Marriage is Hard


I was at the gym yesterday and a couple of the guys, one older and one younger than me, were chatting about marriage. The younger guy was complaining about not getting to the gym more often because of being married now. The older fellow, divorced, said he didn’t have that problem anymore. The younger guy said he realized love is like caffein, at first it is strong and then the effects dissipates. The older guy just said life is so much easier for him to have a girlfriend. You know, friends with benefits. As I am listening I felt like it was time to give my take on this subject. I said in french, “Guys, my story is completely different, mind if if I share it?” They said, “Bien sûr.”

So I began surprising myself with how much passion was coming from my lips. I spoke these words a little louder than I hoped, “I was married at twenty years and still am, and with the same woman. Has it been hard at times? You bet! In fact, excruciatingly difficult at times.” I think I repeated the word ‘difficile’ a couple of times! “But now we are in our 35th year and I can tell you we are glad we withstood the storms. I am not wanting to make either of you feel anything negative or guilty about your story, but I just needed to tell you that there are alternative stories to the all too common one of marital breakup. It is possible to work out the most difficult of relationships when both sides are willing.”

It got a little quiet. And I’m not sure if my story accomplished anything positive. I just wish there were more stories like mine. Maybe more of us would persevere through those times that are ‘difficile’.IMG_2419

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Healing


Honestly, I am confounded by those who approach the way of God’s blessing with narrow formulaic thinking. We love simple formulas and in the process reduce God to a magic dispenser who responds to the right confession of our needs and wants ‘in His name’. But a very simple study on the different methods of Christ’s healing will show you that he didn’t like doing the same thing over and over. He didn’t want to be franchised.

So, let’s get to it, a quick survey from my sunday school days tells me of a mysterious-full-of-surprises Jesus. He really is a ‘winking’ Savior! To one, blind, he says, “Go wash in such and such pool.” It washes the blindness away. To a group of lepers he meets on the road, he tells, “Go to the temple and chat with the priest there.” Out of the ten healed only one returns to say thanks! He actually spits on one blind guys eyes! Glad we don’t use that messy method today. Imagine you doing that while sick with a cold! Another woman doesn’t even really pray, she just simply squeezes behind Jesus as He is teaching and yanks the bottom of His robe and is healed. Then there is the deaf man that was brought to Jesus. They begged him to touch him. Jesus pulls him away and sticks his finger in the ear and grabs his tongue and screams ‘Be opened!’ Of course it worked, this is Jesus, right! Finally, there is the case where Jesus actually uses spittle in the dirt to make some mucky substance and puts the goo in the blind man’s eyes. Once more there is a miracle.IMG_2322

We could go on and on talking about the variety of God’s blessing hand. What are we to learn from this? Yes, he heals by a word, sometimes by laying of hands, and even from strange methods to show us to never limit God to one sure-fire way to move in our lives. Faith is important, but it may not be the only factor, after all Jesus did raise some dead people who didn’t ask for a thing! So when it comes to receiving a blessing I think we don’t need to use formulas or special words. Surprisingly, the only prayer we actually have recorded was from someone asking for a miracle for his son was, “I believe, help me in my unbelief!” Not quite the faith-confessing-undoubting response you would expect. His son was healed!

My usual method for my needs looks a little like this: I thank God for life, all of it. When I am sick I asked for a quick recovery. If it is bad I ask friends to join me in praying. If I am not healed, I don’t complain or beg. I don’t try to conjure up more faith. God heard me the first time. My biggest need is to let go of my thoughts on how something should be done. God’s ways are not necessarily my ways. That’s an understatement! And physical healing isn’t the only issue I face. I have financial needs, relational challenges, needs of others that come across my path… and in all these things I ask for peace. Faith sometimes isn’t a way to avoid, escape or walk away from the problems of life, but the power to walk through with graciousness, confidence and love.

Hope this balanced perspective is helpful.

Trust My Lead?


Unless you trust you can never lead. How tough it is to trust unless you are willing to be vulnerable.  We can all breathe easy when we see your humanity, you’re quite like us.

Generosity is the highest gift of all. Yet if you scrunch your face and give lectures on how lucky ‘we are’ as you give, how lowly we feel. Receiving without your cheerfulness is like flossing teeth, duty slides painfully over the gums, some bleeding, but we got er done!

It’s hard to be a true community when you have more to complain about than good things to say. Ideally we’d all be perfect. Realistically we drown in expectations. Gratitude becomes but platitude.

It’s hard to innovate in the midst of hungry wolves. Don’t snarl, please, or rip my reputation in pieces if I fail.  I am taking a risk by pouring new wine in old wineskins, new ideas usually rip the status quo skins.  Musty status quo wine just doesn’t upset us nearly enough, sadly.

It’s feels wrong to put on this ‘man-o-God’ stage mask just because you want me to ‘wow’ the crowd. I know it fills seats, puts money in the plate, but I want my true voice to be heard. I am being vulnerable again. Can you still trust my lead?

You can only fly when you feel trusted! “I believe in you” becomes ‘The sky is the limit’. It’s easy todance be at peace when we give our best, especially when no one is watching and evaluating. The bonds of love are strengthened when you show a little vulnerability too. It’s simple to walk in harmony when we leave our judgments at the door and see through eyes of grace. It’s easy to be real with you when you’ve been real with me.

And I want your true voice to be heard. It is easy to hear you speak truth when I know you speak it without forcing me to see it or to change.

These are the rhythms of a good or bad dancing partner.

Beauty and the Soul


There is beauty and purpose in each season. Who can deny the delight of witnessing the renewal of nature itself when gusts of warmth bring on the leafgreenburgeoning colours of delicate flowers and tree buds release their fingers towards the sun. We all love it when summer’s lengthy light entices us into taking long nature walks in short sleeves and lazy days abound around waterfronts and barbeques, and oh, the glorious sunsets. Who among us hasn’t ooh-ed and aah-ed as the sight of the bold reds, golds and oranges of autumn begin to herald the end of summer’s green. And then there is the season that gets the least love, especially if you are Canadian where complaining about dark cold days is a national pastime, winter. Yet even winter’s bleak skies and frigid climes has its beauty and purpose.

My soul has seasons too, though not always chronological. Soul-seasons seemingly can’t leafredbe rushed and suddenly change with little forewarning. Spring for the soul is about clean slates, fresh starts, and discovery! Summer is strength, delicate strands of hope taking form. It’s watching with confidence our projects and confidence grow. Fall is maturity, seeing our investments reach their prime. But winter, we are not so sure what benefits to the soul winter brings. It seems life is put on hold. It’s the biblical equivalent to the dry desert.

Looking back to one of my hardest soul-winters I remember the shame I felt during an illness that took months to recuperate from. My veins were alternately pierced and arm tied to an IV pole that dripped antibiotics and salt solutions for ten days into my system. I worried about the expectations of my peers and employers. I could not perform as I had in the past. It was humbling. I was sure that my ‘net worth’ was descending . I tried hard to speed up the process of healing, get myself going again. But my body and mind wasn’t ready for it yet. I think God was trying to teach me, “Slowly I am with you always.”

I understand better now that slow invisible change, both in us and in the way we see life, usually happens in seasons we dislike the most. Of course I still tend towards trying to rush my exit out of desolate dry seasons, cutting cold seasons, brown ground barren seasons and enter the seasons of colour, freshness, warmth and growth. We feel shame and quite useless (almost dead) in our winter seasons. That’s when we need to step back again and let wisdom speak. She whispers to us to embrace the moment, live into the now, leafbrownpossess or be possessed by the renewing power of winter! Let love lure you into the next newness.

The more I think about the rhythms in our lives, the more I realize that God’s steadfast love is the common denominator in each season and his mercies are new just the same. In his time He makes lasting beauty to break forth through the darkness or dryness or the disappointment.

A wise man named Thomas Merton said, “Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” That’s something to hang onto! Go back and read that phrase again. The slow growth of maturing beauty lasts longer because it’s roots have gone deeper in the soul. Not long ago someone said to my wife, “You have changed and it is remarkable!” I began to reflect on that a bit and smile inside because I saw it too. Often we are unaware of the changes happening inside of ourselves until someone else notices. Until then we don’t properly appreciate the inner coherence of beauty being matured in us.

There is a process to any growth and it entails the mysterious miraculous. We are not simply mellowing out with age, no, God forbid! We are becoming more like original goodness in our soul and adding beauty to the world.  Like the crushing of grapes, it helps to remember that the juice will one day miraculously become like fine wine! It’s a slow but real process. Stop for a moment today and reflect on what is being planted in your soul these days.

maple

Diversity is Not Just a Snowflake!


Colossians 3:11 “…where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor snowflake3uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.”

I wonder if we Christians have understood just how radical the forming of new relationships through God’s outpoured grace is? God is not just going about saving souls. His heart from the beginning of time was to establish a new kind of family from every ethnicity; love bonds the world had never before witnessed. In Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae he writes about God’s family on earth which he calls the body of Christ. He proudly proclaims that the uncultured and uncouth barbarians belonged together in the same family with the wealthy intellectually driven Greeks! He mentions uncircumcised gentiles and Jews being invited to sit at the same table. Slaves, especially, were to be treated with respect and dignity, as family. To most this was preposterous. To Paul this equality was the fulfilment of God’s original strategy.

snowNowhere do we see it more clearly than in Jesus dealings with his own earthly family. Remember the answer given by Jesus when told his concerned mother and brothers wanted a word outside with him? ‘And who are my mother and my brothers,’ he said? His next phrase was about to radically realign relationships on our planet. ‘And looking around at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, “Here are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father, that person is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34)  This was cataclysmic. With those few words Jesus extended the family beyond Abraham and bloodlines! Jesus pulls us all in and throws out the divisive narrative of difference.

To take it further you might remember the time that Jesus appeared after his resurrection to a couple of friends. They didn’t even recognise Him! The account says He appeared to them in a different form to teach them to recognise Him by the spirit and not by appearance. Jesus also spoke of coming to us in the form of a stranger and complimented our willingness to take him in. (Matthew 25:35)  The Lord comes to us through those who are as different to us as foreigners, but like Paul reminds, He is all and in all.

snowflake4Here’s a simple truth for you to embrace today: The universe tends toward diversity! God loves diversity so much that he made every last one of us different. God knows we need the uniqueness and freshness that each one brings to us. We too, like God, are free to love the creativity that diversity brings. Instead of buttressing ourselves within our own lines of sameness and like-usness, we are permitted, even encouraged, to step out and learn from each other. Be open and expectant! That is such a different posture from the closed stance we were taught which is based on fear. Next time you are in a church or meeting that is not your own look around and say to yourself proudly, “This gathering is more than a belief in the same God, these people are family!”

The apostle Peter revealed that God is building something big and beautiful out of all of us, Anglicans, Baptists, Brethren, Coptics, Catholics, Charismatics, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and the hundreds of other kinds of Christians.   We are each “Living stones to make a spiritual house.” 1 Peter 2:5  Can we plumb the depths of that sentence? Each rough-edged stone is being fitted. We are not certain how it all will look in the end, nor do we have to. That’s the glory of God. We are pretty sure, though, that the family of God, imperfect as we are, was made to teach the world the beauty of unity in diversity. We haven’t always done such a good job at this, have we? Lets keep at it!

snowflake

 

Family Means…


It had been years since I saw him last. As I passed through customs to retrieve my luggage, I knew he would be waiting for me in the welcome hall. This trip was because of him. I would preach and teach as usual, but this time God wanted me to be a friend to a big-hearted individual. Anton and I go back a long ways. The first time I met him was in 2000 at a church dedication and conference I was speaking at. We were sitting at the same table. He let others do most of the talking. My impression was that he was shy. I had no idea then that this man with a fun loving smile would one day be part of my own destiny.Anton&me

Honestly, Sri Lanka was never a place I thought about visiting. When Ray Faulkner, the Regional Coordinator at the time, asked me to come and speak, I was surprised, but pleased. It was the first of many trips, often with teams from Canada and Thailand. When Pastor Anton became the Superintendent years later he was keen on developing the young people in both the Tamil and Singhalese churches. I wanted to be a part of this embryonic vision! That’s how Sri Lanka became one of my passions.

It has been my honour to speak in many camps and church meetings. I have spent countless hours with this man weaving in and out of Sri Lanka’s notorious traffic. I became familiar with Colombo’s dichotomy of a colonial past and its continued struggle to become an independent nation. I’ve seen the outcome of a civil war and learned about the persecution by a controlling Buddhist population on minority religions. Anton’s own church was hit twice, once with a grenade in 2002 and then with a petrol bomb in 2003, causing damage to the building and vehicles. I visited after the Tsunami destroyed homes and lives. From the beautiful southern City of Galle to the breathtaking tea estates in the highlands of Candy and Nuwara Eliya Anton and I have laughed generously, cried some, prayed and told each other God-story after God-story.

A lot had changed since I last saw Anton in 2013. I knew he had been through some deep waters. Being a pastor and leader carries a heavy price. While he groaned many prayers, shed many tears, and lost weight, I was going through my own transition. Brain surgery changed drastically the direction of my life and our family transitioned in 2013, first to Germany for a year and then to France. But we kept in touch, as best as one could, considering the distances and circumstances. This year he reached out to me and yearned to lead his church for a time of retreat. I wanted to bring a team from Canada and speak too. Unfortunately the expenses were far too great for the abilities of the congregation to organise a camp on their own. I could neither find a team, nor funds for a camp. My first thought was, “Should I just forget about it and cancel?”  It made sense to say, “Next year, Anton!”

My heart was heavy as I prayed and I knew I was giving up too easily on Anton and his family. I let the Lord know about my desire and my personal financial situation. I felt led to I reach out to an individual, asking humbly if there was any way he could help me with travel. When he agreed, I reached out to another friend for help with some of the logistical expenses. The trip began to take shape. I was pumped. I would spend a week with Anton and his church and a day at a youth camp as well.

Leaving the airport we made our way into crowded Colombo. The traffic was as bad as I had ever seen. Everyone was shopping before the New Year celebrations would close shop. We spent the next three hours chatting away and missing where we were supposed to turn. I reminisced how the last time I visited we were slated to do a Youth Conference but only a few kids showed up. I found out in our car ride that many pastors had boycotted the camp. I never knew how much Anton felt betrayed and deflated. We did a shortened version of the camp there anyway. On our way to the hotel Anton shared how that over the years he was looking for a father figure; his own dad left with another woman when he was 12 years old. At first he wanted a kind of fatherly relationship from me, but as we spent time together he realised we could become real friends.

I prepared well for this trip while in France and was ready for our church meetings on Sunday and Monday. My theme was ‘Transformation’ and emphasised how God does His best work in our lives  when we go through difficult situations. Our teachers are darkness, wounds and pain. If we avoid the blame game we gain insight into our own blind spots and ego. It leads to finding our true identity in Christ. The second day I was blessed by an even larger group and continued to speak on how a changed identity provides security, transparency and a willingness to be vulnerable in family. When Jesus was told that his

Anton &I preaching

Sharing in the church.

brothers and mothers were outside wanting to speak to him, he asked those sitting inside, “Who are my brothers and mother?” No one was prepared for that shocking answer as Jesus realigned what true family would look like in his kingdom. “Anyone who does the will of my Father are my brothers and mother,” he answered!

 

Even as I was speaking my revelation of family was growing clearer. I had always loved travel and meeting people of different cultures. Now I was beginning to see how brothers in Christ should view and treat each other. We say no to slander, divisiveness and stumble together towards grace. It is the only way. We refuse to allow opinions, skin colour, racial or economic biases or jealousy to wreak havoc on the family. The world has been waiting a long time to see such a family. Unfortunately we have showed them a lot less of that. The response to these messages was encouraging.

After four nights in a hotel Anton announced to me his home was ready to receive me. An air conditioner was installed, rented by the day! His three kids painted the walls, moved in Anton’s and Silverine’s own mattress, bought new pillows and sheets and welcomed me home proudly. I saw his family up close. I heard Anton address his wife and children with unfamiliar words. I wanted to know why? He taught me the meaning of these Singhalese words. I asked him how do friends address each other. You see, from my first visit to Sri Lanka I’ve been addressed as Pastor Peter every day, every time, by every single person, including Anton. I wanted to drop the formalities. After thinking a bit he found the word, “machang.” “This,” he said, “is what good friends call each other.” And of course I decided to use that word at the dinner table. “Machang, can you pass the curry?” I waited to see the reaction. It was laughter, appreciation and it was appropriate.

Anton Murphy and I

Anton and I for the evening ritual of sitting outside to relax.

This tall thin white visitor and this short chubby dark-skinned local were now friends and we were a microcosm of the true family of God.

 

I left a bit of my heart in Colombo on this trip. My hope for the church in Sri Lanka has been renewed. The church carries a great responsibility to show its population what our true identity is. It has nothing to do with buildings and rituals. It is above all a receiving of Christ’s identity, participating in His very life and grace.  It took a long trip to a tear-shaped island in the Indian Ocean for me to rediscover a life hid in Christ in God looks like love.

 

 

 

 

 

Conversations at a Bar


He asked, “Is there anyone sitting here?” The place was packed, that’s why I was sitting on a barstool at O’Hara airport, badly needing food. No tables. I saw the previous patron beside me had left upon my arrival. I said to the well-built young man, “It’s all yours!”

The waitress came by and asked, “What can I get ya, honey?” Yes, she used words like honey, dear and darling for everyone. Me too! It must be american-speak for sir or ma’am. He wanted a Miller Light. He didn’t look too happy. “What’s the matter dear,” she asked instinctively? His flight had been canceled because of the snowstorm the preBar_Stoolvious night. And he waited crazy hours in line just to find out that he’d be spending another day in Chicago.

“Ya, it was the worst November storm in 120 years,” I chirped in!
“Ya, it #*%! sucks.” It really wasn’t his day because his afternoon flight had been now delayed too.

He looked at me and after a big swig smiled and spit out a, “Man you’ve got the coolest mustache I’ve ever seen!”
I laughed. “Where ya headin?”
“Japan, going back to the base.”
“You in the U.S Army?”
“Nope, navy.”
“Ah, life on big boats! You get to go down in the subs too?”
“No, thankfully never, can’t stand small spaces. And I hate flying in these little planes. Gotta get boozed up so I can sleep the trip away.” He added a few choice words to describe flying that I can’t write here!

I asked, “Are you of Japanese descent?” For some reason I always enjoy guessing where people are from, but to be honest he didn’t look Japanese. But you never know. “No, I am part Native and part Mexican. Been in the Navy for about seven years! You?”
I answered, “It’s crazy but I was born in Holland and grew up in Canada, though I Lived in Asia for 22 years and now I’m in Paris.”
“Holy ______ Must be nice!”
Everyone seems to think Paris is paradise!

“Ya, it’s okay, but Japan is pretty awesome too! You must like it?”
He said the people were really nice. But he loved Thailand and rhymed off some places he had been, “Pattaya and Phuket.”
Hmmm, I thought, not the most fond of Pattaya, for obvious reasons, but I told him about my love for Thailand, especially the kids.
“Thai kids are so beautiful. I used to raise funds to help kids to get an education. I chaired a board for a charity helping kids born with HIV. I’ve held dying kids in my arms, it changes you. You know kids are the best!”
He said he agreed. Then he added that his own kids and him were going through some challenges. navy life is demanding, but he needed 13 more years total to get a good pension. “I’ll be 39 when I get out!”
“That’s so young to retire!”
“So true, I’ll need to find another job. But the real reason I got to quit, though, is because I don’t know my kids. I am almost never around.”

We talked about family for ten minutes. I told him about mine; five kids! He told me about his three. Two boys and a girl. We both agreed that raising girls was a bit easier for dads! But it takes a lot of discipline to say no to daughters!

Then he looked me in the eye and sadly said, “The reason why I need to go to Japan is that I got a phone call about my son. He’s hearing #@*# voices. He’s all depressed. He needs to go to this special place in Hawaii and get some help. I don’t know what to do!”

I looked at my watch and saw I had to go board my flight. But there was something more I needed to say, to do.

“You know, I don’t think this chair opened up beside me by chance. And I so know that feeling of being a father and thinking ‘how bad of one I am’. But somehow there’s another father I know of who is pretty good at what he does. He’s helped me a lot over the years. And I’d love to be able to ask him to help you in your relationship with your son. You mind if I pray for you?”

He grabbed my hand instinctively and I prayed. I prayed to a faithful Father who knew how broken we, all of us, are. How we feel like crap at times because we just don’t measure up on being fathers. I asked for a real new connection between my new friend and his oldest boy. That kind of stuff and I meant it all!

When I said amen he squeezed my hand tight in his big hand and made the sign of the cross.
“Thanks man, appreciate it. Have a good trip to Paris. I am jealous!”
“You should be!” I laughed.
Fist pumps. Brothers.

I wonder how he’s doing with his boy?