\”Concepts create idols, only wonder grasps anything.\” – Gregory of Nyssa

Evangelism

The Defeat of Self Doubt and Planting of New Seeds with My Neighbours

Planting SeedsAh, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” – Jeremiah 1:6

Jeremiah was a young man and it seems he felt boxed in by the the pressures of his society’s and cultural expectations for qualification and vocational purpose. It was in his own thoughts and mind that the people around him and the fellow Jewish countrymen would find him lacking. He was too young, lacked in education, failed in pedigree, and generally had no authority for speaking on behalf of God or truth.

It seems like things have not changed much since those days. So often we fall into the patterns of society’s expectation of boxed in rules, perimeters, and requirements for the right to be considered qualified to speak or enact visions for change or mission. Success is even margined by the cultural expectations of independence, self sufficiency, and quality being judged through numbers or profit. It seems authority and power always comes back to that which the individual presents over that of others.

These social and cultural expectations scream at us, “You are not good enough!” “You cannot achieve or act because your not gifted enough, educated enough, wealthy enough, old or young enough, in the right titled or position of authority!” “You lack the abilities to succeed!” It is a worldly noise that fills our minds with the distractions of self doubt to the point that we just simply give up. We don’t even bother to try, and why should we? The world knows we will fail and we know we will fail.

It was here, in this mind set of self doubt, that God spoke to Jeremiah and like him, unless we are willing to quieten our own self defeat, we will miss hearing and listening to our creators voice and calling.

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:6-8

Jeremiah would not find his authority in the world’s expectations but rather would only find it in his relationship with the Lord. He was not to look to his society’s or cultures expectations of character and abilities but rather that of God’s character and abilities entering into his life and personhood.

God has placed you and I in a very special community and neighbourhood! When we look at our neighbours we are not under their judgements but rather sent to them by God’s presence in our lives to speak with his words, love and act with his understandings, and deliver a Spirit of freedom from the worlds expectations of success, power and authority. We live not within the boxed categories of the worlds view but that of our creators view of abilities, talents, and gifts which with him in our lives is endless!

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,” – Jeremiah 1:9-10

My neighbour is from Toronto and is a huge Maple Leaf fan. Try as I might, I can’t convince him that the Calgary Flames are a far better team! I must admit, I know I’m dreaming here a bit but, the hope of another 2004 Stanley Cup run just can’t leave my heart. Why am I sharing this story?

Despite the political differences my neighbours and I might have, the reality is God has placed all of us over this separation or relational gap. My neighbour and I can cross over the thresholds of our sports, political, ethical, and religious boundaries and embrace a conversation to which God can speak through and to both of us. We don’t have to have all things in common to relate as it is God’s presence that bridges the words and worlds between us.

to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.

Listening to the voice of God in the relationship I have with my neighbours begins to break down the barriers of communal self defeat. No longer are they strangers, they are friends and they impact the person I am today. As we share in life together we begin to find parts of our worlds coming together which shape the meanings to authority that we have and our relationships with God.

It is in these relationships that I can plant seeds of thought through my actions and words which can bring God’s presence just a little closer to my neighbours and friends lives, whether they know him or not. In some sense, I see them doing the same with me. Together we are building community which in relationship with God, becomes a building of the Kingdom.


Pro-Life, Protests, and the Hopes for the Proliferation of the Truth Through Grace and Love

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s not the easiest discussion to have and yet a few days ago, when a friend posted THIS article, I felt compelled to begin a conversation and explore what it means to rightfully stand for a Pro-Life agenda while not compromising a Christ like mindedness and nonviolent mission. I do agree and understand standing for pro life values. Yet, the judgmental exploitation of graphic images can cause greater harm to those who have been through abortional issues. I ask the question; is this how Christ would respond to the “woman at the well“? (John 4:1-26) My hope is that as Christ’s followers we can learn to respond to these issues with more a Spirit of love!

The Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform has for several years protested against the practice of abortion for several years here in Calgary by posting graphic images to bill boards, and protest signs openly on street corners and in front of clinic buildings. Any unsuspecting passer by from the age of 50 down to 5 would be instantly subjected to the violence of aborted fetuses and gruesome death. Is this really how we should protest against the tragic loss of life due to these issues? Must we force everyone from senior citizens to children to be visually aware of this grotesque misrepresentation of choice?

It is argued that if the sexually explicit images of naked bodies and such could be used to promote sexuality in media, television, and promotional ads; then these graphic images to which the CCBR are using could also be used in the protest against abortion issues. It is true that our culture and society are deeply affected by sexual immorality and we cannot ignore the misuse of such advertising and should likewise protest against such images. Yet, sin is not graded nor quantified. You cannot compare graphics from abortions to sexuality. Nor do I think the acceptance or use of one cancels out or excuses the use of the other.

We as followers of Jesus need to embody a message of protest which lovingly takes the discussion of abortion into the public with a practice of grace and not judgement. But, we must be willing to ask how and who does this also. Statistics may advocate for a faster more immediate response but are always a poor base for Christian social activism otherwise, one man’s death would count for nothing! With regards to who… Perhaps only one percent of those who struggle with the contemplation of abortion are reached by the Crises Pregnancy Center but, who’s fault is that? We need to have a community which not only embraces the truth but builds a community of openness and interdependence upon one another. One which builds relationships in the practices of grace! Proper Christian activism spends less reliance upon the movement of para-church organization and instead takes the message of truth directly to the heart of the formation of community and church.

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Several years ago I remember reading a book by Philip Yancey where he described an art exhibit called something like the Cadaver Museum. In it you would find everything from the preserved lungs of a smoker, the heart of an obese man, bodies riddled with cancer, and even aborted fetuses. It was meant to promote an awareness to the many health issues and effects they have on the human body. A small portion of it I believe came through the Glenbow Museum here in Calgary maybe a year or so ago. The city was shocked and in an uproar as to the ethical issues this placed on them and yet the display was not public nor visible unless you actually went into the exhibit yourself.

Do I think graphic and violent images can be shared in the Spirit of love? the short answer is yes, but not in the way the CCBR chooses to do so under their understanding of love. Yes, the CCBR does have the freedom to protest and yet true freedom is not the ability to do what you want to do. Freedom is not the ability, the right, to do what I want to do. Freedom is the power to do what we should do. I do not protest the CCBR’s RIGHT to protest; I protest the WAY they choose to protest!

It is true that many war memorials and Holocaust Museums have horrible graphic images as to the atrocities the Jews and others have been through. Yet, these images are not paraded and displayed on the street corners for any and all to see. They are shared in places and environments which build bridges of relationship and foster healing and not deconstructive separations between absolute rights and wrongs.

King David had committed a horrible sin; he had committed adultery and after it was discovered he would be exposed, he then committed murder to cover it up. The prophet Nathan rather then convicting him the the public courtyards then took him aside, and he told him a story of a a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb. David was enraged by this sin and it was only after this that Nathan told him that it was him and David repented remorsefully for he knew that God was the one speaking to him. (2 Sam. 12:1-15)

I ponder whether the outcome of this story would have been different should Nathan had forcibly convicted David in the public eye. If we have learned anything as followers of Jesus, it’s that we should not scare at the images of violence in this world. Were it not so then the cross would have no meaning. Jesus promised us, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Yet we cannot allow those images to be used outside of a Christ like manner. We cannot dismiss that it is not us who will overcome but the amazing graces of Jesus who has “overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” – John 21:20-22


The Problem with Sin

Tempted

Not so long ago I had posted an article my friend Michael Coghlin wrote titled ‘Have you Heard the Good News?‘ It had mostly stirred the emotions in me regarding the challenges of evangelism and yet, my friend Don brought up a good point in a comment following the post; “I think that if we try too hard to concentrate on the ‘good news’ then we end up watering it down. It may seem like we’re building bridges but we may be doing very little to touch people’s lives with the real importance of the Good News.” I think he is right; we cannot simply focus on finding righteousness and salvation at the absence of not recognizing our own brokenness and need for repentance. But what exactly is it that we are repenting of?

For most of my life I have heard it said, “To error is human.” “To fail is natural.” But is this really true? Philosophically I can argue that to know failure you must first comprehend perfection. Yet perfection is solely measured in the personal sense. What I consider beautiful you may yet consider absolutely appalling! The same, I suppose, could be said of sin. What I consider to be nefarious in nature may not be to you. Sin in and of itself is undefinable to the exhaustive sense of comprehending its entire meaning.

Sin is the missing of a target, a wandering from the path, a straying from the fold. Sin is a hard heart and stiff neck. Sin is blindness and deafness. It is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it – both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a beast crouching at the door. In sin, people attack or evade or neglect their divine calling. These and other images suggest deviance; even when it is familiar, sin is never normal…Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God.

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

I think that is the actual problem we have with sin; we live with the expectation of trying to neatly define it to the letter of the law so that we can quantify its structure. To be blunt, we want the easy way of rationalizing the rule book of life so that we can find judgement within it. We want salvation and redemption within the life we have here and now today. It seems ironic to consider this when judgement itself cannot be completely ratified entirely until our life in this world comes to an end.

Perhaps the nature of sin is instead outside of the measurements of dogmatic law and is more than just a set of rules. Perhaps sin is very much like we identified earlier; relational in nature. If this is true, then sin itself must be more of an entity unto itself. Sin has character for the sack of personhood, existence for the sake of personal meaning, malevolence for the sake of self depravity. Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul meant in saying, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” (Romans 7:8-9)

Let’s wake up people. Let’s free ourselves from this prison of sin which calls itself natural and seek out redemption. This kind of relationship with sin is parasitic and in essence leeches off the perfected natures we as human beings were created for. Let’s put on our new selves and begin building on a relationship with life and not death.

Sin does exist in the objective sense a part from us yet I think the reality of our relationship too it is not to follow its lead but rather follow the lead of righteousness. In teaching his disciples Jesus says; “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24-27)

Jesus’ leadership is in two forms; the first is that we alone cannot give anything or work to find freedom from our relationship to sin. That freedom can only come from the self sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. For that reason he models to us that we must rely of his Lordship, his ownership over our lives, and in acknowledging that authority we will find freedom through his grace and not our own personal efforts.

Secondly, by finding our allegiances in his Lordship we can begin in works which are inline with the very perfected natures God created us in and thus be filled with true purpose and meaning to our lives. Failure will no longer be a word with any meaning to us and freedom will become an expression which fills our heart with excitement and passion for the next opportunity to see the realities of Christ’s Kingdom manifest itself within us through creative, unique, diverse, and dynamic ways!

Sin no longer lives or reigns in this earth. Sin no longer is a problem; for it is dead. We are forever alive in the truth, the life, and the way through the power of redemption and freedom of Christ.


Have You Heard the Good News???

Paper People

My good friend Michael Coghlin and pastor to Connections Christian Church wrote an article not to long ago looking at Good News and the way many of us might struggle with the word “Evangelism”. Take a read and maybe weigh yourself into the conversation… What stops you from sharing the good news?

Evangelism” can be a scary word. For me, it immediately conjures images of obnoxious street preachers shouting hellfire and brimstone, or door knockers handing out tracts to convince me I have an invisible problem and then (conveniently) giving me a when-I-die solution to that problem. Ask me to evangelize a stranger, and I get a knot in my stomach, my palms start to sweat, and I’ll find any excuse to disappear. But ask me about my iPad, and I turn into an Apple evangelist!

So,” I ask myself, “What gives? Why am I an eager tech-talker, but a hesitant faith-talker?” Here’s a few reasons:

  • The message of Jesus is exclusive, and bound to be an unpopular message in a tolerant-of-anything-but-intolerance culture;
  • Canadians are private, and what drives my life is reserved for discussion with my closest friends or psychologist, if anyone at all;
  • I’m ashamed of the things others have done in the name of Jesus (residential schools in SK, bombing abortion clinics, picketing with signs like “God hates fags”);
  • I fail to live completely into the Christian faith, and I fear that if I share it (the talk) I’ll be found out as a fraud (the walk);
  • I haven’t been taught to share my faith, and I hate doing jobs I’ve not been given the tools for.

Accurate though these reasons may be, they only address outside issues. They don’t press me to question, “Do I experience Jesus as good news? Do I believe Jesus is good news for my neighbours? Do I believe Jesus’ good news is worth giving anything and everything for (riches, career, family, reputation)?” We need to ask these questions.

But, if “evangelism,” “sweaty palms,” and “running away” are three sides of the same coin, then how we think of “evangelism” also needs a serious overhaul. Jesus proclaimed the “good news [Greek: evangelion] of the kingdom” as he healed many people (Matt 4:23). What we lose in translation is that Jesus’ speech and actions were evangelism!

If we are to redeem the language of evangelism, here’s a few thoughts. First, let us start thinking, saying, and believing “good news” when we hear “evangelism.” Second, let us scour the gospels to see what was “good” about the good news Jesus proclaimed and lived. Third, let us give ourselves to “good newsing” our communities—as good parents, good friends, good neighbours, good coworkers.


Inception – God at the Movies

Inception

In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a highly skilled thief is given a final chance at redemption which involves executing his toughest job to date: Inception.

DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a specialized spy or corporate espionage thief. His work consists of secretly extracting valuable commercial information from the unconscious mind of his targets while they are asleep and dreaming. Unable to visit his children, Cobb is offered a chance to regain his old life in exchange for an almost impossible task: “inception”, the planting of an idea into a target’s subconscious.

Inception – an act, process or instance of beginning which is often shaped by our encounters with a dream and vision to our future hopes and desires in our lives. Dreams are powerful in nature and we would be wrong to ignore their significance and meanings. In some cases our dreams may very well be God’s spoken guidance into the fabric of our being and purpose here in the world. Elihu, Job’s friend and wisdom imparter reminds him saying, “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:13-18)

Yet there is a danger also in the conceptualization of our dreams; if we choose to box their meaning in, stifle their implications, and bring our own singular interpretations to them, then to often these dreams can become ideological and lead us head long into the paralysis of idolatry. The writer of Ecclesiastes warns us, “For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity, but God is the one you must fear.” (Ecc. 5:7)

Join the Expressions Community this Saturday for God at the Movies when we will watch the film ‘Inception’ and explore the themes of Dreams & Ideologies. We will have snacks and drinks available as we look forward to seeing you here. If you and a friend are able to join us please email erik@expressionscommunity.org to ensure seating availability.


Broken

Broken

I starred blankly at the news screen as they described the story of a stranger who was listening and after hearing the faint cries of a baby, leapt into a garbage bin. After peeling away the layers of garbage they took off their shirt and wrapped it around a new born boy who with its umbilical cord still attached was rescued from the clutches of death. It wasn’t until later that the stranger would find out that he was not a stranger at all but the unexpecting father of the child.

Let’s face it; it’s a story we have all heard so many times before. We cry out in frustration, “What’s wrong with that person!” “How can they just not know…?”

A Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces is arrested and charged with sexual deviance, rape, murder, and other horrific charges. Teenagers are found gang raping teenagers in the school yard. And prostitution is legalized in certain states and provinces. It all seems so wrong, so decayed, so grotesque, so… Broken.

I was four years old when I was exposed to the realities of a broken world. My mother worked long days and would leave me at a day home behind our condo in SW Calgary. I remember the lady running the home would keep us locked in the basement all day exclaiming, “That’s where children belong.” Usually with a few “F” words in the mix.

It was here that the eldest daughter of the lady who ran the home began taking me with her to the darker corners of the basement. I don’t remember much, but I remember that I spent most of my childhood trying to hide it and make sure no one ever found out. Most importantly, I tried to make myself forget it ever happened because I thought it was my fault. I was Broken.

I was broken and because I was broken the world will never look the same to me again. The world has become a place of overt violence with battlefields in every marketing advertisement plastered on the billboards and storefronts in shopping malls and road ways; in snippets of film, movies, television, and commercials as they provocatively  exploit the psyche of human relational conjecture; in the one liner jokes we so innocently speak to one another with; and in the headlines of news media leading to social judgements based upon the bias of social and personal exclusion from the stories context.

My Brokenness has caused me to become angry. Why can we not see the exploitation of human sexuality and relational identity as the violence which it truly is? Why has it become normal to treat human sexuality as a consumer product and individual right rather then a relational identity and spousal gift? I suppose the reality to which I found is that I am broken, just as everyone is has been broken. The world is Broken.

Jesus’ brother James gives us something we can use in our brokenness. He wrote and called us to, “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” and promised us that, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16-17)

I don’t have all the solutions to the broken realities of our world but I do believe James is right. We need to first recognize our own Brokenness; and once we’ve accepted that we need to expose it, confess it to those around us, and talk about it. When we can be open and real with one another about the struggles we have, the challenges and fears that are a part of our lives; we can be honest in the midst of communal grace and truly seek to transform those realities. Then we can see the real beauty, the real gifts God has placed in our lives.

Secondly, we need to pray for one another as well as ourselves. Speaking to God about our need for healing and openly asking for his hand in our broken reality brings an internal connectivity which reaches to the very depth of our created being as it was meant to be. In Jeremiah God speaks to us saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Lastly, we must live with grace for one another; accepting that we are all Broken in a reality to which none of us can ever fully understand, experience, or comprehend. Forgiveness is not always easy to work out but, judgment is never ours to make lest our own judgments come upon our own brokenness.

This world will never be the same to me as it will never be the same for you. I will pray for you though just as I pray for the Broken people which I wrote of in the beginning of this post. I hope you would do the same for me.


To Save a Life – Youth Event

To Save a Life


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