Tuesday, August 31, 2004

7 lessons...

Jordon Cooper directed me to Todd Hunter who directed me to Richard Foster and 7 lessons worth reading...


Spiritual Schizophrenia

Isn't it funny how God brings things together in your life at just the right time. What seem to be independent streams flow together in a convergence that shapes the very core of who you are.

The other night my wife and I were watching TV together. She hates commercials so we usually end up watching a second show during the commercials of the primary show that we are watching. Our primary show was called "Crisis Zone". It chronicles the work of doctors and other aid workers in war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan and Rwanda. We watched as they showed situation after situation where children died due to the lack of the most basic medical or sanitation equipment.

Our second show (During the "Crisis Zone" commercials) was called "Overhaulin'". The basic premise is that a group of car specialists trick an owner into thinking that his car has either been stolen, towed away, or wrapped up in some legal red-tape. As the owner struggles to get his car back, the talented group of "overhaulers" totally rebuild the car. They go to unbelievable expense to really "trick it out". The show ends with the car owner being let in on the gag. The last five minutes show him (or her) walking around the car with their mouth hanging open, hardly believing the good fortune that has come upon them.

The contrast between the two shows made me sick to my stomach. In North America we spend more on new wheel rims for a show car than it would cost to provide clean water for a whole village in Rwanda. How can we do that without thinking about the implications? I realize that I'm oversimplifying and I'm not expecting non-Christians to act like followers of Jesus. I'm just wondering how to process these ideas and live in a way that is faithful to Jesus in a culture that isn't.

I've been studying the book of Isaiah and the following passage was the one that I read following my television viewing experience.

Isaiah 1:21-25 - "See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her- but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them. Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: "Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies. I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities."

Our blessings far too often distract us from the needs in other parts of the world. I remember going to Urbana 87 and hearing Roberta Hestenes say something that has floated through my head for the past 17 years..."Our hearts must be broken by the things that break the heart of God." How long can we live with spiritual schizophrenia that allows us to claim to follow Jesus and yet care nothing about things that break His heart?

Friday, August 27, 2004

Excerpts from Eugene Peterson on Pastoring...

These are taken from an interview of Eugene Peterson by Jeff Bailey in "Cutting Edge". These thoughts have been water to my thirsty soul. A long post, but worth the read.

(JB)"How would you suggest pastors today go about thinking through their vocational identity?"

(EP)"Basically, we simply have to get our identity from the Bible, from this Biblical story. And Americans are not very good at that. We assume we are living in a Christian country, and everybody’s on our side. So we let the culture shape what we’re doing because it seems so benign, and then we think, “We can Christianize it.” But we can’t. The church is a totally counter-cultural movement. We are a marginal people. There is no way we can be a success in this culture on their terms.

American pastors don’t want to hear this, though. They want to know how they can grow their church, as though if you have the right technique and enough water and fertilizer, it’s going to go. But here’s the thing: all the stories of spiritual leadership that we have in our scriptures are failures. Every one. I can’t think of one that in our terms we would call a “success.”

Look at Moses. He spent forty years taking his congregation through the wilderness, finally gets them to the Promised Land, summarizes all of God’s teaching, puts it all together in this incredible sermon called Deuteronomy, and then as he gives his last speech, God speaks to Moses and says, in effect, “Moses, these people can’t wait until you die. They are itching to jump into this whole Canaanite, orgiastic, sex-and-religion stuff. They can’t wait until you are out of here so they can just get to it. So here’s what I want you to do: teach them this song, and teach their children this song. Then when they have forgotten about you, their children will remember the song and they will have the story.” And he teaches them the “Song of Moses.” And as soon as he dies, that’s just what happens: everything is just a mess. How would you like, at the end of your ministry, to have God say, “I just want you to know, pastor, they didn’t learn a thing from you.”

Isaiah, at the beginning of his ministry, gets this glorious call, with all the smoke and angels and holy, holy, holy stuff. But then God says, “You are going to preach to these people and they aren’t going to listen and they aren’t going to do a thing you say.” How would you like to hear that on your ordination day? Isaiah says, “How long, Lord?” and God says, in effect, “for the rest of your life. The country is going to get cut down, and just be a field of stumps—but there is a seed in the stump.” That’s not very hopeful.

So it goes in every story. As pastors, we have to be ready to be a failure in the eyes of the culture, and if we’re not, we’re seduced by the culture to “being religious” in the culture’s way. Some people think I’m out to lunch because we don’t do that in America. We do something big and influential and cost-efficient. Well, a pastoral life is not cost-efficient, I’ll tell you. You don’t spend three hours in a nursing home and come away feeling like you’ve been cost-efficient.

I think the most important thing a pastor does is who he or she is. We do a lot more by the way we live than by the way we are conducting ministry. This means that people are watching us, and if we are, for instance, highly mobile ourselves, we don’t give people any kind of alternative to their own mobility. If we are harassed and hurrying and busy, even for all the right reasons, it gives them no place to say, “Oh, there is another way to live!” To see us modeling something different.

This is a dangerous thing to say, but this is why—all other things being equal—the longer you can stay in one place, the better. You are countering the mobility of our country just by staying. The other thing—not being in a hurry, not rushing—is that people need somebody who shows them that it can be done. You can live this way. The pastor who keeps a Sabbath, who is leisurely about what he does, who has space in his day for people to interrupt him…. when I taught at Regent College in Vancouver, I lived just a block from the school. If I had an appointment, say, at 2:00 pm, I’d leave at 1:30 because there’s kind of an open place in the middle of the school with a coffee shop and a bookstore, and I found out pretty soon that it would take me a half an hour to get through there—unless I just brushed people off. People wanted to talk, five minutes here, ten minutes there. It made a world of difference to the way that community developed, if there were a few people who were not in a hurry.

The pastor can do that. We are some of the only people left in our society who can do that. We have more control over our time than anybody else, except maybe the unemployed. Yet we use that freedom not for space for relationship and intimacy, but rather for packing a lot of stuff into it in the name of ministry. When I left my congregation after twenty-nine years, one of the things that utterly surprised my wife and me was how many people, during the four month lead-time they had before we left, came by to say good-bye, including some who I would have considered marginal to the church – they would show up every third or fourth Sunday, no crises in their lives like death or divorce. I was stunned to hear how many of them considered my wife and I to be two of their best friends. They felt an intimacy, closeness. These were not “leadership material” folks. They were not the ones who made the church run. They were not the ones who made me feel good about what I was doing. Every once in awhile I would think, “How can I motivate them better?” You know what it was? It was the way we lived. Our family lived with a kind of open house, with a lot of people through it all the time. It was that leisurely quality. If you stay in one place long enough, people start noticing."

(JB)"If someone were to come to you and say, “I want to immerse myself in this way of pastoring and living—give me a way to start doing this,” how might you direct them?"

(EP)"There are basic things like developing a prayer life and keeping a Sabbath. I think keeping a Sabbath is a big thing, because it breaks the cycle of obsessiveness when, one day a week, you aren’t going to do anything.

Here’s one thing that I’ve done with a few people and I think it’s worth thinking about. I tell these men and women, “Wherever you are, pick five people in your congregation who might be considered ‘losers.’ They don’t contribute anything to the church. They are apathetic. They are eccentric. Nobody particularly likes them. Now make them your best friends. Spend a lot of time with them. Get to know those people as children of God. They are not going to help you build your church. They are not going to give you any emotional gratification. That is your training ground for paying attention without a reward. Actually, it doesn’t cost anything. It’s not a huge expenditure of time. You visit these people once every two weeks. But your view of what a congregation is changes radically when you do that."

(JB)"How so?"

(EP)"Well, our culture says you go after the winners. You get the glamorous people. You find the people who are going to help you develop a church. So spend your time with the leaders. That is a basic leadership thing in our country. But what did Jesus do? He hung out with the losers. I remember we had a financial campaign for our building. We went through three building campaigns while I was with this congregation. One of my elders came to me and said, “Now Eugene, this is really important. I want you to visit the people who have the capacity to give. I want to you really work with them. We’ve got to get this campaign going.” I went away from that and thought, “You know, I don’t think I’m going to do that.” So for the next six months I didn’t visit anybody who had any leadership ability or ability to give. I spent my time with the widows, the unemployed, just to break the seduction of that. It didn’t make any difference; we still got the money we needed. But I think it would have hurt me; every time I looked at somebody, I would have been thinking, “How much can we get from him?”

Full Interview

The goal of knowledge

The "teacher" in Proverbs challenges us to seek for wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) adds,

"There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge;
That is curiosity.
There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others;
That is vanity.
There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve;
That is love."

May we learn to serve.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Jordon's unrandom thoughts

Here are some unrandom thoughts that Jordon Cooper is having. And they are worth sharing...

"If Jesus was half the revolutionary you claim, how come he is now represented by one of the most conservative, status-quo institutions on the planet?" quote from The Lost Message Of Jesus by Steve Chalke

I was thinking about money today too and how much that warp's ministry and our view of the Gospel. How many kingdom decisions are made through the lens of long term feasability and ability to be self supporting. How many parts of this country will never have a church planted near them because they can't afford to tithe enough to pay the pastor's salary? How many books will never be published because they don't fit the commercial needs of a Christian publisher right now?

Thanks Jordon.


Pledging allegiance.

Who do you pledge allegiance to? An important question. Check out "Manifesto: I Pledge Allegiance to Jesus, not the Flag" Pretty radical for us Americans, but very worth thinking through. It was even written by a good old North Carolinian.


Global Rich List

I got this from Jordon Cooper a while ago, but I wanted to post it again. Check it out, it might surprise you.


The Contrast that Clarifies...

There seems to be a great fear about mainstream society moving away from Christian values. I can understand that. I have four children who will grow up in a country that no longer takes for granted what I have as standards for morality. But I'm wondering if we are working too hard at the wrong issues. In their book The Shaping of Things to Come, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch make a good case for refocusing our energies on mission.

Since the time of Constantine the church has had a central place in society. For the bulk of that time it was the driving social and moral force. Frost and Hirsch refer to this period as Christendom. They are not talking about Christianity, but about the power and influence that Christianity has had in the eyes of the average individual. Christendom was great, but today it's more accurate to describe Europe and a growing section of North American as Post-Christendom. Some people may react to that critique of North America. It is true that there are many "Christians" in North America, but you have to question why it is not making a difference in the moral stance of North American culture. Frost and Hirsch claim that the church is living in an era like that of the early church. We are not the driving force in society. And we, like the early church, need to adopt a missionary posture. Instead of worrying about fighting the trends in society, we need to be the church. We need to work within a culture that is foreign to what we know to be true.

I've said all of this because I think that it's important that we don't see the defeat of our moral agenda as the defeat of our God. Sometimes declining morality actually helps to clarify what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Several months ago I was working on a powerpoint presentation for our church. I couldn't get the text to stand out enough and was getting frustrated by it. Everything looked muted. One of our tech people at the church came over to help me out. In about two minutes he solved my problem. In order to help the text "stand out", he used a shadow edge for each of the letters. The darkness all around them made them clear. I learned that day that it's the contrast that clarifies. And maybe that's what God is doing in our society today. Maybe He's allowing things like gay marriage to help the church be more than just a place we go on Sunday. It's the contrast that clarifies. Maybe instead of spending our energy trying to utilize the political process to accomplish our goals we need to be the church, follow Jesus, and help others to do the same.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Saw "The Village" last night...

I saw M. Night Shyamalan's new movie The Village last night. Even though it was a bit predictable, he told a great story. Major themes included the tendency to run away from evil and seek an outward solution to an inward problem. Very worth seeing. Would be good to follow it with a group discussion. The link below is to a review of the movie by Hollywood Jesus

Link to - The Village - A Hollywood Jesus Movie Review

Blessings sometimes come through brokenness...

My secretary sent me a thought provoking quote.

"Love finds no steady home in psychological health. I am sure God wants us to be whole and healthy in every way possible, but love neither depends upon these things nor ends with them. In fact, blessings sometimes come through brokenness that could never come in any other way."

Not sure who said it, but it's one of those quotes that makes you say hmmmm.

My wife prays honest prayers...

One of our friends is very sick. She may die. She's a new Christian. Her husband is not. Our greatest fear is that if she dies her husband will be angry with God forever. As my wife prayed for her last night she said, "God, do something miraculous, something that makes you look nice." We all want God to look nice. We want Him to do things that make others like Him. But often He doesn't come across as nice. He's confusing. He's scary. He's appears inconsiderate and harsh. And He sometimes insists on doing things that seem perfectly designed to drive people away. It's moments like these that make you understand a bit more of what it means to "put your trust in Jesus". It's not some sinner's prayer that gives you a ticket to heaven when you die. It's giving your life over to Jesus. Trusting Him even when He doesn't look "nice". Pray for our friend. And pray for us. We want to live lives of trust.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


This might be interesting...

"...a network of Canadians striving to love God and our neighbors in a changing culture."

Check it out below...
Desert Pastor writes...

"A new book is on it's way to me -- thanks in part to Len at NextReformation.com. In his Thursday, August 19th post, evaluating a recent exchange between Brian McLaren and Dr. Duane Litfin (President, Wheaton), he interjects a fantastic quote from The Present Future, by Reggie McNeal:

"We have a church in North American that is more secular than the culture. Just when the church adopted a business model, the culture went looking for God. Just when the church embraced strategic planning (linear and Newtonian), the universe shifted to preparedness (loopy and quantum). Just when the church began building recreation centers, the culture began a search for sacred space. Church people still think that secularism holds sway and that people outside the church have trouble connecting to God. The problem is that when people come to church, expecting to find God, they often encounter a religious club holding a meeting where God is conspicuously absent. It may feel like a self-help seminar or even a political rally. But if pre-Christians came expecting to find God -- sorry! They may experience more spiritual energy at a U2 concert or listening to a Creed CD."

It feels as if the Church has lost it's prophetic gift and voice in relation to the culture-at-large. Instead of being that community-in-the-Holy-Spirit which forsees and anticipates and boldly steps out to lead -- the Church largely continues to function in "copy-cat" mode.

Does this bother anyone?"

Once again, Desert Pastor, thanks for asking good questions...

Presenting both sides...

You may have read the article by Brian McLaren that I linked to on August 19th. It's only fair to link to this response by the President of Wheaton College, Dr. Duane Litfin. They both raise valid points that are worth wrestling with.

Not sure where to go from here? Comments anyone?

Friday, August 20, 2004

Missional Hospitality

From Desert Pastor's "Paradoxology", who by the way has the best blog name in all of Christendom, as far as I'm concerned. He's doing us a great service by helping us rethink hospitality.


Plastic Surgery - It's Not Just For Humans Anymore

This from Scott Williams' blog

"...just when you think some people are the shallowest individuals the world has ever known, they manage to drain a little more water out of the pool..."


Want an education on the "Kingdom"?

Open the link below and click on "Dallas Willard - Kingdom" for an entire series of MP3's that Dallas and Todd Hunter taught on living life in the Kingdom of God. This is some of the best teaching I've ever heard on what Jesus meant when He said that "...the Kingdom of God is at hand..."


Where am I from?

During my last visit home (North Carolina) I was struck by just how much living in Canada for the past 11 years has shaped my thinking. As I interacted with family and friends I realized that I have begun to think more like a Canadian and less like an American. Perhaps the biggest surprise was to see that I had ever thought like an American. We don't realize how much the culture we live in shapes the way we think, feel, and act. Different cultures hold different ideals. They allow the freedom to question other cultures but are very slow to question their own. So now I seem to be more Canadian than American in the way I think. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate all that I have been given from the US. But I have to admit that I think differently now.

This all has big implications when I reflect on Hebrews 11, especially verse 13-16. "...All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."

My ultimate reality is that I am neither American or Canadian, I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I am a stranger and an alien living here in British Columbia. And if the Spirit is at work in my life I should be experiencing a shift in thinking. What the Kingdom of God values should be increasingly more important to me. That's where it all comes to a head. Followers of Jesus are from another world. We should think and act differently. We should be able to question the cultures we live in from heaven's perspective. May God help us all to live as though we are longing for "...a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."

Thursday, August 19, 2004

These Christians Radically Rethink What a Church Is

Here's an interesting article in the LA Times (you'll have to do a free registration to access it) that gives an overview of some of the differing forms that "church" is taking in North America.


Iraqi Christians in need of Prayer


Making wise investments

Our church hosted the African Childrens Choir last night. As always, they were a big hit. But as I listened to the stories of where these children come from, the huge number that have been orphaned by war, poverty, and AIDS, I was convicted once again about how I live my life. It takes so little money to make a difference there. Yet in Canada we (I) just tend to keep on "investing" in ourselves. We buy nicer things. We spend more time looking at Wal-Mart flyers than we do taking the mandate of Jesus to the world. We need to invest in things that matter. Maybe we need to mediatate on those "blessed to be a blessing" scriptures a bit more.

Just so you know that I'm not always as serious as these posts have sounded, here's my "Best Marketing" award which goes out to AIM Electrical and Plumbing Services.

A desperately needed word for the church today...

It's a long article, but Brian McLaren articulates some of the dreams I have for the "church". Take the time to read and to think.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

N.T. Wright Page

Check out this page if you want to stretch your theological thinking in a positive direction

N.T. Wright Page

Mission vrs. "Immersion" trips...

Not sure where this came from, but Doug Kirsch passed it on to me... Good thoughts.

"ok, so you take a group of kids every summer to some camp or something and they do stuff for poor people. then they leave and never see those people again. your kids sure feel good and i know the people who get help from mission trips feel better... for a while. mission trips are really like a band-aid. they have their place covering up minor scrapes and cuts, but poverty is a wound. poverty is more like losing a limb and that fresh coat of paint just can't give someone their limb back.
in summer 2005 i'm planning on taking my youth group on an immersion experience. we'll get to do some service projects, but this trip is about more than thinking we are the answer to other people's problems. this is about experiencing the reality of poverty. this is about trying to wrap our minds around the problem. this is about changing the way we live to be part of the solution.
We will be going to El Paso, where the 1st and the 3rd world meets. Youth will have to wrestle with questions of justice, economics, immigration, policy and try and find where and how faith fits into and directs all of it.
"[Mission trips] can fool groups into thinking they have more to offer and more to give than the people they are "helping". Immersion trips respect and honor the people a group meets, because each relationship begins with balance and respect for the other person." (from www.tamethemonster.org) Immersion trips also challenge us to see the bigger picture of living out God's justice in a complex and confusing world. It challenges us to realize that it's not about us and making ourselves feel better, but about working to bring God's Kingdom here on earth the way it is in heaven."

A deeper story...

W. H. Auden writes -

"Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye."

One of the ways we usurp the place of God is by deciding that we know a person's story from our preliminary impressions of them. God help us to withhold judgement from those that actually we know so little about. May we love as we have been loved.