Signals and the Kingdom of God knocking

Signals are important! They save lives and they indicate new life. In a hospital, signals engage healthcare workers to respond to emergencies. In child birth, signals, like water breaking and contractions, indicate new life about to be born. On the road driving, they indicate a turn, or change of course. Signals need visual alerts and sounds of articulation to fall on eyes and ears in order to work. Whether beeps, or blog posts, signals need a voice…. And ears to hear and eyes to see.

There is something happing at City Center Church. I’ve been convinced of this since our arrival last fall. This little church in the most rugged of Surrey neighbourhoods is a most unlikely agent of transformation. This community is in need of care. One would think that a full on crew, resourced to the hilt with cash and expertise, peppered with important people and skills, would be a more likely force for change….

But there are signals and they are telling us something else…

You see, I bear witness to signals…. Another way to say this is that I tell stories about how God is reconciling the world to himself… putting to rights all that went wrong with the fall and transforming community structures so that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. It’s about that great Patmos picture in Revelation 21 of a new heaven and new earth. The beautiful part about this is that God invites his Church through signals from the Spirit to participate:

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[b] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

(2 Corinthians 18-20)

And trust me, there are signals that this is happening…

What are the signals? Let me share some with you…

Signal #1 – A breath of fresh pastoral air

I believe there is a fresh perspective for community transformation from our new pastor. You know, in the bible, it talks about welcoming angels at your door… I’ve come to know Gabriel (interesting name, huh?) quite well since he knocked on our door as our new pastor. The Holy Spirit has breathed new adventure through him into our hearts… his openness to change and following Jesus into the Kingdom is encouraging. The church prayed for someone in a pastor that could support the doing of a new work among us. Perhaps the best signal in this is that it’s not about a pastor doing the work. It’s about cultivating an environment where the community of saints can realize their own ordination by baptizm into ministry via participation in the Kingdom… we are one body with many parts and the head is Jesus. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) This is crystal clear in his approach and the Spirit has inspired us through him. 

Signal #2 – A supply chain under our noses

There are people dreaming about moving from charity to community. But there is a crisis exasperated by Covid-19 that needs a charitable response each day. People are hungry and homeless and on the brink of utter desolation. The church must help. Since Covid, we’ve partnered with donors and shelters to distribute 10,000 plus bagged lunches. This is an effort that this needs to continue and a signal that God is doing something new. The food keeps coming and the need is still there and the need is being met. We didn’t start this fire of relief for the pain in our community, God did. The irony is that it took the church to close its doors for this to happen. Interesting! This dovetails into dreams that the other signals are alerting us to…

Signal #3 – The gift of a garden

People have been talking. Neighbours have shared rumours of glory and the desire for community among the people… this is beyond charity and I’m convinced if we can figure out how to create a sense of belonging with our community, we can take a big stick and jam it in the spokes of the wheel of oppression in our neighbourhood. Things like food inequality, homelessness, poverty, etc. These things can be addressed and something as simple as a Garden can help. We’ve received an approval for a community garden from the City without formally asking. We’ve received grant information and donation offers for all the supplies. We’ve received offers of help from the community to be a part of this. My friends, you can’t make this stuff up. It has wheels that we can’t physically see moving this along. 

Signal #4- God fearing gentiles among us. 

There are people, like my friend Shirwan from Iraq who can’t put an English sentence together, but desires to be part of whatever we do, especially if it’s outside in the streets. I’ve seen this man hand out hotdogs to our friends who live in the street like he’s serving a king! He is a cook. He wants to help. And the Spirit makes possible our connection. Last Sunday I organized a tail gate BBQ after our gathering. It was risky due to Covid-19, but our church family was gracious enough to support it. God bless them! On the Thursday before Sunday, Shirwan sent me a random message. I haven’t heard from him for a while. Out of the blue. I invited him. He came. He connected. He had dinner with congregants – one who could speak Arabic – he was enveloped into our community. This is one story. There are many others who are not part of us, but are connected to a work of God’s Spirit in our neighbourhood. And the Spirit of God is signalling to us through God-fearing Gentiles to come deeper into our neighbourhood.

All these signals – and trust me there are many more – have a common thread woven between them. The Holy Spirit. These things are all being orchestrated by God and serve as an invitation into something new outside of our church walls and in our community. So, here is the kicker…there’s a call to action….yup! This blog has a call to action. 

You are here for a reason. You’ve been chosen by God as a minister of reconciliation in our community. God is moving people into the ground, to till the earth, to get dirty with the work of LOVE in tangible and incarnational ways. It all starts with a question. Ask yourself this. “Am I being called into this neighbourhood?” Chances are, if you are part of our church, you are here for this reason. So go ahead and do the following as a little call to action:

1. Grab your ear lobes and rub them warm.. say the following prayer “Lord Jesus send the signals of your good work in the City Center neighbourhood  to my ears and tell us what we must do.” 

2. Rub your eyes and say the following: “Holy Spirit Give me eyes to see your work in our community.”

3. Hold your heart and say “Father, change my heart so that I can feel how you feel about our neighbourhood.”

There, that was simple, wasn’t it? Or… was it possibly the most dangerous thing you’ve done?

Be blessed,

Your brother, John 

A String of Violence…

Just about three weeks ago, not far from my house, police tape was up around a McDonald’s restaurant. There had been a shooting. On October 19th, six men were murdered in an apartment complex; again, not far from where I live. Last night in Vancouver there was a targeted murder of a gang member. And tonight, on my way home, a friend and I were witnesses to a road rage stabbing that could have very easily claimed the life of the victim. He is in hospital and in surgery to repair three very deep and serious stab wounds. I pray the Lord protects his life.

My friend suggested that something was strange and wrong with the fender bender that happened across the street from were we were driving. There was an altercation in front of the victims driver side door that seemed more than the customary exchange of information. We pulled a u-turn as the suspect got into his vehicle and fled. The victim got out of his vehicle bleeding profusely telling us he had been stabbed. We tried to settle him as best we could until the paramedics arrived. I felt for the guy as he expressed his fear while we waited.

This string of violence lately seems to be fierce and consistent in this neighbourhood. I remember feeling like there was a cloud of evil hovering the Surrey area days after the six murders; as if some oppressive hand was having its way. Such disregard for life has made this place uneasy, and naturally, fear surfaces as the dominant emotion; forming a tense ethos. Oddly, today I had been reading Walter Wink’s book, The Powers that Be, on my way to and from work on the train. The two experiences of reading about evil forces at work in the powers, and then being confronted with them, made for an erie tone to my evening. We prayed for the victim.

Somewhere in this mess of violence, the incarnation beholds the living God to the world. And God in Jesus turns the powers of violence on their head. What seems like an endless, violent, cycle spinning out of control is tamed and subverted by the Kingdom and the cross. This is our hope. How might the gospel seek to redeem this neighbourhood in violent turmoil?

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A Community in my face…Part 2

As I spent my lunch hour yesterday writing about the community I walk past each day on my way to work, I had yet to pass them on my way home. As I left the train and made my way down the road toward my car, I could see the people congregating again in little circles, just as in the morning. I glanced over several times and could tell I was in the midst of a struggle. I was struggling between the desire to go home and be with my family, and the obvious niggling in me that was inviting me to experience a different world. I was losing. I went to my car and sat down for a minute. I came to the realization that the longer I sat the more I justified why not exploring this community was the best option. As one who loves Jesus and the community where I live, I made the decision to go and meet some people because I think it to be an injustice that people have no shelter.

I walked over and just said ‘Hi’. I met a small group of four people who were kind and delightful. They all had stories of hardship, addiction and bad luck. Most of them are from back east and have made their way here looking for a better life. One was a hockey player who had his sights set on making the NHL. They have odd jobs that don’t last too long because the reality of holding down a job when homeless is that it’s extremely difficult. There is a ministry called Night Shift that comes by every night to feed them dinner that they praised and were thankful for. I hung out for about 20 minutes and taking the opportunity to just listen and hear these people was, I hope, a step in learning more about this community and the Kingdom.

After leaving this conversation, I had this strange sense in me that I had just hung out with Christ.

I need to find a blanket for Casper.

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A Community in my face…

Poverty 10 06.Jpg (Jpeg Image, 445X296 Pixels)

Each morning I get up in the wee hours, prepare myself for work and make my way to the train station where I park my car before the 40 minute trip into downtown. I park on the street beside a vacant lot that is a smattering of trees and unkept grass. Upon first glance, anyone will realize this is an abandoned lot. On an adjacent street, one riddled with syringes and roaming prostitutes, there is the local food bank which is frequented often by the needy. This is the marginalized centre of Whalley, in the city of Surrey. It is wrought with discomfort, brokenness, and violent crime. The people here are considered by societies standards, the dregs. Although I live in an somewhat well kept neighbourhood, this place is a five minute drive from home.

Since the summer weather is nicely lingering and offering mild days, lately I have noticed a community forming in the vacant lot that I park next to. There are about 15 people that call this abandoned lot home. I am confronted by them daily, not in a ‘harassing’ way (perhaps only harassing to my comfort), but in a way that has troubled me since I have begun exploring how God works in each moment of my day. The simple question, “What are you saying, God?“, if offered to each situation in life, can have serious implications for faithfulness.

People ignore the humans (that’s right, humans) that struggle through life in this park. Some pass them by thinking “You’ve made your own bed, you deserve this.” How Karmic such statements are. Others don’t even notice that these are someone’s earthly and heavenly children. As I pass, always in a rush to get to work on time, these sentiments make their way out of my heart as well. Then I realize that were Jesus here today in person, these would be the ones he would wake up beside to the sunshine, or rain, of the morning. They are the “least of these” Jesus talked about. These are the ones who would jive to hearing that he too didn’t have a place to rest his head. These are the ones that would be drawn to the one who identified with them through the incarnation.

Where does that leave me today? Troubled. Why? because I know that as Christians we are to implement the plan of reconciliation that Jesus fulfilled and instigated on the cross. To say the least, I am challenged. I am challenged to the point where I want to shake myself (or be shaken) out of this slumber of day-to-day getting along, and make my life here a reflection of God. Because I know he cares for those I tend to sheepishly pass by.

I am also inspired. Our mission groups are gearing up for a journey into discernment as well. Through this we want to eagerly hear God’s invitation to us to act justly and love mercy in our neighbourhood. My question of; ‘How is God inviting us to embody his love here?‘, is lingering as I write.

Perhaps my discomfort is a sign of God’s attempt to reach send me?

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Loving a Neighbourhood: Chronicles of Incarnation Pt 3

Last Wednesday night our mission group offered to team up with another group in our area to help them with a BBQ in a local apartment complex. The complex houses many who struggle economically and a few valuable members from our congregation call that place home. Our group supplied the buns and and helping hands for dinner. All were appreciative of the free meal. In little conversation huddles we sat on the grass in shade protected patches , talking and eating. The people there are wonderful and much good conversation was had by all.

In a way, this apartment complex is its own little tucked away community within this neighbourhood. Separated by a stone’s throw from ‘home owners’ bumping up against the diminishing middle class stratosphere, this community seems less guarded, perhaps less jaded, than the many who keep to themselves around us. One would think that the poor among us should be the ones protecting and alienating themselves from others, as one could generally say that more suffering comes with the lot of economic challenge. But perhaps community is fostered more easily in such a complex because there is less distraction from materialism’s lure. As I sat and watched people, ordinary folk, mingling and sharing a meal, I began to dream how through a gathering like this a grass roots people movement could take shape. I imagined what it would have been like sitting on the hill as Jesus taught while we shared bread.

Tonight our mission group had our bread night. We bagged all the bread in our friend’s carport and then invited people to come and have some juice and bread for free. A few of us also went out to people we knew and dropped bread off at their homes. Surprisingly there were some who just said “no, we don’t want any free bread”, which was kind of surprising. I think this confirms a little for me the reality of suspiciousness in our culture. It seems hard for people to receive a gift without strings attached. Some might wonder if there is an agenda and that’s a good question. A resounding ‘NO’ is the answer, unless one calls loving others an agenda. How does a group of people that love a community work through the element of suspicion in a neighbourhood? I guess it takes time.

I did meet a family that is new to our neighbourhood tonight. It was a nice change as they were open, welcomed me in, and exchanged information with me to set up a lunch. A blessing indeed.

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The People Formerly Known as Passive (or TPFKAP)

Out of the depths of our apathy we cried to the Lord and asked that He rescue us from this lethargic, passive slumber. It was only by His Spirit stirring in us (the ones you would least expect) that we even became aware of our numbness. We are tired and fed up with our own blindness to the issues that break our Missional God’s heart. We are the ones who are stirred to mourn with God when we read Amos 6:1-7. Not only do we mourn for the less fortunate ones that our society brushes aside to the broken-dream boulevard, but we also mourn because we are part of the problem. Our way – the very fabric of society that we participate in – is flawed and contributes to the marginalization, oppression, and exploitation of the poor. Oh God, how did we not see our complicity in this?

We will no longer allow our society to socialize us into its status-quo Royal Numbness. Everything is not OK. We are realizing how much our culture has imposed its a-musement onto our faith. This has shaped us into passive Christians who ignore suffering while pawning it off as someone else’s problem. We are seeing this for the first time and it is breaking our hearts. We are tired of being passive.

You see, we were once known as a people who sat passively as Christian food was fed to us, and for us, one point at a time. We thought this Christian thing was all about what we could get to help us live better, nicer, surfacy-moral, Western lives. Boy, were we mistaken. You see, it just dawned on us that we were organizing ourselves around the principle of having our spiritual needs met. We wanted to coast through this life locked and loaded with our salvation to ensure we end up on the right side of the celestial tracks. We didn’t want too much change because that would risk our comfortable lives. We have taken a stand and chosen to wake up from this deadly slumber. No more impotent, passive faith for us. We are now the people formerly known as passive.

We have decided to pay attention. When we wake up each day we step into the Kingdom afresh and intentionally choose to see this world through Holy Spirit eyes. A strange thing has happened since: we have begun to feel this world with God’s heart and we now desire to work in this world as God’s hands. Our actions are a direct response to the realization of how much God loves us. We are aware that this has implications for every area of our lives; for it will question what we watch on TV (or even why we watch it), where and why we shop, who we will spend our time with, what we read, how we act outside of church walls, and every other element of our lives. We are tired of casting a blank stare when someone asks us to share how God has worked in our lives this week. Now, every moment for us is an active exploration of God’s presence and will. Yes folks, we are the people formerly known as passive. We are awake and living lives of discernment eager to respond to the invitation from our missional God.

We remember things. We intently make it our priority to Examen our lives regularly. We take Spiritual Formation and Discipleship and Listening and Mission seriously. We are learning daily through our experiences more about ourselves and God and most importantly, what he is up to in our neighbourhood. This is revelationary! Because we have learned to listen to the still small voice. We are seeing things more clearly and we are no longer passive. Not only can we point out with ease what grieves God in our community, we can imagine with vivid imagery how we can work with God to change things systemically. For the first time in our lives, our imaginations are ripe and ready to dream the great Patmos dream for our neighbourhood. Our eyes and minds are focused and ready to ferret out the interplay between heaven and earth overlapping. For we have learned to pay attention. We are the people formerly known as passive.

Inspired by Bill’s Original TPFKATC

and the others followed:

Part Two (Grace)

Part Three (Jamie)

Part Four (John)

Part Five (Greg)

Part Six (Heidi)

Part Seven (Lyn)

And I guess this one by me is Part Eight

[UPDATE: Bill Kinnon pointed out to me that Brother Maynard has made his own two contributions to this popular meme (TPFSilent & TPFLabled). It seems that my entry is somewhere near the twentieth in this TPFKA theme. I will link up to others as I discover more of them.]

[2nd Update: Brother Maynard has supplied us with additional links in the TPFKA series of posts]

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Loving a Neighbourhood: Chronicles of Incarnation Part 2

On Thursday night, my wife, kids, and I wandered through our neighbourhood after dinner. It was about 7:15 pm and the evening was sunny and warm. Our hope was to encounter people on our stroll to talk with and listen to. We didn’t get much further than our driveway before we began a conversation with our immediate neighbour. Her and her husband have their house up for sale as they are moving to a senior’s community that will make life easier for them in their old age. They are but a few remaining original owners in this neighbourhood that was established in the 50’s. They are a very nice Christian couple that have been warm and inviting since we’ve lived here. I found out that they have an offer on their home and the subjects will be removed on Monday. It is almost certain that we will be welcoming new, Sikh neighbours. I have many friends who are Sikh and their families model community in a way that frankly put’s some Christian communities to shame. I welcome the opportunity for dialogue and new friendships.

This is all indicative of how our neighbourhood is changing as we are moving from hegemony to ethnic diversity at a rapid pace. Many of these changes (especially ethnic) have impacted existing (caucasian) residents and caused many to respond in a way that seeks to protect and preserve the ‘old’ way of life that is familiar. This is evident in the large community turn out to protest the proposal for a Khalsa School in the vicinity. It is also evident in the aftermath of large number of homes put up for sale after the approval for the proposal by city council. Some are retrenching into a defensive posture toward change and others are fleeing further into the suburbs to a new life. This all reflects a subtle but powerful narrative or fear and suspicion that is shaping the lives of people in our neighbourhood; a narrative that has largely moved the church in the West to retrench with its actions as well.

These changes in our neighbourhood are reflected ecclesially as well. We learned from our neighbour that the Oak Avenue united Church down the street (50 years of ministry) was just sold off because of a dying congregation. With a new Sikh Temple going up with the Khalsa School, and the decay of old Christian congregations, it is evident that we need to move away from evangelistic practices based on the assumption that people in our community have some Christian memory. Many in fact will not/do not and the statistics are swinging further in that direction. What will be needed are ecclesial structures and missional practices that can incarnate the gospel cross-culturally. Alan Hirsh’s work The Forgotten Ways explains the cultural and paradigmatic shifts we are confronted with quite well.

Well, we made it out of our driveway and proceeded on our adventure. Down the road from our house we met a nice couple (older than us) that have lived in this neighbourhood for twenty years. They are moving as well. Over the last number of years they have invested much time into the community association that has sought the architectural and residential preservation of this neighbourhood. When I inquired as to why they are moving, they mentioned that they have too much stuff and need more space. This is not an uncommon reason for people to move these days. The accumulation of stuff seems central to the way society is shaping us as people. I am not surprised at such a response when I consider the amount of money and effort put into marketing so people will keep buying and buying. Again, here is a subtle but powerful narrative that is shaping many people among us. Buy more stuff and you will be happy.

The above two encounters leave me wondering at what mission in this neighbourhood could look like. On the one hand we have the fears and suspicion to different people groups (including the church), and on the other, we have the enormous cultural feature of materialism that promises people a happy ending via accumulation. How might the church in this neighbourhood seek to engage with the gospel the fears, suspicion, and materialism that slowly erode humanity further from who we were all created to be? In addition, as we believe that God is already at work outside of us in the other, what is He saying to us through these experiences and what is he inviting us into?

These questions are the focus of our prayers for now.

I haven’t touched on some of the critical and more visible issues yet like poverty, prostitution and drugs, and I will do so in time as this journey unfolds.

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