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?