Millennials, the Church and the mission of Family

I have seen a great load of studies, articles and critiques lately on Millennials  and the Church. Usually the article highlights a study that points to the reality that those between the ages of 35 and 13, who grew up in church ministries (kids programs, youth groups) are leaving churches and many leaving faith. Along with those studies are the articles that highlight how the modern-day evangelical church service with the latest music, hip-est preachers, and most gadgety of technologies are having little effect on attracting or re-attracting Millennials.

As an urban church planter/pastor in a University city, I share the angst. I don’t like the stark truth of many of these studies or the ‘church is failing’ tone that many of the articles have. Frankly, many of the offered solutions seem incredibly weak and just as gimmicky as the last wave of church growth offerings.

The church God used my family to plant is LAME! That’s not the name of the church it’s a descriptive. I preach long and directly out of the Bible, usually study through whole books. Our church has a directed liturgy which includes times of confession, quiet, a public time for questions and comments,  and weekly communion. Our worship is not flashy. Usually just one guitar, sometimes we have a keyboard or a second guitar. We sing theologically rich songs, many of the old hymns, and we actually ask our congregation to sing louder so we can hear each other sing gospel truths over each other. On top of this we meet at a 90plus year old cathedral style church that still has a load of stain glass windows. If you were to open up the ‘attractional church model dictionary’ and look under ‘lame’ you would probably read PAXnorth. You would think that our whole set up would act as Millennial-repellant. Why then has so many broken or disenfranchised believers and unbelieving skeptics between the ages of 35 to 18 identified us as their church? Why are they willing to make commitments such as going through six weeks of doctrinal studies before they can join a small group and six more weeks of study before you can become a member?

The missing mission of family in the church

One thing that I think we are grabbing hold of, something I understand that people in our culture, like millennials, are craving  because of its absence is family. Genuine family. In a narcissistic, consumer society one of the first victims of the ‘me-first’ life has been all that family was designed to bring. The help, the bearing of burden, the laughing together, the fighting together, the crying together, the loving and sharing together.

Family-C.jpgI want to suggest that maybe the church needs to begin to figure out to what degree we live out genuine Christ centred family as a means to grounding our missiology to the disenfranchised. The disenfranchised includes the next generation who will tire of whatever gimmicks the present generation comes up with to hold their attention.

Start with your theology of family
The family is God’s idea. Oh boy, I almost can hear the groans from the culture I live in everyday. I know it’s hard to hear those words if you believe that the family is just some social construct that happened because of sexual urges that produces either a wanted or unwanted inconvenience of a long-term relationship or a kid. Sadly the church reflects, by its divorce rate and broken families, a similar belief about family. I want you to know that for all the baggage that we have tied to the family there is a true, deep, lasting and needed beauty to family as God designed it. I don’t have the space here to lay out the theology of family (family as God designed it) but let me give you the keynote version:
Genesis 1 – God makes creation. He exclaims,”Oh you are good in your design, function and purpose” Psalm 19
Genesis 2– God makes man and woman. He declares words of righteousness over them, “You are very good.” The design, function, and purpose of humanity unfolds with the relationship that they enjoy with the Triune God. Made in the image of God to reflect the image of God. So they are given authority, creative work, and deep love for God and each other. This all reflects the glory of the God who made them.  But there is more….

Even though Genesis 3 happens, sin does not thwart the purposes of God. He still intends to use creation, marriage, family and a people together to show His glory.

Move to your missiology of family
   They were to fill and subdue the earth with family who were to image God. This expression of family under covenant love with God and each other is a great mystery of God. Ephesians 5 breaks wide the great mystery. The marriage of husband and wife as the powerful illustration of God’s commitment to pursue, woo, die for, serve and love a bride. Our marriages are supposed to be little expressions that speak loud the sacrificial love of Christ to our kids, a face to face reality of the Gospel lived out. Our families are supposed to be larger expressions of God’s grace at work that speak loud this sacrifical love to our neighbours.

Then Jesus, like he always does, takes it a step further with this statement, “Who is my mother or my brothers or sisters?! He who does my Father’s will in heaven.”  Matthew 12:48-50
 Our churches are supposed to be the billboards that identify to our longing city full of millennials, and others, that we have been so affected by the covenant love of God, conferred to us only by the death of His Son, that we live out the overflowing principles of Christ-like love in family. “And they shall know you by your love”-  is how Jesus sums this up.
The missiology of the Church is the family  of God overflowing in genuine Christ filled relationship into our cities for the purposes of God.

I think we are on to something here

It’s been 9 years of seeing our little church minister to many disenfranchised singles and young post grads, starving artists, streetlevel and a few families but I think we are starting to get it? Last year a group of roommates decided to start having a Sunday soup every second week. A place to invite those who are on the peripheral into the experience of family. So as they talk about God, their faith, their church family together. These ‘outsiders’ might get a taste, a glimpse of God’s purposes and love for His Bride. So that they might feel invited in. A young family mentioned to me last month that they have started asking at least one family over every second Thursday night. Purposely they are choosing those who might be perceived as ‘hard to hang out with’ or in some form of relationship crisis. In this way they will go through their family time of sharing food together, praying together (cause that’s what they do as a family), cleaning up together asking questions, offering help, having kids play with each other- so that they might demonstrate honestly the areas they are struggling and offer the solution of Christ-saturated lives that is causing them to mature and grow.

Church want to reach Millennials? Let me offer an OLD but missing illustration of God’s great grace to us. Make a shift back, as a means to go ahead, to a family that pours over in seriously following Christ and inviting others into  the mess that is your family. Churches STOP spending more money on your presentation and preach the ancient truths of God’s overflowing love into His people so much so that you will make every effort to be a genuine covenant family in Christ so that your homes would be invaded with those who others can’t stand to be around, or are disconnected from authentic love. Then offer them the love of Christ.

Thanks for reading,

BRS

Blogging Calvin wk 4: The Knowledge of Man and Free Will prt2

The Knowledge of Man and Free Will prt 2 – week 4
(my blog subtitles  are  bold, quotes of Calvin in italics, applications are mine)

What better describes you when it comes to approaching rules or boundaries?

Do you feel like rules and boundaries are what allow for us to live and work in relative harmony, peace and prosperity? “The rules are there for our own good. If each of us would put in a reasonable effort of pulling our weight in following them, this world would be a whole lot fairer and, overall, happier place.” – Do I hear an AMEN?!
OR
Do you tend to see boundaries rules as obstacles to be overcome, ignored or just straight -up broken? “Rules, rules, we don’t need no stinking rules! You show me your rule and I’ll show you how far beyond it I can live. If we had less controls, rules and boundaries people would be a whole lot happier.” – Can I get a YEEHAW?!

Jesus tells a parable including these two types of personalities within the same family structure. There was son who didn’t want to, couldn’t and wouldn’t live under the rules of his father’s house any longer. The only way he believed he could succeed was to get what his father had promised to give him and get as far away as he could from the whole family. He had a brother who thrived under these same rules. He was steady, solid, capable and worked hard in his father’s successful business. He was ready to take over the business and see it soar to new heights whenever his dad was ready to promote him. He was just waiting for the day.prodigalpic

Which one was right? Which one finally found the success they craved?
I’m guessing you know the story of the prodigal son and the elder brother. There has been countless books written on this incredible story Jesus taught. The lessons seem endless from this parable. Quite often I have heard the concluding application, in church settings, from church pulpits boil down to… don’t be like the prodigal son… CHOOSE to come home now.
The emphasis of the appeal is most often on my ‘choosing’, my ‘free will’, my ability to rightly assess what the state of my life is in and to make the best logical choice for my best life now.
Wonder what Calvin would think of such an ending appeal that I have heard so often in our North American pulpits?

How free is Man?
We have seen that the lordship of sin, having overcome the first man, made the whole of humanity its slaves. It remains for us to discover whether, being now in bondage, we are devoid of all freedom and liberty, or whether, if some part survives, how far it extends.
To discover the truth of this matter Calvin sets out to show the reader “the goal to which our argument is directed,” he points out two dangers as we need to consider in understanding how free man is:
“When men is destitute of all goodness, he may often adopt an air of indifference; and because he is told that he is powerless to do good, he will not care to try, as if it were no business of his.” Like a prodigal son who cares nothing for the design, the rule, the boundaries.
“Conversely, it is impossible to concede, anything to him without filling him with false confidence and excessive boldness, and without robbing God of a potion of his honour. ” Like the elder brother believing that we deserve grace. The Father owe’s us.

Calvin’s concern here is to arouse man to the desperateness of their situation and to cause them to take great diligence in seeking, understanding, knowing and pressing for a solution. In this way he hopes to be used for the purpose of “awakening man from his carelessness and sloth…. demonstrating his utter poverty.”

Now as our own ‘goodness’ protests against this approach of calling humanity utterly bankrupt to, by free will, change the most important part of our nature, he wishes to be fair thinking; “no one should deprive man of what is truly his… no one should credit him for less than he has.”
Therefore in order to make a fair assessment we need to be able to identify what is honestly man’s “false and empty boasting” (elder brother self-righteousness). In this way what remains will be the clearer view of what has been given by the good grace of God to the nature of man. The result should be a humble thankfulness and a desire to steward the gifts of God in the creating of us with a happy obedience. Failing this, the response will be man “consigned to endless shame through ingratitude.” This describes the great need of humanity to recognize and lean into the grace of God. Here we will begin to understand the extend of the ability of our human ‘free will’.
Calvin takes us back to when man and woman were considered perfect. That brief time in human history when every  man and woman was complete and declared very good. At the pinnacle of man’s “highest honour he could obtain, Scripture says no more to his credit than that he was created ‘in God’s image’ (Gen. 1:27; James 3:9). By this it means that man was not rich by virtue of his own gifts, but that his blessedness lay in his partnership with God. So what now remains in humanities condition? When man held unstained the image of God in every part of his created being he failed to acknowledge him with everlasting thanksgiving and delight in the obedience of knowing him.” 
This shunning of the great grace of God at the pinnacles of man’s goodness leaves us with the greatest means left to us in glorifying God here: “Now the highest response of the pride filled human heart is to “glorify him by avowing his poverty.”

To ignore this great poverty in our ability to do anything that might bring about our own saving but to listen to those who “urge us to live in own strength and power”, our own goodness is to offer merely “smoke”; A hope in something empty and fleeting. So Augustine is right when he so often repeats the memorable saying that ‘those who defend free will wreck it, instead of making it secure.”
There are many who believe that “this whole controversy as not only useless but highly dangerous…. to see man’s power eclipsed and obliterated, and God’s power built up in him instead….. instead… it is one of the foundations of religion.”

Philosophic theories regarding mind and will
Calvin sketches quickly, so that he might abandon, Plato’s division of the make up of mankind. It is based on an appeal to reason as understood and received through the senses of sight, hearing, taste, scent or touch. In this model “reason does its work by judging all these things.” This is then ruled by intellect “which contemplates with calm and steady gaze everything which reason turns over in its mind.” It is through this grid then that Plato points out our cognitive abilities, our own power, make choices/decisions. “These powers are reason, intellect and imagination”. What then falls in line in Plato’s reasoning, is those powers that guide our desires and eventually out of which we form our appetites and lead us to “seize the things imagination sets before us.”

Don’t be fooled by the philosophy follow the function
Calvin examines Plato’s model of human reasoning that leads to the ‘free will of man’ and man’s choices and rejects it’s source of knowing as deeply faulty. This he goes along with Aristotle’s model of the foundations for man’s free will or choosing; “for whom the soul contains one part which is not-self rational, but which can be guided by reason while the other part actually partakes of reason.” In these basic break-downs, as well as that of the philosopher Cicero, Calvin points out there is a basic two-part make up, however the end results in decision-making for man. These two basic parts of the soul, as seen through the philosophers, Calvin points out could be plainly labeled “a contemplative intellect which stops short of action, being concerned only to observe… intelligence; the other kind of intellect is practical, once it has apprehended good or evil,it implies the will to follow or to shun it… and so in the same way the philosophers divide desire into appetite and will…
Within this basic model the philosophers, “still fancy that man retains the gift of reason, by which he is able to lead a well-ordered life.” 

The basis of this understanding fails, in Calvin’s thinking through scripture. He will argue that the problem in this understanding is that “human reason is corrupt”. Therefore it is impossible for both the reason, intellect, imagination and will that follows is at its heart broken and must be informed by something outside itself in order to be transformed on the inside.

Foundational Christian perspective on mind and will
“Our soul consists of two parts: intellect and will. Intellect seeks to discriminate between the many things which come to our notice and to decide what should be approved and what condemned. The roll of will is to choose and follow whatever mind judges to be good and conversely to reject and shun what it reproves” Much then relies on the state of our intellect or out of which source our intellect functions.
“Now in due course we will see just how reliable the mind is in giving proper direction to the will”

Free will: the problem stated
“The philosophers agree in believe that reason is lodged in the human soul, which is like a lamp to guide the intellect, and like a queen to rule the will.They imagine that reason to be so full of divine light that it is able to distinguish between good and evil and has the power to command. Sense on the other hand is crude and ignorant, unable to rise to the study of superior and exceptional things, confining itself to the things of the earth.” So goes the argument for man’s goodness and the free will to choose what is good or best that by natural tendency man’s “desire… if it chooses to obey reason and does not allow itself to be mastered by sense, has a natural tendency to seek out whatever is good and honourable, and is thus able to keep to a straight path. If, however, it becomes a slave to sense, it is corrupt and defiled by it, and will indulge in mischief of every kind.”

This leads to the conclusion that man is able to reason himself to live right and in happiness, so long as he keeps himself as noble and pure as he can and is able to stay surrendered to the clarity of his reason not simply to give himself over to the control of his senses. If reason, couched in man’s nobility drives then man can expect a favourable outcome. If sense is in the driver’s seat then man will doom himself to a life consumed with “lower” passions that are ever-changing and never satisfied. The will, in this thinking, is the free agent that can choose who is driving.

Practice has a way of debunking theory however, which is our actual experience (Romans 7).
Free will that is said to be able to choose what is good over what is evil our ‘will’ as the driver of our own intentions and our Creator at best in the back seat or at worst on the side of the road. This thinking makes light of our broken sinfulness, our need for a Saviour, and places God at the mercy of our free will.

“To sum up, then, this is the philosophers position. Reason, which resides in the human mind, is sufficient to guide us aright and to show us the right things to do. Will, being inferior to reason, is tempted and beguiled by sense to do what is evil; but insofar as it has freedom of choice, it cannot be prevented from wholly following reason.”

  I agree with Calvin, this falls short. More later.

Thanks for reading,

BRS

Share: from a good friend, blogger, author, coach and church planter in Toronto

IF YOU ARE CHURCH PLANTING or THINKING OF CHURCH PLANTING you should follow DASH HOUSE!

When people ask me how the church plant is going, I never know how to answer. There’s good news to report, of course, but it’s never all good. Mostly it feels ordinary, with regular setbacks, with alternating bouts of encouragement and despair. John Starke captured this in a recent series of tweets: What should be…

via The Truth About Church Planting — DashHouse

Blogging Calvin Wk 3 The Knowledge of Man and Free Will prt1

Blind side – a direction in which a person has a poor view, typically of approaching danger.

   I have to confess. It’s been pointed out to me, and I know it’s right, I have blind sides. I don’t see myself clearly. I don’t often or easily recognize my own flaws. My negative personality traits, habits of dealing with others and the narrow filter through which I see the world are many and often remain unacknowledged.
  On top of my tendency to ignore or deflect these blind sides I tend to go a step further, towards impending danger. I reinforce my blind sides by listening to, reading, or sharing life primarily with those who I believe agree with me. I’ve heard this called the silo effect.  Where we close ourselves off from those who might be of a different mindset or opinion than us and surround ourselves in the ‘safety’ of those who are of same opinion. Albert Mohler this week in “the Briefing” series refers to this as living in our own bubbles. He points out that it is a growing concern for the political climate of U.S. culture as #therealdonaldtrump takes over the office of President.
     Calvin begins the hard work of wrestling through how we see ourself, our will, our hearts, our places of decision-making. He points out a macrocosm level blind side of humanity -our sin nature – and how this blinds even what we might consider our free will. This second chapter takes work. Takes time. The take away is worth the work though; We get to walk away with a clearer view not just of our blind side but of the source of our blind side.
MAN’S PERSPECTIVE ON MAN
“Know thyself” – is one of the oldest and most famous of greek philosophy maxims. It has been given multiple meanings depending on who might be using it.
  We all have blind sides. I don’t know too many people who take great hope or comfort in this being pointed out to them. Calvin points out the flaw in humanities attempt at knowing ourselves based on the source out of which we are searching, ‘our own self’.

“the fate of certain philosophers who, while exhorting man to know himself, at the same time encouraged him to reflect on his worth and excellence, and taught him to consider only what might boost his self-confidence and puff him up with pride”  

Calvin concedes that this is a pathway to further blindness. We need a truth that doesn’t begin with ourselves but outside of ourselves.

 “Now God’s truth requires us to look for something different when we think about ourselves- namely, a knowledge which banishes our arrogant belief in our own strength and which removes every excuse for vain glory, leading us instead to humility.”
“everyone acting as his own advocate, is open to the false idea that man is competent, in and of himself, to lead a good and happy life.” 
 
“Nevertheless, any reaching which urges man to trust in himself is merely a deception-so great a deception indeed that whoever belies it is destroyed by it.” 
 
17f72a42-87d4-4c15-9911-c36912429c4b“What, after all, do we gain by vainly trusting in our ability to plan, order, undertake and implement our cherished schemes, when we lack both sound understanding and power to accomplish anything at all? These things, I maintain, we lack from the outset, yet we stubbornly insist on going our own way until we come to utter ruin. This is bound to happen to all who believe that they can do things in their own strength. Anyone who needs teachers like this who uselessly urge us to dwell on our own righteousness and power will achieve nothing by way of self-knowledge, but will be blinded by the most deadly ignorance.”
 
GODS PERSPECTIVE ON MAN
 “So although God’s truth accords with universal opinion that self-knowledge is the second part of wisdom, here is much disagreement as to how we attain that knowledge.”
   It is out of what source we reach to find the truth of who we are that makes the difference. A false source of self-knowing and we will live a blind lie of ourselves. A true source of knowing self and we will live out a clear-eyed understanding of both ourselves and the world around us.
Calvin takes us directly to our own and usual source of knowing self – SELF. He reflects the teaching of scripture that our natural self is deeply flawed, blinded and broken.  He uses two simple means of demonstrating our inability to know self clearly:
Consider, first, the end for which man was created and endowed by God with exceptional gifts; this thought should encourage him to contemplate the life to come and should make him want to serve God.”
“In the second place, we ask man to judge his true wealth, or farther his penury; once that is clear to him, he will be utterly dismayed, reduced as it were to nothing. The first approach aims to teach man his duty and his role, the second to show him how capable he is of doing what he ought.” 
 
And so goes the first section of this chapter on man’s knowledge of himself.

Our Original Creation: Made in the image of God
Calvin’s thinking here is that we cannot blame God for our current condition, warped and trapped by a nature that is diseased with sin. This is not how He first made us.
 “The fact is that Adam, the father of us all, was created in the image and likeness of God. As such, it is clear that he was made to share in God’s wisdom, righteousness, power, holiness and truth.”  Calvin points out that Paul had such a high understanding of man’s original design in God and that he pointed believers back  to this reality  as a result of redemption in Christ (Ephesians 4:23-24; Colossians 3:9-10).
“Thus man, having been created in God’s image, was endowed with gifts and superior powers which testified to his Creators’s extraordinary generosity toward him”
In this God made man with all the advantageous, set him up for success. Man was created to glorify God- here in is man’s greatest joy and purpose realized- then God gave man all the gifts and powers to accomplish this purpose.  But the original, the proto -type, the forefather of all humanity….
” through his ingratitude, he quickly made himself unworthy  of all the benefits which God had given him.”
“there came upon him the dreadful plagues of ignorance, weakness, filth, vanity and unrighteousness.These not only beset him personally, but also burdened his whole posterity. For all Adam’s descendants are like him; they take their origin from him, and are born with the taint of his defilement”
So that you might argue the first man was given every advantage and the will to walk in the advantage for the delight of his own soul and for the glory of God, opts instead to take advantage and grasp for delight in his own glory. To the extent that Adam and Eve were given this choice is to the extent that humanity’s free will was exercised for all who would follow.
 
“All of us, therefore, who spring from impure seed, are born sullied by sin’s infection; even before we emerge into the light we are defiled in the sight of God. For ‘who can make clean what comes from the unclean’, as the book of Job says (Job 14:4)?” 
 
Adam’s original choice propels the rest of humanity
“Just as though from a rotten root only rotten branches grow, which then convey their rottenness to all the twigs and leave  they produce, so Adam’s children were tainted in their father, and now bring defilement upon their successors.” 
 
Adam’s original choice defined
 “We therefore affirm that original sin is a hereditary corruption and perversion of our nature, which in the first place renders us guilty of God’s wrath, and in the second produces in us those works which Scripture calls ‘works of the flesh’ (Gal 5:19) 
You might feel that this is not fair or that something was stolen from you before you had any say in it. Such as it is in genealogy and more so in the truest part of ourselves, the very nature of our soul.
“There are two points which we must examine separately. First, that we are so corrupt in every part of our nature that, on account of our corruption, we are justly condemned in God’s sight…. but because through his (Adam’s) transgression we are all caught up in his ruin, he is said to have made us all liable. 
“In truth the sin which comes from him (Adam) dwells within us, and for it punishment is due…. the apostle also bears witness that ‘death came upon all men, because all men have sinned (Romans 5:12).
  I know these are hard words for our western ears. Typically we tend to feel we are not that bad, we get to choose everything we want (including our gender), and we deflect or are deeply offended by the possibilities of stark truth. But if you do the hard work of thinking it through, letting it settle, continuing to be open to where this might be going you might find ‘that the faithful wounds of a friend avails much’ (Proverbs 27:6).
The second point we must consider is that this perversion of our nature is never passive in us, but continually produces new fruit- the works of the flesh to which we referred earlier. In the same way a fiery furnace always spews out flames and sparks, or a spring gives forth water…. For our nature is not only void and destitute of all good, it is so fertile in every kind of evil that it can never be idle…. namely that all parts of man, from the mind to the will, from the soul to the flesh, are defiled and filled with just such lust. Or to put it more briefly, man is, in himself, nothing but lust.” 
 
Be clear who we are blaming. God is not guilty of our sin.
 “We contend that man is naturally perverse and corrupt, but that his perversion is not in him by nature. It is not, we affirm, by nature, in order to demonstrate that it is an additional trait acquired by man, rather than a quality belonging to the substance implanted in him from the beginning. “
 
“Now how could God be angry with the noblest of his creatures, given that the least of the works which he has made are pleasing to him? The answer is that he is angry not with his own work but with its corruption.”
Let me leave that right here.
More next week.
Thanks for reading;
 BRS

Spirituality. It isn’t what you think.

How do you measure if you’re spiritual?
Being spiritual can mean a lot of different things.

spiritual-e1440634043386For those who follow an eastern religious mindset it could be the making of many different sacrifices or offerings to a myriad of gods or spirits. It could be following a religious regime (rules) so that we might either put ourselves in a place of peace and happiness, or so that we might gain merit to enter some form of nirvana or earn a better standing in this life or next.  In this understanding spirituality equals how we have gained peace or hope through our religious merit or habits.

In a North American mindset we often equal spirituality with the degree of self-care  and personal comfort we achieve. “Yes I’m a spiritual person. I take personal time to meditate, reflect, do yoga or have ‘me time’ each week.” We tend to measure our spiritual health by how well we feel, how much space in our lives we have to take care of ourselves or how much control we have been able to gain on our lives. Spirituality equals how good, peaceful or comfortable our lives have become because of our habits of self-awareness.

God doesn’t measure Spirituality the way we do.
“Spirituality” in the Bible doesn’t equate to what we do for merit before God through self-sacrifice or how peaceful we can make our lives through self comfort.

  • Spirituality in the Bible always includes a work  initiated by Holy Spirit, with evidences of Holy Spirit’s work. Romans 8 would be a good place to think on this.
  • Spirituality in the Bible is always measured in actuals. A contrite heart, a broken spirit, a need for the great grace of the God we cannot reach, a desperate soul and delighting simply in God’s grace (evidenced by how we treat other broken people in humanity)- these are the things God will not despise.
  • Spirituality in the Bible is understood by our actual proximity to God, not a worked up or perceived by others proximity. It is so often those who appear to be spiritual to others or who have worked themselves into a position of spirituality, in the Bible, who God says, “I do not know you.”

How do christians measure if they are spiritual?
In our modern-day North American churches we can get caught up in believing we are spiritual people in ways that exclude true spiritual life by living as a ‘instagram, pod-cast, free-range Christian”

Instagram Christian – our deepest engagement with the Word of God, His voice to us, is via instagram one-liner scripture quotes. #like #yesJesus #makeitsoforme #thismakesmehappier

Pod-cast Believer– We gain a head knowledge of Bible by listening to our favourite pod-cast preachers so that we know the arguments, the winsome applications, the best known teachers/speakers/preachers of modern-day church but know little of wrestling the truth of Christ out within  the broken, stumbling,  life of the face to face church community. #letmeunpackthisforyou  #landtheplane #bringit #preacheriskillingit

Free-range Saint – We float in and out of Church with no real engagement in the difficult, messy realities of being a part of the local imperfect body. We come in once or maybe twice a month. Try to look content during the 30 minutes of singing. Check our phones during the 40 minutes of preaching. Say as little as possible. Keep it light. Get out as soon as we can (to get to more important stuff in our schedule). Treating church like a hair cut. Has some sort of cosmetic effect on how spiritual we can appear but not something we are particularly engaged or threatened by. Unless of course we judge it to be a horrible or distasteful event. Then we’ll float to some other place next time we feel the need to go.

Spirituality or Spiritual Life?
  I am struck by how we measure our ‘spirituality’ and by how God measures our spiritual life. Where and what we do to appear spiritual and how Christ calls us to deep engagement in His Body, the Church, so that we are confronted with authentic living of a Spirit-filled life. Struck by the testimony of the first century church -true spirituality will not leave us comfortable but will cause us to abandon the pipe dream of what treasure we believe we can gain on earth and fight to delight with all we have in the person and  work of Jesus. For He is the only means to truly be made spiritual.

Prompted in thinking on this by studies in Acts (see especially chpts7-9)

Thanks for reading

BRS

Blogging Calvin wk2: The Knowledge of God prt2

The Knowledge of God – Janaury week 2
(my blog subtitles  are  bold, quotes of Calvin in italics, applications are mine)

God Revealed
  I think there is little more embarrassing mistakes then when I have made an appointment with someone then have stood them up. Just didn’t show up. Sure I might have had a good reason, like a legit emergency or a busy week of meetings where I let one slip through the cracks of my schedule. In the times I have done this, it doesn’t matter, every excuse, even the legit ones, seem lame or insincere. Close on the heals of this embarrassment is when meeting someone I should know but have completely blanked on who or how or what I know about them. It is usually followed by me awkwardly asking them, “We met before, right?  Would you remind me of your name, please? Please forgive me?”
What if this kind of un-awareness is the state of the entire human race as it relates to God?  John Calvin continues the truth of why and how we should know God but sadly are embarrassingly lacking.

5d393eea19c538faea54c1ef05cbdb6eGod showed up

“Because God desires that the chief end of the blessed life should be to know his name, he reveals himself clearly to everyone, so that he should not seem to want to deny some men entry into happiness.”

The countless proofs of the creation we both are and live in are a witness to us. A witness to the qualities of the God who creates. Yet, many of humanities greatest heroes or philosophical minds have tried to make the un-god-ing of God by building their reasoning around high intellectual arguments. Even those who have been placed in religious authority have often sought to wrestle creations authority from the Creator, the very knowing of God, by placing themselves in authority over God.  Calvin quips , “ where then does that leave the rest of us, given that the leaders, whose task it is to enlighten the rest of us, have gone so badly wrong”

This could be a sad, sad state for humanity except for the obvious hope we have, God has not hidden Himself. God shows up.
“They are visible even to the dullest and most ignorant, so that the eye, once opened, is constrained to witness these things.”

“I have never considered that there might be a God”- said no one ever.

Here in the remainder of chapter one of Calvin’s Institutes, The Knowledge of God, we are shown how:

God can be seen
God has revealed himself in various works of providence. Common grace poured out on all of humanity demonstrates God’s benevolence but His specific guidance and judgements on evil throughout humanity’s history reveals his righteousness. At the same time God’s long-suffering, leaving sin unpunished for the present time in order to bring about repentance, is a means of His pursuit of humanity. Revealing His mercy, “until their obstinacy yields to his benevolence!”
    Here in is revealed to the watching world, the might and wisdom of the God who is able to crush and destroy the “cruelty of the wicked, which humanly speaking seemed unassailable.”  In such a way that those who were made low and broken are raised up, helped, find hope, are restored and the defenceless triumph. Do you see the hope here? The need for both true justice and restorative hope lies in the heart of all of us. But who can complete it? Who is able to know where, when and how justice can be meted out justly? Who is able to bring a restorative fullness to the deeply affected hurt and broken?
Take note. Look up. This is the ability of a the righteous, almighty, full of wisdom and mercy God!

God has been made accessible
All of this revealing of God makes Him  accessible to our hearts.
“For God is made known to us in his works so that, when we feel their force within us and receive their benefits, such knowledge should touch us more keenly than if we conceived of God as some airy being of whom we had no real experience.”
 “For we perceive that the signs which God gives both of his goodness and severity are partial and only half complete: they are samples, as it were,  of what will be fully and finally revealed.”
  It is the revealing of God that makes him accessible, able to be known. He can be known in His quality and character which has a direct effect on the heart of those who will know Him. Entrusting yourself to Him includes seeing these specific works of grace, both His righteous judgement and His incredible mercy at work not simply in our world but in our very lives.

God is affirmed
Sadly though, man remains blind to the message and authority of God’s works. Although we have these powerful proofs set before us in daily graces and historical righteousness their light remains dull to our unseeing spiritual eyes. Even here God does not leave us in our blindness, His Word comes as “a necessary addition to his works”. 

“so too He provides a surer remedy to aid the weakness of those to whom He chooses to disclose Himself in salvation. For in order to instruct them He uses more than mute creatures: He opens His holy lips, not just to declare that they should worship some kind of god, but to reveal Himself as the God who must be worshipped. Not only does He teach them to acknowledge one God, He also presents Himself to them as the one beyond whom they must not go.”
If it is true, as I heard John Piper say once, “It is not simply a slogan or a sentence that  changes us but whole paragraphs” this is one worth soaking in regarding the weight of God’s Holy Word.

Scripture Convinces us of God
The truth of God is made accessible through Scripture. Scripture is not determined as the authoritative way of knowing God only to the degree that the Church has decreed it. That would mean that the church, Catholic or otherwise, would stand in authority, as the authority, over the authority of the Word of God. Calvin makes an argument for why this cannot be true. Scripture is authenticated by Holy Spirit who is the inner witness to its authority and by which all secondary proofs of its authority are made known.

Secondary proofs of authority are simply that, secondary. Calvin places the authority or affirmation of the church in this secondary proof and only to the degree that the Church submits itself first of all to the truth of scriptures. Secondary proofs are made true to the degree that they both come out of God’s Word and are affirmed by Holy Spirit’s witness in God’s Word.
What Calvin highlights as secondary proofs of the authority of God’s Word in the revealing of the person of God are:

  • wisdom and truth
    “Further encouragement is given us when we reflect that it is the splendour of its content rather than the elegance of its words which fills us with such wonder. It was indeed no accident of providence that God handed down to us the lofty secrets of his heavenly kingdom in mean, unvarnished words. Otherwise, had they been filled and enriched by the arts of eloquence, the wicked would have sneered that that was where scriptures’s entire power lay…. that is why the apostle rightly argues that the faith of the Corinthians ‘rested not on human wisdom, but on the power of God’, since his preaching among them ‘had not been in persuasive words of mans’ wisdom, but was approved by the manifestations of the Spirit and of power’ (I Cor. 2:4-5) Truth is exempt from all doubt: it needs no other helps, but is perfectly sufficient to sustain itself.”
    – here in lies the proof of scriptures authority to the common man’s heart. Its truths can be grasped, applied and by which we are transformed. Scripture is profoundly simple in its transforming message of God’s person and redemptive purposes.
  • the history of the church
     “Moreover the consent of the church is not without importance. It is no small thing that, although many centuries have passed since the Scriptures were made known, there has been continuing agreement regarding the obedience which is owed them.”
    “They
     [believers] did not hesitate to die bravely and even cheerfully for the truth they had received. And how shall we not receive it with sure and invincible conviction, since it comes to us with such a guarantee and endorsement?… their faith is not a state of frenzy or wild passion but moved by zeal for God which was both sober and measured, steadfast and sure.”
    – the church convinced to the point of joyful death is a strong witness to the authority and authenticity of God’s revealing in scriptures. There are many causes that man might sacrifice resources and time to serve. There are a few religious beliefs that men and women will even attack with such zeal as to do evil to others under the lie that they are guaranteed eternal bliss by such evil. There are fewer still those ideas that men and women would go willingly, silently, and joyfully praying for their enemies forgiveness, as they are tortured and put to death. The church has been convinced by the plain beauty of scripture that their lives are not their own. Their story is not THE story of history. They are instruments to be used up for the great glory of God

 

“Thus, the knowledge of God, presented to us in Scripture, has the same end in view as that which is found in all created things. It should first promote us to fear God, and then to trust in him, so that we may serve and honour him by innocence of life, by unfeigned obedience and by utter reliance on his goodness.”

Next week: Chapter 2 Prt 1 The Knowledge of Man and Free Will

Thanks for reading;

BRS

What would you preach if you knew this was your last sermon?

15095492_10153829206287101_8742420856767006335_nOne of my friends died this past month. He and I were the same age. I spoke to him almost every week, in one form or another. Sometimes it was just me preaching to him over a plate of food. Sometimes it was exchanges of ‘hello, how’s it going’,  in passing on the street. Most often it was on a street bench, the front of the church stairs or in a strangers door way.
My friend was betrayed. Betrayed by a well-meaning, happy-go-lucky group of  family and friends who thought it would be fun and funny to hire a prostitute for him when he turned 21. The results a year later was a diagnosis of HIV. He never really recovered even though he lived for another 27years. He ran away from home, hit the streets and sunk deeper into hurt, pain and shame. Drinking whatever he could get his hands on with the vigour of a man who wanted to lose his life.

I know that some of  our conversations were exchanges of life~ meaningful, heart-wrenching, or belly laughing together at our sick sense of humour. Many were me assuring him that we were friends, people cared about him and he needed to get help from the grip of hurt, pain and shame that had completely overwhelmed his life.  He  was enslaved to hurt, pain and shame so that his only place of relief was found in an alcoholic daze. I picked him up off the street as he lay there in a puddle of blood more than once. I would clean him up, call for help and assure him that his life was worth more then a constant drunk could offer him. He would hide his precious half-full mouthwash bottle or call me whatever names he could think of while I asked him to empty his sleeves of bottles.

One of those times was the ‘last sermon’ he ever heard. I don’t know which one, or what I spoke to him. I hope it was something like Stephen’s last sermon, Acts 6,7.  Including the call of God to a guy like Abraham for a greater meaning in life then he currently had. A promise made to him by the God of great glory that will never know its completeness while he lives on this earth but by faith can have great assurance that God will supply a sacrifice greater than the one he can forfeit. This is all made sure by the steadfast love of a covenant keeping God. A God who is faithful to His word, always. I hope my words at the park bench outside the church, when he was too intoxicated to put his own words together, echoed of the same truth as Stephen speaking of Joseph who was deeply wronged by family members and in wrestling through tragedy after tragedy began to recognize God never left him or forsook him , but turned evil into good purposes for the saving of many. Or that, while we waited for the ambulance to show up I somehow, while he cursed me out for taking away his half full bottles of mouthwash , assured him there is a God who sees the affliction of his people and sends One to deliver. The Moses of old-  was only a fore shadow of the Christ who can set him free from the slavery to hurt, pain, shame and alcoholism. This is the same Christ who was crucified, put in a grave, rose with great victory over the very death that my friend was rushing headlong into.
My heart does not hold an assurance that my friend ever understood the depths of these truths. He shared with me, early in our relationship, that he understood he was angry at God and at himself. He knew and hoped in the forgiveness of Jesus coming but he wasn’t sure that there was forgiveness deep enough for him and where his life was headed. I prayed with him and for him. He always thanked me for that and called me his friend.

I pray that one of our conversations over the years, maybe even in the last ‘sermon’ he ever heard preached, he reached out in faith to a Saviour who pursued him even to death. If he did, he too in his last moments could exclaim with Stephen, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”

Thanks for reading

BRS

Blogging Calvin Wk 1: The Knowledge of God prt1

Blogging the Institutes – January week 1

(my blog subtitles  are  bold, quotes of Calvin in italics, applications for present day are mine)

CHAPTER 1 The Beginning of Wisdom
  If you were so moved to write a dissertation of what your core beliefs are, a systematic lay out of what you hold as the key truths that have driven your thoughts, your will and your life, what would you write? How would you capture the true essence of the WHY behind the WHAT of who you are and how you have lived your life so far… where would you start?
  The Institutes of Christian Religion are John Calvin’s dissertation formed over many years, through reflection, meditation and practice. Born out of a single Source. A source that Solomon of old declares to be the very beginning of wisdom, an understanding and awe of God.
 Awareness of God as the source of true wisdomproverbs-9-10-free-bible-verse-desktop-wallpapers-1
“The whole sum of our wisdom- wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured  -broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” pg1,pp1- and so it begins with not simply what is true wisdom but where, indeed, WHO is the source of true wisdom.
   We are in a culture that has sought to strip and redefine what has been considered the foundational structures of humanity to be true. I suppose it is an inevitable cycle of what we call human progress to constantly press, rearrange and hope to redefine the boundaries of understood truth. However our current western liberal culture, the culture in which I live, has snowballed this process so that the one truth that seems to be in the driver’s seat of moral, political, educational, and developmental process is “I am the basis of my truth.”  There is a great inherent danger and detrimental problem with this basis of self-proclaimed truth.
Self-knowledge is impossible without the knowledge of God
“Conversely, we observe that no one ever attains clear knowledge of self unless he has first gazed upon the face of the Lord, and then turns back to look upon himself.”
   This could be a summary thesis for the Institutes. The institutes is the result of and a means to, gazing into the face of God so that we might turn back to look upon ourselves with ever sharpening clarity. To fail to look into the face of God as the source, the basis of what is wisdom and true, is to blunder into the darkness of self-delusion. It is to try to redefine ourselves by making our versions of self-awareness the definition of truth. It is not only extremely poor logic but holds a shifting sand  of identity that produces hopelessness and bondage to self-expression~ always recreating ourselves but never coming to a deeper, solid, certainty of who we truly are.
  It matters what or who we consider to be the origin of truth upon which we base our life.  An awareness of God both unnerves us and assures us.
Awareness of God and it’s affects
An awareness of God is common to all
“We regard it as beyond dispute that there is in the mind of man, by natural inclination, a certain feeling for divinity, so that no one should seek refuge by claiming ignorance. The Lord has instilled in everyone some understanding of his majesty, so that all, having learned that there is one God and that he is their Creator, should be condemned by their own testimony because they have failed to honour him and to devote their lives to doing his will.”
  This is Paul’s great theme in the first section of the Epistle of Romans, in the New Testament. The arguments that Calvin makes come out of obvious meditations in Romans. Calvin himself affirms this in his introduction saying that those who have studied the Institutes here, will have already an understanding of his commentary of Romans.

   I realize in this culture where most of my neighbours would either identify as atheist, or agnostics (who function as atheists) there might be a long “pfffft- as if” from Calvin’s borrowed statement of universal awareness of God. Which would then most likely be followed by a, gawfah” at his follow-up statement:

The seed of religion is perverted by self-will

  “We have already mentioned that the knowledge of God must be such as effectively to plant in our hearts some seed of religion. This is so that, first, we may be taught to fear and reverence God; and second, that we may learn that all good things must be sought in him, and that for these we owe him the duty of gratitude. For how can our mind conceive of God if you do not immediately see that you, who are his handiwork are, by right of creation, subject to and dependent on his rule?”  – this is a great few sentences to meditate on.

 Because the darkness of our own minds and hearts. Our inability to define ourselves clearly to any eternally happy-end (a kind of true religion before God) remains outside of our self-realizing grasps. We must be taught to reverence God, such is the major  function of both our conscience and creation, in which we continually live, ALL of us.
   Calvin presses us further we must learn that all good things (truth) are found in Him and that such a revelation demands our obedience to God, as a  loving, submissive “duty of gratitude”. A kind of holy delight in our daily living.
   To begin to understand that we are the handiwork of God, holds the right of creation on our lives so that we are in everything “subject and dependent on his rule”. How can we not know this as we begin to form an understanding of God via the witness of creation and conscience?
Where it all goes wrong
The twin evils of superstition and craven fear
“In this respect we sin chiefly in two ways, First, in their search for God’s truth men do not, sadly, go beyond the limits of their nature as they should: rather, they judge God’s greatness according to their own crude understanding. They comprehend him not as he has made himself known, but according to the image which they themselves have arrogantly fashioned.”  – Calvin refers to this tendency as a living out of our own superstition. The God we want, or only want to know partially when we need, as opposed to the God who is.
“The second error which men commit is that they think about God only reluctantly, when necessity compels them. They are not moved by fear born of reverence for his majesty, but only by dread of his judgement, which fills them with terror because they cannot escape it.”
– this is living with God in such a way that only fear drives us. The God who is like an angry Father or a controlling spouse. If we can walk the line, step around the egg shells maybe they will like us.
  Neither of these two, superstition or fear, are able to absolve the hearts wicked appetite for self-indulgence and so will not produce the lasting fruit that comes out of knowing God. Indeed what Calvin reminds us is that neither our superstitious understandings of a god we want or a fear driven religiosity will ever give us a clear understanding of who God really is. So that we will, hoping in these two man made devices, never truly know God.
Where it all goes right
What true godliness entails
“ This is what is meant by pure and true religion- namely faith joined with unfeigned fear of God, the ‘fear’ comprising both love for the righteousness which God has commanded in his law and reverence, freely and wholeheartedly given, for his majesty.”
The fact that God has revealed himself so that we might know this true and pure religion Calvin says is what makes us wholly different then “the beasts”. The truth of God being known is not founded in mere intellectualizing or the making up of god from our own imaginations. God has revealed God. This is how we can, indeed the only true way, know Him. To know Him in this way is to begin to start to understand what it is to delight in Him. It is to touch the very purpose of our lives, to know God and to glorify Him forever.
Next Week:
 The Knowledge of God prt2
Thanks for reading.
BRS

Blogging Calvin’s Institutes in 2017

2017 is set to be a memorable year.
There is some great celebrations ahead. Canada, my home and native land, is celebrating its 150th Anniversary. I am looking forward to digging deeper into some of the historical and cultural developments of our great nation. I am your typical Canadian, apologetically patriotic (read ‘closet nationalist’) and outspokenly bias (read ‘defending our right to own hockey’ by using cutting sarcasm). I have begun to put together some reading on the history of our provinces and the cultural development of our country for my reading list in 2017 (any suggestions would be welcomed).
Another significant celebration is the 500th year of the protestant reformation. Sparked by Martin Luther, fuelled by Augustine and clarified by several key reformers including John Calvin.john-calvin
At the end of 2016 I began to read John Calvin’s Institutes. The first half has been so thought-provoking and spiritually deepening that as I reviewed some of the personal notes and applications that I made I decided to try to blog out these insights.

I am not claiming to be an expert in either Church History, the Reformation or John Calvin studies but I am leaning in as a student of all the afore-mentioned. You may want something more scholarly or analytical.
I am  a practitioner. A dad and a Pastor. My roles in life include helping others navigate the world around them in meaningful ways. Ways that will cut through lies, half-truths or confusion and bring clarity, purpose and move ahead truthfully.

This is my approach to reading , thinking and blogging through Calvin’s institutes.  I am reading to learn and apply into the context of today’s culture. In particular, the leading edge liberal culture that is mine, in Canada.

I can’t promise you that these blogs will be short – ‘4 steps to a better…’ – kind of blogs. But I do hope they will be meaningful, insightful and helpful to those who find themselves having to navigate a liberal culture that is in desperate need of a spiritual reformation back to the great God of glory.
For those interested look for a “Blogging the Institutes” at the end of each week in 2017.

Thanks for reading
BRS

Sheep don’t really ‘go wild’, just lost.

sheepgrunge

Dogs left on their own are known to form up in wild packs to survive. Horses left alone in the wild become wild herds. Even cats abandoned can reproduce feral litters and band together for survival.
However, you never hear the scary camp story of the farmer who’s sheep wandered away from the fold but banded together with other wild sheep and are “even now out there terrorizing the country side, so don’t close your eyes tonight.. in case a crazed wild sheep…. (I’ll leave the scenes of devastation to your imagination)….ahhhhhh!”  Nope. Doesn’t work. No such thing.

 Domestic sheep don’t really become wild, just lost.

I wonder if this is part of the reason the Bible uses the term for sheep to describe various categories of people?

Let me introduce you to what I am afraid is a growing category of ‘sheep’.

SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD

Over twenty plus years of part time and full time work in churches (as a summer intern, youth leader, associate pastor, youth pastor, church planter and lead pastor) I have come across this growing category of people. In the recent years, I have also needed to work in construction to supplement income. On the construction site, from a world view perspective, I have met dozens of  people who I would place in this category of ‘sheep’.

This growing category of sheep might be attributed to a wide variety of reasons (in following posts I am going to try and discuss some of the more common reasons) but there are some common identifying markers. Furthermore, this particular category of sheep is not simply harmless to themselves or others, but if left unchecked can have some detrimental long term affects – both to themselves, their friends, their families, churches they might be involved with and in the general culture they live.

A few common identifying makers of ‘Sheep without a Shepherd’:

Unrest- Our homes, our churches, our neighbourhoods and our countries are full of unrest. Unrest plays out in a growing discontentment with those around you. This kind of unrest soon turns to anger and acts out in attitudes and actions of hate. “I don’t like the music here.” “I am not able to worship with these people.” “I can’t stand being around them.” “I don’t trust those people”. “I can’t follow these leaders”. People who’s lives are marked by a constant and growing unrest create toxic relationships and environments. It doesn’t matter if they are on a job site, in a church, family or friendship- unrest is a powder keg just waiting for the right spark.

Offended- “It’s not my fault,” kind of offended is what I mean here. Pointing fingers, deflecting blame, and wallowing in offence. Unable to plot a course through the crap of hurt, either perceived or real, to get to the other side of reconciliation marks the broken past of most of these sheep.

    Discontented- Covetousness, or envy, has been referred to as the mother of all sin. In the epistle of James  you could make a case for this. Covetousness is the want for more, or something else or someone else, with the lust driven thought that if you only had this or didn’t have to put up with a current life situation – then a major problem would be solved and your life would finally make sense or be fulfilled. Covetousness breeds an “Eve” size discontentment.  For more on that you should really read this excellent book, “The Envy of Eve”  

    Self-deceived-  Like the kind of self-deceived where the husband says, “Yeah of course I know where we are.” Making himself the proof text of all things GPS. While the family is living out the realities of being lost, again. This kind of self-deceived however has greater implications then merely a few hours lost on the road.
John Bunyan personified  it like this:
  Ignorance: “But my heart and life agree together, and therefore my hope is well grounded.”
  Christian: “Who told thee that thy heart and life agrees together?”
  Ignorance: “My heart tells me so.”

Lost- You’ve seen the ‘lost’ look before. Sometimes you have even had that look. I know, I have. Searching, wandering, stopping, searching some more, looking, longing, worried, anxious, unsure, panic turned to hopelessness and clinging- these are all words that might describe the inevitable emotions we go through when we come to the conclusion we are lost. 

I don’t think that the growing category of ‘Sheep without a Shepherd” is  simply a North American phenomena or a recent occurrence. The roots are deeper then the sum of our present culture but our present culture seems to dramatically emphasize this emotional, mental and spiritual state – even incubates and rapidly breeds it. If you look around our world and our churches, even in our mirrors, you will see we are populated with those who have the marks of Sheep without a Shepherd.

 Life has very dangerous consequences for sheep who have NO shepherd. 

I’ll write more about that later this month. Until then feel free to drop a comment.
Thanks for reading,

BRS