Dec 19, 2012

Reflections on the Connecticut Tragedy

by Matthew McEwen

The tragedy in Connecticut has been described by many people using colourful words expressing disgust and horror, but situations like these expose the limitations of the English language. No words can truly define the horror, and words defy any search for an explanation. The limitation of words is also evident when you consider the incapability of offering comfort to those who grieve. What can you say?

Perhaps this is why Job’s friends did their best work in the early chapters of Job’s story, where they simply sat in silence with Job. Yet silence is uncomfortable and we feel the need to speak, to say something and fill the void. And much has been said and will continue to be said as the debates intensify.

My first thought when I heard this terrible news was to turn to Scripture and read from Matthew 2 and the rage of King Herod who gave orders to kill the boys in Bethlehem. This was also Bishop David Kendall’s reflection on his blog:

The wonder at Christmas is that Jesus would enter into this dark and broken world, and with the season of advent (a word that means coming) we not only look back and remember the birth of a baby, but also look forward to His second coming. When Jesus comes again, He will judge the living and the dead and on that Glorious Day, God will make all things new. On that Day there will be no more mourning, or death, or crying, or sickness or pain. And so the prayer of the Church has been and will continue to be “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

Others speaking about this tragedy focus on the topic of gun control, but a deeper root to this issue is mental health. A resource document on mental health is an ongoing project for SCOD. The statistics show that 72% people would freely share the information that a family member has cancer, but when the issue is mental health the number drops to 50%. A conversation about mental health must take place to offer people hope, assistance and remove the stigma associated with these illnesses. (

Another response to the tragedy that I have seen has been Christians who lament the public school’s hostile environment towards Christianity. I have seen people lament that “God need to be put back into public schools”, or that “God can't be in schools anymore because He is not welcome there.” I’ve heard it said that “He won't force His way in where He is not wanted.” In making that final statement, people will then refer to the Warner Sallman painting of Jesus knocking on the door and mention that there is no handle on the outside and imply that we have to open the door to let Jesus in. John 20:19, however, is clear that locked doors are no barrier to Jesus.

Here is where Wesleyan theology needs to speak up and be heard. Jesus cannot be evicted from school because He remains with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized (Matthew 25:40). Even without the presence of Christians who are called to be salt and light in the world, the Holy Spirit is at work. Some parts of the Church family call it “Common Grace,” whereas we Wesleyans will speak of prevenient grace.
Prevenient grace “…is the grace that ‘comes before’ (pre-venio) we are conscious that God is seeking us out, using subtle, and not so subtle, nudges to awaken us to our true condition” (Runyon, 27). Before a person can enter into justification, there must be an awareness of sin for repentance to take place. This awakening is the work of the Holy Spirit in the act of prevenient grace. Therefore, “Christians are sent into the world knowing that the Spirit is preparing the way in the lives of those to whom they go…. If the Spirit is not intimidated by unbelief, should we be? Wesley’s ‘optimism of grace’ is a confidence grounded in the universal activity of God” (Runyon, 33-34).

The doctrine of prevenient grace means that God is at work in the world, and Christians have an opportunity to be a partner in the mission of God. Even without a single Christian in a public school that may be hostile towards Christianity, the Holy Spirit remains active in working in the lives of the students and teachers, preparing them for when they will encounter the next follower of Jesus. You can’t evict God, see Psalm 139 for more information.

The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today. Theodore Runyon, Abingdon Press, 1988.

Nov 13, 2012

On Partnering with Para-church Ministries: A Model for Discernment

When Jesus prays for us directly in John 17:21, He asks the Father that we as believers would be one just as the Father is one. Jesus asks the Father that we, the broader body of Christ, live in complete unity to let the world know that the Father has sent Jesus – to see God`s glory! Clearly it is in God’s interest that we partner with other Christians and work together.

John Wesley, in his sermon on the catholic spirit, cites 2 Kings 10:15, ‘if your heart is as my heart then give me your hand’. Thomas Oden explains that Wesley’s major thesis on the catholic spirit is that ‘being of one heart, even though not of one opinion, reaches beyond human antipathies and cultural differences’. People who are shaped and formed with divergent modes of thinking can still be united. Wesley recognizes that ‘how we think’ is formed by our circumstances and cultural experiences.

While Wesley was unquestionably committed to the essentials of classical Christianity, ‘he resisted the notion that they could be captured in a single unalterable linguistic form’. He urged followers to operate within the dictates of our own conscience. When seeking truth, confessional statements are limited. So Wesley raised questions that ask whether one has become ‘personally accountable to the core of Christian teaching.’ If believers are opening their hearts to the transforming work of God and open to that self-examination, then Wesley would say, ‘extend to me your hand’. In light of this Wesleyan ethos, we seek to live in that unity with Christian partners.

We also seek to be discerning in developing relationships that help us optimize partnerships for God’s glory. But, Scripture and experience also tell us that sometimes there is real wisdom in not partnering. In Acts 15:35-40 we see an example of such wisdom when two key leaders who had been working closely together, developed different visions about how to best move forward. Rather than feel they must stay together in the same locale, they saw that for the sake of the gospel, it would be better for them to not work so closely together. There is no implication of anything wrong in this realization. In fact, both ministries seemed to be optimized apart from each other.

Wise discernment often depends on asking the right questions. The following questions are intended to be a tool for churches and church leaders as they consider partnerships with para-church organizations and other Christian groups.

Confessional Compatibility
Is there anything within the organization’s doctrine or statement of faith that conflicts or contradicts historical orthodoxy?

Is there anything about their beliefs and emphases that contradicts our Free Methodist Articles of Religion
and our collective convictions about the Christian life (The Christian Life in the Manual)? Would an outsider think that our church believes or emphasizes things we do not if their first or only contact with us was through this group?

Discerning the Spirit

Does the mood &/or ethos of the organization complement ours?

Is there anything about this group/person that raises flags in those in your church known for having the gift of discernment?

Are there any concerns morally, ethically, financially, legally that plague the organization?

Even if there are concerns that are flagged, what elements/truths might be benefit your ministry – or at least need to be incorporated, even if you do not develop a formal relationship with them?

Would I be comfortable with my church or my personal identity being associated publicly with this ministry? I.e. How would I feel about a caption with the two names together on the front page of a local paper?

Is there a good chance that this group/person is so different from us that divergent visions/priorities may well raise questions and debates that will take everyone’s attention away from central Gospel priorities?

Is the leadership of my church prayerfully on board with this association?

Who has endorsed this organization or ministry publicly in their marketing materials?

Is there anything that makes me feel uncomfortable in working with this organization or association?

Seeking the wisdom of others (Prov 15:22)

Have I consulted with my peers in my network, accountability partner, LISTSERV or NLT to thoroughly reference the association or organization?

Who can I contact personally to further reference this ministry?

Objectives and outcome of partnership

What are the parameters, benchmarks or guidelines, we need to put in place for this association to best function

What long term benefit will this bring to our local church vision?

What long term benefit will this bring to the spiritual maturity/discipleship/sanctification of our church?

Oct 22, 2012

Free Methodists in Canada and Social Drinking

by Greg Pulham

There has been a great deal of conversation about what the Scriptures say about “social drinking.”  It is frequently a topic that arises when I teach our foundational course on FM polity.  Here is my take.
First, the Scriptures may indeed be read in such a way to allow for social consumption of alcohol.  But I’m quite sure it makes no prescription that we must or ought to drink socially. 
I think what the Scriptures say about this issue is well captured in the principle statement from para.630.2.6 of the Manual:
As Christians we believe that life is full, abundant, and free in Jesus Christ (John 8:35; 10:10). Therefore, we commit ourselves to be free from whatever damages, destroys, or distorts His life in us.
Following that statement of principle is a statement of how we, as FMs, think that principle ought to be applied. 
Because Christ admonishes us to love God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves, we advocate abstaining from the use of alcoholic beverages (Mark 12:30-31). The abuse of alcohol, a legalized drug, is damaging to individuals, families, and society.  It is unpredictably addictive and its destructive effects cannot be fully measured.  Its abuse leaves a trail of broken marriages, family violence, crime, industrial loss, ill health, injury, and death. As concerned Christians, we advocate abstinence for the sake of health, family, and neighbours.  Moreover, we see the adverse social consequences as so pervasive that we seek by advocating abstinence to make a united social witness to the freedom Christ gives.
Clearly, “advocating abstinence” is the stated way in which we as FMs in Canada seek to handle this issue of social drinking. 
[I would remind that members of Conference and members of local churches have covenanted to live by these provisions of the Manual (see para.151.2 Requirements of Membership and para.161 The Questions for Membership #4).]
Here is my question:  How can I effectively advocate abstinence if I don’t abstain myself? 
How can I advocate for monogamy when I have multiple spouses at home?  How can I advocate for integrity if I don’t keep my promises?  How can I advocate for Jesus Christ if I bow down and worship idols?  It’s like saying, “Drinking is okay for me, but you ought not to do it.”  I’ve never found this to be a persuasive way to advocate. 
The Scriptures may well allow social drinking, but it certainly doesn’t command it.  For FMs in Canada, we’ve covenanted to advocate abstinence.  If we as a movement want to change how we apply the Biblical principles, then we need to re-articulate the statement “we advocate abstinence.”  I do not look forward to that discussion. 

Sep 28, 2012

Learning to Fail

Over the last year there seems to be more of a buzz on learning to fail. Two articles on this subject in the Globe and Mail caught my interest. One was back in April, written by a Business Correspondent and the other in August, highlighting Canadian writer, Paul Tough’s new book. 

Amanda Lang`s article in April titled, “Why we need to teach our kids how to fail” refers to Sports Canada`s decision to coordinate the efforts of 56 national sports bodies in a long term athlete development program to promote fun over winning. She summarizes from this material that the originators of this program say this is a necessary step since losing “makes kids feel bad.” The columnist is very critical of this program and argues how this philosophy plays out in Canadian culture. But for our purposes, she claims that “failure is a natural process of elimination that clears the path to success.”

Most of us have heard of Edison’s numerous attempts to make a light bulb. It is said that he was once interviewed by a reporter who asked if he felt like a failure after attempting 9,000 times. His response: “Now I know positively 9,000 ways that the light bulb will not work.’

Edison seemed to have subscribed to the same philosophy as Lang, as does Paul Tough. In the Globe and Mail interview which features Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed, he claims that what really matters is not IQ nor affluence, but the ability to fall down and get back up again.  He calls this grit: “resistance, persistence, perseverance, stick-to-it-iveness and passion.” By his description, grit could be called character. Wente, who summarizes Tough’s book, says that what Tough has learned “is that two kids of equal abilities can have wildly different outcomes.” The grit scale determines people`s capacity to stick with something despite setbacks.

A couple of thousand years ago, Paul said something similar. I love the way the NLT says it: “We can rejoice, too when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character….” It shouldn’t surprise us when we hear God’s eternal principles being echoed as new revelation to a new generation. It should remind us of God’s timeless relevance. Grit as Tough calls it, or character as Paul calls it, strengthens not just our effectiveness and success in life, but for those of us counting on God`s faithful love, “our confident hope…that will not lead to disappointment.”

Sep 4, 2012

When Helping Hurts

A book review by John Vlainic
Even though I remember thinking of myself as from a “poor” family when I was a child, I know that I, even then, was part of the “rich” of the earth.
  I am realizing that my formation to this point in life has rather poorly equipped me for serious obedience to the concern throughout scripture that God’s people share themselves and their resources with the poor. Sometimes, I have tried to be gracious about it, and said, “That’s something another part of Christ’s body does well.”  
As well, I have seen attempts at helping, which seemed, even to me, to likely be counterproductive in the long haul.
How good, then, to learn of a wonderful introduction to the matter which strikes me as:
  • biblical (with a special focus on Christ as King and Christ’s Kingdom, and on the over-arching grand Story of the Bible)
  • humble (the authors admits many of their own errors, and are gracious throughout); there is tremendous humility here!
  • in touch with “systems” thinking  
  • aware of how “culture” works in human life
  • clearly “both/and” in tone
  • nuanced (i.e. they do not pretend that issues are simpler than they are)
It is: Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor (Moody Publishers, 2009).
They blew many of my assumptions about ministry to the poor, the nature of poverty, and so much more right out of the water. The more I listened, the more I realized how little I know about this. I learned much about a host of kinds of paternalism well-meaning Christians like me engage in.
One of the ways in which the authors are most helpful is in unpacking the real dangers (and potentials) of the short term missions trip that is so popular these days. If you want to do short term missions without doing long-term harm, pick up this book. It will raise a host of new (and good) questions. This book is revolutionary in my thinking. I hope that time will tell that changes will have taken place in my living and serving.

Aug 21, 2012

When the Devil went down in Ephesus

by Dale Harris

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time in Acts these days, and feeling like it's a book I’ve read a dozen times but never seen before. One of the episodes I find particularly fascinating is the account of Paul’s visit to Ephesus.

If you recall: the Holy Spirit arrives in Ephesus and in its wake we see stuff happening that would make the best of Frank Peretti look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. The Seven Sons of Sceva are beat black and blue by a demon-possessed man (19:14); dabblers in the occult perform public burnings of their paraphernalia (19:19); the silversmiths of a pagan goddess incite the mobs to riot (19:28). I mean: the Gospel’s beating the bushes and the demons are scattering like so many startled sparrows.

But Frank Peretti aside—and this is a point that I’ve never seen Frank Peretti address, or Screwtape, or Dr. Faustus for that matter—whatever else they're about, the Ephesian exorcisms are about issuing God's challenge to the oppressive economic structures that promote systemic evil.

For instance: it’s an assumption on my part, but not an outrageous one, that the Seven Sons of Sceva have set themselves up as Exorcists for Hire, and this is why their interview with the devil goes so painfully wrong (the fact that Sceva is styling himself as a ‘chief priest’ in Ephesus is highly suspect). Bob Larson leaps to mind, here.

And this isn’t an assumption but just a plain reading of the text: the economic value of the books burned in Acts 19:19 works out to about 136 years wages (say 6 million dollars?). A lot of Ephesians have sunk a lot of money into occult junk over the years.

And most telling of all: the reason Demetrius and his colleagues start a riot is because they’ve seen the economic writing on the wall:  if people abandon Artemis for Jesus, they’ll no longer need the silver images that are their stock and trade. I don’t suppose a good racket has ever died without a fight, and this must have been a lucrative racket:  Ephesus, you understand, was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient World.

I’m pointing this all out because if you want to take the Book of Acts seriously, you can’t escape the conclusion that confronting the demonic is on the Church’s to-do list. But if I were to write a “theology of exorcisms” based on the Book of Acts, one of the first chapters, I think, would deal with oppressive economic structures, the “powers and principalities” that exploit and dehumanize people in ways that seem so normal to us—even necessary—but are best understood as “demonic.” And then I would try to draw lines between what’s happening in Acts 19 and the Church’s call to both name and provide alternatives to these ways of doing business. Economic systems are by nature spiritual, I’d say, and economic structures are demonic when they make money ultimate and people a means to an end.

And then I’d brace myself.

But I’d also point out that in Acts 16 we see the same thing happening. Paul performs an exorcism (16:18), freeing a girl from demonic possession. But it’s not just a demon that's being excised here.  It's also the economic exploitation this girl's been suffering at the hands of her pimps. Because when the men who made their living off her “prophetic utterances” find out that their “hope of profit is gone," Acts says, that’s when the metaphorical excrement hits the proverbial air-circulation device.

By Acts’ reckoning, it seems: helping the vulnerable escape economic exploitation—girls the sex trade, say—or children the sweatshop—or workers the tyranny of the bottom line—or shop-a-holics the clutches of Mastercard—by Acts reckoning, at least, these are all ministries of exorcism with the potential to raise hell.

Aug 7, 2012

Great Introduction to Paul (& Christian Thought)

by John Vlainic

N. T. Wright has a relatively small, readable survey, Paul In Fresh Perspective (Fortress Press, 2005). This one is not for those who love exploring footnotes. But it does contain many careful distinctions about Pauline and Christian thought.

As with Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God, this book is extremely helpful in getting at the “big picture” of the whole of scripture, even while it touches on many particulars.

Wright provides (gracious) corrections to popular teachings among evangelicals (and many Free Methodists too??). Here are some of them, posed as questions.

CROSS: What “freight does the word “CROSS” cary for Paul?

ELECTION: How has Paul reshaped and reworked the election of Israel?

JUSTIFICATION: Does Paul use “justification” to refer to how a person gets saved, or to something else?

HOLY LAND: What does Paul understand as “Holy Land” now? Has the old covenant to Israel been replaced?

RAPTURE: What did Paul mean in his one use of a “rapture” image for when Christ appears?

APOCALYPTIC: What is “apocalyptic” and how does Paul use it?

PISTIS CHRISTOU: Does Paul think we are justified by “faith in Christ” or by “the faithfulness of Christ”? [e.g. Galatians 2:16]

JESUS AND PAUL: Different or same or ________?

CHRIST AND THE EMPIRE: How would Paul feel about our passive, relatively submissive reading of Roman 13? What does the Gospel say to pagan culture?

ETHICS: How does Paul understand ethics for Christians – rules to be kept?



1 Paul's World, Paul's Legacy
.....1. The Three Worlds of Paul
.....2. Fighting over Paul's Legacy: Perspectives Old, New and Different

2 Creation and Covenant
.....1. Creation and Covenant in the Old Testament
.....2. Paul: Three Central Passages
..........(i) Colossians 1.15-20
..........(ii) 1 Corinthians 15
..........(iii) Romans 1-11 3. Evil and Grace, Plight and Solution
.....4. Conclusion: Jesus within Creation and Covenant

3 Messiah and Apocalyptic
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Jesus as Messiah in Paul
.....3. Apocalyptic in Paul

4 Gospel and Empire
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Caesar's Empire and Its Ideology
.....3. Jewish Critique of Pagan Empire
.....4. Paul's Counter-Imperial Theology
.....5. Conclusion

5 Rethinking God
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Monotheism: The Jewish Roots
.....3. Monotheism and Christology
.....4. Monotheism and the Spirit
.....5. Scriptural Roots, Pagan Targets, Practical Work
.....6. Conclusion

6 Reworking God's People
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Election: Jewish Views of God's People
.....3. Election Reshaped around Jesus
.....4. Election Reworked around the Spirit
.....5. Redefinition of Election Rooted in Scripture
6. Conclusion

7 Reimagining God's Future
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Jewish Eschatology in the First Century
.....3. Eschatology Reimagined around the Messiah
.....4. Eschatology Reimagined around the Spirit
.....5. Eschatology in Context
.....6. Conclusion

8 Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church
.....1. Introduction
.....2. Jesus and Paul
.....3. The Work of an Apostle
..........a. Servant, apostle, set apart
..........b. Redefinitions in practice
.....4. Conclusion: Paul and the Task of the Church

Notes / Bibliography / Indexes

Jul 25, 2012

A Story of Healing

by John Vlanic

I was taking a pastoral student intern with me on some initial visits in our Hospital. As we came onto one of the floors, the nursing staff told us we had a new patient with one of the progressive neuromuscular diseases (e.g. Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). This person seemed to be suffering a great deal – not physical pain, but spiritual suffering. The family had told the staff that the woman’s faith was very important to her. But now she could barely communicate. The best she could do was one-syllable gasps.

The student and I went in and tried to make Jesus “present” in every way we could. After explaining who we were and doing other things to “connect” I asked if we could read a psalm with her and pray with her. She responded with what was clearly a “yes.”

As I closed my Bible after reading a Psalm of trust, the woman, with great intensity, blurted out something that sounded like “Fie!” I told her I wasn’t getting it and asked her to repeat. Again, “Fie!” I said that she must be very frustrated with being no longer able to speak clearly. All we got was “Fie.” The student and I tried several possibilities, but all were clearly bad guesses. All we got, again and again, was a passionate “Fie!” We didn’t have a clue.

Suddenly I heard myself asking the patient, “Do you mean James 5?” There was a sound that was clearly an enthusiastic “yes!” I asked, “Are you wanting us to anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord Jesus and pray over you – as mentioned in James 5” She clearly did.

I told her we would be glad to do that, and excused myself to ask the nurses for some oil.

When I came back to the room I took time to assure the patient that I did believe that the Lord Jesus was going to heal her. I assured her that God is greater than we are, and so too are his healing ways.

Then it occurred to me to mention that in the Bible we see references to several kinds of healings.

Some are of the “James 5” type, where there is a clear physical reversal of the sickness. I agreed with her that this was the type I would long for if I were her, and that we joined her in wanting it for her. So I read from James 5:

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up. 

We let those words soak in. Then I explained that in the New Testament we also see what I call a “2 Corinthians 12” kind of healing. And I read:

A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I explained how, though we do not prefer this way of being healed, we do know that suffering – even deprivation – has long been an important tool for building Christ-like character, for healing our inner lives, and for finding deep joy of the sort most people never come to know. There are many scriptures that speak of this.

Then I mentioned a third kind of healing, the “Revelation 21” kind. We read:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

I told her that she could stake her life on that promise! Then we prayed and anointed her in Jesus’ name, sure that he would indeed heal her – in one or more of those ways or another that flows from his great love for her.

Before we left, I used “scaling” with her – to give us some kind of base line for our next visit. If 0 represents “I feel totally abandoned by God; I’m in utter despair” and if 10 represents, “I feel God’s presence with me so much that it’s almost heaven,” where was she on the scale from 0 to 10? We heard (and verified) that it was 6. We talked very briefly about that and assured her we would be back in a few days, and would continue to pray for her on our own.

A few days later we went into this patient’s room. She was clearly as ill physically as before. If anything she seemed a bit weaker. We talked with this dear woman with whom we had cried out to God for healing. Soon I referred back to our time of prayer a few days earlier. I mentioned the fact that we had been praying for her in the meantime.

I also spoke of the humbling fact that we know neither the full details of God’s ways nor God’s timing in all these things. Eventually we shared a Psalm of trust, and expressed our confidence in the fact that Jesus was indeed healing her.

Before we left, I did the scaling again, hoping that with no visible positive change since we had anointed her and prayed, the 6 would not have turned into a 1 or a 0! We were a bit afraid about what we might learn.

But the patient blurted out something that sounded like a 10! I asked if she was saying “10” and she verified that she was. I inquired, “Are you telling me that you sense the presence of Jesus with you so powerfully, and that you have such peace in him that a 6 is nowhere near good enough to describe how Jesus has touched you?”

Again the response was an enthusiastic “Yes! Ten!”

So we prayed with her again, thanking God for his faithfulness in already healing her in a powerful way, and looking forward to the Day of final healing, and any other way he’d be pleased to heal her in the meantime! 

Back in the office afterward, the seminary student and I tried to unpack some of what we had experienced. I said that I guessed that this woman had so read and re-read the Bible over her life that even though she (and we) wanted “James 5,” she knew with peace and certainty that “2 Corinthians 12” can happen if “James 5” doesn’t, and that “Revelation 21” surely will one day!

It was clear to both of us that a 2 Corinthians 12 healing had indeed taken place in this woman’s life. It was clear that now, in her weakness, this woman was strong!!

The student and I speculated about what might have been the case if this woman had not been a biblically informed Christian. She might well have believed EITHER:

● “healing is not for me; Jesus only did that back in Bible days” [which is FALSE; he does heal today]


● “if I just have enough faith, and the right minister anoints me, God will always give me a miraculous, bodily, visible healing; if he doesn’t, it’s either because I don’t have enough faith or I haven’t gone to the right pastor” [which is also FALSE – even the Apostle Paul didn’t get the healing he wanted – though God did heal him; and I can point you to faith healers who wear glasses or contacts. 

One of the key things this woman taught me is that when we find ourselves broken, it will make a world of difference whether we have read and actually internalized big chunks of scripture. It might mean the difference between an existence that is almost hellish, or one almost heavenly! We’ve already speculated about the result for this woman if she had not formed a biblical mindset.

Of course, the healing she received was the work of the Spirit. But I am sure that a life-time of reading the scriptures helped her to know to ask, and ask boldly, AND to know that the fact that God didn’t take away the “problem” in the way she had asked did NOT mean that he was not powerfully at work in her!

I saw the follower of Jesus in her room many more times. I myself was strengthened by the marvelous healing Jesus had done in her, was doing in her and would finally complete on that Day!

Her body wasn’t “fixed” in this world. But what amazing “good health” God gave her in her final days here!

Here’s the bottom line from all of this. Our God is a healing God! He has more ways of working his healing grace in our lives than you can shake a stick at! I assure you, he’s doing it, and he wants to do more of it! He does it in the three ways outlined above and many more.

Think of how our bodies work (auto-immune system, antibodies, etc.), or medicine & medical science, healing fruits and herbs from God’s creation.

And think of Prevenient grace (the grace that “goes before” we commit to Christ and awakens our hunger for God) and Regeneration (newness of life when we are “born again”). Think of the miraculous healing of lives as people grow in Christ-likeness! Think of the miracles of forgiveness and reconciliation (with God and with people).

Think of the Lord’s Supper, through which God keeps touching us and strengthening us. Think of Scripture and worship. There’s much, much more.

So ask him for what you think you need.

And be assured that he will give you what you do need (note that we did not say “want”).

And, if you can only “see” as my patient did, I predict that you will eventually recognize that, to allude to Ephesians 3, what he gives you is “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

So: Thank him!
Ask him!
Trust him!

Our God is a healing God!

Jun 4, 2012

Being Watchmen - or Women

Having asked what we as a church can do for the community, a local high school principal replied, “Be a watchman to the community.” She explained that the church was needed to help with acceptance of diversity in our neighbourhood and educate against prejudice as this region has faced changing demographics from immigration.

I ran across the word watchman recently in Ezekiel. God says to Ezekiel, “I have appointed you a watchman to my people.” The radical nature of Ezekiel’s commission means that God makes his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth until He gives him a message, at which time it is loosed!

OT prophets, such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, shared in a commission that was in fact intercession. OT scholar, Donald Leggett tells us that “a prophet is one who speaks from God to people and to God concerning people.” The prophet is “intoxicated with God” and lives deeply that connection. When people insist on living in defilement, whether it be prejudice or lack of appreciation for God’s gift of diversity, or any sin that dishonours God`s creation, God reluctantly gives us over to those desires. The prophet lives God’s pain through tears and pleas for God’s people and to God’s people.

The prophet’s connection with God is deep but so is the tension. Jeremiah speaks about that tension in chapter 20:9, “But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” The prophet’s driving passion is deeply imbedded to motivate to action. That`s also what happens with Peter (John 21). But before Peter can be commissioned to action, Jesus leads him to his driving passion by first bringing him to a place he doesn`t want to go.

N.T. Wright helps us picture this moment between Jesus and Peter. The disciples are shivering, tired and hungry from fishing all night. As they approach the shore, they breathe in the welcoming smell of bread and fish already simmering on the hot coals. There was Jesus, smiling with an open invitation to join Him for breakfast. This is the third time Jesus appears following His death and resurrection. It’s an intimate gathering with friends.

You can imagine how Peter must be feeling. He hasn’t been alone with Jesus since before His death. Peter is probably reflecting on his determined and emphatic promise to follow Jesus to death in chapter 13… and then his terrible attempt when given the opportunity in chapter 18 – when Jesus is being tried and intended for the crucifixion and Peter denies him three times. Peter is fully aware that Jesus knows what happened – that Jesus is aware of how he messed up. Now, Peter is alone facing Jesus.

And Jesus in His wonderful way, crafts the moment for the deep healing of memories and extension of forgiveness. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him and probably not coincidently, three times Peter confesses that he does. Commentators discuss how Peter’s three denials in chapter 18 match Jesus asking three times whether he loves Him as a sign of completion. Probably the most profound part of this exchange is that Jesus goes to where the pain is. It’s that place that we instinctively want to resist but without going there we can’t move on and be commissioned. It’s like people who resist going to the dentist even though they can’t bear the toothache anymore; like the virus-ridden software on a hard disk that needs to be removed for it to run at maximum efficiency.

Jesus helped Peter find love through hurt and past failures and gave him a chance to express that love. That’s what He does for all of us when we let Him. Our connection with God is our response of love by going to those places of resistances and, just like the prophets, becoming “intoxicated with God.”

That`s how we become watchmen and women.

Henri Nouwen describes it as “responding to personal struggles, family conflicts, national calamities and international tensions with an articulate faith in God’s real presence. It’s about us saying no to every form of fatalism, defeatism, accidentalism and incidentalism.” Our task is to discern, to discover and then to announce to the world how God is working through our church, our community, our world.

Once Peter lets Jesus lead him to those places of resistance, Jesus gives Peter an opportunity to share in the same commission that was given to Him. “As the father sent me, I am sending you.” Sending us. That’s the commission Jesus gives.

Here’s the thing. Peter is already a follower of Jesus before this encounter in John 21. He has already been invited to follow and even been referred to as the rock on which Jesus will build His church. This encounter brings a fresh commission.

Being a watchman or woman is established and rooted in a foundational love for Jesus and then being privileged for commission.

May 16, 2012

Wrestling with Thoughts about Things that Hinder

by Beverly Kay

One of the congregations in our region recently went into transition. When the pastor came here, his family had to find accommodations because this local church had felt the need to sell their parsonage at one point. Churches without a parsonage are no longer an unusual situation. Actually there was a season when pastors were strongly encouraged to buy their own homes so that they had some equity when they came to retirement. Fine, but this is now one more thing for pastors and their families to consider when in the process of seeking God’s direction for their ministry and life – the sale or rental of their house, carrying a mortgage.

Okay, so maybe that is life in the 21st century. And I will grant that with or without owning one’s home there is always risk and an element of faith in picking up and moving, trusting God to meet all one’s needs in the process. And it is true that pastors are not the Levitical Priesthood who were not to have an inheritance of their own land, but were to receive the LORD God Himself as their inheritance, trusting the provisions for their needs to come from the rest of God’s people. But somehow in trying to make sure that we rightly provide for the retirement years of our pastors and missionaries, I have this feeling that we have been too easily motivated by fears rather than faith. Often choice seem to have been birthed out of old hurts and resentments, rather than out of a life fully surrendered to the good and perfect will of God for our lives.

There seem to be more things that have snuck in to keep a pastor’s family from openly and honestly seeking God’s direction for their ministry and that of their congregation. I have often heard concerns about where children are in their education and an unwillingness to up root them. I have seen some refusing to leave a position yet because of a spouse’s great job with benefits and pension they weren’t willing to let go of. Others have looked to move to a particular region because of a desire to be closer to aging parents. Where is the faith factor; the willingness to forsake all to follow whenever and wherever God leads us, trusting that He will supply all our needs and those of our family? Aren’t we called, as Disciples of Christ to seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, not worrying about the things that the unbeliever chases after? Aren’t we called to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Him? Aren’t we encouraged to throw off everything that hinders (along with those sins that so easily entangle) to run the race set out before us (not the path we have chosen) while we let Christ be our leader, our example of the fully surrendered life?

How can we have healthy, fruitful churches if our spiritual leaders are tied down by earthly bonds? How can we disciple others to follow after Christ if we are following our own goals and dreams, rather than submitting them to the Father’s will? Maybe we need to return to letting the Bible dictate how we lead rather than common business practices of our day. Just some thoughts as I wrestle with where we are at as Pastoral leaders in this post-modern era.

May 2, 2012

Clean Hands, Dirty Jordan

by Dale Harris
(first appeared on Terra Incognita, June 4, 2009)

Apparently by the time the Jordan River reaches the Dead Sea these days--what with the nation of Israel diverting 60% of her flow, and the nation of Jordan allowing septic tanks to seep crap into her water basin, and the nation of Syria maintaining some 40 dams on her major tributary--by then there's little left but a putrid trickle of raw sewage.

Miles up stream, spiritual tourists still come to be baptized gloriously on the same banks where Jesus himself once fulfilled all righteousness; down stream, here, today, you couldn't enter the water without serious health risks.

Not that anyone would want to.

The stench, they say, is nauseating.

I get that this crisis is shrouded with all sorts of political and social issues that defy a quick fix. Like a serious water shortage in the nation of Jordan. Like decades of political strife that have prevented these nations from cooperating on a solution. Like climate change, and economics, and a rapidly collapsing water table across the Middle East.

I get all that. And this morning, to be honest, I had a warmer, longer, more luxurious shower than I needed to. So who am I to blog?

But still, seeing the Jordan river pillaged and polluted like this should pierce us to the heart. Because some two millennia ago, the people of Judea came out to this river when they heard John's voice crying in the wilderness: "The promises of Isaiah 40 are now being fulfilled!" This is where they were drenched with the same water that Israel miraculously crossed when the nation first entered the land under Joshua. Here they enacted the burning cry of their hearts: "We want to be made new as the people of God."

And this is the river where we caught our first glimpse of the one in whom and through whom God would fulfill all the Messianic promises of Isaiah 40. Here we first saw the Beloved Son on whom the Spirit rests, who would provide comfort for the harried exiles, renewal of the covenant people, straight paths for the Creator's reign over his creation.

But if we read Isaiah to the end, we see that when the Messiah reigns in righteousness over his people, it will mean restoration and healing for the hurting creation. The desert will burst into fecund, verdant, joyous life. Isaiah 41-- the same Isaiah 41 that Jesus' baptism was somehow meant to fulfill--Isaiah 41 says it like this: "I will make the rivers flow on barren heights... I will turn the desert into pools of water."

Somewhere, I think, Christians forgot that when we saw Jesus emerge dripping from the Jordan, we were witnessing good news not just for us, but for the whole of the broken creation.

And we need to remember. Because the tragedy of this dying river is being played out all over the planet right now, as our greed, waste, materialism and idolatries continue to pillage the rivers and lakes and wetlands of our world. (After it's quenched Las Vegas' decadent water fountains and California's thirsty vegetable gardens, the Colorado River doesn't even make it to the Gulf of California anymore.)

May the stench of the dirty Jordan teach us to long once again for that promised day when God will restore all things under the reign of his Christ; but may it also convict us that our life together as the baptized people of the Creator can and should translate into healing shalom for his creation today, even as we hope for his future Coming.

Apr 18, 2012

About Time

By Matthew MacEwan

One assignment the Study Commission on Doctrine at the FMCiC is beginning to explore is a resource document that discusses a theology of possessions.  The thought that immediately comes to my mind is that this is a statement on stuff.  A theology of possessions, however, must cover more than just materialism and the things that we can possess.  In an initial brainstorming session other subjects were raised such as tithing, the discernment between luxuries and necessities, sharing versus ownership, social status, care of our bodies, creation care and time.

The subject of time is interesting because of all the different ways a theology of possessions could be examined, time is something everyone has in equal measure.  We speak of time being money, and become frustrated with wasting time, yet in our busy and fast paced world it seems like there is never enough time. 

One of the most unusual books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes, deals with the concept of time.  Ecclesiastes chapter 3 says that there is a time for everything, and some would suggest that a good translation for the term hevel, translated as meaningless throughout all of Ecclesiastes in the NIV, is temporary or momentary.  When people burn out because they operate 24/7, they have forgotten the command to enjoy a Sabbath rest and have done what the author of Ecclesiastes has described, chased after the wind. 

In the New Testament there are two Greek words translated into English as time.  The first word is chronos, from which we get our English word chronology.  This word means time, and can include a limited time, or span of time, or a measure of time.  Chronos can refer to a point of time and a specific date.  This word was used in Acts 1:21 in talking about finding a new disciple to replace Judas. The disciples said the replacement, “…will have to be a man who was with us the whole time (chornos) the Lord Jesus lived among us.” 

There’s another word the Greeks had for time and that was Kairos.  Kairos also meant time, but was used instead of Chronos when they wanted to speak about a decisive moment in time.  Kairos is used of the moment when prophecy is fulfilled.  Kairos is more than just time as we know it.  Kairos is a Divine appointment and God’s moment of opportunity.  The word is also used throughout the New Testament to speak of opportunities that we have to do good (Gal. 6:10, Eph. 5:15-16, Col. 4:5).  These opportunities or moments are not just random occurrences, but divinely ordained God moments where we can participate and engage in something significant.  Our perspective on life will change if we stop being driven endlessly by Chronos and living in the hour of Kairos. 

In the Free Methodist Manual, chapter 8 paragraph 801 is advice to minsters with a statement on the use of time.  I think this simple statement works well as a principle for all people: “USE OF TIME: Be disciplined. Live an orderly and balanced life. Manage your time well. Resist both laziness and workaholism.” 

Mar 20, 2012

Joining in the Miracle of New Life

I just came inside and washed the dirt off my hands, dirt that I collected while rejoicing in the miracle of new life!

Kevin had called me away from the routine job of chasing dust bunnies out from under my bed to show me the first signs of spring, the fronds of grape hyacinth and crocus, as well as the leaves of tulips and daffodils. We walked around the house together delighting in being able to identify what was soon to come, the blooms of spring!

When what to our wondering eyes should appear among the bleached and withered leaves of last years tiger lilies?? Two glorious blooms; two tiny purple crocus straining to catch the warmth of the sun!

I cried, "Get a picture! Quick post it to the world, the first signs of new life! Spring is here!!" Then I grabbed my hand garden rake and proceeded to spend an hour clearing away all the dead stuff of last year's glory: the old dead weeds, the withered perennial geranium, the bleached lily foliage, the lifeless hosta and sedum. All the old had to be cleaned up, clipped back and cleared away, so that the new growth had free access to the sun!

As I bent and cleared and cleaned, my mind returned to the night before, when ladies gathered around a table and the Word to marvel at the miracle of Christ ~ resurrection life ~  John chapter 11. Here we saw Christ submit to the will of the Father and in allowing death to come, was able to reveal the glory of God in the life of Lazarus raised up from the tomb! We rejoiced in God's goodness and the hope we have of resurrection life as we believe in Christ. And then we were amazed that Christ asked the observers of this miracle to participate in it, to join in setting the raised life free from the bonds of death. They were told to remove the grave clothes of yesterday, so that he could be freed to live the life God had given him today.

As I stood in my garden, with dirt and death in my hands, I had to ask myself, am I willing to let go of the glory of last year’s life, last year’s victories, last year’s blessings, to rejoice in the new things God wants to do today?

Do I help others who have heard the voice of Christ and have been raised to new life remove the bonds of death, the old habits and fears of the past, so that they can fully enjoy the New Life, the Abundant Life that God has for them in the SON?

I thank God for the wonderful ways that He uses the things of this earth, the little glories, to teach about the Real Glories of Life in the Son!

May you be blessed as you willingly get your hands dirty, participating in the miracles of New Life that God has in store for you, for your family, for your church this year.

Serving Him by His Grace ~ Beverly Kay

Mar 9, 2012

Invocation and Assent (A Book Review)

by Rob Clements

Invocation and assent: the making and remaking of Trinitarian theology.
Grand Rapids, MI: Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008
978-0-8028-6269-3, £15.99

Without question there has been a considerable resurgence of interest in the doctrine of the Trinity in recent decades. A growing list of English-speaking theologians—T. F. Torrance, Colin Gunton, Miroslav Volf and Stanley J. Grenz, to name but a few—have made creative use of certain ontological understandings of the Trinity to provide a foundation for their wider theological reflections and social ethics. More recently, The Shack, a bestselling work of fiction by William Paul Yong (that portrays God the Father as an African American woman among other things) has brought the doctrine of the Trinity back into popular discourse worldwide.

Upon first glance, one might be tempted to lump Jason Vicker's Invocation and Assent: The Making and Remaking of Trinitarian Theology into the same category of Trinitarian hysteria, but this would be a mistake. Invocation and Assent is, in fact, an historical study of the process through which the doctrine of the Trinity became neglected by Western theologians in the first place, with special emphasis on the role that late seventeenth-century English Protestant theologians played in its demise. Specifically, Vickers argues that the earliest (that, is pre-Nicean) "rules of faith" were liturgical in nature and had a specific function within Christian community ("Invocation") and these "rules of faith" where not specifically designed to answer ontological questions regarding the immanent Trinity that later creedal affirmations would require of them.

Following the Reformation, Protestant theologians in attempting to navigate a middle way between Catholicism and Unitarianism would come to replace such "rules of faith" with the entire canon of Scripture arbitrated by reason alone ("Assent"). Vickers points to archbishop William Laud (1573-1645), as a pivotal figure in this transition, who, in responding to Roman Catholic challenges regarding personal assurance of salvation, laid the groundwork for a new conception of salvation in English Protestantism. "Instead of salvation having primarily to do with the invocation of the trine God in repentance, demon exorcism, baptism and the Eucharist, and in worship thanksgiving and praise, it now had to do with the cognitive or rational activity of giving assent to propositions contain in or deduced from Scripture" (p. 45). This was further enforced by writers such as John Locke, who set in motion a "minimalist way of thinking about Christian doctrine" as an irresolvable puzzle. Not surprisingly, Vickers (a professor of Wesleyan studies at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio) discovers that despite the marginalization of Trinitarian theology in scholastic circles, Trinitarian worship was revitalized in English Protestantism during the eighteenth-century through liturgical means in the hymns and prayers of Charles Wesley.
Cognizant that his study has only begun to unravel some of puzzling aspects of how Trinitarian theology has evolved, Vickers concludes his study with a chapter on the "The Work of Trinitarian Theology Today" where he attempts to lay some ground rules for future endeavors pasted on the history of the doctrine.

It would be fair to say that Invocation and Assent successfully demonstrates that the disconnection between Trinity and Christian life in English Protestantism preceded Friedrich Schleiermacher's influence and is largely due to combination of Sola scriptura and hyper-rationalism in the late seventeenth century. It also fills an important gap in the literature, which should be of interest to anyone studying the development of Trinitarian theology, as well as those studying the context into which eighteenth-century evangelicalism took root. 

For those of us Protestants who wish to recover a wider ecclesiology and avoid some of the dangers of the sola Scriptura approach, however, it remains to be seen whether the "canonical theism" which Vickers alludes to in this book and advocates elsewhere (see William J. Abraham, Jason E. Vickers and Natalie B. Van Kirk, eds. Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008]) can ultimately avoid the kinds of abuses which spawned Protestantism to resort to such principles—but at least we can thank him for pointing out a number of historical pitfalls in this study so as not to repeat them.

Feb 22, 2012

Our Weekend at the Cottage – a Metaphor for Plagiarism

by Keith Elford

Suppose that I invite you to my cottage for a weekend of relaxation and water sports and when you get there, you find this well appointed lake front summer home set in a picturesque rustic setting.  You enjoy the weekend.  However, you hear several weeks later that I have been arrested.  The wonderful weekend was a sham.  It was not my property.  In fact, I had stalked the owners, observed the patterns of their comings and goings and scheduled “my weekend” with my friends when I knew they were out of the country.

I open with this scenario to concretize the multi-dimensional impacts that are in play when a pastor plagiarizes material and uses it in either written or spoken communication. Plagiarism is not a new phenomenon.  Material from books and commentaries have been plagiarized by previous generations, but the ability to cut and paste wonderful resources made accessible by the internet makes plagiarism very easy and tempting.  And, the internet also makes it very easy for plagiarism to be detected.

What is plagiarism?  The Macmillan dictionary defines it as “the process of taking another person’s work, ideas, or words and using them as if they were your own.”   It’s the last eight words of the definition that need our special attention. The first part of the definition readily implies that other people’s work is available to us.  Often their work is novel, imaginative, gripping, insightful and just what one needs to make a point memorable in the audience’s mind.  It’s not wrong to use their material; in fact, using it is a compliment!  The ethical issues arise when we do not acknowledge something that is not original with us.

What are the ethical issues associated with plagiarism?  Using my opening scenario to concretize the topic, let’s think them through.  (But first, let me admit here that what follows is a summarization of material that I have read online.  Links will be provided below.)

Plagiarism is stealing.  The cottage was not mine to use.  In a premeditated way, I picked it out and decided to find a way to use it without being caught.  While the time frame on the decision to co-opt someone else’s creative work is only minutes compared to the amount of time required to “case” a cottage, the same choices are made.  It’s looking for something to steal and then deciding to do it.

Plagiarism is cheating – others and myself.  If I really want a cottage to share with my friends, I need to experience the healthy pride of ownership that comes from sacrifice and saving.  Plagiarism is finding an easy way to impress others – which is an issue of pride or an unhealthy need for approval or acceptance.  

When I take short cuts by being overly dependent on the work of others, this laziness indicates a lack of self discipline that will ultimately stunt the development of my own giftedness as a communicator. Even worse, if I do not myself read, reflect, enter into, and wrestle often with the story of the scriptures, I do not speak out of the fullness that comes with regular personal encounters with God’s word and my spiritual authority to speak God’s word does not mature.

Plagiarism is deception.  If you had found out that the weekend at the cottage was all a pretentious sham, you’d have some real misgivings about my character and would probably begin to wonder what else in my life is not as it appears.  No one likes to be lied to.  If I plagiarize, it’s sobering to think of the potential for cynicism about me and my ministry when my listeners, using a search engine, find out that “my messages” that were such a blessing were actually stolen off the internet.  Passing off other people’s work as my own is deceit. My listeners are deceived about my actual ability.  What’s more, if I persist and accept their applause for the stolen goods that I’m handing out, self-deception fed by narcissistic pride may take hold of my soul.

Admittedly, the questions of how and when to give credit are not easily answered.  Space does not permit the exploration of those important topics, but there are good discussions on this at the links listed below. 

Just for the record, I promise that I won’t invite you to a cottage that I don’t have permission to use.

For further reading, I would recommend the following helpful articles that are available online without joining online preaching resource sites:

When Do We Cross the Line into Plagiarism? (Collin Hansen, D. A. Carson, Sandy Willson, Tim Keller, Matt Perman, and Glenn Lucke)

Just What is Pulpit Plagiarism? (Ron Forseth) 

Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize – Understanding the necessity of citation and the damage of deceit (Thomas G. Long)

Feb 3, 2012

The Stewardship of Technology

by Mary-Elsie Wolfe

In a popular YouTube video, a bridegroom, much to the surprise of his bride and the minister, stops the wedding to change his Facebook status. 

A nervous giggle ripples through the crowd. But, in a weaker moment, have we all not been enslaved by technology? How many windows are simultaneously open on our computers?  Skype, MS net, Facebook, e-mail, chat might all be available while we are catching the latest episode of Big Bang, texting on our iPhone, and doing research on the net.

A CBC documentary talks about a “biochemical payoff” which means we become addicted to the emotional buzz of something “new.” We need that buzz! We even cultivate characteristics that are disconnected from consequences and other aspects of whole personhood – an aspect of addiction.  Leading neurologist, Gary Small, claims that at least 10% of youth meet the clinical definition of addiction to technology.  We blog, we click, we chat – all so quickly – that we start disassociating ourselves from the consequences.  We remove ourselves from the filters that we would normally use in three dimensional relationships, that is, non-social-networking relationships. Meeting House Pastor, Bruxy Cavey says “We cultivate the non-filtered, quick reacting, impulsive ‘me’ that characterizes the ‘virtual me.’”

Cavey reminds us that disembodying the physical world from the spiritual world is actually Gnostic heresy.  Christian, Hebraic, and Jewish thinking affirm that we are whole people and what we do physically affects us in other realms. So, we want to be careful not to unwire our minds in unhealthy ways.  1 Thes 5:8 urges us to have sober minds, minds that connect us to the consequences and actions of our physical beings.  In his series on technology, Bruxy coined the phrase, “the more we live virtually – the more we virtually live.”

In the book of Galatians, Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…”  God paid a high price for us, so that we are not enslaved to this world (1 Cor. ).

Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows, provides evidence that our minds are changing because of the influx of technology.  Carr claims that the technologies we use, find, store, and share can literally reroute our neural pathways.  He builds a case that technology carries an intellectual ethic, which is a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. Carr says:

The printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption--and now the Net is remaking us in its own image.
In whose image has God created us?  Researchers tell us that because of technology, our brains have been changing.  This was the case even in 400 BC.  Socrates felt strongly that if writing became the norm, people would lose their ability to memorize.  And they did!  En masse, we lost certain memory skills when we started writing; but, we gained others.  With every new technology our minds have changed and adapted, from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press to clocks…

As much as we think we are good multi-taskers, the CBC documentary on technology corrects our self-deception.  We have a perception that we are getting more done; however, partial attention to many things actually shrinks the brain and causes memory loss.  When we switch tasks, our brain has to shut down to start a new task so it is actually taking us longer to do anything.

In one study, a clown on a unicycle rides through a university court.  Sixty percent of people listening to music noticed the clown.  Only 25% of people on their cell phones noticed the clown.  Seventy-five percent of people on cell phones missed a clown on a unicycle circulating in their personal space!  This is called “intentional blindness”.  Researchers tell us we are destroying our central resource.  We are destroying our ability to focus. 

God asked the question of his people through Isaiah – ‘Why are my people enslaved again?... they become fair game for anyone and have no one to protect them and take them back home…”  That`s why we have each other in the body of Christ. The body of believers gently helps us stay in check with each other, away from technology, and to recalibrate with God`s word.  Christ has set us free from the yoke of slavery.

Christian thinker, Henri Nouwen, speaks in a published journal about finding that break from a form of “buzz.”  He writes:

… I realized that I was caught in a web of strange paradoxes.  While complaining about too many demands, I felt uneasy when none were made.  While speaking about the burden of letter writing, an empty mailbox made me sad.  While fretting about tiring lecture tours, I felt disappointed when there were no invitations. While speaking nostalgically about an empty desk, I feared the day on which that would come true.  In short: while desiring to be alone, I was frightened of being left alone.  The more I became aware of these paradoxes, the more I started to see how much I had indeed fallen in love with my own compulsions and illusions, and how much I needed to step back…

How are we going to step back, disengage, and become aware of those things that may be enslaving us?  This just might be one of those things requiring us to be counter cultural. This just might be one of those things putting us in the 25% of those who notice.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, according to The Message, “Just because something is technically legal doesn't mean that it's spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I'd be a slave to my whims.”  1 Corinthians 6:12

The question one reviewer on the CBC documentary asks at the close of his article is a good one: “Can we manage the technology around us or will we let it manage us?”

Jan 21, 2012

Welcome to the conneXion

In the early days of Methodism, "a connexion" was the term used to describe a loose network of Methodist societies and the preachers who over-saw them.  Generally centred around a key leader (so one might refer, for instance, to "Lady Huntington's Connexion," or "John Wesley's Connexion") these networks provided spiritual leadership, mutual encouragement, accountability, and financial support to the various Methodist works scattered around England. 

A "connection" today, of course, is terminology we use in the field of telecommunications.  A computer needs a "connection" to access the world-wide-web, and "connectivity" is a measure of its "capacity for interacting with various computer platforms, systems and applications."  As Rob Clements, a contributor to this blog, pointed out: it's curious how much of the terminology from early Methodism is employed today in the world of Social Media.

Well: whether or not John Wesley would want to "like" us on Facebook (we hope he would, but who knows?), we'd like to welcome you to The conneXion, a new blog dedicated to encouraging theological dialogue from a Free Methodist ethos.  The name the conneXion is meant as an allusion both to our old Methodist roots and to the new digital forum we're working in.

All of this by way of introduction:  The conneXion is an online symposium of theologians and pastors from the Free Methodist Church in Canada who share a passion for God's Word, a heart for God's People, and a desire to promote theological reflection in the local church. At the conneXion, you will find articles, resources, reflections and general musings about theological issues that impact the Free Methodist Church in Canada and/or the Church universal. 

We hope you will find these challenging, stimulating, encouraging and/or illuminating, and that you will feel free to join us as we explore God's Truth together.