Better than fixed

I remember how in the first few years of marriage Monica and I would sometimes become aggravated with each other when she arrived home from a difficult day at work. Monica loved working at Abbotsford Christian School, but, like with every job, there were days when things just went off the rails. Whenever Monica started telling me about a bad day she’d had, I’d try to listen well and offer advice. Much to my chagrin, our conversations would regularly go downhill with both of us ending up frustrated with each other.

I was baffled. I thought I was being helpful and that my suggestions might begin resolving the issues with which Monica was dealing that day. Yet these conversations routinely stirred up conflict between us.

Calvin & Hobbes cartoon found via Google

Finally one day when a post-work debriefing once again turned argumentative, Monica yelled (full disclosure: I doubt she actually yelled, but what she said had such an impact that it still echoes in my mind): “I don’t want you to fix it! I just want you to listen!”

Oh.

I know Monica is a very intelligent woman. However, my trying to solve her problems communicated that I didn’t think she was smart or capable enough to handle what was going on at work. She didn’t want me to fix anything; she was simply looking for a listening ear. Monica just wanted to know that I loved her and was in her corner.

This was an epiphany for me, and I’d like to think that learning something from this incident has made me a better husband and maybe even a better dad, friend, and pastor.

Monica and I regularly tell this story from our early days of marriage when we’re doing premarital counseling with couples. (I hope they learn quicker than I did!) It came to mind again as Chuck De Groat spoke at Day of Encouragement earlier this month at Dordt College. His keynote address was titled “Pulled in a Hundred Different Directions” and near the start he said, “We feel we need to be fixed when in reality we desire and need to be found.”

I can get so busy and become so distracted from what’s truly important. It’s frustrating and easily leads to conflict with others and within myself. And when that begins to frustrate me, I look for a way to fix it.

Ironically, I cannot fix it. And God would have me know that a fix isn’t even the solution. What I ultimately need is to be found by Him. To recognize again that my primary identity is not rooted in what I’ve done or what I own, but rather in whose I am. My primary identity is that I’m a child of my loving heavenly Father.

Chuck De Groat also said something to this effect: It’s tempting to picture God as someone who’s waiting for me to make my report to Him of what I’ve done. Instead God invites me to come to Him with open, empty hands, confessing that I’m not my own and I’m not defined by what I’ve done.

In many circumstances – including processing with Monica a tough day one of us has just been through – it’s not so critical that things get fixed. It’s knowing I am found – known and loved by family and friends and (even more so) by God Himself.
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The difference between fishing and catching

At Dordt College’s Day of Encouragement at the beginning of the month, local blogger and author Jennifer Dukes Lee spoke about her favorite childhood vacation memories with her parents which regularly included going fishing with her dad. Her dad always said there’s a difference between “fishing” and “catching.” Sure, actually Father and daughter fishing picture found via Googlecatching some fish is nice, but Jennifer’s dad insisted that he loved just spending time fishing with his daughter. He wanted to spend time with her regardless of how many fish she caught.

That time spent fishing with her loving dad taught Jennifer a good deal about her heavenly Father: God loves for us to spend time with Him and He loves us before we have anything to prove to Him. As Philip Yancey says, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more… and nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

Jennifer shared how she began to understand that the good life is not so much about productivity as it is about presence – presence with others, in the presence of God Himself. When it came to her dad, the catching was not nearly as significant as the time just spent fishing. When it comes to our heavenly Father, we don’t need to work hard to get His approval – Jesus takes care of that.

So life isn’t so much about counting fish, counting calories, accolades, or the money in my bank account. Life is counting on God and His grace.
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Growing through success and failure

It’s so easy to let a little praise go to my head and to allow a little criticism to break my heart. God, on the other hand, invites me to experience growth through success and failure, even though it’s easy to miss (to avoid?) in both cases. Here’s a fresh way to see and work through the joys and challenges of life – words easily turned into a God-directed prayer…

Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use suspense as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for longsuffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pains as material for endurance.

– John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer,
quoted by Dale Vander Veen in his daily e-devotions last week
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Quote from Quotespictures.com
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Praying for wisdom, intelligence, and diligence

January calendar graphic found via GoogleI’m a little late for new year’s resolutions, but I read something in my daily prayer book for the fifth day of Epiphany (today) that makes for an excellent one. It comes in the form of a prayer – that I may have “the wisdom to see God, the intelligence to understand Him, and the diligence to seek His face.” What profound words to pray each day in 2015! They prompt me to both know about God and to actually know Him, to both grow in faith and act in faith.

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God of wonders, while our knowledge is encyclopedic, our ignorance is immense. But when we turn our minds to You, the secret things of Your ways and wisdom, we’re reduced to stammering reverence and humble adoration. We worship You, we adore You; to You be the glory forever. Amen.  Philip F. Reinders
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Slow us down, O Lord

I began the Advent season at Trinity CRC speaking about slowing Candle graphic found via Googledown, about not letting the busyness leading up to Christmas rob us from experiencing this season’s significance. Being in a hurry will quickly wreck things any time of the year, but that seems especially true these days. In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, John Ortberg writes about how relationships require love, and “love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is the one thing hurried people don’t have” (p. 81).

After speaking on this, someone emailed me this prayer originally from a group called Education for Justice. Consider praying it with me these next few days as Christmas approaches…

Slow us down, O Lord, this Advent,
so we may understand the darkness we are in,
the darkness of fear that comes with wanting more,
and the fear of having less.
Grant us the light of transformation,
as we wait for your true abundance –
the love of the Incarnation,
a love that brings us true dignity and security,
a love that embraces all, that enriches all,
that calls us all to share justly and celebrate joyfully.
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Psalm 100 by a 4th grader

Girl writing graphic found via Google

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My daughter’s 4th grade class at Rock Valley Christian School recently worked at expressing the messages in various psalms using their own words. Here is how my daughter interprets Psalm 100
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Sing with joy to the Lord, all of His world.
Praise Him with happiness,
come in front of Him with happy songs.
Know that my Lord is my God and He made me.
I’m His.
I’m one of the rubber bands
in the bracelet of His children.
Come through the church doors
with a thankful smile on your face
and a tune of praise in your heart.
Thank Him with a song of praise.
My God is good,
He will love me forever.
He has been faithful to my family.
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Religion in the workplace

CBC featured a news story yesterday about a Trinity Western University (TWU) graduate who alleges she was discriminated against by a wilderness tourism company because of her religion. After applying for a position with Amaruk Wilderness Corporation, Bethany Paquette received a rejection email from the company’s hiring manager who described TWU’s community standards that prohibit “sexual intimacy [outside] the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” as discriminatory. The rejection email included the explanation that “unlike Trinity Western University, we embrace diversity and the right of people to sleep with or marry whoever they want.” Lawyer Geoffrey Trotter reviews Bethany Paquette's human rights complaint with her. (Photo from CBC)Further email correspondence ensued in which it became increasingly clear that Ms. Paquette’s Christianity is incompatible with Amaruk’s business values. Ms. Paquette is now in the process of making a case against Amaruk with the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

While I find it troubling that someone was rejected for a job on the basis of her Christian faith, I’m almost more troubled by a quote from Ms. Paquette herself in which she claims, “My beliefs have developed who I am as an individual, but they don’t come into play when I am doing my job.”

Really?

I would hope the opposite is true – that one’s beliefs have a profound impact on one’s work.

I would hope that my faith helps me see work in general as rooted in God’s original intent for creation: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Work is not a result of the fall into sin; humans are called to meaningful work already in Paradise.

I would hope that my faith informs me of where the skills with which I work come from. Whether it is serving, teaching, or leading, showing up daily at a farm, a factory, or an office, the talents I have are gifts from God Himself, given for the common good of those around me.

I would hope that my faith equips me to work honestly and with integrity while building community among those with whom and for whom I work. After all, I want to be like Jesus who perfectly models “speaking the truth in love,” balancing honesty with grace in every relationship.

I would hope that my faith inspires me to work hard, obeying the apostle Paul’s command: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Ultimately, my work is in service to God who calls me to glorify Him not only on Sundays, but all week long.

In summary, I’d encourage Ms. Paquette to proudly assert how her faith comes into play on the job. It’s quite possible that discriminating against that faith actually cost Amaruk one of the best employees it could have ever hired.

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Trinity Western University logoAn aside: TWU is the same university that has come under scrutiny by various Canadian law societies in recent months because of its community standards. Advocates within the LGBT community voice concerns that the university’s stance against homosexuality will create biased lawyers in its new law program. In the early 2000s when TWU was seeking to accredit its teacher training program, the BC College of Teachers took TWU to court over similar concerns that TWU would produce teachers who would discriminate against students based on sexual orientation.

Now we seem to have a Christian pushing back, claiming that she is the one being discriminated against because of her religious beliefs. It will be interesting to see where this goes.
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