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We are Family

June 5, 2016 1 comment

Sister SledgeMost people who have been on the earth for a long time would have a song going through their head after reading the title of this post. It was a popular tune by Sister Sledge that worked its way up the charts back in ’79. “We are Family ” was a heartfelt anthem in honour of family, slap bass and flowy pants. If this doesn’t ring a bell, just click the link and I’ll see you back here in a few minutes…  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNAQ8LLptUo  

The concept of family resonates with all of us, either because of its presence – or its absence – in our lives, both of which are felt deeply. For those who have been raised in a healthy family, there is generally something deeply healthy about them, and for those who have been raised without one, a deep longing for family love and belonging is apparent. It seems that God has wired us for family. We need it.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that Churches are families. That’s just the way it is. If someone sets out to plant a Church, what springs up should be a family. If someone sets out to build up a Church, they should be building in a way that fosters family.

The early Church understood this. Right from the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the Church, their identity as a spiritual family emerged for all to see, and they retained that practical “family-ness” even though they numbered in the thousands. In Acts 2:44-47 Luke writes, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people…”

So along with all of the other manifestations of the Holy Spirit, it seems that the early Church manifested spiritual family in a way that caused the world around them to take note.

These days, it is even more crucial for the Church to manifest our identity as a family. We live in a society that has lost a clear sense of what family actually is, and is in deep need of the real thing. What better place to find family than in the Family of God?

But as the Church, are we building family? Depending on how we build, instead of a Church we could actually be building a ministry, or a personal following, or a program, or a public service, or a show, or a school, and entirely miss the critical defining quality of Church – spiritual family.

Why would any Church leave this quality out? That one is unfortunately easy to answer. It’s because building a spiritual family is costly. It costs us to get to know one another enough to hurt, and get hurt. It costs us to be accountable to one another. It costs us to depend, and to be dependable. And so, many individual believers aren’t looking for a family, and many Churches aren’t looking to build one. Let’s face it: it’s easier for everyone to paddle on the surface than to go deeper.

Easier yes, but not better.

When my wife Karen and I were called to plant this Church called West End Christian Community almost 20 years ago, we had clear instruction from the Lord that we were to build a spiritual family. It hasn’t been easy; investing in the lives of others never is. But our testimony is that our lives have been immeasurably enriched by walking in meaningful fellowship with others, sharing in their joys and sorrows. And best of all, it’s a two-way street. It was only a few days ago that an emergency in our own family left us reeling. We were so grateful for our brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we could contact and share our burdens with, and who would pray along with us to our Father in heaven. We know that this is what the Lord has called His Church to be, and we know that we are the better for it.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, when it comes to building God’s Church, let us not settle for anything less than spiritual family, for that is what we are – family.

Cue the slap bass.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

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Were you there?

June 18, 2013 Leave a comment

I was there.

“There” is a One Heart Planning Committee meeting, months before the actual event. One Heart is the name of a city-wide Church service that we have annually in Winnipeg, where a surprising number of local Churches put aside their “localness” to flex their muscles as the Body of Christ in the city – One Lord, One Church, One Harvest. It’s a great time, and for the last number of years the One Heart service has been held at the MTS Centre, where we have seen upwards of 14,000 followers of Jesus get together for one great big Church service.

I was there when the bad news came.

In the latter part of 2012, we were trying our best to nail down a date in January with the MTS Centre for the 2013 One Heart service. But the NHL lockout was making it difficult to confirm anything, as the arena needed to be available for hockey games the moment the players and management could agree on something. So time was dragging on, and we were in lockout limbo, not knowing what to do. After seeing yet another date fall through, we sat around the One Heart planning committee table, nonplussed.

I was there when the stunning news came.

Right in the midst of our angst, a call came. It was from the Winnipeg Blue Bomber Football Club. The brand new Investors’ Group Field stadium was (finally) almost ready for use, and they were wondering if the city Churches wanted to have their OneHeartCityChurch service there on May 26th, for free. I don’t know what the football equivalent is for something coming out of left field, but it was that! Apparently, the Bombers organization wanted to have a test run of the facility before they had a “real” event there, and they were wondering if the city Churches would help them out in this endeavour. We all agreed around the table that this was an overwhelming, even crazy idea that none of us would have cooked up ourselves, so we concluded that this must be the Lord, and we decided to do it.

I was there when the challenges came.

The first challenge was one that was somewhat familiar. At the MTS Centre, “free” use of the facility meant a cost of $40,000 to us. At the Investors’ Group Field, everything was bigger, even “free”. Try $80,000. The truth is, the magnitude of the event – from the budget to the sound needs to the parking to the stage to the ushers (500) – was off the charts for us. We had no grid for this. It felt many times that we had no courage for this either. But it was happening no matter what, so we plunged in and kept swimming. And meeting. And eating KFC (we met on Tuesdays). And wondering how this could ever come together. To top it off, all this was happening in a context of questions about whether the facility itself would be ready by May 26th, as contractors worked madly to finish the job. Bells and whistles didn’t concern us so much as toilets. We prayed a lot.

I was there on May 26th.

I was there when the doors opened, allowing a record16,000 worshipers of Jesus to be the first ones to enjoy the use of the Investors’ Group Field.

I was there, listening to “Bless the Lord O My Soul (10,000 Reasons) reverberate around the stadium – thousands of people singing loud, heartfelt praises to the Lord. At that moment it was crystal clear to me why we were there.

I was there when over 240 people accepted the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, and when people generously gave a record amount toward programs to help young people in the inner city of Winnipeg. So at the One Heart 2013 city Church service, the Church in Winnipeg conducted itself in fine fashion, glorifying the Lord and reaching out to the lost.

Were you there? If you weren’t, you missed a miracle. But there’ll be more 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

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)

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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)

This doesn’t have to happen.

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Christmas, as you probably know, can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we have a wonderful celebration of the birth of Christ, where we get the opportunity to pause and reflect on the miracle of the Incarnation – the fact that Jesus is Immanuel – “God with us”. On the other hand, we have the Christmas Vortex, the dreaded holiday drain that sends us rushing in every direction at once, consuming all of our time, energy and resources, inevitably drawing us into another Christmas tradition: the Christmas Meltdown. It usually either begins or ends with the tree.

So how do we manage to face Christmas, which is by nature a busy holiday, without slipping into the Christmas Vortex? I think we stumbled on the answer last Saturday.

Last Saturday was our WECC Christmas Café, an event that our Church hosts for our families, friends and neighbours, which includes a Christmassy (spell check let that one go!) atmosphere, big league desserts, imported Tim’s coffee, Christmas carolling, improv, special music (featuring some of our own, along with DMCI’s Chamber Choir – awesome!), and a gospel message. I was coordinating the event this year, helped by a sturdy crew of steadfast brothers and sisters who know how to serve.

It was work. People spent hours and hours designing tickets and delivering flyers, setting up tables, decorating, practicing music, gathering volunteers, making desserts, preparing the program…it was a formidable task for our Church to take on. In fact, one might wonder why we would do such a thing right in the middle of everyone’s own personal Christmas crisis. Why not leave well enough alone? Aren’t we just setting ourselves up for the Meltdown?

 That’s why Saturday night was so interesting. As I watched the event unfold, I didn’t see frayed nerves or exhausted Christmas zombies. In fact, I saw people going above and beyond the call of duty with energy, gusto and, I think, JOY. I would have been more surprised at this if I wasn’t feeling the same thing. After 6 straight hours of work on that Saturday alone, I was feeling great. No Vortex. No Meltdown. Just joy.

How did this happen? Did someone put something in the desserts? Was it the Tim’s coffee? Probably not. What I saw was people experiencing THE JOY OF SERVING. I realize that, according to the current thought in this world, putting “joy” and “serving” in the same sentence constitutes a paradox. But not according to Kingdom thought. Jesus said, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Even with this mandate of extreme service, the Bible records many times that Jesus was full of joy!

So we somehow managed to find the Lord in the serving, and shared in His joy. People found joy in delivering flyers, creating a nice atmosphere, greeting people at the door, preparing and serving desserts, filling coffee carafes, singing, playing music, mixing sound, setting up tables, taking down tables, vacuuming the carpet, scrubbing out stains, setting up chairs…

As for me, my greatest joy on that night was to deliver a message of the good news of Jesus Christ, and to see an amazing number of people indicate that they received the Lord Jesus right there.

So my Christmas wish for you this year is that you would stay out of the Vortex, miss the Meltdown, but catch the Joy of the Lord by serving others for His sake. It’s a great way to face Christmas.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

Let’s not catch this.

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s a serious disorder. All over the world, many Christians suffer from it. It drains the power out of their Christian walk, chokes the spiritual fruit from their lives, robs them of purpose, and even causes some to shipwreck their faith. What is this terrifying blight – this real threat to our abundant life in Christ? Spiritual instability.

The symptoms of spiritual instability are numerous – wide spiritual mood swings, a loss of appetite for truth, low resistance to sin, spiritual lethargy, an allergic reaction to meaningful fellowship, restlessness, moral confusion, and tragically, a form of spiritual dementia that lashes out at those who care for them the most.

This is no isolated problem. In some ways, spiritual instability has gone pandemic – especially in our North American society, which sells selfishness, unhealthy independence and instant gratification to a brainwashed consumer culture. Unfortunately, all this has been sneezed on the Church, with disastrous results.

As followers of Jesus are infected with various strains of worldliness, their spiritual balance is affected, causing them to become disoriented and prone to stumble and fall away, sometimes taking others down with them. The resulting spiritual instability in its members has weakened the Church, and we find the Body of Christ suffering from a kind of low-grade fever, a sense of chronic spiritual fatigue that affects its muscles and joints, touching every aspect of its life. A Church suffering from spiritual instability in its parts becomes aimless, lethargic, anaemic in its resources, and relationally transient. Basically, it begins to fall apart.

In September of this year at FireLight, we felt that the Lord gave us a word of warning about spiritual instability, and an encouragement to actively work against this disease by being intentional about our life in Christ, bucking the world’s commitment to being noncommittal and decisively embracing the fact that we are disciples of Jesus in fellowship together. As we have begun to really look into how we can battle against worldliness, we have found that there is much we can do to cooperate with the promotion of spiritual stability in our individual lives, and consequently, in the life of the Church. For example, we can prevent spiritual disorientation by employing our GPS (God’s Positioning System), otherwise known as the BIBLE. In a world that has lost its way, the Word of God is extremely useful in helping us to get a true sense of where we are at, and who we are. In fact, spiritual stability is impossible to achieve without the regular use of this life-saving GPS. In addition to this, one of the most effective elixirs against worry, which leads to spiritual instability, is TRUST. Settling our trust issue with God – simply deciding that we believe Him when He says that He is there and He is good (not to mention all of His other wonderful promises) – brings a peace which passes all understanding. And that peace gives us a firm foundation to live on. The result is spiritual stability. Then there’s remembrance, belonging, investment, sincerity, and a host of other spiritual instability-busters that we will be examining together at FireLight over the next while.

Are you tired of being sneezed on by the world? Are you interested in prevention or recovery from spiritual instability? You’re invited to join us at FireLight as we seek the Lord together on this.

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” – Eph 4:14-15

 May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)