Cultural Divide

I am in the midst of a four city trip. Image result for airports vancouver

Four cities over 19 days taking me from the west to the east coast of Canada with a one day layover in familiar territory.

The thought of it seems glamorous.

Travel, seeing new sights, meeting people, being in hotels, etc.

But…

It also means waiting at airports, security lines, late night flights and arrivals, different beds, living out of a suitcase, adjusting to time zones (a four hour difference from one coast to the other), and being exposed to different cultures.

The culture part is what struck me as I began this journey. Image result for cultures

No matter where you go you discover a distinct culture. Things are done a certain way, things are looked at through certain lenses, life is lived through a distinct light no matter where you go.  Rarely do  you see life lived out in the same fashion as it is at “home” – wherever home happens to be.

With that comes the perception that the “right” way to view the world is the one we know. Which can mean any perspective, different than “mine”, is viewed with a certain amount of suspicion. After all it is unfamiliar.  “How can they think the way they do? How can they do what they do?” “What world have I gone to?”

On this trip I have been reminded just how diverse our “cultures are.” And it has caused me to think about two aspects surrounding culture.

One is our response to different cultures.

Let me be clear, diversity of culture goes beyond ethnicity. From one neighborhood to the next, from one community to the next, from one group of people to the next, one organization to the next, we discover different cultures. Culture is distinguished by the way we look at things, the way we do things, what is “typical” or “the lens” we view the world through. These help define our particular culture.

Which means that within any community there are various cultures. Some may be more prominent or prevalent than others. One neighborhood may be very different from the next. Groups of people, living together, working together, create a culture as they interact with each other.  Organizations take on a particular culture. We see different cultures all around us.

I am involved in different organizations and each board has a different culture even though they are doing similar work.

Different cultures exist all around us.

In thinking of this reality it made me wonder how we respond to culture. Do we dismiss the culture which is different than ours? Do we try and understand it? Do we look down our noses at it? Do we neglect, ignore, or reject it – because it is different? Do we embrace it? Do we look at it with suspicion? How do we respond?

Now before we get either too defensive or try and measure how tolerant we are, viewing other people, who think differently than we do in a negative light, seems natural. Whether we have a “progressive, conservative, liberal, religious,” or some  other perspective of life, it is natural to see “our culture” as the right way to view how life should be lived.

When we get exposed to a culture, different than our own, it is difficult not to view it questionably. Being around people who see and do things differently than I do has made me think about how I view and respond to cultures?

But it has given me another thought.

How does Jesus see culture?

God stepped into a time and space in our world. He stepped into a culture – much of which is foreign to what we experience today. And where He lived He was surrounded with other cultures as well. The Roman culture was present. He spent time in Egypt as a child. He grew up in Nazareth – very different from Jerusalem.

And yet He embraced people – regardless of their culture. He called for His followers to “go into all the world” and make further followers of His.

Somehow He was able to look past the cultural walls we create and see people as they are. Look past all of the things which divide us and see what we have in common. He stepped past the division, the difference and stepped into the common and brought life.

It doesn’t mean nor do we fine where He embraced every point of view or cultural nuance people had. But what we do find is He looked for those places beyond what would naturally divide us and sought the common ground to offer hope and life.

Do I do that?

It is more difficult than trying to get everyone to embrace my “culture”, my way of doing things. It is harder to do that than it is to reject any culture I don’t understand or appreciate. But it is also only possible if it is based on a love for people which goes beyond anything I have ever felt.

When we read, “God so loved the world…” it is more than words. It is what He meant and demonstrated. It is what Jesus did – regardless of the culture He saw – including yours and mine.

Am I following His example? Are you?

Stressed…

“I’m feeling stressed.” There I have said it.

It is not a profound statement. Stress is something all of us face…providing we are alive.

“With life comes stress”. Image result for stressed

However, we tend stress is seen in a negative light because of its’ impact on us. The  physical and mental ailments we face are often directly related to the level of stress we feel in our lives.

How many of us have heard we need to do what we can to reduce the amount of stress we face? We are told if we don’t curb our stress we are going to face certain medical conditions.

It sounds reasonable enough….except….

What causes us to feel stressed?

I could rattle off all of the areas we normally think of – major life changing moments, like marriage, death, moving, changing jobs, work pressures or deadlines, difficult relationships, health challenges, etc.

It is easy to identify how there would be stress when we walk through these typical life events. If we have survived them we understand how they can cause stress to increase in our lives. We get it.

Only…

It is only a small part of the overall stress we face. Much of our stress comes from other things in life. It comes from what many of us feel should not be stressful at all, and yet, for some reason it is stress inducing.

So why is that?

Is it because we worry about things? Is it because we are so adverse to change that when we have change happen in our lives we panic? Is it because we are “fragile” and are particularly “anxious” about life?

It could be all or none of the above.

The triggers for stress are diverse. So is the impact it has on us.

Years ago I saw a list which included some of the more obvious events which I have listed and then a host of other life moments, which seemed to be less significant stress producers. Beside each one was a value representing how much stress these events would typically produce. Everything from going on a vacation, to exercise, to seeing the dentist – dozens of things.

The basis for the list was to identify all of the areas which you experienced over the past year. Then add up your score using the value of stress for each. Depending on how high that number is you can determine whether or not you are in for some physical challenges because of the stress producers in your life.

The higher the score the more severe the impact stress would have.

The first time I did it – it was an eventful year. My score indicated that I should probably not be here. It was more than double what was approaching the concern zone. It was way beyond acceptable.

So, what is the right response?

Do you cut out all the big stresses? Do you limit living in order to reduce stress? Do you look at how you manage events and try and reduce the stress that is produced? Do you learn to cope with stress? Do you go on a vacation (higher on the stress list than you may think.) What do you do?

As time goes on stress does have an impact. We can learn to live with a certain amount of stress and we can do everything in our power to try and cope with or avoid the full weight of stress we feel. We can learn to say “no” to some things which alleviates some of that pressure. But stress is a funny thing.

I have felt stressed about things I would never expect to feel stressed over. Things like: taking a cab, packing, going through airport security, checking emails. And yet, I can feel little stress speaking in front of a crowd of people even though it is not a natural thing for me to do.

Stress is hard to figure out.

So what can we conclude?

Not a lot about why we feel stressed. There can be a host of factors. But we can discover some help in the midst of our anxiety or stress.

One is that stress is not a surprise to God. He understands life and the impact of living in  a broken world. So if you are feeling stress remember that God knows all about it and is there to help.

He reveals as much as we read these instructions from 1 Peter 5.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (NLT)

Secondly, manage our expectations. We are told to give all our worries and cares to God and we can easily imply that by doing so they will suddenly disappear. Our biggest challenges will be cut down to size or removed completely from us. Everything will work out the way we want it to and our stress will be eliminated. Perhaps.

God may do that. But He may also lead us through the stressful situations we face and not eliminate them at all. Our expectation, by giving our stress to God, is that what we face we will do so with Him present. We do not face our worries and cares alone.

And lastly, understand that when we face stress we are alive.

I know it sounds glib and seems to dismiss the impact of our stress. But as someone who feels stressed today, recognizing stress is part of life helps. After all Jesus said this about our stress…

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 (NLT)

He doesn’t say there is no burden. But He does say He will give rest in the midst of our stress.  So rest in Him.

Better Faith

“I’m better than you are!”

It’s a familiar sentiment – too familiar if you ask me.Image result for Better than Everyone

It emits this feeling of superiority, being more important or better than, more valuable than, etc.

It can occur through a facial expression. Peering over one’s glasses. Look down our nose… as if someone doesn’t belong or measure up.

Sometimes it is much more direct. It can be spoken aloud…if we are kids.

It is natural to feel this way.

I get it. If we are on the winning side of an issue. If we are competing for something – we can feel superior because we won, we got it, we were successful.

I get it. We hope for our team to win a championship and they do so – we are…number 1! We are the best. We are superior to all others.

It is easy to go there.

The NHL playoffs begin today and I will be cheering for my favorite team – the best there is – to win another Cup. Their fourth since 2010. Time will tell that I am right to feel that way. (How is that for a sense of superiority?)

But…

Here’s the thing. As natural as it is to feel this way. This feeling seems to be taken to a whole different level when we think of faith.

Feelings of superiority goes beyond rooting for or achieving and winning. It emerges in  how we see ourselves and how we see others.

Therein lies the danger.

Seeing ourselves as superior, essentially says to everyone else – become like me, get on my side, join my team, do what I do, or remain the opposite of superior. Remain inferior.

Have you ever felt that way? I have. There are things I don’t do well – even though my family and others around me excel at them. I have felt inferior. It didn’t help when I was told that directly.

Inferiority has an affect.

It can cause us to build up “resentment.” It can cause us to “despise” those who excel. Unless we become comfortable with who we are we struggle to feel like we have any value or worth. Worse yet, if we don’t become comfortable “in our own skin”, we may do everything in our power to undermine those who make us feel this way.

I also have felt superiority. Where I perceive I am better. The “chosen” or “more important” one.

The pride and arrogance coming from that is not only unseemly….it stinks.

The fact is most of us have been on both sides of this sense of superiority. We have felt both inferior and superior at times.

Why am I thinking about these things as we prepare to remember what Jesus did at Calvary?

In part it is because of what I recently read. And in part because of how we tend to respond to the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

This sense of superiority has been around a long time. Moses was about to die and he  gave the nation of Israel some concluding thoughts. One of the more startling ones is found in the book of Deuteronomy as he highlights their journey from Egypt to the Promise Land.

In outlining their history, from God’s perspective, he recounted how, over and over again, they saw God’s provision. Whether in crossing the Red Sea or seeing water gush out of a rock when they were thirsty, or a similar miraculous moments – he pointed out how God stepped in to help them see success.

Put yourself into their shoes.

If God stepped in over and over again wouldn’t you feel blessed, more important than others? It’s is easy to think, “I must have God’s favour”. “I must be important to God – more important than…”

A natural thought.

But, God wanted them to understand what was really going on.

In Deuteronomy 9 we read these words.

“After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’

The tendency is to go there.

We experience blessing, the favour of God, His mercy and immediately think we must be doing things right, it is because of us.

Following Jesus it is easy to think how incredibly superior we are because we have placed our faith in Him. We are special. We matter more to God. He is more concerned about us because we are His. We are chosen. We are more valuable to Him than the person who lives in open rebellion to Him, than our neighbor.

As we recount, the actions of Jesus at the cross and His resurrection, we feel victorious. Image result for jesus tombWe should. After all our Saviour won. The tomb is empty. We are on the winning side as followers of His.

It is easy for pride in our faith to seep in.

Except…

It is not because of us.

Look at the rest of Moses’ words.

No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people. (NLT)

The parallels are startling.

While Jesus did what He did because He loves us, it is not because we are “special or superior” to others. Instead it is because we, like everyone else around us, need a  Saviour. We are not superior but the same.

As you celebrate the impact of His death and resurrection this weekend remember the words of Moses about a people who thought of themselves as special more important to God. And remember God’s word to them.

And then rejoice because Jesus made it possible for all of us to have hope and life!

Time Travel

If you have even a mild interest in history there are likely moments in time you wish you could see with your own eyes.

Events where you could be a “fly on the wall” and see what it was really like when…. happened.

You might even have your favorite “moment in time.”

Image result for time travelI have thought of several which I would have enjoyed seeing in person. Some would be from recent history, like sporting events, or moments of celebration. Others are from history  where nation building took place or events which shaped a country.

Some are from Biblical times. Great moments where courage and the miraculous were intertwined. Heroes of the past, who followed God’s leading, saw God act in incredible ways – the parting of the Red Sea is one which comes to mind.

But there is one moment I would love to witness first hand.

It is recorded in John’s account of the record of Jesus’ life. It occurred as Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem for the Passover celebration for the last time, around this time of year.

What makes me want to witness it in person is it has all the compelling elements. Tragedy and Triumph. Losing and Finding. Grief and Greatness. Despair and Hope.

I love a good story.

I love when a plot takes me to places I did not expect to be taken to. One which is full of  twists and turns and often surprises. Where you anticipate heading in one direction only to be shown or taken somewhere else. In my writing – especially in the kids books I have written – I try to create the same suspense and illicit similar emotions.

In John 11 Jesus is with His followers – the disciples – and He gets word that a good friend of His is sick. Jesus has performed countless miracles by this point. He has had all manner of illness, disease, desperate situations come to His attention and He has stepped in and brought healing and wholeness to people.

Getting word this close friend of Jesus’ was unwell would simply require Him to go – do His thing – and the illness would pass. Only Jesus waited.

There are lots of behind the scenes stories as to why He would wait. Last time He was in Judea, His life was threatened. The moment He returned they would be in danger. His friends knew of the threat. Hesitating was a good thing.

But then He decided it was time.

Seriously? Why now?

Lazarus had died. It was time.

There are many parts which are compelling. Jesus’ interaction with Lazarus’ two sisters – Mary and Martha. His revelation that He is the “resurrection and the life”. The speculation – if He would have arrived earlier things would have been very different.

And of course there is the miracle He preformed.

After going to the tomb where Lazarus’ body Image result for lazarus tombhad been placed days earlier, Jesus asked for the stone covering the tomb to be rolled away. With some reluctance they complied and Jesus did what even the most hopeful hadn’t anticipated. He looked heavenward, prayed a simple prayer and uttered these words, “Lazarus come out!”

Out he came still bound in grave clothes.

I would love to have been there. It is one of those moments where our full range of motions are affected. From despair and hopelessness to triumph.

But, apart from the miracle, another compelling part captures me. It is the emotions. Not the emotions of those who were grieving. I get those. I have witnessed heartache. I understand sorrow and will undoubtedly experience more of it as the years go by.

The emotions I am referring to are the ones Jesus shows.

There are two.

One is easy to find. In John 11:35 we read these words.

“35 Jesus wept.”

There are no more powerful words to describe the heart of God. He wept, which immediately was understood by those who saw it. He loved Lazarus. He loved with the kind of love He has for you as well.

In the midst of our difficulties and hardships Jesus weeps with us. He feels – not for us out of pity for our circumstances – but He feels – He experiences what we experience out of incredible love for us.

This says a lot.

The second is more difficult to identify.

Depending on the translation we read the words “groaned” and “troubled” are used. I assume that translators were adverse to using the word which probably best describes the emotion Jesus was feeling at this moment. It seems out of character for someone who sees the weeping and who reacts by also weeping. Nevertheless the word used can best be translated as “anger.”

We read,

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. John 11:33 (NLT)

And then a few verses later it says,

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. John 11:38 (NLT)

It is easy to understand the compassion. The anger – not so much. Why was He angry at this moment? Was it regret that He didn’t show up earlier and so He is mad at Himself? Was it because they had already buried Lazarus and He had to walk farther to find His body?

Seems unlikely.

So why?

We can only speculate. We are not given insight into what affected His emotions. But, based on my reading of this passage here is my perspective.

He was angry because death is not something should face. We were never created to die. We are eternal beings. And the tragedy of death was never part of His plan for us. He was angry because death’s impact goes against His heart for us. It angered Him that the enemy of our souls has deceived us and brought heartache to our lives.

He was mad. He was angry that we have to face these difficult emotions. So to demonstrate the degree of His anger He said to the holder of the dead – Let Lazarus go – Come out!

And He did.

I would have loved to have been there.

Suddenly…Grace

Grace is hard to figure out.

Floyd 2017 conventionWe can talk about it. We can define it. We can describe what experiencing it feels like. It seems we can discuss it… endlessly.

But for all of our words, for all of our contemplation – it can be incredibly difficult to understand.

The thing about grace is it is unexpected.

Which, quite frankly, is the whole point. Grace is not intended to be something we earn or obtain because we have achieved it through our actions or behaviour. It is not something we gain and so conclude we should naturally expect to have it shown toward us. In fact, it is truly grace when we least expect it – when we know that we don’t deserve to receive any favour at all, and yet without notice or warning it comes to us.

When that occurs grace is revealed.  These days I am feeling full of grace.

The past few weeks have been eventful for me. I have been stretched in different ways than I have ever been stretched before. There has been increased uncertainty, stress, a constant unrelenting sense of being pushed beyond where I feel comfortable and at ease. I have also felt an increase in the battle to keep pride from creeping in.

These are not unfamiliar.

I have know what it is like to be pushed into places I am not familiar with. Having levels of stress and uncertainty has been a norm which you just accept after a while. Battling the desire to become proud – whether for something you achieve or can do, or whether battling over what can be a myriad of other things which when distilled to their core reveal pride – is something I am aware of.

I have learned to live beyond my abilities – trusting in strength I do not have. I have learned to trust in all circumstances, realizing that worry never helps. And I have understood how emptying myself rather than focusing on myself can be the key to keeping pride at bay.  However, this time it seemed different.

Maybe it is because I am getting older. Maybe it was just the nature of what was taking place. Maybe it just seems different because of the roles I am in and the experiences those roles place me in – I am not sure. But, regardless of the “why”, I was not expecting grace to emerge.

It is not like I forgot I needed it. Or did not have a desire for grace to be shown in my life. It was just that I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting to do what I needed to do and just move on. Look beyond the moment and just get through. Wait for the present moment to pass and see a more normal life take it’s place.

So I was surprised.

I was surprised at how grace continually showed up.  Everywhere I looked the past few days there it was – grace.

I would go about my activities and try to “get through” the moment when there it was – grace. It showed up through different means. It emerged when I suddenly saw a familiar face. It revealed itself as paths were made clear. It showed up through conversations which opened the door to what was familiar rather than strange.

I would feel the pressure of what was to come and a “random” conversation would reinforce what I was planning to say. The stress of sharing my perspective came and went only to be followed up with encouragement in ways I could not have imagined. Friendships were built – doors opened – value was added – each of them beyond what I had ever expected…

Grace.

deserveEach day would begin without the expectation I was going to find it. As a matter of fact, I was anticipating that I shouldn’t be shown it. I certainly did not deserve grace. I did not see an reason for grace to be the expected outcome. I could point out reasons why grace was not what I should deserve.

But there it was.

It was suddenly, unexpectedly present.

Everywhere I turned it seemed to be present. What was most strange was that even though I would find it being revealed – I was still surprised. I didn’t go looking for or expected it to suddenly emerge – it just did. And every time I was caught off guard as if God was once again revealing that His grace was sufficient for the moment. His presence and love was still available and in place.

Which shouldn’t be surprising, and yet it is.

In a letter written to followers of Jesus we find that God has always shown grace in abundance. We read,

20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. Romans 5:20 (NLT)

God desires to pour out grace. But this does not mean we should push the limits of grace by seeing how much we can do and still find grace. Grace was not given in abundance so we could sin in abundance and still discover it. Instead it was shown in abundance because He loves in abundance.

This is what becomes so impacting. Grace, sudden – unexpected – favour – is not just because He is being kind toward us or because God just does gracious things. It is because His love is that deep toward us.

Grace is overwhelming when we experience it. It takes us from wondering if we can make it to thriving. No wonder the same writer – Paul – would write this as he found grace revealed to him…

“….My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” …

2 Corinthians 12:8–9 (NLT)

I can echo these words of Paul. In my weakness I can find strength through God’s grace. It shows up in the least expected places. For all the talk – experiencing it is what makes it what it is – amazing grace.

 

Life Changing Moments

carIt takes less than a second.

Hardly any time at all passes and life, as we know it, can be altered.

We know that in theory.

We are aware that things happen which suddenly thrust us in very different directions than we planned. Moments can have that affect.

Decisions are made, events occur, surprises happen and life is altered – sometimes permanently. We know it in theory.

We even read about it. We hear about tragic moments when something occurs and “someone’s” life is altered.  Paths are taken and what no one was expecting or could ever anticipate suddenly occurs. We read about it or we may have walked through a few of these in our own experience.

When we do so this becomes more than theory.

We are then faced with our own “life altering moment”.

It affects us in many ways. Although the biggest impact can be that it gives us perspective. We are confronted with a new or different take on life. Some things take on new meaning. Some become more important to us and others lose their significance. We see things differently as a result of a moment in time.

This past week we faced a moment which could have had a very different ending. It gives us, at the very least, a reason to pause.

My wife Angela was driving back from seeing our youngest daughter in Saskatoon, about 4 hours away, when the trip changed dramatically. She was okay. But something happened. In the midst of this near miss moment a perspective was reinforced.

She wrote a letter to the editor to describe what the experience did for her. I am sharing it with you (Some names have been removed for the sake of privacy for this post.) Here are her thoughts…

Hey there, my name is Angela I’m from Roblin Manitoba. I know I know, Manitoba where we wear blue and gold and have high taxes, but bear with me. I’d like to as you a question, who is your hero? Is it one person that stands out in your mind? Is it a group of people? What makes them your hero?

On March 14, I was heading home from Saskatoon (yes, I love Manitoba but I do wear green and white!). 4 km out of Foam Lake, with 2 hours left in my journey, BANG. I hit a deer. What was I going to do? My vehicle wasn’t going to make the trek across the boarder and I was all alone. I needed a hero.

Witnesses to my misfortune, _______pulled up, removed the deer from the road, made necessary phone calls put the kettle on and sparked a friendship. But what could I do with a Ford Escape that couldn’t escape (a deer, that is)? I called (or rather he called) ___  for “A towing company”  who hauled my vehicle to ” an auto body place” . Before I knew it a Constable from the Wadena RCMP detachment had assessed the scene and then proceeded to “their home” to take my statement and make sure I was okay. Eventually I made it home and on the morning of the 15th I called the auto body shop to explain why my vehicle was on “his” lot. He was so kind and helpful about the whole thing.

These are all people who live and serve in your community and surrounding areas. They are people you might see on the street or in the local restaurant from time to time, they are first responders who risk their lives for you daily, they are your neighbours, your friends.

To me, though, they are heroes. I was truly blessed by each one of them as they helped graciously in my time of need. If you see them on the street or at work, say thanks. It is a little word that goes a long way. Slow down when passing first responders or anyone pulled over on the side of the highway, you may just save a life. Kindness goes a long way and it meant a great deal that complete strangers would lend it to me. When you see someone in need, please don’t pass by. Help out, you’ll be glad you did.

Every time I drive through Foam Lake Saskatchewan I will remember the kindness I was shown and will share this story many times. It gives me faith in humanity and reminds me that we are all capable of being someone’s hero.

In reading her response to this ordeal, you can tell it had an impact. The stress of the night would have been much different had she been stranded on the side of the road as dusk turned to night. It could have been much different if the deer would have crossed a moment later. It would have hit… lets not go there.

I recognize how different this moment could have been. When I got the phone call that night – it could have been very different. The call could have altered life very dramatically.

As it was I felt helpless as I was four hours away from home myself. I was six hours away from where she was and couldn’t reach her.

Yet, I am reminded that God watches over us. He was watching out for her. As the Psalmist wrote centuries ago…

The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever. Psalm 121:8 (NLT)

I am so glad that He does.

Finding Success

Have you made it?

Have you arrived where you want to be?

Are you a success?

These questions are not intended to make you feel guilty or defeated. I don’t ask them to cause you to re-examine everything in your life. Nor do I ask them to assist you to become satisfied with what you have accomplished to this point in your journey. Image result for successful

I ask them because they are questions which we inadvertently ask ourselves. We do so inadvertently – without intention.

We may not find ourselves talking about them with our friends, even our closest ones. We may not write down what “success” looks like to us and what we have to do to achieve it. But I find we tend to dwell on whether are a success. It is hard not to.

We are continually confronted with messages, images, signals of what success looks like.  Most advertisement indicated ways to reach or become successful. “If you have this product you will be able to find success. If you do this you will be able to have others see you as successful. If you follow this plan you will be able to have your image of success become your reality.”

It works.

If it didn’t we would see a much different tactic to motivate us to consume. But it works in feeding the deep seeded desire we have to matter, to make it, to be seen as successful. Except…

What does success look like?

I was asked that recently. And in the course of a conversation something became quite clear – depending on how you define success – your life can be hard or easy. Your sense of what it means to be “successful” will determine whether or not you will be continually striving for something more or whether you will be content.

And the impact can be devastating or fulfilling.

What does success look like? Are you successful? How do you measure it? How do you know if you have made it or not? Where do you look to make that determination?

Is it where you woke up today? Is it because of who you woke up with? Is it because of those who are around you – family and friends? Is it because of what is parked in your driveway or where you spend your day giving  your energy and talents? Is it because of what you can afford to do? Is it because of the influence you have?

When you look at these markers are you a success? Are they indicators for you?

Often these are the ones we use. What we have, have achieved or the impact we make on others around us. These can be good measuring sticks for us to define whether or not we have arrived where we want to be.

And yet, what I find is what they do more than anything is reveal where we come up short.

Let’s face it – if being a success means we have enough money to buy what we want in life – do we have enough? Perhaps if we are in the 1%. So what does that say about the rest of us? Are the vast majority of us unsuccessful then?

If success is measured by the influence we have – what happens when we pass our prime and are heard less and less? Are we no longer successful when people stop listening or asking for our input?

If success is based on the relationships we have what does it mean when others – family members or friends – make choices which reflect negatively on us? Does that now mean we are unsuccessful? If our partner is perfect are we successful? What happens if our marriage fails or is less than ideal? If our kids take unhealthy paths? If we lose friendships which made us look good?

If these occur are we now unsuccessful at life? How we answer that will help us define how we in fact determine if we are a success.

If these are measurements it is easy to determine if we have arrived. But it is also easy to determine how fleeting success can be. It is easy to spot how striving to arrive at a place and then continually striving to maintain what we have achieved can be exhausting. And so we often will give up, settle, abandon, or stop looking for success and deep down – remember these are often pursuits we don’t talk about – deep down we feel like we have failed.

Or…

We define success in another way.

Jesus did that for us. He indicated that success is defined not by what we accomplish, have or surround ourselves with. It is defined by the relationship we have with Him.

We have already indicated that the relationships we have can disintegrate. They can come apart and be broken. We can make mistakes and wreck them. But, we need to understand what Jesus is offering is not this kind of relationship. It is not one where He expects perfection from us in order to stay. Nor is He going anywhere.

This is what He said,

26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? (Matthew 16:26 NLT)

What He was telling those who were following after Him was that what is inside us – our soul – the life which He came to bring – is more valuable, a better indicator of success than anything else. If we know Jesus. If we have a relationship with Him we are successful. He makes us successful.

Every other measurement of success is not even a comparator. Every other measurement is irrelevant to defining or determining whether or not we are a success.

This defines it.

If that is the goal or the defining of success then it is an easy step. It just requires our reaching out to Him to find life. Following Him. That’s it. No long term striving or struggling to be or become something – just follow Jesus.

So…

Are you successful?

Making Enemies…

“Do you make a lot of enemies?”Image result for enemies

This week I was asked this question. It came in the course of a conversation I had with some friends. We were catching up, having not spent much time together lately,  and  ended up discussing the past, present and the future.  In the course of our discussion, it arose as we talked a bit about what was to come.

For those of you who regularly read “Reflection” you will know there is often a lot of uncertainty in my life. Most of what I do is dependent upon what others will decide (particularly through the election process), for me. My involvement and activity is determined by other to a large degree. Especially for how long I am doing something.  Given the nature of the process there is a lot of uncertainty at times.

This is not unique.

There are many jobs where there are levels of uncertainty to them where others dictate the terms of what will take place.

What caused this question to be asked came out of what I tend to do in this “window” of time I have in a role.

Most of the uncertainty I feel is because I am only in a position for a period of time. There is a beginning point and there will be an end point – shorter or longer depending on the “decision” of those you work with. It means I will have a given period of time to carry out my responsibilities.

This is all good. It is part of the role.

However, it also presents a challenge. At least for me it does. It causes me to have to decide how I am going to deal with this “period of time”.

There are several paths I have seen people choose when given the choice.

I have seen those who:

  • Continue to do what their predecessors  have done. Maintain the status quo. Do their  best to serve for the longest time possible while keeping everyone happy.  In other words, “never rock the boat.”
  • Put their stamp on things by altering everything to suit their desires. Usually this does not keep them in their role very long.
  • Get the most out of their position before they leave it, by holding on to power for as long as possible and doing what benefits them only.
  • Make the most of their time by leading well.

I am in a “window of time” at the moment. My responsibilities will change very soon or shortly. And I don’t know what is next.

This sense of uncertainty seems to cause me to want to make the most of my time. To do what I can to lead well, especially in what will be a defined period of time. But in doing so there are still choices.

Mine have tended to be to tackle what I see and help move forward. However something happens along the way.

“Change” becomes inevitable. “Big challenges” are tackled. “New paths” are charted and walked down….and “enemies” are created. Thus the question.

It is not intended. Nor is it avoided at all cost either.

I have thought about this since the question was asked.

I don’t purposely look to make enemies. I don’t take a “my way or the highway attitude”. I do my best to engage others in helping to set the path forward collaboratively.

But I am also aware that some decisions, some paths taken, some roads create difficulties. Especially when change is involved. When thinking differently is required, when long term health is more important than our feeling comfortable, things can become unsettling.

Enemies can be created.

I am not sure what to do with that.

I could stop looking and trying to move forward. I could focus on keeping things the same and hope for different results. But, would that be making the most of my time? Probably not.

None of us know how long we have. We all have a defined period of time to make the most of our lives. We have no idea when the end will be, but we are all confronted with the same challenge.

Do we make the most of the time we have? Even if it means some will not like us? Even if we make “enemies”?

It is a tough one. Our attitude in the midst of making the most of our time is crucial. Our attitude toward others, how we lead, including others or running over people – these all factor into whether we create enemies or others choose to oppose us on their own. There is a big difference.

A follower of Jesus put it this way,

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.  (Ephesians 5 NLT) 

Good advice to follow as we make the most of our days.

***Up-date: A few weeks ago I mentioned the good winter we were having. Yesterday we woke up to this. Winter is back with a vengeance.winter

 

 

What to give up?

Traditionally this is the time of year when giving up occurs.

Historically, and still practiced by many today, the season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday – which is today. Image result for ash wedesnday

It is so called because typically the priest would apply ashes to a person’s forehead as a sign of entering this season of repentance, prayer and fasting. The ash is used because “we came from dust and to dust we will return”. This season, before Easter, is defined by grieving over our sin and the separation from God which comes as a result of our actions. It is to be a time of reflection, sorrow, penance, and fasting.

The practice comes from the ancient Jewish practice of penance and fasting. Over time various practices have emerged. At one point public demonstrations of penance took place. Those who were sorry for their sin would publically wear sackcloth and ashes for 40 days and would not enter the church from Ash Wednesday to Maudy Thursday, just before Easter.

This was to demonstrate the sorrow they had for their actions. It was seen as an act of sacrifice and a demonstration of their grief over their behaviour. These 40 days of repenting and praying were to reveal just how sorrowful they were. The length of time was based on the example of Jesus who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before He began His ministry.

So today begins the season of repentance, prayer and fasting.

It is often marked by sacrifice – which for many means giving up something you like. Something you enjoy or normally would indulge in.

I don’t know a lot about the practice. In my faith tradition, the Lent season is not given this same emphasis. Repentance is seen more of a constant as opposed to a more  focused block of time.  Fasting or sacrifice, while practiced, is more about specific instances than a seasonal, yearly occasion.

However, even though I have not been part of the Lent traditions, I have heard colleagues speak about things they have been giving up for Lent. And so it made me wonder about whether I too should look for something to give up?

I did some reading about what people typically choose to give up.

There are things I could abstain from quite easily. I don’t indulge in some things now so giving them up would be a breeze. It wouldn’t change my life at all.

But this would make the “sacrifice” part not that big a deal which kind of misses the point.

There are other things which would be harder for me to give up. I could do it, but it would be difficult. The sense of sacrificing might be appropriate should I begin to give them up.

And then there are some things which would be very difficult to part with – my regular work would make it that way. This is when I also read about how you can make some accommodations to make things work out easier. Really?

With that being said, after Easter, after the 40 days of giving up certain activities, then what?

If the actions were ones I already avoided or didn’t care too much about – I could continue avoiding them. Easy. Those things which were part of “normal living” would probably return after this period of time.  I would go back to indulging again. And if I made certain accommodations – what’s the point?

This is more than hypothetical.

It is what I have seen from others. “I am giving up chocolates”, I have heard. Only as soon as Easter has come and gone the chocolates have returned. (This is not to dismiss the hardship this might have created – only an observation.)

It has made me wonder if that is really the point of all this. Is this season of Lent – where sorrow – penance, repentance, sacrifice, prayer – really revealed by giving up or avoiding certain actions for a while in order to be able to say we did or to prove something?

Are our actions to prove to God that we are sorrowful and need His grace in our lives? Are they to tell Him how serious we are?

If practicing Lent causes us to become more serious about our actions and about life – it is a good thing. Too often we just coast through without much thought to what we do or the impact our actions have – including in our relationship with God.

But, if it is for God’s benefit we should probably give up.

If we are doing it for Him then we are forgetting that He already knows all about us. He knows the intentions of our heart. We can’t fool Him by becoming pious for just over a month and expect that He will look at us differently than He already does.

The biggest misunderstanding we have is in thinking that we can earn His love or favour. That by doing or avoiding certain things we are able to increase His love for us. That if we act in certain sacrificial ways He will be happier with us than if we don’t.

We may treat each other like that.

We may build our relationships based on what people do for us. The more they demonstrate their love for us the greater our love for them will be. But that is a conditional kind of love. Which is common, but is not God’s love.

His love doesn’t change. It can’t be earned.

He loves you. Not because you sacrificially did certain things, but because He loves you. He receives joy from your life. You can also bring Him sorrow, but that doesn’t affect the love He has for you.

If I am going to give things up, it is not to prove a point or earn favour, I already am loved with an everlasting, unconditional love.

If I do give up things it is because I need to in order to be a better follower of His, to be more Christ-like in character, to be a better person. And 40 days will not be enough…

 

Deserve…

“And the Award goes to…”

“The winner is…”

Annually there are opportunities to recognize people who have made outstanding contributions. When we think of award shows to recognize talent, we often think of  Hollywood or the entertainment industry. But there are others.

I have attended events, which may have less pomp and glamour, but ones which recognize and honor those who are worthy of acknowledgement.

I have also participated in selection committees who try and determine who is most “deserving” to  receive an award. It can extremely challenging. A host of factors come into play as you read through applications and try and come up with a winner. I am working on one of these right now.

It made me wonder about the word “deserving”.deserve

What do we deserve?

There are several trains of thought.

One is to examine those who have spent a lifetime working hard, honing their skills and after a long enough period of time it can be concluded they are “deserving” of being recognized for their accomplishments. They have done enough to merit our approval and honor.

Another perspective is that there needs to be some semblance of balance. After all it is only fair that those who are often recognized step aside to allow for those who are doing their best, but have not achieved recognition as of yet. It is time for them to get there moment in the spotlight. They are “deserving” but for different reasons – as a result of trying to be fair to everyone.

And then there is the perspective that we are all “deserving” of recognition. We should all take a bow, have our moment in the sun, or be honored. We all deserve or are entitled to special treatment and favour. “It’s our turn”.

It would be easy to argue for any of these.

Acknowledging hard work. Recognizing effort. Bringing value to everyone. They all have some merit.

Except…

“Deserving” is something different.

Some would say we “get what we deserve.” Implying that we have a way of determining what will happen to us. Or that somehow the “universe” will bring balance to things. And in the end everything will even itself out – whatever that means.

Lately we have enjoyed a particularly mild winter. I can’t count how many times I have heard people say “we are going to pay for this yet” -concluding that there will be cold or stormy weather coming at some point soon to balance out this “too good to be true” winter we have been experiencing.

Is that how deserving works?

Are we all going to get what we deserve? Are we all entitled? Does life bring about fairness and balance? If we are going through a particularly good stage in life – should we be waiting for the “other shoe” to drop? If life is rough right now are things bound to get better? is that what we deserve? Are we experiencing what we are because we have done something to merit it?

In my first world culture, there is increasingly this sense of entitlement. Life owes me favour or at least a favour. I deserve certain things from it. Those who appear to be blessed need to step aside and let the rest of us share in the blessing. We deserve to benefit as much as anyone.

“Deserve” means:

“to do something, or have or show qualities worthy of (reward or punishment).

In other words actions or behaviour lead to certain results. Except…

If God is in the picture.

With God present, all that we “deserve” is punishment. None of us are good enough, perfect enough, worthy enough to receive honor or rewards in light of who God is. We are all deserving of consequences or punishment for our actions – expect God acted beyond what we deserve.

In 2 Timothy 1:9 (NLT) we read,

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.

His plan, from “the beginning of time” was to avoid giving us what we deserve and instead give us what we do not deserve – grace, mercy, favour. Grace is not something we earn. It is not a scale where we place all the good and all the bad and as long as we have more of the good we are deserving of favour.

In reading through award applications, those who submit them on behalf of others tend to acknowledge all of the qualities that make the hopeful recipient qualified to receive the honor. They attempt to show how they measure up to the criteria and are worthy of the recognition.

When it comes to our relationship with God, many try and do the same thing. They try and list all of the reasons they should measure up or “deserve” to have God overlook the negative things, the mistakes, we have committed. If there are way more good things than bad we should certainly be deserving of favour.

However, when it comes to our relationship with God any mistakes, errors, sin, separates us and we become unworthy of His favour. Not just for the moment, but for all time. We are undeserving of ever experiencing His blessing. And yet…

Even though we can’t do enough good things to gain favor or blessing or honor because of them. Even though the scale is always tipped against us. Grace means, that in spite of our behaviour God has chosen to grant us favor, blessing and honor through Jesus.

We receive favour because of grace.

So, when it comes to “deserving” our hope is found not in getting what we deserve, but in getting what we do not deserve. In getting grace instead.

I don’t want what I deserve. I need grace.