Resurrection Reality

Look at the world and what's your default? Hope? Hopelessness? Apathy? Overwhelmed?

Do you feel pressure, desire, guilt even, to bring life and hope to a world that desperately needs it?

Prior to his death, Jesus’ followers were desperate to bring life to the world around them, constantly pestering Jesus about when and how the kingdom of God – their vision for peace and wholeness – would be established. They wanted to bring life. Think of yourself, your relationships, your community, our world... We all want to bring life.

But then we fail. Brokenness remains. Like the disciples going to the tomb to mourn, we realize our vision for life, however well-intentioned, cannot sustain itself.

And like the first disciples, we need to realize that we don’t bring life. Jesus brings life. We can’t fabricate resurrection. Life isn’t about trying hard. The concrete defeat of sin, death, and evil comes not through brute strength or exercise of the will, but through the very gift of love that can only come from the creator of life to begin with.

Easter Sunday, then, is about recognizing life. The resurrection reality is that amidst all our own failing and flailing attempts to overcome sin and death ourselves, God is the One who overcomes. We don’t strive to create life in the world, we realize life already in the world.

Today, know this: we live in a resurrection reality.


"Die and be raised" - Walter Brueggemann

Darkness and the "Good" of Friday

It is during these days of Holy Week that we recognize where “darkness reigns” in the story of Jesus, yes, but also in our world.

Holy Week, and Good Friday in particular, is a chance to reflect on our experience of darkness in our lives and in our world. And then we remember Jesus’ own journey to darkness – God with the full human experience of suffering. God walking this path of darkness we know oh so well…

We call it “Good” Friday not as a shallow acceptance of Jesus’ death on the cross and the benefits this brings – our typical use of “good” is not good enough in describing the reality of this day. In recognition that Jesus, in walking the path of darkness, takes on himself the fullness of death and sin and suffering, we reflect on a deeper good that reigns in the place of darkness. Lingering in the shadows of Friday, then, we already find glimmers of Sunday’s Light – belief that for once suffering is not in vain nor captive to the dark. This way of suffering – finally! – is the beginning of the end of suffering.

Good Friday indeed!



Praxis - Gospel in the City


Growing up in the Greater Vancouver area, I’ve always had an interest in the intersection between faith and culture. As I’ve engaged urban culture, from walking the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, to meeting personally with mayors, to observing the creativity of urban artisans, I’m convinced that faith, hope and love reflect God’s heart for cities as he sends us into the world (1 Cor. 13:13; Jn. 20:21). It’s with great anticipation, then, that beginning May 1 I step into the role of Praxis Director at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, BC.

“Praxis” literally means ideas and beliefs which are enacted, practiced, and embodied in our everyday lives. For Christians, our “praxis” is the reality that the good news of Jesus is relevant in every situation, in every place, and for every person. At CBC, Praxis is a new one-year discipleship program that gives students an experience of the faith, community, and culture in the city.

Cities often represent conflicting realities: hope and despair; poverty and wealth; creativity and uniformity; freedom and judgment; equality and inequality. Amidst such tensions, Christians can feel like “resident aliens” in urban culture (1 Pt. 2:9-12) as we wrestle with how to live in the world but not of the world. The Praxis program will lead students in addressing these urban realities through a dynamic experience of cultural engagement, Christian community, and urban mission both in the classroom and through practical experience. Partnering with churches and ministries in places like Vancouver and New York City, students will have a variety of experiences in the areas of social justice and urban ministry, living out the missional implications of Jesus’ gospel in their own lives. 

I can’t wait to partner with students in living out the gospel in the city!

For more information on the program, go to the Praxis homepage.

"Learning to live without power" - Stanley Hauerwas

I have Palm Sunday in mind in sharing the clip below - "Despair vs. Hope." So often our vision for God, faith, and the presence of Jesus in our world revolves around getting our way, not unlike the crowds cheering their "king" to only a few days later rejecting him for not giving them what they want.

In this clip, Stanley Hauerwas reflects on his hope and faith rooted in a time when Christians are "learning to live without power." Rather than despair, he suggests a posture of hope in not having to fix the world around us. In many ways, starting with Palm Sunday, Holy Week is about dying to ourselves and our own vision for life, and finding hope in another way - the way of Jesus.

 

Community for better...and for worse

Our church is currently going through the Book of Acts. It’s an inspiring account of the first church’s encounter with the risen Jesus, empowerment by the Holy Spirit, and growth as a community of faith in the world.

Modern-day church goers should marvel as signs and wonders lead to spectacular growth of the movement that would soon accept the label, “Christianity.” In the early chapters of Acts, the momentum is palpable. Luke tells a good story.

I recently had a chance to reflect on one of these stories. Acts 4:32-37 describes the church being “one in heart and mind” as they shared their possessions so that there were no needy among them. Such was the testimony to how “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” As a leader in a church striving to be “connected in community” this example is both challenging and inspiring - church can indeed be a community for better.

And then we read the first part of Acts 5 - Community for worse. Memo to St. Luke: great way to halt the momentum of a story!

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a publicist’s nightmare. The husband and wife duo decide to attempt deceiving the community by pretending to share all the profits of a recent land sale with the group, only to withhold some for themselves. Peter confronts them separately, and on both occasions, upon hearing his accusation, Ananias and Sapphira both drop dead. For an infant religion trying to tell its story and assert its credibility, Luke doesn’t do the movement any favors by including this dark tale. What’s going on?

Well, first, I don’t think we have to like this story. One can accept the authority of the bible and still wrestle with it. In fact, to not wrestle with stories of sin and death and judgement is troubling in its own right. So I think we have to ask the hard questions of such accounts, realizing as a pastor-friend noted, “This is one of the stories which demonstrates the almost stubborn honesty of the Bible. The Bible refuses to present an idealized picture of anything.”

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is loaded with misconceptions and assumptions. It’s helpful, then, to ask, what doesn’t the story say?
  • It doesn’t say they die because they didn’t give everything. No, giving was voluntary, not mandatory.
  • Nor does it say God killed them. There is implied judgment/consequence, but not of the explicit “lightning-bolt” variety. In fact, we don’t know how they died. Heart attack? Supernatural intervention (God or Satan)?
  • It also doesn’t say the group was struck with the fear of the Lord. Luke just describes a “great fear” - not surprising considering the circumstances.  
  • And the lesson here is not that all people that lie will be struck dead. I recently heard someone reflect, "If God kills for this, how do we account for the amount of way worse sins in Christian history?" Which is another way of saying don’t build a pattern of application from one isolated (and peculiar) story.
So, what does the story say?
  • Peter knows more than most - somehow, and we’re not told precisely how or why, but Peter is given special insight into the situation and motivations of this deceptive couple.
  • This is clearly more than one situation of deception. Similar to the betrayal by Judas (Jn. 13:2) evil is at work - “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit...” (Acts 5:3). This isn’t a simple case of lying.
  • As such, this instance of lying reveals a dishonest character, an unwillingness to be fully committed to being of “one heart and mind” (4:32)
  • In terms of their death, Ananias and Sapphira seemingly die as a direct result of this circumstance: evil has seized them and they are consciously dishonest before the community (and God). This is not just hypocrisy in action, but a hypocrisy that defined their life.
How do we respond to such an account of sin, evil, and death within the Christianity community?

Well, in some way this story serves an example of a key reality expressed in the Bible: sin leads to death. As Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, they became separated from the sustainer of life, God the Creator (Gen. 3). As Paul summarizes, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). In confronting Ananias and Sapphira, Peter is the spokesperson for this reality that plays out before their very eyes. As Greg Boyd reflects, “they suffer the consequences of sin set in the motion since Adam and Eve. They have chosen to reject God, not God punishing them for lying… With a grieving heart (reflected in Jesus’ tears over Jerusalem [Lk 19:41]), God at this point grants people their wish and withdraws his protection, thereby allowing evil to run its self-destructive course (e.g. Rom. 1:24-26).” Not sure this solves our discomfort with the event itself, but does offer an explanation in terms of the pervasiveness of sin and evil still in our world.

Yet at the same time we don’t know the whole story of this couple. What was in their hearts beyond this event? Like Judas the betrayer, are we simply left to lament how some in the community are so overcome with the power of sin and evil that death overcomes them?

Instead of explanation, then, I would suggest we leave this story in a place of ambiguity, lamenting that at times community is indeed for worse instead of for better.

And then know this: God’s love and forgiveness overcomes our sin and brokenness and even death. Yes, fear seized the community. But as we know from other places in the New Testament, bearers of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection declare, “Fear not” – God’s ways of life, love, and restoration are beyond our ways of striving and despair.  “Fear not”, even in your darkest moments – for God still loves you. Know this love. Accept this love. 

Which brings us back to the first part of the story, community for better… Share this love. Meet the needs around you. Be of “one in heart and mind” in the midst of all that life brings.

These contrasting stories reminded me of U2’s song, “One”, with which I end my reflection:

One life…With each other
Sisters…Brothers…One life
But we're not the same…We get to…Carry each other
Carry each other…One

Pope Francis it is!

Pope Francis it is!

Here was my tweet upon hearing the news of his name choice:

A few friends have chimed in on the pontiff's choice of title along similar lines:
And my man, Stanley Hauerwas, offers his thoughts as well:

 

Does Pope Francis give you hope for Catholicism and global Christianity?
 

Transition

Transition can be both difficult and exciting. Transition in Christian ministry is no different. 

 
 
Pastor is my job, yes. But seeing as my job is directly connected to my faith. And my faith involves my whole life, it’s safe to say, in some ways, that my role as a pastor is my life. And being part of a community of faith as one of their pastors is like adopting an extended family in which I get to share my life. Job transition provides logistical challenges. Family transition provides personal challenges. Pastoral transition combines all these challenges together!

And so it’s with mixed emotions this week as I’ve announced an upcoming transition in my life. After nearly 4 years as associate pastor at Hyde Creek Community Church I’ve accepted the position of Praxis Director at Columbia Bible College.

My time as pastor at Hyde Creek has been deeply meaningful as I’ve seen God at work in my own life and in the lives of this community of faith. Our family has been blessed to share in life together with the family of Hyde Creek. As I’ve said to many, thank goodness friendship isn’t contingent on me being a pastor!

Similarly, I look forward with anticipation to my new role. The Praxis program is a new one-year discipleship program at CBC focusing on faith, community, and mission in urban culture. This new role extends from my passion to lead and experience authentic Christian community that engages the intersection of faith and culture in everyday life together.

Looking back and anticipating forward, then, I trust I will continue to be led by my experience of the good news of Jesus both in the world and in my life.

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ...you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27)

500!!!

Hard to believe, this is the 500th post on my blog!

Back in 2006 I started blogging as a way to process my own reflections on faith and culture as I studied at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. As I wrote at the beginning, it was, and remains to be, a “chance for me to actually process some of the thoughts and ideas that are bouncing around in my head.” And along the way, this blog has allowed others to share in the journey of what I’m processing. Thanks for the ongoing feedback and comments both on the blog and elsewhere!

A few interesting notes from my blog history:

Since blogger introduced reader stats (2008), my top three most-read posts are:
  1. life, death, and “happy Terry Fox”
  2. light of the world
  3. "love one another"

Looking at labels, I continue to focus primarily on topics of Christianity, church, and culture, which likely isn’t surprising considering my role as a pastor and teacher.

In terms of blogging overall, people often ask me two questions:

  1. Why blog?
  2. Is blogging worth it?

I blog because it’s helpful for me to process my thoughts and experiences - blogging allows me to reflect concretely on my life and the world around me. In many ways, blogging ends up being largely an exercise in self-reflection - I hate to say therapeutic, but at the very least it brings balance and perspective to my-often jumbled mind. And the chance to share some of this reflection with others along the way reminds me that I’m not the first, nor the last to reflect on these issues of religion and culture.

The second question is a little more subjective. Self-imposed pressure to post 2-3 times weekly can create unnecessary stress - it is just a blog afterall! And really, I’m not making any money, so why put so much energy in such a time-consuming endeavor? Essentially, then, I’m back to the “why” question. And to me, blogging has definitely been worth it, personally and in the chance to engage others be it on the blog or in personal conversation.

Will I have another 500 posts? Who knows!?!

Will I continue to reflect, process, and share my considerations on faith, community, and culture? Absolutely!


"The Missional Church...Simple"

I've written and blogged a fair bit about the missional church, noting along the way just how diverse the term and expressions of it can be in Christianity. I came across this little clip recently that tries to clear up any confusion:



Hemorrhaging faith, or just changing?

There have been many studies conducted recently on young adults and faith. In Canada, one recent study is Hemorrhaging Faith, which examines current trends in 18-34 year-olds who were “raised Christian.”

The results aren’t particularly surprising. In a society of immense diversity with very little social pressure for formal religious involvement (in fact, the opposite is likely the case in my opinion), it makes sense that young adults don’t remain involved in the church beyond their childhood years.

I had the opportunity of hearing from two of the study’s researchers this week as they made a series of presentations at Columbia Bible College - Rachel Harder and James Penner. I’ll admit, particularly based on the study’s title, I was expecting a pessimistic, “doom and gloom” reflection on the state of youth and religion in Canada today. After all, "hemorrhaging” isn’t exactly the term a pastor or a parent (of which I am both) likes to hear about the people he or she leads. And yes, the statistics themselves reveal trends away from the church involvement of people’s childhood (about 2/3 of respondents). The numbers themselves could make one think the demise of the church is upon us!

Yet throughout the presentation, Harder and Penner shared an optimism and understanding of our culture that was far from negative. In fact, the changing nature of church culture, Penner reminded us, may in fact be a sign of vibrancy in the spirituality of today’s youth. Penner referred to a little-known book by Eugene Peterson, in which Peterson addresses this “‘youth’ problem”:

"Yet another person is beginning to sense the personal dimensions of a relationship with God and realize that the saying no is the first step in discovering how to say yes...Parents [and I would add Christians in general] can hardly prefer that a child blandly and impersonally continue in a stream of institutional religion, inheriting faith thirdhand: they will want a free, adult relationship with Christ." (Like Dew Your Youth)

I get that “Hemorrhaging Faith” describes the oftentimes “uncontrollable loss or outflow” of young adults from churches - it is an apt description of a social reality. I can’t help but think, however, that the negative connotations of such a label can distract from the great hope that exists for the future of the church within this “next generation” - hope that emerges from a generation desiring authenticity, honesty, depth, hospitality, flexibility, and meaning that engages the world around us. Sociologically, Christianity is a changing faith which in part includes declining formal involvement. But such change should not require a default pessimism or despair at the future of Christianity. Growth doesn’t always mean more. In fact, perhaps the “mustard seed” of engaged young adults, enabled by the Spirit of God, is the precise hope we need in this time of changing faith.

attentiveness

We live in a culture of quick judgements, even in everyday life. Often our daily attention is governed by judgement: Is that tv show worth my attention? Is that view worth my gaze? Is that person (!!!) worth my time? Time (and attention) is money, or something along those lines.

When was the last time you stopped and observed your surroundings? More so, when have you paid attention without defaulting to judgement? For example, observing nature for the sake of observation. Or people watching without people-judging? Or paying attention to the intricacies of day-to-day life - sights, sounds, and smells?

Such attentiveness doesn’t always come naturally. Much of everyday life is governed by objectives that afford little to something as trivial as attentiveness. And in many ways, this is unavoidable and necessary to live a life of meaning and conviction. We can’t know everything and everyone in-depth. But too often our conviction comes without any genuine knowledge and understanding. In the frenetic pace of modern life, where speed of information is more important than depth of information, we neglect the simple art of attentiveness.

I’m reminded of an insight from Robert Pirsig’s classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.”

Beyond a lack of daily interaction, I think such “monotony” can apply to everyday life as well. “We never get much chance to...” well, pay attention.

We know about our beautiful world, but do we know our world?

We know about our neighbors, but do we know our neighbors?

I went for a brief walk one morning earlier this week. I’ll admit, I was distracted. I walked and reflected. But it was mostly “productive” thinking - class lecture, sermon preparation, upcoming meetings (all important things). I managed to post this picture on Instagram (attentiveness or needing attention?). For a few moments, however, an attentive silence drowned out the noise of my distracted mind. Crisp air. Ebbing tide. Snow capped mountains. Frost crawling across the lines of a wooden boardwalk. And while distraction quickly reclaimed its place in my mind, these moments of attentiveness reminded me that efficiency cannot only be a matter of pace, but also of value and depth. Maybe the most productive thing you’ll all week is to simply stop for a moment. And instead of busyness, practice attentiveness.


The Sea In Between

Josh Garrels is one the most hope filled and honest musicians. This film he's produced invites the listener on a journey to share their joy as musicians.