Preaching from “Creation”

It seems good to share some of my rationale for using a children’s fairy tale as a major part of a sermon, as I did on Pentecost. I do not do this just as a novelty. There is theological and doctrinal justification for this approach. In the CRC we have a pastor in Calgary who has basically spearheaded the application of this approach. His name is John Van Sloten, and you can find out what his sermons created using this approach are like here: https://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/contributors/john-van-sloten

The approach (I couldn’t find anywhere he had explained it from his perspective so I will explain how I understand it) fascinates me. So I have tried it with a few sermons. You experienced one of them. I also have used “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr Seuss as an introduction to Transition and STM work. And I have done sermons where the story of Pinocchio seems, to those raised with “its not a sermon unless he reads from the bible” to be the main text. I always do have bible passages in view, but this is such a change for people that all they remember is “He preached a fairy tale.”

All of this approach is rooted in Article 2 of the Belgic Confession, which reads as follows:

Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God

We know God by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe,
since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures,
great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God:

God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

All these things are enough to convict humans and to leave them without excuse.

Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly
by his holy and divine Word,
as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory
and for our salvation.

What that Belgic Confession article is pointing to is that God’s creation itself contains “writing” that points to God. The way things hold together, the beauty and mystery of living things, are like a book that can be read for clues about the invisible things of God. Hence the Reformed interest in science as a field in which we seek to learn about not just creation, but God. When read well, these things are enough to teach people about who God is and what God is all about. Enough, says Article 2, that they have no excuse for not knowing God, even if creation is the only “book” about God that they have. This is one reason I admire some historical cultures that did not have the second book, the Bible, yet created a creation-and-creator respecting culture in which they acknowledged a mysterious higher power in the universe. It is really quite amazing! It is also why I get quite irate at a history of Bible carrying people who came and dismissed the spirituality and faith that the Bible-less people had. But I digress.

A further implication of this “first book” understanding is that God’s truth can be found anywhere in creation, because God is communicating through it. A next understanding then is that whatever humans create has a likelihood of having God’s truth “in” it. Therefore, when someone like Hans Christian Andersen or Dr Seuss or Carlo Collodi write stories that reflect such deep and Biblical truths, they are fair game as one of the “scriptures” for a sermon.

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Lots to ponder

I have a lot of information and story now that I’ve been with you several months, and it feels like time is needed to “get in the balcony” as people say (the ground is the “Dance Floor”) and gain a broader perspective on what is happening at CCC. From the Dance Floor one can’t see that well. In my work, there are tools and programs, but it is all driven by a kind of intuition. Intuition is saying let’s hit pause.

At consistory on Tuesday evening we decided to have another Town Hall conversation on Sunday June 23rd, part of it between the service and the BBQ and then another piece over dessert. See the bulletin for more on that. This will give me things to think about and mull over as plans are made for the fall.

In terms of the four ‘framework’ questions that are the backbone of the Transition Process, we are on Question 2 “Who are we now?” after looking at “Who have we been?” Yet it does not feel like we are ready to even start looking at Question 3 “Who is God calling us to become?” Hence the pause.

I will write a report of some of my impressions so far at some point, but it will be shared with consistory before going up here.

Meanwhile, there is another foundational idea I need to share, and I’ll use the rest of this post to do that. It is about the difference between the church as institution and the church as organism. It sort of overlays some teaching I’ve been doing with consistory and the CLC (Churches Learning Change) group (and will share with the congregation on June 23). In Reformed theology we talk about the “visible” church (Institution) and the “invisible” church (Body). The visible is the people gathered in a building on a Sunday. The fellow Jesus-follower driving down the highway in the next car over — that you don’t know is a follower — is part of the invisible church. Jesus got the church started. It is referred to as a body. The apostle Paul understood this, and speaks of all members of the church having an organic contribution to make (aka spiritua gift) to the work of the body. The body is guided by the Spirit. All true followers of Jesus are guided by that Spirit. The body is a movement.

Over time the Body got enclosed in an Institution. Buildings were built, membership rules put in place, beliefs that were deemed essential had to be assented to to become a member, proper and improper behavours described, and so on. The Body became embodied in a particular cultural set of patterns. I’ve told some of you the story of a neighbour in Grand Rapids, he was of African decent and she was white. They had a hard time finding a church they felt comfortable in. One Sunday he came over when we came home from church to joyfully tell me they thought they had found a church home. They’d attended a few times, and it was starting to feel right. A few weeks later, when I talked to him again, he was dejected. After a church service some people had approached his wife and told her that if she was to keep attending she should not wear earrings anymore to church. That’s the Institution preserving itself and ignoring the aims of the Body.

Sometimes this is called the “cultural captivity” of the church. It happens on all sorts of levels in all sorts of ways. It happens in a similar way to how Israel became captive in Egypt. Buildings can keep the Body captive. Mortgages can too. But so can particular worship styles and many other things.

One of the great struggles I see in all churches I serve is for people to ‘see’ the difference between the Body and the Institution, and to then also see the need to every now and then ‘reset’ the institution and have it drop baggage that has become excess (that’s one thing the Reformation did) and to set the Body free again to work it’s fruit in and through the members.

One’s approach to Scripture shapes what one gets out of it

In a recent conversation I became aware that it is worth looking at this important starting point. We each have our understanding of what Scripture has to offer us. That will shape what we gain from engagement with it.

It makes a big difference whether you see the Bible as:

  • a law code…
  • an operator’s manual
  • poetry and story
  • myth and symbolism
  • a lens
  • mystery code to be solved
  • crystal ball that predicts the future
  • prescription
  • ____________________

Each approach or understanding of the value of Scripture leads to the holder of that approach filtering what they can gain from it. Here is how that works – if you see the bible as

  • a law code… then
  • an operator’s manual then
  • poetry and story then
  • myth and symbolism
  • a lens
  • mystery code to be solved
  • crystal ball that predicts the future
  • prescription
  • condeming
  • ____________________
  • you will see only rules to live by
  • you will see only ways to fix things
  • you will see beauty and flow
  • you will see moral guides and types
  • you will see shaped glass
  • you will be into decyphering secrets
  • you will be looking for pointers
  • you will be following instructions
  • you will feel condemned it
  • you will be _______________

See what I mean?

So which approach comes to you most naturally? Can you name other approaches? Please add options in the comments.

I have come to learn that who you are in personality and character and maturity will shape your approach. Legalists see only law code Those with a technical approach can find a passage to address every problem. Dreamers love the realism and inspiration of the poetry, Story lovers like stories that sound like their own. Mythologizers and moralizers find a moral in every myth. People who see the bible as a lens forget that it is a lens to look ‘through’ to see something else better. Coders decode and are in danger of missing the point, as are predictors. And so I could go on.

I’m not going to answer my own question, at least not in this post. I want people to ponder this without resolution.

Here’s a link to an interesting article on this topic that could help your reflection.

“The Big Reveal”

I mentioned this story on Sunday, and have also referred to it on other occasions. This is one of the clearest of my experiences of a church having a ritual that ‘felt’ signficant but had no real meaning when I explored it with the leadership.

It is on it’s own page, which you can get to via this link.

Current situation Town Hall report

On May 4 2019 we had our second Town Hall gathering as Christ Community Church. Once again a good number of people showed interest, more than 20, though I did not do an exact count.

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I opened with a reading from Ecclesiates, which I used to frame the “question for the day” namely “What Time Is it?” What time is it for CCC?

Next I explained how the size of a congregation can shape its culture and expectations in terms of their pastor. More detailed explanation can be found on this page

The next teaching was on the average life cycle of churches (all institutions actually, which is why some of you saw similarities to learnings about business and other organizations). We learned about that standard pattern and also the pattern of “who is in the drivers seat now?” in an overlapping fashion.

We finished our work together with a circle conversation around several questions. Then we had pizza.

My overall ‘read’ or impressions from this day.

 

 

The MBTI retreat

I recently facilitated/hosted a “Ministry Renewal” retreat for Pastors and Spouses put on by the Healthy Church Task Force (of which I am a member) of Classis Alberta North .

The theme was “Know yourself” and we had an instructor from King’s University  (Witty Sandle) to help us do some self learning. She led us through the MBTI, which is a more complicated version of the Animal Type study I’ve shared here. MBTI stands for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It helps you look at four areas of where one’s character might have certain automatic psychological  ‘preferences.’ Based on a belief that humans experience the world using four main functions, namely: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking, it studies if you are Introverted or Extroverted (inward focused or outward); prefer to take in information with your Senses or your iNtuition; make decisions using Thinking or Feeling; and how you prefer to live your outer life as either Judging (everything settled and in good order with specific steps for all to follow) or Perceiving (open ended, spontaneous, flexible). Your preferences, as self revealed in the questions you get asked become a four letter summary of your preferred ways. I turned out to be INTP in my preferences or ‘natural’ ways. That means: Introvered, iNtuitive, Thinking, Perceiving.

Though the test has weaknesses, and shortcomings (I think one’s emotional history or history of woundedness, and one’s birth order in a family, have character influences that are just as big as what this indicates, for instance) I always find these things have a helpfulness in gaining better understanding of what might be going on in inner and outer life, especially in my relationships with others and the way I go about my work. The descriptions given for my type were 80-90% accurate to who I am in my (and Amy’s) experience. Reading summary descriptions from those who had different profiles I did not find much that fit me. Here’s an example of fit: one summary said the combination of Introverted Thinking “is an information gathering function that seeks to form a framework for how the world works on a concrete, tangible level. It is adept at understanding systems and naturally notices inconsistencies within them.” I’m hoping some of you reading this are saying “yup, this is the guy we are experiencing!”

Here is another: INTP seeks

to develop logical explanations for everything that interests them. Theoretical and abstract, interested more in ideas than in social interaction. Quiet, contained, flexible, and adaptable. Have unusual ability to focus in depth to solve problems in their area of interest. Skeptical, sometimes critical, always analytical.” 

We also did some reflection on the downsides or shadow side of having our particular profiles. I’ll keep that learning to myself, but, just as with the Otter animal profile I lean toward, my INTP-ness will be an irritant to other profiles, and theirs to me. When we work together in churches we need to recognize those differences and understand that we need each type to work well as a whole body.

There was also a list of “stressors” given for my type, and boy did that fit! Here are the things that stress an INTP:

Being in an enviroment where they feel controled by others. Not being able to go with the flow of the moment. Being required to do simple and repetitive tasks. Not enough alone time. Too much extroverting. Being in a place where their expertise is not appreciated.

… and so on. Wow! There’s more, it goes on to describe pretty much what I do (internally, with my self talk) when stressed.

Well, I wanted to give you some idea of what learning I/we did on that retreat. Hopefully if  you are given an opportunity one day to explore your own MBTI you take up the opportunity to understand yourself better.