Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2016 Christmas Letter - #FashionSanta

Social media told me that Yorkdale Mall hired model Paul Mason, and “his glorious white beard,” to play Santa Claus this year.  If you google #FashionSanta you’ll see that he might actually look a little more like the real Saint Nicholas than the Coca-Cola version of a very large elf in a very large suit.

The whole thing got me thinking about how we celebrate the birth of Jesus with all sorts of glitz and glamour when the Prophet Isaiah describes the coming savior like this,
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
  • Isaiah 53:2-3

I’m all for having fun with Christmas, but in the midst of the lights and tinsel we can’t forget that we are celebrating the birth of God who came as a poor, homeless, helpless infant.  I love how Brennan Manning writes it in a chapter called “Shipwrecked at the Stable”: “God entered into our world not with the crushing impact of unbearable glory, but in the way of weakness, vulnerability and need. On a wintry night in an obscure cave, the infant Jesus was a humble, naked, helpless God who allowed us to get close to him.”

While we might celebrate Christmas with “unbearable glory,” that is not where we will find the One we celebrate.  He is not in the lights and tinsel – he is in the stable.  To quote Bruce Cockburn, “It isn’t to the palace that the Christ Child come, but to shepherds, and street people, hookers and bums.” (The Cry of a Tiny Babe)

As “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” says, “He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe Christmas, he thought... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit more!
It actually means a lot more – it means that God has come to be among us, to show us who he truly is: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” – John 1:18

This Christmas, celebrate well! Get out the lights and tinsel, the turkey and the trimmings, but make sure that you find the One whom we celebrate as well.  You won’t find Him in the lights – he won’t come in unbearable glory, he’ll come “in the way of weakness, vulnerability and need.”  Among the rejected ones, that’s where you’ll find the Christ Child.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wear a RED X tomorrow

God often asks His people to do things that make other people ask: "Why do you do that?"  One of my favorites is the time the people of Israel cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land, and Joshua has a man from every tribe pick a rock from the river and heap the twelve stones up into a pile "to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?'’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:6-7)

Tomorrow (February 27), people all over the world are going to paint a red "X" on their hand.  "Why?" you might ask.  (This is the correct response!)  

And all those people (those of us with X's on our hands!) can reply: "We are wearing the red X to bring attention to the problem of slavery in the world today.  Today, it is estimated that 27 million people are enslaved. That is more than were enslaved at the height of the African slave trade!

I'm inviting you to go to http://enditmovement.com to get informed and then tomorrow, before you go out to work, school or wherever, paint a red "X" on your hand.  When people ask "Why?" tell them that you want to see slavery end.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saint Patrick and Evangelism

You might celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day this Saturday by wearing green and patronising your local Irish Pub, but to really celebrate the man, you might want to bring a friend along and tell them about Jesus!
Patrick is the apostle of Ireland – credited with most of the population of the island embracing Christ within his lifetime. There are some who would say that he is the first true missionary since the apostle Paul: if not, he is surely the first missionary to venture outside of the Roman Empire.

By the time Patrick died at the ripe old age of 115, after 60 years of ministry, the vast majority of Ireland would have adopted his very indigenous, very vibrant Christian faith.

In many ways it was best explained as a conversion not to Christianity, but to Christ. Patrick was not spreading a religion: to have more people under the control of the Church; but he was spreading the Good News that the Creator wanted to have a relationship with them through his Son. It was the good news of inviting people to live the life that they were created to live, in the family of the One that they were created in the image of.

Patrick’s message was good news that pulled people out of fear based, and often-oppressive religious systems and beliefs. Patrick himself recognized that the gospel was good news as he suffered as a slave on the hills of Northern Ireland. He returned to Ireland not to conquer it for Christ, but to woo people into Christ’s love.

Patrick was a missionary unlike many others. Patrick was not Irish (gasp!), he was born in Roman Briton. But he didn’t reach the Irish as his “target audience.” In his writings he speaks of “we Irish:” he sees himself as one of the Irish. Because of his enslavement, he already had an understanding of the culture and ways of the Irish, and he felt no need to “civilize” them into Roman ways.

Even the Celtic cross is a sign of the marrying of the Celtic culture and Christian faith – The circle was an important symbol to the Druids, and instead of destroying it as evil and devilish, Patrick placed the cross over it. This doesn’t mean that he adopted the traditional religion into his Christianity: there was much to be discarded it was a fear-based religion that included human sacrifice and fearsome and arbitrary gods. But the Celtic Christian faith was one that spoke to the same earthy “felt needs” of the people, and it adopted much of what was good and pure from the traditional culture.

George G. Hunter III writes about Patrick’s method of spreading the gospel in “The Celtic Way of Evangelism:” “Patrick’s entourage would have included a dozen or so people, including priests, seminarians, and two or three women. Upon arrival at a tribal settlement, Patrick would engage the king and other opinion leaders, hoping for conversion, or at least their clearance, to camp near the people and form into a community of faith adjacent to the tribal settlement. The “apostolic” team would meet the people, engage them in conversation and in ministry, and look for people who appeared receptive. They would pray for sick people, and for possessed people, and they would counsel people and mediate conflicts. On at least one occasion, Patrick blessed a river and prayed for the people to catch more fish. They would engage in some open-air speaking, probably employing parable, story, poetry, song, visual symbols, visual arts and, perhaps, drama to engage the Celtic people’s remarkable imaginations. Often, we think, Patrick would receive the people’s questions and then speak to those questions collectively. The Apostolic band would welcome responsive people into their group fellowship to worship with them, pray with them, minister to them, converse with them, and break bread together. One band member or another would probably join with each responsive person to reach out to relatives and friends. The mission team typically spent weeks, or even months, as a ministering community of faith within the tribe. The church that emerged within the tribe would have been astonishingly indigenous.” - p. 21

Patrick’s is a great model for evangelism today in our post-Christian world. Some of the people who walk in his spirit today are The Alpha Course, Ed Silvoso & his model of Prayer Evangelism & the people involved in the MoveIn movement.

Wish someone a happy Saint Patrick’s Day & tell them about the Jesus that Patrick loved!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Saint Patrick and the End of Slavery

We’re a few days away from Saint Patrick’s Day, and it will be a day of grown men marching in funny green hats, drinking way too much green beer & inviting anyone to kiss them because, for today, they are Irish. Like many of our Saints’ Days, the celebration has taken over, and it has become much less than the actual person we are celebrating.

Contrary to popular belief, Saint Patrick looks nothing like the guy on the front of Frosted Lucky Charms cereal! Patrick was born in Roman Briton in 387. At the age of 16 he was captured by Irish raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. In slavery, he embraced the Christian faith he was born into. Through dreams and visions from God, Patrick was able to escape back to his family.
He was trained as a priest and, through dreams from God, he was called back to Ireland to be an apostle to his former captors. Patrick was an amazing evangelist: in his lifetime, Ireland was converted to Christianity.

Patrick preached a holistic faith that encompassed every area of life. Thomas Cahill says in How the Irish Saved Civilization; ”Patrick is the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against slavery. Nor would any voice as strong as his be heard again till the seventeenth century.” By Patrick’s death, slavery was completely abolished as a practice in Ireland – way better than driving out the snakes!

We have two writings from Patrick that have survived into our time. One is his “Confession,” which is a brief autobiography; the other is his letter to Coroticus. This public letter to Coroticus is a powerful statement against slavery.

As the Romans pulled out of Briton, the Romanized Britons had very few ways to support themselves so some of them took to piracy, raiding the neighbouring counties for booty and slaves.

You can imagine how horrified Patrick was to hear of the tables turning and British Christian raiders coming to make slaves of the Irish. One of the raiders was named Coroticus. Patrick describes how he had just baptized and confirmed a large group of young men and women, when on the very next day, the chrism “still gleaming upon their foreheads, they were cruelly cut down and killed.” Those that resisted faced instant death; the remainder were taken prisoner – the men into slavery, the women to endure a lifetime of sexual abuse at the hands of the pagan Picts.

Patrick writes a hasty letter and sends a delegation of priests after Coroticus and his men to call them back from their wicked ways and return their Christian brothers and sisters to their homes. The priests were rebuffed and laughed at. So Patrick wrote a second open letter; a great rebuke, calling Coroticus and his men to repentance. If they do not repent, the letter calls all other Christians to excommunicate them and have nothing to do with their company or their wicked ways. In the letter he derides Coroticus and his men as “dogs and sorcerers and murderers, and liars and false swearers… who distribute baptized girls for a price, and that for the sake of a miserable temporal kingdom which truly passes away in a moment like a cloud or smoke that
is scattered by the wind.”

Today, slavery is as great an issue as it ever was in Patrick’s day. In fact, there are more slaves today than there were at the height of the African slave trade or any other time in human history! This March 17, you can honour Saint Patrick by doing something to end slavery in our generation. You can become part of advocacy organizations like Not For Sale, rescue organizations like International Justice Mission, and after-care organizations like Ratanak International. And pray for the 30 million people enslaved today, that they would see justice and freedom in our time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nicholas and National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day! In Germany, children put out their stockings (or shoes) on the eve of Saint Nicholas and he fills them with fruits & candies (or coal). In my house we celebrate Saint Nicholas Day because we have our own Saint Nicholas (our twelve-year-old). I usually just wish him a happy Saint Nicholas Day and buy him some chocolate. Lately I’ve taken him out for lunch to celebrate his saint’s day.

Another “tradition” that we’ve had on Saint Nicholas Day is to wake up to the radio reminding us that it is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. December 6 marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of 14 young women at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal. I’ve always had troubles reconciling the fun celebration of the patron saint of children with the remembrance of that terrible crime.

Today, as Matt Galloway reminded me of the memorial this morning, it seemed to make more sense. Saint Nicholas isn’t the Santa Claus of Coca-Cola ads, nor is he even Father Christmas. He was a real person living in the early fourth century A.D. As Bishop of Myra, located in modern day Turkey, he attended the Council of Nicea from which we have the Nicene Creed. Nicholas was a great protector of women. A story is told of a poor old widower with three daughters for whom he had no dowry. Without a dowry, the girls were destined to be sold into prostitution. In order to save the girls, and retain the widower’s dignity, Nicholas secretly provided the dowries by throwing bags of gold through the family’s window. (The gold supposedly landed in stockings or shoes drying by the fire.) You may have never thought of Santa Claus as someone doing what he could to stop the trafficking of vulnerable women, but Saint Nicholas surely did. He followed the example of his saviour Jesus in protecting vulnerable women and honouring them.

So, we can celebrate Saint Nicholas Day and remember and take action on violence against women on the same day. You can remember Saint Nicholas and wear the white ribbon in his honour; and like Saint Nicholas, you can take action to protect women who are some of the most vulnerable to violence: those who are trafficked, especially in the sex trade. One place to start is where many people at Runnymede Community Church help out: supporting Vancouver-based Ratanak International in their work to restore and rehabilitate Cambodian women and children from slavery in the brothels in Cambodia.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Loving The Enemy

Loving the enemy, Blessing Those Who Curse You

A friend of mine recently returned from the TEDxToronto talks. She raved about them, except for the talk given by a former politician who used the opportunity to give a campaign speech that began with taking pot-shots at our current mayor. My friend rolled her eyes and said the comments were a cheap laugh in the context of the TED crowd. Politicians are an easy target for a cheap laugh. Many of my progressive friends have been taking the opportunity to mock our current mayor on Twitter & Facebook. In the current climate, where we have a right-wing mayor, a majority conservative federal government, and the possibility of a conservative provincial government, what’s a “Left-Wing Pinko Kook on a Bicycle” to do, if not throw mean-spirited attacks and insults their way?

The problem is that this is not the way Jesus teaches us to respond to “enemies,” or people we disagree with. What He says is, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28 NIV) We progressives might feel like we are hated, cursed and mistreated by some of our leaders, but we must respond in love so that we “may be children of our Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:45 NIV)

As a response to the nastiness that has plagued American politics of late, the Christian community and magazine Sojourners has called their people to sign the “Peace and Civility Pledge.” As the nastiness seems to be migrating north, I’d encourage Christians in my city and country to read and commit to it as well.

So what’s a Spirit-filled “Left-Wing Pinko Kook on a Bicycle” to do in Toronto? Put up and shut up? No, I believe that Christians have a call to speak prophetically to our rulers: see my previous post. The prophets of the Old and New Testaments did not just predict the future – they spoke God’s words and His ways to their rulers. John the Baptist was beheaded for calling the king to account. Jesus was not shy of telling the religious rulers where they were going wrong and He generally used very strong language to do so. We are to call our politicians to a better way, but we must do so with respect and humility. Ephesians 4:25-5:2 NIV

Does that mean that we must be humourless persimmon-sucking puritans? No! the prophets have a long history of using humour, drama, poetry and song to get God’s point across. Christians have a long history of turning our enemies’ insults into badges of honour: the names “Christian,” “Baptist” and “Left-Wing Pinko Kook on a Bicycle” were first given as insults!

So, have fun! But as St. Peter said, “Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.” (1 Peter 2:17 MSG)