Unity


Moravian Church, Crest and moto, “Our Lamb Has Conquered, Let Us Follow Him”

I recently took up the spiritual practice of the Moravian Watchwords.

The Moravian Church is one of the oldest protestant denominations in the world, dating back to the Bohemian Reformation of the 15th century.  They fled Bohemia (western Czech Republic) to Saxony (southeastern Germany) in 1722 to escape religious persecution and settled near the town of Herrnhut.  From there Moravians have spread across the world.  Today the Moravian Church counts approximately 1.2 million members throughout Europe, North America, Africa, The Caribbean and Latin America.

Every year, for the past 290 years, the Moravian’s have published a devotional text known as The Watchwords.  A daily set of two verses, one from the old testament and one from the new testament, paired to provide a framework for meditation and prayer.  For three centuries millions of people have relied on the watchwords as their introduction to the scriptures and as a guide to prayer.  I started using them this summer after I finished my reading of the Psalms and when I heard that one my spiritual heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, credited them with keeping him grounded while in prison for opposing Nazi rule.

Today’s watchwords where from Isaiah 53:5 and John 11:51,52.

“By his bruises we are healed” and “Not for the nation only but to gather all children into one”.

It has become increasingly necessary for Christians all over the world to recognize that we are united by grace.  We gather, from all economic realities, all walks of life, all countries, and all political affiliations, at the foot of the cross to be washed in the blood of Jesus our hearts sustained by the water of life that gushes from his side and sent forth into the world as one humanity.  He took our punishment upon himself and healed us.  Caiaphas thought that by killing Jesus he could save the Jewish nation, (John 11:50) but he did not realize that Jesus’ death would save, not just the Jews, but all nations and make them one.

My childhood church used two hymn books.  One a traditional, red hard cover tome filled with all the old classic hymns from yesteryear.  The other a small, green paperback full of more modern folk songs and spirituals called the “Sing and Rejoice”, songbook.

One of the songs that I remember from “Sing and Rejoice” was called “Unity” by Gerald Derstine.  Derstine was a charismatic Mennonite pastor active from the 1950s to the 1990s who was well known in certain Mennonite circles for his evangelical teaching style and spiritual song writing.  He wasn’t a particularly prolific songwriter however but with a bit of digging I managed to find this version of Unity on YouTube as performed by the Mennonite Covenant Choral.  Close your eyes and let the words wash over you.

In these polarized times, Jesus, help us live in unity.

The Sun Will Come Out Eventually


Faith, Optimism and The Continuum of Hope

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few days mulling over the differences between Faith and Optimism.  It seems to me that at this cultural moment people are clinging to worldviews that are crumbling from our grasp like handfuls of sand.  What once seemed solid in our hands is slipping through our fingers while the world quakes, we tremble and the concept of normal is best left to philosophers.

The concepts of faith and optimism tend to be used interchangeably but they have vastly different meanings.  It was while watching some video content from another coach this week that I was struck with this common misinterpretation of language.  While he paid lip service to the etymological differences and traditional definitions of the two words the bulk of his video teaching focused on faith almost exclusively and he missed a great opportunity to delve deeper into our collective psyche at this moment in time.

Looking at faith and optimism in context with today it helps to look back at previous world shaping events.  War analogies have been popular among politicians and writers of late, President Trump continues to say that we are in a war with an invisible enemy.  But the war imagery doesn’t sit well with me, it’s just too violent.  Doctors and research scientists are not soldiers, in a bloody war, they are dedicated healthcare providers working to prolong human life.

As a Canadian and an endurance athlete I prefer to think of it in terms of winter and marathons, two things that suck and can seemingly go on forever.  We all know that winter and marathons eventually end, we just don’t know how much pain we are going to have to endure before we get to the finish line.  Nor do we know how long that pain is going to linger afterwards.  The current COVID19 pandemic and the sociopolitical fallout that is sure to follow are a lot like running a marathon in a Canadian winter, just one storm after another with no end in sight and the distinct possibility of a stress fractured ankle ruining our summer.

So, what about Faith and Optimism?

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl survived the holocaust then spent the rest of his career counselling and studying victims of long-term trauma.  What he found was that those who started out the most optimistic rarely survived.  The optimist might say “things will be better by summer”, but what happens when summer comes, and nothing has changed?    As the continual disappointment of missed deadlines and failures mount, the optimist suffers a broken heart and dies a little each day.  He tends to put too much stock in his own ability to influence the outcome and bend reality to his picture of how things should be.

The person of faith on the other hand recognizes that he is but one piece in a massive machine full of autonomous and often conflicting moving parts.  As such, he rarely makes predictions that depend solely on his or anyone else’s ability to complete a specific task.  The person of faith instead places his trust in the concept of better and celebrates incremental improvement along a never-ending continuum of progress.  While the optimist can only look forward to an arbitrary point in the future the person of faith can look both backward and forward noting how far he has already come and have hope for even better days ahead.

Which brings me to hope.

If you are looking for a word to pair with faith the concept of hope is much more congruent than optimism.   Hope, according to the author of Hebrews is the driving force behind faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. [Hebrews 11:1]

Without hope, faith is formless and provides no measure for progress.  Hope provides the continuum of growth with a touch point we can stop at and say, “look what we have accomplished” without placing too much emphasis on our own abilities or discounting the influence of outside forces.  Hope also does not rely on an arbitrary end point but rather leaves open the possibility of continued progress than we could ever have conceived from the start.

Little Orphan Annie said, “The sun will come out tomorrow” and whether it did, or it didn’t she had nothing further to add or look forward to.  The person of faith and hope says, “The sun will come out eventually” and when it does it’s just another event in the continual march of progress.

Surviving COVID19, like every other history shaping and personal growth defining event, is going to take faith and hope, it is not going to require optimism.  Optimism can set you up for failure, faith and hope are built to survive setbacks and endure long roads of recovery.

The road is long, there will be setbacks.  Keep the faith.  The sun will come out, eventually.

 

That One Thing!


Question – Do you have a recurring sin?

Even the most faith-filled followers of God can mess up habitually.  It’s nothing to be super ashamed of.  One of my favourite sayings is a line I coined a few years back.

Today is NOT Judgement Day…

What I mean when I say that is that it’s okay to make a mistake, even the same mistake, over and over again.  The key is to try and learn from it and move on.

In my experience sins fall into five main categories.  Fear, judgement, lying, blame and manipulation.  And there are eight keys to fighting your habitual sins with love.

1 – Say Your Sins.

Confess them, through prayer and in community with each other.  Get it out in the open.  You can’t get help if you don’t admit you have a problem.

2- Live Like You’re Vulnerable.

Admit your weaknesses, like before.  Stay away from temptation and practice radical separation.  When Jesus told his disciples to pluck out their eyes and cut off their hands (Matthew 5:29-30) he wasn’t advocating self mutilation, he was deliberately using a form of hyperbole to drive the point home.  Just get as far away from the temptation as you can.

3 – Think About Your Sins Effect on Others.

It’s not about you.  Love is not self-seeking and neither should we live in a selfish manner.  If we keep our minds focused on other-centeredness we are less likely to sin.

4 – Don’t Confuse Acceptance and Agreement, Grace and Approval

Grace is not a license to sin. Messing up is not a path to blessing.  God wants to be kind to us but that is not to be abused.

5 – Remember Who and Whose You Are.

We are ambassadors of the Kingdom.  We have a higher calling.  When you fall into a sinful pattern try to remember that you are better than this.

6 – Drive Out Fear With Love

Do Not Worry.  Let nature and history be your guide.  There are literally thousands of people who have experienced the same kinds of temptations you are faced with.  Look to them, read their stories and take comfort on how they overcame.

7 – Get it TOGETHER

Go to the community of believers.  Spend time with others that are on the same path, facing the same struggles and living life in a similar context.  Build honest relationships and ask people for feed back. When you’re ready, and can take a bit of constructive criticism ask the question “what do you see in my life that I need to work on?” and take the advise you receive back seriously.

8 – Jesus Is The Key

He was called the friend of sinners.  Let him be your friend too.  Read his teaching and work out what it means for you in community.

We all have that one thing that slows us down.  Look to Jesus and his community to help remove it.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

 

Whom Do We Follow?


I think most people can agree that in 2018 we’re living in unique and uncharted history.

That might sound silly, all history is unique and uncharted while we are living it, but that’s not the point.

The point is that in 2018 things are very different than they have ever been before and the choices we make today can and will have lasting effects on our future.  It’s as if we are standing at a crossroads of history.  Fifty or a hundred years from now people may look back on these moments and say that the era in which we are now living was a major turning point.

History is a funny thing.  It turns all the time.  But this time somehow feels different to me and as I look back over some of the major sociopolitical events of my lifetime I see an accelerating trend that appears irreversible and that is scaring the hell out of me.

Sociologist and historians have begun to refer to our current cultural moment as the turning point from Christendom, in which most people identified, at least nominally, as members of the Christian religion to a new “Post-Christian” period.  For the first time in over 1500 years polls are showing that people who identify as Christian have fallen to less than 50% in most western countries.  And those who identify as having no religion all are the fastest growing segment of society.

What this means for our society is not yet known.  For clues we can look back to the pre-Christian period, that time before the Church became the dominant sociopolitical force but that will only give us a few clues, looking backwards can’t accurately predict the future.

In the pre-Christian period for example the sanctity of life was not a given.  As a result, unwanted babies were simply thrown in the trash, people were bought and sold as nothing more than units of labor, conscripted into armies and treated like “canon fodder” to advance the ambitions of a despotic leader.  Human rights were practically non-existent.

Over the last 1500 years however the Church has played a big role in the slow progression away from these attitudes.  The Church wasn’t perfect but Christian monasteries were the first to take in unwanted children giving them a chance at life, William Wilborforce, a devoted Christian politician, championed the abolishment of human slavery and the Red Cross was founded to help and protect wounded soldiers left to die on the battlefield.

One only needs to look to societies where Christianity has failed to penetrate to see what our future could be.  Abortion, human trafficking and even the failure to adequately care for war veterans were once the exclusive purview of nations heavily influenced by Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim theology.  But as the influence of Christianity wanes these debates are becoming more and more mainstream.

The abortion debate is alive and well as are discussions of Euthanasia and welfare programs.  The poorest members of society continue be victimized by those with wealth and power.  Human trafficking resulting in sexual slavery and indentured servitude is happening right under our noses in every city and province of Canada while arguments regarding how best to educate our children about things like sexuality and the funding for social programs to assist the poorest among us continue to be hijacked by far-right discussions of personal responsibility.  All of this results in the restriction rather than expansion of human rights.

What is the true Jesus follower to do?

First, we must remember that Jesus was no friend of the ruling class.  When Christians align with political power the result is almost always an ugly, misshapen form of oppression.

Jesus was called a friend of sinners, relentlessly pursuing the downtrodden.  What an irony that today his followers are seen in the opposite light!  How can people love God, whom they can’t see if those of us who claim to represent him don’t respond to outsiders with love? David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

It sickens me that Christians can in one breath proclaim the love of Christ and salvation for everyone while voting in politicians who gut social programs, close boarders and deny access to health care on the basis of some misaligned morality and “traditional” values.  There is a huge disconnect and when people really study the teachings of Jesus the untruth of what many of His followers teach becomes glaringly obvious.  The sad fact is that most self-proclaimed Christians refuse to see it or try to explain it away by saying that Jesus didn’t really mean that to apply to us, just to his first century followers.  That quite frankly is heresy.

When people live life the way Jesus intended the result is undeniably counter cultural.

There is nothing more powerful than the Christian life lived out in obedience; there is nothing worse than a flat, self-righteous form of faith that parades around in Christian clothes. David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

Christians who endeavor to embrace Jesus stand out.  They are perpetrators and ambassadors of an entirely new way of living.  The way of Jesus is not the way of politics or religion but the way of discipleship on a completely different plain.

Jesus declares not that he has come to reform religion but that he’s here to END religion and to replace it with himself. – Timothy Keller; King’s Cross

Followers of Jesus are not perfect.  We get it wrong a lot, probably more often than we care to admit.  But our heart is aligned with Jesus, completely and totally.  No pretence, no caveats and no compromise.  We work together in community to study the scriptures and learn from one another to bet better versions of ourselves and better followers of Him each day.

We are not followers of a book, or a set of rules, we are followers of a person.

If your religion does not look like Jesus, it’s heresy, plain and simple.

 

 

Creating a Spiritual Rule of Life


I’m a creature of habit.  I love my routine.  If I had been born in a different time and place I would have been a monk, or a farmer, or maybe a passenger train conductor – “All Aboard!”

So, when I learned about the spiritual practice of a “Rule of Life” I was immediately intrigued.

According to the CS Lewis Institute

“A Rule of Life is an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. A Rule establishes a rhythm for life in which is helpful for being formed by the Spirit, a rhythm that reflects a love for God and respect for how he has made us. The disciplines which we build into our rhythm of life help us to shed the “old self” and allow our “new self” in Christ to be formed. Spiritual disciplines are means of grace by which God can nourish us. Ultimately a Rule should help you to love God more, so if it becomes a legalistic way of earning points with God or impressing others, it should be scrapped.”

The ancient monks understood the value of creating a Rule of Life.  They lived their lives to a rigid schedule of prayer, worship and work.  It was these monks who erected the first clock towers throughout Europe, many of which are still standing today, as a way to stick to their Rule of Life.

A Rule of Life is not just about prayer.  It is a whole life spiritual experience.  Buddhist and other forms of mysticism refer to “mindfulness” as a form of whole life meditation that encourages the practitioner to focus completely on the things they are doing while they are doing them and to block out extraneous thoughts and “noise”.  In this way it is said that a master of mindfulness is able to be fully present and free of distractions at all times.

While not quite as demanding as mindfulness, a spiritual rule of life helps to focus the mind at certain times of the day and creates space for a fuller experience of all aspects of life.

Over the last few months I have concentrated my personal devotional time on developing a rule of life for myself.  This rule has helped me to live a bit like a monk in my daily routine and deepened my relationship with God.

At the present time my rule consists of four specific activities that I do on a daily basis.  Like the old adage about placing large rocks, small stones and sand in a jar, these four activities are my largest rocks, if I do them consistently my life is in balance and I am able to be more focused and productive in everything else that I do.

Here is my personal Rule of Life

1 – Practice Sabbath

Every Friday night by 7:30, sometimes earlier, my computer, phone, email and social media are turned completely off.  They remain off for at least 24 hours.

During that 24 hour period I do nothing that is tied to my work.  I do not communicate with clients, I do not write articles or parts of my books, I do not develop financial plans and I do not study for any of the continuing educations courses that I need to complete for my licenses and certifications.  Instead I read for pleasure, garden, watch movies and spend time with my family and friends.  God created the sabbath after he had completed all of his work as the first “rock” in Adam’s rule of life and if it was good enough for Adam, it’s good enough for me.

2 – Read a Psalm

I begin each day at 7:00 am in quite contemplation by reading a Psalm.

The book of Psalms is 150 chapters long.  Each one except Psalm 119, can be read in less than 5 minutes.  Reading a Psalm a day you can get through the entire book twice in one year, even if you break 119 up over a few days.  Many of the Psalms follow a similar pattern, they begin with lament, move through a period of acknowledging God’s sovereignty and end in praise.  This pattern helps me to see that God is in control and reminds me that doubt and despair are natural emotions that God understands.

3 – Pray the Lord’s Prayer

After I have read a Psalm I immediately move into a structured walk through of the Lord’s Prayer.  My daily prayer is not a rote recitation of Matthew 6:9-13 or any other memorized version of a prayer.  Rather, I use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework for the things I say to God and for the way I listen for his response.

The way I see it there are eight phases to praying this way.  They are; Preparation, Community, Praise, Partnership, Personal Needs, Confession, Temptation and Worship.  A full explanation of this framework and how it forms my rule of life is beyond the scope of this post.  It is the subject of my current book project, tentatively titled “Prayer School” excerpts of which I have been publishing in this space off and on for the last few months, if you’re interested scroll back through the feed and look for titles related to Prayer School.

4 – Meditate on the Examen at points through the day and especially at the end of each day 

The Examen is a rule of life in and of itself that was first practiced by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the early 16th century.  Saint Ignatius is most famous as the founder of the Jesuit Order and the Examen is still practiced by Jesuits to this day.  The Jesuits are encouraged to pause at regular intervals throughout the day and contemplate one or more questions related to their relationship with God.

Once again, this meditation is not meant to be a recitation of the specific questions but rather a framework for the thoughts I try to conjure up as I take a moment or drift off to sleep at night.

Traditionally the Examen consists of three questions.

“Where am I experiencing feelings of joy and peace?”

“Where am I connected with God?”

“Where am I experiencing sadness, apathy and a sense of disconnection from God?”

I am convinced that God speaks to me in my dreams.  Although I reserve the right to think on these things when ever the spirit moves, by making a conscious effort to contemplate the Examen as I drift off to sleep God has answered me in some powerful ways through my dreams.  I wake up each morning refreshed and ready to start again.

 

So that’s my rule of life.  What’s yours?  Do you have a “rule” that you follow that helps you get closer to God?  I’d love to hear about it, tell me your rule of life in the comments below…

Three Dimensional Ministry


Recently, while meditating on Matthew 9:35-38 something quite unexpectedly jumped off the page.

I spent a week at the beginning of this month sitting with these 4 verses at first because I wanted to get inspired and hear what God has to say about evangelism, after all the workers are few as the passage says and we must ask the Lord to send us out.

Here’s the passage as it reads in the NIV:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Matthew 9:35-38]

Did you see what I saw?

I’ll narrow it down.  It’s right at the beginning in verse 35.

Jesus’ ministry was three dimensional. He went through the land teaching, proclaiming and healing.  Some translations render proclaiming as preaching, but the general meaning remains the same.  Throughout seven days of deep meditation on this passage I came to realize that effective evangelism should always contain these three elements.

Teaching

A little over two years ago I wrote a post that that broke down my mission as a writer which said that I am a disciple of Christ – always learning, always growing and always teaching.  While Jesus didn’t need to learn or grow, at least not by the time he started his ministry he was a teacher first and foremost.  He taught what it truly meant to not just follow but to fulfill the law and how to live a just and moral life.

Proclaiming (Preaching)

While teaching digs in to meaning and application and invites debate to further understanding, proclamation does not.  Proclamation is a take it or leave it a statement of fact.  Where proclamation says, “it’s raining”, teaching says rain is necessary for the healthy development of crops and invites debate regarding how much rain is too little or too much for optimal growth.  When Jesus preached he left no room for debate.  That offended many, especially when his preaching flew in the face of tradition and challenged the norms of society.

Just two chapters before this we learn that both his teaching and preaching were regarded by the people as somewhat of a curiosity because he spoke as “one who had authority”.  In other words, he knew what he was talking about.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. [Matthew 7:27,28]

Healing

Teaching and preaching are worthless unless they are accompanied by action.   People who are hungry, people who are sick and people who are oppressed by an evil system of government don’t need to be taught morality or preached to about correct doctrine.  They need food, medicine and political advocacy.

Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” [Mark 2:9-12]

Three dimensional ministry must therefore have a practical component.  Saint Teresa of Avila said:

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

What’s your three dimensional ministry?  How are you discipling others through teaching, preaching and healing?  Let me know in the comments or via email.

PS – On a personal note, I just learned on the weekend that my High-school English teacher passed away of breast cancer.  She was only in her mid 50s.  As a 20 something teacher on her first assignment she was the first person to see in me a potential for writing.  She encouraged me to journal and hone my voice, that journal evolved into this blog.  It’s been more than 30 years since I was her student, and, in that time, I have written almost every day and completed 2 books.  I skipped my High-school reunion, so I never got a chance to thank her or to show her what that simple encouragement, which she’d likely forgot, has wrought.  RIP Mrs. Favro; a good teacher never fully knows how they quietly shape the future and bring context to the past.

The First Christmas Carol


The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:15-20]

The early church didn’t celebrate Christmas.  At least not as a special feast day or as the modern-day retail orgy of capitalistic idolatry that we call Christ’s birthday today.  But the early church did recognize that the event of Christ’s birth was a significant event in human history and they celebrated it regularly with the reverent awe and jubilation that it deserves.

Last week, as I was getting ready to celebrate Christmas I had a chance encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness co-worker of mine.  The office Holiday Luncheon as we call it so as not to offend anyone, was held at the restaurant across the street and after I’d had my fill and stayed a respectful amount of time I decided to return to the office to finish up a bit of work before heading home for the night.  As I came back in I noticed that this individual was sitting at the reception desk.  It’s not unusually to see certain admin staff taking a turn at reception when the regular people are away, and I immediately recognized that she must be covering while most of us were at lunch.  As I walked past I casually asked if she had had a chance to get out and enjoy a bit of time with the rest of us.

“I don’t celebrate Christmas”, was her immediate and matter of fact response.

In this day and age, it is not uncommon to encounter people who do not celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ.  We live in a multi-cultural society.  At the last census only 67.3% Canadians self- identified as Christians with less than half of those attending services more than 3 times per month.  But a large percentage of people who do not identify as Christians still celebrate Christmas in one form or another.  My next-door neighbour is a Hindu, born and raised in India.  His seven-year-old son knows all about Santa Claus and was all too happy to explain to my wife in detail everything he had put into his letter to the North Pole.  Apparently, Santa doesn’t care if you know anything about Jesus, only if you’re good.

Christmas isn’t just for Christians anymore and hasn’t been for quite some time.

So, when my co-worker, who is descended from Irish protestants and married to a man French Roman Catholic origin stated flatly that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas I was a bit taken aback.  But then I remembered why.  Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other pseudo-Christian groups do not celebrate Christmas on December 25 because there is no historically credible way of pinpointing the exact moment of Christ’s birth.

December 25 was chosen as the date by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 336 A.D. in part, to combat the pagan celebration of the winter solstice.  Prior to Constantine some Christians had estimated the date to fall any where between December 6 and January 6 (the day many Coptic and Orthodox Christians still recognize today), citing historical records of the Roman census and, the reason why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem in the first place.

Still others, notably the Jehovah’s Witness and a few other fringe groups, contend that the day was more likely in the spring or summer since Shepherds would not have been tending flocks out in the fields in the winter.  Personally, I think that argument is weak, winter in the middle east is still warm enough to tend flocks outside even if it might have been rare.

Anyway, the fact is, whether you celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, January 6th or some other time the historical event is still the fulcrum on which history turns.  The earliest Christians knew that and celebrated it just as much as we do today.

Which brings me back to the earliest Christmas Carol.

Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse opens with a poem that could have easily been set to music.  To our modern eyes it might not look much like a poem because when it is translated to English it loses much of it’s poetic feeling, but I assure you was originally a poem and likely a song.

This poem tells us four things about the birth of Jesus.  What it accomplished and how it changes history.

1 – Jesus brings God to us

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [Colossians 1:15]

He is God incarnate!  If you want to see God and understand what he is like look to Jesus.  If you want to follow God and do his will do what Jesus taught.  Everything up to this point, all the laws and the prophets are mere shadows of what has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus.  Put another way, if the Old Testament conflicts with anything Jesus taught, throw it out, Jesus is the true image of God.

Jesus brings us to life

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. [Colossians 1:16]

All things were created through him.  We exist because he made us for himself and all things were created through him.  The law brings death and condemnation.  We have life because of Jesus.

Jesus brings life to us

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [Colossians 1:17]

He sustains us.  He breaths life into us.  There is a popular contemporary Gospel song that I hear on the radio from time to time that repeats the refrain, “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.”

Jesus brings us to God

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:19-20]

The ministry of reconciliation brings us back into perfect unity with God.  This unity is a common theme in Paul’s writing.  It comes up again in 2 Corinthians 5 where he says,

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]

Ever since Genesis 3 and the so called, fall of man the path of history is a story of mankind’s failed attempts through rules and regulations to reconcile with God.  It wasn’t until God came in human form and showed us his love for us, a father’s unfailing love, that reconciliation became possible.

It is a Christmas, or when ever you choose to acknowledge the historical reality of Christ’s birth, that we can truly celebrate that Jesus came to bring God to us, bring us to life, bring life to us and to bring us to God.  That is the gospel, and that is what we acknowledge when we celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Why I Write This Stuff


The following is a excerpt from the introduction to my first book – Meekonomics, How To Inherit The Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy. 

I’m not sure why, I think it might have something to do with the current political climate around the world, but there has been a recent up tick in interest in my writing.  So I’m going to start republishing portions of my work on a semi-regular basis here.  Questions and Comments are always welcome, and feel free to click the link above to purchase a copy of the book…

I realize that it is an act of sheer hubris to attempt to write a book called Meekonomics. The meek don’t write books do they? Especially Mennonite kids from Southern Ontario with no formal education in either economics or theology.

I grew up in a small town surrounded by family farms and working class individuals. When I graduated from High School I wanted to be a record producer so I spent 19 years in the music business. In my mid 30s I read two books that unlocked my love of economics and theology; The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein and Simply Christian by NT Wright.  

There followed nearly 8 years of prayer, research and reflection on two things that have driven me for almost as long as I can remember; God and Money.

Although I have always held a strong faith my relationship with money has been an extreme roller-coaster from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. I’m an entrepreneur. I started my first business at the ripe old age of the age of 10, I had an opportunity to become a millionaire before my 26th birthday only to fall victim to an unscrupulous fraudster and ended up bankrupt at 33.

My drive to understand money and reconcile economics with my faith started to take root in the fall of 2005 not long after I first filed my bankruptcy proposal. What I soon realized is that reconciliation of the God and Money issue is not just a personal question, although personal finance is a big part of it, it’s really required on both a micro and macro-economic scale if our society is to survive.

Call it what you will; estate or retirement planning, investments, pension plans etc. It all comes down to the storing up of treasures on earth just as Jesus warned us not to do.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. [Matthew 6:19-24]

What you will find in the pages that follow is a journal of sorts. After my bankruptcy I set out to learn all I could about how this whole God and Money thing works. Anyone who has ever gone through something like that knows how devastating it can be. I was wounded, I needed healing and so I used the study of God and Money as the start of my healing process.

As I studied I took notes, those notes became a blog and that blog became this book. Most authors will tell you that they write for a specific audience, my friend Tim Day, author of “God Enters Stage Left” told me he first started writing for his kids as a way to help explain his faith in case he passed away before he had a chance to teach them in person. If I’m being honest I write just for myself, it’s a way to frame my thinking so that I can move forward in life secure and grounded in what I know to be true.

I first published the blog as a way to share what I was learning with my closest friends and family around the world, I never dreamed anyone else would be interested in what I had to say but I soon had over 100 readers on-line encouraging me to go deeper and publish more. The idea for the book came out of that interaction with the on-line community.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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New Book Project!


writingI’m writing again!

Okay, well the truth is I never really stopped, as this blog attests.  But I have not been nearly as active as I was in the past and I have not been working on a larger book length project for over a year.  There are a lot of reasons for this that I won’t go into right now.  Some of my reasons may become apparent as I work on this new project anyway.

For now, suffice it to say two things.

1) After I published Meekoethics I was mentally spent.  That book is deeply personal to me and digging into parts of my past that have shaped me into the man I am today took a lot out of me.

2) I ran out of things to say for a while.  It wasn’t so much writers block as it was just a lack of significant incite to add to the conversation.  I tried for a while to write about leadership but that effort felt strained.  I was reaching for something that I have very little personal knowledge of.  The work felt academic, not personal and if there is one thing I have learned its that I write best when I have some experience with the topic, some skin in the game so to speak and something personal to say about it.  I prefer to write as though I am trying to send a message to my former self and I really don’t have much to say to myself on leadership, at least not yet.

What I do have something to say about is mental health and spiritual well-being.  I won’t get into a lot of the details as to why this is my current focus now, hopefully as I work it through my reasons should become obvious.

chapter1As I did with my previous works, each time I complete a chapter I will post excerpts here for your review and comment. The following is the first such excerpt from the introduction.  Enjoy, please comment and join the conversation so that we can make this a bit of a collaborative effort.

 

Broken – Our Journey to wholeness through anxiety, pain and adversity

I met my first rape victim in 1992. At least she was the first person I knew who was open enough about it to say so.

I knew the statistics, according to the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General Victims Services Secretariat, 39% of Women over the age of 16 have experienced some form of sexual assault.   1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetimes.[1]

I knew, on an intellectual level at least what that meant. Even in our small town, three or four of the girls in my high-school graduating class, if it hadn’t happened already, would eventually be victims of sexual assault and although I was far from a Casanova myself at least one of the girls I had dated would eventually become a victim.

That last thought turned my stomach.

depressedgirlThe more I got to know this girl the more I realized that the scars left on her soul would likely never heal. She exhibited behaviour that I had seen before, sexual promiscuity, fierce independence, abuse of alcohol and a general liaise fair attitude in the face of some truly traumatic events in her life. I began to wonder if this behavior could point to the fact that the other girls (and a few boys too) I had seen acting in this way were also victims of sexual assault. Truthfully, I may never know but to this day I still wonder.

Eventually my encounters with this young girl began to wane as our lives moved in different directions. I haven’t seen or even thought about her in over 25 years, that was, until today. I wonder if she ever found healing. I hope so, but somehow I doubt it.

I doubt it because in the intervening years I have spent time with a number of other survivors of trauma, some of it sexual in nature and some of it not. As I’ve branched out from my relatively sheltered up bringing in a small town surrounded by a community full of “salt of the earth” type people I’ve begun to see the world in a different light.

I’ve taken off my rose coloured glasses as it were and begun to see the world as it truly is, a dark, dreary and often times, downright evil place full of fear, sadness, trauma and shame. In short, the world is broken. But it is also a world of unsurpassed beauty, a world of love, grace and healing.

This is not a book about sexual assault, although my hope is that all victims of trauma of any kind may begin to find some form of healing within its pages. This is first and foremost a book about God, His perfect plan for our lives, His deep pain at our losses and His deeper compassion for our health and mental well-being. It is a book about repairing our brokenness, healing our souls and journeying into wholeness, no matter the cause or depth of our traumas.

imageofgodDr. Greg Boyd, teaching pastor at Woodland Hills Community Church in Minneapolis Minnesota[2] during a Sunday sermon once called all humanity “infinitely valuable image bearers of the divine.” I have unashamedly stolen that phrase and use it constantly in my discussions about God’s grace with the people I encounter.

We all carry with us the image of God imprinted on our mind, body and soul. Even when we are broken, when we are sad, afraid, and full of shame, we are first and always God’s image bearers. And not just image bearers but infinitely valuable, infinitely worthy and infinitely loved by our creator.

We all carry the scars of our past, there is very little we can do about that. May the pain subside and the image of God shine through each and every one of our lives.

Welcome to the journey.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” [Jesus, John 16:33]

 

[1] Full statistics available from the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres www.sexualassualtsupport.ca

[2] For more information on Woodland Hills Community Church and Dr. Greg Boyd visit www.whchurch.org

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated a small farm, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, and has written 3 books on Economics, Ethics and Spirituality.  He has presented his ideas to business owners and leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He brings to his work a passion to people to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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