Monday, September 19, 2011

Are You an Authentic Nectarine?

Yeah it is about time to blog again.

Life has been pretty crazy and filled with change but enough whining. Here I sit today on the deck with a coffee and the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. Yeah real nice. Where are the kids you ask - with the babysitter  -  WII/TV/computer. I never claimed perfect parenting. I admit it - wow that was liberating. It is a little scary to admit such a thing in this age of public scrutiny of our personal lives (at least famous people - not sure I qualify) but being authentic today is vital. There are far too many things that are just not real. We are bombarded by phoniness at every turn. Funny that I write these things with an election looming. We see all too often that people for what ever reason try and be something that they are not. Sometimes this depends on who is around or what may be at stake. In the position I hold as a pastor in a Christian denomination very often we can be fooled into thinking that we need to be perfect or have it all together. This act of futility always backfires and usually bitterness and resentment is all that remains - that is not good for anyone. I have been tempted myself to fall into this trap and I ask the question why? Has God put this demand upon me? I have yet to find the scripture that says I should pretend to be perfect as the Scriptures are clear  in Romans 3:23 "that all have sinned and fall short of God's glory". So why does it happen? I suppose there are as many reasons as bees trying to sting me as I write this. I like honey but the bees are for the birds. What ever the reason they are a lie really. Every time we try and be what we cannot be we not only deceive ourselves but those around us and deception is not from God. Please understand I am not saying we should go around acting in any manner that we choose or not to put your best foot forward but be what you are.

So why do I write of this conundrum? Because of some nectarines. Yeah nectarines. Allow me to explain.

A few weeks ago the family and I went to a farmer's market known for its great delights of fresh produce and baked goods and so on. Much of these wonders are produced or crafted by those in the Amish community. There is just something special about buying goods from people who have chosen a different pathway of life refusing to just go along with the world and its modernity. I admire and respect them. So I was excited as I could envision the many purveyors of sausage and the homemade pastries and fresh grown produce. We enjoyed ourselves and brought home some treats  - among them some fruit. We had blueberries, raspberries and some nectarines that I bought from a nice gal wearing what one would believe to be the garb of a person from the Amish community. The issue was that when I went to pick a nectarine there were stickers on some that said they were produced in California! They even had the grocery store code on some. I was indignant - I felt duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled. I had not bought Amish grown nectarines - I am not even sure the person who sold them to me at the farmers market under a tarp in Amish looking clothing was even an  Amish girl!. Did she cheat me? Was I victimized? Am I being a little over the top? Maybe to all three. My point is that what I thought I was getting I was not and from now on I will always wonder if the person at the market is what they appear to be. Because of one experience that was not what I thought it would be I may be forever tainted.
This experience only highlights for me the danger in trying to be what you are not as a pastor or even a follower of Christ. We are not perfect. We possess all the flaws and issues that plagues all of humanity. When we try and put on a false front we not only cause ourselves pain at times but we run the risk of creating the same issue that I outline in the nectarine saga - tainted experiences.

Let us be what we are - people who have for what ever reason and by whatever means come to understand that we are not perfect. If we act like who we are, with all of our brokeness and flawed humanity, people might see God for who he is - The perfect Creator, Governor, Preserver and Sustainer of all things and who knows I might just get me a real authenic Amish nectarine.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I write this today for my son.

Today you turn seven years old. No doubt you will be bounding everywhere with excitement because at seven years old birthdays are still fun. I am envious of you because you are still so innocent of the trials of the world and also because you will have absolutely no care as to how many calories you will consume.
As your father I am tasked with showing you how to be a good and honourable man who understands the importance of being a man of integrity. This is no small undertaking as I am still in the process of all of that as well. I will continue to do my best.
On this day your mother will be emotional because you are getting older and her baby is growing up. I on the other hand I will be stoic and strong knowing that you will be one more year closer to being able to shovel snow and cut grass.

I am thankful to God for granting me the privilege of helping to mold you. You make it so much fun. As I teach you I am also taught. I am taught more about the Father's love for his creation and his dedication and perseverance with us all.

Today you will receive presents that you have been salivating over for months - I hope you enjoy. My desire for you today though, is that you act your age - be seven today. I wish I was.
I know that you wish to grow quicker and be older but today be seven - as long as you can. Life will get fast enough and there is no turning back.

I look to the future with great anticipation believing that you will grow to become a fine man. But for now just be seven with all the energy that you give to everything.Today be seven and when no one is looking I will act like I am too.

Happy Birthday Bruiser - you bring great joy to my soul - I love you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From Sparta with Love

Wow, it has been some time since my last post. I decided to take the summer off because with our relocation and getting settled there was just too much to do.
But here I sit somewhat settled and a great day approaching - back to school day! Soon and very soon the kids are going back to school which also means that the summer is coming to a close. Which also means that another year has ticked by and I have been married another year to a great lady.

Today is the day that fifteen years ago I pulled off the greatest con job of all times!  I was able to get my gal to actually marry me. Believe me and if you know me you will, I married up. I definitely got the better deal. I could write much cliche about our marriage. I could write poetically about my love - I could. I could write mushy gushy things that would make girls go "ahhh" and guys feign vomitting. I could and it would all be true. Instead I will just say that through these last fifteen years Tammy and I have been through some peaks and valleys. We have suffered through devastating times of  grief and loss and celebrated with jubilant hearts much as well. We have lived in three provinces, changed occupations more than a few times and learned much about love and life all along the way. My mind is full of memories that are cherished possessions. I pray that my mind will never falter for to lose these images would be a tragedy of Shakespeareian proportions.

Today I want to say to God - Thank you for your creative genius. Thank you for making Tammy as you have  - with her sense of humour, her quiet strength, her sensitivities, her femininity and her beauty.

Today I want to say to my wife - Life is real and not a fairy tale. There are real hurts and pains in this life. As I grow older I know that I will deal with my share of hurts and pains. If I am honest I will admit that it scares me.  But because I am married to you the fear is lessened and the joy increased. I am a stronger man because of the woman that you are. The love that resides in my heart for you has been forged through real life and real living.

I wish to simply say  - I love you my Spartan Queen.

Song of Songs 8:6,7

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy as unyeilding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of his house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Good Enough"

Fix it Daddy!  How often have I heard my children cry out in misery those words?  It usually happens after my daughter has applied far too much force to Barbie's head (Barbie is not as tough as she looks) or when my son has attempted to alter a figurine's natural intended movement.  Fix it Daddy!  It can be a daunting challenge to any father.  This request has the potential to provide an opportunity for you to  puff your chest up like a victorious general.  It also has the possibility to decimate any ounce of self esteem you may have when you are unable to complete the task.  I wish I could say that I am always able to "fix it".  I admit I am not - do they have to make everything so breakable!?  The reality is that fathers are human. We are all limited in some way or other. We make mistakes. We make bad decisions.  We cannot always "fix it".  Although these limitations are obvious to me it never seems to diminish my effort to always try to fix everything. This stems partly from my own desire to relieve my own children of any suffering that may come their way but it is also because of the huge shadow that my own father casts.  He casts a huge shadow not just because of his slightly rotund girth (level of rotundness depends upon how many bakeries he visits for a prized chelsea bun) but because of the impression I always had of him while I was growing up.  As a child I was very observant and would watch much of what he did and and listen to what he said. Through this observing I came to believe that my father had everything under control at all times.  Regardless of the calamity that could occur during vacations - like flat tires or trailer issues - my father always appeared to be in control.  If the cat brought a live animal into the house my father could deal with it even if he had to chase a  bird around sans apparel having just gotten out of the tub.  If during a hockey game the ref was unable to make a correct call my father would always graciously point them in the right direction after a spirited discussion (control may not be the best descriptor for those moments of education).  For my Dad "fixing it" never seemed to be out of the realm of possibilities.

As I grow older and attempt to bring up my own children I find myself doing and saying the very things my father would do and say - although sometimes without as much colour.  For many children to grow up and realize they are becoming like their parents often it can generate a feeling similar to hitting your thumb with a hammer.  For me that is not so.  As I realize that I am becoming like my father a sense of comfort washes over me and I feel blessed.  Blessed by God that I was able to be taught how to be a man and a father by someone who even until this day has me convinced that he can fix all things or get them "good enough".

Today is Father's Day and I will no doubt consume a large quantity of red meat and while I do so I will be reminded of the huge shadow that my father has cast over me and I will think sarcastically "thanks dad".  But what I really mean though is a genuine "thanks dad".

Happy Father's Day - I love you.

Psalm 23:22a  Listen to your Father who gave you life...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In the Company of Heroes

I wish I could fly!  Seriously, I wish and have since I was a child, to have the ability to fly.  Not like a bird, although soaring the tree tops like  an eagle would be quite acceptable, I wish to fly like Superman.  I have always wanted to be able to cry out in my best and most regal voice " Up, up and away" and take off like a rocket.  It probably stems from my desire to be a superhero - but without the tights - they are just too tight. 

If most were honest they would admit the same desire to be a caped crusader - some perhaps even with tights.  Imagine that you are the one who would be so capable and so sought after that when all was on the line - when the forces of evil appear to have the upper hand - when all hope seems to be gone - you are the one that is called.  Some might gasp at the the thought or shrink from the possibility of all the pressure and danger.  Some of us wish that if we were to be the ones who "get the call" that we would be equipped with X-ray vision, or super speed, or be indestructible or my favourite - the ability to fly. It's true.  That is why the movies about Superman, Batman, Spiderman, X-men etc. all get great amounts of people that go to the theatres and watch them because they secretly wish they were like them.  Reality says we are not.

If asked, most of us would say those guys and gals are just for stories - for entertainment - they are not real.
If we answered in that fashion we would be completely and utterly wrong!

I have just returned from Slave Lake, AB and for the last five days I have been in the company of heroes!  Real heroes not like the ones in the movies that have to rely on all those super powers before they will get in to the battle - real heroes. 

Slave Lake has been hit with one of the worst , if the not the worst fires in Canadian history.  Houses and infrastructure destroyed in a gulf of flame that some might say originated from the pit of hell itself . A fire so large and hot that all that was in its path was reduced to ash.  Who would foolishly stand in its path?  Who would dare to battle such a mysterious beast?  Who would be called to extinguish the appetite of such a monster?  Amazingly it was not Superman but normal people.  Normal only in the fact that they have no super power to call upon, no freakish abilities to rely on. Just normal flesh and blood people.  Real heroes. 

Who are these normal but by no means regular people?  They are the volunteer firefighters that gave every ounce of themselves to protect the people of Slave Lake from this fiery foe. They are the police officers who made sure the town was safe from looters during the evacuation. They were the EMT's ready to respond to medical crisis.  We may come to expect this type of behaviour from these professionals but they have fears and concerns like the rest of us and they too have families who worry much about their safety. (I know this first hand as my father served proudly as a Toronto police officer - thanks Dad.)

The list of heroes does not end with the emergency responders though. I was a witness of great acts of bravery from residents when they returned to tell their stories of  harrowing escape.  I saw young teens trying to act like they were okay when you knew they had been terrified only days before.  I watched as parents whose houses had been destroyed tried to establish normalcy for their small children.  I heard stories of complete strangers risking their lives getting elderly people from their homes.  I was blessed to observe people offer their time to volunteer who had lost everything in the fire even comforting those who had not. It was a privilege to see these people muster courage and begin to rebuild their lives, their town and ultimately their future with  surprising efficiency.  Your fortitude and resolve is an inspiration.  You are all heroes in some way.

Their days ahead will not be easy but I am convinced that from the ashes will arise a great tale that will be told for ages to come.

It was a blessing for me to participate in their recovery.  The honour was completely mine as it it would be for anyone who found themselves "in the company of heroes". God Bless you all.

Philippians 4: 12,13
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him (Christ) who gives me strength. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Heretic? Maybe.

So today started off pretty much the same as everyday - I wondered whether I was a heretic.  Yeah, I awoke to the usual fears of being labelled as a heretic - a blasphemer - a scourge upon the Christian world.  Didn't you?  Doesn't everyone?  Well perhaps I am being a bit facitious but I have been wondering lately whether I am in fact a heretic ( someone who believes bad things about scripture - or wrong things -  or "depends on who you ask" things).  Seems like a worthy concern after all being a heretic comes with some steep consequences - like burning at the stake.  This was a practice that was done some years ago during the time when you had to get up and change the TV manually -  well maybe a little further back.  But that is what was done in the name of God (which god it was has always confused me).  If the cable was out and there was nothing else to do you could hear this at many a watering hole  "Hey things is a littleth boring these days lettuth go gittith us some heretics to burn".  So for many a so-called good reason people were tied to a stake with some bundles of hay or other dry tinder  (I hear straw works best) around them and then someone with a bic lighter would draw the lucky penny that would give them this great privilege to burn the heretic.   Now I love a great weenie roast just like the next guy but this is a little extreme - okay more than little extreme.

This may not  be quite exactly how it was done but you get the point.  How ludicrous were people to think that lighting someone on fire was actually going to please God - the one in the bible - you know Jesus - the strangely wise carpenter that spoke of mercy and love.  How could they have thought that using someone as a Roman candle was helpful to further the gospel and advance God's kingdom?  Had they never heard of the barbaric tortures and merciless persecutions of Christians under Nero and other emperors?  It seems not.

These were different times though. Stressfull times when getting the right shine on your shoe buckle was supremely important lest you be shunned and those hats well who could blame them really.  Those hats must have caused some temporary brain cramping (I am speaking of pilgrim hats - and they had buckles as well - oh the humanity!).  So you see for me it is a fairly big issue to be labelled a heretic.  Besides I really do not think that I could handle all the shunning - I shudder to think of the shunning!

I realize that in the world, at least in North America, that heretic burnings are a thing of the past so why would I be concerned with being a heretic?  Simply because although the burnings and tortures do not occur any longer the labelling still does and because of that persecution will still happen (remember my fear of shunning - that still happens).  The reason that being a heretic has been more on my thoughts lately is because of a book I have read recently.  This book has gotten quite the attention from the Christian world and its writer has been called in some circles a heretic.  Is the author in danger of being tied to a stake and lit up like greek saganaki?  Not literally but certainly metaphorically from some I am sure.  So where do I fit in?  Well I loved the book. I agreed with what was written and so I stand I suppose at risk of the flames with the author - Rob Bell.  The book is Love Wins

I agree with Rob's belief that love wins. I agree that there is much  in stark contradiction with scripture in today's pop-christianity. I agree that there are some things about salvation that are still a mystery.  This is not  intended to incite anyone or add fuel to the proverbial fire (no fire please) but I am confused by the amount of people who will condemn this man as a heretic and they have never even turned a page in his book. This is the greatest of concerns.

Since the Christ walked the earth there has been discussion and debate concerning who he is, what he has come to do and what it means for humanity.  Has Rob Bell done anything different than what many do around coffee and pastries?  Has he done anything different from what the church fathers did centuries ago?  Is there anyone out there that would say that they are 100% correct in their theology? (bad question to ask - as there will no doubt be someone who says yes -  but I think they would be wrong). Rob Bell has simply offered his take (interpretation) on Scripture, Jesus and what he means for humanity.  Has he done anything worse than the radio evangelist who thinks that the rapture is going to happen on Saturday May 21, 2011?  I think not. (Psst, I may not believe in the Rapture - I suppose I will find out Saturday)

I loved his book and highly recommend it for someone who struggles with the inconsistencies, tensions, condemnation and judgement that they see in religion but is not reflected in or based upon Scripture.

If you read this book and disagree, that is your right. Comment  if you like. If you do disagree remember just because you shout the loudest does not mean you are any more correct in your understanding.  If you disagree and have not read the book - there is nothing for us to talk about - in regard to the book.

When Jesus walked the earth many who were the supposed authorities on all things religious were being called on the carpet for their behaviour and abuse by Jesus and later his disciples.  One of these was a Pharisee and a wise man named Gamalial.  He made this comment about Jesus' disciples in Acts 5:38 "Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail."  He knew that God could not be thwarted and he also did not want to be the one standing in his way either.  Something to think about before the heretic stamp is used.

Rob Bell has given a scriptural case for his opinion. As one of my theology professors always said "You do not have to agree with me but you have to make a case as to why you do not".   

Love wins - I like that.  Whether it is true or not is up to God.
Proverbs 21:30
"There is no wisdom, no insight no plan that can succeed against the Lord" .

There is my two cents.  I may be a heretic in the eyes of some  (maybe worse).  But I am not worried as we all know burnings at the stake are pretty rare these days. However, I may be leery of any sudden invites to a marshmallow roast!

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Beyond Talent" by John C. Maxwell

Beyond Talent - Becoming Someone Who gets Extraordinary Results is written by leadership guru John C. Maxwell. Once you read this book you quickly realize "this ain't his first rodeo". John Maxwell has written several books on the subject of leadership and has spoken to and taught thousands. So it is no wonder that this book, Beyond Talent, is such a remarkable read.

If you are looking for a book on leadership that is easy to read but useful and is not filled with lots of psycho-babble then this is the book for you.

The book has a very informative table of contents which will be useful in the future as you will no doubt consult it again and again - this is no novel. The insight that John gives on leadership from the perspective of talent and giftedness not being enough is eye opening. He really fleshes out the idea that talent is only a start and that if you wish to really rise above there is so much more that must accompany it.

John has put together a list of  13 attributes in Beyond Talent that will ensure that the talent God has given is not wasted and reaches its truest potential. This list will not only aid in leadership endeavours but also life in general.
What makes the book even more compelling is that he has not simply relied upon his own experiences, as vast as they must be, but has utilized experiences from many other people. These range from successful NFL and College football coaches to business magnates to respected politicians. The book is also chock full of quotable quotes that are encouraging and also inspiring.

If you are looking for a great book on leadership but are not interested in reading a textbook full of complicated strategies and plans this book is for you. 

Beyond Talent is beyond good.

* Note: Through BookSneeze Thomas-Nelson publishers has given this book to me for free to review.