Date: March 17, 2016
Event: Columbia Bible College - Pastor's Conference
Venue: Columbia Bible College
Location: 2940 Clearbrook Road
Abbotsford, BC
Public: Public

Spring Renewal is our annual event bringing together Christians from our fellowship and community for a time of refreshing through worship, learning, and fellowship.

This year’s event features special guests Mark Buchanan (Calgary, AB) and Phil Vanderveen (Abbotsford, BC) as our keynote speaker and worship leader respecitively. Class sessions will be led by local presenters, known within our city and/or fellowship.

 

Date: March 4, 2016—March 6, 2016
Event: Glen Elm Church of Christ - Spring Renewal
Venue: Glen Elm Church of Christ
Location: 1825 Rothwell Street
Regina, Sask
Public: Public

Rev. Darrell Johnson, Dr. Gordon T. Smith ‘Preaching the Book of Ephesians’

Ephesians presents the gospel in all its height and breadth and depth, drawing out the implications of Christ’s cross for our daily lives, worship, work, marriage, parenting, and more. The 2016 Ambrose Pastors Conference features two seasoned biblical expositors, Darrell Johnson and Gordon T. Smith, opening up the letter’s riches. Other presenters include Terry Fach, JoAnn Badley, and Mark Buchanan.

For a conference schedule click here.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016 at 8:30 AM – Thursday, 18 February 2016 at 12:00 PM

Date: February 17, 2016—February 18, 2016
Event: Ambrose Pastor's Conference
Venue: Ambrose Seminary
Location: 150 Ambrose Circle SW
Calgary, AB
Public: Public

In Praise of Small Beginnings

Capernaum

I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my son in Bethlehem. It was both wonderful and disruptive. And it was the least festive Christmas I’ve ever had, at least measured by my childhood memories of baubles and carols and angels and all the family gathered to feast. My son and I ate Christmas dinner alone in a cold cafeteria. We had lamb meatballs in tomato broth, and no dessert. We exchanged not a single gift, other than the best ones: words of blessing and thanksgiving.

Bethlehem is, of course, no longer a little town lying still in deep and dreamless sleep. It is a sprawling and dangerous Palestinian city, surrounded by prison-like concrete walls, teeming with military police, simmering with discontent. We got caught in a small riot on Christmas Day – an angry mob, finally dispersed by canisters of tear gas, hurling rocks in sling shots, burning garbage and tires, strewing debris across roadways, chanting angry slogans.

It was not a scene of peace on earth, good will toward men.
This was my first visit to Israel and Palestine. Many people told me, when they heard of my plans, that the trip would transform me: that walking where Jesus walked, reading stories in the places where the actual events happened, touching the water from which Peter pulled nets and across which Jesus strode – all this and more would breathe fresh life into my faith.

Yes and no.

No in the sense that the “places Jesus walked” are mostly buried beneath layers of subsequent development and pious tradition. The actual sites are largely lost to us. But yes in the sense that the landscape remains virtually unchanged since the first century, or even a thousand years earlier, from the time of David. To stand on the shore of the Sea of Galilee is to see the world much as Jesus and his disciples saw it. To sit in the heights of En Gedi and look out across the canyon walls toward the shining expanse of the Dead Sea is to behold what David, running from mad Saul with his gang of malcontents, beheld.

That’s why Capernaum had such an impact on me. Except for a church and a monastery, and a parking lot to accommodate fleets of monstrous tour buses, Capernaum remains the town where Jesus lived during the days of his ministry in Galilee. Here lie the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus preached, the crumbling walls of the houses in which he ate and spoke and healed, and in one of which he would have slept.

The town’s ordinariness overwhelmed me. Its mundane quality riveted me. Capernaum was a hick town. It played no pivotal historical role. It was never an economic driver, a strategic military location, a cultural innovator, a political flashpoint. It was a little fishing village where a small population, among them Peter, eked out an existence.

And it’s where Jesus lived. Not in Athens, or Alexandria, or Jerusalem. Not in some thriving epicenter, some crossroads of power and wealth and culture. No, he set up shop in a hick town on the margins of everything.

That invigorates my faith. That it was this place (plus a few other hick towns like Bethlehem and Nazareth) that the God of heaven and earth chose to send his one and only son to live among us – this thrills me. It is God’s strange and wondrous habit to choose unlikely people and insignificant places to do the most spectacular and transformative things.

Today, Christianity claims 2.4 billion followers – a third of the world’s population – spread throughout the entire globe. The faith Christ established has launched some of the world’s greatest institutions – universities, hospitals, science, abolition, universal suffrage, civil rights – and inspired some of culture’s greatest artifacts, from cathedrals to symphonies to masterpieces of art.

And it all began in a place which, except for one remarkable inhabitant, no one would otherwise remember.

God doesn’t need the props and trappings and infrastructure of worldly accomplishment to remake the earth. It turns out, any old hick town will do. From nowhere, he can change everything.

That does breathe fresh life into my faith.

Arms Wide Open

me and jesus

Recently I spoke three times at Ambrose University, where I teach, on the theme of hospitality. I used three texts –  John 4, where Jesus meets a Samaritan woman, Luke 19, where Jesus meets a tax-collector named Zacchaeus, and Matthew 25, where Jesus divides all people on the basis of who ministers to him in the guise of anyone who is thirsty, hungry, naked, imprisoned.

Besides all three stories being about hospitality – welcoming those whom we instinctively want to turn away from – each story implicitly asks a question: how do we sustain such hospitality? How do we keep overcoming our own inertia and aversion and suspicion and weariness to care about people who, frankly, we don’t care about – who have no natural claim on our affections, and maybe have done things to forfeit our generosity? They’re not kin. They’re not friends. They’re not like us. Some have hurt us. Tax collectors have gotten rich on our backs. Samaritan women are home wreckers. Refugees – the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned? They might take away our jobs.

Why care?

The answer is hidden in plain sight: because this is exactly how Jesus welcomed you and me.

He sought me, loved me, welcomed me, forgave me, fed me, gave himself to me when I had done exactly nothing to earn it and precisely everything to forfeit it.

He did it, not just by being generous, but by taking my unworthiness on himself. Jesus says to people like Zacchaeus, like the woman at the well, like the prisoner, like me, “Blame me. Really, put all the blame on me. You can never, not if you had a thousand life times to live, make up for all the ways you fall short of the God’s glory. So give it to me. Hand it over, and I’ll take full responsibility for it. You can blame me.”

In my talks, I said the primary way Jesus showed us what God is like is by arms open wide. Arms spread wide is the classic gesture of welcome. But it’s also the necessary posture of crucifixion. It’s only because Jesus was willing to open his arms wide on the beams of the cross, taking all the blame on himself, that he can open his arms wide at the foot of the cross, welcoming all who are thirsty.

Why welcome those from whom I’d rather turn away?

Because he never turned away from me.

Are You Eccentric?

tilt-a-whirl

If there’s an international anthem, here’s its refrain: I’m so busy, I’m so tired, there’s more for me to do than there is of me to do it.

Or somesuch.

I hear it everywhere. I’ve travelled on five continents, and heard it on every one. I’m scheduled to travel soon to a sixth: I’m sure I’ll hear it there. The anthem is sung across cultures, languages, generations, genders. It’s sung in cities, in towns, in villages. It’s sung in summer and winter and springtime and harvest.

It’s sung as confession, as complaint, as lament, as excuse, sometimes as boast.

I’ve never heard it sung as praise.

Almost all our time-saving devices have become time-drains. Almost all our freedom of movement has been constricted by a list of endless demands. Former generations were busy with actual work – building barns, reaping fields, darning socks, fixing tractors. Our generation is busy with being busy. We’re all going and doing with near reckless haste, but it’s hard to say exactly where we’re going, what we’re doing.

Life is a tilt-a-whirl.

And in a tilt-a-whirl, discipleship is near impossible. Discipleship takes time. It calls for action, to be sure, but it’s action arising from a deep attentiveness born of stillness – Martha-like industry springing from Mary-like intimacy. For a reason Psalm 23 – maybe the best creed of the disciple – begins with God making us lie down. How else can he restore our souls, and how else can he prepare us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death while knowing he is with us, guiding us, protecting us, providing for us?

On the day of my baptism – now almost 35 years ago – I was given a “Life Verse” by my church: Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, all these things will be given to you as well.” The “these things” Jesus refers to are things I typically am anxious about, crave more of, chase after. These things, if I seek them and not God, make life a tilt-a-whirl.

That little church had no idea – or maybe they did – how meddlesome that verse would prove in my life. It has messed with me in a million ways. Jesus lists food and clothing as the two things I might chase after, but I actually have a much longer list than that. Whenever I start chasing them, that verse comes crashing into my life again.

It calls me back to the one thing needed.

Here’s what it’s taught me: when I place God at the periphery of my life, he only makes my life more complicated. God-at-the-periphery just adds to the tilt-a-whirl effect. Only when God is at the center of my life does life make sense. Only then does it take on a shape that makes his yoke easy and his burden light. Only then do I have wisdom, strength, and grace to move through my days, busy as most are, with calm and clarity, and good cheer. Only then do I experience the deep contentment that alone is the antidote to coveting.

Life is meant to be lived from a center, and only God is a sufficient center. Eccentric literally means off-center. It’s how tilt-a-whirls work, spinning in a wonky orbit. Christians are called to be peculiar. But we’re not called to be eccentric.

Any adjustments needed in your life?

Let It Snow

Let it snow

 

 

It’s snowing in Alberta today, and minus 10. It’s snowed all week. Actually, it’s snowed here since October 6, non-stop, except for a few times it stopped.

 

It’s almost April. And minus 10. And snowing.

 

Someone didn’t get the memo. This is no longer fun, funny, or charming. It ‘s no longer tolerable. I am close to organizing a petition to have south-western Alberta removed to BC, with full benefits.

 

In the book of Job, when God finally shows up to pepper the poor sufferer with a barrage of questions, he asks,

 

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?”

                        (Job 38:22-23).

 

The question is rhetorical. The answer is supposed to be, “Of course not. How could I?” But that was only because Job had never been to Alberta. If Premier Alison Redford hadn’t already been deposed over spending tax-payers’ money for her First-Class flights to exotic locals (a crime of passion for which I have deep sympathy), I’d write and ask her to consider changing the provincial motto. It’s currently “Wild Rose Country.” I think “Storehouse for Times of Trouble” is more befitting.

 

I’m especially distraught because this was the weekend I intended to finally bring my motorcycle out of cold storage. I had it all planned: the insurance kicked in yesterday, the bike was to go in the shop this morning, I was to be terrorizing the locals by mid-day.

 

But it’s snowing, and minus 10.

 

So I sit writing this, nursing a grudge, cursing the weather.

 

And then I catch myself. This is a hardship? This is a grievance? Why am I so soft, so pampered, so entitled?

 

My whole life I’ve had to push against the massiveness of my own littleness. “Nothing is as hard to suppress,” the great Jewish Philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “as the will to be a slave to one's own pettiness.” How I know it. The plight of those who genuinely suffer is often lost to me in my grousing about minor inconveniences: a delay, a detour, a disruption. Ice on the walkway.

 

So I teach myself, daily, to give thanks in the face of my overwhelming temptation to complain. It changes nothing. And it yet it changes everything.

 

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.