A Reformed Remembrance

Ross Lockhart writes, “A friend of mine from church, an Elder on our Session and daughter of missionaries, commented recently on a Facebook thread debating whether Christians should include acts of ‘Remembrance’ in their Sunday service around November 11th.  Specifically, the question of whether a wreath should be placed on the Communion Table or not was raised.  This prompted my friend Nicola, a medical doctor in Vancouver and former officer in Her Majesty’s British Army, to write this thoughtful and theological response:”

I place a wreath on the communion table, not to usurp the Savior to whom the table reflects, but because the table is one of remembrance and we remember.

I place a wreath because soldiers do not choose to give up their lives, they choose, for a variety of reasons to give up some of society’s freedoms to join an organization that teaches them obedience, team work, discipline, considering others more then themselves, working together and seeing the efforts of the whole. In that moment of war, when every cell in the body shouts, get down and save yourself, time and again, soldiers do the opposite. Not because they are Christian and believe that they are going to be honored, they don’t have time to have any great theological or philosophical thought, they do it because their gut response to horror and death is to reach our and connect with their brother lying next to them. In their sacrifice, I see so much of Christ’s sacrificial love for me. The wreath does not try to diminish Christ, it shows that in our human, injured and fallen world we can get a glimpse of self sacrifice that most of us in our comfy peaceful and democratic worlds will never fully know.

I sing the national anthem, not because I see any political agenda needs to be glorified, in fact the serving soldier has no political voice. He cannot complain when he is sent to war and argue if it is just. He goes, because he has signed up to do so. And he sings the national anthem to remind himself that he is blessed to live in a country that has democracy and has some ‘just government’ in whatever we can hope for when we are all sinners in need of grace. And he sings it to remind himself that the government is placed their by God and he must respect the government of the day as God has ordained him to, and that God is in control of government and that government will one day be called on to answer to God for the actions that they have taken- that has affected his life and the lives of countless others.

I place a wreath and I sing an anthem, to acknowledge that I live as a soldier under Christ and that I have had the privilege of serving in painful and trying circumstances that cause me to remember the depths to which Christ went to redeem his world, and can I follow his example in uniform or out of it?

Don’t belittle the wreath or the anthem as political statements, they are not, they go so much deeper, and we do well to remember once a year.

Major (Retired) Dr. N. Walton-Knight RAMC

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Pejorative Preaching?

“It’s a good thing.”  Martha Stewart is famous for this phrase, but apparently it doesn’t apply to preaching.  At least according to a curious interview in today’s Globe and Mail where, reflecting on her brand’s global impact, she stated:

I was raised by two schoolteachers so we were always being taught. We were taught to respect education and our teachers. And I loved my teachers. I remember all their names and used to have them over for lunch at my house. Teaching is very important. But I’m not a preacher. I want to make that very clear: We don’t preach. We teach.

As a preacher, I always find it interesting how quickly people associate preaching with a pejorative meaning.  I also find it curious how people assume that teaching and preaching are set in opposition to one another.  Curious, since in the Reformed tradition we call our Ordained Ministers “Teaching Elders.”  As a Teaching Elder in The Presbyterian Church in Canada, for example, I understand my role as a preacher in terms of Ephesians 4: 12, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  This equipping is teaching, it is training God’s people to be witnesses to the resurrection in the world.  Preaching the Word of God declares that sinful, broken human beings are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ for a purpose – we are saved to serve.  As a Professor, a Pastor and a Preacher, I take seriously the role given to me as a “Teaching Elder.”

I have a hunch that the pejorative association with the word “preaching” has to do with stereotypes of wild eyed preachers in cheap suits hurling “hellfire and brimstone” from the pulpit.  I get it.  And yet, there is always a cutting edge to the Word of God preached, a reality of spiritual warfare and the need for a prophetic voice.  As John Calvin once said in his commentaries:

“The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep, and another for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both, for he who is deeply skilled in it will be able both to govern those who are teachable, and to refute the enemies of the truth.”

In a post Christendom North America preaching may no longer have the privileged place it once held in broader society.  In our evangelical, Reformed witness, we continue to preach and teach the Word of God while participating in the redeeming and reconciling ministry of Christ in this world.  So yes, “It’s a good thing.”

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver.  He teaches at Regent College and The Vancouver School of Theology. 

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God’s Shirt

Hi folks,

Just wanted to share a link with you: it’s for a devotional piece I wrote for the Upper Room quite some time ago. It was just published this week! Find it here.

The follow up piece is here.

Blessings,
Rob Fennell

Rob Fennell teaches theology and church history at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, NS.

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Missio-cat-ology

After several years without a furry friend, our family made the fateful decision this summer to adopt a cat.  Previously a dog friendly family, our strata bylaws in North Vancouver made it clear that only a cat would do.  We began our search online and saw the various dodgy websites advertising pets for sale.  Then we stumbled upon an organization called VOKRA.  “What’s that?” I asked myself thinking it sounded vaguely like the super villain organization SPECTRE from the James Bond franchise.  “The Vancouver Orphaned Kitten Rescue Association,” my wife replied.  “That’s quite a handle,” I conceded and agreed to check it out.  What followed next taught a budding missiologist a few lessons about what the church should look like in society.

First, I visited their excellent website (http://www.orphankittenrescue.com) and filled out an application for adoption.  Next, I was contacted immediately by a volunteer asking for a good time to chat on the phone to explain the mission of the organization.  I soon found myself on the phone with the most delightful woman who clearly articulated the vision, mission and goals of the the organization.  She even added a little testimony about how her life was changed by adopting cats through VOKRA and decided to give of her time to volunteer so that others could experience “the good news.”  She explained how there are 400 foster homes for orphaned cats in our city and soon set us up for a house visit with a potential new cat friend for our family.

A couple of days later we found ourselves in the home of two lovely young women who foster cats on behalf of VOKRA.  Again, they could easily and convincingly describe both the purpose of the organization and why their involvement was so important.  The cat was perfect for our active family and so we found ourselves meeting next, the following day, with yet another volunteer (proudly wearing her VOKRA t-shirt) at a neighbourhood Starbucks, where we went through a home assessment, transition plan and paperwork to pay and adopt this stray cat.  You’ve already guessed.  The normal, lovely volunteer took time to talk about why the organization matters to the life of our city and then added some personal narrative about her experiences of rescuing cats and matching them with loving homes.

So, we now have Rosie the cat who is playful and a wonderful addition to our home.  But in addition to that, I was left in awe of this “rescue organization” in our city.  Completely staffed by volunteers who understood their work to be urgent, transformative and life-giving (salvific?) not just for the individual (cat/owner) but for the welfare of the city.  Hmm.  Here I am an Ordained Pastor in the Reformed tradition and I’m not sure many of our church goers could give such a clear and passionate description of the rescue mission God has given Ambassadors of Christ through the gospel. (2 Corinthians 5)  Imagine, if the Church could know itself, in response to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, and declare itself to be so urgently needed for the salvation and welfare of the community.  Time for some missiological lessons from our cat friends – of which, now I am one.

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership at UBC.

 

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R n’ R

We’ve enjoyed several weeks now of ridiculously good summer weather here in Vancouver.  Last night, sitting on a friend’s patio we turned on the outdoor heater and surrendered to the change in temperature.  Yes, summer is nearing its end.

Dear reader, I trust this has been a summer of blessing for you.  As you can see we’ve been a bit quiet on the blog enjoying a good break ourselves.  Rob on the east coast and me on the west, summer is a great time for R n’ R.  Rest and relaxation easily becomes the order of the day when the weather is good and the kids are out of school.

Of course, vacation is not a biblical concept.  Sabbath, yes.  A day of rest to worship the Lord and remember that we are no longer slaves – free to be children of God and not slaves to the market or our mortgage.  But vacation – endless weeks of slothful unproductive action and gluttonous over indulgence – not so much a biblical concept.  As missionary disciples of the Risen Christ, there is no such thing as “taking a day off” from our baptismal vows.  The triune God continues to supply grace sufficient for our witness daily – in and out of season.

This summer my family spent all of July in Northern Ireland visiting with extended family once more as well as serving the Presbyterian Church in Ireland for the third time.  On this visit, we were staying in the manse and preaching at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast.  Fitzroy Presbyterian is located at the heart of Queen’s University and was a congregation deeply involved in the peace process during the troubles.  While there, I began to think about R n’ R differently.  Time spent in God’s Word led me to 2 Corinthians 5:

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

It was a reminder to me how the gospel challenges us to be both agents of reconciliation and serve as witness to God’s righteousness in this sin sick world.  I caught a glimpse first hand of a Christian congregation that understood itself in relation to the great text “God was reconciling the world in Christ, not counting our sins against us…” not as a passive concept but rather a relational truth to participate in.  God is the One who is reconciling.  God is righteousness.  We are not.  But by grace, we are adopted in the family of God:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit and participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world.  How might your local Christian community demonstrate the reconciling love of God?  How might your community be known as a visible symbol of God’s righteousness in this world cluttered with idols and sinful desire?  Time for a little R n’ R…

 

Ross Lockhart is an Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall at UBC and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership.

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A Prayer for Orlando

I was preaching in a wonderful Brethren congregation here in Vancouver yesterday morning when word spread about the awful violence in a nightclub in Florida.  Nearly 50 people murdered and another 50 injured.  The worst mass murder shooting in America – so far.  The Elder leading prayers said what we were all thinking – that our hearts break at the news of violence, that we recoil when we hear of a human being with such hatred for other human beings, that we long for a day promised in Scripture when God triumphs for good over evil and when the good work that the Father began in raising the Son from the dead will be completed by the Spirit’s power in consummation.  Come, Lord Jesus Come.

This morning the Moderator of the 142nd General Assembly, Rev. Douglas Rollwage, offered this prayer on the national Presbyterian Church website:

A Prayer in a Time of Violence

Eternal God of loving-kindness,
you hold all situations and souls in your hands;
you are our only hope and comfort in life and in death, and
you are the one to whom we turn in times of trouble.

You sent Christ into the world
that we might have life
and have it abundantly;
he came as the Prince of Peace
to a world that is too often violent and marked by tragedy.

In the face of violence in Orlando and against people in the LGBTQ community,
we come to you in sorrow
for those whose lives are cut short or forever changed;
we come to you in frustration and anger
because of the violence in this world;
we come to you in confession
for we have been too often silent
when we should have spoken up against hatred and bigotry
and too often we have tolerated violence that breaks your heart.

We pray that you
watch over those who are in danger,
comfort those who fear for themselves or loved ones,
gather into your loving arms those who die,
give us wisdom to be voices of peace in moments and places of hatred and fear;
give us courage to be a force for positive change in our communities, workplaces and churches.

In the name of Jesus, in whom all is reconciled;
let understanding overcome vengeance;
let peace overcome violence;
let kindness overcome hatred and suspicion.

And in your grace, let us see the day when guns and all weapons that destroy life
are transformed into instruments of peace and healing.

In the strong name of Jesus, we pray;
Amen.

 

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, UBC and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership.

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Polity & Pentecost

It was an honour to be a resource person on behalf of St. Andrew’s Hall/VST at the 142nd General Assembly held at York University June 3 to 6.  General Assembly is an extrovert’s dream, hundreds of Presbyterians in one place and several days in which to connect with leaders from coast to coast. I felt like a kid in a candy store.

 

From my “perch” at the back of the room, I was able to both observe the work of Commissioners throughout the sederunts, as well as participate fully in worship. As Commissioners dropped by the St. Andrew’s Hall/VST table to collect information on the college as well as their snappy SAH First Aid kit freebies,

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it gave me an interesting opportunity to hear various concerns about the state of the church. Many Commissioners thanked me for our webinars over the last year and named specifically how pleased they were that SAH’s Centre for Missional Leadership is focused on evangelism and mission in the church and world.

It was interesting to be once again at the “highest” court of the church in the season after Pentecost and watch the polity of church play out as motions and amendments worked their way through the Business Committee.  Perhaps predictably the most controversial overtures were often not debated openly, but played out in other ways as “pacifying motions” ended up in curious debates like the long conversation on what “tender pastoral care” looks like in the church.  I found myself at times wondering what it would be like to sit at Nicaea in 325 AD or Ephesus in 431 AD or Chalcedon in 451 AD and hear church leaders struggling to articulate the way forward that is most faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

As I listened pastorally to Commissioners visiting me at the resource table, there was a deep sense of worry how the current conversation on human sexuality was dividing the church and how, at times, even worship at General Assembly seemed to be a proxy battleground for the debate. I left GA this year with a desire to pray more often for the unity of the church, and the need to find a balance between an inclusive welcome and the courage to testify to our common humanity/sinfulness before our holy and triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, UBC and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership.

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