What if…the difference is Jesus

January 27, 2010

For years, various charities would advertise on the TV or in print and it was only in the fine print that you would find out if they were faith-based or not.  Perhaps it was a fear of frightening away donors.  That’s why I was so surprised last month when I was reading Maclean’s magazine and came across a full page ad that proclaimed, “The Difference is Jesus.”  It had a picture of a family and below the picture it said,

“My name is Ajinta.  I’m a mother of two children, a boy and a girl.  My husband and I trusted in spirits to bring us prosperity and good fortune.  We found only sickness and pain.  It was Jesus who rescued us.” 

Compassion Canada boldly declared that Jesus makes all the difference in helping people find their way out of poverty.  Check out these amazing stories.  Here’s what their website says,

“Compassion believes it takes more than education, healthcare and social programs to make a difference in the life of a child and help nations escape from poverty. It’s only by the gospel of Jesus Christ that poverty can end, and lives be forever changed.” 

Christian aid agencies over the years have been compelled to tame any Christian message, but Compassion is sticking the name of Jesus right front and center.  It’s a bold step in a world that asks Christians not to say the name of Jesus too loudly (Acts 4:18-20).

As mainline churches prepare for continual divisions, schisms, and general malaise, what if we were to boldly re-declare that “The Difference is Jesus.”  What if we truly believed that no amount of structural reorganization could change our rapid decline?  What if we came to realize that renewal can only happen if we meet Jesus anew and invite him to transform us. 

“The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada: The Difference is Jesus.”

Catchy, isn’t it?

What if Haiti had better infrastructure

January 17, 2010

By Guest Blogger Sean Bell

The same earthquake hitting any ‘modern’ city would not have done nearly the damage. And those buildings that did fall down would be quickly picked up and searched by advanced heavy duty equipment and hospitals would have received the wounded quickly.

I was reflecting on some friends of mine who are on a Panama cruise right now… I was puzzling over what it must be like to be in the lap of luxury, well fed on a boat, trying to have a relaxing and good time, while all hell has broken loose just a few miles away in Haiti.

But then… this is just a microcosm of the reality of our nation standing rich next to the world of suffering and pain and death and malnourishment that is just a few thousand miles away everyday.

It is wonderful the outpouring of money and concern I see. This is the same way we treat medicine… wait till there is a major problem and then fix the symptoms without getting to the root.

But what if we took our “mission for others” to mean that we had to make sure every place in the world were prepared for such eventualities. Primary Economic and Infrastructure care instead of treating the symptoms when the major natural disaster hits.


What if…we were poets and painters

January 15, 2010

I’m becomingly increasingly convinced that art is the door through which we will see ourselves anew, as individuals and as the Lutheran Church.  Well told stories, for example, have a way of preparing hearts to hear from God.  Images from Haiti have a way of calling us to action.  What if we re-embraced art as a tool for renewal?

I came across a thoughtful article about the power of art and design in the church, this part written by Adam Lancaster:

It’s not simply that art and design should matter to Christians in general or to the local church in particular, but that the right kind of art and design matter. Certainly, every organization must communicate effectively to create understanding among a particular audience, and every individual demonstrates a need for personal expression, but few value the importance of doing so in a way that is fundamentally aesthetic. The Church is a frequent offender, quick to manufacture seemingly artistic results without much knowledge or appreciation of the history or development of art and design (or worse, without a working Christian theology of art and worship). Dedication to a meaningful creative movement in Christian life and church will require a certain seriousness, beginning with addressing the cautious, contrived way some churches have tiptoed into the sphere of art and design.

But design and media is not the peaceful, swirling comet shooting across the sky of Van Gogh’s Starry Night—it’s a sharpened knife and a bloody ear. Art and worship is not Ray Charles’s “Georgia On My Mind”—it’s a lifetime spent overcoming the darkness. Creativity appears safe but it comes from an unsafe place, a cavernous recess in the soul where rusty cogs spin in irregular patterns, a molten core of heightened sensation that feels more deeply and sees more clearly than many ever will. There’s nothing kitschy about its raw imagination. There’s nothing glamorous about its burning emotion. To soft-pedal design simply to fill space in a service is to dishonor the medium.

Creativity is a holy calling and design is a prophet’s megaphone. Christian aesthetician Calvin Seerveld says that to accept this high calling is “to become a professional imaginator in order to help your handicapped, unimaginative neighbor … to give voice, eyes, ears, and tactile sense to those who are underdeveloped toward such rich nuances of meaning in God’s creation.” Far too few recognize those rich nuances of meaning, which are at the heart of God’s intended, abundant life. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is not satisfied with a mundane existence, but leads his sheep to the greenest, most delectable pastures. A proper use of art and design in the life of the Christian and in the Church can be that vehicle that plunges them headlong into deep, reflective, God-glorifying worship.

Art and design matters to the Christian and to the Church because it matters to God, who sees fit to tell of His goodness, not in scratching the surface, but plumbing the depths of life.

Check out Christians in the Visual Arts, Imago, and the Lookout Gallery for examples of God’s story being told through art in the Church.  Maybe just having a new church website is a start in using good design to communicate more effectively to those around you.  Clover‘s mission, for example, is to help ordinary churches create good websites.  What would it look like if churches became centers of art?  I’m starting to think they would be brighter beacons for the gospel.

So how does change happen?

January 7, 2010

The question of how change happens in an organization or society is a fascinating one. One version of this (From the Book Getting to Maybe) might be worth considering. It involves stages of release, reorganization, exploitation and conservation. So what does this mean?  To make it easier the analogy of a forest is a good one for this.

Release – Where does new life come from? Well from the seeds of what came before. This though is not enough. There also needs to be nutrients, and usually this comes from the nutrients given by what came before, whether it is mothers milk or the charred remains after a forest fire. Some how the life of what has been needs to be released so that the seeds of the new can grow. This can be forced on an organization or intentional, but for new life, the old must give of it self for life to continue.

Reorganization – Continue is exactly what life likes to do.  As a forest grows new opportunities are sought, connections are made, and there is intense competition for resources. Think of the flourishing of life after a forest fire when all the seeds begin to sprout. So organizations need times in which almost anything is tried, possibilities are sought, and tried. Most will fail, but a few will succeed and grow.

Exploitation –  If the previous phase succeeds it moves to the stage of exploitation.  A new path is seen.  Resources, and new structures are refocused so that the new growth can grow, thrive and develop roots. Think of when a few trees begin to grow above others, while smaller trees begin to die and fall down, making room for a few trees to thrive.

Conservation  is when the successful paradigme/form begins to dominate the landscape and consume all the resources. In some ways we can think of our previous model of parishes, with a building and a pastor, serving their dedicated members.

The danger of conservation, is that a rigidity sets in which prevents future adaptation. History is full of the bones of organizations like this. Basically they refuse to change, and then on mass collapse. This is much like the supper forest fires that have happened recently after smaller fires have been prevented for decades. – Since there is no release of resources, there is too few nutrients for new growth to easily spring up – clearly a danger we are now in as a church. There is also a danger in re-organization called the poverty trap, when a lack of focus and a lack of letting go can prevent adequate resources going to could thrive.

In many way the possibility thinkers group is like the time of release/reorganization, when what is needed is for resources to be freed for countless seeds to sprout. Yep, it might look like a shotgun approach, but this is good so that there is the possibility of every possible seeds to sprout. I was in the rain forest of Costa Rica last year. And interesting the largest trees which eventually dominate the landscape are actually from a seed that is often the last to sprout up and which grows the slowest. So really who know what might eventually thrive.

I think the current challenge is to get as many people throughout the church planting seeds, and seeing what grows.

We are also though at the release phase, and since we have allowed a strong set of rigidly to exist for a while now, the question will be extra difficult in terms of how to release the nutrients we need to allow new life to eventually thrive. That is perhaps one of the most important stewardship questions for the church at this moment. (I offer a strong hint for planned giving emphasising both congregations and individuals)

In time the danger we will face is if it never moves to exploitation, in other words if it remains with many sprouts, and nothing develops deep roots –if we never develop focus. That is still a problem for another day. For now our question is how do we release resources so that we can allow as many seeds as possible the chance of germinating, and sprouting into the church God is calling us to be.

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