Crocs

An unusual change has occurred in my life over the past few weeks. I have been able to walk around with bare feet for the first time in several years. As most of those who read this blog know, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2010. Even prior to my diagnosis, I daily walked on Crocs. In Ontario winters, I wore shoes outside, but my feet cried for their Crocs. They wanted the comfort of that thick layer of soft rubber: a pair for the shower and two other pairs, which I could either wear in the house or take with me when visiting in other homes.

I have been praying for years that God would heal my feet. They were the only joints left that the disease continues to pressurize after taking medications. Before the medications, I felt like The Tin Man without his oilcan. With the medications, I usually felt good with the exception of the many joints hidden under the balls of the feet.

Well, God sort of answered my prayer to heal my feet. Over the last three-to-four days, I have been walking on bare feet. It’s been weird! I don’t need to rub my feet at the end of the day or constantly feel like I need to crack a toe knuckle. I do not feel the urgency to have my feet massaged in my foot massager every night (best invention ever). It’s a very strange feeling not being dependent on my Crocs anymore.

However, just because I feel like my feet have healed--even if it’s just for a temporary period--does not mean the disease is gone. Now, my ankles “buzz”. The disease moved to some other joints. At the end of the day, rather than desiring to massage the bottom of my feet, I want to drill into my ankles. It is frustrating. To be honest, it’s concerning. I have an appointment with my Rheumatologist next week to discuss some of these new developments. Not knowing how this illness will develop, I trust the Lord day-by-day and seek His will for my health. HE is faithful!

Why do I share all of this information with you, my readers? There are two simple reasons. Firstly, I want to provide a brief update for many people who ask how I am doing with my RA. Secondly, I feel that an autoimmune disease can mimic our external realities. It is as if the disease ‘knows’ that we have made a change, so it adapts to its new surroundings.

Like sin, the disease follows one around and changes within the context. The physical discomfort is a constant reminder that I am broken. This physical reminder points to a spiritual one where I have to be keenly aware of the new types of sin and idols that exist here in North Carolina that did not exist in Ontario. I have reflected on many spiritual metaphors with this disease, but RA as a morphing disease is one helpful metaphor for me in this time of transition. Temptation, sin and evil, will manifest themselves in new ways in my new life here.

I wrote earlier that it is a very strange feeling not to depend on my Crocs anymore. Rather than Crocs, I depend on the Cross. The grace I receive from that sacrificial act of Christ supports and sustains me as it does everyone in Christ. In other words, the Cross is a constant reminder that, yes, we are broken. But the Cross saves. The Cross is our thick layer of rubber that protects us from the blows of sin. The point is that we are called daily to remember the Cross
and our participation in its significance.

Our Lord identifies with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). This is a comforting reminder of the uniqueness and beauty of our God.

Question
How are you keeping your spiritual radar alive in order to a) remember your brokenness, and b) surrender to Christ and Him crucified?

foot-ankle

“God, you say we’re wonderfully and beautifully made, but why did you put so many joints in the foot?”


Growth

I know that not everyone reading my blog is from the Christian Reformed Church denomination. Still, I hope that my blog will touch a nerve with you. The trends I share from the CRC are similar to many other denominations.

I recently checked out some startling numbers on our denominations website regarding the growth of the CRC since 1963.  One document was especially helpful. Click
here to get to the website to download the Word document. At first glance, the numbers of congregational growth are encouraging.  In 1963, there were 583 CRC churches with 256,000+ members.  In 2012, almost 50 years later, the number of congregations has almost doubled to 1,099.

However, this apparent growth changes perspective when one sees that the CRC has actually 4,000
less members today than we did in 1963.  Today the CRC has 251,727.  Since 2001, the CRC has declined in membership each year. One could spend hours and a few dissertations dissecting all the reasons for this drop in membership.  One issue is the number of brothers and sisters who left the CRC in the mid-1990s.  Then there are sociological reasons such as parents having fewer children or the rising number of deaths per year. Then there are church plants that ended up in another denomination. Still, the general trend does not look good.

Now, it may be helpful to know that the membership decline the CRC is currently experiencing is one felt by most denominations.  That may not be comforting to know, but it is a helpful observation.  The decline in membership is occurring although the population in Canada and the United States over the last 50 years has soared.  So one questions:  How do we reverse this trend?  

The answer, I think, is quite simple. We grow by making disciples faster than the rate at which people are dying. That may be putting it too bluntly, but it’s true. The ‘transference of the saints’ (aka ‘church hopping’) will always exist. Christians move and join new churches and different denominations. As the stats show, transfer in and transfer out is relatively the same each year. We
could try to grow by having more children, but sociological trends show that this is not a plausible option. So what is? It’s our Missional Mandate. It is our mandate to make disciples so that people who do not know Christ today will know Christ tomorrow!

I’m encouraged to discover that one growing trend in the CRC is that we are growing in the area of evangelism. In 1964, 964 people became new believers through the CRC. Although the numbers fluctuated over the past 50 years, the general trend is that we are growing in this area. Last year, for example, 3,036 people came to faith through evangelism. That, my friends, is a number I hope to see grow exponentially over the next few years.

So the question I leave with you is simple: If you are a believer, regardless of which denomination, how will you allow the Lord to use you to make disciples today?

Total Population

3 Stats

Marantha

I am writing this blog in an airport in Baltimore. In an hour I will be boarding a plane to Buffalo. I'm heading to Canada to make some connections with folks in Hamilton as well as preach in my home town of Drayton. I have been anticipating this trip as it is always exciting visiting my hometown with friends and family here in Ontario. However, as I make this trip and continue to develop ministry partners, I arrive during a very difficult time for the Christian Reformed community. We have received word that the search for Tim Bosma is over. He was last seen alive driving away with two men whom he assumed were interested in purchasing his 3500 Dodge Ram truck. A week after he went into that truck for a test drive, this loving husband, father and disciple of Christ has been confirmed dead. He was a brother in Christ and a contributing member of the Ancaster Christian Reformed Church. For those of you who know anything about the CRC, that means that Tim is connected to a tight church community/family. Although I have never met him, he feels very much like a brother. As I read Facebook messages and read the endless articles online, it is amazing how many people who did know him personally feel this instant connection and intimacy to this tragedy. I am the same age as Tim, a husband, a father, and a life before me. This anxious knot in my stomach is there not only because he is a fellow CRC brother, but also because what happened to Tim could have happened to anyone. The injustice, evil, cruelty, and pain the family and so many others feel right now isn't fair. God, it isn't fair! So as I travel and enter into a grieving community, I do so with a heavy heart. I do pray, ' Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come!' We continue to pray for the Bosma family. May the Lord give them a transcendent peace at this time that cannot be humanly explained. May the witness of your people be seen by the world and in so doing, may this world come to know a God who came to live in our context of suffering. May our world see Jesus who experienced the same unjust death as Tim. Jesus is the one who we turn to because His act on the Cross is the only thing that can make any sense during these dark times. We do not put our trust in a distant deity, we believe He experienced death Himself in Jesus Christ so that death will not be the final word. Until then, we point to Jesus and Him crucified.

Church

Church
Church Building

What is the church? If you were asked, what would you say?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary reminds us that our English word ‘church’ comes from Middle English
chirche. Middle English inherited the word from the Old English word cirice. Back a few centuries ago when Old English was spoken, a cirice was a public meeting place. Cirice was a building. At the root of the English’s linguistic worldview is the understanding that the ‘church’ is a building.

Cirice is not a Biblical concept, although there are plenty of stories in which the early church met together. The apostles preached the Good News at the Temple in Jerusalem. Paul met Jews at the local synagogues throughout the Greco-Roman world. Hebrews commands his audience to not give up meeting together. That ‘meeting’ had to be held in a ‘place’. Although cirice is not Biblical, the injuction for Christians to meet together is.

The word for
church in the Bible is ekklesia. It’s Greek. The lesia part stems from the words meaning ‘called’ or ‘summoned’. The ekk means ‘out’. Ekklesia is about being summoned out. What is helpful about this understanding of The Church? It is that the root has to do with our relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another. The Church is made up of called out ones because God has called out for Himself a “set apart” people. The word holy captures this nuance as well. Holy simply means set apart. Christ’s Body- The Church- is set apart because the Holy Spirit has been on a mission calling out people.

In order to start a new church, one needs to understand what is exactly that is being started. What’s being started is more than a meeting place. It’s more than a sanctuary, a stage, or even a pulpit. The Church is the people using these means to glorify God and to hear God’s grace over and over again. There are many
cirices around that are now empty and sit as empty coffins. Many of these empty buildings are extravagant representations of a cultural Christianity that left the building (pun intended).

The Church is people. Buildings, pulpits, and parking lots are a means to an end. I’ll express it another way. The Church is
on mission with the Holy Sprit to call out others to experience the grace of Christ. Buildings, pulpits, and parking lots are tools to be used along the way. They are important aspects of meeting places; however, buildings come and go. The Body of Christ will stand forever!

Do you think of ‘church’ as a building? Do you think of it as a time of the week? If you are a Christian, how can you stretch yourself into thinking that you embody the church wherever
you are?


Vision

Vision
This blog has more to do with self-realization than vision, so bear with me. After attending two three-and-a-half day conferences with two very different emphases, I have come to realize something intrinsic about myself. In order for this church plant to succeed, I need to create a compelling vision. Period. After listening to several voices over the last couple of weeks, I have been convicted that I need to create an intentional, thoughtful, vision. I listened to church planters such as Ed Stetzer (
www.edstetzer.com), Jeff Vanderstelt (www.somatacoma.org), to parachurch ministries such as 3DM (www.weare3dm.com) and I get excited by their visions. Their visions are razor sharp and cut into the hearts and lives of thousands.

I see at least two challenges when developing a similar type razor-sharp vision. First, creating focused vision does not mean using existing visions. Focusing on
a vision does not mean being able to do it all! My inclusive side wants to remain open to various options.

That brings me to the second challenge. For those of you who have taken
Clifton’s Strengthsfinder, you’ll be familiar with what I am about to explain. My top 5 strengths are ‘woo’ (winning others over), adaptability, inclusivity, positivity, and maximize. Each of these strengths has shadow sides to them, but my “positivity” side doesn’t want to focus on them right now. These strengths are helpful for a church planter. However, when taken together, particular patterns arise. One predominant pattern is described in this picture:

VisionS

When my strengths are in order, I enter a room totally focused on my external surroundings: what people are thinking, doing, saying. I attempt to engage in conversation with people and to adapt to my surroundings. It’s important to me to remain positive. Because I want to win people over (and happily was given the gift by God to do so with relative ease), I share jokes and attempt to foster positive conversation.

But the challenge before me as a church leader is to lead with a compelling vision and not allow it to become sabotaged by people along the way. My democratic leaning will want others to speak into the vision, and my adaptability side will allow me to be swayed. Of course, I’m not suggesting that I should become a dictator. I must remain flexible. But I must also do the deep intentional work of what it means to have a compelling vision that will direct the movement moving forward. There is no one else at this point, and so I have no choice but to present something to people that is worth following. It’s an exciting opportunity but a challenge nonetheless.

So someone wiser than I helped me see how to strategically use my God- given strengths to hone vision and at the same time also bring people along into that vision. So rather than think of vision like the picture above, the challenge is too look at it from another perspective:


Vision

This self-revelation has been very important to discover. In seminary, we were taught to know thyself. Know thyself. That’s an intriguing challenge, but it has taken me years to figure out. My prayer is that God will continue to mold me and make me in order to lead with a compelling vision that gives glory to Him. What vision has God given you? Is He pushing and prodding you to find your place and purpose with a vision that will draw others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ?