I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You…

We were made to worship…

I don’t know if you’re a Bob Dylan fan. But I am. He has a knack for rousing the human heart with his lyrics. Some suggest he is a prophet and with this, I agree. He has spoken of the things that matter in ways that led to cultural revolutions and that have produced a devoted following. The name of this blog is the same as a song on his latest masterpiece album, Rough and Rowdy Ways. “I made up my mind to give myself to you” is a great song and I encourage you to have a listen.

Why am I pointing you to this song? Because this is a deep and profound song about worship and on Sunday I’ll be speaking to you about idolatry, which is all about worship. It’s a topic that has been on my mind for some time and I’m eager to share with you the things I’ve been learning about it through the Gideon story.

So, what do I want you to know before Sunday?

The first thing I want you to know is that we were made to worship. That means that we are always in the process of giving ourselves to someone or something. In the scriptures and in our faith, we encounter the God that made us and instructs us to give ourselves over only to Him. Why should we? Because this is the proper orientation of the human being; to be directed in a way that our lives are found in God. You’ll recognize this in the very first commandment; You shall have no other gods but me.

We are always roaming to tap some eternal itch embedded in our hearts and we do this by giving ourselves over to things. This is an act of worship. The giving of ourselves. The genesis of this impulse is found, in Genesis, funny enough. It began in the garden, if you recall when we reached for the forbidden fruit. In one way, it wasn’t just Eve and Adam that ate. It was you and me, we all reached, took and ate. And thus, we became idolaters for we wanted to be like God. As a result, we became restless wanderers.

The second thing I want you to know that idolatry is subtle and happens when we aren’t even aware of it. Being a good citizen can be idolatrous. So can taking extra special care of yourself and being patriotic for your country. You see we have our tidy religion in our free country and we, for the most part, have our ducks in a row. We have comfort and certainty, and security. And this is pleasing, like the fruit in the garden, but is it faithful? We tend to wander without looking and we can wander into the arms of waiting idols if we are not careful.

In the scriptures, we meet a very loving but dangerous God that woos us into wholehearted trust and fidelity. “He not safe, but He is good”, as was said about Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia. We spend most of our lives trying to remove anxiety, but I’m convinced that there is holy anxiety that leads to peace that we may need to find by letting go of some things. But fear not…. Because…

The last thing I want you to know is that there is hope! The topic of idolatry can be a heavy one, so I’d like for you to come with hope in your heart and on your mind. In fact, put it on your lips too, why not! For there is reason to rejoice, because God constantly interrupts our idolatry. His covenant with us is everlasting, even though our hearts are prone to wander. So be hopeful as we worship on Sunday. Perhaps I can encourage you with these lyrics from Bob Dylan’s song:

Well, my heart’s like a river, a river that sings

Just takes me a while to realize things

I’ve seen the sunrise, I’ve seen the dawn

I’ll lay down beside you when everyone’s gone

I’ve traveled from the mountains to the sea

I hope that the gods go easy with me

I knew you’d say yes, I’m saying it too

I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

So, come join us, this Sunday and I promise it’ll be interesting with a little poetry, a parable, and some exposition of the bible and current culture as we explore the topic of idolatry.

Be blessed,

John

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 

Caution when re entering your pew…

Caution… for your safety!

As lockdowns wind down and our city slowly reopens, there is a hustle to get back to normal. We miss the ways of interacting we once knew! We miss our friends, our communities, and importantly, our worship. Its a good thing that our community leaders are taking precautions to ensure we do so safely.

The other day I was at our church and noticed the caution tape on the pews. It was not the first time I noticed them, but this time I noticed them anew. The tape is there to help us social distance and its for our safety. We can gather in a group of up to 40 (interesting number!), but we cant sing (the risk of projectiles) and we are recommended to wear masks… and sanitize our hands… and not touch our faces… or touch others… or have fellowship after… or have more than one person in the washroom at one time… the list goes on. It’s an important list meant to keep us safe. We poured much energy and effort to do what we need to as the church gathering is important.

This time, inadvertently, it dawned on me that the caution tape may be more than a symbol of our physical safety to gather again. We usually sit in the same pews, expect the same outcomes, and predict the same conversations each week. But, is the wild and adventurous Kingdom of God about this? I wondered if the tape may be warning to us from God about what it means to be the church. What if this tape is cautioning us about complacency and familiarity? What if God is saying “slow-down before you reenter here. Think twice before you embrace your old ways, and open your eyes to what I am doing outside the safety of your pew.” This is what I want to explore.

You see, the closure of our church during Covid-19 forcefully challenged us to reconsider how to be the church. It was quite disorienting as no one has been through this before and stabilizing the congregation pastorally was a priority. How would we meet? How would we check in on the vulnerable? What about our ministries where people depend on us? All of this was of great concern. This was a crisis! How could a virus take away my experience of God! And we felt the initial shock. But alas, God in his ever-faithful ways tends to show up in spades when we are in turmoil.

In our community, there are multiple stories of how God started showing up outside of our building. Its as if he was telling us that sacred spaces are in other places. Not long after the lockdown, an expansive food operation formed in our church basement to support breakfast and lunches for two local shelters. You can read about it here. We met new neighbours who became co-conspirators with us in serving the poor in crisis. We met one neighbour that shared a dream about what the community could look like if we could teach kids to learn to live with less. In my house, our family has met each night for a prayer liturgy and scripture reading… and trust me, God has shown up! Others among us started dreaming and having visions in the pattern of Joel 2:28. We began exploring community partnerships and a community garden for our neighbours in the spirit of the common good. The lockdown made very clear the issues of food scarcity, poverty, homelessness, and isolation like never before. It’s not easy to overlook these days. None of this would have happened if our church was open.

I have been wondering if now might be the time that God is inviting us to take it even further. Maybe its time to move from honourable charity to transformational community “with” our neighbours, rather than doing things “for” our neighbours. After all, although Jesus did things “for” people, we cannot understand those things outside of his primary vocation of being “with” humanity. This is the relentless pursuit of God with us! God is signalling to us from the margins of our community in many ways and may even be inviting us into a new way of being the church!

What makes me think this? Recently, I have been nudged into reading about the systemic issues of our community. I’ve learned how in many ways we as churches put an onus on charity to win people to Jesus, but rely on governments or politics to enact systemic change. I’ve come to learn that this is a false reliance. The government’s purpose is not the common good, but the good of a few. This is clear in the the erosion of support systems for families, income inequality, and the emphasis on economic gain (stock market) as the primary indicator of societal health. Within this system, churches have operated in the private sphere of values and personal salvation. Important this is, but, it has made it extremely difficult for the church to create an environment of human flourishing in a way that can transform the public, or secular world. These thoughts are still forming in me, but have made me wonder if God is luring us out of our familiar places and into our communities in a new way.

The idea of a weekly community meal (when safe to do so) has sat with me lately. I’m drawn to it. Jesus practiced radical table fellowship in unclean spaces with unclean people. Jesus made the table a sacred space. He didn’t just hand out food. And I don’t just want to give someone food, I want to eat with them too. I want to be “with” them and learn from them. I want to meet Christ in my neighbours as I know he is already out there before me. I also know Christ is still working to change me and I’m convinced that God will do so as much or more through the stranger, as through a sermon. The table… a way of being the church. This has a nice ring to it and is a space where transformation can happen.

Back to the caution tape. It’s important… it will keep us safe as we re enter our pews. But I want you to think about this. What if the pew didn’t define our experience of God as much as a shared table with strangers did? What if a shared table is holy ground that will take us beyond charity and into deeper community? This reminds me of what renowned theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said about the responsibility of the church:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Maybe the future of the church can be imagined through the table in a way that could transform the systemic issues that perpetuate suffering in our community. Just maybe.

Competition and the Kingdom of God

I'm beginning to think that there is little room for competition in the kingdom of God. If the kingdom is a realm of non violence where all people can flourish, then it should be free from competition. For in competition there is a winner and a loser. There is exertion over the other and this is a type of violence that diminishes rather than builds up. Competition and Kingdom do not agree.

I listened to an interview with Jean Vanier this morning on Krista Tippet's “On Being” Podcast. In his vision for L'Arche he sees community that is free from competition and filled with welcoming and tenderness and touch that is neither sexualitied or aggressive. Many consider him a living saint as his work in the world has broken down barriers between society and the severely disabled and opened a new (old?) vision for humanity.

Competition is humanity's way to grab hold of the life that we are terrified of losing. We fear ultimate death and therefore need to exercise some power, often competitive in nature, that helps us seize that which we never quite control. We are born frail and fight in competition for a life of control.

What is liberating about hearing Vanier – and I couldn't help desire to be like him as I listened – is how he embraces such a non possessive posture toward everything. Even with the model for his community, he has had people seek the template to replicate L'Arche across the world, and this too he resists. Although there are many L'Arche communities across the world, he insists in their smallness and that they are not the solution, but a sign to a world embroiled in competition and fear of an alternative vision for the human experience. This I can resonate with.

What would the Christian walk look like if it was free from all competition for a while? Would we relinquish even the need to live the extraordinary Cristian life, even with the best intentions? Perhaps Richard Rhor's questions for daily self examination can help us along the way?

  • How much did I compare myself to others today?
  • How much did I try to compete with others today?
  • How much did I try to control others today?

 

The Kingdom and Interruption

I think it's fair to say that in our culture of hurry, technology, and multi-sensory stimulation on a constant basis, we glide through life locked in our own world of concern and agenda. We wear our headphones, while texting on our cell phones. We spend copious amounts of time tending to our carefully crafted identities on social sites. We rush to make our multitude of commitments that are only possible as a result of our mobility. We are hemmed into our agendas with few margins for spontaneity or a shift in plans. As a result we have been carefully and well trained to ignore anything outside of the scope of our own agendas. We miss the broken ones hungry on the street because we're too busy. We fail to see injustice unfold before us in subtle ways. We are uncomfortable when someone doesn't respond with “I'm fine.” to our “How are you?” We are self centred.

In many ways, we followers of Jesus have managed to structure our faith into the pattern above. We've attempted to follow a very radical, spontaneous and responsive-to-the-Spirit Jesus in a way that is clean, neat and free of surprises. Outside of the occasional “internal” insight about self betterment or “feelings” of warmth about our idea of security in the world to come, we are largely neutered in our ability to follow Jesus appropriately. This frustrates me because it makes no sense considering we follow a God that is free and uncontrollable. The pattern of control in which we fashion our faith does not mesh with the pattern of God.

A very unique aspect about Jesus' ministry is his willingness to be interrupted by the Holy Spirit. There are constant examples of encounters that were spontaneous and interruptive to his Journey. The gospel of Mark is riddled with interruptive-type ministry beginning in the first chapter. Jesus had an eye on how the hearts of those around him were being stirred in curiosity or need. He responded in distinct action that blended into his agenda of demonstrating who God is and what God was doing on the road to his ultimate example on the cross. This is largely because Jesus' entire purpose and being is summed up in participating in the mission of God to reconcile the world. I'm suggesting that our crafted and controlled life above lies in stark contradiction to the pattern of Jesus' life, yet we try to make it work… uninterrupted by anything new or surprising from God. In a unique way, the interruptions are the ministry, yet we go out of our way to avoid them.

At the centre of this issue lies two problems. The first is an issue of purpose and obedience (or discipleship). The second is an issue of vision as it relates to our inability to see and understand how we are being pulled into ways of disengagement with God's Kingdom action. We are scripted into ways of self-centredness and self-focus and this leads to the development of both issues above. Our discipleship is private and tends to focus on the self, while our blindness to how we are scripted leads to our miasma. It is a catch twenty-two and part of the solution is a radical shake up of how fragile our self constructed world really is. We need to be jolted out of the pathology of private faith and startled away from the script of our empire that lulls us into our own uninterruptible worlds.

In times long ago, it was God that acted decisively to jolt and startle his people by allowing their enemies to carry them off into Babylonian exile. This made them reorient their lives around God and come to terms with their need for Him. Hopefully we can wake ourselves up on our own rather than suffer the alternative of being led into a new type of Babylon as slaves. Or maybe we're already there?

Kingdom Discernment, Discipleship, & Art – Part 2

Brokenness

The photo above is my attempt at expressing how I’ve seen God at work this past week. I think many people feel like they are a crooked broken line in a world of straight lines. While the world shuns brokenness and praises put-togetherness, God is found in the cracks and frailty where we would least expect him to be. This has been the theme for me is last week based on my experiences.

Picking up from part one of this adventure, last night we continued on our journey of creativity as a mission group. This week’s exercise was about answering the question of “Where have you seen God at work this week?” In my opinion, I have seen people (myself included) struggle to easily answer this question. It can cause anxiety and often makes us painfully aware of our inability to pay attention to the divine in the daily. We try hard to align our beliefs and actions with a theology that God is always present, but somehow the out working of this is more complex to realize than we would like. The point of growing as artists in the kingdom is to ultimately be able to express our journeys in provocative and inspiring ways.

Rather than just trying to answer this question, the creative exercise was to answer it with a photograph (the photo above is my attempt). We were prepared with some instructions in advance to guide the process. I also recognized that photography might be intimidating for some so I broadened the scope to include two other options related to the poetry exercise we did last week, or a “show and tell” about some sort of art or craft made in the past. Here is the exercise and instructions.

Rule #1: This should be fun and relaxed without pressure of any kind. This is not a photo critique.

  • Have your camera or cell phone nearby
  • Be in a time of prayer and recognize God’s presence in you and in the moment
  • Realize that it is a sacred moment that you are experiencing
  • Consider your feelings, where you are, colours, textures, shapes, and what God might be saying to you. Consider what’s unfolding around you (people, things, events, etc…).
  • Your photo can be an expression of God’s beauty or something that makes him sad. Identify with the feelings of God’s heart. Does your heart rejoice or break with His?
  • Make your photo from a place of response to God’s love for you and His love for the world. important: does it connect with what we have journeyed through as a church this week? (identity, seeing with new glasses, etc…)

Option 2:

  1. Revisit your four line poem from last week and share with us the experience of reflecting on your life without God and the contrast to the scripture we read (Isaiah 65:17-25) here is the link to the verses. What is happening in you through this?
  2. Bring something to the group that you created yourself (a craft, knitting, painting, etc…) and share what it means to you and what it was like making it.

As everyone shared about their various experiences, it was interesting to see how vividly God spoke to them through this. We also agreed as a group that having an artistic impulse connected to the discovery of God in our lives made it easier to answer the question of where we see him at work. There was less anxiety and more meaningful engagement because of the artistic element. It’s becomming clear that there is great value to expanding our experience of God from just the cerebral to include the artistic.

Part of our night together also included discussing ways we could discover and participate in Kingdom life in our neighbourhood. Fundamentally, I believe answering this question comes from a process of listening to who God is and Where he is working in our community, while strongly resisting the urge to speak of how up front. Because of our existing friendships and involvement with the local school, themes of what matters to God were already self evident. We identified with a sense of disconnectedness that already exists, the epidemic of Latchkey children in our city, and poverty. This is already clear to most of us. But we want to learn more about the people, ourselves as part of this greater broken community, growing friendships, and most importantly discover the constant newness of the Kingdom in our midst. We want to move toward the hope and future of God in our community.

We decided as a group that we would like to facilitate an environment where we could connect with the community and enter an active discernment process to discover God further. We are planning to use a large back room in our building to host a games night with a number of the kids from the local school and their parents. The idea is to create connection while we actively look for God to reveal his kingdom among us. As God reveals himself through this, we would love the opportunity to include the community in the journey of instigating the great prayer of “…on earth as it is in heaven.”

I was pleased that our desire to be more artistic and creative contributed (and will continue to contribute) to our processing of God among us and our sending by him.

 

God’s Mission: Who, Where, How?

If missional church is all about relying on God's agency to lead the church in discovery of Who he is and Where he is working, then what about the How? Well it turns out that putting the How before the Who and Where when it comes to mission is placing the cart before the horse. As I've learned, emphasis on How is reflective of an imagination held captive by market economic language based on strategy, control, and predictability. Emphasis on the Who of mission and the Where demands a different posture; a listening posture open to the leading by, what Walter Brueggemann describes as the God that is:

“…irascible in freedom and pathos-filled in sovereignty, one who traffics in hiddenness and violence. This God does not fit much of our theological preference and certainly does not conform to any of our bourgeois reductionism. This God is the one who keeps life ragged and open, who refuses domestication but who will not let our lives be domesticated either.

In my last few posts on this topic, I've been led by a trusted friend to see my own captivity to notions of How in mission. The reality is that we are so intrenched in this economic market script that we are often unaware of how deep our allegiances lie. Much work needs to be done to understand our own reductions about God and how they hinder our ability to follow this irascible and free God out of the comfort of our private salvations…a place where Christianity has been safely sequestered and domesticated for far too long. If all I'm doing is reaching out to people in order to get them to believe in a private, cerebral, God without subverting and impacting the very public empire of domination and its systems of injustice, I really accomplish nothing.

But I don't want to crucify the question of How; doing so would be too harsh a reaction. I just want to eradicate it from the front of my mind when I think about mission and following this God, who is apparently bigger than my own imagination can bear. The How can only emerge when a genuine encounter with the Who and Where happen. How can be a beautiful thing if it emerges from the transformation of encountering God locally in a profound way. The community of listeners that experience this encounter become artisans of the way as it is revealed for them through the encounter.

How is a beautiful thing in its rightful place…

Kingdom Discernment and Art

I think there is much that needs to be explored about the place of art in kingdom discernment and mission. If we maintain the theological conviction that the church exists for the world, then it makes sense that the church is led by the Spirit into Civic discourse as partners on the journey. This is the realm where I believe the artist can contribute meaningfully. I'm in discovery mode with these ideas and have rested initially on the following questions to guide me further.

  1. Can artists in the church participate in civic conversations in a way that identifies the work of God (the who) in a specific locality (the where)?
  2. Is there potential for the theologically formed creative artist to move us away from an agenda of church growth and strategy as is too often is the case with the church on mission (getting away from 'how')?
  3. Is theologically inspired art a way to dialogue and partner with communities to realize new civic possibilities and transformation (…on earth as it is in heaven)?

My questions clearly revolve around the nature of the civic partnership and conversation. Is it always an academic conversation? Is it a practical needs-oriented conversation? Is it a challenge in the spirit of the prophetic? I think it can be all of the above and I think art is a valid medium for dialogue.

If we think about art for a moment, it can generally be defined as the ability to say something creatively. Creative expression is important within culture because art, at is core, evokes reaction and proposes a vision for something. Art is emotional and subversive through its display. Art serves to build culture, nurture vision, and transform perspective.

The artist is important in this equation because the artist is first a listener and then an interpreter. When the task of listening is complete, the interpretation of the experience begins for the artist. Then the artist can express their voice through artistic means. The result can lead to the advance of culture, a challenge to the status quo, an alternative vision for society, and many more possibilities. After all, isn't listening the enabler/first step of discernment? And isn't discernment the prerequisite to discovering the work of God in our neighbourhoods, both where He is already working and where the church can partner? I think so, and as such, artists deserve a bigger voice at the table. I would argue that artists are discerners and can should lead this civic conversation at times.

The place of Art in the church has not been neglected per se throughout her history, but in evangelicalism, I think it is not underscored in a way that it should be. Often the impulse toward the practical and instrumental tends to squeeze the mystery of the artistic to the margins of the church's life together. In other words, it's not taken as seriously as it should be because the artistic process is too open ended and unpredictable, making the traditional approach of strategy evangelism (that is based on certainties) anxious.

Another note to mention on the topic is leadership. All artists are leaders in their own right. They lead because they say something unique as a result of a transformative process they undergo. Unfortunately not all people see themselves as artists, or at least creative. This is tragic because if all God's people understood themselves as artists, things could be different. What if every follower of Jesus felt like they had a voice inspired by God in them and actually spoke with that voice through image, song, paint, poem, story, creative conversation, etc? This would be a form of leadership through creative expression that could awaken many possibilities for Kingdom discernment and life.

Every person has the ability (via divine imaging by their creator) to express themselves artistically. They can say something with conviction as a result of being stirred by the Spirit of God. Unfortunately most rely on a consumeristic posture in their faith that surrenders their potential to ordained leaders as the inspired ones feeding consumers spiritual information. The consumer/believer in this situation is devoid of imagination, discernment, artistic impulse, and (I would say) life potential. In many ways we have reduced the experience of God to a cerebral process devoid of creative expression. This, I think, is tragic as it resists the theology of the Missio Dei; the church's identity as co-creators with God in his project for creation through the Spirit's sending. This understanding demands that – at least in a loose sense, but yet a very real sense – all followers are creative artists.

It's becoming clear to me that theological formation and discipleship should be less averse to embracing the creative potential of people; or, fostering the artist in every disciple. Even in the life of Jesus we see a vivid imagination in his stories about the Kingdom. In this way Jesus was an artist. We can also interpret the creative demonstration of his signs and miracles as artistic expression of God's rule. In vivid, subversive and powerful ways (all the things art can be), Jesus painted a reality picture for us that not only pointed to him as creator come in the flesh (the 'who'), but also to God's Kingdom arriving in power locally to make things new (the where). His promise that the church will be capable of even greater things (John 14:12) makes me wonder at the possibilities while at the same time challenging my faith.

Our church has mission groups that are intentional about doing the above. We are trying to discern a “mission focus” for our group. My imagination is running wild with the possibilities of engaging though art. I'd love to facilitate a conversation in our group that could help us say something together about God's kingdom showing up in our neighbourhood. Artistically.

More to come on the journey as it unfolds…..

A letter to my children….don’t stare at the ads!

There are many things I want to teach you about life. Although I am hardly the expert, some understanding has grabbed me through my experiences that I long to impart to you for your benefit. Today you are still young, but tomorrow, I hope you will see things with clarity and a keen mind nurtured from a trust in God and a desire to understand the truth beneath the surface of things.

Don’t stare at the ads! That’s right, I said don’t stare at the ads. I am talking about the advertisements that constantly bombard you with their visual arrows through television commercials, public billboards, the radio, internet, and junk mail. They are harmful. They seem harmless, but in reality, millions of dollars are spent on constructing them in a way that will tap into your deepest desires in order to shape them. They are designed to make you feel incomplete without the product that they are trying to sell. They will offer you the world if you pledge allegiance to their brands. Popularity, beauty, power, wisdom, satisfaction…I tell you, it’s all rubbish!

When you peel back the surface, you will see that corporations are trying to create a religious experience in you to make you their disciple. They want you to believe that you were made to buy their products. In other words, they want your self-identity to be deeply rooted in consumption, and as long as it is, you will always be longing for more and more without being truly satisfied. This is not who you are.

The constant struggle for us in this life is to remain true to who we are. You know where you come from. We’ve told you the stories about the God who created you in dignity, love, and respect. You know how God rescues you and offers you a fulfilling life as a contributing artist in his restoration masterpiece. Each of you are gifted to be blessings in God’s project to heal this world with a love that puts an end to manipulation and violence. Sharing in the life and love of God….this is where real purpose and fulfillment come from. Not from the consumption of products that leave your souls thirsty and anxious in the end.

If you stare at the ads and let them invade your imagination, they will shape who you are. And let me tell you, if the heart of your identity is found in being a consumer, you will always be in a place of unfulfilled longing. Don’t be a slave to filling an empty void with “things” that can only be filled by God.

Life giving conversations….

The last week has offered me the opportunity to have some very life giving conversations with special people. Each one has been a learning experience and a discovery of what God is doing in me lately. I contrast these conversations against the feeling of this image that I made last weekend while on a photo shoot. As this image speaks to the coldness and isolation of winter, the conversations I’ve had have nudged me toward the warm hope of spring and renewal in my life….and I think that’s a good thing.

Conversation #1:

A good friend met me for lunch and within three sentences we dove into a candid discussion about theology and integrating faith with life. I’ve looked forward to chatting with my PHD friend for some time as I respect his wisdom and knowledge. I threw out a theological statement I’ve been chewing on for a while:

“To claim the salvific benefits of the gospel without living into the social and political implications of God becoming King in Jesus is to, in fact, never have known him.” 

This launched us into a dialogue about left and right agendas and the shortfalls with each of them as that is how such a statement tends to polarize the discussion. Does it have to be a social gospel, or conservative one largely uninvolved in the social ills of our day outside the political efforts of legislation? This encouraged us to consider appropriate demonstration of the Kingdom consistent with the story of God in history and not just political engagement bound by a certain process or context stripped of the story of Israel.

My angst in all of this comes from the incessantly private nature of Christian faith and the incredible silence on social issues of systemic injustice. This came to a head for me recently in light of the silence and lack of engagement by much of the church with the Occupy Wall Street movement. I wasn’t sold on any notion of complete agreement with the OWS movement, but at least some commentary and consideration about the validity of the movement’s general protest against the disproportion of wealth and oligarchy that runs the West. My friend (Scott is his name) had some wise encouragement about a missional/incarnational posture that would in once sense protect from the polarizing liberal/conservative lines and offer a third way to live into the gospel that opens the door to transformation from within the believing community as well as without. What is it? It’s quite simple. Solidarity in the margins that goes beyond telling good news and embraces kingdom enactment and prophetic critique as a mode of being in the civil sphere. A posture of receptivity to the Spirit and a relinquishment of control seem like the appropriate prerequisite here within the context of discipleship.

This post is getting too long….conversation #2 will be another entry.

Missional

“But it’s one thing to say that the Church at large is involved in the Missio Dei; it’s another to use the term “Missional” as a kind of advanced concept of Church, or as a thing you have to do to qualify for Church.”

Maggie Dawn helps our understanding of this oft misused/misunderstood term. From back in 2007

Standing in the middle of God’s Kingdom coming

Last Friday I had the joy of being with my wife at our church’s annual Christmas production. This was not your typical Christmas production of years past. There was no play…no manger…no shepherds. Instead, it was through songs, readings, and stories that we were able to come in contact with how God was working in our midst. Representatives from various organizations in the lower mainland and abroad were present to talk about  their specific work with the poor, homeless, and refugees. There was a silent auction and through my photography business, I donated a couple of family portrait sessions as a way to throw my hat in the ring for a good cause. The event raised about 10,000$ for the sponsored organizations through ticket sales and the auction.

In many ways it takes time, to slow down, to listen, and and absorb the harsh reality of people around us to really find out where God is at work. Unfortunately for many, we tend to think God’s hand is in the best deal we get on something at the store, or in the comfort of our personal realities…you know, in the things we perceive as blessings. Rarely do we consider that God’s real and significant work is among the poor.

For me… on this evening I was standing in the middle of God’s Kingdom coming. It was also the same day that I finished reading NT Wright’s book, Simply Jesus and the weight of engaging with the concept Wright proposes – of Jesus announcing that God is becoming King – was heavy upon me. People think Jesus means many things, but an examination as thorough as Wright’s leaves little room to think that Jesus was anything but announcing that God is becoming King in himself. What struck me are the implications this has on not only our personal lives, but in our public lives as well.

Some of these implications manifested themselves nicely and prophetically in the production. In God’s economy there is a spirit of generosity and love that is completed in the action of Jesus and that power now imbues it’s people to follow suit. That same power of God’s presence gives courage to stand up to the injustice of how our society marginalizes people and exploits them. It gives courage to do the things Jesus did….to not only care for the vulnerable among us, but to call into account the powers that corrupt. I am now eager to see this evolve into more systemic engagement that goes beyond charity to challenging the status quo.

Voice of the Day – Bonhoeffer on humility…

“Those who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of themselves…Only those who live by the forgiveness of their sin in Jesus Christ will think little of themselves in the right way. They will know that their own wisdom completely came to an end when Christ forgave them.”



~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It makes sense, this perspective of his. For in and through Christ is the only way to genuine selflessness and humility. Any other attempts at servitude, although admirable, remain motivated by a self-centered impulse to seek nobility; an end that points back to the self (created being), rather than the creator.

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Ecological Crisis and the Missional Church

There has been increased discussion these days about the importance of the environment and the challenges presented by Global Warming. In fact, polititians are even finding these issues unavoidable as they construct their election campaigns. Talk shows are covering the issue and newspapers are reporting it. This is evidence that the crisis has made its way into mainstream thought and this is good. In addition to the political press, churches are taking more seriously the stewardship question. In fact, the stewardship/eccology quesiton plays an importnat part of the missional church conversation.

One of the characteristics of the missional church is the emphasis on an eschatology that affirms creation. It is the belief that God is making all things new, including His creation that He deems good. We could go as far to say that the strong emphasis here is a necessary reaction to much of the dualism in mainstream Western Christianity that has contributed to the Global crisis. “If the gospel is all about going to heaven after we die, then why bother saving the earth? It’s all going to burn up anyway!” From my perspective this line of thinking is absurd; however, it is a common eschatological belief that consumes many Christians, and a dangerous one.

This leads us to ask important questions about what our missional spirituality should look like; especially as we seek to form faithful communities in the midst of a culutre that largely perpetuates this global crisis. Here are two questions to consider:

In what ways can churches that affirm creation serve as a prophetic witness to the powers that be?

How might local churches “win the favor of the people” by participating in the good stewardship of creation?

Leave a comment for discussion.

Meditations on the Incarnation

This past Christmas season afforded me the opportunity to take a blogging break to reflect on the incarnation in my life. The incarnation is a theme/reality that reverberates through my life often and I find myself fascinated by the mystery found therein. What does it mean for God to come near? What does it mean for the creator of the universe to enter our created time/space continuum to ultimately redeem all things? The meaning for me is profound. But first, a bit on my blogging silence over Christmas.

As I reflect on my blogging silence, I am aware that much of this past year’s writing is an overflow of the wonderful way that God has worked in my life. The passion of the creator’s involvement in my life has hopefully spilled over into my writing. Writing is a way for me to share my experience of God with you and I feel as though I have had much to say. Thank you for sharing my journey. However, of late, it feels as thought the well has dried up and I am running out of things to say. One of the temptations that blogging can bring is the feeling that one needs to constantly come up with something profound and important to say. Feeling I need to always have something to say, to share, to write, has tired me out and led to misdirected desires. Who am I trying to impress? Of course I desire that my writing is inspirational and affects people positively, but to make writing/blogging an “end”, rather than a means to flush out God and the way he works in my life (the true end), is surely a form of idol worship. I don’t want that; and as much as the approval from those who read and comment can combat for me feelings of inadequacy, the temporal fix is short lived and the mark is missed. I still long past blogging for the touch of the creator. The incarnation gives me hope for this.

The incarnation has challenged me to consider the closeness of God in the midst of the affections I strive after in this life. The pursuit of approval, love, respect and admiration, can be hopeless endeavors if they are sought in others instead of God. The incarnation promises that God is close to our broken human condition. Reflecting on the incarnation has invited me to see how much I desire God in the midst of these pursuits. I have come to see my desire as good and redeemable through the lens of the incarnation. At the heart of my being and nestled within the complexity of my emotions and desires is the longing to share in the life of the Trinity. I am realizing that nothing less than the self-giving and mutual love of Father, Son, and Spirit are what I am made for. My desires are being redeemed as a result of the incarnation.

What does the incarnation teach us about living with others? As it is God who has come near through his creation, we have a window through creation into God. Understanding the incarnation in God’s people has opened up a beautiful equation of intimacy with God through others in Christian community. As I share life with others in whom the Spirit dwells, I am encountering that mutuality of Father, Son, and Spirit that now includes the redeemed creation as part of that mysterious circle dance of love. Outside the Christian community the reality of incarnation opens us to the beauty of God’s image reflected therein and offers us a similar equation of encounter. Incarnation suggests that God is already at work invading creation through creation and this work can be seen and experienced if we only have eyes to see.

Through the incarnation we have union with God through the texture of creation and the profound realization of the sacredness of life enraptures us as never before. No longer does our understanding of God need to be dualistic and distant. Through the incarnation God is near in joy and pain, and the beauty of this reality beckons us toward the warmth of a life shared with the Father, Son, and Spirit; always loving, always inviting, and always redeeming as if God were making his plea through us. Surely we are valued and beloved, the incarnation tells us so.