My First Time Base Jumping!

I wrote this in my book Spiritual Rhythm a few years ago:base jump

The fastest growing sport in Norway is wingsuit jumping. It’s the pastime of lunatics, or it’s what warrior-knights do in an age without dragons. It requires steel nerves, a cool-head, a touch of madness. You must be able to look fast-approaching catastrophe in the face, and whoop.

I go onto to describe the equipment: a kind of giant flying squirrel bodysuit that turns the jumper, splayed wide open, into a human kite, sans string. The sport, also called base jumping, has become a worldwide phenomenon.

I did it last weekend.

Not literally. I’m neither brave nor crazy enough for that. I did it figuratively, except with all the same sensations I imagine base-jumpers experience – utmost dread, giddy anticipation, sheer terror, pure exhilaration, an urgent visceral sense that if I live through this it will be one of the most daring things I’ve ever attempted, and if I don’t live I will at least die with a certain flair.

Last weekend I resigned.

I have been in pastoral ministry nearly 24 years, and in my current post over 17. I’ve loved every day of it, except the days I haven’t (usually Mondays, when I nurse a post-sermon hangover and writhe in existential angst about, well, everything). The role has shaped me beyond measure. Being a pastor has done more in me than I have ever done being a pastor. I entered the role soon after my 29th birthday. I will step out of the role just past my 53rd. Between those two milestones lies a universe. I am not the same man. And yet, I am more myself than ever. The pastorate has been trial by ordeal and foretaste of heaven, often on the same day. I have failed miserably and succeeded beyond my wildest hopes. I am loved, and I am despised. I have been a prophet, and a fool. I have poured myself out like a drink offering, and sometimes squandered myself like a cheap piñata. It has been awesome, and burdensome, glorious, and tedious, and altogether beautiful.

And last Sunday, I quit.

Well, not exactly. I announced to my congregation that I would be stepping down as their pastor on June 16. They were justly slightly more shocked than I was. I truly thought I’d be here until roll call.

I do have a landing spot (we’re back to the base jumping metaphor): Ambrose College in Calgary, Alberta – my birth town, now grown vast and rich, but no warmer come winter. I have been appointed Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose Seminary. I start August 1.

Maybe the letter I read my congregation last Sunday best explains all that. Please click this link to see that. Letter

I covet your prayers for me and my family, and also for New Life Church.

Pray we all land, if not softly, at least intact.

Why Your Death Makes for a Great Marriage

marriagefuneral

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:3-4

The biggest threat to marriage is not same-sex legislation, or income-withering taxes, or the frenetic pace of life. It’s not the insidiousness of the internet. It’s not the secularity of the culture.

It’s us. It’s our flesh. It’s the idol of self. It’s the little god me. Each of us is the “I” of the storm.

All marriages fail, at root, because one spouse, or both, fails to die to self, daily. Such thinking is not in vogue. It is not promoted or celebrated – or even acknowledged, other than by ridicule – in a culture of narcissism. It sits at odds with the dominant values of our age. It whispers, almost inaudible, in the din of our times.

But dying to self is the deep wisdom, ancient and ever new. It is a rule of life basic to the flourishing and longevity of your marriage.

So get this straight: it’s not about you.

Believe that, live that, practice that, and almost everything will fall into place. Doubt that, defy that, ignore that, and prepare for a bleak marriage, if it survives at all.

The Bible is filled with holy paradox: the first shall be last, the last first. The least of these are the most honoured. The poor and the hungry and the persecuted of the earth are the most blessed, and the big winners in the end. And this: those who daily wake to a fresh dying are most fully alive. Those who choose the way of servanthood and sacrifice, who follow the example of Christ in the Spirit of Christ, are the ones who find deepest courage, taste greatest joy, walk in richest love.

And have the best marriages.

What can you do today to value your spouse above yourself? To put him or her before yourself? To look to their interests, not just your own? This is not an invitation to some false act of self-effacement. It’s not asking you for some gaudy noisy martyrdom. It’s about dying to whatever in you is just plain selfish and vain. And then choosing humility. And then finding simple tangible heartfelt ways to honour the other.

Don’t make today about yourself. Make it about your significant other. Devise ways to make their joy complete.

But don’t be surprised at how glad it makes you feel, too.
 

Difficult People

bunckmates

Bunk Mates in Heaven

A pastor friend of mine quipped the other day: “There are some people I couldn’t warm up to even if I was cremated with them.”

I laughed, and then didn’t.

I know exactly what he means. There are people who, no matter how hard I try, I just don’t like. They grate on me. They get under my skin. Their laugh, their voice, their manner, their habits, their prevailing attitude or tone or bent – something about them irks or irritates me, and just their showing up forces me to practice Lamaze breathing.

I know this confession outs me for the spiritual pygmy I am. But there it is.

Jesus commanded us, in no uncertain terms, to love each other. But then gets meddlesome, and goes on to define the scope of “each other”: friends, enemies, the least of these, the worst of these, the brother who sins against us again and again and again. It’s a big list. He virtually leaves no one out.

Fine and well. Alright, I’ll do it. I love them. There. You happy?

But you never said I had to like ‘em, right?

Ah, but I’m a pastor. I have, on top of the general command to obey everything Jesus says, one large extra burden: I will be judged more severely if I get it wrong. I cannot become an accuser of the brethren. I cannot choose which sheep I feed or protect, and which I leave in the gulch or to the wolves. I don’t have the luxury of contempt or neglect.

So over the nearly quarter century I’ve been a pastor, I’ve learned and practiced, failed at and started over with, several disciplines that help me love – and even like – those I’d rather avoid. Here are four (of many):

  • Remember the state I was in before Christ found me. Jesus wasn’t drawn to me because of my winsome ways or attractive personality. I was a wretch. I was a starving ragged stinking prodigal, still dripping with piggish muck, when he ran to kiss me. It was my desperate condition that awakened his compassion. He welcomed me and rescued me, not because of who I am, but because of who he is. He calls us to love like that.
  • Tap the power that is in me through the risen Christ. Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 5) that Christ’s loves compels us, because we are convinced his death and resurrection are for everyone. And so, he says, we no longer look at anyone from a worldly point of view. Christ not only gives us a heart transplant: he gives us an eye transplant. The more we steep in his love and grace, the more we see people – everyone – from a “heavenly point of view.” Christ gives us his very own eyes to see people with. Use them.
  • Value others above myself. Paul commands this in Philippians 2. It’s one of the most convicting verses in Scripture, because it’s not limited only to people we like. Paul is talking, for instance, to Euodia and Syntyche, two women who want to rip each other’s faces off (see Phil. 4). It is a sobering and humbling exercise to actually, tangibly do this for someone you don’t like – to value them above yourself, and then act on that value. Try it.
  • Remember where this all ends. I have a theory: the person we least like on earth will be assigned our bunk mate in heaven. I don’t think God will do this as a prank, though. I think he’ll do it so we can laugh with that person for a few thousand years about how petty and small-minded and self-centered we were, and rejoice with them for all eternity at how great is the love of God that he lavishes on us, that we should be called his children, and made one another’s brothers and sisters.

There may be people you couldn’t warm up to if you were cremated with them. But could you if you knew you were to spend eternity with them?

 

When I practice these things, and more besides, God changes me, slow but sure. My LQ – Love Quotient, Like Quotient – goes up.

How’s that going for you?

 

 

Delays, Disruptions, & History

 

I had the best thing happen to me last week: I was late.       

My plane out of Fort Meyers, Florida got delayed almost 5 hours. That meant I

 

missed my connection from Houston to Seattle to Victoria, and had to be re-routed through Calgary, with a 4-hour layover. I arrived home 7 hours later than scheduled.

It was awesome.

I mean that. My son Adam lives in Calgary. When I realized I’d be in his town long enough to have dinner with him, I contacted him and asked if he could meet me at the airport. He was able to get off of work early, and arrived exactly as I cleared customs. We spend a glorious 2 hours together.

It was the best part of the entire trip, a gift and bonus on top of everything.

The upside of a delay like that is obvious. It’s lying right on the surface. But I think every disruption and detour in our lives has grace hidden in its folds. Some of this grace we’ll never know – maybe the 5 minute delay you had in a construction zone spared you a horrific accident further down the road. Some we have to sleuth out – maybe the 5 hour delay at the airport was exactly the time you needed to finish some work. Or maybe it gave you that half-day with God your soul ached for.

It’s surprising how often in Scripture God’s purposes break out from disruption or delay. Because Paul couldn’t get into Asia Minor, he ended up in Macedonia. Because of a series of disruptions in Macedonia, many people’s lives were transformed: a rich woman, an enslaved demon-afflicted girl, a grim prison guard, a prison house of hard-bitten criminals.

And – though not even Paul knew this at the time – that little stopover in Macedonia opened up the entire missionary enterprise into Europe. The gospel that finally reached you came through the door of a re-routed schedule.

None of this would have happened if Paul had carried on according to his own well-laid plans. God stalled him and then re-directed him. The results changed lives. The results changed history.

Not a bad thing to ponder next time your flight’s delayed.

What Make the Wise Wise?

Most real wisdom, the deep stuff, is formed in a crucible. It is shaped out of pain. We can know many things – things learned in books, things gleaned from observation or conversation, things fitted together through contemplation. All is good, and all is needed. But rarely does knowledge become wisdom without  first passing through fire. It’s suffering that transmutes it. The difference between a scholar and a sage is not how much they know, but how much they’ve been broken.

             But there’s a danger. Suffering also embitters. The difference between a sage and a grumbler is not how much they’ve been broken, but how much they’ve found grace in their brokenness. The wisest people I know have been through many hard things. But that’s true also of the most bitter people I know. All that’s made the difference, as far as I can tell, is that the wise keep finding grace, and the bitter keep missing it.

            The Bible confirms this. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb. 12:15).

The Bible promises that there is no suffering devoid of grace. There is no pain where grace is absent. There is no loss or mistake where grace does not abound. Grace is everywhere, though sometimes it takes deep searching to see it. I have to choose daily, and then throughout the day, to find grace, and to lay hold of it.

            Are you in a crucible? Are you going through something right now that threatens to embitter you?

Just stop. Breathe. Pray. And look around. Do you see it? Some sign of God’s goodness and presence right there, within reach? A cup of hot tea. A patch of sunlight on the floor. A cupboard with food in it. A dog that doesn’t care how messed up you are or how much you’ve messed up. A grandma that loves you.

A God that keeps running to greet you.

Grace abounds.

Don’t miss it, O wise one.

Doubting Worshipers, Worshiping doubters

I single line near the end of Matthew’s gospel has my full attention:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted (Matt. 28:16-17).

But some doubted. That’s the line.

I can’t stop thinking about it.

This scene on a mountain takes place right after Jesus’ resurrection and right before his great commission.

It’s with the eleven disciples. These are those who saw Jesus crucified, and now behold his glory. These are those who see the risen Lord with their own eyes, touch him with their own hands, hear him with their own ears. These are those who Jesus entrusts with the entire weight of his purposes in the world:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

But some doubted.

All worship, but some doubt.

           That describes me. It describes, I suspect, most Christ-followers. We’re a species of worshiping doubters, a breed of doubting worshipers. Our doubts mingle with our faith. Our hesitancy is joined to our fervency. Our dogmatism is woven with our skepticism.  Our hallelujahs compete with our laments.

           We worship, and we doubt.

           Or at least, I do.

           My strength is in the Lord my God, but I can be frightened or saddened by the least little downturn or disruption. I attest to God’s goodness in the assembly of the righteous, but grow suspiciously quiet elsewhere. I trust in the Lord with all my heart, and sometimes worry all night long.

           I worship, and I doubt.

           But here’s the good news: Jesus chooses me anyhow. Jesus works with me all the same. Jesus entrusts me with heavenly purposes nonetheless. Jesus came to them and said, Here’s my authority, and here’s my plan. Now go fulfill it. He does not segregate the worshipers from the doubters. He knows that most of us have both impulses at work in us. He calls us anyhow, and send us to go and to do his work in his power.

           So doubting worshiper and worshiping doubter though I am, here I go.

   

 

 

The Kingdom Belongs to Such as These

 

Last week in Toronto,  speaking at The Peoples Church, I had a heart-altering experience. I was speaking from the passage in John 5 where Jesus asks a man who has been “an invalid for thirty-eight years” if he wants to get well. The man doesn’t leap at the opportunity. Essentially, he whines.

            Jesus heals him anyhow.

            One of the puzzles of this story is, Why only one? John says that there was a “great multitude of disabled people – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” lying about the place. Why didn’t Jesus heal them all, or at least a baker’s dozen?

            In the first service, I wondered about that, and offered a few thoughts on it.

            Then I attended the Friendship Class. The Friendship Class is for adults with physical and/or mental disabilities. About 15 came that day – I was told that sometimes up to 40 people come, but it was brutally cold that day and most of people in the class depend on public transportation and so many stayed home.

            For the next half hour, I joined their fellowship, worship, testimony, and Bible discussion. None of it was polished. All of it was a bit chaotic. It was full of glitches and interruptions. The singing was mostly off key.

            And yet I have never experienced the Kingdom of God so tangibly.

            Everyone was utterly free of pretention. There was no posturing. There was not a whiff of envy or rivalry. There was love, and joy, and real pain, unconcealed, and a deep spirit of heartfelt welcome. The first thing many of the people did on meeting me was hug me, and lay their head on my chest. Some pinched my cheeks. It was disarming.

            I went back to preach the second service, wrecked. What had I just witnessed?

            I got to the place in my sermon when I asked the question, Why just one?

            But this time I answered differently: “I’ve just come from visiting the Friendship Class. I stood in the presence of some of the most Christ-like people I’ve ever met. So I’m wondering if the reason Jesus only heals one man here is that he looks around at all the disabled people, and he only sees this one man who isn’t whole, so he helps him.” 

            Jesus pointed to the weakest, the smallest, the least in our midst, and told us to pay special attention: the kingdom belongs to such as these, he said.

            I’m starting to get what he meant.

Come Alive

Come Alive

I’ve been thinking about King David’s worst day. He had many, if the psalms are any guide. Bleakness stalked him, calamity lay in ambush. He made stupid decisions that cost him dearly. He suffered betrayal, divorce, assassination attempts, coup attempts. Some of his best plans went horrible awry. He was hunted by a crazy king. He lost his best friend. One of his sons raped one of his daughters, another of his sons murdered the rapist, then his chief henchman killed the son.

There is more bloodshed and sorrow in David’s story than in a Shakespeare tragedy.

But I think his worst day is when his son Absolom overthrows his kingdom – not because losing a kingdom is the worst that can happen, but because that day is a perfect storm: all his sorrows converge. A tsunami of accumulating disaster surges, breaks, and engulfs him. He is woebegone in a thousand ways.

David evacuates Jerusalem. Like Jesus on his own lonely and sorrowful night two millennia later, David crosses the Kidron Valley and climbs the Mount of Olives. An old enemy shows up to taunt him, hurl rock and dirt on him. The writer captures with terse vividness the weight of it all: “The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted” (2 Sam. 16:14).

Exhausted. In Hebrew, it means he was fainting tired. He was collapsing with weariness. He was dead on his feet. He was completely empty.

But then the writer adds this: “And there he refreshed himself.”

Refreshed. In Hebrew, it means he breathed deep. He restored his soul. He came alive. He was abundantly full.

I think this is a spiritual skill David learned back in the sheepfold: how to locate God – his presence, his strength, his goodness – in the thick of troubles. How to hear God’s voice in the din – beneath the condemning silences, above the jeering shouts. Indeed, I believe David wrote Psalm 23 out of the experience of this day, as he walked through a valley of death, surrounded by enemies. It’s here he turns afresh to God, and finds God’s comfort, and provision, and guidance, and renewal. “He restores my soul,” David says in Psalm 23. It’s the same word used here for refreshed.

This is a skill every Christ-follower needs to cultivate. Finding God in the dark. Resting in God in the turmoil. Trusting in God in the teeth of catastrophe. Being restored by God when all earthly comforts fail.

It’s a skill you cultivate daily, until it becomes a muscle memory, an instinct, a default. And then, just when it’s needed – when you’re dead on your feet – it kicks in. And you come alive.

The Apostle Paul puts it this way:  

I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Phil. 4:11-13; Msg).

I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Amen.

Why I Write

Why I Write

 

I did an interview with Mystery writer Jayne Self a few weeks ago
on how and why I became a writer.

 

I though you might be interested. Please check out the link below,
and while there check out Jayne’s Blog and books, as well as her
interviews with a number of other Christian writers.

 

http://www.christianswhowrite.ca/mark-buchanan-interview/

 

 

 

 

I was Away

I was away with a team from our church for close to 3 weeks in Bolivia. It was second time there.

It is a place that both haunts and inspires. Ranked by the UN as the poorest country in South America, on the ground it feels like one of the most industrious, ambitious, progressive countries in the world. Bolivia’s energy is palpable. Its people are hard-working, focussed, and more than a little pushy. Though Bolivians often run late, they also always seem in a hurry.

Over the past 30 years, I have had several first-hand encounters with poverty in the developing world – in East Africa, South East Asia, northern India, parts of Central and South America. The more I’ve seen it, the longer I’ve pondered it, the less I understand it. Rarely does poverty seem a result of laziness or lack of intelligence. Indeed, some of the most innovative, insightful, industrious, resourceful people I’ve met are among the global poor. I think, as one instance, of a mother I met in Kanpur, India, who supports her entire family – husband included – by working 14 hour days baking and selling pastries. She fetches about $10 a day, much of which goes back into her business.

Not only is my lifestyle outrageously lavish next to hers, but my work ethic shockingly lethargic.

I don’t pretend to have more than the weakest grasp on the issues surrounding global poverty. All I can say is that, from the little exposure I’ve had, the problem rarely lies in the motivations or initiatives of the poor themselves, at least not at first. A lifetime of grinding away to scratch together pennies would eventually erode even the hardiest resolve. But the majority of impoverished people I’ve seen, I’ve met, I’ve spoken with have more endurance in their little finger than I have in my whole body.

I don’t know how to solve the problem of global poverty. All I know, standing next to my new friends in Bolivia, is that they possess riches I lack, and they have much to teach me.