November is National Adoption Awareness Month

November is the calm before the Christmas storm. It is the month in which snow becomes the rule rather than the exception. And more recently, it has become the month in which men who shouldn’t have moustaches grow moustaches – for a good cause of course.

However important and necessary these and other November related occasions are, I think November deserves particular mention because it is also National Adoption Awareness Month.

It is clear that one of the biggest hurdles to adoption in is a lack of awareness. Adoption in Canada is a campaign launched by LifeCanada with the purpose of addressing the issue of awareness. In a press release, project director Anastasia Bowles commented,

“I am amazed at what I read and hear about adoption. People have so many misconceptions and negative stereotypes about birthparents, adoptive parents, adoptees, and the whole process. Awareness is desperately needed, especially with respect to current adoption practices like open adoption. We need to bring the subject of modern infant domestic adoption into public consciousness in a positive, non-coercive way.”

The next step after awareness? Getting more families to think seriously about adoption.

From a Christian perspective, adoption should be instinctive because we too were adopted into God’s family. Take Galatians 4:4-7 as an example:

“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.”

Or James 1:27 as another:

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

Scripture references like these are not hard to find because they are embedded in the story of God and the story of his people.

Adoption is not for everyone. There are many issues like costs, long waits, and confusing rules. But not all issues apply in all circumstances. What is important is to be educated and to think more openly about what God is doing in the world and how he hopes his people will join him.

So if you have never adopted or have never even thought about adoption, let this November be a time to learn more. Visit a website (CanadianAdoption.com, Canadaadopts.com, DaveThomasFoundation.ca, etc.), read stories, and hopefully ask, “why not?” November is the perfect time we start making adoption the norm rather than the exception.

Is Hurricane Sandy an “act of God”?

Hurricane Sandy seen from Space

Hurricane Sandy has been called many things: Superstorm, Frankenstorm, Mammoth storm, and Monster storm.

But, the most interesting (and loaded) name for hurricane Sandy has been “act of God.”

This should not be surprising because it has been happening for, oh, all of history.

In the ancient world, a natural disaster or an act of God was an act of judgment. And in the modern world, even with the advent of advanced geological and meteorological sciences that do their best to predict and explain natural phenomena like floods, earthquakes, or hurricanes, a natural disaster is still seen by many to be an act of judgment.

Therefore, whenever these catastrophes come every few years, we see radical groups like Westboro Baptist Church and preachers like John McTernan pronouncing the devastation as judgment on the world for issues such as gay marriage and abortion. This is nothing new. Similar language was used for 9/11 and hurricane Katrina.

However, God’s action in the world is far from simple and issues surrounding theodicy are not going anywhere any time soon. Like many, I don’t think it is helpful or necessary to equate the will of Mother Nature with the will of God, and I also don’t think this means that God is absent or uninvolved in the world and in our lives.

So, let us not simplify the things of nature, whether it is a disaster or a miracle, more than it needs to be. The problem of evil in this world is always going to be in tension with God’s goodness. Therefore, we should not deny the reality of evil to emphasize the goodness of God, and we should not deny the goodness of God in the face of evil.

As Einstein is allegedly quoted as saying, “Simplify as much as possible, but no further.”

The Book of Common Prayer after 350 years

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the final version of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.

Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII, published the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, over 100 years before the Psalter was added in 1662 to complete the version we now have.

The fact that the Book of Common Prayer remains relevant today is a testament to its power, depth, lucidity, and universality.

For, who hasn’t heard these celebrated words at a wedding:

“If either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it.”

“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”

Or these sober words at a funeral:

“We therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.”

Cranmer wrote the Book of Common Prayer in hopes to make the worship material of the Latin liturgy available to the English laity. The impact this had on the English-speaking world was far-reaching.

Historian Diarmaid MacCulloch calls the Book of Common Prayer “one of a handful of texts to have decided the future of a world language.”

And Daniel Swift, author of “Shakespeare’s Common Prayer’s,” describes the Book of Common Prayer as the “skeleton beneath the skin” of all of Shakespeare’s works.

The skeleton or the core of the Book of Common Prayer that Swift speaks of is no doubt the community of people who recite its words and prayers. These communities orient their lives around the prayers for baptism, communion, marriage, and funerals, and it is because of this communal nature that the book is known to religious and nonreligious worlds alike.

James Wood, a nonbeliever, recently wrote a piece for the New Yorker on why the Book of Common Prayer remains of such religious, political, and cultural importance.

Wood says that the most important reason for the endurance of the Book of Common Prayer is Thomas Cranmer’s use of language.

Here is Wood’s description of the language used:

Despite the quality of language that strikes us nowadays as majestic and grandly alienated, the words of the Prayer Book are notable for their simplicity and directness. C. S. Lewis called this quality “pithiness”; I would add “coziness” or “comfortability.” … In the Book of Common Prayer, the language seems not to refer to the epoch (our time) but to something more local (my days); and tranquillity and peace have become the comfier “rest and quietness.”

Wood later describes the language as “a kind of binding agent, a rhetoric both lofty and local.”

However, Wood’s closing words to the piece are a sobering reminder that although our society still possesses the language of the Book of Common Prayer, we have collectively lost the religious belief that was central the book’s meaning and binding capabilities.

The words persist, but the belief they vouchsafe has long gone. A loss, one supposes—and yet, paradoxically, the words are, in the absence of belief, as richly usable as they were three hundred and fifty years ago. All at once, it seems, they are full and empty. They comfort, disappoint, haunt, irritate, disappear, linger.

The Book of Common does not remain “empty” in all communities, to be sure, but the fact that it remains that way in many communities is reason enough to re-open its pages and learn how Cranmer and the early Protestant believers understood how communities truly bind together.

 

Evangelicals in the Holy Land: A New Vision for Israel and Palestine

Israeli flag bearer and a Palestinian Flag Bearer in the background

When I arrived in “the Holy Land” this past May, interested in doing research on what it meant to promote a more just and peaceable future for Israel and Palestine, I was directed to the manifesto of the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference that had been held just months before in Bethlehem. The first article of the manifesto, presented to the conference audience of over 600 international and local Christians (both Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian) was emphatic: “The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.”

As my time in Israel-Palestine continued, I considered how we might reclaim this prophetic role and as I talked with people on various sides of the conflict, I began to wonder what it means when we call it “the Holy Land.” What are we implying with this title, and how might it affect how we see our responsibility in the conflict there today, especially in light of the Kingdom?

Then in Jerusalem I met Reverend David Neuhaus, the Jewish-Israeli vicar of the Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel and a child of Holocaust survivors. Actively involved in reconciliation efforts, Neuhaus was insistent: “You have a responsibility here. These are not just far away people squabbling … The Western Church is directly implicated in what’s going on here, and this is not a conflict just like any other.” He continued, “We must think: How do we read the Bible and what does the crucifixion and resurrection mean for us today? And we must hold together two problems: a Christian history of a theology of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, and people who have been abused by the misuse of anti-Semitism,” referring to injustices done to Palestinians in the name of Israeli hegemony and security.

Neuhaus told me of his work with Palestinian seminarians and Jewish schoolchildren and he was firm: “You have a direct personal responsibility in regard to how you speak. Words create reality — the world is created by words, and we have control over that. We must use our evangelical [in the broad sense of the word] imagination regarding how the world should be, and that should define how we speak. We’ve destroyed the world with our words but we are witnesses to a ‘Christ discourse.’ We must speak as Jesus would speak, no matter what side we’re on. This we can do!”

Throughout my time in Israel-Palestine, Neuhaus’ words were repeated in different ways. “We need you to become partners with us, not just donors,” said Jean Zaru, a Palestinian Quaker and author of Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks. “We need you to work to model unity as the Body of Christ,” said Hedva Haymov, a Jewish believer. Too often, people told me, Western Christians were either apathetic or so one-sided as to only contribute to the conflict. As Palestinian Melkite [Greek Catholic] Archbishop Elias Chacour often repeats, “We need one more common friend. We do not need friendship [if it means becoming one-sided against] my Jewish brothers and sisters … We do not need one more enemy, for God’s sake.”

Those in the Holy Land asking us to reclaim our prophetic role also echoed Walter Brueggemann, who noted in The Prophetic Imagination that the prophets of ancient Israel were a “criticizing and energizing” force. Following this call in the Holy Land might mobilize us, away from the fear-mongering that so often takes place in discussions about the conflict, and empower us to bring the questions and concerns of today into forums where they will be critically engaged. In this we will fulfill our prophetic role, much like the prophets called to public expression the fears of ancient Israel so that they would face them.

Nonetheless, the task of regaining this new imagination for Israel-Palestine is not easy. As John Wilson wrote in an article for Christianity Today, “When Christians gather to talk about war and peace, the ensuing discussion tends to veer either toward naive pieties about Christians as peacemakers or toward cynical worldliness and accommodation.”

Additionally, working towards this imagination is exhausting for those in the midst of the conflict. Many of those I met, while working for resolution and reconciliation, spoke about the days they wanted to join the growing numbers of Israelis and Palestinians who are leaving “the Holy Land” for countries where the struggle is less difficult. Yet for the Christians there, hope was rooted in the first article of the manifesto: “The Kingdom of God has come.” And as James Skillen described it, this Kingdom “forbids us disillusioned resignation to the status quo, keeps us dissatisfied, hopeful, imaginative, and open to new possibilities.”

With this hopeful imagination, Elias Chacour reminds us that perhaps then, “‘We shall no longer shout ‘Peace, peace!’ and see nothing but war, war that goes on getting ever more horrifying. We shall stop trying to establish our security, which at the end of the day is nothing but domination and segregation masquerading as peace. We shall begin to do justly, to have moral integrity. We shall become peacemakers, makers of [God's] Peace. And then we shall know its fruits: peace and love for all in this world, all who are in the Promised Land.”

Music Ministries with a Message

“God desires that his people would move outside the walls of their churches. He wants them to meet people wherever they are, whatever they do,” says Del Riemer, Associate Pastor of Summerland (B.C.) Baptist Church.
“Too often local churches are like a prison that keeps their people in and unintentionally intimidates people outside church and keeps them out. How did Jesus move outside the walls of the synagogue? He spent his time with people that others avoided like the plague.”
At Summerland Baptist, part of getting outside the church walls means creating a vibrant Music and Creative Arts Outreach. The outreach has four performing bands, each with its own style and audience demographic, who travel throughout B.C, Western Canada and the US to share the gospel of Jesus Christ through music and a message of hope and truth.
The best known and busiest of these bands is Back Porch Gospel, a bluegrass band whose members are all retired (except for Del). The band visits churches, prisons, treatment centres, parks, seniors’ homes and other venues as far away as Missouri to share the fun and joy of gospel bluegrass music. Most, but not all of the songs are Christian; however, every performance includes stories and testimonies that explicitly witness of Christ and his gospel of hope and forgiveness.
“There is something that is down home and fun about bluegrass music. Iit breaks through age and style barriers. Bluegrass provides a phenomenal open door, from prisons to seniors’ homes. It is the style that seems to attract people,” Del says.
Hope Road is a contemporary music group made up of people who have come through difficult and discouraging periods of hopelessness in their lives. This team shares a message: that hope lies not in a place or a philosophy, but in the person of Jesus. Members have suffered the death of loved ones, illnesses, sexual abuse, shattered dreams and job losses.
“We share that in hopeless situations, hope can come alive again when God breaks through,” Del says.
The Groundswell group, made up of six young adults in their 20s and 30s, shares original and inspirational light rock/folk music with jazz and blues overtones to appeal to audiences in their 20s to 40s.
“Groundswell is a term surfers use where a deep ocean swell of water rises up creating a larger dynamic wave,” Del says, explaining that this group performs concerts but also does ministry fundraisers, church music and praise as well as music for children.
The Three Okanagan Tenors, dressed in tuxedos and accompanied by piano and violin, offer triumphant, familiar songs of faith with a more classical and traditional flavour. The Tenors are well accepted with older audiences in concert and conference settings.
The four groups do about 50 concerts a year between them. Since Del plays in three of the groups as well as on church music teams, he enjoys partnering with others in areas of music ministry five to seven times per week.
“I am not particular about the style of music. God uses what we offer. I personally have an eclectic musical taste and enjoy wonderful opportunities to use music for God’s glory. We can use any opportunity to connect with people,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be music. I’m really interested in motorcycling, so God uses that too.” He adds that the church’s Roadsalt Riders club attracts those from the local community to connect and enjoy fellowship together.
Summerland’s outreach ministry isn’t limited to its four bands. Every second year, the entire community of Summerland anticipates “Uncle Phil’s Dinner,” a dinner theatre that offers a simple gospel message through engaging music and drama. The church also has a bell choir, men’s chorus group and regular music and praise teams.
For the past 15-20 years, Summerland Baptist has hosted a monthly Sunday night concert to enrich and share the gospel. Now called Searchlight Gospel, this concert series features local and well-known musicians sharing through many styles, “it’s not to showcase talent but to share Jesus.” Del explains that the concerts attract mostly Christians but offer a way of inviting neighbours and friends who wouldn’t otherwise set foot inside a church.
The church also encourages its members to host neighbourhood block parties. A church band performs background music, providing a light, non-intimidating atmosphere. The church helps to organize the event and designs and prints the invitations. The church even has a professional clown who is available to connect with the children.
“We are trying to encourage people in our church to find creative ways to connect with the non-Christians they know. If it opens up connections with people, we want to engage that,” Del says. “At the block parties, the initial intent is not to lead people to Christ; it’s just to connect.”
Del himself is a lifelong musician. His dad played steel guitar and his mother the electric bass, and together they led a family music group and had a radio show in the Edmonton area. Del was singing on the show by age two and a half and doing four-part harmony by age four. His mom encouraged him to always be in the same grade in piano as he was in school. By grade eight, he gave up piano but picked up the flute and later became a woodwind specialist. After training in music and theology at Taylor University, Del travelled with a contemporary Christian band called Liberty Union. Throughout the 1970s, Del toured and performed with other well-known Christian musicians.
He accepted his first pastoral call at Summerland after an eclectic career as band musician, restaurant manager, worker with young offenders and outdoor wilderness and music director.
Summerland Baptist continues to build on its legacy of outreach. The church has assembled a resource trailer containing $50,000 worth of light and sound equipment, allowing the teams to put on a concert anywhere, whether in a church a park or a prison. On the side of the trailer is a picture of a horse-drawn wagon with a pump organ inside, a reference to Summerland’s 1905 origins when, after worship service on Sunday, members would load the pump organ into a wagon and travel 10 miles to the Kettle Valley Railroad camps to lead church services.
“When we celebrated our 100th anniversary in 2005, we were inspired to re-establish that ministry. The church is moving beyond its walls to equip and train and risk,” says Del. “We can’t keep the message of Christ to ourselves. We have to spread it around.”
Del hopes other churches will start neighbourhood block parties so they can connect with their neighbours, discover their interests and come alongside.
He says, “Churches shouldn’t let limited resources stop them. Be a place that equips people for the work of the Kingdom. When Jesus sent out the 70, he told them to take nothing. All you need is him. The Lord will provide the resources –- if we take the first step and move beyond what is safe.”
Bookings for any of the four music outreach teams can be made by contacting Del at pastordel@summerlandbaptist.ca.Originally published in Making Connections, a Canadian Baptists of Western Canada newsletter.

Gospel in the park

The 40th anniversary of a unique ministry was celebrated on the evening of Sunday, July 29, 2012. That night, churches in the town of Dresden, Ontario, marked 40 years of “Sunday Evening In The Park.” This drive-in church service was the brainchild of Baptist minister Dann Filyer.

The invention of the automobile is sometimes blamed for drawing people away from church, but some Christian ministers decided to make use of the new technology rather than fight it. Drive-in church services had sprung up in the US, but Filyer first tried out the idea when he was pastoring a church in Aurora, just north of Toronto, in the early 1960s. Using a bullhorn on top of his red station wagon, he drove around town inviting people to “Come as you are—come in your car.” The first services took place in a small strip mall along Yonge Street in the centre of town. Filyer preached from a trailer fastened to the car’s back bumper. Later, a farm stake truck with wooden racks was customized into a travelling sound stage. Typically, Filyer painted the truck fire engine red.

When Filyer moved on to pastor the Baptist church in Waterford, Ontario, in 1965, that church agreed to follow a similar pattern of outreach—except that the service took place at the local baseball diamond. Most people parked their cars on the outfield grass, but some sat in the bleachers.  Filyer preached from another converted farm truck parked on top of home plate. That church continued the ministry for quite a few years after Filyer left.

When Filyer moved to North Dresden Baptist Church in the spring of 1972, he was anxious to continue this unique ministry. In this case, the groundwork had already been done. The previous Baptist pastor, Bert Lorimer, had been holding outdoor services in Dresden’s Jackson Park, but had used chairs from the church set out in rows—which had more of the feel of a regular church service. As well, the Baptist church had a practice of having occasional joint services with Evangel Pentecostal Tabernacle in one of the church buildings. Filyer decided to combine the two ideas. By the summer of 1972, the two churches had received permission to hold drive-in services on Sunday nights in the park. At first, the preaching was done from a farm wagon equipped with a piano and a pulpit.

The format was to have a musical group present a number of songs (it was the era of the gospel quartet), and then one of the pastors would preach a short gospel message. People could sit in their cars or on lawn chairs.

When Filyer moved on to Brantford, Ontario, in 1977 he acquired another farm truck and held drive-in church services in the parking lot of an auto parts store—a practice he continued until he retired in 1986.

Back in Dresden, however, the service continued. Between 1988 and 1994, the Charlemont and Zion Free Methodist Churches joined with the founding congregations. The service was handed over to the Dresden and District Christian Ministerial Association in 1994. It is now run by a committee consisting of two pastors and eight laypeople, currently chaired by Paul Shaw, minister at Mount Zion Presbyterian Church. In 1998, the churches received permission to erect a permanent pavilion in the park, at a cost of $3500. People still sit in lawn chairs or in cars parked along the edge of the park.

Dann Filyer passed away about 15 years ago. At the anniversary service, the guest speaker was his son, Stephen Filyer, who now pastors the Bothwell and Clachan Baptist Churches 30-40 kilometres away. Stephen reiterated his father’s goal of “getting the gospel out of the church and into the community in every way possible.” He noted that his father’s practice was to turn up the sound system all the way so that “people in surrounding homes would hear the gospel message whether they wanted to or not.”

It is hard to judge the exact impact of the services. There was no altar call, although people were offered the opportunity to talk to the ministers after the service. One of the first guest speakers was Bill Crump, who was director of Fair Havens Bible Conference and Retreat Centre in Beaverton, Ontario. He reported that after one of his gospel presentations, three responded—“a Ford, a Chevy, and a Plymouth.”

The services have been more about building long-term relationships and connecting with the community. They are a relaxed, non-threatening place where people who might feel intimidated about going into a church building can “come as they are” and hear the gospel.

The committee’s written materials affirm, “Sunday Evening In The Park has become a phenomenon that can only be explained as the activity of the Holy Spirit.”

PHOTOS

Cake was served after the July 29 service to celebrate the anniversary.

 

 

Family Being Refocused

Christian psychologist James Dobson is expanding and reissuing the series of videos on parenting that was originally issued in 1978 and that launched Dobson’s Focus on the Family ministry into  international prominence. The original series of seven videos was filmed in San Antonio, Texas, and was viewed by an estimated 80 million people in the next five years. Dobson, now head of Family Talk radio, is filming new segments at a conference called Building A Family Legacy in San Diego.

Jesus the Revolutionary

Hugo Chavez standing to attentionVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez tearfully prayed for healing at a Catholic mass over Easter, according to Assist News Service. The 57-year-old is battling cancer and last year went to Cuba for treatment, which was apparently unsuccessful. Chavez wanted to become a priest as a young man. He believes his socialism has roots in the teachings of Jesus. He sees Jesus as a revolutionary who opposed the Roman Empire, the religious hierarchies and the economic elite who oppressed the poor.

Saved from the Titanic

The October 1928 issue of The Latter Rain Evangel (published by The Stone Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Chicago) reported a fascinating story of the Titanic. The story was told by a young man in Hamilton, Ontario, three or four years after the Titanic sank in 1912. John Harper, pastor of Walworth Road Baptist Church in London, England, was en route to Chicago, where he was scheduled to preach at Moody Church. Harper’s daughter and niece survived the sinking on a lifeboat, but Harper died in the water. The young man, who survived the shipwreck, said Horton led him to Christ while both were struggling in the water.

Thirty-Five Days to New Life

“Dear Jesus, I want you in the center of my life and commit through your power, to serve and obey you – anytime, anywhere, at any cost, to do anything.”

What’s your reaction to this prayer? Excitement? Fear? Guilt? Hope? Irritation? Many Christians wrestle with the no-holds-barred commitment these words express. According to Leonard Buhler, president of the Langley-based Christian organization Power to Change, that is exactly the point.

“We want to put a fork in the road for Christians,” says Buhler, who chose this provocative prayer as the foundation for The Life, a new initiative being developed by Power to Change. Buhler’s dream for The Life is that one million Christians across Canada will pray these words—and really mean them. He can clearly picture what this kind of commitment looks like in a person’s life: an action-oriented love for God and people coupled with a passion for talking about Jesus.

It’s this last item that Buhler suspects will be difficult for many Christians to embrace. He is the first to admit that in today’s Canadian context, evangelism is no easy thing. Sacrificial obedience – the kind Jesus referred to when he said those who want to be his disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23) – is challenging enough in a busy, self-oriented culture. Add to that the fear of coming across as preachy and intolerant, and the result is that very few Christians are excited to talk about Jesus with people outside the church.

With that in mind, Buhler’s team launched the 35-Day Challenge. An online program, the 35-Day Challenge is designed to help people get started with Christ-centred, people-centred living. The Challenge walks people through a five-week process of introducing three non-Christian friends to Jesus in the most natural way possible. Daily action steps, videos, exercises and encouragement help participants learn and practice a style of evangelism that is intentional but not pushy, a conversation rather than a sermon.

By the end of the 35-Day Challenge, Buhler hopes people will be excited to join the Life and commit to a lifetime of helping people experience the love of Christ. Those who do will be welcomed into an online community (thelife.com) where they will receive regular outreach tips, encouragement, and the opportunity to share their questions and stories.

The Life’s full launch is not scheduled until the fall of 2012, but some Christians are already making The Life commitment. Eugene, a health-care worker and member of Lighthouse Christian Church in Surrey, British Columbia, prayed that prayer on a Sunday morning last August when Buhler challenged the congregation as a guest speaker. With his prayer fresh in his mind, Eugene met a hospital patient who was at the end of his life. Part of Buhler’s talk that Sunday was dedicated to the Soul Cravings strategy — a simple approach designed to connect with people’s universal longings for destiny, intimacy and meaning. Eugene shared the gospel, and, to his astonishment, the patient and his entire family put their trust in Jesus.

It’s not just people in hospital beds who need Jesus. When Buhler looks at Canada, he sees millions of people without hope. “Each day,” he says, “we come into contact with person after person who is struggling, desperate for help, searching for more.” To see your friends, your family, your colleagues being transformed by God’s love – that’s a dream worth pursuing at any cost.

Buhler goes on to say, “When you lay down your life for others, that’s what makes nations great. That’s what makes marriages great. That’s what builds communities. That’s what changes the world.” His dream is that The Life will change the spiritual direction of Canada, one person at a time.

To find out more about the 35-Day Challenge and The Life initiative, visit 35DayChallenge.ca and thelife.com