When God Affirms your Call

I’ve been struggling a lot lately – wondering what God is calling me to do going forward. In the context of our potential church merger with Hillside I’m trying to discern my role in maintaining New Hope’s vision while stewarding a fuzzy sense of being called to more involvement in things outside of New Hope. I sense that I need to make more room to write more books. In two weeks I’ll begin teaching (for the first time), a course on being church in a changing world, at Ambrose University. I also have this long-brewing passion to get more involved with helping preachers preach creation texts (I drafted two chapters of a book on the topic 6 months ago and haven’t revisited the manuscript since). So how does this all fit? Can it all fit?

And then this afternoon happens.

Sitting in a class, with a bunch of theology professors learning how to develop a syllabus, I start to feel at home. I feel like I fit in. As this is playing out I get an email that repairs what I thought was a rift in the church merger conversation. It left me thinking that I will have more room for more stuff. Then I get an email from my publisher. We haven’t spoken for months but now he’d like me to get on with some pre-marketing for the next book. Then I meet a lecturer who’s a good friend of a New Hoper and as we speak I feel like the two worlds of school and church can easily co-exist. And then I bump into the seminary dean on the way out of the lecture and he says he’d be very interested in exploring the idea of me teaching a one week spring course in 2016 on preaching two book sermons. And then, as I sit in the school foyer for a few minutes to write this post, three professors from the lecture come up to me and offer ideas on how a newbie can structure their first class. Each had been a pastor in their previous life.

And then I think, there is a way forward for all of this.

 

 

Last Church Service (in West Hillhurst)

Tomorrow will be our last church service in the West Hillhurst Community Centre (on August 30th we move, on September 6th we ‘church picnic’ and on September 13th we’re in our new digs at the former Rocky Mountain College).

So much of what NHC is has happened here… desperately trying to remove the bingo smoke smell from the auditorium in the first year, adding dry ice ‘smoke’ for the Metallica service years later, building a 200 foot long runway for ‘fashion show Sunday’, meeting so many people at the back of the gym for the first time, saying goodbye to some, sharing so many potlucks, watching and hearing kids run around the gym after church (and sometimes during), seeing that guy stand on his chair and wave his bible and scream at me during my ‘seven card texas hold’em’ sermon, watching the congregation’s faces change when they realized this wasn’t a planned drama or skit, seeing all of those volunteers, for over 15 years!!!, set up and take down chairs, lights, speakers, video and projection gear, play-school walls, carpets, et al, consuming all of those Sunday morning bagels (10’s of thousands!), being crammed into other community centre spaces as the gym floor was replaced (twice), seeing all of the beautiful imagery that’s been projected on those two big screens, tasting honey, hosting a huge catered feast, watching an artist paint on a huge canvas while I preached (twice), hosting so many congregational business meetings, taking in so many movie clips, hearing the band practice and then play (on Arcade Fire Sunday, Rush Sunday, Supertramp Sunday, The National Sunday, Mumford Sunday, Florence and the Machine, Coldplay, U2 and so many more), feeling that profound sense of sacredness on Christmas eve as the place was filled with flickering candles and we sang Oh Holy Night, seeing the faces of so many souls over the years as we were all caught up in a God moment, watching tears come down their faces, hearing the laughter.

I could go on and on and on right now…  so many good memories… so much holiness… all in an ugly old community centre gym. I’ll miss it.

New Hope Church’s changing Values

new hope logoOver the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about the vision and values of NHC. What is it that uniquely makes us who we are?  Why are we this way? As I’ve thought through these questions I’ve come to realize that ‘a lot of what we do we used to do for one reason and now do for another’.

1. Engaging culture – When New Hope started, as a ‘seeker-oriented church’ 20 yrs ago, we often used movie clips, contemporary songs, sports stories, science as relevant relational bridges to the culture (as mere illustrations). Now we use them as creational words of revelation spoken by God.

2. Language- When NHC started we excised as much ‘Christian-ese’ from our lexicon as possible so that those new to church would not get lost. Now we use the language of the culture with the belief that this is the language God is speaking in the world today.

3. Seeker sensitivity – Where we used to be (almost inordinately) oriented to and sensitive to how a new person would respond to an experience of church, we now thoughtfully attend to them with the understanding that they bear the image of God and that God is present through them (plus its always good to be hospitable!).

I’m sure there are a few more…  but I find it interesting how God took one thing and transformed it into another. Reading this post over I’ve also come to realize how easy it is for those outside of the community to view our church and think ‘they’re just trying to be relevant.’

 

 

Done Deal – We’re Moving!

the signingLast week New Hope/Hillside secured a signed offer to lease for space at the former Rocky Mountain College facility at Crowchild Trail and Brisbois Drive! For this new home we are very thankful! The plan is to hold our first service at the new location on September 13th (with Hillside Church). On August 30th, in lieu of our regular morning service, we’ll be moving all of our stuff out of West Hillhurst (if you’re around 😉 ).

Stay tuned for more details! (Thanks to Gord Vanderleek from Hillside church for helping with the legal work!)

Bigger classroom (are you kidding me!) front foyer from doors Front foyer from lobby gathering space outside theatre 250 Main entrance
Room 203 Room 250 main theatre

 

 

The most horrific moment of my life

It was such a perfect holiday. More rest that I’ve ever had on a summer getaway. The past six months have been arguably the most hectic of my life. Negotiating a book contract, a teaching contract, a new facility contract and merger discussions with Hillside church; it’s all been a bit stressful. Until two days ago. Now I wonder why I ever worried about any of these things at all.

It was our last morning at the Ramada resort in Penticton. Edward and I were at the pool for our 9:00 am swim and hot tub. We were the only ones there. As per protocol, we both swam together for a while and then I dried off and read the paper while he shuttled from pool to hot tub to pool. For about 5 minutes I got caught up in reading the obituary of an acquaintance. Then I looked up to check on Edward. I never worry at all about him in the pool. He’s a fantastic swimmer, is uber buoyant and is totally self sufficient in the water.

He wasn’t in the pool. Which meant he was in the hot tub. But as I glanced over at the hot tub he wasn’t there either. Did he leave the enclosure? He’d never do that. So I quickly scanned the pool again and then headed over to the hot tub. As I stepped into the cabana I looked down into the hot tub and there was Edward lying face down, his head near the drain, motionless on the bottom of the tub.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and, from a place deep inside, screamed out his name. Staff from the resort came running and I was momentarily incapacitated; beside myself, horrified. What’s happened here? What have I done? The permanence of what I was facing paralyzed me.

And then Edward’s arms and legs flailed and he lifted his head out of the water. I guess he was just doing one of those dead man floats. But I thought he’d drowned. Even writing these words still brings me to tears. For a just a few seconds, one of the worst things that could ever happen in my life happened. Only it didn’t. But it could have. But it didn’t.

The hotel staff kept asking if I was ok. My heart wouldn’t stop racing. For ten minutes I just sat on a poolside chair and trembled. This could have happened. Our holiday could have ended this way. How would I have ever told Fran? I just kept running the scenario out… the paramedics… the shock… the loss.

Then I went into the pool with Edward. He was afraid to make eye contact or hug me, thinking he’d done something wrong. After a few minutes we ‘talked’. How could he ever understand the abstraction of what I thought had happened? Holding his face close to mine was all I could do.

And it’s all I’ve done since. All that matters most in my life is very good right now. Everything else is so small in comparison… almost negligible. For the rest of the day I kept telling Fran that we have no idea how ‘held’ our lives are.  For the past two days I can’t stop saying thank you.

And now I’m trying to figure out what to do with that image in my mind. Every time I see it I’m right back there. How in the world does a God who sees terrible things happen all the time handle it?

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my prayer

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I just came back from a long walk where I meditated on these words of blessing;

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”                         2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, NIV

Its funny how taking a phrase and repeating it over and over again, while in motion, works God’s truth into your body and mind. Five things struck me as I walked with this text;

“…that God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power…” Nothing that I’ve ever done in my life, nothing of any value to God’s kingdom has come through my calling apart from his initiative and power. As I pondered this truth, it felt like I was getting smaller and smaller as I walked along.

“…may he bring to fruition your every desire for goodness…” And I thought about my deepest desire – that every single person in our city come to know and experience the glory and grace of Jesus Christ, in every facet of their life, with all of their being, all the time and forever more; that they would know him through their work, rest, family, friends, church, world, sport, science, music, art, movies and everything else in between! As the fullness of that desire filled me I could do nothing but cry.

“…may he bring to fruition… your every deed prompted by faith…” Then I thought about all of the sermons on all of those creational texts, crafted in faith (‘What in the world are you revealing through this thing God?’), now floating out there in cyberspace. I imagined a whole bunch of nephrologists hearing about the kidney as text for the first time, meeting God through the nature of the nephron. And then came the electricians, classical music lovers, restaurant servers, artists, business people, moms, nurses, neurologists, mechanics, movie buffs and botanists. I trembled at the thought of God taking all that we’ve done in faith over the past 10 years and bringing it to an unimaginable fruition.

“…so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him…” As I pondered this phrase I kept changing out the words, ‘Jesus glorified in youmeus“…  and “Us, me, you… glorified in him”. John Calvin’s idea that we can only know ourselves when we know God, and only know God as we know ourselves was pounded home with every step. Our glory can only come in glorifying him and the fullness of his glory will only come in glorifying us. For a few seconds it was as though the sun was shining a little bit brighter.

“…according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And all of this – our calling, desires for goodness, deeds prompted by faith, and back and forth glory – is a grace, a gift from God!  And I smiled in gratitude as I walked by a young mom, kneeling down to her daughter in love in order to show her something beautiful that they’d found along the way.

This is my prayer for our city and for our world; that all of the blessing of these words would come to fruition – come to fully be!  And I am so thankful to be called to pray for these things.

Grieving in your own way

Last night Fran and I finished binge watching the BBC’s The Hour. In the final episode two characters that we’d grown to love received news that the daughter they’d been searching for, given away at birth nineteen years earlier, died as a child during a second world war bombing raid. The father, Randall Brown’s grief was compelling. Throughout earlier episodes we were introduced to a man with an obsessive compulsive disorder; always straightening and reordering things on desks, totally controlled and precise in all he did. Then he got the worst news any parent ever could… and he grieved like a man with OCD would, in the only way that would be authentic to who he was. I couldn’t help but wonder if every human being on this planet has their own way to grieve.

The perilous distraction of complaining

FullSizeRenderFor the past half hour I’ve been staring at this photo of a group of Rohingya migrants, jammed onto a wooden fishing boat, fleeing persecution and looking for a home.

They have nothing and their faces haunt me.

Earlier this morning, after laying awake since 5:00 am, I told my wife that I don’t know what to do anymore. For the past six months I have been whining incessantly about the increased air traffic over our home and now it looks as though nothing can remedy the matter. My complaining has cost me an embarrassing amount of attention, time and peace. I can’t stop thinking, “This is not fair”.

And now I see these people in this boat.

When Fran and I talked it through this morning I came to the realization that I need to let go. I need to give up my right to make it right along with my insistence on having it my way. I’ve been so caught up in my personal comfort that I’ve started to lose focus on what really matters.  As Fran and I spoke, the story of Jonah came to mind; of how, at the end of the book, he was more concerned about the loss of a tree that was giving him shade than he was about a city full of people who didn’t know God.

As I read the closing chapter to Fran, I couldn’t finish the last few verses –  because of my tears…. and my shame.

God arranged for a broad-leafed tree to spring up. It grew over Jonah to cool him off and get him out of his angry sulk. Jonah was pleased and enjoyed the shade. Life was looking up. But then God sent a worm. By dawn of the next day, the worm had bored into the shade tree and it withered away. The sun came up and God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he started to faint. He prayed to die: “I’m better off dead!” 

Then God said to Jonah, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?”

Jonah said, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!”

God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?”

Jonah 4:6-11, MSG