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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

We were Made for This!

April 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Eric Liddell

This is Eric Liddell – or an actor who played Eric Liddell in the movie “Chariots of Fire”. Eric Liddell (the real one) made headlines during the 1924 Paris Olympics when, after breezing through the heats, he refused to run in the 100 metre final because it was scheduled on a Sunday morning – the day and time when God’s people go to Church. So he went to Church on that Sunday, then later in the week ran as a last-minute entry in the 400 metres – which wasn’t his event – and promptly won the gold medal!

This wasn’t the only thing that irked the Olympic gurus. Eric had this irritating habit of running “funny”. Contrary to all scientific sprinting theories of the times, Eric would run normally for a while, then begin lifting his knees high, throwing his head back and dropping his jaw, running like a crazy man. Then he would win.

When questioned about his unorthodox style, Eric Liddell simply stated, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” So it seems that this world-class sprinter, when doing what he was made to do, became supercharged by the joy of the Lord!

I’m sure we can all relate to this. Sometimes in life when we find ourselves doing exactly what we were cut out to do, we can gain such strength and endurance – and joy! – that even in the face of hard work and long hours we can shout joyfully, “I was made for this!”

The Church in our city can take a lesson from all this. These days, often the Church seems just plain tired. And it’s not the kind of tired that doing less fixes. In fact it seems that the less the Church does, the more fatigued it becomes. Perhaps this is because the Church needs to be doing more of what it was cut out to do. We need the joy of the Lord that comes from doing what we were made for, and the Spirit-stoked energy that proceeds from this.

But, what are we made to do? What are we cut out for? Happily, the Word of God gives us some key insights into this question. These insights come in the form of the “identity” things that Jesus says about His Church. There are many times when the Lord helps the Church understand who we are. I’ll just mention three.

First, we are ONE. This may be news to some of us in the Church as we continue to fragment, compartmentalize and isolate ourselves as households and local Church fellowships, but Jesus considers us to be one, a perspective which is summed up in His prayer to the Father as recorded in John 17:20b: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…” So when we gather as the parts of the Body of Christ, cooperating to be His hands and feet in this world, we are doing what we were made for!

Second, we are SALT. Jesus says, “You are the salt of earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” (Matt. 5:13) According to Jesus, the Church is made to have a preservative influence on the world around us – preserving the truth that hope is still to be found in this world – hope in Jesus Christ. So it makes sense that we get out of the saltshaker and into the world, doing what we were made to do; preserving hope in Jesus in a world that has lost all hope, and bringing the flavour of Christ to a world that has become tasteless.

Third, we are LIGHT. In Matthew 5:14 Jesus calls the Church “the light of the world”. So as the Church, we are made to shine the light of God’s character in our dark world. The life of Jesus demonstrated that God is kind, patient, and generous, blessing the righteous and even the unrighteous, because of who He is. And when we as the Church shine the light of God in our fallen world, we are doing what we were made to do. Acting any other way doesn’t make sense. Jesus puts it best: “A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

So we are one, we are salt, and we are light. How can we as the Church do these things we were made to do, so that we can get out of the churchy doldrums and feel God’s pleasure as we function according to our design?

I’m glad I asked. On Sunday, May 26th starting at noon at the new Bomber stadium, the Church in Winnipeg will be getting together to celebrate Jesus at the One Heart City Church service. It will be a great time, but more than that, it will be the Church being ONE, which is what we were designed to be. I know that we will feel God’s pleasure as we gather.

The One Heart city-wide Church service is actually the kickoff event for another great opportunity to be what we were made to be. This opportunity is called Love Winnipeg – a chance for the Church in the city to be salt & light, working together as local fellowships in our city to preserve and shine, reflecting the character of God in our communities through neighbourhood cleanup projects, helping hands and practical expressions of God’s kindness to those around us. Here at WECC, we will be helping Discovery Children’s Centre on June 4th as we partner to provide a Family Fun Day for hundreds of people in our community. What an excellent chance to do what we were made to do, blessing and serving both this child care centre and the community around us!

Of course, there will always be critics of the Church as we attempt to be what we were made to be – salt & light together in a world that desperately needs our help and our message. But, as with Eric Liddell, the criticisms lose ground to a victorious Church that, although at times running awkwardly, is feeling God’s pleasure.

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

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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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)