Outside The Margins – Part 1

If you’ve read any of the old testament stories, you’ll find a common thread in the Israelite journey. God had stepped into their story many times and miraculously rescued them from oppressive nations and leaders. And so a legend that had started to form about God and the way he worked was that he would always be on their side no matter what. It was not an entirely false legend.

However, the problem with that legend is that they thought that they were God’s favourite nation. The margins of the story that they told themselves about the way God worked, were that God would always work on their behalf no matter what, and no matter who was against them. In fact to this day, depending on the group you are a part of, you’ll find people still using the phrase “God’s chosen people” when speaking with reference to the Israelites.  

When you read through the old testament, you can initially get the erroneous  impression that God is an Angry God. But what you find the more you read the bible is that God is always operating outside the margins of what we think of or expect. You see, the truth of the matter is that God is a gracious God. If you truly repent, and if you turn to him, the bible says that he is faithful and just and forgiving. He loves us so much, whether we are Israelites or assyrians. He loves us so much whether we live lives that acknowledge him or not. The minute we turn to him, he races towards us and embraces us. And this is exactly what he does in this story.

God is sheer grace and mercy and not easily angered.

And here’s the thing. We always have a way of projecting how we would act in certain situations onto God. We have a way of making God hate the things we hate and be against the people that are against us. But God is always operating in a way that is outside the margins of what we expect. In the end, his plan is more glorious than we would think.

In the bible, there is a story about a guy called Jonah. What most of us know about this tory is that he was swallowed by a big fish. But what is easy to miss about this story is that Jonah was running away from God because he did not want to be involved in God’s rescue plan for the city of Nineveh. Nineveh was a HUGE city for its’ time. About 120,000 people lived in it. As well, Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire and they were a violent, evil and oppressive neighbour to their neighbouring kingdoms. And the northern kingdom of Israel, to which Jonah belonged, were particularly oppressed by them.

So as you can imagine, Jonah would have rather seen them perish than watch God forgive them and rescue them. Jonah knew that God IS sheer grace and mercy and not easily angered. This is why he tried to run away!

In fact, in a tantrum, when God does not destroy the city, this is what he says:

“God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!

And so you have to ask yourself a question: What is more important – that a city of 120,000 people be destroyed, or that they are saved and find God and stop the systematic oppression and subjugation of the kingdoms around them? Jonah wanted retribution, but God wanted repentance. Jonah wanted judgement, but God wanted to show grace. Jonah wanted condemnation, but God wanted to show mercy. Jonah wanted a whole nation wiped out, but God wanted to SAVE a whole nation.

Here is the gist of this post: God is up to something that is so much bigger than we can imagine. The fact of the matter is that all of us are faced with interesting, and challenging situations in our lives. And the thing of it is that, all we know is what we can see and what we have experienced in the past. Our knowledge and our experiences are like margins in our lives, and we have a way of projecting our limitations and our margins onto God without understanding that he is working in amazing ways outside of what we can see or imagine.

So today I to invite you to start to enlarge your faith. I invite you to see that there is a perspective about your life, about your circumstances, about your challenges that is outside your margins. We may not be able to break out of our margins, but God can work in ways outside those margins because he does not share our limitations. But more than that, he has a plan of love and grace, that he is working out in this world, and if we lean in to him, we will find this to be true in our circumstances.

In the story of Jonah, you find that he would have loved nothing more than to see Nineveh destroyed. But God wanted something better for those Assyrians. God has never changed. The same God that would never reject a violent and evil people such as the Assyrians would never reject you… and I am pretty sure that you are not a violent and evil person! So, go ahead… step outside the margins of what you know, and step into a space of God’s incredible love and mercy.

And for some of you, I am going to ask you to step into a faith space for the first time. I am going to ask you to step towards God understanding that what you may have thought about him, or what you may have been told about him is wrong. I ask you to step around the mistakes of people that have claimed to be his representatives and enter into a space where you find what is true for you. You may have never been told that God is sheer grace and mercy, and that he is not mad at you, and he does not hold back from you simply because you have a checkered past or present. While people may reject you, God just wants to embrace you…


Intentional Leadership Training

It is quite something to watch the development of a person with promise into an astute leader. Some deal with insecurities, while others trip up over their lack of experience and other still are brimming with such overwhelming confidence that they put everybody off.  And yet when all those shortcomings are worked through and the person matures, the rewards are amazing.

In talking about accidental leaders, I made mention of the fact that intentionally raising up leaders is tough work. Sometimes all the tough work results in absolutely nothing in the end… And yet an leader who emerges through intentional training and mentoring will always be better at maintaining continuity, preserving the legacy and keeping constituents, employees and volunteers invested in the continued success of whatever they take over.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has noticed a trend in the church of today. I would go so far as to call it a disturbing trend. Most fellowships have ONE person doing all the communicating on behalf of God and on behalf of the congregation. Similarly have ONE person doing all the worship leading.

I’m pretty convinced that if you have only one voice for your messaging, your vision will not survive. In order to ensure the survival of your vision and your legacy, you have to raise up other surrogates that can speak as authoritatively about it as you can. This is incredibly threatening to the kind of ego that is required to run our churches and yet it is IMPORTANT because not only does it keep the leaders in check, it requires more than simply talking about the vision. It requires living it out and part of living it out is raising up people that will carry it forward when you are gone. Ultimately, raising up leaders forces you to face the truth about your vision – whether it is about God or whether it is about you – because you will only be able to attract strong leaders to your vision if it is bigger than your self aggrandizement.

Why do you think that many large ministries fade away and die when their leader dies or succumbs to scandal? Not only did they surround themselves with “yes-men”, but they did not take the time to invest in leaders that would ensure the continuity of their ministries.

Why do you think that transitions between pastoral leadership at the local church level is tumultuous? It is because pastors are not doing what they need to raise up leaders from within that can steady the ship during transition.

Why do you think that many countries are wracked with civil war? Not only is there poor leadership, but they perpetually substitute one accidental leader with another.

Do you think you are the only preacher that attends your church? Do you think you are the best preacher that attends your church? Think about it.

Do you think that you are the only worship leader that attends your church? Do you think that you are the best worship leader that attends your church? Think about it. I have…

You see, when it gets down to it, Jesus WHO WAS GOD’S SON raised up leaders. He knew that they would have differences of opinion about what he really meant when he was gone. He knew that they would not always get along and that they could even potentially distort what he started, but he left the church in their hands anyway. He was intentional about the time he spent with them, and when it was time, he handed it off to them. The church EXPLODED under the stewardship of Jesus disciples and not under Jesus himself and I think it is important to remember this. It is because of this that I am convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that leadership training IN THE CHURCH has to be intentional and not accidental.

Here is the basic truth. Your church, your worship team, your ministry will never hit full stride until you are intentionally raising up leaders. In truth, what many leaders today call  “raising up leaders” is really raising up minions. Leaders have the ability to dream as you do; to influence as you do; to inspire as you do; to motivate as you do; to fail as you do; to succeed as you do…

My hope is that enough people will read this and come to the same realization that I have come to. Intentional leadership training is not another fancy phrase from the pages of some leadership manual. It is from God’s word and we are where we are because Jesus modelled it so well for us.

Accidental Leadership Training

If you think about it, most of the people that you know as leaders around you at your job, your school or your volunteer opportunities are mostly what I call accidental leaders. This means that they rose to the position of leadership simply because there was a vacuum, because they did not know how to say no, or because they randomly picked up the skills necessary to do the job. In all of these situations, it would be fair to say that there was nobody really looking out to find these people and coax some kind of leadership potential out of them.

These are accidental leaders. Through some stroke of luck some of them were able to have all the necessary life experience to equip them for the daunting task of leadership in our day and age. Others are merely charismatic, super talented, attention seekers or pushovers. For some, there may have been people that saw leadership potential in them, but for most there was little-to-no intentional mentoring in their lives to speak of. This is why we spend so much time after the fact trying to build into our leaders the things we should have been teaching them before they arrived in their positions of leadership through leadership conferences and such.

Think about the things that we require of good, strong leaders these days. Vision, management communication, interpersonal savvy, time management, financial expertise, etc… Many of these skills are not simply acquired through osmosis. In some cases they require quite a bit of repetition and a fair bit of leeway to make mistakes and yet, in truth, if we look at the world around us, the opportunities for people to pick up these skills over the course of time through life experience are reducing.

How many potential leaders are given a chance to speak in public and to get comfortable with it? It is only after you are a success or an entrenched leader that you are handed a microphone and a public podium and by then, for some, it is too late!

We are constantly on the lookout for talent that has already been developed but there are precious few people that are willing to cultivate the seeds of leadership that exist in the talent that is out there but needs a little guidance. I think that this disconnect is the reason why there is an increase in the bankruptcy of integrity within leaders – both in the business community and not-for-profit community. In the absence of true leaders (accidental or not), we turn to the most charismatic or talented people and hand them leadership in the hopes that their charisma and talent will make up for the deficiencies in their leadership abilities.

Something I’ve witnessed as I’ve left one area of leadership for another is this: while great people rise up to fill the place that I have left, more often than not, they are people that I did not take enough time to intentionally raise up. They have what it takes to do the job, but it has little to do with anything that I did to intentionally prepare them for the position they now occupy in my departure. As I take stock of the time that I’ve spent in leadership, I’ve come to realize that I need to have done a better job of equipping people around me to do the job that I do just as well as I do it and preferably even better.

Intentional leadership training is time consuming, frustrating and even disappointing. This is probably why there are more accidental leaders than intentionally mentored leaders. The world will actually continue to move forward and innovate in spite of this and yet we must all agree that there is great benefit to focusing energy in making sure that those who carry our message into the future know what we were thinking. Those who take our companies into the future understand what made us innovate in the first place. And those who come after us do not repeat the cycle of mistakes we made because they know better, because in truth the mistakes made in leadership positions are ugly and embarrassing.

If our legacy is to last our upcoming leaders cannot arrive in their positions by accident. We must be intentional about raising them up.

This topic is dear to me because I am convinced that as a church, we need to pay more attention to it and not just TALK about raising up leaders, but actually WALK the road. If our message, doctrine, mission, tradition (don’t get tripped up by this word) is to endure, it will not happen by accident. It will happen on purpose.

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome (Part 2) – Breaking Free Of Indoctrination

One of the things that I have thought long and hard about for the past few months is the whole issue of freedom. I am sure you would agree with me when I say that freedom is not simply exchanging one set of social rules for another. We can all smell the fear and systems of control behind the unspoken rules of our faith communities and social communities and we know that no matter how attractive the packaging looks, this too is not freedom. And yet in spite of this God-given compass for freedom, we always seem to prefer slavery to rules instead of freedom. Our journey always seems to lead us back to the same place we think we’ve left.

It is into this conflicting construct that we must place Jesus. Jesus brings his message of freedom and liberty to a people that were oppressed on two sides. On one hand, they had the Roman imperial power in all it’s might and terrible glory. Rome was not a benevolent master. Rome was to be feared and would not suffer the rebellion of the people of this notorious part of the empire. On the other hand, they had the Priestly aristocracy, the Torah, and the complicated social and spiritual rules that came with them. For the people in Jesus’ time, it was a question of choice between one oppressor and another and it is into this construct that he starts to present a new construct called “the kingdom of God”.

The Kingdom of God was a marvelous concept – a third option – that Jesus puts before the people in his time to help them see that they could move into a wonderfully new construct that was not simply about the afterlife, but that could be lived out here on earth. No longer did you have to be faced simply with the controls, rules and oppression of either master, but rather, you could find a new path in which he, Jesus, was Lord and in which the yoke was easy and the burden was light.

Isn’t this what freedom truly is? Realizing that your choices are not simply one system of control VS another, but rather a third option in which those that the Son sets free are free indeed. Realizing that even though you are in the world, you are not of this world and so you can rise above the simple constructs that rules create. Realizing that you can abandon the appearance of perfection because you are accepted just the way you are – flawed, broken and yet somehow perfect in the eyes of he that made you.

You know what the true scandal of Jesus’ teachings is? It is the fact that even though he preached freedom, he was crucified. Even his disciples were imprisoned and killed and the Jerusalem church that he established was completely destroyed when every trace of Jerusalem was ground into the dust in 70 AD. But therein lies the true beauty of the freedom that Jesus offers in his proposition about his kingdom.

The beauty is that though it may seem like you are bound by a system of control, freedom is not what appears on the outside, but what is really on the inside. So even though on the outside it may seem like you are bound by your obligations to government or society, the truth is that freedom is not an outward appearance, but an inner persuasion. This why Paul, writing years after his conversion, can tell slaves to obey their masters. He is not promoting slavery as the church has said he might have been. To Paul, the appearance of slavery is not real slavery. Obviously it would be GREAT to not have to be sold from one master to another, but even though you are sold to slavery, you can live free because freedom is inside you and cannot be simply taken away by physical chains.

But sadly, it can be taken away by mental and spiritual chains. It is so easy to remain enslaved and to crave the construct of slavery even when you are set free. You can see this in the stories of humanity – from the Israelites preferring slavery in egypt to freedom in the desert, to the people in Stockholm defending their abductors. You can see it as people spiral back into addiction after working hard to get clean and sober and you can see it as people that are freed from modern-day slavery turn around and become traffickers in an underground global business that put them through hell. The saddest of all, though, has to be in the Church. You can see people come to Jesus and be handed a physical and spiritual freedom that they could have never known and still never truly walk in the breadth and depth of the freedom they have been handed preferring, instead, to willfully enslave themselves through guilt, fear, judgement and condemnation.

However, there is hope. In the face of this, you can see traces of what Jesus was really trying to say about freedom being a matter of the heart. You can see it in the determination of the north american slaves that overcame impossible odds to fight for a concept that only existed in their heads. You can see it in the unbreakable spirit of victims of abuse and addiction that may come out with broken bodies, but astonishingly unbroken spirits. And you can see it in the followers of Jesus and especially in Paul as he writes: we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; cast down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

I believe that as followers of Christ, we have to honestly ask ourselves a couple of deep questions:

Are you really free or have you traded one system of control for another?

Are you a staunch defender of the rules that both you and other people in your faith community find oppressive, baffling and sometimes downright outrageous?

Do you find yourself wracked with guilt over breaking the rules that your faith community has created, but are not really found in scripture?

Are you exhibiting the signs of a spiritual Stockholm Syndrome all the while not realizing that you are defending the same construct that seeks to control you?

Are you still a victim of a rigid matrix offering an illusion of freedom, but not really giving it?

Are you a defender of a system of benevolent legalism rather than a champion for freedom?

I believe that in Christ we can really be free. We can be free from slavery to sin and slavery to our religious indoctrination. There is a third choice ahead of us – true freedom that can only be found in christ. You can really, REALLY be free.

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome (Part 1) – Breaking Free Of Indoctrination

On August 23rd 1973 a man called Jan-Erik Olsson strolled into Kreditbanken in central Stockholm, Sweden, and single-handedly held the place up. After a brief altercation with two policemen, he took four hostages, locked them in a bank vault, and started making demands asking for his friend, money, guns, bullet proof vests and a fast car. Over the course of the next few days, something strange started to happen between the hostages and their captors. The hostages started emotionally bonding with their captors. It was especially noted during a conversation between one of the female hostages and the prime minister of sweden. (Wikipedia)

Other hostages turned sympathetic as well, later saying that they thought Jan was perfectly lovely. One claustrophobic even expressed gratitude that the men allowed her to leave the vault as long as she had a rope tied around her neck like a dog!

This is crazy stuff!

The term “Stockholm syndrome” was coined by a criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot. He coined it based on his observation of this weird bonding of captives and captors that happened from August 23rd to August 28th 1973.

Now, Stockholm syndrome can also be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. So when a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, the aggressor ceases to be a threat.

Ok. Thank you Professor Paulo. What are you rambling on about?

I’ll do my best to explain

I do not know if your reaction to Church and christianity was similar to mine the more I realized the fine print behind what it is I had signed up for. We all know what it is like to come to the realization that a faith movement that claims to be about freedom is actually stifled by an unwritten code that is constantly changing. Many of us start out by resisting the unspoken rules, but more often than not, we give up on the resistance and accept the situation and eventually live in it so much that we start to defend it.

My own experience was that I was baffled by the arbitrary rules that my faith community placed on me. Honestly, sometimes it seemed like I had traded my freedom for slavery. The process of sanctification was not simply worked out by christ in me, but also by my adherence to a strict code of conduct which made room for only a miniscule amount of fun or… anything. For some reason, it seemed like the APPEARANCE of staying on the straight and narrow was more important than dealing with the heart issues that would help facilitate an inward transformation.

The weird thing is that the longer I walked this trajectory, the more I started to drink the koolaid. The more I was oppressed by the arbitrary rules of the faith movement I had signed up for, a weird S&M switch happened in me in which I started to both love and hate the construct. In the end, I became a strong defender of the rules and regulations that I was guilty about failing to keep never realizing the irony of the whole thing. And so like the bank employees in Stockholm, I started to exhibit a weird psychological bonding with the very things that I found so oppressive.

Have you noticed that part of the difficulty of bringing people to christ is the whole issue of freedom? It seems like being outside of Christ is a situation of greater liberty than being a member of his family. You see, the human heart cannot be deceived about freedom. We all know that we are trapped by our desires, by our social and political constructs, by our addictions and by our continued attempts to appear one way or another. So exchanging that construct for another in which we are trapped by a stifling set of rules designed to create in us something that only God can do is, frankly not attractive. This is why we have a hard time gaining traction with a world that has figured us out. They can see through the BS pitch and know that we who claim to have found freedom are, ourselves, not really free.

Lets be honest. How many people have abandoned their faith as they have made the transition from childhood, through teenage years to young adulthood? There are many, many reasons for this, but I think that one of the core reasons why Christianity has no staying power among young people is because many of them get tired of playing the rules game. Not all, but many of those that weather the storm end up buying into the rules game and become just like every one of us; a pseudo moral police imposing our opinion of morality and spirituality on a world that looks on in bewilderment. We’ve developed our own spiritual Stockholm syndrome and not even realized it.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome.

Can You Really Be Free Or Is It An Illusion? – Part 3

Here is the third and final instalment in the discussion about freedom.

Why is true freedom found in christ? Very simply, because he paid the highest price to purchase it. He gave up his life in the most extravagant display of love – satisfying in his death the penalty for sin and breaking its curse by his resurrection. As we said at our last all-in sunday quoting from the 5th chapter in Paul’s letter to the Roman church that he planted, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

Romans 8: 1 – 17

Paul uses three metaphors in the passage above to help you understand the gravity of what Christ has accomplished. His first metaphor is that of the law court – condemnation and the law. Our conscious or unconscious pursuit of freedom has not only yielded no results, we’ve screwed up the people, countries and situations that we sought to emancipate and our wrongs outweigh the good we have done. As far as the law is concerned, we do not deserve freedom… we are condemned… apart from Jesus

The second metaphor he uses is the tendency in each one of us to serve our basic instincts. He eloquently refers to it as “living according to the flesh”. Our pursuit of the whims of our basic instincts makes us slaves to them and so the freedom that we thought would come by “living according to the flesh” was only an illusion because we simply take our lives out of whatever master they had before and put them squarely under the mastery of our basic instincts making us slaves to them. The only way out of living according to the flesh, enslaved by it, is to live according to the Spirit of Christ. Make no mistake about it, living according to the spirit of Christ is most definitely a situation of living under a master, but the difference is that Christ is a preferable master to our basic instincts because under his mastery, there is no condemnation.

The reason that he is a preferable master is captured in the third and probably most touching metaphor that he uses in this discussion on the nature of freedom. This is the metaphor of  adoption. Living in accordance with the Spirit of Christ elevates you from the status of slavery and vaults you into the assurance of sonship. The relationship between master and slave is what you have with your basic instincts, your noble causes and your physical and mental oppressors. The loving relationship of a parent and child is what you graduate into when you hand your life over to the mastery of Jesus because ultimately, he is not interested in being your MASTER… he wants to be your father. The word that Paul uses here to describe the relationship we graduate into when we leave slavery is “Abba Father” which literally means “daddy”. This ultimately is the nature of freedom that Christ offers us – like my daughter running towards me yelling “DADDY” and launching herself into my arms never doubting for a moment that I will catch her.

If I have a choice between slavery under the mastery of my instincts, causes, physical and mental oppressors AND a freedom characterized by that most intimate relationship between a loving father and his trusting child, it is a no-brainer.

This is why as adults, we talk with great nostalgia about the freedom of childhood. There is freedom in being care-free. There is freedom in trust. There is freedom in unconditional love. There is freedom in knowing that somebody else is taking care of even the most basic needs you have. There is freedom in living under the care and leadership of somebody that you know loves you no matter what.

If our flawed earthly love can provide this kind of freedom, how much more does the unconditional love of a perfect father and a perfect saviour free us? So when, as Christians, we talk about salvation, the salvation that we speak of is a salvation from overt and covert forms of slavery. The salvation that we speak of delivers us into the loving relationship with the person that purchased our salvation. Jesus Christ is the only person that could purchase this salvation and even to this day he offers it to us. Walking in this freedom starts by accepting it. And here is the thing… accepting it will require a leap of faith as your first step, because faith is the key that will unlock the door to the freedom that can be found in Jesus

Will you leap?

Can You Really Be Free Or Is It An Illusion? – Part 2

We continue our discussion about freedom and whether it is a possibility or simply an illusion not worth chasing.

If we are to be truly honest with one another, when we talk about freedom, what we are really talking about is substituting external masters for our own internal, subjective ones.

While this may seem like freedom initially, the truth is that we are not very good masters of ourselves. As we pursue the things that we think are right or noble, or simply what we want, we inadvertently end up recreating a world in which the oppressors we fought so hard to bring down rear their heads in new and more sophisticated ways. The causes that start out as noble or benign can quickly become dictatorial masters with little regard for those that may disagree or have separate causes. The personal whims that seemed so small and harmless when we first started pursuing them can quickly become destructive forces tearing our lives and relationships apart.

In the end, we find ourselves back where we started. And so we must ask a simple, but tough question:


As a pastor, here’s where I am supposed to say, “You can find true freedom in the church and in christian community!”. But can you really?

I’ll be honest with you. One of the things that the church is going to try to sell you on as part of their pitch to bring you in the door is the whole concept of freedom. I’ve seen the pitch my whole life because I am a pastor’s kid and I know it inside out. This is what it looks like: Amplify an issue about humanity or a generic brokenness that can be found in each one of us, and then propose Christianity as the way out or the path to freedom away from the issue or brokenness. And yet if you’ve been a christian long enough, you know how it can sometimes feel like you left a situation of more freedom and entered an institution of less freedom – the church. You know how it can sometimes feel like all the fun stopped a few days after you prayed a prayer, went to a christianity 101 class and got handed a bible. You know how it can sometimes feel like you moved from  the weekend drunk tank to a maximum security, death-row establishment.

At churches we love our rules. Our arbitrary reactive policies based on the pet issue of the season. As pastors and gatekeepers, we defend these rules with every means possible – even the bible – all the while creating weekly gatherings obsessed with ever-increasing levels of legalism. Even though we who lead the church would go to great lengths to vehemently deny it, the sad truth is that many of us who are christians have at one point or another been a part of a faith community that is more concerned with the appearance of keeping the arbitrary rules of the group rather than following or obeying the bible. This is a sad, but unfortunate truth: what many churches are offering you is not real freedom. Instead it is a substitute master – their rules instead of yours.

Honestly, this is why I left Christianity for a while and even after returning to it, I nearly quit again 10 years later.

Here’s the thing we find when we really start pursuing freedom. Contrary to what we may really think about freedom being the desire to do what we want when we want to do it, freedom is not just simply a state of heart and mind, it is about who has mastery over the heart and mind.

Think about it, since most of us think that freedom is doing what we want, when we want to do it, we live our lives in service of our inclinations and instincts. They have mastery over us! Even in the corporate sense of the communities that band together for freedom, this concept still applies and so if your community does what it wants to, when it wants to do it, the community also exists in service of the collective inclination or instinct. And so, just like the individual, the collective instinct of the community has mastery over it. In the absence of external masters, both for the individual and the communities seeking freedom, the internal inclinations or group persuasion become substitute masters.

So we must face this tough truth. The concept of being free in the sense of being completely devoid of living in service to something or being under the mastery of something, somebody or some concept simply does not exist. The nature of humanity is that we are always under a master. Sometimes our masters are our physical captors, while other times our masters are our mental oppressors. Sometimes our masters are the noble causes that, in spite of their flawed nature stir us to action, while other times our masters are our basic instincts.

If this is true, then the concept of freedom is not so much about being devoid of mastery because this is impossible, but rather it is about the master that you choose for yourself. If you want to really be free, you have to substitute an oppressive master for an empowering one. YOU HAVE TO PICK THE RIGHT MASTER. At Pivot 613, we are persuaded that the master that offers true freedom is Jesus of Nazareth.
So to answer the question I asked earlier about freedom being an illusion, this is what I would say. If you want to create a version of freedom in which there are no masters – not even your basic instincts, you are pursuing an illusion. If, however, you desire a version of freedom that exists under a master that can really lead you to it, then the master you seek is Jesus. The freedom that any other master than him can offer you is an illusion as well!

This discussion continues in Part 3. Subscribe to the blog to receive an update when it and others are published!

Can You Really Be Free Or Is It An Illusion? – Part 1

As a child, I distinctly remember hearing a group of adults talking and saying something that made a huge impression on me. They were talking about the freedom of childhood. I think I was about 9 or 10 at the time and looking around at my life, I did not quite understand what they were talking about. I did not have that many freedoms at all. I had to get up between 5.30 and 6 in the morning, have breakfast and be out the door by 6.30 to make it to school – I walked to school. When school was done, I walked home, played for about 30 – 50 minutes, did homework, had dinner and went to bed.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

In my 9-year old mind, it seemed ridiculous that I had any semblance of freedom and yet here were a bunch of adults wishing they could be me again. IT WAS SO WEIRD!

As a 9 or 10 year old, when I looked at the adults in my life, they all seemed to do whatever they wanted. They went where they wanted to go, ate what they wanted when they wanted to eat, drove whatever cars they wanted, went to sleep when they wanted, and most annoyingly, made up whatever rules they wanted!

At that age, I thought that they were just blowing smoke. Being a grownup was, most definitely, a situation of more freedom than being a child or so I thought. And from that stage in life, I started to look forward to the day I would be an adult, completely free to live my life, shape the world as I wanted and do whatever I wanted when I wanted to do it.

These days I look back at my 9 or 10 year old self and laugh at him. I wish I could go back and tell him that the adults he overheard talking were not really blowing smoke. I wish I could go back and tell him that a day would come when I would wish to be him again. But I know that he will look at me, smile and nod, say “yes sir” and not believe for an instant that I am telling him the truth! To my mind at that age, being free meant doing whatever you wanted to do when you wanted to do it.

Many would argue that speaking about freedom only in the sense of doing what you want when you want to do it is a myopic view of it.

People that want to exploit the earth of her natural resources without paying any attention to the waste and damage they might cause desire freedom from regulation and tree-hugging activists trying to save whatever is left of our planet. People that want to maximize profits without regard to social responsibility desire freedom from the checks and balances that have been put in place to curb unbridled capitalism.

On the other hand, there are other people that are bought and sold into slavery in an underground global slavery market that desire freedom from their masters. There are those that wrestle with addictions and desire freedom from their substances of choice. People that are under the crushing weight of political oppression desire freedom from the despots that rule over them. People that live under systems that discriminate against them based on race, gender or sexual orientation desire freedom from these systems and the ignorance that perpetuates them.

So the proposition is that freedom is not just about the individual doing what he or she wants, whenever he or she wants to do it. Many contend that freedom is also subjective and is based on the perceived oppressor over your life or obstacle in the way of your intended goal.

People have lived their lives and died in the service of freedom – whatever subjective variation of freedom they give their lives to. We sing their praises from our podiums and pulpits, create monuments and national holidays in celebration of the lives that they gave because the concept… the idea of freedom is powerful, unifying and inspirational.

You know what the unfortunate thing about the fight for freedom is? Most of the time our hard fought freedom simply transfers our slavery from one master to another. When we demand freedom from one oppressor, we inadvertently substitute one despot for another.

The people who demand freedom from slavery very often and very easily find that the people who fought for their freedom bind them with chains of racism and discrimination.

The people who fought for freedom from colonial rule have found themselves under the oppression of tinpot autocrats that rape and pillage their countries.

The people who try so hard to break the hold of one addictive substance over their lives usually end up simply substituting one addiction for another.

The people who fight against racial, gender or sexual discrimination find that the fight against discrimination is like playing whack-a-mole as one prejudice is substituted by another.

But here is the REAL kicker. If you give some thought to the permeating thread that binds 98% of all human desire for freedom, you find one singular, unifying thing. In spite of our loud protestations, when we speak of freedom, what we are really saying is that we want to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, with whomever we want to do it. So the instinct that I felt as a 9-year old is not myopic after all, it is a universal feeling. If you are careful to peel back all the layers in almost every case of freedom spoken of, lived in service of or died for, we are talking about a freedom to follow our internal wiring, our social or educational indoctrination, or our personal persuasion. We want to be free to serve ourselves.

Part 2 coming up soon


Of Zombies And Worldviews

Maybe its halloween or something, but I was thinking about zombies the other day.

I love zombies. I love zombie movies and TV shows. I used to be a vampire guy, but about 3 years ago as I was watching “28 days later” for the 28th time (I think) I started to realize that my love for vampires had faded and that I was a zombie guy.

The thing about most zombie movies or TV shows is that the coming of zombies tends to precipitate an apocalyptic world. Because of the infectious nature of being undead, zombies tend to overwhelm civilization and overturn everything that we’ve so carefully constructed. And as you look at the portraits of the characters that emerge out of the ensuing destruction, they all have one unique trait in mind. They all possess a “me-first” mentality, no matter how unassuming or benign they look. It seems that this “me-first” mentality is the one that sustains them and keeps them alive.

And as each of these zombie stories unfolds, you discover over and over again that in these shows, the characters who think of other people first, or even DARE to try to create a group or a situation that is not self serving, eventually die. They are going to get killed by the zombies, or killed by one of the surviving humans who perceives their “weakness”.

There are parts of the world where there is such a collapse of civilization, that it might as well be a zombie apocalypse. There are places in the world where it seems like people who are dead on the inside, are going around in hordes decimating and destroying neighbourhoods and cities.

There have been times in our history where whole civilizations have been destroyed by marauding hordes. And it is in those times of war and extreme danger that the worst in humanity comes out. The me-first mentality rears its head in spectacular fashion and the narrative that persists in those situations seems to suggest that you have to have a me-first mentality if you are going to survive.

Indeed, in the pop culture of our peaceful society, we have a terrible joke about being chased by a bear. We say, “ If a bear comes chasing us, I don’t need to be the fastest runner in the group, I just need to be faster than you. Ha, ha, ha!” And we all laugh at the joke not realizing that it is a betrayal of the worst possible attitude in each one of us. It is more than just an instinctive need for survival. It is a worldview that simply says “I’ve got to think of me first!”

If your worldview says, “I’ve got to think of me first”, then the way that you view God, yourself, your place in the world and relationships with people in your world are all skewed by this thinking. If you have a “me-first” mentality, then the way you make sense of pain, suffering, the problems in the world, good and evil will be through this lens.

This is why it is not so difficult to see that in our fictitious versions of a dystopian future – no matter if it is a future threatened by war or by zombies or aliens, there always seems to be one underlying thread:  The only way to survive is if you have a “me-first” mentality. The people who get caught up with trying to save other people WILL NOT SURVIVE.

Now, this is the point in the blog post where I turn a corner and tell you about an alternative worldview that we are supposed to rewrite in our hearts isnt it? I know that you’re smart enough to figure it out on your own… and you are right!

A me-first worldview has to be replaced with an others-first dispensation.

There is something truly awesome about losing your life for something bigger than yourself. It is in these acts of self sacrifice – these acts of losing your life – that you are most complete. You are your best and most complete self when you are laying down your life for somebody less fortunate than yourself or giving up your life for a pursuit of an ideal that is greater than the mundane stuff.

We’ve all evolved, been designed, been created with an intrinsic understanding of the fact that the stuff you accumulate is worthless once it has passed through the fires of death. Nobody really remembers the wealthiest people, the selfish people or the “I’ve got to think of myself first” people. The people that we really remember, the ones in whose memory we build monuments and after whom we name our children are the people who gave their lives in service of one kind or another.

I think that the thing that the dystopian tv shows and movies based around war, zombies or alien invasions get wrong is this: you don’t need a me-first attitude to survive the apocalypse. You need an others- first mindset.


You need to look into our collective history to see it. The only way that people have been able to recover and rebuild from the ruins of marauding hordes is by thinking, not just of themselves, but of others too. The only way that people have been able to  effectively resist violence, oppression and injustice AND rebuild any modicum of civilization is through appropriating the golden rule – treating others as you would like to be treated. And so in truth, the best way to survive is not by having a me-first worldview, but rather by having an “others-first” worldview.

So my conclusion is just as you suspected. Exchange an “I’ve got to think of myself first” worldview with the golden rule – an “others-first” dispensation. Easier said than done, eh?

I think the work starts in the small things and eventually works its way outwards.

To quote a first-century religious thinker that many of us follow today,

Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life will find it

Rushing To The Lessons – Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about the fact that there is a tendency to force people to rush to the lessons of life prematurely when they are going through tough times. We want to do our best to help them make sense of a difficult situation, but in truth, none of us really knows what the lessons are or what they will be in time and how God will use the pain and the pleasure in our lives to make sense of it all in the end.

As a pastor, people are always looking to me to say something to them that will help them make sense of the world they are in. Now, I am blessed to be a part of a church that knows me well and knows that I am not a wise sage possessing all the answers to the questions of life, so they generally do not pose me with such questions. But outside our little congregation, I occasionally find myself in conversations with people that have just found out I am a pastor and are unloading their lives on me. They are walking through an inexplicably difficult time and are hoping that in my position as a spiritual leader, I might have some insight into the situation that they are walking through.

In those moments I wish I could be as self assured as the pseudo gurus that live on our TV screens using their bad psych 101 on their TV audiences or guests with total confidence that they know how to solve their problems. I wish I could be more like the bloggers and the podcasters with their biting wit and well-researched solutions to the questions of life. But I am not. And I have started to be OK with the fact that I am not.

I am starting to understand in small part the reason why we should not rush TO the lessons. I’ve started to understand that there is value in being present in the moment instead of suspending reality in the false hope that it might all mean something in the end. I think that if you live in the reality of your NOW – whatever difficult time you are walking through – you might have the ability to find something even better…


The inexplicable joy that comes, not as a result of understanding the deep cosmic reason for the crap that you are currently dealing with, but rather as a result of an assurance inside of you that can only come from God. A joy that is not dependent or related to outward circumstances, but rather built on an inner fortitude that can only come from the image of God in you touching the eternity of the God of the universe.

And perhaps JOY is a more worthy pursuit in the trying times than THE LESSONS are. Because lessons can be forgotten, and frankly, not all of us are smart enough to learn them. But “joy” is something that nobody can take away once you really have it.

So today, don’t rush to the lesson. If you are walking with somebody that is going through an incredibly difficult time in their life, resist the temptation to make them feel better by finding the lesson. Go for something better…