Busted

November 4, 2010 3 comments

Last Thursday was a normal day. At least it started out normal. I worked, met with people, worked some more, then got ready to cycle home. I particularly like this part of the day – not just because it’s home time, but because the bike ride home is my chance to process, pray and get some exercise at the same time.

So there I was, riding my bike down St. Matthew’s Avenue, when in the blink of an eye, it all stopped being normal. As I crossed the intersection at St. Matthew’s and Dominion, a car left its place at the stop sign and came barrelling towards me.

I’ve sometimes wondered what it would feel like to be invisible, but I can tell you that it doesn’t feel too good when there’s a car coming. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing at first, and then came those moments that people describe as being “in slow motion”. I had a chance to think a lot of things in that second or two – “What’s this guy doing? Doesn’t he see me? He doesn’t see me. What am I going to do? I can try to veer right. Too late, he’s right here. I’m going to get hit. Oh, well. Here we go.”

Crack.

The car’s bumper hit my leg just above the ankle as I started to veer to the right. My bike disappeared out from under me, I landed half on the car, half on the street, then all on the street. Sprawled out on the road, I was still in hyper-thinking mode, so in a flash I took a mental inventory of my body – Head? Check. Back? Check. Arms? Check. Miraculously, everything was fine, except for that red-hot vice squeezing the life out of my lower left leg. It was a new sensation that quickly topped the charts in my lifetime “Pains I Have Felt” category. At times like this, what’s really inside a person comes out. To my relief, what came out was, “Jesus, help me!” If it was something else, it would have been embarrassing.

At this point, some might wonder, “Where was God when all this happened?” “Was your guardian angel doing a Sudoku when that car hit you?”

That one is easy. God was right there. In the few minutes following the collision, while I was on the road in my own little world of pain, I became aware that in those few minutes, the police arrived, the paramedics arrived, and the RCMP arrived (just happened to be passing by)! Almost instantly, traffic was being directed and I was being assessed by some really nice people. To top it off, in the midst of all this, as I called out to the Lord to help me, I actually heard a voice say, “Rob, I’m here.” I would have been cool if it was Jesus, but it was the next best thing. It was Brad! – one of my dearest friends, and a fellow pastor. By this time I was beginning to wonder if this was all a dream, but my leg was strongly contradicting that idea. I suddenly stopped my writhing and said in disbelief, “Brad? What are you doing here?” It turns out that he was “just passing by” too. I was able to borrow Brad’s cell phone to call Karen to let her know what happened, and I was able to receive prayer and encouragement from Brad, who “just happened” to be right there on the scene. It was so strange that it was almost fun – almost. So I know exactly where God was at the time. He was right there helping me. I felt honoured, actually.

Perhaps one might wonder why, even with all the crazy post-incident care, I still got hit by the car. Was the Lord a few minutes late? Well, the street signs where I got hit didn’t say “Pearly Gates” and “Streets of Gold”. They said “St. Matthew’s” and “Dominion”. I would feel ripped off if I got hit by a car in heaven, but here on earth, bad things happen. It’s because we’re surrounded by human beings, who are constantly either making bad things happen or having bad things happen to them. It’s the way the world has been since our earliest ancestors turned their backs on God and decided to go it alone. So it’s hard to stay completely out of harm’s way in this old sinful world.  But it’s encouraging to know that the Father sent His Son Jesus to redeem us and give us another chance for a new life here, and eternal life in heaven for all who place their faith in Him.

So as I took my life’s first ambulance ride to the hospital, I wasn’t wondering where God was, or why He let me get hit by a car. I was considering His kindness to me in sparing my life, and that even though we live in a fallen and broken world, the Lord has mercy on us amidst the fallenness and brokenness. I was also thankful that, having placed my faith in Jesus, he was my Friend, faithful to walk with me through the ups and downs of life – and what a Friend!

I started to cry. The ambulance attendant asked me if there was something wrong. I said, “No. I’m just so grateful”.

The attendant probably thought that I was in shock. I may have been, but I was also seeing things more clearly than I tend to on the “normal” days. So it’s complicated, but sometimes days like last Thursday are as necessary as the normal ones.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” – Psalm 23:4a

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

Categories: Rob's Blog

I Love This Stuff

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

I love Church youth conferences.

Let me be clear. It’s not because I’m young. It’s because God still has plans for His Church beyond our generation, and young people are a big part of it. As it happens, it’s often at these youth conferences that the Lord fills, envisions and equips those whom He calls to do great things for the advance of His Kingdom on this earth. I love seeing that. And the fact that God is still calling young people to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is a hopeful sign of His love and care for His Church, now and into the future.

Back in ‘96, I was asked to speak at a week-long Salt & Light youth conference called “Nailed.” The Lord showed up memorably and powerfully there, leaving planned post-session activities empty while young people chose to stay in the chapel, worshiping the Lord and praying for one another until the wee hours. The cool part of me being so old is that I have been able to see that many of the young people who attended that conference are now in positions of leadership in the Church today. What a privilege to see the good, lasting fruit of power encounters with the Lord!

Which brings me to Consumed 2010. It’s our Salt & Light Central annual youth conference, which happened at Mount Zion Church in Bemidji, Minnesota over the September long weekend. One hundred twenty-five people gathered to hear from the Lord, and respond to Him. We had great times of worship, and we heard excellent, practical messages from Andrew and Norm. I spoke about God the Son, Ron spoke about God the Father, and, after a challenging message about repentance from Brian, God the Holy Spirit spoke about Himself. That night there was a corporate power encounter with the Holy Spirit, with most of the young people at the front praying, worshiping, crying, laughing… it was a sight to behold. And the good fruit of this manifestation of the Holy Spirit began to be seen immediately. A bunch of the young people who had never been baptized felt that they must. And so, off they all went walking a quarter mile at midnight to the lake to be baptized. Ron MacLean, who presided over the baptisms, happened to have his handy headband light, which solved the pitch darkness issue. But nothing could solve the water temperature issue. But hey, they’re young. And Ron is intrepid.

Of course, there was great food, great worship and great friendship at the conference, but it was all eclipsed by our great God, who showed up in love and power in an amazing way during the weekend. The result for me and for many was refreshment, joy and hope.

And so passed Consumed 2010 into the history books. The young people who were there will be talking about it for some time, because many have never seen anything like it before. But I have, and I eagerly await the emergence of a new generation of leaders in the Church, whom the Lord is calling to serve Him wholeheartedly in the advance of His Kingdom in the days to come.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

Surprise!

August 12, 2010 Leave a comment

I never thought I’d see the day.

I was surprised. That’s it. Surprised.

But this is no small matter. First, having been a pastor for more than a decade, there isn’t much that manages to surprise me any more. And second, I have the kind of mind that likes to put two and two together. I love puzzles and mystery novels. I take pride in solving them. So the fact that I was 100% surprised last Thursday night is a compliment to those who surprised me. That would be the whole Church.

In retrospect, the thing was executed brilliantly. Those who were responsible chose a deviously simple way to throw me off the scent – they put me in charge of the event.

So I set about to plan our Big House Group event, not suspecting that all of my preparations were to be ultimately ignored, and that my requests for assistance in this or that capacity for the evening were greeted with passive acceptance and quiet, knowing smirks.

I even preached! And everyone just let me share my devotional, knowing that the whole event would shortly be shanghaied and that the evening would be taken from my hands as soon as I was done talking.

Then Danielle came up to share a song that she had innocently volunteered to sing. When that song turned out to be the Flintstones’ “Happy Anniversary” song, I vaguely suspected that something was amiss. When a picture of Karen and me appeared on the screen with the words “Happy 25th Anniversary” emblazoned on it, I wondered if this had to do with us. And when our parents and the Warkentin’s and Sandee came in through the stage door amid balloons and flowers and congratulations, adding themselves to the unusually large attendance at this big house group, I was pretty sure there was something going on. We were surprised. By the whole Church. They knew about this for weeks, and Karen and I didn’t have a clue.

So the rest of the evening was devoted to blessing us on the occasion of our 25th anniversary. And what an evening it was! Blessing followed blessing, as Cari sang an original song about us, as we were put through humbling, challenging games and questions (to the delight of all), as our sons performed a song that was particularly meaningful to us, as the Church gathered around us to pray for us, and as a presentation line formed to contribute towards our honeymoon holiday. Afterward, a wonderful reception was prepared for us downstairs, crowned by an incredible “pièce montée” cake fashioned by Joel. I was alternately in tears and laughter through much of the evening.

So the whole Church planned this 25th anniversary party to bless us, and we didn’t even know. That’s cool. But what is even cooler is that there was something that the Church didn’t know. They didn’t know that these days I had been feeling the effects of many months of work without a holiday, along with the daily pressures of leadership in the Church. They didn’t know that I was asking the Lord for a word of encouragement to bring refreshment to me along the way.

But God did. And I received that word of encouragement in the best way imaginable – through the love, care and support of our families, and of God’s people in FireLight and LivingStones, the ones whom Karen and I have devoted our lives to serving, for the Lord’s sake. Needless to say I am indeed refreshed, encouraged and grateful. Even though we all knew some things and didn’t know others, God knew about everything.

It seems that the Lord loves surprises too.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” – Eph. 3:20-21

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

Whose foot is that?

June 3, 2010 1 comment

So we Marched for Life again recently. That is, a variety of Churches from a variety of denominations and cultural backgrounds rallied together and participated in the Manitoba League for Life’s March for Life, which started at the Forks and ended at the legislative grounds with speeches, songs and such. The March for Life is in support of the value and dignity of human life, right from the womb to the sunset years.

In a normal world, one would expect that any event in support of human life would be universally applauded. But sadly, this is not the case in our present social climate. As we marched down Broadway, some of the hands being shown to us by onlookers were not being clapped together in support, but were being resolved into one finger, accompanied by suggestions about where we should march to.

What’s up with that? Why would a peaceful gathering of families marching in support of human dignity be jeered and sworn at?

It’s because of a collision.

In our nation, we place great value on human rights, which is a good thing. But we have become so obsessed with rights – especially those that favour us – that common sense is rapidly becoming uncommon amongst extreme rights activists and their unfortunate sock puppets, certain politicians. So when the inevitable collision happens – that is, a collision between the rights of two people or two groups – there just isn’t enough common sense at hand to avert disaster.

What happens when rights collide in a society of rights worshipers? Sadly, it’s just like in junior high: the more popular rights win. This is what has happened with the abortion issue. Normally rights find their balance in the give-and-take of their co-existence alongside other offsetting rights, but because of the successful efforts of extreme feminists to popularly promote women’s rights over all others, anything appearing to get in the way of these rights is superstitiously and summarily crushed, even a baby’s right to be born after it has been conceived.

Of course, this one-sided view of rights doesn’t make sense, but sense is not in abundant supply among extreme rights activists. That’s how the Canadian government can be criticized for not including abortion funding in “maternal and child care” aid given to needy nations. That’s how a woman can proudly post her abortion procedure on YouTube. And that’s how, when shown a photograph like the one above and asked, “Whose foot is that?” an abortion activist can seriously answer, “That’s not a foot” or, “That foot belongs to the woman.”

We have a long way to go to help our nation come to its senses. I believe that ultimately common sense will prevail, and when it does, it will be a rude awakening for our country. Some mistakes have passing consequences, but the mistake of sacrificing the lives of unborn children on the altar of women’s rights has had huge repercussions, and when our nation faces this one, it will need to hear about a God who forgives.

So we march now, and pray for revelation for our country. And hopefully, when the penny drops and our nation comes to its senses, we will be there to minister mercy, not judgement.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

Pilgrimage

So I just got back from the Salt & Light North American Leaders’ Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana. By bus. That’s right, 20 glorious hours of sitting, slouching, leaning, chatting, curling up, stretching out, reading, dozing, and aching. Considering that it took another 20 hours on the bus to get there, I think the time it took to travel to and from Fort Wayne eclipsed the time spent in the actual conference.

You might be thinking, “Wow, that was a lot of wasted time.” Honestly, at about mile 700 on the way there, that thought was crossing my mind. But God set me right with one word: “pilgrimage”.

A pilgrimage is a faith journey – a costly, long trip taken to go to a specific place and meet with one’s God. In bygone eras, it was a familiar word, as many people traveled great distances to visit holy sites. For the Jews, Jerusalem was God’s city, and it was a normal part of life to visit the temple in Jerusalem several times a year for high holidays and festivals. Often the travelling took longer than the time spent there, but that didn’t matter, because the journey itself was an important part of the pilgrimage. As the pilgrims traveled, they sang songs about the Lord (check out the songs of ascents in the Psalms), they prayed, they fellowshipped with one another and they reflected. And the journey back from the place of pilgrimage afforded a good chunk of time for thinking and talking about where they had been and what the Lord had said and done during their visit with Him. So, no wasted time. All of it – even the hours of camel or foot travel – was an important part of the pilgrimage.

We don’t quite get the idea of pilgrimage these days. In our modern McWorld, there is no joy in the journey. We want it all, and we want it now. And if it takes time, we grumble and complain, expecting some scientist or engineer to figure out how to spare us the wait, and fast. The sad part is, faster is never fast enough. Just observe someone tapping their foot impatiently as they wait for the microwave to finish! Ironically, the instant life robs us of most of its richness – the blessings of anticipation and reflection – as we scream from one life event to another. God has a lot to say to us before and after something happens, not just during.

I am grateful that the Lord helped me understand that this trip to Fort Wayne was a pilgrimage, not just a conference sandwiched between two tortuous bus rides. On the way there, our group prayed about the conference, shared what we were hoping to receive there, and prayed for each other. When we got there, the conference was a richer experience for the thinking and heart preparation the journey afforded. And on the way back we shared testimonies of what the Lord did at the conference, we prayed and prophesied for each other, we discussed good things, and we reflected silently. We laughed uproariously too. The trouble was that that happened at the border. It’s not a good idea to be suspiciously happy at the border.

Are you tapping your foot while you are waiting for your next “God moment?” Remember, it’s a pilgrimage. Take time for anticipation and reflection, because there’s joy in the journey.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

Categories: Rob's Blog Tags: , ,

Covered!

April 22, 2010 Leave a comment

So our roof was in crisis. It was old and curly and losing its asphalt. We weren’t opening umbrellas in the sanctuary yet, but it was only a matter of time before we would have to replace the shingles (which, being translated, meant that it was only a matter of time before we would have to clean out our savings account, and more). We got some estimates, which weren’t encouraging, so we decided to see if, with prayer, we could perhaps experience the same thing with our shingles as the Israelites experienced with their shoes in the desert (see Deut. 29:5).

I felt this was a reasonable request to make of the Lord. After all, we had just willingly given away our very own Brad to be the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, and we had also sent a team of our people with him and his family to bless the fellowship there, leaving not a few holes here in our midst. Of course, as we extend to others, the Lord would cover us in our own time of need, wouldn’t He?

The answer to that question didn’t look so good at first. On Tuesday of last week, it was extremely windy. I know, because I rode my bike to work, and I somehow ended up being against the wind both ways, feeling the burn as I pedaled in first gear, watching people walk by me. In any case, on Tuesday night as I arrived in the Church parking lot, I was greeted by almost a hundred shingles – our shingles – strewn on the ground. One glance at the checkerboard pattern on the roof made it clear that there was a big problem.

I couldn’t understand it. Here we were, vulnerable, prayerfully trying to eke out as much life as possible from our poor roof, and in one fell windy swoop all our hopes were dashed. This roof needed to be done, and now! I started to mentally work on how we could possibly do this, given our current finances. Being at a prayer meeting was fortunate, because when it came to replacing our roof, we didn’t seem to have a prayer, so we needed one.  

We prayed that night for the roof, asking the Lord to help us somehow. Then one of our people prayed that we would have favour with the insurance adjuster. Insurance adjuster?

Well, the shingles weren’t coming off before, or since, and a whole bunch came off on the windy day. It couldn’t hurt to call the insurance company and ask someone to come out and take a look, then make a decision whether the roof might be covered by our insurance policy. I must have looked doubtful, because I felt doubtful. Even though we lost our shingles during a windstorm, they were, after all, old.

I called the insurance company, and they sent someone over. He looked like I felt. But nonetheless, he went on the roof and took his pictures. He said that someone in Calgary had to make the decision. Isn’t that always the way? I suppose for Calgary insurance claims they have to make the decision in Winnipeg. He said he would call me when the verdict came in.

I got the call the next day. “Good news,” he said. “We’re covering it.” I was flabbergasted. After I expressed my gratitude and hung up (and did a happy dance), I reflected on the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness to us. He knew all that we’ve been through lately, and He knew we needed a new roof, so He sent a mighty, rushing wind (an “act of God” in insurance lingo) and compassionate Calgarians. And so I sit here gratefully in my office, typing in time with the steady “blonk, blonk, blonk” of the nailers as the roofers shingle our building.

It’s nice to know we’re covered.

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” – Ps 91:4

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

Don’t We Need Each Other?

March 25, 2010 1 comment


As I have said many times in these blog thoughts, we Canadians live in a strange culture. In some ways I suppose this strangeness comes from how this great country of ours rose from what Lord Durham called “a few acres of snow” to become some of the most significant few acres of snow on the earth.

In its earliest days as an Old World colonization spot, Canada was a magnet for a certain kind of person – the kind of person who wanted to be far from other people. These fresh air and freedom-seeking voyageurs, coureurs de bois, pioneers, explorers, entrepreneurs and adventurers roamed the land from sea to sea, filling the country with an independent spirit that in many ways has defined our national identity, and leaving a social legacy that has not always been beneficial.

Independence has its good points. That kind of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and stand on your own two feet” attitude produces admirable results in times when we find that all we can rely on is ourselves. But an independent spirit gets us nowhere when we need to work together to get something done – which is most of the time. That’s when the value of interdependence is felt – the truth that we need each other to move forward.

The importance of interdependence has its application in the family and the community, even the nation. But nowhere is interdependence more critical than in the Church. The Bible compares the Church to a body, emphasizing that it is a body made up of many parts, but that those parts need each other in order to grow and to be built up in love. The parts need to cultivate connection and work together in order to fulfill the mission of the whole body, which can only be accomplished in a practical atmosphere of interdependence.

Now, most of us know what Jesus prayed as recorded in John 17:20-21: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…”, and most of us are familiar with what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it”, so interdependence in a local congregation and between local congregations isn’t a new idea. But at the same time we tend to run our Churches like restaurants, trying to grab “customers” from the Church down the street, or like fortresses – independent little citadels bent on protecting ourselves from the world and from other Churches. In the process of trying to promote our own selves, we are missing Jesus’ bigger purpose for the Church – to be His Body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament.

I believe that the Lord is having the Church focus on this important principle in order to move His Kingdom forward in the significant ways it needs to in these days. Being the biggest, funnest, busiest, most attractive local Church on the block or in the city just doesn’t cut it any more. We are called to work TOGETHER, to SHARE resources, to SUPPORT one another – to really be the Body of Christ. And while the idea isn’t new, the practice seems to be. We just aren’t too good at it.

So to do our small part to contribute to the reality of the Body of Christ in the city, we had a Praise Party. LivingStones, FireLight and Heartland (a Filipino Church we are connected to) got together to worship the Lord with music and food – two universal languages that are helpful in efforts like this. We even mixed up our worship teams, getting musicians from all the fellowships to work together to provide the musical part of the evening.

It was great! About a hundred of us met on Saturday, March 20th for the Praise Party. I welcomed the people, then Pastor Rod Lantin from Heartland gave a devotional about unity. From there the musicians led the people in worship. Between musical sets, Pastor George from LivingStones got people into inter-Church groups to pray for one another. At the end of the evening, we all went downstairs to break bread and chips and spring rolls. And I think we went home liking the Lord and each other a little more.

It wasn’t some great inter-Church foray into the world to save thousands of souls, but it was a start. We gathered around the throne of God together, agreed with His heart that we would get along as the Church, and had warm fellowship with each other. I think stuff like that shakes the gates of hell. And it also sets the stage for more interdependent, cooperative projects that the Lord has for His Body, the Church.

It seems clear that the Lord has much for us to do in this city – more than any one local fellowship can handle by itself. But will we turn from our independent, parochial paradigm, lock arms with the rest of the Church and go for it?

I hope so.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

Categories: Rob's Blog Tags: , ,

Life is a Bowl of Chili

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The uninitiated would call it a Chili Night. Sure, there was chili, and it was night, but the multitude of undercurrents, subplots and metaphors make the WECC men’s Chili Night something far more profound and significant. And this year’s event was no exception.

First, there’s the fellowship. Everyone knows that men aren’t the greatest at relating to one another. That murky area of human interaction is a source of puzzlement to many of the male ilk. However, if one sets a bowl of chili in the midst of a group of awkward men, this unlikely catalyst instantly transforms them into a band of brothers. In fact, I believe that these relationally medicinal properties of chili can be utilized to bring the Church into greater unity, effectively aiding in the advance of the Kingdom of God.

You scoff at this idea? How else could our humble WECC Chili night draw men from FireLight, LivingStones, Trinity Baptist, Vineyard and Riverwood Churches into rich fellowship with one another, irregardless of our local allegiances? We all shared tasty joy over George’s flavourful “Chili, Chili, Bang, Bang”, and we all shared tears (and runny noses) over Alex’s Filipino “Bicol Express”, which was a consuming fire. Men from different Churches, different generations and different cultures tasted together, talked together, assessed together, worshiped together, heard the Word of God together, cheered together and prayed together, all around an unassuming bowl of chili.

 Then there’s the competition. Even though we live in enlightened days where some would like to completely efface the word “competition” and give us only toothless cooperative games where no one wins and many men secretly wonder what the point was, there’s nothing like a good competition to spur a man on to greater things, both inside and out. And our little chili competition is no exception. The chili competitors take their stuff seriously. They research, they improve their recipes, they practice their skills, they schmooze, and they taunt each other with early morning phone calls on the day of the competition… But just like professional athletes, after they have exerted themselves to the utmost against each other and a winner is declared, they willingly shake hands with their adversaries, sincerely cheering the victors. And so they leave the chili competition better men, both in skill and character.

Finally, there’s the theme. Every year, the WECC Chili Night takes on a theme, like cowboys or gladiators, or some other thing that fascinates men and mystifies women. This year’s theme was “Mind Like Water, Heart Like a Lion”, illustrating the “Kung Fu master” or “Mexican Luchador” approach to chili, and by obvious association, to life. With this in mind, I spoke to the men about why we are fascinated by the Kung Fu master, like Kwai Chang Caine in the “Kung Fu” series, who can maintain complete inner peace while beating the snot out of somebody, or the Mexican Luchador, who like Nacho, can find transcendent purpose and glory in the wrestling ring. These two icons represent peace and purpose, two things that men are created to strive for. However, neither the rigours of mental discipline nor the glory of selfish purpose actually achieve real peace and purpose. I explained that satisfying peace comes only by finding peace in our relationship with God, and satisfying purpose comes only by discovering the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. So we as men have been created with an insatiable desire for peace and purpose, which can only be found in God Himself. And inevitably we are pointed to the true Hero, Jesus Christ, who had more peace in His little finger than any Kung Fu master has in his whole body, and who was more lion-hearted in God’s purposes than all the luchadors in Mexico. And so I got the chance to warn my chili brothers about the futility of chasing after peace and purpose without God, and I got the chance to encourage them to continue to find their peace and purpose in Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us to the Father, who is our true source of these things.

All in all, not bad for a chili night.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

Categories: Rob's Blog

How wonderful, how pleasant!

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

There were a lot of people in Church on January 10th. About 8,000.

No, FireLight Christian Fellowship didn’t experience a slight spike in attendance that Sunday. Actually, that was the estimated attendance at the One Heart City Church service that we were part of at the MTS Centre. As you may recall, it was an event where on that Sunday, twenty-six Churches decided to meet together instead of in our own local venues. Stepping out of our parochial comfort zones to worship the Lord together is risky business. We (the leaders who had planned and participated in it) expected maybe up to 4,000 people to show up. Boy, were we wrong.

The place was comfortably full by 10:30, and uncomfortably full by 11:00. Although, it didn’t seem to matter, and the MTS Centre was abuzz with activity and anticipation as the starting time drew near. That’s when the wave started. Really. The Wave. The whole place erupted spontaneously into a loud and joyful expression of wavy corporate unity that would rival any crowd at a sports event. This wave offering wasn’t what they were referring to in the Old Testament, but I’m sure it put a smile on the Lord’s face nonetheless. And it was only the beginning.

A children’s choir from the Churches began (Emmaus from FireLight and Nassia from LivingStones were in the choir), then pastors from the Churches shared the reading of scripture from the book of Revelation Chapter 5, verses 6-14 (I got to read verse 6). The next thing was an entry of the nations – Christians in cultural dress carrying the flags of 50 nations. Our very own George Balaktsis looked very Greek and in his traditional outfit and very proud as he hoisted the flag of his forbears. Ron MacLean greeted the people, and then a worship team put together from all the Churches led the giant congregation in songs of worship to our Lord Jesus (Brad Warkentin from LivingStones led one of the songs). Then there was communion (LivingStones’ Krishna and Konner were part of the usher team supervising that gargantuan task), a clever puppet show, and a great message about evangelism courtesy of David MacFarlane. We then gathered as pastors and gave the benediction to the people together. Wow!

I was moved to tears several times during the service. Even after more than a week of reflection, I can only get a glimpse of why. I think I was feeling something that was bigger than my mindset or my perception could intellectually process. In the end, I believe I may have been feeling a bit of what the Father would feel in seeing His children trying to get along, a bit of His pleasure at seeing the Church cooperating with Jesus’ prayer from John 17, that we His people would be brought to complete unity in Christ, a bit of the blessing that follows an action on our part that is near to the heart of God. What we did as Churches gathering together and sowing into the unity of the Body of Christ is, after all, biblical. And so is the blessing we experienced:

“How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony!  It is like the precious anointing oil running down from Aaron’s head and beard, down to the collar of his robes. It is like the dew on Mount Hermon, falling on the hills of Zion. That is where the LORD has promised his blessing— life that never ends.” – Psalm 133:1-3

We hope to do this again next year, with even more Churches participating. Will there be enough room? Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

One Heart

January 7, 2010 1 comment

We live in a funny country. Somewhere along the way, our nation picked up on the concept of cultural diversity – the importance of recognizing the uniqueness and individuality of the cultures forming the social fabric of Canada, which we proudly characterize as “a nation of nations”.

That’s not the funny part. The funny part is that, in our zeal to emphasize the unique distinction of the many cultural communities in our country, we have all but forgotten that we actually form one nation – Canada. An easy demonstration of this national half-blindness is found in simply asking Canadians who they are. Invariably they will answer, “I am Dutch” “I am Irish” or “I am Ukrainian”, even if their family has been in Canada for over a century, and their knowledge of their culture of “origin” doesn’t go much beyond perogies. And if one is asked what it means to be Canadian, the frozen stare that results is like a moose in the headlights. The truth is, our obsession with individualism has damaged our self-awareness as a nation. So while it is good to recognize the fact that many cultural “parts” form our country, it becomes a liability to a nation to limp along with an awareness of only half the truth about itself. Many cultural communities, yes. But one nation, no less.

This national overemphasis on uniqueness and diversity has affected our minds, and in some ways this thinking has even leaked into the Church in Canada. As the Body of Christ in our nation, we have gotten really good at identifying, separating and categorizing ourselves as local fellowships, according to minor doctrinal quirks, preferences in musical styles, Sunday dress codes…even (surprise, surprise) cultural backgrounds. In other words, we excel at seeing the differences in the body of Christ, and we have become experts at distinguishing ourselves as many diverse parts – hands, eyes, feet, spleens, anterior cruciate ligaments, etc.

So what? Having only half a revelation about who we are as the Church amounts to no more than a gruesome pile of disconnected body parts. Paul lays out the whole truth in 1 Corinthians 12:20. In reference to the Church, he says, “As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”  And in Ephesians 4:4-5, in his plea for unity in the Church, he says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Our Lord Jesus Himself, as he prayed for us as His future Church, said, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23b). As much as it is important to work at understanding that the Church is made up of diverse parts, it is just as important to work at understanding that the Church is one connected body. Jesus thinks so. That must count.

So what have we done lately to recognize the other half of the truth about us as the Church – that our various local fellowships form one connected body? If we are honest with ourselves, our answer would probably be “not much”. Why? I suppose because it’s more work to join ourselves together than to separate ourselves. But at the same time, it is work that the Head of the Church – Jesus – wants us to do.

Here in Winnipeg, the Lord has been speaking to many Churches in the city about the importance of practically recognizing the fact that, although we are many parts, we are one body – so much so that on this Sunday, January 10th, a significant number of our fellowships in Winnipeg will be closing their local doors and gathering at the MTS Centre to worship TOGETHER, in a city-wide service called “One Heart”.

It has been a wonderful challenge to put this celebration service together, but why would it be easy? First, we’re not used to this kind of thing. All the Tin Man could do when he met Dorothy was to plead for oil through clenched teeth. But once his joints were loosened and exercised, he could sing and dance (and beat up bad guys)! As we get together and exercise the connections that have been established, we too will be able to move together more smoothly. Also, getting together is challenging because the Church has an Enemy who does not want us to realize who we are – a large, powerful body of believers in Jesus in this city. Satan has been comfortable in “divide and conquer” mode for a long time, and our awakening to the fact that we are one Body of Christ amounts to the waking of a sleeping giant in the eyes of the Enemy.

So FireLight Christian Fellowship, LivingStones Christian Fellowship, and many other local fellowships will be at the MTS Centre this Sunday, presenting ourselves together to the Lord Jesus, and pleading for oil.

The “One Heart” service is at 11. Doors open at 10. We hope to see you there.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)