“Revive us again, O Lord” – history knows no straight lines

George Whitefield preaching

George Whitefield preaching

 

Will you not revive us again,
    that your people may rejoice in you?

Psalm 85:6 ESV

 

I once heard someone remark that history does not move in straight lines. We imagine that there is either general progress or general decline, and that pleases or discourages us depending whether we think one or the other is happening.

For instance, we imagine that our culture is becoming steadily less Christian. This can cause trepidation or panic in believers (“look how few people go to Church!”,  “Here are some sure-fire marketing techniques to attract and retain!”, “what about our young people?”).  Or it can cause gloating arrogance in the decidedly non-believing (“look how few people go to church!”, “it’s the triumph of science!”, “down with silly, bronze-age myths!”).

The truth is that history indeed knows no straight lines.  I once heard an offhand remark about American church involvement. I have no way of confirming but it did intrigue me. Around the time of the American Revolution (1776ish), only 17% of the population were involved in church life.  That’s way lower even than today.  But by the time of the American Civil War, about 90 years later, church-goers were almost 60%.  No straight line of decline.

So what happened in between?  A revival happened.  A revival of Christian faith that changed the face of the culture.  It can happen again.  This ought to keep the gloating of the secularist in check.  It should also encourage the believer who longs to see the world come to know God.

A little knowledge of Church history helps us to not be discouraged.  Times for Christian faith have been worse off before.  Read up on the 9th Century – it was arguably the most corrupt time in Christianity (for example)  And low church attendance (a good indicator of Christianity’s health in a culture) has sometimes dipped.  Apparently, on Easter Sunday, 17th of April, 1740 only 6 people were present for communion at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, England.  (source – mention made at approx. the 17-19 minute mark).  Times have been lean before.  History knows no straight lines of decline or increase.

No one knows the future but God alone. But we do know that we must be – and, by God’s grace, can be – faithful witnesses in the times which we’re given to live in.  And we can pray for God to “revive us again…”

 

 

 

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Across the street… Sadness and some hope

Park I Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.33.36 AM

“A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying.”  A great moral hero of the twentieth century once said that.

This is the scene across the street from The King’s Fellowship, or least the building where we gather to worship. Each pink or blue flag (100,000 of them) represents an aborted child in Canada.  The organization putting on the display was well represented in the park by a friendly, joyful handful of folks who stood ready to engage in conversation any who came by.

The presence of so many flags was an experience unto itself; somewhat like standing in front of a Rothko painting. I was struck with sadness at the number of human, unborn lives who will never get a chance to be born.  And I was also filled with hope that our collective conscience can be pricked and this could change.  Hope also because even if it does not change soon or even in my lifetime, there are those compassionate, courageous, and stubborn enough to not let this issue go forgotten.

Let’s pray for those least able to speak for themselves.
Let’s help to remove the burden of unwanted pregnancy.
Let’s help to foster a culture which values each and every human life.
Let’s care more about what is right, than we do about public opinion.
Let’s ask for mercy for our country.

What’s with the sign?

sign

Look, the sun’s shining down on it and everything.

What’s with the sign? Not the regular King’s Fellowship sign but the one below it in support of the Shoal Lake 1st Nation.  A little of the background on the needs of this community can be found here, here, and here.  (this is a local campaign/issue so if you’re not from Winnipeg it may not be of interest).  Why did we, a local church seeking to worship God in our city, put up this sign?

We were asked.  Steve Bell started the campaign and he asked so nicely for churches to get involved by putting up supportive signage.  The campaign seems sufficiently non-partisan in tone for us to feel like we ought to jump onboard.  Our congregation is certainly diverse in many ways but this local issue seems clearcut to most people.  We get our water from this community.  They can’t drink their own water.  It’s time for that to change.

Christians should care about the public good.  Evangelical Christianity focuses on personal relationship to God and that’s a great and necessary thing.  Following Christ has often been portrayed as and reduced to being a good person or a set of social causes.  We must resist that tendency.  Nevertheless, we also must resist the opposite mistake and forget that our salvation in Christ, while personal, should also turn our eyes and hearts outward to seek the good of our neighbours.  The prophet Jeremiah serves as an example.  We must care about the surrounding culture, society, community, and pray for them and their good.  Also, someone once said we should love our neighbours.  Let’s assume he meant it.  An implication will be that we care for the public good.  Having neighbours without drinking water should bother us.  Especially when our water supply is the cause of their problems.

We can be political without being partisan.  Many Christians are wary of voicing concern about specific issues lest we be considered political.  We are, in fact, called to be political – political in the sense of concern for the polis, the city in which we live.  This is different than being partisan – in bed with political parties or with one spot on the political spectrum.  If we go along with everything the people we vote for do or say, that’s probably not a good thing.  Christians are called to many public concerns.  We may be concerned for issues that are increasingly counter-cultural and unpopular with our neighbours (protection of the unborn, critique of contemporary views of gender/marriage/sex, concern over euthanasia/physician-assisted-death, and religious liberty).  But there’s so much we should care about that our neighbours do as well.  We gain credibility when we are also concerned with common causes; the less controversial issues where we may find common ground.  The lack of accessibility and clean water for a vulnerable community for example.  Peter even teaches how Christians are to be doing good even though we’re looked down on for other reasons.  This is the balance to strike. It is important that we seek, as per Jeremiah and Jesus, the good of all even as we are called to go against the flow.

And a sign isn’t much but that’s why it’s up.

 

 

Human Flourishing and Religious Freedom

Andy Crouch makes a compelling case for the role of religious freedom to enable human flourishing.  Religious freedom, in fact, is essential for human flourishing.  This is especially so in regards to the authenticating mark by which human flourishing should be measured:  how society’s most vulnerable are treated.

And religious freedom is not, not, not reducible to freedom to worship privately or believe personally.

It is the freedom to engage publicly with the implications of those beliefs.

Christians should seek religious freedom for all our neighbours.  We do this for a very good reason.  We should seek such not because it’s easy – it is not – but because it is hard.

 

* from Q Ideas conference, April 2015.

Truth & Reconciliation – and Prayer

T&RC

What follows is roughly what I shared as some pastoral commentary this Sunday with my own congregation, The King’s Fellowship.

This has been an historic week for Canada wherein the findings and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been released.  They, of course, address the residential school system that has been, and remains, a blight on our national heritage.  Our own city, Winnipeg, is at the centre of these historic events.  It is critical that Christians are aware of this cultural moment and respond with prayer for victims and for our country.

The report findings and recommendations have been made public.  Justice Murray Sinclair, an altogether impressive man, has said: “we have led you to the mountain, we’ve shown you the path, now you must climb”*  The report is a challenge that Canada must respond to.  The specific recommendations can be discussed/debated and perhaps should be but that is to be done by those better qualified than myself.  What I can say is that while all Canadians should be made aware of the T&RC, those of us of Christian faith should embrace a special duty.  At this historical juncture – why shouldn’t we pray for the healing of our nation(s)?

The residential school system is the shame of our entire country.  We shouldn’t step back from acknowledging the Christian role in this system.  It was not just bad public policy.  Churches participated and that was bad evangelization, bad theology, bad methods, with a bad outcome.  We ought to pray for mercy.

And yet the Gospel message should both correct the bad that came before and be of present help now.  The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, has truth and reconciliation at heart of its message.  It has the truth of who God is and the truth of the human fallen condition.  It offers reconciliation between humanity and our Creator.  By implication it brings reconciliation between women and men to one another.

Now both sides of this issue in Canada need truth and reconciliation.  Even if no one is Christian on either side, God’s common grace can extend.  We can pray for truth to come forth and for reconciliation to happen between the First Nations and the rest of Canada.  We can pray that as the people who have experienced the ultimate truth and ultimate reconciliation.

Tree of life - City of GodWe can also bear in mind the end, the goal, of the Gospel. That is, the coming City of God.  We await a renewed society of perfect peace and justice, where perfect truth and complete reconciliation exist between us and our Creator, and between all the redeemed.  The Apostle John describes this City of God in the final scene of the entire Bible.  He tells what lies at the City’s centre – the Tree of Life.  And we’re told that …the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:2)  In light of that final hope, we can pray for the healing of the nation of Canada and for the 600+ First Nations in our country.  Sin remains and so complete healing of the world will not happen until then.  We can, however, pray for partial but profound healing in our lifetimes.  If we care to read the findings and recommendations of the T&RC, we’ll know we need that healing.

 

 

 

* this is a paraphrase from memory of what I heard Justice Sinclair say on CBC radio.  It may not be an exact quote.

Why Should a Church Help Clean the Neighbourhood?

good posterThis Saturday is a community clean-up organized by the neighbourhood in which sits our Church building.  This year we’re taking part – both by encouraging bodies to help out and with a little funding.

Why?  Why is the perennially important question for anything so it’s important to ask it here.  Why should a local Church participate (enthusiastically by the way) in a neighbourhood clean-up?

This post (a repost from a year ago) is mainly for my own congregation’s benefit to help us focus on why we would expend effort on something like this.  Not that we’re cynical or resistant to the idea, by and large, but just to help us be clear.  But if you’re a reader from elsewhere, there might some pearls in it for you too.

So why is The King’s Fellowship participating?  How about for three reasons:

1)  For Us.  We’re doing it in order to help us.  We need opportunities to serve others and taking part together in something like this is to that end.  Many people in the congregation serve wonderfully in their own neighbourhoods and social circles.  It should never be suggested that we are not a serving people.  But corporately, as a congregation, there has never been a strong history of King’s doing service together.  So we need practice at that.  This Saturday is an opportunity for that.  Participating for one Saturday may not seem like a big deal – it’s not! – but it could be a step toward more ways to corporately serve.  Plus, it will be fun!  As someone who used to work in West Broadway take it from me; this community knows how to make stuff fun.  We’ll take part and we’ll be build community amongst ourselves.

2)  For Evangelism.  Picking up garbage with our neighbours is evangelism?  No, it’s not.  It is service.  Evangelism is when we speak the words of the Good News to someone and plead, persuade, and appeal to them to repent and believe.  Evangelism isn’t service but it can be helped by service.  Our Church has owned a building in this neighbourhood for years.  People could come to faith through our witness.  But they need to know we’re here first.  Serving is a way to let our neighbours know that we’re here and that we want to serve them (and serve with them) in Jesus’ name.  In addition to being an intrinsic good on its own, serving can be a way of ‘earning the right to be heard’.  This, I suspect Christians will learn in the decades ahead, is even more important as suspicion of traditional Christianity rises around us.  Picking up garbage this Saturday is a way to get to know our neighbours, be seen helping alongside with their common concerns.  No pressure to ‘share the Gospel’.  We’re there to serve.  But let me just share what a community leader told me once.  I told him that “propagating our faith is always a top priority for us”.  He smiled and replied:  “Hey, we’re all people.  We may see the world in different ways, but if people see you taking part, maybe they’ll be more open to your beliefs”.   Wise words.

3)  As A Stepping Stone To Something More.  One of my constant prayers for my congregation is that God would give us one or two unique ways to serve our neighbours.  That’s an important prayer because WB is a community which has lots of needs but also lots of people, programs, and organizations (both religious and non) who are already meeting those needs.  We don’t want to be redundant and run, for example, a healthy breakfast club or food bank when those things are already being done competently by others.  We also don’t want to shirk responsibility either.  We are to be a city on a hill after all.  It is important to not parachute in with our plans and agendas to help out.  We need to come alongside and participate in what is already going on.  We need to be servants and act like missionaries where we’ve been planted.  We need to not come in wearing our T-shirts but to wear theirs. *Psst, this isn’t just a metaphor – there’s a free t-shirt in it for you!*  If my prayer for one or two specific ways to serve is going to be answered, it almost certainly won’t be answered while sitting still.  If we take part in something as simple as this clean-up , and keep on for maybe a few years, we will be learning, making connections, becoming comfortable with our neighbours, and they with us.  Then, who knows what could come of it?  Oh wait, God knows!  Let’s participate and be in prayer.

Why Should We Pray For The Police? (and by extension, the entire city)

Police

Why should we pray for the Police?  This is not an abstract question.  For the second year in a row, my city’s Police Service have asked for 52 congregations to pray for them.  Each congregation signs up for a week and has assigned prayers for each day.  The idea is that every day of the year there are intentional intercessors praying for the Police, the communities they serve in, and the city at large.

So why should we participate?  And why should we participate with an abundance of glad enthusiasm?  I’ll offer four thoughts:

We were asked to pray.  Praying for the police is not an idea cooked up by religious leaders of our city.  Chief Devon Clunis has put out the request himself.  A Christian man himself, and one who sees faith and work necessarily related, he has risked ridicule and criticism in order to put out this plea.  He says he believes in prayer.  He also says he believes in action.  He is wise enough to know that to pray does not mean to abscond from other ways of participating.  But prayer is key.  Prayer empowers work and it is in itself a work.  According to Chief Clunis, Winnipeg has had a 14% drop in crime overall.  But there is more to do.  So we’ve been asked.  If we had a friend who made themselves vulnerable enough to ask for our prayers, we’d be remiss if we didn’t.  Our Police Chief has asked us.

We’ve been commanded to pray.  As Christians, we are commanded to honour and respect our civic leaders.  Both the Apostles Peter and Paul make this abundantly clear.  The New Testament also commands us to pray for all people, specially mentioned are those in a position to affect the civic life of others.  This means more than just the police certainly not less than them.  So this is not new.  To pray for those in authority, those who make concrete difference in our public life, is to by extension pray for the good of everyone.  We are praying for the good of our entire city when we pray for Winnipeg Police.  A command like this is general but we in this city have been given a specific call to obey it.  Christians can often forget about the wider world around us.  We can fall into the trap of praying only for our own concerns or maybe even our own lives.  We have to listen to God’s commands to cast our vision further than our own problems and situations.

There is great need for prayer.  Every large city has its issues.  Our city has its problems and recently attention has been given to this.  There is poverty, crime, violence, distrust between communities and the list goes on.  We don’t need to have all the answers in order to ask God to heal, bless, and restore Winnipeg.  Chief Clunis has made clear that he believes in crime reduction through community development.  When specific prayer requests are given to the churches from the Police Service, much of them are along the lines of prayer for troubled communities and the root causes of crime.  There is also the need to pray for police officers themselves.  They put themselves in danger often and need safety.  Police are also sinners and far from perfect.  There is need for greater justice in how they police this city.  There is great need for prayer.

This is why we’re here.   Winnipeg is a city with troubles.  Winnipeg is also a city with things going for it.  It is a difficult place to live for some.  We should want it to become a better place to live for all.  There is no better parallel then when Jeremiah wrote instructions to God’s People while they were in exile in Babylon.  Living in troubled times, on the margins of their culture, they were tempted to withdraw into their own religious bubble.  Perhaps they felt tempted to throw their hands up and see the world around them in a “hell-in-a-handbasket” way.  No! said God through Jeremiah.  They were to get involved, make their lives there, and work to the betterment of all their neighbours.  Seek the welfare of the city, they were told, which meant working for the prosperity, safety, and flourishing of the wider community.  And pray to the LORD on its behalf they were commanded (hear this echoing in Peter & Paul?).  As God’s People in Winnipeg in 2015, we are to participate and pray as well.  The city (through the Police Chief’s leadership) is even asking us to.  Why should we pray for the Police?  Because they are an instrument of God for social betterment.  Why should we pray for the communities served by them?  Because we are a part of those communities.  Why should we pray for the Police and the good of the entire city?  Because, like the Babylonian Exiles, we have been placed by God here in Winnipeg for HIs purposes.  It is the reason we’re here.