Friday, September 30, 2005

Another great post from Tim Bailey

Go to Tim's blog and read this.

Do it now. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ministries of Mercy

Click on the book cover to get ordering information from

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My home church, Philpott, is going to use this book as a basis for a church-wide study called "40 Days of Mercy". I have decided that, as I read each chapter, I'm going to journal a few thoughts here on Sojourn.

So, the introduction....

Titled "Who Is My Neighbour", we begin with an extensive definition of poverty and need as well as a definition of various demographic groups considered poor and/or in need in today's society (homeless, working poor, children of poverty, youthful poor, new ethnics, blue-collar poor, gray america, the sick and prisoners). Each group is analyzed briefly and arguments are made as to how difficult it is for these groups to either a) rise above their circumstance and/or b) live comfortably in a North American society that has seen many market forces (technology, globalization, etc.)eliminate opportunities whereby these groups could make a comfortable living.

The author moves from this to the conclusion that our society is at a crossroads that only the Church can bridge, and the argument makes a lot of sense. Here are some excerpts from Keller's conclusions in this chapter that particularly resonated with me.
  • ...there are many people in need, their needs are deepening, and the needy are a diverse group. All this is more than most evangelicals are seeing.

This is very true. It's so easy to become calloused looking at those sitting on street corners and dismiss them and many evangelicals are in affluent churches/neighborhoods, so it's hard to appreciate the losses being suffered by what was once the "working" class.

  • North American evangelicals once perceived the ministry of mercy as an optional kind of work. But times are changing, demanding us to respond

I'm not entirely sold on the idea that ministry of mercy was considered optional. I do think the church has to decrease its global missions focus and invest more money and resources in local mercy missions.

  • Just the explosion of the elderly population alone could spell a breakdown of the present welfare system. But add the possibility of an AIDS holocaust, the impoverishing of the working class and the growth of low-income immigrants and female single-parent homes and we have a virtual certainty that current government programs will be completely inadequate. No (social institution) will escape the impact of heavy new social problems.

This is an American book, but Canada will also experience much of the same problems over the next 20 years.

  • Regardless of our political views, it is indisputable that millions of people who once looked to the government will now need service and aid from churches and other agencies. The church will be forced by demographics to see what the Bible has always said. Love cannot be only expressed through talk, but through word AND deed (1 John 3:17) (emphasis mine).

Totally agree. Churches (especially those in inner-city areas) and their members will need to be prepared to open their doors, hearts, wallets and schedules to needs that will only increase in the coming years.

And now, the crux of the argument. Get comfy, this will take a minute (emphases mine):

When accomplishing this task, Francis Schaeffer said, Christians may be, at times, "cobelligerents" with the Left or the Right, but never allies. "If there is social injustice, say there is social injustice. If we need order, say we need order....But do not align yourself as though you are in either of these camps: You are an ally of neither. The church of Jesus Christ is different, totally different."

The ideology of the Left believes big government and social reform will solve social ills, while the Right believes big business and economic growth will do it. The Left expects a citizen to be held legally accountable for the use of his wealth, but totally autonomous in other areas, such as sexual morality. The Right expects a citizen to be held legally accountable in areas of personal morality, but totally autonomous in the use of wealth. The North American "idol" - radical individualism - lies beneath both ideologies. A Christian sees either "solution" as fundamentally humanistic and simplistic.

The causes of our worsening social problems are far more complex than either the secularists of the Right or Left understand. We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities! We have seen there is great social injustice - racial prejudice, greed, avarice - by those with the greatest wealth in the country (and, sadly, within the evagelical church itself). At the same time, there is a general breakdown of order - of the family and the morals of the nation. There is more premarital sex (and, thus, there are more unwed mothers), more divorce, child neglect and abuse, more crime. Neither a simple redistribution of wealth nor simple economic growth and prosperity can mend broken families; nor can they turn low-skilled mothers into engineers or technicians.

Only the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ, and the millions of "mini-churches" (Christian homes) throughout the country can attack the roots of social problems. Only the church can minister to the whole person. Only the gospel understands that sin has ruined us both individually and socially. We cannot be viewed individualistically (as the capitalists do) or collectively (as the communists do) but as related to God. Only Christians, armed with the Word and Spirit, planning and working to spread the kingdom and righteousness of Christ, can transform a nation as well as a neighbourhood as well as a broken heart.

I so TOTALLY love this passage. We, as a society, can be so bloody selfish. Mom and Dad both need to work full-time to afford the $350,000 house, two cars and all the toys. So what if the kids spend their day at a daycare? Hubby isn't getting what he wants out of the marriage, so he goes and gets a little on the side. Things are too stressful, so Mom spends all day every Saturday on the golf course instead of spending time doing family activities. We have become so lax in modelling and teaching our children family values and simple respect and then try to hide behind bluster and arrogance when things go wrong at school or home or work.

The reason? Simple. SIN. The sin of self-centredness. A successful marriage is one where the husband and wife each give up some of their personal needs/wants to the betterment of the relationship. A successful family is not one that is always laughing and joking around, but one that models respect for one another based on deep bonds of love that can only come from investing our time, energy and attention in one another. A successful church is built on a God-focus that leads them to want to love and serve one another and their community at large. We seek God's leadership in our moral, ethical, financial and spiritual stewardship. We desire to model Jesus' earthly example of humility and self-sacrifice and we never stop reaching for more of our heavenly Father. If we want to successfully evangelize our community (and I've said this before), we need to meet them on their terms and serve their needs. This ability comes through conversation and fellowship with those around us, NOT by sitting on numerous committees within the walls of a building.

Dear God, I pray you will use this 40 Days of Mercy to change me, transform me into a servant seeking to serve my community and, through that service, glorify Your Name. Amen.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Here's another interesting devotional

I don't quite know how to take this. This strikes me as highly postmodern/emergent, but I think that this is where the church has to get in order to reach the much more cynical/doubtful folks in today's world. Seems to fit with something Pernell wrote to me a while back about how one must take the journey before reaching the destination. Anyways, please do read it and share your thoughts without fear:

Dana’s Point
by John Fischer (for The Purpose Driven Life)

I have established periodic contact with a graduate from a university I visited a couple years ago in Minnesota. Her name is Dana, and she is a bright, articulate African-American woman who went to college on a music scholarship but is multi-talented in ways that I hope will put her somewhere in the public eye as an influential leader.

In an email recently, she told me of her experience attending a “church without walls” in Los Angeles – a new model for church that relies primarily on small groups meeting in various locations around the city. It’s a model uniquely suitable to the Purpose Driven Life message in that Rick Warren’s book has been read and experienced primarily in small groups as opposed to being read privately or taught strictly from the pulpit. (A current article in New Yorker magazine points out that Ashley Smith and fugitive Brian Nichols were, in essence, a small group, as she read and they grappled with the realities of Chapter 33 while he held her captive in her apartment.)

Dana tells of a guy who has been coming to their small group for about 4 months. He’s a regular, reliable part of the group, and in her words, “[his] joy is in full swing when he is serving other people.” She goes on and on about him in her email, purposely holding the surprise until the end: he isn’t a believer. “He is in the process of weighing what he believes and he is worried that he will not, as he puts it, ‘land where we have landed.’” And yet he continues to come and even contributes.

Our old model of church would not allow for something like this to take place. The unbeliever would be too suspect, and he would feel too out of place to want to come back. But in a small group, a person like this can be accepted and allowed to wrestle with his or her own process (go back to Ashley and Brian if you want another example). As Dana says, “I am just catching on. True Christ community is where there are believers and non-believers coexisting, serving, loving.”

And why not? Every believer was a non-believer once. Do we wait until a person is a professing Christian to accept and care for them? Does love have a start and stop button? Is friendship conditional upon belief?

Dana concludes that she is experiencing a different part of faith, “not always just believing God for something I want, but believing that my God, The Living God, is big enough to finish what He has started concerning my friend. And how wonderful it is for me, and the rest of my small group community, to be able to REALLY say, no matter where you ‘land’ we are your friends.”

And isn’t it worth reflecting on the fact that this person who hasn’t “landed” yet, is a vital, contributing part of the whole?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"Restless Churches"

I have been reading this book, by Reginald Bibby, a sociologist/pastor from Alberta (click on the post title to see book info on It is a very detailed investigation into what I call Canada's "State of the Religious Nation". I will be pulling more from this book to share with readers as I finish it, but I wanted to share this passage, which I think is highly valid in today's increasingly insular and skeptical age:

It may well be that churches have to be healthy in order to look outward-much like a person has to be personally healthy, physically and emotionally, before he or she can turn outward to help others. Clerly, healthy churches have positive things to offer to the people with whom they come into contact.

However, I think that caution needs to be used in assuming that congregational health measured by five or eight or twelve criteria will inevitably result in focused ministry to outsiders. Programs like NCD (National Church Development), if they help to build healthy congregations, are to be commended and used.

But, on the surface, the frequent claims that healthy churches will become growing churches comes precariously close to another "magic potion". Jeff Berrie points out that the survey is grounded in Mark 4:28-29, where Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a partnership between man, who scatters the seed, and God, who somehow causes it to grow to maturity. He adds, "We have a responsibility in growing the church, and so does God". What makes me nervous is when he adds, "Our responsibility is to make sure the church is healthy. God's responsibility is to then grow the church".

Does church health all by itself produce growth in the form of outreach to people requiring ministry? Is it solely up to God? Or does God call healthy churches to go out and "grow the church"? I'm inclined to think the latter. In fact, I have no doubt about it.

This is all a preamble to the payoff:

If so, what's needed in Canada today is not merely healthy churches. That takes us back to the parable about drill bits and holes and to means-end inversion. So what if churches are healthy and people still aren't receiving the ministry they require? The drill bits might be great but the companies will still be floundering?

What's needed so badly today is a commitment on the part of churches - which, perhaps like the rest of us, are experiencing varying degrees of health - to do what they can by moving beyond ministries that are turned inward, and reaching out to Canadians who need ministry. Preoccupation with church health per se can result in narcissistic mirror-gazing at a time when God seems to be calling churches to get out of the dressing room and get on the stage.

This resonated so strongly with me on so many levels. I have recently felt a strong calling to reach out to the community around my church, and I am a great admirer of the ability of small church communities like the FRWY to coordinate fairly large-scale efforts on a shoestring with the goal of meeting their community. This is something I think churches need to be doing. It is critical, however, and Bibby mentions this too, that there be an end goal of evangelization always in mind. However, in today's overly defensive society, the effort must be made to reach out in a non-confrontational fashion. This starts with, I believe, formulating relationships and addressing physical and emotional needs, leading to deeper spiritual discussions.

It is also important that churches continue to look after themselves internally, maintaining spiritual health, but I think a better balance needs to be struck. This is why I am so thrilled with some of the great things happening at Philpott. I really feel a sense that we are getting ready to really step out into the downtown core and begin building relationships with some of the folks in the community. This is also an effort that we are starting in conjunction with other downtown churches and that makes it doubly exciting.

Thank you, God, for all that you have done and will do in not only my heart and spirit, but within my church and our city.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Please be in prayer for all those struggling from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Also, here is a devotional that speaks volumes (at least, to me) about where God is in a mess like this:

Acts of God; Tears of God

Hard to think of anything else right now but to feel for the people in the southern United States whose homes and virtual lives lie under feet of water, mud and rubble. My neighbor was out on her porch late last night talking about how she couldn't stop watching CNN. She knows friends and relatives in or near some of the flooded areas and there's no way to get through to them. I'm sure that is a very common dilemma right now. It's hard to pull yourself away because it is so hard to imagine this happening to anybody, much less someone you know. It's moments like this when we feel so frail and helpless as human beings. We are victims of forces way beyond our control.

In legal terms disasters like this fall under the category: “Acts of God.” Doesn't bode too well for God's reputation, does it? Is it that God doesn't have anything better to do than devastate the lives of hundreds of thousands of people? To some it may seem like that. We call natural disasters “Acts of God” because there is no other way to explain them. I would prefer to believe God is in charge of even things like this, and accept the inconsistencies that come with that belief, rather than live in a world even God can't control, or worse, where there is no reason for our existence and no one there to hear our silent screams.

One thing we need to remember is that this is the same God who let the world and His human creation go bad, and then turned around and sacrificed His own Son in a brutal death in order to save it. Will we ever understand that? Probably not. But as a result of God's unique divine/human incarnation, He understands us. He is neither distant nor untouched by our human predicament. Believe me, He's got His arms around these flood zones right now eager to help and comfort. And just as God suffered over Jesus, His heart is breaking over these losses. Whatever you feel, you can be sure God feels also, and then some. The acts of God include the tears of God. And just as He will ultimately redeem the human race, He will also turn our lives and devastations into good somehow. Life will go on and God will still be God.

Yesterday the governor of Louisiana asked for everyone to spend the day in prayer. That's where we turn when things like this happen. To have no one there to pray to would be even more devastating.

"[Prayer] would be the best thing to calm our spirits and thank our Lord that we are survivors," said Governor Kathleen Blanco. "Slowly, gradually, we will recover; we will survive; we will rebuild.”