Living Outside the Bubble Pt. 1

Bubbles are fun.  I recently watched a video clip of a woman who entertains people all over the world with bubbles.  She does amazing things with various size tools that help form massive and then tiny bubbles, fill them with smoke, split them, build with them and utterly mesmerize her audience with her beautiful artistry set to compelling music.  Her finale ends with putting herself inside a bubble only to pop it from inside with an expressive gesture of freedom.  It really was mesmerizing and incredible.

It made me think of the church and something that I have found to be unhealthy and dangerous to the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many good church going Christians live in what I and others call the Christian Bubble.  The bubble is the place where many Christians prefer to live surrounded by like-minded, caring people, consistent and predictable worship services, programs for the kids and some for the adults, outreach projects now and again and an all-around comfortableness.  Everyone by and large thinks the same, sends their kids to the same school, expect the same things, patronize one another’s’ places of business… you get the picture.  Everything is kept “in house” as close as possible. It feels safe and predictable.

Continue reading Living Outside the Bubble Pt. 1

Ministry of Place Pt. 2: Living in “Place”

This is Part 2 of reflections on the Ministry of Place or more aptly, a Theology of Place. Starting a new church community is not an easy task. While some denominations and church planting organizations begin with a model they all ascent to, there is no fail safe method. We discovered that when we planted previously. As I alluded to in the last post on this topic, we can get so caught up in our methodology that we miss the mission of the church. We can so easily miss loving and serving the community we’re in and, in turn, arrogantly think ourselves superior expecting people from the neighbourhood and from hither and yon to come to our “programs”. I don’t know how often I’ve heard, “Well, they should just come to church.” To some people reading this, you’re thinking, what’s wrong with that?

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#Ferguson: A Gospel Issue

This is an incredible piece that I need to save for posterity, read and reread, that people need to come back to this site to read and reread and be reminded again and again of the living Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
-Langston Hughes

It was in my college Liberation Theology class back in 1990 that I first discovered different ‘Gospel’ perspectives – perspectives from those steeped in death and persecution, suffering and scarcity.  We spent evenings at my professors house reading and discussing Gustavo Gutiérrez, Juan Luis Segundo, Leonardo Boff, Jon Sobrino, and a host of African and Asian liberation theologians.  It may have been the first ‘aha’ moment for me, the first realization that the Gospel wasn’t just about getting saved and voting pro-life.

A next significant time came during the year I lived with Tom in the hood in Chicago.  Though I grew up on Long Island with great diversity, I was a suburban kid, mostly protected from the issues Tom grew up with.  Tom was black, and he showed me and told…

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Ministry of Place Pt. 1

Before moving to Niagara Falls, Ontario my wife and I considered and pondered and prayed whether we were being called back into church planting. We were driven to go deep within ourselves, our passions and overall concern for the church.  Something unsettling, that had been lingering for quite some time, came to the surface.  Both my wife and I realized that we hurt that many many churches had lost a “sense of place” and some perhaps never had it to begin with.

What do I mean by a “Sense of Place”?

Continue reading Ministry of Place Pt. 1

Living the Kingdom

I think that Christians can fall into two ruts in their understanding of the kingdom of God.  First, it can become easy to take God’s kingdom goodness for granted and forget the integral  part we play in it. Second, I think we only understand bits and pieces of what it means to be part of God’s kingdom plan.  In both situations we will find ourselves less intentional or even aware of kingdom work.  It seems that in many Christian circles our part in the kingdom of God boils down to “saving souls” and our acts of service are only for the sake of that purpose.

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Why Plant New Churches?

church_plantingThe answer to this question is actually quite simple yet the discussion within our context makes it complex. I take my lead from Dr. Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York who has written a brilliant article on this very question. Following are excerpts from his article, Why Plant Churches? (2002).

There are numerous responses to the question worth considering.

  1. “We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we start new ones.”
  2. “Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. A new church will just take people from churches already hurting and will weaken everyone.”
  3. “Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the existing ones that are just keeping their noses above water. We need better churches not more churches.”

These statements seem like common sense to many people, but they rest on several wrong assumptions. The error of this thinking will become clear if we ask, “Why is church planting so crucially important?”

Continue reading Why Plant New Churches?

The Dual Life and the Mission of God

As a pastor in a long established church (109 years), I find a tension that makes me weary and drives me to question at times, why I’m here. Don’t get me wrong, my congregation are wonderful loving, warm, salt-of-the-earth people who sincerely desire to worship and serve God. We have gotten more involved in our community through a non-profit organization that works with the poor and homeless, we host a SERVE project and take on some big projects to help those in need. We are a church trying to partner in the mission of God.

I like that. That’s how I believe scripture teaches the Gospel is to be lived and realized, through devoted followers of Christ who represent Jesus in their communities and wherever they find themselves. But here’s the great tension of which I speak; The Dual Life.

Continue reading The Dual Life and the Mission of God

Speaking from the Heart about Newtown

With permission I am posting an article written by a friend of mine, Lloyd Rang, that expresses the depths of my heart when I hear the statements made by people like Mike Huckabee and James Dobson.

Speaking from the Heart about Newtown

by Lloyd Rang on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 8:24pm ·

Right after the Newtown massacre, Christian pundits rushed to make statements about the tragedy.

Mike Huckabee, a Republican former governor and TV personality said this:

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools … should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and radio show host said this:

“I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.  I think that’s what’s going on.”

And Bryan Fisher, a radio show host and leader of the American Family Association said this: “I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.”

Each of these men believe the murder of 20 six year old children and six teachers was a judgment from God on America for, among other things, not ordering public schools to start the day in prayer.

They don’t really blame the madman who pulled the trigger. No, they say, the real culprits are liberal legislators standing in the way of public school prayer. And, of course, God — who allowed these kids to die to make a political point.

These messages have been shared with me by many friends on Facebook, often with a hearty “Amen” attached to them.  But read their words again.

Now, imagine a few things with me:

First, imagine you are standing with the parents of Dylan Hockley, a first-grader killed in Newtown.  Or imagine that he was YOUR child — a beautiful boy born just six years ago, who was just learning how to read and who loved Legos and stuffed animals and who was brutally slaughtered along with other little kids in his class.  Now, imagine James Dobson approaching you, and saying what he said on the radio to your face.

Second, imagine you are living in present-day England — among most secular places in the Western world. It does not have school prayer.  It also does not have school shootings.  Now, imagine reading Mike Huckabee’s quote.  Does it make sense to you?   Better yet, imagine yourself in 14th century England — at that time one of the most Christian places on earth — as the Black Death rolls through.  Does it make any more sense now?

Third — and this is tough, I realize — put yourself in God’s place. Read Bryan Fisher’s words again as he talks about God’s motives. Note how he implies God is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent.  Note how certain he is of the link between a lack of government-mandated religious observance and God’s wrath. Is this what we believe?  Should we really be saying “amen” to all that?

In the days since the shooting, I have been less vexed by the evil of the shooter than I am by the lack of empathy and the theology of vengeance I hear from my fellow Christians. Because while I expect evil in the world, I do not expect to see Christians celebrating it.  I am horrified when I hear us gleefully rubbing our hands together and saying: “See? God is finally punishing secular society for turning his back on him!”

We are like Jonah, eager for judgment. But instead of Nineveh we see Newtown. And we project our human motives and lust for punishment onto God. We cherry-pick which things he’s upset about, too. Huckabee and the others don’t see Newtown as a punishment for too many guns, or too much poverty — but because God is not honoured enough by the government, and because children in all schools are not forced to bend the knee.

When we do this, we are not showing empathy or love. It is the kind of thing we can only say if we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of a grieving, heartbroken, shattered mom or dad.  And when non-Christians hear such things, they have every right to ask: “Why would I want to serve a God like that?  Why would I want to join his church?  Why would I associate with such angry, vengeful people?”

I would hope that if you or I met a parent of one of these children today, we would wrap our arms around them, and weep with them.

I hope we would resolve to do everything within our power to build a better, safer world.

That we would cherish our own children all the more.  I think we would.

And yet I suspect we would also join them in their questioning of God and their anger.

Because what else is there?

When a loved one loses a fight to cancer and dies too young, we ask “why?”

When the holocaust raged across Europe with its unimaginable evil, people asked “why?”  When wars come, and accidents and ruin arrive we ask “why, why, why, oh God?”

So when a tragedy like this strikes, it’s natural to ask “why.”

I don’t know about you, but i have been asking that question a lot lately. These tragedies test my faith. They sicken my soul.  I cannot explain them.  Not only don’t I understand the heart of God, I don’t even know my own. As scripture tells us “The human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

So when I hear fellow Christians like these three  — so certain about God’s motives they feel confident enough to take to the airwaves about it — only two things are possible: Either they are prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah sent from God to speak his heart to us, or they are speaking from their own deceitful, wicked human heart.

And when I imagine them, standing before a parent of Newtown, I know exactly whose heart is doing the talking.

Article by Lloyd Rang — Appearing in the January 19, 2013 issue of “Christian Courier” 

Ponderings on God's inertia