Your Super Power!

Romans 12.2

This last week I have heard or read several people as they have encouraged folks to get ready for Lent. My first and unbidden, thought was “Isn’t Lent a time of preparation and now they want me to prepare for that? Is this Baden Powell gone amok?” Sober second thought tells me that one can never be too prepared, but this incident may open a glimpse of my typical inner conversation.

I was asked once “What would you do if you were not in ministry?” I answered before I thought. If answering before thinking was a super-power I might rule the earth. (It is probably just as well that it isn’t!) My quick answer was “Stand up comedy!”

I have always thought I was funny. I amuse myself! This is one reason I am seldom lonely. Since childhood I just see things from a different angle than most people. Some say a glass is half full. Some say the glass is half empty. I think “Why is that glass so big?” Such thinking combined with a penchant for unthinking, made for an adventurous childhood. Parents and teachers and peers did not always appreciate my observations! Amusing myself with off the wall thoughts helped pass the time through hours of detentions, in school. Adults despaired that I would ever grow out of this ‘smart Alec’ phase, and I never have.

But like most misfits in school the very thing that made life difficult turned out to be the attribute that makes me useful now. Seeing things from a different angle or through a different lens has enabled me to see ‘missional’ opportunities where others have not.

In my first placement as a student I found myself sitting with a toddler watching Sesame Street. I decided to amuse her by imitating Kermit. To my surprise, I sounded much like him. I tried Bert and then Ernie. Soon I had a full-blown children’s ministry using Sesame Street puppets. While other young evangelists used their guitars, I used my quirky voices and comic bent for script writing. These characters took me all across Canada until I was finally invited out from behind the puppet theatre into pulpits.

I listened to Elders in northern communities as they told tales of life and wild life in their environs and began to use stories like Aesop did his Fables, to tell stories with a Gospel truth as ‘the moral of the story’, and by doing so earned a very respectful hearing.

I saw the opportunities to share in prison and learned to tell the good news in plain language that spoke to their needs. Prison is not a lot of laughs, so I discovered that I could earn a hearing by making them laugh, mostly through self-deprecating humour.

When I began inner-city ministry, it was through seeing life through a different lens that brought me to the ideas for: a laundry ministry, or vacation from the city ministry, or to a lavish banquet ‘Fiesta’. The list goes on, but the up shot is that seeing things differently is a useful skill.

God gives each of us unique ‘gifts’ to be used to his glory. I wonder how often adults have left behind their superpower and been conformed to this world. Instead God would like to transform that gift and renew us in the process and make us useful to his Kingdom. If he can use my silly skewed view think how he might use you! I urge you therefore sisters and brothers, to throw off the shackles of conformity and search out once more that unique gift that has been yours, and offer it to him to be renewed to his glory!

Doing Valentines Right

heart

I purposed that I would not let another Valentines Day opportunity slip by. I would make a plan!

My first creative thought was to send my bride a telegram. “No one sends telegrams any more, so this endeavour would stand out by its specialness.” Was my thought. It turns out no one sends telegrams for a reason! I’d need to come up with another way to gain my rightful acclaim for ‘doing Valentines Day up right’.

I could use money from our joint account to buy flowers. Each time I sneezed for the next week or so, before they died, would be a testament to my martyr-like affection. The fact that we might be reduced to Kraft Dinner for the last days of the month persuaded me that there was a better way to gain proper recognition for my regard.

Perhaps chocolates would be the answer, though neither of us needs the calories. Maybe I could get the milk chocolate ones I like so much (I’m sure she would share).

Then I thought about writing a Facebook post! She might not read it for hours or days, but I could get all sorts of ‘likes’ from my ‘friends’. I would look very good, indeed. At last I would get acknowledgment that I had done Valentines Day well.

I am glad God is not like me, and I bet you are too! He didn’t send his love by sending flowers or chocolate. He demonstrated his love in self-sacrifice! He quite simply gave himself through the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, and continues to give himself through the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Not through carnations but through incarnation, does God demonstrate his love.

“We love because he first loved us.” He asks us to follow his example and love him and others in like manner, not in word but in self-sacrifice.

I may not get the acclaim I yearn for, but I love best when I follow the template set by Christ. Such love has no calories and does not drain our meagre bank account, but it is a costly love.

I still have the chance to do Valentines right. Maybe I can give this a try. Care to join me?

Formative Community

Over forty years ago a group of us were sitting around the living room of the Church Army National Office/Training Centre, when the then Director of Training asked us where we would “see ourselves 10 years from now?” When my turn came I pointed back at him and said, “I want your job.” I thought he might be taken aback but he seemed quite pleased and encouraging.

I guess I  must be a slow learner because it was over 25 years later that I was asked to fill that role and I became Director of Formation at Taylor College of Mission and Evangelism. The mandate was to help “form missionaries for the 21st Century West”. I had become convinced that education/training had severe limits in the formation of such missionaries and that Christian community living was an indispensable element. I recalled my formation as being nurtured in the ‘hot house’ of Christians living together.

When my ‘experiment’ with Taylor College abruptly ended I was quite literally bitterly disappointed. I went to talk to a friend and Christian counsellor about my feelings. After listening and probing carefully he posed the question, “Do you believe that God is good?” I realised that I had begun to feel/believe that ‘it’ was all so unfair, and by ‘it’ I really meant God. This recognition brought me to repentance, and I began to be purposely thankful and just as purposely to recognize the theology behind my bitterness and avoid dwelling there.

I transferred my enthusiasm for Christian community to my work with Up Town, Community Chaplaincy, and finally Street Hope, all with varying degrees of success and heart ache. Experience teaches that glorious or ‘ecstatic’ moments in Christian community are few and fleeting, and if we spend our efforts chasing those ‘high’ moments we miss the entire point.

This was all reinforced to me as I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “Living Together”. He teaches that in chasing these moments we idealise them and make them idols. Life with Christ is the point of all Christian community, which means it is lived out in humble service to one another in the very mess of life. It is easy to love my sister or brother when we are ‘caught up’ in a moment of praise and worship but that is about a feeling rather than seeing love as a verb with a thousand and one practical applications. Love is practised in the mess of life rather than in a pristine chapel. I relish the opportunities to pour coffee and listen carefully as my friends ‘pour out their hearts’. I welcome the opportunity to stoop and tie a shoelace or wipe up a spill. More and more I see this ‘love in action’ become contagious. People have begun to serve me. Folks bring bags of chips or tins of coffee. They set up tables and chairs and put out the games. They tear it all down again and sweep and smile! Together we are being fashioned in the image of our Servant King.

I look forward to many more, and perhaps more intense, experiences of Christian Community, when we open Threshold House for residential and non-residential Christian Community.

In our Home Church we have been looking at the story of Joseph. He had a dream that took a long, long time to fulfill. There were some terrible and unexpected turns along the way, finally his dreams did come to pass. Mayhap this is true in my case.