Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Orlando: Mourning With Those Who Mourn

“4 My heart is in anguish within me;
    the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
    horror has overwhelmed me.” Psalm 55:4-5

“What can men do against such reckless hate?” Theoden, Lord of the Rings

Ten minutes before our Sunday service I was informed about the mass shooting in Orlando.  I could scarcely take it in when I heard the news.  It’s been a little over 24 hours now and I’m still trying to wrap my heart around the reality of what has transpired.

Like many churches around the world we took time to pray for the victims and their families, praying that the church would rise up and be a redemptive expression of Jesus’ love and healing in the midst of this tragedy.  It was so powerful to hear heartfelt prayers of mourning and compassion offered on behalf of the victims in Orlando.

It likely comes as no shock to anyone to admit that the church and the LGBT community have had a strained and hurtful history.   Being part of an evangelical Christian denomination, many might presume the relational rift to be even deeper.  After all, aren’t evangelical Christians the ones who hate gays?  Aren’t they the poster children for homophobia?

Despite what some (many?) believe, evangelical Christians genuinely love their LGBT neighbours and care about their well-being. Admittedly, this assertion is a pretty big generalization, but it’s particularly true of the Christian tribe I belong to.   We have LGBT friends, co-workers, and family members.  They join us to worship God on Sundays.  They delve deeper into discipleship to Jesus in our small groups and bible studies.  We break bread together around our tables.  Yes, when trust and candor are high we find ourselves in disagreement at some pivotal theological crossroads.  But even in these emotionally charged conversations we’ve seen how grace, vulnerability, and a willingness to really listen (on both sides) leads to a greater appreciation for the image of God in the other.  Love is built and deepened through these conversations.

So when those whom we love are the target of terrorism, we are sorrow-full.  And when those whom we love are specifically targeted because of their sexual identity, we are heartbroken.  The entire situation is unfair, unjust, inhuman, and sinful.  These were people who were loved by many, none more than God himself.  As details about the victims become available, let’s remember that each name and face represents families torn apart, dreams brought to nothing, hearts broken, bodies maimed, and life extinguished through a vile act of hatred.

“What can men do against such reckless hate?”

I believe that through God’s love and grace, even the deepest suffering can be redeemed.  But the first step into a redemptive future is genuine mourning.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” Jesus promised in Matthew 5:4.   Christians are called to “mourn with those who mourn” in Romans 12:15.  Mourning is the process of moving into grief and loss honestly and with utter vulnerability before God.  From that posture, God can do some of his most important work in our lives.  And from that posture God can redeem situations that seem to be nothing more than a testimony to the power of evil.

How do we respond to the Orlando massacre?  Let’s begin by mourning, and see where that leads us.  More importantly, let’s see how that forms us.

This week I invite you to join me as I mourn from a distance even while the wake of the suffering in Orlando feels close to home.  I invite you to join me in praying for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  I invite you to join me in praying for his shalom to overwhelm the chaos.

May the healing that only Jesus can provide touch the lives of everyone impacted by this brutal act.

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Fit for the Kingdom: Reflections on Spiritual Training

I glance at the clock.  I have 28 seconds remaining.   Those 28 seconds will feel like five minutes before they’re over.  I’m not sure which is louder: the beats blaring through the sound system or those pounding from my chest.  My eyes sting from sweat that has poured unabated into my eyes for several minutes now. My legs are on fire, caught in a relentless loop of squatting as I drive a 20 lb. ball against the wall four feet above me, looking towards the heavens for relief.  I hear the grunts of those beside me.  We’re almost there.  Just a few more seconds…

And the timer beeps, signalling the end.  We’re done, and not a moment too soon.   I try to take a moment and compose myself, but it isn’t easy.  My muscles are desperate to feed on oxygen and no matter how deep my breath reaches I can’t seem to satisfy their hunger.  There’s a pool of sweat underneath me and I think I might be seeing stars. And it feels fantastic.

I’ve just completed my third month at a performance training gym that integrates philosophies from CrossFit, power-lifting, and circuit training.  While I strain to catch my breath I am flooded with an enormous sense of accomplishment.  For at least three times a week I’ve participated in classes that have forced me to carry, lift, throw, run, jump, pull and push in ways that have challenged me in both mind and body.

I was introduced to V02 Performance Training through my wife, who had been attending for six months prior to my first day.  She had consistently encouraged me to take the time to prioritize training of this nature, believing it would make a significant positive impact in my life.  But I had every excuse at the ready.  Money and time found their way to the top of my excuse hierarchy.

However, in February of this year I found myself planning an Easter series on the resurrection, and as my preparation unfolded I became uncomfortably aware of how my theology of the body had grown to be robust in theory while remaining shallow in practice.  Over the previous five years I had developed a behavioral pattern prone to sloth and gluttony.  The result: I was overweight and, to borrow a Trumpism, “low energy.”  I struggled to make it through most weeks without consistent naps and copious amounts of coffee.

Even more humbling was the realization that while I was only a few weeks away from proclaiming the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, I was neglecting a profound truth the resurrection speaks to: the importance of our bodies.  In the resurrection God reveals his redemptive intentions for all aspects of creation, including our bodies and the material universe.  Our bodies are good gifts from God, marred by sin, but ripe for redemption in Christ.  And while redemption of the body takes many forms, I found myself challenged by the Scripture’s charge to “offer yourselves to God as people who have been brought from death to life and the parts of your body as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13).

In March I decided to bite the bullet and signed up for my first month.  The first week was a shock to my system.  Three training sessions in and I had to confront the fact that I had grossly overestimated my current level of fitness.  My body communicated in all manner of ways that it was not happy.  Discomfort was constant.  My body was being forced to learn a new language, and very little about the new vocabulary was familiar.  I had entered into “strict training” (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25).

After each successive workout I found myself reflecting more and more on the implications of Paul’s charge to his young protégé Timothy: “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7).  I’ve taught on that verse many times in different contexts, but until I began training at V02 many implications of this command were lost on me.  Dallas Willard’s distinction between training and trying took on new meaning as my experiences at V02 caused me to begin rethinking my discipleship practices.  After a few months I was becoming aware of the disparity between how I train physically vs. spiritually. As each month unfolded the performance training taught me just as much about my spiritual deficiencies as my physical ones.  I was not bringing the same intensity and focus to my spiritual growth in Christ as I was to my training sessions.  I decided to close that gap.

I began by taking an inventory of the lessons I was learning at V02 and then applying them to my discipleship to Jesus.  What follows are the principles I’ve learned through VO2, and how each one has a direct application to spiritual growth as well.

1. In the beginning all training feels unnatural. For the first two months almost every exercise routine felt awkward and contrary to my preferred mode of engagement.  I was clumsy, lacked proper posture, and continually battled to get my body to do what seemed so straightforward in my mind.  For several weeks my body did little more than protest again and again.  I was asking it to do things it had never done before, at an intensity it was not accustomed to, and it wasn’t quiet in letting me know how it felt.

When, for example, the Scripture calls us “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12), we must understand that integrating these elements of Christ-like character will prove difficult at first. When we introduce a new spiritual disciple into our lives, or attempt to deepen an existing one, the new practice often feels muddled and awkward in the early going.  But this is natural when learning any new habit.  The development of strong spiritual practices does not happen effortlessly and without uncooperative beginnings.  The good news is that what feels unnatural at first will become second nature if we persevere through the early, clumsy stages.

2. We train harder on the context of community. On any given week there are two training sessions I would likely quit on were I undertaking them in isolation.  However, VO2 structures their training in the context of a class, and the presence of others working out with me to push myself beyond my preferred comfort level.  Psychologists call this phenomenon social facilitation, and it accounts for why we do tasks better and faster in the presence of other people.

I’ve always tended to view Christian growth as primarily an individual endeavour, but VO2 has really challenged this presumption.  My training has shown me how much easier and effective it is to train in the context of community.  As a result I’m learning to involve more people in my spiritual growth plan and have become interested in exploring how discipleship within the context of community helps us “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

3. Routine can be the enemy of growth. We all love routine, but in V02 the only routine is strategic confusion.  Week over week, strength emerges by shocking the body through muscle confusion.  The training is scheduled so as to continually confound your body’s ability to adapt to a pattern of conditioning.  Said another way, Vo2 has a liturgy: planned disruption.  No two workouts are alike and several factors are adjusted continually to ensure my body is kept guessing.  This never allows my body to adapt to a routine, which would mean a less intense, easier workout (which I want but don’t need).

Discipleship to Jesus demands a liturgy of planned disruption as well.  If you read the gospels carefully, you’ll notice Jesus doing this all the time with his disciples.  No two days of ministry are alike.  The result?  The disciples were continually forced to stretch themselves and adapt.  Spiritual growth was the result.  Similarly, in order to ensure I’m not spiritually coasting I need to employ a variety of practices from the deep tradition of Christian spiritual formation that challenge me to adapt and grow into a disciple that is able to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength.

4. A commitment to strict training means a commitment to living in a state of chronic physical discomfort. When I began V02 my wife warned me, “You will love it, but you will have to get used to living in chronic pain.”  That may have been an exaggeration, but not a large one.  On any given day there are muscles protesting the previous day’s session.  Since beginning my training I’m not sure how many days I’ve moved through comfortably, but I could certainly count them on one hand.

Discipleship to Jesus will mean living in a state of chronic spiritual discomfort as well.  As we adopt and strengthen habits of loving God heart, soul, mind, and strength, we discover the Holy Spirit moving us into areas that disrupt our preferred life of ease.  Jesus’ call to forgive those who have harmed us, bless our enemies, practice gospel-sized generosity can leave us tired, sore, and definitely uncomfortable.  But that’s evidence that our spiritual muscles are being worked.

5. Rest is imperative. My rest days are precious.  Without them I couldn’t sustain the mental and physical intensity of VO2’s workouts.  They are Sabbaths that allow me to replenish in both body and mind.  I’ve never slept better since starting this training regime.

Training in godliness demands a reclamation of the practice of Sabbath.  After attempting to live too long without a day to pray and play, I’ve learned that I just can’t sustain intentional, intense discipleship.  My discipleship efforts do not flow out of my attempt to secure acceptance in Christ, but flow out of my acceptance in him.  Therefore, if I’m not taking time to rest in God’s grace, love, and goodness, spiritual injury (i.e. burnout) is inevitable.  The practice of Sabbath grounds me in the gospel and renews me for Jesus’ mission.

6. I need to eat intentionally and healthy. If I fail to intake the proper food before or after my workouts, I pay the price.  Exercising at this intensity has caused me to focus more on what I’m putting into my body, because more than ever it has a direct and almost immediate effect on my ability to perform when the clock is ticking.  I’ve become more conscious of what I eat and why.

A casual approach to discipleship will lead to a casual approach to spiritual intake.  When I committed to strict training, my diet necessarily followed suit.  I’ve become more conscious of my need to consume, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8), beginning with feeding steadily on Scripture and quality books and resources.

7. Coaching matters. Our head trainer Megan understands that each of us comes with a set of pre-conceived self-limitations.  Because she’s a skilled coach, she understands where I’m strong and weak, and is able to identify opportunities to push me beyond my comfort zone.

In order to grow beyond my present capacities I need to enlist wiser, more mature Christians who can help me become aware of areas where I’m plateauing or coasting.  I need spiritual mentors who can help push me into new patterns that I wouldn’t think to try without their input.

What Am I Training For?

V02 is a performance training gym.  Which begs the question: training for what end? 

Everyone’s answer is different of course, but here’s mine.  As a disciple of Jesus my central calling is to love God and love others (Mark 12:28-31).  Discipleship is the process by which I cultivate spiritual strength and vibrancy so that I can fulfill this calling and be a blessing to others.  The last three months at V02 have challenged me to move into that calling with a greater focus and a renewed perspective.  Echoing Paul, my aim is simple: I do not want to run like someone running aimlessly.  I do not want to fight like a boxer who can’t land blows.  Instead, I train my body, making it my slave, for the world’s good and God’s glory.

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An Inevitable, Unstoppable Kingdom

Mark 4:30–32
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

This short parable of Jesus is packed with significance for us. In attempting to explain the nature of God’s Kingdom (ie. God’s “rule and reign”), Jesus used the picture of a mustard seed.

mustard seeds
Photo courtesy of Anja Herbert Noordam

The mustard seed indigenous to the land of Israel is extremely small.  To the naked eye a single mustard seed seems trivial.

What possible significance could come from something so small?

Indeed, it’s difficult to image that from just one mustard seed a tree like this could emerge:

 

mustard seed tree
Photo courtesy of Anja Herbert Noordam

Many sermons have emphasized the point of Jesus’ parable to be that God’s kingdom begins small–almost imperceptively so–but grows large.  That is an important (and encouraging!) dimension to this teaching.  But there’s another aspect to this parable that sometimes goes unnoticed.

In the first-century laws were in place that placed strict parameters on where mustard seeds could be planted.  Why?  Because the aggressive, fast-growing nature of the mustard plant caused some to view it as a “malignant weed” with “dangerous takeover properties” (Michael F. Bird, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, Continuum, 2006, pp. 73–77).

From the Wikipedia Entry on the parable:

Pliny the Elder (Roman Naturalist and philosopher) , in his Natural History (published around AD 78) writes that “mustard… is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”

The significance of this fact is incredibly important for us to understand.  Jesus wants his disciples to understand that although the kingdom starts small, it’s growth is inevitable and unstoppable.  Regardless of where it’s planted, God’s kingdom is a offensive, encroaching, non-domesticated force that quickly overwhelms the ecosystem around it with God’s power, joy, love, grace, and truth.

Last Sunday about 60 people gathered at our church to worship, share communion together, pray, and learn more about following Jesus.  By Sunday afternoon I found myself reflecting on the the future of our church within the broader Nelson community. To the naked eye our church seems trivial.  

What possible significance could come from something so small?

And I realized in light of this teaching that I was asking the wrong question.

If we are sincerely following Jesus and allowing God to establish his kingdom within our lives, growth and impact will materialize.  The question I should have been mulling over was, “What possible significance will come from something so small?”

Because the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  It has takeover properties.  Despite its meager beginnings, life-giving impact to the surrounding ecosystem is inevitable and unstoppable.

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Bible Overview Series: Joel

Joel2

Joel by Joseph Novak

Through the cracks in our broken hearts the grasshoppers have come swarming in.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Joel

Locusts. Locusts everywhere.

A devastating swarm had come to Judah, the Southern Kingdom. This was no small infestation; the people had never seen anything like it:

“What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten;
And what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten;
And what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten.” (Joe 1:4)

The crops were gone. The people were hungry. The cattle were hungry. What was happening—and why?

The day of the Lord was upon them. When God was delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt, He sent a plague of locusts on the Egyptians’ crops. Now, hundreds of years later, He was judging His people with the same kind of plague for straying from Him.

But God also sends His prophet: Joel.

Joel explains to the people what the Lord wants from them: repentance. The Lord would soon have His day, both with Judah and the whole world. Joel’s message has two strong points:

  • God is judging Judah, but He will bless and restore them again when they repent.
  • God will judge all the nations on Judah’s behalf.

God disciplines His people, but He also defends them. Joel says that although Judah is under God’s wrath right now, in the future holds many exciting things for the people of God:

  • The Lord will pour out His Spirit on all mankind.
  • Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered.
  • The Lord will avenge Judah of her enemies.
  • Judah will again become a land of plenty.

Joel’s message is stern for the disobedient, but it also highlights God’s love and desire to be with His people. Rather than let them starve after sending the locusts, God sends Joel to direct their hearts back to Him.

Theme verse of Joel

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joe 2:12–13)

Joel’s role in the Bible

Joel is the second minor prophet, who ministered to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. We don’t know much about him, and we don’t know much about how his message was received.

We do know that Joel’s prophecy about the day of the Lord has begun to come to pass. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles and they began speaking in tongues (on the day of Pentecost ). Peter explains that this is what Joel prophesied about in Joel 3:28–32.

However, the promises of Joel’s third chapter are yet to be fulfilled.

Of all the Old Testament books, Joel has the highest concentration of imperative verbs: 1.1% of the Hebrew words are commanding verbs.

Quick outline of Joel

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How To Invite Someone To Church

Even as our culture moves a  post-Christian direction, it’s not uncommon for Christmas and Easter church services to be the largest of the year.  These services continue to draw seekers and skeptics who are haunted by the suspicion that modern secularism is not the end-all and be-all; that there must be a deeper reality and truer story that holds the promise to change our lives and world for the better.

That deeper reality and story, of course, is the gospel of Jesus.

However, for many people (myself included), helping people connect to that message is no easy task.  Where do we start?

With Easter Sunday around the corner, may I make a humble suggestion?  Invite them to church this Sunday.

Granted, this idea is neither flashy nor innovative, but this Sunday may be the best and easiest Sunday to invite friends, family, and neighbours to.  Many people are still open to attending a church service, especially around the Christmas and Easter holidays.  And unless your church really pulls an epic Easter fail, the truth and power of Jesus’ resurrection will take centre stage!

Some people hesitate when it comes to inviting their friends to church.  Me too.  I find that questions and doubts can shut  down the invite before it has a chance to even be considered.

  • How will they react to the invitation?  Will they be weirded out? Will it affect our relationship going forward?
  • What will they think of our church?   Will they “get it”?
  • Will the service fall flat?  Will the music and/or message sucks? (and I ask this as the message-giver!)

While well-intended in their sensitivity, these questions often plant doubts that keep us from ever extending an invite.  By focusing on the what if’s, we actually remove faith in God’s leading and power. Instead, we localize our faith and trust in our ability to “deliver the goods.”  Our confidence gets rooted in whether we can extend the perfect invite to the perfect service with the perfect music and perfect message at the perfect church.

I hope the issue with this line of thinking is obvious: there are no perfect any of those things. And that’s OK.  Our imperfect invites, imperfect services, imperfect music, imperfect messages–our imperfect churches–are not an obstacle for God.  The hope we offer people is not our perfection, but Jesus‘!  Not only that, but God delights in using our weakness as a conduit of His power and glory (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:9).

So this year I’m challenging myself (and you!) to invite one friend, family member, or neighbour to church this Sunday.  Your invite will be an act of faith (who knows how they will respond?…), but when it’s done relying on God’s resources and not our own, great things can happen.

How To Invite Your Friend To Church

Ready to take the plunge and invite someone?  Here are a few simple ways to invite them to church:

1. Email or Text.  Today I invited two people to our Sunday service via a short text message:

Hi _________, I’m not sure if you’d be interested, but I wanted to extend an invite to our church’s Easter morning service this Sunday. It starts at 10am at Nelson Covenant Church.  No pressure, just wanted you to know that there was an open invite.  If you have any questions about the service or our church, let me know. 🙂

2. Phone call.  This is more personal than an email or text, but may put people on the spot depending on what they are doing at the time of the call.  You’ll have to judge based on the nature of the relationship.

3. Face-to-Face.  This is the most personal approach, but like a phone call, picking a context that doesn’t feel like you’re cornering someone is probably important.  If an opportunity arises, however, this is ideal.  It allows you to fully express yourself (i.e. tone, body language, etc.) to the person which helps people feel your care and warmth.

You’ve got four days until Easter Sunday.  Take the initiative and invite someone to join you at church this Sunday.  Worst case scenario: they say “no thanks.”  Best case scenario: they say “Yes!”, not just to joining you on Sunday, but ultimately to Jesus and his gospel.

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Does God Favor a Gender?

This past Tuesday was International Women’s Day, a day designed to “celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.”

Within evangelical Christianity the role of women within the church, home, and society continues to be a hotly debated issue.  The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood argues for a Complementarian approach to gender roles, while Christians for Biblical Equality argues for an Egalitarian approach.

Within this discussion/debate, I land firmly within the egalitarian camp.  I believe it to be the most biblically coherent and defensible position, and at the end of the day that is my bottom-line.  There are quality arguments that are made from the other side, and while I’ve sought to really understand where complimentarians are coming from–theologically, biblically, philosophically, socially, etc.–I have found the arguments for the complimentarian position to be lacking.

I’ve spent a lot of time digging into this issue, because our theology regarding human image-bearers, both male and female, is extremely important.  Our core convictions in this area have enormous implications for countless dimensions of our lives.  That’s why I believe it is the responsibility of every Christian to thoughtfully and thoroughly engage the Bible and excellent scholarly research on this issue.

I’ve already linked to the two main organizations that represent each position, but here are some extra links that I’ve come across in the last few weeks that I’ve wanted to pass along:

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How To Pray For An Hour

“Lord, teach us to pray” Luke 11:1

Last week I spent an hour working my way through Jon Tyson’s  “How To Pray For An Hour” prayer wheel.

Prayer_How to pray for an hour

I do not believe there are short-cuts when it comes to expanding and deeping one’s prayer life.  However, tools like this are really helpful in learning how to pray.  As someone who struggles with prayer, I’ve discovered that I need resources like this to guide me along and keep me focused.

It’s been a long time since I prayed for an hour on my own.  I decided to walk and pray through downtown Nelson, and I was shocked at how quickly the time flew by.  In fact, I ended up expanding several of these sections far beyond 5 minutes, and ended up praying for about 1.5 hours!

Today I didn’t have a one-hour block through which I could move through the entire wheel in one session.  However, I made it my goal to move through the wheel over the course of the day.  Although a different experience, it was just as powerful to pray through this tool as my day unfolded.  I can see both practices becoming part of my weekly ritual.

You may or may not find a tool like this helpful, but one of its strengths is that it forces you into modes of prayer that, depending on your spiritual love language, you may avoid or simply neglect.  Case in point: I can’t remember the last time I prayed for “Holy Alertness.”  And yet as I made my way through the streets of Nelson I was instantly sensitized to how critical a prayer that is for me as both a pastor and Christian.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could pray for an hour without a tool like this to help me.  As I Mind type I’d rather talk about, think about, study, read, or teach on prayer than actually pray.  I’m therefore very thankful for leaders like Jon Tyson who share resources that I can use to practice prayer in an intentional and sustained way.

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Preparing for Mid-Winter: “Covenant Principles”

Next week I will be attending the Evangelical Covenant Church’s mid-winter conference in Chicago.  Part of my conference experience includes taking a course in the history of the Covenant church.  Our class has been assigned a number of pre-course readings and we were also required to give a brief presentation on one of the readings.

I’ve chosen to present on the essay “Covenant Principles” by Theodore T. Anderson.  Written as part of a fiftieth anniversary volume entitled Covenant Memories, 1885-1935, the essay explores the principles upon which the entire Covenant movement is founded.  I know the history and foundations of movements tend to be dry reading, but Covenant Principles is anything but.  It’s short, punch, and powerfully prophetic.  You could publish it today and it would serve as a clarion call to Christians young and old to reassess their guiding principles as disciples of Jesus.

Anderson is engaging and his theological vision is rich with insight.  His aim is to succinctly “define the Covenant biblically, theologically, and ecclesiologically.”*

He begins by stating the two truths that must be held in creative tension for all movements to establish themselves, sustain themselves, and bear ongoing fruit for the kingdom of God:

  • “Living movements are not static, but adapt themselves to new conditions.”

  • Convictions are indispensable for the survival and growth of any movement. Without them we are colorless and powerless. They are not like the shell of the turtle, which bars him from contact with others, but rather resemble the bones of the human body, which, though not directly visible, give form and strength to the entire being.”

Anderson then outlines the five Covenant principles which would serve as the bedrock for the (then) future of the Covenant church:

  1. The supremacy of the Bible

“The question constantly raised in pioneer days was, What do the Scriptures say? There may have been a tinge of ridicule in the epithet läsare, or “reader,” sometimes translated “readerists,” but the title was abundantly deserved. To our trailblazers, the Bible was the Supreme Court from which there could be no appeal. It is not by chance that the constitutions of our churches almost invariably begin with a statement that the Bible is recognized as the only adequate standard for faith and conduct, for individual Christians and for groups of believers.”

  1. The necessity of spiritual life

“Spiritual life demands more than intellectual assent to the claims of Christ. An academic orthodoxy unrelated to life is a perilous thing. To know the truth and fail to obey it is fatal both morally and spiritually. It is scarcely accurate, however, to say that it is life and not doctrine that characterizes the believer. The two are not mutually exclusive. Doctrine may exist without spiritual life, but not spiritual life without doctrine. Our faith is not a leap in the dark, but is built on incontrovertible facts. That Christ died is history. That he died for our sins is doctrine.”

“A personal and vital relationship to Christ as the Savior is the clamant need. This means to know and love and trust and obey him. That is the heart of the Christian life. It is a sunny reality that puts a new halo on every activity. The Bible describes it as a new birth, a new creation, a resurrection from the dead. It is a partaking of the divine nature.”

“Believing in a clear line of demarcation between life and death, we also believe in winning men to this life in Christ. Evangelism is our birthright. The very nature of the Christian life demands sharing it with others. The effort we make, in word and deed, to present Christ to other people is a fairly accurate index of how much he means to us. A Christ-centered message alone meets the need of the human heart. Gladstone was right when he stated that the greatest service any human being can render to another is to win him for the Lord. We have lost our vision if that ambition is dimmed.”

  1. Belief in the unity of all true Christians

“A spiritual home for all believers is the ideal of the Christian Church. In the apostolic days, the book of Acts tells us, those were added to the Church who were saved. The Bible does not recognize a divided church. Dissensions and cliques are foreign to its spirit. The letters of Paul abound in references to “all the brethren,” “all the saints.” On the basis of the Scriptures, we believe that the Church should accept all whom Christ has accepted. If we are to be together in heaven, we should be together here.”

“This means admitting into the Church all who are recognized as believers and barring from active church membership all others. Minor differences regarding issues on which true Christians disagree must not divide us. Unity and uniformity are not synonymous. The right of private interpretation is recognized. We know in part and prophesy in part. No claim to omniscience in drawing this line of demarcation is offered. Even the first Christian Church had an Ananias and a Sapphira. We do believe, however, that a spiritual experience is unfailingly manifested in a personal profession of faith and a consistent Christian life. When Christ on a visit to Tyre and Sidon entered into a house, the gospel narrative tells us, he could not be hid. Neither can the believer, who is a partaker of his nature, be concealed. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

  1. The independence of the local church

“We are congregational in organization. There is no centralized authority exercised over the churches.”

“In all fairness, it must be admitted that the autonomy of the local church entails problems that sometimes become acute. Occasionally there are crises in a church that could be relieved by definite aid from some higher authority. Serious dissensions and injustices could possibly be obviated at times if our organization were not so loose. The tragedy of having churches without pastors and pastors without churches, often resulting in irreparable loss to both, could possibly be avoided. But we believe that the merits of the congregational system outweigh the handicaps. The advantages accruing to a firmer organization can be secured in ways that do not conflict with scriptural precedents. The perils involved in an ecclesiastical bureaucracy are greater than any practical advantages inherent in it.”

  1. The urgency of the missionary task

“Mission Friends, or friends of missions, was the name applied to our fathers from the earliest days, and it was no misnomer. No narrow vision or limited perspective controlled them. They recalled that Christ declared that he was the light, not of Palestine or Sweden or America only, but of the world. That the gospel of the grace of God is a universal message was a reality to them.”

“The missionary enterprise is not optional, to be accepted or rejected at will by the believers. It is a mandate from the Lord. Our own spiritual life demands this expression, as does the hopeless condition of a Christless world. A church without a missionary vision is a dying church. An individual Christian devoid of missionary zeal is living a dwindling spiritual life.”

“He who has forgotten or evaded his God-given obligations to his fellowmen is living on a diminishing spiritual capital. His inner life inevitably becomes stunted and impoverished.”

“Fighting the good fight of faith is not merely defensive, but preeminently offensive. This was the conviction of our fathers. They were neither near-sighted nor far-sighted. They saw the whitening fields both at home and abroad. Alaska, which some denominations term “home missions” because it belongs to the United States, became our first foreign missionary field. China, with its uncounted millions and latent influence in the Far East and the world, soon claimed our hearts. In the midst of our jubilee year, despite financial distress in all our churches, we are advancing into the continent of Africa. By the grace of God and the support of his people, we are advancing and not retrenching.”

 

*All quotes taken from the essay “Covenant Principles” found in the book Covenant Roots: Sources and Affirmations.

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Supremacy

Colossians 1:15–20
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

“[Jesus] is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” 

As a Christian, loving Jesus heart, soul, mind and strength is your highest priority.  In every dimension of your life, he is to have supremacy.  That means he is to be the Lord and Master over your life.  You are not your own, you were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  You now live for Jesus.

This command to give Jesus supreme authority in one’s life sounds incredibly threatening at first.  However, one soon discovers subjugation to Jesus’ kingship is neither confining nor oppressive. Our lives cohere and gain clarity of purpose only when obedience to Jesus’ graceful, loving authority become one’s highest value, desire, and pursuit.

“All things were created by him and for him…and in him all things hold together. ”

When supremacy is given to ourselves and our empires, confinement and oppression inevitably set in, because we are living against the grain of reality as contructed by Jesus himself.  However, when Christ and his kingdom are given supremacy in our lives, we experience a counter-intuitive liberation; a propulsion into a rich and empowered life with God that is experienced as exciting, enlivening, and spacious.

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What Makes Community Distinctively “Christian”?

In Mark 3:13–19 we find Jesus bringing his disciples together and appointing 12 to be his apostles.  The text, while seemingly a straightforward list of names, gives many important insights into the nature of Christian community.

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

I know this seems like a list of names and not at all relevant to what we’re talking about, but there’s actually 5 things embedded in this passage that should radically challenge our understanding of Christian community:

1. Christian community is Jesus-centred.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but a lot that is named Christian community isn’t centred on Jesus and his gospel.  Jesus centres the community around himself, so we should be leering of any other expression of community that is grounded in something other than the person and work of Jesus.

If Jesus isn’t the centre of our gatherings, an idol of our own making–even a well intended one–will take his place.  And that move will spell certain doom from the outset.  Bonhoeffer, commenting on the temptation to centre our quest for community on an idealized vision of what could/should be instead of the person of Jesus is dynamite here:

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.” Life Together

 2. Christian community is based on comraderie, not chemistry.  Jesus gathered together people who had little common affinity.  Scratch that:  Jesus actually gathered people who were natural enemies!  A tax collector and a zealot!? There would have been no love lost between a collaborator with Rome (Matthew) and a zealot (Simon) who is seeking to overthrow Rome and use violent means if necessary!

What is Jesus doing?!  He’s showing us a different expression of community; one that speaks to the heart of God’s intentions for the world and the gospel itself.  Jesus does not expect this group to like each other, but he gathers them together to learn to love–starting with loving those you honest wished weren’t part of the group.

That means we shouldn’t expect Christian community to be founded on chemistry and sympatico.  Sure, we will develop friendships within our churches, small groups, etc., but when Jesus forms communities he does so on the basis of camaraderie.  Camaraderie is a feeling of trust, a bond created by a shared goal or experience.  It runs deepen than chemistry.  It goes beyond a convenient collection of complimentary personality types.   When a group is grounded in comraderie, you don’t have to be best friends with everyone in the group to know you have their support.  Therefore, genuine Christian community doesn’t mean you’re best friends with everyone and the group never expereinces any friction or conflict.  What it does mean is that there is a driving experience (Jesus’ call, salvation, and Lordship) that holds the group together and teaches the group to value and love each other.

3. Christian community is a means, not an end.   Jesus calls many disciples to himself, but he appoints twelve as apostles. Why?  He’s rebooting Israel.  “I’ve called you together…for a (re)newed mission!  You are blessed to be a blessing!” (cf. Genesis 12:1-3).  Christian community is always a means to a greater end (i.e. glorifying God and forwarding his mission). When the experience of community becomes the end we’re chasing, it poisons and rots things from the inside out.

 4. Christian community is a commitment to “one another.”  Christian community isn’t driven by the question, “what’s in it for me?” but “how can I be a blessing to others?”  This means a radical commitment to what much of the later epistles spell out in the “one another’s”:

  • Love one another (John 13:34, 15:12)
  • Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
  • Serve one another (John 13:1-20; Galatians 5:13)
  • Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  • Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)
  • Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
  • Be honest with one another (Colossians 3:9)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Confess to one another (James 5:16)
  • Pray for one another (James 5:16)

On a later occassion Jesus gave his disciples a new command:

John 13:34 “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Christian community comes into being when a critical mass of people in a church/group/fellowship begin asking “how can I creatively love and serve these brothers and sisters?” instead of, “when will this group meet my wants and needs?”

5. Christian Community is consistent.  One characteristic that should define Christian community is that it is consistent.  Jesus called his disciples together into a new way of life where they were committed to doing life together as they learned under him.

Today, my sense is that far too many Christians do not take seriously their communal responsibilities to one another.  The first believers met daily for encouragement, prayer, support, study, etc., and while I acknowledge that model isn’t doable for most of us in our contexts, I don’t think our default position should be, “I’m committed until something better comes along.”  More and more of us are rationalizing going to church every 2nd or 3rd week.  We show up at youth group if/when we want.  We sign up for a small group but attend sporadically.

And after weeks/months/years living inside of this lifestyle of casual commitment, we wonder why our experience of Christian community is so thin–or even non-existent?

I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of being a legalist, but I think it’s important to recognize that it’s become very easy to place gathering together with other Christians consistently far down the priority ladder.  Which makes sense if church is something you fit into your agenda.  But it doesn’t make sense if through gatherings like Sunday worship, small groups, bible studies, etc., Jesus is seeking to reshape your life around his agenda.

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