jazzy hymn - i have decided

This video of Mike Janzen came through my inbox this morning via a Steve Bell update.

The artistry and incredible musicianship speaks for itself. Enjoy!

what’s the point? – what are we doing?

If the church is God’s representation in the world – the people of God – it seems natural that what we do should reflect who we are.

Easier said than done…

You may have noticed, but church practices are by no means universal. To say there’s variety in churches is an extreme understatement. Historically, how we “do” church has seen its fair share of variation, ranging from the early church’s debate surrounding Jewish-Gentile integration, to the countless monastic movements, to the papal of feuds of medieval Catholicism, to the Reformation, to the proliferation of denominations, to the “style” of worship, and on and on and on...

This lack of consistency in representing biblical Christianity only contributes to the church’s apparent irrelevance I discussed earlier. How can people who claim to follow the same God accept so much variety and outright disunity?

Often churches think if they can just “get it right” they will overcome this critique. And so they approach what they do in a certain way. For some churches this means adopting a consumer-oriented approach to church. Essentially, variety in church practices is something that should be capitalized on. If we simply get the formula right and garner just enough of the “cool” factor (e.g. rock music), people will see that what we offer is worth something amidst the smorgasbord of religious options. (Ryan’s got some good thoughts on consumer approaches to church here). For other churches, they deem an opposite approach more appropriate, a complete withdrawal from attempting to be relevant in the world. Scared that society will negatively infiltrate what we do (e.g. rock music), we’ll just withdraw into our holy huddle, adopting practices and programs that sustain a status quo we’ve all become accustomed to. Both responses, unfortunately, allow the church’s relationship to society – how they are perceived by others – to determine what they do.

And while most churches likely fall somewhere in-between these two caricatures, I want to suggest that even some sort of middle ground isn’t helpful. Finding just the right mix of cool and conservative doesn’t lead to faithfully being the church in the world. We need a different motivation. Jesus’ straightforward summation of faithfully being God’s people sums it up:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Mt. 22:36-40 NIV).

I want to suggest an appropriate paraphrase is “all that we do in church hang on these two commandments.” So as I post on how church programs in the areas of worship, encouragement, and loving others, I’ll propose that it’s these few words, not cultural relevance, that should determine what we do as the people of God.

oh how time flies…

Well, I’m officially the father of a one-year-old - my little fella Landon. It’s hard to believe how much life has changed in the last year (for all three of us). We’re so thankful to experience this year of transitions with our awesome son. I’d do anything for the little guy (well, not so little, but you know what I mean;)!!!

Happy Birthday Landon!

One day old...

Merry Christmas!

Distinguished 6-month-old.

Summer with Dad!

The "I can't believe I'm one" look.

the prayer cross - "experience the magic"

Described as a great "spiritual accessory" (whatever that means), I came across this pathetic display of Christian commercialism on TV this week - The Prayer Cross. I'll let the ad speak for itself...


what’s the point? – people of god

In response to an irrelevant church, my first thought is to ask, “who are we?” Searching the biblical narrative, a common theme that broadly summarizes the church’s identity is “people of God”

We find in the biblical narrative a story about a loving God who created the heavens and the earth. Not only that, God created humans in his own image, calling them to bear that image in the world. And while humans have chosen to go their own way more often than not, God continues to call for a community – the people of God – to represent him to the world.

Old Testament: Here we read about the journey of a people living out the call to represent God. And while it’s a journey filled with failure and disappointment, God’s persistent love continually calls this “people” towards himself. We here phrases like “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:12) and “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I am God’” (Is. 43:12).

New Testament: Unfortunately Christians often interpret Jesus’ message to make the Old Testament unnecessary, which can lead to a neglect of the emphasis on the people of God as integral to biblical faith. But if we consider how Jesus himself declares that he came to “fulfill” the message of the Old Testament, not “abolish” it (Mt. 5:17-18), we see continuity in God’s mission through both testaments – a mission to establish a faithful “people of God” initiated with Israel and confirmed in Christ. And so we get language referring to the church as a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9) and a “chosen people” (Col 3:12) – language that continues to emphasize that being a Christian is a communal activity.

Now, making our identity as the “people of God” central to our understanding of Christianity contrasts a common alternative view to Christianity: the “Lone Ranger Christian” or perhaps more current, the “Jason Bourne Christian.” These approaches to faith suggest that a ‘strong’ Christian is someone who is completely self-sufficient, able to muster enough strength and courage to face whatever hardships come your way. And these types of people are looked up to in our society, as complete independence becomes a celebrated achievement all should strive for. But looking at the biblical narrative, God may call individuals to specific tasks and declare his love for us individually, but always within the greater context of his love for all people and his desire to create a people – the people of God.

For a great resource of this topic, check out N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God

what’s the point? – irrelevant church

In a post last week, I raised the question “what’s the point?” in response to the busyness in our lives and in particular, our churches. I’ll take the next few posts and explore some of my answers.

The church’s busyness, I believe, contributes to the cultural stereotype that the church is irrelevant in cultivating spirituality. And so we here phrases like the oft heard, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” For many, church affiliation is seen as a waste of time. As sociologist Reginald Bibby describes, “Canadians may be hungering for the gods but that is hardly to say they are hungering for the churches” (Restless Gods).

Unfortunately, churches can easily succumb to the stereotypes that culture has for them. The message can be dated, irrelevant, and boring. The programs, well, they’re much the same. The church accepts its fate to remain a private social club for individuals who choose it, but not really offering anything beyond that.

Interestingly, Bibby’s research shows a resurgent interest in organized religion in the early 21st century. And while people have seen the church as irrelevant, it’s not because they’re necessarily against church in general, but because the church itself has been irrelevant. The problem, Bibby’s suggests, is not necessarily an unreceptive culture – the problem is the church itself.

And the problem, I’m suggesting, is the church’s practices – our busyness – can easily wander away from a biblical understanding of the church’s role in the world. This disconnection from the Gospel, then, leads to disconnection with the surrounding culture. If we don’t continually discern and remind ourselves why we do what do, we run the risk of simply remaining an irrelevant – albeit busy – organization in society.

It’s to this situation that I ask the question, then, what’s the point? And in particular, who are we and what are doing?

a prayer in our doubts

This morning I read a paraphrase version of psalm 109 and was struck with the honesty of the author as he related the experience of doubt. Answering questions of suffering in the context of our belief in a good God is no easy task. For example, you can follow a discussion on Ryan's blog on the very subject. Leslie Brandt, the author, expresses the challenges of the subject well in his prayer. May this be our prayer in the face of our doubts...

Oh God, I have been taught to believe
that You are God over our world.
It has been dinned into my ears
by the preachers of my youth,
by parents, teachers, and self-appointed apostles.
“God holds the reins,” they say.
“He will have the last word,” they claim.

I’ve honestly tried to believe it.
And with tongue in cheek
I’ve sounded off to others
about Your power and Your promises
Maybe they sensed my incredulity.
It may be that they just habitually accepted
or unthinkingly nodded assent
to my platitudes and pronouncements.
How can I really believe in Your omnipotence
unless I look the other way
when tragedy befalls
or close my eyes to the agony and ugliness
on all sides of me?

I cannot believe You inflict pain on Your creatures.
I realize that our suffering is most often
the consequences of our own selfishness.
But what about the babies born
with two strikes against them?
the grisly slaughter on battlefield, highways?
the destruction of thousands when the earth
shifts and breaks up under them?
the pressures and indignities
forced upon minority races?
What about this, O God?
How can I explain this to my sceptical friends
or even to myself?

Is it possibly true, O God,
that You really are not omnipotent?
that this fractured world is not
in the palm of your hand?
that Your great power is limited
in respect to this distorted planet
and its sin-ridden inhabitants?

O God, the basis of all being,
my ultimate and eternal concern,
I know that Your are not floating out there
over and beyond our ball of clay.
You are in our world.
You are amongst Your creatures,
inscrutable, indefinable,
great in majesty and splendour.
You bring beauty out of ugliness.
Out of the ashes of our sickness and suffering
You bring forth new creations.
I shall never want to define you, O God,
for I cannot worship what I comprehend.
But I pray for Your grace to stand firm
even amid my nagging doubts
and to praise You in time of adversity.
(Psalms Now)

too good to pass up

In exploring some answers to the question I raised in my previous post, I came across this little gem of an illustration. Perhaps I can work it into my sermon…

There was a $20 dollar bill and a $1 dollar bill on the conveyor belt at the downtown Federal Reserve Building. As they were laying there side by side, the $1 dollar bill said to the $20 dollar bill, "Hey mannnnnn, where have you been, I haven't seen you in a longtime?"

The $20 dollar bill replied, "Man I have been having a ball! ". I've been traveling to distant countries, going to the finest restaurants, to the biggest and best casinos, numerous boutiques, the mall uptown, the mall downtown, the mall across town and even a mall that was just newly built. In fact, just this week I've been to Europe, a professional NBA game, Rodeo Drive, the all day retreat spa, the topnotch hair salon, and the new casino!! I have done it all!!!"

After describing his great travels, the $20 dollar bill asked the $1 dollar bill, "What about you, Where have you been?"

The $1 dollar replied, "Well, I've been to the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopalian Church, the Church of God in Christ, the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, the A. M. E. Church, the Disciples of Christ Church, the..."

"WAIT A MINUTE, WAIT A MINUTE", shouted the $20 dollar bill to the $1 dollar bill.

"What in the world is a church??!!!"

(found here, via Google search)

I know, I know, you’re probably groaning, but aren’t all good sermon illustrations supposed to make you groan!?! ;)

let the busyness begin

I’m not sure about you, but the busyness of September can easily become a drain on the psyche. Kind of like the first day of class when you get your syllabi and are bombarded by the long list of assignments that require completion in the weeks and months that follow. It’s a daunting place to be.

If you’re part of a church, the kick-off of fall programs can bring similar feelings. Fall fairs, care group socials, worship team practices, strategic planning, Christmas planning (yes already!), Alpha, youth group, clean-up day, kids club, soup kitchen, bible study, family nights, board meetings… I think you get the point. Church is BUSY.

But is busyness really why we go to church? Aren’t there enough other activities in our lives that fill up our schedule? Isn’t there a way church can be more than just filler in my weekly timetable?

Well, that’s led me to ask the question, “What’s the point?” Why do we do the things we do in church? And to be honest, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. So I’ve decided to title my sermon this coming Sunday, “What’s the point?” I have been charged to speak a message on who we are and what we do as a local community church. Hopefully questioning (and answering?) this crucial question can provide a frame of reference from which we can understand (and perhaps reprioritize) our busyness in church.

And so I plan to share my discoveries over the next week. Likely some things will be positive – at least I assume that what we do week to week does have some value in the context of God’s kingdom. But I also suspect to be challenged, as there may be areas of my life and our church that have succumbed to merely adding busyness to our lives. In this case, my prayer is that we’ll seriously engage how to be more faithful in our church life.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress...

fresh start in a time of transitions

Well, since I last participated in the blogosphere my life has been full of transitions. So this return to blogging is a sort of fresh start – new look, new name, new blog posts (I mean it this time!).

I’ll begin with a summary of my recent transitions.

Graduation - In April, I officially graduated from Regent College with a Master of Christian Studies in "Christianity and Culture." And while I had completed all my work in Sep. '08, I still found it meaningful to officially celebrate the accomplishment.

Job - Around the time I graduated I accepted the position of associate pastor at Hyde CreekCommunity Church , in Port Coquitlam, B.C. While I'm saddened to leave my roofing career (I'm serious, I will miss it greatly!), I'm excited to be able to join a community of faith in a pastoral role and work with a local church towards faithfully representing God's kingdom in the world. Besides general duties involved with any pastoral position, the main focus I will have is on "community impact." This basically means I will be helping the church find appropriate ways in which they can make a meaningful contribution in the world, both in the neighborhoods everyone lives in and in the church's backyard. Less about program and more about people, I’m excited to be a part of church looks beyond its own walls and seriously engages its task to tangibly represent God’s kingdom.

Home - With this new job has been another transition: moving! After scouring the market north of the Fraser, we were able to find a home in West Maple Ridge, a short drive to the church in PoCo and with great access to the rest of the Lower Mainland via the Golden Ears Bridge. And while we’re still adjusting to our new home and town, we’re enjoying our exploration of the new communities we are in and getting to know the people we’ll be sharing our lives with in the years to come.

And so as I transition into my role as a pastor and Julie and I settle into both a new community and church, I intend to revive my blogging. It’s here that I will offer my thoughts, inviting you to consider my ideas around faith, community and culture.