Thanksgiving is a Spiritual Discipline

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Thanksgiving is a choice. Because if we wait until the time is right, if we believe that thanksgiving is only expressed in prosperous times, when enjoying perfect health, budget surpluses, and when peace on earth reigns — I’d guess thanksgiving wouldn’t apply to our practice of faith at all, would it?

Saint Paul encouraged the people of Thessalonica to “give thanks ALWAYS”. He was writing to a fledgling church bowing under the pressures of the culture. Early Christians there were targeted for unpatriotic behavior and often called to testify their loyalty (or not) to Julius Caesar and Emperor Octavian, considered widely as “God” and “son of God” respectively.

Under these oppressive cultural and political circumstances, why would you give thanks? When likely suffering from some form of persecution, for what would those Christians be thankful?

Saint Paul wasn’t naive. But he was wise. Because a heart oriented in faith in Christ, is a heart that instinctively seeks to emphasize the good, the positive, the hopeful, the silver-lining. Otherwise, why have faith? There is bad, to be sure. But there is always also some good. What is the good, even in a bad situation?

A loving phone call. Someone’s smile. A grandchild’s laugh. A note in the mail from a friend. Warm, sunny weather in Fall-time, a restful night, a few pain-free hours, etc., etc., etc.

A heart of thanksgiving does not live in denial of the harsh realities of life. It only holds those harsh realities in the larger perspective of faith. And our very lives are held always in the hands of a loving God. The end of history is the triumphal God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. Despite all that is bad in our world, we ARE heading toward that end where the Lord stands victorious!

Thanksgiving is a discipline because we have to be intentional about it. It isn’t always easy. We are called to make the time to remember the blessings of each day, no matter how tough it can get.

In an article written to the “Canada Lutheran” magazine this past summer (Vol.26,No.6,p.31), Bishop Michael Pryse of the Eastern Synod – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada relates what someone once suggested to him: “Life is not just a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow, what a ride!’ That’s the kind of spirit,” concludes Bishop Pryse, “I’d like to see more of in our churches.”

It’s the spirit of celebration and thanksgiving, despite the circumstances.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Pastor Martin

Pentecost 15A – Less is More

please read Philippians 2:5-13

Earlier this month I read in the news that Air Canada will now be charging a modest fee for checked luggage on flights to the U.S. The move is intended to raise more revenue for the cash-strapped airline. But travellers are now deterred from taking lots of baggage on their journey.

With the threat of a so-called double-dip recession looming, the catch word now is “austerity.” You might have heard of European governments, such as Italy and Greece, implementing austerity measures to curb debt and get a grip on their government finances which are adversely affecting world markets. Austerity basically means cutting back, doing with less or without, simplifying. You could imagine, austerity is not very popular.

Whether it is a flight you are taking on a journey somewhere, or the journey of daily living, or even the spiritual journey – the journey of faith – it nevertheless seems we are being called to reconsider our limits – limits on spending, limits on self-gratification, limits on our ego desires and wants.

Indeed, can we but see the silver lining in doing with less, the healing and wholeness it could bring to our complex and material-rich lives? What could happen should we embrace the more “simplified” life?

Our egos, certainly, get in the way. Our human nature doesn’t like this. We compulsively want more. We have a built-in ‘inflationary’ tendency, bent on incessant action, accomplishment, acquisition. We don’t want to hear the advice that counsels: “The sky won’t fall down if you stop trying to hold it up for a little while.” The markets, experts say, need to periodically correct themselves, because the bubble will burst if self-regulation on the parts of governments, businesses and individual households doesn’t happen. And I would add – in our personal and faith journeys as well.

The scripture from Philippians written by Saint Paul is one of the oldest texts from the New Testament. It is a poem, a hymn, yes even a creed, sung and read by early Christians whenever they met to affirm their faith in a God who chose to self-limit, to be humbled. The hymn can be divided into two sections, with two very distinct movements in each.

The first movement is downward. A very baptismal image of being immersed in the waters, of being submerged, “drowned”, going under. No wonder this hymn was often sung in early Christianity at baptisms. This movement is of a God who chose to go from glory to downright humility and death.

                                … Jesus Christ, who, though he was in the form of God,   did not regard

                                equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,

                                taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness … he humbled

                                himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

 It is this movement that Christians today are being called to follow.

Whether it is a call to simplify a lifestyle overdrawn on itself; whether it is a call to reassess our appetites for more; whether it is a call to slow down in a hectic life; whether it is a call to understand anew the true meaning of “success” in God’s eyes – whatever the case may be, we are called to follow in the WAY of Jesus.

In fact the early Christians weren’t identified as “Christians” until much later; in the first decades after Jesus ascended to heaven, they were called “followers of the WAY” (Acts 22:4). Which WAY, or whose WAY, you might ask? The way of Jesus, of course. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the truth, and the life …” (John 14:6)

The word, the WAY, implies a journey. And on this journey we need to “travel light” – such was the great theme title of a recent Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth (CLAY) gathering; “travel light”. Followers of the WAY, the journey we are on, necessitates that we follow Jesus best by travelling lightly – not hectically, not burned-out, not wanting always more and more and more – but by acknowledging our limitations, respecting them, divesting our lives of everything that is unhealthy – and we know what those things are for each of us, deep down, I believe.

We can’t begin to move up, unless we first go down. What goes up, must first have moved down, right? Easter can’t happen without Good Friday. The journey, the WAY, of Jesus – life in him – reflects this cycle of dying and rebirth, of going down and coming up.

A journey defined by the WAY of Jesus implies movement. On the other hand: inertia, remaining stuck in OUR way, when we remain intransigent, when we insist on our OWN way – doesn’t track with this. The new thing we so desperately want for our lives, the answer to the question, the way out of a difficult situation, whatever, doesn’t happen unless we take the risk and move in some direction, to begin with. If we decide not to do anything, it ain’t gonna work.

The car can’t be guided by the steering wheel unless it is first moving; the car can’t turn unless the wheels are rolling. God can guide us only when we are rolling, at least a little. Whatever the context of our lives, we must acknowledge the change that IS happening already.

Because in order for something good to happen, something first must die. In order for us to move on in a direction that IS healthy, life-giving and life-promoting, something has to stop. The prophet Isaiah

                                Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.

                                I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

                                I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19)


The promise of God, as the Psalmist in our reading today emphasizes, comes to us anew. The grace of God, the mercy and power and guidance comes to us once we have reached this vulnerable, honest, transparent, true “bottom” point – this desert place – in the rhythm, movement and journey of our lives.

                                God guides the humble in doing right and teaches his ways to the lowly.

                                (Psalm 25:8)


The first of all the beatitudes that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount is,

                                Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Poverty is a word closely associated with “austerity” – a place in the desert of our lives when we have but no other option than to fall on our knees at the throne of grace and mercy, at ground zero, divested of all our ego pride and pretention and persona and bravado … and wait upon the Lord.

 The second section from verses 9 through 11 in the Philippians text – the early hymn/creed of the Followers of the WAY – then announces the glorious movement upward out of the ashes.

 In the movement upward, Jesus is celebrated as who he truly is – the exalted One, the Son of the Living God, to whom “every knee should bend” (v.10). In the movement upward out of death and in rebirth Jesus is glorified for his true identity, something he never really was without, truth be told, even in and during the downward cycle to the cross. Jesus was always Jesus. And it is the action of God the Father to re-instate him, so to speak.

 This is the encouragement of Saint Paul to us who choose to follow in the WAY of Jesus: to be who we are. Not to be who we are not. Not to imitate someone else whom we may admire or be jealous of or compare ourselves to or covet for whatever reason. Not to go beyond the limitations of our being. “Let the same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus … who did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself …”

 Who are we, then? Beloved children of God, loveable and loving, created each of us in the very image of God (Genesis 1:27).  So, be bold in who you are in Christ!

 Be who you are. The approach, however, can be summarized in the phrase: Less is More. By the spiritual practices of praying release, of forgiving, of showing mercy, of letting go of anger, guilt and fear – less is more. Not popular. Not easy. It is truly the “narrow way” to enter the kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14).

Nevertheless, in this movement of the WAY of Jesus we discover less will be more. We will discover that indeed, as Saint Paul writes earlier in Philippians –

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you

WILL bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ (1:6).

Not our way, not our work – but God’s. The good work you do in Christ’s service IS the very work of God.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Parable of a Good Leader

What makes a good leader?


“Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a king in Ireland. Ireland had lots of small kingdoms in those days, and this king’s kingdom was one among many. Both king and kingdom were quite ordinary and nobody paid much attention to either of them.

“But one day, the king received a huge beautiful diamond from a relative who had died. It was the largest diamond anyone had ever seen. It dazzled everyone. The other kings began to pay attention to him for if he had a dimaond like this he must be special. The people, too, came from far and wide to see the diamond. The king had it on constant display in a glass box so that all who wished could come to see and admire it. Of course, armed guards kept a constant vigil. Both king and kingdom prospered, and the king attributed all his good fortune to the diamond.

“One day a nervous guard asked to see him. The guard was visibly shaken. He told the king terrible news: the diamond had developed a flaw! A crack right down the middle! The king was horrified and ran to the glass box to see for himself. It was true. The diamond was now flawed terribly.

“He called all the jewelers in the land to ask their advice. They gave him only bad news. The flaw was so deep, they said, that if they were to try to sand it down, they would grind it to practically nothing, and if they tried to split it into two still substantial stones, it easily might shatter into a million fragments.

“As the king was pondering these terrible options, an old jeweler who had arrived late came to him and said, ‘If you will give me a week with that stone, I think I can fix it.’ The king didn’t believe him at first because the other jewelers were so sure it couldn’t be fixed, but the old man was insistent. Finally the king relented, but said he couldn’t let the diamond out of his castle. The old man said that would be all right: He could work there and the guards could stand outside the room where he was working.

“The king, having no better solution, agreed to let the old man work. For a week he and the guards hovered about, hearing scratching and gentle pounding and grinding. They wondered what he was doing and what would happen if the old man were tricking them.

“Finally, the week was up and the old man came out of the room. King and guards rushed in to see the old man’s work, and the king burst into tears of joy. It was better! The old man had carved a perfect rose on the top of the diamond, and the crack that ran down inside now was the stem of the rose.”

Every leader has a special gift visible for all to see and even admire. Effective and genuine leadership, however, does not deny fault and flaw in self, pretending perfection and fueling delusions of righteousness. A good leader does not hide her weakness, which is the other side of the gift, but confesses it unabashadly.

A good leader grants permission to self and others for the work of transformation, turning the very weakness into its corresponding strength: fear to courage, pride to self-respect, perfectionism to patience, anger to generosity, etc.

Finally, a good leader is not embarrassed by the process of healing. By being openly vulnerable to another’s healing and help, the good leader allows something beautiful and unexpected to emerge out of the flaw. A rose grows with the thorn.

The story of the king’s diamond comes from Clarence Thomson, in his book “Parables and the Enneagram” p.1-2 Metamorphous Press, Portland OR, 1996

Leadership in the Ice Age – Bring the Warmth of Compassion

“Ice Age 3 – Dawn of the Dinosaur”

Okay, you can tell I have kids.

And I can’t get away from making the connections between these children-friendly flicks and the meaning of leadership, pesonality differences, relationships, and life.

Indulge me. The group of ice-age animals are on another adventure. And this time, the clumsy, accident-prone clown in the group – Sid – brings three baby dinosaurs to their valley home. I replay over and over again the scene in this movie entitled, “That’s One Angry Fossil”, where the mommy T-rex snifs out her lost hatchlings and brings fear and terror to the perceived safety of Sid’s family of friends.

When the angry T-rex enters the valley on the hunt one of Sid’s friends, Manny the Mammoth, advises everyone to remain absolutely still. For perhaps the visually impaired giant will mistaken the terrified gaggle of creatures for trees, rocks, snow drifts and bushes, and move on, leaving them alone.

After a few seconds of strenuous, forced silence and stillness, however, all hell breaks loose. While Manny holds his ground and remains still, an ostrich sticks her head in the snow and a four-legged fur ball runs across the screen screaming “Aaaahhhh!” Mayhem ensues, and the chase is now on. No more pretending. No more hiding. All is now in the open.

Socrates’ guiding rule was “Know Thyself”. Never better advice than when confronted with our greatest fears and challenges. To be one’s true self in leadership, life, relationship – is to demonstrate a degree of self-awareness and self-knowledge. And, I would add, especially in adversity, self-compassion.

If the T-rex may symbolize all that scares us in life, all that stands in opposition to us, all that represents adversity and challenge – how do you normally respond? When leaders are honest about themselves and are openly on a journey of transformation and healing, they give permission to the people they lead to do the same.

Where would you locate yourself amid the various responses of the Ice Age animals:

1. Are you like Manny the Mammoth who holds his ground, immovable, unyielding, offering power-against-power?

2. Are you like the ostrich, who sticks her head in the ground trying to hide from and pretend the problem will go away if you avoid it or deny it?

3. Are you like the fur-ball creature who copes with stress by “screaming”, acting out, and incessantly moving, running and drawing an overwhelming burden of attention upon yourself?

Likely we demonstrate all of the above to varying degrees depending on the circumstance. Likely, as well, you tend towards one of the three most of the time. Which one?

The solution is not found in following one of the above-described compulsions. Pursuing each of the three to their logical ends does no-one any good:

1. Remaining immovable and unyielding through it all will undermine any mutuality, team-work and compromise – values integral to effective leadership.

2. Hiding from the problem, pretending it doesn’t exisit, faking a positive impression leads to a breakdown of honesty, embrace of reality and building genuine relationship – values integral to effective leadership.

3. Acting out, immersing yourself in hyper-activity and over-stepping boundaries on the pretext of caring leads to the demise of mutual respect – also valuable in effective leadership.

The solution is also not in repressing these natural qualities that make up our ego-identity. The development of our ego is important in self-differentiation and adding spice to life with others. Each of us brings untold gifts, abilities and flavour to whatever organization and community to which we belong. So, while our egos often get us into trouble, we also need to appreciate them and love the good they bring. We love Sid for his humour, Diego for his prowess, Manny for his wise presence. Trying to be other than who we are at the start, or engaging in hateful self-talk about our compulsive tendencies, serve only to hinder our growth and maturity.

Compassion with self, on the other hand, offers a way through.

In the climax of the movie, mommy T-rex saves Sid from certain death. By the end of the movie, we see how the mother T-rex, Sid, and the three baby dinosaurs become friends. I don’t want to give too much away – watch the movie even if you don’t have kids! – to find out how.

Let me say at very least the solution was found not by avoiding the problem or giving up, but by following a natural curiosity and love for each other despite the challenges they faced.

In leadership, our compulsions may initially drive our responses to adversity and fear. Such responses may result in successes from time to time. Ultimately, however, if we remain at this unaware level of consiousness we will become disappointed and frustrated more often than not.

More importantly, whether or not we can integrate our lives with compassion both for our compulsive natures and whatever ignites our compulsions – this will determine our longevity and resiliency in leadership, and in relationship with others.

Marriage and Radical Love


We are here today because you …. [names] …. have invited us to be with you in this very special moment in your lives. I count myself among those who feel very much honoured to witness to the celebration of your love for each other, and the blessing of God upon your marriage.

Indeed, I suspect we are doing this because you want your relationship — which began years ago — to endure long after this day. You want your relationship of marriage to be strong and long-lasting. You want your marriage to be rooted, and grounded, in the love you share, and the love given to you.

We want this because we know the challenges that will come to your marriage. The storms of life will come: Disappointments. Failures. Illness. Circumstances of life often beyond our control cause us anxiety, fear and suffering. And these can have devastating results on our marriage.

We are enjoying this moment together outside. And we can easily see much of the natural beauty of creation, including the many trees surrounding us.

Trees have been in the news lately, what with hurricane Irene and the record number of tornadoes across this continent over the summer. Billions of dollars of damage, and most of the lives lost in the recent hurricane due to fallen trees in the storms. It seems the trees were the focus of much of the problems from the wind storms.

I just have to look outside in our backyard where the top of a birch tree was ripped off in that wicked storm in Pembroke last month. This image reminds me of an important quality of a healthy marriage: Radical love – rooted love, grounded love – the love of God given to us, and born in our hearts, each and everyone one of us gathered here today.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The wise man in the storm prays to God not for safety from danger but deliverance from fear.” So it seems to me that the issue is more about our response to the storm rather than the storm itself. Wise people are able to respond in ways that help not hinder their way forward through the storms of life. They are somehow able to remain rooted in themselves and in spiritual truth – I would say, the presence and love of Christ.

And Jesus demonstrated a radical kind of love. “Radical” means the “root” of something, the “source” of whatever it is you are describing. How is this radical love manifested in our lives? What are some signs of the love for which we gather this day?

The one thing we tend to overlook in assessing all the damage wreaked on the land from the wind storms – is all the trees, even ancient ones, that withstood the onslaught. What is it about these trees that have contributed to their endurance?

  1. Healthy trees have an innate ability to bend, to yield, in adversity and in the storm. True strength of character, in a relationship, comes not in remaining rigid and unmoving and stuck-in-a-rut. Otherwise, you’ll break. True strength of being is not about flexing power and muscle and bull-dozing through your point-of-view in an uncompromising, unyielding fashion. True love does not, in Saint Paul’s words, “insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The trees that survive the storms and endure over time are trees that from their youth on, have bent over almost touching the ground in the storms. They have not been shielded from the wind but exposed to them right from the start. I think this is wholesome advice at the beginning of a marriage; usually it’s in the first year or so that the greatest challenges to the marriage surface. The art of compromise, the intuition for mutual giving and receiving is balanced in a healthy two-way marriage. Some of the oldest trees, the Redwoods in California, I am told, intertwine their roots together; and elsewhere, even the tops of the trees offer mutual support through their branches being inter-connected. What a lovely image for marriage, in meeting the storms of life. True strength equals mutuality, compromise.
  2. Trees already have everything they need in their very DNA, their make-up, to not only survive but flourish: The leaves are created to capture the light from sun, converting the sun’s rays to life-giving nutrients and oxygen; the bark protects; the roots are planted in the earth for water they need to grow. Often in marriage it’s easier to focus on the negative, especially when stress-levels rise. But that is a choice. Let’s not forget the positives. And they are many: you already have everything you need in order to make this work. You already have everything you need, not only to survive, but flourish! The second insight is to see the good in each other, acknowledge it. Why? Because we already have “the technology” in us. As much as we are limited, broken people, we are also wired for goodness.
  3. I heard this week a statement that has stuck: “To love, is to be still.” On occasion I have walked early in the morning through a forest. At dawn, a forest is normally quiet, and still. It is truly a beautiful time and place to be. In that stillness love grows in my heart for all of creation. Sometimes in our hectic, high-octane, busy lives, we distract ourselves to oblivion. We are moving constantly, rushing here and there, getting this and that, that we can forget to breath. We forget to be with ourselves. To be still before the Lord (Psalm 46:10). In my marriage many of the precious, loving moments I spend with Jessica are those times in the canoe, paddling silently. Or, sitting quietly beside each other watching a sunset, or reading quietly together. “To love, is to be still.” Nurture the quiet, still, small voices in each other. Remember, God came to Elijah not in a whirlwind or fire ablaze, but in a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12). Silence is the language of God. And, God is love. (1 John 4:8)

Trees that grow out of their roots, ultimately reach to the sky. People committed to each other in marriage grow out of this radical love, the love God, the glue in your marriage. Married couples ultimately reflect the love of God to the world. Like the tops of the trees reaching to the sky for light and life, our lives reflect and receive and yearn for God.

You are getting married according to a Christian tradition, because you want God to bless your life together. And we worship a God, we praise a God, we give thanks to a God, who went the distance – so to speak – in proving his radical, self-giving, love for us all, in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave himself in love, showing us the way to overcome the storms of life together and trust in the ever-present love of God in us and with us.