New Beginnings and Laughter

October 9, 2011

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” – Genesis 18:10-12

Like Sarah, many of our people, congregations, denominations and church bodies have been around for many years. Over that time we have all experienced beginnings and new beginnings and yet, the older we get, the more impossible another birthing event seems to us.

In fact, we do much to protect ourselves from the probability. Yes, we may welcome and congratulate others in their new births, but good order, stability and security are what we work for.

A friend of ours became pregnant in her late 40’s and although I was happy for the couple, I could never see my wife and I welcoming another child at our age. I would most likely not be laughing at such an announcement, but crying.

In the midst of such attitudes God comes to us to proclaim that he has started a new thing in our day and time. The church is indeed pregnant, birthing and being reborn.

Now some of us will laugh at this possibility from inside the well constructed church institutions we have made. “Over my dead body” may be the declaration of a few. Some of us may agree with our need to be reborn, but limit it to controlled test tube events that really do not change the substance of life as we know it.

However, whether we laugh, cry or grieve, God is still in the process of birthing a new thing in the midst of the old.

Sarah laughed, but that didn’t prevent her from conceiving and giving birth to a child that would become part of God’s continually unfolding story of salvation. I wonder how much more she laughed at herself as she looked at what God had blessed her with.

May God bless us with the pleasure of participating in new beginnings.

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Think Differently

October 6, 2011

I’ve discovered “Busted Halo,” an online magazine for spiritual seekers sponsored by the Paulist Fathers. Today, like many other sites, they featured an article entitled  Think Different by Tom Gibbons and inspired by the death of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple.

The article highlights for me the alternate story the church is called to be as part of God’s mission.

I leave you with a piece of this article and a video which emphasizes this point.

I have to confess, the part of me that has loved Mac computers for as long as I can remember sometimes strafed at the idea of becoming an official member for another worldwide organization for whom the slogan “Think Different” is not usually associated. But that’s when I remember that while “thinking outside of the box” is not typically a value that my church holds, it does often force me to think different in other areas of life — something that I might not have done before. And I am also reminded that the church, like Apple Inc., was started by somebody who would easily fit the commercial montage that begins with, “Here’s to the rebels.”

A discussion on the value and importance of our larger communities is something that is often lacking in American culture. The way our communities — ecclesial and otherwise — shape us. The way our communities remind us that it is not only about your individual life…my individual life…that discussion can be, and should be, had often.

But that conversation can be held another day because today is a day to honor those individuals who have reminded us about the limitations those communities can sometimes impose, the individuals on whose achievements we stand because they chose to “think different.”


aXiom Calgary

September 9, 2011

I’m pleased to announce the upcoming aXiom Calgary two-day missional training event.  We’re pleased to have Karen Wilk and Cam Roxburgh in town, two seasoned practitioners in helping churches thrive in the neighbourhood.  The landscape that the church has operated in is shifting and aXiom seeks to offer fresh yet rooted insights and training for church leaders to see God at work and join him in that work.  You can download the full .pdf poster here: Axiom Calgary Poster


Becoming “Neighbourhood” Christians: Some Resources (part 1)

September 7, 2011

This weekend I spent some time with several people who live out daily life as “neighbourhood” Christians.  They know their neighbours and have build deep lasting relationships with them by adopting practices of hospitality and making the persistent choice to live with and among their neighbours.  This is no easy task!  After a long day of work, church committments, and then barely getting supper together for your own family, how can we find time for fostering healthy relationships with other busy people on our street?  Maybe we can learn a few lessons from those who are doing it well.  Here are a few books, and better yet, a few local events that are helping ordinary church folks like you and me see our mission in a whole new light.  The result is a movement of churches that are finding health in unexpected practices:

Upcoming Events:

  • Axiom Calgary is a two day missional training event put on by Forge Canada and was created to help leaders from churches and neighbourhoods find a path towards hope for the church in a changing context.  The next Axiom event is November 11-12 at Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in Calgary and will be led by Karen Wilk, author of “Don’t invite them to Church” and Cam Roxburgh, the National Director of Forge Canada.  Click here for more info.
  • The Urban Forum is an exciting event happening in Calgary (Oct. 12) and Edmonton (Oct. 13) and it’s focus is to paint the theological and ‘how-to’  picture for local churches on how to be active participants in the building and transformation of their communities/parishes.  You can find out more by clicking here.  This is a great partnership between denominations and several para-church organizations.
  • If you’re in Winnipeg from November 15-17, you may want to attend the big church planing congress (The Congress) put on by Church Planting Canada.  It’s about more than church planting, but about how church leaders are reclaiming the missionary call in our neighbourhoods.  Exciting stuff!

Books:

The important thing for us is that the future of the church does not rest in how well we run programs or fill our church calendars, but in how we incarnate the love of Christ in our neighbourhoods and help equip our churches to live this out in real ways.


Post-Convention Life (Seeing the Bible as a walking stick)

August 23, 2011

What really has changed?

Some people would say that everything has changed.

Questions of Biblical authority are now being discussed in many different settings and some of those conversations are convincing people that the ELCIC has departed from Section 3 of the ELCIC Constitution – “This church confesses the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God, through which God still speaks, and as the only source of the church’s doctrine and the authoritative standard for the faith and life of the church.” In passing motions that opened ordination to those of all sexual orientations and allowing rostered ministers to preside at same gender marriages, some would say that the ELCIC is in a state of apostasy. If the ELCIC has strayed from its “only source” and “authoritative standard” is it still viable or just in a confessional conundrum?

For me it is not a question of Scriptural authority – it is a question of Scriptural idolatry. Can God only speak through the words of the Old and New Testaments? Are our hands tied in reaching out because we are told what is clean and what is unclean? Maybe what Scripture says has more to do with how we approach it and what we want it to say? Maybe our understanding is too small, too incomplete?

How would your life today be different if when you were in your early years, maybe 8 or 9, you collected the letters you had written, the pictures you had drawn, the stories you had written about your life on summer vacation and put them together in a scrapbook and for the rest of your life used it to condition the way you thought about the world you live in?

Maybe we should, just for a moment, look at Scripture that way. How has our life and faith been diminished because early in the life of the Church a scrapbook was compiled from the letters and stories that were shared in the community and then “scripturalized” so that nothing could be removed and nothing could be added? It was then used to silence new faith stories, to destroy new letters of life and faith, to control those who tried to walk further. How much greater could the church be if throughout history the canon was opened to include the Confessions of St Augustine, the Life of St Francis of Assisi, The Gospel according to Luther or Calvin, The new Psalms of the Wesleys, Letters from prison by Bonhoeffer, etc. We read and are moved by many of these stories of faith, and perhaps even give them authority in our lives. Are they perhaps also “Scripture”?

Maybe it is time to move beyond seeing the Bible as a hammer and chisel, pounding and shaping us, and to begin seeing it as a walking stick that supports and assists us along this journey of faith. It doesn’t tell us which mountain to climb or what river to cross, but it is there as we see a new horizon and as we feel the water surrounding us.


What’s Up With Lutherans?

June 29, 2011

I was sent this blog post recently, written by Kevin DeYoung over at the Gospel Coalition.  You can find the link here.  It’s a blog post that got me thinking about the place of Lutherans in the larger church.  Enjoy Food for thought.

What’s Up With Lutherans? by Kevin DeYoung

This isn’t meant to be a snarky rhetorical post. It’s a genuine question.

What up with Lutherans?

More to the point: where are they? I’m looking for help from those of you out there who know the Lutheran world better than I do. I look around at what’s seem vibrant in evangelicalism and see lots of Baptists and Presbyterians. I see a lot of Free Church folks and a growing number of Anglicans. I see non-denominational guys aplenty. The Pentecostal world is a little outside my circles, but I certainly see continuationists and charismatics in conservative evangelical circles. But I don’t see many Lutherans.

I don’t know of Lutherans speaking at the leading conferences. I don’t know of many popular books written by Lutherans. I don’t know of church planting movements among Lutherans. I know lots of people who look up to Martin Luther, but I don’t see the influence of Lutherans.

I’m genuinely curious to know why the big tent of conservative, confessional evangelicalism doesn’t have more Lutherans. I understand that the Calvinist soteriology of TGC and T4G types doesn’t fit with Methodism or parts of the Holiness traditions, but Luther’s doctrine of predestination was Calvinist before there was Calvin.

I know Gene Veith is Lutheran. So is Doug Sweeney. White Horse Inn has worked hard to include the confessional wing of Lutheranism. But after that, I’m drawing a blank to come up with contemporary Lutheran leaders/theologians/pastors I know or read. I’m not blaming anyone–Lutherans or the Young, Restless, Reformed movement or the blogosphere or Sarah Palin. It’s just something I’ve thought about from time to time: Where have all the Lutherans gone? I know you exist outside of Lake Wobegon.

So which of the statements below best explains why quandry?

1. I’m ignorant. This is, no doubt, a  big part of the explanation. I’m sure there are thousands of good Lutheran churches and pastors. I just don’t know all the good they are doing and saying. And there may be thinkers and authors I like who are simply Lutheran without my knowing it.

2. With their high church, confessional tradition, Lutheranism has always been a little out of place with the sometimes rootless, low church expressions of evangelicalism. They never got on board with evangelicalism after the Great Awakening. This may be part of it, but evangelicalism has been influenced by many Anglican theologians and preachers, hasn’t it?

3. Lutherans are content to remain in ethnic enclaves. Again, that could be part of the issue, but then how do you explain the influence of the Dutch Reformed on evangelicalism?

4. The Lutheran view of the sacraments is a bridge too far for many evangelicals, and the faddish nature of evangelicalism is a bridge too far for many Lutherans.

5. Lutheranism in America has bigger problems and less influence than many people realize. The bulk of Lutherans have gone liberal and the rest have gone into bunker mode.

I’ll read the comments more carefully than usual. I blog so that I might understand. Help me out, especially if you are part of the tribe: What’s up with Lutherans?

Update

Thanks to all those who took the time to leave a thoughtful comment on the state of the Lutheran church. Just to be clear, I was not trying to suggest in anyway that there are no Lutherans in the country (there are millions!), nor that these Lutherans are not doing faithful ministry. My central question was about the place of Lutherans in the big tent of evangelicalism. Along those lines, I thought the point about closed communion was helpful. I had forgotten about that reality. Many thanks for the good insights and the good stories of good Lutherans. Special blessings on those Lutherans trying to stay faithful in a mainline context. I feel your pain.


Empowering and Sending in the Name of Jesus: A New Vision for Missions in the ELCIC

April 25, 2011

I saw a photo the other day. It was a nice photo of several ELCIC Bishops and Executives in a foreign land touring a facility supported in part by Lutherans here in Canada. There was a quote from the National Bishop who listed off all the activities being engaged, “Irrigation projects, food security, emergency response, refugee camps, community development, rural schools, health care, empowerment for women – the list is amazing.”
The picture was a snapshot of missions in the ELCIC, and I felt that something was missing. Over Easter, I continued to ponder the picture and the quote from the Bishop. What is missing? What could the Gospel of Jesus and the hope of Easter have to say to the challenge of Missions for the ELCIC? I believe there are two challenges to our present model of cross-cultural missions engagement.

First: The photo is of church leaders alone engaging cross-culturally. Bishops and Executives travel abroad, but it cannot be their project alone. It is not sustainable to leave missions work in the hands of Bishops, it must be the work of the people. I know that our churches support overseas work financially, but ordinary people must be empowered to carry on the work with their own hands. This was Paul’s model. In Acts 18, Paul traveled with Silas and Timothy, he then met Aquila and Priscilla who traveled on with him before baptizing Titius Justus’ family. It was then Aquila and Priscilla who shared the Gospel with Apollos who in turn went to Achaia and “was a great help to those who by grace had believed.” Acts 18 starts with Paul but ends several steps away with an empowered and growing group of missionaries who are eager to testify to the work of God in their lives. We need to do more to empower people to engage in cross-cultural missions. Last year, my wife (a nurse and experienced missionary) and I did an experiment. We wanted to see how easy it was for us to get involved with missions in the ELCIC.  We followed links with CLWR, emailed and called the Executive Director and the National Bishop in an effort to engage cross-culturally through our denomination.  After a year, we have learned of no opportunities for us to serve as volunteers.  If a nurse and church worker cannot get involved in cross-cultural missions through our present system, the challenge must be so much greater for others.  In fact, according to the 2009-2010 CLWR annual report, only “two [volunteer] placements were facilitated” by our primary missions/aid organization (CLWR Annual Report page 12).  Perhaps that is why, today, we have fewer missionaries than virtually any other evangelical denomination in Canada on a per-baptized member basis.  The Christian and Missionary Alliance (by way of example), has about one supported missionary for every 226 baptized members.  The ELCIC has about one supported missionary for every 50 thousand baptized members.  And those missionaries we do support are now managed by offices in the United States.  Critics may say, “look, we don’t send many missionaries because we’re all missionaries!”  But that was not Paul’s perspective, he did empower and send people out, and so should we.  We need to empower ordinary Lutheran Christians to get their feet on the ground and try out cross cultural missions for themselves.  In 2008 I took eight people to the Xingu River in Brazil.  For a week we delivered water filters, supported local churches, shared the message of Jesus and delivered medical aid with a doctor and two nurses deep in the Amazon jungle.  It was a team of ordinary people from our church using their gifts to share the hope of Jesus. 

Second: The list of activities we’re engaging in is good, “Irrigation projects, food security, emergency response, refugee camps, community development, rural schools, health care, empowerment for women – the list is amazing.”  But in this list, I wonder if we also ought to make disciples, train pastors, and support local churches. This is a big part of what it means to be In Mission for Others. Bruxy Cavey said that, “Social activism is an expression of the Kingdom of God, but don’t mistake it for the full Gospel. There can be no kingdom without a King.”  Cross cultural missions without mention of building up believers, making disciples, or helping people follow Christ is not sustainable nor biblical.  Paul went into cities and towns on his missionary journeys and told people about Jesus.  People live when they hear about Jesus, that’s why Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone of our church, our Hope and Saviour.  Let’s do good overseas, but doing good starts with a robust view of Jesus and His saving grace.  Jesus is not an imposition that must be hidden or couched in social initiatives, the Gospel transcends cultural barriers because Jesus is immanent and accessible to every culture –  it’s for that very reason that we can share Jesus without fear.

Ordinary people delivering water filters, medical aid, and the love of Jesus to the Amazon.

A new vision of missions in the ELCIC would do two things.  First, it would empower ordinary people to get out there, to travel overseas and follow Jesus wherever he may lead.  This new vision would say that missionaries do not have to be experts or clergy, just people with a passion to testify to the love of Jesus in word and deed in a setting different than their own.  Our present system would shift towards empowering others to go overseas in an accessible and tangible way.  Secondly, this new vision would make sharing the Gospel of Jesus a central part of the work we do when thinking about missions.  It would recognize that we cannot fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 without making disciples of all nations.