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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Becoming “Neighbourhood” Christians: Some Resources (part 2)

September 7, 2011

I’m a visual thinker, here are some helpful short videos that have helped me think about becoming a “neighbourhood” Christian in my own town.

Lastly, Check out the amazing work of a bunch of neighbourhood minded folks in the States.  They started a website to plot themselves in the neighbourhood, and find others who were keen to become better neighbours.  The result is a map that is growing to include people in the US and Canada.  Why not plot your own spot and start the journey of good neighbouring?  Check out the website, Building Blocks: Rediscovering the Art of Neighbouring.


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.


Looking forward in hope…

July 12, 2011

It is just a few days until the ELCIC gathers in its National Convention in Saskatoon, SK. Many have said that this will be a turning point in the life of the church and it will not look the same post-convention. I do believe those statements are true, but what will the “other side” hold for us. I have heard statements of despair, fear, powerlessness, wilderness wandering, pointlessness and others that have created a sense of gloom and doom in relation to the convention. It has undertones of “post-apocalyptic” living in which the life we have known will be no more.

This outburst of change is for me a sign of hope in the life of the ELCIC. Even as we are still a young church, we have fallen into a lifestyle (faithstyle?) that is killing us. We gather in small groups to do again and again what historically has been produced for us to do. We constantly look to the past and “what has been” for the “true” way to be Lutheran. We lounge in a sense of entitlement and comfort in knowing who we are historically as Lutherans, but have no idea what it is to live a “Lutheran” life in today’s world. And I believe that we fear the identity crisis that the future still holds for us.

Is it time that we renew our commitment to the Truth of Christ, instead of defending the differences that make us “Lutheran”? How would our lives change if we truly embraced the transformation that comes in the Love shown to us through the man Jesus? How could we transform this world by remembering that as we are found in Christ we are in an interdependent relationship with each other and all creation?

What might we be as the ELCIC if we look forward in hope toward a life of abundance given to us through Jesus the Christ? I am excited to see what God has in mind for the future of the ELCIC. I believe the decisions made will indeed break us from the past “institutional” identity of church (which scares some people) into a transformed life that lives in relationship with God and the Creation in love and joy and hope.


Missions and Jesus: An Atheist’s Surprising View

May 13, 2011

Around 7.8 million dollars was used by Canadian Lutheran World Relief for good work around the world last year.  From hospitals, to clean water, to feeding the poor, this organization does so much.  In fact, CLWR is well respected internationally for these wonderful activities.  For all the good work that this organization does (which we happily support), one thing that it does not focus on is evangelism.  Over the past 50 years, the Mainline Protestant church (a rapidly shrinking segment of the Church, interestingly), has largely removed cross-cultural evangelism from its mandate, opting instead to focus more strictly on aid.  Perhaps evangelism is viewed as an imposition onto other people, or perhaps physical aid is given greater importance than telling people about Jesus, whatever the reason, evangelism is demonstrably lacking from most of the work we Lutherans do overseas. 

So you can imagine my surprise to read an editorial by South African born, UK former member or parliament, and atheist, Matthew Parris saying that Africa needs more Christian missionaries and evangelism.  He says,

“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

What a striking shift in thinking from what we’ve become accustomed to!  How is it that a South African would embrace the colonial or imperial impositions of Christian evangelists and missionaries on Africans?  Perhaps it’s because a living relationship with Jesus is not an imposition.  Perhaps Jesus wants a relationship with everyone and perhaps the Kingdom of God is good news for all cultures in the world.  Matthew Parris holds the surprising conviction that the world needs to hear more about Jesus, not less.  He believes that physical aid is simply not enough to change the world, the hope of Jesus is foundational to any cultural change. 

I’m pleased that the CLWR and others have reached out to share the love of Christ in the form of food and clean water, but we need to expand our mandate to include sharing the hope of Jesus.  We can give clean water (and we should), but let’s also tell people about the Living Water of Jesus who satisfies a much deeper thirst.  That’s what it truly means to be “In Mission for Others.”

I encourage you to read the full article by Matthew Parris from the London Times, it’s really very insightful. Click here for the original article.

Also, check out this remarkable campaign from Compassion Canada called “The Difference is Jesus;” they say that “poverty has an eternal solution.”  It’s a bold move, but I agree with Matthew Parris, Jesus might just be the one to save people from poverty.  Who’d a thought?


Talking about Jesus

February 11, 2011

Get this, I read today that, “Although many churches are worried about offending people by sharing the Gospel, less than 1 percent of the population complained Christians are too aggressive in their evangelistic efforts.”

Last week I had to deal with a challenging situation in the community.  A domestic dispute involving a number of people.  After a time of prayer with our staff, I entered the fray wondering what God would have me face.  I went in realizing that I could not solve any of these problems, but Jesus could bring peace, if only we talked with him and about him.  Very soon I was praying with some new friends and found that instead of being offended by my offer of prayer, they were delighted to have me talk to Jesus with them.  The police that were there said that a minister can do far more to diffuse a situation than any police officer.  Friends, let’s talk about Jesus more often.  The Gospel is truly good news.


What if…The Synod Convention Was a Catalyzing Event?

June 4, 2010

This weekend the Alberta and Territories Synod of the ELCIC is meeting for their convention in Camrose to worship, address business, and (hopefully) create new momentum for our ministry and life together.
Check out the ABT Synod Convention Blog following all the action.

This weekend, if you’re at the convention, be sure to connect and dream together about the future.  God is at work in our midst!

You may also be interested in the What if? One-Day Missional Conversation coming up on November 6th in Calgary.  It will be a full day of dreaming and idea-sharing for the future of the Church – an important event that you’re welcome to be a part of!