CategoryDevotional

How do we walk like a lion?

Photo by Luke Tanis on Unsplash

For the last few years, Abbotsford Christian School has selected a theme song.  We regularly sing this song in our chapels at all three campuses. This year our school’s theme song is “Lions” by Skillet.  “Be Bold,” an idea derived from this song, is the topic we will explore in our chapels this year at the high school.

The Lion Attitude

Courage, Strength, Leadership, Bravery are characteristics that are strongly associated with lions.  The connection between lions and courage are central to many of the motivational speeches I found on YouTube.  And there are a bunch of them!  If you can handle speakers yelling at you for 6 minutes straight, you’ve got to listen to this video called “The Lion Attitude.”  If you get tired of the yelling, the first 2:53 seconds will be enough.

The lion that is presented in this, and all the other video clips, is different than the actual creature that roams the plains of Africa.  The speaker is talking about this imaginary lion when he tells us we need to be like one.

“You tread your own path. Only you know what’s best for you.  Only you know what path to take.”

Real lions survive by interdependence within the group or pride.  They often work together to bring down large game.

The motivational speaker makes other false claims:

“Real lions, they are hungry when the time comes for their mission. Lions are not followers; they are leaders, who lead the rest of the animals.”

In reality:

Real lions go hunting when they are hungry when the time comes for their mission. Most Lions are not followers; they are not leaders but work together, to who lead eat the rest of the animals, all of them.

So my question is, “How am I supposed to walk like a lion, when real lions don’t even walk like lions?”  If the lion attitude really was everything, one would think that at least lions would have it.

“Attitude is Everything”?

Attitude is everything in life . . . whether you rise or fall, everything is based on the attitude that you showed at that moment.  Your attitude determines your altitude.

This is Cody, from Disney’s The Rescuers Down Under.  Cody is falling off of a cliff.

Does Cody have an attitude problem?   If he had a better attitude, would he cease to fall off this cliff?  Does attitude really determine his altitude?  Or does altitude determine his attitude? He’s way up there, but I’m sure he’s not too happy about altitude right now.

You need the lion attitude to take charge of your destiny.  You need the lion attitude that says, “I CAN.”  You need the lion attitude, the attitude that says, “I WILL.”

 

Will a change in attitude change Cody’s destiny?  Will he soar on eagles wings if only he screams, “I WILL soar like an eagle”?

Although our motivational speaker sounds convincing, our experience with life tells us that he’s full of malarkey.  Attitude clearly isn’t everything.

More Important Than Attitude

Attitude is important.

Attitude will certainly contribute to worldly success and success in school.  But it will also help with success in things that give us deeper fulfillment–success in relationships, in loving our neighbours, in obedience to God and in his purposes.

But where does the right attitude come from?  It doesn’t come from thinking that you are something you are not–a lion, an eagle, an infallible human being who is able to defy the laws of nature or our fallen nature.

Attitude brings about success, but what brings about Attitude?

How can we be bold like a lion and soar like an eagle?

Disney, perhaps accidentally, gives us the beginnings of a very good answer in this clip from The Rescuers Down Under.

In this clip, Cody falls twice–but his attitude is very different the second time.

Cody can’t fly.  On his own, he’s doomed to plummet to his death–both times.  But the second time, he knows something he didn’t know before.

His attitude is different, not because of what he can do.  His abilities or attitude won’t save him. He must look outside of himself.  His new attitude comes from his faith in the eagle.  He’s got his arms spread out, but he’s not flying on his own power. It’s not a quality within himself, like attitude, that he trusts in.

His trust in the eagle gives him the attitude.

Skillet’s song gets at exactly this:

If we’re gonna fly, we fly like eagles
Arms out wide
If we’re gonna fear, we fear no evil
We will rise
By your power, we will go
By your spirit, we are bold
If we’re gonna stand, we stand as giants
If we’re gonna walk, we walk as lions
We walk as lions

It’s hard to be bold, when you are not an eagle or a lion.  It can be hard to:

  • Be a friend.
  • Be involved.
  • Challenge an idea.
  • Resist peer pressure.
  • Say, “No.”
  • Say, “Yes.”
  • Be generous.
  • Forgive.
  • Do the right thing.

But it’s a lot easier if we are not relying on ourselves.

How do we fly like eagles?

We put our hope and trust, in the courage, strength, and power of the eagle in Isaiah 40:31

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

How do we walk like lions?

By putting our faith in the lion of Revelation 5:5

The lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the victory!

We know we are inadequate, but we can still be bold because it’s not by our power that we will succeed.

How do we fly like eagles? We put our hope and trust, in the courage, strength, and power of the eagle in Isaiah 40:31

Imperfections in Others, Opportunities for Me

Do you want a stronger marriage? I attended the wedding of a friend last weekend.  The message was very short, but beautiful and, to be honest, nothing more needed to be said.

Everyone who has been married knows that living in such close proximity with another sinner is bound to bring out ones limitations.  How are we to deal with these newly discovered or amplified imperfections in our spouse?

The pastor suggested that it’s the imperfections in each other that give us the opportunity to demonstrate God’s love to each other.  Here is what he said:

 

Slowness of others gives us the chance to show patience

 

The mistakes and wrongdoings allow us the opportunity to forgive

 

A place of leadership creates avenues to elevate others

 

The possessions and the talents of others give us the chance not to envy

 

Our own abilities and successes allow us the chance to restrain boasting

 

The imperfect people that make up the church give each other many opportunities to love each other. Without the imperfections, there would be no way to see the fullness of God’s love at work. In a strange way, brokenness is the blessing that allows God’s love to shine through. You already have gifts and you already have a desire to see God’s people succeed. Stay the course. Continue to love by using the gifts you have to serve one another and to serve his people. In this way, God is honoured and your relationship will be hope giving for a world looking for something truly unique.

In a strange way, brokenness is the blessing that allows God’s love to shine through.

Ghetto and Good

WP_20160804_16_59_26_RawBecause I dabble in philosophical questions, I sometimes make comments that don’t go down very well at parties: I suggested that I thought human beings are naturally evil.  There was some disagreement, and then all conversation, as it always does, turned to Donald Trump.

There’s quite a bit of evidence that human beings are naturally evil–watch the evening news or read the comments on pretty much any post where someone offers an opinion.  But there’s also quite a bit of evidence that people are basically good. Everyone knows lots of people who are good and not too many who are bad–bank robbers and such.  I know lots of people who are good too.

I picked up a book in Warsaw at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.  The book contains excerpts from The Ringelblum Archive, a collection of documents and testimonies collected by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and his team of researchers between September 1939 and January 1943.  Dr. Ringelblum did not survive, but his collection did.

In one interview a man named Aron Einhorn says,

It is difficult to say whether this moral swamp which we see around us nowadays is the result of the abnormal conditions prevailing in the ghetto, or whether the ghetto uncovered that which had previously been covered up, masked.

He goes on to describe this “moral swamp” of thefts, looting, cheating, cruelty, indifference, oppression, and corruptionWP_20160804_16_57_37_Raw.

The ghetto was filled with a large proportion of people who used to be good.  They were good because they had homes, clothing, food, and hope.  Many had money, respect, freedom, and safety.  It’s easy to be “good” when you have these things.  When these things were taken from them, or at least became scarce, their true nature came out to the surface.

When I look around my community, I see a lot of good people.  I also see a lot of people who have homes, clothing, food, safety, and hope.  Many have money, respect, and freedom.  But are they really good?

We are so individualistic that we actually think we will be judged only for the sins we commit.

Am I really good?  If I’m honest, there’s some self-centeredness slithering around inside me, but I’m not too bad.  As I walked around the area that was once the Warsaw Ghetto and stood at the site where the residents of the ghetto were put on trains bound for Treblinka, I wondered what I would have done if I had lived there in 1942.  I’d like to think I would have been good, but there’s a very good chance I would not have impressed Aron Einhorn.

WP_20160807_12_53_10_Raw

The only remnant of the wall that surrounded the Warsaw Ghetto.

If the Bible is right, we are naturally evil, and we will be judged accordingly.  What people don’t realize is that we will not be judged by what we’ve done.  It’s not what we do that is the issue, it’s who we are.  What I would have done had I lived in the Warsaw Ghetto is a much better indicator of who I really am, than living in my townhouse near a lovely golf course.  I will be judged for who I am.

This is pretty scary,  but if the Bible is right, there’s also some good news–the best news.  It’s been arranged that, if you want, you can be judged as if your very nature were perfect and someone else will take the judgment that your actual nature deserves.  You need only ask him to take your place.

 

From Routine to Ritual: Classroom Attendance

AttendanceSo I was thinking of a routine I might turn into a ritual, as per my last post.  I figured I’d allow the brushing of teeth to remain a routine for now.

Attendance!  In every class, I take attendance.  This routine is so routine, there’s probably no one who doesn’t know how this works.  The teacher goes down the alphabetical list, calling out student names and the students say, “Here,” when they hear their name.  It’s a routine; it exists for no other reason that its purpose, and it’s executed quickly and efficiently.

I was thinking that, rather that every student saying the same thing, “Here,” why not have then each reply with something unique?  In my first class, I asked them to reply with their favourite colour when I called their name.  Attendance took a little longer–the breaking from routine generated some excitement, and I found it hard to hear some responses.  In my other classes, I asked other predictable questions:

  • favourite food
  • favourite villain
  • dream job

The next day:

  • Who would you like to have coffee with?
  • What’s one book you’d want on a desert island?
  • In which historical period would you like to live?

Then we got a little more creative:

  • a political or cultural figure you like to hit with a pie in the face, or give a carnation?
  • the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten
  • a job you’d never want
  • your “spirit” animal? Your “spirit” kitchen appliance?
  • What do you do when you are really sad (one word)?
  • one word, most embarrassing moment
  • What movie would you like to be in, as which character?
  • What stupid superpower would you like to have?
  • a characteristic of one of your parents you hope you never acquire
  • In my English classes I can ask, in which dystopian world would you rather live?

Interestingly, these questions generated a lot of excited chatter.  So much that it made it almost impossible to get to the end of the class list.  So we worked on some normative behaviours–“norms” that would improve the ritual.  I asked the students what we might do to have our new mode of attendance taking be meaningful.  They came up with a good list.

  1. Don’t tell your answer to your neighbour until your name is called.
  2. Look at the person whose name is called so you can hear their contribution.
  3. Respond quickly and positively.
  4. Don’t forget to ask Mr. DeJong his answer.

Rituals mean something beyond the activity itself.  What I like about this attendance ritual is that it sets the tone for the rest of the class.  It’s fun and creative.  This fun and creativity are focused and contained. This ritual celebrates the uniqueness of each individual as well as the importance of the communal context; the value of each contribution, and contributor, is reinforced by the norm of respectful listening.  Everyone gets a voice; everyone’s voice is respected.  These “meanings” are at the core of what I am trying to teach in all of my classes–this “mindless ritual” is helping me to do it.

If you have any other suggestions for “Attendance Questions” please send them in the comment section.  I will be needing about 100 of them.

Turning Routines into Rituals

RitualsBoth routines and rituals involve a regular repetition of some action.

But they are very different.

Routines will flatten our lives, but rituals can thicken them.

Routines are like ordinary time and rituals are linked with “higher times.”

With a routine there is a clear, linear connection between the act and the purpose of the act. The routine of brushing your teeth is performed so that you have clean, healthy teeth. You routinely make a breakfast of oatmeal with flax and blueberries to prevent cancer or heart disease, I can’t remember which, maybe both. You grab a coffee on the way to work so that you can hit the ground running when you arrive. There is no more meaning in a routine than the desired outcome.

A ritual, on the other hand, does not have this clear relationship between the act and purpose. The purpose of a handshake, or fist bump or whatever it is the kids are doing these days, has nothing to do with the touching of hands. At a graduation, we don’t throw the hats in the air because we want them to be up there. In Holy Communion, we don’t eat the bread and drink the wine because we are hungry and thirsty.

The meaning and purpose of a ritual transcends the action itself.

In some Christian circles it is a given that we must avoid “mindless rituals.”  Notice that the basis of this censure is that it is non-rational. This preferment of the mind over all other aspects of the human being still dominates the Western church.  The thing about rituals is that they are fundamentally not about the mind–they are not supposed to be.  Does shaking hands when we greet someone make any rational sense?  Rituals train us in ways much deeper than the mind, deeper than the emotions even. They train and transform the deepest part of ourselves, precisely because we do them over and over again. And it’s not with our minds that we repeat rituals, but with our bodies.

James K. A. Smith says, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, that rituals aren’t just things we do, they are things that do something to us.  He says we’ve got it all wrong when we think that humans are primarily rational beings.  Yes, Descartes was wrong with his conclusion, “I think therefore I am.”  Rather, Smith says we are desiring beings–“I love therefore I am.”  Rituals get at the core of who we are, through out bodies.  If you say a rote prayer before the every evening meal, with folded hands and closed eyes, you are physically acknowledging a presence that deserves your reverence, a providential being to whom you ought to be grateful.  This simple ritual shapes identity, and it “thickens” experience in the world as it connects a person and his food to a transcendent provider–this “mindless” ritual is an incarnational event.  If this simple prayer is such a significant event, think about Communion.

We engage in functional, but empty routines all day long.  I wonder if we can’t elevate some of these to the level of ritual.  I’ve ritualized the routine of hitting snooze on my alarm clock.  Every morning when I wake up, well almost every morning, I say, “Good morning, Lord.”  This ritual reminds me that the day does not begin when I wake up; during the seven hours that I’ve been sleeping, God has been busy.  I am joining God’s day, “already in progress.”   It is a quotidian reminder and that the all-powerful king of the universe loves me because he’s there every morning to hear me say, “Good, morning Lord.”

I think I just leave the brushing of my teeth as a routine, but there are some interesting possibilities for ritualizing my morning coffee.

 

Sacred Memories

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have this sacred memory.  It was the summer of 2010.  The previous 4 years had been difficult.  But now I was in Rennes, France on my honeymoon.  While my wife was napping.  I went for a walk in the old town.  I sat down at an outdoor table on the cobbled street.  I watched the pedestrians stroll past the 5oo year old buildings that faced me.  I ordered a beer, one I’d never heard of,  Picon Biere.  It’s flavour was a surprise that I couldn’t identify at first–oranges?!  This beer was incredible.  The setting was incredible.

Then I experienced this feeling of profound peace.  It was a gift of grace.  I’d never felt this so strongly before.  This for me is a sacred memory.

I have no doubt this feeling had a transcendent source.  God was behind it somehow.  I don’t know what it meant, but I carry it with me always.

Dostoyevsky wrote of these moments:

People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.

Brothers Karamazov

I’m curious about your sacred moments.  Do other people have them?  I don’t hear much talk about them.  If you are willing to share them, post them in the comment section.

What God taught me through the “Dark Times” (1)

They say that you learn the most about yourself and that God does most of his sanctifying work during the rough times. Enough time has passed for me to have done some reflecting about what God was teaching me during those years when my life was turned upside-down.

One of the things I learned was fearlessness. I think, before, I must have been scared of a lot of things. I was scared that I would go to the doctor and be told I had only six months to live. I was scared that one of my kids would die. I was scared that my wife would leave me. I suppose I was really hoping that I could live a charmed life and nothing bad would happen to me. If I think carefully about this attitude, I think I made an idol out of the charmed life. Deep down I didn’t trust this idol, hence the fear.  When the tragedy eventually struck my idol was shown to be the fraud it was.  Consequently, I’m not nearly as fearful as I used to be because I now know that God is bigger than the things I feared before and I can trust him.  He was faithful, and true to his promises.

It’s Easy to be “Good” in Suburbia

Good FridaySometimes I have a hard time understanding the extent of my sinfulness and, correspondingly, my need for Grace.

I’m a pretty good guy. I’ve mostly obeyed the 10 commandments; I often give money to people who need it, and I go to church every week. When I sit in the pew on Good Friday, I know that Jesus died for me, but it’s sometimes hard for me to avoid the thought that he died a little less for me than he did for the guy sitting three rows back.

Also to my credit, I confess to the sin of pride with some regularity.

This past Good Friday I became aware that I was as much in need of God’s grace as anyone. This epiphany probably came by way of the Holy Spirit, but also the questions evoked through a film and a book.

When I walked out of the theatre after watching Selma, I was left with the question, “Would I have participated in the march to secure equal voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.” I’d like to think I would, but I don’t really know. After I read a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I was left with the question, “Would I have resisted the Nazi campaign against the Jews, like Bonhoeffer, or turned a blind eye as so many Christians did?” I’m not really sure I would have chosen the road of justice.

I am currently aware of situations where good people are eagerly wallowing in wounded pride rather than seeking reconciliation. My immediate reaction to this is self-righteousness–a self-righteousness rooted in the fact that right this minute I am not doing the same thing. Under the same circumstances, my sin might be the greater. God knows, and he doesn’t judge by what I’ve done or not done, but by the condition of my heart.

By focusing rather on the condition of my heart, rather than on what I have done or not done, has helped me to more fully appreciate my need for the Grace that was given on the cross–the Grace that is enough to cover the sins of the worst racists as well as the most self-righteous.

God or a Caricature?

Atheists rightWhile this certainly isn’t true in all cases, I find that most of the young people that I know who are walking away from God are not walking away from the actual God, but from a Modern or Western, watered-down imaginary representation of him–often the god of caricatured “fundamentalists.

Good, but the thing I wish they’d realize is that there’s more distance between this false conception of God and God as he really is than there is between a cheese dish served by Alain Passard at in Paris at Arpège and an ad for Kraft dinner in an old magazine in my doctor’s waiting room.

If you are rejecting God, you need to know who you are rejecting.

I must start with the disclaimer that I don’t really know God as he is, nor does any human being, but we get some hints from his creation and between the lines of the prophets through whom he spoke and most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ.

When we look at the cosmos we see that God is as creative as he is powerful. And he must like human beings a lot because he gives us all sorts of good things: love, food, sex, sunsets, beaches, oranges and wine.

God is perfect justice. I will admit that this is a bit of a stumbling block in our culture of tolerance. We don’t like a God that draws a clear line between right and wrong and then judges the wrong. This is but one attribute of God, but he’s a lot easier to walk away from if we imagine it’s the only attribute. This is usually only a stumbling block to those who experience no true injustice. Consider all the crap that some people have to live with at the hands of others; then the God of justice moves from an embarrassment to a necessity to get up in the morning. It is definitely wrong to machine gun children, or to rape teen aged girls and string them up in a tree to taunt their grieving, and helpless father or to force women and children into sexual, or any other kind of, slavery. You know people do this, right? If one’s life is filled with this kind of injustice, justice isn’t so easy to dismiss and the God who is justice isn’t so easy to reject.

He’s also perfect love. Yeah, I know. Perfect justice AND perfect love? How to you put those things together? Well, if there truly was a God, I think it’s reasonable to expect that there’d be some things that would be, intellectually, a little hard to grasp. He knew it was hard to grasp so he showed us what it looks like–his son on the cross–he judged Jesus as if he were us (justice), and then he treats us as if we were Jesus (love). Perfect justice and perfect love is right there at the cross.   It’s pretty clear that he will do anything and everything to bring you into a relationship with him. Everything, that is, except force you to be in a relationship with him.   That’s perfect love.

So if you are going to walk away from God, walk away from the one who heals the sick and blesses the poor, away from the one who eats with prostitutes and then lifts up those that are abused and seats them at the best seats at his table. The one who will bring justice to those who use people like objects and to those self-righteous folk who already have everything that they are going to get, away from the one can only woo you to him with the sacrifice of his love, and who loves you so much he won’t force you.

The Equalizer

EqualizerI just finished watching The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington. It’s a movie like many in the genre. [SPOILER ALERT] There are bad guys and the good guy kills them all. The bad guys are dirty cops and various levels of the Russian mafia. They make a lot of money doing bad things to everybody, but what makes them really despicable is that they do bad things to young girls. Like I said, they are bad. Then there’s our hero–he’s good because he protects the young girls and other meeker people. Although he looks like a mild mannered Home Depot guy (the movie uses a different name, but they ain’t fooling anybody) who likes to read books and drink tea in his spare time, he four armed thugs in less than 30 seconds.

We’ve seen this movie hundreds of times, the only thing in this sort of movie is if the hero dies at the end or not–always in exchange for the life and/or happiness of the former victim. I won’t tell you if Denzel survives or not since that will be the only “surprise” in this movie.

Still, I liked the movie. And I’ve liked most of the hundred that I already saw. The one with Clint or Jean Claude or Arnold or Harrison or Wesley or Steven or Bruce or Jackie. You get the idea.

Why do we like these movies so much? Why do they get away with giving us the same story again and again.

It’s because we really want it to be true. We want to watch the bad people get what’s coming to them, and we want to the innocent to be rescued and given their life back. We want to see justice–we need to see justice.

It’s interesting that this impulse is so strong in Western movie goers who rarely experience the sorts of injustices that are daily fare in many other parts of the world. If experiencing justice is such a rush for us, imagine how important it is for those who actually experience the intense injustice that we only experience in the theatre.

We also know that we will never see the kind of justice we crave, unless this is true.

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,

the one I love, in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

He will not quarrel or cry out;

no one will hear his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

till he has brought justice through to victory.

In his name the nations will put their hope.

(Isaiah 42:1-4, see also Matthew 12:15-21)

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