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Archive for August, 2008

In 1966 John Lennon made some infamous remarks about Christianity that resulted in mass protests in the U.S. Bible Belt. He said, “Christianity will vanish and shrink”. As I read books and blogs about how institutional forms of Christianity have often drawn us away from what God intended church to be, I’m thinking John might’ve been onto something. The latest thing I’ve read is something recommended to me by Paul Wilkinson, called “So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore.” You can read the whole thing for free at jakecolsen.com. It is a beautiful story. It shows what is wrong with institutional Christianity without bashing it or the people in it. Personally, that’s where I want to be at. I don’t know if it’s possible to reform what we call “church” from within, or if the entire system has to be scrapped. But my main desire as I keep moving forward with Jesus is to honour Him in everything. So I’m not making any hasty decisions about church right now. I’m looking to my Lord to show me what He wants me to do. And I know that He’s all about relationships, so I want that to be my focus too.

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What you may not know about me is that I’ve got a bit of a book buying addiction. I love to read and find sites like amazon.ca and chapters.indigo.ca pretty hard to resist. Recently I ordered several new books, among them Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola & George Barna, and Frank Viola’s latest release, Reimagining Church. I’m about 3/4 of the way through Pagan Christianity and plan to read Reimagining Church next.

I don’t see how anybody can read Pagan Christianity and not be profoundly shaken by it. Or maybe it just happens to fit in exceptionally well with the questions I’ve been struggling with of late. For example, why is it that “church” is like a performance, carefully scripted with certain roles filled solely by “qualified” individuals, while the rest of us are passive spectators? Why are there no meaningful opportunities to grow spiritually, to be mentored, to grow into ministry? These are questions I’ve asked myself and God as I’ve come to see the vast difference between how “church” is done in the west and how early followers of Christ lived.

What really bothers me is that the whole way of “doing church” is impoverishing the Body of Christ. What a crime that the gifts of most of the body are underdeveloped and underutilized. One of the pastors at my church remarked that people who come to church have a “consumer” mentality, they expect certain things – but I would say, why are you perpetuating that system? No doubt there are lots of people in church who are content being pew-warmers, but what about those of us who want to genuinely take our place in the body as Christ intended us to?

My whole idea of what it means to be a follower of the Lord Jesus is shifting. I’m reimagining life.

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I’ve been thinking a lot in the past couple of days about the concept of “testimony” in the Christian life. There was a time, early on, when I thought in order to “give my testimony” about God’s work in my life, I needed to be through the valley, so to speak – delivered from most of my problems. Now that I’ve been at this for a while, I’m realizing that maybe this isn’t the best way to think about things. For starters, it’s a very self-centred way of looking at life. From God’s perspective, I don’t think He’s nearly as interested in fixing everything that’s wrong with me as I am. He’s more into ‘process’ than ‘destination’. And it skews how we see God if we’re always working on ourselves – it’s too easy to slip into the “cosmic vending machine” approach, as if what this is all about (the big picture) is me improving, getting healed, growing…these things are good, but I think they come as a by-product of intimacy with God. When we’re really looking at Jesus, not ourselves, we’ll start to hear what He’s saying and focus on what matters to Him. How can I go into the world and love people on His behalf if I’m constantly thinking about myself? 

So…”testimony”. I guess everyone has a different story, but mine is a lot like that of Saul of Tarsus, aka the Apostle Paul. (no, I’m not getting a big head) It’s interesting to read what he says about his conversion. It goes something like this: I was (fill in the blank – in his case, a persecutor of Christians and a blasphemer). This happened (Jesus appeared). Now I follow Jesus and try to lead others to Him – “to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified.” It’s that 180 degree turn aspect that I can relate to. Never did Paul say, “and I’m totally healed of every physical, emotional and mental malady – and I have tons of money and live in a castle.” In fact he said that because of the surpassing greatness of his revelations, God gave him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of satan, to torment him – to keep him humble, focused on God, testifying about what God had done, not about his revelations. “When I am weak, then I am strong”, he said. 

In my own life, I was lost and bound in sin, not thinking my way of life was wrong at all. Then Jesus stepped in. I came to see the truth about my lost, sinful condition and I repented and believed. That is my testimony! The fact that I am now a Christian, a way of life I once scorned and laughed about. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief. That is the real miracle, the real testimony – I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see. My testimony is not that I have it all together and am totally set free from emotional baggage, dysfunctional thoughts, physical pains. But Jesus took this sinful woman and showed her that she is loved and valued. That’s why I plan to spend the rest of my life “washing His feet with my tears” by loving others.

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It’s easy to say all sorts of charitable sounding things about “having a heart for the lost” or “reaching out to broken people with God’s love”, but when it comes right down to the actual doing, we often fall short – I know I do. So instead of trying to talk ourselves into being soul-winners, having another sermon/pep rally on the subject, why don’t we ask God to give us His heart for people? I’ve been a Christian for quite a while now, but I still find my flesh is mainly concerned with its own comfort. It’s dying a slow death! God can do on the inside of us what we can never accomplish through our own efforts. So I’m gonna start praying for God to change my heart so that His priorities are my priorities in life. Could be an interesting experiment! Think on it for a minute. Would we be flying through our day at a manic pace if we had God’s priorities? Or would we be mainly focused on spending time with the people we encounter? I think one of the most radical things you can do in this day & age is to give someone your full attention and listen to them! God help me. I can’t get over the number of people who are surprised when you treat them with kindness. It’s so simple, but you have to be intentional about it. 

Anyway, God is the gardener of our hearts. I pray that whatever season your heart is in, you’ll be willing to let Him plant His priorities in you, so that you can bear greater and more excellent fruit. And I pray the same for myself.

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Matthew 18:12-14

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

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