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The Church is Not a Jesus Fan Club

March 6, 2015 1 comment

The BeatlesFan clubs are interesting entities. They issue from one primal drive: devotion. A shared devotion to certain people or things brings fans together to express a corporate love and loyalty to their idols. It’s one thing to be devoted to someone or something. But it’s way cooler to share that devotion with others.

Take a Beatles fan club, for example. Beatles devotees get together on a regular basis to share stories about how they almost met Paul’s gardener or almost got Ringo’s autograph. They pull out and pass around “relics”, like George’s guitar pick or John’s toothbrush. They engage in passionate debates about which Beatles’ album was the deepest or which of the Fab Four had the coolest overbite. In fact, a Beatle’s fan club meeting has pretty well everything a fan needs, except for one thing.

The Beatles.

It is in this sense, that the Church is not a Jesus fan club. Of course, devotion to Jesus draws His people together to express their love and loyalty to Him, and in many ways, we are Jesus’ fans, but when we gather, the fan club analogy ends. This is because, according to the Bible, God’s people not only meet in the name of Jesus, but in His presence! In Matthew 18:20, Jesus Himself says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Now, if Jesus just stayed dead after He died on the cross, He wouldn’t be able to pull this off, and we would console ourselves with a sentimental, figurative interpretation of this passage. But He didn’t stay dead. According to scripture, He rose from the dead on the third day and, after reuniting with his amazed disciples, taught them for a few weeks before ascending back to heaven, and resuming His omnipresent nature. So with this in mind, when He says that He is there among us as we meet, He means just that. He is present.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Church would certainly do well to not meet as if Jesus was absent from our midst, but we would also do well not to meet as if the Lord was merely passively present. When Jesus says that He will be with His Church, He doesn’t mean that he will be standing in a corner like some Tiki idol, mutely observing the proceedings and receiving the occasional nod in His direction. In Ephesians 1:22, Paul says, “And he [the Father] put all things under his [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church”.

So Jesus isn’t absent from our Church gatherings, and He doesn’t settle for a passive presence in our midst. His presence among us is a presiding one. He’s in charge!

If we begin to wrap our minds around this fact, our Church services might end up being radically different than we may be used to.

Imagine if the Beatles actually turned up at a Beatles fan club meeting (a scary thought today). No one would care about John’s toothbrush when John is standing there. No one would insist on reading the fan club’s minutes or follow the official agenda when the Fab Four walk in and say, “Hullo, mates”. No one would have a lot to say about Ringo, but they might have a lot to say to him. And the monologues would become dialogues.

The Church doesn’t need to imagine what would happen if Jesus showed up at a Sunday service. It happens all the time. I hope He has a sense of humour about being treated as if He is absent or passively present in His Church. But we would do well to embrace the reality of His presiding presence among us, and adjust our meetings accordingly.

And as Jesus’ fans, we might even find ourselves running to Church.

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

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

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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

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)

good for us

October 15, 2009 Leave a comment

prayer skyOver the last while something has been beginning to dawn on me, and I thought I’d share it with you. Ready? Here it is: I think prayer is good for us.

Honestly, our family of fellowships has not been stellar in the area of prayer. It seems we don’t have the time, or the inclination – or both – to actually practice the obvious truism mentioned in the previous paragraph. But lately, it seems like our God is saying, “It’s time to pray.”

A year ago, in October and November, we felt this so strongly that we cancelled house groups for two months and just gathered together to pray. We asked the congregations if they would be willing to do this because we felt that the Lord was inviting us to come together in His presence to learn how to pray. So we did that, and it was wonderful. We came away from that time of focussed prayer with a radiant sense of the presence of God, and a clearer sense of what prayer is.

Then we had to figure out what to do next, after we put our house groups back in place. The decision was to establish a weekly House of Prayer on Tuesday nights at 7:30 pm, where we could continue to gather in the Lord’s presence and bring our thoughts, feelings and requests to Him. It was decided that each of the leaders would take turns hosting the House of Prayer. At first I had no idea how I could make time on a Tuesday evening to do this. Pastors can be busy, you know. So I settled the issue that Karen and I could only come on the evenings I was leading.

Then something happened. The Lord would not let go of my heart regarding the House of Prayer. When I felt too overwhelmed and busy to go out to pray on a Tuesday, James 5:13 – “Is any of you in trouble? He should pray” – kept on trumpeting in my mind. So we would go and pray, and feel great afterwards. Or when I just felt like having “me” time and kicking back on a Tuesday night, I felt the Lord say, “OK, so what are you planning on doing that will be better than praying?” I thought, “um, watch TV.” Considering that watching TV for a believer in Jesus can be like picking through a garbage dump looking for food, I sensed immediately that it wasn’t a good answer. So we went to pray, and felt great afterward.

I began to detect a pattern.

Then the answers started coming. With all this praying, we naturally had asked the Lord for some things, coming to Him with whatever was on our minds and asking Him to help us by working things out like only He knows how. At first it seemed like we were doing all the talking, but in time, it became clear to us that He was right there, with answers! First it was the Church finances. Our giving was behind our needs by about $6,600 in August. So we prayed. By the end of September, it was worse – $7,900 in the hole. Albeit confused, we prayed more. Then on the first Sunday in October, in one offering the entire deficit for the year was wiped out, and we were ahead of budget. Just like that! Then there was Krishna, our friend with cancer. He needed an operation to remove the tumor in his colon. So we prayed for healing. He had the operation, and then began the healing process. First, the operation took half the time they thought. The tumor was localized and the bleeding was strangely minimal. Then Krishna’s stay in the hospital took half the time they thought. His body was healing like crazy! Even the hole for the drainage tube healed over so fast that they had trouble finding it the day after the tube was taken out. Now Krishna is home and nearly fully recovered. Needless to say, the Church has been rejoicing. Add to this all the other prayers that have been answered in mysterious, powerful, and even hilarious ways, and my intuitive grasp of the obvious leads me to conclude that PRAYER IS GOOD FOR US.

Not like medicine is good for us. Prayer, the way God wants us to see it, is not Buckleyesque. It is relational, comforting and beautiful. It’s not a duty. It’s a gift. We get to bring our worries and cares to the only One who can actually do anything about it. More mind-blowing is that He listens. Even more mind-blowing is that He answers.

So when the Bible says in Ephesians 6:18, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”, it is not laying a spiritual chore on us so much as letting us in on a profound privilege.

So that’s what the Lord has been teaching me. Prayer is good for us. That’s why the Lord wants us to pray.

So, what are you doing Tuesday night?

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

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