"we need to wait" - busyness and advent

Ours is a busy culture. We do a lot. As such, Christmas is a sort-of annual festival of busyness. Our chaotic lives display a pace unparalleled the rest of the year.

Partying, shopping, eating - busyness becomes our measure of faithfulness to the ‘spirit of Christmas.’ One doesn’t have to be pessimistic of the busyness, for sure. Much of the activity reflects a genuine desire to connect and celebrate, to recognize family and faith, hope and love - it’s a good busyness in this sense. But busy nonetheless. The more the merrier!

Advent by Linda McCray
Often lost in the hum of holiday busyness is the Christian celebration of Advent, which begins this coming Sunday. Advent literally means “coming,” and incorporates practices of expectation and longing for the advent of God - “Immanuel...God with us” (Mt. 1:23). At its core, then, Advent isn’t about the frenzy of celebrating Christmas, but the act of waiting for Christmas.

But we’re busy. We don’t wait. We get things done. Christmas starts now (now being as early as September for some retailers)!

There is a real danger that our well-intentioned busyness distracts us from our deepest needs. Longing characterizes much of life - expectations for relationships, careers, happiness and such. Whether we like it or not, much of life is spent waiting.

Advent brings this experience of waiting to our celebration of Christmas. Like God’s people of old, we still wait for mercy and blessing in our lives and for this world. Yes, Christmas marks the fullness of God’s promised presence, but Advent marks how this promise finds fulfillment in the journey of anticipation. Unlike our typical Christmas festivities, God doesn’t give us everything at once. This isn’t how God chose to reveal himself. This isn’t how we should commemorate God revealing himself.

We need Advent.

We need to wait. 


"It's complicated"

They got married?”
“That person is divorced!”
“That person is still single?”
“They got married young!”
“They got married old!”
“Who would love him!?!”
“How does he stay married to her?”
That’s an unlikely match!”

Stigma. Judgement. Labels.

Stigma is a disapproval of, or discontent with, a person on the grounds of characteristics that distinguish them from other members of a society. Stigma may attach to a person who differs from social or cultural norms.

When it comes to relationships, stigma abounds.

Just change your Facebook status to see what I mean!

So often our relationship status defines us.

And Christian approaches to relationships sometimes accept these stigmas. Books, events, websites, sermons create a compartmentalization of people in the church based on relationship status. While helpful to address specific needs of various life situations, such an approach is often all there is. The Bible is used as handbook on relationships; Jesus turns into the unrivaled relationship guru.

Yet reading passages like Matthew 10:34-39 and Matthew 19:1-12 the last thing we get is clear relationship advice. Instead, Jesus provokes, talking about family division and “hard hearts” in the complex world of relationships and faith. No easy answers here.

For Jesus-followers, it seems the only accurate relationship status is, “It’s complicated.”

Consistently in his teaching, instead of outlining how to be a good spouse, or how to live the single life, Jesus reiterates what it means to overcome our hardness of heart: follow, lose your life...identify with him.

The message is clear: identify your whole self with Jesus, not with your relationship status. Instead of giving relationship advice for his followers, Jesus gives following advice to people in relationships.

It may be complicated, yes, but such is the way of Jesus in the world.

**This post is adapted from one of my recent sermons**

weekly clips: #GivingTuesday

Following my post from earlier, don't forget about #GivingTuesday!

put the giving back in thanks - #GivingTuesday

Today is American Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

Tomorrow is Black Friday.

Monday is Cyber Monday.

How quickly the pause for thanksgiving is followed by the frenzy of shopping!

I often bemoan our culture’s excessive spending - post-Thanksgiving Christmas shopping craziness only exasperates my frustration. While often a willing participant in excessiveness - most in N.A. are! - I find our cultural default to consume everything to excess troubling to say the least. And we can’t get away from it. As Skye Jethani observes about our culture in The Divine Commodity,
A century of manufacturing insatiable desires has created a culture of overindulgence; obesity sexual promiscuity, and skyrocketing consumer debt are just a few signs. Although lack of self-control has always plagued humanity, for the first time in history an economic system has been created that relies on it.
Too much turkey isn’t the only problem of overindulgence around the holidays!

Even while I’m guilty of perpetuating this culture along with everyone else, I don’t want to give in completely. To remain ignorant of our excessive consumption or to resign ourselves to it as simply “the times we live in,” denies our own freedom to live better.

A new movement, #GivingTuesday, offers such a way, even if just a start.

The craziness of shopping this weekend isn’t going away anytime soon. Yes, that’s frustrating, but true. #GivingTuesday offers an alternative in the midst of the problem, hopefully helping us realize that thanks really should lead to giving.

building peace, literally

Imagine coming home after a being away for several years. Let’s say you were studying or on a temporary work assignment. And now, finally, you return. But upon arrival, someone is living in your house. Not just squatting, but literally taken over your home for their own. What do you do?

Demand they leave. Claim your ownership. Call the police! Yell incessantly, “Get out!!!”

Seems pretty simple to me. 

Now, of course if you’re a Christian, yes you’d do this as lovingly as possible, perhaps not pressing charges if the squatters were in a difficult place in life (after they pay for any damage of course). We are forgiving people after all - peacemakers even.

I often think such hypothetical situations are unhelpful to envision what peacemaking can and should look like. Because really, when is this type of thing ever going to happen?

Meet Caesaer Hakim (his story is told in this month’s MB Herald):
After fleeing aerial bombings and living in a refugee camp in Uganda for 14 years, Caesaer Hakim and his family were excited that the day to return home had finally arrived.

But when they got to their ancestral home in Opari, they found another family living on their land.
Not so hypothetical after all.

Prior to coming home, Hakim received training in peacemaking. And no, the training didn’t involve how to lovingly evict squatters. Hakim knew more was needed.
His skills were soon put to the test as he dealt with the new family living on his land. “If I had not had the peacebuilding training, I would have picked a quarrel with them. Instead, I built my house on another plot of land.”

Neighbours are aware of this action, and the example he set earned him respect as a peacebuilder. This enables him to share his knowledge and skills as he leads the committee and helps other families resolve conflicts.

“I am like a teacher,” he said. “Knowledge is like fire; it cannot be contained.”
I talk about peace and faith fairly regularly here. I’m constantly challenged personally with how a view of peacemaking and the gospel translates into everyday life. I realize my idealism and struggle to maintain it. In my life the way of peace risks abstraction and irrelevance. Hope wanes.

Then I hear stories of Caesaer Hakim, a man building peace, literally.

weekly clips: Christianese

Yes, Christians say some pretty funny stuff...(and yes, the source is "GodTube" - very creative title!)

From worshiphousemedia on GodTube.

Jesus and productivity

We live in a culture dominated by efficiency and productivity. We all feel the pressure, no doubt, to contribute something to the world, to live up to expectations and make something of our lives. Ours is a "what have you done for me lately?" culture.

And so we want to be productive. We feel good being productive. We have (!!!) to be productive we tell ourselves (or others tell us).

With all these pressures, it's helpful to pause (if you have time) and consider, what does productivity mean for you?

Now read Luke 19:1-10:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (NIV)

And then consider this: What is productivity for Jesus?


Have a productive weekend!

how we remember

As a leader in a peace church in Canada, I've always wrestled with how to commemorate Remembrance Day.

"The Road to Peace" by 'gilad
I firmly believe it’s the role of Christians to seek nonviolent resistance to injustice in its many ugly forms. No, this is not passive nonresistance, but the creative and active response to injustice (read Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed if you want a glimpse into the possibilities of such response). Yes, such an approach invariably fails to guarantee success at it’s typically defined - risk is inherent to active peacemaking. Such is the way of Jesus.

But with such a view, I don’t think I should ignore Remembrance Day. I wear a poppy. I read stories of war veterans. I pause in silence.

Yet one could suggest a recognition of Remembrance Day communicates a parallel support of current military efforts by Canada or other countries - I’m guilty by association.

There is a tension. And I feel it.

Which is why it’s so important for me to reflect on how we remember just as much as the act itself. Central to how I remember as a Christian is lament - lament that war blasts us with the reality of the world as it shouldn’t be. As we honor the sacrifice of veterans, we mourn the fact that such a practice even exists.

Remembrance Day - and all thoughts on war and violence for that matter - should lead us to lament...

...Lament the innocent victims; the families torn apart.
...Lament the soldiers’ lives lost on all sides (all war is more complex than good vs. evil).
...Lament the violent assertion of the strong at the expense of solidarity with the weak.
...Lament the absence of God’s ultimate vision for peace.

Related: “inefficiency wins”

weekly clips - Remembrance Day and "Praying for Peace"

How will you remember on Remembrance Day?

church: people not a building (but...)

Most Christians would agree the church is not a building. It’s common understanding that the church - “the called out ones” (ekklesia) - is the people not a building.

Yet you look around the world, from medieval cathedrals to neighborhood steeples, and one could wonder how seriously Christians themselves hold to this key principle of people before buildings. I mean, really, a lot of money has been spent on church buildings!

Hyde Creek Community Church...building
It’s no surprise, then, that in various points of church history people have questioned the role of the building for the church. From monks to Anabaptists to hippies to emerging/missional folks, groups of faithful Christians have demonstrated boldly and creatively how faithfulness to Jesus hinges on a way of life, not a place to meet.

I find these examples both inspiring and, well, challenging.

You see, this fall our church purchased a building (you can read some of the story here as recorded by my friends at the MB Herald).

I’m aware of how easily a building can take over the identity and focus of a church. “I go to church”, while an innocent phrase uttered often, can begin to reflect a reliance on the structures of the church not the people nor the God we profess to follow.

And yet we bought a building. Why?

In many ways our lead pastor’s words, cited at the end of the article above, summarize well our perspective on our building: “We’re home now.”

We're making this transition in the life of our church by attempting to put the building in a proper perspective. For our family of faith, it’s our home - a place to meet and to host, to worship and to serve.

Are there still dangers? Absolutely. Will we be at times distracted (mortgage anybody!?!). No doubt. But being aware of these dangers, we’re asking some important questions to keep our building in perspective:
  • How does what we do with this building say to our neighbors?
  • How can we be good neighbors?
  • How can we be good landlords?
  • How can our space be a place of hospitality and hope?
And in all these discussions, we do need the reminder that the church is about the people united in Jesus wherever we may be. Right now we just happen to gather in our own building. And for this we are thankful. 

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

what should I read?

"Most people would hesitate to recommend a book that’s hard to read. I usually am, but with The Cost of Community, I’m willing to make an exception. You see, The Cost of Community is hard to read for all the right reasons."
This is a blurb from my latest book review published in the MB Herald.

Reading and reviewing this book makes me wonder how we should interact with the books and authors we read. And similarly, what should we read?

I know for myself, I tend to read books I know I'll already agree with or ones that align with a specific project or interest I have. The upside is obvious: I get read books I enjoy! The downside, however, is more subtle: reading can end up being a sort of pat-on-the-back for own views on life. The Cost of Community tested this reading approach.

I did enjoy The Cost of Community, yes; but it also challenged my view of faith and life as a Jesus follower beyond what I'm comfortable with. Jamie Arpin-Ricci presents implications (not applications!) of Jesus-following, that to be honest, I'd rather not deal with (e.g. risk-taking, everyday peace, money). This challenge is the best - and worst! - part of the book.

And it's a challenge, I'm learning, that I need in my reading.

What's a challenging book you've recently read?

weekly clips: "The Saints"

Besides Halloween, this week also celebrated All Saints Day. 

Check out this thoughtful reflection on those who came before us: