Friday, March 25, 2005

Whoops...

In a post I wrote last July to explain why I was leaving Winnipeg for Toronto, I made some comment to the effect of "I feel that this position will put me in a place of making a difference..."

Apparently, I was a wee bit too optimistic.

I was forced to resign today, and I've just spent the better part of this evening cleaning out my office. The powers that be read my blog from time to time, so I have to be careful what I say, from a legal point of view.

Suffice it to say I'm having a less than stellar day, my family is in shock, and we could use some prayer.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Strength of Convictions

Sometimes, having the strength of your convictions can really cost you. 

Holding firm to your principles often means you evaluate "success" by an entirely different grid.
One of the cool things about ministering in diverse places like Toronto, Winnipeg, Victoria and Los Angeles, is that you meet many interesting and colourful people. One of them is a great example to me of someone who stood by his convictions even when it hurt -- literally.

He was a recovered alcoholic -- meaning that he was always only one drink away from seeing his life slip back into ruin -- but had been sober for several years when we met. He had previously been known for his brawling ways, and had the muscles to back it up, so violence had been an everyday part of his world.

As a new Christian, he knew God was calling him to crucify his violent nature, so he diligently embraced pacifism as his new lifestyle. For him, freedom from his past left him no option but a life that was devoid of violence. He became a determined practitioner of non-resistance.

One day, he met a bunch of former buddies, who, bouyed by their own copious indulgence in alcohol, began to mock his Christian faith, his renunciation of alcohol, and particularly his pacifism.

"If we start smacking you around," they taunted, "you'll fight!"

He stood his ground, refusing to be baited into either an argument or an actual physical altercation. Then the first blows were struck.

Looking them in the eye, he not only refused to retaliate, he decided to follow Jesus' example before the Sanhedrin, and didn't even defend himself verbally.

Mob mentality, lubricated by excessive drink, took over. More punches. Vicious slaps. Brutal, well-placed kicks. When it was over, he was lying on the sidewalk, bruised, bleeding and gasping for breath, wondering if his nose and some ribs were broken. But his eyes never left those of his tormentors. And he did not retaliate.

"They beat the [expletive deleted] out of me," he admits, shrugging his massive shoulders. Then a twinkle comes to his eye, and a hint of a smile quirks about his lip. "But I won the fight."

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Cold, Rain, Mud, and the Real Thing

In the summer of 1992, I took a crew of youth leaders and youth group members from Vancouver Island over to the Mainland for a week-long "Worship Festival" put on by the Langley Vineyard. 

Our youth ministry had been enjoying a growing edge of worship, after the initial discouragement in our first year of ministry of constantly hearing the youth complain "we hate the stupid singing -- give us more game nights".

It took a year and a half, but suddenly the youth began to "get it", and the group would eventually become known for it's passionate pursuit of God through worship and the arts. It was worth the tough sledding of the first 18 months, when we finally began to see the fruit of the emerging generations connecting with God through worship and the Eucharist.

During the Worship Festival, it rained almost every day. This was a problem, since the venues were all outdoors. But that didn't stop us from standing in the rain with 4000+ other worshippers, entering His presence in worship. College friends from Winnipeg were also there, sitting as a group inside a dome tent they'd brought along to keep themselves dry -- quite comical to see the tent literally bouncing off the ground during some of the celebratory songs!

During one of the evening worship concerts, as we stood in slippery, muddy grass while rain pattered on our baseball caps, Brian Doerksen (the worship leader that evening) called on us to sing some of the songs as intercession over the nearby city of Vancouver.

Being a typical youth pastor, I broke the rules -- "hey everyone, let's sing instead for Victoria" -- since that was the city we were from.

As we began to sing Remember Mercy, all of us were gripped with an awesome sense of God's holiness and our own (and our city's) sinfulness. Suddenly I found myself face down in the muddy grass, as the rain continued to fall, praying and singing with great intensity for our city. When I looked around some time later, I saw that our entire youth group was similarly prostrate in the mud and pouring rain -- singing, praying, weeping. It was a holy moment. I'll never forget it.

I just came back on Friday from a conference at a mega-church. Some of the messages that were preached there really touched my heart, and were "the word of the Lord" for me. But the worship caused me to pause, and recall that rainy, muddy night in the Lower Mainland over a decade ago.

The worship was very professional in both places, from a musical and technical point of view. The mega-church had the edge when it came to technology -- huge LCD screens, lots of trendy video backdrops during the music, coloured "mood lights" that grew brighter or dimmer depending on the mood of the song.

But the whole thing -- although I believe that the worship teams were genuinely worshipping and seeking to lead us in worship -- came off a bit too polished, too predictable, too slick, and (to a degree) too hyped. I'm trying to not be too harsh or judgmental, but when I thought back to that night in 1992, everything at the mega-church -- no matter how polished and professional -- paled drastically by comparison.

In the cold and the rain, kneeling in the mud, wracked with a devastating awareness of a Holy God and our very sinful city of Victoria, we had all we needed to truly and deeply worship God. No big LCD screens, no artifically-adjusted mood lighting, no comfortable cushy chairs, no video-and-lyric backdrops. It was a very real and raw encounter with God that we talked and prayed about together for days and weeks afterwards.

It was the Real Thing. Sans hype or manipulation. I'd choose that cold, wet, muddy night's encounter with God any time, without hesitation or question.