The End of a Season

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Four months ago, The Vine’s leadership families met to evaluate 2012 and to plan for 2013. After much thought and prayer in 2011 we had decided that we needed a more sizable and stable seed team to continue in our planting efforts. 2012 was intended to be a building year for The Vine,with the goal of growing and assembling such a team. As we evaluated 2012, we were very pleased to see that in regards to leadership and strategy, it was perhaps the best year we’ve seen in our work planting The Vine. We carried out every objective that we had prayerfully developed at the beginning of the year. At the start of September we had a seed team of 15 people that were excited about being a part of the vision, and we were excited to see what the Fall would hold. It seemed as though we were getting ready to turn a corner.

Our goal for September to December was to see this group of 15 begin to gel and grow in number as well as in understanding and ownership of our vision. However, this is not what we experienced as Fall moved towards Winter. At the time of our evaluation in December our team was back down to 8 committed people (including four from our leadership families). The decrease in number occurred slowly over October and November, and the reasons people dropped off were varied and made sense in each case. As we discussed our options the possibility of closing The Vine was put on the table for the first time. After our meeting we began consulting our various church planting coaches and spent much of the month praying.

When we came back together in January, we made the difficult decision to move forward with closing The Vine this year in April. Since January we have been spending much time and care in communicating this news to those on our seed team as well as to those in The Vine’s broader community. We have continued meeting bi-weekly on Sundays as The Vine and weekly in our discipleship groups. It has been a difficult and emotional season for The Vine.

This past weekend, on April 24th, The Vine held its final Sunday gathering. We ate, we laughed, we worshipped, we prayed, and we cried. We focused our discussion on the paradoxical nature of Christ’s gospel – that in the midst of a broken world we still experience joy and hope; that even in the face of death we experience life (John 12:24); that at the close of something we have all loved we can still trust in the very thing that brought us together – the love and hope found in Jesus Christ. It was encouraging to hear each person share how God has changed their life through being a part of The Vine, and it gave all of us opportunity to see that The Vine has been involved in major victories in God’s Kingdom:

Light has shone into darkness.

Hope has been found in despair.

New Life has been found in chaos.

Marriages have been transformed.

Jesus has been made much of and declared as King.

And now we all move with some trepidation, but also with much hope and courage, into whatever season God has for us next. We will celebrate resurrection and new life this weekend with Reality Vancouver knowing that our walk with the King continues on.

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Gotta Serve Somebody (Part 2) Covenant

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”         ~ Genesis 12:1-3

Abraham, Covenant bearerAll peoples on earth will be blessed through you.  What an amazing promise! This man, Abram, took God at his word, and his belief set him on a journey that would alter the course of the human race.  Today, three of the world’s major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, trace their roots back to this man Abram and his journey with God.

Three chapters later in Genesis 15 we find God solidifying his promise to Abram through a covenant. Covenant making was a common practice in these ancient times signifying a never ending relationship between the two members of the covenant.  It meant a new, shared identity for both parties. It meant a sharing of all resources for both parties. Through what seems to us a barbaric ritual that involved killing animals and walking through their blood, both parties more or less said, “My old identity has died, my new existence is one of commitment, love, and dedication with you…my covenant partner.”*

So what does a covenant made with a guy several thousand years ago have to do with us today? The answer is found in the words of God’s promise to Abram.  “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” With these words, God was revealing to Abram His master plan to redeem, save, and deliver the human race from pain and suffering – essentially from sin.  God was going to use Abram and his descendants to restore humanity to our created state of perfect relationship with our creator.

Fast forward several centuries, and we find Jesus entering the picture. In Him, we find the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Through Jesus, the promise of relationship with God becomes available to all of humanity. Jesus tells his followers that through shedding his blood he is creating a new covenant. Instead of animals being murdered, he would be murdered, and the new covenant partners are God and all of humanity. Then, through His resurrection, Jesus shows that death no longer reigns. He is putting an end to the curse of sin, suffering, pain, and death. In this new covenant through Jesus, God initiates a loving and open relationship, like the one he had with Abraham, to all of earth.

This covenant represents one side of what we call the gospel. It is the realization that we are loved as children by the God of the universe that brings so many to put their faith in Jesus…that moves us to a state of worship and adoration of God.

So if we have been so moved to worship, how and why do we end up serving something else in our lives as is mentioned in 2 Kings – “Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols”?

I would suggest that much of Christendom has adopted a lopsided gospel. We are indeed grateful to embrace to opportunity to be made new and right in relationship with God through Jesus. However, we often stop there. We forget that Jesus came speaking of a Kingdom, and told us to seek that Kingdom first and foremost in our lives.

When we neglect the Kingdom and focus only covenant, we risk making the gospel “me” centered. We forget the ongoing mission we are called to serve…the expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth.

* See Covenant and Kingdom by Mike Breen for more on this.  Much of my reflections on this issue have been influenced by Breen’s work.

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Gotta Serve Somebody (Part 1)

“You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride.

You may be a city councilman takin’ bribes on the side.

You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair.

You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

~ Bob Dylan

I was recently reminded of Dylan’s lyrics here when reflecting on a passage I came across in a free e-Book from Amazon.*  The book has been a fun read, nothing earth shattering, but the verse that inspired the author to write the book also caught my attention.  It was 2 Kings 17:33 & 41:

33 They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.

41 Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols.

In all the times I’ve read through 1 & 2 Kings, these verses have never caught my attention.  However, as I looked at them recently on the screen of my e-reader, I was struck by the volumes that these verses can speak to us today.  Minter, in her reflection on the text observes that the people of God were living “split lives.”  Their worship belonged to the LORD, but their service went somewhere else entirely – it was devoted to idols.

This is an interesting contrast between worship and service, and it would do us all well to reflect on the difference in our own lives between what we worship and what we serve. Again, in the book Minter notes:

“For so much of my life I worshipped God: showing up for church, singing hymns, helping in the nursery, reading my Bible, confessing my belief in him. Yet if you could have witnessed what I was controlled by, what motivated and moved me, you would have seen that in many cases it was not God at all, but my idols. Not carved images, but people, career paths, materialism, acceptance, and more.

“God was getting my worship on some level, but my gods were getting my service.” *

These passages along with Minter’s observation sent me reflecting on my own life. Yes, I worship God, but who or what am I serving? As I reflected on this it occurred to me that these two words, worship and service, point to what could be called the two over-arching themes of the Bible – Covenant and Kingdom.**

Covenant, a word for a significant oath or promise, refers to God’s “unfailing love” that he initiates with the human race beginning with Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 before the fall, and that he again initiates after the fall through Abram in Genesis 12 & 15. This covenant is ultimately fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Covenant could be said to describe the relational aspect of the Gospel – God initiates relationship with humans on no merit of their own…only because he loves them.

Kingdom refers to God’s ongoing action in the world to set things right after the fall. Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom of God and even gave sign posts to what it looks like when God’s Kingdom is near (Mark 1:15, Luke 4:18-21, Luke 10:5-11). He also instructed his followers that we should pray for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). If Covenant describes our relationship to God through the Gospel, then Kingdom describes our responsibility with God through the Gospel.

I’m wondering if the reason our worship and our service end up going in two different directions today is because we adopt a one sided view of the Gospel of the Bible. We are quick to embrace the free and unearned relationship that God offers us in covenant, yet we don’t fully understand or embrace the responsibility Jesus imparts to his followers.  We worship God because of our understand of covenant, but we serve other “idols” in our lives because we are unaware that Jesus left his followers with a Kingdom centred mission (Matthew 28:18-20).

As Bob Dylan said, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24).  If we are worshipping God on Sundays or even in our “quiet time” or small groups, are we serving God with the rest of our time?  In my next couple blog posts I’d like to spend some time unpacking the idea of Covenant and Kingdom and explore why it is often so tempting to embrace Covenant through worship, yet neglect Kingdom in our service.

*Minter, Kelly – No Other Gods; Confronting Our Modern Day Idols.

**See the book Covenant and Kingdom by Mike Breen.

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Is There More to Life Than This?

“I wonder how I can earn more money?”

“Why are relationships so hard? Why can’t I find just the right one? Then I’d be happy.”

“I wish I had more time to do things I actually care about. If I could travel more then I’d feel like life had a little more meaning.”

“Sleep, eat, work, play, repeat…Surely there’s more to life than making money, climbing the achievement ladder, and surviving.”

Have you ever wondered, “Is there more to life than this?” It’s easy to slip into feeling like life is a never ending series of decisions that simply lead to more decisions…hoops to jump through followed by more hoops to jump through. It doesn’t matter what we’re into – image, money, appearance, going green, romantic relationships, having nice things, experiences, the arts, knowledge…anything – no matter how hard we try there’s always another level to strive for.

What if life was meant be more than a constant striving for more? What if contentment and peace were less elusive than they seem to be? What if there were actually a purpose in all of what we experience as life?

In the Bible Jesus tells us to seek God’s ways in our life first and all of the worries of life will be taken care of. But maybe you’re the type of person who is just not sure if the Bible can be trusted. How can we really know that Jesus is trustworthy after all?

If you resonate with any of this then perhaps the Alpha Course would be right for you. In the Alpha Course you get an opportunity to take part in honest, safe, and friendly dialogue concerning all of the questions above. It’s also a great way to build some new friendships!

The Vine will be starting a new Alpha Course this Fall. Check our website for more information, and let us know if you’d like to join us.

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Off to A Great Start

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After 6 months of vision casting, team building and only holding a monthly meeting, we kicked off our first Missional Community with The Vine on Sunday night. We kicked off with a BBQ in our backyard, and we had a great turnout. For the next four months this group will be meeting together weekly and going on mission in our Neighbourhood and at a local seniors centre. There was a very exciting and positive feel at the BBQ.

The question may be asked, “Why would you start a new church group off with just a BBQ. Shouldn’t there be Bible teaching and worship?”

As a Missional Community, this first expression of The Vine will strive to follow Jesus together as a community. In the Bible, we see Jesus’ life expressed in 3 dimensions – Up, In, and Out. “Up” represents his relationship with God the Father. Jesus made his relationship with his Father of primary importance, and we see this in the amount of time he spends alone in prayer. “Out” represents Jesus’ undying commitment to love the hurting world around him. He was on a mission to share God’s love and invite people to God’s kingdom everywhere he went. “In” represents Jesus’ relationship with the people around him. Jesus was extremely social and we see evidence of this in all of the gospels. Jesus gathered with people for parties and to retreat.

We chose to launch our first Missional Community by imitating the inward dimension of Jesus’ life. This new beginning for The Vine is something to celebrate! Mark, Luke, and John all have Jesus at a party of some sort in the first 5 chapters of their gospels. Mark and Luke tell us of Jesus gathering for a meal at Peter’s in-laws’ house. They then go on to tell the story of Jesus at a party with a bunch of so-called “sinners” and the despised tax collectors. John relays the story of Jesus celebrating with friends and family at a wedding where very large amounts of wine are consumed. When the wine runs out, Jesus actually makes more wine from water. It’s almost as if Jesus was saying, “the celebration must go on!”

The “In” dimension of Jesus’ life also included time for retreat. In Mark 6 we find Jesus sending out his 12 closest followers to start imitating him in his mission (they were being sent to imitate the “Out” dimension). They return from this mission in verse 30 and Jesus says to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31 NIV). Jesus knew the importance of spending time together in community simply for the sake of retreat. As this Missional Community engages in mission together, there will also be “In” times simply for the purpose of rest and renewal.

This weekend, on Sunday, September 9th, we will practice the Up dimension in our time together as a Missional Community. Check this link for the details, and come join us as we continue imitating the life of Jesus together.

Check out The Vine’s calendar for more on upcoming dates and events. Sign up for e-mail notifications at the top of the calendar.

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A Time to Celebrate

Fall is almost hereFor everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Until about 5 years ago, Fall was my favourite season of the year.  The feeling of stepping out of the house one morning to be hit by crisp, cool air for the first time in months brought a sense of anticipation and excitement.  I attribute this to two different conditions:

1. I’ve lived most of my life in the Southeastern U.S. where even the slightest signs of cool Fall is a welcome respite from the unbearable summer heat and humidity.

2. I was a student until seven years ago when I finished grad school.  Like most students I dreaded getting back into the drudgery of homework and projects, but I loved the opportunity to be around my friends all day (yes, I’m an extrovert).

 I’ve noticed that over the past couple of years my love for Fall has been slowly eclipsed by a new appreciation for Spring.  Living in Vancouver, this only makes sense as Spring seems to be the first break from a long and rainy winter.  However, as I examine this, yet another example of my fickle preferences, I realize that it’s not necessarily the season of Fall or Spring that I’m in love with.  No, it’s actually the prospect of change; the beginning of something new.

Just this week as I saw the first signs of Fall – leaves on the ground, cooler mornings, earlier sunsets, people playing football in the park, back to school advertisements – I felt a tinge of that old excitement that used to be so familiar.  I can’t attribute this to a long, hot summer because that certainly does not describe the past few months in Vancouver.  This is more of an excited anticipation that something new is happening.  There’s something exciting coming, and it’s just over the horizon.

This weekend, The Vine is launching its first Missional Community.  Since February we’ve been dreaming about, talking about, and preparing for this moment, and it is upon us.  Our Seed Team met this past Sunday at our house, and there was a shared sense of anticipation and excitement about what we are all about to embark on.  One person on our Seed Team shared with me that during our prayer groups there was a very real sense of God’s Spirit among us.  We are not setting off on this journey alone, but we are being sent with the very gift of God’s guidance and presence!

So I welcome Fall and the anticipation of something new that God is doing among us and in our city!  This Sunday, September 2nd, we will celebrate and walk into the next stage of our journey as The Vine.  Come join us to celebrate as we BBQ and enjoy one of our last Summer Sundays in Vancouver – and our first gathering as a Missional Community!  Click here for the details.

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Set Apart by Presence

“If your Presence does not go with us…What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

With these words, Moses pleaded that God go with the Israelites as they prepared to leave Mt. Sinai in Exodus 33.  Moses saw so clearly that there was nothing inherently different or special about himself or the Hebrew people.  There was nothing about him or them that made them any better than everyone else on the planet.  No, what made him and them special was something being offered to them from without.  They had a covenant with God Almighty, and He had initiated it.  What made them different was the very presence of God in their midst.

God’s visible presence.

An undeserved gift.

A mark of covenant love.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

With these words, John announces that God Almighty has once again decided to give the gift of his presence.  This time He’s making himself known as one of us.  No pillar of smoke or fire, but a living, breathing human.

God in the flesh.

Jesus Christ.

Once again God is expressing his covenant love by giving the undeserved gift of his presence.  He is showing what it looks like for a person or a people to be different, set apart, of the kingdom by living it in tangible day to day life.  But humbling himself to the form of a human servant, however, was only the beginning.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – the Spirit of Truth.”

“It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you…when he, the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

With these words Jesus announces that the gift of God’s presence is once again available to God’s people.  This time he is going to put the gift inside his people.  The Spirit of God will come and make his home in the hearts of his people.

The “forever” presence of God in our lives.

An undeserved gift.

A mark of covenant love.

As followers of Jesus, there is nothing inherently special or different about us from the rest of the world.  Just like Moses and the Hebrew people, what sets us apart is something that comes from without.  It is the gift of God’s presence in us through the Holy Spirit.  We have literally become living temples for the living God.

So as you go into the world whether in work, school, across the street, the basketball court, the shopping mall, a mommy’s group, a mountain top, or the golf course, remember Moses and his request.  Look to God and say, “Please send your presence with us.  If your Presence does not go with us…What else will distinguish me from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

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