Deeper Than “Hello Beautiful“

When I was in college I noticed a gorgeous young lady sitting by herself in the cafeteria. I was immediately intrigued and drawn to this tall, slender beauty. I sat down across from her, introduced myself and two and a half years later we were married.

 If that was the extent of my courting Wendy I would have a very shallow and immature relationship with her. Imagine if my only focus and appreciation for my wife was on what an amazingly beautiful lady she is. I would be missing so much, and she and I both would be frustrated in our relationship.

That is a picture of the sort of relationship many people have with God.

Phil Webb has been a missionary to Columbia who counsels pastors and ministry leaders who are struggling in their relationship with God. Often these people are leading churches or ministries that are very successful, but they are discouraged in their own hearts, teetering on burnout. The first thing he asks them is what initially drew them to Jesus. Was it forgiveness of sin, or the promise of heaven, or Jesus’ love or some other aspect of God’s nature or character? Almost invariably he finds that whatever that initial draw was remains the primary focus in their relationship with God.

This doesn’t only happen with the first thing that drew us. At any point in our lives we can come to an insight on some feature of who God is or what he has done and be so enraptured by it that we stay there, rather than building on it and continuing to mature in our relationship with him.

This isn’t to say that whatever point you are at is false, or unimportant, or shouldn’t be appreciated. I am still amazed and very appreciative of how stunningly gorgeous Wendy is. In fact I appreciate it more today than I ever have because in my eyes all of the other wonderful things I have come to know about her nature and personality enhance her outward beauty.

God longs to have a mature relationship with each of us. If we cling to and fixate only on what we already know of God our relationship with him will stagnate and we will become frustrated and worn out, maybe complacent and maybe even apathetic in our walk with him. Spend some time this week with your Bible just listening to God. You may be surprised at how much more there is to discover.


Choosing Your Treasure

Before you read any further stop right here and name for yourself your top 5 priorities in life.  Got ‘em? Alright now hold on to those because I want you to go through them again after you’ve read the rest of this.

In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus talks about priorities calling them your treasure. In essence he says that your heart is going to be with whatever you treasure most.  That may sound like he is stating the obvious, but it really hits hard when put together with what comes just before this.  He says, again in essence, where I put most of my time and energy and focus is where my treasure is going to be.  And wherever my treasure is, that is what I will come to care about most.

Before I get to what Jesus was primarily getting at, let me examine this as a general life principle.  Reflect on your life for a moment.  Where is the majority of your time and energy focused?  Is it in your career, or the accumulation of things?  Maybe it’s in trying to make yourself secure or happy?  Maybe it’s even religious activity?  Remember the principle; where you put most of your time and energy is what you will come to treasure most.  Are those the things that you care about most?  Or is it relationship; your husband or wife, your children or neighbours?  Think about it.  Where are you storing your treasure at?  Wherever it is, your heart will follow.

On that note, let me explain the principal point Jesus was making.  If we store our treasure in anything here, wealth, happiness, power, status, etc. ultimately we will lose it.  If instead we pursue things of eternal nature, well, they’re eternal.  This is the same passage where he said we should seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness first, and all these other things will be added.  What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God?  Very simply, make knowing Jesus your top priority, and then allow his nature and character to be expressed through your life.  If you do this all your other needs will be worked out.  That’s not saying that life will be easy, you will never suffer of struggle and that things will work out exactly how you want.  But it will work out according to God’s way and wisdom and I guarantee you that your treasure will be safe.

Now, what were those priorities?

I Need To Be Convicted

Brace yourself, I’m going to talk about conviction of sin today. Now with that introduction this next sentence is going to sound like it’s totally out of left field, but stick with me.

One of the side benefits when we first had kids was I got to play with really neat toys and watch cartoons again. Of course I also had to endure the “Barney” phase, but I did enjoy some of the others. I even confess to enjoying Winnie the Pooh. I still know all the words to the Tigger song.  But I got the biggest kick out of Eeyore. You remember the manic depressive donkey whose tail kept falling off.

I think that’s the picture many of us get when the Bible tells us “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The “oh woe is me, I guess I deserved that” kind of attitude.  But really it’s essentially saying that it’s a good thing to be aware that I need Jesus. Believe it or not, this is where conviction of sin comes in. Not sins primarily, but sin. In John 8:8-9 Jesus said God’s Spirit will convict the world in regards to sin. He’s not talking about specific sins but about the sin nature that each one of us is born with.

Everyone knows that lying or stealing or cheating is wrong. We may or may not feel bad about it but we know that it’s wrong.  But it takes the Holy Spirit to convince our hearts that what, by nature, I cherish most highly is sin. That being self-realization; the right to set my own course. “The essence of sin is the claim to the right to myself, it goes down deeper than all the sins that were ever committed,” said Oswald Chambers. Why? Because it declares independence from God, and God made us to be dependent on him. That is going to rub some of you the wrong way but that is exactly why it takes the Holy Spirit to convict us of it.

Alright. So what? How does knowing this change my life? Stop trying to be good! God isn’t interested in making good people. He’s only interested in making saints; people who are absolutely and totally submitted to the Spirit of God living within them. People who have renounced any right to themselves and have Christ living his life through them. (see Galatians 2:20)

A person like that is no Eeyore. A person like that is powerful, purposeful, and complete.

It’s Game Day!

It’s football season!! I don’t mean CFL or even NFL, I mean minor football; high school, bantam, pee wee, and even atom.  It’s been a while since I’ve coached but I still get excited for the start of training camp.  I even enjoy just watching the drills.  But it quickly becomes evident who followed the coach’s encouragement to do some conditioning over the summer to get ready.

Those that have done the work in the weeks leading up to camp are able to go from drill to drill and maintain the level of performance at each one.  Their bodies are able to recover in the short time they have between drills.  Those that have done little or no preparation drop lower and lower in their performance levels till, almost inevitably, a couple of them end up having to sit on the sidelines unable to go on.

There are some very obvious life lessons in this, which is one of the reasons that I like football so much.  But there are equally some significant spiritual lessons for all of us.  If we haven’t put in the time and effort to learn how to differentiate the voice of God from all the other voices that clamour for our attention, our own included, if we haven’t learned how to rest in the strength that God’s spirit provides, if we haven’t practiced trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and not leaning on our own understanding, then when the hard tests of life come we will be overwhelmed and exhausted long before we have come through them.

But here is something more: Every day is game day.  No, not every day is a huge crisis.  But every day there are people that need to encounter Jesus through the everyday lives and everyday interactions of us who are Christ followers.

I have to admit that I don’t enjoy exercise just for the sake of exercise.  (As evidenced by my wife telling me to suck in my gut more often lately)  But I have been told by some that working out actually becomes something they look forward to and really miss if they have to skip a day.  I’ve never experienced that, but I have found that my favorite time of the day is my spiritual work out.  It wasn’t always that way, but as I have practiced and gotten better at it I genuinely hate to skip it.

By the way, why don’t you get out and support your local minor football teams? It’s a lot of fun and a great way to support your community.  The kids love playing for a crowd and you’ll make them feel great by cheering them on.

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?