The Spirit of God . . .

I have been reading and am continuing to immerse myself in two books: Michael Welker, God the Spirit and Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church.  Both books are immersing my mind in the way the Spirit has worked and continues to work in this world.  Here are some thoughts that are challenging to think about for a Church of Christ individual.

 

  1. As we live in a very diverse culture and in diverse communities the Spirit can often be found working in this diversity, not creating uniformity but rather celebrating the dimensions of diversity.
  2. The Spirit often gives and empowers leaders to guide communities.
  3. The Spirit leads communities into active ministry and to be a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s redemption.
  4. The Spirit was at work in the life of ancient Israel, was at work in the life and ministry of Jesus and continues to be at work in the life of the church.

I find myself saying a lot about Jesus and I have to wonder if I need to start saying a lot about how the Spirit is at work, not only in my life but the life of the church.  I wonder what it would be like to say that the church is a Spirit led church.  Hard concept to think about for this Church of Christ student.

Published in: on September 2, 2008 at 10:58 pm  Comments (3)  

Worship

What I have Been (re-) Learning From Marva Dawn on Worship in her book, A Royal Waste of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World.

 

“If we want to immerse our neighbors in the lavish splendor of God, then we must understand them more deeply than we often do” (pg. 19).

 

Today many people shift their image of themselves to “fit in with the fads and fashions of the times, young folks especially lack a nucleus of identity, a personality that has been formed by moral authority and mentoring models.  Furthermore, since they have no sense of themselves, they are unable to make commitments to another person in marriage or friendship or to a job, a vision, a vocation, a religion.  Their subconscious cry often becomes, ‘Keep entertaining me, so that I don’t have to face the absence of my self’” (pg. 43-44).  To this Dawn says that worship must not become pop spirituality and to simply entertain people

 

The key question s not what we should make worship to be in order to attract more people . . . rather the question we as churches need to ask is what does it mean to be church for the sake of the world when we worship and during the rest of the week?

 

When planning our worship services we should be asking, What kind of people are we creating when we worship?

 

“If television is causing people to be dissatisfied with the worship of our churches, should we change worship to be more like television – or should the splendor of our worship cause people to ask better questions about television” (pg. 73)?

 

When the church worships are we helping people live consumer and materialistic filled lives or are we helping people become like our God who is gracious, generous and always giving of thy self?

Published in: on August 11, 2008 at 12:36 am  Comments (1)  
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A Written Debate

There is a most interesting debate taking place on-line within the Churches of Christ.  The debate is centered upon two propositional statements.

Propositional Statement #1: The New Covenant writings are the divine pattern which must be followed for both fellowship and salvation. 

Propositional Statement #2: The New Covenant writings contain specific requirements and expectations of our God, few in quantity, that are essential for both fellowship and salvation.

Check out the debate at http://www.zianet.com/maxey/pattern.htm

Published in: on July 15, 2008 at 10:49 am  Comments (1)  
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I Will Be Back

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten to write.  Catch me in two or three weeks.

Published in: on June 7, 2008 at 3:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Churches of Christ & Ecclesiology

Has our movement’s ecclesiology changed over the years to one specific ecclesiology or are there several competing against one another? 

Thomas Olbricht has an excellent article in the most recent Restoration Quarterly journal (2008, vol. 50.1) in which he outlines the varying views of what “church” has largely been thought of throughout our movement’s history.  As I look at Churches of Christ, and more specifically Churches of Christ in Ontario I believe I can confidently say we have several churches operating under an ecclesiology that has largely been shaped by Roy E. Cogdill and Leroy Brownlow.  Yet, Everett Ferguson’s ecclesiology has made significant impacts on our heritage in Ontario as is evident with his invitation to teach short courses at Great Lakes Bible College in Waterloo, ON. 

As I lead the Newmarket Church of Christ I am leading us down a new path which operates under a new ecclesiology.  This new ecclesiology is not based upon the teachings of the apostle Paul but instead is based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Thus my ecclesiology is being developed on the teachings and actions of Jesus.  What else is influencing my ecclesiology? The notion of being a covenant people.  I suppose then that the words of Rubel Shelly and Randy Harris come in to play at this point, “We . . . propose a shift from institution to person, pattern to principle, deed to motivation.”  Our ecclesiology is not about “restoring the true church” but rather is about living in such a way so that we can be the body of Christ in this world. 

 As the community of faith I serve is struggling with the notion of moving out into the community to be the presence of Jesus we are inadvertently taking on a new ecclesiology.  What we are saying is that we are not interested in simply proclaiming “We have the right pattern” but instead come and journey with us as we realign our lives so that we become like the living Jesus . . . so that we become the presence of the living Jesus.

Published in: on March 4, 2008 at 11:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Identification for Incorporation”

I am living with the book, A Community Called Atonement.  I have been strengthened and challenged in my thinking of what atonement is and what atonement accomplishes. 

Towards the end of the book McKnight (to use a phrase of McKnight’s) develops a bag that is able to hold all the metaphorical clubs of atonement.  Atonement is not just being atoned for our sins; “atonement is identification for incorporation (pg. 107).  McKnight wants us to understand that Jesus has died for us so that his life might become our life.

 

If McKnight is right that we are atoned “so that his life can become our life” then our churches will look drastically different than what they are today.  No longer will we be individually focused, no longer will be delivering hell, fire and brimstone sermons and then forgetting to tell “the sinners” what kind of life they are to live.  Instead we will become vessels in which the world sees God and what God is about.  We will find churches intentionally incorporating practices that bear witness to God’s love, peace and justice.  We will see churches participating in the work of God and becoming “the neighborhood church” rather than asking the neighborhood to come across the street to “our church.”  To quote McKnight,

In the rest of the book there is no attempt to be comprehensive or exhaustive about what a missional praxis of atonement looks like.  At rock-bottom reality each community will work out its own praxis of atonement, and that praxis will have a different shape and orientation in each community.  The central question of a missional praxis is this: “How can we help?”  This central question springs from a desire to go out into the community rather than an overwhelming desire to have the community come to the local church (pg. 118).

Published in: on February 20, 2008 at 1:30 am  Leave a Comment  

A Short History of Hospitality

I’ve been reading Christine Pohl’s book on hospitality.  Below are some words and thoughts about hospitality. 

 

To talk about the history of hospitality is to talk about the location of hospitality.  The location of hospitality always includes space where people are welcomed.  In several biblical and non-biblical instances the place where people were welcomed was the home.  As we look at the OT scriptures we see that the home became a place where people were welcomed.[1]  In the NT the household also became a central place where people were welcomed.[2]

During the fourth and fifth centuries hospitality changed and this was due mainly in part to Christianity moving from a persecuted sect to a recognized religion by the Roman government.  It was during this time that hostels provided care for strangers, hospitals were established and monasteries welcomed various travelers.  In A.D. 362 the Emperor Julian, in an attempt to reestablish Hellenic religion, instructed the high priest of the Hellenic faith to imitate Christian concern for the strangers.  Julian wrote, “Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism?  [Atheism in this context refers to Christianity].  Julian would continue,

For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.  Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.[3]

During the fourth century the first hospital was established.  After many years these hospitals became separate institutions to care for the various needs people (orphans, widows, strangers, sick and the poor) would have or encounter.  According to Pohl the first hospital to receive considerable mention in historical writings is the hospital built and founded by Basil, bishop of Caesarea in 370.  During a severe famine and in response to this famine Basil gathered the victims of the famine and what food he was able to collect and supplied the poor and hungry with food to eat and also provided for the physical ailments.  Shortly after this Basil established several institutions to provide care for the sick. 

 As we have looked briefly at the history of hospitality we have seen that hospitality has moved away from the home (as seen in the Biblical writings) to places of institution.  This of course brought with it an unfortunate manner.  Hospitality became not something that we as individuals do but something that the church as a whole should do.  Thus it was easy for churches to offer hospitality and inadvertently allow individuals not to practice or maintain the practice of hospitality.  Recognizing this John Chrysostom began to again remind and teach the church that even though the church as a whole practiced offering hospitality it did not exclude the individual from offering hospitality.  Chrysostom asked, “If another man prays, does it follow that you are not bound to pray?”  Chrysostom urged the people of the church to build a guest chamber in their own home so that they too could practice hospitality.[4]

As I look at this short history of hospitality I wonder what hospitality might look like in our churches.  I wonder how our churches can create places of welcome.  I wonder how our homes can become places of welcome.  Hospitality is not a good habit, it is essential to living the Christian faith.  May God help us become hospitable people.

[1] See Gen 18-19; Josh. 2; 1 Sam. 25; 1 Kings 17:8-24; 2 Kings 4:8-37.

[2] See Acts 2:43-47; 9:42-10:48; 16:14-15; 18:1-11.

[3] Christine Pohl, Making Room, 44.

[4] Ibid., 45.

Published in: on January 8, 2008 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Christmas 2007

If I could figure out how to upload a picture or two I would show you what we as a church have done this year.  We provided over 20 families with a Christmas this year.  These families are our neighbors who live less than 2 miles from our building.  It was a blessing to be able to see the faces of the teachers at the local school when we dropped the gifts off for the families.  In case your wondering we partnered with the school in our neighborhood because they have a better read on different family situations.

Last night we had our annual Christmas party.  Instead of inviting our sister churches I focused heavily on our neighborhood.  We had several neighbors come and join us for an evening of Christmas caroling and refreshments.  One of the comments I heard was that, “You are normal!”  Wow, I really wonder what misconceptions are out there about us. 

My prayer is that God will continue to empower us to serve our neighborhood so that we can be his hands and feet as we invite people to become disciples of Jesus so that they too can enter into the reign of God.

Published in: on December 24, 2007 at 12:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Adaptive Change vs. Technical Change

Churches constantly face a changing culture.  As the culture changes so does the church.  The church changes its form of communication, its ways of evangelism, its ways of living out the gospel, and its structures.  Notice what it does not change – teachings, sacraments, beliefs, etc.

The church not only faces a changing culture it also faces a changing environment.  Many churches were once built in a subdivision or a specific part of town and for the most part these churches reflected the location in which it was located.  However, over the years the neighborhood changes and thus the church must learn to change with the neighborhood.

Take for example The Friendship Church of Christ.[1]  The Friendship Church was born and established in a predominately white, middle class section of town.  Over a span of forty years or so the neighborhood changed to a low-income, Spanish speaking neighborhood.  As the neighborhood changed sadly the church remained a white, middle class congregation. 

Two seminary students a part of the congregation decided that they would start a Saturday morning activity and class for the low-income families.  Fliers were distributed, doors were knocked upon and invitations were given for all the children surrounding the existing church to join in an activity and Bible class for two hours every other Saturday.  This ministry flourished and grew to include a Wednesday evening activity and class for the children.

However, this influx of low-income, Spanish speaking children disrupted the ethos of the existing the church.  The existing church was comfortable with its own well-behaved children and with its traditional style of Wednesday evening.  As Wednesday evenings became disrupted several families quit attending on Wednesday nights. 

What this church is facing is the opportunity for an adaptive change.  An adaptive change is possible when the church is in constant interaction with its environment and neighborhood and is able to adapt to changing circumstances.  Thus, the Friendship Church is in a position to adapt to a changing environment, a low-income, Spanish speaking environment.  The adaptation is not easy, does not have quick-fix answers, will disrupt the current structure(s), and will most likely include frustration and conflict.  But, in order for the Friendship church to be a witness, the adaptive change must take place.

There is another method of change that can take place, however; a technical change.  The technical change will mean that the current practices, thoughts and mindsets will continue to be present.  In a technical change the environment or culture will not play into long-term change, nor will it be part of forming and shaping the church.  A technical change will mean that current structures and organization will continue to be present.

The problem with the technical change is that it does not allow for the culture, neighborhood, or environment to form and shape the church’s ministry.  A technical change means that the church will continue to use an outdated structure and thus its ability to reach its environment will be drastically hindered.

For example, if the Friendship Church continues to use a white, middle-class approach to reaching the low-income Spanish speaking neighborhood its ability to proclaim the gospel will be dysfunctional at best.

As I think of our situation here in Newmarket, Ontario we are dangerously on the brink of discovering and wanting to implement technical change.  I am seeing a clearer picture that we will continue to be a middle to high end congregation, remain worshiping with a 1960s mindset, and of course talk about and implement 1970s methods of evangelism.  There is great danger that we will not let our culture, our neighborhood, or the environment form and shape the church’s ministry.

God help us as we fight against the urge to remain the same and expect the neighborhood to come to us and adopt our church culture.  God help us and grant us the ability, desire and courage to let the culture, neighborhood and environment shape our ministry so that we can be live out the gospel of Jesus Christ.


[1] Name has been changed.

Published in: on November 20, 2007 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Going To War

We have been meeting our neighbors and I will be doing some more writing on this.  However, I just got back from a week of holidays and am trying to get caught up.  Here is my sermon I preached on Remembrance Day (or Veteran’s Day). 

Date: November 11, 2007                             Image: Lest we forget
Text: Ephesians 6:10-20
FOT: Paul tells us to put on the armor of God
FOS: To help the congregation see that we are in the middle of a war 

Today is Remembrance Day.  We wear our poppies because we remember Flander’s field.   We remember the people who died in the Great War; many who believed they died for the sake of freedom.  And so today our country pauses and pays tribute to the men and women who died for our freedom.

In the midst of today we will continue to hear a phrase spoken on the lips of many people: Lest we forget.  There is this danger that people will forget; they will forget the stories of bravery, forget the stories of life and death, forget the stories of liberation, forget the stories of sacrifice and forget the stories of destruction.  There is a real danger that our children will forget and so we hear it on the lips of many people, Lest we forget. 

War is a reality.  As long as there are governments and as long as the governments look out for themselves and for their own country there will be war.  War, they say, is absolutely essential at times in order for peace to become a reality.  For this reason George Bush, Tony Blair, Jean Chretian, Paul Martin and Stephen Harper all believe that war in the Middle East is necessary because without war against terrorism, without war against radical Islamist, peace will be unattainable.  Whether this is true or not time will tell.  What time has told us, unfortunately, is that Christians believe war is necessary for peace.

In the Civil War between the North and the South Christians on both sides of the battle sanctioned the killing of the enemy in the name of God because they believed that without the war peace would be unattainable.  In the religious wars of the Middle Ages Christians killed one another over various doctrines.  Those who were Anabaptists (believing in adult baptism) were drowned, hanged and burned at the stake in the name of God because those who killed did so believing that religious peace was only attainable with the killing of those who believed in the Anabaptist tradition.  The great crusades saw Christians take up the sword against the enemies in the name of God because they believed that peace would rule when Christians won the war.  What was true of history is true of today.  A large number of evangelical Christians sanction the fighting of war: the Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan, the war against radical Islamist and when the enemy is killed the evangelical Christians who sanction these wars praise God for the killing of the enemy.  Unfortunately what we don’t realize is that the peace of Jesus never comes riding on the tank or with the killing of the enemy.  The peace of Jesus only comes when followers of Jesus die for the sake of the world and for the enemy; just like Jesus died.

 Ephesians 6:10-20: A Call To Bear Arms

Our text this morning is a most peculiar text because it calls us to bear arms and go to war.  If you have your Bible follow along as I read Ephesians 6:10-20.  Read Ephesians 6:10-20.

Historically we have been told this passage in the book of Ephesians is based upon a Roman soldier.  Some people have said that as Paul is sitting in prison writing this letter he is watching a Roman soldier dressed in his combative uniform.  The Roman soldier would be wearing a belt and so Paul says, “Put on the belt of truth.  The Roman soldier wears a breastplate to stop the spears and swords and Paul uses this to tell us to put on the breastplate of righteousness.  Shoes, every soldier needs a set of shoes and so Paul tells us to put on the shoes of peace.  A shield, a sword, a helmet all of these are essential items for a soldier in battle.

Is Paul looking at a Roman soldier as he is writing this?  Maybe he is or maybe he is not.  Is Paul telling us to put on these war like items because this is what a Roman soldier is wearing?  Possibly, but we don’t know for sure.  In fact truth be known this is only speculation upon our part.

As we search the scriptures we do however discover in the Old Testament a very similar passage to Ephesians 6:10-20.  This passage is found in the book of Isaiah, the 59th chapter.  In Isaiah we discover that God puts on the armor and goes to war for his people.  Could we also suggest that maybe Paul, as he is looking at the Roman soldier is reminded of Isaiah 59 and therefore writes what he does, not based on the Roman soldier, but based upon Isaiah 59?

 Isaiah 59:16-19

Listen to what Isaiah 59:15b-17 says.  Read Isaiah 59:15b-17.  In this section of Isaiah we discover that there is no justice.  The oppressed are continued to be knocked down and dragged out.  The naked remain naked.  The hungry continue to go hungry while the fat and the wed fed get fatter and eat more.  The homeless remain homeless while those who have money buy homes and charge extravagant rent.  Lies are spoken on the lips of people in the courtroom and the hopeless have no one to defend them against these lies that are spoken.  Because of this the writer of Isaiah writes these words,

Therefore justice is far from us and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light and lo! There is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.  We grope like the blind along a wall, groping like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight . . . .  We all growl like bears; like doves we moan mournfully.  We wait for justice but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us (Isaiah 59:9-11). 

Following these words in Isaiah 59 we are told that God sees what it is taking place.  God sees that there is no one to give justice and no one to give liberation to those who need it and this appalled Him.  It appalled God that there was no one willing to give justice and to intervene on behalf of those who needed intervention and so he put on the breastplate of righteousness, he put on the helmet of liberation, he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing and he gave justice and liberation to those who needed justice and liberation.

 Ephesians 6:10-20 (Again)

Paul, writing in his letter called Ephesians says, “Put on the armor of God . . . put on the breastplate of righteousness . . . put on the helmet of liberation.  Paul is asking us, the church to put on the same virtues and actions that have marked God’s saving intervention in the past.  Paul is asking us, the church, to be dressed in the same garments that God dresses himself in.

Paul tells us to put on the breastplate of righteousness and so we say to ourselves that we must be righteous.  We must not lie, we must not steal, we must not commit adultery, we must obey our parents and when we do all this we say to ourselves that we have put on the breastplate of righteousness.  The problem lies, not in acting this way, but in believing that righteousness is simply not stealing, lying, committing adultery or simply obeying parents.  This is not the righteousness Paul is talking about.  Paul is talking about putting on justice.  Righteousness and justice are the same word in the Greek language.  One can easily translate righteousness but one could easily translate it also as justice.  If we read Ephesians 6:10-20 in relationship to Isaiah 59 it seems that we must translate righteousness as justice.  Paul is not simply telling us to be righteous he is telling us to put on the armor of God, which is bringing justice to those who need justice.

Paul then goes on and he tells us to put on a few more things one of them being the helmet of salvation.  We hear these words and so we say that we are wearing this helmet called salvation.  We go around and we say, “We have been saved.  With this we start to sing songs about salvation while wearing these helmets.  Again the problem lies not in saying, “We have been saved,” but in believing that wearing the helmet of salvation is simply knowing we have been saved.  Again the Greek word for salvation can also be translated as liberation.  If we translate Ephesians 6 as wearing the helmet of salvation than we all can sit here in our nice outfits and say we all are wearing the helmet of God.  But if we read Ephesians 6 in the context of Isaiah 59 it is not simply sitting here knowing we are saved it is now putting on the helmet of liberation.

In Isaiah God sees that there is no justice and that there is no liberation for those who need justice and so he puts on the armor and he begins to act to bring about justice and liberation.  Paul, I am convinced is not describing a Roman soldier he is describing for us and telling us to put on God’s armor.  Paul is asking us, the church to put on the same virtues and actions that have marked God’s saving intervention in the past.  Paul is asking us, the church, to be dressed in the same garments that God dresses himself in.  Paul is asking us, the church to act as the hands and feet of God would act.

 WWII – Liberating France & Liberating the Jewish People

Today is Remembrance Day.  We celebrate today because we want to remember what our grandparents, great grandparents, and for some of us, our parents and for guys like Avard, what we did.  We remember the battles taking place in the trenches.  We remember the bombing of various cities and the fierce fighting that people engaged in.  We remember the sacrifices that individuals gave so that the freedoms we have today can be what they are.

Today we remember France and how it was a combined effort by many different countries to liberate them from the oppressive hand of Hitler and his following.  We remember D-Day, June 6th and the fierce fighting that took place knowing that it was because of the hundreds of lives that were sacrificed France could be liberated.  The history channel will most likely play Saving Private Ryan because it tells through images what the war was like and it helps us remember what people went through.

Today we remember the liberation of the Jewish people.  The hundreds of Jewish families: mothers and fathers and children hoarded together and placed on the trains only to be taken to the concentration camps where they were slaughtered without mercy. We remember how many different people fought in the number of ways they did, like the town called Le Chambron, who housed Jewish refugees escaping from the certain death they would have faced if they were apprehended.  Today we remember the Oskar Schindler’s.  Oskar Schindler was not an exceptional man.  He was selfish and greedy, always looking for a chance to gain more in his pursuit of pleasure and the good life.  And yet in every life a moment comes when we have a chance to be more than what we have been.

Oskar Schindler, as depicted in the movie Schindler’s List is standing at a window contemplating a move that could very well cost him his fortune.  Schindler is deciding to buy back his workers from the Nazi concentration camp where they have been taken so they can continue to work in his factory, but mainly so that they can live.  Schindler strikes a deal with Goeth, the Nazi leader to purchase the people.  Today we remember the Oskar Schindler’s who spent all their wealth on purchasing 1100 Jewish people from the certain death of a Nazi concentration camp.

Today we were our poppies, we remember the sacrifices, the battles, the lost lives, the destruction.  Today we remember the freedom purchased by the blood of unknown soldiers, the freedom given by the sweat and tears of the young men.  And we say to one another, “Lest We Forget.  Lest we forget the sacrifice that was given so we can have freedom.

 Lest We Forget What The Church Is About

Today, however, I am asking you church to say the words, “Lest We Forget” in a different context.  Lest we forget that God calls us to bear arms – not to kill the enemy but to give justice and liberation to those who need justice and liberation.  Lest we forget that God calls the church not to build a building and for all of us to sit inside it singing songs of salvation and telling each other that we are saved but rather calls us to be his body to the broken and hurting world outside these doors. 

 Lest we forget that God calls us to give justice to the widow who is being mistreated and abused because they can’t take care of themselves.  Lest we forget that God calls us to give liberation to the spiritually broken, the physically disabled and the mentally challenged.  Lest we forget that we have a neighborhood beside us that needs to be liberated from the snare of the devil.  Lest we forget that we have children who walk past our property everyday that need to be liberated from the drugs that are prevalent in their lives.  Lest we forget that we are to put on the armor of God and to go to war.  Lest we forget we do this because Jesus died for you, for me, and for all the world. 

Published in: on November 13, 2007 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment