Thursday, 30 August 2018

IS THE "BIG ONE" IMMINENT?


Ok, I know it’s the last thing we want to hear with our province on fire over the past two months. Within our own Canadian Vineyard family, we’ve experienced an “earthquake” of another kind that has knocked the wind out of us, leaving us numb and reeling, spiritually and emotionally. To add to all this, I received a message at our church Facebook site a few weeks ago from someone in Kansas, predicting a major earthquake in this region near the end of summer. I was struck by the person’s certainty combined with humility. 

Responding to a word like this can be tricky, and maybe even more so if you’re a pastor. On one hand, I don’t want to spread fear and panic. I am mindful that we are on a major fault line and seismologists, geologists and other scientists have been predicting the “big one” for some time - that it isn’t a matter of “if,” but “when.” Yet, it's impossible to predict the timing, so no one knows this except God.

A GIANT METEOR AND Y2K

I grew up with a lot of doom and gloom, as part of the preaching "diet." Predictions that the world would end soon were characteristic of that time. I remember as a child hearing predictions of a Soviet nuclear attack on North America by 1972, and that the great tribulation of Revelation, with all the apocalyptic horror and worst nightmares that any young Pentecostal kid could imagine, was imminent! At ten years of age, I heard a sermon by a well-known evangelist who predicted that a giant meteor would strike the earth within 15 years, ending life on earth as we know it. I remember exactly where I was, sitting on the front row of the church, taking this all in, and being physically doubled over in sheer terror, feeling icy tentacles of anxiety in my stomach, contemplating the fact as a 10 year old that I would never be able to enjoy an adult life, (which included being able to marry any girl I happened to have a crush on at the time)! Then, who of us can forget Y2K (unless you’re under 20!) We were all preparing for the end of the world as we knew it  - again! Some people made a lot of money off that! 

In addition, predictions of earthquakes hitting the west coast have come to us before. I recall attending  some of the more Charismatic Vancouver Pastor's prayer gatherings where we would weigh words like this, discerning together in community and for the most part, disregarding them as "not accurate." So, forgive me if I take any predictions of earthquakes with a grain of salt and caution. I know what fear did to me as a child, and how it negatively impacted my worldview and my spirituality. It kept me from pacing myself well for a “long obedience in the same direction,” which ended up in a catastrophic ministry burnout by the time I was 30! Now that was a real catastrophe!

Yet, for all these disclaimers, I don’t want to dismiss what might be a genuine warning from God, and if it is, what do we do with it? Summer travels have not helped, including the capacity to co-discern with colleagues and to check references for the messenger, but I decided in July to go on a few weeks of my own “Ignatian discernment,” that is, seeking to process the message, being present to God and paying attention to things I noticed that would indicate further action or response. I also prayed and discussed with a few trusted prophetic people, peers, and intercessors in my life.  Most did not sense that the word was to be taken literally, as an exact date was given and there does not seem to be scriptural precedent for this. Some felt the message was metaphorical of the spiritual “earthquakes” that have been happening in our BC region as well as our national Vineyard family. I note for example that David Ruis’ opening address at our Montreal gathering was about a great shaking coming, “so the things that cannot be shaken will remain.”[1] Earthquake or not, all strongly exhorted against fear, as fear is not from God. 

A THIRD WAY BETWEEN "FEAR" AND "DISMISSAL" 
 
So, what shall we then do? Is there a third way between dismissing the message on one hand, and spreading fear on the other? Well, let’s imagine that we knew for sure that the big one was imminent (and we don’t). How would we behave or respond?  Well, hopefully not much different than what we are doing, but here are some thoughts: 

1.       Be reminded that God is in control. One of the first things that came strongly to me during my discernment process was this Scripture: “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.[2] Jesus predicted an abundance of earthquakes in his apocalyptic “Mount of Olives” sermon, but he almost mentions them in passing, that they are a backdrop to the real drama of the inevitable advance of the kingdom of God. We have the assurance that God is holding the pillars of the earth, and he has a solid grip on the foundations of our lives and our city: we are in good hands! 

2.       Take the message as an invitation to pray. Earthquake or not, our culture desperately needs to wake up from our sleep, and we as the church need to humble ourselves and pray for our city. We need mercy and most of all, we need to pray that the Kingdom of God, of justice and righteousness would come, and that our nation would turn to God as our Source and our Refuge. It's highly timely that the 24/7 prayer room is engaged in a week of non-stop prayer for our city this very week – you can drop in any time at 605 East Cordova Street!  

3.       Further to point 2, it is noteworthy that prophetic messages are not necessary a prediction – they are an invitation to pray so that what was predicted does not occur! This is the mystery of our partnership with God. I remember listening to the elderly and grace-filled Agnes Sanford speak at Charismatic conferences at Melodyland when I was a teen in the late 1970’s, and was so impacted by her courage in deliberately buying a house on the San Andreas fault in Southern California, just so she could pray against the earthquakes! Every time she felt a tremor, she would set herself to prayer, and actually deliberately spoke directly to the earth and the tremors, commanding them to calm down! And they did! We can do the same.[3]  

4.       This can be another reminder to take the prescribed precautions of those who inhabit an earthquake zone. This includes being “seismically mindful” of where you are at all times, with an action or escape plan in your home, workplace, school, etc. It also means having a 3 day emergency preparation plan as outlined by the City of Vancouver’s NEPP (Neighbourhood Emergency Preparedness Plan). This link takes you to great advice and resources. Their advice includes having a relational network and a communication plan – with family, neighbours, friends, home group, etc.

Is the big one imminent? I don't know. Seismologists say it could be today, or, it could be another 100 years. What I do know is that God is in control and God says, "Fear not. Trust and obey.... Continue seeking first the kingdom of God...” Earthquake or not, our lives are in God’s hands. We are in good hands! In the words of Lady Julian of Norwich, "All will be well... all manner of things will be well in the Lord." Selah! 







[1] Hebrews 12:26-27.
[2] Psalm 75:3
[3] See for example, Romans 8:19-21

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Reflections from "the Walk"



Last Sunday, September 24, was a remarkable and historic day in our city and nation. Here are a few personal reflections that I journalled on those unforgettable moments...  


Saturday night, I worked feverishly on the final assembly of our Vancouver Eastside Vineyard Church signs thanks to some help from Markus’ borrowed stapler gun and some lumber from Home Depot. The signs had already been printed and laminated by Karen, our pastoral assistant and I mounted them on posts long enough so that they could be seen from a distance. Kathleen and I planned on transporting them on transit as it’s a bit hard to find a parking spot when up to a 100,000 people are expected at the Walk! 


Sunday morning, our transit bus pulled up to our bus stop where we were waiting at  Hastings and Lakewood. I felt a bit embarrassed that this was the first time I had taken a bus since the compass card had been introduced, and neither of us had a card! "No worries," I thought, "I have cash." I offered a $5 bill and some change to cover us both and the bus driver said, “No paper money.” We were stuck. He saw our confusion and said, “Don’t worry about it,” and let us on for free to our great relief! Must buy that compass card!  


Our bus route took us through the heart of the downtown eastside including Main and Hastings. Have you seen Main and Hastings at 8:45am on Sunday morning? It looked like a war zone. Kathleen wept at the sight of the carnage while all I could do was silently pray, particularly for a man across the aisle on the bus who was doubled over in pain from withdrawal. It all felt connected to the Walk we were about to embark on.
  

We got off at Hamilton Street and walked the short distance to Library Square at the corner of Hamilton and Georgia. We held up our signs, and our Vineyard peeps began to gather at 9am. Kathleen and I counted about 30-35 of us that we saw, kids included, who joined in with the tens of thousands of others, indigenous and non-indigenous. Others from VEV had sent their encouragements of solidarity to us. This would be our worship service today. I observed a bit later as the crowd was stretched a kilometre in front of me, that the Vineyard signs seem to punctuate the crowd from beginning to end! It was quite remarkable to see. I was so proud of our church. We were small, but not insignificant. 


Back at Georgia and Hamilton, there was already a large crowd gathering at 9am and we engaged in light chatter and small talk. All the while, I was aware of a solemnity and even heaviness that I felt in the air. 


Right on time, at 9:30am, the events began, when a First Nations elder, speaking through the public address system, introduced herself by her First Nations name and then her government name. She told us what nation and family clan she was from, including her traditional territory, and then announced that she was a residential school survivor. For the next few minutes, she told her harrowing story of abuse and suffering at Indian Residential School. It was so necessary for us all to hear this again, right at the beginning of our day, as a reminder of why we were walking. It focused us and pulled us together. Yet, I felt such a deep sense of discomfort as she told her story. I bowed my head in shame as she spoke. I became aware that my companions who were with me were feeling the same. I heard sniffles and the tears flowed. As she spoke, it seemed like the whole crowd had bowed their heads similarly with a sense of corporate shame. On this beautiful day in this beautiful city surrounded by oceans and mountains, we were aware that we lived in a land that had perpetrated this kind of suffering on generations of people. How could this be?   
  

I acutely also felt shame as a leader in the Christian church. So much of the suffering she described was done in the name of Christ. She listed the litany of abuses and insults heaped on her, such as being called incessantly, a “good for nothing dirty Indian.”


Yes, I bowed my head in shame. Like Israel, we as the church had been called to bring blessing to all the nations of the world, including indigenous nations, but, due to our idolatry, arrogance,  and disobedience, we had brought indescribable devastation in the name of Christian mission. Thanks to the “Doctrine of Discovery,” we had confused our Christian mission with colonialism and racial and cultural superiority and in so doing, misrepresented Christ and his Gospel to generations of indigenous people. Again, I bowed my head in shame and tears of repentance flowed. Never again. We must keep telling this story so that never again, we allow this to happen, for the sake of our children and grandchildren and generations to follow.  


Then, mercifully and remarkably, this beautiful First Nations elder declared that she had chosen to forgive. Through her native spirituality, she was on a path towards her own healing. Then she prayed. She prayed a powerful prayer to the Creator. She prayed a blessing on us and that the Creator would smile on us that day. I felt cleansing as she declared this. She blessed us to walk. No, it didn’t look like conventional church on Sunday morning, but, I sensed deeply that she was praying to the One God, the God that I worship. 


Then, we walked, indigenous and non-indigenous together. We walked in reverence. We
walked in worship of the Creator who had brought us all together on this special day. Some of us were followers of Jesus. Many were not – at least not in the framework of orthodoxy that we would be familiar with. While most First Nations are open to the Creator and Jesus, association with the church is too painful. There are too many triggers and associations with the pain of the past. Yet, on this day, we all worshiped and followed the “Creator” together. There was a universal sense of reverence for the Creator of us all – the One God who had made us all one on that special day, “Numwayut!” We are all connected. 


I felt assurance that this One God would be faithful to draw each person to himself and to reveal his Son in a way and time that was unique to each person’s journey who walked that day. But, this day was not a day for me to say this. My “sermon” for that day was to be silent and to walk. Yes, … silence, walking, tears. This was also my offering of worship, and the worship of the congregation I am so privileged to be a part of. They get this


Kathleen and I were again so honored to walk alongside Cee-ne, our sister and friend for 25 years, a residential school survivor from Lower Post. She along with her family gave us the keys to her community which is one of the greatest gifts we have ever been given. Her housemate, Dave, kindly offered me his Numwayut t-shirt so that I could wear it. On it was a button that says, “94 Calls” with an eagle feather through it, a reference to the “94 Calls to Action,” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report. It was healing therapy for me to wear it that day.  


Then we gathered at Strathcona Park, enjoying music and speeches, again by indigenous and non-indigenous speakers and artists, host nations and the nations. National Chief,  Perry Bellegarde spoke eloquently and powerfully. Then, my hero, Hereditary Chief, Robert Joseph spoke. I love this man and his gentle disarming spirit. He is a “Canadian Desmond Tutu” or “Martin Luther King.” “Bobby Jo” they love to call him. I also loved his words this day and I left the park with them resounding in my heart, washing the last vestiges of shame away and healing me. He said, “I have been crying today because I am so happy, as I look out at the sea of faces across this park. It’s a good day to be indigenous. But, we cannot be reconciled alone. We need each other…We are all in this together. Numwayat!"