It was over five years ago now when we first answered a call to move to Vancouver, British Columbia, where I took a full-time position as a worship pastor. It was an exciting and also unsettling time for us, as it was our first “international” experience living and ministering in another country. I wanted to make sure that I was sensitive to the calling we felt God gave us, and I was determined not to be one of those self-centered Ugly Americans that so often became not only caricature but reality. So I purposed to be a learner of the culture, a learner of the people I was there to minister to, and a learner of what God would have for me.
Now Canadians look like Americans, but they’re not. They are a proud and independent and wonderful people, more postmodern in their culture, more European in their sensibilities, more English in their emotional makeup. I spent the first year there learning the language, which everyone of course knows is “hockey.”
In an effort to acclimate me to their world, a few gentlemen from my church invited me to watch a BC Lions game. I had been warned about the differences between American football and Canadian football, but I was shocked nonetheless. Sitting in the bleachers, which seemed a mile away (sorry, that would be 1.61 kilometers away) from the field due to the immense width of the gridiron, one quickly notices that there are two 50 yard lines on the field. They play three downs. They have twelve men on the field per team. The end zone is 20 yards deep. And that’s just for starters.
The Lions were down by two points heading into the final seconds, and the small but raucous crowd got up on their feet for what might be the final play. The ball was snapped, and the kicker booted the ball straight but short. Game over. Or so I thought.
I hadn’t noticed the opposing team’s kick returner quietly waiting in the end zone. He caught the field goal attempt deep in the end zone, began to run the ball out, then quickly decided he would have nothing to do with it. Suddenly, he took three quick steps and punted the ball back out to mid-field.
“What the hey?”, I yelled to myself in my head. All the players had followed the ball back toward the end zone, leaving the Lions kicker alone to field the punt. He bobbled the ball several times before being hit by an opposing player. The ball popped loose, and the opposing team promptly picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown.
Everyone suddenly started moving quietly toward the exits. I sat there dumbfounded. “What happened?”, I demanded, almost frantic. “What was that? Somebody please explain that to me!”
Recently, I was invited to Germany to lead worship at The Gathering for Proclaim International at the end of November. One of our musicianaries and a great guy, Kim Peterson, had invited me to this annual gathering in Freudenstadt. And once again, I find myself excited and unsettled at the opportunity to minister in another country. I’m excited to experience the culture, to get to know some of the missionaries on a deeper level, to jam with some great musicians, to meet with brothers and sisters in Christ, and experience worship and evangelism on the other side of the world. But I’m also unsettled by my own insecurities and by my dependence on my comfort zone. And I guess that’s one big reason I should go.
There is something about living in the California suburbs that will lull you to sleep spiritually. Living in the suburbs is more than the pursuit of happiness; it is the pursuit of the Comfort Zone. And we as American Christians are generally no different than the rest of society when we insulate our lives with Christian self-help books, Christian music, Christian activities, and the trappings of the Christian subculture, at the expense of going out into the world and actually making a difference. And I am guilty as charged.
There’s nothing more comfortable than sitting in my favorite chair watching an NFL football game. And nothing more unnerving than knowing that the rules of the game are suddenly different. And that’s precisely the point of it. The rules of suburbia are wrong. Rules like materialism, hedonism, status seeking, creating comfort zones, entitlement, and having to be in control of one’s life. The real rules of life are often forgotten: Loving your neighbor, blessing those who curse you, the last shall be first, taking up your cross daily. We need things in our lives that will shake us up, and remind us that the world we live in is actually upside down.
I’d like to ask for prayer during the week that I’m gone (I leave on Thanksgiving Day). The customary prayers for safety as I travel and for the effectiveness of my ministry while I’m there. But also the deeper, thicker prayers—for God’s presence and power and for my heart to be aligned to His Spirit. Please let me know if you’d like to be on my prayer team.
And hey, maybe I’ll get to take in a soccer game while I’m there (oh, sorry, football).
Photo above: My children, Justin, Rachel, Paige, and Eric check out the Vancouver skyline (circa 2004). Click on it for a close up.