Sunday, November 11, 2012

Deliberate and Deliberate

I’ve been part of countless conversations where people deliberate over the state of the church. Among church veterans this usually revolves around what the church has lost or is no longer. Among younger types such chatter circles around the church’s failures and supposed irrelevance. Different angles don’t change the fact that, quite often, such deliberations usually end up, to agonize with Shakespeare’s MacBeth, as “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Generally, we talk lots, but nothing really changes either in our perspective or in what we do about it. Recently, again, our small group spent an evening deliberating about what it means to be the church, the ekklesia of God in our small corner of Canada.
The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians referring to those growing followers of Jesus, living in a very challenging place, “…the church/ekklesia of God in Corinth…” (1 Corinthians 1:2). The Greek word ekklesia, carefully chosen by Paul, was in the ancient world a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public space for the purpose of deliberating. It was a word in reference to something akin to the town council.
It’s as if Paul is saying to the fledgling, floundering Corinthians, “You may feel like the odds are stacked against you, but you have the awesome, thrilling task of being intentional and calculating about what it means to be growing followers of right where you are planted.”
One younger member of our group pointed out that “deliberate” and “deliberate” are spelled the same, but with different emphasis. Both are words of action, but one implies heart and mind activity while the other is all about active follow-through. It seemed prudent to put them both together, and so, we took time to deliberate in hopes of becoming more deliberate in the living out of our conviction that Jesus as the resurrected Lord rules everywhere.
We asked for a question to chew over and one adventurous soul came up with this doozy: How do we help people in this multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-faceted city know the love of Jesus? Deliberate over that one for a while. We did. It was stimulating. It was disheartening.
Stimulating in that we live in an incredible area teeming with wonderful people, rich diversity, deep problems, and untapped opportunities. Your own locale will have its own sweet aromas and rotten spots requiring some stimulating intentional thought and calculated action.
But, our deliberating was also disheartening because it all seems so daunting. I don’t know my atheist or Sikh neighbours as well as I should like. The tolerant divides seems so wide. The messiness of life seems beyond the pale.
However, daunting to us in not daunting to God! As we deliberated we caught some of the breath of the Spirit that moves the impossible and moved us too. We felt a call to action.
What might happen if we deliberated in order to be deliberate in the expression of our faith more often? What refreshing wind of the Spirit might fill our sails? What daunting mountain might begin to move? What conversation may become more than sound and fury?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Man in the Yellow Jacket

Lance Armstrong, the man who wore the iconic yellow jacket seven times as winner of cycling’s Tour de France and one of the greatest athletes of the past two decades, has provided the perfect ethical case study for the world as we now live it. The American has achieved rock star status, and only partially because of his cycling exploits. Armstrong really hit it big when he conquered cancer and then amazingly won his seven Tour de France titles after surviving the deadly disease!
Having overcome cancer and the Pyrenees, Armstrong was able to parlay both successes into a foundation and branding that has raised millions for cancer research and other charities. All this is very good and quite remarkable.
But then in August it all got complicated. Turns out persistent rumours of Armstrong’s cheating were well-founded and the United States Anti-Doping Agency not only brought forward charges of doping and trafficking, but summarily stripped him of his victories. Armstrong, who never gave up in his battle for life, threw in the towel in this one essentially caving to the weight of the evidence. The man in the yellow jacket was publicly shamed, but he didn’t even seem to blush, and many have run to his defense. Canadian thespian William Shatner tweeted, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you,” while myriads of others are looking past his unethical approach to sport because he’s doing the highly ethical thing of helping people with cancer. In the weeks following the charges, Armstrong was a keynote speaker at a conference in Montreal and, I suspect, the sales of his merchandise and yellow LIVESTRONG bracelets will not be hurt in the least by these recent revelations.
So, here’s the big question that requires some careful thought and cultural and biblical exegesis: Is it okay to cheat, so long as you do something good with it? It would seem in the case of the man with the yellow jacket this is where we’re at.
Something has shifted in the cultural landscape and while no one could argue that raising money for cancer research is a bad thing, it is rather startling that for the most part we shrug off Armstrong’s unethical treatment of his sport because he’s doing a good thing with the fame the cheating garnered.
As Christians we ought to converse over this one a while. Not only will it keep the conversation heated while the coffee cools, but it provides an interesting window into how our culture thinks about doing good and doing justly. It also stirs big questions about how we perceive human brokenness and sin and what constitutes right and wrong. Furthermore, Armstrong has demonstrated no public remorse or repentance. It would seem the good outweighs the bad and, therefore, all is well. The scales will tip in a cancer fighter’s favour, won’t they? Hasn’t he, of all people, earned a pass on what everyone else was doing?
The nature of salvation suddenly comes into play, for as this cultural case study is beginning to reveal, to be on mission with Jesus who calls people to repent and enter the Kingdom of God will require plenty of explaining in a world where what is unethical in a yellow jacket is ethical if you wear a yellow bracelet.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Where Goes The Neighbourhood?
“Howdy ho, neighbour!” were the famous words of Wilson on that 90’s sitcom, Home Improvement.
“Hi dilly ho neighbourinos!” That’s what Ned Flanders happily blurts to Homer in The Simpsons.
“When I got married, I didn’t just get a husband, I got the whole freak show that set up their tent across the street.” Those are the frustrated words of Debra Barone about her in-law neighbours on Everybody Loves Raymond.
Television loves to portray the highs and lows of the neighbourhood, painting the optimistic picture that, at the end of the day, neighbourliness wins out. Our family has lived in different parts of Canada—in villages, towns and cities—and we’ve always been able to say we have had good neighbours. At the same time, it is also true that we have known surprisingly few of them well. There’s always been that over-the-fence Wilson-esque “howdy ho!” that gives the appearance of neighbourliness while denying its power.
The statistics reveal that being a neighbour is increasingly necessary. The Vancouver Foundation surveyed almost four thousand “Lotuslanders” and discovered that in one of the most densely populated and diverse cities in Canada, one in four people find it difficult to make friends and one in three categorize their lives as lonely.
The stats may be different where you live, but the study should cause us to reconsider our TV-shaped assumptions. Truth is, most of us view neighbourliness on reruns while rarely engaging in neighbourliness in the raw . . . because it’s too uncomfortable.
The survey also found that most respondents knew only two neighbours by name. Most did not do simple favours for their neighbours and few visited their homes or invited them over.
On the disturbing side, roughly 30 percent rated Middle Eastern, South Asian and Asian immigrants as the least desirable neighbours; almost two-thirds did not have close friends from another ethnic group, and 65 percent preferred spending time with people who are like them.
None of this should really shock us. It smells familiar. However, if we’re Christians, it should be different.
Nikolai Berdyaev said, “Bread for myself is a material question. Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one.” The Scriptures repeatedly call the one who knows God to more than “howdy ho” neighbourliness.
Jesus speaks, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48).
The call to love the neighbour, even our enemy, is a call to reflect the perfection of God. The neighbourhood is to be more holy, complete and whole because the disciples of Jesus reside there.
To the lawyer asking, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). The one you wouldn’t want in your neighbourhood becomes the one most neighbourly. “Go and do likewise.”
In the end, Jesus doesn’t really answer the lawyer’s cross-examination. He simply flips the question on its head: “What kind of neighbour are you?” And that remains a very good question.

Monday, June 18, 2012


I love when my two year old sits on my lap with a book. I love seeing his eyes light up when he sees me walk in the door. I love the way he cries. I love the way he laughs. His words are smerkingly mispronounced in a way I never want him to outgrow. Sentences are hilariously hung together like dangling underwear, ripped work clothes and name-brand golf shirts mismatched on a wash-line. He reminds me of how much fun it is to be a father.

Then there’s my pre-teen, almost-teen, whatever-you-want-to-call-him. There are days I’ve thought of other things to describe him. Things that ought-not-be penned. Things my parents probably uttered about me in my most torturing of adolescent moments. And then I look at my two girls and wonder just how it is I will ever figure them out. Young females are their own planet; or at least make me feel like I’m on a different one. Maybe being a father isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all?

Then I call this to mind: my toddler won’t always toddle, my pre-teen won’t always pretend and my girls won’t always speak Klingon. Change is guaranteed. And, I am beginning to see, my role as a father is to be a change agent. I must accept, celebrate change, and foster change.

I must accept that my two year old cannot always speak like a child, but must put childish ways behind him. I must accept that my adolescent’s changes are mostly normal and expected in that season of life when discovering your own identity is the destination. I must accept that my girls will change me. They will change how I perceive my own manhood and awaken a fighter in me for their honour in new ways. I celebrate these morphing realities and in doing so I begin to accept my own changing place and, to a certain degree, my own redundancy.

And, therein, lays a disconcerting thought. Not only must I accept and celebrate change, I must foster it. And, if I’m any good at it, I will actually put myself out of work. My toddler will become responsible for his own messes. My pre-teen will become a man who can correct himself. My girls will walk out of my arms and find their most important strength in the embrace of another, hopefully better, man. If I do all this right I will have become increasingly unnecessary. And, so, fatherhood becomes the acceptance, celebration, and fostering of change to my own demise. Not particularly an encouraging notion, but, if I lose myself in this way I will win.

Fatherhood, in this regard, becomes a journey into understanding the unchanging heart of God. The story of Christmas is of God sending his son into the world announced by angels and declared in the heavens where a star is handed it out to the inhabitants of earth like the glowing end of a proud father’s cigar. The story of Easter is of God turning from his son. The son cries to be saved but it cannot be. Has something changed in the relationship? Has God now become a bully? No, this is the essence of undying, uncompromising, unchanging love. The Father knows what must be done and that the ultimate act of love required his own apparent demise. God accepts change, celebrates change with the power of resurrection, and thereby fosters change in me and, I pray, in my kids. The truth is that God’s unchanging nature challenges everything I want left unchanged, and that is our great hope. “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed,” declares the prophet Malachi. However, those comforting words in Malachi 3 are preceded by an unsettling challenge: He will come as a refiner among his children and as a prosecuting lawyer call out everything in us that needs modification. He will foster change. He will expect it. And, he will accomplish this by being unrelenting, unchanging and pure in his love to the point where he will even appear to lose the battle of Good Friday only to overcome in order that we might be changed and not destroyed. Lose to win. Change by unchanging. Love by long-suffering. This fatherhood thing is a great and glorious mystery.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Church Is...

Every Sunday evening our church hosts a community dinner. The peculiar mix of human diversity and dysfunction is beautiful. They are, in a word, authentic. What you see is what you get. On Mother’s Day I encouraged the group with Psalm 27:10: “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.” It is a relevant passage for those shaped by parental neglect and foster care system failure. In the middle of my talk a man announces that he has no parents. He is unwavering as the people around him guffaw. Later, the truth trickles out. Born prematurely, his parents were killed on the way to visit his struggling little life in the hospital. He never knew them and defends his parentless dogma, while proudly displaying the “mom” and “dad” tattoos that cover his orphaned heart. He yearns for what family is. What does a family do? Through no fault—or great fault—a family can do incredible damage or good. However, you can’t really pin a family down on what it does. Do families do better if their kids are in sports rather than the arts? Do they do better if they are vegetarians instead of meat lovers? Do they do better if they avoid classical music for the sake of rock and roll? Families do a host of different things, but a healthy first start depends not on what a family does, but on an understanding of what a family is. A family is the first place of knowing God; of refuge; of identity and belonging; of living with the diversity of the sexes, ages and personalities in that primary microcosm of a worldwide web of people. When a family knows what it is, then what a family does becomes the organized expression of a unique and healthy identity. Our family dysfunctions are not changed by simply doing a bunch of new things, but by getting to the root of what we believe a family is. That is what my Mother’s Day friend was missing most. That’s a long introduction to this simple question for church families to ask: Is what we do as churches reflective of what the church is? Craig van Gelder helps focus this when he points out: The church is. The church does what it is. The church organizes what it does. The starting point for a healthy missional church is understanding and articulating the nature of the church. What is she exactly? What is the theological and biblical nature and mission of the communion of the saints? From there we can identify what a church is to do. And only at that point can we begin to organize what that looks like for our culture, context and gift mix. Many long for what a family is more than for what a family does. I have also learned that many long for what a church is more than for what a church does. I wonder what orphans might find the home they were looking for if we, who have been enveloped into the family of God, started with “is” and organized ourselves from there?

Friday, May 25, 2012

No Longer, But Not Yet

I was engaged for four months before the big day. Engagement is an interval in time determined by things that are no longer and things that are not yet. The engaged are not really single, but not yet spouse. My experience of engagement was of a time in between. It involved longing (hey, I’m a guy and I was longing). It involved work (and a wedding takes a lot of it . . . or at least that’s what my fiancĂ© told me). It involved intentionally parting with the past, while not quite being able to step into the future. And it was a time that contained the moment of truth. Hannah Arendt, the late political theorist, describes what we know to be true, but don’t particularly like to experience. History does not lie. History—and our own experiences of times like engagement—reveal that the intervals of confusion in which what we have known is no longer, but what is yet to be is not yet, are precisely the seasons in which what is most true is revealed. The Bible tells many such stories and reveals God’s faithfulness and truthfulness in those lands in between. Israel’s slavery in Egypt was a long interval that contained a moment of truth: they were a people of the covenant. The generation of wandering in the wilderness was a no longer and not yet, but it contained a moment of truth: God was serious about making for himself a people. Israel languished in exile, a time of corporate identity crisis that contained a moment of truth: God wanted a people for the sake of the world and would do what it took to awake them to it. The world waited between the time of the prophets and the birth of Christ, a four-century gestation that contained a moment of truth: God waits for just the right time to be revealed with full disclosure. We also live in a land in between. We live between Jesus’ first appearance and his final coming in glory. He is the way, the truth and the life in this messy, hopeful interval. Given that we continue to be part of the shifting sands of culture and history, it is not surprising that we experience times that baffle, in which we are called back to the One who is the truth of every moment, no matter how unsettling. Are you and yours in a time of no longer, but not yet? Do you find yourself in the mysterious, miserable interval as the actors and witnesses who must become aware of the truth contained in the moment? Many believers, along with their churches and organizations, are these days. Confusion abounds because what once was seems gone forever—even as many fight to recapture seemingly lost ground—and what is yet to come is a strange and foreign land where we don’t understand the language or the maps. Isn’t it exciting? Many don’t think so. But let’s look at it another way. We are privileged—yes, privileged—to walk this historic interval where Christendom is a tourist attraction and the cultural trajectory is towards a world we’ve come from, but never been to. That’s not spin. It is truth. It has always been the actors and witnesses of the unsettling intervals between the no longer and not yet who have the privilege and responsibility of patiently and obediently anticipating that moment of truth when God reveals a new thing.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


At 23, I was handed the keys to a pastor’s office for the first time. I remember the idealism leading up to the moment the key went in the door. This was a small church trying to find its way, and I was full of vigour, vision, and a healthy dose of naivety. I unlocked the door, sat behind a black metal desk on a creaky office chair, gazed out the window with all my so-called fresh thinking, and pondered a thought that has not yet left me two decades later: “What do I do now?” I’m amazed by the ongoing relevance of that question. I would venture to guess most pastors (and most leaders in any area of life, for that matter) ask this question regularly. There is much hankering for strategic plans, big vision, and becoming the fount of conference-speaker-worthy inspiration. However, I’m increasingly convinced what is most deeply needed among pastors and their churches is a fresh admission that, all things considered, we don’t know what to do next. Sound counterintuitive? It is. We expect our leaders to know exactly what must be done in every conceivable situation. However, pastors are in a state of discombobulation; an embarrassing place of unsettled confusion. The culture is quaking, and everything we were taught would work to grow a church is not working all that well. The more we press, the worse things seem to get. The quicker we think we can right the ship, the more she seems to toss uncontrollably. Mutton gets thrown in all directions – and sheep don’t tread water well. And, the more discombobulated things grow, the more enamored sheep become with the greenness of the grass on the other side of the fence. Genuine conversion growth is not much more than a trickle. Finances lag. The church as true community on mission is hard work. And, so, pastors are brought to this moment: Do we have what it takes to lure back the sheep? Do we have the courage to find new ways of fishing in the great sea of diversity we find ourselves in? Do we have to do both? Should we do both? Our times require long-term missionary faithfulness and leavening few have patience for. We’re replanting something. The fruitful orchards built by previous generations have been uprooted and, while clinging to the confession that must continually reform and renew us from within, we require a new form of mission for the new world we now inhabit. Any pastor who tells you they have that figured out is either lying or selling something. We’re all experimenting at the moment, and our only way forward is to ask with humility and honesty, “What do we do now?” Which brings us to Jehoshaphat. Threatened by superior forces, the king of Judah stood before his people and admitted he was bankrupt of ideas. The odds were stacked, the future looked bleak, and there was only one thing to do: point to the faithfulness of the Lord and his people’s utter reliance on God for their entire state of being. Jehoshaphat reminds God of his sovereignty, his acts in history for the sake of his purposes through his people, his holiness that cannot endlessly endure human arrogance, and then, boldly, says it: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12). What do we do now? That’s the question we must return to as pastors and churches. Do we have our gaze fixed in the right direction? Have we relied on human ingenuity rather than the power of God? Have we ceased depending upon the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit? Have we embraced a spirit of competition as churches? We follow Jesus, but do we remain addicted to the same self-sufficient, hedonist nicotine the culture is hooked on? Have we forgotten God lifts up the humble, but brings down the haughty? We must receive the gift of discombobulation where we don’t know what to do, but are called to lean on, look to, and point toward he who has done it. Proclaim the Word. Follow the Spirit. Love. Serve. Suffer. Do justly. Be the discombobulated people of God for the sake of a discombobulated world.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Show and Tell

The gospel is good news. It is not therapy, opium or merely a good idea among many good ideas. The gospel is a journey into a foreign land. It is power. It is surprise.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once reflected, “I have noticed that the most effective sermons were those in which I spoke enticingly of the gospel, like someone telling children a story of a strange country.” I have noticed this same wonderful dynamic. Those sermons where I have pontificated brilliantly and exposited exceptionally are generally received with the same interest as a fascinating documentary: intriguing, stimulating and generally forgettable. On the other hand, where I have wised up and simply let the foolishness of the cross and the wonder of grace permeate, the result is transformation.

The gospel is to be proclaimed and lived. It is show and tell. The Lausanne Movement for world evangelization says, “[T]here is no biblical dichotomy between the word spoken and the word made visible in the lives of God’s people. People will look as they listen and what they see must be at one with what they hear.” This resonates with the infamous words of Menno Simons, that true evangelical faith cannot lie sleeping. The gospel is the story of heaven performed on the stage of earth, and the actors must act but they must also know their lines.

And herein lies the lesson: Where we become a people who preach, but without a life of obedience to Christ, the gospel is set up for ridicule; and where our exemplary lives are not partnered with proclamation of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, our goodness is nothing but moralistic idolatry.

The eye-rolling butchery of St. Francis of Assisi’s infamous, “Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words,” has got to end. The notion is thoroughly unbiblical and, since it didn’t appear until two centuries after Francis lived, is most likely not even something he preached. It is unfortunate, really, that the words pinned to St. Francis have been adhered to more feverishly than the words of Scripture, and are even used as an excuse to wiggle out from the discomfort of proclaiming the uniqueness of Jesus, his cross and resurrection.

But that’s like saying I don’t need to tell my wife I love her because a commercial tells me all she needs is flowers. Eventually, she needs to hear why it is I have been smitten by floral generosity.

All that brings me to a moment one Sunday morning in the middle of a sermon. I had just finished showing a video clip of Steve Saint’s remarkable act of not only forgiving, but adopting into his own family as “grandfather,” the man who had speared his father to death in 1956. Saint returned to live with the murderous Auca tribe that stole his dad away to show and tell the gospel. In the clip—available on YouTube—Saint and the aged Auca warrior sit together and reflect on what the gospel brought them both. It is stunning to hear, other-worldly to behold. It is audacious.

And then it happened. As the clip came to a close, one of the men from a local recovery centre shockingly blurted out, “They live in a completely different world.” He’s right. The gospel preached and lived out is a surprise, a foreign land. And those rescued by it have the honour of shocking the world with it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eerie Silence

I am beginning to wonder why there is an increasingly eerie silence on four points:

First, violence against the unborn. Persevering to end violence in all forms is a work of the Kingdom. Yet, though many protest paying taxes or donning Jets jerseys because of militarism, I have yet to see any as passionately decrying state-sanctioned violence against the unborn or questioning the ethics of political parties that unreservedly endorse it. This is a sensitive topic to be sure, but it seems we, who cherish life and seek even the good of our enemies, seem hesitant to declare that a society that will not protect its most vulnerable is a society adrift. We are called to steward all of creation, but we are shamefully silent on the cries of the unborn, the arguments that have made the topic taboo, the renewed social debate that is stirring, and the wounds of women and men who carry the pain of having made that choice.

Second, the topic of hell. Jesus never scared anyone into the Kingdom and hell is not hammer. At the same time Jesus said a lot about life beyond apart from God that we almost completely avoid. Jesus said there are sheep and goats. Jesus said there would be those who opt out and those who are cast out. Have we begun clinging to universalism and on what grounds? Why do we not wrestle over these Scriptures in the same way we wrestle over other things?

Third, the war for the human heart. Humanity has an unwavering love affair with religion. A war for the spiritual centre is raging in our culture between monotheism and deistic or atheistic secularism. That’s why you find Christians, Muslims, and other theists chatting as never before. The desperate look for allies. Every theist position is being challenged by a religious secularism that is working like leaven through dough. Its humanistic tenets, often met with blank shrugs, are thoughtlessly embraced by many and winning the allegiance of a new generation. This raises huge questions about the future of society and ethics. Henry Van Til said, “Culture is religion externalized.” If he’s right then the culture we see developing—for good and ill—is the product of who has won the heart. This battle for the heart and mind must be engaged with Christian compassion and conviction; not silently ignored while we sing our songs of sixpence.

Fourth, the uniqueness of Christ. This is perhaps where our silence screams most hauntingly. We have become those hiding a lamp under a bushel; happy to talk about “God” but almost ashamed to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. Our faith rises and falls on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, God with us, who has risen from the dead. Have we become more concerned about championing our uniqueness than his? While we joy-ride with the next social fad are we downplaying the uniqueness of Jesus whose truth cannot be buried, stands every test thrown his way, loves lavishly and offers forgiveness to every humble sinner, has something to say about our political quandaries, and has sent us to break the chains the bind in his name?

What fears have caused these eerie silences?

Friday, February 03, 2012

Rethinking Assumptions

The first church that had to endure me as pastor was a gracious lot. I was 23 years old, idealistic, and sure my convictions were right. I had been raised in a Mennonite church, steeped like grandma’s canned cinnamon crab apples (don’t knock ‘em till you’ve tried ‘em!) in a particular brand of Anabaptism and unaware how much I had to unlearn.

In my first pastorate, one who taught me much was Mike, a World War II veteran. It was war that had brought him to Jesus. I’ll never forget the Sunday when horrendous feedback ripped through the sound system, and Mike hit the floor yelling, “What the hell!” It added a touch of authenticity to the morning’s worship! He was reliving Italy in 1944 where his life was saved, he later told me, when the voice of the Lord told him to break rank on a march. As he did, a mortar crashed where he had been, instantly killing a number of his comrades. War is hell, and feedback can take you there.

Mike challenged my thinking. He loved Jesus in a simple way, and hated what war had done to his generation, but couldn’t deny that it was vital in his own path to redemption. What’s a young preacher, so sure of the path of nonresistance, to do with such conflicting reports from the front?

This is just one example of how my assumptions have been challenged as I’ve served as a pastor. My memory of Mike, and being at his peaceful bedside as he drifted into the arms of Jesus, has often caused me to cast a critical light on my own convictions, particularly how I came to them. Is what I believe today in light of my experiences, relationships, and culture-shifts, still tested by Scripture, or is my theology simply assumed, second-hand God-thoughts?

Re-engaging assumptions

We may be at another important moment as a people of evangelical-Anabaptist confession. Might we be living off a theological memory (which must not be forgotten), while ignoring the challenges this day presents? For what it’s worth, allow me to throw out a few assumptions those Menno-shaped members of the family of God might do well to re-engage these days:

First, do our assumptions on peacemaking require a rethink? I once spoke at a Mennonite high school where I heard nothing but a political brand of pacifism defended by students regarding Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. I did not hear one theological or biblical reason for not using the sword to help girls have the chance to go to school in the face of blatant religious oppression. I heard politics (and second-hand politics at that), but not the politics of God’s kingdom. How much of our conviction of being a peacemaking people is more political than theological? Have we wrestled with Scripture on this lately, or only with pundits?

Second, have our assumptions that we are a Christ-obeying, counter-culture been wrong? Anabaptism originated from the courageous, Christ-absorbed faith of young idealists who risked everything because of a vision of another kingdom. They shaped a long culture of saints for whom “radical” was normal. As a youngster, I recall many young adults I admired entering a period of volunteer ministry service for the sake of the world because Jesus is Lord of it all. There they often met a spouse, and created servant homes founded on alternate priorities. Are we still impacting our world this way? If so, why are young adults increasingly absent from, disengaged from, and bored with our particular form of “radical?”

Third, we should never assume Anabaptism is an ethnic heritage. Anabaptism is a radical declaration of life surrendered to Jesus Christ. I have re-baptized several who identify themselves with Jesus in believer’s baptism despite their infant baptism. One young couple inspired me when they made this decision against their parent’s wishes, choosing to proclaim their own faith in Christ, not wanting to offend, but to challenge the tradition handed down to them. It was a poignant moment when they described themselves as true “Anabaptists.”

I am beginning to wonder if these “new” Anabaptists – and those of nationalities who have never spoken German – are really the future of our branch of God’s family tree. They see it’s all about Jesus. Might some of us have other assumptions?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Start With Why

On a rainy Lower Mainland Friday night my son and I hit the slopes. It turned out to be a beautiful evening on the mountain, where the rain turned to snow and the coniferous trees hung with powder. The line-ups were short and the runs long.

I ski. My son snowboards. As the night drew to a close, he put out the challenge that we swap equipment. I have never snowboarded. I am an old dog; don’t teach me new tricks. But pride is capable of grinding clear thought to a halt and I agreed. I took off the familiar two sticks and strapped myself onto that one board. Perilous. Stupid. How would my Sunday sermon go with a concussion?

I managed one run down the hill. Okay, I was a human snowball. Painful! I never knew falling could happen in so many different ways. Sheer German stubbornness and insulation overcame a multitude of good reasons to quit.

The whole way down one burning question echoed through the apparent empty cavern that had become my skull: Why am I doing this? I knew what I was doing, but that “what” was meaningless without the why. And the why was simple: I needed to show my son I could do it. That why was inspiration enough. That why was the starting place for what I never thought possible.

Author Simon Sinek developed “the golden circle” from his study of what motivates humans, to help us understand how the best and most inspiring leaders and organizations function. He notes they consistently start with why, then ask how, and only then get to what they do or produce. Why are we doing this? Why do we exist? Why? It’s a huge question that we don’t ask often enough—because it’s too hard. It’s too threatening a query. It’s too revealing.

In our churches we would do well to learn from Sinek’s golden circle insights. We generally spend time talking endlessly about what we do, what we should do, what we wish we could do and almost zero time asking why. Perhaps we assume the why is a given. But go ahead and ask the question, and see what type of responses—or non-responses—you get.

Once we ask why, it can initiate some rather unsettling soul-searching and angst. Is what we are doing and how we are doing it even remotely connected to the why of our existence as the people of God? There is no end of what can be done for good in this world. Furthermore, plenty of good is being done by organizations whose starting point of why is not the same as that of Christians. Are we unique? If so, why?

I have to agree with Sinek: those who inspire and make the biggest impact always start with why. And if the church exists because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead to form a citizenship of another world in this present one, then what might emerge from our local fellowships if we had the courage to ask why?

Our early inquisitiveness as children begins with why, so why not live a childlike faith that seeks this understanding always? Start with why and get ready for a healthy struggle that will make learning how to snowboard a comparative walk in a prairie park. But it might begin new inspiring adventures for the glory of God.