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difficulties

The last number of years have been pretty challenging for me. Most of you know that I spent a number of years as a youth pastor and during that time I changed a lot as a person. I changed a lot as a Christian. I count those 2.5 years as some of the best in my life (the word ‘best’ is not to be confused with the words ‘easy’, ‘joyful’, ‘fabulous’ etc). I saw a lot. I thought a lot. I did a lot. I became disillusioned with a lot of things including middle-class suburban life, Evangelical Christianity, and the influence materialism was having on my life. All of these things changed me.

Now there are probably others out there who can identify with this sort of paradigm shifting, life-altering sort of experience and what I want to note is that there are different ways of dealing with this.

Towards the end of my time as a youth pastor I began to develop some bad habits. Things started appearing in my life that may or may not have been bad in-and-of themselves but these things lead to other things which resulted in me living a dishonest (less than abundant) life. I was so overwhelmed with life/employment situations and so frustrated with the confines of Evangelical Christianity and white middle-class piety and I’m not sure I really knew how to handle all of this.

Last night I sat down with a good friend/mentor in my life to talk about some things I’ve been struggling with and he posed the following question to me: “Ok, so what are the real issues?” What? At first I didn’t know how to respond. I couldn’t really pinpoint any “real issues” in my life that manifested themselves in bad fruit. I couldn’t think of any internal issues that showed up certain ways on the outside.

But I’ve been thinking about this since last evening. And while I’m still (obviously) processing a lot of these things I think one of the internal issues that manifested itself in a particular way on the outside was bitterness. I didn’t start out bitter. I started out frustrated but the more and more things I saw and experienced caused this frustration to slowly turn to bitterness. I began to hate a lot of what I was exposed to in Evangelical Christianity.

I won’t delve too deeply into the sorts of things I’m talking about here because I’m still working through them but perhaps I can touch on them at a later date.

Also, while I’ve begun to realize the root of bitterness in my life this should not be confused with me retreating and embracing much of what Evangelical Christianity has on-tap in the developed world. No. A lot of that is still bullshit and still frustrating but I’m hoping that from here on out I can use those things and those emotions to write a different sort of story for myself in the grace and peace of Christ.

So, here’s to life. Triumphs accomplished. Failures experienced. Second chances. And, above all, grace that refuses to allow us to remain the same.

ps – Today as I was thinking about all these sorts of things I read this blog by Don Miller and, needless to say, it hit be square in the face.

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“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector,” – Jesus (Matthew 18:15-17).

In my experience, most people are terrible at dealing with any sort of conflict or disagreement. I say most and not all because there are some people that are better than others at dealing with such things.

Much of Christs’ teaching has to do with how we ought to relate to others. The above passage is no different. Jesus is here talking about what you ought to do if someone “sins against you.” For our purposes, let’s broaden that a little bit to anything that someone does to upset you including saying something that you may disagree with.

When someone becomes offended or upset I most often see one of two reactions: 1) The hurt person goes and complains to someone else about the particular situation or, 2) The hurt person says nothing but stores up bitterness towards the person that has upset them. Both of these reactions, although prevalent, are extremely problematic and poisonous. Let’s say someone says something that I disagree with. Is that unfortunate? Maybe. However, what is even more unfortunate and just flat out poisonous is if I react in one of the two ways listed above. Let’s look a bit longer at the above responses.

1) If you are hurt or upset by something that a person says your reaction ought not be to run and complain (“tell”) to someone else for, “a gossip separates close friends” (Prov. 16:28 ). Gossiping can very well fuel your own discontent towards the person that has upset you. Sharing and gossiping with someone about how terrible another person is for saying such a thing simply gets you more worked up and angry at the person that has done the hurting and this in no way resembles the love and grace we are to show others. Yet this happens every single day. People are hurt all the time and their first reaction is to tell someone else (now certainly I’m not saying that you should ALWAYS approach the person that hurt you because in some cases this may not be safe, but I’m simply talking about your average situation where something was said that you may disagree with etc). When will we learn to practice better, more constructive ways of dealing with hurt?

2) Likewise, if someone says something that is upsetting to you it is unwise to do nothing and allow yourself to become bitter. Paul exhorts the church in Ephesus to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” (4:31). Bitterness ought to have no place in Christ’s Body. Likewise, the writer of Hebrews says we ought to “see to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many,” (12:15). The writer of Hebrews teaches that bitterness can “cause trouble and defile many.”

As Christians, we *ought* to relate to people differently. If we are upset about something that has been said we should not react by gossiping or becoming bitter because these reactions are not reflective of being created anew. We are made *new* in Christ and ought to demonstrate a better way of living, that includes a better way of dealing with conflict and hurt. Jesus prescribes a better way when he says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you,” (Mt. 18:15). If we truly believe this and do it we can save ourselves all of the hassle that comes with the previous two options and in so doing we can actually demonstrate a better way. When you go directly to the person to show them their fault (instead of going directly to someone else to show them someone else’s fault!) you eliminate the gossip. There is no chatting amongst people. There is no hearing things from third or fourth or FIFTH parties! If you are hurt, go directly to the person and let them know you are hurt. When this happens and it is kept “just between the two of you” then “you have won your brother over” and it is an edifying experience for all those parties involved: People are encouraged by one another, the truth is spoken in love and we are able to grow *together* as a Body and rejoice in that! (The same cannot be said about gossip). Likewise, if we handle conflict in such a way it leaves little room for bitterness. If you are hurt and go to the person to talk about it and share your hurt with them and they listen to you then you both grow closer and there is mutual healing and edification. This eradicates any bitterness because you are left healed and encouraged.

I think that the Church has much to learn in the area of dealing with hurt/conflict, however, when I see Jesus I see hope. As Christ’s Body we can demonstrate a better way! In fact, this is our DUTY! So let us do away with childish things such as gossip and bitterness and let us pursue truth and reconciliation, and over these things let us put on love.

Grace and peace.

JT.

this is nothing new. people have been talking about this for along time, however, i’m beginning to experience it for myself. so here it is.

if you live anywhere in the developed world, like myself, you know what it’s like to walk into a mall. shops of all sorts and sizes. they are renovating the mall close to my apartment to add in new stores. we have shops that sell 50 different kinds of popcorn, shops that sell clothes for big ladies and small ladies, shops for skater kids and kids that want to be in the next abercrombie commercial, sports shops, jewelery shops, nutrition shops, zellers and restaurants. if you like yoga, go lulu. TVs? try the sony store. whatever you want, it’s there. clothes, food, gadgets and books. all under one roof. all you have to do is show up with your family or friends and stroll down the halls, stopping in at the shops you like and purchasing whatever you want. give me what i want.

and, if you live anywhere in the developed world, like myself, you know that this attitude isn’t reserved for the mall. people are completely detached from products, people and places and they have this notion that whatever they want, they can get. just go out and buy it. out with the old, in with the new. when you live like this, it effects all aspects of your life. so what happens when you go to church?

well, if you live anywhere in the developed world and go to church, like myself, you know what it’s like to see church become yet another commodity. next time you meet a churchgoer ask them, “why do you go to your particular church?” in all likely hood they will probably go on about some sort of program for their kids or the great worship or the preaching or the 3-ply toilet paper. is this healthy? is this church? when you attend a particular church because of what that church can offer you, aren’t you just strolling around the mall? but the problem is, this isn’t the mall, this is a community of faith. the problems with this consumer mentality when it comes to church is that it never ends! maybe you attend your church because they have a great kids program. well suppose the childrens minister leaves and you hear of another church across town that has an even better kids program. “let’s go there!”

my point is simply this, church isn’t meant to be another thing that you consume. can we be honest and call this what it is? it’s selfish, it’s self-centered and it’s not reflective of the renewal of one’s mind. when we gather as a community of faith, we gather not to consume, but to be consumed. we gather with the hope that Christ will consume us, all of our strengths and our failings, and that he will in turn, send us out to be consumed by others. so it’s not about great programs or crappy programs, it’s about committing yourself to the Body and playing your part, whatever that is. it’s about dying to yourself and your own crappy desires and being renewed by the Spirit so that you can learn to desire rightly. it’s about realizing that you are important to the local Body, even if you’re the body part that releases excrement.

church is all about consumption. just not the kind we’re used to in the developed world. so lay down your life, pick up your cross and be consumed by Christ so that you can become food for others.

grace and peace.

jt.

i just realized that the more i read and talk about the kingdom of God, the less i understand it. after four years of bible college and even more of personal study, i still find myself lacking any real understanding of what God’s kingdom looks like. sheesh.

hi.

the other day i read an article about people in my generation that are purposely working less. rather than working all sorts of rediculous hours like their parents did, they are working less and, thereby, spending more time doing other things. walking their dogs. loving their wives. reading. enjoying music. essentially, living. the 40 hour work week has been replaced by a 30 hour work week (some of you ought to remind your bosses that this is so).

i like this.

the past year i worked under an interim pastor who prided (real word?) himself on the fact that he was a “workaholic”. wierd. why is this something to be proud of?

my goal is to purposely not be a workaholic. however, this proves somewhat difficult when your “work” is predominantly relational, i.e. pastoring. i happen to love my “job”. however, my job isn’t one that can be measured in the same way you would measure a blacksmith or a store clerk or a manger of some sort. in fact, if i sat behind a desk for 40 hours a week i could be, and rightfully so, accused of not doing my job. the reason for this is because my job is highly relational. in other words, i need to be “out there” with real-life people to be at all effective in what i do.

i love this.

however, at the same time, i’m trying to learn balance. i’m trying to learn to say ‘no’ sometimes. because, i have no desire to lead a busy life. i have no desire to constantly be doing something. and the reason for this is not because i am lazy. quite the opposite. the reason for this is because i want to live my life and enjoy it and that is a hard thing to do if you’re always preoccupied with actually doing something.

life is simple.

live simply.

mother teresa said something once, well she said loads of things actually. but one thing that she said stands out to me as particularily brilliant.

“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

do small things, and do them with great love.

peace.

back in april i told you a bit about my friend “Stu”.

as a bit of a follow-up to that Stu was released from prison at the beginning of september (after spending 8 months incarcerated BEFORE his trial). anyways, i was so excited for his release because he’s one of my best friends and this meant that he was able to be in my wedding party at the end of september (he got special permission even though he was on house arrest).

well, today i found out that “Stu” is back in prison. this time he’s being held in central east out in lindsay. this is all really discouraging and i don’t understand why this happened.

please pray for my friend, that God would be with him.

i’ll keep you posted on how this develops.

peace.