anchor point

I love to bow hunt, the challenge of getting a deer in close enough to reach out with a stick and string. It provides a challenge of remaining consistent with your shot time after time so you can be confident when the deer steps into range. This challenge of consistency begins with setting your anchor point.

The anchor point is the reference point you return to each time you draw your bow, for me it is when my knuckle on my right hand sits right behind my right ear lobe and the string is just touching my nose. When I get to this position I know I have set my anchor point. And coming back to this position each time I draw and each time I shoot is one part to the consistency I need to make a good shot. The anchor point is extremely important to keep you consistent when shooting a bow.

But an anchor point is extremely important when it comes to keeping you consistent in walking with God too.

In Psalm 46, the psalmist depicts three scenarios of life that send chaos, uncertainty, and fear into the hearts of the people of the world. He depicts natural disasters, political turmoil, and wars…each of which brings fear into the world and each of which shows how the world is bent under the weight of sin.

Those pictures of the psalmist are experience each day in our news, we remember the  devastation in Japan following the deadly tsunami that literally brought the mountains out into the heart of the sea. We see the political chaos that has erupted in Egypt, or Lybia, or even the fighting of our own political structure in the U.S. at the present time. And we see the reality of war and we hear continued reports of our men and women in the armed services who are being wounded or giving their lives for this country. And if these were the only pictures we have it would be devastating. Our lives would be up and down, happy then sad, hopeful then fearful, constantly changing with what we hear.

But into that experience, the psalmist gives us an anchor point. And while he does not say that all the chaos will be taken away…he does say that “God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble…the Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” Psalm 46:1 and 11

 

Our anchor point, the hope we must come back to time after time is this: that God promises to be with us through each disaster, through each political mess, and through every war until he comes again. The anchor by which our faith remains consistent is the anchor that God is with us and walks with us through each experience of life.

So stick with your anchor point…come back to that place each day. And just like your shot with a bow will grow more and more consistent…so will your walk with God. God with us…let that ground your faith today…no matter what you might be experiencing today.

Thoughts on Conversion

I originally wrote this piece in June of 2009 to be published on my personal blog but never got around to doing it.  It wasn’t merely because of my sloth.  Pastorally, I didn’t want to unnecessarily offend members of my congregation who already struggle with the traditional “Reformed” understanding of baptism and all that baptism entails.

Yet, I’ve been thinking a lot over the last 5+ years of ministry about conversion and the significance of baptism and the Christian Church.  As a pastor, you have a front row seat in this great drama. But I think that I’ve been drawn to this area in particular because I moved into a ministry context largely evangelized by your fairly typical American evangelicalism.  There is a big stress on one’s personal relationship with God.  This is, of course, a good stress.  However, it can also come at the expense of the Christian community or “Body of Christ” as the Scriptures describe.

This reflection was born out of this ethos.

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Today a very aware ministry colleague made me aware of a new book from church historian Mark Noll.  I read a very interesting excerpt from some section of the manuscript.  Many things surprised me about the state of my faith.  At the end of several sentences I had chills running down my spine.  Noll’s description of the vibrancy and advance of the global church makes me want to join a chorus of sisters and brothers in a house in Shanghai or under a tree in Rwanda.

He was making the point that conversions are being experienced in a variety of ways.  The new global church is not simply praying the sinners prayer and getting a new Bible.  Sometimes, he writes, whole villages and tribes are converting to Christianity.  Then he relayed a piece of history from a millennium past.  In that day Prince Vladmir spent time studying Judaism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.  He ended up choosing Eastern Orthodoxy and, subsequently, marched the whole city of Kiev down to the river to be baptized.

Wow!  No altar call.  You’re Christians now.  We’re getting baptized.  Follow the leader.

Stories like this immediately make Western evangelicals wonder about individual peoples true feelings.  It seems as though, for the Kievites, it was their leader’s feelings that mattered most.  Their figurehead led them through the waters and into a new existence, with Christ as Lord.  I assume that they had to own this new reality, however.

I wouldn’t suggest this as a means of North American conversion.  However, I’m very aware of my own conversion.  It isn’t that different, really.  Sure, I remember asking Jesus into my heart when I was 5 or 6 in the basement of my best friend’s house.  But there was more to the story before that.  I was born into a Christian home.  Hearing the Gospel, singing hymns, praying, have always been there with me.  I am able to start into centuries old hymns after hearing a slice of organ notes.  In my youth I said I was tired of the crusty hymns of our services.  But now its those old hymns that bring tears.  I’m not even 30 years old!  I shouldn’t like “By the Sea of Crystal” but that last line belted out by a long suffering, pilgrim congregation absolutely rocks.

My point: I was born into the community of faith and shortly thereafter signed and sealed into it through baptism.  My parents were born and baptized into the faith.  My Grandparents.  My Great-Grandparents.  Their parents.  Then it gets a bit more foggy but the likelihood is that many more generations back my kin in Frisland, working the farms or fishing the waters of the Noord Zee, were baptized into and confessed Jesus Christ as Lord.  Sometime,  maybe after (Boniface?) preached through the area, my tree-worshipping ancestor left his pagan ways and was baptized into Christ.  And from generation to generation the Gospel of Christ was impressed upon the next.  So, in some sense, I don’t think it’s too sacrilegious to say that part of me was converted back with my yet unknown ancestor.  Life became saturated with Christ and I was born into that life.  I was then signed and sealed into it.  I grew.  I professed.  I’m still growing.  Still professing.  And now impressing too.

But isn’t this also how Scripture describes faith?  We have these family stories and then we have The Family Story.

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I love how ‘In Christ’ ‘through faith’ ‘through baptism’ we are joined with God’s people into his great redemption drama.

Saying Doing

A couple of months ago my three year old son Mark (Jr)  had to give an important ‘thank you’ to his babysitter.  My wife Heather had to drop Mark off at a friend’s home for about 20 minutes everyday because of a job she took on as a nurse at the local Christian school.  When summer hit, and school was out, my wife bought some flowers for Mark to hand deliver to his babysitter to thank her for taking care of him everyday for the past several months.  Heather impressed upon Mark the importance of this particular ‘thank you.’  Mark wraps on the front door, the babysitter comes to the door with a smile.  Mark reveals the flower on cue, and says from the gut, “Thank you so much… for dying on the cross for all my sins!”  No other heretical statement has made me more proud!

The other day, Mark said another profound statement.  It wasn’t heretical, but it did remind me of ways in which we function as disciples of Jesus.  It’s not a good type of function. Mark is currently my shadow.  He follows me wherever I go around the house.  If I’m going downstairs, he’s right there with me.  However, he doesn’t want to really follow me.  He wants to lead the way.  He wants to be with me, but in lead.  So one day I’m making my way downstairs, and like clockwork, he’s right there trying to squeeze his way around me.  He grabs for my legs and tries to push and shimmy his way in front of me.  It’s actually a bit dangerous, but he’s persistent.  I bend down to make sure he won’t fall down the stairs.  But what he says as he’s trying to pass me is the clincher.  As he’s trying to bi-pass me and lead the way, he’s crying out, “I want to follow you!  I want to follow you!”

I immediately thought of the way in which many of us function as disciples of Jesus.

We proclaim with pomp and pizazz, “I want to follow you!  I want to follow you!”  But our actions often times do something very different.  I think of Sunday’s “I want to follow you!” as we sing songs of humility and service.  Then I think of Monday’s “I’m going to lead the way!”

It’s funny to watch my three-year-old pass me down a stairwell saying he wants to follow me.

It’s a tragic thing for our Father in Heaven watching his sons and daughters do this as we walk with Him into the depths of life.

As a follower of Christ, I am called to follow Jesus through word and deed.  Keeping word and deed integrated in our faith journey as we follow Jesus is a long, daily, and difficult journey.  But Christ is always there with his grace, ready to forgive us when we falter.  His presence is in fact closer to us along this journey than I was to my son down that stairway.  His grace and presence is still present when word/deed integration is absent, forgotten, or misdirected.  That is a huge comfort as a Christ follower.  As a pastor, there is a sense in which I am called to model that in ways that will inspire a flock.  I feel the weight of that responsibility and calling.  That’s why I am also comforted with the fact that a Jesus follower like the Apostle Peter was able to receive amazing grace after denying Jesus three times.   Jesus still loved him, disintegration and all.  As someone seeking to follow Jesus with all my heart everyday, that gives me great hope for this daily call to pick up my cross and follow my Saviour.  To those who are reading this, strength along your journey of integrated faith.

Go to Church

Eugene Peterson in his book “The Jesus Way” wrote

“We live at a time when there is a lot of this anti-institutionalism in the air.  “I love Jesus but I hate the church” is a theme that keeps reappearing with variations in many settings.  So it is interesting to note that Jesus, who in abridged form is quite popular with the non-church crowd, was not anti-institutional.  Jesus said “Follow me”: and then regularly led his followers into the two primary religious institutional structures of his day: the synagogue and the temple.” 

People, both inside and outside the church, often make comments against the church and in so doing suggest that their faith is somehow higher than Jesus himself who never stopped going to these corporate places of worship.  This is not to say that Jesus message was simply a defense of organizational Christianity, because that would be ignorant to his many critiques of the Jewish church practices, but it is to say that following Jesus was not some private affair that is accomplished in the comforts of your bedroom.

It could be argued (and I might even argue it myself)  that true worship can only be done with others.  Gathering together with others on a Sunday forces us to recognize that our identity as image bearers of God is only complete if we are connecting to other parts of the body (to use the apostle Paul’s language in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.)  We know, and history has shown this time and time again, that we are all inclined to walk in our own direction and find ourselves wandering in our own individual and selfish directions.  Our worship time is a communal approach to hold each other accountable to our vows to follow Jesus – not ourselves.

In Joshua 24, when Joshua calls the people together to renew their communal covenant vows (which is really what our communal worship is or should be) he emphasizes the communal nature of the vows.  He says “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:22) The fact that they said these things together was a reminder that the only way a relationship with God works, is if we work at it together.  And working together is one of the key components of the image of God.  God as he works -as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as a combination of Lord, Saviour and Friend – is in and of himself a relationship.  The fact that all the parts of who God is must work together for the order of the world is a reminder that we must be committed in relationship to one another in order for the world to work as it should.  If we do not remain committed to one another than the image of who God is, is somehow fractured, for God himself is a relationship.  A person may have a wonderful relationship with God, but if that person does not remain committed to seeing his brother or sister have a good relationship with God, then the covenant with God and humanity is strained.  It’s not good enough for me to say, “I’m doing fine even if you are not.” because it somehow does not have a heart for what the relationship should be.  If you are good with God but your brother or sister is not, then you should feel incomplete.  Gathering together in church (or synagogue or temple) is not just a choice, it’s Christian.

I’ll close with another of my favourite Peterson quotes:

“What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it. Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death. So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.” -Eugene Peterson

In short…go to church this Sunday.