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Seeing visions, and dreaming dreams

November 28, 2009 Leave a comment

At first glance, Friday night was just a Church youth event. But actually it was a particularly significant evening.

One of the reasons is that it is the first year we have a youth ministry. When our Church began in 1995, there practically wasn’t a teen in sight. It wasn’t because our fellowship consisted of well-established older believers with grown children. It was the opposite! West End Christian Community just happened to be almost entirely composed of new believers in their twenties. As time passed, people grew up, Cupid drew back his bow, weddings abounded, children superabounded, and now here we are, with a gaggle of ‘tweens and teens. But now that you have them, what do you do with them?

One option is to hide them. Stick them all in the front pew at Church, so we can watch their backs. Or stick them in the back pew, so we don’t have to see them at all. Or stick them in a “youth room” somewhere in the building, and make sure there’s as little contact as possible between them and the adults. Or stick them in a “youth service”, so there will be no contact at all.

While these options may seem to have at least short term benefits, and would probably get uncharacteristic agreement from all sides in a room full of both generations, we feel we just can’t go there, because if we separated the generations due to our differences, we would be the poorer for it as the Church. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came on the Church in power, the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled:

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” – Joel 2:28.

If the young and the old lived separate Church lives, who would our sons and daughters prophesy to? Just other kids? Who would our old men share their dreams with? Just other old men? And who would our young men share their visions with? Just other young men? I don’t think so.

It seems that as far as the Holy Spirit is concerned, the generations have something to offer each other. The younger generation needs the older generation’s wisdom and counsel, and the older generation needs the younger generation’s vision and passion. And we all need the Holy Spirit, who distributes His gifts to the Church for the common good regardless of how we prefer to divide ourselves. So the Generation Gap, which for so long has been constructed and nurtured by the world, needs to be torn down by the Church. We need to cooperate with the Lord’s integration of the generations, not the world’s segregation.

So how are we supposed to build a youth ministry that isn’t all about segregation? That’s why Friday night was significant.

It was a “progressive meal.” That doesn’t mean they ate modern food. It means that our young people, accompanied by a number of parents and other adults, visited the elders’ houses, eating part of a meal at each stop. At George and Sherry’s house, they had hors d’oeuvres (that’s French for “Just one. They’re expensive”), at Brian and Tene’s house they had something munchy, at our house they had lasagne, and at Brad & Michelle’s house they had dessert. The cool part was that at each house, the young people prayed for the elders and their families, and then at the dessert house, all the elders prayed for the young people. This mingling of the generations in prayer had a tangible significance to it. I felt that the Lord was saying, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

Of course, pursuing integration of the generations doesn’t mean that there should be no Chubby Bunny (if you don’t know what that is, you might not believe me if I explained it). If the older generation was forced alongside the younger in such exploits, it might end in tragedy. But it does mean that separate youth – and otherwise – events would take place in a Church culture of consistently worshiping together, praying together, studying the Word of God together, prophesying together, seeing visions together, and dreaming dreams together. When, as much as possible, we pursue generational integration in the Church, I believe we are near the heart of God.

Which is why I really liked Friday night.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

What did you get?

November 13, 2009 Leave a comment

I have to admit that when I was in school, I was a mark-comparer. I generally got good marks, but that wasn’t enough. No sir. No matter how good my marks were, they were only actually good if they were better than the marks that my chief rivals (read: friends) got. Of course, they were as much into this as I was, so after we would get a test back, we would have the “what did you get?” conversation.

“What did you get?”

“Well, what did you get?”

“I asked you first”

“I got an A”

“Oh (smiling), I got an A+”

“Did you study?”

“Naw” (not true)

“Me neither” (also not true)

 In the book of Revelation, chapters two and three, Jesus has John send a letter to each of seven Churches in Asia. Each letter was basically the Lord’s evaluation of how each Church was doing, and some did well while others didn’t do so hot. These seven letters circulated together to all the Churches along with the rest of the book of Revelation, placing each fellowship in the unique position of being able to look at the test scores of the other Churches, and compare marks.

As a long time mark-comparer, I can sympathize with the leaders of the Church at Laodicea. As far as they were concerned, they had done really well for themselves. Their fellowship was rich and popular – a really “happening” Church, as we would call it today – and as they received the book of Revelation and began to read it, they must have been looking forward to getting their A+ from the Lord. I can imagine their sympathy for that little Church at Smyrna, whose test scores were posted second after Ephesus. Ephesus got a real dressing down and a stern warning to repent. But poor Smyrna! It didn’t seem like the Lord had the heart to criticize them for the weakness they probably brought on themselves. Jesus even condescended to say, “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich.” Rich. That was nice of the Lord to give them pity marks, even if the word “rich” did seem a little too much, even for Jesus. And I can almost feel the pride swell in the leaders of the Church at Laodicea as they read through the report cards of the other Churches, just knowing that they were the last ones on the list because they would get the highest marks from the Lord.

All of which made the blow, when it came, feel all the more devastating.

“I know your deeds (Nice! He must have seen our website!), that you are neither cold nor hot. (Is He talking about the air conditioning in the sanctuary?) I wish you were either one or the other! (What’s He talking about? Do we need a new thermostat?) So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (I’m not sure that’s positive…)  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ (Ah, back on track. Self sufficiency. That’s a good thing. Here comes our A+) But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”(Did we get the wrong letter?)

The Lord continues to humble them by stating, in effect, that the Laodicean Church had locked Him out of their building, and that it would be a good idea for them to let Him in, so that they could begin to recover from their desperate state of poverty and affliction.

Poverty and affliction? Wasn’t that Smyrna? Actually, that was the rich Church. Laodicea – the ones who were rich and needed nothing – that was the poor Church. From this apparent paradox, it seems clear that Jesus uses a different set of tools than we do to measure our success as the Church. Our measure looks at the outward appearance. His involves the heart. Our measure records the height of fame. His plumbs the depths of character. Our measure gauges ease. His notes perseverance. Our measure is short-sighted. His is far-reaching. In other words, Jesus tends to look at the important things, and we don’t. And it’s not like the Lord has hidden from us what He values. The Bible is an illuminating resource in that regard. I think the problem isn’t that we don’t know what’s truly important or what’s best for us, but that we don’t like it. It’s kind of like carrots versus candy.

One of the most frightening things about that poor Church – Laodicea – is that they sincerely thought they were doing great. By the world’s standards, they were extremely successful and popular – a credit to their religion. And yet, the opposite was true. They were failing. It took the Lord’s stern, yet loving, rebuke to wake them up and prevent them from building a Church that, although it looked really good, really amounted to nothing. And all this was because they simply mistook what they thought was important for what Jesus thought was important.

As the Church, and as individual followers of Jesus, it is crucial that we don’t make that mistake. It’s the difference between a rich Church and a poor Church, a rich life and a poor life. And since we only have the one life, I’ll take the carrots.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

Shining Our Light…

November 5, 2009 Leave a comment

For Christians, it’s hard to know what to do with Halloween. This isn’t surprising, because historically and essentially, this day is a celebration of lawlessness,Halloween kids darkness, fear and death – a lineup of values that don’t harmonize particularly well with our faith. And even though we vainly try to water Halloween down into a benign kids’ romp by conjuring up images of jolly witches, cute jack-o-lanterns, friendly zombies and toothless vampires, its true nature tends to seep through the veneer of denial, with a vengeance. In fact, recent advances in technology have actually ramped up the fear factor with incredibly gruesome rubber masks (complete with spurting blood pumps) and microelectronics capable of convincingly animating skeletal mannequins, even giving them pithy Halloween things to say. So no matter how much denial is applied to the holiday, Freddie continues to roam, eggs continue to fly, windows continue to be smashed, and trick or treaters continue to be mugged.

As the Church, our choices can be limited regarding how to respond to Halloween. We can hide in our houses, we can hide in our Church buildings, or we can sort of try to make it only about candy for the kids.

Or we can push back.Zachary hot chocolate

This year, we had an event called “Shining Our Light on Halloween Night”. Basically, we took all the things that Halloween is about – lawlessness, darkness, fear and death – and did the opposite. So Halloween night on Hampton Street saw unmasked friendly people at a table set up in front of our Church building offering free hot chocolate to shivering ghouls and princesses, and their shivering parents. Right next door to the hot chocolate was a cheery fire for weary trick or treaters to rest by. And right next door to the cheery fire were cheery folks from our Church gathering a large crowd with their whirling fire baton performances. I was one of the people handing out hot chocolate, and I had a nice conversation with over a hundred people from our community.Angel group

But that wasn’t all. Into the morass of devils, skeletons and ghouls roaming the streets, a legion of angels (or people from our Church dressed as angels) jumped. They pounded the pavement on our block, bringing movie gift bags to each household. In each gift bag was popcorn, drinks, licorice… everything to go along with a movie, which we provided in the form of a Jesus Film DVD, complete with a documentary on Olympic athletes giving testimony about their faith in Jesus. As the legion of angels approached a house, one angel took the gift bag to the door, greeted the speechless person, gave them the gift bag and declared along with the entire legion, “YOU’VE BEEN TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL”. That shout echoed through the neighbourhood for two hours.George angel

Our neighbours were shocked. It seems that this had never happened before. Some laughed. Some took pictures. The shock quickly turned to gratitude, and the angelic host that bore gifts to the people our street came back from their errand filled with joy.

There were people we met for the first time on that Saturday night whom we saw in Church on Sunday morning, and our hope is that many of the households took a look at the movie that was in the gift packs they received.

So as believers in Jesus, we aren’t faced with options about what to do with Halloween that only make us cringe or give us a queasy conscience. We had a great time bringing a different spirit to our neighbourhood on that night, and reaching out Jess angelinto our community with the love of Jesus.

Even on a night like that? Especially on a night like that!

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

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