Obstacles We Face

By Cam Roxburgh

I love being a local church pastor… most days. God has given me front row seats to watch some amazing stories unfold in the lives of His people. It does not get much better. But I don’t always feel this way as a number of things block my view:

Fence. CC Helen Chang
1. Myself
I am my own worst enemy. I mean well, I dream big dreams, I make elaborate plans and work hard, yet almost always fall short of my own expectations. I become discouraged and distracted. I fail, I sin, I let others down. I don’t laugh enough or play enough. I work hard and then harder. I am often frustrated with the lack of results. I look at others and wonder why I have not been chosen or cannot accomplish what they do. I need a holiday, a sabbatical or a new job.

Perhaps you have heard or thought the same also. David reminds us to “Be still and know that I am God.” Tending to our own souls allows us to care for others. Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God and J Oswald Sander’s Spiritual Leadership are two of my favourite books when it comes to soul care. Make sure to have a mentor to help guide you through these internal struggles.

2. Success
There are few days when one is not tempted to compare your church to others. One church closes, and another receives all the “leftover” people, and a pastor’s emotions run the full spectrum. We are tempted to measure our success in terms of the number of people who attend a gathering in our facility, or the capacity of our facility, or the finances of the church, instead of recognizing that God looks for us only to be faithful.

One may never lead a church over 200, engage in a building project or write a book on the secret of their success, yet from a kingdom perspective have been completely obedient and faithful. We must overcome the pressure to succeed—to do what works—and instead follow Christ into a life of faithfulness by doing what it right.

3. Discipleship
Making disciples/missionaries seems to be becoming more difficult. Not only do many in this post-Christian era not know the story of God at work in the world, but even those who do, and profess to be followers of Christ, are distracted by an increasing number of idols.

There are days when I seem almost overcome by the choices made by so many of the people I love. Every day there seems to be another in our church who makes a decision for the kingdom of the world instead of for the Kingdom of God. As pastors, we have seen it before. Many, compromise in areas we know will only lead to great pain and the destruction of their relationship with Abba. We wring our hands and shake our heads wondering why we continue.

But then God shows me areas in my own life where I too compromise, and how He shows such patience and grace towards me. I do suffer the consequences of my sin, but His love never fails and I am reminded that my job is not to change people, but to never quit trying to help people back into relationship with our God. I can be firm and stick to biblical values, but must never grow weary of doing what He has called us each to do. May I encourage you to look at Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart, or Elton Trueblood’s The Company of the Committed.

4. A Truncated Gospel
Another obstacle to me seeing God at work is what we have done with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. We often reduce the good news to the personal salvation of individuals, and even within that, to the receiving of eternal life through going to heaven after we die. It seems to me that we do not help people to see that Jesus came to live, die and be raised from the grave in order that we may get rid of the old life, and enter into new life. This new life allows us to see God at work and to be witness to what He is doing. It allows us to hear Him speak and then to follow His instructions.

Many do not know how to share the Good News of Jesus because they do not realize the presence of God in their midst. Some have never understood what it means to be a witness to a real and present experience of Christ. Still others have never grasped the scope of the Good News being about more than just personal salvation, but about the reality that in and through Christ, all things are made new. The Kingdom is both here and yet to come. Because we have a narrow view of the Good News, we cannot see God at work in our midst.

I want to spend my years both seeing God at work and helping others to see Him at work. Might we, as local church pastors, not just deal with a person’s problems in hopes of them being happy, but to see real joy experienced as people begin to grasp what it is to become witnesses of God at work in their lives.

Join me in the journey.

Measuring Church Health

By Cam Roxburgh

Defining the missional church as having “a renewed theological vision” means that we pay attention to assessing church health in some specific ways. Church health must be seen through the lens of scripture that reflects the nature and action of God.

Stethoscope CC SA Jasleen Kaur
Scripture uses metaphors of God planning for His people to bear witness to Him throughout all generations. It uses organic metaphors such as describing life on the vine (John 15). Fruitfulness is a possible sign of health. As we abide in Christ, He produces a yield of fruit from the vine. Sometimes there are bumper crops, and sometimes seasons of drought, but the sign of health for us is the abiding in the vine. Be ready for pruning, though, as He furthers the growth of the Kingdom of God.

Scripture also uses organizational metaphors such as a building constructed out of discarded stones (1 Peter 2). We, God’s chosen people, have been added to a beautiful building being constructed. Peter seems to be concerned here with our willingness to be used by God. Our Father does not always use the best and the most beautiful, but rather those who are willing to follow.

The Bible also uses relational metaphors such as the family. This is not just the nuclear family, but households. It is inclusive of those who are single. It is inclusive of those who are poor or disadvantaged. It is inclusive of all generations and all ethnicities. It is inclusive of the neighbour and reflects a measure of the practice of hospitality.

These metaphors paint a picture of purpose – that of joining God on mission. Health is not measured in terms of size or numbers, but witness and faithfulness. Healthy churches are measured on their faithfulness to God. They focus on making disciples, local missionaries who understand they are to be fishers of people. Healthy churches see an increase in witness, a growth in local missionaries and have developed a missional plan for multiplication at every level.

It’s time to get healthy.

Taking the Next Steps

By Cam Roxburgh

In my last post, I asked the question, might it be true that we as God’s people today, have drifted and also need “a renewed theological vision of the church on mission?” Perhaps our understanding of God is too narrow. Our box for Him too small.

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Lesslie Newbigin’s writings all began with a conviction that the church in the West was experiencing a cultural captivity that we were oblivious about. Or perhaps we were guilty of doing the very thing that J.B. Phillips warned against in his rendition of Romans 12: “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

Perhaps these three prepositions will give us a way to reflect on how we understand God:

In
John 1 and other passages indicate that Christ is in the world. We need to have a fresh look at the implications of God’s presence in the world. Jonah was astounded that God was in  Nineveh. The Israelites were amazed that God was in Babylon. We too need to learn to see  God in our neighbourhoods—active and at work.

The implication for us is that we as a church need to stop coming up with all of these plans for changing the world, and instead learn to discern where God is already at work and join in with Him. It may also mean that we need to pay careful attention to the way in which we learn to live in the world as witnesses to Him.

For
The book of Exodus (and other scriptures), indicate that God is for people. Often, we have  understood Him to be against this and opposed to that, but we need to be renewed in our    understanding that even His name carries with it the sense that He is for people. It does not mean that He approves of everything we do, or that He turns a blind eye to our sin, but rather that fundamentally God is for us…and for the world. Even God’s holiness means that this is true.

The implications for us must be that as we seek to be holy as He is holy, we too need to be known for what we are for and not so much for what we are against. This also has implications for how we learn to stand up for those who are disadvantaged and less privileged, learning to differentiate between the empire and the Kingdom of God.

With
Immanuel. God is with us. We know this fact intellectually, but I wonder if we may need to actually realize it practically. God is in the world and for the world. And He sends us to go and be His hands and feet and mouth to practice and proclaim the reality of the Kingdom. But we need to understand that we are His kids and that He promises to be with us.

The implication for us is that we no longer rely on our own strength, but instead learn to trust in Him and rely on the power of the Spirit at work in us. It also means we need to learn to live as a covenant community, instead of collection of contracted individuals.

God is a missionary God, who is at work in the world, is for the world, and invites us to put our confidence in Him as He uses us to redeem all things.

A Renewed Theological Vision

By Cam Roxburgh

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above
(Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing)

One of the problems with sin, is that it leads us away from a relationship with the Lord both as individuals and as a community of His people. We wander, we drift, we do our own thing. But the Lord is gracious and slow to anger. He is faithful and calls His people to return to Him and to bear witness to the reality of the fact that He is about redeeming all things.

There are key moments in the Bible when God gave people “a renewed theological vision” in order that His people might be called out of captivity—either real or of their own doing—and returned to a right relationship with Him.

Moses
One of the most obvious was with Moses. We all recall the meeting at the burning bush. Moses, tending his Father-in-law’s flocks, having run away from Egypt and the trouble there, is mesmerized by the sight of the burning bush and approaches to determine what is happening. There he encounters God, who gives him “a renewed theological vision” of who He is.

In chapters 3 and 6 of Exodus, God explains to Moses that his forefathers had known God as El-Shaddai: the Almighty or All Powerful One. Now God invites Moses and his people to know Him as “I am that I am.” Or, YHWH. Throughout Exodus we come to see God as more than just the Almighty, but He is the One who redeems, the One who leads them to life, and the One who does this for the sake of the world. YHWH invites Moses to join Him on mission as He leads His people out of slavery, to a promised land, so that others may know that He is God. Sounds very prophetic to me.

Jonah
Jonah is another example of a time when God gives a renewed theological vision.

Jonah had done his duty—so he thought. Put to work by the king in previous years, he was perhaps in a state of retirement. Then God comes to Jonah and gives him another assignment. It certainly was not one he asked for, or one that he welcomed. In fact the complete opposite. It made no sense. God was sending him to a people other than the Jews (that was a first) and these were the worst people on the face of the earth. And then the message that he was to deliver—he must have heard that incorrectly as well! God wanted him to go and speak a message of mercy.

We know this whale tale. Whether through Sunday school or Veggie Tales we have heard of the fish and the failure of Jonah. But what is amazing in the midst of the story is that Jonah is a messenger not only to the Ninevites, but to the Jews and indeed to us. God is not only found among His people, but He is found present in the midst of those who seem to have rejected Him: the world. And He loves them. And shows mercy to them. And Jonah is not only surprised with who God is, but indeed angry, because this new revelation does not fit with the box he had put God comfortably in.

Peter
Peter and Cornelius would be a great example in the New Testament. Once again we see God pushing His people to realize that the gospel is to be preached to more than just the Jews. And that the religious laws were a means to an end and not the end itself.

Domenico Fetti's depiction of Peter's dream.

Domenico Fetti’s depiction of Peter’s dream.

So Peter dreams. He is called to the home of Cornelius and after consultation goes and learns that God is no longer to be found in the food laws of His people, but rather in a freedom that reflects an allegiance to who He is. He is no longer to call impure that which God has made pure. Food, or fellow human being. The gospel is to be preached in Jerusalem and Judea, but also in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Peter has his renewed theological vision of who God is and how the church is to function.

Might it be true that we, as God’s people today, have drifted and also need a renewed theological vision of the church on mission?

The Paradox of Evangelicalism

By Merv Budd

I am an evangelical. I am a minister of an evangelical church. I embrace evangelical theology. However, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the evangelical label. I am not referring to the narrow-minded, fundamentalist, right-leaning label given to us by the press; I am referring to the one that we have forged for ourselves.

What’s Evangelicalism Anyway?
We evangelicals are distinguished by four specific hallmarks: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

As I have reflected upon my discomfort with the evangelical term I realize that it has less to do with the values themselves as much as it is the order in which we prioritize them, specifically, the crowning of activism as our first priority. We have become a people who are so busy, so active—arguably at an unhealthy, unsustainable pace—that we fail to properly reflect theologically on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

The tension within me comes as I recognize that as evangelicals we have compromised our biblicism because we are so busy. We have no time to think on God’s Word and spend time listening to the Christ we claim to be in a personal relationship with. The activism we have crowned as primary has undermined our evangelical commitment.

Jared-Rarick

Part of the irony is that our tradition as evangelical Protestants owes its identity to a reflective biblicism that realized that we are saved by faith and not by works. Sometimes when I grow cynical late at night I think that by becoming more evangelical we are becoming less Christian; less like Jesus. This post is not at all intended to be critical of us being doers of the Word; it’s just that I don’t think that much of our activity is primarily birthed from reflection upon God’s Word as much as an addiction to activity.

Running Backwards
What if the frenetic pace of activism that we have embraced is unattractive to those we desire to reach?

What if all of our evangelistic activism is ultimately undermining the goal of the activity by turning people away?

What if people really are looking for a life that is sustainable, and meditative, a life that is not so goal driven, that has time for people? This life is far less complicated: a life like Jesus lived.

Paul’s advice for an evangelistic strategy to the Thessalonians was to lead a quiet life so that they would win the respect of those who observed them (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Peter urged wives to use the apologetic of a quiet spirit to show the attractiveness of their faith (1 Peter 3:1-4).

As evangelicals we need to be active, but perhaps we need to be actively engaged in study, mediation, prayer, and listening to God and teaching others to do the same. We also need to embrace the refueling principles of Sabbath rest and Jubilee celebration. My hunch is that our pragmatic aspirations that justify and drive our busyness will be satisfied far more deeply as we realize a renewed strength and a power from on high as we wait upon the Lord and reflect upon His Word.

Undivided Devotion: Loving God with our Hearts Part 2

By Cam Roxburgh

In my previous article, we discussed the question, when people look at your life, do they see a passion for Jesus that goes far beyond any other affection in your life? Today, we’ll continue to dive into what it means to love God with all our hearts in a missional life.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” In this simple yet profound verse, he gives us insight into what it looks like to become like Harold or others who love God with all of their hearts.

Three Lessons from Solomon
First, Solomon underlines the importance of paying attention to loving God with your heart “above all else.” It is crucial. It needs intentionality.

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Second, he states that we must guard our hearts. This carries with it the meaning of assessing where we are “sick” and what “surgery” needs to take place. Things can appear to be okay on the outside, but our hearts are sick when we have allowed other things or people to take the place of Christ. Often it is only radical surgery—cutting these things out—that will bring us back to spiritual health. Is Christ first?

Third, an examined life with a healthy heart leads to a full life. What does it look like to put Christ back on the throne of our lives? This is what spiritual disciplines are all about. Fasting reduces our dependence on food for emotional and physical support, and allows us space and time to learn to trust Jesus. Silence allows us to stop trusting in our own ability to maneuver into favourable positions, and instead to trust God to put us where He can best use us. In Sabbathkeeping we learn to trust God. Tithing is similar, and the list goes on.

A Missional Life of Love
Loving God with all of our hearts is a key component to becoming missional; people will be drawn to Christ through our undivided devotion to Him. Why not apply some of the following suggestions to your spiritual rhythms to become a more complete witness to the reality of Christ alive in you?

Talk to a number of people who live with Christ first in their lives. How did they come to a place of undivided devotion? Consider asking one of them to mentor you.

Do a spiritual assessment of where your heart is at. Invite several close friends to ask you questions about your dreams, your devotions, and your delights. These will be good clues as to the affections of your heart.

Develop a set of spiritual disciplines or practices. Assessed what elements of your life stand  in the way of Christ being first, and choose a practice that will intentionally subordinate that thing and instead elevate Christ.

Make sure to practice the discipline of celebration, where you gather with others to tell stories of how Christ is at work in your life. Pay attention to where you see God at work, and what you hear Him saying to you on a regular basis.

I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).

One key way we show our love for God is by loving others. In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss the corporate—togetherness—element of loving God with our whole heart.

Undivided Devotion: Loving God with our Hearts

By Cam Roxburgh

When people look at your life, do they see a passion for Jesus that goes far beyond any other affection in your life?

We have defined missional as “a renewed theological vision of the church, serving as a sign, servant and foretaste of the kingdom of God.” Joining God on mission means more than just hosting BBQs in the neighbourhood. It means that we bear witness to Christ in everything that we do.

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We love God with all of our hearts, minds and strength, and in our love for God we love our neighbours as ourselves. When we love Him with our hearts, we put Him above all else in our lives and learn to worship Him in a way that points others towards Him. In this first of several articles, we will explore loving God with our hearts from a personal perspective.

Harold
Harold Wakeford loved Jesus with all of his heart. It was obvious and it was contagious.

When I was 17, my family moved to England where my dad became a pastor of a Baptist church. I remember the first Sunday well; it was complete culture shock. During the morning gathering, Harold stood to his substantial feet and began to bellow in prayer. He thanked God for his breakfast—the cereal, the toast, and even the honey on the toast. He thanked God for the bees flying from flower to flower collecting the stuff that made the honey. He went on and on thanking God at the top of his voice for everything he had experienced that day.

What I noticed about Harold of course was his enormous joy. It was infectious. There were likely things not to like about Harold, but it was sure hard to deny that this man was filled with a joy that any who met him wanted to share in. He loved Jesus to a depth I have not seen in many others, and Jesus had made a huge difference in his life. And Harold took a liking to me. A year later when I returned to Chicago to go to university, Harold began to pray for me every day and would meet with me when I would come back to visit my parents in England.

Harold’s life was not always easy. He had been injured, captured and held as a prisoner for a number of years in the Second World War. When the war ended and he returned home to England, he was not a man with any business skills and so became a gardener. This was never a great paying job, and so he and his wife lived humble lives. They were simple folk that loved Jesus. And it showed. Harold was known for his steadfastness in gardening, but also he became an itinerant preacher and quickly gained a reputation for his passion for Jesus.

I spent many years wanting to be more like Harold, because I saw Jesus in him. I wonder how many people have a desire to be more like me, because they see Jesus in me?

Do you have someone like this in your life? Would others consider you a person of infectious joy and love for Jesus? In my next article, we’ll take a look at Proverbs for some insight into how we can grow into loving God with all our hearts in a missional life.