Monthly Archives: October 2007

Musings on the Night of All Hallows’ Eve

Tonight is Halloween.

The weather reports in our area give a 60% chance for rain this evening. Visibility will be worse than usual. I expect that we’ll all need to drive home especially carefully in the darkness tonight. Children, normally safe at home after dark, will be costumed and out tonight; more mindful of the prospects of a sack full of goodies than of looking both ways before crossing the street.

We’ve been warned not to allow our children to simply tuck into those goodies; first, check the treats for tampering–needles, razor blades, poisons and such. We’ve also been advised to keep our pets inside and in a room as far away from the doorbell as possible tonight. The noise of constant activity at the door is frightening to them, and youthful inspirations with fireworks have not infrequently led to the terrorizing or maiming of pets.

Costumes will run from the cutest to the most goulish and macabre. The range of revelers will run from infants dressed and carried from house to house by parents all the way to youth and adults, some of whom will themselves need to be carried home tonight.

Police and fire departments will be on higher alert; a few more doctors may be on call and hospital emergency rooms may see an increase in patient traffic.

What is all this edgy celebration about? The night was first celebrated as a high moment in the season of harvest in pagan Gaelic culture, a time of potentially dangerous penetration of the world of the dead into that of the living. Its symbolic expressions and activities represented human machinations to avoid, or at least control, what threatened. The Romans applied their own overlay of harvest celebration and preventative magic and ritualism. Later communities and cultures added their own elements. The Christian celebration of All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints Day on November 1, has done little more than lend its name to the night.

Halloween was not at first conceived as safe; nor is it entirely so today. Its "celebrations" in antiquity were nothing more than the expression of a cyclical reminder of slavery to beggarly forces and principles without permanent remedy; modernity’s continued witless mimicking amounts to the bravado of an uncertain whistling at gathered darkness.

I should think that the preferred recourse of wiser souls, over all the rest of those other souls who celebrate, is a sheltered sleep and anticipation of the breaking dawn and its light. It works practically; it works theologically too!

Karen’s Sermon Art

Yesterday my wife participated in our pastor’s sermon by illustrating his sermon with a simultaneous sermon painting. What’s that, you ask? Let me try to explain.

Brian Stewart was preaching from Philippians 2:15 about how we are to shine as lights for Christ in the places we’re located. He had a lot to say about light and darkness. For example, most of the service took place in a semi-darkened worship center. As the sermon came to a close, people were invited to light candles, signifying their commitment to live as lights for Christ. The sanctuary brightened noticeably as people came forward to express their commitment.

The whole time Karen was painting at the front of the church. The canvas began as a flat black surface with the outline of a closed door, the handle barely visible, a hint of light coming through the bottom of the door. Karen began painting as the worship team began to lead in singing and she continued through the sermon time, concluding the piece at the end of the service. As she painted, she deliberately moved around the piece, allowing the image to emerge bit by bit.

The image she offered showed a young girl opening her bedroom door so that the light from the hallway began to flood the darkness of her room. You could imagine the comfort of a loving mother or father on the other side of the door. It was fascinating to watch how the door opened as the painting progressed, literally leading the viewer from darkness to light.

This was no small challenge for Karen. She has always believed that her art should communicate something meaningful. She wanted to support the preaching of the sermon and not distract from it, but she also wanted to avoid overly obvious or kitschy images in favor of something that would be interesting and evocative. In this case, she didn’t have the luxury of presenting a finished product, but had to ‘perform’ the art in the presence of the congregation. Wishing to use this as an advantage she tried to bring a sense of motion to the piece, having the door open as she painted, the light growing and spreading as the service progressed.

All this in 45 minutes!

I am proud of my wife and I’m proud of our church. I was thrilled to see Karen have the opportunity to express the gift that God had given her in support of the preaching of God’s word. I think it would be a good thing if other churches could be this open to finding creative ways for people to express their gifting for the glory of God and for the spread of the gospel.

Disillusioned with the Sunday meeting expression of church

The following is a response from my wife, Karen, to a couple of recent blogs found on this site:

In his Oct 17 blog "The Foundation for Hearing God," Loren Warkentin wrote:

We Christians have become acculturated to this [fast-paced] style of living and I believe it has affected our spiritual lives. We are easily bored. If a “worship service” doesn’t entertain us sufficiently we move elsewhere. Long sermons and church services tire us. But maybe more deadly is the effect this lifestyle has on our personal, devotional relationship with God – it has become fragmented, stretched thin, missing even – and so we look for a fix. We still want to hear from Him, but….

YES! We desperately want to hear from Him!! But maybe the problem is not our expectation but the "worship service."

I don’t believe most Christians go to a church service looking to be entertained. We go seeking God. My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit – but when it comes to church services, I have all but given up. Most often I come home from a service knowing that I have (yet again) missed God.

My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit

Music moves me so if the "worship team" is decent and the songs are good (by that I mean there is some substance and content to the lyrics), then I can worship.

But the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me. I recently attended a friend’s very charismatic church. I am not a charismatic by theology, preference, experience, desire, personality or history, but if I lived in that town, that’s the church I would go to.

the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me

Why? Because I met God there. It was clear that the leaders were communicating their heart and more importantly, God’s heart. The sermons (I heard 3 over the weekend) came out of their lives and what God was teaching them, not from a commentary.

I find that in sermons the grand themes in the Bible are often reduced to the bottom line "be nice" and so much of what I hear is the "same, old, same, old." I love the "old, old story," don’t get me wrong. But the way it is presented is like eating dusty, stale crackers.

I have met numerous people who no longer attend church, not because they aren’t entertained, but because they miss God when they go.  Initially they think the problem is with them, that somehow their expectations are out of line. Some of them keep going out of habit, others keep attending because they have kids and others just give up (I have talked to all of the above).

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them

Although evangelicals say we base our lives and beliefs on the Bible, there is little Bible reading. At one service I attended the preacher read 1.5 verses and then told us that even though the verses meant something different, he would still use those verses to preach on his chosen subject. At such services I look around at the people and think – Do they really find these words a life giving message? or is coming to church a habit and good way to see friends?

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them. Most of them start with "yes, I see what you’re saying…but what about this? and this? and this?” Does the preacher not have the same questions? If he (most are men) doesn’t, why not? Am I that off the charts? Do the people around me not have similar questions?

In Kent Anderson’s Oct 19 blog, "Apologetic Preaching," he writes in reference to J.P. Moreland:

People, he said, need more than just to hear what the Bible says and how to apply it, because people don’t actually believe the Bible very strongly. People today are looking for passion and some sense that the preacher knows what she or he is talking about. Pastors need to be brokers of knowledge just like doctors.

[The problem with church services is not] the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance

I believe that passion comes not just from knowing God, but from knowing God this past week; from working through doubts, questions, injustices and opportunities. I don’t think we need to develop a database of God’s miraculous interventions (Moreland’s suggestion as reported in Kent’s blog) because most people don’t live life like that. But we do want to know how to meet God in our ordinary, every day life.

Church services are a prime opportunity to bring people into God’s presence so they can hear from Him. At least the vast majority of resources are geared towards constructing and maintaining very expensive buildings so there can be a corporate gathering. But when that doesn’t happen the discouragement can lead to disillusionment. It is not about the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance.

maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together

 Coincidentally, I am reading about the Veritas Forum, a movement in universities that faces the hard questions of life in the light of who Jesus is. Experts in many different fields offer expertise to students who can respond and interact. Their messages do not reduce the gospel to a trite "be nice," but honestly grapple with the relevance of God’s revelation in the context of a secularized worldview.

I find the Sunday meeting expression of church to be very unsatisfying because it is one dimensional. Much time and effort is put into this one expression and yet it falls short of what it could be: a gathering of people who need and want to meet with God, who have come to worship and to be in God’s presence. Yet week after week some of us leave so frustrated. Eventually we learn that maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together.

 

Church Health Assessment

Quick note, helpful tool: Check out the resources of Leadership Transformations, Inc. Actually, go directly to their ministry resource outlet entitled HealthyChurch.net [just add the www. before the title, and you’re there.]

One of the things that I’ve discovered in the last two years is that most churches wait until a crisis to assess the health of their fellowship, and then struggle to find a way to do it well. Outreach Canada has addressed the issue well with their Vision Renewal process and the Ministry Fitness Check. I’ve also discovered that most healthy churches derive momentum from consistently assessing their health, and making it a standard practice to measure their progress. If you were to put it in physical terms, they put their Body through an annual [or at least “predictable”] physical.

HealthyChurch.Net has produced a helpful tool: Church Health Assessment Tool [also known as CHAT] that is well-worth your inspection. Some may find it to be a bit pricey, but, then again, as the commercial says, some things are priceless, and CHAT may prove to be that for you.

The REAL Examination

It’s that time of the semester once again. The Registrar’s office has asked each professor to indicate whether they are requiring an examination that needs to be scheduled into the examination week for their courses. The schedule is out and professors and students are all now aware of when each examination will need to be sat.

By and large, most of our students do a good to great job in writing their exams. Sometimes, there is a feeling of uncertainty about their answer to this or that question, but generally, there is a sense of satisfaction and relief as they leave the examination hall. They studied hard, retaining much. And during the exam, what was committed to memory was laid out in answers to questions or synthesized and made the basis of responses to cases presented for analysis. With the completion of the examination, they have done their part in the course and all that awaits is the professor’s grading of the work and the formal posting of the student’s final mark for the course.

It is not a new thought, but it occurred to me that most of our exams are not the real examination. Indeed, the real exam is taken when the knowledge is put into practice for the benefit of those who will be served or helped. The real examination occurs after the exam for the course. In the knowledge of that truth, I’ve taken to adding a little note at the bottom of each examination sheet following my Christmas wish to the student. In the hermeneutics exam sheet, for example, it reads, "Remember, the real examination for this course takes place every time you open your Bible to translate, study, preach, teach and counsel." 

 The principle holds not only in the academy, but also in the church and in life generally for the Christian. The real test of what we’ve heard in the sermon, or the Bible study class, or the home group is not that we were in attendance, or even whether we can replicate the content flawlessly. It is, rather, what we’ll do with what we’ve heard. The test is action.

Using the image of building, Jesus taught that hearing his words only and hearing them so as to do them are the difference between the foolish and the wise respectively (Matthew 7:24-27). The book of James puts it even more succinctly, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22)

Apologetic Preaching

J. P. Moreland of Talbot Seminary was the keynote speaker at this year’s meetings of the Evangelical Homiletics Society. He took the opportunity to offer a proposal for “apologetic preaching.” While such an approach is not new, Moreland seemed to suggest that apologetics could and should take a much higher place in our thinking about preaching in this highly-secularized period.

This is, he said, the most divided time in American history since the civil war. On the secular side are the media, the universities, and the entertainment industry. On the the other side (according to USA Today) the leaders are the evangelical churches. It scarcely seems a fair fight.

It is out of this millieu, Moreland says, that the current evangelical church has been formed. We have, he said, felt forced to retreat to a largely privatized faith. We have conceived of our beliefs as matters of faith and not of knowledge, thus ceding the realm of knowledge to the scientists. It is the doctors and scientists who are the keepers of empirical knowledge. Truth is no longer adequate. It is knowledge of truth that reigns supreme. Because preachers trade in truths that can’t be known, we have been marginalized to the realm of private belief.

Moreland offered Oprah as an example. She can wax eloquent about theology without any expertise, he said, because she understands that there is no hard knowledge available this kind of truth. She tells people that they can pray in any manner that they want and to any God whom they might see as helpful. Of course, she wouldn’t dream of offering such counsel with respect to something like smallpox, because we have hard scientific knowledge about smallpox. We know that you cannot vaccinate yourself effectively with coffee or with chocolate. When it comes to faith, however, we think that no such conviction is possible and so we relegate it to the realm of individual discernment and desire.

This, Moreland suggests, is unnecessary and ultimately untenable. The Bible, he says, is a source of hard knowledge. Paul, for example, spoke about the power of thinking rightly (Phil. 4:8,9) long before Sigmund Freud ever thought it was a good idea. We need, he said, to build faith in listeners by preaching such that they increase their confidence in the ability to know things about God and about eternity based on the teachings of the Scriptures.

Belief, he said, is a “degreed property,” which is to say that belief happens whenever we are between 51 and 100% certain of the truth of a thing. Belief is like ‘cloudiness’. A dog is a dog is a dog. But cloudiness can exist to a greater or lesser degree. The same is true with beliefs. I believe in my own existence, more strongly than I believe in the existence of God, he said, though the two are very close. The task of the preacher, then, is to bump people up so that they believe the right things and that they hold them more strongly than they previously did. As preachers, we ought to assume that people don’t believe the things they believe with a great deal of strength and that it is our task to help them believe more strongly.

People, he said, need more than just to hear what the Bible says and how to apply it, because people don’t actually believe the Bible very strongly. People today are looking for passion and some sense that the preacher knows what she or he is talking about. Pastors need to be brokers of knowledge just like doctors.

Thus, he said, we need to be developing two skills in preachers: (1) to develop a habit of reading worldview in culture, and (2) to communicate what the Bible has to say on public issues – to show, that the Bible is an intelligent book written by thoughtful people. Specifically, and more controversially, he suggested that we develop a database of experiences of God breaking into the world, like undeniable instances of God speaking in the world, miraculous circumstances, healings, and even encounters with angels and demons.

Personally, I found myself challenged and interested in Moreland’s ideas about working deliberately to build faith in the people who listen to my preaching. I even found myself appreciating the idea that I should catalog the instances in my own experience where God has made himself evident.

That being said, I think that perhaps Moreland underplayed the nature of faith in preaching and in the life of those we speak to. My sense is that we need to integrate both faith and reason such that our experience of God’s working finds its place alongside a reasoned appreciation of the truths that Scripture teaches. I once suggested that this is akin to aligning the two gospel songs, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”, and “you ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.

Further, while I appreciate that the Bible is a source of knowledge, I think it also fair to say that as human subjects, our ability to know truth is limited by our finitude and fallenness. We are dependent, then, on God to reveal truth to us by his Spirit. I don’t despair that this overly privatizes my access to faith, because I believe that God is active by his Spirit, throughout the world, to build faith in the people he is reaching. It encourages me that he often uses preachers in that task.

Churchtalk: Responding to the Breakdown of Tolerance

In a recent issue of Mcleans a lead article raised the alarm that our Canadian commitment to multiculturalism may be eroding. The key question that Canadians are debating is this:  what reasonable accommodations should Canadians make to cultural and religious minorities? Where should the limits be drawn? The writer claimed that many in Canada are "utterly conflicted" on this question. Recently violent responses to religious and cultural minorities have occurred in various regions of Canada.

If as followers of Jesus all we can muster is tolerance for those who hold different values and dress differently, then we have not understood Jesus’ teaching.

Many suggest that the answer to these conflicts lies in transforming Canada into a purely secular society. If we accomplish this, we will enthrone tolerance. Apparently religious values or ethnic values cause intolerance. This sounds to me like the argument used in the past that the rape victim was somehow responsible for being raped! If these religious and cultural minorities just stopped being different, then we could tolerate them. A retreat to secular values, however, will not solve the problem, because even within secularism there are many diverse values vying for priority. Where in the world do we find a secular society that is free from intolerance?

Maybe the growing reaction against multiculturalism and intolerance towards religious and ethnic minorities in our Canadian society is presenting Evangelical Christians with a new opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus and show another and better way to live.

For Christians tolerance is an insufficient response to human differences. Jesus challenged his followers to "love your enemies" and to "pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Tolerance is not good enough for kingdom people. If as followers of Jesus all we can muster is tolerance for those who hold different values and dress differently, then we have not understood Jesus’ teaching.  Paul struggled with this issue and declared that in the Messiah Jesus no cultural or economic distinctions count (Galatians 3:28). Paul claims that God is "no respecter of persons", i.e. he does not play favourites. God loves "the world" and expects His people to do the same. Maybe the growing reaction against multiculturalism and intolerance towards religious and ethnic minorities in our Canadian society is presenting Evangelical Christians with a new opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus and show another and better way to live. God’s Kingdom embraces people from all cultures and in our church communities, as we are empowered by God’s Spirit, we can truly "love one another."

Evangelical Christians should note, however, that they are a religious minority in Canada. This means that sooner or later their Christian values will conflict with generally accepted Canadian values. When this happens, the government or courts will judge what ‘reasonable accommodation’ should be in specific cases. Perhaps we already see this happening in the issue of same-sex marriage. How should we respond when our values are regarded as ‘unreasonable’ and accommodation to them will violate Canadian values? Each situation will require great wisdom. However, we should not be surprised that such things happen, because we are different. Jesus has made us new and together we form his "holy nation".

The Foundation for Hearing God

There is, today, a proliferation of articles, books and speakers discussing the topic of “hearing God”.  Several well known evangelical preachers and leaders have weighed in with their contributions. I did a web search on the words “hearing God” and was fascinated by what came up. Page after page listing web sites, books, articles and other links all with some sort of answer to the questions, “Can I hear God?” “Does God speak today?” “If He is speaking today, how does He speak?”, “How do I recognize His voice?”, “How do I discern divine guidance?”

Our society pressures us to live speedy lives. We find all sorts of things to occupy us. Good things or useless things – they all clamor for our time.

I have been researching these questions for my Bible Study/Care Group. The initial study of several popular books and articles caused me to wonder what the stimulus was behind this wave of interest in the topic.  What is driving this quest?  There seems to be a renewed hunger to hear from God. That can be a good thing or it can indicate a problem.   My research has drawn me to ask the question “Is there something lacking in our postmodern, western, evangelical culture? Is there a scarcity of “hearing from God"?  We, as Bible believing Christians, know that God has spoken (Hebrews 1:1,2) so why are we not hearing? Are we not listening? Are we listening to the wrong words? Are there too many other voices?

As I have reflected on these questions and the current buzz about “hearing God” one fact stands clear. God designed us for relationship – relationship, in the first instance,  with Him.  Thus the desire to hear from Him.

Healthy, fulfilling relationships require time and effort to develop. Knowing God, knowing His mind, His ways, His character, His purposes all require spending uninterrupted, quality time with Him – through the Scriptures – as He has already revealed Himself to us.  When we do not take sufficient time to develop that kind of intimacy we are left with a relational void. My read on the current culture-wide hunger to hear from God is that it stems, in part, from a hurried, stunted, shortchanged relationship with Him. The relationship we have begun to experience with our Saviour has informed our spiritual senses that there is more. But here is the rub, that “more” requires more of us.

Our society pressures us to live speedy lives. We find all sorts of things to occupy us. Good things or useless things – they all clamor for our time. We flit from one new experience to the next. We drive through life so fast we have to get our food at drive-through windows. We learn early the value our society places on “multitasking”. The media knows that our individual attention spans are short so we are bombarded with fast-paced “clips”. 

We Christians have become acculturated to this style of living and I believe it has affected our spiritual lives. We are easily bored. If a “worship service” doesn’t entertain us sufficiently we move elsewhere. Long sermons and church services tire us. But maybe more deadly is the effect this lifestyle has on our personal, devotional relationship with God – it has become fragmented, stretched thin, missing even – and so we look for a fix. We still want to hear from Him, but…

As Christians, living in the context of this society, we are just not geared to slowing down and taking the time to build our personal relationship with God. Even the literature that I found on “learning to hear from God” often promoted a certain number of “steps to be followed” in the process, which points again to our cultural need to organize, to be efficient, to “not waste time”. But how do you organize a relationship, a friendship?

Carve out for your self sufficient space in your life to take the time to listen to what God has already said in His written Word.

Are you grappling with these questions? Are you yearning to hear God’s voice? Allow me to recommend something – a practice that I believe will develop in you and me the essential foundation for hearing from God.  This is a time-tested practice based on both biblical teaching and biblical example. It is not a difficult practice but in our culture it can be very challenging.

Carve out for your self sufficient space in your life to take the time to listen to what God has already said in His written Word – the Old and New Testaments.  Make it a priority practice in your life to set aside a significant portion of time each week to spend a leisurely, relationship-developing season with God. Find a location where no one will interrupt and you will not bother anyone. Take your Bible and begin to read out loud (the reason for this is to avoid rushing through your reading). Read in a translation that is designed to be read aloud – where you will not be stumbling over awkward sentence structure. Read an extended passage – a whole book or several (Colossians, Ephesians, Hebrews, a Gospel, several Psalms etc).  Read with understanding and emphasis. Meditate as you read. Be free to pause frequently and ponder what you have read. Read with observing eyes and mind. Read with a questing heart. Read in faith but don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

As you read, allow your heart to be lifted to your Heavenly Father in praise and adoration.  Allow the Spirit of God to illumine His Word to your heart. Shut out the hurry and worry of the pressure cooker lives we live and take the time to grow your relationship with Him.

Guard this time! Don’t allow sermon or Bible lesson preparation encroach upon it. This is holy ground – just between you and God.  This is relationship time.

A few years ago I began to study and memorize Psalm 119. I was intrigued by the great value the psalmist placed on God’s Word. He refers to his delight in it at least 9 times. I took special note of the exclamations and declarations the psalmist makes in response to his delight in God’s Word. “I will obey…I will not neglect…I will meditate…I have set my heart on…I will never forget…I have put my hope in…I stand in awe…they are the joy of my heart.” May this be our response to our practice of meeting God in His already revealed truth – the Scriptures. Then we will truly hear.

Some additional thoughts:

  1. If it seems difficult at first – don’t flit to the next popular book or website – persevere! Don’t be afraid to tell Him what you are struggling with – this is a relationship.
  2. Commit Scripture to memory. If you are just beginning – start with a familiar passage – something you may have memorized in the past. Do not try to take on too much at once – but once you start, be consistent – don’t quit!
  3. This is not primarily a time to bring petitions to God – but He does want to hear from you, so don’t rush back into the fast lane without pausing to speak with Him in prayer.
  4. If you would like to meditate on a passage of Scripture that speaks to this practice that I am recommending go to Psalm 119 and spend some time in it.

Becoming a Sewage pipe Christian

During the time we lived in Larkana, Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto became prime minister of Pakistan. Since Larkana was her family home town, there were some obvious perks.  One of the most obvious was the construction of several fountains at key intersections.  Each fountain had a plaque proclaiming the name of the patron who had funded the project.  At the same time, the sewage system in Larkana was obviously insufficient for the population and in many places, nonexistent. In terms of improving people’s lives and preventing disease, a sewage system was logically a far more practical choice, but that did not seem to be a major concern.

Karen and I would often comment on a probable reason for this priority: To have one’s name on a fountain was an expression of honor, but there was no equivalent avenue for self-glorification in improving a sewage system.  Who wants their name attached to sewage pipe?  


As Christians our perspective needs to be very different.  We are followers of a savior who chose the “sewage pipe” way to serve, rather than the self-glorification of “fountain” construction.  He sacrificed for what we need – redemption from the sewage of our lives – which resulted in the shame of the cross rather than the glory of the throne that the disciples were hoping for.  Sometimes ministry feels like constructing sewage pipes without anyone praising our efforts.  But that may be a good indication that we are following Christ.  The world strives to put their name on the “fountains,” servants of Christ work on the sewers.

At the present time, the fountains in Larkana do not have any water flowing in them and they have become receptacles for garbage.  I think there may be a lesson in that as well.

Team Blog

Just as I was scratching my head, thinking of what to share as a blog an enewsletter arrived with a feature article entitled ‘The Death of Blogs” [Ted Olson, Christianity Today.] While it sounded like an obituary, I found the comments worth passing on:

… As weblogs proliferated earlier this decade, Andy Warhol’s famous aphorism was modified to read “in the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people.” Thanks to widespread bog burnout, everyone will be famous to 15 people for 15 minutes. Tech researcher Gartner, Inc. reported earlier this year that 200 million people have given up blogging, more than twice as many as are active … given the average lifespan of a blogger and the current growth rate of blogs, Gartner says blogging has probably peaked.”

My first reaction was to set this blog aside and move on to other things. But, as I read further, I changed my mind. Blogs have proved valuable for two reasons: 1. they provide quality insight and resourceful conversation, and 2. they appear with frequency. Remove either factor, and blogs die. With that in mind, Ted Olson revealed a secret: the secret of the top God blogs is that they’re team efforts.” Which is what you get by reading this – and may be the secret for any Church that seeks to keep the Blog alive.

Demographic information from the 2006 Canadian Census

Our NBS board recently received a copy of demographic information based on the 2006 Canadian Census. The results are no less interesting for the fact that they are predictable. Some key areas of interest…

-over 5.8 million Canadian taxfilers donated a record $7.9 billion to charities that provide offical tax receipts – almost 1% more donors, and 13.8% more in total donations compared with 2004.

-about 34% of Canadians said they did volunteer work in 2003.

-the number of same-sex couples surged 32.6% between 2001 and 2006, five times the pace of opposite-sex couples (+5.9%)

-the number of one-person households increased 11.8%, more than twice as fast as the 5.3% increase for the total population in private households.

-43.5% of the 4 million young adults aged 20-29 live in the parental home. Twenty years ago, 32.1% of young adults lived with their parents.

-for the first time, the census enumerated more unmarried people aged 15 and over than legally married people. In 2006, more than one-half (51.5%) of the adult population were unmarried, compared with 49.9% five years earlier.

-25.6 million people live in a family household, representing 87% of the population.

-though Canadians are now more likely to start their conjugal life through a common-law relationship, most couples (84%) are married.

-blended families account for 12% of all couples with children in 2001, compared with 10% in 1995.

-Canada’s visible minority population is growing faster than its total population: 25% growth from 1996-2001 versus 4% growth in the general population. By 2017, about 20% of Canada’s population could be visible minorities.

MinistryTalk: “Resourcing the Vision”

According to Robert Quinn in Deep Change a legitimate vision must exceed perceived resources.  If our vision fits neatly within our current resources it is merely a plan, not a vision. Planning is important, but it will not result in "deep change", according to Quinn. Only vision enables an organization to discern a future that moves it from current destruction dilemmas into new, fruitful spaces.

Sounds good! But can our vision outstrip the potential resources? I think we have to say yes. Visions are energizing, captivating, motivating, but they can also be too big for an organization to sustain. In such cases those involved in the enterprise can become discouraged, fatigued, and frustrated because their vision is beyond their reach. How do we measure whether our organization has the capacity to achieve its preferred vision?

    1. Develop clear strategies that demonstrate in a step-by-step fashion how the vision can be achieved. If you cannot conceptualize this in ways that make sense to you and others, then the vision is idealistic but has little chance of being achieved.

   2.  Consult with others who have adopted challenging visions and seen them achieved. Take advantage of their wisdom and experience to gauge whether your vision has similar potential.

   3.  Discern whether there is a deep, independently confirmed consensus within the organization that the preferred vision is the way to proceed. Sometimes leaders have great vision, but no one else in the organization has come to a similar view of the potential. While there may be occasions where such a ‘prophetic’ insight occurs, within church contexts we would believe that the Spirit will confirm the vision’s potential through various voices.

   4.  Ultimately, a church’s decision to embrace and pursue a vision is a matter of faith and trust in God, as well as personal integrity. If the status quo is not enabling the church to achieve its mission, then Christian integrity requires us to step out and grow forward. We will not see every step of the way clearly, but will believe that God will provide wisdom and resources when necessary.

 When we reflect on Paul’s vision to take the Gospel to non-Jewish people, we quickly discern that his vision was astounding, but he was not quite sure how this would work out. He initiated some missionary journeys without knowing where specifically he would be going. He trusted God to guide him on the way and He did, because he was faithful to the vision. At times he did not know where he would find the resources to continue, yet often we discover churches or individuals sending resources to assist at just the right time. Paul helps us discern the fine line between faith, vision, and presumption.

No alpha, beta or RC1 releases – a reason for Thanksgiving!

Warning!!
"if you don’t know what an alpha release is, don’t use this software!!"

I love the concept of free web software – a web application that has been designed by someone out there in cyberland who has put it up on the net to be downloaded and used freely (donations always appreciated). It is in this context that I have chuckled in the past couple of days as I have been searching for some very specific plugins (small web applications) for WordPress (the web software on which this site runs). In the process I have come across several websites that describe their particular plugin as an "alpha release" – with the following warning- "if you don’t know what an alpha release is, don’t use this software!!" Warning heeded!!

It is common for web software programmers to release a version of the software they are developing to the public – a version that is not fully tested or does not have complete functionality – in order to give the internet community an opportunity get a sneak preview or even to help in the debugging of the program. In this way users will often help with suggestions as to what additional functionality might be added to the software in order to make it a useful tool. These releases are labeled "alpha" or "beta" versions and if the software is deemed to be almost complete, "release candidate 1 or 2" (RC1, etc.). I have occasionally experimented with web software that was still in the "beta" stage.

Sometimes, however, it is frustrating when I am looking at a piece of software that is advertised to do just what I want it to do – but it is still "beta"! Do I dare use it on my "precious" website? Can I trust it? Other times it is quite annoying when software touted as the ultimate answer for a particular need does not live up to its promise. But that is the world of software offered on the web and those are the risks you take when you use a "beta" version.

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving Day and I was reflecting on what I had to be thankful about and thinking about some of the experiences I have had with "beta releases" it occurred to me that when Jesus provided the "Ultimate Answer" to mankind’s deepest need he provided the only and final release, free and absolutely complete!

Jesus…prepared for every contingency, every possibility, every condition and every era. He did not take any shortcuts or half measures and did not leave any functionality out.

When Jesus provided salvation for us He prepared for every contingency, every possibility, every condition and every era. He did not take any shortcuts or half measures and did not leave any functionality out. He did not forget anything or ignore anything. He knew every need we would ever possibly have and provided for them all. When He died on the Cross to save mankind from sin he did not take a trial and error approach – he went all the way and did it perfectly – first time! His "plan" for us has never needed debugging, security updates, patches or fixes. It is perfect, there will never be any other versions or releases – and it is free for the receiving! In fact donations are not even possible and to attempt payment nullifies the "plan".

So, to recap! The salvation Jesus has provided is absolutely perfect, absolutely complete, absolutely efficacious, absolutely trustworthy and absolutely free. Now that is something for which I can be very thankful – and so can you!.

In the realm of web software I will continue to experiment with the occasional "beta" release. In the spiritual realm, however, I have settled on Jesus’ perfect "plan"- His provision for eternal salvation.

Significant Conversations

Five aspects of evangelism common to our churches that need to change if we are to make a gospel impact in our communities:

a.    The individualistic nature of evangelism.  People commonly view Sunday worship as their expression of church, while the rest of the week is lived without church involvement. For example, I have seen written over the exit in some churches: “You are entering the mission field.”  While the focus on missions is laudable, the understanding for many is that while we are in the building we are part of a congregation, but when we leave, we are on our own!  The common assumption is that those who “do evangelism” with their acquaintances, do it by themselves.  This perception is inadvertently advanced by the testimony of those who are gifted evangelists because the interaction is often presented as a private affair.  But this approach ignores the great potential for developing a support network with other believers.

b.    Defining ministry as church based activity. The ministries of the church are usually understood as the activities that are on the ledger (teacher, usher, maintenance, etc.), and the personal spiritual interaction that people have in their every day relationships are not viewed as church ministry. This perspective needs to be reversed.  Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives, while the tasks associated with church programs are support ministries.

Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives

c.    Evangelism as the task of the church.  At one level this is true, but the emphasis often results in downplaying the reality that it is God who has a mission to the world and it is his Spirit that changes hearts.  Salvation does not depend on our ability to convict and convince.  Rather we need to discover what God is up to in people’s lives and have a conversation. We look for where God is working and explore the significance of that spiritual interest with them.

d.    The guilt aspect. In light of people on their way to hell, we feel enormous pressure to give people a gospel message – like medical staff in the emergency room.  However, in my experience this perspective actually works against the effectiveness of motivating people to the task.  We need to trust that God will do what is right with each individual and not put more responsibility for a person’s eternal destiny on ourselves than is warranted by Scripture.  A more appealing and less intimidating paradigm is the view that we are on a spiritual journey and want to walk with others who are also on a journey.

e.    The program approach to evangelism. Very often the plea is “bring your friends to church or to our evangelistic outreach” with the implication that “the expert” is best equipped to tell the gospel.  However, any one who is a true follower of Christ has a gospel message inside them that their friends are more than likely willing to hear and which would make a greater impact.  In the long run, a more productive focus will be to develop a support network so that believers can explore the spiritual joys and challenges of engaging the significant people in their lives.

I would like to suggest a simple grassroots approach to evangelism that relieves the pressure on believers to “present a gospel message” and replaces that with a freedom to enjoy significant conversations with people. This approach creates a conversational space where there are no winners or losers, just people who are able to express what is significant to them.  For the true believer, this is opportunity for Jesus to shine. 

The SISI system is designed to mitigate the weaknesses noted above.

Download the SISI brochure in which the process is explained together with important assumptions and / or contact me at via the form below. 

You are also invited to read the CCI article entitled “Why I don’t do ‘Evangelism’” which chronicles my own spiritual journey in coming to this position of seeking significant conversations.

 

Contact Mark Naylor

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Middle Adults – Use Them or Lose Them

I posted a note back in July with a bit of a warning – that the Middle-Adult ministry today is not the same as it was 30 years ago, and that if the church doesn’t address the aging Boomer generation, it is missing a huge opportunity [July 5, 2007: Here They Come.] I don’t know if it’s the fact that my birthday has arrived and I am smack dab in the middle of that generation – or it it’s because more research is being published – but I find that my warning is being confirmed.

In a number of studies published by the Leadership Network [www.leadnet.org] top innovations in Older Adult Ministry are being reported. While the standard understanding has been that Youth are the prime target for church ministries, and Youth ministry is the second or third hire on a church staff, the facts are that people “over 65 now outnumber teenagers nearly two to one.” The “graying of society” is now understood as a social revolution. Yet, very few churches have targeted ministries for middle to older adults.

While the focus on youth has been driven by the idea that youth are the most apt to be receptive to the gospel, churches that are targeting Middle-adults are finding that there is even greater spiritual interest and receptivity among the “grey” generation. In fact, people over 50 are living longer and want to make a difference in the second half of their lives. The name “boomer” is being replaced with a new title: “the finisher generation” as the middle-adults have every intention to finish well.

In reporting on this phenomenon, Dr. Amy Hanson, one of the researchers for Leadership Network just published an article with a title that sounds the warning once again: Prime Timers: Older Adults Moving Outside Churches To Serve. On the other hand, Churches who recognize the age explosion are creating strategic, innovative ministries that are well worth attention. I would strongly recommend Amy Hansen’s whole report: Churches Responding to the Age Wave: Top Innovations In Older Adult Ministry … downloaded for free from the Leadership Network resource webpage: www.leadnet.org/resources.asp.

A Father’s Baptism

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Albion Church. The fellowship–an energetic, young congregation of some 70-80 believers–meets in the local community hall on the north bank of the Fraser River. Their pastor who invited me to preach is Dan Ost. My decision to say yes was a ‘no brainer.’

Dan’s emailed invitation was more of a 911 call. I quote: "I received a call last night from my 76 year old father who just became a Christian a little over a year ago–he’s over-the-top excited about his new found faith and is going to be baptized next Sunday…and I don’t want to miss it! So, …I’m looking for a last minute preacher who could fill in here at Albion…."

Who wouldn’t want to be at his own dad’s baptism? 76 years old! That number alone tells me a story. It tells me that the greatest length of the life pathway for Dan’s dad has been filled with incomprehension and not a little resistance to Jesus. Every pathway has measures of those elements. That Dan has been a Christian far longer than his dad I’m sure means that he was both concerned and hopeful for his dad’s eventual conversion to Christ. I don’t doubt that Dan’s daily prayers to God gave good time to ask for a transformed mind for his dad so that he could understand that the good news about a new life in Jesus was good news for him. There have probably been many conversations between father and son regarding what it means to be a Christian in terms of costs and blessings. I’m sure Dan had to balance the urgency to insistently tell with respect for his dad and realization that if anything happened, it would ultimately be God’s doing and in God’s time.

Well, God came through–big time!

It makes me wonder, though. If we imagined everyone we know who needs to hear the good news about salvation in Jesus’ name as a beloved father, mother, or child, would we be more consciously prayerful for their salvation, more available to relate to them, more respectfully insistent in raising the matter about Jesus, and more patient and persistent out of a great hopefulness and confidence to see God come through?

Dan had the joy of seeing his father in his late years come to a whole new life through faith in Jesus and be baptized this past Sunday. It should make us all want to pursue that joy as well.

The Crossing Tender

I heard Jeff Arthurs from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary read this little parable at an Evangelical Homiletics Society gathering many years ago. Afterwards I asked him for a copy so that I could share it with my classes. It was published in 1919 by William Eleazar Barton, otherwise known as “Safed the Sage”. The piece has been edited.

Now there is a railway that runneth through the town where I live, and there are gates that are pulled down when a train goeth by. And one day when I would have crossed the tracks, the gates went down, so that I stopped. And I spake unto the man who keepeth the crossing, and I said, “lovest thou thy job?”

And he said, “I count myself lucky to have this job, for I am neither young nor strong; nevertheless mine is a hard job.”

And I said, “wherefore should thy job be hard?”

And he said, “because I save people’s lives and they curse me.”

“They come down the street breaking the speed limit, and honking for me to lift the gates; or if they be on foot they duck under. And when I warn them not to cross the tracks lest they die, they act as if I were their enemy.”

And I took him by the hand, and I said, “Thou art my brother, and my job is like unto thine.”

And he said, “Art thou not a minister?”

And I answered, “I am a crossing-tender. Where thou seest yonder spire, I tend a crossing; and i say unto the wicked, go not in thine evil way, lest thou die, but they continue to go as they did before. And I say unto the heedless, duck not under the gate, lest evil befall thee; but they duck as they were wont to do.”

My job is like unto the crossing-tenders for my job has the same trials. Nevertheless, his is a good job, and so is mine. And every now and then we keep people on the right side of the gate.

So I considered this, and I resolved to do it as well as I could.