Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas!

It's been two years since Manitoba's premier (that'd be equivalent to Governor for the U.S. folks, as in "Governor Schwarzenegger") walked into the Legislature in our province and got fed up with the "Multicultural Tree" that is put up every year. It's the "politically correct" tree for the "holiday season".

He wouldn't have been so upset, except that there were, on either side of the Multicultural Tree, huge "Happy Hannakuh" and "Happy Kwanzaa" displays. He went on record as saying, quote:
"If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you call it a duck. This is a Christmas Tree, and that's what it's going to be called!"
When I first started this blog, back in mid-August, I decided I would give it to Christmas to decide whether it was worth the time and effort, and if it actually seemed to be contributing something worthwhile.

The first four months of blogging have been great, and it's a gift to me to have had such a great time dialoguing with so many different and unique people. Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Postmodern Missionaries

If you haven't already guessed from the entries I've made in recent weeks looking at ancient Celtic Christianity, Don Richardson's book "Peace Child", and even the Augustinian "theology must look people in the eye" post, I'm very taken with the idea of being a missionary to a postmodern society.

I say this because a lot of people seem to be treating "emerging church" as if it's the magic wand or cure-all bandaid that, if applied, will automatically result in Christian communities of faith as they were "meant to be". Enough of us have visited or been a part of dysfunctional emerging house churches to know that "house church" in and of itself can be just as self-absorbed and self-congratulatory as any other structure or de-structure.

I'm actually afraid that a lot of people are going to treat "postmodern ministry" as the latest fad, learning all the "in" jargon & lingo, reading all the "approved" books, and yet not really engage our culture on more than a surface level -- and then drop "emerging" ministry like a cold old potato and move on to the next sure-fire, this-will-fix-everything-and-the-glory-will-return ministry fad.

I'm much more inclined to view postmodern society as a "people group", which we would look at from a missionary's point of view:
  • we learn the "language and culture" of postmodern society -- not in an all-embracing, "postmodern=good, modern=evil" abdication -- but recognizing that the gospel must be contextualized to whatever societal/cultural setting we find ourselves in; while some of us ARE postmodern instinctively, I firmly believe that anyone who is willing to invest time & energy can become more so -- you'd do it in foreign missions, so if postmoderns seem "foreign" to you, why not do it here?

  • we do not adopt the values of the culture, although we may look like, sound like, and "taste" like the culture around us - but we do not adopt their values; we are salt and light; as George Mercado used to say "use anything, short of sin, if it communicates the Good News";

  • we invest ourselves in our "tribe" - it's not a quick-fix nor is it a short-term program or outreach: we join the tribe and invest our lives in building relationships, "earning the right to be heard" as George would say, over the long haul; missionaries sometimes lived among the locals for literally years before they began to reap - we tend to be "fast food drive-thru" in our expectation of instant results (maybe it's time to grow up and get serious?);

  • we learn new ways to tell our story of Jesus - Larry Norman once challenged us at a worship conference to try and share our testimony with people without using the same words twice - he was trying to get us to let go of a "canned" testimony and more into sharing our lives and stories of our interaction with Jesus with our friends;

  • although some are fearful of going "social gospel" (so focused on meeting peoples' physical needs that the gospel is neglected), if we adopt the missionary metaphor, missionaries were always using medical supplies and treatment, educational reform, agricultural assistance etc. as part of their work with their "people group"; we can do no less with the poor & needy around us - I like the way Leonard Sweet puts it: "to unbind the confined, whether they're the downtrodden or the upscale, the overlooked or the underrepresented". To be fair, this may or may not mean the literal poor, but I've noted in recent years and been encourageed to see a strong upsurge among the emerging generations that ministry to the poor is vitally important (and that the lack of caring for the poor is one of their complaints with "institutional churches").
If we do not approach our ministry in a post-modern, post-Christian society with a missionary's eye to learning the culture, joining the tribe, and contextualizing the gospel, I fear we may find ourselves increasingly isolated and ineffectual. May God give us wisdom and faith to engage our culture for the good of the Kingdom!

Sunday, November 2, 2003

The Disciplines According to Saint Todd

Todd Hunter wrote the following earlier this year, on the "Spiritual Disciplines" (fasting, prayer, worship, service, meditation, study of Scripture, plus a few others I can't remember just now):

"Spiritual disciplines -- done in reliance on the Spirit and the Grace of God -- remove the causes of our personal failures. This is true because the disciplines work on the inner or hidden part of our lives from which our 'automatic' actions come; things like cussing at or giving particular hand signs to people who drive in ways we do not appreciate.

"Think here about Jesus' words in Matthew 12:33-35 -- good tree (inner DNA), good fruit; bad tree (essential inner nature, DNA), bad fruit. Any thing else would be biological chaos. Apple trees easily and naturally produce apples. But no matter how hard they may try, no matter how much they may sincerely groan and 'religiously' agonize over it, they cannot produce pumpkins. Finally, Jesus says, "The good man brings good things out (from the inside or hidden part) of the good STORED UP IN HIM, and the evil man brings evil things out (from the inside or hidden part) of the evil stored up in him".

"How does one 'store up good things in them' so that they can then easily and naturally act from them? The grace inspired and Spirit empowered disciplines. Obviously, there are whole books written on the topic; surely more than I can say in a blog entry.

"The disciplines are 'indirect effort'. In practicing them, we do what is currently under our control with the intent, hope and expectation that they will enable to do what we dream of in our idealistic language. Watch 'The Karate Kid' with this in mind. You will see how Daniel-san learns karate in very indirect ways. By doing what he can -- scrub floors, paint fences and waxing cars -- he becomes the kind of person who can naturally and easily defend himself from even expert karate punches and kicks. Lesson: we cannot 'try' to be good (remember the apples and pumpkins); we must 'train' ('store up good in us') to be good."

Well? Whaddaya think? Can we "train" ourselves without getting all legalistic, paranoid, and neurotic about it?

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Divine Appointments

Providence had it's annual "Day of Prayer" on Wednesday -- it's a tradition at Prov to spend a day in worship & prayer before the beginning of the Missions Conference. After an awesome worship & prayer time, the president of Prov spoke briefly before we celebrated the Lord's Supper, using the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer.

The Prez made an interesting comment: "In a school, in a society, and in a world consumed with the tyranny of the urgent, sometimes we need to refuse the urgent, and choose the important." In this context, the "urgent" was all the homework that students needed to be doing, but the obvious "important" was setting aside a day to pray, worship, and seek God.

My parents were in town for a couple of days (my dad came along to the Day of Prayer and absolutely loved it) -- they're heading out to Vancouver to celebrate the dedication of a new L'Abri school opening in 2004, which is the culmination of a vision that my parents & some of their closest friends have had for almost six years.

On Thursday morning, my lovely wife was surfing the Internet, looking at different YWAM websites -- odd behaviour for someone who had not yet had her requisite cup of coffee. After dropping my parents off at the airport, I went to Prov's library, intent on doing some of the afore-mentioned homework, but I ended up spending the whole morning reading books on YWAM instead. Then, realizing that the cafeteria was about to close it's doors (and since I was not fasting), I ran for the door, and almost knocked over the international president of YWAM, who was speaking that afternoon (I didn't even know anyone from YWAM was at Prov). We had lunch together.

Not five minutes after leaving the caf, I was talking to the guy videotaping the next session in the chapel, and it turns out that he became a Christian at L'Abri in Switzerland, and worked there with Francis Schaeffer for a decade, and then worked as a missionary at YWAM for another decade.

Holy divine appointments, Batman! What does it all mean?

It means that when you choose the "important" over the "urgent", strange God-oriented stuff starts to happen! Gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Hallowed Evening


John Fischer writes in Fearless Faith (Living Beyond the Safe Walls of Christianity):

"The more acceptable Christian thing to do now on Halloween is to close up the house and have an alternative party for our kids at church."

"The party usually has a harvest or biblical character theme -- no ghosts or goblins allowed.
Though I understand how this safer alternative came to be, I wonder whether a blanket boycott is the only way to handle this controversial holiday. Is this just one more time when we as Christians isolate ourselves from the rest of our culture for religious reasons apparent only to us? Have we really thought through what our dark houses are saying to the rest of the block while we're off having our alternative party?
I can hear the neighbourhood kids shuffling by our house, saying, "Don't go there, they don't give anything." Is this what we want to be known for in the community -- a dark house on the one night you can be guaranteed neighbors will visit?
"If Satan comes out on Halloween, he doesn't go back into hiding the next morning. Regardless of the origins of Halloween (and there appears to be little agreement about this, even among historians), what we have today is a culture-wide event that is more concerned with pretending than it is with the underworld... If Satan wins anything on this day, he may win more through the darkened homes of Christians than through anything else." (published by Harvest House -- I highly recommend this book)
When we were pastoring in Victoria BC, Christians didn't do anything to celebrate Halloween -- there were lots of "Harvest Parties" in various church buildings instead. Given the police guarding the Ross Bay Cemetary so no bodies would be stolen that night, nor to forget the animal sacrifice that was done on our front yard in the hey-day of "Rock The City", or one of the local shaman dressing up in his ceremonial garb to personally curse me -- you can understand why particpating in Halloween wasn't even a debatable question in Christian circles in Victoria during the 1990's.

Now that we're in Winnipeg, we take our kids out trick-or-treating every year, for the same reasons that John Fischer illustrates above. It's like being part of the community here to join in the fun. We don't let our kids dress up in death-inspired outfits (our son went as a box of Cheerios one year, and our daughter once went as a potted plant -- WAY more creative than a Freddie Kreuger mask!). But we go with them and mingle with our community. I even (unknowing at the time) had a joking conversation with the premier of Manitoba -- I didn't recognize him in a yellow rain slicker.

Even more fun are our Anglican neighbours across the street -- every year, they have hot chocolate, coffee, tea, and penny candy for everyone who stops by their outdoor bonfire. They play jazz or blues music on a ghetto blaster, and it becomes the gathering place for tons of people -- and the many Christians who live on our street have a great opportunity to mix and mingle with our non-Christian neighbours and give a cup of hot chocolate in Jesus' name. It rocks!

Two different approaches to Halloween. Definite reasons behind each. Whether you choose to participate or not, at least think through what you're communicating to the community you're trying to impact for Jesus.

And you can always give me your candy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Tidbits From Seminary


This is from my Synoptic Gospels class, which has emerged by far as my favourite and the most spiritually invigorating. The other classes are interesting and I'm glad to be taking them, but this class rocks my world. Here's an excerpt:
"But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children who sit in the market places and who call to others, saying: 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance, we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said: 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they said: 'Look, this man is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' And wisdom is justified by her deeds."(Matthew 11:16-19)
A portion of the notes that our prof gave us on this short passage:
"An Observation: One kind of Christianity assumes that the more we abstain, the more godly we are. (Or, conversely, the more godly we become, the more we will abstain from things.) This assumption is in our hearts, and minds, and pulpits, and schools. But it is not in the Book. The Bible warns against such false spirituality in quite a few places. Our God is no friend of excess. But an abstinence kind of godliness is very hard to find in the Sermon on the Mount. And it was very hard to find in Jesus himself. Drop it."
Pretty cool, eh?

Monday, October 6, 2003

Constants of the Religious Continuum

There are three inescapable, immutable constants to the Religious Continuum. No one knows precisely where they originated, but their existence, and unchanging nature, is ongoing, irrefutable, unassailable, and eternal.
  1. The first Constant of the Religious Continuum is that the Jewish people do not recognize that Jesus of Nazareth is the prophesied Messiah.

  2. The second Constant of the Religious Continuum is that the many Protestant denominations do not recognize that the Pope is the infallible source of God's wisdom here on earth.

  3. The third Constant of the Religious Continuum is that Mennonites do not recognize each other while purchasing alcoholic beverages at Hooter's.
You are here-by enlightened.

Sunday, October 5, 2003

The Opposite Spirit

David Ruis used to practice this approach a lot. Instead of getting upset and denouncing the rampant stingy-ness and miserly attitude that permeates a lot of Winnipeg, David would pray publicly: "Lord, brand us with generosity!" It had the effect of giving language to the "life side" of the equation, instead of focussing on the negative.

One of the best examples of this that I have personally seen was in Victoria in the early 1990's. The Vineyard there was hosting a "Power Evangelism" conference, at a rented facility in the Esquimalt area (Victoria's "ghetto").

During the three-day conference, about fifteen adults from other churches were picketing outside the front door. They were waving signs that said "Vineyard Repent" and "An Evil & Adulterous Generation Looks For A Sign", and eagerly reading passages from John McArthur's recently-published Charismatic Chaos as "proof" while they accosted people attending the conference.

The people hosting and attending the conference were incredible examples of "bless those that curse you" (Luke 6:28)! They brought coffee & donuts to the picketers all weekend long (typical Vineyard -- coffee & donuts available!), engaged them in conversation, and treated them with kindness and respect. Some of the picketers gradually softened up a bit after several days, although a few would occasionally "catch" themselves being friendly, give us disgusted looks, and go back to shouting "repent" to people entering the main meeting area.

You couldn't help but be impressed with the Christ-likeness of the conference organizers in the way they did not give in to the temptation to engage these people in arguments, trying to refute them or their ideas, etc. They simply served and loved.

In the "world of the blog", it's easy to sometimes cross the line between "dialogue" (friendly, respectful sharing of ideas and gleanings with others of various backgrounds and discoveries) and "diatribe" (attempting to 'prove' the rightness of our own opinion and the 'error' of anyone who doesn't agree with us). When "dialogue" becomes "diatribe", and "conversation" devolves into "competition", everyone loses. It's a subtle but very real trap -- and I've screwed up in this area more than once, myself -- but one we would do well to learn to discern and guard ourselves against.
"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful." (2 Timothy 2:23-24 NIV)
Coffee? Donut?

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Feet of Clay

Yesterday I was reading some of Augustine's translated works (yes, I have learned how to find things in a library), and I came across a very interesting tidbit:

During St. Augustine's ongoing debate and denunciation of Pelagius, he actually quotes this directly from Pelagius' writings:

"The fact that we speak is a gift from God; whether we use this gift for good or evil is our choice."

I read Pelagius' comment, and I thought, "Sure, that makes sense. Most Christians would agree with that statement."

Not St. Augustine. He's upset at that kind of thinking. He goes on to quote part of Matthew 10:19-20:
"At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (NIV)
...and uses this verse as "proof" that we have no choice in the words we speak -- God gives us our words.

Of course, in the original context of these verses, Jesus was speaking to His disciples about not being worried about what to say when they were arrested and dragged into court on account of Jesus. To stretch this verse to say that all of our words are ordained by God is a bit much.

Interesting, eh? That St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, regarded as one of the greatest theologians of the Patristic period of the Church, took a verse out of context in an attempt to prove his point.

George Mercado used to say every now and then "Feet of clay, man, we all got feet of clay." Even at our best, we're only human. We make mistakes. We let agendas cloud our interpretation of Scripture. We say dumb things as if they're foundational truths.

Bob Wilson, who was the senior pastor of our church when George was the youth pastor, often said "If you think it can't happen to you, you're halfway there already."

Feet of clay, man, we all got feet of clay.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Seminary Worship

No, not worshipping the seminary. Worshipping at the seminary...

Yesterday I had the opportunity to lead worship during chapel -- they had devoted the whole time slot to "praise and worship".

I had been recruited to do it a few days earlier by the Co-ordinator Of Such Things, who'd heard "somewhere" that I was involved in worship. She also found a couple of other people who I'd never met, and we became the day's worship team. Acoustic guitars and four voices -- nothing elaborate. The Seminary chapel doesn't even have a sound system, so it's a good thing I have "street performer" in my background -- I'm loud although not necessarily polished-sounding.

At the beginning of the chapel, I told those gathered that they reminded me of junior high students -- they're all generally passionate about God, but when they sit next to each other in a group setting, everyone's too afraid of what someone else might think, so they all play it safe. They all laughed, and I think it helped to loosen people up. They spread out from each other a bit, and I saw much more diversity in expression than I've seen to date during worship at the seminary.

We had a fantastic time singing to the Lord for the next half hour. Some were kneeling, others raising their hands, still others singing boisterously with their hands in their pockets -- quite a mix of backgrounds and expressions!

By the last song (Hillsong's Shout To The Lord), the volume level of singing was drawing people from adjacent rooms (a lot of sem students skip "praise & worship" chapel, apparently) who came in kind of wide-eyed. A number of them joined in and later said "if only I knew what was happening today" (even though it's posted on the bulletin board in the hall -- seminary students, go figure...)

My favourite encouraging comment after it was over came from one of the Nigerian brothers, who shook my hand, thanked me, and said, "I think this is what God created you to do."

That's the kind of comment that makes you feel very small (cuz you know it's ultimately God's thing, not ours), very encouraged (that you were able to lead others to worship God), and very grateful (that God would use a boogerhead like me).

Now, back to the mundanity of homework -- as I try to do schoolwork as "unto the Lord", too.

Monday, September 22, 2003

DA-A-ANG!!

A friend of mine emailed me this morning with some comments and a question. For the sake of brevity, I'll just post the part that was the question (the rest of the email was words of encouragement -- thanks!):

"You're the guy that got me thinking differently about holding onto these "labels". Why do you hold onto the label of "Vineyardite"? You talk openly about being "vineyard" at heart and in your values. I'm not sure I understand why groups need to pull out a list of values of the kingdom and make a secondary identity out of it. Is it "Vineyard" to love to worship and feed the poor, or is it Christian? Is it Pentecostal to speak in tongues, or is it just a gift of Grace? By finding identity in being "Vineyard", is that any different than what I was doing with the label of "Gen X"?

The only thing I can think of in response is:

DA-A-ANG!!. You're completely right. I missed the log in my own eye (Matthew 7:3-5). Thank you for pointing it out to me, and especially thank you for the gracious way that you did it.

It also got me thinking more on "labels" -- generational or denominational -- and I think the reason that we tend to like them is because we're all looking for a "brand identity" that says that we're the cutting edge, or the artistic elite, or the radical passionate worshippers (implying that others aren't, right?). It's all about pride, if you want to put it baldly.

And the Vineyard, which we were a part of for over a decade, was very helpful to us in deepening our understanding and experience of worship, ministry to the poor, spiritual gifts, community, etc., but these things aren't inherently or exclusively "Vineyard", as you so rightly pointed out. Ironically, when Todd Hunter was the National Director of VineyardUSA, he was advocating exactly this change of mindset in the 'Columbus Accords':
Our focus should not simply be what is Vineyard? It should be:
  • What is biblical and consistent with Kingdom theology?
  • What is righteous and ethical?
  • What facilitates the Vineyard mission of church planting, evangelism and renewal?
  • What is in harmony with our values, priorities and practices?
While we don't currently attend a Vineyard church, our history with that movement is something I value and thank God for. But ultimately, Vineyard was only the seasonal vehicle that God used to teach us and give us a place for ministry -- Jesus was the one doing the changing, the challenging, and the transforming. Thanks for the reminder!

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Who's Reading Who?

Another thought on my read-through-Matthew observations:

The point of the exercise was to get inside Matthew's head and discern what the Spirit was motivating him to write, and what that might say to us.

I read it (the first time, anyway) and what stuck out -- while valid -- was partly from my own grid (agenda?) of leadership models. So in a sense, I was reading Matthew through agenda-coloured glasses, not letting the Holy Spirit "read" me through the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

Although even recognizing that I did it, is something that I think the Spirit is showing me -- I'm looking forward to the successive reads (we're only allowed one read per week) to see how less of me is in the mix and more of what the Spirit is trying to say to me comes clearer.

Another comment on the "essence of legalism"...

A prophetic type prayed over me once, about eight years or so ago, that "you've never liked 'religiosity', and the Lord say that in the future, you'll dislike it even more". At the time, I thought that if I disliked legalism and religiosity any more, I'd become homicidal.

But in the years since, I've discovered he was right. When I was younger, I despised legalism & control (which are really the same thing) because I was fed up with people trying to manipulate me with it, but now I hate it even more because I am fed up with seeing what it is doing to others.

NOW the test is to find a loving way to respond to it, so that I don't become just like the thing I'm against! As U2 sang, "You become the monster, so the monster doesn't get you." Gotta learn more about "sowing in the opposite spirit"!

Monday, September 15, 2003

Essence of Legalism

I just finished my first "read-all-of-Matthew-in-one-sitting", and strangely, what stuck out the most was when Jesus went postal on the Pharisees just after He cleared the Temple of the money-changers.

We're all used to labeling legalistic people "Pharisees", and most of us think we're pretty good at spotting them -- they love rules and they always seem angry.

The bad fruit is a dead give-away: they're angry and controlling, and everyone under their influence is angry as well, or beaten-down and vision-less. 

Then I got to thinking about how to define the essence of legalism. Many people have differing convictions in some areas, and to be honest, most of us label them "legalistic" only if they infringe on our set of standards -- which we know are the truly correct ones. :)

A few years ago, I came up with this:
"The essence of legalism is taking something God has revealed or convicted you of, and trying to force others to live by your revelation."
The "essence and evidence" of legalism is control. You don't need a list of nit-picky rules to be legalistic. At times, we are strangely silent with controlling, shaming, angry people who want to hold everyone "accountable" to their convictions. We don't recognize the trap of legalism that has taken hold because we've bought into a caricature of legalism: drinking, dancing, make-up, body art, etc. If they aren't railing against these, we assume they aren't legalistic.

But the bad fruit is still in plentiful evidence: angry, controlling and manipulative leaders, and a mixed congregation of angry disciples ("When a man is fully taught, he will be like his teacher." Luke 6:40) and beaten victims.

These are the kind of people Jesus got in the faces of.

We just change churches.

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Back to School

Must be fall. All the neighbourhood kids are back at school, and yesterday I enrolled not-quite-full-time at Providence Theological Seminary. Yes, that's right, I've gone back to the same school I did my bachelor's degree at (although it was known as Winnipeg Bible College waaay back in ancient times like the 1980s), and I'm taking courses once again.


One of which is Pre-Reformation Christian Thought, which I'm really looking forward to. If you HAVEN'T read The Celtic Way of Evangelism, repent. It's got all the things that make a great book: good research, practical and en-visionating ideas, and it's a readable length (meaning: short). Anyway, that book has whetted my appetite for more study on ancient Christianity. Plus, a friend of mine from the Vineyard in Portage La Prairie is going to be in my class, which will make it more fun.

Wow. Being in my old school is interesting. This time around, I'm not the only guy with an earring, but I'm still "the guy with the hair" only this time it's morphed to "the OLD guy with the hair"...

I've been "conditionally accepted" to do a Doctorate degree in postmodern ministry models at Leonard Sweet's school, but I have to upgrade a few deficiencies in my original Master's degree, which is why I'm at Prov again.

And why I haven't blogged in a couple of days, and also why this blog is pretty mundane. :)

Life just took (yet another) interesting turn!

Man, textbooks are waaaay over-priced!

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Blurred Vision

I have several friends who have shared about having their dreams die, and not being sure if they even want to dream again. Since then, I've been alerted to another facet of the conversation: what is "vision" supposed to be, and what's the focus of the vision.

Huge topic -- a few quick thoughts:
  • "When the people can't see what God is doing, they run into each other." (that famous verse in Proverbs, but as The Message translates it). The bigger question, in my mind: Is it the job of leadership to provide "what God is saying" so people all run in the same direction, or is it the job of leadership to help people discover what God is saying to them individually, and equipping/encouraging them to run with it, even if it's in 20 different directions?

  • Vision should be as much personal as corporate; being a "cog in a ministry machine" may give some people a sense of belonging in the short term, but it doesn't produce long-term community that is anything but project-centered. To be fair, many who start as "cogs" do grow spiritually, but the community aspect is not automatic; it must be cultivated.

  • "Rallying the troops" to the vision statement of the church is tricky. It runs the risk of becoming a pep rally more than reminding people of what God has called them to -- coming across more as reminding people of what that particular church wants them to do. And often it can degenerate into manipulation and performance-orientation: "You're not committed to the vision God gave us for this church." (Translation: Get with the program or find another church.)

  • Having to have a "vision" to get people to rally around puts way too much pressure on the leader to come up with something, and if that leader isn't "successful" in rallying people to their vision, they can (out of fear and guilt) become unintentionally manipulative as they try to get people "plugged in" or "hold them accountable". Or they beat themselves up (and other leaders may participate in beating them up as well): "I guess I'm just not cut out for leadership" -- and another Godly person with leadership gifting drops out because the false expectations deceive them into thinking they're "not doing it right".

  • Leadership should be equipping people to hear what God is saying to the individual, not trying to get people to "sign on" to the leaders' vision.
Here's a question that I'm still trying to nail down: Is it possible for a church leader (pastor), with the following goals in ministry, to be "in the system but not of the system"?
  1. To equip individuals in the church to hear God's voice for themselves

  2. To assume that God will speak individual vision/dreams to individuals, and it's okay (even desirable) that they don't match the vision/dreams of the leader

  3. To actively choose to not be the up-front guru who builds the ministry around their own "giftedness and passion" (or ego & personal charisma/ability to manipulate?)

  4. To have "leadership gatherings" where the first item is always praying for each other and building the community, and "planning" takes second (or third) place if there's any time left after praying for each other and caring for each other

  5. To honestly "give it away" to those around him/her, hoping to see others thrive in the use of their gifts, and

  6. To invest a good chunk of their personal time to "hanging out" with no other agenda than to be in community (versus having "coffee" with someone when the leader has an agenda item that is the real reason behind the personal contact)

  7. Suggestions? I'd really like to brainstorm this thing as much as possible.
These are still half-baked and needing more reflection and refining. As George Mercado used to say "help me out".

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Generational Angst... Again!

Did you know that they (whoever "they" are and whyever "their" opinion is considered so dang important) have identified a new "generational grouping" in our North American society?

No, not a new nickname, stereotype or label for the emerging generations, but a further re-definition and re-alignment of existing generations (gasp!). It's called Generation Jones -- and apparently I'm one of them!

This is such a shock. For so long, I've thought I was Gen X. Now, I've got to completely re-learn my true origins of identity, who I've been victimized by and therefore should be upset at, and what my goals/dreams of life have been for the past twenty years or so. I am experiencing existential angst.

Y'all will have to forgive me if it takes a wee bit of time to completely make the shift from my old identity as an "X'er" to my newly-discovered true identity as a "Jones-er".

Or is it possible that my identity is found somewhere else - other than reactionary "notice me" marketing demographics invented by the media & corporations who want to sell me stuff?

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Absolution (with a Pointed Stick)

I was talking to an acquaintance of mine here in Winnipeg a few weeks ago, and he mentioned that whenever he speaks in certain settings, he always "beats up" the people on issues that he thinks are being neglected.

His amazement is that they keep asking him back to speak again, and everytime he "beats them up" for not ___________ (fill in pressing issue of the moment).

I mentioned off-hand that I've often noticed that evangelical Christians seem to enjoy the occasional "tongue-lashing" in a sermon/teaching, although it doesn't seem to do much good beyond allowing people to feel vicariously guilty for a short time -- not that they will change anything as a result of it.

He seemed puzzled by my comment, and I was also aware that I needed to give it some more thought as well. Why DO Christians, who believe in salvation by grace as a gift of God that cannot be earned or merited, seem to enjoy the masochistic guilt that some speakers bring with their "you're not doing enough for God" sermons?

People who otherwise would be repulsed by "legalism", seem to really enjoy the occassional guilt trip.

I heard one speaker say "Ask God every 30 minutes to show you all the ways that you're offended Him -- it will revolutionize your Christian life". I walked out, appalled at how little this speaker understood of salvation by grace, or God's Father-heart, but the majority of the people present thought this was a word from God! Leadership even encouraged people to buy the tapes of the message -- "it will change your life".

Yeah, it probably would, but not for the better. It will just make you convinced that your Heavenly Father is primarily sick and tired of how pathetic you are, and also encourage you to work in your own efforts to improve yourself so that God will not be so disappointed in your performance.

All this gets me wondering why Christians seem to enjoy the "beatings" that some speakers seem more than willing to hand out.

I read something in "Celebration of Discipline" by Richard Foster (can't quote it directly because I accidentally left the book in Hamilton) where he was basically saying that evangelicals are good at teaching on salvation by grace and not of works, but that we tend to have a poor handle on the Catholic understanding of "absolution" -- we don't hear the words "you're forgiven" from someone we trust has the authority to tell us this. Oh, we protest that we understand that we're forgiven, and in faith we receive it, but I think Foster is onto something.

Is it possible that the reason some Christians (and I've experienced this, too) are almost grateful to have some speaker tongue-lash them about how compromised and worldly they are, is because -- deep down -- we feel we deserve some punishment for our sins, and that we're getting off too easy by just claiming the blood of Jesus?

When Jesus tells His disciples that THEY have authority to forgive sins of others (or retain them), does that make us uncomfortable, since WE'RE also disciples? I think we may need to take a second, more thoughtful look at the concept of "absolution" if we're going to see people, including ourselves, truly free of a performance-based Christian walk.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Road Trips Rock

My best friend since high school, Patrick Thomas "dang-straights-I'm-Irish!" Prowse, and I just went on a "road trip of self-discovery and explored ideals across the scenic Canadian Prairies and ending at the breath-taking majesty of the Rocky Mountains".

Well, not exactly. We drove non-stop from Winnipeg to Calgary, slept for five hours, and then drove non-stop from Calgary to Winnipeg -- all to pick up Pat's new pet: a two year old Great Dane the size of an adult velociraptor. With the jaws to match.

The dog's name is "Apollo", which is kinda fitting; other possible monikers might have been "Terminator 4: The Rise of the Canines", "Jurrasic Dog", or "MegaMutt & the Masters of the Litterbox". Saints be praised, Apollo is potty-trained. Ever heard the expression "pee like a racehorse"? HAH! Horses have nothing on Great Danes.

What do you do when you drive back and forth across the Prairies non-stop (with not much sleep)? You listen to all of your favourite CD's (twice), and you have great talks about life, God, church, non-church, and why classic rock is so much better than most of the drivel on the radio these days.

Pat & I don't agree on everything that we hope/pray for the future of the church in North America, and I love the diversity of our discussions and our friendship, but one thing seemed abundantly clear after two days of driving, great tunes, and the fruit of a friendship that goes back 23 years: the "problem" with church structure, de-structure, re-structure, non-structure, etc. is, simply, people. Until people change at a heart level, it won't matter a hill of beans what structure or de-structure they end up with. Churches aren't the problem. House churches aren't the solution. It's people.

People are the problem. People are the solution. We probably don't need "Revivalists" or "Reformers" as much as we need Repenters. All of us. Unless we get really seriously, desperately, deliberately committed to letting God have His way with us, first as individuals, then as groups, and even as "institutions" -- there will be nothing new under the sun. If we stop carping about the structures and people who "don't get it", and start focussing on our own spiritual walk, and encouraging others, then we'll see the Holy Spirit produce true fruit -- and structure won't matter anymore.

That's what seems obvious to a caffiene-addled, sleep-deprived brain after 27 hours of driving and five hours of sleep. I may be more poetic and profound after I take care of my immediate physical needs (potty break to deal with all that coffee and then some serious Z's), but then again...

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Humble Beginnings

First day on the blog. And the two questions foremost in my mind are:
  1. What will I end up writing on, day after day?
  2. Will anyone read this, even if I do?
Everyone says blogging is so easy a badly-trained monkey could do it.

Right now, I'm feeling evolutionarily challenged...