If Worship Were Hockey

Now, at the worst possible moment, I dare to utter my heresy.

I’m not a hockey fan.

Indeed, let me commit the ultimate hockey sacrilege: It’s just a game.

I am aware of the Canuck’s standing in the playoffs. I can name most of the key Canuck players. I do hope they win the Stanley Cup. I think of them as “our” team. But I haven’t rearranged my life one iota to make room for any of it.

I know this puts me at odds with most of the world, or at least the province. It probably makes me a less effective pastor: all those in-the-moment sermon illustrations I’m missing out on, all those opportunities to bond with others around the sacred shrine, all those chances to be a man’s man.

I regret all this, but don’t repent of any of it.

I rarely watch hockey (I enjoy playing it) because of my father. He was a fan in the root sense – a fanatic, a zealot. The game flipped a switch in him. It provoked him to rants and tantrums. It awakened in him extravagant jubilation or harrowing grief. He cussed out players and coaches and – especially – referees like they were in the room with him and they were all in the middle of a union strike. He would literally turn purple with rage, or giddy with elation, depending on who just scored.

It all left me cold. Looking back, I see that hockey might have been a place my dad and I met. Instead, it became one more wall between us. I resented how it consumed him. I resented how he displayed more passion for and devotion to the antics of over-paid men than he showed for anything else. He resented, I think, my indifference.

All these years later, and my dad 15 years in the grave, I still get a funny feeling, a sadness and a loneliness, whenever I hear the distinctive hockey anthem strike up.

But there’s one thing I wish: that I was as excited about worshiping God as my dad was about watching hockey – that I was that willing to abandon myself to the moment, to enter it wholly and freely, to inhabit it with total commitment. I wish I sat at seat’s edge, yelling and cheering, for the King to show his glory like my dad did when his team got a breakaway. I wish I leapt to my feet to declare God’s praises as quickly as my dad leapt to his to roar his delight when his team scored. I wish I was that unrestrained in my love for God. My dad’s fanaticism for a mere game taught me what fervor looks like.

It embarrasses me that my worship still falls short of that.

The Youth Director at my church at the once-a-month youth worship service wondered how to engage a handful of bored, listless boys in worship. She stood up at the microphone and asked, “How many of you love the Canucks?” Pretty much all of them.

“And how many of you love God?” Pretty much all of them.

“Do you think tonight you could show that you love God at least as much as you love the Canucks?” It’s that phrase at least that gets me most.




Grace Abounding

I read recently a report detailing an investigation into RCMP misconduct. One finding of the investigation: the RCMP were guilty of a "flawed process." There was botched handling of the situation, insufficient checks and balances, ignorance or negligence of procedural protocols, and the like.

My single opinion about all that: being a cop is a tough job, and anyone subjected to the same level of intense scrutiny might likewise be found guilty of a "flawed process." But I got mulling over that phrase "flawed process." We only ever hear that when something goes wrong. Indeed, we only ever really scrutinize any process when we don't like the outcome. Failure, disaster, tragedy, damage – these are what spark an investigation into process. What happened here? What went wrong? Who's to blame?

Success, victory, prosperity, healing – these rarely spark investigation. They just prompt celebration. We don't do post-mortems on live bodies, and we don't inquire deeply into why something works out. We're just glad it does. When faced with massive failure, we cast about for someone to blame. We dig and pry and burrow. And almost always we discover a "flawed process." But when greeted by dazzling success, we just tend to laugh, cheer, congratulate each other, maybe hand out bonuses, and inquire no further. We chalk it up to our brilliance and hard work. End of story. No investigation required.

But here's what I've begun to realize: success is produced by flawed process as much as failure is. Success, like failure, is the result of many things we neither predict nor control. Winning, not just losing, is usually marked by a significant measure of bumbling, guessing, lurching, leaps in the dark, and hair-brained risks. But all of that, if we notice it at all, is praiseworthy, not blameworthy, as long as we like the outcome. The man who takes a wild risk and loses a million dollars is an idiot. The man who takes a wild risks and makes a million is a genius.

But there's a deeper thing going on here. The Bible says grace soaks the whole thing. Grace, not flawed or brilliant process, is the real story in both our success and our failure, our winning and our losing. There is not one inch where grace doesn't abound. There is not one situation where grace isn't sufficient. Grace is thick in your most spectacular victories. And grace pours out and leaps up in your most crushing defeats.

So the next time anything goes really right or really wrong, accept that both came about by a flawed process. But even more, know that each contains a wealth of grace. If you investigate anything, look hard for that.


Pastor Mark

Good Leaders

Gary Nelson, former General Secretary for Canadian Baptist Ministries (our tribe) and current President of Tyndale University, told me this week that a colleague described his leadership this way: "You prefer to make every decision from consensus, but when there is no consensus you are unafraid to make a decision." I've known Gary for 20 years, and that nails it. And it articulates a winsome model of good leadership.

A good leader is neither a bully nor coward. They do not arbitrarily impose their will on anyone, but they're not afraid to break an impasse, either. A good leader seeks and honours a wide range of views, listens closely to all of them, asks many questions, probes for the values underneath, gives the benefit of the doubt, and works to shape consensus from diversity.

But consensus is not always possible, especially when underlying values clash. In that case, consensus is not even desirable, because it will involve a fatal compromise. It's then that a good leader decides. That decision is anchored in deep convictions and core values. It never asks, "Will this be popular?" but only, "Is this the right thing to do?"

Every good leader is a peace-maker until they have to become a warrior.

Which points to the secret of good leadership: it comes from good self-leadership. Every good leader I know, whether they oversee a massive organization or no more than their own family, have this in common: each and all lead themselves well. They have disciplines to subdue their anger, to assuage their insecurities, to deepen their humility, to bolster their courage, and to clarify their beliefs. They rarely need to be rebuked because they beat everyone else to the punch. They know, as David did, how to find strength in God when others want to lynch them (see 1 Samuel 30:3-6). They can say, with total conviction, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

Which is to say, all good leaders are good followers. They submit, heart and soul and mind, to the Leader of Leaders, the King of kings, the Lord of Lords, and the only one who is truly good – Christ Jesus.

And the Walls Came Tumblin Down

I've spoken in the past 5 months to 5 different Christian 'tribes': the Salvation Army officers of BC, the Alliance pastors of BC, the Vineyard pastors of Canada, the Mennonite Brethren pastors of BC, and the Pentecostal Assembly pastors of BC & the Yukon. By year's end, I'm scheduled to speak to the Baptist pastors of the Atlantic provinces, the Baptist pastors of the Western provinces, and the Presbyterian churches of Northern Ireland, and early next January to the Fellowship Baptists youth pastors of Canada.

Either the sky is falling or the Kingdom is at hand.

In the 30 or so years I've been a Christ-follower, I have never seen this kind of open rapport among denominations. I have vivid and quite recent memories of deep suspicion and unveiled disdain between the tribes, even just between varieties of Baptists. Now that's all fading to white. In the past 10 years, I've watched denominational walls tumble and denominational enmities dwindle.

God must smile.

What's more, it's hard to tell the difference anymore between the various groups. There are still the obvious markers: Salvation Army officer's distinctive indigo uniform with deep red epaulets, Pentecostal's habit of everyone praying simultaneously, Vineyard's love for multiple repetitions of choruses. But all in all, I keep meeting up with the same core theology of the cross and the Kingdom, the same desperate hunger for the Spirit to fall afresh, the same practical challenges to be in the world but not of it. Everyone desires to do God's mission in God's strength for God's glory. That has, I imagine, always been the case, but in the past we've let our minor differences loom larger than our common roots and our common cause, and so have diminished the mutual benefit we could be to each other. Less and less is that the case.

Something very close to God's heart is happening here. We are watching in real time the church be the answer to Jesus' prayer: "I pray that" all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:20-23).

I don't think Jesus meant organizational unity, which would be unwieldy and ineffective.  He meant oneness of heart, regardless of our individual traditions.

It is an immense privilege that you and I get to live to see this. It is even more of a privilege that you and I are invited to join this: to "make every effort to keep the unity through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).

May the walls keep tumblin' down.


Pastor Mark