WHY BOTHER?

I don’t get to attend worship as an ordinary participant very often. Generally, I get to do that while I am on vacation, unless we decide not to attend that Sunday which happens. But when I do, I notice just how far from the prevailing cultural norms I actually am. Most preachers these days were jeans and polo shirts or some other casual attire. I have noticed that most clean up and wear a suit and tie for funerals and maybe some weddings but mostly, the causal, comfortable look dominated the pulpit these days.

I happen to think that is great. It sets a tone for worship and enables both preacher and congregation to relax and enjoy the reality of God and his love and grace. Being comfortable in the presence of God is one of the prime messages of the Christian faith and the trend to casual, comfortable clothing is a visual and powerful statement of the relationship we have with God because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

But when I am leading the worship and preaching, I will be wearing one of my two dark suits and one of my small selection of ties. There are two exceptions:

• When it is really warm, I lose the suit jacket.
• When we are having a potluck, I wear the sporty pants than came with the new suit

Isn’t that just a bit hypocritical on my part, especially since I love to point out the pointlessness of wearing ties and encourage people to dress as comfortable as possible? In fact, when asked about our church’s dress code, I tell people that we have a very strict code—you have to wear clothes. But week after week, there I am, wearing my suit and tie while everyone else has jeans, shorts (in summer), sneakers and definitely, no tie.

It probably is hypocritical on some levels but on other levels, what I am wearing is perfectly congruent with what I am telling people. I encourage people to be comfortable with what they are wearing for worship. And for me, that means a suit and tie. My experience and cultural influences go way back and are deeply rooted. I grew up in the era when worship attire was the best jacket and tie you had. I spent serious time working with an independent Kenyan denomination which has a fairly formal dress code—the only leaders who don’t have to wear ties are the ones entitled to wear clerical collars.

I actually upset the leadership of the church in Kenya early in my first time there. I wasn’t wearing a tie to teach—after all, ties are anachronistic cultural hold overs that have no real purpose or meaning. When the church leaders finally got up enough courage to suggest that I wear a tie, I realized my mistake, apologized and put on a tie. Given the heat in Kenya much of the school year, they didn’t mind if I skipped the suit jacket now and then.

I just don’t feel comfortable leading worship and preaching unless I am wearing a tie and at least part of my suit—the jacket doesn’t count on warm days. It isn’t a requirement placed on me by anyone else. In fact, I might fight against any regulation that said I had to wear a tie, at least in North America. I don’t make it a requirement for anyone else—not even the occasionally student I mentor for the nearby seminary. If someone wants to come to worship in ripped jeans and well worn t-shirt, I welcome them and am not the least concerned about their costume. If they are comfortable, they can probably better enter into the reality of worship and have a better experience of the awareness of the presence of God.

And me—well, wearing my suit and tie allows me to be comfortable in the presence of God. He doesn’t require it but my personal culture and background does. I could put in the effort to align my personal preference with the freedom that I teach and preach and encourage for others—but truthfully, I am comfortable doing what I do and there is enough really serious stuff that I need to deal with in my personal life that it isn’t worth the effort to change my approach to worship wear. I am comfortable, God loves me and the people understand me. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

May the peace of God be with you.

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DISAPPOINTMENT

I was having a discussion with a friend a while ago—so long ago that I can’t remember most of the details. I think it was with someone involved in ministry and we may have been having coffee together I do remember that the conversation turned to the issue of disappointment, specifically disappointment with people who do something that goes against our hopes, expectations and desires for and about them.

While I know that this is a real issue in all aspects of life, for those of us involved in ministry, it can be an all too common and deeply painful reality. The dedicated church member whose faith is growing and developing and who is set to make a significant impact on the whole church and even beyond decides that his love of gambling is more important than anything in his life. The individual who is being groomed and prepared to take over from the retiring deacons decides that really, the job isn’t for her. The member of the youth group who shows such promise and is actually entertaining a call to ministry decides that a career in IT will be more fun and pay better. The pastor friend who decides that having a sexual relationship with the church organist is worth more than the call of God. In ministry, we face the reality of disappointment on a regular basis as people make choices that are clearly going against God’s best will for them, at least according to our understanding. We also, if we are honest, are aware that disappointment with people often leads to anger and a withdrawal from the relationship.

I am pretty sure that one of the underlying causes of pastoral burnout and disillusionment is provided by such disappointments. Sure, the long hours, the lack of actual completion, the ever increasing demands, the inability to set hard limits all have an impact on pastoral burnout but the accumulation of what we often see as betrayals is certainly a part of the package. Since most of our work is built on and around people, their actions and activities are bound to have a significant effect on us and our wellbeing.

I am hoping that as you read the beginning of this blog that you were struck by how self-focused those paragraphs are. As I was writing the words, I was becoming more and more aware of that—my pastoral disappointment with people is actually coming from a very selfish place—as a pastor, I want and maybe even need people to act and respond and do what I am convinced is best for them, the church and the faith. Helping people grow and develop spiritually and emotionally is part of my job—I have been called and trained and prepared to help people live their faith.

The problem is that the more I expect people to do what I think they should do, the more I make them into less than free human beings. My disappointment with them is a not so subtle symptom of my thinking that I know best and that anyone who disagrees with me, even over their own life choices, is making a serious mistake. In effect, I am taking away the freedom that God has given all of us.

And that realization prompts me to take a closer look at the whole process. While I have been called by God to be intricately involved in the lives of the people I work with, I have also been called to be involved in a way that shows the character of the God who called me—and while the Bible does suggest that God is often disappointed with us humans, his most characteristic response to us is love and grace. No matter how much we disappoint him, he still loves us and even more, he still seeks to bring us back to him. God’s love, his grace and his willingness to forgive are the reason for the cross and the resurrection.

In that light, my reaction to the realities of people is disappointing to me—I am not actually being a particularly good servant of God when my disappointment with people creates anger and withdrawal and judgement. Fortunately for me, even when God is disappointed with me, he responds with an offer of more love, more grace and more forgiveness, coupled with an offer to help me respond to others in the same way.

May the peace of God be with you.

PICKING MY BATTLES

Meetings are an occupational hazard for people in ministry. Sometimes it seems to me that no ministry can actually happen unless there is a meeting involved—and the more meetings, the more important the ministry. The problem with meetings though, is that they involve people and even more, they involve people who don’t necessarily agree with everything that I think.

At times in the past, that reality has resulted in my becoming involved in long, complicated and occasionally less than pleasant debates and even arguments. Disagreement needed to be dealt with. Everyone needed to have the benefit of my wisdom and understanding so that they could see the light and truth of the position I was holding and they were missing. Meetings took a lot of energy as I and the other participants worked hard to make sure that everyone came around to our personal view.

But I noticed something while at a meeting a little while ago. Someone said something I disagreed with. It wasn’t a small issue either—it was something fairly significant, something that affected some essential realities of the faith. But I noticed that I didn’t immediately jump into a defence of the faith. I didn’t actually say much. I think I may have said something that indicated I disagreed with what was said and let it go at that.

What kept me from springing into action, something that has been a characteristic of my ministry, at least as far as meetings go? Well, I wasn’t intimidated by the others at the meeting—I knew and was comfortable with everyone there. It wasn’t that I was unsure of my stance—the issue was somewhat foundational for me. It wasn’t even that I was too tired to argue.

No, the reality was that although the issue was a problem for me, raising it and really going after it in that particular setting would have done more harm than good. The person making the comment was deeply committed to what they said. A lot of people at the meeting were not overly interested in the issue. And even more, the meeting was supposed to be focusing on something else entirely.

To open a debate on the issue at the meeting would have derailed the meeting. It would also have created a potentially adversarial setting where two people argued back and forth about a topic both were seriously concerned about but which most people weren’t interested in. Since this was a meeting of Christians involved in a specifically Christian process, the escalation of the disagreement could do some serious damage to our fellowship.

I decided that the damage to the Christian fellowship from getting into a heated debate was potentially worse than the possible damage from the comment itself. I have discovered myself doing that more and more these days. I think I am discovering that as believers, the way we do things is at least as important as what we do. If I engage in an debate that degenerates into a non-Christlike process, I have harmed the faith.

Jesus tells us that a major part of our responsibility it to love each other as he loved us (John 13.34-35)—and doesn’t say anything about having to win every debate over the truth of every issue. I think I am making some wise choices when I choose not to engage in what may become a less than loving debate. Even when I know that I am right, I need to deal with the issue in a way that shows Christlike love for everyone involved. The win doesn’t come from scoring debating points—the win comes from responding like Christ would respond.

There is a time and a place for theological debate. There is a need to have a good discussion on points of contention. There are some things that are wrong and need to be dealt with. But in every case, how we do this is at least as important as the debate and its results. Unless we can do what we do in a way that shows Christian love and respect, we are going to lose—and even worse, the faith itself will lose because we will show something other than the love of Christ.

May the peace of God be with you.

TIME

We have been studying the afterlife in one of the Bible Study groups, which has been a fascinating study. It has provided us with lots of great starting points for extended discussions and significant questions and even some confusion. The discussion also re-opened a train of thought that I come back to now and then. We touched on the idea in our study and it was great to know that other people have similar ideas and struggles with the topic as I have been having over the years.

When we look at the whole concept of the afterlife, we open a door to a bigger discussion of time—not time in the sense of the clock and calendar and not even time in the Biblical sense of the coming together of a bunch of factors but time itself. I have not seen too many theological discussions that deal with the theory of time. I own and have waded through Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time but I am still trying to wrap my head around the whole issue of time.

And while that may sound like I am some sort of science or science fiction nerd (which I am), thinking about time does have some significant theological implications. The difficulty with the process is that our human existence is bounded and determined by time. We measure it, we spend it, we waste it, we schedule our days and our lives by time. If it is 6:00am, it is time to get up. At 12:00, we can have lunch. At age 5, we go to school. At age 18 or so, we have to make serious decisions about our future. At age 65, we can retire.

So we live within time and therefore have difficulty seeing outside that temporal box. Yet there is very good theological evidence that God exists outside of time—time is likely one of the things God created. The temporal realm that we live in may only be a limited form of existence which God created for his reasons but which may eventually end and be replaced by something different. Eternity, for example, may not be measured by the clock, which will likely be a good thing—even the best of experiences begins to drag when we spend a certain amount of time at it.

If God exists outside of time, then a lot of theology is more understandable. For example, it is easier for me to see how God can know everything past, present and future. If he exists outside of time, all time is visible to him. God doesn’t have to wait for time to pass to see how things will work out. He sees all time from his vantage point and so can see the beginning, the middle and the ending of everything simultaneously. Thinking about stuff like that can get me started on a theological headache fairly easily.

I don’t actually expect to ever get a full understanding of things like time. I enjoy the process of thinking about it and playing with the implications and trying to fit pieces together. But my thinking about the theory of time also has another valuable aspect. It helps me to remember that in the end, I am not God—I am not even a god. There are limits to what I or any other human can know, do and understand. At some point, I always come back to the reality that there is something beyond me. And for me, that something is God.

The creator and sustainer of all, the all knowing, the ever present, the be all and end of everything knows and does stuff that I can never understand because he is God and I am not and never will be God. I can and should do and learn and figure out everything I can. I can and should struggle with the stuff I may never understand, like the theory of time. But in the end, I keep coming back to the reality that there is something beyond me and my abilities, a God who not only understands the theory of time but who actually created time.

And what makes this even more important is that the God of all creation and beyond loves me and all humanity and shows that love and grace in concrete and clear ways. I may never understand the theory of time, I may never understand why God would love me, but I believe it and believe him when he says he loves me.

May the peace of God be with you.

BEING SALT AND LIGHT

I knew a guy one time who was looking for the perfect church, one where he would be free to develop his understanding of God and the Kingdom. He was convinced that when he found that perfect church, everything would be great. He was a pastor and had some connections with the people who helped churches find pastors so he used the connections and discovered a church that looked good. Unfortunately, after he had been there a short time, he began to see some problems—and if the truth be told, he himself began to create some problems. Eventually, the imperfection in the church became so serious that he resigned to go to another church that looked perfect.

I am pretty sure that he is still looking for that perfect church. Personally, I entered ministry with the understanding that neither churches nor pastors are perfect and that we both need to try and help each other become a bit better at following the faith that we claim. So, whenever I am called to a church as their pastor, I know without question that I am not going to a perfect church. That is alright, though, because I also know without question that when they call me, they are not getting a perfect pastor.

Neither the church nor the pastor is perfect—and given the theological realities of sin and its persistence even after we become believers, there is no chance of a perfect church or perfect pastor this side of eternity. For me, that raised all sorts of questions, issues and concerns. One of those many questions, issues and concerns grows out of the fact that we are supposed to be sale and light in the world, a visible and concrete reminder to the community of the love and grace of God.

When we show our imperfection to the community, which we do with depressing regularity, what does that do to our saltiness and lightness? It can and all too often does turn into anti-salt and anti-light, discouraging people outside the faith from seeing our faith as a viable option for their lives. Mind you, if we try to cover up our imperfections, the community is also very aware that we are not perfect and our cover up attempts also discourage people when it comes to the faith.

We are called to be salt and light—and we are imperfect. And any approach to being the church or an individual believer that doesn’t keep those two basic truths in mind is doomed to failure. We can’t be perfect—and we can’t help but give witness to our faith. And so it seems to me that the only real choice we have is to be upfront about who and what we really are.

We need to be willing to admit to any and all that we are imperfect. What makes us people of faith and churches is not our perfection but rather the fact that we have admitted to God that we can’t deal with our imperfection by ourselves. We surrender ourselves to God who then has our permission to work in our lives: smoothing the rough spots; teaching our ignorance; forgiving the sins; guiding our footsteps and all the rest. God knows we are not perfect—but he loves and graces us anyway.

We are salt and light when we freely admit our sins and imperfections not just to God, each other and the church but also to the community and the rest of the world. We don’t always get it right—in fact, we get it wrong as much as anyone else and maybe even more than some people. What sets us apart is that we have discovered that God can deal with us in our imperfect state and wants us to be in a deep relationship with him even in our imperfect state. When we live our faith and run our churches conscious of our imperfection and our dependence of the love and grace of God, then our sin and imperfection become part of our divine saltiness and lightness because our confession and forgiveness and trying again point beyond our imperfection to the perfect God who can and does provide a way for us even in our imperfection.

We show salt and light when we remember and then let the community know that we are not perfect—but we believe in a God who is and whose love and grace can deal with our imperfection.

May the peace of God be with you.

COERCION OR CONVICTION?

I often find myself walking on a theological tight rope. I believe that God in Christ loves us with a perfect, unending and unconditional love. He loves us as we are—and the proof of that love and grace are seen clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing I could, can or might do that will ever make God love me less or more; nothing that will limit or increase the grace that he offers to me through Jesus Christ. This is a basic and foundational reality of my faith.

If I just had this reality, I would be fine. Unfortunately, there is another equally valid reality that I need to deal with. I am not what I was meant to be. My being has been affected by sin—mine and others. Some of the effect isn’t my fault—it comes from living in a world deeply affected by human sin. But some of the effect of sin is my fault. I have made choices and followed paths that have taken me further and further away from the ideal that God had in mind when he began the creation process.

The tightrope I walk is the struggle to find the balance between these two realities. If I begin to believe that God’s love and grace are so powerful that my current imperfect state doesn’t matter, I will never grow in faith. But if I spend too much time on my imperfection, I run the risk of beginning to let my imperfection block my ability to appreciate the love and grace of God.

In both my ministry and my personal spiritual life, I have had to deal with the consequences of ignoring one of these realities and focusing too much on the other. Because I belong to the conservative part of the Christian faith, I am very familiar with the traditional conservative approach to this dichotomy. We have tended to see our imperfection more than we have seen the love of God.

We end up believing, but pretty sure that we are not good enough for God. We tend to be insecure about our faith—there is always the fear that some Biblical scholar is going to suddenly realize that the Bible actually says that God only loves us when we become perfect. We on the conservative side of the faith tend to do our faith thing from a sense of fear—we understand really well that we aren’t good enough but we really struggle to find the balance that a proper awareness of the love and grace of God will bring.

There are other believers whose sense of the love and grace of God allow them to completely ignore their imperfection—because God loves them, they can and do follow any path they want. Content and comfortable in the powerful love of God, they have no need to look at who they are and who they were meant to be.

For me, though, I need to be at the balance point. I know my imperfections, the places where I need to grow, the things I need to change. But I also need to remember that God in Christ loves me the way I am. He doesn’t want to change the negative parts of my being so that he can love me more. Part of the expression of his eternal love and grace is the willingness to help me discover more of what I was really meant to be, not so that God can love me more but simply so that I can be more me.

When I keep this balance, I am comfortable. I can grow and develop—or fail and not develop in the safe and protected limitlessness of God’s love. I don’t seek to grow because God coerces me. I seek to grow because the God who loves me also wants me to experience the good and wonderful that I have been keeping myself from experiencing because of the reality of sin.

Whether I grow on not, God’s love and grace continue to be there. But if I am willing to grow, I become more and more of what I was meant to be. God will not love me more either way—but I am more comfortable and more at home with myself, others and God when I open myself to grow as God leads me.

May the peace of God be with you.

THE MYSTERY

 

I have always loved science. I can remember as a kid of perhaps 10-12 or so conducting an experiment. I put a bottle of water on the window ledge of my bedroom in the winter and recording each morning whether it was frozen or not—we lived in an uninsulated house with no central heating so the water actually froze some nights. An early Christmas gift was microscope, which I wore out looking at stuff.

I want to know about stuff and understand stuff and love the question “why”, along with its siblings and cousins like “How” and “what” and on and on. Discovering how something works makes my day—and it is even greater if I discover why something works wrong and can figure out how to make it work better. It seems that I have an essential curiosity that pushes me to understand and define and describe and explain.

I bring this drive with me to the church and my faith. As a pastor, I am always examining the church, seeking to understand it. All through my ministry, I have done experiments in the church to make it more effective and more church. Let me quickly assure you that always, the experiments have been done with the informed consent and enthusiastic participation of the church—we all know what we are doing and why. We just embarked on a series of experiments with our worship in one of the sets of churches I serve. We generally like our worship but we want to see if there are things that will make it even more worshipful.

In my personal faith, I have the same drive to understand and explain and even to experiment. I want to understand the fullness of my faith. I want to know what is true and what is fake and what is possible and what isn’t possible. I am sometimes in trouble with colleagues in ministry and people in the church because I can and do ask difficult questions that undercut or repudiate some of their cherished theories. I ask blunt questions about “miracles” people tell me about—the fact that someone’s cousin’s nephew’s girlfriend’s garbage man’s acquaintance knew someone who lived in the same city as someone who wrote about a miraculous healing he heard about isn’t sufficient validation for me to rejoice in the wonder of God’s works.

I approach everything with an analytical, critical, searching attitude. I want to know and understand and asking questions, analysing and studying are basic to me and my faith. But for all of that, I realized a long time ago that there are limits to what I can learn and understand. I can learn a lot about God and faith and the church. But there comes a point where I can’t learn anymore or understand any more. I realized early on in my faith life that I am human and God is God and there is a gap there that I cannot get beyond. I cannot squeeze the whole of God into my finite being.

I learn as much as I can. I study and meditate and experiment and develop theories—but at some point, I always come up against the reality that there is a point where my abilities fail. The fullness of God is beyond me. I can understand the love of God. I can observe and describe examples of the love of God. I can experiment with the love of God. (Does God still love me if I…). But I can’t figure out why God loves. Sure, I can get theological and say that God loves because that is his nature—but that is playing with words not real understanding.

God is God and even though I have devoted a good part of my life to understanding God, there is a reality there—as a finite human, I am not capable of understanding completely the infinite God. And I am okay with that reality. I want to know and understand and I will continue to study and observe and experiment. But I am also a person of faith. I may not be able to understand why God would choose to love all of humanity including me—but I can and do believe it. I don’t need to understand everything because I trust God.

May the peace of God be with you.

HEAVEN, HELL AND ALL THAT STUFF

One of the Bible study groups I work with decided last year that we should spend some time looking at the Biblical ideas of heaven and hell. Since this was the first time in my long ministry that a group had requested that topic, it gave me a chance to do some original research. While the research took more time than digging stuff out of my old files, it is kind of fun to spend some time looking at something different.

At first, I thought this would be a relatively easy research project—after all, heaven and hell are basic topics in the Bible and the Christian life. Anyone who has spend any amount of time in the conservative church knows all about what heaven and hell will be like. Of course, we have tended over the years to get fuller descriptions of hell than heaven—the conservative church has traditionally been more comfortable scaring people with stories of hell than we have enticing them with pictures of heaven.

But as the research progressed, I began to realize that this wasn’t as easy a project as I first thought. Heaven and hell are important topics in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. But as I read through the various references, it soon became clear that the New Testament, while assuming that there is a heaven for the faithful and a hell for the unfaithful, doesn’t actually tell us a lot about them. And, as I dug further and further, much of what it does tell us about them is likely more an attempt to use what we know to understand what we don’t know.

And far from being troubling or a problem, I found that reality quite pleasing. After years and years of listening to descriptions of heaven and hell, I can take a new look at the whole thing. I don’t need to expect streets paved with gold running past huge mansions in heaven. I don’t have to squirm and twist internally at the thought of eternal flames torturing people forever and ever. The relatively few descriptive images we have in the New Testament about what comes next are God’s attempt to compress the infinite so that we finite beings can have something of a glimpse of what it is really going to be like.

The few images are built on the idea that to be fully and completely in the presence of God will be great but beyond our imagining—and being fully and completely without God will be terrible beyond our imagining. I am pretty sure that we can’t even imagine the greatness and terribleness.

The essential message is that there is much more—and the much more is so far from what we know and understand and can comprehend that we can only have vague and very imperfect glimpses of it. This realization does a couple of things for me.

First, it serves to remind me that God is God—he (or she) is infinite and eternal and beyond anything I can imagine—and given that my imagination is partly fueled by science and science fiction, I can really imagine a lot of far out stuff. I need to be reminded at times that God is beyond my ability to comprehend. God is—and most of that being is outside my ability to get a hold of.

But that reality isn’t scary or confusing or depressing because of the second thing it does for me. I may not be able to comprehend heaven, I may be seriously limited in my ability to understand the reality of God but one of the things that God has made very clear is that in his (or her) infiniteness and eternalness, God wants me to be with him, to be in relationship with him (or her).

I don’t know why God would want that. In fact, I doubt that I will ever be able to figure that out this side of eternity—I am limited here and now by my finiteness. But I can and do believe it. It is a core and foundational part of my life now. I believe that God loves me. There are a lot of details that I don’t and probably can’t understand but this, I can understand and trust—God loves me with an eternal and undying love and because of that, there is more to me and life than the here and now.

May the peace of God be with you.

DO OR NOT DO…

For a variety of reasons, I find myself thinking about things I have done over the years, some in my ministry and some on my non-ministry life. Some things I am quite happy about and continue to celebrate them. Some things, well, they are just there and are part of the reality of my life. And then there are the things that I regret. I would like to say that there are a very few things that I regret but that simply wouldn’t be true. There are a lot of regrets, mostly clumped around the mistakes and failures I have managed to accomplish in my life.

However, this reflection isn’t part of the depression I sometimes deal with, nor is it contributing to the continuance of a state of depression. The reflection comes from a whole different place and is going a whole different direction. I think it started when I was thinking about one of the comments from that great philosopher, Yoda. At one point during Luke’s training, Yoda tells a discouraged Luke “Do or not do—there is no try”. Succeed or fail—those are the choices, at least according to Yoda.

As much as I like the whole Star Wars universe, I have to seriously disagree with Yoda on this, even knowing that this disagreement means that I will probably never be invited to become a Jedi. But the reality is that the separation between success and failure isn’t a clear, black and white boundary. The separation between success and failure generally involves a long and winding trip along the highway called “Try”.

When I am building something in the workshop, I don’t go immediately from nothing to a finished, perfect product. No—I measure and cut and discard and measure and cut again and probably discard again. I keep trying until I have a good sized pile of wood to recycle and have reached the point where I either succeed or figure that what I want to do is beyond my ability to achieve at this point—wood is somewhat expensive and there are limits to how big the recyclable wood pile can become.

Fortunately for me, I am a Christian not a Jedi. In spite of some of the off-track preaching and teaching that has always been a problem on the Christian faith, one of the basic and most important realities is that God forgives abundantly, completely and eternally. And he is willing to forgive the same person for the same thing as many times as it takes for them to get things right—or, given the human reality, until that person makes the transition between this life and the next one when we become perfect because of God’s love and grace shown in Jesus.

And what that essential truth means is that in the end, I can try all I want. Whether I succeed or fail isn’t the issue. The grace of God provides the ultimate success and isn’t dependant on my track record in life. I am free to try. If I succeed, great. If I fail, God is there to pick me up, forgive me, dust me off and enable me to try again. With his help, I can try the same thing again or I can try something else. If I succeed, great. If I fail, God is still there, he will pick me up again, he will gracefully forgive me again, he will lovingly dust me off again and cheerfully enable me to try again.

And so, as much as I admire Yoda, as much as I love Star Wars, I don’t actually want to be a Jedi (although a real working light saber would be a lot cooler than a Swiss Army knife). I prefer living my life with the reality of success and failure and trying. I want to succeed but frequently fail—and I want the assurance that each failure is seen as an attempt and will be forgiven and recycled into something worthwhile in God’s scheme of things.

I am not perfect and know that I can’t be perfect. I am really good at trying though—I have been doing that my whole life. And because of the grace of God, I will continue trying until the day when God gives me the ultimate success and I can stop trying because he has made everything perfect.

May the peace of God be with you.

THAT’S FUNNY

 

One of the interesting tasks I had one time was to be a reader for a doctoral thesis that was looking at the topic of humour in the Bible. Since I like humour, I was looking forward to the process—I was hoping to get a good laugh out of the thesis. Unfortunately, the thesis, although well written, well researched and well presented was no funnier than any other thesis I have read, which is to say it wasn’t very funny at all.

There seems to be within the faith a strong tendency to minimize the place of humour. I think that some feel that since our faith deals with big, important themes like eternal destiny, there isn’t much room for humour. We are engaged in serious stuff and laughter is frivolous and maybe even sacrilegious.

And yet, the Bible is a book shot through with humour. Of course, it seems that commentators and preachers and others have worked hard over the years to minimize and hide the humour that is present, almost as if there is a conspiracy to prevent faithful people from having a good laugh.

Take the comment Jesus makes in Matthew 19.24 for example: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (NIV). Most commentaries spend lots of time discussing the possible references Jesus in making here, drawing on possible nautical and cultural themes supposedly from that day and age. But very few highlight the absolute humour of this passage. The absurdity of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle conjurors up hilarious images that would not be out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon.

Or take one of my personal favorites, found in Matthew 7.3, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (NIV) The essential humour in this passage is lost as we deal with heavy issues like hypocrisy and human sin and confession and all those other important themes that we can draw out of the passage.

But this is funny. The idea of a man with a 2×4 stuck in his eye trying to help another with a piece of sawdust in his eye is the premise for a skit worthy of the Three Stooges or some other great slapstick comedy team. Picture the chaos that accompanies a person with a 2×4 trying to help someone: there will be smashing and bashing and crashing and breaking glass and head bangs and gloriously funny mayhem.

And I am pretty sure that this humour isn’t some unintentional coincidence that crept in while the super serious God of all creation was distracted by the seriousness of human sin. I think the humour we find scattered through the Bible is intentional and deliberate and there because God also has a sense of humor. After all, he created us with the ability—and need—to laugh. When he relates to us, he shows flashes of marvelous humour. Having a donkey speak to a somewhat stubborn prophet (Numbers 22.28) is funny on a lot of levels, including the part where the prophet argues with the donkey oblivious to the weirdness of the situation.

Life is serious and heavy and often painful. In the faith, we deal with some pretty serious and heavy duty topics, like the point of life and eternal destiny. But we also need to balance this heaviness with the lightness provided by humour and laughter, a reality that God seeks to teach us in the Scripture. God created us with the need and ability to laugh—and then, he writes some pretty good material for us to laugh at.

Certainly, there is a serious side to God’s humour and there are deeper lessons in all the jokes and pratfalls—but they are also funny and the humour deserves to be given the laugh it deserves and that we also deserve. I think it adds to our ability to understand and relate to God when we realize that God, like most humans, appreciates a good joke now and then and he isn’t above sneaking a good one into the most serious of material.

May the peace of God be with you.