Tag Archives: Expectations

On Turning 30

download-birthday-clip-art-free-clipart-of-birthday-cake-parties-9H4hL8-clipartSo today is my 30th birthday (yay me!) and this being the milestone that it is I marked it with Castle Season 8 and Chinese food this past weekend, along with getting my hair done and cake tonight. Being the introspective type that I am, it’s also had me thinking. It hit me last week, as today got closer and closer, just how much I’ve changed in the last 10 years.

Back in 2007, I was two years out of high school and on my second post-secondary institution (chosen mainly because I wanted to get back out to Western Canada and I had to choose something). People who knew me back then will tell you that I wanted more than anything else to matter. I wanted to make a difference, to have a fulfilling career. I was also, by my own admission, damned impatient. Every decision, whether it was regarding career paths or fields to study, felt like the be all and end all that would determine the rest of my life. And I had to get it right. I also had to get it right now. As I watched those I grew up with get married, start a family and progress in their careers, in my own mind at least I had to be right there with them. Every perceived misstep felt like the end of the world.

Fast forward 10 years and the job that I currently have is actually very similar to one I held just out of high school (it just pays better). Is it fulfilling? Does what I do matter to those around me? Not really. I mean, yes, it’s important and it keeps the store running, but is it what I thought I’d be doing when I thought of making a difference a decade ago? No. And you know what? The funny thing is I’m OK with that.

I’ve learned over the last few years that there is more to life than just the job you do. To be sure I still want to enjoy what I do, but that’s really the only requirement for me right now. There is something to be said for a job that pays the bills, that isn’t that stressful, and that allows me to do what needs done as best I can and then come home. A job that provides the freedom to enjoy life and to make a difference in other ways. A job that pays for a roof over our heads and food on the table and Internet to publish my writings. That’s the kind of job I have right now, and I couldn’t ask for more.

The other part of today is that in many ways I have even less of life figured out than I did just a year or two ago. The ironic side of it is that this doesn’t bother me anywhere near as much as it probably should. Life will sort itself out, and while I’m not saying I’ve given up dreaming and hoping and wondering, I am saying that I do myself and those around me a disservice by trying to rush things.

So if you’re in your 20’s and you’re reading this, let the pressure off. You don’t have to get it right. You’ll probably get it wrong many times and that’s OK. It’s not the end of the world. Life doesn’t end when you turn 30.

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It’s Not Over Yet

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One of my all-time favorite TV shows is The Last Ship (I’ve quoted from it before in case you missed it). I’ve been slowly working through it as I find the seasons for sale at my local 2nd & Charles. Anyways, early on in the second season there’s an episode where the crew finally make it home to look for their families. If you’ve never seen the series, the USS Nathan James has spent the first season looking for a cure to this global pandemic and now that they’ve found it and fought off those who want it for themselves they get to go home to check on their own families. Many, obviously, don’t have families to go back to, but for Captain Chandler it’s different. His family, minus his wife who died before he could rescue them, is on the ship with him.

For Captain Chandler the questions are different than they are for his crew. Going home is only supposed to be temporary while they refuel and resupply. His wife died because he wasn’t there to save her and he blames himself, meaning he wrestles with the guilt he feels and whether or not he should go back to sea with his crew. What happens to his kids if he doesn’t come back this time? Given how badly his crew has been hurt so far, he isn’t just playing the what-if game. How can he justify that risk?

Chandler is not the only one in the episode who struggles, either. His Executive Officer, Commander Slattery, hasn’t had much word from his family since the show started. In short, he has no idea where they are and no one would really blame him if he left to look for them. He’s torn between leaving to look for them or staying with the ship.

Life can get that way for us sometimes, too, can’t it? You finally get to where you want to be in life, whether it’s in your career or with your family, and you start thinking your job is done. Or maybe you start to think that you’ll never get to where you want to be in life, so why bother, right? Maybe you’re one who follows Jesus and you get to where you want to be and so you say to him, “You do what you want. I followed you this far but I like where I’m at right now so I’m just going to stay here.”

For the characters of The Last Ship, the job isn’t done yet. Their mission, that of putting the world back together, is in many ways just getting started, and both the Captain and the XO belong with their ship. It’s a good thing, too, because greater threats await them when they do go back out.

I know how that feels because I’m there myself. My position right now is a curious mix of both. For one thing, I’ve been job hunting for so long that I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever find something that affords us greater financial freedom. On the other, we’ve spent years longing for a place of our own and now that we have it I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to do next. There are many days where I just want to take it easy. The battle’s over, right? I mean, we got what we wanted. And as one who follows Jesus, there are indeed days when I do just want to tell him that I’m good where I’m at so can we please just pause life here for a while? Let the world get on without me for a while.

Here’s the thing. We have the freedom to make that choice. We can duck out of life if we so choose. That being said, if you’re reading this you’re still breathing, and that means your life isn’t over yet. That, in turn, means you’re not done yet. There is more to do, and I don’t mean that in terms of religious obligations of some kind. I mean there’s more to see, more to learn, more times to be there for those closest to you, and more opportunities to choose intimacy with Jesus. And if you don’t know him, there’s more time to listen to his tug on your heart.

Will it cost us? Yes. Not everyone who goes back out with Captain Chandler is still around come the end of the season. The very thought of what that might mean in my own story makes me hesitate. Do I really want to go back out there again? Problem is, what we have to do in this life matters. It really does. And if not me, then who? If not you, then who? It’s your story, and it’s not over yet.

Why are we Christians doing what we do?

19214233-the-word-why-in-red-3d-letters-and-a-question-mark-to-ask-the-reason-or-origin-behind-something-and-stock-photoI’ve written before on here about how I think we as Christians are fighting the wrong battle in the current political climate. We seem to be so excited about having the opportunity to secure our place in society and protect our right to what we believe, and yet we seem equally clueless that the mere suggestion that we intend to fight these battles is turning people off to Jesus. Indeed, in the last week most of the articles on non-conservative news sites that I follow which deal with Christians have focused on our efforts in several states to get lawmakers to pass laws protecting religious freedom which would ensure our rights at the expense of the rights of those we disagree with. I commented to one individual this week that the reasoning behind our actions is simple. We’re afraid. We’ve had a dominant role in society in this country for decades, and we’re terrified of losing that. This being said, I came across something in one of my old seminary textbooks last week that makes me think it might actually be a little bit more complicated than that. What I want to do in this post is explore that rationale somewhat, and hopefully, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ll start to see that we are, yet again, fighting the wrong damn battle.

One of the things I learned from my church history course was that individual perspectives within the church, whether good or bad, have often been around a very long time. A thousand years ago during the Middle Ages, for example, the church had a dominant role in European society much the same as what American Christianity has aspired to over the last few decades. The church at the time was structured around the sacramental system which in turn was based on the belief that certain actions communicated God’s grace to sinners. According to Mark Noll in his book Turning Points, as the church was the agency in charge of these sacraments, its role in society was therefore indispensable.[1] Noll sums this up when he points out that, “with the widespread agreement that salvation was the most important reality, and the further agreement that salvation was communicated through and by the sacraments, it had to follow that the church, as the administrator of the sacraments, should offer a foundation for everything else in life.”[2] In short, there was no area of life, from basic education to political power and everything else in between, where the church did not have a say. (Forgive me if you’re reading this and you ascribe to that system yourself. I am not attacking that system. As the name of this place implies, it’s for people of all backgrounds and beliefs, none of which I would ever attack. I am simply commenting on how society changed because of certain beliefs about that system.)

I know of many Christians who would agree, in theory at least, that such a dominant voice for the church would be a good thing. (I live in the South, where this role for is at least somewhat more of a reality than it is in other parts of the country.) I have also met many non-Christians who are horrified at the thought of this becoming a reality. My focus here is not to get in the middle of that particular fight. Rather, like I said, I am more interested in why we as Christians feel the way we do. To that end, what really caught my eye was Noll’s exploration of the rationale for the church dominance that existed during the Middle Ages. As we’ve already said, the sacramental system was at the heart of that dominance and yet, as Noll observes, “By the time learned theologians got around to providing rationales for the various sacraments and their uses, the system was already pretty much in place.”[3] This is not say that Scripture played no role in that system, but that greater emphasis was instead placed on “the application of general theological principles and worship practices to the varied conditions of earthly existence.”[4] In short, human logic played perhaps the key role in one of the most dominant positions the church has ever enjoyed in a society throughout its history. (That dominance also led to some of the worst abuses of church history, but again that’s actually beside my point here.)

My question for contemporary Christians, then, is what is behind our efforts to protect our position in society at the cost of actually turning people off to Jesus? Is it fear? Our own logic and reasoning? I mean, what could possibly be wrong with God’s own people having the dominant voice in society, right? Church history is full of some very tragic answers to that particular question. I would respectfully assert to you that our current efforts are not God’s doing but the fruit of our own rationales. We are, yet again, fighting the wrong damn battle, and our mistake will cost those watching us dearly in eternity.

Here’s my thing. In Galatians 5:1, we’re told that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Now in case we miss that point, the Apostle Paul has used the same Greek word for freedom three times in one sentence. A more literal translation would “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free into freedom.” As followers of Christ we’re already free, in the only way that really matters. Yet we spend our days trying to impose our standards not only on each other but on the world around us. And they look at us and laugh. Something like half of all so-called traditional marriages end in divorce, yet instead of addressing that problem we put our energy into fighting to make sure that our definition of marriage is the only legal definition. And depending on which source you go to for the statistics, anywhere from one quarter to one half of all LGBTQ youth in this country have attempted or seriously considered suicide at least once. Yet instead of responding to that brokenness with love and respect, we judge and condemn.

We are surrounded by people crying out for help, to know that someone sees them and cares about them. That freedom we have in Jesus puts in the perfect place to respond to that cry with love and compassion, yet more often than not we don’t. That’s the battle we need to be fighting.

[1] Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 3rd. ed. (2012, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MA), 116.

[2] Ibid., 117.

[3] Ibid., 116.

[4] Ibid.

Life is Messy. Enjoy it!

55482167-angry-father-scolding-finger-pointing-silhouette-vector-stock-vector I’ll be the first to admit that I loathe the idea of standards for how we should live. Anytime someone says to me here’s something I ought to be doing as a good Christian man, I immediately tune them right out. Give me something I ought to be doing, and a week or so, and the odds are good I’ll have a healthy list of times when I didn’t measure up. Now the concept of measuring up is in reality totally alien to what it means to follow Jesus (we can’t ever measure up; that’s kinda the point of the Gospel), but that doesn’t keep us from trying, nor does it keep us from telling others that, as good Christian men and women, here’s what we ought to be doing in life. The saddest part is that most of us will spend a lifetime killing ourselves inside in a desperate effort to measure up to that ought, as we are all aware, on some level anyways, that we are not who we want to be.

This whole struggle hits me hardest in light of passages like Philippians 1:6, where the Apostle Paul tells his readers, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” If you’ve been around the church much you’ll probably know that we Christians take this passage to explain that we’re not perfect, but God’s working on us, and he’s not finished with us yet! (Insert overly cheerful Christian here.) What hits me with this passage is that I tend to see this whole “good work” thing as a sort of building project with specific steps. If you’ve ever put together one of those shelving units from Walmart you’ll know what I’m getting at. Do it right and at each step the project looks noticeably different than it did at the last step. If it doesn’t look different, something’s wrong. Translated to my life, this means that I assume that at this point next year I’ll be farther along in my struggles, so to speak, than I am right now. And right now I should be farther along than I was last year. If I’m not, I’ve obviously got work to do. For example, I’ll be the first to admit that I get way too defensive sometimes. There are moments when I feel like being defensive is the only thing I have left that I have control over, and so I’ll lash out instead of taking criticism. I’d like to be able to say I do this less than this time last year but that’s not really the case.

Part of what I’m trying to get at here in this post is that a relationship with Jesus is so much more than simply believing the right things and then behaving accordingly. Christianity is about more than just getting with the program, or behaviour management, or even sin management. That being said, the reality is that none of us is perfect and the struggle remains.

I guess that’s why living in a brand new single wide, on a newly cleared lot, has been so eye-opening for me. As I’ve said in other posts, we’re right in the middle of a building process ourselves, and it hasn’t gone anything like I thought it would. Get the trailer installed on the property and your set, right? Turns out that drywall has a tendency to separate a little when taken on the highway. We’ve been in here over a month now and I think (maybe) we’ve finally found the last little defect that needs repaired. And that’s not due to neglect, either. That’s just the nature of this process.

Take our yard as another example. Back in the summer, before the trailer was set up, we spent every Saturday for months out here working on the yard. We built our rock garden. We dug up roots. We leveled it out. We even had my in-laws up here with their tractor and 6-foot rake, going back and forth over the lot to make sure we didn’t miss anything. And you know what? I thought we got it all. When all was said and done, we had a very smooth, very beautiful, acre and a half of dust. It hadn’t rained in months at that point, but not long after we moved in we got all of the rain that we missed and then some. And our yard is a disaster. The runoff has cut these nice little gullies throughout which means that just pulling in the driveway feels like going off-road. And we’ve lost just enough soil to show every single root and stump that we had no idea was there but now shows plain as day. Most of what we did in the summer will probably have to be redone.

Here’s the thing. It’s not our fault. I mean sure we could have put sod down (maybe), but that wasn’t in the budget so it wasn’t an option. What we have in our yard now is the natural result of dirt on a slope mixed with too much water. It’s messy, sure, but it’s ultimately just another step in the process.

Life is messy, too, and I think we can allow ourselves to forget that sometimes. The road to being able to deal with whatever issue you struggle with isn’t always necessarily a straight one, and that’s OK. Sure sometimes we make dumb choices that screw the whole thing up for a while, but more often than not it may not be the result of anything we did or didn’t do. Things may just take longer than we thought they would, or be a hell of lot messier than we were expecting.

The reality of our yard is that it won’t always look like this. Come spring, we’ll get the tractor and 6-foot rake back out and level it out again so we can get grass seed down. That same reality is true for your life, too. If you know Jesus, then the person you are right now and the struggles you currently face won’t always be your reality. (And if you don’t know him, then getting into that relationship can give you that hope, and so much more.) I used to think that even though God has promised to be faithful in this process of living, I’d always get in the way and screw it up. What I’m learning, slowly, is that I can’t screw it up. He’s way too big for that. So go easy on yourself, and enjoy the mess.

Great Expectations

13310471_10154176654699378_2405963628386265997_nSo I got my first ear piercing yesterday (a small cross in my left ear; see the pic at left). My wife got her third piercings done the day before, and as we were talking about me getting mine done (what I would get, whether or not it’s even a good idea, and so on), we hit upon the subject of people’s expectations. Southern culture in general has a lot of expectations about what a man does and does not look like, and things get even more complex when you throw in the fact that I’m a pastor as well. Being the pondering person that I am, this got me to thinking. There are a lot of expectations that we all have to deal with as we go through our lives, some of which are good and others not so much. For example, society expects that when we see the posted speed limit while out driving, we won’t exceed it. In return, we can expect to get a ticket if we’re caught by the police while exceeding it. Personally, I don’t have an issue with expectations like that one. There are, however, other expectations that we all face from time to time, expectations regarding far more personal aspects of our lives. We come up against expectations regarding who we’ll become, how we’ll look, who we’ll marry, where we’ll live, and so many more; expectations that, if we’re not careful in how we respond to them, can turn us into people we never wanted to become. How then do we respond to these expectations? Perhaps a better question is how should we respond to these expectations? While it may not be possible to live up to these expectations without losing ourselves in the process, those who hold these expectations can often be those closest to us, and the last thing we want to do is hurt them. How do we manage these expectations in a respectful way?

As a Christian, I find it useful to look at how Jesus handled similar issues. As Scripture shows us, Jesus dealt with expectations regarding all areas of His life. People had expectations of Him as Messiah, to be sure, but those closest to Him also had expectations of Him as well. In Mark 3, for example, we’re told in verses 31-35 of a time when Jesus’ mother and brothers showed up while He was preaching: “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.'” The expectation, obviously enough, is that He will drop what He’s doing and come see what they want. (Skipping back to verse 21 tells us why they’re there; they think He’s nuts and they’ve come to take Him home.) His reaction, however, is not what we would expect: “And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’ Instead of meeting their expectation, He in essence redefines their relationship. (Now before you go thinking this is an excuse to hurt those closest to you, remember how Jesus cared for His mother during His crucifixion. As John 19:26 tells us, He was very much concerned for her welfare. In short, even though He did not meet their expectation on this occasion, He did not stop caring about His earthly family.) 

Another example of Jesus dealing with expectations of others comes in John 21. Here we read of Him appearing to His disciples following the resurrection, and what we read is not what we would expect (for me at least). There are no heavenly trumpets, no angels shouting in victory, no glorious appearing, just Jesus by the seashore with His friends. Neither does He come to them as King demanding worship; rather, He plays a prank on them, recreating a miracle while they do not realize it is Him. (He is so wondrously human here; this is one of my favourite Scripture stories.)

I could go on and on and on. The point is that Jesus is Himself. He is unfailingly, unflinchingly, gloriously and wholly Himself. As He tells us in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” His relationship with His Father defined everything about who He was, and, secure in that knowledge, He could be Himself. Furthermore, that relationship meant He could manage the expectations of those around Him without hurting them and without losing who He was. The scandalous truth of the Gospel is that we have that same relationship now. We get the same access Jesus has. If we are secure in that relationship, we get to be ourselves, too. We can respond to the expectations of others has He did, not breaking off the relationship but not giving in to the expectation, either.

I have had many people ask me why I got my ear pierced yesterday (and I expect I’ll get many more questions in the days to come). The truth is, this whole post is the reason why. I like the way I look with it pierced (and I don’t think Jesus minds one bit), and if me living in the freedom of that relationship allows you to do the same, then as a minister of the Gospel I’ve done my part. What freedom is He leading you into today?