Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Party

Our Christmas tree
(picture taken with my cellphone)
Yes it's real

We had our annual neighbourhood Christmas party last night (Sunday). A regular stream of people came through - close to 40 altogether and more than half of them our Jewish neighbours. People seem to enjoy it and have a chance to meet and reconnect with neighbours they haven't seen since last year. Kirstyn sang again - did her song 3 times during the evening so that everyone could hear it. She did a song by Jacqui Valesques called You're Only A Prayer Away. She really does touch people's hearts with her singing - a number of people with tears in their eyes - there is an anointing on her singing.

Maybe I should explain ... This is our 7th annual Christmas Party. We live on a stree that is about 90% Jewish. We know most of our neighbours and invite 70 or 80 of them over once a year to reconnect with us and with one another. It's a busy time of year and they don't always make it - but most send their regrets. Someone suggested that maybe we should throw a Hannukah party because we're in a Jewish neighbourhood - but honestly I wouldn't know how. For now - untill someone else wants to throw a Hannukah party (hopefully inviting me) - we'll keep up the tradition of getting our neighbours together in the winter when nobody comes outside.

Check out some of the goodies - of course all home baked by my lovely wife.

New Website is Up

You can head over to our new website. We finally have it up and running. It's nice and simple and just tell you a little bit about ourselves at Hills. The website is and a link is on the sidebar there to the right. Check it out.

Monday, December 04, 2006

An Interesting Guy

I talked to a very interesting guy yesterday. He's my son's friend and has just gone away to college in the Hamilton area. He was looking for a church to attend and decided to go and visit a number of churches to see what they were like. His criteria were "Were these churches friendly and accepting?"

Not so interesting you say? Actually, it's the way he went about looking for a church that caught my attention. He dressed up like a homeless person (adding appropriate smells) and went church to church, Sunday by Sunday to see how he would be received. There were some who accepted him, others who suggested he clean up before he comes in and still others who told him to leave. No one offered him money or a meal (except for a church that was having a meal for visitors that Sunday).

He went back to some of the churches dressed as most people would attend church and found that many of them were not much more accepting than when he was dressed as a homeless person.

As someone who has worked with the homeless for a number of years, I'm left feeling a little uneasy. Now it's not because I haven't been tempted to do the same thing (because I have). And there were times when we actually "set-up" the churches I spoke in, and had a staff person come into the church dressed up as a homeless person interrupting my message. Let me tell you that created quite a stir.

I'm not sure if I'm uneasy about the churches or the activities and attitudes of this young man. Some questions come to mind. What is a "good church?" Why do you attend one and not another? Can you determine whether or not you would attend a particular church based on one visit? Does visiting a church and attending its services really give you any basis for knowing whether or not it is a good church? Sometimes I think that what happens during Sunday services is almost irrelevant to what a church is really all about. Too often we think that church is a place or an activity rather than the gathered body of Christ. Should a church be judged on how people are welcomed at the door or by the kind of relationships it has among its own members and with its community? Does outreach happen on Sunday morning at church or on every day and in every situation?

I would also wonder why a homeless person would come to a church in the suburbs. It takes a great deal of energy to go so far out of your way. If that happened during one of our church services I would try to determine the person's need - because normally it is not "Hi, I'm just checking our your church to see what you're like." It's usually an acute need - whether it be spiritual, physical or financial, or an invitation by a friend - that would drive them so far out of their way to come to Suburban Community Church.

A church should definitely be a good neighbour and have compassion for the poor but most suburban churches will be very ineffective if they based their ministry to the poor on the number of homeless people who came through their doors on a Sunday morning. There are suburban churches that have effective ministry to the poor but they usually do it by partnering with an urban church or mission and supporting them with people and finances. To measure a church's effectiveness we should look at their financial records and activities of their members and perhaps their list of programs.

But then maybe I just analyze things too much.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Canadian Way

I'm not sure why I'm so patriotic on my blog, but I was sent this email and I thought I would post it here. It speaks of the truly great but quite unrecognized contirbutions Canada has made to world peace over the years.

Sunday Telegraph Article (date uncertain)
Salute to a brave and modest nation
Kevin Myers, The Sunday Telegraph

LONDON - Until the deaths last week of four Canadian soldiers accidentally killed by a U.S. warplane in Afghanistan, probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops were deployed in the region. And as always, Canada will now bury its dead, just as the rest of the world as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does.
It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored. Canada is the perpetual wallflower ... that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again.

That is the price Canada pays for sharing the North American continent with the United States, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts. For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: It seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved.

Yet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10% of Canada's entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during the First World War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British order of battle.

Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, its unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular Memory as somehow or other the work of the "British." The Second World War provided a re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic against U-boat attack. More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone. Canada finished the war with the third-largest navy and the fourth-largest air force in the world.
The world thanked Canada with the same sublime indifference as it had the previous time. Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign in which the United States had clearly not participated - a touching scrupulousness which, of ourse, Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian identity.
So it is a general rule that actors and filmmakers arriving in Hollywood keep their nationality - unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary Pickford, Walter Huston, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg, Alex Trebek, Art Linkletter and Dan Aykroyd have in the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer, British. It is as if, in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakably Canadian as a moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.
Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves - and are unheard by anyone else - that 1% of the world's population has provided 10% of the world's peacekeeping forces. Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peacekeepers on Earth - in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peacekeeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia.
Yet the only foreign engagement that has entered the popular on-Canadian imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia, in which out-of-control paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in disgrace - a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally, the Canadians received no international credit.

So who today in the United States knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan? Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun.

It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost. This week, four more grieving Canadian families knew that cost all too tragically well.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Life Passages

I guess when you hit 50 you start having less to say. I posted a week and a half ago and then had a busy weekend. We attended a friend's son's Bar Mitzvah - both the synagogue portion and the party the next evening. Everything was top notch. Adam, the Bar Mitzvah boy did great in his reading, the food was fabulous, the party was great and our hosts are such great people.

I actually think that the rite of passage concept (like a bar Mitzvah) is actually a great concept for youth and helpful for their transition into adulthood. However in our culture ... it may be more helpful to be doing it a few years later than the entrance into teenager-hood. Those early adolescent years are tough. They still seem like children in so many ways. In some places they do a sweet 16 party for girls. That seems to me to be a better age to do a coming of age event.

I think we should do a big party for every significant transition. We already do birthdays. Weddings, graduations and retirement is all celebrated in some way. How about a moving away from home party when your adult children finally move out on their own? Well maybe it becomes one long party for the empty nesters. Or how about a "turning middle aged" party? Or maybe a mid-life crisis party? When exactly does that happen? How about a "halfway through raising your kids" party? This way you know how long you still have to go.

All in all I think life should have more parties. Jesus believed in parties. I think being with Jesus would actually have been lots of fun - challenging to the core, but fun. Raising dead people, calming storms, healing lepers, confronting the religious establishment, feeding 5000 people, lots of road trips. There was always a crowd and lots of opportunity to celebrate life and life passages.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Busy Week

Well, I turned 50 this week. I saw it coming for a long time but when it actually hit I was a bit surprised by how old it sounds. I don't feel any different. I was at a retreat on my birthday with a group of about 50 other leaders from the GTA and somehow they found out it was my 50th (my wife has a guilty look on her face). When one of them wished me a happy birthday he said "I thought you were younger than me - but you're actually a few years older!" Maybe it was intended as a compliment but I suddenly felt older.

My Dad also celebrated his 54th wedding anniversary this week - the first one with out my mother who passed away in September. I ached for him and felt the loss more greatly myself. Today is my mother's birthday as well - another tough day. I usually bought her a dozen yellow carnations on her birthday. Life goes on but it's not always simple or easy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Canadian Military Man

This email has been making the rounds and helps us picture who's actually doing the fighting.

Rembrance Day – The Canadian Military “Man”
The average age of the Canadian military man is 19 years.
He is a short haired, tight-muscled kid who, under normal circumstances is considered by society as half man, half boy.
Not yet dry behind the ears, not old enough to buy a beer, but old enough to ... die for his country.
He never really cared much for work and he would rather wax his own car than wash his father's; but he has never collected unemployment either.
He's a recent High School graduate; he was probably an average student, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a ten year old jalopy, and has a steady girlfriend that either broke up with him when he left, or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a world away.
He listens to rock and roll or hip-hop or rap or jazz or swing and to a 155mm howizzitor.
He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter now than when he was at home because he is working or fighting from before dawn to well after dusk.
He has trouble spelling, thus letter writing is a pain for him, but he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less time in the dark.
He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either one effectively if he must.
He digs foxholes and latrines and can apply first aid like a professional.
He can march until he is told to stop or stop until he is told to march.
He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity.
He is self-sufficient.
He has two sets of fatigues: he washes one and wears the other.
He keeps his canteens full and his feet dry.
He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never to clean his rifle.
He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes, and fix his ownhurts.
If you're thirsty, he'll share his water with you; if you are hungry, his food.
He'll even split his ammunition with you in the midst of battle when you run low.
He has learned to use his hands like weapons and weapons like they were his hands.
He can save your life - or take it, because that is his job.
He will often do twice the work of a civilian, draw half the pay and still find ironic humor in it all.
He has seen more suffering and death then he should have in his short lifetime.
He has stood atop mountains of dead bodies, and helped to create them.
He has wept in public and in private, for friends who have fallen in combat and is unashamed.
He feels every note of the National Anthem vibrate through his body while at rigid attention, while tempering the burning desire to 'square-away' those around him who haven't bothered to stand, remove their hat, or even stop talking.
In an odd twist, day in and day out, far from home, he defends their right to be disrespectful.
Just as did his Father, Grandfather, and Great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom.
Beardless or not, he is not a boy. He is the Canadian Fighting Man that has kept this country free for 140 years.
He has asked nothing in return, except our friendship and understanding.
Remember him, always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood.
And now we even have women over there in danger, doing their part in this tradition of going to War when our nation calls us to do so.

Remembrance Day

I spoke briefly at a Remembrance Day service at our local hospital's (York Central) long term care facility. The stuff I used is in no way original (I included the author of the main part of it)) but I thought you might like to see it as a Remembrance Day reflection. The next post will be another thing I used as an illustration during the talk. For those of us over 40 thinking that the soldiers in most wars are young kids really, it makes me very thankful for the exuberance of youth and sad to know how many lost sons and brothers and husbands fighting for our freedoms. I's a bit long but worth the read.

Veterans Day Reflection 
[most of it by Donald Sensing]

On November 11, 1918, the guns stopped firing along the western front in France ... World War I, the bloodiest war in history to that date, was thus ended by an agreement between the allies and Germany to cease fire. The allied powers soon memorialized the day the guns stopped. In America, November 11 was called Armistice Day. In 1954, President Eisenhower proclaimed the day would be called Veterans Day, intended to honor living veterans of military service. 

In Canada, November 11 was (and still is) called Remembrance Day. Here and in other nations November 11 serves the same purposes, honoring both living veterans and those who died in service to their country. I preserve the distinction of the observances. Veterans Day honors living veterans, Memorial Day honors those who died in service. But we must not leave in limbo those who survived their service and died later, so we should remember them also. 

Today is the 88th anniversary of the end of World War One, and we have just finished remembering the fith-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. War came then to us in the first time in over a century. Some commentators have said that because of that fact, perhaps we need to reconsider what the definition of veteran is.

Peggy Noonan, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, wrote:
On Friday, Sept. 14, I went with friends down to the staging area on the West Side Highway where all the trucks filled with guys coming off a 12-hour shift at ground zero would pass by. They were tough, rough men, the grunts of the city – construction workers and electrical workers and cops and emergency medical workers and firemen.

I joined a group that was just standing there as the truck convoys went by. And all we did was cheer. We all wanted to do some kind of volunteer work but there was nothing left to do, so we stood and cheered those who were doing. The trucks would go by and we’d cheer and wave and shout “God bless you!” and “We love you!” We waved flags and signs, clapped and threw kisses, and we meant it: We loved these men. And as the workers would go by – they would wave to us from their trucks and buses, and smile and nod – I realized that a lot of them were men who hadn’t been applauded since the day they danced to their song with their bride at their wedding.

And suddenly I looked around me at all of us who were cheering. And saw who we were. Investment bankers! Orthodontists! Magazine editors! In my group, a lawyer, a columnist and a writer. We had been the kings and queens of the city, respected professionals in a city that respects its professional class.

And this night we were nobody. We were so useless, all we could do was applaud the somebodies, the workers who, unlike us, had not been applauded much in their lives. And now they were saving our city.

I turned to my friend and said, “I have seen the grunts of New York become kings and queens of the City.” I was so moved and, oddly I guess, grateful. Because they’d always been the people who ran the place, who kept it going, they’d just never been given their due. But now – “And the last shall be first” – we were making up for it.

Science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote the best definition of veterans that I have ever read. He said that there is only one distinction between veterans and non-veterans. It isn’t intelligence or education or class. It is only the fact that veterans are those who have put their own mortal bodies between their loved ones’ homes and the war’s desolation. Veterans are those who love others enough to risk laying down their lives for them, especially people they do not even know. That’s all patriotism is, really: the willingness to risk yourself on behalf of people you do not actually know.

So the firemen and police and rescue workers of New York and Arlington, Va., are veterans of a new kind for a new kind of war.

This shared risk is crucial glue. There are no jobs in the service that are absolutely safe. Most living veterans as traditionally defined saw their service during wartime, but relatively few veterans were in actual danger during their service. More than five thousand sailors crew an aircraft carrier yet only a few dozen fliers from it face danger over enemy skies. Yet there is always the potential of dangerous service for all, even in peacetime.

In William Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, King Henry is informed of the great strength of an enemy army on the field, and the comparatively few numbers of Henry’s army. Henry is advised by Westmoreland that some of his men have deserted and others want to. Henry replies that anyone who “has no stomach” for the fight may depart with pay and a safe-conduct pass. “We would not die in that man’s company That fears his fellowship to die with us,” Henry says. Then Henry’s lines are some of the most stirring in all of the Immortal Bard’s plays:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named, . . .
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names ...
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he e’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhood cheap whilst any speak
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Let us remain united now, because we are now really all in this together, somehow. Perhaps it is the sense that we are living in shared danger, however remote the risk may actually be to most North Americans. And there are police and firefighters who were in New York and Northern Virginia who shall stand on tip-toe when Sept. 11 is named. They shall remember what feats they did that day. And the police and firemen who shed their blood together that day are brothers henceforth.

And so will the troops who toppled Saddam’s regime, and destroyed the Taliban rule and freed Afghanistan. So will those Canadians fighting in Afghanistan – even amidst the confusion and debate and wrangling back home about whether or not they should be there. They are there. They are dying so we don’t have to.

I received an email this week honouring Canadian troops in Afghanistan [see next post].

On this day I wish only to say to other veterans, part of my band of brothers and sisters, Thank you for our freedom. God keep you and be with you, “From this day to the ending of the world.”

Pool Mom

I just read this from the Purpose Driven Life Daily Devotional and thought it was great. Kind of captures the heartbeat of Hills. If you want to see more from their archives of devotionals check it out here.

Pool mom
by John Fischer

I met a man once who served on the missions committee at his church. He told me how he was most proud of a certain former member of the committee – a woman who had put a promising career aside when ... she and her husband decided to adopt three children from Lithuania. Figuring that these children who had grown up at great risk would demand her full-time attention, she committed herself to that very thing. She did enjoy volunteering at the church, however, and ended up serving on the missions committee and teaching Sunday school.

Then suddenly, as abruptly as she had begun serving her church, she informed my friend that she was resigning from the missions committee and giving up her Sunday school class as well. He asked her what was wrong, and she said that everything was fine – God had just spoken to her, and she was going to follow his lead.

“I spent most of the summer being a ‘pool mom,’” she told him, “taking my kids to the pool four to five days a week. I became friendly with several other pool moms, and we all had a lot of time to talk together. As August was winding down and the pool was about to close, one of them said to me, ‘It has been a real pleasure getting to know you this summer. The rest of us have been friends all our lives. We went to the same schools, the same summer camps, and the same temple. We were at each other’s bat-mitzvahs, and we attended each other’s weddings, but we’ve never gotten to know anybody like you. Maybe we could keep in touch.’

“So what could be a clearer direction from God than that?” She concluded. “I’ve decided to spend the next year completely focused on being a friend to this group of young Jewish ladies. I am going to practice friendship first and let evangelism take its natural course. And I don’t want to be distracted by the demands of church activities. If I don’t give them up, I’ll have a very hard time fitting my friends into my schedule. This next year is for them! After that, who knows?”

Think of that: She got off the missions committee to perform a mission – a mission of being a friend. Not that we should disband worship committees or that it will always take our full-time attention to be a friend, but this woman’s priorities are something we all need to pay attention to. Being a friend is a mission in and of itself, and connecting to those around us who are outside the church is more important than being on a host of committees.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


I've been continuing that email conversation.

Every day is a gift. Every sunrise, every breath, every salvation, every healing. There is a strength and beauty to that approach and we need to walk in humility to accept God's purpose and plan for us. John Piper says: We are creatures, and our Creator is not bound or obligated to give us anything - not life or health or anything. He gives, he takes and he does us no injustice (Job 1:21).

But if we live like that without anything more, then we become ... fatalistic: "Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be." (Are you old enough to remember that song?) Then everything is up to fate. God will do whatever He pleases and we just have to accept it. Kill all desire. Accept the world as it is. Don't open yourself up to caring for anything or you will be disappointed. The promises of God will only be fulfilled in heaven. For now just hang in there knowing at least there is a God and He will do what is right in the end. But what abut the "journey of desire?"

The missing ingredient in this is relationship - we have a heavenly Father. As with any friend or a parent with a child there is a give and take. As a parent I want to meet the needs of my children. I don't want to see them sick or hurt or taken advantage of. I want to make them promises and keep them! If I promise to go to my daughter's basketball game and don't show up she is going to know that something is wrong. "Daddy wouldn't have promised and then not come." Now I may not promise to be at all her games but because she talked to me that morning she will KNOW whether or not I will be there.

I also recognize how I respond to my children if there is attitude from them. If they ask with selfishness or act in pride or are just plain rude with me I respond differently. Sometimes I don't say anything at all. Kirstyn will yell a question at me from the top of the stairs and I won't even acknowledge that I heard her. They need to correct their attitude before I will address their need or their question. Sometimes they get frustrated and say "Forget it! I'll do it myself!"

That's how we ask God for things sometimes. I want an answer from Him NOW! I'm not always where I'm supposed to be so that when I ask him for something he will often respond by pointing out something else that he wants me to deal with first. So I need to respond to that other thing first. Then I have to go back to my original request. Sometimes I'm not willing to change my attitude and I ask with wrong motives. Sometimes I just want to do it my own way. However prayer is give and take - a back and forth. Growing in that relationship is what Christianity is really all about.

We can sometimes act like the prophets of Baal yelling louder because WE DON'T KNOW if God heard or not. We try to work up a spiritual fervor because we are not sure that God is listening. We try to come up with exactly the right formula, the right prayer, quote the right scripture, work up the same feelings, have the same tone of voice. That is the same as casting a spell - it's witchcraft. Say these words in this order and add this special spice, turn around three times and jump in the air and say hallelujah. Poof! You have your answer. Works like a charm!

God will not be controlled. We can't control Him and we can't control the world. It is fallen and broken and people get sick and die and babies are born with deformities. That's what the world is like. But God wants us to respond to Him in all that. He wants us to ask Him what to do and how to do it. He will respond differently every time. It is hard work to ask him and hear him every time. That is where the resistance from the devil comes into play as well. He tries to distance us from the personal immediate presence of God. But He wants us to ask.

That's why knowing how to hear from God is so important. This whole life is about learning how to relate to our Creator. He wants us to become more like him and we will find ourselves in situation after situation that will cause us to seek his face for answers. If we don't seek him out, we can passively accept the world the way it is. We will still have salvation. We will still have life everlasting. God will still love us. But I don't think we will become what we were really meant to be or do all that he was really calling us to do or see all our dreams come to pass.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Who Are We?

I had this theological email conversation that I thought might be interesting.

Someone asked me ...
I'm quoting from this book I'm reading. Is it truth?

"One of the reasons we are not as Christ-centred and cross saturated as we should be is that we have not realized that everything- everything good, and everything bad that God turns for the good of his redeemed children- was purchased by the death of Christ for us. We simply take life and breath and health and friends and everything for granted. WE think it is ours by right. But the fact is ... that it is not ours by right. We are doubly undeserving of it.

1. We are CREATURES, and our Creator is not bound or obligated to give us anything - not life or health or anything. He gives, he takes and he does us no injustice (Job 1:21)
2. And besides being ceatures with no claim on our Creator, we are SINNERS. We have fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23). We have ignored him and disobeyed him and failed to love him and trust him. The wrath of his justice is kindled against us. All we deserve from him is judgement (Romans 3:19). Therefore every breath we take, and every time our heart beats, everyday that the sun rises, every moment we see with our eyes or hear with our ears or speak with our mouths or walk with our legs, is, for now, a free and undeserved gift to sinners who deserve only judgement."

My Response ...

It is the one side of truth.

We are sinners. Sinners "deserve" judgement and aside from the grace and mercy of God every human being is destined for destruction. Although born in a sinful condition no one has lived up to even the promises they made to themselves let alone the standard of holiness imposed by God's Law. Because He is all powerful, He doesn't need us or anything else. He is not required to do anything for us nor are we able to demand anything from Him. However, if we stop here the sense is that we are God's throwaway old toys. It gives the impression that we have no value because we are sinful, that we are just replaceable, interchangeable, mass-produced, defective parts that God may or may not be willing to repair.

However there is another side to that truth.

It is that we are created in His image and have a value that is beyond knowing or describing. He took the initiative to make us knowing we would fall and sin. He placed us in this world so that we should find the joy of finding Him and His purposes for us. He is the one who made our emotions and crafted our desires and placed in us a hunger for the eternal. He was the one who initiated our ultimate redemption. He paid the ultimate price in sending His Son to die for us. He created the world to be the dwelling place of man and created man to be the dwelling place of God. So He has committed Himself to us, to our eternal well-being and to our development as His children and His army and His bride. So, no, He is not required to give us anything or to do anything for us BUT He has committed Himself to our welfare, to the development of our character and growth for His ultimate purpose. And so He has given us great and precious promises (to which He has bound Himself to keep) for us to walk in. Most of all He has given us Himself, as Saviour, as Father as the one who desires our best and knows our beginning and our end.

If we only look at the first side we are only sinners saved by grace and unable to lift our heads. If we look only at the second side we become proud and boastful, taking advantage of grace and exalting ourselves beyond measure. But if we hold both in tension (which we need to do with every single truth from God) we come closer to understanding the reality of who He is and who we are.

What do you think?

Spending Time

I've been feeling a bit distracted and unfocused lately and wondering about my priorities. As I think about distracting and contrasting priorities, let me list a few. (The list has actually gotten much longer than I thought possible!)

My family is always a significant investment of time. My daughter Kirstyn is ... playing basketball, is on her worship team at school and in choir. That has meant numerous pick-ups at around 5:00pm at her school in Woodbridge - this week it could be every evening. Then I try to be at her basketball games - which sometimes involves driving her to games - which requires me to be at her school by 2:30 and not get home till 6:00pm - and she has an occasional tournament (which involves a Friday evening and Saturday). Kirstyn also has a number of projects that require driving her around or proof-reading. And then because she attends a commuter school, if she wants to visit a friend it usually requires a half hour drive each way. Although it takes a fair chunk of time I like that she still talks to me about what’s going on in her life, about school, about herself and about boys.

Jared is now in university but he still likes to have long conversations with me – usually about philosophy, or religion or politics or girls. He always likes to talk about stuff he's learning, especially if I can help him understand it (actually he especially likes it when I can't keep up with him). Unfortunately for him most of the technical stuff he's learning is way beyond what I remember of university science or calculus. And he needs a ride to the bus every day - and sometimes all the way to school. Of course I want to spend some time with Brigitte and there are other extended family events.

As for my "calling" there is usually something to do related to church - mostly around administration (budgets and reports) and of course preparing for Sundays. I like to be reading stuff to try to capture what God is wanting to say. Praying and reading and listening and studying is the type of stuff that expands to fill the time available - I feel I could always do more.

Of course I'm also studying and reading and writing for my Doctor of Ministry courses - which kind of fits in when I get motivated or inspired. Some of it overlaps with sermon preparation. I'm supposed to be doing an average of ten hours a week on this.

I'm involved with a bunch of city-wide prayer initiatives. There was a leaders prayer summit in November - for which I was responsible for leading worship and doing some of the organizing. Wednesdays once a month is a meeting of the MissionGTA leadership team, which is going through a major refocusing and restructuring time. Every other Thursday morning is a PrayGTA meeting (the prayer arm of MissionGTA) which organizes prayer assemblies for different events in the city (Toronto city hall prayer meeting and on November 12th, a Sunday evening prayer assembly focused on praying for the persecuted church around the world). We occasionally arrange meetings with national leaders who consult with us about how to develop city reaching teams. I am now also heading up the strategic prayer team in this group (PrayGTA) and although I haven't really been able to get up to speed, I'm responsible to strategize effective prayer for the city and help coordinate intercessors and prayer teams. In terms of prayer and thought energy, this takes a lot of my focus.

On a related note, I really think that for the church to advance in Canada, God will require cooperation and unity in the church - not just lone rangers doing whatever they want and not caring for the city as a whole. I think the scheme of the enemy has been to try and divide and conquer - although the enemy will not eternally conquer, the division between the different streams of the church has made us much less effective than we could be. This will also be the focus of my DMin studies as well - so there is some overlap.

I am also involved in a bi-weekly pastors prayer meeting (at which I lead worship). This group sponsors three healing rooms (Thornhill Vineyard, Lifesprings Fellowship which meets at Willowdale Pentecostal Church and Castlefield Community Church near Yonge and Eglington) and I sit on the Healing Rooms Advisory Committee (which meets infrequently - 6-8 times a year). This pastors group also hosts a monthly 24-hour prayer meeting at various churches in North Toronto. (I'm also on the leadership committee for that and usually lead worship for a two-hour slot during the 24 hours). The Thornhill Ministerial (a group of eight churches in Thornhill) meets once a month and there are some responsibilities associated with that (not too many fortunately.) However, I'm supposed to be on the Out of the Cold committee which helps plan and run the Thornhill program that runs once a week for two months during the winter.

I'm on the chaplaincy staff (volunteer) at York Central Hospital which involves being on call (with a beeper) one week out of six or so. I also sit on the Chaplaincy Advisory Committee which advocates for chaplaincy services in the hospital (that meets four or five times a year). I also need to be involved in some of the events the chaplaincy department conducts like memorial services and various dinners. I'm also the chaplaincy rep for the Organ Donor Committee but I've only been to one meeting so far.

There is a group of people in the Beaches area of Toronto that are trying to start up an outreach through a coffee shop business on Queen Street. It's based on a model in Hamilton called the Freeway. The result should be a community centre style ministry that may develop a worshipping community that develops out of the outreach component. Right now it's only in the formation stages but it involves a lot of thinking and visioning and writing down proposals and dream statements. The team is fairly motivated but I'm providing a bit of leadership and co-ordination. I've been meeting with them once a week for the past month.

All this stuff doesn't include meeting people in my neighbourhood (which I try to do every day - although it's tougher to do that in the colder weather) to say nothing of special neighbourhood events like Bar Mitzvahs or sitting shiva with someone. I also mentor a number of guys (not really part of our congregation) and I also want to make sure I have time for meetings with men in the congregation, and with my friend at the gym. There are the occasional conferences or special meetings including my involvement in my denomination - which can be as much as a couple of meetings a month. There are also the funerals and weddings that come up from time to time which usually include at least one extra meeting (for funerals) and at least four meetings for premarital counselling (for weddings). I want to be in the gym at least four times a week and I can't miss basketball on Tuesday evenings with my Jewish buddies. Then there are the times where I just want to reconnect with someone and stay in the loop with friends.

Wow! I hadn't realized the amount of stuff that is part of my life! No wonder I feel unfocused sometimes. It's not only that there is a lot of stuff, it's also that there are so many different groups of people and different organizations. What's your life like?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Selling the "House of God"

I've been at a number of "think-tank" meetings where we have discussed the future of church, or mission or denomination or ________ (fill in the blank). At at least three of these meetings I have suggested that we sell ... all the real estate and give the money to missions or to the poor or at least create an endowment fund to pay for inner city street outreach workers.

I came across an interesting appendix in a book ("The Way Church Ought to Be" by Robert Lund) that expands on this idea. He quotes from Christian Smith ("Going to the Root") who estimates that the value of real estate (as of 1991) owned by churches in the US is over 230 billion dollars. We could probably double that figure for 2006 dollars (which if sold today would provide enough money to give every American citizen $200,000.00!). In addition to the actual value of the buildings and land is the money spent on utilities and maintenance to say nothing of the billions spent on debt maintenance. So if we took that money (say 500-600 billion dollars) and invest it at a modest rate, it would provide 30 to 50 BILLION DOLLARS per year EVERY year.

That amount would be enough to provide a full time job to one million people at a very decent wage
It could probably eliminate world food shortages within a couple of years.
Christian Smith suggests about 40 projects that could be funded with the money including relieving homelessness, theological training for 3rd world church leaders, funding orphanages, establishing Christian based environmental lobby to positively affect legislation, child support funding for pregnant teens, etc.

We need to remember that this does not include the ongoing tithes and offerings which would suddenly be freed up to provide ongoing support for inovative community development programs, outreach, and missions.

Well, I can dream can't I?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Theology 101

Well, I have been thinking a lot about how and why God created us. I spoke about it on Sunday but didn't really explain myself very well. So I've been writing some stuff down and then it winds up here. (This almost feels like a journal.) It's a bit long but read it if you want. These are certainly not original ideas. I know some of them come from hearing Landa Cope and Rikk Watts recently, but how much and from where exactly, I can't really remember.

Theology 101
We have in the Old Testament revelation from God about ... His nature (who He is), man’s nature (who we are), how He wants us to live as a community (the nation Israel) and where we came from (creation). In the New Testament we have the revelation of Jesus Christ (the Word and I Am), salvation (our new nature), how to live individually (personal holiness) and the future (Revelation and the new heaven and earth).

Key principles from Genesis
1. God is
2. God created the material world by His Word
3. Man is made in God’s image
4. Sin is a reality (everything is fallen)

Values arising from those principles
1. Life is sacred (we are His image bearers)
2. The material world is good (He made it as our dwelling place - our holy of holies so to speak)
3. Words have value (because God created by speaking)
4. Anything that moves us away from God destroys us (idolatry is destructive)
5. Everything is redeemable (God is making all things new)

Each of these points can be elaborated on and I may actually do so sometime over the next while. But just to set up where I'm going with this I put down the following points.

The Purpose
We want to see Jesus lifted high. We want to see God’s Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We want to see our communities transformed. We want to see our nations be righteous, pass righteous laws and act with justice, compassion and righteousness.

The Problem
We see people get saved but they still act like the devil – or at least still acting like the culture we live in. The Church still acts like the world and still has the attitudes and characteristics of the world. That is mostly because we allow our media to disciple us. We have adopted the prevalent values of the culture instead of the counter-cultural values of the Kingdom. Although we preach salvation, we often still act selfishly, we still consume our resources on ourselves, our divorce rate is still as high as the world’s and we still live with bitterness and unforgiveness resulting in church fights and church splits. Brothers (and sisters) this ought not to be.

The Result
The world see the church with all its mistakes and problems and think they know what Jesus (and Christianity) is all about. They have not been taught about the transforming power of the Gospel throughout history. They have actually been misled because Christianity is being blamed for all the problems of the world (wars, environmental crisis, racism, hatred, intolerance, etc.). So the Church is being judged as irrelevant before it even has a chance to speak. Some people are even saying, “Christianity has had its chance but has failed. It is time to reject it and try something else.”

Our Response
The Church has become intimidated into silence and ineffectiveness by the strong media bias and the culture of humanism and political correctness. However we cannot simply respond to the immorality around us and to the accusations against us by merely getting politicians saved, by passing Christian laws or by saying “the Bible says it’s wrong.” We must be discipling individuals and discipling nations. We must be speaking truth in ways that communicate to our culture. We do that by understanding and communicating principles like the ones mentioned above. We also do that by living according to what the Spirit of God says, by the power of the Spirit and by being Jesus’ hands extended.

For example, we cannot simply say “sex before marriage is wrong.” We need to be showing that it is wrong because of how God set up the world. How would we do that? Explain that life is sacred. That means that we want to protect and sustain life. The sexual revolution has caused millions of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, rape, incest, sexually transmitted diseases (AIDS), divorce, single parents and the death or marginalization of millions of children. A recent study reported in the National Post reveals that children raised without fathers creates a remarkably higher percentage of sociopathic children than families with a father present. If we continue on this path we reveal that we do not honour life or consider it sacred. However, merely by keeping the seventh commandment (do not commit adultery) all those problems would be eliminated.

To be continued (in some shape or form).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Some other thoughts on the emerging church

I was at my denominational (PAOC) conference yesterday and the agenda was our Bible college (Masters). A number of Bible colleges and seminaries have been going through hard times (including ours) and sometimes it's difficult to know why. Jim Richards discussed some challenges and opportunities facing post-secondary religious training schools and that helped. But I think the problem is not so much with the college but with our model of church. The college is training pastors for roles in churches that no longer exist. Let me explain.

I honestly feel that the day of the traditionally trained pastor is over. The role of the pastor of a local church is changing because ... the local church is changing. I don't think the traditional model of church (that was adopted going back to the Reformation - and maybe even back to Constantine) is sustainable.

What I mean by "traditional" is church as church building with 100-400 people with paid pastoral staff running programs to try and attract people to their building three or four times a week. In this system the majority of the church's resources go into sustaining itself (building and staff and sometimes overseas missions). Very little is left over for outreach, community development and blessing the neighbourhood. Because of the high cost of buildings and land and staff and insurance this model is no longer working in urban areas and will become increasingly difficult to sustain in suburbia. (That is not to say that all churches are dead or ineffective. Some places are very successful at making this system work and are reaching out to their neighbourhoods and having an impact on their community. But this is becoming the exception rather than the norm.)

However, how do we actually advance the Kingdom of God in very untraditional and sometimes hostile environments? For example the city of Toronto is building 30,000 housing units (population 100,000 plus?) south of Queen Street in the east end. There is no land for traditional church buildings. How do we make church happen in that area? Training future leaders to think about reaching this community is what the Bible Colleges need to be focusing on.

What would be needed to reach a community like this? I'm thinking some very non-traditional Kingdom roles. We need to affirm that people are sensing a call of God (a vocation, an anointing) when they decide to work in business and government. There needs to be full-time ministers who work as city planners and social scientists and real estate developers and lawyers and people who sit on the Ontario Municipal Board hearing requests to ammend the zoning by-laws and the Official Plans. Is there a course in any Bible college that equips people to do this? This is the emerging church.

How about people who are called to move into a high rise apartment building to start apartment churches and who minister by hosting parties, and by sitting on condo boards, and by praying up and down hallways, by helping people move in or out, and by creating an overall atmosphere of health and safety? Are we training people to do that? This is also the emerging church.

Fundamentally we need to be training all Christians that there really is no biblical distinction between clergy and laity, that the church is not a building or a place or a time or an organization. The day of the full-time pastor may soon pass. The emerging church is people bearing the image of God, who listen to and worship Him and whose fundamental identity and purpose is to be people who live out and advance the Kingdom of God. They will be led by people who have a gift of and anointing for leadership not just a Bible college degree.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Emerging Church Dream

I found a neat post on someone's blog (I Wonder as I Wander - neat title) about this dream she had about the emerging church. Check it out here.

More About Seeds

As I was reading over the last post, I realized that the coffee shop/bookstore idea is really only one in a long series of manifestation of the emerging church. While that statement is painfully obvious, I want to try and put my spin on it. As I study the history of Christianity (which I am doing) I realize that there have been so many valid and vital expressions of the church through the ages. Even though there are periods of lethargy and dryness, as well as periods of Church history we wish we could erase, there always seems to be a renewing influence that causes us to see ourselves and God in a whole new light.

As a Pentecostal, sometimes I think our movement thinks it discovered something in 1906 that had been lost since the book of Acts. However, in my readings so far, almost every recorded saint and significant Christian movement since the book of Acts displays some evidence of the miraculous and even the spectacular (including visions, prophecies, healings, changed lives of course, and yes, even tongues). In my seminary class we began to quote Solomon - there really is nothing new under the sun.

My point is that God has placed inside of us a deep hunger for Himself. We want a real encounter with the living God. Without that encounter with God religion is overbearing and literally deadly (do I need to mention the crusades or the inquisition?). But where the living God shows up anything is possible. There is currently such a significant groundswell of people dissatisfied with a religion that doesn't lead to encounters with the living God. We recognize that we were made for something other than going to church. We were made to fulfill a high calling, a grand purpose following a Mighty Leader (who is good and just) and to do it in partnership with people we love who spur us on to greatness.

The emerging church, these new expressions of church, are just the first inklings of what it is God wants to do. There is a renewal movement coming that we can't see yet. It will incorporate the true and the real of past tradition - but in bits and pieces. For someone to boldly proclaim he/she knows what it will look like is folly. We actually only have a collection of seeds in hand - that need to be planted and watered to see what kind of harvest God causes to come up. Interesting that the seed needs to die before the new plant can start to grow. What are you planting?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Freeway

I went to see Pernell Goodyear at the Freeway Coffee House today with a couple of friends to see how a place like the freeway is doing stuff. The freeway is a coffe shop that has a vision for living in the community as salt and light. They have events for neighbourhood people and a church that meets there on Sunday evenings. For years my friends have had a vision for church in Toronto that is done seven days a week and were wondering if it could be incorporated with a business model. For many months now we have been wondering and dreaming together about operating a bookstore or a coffee house in a storefront on Queen Street so that Christians can be connecting with the community incarnationally on a daily basis.

As we talked with Pernell we realized our journeys had been very similar - Pernell had just lived out his dream by taking more risks and stepping out in faith. On the way home we were very excited but also realized a venture like this requires a great deal of commitment - it will cost us our lives.

This is certainly not the end of the story. I will keep you posted. Thanks for the time Pernell!!!

Sunday, October 08, 2006


For those of us without Jewish roots we may be more familiar with the term Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) than the term Succot. Being in a Jewish neighbourhood, we can see a few Succahs (booths) from our deck and today we were invited to share a meal and say a blessing in a neighbour's Succah. It was a great time of connecting with our neighbours (many of them were there) and to talk about the celebration from a Jewish and Christian perspective. Check out some of the pictures! It was a beautiful day. The Succah is required to be partially open to the elements and to be observant you should spend as much time in it as possible - even sleeping there if weather permits. If you want some more information on Succot and Jewish customs and holidays in general check out Judaism 101.

A Word About Prophecy

I enjoy reading prophetic words. Some of them sound like motherhood and apple pie - almost like good old common sense - sometimes even cliches. Other times they are deeply challenging and cause me to think of how I'm living my life and in what ways I need to change. Some really pump me up and get me going.

The New Testament understanding of prophecy is described in I Corinthians 14:3. "But everyone who prophesies speaks to [people] for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort." Or as the Message describes it: "so that [you] can grow and be strong and experience his presence."

So a "word" like the last post is given for our edification - to strengthen us, or encourage us or to bring us comfort as opposed to being predictive or directive. The predictive or "foretelling" type of prophecy is more typical of the Old Testament and is usually restricted to the realm of those who would be gifted and recognized as prophets.

This prophecy by Chuck Pierce challenges me to take more risks and to trust God at a deeper level. It challenges me to lift my eyes to see things beyond my own "barnyard" and to get involved in things that are actually beyond my comfort zone. I should not be intimidated by challenges that are bigger than I'm used to (the giants) but to walk confidently in the knowledge that God is with me.

Sowing seed has also been a significant metaphor for me. Seeds speak of past fruitfulness, the results of the last season's harvest and hard labour. It speaks of tradition and the past. You can either eat seeds or plant them. Eating them gives temporary satisfaction but planting them is an investment in the future. It requires sacrificing what you have in hand for a future return. It truly is a sacrifice because the planted seed dies as it begins to grow into something else.

Seeds also speak of patience. There are many days that pass before any difference is seen - before any sign of growth is noticed. You cannot go digging up seeds to see if they have germinated. The conditions must also be right - enough water, nutrients and warmth.

Seeds are ideas, thoughts and concepts described with words and then planted by communicating them. If God has given you an idea begin to think and talk it through and plant it by taking action on the idea. That is what this word is challenging us to do - take the success of the past and begin to apply it in new ways.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Word of Exhortation

I wanted to post an encouraging and challenging "prophetic word" given by Chuck Pierce and make a few comments in the next post.

In a recent worship service at Glory of Zion, Brian Kooiman, my assistant, gave a tongues message, and I began to interpret the word of the Lord: "I would say you've been swimming in a thimble, and I have an ocean for you to jump in! You've been asking Me for more, but you're not speaking to what needs to be untied for your future. Speak to your colt! When I needed a colt, I said, 'Tell them that I have need of it!'

Speak to what needs to be untied for your life. I will cause your hands to receive what you need. Swim on out; come on out into the place that is over your head. Do not try to swim in a thimble when the ocean is waiting. The pool for you has enlarged. I will give you lessons on how to swim in the new place I have for you."

Linda Heidler continued the interpretation: "This is a day of enlargement! You may have seen the giants in the land. But until the giants are confronted, you cannot possess what I have promised. This is a day for you to stir your faith! Listen carefully, because I have a strategy to overthrow the giants that you've seen. I know where they are hiding! I know where they are entrenched! I know their taunts against you!

I know the "NOW" plan that I've had since before the foundation of the world for this time and season, to overthrow the giants that have a hold of your inheritance! The key is for you to listen and obey. I am not expecting your strength to overcome! Listen and obey! Listen and obey and I will give you the strategy to overthrow those things that are blocking your path, so that you possess your full inheritance that I've promised you."

Keith Pierce then continued: "Take your seed and plant it this day. In the planting of the seed, I will reposition you underneath the pouring out of My treasury. Today is the day of the exchanging of the mantle. Today is the day of the releasing of the funds for the next shift that you are to make! Sow your seed and see the presence of God released! Sow your seed and see the presence of God brought forth. Sow your seed and see yourself established! Sow your seed! Call your seed into fruition! This is a time to bless your seed!

Remove your old garment! Turn loose of it and come into the movement of what I AM saying this day! Sow your seed! For the lie of the enemy is trying to rob from you what I AM releasing in the earth this hour! Your knees have been shaky, and you've not known how to stand. And even in the stance you've taken, you've shaken. But now I'm beginning to speak to you in a new way with a new sound. I'm blowing a new breath of anointing upon you. I'm extending to you My future plan of victory. Put on your victory garment, and walk in My identity for a moment! Sense My joy for a moment, so that you might follow Me into the completion of My purposes for you life."

Chuck D. Pierce
Glory of Zion International Ministries

Friday, October 06, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm going to Guelph tonight to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. This is our first holiday together as a family since my mother died and will be difficult to be there without having my mother prepare many of the special dishes. But a family potluck will have to do. The picture is of both my sisters - the one on the left, Dorothea, flew in from Halifax for the funeral and of course for Thanksgiving dinner!

For all my American friends out there who think it is a bit unusual for Thanksgiving to be celebrated in October so far from Christmas, just remember the holiday was first celebrated in Canada. Check out the following (found on the Christian Direction website).

The first and original Thanksgiving comes from Canada. The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Northern America. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now called Newfoundland, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving. Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies. He was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him - Frobisher Bay. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. Unlike the American tradition of remembering Pilgrims and settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest.

The first Thanksgiving Day in Canada after Confederation was observed on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness. Before then, thanksgiving days were observed beginning in 1799 but did not occur every year. Starting in 1879 Thanksgiving Day was observed every year but the date was proclaimed annually and changed year to year. The theme of the Thanksgiving holiday also changed year to year to reflect an important event to be thankful for. In the early years it was for an abundant harvest and occasionally for a special anniversary. After the First World War it was for Armistice Day and more recently and including today it has been a day of general thanksgiving.

What has come down in American tradition as the "First Thanksgiving" was actually a harvest festival. In the spring of 1621, the colonists planted their first crops in Patuxet’s abandoned fields. While they had limited success with wheat and barley, their corn crop proved very successful, thanks to Squanto [Tisquantum] who taught them how to plant corn in hills, using fish as a fertilizer. In October of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest with feasting and games, as was the custom in England, as well as prayer. The celebration served to boost the morale of the 50 remaining colonists and also to impress their allies.

The Pilgrims would not have called the event of 1621 a "Thanksgiving." The Separatist Puritans recognized three kinds of holidays as sanctioned by the Bible : the Sabbath, days of thanksgiving, and fast days. Unlike the Sabbath, days of thanksgiving and fast days were not part of the established calendar. They were proclaimed by the governor only in response to a specific situation. A religious day of fasting could be invoked by a drought or war. A religious day of thanksgiving could be called to celebrate a particularly good harvest or providential rainfall.

After the American Revolution the first American national Thanksgiving Day, proclaimed by George Washington, was Nov. 26, 1789 - a one time event. Abraham Lincoln, urged by Sarah J. Hale, revived the custom in 1863, appointing as the date the last Thursday of November. At that time, Thanksgiving was not yet part of the national calendar. The governor of each state would determine when (or if) a Thanksgiving would be held. Thanksgiving did not become an annual national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 proclamation. In 1939, 1940, and 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving the third Thursday in November. When a contradiction arose between Roosevelt’s proclamation and some of those of state governors, Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941 decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November.

The use of the turkey for Thanksgiving relates back to Lincoln's nationalization of the holiday in 1863 and not back to the Pilgrim celebration. Since a turkey could feed more than a chicken, those were sent to the troops instead as a more cost effective feast. The meat at the table would more likely have been duck or deer. Source: Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (London, 1622), in a letter written by Edward Winslow: "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors . . . many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain [Myles Standish] and others."

Just thought you might be interested.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Key Indicators

I received a couple of emails yesterday that were actually related. As we pray for our cities to see transformation we neecd to have some way of measuring change. Glen Smith of Christian Direction put together a number of indicators of positive movement in a city. Here they are listed below.

12 Key Indicators of a Transformed City
GLEN SMITH – Christian Direction - Montreal
Canadian City Impact Consultation
Ottawa – November 21-23, 2005
1. Increasing number of churches actively involved in spiritual transformation.
2. Concrete acts of reconciliation and justice for the welfare of the city.
3. Leaders leading a demonstration of the Gospel in all aspects of the city.
4. Equity in all aspects of the city.
5. Children and youth welfare and wellness.
6. Decline in Suicides.
7. Marriage & Family health
8. Most vulnerable reconnecting through multiple opportunities.
9. Decline in violence.
10. Decline in sexual abuse against women and children.
11. Artistic expression and Heritage valued
12. Environmental improvement.

The second email was about an organization in Toronto that measures the vital signs of a city. It's called The Toronto Community Foundation and they do exhaustive studies on key indicators of health in a city.

Someone once said to me that for which you are searching is already seeking you out. Well that certainly came to pass yesterday!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dreams and Visions

Do you ever dream? Ever had a vision? In Acts chapter 2 Peter stands up explaining the events that were happening in Jerusalem by quoting from the prophet Joel:

17" 'In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams."

I'm not sure if I'm considered an old man or a young one. Maybe that's why there are times when I dream and other times I feel like a visionary. I also take dreams and visions with a grain of salt. Sometimes they inspire and sometimes they just confuse but most of the time they are interesting fodder for discussion.

All this to say this morning I attended a prayer meeting for pastors in North Toronto. During our worship I glimpsed a scene from before the throne room where we were worshipping God in the presence of angels and of the heavenly host. I seem to have this "vision" often as I worship God. This Isaiah 6 type experience where the angels cry holy and everyone bows down to worship. I'm not always sure if I am thinking it up in my mind or if it is coming from God - but it does help me to focus on the greatness of God and it reminds me that there is non-stop worship before the throne of God 24 hours a day (if there is time in heaven).

As I had this vision, I noticed something different this time though. I felt (sensed) that the angels were being "briefed" as if for a battle and that they were drawing strength from the throne for the battle that was ahead. It was as if as they (and we) were ministering to the Lord that the Lord was ministering back to the angels and to us in an even more powerful way. The sense I got was that there was preparation going on in heaven for a significant event or battle that would be coming in the near future.

The significance for me is that God is calling me to be ready. Part of being ready is being in a place to hear His voice and committing myself to "minister to the Lord" through worship and praise. As I do that He will minister to me, building me up and making me ready for whatever is to come.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sunday's Word

It's Yom Kippur tonight - Kol Nidre. The most holy night in the Jewish calendar. I was out for a walk tonight and saw many of my Jewish neighbours walking back from synagogue and had a few conversations. Appropriate that we had communion this morning at church. Most Jews - event the most secular - will fast from a half hour before sundown tonight until a half hour after sunset tomorrow. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment of G-d against you, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

In light of Yom Kippur, I spoke today at church that I have a sense that God is doing some transitioning - some shifting. I am led to feel that for a number of reasons: the significant number of deaths happening around me, the many transitions happening in the lives of the people of Hills (a marriage, kids going to university, workplace issues, a wedding cancellation). There are some significant transitions happening in other churches in Thornhill - pastoral changes, internal difficulties. And yet there are some good things too: lives being changed, people discovering God, spiritual maturity, even some church growth.

However, every time there is positive movement there is resistance - human and spiritual resistance. I listed five ways to respond to this resistance.
1. Hear from God - we need to make a concerted effort to spend time reading Scripture and listening to God
2. We need personal holiness - a commitment to live right all the time - not just live in with what we can get away with. That means quickly dealing with the things in our lives that we have done wrong by confessing them as sin (agreeing with God that it's wrong and not trying to justify it), repenting (turning away from it), and making restitution if we have to. This needs to be done daily - not just once a year (no offense to my Jewish friends).
3. Unity - unity of prayer, lack of strife and unforgiveness among us. Jeshua said that where two or three are gather together He is there in the midst of them.
4. We need to pray - with all kinds of prayer, on all occasions, with all fervency.
5. Action. We need to act out what we believe. We need to live holy, love our neighbours, share our lives and our faith, do good deeds, bless the people around us, and take advantage of the opportunities that God gives us in the divine appointments He creates.

That was my challenge. We are gathered as this little group in this specific place for such a time as this - and we need to be making a difference.

Some More Funeral Thoughts

Today is Sunday again. I had a chance to thank the congregation for their notes, emails, phone calls and the flowers. I hadn't realized how special it feels to be remembered during a difficult time - to know others are standing with you. It was the same on Wednesday during the "viewing" (what a horrible expression! I began to refer to it as visitation.) It was so nice to see people - neighbours, relatives, friends of the family - some of whom I hadn't seen in 40 years! One diminutive woman came up to me and gave me a big hug - and then she introduced herself as the daughter of a neighbour two doors down from my parents house (they have lived in the same house for almost 50 years). We laughed when I recognized who she was. I said to her, "The llast time I saw you, you were taller than me!" It was true!

Note to self: Make every effort to quickly connect with those who have lost a loved to pass on condolences.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Bulletin Eulogy

This is the eulogy printed on the back of the church bulletin.

NOVEMBER 20, 1932 – SEPTEMBER 24, 2006

Beloved wife, sister, mother and grandmother, Christel passed away peacefully at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton on Sunday, September 24th, 2006. She was in her 74th year and had lived on Bedford Road, in Guelph Township, for almost 50 years.
She is survived by her loving husband Gerhard Krause, children Claudia and Ralph Van Riesen of Guelph, Michael and Brigitte Krause of Thornhill, Dorothea and Michael LeBlanc of Halifax, Andreas and Luisa Krause of Guelph, and nine grandchildren: Christel, Daniel, Aaron, Matthew, Jared, Kirstyn, Abigail, Joshua and Andrea. She was also affectionately regarded by her brother-in-law Gunter and his late wife Barbara Louise Krause. She is also survived by siblings Hella, Georg, Renate, Joachim and Karin, all of Germany, and was predeceased by her parents, and siblings Reinhard, Hildegard and Willi.
Born Christel Bergemann in Greifenhagen, Germany, she was married to Gerhard on November 18, 1952. At the age of 22 years, she travelled to Canada with her 10-month-old firstborn (Claudia) aboard the ocean liner Arosa Sun to meet up with Gerhard, who had gone ahead to prepare accommodation. Two more children came in quick succession (Michael, 1956 and Dorothea, 1957) along with a house of their own on Bedford Road. Christel was so devoted to and supportive of her husband Gerhard and her life was invested in raising her children and transforming a pre-WWI bungalow into a home. She was a great cook and a proficient seamstress. After the birth of her fourth child (Andreas, 1964) she spent some years working for ITT, a Guelph electronics firm, and even ran her own business for a time. She was a gentle listener, and a woman of deep faith and prayer. All of her children and grandchildren have followed her example and have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord.
Known for her beautiful alto voice, Christel participated in several choirs over the years. More recently, she enjoyed painting classes at the Evergreen Centre and always looked forward to Prime Time get-togethers at Crestwicke Baptist Church. She was an avid gardener throughout her married life, and continued to tend her flowers even while confined to a wheelchair. Not long ago, she dreamed of warm sunny days as a young girl, when she would love to run through fields of wild flowers.
Christel loved Jesus Christ with all her heart and was an example of patience, gentleness and endurance to all who knew her. She loved to worship while playing hymns or choruses on her keyboard at home. Her favourite tune was “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” She was a blessing to so many with her sweet and gentle way, was greatly loved and will be deeply missed.

The Funeral

The funeral was yesterday and it went really well - if a funeral can go well. I made it through without completely breaking down and I could sense the prayers coming my way. My former pastor came as did a number of our congregation from Thornhill. My daughter sang and there wasn't a dry eye in the house (including mine). My sister's father-in-law and brother-in-law (nominal Catholics) were there (they also lost wife/mother earlier this year). My sister said it was exactly right for them.

My dad said, considering the circumstances, it was a perfect day - everything he wanted from the day. It was less difficult than I thought it would be but I think the main reason is that I was sure I'd heard from God what to speak about. And hope about where my mother is right now was really more like absolute certainty. It was so easy to speak well of my mother - she was a kind and gentle woman and everyone who met her liked her.

I'm very glad I did the service. It helped me to express how I felt. I know I would have been frustrated and disappointed if someone else had done it - especially looking back on the event. I'm going to put the the printed eulogy from the church bulletin into the next post.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

God Speaking

Sometime you really wonder if God is speaking a message in the specific events of our lives. This has been a year of funerals - for our family at least. In February my sister's mother-in-law passed away after a long battle with cancer. A week later my aunt passed away from pneumonia. Then in March my uncle passed away in Germany (he was 81) and in August my grandmother died at 95. And then on Sunday my mother passed away. She was only 73. Although I've still not processed it all, I'm kind of happy for her. She had been in a great deal of pain. More than anyone really knew (except maybe for my dad - and he certainly didn't say much about it). But now she is with Jesus and with those who have gone before.

Jesus seems quite near to me during this time and I had a half-asleep dream about my mother walking in heaven with Jesus listening to Him as He spoke. I sensed He was telling her of how He was taking care of all of us who remain here. I feel like I'd been given me some clear direction for the funeral on Thursday.

EDIT: Another death! On Wednesday my wife's aunt died in Germany. She was 80. Her parents are heading over there for the funeral.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Some Sad News

Well Sunday morning during church my mother passed away. ( EDIT: I should have said that we got news during our Sunday morning service that my mothr had passed away. She was in hospital in Hamilton.) Being a housechurch, it put an end to the planned agenda for the day and everyone dispersed into small groups and prayed and talked while I went to make some phone calls to my siblings to inform and to find information.

My mother, Christel Krause passed away somewhat unexpectedly on Sunday morning and we got the news during our morning service at Hills. She was 73. Although her passing was unexpected, she had been having a number of health problems and was in a significant amount of pain. About six years ago she began having serious kidney problems and needed to begin a special type of dialysis (which could be done at home). This caused some circulation problems and a cut on her foot refused to heal to the point where her leg needed to be amputated below the knee. Dialysis was increased to three times a week at the dialysis clinic in Guelph - and then more recently four times a week.

She had gone into St. Joseph's Hospital this past Friday (September 22) for thyroid surgery. This was undertaken to try to reduce the calcium buildups in the stump area of her leg which caused her a great deal of pain and made wearing a prosthesis next to impossible. Although the surgery went well and she was quite chipper on Saturday, her blood pressure increased rapidly early Sunday morning and caused severe breathing difficulties. We believe her heart failed and she passed away at around 7:30am.

We have finalized the details for the funeral. The visitation will be on Wednesday, September 27th from 2-4pm and 7-9pm at the Wall-Custance Funeral Home, 206 Norfolk Street, Guelph, Ontario N1H 4K3. The funeral itself will be held on Thursday, September 28th at 1:30pm at Crestwicke Baptist Church.

My father has asked me to conduct the funeral service - which I consider an honour - but I will need lots of prayer and a kleenex box or two. Brigitte will be playing piano and Kirstyn is going to sing and Jared will be one of the pallbearers. This is especially tough on my dad so please pray for him.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

My Buddy Joe

Here's my buddy Joe Manafo speaking at the Cultivate Learning Party. Cool guy.

This Sunday

Tomorrow at Hills Church we continue to experiment with "hearing from God." Our guests will be Mary and Rob Lee from Acts Fellowhip. They were with us two weeks agao and gave us something to think about. The biggest thing was to recognize that God is talking to us all the time. We don't always have ears to hear nor the propensity to listen. The other thing is that it seems that we expect the voice of God to be booming and sound like he does in that Bill Cosby comedy sketch about Noah. Instead it's usually "a still small voice" that sounds a whole lot like the thoughts that flow through our minds. We are going to try to listen "out loud" with each other.

This can be a bit intimidating for some and I've been doing some emailing to describe what it's like. I quoted a portion below ...

As for "part two", I've had a few conversations with a couple of others about that (listening to God corporately) - some excited and some anxious. The conversations I've had reveal many of our preconceived ideas about hearing from God. I think we have tended to over spiritualize it so that we can't relax and see it as a natural part of our lives. I think God is talking to us all the time - about ourselves, about others around us, about our situations, and has been since we were born. Much greater clarity comes when we get born again because His Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. The difficulty is that we haven't learned to distinguish between our thoughts and His thoughts - because many times at first glance (so to speak) they both sound the same. It's the training of opening our ears and pressing in and listening intently that helps us discern the difference.

We actually do this all the time when we pray in small groups. How do you know what to pray for? People don't usually give really specific prayer requests outlining what to pray for. We actually listen to God as we pray and then pray out what we hear. (Granted we can just go through the motions and mimic other prayers that we have heard but that's not exciting or rewarding.) I've heard you pray and I know (and so does everyone else that hears you) that at certain times as you pray for someone, you have really heard from God. Others have done it too and we all know that the prayer came from God. Those are the powerful prayers. Unfortunately they are too few and far between and the reason is that sometimes we just go through the motions (me included) instead of taking some time and effort to ask God "Father, how do you want us to pray about this?" and then listen for a bit.

This learning to listen to God is actually very much like the "small group prayer" thing, except that we separate out the process to identify what we are actually doing. For example if someone asked for prayer for "a friend" what would I do? I would think about that person, picturing him in my mind and think about what he might be going through. I would focus on God, thinking "spiritual" thoughts maybe asking Him how I should pray. Then I would begin to pray while listening to God for what to pray. I would start with what I know (pray blessing and comfort and guidance) all the while searching in my heart/spirit for that insight that God almost always brings as I pray. Then I get an impression or picture of what to pray. So then I pray in response to the picture. My prayer would be describing the picture and praying God's presence into that situation to bring hope, future, healing, release - whatever. So the picture is God speaking to me and my prayer response is me talking with God.

That's what I think Rob was trying to communicate as he shared the pictures and impressions that he got. But really, they all started with a simple picture or image or impression and then he prayed or spoke into that picture. When we learn how to see and hear, it helps us in our prayer life, it helps in our exhortation of one another. I think it really helps in evangelism if we can discern the stuff God is saying to us as we interact with those who are coming to know God. The timing and method of delivery will require both sensitivity and courage but that can also be learned.

I was hoping that "part two" would be a non-threatening way of practicing how to hear from God. I've done that exercise before and it is easy and enjoyable. It's especially interesting in a group of people you have never met before because some of the stuff is right on. What normally happens is that we start by just sharing one word or one image that comes to our mind about someone else.

Hope that helps a bit and I hope I'm not just rambling and answering questions that you aren't asking.

First Post

I'm starting to blog again. It seems I start and stop. But I did want to begin keeping some records of the journey. We continue to explore what a house church looks like in a culture that seems to value big buildings and large crowds. I really enjoy the interaction and yet feel that more is in store for us.
Last month I was at an one day emerging church gathering called Cultivate and reconnected with some old friends and made some new ones. I was one of the oldest guys there. It seems that there are a lot of excited younger leaders taking some risks and exploring some neat ideas. I reconnected with Joe Manafo who is heading up The Story in Sarnia - a very interesting church plant. He does some neat stuff with video and has lots of energy. I want to continue to touch base with him.

I'm still experimenting with formatting so some of the links may not be appearing as they should.

EDIT I hope I fixed the links.