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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Stand up, stand up for Jesus

“When they take down the nativity scene in the town square, and I say or do nothing, I feel like I’m not standing up for Jesus.” That phrase, or one very close to it, has been occupying my brain waves since I heard it spoken to me last Sunday. There was a sense in me that it explained everything that I could not understand about a dustup in this Iowa Town. I wrote a post about it on Dec 13th. I certainly see how the words of the song “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the Cross” have shaped something about us and how we feel when it seems Christianity is being slighted in a public way.

Here, if you want to read some background for yourself, are links to two online news pieces related to the controversy about having a nativity scene in the town square: Nativity scene Controversy calls for a special meeting of council. Article includes relevant portions of the letter of concern. http://oskynews.org/?p=52188  The decision to return the nativity scene and add secular displays (a Christmas Tree!) to make it legal. http://oskynews.org/?p=52224

The letter the lady wrote to object to the nativity in the public square as the only seasonal display was fairly reasonable, except that she seemed to see it as a claim of Christianity being superior. That confused me a bit. Well, the dust has settled like snow in a snowglobe set back on the mantle above the stockings, and now all that remains is armchair review of what was really going on.

My point in the earlier reflection is that we stand up for Jesus by incarnating him and the values of the Kingdom of God, even in tense, conflicted situation like debates about placing nativity scenes. Especially then! Because we have a chance to show how peace on earth works. But we live in a time when “soldiers of the cross” and soldiers of the kingdoms of men are confused with each other, and when the account of the crossed supports that held a manger that held a vulnerable saviour seems threatened we take up our pitchforks and our forked tongues and go to bat up in arms for that baby’s being there. Hmmmmm.

Where were the onward soldiers to defend the helpless ones who were killed just for being born in the same area around the same time after the baby had been warned and moved to the safety of Egypt?

Where were the Christ defending soldiers when as an adult, when the time was right, he was betrayed with a kiss from what had been a soldier of his and was about to be grabbed by soldiers in service of religious and political authorities? Oh, yes, there was a guy with some kind of a weapon there, and since he had vowed to die valiantly as a soldier of the Messiah, he wielded it without hesitation – he wasn’t a very hesitant guy – and cut off an enemy’s ear. Good onward solider, marching as to war! But wait. The manger man-King reprimands him for it. Those who live by the weapon die by weapons, he says. Bizarre! How can we be even foot soldiers in an army that may not fight? Where do we march to? When do we march? What battles do we engage?

Well, at this point my thoughts end with questions, and a conviction. An inner awareness that mixing earthly weapons and earthy majority votes, and earthly powers and principalities with being soldiers of a King who chose helpless vulnerability, who chose being scapegoated, who chose torture and death in order to verify his Kingdom, well, that’s just off limits. But explaining how and why, in any simple way, escapes me for the moment. All I can see is what does not promote the Kingdom of only comfort in life or death in belonging to him. Belonging to that King, whatever violence, miniscule – like my nativity scene being displaced – or major – my own death by slow or quick violence does not justify me living violently to defend that King or any representation of him.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Why people don’t go to church. A second pondering.

A few days ago I posted about this subject in response to a pastor’s blog post that was brought to my attention. This post directly responds to part of that posting. The black text is quoted from the original blog post the text that matches the style of this paragraph (or is blue) contain my thoughts today in response to those statements. I am enjoying thinking about this and the thinking and passion I feel for this subject is again clarifying that my calling lies in this area of church remorphation.

1.  Church has little or no connection to the rest of our lives (i.e. work life, family life, social life) .i.e. Our lives are made up of segregated spheres such that the “world” where I work is not related to the “world” where I go to church, my school world, family world, etc.  The more “spheres” we have, the more “worlds” we have to carry, the more it is a relief when one sphere falls off (like church).  Furthermore, while work, for example, constitutes much more of our time than church does, the church teaches us that work’s real “meaning” is merely to evangelize and get people from that world to the church world (so they can be as busy as you).  Maybe we should question how the church should be empowering the person to their work instead…

The way we have ‘done church’1 has allowed it to become separate action from “life”, analogous to placing a battery in a recharger for a short time and expecting it to gain enough to be of use all week. One or even two hours out of a week of the kind of activity we consider to be ‘doing church’ is no way to keep us spiritually charged. If we would be able to find a way to first of all make spiritual growth and worship a part of breathing, and then of all else that we do, and then extend that into authentic communal times of declaring together the worth-ship of God, the institution of church would be more attractive to professing Christians and to those outside of it.

2. Church is designed to maintain superficial relationship that precludes community. i.e.  Pastor speaks, worship leader speaks, we have coffee, talk about the weather, and don’t see each until it’s more small talk the following week.  Faith and religion is expressed on behalf of the people with limited opportunity for interaction, dissension, doubt, or diversity.  Do we gather for meals?  Make sermons interactive?  Share more?  Start living communally?  🙂 

Yes. Building on my response to 1, the way we have ‘done church’ has been about leadership ‘imparting’ what is believed to be recharging food to hungry receivers (sometimes it is what they have said they need or want, which is dangerous). The food has often been intellectual, ‘chunky’ morsels, and/or fluffy nutritionless main courses presented with a flourish, mixed with entertaining ‘sweet’ deserts, etc etc. (I could spend a day writing food analogies). This practice has dis-empowered people from learning to find and take in their own nutrition. No wonder they start to look elsewhere.

3. Church insists the gospel produces wholeness and happiness but… real life says there is doubt, suffering, and brokeness.  i.e. Insisting from the pulpit that everything is swell doesn’t make it so.  Are we attempting to profess belief and wholeness on behalf of people who aren’t so sure?  Are we putting forward a vision of an other worldly heaven as opposed to living into the incarnational ministry of Jesus who brings salvation in suffering more often than “out of” suffering? 

Yes. In a pain-and-suffering averse culture it has been unpopular to demonstrate how shalom can be found despite (or in the middle of) suffering and struggle. We have created an escapist expectation that God will ‘rescue’ (save) us from suffering. And so, the way we ‘do church’ does not make it a place people think of as a prime help option when struggle comes. On the contrary, we have a deserved reputation for shooting our wounded to put us out of their misery so we can play happy.

4.  Church offers a “Jesus product” in the way other companies offer products to fulfill us. i.e. We emphasize creating a satisfying religious experience over being a community of God’s people being transformed and transforming the world.  Do we cultivate a “weekly fix” mentality?

Yes. “Shopping” for a place to ‘do church’ (Consumerism) from the one side and self promotion (marketing) your place as a good place to ‘do church’ are powerfully limiting forces to allowing the body of Christ (organism) to be healthy within the institutional church.

5.  Church is to God’s people what the Record Industry is to music. i.e.  Record labels are losing relevance in a world of social media, file sharing, self-recording, etc.  Is the church as a Sunday institution outdated?  Is it being left in favor of alternatives for providing community, bible exposition, participation in the sacraments, and Christian life?

I’m giving myself permission to skip one.

6.  The opposite of any of the above!   i.e. Church is too connected to my life, church insists on community when I want anonymity, church doesn’t satisfy my needs for a spiritual fix, church confronts my comfort and forces me to face my demons, church calls me to a rythym of submission I don’t want to accept.

Yes here too! Church, in feeding it’s institutional constraints, easily creates guilt driven adherents who feel the church is subtly or not so subtly demanding too much from them and they might leave because of that.

That same pressure wants to eliminate anonymity quickly and create involvement. But involvement in the machinery (even the social part) of the institution is not spiritual growth. The spiritual intimacy that being the body of Christ calls for and brings people to needs time to learn to trust, and it is good to let people start from an ‘anonymous’ place.

So the questions are simple.  What is the way forward?  Is there a way forward?  What can we do?  What should we do?  In what way, shape, and form is God calling the small “c” church in North America (and your church, and my church) to be the big “C” church in this time and place?

I am not clear on the way forward. Each context will have it’s own answer, but being part of a context makes you part of it’s blind spots as well, and of it’s resistance to major change.

Here’s what I do think I know:

Institutional constraints have become an exoskeleton that has been limiting the church from being as free-spirited as the body of Christ was incarnated to be… “the wind blows where it will” and the results are seen and it is know the wind has been at work. We tend to describe the results we want, and they artificially try to create wind.

A massive Deep Change effort must be undertaken to avoid the undertaker. (source of this statement will be explained at the end). Re-examine how the church has been serving these institutional constraints instead of them serving the body of Christ. Most of the constraints were useful to the body at some point, but the body became enslaved, just as Israel’s clan ending up in Egypt was a ‘good’ thing to start with but they got seriously stuck there. And just as the Temple was built to point to God and to have a place to meet with God but the people focused on the Temple and it’s rituals and lost contact with God. The constraints to be reexamined range from the building, through the forms of how worship is ‘done’, to leadership styles to really all aspects of it’s operation.

I found these thoughts well articulated in a book called “Deep Change”:

The process of formalization initially makes the organization more efficient or effective. As time goes on, however, these routine patterns move the organization toward decay and stagnation. The organization loses alignment with the changing, external reality.”2

The nature of the organizing rules in a world where expectations and other forces are rapidly changing is that they rarely keep up with the external and even internal expectations.

“When internal and external alignment is lost, the organization faces a choice: either adapt or take the road to slow death. Usually the organization can be renewed, energized, or made effective only if some leader is willing to take some big risks by stepping outside the well-defined boundaries. When this happens, the organization is lured, pushed, or pulled into unknown territory. The resulting journey through the unknown is a terrifying experience, with the possibility of failure or death a reality rather than a metaphor.”3

“At such times, organizational members face wicked problems, problems for which there are no existing answers. Facing imminent danger, they must “learn” their way, continually creating new pos­sible solutions and inventive systems of organizing, systems that are aligned with today’s, not yesterday’s, external needs. If the new arrangements work, the organization usually experiences a period of great success.”4

These things have long been and have more and more become my passion when it comes to the church. So I could not resist writing my thoughts down when I read the blog posting.

 

1 I personally have come to believe that God’s call is a call to a way to ‘be’ not to things that must be ‘done’, which is why I put the little quotes around the concept each time I mention it. The biggest and clearest clue to this teaching is in the parable of the Good Samaritan for me, where Jesus is asked “What must I do” to get heaven, and he shares a word picture of a person who does not seem to know about ‘doing’ (following law) but knows ‘how to be’ in a situation=have compassion, act on it.

2 “Deep Change” Chapter 1, pg 5

3 “Deep Change” Chapter 1, pg 5

4 “Deep Change” Chapter 1, pg 5

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Thoughts trying to see clearly through a local dustup

A nativity scene was removed from the public square after an objection was raised that it was unconstitutional. In local coffeeshops, churches, newspapers and blogs a lot of detritus was stirred up. This following post is just my trying to think this through as clearly as possible. It is written in a format of an open letter to fellow believers in Jesus Christ, but is not really intended as a public document, just a way for me to get hold of what my priorities are.

***

Could one of my fellow Christians tell me how the name of Jesus is advanced by the way many of us (I’m embarrassed to have to admit I’m part of the us) have responded to the nativity scene situation?

As a visitor among you from another land I will be as polite as I can but I have this habit of asking hard questions that don’t come off as nice. This is what I see from within my view of what following Jesus entails:

A set of religiously symbolic objects was removed from state property because someone pointed out they were “a clear violation of the constitutional principle of church-state separation.”

An outcry resulted. Nasty comments either attacking the objector, or in defense of the necessity of these Christian symbols being in the public square, or doing both, were posted. Many implied they were from Christians or clearly stated it.

To my ears and eyes, the hue and cry was disturbing on several levels, but primarily because people who carry the name of Christ in their religious professions were besmirching that name by ignoble behaviour, ironically in the naive belief they were defending that name. That is very very sad-making for me. In watching people fighting to keep Christ in Christmas (which is in itself debatable: what we have made the birthday into is far from what Christ was all about in my view, but then I might be a bit of a Scrooge by nature). I saw little evidence Christ was living in the majority of contentious objectors. Again, sad. Which of course raises questions, one of which is “What has the Way or movement Jesus founded by his humble birth, bold teaching and call back to God, suffering, torture, death and resurrection followed by the release of the Holy Spirit become? It appears to be a gospel-empty civil religion? If so, again this is sad. Sensible voices speaking for the Christ I know were not rising to my awareness in the hubbub.

Here is what I do know:

Our Christian Bible tells us to obey the state.

Our Christian Bible tells us as body of Christ not to try to become the state.

Our Christian Bible, read through Protestant glasses particularly — but not only — warns against the dangers of religious symbols becoming a replacement for God (instead of a means of connecting with God).

The Bible and history give us many examples of the dangers of the State and the Church being “in bed” together. Or a cattle stall or manger for that matter.

So, fellow bearers of the label Christian, lets work to keep Christ operating in our hearts and through our lives, including our words. Let’s not make a scene about a nativity scene in the public square the equivalent of a hill to die on. Please! For His sake. We will win many more to him by that than by knee-jerk words or antics.

***

Background thought:

One’s religion (the practices by which one’s spirituality is lived out) also shape one’s values. One’s values shape what is said and done in the public square, and in even in public service in the government.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Why don’t people “go to church” anymore?

My son’s girlfriend’s pastor blogged this question and my son pointed me to it as something that might interest me. It did. Within an hour I had assembled these theses and I felt I should nail them up somewhere:

My sequence below is: First a summary statement that could have a five page explanation, then a “so” = consequence/result,  and a “fix” = ideas for correcting and then the statement repeated in the fewest words possible.

1. God and Jesus have been about re-establishing relationship/connection by clearing everything that had been an obstacle, not about creating a group of people who would be obedient so God would like them and make them a select bunch of groupies in a safe clubhouse. Yet the second is what the church often acts like.

so: people outside the clubhouse don’t know how to even begin establishing a relationship with God and Jesus
fix: Drop obedience emphasis. Return to emphasis on God’s invitation and clearing all obstacles.

Graced Relationship not Obedience earning Favour.

2. Jesus started the church (gathering of followers) as a movement or living flexible organism and it has become a less-than-flexible institution.

so: — in an era where all institutions are suspect the church feels the consequences
fix: — go organic, organismic, go light on institutional constraints.

Living, Spirited body, not fixed institution.

3. The organism (body of Christ) is intended for flawed people who know it, but has become a place to perfectly pretend to be flawed while promoting and pursuing perfect obedience.

so: — flawed people outside of it see no need for it. A 12 step group is more honest than the church.
fix: — “A spirituality of Imperfection” is needed. Also, learn from 12 step groups (their principles are rooted in the same bible).

Flawed only need apply, perfect go elsewhere.

4. Jesus’ aim and intention was “let’s get Heaven into some souls” (“a new Spirit” within you) but the church institute has made that “Gotta get souls a ticket to Heaven”

so: — the church is (rightly) seen as out of touch and irrelevant, and/or “being saved” is seen as a mere insurance policy
fix: — show how “the Kingdom is: near, within, at hand, imminent, right now” and drop the dualistic escapist focus.

Engage not Escape

5. The “forbidden fruit” was the belief we humans could know how to tell good and evil apart. The institutional church still eats that fruit.

so: — Duh! Fruit poisoning. Judgement, even if hidden or disguised.
fix: — leave that to God, as God intended in the first place.

Drop forbidden fruit, eat from Tree of Life.

6. When a relationship with God is beginning, the church wants to see it expressed in antiquated ways rather than letting fresh cultural adoration forms take shape.

so: — people believe church is about conforming to ancient secret handshake rituals and stale cultural expressions. ie dull.
fix: — recognize that there is no “Christian culture” except one that lets a follower of Jesus express their love in cultural forms that work for them.

Always Remorphing and reforming (as fast at the culture)

7. Until fairly recently church buidlings (and some of their rituals) were designed just like courtrooms and lecture halls.

so: — people believed the pastor was a judge (so did/do pastors) or an academic lecturer or both.
fix: — buildings are part of the rigid institution problem. A ‘theatre’ design is better but still binding.

Toss the bricks and mortar.

8. Remember that time on the playground when you either first used “no more joiners” or heard it said to you? It’s a natural ‘close the group so we can feel special’ instinct we ‘speak’ without knowing it using body language and other subtle expressions.

so: — even though we tell people where the coffee is, they don’t really feel part of the church.
fix: — an almost desperate ‘lets find joiners’ attitude (might require letting go of connections with the already joined) and the practice of a deeper relational intimacy

Deep not surface

9. The church has had social power for a few centuries, and still lives with an attitude of “let them come to us”

so: — they wring their hands when people don’t come, and won’t admit that almost no one comes to a new relationship with God in what we call a church service, and they don’t know how to adjust to an environment where cooercion doesn’t work so well anymore.
fix: — find ways of going out and making connections that introduce people to relationship with God thru Jesus.

From “come and see to go and be” (that’s the title of a book)

So those are a few of my immediate response shooting-from-the-fingertip ideas that answer why people don’t “go to church.” Going to church and the expectation that people go there are concepts from a bygone era, and we better be working hard at self examination as “churchy” folk to adapt to this new reality and not blame the people who are not coming.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 
Link

Why do we insist on continuing to shoot our repentant wounded?

There is a lot to learn from this piece. It’s author has been given some key insight.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

The Church is not a Democracy

One of the ideas infiltrating the church in North America (yes, Canada too!) is that the church is a democracy, where the people in the pew ‘cast the final ballot’ so-to-speak, on decisions that are made. This is completely false, and it is dangerous. And there is no biblical basis for it either. In fact the Bible points in a different direction all together.

In our Transitions sermon series, we’ve seen a few places where, if Israel had stopped to hold a vote on an issue, the people would have voted to ‘dump’ Moses as a leader and go back to Egypt. In the account of the report of the 12 spies that is most clear but it happens in some way almost every time there is a problem.

God had called and appointed a leader for Israel, as God did in many ways with prophets, Judges and other leaders in the Old Testament. God had a plan that the leader was called to fulfill. In an age when democracy was unheard of, having a King or other chief leader was the way of things. So that is how God operated as well.

God shows great concern in the days after the Judges when the people were clamoring (voting with their voice) for a King like the other nations had (see 1 Sam 8). Samuel was taking it personally, and God comforts Samuel in verses 7 and 8, saying, “they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.”

Now, we are not in Old Testament times any more, we live in the time of Christ being our King. Churches of the Reformation believe that “all authority” belongs to Jesus Christ (Matt 28:18). In the current age, we believe Christ himself gives the church it’s leaders (Eph 4:11ff) who are given gifts to equip believers to serve him, to build up the body of Christ and to help all get to a mature unity in their relationship to God so they become more and more like Christ. Those leaders are accountable to Christ, not the congregation.

We get the idea of representation backwards when we very mistakenly talk as if elders or deacons represent the people to the council. The biblical truth is the other way around. Elders and Deacons represent Jesus to the congregation and the world. That is why the selection of office-bearers is an important spiritual process, not a democratic one. It is a matter of individual and communal spiritual discernment. Nominations are a life-and-death-for-the church serious thing. We are to consider people who are effective at representing Christ and God’s grace and wisdom when nominating, not their popularity, or success in life, or the whether or not they “see things as we do.” To consider and nominate people for any of the second set of reasons consistently contributes to the spiritual death of the church. Sure, the church might continue functioning, but heart change and making disciples and followers of Jesus will likely not be happening anymore.

For people nominated for office, that last paragraph will likely have been intimidating to read. Most people nominated have a gut sense and awareness that they are not ‘up to’ the job on their own ability (just like Moses), which is healthy, and helps them know they have to rely on God and the Holy Spirit’s leading to exercise their office. That’s the beauty of it! Wouldn’t you, like me, be afraid of someone who said “I can do this, I know exactly how to fix the church”? but on the other hand assured  by someone in office who you trust to be consulting God with a servant’s heart on all that is done?

And healthy congregations know that office bearers are all fallen human beings just like them, and will allow for some shortcomings.

This is all the more reason for us to be cautious about conforming to the (democracy) patterns of this world, and for all of us to “be transformed by the renewing” that a relationship with God through Jesus our Savior brings us (Rom 12:2). The congregation needs to trust it’s leaders are in fact ‘tuned in’ to God’s will so they can support them and trust that God is at work through modern-day leaders, the Moses’, Joshuas, Pauls, Barnabases and others.

The council is wise to enlist the help of the congregation in fulfilling their offices, and in seeking nominations and affirmation of nominations from the congregation, and consulting them for their views on other matters, but they remain accountable to Christ and their own consciences before being accountable to the congregation.

Paying too much attention to the opinions of the congregation — whether it is to a quiet majority or a loud minority — can lead to poor choices, like going back to Egypt and away from God’s promises, however big the giants may seem.

All that I have said is reflected in the relevant part of our Church Order Article 37 (Underlining mine):

The council, besides seeking the cooperation of the congregation in the election of officebearers, shall also invite its judgment about other major matters, except those which pertain to the supervision and discipline of the congregation. For this purpose the council shall call a meeting at least annually of all members entitled to vote. Such a meeting shall be conducted by the council, and only those matters which it presents shall be considered. Although full consideration shall be given to the judgment expressed by the congregation, the authority for making and carrying out final decisions remains with the council as the governing body of the church, except in those matters stipulated otherwise in the articles of incorporation or by law.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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