This fall tens of thousands of young people have begun studies after high school. They have worked hard for this. Having won the prize of admission reserved for those disciplined in study, they will enter rich academic environments, richer then they have ever known, to pursue the promise of a good job.
They will find courses devoted to every question under the sun. But there is one question for which they will search in vain: the question of life’s meaning, of what one should care about besides a job and why, of what life and living is for.
I’ve been thinking about this vacuum recently. Western public education began with the notion that life’s most important questions are appropriate subjects for students to explore. This has all but disappeared. It is perhaps truer to say that what is most important in life has been collapsed, within education itself, to economics. Economic globalization of the last three decades or so has been the final squeeze to push questions of value and meaning out of formal learning. The disciplines with the oldest, deepest connection with these questions, the humanities, including the study of religion, have been badly weakened, even within secular universities. Research, the capacity to produce “true value” for new economic opportunity, is now king. Education is about commodities and the quantifiable. The question “What is life for?” is homeless here.
The loss of the quest for meaning has come at a staggering price. The September 2012 Maclean’s headlined Canadian students feel hopeless, depressed, even suicidal. Among other things it discussed the results of a 2011 survey of 1,600 University of Alberta students, where “about 51 percent reported that, within the past 12 months, they’d felt things were hopeless. Over half felt overwhelming anxiety. A shocking seven percent admitted they’d seriously considered suicide, and about one percent had attempted it.” Canadian universities don’t have a monopoly on these things. At Cornell University in New York, the solution for hopelessness and depression has been to install bridge netting under the seven bridges leading to campus to catch jumpers on their way to class. Sadly even the article itself reduced the problem to one of “mental health“. Mental health is serious stuff, and important to acknowledge and deal compassionately with. The issue though is complex. Hopelessness, depression, and anxiety has much to do with the conditions of life, like prior to a major assignment. There will, as the saying goes, “always be prayer in schools as long as there are exams.“
Despite globalization, the quest for meaning persists. At one level it helps us cope. With a “why“, Victor Frankl observed, we can deal with any “how“. For Christians though, our longing for transcendence empowers us to invest in riches that can be enjoyed forever. The scriptures call it “hope in Christ” (1 Cor. 15).”Hoping in Christ” helps us to endure too. It also gives us the Model for living, a Christ shaped character, and a horizon far past the hollow promises of consumer culture, a reason to spend life for the sake of others.
Since questions for meaning are always questions of the spirit, and the right and proper subject of Christian education, it would be easy to say here “Hooray for Christian education!“
However, life’s meaning is far more than “a question” of the spirit. It is rather a quest, a hunger of the spirit. That’s why not all churches or even places like ABC are automatically places of authentic spiritual food. Sometimes Christian institutions bear a strange similarity to religious studies classrooms where information about God or belief systems is passed off as sufficient for Christian discipleship. Information however, while important and necessary, is hardly sufficient for becoming a follower of Jesus.
At the heart for our quest for meaning is Jesus who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you ‘Ten steps to walk in the Way.‘” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you the Truth.” He said, “I am the Truth.” He offers Himself. This of course matches our yearnings precisely. They are for Love Himself. Information is not enough for the quest!
Jesus knew all of this! He knew that what disciple-learners needed more than anything in their quest was a model of loving surrender to the Father. This was a lengthy process, even under the master Teacher! Along the way there were questions, doubts, fears, denials, prejudices, jealousies, and a host of other distractions. Their enemy was ours too: they thought that the “Way” was the way of privilege and power. All of them desert Him at one point. After three years of instructions they still think that (Acts 1:8). Throughout this jagged journey to learn Him, every moment was a teachable one. He never gives up on them.
Regardless of how that quest unfolded in particular cases, the common thread was that Jesus was always with them, entering life with them, challenging, encouraging, whittling away their self-preoccupation. All this to say that for Jesus curriculum was not enough. He longed for them to experience His inner life. His presence was key!
Dallas Willard puts it this way: “…spiritual formation rests on the indispensable foundation of death to self and cannot proceed except in so far as that foundation is being laid and sustained. You cannot follow Jesus from a distance. You do life with Him.” (Renovation of the Heart, Page 64)
The quest for meaning is satisfied through the challenging conversation and encounters where life’s big questions are faced honestly. In fact, our gospels are both declaration and a “working through” of the conversations about what it means to live for Someone else. Without those conversations, they wouldn’t exist! Peter Berger is correct: “Worldview hangs on the thin thread of conversation.“
As they walked with him, Life seeped in. Jesus’ own dreams of a new, Other-oriented life took shape. They learned to serve by serving. They learned to love by loving. They learned to be loved, by being loved. Meaning arrived not by armchair philosophizing, but through fresh encounters with Life Himself. Jesus knew that the transformative turning points of life are already in the journey, not just in the synagogue.
It is easy, and so tempting, to think of what is done outside the classroom as unimportant. It is not. The stakes are too high, the consequences too stark, the possibilities for Others too rich, and the horizons of meaning to beautiful, to abandon the co-curricular.
I tend to like the dark. Truth is, I spend most of my best reading time in the dark; staying up late into the night in bed with my book in front of me and my small little reading light curled over the top of it as I envision the author standing before me speaking the words I’m reading as though we were engaged in a deep conversation. I’m not sure why but I feel like my mind is just more focused that way, more willing to engage in what the text is saying.
It was a few nights ago though that after starting Brian McLaren’s new book ‘Naked Spirituality‘ that I came across a conversation he expressed having about gratitude that deeply disturbed me. I usually am greatly inspired by his writing which is why it took me back so much when reading it. Try as I might, the discontent would not leave so I thought it best to put pen to paper and express my thoughts in an open letter here. Will McLaren every read it? I do not know but, I hope by verbalizing it we might all grow to find a deeper, more unconditional spirit of gratitude.
Dear Brian McLaren,
I remember the first time I ever picked up one of your books. I was in a Chapters book store here in SW Calgary looking for something different and came across your writing of ‘A New Kind of Christian‘. Like most other times in book stores, I began reading it in one of the aisles and found I could not put it down. Most often I like to read apologetics or theology books and it is my wife who reads the narratives and biographies but your thoughts in this book where mesmerizing! Needless to say I was finished it in 3 days and on to find the 2 follow ups after it.
Since then I have gone on to read a number of your other books including starting most recently your latest work in ‘Naked Spirituality‘. After hearing so many of your thoughts in your other books though I must admit to being a bit distressed in a story you speak of regarding a spirit of gratitude. You say,
When I was still a teenager, my friend Mary asked me, “How much money would you give to keep your eyesight if you knew you were going blind?”
“A lot,” I answered. “Everything.”
Then she asked, “What if it was your ability to walk – if you had a disease that would leave you wheelchair-bound unless you could pay for a cure. How much would you spend?”
“Everything,” I said. “I’d liquidate everything I own and go as far into debt as I could to save my mobility.”
“How about your hearing?”
“The same,” I answered.
“How about your sanity – your mental health, your intelligence?”
Finally I asked, “What’s your point?”
“I’m just trying to save you from BYTS – the Big Yellow Taxi Syndrome,” she said, evoking the newly released Joni Mitchell song. “If you were to loose any one of these abilities, you would pay millions of dollars to recover it, so each one is worth millions of dollars to you. You would rather have the ability to see or hear or move or think then tens of millions of dollars in the bank. Well,” she smiled and gave me a little shove, “you have them! Which means you’re better off than a multimillionaire! You have to know what you’ve got before it’s gone.”
I realize that we live in a world that likes to box frame such things as success, richness, blessings, normality, and capability but in honesty I can’t help but feel personally towards this story. In open truth, here I am, in a wheelchair, paralyzed as a quadriplegic after a car accident 18 years ago, reading this story, and what I’m hearing is you would rather do anything, including go as far into debt as possible, then become like me!
Why? What is wrong with me? What am I lacking that makes your abilities more valuable then my own? Should I then go and do “everything” to not be this person in a wheelchair?
Let me share a story with you which comes from an experience I had prior to the car accident that has placed me in this wheelchair and is strangely similar to your encounter under the stars. It was about a year before my life would change in such a dramatic way and like most days I was found dribbling a basketball down the street. I was always athletic competing in just about everything and being a 6 foot 210 pound 15 year old I was as invincible as you could be!
Growing up in the church I understood the concept of God but I really didn’t take the conversation seriously. Anyways, there I was, dribbling down the street towards the courts and I distinctly remember an inner voice speaking to me. It said, “How would you like to be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life?“
Now my mother had worked with people in the health care industry before who had been in wheelchairs and so it wasn’t like I wasn’t aware of some of the challenges these people face in life. Still, without really taking notice of who I was talking with and the implications of what I would say, I shot back, “Sure, I could do that! It would make me cool, unique, and I’d be some what revered!“
Let’s be honest here; I had no idea what I was talking about. More to the point, I had no idea who I was talking too! Looking back now I can honestly say that I know I was talking with God that day and he was preparing me for what was going to become very shortly, a new projection to the pilgrimage of my life. Still, what was I looking for here? What was the deeper desire? Maybe even, what would make me grateful to be who God created me to be?!
Let’s look at it from the perspective of the secret vision of Jesus. (Thought you might like that term ) Jesus’ disciples loved asking questions and they were constantly asking him about the “why’s” in life. One time they were walking on the streets of Jerusalem and they came across a blind man begging on the side of the street. His followers turned to him and said, “Teacher, why is this man born blind and disabled since birth? Is it because he himself has displeased God or did his parents offend God?” (John 9:2)
Jesus looked at them and answered, “It is neither because God is displeased in this man or offended by his parents. It is so that he can do the incredible works of God through being who he was created to be!” (John 9:3) Blindness was seen by Jesus not as a lacking or deficiency but rather a personification of God given character and identity. This man was special, unique, and cool because of who God made him to be!
I have been in a wheelchair for many years now and gained much more wisdom and appreciation for the gifts God has placed in my life because of the wheelchair I live in. As such I must admit to recognizing that you probably are writing this false understanding of gratitude without realizing the danger nor damage this sense of false gratitude can create. But, we must see beyond the world’s sense of segregationalized and marginalized gratitude. Our eyes must be blinded by the glory of the cross which drives gratitude straight to the hearts of the segregated and marginalized!
I have been around some incredible people who face incredible physical and mental challenges in life and one thing that has been greatly impressed upon me is the real spirit of being able to accomplish all things through Christ’s inspiration and guidance. (Phil. 4:13) Perhaps something I am most grateful for is the encountering of Christ’s presence through such relationships and events!
We have met one time before a few years back when you came to Calgary to speak with Bob Goudzwaard on your book ‘Everything Must Change‘. After your talk I came up and shook your hand while you signed my copy of ‘A Generous Orthodoxy‘. Perhaps this is something else that must become more generous in recognition and must change in our society’s understanding of appreciation. A real spirit of gratitude is not an appreciation for what we quantify as the justifiable right in our life; but rather the physical, mental, and spiritual diversity and beauty God has placed in each one of our lives both individually and communally. Sharing those things together as equals and sharing full equity between each other despite differences; those moments are truly miraculous and filled with the glorious spirit of eternal gratitude!
“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
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” – James 1:19-20
Silence. It is a theme which has filled my life right now. Not the kind of silence where everything around me is quiet but rather the opposite. I have grown silent and for me, it is becoming stifling. It is difficult to write, to dream, to share my thoughts with others, and to speak in public spaces.
As a boy I can remember it being told to me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then you shouldn’t say anything at all.” In a lot of ways I can agree but at what point does it become unhealthy for a person? When is silence no longer good for me; even if I am struggling with the inner wrestlings of unease, frustration, anguish and that which is considered not good?
No; silence is not working out for me any longer. It is over taking me, drowning me in its deafening noise, and killing my spirit. I need to get it out. I need to expel it from my thoughts so that I might better defeat its grasps.
The things you read here may not always be right and they certainly may not always sound good. I just hope you can extend me some grace as I try to put this out so that I can possibly leave it behind.
Vision Casting and the Things of Dreams
“For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words… For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.” – Ecclesiastes 5:3, 7
Not long after graduating from Alberta Bible College with my Bachelors Degree in Theology I began asking myself the question; what is my mission in ministry and how can I tie a number of our past projects around an actual vision? I found myself drawn to the story in Matthew 16:13-20 when Jesus and his disciples where passing through Caesarea Philippi.
Jesus, while passing by the shops in the streets, turns to his disciples and says, “Who do the people say that I am?” Their answers vary from a teacher, a moralist, a prophet, and a healer. But he then turns the question around to being very personal in nature as he says again to them, “Who do you say that I am?” What a fascinating and telling question for Jesus to ask! I imagine the surprise as his disciples are taken back by the question. Jesus doesn’t care so much what the people think of him. He wants to know what his followers think of him, and more I think to the point; what they personally think of him. Peter’s answer hits the nail right on the head, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.“
Meditating on that crux in the question it seemed to me that Jesus’ words were transcendent over time. It wasn’t just a question for his followers in Caesarea Philippi. It is a question he continues to ask me and each one of us here today. Who do we say Jesus is? The expressions and answers which we give being worked out not only in our statements and words, but also the actions and lives we live out day to day.
This was a vision I could follow; this was a dream which took over my heart. Seeking expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community. The birth of Expressions.
It was my hope that Expressions could be a community of groups which not only found and built bridges between our culture and the gospel through unique and dynamic ways but that it could also be a place where everyone could grow in leadership through the distinctive callings and gifts Christ’s Spirit placed in each of our lives. The movement of Expressions would not be confined by the traditional avenues of Sunday morning church practices alone but also find new ways to revealing the gospel and the Kingdom of God in all things and in all places.
I shared this vision with our home church community and with the elders. In discussion they seemed concerned over a few issues with Missional Theology but were intrigued and wanted to see more in the way of these groups taking shape.
Over the next two years I developed a number of groups including Re:Genesis, God at the Movies, Expressions of Compassion, Conversations in ESL, Mars Hill Adventure, Adorations, H2O: A Journey of Faith, and a number of community events such as the Grey Cup of Coffee Event and the Super Bowl of Chili. It’s not an exhaustive list of everything we did over the next few years as there were other events but, it is the staple of who we were. I loved every minute of it and felt as though I was living a dream!
Supporting these ministries solely on our own though, I soon realized that I could not keep up this pace while supporting my family and looking after my own personal health. I needed the support of other leadership and those who would dream, aid, advocate, be a voice, build along, and journey with me. So I again turned to the elders in our home community.
A bombshell was dropped. They explained they could not support us as we were seen as an “outside identity” and not really a part of the church.
Feeling Sold Into Slavery
“Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver” – Gen. 37:26-28
An outside identity. I felt so alone and unwanted by the elders and leadership in the church. We had been a part of the church community for over 8 years and yet we were still considered an outside identity. Still, the words seemed foreign to me and stung deeply. I found it harder and harder to sit in the back during worship and hold back the tears from filling my eyes, and rolling down my checks. I couldn’t do it any longer and turning to Bonnie I said, “I can’t go back to that church anymore and simply sit in the seats while passing in tithes. There has to be something more.“
I felt as though I was being sold into slavery by my brothers. We left. It hurt doing so as we have so many friends and spiritual family there. We still do. I just couldn’t seem to go anymore without the pain of those words cutting deeper and deeper into my heart. I only hope they can understand and find forgiveness.
Exposing the Elephant in the Room
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16
Over the last year and a half we have continued with a number of our groups in Expressions on our own while struggling to maintain a balance with health, time, and finances. In trying to support a number of our groups as well as our own needs; a few years back I took up a job in the local Home Depot. It wasn’t meant to be a long term job as I had hoped to find a place soon on staff in a church community and it wasn’t much in the way of financial support but, it helped with things and enabled me to continue with some of our groups in the house. It has been hard though as it leaves little time for personal health needs and times for rest or family gatherings.
In the last few months I have taken a few personal leadership classes as well as evaluational courses. They’ve been difficult. Not in the intellectual sense but rather because their forcing me to look internally at some things which are glaringly confronting me. They always seem to start with the question, “If you can sum up who you are in one brief sentence, who are you?” Searching for an answer this small voice I’ve been hearing over the last year creeps up inside of me:
- “You are a joke!“
- “You are not a pastor nor will you ever be one.“
- “You are useless and pathetic.“
- “You are the running joke of the pastor community.“
- “All the times that people have said that you are great at speaking, teaching, leading, ect… They are only being polite and don’t really mean it.“
They are statements which leave me with the questions:
- What is wrong with me?
- Is it because I am in a wheelchair?
- Is it because Bonnie and I do not have any or cannot bear any children?
- Is it because I do not have enough education or a Seminary Masters Degree?
Call it burn out, a broken heart, or call it something else; I don’t know. What ever it is; it has robbed me of my self confidence entirely. The more I wrestle with this elephant which has invaded the space I call my personal identity; the more I realize that I am facing a deep depression within myself and I don’t know how to defeat it. This depression has slowly eroded my ability to dream and find hope for the future. I don’t know if I have any meaning in my life and if I am of any significance or for any purpose.
This must change…
Repentance and a Desire for Reconstitution
“In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!“
This must change. I honestly do not know how, but I know it must.
“We need to learn the difference between the convictions of the Holy Spirit and the accusations of Satan!” Those where the words Scott Weatherford spoke from the front of a church Bonnie and I had gone to after I felt a deep need to be in worship with a community we had not been a part of before. I’m not sure why the words stuck with me but I just seemed to keep playing them over and over in my head. Perhaps God was speaking to me.
Looking back I can realize that this voice that has been speaking to me seems far more accusational in nature then it does a convictional calling to walk in righteousness. I don’t think this excuses the impact of the failure in human leadership within my story and yet I realize my struggle is one which is internally a true battle not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) I only pray God might restore my strength, redeem my confidence, and reconstitute the person he wants me to be in leadership and life.
Over the past few weeks I’ve felt called to commit to some personal steps. I don’t know where they might take me but, I’d like to share them with you.
- I’ve begun reading through the Psalms. David was a man after God’s own heart and I pray for nothing less then that for myself.
- I have a deep desire to find a home church which would encourage and help me grow not only spiritually but in leadership and ministry. This might redefine Expressions, and it may not. I leave that in God’s hands as it is in His Kingdom that I serve.
- I have cut my hours back at work in the Home Depot. This will make things a little tighter in the budget but, I need the time to focus on my personal health and to search out where God may be leading me.
As I mentioned earlier, I realize that things must change and I’m not quite entirely sure how. I only hope that these steps might help and as I take them, Jesus might show me and guide me to the next steps in the journey he wants me to take. If I can borrow Thomas Merton’s prayer, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.“
I thank you all for your prayers and for the words you might share with me.
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.”
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.
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.
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 email@example.com to ensure seating availability.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at Canyon Creek Christian Fellowship on Sunday January 2nd, 2011 about Living for Potential while focusing on Matthew 5:48. Although feeling a little rusty, here is what I shared…
“Are you ready for Christmas?” It seems like an innocent question enough but what are we really asking? Most times we’re wondering if you’re done rushing around to the many over run shopping malls and sale displays too which you are looking to buy the greatest gift for your loved ones and family. I must admit that even I have caught myself in this frame of mind from time to time throughout the last few weeks. After all, who wants to be stuck in traffic and that last weeks rush before the big day arrives on December 25th.
Yet is that what Christmas is really all about? Just us consumers delighting in the buying of gifts for others while waiting to see just what presents they might also have for us?
Last week while taking a moment to relax, I came across a post called ‘The 5 Stages of Relationship With God‘. It didn’t really have any particular holiday theme but as I read it, I couldn’t help but truly see the meaningful beauty it connected with in the story of Christmas and our relationship with Emanuel during this time of season.
I have a Kinship with Religion
It is pretty much impossible to say today that you do not know who Jesus is. At least that is true for a North American culture and society. We all have in one way or another been impacted by an understanding of the word Christianity and the general story of the Nativity. I think every year I hear about someone stealing the little baby Jesus from some church’s Nativity scene as a bad practical joke!
The spirit of Christmas as a religious relationship finds its expression for those of us who brave the cold to find a local church community who is hosting a Christmas Eve Service so that we might join in with carols and song while not feeling we have to attend church any other time of the year. Or as my fellow columnist Chris Hammer at the Calgary Beacon writes in his post ‘The Christmas Dichotomy‘, “Christmas is a time to engage with the comforts of tradition; whether celebrating the birth of a baby in a manger or the arrival of a jolly soul in a red suit.“
This is without a doubt a deep and meaningful relationship we have and Jesus is there too of course, but the relationship is distant. Not distant in presence per say but more so in the meaning of relevance. Soon the daily activities of life resume and the fable story of a little baby in a manger have little to no significance in our activities or thoughts.
Still for some, that distance might like other far reaching relationships cause us to question, “Who is this baby Jesus?” What happens to him when he grows up?” “Is Jesus real and if so, what makes him so special?”
I have a Kinship with Doctrine
Every year around Christmas I hear the conversational whispers of the battle between perceived Consumerism and the “true” meaning of Christmas. On one side are those who want to see a greater focus on the celebration of the birth of Jesus while on the other side are those who simply want to find a sense of joy in giving and receiving gifts from family and special loved ones.
Doctrine makes us want to create and follow certain beliefs or principles according to our understanding of faith or truth. It is the foundation to our world view and by definition creates “laws which are established through past decisions“. But following doctrine at the absence of feelings and emotions is outside of human natural behavior and becomes void to the essence of our need for relational acceptance and support. We need community and with community is our need for a greater sense of grace and tolerance.
Last week I was strolling through South Center Mall and came upon a quote from William Arthur Ward. He said, ”Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.“ I pondered the feelings that I have of gratitude, as a Christian, for God sending his son Jesus to us here on Earth. What or who would I be today if Jesus had never been born? How would I feel knowing that my faults, my sin had never been forgiven by my creator? Or how could I have known what purpose I might have; what on earth is right and wrong; is life meant to have a moral, ethical, and emotional compass? And if so, how could I possibly relate to it?
Words cannot express the emotions of gratitude, joy, love, and admiration which I have for Jesus and the relationship we have today. It is a relationship which not only sets a living compass for doctrines which guide my thoughts and actions but; it is also a human kinship filled with the workings of grace, forgiveness, and life long blessings.
It is that relationship which makes me want to share that same spirit with those around me; my friends, loved ones, and even the stranger I pass in the mall as I look up and smile while giving a friendly greeting, “Merry Christmas!!!”
I have a Kinship with Jesus
Have you ever listened to the lyrics of the Christmas song ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and wondered, ”What is the essence of my drum to play?“ ”What is my gift for Jesus?” I know I have and at times and in some instances I have felt like the little boy, in that my gift isn’t really that special. Yet, in Jesus’ eyes all our gifts are special!
When we find ourselves realizing our relationship with an incarnate and living Jesus, we begin to explore the gifts, talents, and passions in our life in a new way. They’re no longer meaningless and pointless but instead they are unique and special just between us and God because they become expressions of our relationship with Jesus. Our hobbies become the praxis of His presence in our lives!
I wonder what the wise men must have thought as they packed all their belongings, gathered their family, servants, and helpers, and headed west across the continent to see a little baby Jesus in a manger who would one day be king? The pride they must have felt, knowing the relationship they had with this future king must have been great as they even bragged about it to King Herod while coming close to the end of their journey! (Matt. 2:1-2)
Jesus has a Kinship with Me
I am just a guy but if I were Mary I cannot imagine the terror that would have filled my heart when an angle stood before me saying “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31) At 14 years old, the thought of being pregnant and unmarried must have been scary to say the least. Even more so would be facing the whispered judgments of the many who would watch her as the little baby Jesus grew inside of her.
Being in relationship with Jesus brings the comfort of friendship and unconditional acceptance that we all love but when the realization of Jesus’ character as Lord and the Son of God settles into our minds it becomes a little terrifying to think of his relationship with us. So how do we get beyond this fear so that we can bridge his Lordship from our minds to the heart?
There is a well known proverb in history that says, “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” (Psalm 111:10) This is not a fear of harmful intent or life threatening danger. More so this is a fear which inspires us to become something better and maybe in the process we might just make a difference in the community and world around us!
My colleague Justin Bills has been my friend for several years now and I was inspired by his post that he wrote last week called ‘The War on Christmas‘. When he shared that he was giving half of his parents Christmas gift to Living Water International so the people in Africa might have clean water I was moved by his faith. Justin doesn’t just want to lead through his knowledge of scripture or authority by position; he wants to inspire others by following the life calling of Jesus being in relationship with him.
Mary faced some amazing fears in those moments standing in front of God’s appointed angle. Yet with awe inspiring courage she spoke, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Matt. 1:38)
“Never get stuck with the angels—if shepherds in fields or Mary in tomb (Jn.20) had stayed with angels, they never would have seen Jesus!” – Leonard Sweet
Jesus and I have a Mutual Kinship
Many years ago I can remember exploring the Anglican cathedral church of St. Steven’s in downtown Calgary. My mother would bring me there late on Thursday evenings while she practiced with the choir for the yearly Christmas celebrations and I would have my prodigious imaginary adventures while exploring the “catacombs“ and secret passage ways within the halls of the church (usually consisting of over and under the pews and the tunnel passage way behind the altar front) :-).
At four years old I had little knowledge to the relationship I had with Jesus nor the way he and I would encounter one another in the future. Yet looking back I now know that he most definitely knew and loved me. There were many people he placed in my life at that church that showed his love at Christmas and many other times of the year. People like Bob, “Aunt” Ruth, Meredith, Graham and Barbra Goode. People who are still in my life today.
Jesus and I having a mutual relationship is so much like my imagined adventures in that church as a boy. Through the exploration of the unknown and the relationships we develop along the way, Jesus shapes who we are, loves who we are, and in turn allows us to in our own time, come to know who he is freely in our own way and at our own pace. There never is a “right” way to do it. Just the slow prodigious adventure of being in mutual relationship with him at Christmas and every other time of year.
So where do you find yourself in relationship with Jesus this Christmas? Which of the 5 kinships do you find yourself this year? It doesn’t matter which answer you might discover because it is the right one for you today. In all of the 5 Kinships with Jesus at Christmas we find the real Spirit which fills this season… “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
May you find yourself surround by a Spirit of Love and Joy this Christmas as Jesus blesses you, your family, and loved ones. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!
I cannot say “Our” if my religion has no room for others and their needs.
I cannot say “Father” if I do not demonstrate this relationship in my daily life.
I cannot say “Who Art In Heaven” if all my interests and pursuits are in earthly things.
I cannot say “Hallowed Be Thy Name” if I, who am called by his name, am not holy.
I cannot say “Thy Kingdom Come” if I am unwilling to give up my own sovereignty and accept the righteous reign of God.
I cannot say “Thy Will Be Done” if I am unwilling or resentful of having it in my life.
I cannot say “On Earth As It Is In Heaven” unless I am truly ready to give myself to his service here and now.
I cannot say “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” without expending honest effort for it or by ignoring the genuine needs of my fellowmen.
I cannot say “Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us” if I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone.
I cannot say “Lead Us Not Into Temptation” if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted.
I cannot say “Deliver Us From Evil” if I am not prepared to fight in the spiritual realm with the weapon of prayer.
I cannot say “Thine Is The Kingdom” if I do not give the King the disciplined obedience of a loyal subject.
I cannot say “Thine Is The Power” if I fear what my neighbors and friends may say or do.
I cannot say “Thine Is The Glory” if I am seeking my own glory first.
I cannot say “Forever” if I am too anxious about each day’s affairs.
I cannot say “Amen” unless I honestly say, “cost what it may, this is my prayer”.
As found on The Minds Retreat.
“All evil needs to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke’s words have echoed over time and stirred many people’s creative imaginations as they contemplate their meaning and significance. Perhaps most remembered in my mind is when Winston Churchill quoted him in a speech while addressing Britain’s call to arms in World War II.
War has always been a word synonymous of destruction, pain, grief, and death. As a child I can remember participating in Remembrance Day Celebrations as we would reflect at the horrors of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Heart felt connection seemed evidenced in the faces of the elderly around me as they reminisced of family and friends who endured horrific times, events, and loss. Yet for me as a young child, war and the remembrance of such events seemed at a distance and the emotions were more of a spirit in complaisance then they were of relational relevance.
How can I place value on the men and women who died and served in these wars as strangers to my life? What significance of their involvements really mattered in my young years? Why remember such tragic and evil times when I live in such a time free from the antipathy of war?
Times have changed as I have grown up and no longer do I live with an indulgence to believe in a world free from war. Perhaps more inline with the thoughts of Burke; no longer do I live in the delusion of a world free from evil.
Yes, evil has gripped our little blue planet once again with wars starting and ending in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Terror has gripped the hearts of nations contemplating destruction and annihilation such as the countries of Iran, Israel, Palestine, and North Korea. Crimes of injustice and horrors have taken place in countries such as South Africa and Somalia. Tides which are so close that I cease to forget.
In the reality of this waking call I realize, it is not just the seasoned soldier who serves his country which has paid so much and lost to such causes. It is women and children, families, missionaries, civilians, and in short; the commonwealth of humanity. These are people who no longer could just sit and do nothing but instead stood up in the belief of a humanity which is created in a spirit of Freedom, Justice, and Equity for all. These are people who could no longer lay still in a self loathing value of apathy but instead became activists for a Kingdom far larger than just national conception.
Apathy becomes the enemy of human identity and our call to remember those who stood and continue to stand for a Kingdom of truth, freedom, and equality. In the words of Henri Frederic Amiel, “Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.” We were meant to “hunger and thirst for righteousness“; be “merciful that we might find mercy“; and be “peacemakers” in a world which needs a spirit of peace in place of a demon named terror. But, if we are to do this we must not only remember those who have done so in past but embody their passions and take action ourselves.
Tonight I sit at the table with my family and share a prayer of remembrance. I remember those who have served God’s Kingdom, embodied the Spirit of action which Christ lived, and I remember the sacrifices each made. Tonight I give thanks breaking bread and remember while sharing; evil has not succeeded, the cross has eternally triumphed, the Holy Spirit has claimed victory, and the Kingdom of God is near.
“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.” – Luke 22:14-23
Recently while I was surfing the net I came across an old photo from the Voyager 1 Spacecraft as it left our solar system in 1990. Printed on it was an arrow pointing at a small grainy white dot with the words of Carl Sagan above it:
This was an image that stuck in me as it reminded me of our simple minuet smallness. And yet I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist who wrote; “What is man that you [God] are mindful of him; and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4) Truly how great is our God and how awesome he is! He is far greater and bigger then we can even comprehend!
In that same sense though it seems we so often forget just how small we are. Our lack of humility and loss of perspective catalyzes our self centeredness and leads us to a path of self destruction and loss in identity, purpose, significance, and meaning. When we do not allow a Spirit of Humility into our lives we soon find ourselves Bewildered rather then Conscious, Consumed rather then Renewed, Meaningless rather then Meaningful, and Empty rather then Fulfilled.
Why should we live with a Spirit of Humility? Michael Dowd offers some inspiring words in saying, “Because what’s undeniably so is that the Universe is primary and you are derivative. Said another way, you are not the center of the Universe and your ego does not run the show. We are not thrust into the Universe, we were born out of it. You couldn’t exist without it and the Universe would do just fine without you. And that’s the truth! Humility and its twin sister, trust, are thus essential because only when you’re coming from a place of humility are you in touch with Reality as it actually is.“
Trust. Trust in a God who is far bigger then we can possibly comprehend. Trust in a creator who looks back to us, stretches out an open hand, and says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1:5) Trust that by Finding a Spirit of Humility today we can leave a legacy which will transform the world of tomorrow!
This coming Sunday’s Adorations on November 7th, 2010 we will be looking at the character and person of Jonah as we are Finding a Spirit of Humility amongst us. Come and hear how you can live a life which is Conscious, Renewed, Meaningful, and Fulfilled!
“And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?‘” – Jonah 4:2-4
1. Wealth without work
2. Pleasure without conscience
3. Knowledge without character
4. Commerce without morality
5. Science without humanity
6. Worship without sacrifice
7. Politics without principle
Just for your wonderings…
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.
I thought this was rather brilliant this morning as I contemplated the beauty of Gods creation and the humor of finding things of invisibility. I must use this as an illustration some time!
By the way, in answer to John’s agnosticism and defining terms… I believe that is the point! Man cannot define God’s terms just as we cannot define his character. To do so is to miss his existence entirely and in the midst of trying would only be caught up in ideology and ultimately idolatry. It is God who can and did state his terms through the act of incarnation not through words or things!
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” – Psalm 111:10
“Violence and fear is at the core of everything in this world. If it was not true then the fact of ‘Fight or Flight’ in nature would not be valid.” These were the words of my friend as we dug deeper into a conversation about our fascinations around violence in society. An odd conversation to have while at work I will admit yet, when God provides the opportunities to explore truth I never seem to back away. It becomes an honest question which I am continuing to ponder long after Joe’s and my conversation. Is fear and violence the soul driving force behind any natural relationship?
It seems throughout history that violence and the threat of violence is often used to control, manipulate, and set in motion the parameters of not only simple human relationships but national and international relationships. Whether it is a parent threatening their child with punishment for unacceptable behavior or a political or religious figurehead threatening ideological superiority with the mandate for social transformation; they all seem motivated by a theme of violence and force. Even I noticed within the context of Joe’s and my conversation it became less about the relational coexistence we have with one another and maybe more about the gnostic rights we possessed over one another. All of which fall prey to the illusions of false forces and mad men.
In a post called ‘Motivated By Fear of Love’ the author of The Naked Soul Blog says, “Fear in many ways runs this world and when fear is planted the crop that is reaped is all too often violence. Violence becomes the tool of those who live in fear because they have come to believe that is the only way they will be heard and that through violence they will make change happen.” I can’t help but like the way the author has radically changed the identification of violence to being more of a resource which an identity or person uses rather then being an entity unto itself. It seems radically different from mainstream thought and takes the power out of violence itself and puts it perhaps more rightly in the abilities and choices which a person who finds themselves within certain contexts can make or use.
There is a story of a time when Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat with his disciples. Now the Sea of Galilee is about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide; so it was no easy journey for the time period in a little fishing boat. Like most of us have done on a long journey Jesus decides to get a little sleep and as the other disciples manage the boat a rather large storm arises and as the thunder claps and the winds blow, the waves began to crash against the sides of their little boat. The disciples begin to panic in fear for their lives as they shake Jesus awake. Jesus says to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26) Jesus didn’t deny the existence of his disciples fear but; his concern was more for what power they believed that fear had over them.
Fear is an emotion which many of us encounter through much of our life; fear of failure, fear of unacceptance, fear of loss, fear of loss of control, fear of being wrong, fear of what others think – what others say, and fear of the unknown. But that does not mean our fear needs to drive us to fight or flight, nor to turn to violence in the hands of anger and manipulation as a tool for change. Rather fear can turn us to an expression of love and relational correction; one which brings mutual redemption, transformation, and a change that brings progression.
In the words of C.K. Tygrett in an article called ‘The Violence of Non-Violence’, “…the reality of our beliefs is that if they are to be true and authentic they must wear a human face. Someone will be affected by what we do or do not believe in. It doesn’t matter if you are a house church leader, an emergent church “contributor”, a carpenter, painter, etc. If there is a cause deep enough to found belief upon, it will affect another living being.”
If there is one inevitability that exists in this world it is that change is going to happen to both you and me. That does not mean however that fear and violence is going to be the only way that change is going to come about. There is always the factor or factors of the unseen force between us, one which seems more inspired by love, grace, and compassion. I only hope that I might be part of that change.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Phil. 2:1-11
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16
Turning on the television just a few weeks ago during the G 20 Summit I was surprised by the images of violence and rioting I saw in downtown Toronto. I suppose I never expected to see this in a Canadian city and thought the Conference would go by with little protest. This being said, I believe in the practice of free speech and feel it is important to exercise this right with the intent of reformation and communicating a publics claim for justice and freedom. But, this claim and voice must be clear in its content and precise in its message; something which I believe violence, smashed windows, looting, and burning public service cars do not accomplish.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” Yet still protesting before our leaders in non-violent fashion can have a catalytic affect as Martin Luther points out that, “To create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
I must admit that I did not grow up in a particularly political family. We rarely if ever really spoke about elective candidates or social statutes. I guess I predominantly felt as though my opinion didn’t really matter in the long run anyway. Yet in the past few years I’ve felt strangely drawn to pay closer attention to those who are in leadership and addressing public issues and concerns. I may be just one person but, my vote has become a social conscience and collaboration between me and God more so then just simple earthly leadership.
The Apostle Paul said, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) Really?! I mean seriously?! Do you really believe every political leader is appointed by God and has his Kingdom in mind when addressing our national, social, and communal concerns?
To be perfectly honest I struggled with this for years as I did not believe so. But maybe that is the point! We’re not supposed to simply sit in the background letting political leaders in authority do as they see fit; we’re to question, implore, offer our opinions, protest (in non-violent ways), and give voice to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit in our own community ridings and neighborhoods as it relates to His Word and our daily contexts and situations.
This coming fall the City of Calgary is facing a municipal election along with the voting of a new city Mayor. Our city is facing some major issues including rising homelessness, safety and police services, health services, and infrastructure.
Have you looked into who your wards candidates are for Alderman? Have you looked at what mandates they might have and the priorities they place on them? Have you expressed to them your concerns for our city? Perhaps most important and first on the list is have you asked what God’s desire for your community and city might be? Above all else I pray that God’s will is manifested in the principles and mandates of all of our elected officials lest I protest!
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:10
Who am I?
I am a man of Authenticity,
What you see is what you get;
More so I am the same in public as I am alone,
And visa versa.
Who am I?
I am a man of Honesty,
So much so it can get me in trouble;
My life is an open book,
One which I freely share in the hopes to inspire.
Who am I?
I am a man of Integrity,
My word is my bond;
Even greater to me are the words of action,
Everything I do is meant with purpose and a sense of personal moral ethic.
Who am I?
I am a man of Justice,
I seek it in everyone and in everything;
My heart breaks to the point of physical pain and tears,
At the smallest witnessing of prejudice, bias, or inequality to our relationship with truth.
Who am I?
I am a man of Love,
In the eternal agape sense anyways;
I love life, people, animals, adventure,
And the wonder of all miraculous moments when this amazing gift returns!
Who am I?
I am a man of Faith,
Convicted strongly in my relationship with God;
Through the Truth of Jesus’ eternal presence,
In my heart, soul, and wellbeing.
Who am I?
I am a man of creativity,
I let my imagination drift with the realities around me;
So as to bring life to grips with Truth,
And freedom of expression to redemption in righteous relationships with God, my wife, and those who journey with me.
Who am I?
I am a Husband,
Married to my wife as one flesh;
I can do nothing apart from her blessing,
As she becomes the greatest of blessings throughout my life.
Who am I?
I am a Pastor,
Not one by earthly titles, status, or appointment;
But by example, presence, and character,
Which only the Holy Spirit might bless and sustain.
Who am I?
I am Incomplete,
Journeying through my destiny in search of my fate;
One which only God can complete,
And measure by standards of his grace, love, and acceptance.
This is a first draft to Expressions Statement of Faith. I would love to hear any constructive feed back from my tribe and readers!
The Purpose and Mission for all of our members is Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community (Matt. 16:13-20). This mission is accomplished as we take the gospel message of Jesus into the relevant and daily life experiences we encounter both individually and as a community (Matt. 28:16-20).
Beliefs and Statement of Faith
- We believe in one God in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Eph. 4:4-6; John 4:24; John 10:30)
- We believe God is the creator of all that there is seen and not seen, understood and mysterious, questioned and answered. (Gen. 1:1; Isa. 42:5; John 1:3; Acts 17:24;26)
- We believe in one Lordship over all things, places, contexts, and people through Jesus Christ as the son of God. (Matt. 16:16; John 1:14; 10:30; 14:6-7; Col. 1:18)
- We believe Jesus suffered and died for our sins as he was crucified on the cross, that three days afterwards he was resurrected in body, that he ascended into heaven, and that he lives eternally at God’s right side. (Mark 16:19; John 20:17; Acts 1:9; Rom. 4:24b-25)
- We believe that all people can find redemption, forgiveness, and righteousness through holistically enacted faith in Jesus Christ. (John 3:16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:9-10; James 2:18)
- We believe that the Bible is the whole and complete Word of God meant to equip, teach, and inspire all followers of its reading. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
- We believe in the unity of one church under Christ Jesus through Biblical Christian practices. (John 17:20-21)
- We believe that all followers of Jesus are blessed and gifted according to the good works Christ calls them too through his Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:4; Gal. 5:22-24)
- We believe in the full immersion baptism of all who hold these beliefs to be true as a physical commitment and representation of God’s grace before all his followers. (Acts 2:38; 41; 16: 31-33; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21)
We each acknowledge ourselves being within our own unique contexts, experiences, history, and relationships but are united by Expressions Mission and Five Interlocking Values. As such we seek community by balancing a holistic practice of all said values within our faith and in everything we do.
Passionate Spirituality—Spiritual Reading (Scripture); Spiritual Speaking; Spiritual Breathing; and Spiritual Acting
Radical Discipleship—Invitational Living; Incarnational Living; Infusional Living; Inspirational Living
(Please See (i)Living Covenant)
Authentic Community—Hospitality; Unconditional Acceptance; Intentionality; Relevant
Transformational Mission—Recognize a Need; Collaborate; Acknowledge a Kingdom Relevance; Take Action
Holistic Stewardship—People; Wealth/Materials; the Environment
“God watched as though he were like a child full of joy as the sun rose over the horizon. And as he was engulfed by its beauty he cries out again and again each new morning, ‘Do it again!’” These were the words of my friend Steve several years ago that as I drove into the Rocky Mountains last week I couldn’t help but personally reminisce while describing the beauty of God’s creation to my friend Kenny in the back seat.
Kenny was here in Calgary visiting with a team from Abilities Church in Toronto while presenting in a conference at Center Street Church called ‘Life Without Limits’. Being their first time out to Calgary we took the opportunity as a leadership team to drive out to Banff as a bit of a retreat on the Saturday. As we drove further west from the city I realized that Kenny has been blind since birth and so the only way he would be able to see the natural beauty of our surroundings would be if I described it to him.
As I drove I would try my best at describing the amazing beauty of the soaring heights to the mountain tops, the amazing colors of the trees and flowers around us, the depths of the crystal clear lake waters beside the highway, and the excitement of the chance at seeing a large moose which crossed the road in front of us just inside the town of Banff. Each time I described something new Kenny would be so excited while exclaiming, “This is so cool!!!”
It seems each night since then that as I turn to the news I hear about the devastating environmental crises that is ravaging our planet. The Gulf Oil Spill, Carbon Emissions, Global Water Crises, Pandemics and Superbugs, Nuclear Energy Waste, and the battle between economic recovery and developments within oil companies or the need for clean energy; where is our sense of holistic stewardship and respect to dominion? Have we lost our created identity and unity for the self serving desires of one dominant species – humanity?
I have heard both sides of the argument; “The world is going to end unless we change now!” and “Global worming is a fraud made up by hippies and tree huggers.” It shouldn’t really matter whether we count ourselves on the environmentalist side or economist’s side; what is important is being on God’s side. After all, it is all created by him!
It is often quoted that God gave dominion to all humanity, “the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26) I don’t think God’s intentions were that we were to do whatever we wanted to please our own purposes. Rather I believe it was a uniting identity we had as a place in creation to tend to and take care of all that God created. In much the same sense as we would bear the image of God, so to we would look after, love, and foster all that he created within relationship to us.
So then what does it mean to act in dominion of the earth? Here are a few thoughts to which I thought of and maybe you might like to add your own later.
Pray for creation and all that is in it; understanding the realities and context the earth is faceing today. It is important to recognize that we are not just physical but spiritual beings and by acknowledging that spiritual connection with nature we can find God’s grace and healing uniting us in purpose and harmony.
Educate and spending some time reading while learning about the many issues our world is facing today. Don’t just really on major corporate news providers to share what they deem as important or relevant but dig deeper into the issues; listen to the hearts and minds of those who find themselves passionately involved in these global concerns. What you might just find is a vision for your own expression of involvement to transform the way we treat the environment! (A place I like to check from time to time; maybe you might like to visit this site as a way of launching some creative thought patterns – http://www.globalissues.org/)
Write a letter to your MLA, Prime Minister, or city official (maybe you might even like to start a blog) articulating the thoughts you have towards the need for better environmental legislation or national practice. Don’t just write about your frustrations and disgruntlements; take the opportunity to engage there minds with some ingenuities and resourceful ways in which our city and nation can bring better stewardship to the global issues at hand.
Primarily I think it is important to take an active roll yourself in the way you practice dominion. It might mean some radical changes in your life but by acting holistically in your own stewardship you will be healthier for it and find that many who around you will be inspired by your commitment. One of the easiest ways I have found this in my own life is to try and adapt to a three R’s lifestyle – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It’s not that I’m perfect at it but as Jesus exemplified, radical transformations always begin with the movements and choices of one man!
Finally I think it is important to love our environment. Have you ever watched that video of a plant which over the span of a minute or two you see it start from a seedling and then grow into a fully blooming flower? Now imagine sitting there and waiting in natural time, watching with complete anticipation, not just seeing but hearing, smelling, feeling the plant as it blossoms and grows. Perhaps then in those moments, when we are willing to spend this kind of energy and time with God’s creation we will leap at the joy and exuberance of witnessing such miraculous beauty while catching ourselves bursting in praise with the words, “This is so cool! Do it again!”
It seems in the past few years I have been confronted by a growing dichotomy which seems to be taking shape within our Christian Church. Set up between two frontlines the Missional and Emergent tribes seem to call for radical reformation while the more streamline and orthodox seem to take this as a personal attack claiming these thoughts as being a loss of accountability at best and at worst, borderline heresy. So which is it and where do we find God at work within it all? Most importantly… where does politics give way to Kingdom love?
Not that long ago a friend of mine quoted Kevin Deyoung from a blog post called ‘The Glory of Plodding’. He said, “What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risk taking plodders.” What an inspiring deliberation and yet I wonder; can you be a faithful, risk taking plodder without running the risk of cultural revolutionary reactions?
The Apostle Peter was a plodder too and while he stood before thousands of people he spoke from his heart, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17) Much like Peter perhaps the plodders of our time have a dream in uncharted waters; and our visionaries are leading us towards a revolution – one which is counter cultural not counter Christological!
The dangers of consumeristic church are most definitely rooted in a lack of commitment and the spiritual cannibalistic practices of “what’s in it for me?” My fear is that this reality has become not just individualistic in practice but also corporately expressed through the ideological expectations of set ecclesiological mandates. Let’s face it, Christian accountability is something which is centered not on maintaining an existing ecclesiology but upon the commitment to the missionary plodding of sending all of Christ’s followers into the world united with an impassioned vision for God’s Kingdom drawing near to every fabric of life.
So what of love for God’s Kingdom? Richard Neuhaus once said, “It is easy to think that we love an abstract, spiritualized, de-historicized Church just as it is easy to love abstract, spiritualized, de-historicized people. In truth to love abstractions is not to love at all; it is but a sentimental attachment to our own whimsies.”
In truth I can say I love God’s Kingdom but in so doing I am in love with God’s people; in all places, forms, traditions, and diversities. To not recognize the riches of this virtue brings heed to Jesus’ warning that, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.” (Matt. 11:17)
Does the dichotomy between Missional/Emergent and Main Stream Church demand revolutionary mentality? I do not know but, in the words of Martin Luther King I’ve been hearing a lot lately… “I have a dream today!” Maybe the church itself should spend some time dreaming too.
A close friend of mine recently wrote a post called ‘Plodding’ which I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few days. As such I’ve written a lettered response which I thought I would share for your dialogue too. Sometimes by our reading into others lives we too can find insight and a glimpse to life and faith which we did not expect.
It’s been hard trying to wait till now to get in on this conversation as this post has been on my mind the last few days. Between balancing a “steady job” and the health concerns of life in a wheelchair I’ve been slow to find the time to write. I hope I’m not jumping in too late!
Just what do we mean here Brad by “leaving the church?” I mean are we talking about a specific event, building, and organization; or do we mean a community of people doing life together? It seems important to identify this because much of the unspoken realities in “service representation” that are mentioned in the linked article and conversation seem to pertain to a singular weekly event (VBS, greeting, Singing/choir, ect.).
If you ask me, “ecclesia” seems to be far more richer when understood as more closly connected to daily discipleship then being a matter of weekly attendance. After all, the kingdom of God is near (Luke 10:9b) whenever I enter any “door way” with a heart of adoration, a mind of focused learned attention, and a spirit of unrestrained joy! I am first and formost a FOLLOWER of Jesus in any and all contexts; in which I ENCOUNTER, EXPERIENCE, and REFLECT the church as a community of grace and unconditional acceptance.
Is everyone a “Rock Star” and Bono mentality? I hope not! But, what is the church doing to equip, develop, support, and build the leadership which might find itself on the fringes of so called stated “class” – white, middle class, married, and with two and a half children. Is Christian discipleship and expression solely based free of creative ingenuity to the marginalized and “un-classed”? If it is anything I think Jesus stood up for it was that HIS church would not be based upon demographics but upon personal confession! (Matt. 16:15-17)
I’ve read Kevin Deyoung’s book ‘Why We Love the Church’ and it has caused me to think deeply about my missional roots but I am bothered by his undertone to “Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church.” What is the church meant for if not to be born in spirituality (John 3:1-15) and deeply involved in community transformation and social justice (Matt. 5:1-13; Luke 4:18-19)? Is there meant to be a separation between church and para-church? I think not.
Ben, I think you are right in identifying this sense that our generation has sometimes abandoned our sense of “community” for consumerism in self gratification. It is important to plod towards a vision of discipleship and accountability. It is equally important that this accountability however hold more balance between daily active missional impulses, worshipful learnedness, and an attentiveness to graceful evangelism.
Are there meaningful “rights of passage” J? I think there are! Of course we need to guard against them being ideological and institutional but as I’ve learned from Deyoung before; there is merit in Baptism, the breaking of bread in Communion, and Spiritual Disciplines.
For some time now Brad as you know I have found myself on the fringes of church (organizational) acceptance. I often wonder has the church itself become lost in a state of complacent consumerist expectation. Does this demand revolutionary mentality? I do not know but, in the words of Martin Luther King I’ve been hearing a lot lately… “I have a dream today!” Maybe the church itself should spend some time dreaming too.
I suppose that’s all I have to say for now. What do you guy’s think?
“Jesus wept.” Two simple words and the shortest sentence in the Bible (John 11:35). Yet it seems these words to me have become such a deep revelation into the authenticity of Jesus’ love for humanity and the lives of those who he calls friends.
Have you ever been in those moments where sadness and fear have gripped you so strongly that nothing else seems to matter? When the daily practices of life seem to become surreal in nature? Or when the very fabric of life itself becomes infinitely perplexed by the loss of a loved one in the midst of it?
This past week has been a blur for me as my wife and I came to grips with the slow understanding that we were losing her mother to multiple organ failure. I was struggling with the questions, “What do I say?” and “Where is God in all of this?”
In a lot of ways I suppose that is how Jesus’ friends felt after Lazarus had died; numb, dazed and confused as to where Jesus was when their brother Lazarus was sick and close to death. After he passed away Jesus arrives and Mary Magdalene called out to him, “Where were you Lord when my brother was sick?” And Jesus wept.
Taking Jesus to the tomb where Lazarus’ body was he stood in front of it calling out, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43) The miraculous happened.
I don’t suppose to know the mysteries and power of redemption or the process of salvation and the ways in which the miracle of resurrection happens. Nor do I understand why sometimes prayers are answered and sometimes there not; or at least not the way we hope for. But if it is one thing that the story of Lazarus has spoken to me about in the last week, it is that death does not stop the miraculous.
Until then though I pray for comfort in the midst of silence, knowing Jesus is with us, weeping.