Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Images

It occurred to me that my blog has been pretty serious lately. Perhaps it is time to inject a bit of fun and beauty. Here are a few images from downtown Vancouver. Click on the photos to enlarge.
















This picture says so much about Vancouver: condos, new construction, mountains, SkyTrain tracks, East Van Cross.







Construction of the new retractable roof on BC Place. A close-up.










Construction in the distance.



Rainy night in Vancouver.

video

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Consumers

"Consumerism, is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods or services in ever greater amounts."# Most of us know what consumerism has done to our western world; and by now we are probably familiar with what the North American culture of consumerism has done to the church. It has created churches which try to out-do each other in providing services, programs, and goods. It has led to pastors who feel they must provide a congregation with a multitude of things that meet the felt needs of those who attend. It causes pastors to worry that if they don't meet all these needs someone else will come along who will meet these needs and the people will trade them in for a better church experience.

I recently spoke with a pastor who told me that he really wanted the people in his church to get into small groups to serve their neighbours and their neighbourhoods. He dreamed of the day when people would come to see this as the priority and be less focussed on the kind of music in the Sunday morning worship service. With just a bit of irony in my voice, I told him that our church had developed a simple system for solving the perpetual problem of people attending the Sunday morning gathering and not attending small groups - we got rid of the the Sunday morning gathering.

Hugh Halter says,
There's only one way to overcome the problem of consumerism. Not two or three ways, not a program, not a sermon for you to preach or a class for you to teach. Just one way to break the pattern:
You have to remove what they are consuming.
. . . if what we give to people isn't appreciated, doesn't inspire them toward the life of Christ, or doesn't lead them to real growth, your only option is to provide less . . . .*
We think Halter has it right. LifeHouse Christian Church is seeking to be a place where we limit our consumerism and seek to care for and lead each other toward Christ. May God guide us and give us wisdom as we stumble toward this goal.

#http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumerism
*Halter, H., & Smay, M. (2010). And: The Gathered and Scattered Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Transformation

Recently, I had the privilege of being the "best man" at a wedding. I met the groom, whom I now count as a friend, seven years ago. We met through an organization called COSA# on the day that he was released from a federal penitentiary. This friend has been through many challenges and ups and downs but yesterday was a great day of celebration as he and his bride said "I do" and committed themselves to each other.

As about thirty of us gathered around this couple and celebrated with them, it was great to see the transformation that had taken place in this man's life. And it was great to see that these thirty people had become a family to this couple. People can change. Many times people do not change because they do not have a family. For many of us, a family is what offers us the support and accountability that we need. A family provides respect and encourages growth. Very few of the thirty people in the room were actually biologically related to the couple but we were all family. I am thankful to have had a part in the transformation of this man's life. I am thankful for the community that is standing with this couple as they move forward in commitment together.



#COSA is a highly effective organization that makes a difference in criminal recidivism. I encourage all readers to consider volunteering as a COSA circle member. For information about your local COSA click here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Think on These Things

I have been pondering these verses from the book of Jeremiah.
This is what the LORD says:
"Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.

He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.

He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:5-8 (New International Version - NIV)
Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed;
save me and I will be saved,
for you are the one I praise. Jeremiah 17:14 (NIV)
We can be like a tree planted by the water. We will bear fruit for our Lord.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Run With The Horses

Jeremiah 12:1-5 (New Living Translation)
1 Lord, you always give me justice
when I bring a case before you.
So let me bring you this complaint:
Why are the wicked so prosperous?
Why are evil people so happy?
2 You have planted them,
and they have taken root and prospered.
Your name is on their lips,
but you are far from their hearts.
3 But as for me, Lord, you know my heart.
You see me and test my thoughts.
Drag these people away like sheep to be butchered!
Set them aside to be slaughtered!
4 How long must this land mourn?
Even the grass in the fields has withered.
The wild animals and birds have disappeared
because of the evil in the land.
For the people have said,
“The Lord doesn’t see what’s ahead for us!”
(The Lord’s Reply to Jeremiah:)
5 “If racing against mere men makes you tired,
how will you race against horses?
If you stumble and fall on open ground,
what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?

Eugene Peterson says that God's answer to Jeremiah was this:
Life is difficult, Jeremiah. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to retreat when you find that there is more to life than finding three meals a day and a dry place to sleep at night? Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know, to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average. Easier, but not better. Easier, but not more significant. Easier, but not more fulfilling. I called you to live a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny. Now at the first sign of difficulty you are ready to quit. If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic mediocrities, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence? What is it you really want, Jeremiah? Do you want to shuffle along with the crowd, or run with the horses?

It is understandable that there are retreats from excellence, veerings away from risk, withdrawals from faith. It is easier to define oneself minimally (“a featherless biped”) and live securely within that definition than to be defined maximally (“a little less than God”) and live adventurously in that reality. It is unlikely, I think, that Jeremiah was spontaneous or quick in his reply to God’s question. The ecstatic ideals for a new life had been splattered with the world’s cynicism. The euphoric impetus of youthful enthusiasm no longer carried him. He weighed the options. He counted the cost. He tossed and turned in hesitation. The response when it came was not verbal but biographical. His life became his answer. “I’ll run with the horses.”*

The thing I note about God's answer is that God challenges Jeremiah to look at things differently. Jeremiah complains to God and, rather that hearing soft words of comfort, Jeremiah hears a rebuke. God says, "This is not about you Jeremiah! Get over yourself. I have plans for this world that you cannot comprehend. You are not yet living up to the potential I see in you. Stop complaining about how hard this task is. I am calling you to something harder!"

I too have a choice before me today. Will I complain to God about how hard it is to run a footrace with men? Or, will I get up and run with horses?

*Peterson, E. H. (2009). Run With The Horses. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 21, 22.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vancouver Triathlon

Yesterday I raced in the Vancouver Triathlon in Stanley Park. This is the main race that keeps me training all year long. I look forward to the 1.5 km swim in the ocean, the 40 km bike ride through the Stanley Park roadways with no car traffic, and the 10 km run on the paths of Stanley Park. There was a moment as I pedalled hard up a hill toward Prospect Point when I looked at the moss covered trees and the ferns around me and thought, "Wow, what a beautiful place to race."

Of course, yesterday, I was doing all of this in the rain. Everyone gets wet in the swim but usually you dry off on the bike. Not yesterday, the puddles, and spray and constant rain kept us wet and cool. Then came the run - in soggy shoes.

I learned some things from this race. I learned that you can train all year for an event but there is always the possibility of unforeseen challenges. Who would have thought that the biggest struggle of the day would have been taking off my bike helmet? My hands, cold and numb from my handle-bars, did not have the manual dexterity or strength to pinch the clasp to release my helmet.

I learned that the race is very much a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge. My brain tried to convince me several times that I was doing poorly. Reminding myself that I was in one of the most beautiful parks in Canada, enjoying a day of swimming, cycling and running, gave me the perspective I needed to enjoy the race and ultimately succeed in a personal best time.

I learned that it is fun to encourage each other to do well at a triathlon. Everyone has the jitters before a race like this. As we stood on the beach about to plunge into the cold Pacific ocean, the good natured joking and bantor helped us all to relax. Toward the end of the third event, the 10 km run, we were all dragging a bit. I started singing, "We are the champions, my friend, and we'll keep on fighting to the end." I saw a few smiles, heard a few out-right laughs and a few who turned it up a notch because of the prod. On the next time around the course the volunteers were making requests, "How about 'Eye of the Tiger.'" To which I dutifully responded with "It's the eye of the tiger; it's the thrill of the fight, rising up to the challenge of our rival . . ." We all had a better day as we laughed at the incongruity of it all.

Triathlons have become a metaphor of life for me. I train my body and my mind. I am thankful for the chance to be a part of the race in this beautiful world. I learn to deal with the unexpected difficulties. I keep a right perspective. I encourage others. I enjoy the moment. I laugh.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Maslow and Human Happiness

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun (August 27, 2010) is causing debate about American psychologist Abraham Maslow's famous "pyramid of needs." Many of us have taken a psych course somewhere along the line that introduced us to Maslow's pyramid of needs which has held sway since 1943. Maslow's theory suggests that the search for "self-actualization" is the top of the pyramid. This is a person's highest goal.

But recent research printed in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Sciences by UBC researcher Prof. Mark Schaller and colleagues suggests that "the pursuit of self-realization, and the self-absorption that can often go with it, are not nearly as important to humans as the need to find and keep a supportive partner and raise healthy children." The "researchers are suggesting humans are much more likely to find well-being by giving to others -- including kids, partners and other loved ones -- than by narrowly focusing on their own happiness."

The Vancouver Sun article goes on to point out that, even as the research is debated and questioned, these researchers have done a great service by challenging the idea that the way to human happiness lies in seeking self-actualization. After all, the search for self-actualization often becomes nothing more than an addiction to consumption, fleeting pleasure and narcissism. What might happen if a new generation of psych students were taught that the way to human happiness lies in loving a spouse, caring for children, and having empathy for others?