The other day I got an encouraging note from a New York State firefighter. He’d watched our firefighter sermon online and left a comment. I followed up and asked him how the worldview espoused in the sermon impacted his work. Here is his response (edited for anonymity);
My name is ******, I am the YouTube user [who commented on your firefighter sermon video on your website]. I am an 8 year veteran firefighter/EMT in ******, New York. I am a volunteer both in the fire service and EMS, as I am also with a very busy ambulance corps. The department I belong to is a very aggressive department in how we respond and handle emergencies. I love the quote [in the message] of your dive team “Facta non verba”, as my department had the same philosophy.
A fellow firefighter showed me your video after a training night. I was very drawn to it by how much time, research, and interviewing had gone into the video. To be honest with you I actually cried at a few of the examples used for calls that other firefighters had responded to, knowing that I’ve been to similar calls.
The strategy that you used of referencing part of an interview [with a firefighter], and then putting into focus how God is related in that manner, really helped me make a much deeper connection. The one quote you referenced of “the longer you do this job, the more you realize that you don’t know anything. That this job challenges everything you think you know.” That couldn’t be more true.
For the longest time I have known what Christ did for us on the cross. But I had never really taken the time to truly step back and really think about how the way I feel as a responder towards helping people is just a drop in the bucket compared to how God feels that way about us all.
I’ve always prayed that God would use me to do his will on every call that I respond to. Now that I’ve heard how much we really truly resemble him during emergencies I have looked at how I respond a little differently. I’ve always shown compassion to victims, but now I make sure to show more of it.
I have the switch you referred to for snapping into duty mode. When the [alarm] tones go out, I think to myself now in what way can I better resemble God’s mercy to whoever is in need. I can feel my purpose more as now I can see and understand that someone in need may see not a fireman, but God’s mercy.
I hope my answers are encouraging to you. I think your new approach with seeing God in the workplace is a great idea, it opened my eyes. I thank you for your continued communication and hard work. May God bless you sir!
P.S. If you’re ever in the state of New York, I would love to sit down with you and talk.”
This is the reason I’m writing my new book on work. For the thousands of firefighter faithful alone… let alone the geophysicists, nurses, doctors, fast food workers, managers, artists, musicians, builders, mechanics and teachers.
“When I was a young boy I remember my brother and I getting a Tyco slot car racetrack for Christmas. We couldn’t believe it! I don’t recall even seeing my parent’s faces as I opened the box. All that mattered at the time was the gift; those red and yellow cars, the matte black track with metallic grooves and plastic guard rails, those motorized chasses with real rubber wheels! When I was young, the gift was all I saw. But as I got older I learned to see beyond the gift; to see the person who brought it, who spent the time to think about me, what I’d like and whether it would be appropriate, who gave of themselves – spending their resources for the joy it would bring me. Thinking about this now, I kind of wish I’d seen my parent’s faces; filled with what must have been a smiling delight.”
After I wrote those words I called my dad, at the seniors residence where he now lives, and read him the paragraph. He could hardly wait until I was finished to express his delight. You could hear the joy in his voice… as he choked up at the memory. How beautiful, after all these years, to properly complete that giving transaction… to say, “Thanks Dad. I love you.”
This past Sunday I preached on the question of why God allows pain.
It’s a difficult question that’s been asked for millennia and, of course, no one has ever really come up with a rationally satisfying answer (which may be the whole point). But after this weekend I feel as though I’m closer to understanding than I’ve ever been. And what got me there? God’s word through nature – through the idea of a trophic cascade as it was presented in a little video on the impact of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. As I read this word along side God’s word in the bible (Job in particular), a greater sense of clarity came. The beautiful ‘aha’ that I felt in the video opened the door to an even greater ‘aha’ regarding what God is doing in his world. The fact that the presence of carnivorous wolves could result in such ‘good’ in the ecosystem, gave me new perspective on the problem of pain.
After the service was done I got another reminder of why I love this church so much.
A geophysicist came up to me and said that he was just talking to a geologist about the trophic cascades I had just preached on. He said that the principle becomes even more epic if you consider the cascades that happen over geological time. What I had just spoken about in the context of ‘here and now’ (within an ecosystem at the present time), he and his friend started to apply to the many layers of ecosystems and times that now found all that presently is. Of course they’d do that!
If we think we have no idea how things work via good and evil in the present, we most certainly have no idea of they’ve worked over the past 13.8 billion years.
Reading the obituary of Josefina Napravilova in the Globe and Mail today, I couldn’t help but see and experience God’s relentless, ever-searching heart for the lost. Through Napravilova’s image-bearing passion to bring post-war Czech children home, I felt God’s passion to bring all of us home.
The obituary evoked worship!
“A tireless 31-year-old Josefina Napravilova set out to find Czechoslovak children who had been scattered by the Nazis, and take them home. Following tenuous leads and vague hunches, she hitched rides across the countryside, often in the back of military trucks. She slept on benches in train stations. She relied on her knowledge of several languages, and had a remarkable gift for detective work and meticulous documentation. In the end, she found about 40 children.”
Can you imagine God sleeping on a bench in a train station just to get to you?
“In 1945, Mrs. Napravilova found Vaclav, then 11, at a displaced persons camp in Salzburg. She was pushing her way through a crowd of 200 children, repeating the Czech words for mother, father and grandmother, hoping to trigger early childhood memories.”
It’s hard not to tear up at the memory of all of those long forgotten words God called out before he ‘found’ me. I can just see him, frantically pushing through the crowd, desperate to find another one of his children.
And then, a moment of great joy…
“The greatest reward is to see joy in the eyes of children …” she wrote in her memoir. “I could never have children of my own, but in the end, I like to think I had 40 children. They were all between the ages of 2 and 15 when I found them.”
“They held hands, cried and called each other mother and son.”
Echoes of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Psalm 139, and a bible full of stories about a God who will not leave us lost are running through my head. The gospel being preached by the Spirit of God the life and passion of Josefina Napravilova!
Found some great mountain landscapes on the window ledge with my iPhone macro lens this morning.
in·cre·du·li·ty, noun \ˌin-kri-ˈdü-lə-tē, -ˈdyü-\ : a feeling that you do not or cannot believe or accept that something is true or real (Merriam Webster Dictionary).
For most of my life I’ve felt incredulous when things have gone wrong; a disabled child is born, I experience failure, life takes a turn for the worse or someone dies. How could this be happening? Why God? Many of us experience incredulity in these kinds of circumstances; and rightly so. But what I’m beginning to learn is that we forget to feel incredulous in the rest of life; when things are going inexplicably well.
Yesterday I got a call at 4:00 pm from a distraught mother whose 24 yr old son was found dead earlier that afternoon. Ten minutes later I was sitting in her living room, surrounded by a family destroyed by grief. The sense of shocked incredulity was palpable. Even I was feeling it. I knew this young man. I visited him in the hospital 13 years ago, he attended our church for a while, he was a friend of my son for a while, and he helped me dig a big hole in by back yard one afternoon 8 years ago.
Really God? This young man? Hadn’t he struggled enough? This can’t be true. It’s not real, but it is! (I suppose incredulity is a gift in times like this – buffering us from the full onslaught of the horror of reality).
But for this family no amount of ‘questioning reality’ could change their dreadful circumstance. When I asked if there was anything more I could do for them (as I prepared to leave), an aunt replied, “Yeah, you can bring him back to life! But you can’t do that can you?” A few minutes later, walking home in the late afternoon sun, still feeling all of their pain, it struck me, “Why God? Why not my son? And why is so much of my life as good as it is?”
During the visit one family member actually asked how my son was doing, and another jumped in and proudly answered the question. I just sat there squirming, feeling bad, that my 24 year old son was still alive and thriving. At times I can’t believe it; for his life and for all of our lives. Everyone in our home woke up alive this morning! Fran arrived safely at work a few minutes ago! I’m comfortable and healthy, in a warm house on a cold day, living in a safe city with a good job! Of course, everything isn’t perfect. But it’s more perfect than I often acknowledge. And I don’t know why I get all of this goodness in my life. Sometimes ‘all that’s right’ is beyond belief.
I think I need to live in that incredulity more. I think we all do. I think this way of engaging the goodness of life offers another layer of protection, understanding and maybe even comfort in times of suffering. Somehow, the ‘mystery of why things are so right’ keeps our expectations in line. By fully realizing the giftedness of life, and how wonderfully unreal it can sometimes be, we’re, in a way, better positioned for and less surprised by the shock of loss. The more we live into the unmerited nature of our lives, the less shocked we are when life is taken away. In a sense it was never ours to begin with. I don’t say this to undermine the all that is wrong in suffering, or to take away from genuine and necessary grief, but living all of life with more incredulity – with a greater sense of ‘Why not me?’ – must surely put us in a place where we can better face calamity.
All of life is a mystery. Every moment needs to be humbly received with a sense of incredulity. The bible’s Job said it best, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” 1:21, NIV
“This Sunday a sacred ritual will play out.
And the faithful will gather from sea to sea to sea. Congregating on the edges of our couches, eyes glued to our sets, we’ll get caught up in an ecstasy; lost in a glory. And for a few rapturous moments we’ll experience what can only be described as heaven on earth.
With glowing hearts we’ll vicariously enter into a larger story; something bigger than ourselves. We’ll clasp our hands in prayer with visions of victory. If only we believe. On this most hallowed day – God willing – our Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey Team will go for gold. And for a brief magical moment hockey will be holy.
In recent years many have made the connection between spirituality and sport. Some claim that sport is the new religion. They may not be far off. Think about it, where will most Canadians experience feelings of transcendence this Sunday, in a third row pew near a stained glass window or in the lower bowl at the < Bolshoi Ice Palace > as Sydney Crosby blasts one home?
Where will we experience vibrant community, at church or with a group of family and friends at our local pub? Where will we celebrate the gift of our amazing human bodies; our astonishing stick handling capacities, our flying down the boards legs and our world class play-making minds? Where will we most effectively learn how to grind it out and persevere, work through our losses or finish well?
Surely this Sunday is much more than just a game. This gold medal match is a microcosm of a broader cultural shift from the institution of church to sport; especially here in Canada. And the all-too-human traits we’re expressing are, in fact, deeply spiritual. Where else do we express this much faith, hope and worship?
Which makes you wonder, why does this game matter so much? What’s going on inside of us? What are we searching for?
When I posed the question to Globe and Mail sports writer Roy MacGregor, he said, “Canadians aren’t known for much, even the things we should be known for. Americans say basketball was invented in Springfield (it was, but BY A CANADIAN). They say the telephone was invented there (it wasn’t — but HERE, BY A CANADIAN). We invented hockey and no one disputes this. We embraced it as our national game and we are one of a few countries where only one game matters above all others, hockey. The Olympics gives us the chance to have the world notice that Canadians truly own this game they invented… Our specific yearnings and desires are simple… hockey, I believe, allows Canadians to show the world the face Canadians wish the world to see in Canada: resilient, tenacious, teamwork[ing], hardworking, determined, filled with heart, ultimately triumphant — and yet humble in victory (After the wild piling on and cheering, of course).”
Amen to that.
What country wouldn’t want this kind of recognition? Everyone yearns to be known for who they really are. It’s an innate human desire – and it’s now playing out for scores of countries on < Sochi’s > global stage. Where does that desire come from? Why is it there?
When I read MacGregor’s words, they reminded me of God’s foundational calling for humanity, to “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28). In the Judeo-Christian worldview, it’s understood that a big part of that “filling” involves the creation of culture. And a big part of culture is sport. So when Canadians invent a game like hockey, we’re doing a good godly thing; something unique to our cultural, sociological and geographic context.
When we come up with a cool game like this – conceived in a land of ice – we’re creating something that, in a sense, only we could create. Hockey is a unique product of Canada’s divine cultural calling (one of its best).
This game is part of what God created us for, a cultural gift that we made, mastered, and now share with the world. And it’s a gift that gives us life.
We’re made for that sense of awe we feel when < Ryan Getzlaf > threads a tape-to-tape pass to an on the fly < Jamie Benn >, who then softly feeds the puck to < Corey Perry > who one-times it into the top corner. We’re made for that head shaking sense of disbelief we feel after < Cary Price > miraculously stonewalls yet another opponent. We’re made for that feeling of pride in knowing that these are our boys, playing our game, in front of the world – in front of God.
So when we experience the game this Sunday, perhaps we’re doing what we should be doing on a Sunday; honouring God through the celebration of one of his best cultural creations; the game of hockey (courtesy of those Canadians).”
And here’s video of the sermon I preached that Sunday.
Last night I told my wife how excited I was to preach on a ‘server’ this weekend. The image bearing correlation between a server’s nature and God’s has been illumining. Who knew that their yearnings, desires and actions could reveal something about who God is? ”It’s different than preaching a song, or a film, or a scientific truth,” I said to Fran. “When you preach a human being at work, you’re preaching an alive, moving image bearing text. It’s like the co-illumination is happening in 3D!”
God is not static. He moves. His attributes are acted out. God empowers, speaks, listens, heals, touches, creates, and serves. So, no surprise then, that the engagement of any embodied text is so compelling. A moving image bearer can profoundly reveal our ever-moving God.
The power of this type of preaching also continues to impact those who help research the message. One server was deeply moved when I told her that Jesus knows what it’s like to have his service ignored, rejected and abused. Imagine how she might now have more to ‘know Christ with’ in a difficult customer service moment. Another former server said that our conversation rekindled his passion to start up a service-based company he’d been considering. All it took was a naming and reclaiming of all of God’s here-and-now goodness and wisdom in the act of serving.
This same story has played out for all of the vocational sermons of late; for judges, geologists, stylists, physicians, scientists, engineers, artists, electricians…
Which makes sense when you consider that it will take a world full of images-bearers-at-work to even begin capturing some of the fullness of our ever-working God.
Early yesterday morning, after three months of waiting, I got an email from a prospective US publisher saying they wouldn’t be able to take on my new book. They didn’t think they’d be able to sell enough books (they’re the second publisher to say the same thing).
Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged. How can there not be a market for a book on work? Perhaps I shouldn’t have started this project. Where am I going to find the passion to finish these last three chapters? I clung to a bible verse from that morning’s devotional reading, “But now Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7
Later that morning the name of a publisher who I’d contacted in the past came to mind. I googled him, got his phone number and left a rambling message on his voicemail. The moment I hung up I wished for a do-over. Then he returned my call this morning; excited about the topic, seeing its potential on campuses across North America, but “not wanting to put the cart before the horse!” I couldn’t believe it; the timing, his genuine interest, and the great fit between his organizational goals and this book’s ideas.
This morning’s reading was Psalm 40:1-5… I read the the psalmists words as though they were mine;
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Blessed is the one
who trusts in the Lord,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.”