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Under Construction…

You could not imagine a more beautiful day here in British Columbia. It’s so beautiful, in fact, we’ve decided to make it a holiday and give it the rather unimaginative name of “BC Day.” The sun is out in full force (a rare thing) and the temperature is soaring to nearly +30oC. I was up early for my jog and decided to go over the Cleveland Dam and into the woods with the many trails twisting and turning around the Capilano river. Oddly, for the first time the heavy metal door was open halfway across the dam with cold metal stairs descending into the darkness of the dam below. I had to take a look. I gazed down into the bowels of the massive dam and in the distance the clear sound of heavy machinery was clunking away. Right in front of me was a sign posted saying, “Construction zone ahead – work in progress.” Hmm, I thought about that as I jogged away and into the beauty of the Pacific Northwest rainforest on the other side of the Dam.

In a sense, all of us are like that massive dam with complicated working parts and more than enough darkness to shroud our best intentions in mystery. Surely each and everyone of us who claim to be following Jesus (or at least trying most days) could be summed up as a work in progress. The church has long had a fancier word to describe it – sanctification. I think back over the years with my love for evangelism and the amazing way that I have witnessed God at work in people’s lives. One of the things I worry is that I did not always make clear enough to new Christians that once the excitement of being saved wanes, it can be easy to feel discouraged at how we slip back into our old lives. The Apostle Paul has been most helpful to me in this…like when he writes in Romans 7: 15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” This tug of war between our will and God’s will after our “Yes” to God’s gracious invitation to relationship in Jesus Christ is our sanctification. Our growing in grace. I don’t know about you but my experience of obedience to Christ and his gospel has certainly been a tug of war over the years…two steps forward, one step back.

Yes, we are all under construction…we are all a work in progress…but thank God that is the work of God in us and not our own ability or cleverness that wins the day. As I continued jogging this morning through the beauty of God’s creation, I was mindful of the many ways in which God is “at work” in my life…I’m glad to be a work in progress…Great is God’s faithfulness…each and everyday. May you too rejoice this day for what God in Christ is doing in your life through the mystery and majesty of the Holy Spirit….

Ross Lockhart teaches at St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver.

Botox or Bypass?

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?


Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?

                                                                                                               Jeremiah 8: 22

I love my family Doctor.  He’s smart and funny and makes room in his daily schedule for last minute appointments.  A couple of years ago, however, I noticed a sign in his examination room that I just had to tease him about.  It read, “Effective January 1st, our clinic is pleased to offer patients regular Botox treatments for a set fee.”  Really?  Is that what healthcare has come down to – injections for big puffy lips?  I asked my family Doctor about it and he just smiled, “Hey, some people think they need that stuff.  You know – nip and tuck – a little fix here, a little help there.  Maybe it’s the same in your business, Reverend,” he said with a warm smile and a wink.

 

Hmm.   That got me thinking.  Is that how people view faith and spirituality today?  A little nip and tuck on their moral character; a wee “enhancement” of their soul; a weekly “boost” or injection of faith in order to see them through the days ahead.  Hmm.

 

I had a visit recently with a member of the congregation who spent the weekend in hospital with chest pains.  I descended the staircase at our local hospital to the emergency ward and checked in with the harried nurse.  I followed the wave of her dismissive hand to the cardiac assessment unit, and there was my church member resting uneasily on an uncomfortable bed, complete with shiny railings and plastic sheets.  We talked about his situation and the tests that were being run.  It looked like surgery was the next step.  “There’s no simple fix…my Doctor told me,” the man said looking rather grim, “this is going to require an intervention that may either give life or take life.”  Hmm.  Now the stakes were higher.  I could see it in his eyes.

 

I saw that look again this past week when people came forward in the chapel on Ash Wednesday.  A hearty number of people, seeking their own balm in Gilead, filled the wee space as rain danced from the outside on stained glassed images of prophets Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah.  As I scanned the congregation, I knew some of their stories and needs but was glad on that day that God knew the full story.  As they made their way forward down the aisle, the texts of the day still ringing in their heads and echoing in their hearts:

 

                  “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting

                                          and weeping and mourning.”

 

                  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and   right spirit within me.”

 

                                 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 

Hmm.  Last year’s palm branches dissolved into a black and smelly heap of ashes.  I leaned forward and accepted the Word of God’s judgment on this “death-denying culture.”  The woman gently marked my forehead with the sign of the cross and whispered somewhere between a fact and a promise, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

 

I returned to my wooden pew and sat waiting in anticipation.  Waiting…as I did in my own Doctor’s office waiting for that annual check up.  Waiting…as I did with the church member trying to get a handle on his Doctor’s diagnosis.  Waiting…as a child of God, a recovering sinner, a follower of the One whose cross is before but whose yoke is easy and burden is light.  Waiting…knowing that the life of faith worth living is not about easy or quick fixes.  Waiting…with a keen awareness that there is no “Botox Christianity” worth seeking nor serving.  No, I wait this Lenten season on the One who the tradition calls “The Great Physician” who alone can bypass my sin and at last, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

 

Ross Lockhart is the Pastor at West Vancouver United Church, British Columbia.

Why Congregations Never Die…They Commit Suicide

“Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”

                                                                                                                                                                                              –          Exodus 13: 22

There it was again.

In this month’s issue of The United Church Observer a passing reference to the fact that our denomination is now closing more than one church a week.  Hello!  I love how we can just slip that stuff into conversation and move on these days.

But then again, how many of us have suffered through a Presbytery meeting lately where we’re informed of yet another congregation on the ropes and soon to close?

We hear about the financial trouble, of course, and how the few remaining congregation members want to give some of the proceeds of the sale of their building to M & S or the SPCA or the left-handed appreciation society of Prince George or…whatever.  Everyone adopts a serious face and offers condolences to the withered Presbytery rep and we move on to other business.

Well, no more.  I’m at the point where I’m ready to stand up and say, “Hey, congregations don’t die, they commit suicide.”

Now, I know that’s harsh but stick with me.

I really don’t think congregation’s die.  I think every time a congregation closes we can go back 10 or 15 years and study the critical decision making that led to death.

We can clearly say,

Look, here was a chance to choose life.

There was a moment to risk boldly for the sake of the gospel.

Over there was an opportunity to throw off the shackles of convention and personal preference and attend to what God was                                                                                                                                                                                                                             up to in the neighborhood.

Here was a time and space ripe for evangelism in Jesus’ name.

There was an in-breaking moment of the kingdom where a clear prophecy voice for justice was                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   just itching to be heard

And… “you blew it.”

Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church.  It is this Jesus, the crucified and risen Prince of Peace, whose kingdom, (in the words of the Nicene Creed) “shall have no end” and is on the loose in my community and yours.

The gospel is thriving and ministry is evolving in all kinds of new and exciting ways if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Recently, there have been two new church plants in our community of West Vancouver.  As the pastor of one of the larger, established churches in the community, I felt God calling me to make an extra special effort to reach out to those pastors, buy them coffee; sit and chat; pray together; all the while genuinely blessing and encouraging them in their calling.

As I said to my Board recently, “if anyone worries about losing members to another church or feels a sense of competition that fear based approach must be God revealing that we are not actually doing “whatever it takes” to reach people with Jesus’ love.  It says a lot more about us than anything else.”

The moment we start thinking church is about our needs and personal preferences the first whiff of death is in the air.  Just when we start to get all cozy, plan a fundraiser and reach for the Red Hymnbook we realize that the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night is on the move again.  I don’t know about you…but I don’t want to be left behind and miss all the fun.

Ross serves as Pastor at West Vancouver United Church, BC.