Finding Rest

Why does it have to be so hard? Why can’t things be simpler, easier, less complex?

Is it just me or are you finding this to be the case? Image result for stress

There was a promise several decades ago that life was going to become easier. The promise was that all the new technologies and time saving devices were going to make life much simpler, less complex, less stressful. Our hard work and effort was going to diminish and there was going to be so much more “free time.”

It seems pretty far fetched these days.

As a matter of fact, life appears to be more complex.

The decisions we have to make seem harder. The overload of information and attention grabbing headlines, the continual bombardment of “stuff” have made things fuller not simpler. Time saving devices have turned into time consuming ones and there is the constant feeling we can’t keep ahead of it all.

This is not an “anti-technology” rant. I embrace many of the new technologies and use them daily. The have made some tasks much easier and have reduced the storage of paper immensely.

However…

Yesterday was National Relaxation Day. That’s right a day set aside to focus on doing little, on taking a break. It began in 1985 when a 9 year old boy in Michigan saw that working all the time was not good, so he determined we need to set aside a day to relax, a day to be lazy.

Image result for restIn the midst of trying to make life simpler the complexity and stress of life has seemingly increased. So much so that we need a day to have permission to rest.

I can usually tell when things get beyond the point where I can manage. There are signs I have which tell me that my mind has become too full. Where all of the “stuff” and the continual bombardment of issues to address reaches that overload place. I can usually tell when I am overwhelmed and need simplicity as opposed to complexity.

I can usually tell because of how I respond.

I look for diversions.

I find when those moments come I pursue things which keep me from thinking too much and too hard. I play games – computer or video ones, I do crosswords or Suduko, I cook, I watch movies. I do things I enjoy but don’t have to spend much thinking space doing them.

What I find is I spend more time on diversions the greater the stress I feel. The more overwhelming by the work load, the more I want to retreat to what frees my mind from focusing on what can be taxing. The greater the pressure, the more I crave these mind numbing pursuits.

It has helped keep me manage over the years. I think…

However, I have also noticed after years of being continually bombarded with issues requiring attention and action that rest is hard to come by.

There is a difference between sleep and rest. They are not synonymous.

Some can fall asleep quickly and easily but are not at rest. They dream and their minds are continually filled even though they are asleep. Others have difficulty shutting their minds off and so sleep is hard to come by. However, they can “rest” by doing things which free their minds – like diversions.

Being at “rest” is not only the amount of sleep you get. It helps but is not the only measurement.

Most of us wake up each morning with our “Inbox” full of messages. We start our day feeling behind before we get out of bed. And it doesn’t stop. There is always the “latest” story or message which clamors for our attention. I get tired just thinking about it… or I look for a game.

And yet, rest is something which God has given to us. It is for us. For recharging, refocusing, reenergizing our lives, for finding life. There are two distinct ways I find God gives us rest.

One is He has given us a Sabbath – a day to turn off the pressure. One day a week was given as a day of rest. This day wasn’t given just so we could fill it with other activities to keep our lives full or add to our stress. It was so we could release the stress life brings.

Unfortunately, it seems we have missed how a day a week needs to free our minds and spirits, not increase the demands we feel.

And secondly, He offers to give us relief through trust.

If everything is up to me then I feel the weight of the world. If I don’t have to lift that burden I can feel relief. Jesus offered just that.

Jesus made this statement to people who were searching and struggling to cope with the weight of life. He said,

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)

 It was a message of release from the burdens they were carrying and instead to embrace of the One who could carry their burden for them.

Sadly we tend to think these words are for when we are in over our heads or faced with huge mountains. In those moments we decide we will take Jesus up on His offer for rest. But, the offer is not just for those extreme circumstances. It is for the everyday things which overwhelm and cause stress for us.

In those moments, daily, we can “come to Him” and find rest. We can find it through trust. Letting Him carry life’s challenges with us. Where we are not on our own. He promises us rest.

Have you found rest? Jesus said, “Come to me… 

Too Much to Bear

“I’ve had enough!”

Ever think that? Ever have the words come out of your mouth? Ever hear someone else express how they are overwhelmed?

When do things get to be too much?Image result for enough is enough

When does it get to the point where you toss your hands up in the air and give up?

Undoubtedly most of us have reached that limit at some point or other. I can think of certain situations where I came to and crossed that line. Where I had enough. Where I called it quits.

The ones which come to mind weren’t easy. Giving up or giving in are not easy decisions for me. They often come after weeks or months of wrestling to know what to do next. But the moment came where enough was enough.

This week I thought about what brings us to that place. In part, because I have decisions before me where I will need to determine when “Enough is enough”.

Calling it quits isn’t always a hard thing to do.

If you follow any sports teams, you will see a team “go through the motions” when they are on the losing end of a lopsided score. Coming back is nearly impossible, so they give up. They want to put the game behind them and move on.

They will never state they are quitting, as you can always come back (history has recorded those who have rallied from incredible odds to pull out a victory), however…

You can tell it is over.

But, life is not a game. Coming to the end of life situations are much more significant than losing one of …. however many games. The consequences are more significant.

I have observed and experienced what it means to come to the end. Where you can’t go any farther and you simply call it quits, give up, stop.

It happens in a whole variety of situations. In work, with relationships, with boards, with churches, with friendships, with…. In each case someone comes to the place where things become too much to bear. Going forward is overwhelming and – so they stop.

They stop working, they stop fighting, they stop enduring, they stop pushing through, they stop trying. They give up.

What brings us to that place?

There is no “one” trigger. There are those who will endure when others have long left. Some will run at the slightest obstacle. There isn’t a uniform response to difficult situations.

However, there are several “instigators” which seem to be more common than others.

I have listed some:

  1. When there appears to be no way out.

When you assess there will never be any changes from the current situation. As much as we can be adverse to change, when things are not going well, when we long for something different, where anything would be better than what is – we want change. When we come to this conclusion, but change is not coming anytime soon – we are done.

2. Being ignored.

We all need to feel valued. When we get the impression that our opinion, our perspective don’t matter anymore it is only a matter of time. It is one thing to have someone else’s opinion carry more weight than ours – which occurs often. It is another when we feel ours is not respected or even heard. Then it is only a matter of time.

3. Offenses.

When we become offended we are primed to leave. This one is tricky. People are offended at all kinds of situations. Some more easily than others. But feeling offended, especially when you are easily offended, triggers reactions. Some react with anger, others react by fleeing, some check out. Feeling offended, being easily offended, can cause a continual cycle of quitting.

4. Hopeless

Whenever we lose hope we become discouraged, even depressed. Hope is what enable us to keep going. Losing hope does the opposite. When hope is gone we tend to give up.

5. Frustration

Feeling frustrated with how things are going can solicit two different reactions. One is to change our circumstances. Another is to get overwhelmed by our circumstances. How we respond to frustrations will determine whether we continue or quit. Being frustrated with circumstances can lead to giving up, quitting, running away or stopping.

And these are just some. There is also: fear, disappointment, apathy, weariness….

What this tells me is there are many things which can cause us to give up, quit, stop. In fact it is amazing how many of us keep going in spite of our circumstances. There are many forces which could lead us to “throwing our hands in the air” in surrender.

But it tells me something else.

Enduring, persevering, overcoming, is something which is often extraordinary. To do so requires strength which is beyond us. Something which God gives us to push through what can be overwhelming.

As we face decisions we need to know which situation requires extraordinary strength and which we need to surrender to. As much as we can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me” He doesn’t expect us to push through every situation.

Nor does He expect us to flee from every uncomfortable or hard place. Running is not always the answer. Sometimes enduring through is the right decision in spite of the temptation to step away.

At the end of the day it becomes a matter of knowing what we are called to do. All of the above factors may be present and we are called to endure and keep going. None of these factors may be present and yet, He is asking us to step away because we can’t step into a different place when we are where we are.

What is required is wisdom.

Wisdom which is beyond our own understanding.

I am not sure what the next decision will be or when the time will come for me to say “enough”. But I do know that more than anything I need His wisdom to know whether I keep going and persevere or whether I step away.

 

A New Identity

We are shaped by our past. The experiences, events, encounters from our personal history make up who we are. They have shaped us into the person we are today.

History is difficult. Looking backwards always presents challenges. In part, because we don’t always remember with perfect accuracy. There are events, memories which we see through our own bias, perspective, which can be quite different from how others recall the same event.

And yet we are shaped by what we remember the circumstances to be. They form our identity.

Image result for tecumsehThese differences may not pose much of an impact. Minor details will not necessarily change the larger narrative of what took place. But there are occasions and experiences where a complete picture really does matter. Our identity can get formed through what is an incomplete understanding of history.

This past week I attended a World Indigenous Conference. It brought together indigenous, and some non-indigenous people like myself, from around the world together to discuss education. It gave me the opportunity to hear about histories and perspectives which were new to me. It allowed me to see how indigenous people’s see themselves and understand their identity and place of belonging in the world.

Growing up, the history we were given provided a very specific perspective of how things unfolded in our country. It had built in biases and understandings which shaped thought and gave specific identity to both indigenous and non-indigenous people as a result.

Unfortunately, what we were given was quite different than the complete account of what transpired.

We had received a one sided story of the past. One which ignored the indigenous’ people’s perspective entirely. This caused the events of the past to be skewed toward a Eurocentric perspective – the view of those who “colonized” our nation. From those who saw themselves as a superior culture.

But that isn’t the complete picture. Thankfully this one sided perspective is changing. A greater acknowledgement is emerging where our complete history is being revealed. The truth of our past – with all of its ugly tragedies – is a more accurate account of what took place, one which needs to be understood.

After all we are shaped by our past.

In hearing perspectives from indigenous peoples, not only from my home country but from throughout the world, I found some common threads emerging.

One of these threads was that regardless of where we come from, or where we identify “home” to be, each of us come with our biases. Each of us assume we have a complete, or at least a more complete, picture of what the past was like and what occurred. And those perspectives shape our thinking.

It doesn’t matter where we have come from we assume our perspective is true. Much of the past is not something we experienced directly. Rather it is something we have had passed down to us from others. And yet our view of the past shapes who we are.

However, it is only part of the story.

What emerged for me was that whether our past was based on an indigenous perspective, the mainstream perspective, or from someone trying to blend the two, it was still an incomplete picture of truth. Biases remained.

They remained because we base our understanding of the past on what was passed down to us – on perspectives which have certain biases built in. And yet our identity gets shaped by the perspectives we hear and adopt.

I also realized that we have as much or more in common than we have which separates us.

No matter where we come from as people we have common aspirations, desires, longings, and hopes. It doesn’t matter what tribe, nation, grouping we identify with we have human traits which can bring us together.

Sadly we tend to use those other things which separate us from one another.

There are many other thoughts I have percolating in my mind as a result of this week. However, I want to share one other one which emerged for me as these particular threads took root.

Jesus came to give a new identity. A complete identity.

Who people were before they encountered Jesus was not as important as who they became after they encountered Him. No matter who they were when they came to Him – what their background was, what their past had been like, it didn’t really matter much. What did matter was what occurred when they left Him.

As people spent time with Jesus they became “new creations,” new people with a new identity.  Their past no longer limited them, it no longer defined who they were, they were new people because of what Jesus brought to their lives.

That message seems to have gotten lost.

Too often followers of Jesus encouraged non-followers to follow Jesus so they can become like them. So they can be a “white” man with a different colour of skin. But Jesus never said that – nor was He white for that matter.

What Jesus did offer was for all people to come to Him so they could become who they were intended to be – people who were forgiven, free, filled with life and hope.

This week has made me understand how someone, being pushed to lose their identity without discovering their true identity – the one Jesus brings – has devastating consequences. It destroys a sense of belonging. It kills hope. It removes identity.

It does the very opposite of what Jesus does.

So many negative things were done – often in the name of Jesus – where His name was used but His heart was not.

My prayer is that we see this change so a new history can be written where every tribe, nation and language group finds the hope He brings.

An Open Door

Timing is everything.Image result for open door

Split seconds are incredibly import. In so many different circumstances and situations they can alter life. They can be the difference between life and death. But they can also simply be the difference between having a good day and a so-so day.

Timing creates moments where things can go from good and great, or where life can be significantly altered.

Last week I experienced the impact of timing.

“Reflection” encountered the right timing. With last week’s post I saw it viewed by  more people than any other I have had – by a considerable margin.

Thanks for your interest. And please keep praying for a complete recovery.

But the impact of this incredible timing caused me to feel a sense of expectation for this week. How can I come up with something equally as captivating and inspiring – or at least something which would draw similar attention?

It is an easy trap to get caught in. Having instant, constant assessment on what I do, or on who I am, based on – comments, perspectives, views, likes, etc. can make you feel like you have to perform to a certain standard all the time. It can…

I tend not to get caught in this trap.

It is fun to look at the numbers and hear comments, but the weight of them does not determine my significance.

However, it caused me to  think about the impact timing has.

One second earlier, or one second later – what would be the difference? This week as opposed to last – does it really matter?

Several thoughts have struck me. One is that Jesus saw timing as crucial to what He did. There were occasions where He would say, “My time has not yet come”. In other words He was waiting for the perfect moment.

Seeing the significant timing of His actions, time mattered to Him. There were the right times to act – and the wrong times to do so. At times it was readily understood – not wanting to create a scene or draw attention. On other occasions it was misunderstood – letting a good friend die – before raising him to life (Lazarus), going to Jerusalem when there were those threatening your death.

He acted with timing in mind.

This shouldn’t surprise us. After all we are told, “there is a time for everything under the sun”.  Solomon, in his wisdom, offers us insight into there being seasons, times for all sorts of behaviour. A time  – to laugh, to cry, to mourn, to dance, to get and to lose…. (Ecclesiastes 3)

Moments requiring certain actions at certain instances.

And then there are others who stepped up at their moment in time.

I think of someone like Esther who was the only one, it seemed, who could determine whether her people would survive or not. Her uncle said as much.

We read this statement,

14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 (NLT)

Being at the right place at the right time made all the difference for Esther’s people.

She was at the right place at the right time.

Which has made me wonder about where we are.

Are we at the right place at the right time? If timing can be everything, what is our time like today? Is it time to act? Is it time to step up? Is this our moment?

Is there an open door before us? Image result for open door

It can be difficult to know. Often it is only with hindsight do we determine what time it was. However, God said He would direct our paths. He would guide our steps. He would show us where we should go.

When we walk in His timing we find clear sailing, open doors, paths made straight. So we wait for Him to lead us. That does not mean we sit on our hands until we see a sign from heaven saying go, act, do…

It means we continue to move forward and allow Him to guide us.

So, what I see before us is an open door. One He invites us to walk through where He will lead us where we never imagined we could go – if we follow His timing.

Are you ready for it?

 

Living in Grace…

They walked away. Jeep

That is the most remarkable (miraculous) thing you can say after seeing the wreckage that occurred Saturday night. How could they walk away from that? How could they walk away with only soreness, bruising?

Walking away seems miraculous.

The Bull – not so fortunate.

That’s right – a full grown size bull – standing in the middle of the highway after dark waiting for on coming traffic.

There is no explanation as to why it was there. It just was.

If you have ever encountered one – a bull, cow, moose – on a highway at night you understand how scary that can be. At night they are almost impossible to see until the very last moment when you come upon them. Their colour and features make it nearly impossible.

They don’t run across the road, like a deer. They plod along or just walk slowly. If you happen to see them in time to stop you are fortunate. If you hit them it is like hitting a brick wall.

Fortunately it was a Jeep that hit this one – fortunate for my daughter and soon to bebull son in law.

It seems like our family has had its share of encounters with wild – or not so wild (in this case) – animals on the highways. Either coming out of nowhere or encountering them unexpectantly – they have impacted our lives.

Miraculously without severe consequences.

There is the aftermath of soreness from the impact and the airbags. There is the stress of the moment and the aftermath – reliving the event – over and over again. But those things do go away with time.

Saturday we saw grace.

At least that is the only word that comes to mind when I try and describe what we witnessed. Grace extended in a situation where the results could have been so different.

We daily hear about situations where the results are much different. Accidents where lives are lost. Tragedies for families who are now faced with moving forward from a world which has been shattered.

Some would use the term “lucky”.

That is too random for me.

“Luck” is defined as “a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favourably or unfavourably for an individual, group or cause”.

To believe in a “force” impacting our lives on a random basis without any purpose takes more faith than I can muster. If luck defines what happens in our lives then everything is open to chance and life has little if any meaning.

Which could lead to whole other discussion.

It is not luck.

What we have witnessed is grace.

We have seen God’s favour on our lives. But His favour is with purpose. There are  reasons behind what happens. Some times that purpose is easily seen and other times when it is not as easily grasped.

Yet we often try.

The easiest explanation we tend to use is that we are special or blessed. How can you not feel that way after walking away from this collision? And we are indeed blessed.

However, it is not because we somehow have earned that favour. It is not because we are “living right” or “God must have something greater in store for us” or some other statement to imply that we are given special treatment because we are loved more than someone who didn’t experience a similar result – who didn’t walk away.

Making this assumption turns “grace” into “luck” with a religious twist.

Our conclusion implies that followers of Jesus are luckier than non-followers of His because they are loved more. So any good that occurs is because they are deserving of the positive results they receive and any bad things which transpire are because they have failed to live the right way.

The implication is that “like making our own luck” we can make or create “our own grace.”

The history of Jesus’ followers would certainly dismiss this assessment.

Grace is something different.

Grace is never, ever earned. It is never deserved. It is just granted.

We see grace show up in many different ways. We see favour, blessing, fortunate circumstances occurring daily. There are the things we avoid facing, the circumstances we are able to get through, the strength we receive, and so on. Some we clearly identify as grace and others we hardly even acknowledge. In part because it is easy to presume we should experience grace.

“Every dog has its day” – “Everyone is shown grace sometime”

But grace is never a given.

God is gracious. God desires to give grace. God is merciful. God loves people – everyone.

Presumptions about grace – that it should be granted and experienced – misses the amazing part of grace. We never deserve it.

Never.

It makes no difference how good we live, or how nice we are, or how saintly we appear, whenever we are shown grace it is undeserved. It is because God chose to be gracious to us. Period.

Grace is what causes us to be in awe of Him.

Sadly I often see grace misunderstood. I see it as an expectation of what should happen. I deserve to experience grace. I deserve to be blessed. I deserve to have my needs and wants met. I deserve….

Absolutely nothing.

That is how we should end that sentence. The fact is we don’t even deserve luck. We have all “fallen short” of what God intended for us. We don’t deserve anything.

The only way we are at all capable of experiencing any blessing, favour, peace, life is because of His grace given freely to us as a result of His mercy toward us.

Walking away from this is… grace.

Nothing else describes it.

 

 

Looking up…

It is your typical tourist town.

It’s streets are lined with quaint shops, restaurants and bars, and hotels. There are places to buy souvenirs, there are activities for families, bike rentals, trampolines, and zip lines. There are places geared for adults to escape hectic life and relax with yoga or a massage. It is your typical tourist place.

Which means that as you walk through it’s streets you see people from all over the world. Not only those who have come to visit but those who are working in these various attractions, shops and hotels. Accents abound and so does hospitality.

Serving your guests, patrons, is what drives the economy. Making sure visitors want to return is a goal. And no matter where you find pleasant people focused on making your stay enjoyable. whistler

I spent most of this past week in Whistler, best known for its winter activities and for being one of the host places for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I was there for a conference so while I saw some of the sights, it was not able to see as much as an actual tourist would.

Walking through the village you are struck by the various streets lined with the above establishments catering to your needs. And you are struck by the number of people who have come to see the beauty of this place. That is if you pause to do more than look around you – if you look up.

Someone said that very thing to me.

whistler3They were walking through the village and seeing all of the things which you can see when they reminded themselves that the reason for this place being such an attraction is because of what you see when you look up. When you gaze heavenward and see the glory of the sights there.  When you look upon the sacredness of this place.

It made me think about how we need reminding.

It is easy to go through our activities, through the course of our days and be caught up with all that is going on around us while failing to look up. Failing to look for the sacredness in the midst of the mundane. Failing to recognize the sacred as we experience the usual.

There are moments when we do look up.

They tend to come when we are overwhelmed by what we are facing around us. When things get too big or too hard to walk through. When we are struck with tensions, trials, tests which push us to our limits, then we gaze heavenward for a glimpse of glory and relief. We gaze upward to receive a reprieve from what has gripped our attention.

But, seeing the sacred around us is not always easy.

We can be so consumed with the things we experience day in and day out that we fail to even see the sacred gifts we are given. whistler2-e1499869208704.jpgWe can fail to see the sacredness of our life’s partner, our children, our families and friends. We can miss the sacredness of those special encounters with people who we have just met who become friends.

We can miss these moments as we focus on the immediate, the urgent, or the pressures of life. When we fail to look upward.

 

God invites us to look up toward Him.

whistler1In times of trouble we are invited – even urged to look heavenward toward Him. The invitation reveals that when we do we will find what we need for those moments. We will find the comfort, strength, grace to carry on and rise above the strain of life.

But, it is more than in those times when we are encouraged to look upward. Each day we can choose where we will place our gaze. Where we will look.

I encourage you today look heavenward.

Look up.

Look for the sacredness you can see around you – no matter where you are.

 

Happy Birthday to…

Birthdays are wonderful things.

They combine the past and the future in one singular moment. The remembrance of what was and the promise of what is to come are meshed as you celebrate another year of history.Image result for birthday cake

This past week there were three such occasions.

For most reading this, two of these birthdays will easily come to mind. My country of Canada celebrated its birthday as a nation on July 1 and the United States of America celebrated its birthday yesterday.

Image result for canada 150For Canada it was a special occasion which will continue to be celebrated throughout the year as it was 150 years since our confederation and we became the “Dominion of Canada.” In this relatively short history, compared with that of many other nations, we take the opportunity to look back at where we have come from. How we have grown and developed. How we have changed. The good and the not so good. Put together they form who we are.

And regardless of all of these factors, we have much to be grateful for.

In the USA they too celebrated a birthday. The birthday of their nationhood is almost a hundred years older than ours. Those 91 extra years, to be exact, are similar but with stark differences with Canada. Even though we share a border and have so much in common, there are distinctions in our perspectives. In part it can be explained by our history and how we were formed. In part it is the result of this longer more complex story that is the USA. Image result for july 4th

One would assume that a longer life span would produce greater wisdom and understanding. After all, experience should bring about some benefits. But, age is not always a determiner of maturity or wisdom. Our length of our story is not as significant as the story itself.

These celebrations, both north and south of our border, have excitement and gratitude for the history that is ours. However, there is also a little bit of anxiety associated with being a year older. A level of uncertainty about the future and what it holds also emerges as we think of the story that is yet to be written.

Birthdays often create that reaction. They cause us to take stock of where we are and determine if any changes are needed as we go forward. Nations who mark milestones celebrate their history and reinforce those attributes and values which define them as a people. Both of these nations have been doing that lately, although the answers might not be as clear as some would like.

Those were two of the birthdays which occurred this week.

There is another one. The third birthday is not one that had nearly the same degree of fanfare or was a significant milestone ending in a zero or a five. There were no parades, fireworks, or much fanfare. It didn’t make the news reports or the papers.

The birthday was mine.

Another year passed in my life. It was marked by the usual things:

  • warm wishes from a number of friends – mostly digital messages – which has become the norm for greeting each other it seems,
  • a few phone calls from family members who wanted to talk,
  • and a meal with family marking the day as special.

But I was struck by how it seemed like any other day.

I am not sure why that was the case.

I love birthdays. I love being able to celebrate life and birthdays are a great opportunity to do just that. But this one, was much less of a celebration for me. I am not sure why.

I am not sure if it is because I am getting to the point in time where birthdays are beginning to lose their significance. Or maybe it is because I am becoming more aware of just how significant they are and my own mortality.

I know life is fleeting at best. And because it is we should live each day to the fullest. But, lately I am more aware that the number of days I have lived is greater than the number of days I have left on this earth.

I have no idea how many that will be – but I know there are fewer to come than I have lived.

Each birthday is a reminder that I am getting closer to that last day. By acknowledging that another year has passed, I am led to think forward more than I often do. Which should bring about a sense of a brighter future – after all I should have greater  understanding and wisdom because of experience. It should…but doesn’t always.

Sometimes it just means continuing to do what we have always done to this point and hope things will end up differently. There is another term for that – wisdom is not it.

It also made me think how God has given us insights into how to look at the days of our lives and learn from them. In a Psalm 90 we read these words…

12 Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. Psalm 90:12 (NLT)

Most often we look at the key being life is short so live each day wisely. Understand how short our days are so we can grow in wisdom. But that is not the key part. The key word is “teach”.

It is more than just knowing life is brief. There is much more to it. We need to be taught what that means.

Perhaps I have had another lesson in my own growing in wisdom.  One that I might have heard but didn’t fully grasp before. Hopefully it is something I can learn from.

 

Meaning or Meaningless?

Do we even matter?

As people do we matter at all?

Science tells us we don’t. Just look at the evidence based on scientific thought.

First, Science – as it is defined by Webster is:

“3a :  knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b :  such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena

A simpler definition is that science is: “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.”

So, by testing a hypothesis we gain understanding of what indeed can be proven to be fact or we discover what was merely an educated guess but untrue. Through our perceptions of the world around us and by our “experimentation” with the world around us we gain insight into what is real and what is not. Image result for science

At least that is the promise of scientific thought.

Given the times we are in we would assume that scientists use this measurement on everything they do. They conduct countless experiments to validate their theories before they come to conclusions and they keep accurate records of their observations in order to make sense of our world.

One would assume.

As a result “Science” has become the ultimate authority on the world and how it functions. Scientists, those who make hypothesis about a host of issues and then seek to prove their theories, have become the authorities on everything, more so than any other group of humans.

Naturally, we then believe their word on a given subject – any subject. For they are scientists after all.

Which made me wonder when I heard about a scientist who in their looking forward concluded that as people we will continue to adapt and unite with technology to improve our lives. His conclusion was that we would become something beyond human. Part cyborg, part human and able to “live long and prosper” as a result.

At least live long.

We will be able to ensure, for those who can afford to make it happen, that life can be prolonged. As long as the machinery is able to continue functioning we can maintain life. Instead of being replaced by a machine we become the machine.

(For any you love sci-fi movies you can insert your favorite one here)

It does sound like something out of a sci-fi genre movie.

Yet, one of the conclusions is that we as people, mere organic algorithms, are becoming outdated and as mere genes, hormones, and neurons we have little intrinsic meaning or value. We are soulless creatures.

This natural conclusion is where science always struggles. There is always trouble with trying to place value on something that is intangible. How do you measure  “individualism, equality, justice, democracy and human rights — even human imagination.”

There is no scientific test for these.  We can observe when they occur, but only through our own lens or by the values we place on them. I can perceive that human rights are being violated but do so through my particular values of what human rights entail. Same with justice. What seems just to me may not seem just to you.

They are value choices and cannot be conclusively determined by scientific thought.

Which further makes me wonder about the whole notion that science supersedes everything else.

If you look back in time you discover that a number of “scientists” saw and understood the world was a certain way. Their “scientific” thought led them to believe and hypothesis on views of the world which were later dispelled. Further testing, better instruments to test things, new information, etc, emerged and what was understood to be true was replaced. Which is how science is intended to work.

What is known today, may not be the “fact” tomorrow if we are able to measure what we cannot measure today or if the evidence proves a different reality.

The point is “knowing” something is different than “assuming” something is the case based on what we currently know. We can’t “know” for certain until we have all the facts. In the mean time, we place a value judgment on our assumptions and their accuracy.

Which leads us right back to trying to place value on something that is impossible to measure by science.

For example – It could be argued that people have no value whatsoever. As organisms on this planet we cause more destruction than good and therefore should be removed.

If that is going to far, you could argue that only those who are productive should be allowed to continue to live. If you are educated, if you have meaningful employment, if you are contributing to society as a whole, if you can financially afford to do so, you have permission to continue to consume. If not…

Why?

Why does this sound unreasonable to us? Scientific reason would conclude that a world with billions of people needs to determine who should continue to live – the “survival of the fittest” and who should not for the sustainability of the planet. And just as we cull species who become overpopulated we should do the same for people.

Unless…

Unless people have value which science cannot give them. Unless they have an intrinsic value which goes beyond biology. Unless they have meaning, other than to consume all they can and die.

Science is unable to find conclusions through logic, reason and experimentation. Value comes from a different source. Value comes from something deeper than science and beyond the known world.

Value comes from God who gives each of us – each of us – meaning.

Do we matter?

It depends where we look.

 

 

I’m Not There Yet…

“Can you just get to the point?”

Ever have those thoughts go through your head? Under the right circumstances you  might even allow them to come out.

Some people have a tendency to elaborate on what they are trying to say – me included. The details of a story become an integral part of the events. Maybe it is the writer in me. All I know is you can often tell, just by the look on a person’s face, when it has gotten to that place. When inside they are thinking…

“Quit beating around the bush. Stop giving me details. Just spit it out.”

They say that, “Patience is a virtue”. Except increasingly you see less of it.

We want things now. Waiting is not something we tolerate very much. It is more than simply a reflection of our “instant” society. It is not just because we get accustomed to getting things within moments. I live in a world where action is important. Waiting around appears to be like we are doing nothing of value.

However, what I discover is the journey is as important as getting to the destination. Image result for destination

So much can be learnt on the way. So much can be discovered about ourselves, about others and about what matters as we get to where we are headed.

This has filled my thought for a couple of reasons.

One is because of the time of year. This is the time when students walk across the stage and receive their diplomas for successfully completing High School. It marks the culmination of years of schooling – with receiving a diploma.

These students will hear about what is to come – the bright future, chasing their dreams, pursing their passions, and so on. There will be memories of their past years, but looking forward seems to be the prime focus. They have arrived.

However, the journey is where the learning has taken place. Through the struggles and triumphs, the ups and downs, the failing and passing grades these students have found important lessons of life. It is in them where these accomplishments gain their  importance. If little effort was given, the result doesn’t seem to mean as much as when there was struggle to attain the prize.

That was one of the things I have been thinking of.

The other thought is because of something I read. It is not central to the story, but does reveal our tendency to get to the point. Let me give you the context.

The account is found in Luke 3 where John the Baptist was calling people to turn from their current path and follow a new one. One which God had set for them. As a symbol of their desire to do so, John would baptize them in water. Quite a following was occurring. People from all walks of life were flocking to see John and received his message.

However John wasn’t interested in crowds following him. He had a different focus in mind and he challenged them to do more than be caught up in the latest fad.

We read him saying,

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. (Luke 3:8 (NLT)

This message could turn people away. And some may have left – we are not told if they did. However, what we read about their response is what struck me. The reaction was the same…

“What should we do?”

Luke’s account clearly makes this point. Three times, with three different groups of people, he reveals them asking the same question. That spoke to me.

It revealed that often we just want the answer. Tell me what I have to do. I don’t want to wrestle with the process. I don’t want to work out the specifics for my life – just give me the response I need to have. Let me avoid the work of getting there just get me there. It made me think how appreciating the journey often gets lost – we simply like the destination.

Notice what Luke records…

10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?” 11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” 12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” 14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” Luke 3:10–14 (NLT)

What we are not told is how many did what they were told to do as a response to their turning to follow God. I am sure some left and others did what John said. Some saw it as too difficult and may have tried but reverted back to what was their normal pattern of life.

It is easy to be told what to do.

Doing it is another thing entirely. That is especially true if we have not wrestled with discovering what God’s path for our life is. If we have avoided the working through the process of why we do what we do. If we have jumped to the conclusion or action and have not understood or grappled with the process of getting there.

We can end up with little ownership of the solution. We simply were told what to do and we tried to do it.

However, the journey matters. The wrestling, the process is as important as the destination. It is not quick or often easy – but it is worth the wait when we get there.

 

 

 

 

Different…Maybe Not

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…”

If you are familiar with this song you know the next line. It speaks in simplistic terms about the various backgrounds of these children one based on race or ethnicity.

I couldn’t help but think of this old song as I spent a considerable amount of time watching people this week.

One of my aunt’s passed away and since I was already in the area I spent a good part of my day waiting at the Toronto airport for my mom to arrive so we could attend the funeral. One thing you notice in airports and particularly one like Toronto’s is we live in a very diverse world. Image result for diversity

Not only is Toronto a very cosmopolitan city, but the airport reflects the incredible diversity we find around the globe. People from all backgrounds and places coming and going.

I am sure in the course of several hours I heard at least a dozen different languages being spoken.

I find that incredible coming from a small, predominately unilingual community. However, it caused me to do more than be fascinated by the people. It provided me the incentive to reflect on a statement which quickly came to mind. It was triggered as I was struck by this incredible diversity around me.

It comes from the writings of Paul to a faith community. In Galatians 3 we read these words.

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. Galatians 3:26–29 (NLT)

I have heard the statement in verse 28 used a number of times.

It identifies how there are no distinctions between us as people. The message is clear. Ethnicity doesn’t make a difference, neither does economic or social status, nor does  gender divide us.

Now we know there are differences, visible and not so visible ones. Yet, the focus of these words is that Jesus changes all of these distinctions, including the ones which tend to separate us from each other. He makes us one, He unites us with one another.

Really…

I am often confronted with differences. I regularly interact with people who are bent on looking for ways to differentiate, distinguish, and define other people in such a way as to separate themselves from…them.

Them…

The other…

The…   (You can fill in the blank here.)

There will always be some group or category of people who fits into that space. One is probably coming to mind right now. One that for you is “the other” – or those who are not like me.

Many attempts have been made in recent decades to shrink the differences we have. Things like singing “We are the world…” Breaking down barriers. Encouraging social justice. Embracing as many groups of people we can in an attempt to acknowledge that we are the same.  We are one.

Only…

Division continues.

In reflecting on what I witnessed, I couldn’t help but think about the wide diverse cross section of people I meet on a continual basis. I see people from many different walks of life, from many different places and backgrounds – not quite as diverse as I saw at the airport, but pretty close.

Many of these people would propose that our differences should be embraced. And yet, what I often discover is that these distinctions – those things which can differentiate us from them – come to the surface in even those who have the best intentions.

  • Those who are the most open to embracing all people (yet there is always a few exceptions. They particularly struggle with those who are unwilling to embrace the openness they show. They can’t tolerate those who aren’t tolerant)
  • Those who accept no one other than the people who are just like them.
  • And there are those who lie somewhere between these two extremes.

There is always a catch. There is always some group of people who are not on the same level as me. Differences are always created and are often too large to overcome. It is what we do as people.

Which makes this statement all the more meaningful.

You see it is “through faith in Jesus” where we are able to set aside all of the distinctions we use to keep us apart from each other. He blends us together where we become one.

Which makes me wonder about our submission to Him as His followers.

If He causes us to no longer see race, social or economic status, gender – where we just see people. If He enables us to look past all of these differences and see people as He does and loves them. If He reshapes our vision – where people are people and not all of the other things we use to group or differentiate ourselves from them. Then…

How come things aren’t different?

Could it be that we are not submitting ourselves to His desires and we are still operating in our own strength and perspectives of the people around us and those throughout the world?

As…

28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

It is a sobering thought.