The Good and Bad of Curiosity

If you’re like me, you find difference interesting. Food I’ve never had? Let me try it. Song I’ve yet to hear? I’ll give it a listen. Book I haven’t read? Tell me about! In my experience, the same goes for the parts of the Church. It is often the case that once I hear about how a group or church does church actively or theologically, I am curious as to what it actually looks like. Whether its something outside my comfort zone or something simply unfamiliar or different, the activities of different churches can draw me in.

 

I think this is good thing. Curiosity is what drew me in and deepened my understanding of other ways of worshiping and pursuing God that were still God-honouring and orthodox. I would never have encountered the Book of Common Prayer, or John Paul II’s theology of the body, or God’s role in healings if I hadn’t sought satisfaction to my curiosities. It was by asking questions and seeking answers in the wealth of the greater church that I discovered these treasures that have added incredible value to my own walk with God.

 

However, I know that many others have not had the same good results from their searches in other parts of the church. I have read numerous blog posts of frustrated liturgical worshipers after experiencing floozy and repetitive Evangelical contemporary worship. I have likewise read and heard numerous Evangelical persons confused and disoriented after encountering the rigid “religiosity” of liturgical worship.

Many of you readers have probably felt something similar. Maybe you have been trained to think that Roman Catholics worship Mary and are not Christians; or your only exposure to the Orthodox Church is a man with a  long beard who doesn’t  speak English; or your only memory of an Evanglical is a televangelist who stole your money; or you are someone questioning your faith because, frankly, your exposure to God’s people has left you empty, frustrated, and with our answers. If you are a part of these groups yourself, you KNOW that these bad experiences (and the many others like it) do not present a good picture of what it means to be Christian at all, no matter your back ground.

 

Curiosity usually directs you towards two different places: empty, confusing, and unsatisfying places, or good, rich, and life-giving on the other. How many of you were scolded for your active curiosity towards electrical outlets when you were a kid? I know I was. I was curious to what on earth this plug was, but did not recognize its proper function or purpose. And, due to my lack of understanding, I set myself up for pain and disappointment. This search for satisfaction is a part of our lives as Christians, and is often reflected in the Churches we attend and the things we pursue within that space. It is our search for goodness and truth and fulness in our pursuit of God in his Church.

I encourage you, if you are curious about how different denominations or parts of the Church pursue, worship, and follow God, start searching for answers! BUT BE WARNED: search for good examples. When you find an example of a mainline Evangelical church that does worship really well, it can be an incredibly valuable and powerful thing! When the liturgy is entered with a headlong abandon and reverence to God, it is deep and moving. When healing is emphasized, it can truly bring healing if it is focused on the true presence of God-with-us! However, when the worship is all about the show, when the liturgy is all about the order, and the healing is all about the reaction, it is easy to walk away about as fast as food poisoning sends someone away from a restaurant.

 

If your curiosity has led you to poor examples of  a part of the church, please do not let it stop you from seeing God’s hand in other parts of the church. Bad examples foster bitterness, cynicism, and frustration. They may even turn you away because of the actions of a person, rather than turn you to see the goodness of God. The things that are poorly represented are often meant to help you know and see God more fully. The problem is that the focus has shifted from looking heavenward, towards God, and highlights our brokenness and incompletion in our pursuit of Him instead.

My goal in Church Unity Project is to share with others the things God does all throughout his Church, and to foster dialogue and understanding among its members. If you have never experienced a good example of another part of the church, I encourage you, seek one out. I have listed a number of resources below that may point you to some incredible examples of Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant parts of the church that have impacted me, and that may be of some value to you.

Also, if you know of a solid church in your town or city that does things a little differently than you, do not be afraid! If you have never been to a liturgical service, going to one may open your eyes to how God is still present and working in it. If you have never gone to a Protestant or Evangelical church, going to one may show you how they do get some things really right, even if you don’t agree with it all. If you think Catholics are not Christians, check out the service, and listen to the Good News being proclaimed in the ancient Creeds.

God has given us our curiosity not to lead us into temptation and darkness, but to draw us closer to him and to his ways. Jesus himself says to us, “Seek and you will find!” (Matt 7:7) Do you want to know God more deeply? Do not simply stand where you are! Pursue Him where he already is: in His Body, the Church.

 

Catholic:

Father Dwight Longnecker, and his blog Standing on my Head

Philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft

Protestant:

Richard Liantonio’s blog On the Road to Emmaus

The Greenhouse Regional Church Movement (Part of the Anglican Mission to North America)

Orthodox:

Deacon Michael Hyatt, and his Podcast At the Intersection of East and West

Father Thomas Hopko, and his Podcast Speaking the Truth in Love

 

Shalom, Community, and Poverty: Bryce Lansdell and Bangladesh

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This post is from a good friend of mine, Bryce Lansdell. Bryce is studying music at Western University here in London, Ontario, and is involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). In the Summer of 2013, Bryce went with members of IVCF to serve for over six weeks in Bangladesh. The following are his reflections on the missions trip, and how it has challenged his own understanding of money, Church, and God’s presence among us.

Take the time to read through what he says. I am especially challenged by the three main parts of his reflection: shalom, community, and poverty. Bryce’s thoughts point to areas often neglected by our Western churches in the ways that we understand peace, sin, and money. I think he shines some light on the direction the church needs to go in order to more fully embrace the holistic vision of God’s Kingdom on earth that Jesus called his disciples to see. He challenges our individualistic me-and-Jesus perceptions, and provides real, practical ways to see right relationship as a way of life infused and inspired by the love of Jesus.

As you are reading, take his questions seriously! Are you pursuing a holistic and deep shalom with your neighbour and world? Are you truly seeing your walk with Christ as a walk with his body (the Church), or on your own? Are you seeing your money as a gift to give or an entitlement to keep?

I have edited the post, and sacrificed some of its length and detail. If you want the full copy, or if you want to get in touch with Bryce, send me an email at churchunityproject@gmail.com, and I can hook you up!

 

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Though at first I experienced panic and culture shock, I was humbled at the warmth and hospitality that we were often shown, not only by Christians, but by Muslims who we just met on the street. One day, we were caught in the rain, and a family we didn’t know let us in and gave us some of their most expensive food items! It made me think, “what would my reaction be if some Bengali young people or children were caught in the rain in my subdivision?”

My team had a chance to volunteer at a centre for abused, abandoned, and street women who are pregnant, and orphans. The women were relationally starved, so we often could be most helpful if we just spent time with them and played with the children. Many women were around my sisters age [early teens], and many orphans were the same age as my toddler niece and nephew. My niece and nephew have two loving parents; these orphans have none. My niece and nephew have rooms full of toys: these orphans own 2 cloth diapers. When one or both of them are in a room there will often be 8-10 adults giving them attention and showing love to them; for these children there are 8-10 of them in a room, with one nurse giving them attention. This caused me to pray in a new way for redemption and reconciliation for both the women and children

It also caused me to ask, “what can we do?”, “why is there this suffering?”, “where is the hope for these people?”, “what is the answer?”

In turn, I approached scripture with fresh eyes, looking to truly see what God says, and I feel that I found the gospel. What I saw was a picture of a God who made himself nothing and came to earth to be among us in our suffering and to call us his family. Christ saw pain and wept with us; he said blessed are the poor; he said “this sin and suffering is not OK, and I’ve come to do something about it.” He took all of our sin and suffering on his shoulders, and it wrecked him. That’s what sin does. He was crucified and buried.

And when there seemed to be no hope, on the third day he rose again! He conquered the grave and defeated death itself. That’s the hope! That is the gospel that I found: in my heart instead of just in my head. Because of that, we can look at even the worst of suffering and say “where, oh death is your victory? Where, oh death is your sting?” Not because sin doesn’t hurt, and not because there is no longer suffering, but because death does not have the final word. We can engage with situations where there seems to be no hope, and say “this is not the end, Christ has risen, and one day he will wipe every tear from our eyes; he make all things new.” There is power in his name to break even the greatest chains of oppression. That’s the good news. That’s the answer.

But it doesn’t end there. That hope is not just for the future, but Christ says he wants to bring his kingdom now. God wants to bring about peace, righteousness and justice today. For whatever reason, the story of scripture; from Adam, to Israel, to the new testament, to the modern church, is that God has chosen to bring about his kingdom, his peace, and his will, not on his own, but in partnership with us.

Shalom

During the trip and the proceeding months, I’ve grown to love the term peace. In Hebrew, it’s the word shalom. We follow a saviour named the Prince of Peace, who when he rose again stated “peace be with you.” Often times we define peace as the absence of war, or when everything is “peaceable”. That isn’t the peace of scripture. Shalom means the same thing as righteousness, or right relationship. It is a deep and abiding peace, where everything in creation is the way it was intended to be in the beginning. It is a peace where hurt and brokenness isn’t covered over, but is brought to the surface, identified, healed, and redeemed: where all things are made new. That’s the Kingdom.

For me, going to Bangladesh started a journey of being satisfied with nothing less than full shalom and right relationship in every aspect of my life. I have very few answers, and still have a lot to learn, but I can say with confidence that it is so good and life-giving to pursue it, even though it is challenging. We were created to have that in our relationship with God. We were created to have shalom in our relationship with each other, our relationship with society and social issues, and our relationship with creation. It’s a very holistic and physical, not just spiritual, thing. I don’t have time to share with you about all of those areas, so instead I have decided to focus on what I learned about the most in my mission trip: our relationship in community as the body of Christ, and our responsibility to bring peace to those in poverty.

Before we can even consider pursuing true shalom, or “the way God intends our life”, we need to address the following:

How many of us when we’re asking how we are, instinctively respond “busy”?

Friends, that isn’t shalom, that isn’t at all how we were meant to live our lives, and Satan uses busyness to make us float through life and progress little in becoming like Christ. We should stat to view busyness as a sin.

See Matthew 4:19-20 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.”

That was the start of their discipleship: not something they did after knowing Jesus for 10 years. I believe that the disciples dropped their nets, not because fishing was sinful, but because they recognized that to genuinely follow Jesus, spend time with him, adopt his priorities, and become more like him, they would need to free up their schedule by letting go of something good. Friends, we aren’t meant to be “busy” people. We aren’t meant to be like flies, who frantically buzz around, but don’t ever get anywhere. I feel that, like the disciples, our walk with Jesus can’t truly start until we give up things in our lives to make room for reflection, change, and transformation. What “nets” do we need to drop in order to truly follow Jesus? If you take anything away from this message, let it be this: stop being busy. Adopt a rhythm that God intends: allow God’s presence and priorities to shape your lives by leaving some nets and making room for him.

Shalom and Community

On the trip, I had a deep experience with community: our team broke bread together, we prayed together, we confessed sin to one another, we fought, we worked conflict out instead of running from it, we inspired each other in our walks with Christ, and showed each other Christ like love. I learned a lot about what it means to be vulnerable with sisters and brothers, and to be committed to our community the way you’re committed to your family.

God designed us to share life together and to be family: to have real, life-giving, and life shaping relationships. Isn’t it crazy that we’re called the body of Christ? For me, that means that one of the main ways that we are to experience God’s love and healing is in his body: in community. One of the main ways we’re refined to become more like Christ is through the body, with all the conflict and frustration that true relationships bring. We’re meant to share his love with others, not on our own, but as a body. The way we show love to one another is actually meant to be the greatest testimony we can give. It’s huge that we’re called the body of Christ. God isn’t satisfied with us living isolated lives: If we feel that something isn’t right between us and God, I submit to you: maybe it’s because we aren’t truly sharing life together the way he wants us to.

Here are some self-check up questions that I use to test and determine whether I’m in real, Christ-centered relationships with others; whether I’m actually living as a member in the body of Christ:

When was the last time I was frustrated or annoyed with one of my sisters or brothers?

One metaphor for Christian community that I love is a rock tumbler: where we all come in with our rough edges, and smash against one another, making each other smooth. Isn’t that cool? If we aren’t bonking heads, it’s probably because we aren’t actually living in community or we aren’t staying in community once the honeymoon phase is over and things become real. Either that, or none of us have rough edges.

Is there any sin that I haven’t confessed to a sister or brother?

I know it’s scary, but God calls us to confess our sin not only to him, but to each other.

John 3:19 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light…”

For me, I don’t think this is saying that people were devious and preferred evil; rather, they preferred the dark where things could be kept secret. People preferred simply trying to forget about their past, to try to hide the ways they’ve hurt others or been hurt, to try to just “move on” and have a fresh start. Friends, some of the greatest lies that Satan uses to keep us caught in sin is to tell us that sin is personal, that it will do less damage if kept in secret and in isolation, and that grace is an easy way to run from our problems.

Those are lies, they aren’t shalom, and they aren’t the way to peace. Sin is not personal: regardless of whether anyone knows about it, all sin affects others. We aren’t our own: we intimately impact one another. Whatever the sin is, keeping it in secret or trying to cover it away will only do damage and keep you trapped in that sin. Finally, grace was not given to run away from problems.

The picture of a disciple isn’t one who receives healing in secrecy and whose sin is never brought out from below the surface. Friends, the picture of a disciple is one who holds nothing back, but has brought their sin and baggage to the light, and is working through it towards true peace with God, with community, and with those who have been impacted by their past. God promises us new life, but the more we hide or run from our past and from our sin, the more our new life gets contaminated by our previous one.

We are called to live lives of transparency and integrity, not white-washed lives of secrecy. If we want to have real, shalom relationships, our sisters and brothers can’t have the perception that we’re perfect: they need to know what brokenness we’ve gone through, and what brokenness we’re currently struggling with. I feel that openness and vulnerability are necessary requirements to conquer sin.

A phrase that came to be popular on our team was “when you go on a mission trip, you bring both your luggage and your baggage.”

We learned as a team pretty quickly that to follow Jesus in our present, we needed to deal with the ugly parts of our past and bring God’s love into the brokenness.

Is there anyone in my life who when I think of them, my first thought is either about how they’re hurt me, or how I’ve hurt them?

Is there any sister or brother who I would find it awkward to pray with?

If the answer is yes to either of these, choose peace. It is a slap in the face to God, if after receiving grace we feel that it’s better to let brokenness remain un-restored. If we truly think that the way of shalom; the way that God intends, is the best way, we need to have faith that bringing that shalom into our past is far better than simply trying to run and let sin remain the defining factor. In Matthew, Jesus says that if you aren’t at peace with a sister or brother, leave you gift at the altar and first be reconciled: He is saying that reconciliation, not only with him, but with each other, is more important than worship. God wants to see lives transformed and brokenness healed: that’s true worship. Don’t put it off or ignore it. Choose the hard and slow way of shalom, reconciliation and redemption. And friends, I can assure you based on personal experience, that it is good and life-giving and incredibly freeing, even if it seems incredibly scary and uncomfortable.

Shalom and Poverty

Finally, God calls us to not only bring peace into our lives and relationships, but bring peace to the world.

This is a huge topic, and it requires your whole life to continue figuring out what it looks like to be an instrument of peace. I would like to focus on the specific area of bringing peace to those in poverty.

Because of the trip, for me, poverty is no longer an abstract idea. It is now faces and names of people I met and spoke with. It’s real. I can say from experience that the conditions that many people live in are not OK: it does not reflect the Kingdom, and if we claim to follow Jesus, we can’t sit back and idly let it continue. In my opinion, serving the poor is an integral part of following Jesus: you can’t separate serving the poor from the teachings of either the Old or New Testament. It is one of God highest priorities: in turn, it should also be one of ours. We can’t claim to truly be in right-relationship with God, nor can we call ourselves the body of Christ, unless we are actively seeking to bring about peace to those in poverty.

Please, read this scripture with me:

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.

What happens is a beautiful picture of Christ working: It’s a picture of God choosing to work in partnership with us, and then using what we have to bring about far more good than we could imagine

Friends, what if that is what God is calling us to when we approach poverty? What if he is giving us a responsibility that we wouldn’t have if we weren’t following him, and is saying “you feed them”? What if he wants everything, and simply tells us to trust in him?

I don’t have the answer to how to fix large world problems. I don’t expect you to either. However, I do believe that we’re called to wrestle with the question of how to fight against injustice, death, and oppression. Here are some things I’ve started asking myself that I’d like to share with you:

Am I friends with anyone who is significantly poorer than me?

Christ showed his love to us by moving in with us, making us his people, and bringing life to us. He then tells us to follow suit: if we’re following Jesus, we need to be reaching out to the poor in Tillsonburg first and foremost by befriending them, and putting in the hard work of learning to love people who we normally wouldn’t associate with.

Do I view wealth and consumption as being at the expense of others?

Simply because it’s true. We’re wealthy because we use and degrade people from other cultures, whether we realize it or not. Before we can change our actions, we need to see our possessions and our wealth for what it is.

How am I praying about poverty?

I believe that God answers prayer. I often used to pray, “God, should I give this money away?”, and if I didn’t clearly hear his voice, I would assume that the answer to my prayer was that I should keep it. I realized that maybe I wasn’t actually listening to God though. Since then, I’ve made a practice of taking a larger amount than I’m comfortable with, and asking “God, should I keep this money?” Now, I act on a different paradigm, which is far scarier and I’m finding requires more real trust in God: if I don’t clearly hear God’s voice, my default is to in faith believe that God is wanting me to give it away. I encourage you to use that paradigm: give unless called otherwise.

There is so much more to what it means to let shalom come into our lives: I don’t have the answers, but I would encourage you: live lives transformed by Jesus: lives where we don’t settle with shallow existences, but pursue real and life-giving shalom with God; pursue real relationships with each other, where we both encourage and refine one another; and seek to bring it to those who are hopeless. Let our lives be a reflection of our prayer “thy Kingdom come:” in our schedule, our priorities, our past, our relationships, our care for the poor.

When I was in Bangladesh, our team ended every day with the following prayer: I ask that you would pray it with me now.

God, who is our hope, we return this day to You.

Sort out our hearts in the midst. Place Your heart in us again.

God, who is our strength, we thank You for Your presence.

Be near tonight to Your children. Come close and save.

God, who is our truth, we long to hear Your voice.

Speak and we will listen, send and we will go.

Forgive our small visions of who You are and what You do

Help us choose the way of your kingdom, until shalom is all there is.

It is in the name of Jesus, crucified AND risen, that we pray, amen.

 

004 – RAVI ZACHARIAS INTERNATIONAL MINISTRIES, an interview with Nathan Betts [Podcast]

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Image source: http://www.rzim.org/about/press-room/

Download podcast episode here.

Have you ever found yourself questioning why on Earth you are a Christian? Do you ever doubt the relevance of the Christian worldview? Have you faced challenges – even hostility – to your faith that leave you wanting to run away scared?

If you’re like me, you probably have! Let me introduce to you an organization that exists to face these challenges and help you in your walk of faith.

Today’s podcast episode is an interview with Nathan Betts of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), Canada. RZIM is an evangelistic organization that exists to “help the believer think, and help the thinker believe.”

RZIM does evangelism through apologetics. Now, this doesn’t mean they go around apologizing for believing in Jesus! Rather, it refers to providing a reasonable defence for the Gospel, and actually tackling the hard questions that come against our faith. It comes from the Greek word apologia, which means a defence or justification for an idea or belief.

In essence, RZIM attempts to explain to Christians and their critics who Jesus is, why he is true, and why the Judeo-Christian worldview is important and relevant.

Ravi Zacharias is the founder of RZIM, and his weekly radio show/podcast “Let My People Think” reaches thousands every week. He has spoken to thousands around the world in thirty-plus years of international ministry, and has written many books. You can find his full bio here.

RZIM has been an incredible influence on my faith, and has challenged and encouraged me in the Truth of the Christian faith. It provided me with a grounding to engage with some pretty radical challenges to my faith, both spiritually and intellectually. Take some time to check out their websites and resources (see below).

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Image source: http://stayintheconversation.org/rzimcanada/about/meet-the-team/biography-nathan-betts/

Nathan Betts is an apologist with RZIM Canada. He speaks frequently across Canada and the USA, particularly in university, high school and church settings. He has a special interest in cross-generational outreach, having begun his career working extensively with youth and young adults. Nathan is Canadian and completed his undergraduate degree at Tyndale University College (Toronto) after which, being a keen baseball fan, he worked as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays Ground Crew for four years. Nathan is also a graduate of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and completed an MA in Bible and Ministry at King’s College London through the Centre for Theology, Religion & Culture. Nathan has written curricula on basic Christianity and Apologetics for several major churches in both Canada and the UK. Nathan resides in Toronto with his wife Brittany and their young son Samuel. Check him out on twitter at @nathanbetts09

I had the privilege of interviewing Nathan about his involvement with RZIM, what apologetics mean, and also its importance to us as Christians.

Nathan has a lot of great things to say. One important thing I think Nathan highlights is how apologetics is a spiritual disciple-we are required to search our own hearts, ask questions, and really grapple with issues in order to see how God will allow his truth to settle our hearts and show us what his answer is.

I think this is especially relevant to our broken Church. Maybe it is time for us to have an apologetic about our relationship with other branches of the Christian church, and engage with why divisions exist!

I think Nathan brings up another important point relevant for a broken church: we may not agree on everything, but we must learn to come together on the truth of Jesus Christ. Some things can divide us, but that should not stop us on uniting in agreement on who Jesus is.

Talk some time to check out our conversation-it was truly rewarding for myself, and I hope you find it valuable too!

Also, I have posted below the resources mentioned in the episode. Each website has links to resources (reading, listening, watching); information (on training, teams); and contact (for further engagements, questions, queries).

RZIM’s Canadian Office Website

AND Information on Engaging Culture Course and Events

RZIM’s Central/American Website

RZIM’s European Office Website

bethinking.org – lots of great resources here as well!

Pope Francis and Charismatic Christianity

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Image source: Time Magazine

[Link, with Video]: From First Things Journal, “Pope Francis and the Future of Charismatic Christianity,” Dale M. Coulter

Pope Francis recently sent a short video to a conference hosted by Kenneth Copeland, a televangelist and charismatic representative of the prosperity-gospel-preaching branch of the Christian Church. I will not comment on Kenneth Copeland, but I mention it to point out how stark the contrast between Copeland and the Pope is. But I digress.

The video was sent via Tony Palmer, a member of an off-shoot of Anglican Church in North America. He and Pope Francis are good friends, and Palmer’s message that accompanies the video is quite powerful in and of itself (I have taken some of his quotes and included them at the bottom of this post).

Note what Pope Francis has done: he has crossed the battle lines. If you listen to the video (around 13 minutes in), he refers to all the members at the conference as brothers. This from a man whose position as a cardinal was characterized by relentless charity, to members of an explicitly prosperity oriented church. This outstretching of love and brotherhood is so radical, I find myself profoundly challenged.

In any case, here are the two things I intend to point you towards:

    First, the article itself, written by Dale Coulter. He reflects in clear prose on the radical nature of the Pope’s extension. He comments on the future of Christian unity as well, and provides some wonderful insights. While I hope you read the article, this paragraph effectively summarizes his core challenge:

“It seems to me that Francis models for us how dialogue can move forward. It must begin with a mutual embrace that refuses to give in to stereotypes about the other. Yes, there are clear doctrinal differences, which Francis does not deny. His greeting, however, suggests that the hard task of finding common ground begins with calling one another brother and sister. Francis did not rush to offer a theological critique of the prosperity gospel although he certainly could have. Instead, he presented the option of moving closer theologically by mutual recognition and embrace. I have been privileged to do just that through Evangelicals and Catholics Together and Francis has invited all of us to do the same.”

    Second, I intend to draw you towards the words of Pope Francis and Tony Palmer. Tony Palmer’s vision for church unity is profoundly challenging, as he recognizes who catholic is a shared title, and that our doctrinal differences will ultimately be clarified by God, and not by us.

Pope Francis’ symbolic gesture is also moving. He confesses that it is every Christian who is involved in the separation of the Church, with our separation being rooted in our sin (individual and shared). His yearning for the embrace of other parts of the Christian Church reveals to me how Church unity is a dialogue that takes a certain sort of uncomfortable effort that works to heal deep divides.

I also love the way Pope Francis talks about unity as a miracle, one started by Jesus, and one carried out by the church. Think about it: the Pope says that the miracle of unity could be completed, and he himself is working towards it in fresh, new, and challenging ways. What if we all got on board? What if we all allowed the Spirit to heal divisions and bind what is broken to carry our the work of the miracle of unity? The Pope’s challenge is intense, but the ramifications could be beyond what we could ever have imagined.

Please check out the video. It is a historic event, and, in my opinion, one which all parts of the Church can learn from. As mentioned, check below for some of the powerful quotes from both Tony Palmer and Pope Francis.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me (churchunityproject@gmail.com), or leave a comment on this post. I would love to hear from you!

From Tony Palmer:

“Unity is the basis for our credibility”

“Diversity is divine; division is demonic”

“Fear is what keeps us separated, because fear is false evidence appearing real”

From Pope Francis:

“There are families that love each other, and families that don’t love each other; families who come together, and families who separate themselves. We are kind of, permit me to say, separated… Separated because its sin that has separated us, all our sins.”

“Let us allow our nostalgia [yearning] to grow, that we may have nostalgia [yearning] for that embrace”

“Come on, we are Brothers. Let’s give each other a spiritual hug and complete the work He has begun.”

“And this is the miracle; the miracle of unity has begun… He will complete this miracle of unity”

Insights from N.T. Wright

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Image source: Trinity Western University

[Video]- N.T. Wright and the “Scandal of Disunity” in the Western Church

Today’s (short) post is meant to point you toward an incredibly influential thinker, leading scholar, and profound theologian: The Rvd. Dr. N.T. Wright.

N.T. Wright is the previous Bishop of Durham of the Church of England, and is currently a priest in England. He is also Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s College, St Andrews in Scotland. He has written a ridiculous number of books (his Amazon Page has over 140 different text compilations), articles, and is a renowned speaker. He is a fervent defender of the real, historical resurrection of Jesus, and is a Pauline scholar to be contended with.

Needless to say, while Wright is controversial, he is also incredibly influential. He is respected by both conservative and liberal theologians and churches, while also managing to engage the minds of many young people in North America and Britain. His thinking and scholarship is cutting edge, as it is accessible and relevant to issues that affect life as a Christian today. Below are some links to some of his free resources, as well as his page at St. Andrew’s and his Amazon page.

He has been incredibly influential on my thinking as a Christian. His messages have revitalized my understanding of my practice of my faith: in short, he showed me how Jesus calls you and me to bring the new life of the Resurrection into our world in creative, fresh, and Spirit-led ways. Two of his messages lay this out very clearly (see below for their titles and their links). It is one of my loftiest goals to speak with him for Church Unity Project one day.

Now that we have introductions out of the way, let me give you a couple reasons why Wright’s quick comments are central to our understanding of the importance of Church unity.

    Firstdisunity among Christians has discredited the Christian perspective. Wright comments that “the rest of the world doesn’t take us seriously because of disunity.” Let me give you an example that I have witnessed this in my home town. A while ago, our local newspaper organized a panel of members from different Christian churches and other religions to discuss the problem of suffering, and how we are to understand God’s place in it. The panel included a member from the United Church, Anglican Church, Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, but there was no Evangelical representative. Why not? Well, where could they go to find a single member that would represent everyone? Disunity makes the collective voice of Christians difficult to organize, and, as a result, difficult to hear.

When our voices are not one, we end up speaking over each other, even when we are all trying to say the same thing. This leads only to our discredit, however well-intentioned we may be.

    Second, unity could allow us to more effectively call our political leaders to more effective and  just action. Wright comments that if all Christians could speak as one concerning huge issues (like World Poverty), then our politicians would have to do something. Christianity remains a powerful force by the numbers in the Western world, but our ability to raise the issues that are central to the Kingdom is greatly hindered due to our distant voices.

Since we do not have a single voice, Christian causes earn very little air play in the media. And, to an extent, they are justified. When Christian Churches have a more defined history of disagreement rather than consensus, it seems that media channels prefer to avoid the controversy and accept either the perceived (but usually off-center) median or the popular but problematic perspective.

    Third, Church unity is a problem the Apostles faced and fought for. Wright, a Pauline scholar, states that every one of his letters in the New Testament contains a strong emphasis on Church unity. In his day, he attempted to help all the small church plants and house churches he was involved with to see that we all as Christians are a part of the body of Christ. Paul’s words from nearly 2000 years ago are as true (if not truer!) now than they ever have been: “Has Christ been divided?” (See 1 Cor 1:13).

Pragmatically, unity is central to our effective work towards the building of God’s kingdom. We can serve the poor with greater resources, reach the lost with a longer arm, and stand firm against the attacks of the enemy with a stronger stance if we come together as the body, rather than as limbs.

Take some time and check out this short video. And, while you are at it, check out some of these resources to explore a little more of the awesome and engaging work of N.T. Wright.

A new post and a new podcast will be coming soon! If you have any question, please don’t hesitate to email me (churchunityproject@gmail.com), or leave a comment on the blog.

N.T. Wright resources:

The N.T. Wright Amazon Page – His books are well renowned. Check out his “Simply Christian” or “After You Believe” for a good introduction.

http://ntwrightpage.com – an unofficial website dedicated to Professor N.T. Wright, with lots of free material

A blog/podcast with some more free sermons/lectures

His information at St. Andrews

The two lectures I mentioned are:

1. Space, Time, Matter, and New Creation

2. Jesus and the World’s True Light

003 – MISSION AVIATION FELLOWSHIP [Podcast]

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Download podcast episode here: 003 – Mission Aviation Fellowship 

Welcome to Church Unity Project!

Today’s podcast episode is all about an organization that has really taken off for over 1480 different partners. It’s impact is truly global, and their work is truly life-changing.

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) is  a service focused missional organization that goes to high-needs and isolated communities with the love of Jesus by using… planes!

With the largest private aircraft fleet in the world, MAF seeks  to, in the words of their vision, see “isolated people physically and spiritually transformed in Christ’s name.”

MAF’s work reaches to over 30 different countries where infrastructure such as roads, highways, railways, and easily accessible waterways, do not exist. By using grass/gravel runways and a waterways, MAF is able to reach highly isolated communities with practical needs. They do this with their vast fleet of airplanes, their many workers, volunteers, and missionaries (which includes pilots, airplane mechanics, nurses, etc), and the incredible support they receive worldwide.

Their work is immediate, and, in many situations, greatly needed. For example, in the recent Typhoon Haiyan that rocked the Philippines, MAF was able to leverage their different aircraft to partner with a number of different organizations to bring food, medical supplies, and support personnel to isolated areas.

Their work is real, and their work is needed. AND it is done in Jesus’s name!

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Kelly and Marcel Boers are a young couple from London, Ontario who recently got involved with MAF. They are currently gathering support to deepen their involvement as young missionaries. I had the privilege of interviewing them about their own aspirations and the work of MAF.

I am sure that the passion and enthusiasm Kelly and Marcel both have for MAF will inspire you.

During our interview, Kelly and Marcel talked about MAF’s incredible role as a Bible-based, Jesus centred organization that partners with all sorts of groups-whether it is churches of different denominations, or even non-governmental organizations that meet the real needs of isolated communities. I am fascinated by how MAF focuses on doing work that all Christians can get behind, while maintaining that their purpose for doing the work they do is to share God’s love with those who need it most.

If you are interested in getting involved or inquiring about the services of MAF, don’t hesitate!

Below are posted some cool resources that I found on the MAF website. If you get the chance, check the website out for yourself – you can follow the link here.

Also, if you are interested, Kelly and Marcel have a blog!! There is a link to their Facebook page on their blog, where you can send them any questions you may have about their work or MAF in general. You can find their blog here.

Thanks for tuning in! Please feel free to leave a comment on this post or on the podcast. Also, if you have any questions or concerns, send me an email at churchunityproject@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you!

Resources:

From the MAF Website:

The MAF Statement of Faith.

The MAF Vision: Isolated people physically and spiritually transformed in Christ’s name.

The MAF Mission: Sharing God’s love through aviation and technology

The MAF Newsletter.

002 – InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and Interview with Fiona Jack [Podcast]

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    To download podcast episode, follow 002 – InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
     Welcome back to Church Unity Project!
     Today’s post is a recording of an interview I had with Fiona Jack of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (follow the link to their website).
     Fiona Jack is the ministry leader for InterVarsity’s ministries in London Ontario, leading activities and events occurring at both the Fanshawe College and Western University campuses alongside her student leadership team. They host potlucks, Word and Worship nights, retreats, and themed parties and weekends, all for the purpose of building a transformative, worshipful community. They also have student-led Bible studies where, using an inductive method, everyone is able to contribute to discussions, as they try to let God  speak for himself through the text.
     In their own words, InterVarsity’s vision is, “To see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world changers developed.”
     Fiona is a living testament of the power of God’s work in community. Through InterVarsity, she met and decided to follow Jesus! As a result of God moving in her life, she eventually decided to get involved with InterVarsity full-time, is passionately leading the community in London.
     Besides how cool InterVarsity is, Fiona has some really cool thoughts concerning church unity. She makes a really cool point: sometimes, it’s okay to disagree on the importance of something, while still agreeing that it is important in itself. She also makes a cool distinction between issues of theological knowledge, and one’s openness to understanding how God is working.
     I found Fiona’s drive and desire to see people brought into community absolutely inspiring. Community is hard, but just as Fiona mentions, if we truly believe in the body of Christ, then shouldn’t we be looking for those who would complete what is lacking in the body? Do we include people from other cultures in our community? Do we recognize and discuss the complexities of being gendered human beings in a way that is Jesus-focused? These are challenging questions, but ones that hold that powerful seeds that can expand how we understand ourselves and others, regardless of who they are or where they’re from, as made in God’s image!  (See Genesis 1:27)
     Take some time to check out the InterVarsity website. If you’re a student, and you’re not involved with a campus ministry, check InterVarsity out!
Here are a couple extras you might find interesting from the interview and from InterVarsity’s website:
     “Unity doesn’t mean a whole lot unless we’re going somewhere together” Fiona Jack
     InterVarsity’s Purpose, as posted on their website:
      The Purpose of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
           is to establish and advance
           at colleges and universities
           witnessing communities of students and faculty
           who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord:
           growing in love for God,
           God’s Word,
           God’s people of every ethnicity and culture
           and God’s purposes in the world.
     I hope my conversation with Fiona has given you the chance to see what the role of community in shaping the life of a believer. I also hope that it has given you a positive exposure to InterVarsity and the awesome work they are doing!
    What are your thoughts on InterVarsity? Did you enjoy this interview? Leave a comment or a question!
    Also, feel free to send me an email at churchunityproject@gmail.com
    Thanks for tuning in!

 

001 – Introduction [Podcast]

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Download podcast here: 001 – Introduction

My Name is Nigel Garnaitis, and welcome to the Church Unity Project Podcast! It is my goal to pursue Christian unity in an attempt to hear and obey Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20,21. I invite you to join me as we examine projects, people, and organizations that transcend denominational divides to bridge gaps and foster new Spirit-led partnerships to bring God’s kingdom to Earth.

   You may have subscribed to this podcast for many different reasons. I am sure you are wondering what this podcast is all about, and what you can expect.
   This podcast is an introduction to what Church Unity Project is all about, and some of its guiding principles!
   Let me tell you a little bit about myself.
   My wife Katelyn and I are both university students living in London, Ontario. I am studying History and Global Culture Studies, and I love reading, learning, travelling, triathlons, and almost anything involving the outdoors. I am going to give you a brief biography of my journey of faith, as I think it will shed some light on what this podcast is all about.
   My family has always firmly believed in placing God first. I have fond memories of Bibles strewn across the house, Christian music playing in each room, and God-focused conversations that were very much a part of our home! My parents instilled very early on in my life an emphasis on prayer, and choosing to follow God’s way rather than the ways of the world.
   I have attended an Alliance Church for my whole life. I spent years being mentored by some incredible people there. My head pastor, Mike Wilkins, emphasized the importance of the Bible in my life as a believer, placing a very high emphasis on the importance of scripture. My youth pastor, Graham Buchanan, was incredibly influential in my spiritual journey, as he constantly challenged me to pursue greater intimacy with God, and to follow the leading of the Spirit wherever he would have me go.
   Until a couple years ago,these influences were the major figures who spoke spiritual insight into my life. However, after a conversation with my friend Jon-Paul Theriault, I began to see God’s work in his people as something far greater than what my church was doing. I began to explore the historical Church, and, thanks to a number of other key figures in my life, I was introduced to the historical liturgical church and its expressions in Anglicanism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. I have come to have a deep appreciation for the ways God has been working through the historical church for thousands of years, and see the timeless spiritual value he has ordained in and through the sacraments and the life of the Church.
   I have also gained greater insight and understanding in the ways the Charismatic movement is shaping the church into deeper abandon to the movings of God’s Spirit.
   My encounters with all these areas of the Christian church have pointed me to some incredible projects, people, and organizations that transcend denominational divisions in order to build God’s kingdom here on Earth.
   It is these amazing things that I intend to share with you!
   I am realizing, along with many other Christians, that the Western world is quickly becoming post-Christian. Some have even called the new Western civilization a new barbarianism, where truth and morals have been left on the side of the road. Our values, our faith, and our mission as Christians is becoming the object of great scrutiny, and is increasingly being subject to the indignant eye of the dominant culture and governments of our cities and countries.
   I also realize that despite the threats this may pose to the Church, this is an incredible time for us to re-realize what it means to be Christians and part of God’s church on earth.
-Robert Webber’s book, Ancient-Future Faith: Re-Thinking Evangelicalism for a Post-Modern World (See link here) points out how our post-modern world shares some incredible similarities to the world in which the Gospel was first proclaimed-and the world in which it flourished.
   The church and its members are increasingly shining as a counter-culture of love, justice, and worship in a world that glorifies pleasure, paganism,power,  and wealth. I believe that as God works, we will inevitably face many attacks from the enemy-as light shines, darkness will try harder to fight it and cover it.
   As our world becomes more post-Christian, the veneer of cultural dominance that once covered the Church will be ripped off. Our values will not be the values of the majority anymore.
   I believe as we face a world that is more hostile to Christianity, the Church must unite in its mission to bring God’s worshipful kingdom to Earth, proclaiming Jesus as Lord, and serving the Father in the unity of the Spirit.
   We have to come together so that our light may shine brighter.
  Ella Baker, an African-American Civil Rights Activist, once said, “Give light and people will find the way.”
  As our world continues to critique and criticize the Gospel, the more we will need to shine. The more our world declares darkness (like sexual immorality, flippancy, abortion, misuse of power, violence) to be good, the more we need to shine the light of Christ so that people can see where truth really is!
  John 17:20,21 are foundational to my vision for this podcast. These two verses taken from Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer say, “I do not ask for these only [referring to the disciples], but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
   I believe that we can fulfill our Saviour’s prayer by truly serving him as Lord together. 
   I do not intend to foster any sort of theological arguments or deepen any divisions that already exist. On the contrary, I want to show people that God is working in amazing ways through projects, people, and organizations that they may not have heard about in their home church.
   I hope that the people who I talk with may inspire you to become involved in Kingdom work in new ways, and that your spiritual walk may be deepened and strengthened through encountering new perspectives.
   I intend this blog to be ecumenical, or, representing a broad range of Christian organizations. However, I need to clarify my terms.
     1. By ecumenical, I refer to parts of the universal, small-c catholic Church, that proclaims Jesus as Lord and serves him.
     2. By ecumenical, I refer to all parts of the Church that proclaim a belief in the small-o orthodox Christian faith, which I believe is most plainly summarized by the Apostle’s Creed:
     I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth; 
     And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
     I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. (Taken from The Book of Common Prayer, from the Episcopal Church, 1789)
     3. By ecumenical, I also refer to all Churches that adhere to the authority of Scripture.
   While this blog focuses on projects, people, and organizations, I think it is necessary to point out that these organizations are not where the buck stops. My goal is to foster unity among different churches, and to share in the broad range of expressions of our one, Holy, Apostolic faith and the work God is doing through them.
   I firmly believe that if the Christian church continues to push other Christ-following churches and believers away in the name of minute theological or organizational differences, it will be harder and harder for people outside the church to believe that Christians really believe in the uniting love we speak about.
   Not to say these differences are not without significance-they exist for a reason. It is not my intention to point these out or try to minimize them.
   However, I do think these differences should not negate our partnership in God’s greater mission. As long as we can agree on the major points of our faith, I believe we can work together in wonderful, new, and powerful Spirit-led ways!
   Rather than turn away from our brothers and sisters in Christ, let us work together to bring his kingdom to earth in expectation of his Kingdom to come.
   It has been my experience that when I tell people I am a Christian, their first follow-up question is about what denomination I belong to. I don’t think this is very useful. I want to tell people I’m a Christian, and let that speak for itself. If we want others to know we are Christians, let it be by our acts of love that we pursue in unity, rather than division. 
 
   If you have any questions, feel free to email me at churchunityproject@gmail.com.
   Please comment on this post! I welcome your feedback and suggestions.
   Any materials I have used or referenced will be mentioned in the show notes, found at https://churchunityproject.wordpress.com
   I look forward to beginning this journey with you.
   Until next time, this is Nigel Garnaitis for Church Unity Project, praying that, “according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled will all the fullness of God”.