Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Narnia v Da Vinci

Emerging church guru, Dan Kimball, ponders the evangelistic value of the Da Vinci Code movie over Narnia.

Here's a snippet:

I sort of find it kind of sad that the church has to get so excited about films to do evangelism, rather than being excited about the ongoing relationships we have with those outside the faith for evangelism. It feels weird that I would invite someone to a movie to explain what I believe in rather than letting my life and what I can be talking them about personally would be.

Amen, brother, preach it! Evangelism happens through relationships, through loving other, not through agruing with the culture.

But, he does offer a compelling agrument for a film (or book) like the Da Vinci Code as a jumping off place for beginning a conversation.

Read the whole article.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sermon: Lent 4 - Year B: A Service of Prayer and Healing

CNN political analyst Paul Begala, when working for Bill Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States had trouble convincing his candidate of the value of the sound byte.

“You’re talking over peoples’ heads,” Begala warned. “You need to simplify your message.”

“But how can I condense these big ideas into small phrases?” Clinton protested. “It can’t be done without harming the message.”

“Oh, really?” replied Begala, “Hold out your watch and time me on how long it takes me to say this, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. How long did that take? Eight seconds? So, if the bible can sum up salvation history in eight seconds, then surely you can tell us if you’re for the balanced budget amendment. ”

I told the kids in the children’s sermon that this passage from John’s gospel was “the gospel in a nutshell.” I guess I could have easily said that John 3:16 is “God’s sound byte.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s a pretty good summation of what we believe as Christians.

“For God so loved the world…” those familiar words ring out. At least familiar to those of us who have been hanging around the church for a while. But the original Greek goes deeper, broader…For God so loved the KOSMOS. The whole entire cosmos! The complete universe as we know it, from the tiniest quirk, the smallest quark, to the vast star systems. God loves the cosmos!

And out of this vast love God shares, gives, offers God’s own self in Jesus. The Son is given so that all may believe in him and be saved.

We often reduce belief to mental assent, agreement with propositional truths or creedal statements about God.

But that’s not what this passage is talking about. John was talking about trust. Jesus is given so that all may trust him. Trust that we will not perish but have eternal life. Eternal life over eternal death. But, again, the original Greek is more nuanced: “So that everyone who trusts in Jesus may not be RUINED, but may have eternal life.”

Ruined. Spoiled. Destroyed.

Jesus is given so that failure, loss, grief, will not destroy us.

After all, that’s what the following verses say, “I’m not here to condemn people,” Jesus says, “I’m here to save them.”

But then Jesus takes it a step further to where we probably wish he didn’t go. He had to talk about condemnation.

Why? Why spoil the party? Why taint such good news with ugly threats of eternal punishment?

As Presbyterian minister, Alison Bucklin points out,

People only want to be saved when they perceive a danger. And those hearing that message – the people then, and us folks now, generally do not believe that we are in any danger. So when Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in me is not condemned, but those who do not believe in the name of the only Son of God,” he is saying, “whether or not you believe you are in spiritual danger, you are, and the only way out is through me. Spiritual snakes have slow-acting poison. You may not feel it yet. But you’re dying. Listen to me, look to me, and live!”

Have you ever been driving down a deserted highway and notice just off in the distance, an abandoned house? It was clear that someone once lived there. A family gathered for evening meals. Weddings. Funerals. Hellos. Good –byes. All the stuff of life, both heartbreaking and life-giving, both joyous and tragic, thrived between those walls.

But either suddenly or gradually, the people left. The house was emptied. The stories silent. A way of life forgotten. And the house that stands may have seemed lonely, when its paint was still colourful, the windows still whole, and the roof still strong. But now the house feels dead. A hollowed-out husk. A shell. Its history carried off with the west wind.

It lay in ruin.

I wonder if that’s the ruin that Jesus is talking about. The hollowed-out husk that we feel we’ve become, whether by illness or loss or abuse, or whatever, we feel like that house; hollow. Weak. Dead. And we wonder if we will ever find life again.

But the point of the passage is clear: when our lives are in ruins Jesus rebuilds them. Whether it’s the ruins of broken relationships, the ruins of grief, the ruins of depression, the ruins of guilt, the ruins of shame, the ruins of illness, the promise is this: God restores. God heals. God saves.

That why we gather around the altar this morning for prayer. Here we bring the ruins of our lives, so that, together, the pieces start to be put back together.

It’s not always easy to trust, at least not in the way that God asks us to. If it were easy then we wouldn’t need Jesus. That’s the irony of faith. Trusting, believing, receiving. These take strength that is beyond us. It is because we are weak that God gives us strength. It is because we have trouble believing that God gives us faith. It is because we don’t know how to receive that God gives us Jesus. Because God so loved the cosmos that he gave us his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not lay in ruin, but enjoy new and everlasting life.

So today, in prayer and hope, bring these gifts to the altar. Offer your tears and wounds, hopes and longings as sacrifices of praise to Jesus who takes the broken fragments of our lives and pieces them together in an expression of love and new life.

For some, this may be just a sound byte, but for us, it is the promise of eternity. Amen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


There are days when I don’t believe in God. It’s not that I’m not troubled by the BIG questions (where was God during the Holocaust? Where is God when little babies die of preventable diseases? Why do the wicked prosper?), but, every so often, I get this stone in my shoe called doubt, doubt which isn’t a personal reaction to real life and far too real death. But doubt, nonetheless. And today, I have it.

I doubt because my rational mind can’t comprehend God. God seems too big. Too easy to construct. Too convenient to my needs.

Eternal life seems too much like a comfortable fantasy. Too much like a handy story.

Christians can be too hurtful. Too self- righteous.

I would like to see more people living resurrected lives.


Not a good thing when one’s pay cheques assumes a certain - shall we say - outlook on life, death, and eternity.

I think, maybe, I’m just tired. I always get existential when my vitamin C levels drop. Or do I have too much invested to really look honestly at my faith?


And no.

Yes, the mortgage company demands that I pay them each month, existential crisis or not.

No. I have a kick ass resume and could easily get a job doing something else for awhile.

So, I’ll stay. For now.

Luther said that when a preacher feels doubt, he (or she) should preach the gospel until faith returns. I’m not sure he’s right. Faith and doubt are not opposites, but kissing cousins. The opposite of faith is certainty, not doubt. Jesus doesn’t call us to certainty, but faith. I think I might be a little more freaked out if – from time to time – I DIDN’T feel doubt.

But I preach because I need to believe the promises of resurrection, of New Creation, of new and abundant life. I preach because so many good people still believe and pray for me, and give their hearts and souls to the well-being of Christ’s church. And that sayin’ something.

That’s why I love the Nicene Creed over the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles’ Creed begins “I believe…”

But the Nicene Creed begins “We believe…” We. Us. Together. When one of us is too weak to stand up on our own two feet, the strong ones pick up the slack. When one of us has more doubt than faith, the strong believers speak these words for us.

So, no matter what, I stay. And will allow others to speak for me when I have no words.

Brison and Dion, you've got some competition

Ashley MacIssac is running for the Liberal leadership. Yes, you read that correctly.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I’ve been a poor blogger lately. It’s mainly because I’ve got so much on my to-do list that I don’t have the time to collect my thoughts let alone write anything.

I haven’t preached since Ash Wednesday. I joke that I’m giving up sermons for Lent. But I’ll be glad to get back in the pulpit on Lent 4 (March 26). Some of my left over preaching material ends up on my blog, but since I haven’t been preparing for Sunday mornings, there are few scraps to throw.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Edmonton to attend a worship workshop. Should be a blast. Be good until I get back.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The cost of love

I wasn’t going to answer the door. I should have ignored it.

My sermon is usually put to bed by Saturday night, but this particular week I was lazy, so I was in my office, scribbling down notes when I should have been watching Hockey Night in Canada.

Maybe I was being punished for my sloth.

I answered the door.

“We want to talk about God,” they said. Two young men. One dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. The other in what I can only describe as a long, dress-like, shirt with matching beige coloured pants and sandals.

“Boy, the fish are jumping right in the boat,” I thought to myself.

I invited them to my office and they sat down. They got right to the point.

“What do you believe about God?” one of them asked, demandingly.

I was taken aback. I stammered a bit. How does one encapsulate Christianity?

“We believe that God, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, died on the cross and rose again three days later. And that we are joined to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection through what we call ‘Holy Baptism.’”

A quick answer. They were unimpressed.

“You also believe in the Holy Spirit?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “We believe the Holy Spirit is the power of the Risen Jesus alive in us and in the world.”

I mentally patted myself on the back for such a succinct answer. But it was clear that they weren’t buying it.

“So, you believe in three gods?” he asked.

“No, we believe in One God, three Persons.”

“What’s the difference?” he asked, his voice rising.

“Think of H20, it is liquid, steam, and ice. Three different expressions of the same substance,” I said, knowing how oversimplified my answer was.

He rose from his chair and yelled with his index finger pointing heavenward, “There is not three gods, there is only one God, and his name is Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet. The Koran is God’s Holy revelation to mankind!”

Whoa! You guys didn’t tell me you were Muslims (although I suspected as much).

“You do not have the authority to forgive sins!,” he continued, “You don’t need priests to mediate between God and man…!”

“How about between God and women?” I thought to myself, “And who said anything about priests? This is a LUTHERAN church.”

“You don’t need phony rituals like baptism and communion! All you need is to get down on your knees and BEG Allah for forgiveness and turn your life towards him!”

Phony rituals? Baptism and communion? He obviously came with a prepared speech.

His sidekick chimed in. He had a softer tone, clearly the good cop to his friend’s bad cop. “It’s not that we’re trying to convert you,” he said, “We just want to have a conversation.”


“This 'conversation' is over,” I said ushering them to the door. And as they were leaving, the loud one turned to me and said, “You’ve been given God’s message from not ONE, but TWO Muslims. You need to turn your life over to the true God NOW, before it’s too late. You could die tonight on the way home, and if you don't repent, you will find yourself in damnation.”

Was that a threat?

“Please leave,” I said.


This happened about 4 years ago when I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I write this not to beat up on Muslims, but because it showed me how religion can be abusive, uncaring – the very opposite of what its scriptures teach.

My encounter with these Muslims haunted me. I’ve tried to pin-point what made me so troubled. And I think it was because, despite their warnings, they actually didn’t care about me. Ultimately, they didn’t care if Kevin George Powell husband to R, and dad to S and N, became a Muslim. They wanted to hammer away at my beliefs; they wanted to punish me for my differing religion.

They wanted another covert. Another notch on their belt. Another conquest.

They wanted to be superior.

It breaks my heart when I see Christians doing the same thing, Christians who threaten non-Christians with damnation as if we are arbiters of God’s judgment. Churches who adopt a hostile stance toward so-called "non-believers."

A church here in Lethbridge recently displayed a sign: “Jesus is coming back whether it is politically correct or not.”

Jesus wept.

But the bible tells us that we are simple messengers. We have been asked to bring good news where there is bad news. Healing where there is pain. Comfort where there is grief. We are to announce that the Kingdom of God has broken into our world.

We are to love as God loves.

When people strike back at Christians, it is because we’ve forgotten what it means to love as God loves - unconditionally, sacrificially. When non-Christians lash out at us it’s usually because we demand that they adopt our agenda without first receiving our saviour. When secular people oppose us it’s often because we insist on a privileged position in society, rather than taking our rightful place as servants.

What people do NOT need is dogmatic absolutism. Folks aren’t swayed by hostile arguments or rigid “propositional truth” demands. People need love. They need forgiveness. They need to know that there’s nothing they can do to make God love them more and there’s nothing they can do to make God love them less.

Let me say that I know how hard it is to love. I work with people, after all. People can be petty, angry, mean, self-absorbed, self-righteous, and abusive.

But people can also be kind, generous, warm, and compassionate.

Often in the same person.

But Jesus never said it would be easy. Loving people can be risky. It can hurt. It might even cost us our lives.

Just ask Jesus. He knows something about the price of love.

UPDATE: Edited for spelling, grammar, and typoes.

At the drive-in church

I guess Robert Schuller's not alone.

via Andrew.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Debunking Megachurch Myths

A study by the Leadership Network and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research debunks some of the most widely held beliefs about megachurches. I know I've bought into some of these myths.

MYTH #1: All megachurches are alike.
REALITY: They differ in growth rates, size and emphasis.

MYTH #2: All megachurches are equally good at being big.
REALITY: Some clearly understand how to function as a large institution, while others flounder.

MYTH #3:There is an over-emphasis on money in the megachurches.
REALITY: The data disputes this.

MYTH #4: Megachurches exist for spectator worship and are not serious about Christianity.
REALITY:Megachurches generally have high spiritual expectations and serious orthodox beliefs.

MYTH #5:Megachurches are not deeply involved in social ministry.
REALITY: Considerable ministry is taking place at and through these churches.

MYTH #6: All megachurches are pawns of or powerbrokers to George Bush and the Republican Party.
REALITY: The vast majority of megachurches are not politically active.

MYTH #7: All megachurches have huge sanctuaries and enormous campuses.
REALITY: Megachurches make widespread use of multiple worship services over several days, multiple venues and even multiple campuses.

MYTH #8: All megachurches are nondenominational.
REALITY: The vast majority belong to some denomination.

MYTH #9: All megachurches are homogeneous congregations with little diversity.
REALITY: A large and growing number are multi-ethnic and intentionally so.

MYTH #10:Megachurches grow primarily because of great programming.
REALITY: Megachurches grow because excited attendees tell their friends.

MYTH #11:The megachurch phenomenon is on the decline.
REALITY: The data suggests that many more megachurches are on the way.

(Whole article here)