Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An Invisible Footprint; Do We Trust the Social Networking Scene?

Facebook recently made significant changes to security. Since that time I have not been posting updates on FB. Why? Because I have not gone through the step of making the required “privacy settings” decisions. Members must choose the level of access that they are willing to grant to others. Does everyone in the world get to access my personal information or do I want to restrict that privilege to only those who are my family? Or friends? Or friends of friends?

My wife tells me that I am naïve. I want to believe the best in people, that they do not intend to be hurtful, that they will not use knowledge about me to their own gain and my detriment. That leaves me asking why I should not allow everyone to have access to my personal information. I trust them. And trust is a big issue.

Facebook has raised interesting issues for those involved in social networking and the safety of those who utilize tools like Facebook to stay in touch with friends. As I was reviewing the options, I began to think about how the same issues must be addressed in any community. Trust is paramount. We must have confidence that others will not abuse our transparency. When we take off the masks and allow ourselves to be known, we open ourselves to potential abuse. Someone may divulge things shared in confidence. Or they may hold those confidences dear while graciously helping us to become more of who we were created to be, conformed to the image of Christ.

One thing I know, missional lifestyles are not lived in isolation. Being missional requires relationship with others. Facebook has a limit on the number of “friends” one can have. Ed Stetzer became a “big deal” when his friends numbered 5000. (You can laugh with Ed by clicking here.) In reality, probably none of us could have that many true “friends.” The number of persons in whom we can invest and be invested emotionally is much lower. It is in the smaller group that authentic relationships develop; those that move beyond superficial to significant. Without community we are incomplete. Yet community carries a price tag that is too great for many.

Hugh Halter and Matt Smay got it right: “Everyone’s talking about community. Everyone seems to want it, most complain if they don’t find it, but it’s harder to pull off than you think.”(From the introduction to The Tangible Kingdom Primer) Where have you experienced real community? Do you currently have a relational community whom you trust completely? Do the words “church” and “community” intersect for you? If so, how? If not, why?

I look forward to dialogue about “missional community” with people like you who are on the journey at VERGE on February 4-6 in Austin, Texas. I’ll see you there.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Impressions of Russia - By Shafer Parker

Pastor, Hawkwood Baptist Church
Calgary, Alberta

The Rostov Baptist Bible School was created in the mid-1990s after the fall of Communism. In meetings with Russian Baptist leaders, North American Baptists asked how they could best support what Russian churches were already doing. Educating pastors and young adults for Christian ministry became a priority. Financially the school is supported by NAB churches in Canada and the U.S. All costs for each student are covered, including a tiny amount of spending money. The program is completed in one year, with each subject handled in two-week intensives (Bible survey courses, theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, etc.), led by volunteer professors and pastors from North America. Teaching is done through a professional translator and visiting professors live in a well-furnished apartment a five-minute walk away.

As I write this I’m on my way home from two weeks of teaching the Pentateuch at the Rostov Baptist Bible School in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. This was my second teaching trip and as I left for Russia this time I mistakenly assumed I would simply pick up where I had left off in 2008. Well, that notion disappeared in a hurry. I’d forgotten how much the translation process slows everything down. I also failed to realize that with a brand new group of students (10 men and 3 women) it would take a few days to assess their level of Biblical knowledge and develop the same rapport I had enjoyed with the students by the end of my first visit.

Nor had it crossed my mind how different the weather could be. I mean different from last year because this year it never varied from one day to the next. It rained, except for short periods of heavy overcast and dripping trees, then it rained some more. The hour of the day made no difference. It just rained. As we discussed Noah’s flood in the classroom, nature was giving us a graphic illustration of 40 days of inclemency just outside the window, with narry a rainbow in sight. Rostov is on the Don River just 20 miles east of the Sea of Asov, so I expected the humidity to be a little higher than in my home town of Calgary, Alberta. But this was ridiculous. Ah well, I made up for the dampness outdoors by the dryness of my teaching style indoors.

To meet a Russian Evangelical Christian is to meet someone who understands total commitment to Christ. Exceptions must surely exist, but I’ve not met any. Russia is no longer Communist and religious freedom is a reality, but by and large the culture is so opposed to Christianity, and evangelical Christianity in particular, that no one decides to confess Christ without counting the cost. Or else, like many of this year’s students, they’ve traveled the way of the world to its bitter end and know how to compare the cost of that journey to the rewards of following Jesus. Several of the men in this year’s class have spent time in prison, or in drug and alcohol rehab. They came to faith with the desperation of a Jacob, begging for a blessing from God after all natural strength has been torn away. None of them harbor any illusions as to the source of the new life they presently enjoy, nor would they return to their old way of life for anything this world can offer.

The classroom and the dormitory for the Bible school are in the basement of Central Baptist Church, the only new Baptist Church building to be built in Russia during the Communist era. The Soviet Union hosted the Olympics in Moscow in 1980 and the government was anxious to show the world that its people enjoyed religious freedom, which meant that precisely one church in one city got permission to build — at the end of a narrow, pot-holed lane that appears more alley than street, and where the church building is hidden from view behind some of the most dilapidated buildings in Rostov. No one just drops in at Central. To get there you have to be looking for it, and even then you probably need guidance from someone who knows the way.

Despite the difficulties, a growing number of people are attending Christian worship in Russia. The thousand-seat sanctuary at Central Baptist is nearly full every Sunday, with enough young people present to convince even a convinced skeptic that Christianity cannot be dismissed as nothing more than delusional comfort for a dying generation.

Still, attendance at Central isn’t what it once was — not, surprisingly enough, necessarily a bad thing. Before the fall of communism standing-room-only crowds were the order of the day. But over the past 15 years many members have used their new-found freedom to immigrate away from Russia, and an equal number have gone out to plant new churches around the city — one of them an imposing brick structure on a major thoroughfare with a large cross on top that leaves no room for the passing crowds to misunderstand what goes on inside.

For me, it’s the students I will always remember. Andre, who grew up as one of the good guys but remained haunted by the thought that something was wrong with his life. It was when one of the local pastors suggested he help out at a drug rehab centre that he began to understand his own need for repentance. Michael was a patient at that same centre who shared with me that he had dedicated 20 years of his life to drugs, alcohol and prisons. Within six weeks of entering rehab last year, and being exposed to a Christian witness, he had repented and believed. “Since then God has led me with His own hand,” he reports.

Then there’s Alexander (Sasha to his friends), who was a “danger to other people and a danger to myself.” Twice he tried to commit suicide, and twice the Lord preserved him until he finally went back to his believing parents and asked them to “tell me about God.” Since then “God has released me from my burdens,” he says.

These days Andre, Michael and Sasha are focused on preparing for a lifetime of ministry to others. They’ve got a long way to go to be completely ready, but I have little doubt they’ll make it. To God be the glory! Great things He has done!

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Heart is full…I am Thankful

Introduction by: Milfred Minatrea

Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church, will have surgery this morning in Dallas. Through this year it has been my privilege to walk with Matt, the staff and elders of the Village Church through the transition of Northway Baptist Church as it became The Village Church Dallas Northway. The most recent series Matt has been preaching was designed in part to introduce the Northway family to the Biblical doctrines that underpin the dynamic faith shared among the Village Church family. As Matt prepared to entered surgery, he communicated through a blog post matters that were foremost in his thoughts. You will be blessed as you read his post. He and his family will be blessed as you intercede. God will be blessed as His glory is shown in power through the touch of His mighty hand.

Here is Matt's post:

The last seven days have been some of the most interesting of my life. I have felt anxiety, fear, sadness and a deep and unmovable joy simultaneously and in deeper ways than I have felt before. I am grateful for this heightened sense of things. Today at 10:45 a.m. CST I will have a good portion of my right frontal lobe removed. I head into that surgery with a heart that is filled with gratitude and hope.

Here are some of the things I am thankful for in no particular order:

  1. I am thankful for the thousands of you who have prayed and fasted for my health. It has brought far more tears to Lauren’s and my eyes to receive this kind of attention from the Church universal than this tumor has.
  2. I’m thankful for health insurance because I’m guessing they aren’t doing my five-hour surgery for free!
  3. I am thankful that I have deep, real friendships at The Village with Michael Bleecker, Josh Patterson, Brian Miller, Chris Chavez and Beau Hughes. They have been such a comfort to me and my family this past week. Pastors should have good friends on their staff. It’s risky but worth the risk.
  4. I am grateful for the men of God in my life, namely John Piper who taught me to hold my life cheap and to join with Paul in saying “I don’t count my life of any value or as precious to myself if only I might finish my course and complete the work that He gave me to do to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God. I’m nothing, I just have a job. God keep me faithful on the job and then let me drop and go to the reward.” Without this strong view of God’s sovereign will, I’m not sure how you don’t despair in circumstances like mine.
  5. I am thankful for my wife Lauren. “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’” “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”
  6. I am thankful for my children. Audrey the Beautiful, Reid the Valiant and Norah the Joyous. Being a daddy to these three is one of the greatest joys of my life.
  7. The privilege of seeing and appreciating all of life through the grid of a heightened sense of my own mortality.
  8. I am thankful for brilliant doctors and surgeons who have been given a real gift by our great God and King to repair things as complex as the brain.
  9. I am thankful for The Village Church. If there is a place that loves Jesus more, takes sanctification as seriously and wants to see the lost love the great King deeply I am unaware of it. These last seven years have been a spectacular joy!
  10. More than anything else I am grateful to my King Eternal, my Lord Immortal, for my God invisible. He alone is God. All Glory and Honor, Forever to You O God. I am overwhelmed in these moments by God Himself and the assurance of a future inheritance of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken and where all things are made new (Hebrews 12).
Christ is All,
Matt Chandler