Ping Pong

By Cam Roxburgh

This article is the fifth and final in a series on missional lessons from Henry Morgentaler. Start at the beginning here.

I did not know Toronto very well. Even though I found myself here often, my travels usually took me to the suburbs of Burlington and Oakville, and as far as Hamilton. Henry had given me directions into his upscale neighbourhood, but I had arrived early and gone exploring. What a spot!

To be honest, I was nervous. I had been invited to his home, to meet his family, to have a meal together and to play ping pong. He was getting old, like really old. There is no way I would lose to him at table tennis!

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I pondered the unusual friendship I had with Henry. I recalled the time I had first caught a glimpse of Henry at the concierge desk at the Banff Springs Hotel, the long conversation over coffee, the emails and phone calls, and the lunch in the Japanese restaurant. We had a number of deep conversations. I could not say that I either really knew or even liked him, but we were close enough to be able to talk at a heart level. He was broken, and I wondered if I had the same experiences, how different than Henry would I have turned out? I still found what he did deplorable.

Yet, something about him drew me to him. I am sure it was the grace of God both in and for me. I was growing in my understanding of what it really meant for Christ to become incarnate and to establish His Kingdom here on earth. Jesus had a vision of what life should be like and gave Himself so that we might have a way to the Father and the possibility to enter into His way of life. I felt propelled to continue to share about Jesus as King, and the way of life for those who follow Christ. I wanted so badly for Henry to respond to the love and mercy of Christ.

It was time. I arrived at his home with a bouquet of flowers, and was introduced to Henry’s wife who was over 30 years his junior. I was greeted with suspicion, but nonetheless welcomed into the home. Henry’s 11-year old son also came to welcome me and then disappeared. I handed Mrs. Morgentaler the flowers, and headed to the basement to teach Henry a lesson or two about how to play ping pong.

I think we played seven games that took close to two hours. I was sweating, and determined that I would eventually win even one game! Dinner was ready. But who needs food at a time like this?

As I entered the dining room and took my place at the table, I looked around at my surroundings. It was a lovely home and clearly one needed a few dollars to live in a place like this. But it was not over the top. It was tastefully decorated and in many ways quite normal, except for the blinds. They looked thicker than any blinds I had ever seen. He told me that they were protective blinds, as he was afraid for the safety as his family. His life was in danger from others who held a different viewpoint. Something seemed backwards.

It was a long dinner with three hours of food, wine and wonderful conversation. We talked about his family, and his wife entered in telling her own stories. We talked of his training as a doctor and his experiences in medicine apart from the abortion efforts. We talked about the human body and how intricate it was. I expressed my opinion about creation, to which he of course responded with his own view. Even as a Jew, he was an outspoken atheist, especially in front of his wife.

The missional lessons were piling up. I talked about Jesus as a normal part of my life. I did not have to try and find a bridge into a “gospel presentation,” but just talked about Jesus as a friend with whom I had a regular relationship. Jesus was present in my life on a daily basis.

At one stage I pushed the envelope a little and asked if during his time in working in the hospital if he had ever seen people being healed without any medical or scientific explanation. He had on several occasions. I shared stories of seeing people healed through prayer and a deep-seated belief that God was involved in the world at present. Our Father did not just create it and wind it up to tick on its own, but cared enough to be involved on a daily basis. Henry’s explanation for these events was what he called “spontaneous healing.” There was no recognition that God may have done something miraculous.

We continued to talk about my faith and work in the church. At one stage I asked if Henry ever came out to Vancouver, whether he would come to my church and let me interview him as part of our gathering. He took less than a second to say he would be delighted. I told him none of us would agree with what he had done, but I wanted people to hear his story and to pray for him.

And there were other missional lessons. As in Luke 10, I had been invited into another’s home where I would eat their food, hear their stories and have them shape the conversation. I extended peace to them to see whether they would receive it; in other words, I tested to see if God was present and at work in their lives, or whether this was not the time. In that way I never had to force spiritual conversation, but rather just follow the lead of God. I called this the spaghetti principle. Would it stick?

On this occasion, it did not stick. There was no encouragement to continue the conversation past this point. Henry had gone to another room to take a phone call, when his wife turned to me and in a protective tone, asked why I was really there. What did I want from him? It was abnormal for her to see someone simply enjoying conversation with her husband and wanting nothing from him. She was hostile to the gospel and had enough of the conversation for the evening. When Henry returned, she excused herself from the table.

It was getting late and Henry had an early flight the next day. I needed to drive out to Burlington and so the conversation wound down. I thanked him for his hospitality and hoped I would see him again soon. We said good night, and I walked toward my rental car after five hours in his home, sad that the conversation had not produced what I had hoped.

One of the key things that I had learned was that I never had to force a conversation. I was deeply intentional, but never felt pressure (urgency, yes, but not pressure) to close the deal. I had been learning to trust God in each and every step. As I left the house that night and drove away, I knew I would continue to have to trust God.

I was not sure when or if I would ever connect with Henry again. But I had been faithful and had done my part. Now I would wait and see if there was another chapter in the story. If yes, I would to be ready. If no, God was in control. Whatever the next steps, I had been changed by the experience.

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Japanese Food

By Cameron Roxburgh

This article is the fourth in a series on missional lessons from Henry Morgentaler. Start at the beginning here.

I had taken the red-eye flight from Vancouver to Toronto. Even back then I was getting too old for such things, but I wanted to spend some time with Henry, and this was the only way it was going to work.

I got into the rental car and headed out for a meeting, and then towards a neighbourhood just north of downtown Toronto. How would this encounter turn out?

I pulled up in front of the Morgentaler clinic, aware of such awful feelings inside. Little did I know how many tears I would shed that day. As if it came naturally to him, Henry had been inflammatory already. When I had called from the airport, he had insisted I meet him at his clinic. I tried to think of another place on earth that I would less like to be. All the way there, I wrestled with whether I wanted to even show up. Almost everything in me told me to steer clear, but there was a growing sense that God’s holiness did not mean that He withdrew from the world, but rather entered it to redeem it. Was I not sent to do the same? Yet another missional lesson. I recalled Jesus with the woman at the well, or the one caught in adultery. I remembered the reputation of Jesus as being a friend of sinners. I reflected on my own sin and need of God’s grace. I walked into the clinic and asked for Henry.

I was not kept waiting long. My little Jewish friend came quickly to greet me. He seemed genuinely pleased that I had come. This was his turf, and I had come to him. He would have known how uncomfortable I would have felt, and how badly I did not want to be there. But my presence spoke volumes to him. I am quite sure that there was a level of pride in him that he got a pastor to come into his territory, but there was also a level of respect that I had not run away. He insisted on giving me a tour.

I am very sure it did not last more than ten minutes, yet it felt like ten weeks.

I paid little attention to what he said. Most of what I saw and experienced would be not a lot different than any hospital clinic on the surface, but I could almost touch the darkness in every room. “This is where…” Ugh. Get me out of here. And then it got worse.

He ushered me into the recovery room where a 15-year-old girl was recovering. I looked into her eyes and saw deep pain. It took every ounce of energy I had not to burst into tears. Henry was talking with such calm and with an air of success. I wondered how I would be able to stomach the upcoming lunch, let alone the conversation I would have with him.

The tour finally ended. I had said so few words, and yet communicated so much. It was time for lunch.

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Henry’s favourite place was a block away. It was a little Japanese restaurant that served Sushi. Great. I hate sushi—at least the raw fish part. But they had a Teriyaki bowl and I got excited about that. We ordered and settled into a 90-minute conversation. I mentioned that I had seen the CBC special and even read a biography about him, and with only a little embarrassment he launched into his opinion of the television special.

We talked for a while, with most of the questions coming from my side of the table. I asked about his growing up years and then medical school. I asked a little about his family, and then had the nerve to ask about his times in jail. I was surprised at how comfortable he was with me and how he held very little back.

Several times he wanted to know my opinion of his clinic, as if he were looking for some kind of affirmation of what he did. He didn’t get what he was looking for. Once again, I found a way to steer away from the subject without rejecting him. I was growing to value Henry, even if I was so vehemently opposed to what He did and what he represented. I was convinced it was God at work in me as I knew I would not have been able to demonstrate that kind of grace on my own. Another lesson. God gives missionaries the words they need at the times they know they need them.

The conversation took a sharp turn and went much deeper as Henry began to pour out his emotions. My lack of validating his work seemed only to plunge him deeper into a reflective state of evaluating all that he had done. He began to weep at the table. He told me of how much he felt hated. He expressed pain not only at the loss of family, but the lack of real fulfillment. He was such a polarizing figure that never felt loved for just being Henry. “Although I have never believed in a God like you do, I cannot help but wonder, if there was one, whether he could ever forgive me for who I have been. I wonder at times, if I have spent my whole life in the pursuit of completely the wrong thing.”

Time stopped. Now there were tears in my eyes as well. Had I heard this correctly? Now what would I say? I knew the grace of God and the depth of his love went further than mine ever could, but did I really believe that it could stoop as low as to embrace Henry? Yet another missional lesson. The love of God goes to the very depths of the depravity of humanity. God was at work in Henry’s heart as I sat and watched the inner turmoil on full display.

I shared with my friend about who I knew Jesus to be. I told Henry of a forgiveness that extended even to him. We sat and talked for a little while longer and then the window closed. He came up from the depths of despair and was back in control of all that made him tick. Or so he thought. He was composed now but it was time for lunch to be over and for him to go back to work.

“When are you next in Toronto?” he asked, extending the invitation to come to his house for a meal and meet his wife and son.

“Soon,” I replied. “How is your ping pong these days?”

(Read Part 5)

In the News

By Cameron Roxburgh

Get caught up on the earlier pieces to this story in part 1 and part 2.

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The van ride home went by quickly. I don’t remember all of the conversation with my friends, but most of the first hundred miles was about our coffee with Henry Morgentaler. Did that really just happen?

Prayer had been key. Listening to the Spirit paid off. Our willingness to listen to Henry—and yet not having to agree on everything—actually brought an increased receptivity from him to listen as well. We had spent several intense hours with Canada’s abortion doctor and came away convinced that God had been at work. How else would you explain Henry’s seemingly over-the-top desire to keep connected?

Where would God take this? I was not sure about the destination, but I was convinced that I wanted to trust Him and be part of the journey. I wanted to hear anything He might have to say to me about my new acquaintance.

I do not remember the precise timing of the encounters that followed, but within a matter of months, a number of key events deepened my perspective on what it means to join God on mission. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a program on the life of Henry Morgentaler. Miss it? No chance! I wanted to learn about his life and what it was that propelled him into a conversation with a pastor.

The program sketched the development of the abortion movement in Canada, the battle to change the laws, the times Morgentaler was in and out of jail, and the great lengths he went to in promoting this cause. What gripped me most me were the scenes of him standing outside Dachau concentration camp with tears running down his face, mourning the loss of his family because of an unwanted child.

Henry went to great lengths to make his case that he was not the bad man that so many considered him to be, but rather one intent on ridding the world of any more Hitlers.

Intrigued by the program and my growing knowledge of his three marriages, kids, interests (ping pong was his huge hobby—more on that later), I went to the local bookstore and bought the best biography on Henry I could find. I devoured it. I was cut to the heart by the pain in this man, but also began to get angry at the decisions that he had made, in regards to abortion and a secular lifestyle. Henry was a tortured soul.

One day, while studying at my desk and listening to the news, I heard an interview with Henry on the radio. Someone had taken a shot through the front window of an abortion clinic and brought about further hard feelings between abortionists and Christians. Henry did not mince words in calling Christians “lunatics,” making many disparaging remarks about “those religious fanatics.” He stated that the world would be a better place without such people.

His remarks seemed unfair to me, so I picked up the phone and called him. “Henry, what was that all about? You know full well that what was done to the clinic was not done by someone whose life is about following Jesus, but by a fanatic calling themselves a Christian. Not all Christians are like that, and I don’t appreciate you making these kinds of blanket statements that paint me and others in a bad light. Not fair!” Needless to say, I was upset.

His response, well—I kept being surprised by this crazy developing friendship. “Of course,” he said. “You are correct. I am sorry. The comments were out of line and the actions of a few should not tarnish the reputation of all Christians. I will be more careful.”

Yet another missional lesson. When we believe that God is leading the way into the “neighbourhood,” we never need to fear telling the truth and speaking out against what others are saying or doing. The words I had used burst his bubble of bravado, and again garnered a new level of respect between us.

So I pushed my luck and went further. “Henry, once again I am sorry that some so-called followers of Christ have done such deeds. That is not how Jesus, a fellow Jew, would have acted. We Christians are getting a bad name and I would like you to help in restoring of the reputation of Christians when it comes to how you perceive them. You have found me to be a normal human being—and one that deeply wants to follow the way of Jesus in the world. I have not treated you in any way but with respect as a human in spite of our deep differences.”

Missional lesson again. One of the ways to develop relationships is to ask for help. Put yourself in a position of being in need and dependent on the other. It goes a long way to developing a sense of mutuality. Far too often, we think we have to be in a position of privilege and power to share the good news, always coming to the rescue of others. It never hurts to be vulnerable. By sharing our weaknesses, we can develop a true relationships of equality instead of charity.

Over the next number of months, Henry and I corresponded through email. I am not sure if he ever followed through on the promise to be fair in his assessment of Christians, but I was about to discover far more about the man than I ever thought possible. I needed to go to Toronto, and had remembered his invitation to call when I would next be in town. I picked up the phone. After a few minutes of conversation, it looked as if our friendship had grown from coffee and emails, to lunch together at a Japanese restaurant in his neighbourhood… and he was going to buy. The deal was getting better all the time!

(Read Part 4)

 

 

 

Regarding Henry

By Cam Roxburgh

This story is part 2 of a series. Get caught up with part 1 here.

It had already been a spectacular week. Banff at its finest was only the start; it was the voice of God urging me to connect with Henry Morgentaler that made this week extraordinary.

I was not sure how I was supposed to connect with Dr. Morgentaler, so had been praying and invited others to do the same. Had I really heard God, or was it the pizza I had for dinner? It was time to go home and I had not connected with him.

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But as I was leaving, there he was again at the concierge desk. Could this be the moment?

With more hesitation than I can ever remember, I approached the concierge desk and introduced myself to Dr. Morgentaler. The bodyguard drew closer. I must have stuttered out of nervousness, but I forced my question out: “Dr. Morgentaler, I heard that you had requested a meeting with some of the pastors that were here this week. I was wondering if you could tell me how that went from your perspective?”

His response was peculiarly unexpected: “The meeting did not happen. In the end, they told me were too busy.” Hmmmm. This outcome was what I had been praying for during the past few days.

“Our van is packed and we are ready to head back to Vancouver, but I would be glad to have a conversation with you if you wanted.” Without a moment of hesitation, Henry responded with the invitation to have coffee in 15 minutes in the hotel coffee shop. He would be delighted to meet with us and just needed to go back to his room for a few minutes before we met.

After parking the car and conversing with my friends and teammates, we headed towards the coffee shop, not having the slightest clue what to say or what the conversation would be like. But, surprisingly, I was becoming less nervous and more confident in how the meeting would go. I was reminded of the fact that God promised to give us the words we needed when the time would come for situations such as these.

As the group of us (his bodyguard and a few of my friends) sat down for coffee and tea, I knew God’s presence. There was a calm I experienced that both surprised and comforted me. I should not have been surprised, but I was. Beyond a doubt, this was a “God-thing,” and I knew He would lead the conversation.

“Henry,” I began, “as we start our meeting I just have a few things to be clear on. Of course you and I are going to disagree on the whole issue of abortion, and I am not wanting to debate that with you this morning. My purpose in wanting to meet with you is twofold.

“First, I want to apologize for the fact that some of my colleagues were too busy to meet with you. What is more, I’m sorry some who call themselves followers of Jesus would treat you and other abortionists in the way that they have. I am deeply sorry for the way some have treated you.

“Secondly, you asked to have a dialogue and for these pastors to discuss with you things you think we have in common. Well, I am here to hear your story. I want to listen.”

The words came out without even a voice crack. Confident, direct, and full of grace. To be honest, I was even amazed at what I had said. There seemed to be an extra measure of grace thrown in, but without compromise on my position.

This was a wonderful missional lesson. I learned that even though I think I have such little in common with the person I am in conversation with, much can be gained and bridges built through being willing to own even the sins of other Christians and in listening to the story of another. Dialogue is created.

Two and half hours seemed like no more than 30 minutes. I heard Henry’s story of being in a concentration camp and the loss of his whole family. I heard the rational behind his passion to eliminate the world from any unwanted babies—Hitler had been an unwanted baby himself. I heard him share about his family now, his life in Canada, and—most of all—things he was thinking about now as he was getting older and drawing closer to the end of his life. But the conversation was not a one way street by any means. He asked questions of me, my family, and my work. He asked why “religion” was so important to me. He was a thoroughly delightful conversationalist. Of course he was intelligent and knowledgeable on many subjects.

Several times during our time together Henry tried to steer the conversation towards more controversial issues. He shared of his view on sex, and made a few comments that were clearly in opposition to where I would stand.

“Henry, that’s ridiculous,” I said with a smile on my face. “Surely you have thought that one through more carefully?” With a little laughter we would banter back and forth, but every time he tried to get me to agree with him on some secular position, I pushed back—and firmly. I was gaining a confidence in this conversation by the minute.

I was learning yet another missional lesson. Normally I have a tendency to respond more aggressively and harshly, but I was discovering that even when I disagree, I can stick to my deeply-held opinions, and do it with grace. We may think that in order to build a bridge with someone, we have to capitulate on our positions. This thought couldn’t have been further from the truth that day. It seemed as if the stronger I was in holding to my own convictions, the more impressed Henry became and the more he opened up about what made him tick. He gained a confidence in our conversation as well.

We were getting tired, and this almost-three-hour delay meant we would be getting back to Vancouver rather late. It was time to say good-bye. I wondered how this conversation would end. Before I had figured out what to say, Henry stated how much he had enjoyed the conversation and wondered if there would be a time when we could reconnect. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a business card. Turning it over, he wrote his private cell number on the back of the card, and encouraged me to call him. When was the next time I would be in Toronto?

(Read Part 3)

This is the second of a series on Missional Lessons from a relationship with Henry Morgentaler.

 

 

You want me to do what?

By Cam Roxburgh

There are few places more beautiful than Banff, Alberta. Nestled in the Canadian Rockies, this tourist destination has rugged and breathtaking scenery. The Banff Springs Hotel, one of the finest anywhere, is famous for its architecture and “hot springs pools.”

I was standing in the lobby in total luxury. I was also in the exact place that God wanted me for the next four days. Little did I know that God was about to give me an experience that would have a deep impact on my life. I was about to learn a number of key lessons on being a local missionary that I will share in this next series of blogs, Missional Lessons from Henry Morgentaler.

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The scene was surreal. I watched as hotel employees put finishing touches on Christmas decorations. It was early November, but with a wisp of snow on the ground and crispness in the air, winter was right around the corner. To my right was a grand sitting room. Decorated to the hilt, this old fashioned room had high ceilings and luxurious furniture, and amazing paintings of local wildlife. It also had Amy Grant and Tony Bennett filming a Christmas special for some national channel. To my left was the concierge desk, where Henry Morgentaler was asking a question about local services.

Many are familiar with the life of Dr. Morgentaler. This famous Canadian had since the 1960s, fought abortion laws and pushed hard on his pro-choice agenda. Not only did Henry get the abortion laws changed, but he opened many clinics as well. He has been willing to pay the price for his cause. In the early days he was constantly in trouble with the law for his protests against what he saw as injustice. Henry spent many days and nights in prison for doing what he thought was right.

As I watched him for no more than a minute, I was aware of my deep emotions. He was famous for all the wrong reasons. He stood opposed to what I deeply believed. So famous and so close by, yet so disturbing. I was also aware of his huge bodyguard. Henry had come to hide out. Remembrance Day was the time that abortion clinics and doctors had been targeted by the opposition. Some clinics had been burned and doctors had been stabbed or shot at. Many of those who had become violent claimed to be religious people.

I was also aware of God’s voice speaking to me. He wanted me to connect with Henry during my stay in Banff and listen to his story. This was the first Missional lesson that I was about to learn. God is at work in the world even in the most unlikely places and people. And He invites us to participate with Him. We just need to pay attention and listen for His voice.

Prayer is any communication that we have with God. It doesn’t always have to be on our knees, with our eyes closed, or even in some quiet room. Sometimes it begins in the most amazing hotel, in one of the most beautiful locations, with Amy Grant singing Christmas music, while staring at a man about whom you having nothing good to say.

“You want me to do what?” On this occasion, that was the beginning of my prayer.

After checking in and settling into my room, I needed a walk. No more than an hour later I set out to make the 10-minute walk into town. I wanted a cup of tea. I wanted some fresh air. I wanted to be alone. Three minutes into my journey, I could see an older man approaching me on the sidewalk. It seemed as if we were the only two people within miles. “God, what are you up to?” As Henry got closer, we did not do the traditional Canadian thing of looking down pretending to be deep in thought; instead our heads came up and we made eye contact. Greetings were exchanged and I heard that voice from deep within again: “I am going to make a way for you to connect with Henry this week.”

I am no expert on prayer. It is often a struggle for me to sit still and listen. When I think I hear God speaking, I want to make sure it wasn’t just the pizza I had the night before. I want to be sure before I will act on something. I am too skeptical, but this message was getting hard to ignore. On that walk around town, the thoughts of “when and how?” and “really?” occupied my thoughts and conversations with the Lord.

Returning to the hotel, I still had an hour or so before dinner and the start of the pastors conference. I headed to the hot tub for a soak. One of the leaders of the conference had the same idea. As we sat in the water, he asked if I knew that Henry Morgentaler was in the hotel, and that he had asked to meet with a few pastors from our group to clear the air between himself and “those who were religious.” I was fascinated by the request. I offered my services to be a part of that discussion.

Where this would lead? I phoned my mom, a prayer warrior, and told her the story. I told her of God’s prompting, and of the suggested conversation between Henry and the denominational leaders. I asked her to pray that if it was God to me, that He would open a door for conversation, and… I asked her to pray that there would be no meeting of these leaders and Henry. These were good people, but I knew how the conversation would go. Lines would be drawn and arguments made, and they would miss the point. I prayed for God to act. This was another Missional lesson. Prayer is to be front and central of our joining God on mission. No matter how clever I think I am, it is God who works in and through us. It is not about strategy, but about surrender.

Three days went by and nothing happened. I saw Henry from a distance in the hotel several times, but I heard nothing, saw nothing and did nothing.

The van was packed for the long drive back to Vancouver and our team was heading out the door of the hotel to climb aboard and head home. I was the last one out. As I glanced one more time at the concierge desk, Henry was once again standing there, bodyguard in tow. The voice was back: “now is the time.”

Now? Really? The van is outside and we have an 11-hour drive ahead. I shook off the voice and went through the doors. I got outside and stopped. Was this the time? I returned through the doors only to convince myself that this was really just my imagination, and so exited the doors yet again. Outside for the second time, my wife who was a number of steps ahead came back and asked me what was wrong. I told her, and then suggested we just leave. Her encouragement to me was that if I thought God was speaking, then I needed to act. What harm would it be to go back inside and approach Henry about a conversation? I suggested there was a 6-foot-3, 230-pound reason not to, but that seemed slightly smaller than what I knew God could do.

With more hesitation than I can ever remember, I approached the concierge desk and introduced my self to Dr. Morgentaler. The bodyguard drew closer, I must have stuttered out of nervousness, but I forced my question out. “Dr. Morgentaler, I heard that you had requested a meeting with some of the pastors that were here this week. I was wondering if you could tell me how that went from your perspective?”

What happened next was beyond anything I could have dreamed up in a million years.

(Read Part 2)

What’s Fear Got to Do with It?

By Merv Budd

What does fear have to do with the Missio Dei? This was the question I was asked when I pitched the idea of doing a series of blogs on fear. The truth is that fear is very influential in our engagement with God’s mission. What we fear, how we steward our fear, and our manner of processing fear all get played out, to some degree, in how we love God and our neighbour.

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Scott Bader-Saye’s book, Following Jesus in a culture of Fear, argues that we live in a culture that feeds fear. That there are people that profit from fear. And he urges those who want to be faithful to Jesus to resist because the mission of God requires courage. This need for courage was driven home practically when I heard about what is being considered in Canada with regard to Bill C-51.

According to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian government is looking at revisions to Bill C-51. In particular, they are thinking of removing clause 14 which makes it an offense to disturb religious worship meetings. At present, it is an offense to willfully disturb or interrupt a group of people who have assembled for religious worship. The changes to the bill to remove this clause would reduce protection for worshipers in places of worship. What would we do if our protections were gone?

Would fear stop us from gathering? Or would we value our gathering more? Would we decide not to do that which might upset others, to avoid ruffling feathers and taking risks or would we find ourselves caring less about who became upset and focused more upon discerning clearly what God has called us to do? In other words, would fear or courage win out?

Faith requires courage because faith is the assurance of things unseen. Bader-Saye makes this clear as he considers how courage is required to show hospitality to others, but fear will keep us from trying. Similarly, courage is required to practice generosity and trust that God will supply all our needs. Courage is needed to engage those formative spiritual disciplines that nurture us in ways that make our lives attractive; disciplines like Sabbath keeping. As Brueggemann reminds us, “…the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is an act of trust in the subversive, exodus causing God of the first commandment, an act of submission to the restful God of commandments one, tow, and three. Sabbath is a practical divestment so that neighbourly engagement, rather than production and consumption, defines our lives.” And don’t underestimate the importance of courage required to be vulnerable for the sake of authentic community.

Fear seeks to guide our hearts, it is the opposite of desires. Desires try to pull us towards that which promises empty satisfaction that will ultimately destroy us. Fear attempts to push us away from that which will build us up, strengthen our faith or promotes God’s glory. It is a tactic used by Satan to foil the missionary enterprise of the church from it’s very beginning.

In Romans 16:30 – 31 Paul writes, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there…”

Paul, is aware that going to Jerusalem might be dangerous. That foreboding only grows as he gets closer to the city. On his way he stops to encourage the church at Ephesus and as he is about to leave he says this, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” His sense of danger has grown, in fact he now identifies it as a warning that comes from the Holy Spirit.

As he draws closer, and is staying at Caesarea, we read this, “After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” If the nudging of the Spirit hadn’t been loud enough before now it is even clearer as God has a prophet come to tell Paul of the danger awaiting him in Jerusalem.

Paul’s concerns, we find out, were well justified. Why would he go when he knew there was danger? Wasn’t he afraid? Isn’t fear God’s gift to steer us towards self-preservation? It was such thinking that led Jesus to tell Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” When Peter said Jesus would not suffer and die. Self-sacrifice, not self-preservation is the way of discipleship.

Hardships, even warnings of persecution from God, does not mean that we should abandon the mission of God that He has called us to. Too often we come up against the prospect of hardship, or persecution or trouble and because of fear, we quit. Somehow, we have this mistaken notion that if we are doing God’s will, in God’s way that we will find everything falling into place. That it will be easy, opposition free. And we assume that fear is God’s voice steering us away.

What’s fear got to do with the mission of God? Lots! We want to explore a theology of fear in the next few blogs.

Neighbouring for Life

Have you checked out Neighbouring for Life yet? Rick Abma has been working with Karen Wilk, one of our National Team leaders, for several years now. He participated in one of the first Ethos hubs in the Edmonton area and was inspired to make the shift toward joining God in his neighbourhood and inspiring others to do the same.  Recently he published a little book which tells of that journey and includes many stories from along the way. As Forge seeks to evoke, equip and encourage Canadian churches toward a more incarnational missional presence in their neighbourhoods, Rick’s stories can inspire and challenge us.

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Raised on a dairy farm in British Columbia, the youngest of seven, Rick Abma pursued a college education that brought him into the world of broadcasting.  Following his radio career, he entered into full time ministry. After 20 years of ministry in the church, Rick ventured into a full time missionary position that focuses on bringing the “good news” to people right where they live. While understanding the power of loving neighbours in his own back yard, he began to engage in other neighbourhoods.  Today, he creates disciples in various other neighbourhoods and works with city leadership. He also roasts and markets, “Good Neighbour Coffee” (which prints true stories on the packaging), and hosts a radio show that features stories from his experiences.  In May, 2017, a few businessmen rallied around the vision and opened a new space called, Good Neighbour Coffeehouse in Lacombe, Alberta. This business provides space where neighbourhood leaders can learn from each other and features direct trade, organic coffee from the Honduran farmers that Rick and his family came to know while living there in 2008.

In addition to this, Rick offers free use of his “Neighbourhood Life” travelling trailer BBQ or the “Neighbourhood Life” espresso trike for neighbourhood initiatives.  People are generally in disbelief when they see these tools in action, not to mention the disbelief on how refreshing it was to gather with neighbours!  As a result, Rick recorded his journey which has now become the book, Neighbouring for Life.  The book is filled with stories that follow his transition from the institutional church into the mission of various neighbourhoods.

Paul Born, bestselling author of “Deepening Community,” “Community Conversations” and president of the Tamarack institute says, “Rick is a master story teller who knows more about being a neighbour than anyone I know.  This book is a must read for people whose faith compels them to care for others and build deeper relationships.  If you want to improve your quality of life, the simplest way is to get to know your neighbours.  Rick not only shows you how but his stories will inspire you to actually do it!”

Jim Diers, author of “Neighbor Power” and a well-traveled speaker/activist says, “Rick Abma doesn’t just talk and write about community; he lives it!  ‘Neighbouring for Life’ summarizes the valuable lessons he has learned from his experience as a neighbour.  Rick argues that community isn’t something we do in our spare time but rather it’s a way of life that can be realized through practice, not programs.  His book illustrates this with stories that are as rich and stimulating as the Good Neighbour coffee he roasts.”

Follow www.rickabma.com or www.goodneighbourcoffeee.ca for ongoing stories and insights.

A Journey toward Neighboring

By Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon (The Art of Neighboring, Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2012, 24-26. Used by permission).

When I (Dave) was 26, I was hired as a teaching pastor at a large, young-adult church that was experiencing a lot of growth. In my previous life, I was a high school teacher.
Then almost overnight, I went from teaching thirty kids in a classroom to talking in front of a couple thousand people.

Needless to say, I was in way over my head. We were supposedly one of the “hot” churches in town. Translation: this is where a bunch of “hot” people go to meet each other. (Incidentally, I met my beautiful wife at this church.) There was a lot of buzz surrounding what we were doing and how we were doing it. Local pastors would visit our church in hopes of discovering what it was that was prompting the growth and attracting so many young people.

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Teaching in front of thousands of people felt like the opportunity of a lifetime. At least it did at first. And of course there were parts of my job that were exhilarating. On most nights, however, when I got into my car and drove home, I felt strangely empty. I knew what went into putting on those services. We spent the majority of our time putting on an event that, to be honest, just didn’t seem like it was producing the kind of life change we were hoping to see.

My point is not to criticize large churches, because there are many good ones out there that are doing great things. Nor am I saying that large-group teaching isn’t effective and that we should scrap it altogether. Instead I am saying that my experience as a large-church pastor caused me to re-evaluate my thinking about transformation and the best ways to invest my time and energy. While I served there, a healthy sense of discontent grew in me. And over time I realized that our weekly service was always going to have a limited impact in actually changing our community. I became convinced that no matter how much our church grew, a single congregation would never be able to truly transform our entire city.

My healthy discontent sent me on a journey to redefine how I thought about the church and its ability to have a lasting impact. I left my teaching pastor position and found myself at another thriving church, where I continued to wrestle with the same gnawing thoughts and questions. I soon found myself becoming obsessed with John 17, an entire chapter that recounts Jesus’s prayer just before he is arrested. First, Jesus prays for himself, then for his disciples. Then he concludes by praying for us.

What he prayed is powerful. He prayed that everyone who follows him would be one, that we would be brought to complete unity. Jesus has a burning desire for there to be unity among all believers. In fact, he tells us that there is something so sacred and beautiful about our oneness that it will draw people to God who aren’t in a relationship with him. This was the answer I was looking for to help facilitate lasting transformation in our city! And this is what prompted me to gather local pastors to listen to our mayor and to dream about what we could do together that we could never do alone.

After hearing our mayor’s comments about neighboring that day, I was forced to consider my own relationships with my literal neighbors. I came face-to-face with the fact that while I was doing a decent job caring for a lot of people in my church, I wasn’t doing a good job of even remembering my neighbors’ names. That conversation with our mayor launched my family on a journey of learning how to know and even love the people God has placed around us. As you will see throughout this book, this was a powerful turning point for my wife and me, and even for our kids.

I have come to believe that, as followers of Jesus, one of the worthiest endeavors we can undertake is to take the Great Commandment seriously and learn to be in relationship with our literal neighbors.

We all need to get back to the basics of what he commanded: love God and love others. Everything else is secondary.

A Way That Works
Jesus said the most important thing we can do is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are discovering that Jesus was actually really smart. You could even say that he was and is a genius. When Jesus was asked to reduce everything important into one command, he gave us a simple and powerful plan that, if acted on, would literally change the world.

This simple plan also offers us a different kind of life. It’s a way of living that makes sense and brings peace to people’s souls. Whenever we center our lives around the Great Commandment and take very literally the idea and practice of loving our neighbor, there’s great freedom, peace, and depth of relationship that come to our lives. By becoming good neighbors, we become who we’re supposed to be. As a result, our communities become the places that God intended them to be.

Relationships are progressive and don’t all happen overnight, but there are some simple steps you can take that will start you on an amazing journey. Make no mistake, neighboring is not always easy. Yet it is powerful and significant. And it is central to experiencing the full life that Jesus promises.

The Next Stage: Forge Canada 2.0

By Cam Roxburgh

Welcome! Okay, it is a little odd to welcome you to something you have already been a part of, but we at Forge Canada believe that we are into the next stage of what God is doing in Canada around His mission. He is moving His people beyond evoking a conversation, to equipping them for practice.

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Stage 1 – Evoking
Twenty years ago, a group of theologians and practitioners gathered to write the book Missional Church. The Gospel and our Culture Network (GOCN) took the work of Lesslie Newbigin and used it to reflect on what was happening to the church in our context. “Missional” began to get traction, and many jumped on the bandwagon. The good news was that many wrestled with the cultural dislocation of the Church, but the bad was that “missional” was defined in many different ways. Old practices and patterns of thinking—formed in Christendom—were hard to break, and many simply have continued in an old paradigm under the new name of “missional.”

Many have become aware of the missional conversation. Denominations have tried to help their churches envision a different future. Schools have attempted to train leaders for that future. Church Planting groups have wrestled with shifting from “planting worship services,” to seeding kingdom communities in neighbourhoods across the land.

Some believers have grappled with this second-order change and begun to turn a corner, while others have given up because the way forward was difficult. It seems as if very few have not at least come into contact with the idea of becoming missional. It has become an adjective, placed in front of any program to emphasize a desire for evangelism. Many have missed what Newbigin and the GOCN were trying to express.

Forge Canada uses a definition of missional that has its roots in Newbigins’ writing (he perhaps co-opted it from Rahner and Barth). The Missional Church is “a renewed theological vision of the church on mission, serving as a sign, servant and foretaste of the kingdom of God.” It is first about God and His mission. It recognizes that God is already at work in the world and we need to discern where He is at work in order to join Him. It emphasizes that we as a people are sent as missionaries into the very neighbourhoods where He has placed us to participate in that work.

Stage 2 – Equipping
The conversation evoked over the past decades must give way to equipping. This is the stage we now found ourselves in. It seems as if not only has the church experienced a cultural dislocation in culture, but also Christendom is more deeply entrenched in us than we perhaps thought. So many continue to try and seek a way forward by recapturing the privilege and power that the church knew when it was found at the centre of our culture. But we live in a secular context now (Taylor and then Smith) and we need to learn to live as a Faithful Presence (Hunter and then Fitch).

I continue to hear the call from denominational leaders that what we need is assessment tools and models of what it means to be missional. But this kind of approach is only indicative of how deeply we are entrenched in Christendom. Instead, we believe there are three things needed to begin equipping communities of God’s people in missional life:
A process of discernment: where is God at work? How does He want us to be involved?
The development of missiological competencies to engage the culture in its secularities.
The telling of stories that create imagination in us to join God on mission in our neighbourhoods.

We need an equipping to learn what it means to be a sign, servant and foretaste of the reality of the kingdom in our midst. We need a commitment to being faithful to the why (missional theology), and a passion to pursue the  (missional ecclesiology) in our context. It is not about models, but about being a faithful presence as God’s people to the reality of the presence of our king.

At Forge Canada, we are seeking to equip the church in Canada through a number of avenues. Ethos continues to help churches move into an understanding of ministry in a post-Christian culture. This 2-year journey has been a help to many churches across the country. Life in the Neighbourhood is another tool that has produced fruit. This experience, led by Dr. Karen Wilk, aims to help local neighbourhood leaders launch groups in their context. Living Faithfully is a new stream developed by Jonathan Wilson, Jonathan Bird and myself, with a view to helping people in our churches to live as local missionaries. And finally, we will be introducing a tool to help churches be restructured around Mission Groups in order to reach their context. We believe that the church in Canada needs to recapture the essence of what it means to live as disciples among people in their neighbourhood.

Reflections on Advent: He Came Among

By Cam Roxburgh

The Christmas spirit came early for me this year. Often, it is not until Christmas Eve, when in the mad dash of life in the church, I can finally take a breath. But this year was different. Perhaps it is a slower pace, or maybe the power of the Hillsong Worship Song, “What a Beautiful Name.” Or maybe it is the amount of snow we have received already in Vancouver. That never hurts.

Every Christmas I listen to Charlie Brown’s reading of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. Much of our time is in Luke or Matthew around this time of the year, but I have been once again in John’s account of the wonder of Advent. I have been reminded of the importance of pushing past the sentiments of the season alone. Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about anymore, Charlie Brown? The questions remain the same: who is Jesus? Why did He come?

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A great Christmas tradition is to go to hear either Handel’s Messiah or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Books have introductions or prologues, but orchestras play overtures. Overtures give a glimpse into the themes for the entire piece. Many commentators suggest that John 1:1-18 is an overture and not simply an introduction to John’s account of the coming, the life, and the work of Jesus.

Beginnings are important. Mark begins with ministry. Luke begins with the birth and the events surrounding it. Matthew begins with the story of God with His people, the Jews. But John begins at the beginning. Jesus is present at creation.

In those days, “the word” (logos) referred to the way in which people understand the world to be ordered, or how it functioned. “The word” was about how the world and everything in it made sense. Today, some might say the word is karma, or yin and yang. In those days, the Jews were clear in their understanding that “the word” was God in action. John begins his account by stating that God was in action now—in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word.

Who Jesus Is
As we listen for the grand themes of the gospel in John 1:1-18, we must first hear John’s declaration of who Jesus is. When John begins with “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God,” he is making a clear statement. Jesus is fully divine. He is the creator. He is the one who makes sense of the world. Jesus is God in action. When we try and answer the question of “who is Jesus?” it is not sufficient to say that He was a good man. John is clearly driving home the reality that Jesus is divine. Fully divine. The creator of all things who was there at the beginning. God in action. It is in His divinity that He is able to create and recreate each of us.

But John will not allow the readers to think of Jesus as only divine. He was fully human as well. In verse 14, we get this wonderful picture from Eugene Peterson about God coming among us, and moving into our neighbourhood. Jesus is God in action—fully divine. But as God in action, He became one of us, and came to be near us, right in our neighbourhoods. John is clear that the word became flesh.  Jesus was fully human as well as fully God. Advent certainly reflects His coming, but it begins with His absence, and then the expectation of His coming and the impact that He will have. It is in His humanity that He is able to teach us the way to live.

Who We Are
One more thing has caught my attention this Advent. John states at the end of this overture that “We have beheld His glory.” I use to think that this referred to the divinity of Jesus alone. But it refers as much to His humanity. John is making the incredible statement that if Jesus is God in action, and that He moved into our neighbourhoods, and if we have come into the presence of the glory of Jesus, then we reflect that glory to others around us today.

We too must move into the neighbourhood as He did. It is not possible to see Jesus, and to not begin to allow the life He lived to influence everything about the way we live. It is not enough to acknowledge his coming, but instead we must participate in that coming. That shapes everything about us.