What a full summer it has been! Besides transition pastoral responsibilities at Erindale Alliance Church in Saskatoon for a significant number of days each month, we have welcomed a new grandson in Calgary, “camped” with children and grand-children at a guest ranch near Sundre, Alberta, celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary in Savona, BC, visited with our children in Maple Ridge, BC (hiking a bit in the beautiful Allouette Lake region), visited our children and grand-children in their new home and surroundings in Portland, and worked on projects around home (including arranging for the re-installation of a retaining wall on our property). In between all of that (either together or separately), we’ve hiked, walked the dog, biked, golfed, and visited with friends. Most of these experiences have been truly wonderful. Carolyn and I feel blessed by all of them in so many ways.
But there have also been some difficult times — navigating loss, dealing with retaining wall issues, and processing the teaching situation in BC as well as the many problems all over the world. It seems it has been an unusually volatile time in the Middle East and eastern Europe, as well as in parts of Africa — especially too with the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic. Besides that there have been large amounts of flooding and forest fires. One can’t help but feel the force of all the suffering that so many are experiencing in so many terrible ways. It seems there is more unrest and volatility than ever in the world. And even in our own country, there appears to be a good deal of confusion over political matters of one kind or another.
As I’ve contemplated ministry at the church here in Saskatoon this fall while waiting for the outcome of our lead pastor search, I’ve also wondered just how best to help the church move forward in the dire circumstances of the world in our time. Even among Christians, it seems, there is often a good deal of unsettledness and even controversy about how best to proceed. There is, in short, a huge need for a unified vision.
Vision is the capacity to see a path forward in the midst of all kinds of problems. Vision has the ability to identify what people feel but can’t easily express. Vision defines the main focus of a person or group of people and drives their sense of mission. Vision accounts for the nature of the activities pursued and the passion with which the mission is carried out. It is absolutely essential for vision to be clear amidst the confusion and chaos that characterizes the world around us. Too often we tend to engage in various activities routinely without seeing their relationship to the larger picture. In that case, it’s easy to quickly lose heart, to become despondent and depressed. “Where there is no vision,” the sage wrote, “the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
As I have thought about this need for vision in my own life recently, and also in the life of our church, it seems God has graciously given me some sense of vision about a way forward in these times. It came to me as I was meditating in the night about the truth of the gospel message in the midst of the many instances of consternation surrounding us. I was thinking too of the challenges of pastoring the church in these times. I concluded that there is a great need for clarity of understanding. Additionally, there is a great need for a place of love and grace in this kind of world.
The idea emerged that our lives and the church stand in the midst of this troubled world as oases in the dessert. It dawned on me that God’s plan for the church in these days is for it to be an oasis of love and truth in a wilderness of violence and confusion. Immediately, I thought of so many biblical images of how God intends for His grace to overcome the darkness of this world — the very idea of the Garden of Eden, God’s people experiencing Him in their wilderness wonderings, the prospect for Israel of a Promised Land in the place of idolatry and violence, and the presence and ministry of Jesus Christ in the midst of a hostile world in his time.
A great vision for my life and the church in these times, I think, is for us to think of them as oases of love and truth in a world of hostility and deception, or, as oases of grace in a world of judgment, or, as oases of life in the midst of a world of death. The church, ideally, ought to be a community that exudes the grace of God in its expression of love and truth in the midst of a world that is increasingly hostile and deceived. And this leads to a sense of mission — that being, that the church ought to increasingly broaden its borders of refreshment for people who are starved for grace and truth. It ought to be the mission of the church to overcome the encroachments of the wilderness with all of its hostility and deception. The church ought to be ever seeking to multiply oases-like communities that exist in glorious contrast to the world of judgement surrounding them.
All of our activities in the church ought to be focused on this vision and mission of strengthening the experience of the community in being a place of grace — a place of God’s love and truth. May God help me/us in this pursuit this fall. The implications of this vision are truly exciting, inspiring (to me), and energizing — on many levels. I look forward to seeing how God will fulfill this vision in these days.