Christina's Grade 8 Grad

Christina's Grade 8 Grad

I don't know how it happened, but somehow we got old enough to have a daughter graduate from Grade 8. That's right, we now have a daughter who is about to enter high school. Scary.

I have mixed feelings about all the graduations that take place these days - graduating from kindergarten, grade 6, etc. But this was a bit of a milestone, and we had fun the other night watching her enjoy the occasion.

One of the highlights was hearing one of the teachers use a poem Christina had written to end her speech. With Christina's permission, here's the poem she wrote to mark the end of her time at Quest Alternative School.

reflect
upon the waters
in which I've traveled,
where I've been

I just finished
not a quest
but a part of the journey

it is not the end
but the end of the beginning
there is still a ways to go
but I've finished
being a curious wide eyed kid
I am making a transition
to a ever wondering teenager

I am making the transition
past elementary
past that small island
onto the next stage of my life
my journey
my quest

A part of my heart
will stay at the island
will stay in my childhood
will stay at this tiny school
no matter how far I travel
how much longer I have to go

I am prepared to move on
to face the next part of my quest
my life, my all
but I still shed a tear
at the thought of leaving,
the thought of each friendship here
might slowly fade

but I still have the knowledge
to move through out my journey
and carry on my quest
this is not the end
but the end of the beginning

Best Book of the Year

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Sometimes I get pretty excited by a book in the same way that I get excited about a movie that's only worth watching once. Other times I keep returning to it over and over because there's so much there. Case in point: The Heart of a Servant Leader by Jack Miller.

I reviewed this book back in January, and I've thought about it many times since then. I just pulled it out again and man, do I need to read it regularly. I find it challenging and encouraging at the same time. It's one of those books that I would include as a must-read for any pastor if I had the power (and we're all glad I don't). I think I'm going to pull it out and keep it beside my bed.

If you haven't read this book yet, get it. It'll be good for your soul.

Church of the Broken

My latest column at Christian Week:

The church I pastor is trying to become more outwardly focused. Sometimes it helps to learn from examples, so a group of us traveled a short distance to one of the most outwardly focused churches we know: Sanctuary Ministries in downtown Toronto.

Sanctuary is more than a church. It's a ministry "that seeks to establish and develop holistic, inclusive and healthy community." They live in a neighborhood that's a little different from ours, one "plagued with homelessness, drugs, prostitution, unemployment and AIDS." Though it's not only a church, Sanctuary has the gospel at its core. "This Sanctuary is a gospel community at its heart, devoted to living out the good news that Jesus is God and Saviour," their website says. "There really isn't anything radical or new about it. It's just simple, orthodox Christianity at work."

We sat in a small room before Sunday night's service talking to the Executive Director, Greg Paul. As we talked, we noticed that our language didn't match up. We talked about Sanctuary as a mission; Greg talked about it as a community. We talked about targeting people; Greg talked about wanting to be with people where they are. We talked about servant leadership; Greg suggested that we'd be better off thinking more about servanthood and less about leadership.

When we come to a community with a set of services, Greg explained, there's a power dynamic at work. We serve; they receive. They remain disempowered. When we go into a neighborhood, spend time with them, listen to them, and allow them to serve us, we become servants, and the power imbalance disappears. The challenge is to find who the poorest people are in the neighborhood, and to discover how we can be with them. Stop looking for programmatic answers, Greg told us. Go to people and listen to who they are, where they are.

Greg talked about lessons he'd learned: about becoming a church of the poor, rather than a church that only served the poor; of learning early on that he had to shut up and do more listening than talking; of getting past the idea that church is only a service on Sunday; of connecting with those who are broken by being vulnerable about our own brokenness. Does he know of any traditional churches that have succeeded in becoming outwardly focused? Not many, Greg said, but he couldn't think of many churches that had tried.

It was time for the community to gather for worship, prayer, and learning. Music was homegrown. Those gathered called out the songs they wanted to sing; we sang home-grown blues songs to a band with bass, congas, and a B3 Hammond organ. Those who were gathered stood to read Scriptures they had picked. A man stood and talked about how Jesus had helped him become free, mostly, from his addiction to drugs and alcohol. A man stood up and broke the loaf, said that nobody could put it together again. Jesus came to restore what is broken, but then we broke him. God put him back together again on Easter, and he now lives to restore those of us who were broken. We came and ate the bread and drank the cup as we sang out Jesus. Then a break with sandwiches, cake, and coffee, and then we were taught about the armor of God.

The service was raw, less structured, more authentic than anything we were used to. Last year, a skeptic attended a service here and said, "Amidst all the pomp and circumstance of the Christian world out there, here lies a simple, honest place that really means it."

We were getting ready to leave, and Greg asked to see us. It would be a mistake, he said, to look at Sanctuary and focus on the style of music, their methods, or his leadership. Sanctuary isn't about that, he said. It's about becoming a church of people who are broken, welcoming the poor and needy, and giving them a voice. It's becoming a safe community for everyone, where they can meet Jesus.

I left thinking not about Greg or Sanctuary, but about the ultimate servant, the friend of sinners. I think we saw him that night.

God's Evangelistic Method

I just posted on Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his view of what the church needs to pull out of its slump. "The church was to advance, not by approximating to the world, but rather by representing in the world the true life and privilege of the children of God. The fundamental need was for the church to recover an understanding of what she truly is."

Now Tullian Tchividjian has a great post that reinforces this thought. Tullian quotes Sinclair Ferguson:

Doesn’t Jesus teach us here [John 17:20-23] that His single greatest evangelistic agency is the church? And notice –I think this is significant –not the church simply as a random collection of individuals who have been converted, but the church as a new, counter-cultural community in which the fellowship of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit comes to expression in the unity, and community, and joy, and sense of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ among His people.

That’s the reason, you know, in the New Testament there’s hardly any instruction whatsoever about how to be a witness. And by contrast, in our evangelism manuals all the emphasis lies on ‘How can you as an individual be a witness?’ and ‘Here are the questions you need to learn to ask.’ Now what’s that a sign of? That’s a sign of the bankruptcy of the church, because when the church is full of the power of the Holy Spirit what happens is what Simon Peter describes in 1 Peter, chapter 3–that you’re in a situation that you need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that’s in you.

When the church fails to be the church, individual Christians need to learn how to ask questions that will make ungodly people think about godly things. But when the church is the church, the people of God simply need to answer the questions that the very character of the church is prompting the world to ask.

more

It's much harder actually. Becoming a counter-cultural community is a lot more work than running a program. It's also easier since it's much more organic and an overflow of who we are.

By the way, if you don't subscribe to Tullian's blog, you should check it out.

The Doctor and Today

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I've really been enjoying Iain Murray's biography, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939. Even though I'm reading about things that took place a century ago, it's striking how little things have changed.

Take this sermon by Lloyd-Jones, preached in March 1924. You may or may not agree with Lloyd-Jones, but it sounds an awful lot like a critique you could hear today. You'll notice that Lloyd-Jones was often confrontational in his approach. More on that some other time.

We get endless sermons on psychology, but amazingly few on Christianity. Our preachers are afraid to preach on the doctrine of the Atonement and on predestination. The great cardinal principles of our belief are scarcely ever mentioned, indeed there is a movement on foot to amend them so as to bring them up to date. How on earth can you talk of bringing these eternal truths up to date? They are not only up-to-date, they are and will be ahead of the times to all eternity.

As I say, you can disagree, but there's no doubt that the issues he mentions are still ones we're talking about today. This could have been preached at the T4G Conference a couple of months back.

Or check out this sermon, from 1927 I think:

We seem to have a real horror of being different. Hence all our attempts and endeavors to popularize the church and make it appeal to people...The man who only comes to church or chapel because he likes the minister as a man is of no value at all, and the minister who attempts to get men there by means of that subterfuge is for the time being guilty of lowering the standard of truth which he claims to believe. For the gospel is the gospel of salvation propounded by the Son of God himself. We must not hawk it about in the world, or offer special inducements or attractions, as if we were shopkeepers announcing an exceptional bargain sale...

Spectacular stuff. I can almost hear Eugene Peterson or even Michael Horton in these comments.

I was reading today about his first pastorate. The church was in decline and people wanted to see how Lloyd-Jones would tackle the problem. They guessed it might be by starting a new program. Lloyd-Jones didn't seem to rely too much on programs though. Murray writes:

Dr. Lloyd-Jones had nothing to say about any new programme. To the surprise of the church secretary he seemed to be exclusively interested in the purely 'traditional' part of church life...The church was to advance, not by approximating to the world, but rather by representing in the world the true life and privilege of the children of God. The fundamental need was for the church to recover an understanding of what she truly is.

That last sentence is great.

By the way, I got reading about the Doctor (as Lloyd-Jones is often called) because Tim Keller mentions him so much. I'm really enjoying the book. A good biography is always refreshing.