Thinking Out Loud

February 29, 2008

Opening Doors

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 8:22 am

This is two short articles, the first by Ruth, the second by me, reflecting on our visit to some of the “religious” venues that were part of Doors Open Toronto. Written on June 7th, 2007

A Saturday in Toronto
Doors Open Ontario is fast becoming our favourite annual free tourist attraction. Many cities and towns on different dates have a variety of businesses, heritage buildings and whatnot welcome the nosy, non-paying public into their turf. There are tours, refreshments, freebies, long line-ups and people to talk to while you wait. Like Disney World, only free. Altogether very fun.


For example, this year we included a few churches on our list and it was really interesting to see, virtually side by side, such different worship styles and histories and infrastructures all dedicated to the exact same purpose.


One was established in Scarborough in 1969 and has grown to a weekly attendance of about 2000. They started with a small building and then moved into their custom built current home, a 3 story, gleaming white 53,000 square footer. It comprises a huge central room with an enclosed balcony, kitchens and offices and 13 classrooms for the J.K. to Grade 12 school that also occupies space in a converted industrial unit just across the 200 space parking lot and two story parking structure. For Doors Open, they had an impressive array of pamphlets and tracts laying out their core beliefs on everything from family, to doctrine, to women (all rather conservative.) Dress is very traditional There was a looping Powerpoint presentation animating their basic beliefs and a video showing activities and programs. Inside, the school halls were decorated with the artwork of the students (flowers and rainbows, for the most part) and, of course, outside there was the inevitable architectural distinctive, 125 feet high. Very plush carpets, large library, gym.


The other stood somewhat in contrast. A younger congregation who meet in a former community center, they average about 50 each week, and there’s no plush carpet or library. No school, either. This is a group who’ve set out on their own because they have more ‘progressive’ views (especially around the issue of women. Yes, you. You’re an issue.) and a more relaxed ‘worship style’. There’s more freedom with respect to visual arts and our guide was quick to point out the symbolism of the changes they’d made to their space. Dress is relaxed and sharing meals is very important. We were invited to join them any time. The first group, while friendly, were more focused on their building and programs and the second, in my opinion, more inviting and welcoming. I told Paul as we were leaving that, given the choice between the two, I would definitely choose the second, smaller, more ‘emergent’ group.


Oh, wait. I just spotted a typo. Up there, where I typed “churches”, see it? I should have spelled it “mosques”. (Insert gasp here.)


All in all it was quite an eye-opener. The changing face of Canada, a multiplicity of spiritualities, bla bla bla.


But this is what I would like to ask you. Just a poser. Something to think about.


Would you, given the opportunity, ever visit a mosque? Do you, given the opportunity, ever visit a Christian church that is different from yours? Different in name? Different in doctrine? More progressive? More liberal? Why not? Where do you draw your own boundary lines?


-Ruth Wilkinson

Toronto Saturday, Take Two
The kids had been asking a lot of questions about comparative religion lately. I guess a picture is worth a thousand words. I should point out that earlier in the day we also visited the largest Hindu Temple in all of Canada. The temple itself is actually under construction and when the grand opening happens in July, you can count on extensive media coverage.


I think that from my perspective, the striking feature was how nice everybody was at both mosques and the mandir (temple). Without actually using the words “salt and light” one of our guides indicated that they are trying to be a positive influence in their sphere of influence so that people are compelled to inquire about their faith. Our tours focused on the forms of worship, not dogmas or doctrines. No question was left unanswered.


I started wondering what would happen if I were asked to give someone a tour of our church. Would I feel that I needed to include a presentation of the gospel message? Would I invite them to join us on Sunday?


But mostly, would I come across as a nice person? (Those of you who know me well can insert your caustic remark here.) Would my 20-minute tour compel them to want to know more about the tenets of Christianity?


By the way, if you’re looking for the faith system that has the most comfortable chairs, the Hindu temple wins. If you’re looking for the best food, the mosque is the place to be. If you’re looking for something to commit to, both systems require extensive commitment as well as learning another language. (I can no longer help my kids with their French Immersion homework, and after taking a dozen Spanish lessons on Saturday mornings this winter, it still takes me about 15 minutes to slide back into the language.)


But if you’re looking for “grace” don’t go to either place. They don’t understand it. Their system doesn’t have it. The doctrine that sets us apart is the concept of God’s grace.
How sweet the sound.


- Paul Wilkinson

February 28, 2008

Good Endings

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 7:41 am

This was originally circulated on December 13th, 2007 marking the year end.   I’ve changed a few words here and there to make it more applicable to other times of year.

Finishing Well


If you read I & II Kings, you see accounts of different kinds of kings who reigned over Israel and Judah.   Generally their accounts fall into one of four categories:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

Yesterday, while driving back from Napanee, we listened to Gordon MacDonald and Bill Hybels discussing the importance of finishing well.   These men, who admit to both good years and bad years, want to be remembered for finishing the race well.

But this morning, I began to wonder if we ever think in terms of finishing a year, or a month, or a week, or even a day well.    A month ago, I made a list of all the personal goals I had been striving for last year.   I definitely got some things accomplished.   Next to a few, I wrote, ‘not done.’  Next to one I wrote, ‘…total confusion;’ and next to a couple I wrote, ‘disaster.’  There are some things I just didn’t get done this year, and there are some other things that sit on my personal horizon like an accident scene.

Despite this, I still feel that it was in some respects a good year.   Each new one will probably contain an equal number of runs, hits and errors.  My friend Ray, a symphony orchestra player, once told me, “It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you keep making new mistakes.”  I would add, “…and learn from the old ones.”

This is the day, week, month, year… that the Lord has made.   So how about you?   Take a minute to honestly write up a personal scorecard or report cards, and then give yourself a rating in the areas that matter to you, and with a thought to how God sees our efforts and our motivation.    Search me, oh God, and know my anxious thoughts.

Then set some realistic goals and personal vision; and in so doing, dream big.
                                                                                    ~Paul Wilkinson

February 27, 2008

Religion vs. Spirituality

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 6:52 am

From www.str.typepad.com
This is the blogsite for Greg Koukl, head of apologetics organization, Stand To Reason
Religion versus Spirituality:
This quotation from D.A. Carson’s book Basics for Believers:  An Exposition of Philippians captures the difference between religion and spirituality – or if you prefer, relationship vs. spirituality.  Spirituality doesn’t demand much of us.  It’s focuses on benefits to us.  That’s why spirituality is much more popular in our culture than religion.  Unfortunately, it’s also more popular in Christianity much of the time.  Religion or relationship, which is what Christianity is, places demands on us.  It’s focused on God.  It requires something of us, yet that demand produces in us what we were created for.

I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please.

Not too much – just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted.

I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust.

I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture.

I want ecstasy, not repentance;

I want transcendence, not transformation.

I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races – especially if they smell.

I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged.

I would like about three dollars worth of the gospel, please. (pp. 12-13)


To visit Stand To Reason’s regular website, go to www.str.org

February 26, 2008

Worship Team Meeting

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 8:11 am

Originally written in 2005 for worship leaders, this was an attempt to answer the question, “Was worship always this complicated?”

WORSHIP TEAM MEETING
a very short play by Paul Wilkinson


King David, dressed in robes and crown, is sitting on his throne holding a clipboard and writing.   A servant enters to interrupt…

 

 

SERVANT:     King David, Asaph is here as you requested.

 

DAVID:    Send him in.
[Servant exits. Asaph enters and bows]


DAVID:   Thank you for coming, Asaph.

 

ASAPH:  Your excellency…  [bows]

 

DAVID: I wanted to go over the worship for the Sabbath.

 

ASAPH: “Go over?”

 

DAVID: Yes, review the songs we will be singing.

 

ASAPH: But surely, the Spirit of the Lord only reveals those to you as we are at worship.       How can we know this now?

DAVID: Actually, I’ve been giving that some thought and it occurred to me that if the Spirit of God can inspire us as we worship Him, truly He can not also inspire us to choose those songs a few days ahead?

 

ASAPH: But…we’ve never done it this way before.

 

DAVID: You’ll get used to it.   [Looks at clipboad]   So I thought we’d begin with, “The Lord is One” from Deuteronomy, and then go into “Moses’ Song of Triumph” from Exodus.

 

ASAPH: Actually, we did that one last week.

 

DAVID: Oh…right.

 

ASAPH: I’m sorry, oh King, I spoke out of turn.

 

DAVID: What if we do it before the time of worship has actually begun?    As people are gathering.    A sort of pre-service song.

 

ASAPH: To what end?

 

DAVID: Just to help people get in the mood for worship.

 

ASAPH: “Get in the mood?”

 

DAVID: Hey, I’m King.   We’ll try this.

 

ASAPH: You know we don’t have a drummer this week.    He has to work.

 

DAVID: He cannot work on the Sabbath.

 

ASAPH: His master has introduced something called ‘rotating shifts’ at the brick plant.    It allows them to keep the oven fired up all the time and produce bricks around the clock, but the men have to work at all hours.

 

DAVID: But he is one of the temple musicians.    I don’t like this ‘rotating shifts’ thing; it could affect temple worship for generations.     …Anyway…let’s move on.    What if we open with “The Lord is One” and then go into the one I wrote as a kid, “Blessed is the Man.”

 

ASAPH: You mean the one you call “Psalm One?”

 

DAVID: Yeah, I am thinking of combining them into a book with some of the ones you wrote; there’s got to be over a hundred of them.      Maybe I’ll get Solomon to do it.

 

ASAPH: Actually, I’ve been meaning to talk with you about “Psalm One.”    With all due respect oh King, we often sing it after “The Lord is One” and well… you see “The Lord is One” is in the key of F, and your “Psalm One” is in the key of E, and when we go down one key it always sounds… oh, I don’t know… it just sounds wrong.

 

DAVID:    Then we’ll do it first, and then sing “The Lord is One” and the musical keys will be in ascending order.     This will be more pleasing to the ear.

 

ASAPH: But “The Lord is One” is the call to worship.    “Psalm One” is not, but perhaps we could sing “Psalm 100″ which is a call to worship and use the other song later in the service.

 

DAVID:  [picking up clipboard]   Let me write that down.     [Writes]    Well…thank you for coming, I will call you again to discuss the closing of the service.

 

ASAPH: Do you need to write it?  Won’t the Spirit of the Lord remind us of what He is telling us today?

 

DAVID: Yes… this list is for someone new I am adding our team, someone who I think will make a difference in our temple worship for years to come.      I call this appointment, “The Sound Man.”

 

[Asaph exits, facing the crowd, and rolling his eyes upward!]

 

February 25, 2008

Only Visiting This Planet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 12:42 pm

Larry Norman

larry-norman-upon-this-rockHe paved the way for the entire genre of music we know today as Contemporary Christian Music. Some would argue that it would have happened anyway, but honestly, there were a whole lot of barries that needed to be overcome, and Larry Norman was just the right person to do that.

(To better understand the conservatism of the times; here’s an example:  Over a decade after he released, Upon This Rock the sales of contemporary albums in the Christian bookstore in Sault. Ste. Marie were still conducted in a back room, with the product placed in a plain paper bag before the customer could return to the front of the store.)

Larry wrote songs about his relationship with Jesus, but also challenged the Christian culture of his day. He taught the difference between what was cultural and what was spiritual. He declared boldly that as music was changing, so the church needed to keep up. And he backed up his thesis with examples from church music of previous centuries. In doing so, he created an entire apologetic for those musicians who heard the sound of something different in their heads, and encouraged them to write and record and not be constrained by religious conservatism.

So it was with great sadness that we learned that Larry Norman passed away on Sunday (Feb 24th) at age 60 after a long period of declining health.

I realize that for some readers, the more extreme forms of today’s modern Christian music is not something to celebrate. To those, I would say, look at the fruit. Look at all the kids who became Christ followers as a result of those concerts and listening to those albums. And look at where many of those Christian rockers are today: Leading worship in local churches. In fact, the whole CCM movement begat the modern worship movement. Again, for some that may not be something to celebrate, either; but I assure you that the church growth movement of the late 20th century would not have happened without modern worship. Those churches would be empty.

Much of it all traces back to Larry Norman. There were folk masses in the Catholic Church. There were touring groups with matching outfits that used drums. There were other folk singers with guitars. But Larry’s music was true to itself and true to himself. It was Christian music for a new generation and by a new generation. And all of it pointed to Jesus Christ, Son of God.

There will be many better things written about Larry Norman in the days and weeks to come, because he left such a huge catalogue of songs and articles. I hope you’ll take the time to read them and remember.

~ Paul Wilkinson

(March 21st) – Since writing this I am amazed at the outpouring of memories that has come out since the news of Larry’s passing reached a broader number of people.   So many people from that era have such a strong connection to his music.  For myself and others, it’s evocative of a spiritual time and place along the pathway of our journey with Christ.

Builders and Wreckers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 9:15 am

We first circulated this on May 3, 2006 while we were in the middle of tearing down partitions that had formed offices in what was about to become the location of our new bookstore in Cobourg, Ontario.

===========================

While “wrecking” the premises at 884 Division and getting ready to “build” a new store, I was reminded of this poem which you may have seen already.    As we each try to find our place in the Body of Christ, this poem reminds us all (me included) of the importance of keeping our attitude right.    The comments following the poem itself were on one of the websites where we located this version of it.

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho, heave, ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and a wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled?
Like the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed as he replied, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken years to do.”
I asked myself as I went away
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
 

Oh Lord, let my life and labours be

That which build for eternity.

Why do so many of us find it gratifying to be sideline cynics smothering ideas in a relentless barrage of “what ifs” and warnings? As the poem points out, it’s much easier to be a wrecker than a builder.

Of course it’s wise and necessary to challenge assumptions, test theories and predict problems, but that should be the beginning not an end. We should measure our value by the number of balloons we helped launch, not the number we deflated.

A builder sees problems as challenges and seeks solutions; a dismantler sees problems in every solution. A builder sees flaws and tries to fix them; a dismantler sees flaws in every fix.

An Alternative To The Alpha Course

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 9:11 am

As a general rule, resources come and go, so we’re always looking for new things to recommend to people.    A couple of years back we were sent a demo DVD in a plain cardboard package from Standard Publishing of Ohio, promoting a new evangelism course called H20.   Right away I knew we were on to something good.   The best way to define the program is to compare it another evangelism course, The Alpha Course with Nicky Gumbel.

Similarities

  • Both deal with the core doctrines of Christianity
  • Both use a 20-30 minute DVD clip as the centerpiece
  • Both are designed to be best presented around the fellowship of a meal
  • Both recommended a couple of episodes towards the end be presented around a retreat weekend

Differences

  • While Alpha features Nicky Gumbel in a kind of “talking head” lecture format, H20 scripts are presented against the background of dramatic, feature film quality narratives
  • H20 host Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY definitely skews to a younger audience
  • A supplemental video series called Storm is available for loan out for people who want more depth and is presented in a form more similar to Alpha, but isn’t part of the H20 weekly presentations
  • While they are available, H20 doesn’t lend it self as strongly towards the use of study workbooks; in fact it might appeal best to a generation that would be turned off by that approach.

The person who gave me the original demo disc suggested that H20 could best be described as “Alpha meets Nooma” referring to the series of 18 or so teaching clips featuring Rob Bell.    The comparison is certainly valid.

In the two years since however, we’ve failed to get a church in our local area to sponsor a showing of H20.   It’s a shame that such a quality resource — each episode would have cost ten to twenty times the cost of an Alpha episode — continues to be relatively unknown in the Christian community.   No wonder they say that a high percentage of the cost of books and CDs is marketing.    (And no wonder that so many authors eventually gravitate to companies like Thomas Nelson, who can force product sales through the pipeline.)

We hosted a media day for pastors and leaders in January of 2007.    Many of the people came from greater distances (one of whom bought the course) but few people from our own county showed up.    Then this fall, we did a leadership track presentation, showing 2-3 episodes per night over four Mondays.   There was a great response among those present, but we’ve resigned ourselves to the idea that when it comes to new innovations, our influence is extremely limited.   Just as parishioners won’t read anything their pastor (or Benny Hinn or James Robison) doesn’t tell them to; so also are pastors and leaders reluctant to try anything that doesn’t have momentum or isn’t sanctioned by their denominational headquarters.    Sigh!

However, if you want to know more, a good place to start would be http://www.h20journey.com    This is a quality resource that a forward-thinking church simply can’t afford not to look at.    It holds the highest likelihood for connecting with a seeking person in their 30s, 20s or even teens.

February 24, 2008

Mr. Harper Goes To Ottawa

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 5:25 pm

This was first posted on March 1, 2006 in response to the CBC’s coverage of the swearing in ceremony of Stephen Harper as Prime Minister of Canada. The analogy that begins the article produced a lot of e-mails at the time.

==========================

Stating The Obvious

 

I worked most of my high school years and all of my university years in a large, suburban Eaton’s department store.

For most of the final four years there, I worked in a section that sold lamps, lights and ceiling fixtures. Most of the time I worked alone, but sometimes we were paired up during busy seasons.

One of the people I was often paired with was an older woman, Mrs. Adams. We had absolutely nothing in common, and as a student, I wasn’t yet the brilliant conversationalist I am today. So most of our shifts together consisted of her talking gibberish, and me nodding in agreement.

Our department was also responsible for all of the wall coverings (i.e. framed pictures) that were displayed across a rather vast furniture department. One night we traveled to a far corner of the store to do some kind of stock check on a rather large painting that was hung over a grouping of stylish chairs.

Mrs. Adams decided to share another exiting tidbit of her life with me. “I have chairs like that at home…” she said, waiting for me to again nod, grunt or feign some great interest. But then, after a short pause she added, “I sit in them.”

Perhaps you had to be there, but for years I have never been able to get rid of the absurdity of the additional comment. I mean, what else would you do with chairs? “I have chairs like that…I sit in them.”

But now a new, equally absurd comment has been etched in my memory, and it took the swearing in of our new Prime Minister, Stephen Harper to do it.

We were watching the CBC coverage and the commentary kept coming back to the fact that Stephen Harper was about to “take the oath of office swearing on his own Bible.” Yes this was “the Bible he takes to church with him.” And then the kicker; “He reads it.”

My goodness, he reads it! He has his own Bible; he didn’t rent one as presumably everyone else had done. Nor was he about to take the oath of office swearing on The Complete Works of Shakespeare. And he goes to church. And he reads the Bible.

What an absolutely odd duck. If David Emerson hadn’t defected from the Liberal party that morning, I am sure it would have been the headline in the next day’s papers.

As Mrs. Adams might put it, “I have a Bible like that… I read it.”

My goodness, think of the consequences.

But a few days later, while shoveling snow, the thought occurred to me, why would a man who has reached the most powerful political office in a powerful G8 nation not read the book which is the world’s all time best seller?

Even if Stephen Harper had no connection to any church, or any particularly moral or ethical belief system; you would expect the man who heads a G8 nation at the very least to own a copy of this best selling book; if only for its value as literature or the wisdom contained in some of its proverbs.

What I would like to know is whether or not the CBC would make a big deal of it if the person attaining such an office did not own or have read a copy of the Christian scriptures.

I think that from a purely political viewpoint, a Prime Minister who had not studied the sourcebook which provides both Jewish and Christian history would be far more newsworthy.

The problem is that the media is afraid of the next consequence. If he reads it, he might believe it. If he believes it, he might live it. If he lives it, me might want others to. And that would never do.

Mrs. Adams might have been a bit daft, but I think even she could figure all this out.

 

– Paul Wilkinson.

Honestly! The world DOES need another blog page!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 5:03 pm

This was the first article when we started adding articles to the bi-weekly Coming Events newsletter we had been sending out locally for several years. It was actually a reprint from the book A Is For Abductive (see citation at end) and was first posted on Feb. 18, 2006.

======================

Thinking Outside the Boat / Outside the Box

…It appears that God may be more active outside the church than in it. In other words, “inside the church” may not be the best place to share in God’s work, and if we want to be involved in God’s work, we may need to get out more.

…It may be more valid to celebrate this idea of God’s activity outside the church, because perhaps God’s purpose for the church all along has been to equip people to be agents through whom God works in the world.

…It may be helpful for us to distinguish between “church work” (i.e. our work inside the church to keep it going) and “the work of the church” (i.e. the church fulfilling its mission in the world). …The old complaint about 20% of the people doing 80% of the church work in this light may be misguided. If the minority (20%) can do church work, then maybe the majority (80%) can focus on serving God outside the box and boat.

The Outed Church

…The Good Shepherd, Jesus said, leads his sheep in and out so they find pasture. Yes, there is a time to be led into the sheepfold at night, when wolves and thieves maraud. The pen is a place of protection. But leave the sheep in the pen for very long and they become smelly, dirty, hungry and sick. Health isn’t in the sheepfold. Health and life await us in the open pasture. How many of our modern shepherds lead the flock in and in, not in and out?

…Just about all of us have participated in a prayer circle where we stand, hold hands, and pray. Naturally we form these circles facing inward, because then we can better hear and share in one another’s prayer. Next time you are in one of these prayer circles, suggest to your circle that you face outward, in spite of the downside of acoustic dispersion.

The Lost

…Few people would appreciate it if they knew we referred to them as “the lost.” Meanwhile, there is reason to ask, Who is really lost, them or us?

Consider an analogy to mail. When a letter is sent and it never arrives…we say it is lost. Similarly, Christians have been sent into the world “as the Father has sent Me” according to Jesus (John 20:21), as a kind of love letter from God to all. Yet few of us have actually arrived with our message in the world to which we have been sent. Perhaps we would be wiser to refer to ourselves as the lost.

Additionally, what is striking in the three parables of Luke 15 is not actually that the sheep, coin and sons are lost. Rather, it is that they are treasured and missed.

Until further notice, (that is until we actually arrive at the destination to which we were sent), perhaps we should refer to ourselves as “the lost,” and the people formerly know as “lost” should be referred to as “people God treasures.”

– selections from A is For Abductive – The Language of the Emerging Church; Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmayer (Zondervan, 2003)

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