Tag Archives: Community

12 Ways to Know When Our Serving is Sinful

One of my favourite passages from Paul is Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

As humans, we were created to serve one another in love, and as followers of Christ we are new creations in Christ, and both commissioned and gifted to serve.  However, sometimes our serving can be sinful. The following are 12 ways we can tell:

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1. When we’re doing it for purely selfish motives (although we can’t ever be completely unselfish in our motives).

2. When we become irritable or frustrated when our plans are interrupted or changed.

3. When we haven’t left enough of a margin in our schedule to allow for unexpected interruptions (often God is working in these interruptions if we have eyes to see it).

4. When we complain (or boast) about being so busy that our family life suffers.

5. When our family life suffers, even when we don’t complain or boast about it.

6. When our health suffers, from stress or not getting enough sleep because of it.

7. When we take on jobs or projects not because we genuinely want to or feel God leading us to (or our boss tells us to!), but because no one else will do it or we think no one else is as qualified.

8. When we take on jobs or projects but feel resentful about it or like a martyr doing it.

9. When we take on jobs or projects because we think God will be more pleased by us or will love us more if we do.

10. When we take on jobs or projects because we want to impress or please people.

11. When we’ve bought into the lie that we need to be always doing or producing (or consuming!) to be considered valuable or worthy of love or acceptance.

12. Finally, when we’re doing it in our own strength instead of in God’s strength. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:13).

Sometimes we make ourselves overly busy because we don’t want to face deeper issues in our lives, and busyness, like other forms of distraction, postpone us from having to deal with them. Or sometimes it’s because we don’t want face God Himself – being alone with Him with nothing else to get in the way.

But God never intended that we extend ourselves so much that it becomes detrimental to our emotional, spiritual, or physical health. And He has gifted us for some jobs, but not all of them.

Are you over-committed at church or at work or in the community? You might actually be displeasing God, and it’s worth not taking this consideration too lightly. Spend some time alone and in silence, and before God see if any of reasons describe you.

Did I miss any reasons? What would you say are the reasons when serving is pleasing to God?

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Redeeming Instead of Reacting

In a little under two weeks is Easter Sunday, and as I was reflecting on that (read, worrying how I was going to preach it, my first Easter sermon), I was reminded that some in the Christian world began calling it “Resurrection Sunday” a few years ago. I wonder if they’ll call it that again this year.

As I understand it, they started calling it that to combat the commercialism and superficiality the day has become, filled with Easter bunnies and chocolate and painted eggs.

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Obviously the true reason behind Easter

And that reminded me of something I read recently: one of the influential leaders of the Southern Baptist denomination, Russell Moore, is no longer referring to himself as an Evangelical Christian. Instead he wants to be called a “gospel Christian.” Aside from the ridiculous number of things certain neo-Reformed Christians are adding the word “gospel” to so that it’s become almost meaningless or cliche in itself, Moore is doing it to distance himself from the politics-heavy baggage of the word Evangelical, something we in Canada don’t really face.

Having said that, I find his decision to do so more reactionary than anything else.

But that has always been the way of things with us North American Christians. What we fear we vehemently denounce and vilify and flee. We’re so afraid of becoming contaminated by the world (which we practice quite selectively, I would add) that we have forgotten how to love those in the world (which we’ve also forgotten, our 2nd greatest command to do). The Puritans outlawed Christmas trees and other decorations and traditions. We have “Harvest Parties” (or even worse, Hell Houses) instead of Halloween parties. We’ve treated the poor and oppressed in our society terribly, because they were “sinners” and we were such super-awesome holy people.

But all of those are reactionary responses, and not at all like He who we are supposed to be emulating in this world.

So instead of reacting, I would propose we redeem instead.

Call it Easter instead of “Resurrection Sunday,” but then look for ways you can actually practice resurrection in your community. What need can you or your church fill or help rectify? Who do you know that could use a helping hand, or a listening ear, or a meal, or a friend? Then do that, instead. God has already prepared good works for you to do. Go and do them. Redeem what Easter means – not just an event in history (that changed history), but an event that transforms the ways we are meant to live and be, and transfers us from the kingdom of sin and death to the kingdom of the Son of God. An event that redeems us.

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Instead of having a “Harvest Party” at your church as an alternative for your church kids to go trick-or-treating, have a legit haunted house that will be fun for all types of families to come to, and then invite the neighbourhood around your church. Seriously. Just do it to bless them. Say, “we’re doing this because we want to love you and get to know you, because Jesus loves you” and leave your sermonizing at that. Get good treats for it. Don’t hand out tracts (especially like this one). You’ll a) surprise them, and b) maybe make them think they might actually be welcome at your church on a Sunday. It’s not cultural capitulation, it’s Paul looking at the idols around him and using one of them to point to the true God.

Instead of rebranding yourself a “gospel Christian,” call yourself an Evangelical Christian and redeem what people think that means, by getting out of politics and actually living out the teachings and commands of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What do you find yourself or your church reacting to in the culture and world these days? Instead, in what ways can you work to redeem those things instead, for God’s kingdom and glory?

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The Role of Forgiving & “Forgetting” in Unity

One of the greatest killers of community is unforgiveness.

There can be a myriad of reasons we may harbour unforgiveness against someone, from minor things like “he didn’t put the toilet seat down again,” to the horrific like the continued Boko Haram atrocities, the Charleston church shooting, or Guido Amsel sending bombs to his ex-wife and their lawyers here in Winnipeg .

In church settings the effects of unforgiveness always lead to disunity; fellowship is broken, and I’ve heard of people going to the same church for decades and never speaking to each other. This is very sad, and extremely contrary to the way of Jesus, who at the end of His life prayed for our unity (John 17).

Forgiving

And while forgiveness doesn’t negate consequences (a forgiven murderer still goes to jail, a forgiven slanderer still needs to recant their words), we know that repentance or the lack thereof is not dependent on us forgiving. This makes it one of the hardest things we can do; and also, one of the most Christ-like. As I know only too well, the act of  ‘dying to self’ is greatly needed in order to forgive sometimes.

But because we have been forgiven by God, God expects us to in turn give that same grace to others. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15 sound harsh to our ears: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” but there’s really no way to understand these words except at face-value (this is not to say that we earn God’s forgiveness by works of our own forgiveness of others, but shows the seriousness with which God expects us to love others the way He loves us (see Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18)).

“Forgetting”

Often forgiving someone is not enough to restore unity, however. At least not the way we practice forgiveness today (a shallow, un-christ-like type of forgiveness which says the perpetrator is forgiven, but will never be trusted/spoken to/loved again). This is why Miroslav Volf, in his “Exclusion & Embrace“, talks about the need to forget, or “nonremembering,” in order to forgive in such a way that unity and relationship can be fully restored. This nonremembering properly takes place after “perpetrators have been named, judged, and (hopefully) transformed” (131), and after the victims are safe and have healed/mourned. For without it “as long as it is remembered, the past is not just the past; it remains an aspect of the present. A remembered wound is an experienced wound” (133). This forgetting is not a complete obliteration of the memories, which is frankly impossible, but a sort of “backgrounding” of the memory that allows us to move beyond the offense and pain of it. Volf says that this is the final, and most difficult part, of reconciliation (131).

This week, before next Sunday, examine your heart and see if you are holding any unforgiveness or bitterness towards anyone in your community; and if you are determine to forgive them in the strength of God’s forgiveness given to you. And keep forgiving them for as long as you need to in order to “forget.” It will be difficult, but it will be more worth it than you can imagine beforehand.

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Of Hutterites and Their Ways: A Brief Review of “Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith”

AMC_X-31-1_17_30When I first became a Christian while in elementary school (though not yet a follower of Christ), I began attending a Pentecostal church. Why? Because it was the closest church within walking distance of my home, and it was the one that my dad (not yet a believer himself), chose for us to go to. So, growing up seeing people speaking in tongues, or falling on the floor “slain in the Spirit“, or just sitting and crying because of conviction (though I never experienced these latter two myself) were all a normal part of Christianity to me. In my area in Southern Ontario there were also a lot of Old Order Mennonites, similar to (but even stricter than) the Hutterites here in Manitoba.

Anyway, fast forward a few decades, and you find me attending a Christian and Missionary Alliance church (Winnipeg Chinese Alliance) for the last eight years, and a Mennonite Bible school (Canadian Mennonite University). Fast forward to today, and I’m working at a Baptist General Conference church. So needless to say, without even considering my reading habits (with a healthy dose of Catholic saints/mystics and Orthodox ancients) I’ve had a fairly diverse Christian life*.

Near the end of my time at CMU they had a great sale in their bookstore, and one of the books I picked up on the cheap was Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith, from the “Classics of the Radical Reformation” series (and incidentally translated & edited by one of my profs,  John J. Friesen). It’s not a book I would’ve searched for, and not normally the type of book I read, but I thought it would be interesting – and I was right!

Since this morninHCFg I finished the book, I thought I’d give a brief review here.

But first, some basics: Peter Riedemann was a disciple of Jakob Hutter and an early missionary for and leader in the communalist Anabaptist Hutterites. He wrote Confession of Faith while in prison between 1540-1542, and it has survived to this day as a key document for practicing Hutterites the world over.

While this edition of the book is abundantly blessed with notes, histories,  indexes, maps, and the like, the document itself  is divided into two main sections: Part 1 is the confession of their faith, and Part 2 is on why they separate themselves from the rest of society.

Part 1, titled “Now Follows the Confession of Our Faith, Teaching, and Way of Life,” is a series of short treatises on various Hutterite beliefs and practices ranging from the Apostle’s Creed to Baptism, sin, the community of goods , and even shaking hands and embracing. For me this was the more interesting of the two parts, and I found myself overall surprised at how ‘evangelical’ the teaching is. They affirm the Apostle’s Creed, have orthodox views on the Trinity, Jesus as both fully God and fully human, and the like. I continually found myself being encouraged and energized as I read this section. I was also surprised to learn that they baptized through sprinkling (as opposed to full submersion), and that Riedemann often referenced the Apocrypha (though I think it safe to assume that most if not all of the Reformers, Anabaptists and Radical Anabaptists did at the time). While I enjoyed it overall immensely, two of the standout chapters from this section for me (though for different reasons) were the chapters The Community of Goods, and Marriage.

The Community of Goods deals with not owning anything individually (or at least, not considering anything actually individually owned as “owned” by the individual), but like the Early Church, holding all things in common.  Riedemann writes

“All believers have fellowship in holy things, that is, in God**. He has given them all things in his Son, Christ Jesus. Just as Christ has nothing for himself, since all he has is for us, so too, no members of Christ’s body should possess any gift for themselves or for their own sake. Instead, all should be consecrate for the whole body, for all the members. This is so because Christ did not bring his gifts for one individual or the other, but for everyone, for the whole body.”

He goes on to talk about how these gifts are not just spiritual, but include temporal and material gifts too. While I’ve always been attracted to communal living (or something like it in a modern context), or even just opening my home to strangers in need (and not just merely giving them money on the street),  I find myself too attached to my belongings, something Riedemann warns against when he says “The more a person is attached to property and claims ownership of things, the further away he is from fellowship of Christ and from being in the image of God.” -Ah! Cuts to my heart, because I believe he’s right.

Marriage, according to Riedemann, is an extremely spiritual thing, and so he spiritualizes it in a way that is very foreign to me. He describes three stages of marriage (God to soul, spirit to body, and one person to another), and counts marriage between a man and woman to be the lowest of the three stages.  This is because everyone can see it, and it’s meant to point us to God. He goes on to propound a thoroughly ‘hard’  complementarian view of marriage, saying things like when a women fails to look up to her husband and seek his counsel in all things, “she rejects her God-given place in the order of Creation and encroaches upon the lordship of her husband” and that the husband “as one in whom something of God’s glory is seen, should have compassion on the woman as the weaker instrument.” Interestingly, failure in either of these is considered adultery. As someone wavering between soft complementarianism and soft egalitarianism, I found this chapter rubbing me a bit the wrong way, and generally confusing.

Part 2, titled “The God of Grace and His Separated People” deals with why Hutterites live in colonies separate from the rest of society.

hutteritediffusion3These chapters were quite a bit longer than the previous ones, and quite a bit more tedious to read. I think I can fairly sum up this section by saying ‘God separated the Israelites from other nations in the Old Testament, so we’re doing it too.’ At least, that’s all Riedemann seemed to be saying, multiple times and in various ways.  He writes

When God the Almighty in his grace wished to show that he had pleasure in the faithful but not in the unfaithful, he separated for himself one people from all other peoples, one people in whom he was pleased… Here it is clear that God does not want his people to associate with the heathen in their disorderly conduct, nor to take part in their ceremonies, nor to go to the places where they practice idolatry. What the heathen seek is different from what the faithful seek.

Makes me wonder how they interpret Jesus in the New Testament, what with him being charged with associating with drunkards and having prostitutes touch him! But of course Riedemann is right, Christians need to be separate from the world; I just prefer Jesus’ take on it – “in, but not of” (see John 17: 14-19).

But Riedemann goes on to discuss non-Hutterite churches as being both in and of the world. He uses much stricter language than this even, using terms such as “so-called Christians,” “deluded people,” and “deceived and corrupted” (along with the usual “heathen”). While most of it is directed towards the Catholic church, as one would expect for that time and place, he gives a specific shout-out to the Lutherans. He says of them

“They continually profess to love and serve God and yet will not give up evil, sinful practices and the whole service of the devil. They continue that way from generation to generation; as their fathers did, so do they, and even worse. John clearly states in what way they walk in the truth! (1 John 2:4; 4:20)”

This isn’t modern Lutheranism, mind you, but Riedemann is writing this a mere 20 years after Martin Luther’s excommunication in 1521.

This exclusivity to truth really frustrated me, and whenever I hear it coming from people in the modern Church I get upset (for example the whole Strange Fire debacle got me pretty worked up). Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about “universal truth”, but when one Christian sect, denomination, or stream (to use Foster’s term) claims that they have the “right” truth and all other Christians are wrong (Protestants vs. Catholics are a typical example of this), that sends up red flags right away. But maybe this is my post-modern side coming out.

Conclusion

I enjoyed reading this book overall, and it made me want to be more disciplined with the time, resources, and gifts that God has blessed me with, and to keep digging in to the scriptures regarding how followers of Christ should live while in this world. I learned a good deal about Hutterite beliefs and practices, and would love to visit a colony to see how they practice these today. According to the above map, living in Manitoba this shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s easy to see why this is an important document in the history of the Western Church, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself referring back to it from time to time.

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*I highly recommend Richard Foster’s “Streams Of Living Water: Essential Practices from the Six Great Traditions of Christian Faith

**I’ve omitted the copious Biblical references in quotes, since Riedemann has them almost every sentence, sometimes multiple times.

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