I’m wondering if it is ever a good thing for a Christian organization to have high visibility or to gain credibility in the eyes of the world - especially just because it is big and powerful? In our post-Christendom, tolerant-of-everything culture, is a good reputation worth anything anymore? I mean what if everybody thought nice thoughts about Christians or mega churches or faith based social work? Would it make any difference at all? I’m wondering if it would have any other impact than just: “Oh, that’s nice!” before they move on to the next thing that happens to capture their attention.
A couple of things got me thinking about this. The first was a brief email newsletter from Fred Peatross (a guy who has made a commitment to hanging out with the people Jesus misses the most – i.e. “unreachable” non-Christians). He suggests that we can become so easily distracted by the world and the stuff it offers that we lose sight of the simplicity of faith. He says it this way:
"In many ways the evolution of the church is mirrored in the evolution of the waltz which made its way into the ballrooms in the late 1700s where it became a respectable business. Professional dance troupes replaced the peasants. Simple rural clothes gave way to flowing gowns and tailored suits. Beer and bratwurst gave way to champagne and caviar. And open meadows gave way to polished ballroom floors.
In a simple way, the church evolved from a simple folk dance into a staged performance where professionals took the stage. Formality replaced spontaneity, precision replaced passion. Relegated to the audience, the peasant sat and watched. And the more they watched the more they expected the professional to entertain them.
The second nudge was from a blog post by David Fitch. Although he questions that mega churches are the best thing Christianity has produced, he suggests that nobody denies good things are happening in mega-churches - but with two caveats.
First, although some good things are happening in a few lives, are they happening in the other thousands that attend that church?
Second, are the good things just getting more press in a big churches that have the resources to tell the story well (e.g. highlight videos)? And he actually adds a third by saying that if the thousands of Christians of a mega church would meet together in smaller missional groups would there not be many more stories and conversions and much more impact on their community? Would it also have been done with much fewer resources and long term investment in buildings and staff? Statistics say yes.
Upon reading Fitch’s blog, one commenter said: “What is Biblically wrong or anti-Kingdom about some forms of decadence (large buildings that cost too much and/or expensive programs) for the influence that the Kingdom can have as a result. Is it wrong to obtain influence for the Kingdom. A large amount of influence allows for an organization to gain credibility, especially on a global scale that gives some the ability to be and do that which most of us will never have access to.”
I think he answers his own question but in case he didn’t get it Zechariah gives him an answer. “So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.” (Zech 4:6)
I don’t think the goal of a Christian organization is to gain influence “on a global scale.” That smacks of control. To me it sounds like what Constantine tried to do in 313 in the Edict of Milan – influence and control those who were non-Christians by making Christianity a state religion. Christianity works because the Holy Spirit is at work. Christianity spreads when individuals gain influence in their neighbours and coworkers lives. People respond to Jesus when they are loved not when they discover what a great or powerful or influential organization the church has become.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
I’m wondering if it is ever a good thing for a Christian organization to have high visibility or to gain credibility in the eyes of the world - especially just because it is big and powerful? In our post-Christendom, tolerant-of-everything culture, is a good reputation worth anything anymore? I mean what if everybody thought nice thoughts about Christians or mega churches or faith based social work? Would it make any difference at all? I’m wondering if it would have any other impact than just: “Oh, that’s nice!” before they move on to the next thing that happens to capture their attention.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
God calls us to move into His destiny/calling for our lives. That means growth or movement. In our growth as Christians we are constantly growing – either larger or smaller; forward or backwards. In order to become who God calls us to be we need to move forward into the new place of growth, a new place of understanding, a new place of spiritual maturity. This may be painfully obvious, but in order to get where we’re going we need to leave where we are. We need to leave the current situation, our current comfort zone to face the new challenges of growth. We often want a change in destiny without personal change. We sometimes want a change in our circumstances but are not willing to pay the price of change.
What is the price? First of all, it requires a change of heart. We need to be people who feel dissatisfaction – or to put it more positively, we need to be people who express desire. We need to want to change. It actually starts with the promise of God. God’s promises are a response to our dissatisfaction. Promises are meaningless if they do not paint a future different from the reality we are currently experiencing. So a promise assumes dissatisfaction or at least a state of longing or desire. I believe desire is one of the most powerful forces for change. We need to identify the desires we have and if we don’t have any we need to actively cultivate desire.
Second, paying the price requires a change of habit. We need to change our behaviour. I think it was Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same things while expecting a different result. If we want a change in our world we need to change what we do. This requires discipline. In the world of personal change it may require adopting spiritual disciplines. It will certainly require the discipline of self-awareness and self-evaluation.
Third, paying the price means that we will need to change our habitat. By this I mean the place where we dwell emotionally and mentally. What is our comfort zone? To move from A to B we will definitely need to leave our place of comfortable emotional habitation. It means we will have to take risks, try something new, take a chance. In the Gospel of Mark, a woman who has suffered for twelve years with an issue of blood, tried something different, something that had no precedent, something socially and religiously unacceptable. She went out in public and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment – risking making him unclean – in order to see a change in her circumstances. She took a risk and saw a change. She stepped out of her comfort zone and saw a miracle. She was willing to pay the price.
This woman presents an effective example of moving from point A to point B and we would do well to follow the example.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I’ve been thinking about the concept of Ethics and Authenticity. Too often, in our Christian life we've been taught to live out our lives through ethics – “In this situation do that.” We have learned to study principles in the Bible and systematically apply them to various situations in our lives. If this situation comes up, look to this Scripture to find this principle and apply it to your life. Much of our preaching and teaching has followed that pattern. So our preaching becomes “how-to” sermons or lessons in application and we read less and less of actual Scripture in our gatherings.
The danger of this type of living is that you don’t actually have to be a Christian to live ethically. Often many non-Christians live more ethically than many in the church. To live ethically one need only to study the Bible and learn it’s key principles and begin to create a behavioural system out of it. This is what is happening in most of our workplaces – both Christian organizations and secular businesses (I will not go on a tangent about how we split the sacred and secular here). We are establishing mission statements, vision and values documents and codes of conduct. These are our ways of directing and controlling people.
The problem is that we get to know the Bible and its principles but not the One who gave it to us. We know the words but not the Word. Authenticity is about being the same on the outside as you are on the inside. That doesn’t mean that every thought and feeling and desire is expressed to the world but that the things that are being lived out in your life are the things going on in your heart. It doesn’t mean we stop doing something bad because others are watching us. Rather our desires begin to be transformed along the lines of Jesus’ character. It means living without a mask. As Christians it means actually knowing Jesus and his voice and living out our relationship with the Father through Jesus. The difficulty with this way of life is that it is sometimes messy, complicated and not easily controllable by an external authority.
Jesus said in John 5: 19Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
He said this in response to those who accused him of breaking the Sabbath and blaspheming. This was Jesus’ ethic – do what he sees the Father doing. This is dangerous and can get you in trouble – or even killed.
I think ethics are good for many things. It helps people act better. But as Christians I think living our lives according to ethics only leads us to be “nice.” Living our lives by listening to what the Father is saying and doing only what you see the Father doing will cause us to lead dangerous lives. It is messy and complicated. Sometimes there will be those who justify their silly or sinful actions by saying “God told me to do it!” That is where Scripture and the Law come in – they reveal sin and give us a foundation upon which to build and measure and judge. But if we live our entire lives by only living by ethics we are destined to live as nice bland citizens. However if we continue to learn how to live authentically, with eyes to see what the Father is doing and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church, we will see more Martin Luthers and Martin Luther Kings; George Muellers and George Whitefields; Madame Guyons and Mother Theresas; men and women who listen and obey.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Hillschurch Blog turns one today.
A year ago I started this blog.
It's a challenge to blog regularly and also to be honest about the things I am going through. It is much easier to just find things that are interesting and report on them and link to them. Actually interacting with the world and allowing it to affect me and then report on that impact is much more difficult.
I remember the experience of first going to work with street youth at Church on the Street and Yonge Street Mission's Evergreen. I remember preaching "from a distance." What I mean by that is that it was easy to find scriptural truths and present them during sermons. It was much harder to find ways that that scripture had made a personal impact on my life and to show how I was currently living it out. The failures had as much (if not more) impact than the successes. I learned that I needed to let the scriptures live and speak through me. That means that before they came out of my mouth they needed to travel through my heart.
The same is true of blogging. It is much easier to report little nuggets of truth or interest or even of aggravation than it is to let that information pass through my heart and mind and conscience first and then reveal how it affected me. I made a commitment back then not to preach without living (or trying to live) what I was speaking. I realize that that commitment needs to extend to all of life. Don't say stuff you don't mean. Don't teach what you're not living. Don't distance yourself from life. Engage all of life - the pain as well as the joy. Don't play it so safe. Carpe Diem! (Seize the day!)
It's your birthday - live a little!
As my Jewish neighbours are breaking their fast as Yom Kippur ends I am thinking about another Jewish High Holy Day - Passover. Someone asked me a question about the High (or special) Sabbath mentioned in John 19:31. The subtext is a question about the resurrection of Jesus and the apparent inconsistencies of only two nights in the grave (if there was a Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection) if Jesus said he would be in the earth for three days and three nights. I thought the answer was worthy of a post.
The question: "During the week of Christ's crucifixion there was a 'High Sabbath' mentioned in John. That basically this high Sabbath occurred earlier in the week. (A Wednesday?) And that is when Christ was actually crucified. That Jesus actually was in the tomb for a 'full' three days and rose on the Saturday Sabbath.
Could you explain the 'High Sabbath' and if it is possible to find out if the Jewish community would have 'two Sabbaths' in one week or simply would celebrate 'both' Sabbaths on Saturday?"
As for the High Sabbath, John 19:31 says
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.
It also says in Mark 15 that Jesus died on the Preparation Day.
42It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. 44Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead.
and in 16:1
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.
and Matthew 28:1
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
So the information that we have is that Jesus died on the Preparation day and rose again after the Sabbath on the first day of the week (Sunday). It also talks about being raised on the third day like in Luke 24
6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' "
This is not really a problem because Sunday is the third day after Friday (including Friday and Sunday). However the problem comes with passages like Matthew 12:40
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
This is where this concept of the double Sabbath comes in. Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples on the night before Passover. However it is more likely that he ate it with them two nights before Passover because the trial never would have happened on a Sabbath and it says he died on the "Preparation Day." Not every Sabbath has a preparation day - only the feast Sabbath days. So Jesus had supper with his disciples on the eve (which was Wednesday evening - keep reading) of the Preparation Day before Passover. That evening he was arrested, tried and the next morning brought before Pilate, beaten, crucified. He was placed in the tomb on that evening before Passover (before Thursday sundown - the start of the special Sabbath) and then was in the the tomb Passover (a High Sabbath - Friday) then also on the Saturday Sabbath and then on the third day (Sunday) he rose from the dead. That gives you three days and three nights. Although Scripture does not specifically mention two Sabbaths in that week, I know of no Scriptures that specifically would eliminate that possibility.
The Jewish community would never move the celebration of Passover to the Saturday so as to only have one Sabbath. Also the women would not have come with the spices on a Sabbath (ie they would not have been allowed to do the work of carrying them and preparing the body - also touching a body and defiling themselves on a Sabbath). So Jesus must have risen on the Sunday - and the Scriptures also say it was the first day of the week (the Sabbath is the seventh - the day God rested) that he rose.
Elinor McNutt passed away Thursday (September 20th, 2007). Elinor is the wife of Earl McNutt, my former pastor at Stone Church. and ongoing mentor. Brigitte and I were on staff with them in the mid-eighties and early nineties. Those were definitely good days.
Although Elinor had been ill, the seriousness and aggressiveness of this last bout of sickness surprised me. A couple of years ago she had had an operation to remove cancerous tissue from her bowel. That operation was quite successful. I saw her in apparent good health only a couple of months ago. But recently she had been suffering some relapse. She had been in Markham/Stouffville hospital for the past few weeks in significant pain not only from the cancer but also from a blood clot in her leg. Pastor Earl is feeling the loss deeply. Please pray for him during these tough days.
Brigitte and I had the chance to see her last week and thought she was doing well even though she was in obvious pain. We were surprised that she had passed on so quickly.
This does bring up a few issues for me. Earl and Elinor were probably my "ministry parents" - the ones who helped me make it through those first awkward years of pastoring. Earl is the same age as my father. Elinor's funeral is on the anniversary of my mother's death. They attended my mother's funeral in Guelph. This time is stirring up a number of memories for me. It is a nostalgic bittersweet time for me and as a result i don't think I am always fully engaging emotionally in all the events that are happening around me.
It is strange how seemingly unrelated events trigger memories.
Friday, September 21, 2007
There are lots of little add-ons you can put on your blog. There are links to sites and counters and advertisements. I only have a couple of things (aside from links to other sites). You can see the Clustermaps map on the left side. That tells you in what parts of the world your blog readers live and how many have visited the previous day (yesterday I had 3 visitors). Just below it you can see how many people are online at any one time while you are reading a particular blog (in this case mine). Most times when I check the blog there are no other users online (I don't think that I actually count as one of those people who are online). Occasionally there is someone online and I check to see where they are. Most are from Toronto and some I know are friends.
Well it seems that one signal is coming from the middle of the Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto. I'm not sure that I would be checking out even my blog from the golf course. However, there are a couple of (a few?) explanations.
1. the map is not very specific and is only designed to give the general area that the signal is coming from (ie from Toronto somewhere - the Don Valley Golf Course is roughly in the geographic centre of Toronto).
2. the map is wrong - the person lives near the golf course and the map placement is off by some metres or kilometres.
3. The map is right but it is picking up the signal from a transmission tower or some switching station that is located is some out of bounds area behind the 3rd green - which means that the person could live anywhere in the general north central Toronto area.
4. Someone really is on the golf course with a laptop checking out the internet.
Whoever you are thanks for checking out the blog and the ramblings of a housechurch pastor.
Posted by hillschurch at 2:34 PM
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I’ve been wandering again. Just to let you know, none of this stuff is found by actually looking for it – usually someone sends me something or I come across it looking for something else.
1. My son sent me this first item. With both of us being Mac users (the system that doesn’t crash or give you these big embarrassing error messages) we thought it was quite funny that Coke would be foiled by a Windoze error. This picture was taken in Piccadilly Circus in London, England. For those of you unfamiliar with Windows error messages (i.e. Mac and Unix users) the caption reads “Coca Cola Media Player has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” I hope Coke doesn’t use a Windows machine to control the mixture of their soft drink ingredients.
2. A lot of filming for movies happens in Toronto. It’s actually fun catching glimpses of the Toronto skyline or well-known landmarks (well-known to Torontonians) in various movies. They are filming the second Incredible Hulk movie in Toronto and one of the super special effects scenes was filmed on Yonge Street right outside of Evergreen where I used to work. They are trying to transform the building into a mission in Harlem (New York City) instead of a mission in Toronto. Both of these photos do capture a bit of the New York feel but I admit it is more effective at night. You’ll also notice in some of the other pictures on the linked site that they did quite a bit of work in trying to recreate the Apollo Theatre. There are a number of shots of the “carnage” wreaked by the Hulk here and here and here. I found these because my son happened to be walking by there on Sunday evening and caught some of the action.
3.Maybe it’s just me, but is anyone else out there as completely baffled as I am by the idol worship of film stars? We just went through a couple of weeks of the Toronto Film Festival and people were lining up for hours or pressing their noses against the glass of local restaurants just to catch a glimpse of someone they might have seen in a movie somewhere. Does this make any sense to you? A few more images here.
4. I was looking for the source of the quote “90% of life is just showing up” and I found a couple of sites that help you out if you need to figure out who first said that quotable quote. This page gives you links to a whole bunch of quote sites. This one lets you ask others on an online forum where that quote came from. They seem to know their stuff. That quote above? Aparently it came from Woody Allen who actually said “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
5. Finally, this was one of those web ads that shows up at the side of the Clustermaps site that you can click on at the left side of my blog. It just seemed too interesting not to click. Someone is building the world’s largest cross in Nazareth, Palestine.
"The Nazareth Cross Project aims to build the world’s largest and most impressive cross, standing at 60 meters tall, housing a magnificent church in its center. The cross will be decorated by some 7.2 million brilliant mosaic tiles of varying sizes, each one with a personal engraving. These tiles will be made of stone from Nazareth, or platinum, silver or gold. The breathtaking Church with its panoramic view will be located at the intersection of the arms of the cross, 15 stories high, and will contain over 400 m2 of floor space. In the 8000 m2 surrounding this monumental cross, a visitor center will be built to offer a unique inspirational experience as well as a world-class educational and leisure center. The central location of the church together with a circular monorail transportation system will provide pilgrims easy access to and from the historic Christian churches, the Fountain of Mary and the city’s central bazaars."
As a house church guy, this just seems silly – but maybe I’m just biased.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Yesterday I was reading some blog some where and I came across the term for the smallest measure of time known to science. It's called the "Honkosecond" and it is defined as: The time between when the traffic light changes and the person behind you honks his horn. This made me think of other wacky definitions and that the Washington Post has sponsored an annual Neologism contest. The current contest is here.
Someone once sent me a summary of contest winners and they are hilarious and worthy of posting.
Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. The winning definitions are:
1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained
3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach .
4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation whilst drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question in an exam.
12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), the belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
Or you might like ...
DEFINITIONS FOR THE MEDICALLY-CHALLENGED
Artery: The study of paintings
Barium: What Doctors do when patients die
Caesarian Section: A neighbourhood in Rome
Cauterize: Made eye contact with her
Colic: A sick sheep dog
D & C: Where Washington is located
Dilate: To live long
Enema: Not a friend
Fibula: A small lie
G.I. Series: Military baseball game playoffs
Impotent: Distinguished, well known
Labour Pain: Getting hurt at work
Morbid: A higher offer
Nitrates: Cheaper than day rates
Node: Was aware of
Outpatient: A person who has fainted
Pap Smear: Fatherhood test
Post-operative: Letter carrier
Recovery Room: Place to do upholstery
Seizure: Roman Emperor
Tablet: Small Table
Terminal Illness: Getting sick at the airport
Urine: Opposite of "you're out"
I had three funerals this week – all unique in some way. One was for a 37 year old who died of a heart attack that may have been induced by illicit drug use. Second was for a baby born prematurely at 25 weeks and lived for only 2 more. This one was tough (open casket!). The third was for a 76 year old man who died without family, – the building superintendent was his executor, his neighbours gave the eulogy – and only eight people showed up for the funeral plus me and a couple of funeral directors.
I also went to the hospital to visit the wife of one of my mentors – she has had a relapse of cancer and is not doing well. My neighbour came over on the weekend to talk because his mother is also sick with cancer and fading fast. Then we heard at church on Sunday another neighbour of someone else in our congregation who has been diagnosed with stage three (of three) of an aggressive type of cancer. And coming up this weekend is the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say to people to encourage them or to give words of comfort. But often it’s more important to just show up, to be there to be present with heart and soul. If we have a theology of the immanence of God and the fact of the incarnation where He became Emmanuel – God with us, and if we understand the Scripture that says “greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world,” then we know that when we show up, God shows up. Actually God is already there and we join Him in His work. Maybe that’s one of the most important things that we can say to people – God is the God who is already there. I think it was Woody Allen who quipped “Ninety percent of success is just showing up.”
This is not just true of helping people in times of difficulty but in all of our life’s mission. Alex Dyer said it this way:
“One important lesson I continue to learn in mission is that I am not in charge. It is God who extends the invitation and God who is in charge of the mission. Being open to God's mission means discerning where God is leading us, without our own expectations getting in the way. With this re-orientation, our mission is not a to-do list to remedy all the world's problems but rather begins with discernment on what God is calling us to do. We realize we are part of something beyond ourselves and we leave behind the delusion that this is dependent upon our performance. Our call to mission does not come from a sense of duty, rather from a sense of wondrous anticipation about what God has in store for us.
"We realize we are NOT called to solve all the world's problems. We are called to participate in God's mission. DAILY! After a few months in Cairo, I told my supervisor that I did not feel much like a missionary. I spent a lot of time talking to Sudanese refugees and drinking tea with them. My supervisor told me that is where mission work happens. It is the engaging with one another, in being present and sharing each other's stories. A large part of mission work is having tea.”
Friday, September 14, 2007
I found two sources saying the same thing today. The first one is John Ortberg in the previous post saying "ruthlessly eliminate hurry." The second is Scot McNight at Jesus Creed where he speak about slowing down as learning how to breathe - to live life in regular daily doses, finding moments to breathe - to contemplate, pray, relax, play - instead of trying to cram it in. Here is a quote from his post"
By Scot McKnight
Some people “breathe” or relax or refresh themselves the way many college students cram – instead of breathing on a routine basis, they hold their collective breath as they fill their schedule with meetings and phone calls to make and events to attend and places to go and e-mails to write and checkbooks to balance and movies to watch and games to play and services to attend and Bible passages to read … I could go on. Discovering that their pace is so breakneck, these same busy folk schedule a weekend off – but to pull it off, they must go out of town or take a whole week off. In other words, they “cram” into their busy schedule some relaxation but have to get out of the house to breathe.
The rest of the article/post can be found here.
Two sources but the same message - slow down.
The second source is in the next post.
The first one I read a couple of years ago and the phrase continues to ring in my head: "ruthlessly eliminate hurry." It comes from an article by John Ortberg in Leadership Magazine and you can find it here. I've quoted a section for you:
Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry
by John Ortberg, guest columnist
July 4, 2002
Not long after moving to Chicago, I called a wise friend to ask for some spiritual direction. I described the pace of life in my current ministry. The church where I serve tends to move at a fast clip. I also told him about our rhythms of family life: we are in the van-driving, soccer-league, piano-lesson, school-orientation-night years. I told him about the present condition of my heart, as best I could discern it. What did I need to do, I asked him, to be spiritually healthy?
"You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life," he said at last.
Another long pause.
"Okay, I've written that one down," I told him, a little impatiently. "That's a good one. Now what else is there?" I had many things to do, and this was a long-distance call, so I was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible.
Another long pause.
"There is nothing else," he said. "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."
I've concluded that my life and the well-being of the people I serve depends on following his prescription, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry destroys souls. As Carl Jung wrote, "Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil."
For most of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
A number of years ago (1995) Sally Morgenthaler wrote a pivotable book called Worship Evangelism. The premise is that true Christian worship is a powerful tool of evangelism, contrary to the common perception that seekers services are the only way to mass-evangelize in the 21st century. I read it eagerly when it came out in the Nineties.
However she has written an article where she has done some backtracking because the result of the book has been that people have not done the harder work of evangelism (of being involved in the community, of sharing faith, of serving others) and have instead opted for the easier work of getting lost in the worship service. She says it this way: "When I wrote Worship Evangelism, I’d had no intention of distracting people from the world outside. I only wanted to give them another way of connecting to it. I certainly had never meant to make worship some slick formula for outreach, let alone the one formula. I’d only wanted to affirm that corporate worship has the capability to witness to the unchurched if we make it accessible and if we don’t gut it of its spiritual content on the way to making it culturally relevant."
At the end of this very good article she provides a list of KEY PARADIGM SHIFTS in the current church world that will help understand the context of what church looks like in our culture.
Church as a place you go, a destination point
Church as body of Christ released into the waiting world
Church produces programs for people to consume
People of God live out the gospel for people to see and experience
Worship as event: It all happens inside
Worship as whole life: Romans 12:1,2
Corporate worship as image management (Public worship becomes a carefully presented persona)
Corporate worship as reflection of reality (Public worship is an overflow of who we are the rest of the week)
Received spirituality: We believe because we were raised in a certain faith
Reflexive spirituality: We believe because we have encountered, wrestled with, and tested revealed truth
Organization as a machine with interchangeable, disposable parts
Organization as an organism: a living system where every member is vital. There is no superfluous membership.
Top-down structure; vision by edict
Flattened structure; leadership as influence, not power and authority
Closed Source—vision, ideas, resources, strategy come from CEO, leader, and staff
Open Source—the priesthood of all believers in action: vision collaboratively owned; grassroots innovation the norm
Excellence = quality of performance
Excellence = level of engagement and transformation
© 2006 Sally Morgenthaler
I came across Christianity Today’s subsidiary website “Books and Culture: a Christian Review” – a great (I mean really superb) collection of book reviews and articles about Christian books, articles and authors. John G. Stackhouse, Jr., is a fairly well known Canadian theologian, author and Christian apologist. He is Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. In a review of Ron Sider’s Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, he gives a helpful (although lengthy) description/definition of an Evangelical. He goes on to describe in the rest of the review that we (along with Ron Sider) are often scandalously fuzzy about what an Evangelical really is and what a Christian really is. This little description should help – well at least a little.
Evangelicals maintain Protestant orthodoxy: they believe what their various denominations have historically taught about Christian doctrine, with special emphasis on Christology and soteriology;
Evangelicals experience conversion: they might enjoy a particular dramatic moment, or they might undergo a long process punctuated by one or more crises, but they all personally commit themselves to Christ and then seek to be fully converted in the process of sanctification;
Evangelicals believe the Bible: they not only maintain classic Christian beliefs about it, but their piety is structured around it: in individual, family, group, and congregation study, in the centrality of preaching in public worship, and in the Bible's epistemological supremacy in all areas of life;
Evangelicals engage in mission: they view themselves as called by God to perform his will in every activity of life, and particularly in sharing the message of salvation with others and caring for their needs; and
Evangelicals recognize each other across denominational lines as kin: thus evangelicals cooperate in a wide range of organizations and activities to further the work of God beyond the reach of their respective congregation and denomination.
Monday, September 10, 2007
OK. Here's some news from the weird side. First of all there is this fairly new virtual world called Second Life where you create a virtual life for yourself online in a "parallel universe." The problem is that it sounds worse than this one. Yes there are some benefits. You can fly. You can't feel pain and you can turn it off if you want too. But it seems very much like our world with all the problems magnified. A few quotes:
Second Life, a three-dimensional world built by hundreds of thousands of users over the Internet, is also being used for education, meetings, marketing and more obvious game playing. It’s a wide world with a lot going on, in multiple languages, and it can be real-life enhancing for populations who are isolated for physical, mental, or geographic reasons. But as a petri dish for examining what makes many of us tick, Second Life reveals just how deep-seated the drive is to fit in, look good and get ahead in a material world.
“Why can’t we break away from a consumerist, appearance-oriented culture?” said Nick Yee, who has studied the sociology of virtual worlds and recently received a doctorate in communication from Stanford. “What does Second Life say about us, that we trade our consumerist-oriented culture for one that’s even worse?” The rest of the story is in the New York Times business section.
The second story is about street kids with a twist. A weird cult of the Mormon Church has been excommunicating teenaged boys because of their, well ... teenaged boy behaviour - like watching movies and looking at girls. However the real reason is that there are too many men in a community that averages 3 or 4 wives per man. They have started a ministry to these street kids of a different stripe because the number is running into the hundreds. The New York Times again gives the the rest of the story.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
A couple of significant people within the Christian community passed away this week.
The first is Dr. James Kennedy, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. You may know him better as the founder of Evangelism Explosion or from his radio ministry Truths that Transform, or the author of a number of books like What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?. I had attended his church a number of times during vacations in Florida and was actually in Florida when we heard of his heart attack last December. We can see the steeple of the church from the balcony of the condo at which we were staying. A couple of the comments from the Sun-Suntinal article:
"The 76-year-old pastor died "peacefully in his sleep" in his Fort Lauderdale home around 2:15 a.m. Wednesday, September 5th, according to publicists for the 10,000-member church. By his side were Jennifer, his daughter, and Anne, his wife of five decades. The Rev. Kennedy had suffered from several ailments since a cardiac arrest on Dec. 28. He underwent treatment at Holy Cross Hospital, then rehabilitation in Michigan, but never returned to the pulpit. His last sermon was on Christmas Eve.
In contrast to the folksy, Southern style of many televangelists — a term he disliked — the Rev. Kennedy crafted an urbane, intellectual approach, blending history, logic, rhetoric and Bible interpretation. He sought to reach not only ordinary people but government, cultural and academic leaders — "influencing the influential," he called it." There is also a nice tribute on the Evangelism Explosion page.
EDIT: Christianity Today put a list of reports and tributes together at their site.
The other person was Madeline L'Engle, a Christian author whose childhood fables, religious meditations and fanciful science fiction transcended both genre and generation, most memorably in her children’s classic “A Wrinkle in Time.” She died on Thursday, September 6th in Litchfield, Conn. She was 88. She earned a write-up in the New York Times.
Friday, September 07, 2007
o.k., OK, OKAY!
And I thought my list of link and blogs and websites was getting long. How wrong could I be?
Now if you REALLY want to find a Christian site, or articles about an author, or reviews or something on Church History, or the prophetic or literally whatever, you need to go check out "Sites Unseen" or better known as Zoecarnate. This site needs to be bookmarked.
They bill themselves as "Earth's Mightiest Alternative Christian Link Portal" and "The best Jesus-infused sites you never knew about." The Dallas Morning News did a write up on them saying: "Here is an exhaustive roundup of Christian sites...The emphasis is on "alternative" Christian resources. There are enough surprises to draw you in and keep you engaged for hours." Hours? How about years!
In the article in the Christian Century I referred to in the last post, Samuel Wells has a nice turn of phrase in his review of N.T. Wright's Evil and the Justice of God. There is a sentence in the intro paragraph that speaks volumes about our consuming passion with ourselves: "The philosophical tendency for at least the past three centuries has been to assume that the human estimation of God is more significant than the divine estimation of humanity."
The Bono version of this line is: "I love it when people on bar stools rub their chins and say 'do you believe in God?' That’s so presumptuous. A much more important question is 'does God believe in us?'" (I found this over on “Beth’s” blog (she doesn’t give her last name) Until Translucent.
It really does show the anthropomorphism [the human self-centeredness] of all our questions about God. As if our questioning the existence of God actually determines anything in the heavenlies. When we begin focusing on ourselves in introspection and self-analysis it can become pride and pride comes before a fall.
Brennan Manning says it this way:
“The humble heart wastes little time in introspection, navel gazing, looking in the mirror and being anxious about their spiritual growth. Their self-acceptance without self-concern is anchored in the acceptance of Jesus in their struggle to be faithful. They fasten their attention on God.” Ruthless Trust, pp125-6
I actually did a little chart on humility versus pride that I used in a sermon in August. [The numbers line up with each other as point and counterpoint.]
Signs of pride
1. thinking about self – focused on self – introspection, being anxious
3. comparing yourself to others
4. self abasement (trying to get low, feel bad about self)
5. fear – what if I don’t measure up, not good enough – resulting in inaction, paralyzed by fear or fear of failure
6. unforgiveness/bitterness – not being able to let it go
7. legalism, moralism, ethics
8. man-pleaser – trying to find your identity in what others think of you – you wear a mask hiding behind your false self
Signs of humility
1. thinking about God – focused on God – accepted by God and anxious for nothing
2. crucified self – it’s no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me
3. serving others
4. courage/abandoned to do God’s will
5. obedience – actively living out what God has given you to do knowing that He has already paid for your failure
6. forgiveness – release it into the hands of God
7. listening to God
8. pleasing God – finding your identity in Him free to be who He made you to be
Neil Anderson's definition of pride is "confidence rightly placed." The goal of humility is not to feel bad about yourself – that is merely another indicator of pride. But we need to see ourselves with the eyes of God. Our identity is in Him. My identity is imputed to me by God and God alone. So He sees me as His child, in relationship with Him.
con·flu·ence n.1. a flowing together of two or more streams, a point at which streams combine, or a stream formed by their combining. Also called conflux.
An interesting confluence happened in the past couple of days. I meet with a number of groups to pray for the city of Toronto and the GTA region. We have been wondering and praying about how to overcome some of the evil influences in our city with the rise of crime and violence and traffic accidents and spiritual apathy. In our prayer and discussions one of the chief things that came out was that when we focus on evil we actually accentuate or even glorify that evil and miss what God is trying to do and say.
Then I got an email from someone who spoke about the same thing in the context of a Christian response to the Halloween season. "Interestingly, I was listening to a teaching on the way home - he was talking about redeeming time, and specifically focused on Halloween as a specific time where through the ages there has been much demonic defilement, reinforced again and again over the years, that the actual time seems defiled. His strategy? Worship gatherings. To redeem the time (the date on the calendar) by filling the air with worship of the One True God to displace all the demonic worship. Here's my thinking. I think if we gather [a prayer team to confront evil activity or teaching], it would "give it place." However, what if we were to just have a worship gathering - or several worship gatherings that night, as others have suggested? We don't have to focus on or even mention anything about evil at all - Halloween is enough of a reason to implement the strategy of "displacement".
I also just read a review of N.T.Wright's book "Evil and the Justice of God" and the reviewer (Samuel Wells in Christian Century) says:
"In a lucid treatment of this perennial conundrum, N. T. Wright argues that pondering the "problem of evil" is an activity that displaces us from the business of implementing the healing, restorative justice of God. The problem of evil is philosophically located in theoretical analysis of an inherently distant God-that is, the deist God of the Enlightenment. By contrast, Wright engages with the scriptural God, revealed through narrative rather than theory and addressed through lament, obedience, discipleship and faith rather than through dispassionate analysis-in short, the God of Jesus Christ. Christ's death and resurrection, the promise and embodiment of forgiveness, and the hope of God's final victory make the people of God a people who bring into the present a reconciliation that is assured in the future."
That's a long way of saying that focusing so much on evil means we have a deficient view of God. Focusing on evil displaces us from our position as worshippers of God, as seeing Him in His incarnation, and often blinds us from seeing Him at work in the world.
So our response to evil - implement the healing, restorative justice of God through worship, prayer and action.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
I found this great site for evangelism articles. The site is from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan (New York CIty. It's called The Movement: Global City Church Planting. I love the title and the pastor there (Tim Keller) has written some great articles.
The best one so far is called DECONSTRUCTING DEFEATER BELIEFS: Leading the Secular to Christ from October 2004. The premise of the article is that our culture has adopted culturally informed anti-Christian beliefs which makes Christianity less believable. He calls these "defeater beliefs." Let me quote a bit from this article.
1. Defeater beliefs
Every culture hostile to Christianity holds to a set of 'common-sense' consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people. These are what philosophers call "defeater beliefs". A defeater belief is Belief-A that, if true, means Belief-B can't be true.
Christianity is disbelieved in one culture for totally opposite reasons it is disbelieved in another. So for example, in the West (as we will explore below) it is widely assumed that Christianity can't be true because of the cultural belief there can't be just one "true" religion. But in the Middle East, people have absolutely no problem with the idea that there is just one true religion. That doesn't seem implausible at all. Rather there it is widely assumed that Christianity can't be true because of the cultural belief that American culture, based on Christianity, is unjust and corrupt. (Skeptics ought to realize, then, that the objections they have to the Christian faith are culturally relative!) So each culture has its own set of culturally-based doubt-generators which people call 'objections' or 'problems' with Christianity.
When a culture develops a combination of many, widely held defeater beliefs it becomes a cultural 'implausibility-structure.' In these societies, most people don't feel they have to give Christianity a good hearing – they don't feel that kind of energy is warranted. They know it just can't be true. That is what makes evangelism in hostile cultures so much more difficult and complex than it was under 'Christendom.' In our Western culture (and in places like Japan, India, and Muslim countries) the reigning implausibility-structure against Christianity is very strong. Christianity simply looks ludicrous. In places like Africa, Latin America, and China, however, the implausibility structures are eroding fast. The widely held assumptions in the culture make Christianity look credible there.
So sharing the Gospel looks like this:
Two parts to sharing the gospel
What this means now is that there are two parts to sharing the gospel in a particular culture – a more 'negative' and a more positive aspect.
a) The more negative aspect has to do with 'apologetics' – it consists in deconstructing the culture's implausibility structure. In short, this means you have to show on the culture's own terms (that is, by its own definitions of justice, rationality, meaning) that its objections to Christianity don't hold up.
b) The more positive aspect of sharing the gospel is to connect the story of Jesus to the base-line cultural narratives. In short, you have to show in line with the culture's own (best) aspirations, hopes, and convictions that its own cultural story won't be resolved or have 'a happy ending' outside of Christ.
L'Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year) & Chag Sameach (Literally, joyous festival.)
Well technically the first phrase is L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem (May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year). If you want to impress your Jewish neighbour say the whole phrase - and know what it means (some less observant Jews may not know).
As the Jewish High Holy Days approach (Rosh Hashanah begins on the evening of September 12th and Yom Kippur is sunset September 21, 2007 - nightfall September 22, 2007) my neighbourhood is abuzz with preparations. There is significance for us who profess that Moshiach has come in Jeshua as well because the Jewish feasts reflect Biblical events and concepts and point toward the coming of the Messiah.
Each one of God’s Feasts contains basic elementary truths, which are foundational in revealing His Holy character, man’s nature and our faith in Him. As we become aware of the fundamental essentials of each Feast, we gain a deeper understanding of God’s Person and His personal love for humanity. Each one of God’s Appointed Times (feasts) contain the following basic elements (there are more):
The Commemoration of a monumental event. Each Feast Day recounts something fantastic God has accomplished mainly for, but at times in conjunction with, His covenant people.
The Unveiling of Components of His redemptive plan for humanity. God discloses His plan to bring about redemption through the subject matter of the individual Feasts and as God’s Feasts are celebrated, an amazing redemptive portrait reveals itself through the unique practices of the Feast and through the types of sacrifices and the ceremonial protocol outlined for the Tribe of Levi.
The Revelation of His Character through types and shadows. The Person of Messiah is made known through a variety of spiritual and physical appearances, and through miraculous components imbedded within the original historic event.
The High Holy Days are no exception, as a matter of fact, it is in these last three Feasts on the Jewish calendar where the Personhood of Yeshua’s Messiahship and His Crowning as King over all becomes clearly evident. Through these monumental Festival events God’s redemptive plan for Israel is revealed through types and shadows. So, for believers the Feasts of Rosh Hashanah (Trumpets), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (2nd Harvest & God Among us) reveal Messiah as Redeemer, Conqueror and King.
Rosh Hashanah in the Bible
“Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “In the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD.’” Leviticus 23:23-25 NASB
Rosh Hashanah Facts
• Rosh Hashanah literally means “Head of theYear” and this is why it is commonly referred to as the Jewish New Year.
• In the Bible, Rosh Hashanah is calledYom HaTeruah or “Day of the Shofar”.
• The command from God concerning the shofar blasts, or the “blast of horns” can be found in Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1.
• The Bible also calls this dayYom Ha-Zikkaron or “The Day of Remembrance”. Rabbinic Judaism interprets this to mean that the creation of the world by God’sWord was actually on the day of Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, it is “the commemoration of the creation of the world” and Jews are reminded of their responsibilities as God’s chosen people.
• Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the “Days of Awe” or the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
• Rosh Hashanah is known by the rabbis as the “Day of Judgment” and it is believed that God judges all of His people on this day and decides on their fate for the next year.
• Maimonides regarded the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah as an allusion to Isaiah’s proclamation, “Awake, O you sleepers, awake from your sleep! O you slumberous, awake from your slumber! Search your deeds and turn in repentance!”
• Another long-standing rabbinic tradition is called Tashlikh, or the “Casting off of Sin”. On Rosh Hashanah, many Jews walk to a creek or a river and cast bread crumbs into it, symbolizing the casting off of their sins of the previous year. This is done on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah.
Yom Kippur in the Bible
“And He,YHVH spoke to Moses, saying: ‘On the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto YHVH. And ye shall do no manner of work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before YHVH your God.’” Leviticus 23:26-32
Yom Kippur In The Synagogue
• The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the “Days of Awe.” During this period,
“mitzvotim”, or good deeds, are done to make up for bad behaviour during the past year.
• Yom Kippur, celebrated on the 10th day of Tishri, is the most important and solemn of Jewish holidays, next to
the Shabbat due to its frequency.
• Yom Kippur is the occasion on which otherwise non-observant Jews are most likely to attend synagogue, refrain
from work, or fast.
• Throughout the Day of Atonement, Jewish people seek God’s forgiveness through fasting and prayer.
• No leather is worn on this day in remembrance of the sacrifices once offered by the priests in the temple.
• The Day of Atonement is believed by the rabbis to be the people’s last chance to change God’s mind concerning
the judgment of one’s deeds in the previous year, and their humility will effect His decision over one’s fate in
the coming year.
• It is traditional to break the fast of the day with an evening congregational meal.
• In the Bible,Yom Kippur is called, “Shabbat Shabbaton” (Sabbath of Sabbaths); because it is on Yom Kippur that all the people of Israel are to abstain from work and focus inwardly and solemnly, therefore, characterizing a Shabbat of the most complete rest.
Thanks to Light of Messiah Ministries newsletter for much of this information. For a website from a Jewish perspective with lots of helpful information about Jewish culture and holy days check out Judaism 101.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
I’ve been reading Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. The subtitle speaks volumes about the book: a provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know something is wrong. I’m only about halfway through but I have been underlining large sections already. These authors are veritable quote machines and I hope to continue to use much of this material as I think through church in this new millennium.
A few quotes for you:
The Bible is fundamentally a story of a people's journey with God. In Scripture, we see that God is taking the disconnected elements of our lives and pulling them together into a coherent story that means somenting. In trying to make sense of life, when we lack a coherent narrative, life is little more than a lurch to the left, a lurch to the right.
How does God deal with human fear, confusion and paralysis? God tells a story. Israel is a people who learn this story by heart and gather regularly to tell it. In telling that story, Israel comes to see itself as a people on a journey, an adventure. Its ethics become the virtues necessary to sustain Israel on the road. Our contention is that it does not just happen that God’s people tell stories; certainly the penchant for storytelling has nothing to do with Matthew, Mark and Luke being primitive, pre-rational people who told simple stories, whereas we are sophisticated people who do not. Story is the fundamental means of talking about, and listening to God, the only human means available to us that is complex and engaging enough to make comprehensible what it means to be with God.
The early Christians … began with stories about Jesus, about those whose lives got caught up in His life. Therefore, in a more sophisticated and engaging way, by the very form of their presentation [a story], the Gospel writers were able to begin training us to situate our lives like His life. We cannot know Jesus without following Jesus. Engagement with Jesus is necessary to understand Jesus. In a sense, we follow Jesus before we know Jesus. Furthermore, we know Jesus before we know ourselves. For how can we know the truth of ourselves as sinful and misunderstanding, but redeemed and empowered, without our first being shown as it was shown to his first disciples.
By telling these stories we come to see the significance and coherence of our lives as a gift, as something not of our own heroic creation, but as something that must be told to us, something we would not have know without the community of faith. The little story I call my life is given cosmic, eternal significance as it is caught up within God’s larger account of history.
In a world of unbelief and its consequences, even the recitation of a story like that of a church so ordinary as [ours] is bound to sound adventurous, even heroic, because the world’s cynicism and unbelief make the courage, continuity and conviction of anybody, even ordinary people, appear to be adventuresome and heroic. An unbelieving world will make a saint out of almost anybody who dares to be faithful. [Quotes found on pages 53-58.}
I came across this today (because someone emailed it to me). It seemed too good to keep to myself so thanks to my emailer and thanks to Os Hillman for his guest post. If you want more from Os Hillman, you can check out the original posting of this devotional on his website. As a pastor, I see the value of people living out their lives in their work and play as Christ directs them. That is such a strong witness of the the truth of Christ in all.
by Os Hillman, September 5, 2007
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us- yes, establish the work of our hands. - Psalm 90:17
Many of us begin our careers with the goal of achieving success. If we haven't entered our work as a result of God's calling, we will eventually face a chasm of deep frustration and emptiness. Success flatters but does not provide a lasting sense of purpose and fulfillment. So often we enter careers with wrong motives-money, prestige, and even pressure from parents or peers. Failing to match our work with our giftedness and calling is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If that happens over an extended period, a person crashes.
At this time, many make another mistake. Workplace believers think that beginning a new career in "full-time Christian work" will fill the emptiness they feel. However, this only exacerbates the problem because they are again trying to put another square peg into a round hole. The problem is not whether we should be in "Christian work" or "secular work," but rather what work is inspired by gifts and calling. If there is one phrase I wish I could remove from the English language it is "full-time Christian work." If you are a Christian, you are in full-time Christian work, whether you are driving nails or preaching the gospel. The question must be, are you achieving the God-given calling for your life? God has called people into business to fulfill His purposes just as much as He has called people to be pastors or missionaries.
It is time for workplace believers to stop feeling like second-class citizens for being in business. It is time workplace believers stop working toward financial independence so that they can concentrate on their "true spiritual calling." This is the great deception for those called to business.
Significance comes from fulfilling the God-given purpose for which you were made. Ask Him to confirm this in your own life.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
We went down to the Beach again today – Brigitte, Kirstyn and I (Jared was off to London to see off a friend to university). That's Brigitte and Kirstyn sitting on the bench and the last picture is Kirstyn silhouetted against the sky. It was one of those late summer days that was just too beautiful to spend indoors. We brought books to read as we sat on a bench. We met some old friends from our Stone Church days.
It was a “longing” day. I don’t know why but this type of day creates this deep sense of longing in me for … I don’t know what really. Maybe it is just melancholy and childhood memories. Maybe it’s just that summer is almost over and those long, lazy days are just about gone for another year. Maybe it’s that I’m remembering other beautiful days that are steeped in warm fuzzy memories of days I will never have again. I don’t really know what it is that I’m longing for but days like this really bring it out. It’s an almost tangible ache.
Of course the conditions are perfect … a beautiful, cloudless sky, the late afternoon sun dappling through the trees, the fresh breeze blowing in off the lake bringing that sublte but distinct water smell to my nostrils, the view of the sparkling water and the sailboats skimming across the surface of the lake. And I had two of my favourite people by my side.
Then there’s the boardwalk and the people … the little boy running in that waddle that only two year olds can manage, arms and legs pumping furiously; the kaleidoscope of nationalities where you hardly hear anyone speaking English; where you see people dressed in bathing suits, three piece suits and everything in between; and the only place in the city where the dogs may actually outnumber the people.
It was an amazing afternoon. It stirs me even now as I reflect on my day. That sense of longing always points me to God. It is that feeling that convinces me that we are not alone in the universe. Someone once said that the longing for eternity shows that we were built for heaven. A day like today proves it.
I experienced longing again today as I was down by the lake. It reminded me of an article I wrote about 5 years ago - so I thought I'd post it for you all. Here goes ...
It happened just before Christmas. It happened to me as I looked at the 30 or 40 people, talking and laughing, clustered together in my kitchen/family room - seeing neighbours and church members becoming my friends. Something happened that night to ignite my imagination. It could actually happen anytime. It might be happening all the time. It may have happened to you this morning as you glanced out your bedroom window or as you stepped out your front door. For some, it may not have happened for a very long time - maybe not since you were very young, for it tends to happen more often when you are young. Sometimes we forget how it happens.
For me it happens as the snow begins to lightly fall on a cold still night. It happens when I lie on my back to look at the stars on a clear night. It happens when I watch a favorite movie. It happens when I think about my childhood and the innocence of being a little boy. It happens when I watch children playing, or hold a baby, or spend time with an old friend. It happens in springtime when the first warm day hits and I can smell things growing. It happens when I see the trees first begin to change colour in autumn. It happens when I hear an old song on the radio. It happens when I watch big fluffy clouds float by on a warm sunny day. It happens when I see an old man sitting by himself at a table in the mall. It happens when I stand on the top of a big hill or mountain and can look around for miles. It happens in church when I worship. It happens when I think about my calling. It happens when I walk my neighbourhood. Sometimes it just sneaks up on me and overwhelms me with the force of its power and I'm left shaken. Other times it just slowly builds until I know it's there but can't quite put my finger on it.
What happens is … longing - longing that ignites the imagination into dreaming what might be. It's that bittersweet ache at the very centre of your being - that desire for something more, something you can't quite put your finger on but that you hope against hope might be true. It is a longing … for beauty, fullness, purpose, adventure, belonging, love … longing for something that is just beyond the edges of your consciousness. It is a longing for the eternal - for the best in life, for heaven, for God. I believe that longing is something spiritual put in our hearts by our Creator. It is at its core, a longing for the eternal. It's called desire, zeal, passion. Those who experience it are often called incurable romantics, dreamers or visionaries. Sometimes the Bible calls it thirst or hunger. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." We can't live without it. We cannot be human without it. God has placed it in our hearts.
John Gaynor Banks says it this way: "Desire is a mighty force, one of your most divine attributes … see the God-like quality of desire! For it is part of the Atomic Energy of the soul. The kingdom of heaven within you is operated by desire. Do not quench it or crush it … rather offer it to God." Psalm 37:4 says: "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Desire is very individual. It is given to us to guide our way, to find our purpose in life, to discover our calling, our destiny. This deep desire in our hearts for eternal things is placed there by God. Think about it. We are not fully satisfied when we achieve merely earthly goals. We are left longing for more, something eternal.
Fundamentally, this longing is consummated in our worship of the eternal - our worship of God. John Eldridge writes: "Our hearts live for an experience of worship that fills our being with a joy that is so deeply in awe of the Other that we are barely aware of ourselves. God is the wellspring of anything that has ever romanced your heart - the thundering strength of a waterfall, the delicacy of a flower, the stirring capacity of music, the richness of the best food, the depths of true love."
C.S. Lewis adds: "When we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak."
Unfortunately most of us never really allow this longing to do its work in us. We’ve been falsely taught that holiness is niceness, contentment means eliminating passion and to actually admit to being dry, thirsty, longing for more is unspiritual or psychologically unsound. We’ve pushed away desire, afraid that it might be lust, not making the effort to discern the difference. Rarely, if ever, does deep desire find expression in our worship services, or even in our prayers. Afraid of being disappointed, we push down the majestic desires and God-inspired dreams of our lives, not allowing ourselves to hope. Instead, we settle for manageable goals, measurable outcomes, diluted passion and safe dreams. We accept bland lives, dead-end jobs, comfortable church, and the tyranny of the urgent. We've been bought off by the promise of a comfortable life and settle for the shadows of real excitement through television. We sell our birthright for a little bit of pleasure and some peace and quiet. We've learned to reduce our desire to a more manageable size. The chilling danger is that the soul should persuade itself that it is not hungry. But let's be honest about what we've done and call it what it is ... sin.
If it is sin, we must repent and open our lives to the adventure God has in store for us. We must open our hearts and be vulnerable. We must live in such a way that we risk disappointment and pray for the impossible. Someone once said that there is no prayer that after having prayed it God did not wish it were bigger.
Are you hungry for a deeper intimacy with the Creator of your heart? Do you long for your community to be different? Does your heart go out to your neighbours? Do you long for them to encounter God’s best? Do you thirst for the kingdom? Do you hunger for the eternal? He made us that way.
I have a longing for more … more of God, more of His Kingdom, more of the eternal, more of the transforming power of His Spirit … changing my life and the lives of the people who I meet on my street every day.