Canada’s marijuana push:: A Question of the Inevitable

canadabis.jpg

The word inevitable is used quite often in the research and conversations that I’ve read regarding the push of the ruling Liberal Canadian government to legalize marijuana in our country. In fact it is also the word being used in many of the recent articles regarding the legalization of marijuana across states in the U.S. – Referring to those states who have not yet ruled in favour of this action.

When the word inevitable gets used, to describe the making of politically motivated law legal what was once illegal, it is often used to cut off the conversations and to push away good questions. It is designed to shut down consideration that there may be another or better way forward then the inevitable.

  inevitable
adjective
1.unable to be avoided, evaded, or escaped; certain; necessary:
       an inevitable conclusion.
2. sure to occur, happen, or come; unalterable:
The inevitable end of human life is death.
noun
3.that which is unavoidable.

Inevitable can shift us from asking the right questions.

What is being asked right now, in the Liberal government’s push to legalize, are the questions: How and where it should be sold? How does it get packaged? How much can be grown? What is the highest dose of active ingredient? Will our law enforcement have the right technology to measure if a person is illegally intoxicated?

So that the answers offered are in this vein:

“Canada will be the first G7 nation, in 2017, to legalize, regulate and restrict access to recreational cannabis,” says Brendan Kennedy, president of B.C.-based marijuana producer Tilray. “The eyes of the world are on Canada, and it’s extremely important for Canada to get this right.”
   “Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has mused about the possibility of having the provincial Crown liquor corporation in charge of selling recreational marijuana. But a federally appointed task force is recommending storefront and mail-order sales.”
– Global Mail article,  ALEXANDRA POSADZKI, TORONTO — The Canadian Press,                                            Published Monday, Dec. 26, 2016

OR in the vein of who we can trust to distribute and control rightly:

“When Environics Communications asked whether they trust companies in each sector to “do what is right for Canada, Canadians and our society,” survey respondents ranked marijuana dead last among roughly 20 sectors – giving it a lower trust rating than such sectors as pipelines, social media platforms, and pharmaceutical companies. Just 13 per cent of roughly 1,500 people gave marijuana companies a rating of five or higher on a seven-point trust scale.”
– SUSAN KRASHINSKY ROBERTSON – MARKETING REPORTER Special to The Globe and                                                                                                  Mail Published Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017

So, according to the survey taken in this article we would trust our home improvement construction workers to the task of distribution and control more than the producers of cannabis? As a construction worker (my bi-vocational role) I find that amusing.

Right questions can lead us forward into the inevitable.

Although personally I don’t agree with all the recommended conclusions in Micheal Devillaer’s recent article , in the Globe and Mail, I do appreciate the critical questions he is asking in the face of the inevitable.

  “Has legalization of our other drug industries – alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals – prevented harm from their misuse? Have these drug industries effectively balanced the pursuit of revenue with protection of public health? Has government regulation of drug industries been effective?”

The current decisions seem based solely, or mostly, on political favour and potential economic bounty – if the great hope for our current political agenda is equating the measure of success to a great in-filling of our coffers and an emptying of our jails, we are in trouble on this one. We certainly don’t have to go far to realize that is a ‘pipe dream’ behind an ill thought promise. Colorado is living that ‘dream’ even now. An article in the associated press describes the illusive nature of regulation, political favour and money-making in the legalization of pot.

Where ‘Inevitable’ just doesn’t cut it.

The ‘i- word’ getting used in the conversations with my wonderful, secular, hedonistic friends is expected. It takes listening, patience and continued asking of better questions to move forward to deeper conclusions. However in most conservative Christian circles this reply of “inevitable” speaks with a more sinister voice.
If your conclusions are simply, ‘”well it’s inevitable” when you are looking around at the increasingly secularized world you, and our churches, are in trouble. At best you don’t yet understand the redemptive intentions of God in the world. At worst you don’t care about the world.
  
 If you don’t care:
     What happens when our friends, our children, our grandchildren come face to face with liberalized secular values? Who do they turn to so they can learn to ask the right questions and wrestle through broken thinking until they come to hope filled answers? The pat answers of a seclutionist Christian are filled with hate, threat, and a joyless attempt to control. “Just say no” is not an answer to my heart that is driven by selfish passions and a rebellious lust. It’s an ill-fated attempt to cover up the deep brokenness of a heart that is always grasping in the dark for control. It is the white washing of a tomb to hide the real rot inside. It’s an unwillingness to weep for a world that we believe, without divine intervention, is headed to hell. ‘Don’t care’ responses are not evidence of a Christ filled and controlled heart. Isolationists prove only that they love themselves, are unmoved by Jesus’ gospel and hate the world He came to save.

 If you don’t understand:
 Then the answers are inadequate but not necessarily unloving or entirely ineffective. A young man I was working with a few years ago asked me, “What about me being a Christian and my marijuana use? Does God hate me? Won’t He accept me even though I can’t really function well without it?” My answer was lovingly inadequate, “Well you know, if you’re a Christian, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, right? The Bible tells us not to let anything master us. What do you think will happen if you keep being owned by this?” Truth spoken ineffectively. This young man no longer attends our church, or any church that I know of. He still wrestles with bigger issues and the struggle of substance use.

God’s great will for mankind is that he would find his joy in the very thing he is designed for, to glorify God. This overflows into the benchmarks of God’s work plan for mankind to 1) proclaim the glory of God, 2) to create cultures that demonstrate the glory of God and 3) to exercise the authority (function) of God’s glory. Because of our sin the ability and standing  for mankind to accomplish this is lost. Our greatest efforts and delights are hopelessly lost to grasping after smoke (Eccles. 2:10-11); We will never self-realize, either through our grasping at spirituality or self-medicating pleasure, into our true and greatest joy in life – the utter delight of our life’s purpose- to glorify God.

Understanding this greater narrative that is written over our world helps us ask the right questions. The better questions, to my friend, would have been questions of why and how, followed by a whole lot more listening. “Why are you Christian? How did the great love of God and the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice to make you His own child affect you when you first believed? Why do you NEED this substance? How have you come to the place where you don’t believe Jesus is really a lot of help in the midst of your pain, hurt and shame? Why is your belief that God might hate you for your brokenness or may not care about your drug use? “

The brokenness of the hearts behind the issue is why we must ask the right questions, both politically and personally. Here we discover that God is able to transform the inevitable.

Thanks for reading,

BRS

 

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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

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

Maybe this is Why You Don’t Get Invited?

Here’s an On the Ground Post not-invited
From my office on the streets. Its a funky little cafe during the day, and an international hostel by night. It’s been my Wednesday office hang out for more the seven years. I discovered quickly that many of the people who I come into contact with – even those who I would categorize as friends  many who live streetlevel or struggle with mental illness or just have scattered lives and agendas; As our talk would take us below the surface of their lives they would often ask to meet up later in the week to continue these conversations- but keeping a schedule and making a solid time was hard for them. So I started just hanging at Alter Egos cafe on Wednesdays and telling them to pop in. (In fact its Wednesday and I’m nursing a beautiful cup of java right now).

I have also discovered some pretty sweet benefits to not hiding in my home office all week or bouncing around too much from cafe to cafe for meeting up with people who want to meet – here’s two of my favourite discoveries::

1. Broadening the Conversations
  Being here allows me to hear and engage in a wider variety of conversations. It is an international hostile after all. There are people here from all over the world. Backpacking the East Coast but ready to answer questions, ask questions and engage conversations. These conversations give me some unique insight into culture and faith. They often help me clarify the applications of theology that I might be studying at the time or sharpen my internal ears to how to care or to discover the presuppositions that people hold in a broader way. By far I would argue that I have benefited usually more than those with whom I am talking. I’ve discovered if in these times you take the posture of a learner you build up a credibility to ask a lot of questions and are in turn asked to contribute truth into what is being said.

2. Getting the Invites
    There is a wide variety of non-profits and small businesses in the Northend of Halifax – because it is both an at risk community and is beginning to feel the pressure of gentrification. Many of the coordinators, owners, volunteers, employees will come through the door in the run of a day. Over the seven years that I have been hanging here I’ve got invites to birthday parties, business recognitions, funerals, AAmeetings, a wedding and even today got asked to bring my family to a Hope Blooms supper. These are invitations for me, a Pastor- Reverend- minister (you know one of those religious guys most people avoid talking with) to party with my neighbours. From a strictly Bible point of view- I think that happened to Jesus a lot. He got invites into his community. So much so he got accused by the religious right of his day of being a drunkard and being just like the irreligious people he would hang out with.

Maybe this is why many who call themselves Christians or Christian leaders, or are simply seen as religious don’t get the invites to engage into the lives of people outside of their religious circles? Maybe they have stopped making it a priority, or have never made it a priority, to simply be in the places (do a small part of life with) where they might feel uncomfortable or others might judge them, or they might feel challenged or awkward- even though the founder of both their faith and their salvation Commissions them to go (and as they are going )make (other) disciples.  

What do you think are some of the reasons we don’t get invited to participate in the lives of those in our community?

K- my coffee’s cold and a couple of friends are talking about if there is such a thing as hell or punishment…. gotta go!

BRAD