A Chord of Three Strands or Valentine’s Day Musings

There is a passage in Ecclesiastes that was a key feature at our wedding, and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful in the Bible. Getting ready for Valentines Day and thinking about my relationship with Julia, it was this passage that has come to mind:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labour:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Before I was married, I don’t remember ever thinking deeply on why God set up the institution. In my mind, it simply existed. We marry because we fall in love, of course. But ten years on and a few more experiences in the rear-view mirror I realize that God brought us together because he saw on a deeper level than I ever could that help was needed to unlock me, the deeper me, the me that had lain dormant and undiscovered.

One of the things that I have observed as a pastor is that, like an iceberg, 90% of us lies hidden beneath the surface, invisible to even ourselves. Therein lies strength, potential, creativity, ambition, wisdom and a host of others. We are more than we realize, and have more to offer, only very few of us can ever access this place without the help of someone else who not only sees us as we are but as we were created to be. There is a Christ-likeness to this responsibility, where like Jesus we see a person beyond their brokenness to the image of God within.

Of course it’s not only us married folk who have this help-God is not less generous to the single. Only at some point we need someone in our life who doesn’t just know us, but knows us intimately, who has access to the deepest recesses of our soul, who is our equal or, in as many ways as possible, our better. And then, we offer the same, because it is not one carrying the other but two together in equality and reciprocation.

For me this has happened through Julia. When I look back at all those things of which I am most proud-my greatest accomplishments and victories-in the background she stands as one who made it possible. Maybe that’s why I like this passage from Ecclesiastes so much…

A good return for labour? Definitely. I know I would have left many opportunities untapped without her encouragement. God knew I needed someone to give me a bit of a kick. To work with someone I respect and admire has been a privilege.

And in the crisis moments-of which there have been many-there is someone who can offer a perspective that I can’t always see, and who can remind me of the things I forgot were true.

But it’s not just that we need each other for the journey, it’s that it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. It’s not always smooth, and not always simple, but I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.

So to Julia I say thank you, I love you, and look forward to many more days in the coming years where we can step back and realize how incredibly fortunate we are to have each other.

On the Champs-Élysées, Paris; Photo Credit Lisa Gratton of Ophelia Photography

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Jesus in “Unexpected” Places

One of the things that has been on my heart lately has been to get the youth we are working with to think as missionaries, which isn’t always the easiest thing for those of us, who have grown up in the church and with the comforts of a good youth group, to do. But I have felt it to be important not only as part of a potential greater move of the church to be more active in the community but as something no disciple of Jesus can get away from.
So, borrowing heavily from the old “Soccer Sunday” idea that was such great fun back in the old days of Thunder Bay, I thought dropping by one of the local parks with some of the guys from the church in order to get a game going would be a good idea.
It as better than I could have hoped.
We got there around the same time a small handful of kids from the neighbourhood showed up. Soon there were at least 15, and maybe more. I can’t remember too much about the game except that I played at the level one would expect from a Canadian i.e poorly. I consider myself the comic relief. Also, the language was quite different than one would normally get in a church youth group, and the potential for fights was not all that different from hockey.
But I had a great time. In the youth group, we have spent a significant amount of time talking and praying about those who don’t know Jesus, and what we are to do about it. But praying in a room in a church building can never convey or impart the urgency as looking an individual in the eyes, knowing that Jesus loves them enough to die for them, and realizing that they have no idea. The theoretical quickly and forcefully becomes personal. The requirement to reach out to them-not requirement in the sense of rules, but in the sense of ‘how could we not?”-was something I felt very deeply.
And with that came a sense that where we were was exactly where Jesus was working, that he too cares deeply about those kids, but that he was already there and active long before we were. I felt that in stepping out into that neighbourhood, we were encountering Jesus ourselves in a massive way.
For all of the time we spend waiting to encounter God in a church meeting, it seems to me that he is most vibrantly present where people are most lost, desperate, broken and hungry.
We read of a Jesus who spent time with sinners, who dined in the homes of the marginalized, who was accused of gluttony and drunkenness, who associated closest with those farthest from the religious establishment. Yet we still look for him in our respectable middle class churches. Turns out Jesus has been waiting for us in the last place we would think to look.
This isn’t to say that I take issue with Sunday services and what they can contribute. It is a privilege to meet together, to worship, and just to be reminded that we aren’t alone in our journey. But I have always found that when this service becomes representative of my walk, my relationship with Jesus turns into something one-dimensional, and decidedly inferior to what I know it can be. But when I start with mission, and end up celebrating with others what he has done, or come in need of encouragement for the journey, the time together takes on new meaning.
Which reinforces what I have been realizing for a long time: mission-whether to the other side of the world or to the guy next door-infuses everything with a depth that is forever lost when we forget or marginalize the Great Commission.