New Year’s Day – 2019


Who stands firm?  Only the one whose ultimate standard is not his reason, his principles, conscience, freedom, or virtue; only the one who is prepared to sacrifice all of these when, in faith and in relationship to God alone, he is called to obedient and responsible action.  Such a person is the responsible one, whose life is to be nothing but a response to God’s question and call.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Back in 2015 I published a book on ethics, you can check it out [here].  My previous book had been on finance so in the summary I wrote for the book jacket I said;

Here, I go beyond questions of personal finance and economics and dare to ask an utterly different question: “What is the will of God?”  Meekoethics is not an attempt at finding a definitive answer.  Rather it is an honest exploration of the questions behind the question and a call to all Christ-followers to sit in submission to the answers they find, get comfortable with discomfort and let God be God. 

The Marlboro Man – who wouldn’t want to be that guy?

Giving control over to God is exceedingly difficult.  We live in a society that prizes individuality and champions the rugged individualist.  For decades the epidemy of manhood was the Marlboro Man, the strong loner who rode his horse, smoked his cigarettes and presumably didn’t give a care about what you thought of him. 

Today the ads may have changed, we no longer prize cigarette smoking as a sign of individuality, but the message remains the same.  Follow your own path, be your own person and the world will respect you for it.  But is that really who we are meant to be?

I’m an introvert but I’m also very social, that’s what the S in ISFJ stands for.  Being a social introvert requires a level of submission to a greater sense of community than most people are willing to attempt.  It is through social interaction that I can observe and listen for the will of God. 

Ultimately it is by listening for and hearing God’s call in my life that I remain focused on the things that truly matter.  Aligning yourself to God’s call often requires releasing things that we hold close, aspects of our personality and worldview that we have developed over years of personal reflection and practice. 

It also means releasing things that we once thought where part of God’s will for us.  That’s the hard part.  Maybe it was God’s will for us to think and behave a certain way, for a time, but no more.  The only way we are going to know that is by listening to God, through social interaction and community, and being willing to let go of things that are no longer working. 

It’s January 1, 2019 and people all over the world are making New Year’s Resolutions.  We are resolving to do new things, stop doing old things and become all around better people.  Most of us will fail in a matter of days, falling back into old habits and old patterns. 

Why?  I’m not qualified to answer that, but I believe that part of it is the fact that we lack proper motivation and accountability.    Before you make a New Year’s Resolution, ask yourself why, what do you hope to get out of this change in behaviour?  Next, pray and make sure that your desire for change is in line with God’s will for your life.  Finally, look for confirmation and an accountability partner, someone who can confirm the voice of God and walk the path with you helping to you stay motivated.    

 Happy New Year – Time to heed the call.

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A Man Without a Country


The light of joy and strange light of Christ is a light whose source lies always and everywhere in another country.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country

Charles Marsh; Strange Glory, A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

The four main political parties in Canada; none of them reflect my values.

I’m a man without a country.

Watching the political turmoil of the last few years I’ve increasingly felt as though I have no real political home.  And the more I feel that way, the more I’m okay with it.

During the last provincial election cycle here in Ontario our choices were between an incumbent government that had spent huge amounts of money on an ill-conceived plan to move the province toward renewable energy, an opposition party with a loud and flamboyant leader who promised to roll back the most progressive sex education program in North America and said he would “respect the tax-payers” but never really explained what that meant, and a third party that promised free prescription drugs but confessed that would mean even higher taxes and still more debt. 

There were other minor issues too but those all tended to get lost in the fray.  What it came down to for me, and many other voters, was a choice between more debt and higher taxes versus, a regressive set of social policies that fly in the face of history.  Most people chose to vote against debt and taxes without considering what that might mean for the many social programs we have come to rely on.  Today we have a government that is hellbent on lowering taxes with little to no regard for what that money is actually needed for.      

We can’t roll back the clock.  Gays get married, climate change is real and we’re deep in debt, all facts.  But it seems to me that no one in politics can successfully navigate these changing times without resorting to fear and division or spending all our money in the process.

Luckily, I don’t have to feel like I’m stuck here.  My citizenship lies in another country.  A country that doesn’t technically exist but one that we can easily see and promote if we know where to look. 

The Apostle Paul likened the life of a Christ follower as that of an ambassador, (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Ambassadors are not citizens of the country in which they live.  They are representatives of somewhere else.  Somewhere with different values, different interests and different ways of expressing themselves.  Ambassadors are representatives of a different kind of society and a different culture.  But because the Christian country that I represent doesn’t exist, I am still a man without a country. 

The country I represent, and the country I seek is a country defined by love.  It’s a country where the sad are comforted, the poor receive dignity, the sick receive healing and people willingly reduce their own comfort and security to make it all happen (Micah 6:8, Matthew 5).  But that county doesn’t exist and no one, politicians and citizens alike seem willing to make the hard choices that will bring it into being. 

So I’m a man without a country, and an ambassador of non-existent kingdom. 

Pointing Toward The Infinite


Restlessness:  this is the word that concerns us.  Restlessness is the characteristic distinguishing human beings from animals.  Restlessness is the power that creates history and culture.  Restlessness is the root of every spirit that uplifts itself toward mortality; restlessness is – let us go ahead and say it – the most profound meaning and the lifeblood of all religion.  Restlessness – not in any transitory human sense, in which all we find is nervousness and impatience – no, restlessness in the direction of the eternal… pointing toward the infinite. – Dietrich Bonheoffer

Turning the calendar

My cousin recently posted on Facebook that the week between Christmas and New Year’s is that time of year when we don’t really know what we are doing, where we are going, or what’s happening.  How right she is…

By now the gifts have been opened and the turkey has been eaten but the kids are still off school and the prospect of going back to normal seems pointless with another major holiday just around the corner.

The be fair, some of us do go back to work but there isn’t really all that much to do so we wrap up loose ends, clean up our work spaces, and work on the things we don’t have time for the rest of the year.  The rest of us have stay home and end up doing the same kinds of things in our personal lives, catching up on television programs, reading and cleaning out the vacuum cleaner. 

Regardless of how we decide to fill the time most of us are existing in a kind of suspended reality.  Waiting. 

We wait for the New Year, when it is socially acceptable to start new things.   We finished all our major projects last week so that we could enjoy the Christmas season free of anxiety, (at least free of any anxiety cause by unfinished work, Christmas of course, brings its own special form or anxiety that is beyond the scope of this post) and now we are left with restless anticipation.

I like what Dietrich Bonheoffer had to say about restlessness, quoted above.  According to him there is a spiritual dimension to restlessness.  It is the “root of every spirit that uplifts itself toward mortality”. 

Put another way, I think what Bonheoffer was getting at is that restlessness is our spiritual self wrestling with the reality and limitations of the physical world.  We all know on a spiritual level that we are made for more.  It is that deeply held longing that has driven mankind to create. 

One theologian friend of mind once call mankind the “created family of a creative God behaving creatively”.  Restless creativity is just part of what it means to be human.

A creative mind

We create everything out of this sense of restlessness and it is during this week, between the frantic race to Christmas and the fresh start of the New Year, that we are at our most restless.  And potentially, our most creative.

It’s a great time of year to make plans, organize and lay groundwork for the next big thing.  I’ve been updating my business plan, developing goals and creating tracking systems that I will use for the entirety of 2019.  I’ve also been going to the gym, reading, catching up on a few movies and cleaning my office.  After I post this I might even take apart and clean the vacuum cleaner.  

The point is that feeling restless is good.  It drives us forward, even when it seems like we aren’t making any progress, forces us to be creative and prepare to do what we are meant be doing, so that we can remain “pointing toward the infinite”.

Stay restless and get creative…

Love is “Something” if you Give it Away!


Love is something if you give it away

Give it away, give it away

Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more…

 

That is an excerpt from a song I learned when I was about 8 years old attending Sunday School in the musty basement of the Nairn Mennonite Church.  My dad, at 79 years old, is the pastor there today and I bet the Sunday School kids are still singing that song.

That little ditty goes on to compare love to something magical, like a penny that increases in value and volume the more you give it away.

You’ll have so many – they’ll roll over the floor!

It came back to me recently during a discussion of gratitude with one of my mentors.  I also wrote about it in my first book “Meekonomics”.

Love, like gratitude isn’t really a thing until you give it to someone.

I didn’t get it when I was 8, in the basement of the church but as the song says – Love is only something if you give it away.

Now, there’s lots of different kinds of love but the three we are most familiar with are

Eros – The physical attraction that sometimes leads to a life long commitment between two people to do life together.

Philia – Brotherly love, the expression of mutual respect and deep friendship that grows out of community.

And

Agape – The all encompassing love of “the other” which is the underpinning of a society based on law and social justice.

But none of these types of love are anything unless you freely give them to someone.

For the purposes of business and ministry Agape and Philia are the two that really drive us forward.   A sense of community, brotherhood (or sisterhood) and openness are required to really move people.

Last year one of my mentors retired.  At his retirement party he quoted Scottish Journalist, Alexander Chalmers who said:

“The grand essentials of life are:  Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for”

He went on to say that he hoped that throughout his career he had been able to convey and sense of love in all that he did for his team and the hope that he had for our future.

Love is a funny thing.  And talking about it here and in this way might seem a bit odd.  But I firmly believe that cultivating a sense of Agape and Philia in all that we do is the only way to truly move people forward.

So freely give Love – it’s only a thing when you give it away.

Becoming


I’m a member of the Be In Christ Church of Canada.

We used to be called the Brethren In Christ but a few years ago some people got concerned that the name was a bit sexists and dated.  What is a brethren anyway?  We don’t use words like that anymore and no one quite knew what to do with it.

I looked it up – Dictionary.com defines brethren this way:

 

archaic plural form of brother.

fellow Christians or members of a male religious order.

 

Yah – dated and sexist, not exactly how you would expect a modern church to want to present itself.

Unfortunately, no one could agree on a suitable new name at first so for a time we resorted to being known simply as the BIC.  That satisfied some people but not everyone and so we continued to work through different options, finally someone suggested that we could just let the B stand for the word Be and we could use it convey the message that we are BE-loved, BE-long, and BE-coming.  Check out the video on our name here – http://www.canadianbic.ca/

It’s that last word – Becoming – that has captured my imagination lately.

What, or more accurately who, am I becoming?

Have you ever just sat and watched a fish in a tank?  Your Goldfish, or whatever you choose to keep in your tank, can’t ever stay in one place for very long or he’ll die.

We all know that a fish breathes by extracting oxygen from water.  In order to do that water has to pass through his gills and in order for that to happen poor old Nemo must keep moving.

In a way, we’re all kind of like fish.

Think of time as our water.  As we move through time we breathe and grow.  We are constantly becoming the people we will be tomorrow, next month or next year.  But we can’t stop.  If we stop, we stagnate and a little piece of us dies.

Life is a process of becoming.  But becoming what, or who?

As Christians our goal should be to become more and more like Jesus.  Jesus taught us intimately how we should live.  He showed us with his life and taught us through direct instruction and storytelling.

The apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi prayed that the process of becoming more like Jesus would one day be complete.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [Philippians 1:4-6]

But the process is never complete.  The gap between who you are and who you will one day be may be getting narrower, but it will never fully close.  Dissatisfaction with the person you are and the person you wish to be is what keeps us moving forward.

That’s the nature of becoming.

Who are you becoming?

Let’s chat about it in the comments below – I read and reply to every comment…

 

Core Messaging


I recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend and colleague.

Paul was a financial advisor in the same office where I work but about a year ago, he moved on and started a consulting firm for tech start-ups and embarked on a professional speaking carrier.  Because I write a lot and produce short videos I wanted to meet up with Paul and pick his brain on how to get more exposure and start booking speaking gigs myself.

Our conversation was wide ranging, but Paul’s advise could be boiled down to just one key point.

  • “Get super clear about your core message and repeat it over again every chance you get.”

What’s my core message?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Bruxy Cavey, another mentor of mine broke his core message down into three separate statements, each one more succinct than the one before.  In doing so he was able to clarify his message and use each of the statements in different contexts.  The longer statements are good for writing and speaking when there is adequate time to express the nuances of the message while the shorter statements are better as conversation starters or when brevity is required.  Bruxy’s core message can be easily stated in one word, three words and thirty words.

The other thing Paul encouraged me to do is to claim a title for myself, something that clearly states who and what I am and aligns cleanly with my core messaging.  The title itself should say as much as possible without the need for further explanation.

So here it is, taking a page each from Bruxy and Paul my core message broken down into a five-word title, and then clearly stated in five letters, five words and five paragraphs.

**************************************************************************

I am an Ambassador of Peace and Justice.

My core message in five letters is: Let go.

My core message in five words is:  Peace without Justice is Oppression.

My core message in five paragraphs is:

God is Love.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and made mankind both ruler and caretaker over all that He had created.  There was only love.  There was no war, no violence of any kind, no injustice and no oppression.

Mankind was deceived into thinking that God was holding something back and rebelled.  We set up systems and institutions to try and take control of that which belongs to God and which He was freely sharing with us.

As a result, the world is broken.   All man-made systems and institutions (including our government and the church) are broken.

But God is still Love and wants nothing more than to reconcile with His creation.  Mankind is still in rebellion and cannot let go of the control we have taken for ourselves.  Reconciliation with God is the only cure for our broken world.  That reconciliation begins with mankind letting go and taking a posture of surrender, gratitude and other-centredness.

That is my core message.

Further to the message I have chosen the word “meekness” to describe the mindset that mankind needs to ascribe to in order to achieve reconciliation with God.  Meekness is not weakness, it is the willing submission of personal power, entitlement and ego, a form of surrender and laying down in the presence of God’s pure love.

The meek shall inherit the earth but only through letting go.  Peace shall be achieved but only through justice.  And God’s creation shall be restored but only through surrender.

Blind Bart


 A Story of the Kind of Courage That Can Change the World

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. [Mark 10:46-52]

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing my good friend Mark preach a sermon on this passage.  Some of the points that he made during that sermon struck me in a new way.  I want to take a few minutes to parse them out and maybe give you a new way of reading this passage as well.

First a question – How do you see Jesus?

Bart was blind.  He couldn’t “see” Jesus at all.  As a result of time and distance neither can we.  But Bart knew that Jesus was near and that he had a reputation as being a merciful healer, so he cried out “have mercy on me.”

When he was rebuked and told to stay quiet he called out even louder.  Why?  Not only why did Bart persist but more importantly why did the disciples try and silence him in the first place?  He clearly needed healing, why put him down?

It’s disruptive when someone in need interrupts us from our agenda.  I get it, do we put people down because we are afraid of doing something wrong, being inconvenienced, or getting dirty?

Jean Vanier said –

“Fear is at the root of all forms of exclusion”

But Bart overcame that fear.  He was courageous in the face of ridicule.  He refused to be excluded based on his disability.

When he finally got the chance to speak to Jesus his request was simple and obvious.  “I want to see..”

In this context the request would have carried the double meaning.  Not only did Bart want to see, but he also desired to be seen by others. Those with disabilities in Jesus’ day where on the outside of everything.  The overriding cultural attitude was that their disability was the consequence of sin.  They were therefore excluded from all forms of community.  The fact the Jesus was willing to stop, see Bart for who he was, listen and act upon his request is all you need to know about how we are to view those around us who are on the outside.

We live a hurried existence.

Twice in the last few days I have had people comment about this hurried world by using the same expression.  They have said that it’s as if everyone is running around like their hair is on fire.  That is quite the mental image and I think it says a lot about the way too many of us our living our lives.  You can’t see anyone, understand their needs and serve them if you are preoccupied with a fire on your own head.

We need to stop.  Not just slow down but completely stop what we are doing.  Stop like Jesus stopped.  Stop and see the people around us, I mean really see them.  Stop and hear them and stop and know them.

Only when stop in this way will we be able to impact people’s lives and change the world.

What’s causing the fire on your head?  What do you wish people would see about you?