My hard drive bit the dust today. Fortunately I had most of my stuff backed up - except for some recording I did for Kirstyn.
No blogging for a couple of days while I get it replaced. (I'm blogging from my daughter's computer.) I won't be emailing much either.
Friday, December 28, 2007
My hard drive bit the dust today. Fortunately I had most of my stuff backed up - except for some recording I did for Kirstyn.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. In this season where some amazing words capture the spirit of Christmas - words like "incarnation" or "Emmanuel, God with us." Or words like light, hope, joy, love and gift. The simple, powerful beauty of their ability to communicate and evoke meaning and feeling. With the beautiful simplicity of these powerful words it's amazing that we can miss it by trying to be too precise and too descriptive and too wordy when we attempt to describe spiritual reality.
This little piece that follows was on Roger Von Oech's site entitled Creative Think. You can look at the link to see how he talked about this text, Someone called it a quote from the "Over-Intellectualized Bible." It's great for seminary students university professors and pompous readers alike. It makes you glad that Jesus spoke so simply, yet deeply.
THE OVER-INTELLECTUALIZED BIBLE
And Jesus said unto them, "And whom do you say that I am?"
"You are the totaliter aliter, the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christo-monism.”
You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities.”
"You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming roughness’ in the midst of our fraught condition of estrangement and brokenness in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships.”
“You are my Oppressed One, my soul's shalom, the One who was, who is, and who shall be, who has never left us alone in the struggle, the event of liberation in the lives of the oppressed struggling for freedom, and whose blackness is both literal and symbolic.”
And Jesus replied, "Huh?"
if even God doesn't get it, perhaps we missed the point?
Aren't you glad that He said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life!"?
Monday, December 24, 2007
It’s Christmas Eve. The Christmas songs have been playing in our local mall since November 18th – when Santa Claus came to town – or at least it was when they set up that throne with the oversized red and green decorations in the centre of the mall. I remember groaning when, on Monday the 19th of November, as I walked into the gym, I heard the familiar strains of Jingle Bell Rock, and It’s A Holly Jolly Christmas. Oh, no! It’s too soon!
But there were other days when I wondered if all these carols may actually be having some kind of impact. I distinctly remember stopping in my tracks, as I walked through the mall in my decidedly Jewish neighbourhood, after hearing “Born is the King of Israel.” That got me thinking. Why is it that people say Christmas is the nicest time of year? That people are kinder and more giving and drive their cars more politely during this season? Why do they say that they wish that people would act like it was Christmas the rest of the year?
Here’s my theory. I actually think that there is a spiritual shift in the atmosphere during this season because the message of Christ is preached through the all-Christmas-music stations, and non-stop in every single mall, and at least partly on almost every radio station and printed in the newspapers and sent into homes with advertising and definitely Christmas cards. Granted some of the motivation for that “preaching” is self-serving commercialized greed and some of those songs are Christmas drivel (dogs barking out Jingle Bells??). But even with wrong motivations the message is effective. Paul said it this way in Philippians 1:
15It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.[c] 18But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
I remember hosting our first Christmas party in our Jewish neighbourhood (something that has become a yearly tradition). We thought we would sing some Christmas carols because a couple of our neighbours said they loved Christmas carols. I think they meant things like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.” But we sang stuff like “Hark the Herald Angels” and “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” Have you ever paid attention to those words when surrounded by 25 of your Jewish neighbours?
How about Hark the Herald Angels Sing? Check out these lines!
Christ, by highest heaven adored Christ, the everlasting Lord
Veiled in flesh the God-head see Hail the incarnate Deity
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace Hail the Sun of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings Risen with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth Born to give them second birth
Or Joy To The World?
He rules the world with truth and grace And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love
Or “O Come O Come Emmanuel”
O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Or even “Angels From the Realms of Glory”
Come and worship! Come and worship! Worship Christ the newborn king!
There are three options when one listens to lyrics like this.
1. Fall down and worship the King of Kings acknowledging Him as Lord at His birth – or at least be touched or moved by these lyrics to take this time of the season more seriously.
2. Be offended.
3. Ignore it and be consumed by the consumerism and greed of the season.
I choose to believe that at least some of the first is happening – even while much of the world continues on blithely unaware that spiritual forces are at work making them act nicer than they normally would. Thank God for small miracles!
Friday, December 21, 2007
I have not been able to get this concept (households and hospitality) out of my mind over the past week or so. Scot (over at Jesus Creed) has been talking about infant baptism stemming from passages in Acts (16:15) where whole households were baptized at once. Although I posted a comment there I have very little interest in infant baptism per se but this concept of household salvation is what has been capturing my mental energy.
I think the “household” concept needs some clarification and expansion. Based on some of the research of Birkey (The House Church), Judge (The Social Pattern of Christian Groups in the First Century) and Banks (Paul's Idea of Community), to think of a household as parents and children and a few servants drastically simplifies the term. Households were led by a supporting patriarch and its size was limited to his ability to support the family. Although some households were small - just scraping by so to speak, most would have had some level of ability to support a number of people. It would have certainly included extended family, servants and/or slaves (and their families), and possibly close friends (and their families) all living in the same estate or under the protection of the householder. They would have engaged in business enterprises or agriculture together and would have remained together - possibly for generations - with leadership being passed down through the male heir.
This does not mean that everyone was wealthy - or that everyone necessarily lived in the same house. It means that those with substance kept others in their employ and as part of their households and so had a certain responsibility for them. We may have some difficulty understanding that in our culture because we have have become a culture that traffics mostly in money as currency as opposed to work, or goods. It is similar to work situations today where we provide a service to a company (householder) in exchange for money which we use to buy or rent a house, buy clothes, food etc and establish a life.
The interesting part is that people believed and then their whole households also believed. For example:
Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed.
He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.'
When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us.
They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household."
Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.
When the householder believed (and therefore changed his behaviour and his values and his business practices) those in his household who were dependent on him also believed (and changed their behaviour). What Scripture doesn't always connect is that many times this household then became the location for a new church. This is certainly the case in Philippi where the church met in Lydia's house.
This is an interesting missiological strategy. The genius of the early church was its ability to use a key social structure in the Roman world (the church that met in households) to propagate and nurture the growth of the Kingdom.
What are we to make of this? Should all churches become house churches to better propagate the Gospel? Maybe - in China, or Korea or India - but not in Canada, or in USAmerica, or in Europe. The individualistic mindset of Western culture militates against that option. House churches in the New Testament were a response to the sociology of the first century. They just fit. It was pure genius.
The question that poses itself to me is: What "just fits" in our postmodern Western post-Christendom culture? What is the sociological structure or system that will allow the Gospel to have such an impact as it had in the first century?
I don't know what it is ... yet, but it has got my mind whirring all week.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The question of the previous DMin posts was "How Shall We Then Live?" We looked at living incarnationally and simplifying our lives. The third response is hospitality.
Hospitality was such a key concept in the first century church and should be today as well. When looked at closely, the hospitality aspect of the first century really captures the imagination. Hospitality is sometimes spoken of in our churches as if it is something optional, that we would be hospitable if it were our passion or gift. But the whole New Testament makes little sense without hospitality at the core of how the church developed. The ministry of Jesus was dependent on the hospitality of those around Him (Mary and Martha, Peter's mother-in-law, etc.).
The church was dependent on the hospitality of those in whose homes the church actually met. Hospitality is not an extra but the strategic central concept of the first two hundred years of the church. The household was where the church was embodied and it was actually the medium of the early church growth. We need to challenge the reluctance to show hospitality, or to show only the hospitality that is limited to family and friends, or the marginalization of household hospitality in favor of mega church programs and fellowship.
Shane Claibourne says it this way: “…as congregations build larger buildings, gyms and food courts, we find ourselves less likely to meet in homes, and kitchens, and around dinner tables. We end up centralizing worship on corporate space or on (a church) campus. Hospitality becomes less of a necessity and more of an optional matter – a convenient privilege. On the other hand as members open their homes and yards and share vehicles and recreations spaces less and less corporate property is necessary.”
In many ways this is counter-cultural teaching, but Christians need to excel in this virtue and transform it into a distinctly Christian principle. We are called to a higher level of living than the society around us and so must live as relational people. A commitment to hospitality confronts our society's rampant individualism and it actually protects our life together as the people of God. The challenge remains: can we break out of the individualistic culture around us (and deeply ingrained in us) in order actually practice what is commanded?
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
It's only Tuesday - but Sunday is coming! An early post allows you to prepare space in your heart to worship him with greater depth.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
First Advent: Light shines in the darkness. Prepare the way for the Lord! Repent!
Second Advent: Hope! Expectation for the fulfillment of the promises, so Believe!
Third Advent: There is such Joy in the Proclamation of Messiah’s arrival. Go tell the Good News!
The Fourth Advent:
The Visit of the Magi
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east[b] and have come to worship him."
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ[c] was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'[d]"
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east[e] went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
When the Magi in the east “saw the star” they came to Jerusalem to worship Him born King of the Jews. Although they did not know everything about him still they came to worship and to bring gifts.
The wise men brought ...
Gold: - signifying great value – a sign of deity.
Frankincense: - a spice used for worship representing the fragrant worship of the saints – a sweet smelling savour.
Myrrh – represents cleansing and purification.
And all Jerusalem was astonished. A King? In their presence? Who? How could they have missed it if the Magi from the east knew.
A Messiah is born! A new light has shone in our hearts. How do we respond to such a wonderful gift? Wise men still seek Him.
Seek Him – so that you may worship Him, Lord at His birth.
Seek Him – to know Him better.
As you come to know Him better, worship Him with …
- greater depth
- more intimacy
- more commitment
- more costly worship
I will not offer to the Lord that which cost me nothing.
"I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 2 Samuel 24:24
36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner."
44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." 48Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Sages leave your contemplations brighter visions beam afar
Seek the great Desire of nations ye have seen His natal star
Come and worship! Come and worship!
Worship Christ the newborn king!
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace Hail the Sun of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings Risen with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth Born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn King
Come and worship! Come and worship!
Worship Christ the newborn king!
In our city (Toronto), we have been praying for city transformation. Earlier I listed the Key Indicators of a Transformed City. We are attempting to establish these indicators for our city. Part of the process is to identify "gates" of the city. As an organization (PrayGTA) we are attempting to outline some of those gates in our regular updates. We decided to focus on one gate every month and wanted to begin with the gate that is (or should be) the gatekeeper for the rest of the gates ...
The Church Gate
As we continue to look at the gates of the city, at the beginning of the year we want to focus on one of the most significant gate in the city – the Church gate. In Matthew 16 Jesus says that he will build his church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. If (as we said before) these gates are spiritual a couple of things become clear. There are gates of evil (the gates of Hades – places where the influence of hell is peddled) as well as gates of good or of heaven (where the influence of God is manifest). Because the gates of Hades are not able to overcome the Church, the Church gate is foundational to understanding the spiritual makeup of the city and foundational to the advancement of wisdom and righteousness (the Kingdom of God) in our city.
We have become accustomed to view the Church as either the local church (a single church congregation) or as the Church universal (the worldwide body of Christ) or sometimes as the church in a nation or region (the Greek Orthodox church or the church in America). In this last century, and going back to at least the Reformation, the church has been viewed more denominationally and local churches have gained some of their identity from their associated theological distinctives. National and international associations of like-minded groups (like the National Association of Evangelicals, or even the World Council of Churches) gather to address certain issues and try to make some national and regional impact, but is this effective or efficient in helping to transform communities?
Although the local church is vital for effective evangelism and discipleship, and has a level of Kingdom impact in its own neighbourhood, it cannot meet the complex needs of the city by itself. Today as Western, postmodern culture begins to disengage from (and become more hostile towards) its Christian foundations, and as denominationalism becomes increasingly irrelevant, a new pattern for bonding together as Christians must emerge.
Instead of co-operating at the denominational, national or global level, we need to begin to see the church becoming effective at the city-wide level. This is where transformation can be ignited. It is in the city Church that people can begin to see the unified body of Christ effecting measurable change in a geographic area. The vision of one “Church of the city” that meets in many congregations, is becoming a necessity. The key elements that need to be set in place for the city Church (or the Church Gate) to become a reality are many but they must include: a functional unity of believers, a relational bond between pastors and leaders, the emergence of a city eldership (comprised of humble, servant leaders), the articulation of a clear vision for the city, a commitment to passionate, unified prayer and measurable outcomes.
There are problems that arise in trying to envision and accomplish such a task. Cities can be large and diverse. Communication, language, administration and even transportation through the city are all challenges to be faced. Churches and Christians have a track record of competing for resources instead of sharing them. Unity among the many streams of the Church faces significant theological challenges. Establishing a cohesive vision for the whole church in a particular city is a daunting task. There are still strong vestiges of denominationalism and theological idiosyncrasies (resulting in isolationalism) that need to be overcome. And the time pressures faced by busy pastors leave little energy for a citywide focus. Our culture also resists the movement towards a revitalized Christianity and there is a spiritual darkness (the gates of Hades) blinding the minds of people and a demonic oppression attempting to maintain strongholds that exert influence over many aspects of city life.
The hope of city transformation is invigorating, but how do we measure city transformation? Part of the task is recognizing what a well-run city looks like. We all want to live in neighbourhoods that are safe and free of discrimination. We want our schools to be places where real learning takes place. We want our justice system to serve everyone fairly. We want economic opportunity to be available to citizens of every class, kind and condition. We want people to be set free from the binding and blinding oppression of destructive habits, substances and ideologies. We want our leaders to act in wisdom to make righteous decisions. And most of all we want people to hear and respond to a call to radical discipleship - one that fills our city with transformed people who truly follow, and are filled with the life and love of Jesus. Is it possible? Can a community or a whole city be transformed? We certainly believe it is possible - but to get there requires the ongoing transformation of individuals, of congregations and of the Church of the city.
Part of our task at PrayGTA is to encourage the Church in the city to fulfill its role as spiritual gatekeepers. We do that through facilitating strategic intercession seeking to understand God’s redemptive purposes for our city, equipping intercessors and co-ordinating regional prayer gatherings. Hopefully we can also provide timely updates on upcoming events and link to resources and research to help the Church pray more effectively.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Third Sunday of Advent
Action: Tell others the Good News with great joy!
First Advent talked of preparation – of personal repentance and getting right with God and God shines His light into the darkness.
Second Advent is about hope and talks about Expectation - believing in the promise
- the promise of a Messiah
- the resurrection of a dream almost given up
- the dormant promise come to life again
The Third advent is about Joy! the deliriously good news of a Messiah being born in a stable. The ruler who had been promised was here. The slavery, the bondage would be over. Peace would be coming to the people of God
A king - who will reign wisely
- who will do what is right and just in the land
- who will be called "The Lord Our Righteousness"
- who will gather together and lead his lost sheep
- who breaks open the way before us
3 "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD.
5 "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.
5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. 6 Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD.
Micah 5:2, 4, 5a
2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace.
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Notice that at the advent of the Good Shepherd, the news is first announced to shepherds?
In the middle of another night shift
In the middle of another long week of work
In the middle of a long hard life of making just enough to get by
In the middle of you life
… the angels appear and tell your good news of great joy
… they tell you news which is the best news you've ever heard - but could not possibly be true
… they tell you news you could never have expected but that will change the way you think and live forever
Do you need some good news in your life today?
Do you need an angel to speak into your situation?
In the middle of the long dark night
In the midst of a difficult journey?
In the centre of the desert?
Open your heart to the Good News the angels bring this Christmas and let your heart feel joy again!
Almighty God, In the middle of another night shift you say to us: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You surprise us with joy – the joyous surprise of angels at midnight, the joyous surprise of a baby king born in a stable, the joyous surprise of the Shepherd finds our heart and sets it free. Come again this Christmas in the middle of our dark night to surprise us with Your joy, Your love and Yourself. This Christmas help us to tell the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today … a Savior has been born to you!”
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The question of the previous DMin post was "How Shall We Then Live?" Given the realities of the postmodern world and the demise of Christendom, what must we be doing and how should we be living? The first requirement is to be incarnational people - recognizing the Christ is in us and living as light and salt in the world. The second suggestion is both personal and structural - for each individual and for each local church to simplify. This post addresses more of the organizational simplicity. The challenge also remains to simplify our lifestyles by consuming less and giving more.
Many churches have become complex machines that dehumanize both the visitor and the Christian worker. The burden is felt especially by Christian workers who are becoming burned-out because the lack of sufficient human resources to do the job and lack of appreciation shown to those who volunteer. Some churches can do it (the program church) well and provide some excellent programs and services but most pastors are not gifted as CEO’s or as Broadway producers and have difficulty carrying this major production off week after week. And more importantly, is the big, complex church effective at extending the kingdom of God, nurturing the workers and in discipling people to become more like Jesus?
One way of simplifying is to grow smaller. Neil Cole, in the Organic Church, makes a convincing case that complex organisms do not multiply easily, and certainly not rapidly. He suggests “the term “simple church” began to gain popularity, because we valued a simple life of following our Lord and avoided many of the complexities of the conventional church. Complex things break down and do not get passed on, but simple things are strong and easily reproduced. Ordinary Christians were able to do the extraordinary work of starting and leading churches.”
Neil Cole has established a network of simple churches based on the concept of “where two or three are gathered.” He always meets weekly with at least one “life transformation group” (an LTG). These are gender-specific groups of two or three. The addition of a fourth person is the beginning of a second group. They meet at least once a week for about an hour.
Three tasks are accomplished in an LTG: sin is confessed in mutual accountability (by asking specific questions of one another); large portions of Scripture are read repetitively and in context (both at the meeting and during the week); and, people (primarily non-Christians) are prayed for strategically, specifically and continuously. Three or four LTG’s will sometimes meet together as a home group for sharing and worship. In six years close to 800 of these churches were started in 32 states and 23 countries. This is the essence of simplicity.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Here is the devotional for the Second Sunday of Advent - yes it is already Wednesday evening, but I wanted to do it before the third Sunday of Advent!
The Second Sunday of Advent
Action: Believe/Have Faith/Dream Big Dreams
First Advent talked of preparation – of personal repentance and getting right with God.
The second Advent talks about believing in the promise, of maintaining hope even though circumstances may tell you to despair or lose hope. The promises of the coming of Messiah and the salvation that accompanied him were scattered throughout Scripture. Gideon and Anna held on to the promise – even into their old age.
- the promise of a Messiah
- the resurrection of a dream almost given up
- the dormant promise come to life again
Luke 1:26-38; 2:21-40
“May it be done to me as you have said.” These were the words of a teenage girl who believed the promise.
Are there big dreams that God has given you?
What mighty thing has He promised you that has yet to come to pass?
What dormant longing for His work does He want to awake in you this Advent season?
- a call to ministry?
- a work of reconciliation?
- a miraculous healing?
- an amazing salvation of loved ones?
Almighty God, may we hear afresh the voice of the child born in the manger who himself was the fulfillment of centuries of longing for the promise of salvation. Stir up within us Lord the longings we have for your will, your purpose, your kingdom – that it may transform our lives this Christmas and the lives of all we touch. Renew within us the expectation of your mighty working, your powerful grace, your outrageous love. This Christmas may we feel again the wind of your Spirit that calls forth the fulfillment of the promises lying dormant in your people. We believe! We will not lose heart! We will not give up hope! We will not grow weary as we wait for the promise! Come Lord Jesus! May it be done to us as you have said!
I did my city wide activities today. I participated in a MissionGTA meeting and in our local ministerial in Thornhill. MissionGTA is a region wide (GTA is the Greater Toronto Area) organization that attempts to gather Christian leaders for united prayer geared toward seeing positive transformation of all the spheres of life in our city. I pulled the following off the newly revamped (not fully complete) website to give you a bit more info.
This is our strategy ...
* Connecting various groups who are already causing a transformational impact in the different spheres of society as identified by the key indicators, and where such groups do not exist encourage their formation.
* Providing representative leaders of the different geographical communities of the GTA with opportunities for interaction, prayer and strategy formation.
* Providing representative leaders of the different ethnic communities of the GTA with opportunities for interaction, prayer and strategy formation.
* Mobilizing unified intercession through the efforts of PrayGTA.
* Providing the Body of Christ with opportunities for regional prayer gatherings (including City Hall Prayer, Prayer Summits and Global Day Of Prayer).
* Encouraging the creation of a communication hub for all Christian activity in the GTA.
The Thornhill Ministerial on the other hand is our local gathering. It involves seven churches in my immediate area where the pastoral staff of these congregations meet once a month. It involves Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, United, Roman Catholic and Pentecostal churches. It really is quite collegial and quite enjoyable but not particularly spiritual or prayerful. Our major event is an annual Lenten series of meetings where we swap pulpits for the six Sunday evenings of Lent. It is nice to be able to participate in the various traditions but the concern continues to be that younger families and youth don't attend. (After hearing the particularly somber music at one of these Lenten services my son (12 years old at the time) quipped: "Don't they want people to attend these meetings?" I force my family to come at least once during Lent - the Sunday I'm speaking.
My other "ministerial" involvement is with my area denominational meetings. They happen infrequently - only three or four times a year.
However, if I went to every event, meeting, conference, prayer breakfast, or seminar designed to assist, inform, unify or equip the local clergy, I could be busy 532 days per year. The power to choose must be exercised to be healthy!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
This is being posted after the fact but I wanted to include it during the Advent season. Every year during Advent we use a "hanging" Advent wreath that my father built. A number of years ago I wrote a series of "candle lighting" devotionals for each of the candles on the wreath. I now use it every year - sometimes with different Scriptures and with different aspects to the action points. It has become very meaningful to me and really helps me get my heart right before Christmas. I will post the second in the series later this week and the third on Sunday and fourth as well and we go through December.
The First Sunday of Advent
Advent means “a coming” or “an arrival.” It refers most often to the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ (i.e. the Advent of our Lord). In the church calendar, it is the start of the liturgical year. Originally it was a type of “Lent” before Christmas, a time to prepare the heart for the coming of the Lord. However it emphasized a joy-filled hope in the coming of the Lord.
The theme of this first Advent is preparation.
We must prepare our hearts because a great light has come into the world that will reveal all darkness. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light!” Isaiah 9:2
Come back Lord! Judge us for even your judgment is mercy.
Break the terrible hold that evil has on the world and on us.
We eagerly anticipate Emmanuel - God dwelling among us. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 Our preparation must include spiritual disciplines to line up our lives with the One who came to earth in humility.
The Keyword is Light
Let Your light shine into our darkness! The light shone into the darkness and the darkness could not comprehend it or overcome it.
Our Action is Repentance.
If the light reveals any darkness in us we need to confess and repent, receive cleansing and forgiveness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light (Romans 13:12) now in the time of this mortal life. It was in mortal form that Your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility: so that on the last day, when He shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise with Him to the life immortal, through Him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Open our blind eyes, Lord! Shine Your light into our darkness! Break the terrible hold that evil has had on the world by stirring up your people to repentance, holiness and right living. May we remember you this Advent season and place you at the centre of all our activities and desires. In the name of Jesus our Emmanuel. Amen.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Once we look closely at the philosophical foundations of much of what passes as popular culture today it is easy to become discouraged. When one is hoping and praying for a transformed city it is difficult to hear of fathers killing their children (as I heard this morning on the news in my community) and of characters in movies trying to kill God (as in the upcoming Golden Compass movie coming out - what a "great"?!? Christmas movie - do you think that timing was coincidental?) But is this cultural situation too difficult for God? Is the Gospel irrelevant to this emerging culture? Obviously not! God is at work and part of our role is to participate in the Missio Dei and the incarnation. The next section of my paper addresses some of the responses to our current cultural milieu.
How shall we then live?
"Ivan Illich was once asked what is the most revolutionary way to change society.
Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform? He gave a careful answer. Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story."
The ongoing challenge is to recover and retell the original story of Jesus in the midst of a culture that thinks it already knows the story and believes the story is irrelevant. The challenge is also to realize that our understanding of the story has been clouded by the history of the church and our experience of that story. Alan Hirsch asserts: “I have become absolutely convinced that it is Christology, and in particular, the primitive, unencumbered Christology of the NT church, that lies at the heart of the renewal of the church at all times and in every age … Christology determines missiology; missiology determines ecclesiology.” In The Forgotten Ways, Hirsch maintains that a missional model must be incarnational. This is absolutely fundamental to effective ministry in this cultural milieu.
Incarnation is one of the key elements to understanding how to change our system and recover a New Testament ethos and praxis. God’s coming to the world is the incarnation — that is how God is missional. Therefore, true missional activity participates in the missio Dei, the mission of God. Jesus’ incarnation was an act of identification with others, taking up residence among others, and functions as clear revelation for us in our current situation. Hirsch contends simply this: God’s missional move is to find its counterpart in our similar incarnational missional move. And he sees a good theme in 1 Cor 9:22-23: “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”
Hirsch suggests that there are four elements of Incarnation: presence; proximity; powerlessness; and proclamation. These are all significant for the development of experimental models of church.
Presence is living among others in their space for a long time if need be. We rarely consider the significance of Jesus spending thirty years living among the people of Palestine before he began his “official ministry.”
Proximity means being genuinely available to those among whom you live. How many live in a neighborhood but rarely interact with their neighbors? How many have accepted the ethos of suburbia that polite interaction and good fences are all that is needed to be a good neighbor?
Powerlessness describes how Jesus laid aside his majesty to live among us. “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” Isaiah 53:2. He did not come in power to wield power. He allowed himself to be crucified and God raised him up and justified him. Too often we desire to control our mission and our culture to conform it to our image. This coercive style of ministry has been noticed and rejected by the culture.
Proclamation implies our preparedness to tell the story at all times and in all ways. We are a “message tribe” and we exist to communicate and live out the message – given the other three elements of incarnation.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Recently a new Gospel was discovered - the Gospel of Judas - which received much fanfare because it apparently overturned the traditional understanding of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, making Judas into a hero instead of a betrayer. Turns out the translation had a few errors. This New York Times article gives a bit more detail. The following is an excerpt from the article ...
It was a great story [i.e. the story describing that Judas didn’t betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas’s reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.]
Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic’s translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.
Several of the translation choices made by the society’s scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a “daimon,” which the society’s experts have translated as “spirit.” Actually, the universally accepted word for “spirit” is “pneuma ” — in Gnostic literature “daimon” is always taken to mean “demon.”
Likewise, Judas is not set apart “for” the holy generation, as the National Geographic translation says, he is separated “from” it. He does not receive the mysteries of the kingdom because “it is possible for him to go there.” He receives them because Jesus tells him that he can’t go there, and Jesus doesn’t want Judas to betray him out of ignorance. Jesus wants him informed, so that the demonic Judas can suffer all that he deserves.
Perhaps the most egregious mistake found was a single alteration made to the original Coptic. According to the National Geographic translation, Judas’s ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But it’s clear from the transcription that the scholars altered the Coptic original, which eliminated a negative from the original sentence. In fact, the original states that Judas will “not ascend to the holy generation.” To its credit, National Geographic has acknowledged this mistake, albeit far too late to change the public misconception.
So what does the Gospel of Judas really say? It says that Judas is a specific demon called the “Thirteenth.” Whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas was a harsh critic of mainstream Christianity and its rituals and mocks mainstream Christians’ belief in the atoning value of Jesus’ death and in the effectiveness of the Eucharist.
How could these serious mistakes have been made? Were they genuine errors or was something more deliberate going on? This is the question of the hour, and I do not have a satisfactory answer.
That said, I think the big problem is that National Geographic wanted an exclusive. So it required its scholars to sign nondisclosure statements, to not discuss the text with other experts before publication. The best scholarship is done when life-sized photos of each page of a new manuscript are published before a translation, allowing experts worldwide to share information as they independently work through the text.
There's a great article over at Allelon by Sally Morgenthaler about the role of women in ministry in the postmodern milieu called After the Show is Over: The Rise of the Feminine in the Postmodern Turn. (Scot McKnight from Jesus Creed posted a link to it.) I've quoted a couple of sections below.
When the question is asked, “What is it to lead the church in the postmodern context?” and then, more specifically, “What is it for women to lead in the postmodern context?” it is hard to get around the refreshing, contrarian turns in Laurel’s journey. At base, the way she influences, whether at Target or through her e-devotional, is unapologetically organic. There are no top-down systems here, no grandiose, lone-ranger dreams, no mega-church blueprints. Rather, here is a woman, showing up with her full self, her full story, and in full presence – on the people’s turf and in the rhythm of their lives. Surely, she must have earned A’s in Missiology.
Yet, Laurel’s presence is the antithesis of impotent. Laurel’s late-night co-workers who stock the wide-aisle shelves at Target know her as a powerhouse of a woman. Not only is she a hydrant of comedy (Laurel believes life is comic relief to the weight of eternity). The way she invests time in her co-workers, Laurel’s lived spirituality makes the four spiritual laws sound like a multi-level marketing come-on. At 12:30 a.m., Laurel and Suzanne are doubling over in laughter about Suzanne’s Match.com disaster on Saturday night. At 2:25 a.m., Laurel hefts big boxes of laundry detergent onto her motorized cart and tries to help 26–year-old Jennifer figure out what to do about her autistic son’s latest bout. At 4:05 a.m., Laurel is stocking dog-food, engrossed in Bob’s tirade about his alcoholic wife. At 7:33, she’s punching out, heading to the pancake house for breakfast where the coffee, pancakes, teasing, guffaws, and conversation will be flowing non-stop. At 9:00 a.m., she’s driving home to have a last cup of coffee before her pastor-husband leaves for work. Maybe she’ll be able to catch a few hours of sleep before her grandson arrives at 3:30, but only after she checks out that quirky journal article on Kierkegaard she’s been waiting to read. She’s been a Kierkegaard fan since seminary days. Her seminary days.
In many ways, Laurel is an anomaly within American religion and most certainly, within evangelicalism. Ordained and newly planted in a rural/bedroom community, Laurel rejected a comfortable church job (her husband had secured a pastoral position only twenty miles away), striking out in ministry completely on her own. What could have been the picture-perfect scenario – “clergy couple pastors neighboring parishes” - became “middle-aged woman hangs out with Target misfits.”
Even at fifty-five, Laurel is more postmodern than modern. Perhaps it was a gradual transition. Perhaps she woke up one day and screamed, “This isn’t working!” Perhaps it was one too many budget meetings, one too many building committees, or one too many worship wars. Whatever the case, Laurel simply couldn’t be a woman of the great machine any longer. Besides, she’d been witnessing a quiet but significant shift in her community’s spiritual temperament. Since the late nineties, what had been at least a little stream of unchurched visitors had dwindled to less than a trickle. Even the megachurches down the street from her little red-brick congregation were hurting for new faces, their 1980’s, “if we build it, they will come” approach operating on fumes. To Laurel, the community both she and these megachurches served had moved on. One could not simply put up a billboard sign and expect the unchurched to come knocking, even if you showed up in the neighborhood with the formula intact: a cute-sounding church name, killer band, concert-venue tech system, and a golden-haired pastor-boy.
No, as Laurel saw it, the audacious, “we’ve got just the thing for you” years were over. For years, she’d had the nasty habit of spending time with people totally disconnected from religion (it was her secret solace), and she knew first hand that none of them had the slightest interest in checking out the show under the big top. They were more interested in eating pancakes, lingering in the parking lot at their kids’ soccer games, drinking beer at the local grill, or playing Texas Hold’em on Saturday night. Their sacred space was wherever life was happening, and after all these years stuck inside the redbrick ghetto, Laurel wanted to be there.
Friday, December 07, 2007
As I continue posts from my DMin paper, we get to the point where I list some of the responses to the current situation the church finds itself in. The church is found in the midst of a post-Constantinian, post-Christendom, postmodern world where few of the old church rules and norms apply. One of the reactions to this situation is what has been called the Emerging Church Movement - which some people call "the conversation." In the paper I quote some of Scot McKnight's material which I have found quite helpful. He blogs at Jesus Creed. Here's the next section of the paper ...
Gibbs and Bolger, define emerging in this way: "Emerging churches destroy the Christendom idea that church is a place, a meeting or a time. Church is a way of life, a rhythm, a community, a movement. Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures.”
This definition encompasses nine practices. The core practices of emerging churches are then illustrated in their book with comments from those who are "practitioners" of contextualizing the gospel of the kingdom of God in the postmodern world. The nine core practices are:
1. Identifying with Jesus (and his way of life)
2. Transforming secular space (overcoming the secular/sacred split)
3. Living as community (not strangers in proximity at a church service)
4. Welcoming the stranger (radical and genuine hospitality that is inclusive)
5. Serving with generosity (not serving the institution called "church," but people)
6. Participating as producers (not widgets in the church program)
7. Creating as created beings (releasing God’s creativity inherent in each one)
8. Leading as a body (beyond control and the CEO model of leadership)
9. Merging ancient and contemporary spiritualities.
Although it has not yet become a formalized institution (and actively resists becoming one) there are a number of distinct commonalities in this emerging movement or “conversation” as many prefer to call it. Not all of them are positive.
Scot McKnight, in an article for Christianity Today, has summarized five themes that characterize the emerging movement.
1. Prophetic (or at least provocative). The emerging movement is consciously and deliberately provocative and provides a sometimes scathing critique of the Christendom tendencies of modern Evangelicalism. Emerging Christians believe the church needs to change, and they are beginning to live as if that change had already occurred.
2. Postmodern. Living as a Christian in a postmodern context means different things to different people. Some will minister to postmoderns, others with postmoderns, and still others as postmoderns. The vast majority of emerging Christians and churches fit these first two categories. They don't deny truth, they don't deny that Jesus Christ is truth, and they don't deny the Bible is truth. The third kind of emerging Postmodernity attracts all the attention. Some have chosen to minister as postmoderns. That is, they embrace the idea that we cannot know absolute truth, or, at least, that we cannot know truth absolutely. They speak of the end of metanarratives and the importance of social location in shaping one's view of truth. They express nervousness about propositional truth.
3. Praxis-oriented. A notable emphasis of the emerging movement is orthopraxy, that is, a focus on right living. The contention is that how a person lives is more important than what he or she believes (although belief is also needed). Experience does not prove that those who believe the right things necessarily live the right way. No matter how much sense the traditional connection makes, it does not necessarily work itself out in practice. Public scandals in the church—along with those not made public—prove this point time and again. "By their fruits [not their theology] you will know them."
4. Post-evangelical. The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. The vast majority of emerging Christians are evangelical theologically. But they are post-evangelical in at least two ways. i. Post-systematic theology: The emerging movement tends to be suspicious of systematic theology because God didn't reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative, and no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth who alone is God. ii. In versus out: Even if one is an exclusivist (believing that there is a dividing line between Christians and non-Christians), the issue of who is in and who is out pains the emerging generation. Most prefer a centered-set approach where salvation is measured by the direction one travels (toward the center/Jesus) and proximity to the center as opposed to a clear in or out distinction.
5. Political. A final stream flowing into the emerging lake is politics. Put directly, they are usually Democrats – in the faith-based, activism style of the Catholic Worker or of Sojourners. And that spells "post" for conservative-evangelical-politics-as-usual.
I think I've said it before - I write when I'm inspired. That makes it a bit difficult to write a regular blog. This week has been busy on and off and has had a number of interesting things in it. However, as you may have noticed, I have not been inspired enough to write any of it down. However, this week I was reminded of how God had gotten my attention 17 years ago.
I had a chance to go downtown on Wednesday to attend and share a few words at a former colleague's celebration of their 25th year working at Yonge Street Mission. I met Bill Ryan in 1982 when I was doing my seminary placement at Yonge Street Mission. He was the pastor of Church on the Street (COTS) - one of the first street churches in Canada. I sat on the Advisory Committee for COTS and then followed Bill as the pastor when he became the director of the Community Centre - another branch of YSM.
He spoke of his call to work at the mission and interestingly enough, my call to work at the mission was closely linked with his. At a COTS advisory committee meeting in October of 1990, Bill said to the group that since he was coming up to his fifth anniversary of his tenure as pastor of COTS he was going to spend the next few weeks evaluating his call to the church - but he was sure he was going to remain.
It was at that moment that God popped a thought into my heart: "Michael, why don't you do that?" Do what? "Become the pastor of Church on the Street!" God (I said), didn't you hear Bill? He said he was sure he was going to remain. Then I put it out of my mind - except it wouldn't stay out of my mind. I started thinking about it all the time - until about two months later when I made an appointment to talk to Bill about how he was doing and about this irritating thought that wouldn't leave my mind
What he told me at that lunch meeting blew my mind! He said that immediately after the advisory committee meeting that past October, the executive director of YSM (Rick Tobias) asked him to be the next director of the Community Centre. God had confirmed the call to me the day He had given it to Bill. We both were amazed at the timing of God.
It took me another couple of months to convince my mind of what my heart was already sure about. In July of 1991 I became the pastor of Church on the Street and then worked for Yonge Street Mission for the next nine and a half years.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Maybe everyone has a neighbour like this. Either you have the neighbour who zooms by in their fast little car or you have the neighbour who is bugged by the guy who drives by. I have both on my street. No one however has gone to these lengths (to the lengths shown on this little video clip below).
The video is advertising a German lottery (I think). It's funny - even if you don't understand the German being spoken. If you can understand German, I'm sure you know someone who talks like this.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
A silly story maybe but I still remember Evel Kenievel trying to jump over the Grand Canyon. It was good to hear of his encounter with God that happened earlier this year. Here's part of the story (the rest can be found here and here.)
"America's Legendary Daredevil," Evel Kenievel, who was Baptized earlier this Year, Dies at 69
"I don't know if it was the power of the prayer or God himself, but...the power of God in Jesus just grabbed me. All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ. I did, I believed in him!" -Evel Kenievel
(Clearwater, Florida)—Legendary motorcycle daredevil, Robert Craig "Evel" Kenievel, died on Friday, November 30, at the age of 69. According to a FOXNews report, Kenievel had struggled with poor health for a number of years, including diabetes, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and fallout from his many injuries from stunts and hard-living.
In early 2007, however, Kenievel had a transformation of sorts, when he accepted Christ and was baptized by Rev. Robert H. Schuller, at the Crystal Cathedral in California. His actions, and the message he shared that day, spurred one of the most impacting services held at the church, when nearly 800 people spontaneously came forward to recommit their lives to Christ, and be baptized on Palm Sunday. Click Here to read that story. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Cathedral.)
Kenievel left behind former wife and long-time partner, Krystal Kennedy-Kenievel, four children, ten grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Aimee Herd : Dec 1, 2007 :
AP Staff-AP, FOXNews
How did they do it? How did the church of the first three centuries and the church in 20th century China grow so quickly?
Alan Hirsch’s concept is the mDNA of Apostolic Genius – that is, the “missional” DNA of how the apostles were led by God’s Spirit to unleash the gospel. He believes this mDNA is latent in every church and in every Christian. “So I come to believe, that every church, indeed every Christian, if truly birthed in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, has the full coding of mDNA and therefore has direct access to the power of Apostolic Genius. … Institutional systems tend to try and organize through external hierarchical command and control; organic missional movements organize through healthy mDNA coding embedded in each cell and then let go.”
The six key elements of Apostolic Genius are:
1. Jesus is Lord - A simple, passionate Christology shapes missional DNA
2. Disciple making - “The greatest proof of Christianity for others is not how far a man can logically analyze his reasons for believing, but how far in practice he will stake his life on his belief.”
3. Missional-incarnational impulse - “an outwardly bound movement from one community or individual to another… a genuine missional impulse is a sending rather than attractional one.”
4. Apostolic environment – the apostle was a custodian of mDNA and the gospel — and an apostolic, missional leader “imparts and embeds mDNA” through pioneering new ground for the gospel, guards mDNA through apostolic theology, and creates the environment in which other ministries emerge.
5. Organic systems - the sufficiency of local churches, small groups, to get the job done — to let the mDNA do its gospel work. It’s about networks, not institutionalizing structures that maintain what has happened or try to manufacture what the Spirit generates without the system.
6. Communitas – not merely community (huddling/fellowship), but active in mission together, calling people to a dangerous journey to unknown places – Communitas happens during a period of changing paradigms (during 9/11, during the tsunami, and during Katrina). People forge together to restore life and in doing they formed communitas to make it happen. The danger to communitas is equilibrium. What is needed is certain level of chaos so the church is challenged to generate creativity and response to the conditions. This leads to self-organization which must not be institutionalized.
These attempts to revive new models of church that line up with the structures of pre-Constantine Christianity have crystallized into an identifiable movement called the Emerging Church – although not all these groups would necessarily identify themselves that way. “Emerging” catches into one phrase the global reshaping of how to "do church" in postmodern culture.