When Tragedy Strikes…#PrayforParis

The City of Light has become the City of Darkness, where panic, chaos, uncertainty and fear looms large over all.  The place that has given so much to “civilization”, to education, to knowledge has, this evening, become the place of unspeakable acts of barbarianism.

I, like everyone else, have been horrified and filled with a deep sense of sadness at the tragic events that are occurring as we speak in Paris.  As I watch the simultaneous horror and confusion unfold on social media, I was reminded by the eternal implications of our seemingly everyday lives.

It seems that whenever death visits us in ways that seem too sudden and too horrible to contemplate, that we feel numbed and unable to know how to respond. When it is a distant event, separated by geography as today’s event was for me, it seems apropos to perhaps post a status reminder on Facebook, or mention its horror in passing to our circle of acquaintances as we go on with our normal routines.

Our twin senses of justice and outrage both feel violated, as we consider the fatal nature of the simple act of going out for the evening for those who lost their lives. Our sense of calm seems violated almost unspeakably by a horrible act of violence that we are tempted to   barely acknowledge (sadly) since it happened half a world away.

How should we respond as believers to a tragedy like this when it happens far away? This, as always is the bigger question. I would like to suggest 4 quick points for your consideration.

1. Pray. Pray that comfort and peace would be the portion for those families who have had their lives ripped apart. Pray that the God of all peace would bring comfort to those who are willing to call Him Father. Pray that those who do not know his peace can understand that true peace is available because of another death on our behalf, the death of His Son. Pray for those who believe that only in the giving of their life can Paradise be assured. Pray that they would learn that One gave His life once for all and that there is freedom and forgiveness for all at the foot of the cross.

2. Trust. Remember that the Sovereign God, creator and designer of the universe has allowed this to happen for a purpose. Some day, we will understand, but not today. Today, we grieve, we ask, we question.

3. Parallel it. What jumped out to me as the situation unfolded was this- counter terrorism troops  were driving into danger, knowingly and deliberately, while everyone else was getting out. When duty calls, every one of them knew where they needed to be, knowing that it may put them in harms way. For some people who fulfilled their calling, sacrificing their lives may be the the ultimate expression of dedication to their vocation. In that instant, driving in to assist is the ultimate act of sacrifice, knowing that fear is both real and will be a constant companion. However, in that moment of sacrifice, a picture is painted of the ultimate Sacrifice, the ultimate willingness to serve the greater good, by giving up what is most important to us. Redeem your conversations about this to point to the parallel of the Redeemer.

4. Localize it. Death is the last enemy that each of us will face. When we are honest with ourselves, we realize that our end will be the same some day. To be sure, we may not face death at the end of a gun barrel in the course of walking into a concert hall for an evening, but we will face it nonetheless.
If we had known the events of today were going to unfold in that way, every one of us would have done everything in our power to prepare for it and to prevent it, however possible. We know that it is “appointed” for each of us to die. Instead of living a life trying to avoid that truth, we should embrace it.

Then, when tragedy strikes, as it inevitably will, in our lives, in our communities and in our worlds, we will hear the words that all of us who are soul weary of this dark, sad and broken world are anticipating:

Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of Your Lord.

For that day we long. May every tragedy remind us of the hope that we have been called to.

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Multi Level Marketing and the Church

This is an underserved topic, and one which will see some more development here over the next few months.  Meanwhile, to get the conversation started, please take a look at this response from Jonathan Leeman in the 9 Marks Mailbag.

View the original here

Hello! I’m wondering whether Christians should be involved with multilevel marketing, like Amway, for example. I’d also like to know what to do if someone who claims to be a believer is ‎involved, but doesn’t go to the same church as I do.  

Thank you!

—Anna, Calgary

Anna,

I’m glad you asked since this is a subject Christians don’t always give much thought to, particularly in the context of their church relationships.

At the most abstract level, multilevel marketing is simply one form of direct sales that is neither good or bad in itself. It’s a tool that can be used well or poorly. A pyramid scheme, of course, would be a very bad (and illegal in many countries) use of the model. At the same time, when a real estate or insurance salesman has someone selling for him or her, and they receive a portion of the commission, that effectively is a form of multilevel marketing. And I don’t have a moral objection to that, as such.

But now let me offer a couple of cautions. First, you should always ask whether the product you are selling actually helps people to live better lives. If your company seems more interested in signing up others to sell than it is in selling the product, take that as a big red flag. Realize also that multilevel marketing organizations, both the good and bad ones, love churches because churches are one of the few remaining places that autonomous Westerners structure their lives around a community, and the organizations are only too happy to take advantage of those relational webs.

Second, whether you are selling insurance, real estate, Amway, Arbon, Cutco, Mary Kay, Juice Plus, Tupperware, or whatever the latest suburban living room party product is, you don’t want to exploit your church relationships to make the sale. Just as I wouldn’t want an insurance agent joining my church so that he can phone his way through the membership directory, so I would caution someone against emailing all their friends at church in order to talk about Arbon or Juice Plus.

The reason is, we want our church relationships to be used to pursue much more important matters, namely, helping one another prepare for eternal life. And we don’t want anything to interfere with that.

I remember people felt slightly suspicious about a couple who sold Amway in my church as a kid. Were they using relationships just to make a sale? To some extent, they jeopardized their ability to enter into fully transparent, vulnerable, sin-confessing, hope-encouraging relationships with other people. They worked against their own spiritual good. And goodness, how much more important to help one another begin living eternally now rather than expanding our current client base!

(Full disclosure: I spent two weeks the summer between college and graduate school selling Cutco knives to my parent’s friends in the church. It was horrible! But I still have an awesome set of knives.)

Am I saying that someone involved in a multi-level marketing program should never invite a fellow church member to consider their product? No, assuming that product is in some shape or form legitimate, but I would strongly caution pastors against doing so, and I would want to have a conversation with any member who was pushing into church relationships with their product. I’d want to know more specifics. I know of situations where pastors needed to tell members to stop involving other members entirely.

On the other hand, my friend and fellow church member Jason is a real estate agent, and he does an exemplary job of serving our church members through his profession (including me). But he doesn’t pursue us. We pursue him. There is no doubt in people’s mind that he loves them as people, not as potential clients.

There is a larger conversation here, and that is, how do we balance church relationships with professional competencies? You don’t want the real estate agents or doctors or handymen in your church to feel like you only contact them when you need their professional expertise.

Much depends upon judgment. Yet thanks for raising the subject, because my sense is that many Christians can be careless about these things, including me. The solution is to make sure we’re loving our fellow members for eternity’s sake more than ourselves for this world’s sake.

So – what do you think – Let’s get the conversation started – and then I will tell you what I really think!  🙂

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Sleepless Contemplations

I think this poem of Steve Turner’s neatly sums up the news headlines from the past few weeks.  
If chance be the Father of all flesh,

disaster is his rainbow in the sky,

and when you hear


State of Emergency!

Sniper Kills Ten!

Troops on Rampage!

Whites go Looting!

Bomb Blasts School!


It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.


#nuffsaid 

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Sunday morning contemplation….

 In a colourful format… 

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What’s Wrong With the Church in 18 Words

I think JC Ryle sums it up nicely:

  
Think about it…

 

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Words Taken Out of My Mouth

It is always a pleasant surprise when you find an article where someone expresses the thoughts rolling around your brain far more clearly than you could have yourself. 
Check out this quote on “discernment bloggers” or “internet experts” or whatever you want to call these single focused ministries. 
 QDBs primarily aim for the sexy controversies while letting the more humdrum pastors handle the duller mission of loving, caring, and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus blogs and groups often take negative and militant “discernment” names and postures, telling more about who they condemn than Who they proclaim. What is the point in such a singular, isolated mission approach? Does it align with Scripture’s emphasis that pastors must first teach the gospel to build the church, while also on the side rebuke the false teaching when that need arises?


Better yet, read the entire article Right here
Happy Saturday everyone!

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An Infrequent Book Review


Between Two Gods: Trudy Harder Metzger

A few months ago, I spent the better part of a night reading this book from cover to cover (if such a thing is really possible with an ebook). I read it for three reasons: first, because the topic of abuse inside of religious communities is a disgrace to the God they claim to serve and is worthy of discussion and correction , secondly, because I’m a big fan of first books -and those who are brave enough to start with autobiography and  thirdly, because I am loosely acquainted with the author (having met a grand total of once about 20 years ago if my memory serves me correctly).

 It is important to note that this is not a review of Trudy, her ministry or anything other than this book. I’m more than aware that Trudy is one of those people that people love to love and love to hate. Since I’m a firm believer in” talking to, not about”, those topics are off limits in this short review. My only comment to that is simply this- don’t say anything about anyone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

What is evident however, are three things that I think make this book a highly recommended read in my limited library. First of all, Trudy tells a compelling and realistic story of grace- just the way that the story of grace is meant to be told. Grace is something that is undeserved, unexpected, and completely overwhelming for each one of us who taken the opportunity offered to us to latch on to it. It’s also something healing, like a salve on a wound, or as Trudy puts it in her book “understanding, compassion and grace. That is what brought me healing”. Sometimes we talk about grace, but it takes an entirely different approach to live that grace through the dark places.

Secondly, she tells the story with an appropriately sensitive degree of realism – the threats, the abusive encounters, the forced sexual acts, are conveyed in a balanced way that most authors in any genre struggle with accomplishing. As a reader, I was appropriately horrified by the broken world that sin causes as she described it – and even more brokenhearted by the stories of those who knew better and turned a blind eye to it in the interests of appearances. As someone who is attempting to learn how to deal with some of those cultural expectations (not particularly well so far, by some accounts), this element of her writing resonated strongly with me. Her willingness to state events factually, but without malice is one that many authors struggle with, particularly those who claim to be Christian. I’ve also spent enough time in the trenches of spiritual warfare to know and to agree wholeheartedly with this statement: “we are a messed up lot in desperate need of forgiveness, with shameful sins hidden in our pews”. This is true – in my pastoral role, I see nothing more frequent than struggles with pornography and sexual sin – a sad and timely reminder that the church is just as desperately in need of grace as every one of the sinners that makes up the body of Christ is. On that note, I will say this – through my ministry work, I’ve become all too sadly aware that abuse is something that thrives in faith communities, or churches of all stripes, not just Mennonite ones. Don’t let the denominational indicator in the title of this particular book let you think that this issue is one that is confined to the Mennonite subculture, by any stretch of the imagination, but recognize it for what is really is: a world wide attack orchestrated by the devil to weaken the witness of the church. Which, sadly, he does quite well regardless of denomination.

Thirdly, she opens a window into corners of the Mennonite world that I have only known at a distance. Those of you who know me may find that statement somewhat difficult to process, but those of you who know me well know that my childhood, my experience, even what my definition of a Mennonite is, comes from a completely different perspective. The Old Colony culture, the colony structure, and its legacy even transplanted to Canadian soil is a world that I am only beginning to learn of. From that perspective alone, my heart breaks even more for the Old Colony Mennonites in need in our community, having only been involved with their material needs in the past, the spiritual needs tug at me far more. To a similar degree, I found myself being both disappointed and appalled by the humanity and brokenness, expressed through various forms of abuse, that Trudy discusses experiencing in the CMCO churches (once again, a group that I know virtually nothing about, to be honest). 

 To me, churches as a place of hurt when they are sought as a place of safety is a particularly sad and sobering thing. But it is reality, and will only change as each one of us desire to change our own responses, our own attitudes, and our own actions to become more like the Redeemer who stayed on the cross for us. Too many times, we look at the church as a museum for saints, but as Trudy’s story clearly shows, we need to recognize that it’s a hospital for broken people – all of us. If you spend enough time being real in any church, the words of Romans 3:23 will ring very true to you: all have sinned and fallen short – the problem only arises when we think we have “arrived”.  The narrative of the entire book reminded me of the inherent truth of the words of Francis Schaeffer when he said that “The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”. If you’ve doubted the veracity of that statement in  the past, the stories that Trudy shares bear sad testimony to their regrettable truth. 

As I read the book, I noted some of the inherent theological differences that I may have had with the content in the book, and arrived at the following conclusion. Even though I read the New Testament,  or Menno Simons differently, or view the nature of the body of believers differently, or the roles and lines of relationship in church structure differently, I say this as clearly as I can: My opinions, my convictions are the product of my experiences, my education, and my life, as are hers – no attempt to endorse, promote and hold lines of doctrinal fidelity can come at the expense of protecting the innocence of  children, or at the expense of placing culture and appearance as an idol about our living service to our Creator God – the one who formed us, knew us intimately, and walks with us through every dark place, whether we acknowledge His presence with us or not. Sadly, those dark places spill out of all of our lives, in different ways, and different places. The ultimate question that a book like this really draws out to each of its readers is simple this: whether or not you will permit your experiences and the power of the gospel, mixed together, to shape, to mold and to sanctify you in your role as God’s child.

So, read the book with an open mind and a heart full of prayer. Ask God’s Spirit to guide you as you read, and consider the ways that your life could intersect and prevent some of the pain that spills out on these pages, regardless of your place and position in faith communities.

To Trudy, I say this: Well done – and may the second book be as considered and well articulated as the first.
And if you want to find it – Amazon Here

  

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