Sunday, November 19, 2006

Spiritual Growth

How does someone grow spiritually? Is spiritual growth measured by the number of Bible courses a person completes? Or how many fill-in-the-blanks they've done? What really is spiritual growth?

It seems to me that the New Testament talks about spiritual growth in terms of maturity, fullness, and completion. But I have to admit that these terms don't seem to be too helpful. They're not concrete enough for me. But then again, spiritual growth isn't something as concrete as, say, completing an academic degree.

Life is like that too, isn't it? How does one measure maturity? Physically? Emotionally? Intellectually? Relationally? You can't.

In its essence, spiritual growth is intangible. When you see it, you know what it is. But it's not so easliy defined.

Pastor and author John Burke describes the elements of what is needed for spiritual growth to occur:

1. A picture of maturity.
2. A context of relationship.
3. A personal development path.

I really prefer this approach over the whole 101, 201, 301, 401 baseball diamond approach. I just don't think you can really produce disciples like toys in a factory or cars in an assembly line. There are way too many organic variables that do not neatly fit into a rigid system like that.

When I reflect on my own growth, I see that it had nothing to do with completing any "course work" or study booklets. It had a lot to do with inspiring environments which included teaching from the Bible (eg. Urbana Missions Conference at the University of Illinois), Christian friends that I could be totally open to, ministry experiences like helping start a youth group for the church I grew up in, and the books and tapes I devoured that spoke to my life so deeply. All the while, I had a picture in my heart of the kind of person I could become for the Lord.

I think that discipleship in this culture and time must be fluid and not mechanical...relationships-based rather than curriculum-based.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Recommeneded Books: No Perfect People Allowed by John Burke

I highly recommend this book guys! It's a 5 star read!!

The four chapters in PART 3: The Struggle with Tolerance alone are worth twice the price of the entire book. A lot of my own questions were answered in dealing with a society that values tolerance above all things. Burke has incredible insight in handling the way the Church engages other religions and homosexuality. I wish I was that smart!

The one word that really stands out to me when dealing with imperfect people and struggling disciples is "trajectory." I think that if we can hold onto the big picture in people's lives and take into consideration their spiritual trajectory regardless of the mess they are in at the moment, we would be able to respond with grace and truth as Jesus did.

There are actually alot of things I picked up from this 314-page treasure. But this is the one thing that stands out in my mind most.

Check it out and let me know what you think here.


Sunday, October 08, 2006


We have a 25lbs. turkey in the oven and a 13lbs. turkey in my brothers new rotisserie! YUM!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

It's a small world!

Yesterday, I found out that Katherine -a co-worker at Starbucks- was my neighbor when we were living in 3682 St. Joseph Blvd! I lived there from the time I began high school until I left for the Philippines. Her dad used to help us a lot with handyman stuff in the house. I can't believe how small the world really is. Katherine was just a baby when I was living there through high school.

Amazing! This cannot be coincidence. It must be a God-thing....especially since Katherine had invited me out for drinks with her and Joe (another co-worker) after work. It was really nice to be invited to hang out with them. And the conversation we had about spiritual seeking, the abuse of religion, and what following Jesus really means over shots of tequila and beer was remarkable. In the end, Katherine said to please invite her to the new church we're starting.

Monday, September 04, 2006

What a full weekend!

This weekend was so full! We finally moved everything out of storage and back to the house. The repairs and remediation of the house by Minto have been completed. After working from 7am to 12pm on Friday, we moved everything back in from 1pm until late evening. It was so tiring! But at least the kids have their room back and we now have furniture in the basement.

Then the following day, after working from 7am to 4pm, we rushed to prep for Beth and Ariel birthday party at 5pm. We had 8 guests from Toronto stay with us until today. And the house was full for the party. But we had a great time!

Then we held a small worship service at the house. It was the first time for us to do something like it in this house. But we got a good response. My aunt who attended offered her house to use as a place to stage these services to reach out to people. Awesome!

I toured our Toronto friends through the Byward Market, the Rideau Canal, Parliament Hill and Sparks Street Mall on foot. No wonder we were all so tired!

But God is good...and that will never change.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Blue Like Jazz/Live

I watched Blue Like Jazz Live tonight hosted at TLC. Jason Hildebrand was brilliant. Here's Don Miller's opening Author's Note from the book:

-I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that, I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened.-

What does somebody loving God look like? I mean the kind that draws people into it. The kind of loving God that really, really touches others deep down in the ancient places of the heart.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

New Skills, New Mind

Learning new skills requires that one takes on a whole new mindset. This has been made clearer than ever as I learn to take orders and call and make drinks with Starbucks. I've found that when I see the big picture, I can better see how all the pieces fit together. Somehow, this helps me create a new mindset as a partner at Starbucks.

For example, my first training module taught me how to operate the POS or cash register. It was when I spent a couple of hours in this position that I realized how much I did NOT know about Starbucks beverages. I would often be dumbstruck when a customer ordered a drink I was not familiar with. It was frustrating for a big Starbucks fan like me to be ignorant of terms like "ristretto" and "doppio espresso." But I kept pluggin away making slow but sure progress.

Until my learning coach (a wonderful concept!) gave me some bar training. Well, knowing how to make the drinks now is helping me to better understand what customers are ordering! I also am much more comfortable calling the drinks (there is a particular way we call our drinks called "barista-speak"). Bar knowledge helped me make sense of what I needed to do on the register.

I'm not as fast calling or making the drinks yet. But I can sense that my mind is reaaranging itself into the Starbucks paradigm. I'm starting to get visions of the bar and mentally rehearse how many pumps of syrup a Venti Vanilla Latte gets and how many shots of espresso too. When I started a few weeks ago, someone did mention that I'd eventually start having dreams of making drinks. I didn't know that they were gonna be open visions!

This experience helps me to better appreciate the kind of uneasiness people have when we propose to do church differently or when we ask them to change a behavior in llifestyle. If we're going to catalyze change, its best we start by helping people get the big picture and how all the different parts work together before getting into the details.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Wow World of Starbucks Coffee Company

Started working for Starbucks yesterday. My first shift called 'First Impressions" was mostly about learning the mission, guiding principles and standards of the company. I was so impressed with how much the company gives back to the community and with how they really treat their employees aka. partners with dignity and respect. I respected the company after reading about it in Howards Schultz' book "Pour Your Heart Into It" but after being oriented in an actual store as a partner, I am blown away. I think every Christian businessman should study this company and follow in their example. Lessons to learn from: 1) Make treating each employee with dignity and respect a functional priority and 2) Give back to the community more than you take from it.

How do I want to make this happen in our new church plant?

1. Everything we do with the disconnected and with disciples should be governed by treating them with dignity, respect, and grace.
2. As a missional community, we should seek to give back to the community more than we demand from it.
3. Every disconnected person who chooses to become a disciple should be given a "First Impressions" orientation which includes a global perspective on the Church as a movement, the vision, mission, and guiding principles of NUCOMM, and the clearly defined expectations and behaviors of being a part of NUCOMM CHURCH.

Over a year ago, we already started using the word "partners" to describe membership in NUCOMM. I think we need to clearly outline the growth and development path of a partner in NUCOMM. A possible growth path could be:

1. From being disconnected to...
2. Disciple to...(join an LTG)
3. Discipler to...(lead an LTG)
4. Catalyst to...(facilitate/host a Simple Church)
5. Trainer/Coach (teach at the Encounters)
6. Deacon...(manage a ministry or department)
7. Elder.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Fishing Lessons

Just got back from a half day of fishing in Smiths Falls, Ontario. We were 9 guys in all. I caught about 3 fish over the 5 hours that we were there. In the end, we had to let them all go. I spent most of the time feeding the fish with my worms than actually threatening to catch any of them. It's the only explanation why they weren't biting by noontime. They were full!

Here are a few lessons I learned about fishing and evangelism:

1. A key to successful fishing is timing. You have to get out there when the fish are hungry even if it means being inconvenienced by a really early wake up call. Evangelism Lesson: Share with people when they are most hungry to hear about Jesus. And remember, disconnected people don't come to Christ at your convenience.

2. Fishing gets your hands really dirty especially when you're using worms for bait. I poked several new holes in my fingers hooking worms for bait. Evangelism Lesson: Be ready to get dirty when you do evangelism.

3. Use the right bait for the right fish. I didn't get any results when I switched to lures half way through. These fish (pike, bass, pickerel) liked worms. Evangelism Lesson: Make sure to position the message of Jesus in a way that interests disconnected people.

4. Use the hook in the right way. I fed most of the fish with my worms because they learned how to eat the bait without getting hooked. Fishing is useless if you can't get the fish hooked. Evangelism Lesson: The primary purpose of evangelism is not to entertain people but to cause them to respond in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Don't settle for anything less.

Care to add anything else to this list?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Government to Save Church

I read in the Globe and Mail yesterday that the Roman Catholic Church is seeking help from the Provincial Government of Quebec to preserve its dying churches. The argument is that the RCC is not just a religious entity but a part of Quebec's heritage.

I don't know whether to feel pity or anger. On one hand, I feel pity for the RCC in Quebec that it has become so irrelevant in people's lives that it's place is now more of nostalgia than anything else. Religion has been so marginalized in Quebec that it seems this is the only place for the church.

But I also feel angry, in that, a case is being made by a spiritual institution to be rescued by government. It seems too assuming to me that a religious group would expect the government to keep it alive. The RCC is one of the riches institutions in the world! Why doesn't the Vatican do something instead?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Terror in Canada

On June 2, 2006, Canadian authorities arrested 17 Muslims in Toronto who had imported 3 tonnes of ammonium nitrate (explosives material). It was the largest anti-terrorism operation conducted by more than 400 police officers. The incident has sent shock waves amidst Canadians. Recently, a mosque was vanadalized - supposedly as a reaction to this incident.

What is so shocking is that these Muslim "terrorists" come from reportedly upstanding families who have been Canadians for decades. These people grew up and lived in Canadian democracy all their lives. And yet, they bought in to fundamentalist muslim doctrine. It goes to show how powerful ideology and religion can transcend one's social environment.

To me, this shows that social conditioning is truly powerless in changing people's hearts. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can bring the deepest transformation at the heart level. It isn't a matter of religion but of the power of Christ's love and grace applied to the human heart.

What could have changed the hearts of these 17 Muslims? Frankly, Jesus. Period. Think of Saul, the terrorist who targeted disciples of Christ invading their homes and putting them in prison, who became Paul, the apostle, who gave his life for the cause of Jesus Christ. How? His heart had been invaded by Jesus.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

On Mission by Darrin Patrick

Darrin Patrick is a founding elder at The Journey in St. Louis, MO. He has this great essay on their site at

On Mission
Jesus of Nazareth came on a mission. He was not looking for the well, the found, or the righteous. His mission was not about starting a ministry that would produce programs to be consumed by nice, attractive, middle-class, white, suburban, couples with 2.5 kids. It wasn't a country club with nice, painted, iron gates that Jesus inaugurated. It was a church that Jesus founded with its calling to storm the gates of hell. The church he founded was not a place for people to get fed and fat, but a place to be equipped and sent. Church is not a building or destination, but a people who are on mission: to join the Savior in seeking and saving those who are lost.

Evangelism, or mission, is not just another program that the church carries out. It is not some peripheral activity. The church is mission. Yes, the church gathers as people being called out (ekklesia) of the world. But the church is at the same time being sent out (apostolos) into the world. The church certainly must be called out from the world, but it also must certainly go back into the world. We are to be holy, set apart and different in our character than those who do not know God. But, we should also refuse to believe the lies the "churched" culture tells us: avoid hanging out with the people in the world because you will be corrupted. We also need to reject the lie that we have to create our own Christian sub-culture and insulate ourselves from the big, bad world. Mission demands that we follow Jesus, friend of sinners, by being immersed in relationships with those far from God, and thus, bring light to lost people in dark cultures. We are called out, but we are sent. It is only in the context of being sent do the metaphors "salt of the earth," "city on a hill," and "light of the world" make sense in describing the church. We are to be people who have been encountered by God through the gospel, and then we are to enter the world with the gospel.

Mission is intrinsically connected to community. In the gospel of John, it is said that the unity of the church is vital if the world at large is to believe and experience the Christ sent from God the Father (John 17:21-23). Further, he said that we, the church, would be identified as followers of Christ only when we are sacrificially loving one another, which is another way of true Biblical community (John 13:34-35). It seems that the gospel of John points us to a reality that is both awesome and frightening: The believability of the gospel which the church proclaims is directly linked to the "realness" of its community. Could it be that many times, the gospel cannot be fully comprehended outside of this kind of real community?

Living the gospel, ie - being on mission, can take many forms: explaining the gospel to a friend or stranger, carrying out acts of compassion, or by being faithful to sacrificially love those in your church. The challenge is for all of us to stay in "mission-mode" and not to default to "maintenance-mode." When it comes to being missional, it is easy for Christians and local churches to be content in our bible studies, worship services and small groups and to forget the world. We do not drift toward mission, we drift away from it. It is not easy to be missional, it is hard work, it takes intentionality. It is much less stressful to hang out with people who look the same, smell the same and believe the same things we do. It is uncomfortable and challenging to intentionally spend time with people who hold differing world-views. But we must push through this discomfort because we are the church. We are the church, the called-out ones. We are the church, the sent-out ones. We are the church, on mission for the sake of the world.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Dangers of Pragmatic and Moralistic Preaching by Tim Keller

Here are a few thoughts on both pragmatic preaching and on moralistic preaching from Tim Keller. You can click the title of this blog entry to read the whole article. Sadly, this is the kind of preaching I have been hearing in the churches lately. And worse, these are the kinds of sermons I have been preaching for years!

On Pragmatic Preaching
...Today's preacher must argue against the self-serving pragmatism of postmodernity. The gospel does say that through it you find your life, but that first you must lose your life. I must say to people, "Christ will 'work' for you only if you are true to him whether he works for you or not. You must not come to him because he is fulfilling (though he is) but because he is true. If you seek to meet him in order to get your needs met, you will not meet him or get your needs met. To become a Christian is not to get help for your agenda, but to take on a whole new agenda—the will of God. You must obey him because you owe him your life, because he is your Creator and Redeemer."

On Moralistic Preaching
...Deep weariness etched every line of Joan's face and body. "I just can't do it any more," she said. "I can't live up to what a Christian is supposed to be. All my life I've had people telling me I had to be this or do that in order to be accepted. I thought Christ was supposed to bring me freedom from that, but instead God turns out to be just one more demanding taskmaster—in fact, he's the worst of them all!"

That conversation underscored for me that Christian moral teaching is both similar to, and very different from, that of other moral and ethical systems.

At the end of The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis demonstrates how the major religions agree on certain moral absolutes. Christians find that in today's culture wars, they often are on the same side with believing Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. The Christian preacher seems to be saying, "Be moral," along with exponents of other philosophies.

But when we ask, "Why be moral?" the other systems say, "In order to find God," while Christianity says, "Because God has found you." The Christian gospel is that we are not saved by moral living, we are saved for it. We are saved by grace alone, but that grace will inevitably issue in a moral life.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Religionless Spirituality by Tim Keller

Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. The church today is calling people to God with a tone of voice that seems to confirm their worst fears. Religion has always been outside-in—"if I behave out here in all these ways, then I will have God's blessing and love inside." But the gospel is inside-out—"if I know the blessing and grace of God inside, then I can behave out here in all these ways." A woman who had been attending our church for several months came to see me. "Do you think abortion is wrong?" she asked. I said that I did. "I'm coming now to see that maybe there is something wrong with it," she replied, "now that I have become a Christian here and have started studying the faith in the classes." As we spoke, I discovered that she was an Ivy League graduate, a lawyer, a long-time Manhattan resident, and an active member of the ACLU. She volunteered that she had experienced three abortions. "I want you to know," she said, "that if I had seen any literature or reference to the 'pro-life' movement, I would not have stayed through the first service. But I did stay, and I found faith in Christ. If abortion is wrong, you should certainly speak out against it, but I'm glad about the order in which you do it."

(Click on the blog entry title to read the entire article.)

In Search of Jesus part 4

We went to a presbyterian church this morning. We ran a little late and had to park a couple of blocks away missing the first 15-20 minutes of the service. It's been a while since I've been inside a traditionally designed sanctuary. I was surprised at how the stained glass and bronze memorial plaques had an impact on me. Something connected within me when I saw the colorful art of the large stained glass windows adoring the walls of the church. The choir did a really good job with the anthem. I don't know who the composer was but the only lyrics were "Alleluia." And no, it was not the Hallelujah Chorus!

When the announcements (aka. inimations) were made by one of the ministers (pastors), he seemed really nervous. Though he seemed to have a script (list), it seemed like he really didn't know what to say about the church members he was talking about. I think this minister just came on board and didn't know the congregation very well.

After the announcements, the minister called a "lay person" up front to read some passages of the Bible from the New Testament. She did a pretty good job. I remember thinking how much I appreciate the public reading of the Word of God. I thought it odd to think that since I really am not much of a traditionalist.

When it was time for the sermon, I was surprised to find out that it was the same minister who gave the announcements that was going to give the sermon! He started out very promising by getting right into the passage (Ephesians 1). I thought that he was going to do an exposition on that passage of Paul's epistle. But then everything fell apart. I tried really hard to listen but I could not comprehend what he was saying! It seemed to me that each sentence he spoke was not connected to the previous one nor to the sentence to follow. And I could not figure out what he was driving at. What was he trying to communicate to the congregation? It really was a mystery to me as he seemed to end abruptly as well.

Well, when I do these critiques and share my observations, it is with the perspective of a lost/unregenerate person. And I must say that I came away just confused. I am looking for the answer to these 3 questions when I visit churches:

1. Who is Jesus to this church?
2. What is the gospel according to this church?
3. What is the mission of this church to the city/nation/world?

I'm sad to say that I could not find the answer to these questions in this church experience. So for about 60 minutes this morning, nothing was said about Jesus, the gospel, or the church's mission to the world. I feel sorry for the people who took the time to dress up and attend this service.

Not wanting to end this on a sour note, I must say that the closing hymn was awesome. Rejoice the Lord is King is one of my favorite hymns. I had a tear in my eye when we sang the last stanza.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Discovering Contentment

Moving from Manila to Ottawa was a big risk for me and Beth. We had no promise of employment. No financial support from the church we had been leading for the past 8 years. It's been 3 months now, and we still have no source of income. It's hard for me to have to rely on others to meet our needs. It's an uncomfortable time in our lives now.

Paul's letter to the Philippians can be compared to a missionary's letter to his prayer partners and supporters. Early on in the letter, the apostle calls the Philippian church his "[partners] in the gospel from the first day until now (1:5)." The life of a apostle/missionary can be a life of sacrifice and hardship. Someone once commented that the hallmark of an apostle is a willingness to suffer. Paul's life is defintely a clear example of suffering for the sake of Christ and his Cause. And yet he could say that he was content.

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opprotunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13

Paul learned the secret to being content in whatever his circumstances. The active word here is "learned." The Greek word is "mathano" which means "to learn by use and practice." Contentment isn't something that comes easy. It's something that is learned and developed. Mathano is also a derivative from the Greek word "mathetes" which is the word for disciple. Paul was a disciple of contentment. His life experiences taught him about being content even in a time of need.

What keeps us from being content?

Too often we are not content because we see our friends, neighbors or other family members possessing things that we ourselves wish we had. We dream of what it would be like to have that car, that house, that barbeque grill, that job, that lawn, that wife! Our misguided fantasies create discontentment in our hearts.

I can point to the specific issues in my own lilfe where I struggled with envy as a preacher/speaker. I remember envying my pastor friend's prophetic anointing or another colleague's connections in the national church network. Years ago, as a young church planter, I recall the envy in my heart towards those who had more and more people attending their own church plants. I remember attending a leadership conference in one of the U.S.'s major megachurches and feeling so intimidated by the sprawling campus, brand-spanking new audio-visual equipment, multiple lcd projectors, and humungous cafeteria/atrium. I think I must have glowed green all weekend at that event.

Many of us are driven by greed. Our lives are all about accumulating things. Something deep in us convinces us that our lives amount to how much we can get. Our self-worth is based on our net worth. The size of our bank accounts, the number of cars parked in our driveway, gtetting the latest gadgets become the driving force in our lives. The Bible calls greed idolatry. Greedy people are always discontent. Someone once asked a billionaire Howard Hughes, "How much (money) is enough for you" His answer was, "Just one more dollar." Never content.

Complexity of Life
The complexity of life can make us feel discontent. We may be overwhlemed by the demands of life. The truth of the matter is that life is hard, life is unfair, and life is demanding. Though we wish we could put the demands on our lives in a waiting line and deal with them one at a time, the reality is that they come at us from every direction. A life like this not only brings increasing stress but also increasing discontent.

Our wants can cause us to be discontent. There is a distinction between our wants and our needs. God promises to meet our needs when we put him first in our lives (Matthew 6:33). But God does not promise to give us all our wants. The myriad of choices available in the world can cause a lot of discontentment in our hearts.

Isn't it so frustrating when you buy a computer and 6 months later a better, faster, smaller and improved version comes out at the same price? It seems we can never keep up with technology. Technological discontentment. I bought an iPod a while ago. Within a year or so, Apple came out with the iPod Nano with video! Last year, I bought an iBook G4. A week ago, Apple released the new Mac Book! Arrrrrrgggggh! iDiscontent!

Envy, greed, life complexity, and wants are all factors that war against our sense of contentment. They conspire to ensure that we never feel satisfied with our lives. So how do we learn to be content?

Learning to Be Content

1. Hang on to the goodness of God. Being a disciple of contentment means that we first and foremost become learners of God's character. Don't reduce God to be the Great Big Vending Machine in heaven. Some people will take God's goodness and pervert it to mean that God wants them to have everything they desire. By doing this, they justify their greed. God's goodness means that the things in your life -even the really crappy situations- are there to eventually do some good for you. Romans 8:28-29 tells us that ultimately every circumstance can be used to shape our character closer to the image of Christ. Being conformed to Christlikeness is the ultimate good.

2. Cultivate thankfulness. Discontentment is driven by a spirit of ingratitude. The foundations of contentment begin with thankfulness. Be thankful for God's goodness. Be thankful for what you do have. A grateful heart has no room to be discontent.

3. Recognize what is essential and what are the extras in your life. We were recently informed that the developer who designed and built our community will be making repairs to our house and property. Unstable soil movement has cause problems with the foundations of our house. And so, we have to pack up and move everything in the basement and in the garage into storage. This has caused us to realize how much we really have accumulated over the years. When we move all of our stuff back into the house, we're gonna have to determine what things are essential and what things are extras. Hopefully, this will put order to our domestic clutter. When we can accept what our essentials are and how God has provided for those essentials, we will be able to simplify our lives and discover the peace of contentment.

Returning to the Cross
When all is said and done, it is essential that we bring our discontentment to the cross. Forces like envy and greed are found in our hearts. And the only thing that can change our hearts is the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived the life we ought to have lived and died the death we should have died. By faith, we can return to the cross time and time again to deal with these recurring forces in our lives that produce discontentment and unrest.

The good news is that contentment isn't something that we need to work hard for. Contentment is a gift from God that can be received when we lay down our envy and greed at the cross through confession and repentance. At the cross, Jesus exchanges our greed and envy and unhealthy desires and ambitions for his peace and contentment.

Jesus was the embodiment of contentment. Not the contentment found when you empty your mind and your heart of all ambition and care (like Buddhism). Rather, Jesus was content because he trusted his Father in heaven. Jesus was content because he was more concerned about fulfilling his purpose than measuring his possessions.

When we recognize and admit that there are specific personal forces at work in our hearts that cause us to be ungrateful and discontent, we can repent (change our minds) and come to Christ in prayer and surrender our envy and greed to him. Those personal forces then are killed at the cross and Jesus gives us his life. From Christ, we receive the ability to appreciate God's goodness, cultivate thankfulness and simplify our lives. Beyond that, we can discover our purpose in Christ which becomes the great organizing factor of all we are and do. And this is why we can say with the apostle Paul, "I can do everything through him [Jesus] who gives me strength."

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Gospel According to Ottawa

So far, here is what I understand about Canadians in general and Ottawa/Orleans in particular:

1. They generally feel that religion is a private matter.
2. They are reluctant joiners.
3. They stay away from Americanism.
4. They value their freedom first and foremost. Next to freedom they value their friendships/relationships most.
5. They are sexually liberal. Orleans (east Ottawa) is considered to have the highest number of swingers in the area.
6. They have more confidence in religious leaders than in politcal leaders.
7. They value being loved and appreciated.
8. They see themselves as spiritual in a personal and private way.
9. They are spiritually open.
10. Their questions on life and death have not been addressed by the church.

With this in mind, the gospel must be contextualized to the Canadian mindset/culture. I propose the following approach.

The gospel must be presented as the power of God to address deeper heart issues. Canadians must be shown that the roots of personal and social damage is found in the hearts of men and women. And that the only solution to healing those roots is the cross of Jesus Christ. Sin must be presented not only as something to take responsibility for but also as a destrutcive force that other people and social systems have enacted against them. In other words, the gospel must also be the solution to the sins committed against them as well as the solution to the sins they themsleves have committed.

Sin must be postioned as spiritual choices made personally and by others that hinder their deepest personal freedoms and stunt their personal development. Canadians must be made to understand that there is a social dimension to sin; that sin damages culture a well as individual souls.

The response to the gospel must be threefold: personal, public, and purposeful. This is to say that Canadians must be called to personally follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And that following him means entering into intentional community with people in His church. But that intentional community and personal faith has a missional purpose which calls each Canadian to go beyond their cultural comfort zones and influence others for Jesus Christ.

This Canadian gospel must be communicated through at least 2 primary means: public proclamation where the cross is central to every message (see my entry on Christ-Centred Preaching) and through the practice of missional hospitality/friendship-building with disconnected people.

In Search of Jesus part 3

I want to put a disclaimer in this 3rd installment of In Search of Jesus. We have been visiting churches in our part of Ottawa, Canada to get a better understanding of what the Church (capital C) has been offering to the city. In no way do I want this to be misconstrued as sitting in judgment over these ministries; only the Lord Jesus has the right to judge anyone. My intent is to confirm something I have been suspecting about the Church. I suspect that the Church has been preaching morality rather than the gospel and that the cross is not central to the message of Jesus' Church. I have undertaken this personal project because I myself have erred in much the same way that I have written about regarding these churches. Having said that...

We went to a Baptist church yesterday. I appreciated that the service was at 11am. We got to sleep in a little and didn't have to feel rushed. Nice. There were just under 50 adults in attendance. Here are my observations.

Overall, I felt that the musical style, Bible version (KJV), and preaching style created a big DISCONNECT on a personal and cultural level. The congregational singing was accompanied by a piano and was led out of a hymnbook. They sang old Gospel hymns like the type you would hear in the US Midwest. The choice of songs had nothing to do with the message and the lyrics were outdated. Unfortunately, the pastor read the Bible passage he was preaching from out of the KJV. I don't think anyone could have possibly understood the story as he read it.

As for the pastor's preaching, I appreciated that he taught the Bible as an exposition. This did not happen in the 2 previous churches I had visited (see In Search of Jesus 1 and 2). Unfortunately, the pastor had a habit of scrunching up his face quite often giving the impression that he was angry or disgusted. This happened a LOT. He did not give us background or context of the passage he read from so we didn't know where the story fit in the big picture. The pastor had way too many references to other passages that really distracted from the main passage he was teaching from. He referred to several obscure passages assuming that the congregation was familiar with them. He also used a lot of "christianese" like judicial forgiveness, gloriously saved, born again, remission etc.

In all fairness, of the 3 pastors whose churches we've visited, this pastor was the only one who tied in his teaching to following Jesus as a disciple. That in itself far outweighs all of the negatives I listed far as I am concerned.

When I visit churches I have been asking 3 questions:

1. Who is Jesus according to this church?
2. What is the gospel according to this church?
3. What is Jesus' mission in this city according to this church?

This is what I discovered in this Baptist church:

1. Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross as the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.

2. The gospel message (according to a tract they give to every visitor) is about having one's sins forgiven by trusting in Jesus Christ. Nothing else is mentioned about the benefits of the gospel except forgiveness of sin.

3. Nothing was ever communicated about the mission of Jesus or the Church in the city.

Though I truly appreciated that this church taught the Word of God, Jesus and the cross were still not central to the message of this church. They were relegated exclusively to the beginning of the Christian life. This is something I suspected that most churches were doing. In visiting other churches, I have been confirming this suspicion.

Are 3 churches enough to make this conclusion? A Seeker church, a Baptist church, and a Pentecostal church. Hmmm....I think we will visit an Alliance church next.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Decoding Culture part 4

Here's are excerpts from Alison Johnson's Harvest Field Research Initiative: Summary of Findings Religion Data (August 2003). This is based on 2001 Canadian Census data. You can read the full report here.

Our greatest challenge in Ottawa-Hull is not with those of Other Faiths or those with No Religion, it is with the vast majority of people who associate themselves with the Christian Faith, but are not active disciples. The challenge is how to reconnect with these people.

If we describe ‘Unreached’ people are those who have not made a positive connection with the gospel as evidenced by lack of regular participation in church services (yearly or never). It is our focus to connect with these people through various means to share the whole gospel and connect them with a church family where they can be discipled. Unreached people represent 69% of the Ottawa-Hull population. 68% in Ottawa and 72% in Hull.

Despite limited involvement now there is a growing trend to affiliate with a religious group for life events such as weddings, birth-related events and funerals. Also the vast majority of Canadians believe that God exists and pray privately. There is a hunger for spiritual things and 41% of Ontarians and 57% of Quebecers say that they have experienced God’s presence.

However, the Church is not meeting their needs. The No Religion group is the religious group which grew the most between 1991 and 2001 in Canada and Ottawa-Hull. Most of these people are younger.

Religion of Children
Judeo-Christian religious groups tend to remain dominant in Canada despite intermarrying between religious groups. In the Judeo-Christian family it appears that the mother’s religion is the strongest indicator of the children’s religion

Confidence and Values
• Canadians are more confident in religious leaders than in government leaders. More than half of all Canadians (56%) believe that ministers should be addressing social, economic and political issues, including 51% of those who say they have no religion.

• Top values for Canadians are: freedom, family life, being loved and friendship which can be summarized as freedom and relationships. These are followed by a comfortable life, success and creativity. Religion and spirituality are important to those already involved in religion.

• Canadians' questions about life and death are not being addressed.

• There was little difference by generation in expression of spiritual needs or in the belief that one is spiritual. More than half of Canadians see themselves as spiritual, and a solid majority say they have spiritual needs. Despite this most keep it to themselves. The less often one attends religious services the more likely they are to keep their spirituality to themselves. 60% of yearly attenders and 80% of nevers, keep their spirituality pretty much to themselves as opposed to sharing it outside a religious group.

• There is a stirring among large numbers of people outside the churches who are pursuing answers about life and death and spiritual needs with more openness than at perhaps any time in our nation’s history.
• 3 in 4 Canadians are talking to God at least occasionally. 2 in 4 Canadians think they have actually experienced God’s presence.
• 55% of adults who are currently attending services less than monthly say they would ‘consider the possibility of being more involved in a religious group if they found it to be worthwhile for themselves or their families.’ What would make it worthwhile varies. Here are Bibby’s conclusions at this point although he indicates that more research is required:
o ‘Nones’ may need to be convinced that their needs can be met;
o Catholics that the Church is capable of change, openness and flexibility;
o Mainline Protestants that particular emphasis to the children, partner, and friendship networks will be given.
• ‘All is well on the demand side. It’s the supply side that poses the problem.’ The belief systems and programs offered by churches and other religious groups are simply not connecting with the people who need them or think they might need them at some point in the future.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Church Keeps On Growing and Growing and...

I love it! Just got some great news from my leaders in Manila. We've almost doubled the number of simple churches in our network from when I left 3 months ago. We've gone from 10 simple churches to 18 simple churches meeting this week. And apparently, 3 more new simple churches will meet this Sunday. That makes it 21 simple churches in the NuComm Network. Awesome!

Tactical Communication

Tonight, I attended my brother's (Sonny) seminar on Tactical Communication: Improving Interpersonal Communication Skills and Diffusing Aggressive Behaviour Through Verbal and Nonverbal Messages. This is a required class for those working in the network of 12 bars and restaurants in the Byward Market, Ottawa. I was impressed by his ability to apply the materials to the service industry. He really is an expert in his field. 15 years working in the Byward Market makes him quite knowledgeable.

He ended the teaching part outlining Strategies for Conflict Prevention. The workbook lists 15 of these strategies. As I listened to his explanations, I realized that these are great guiding principles for those of us who attempt to share the gospel with people. Check them out. I will list them as they appear in the workbook but I'll add commentary in parentheses:

1. If not in clearly marked uniform, identify yourself. (This speaks to the need for Christians not to be ashamed to be identified as followers of Christ.)

2. Establish rapport as soon as possible.

3. Always begin in a friendly way.

4. If possible avoid any physical contact. ( I'm not sure how this applies to faith sharing. Maybe in the area of inappropriate touch?)

5. Utilize positive body language.

6. Actively listen ---do not interrupt.

7. Appear fair and unbiased. (Although our end goal is to eventually help people make a decision to follow Christ, in the process of sharing we should be fair and unbiased especially when you talk about other religions.)

8. Make an effort to honestly see things from the other person's point of view. (Awesome advice!)

9. If you're wrong admit it quickly. (It would be refreshing for Christians to admit their faults and failure in sharing the gospel. Most of us make the mistake of thinking we have to be perfect, successful, victorious etc. to be a convincing witness for Christ.)

10. Do not say the first thing in your mind especially if you have become angered or offended.

11. Use agreement/word re-direction.

12. Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say, "you're wrong" re-direction of words "I see and..."

13. Get the person saying "yes" immediatley. (It's good to build common ground here.)

14. Important to remain calm and in control at all times.

15. Remember the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day!

May we all honor the women in our lives who have exhibited amazing strength and courage in raising a generation of men and women to follow after them to the best they knew how with the resources they had and the opprtunity availabe to them.

I honor my own mother, Adeluisa F. Juane, who showed incredible strength, faith, and foresight as she raised 3 boys to become responsible, courageous men...all by herself! As she proudly says, "I'm so glad that I know that none of my sons will ever grow hungry. They know how to take care of themselves." Today, she continues to demonstrate the same strength and faith more than ever.

Thanks, Ma! I love you.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Decoding Culture part 3

Belief strong in Canada, but the pews are empty: Poll shows 'there is a thriving privatized faith'

This was the headline in the online version of the National Post for April 15,2006. The article quoted Andrew Grenville, senior vice-president of Ipsos Reid which conducted a Canadian religious survey weeks leading to Easter this year as saying, "There's a huge gap between those who believe and those who belong." Reginald Bibby, a Canadian sociologist and former Baptist pastor in Canada and the U.S. has claimed that 25% of Canadians attend church on a weekly basis. However, says differently. The site claims that Canadians (and Americans) are lying to pollsters. The real figure is about 10%.

But I think one thing is clear in decoding Canadian culture. There is a definite bias towards a private faith. How does the church engage a culture that strongly believes that one's beliefs are best kept private? It behooves churchplanters to demonstrate the benefits of allowing one's beliefs to impact society. Churchplanting in Canada will be even more of a challenge because of this.

In Search of Jesus part 2 (Redux)

This morning we attended the 9am service of a popular Pentecostal church in East Ottawa. Just as I did last Sunday at the WCA church, I wanted to see this church from the eyes and ears of someone who did not know Christ. It was a bit difficult since I did know most of the people on staff at this church and several of the members who attend. But laying aside those factors, the following is what I observed:

1. The music was culturally relevant but the sound levels were so low that it was difficult to really appreciate and allow the music to inspire us. The music and musicians were great. But the level at which they were set was uninspiring.

2. There was a strong family feel in the atmosphere which included the recognition of one of the staff members retiring and the person who would replace her.

3. I was greeted by about half a dozen people before and after the service. This would have been great if this is what a visitor would experience. Sadly, this church has a reputation for not being that friendly.

4. Jesus was barely mentioned during the sermon. This was disappointing since there were some really good opportunities to bring Jesus into the talk. For example, when the preacher said that the perfect example of obedience was Jonah, I thought that he could have brought Jesus in as the Perfect example. This could have been tied in to say that even though we are inconsistent with our own obedience, Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died. His complete obedience makes up for our disobedience. And through Christ, we can receive God's blessings.

I guess I'm really sensitive to the lack of Jesus being the center of our messages these days. I saw it in the WCA church last week. And I saw it again in this Pentecostal church.

Again, the Bible was the central figure in this church not Jesus. And the more I see this happening, the more I am convinced that there is a HUGE difference between being Bible-centered and being Jesus-centered. They are NOT the same thing.

So thus far, I have been able to observe 2 kinds of churches in Orleans. One was a seeker-sensitive type of church and the other a Pentecostal church. One was a small church of less than 100 and the other a large church with about 1000 or so people. Both have been around for over 10 years. And both did not seem to preach Jesus as the central figure. Both did preach the Bible. But what they communicated was a "try harder and do more" kind of message which isn't really good news at all, is it?

(I have deleted certain sections of this post in the interest of sincere love for those who may have been personally hurt by my comments in those earlier sections. I believe in freedom of speech. And I believe in the necessity of the Church to critique itself even though it may be painful to hear. None of my comments in the In Search of Jesus thread on this blog were meant to hurt anyone nor name specific names. I call them as I see them from my POV. However, in the interest of sensitivity and to maintain honor and respect to individuals who are sensitive to those previous comments, I have edited some content here. -MAJ)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Decoding Culture part 2

In his review of Michael Adams' Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, Jordon Cooper from makes this conclusion which I tend to agree with:

-The American worldview is dominating our church in Canada which may explain why the exodus of Canadians continues to move away from the church. Some may say that the people are leaving the Gospel but I don't agree. I think the Canadian church has taken some shortcuts and is taking answers from south of the border without asking the hard answers ourselves. Just as part of the country votes for neo-conservative values and feels that they can have success, the church looks around and takes comfort in the fact that "these people are listening to what I am saying" without ever thinking that the majority is looking and going, "that doesn't jive with anything I am seeing".-

This makes the job of decoding Canadian culture all the more important. What I have been observing is that rather than taking the time to do the hard work of decoding culture, the tendency for church planters is to be captivated by a model of ministry (Willow Creek, Saddleback, G12, emerging etc.) and then entering into a community and simply implementing that model. This may be why Ottawa has yet to see a significant spiritual movement and why the city does not have a single megachurch in her midst.

One thing for sure, any missional church that wants to reach Canadians must not come across as an American import.

Monday, May 01, 2006

In Search of Jesus

Last Sunday, our family along with my cousin's family decided to visit a church we had heard about in our neighborhood. It is a Willow Creek Association church which has been meeting in a French elementary school just a few blocks away from our house. I was intruigued because it was the first church in Orleans that I knew of that was connected to Willow Creek.

When we got there we saw that the service was in the gym which they had split conveniently in two so that their children's ministry could meet on the other side. Seating was around large round tables - the kind you use for fundraising dinners. It looked like our two families comprised almost half the congregation. There was a small band set up with drums, bass, acoustic guitar and keyboard in the front. There was no stage. The LCD projector was large but of good quality. There was no pulpit in sight but there were several awkwardly placed music stands for the band and for the speaker. A coffee table was set up on the side but I couldn't figure out where the coffee was on the table. Though they did have a lot of bagels.

The program started with the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" led by the drummer. This was followed by a welcome and announcements by the pastor's wife/keyboardist. She also introduced a movie clip from "The Truman Show." I didn't quite understand the point of the clip. But the theme of the day was Spiritual Spring Cleaning: Removing the Clutter. After the clip, the pastor stood up to preach. The whole setting was casual and light. I think I may have overdressed wearing corduroy pants, crew neck t-shirt and a brown, cotton jacket. After the pastor ended his sermon, the band led in a closing song.

We got to talk to the pastor and his wife. They were both very nice people. Apparently they had started the church in their home about 10 years ago. It was very kind of the pastor to sit and talk with us for such a long time since we made it clear that we weren't really searching for a church but that we were just visiting churches in the area. They both admitted that that's why they did the first few months they moved into Orleans before they started the church.

As I sat through the service, I couldn't help but get flashbacks when I had started our first church plant in Orleans almost 15 years ago. We didn't last one year at the time due to a lack of experience and not knowing what to really expect in churchplanting. If I had to compare what we did to what we had experienced last Sunday, I'd have to say that we were doing pretty good 15 years ago without even knowing it. Lots of lessons learned. This Willow Creek-style church really reminded me of how we tried to do it. This time though, as I sat through the program, I had a more discerning perspective.

The intention and mission of the seeker sensitive model is quite noble and Biblical: turn unchurched people into fully devoted followers of Christ. But I think I see where the holes are in the seeker approach. By seeing it like this on Sunday, I also saw where I had made grave errors.

As I observed the proceedings and listened to the message, I asked, "Who is Jesus to these people? Or who do they portray him to be?" Unfortunately, Jesus was barely mentioned except for a passing remark when the preacher quoted from the Sermon on the Mount under one of his points. This positioned Jesus at best as someone who said some things about wise living and at worst a marginalized figure in the church.

I also tried to discern what the gospel was as presented through the experience. It seemed to me that the Bible was the central figure rather than Jesus. Biblical principles were shared on how to overcome struggles with fear and worry. What came across was, if you obey these Biblical principles your life will get better. But then I thought, "Isn't this the same "do this and God will give you this" religion?

In talking to the pastor and his wife -whom I truly believe loves the Lord and have laid down their lives for the kingdom- I know that their approach to Christianity is the "Christianity is not a religion but a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" kind of deal. This is the same mistake I believe I have been making for years. Oh, it's not a theological mistake. It really is about a relationiship to Jesus Christ and not religion. It is more of a missiological error.

These days, as I try to be more missional and see things from a non-Christian perspective, the whole "personal relationiship with Jesus" angle seems a little soft especially if I'm trying to reach men (the toughest audience no matter what culture you're in). It's starting to sound a little effeminate and gay when the gospel is presented as having a loving personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe it's because of our reference point. Which Jesus do you have a personal relationship with? The hippie Jesus in the gospels who walked around jobless with a bunch of guys loving on people and who got a beating for doing it? Or are we talking about the post-resurrection Jesus who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords with fire in his eyes, a sword in his mouth, and a tatoo on his leg ready to open up a can of whoop ass on the nations?

In dealing with the theme of worry and fear, I think he should have brought us to the cross. We should have been provoked to search our hearts asking, "What is the root of our fear and worry? What is going on in our hearts that causes us this distress?" And once our hearts -filled with self-centeredness, pride, unbelief and a desire to be in control- were exposed, we could have been led to the cross where these things can be dealt with. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can deal with the human heart. And only repentance before a mighty Jesus can transform fear into faith and worry into worship.

I think that in the work that we plant here in Ottawa, the message of the cross must be central no matter what topic we teach on. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." The church of Jesus Christ must proclaim Him faithfully to this culture. The cross is the only hope for any society.

Decoding Canadian Culture part 1

This is the first installment of a series of posts in my attempt to decode Canadian culture. I'll specifically focus on the kind of culture we find in Ottawa, the nation's capital.

Canadian culture is much more secular than American culture. Religion plays no major role in public life. Spirituality is something that you do personally and privately. Offending other people due to religion is a major faux pas. Here's a quote from the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Click here for the whole article.

"Canada's ceremony on Parliament Hill, after the events in New York on September 11, 2001,was telling. God's name was not uttered, and prayer, hymn singing or reading from scripture of any religion were absent. This stems presumably from the belief that, if such activities took place, someone, somehow, somewhere might be offended."
-David Horrox, Presbyterian Church in Canada

Unlike American culture where Christianity is very much a civil religion and where national roots are generally recognized as Christian, Canada seems to have more in common with post-Christian Europe. Religion is institutional. It has no place in public policy as seen with how Stockwell Day was treated when he led the Conservative Alliance party in 2000.

This will greatly impact the way we approach our mission to help disconnected people become fully devoted followers of Christ. Unlike the American church, we cannot take a direct marketing approach to promote Jesus, the gospel, or the church. Canadians are extremely sensitive to this kind of "hard sell." I believe that the practice of hospitality will be a key to reaching Canadians.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Christ-Centered Preaching

Rev. Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City publishes a newsletter called The Movement which has a great article on preaching. The article made me realize how few Christ-centered sermons I've actually preached in my 24 years of preaching. Click here for the article titled "Keller on Preaching in a Post-Modern City."

What I've come to realize is that much of what we call Bible-based preaching is not really Christ-centered! Rather, sermons tend to be moralistic rather than rooted in the gospel. It's wonderful that even after preaching thousands of sermons in 24 years, that there is still so much to learn.

Not all Bible-based preaching is Chrsit-centered. We can approach the Bible in one of two ways: It is either about me or it is about Christ. When I approach the Bible in a me-centered way, then it is a book full of exmaples that I "should" follow. It is a book that teaches me to try harder to be like the characters in it.

But if I (rightly) approach the Bible in a way that says it's about Christ then I don't see the stories as examples but I see Christ there. It points me to Christ everytime whether I am preaching on Abraham and Isaac, David and Goliath, or on tithing. It all points to Christ. Tim Keller's article shows how to do this.

Let me know if this article was helpful to you and what thoughts it may have stimulated about your own preaching.

A Few Pics from Orlando

Monday, April 17, 2006

Now This Is A Vacation!

Well we got back from Seattle and 4 days later...Here we are in Orlando, Florida - home of Micky Mouse!

We drove 26 hours from Ottawa to Orlando without spending a night in a hotel. Surprisingly, it was a nice trip here. We left Friday night around 8pm and arrived about 11:30pm on Saturday - guess that makes it a 27 hour trip. 3 of those hours were spent going to the bathroom, getting lost on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (FOG!), eating breakfast at an IHOP in Washington DC etc.

We're staying at Orange Lake Resort - beautiful, spacious, clean, and only 15 minutes away from Micky, Epcot, Universal Studios, and Seaworld. Since it was the Easter weekend, we won't be able to get into Disney until tomorrow. So we're just chillin' here at the resort. Nice 2 day rest after such a long drive.

We make the long drive back to Ottawa Saturday morning...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Sky is Falling?!?!

Found Alan Roxburgh's new book waiting for me when I got back from Seattle tonight. Got ambushed by something in the preface. I noticed the popularity of Joel Osteen's book, "Your Best Life Now." I can't help but mention that Oprah Winfrey popularized the phrase, "Living Your Best Life!" Then here comes Roxburgh in his preface:

Throughout Western societies, and most especially in North America, there has occurred a fundamental shift in the understanding and practice of the Christian story. It is no longer about God and what God is about in the world; it is about how God serves and meets human needs and desires. It is about how individual self can find its own purposes and fulfillment. More specifically, our churches have become spiritual food courts for the personal, private, inner needs of expressive individuals. The result is a debased, compromised, derivative form of Christianity that is not the gospel of the Bible at all. The biblical narrative is about God's mission in, through, and for the sake of the world and how God has called human beings to be part of God's reaching out to that world for God's purpose of saving it in love. The focus of attention should be what God wants to accomplish and how we can be part of God's mission, not how God helps us accomplish our own agendas. -Alan Roxburgh

In our desperation to connect to a lost and fallen world, is part of the Church pandering to the self-centered, self-fulfilling humanism made popular by celebs like Oprah?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Gospel Response

If the gospel we preach is not understood as ultimately an invitation to radically change our lives for Jesus Christ so that people either desire to change or rebelliously reject the message then the following might be the problem(s):

1. We did not communicate the gospel message in a way that our culture understood.

2. We compromised the contents of the gospel to make it less offensive thus making it an impotent message.

3. We (Christians in that culture) created an unreceptive environment through legalism or compromise or anything else that distorted people's perception of the church, God, and/or Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll

Here are some excerpts from the book as promised:

The way to avoid sin is not to avoid sinners but to stick close to Jesus.

Anytime that Jesus is used as a means to an end, a false gospel has been introduced and the thing improperly focused on becomes a false god.

Reformission requires that every Christian and church realize that is about not something they do but something they are. We are all on mission with Jesus everyday, and we are either good missionaries or bad.

Reformission requires that in our increasingly individualistic, lonely, and depressed culture, we avoid proclaiming soley a personal relationship with Jesus. The gospel requires us to proclaim and embody the full work of Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus has accomplished four things which people long for. First, Jesus takes away the sins that separate us from God so that we can be connected to God, which fills our spiritual longings. Second, Jesus takes away the sins that separate us from each other so that we can be reconciled to each other as the church, which fills our social longings. Third, Jesus forgives the sins we have committed, thereby cleansing us of filth, which fills our emotional longing for forgiveness. Fourth, Jesus cleanses us of defilement that has come upon us through the sins of others, which fulfills our psychological longing for healing, cleansing, and new life.

To be faithful in reformission, we must embed ourselves in a culture and develop friendships with lost people so that we can be informed and avoid making erroneous judgments.

Reformission is not about abstention; it is about redemption. We must throw ourselves into the culture so that all that God made good is taken back and used in a way that glorifies him. Our goal is not to avoid drinking, singing, working, playing, eating, lovemaking, and the like. Instead, our goal must be to redeem those things through the power of the gospel so that they are used rightly according to Scripture, bringing God glory and his people a satisfied joy.

Alki, Seattle

These are pics from a place in West Seattle called Alki. I wish I could say Alki Beach but that's a couple more miles further from where these pictures were taken. It was so beautiful. The sun was already setting so the lighting is dimmer that I would have liked. The road running along this shore goes to Alki Point. I think it's called Harbor Blvd. We ate at a place along the road called Spud's Fish and Chips. It's been around for 70 years! It turns out that the road, which was lined with a mix of old homes and condos becomes a beach near Spud's. Sweeeeeeeet!

We stayed until it got dark. The Seattle skyline was beautiful in the dark. I loved the sound of lapping waves on the shore. And the view of the stars in the crisp night sky. The sky seems bigger here.

Mars Hill Church: Gospel, Culture, and Church

I recently attended Mars Hill Church in Seattle where Pastor Mark Driscoll has been leading a postmodern congregation of about 3000 for the past 7 years. You can check out their website at They have downloadable sermons and vodcasts available there. We attended their morning service in Shoreline (north Seattle) last Sunday. The Shoreline congregation started last January lang. It was a great set up with only a drummer, bassist, and pianist/guitarist leading worship. Simple but really cool. I was inspired by the style of worship. 3-piece band with drums, bass, and keyboard/guitar. Simple but musically really good.

Before we left the service, I bought 2 books at a discounted price. One of them is Mark Driscoll’s book, “The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out.” I’ll be posting some quotes from the book shortly after I finish writing this. My favorite quote from chapter 1 is...The way to avoid sin is not to avoid sinners but to stick close to Jesus.

One of the issues that Driscoll has me dwelling on is the importance of knowing our culture so that we can reorganize ourselves to be able to connect to people in ways that clearly communicate the gospel. In the book he makes the point by citing that Billy Graham’s Steps to Peace with God appealed to a generation that understood the gospel in terms of peace because they had gone through the experience of World War II and were searching for a way to find peace. Bill Bright’s Four Spiritual Laws appealed to a generation of students who accepted the absolutes of Newtonian physics. But this wouldn’t fly to a generation that’s been raised on Quantum Physics and the New Sciences. It’s very interesting how Mars Hill Church has contextualized the gospel for the Seattle culture.

I'm including below a list of questions from the book that I think would be helpful for anyone seriously thinking of impacting a culture for the kingdom of God. You will need to spend some time to talk to people about these issues -especially disconnected pre-believers.

This issue has caused me to plan to stop and take the time to do this exercise myself before we start anything in Ottawa. Here are the questions for understanding the cultural context in which we advance the kingdom. I think it is important to begin with specifying which age group or mindset you are trying to reach and how they would answer these questions.

Understanding the Culture We’re In

1. Where do people spend their time and money?
2. What do people do during their free time?
3. What do they fear?
4. What do they dream about?
5. Where do they shop?
6. What cultural experiences do they value?
7. What are the most painful experiences they have had?
8. What music do they listen to?
9. What film and television do they watch?
10. What do they find humorous?
11. In what ways are they self-righteous?
12. What do they read?
13. What is their spirituality?
14. Whom do they trust? Why?
15. What do they think about the gospel?
16. What sins will the gospel first confront and then heal for these people?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Questions for Designing Worship Gatherings

Dan Kimball has a great list of 7 questions to ask when designing worship experiences:

1. Did we lift the name of Jesus up as the centrepiece of why we gathered?

2. Did we have a time in the Scriptures learning the story of God and man? Did we invite everyone to be part of his story in kingdom living?

3. Did we pray together and have enough time to slow down and quiet our hearts to hear God's voice and yield to his Spirit?

4. Did we experience the joy, love, and encouragement of being together as a church?

5. Did we take the Lord's Supper together as a church regularly?

6. Did we somehow remind everyone of the mission of the church and why we exist?

7. Did we enable people to individually contribute something as part of the Body of Christ?

I think this would be great to ask both during the design process AND after as an evaluation...

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Lifestyle Change

I've been thinking about our new life in Ottawa. Not so much the ministry aspect as the personal aspect. I know I need to make lifestyle changes. I want to live a more active life. I want to lose a considerable amount of weight. I want to enjoy the outdoors and sports more. But I want it to be a joy not an obligation.

When I was in high school, I must have spent 5 hours a day in physical activity. I would go to school early so my friends and I could use the gym to play full court basketball. During the lunch hour, we would play volleyball. And then after school, I would spend 2-1/2 hours in practice (basketball, volleyball, or rugby - depending on the season). When we were in between seasons, my friends and I would drive over to the other side of town to the Nepean Sportsplex to play a pick up game of semi-competitive volleyball.

What I look forward to are bike rides, daily walks, trail hikes, camping, basketball, volleyball...and more. rides along the Rideau Canal (check out the pic!)...B-E-A-utiful! Now I'm excited! When will this vacation end?! :-)

Still On Vacation!

10 more days before we go back to Ottawa. Now Beth has joined the kids in their chorus of wanting to get back. We have 4 big boxes that just came in containing alot of our stuff from the Philippines. She's anxious to unpack and get started with our new life. Can't say I blame her.

I'm enjoying the down time. But it is difficult to live in someone else's house where you have to keep your guard up to make sure you don't wreck anything or disturb something that shouldn't be touched.

In a few hours, I'll be meeting up with a couple of guys to teach them how to do a Life Transformation Group. I wonder if they'll even show up?

Acts 10, 2006

Just got back from a very interesting experience.

I was invited by a friend of mine visiting Seattle from New Jersey to come over to his sister's (Chinky) house to pray for his brother-in-law (Jun) who has cancer in his lungs. We got there around 7pm and the living and dining rooms were full! Even my friend did not expect that many people. Apparently, Jun and Chinky called the extended family over for the "healing service."

We sang a few song led by Marion (my friend's wife) on the piano. My friend, Luther, opened in prayer. Then I came up to share about Jesus from Mark 1 where He healed a leper. I pointed out that it wasn't Jesus' ability that was in question but his willingness. I think a lot of people are like that. They don't doubt God's ability to heal but His willingness to do so.

I preached about Jesus and who he was and what he did on the cross. I felt like I was in Cornelius' house (cf. Acts 10). It was quite a sight.

Then we prayed for two people's healing. Jun, who was suffering from lung cancer. And Edna, who has thyroid cancer. Both felt something as we prayed. I sensed the presence of the Lord. We ended the night with dinner for all. Wow! It was like living the New Testament. I loved it. I had everyone hug the person next to them before we ate. Great atmosphere!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Still On Vacation

Beth and I just got in from a nice walk in the Lake Forest Park neighborhood. This vacation has been really good except for my youngest daughter, Micah-el, getting a tooth infection. It's been a long one though. Both kids miss Ottawa badly. They've been asking when we will go back home.

I was surprised when I measured my blood sugar level after our walk. It's 4 times higher than it should be. It really is a pain to have Type II Diabetes. I hate it. But the real question is, "Do I hate it enough to do what it takes not only to control it but also deal with it once and for all?" I've heard of people with Type II who were able to basically revert to normal and discard all medication. God, grant me the will to do the thing I know I ought to do!

In spite of that, it sure is nice to get out in nature and breathe clean air. Maybe tapping into that love for nature can help with this blood sugar thing?

Call for Topics

Please send me any topics you might want me to cover here. I need to know what you want to know.
I might not know everything on everything but I do know somethings about a few things. I'm trying to narrow the topics I should write about here (though I will always include updates on me and my family and book recommendations) so I need your help.

Just hit the comment button below and suggest away...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Starbucks c. 1971

While in Seattle, we took an hour long walk through the downtown area and through the historic Pike Place Market. Near the north end of the market we discovered the very first Starbucks that opened in 1971. This gold post certifies for all customers that this is where it all began. Very nostalgic for me as many of you know that I am a big fan of Starbucks for both its coffee and it's business philosophy. Though I did forget my digital camera in the van (!) I was able to snag a pic. I can truly verify that this is what we saw today.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Mt. Rainier, Washington State

Here we are at Mt. Rainier. We didn't get all the way to the top but it was so beautiful up here. It was already the first day of spring but at this height, snow stays cold. You can't see it too well from the angle but the snow caps were blue when we took this shot. The peaks shot through the clouds and reflected the azure sky off the snow. Wow!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Encounter @ Ronald UMC, Seattle 2006.03.18

I conducted an Encounter Weekend at Ronald United Methodist Church in Seattle. The event started on Friday night and ended Saturday night. I taught all 6 sessions. It went very well. Participants from another church (Beacon UMC) want to hold an Encounter for their congregation. Here's what it looked like...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Everyday Spirituality

It's possible to learn to recognize the myriad ways that God touches us outside of that which is openly spiritual and we can share these moments with others. God touches us through painful growth experiences of loss and grief, through moments of creative and athletic excellence, through moments of victory over our problems and through the tenderness of relationships. God's grace falls on the just and unjust alike. All humanity experiences God's hand. These moments when we touch something eternal and noble and good are God's footprints in our lives---His prevenient grace. People need to realize that the God they feel they do not know has, in fact, been at work already in their lives in many ways. -Chris Harding quoted in THE SHAPING OF THINGS TO COME by Frost and Hirsch

Our approach to spirituality has been highjacked by Greek dualism where life is divided into two part: the material or natural part and the spiritual part. Generally, the material part of life is looked down upon and considered something to be conquered not redeemed. The spiritual is looked upon as the better part or the good part that only matters.

This dualism is what makes those of us seeking to live more spiritual lives seem schizophrenic. What we need to understand is that God doesn't look at life in that way. Life is much more complexly and messily integrated. This is the message of the Incarnation. God sees the material as essential to existence. We act and live through our bodies. I used to admire the saying, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience." I realize now that this only promotes the kind of dualism that causes so much consternation in Christian discipleship.

What we need is a spirituality of incarnation. Mike Slaughter once wrote that, "Incarnation is where the sacred and the secular meet." Incarnational spirituality creates a vibrant spirituality. One that can embrace all of life and does not compartmentalize spirit from everything else. This kind of spirituality embraces all of our God-created passions like nobility, love, sex, ambition, dreams, hope, etc.

We feel God when we feel the excitement of the underdog beating the favorite team. We feel God when we are moved to tears by a powerful scene in a movie. We feel God when we come alive when we fall in love. These are all ordinary moments. But these moments are very compelling. Moments when God touches our soul in the ordinary things in life.

People who live in this way make spirituality something real, tangible and attainable. Jesus was just like this. He lived in such a way that he embraced all of life. He saw the Spirit in everything and not just in "spiritual things."

Followers of Christ who embrace life in this way can draw people into God's unfolding story in the following ways:

1. Appreciate everyday moments.

2. Nurture a sense of wonder and awe.

3. Be extraordinarily loving.

4. Connect to God's presence in all creation.

5. Embrace life!

Vive-le! (French)
L'chaim! (Hebrew)
Mabuhay! (Filipino)

Seattle 2006.03.14

Tomorrow, we fly out to Seattle. The home of the Sonics, Bill Gates, Frasier, Mt. Rainier and where I had my close encounter of the God kind. It's been several years since I've been back to Seattle. But the place always stirs up a sense of nostalgia whenever I think about it. I'm really looking forward to bringing Beth and the kids to Mt. Rainier. Beautiful up there!

I've noticed lately that I've been reconnecting to all things nature. Crisp cold air. Bright clear sky. The smell of melting snow. These things are all around us and are easily taken for granted. It's good for my soul to see these things as if for the first time.

Seattle will have me busy. I'll be conducting an Encounter this weekend. I'm speaking at Ronald United Methodist Church on Sunday. Then the next Sunday, I'll be speaking at Beacon UMC. We're in Seattle for a total of 4 weeks. The remaining weekends may have me speak at churches outside Washington State.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Tom Peters posted this on his website. Click the title above to go to the link.

Robert Altman
Mr Altman won the lifetime achievement award at the Oscars last night. I loved this from his acceptance remarks, and I paraphrase: "The role of the Director is to create a space where the actor or actress can become more than they've ever been before." (Or, maybe: "dreamed of being." Better yet. I'll have to find a transcript.)

To me that's the essence of leadership—in any context.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


It's a gorgeous Sunday. Right now. Right here. We went to TLC's early church service then had family time at Tim Horton's, picked up some fruits at Food Basics, window shopped at Henry's Electronics, Sport Mart and Dollar Blitz. When we came home, we sat down to watch Nemo with the kids but caught a good portion of Dr. Wayne Dyer on PBS. Wow!

Here is this guy speaking with passion, energy, and life talking about being inspired. He described how living an inspired life awakens dormant senses within you. Living an inspired life elevates your life causing you to live with a greater awareness of connection and spirit.

Family Circle magazine interviewed him. Here was the opening question and Dyer's response:

FC: What is intention?

Dyer: It's the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is when you get hold of an idea and don't let go of it until you make it a reality. Inspiration is the reverse - when an idea gets hold of you and you feel compelled to let that impulse or energy carry you along. You get to a point where you realize that you're no longer in charge, that there's a driving force inside you that can't be stopped. Look at the great athletes, musician, artists, and writers. They all tap into a source.

FC: What is that source?

Dyer: Some call that source God or soul or spirit or consciousness.

Now, mind you, Dyer is definitely connected to New Age philosophy. But he was speaking a language that tapped into the inner passion of every human being. He was defintely inspiring.

And I contrasted that with our experience at TLC this morning and most people's experience with the church. I exclaimed to Beth, "Now why couldn't church be that inspiring!?" I thought of our spiritual community's monthly Fuel gathering and said, "Fuel should be this inspiring!"

Much of what Dyer taught aligns with Biblical truth and the teachings of Jesus. This validated what Scripture teaches in Romans 1:19-21 in the New Living Translation:

19For the truth about God is known to them instinctively.[a] God has put this knowledge in their hearts. 20From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. 21Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused.

Wayne Dyer and motivational teachers like him are defintely tapping into something harmonious with The Divine Character. Though they do not acknowledge God as a personal and holy God, they've touched on something the church has missed. It's time the church start speaking to the longings of people's souls. To tap into those things that inspire us; that call us upward towards a higher level of living.

Inspire and be inspired.

Hidden Jesus

Beth and I just finished 5 days of acupuncture treatments with Dr. Tran at the behest of my mom. I must admit that I was skeptical at first. I didn't know much about acupuncture except that it is alternative medicine and that it is an ancient Chinese practice. The most I had ever seen of acupuncture was an old Steven Segal movie where he healed himself using Chinese needles. But it seems to be working! Everyone says that my face and stomach have gotten smaller. Anything that can do that is worth a good shake! But I didn't want to talk about the validity or merits of acupuncture here. I want to tell you about our experience at Dr. Tran's clinic.

The New Acupuncture clinic is run out of the home of Dr. Tran and his wife. They are from Vietnam. When you walk in, you will usually find the house filled with people. It is not uncommon to wait for at least 30 minutes before 1 of 20 or so beds is free for you to be treated on. Treatment consists of a consultation and then two rounds of needles (front and back). We spend an average of around 2 hours there everyday.

From the very first day, we noticed that many of the patients knew each other. They talked and laughed and shared freely with one another. "They must be long term patients under Dr. Tran's care," we thought. On our second day, we met Eve and Arun. Eve is a pretty, 30-year old, French Canadian whom we instantly bonded with while waiting for our beds to free up. Arun was there to accompany his friend Anne. He is from India and was having some kind of problem with his shoulder. He got a consultation with Dr. Tran, and returned the next day for his own treatment.

Eve said something very significant and it got me thinking. She said that when she first started going to Dr. Tran, she was really shy. Apparently, Eve's right leg had some kind of skin problem that makes it look like her thigh was burned. There was no pain though. At first she was embarrassed to talk about it. But after some time, she realized, "Everyone is here with some kind of problem. You wouldn't even be here if you didn't have a problem." Then Eve proceeded to lift up her right pant leg to show us why she was at Dr. Tran's. She's come a long way.

When Dr. Tran consults with you, he doesn't do it in the privacy of an office. His consultations are right in front of everyone for everyone to hear. He is direct and to the point. He often anticipates what your problem is and begins to advise you immediately to change your diet. He once spoke to a man about his unbalanced testicles in front of everyone! The benefit of this "open" consultation is that you can learn something new everyday.

And I thought...this must've been how it was in Jesus' day when the Healer from Nazareth would go to a home and begin healing and teaching people:

1. Healing happened in a very natural and non-laboratory place.
2. There was a sense of community which revolved around the Healer.
3. Everyone was open about their problems.
4. The Healer spoke to each person publicly and truthfully.
5. Everytime you went to Jesus, you always learned something new.

What would simple churches be like if these charactersitics were evident in them? Imagine a network of people who met in homes not cathedrals. Imagine what it would be like when each of the people present came because of their relationship to Jesus and not because of their religious obligation. Imagine each person expecting to get touched by Jesus every time the group met. What kind of church would this be if the people were very open about their problems because they all admitted that the reason why they need Jesus is because they are damaged? Imagine this kind of church where Jesus spoke through the people in truth and love. And then imagine what it would be like where every time you attended this group, you learned something new that you could use in your life. Wow.

Dr. Tran has a full "clinic" due to word of mouth. He doesn't need advetising for his business. I calculated that he must make about $400,000 per year. And none of that is spent on commercials, posters, flyers or anything. He doesn't need to promote his clinic because each of his patients have become evangelists. Word of mouth fills his house with those seeking healing.

What can the church learn from that? Somewhere in that full house on Wellington Street in Ottawa is a hidden Jesus.