Friday, July 31, 2009

CHURCH OF THE URBAN VILLAGE ( RETURN TO PARISH MINISTRY )



Luke 14:21-23

21 `Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'

22 "`Sir,' the servant said, `what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'

23 "Then the master told his servant, `Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.

NIV


Sunday School curriculum in the 60's and 70's often portrayed the Church as a building with a steeple. Today, if you open the doors of the building, you may not find too many people. Cities are filled with many archaic church buildings that serve a small handful of parishioners.


At the heart of the struggle is a tension between the local church functioning as a parish ministry, or as a regional center serving a larger number of mobile people. A parish church focuses primarily on the demographic needs expressed in the area or neighborhood that it is part of. A regional center also focuses on a demographic group that can travel to the building where the church meets.


As cities grew outward and the money went to the suburbs and bedroom communities, so too the church traveled. There are many, well-structured and finely managed suburban and regional churches. They are usually ineffective at reaching the poorest and least mobile in their communities.


To those who would go into the urban core to plant new churches, they will often find higher real estate costs, zoning limitations and a lower income scale of attendees.


So how does an urban church find suitable location(s) from which to minister?


Some favor developing home cell groups and a rented hall for corporate gatherings. While this approach often sounds like the early church model of meeting from house-to-house, it falls short on the communal end of the definition. For the most part, urban Christians in Canada do not visit daily in each other’s homes. Most do not sell their possessions and give the money to the church to meet the needs of the poor.


Many urban dwellers live in smaller apartments and homes that do not comfortably facilitate a group of 12 meeting for Bible study, prayer, food and fellowship. And if the attendees have children, there is a struggle to know how to integrate them into cell life. It often means providing another location, or babysitting, or not attending. Add to that the hectic, changing schedule and you have a weak foundation to build home cell commitments on.


Some are able to develop a strong base of ministry through cells while others do not. The key to finding the right place of ministry is finding meaningful ways for the church to meet.


The limitation for those who buy or build urban properties is seeing a sizable portion of their budgets go to maintaining mortgages and building costs rather than into ministries.


It is the task of the local church to go into the community and seek out those who are not seated at the King’s Table. Then, they are to be invited in to the feast that is being provided. Jesus parable of The Great Feast demonstrates that we are to call the least mobile and most disadvantaged to His Table.


Finding place is all about access. Once you have a place to meet, the real work is compelling people to come in.


Around the world city planners are focused on creating urban villages. In the midst of thickly populated cities, neighborhoods are being designed and retro-fitted to provide everything you need within a few blocks of walking. Money has been moving back downtown with the gentrification of old neighborhoods. Somehow, real estate for churches is often overlooked by planners. Entrepreneurial church planters need to find more ways to integrate and influence these newer communities.


In these instances, the least mobile have chosen to live without cars and if they go to church, they will walk or take a short ride on public transit.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

DOWN FROM THE BANDWAGON

1 Cor 13:1-3

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

NIV


There are many who make a lot of noise in their attempts to be culturally relevant communicators to the lost. They may even demonstrate supernatural insights and approach their target group with academic fervor and statistical propping. But, it’s all lost without true compassion.


Some create wonderful programs and outreach events to ‘do love’ to the lost, but it always has the same bottom line. They may not remember the food voucher, the drama team or the colorful church brochure, but they can tell if you really care about them or not.


What are loving responses and actions that we can take to care for people in our cities? All Spirit-led social engagement and development work needs to be centered in love.


Our own need for God’s Love and Acceptance give us humble motivation to reach out to others.


So long as we judge ourselves by human comparisons, there is plenty of room for self-satisfaction, and self-satisfaction kills faith, for faith is born of the sense of need. But when we compare ourselves with Jesus Christ, and through Him, with God, we are humbled to the dust, and then faith is born, for there is nothing left to do but to trust to the mercy of God.[1]


Before we can put God’s Love into action, we must first be recipients of the Love that He expresses. To the woman at the well, He does not offer a free bottle of water. He does not mount a stage and perform a culturally relevant media event.


Instead Jesus asks the outcast for a drink. He asks the poor one to become a giver across the barriers of ethnicity, social standing and enmity. He invites her to show her love by meeting one of His needs. Often we approach people in a one-sided way. We do our evangelism and acts of kindness as if it’s all up to us. We forget that their response is vital. They must exercise faith in some way to receive the message and the messenger.


Jesus gives a plethora of socially relevant actions in Matthew 25. If we can respond to human need and suffering with practical expressions of love, Jesus personally feels loved by us.


Jesus was the fullness of what it means to be holy. And yet, the most, despised sinners were dignified in His presence. He was called ‘the friend of sinners’. What do they call us? We need a fresh understanding of Holiness that will help us to be authentic in the lives of the Saved and the Lost.


James 1:27

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

NIV





[1] ... William Barclay (1907-1978), The Gospel of John (Vol.1)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

REVERSING THE EFFECTS OF BABEL

Acts 2:4-12
4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?
11(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
NIV

In Acts 2 the first urban church was born – 120 like-minded believers gathered to pray and wait. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they began to speak in languages they had not yet learned. They had come to seek God face-to-face in worship and prayer.

While Pentecostals have often focused on the ecstatic nature of the event, we have sometimes missed the missiological implications. The empowerment of the Spirit immediately produced cross-cultural missionaries. They spoke in languages that were foreign to them. In one fell swoop, the Spirit began reversing the effects left over from the Tower of Babel. The barriers of language and culture were broken down allowing for contagious communication of the Gospel.

It was from this first urban church in Jerusalem that the Gospel spread outward to the outer rim of the world.

Azusa St. Mission was another such urban church. A group of disenfranchised believers who were hungry for God met in an old barn in a rough part of town. And what a town! It was the multi-racial urban center called Los Angeles.

The interracial aspects of the movement in Los Angeles were a striking exception to the racism and segregation of the times. The phenomenon of Blacks and Whites worshipping together under a Black pastor seemed incredible to many observers. The ethos of the meeting was captured by Frank Bartleman, a White Azusa participant, when he said of Azusa Street, "The colour line was washed away in the blood." Indeed, people from all the ethnic minorities of Los Angeles, a city that Bartleman called "the American Jerusalem," were represented at Azusa Street.[1]

Again, the inequity and separation caused by Babel was reversing as the Spirit empowered the saints. The Tower of Babel represents the best of human endeavors apart from God. This arrogance leads to a communication breakdown and isolation between peoples. Today’s cities demonstrate the same human spirit that leads to chaos. God’s People placed in the city can learn to speak a new language they had no previous power to speak.

The history of North American rescue missions is one of middle and upper class Christians being moved with compassion for the poorest and the most broken. We need to plant urban churches that have the heart of a Mission. It’s the same Mission Heart of Jesus that causes Him to come down where we are to bring the Good News. He lived among us. So too, we must go live in the heart of our cities.

As we cross racial, economic and geographic lines to enter our cities, we must value the Pentecostal empowerment that the Holy Spirit gives.





[1] THE ORIGINS OF THE PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENT by Vinson Synan, Ph.D.

Monday, July 20, 2009

JESUS IN MY DARKNESS

As a young boy, I remember awaking in the night feeling alone and afraid. The darkness was oppressive and I was gripped by my feelings. I made my way through the dark to the familiarity of my parents’ door. I crawled in bed next to their sleeping forms.


In that place, I was warm and secure. My fears subsided and I knew everything was going to be okay. It was a place of faith, knowing that their presence was enough.


Jesus sees the child in us gripped by the darkness and fear of not being good enough, failing and being judged. At to that fearful child he offers hope.


Matthew 11:

28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."


He is aware of our fear and uncertainty. He sees the burden we carry and offers to be the presence that calms our fears and lightens our load. He says to the frightened child, “Come here.”


Jesus spoke these words to a people carrying a heavy burden of religion. They were oppressed by the frustration of trying to live up to an impossible standard. It is only in coming to Him that we find rest for our soul. The effect of Christ’s attitude on us empowers an easier obedience.


Friday, July 17, 2009

HEARING WITHOUT LISTENING

Matthew 11:

16 "To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
17 " 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.' 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."


Here is a picture of a generation who are unresponsive to God’s messengers. If good news is given, the crowd shows no joy. If bad news is given, they show no affect. If the Old Testament shows us anything about relationship with God, it is the range of emotional response that God has towards people. He gets angry, threatens with judgment, appeals as a lover and nurtures like a mother.


How do we get to a state of being untouched by God’s message to us? Jesus criticized the crowd for this indifference.


Add to that, they found fault with John the Baptist. He lived a holy lifestyle and they accused him of having a demon. Jesus had a freer lifestyle than John so they accused him of being over-indulgent and associating with people of ill-repute.


The emotional nature of God continues in Jesus’ speech.


Matthew 11:

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you."


When I hear Jesus speak this way or read the Old Testament when God speaks harshly, I face an emotional choice. I can explain it away and remain untouched by the truth of the speaker. Or, I can feel the emotions and determine what I need to face about myself.


These listeners needed to face up to the indifference and unwillingness to change their hearts in response to God’s call for mercy, justice and humility.


It’s easy to check out when a heavy message is being given. It’s easy to hear the tune and not dance or mourn. It’s easier to not register emotionally than it is to face a personal crisis. It’s simpler to change nothing and keep faith to a minimum.


At this point, the hearers feel the heavy weight of their religion. They lived under generations of expectation and a failure to perform correctly. That is the burden of all religion.



Wednesday, July 15, 2009

COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT FOLLOWING THE LEADER

The question of integrity in leadership is valid. Those who lead are carefully scrutinized and evaluated by a public who have grown weary of disappointments.


When questions arose from his cousin John (the Baptist), Jesus sent him an answer. The crowd who watched John's disciples seeking answers may have developed some questions of their own about Jesus. He answered the questions that had not been verbalized.


Matthew 11:

7 As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: "' I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' 11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears let him hear.


Jesus answers the questions about the integrity of John the Baptist. He is God’s appointed man to prepare people for Jesus’ coming. He did not find fault with him or his calling. In speaking favorably, Jesus validates that John’s questions are not inappropriate for a man of God.


John was a prophet and did not have a political agenda. If he had come to be a king, he would have dressed appropriately. He was a man of strong integrity, not easily swayed by the wind of public opinion or societal pressure.


In this incident of John’s disciples coming to bring questions, there is an awkward reality that people constantly deal with in religion.


Are we on the right path? Are our leaders’ people of integrity that can be trusted? Should we believe the teachings of this one or that one? Should we avoid committing to a cause in case we make a mistake?



Monday, July 13, 2009

THE BAPTIST HAS A QUESTION


First century Judaism had a very detailed expectation of God’s requirements to be a holy person.

The followers of John the Baptist were intent on living holy lives as members of the Essenes community. John spoke of Jesus in reverential terms and identified that this was the Messiah walking among them.

But Jesus was a stretch to their way of thinking about holy men. Even John began to wonder if he had been wrong about Jesus.

Matthew 11:
1 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
4 Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."


Jesus appealed to John’s knowledge of the expectations of Messiah. The promised one would bring merciful justice to the nation. Yes, there are rumors circulating and condemnations brewing with the religious authorities, but tell John he will blessed if he keeps trusting through the uncertainties.

John’s disciples received Jesus’ answer and headed back to the prison to report to their leader.

Most in the crowd that day were also aware of John the Baptist, a holy man if ever there was one in their midst. What would they think about his uncertainty towards Jesus? Was Jesus really a holy man or not?

If Jesus were indeed a holy man, what were they to make of John’s questions? Was he like others of the Jewish faith who wondered aloud about the godliness of Jesus ministry and teaching?

The question of integrity in leadership is valid. Those who lead are carefully scrutinized and evaluated by a public who have grown weary of disappointments.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

ARE YOU A HOLY MAN?

This week I had lunch with a Muslim ‘imam’ (the Islamic equivalent of a pastor but with distinctions). I learned that you don’t call him an ‘iman’. That is a girl’s name.


I sit on a regional committee for the Ontario Multi-faith Council[i] . Part of my role as the chaplaincy coordinator with my church district is being a liaison to Christian chaplains in Western Ontario. The committee was gathered to interview a possible new chaplain for the Sarnia and Chatham jails. The committee is represented by several religious groups.


After our meeting we headed out for lunch being mindful of the dietary requirements of the Muslims in our midst. I shared the table with another Egyptian Muslim, a Jamaican Anglican, a Bavarian Lutheran and a Baptist. We ate a feast at Windsor Palace Restaurant[ii], a place of incredible halal food.


Beyond the small talk, we had some rich theological discussions. Ahmed (the imam) is a graduate of Al-Azhar University[iii] in Cairo, the premiere learning center for Muslim clergy.


Imam Ahmed had questions about how Christians can claim that Jesus was God when he was clearly a human being. He recognizes that Jesus was a great prophet.


I also learned that Muslims consider the imam to be a holy man. Imam Ahmed asked why so many of the key figures of the Old Testament were guilty of terrible sins. He cited Noah getting drunk, Lot getting drunk and having sex with his daughters, David with Bathsheba and so on...


Imam Ahmed expects that the prophets of God and holy men should be above reproach.


My Bavarian Lutheran friend responded well by pointing out Christians view people as being sinners in need of God’s mercy. It is this inherent fault that requires that we turn to God through Jesus to find forgiveness and to be changed. (I’m likely grossly paraphrasing what he said, but you get the idea).


Since that lunch I have thought about the challenge that adherents of any religion face when it comes to living up to their professed ideals. I know that Christians face a very real crisis when they preach one thing and find themselves living less than they should. I suspect it haunts most of humanity’s religions.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

UNSEEN HANDS WITH OVEN MITTS



Last night was interesting at New Song Church.

I got a call at 10:30 saying that church was on fire. Then a 2nd call confirmed that it was not the church, but an abandoned bakery next door. Steve Green and I arrived to a sea of flashing lights, tenants and spectators on the sidewalks.

The old bakery did burn down and today the wrecking crew were in to knock down anything unstable.

Our tenants all found accommodation with friends and family for the night and are now clear to return to their places.

Tomorrow morning our gas will be turned back on heralding the return of hot water and a hot meal for Friday supper.

We did have some damages and have contacted our insurance company. It’s a $2500 deductible (ouch!) but thankfully no injuries.

  • · Siding on north face of roof melted off
  • · 2 broken windows
  • · 1 damaged door and 3 damaged door knobs
  • · Basement flooded from firemen spraying the building

If there’s anything else, the adjuster will let us know.

I am grateful that no-one was hurt. There was a mild breeze from the East that blew the smoke away from entering our building. East winds are rare. Unseen hands with oven mitts were on the building and its tenants.


Our firefighters, police, EMS and the fire chaplain were great!



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