Category Archives: misc

Gospel-Centered Confusion

In recent days, there has been a rise in rhetoric.  The use of the phrase “Gospel-Centered” has become ubiquitous.  People are arguing for Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Gospel-Centered Preaching, Gospel-Centered Evangelism, Gospel-Centered Children’s Ministry, Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry, etc.  On the surface, it is hard to argue against the use of the phrase.

The challenge I would make to this phenomena is not necessarily against the desire to be Gospel-Centered (although I think it is fair to ask: Should we be Gospel-Centered or Christ-Centered?  Have we lifted the message over the Messiah?) but I would challenge what one means by Gospel-Centered. If one believes that the Gospel is simply the message of reconciliation between God and the individual through Christ (in essence: an individual transaction of salvation paid for by the death of Christ) and nothing more, this means something very different than if one believes that the Gospel is the message of reconciliation of all things (Colossians 1:20) through Christ: between God and humanity, between humanity and humanity (reconciliation, justice, and compassion), and between humanity and creation (creation care).

If we simply understand the Gospel as a transaction between God and the individual, we have only understood the Gospel in one dimension and, in doing so, conveniently commodified it for a consumerist culture.  This is analogous to seeing the physical world around us through only one dimension (length), void of width or height.  By adding two more dimensions, we see breadth and depth of the world around us.  The same is true with the full Gospel message and, thus, the embrace of the full dimension of God’s love (Ephesians 3).

The church is called to proclaim the gospel not simply in its words, offering something for people to consume but also through its actions and communal presence.  The Church, as the people of God, are called to be a city on a hill, living in God’s Kingdom expressed through forgiveness, peace, justice, compassion, etc for the entire world.  The Church doesn’t simply have a mission, the Church is called to embody mission by its very existence, presence, and activities because its very existence is an invitation of reconciliation.  In an individualistic consumerist culture, this is extremely counter-cultural, explaining why the church’s role is so difficult but also why it is so important.

Thus, I would argue that the church can only be Gospel-Centered if it embodies and proclaims the message of reconciliation of all things through Christ; thus, is active in sharing how one’s reconciliation with God is only possible through Christ, is active in carrying for our planet, is involved in reconciliation ministries, is pursuing justice and compassion, is caring for the whole person, etc.  If the church is not doing these, pursuing these, etc., is it truly Gospel-Centered?  If the church simply communicates a one dimensional message of individual salvation (individual reconciliation with God) it is simply not communicating the whole gospel.

Echoing the mission of the Lausanne Movement the call of the church is for: The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.

Reversing Polarity and the Future of the Western Church

There is a phenomenon known as Geomagnetic Reversal (you can read more about it here).  In this natural and ongoing phenomenon, the earth’s polarity is reversed every several hundred thousands years.  Although there are scientific disagreements as to the effectual magnitude of these reversals, there is no question that it has effects.   Whatever the specific case and effects of Geomagnetic Reversal, it is a naturally occurring phenomenon that takes something we rely upon for navigation and direction, and reverses it.

I would like to suggest that we are on the verge of a polarity reversal in the global Church as we face a massive shift in the power and density of the Christian witness.  Over the last several hundred years, the Church was been strongest in the West and the West has been, largely, the leader of global mission (in good and bad ways) for the spreading of the Gospel to Asia, Africa, etc. This polarity is now rapidly reversing.

As the Church in the West faces the reality of post-Christendom in our post-colonial and post-modern world, it must face its future and its future will look radically different than its past.  As the western church moves into its future, the quality it will need most is humility.  For the sake of the Gospel, it must be willing to ask and accept help.  As long time help givers, resource providers and power holders, this will be incredibly difficult.

The Christian world is shifting and the global shape of Christianity is reversing polarity.  Just as it does in nature, this shift will occur over time and will involve confusion as old paradigms breakdown and effectiveness of current models wane.  In the midst of the shifting, will the western church be willing to, in humility, accept help from other parts of the world?  Will it be willing to have groups from Latin America or Africa come and do Vacation Bible Schools (Children’s ministries) for us, help with Church renovation projects that need to be done but can’t for lack of resources, host groups to do evangelism in our communities, etc.  Basically, will it be willing to reverse our view of missions and accept help from others with the same enthusiasm as it has given it in the past.

The fact is, the poles are shifting, it is undeniably happening; ignorance is not bliss, nor is arrogance acceptable.  The question we must ask ourselves is: As we move through this polar reversal in the church, will we be able to, in humility, accept help as willingly as we have offered it?

I am not sure how I will enter this new emerging, reverse polarity world, but I hope I enter it full of humility and fully ready to engage with what God is doing and wants to do in our Global world.

Will we, in humility, open the door to those whose feet are beautiful with the Good News (Isaiah 52:7)?  Or, will we close the door in arrogance and pride?  I hope and pray, we will be willing do the former and be a global Church filled with beautiful feet!

The Future of Privacy in a Digital Age

Google recently unveiled Google Glasses for beta testing (see the news story here), bringing up a number of questions regarding the future of privacy.

In the pre-digital age (before the Internet, social media and mobiquity (ubiquitous use of mobile technology)), a sign of one’s wealth and power was demonstrated as public fame.  Although we are still riding the crest of this wave, it is beginning to break on the shores of the present.  As that wave breaks on the present’s shore, it will begin to pull back into the ocean of history, reversing direction and changing culture’s landscape in the process.  One of the many impacts of the retreating waves of history is the reversal of public and private.   As the crest retreats, privacy will become a sign of wealth and power rather than public fame.

The controversy and conversation that Google Glass is creating highlights this shift.  The future of technology will, increasingly, compress everything into the public sphere with accumulative complications.  Google Glass is the latest manifestation of this increasing reality, conjuring several privacy related questions:

  • Where is it appropriate for the average person to film and publicly broadcast, and where is it not?  
  • What is private and what is public?  
  • Are private and public distinctions an increasingly archaic and obsolete distinction in an emerging digital society?

It is an interesting observation that although the general populace is, typically, infuriated by the government’s video surveillance, they are largely ignorant of the pervasive cameras in their possession, sharing videos, pictures, audio and text that are filtered through private companies’ servers (this information is then sold to the highest bidder – remember with free services (Gmail, Instagram, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), you are the product being consumed).  Consequently, we have moved away from cities with thousands of cameras (owned, operated and regulated by governments and corporations) to cities with millions of cameras (owned and maintained by individuals, filtered through private companies’ servers, with little to no regulation).

In our emerging world of DUB (this is an acronym for my phrase “Democratized Ubiquitous Broadcasting”), will privacy, rather than public fame, be the new sign of wealth and power?  Will wealth be shown through the ability to hide?  Will wealth create privacy behind virtual digital fences the way it does with physical mansions and estates?  Will a sign of wealth be anonymity, in a way the vast majority of the populace can’t experience?

I am, intentionally, posing questions rather than answers.  As we enter the digital future, in mobiquitous fashion, we need to be asking these questions – recognizing the ubiquitous effects of social media and Internet technology.

My Cup is Full of You

The following was simultaneously published in the Vermilion Standard.

I had a privilege of traveling to Israel in 2012 and one of the many amazing experiences was participating in a presentation by a Bedouin man.  This ancient desert culture has a unique way of welcoming and treating a stranger in the desert.  One of the many practices they follow is that when someone has outstayed their welcome, they fill their coffee cup completely full.  This, in their culture, is a sign that “my heart is full of you.”  In other words, thanks for coming, but I have had enough, it is time to leave.

Perhaps you have had visitors like this.  I don’t know about you, but I think that this year’s winter needs a full cup of coffee.  My heart is full of winter and I find myself longing for spring!  This year, it seems, we are in perpetual winter.  Although this can happen at times with nature’s seasons, it also can happen in our lives.  Have you ever had one of those seasons of life that doesn’t seem to end?  Maybe you have been sick for an extended season, you are struggling with depression, relationships continue to struggle, etc.  Whatever it is, you feel that you are in the midst of a long protracted winter and you long for spring, for the flowers to burst forth and for the days to get longer.

The Scriptures talk about this reality in numerous ways.  Psalm 23 reminds us: “…though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)  Although those who follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, are never promised perpetual summer (there will be parts of the journey that go through the dark valley), they are promised a God who is with us.  In fact, one of the names of Jesus is “Emmanuel,” meaning “God WITH us.”  Thus, God promises hope, comfort and peace during the prolonged winters but he doesn’t promise to remove them nor trade them for perpetual summers; instead, he promises to be with us through them – to never leave us nor forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)

You need Jesus!  Jesus does not promise immediate and perpetual summer in this world; a world in which he said we would have trouble, but he does promise hope.  He promises hope that he has overcome this world and the hope that, if we follow Jesus, he will always be with us.

“I [Jesus] have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

If you don’t know Jesus, the living hope (1 Peter 1:3), I would challenge you to know him by faith.  God desires to walk with you through the long seasons of life because in and through him, there is hope, truth, peace and love.  I would challenge you know Jesus because in him and through him (John 14:6) there is abundant (John 10:10) and eternal life (John 3:16).  Take heart!  In Jesus, there is hope – hope that he will not only walk with us in this world but that he has overcome the world.

Can I Get a Witness?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

The Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit and led by Jesus (the head of the Church), is called to be Christ’s witness in the world.  To that end, I would suggest that followers of Jesus, individually and collectively, are called to be, at least, three kinds of witnesses:

  • Character Witness – We are called to be Christ’s character witness and, like all character witnesses, we are to share about someone other than ourselves.  We are called to share about Christ – who he is, what he is like, what he has done, etc.   We have, typically, done a poor job at this.  We often err in one of two ways.  First, we like to tell bear witness to our own accomplishments and boast in ourselves rather than Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Second, we like to focus our witness on other people’s failure, sin and mistakes rather than bear witness to Christ.  Too often, the church is known more for what it is against rather than what it is for.  
  • Expert Witness – We are called to be expert witnesses, testifying to what God has done in and through our lives.  We are called to share the story of God at work in us.  We are the experts and we need to bear witness to our family, friends, neighbours and the world.  There are two kinds of temptations in being an expert witness: Perjury (testifying to something that hasn’t happened – bearing false witness) and Hearsay (testifying to something that happened to someone else).  We are called to authenticity in our lives and bear witness accordingly.  We do not have to be afraid of honesty.  The church needs a more honest witness.  Sometimes the story of longing, suffering, and pain is the very witness we are called to bring.  The church needs more honest expert witnesses.
  • Eyewitness – We are called to bear witness to what God is doing all around us.  Leonard Sweet talks about this in his book Nudge, arguing that evangelism is less show and tell and more shut-up and listen.  Therefore, listen to what God is doing and bear witness to it.  Join in to where God has already been working and help people see and act on it.  Furthermore, we are called to be eyewitnesses of beauty and truth wherever and whenever they present themselves.  We need to have eyes to see and ears to hear beauty and truth in our world and draw people’s attention to it.  We love to say that the church is the hands and feet of Jesus, which is true, but she is also his eyes and ears.  She should be constantly on the lookout for beauty and truth and bearing witness to it.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to bear witness to the ends of the earth.  To GO into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19 & Mark 16:15).  Unlike popular belief and practice in North America, the Church is NOT a witness protection agency; rather, it is a witness sending movement, working towards bearing witness to Jesus everywhere.

Jesus is asking: “Can I get a witness?”