Archive for November, 2004

Christmas time is here and I am glad

Christmas time is here and I am glad


I love Christmas.  I love Christmas lights which bring colour to our long winter nights.  I love giving gifts.  I love getting gifts.  I love turkey and a thousand different kinds of desserts.  I like Christmas parties, and time off work, and New Years celebrations.  I love having the option to brighten someones day with a cheery “Merry Christmas”.  The best part of Christmas is that Jesus and I share the same birthday!  No, it doesn’t suck because I never have to work on my birthday and there is always party. 

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Lack of money forcing change in the church

Lack of money forcing change in the church


In my corner of the church world there seems to be a lot of people seeing the need for change.  There is a downward trend in donations.  This seems to be impacting missions organizations, Colleges, Seminaries, and denominations the most.  I know of 3 evangelical denominations that have had to merge boards and cut back staff because of funding.  In many institutions survival is a strong instinct.  I work in one, and I like my job.  I don’t want to lose it.  Out of a desire to survive many organizations will change.

Even though there seems to be widespread agreement on the need for change, there are few that are sure of what needs to happen.  Money is one of the foundational pillars holding up our institutions.  Most church leaders and pastors have a difficult time envisioning church ministry with a lot less money. 

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Slaying accounting demons

Slaying accounting demons


Last year I went through a time of anxiety and it was largely related to accounting.  This year I finally did what I should have done a long time ago.  I picked up a good teach yourself accounting book, worked through it and the excercises and came out fully equipped to handle all the accounting my business needs.  This year I’ve encountered almost no anxiety.  I ended up building my own software to do what I need to do.  I’m excited about it because once it is totally completely it will take tremendous amount of work off my hands.  I really love being able to make my own software.

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Faith and mystery

Faith and mystery


I believe that the synoptic gospels are accurate and trustworthy retelling of events, but they are not without human influence and personality.  Even the biblical authors had their own agendas or purposes in what they wrote.  They reflect different aspects of God, Jesus’ life and teaching.  I do not believe that Matthew viewed God the same way Paul did.  I believe that the experiences that Matthew had in choosing to follow Christ impacted his theology.  I believe that Paul’s experience of being struck blind influenced his theology.  Are they both real? Yes.  Are they both trustworthy?  Yes.  Can they be systematically reconciled?  I don’t believe so. 

There is an aspect to following Jesus that is mystical, it is mysterious, and certain things are comprehended at that level and they are difficult to communicate.  What is the relationship between God’s influence and our free will?  For Matthew it was all about choice, for Paul we were predestined.  They are both right and I don’t know how or why. I am content to leave it a mystery. There are some things that we take on faith and we move on.

One of the major problems with evangelical religion is that it is absent of faith.  There is very little we accept on evidence we cannot see or explain.  There is no mystery that is so profound and life changing that it cannot be expressed with words.  Today faith is not acceptance of evidence unseen, but the ignorance of what we can see.  We try to fit the divine scriptures in to a systematic mold and they don’t fit.  We cling tenaciously to traditional interpretations of scripture long after they have been challenged by honest science. 

We are afraid.  Afraid that if we acknowledge one crack in our system the whole thing will fall apart and it will be useless.  We need to stop propping up scripture with ignorance, and have the faith to trust it as it is. 

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American and Canada, allies?

America and Canada, allies?


I think far too many Americans are getting a little too upset about what certain Canadian politicians and journalists are saying about the United States.  It seems that Internet has opened up the US to some person to person feedback and some Americans are dismayed at what people are saying. 

I’d say that most Canadians consider the US a valuable ally.  A very strong friend that we agree with on a lot of stuff.  We also think that our friend can always be counted on to think about themselves first. 

Many Americans see each military action as the US bailing out the world from its problems.  Most other citizens see the Americans acting in their own best interests.  Sometimes the world’s bests interests are America’s best interests.  The world, including Canada,  will sit by and watch the US take the bulk of the load.  I’ll admit that this is unfair and spineless, but let us not kid ourselves that the US is this selfless altruistic force in the world.  If Kuwait had no oil there would have been no response by the US.  Kuwait has oil, the US did respond, and the world watched as the US paid the bill. 

American foreign policy is guided more by economic and political interests and less by freedom, democracy or fundamental human rights.  The US has supported some of the nastiest repressive regimes in the last 50 years and counted them as allies.  Iraq under Saddam Hussein was one of them.  The current regime in Saudi Arabia is another.  We see this, the world sees this, so we are naturally skeptical of the rhetoric about “freedom” that comes out of Washington.  It wasn’t that long ago when “Freedom” was cited as one of the reasons America invaded Canada. 

For many years Canada’s foreign policy just followed the US.  We were in a sense weak and spineless because we had too much invested in our relationship with the US to actually blatantly disagree.  Concerning Iraq we did blatantly disagree.  We concluded that the threat from terrorists in Afghanistan was real so we sent troops.  With Iraq we did not see the same threat.  It would have been easy for us to join the coalition of the willing, but Canada actually found some courage to decline.  Something that surprised many of us.  I’m proud of our nation for standing by its values. 

Americans, like the citizens of any other nation, live in their own bubble.  Their angle on the world is often unique and distinct from that of Canadians.  We, like other societies have an advantage in that we can compare our perspective to the American one.  Now that things like the Internet have bridged the gap, and Americans are now being introduced to alternative perspectives some are getting upset.  They have suddenly realized that people in western democracies like Australia and Canada hate them. 

There have been people in Canada that have hated the US for as long as I can remember.  Especially the 20% of Canadians that make up the strong “left”.  They refuse to give the US any credit for anything, and see everything the US does from military action to global trade is negative, imperialistic and often evil.  These people make it in to government and they write in newspapers.  They do not speak for all of Canada.

There is a greater group of Canadians which are willing to give the US some credit.  There are probably about 30%  of the Canadian population that make up the strong  “right” that would fully agree that Canada is bunch of pansies, we should make hefty increases to our military spending so we can actually contribute in a relevant military way.  Many of the people in this group would have had us in Iraq.  They agreed that Saddam should be ousted and we are friends with the US and buddies always have each other’s back.  I’d say that most Canadians are somewhere in the middle.

We believe in the founding principles of western civilization.  We believe in the inalienable human rights of all people. Naturally we are a little dismayed when our strongest ally decides that some people have less rights than others, and decide to go against treaties that they have signed.  From our perspective we see American military actions as being inconsistent with what we know to be American values.  I believe a little less than half the US population agrees with us. 

Canada and the rest of the world will consistently call the US on what we see as blatant inconsistencies and lies.  Some people will be ridiculous when they do it.  Get over it and get over yourselves.  America is far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean America isn’t a great nation. 

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Boycott America?

Boycott America?


It looks like the anti-war effort aims to change their strategy against the US.  There are people who are hoping to organize a global boycott of US and British goods.  I’m not exactly sure what to think about this.  Although I know one American has chosen to boycott Canada. 

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Church and Internet

Church and Internet


A couple of days ago Jordon and I were chatting about how denominations and church organizations use the Internet.  Their efforts reflect the command and control structures present in their organization.  They want to use the web as a tool to communicate from the top down.  This reflects itself in it’s web projects and it is why many are dismal failures.

For the last 70 or 80 years radio and television have had a huge impact on people.  They are broadcast mediums with little in the way of interactivity.  People became used to passive listening.  Now the TV universe is fractured in to hundreds of channels and the Internet is gradually becoming the dominant medium.  When these people go to church they are pushed back in to an older model that is closer to TV and radio.  There is no interactivity.

The problem with non-interactive mediums is that people learn little and change less from them.  I’ve seen enough standardized bible content exam scores from first year bible college students to know that bible education in the church is a dismal failure.  Even after 13-15 years of sermons, youth group and Sunday School most church kids are bibically illiterate.  It isn’t uncommon for kids who had been Christians for 2 or 3 years perform much better on the same test.  The difference is the new Christians actually studied the bible themselves.

Interactivity means a loss of control.  I’ve come to realize that authority in church settings isn’t much more than being able to speak more and from a higher position than others.  If more people get to speak there is a sense that leaders are losing their authority.  The web however is so radically egalitarian and open that it constantly works again those who feel the need to control the conversation. 

To truly take advantage of the Internet Christian leaders have to accept that church people can have and share their own opinions.  Many of those opinions will be filled with falsehoods.  I think this maybe one of the reasons why so many leaders reject the net.  It has a lot of crap.  What they don’t recognize is that it has lot of crap because most people have never really been taught how to interpret, apply or discern in church. What we see online is the fruit of a church that has depended on passive learning.  This isn’t going to improved by adopting and implementing materials and programs that turn the local church in to a franchise. 

As the net crowd interacts it matures.  The Christian blogging community is growing up.  This phenomenon is really good but it cannot be harnassed or controlled.  One church ministry I know of has enhanced their own community by doing two things.  Their main website is a blog, and they link to the blogs of everyone in their church community.  This isn’t the next fad to grow a church.  It is simply another way for church people to “meet” one another.  It provides any easy way for people to interact with leadership.  It is another avenue for learning and challenge.   Most importantly is that it frees people up to minister to each other. 

Embracing the net has its own challenges and limitations.  I believe that experiential learning and challenge is better yet than interactive learning.  People grow closer, learn more, and change the most when they work together for a purpose that is greater than themselves. 

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Church Growth Calculator!

Church Growth Calculator!


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Being harsh on the blog

Being harsh on the blog


Let’s face it, there are a lot of idiots who comment on blogs.  Some people just take it.  Some people absorb so much crap until they stop temporarily stop posting, or stop blogging.  Some shut off comments.  I prefer to let the idiots know exactly what I think of what they write.  Eventually they leave.  I don’t know where we get this idea that being Christian is being a doormat.  I don’t know where we get the idea that we must endure the constant barbs of those who are not interested in dialogue or learning or change.  I believe that such people destroy the possibility of dialogue and ruin it for others.  My blog is better off without them.

A lot of people have asked me about my recent post about anonymous commenters.  The truth is I haven’t had that many.  No one has recently written anything particularly offensive.  I find people unwilling to stand behind what they say repulsive.  I’ve seen people hurt on blogs because of this.  I’ve seen people hurt in churches and other Christian communities.  I’ve watched too many good pastors get destroyed inside because of people who are unwilling to deal with conflict biblically.  The critics prefer anonymity and passive aggressive politicking.  I think we’ve grown far too tolerant of those who tear down rather than build up.  We’ve come to the point where we can’t use the word “sin” to describe what any one does. 

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Authority and Submission

Authority and Submission


In church last night we talked about authority and submission.  The scope of the discussion was wide as we went off in several directions.  One such direction involved what it meant to submit to Christ.  One such aspect of that would be to align our lives according to the values that Christ taught.  If we love our enemies, are kind to the disadvantaged, give generously to those in need we are submitting to Christ.  I don’t think that my generation has an easy time aligning ourselves with a universal unchanging standard.  In one sense we have some doubts about how sure we are of the standards.  We also have an inherent distrust of authority and society’s institutions that try to tell us what those standards are.  There are probably lots of reasons for this and some are more legitimate than others.  Generally humanity takes the values of their culture and attempts to stamp them as universal.  This is exactly what Jesus ran up against.  He railed against the religious leaders of his day for majoring on minors and neglecting the “weightier matters of the law”. 

I think my generation has accurately perceived the lack of integrity, consistency and authenticity in the church.  However in our haste to run away from what we perceive as shallow or hollow, we often choose alternatives without applying the same critical standard.  Sometimes we simply change sides of the same coin, and we feel better about it, but we aren’t really better off.

Some people have gently and lovingly challenged me about the house church.  They have asked me whether my generation is making the same mistake the previous generation did.  Are we reforming church so we are more comfortable with it?  Have we jumped to the other side of the same coin?  It is a difficult question to answer with any accuracy.  Each group is like their own fishbowl and sometimes perception from inside the bowl is different from perception outside. 

There isn’t a lot in the bible about how church is supposed to look but what is in scripture looks a lot more like a simple house church than most other current expressions of church.  In some ways I don’t think church has to be that complicated.  Come together, extend one another grace and compassion, search for and apply truth together, pray, ascribe worth to God, and serve others.  The more complicated things become the easier it is to get sidetracked. 

The reformation of the church has to happen at several levels. A lot of it has nothing to do with structure or theology but our motivation.  We need to stop relying on fear, manipulation and coercion to control people.  We need to repent of our selfish ambition and our aim to use church as a vehicle to boost our status, prestige, or wealth.  We need to align ourselves according to the simple principles of truth, justice, integrity, mercy, compassion, love, self-sacrifice and faith. 

Sometime ago I listened to a Christian leader talk about how a certain day was a dark day in the history of our province.  I didn’t realize what he was talking about until he finally mentioned the ruling allowing for same sex marriage.  I’m amazed at how upset people get over something like this, but are largely silent on disenfranchisement of aboriginal peoples, or the impact of divorce and single parent families on society.  We like to get excited when the government has “abandoned God’s word” but we are quiet about putting ourselves under the knife of some very simple, commonly understood principles. 

I feel convicted even as I write this.  Over a year ago I taught a portion of an ethics course on the subject of colonization and my eyes were opened to the plight of First Nations in my country but after over a year my response has been weak.  In some ways I’m not sure what a white Anglo-Saxon protestant male can do other than tell other people like me to smarten up, but I haven’t done much of that.  If I truly want to be Christ’s agent in this world I need to put my comfort to the side and work towards justice. 

People often say the church isn’t perfect, but we ought to submit to her regardless.  To a certain extent people can build a case for this.  How would we accomplish what we are called to accomplish if people keep jumping ship as soon as they encounter something they don’t like?  However it is very rare that people who refuse to change or submit hear this as long as they keep filling up the building and donating money.  My openness to challenge and correction by other believers has everything to do with my trust relationships with other people and very little to do with my location at 11 am on Sunday.  In some ways I wonder if we’ve equated our programs and structures so strongly with the purpose that inspired them that we become oblivious to whether we are actually accomplishing that purpose. 

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