Take The Red Pill – Part 3

To catch up with this conversation, please read Part 1 and Part 2 of the “Red Pill” series. And, yes, I shamelessly ripped the title from “The Matrix”. Here’s Part 3:

I am blessed to be a church planter in Ottawa and the community of faith that we’ve planted is called “Pivot 613“. I believe with all my heart that God is going to open doors beyond our understanding and grow our community in ways that will astonish even those of us that set out to dream about it.

So I can say this without any pride knowing that I will have absolutely nothing to do with it:  One day Pivot 613 will have an awesome facility and enough money to purchase the kind of technology that will allow us to get our message out further, faster and better than we currently do it. One day we will have a cutting-edge youth ministry and a kids ministry that is the envy of every church in our nation’s capital. One day we will have multiple locations meeting around the city and other churches looking to us to learn from our models of communication, discipleship and congregation empowerment. But believe me when I say this: having a cool church with lots of cool toys and cutting edge innovation is not what being a red-pill follower of Christ is. Being the hip, cool movement in this city is not our motivation. Our motivation is the teachings of Jesus and so, being a red-pill person in a red-pill movement means so much more to us. It means taking the message of Jesus seriously.

So for us it is not enough for us to create the dream-state in which you have all the trappings of faith community and never really wake up to the reality that the trappings are not the real thing. It is not enough for us to simply SAY that we endorse and espouse the teachings of Jesus, but never really live them out to their logical conclusion. It is not enough for us to simply give of our time and finances to social justice causes when we feel it is convenient. It is not enough for us to simply say that we love people we disagree with when we will not stand to defend them from injustice, corruption and discrimination or love them long and hard enough to be able to share Christ’s love without being offensive.

For us, being a red-pill movement is being like Dirk Willems.

For us, being a red-pill movement is being a true neighbour as Jesus describes it.

For us, being a red-pill movement is doing our best to let Christ’s expensive and all-consuming love inspire us to show love in ways that causes people inside and outside the church to shake their heads in disbelief.

For us, being a red-pill movement is the rejection of fear, judgement and condemnation and embracing grace, mercy and love.

For us, being a red-pill movement is about defending the defenceless.

For us, being a red-pill movement is waking up from business as usual in the church

For us, being a red-pill movement is taking Jesus DEAD SERIOUS

For us, being a red-pill movement is encapsulated in the simple phrase – LOVE FIRST

Mahatma Ghandi – an Indian revolutionary who was inspired to peaceful revolution in part by the sermon on the mount from Matthew 5 – 7 once said something that cuts to the chase about being either awake or in a dream-state where following Jesus is concerned. This is what he said:

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

BOOOOOM! There it is. If we are so unlike Christ, it is time for the sugar-coating to stop. It is time for our pathetic displays of piety to stop and the tough work of really being Jesus to a world that needs him to start. It is time to take Jesus seriously. It is time to take the red pill.

Here’s a passage of scripture in which Jesus speaks plainly about being a Red-Pill Christian: Matthew 7. Take a moment and read it HERE. You’ll see why He blows my mind. I’ve decided to follow him and take him seriously. No turning back! I’ve decided to take the red pill. I’m calling on you to take it with me.

Take the Red Pill – Part 2

If you’d like to catch up with the conversation, please read Part 1 of the series… and… yes… I shamelessly ripped the title from the movie “The Matrix”. Here’s Part 2:

One of the protestant denominations that has been of great fascination to me in recent years is the Mennonite Brethren and one of the people that has captured the imagination of their movement is a man called Dirk Willems. You see Dirk took the teachings of Jesus to love and have compassion for your enemies a lot more seriously than most of us do. He had been imprisoned for being an Anabaptist. Anabaptists were sects of religion that re-baptized people who had been baptized as infants and felt that they needed to reaffirm their faith. Under older denominations of Christianity at the time – especially the Roman Catholics – this was considered to be a grave, heretical offence against the church and if you were found to be an anabaptist, you would be imprisoned and likely killed. So, Dirk was imprisoned for re-baptizing people.

One night he managed to escape his prison by using a rope that he had made out of knotted rags and lowering himself to the ice that surrounded the castle moat.  A prison guard saw him escape and started to pursue him across the moat. Dirk managed to cross the moat because he was so skinny that his weight did not break the ice, but his pursuer who was heavier broke through the ice. When Dirk heard the guard’s cries for help, instead of fleeing into the night, he turned back and rescued him. The less-than-grateful guard then seized Dirk and led him back to captivity. This time the authorities threw him into a more secure prison and soon after that, he was led out to be burned to death.

It is easy to see why Dirk has captured the imagination of the Mennonite movement and all the other people that hear of his story. Here was a Christian, so compassionate that he risked capture in order to save the life of his drowning pursuer. Here was somebody that took the teachings of Jesus so seriously that he gave up his life to save the life of his soon-to-be executor.

This is crazy stuff.

But this is the kind of stuff that Jesus was waking me up to. And I could not believe that I had been asleep to it. This is the kind of stuff that the rabbit hole led to. By becoming a red-pill Christian, I felt that Jesus was calling me to become a part of a movement that took him this seriously – not just in words and rhetoric, but in action. To touch the people that I claimed I loved, but would never touch. To associate with people that I claimed to love, but would not associate with for fear of damaging my reputation. To have dinner with sinners just as he did. To hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes like he did and not simply talk about how awesome it would be to do it. And if it ever came to it, to lay down my life to serve somebody that might never have a change of heart even after I had sacrificed my life.

Again I say, this is crazy stuff.

But this is what being wide awake means. This is what taking the red pill and waking up from the matrix means. Our salvation did not come to us cheap and I believe that Jesus call on us is to be a people that recognize it and in turn spare no expense to reach those that are far from him. Jesus is offering us the red pill:

Leave the dream state of moralism and embrace the reality of transformation through grace, mercy and love.

Leave the dream state of fighting the symptoms of sin and wake up to the reality of dealing with the root of it.

Leave the dreams state of superficial debates about the things we can see and wake up to the reality of dealing with matters of the heart.

Leave the dream state of seeing people as your enemy and wake up to the reality of seeing them as Christ sees them. Leave the dream state of shouting at, advocating against or fighting against those that you disagree with and wake up to the reality that Christ is calling you to lay down your life for them!

Every day I see workers in downtown Ottawa that are red-pill christians working with the destitute people in our downtown core – feeding them, clothing them, loving them and helping them without any assurance of complete life transformation.

Every day I see missionaries around the world that are red-pill christians awake to the reality of human trafficking around the world. Putting their lives in danger to rescue women, men and children sold into slavery.

Every day I see red-pill men and women awake to the reality that racial and sexual discrimination needs to come to an end in our societies and in the world. Many of them fight this fight knowing that their reputation and standing in society will take a hit and yet they care more about the people they advocate for than their own reputation.

A few weeks ago I saw the incredible pictures of red-pill Orthodox priests in Kiev, Ukraine standing between violent protesters and the state police praying for peace on earth and goodwill to men. Awake to the reality that they needed to be the voice of reason in a country that was descending into chaos. These men were willing to lay down their lives to save their city and country.

This is what taking the red pill looks like!!

To Be Continued In Part 3…

 

Take the Red Pill – Part 1 (Title Shamelessly Ripped From “The Matrix”)

Do you ever have recurring dreams?

When I was younger I had the dream of falling and waking up in my bed before I hit the ground, still feeling the sensation of falling.

Have you ever had a dream like that?

These days I have a different kind of recurring dream and I hate it.

In my dream I am back in high school and I am standing in the chemistry lab for my A-level 3-hour practical exam. The problem is that in my dream I am not my well-read, well-rehearsed high school chemistry expert self. I am a 36-year old who last looked at a chemistry textbook in 1997 and I am freaked out. And in my dream, just like when it happened in 1997, there is a radio blaring the stupid Bobby McFerrin song right outside the lab:

Here’s a little song I wrote. I’m gonna sing it note for note… Dont worry! Be happy!

Everytime that I wake from the dream, I am sweating and my heart is pounding and I cant go back to sleep for a few hours. Each and every time the dream feels real even though I know, somewhere in my head, that I am dreaming.

Some of you are like, um… what’s A-level? I’ll tell you. Under the old british system, which is what I went through in Uganda, for your last 3 years of high school, you get to pick three or four subjects that serve as pre-university courses setting you up for a degree or diploma at a higher institution of learning. The three subjects that I chose were Physics, Chemistry and Math because they were my favourite and I thought that I would continue to become a scientist of some sort at university and on. How I came to work at a church is a story for another time.

Now, I have never studied harder for anything than I did for my a-level exams. I was one of 100,000 students all around Uganda sitting the same exams hoping for one of 6,000 admission spots in the only university in Uganda at the time. Every single moment during those 2 weeks of exams had to count. I’ve been through many stressful situations, but I have to say that those 2 weeks of physics, chemistry and math examinations definitely rank as one of the top 5 stressful situations I’ve ever been through.

This is why I hate the dream. In it I re – live the stress of the moments so long ago. But this time it is the stress without the assurance of preparation and I know, in my recurring dream, that I am going to fail! I cannot get out! I cannot wake up! I am going to fail! I cannot wake up! I cannot get out!!

I hate it. And I hate that it feels so real every single time I am in that dream.

What is your recurring dream?

“Have you ever had a dream, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? “

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the moment that I knew for sure that God had spoken to me about starting a new faith movement in Ottawa, and I talked about the conference I was in and being struck by the idea of building a faith movement that forcefully and actively rejects fear through grace, mercy and love. In those next few moments, sitting in that room right after I knew what I was to do, I felt like I had suddenly woken up from a deep and long sleep.

It was like God took me by the shoulders and shook me so hard that I woke up.

You know how it is when you wake from a dream that you are so sure is real. That realization that what you thought was reality was not. Those few seconds when the haze of sleep gives way to the clarity of being awake. That is how I felt  sitting there in that room, stunned by the unexpected voice of God. I felt like I was waking up and this time I was not going to go back to sleep.

There had been clues that I had been asleep;

All the numerous discussions that I’d had with people over the years about the ways in which the church should take up her mantle and mandate to become MORE than she was.

All the numerous blog posts I had written about a theoretical church, a theoretical movement, a theoretical people courageous enough to reach for something better than themselves.

All the times I had looked at the disparity between the communities of faith we had built and the teachings of Jesus about the communities of faith that we were SUPPOSED to be.

All the times I had watched with incredulity as fear, judgement and condemnation won time and time again over grace, mercy and love and caused the organizations that I was a part of to treat me and people that I knew and loved in ways that were less than Christlike.

All the times I had stood on stage leading people in worship, smack dab in the middle of wealthy organizations wondering if this was all to it. Wondering if there was more.

And yet in spite of the clues that I might simply be dreaming, there were things about the dream that conspired to keep me, not just in the dream state, but unaware that I was not fully in touch with reality and the full implications of the message of Jesus. Around me were the trappings of almost everything that I considered to be a part of being an effective, growing, 21st-century church – the large and growing congregations, the large buildings, the healthy budgets, the obligatory social justice pet projects, the small groups that gave the illusion of community, the lights, the multimedia, the websites, the solitary passionate communicator of the vision, and even the baptisms.

And so you can imagine how shocking it was for me to be woken up in June last year. You can imagine how, for me, it was like being in the clip that we saw right before I started speaking. It was like I was being invited to take the red pill and like Alice in wonderland, I was about to be shown how far down the rabbit hole went. I did not know that once I took the red pill, once I woke up to reality, I was going to be in for one heck of a ride and it was going to be a HUGE REALITY CHECK.

To Be Continued…

The Scandal Of Grace – Part 2

If you have been in Christian circles as long as I have, there is a tendency for many leaders to talk about the whole concept of grace as if applying too much of it is a bad thing. And so because too much grace is a bad thing, we wax eloquently about making room for “truth” as if truth is a polar opposite to grace when in fact, truth reveals grace and true grace reveals truth. In a previous post about the practical implications of grace mercy and love, I tried to make the case for the fact that grace is not as scandalous as we might think because grace and truth are really good dance partners in their mutual revelation. And yet experience has shown me that Christians – yes, especially Christians – violently push back where the concept of grace applied liberally is concerned.

I know where this push back comes from. I deal with it every day. It comes from my heart and my litigious perspective on life. Surely there have to be limits to grace… surely! Surely! If we just keep applying grace to even the most egregious wrongs, the lesson that we are teaching is that there is no consequence for wrongdoing. When do we bring the hammer? When do we speak truth? When do we mete out justice?

This kind of thinking basically sets me up as a moral authority over the recipients of my limited edition grace completely disregarding one huge glaring issue. While I may be stingy with grace towards other people, I have been on the receiving end of a disproportionately large amount of grace and my wrongdoing is not yet done. I will screw up in future and WILL need grace in future again. So what I perceive to be scandalous when it concerns another person, is not so scandalous after all where I am concerned.

This is a double-standard to say the least.

The unfortunate reality is that I am not alone in this. Human beings are TERRIBLE at extending grace to one another. When we are wronged we want justice and we want the most serious punishment for crimes committed against us. We are exacting in our standards, unforgiving with each other and with ourselves. Just look at the way people speak to each other online. Just look at the way we judge each other for being overweight. Just look at the way we treat people facing financial trouble like they are cancerous. Just look at the way we place impossible standards on each other for parenting and family responsibilities.

In counseling recently – yes, I go to counselling regularly – my counsellor said something to me that really affected me deeply. She was trying to get me to understand how much it hurts my wife when people hurt me. The question she asked to illustrate her point was whether I would prefer it if somebody hurt my little daughter, my wife or hurt me. It’s obvious… a hurt to me would not be as devastating as if somebody hurt my little girl. It is gut wrenching to watch people mistreat my wife and it would wreck me if anybody were to hurt her. I’m tough and I can take a lot, but if you want to see me go nuclear, just do something to my daughter or my wife. I bring the hammer EVERY TIME. She helped me understand that when people hurt me, while it sucks being me, it really, REALLY sucks being somebody that loves and cares for me.

On the drive home from that counselling session as I was trying to figure out a way to talk to my wife about it all, I was suddenly hit with a HUGE realization. When we hurt one another, it hurts God even more than it hurts us because God is our father. Just like it is devastating for me to see my daughter get hurt, it is even more devastating for God to look down and see his children hurt. I think that this is why the bible says that when we sin against each other, we sin against God. When you hurt one of his precious people, you do not simply hurt the child… you hurt HIM, our father. And yet in spite of this grief that he is caused seeing his children hurt one another, God does something SCANDALOUS. He does not bring the hammer as we naturally would if we were in his situation. He does something counter-intuitive and explodes with grace, mercy and love. The kind of grace that you cannot outrun.

Understand this. God’s reaction to sin, brokenness, wrong, and hurt in the world is NOT hell. In the church, we’ve done a great job of illuminating hell and making it seem that God created hell in his anger against the sin of humanity. And the more we’ve shouted about hell, it becomes so easy to assimilate a narrative that God is a celestial, angry guy when in fact the truth could not be more opposite. He is a father deeply hurting because of the pain and suffering of his children, but instead of going nuclear on those that would hurt his children, he flips the script!!

God’s reaction to sin is extravagant grace.

God’s reaction to the hurt of his children is love.

God’s reaction to wrong is mercy.

Romans 5: 1 – 8

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

“God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”

While we were still sinners, christ died for us.

When a sin is committed us, we demand justice. Similarly, when a sin is committed against us, our heavenly father demands justice on our behalf. But we who demand justice are equally guilty because we too sin against those around us. But God flips the script! Instead of annihilating humanity because of our sins against one another, he takes the sins of the world upon himself and dies in our place.

The writer of this particular passage helps you to see how scandalous it is that WE are the recipients of such unmerited favour when he speaks frankly about the fact that even in the case of really good people, very few would sign up to take their place when life is on the line. I dont know about you, but I am not a very good person. I am not the kind of person that people would stand in line to die for. I’m kind of a screw up. And I believe that the writer of this passage feels the same way which is why it is so important to him to point out this incredible scandal.

What we neglect to say about the writer of this passage every time we quote it in our christian circles is that Paul, who wrote it, was a killer. Paul is not writing this passage with squeaky clean hands. He has blood on his hands. The fact of the matter is that he used to hunt down and kill christians. This was his past. So for him to write a statements about forgiveness of sins is HUGE. Paul is painting a picture of a God of love whose grace knows no bounds. Even killers are not too far that his love cannot reach them. Even killers and murderers cannot outrun his grace!!

If this is true, then it goes without saying that God’s great love towards us is mind-boggling. God’s forgiveness of our atrocities is shocking.

Ladies and gentlemen, this IS the scandal of grace.

What is our response to be in the face of such scandalous grace? I am persuaded that for the people that are following christ and for those that are not sure about him yet, our response is to be one and the same.

Accept it today!

The Scandal Of Grace – Part 1

For most of you that were paying attention to Canadian politics last year, you probably heard the same thing that we all did. Scandal after scandal after SCANDAL! Canadian politics is normally very boring because we do not have a habit of picking politicians based on their flamboyance, but rather on their platform.

Now, I know that politics is one of those topics that make people hot under the collar so I am not going to wade into my views on it until I announce my running in an upcoming election… LOL!

However, it is true. Canadian politicians rarely make the kind of splash that they did in 2013. The senate was the topic of much debate and conversation because of the alleged conduct of some of the senators. Some of you may not have known that we have a senate or even what their purpose is until last year! And our friends in Toronto made a splash internationally based on the conduct of their now infamous mayor.

2013 in canadian politics was a year of scandal, wasn’t it? Oh yes it was!

Our family does most of our grocery shopping on friday afternoon on our way home from my wife’s school. As we wait in the long lines at the grocery store for our turn, I love to read the headlines of the tabloid magazines that line the cashier aisles. There is never, EVER a headline about somebody behaving well, saving some children from disaster or some person doing good in the world. Instead, all the headlines are about celebrities and the scandals in their lives. Some are very real scandals and others are simply fantasy, but they are there in our faces every single day and they fly off our shelves every single week.

As far as the tabloids are concerned 2013, and yes, even 2014 are years of GREAT scandal.

Last year, as some of you may know, I was fired from my job as a worship pastor at woodvale pentecostal church. I kinda had a sense that it was going to go down, but even as I heard the words, was asked to clear out my office, hand in the keys and leave the building for good, it felt like I was in a movie of some kind. The people that were there for the service 2 days later when it was announced told me that the announcement hit the congregation like a bomb! The way that it all went down was sensational! It was scandalous. If you have been in the church for more than 2 years, you will have seen a pastor at your church or at another church in the city get dismissed and you will have been a witness to the scandal that swirls around his or her dismissal. It’s not pretty. Having been a pastor for the past 10 years, I can tell you with relative authority that most pastors just want to get to the end of their careers without a scandal. Indeed, most of them pastor in such a way that they never have a personal or church-wide scandal. I was one of those pastors – trying so hard to make sure that I did not cause or precipitate a scandal of my own or of another colleague and yet here I was at the end of November 2013 and there was no escaping it. I was going to be at the centre of my very own scandal and I can assure you that it was not pretty.

2013 in my personal life was a year of scandal.

Most scandals in the news to not affect me or impact me, but there was one in particular that had an impact on me more than all the others that I’ve witnessed or seen in the news. I do not know why. It was the scandal surrounding an american pastor called Ted Haggard. His plummet from prominence as a pastor of a mega church and one of the most influential voices in evangelical christianity is one of the most well-documented stories of scandal to date. Part of the intrigue of the story for me was not so much the way in which people tried to demonize him, and still try to, but rather the way in which his family and most especially his wife refused to abandon him. I have watched literally every piece of video about them since that scandal, read every book, and read every blog about this incredible family.

In particular, I remember one interview in which Oprah was trying so hard (and failing, I might add) to hide her incredulity at the fact that Ted’s wife, Gayle, had chosen to stay after all the lies and infidelity. For all her so-called open-mindedness, Oprah seemed to have finally run into something that she could not be so open minded about. For a significant portion of the 25 years that her show run, Oprah preached that women should leave their cheating husbands and not look back as soon as they found out about it. Many of her listeners bought into her gospel and they would clap enthusiastically every time she bulldozed a guest over to make this point. The message was simple: if a man cheats, leave him. And yet, sitting on her couch was a woman who had been betrayed in the most public and shameful way possible and she had the audacity to challenge Oprah’s vast wisdom!

Watching that program and many interviews and blogs since Gayle Haggard wrote her book “Why I stayed”, I started to realize something quite profound. For many people, the fact that you forgive somebody for wronging you is just as scandalous as the wrongdoing itself. It seemed like in that moment, sitting across from Ted and Gayle Haggard, Oprah found Gayle’s forgiveness of Ted just as scandalous as Ted’s well-publicized infidelity.

Who knew that forgiveness, grace, mercy and, indeed, love could be so scandalous?

It seems, therefore, that there are 2 ways of thinking about what a scandal really means, wouldn’t it?

I have continued to follow Ted and Gayle Haggard since that Oprah interview and have watched as they worked to put the pieces of their life back together and have even since planted a church on their property called St. James Church. As I was watching the TLC special in which they followed him in the last few weeks and days before his church startup, it was clear that there were people who would never EVER forgive him for the mistakes he made. They could never accept that he could be a figure of authority or spiritual guidance because of his very public scandal and they were even more incredulous hearing that there were other people willing to be forgiving towards the man.

Having been in Christian circles all my life, I’ve found that even though we nod our heads meaningfully when we see people exercise extraordinary grace, mercy and love, the truth is that we find it just as scandalous as the acts for which grace, mercy and love are required. If you were at any of our at-home locations or watched the video from our past at-home sunday, you will have heard me make mention of the fact that our natural tendency when people do something wrong is to withdraw love. So when we see people extend love after being wronged, it is shocking to us. It messes with something deep inside of us because it goes against the innate wiring of our human condition.

While I was at university, I met a man who against all odds had made it to our prestigious school to study medicine. This guy had, at one time, been a child soldier in the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. There is not enough time to get into the details of the story of the LRA. I simply ask that you google it at some point this week to get some context for why his words to me were so shocking. In fellowship one afternoon he told me that he had forgiven Joseph Kony and his abductors. I’ve never been more shocked to hear anything in my life! I do not know that I could EVER forgive somebody like Joseph Kony especially if I had been a victim of the insane brutality that his child soldiers went through and continue to go through.

I am pretty sure that I have never heard anything so scandalous. Yes! The word scandalous is appropriate in this instance as well because it really IS.

Even though years have separated me from my friend, I’ll never forget that moment when he said he had forgiven Kony. And the more I’ve thought about him, and thought about people like Gayle Haggard and others who have done the exact opposite of what our human wiring and consensus tells us to do, I’ve realized that there a different way of thinking about the whole concept of scandal. Because of this, I would like to submit that there is indeed a parallel scandal happening all the time that does not make it to the front pages of our tabloid magazines. While the story of a celebrity engaged in questionable behaviour will sell prints, there is a more powerful, and dare I say, compelling story that we need to focus on a little more that it may capture our imagination.

This story is the scandal of grace.

… to be continued…

Practical Implications of Grace, Mercy and Love

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of interviewing a young woman who was going through a recovery program at Ottawa inner city ministries. The reason she had been nominated for the interview was because she was one of their more recent stories at the time of life transformation and we were going to use her story during our easter service.

It took a little coaxing to get her story out because she had a shy demeanour, but in the end she was able to tell it and the more we got into it, the more I was riveted by it. She had grown up in a rough situation and ran away from home with a no-good boyfriend who introduced her to crack and kept her on the habit for most of her teenage years. Ottawa Inner City Ministries or OIM first met her through their youth outreach program and tried many times to get her off the street, but she kept getting lured back by her deadbeat boyfriend until she realized that she needed to cut ties with him.

At the time that she gave her story she was not a complete victory story, BUT she WAS a victory story. She still had many of the scars from intravenous drug use on her arms that she was trying to hide. Her skin was healing, but it was not completely back to normal because crack users have a tendency to pick at their skin. Her teeth were on the mend, but she needed a few more visits to a dental physician. She still had the nervous tick that you see on drug users that comes after years of abusing their bodies. And yet in spite of that, she STILL was a victory story.

She had asked that as she sat with me to tell her story, the youth worker that had first reached out to her be present and the leader of OIM be present in the room. Not only did they help her tell her story chronologically and keep her thought process on track, but you could see a genuine love between these people. These workers at OIM had journeyed with her for 5 or 6 long years through numerous relapses and never once gave up on her. Their hearts were not calloused towards her by her many failures. Instead every time that she failed, they had an opportunity to show her love and help her see that she was experiencing victory, doing better, and would eventually be able to leave the cycle of drug use.

Sitting in that room I was suddenly struck by a simple and compelling question.

What would a faith community that treats ALL people regardless of their hurts and hang ups – overt and covert – the way that this woman was treated even look like?

You see we’ve all seen the way churches and faith communities treat people that they feel have sinned. I’m told over and over again that I should not be so negative, but this is one of the areas in which I find it hard to put a positive spin on things. We have an ever-increasing bad track record where treating people with hurts and hang ups is concerned.

If you think about it, we all have a bigger addiction than drugs or sex or anger. All of mankind is addicted to sin and our addiction is deep and pervasive  that it is is destroying us, our families, our communities and the world. The seriousness of our condition cannot be understated and this is the reason why, I think, there is an unspoken cry for a movement or a group of people that would become a safe place for the world to run to. This is the cry that we’ve felt for some time now and one of the reasons why we have declared Pivot 613 to be a church whose motto is “Love First”

Growing up in the church, I was told that I could never think like this. I was told that there has to be a limit to grace, mercy and love. I was told that these traits need to be balanced with truth as if there is a place of grace, mercy and love that you can reach in which truth is impotent, irrelevant, ignored or simply discarded. DO NOT SACRIFICE TRUTH ON THE ALTAR OF UNBALANCED GRACE!!

I am pretty sure that some of you watching this video right now are thinking the exact same thing. What are the limits to grace? What are the limits to mercy? What are the limits to love? When do you start applying the tough medicine of truth?

I think that it depends on what you define truth as.

Some people define “truth” as pointing out the behaviour of people – the bad behaviour of people – in the hopes that they will be convicted by the encounter and stop said behaviour. I know that for a long time this is what I understood “truth” to be. The assumption when you define truth in this manner is either that the person is in denial about their behaviour and its effects on the individual or society OR that the person simply does not know that what they are doing is bad. I will grant you that there are times when people are doing something bad and they simply don’t know that it IS bad, but those situations are few and far between. In fact, most of the time, people REALLY DO KNOW that what they are doing is bad and they have the thousands of voices on TV, at work, on the radio and on billboards shouting at them about their poor choices. So most of the time when you are “speaking truth”, you are only heaping guilt on people that already feel horrible about their poor choices or bad behaviour and as we can all pretty much attest, guilt does not lead to changed behaviour. Why do you think people react so negatively to the brand of “truth” that the church so freely and insensitively dishes out?

If you think about it, true life change, true behaviour change happens when a more powerful force is at work. I believe that this force is love. Love of self, love for others, or love received is the singular most powerful source of behavioural or life change. It sounds like I just ripped off a mantra from a 21st century self-help guru when in fact, all these gurus are simply imitators of the originator – Jesus Christ. And it is this simple fact that Jesus tried so hard to model with his life and pass on to his disciples.

I would like to propose a different definition of truth. A more correct definition of truth. I believe that Jesus is not just the way, but he is also the TRUTH. He actually used this exact word as one of the ways to define himself. What, therefore, IS the truth?

That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

That if we are in Christ we are a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.

That it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.
The truth is that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. NOTHING

The truth IS Jesus. His extraordinary life, his death and his resurrection – the most extravagant show of love that the world has seen simply to let us know that he would rather die than be separated from us.

These are not my words. This is not a clever play on semantics. This is Jesus himself and this is how he chose to reveal himself to us. He, the truth, reveals an incredible well of grace, mercy and love and so the truth IS in fact grace, AND mercy AND love.

THIS IS THE TRUTH!

THIS IS TRUTH!

You see, contrary to what is taught a lot, grace, mercy and love are not to be balanced with truth as if too much of one is bad. I have come to understand that love reveals truth and that truth reveals love. I have come to accept that grace reveals truth and truth reveals grace. And I have come to see that mercy reveals truth and truth reveals mercy.

I have also come to understand, accept and be energized by the call to be a gracious, merciful and loving person and to ask people to join me on a God-inspired journey to be a part of a faith movement whose calling card is “LOVE FIRST” and who are a walking embodiment of Love that reveals truth, mercy that reveals truth and grace that reveals truth. Pivot 613 is not just a fearless church as we found out in our first ever meeting of the year. Pivot 613 is a gracious, loving and merciful church because Christ has called us to be exactly that.

So if we are to become a living, breathing movement of grace and mercy and love to our communities, city and world in the same way that Ottawa Innercity Ministries was to the young woman that I told you about a few minutes ago, what would would we have to do?

The brokenness of suburbia is hidden, but no less destructive than the drug use of people in Ottawa’s inner city. What do we have to do to make sure that we do not have a double standard where the addiction to drugs and the addiction to sin is concerned?

Here’s one practical way that a good friend of mine that many of you are going to get to know at Pivot 613 – Wendy – has said many times since I’ve met her. She’s quoting from the book blue like jazz. It has been imprinted in my thinking and in my heart. She says,

“When people do something wrong, our natural tendency is to withdraw love. However, instead of withdrawing love, perhaps we should love even more when something wrong is done, after all it is exactly what Jesus does for us”

One practical way of becoming a gracious, loving and merciful church is by not withdrawing or withholding love when wrong is done, when behaviour is questionable or when sin is present. Instead, those are the moments when our love should shine through, sweep away the guilt and restore the broken.

Where have you been withdrawing love when you should extend it?

What other practical ways can we not only show, but also embody the call on us to be a gracious, merciful and loving movement in this city?

What step can you take this week to personally become a more loving, gracious and merciful ambassador of Christ?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7vQZPzG-Uc

The No-Fear Zone (Part 3) – The Pivot 613 Story (The Launch)

The book of Joshua starts right after Moses, the prince of Egypt, the shepherd with a stammering problem, the great israelite leader that led them out of slavery in Egypt has died. Joshua, one of the last remaining survivors of the original 2 million-strong people that left Egypt has been chosen as the leader of this band of nomads and it is here that the story of the book of Joshua starts. If you’ve never read the Exodus story and the entry into Canaan story in the book of Joshua, you should. It wont take long and it is a WILD story to say the least. I digress. Lets read the first few paragraphs of this book.

Joshua 1
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”

BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS!

Like Joshua, I feel that God is increasingly starting to shout at emerging leaders in the most unexpected places. I believe in my heart that this is the reason why there are over 15 church startups in ottawa in just the past 3 years. I believe that God is literally calling us forward just like he did with Joshua before the Jordan river – asking us to put out of our minds the journey behind us and set our eyes with holy determination on the future that is ahead of us. This is not a work, this is not a “land” that we take for ourselves, but rather one that GOD GIVES TO US.

BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS!

In the past you may have been in faith communities that have a history of fear, judgement and condemnation. You have seen how they have been resistant to change, innovation and the move of the spirit. You have seen how through fear, judgement and condemnation they have hurt and ostracized people. But the time has come for a change. The time has come to be strong, courageous and loving. God is calling us to develop an allergy to Churchiness in order that we can have a movement of substance that takes ground where we were previously losing.

BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS

And even for you as an individual. What is that resolution that you came to at the beginning of the year? What is that one thing that you had a glimpse of that you’ve been trying to avoid ever since? What is that daring, audacious step that you know could pretty much change the game in your life that you have been avoiding? Have you been paying attention?

BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS

Sitting in that breakout session at the conference in June last year and starting to freak out at the dangerous possibility of planting a church, I had to actively and forcefully reject fear. I could no longer let fear hijack my “aha” moments. The stakes were too high on this one. I had to step out in obedience. I had to pay attention. I had to…

BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS

This is why those of us mad enough to strike out and start a new faith movement – Pivot 613 – have declared it to be a “No-Fear” zone. For us that are a part of it, Pivot 613 is not just a church, it is movement. Pivot 613 is not just a fearless church, it is a fearless movement.

I can honestly say that we have not figured it all out. There is so much to being a fearless church that I believe is ahead of us. There is so much to unlearn. There are so many ways in which we need to become allergic to churchiness. There is so much that we need to discover. There is so much personal growth and challenge that is ahead of us. In the end, for all our confidence in presentation, we are just figuring out what this new wineskin looks like. All we know is that we had a moment that changed everything and we just want to be brave. We want to see you be brave, we want to be brave too, and we want to initiate the beginnings of an avalanche of a fearless faith movement whose calling card is love first and always.

I let go of all I have just to have all of you
And no matter what the cost I will follow you

Jesus, everything I’ve lost I have found in you
When I finally reach the end I’ll say
You are worth it all
- Ben Cantelon