’m with I try to make the effort to identify with that person because they are valuable.  As a Jesus follower how do you relate to your neighbors?

Another Way To Worship

I’m not a very well trained writer, but I do know that the opening of a book or article is critical to catching the reader’s attention enough to get them to read through to the end.  I’m going to break that principle here and probably lose a bunch of you when I tell you that I’m writing today about fasting. But if you’ll chew through the meat of this article (sorry bad pun) I believe you’ll discover something about intimacy with God that you likely have missed till now.

Mention fasting today and for most what comes to mind is dieting, or hunger strikes, or religious ritual.  For those who have grown up going to church you may have connected it with prayer during times of significant crisis or need.  Many don’t even consider it or if they do wonder if it is still relevant today.

For me personally I have struggled with the purpose for fasting because it seemed to me that it was used as a means to manipulate God.  Like if I’m facing a really serious issue or decision, or if I really want God to act in a particular way then I’ll fast and by my efforts pry what I want from him, or prove to him my devotion so he’ll act favorably toward my situation.

I understand that some have said fasting is a means of focusing so that I can hear and more clearly discern what God is saying or revealing, but even that smack a little of being dependant on my effort or sacrifice to get to God.

So I did a study of fasting through the Bible, and while space here doesn’t permit in depth analysis of what I found, here are the basics.

Fasting in the Old Testament lines up with the motive of special intense effort to get God to act or move in a particular way.  David fasts for God to save his son born from adultery, or Ezra calls for a national fast to ask God for safety as they journey back from captivity to begin rebuilding Jerusalem.

But in the New Testament Jesus, when asked about fasting, indicates that the way of relating to God has changed. (New wine in new wineskins is the analogy).  And the accounts of fasting in the New Testament indicate that worship, rather than petition, were the new primary motivation for fasting.

So here’s my suggestion for you: test my discovery.  Try a fast.  Not a long one, just after supper one day until supper the next, and have no agenda or motive other than to worship God during that time.  I believe you’ll discover as I have that fasting does still have significant value.

To Summarize With Abandon

It was Ghandi who once commented that if he’d have known Christians to live out what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7 which you should really read or re-read) he would have become a Christian.  Now whatever you may or may not think of Ghandi, the point I take from this is that those teachings of Jesus describe what a person who claims to follow him should look like.

Please notice I did not say that those teachings are the rules by which a Jesus follower is to live.  In fact Jesus makes the point that following him isn’t about keeping rules but being set free from rules to follow him with wild abandon.

That statement is going to make some of you uncomfortable because you like things to be safe and predictable.  I have news for you: Jesus is neither safe nor predictable, but, as   C. S. Lewis said, he is good.

Now some others of you are going to think that means I’m suggesting you’re free to live by your own rules, and that’s not true either.  You do not set the rules and Jesus follows you, you follow Jesus no matter what regardless of what the expectations of culture and religion are.

There is an allegory someone’s written that’s well worth the read comparing following Jesus like this to riding a tandem bicycle with him.  You can find it on-line here: www.cs.cmu.edu/~bsinger/roadlife.html

But to help you put some handles on Jesus’ description of one who follows him, I’ve tried to summarize it in a couple of paragraphs.  It is undoubtedly an imperfect attempt, but hopefully it will still be of some value:

The Sermon on the Mount describes a person who is humble and dependant on God; a person who follows Jesus with passionate and reckless abandon, who is courageous and strong in the face of adversity and oppression and on behalf of those who are oppressed.

This person enriches the community he or she lives in, making it a better place to live for everyone through caring for the needs of their neighbors and neighborhood.  Their lifestyle and character is respected by those who know them, but not because they religiously follow a set of rules, rather, because their actions flow out of a transformed nature that transcends any set of rules or laws.

This person is devout but not religious, upright but full of grace and mercy, hardworking but not frenetic or anxious. It is a person who demonstrates confidence knowing his or her future has been set by God himself and so always seems to have time for others.

The Sermon on the Mount describes Jesus, and in ever increasing measure, those who truly follow him.

When The Teacher is Wrong

Alright, hands up; who has never been wrong?  Exactly! Other than a couple of smart alecks (I won’t name names but I know who you are), nobody’s hand is up.  The same is also true for our theology, or beliefs about God.  There are things that I once believed about God that I have come to realize are wrong.  What’s more is there may well be things in my theology today that one day I’ll look back on and shake my head at.  But that doesn’t make me a false teacher.

Both the Old and New warn about not listening to false teachers and we need to be discerning.  But sadly there are some who believe it is their responsibility to decry those who they believe have “fallen into error” and brand them as “false teachers” demanding the rest of Christianity write them off.  But Paul makes it very clear that we ought “not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” (1 Corinthians 4:5)

So we’re not to judge (scripture is also clear about how to confront someone who has sinned, but that’s for another time), but we still need to guard ourselves against false teachers or prophets.  I’ve combed through the Bible and come up with six characteristics exhibited by false teachers.

  • Personal lives are inconsistent with their message and/or there is a lack of fruit of the Sprit. (Matt 7:15-20, James 2:18, 3:13-18)

This is about character and integrity, but it’s more than that too.  It’s also how they treat those around them.  Are their lives consistently characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, gentleness, and faithfulness?

  • Try to lure people away to follow them. (Acts 20:30)

When someone is more concerned about building their own kingdom than seeing the kingdom of God built that’s reason for concern.

  • Self-preservation. (John 10:12-13)

When the going gets tough do they sacrifice their own comforts and wellbeing for the protection of others?

  • Exploitation of followers. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

They promote their own needs and interests on the backs of those who follow them.

  • Turns attention away from Jesus. (Deut. 13:1-3, Acts 13:6-8)

This and the next are foundational.  A teacher of the truth will always turn hearts and minds towards Jesus, even if it costs him or her.

  • Refuses to acknowledge Jesus came in the flesh and is from God. (1 John 4:1-3)

This is one of the non-negotiables when it comes to faith.  Jesus is fully God and fully human and no one comes to God except through him.


I Admit It! (re-post)

It’s been a long time since I have gotten a speeding ticket. Mostly that’s because I don’t speed much anymore. There was a time, though, when I was pushing the limits of allowable demerit points. But even then I didn’t complain or criticize the cops when I was pulled over; I knew the rules and I knew I was breaking them. But I have a young friend who, when he was apprehended for some misdemeanor, soundly cursed the authorities who caught him. Even when I challenged him on the fact that he was doing something illegal he still maintained that he had been unduly targeted.

In studying the book of Revelation one of the aspects of that book that many have trouble with is the wrath of God. I think that one of the primary reasons we may have such a hard time reconciling the wrath of God as expressed in Revelation is, much like my young friend, we have a skewed perception of our own rightness. We are, in essence, saying that it is God who has the problem not us, and so we dismiss or ignore Revelation or even God.

What we need is a better understanding of God’s rightness and our “wrongness” or shortcomings. The amazing thing about this, though, is that unlike the police officer, God does not demand that we measure up to his standard. He knows we can’t. Instead he offers, through Christ and by faith to impart to us Jesus’ own rightness as our own. That what Easter is all about: Jesus giving his perfect life and taking on himself our self-justifying “wrongness.”

Even in Revelation, in the middle of some of the worst things that are going to happen we find that God is giving us a warning, like a final plea, to acknowledge our wrongness and accept his grace. (See chapter 9 verses 20 & 21) But still people refuse and insist it is God who’s got the problem.

The heaven that God finally brings to earth at the end of Revelation is intended for everyone, but can only enjoyed by those who have admitted their wrongness and accepted God’s rightness that comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ. Have you admitted it yet?