The Wilderness Downtown

Myself overlooking the city of Calgary.

Myself overlooking the city of Calgary.

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while. I guess I got caught up with the busyness of life.

Feels good to be back at it with this blog.

A month or so back, my pastor showed me this amazing website, http://thewildernessdowntown.com/. It’s an incredibly cool video project by Arcade Fire with their song We Used to Wait, and while the song is amazing, that isn’t what caught my attention. As you continue to watch the video unfold, you’ll begin to notice trees springing up all over the place. Trees breaking through the concrete, developing an enveloping wilderness on the map that you’ve placed into the video. This is the image that caught my eye, and it’s the basis for this post.

Mark Chapter 4 has several stories that Jesus uses to help unpack some of the things he is trying to teach people about, all of them dealing with things like:  investment, relationship building, timing, trust, growth, the spread of ideas, and provision. Jesus starts by telling the story of what I feel is a careless farmer, sowing seed in every which direction, regardless of the environment for growth. He follows that up with the importance of placing your lamp upon it’s stand where it can shed light for all to benefit, followed by a story about how farmers aren’t responsible for the growth of a seed, but the sowing and the harvesting. Lastly, Jesus talks about how even the smallest seed has the capacity for bigger things. It’s that last story that I want to focus on (Mark 4:30-32). It’s that last story that speaks of the Wilderness Downtown.

Jesus has a plan for Cities.

I had written out a huge explanation of the above statement before realising that it was perhaps another blog entry on it’s own, so I will try to keep my explanation brief. All through the bible we see stories that involve God’s people either in their own cities, or in the cities of conquering nations. In Deuteronomy, God’s people are promised the cities of the wicked. In Jeremiah, their city Jerusalem is destroyed by Babylon and they are told to take up residence in the cities of their invaders, to multiply in them, and be a blessing to them. In Nehemiah, after 140 years, God’s people are able to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it, in the process being restored themselves. During Roman occupation, Jesus tells Israel to give to Ceaser what is Ceaser’s and to God what is God’s. In Revelations we see the New Jerusalem descending upon the restored world, a massive city with a giant garden in the centre. Jesus has a plan for cities because cities are where the majority of this world lives and cities are where the widest variety of the kinds of people we are called to reach, as followers of Jesus, live. The story of the Mustard Seed in Mark 4:30-32 is about something small, and yet something that has within it all of the information needed to grow, not just into something big, but into a blessing. Jesus talks about a small seed growing into a massive tree that becomes a home, a place of rest and a boon, for the birds of the air. And every single tree as the capacity to produce after itself in kind. A wilderness begins with a seed. A wilderness begins with something small with the capacity for amazing transformation and then it becomes something big, and connected! Did you know that one of the oldest and largest single living organisms is in fact a forest!? Pando Forest, found in Fishlake National Forest, near Fish Lake at the western edge of the Colorado Plateau in South-central Utah, is a single organism connected by a root system of about 106 acres!

Are you starting to see what I am talking about when I say the Wilderness Downtown? Can you imagine a forest of Churches and Missionaries (we

Pando Forest

Pando Forest

are all called to be these after all), rooted in (Jeremiah 17:7,8) the life giving water of the Gospel, each of them a place of restoration and care for the people in residence around them? What an amazing picture! The Gospel is about community, and it is about not merely thriving in communities but creating thriving communities, each of them full of people seeking the benefit of not just themselves, but those around them. We are built to be a blessing for others. Proverbs 11:11 says that the upright are good for a city and help to make it prosper. Jesus over and over tells us to get into proximity with people and to be a blessing to them, not a burden. In doing this, we glorify (a fancy way of saying “reveal”) God.

This is what has excited me in my time with God these last few weeks. Thanks for letting me share it with you. I hope that you’ve found it as encouraging as I have!

Not Just for Me

Skyline_002I have been reading Deuteronomy in my private devotional time. It was no easy choice as there are so many questions and subjects that I would love to look up and I found it more than difficult to sort of hone in on any one place. I suppose I could have just gone wherever I wanted to go, read whatever I wanted, looked for something that very specifically addressed my current need. But Jesus hit me hard with that kind of thinking and behaviour not to long ago.

My church has been going through Nehemiah in our series called Magna Civitas. We have been looking at how God rebuilt his people as they rebuilt their destroyed city of Jerusalem and the take away is how we as followers of Jesus Christ are to approach the city we are in. It has been something rich with the Gospel Story, with Discipleship and the call to mission and to leave our comfort zone so that we can identify the broken gates in our city and help repair them. Not a week goes by where God hasn’t challenged with with this. In fact, it was this very series that was pivotal in my decision not to go back to Manchester, but to remain in Calgary (more on that another time). It’s the reason I started this blog in the first place.

We had been going through Nehemiah 8 a couple weeks ago and it occurred to me just how selfish my time in the bible tends to be. We go to the bible because it is a great source of encouragement to us. We learn about our identity and how it is rooted in Jesus. We learn about our purpose and why God created us. We learn about who God is, not just through prophets and poetry and divine acts, but in the life of Jesus Christ and the impact he had on people. When times get tough, we can go to the bible and we can find steady footing again, we can recentre ourselves on Jesus and find security in him.

Confession. I do not always do this.

It is hard enough to remind myself in times of doubt, or times of loneliness or when I need to be uplifted, to find those things in the bible. So imagine how hard it is to not just go into the bible for myself, but for others as well! The challenge that Jesus laid on my heart was that I was using his word as a means of settling my own problems which was keeping me back from an incredible and much more full expression of community. Yes, there will be times where God can speak through his word directly into a situation in my life. But there are other times where I might be reading something and have  trouble making sense of it. My immediate reaction is drop whatever it is that I am reading, and flick through until I find something that deals with my problem. Again, it isn’t bad to want to find encouragement in God’s word. My question is, what if God gave that piece of encouragement to someone else, to give to me? Better yet, what if that difficult passage I am reading and having trouble with isn’t in fact for me, but is in fact for me to share with another person?

Kind of puts a new spin on things, eh?

It occurred to me that I was missing out in engaging with other people because I would crawl inside my own issues and seek a private answer. Yes, it is important for us to see the value of the bible in our lives, but it is equally as important to encourage others with it as well. This is a part of mission, this is a part of discipleship. When it comes to mission, we get to live these encouragements out, maybe people ask us about them, or maybe, if you’ve developed a good relationship with a person, you can just tell them about it. When it comes to discipleship, what I am learning is what you are learning and what you are learning becomes what I learning. I was intensely convicted by this. I was challenged.

I love challenges.

Sometimes a challenge can put me on edge and start to question the worth of pursuing it. Other times, most of the time, it is an opportunity to rise to the occasion. Don’t leave here thinking anything special on the part of my character here. There is a very good chance that this desire stems completely from my bull headed stubbornness. It’s a family trait.

In Nehemiah chapter 8, the word of the law, the words of God, are read to the entire nation of Israel that had helped to rebuild Jerusalem, and they were made to understand with the assistance of the priests. After they were convicted, they celebrated together because they understood together. This is a community thing. The word of God is a community thing, something we do together and not alone. How cool is that!? Doesn’t that excite you? It certainly excites me, and it lit a fire under my ass to want to get into my bible more, not for head knowledge, not even just heart knowledge (heart knowledge is an amazing thing), but for Heart Application as well. This conviction certainly stopped me in my tracks for a moment, but then I grew excited at the prospect of being made closer to people for it. I yearned, from that moment, even more to understand Jesus so that I could be drawn closer to him, but also closer to the people, all of the people, that God has blessed my life with.

I hope this challenges you. Like it did me.

I hope this encourages you. Like it did me.

I hope this draws you closer to Jesus. Like it did me.

I hope this draws you closer to people. Like it did me.

It’s kind of funny, I had started this post in the hopes of sharing what I am learning in Deuteronomy…looks like that will need to wait for another day. Did I mention I was unorganised?