Hero

Last Wednesday I left our bible study and on the way out of the church parking lot, Mark told me the news events of the morning.  I was shocked and horrified.  We lived in Ottawa for a number of years so I could picture very easily where everything happened.  Canadians across the country were glued to their electronics, soaking up the latest news coverage.

On Thursday, I was watching video of the Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers going back to work.  As he entered the House of Commons, there was a standing ovation from all the MPs.  A long one.  It was well deserved.  He had saved many lives with his bravery.  Thankfully we’ll never know how many.

A hero.  His full head of grey hair and lines around his eyes and mouth are not what we think of when we think hero.  He’s a man getting up in his years.  Grandfatherly.  Not someone you’d pick to save the day.

Isn’t that just the thing?  Anyone can be a hero.  Kevin Vickers, a retired RCMP officer, went back to his office to retrieve his weapon and then confronted the killer.  He shot and killed him.  What would have happened if Kevin Vickers had gone back into his office and hid?  It’s a sobering thought.

Less than twenty-four hours later, he was back at work.  As I watched him march the mace down the same halls, where he took the gunman out, I wondered what was going through his mind.  What his emotions were. I can’t even imagine.  Later as he stood by the doors waiting for the applause to die down even a little, he humbly nodded his thanks.  Brave and humble.  True character traits of a hero.

Ironically that Wednesday at bible study, we had been studying Mordecai from the book of Esther.  We were discussing how he had been honoured for saving the king’s life.  It was overlooked for a time being but once King Xerxes discovered his error, Mordecai was celebrated for his patriotism and saving the ruler’s life.  After being paraded around the city of Susa on the sovereign’s horse and wearing royal robes, Mordecai humbly went back to work at the king’s gate.

I don’t even need to draw the parallels for you.  It’s so black and white.

We fling the term hero around a little too often for my taste.  Athletes are deemed heroes for winning medals and trophies, but are later arrested for DUI’s and drug use.  They abuse their partners.  Their children.  They really don’t seem to care about anyone other than themselves.

We treat celebrities like heroes and gods because why?  They have lots of money, look good in clothing and are on TV?  There’s a difference between being good at your craft and being a hero.

I’m not saying that some of these people are not heroes in their own right.  Some are.  Many are not.  I think we need to redefine in the media and in our own worlds what really makes a hero.  There are many people who are heroes who will never be recognized for it in their lifetimes.  People who serve their families, their neighbours and their communities with selflessness, love and generosity.  They show bravery when others would stay in the room and hide.  Their humble attitudes allow them to go to work the next day.  If they are thanked, they can accept it and then move on.  Their egos don’t need to relive it repeatedly.

Many times there are no thanks, no parades in their honour or a standing ovation.  They serve with love and loyalty.  Then they fade away.  But the difference they made in someone’s life lives on.  It can change the course of history.

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My boys love their superheroes.  One day when they grow up, and the superheroes don’t seem so great anymore, I hope they still have heroes.  Men and women, who model bravery and humility.  Who give generously and love even more generously.  Who inspire them to live bravely and make the world a better place.

The Demise of the Good Girl

Do you have a favourite TV show that you set your DVR for every week?  I do.  Once Upon A Time is a cleverly written, twisted version of all the fairy tales we grew up reading.  What I really like is the complexity of the characters.  There are the delicious villains, the Evil Queen and Captain Hook, who struggle between the evil that so naturally claims them and the strengthening pull to do good.  There is that good girl, Snow White, who is a true do-gooder if there ever was one, except in one episode, even she revealed her vulnerability to a much darker side.  It brought into speculation that there are no real good or bad people.  Everyone one of us has a capacity for light or dark.  Sometimes we confuse who really are good and bad people.  Appearances are deceiving.

It says in the bible, that God looks at the heart, while people look at appearances.  (1 Sam 16:7) Reading through the New Testament, that was Jesus’ MO.  Look at how many, what we would call “bad girls”, he associated with.  His track record for sticking with only the “good girls” is pretty sketchy.  The Samaritan woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who washed his feet, to name a few.  (I can’t wait someday to see who else would be on that list!)

Whatever they had done, good or bad, He saw beyond it.  His gaze pierced their hearts, seeing their deeds, their attitudes, their thoughts for what they were.  He brought them into the light.  He changed them.  Because any encounter with Jesus is going to transform you.  It will never leave you the same.  It’s up to you how you will respond.  Changed like Peter, who knew the Christ and confessed he was a sinful man.  Or like the rich young ruler, who couldn’t put Jesus first in his life and probably lived the rest of days like someone was missing.  The women Jesus associated with, chose Him.  They chose to live in the light.  To be the good they were created to be.

But what happens with the preverbal “good girl”?  You know the kind.  You may be one.  I’m fascinated with this idea.  I got thinking about this after hearing a sermon on the woman who washed Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon, a religious leader.  The religious elite in Jesus’ time, would have thought themselves “good people”.  So would the rest of the community.  They were supposed to lead the people in spiritual matters.

Maybe they were considered “good boys” in their youth, by their parents.  Why?  What differentiated them?  They followed all the rules.  They did good deeds.  Avoided scandal.  Isn’t that how we classify “good boys and girls”?  “Jenny is such a good girl.”  “I can always count on Joey.”  Isn’t that what we say about our kids?  (Usually our first borns.)  In our minds we have classified the “good” from the what?  Or rather who?  Not so good?  Bad?  Is this even right?

We classify the “good” as those who follow the rules and do good things.  The ones we can count on.  In other words, they don’t get into trouble. Is this fair?  I don’t think so.  It puts labels on everyone.  It pits the “good ones” against who?  Younger children who can’t do what the older ones can?  Who have different temperaments?  Does this make them bad?  I don’t think so.  It makes them different but not bad.  We need to change our thinking as parents.  And our, mostly innocent, labeling.  I’m not just talking about children either.  It’s done all the time with young and old.

Typecasting people does a couple of things I think we’d rather avoid.  Labeling some people “good” puts a whole heaping of responsibility on them they don’t want or deserve.  It’s time we let everyone off the hook.  Don’t always expect your “good girl or boy” to be good.  It’s unrealistic.  From the “good boy or girl” viewpoint, it gets old really fast.  And don’t expect less of your “bad” girl or boy because they challenge you or are different from you (especially if you grew up being a good boy or girl!).  Let them be kids.  Let them come into their own personalities, not ones we’ve forced them into.

I think that like the religious elite, promoting a “good” girl or boy idea cultivates an attitude of arrogance, pride and perfectionism.  Like Simon, we think because we follow the rules and don’t do bad things, we’re better than everyone else.  We don’t do this or that.  We’re not like so and so.  It’s a trap we fall into.  We’re ensnared into thinking we aren’t so bad.  We’re pretty “good.”  The truth of the matter: our hearts are black.  Our attitudes aren’t much better and our thought life could use an overhauling. People might not see it…yet.  It might be well hidden but it’s only a matter of time.  Light always reveals what’s hidden in the dark.  It only sits on the inside for a while but eventually it starts to seep out, like a deep dark goo that you see in movies.  An occasional flare of temper that becomes more of a constant.  Instead of one glass of wine, two becomes the norm.  A sarcastic tongue.  A haughty attitude that resists constructive criticism or a convicting of the heart.

Don’t be fooled by your own “goodness” like Simon, who didn’t’ wash Jesus’ feet or kiss him in welcome.  Huge insults in the day. Why did Simon neglect his hosting duties?  It certainly wasn’t because he was ignorant of the customs.  I think he hadn’t decided what to do with Jesus and he wanted Jesus to prove His worth.  Simon didn’t come at this with a humble attitude.  He was arrogant about it.  He thought he was better than the girl and Jesus.  If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.  Luke 7:39 The Message  Those were Simon’s thoughts.

The real irony is that the supposed “bad girl” prostitute schooled the supposed “good boy” Simon, in the true definition of goodness. She walked away forgiven and full of peace.  Simon stood empty, by his own choice.  It is to be hoped that at some point he got past his pride and decided what he needed to do with this Jesus.  Only then would he truly understand what true goodness was all about.   Grace, gratitude, love, peace and joy…

The Corner of Grosvenor and Sunnyside: Why I’m So Thankful for You

October is pastor appreciation month and I was thinking about the many pastors I’ve enjoyed sitting under over the years.  We have been blessed.

While attending Carleton University in Ottawa, I got involved in a church near the university.  I had attended it briefly my first year but wasn’t ready yet to carve out my own faith.  Over the next three years that church called out to me every time I passed it.  Finally in my last year of school, I went back.  It was a decision I will never regret.  I loved this church and still do, even though it’s been years since we’ve been back.  It will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Here’s why:

1. At the time, almost three quarters of the people attending were university students.  The rest of the congregation was made up of older adults and seniors.  There were a very few young families.  I remember feeling welcome by many of these other members.  Walking home with an elderly gentleman week after week, chatting away about this and that.  Being invited to dinner and enjoying many potlucks as starving students.  We were all part of the same family.  I hope as I get older I am like those people who made the students feel welcomed.  Who embraced God first even if it made them uncomfortable.  Who transferred the baton of leadership so well.

2. I sat engaged in relevant teaching and being part of a service that was full of the Spirit.  The church at the corner of Sunnyside and Grosvenor, had long ago decided to let go of their own agenda and fill the almost empty pews with kids from the university down the street.  That decision made the difference in my life.  I saw a faith that was vibrant.  Kids who actually worshipped on Sunday and then walked their faith out through the week.  I had never witnessed anything like it.  It wasn’t about rules and regulations.  It was about a personal relationship with Jesus.  THAT made all the difference.

3. It began in me, the exploration of worshipping through the arts.  Growing up with only the organ and hymns, I had never seen drums, guitars and singers up front leading some really great songs.  People were excited to be there!  I was instantly hooked.  It was the first tentative step out of the standard box of worship.  Since then, I have taught workshops on dance as worship, as well as danced and choreographed for services and productions in the church.  I don’t think I would have gotten here, if I hadn’t seen the beginnings in that church.

4. The young staff opened up new ideas of leadership for me.  They were engaged and approachable.  I saw pastors and their wives, invested in others.  I saw imperfections and flaws but along with that I saw an authenticity I hadn’t seen before.  It was the beginning of a life-long lesson that following Jesus has nothing to do with perfectionism.

5. For maybe the first time at church, I felt I belonged.  I was building on the strong biblical knowledge I had learned growing up and now in my early twenties, making it my own.  One of the best things about leaving home and going to another city far away, was coming into my own relationship with Jesus.  I could no longer rest on my parents’ faith or the reputation of my family.  I had to decide for myself that Jesus was my own personal saviour and friend.  They let me make that journey and accepted me for who I was.

6. I met some awesome lifelong friends, who although I don’t get to see very often because we are spread across province and country, are still blessings in my life.  They changed me and made a difference in the direction I was headed.  I will always be grateful that God put them in my path!

7. I met Mark there.  I chose to get married there, making family and friends travel many hours.

Was it a perfect church?  No.  In my opinion, perfection is a mirage, hiding stuff we don’t want to deal with.  Having spent almost twenty years in ministry, I can tell you, it wasn’t perfect.  But God lives in that house of worship and in the people who attend there.  God trumped all else.  The proof? The church has so many young families there today.  Some of us left and pursued ministry callings, including my husband.  Others stayed and they had to build a bigger nursery!  Why?  They were obedient to a call and a vision many years before.  All else fell away.  I may have some rose tinting in my glasses but the results in my life and in others, speak for themselves.

Thank you Dale.  You made me realize that you didn’t always have to be in a good mood to be an authentice follower of Jesus.  LOL!  I laugh but your honest life was more than an example to me.  You went Home too early.  I miss you still.

To Brent and Lynda, Jody and Alex, Darren and Joy: Thank you for following God and making a difference in my life.  Thank you for investing in us as friends and mentors.  May God continue to pour out His blessings on you and your families.

 

 

Calling All Pastors…No Wimps Allowed

The Lord said to me, “I knew you before you were formed within your mother’s womb; before you were born I sanctified you and appointed you as my spokesman to the world.”  Jeremiah 1:4,5 TLB

Over the years, I’ve received a variety of reactions to my husband’s occupation.  One, I will never forget.  I was curling.  It’s the custom in curling, the winners buy for the losers and you sit together at a table and chat, after the game.  I curled once a week in a women’s league.  Occasionally people asked what my husband did.  This particular evening, I was having a great conversation with a young lawyer and a couple of other women.  Suddenly the question came up and I replied, “He’s a pastor.”  The young lawyer turned her back to me and didn’t speak to me the rest of the evening!  I wasn’t offended mostly surprised.  I was used to different responses, just not that strong of one!

After that, I’d cringe when asked what my husband did for a living.  Besides people who have been wounded by churches and therefore don’t want anything to do with people who work in them, there is a perception in the secular population of “what does he do all day?”  There’s a misunderstanding of what pastors really do and what it takes to accept this unique calling.

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He doesn’t normally wear his Canada jacket to preach. Only when Canada is playing the gold medal game in the Olympics!

Let’s start off by saying it’s not a job, it’s a calling.  By calling, I mean it goes way beyond a career.  It’s a life that is dedicated to following God at all costs, despite many trials.  There is no nine to five, it’s twenty-four seven.  Because death, sickness, accidents and other life crises don’t conveniently wait to fit into work week hours.

If a person is not truly called to ministry, chances are they will eventually leave it.  That’s not to say that all pastors who leave ministry aren’t called.  There are a host of other reasons pastors leave ministry.

The fact I’m even mentioning pastors leave ministry, should suggest to you that this is not a job for wimps.  Or the spineless.  If that is your idea of a pastor, minister or priest, you had better readjust your lenses.

Just as in any organization, there is conflict.  Yes, churches can be one of the worst places, mainly because people don’t expect it.  This is wrong.  It is a myth that churches are filled with nice people.  Churches are hopefully filled with Jesus followers who model His example of love, grace and self-control.  It is not always the case.  So you should not be surprised that churches have disagreements, some heated.  How conflict is handled is the real tell-tale sign of who is in that church.  I digress.

All you need to do is look at all the people who grew up in the church and have never set foot in the door again, including pastors and their families, to know there is some serious stuff going on.  It happens and the wounds are deep and real.  There are many places to point the finger. I’m not excusing leadership either.  However a blame game is never helpful or the answer.  What are we, twelve years old?  Let’s get real.  Churches are made up of people and the last time I checked, no one is perfect.  We all, including pastors, make mistakes.

However the lack of grace given by some churches is appalling, as I hinted at above.  Sometimes it’s the leadership, other times its the members. Whatever, it is wrong.  The response to disagreements is the key because there is always going to be conflict.  And that response should be grace and love filled.

Now that’s not to say, the church can’t gracefully and lovingly stand for what they believe in.  If we don’t, how are we any different from the rest of the world?  We are to be different from the rest of the world.  God’s covenant with the Israelites, was in part, to let the rest of the world know that they stood apart.  Just read the Old Testament!  The church (I’m not talking building here) is to stand apart.  Both in words and actions. The pastor is to lead and model the charge.

A good pastor needs a backbone that is lined with grace and love.  As you know, this is a rare combination.  It has been our personal experience that God schools the ones he has called, in his unique ministry academy called Trial, Chaos and Hate.  Contrary to popular belief, He didn’t promise his called ones, lives of ease. (Think disciples.  Mostly murdered for Who they believed and preached.  In some places today, it’s still happening.)  He knew it was going to be hard.

Schooling begins so the shepherd will turn to the Good Shepherd.  It’s in crisis, that we learn to lean into and trust God.  We learn our own limits and turn to the Holy Spirit to fill us up in abundance so we are able to do the work God has called us to do.

And work it is.  Just like any job, there is much paperwork and administration.  There are many years at university and/or college involved in becoming a pastor.  Most hold their Masters and some their PhD’s.

Shepherding people into transforming lives for Jesus, takes a lot of sweat!  That’s only part of the job description.  There is the sermon, if they preach, which equals a major twenty-thirty minute presentation every week.  If they are youth or music pastors, that means planning for those ministries.  It takes many hours to prepare, as anyone in any kind of teaching profession is aware.

There is discipling of staff and a whole host of meetings, both day and evening.  Most senior or lead pastors are responsible for the vision of the church.  What it’s going to look like in five, ten years.  What ministries it’s going to be involved in.  What programs it’s going to run.  That is just a small snippet of what a pastor does.

On top of that is balancing family.  Unfortunately, sometimes families take a back seat to the church.  This would be one major reason, a pastor would leave the ministry.  (His spouse gave him an ultimatum.)  It takes an incredible amount of humility for a pastor to pull back from ministry, (which can be powerful, heady stuff) and put their family first.  To delegate a meeting to another staff and go home and change diapers and give baths instead.  To trade lunch with Chair of the Board for lunch with their spouse.

Just because God calls a pastor to ministry, doesn’t give him or her a bye on taking care of their family.  Spouse and children are still number two and three in priorities, respectively.  Church would fall four.  I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult this is.  As with any career, balancing job and family is not for the faint of heart.  It’s gets a little trickier when you are dealing with major life crises, however!

Finally, a good pastor is tight with the Good Shepherd.  He or she is in constant conversation with Him.  As I said earlier, usually the pastor has a say in the direction of the church.  He or she is the one teaching the masses.  If the pastor isn’t following God, then it’s just a man or woman’s vision and it will fail.  It may not today but one day it will.

This isn’t just a lot of talk.  If a pastor takes his or her calling seriously, then one day they know they will have to answer to the Good Shepherd Himself about the ministry they were given to care for.  (James 3:1)  This is a very frightening thought for those of us in ministry.  And so it should be!  With awe and reverence, a good pastor will handle the church because he or she knows it’s not theirs.  It is only in their care for the time being.  It is instead, God’s holy bride.  Believe me, we better know how to care for it!

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This is just a small insight into a pastor’s life.  Of course I’m biased a smidgen, but after twenty years of ministry I am also realistic.  This calling is not for the faint hearted.  It is for men and women who gave their hearts to the Lord when they heard Him call, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” Matt 4:19

In following that call, they surrendered their hearts, their dreams and laid down their nets of security and plans for their lives and ran head first into an adventure they never could have imagined.