Worship in the City

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Where do I even begin? I suppose this is the problem with taking such a massive break between posts.

As you can see from my last post, I have been spending my summer vigorously getting to know my city better. Truth be told, I already knew it pretty well, but getting to know it better certainly couldn’t hurt. While all of this has been going on, I have been reading Deuteronomy, a book filled with laws and regulations given to Israel before they entered into the promise land, as well as several books concerning cities. Between Timothy Keller’s “Why God Made Cities” and “Centre Church”, Matt Carter’s and Darrin Patrick’s “For the City”, Jon M. Dennis’ “Christ+City” and Darrin Patrick’s “Church Planter”, I’ve been a pretty busy fella. The workload has been intense, but the insights have been profound, and my time in Deuteronomy has been more than a little exciting.

One doesn’t always find a book of things to do and things not to do overly exciting, but from my time reading, it has been so much more than that. It’s been a book on Worship.

Deuteronomy is more than just a book of regulations and laws. It isn’t kidding about prospering in your land by following the commandments given inside of the book. The problem begins when we take these things at face value and we fail to see what is at the core of them. Almost every single chapter of Deuteronomy is filled with the same phrase, telling you not to forget what God has done for you. It is a constant reminder of just who God is, and what he has done. In chapter six, you get what is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture. It is the call to holistic worship. It says that we do not worship Jesus in one area of our lives, and then ignore him in others. And yes, I do say Jesus, because Jesus quotes this very same scripture when asked what the greatest commandment is, placing himself at the core of it. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The following verses ask that they be written on your hands, on your head, on the gates of your cities, the door to your house and that they should be a part of your daily routine. These words were meant to permeate all facets of life. Jesus is Lord and no part of our life is separate from our worship of him. It is with this in mind that Deuteronomy goes on to tell us how that worship takes place. Things like communal responsibilities, honesty, integrity, how we treat the poor/marginalised, how we treat strangers. These things are all well and good, but in themselves are not enough. We don’t do these things to earn grace, and we don’t do them for God. We do these things because we have received grace, and we do them because of Jesus. 

You see, Deuteronomy isn’t about cities thriving under the work of our own hands. In fact, the cities in Deuteronomy were taken away from wicked men because they worshipped the works of their own hands. Deuteronomy is about the thriving of cities under the revelation of God by people worshipping in all areas of their lives. The great miracle of Jesus’ day wasn’t just his healing the sick, it was the transformation that took place in the hearts and the minds of the people who would go so far as to tear the roof of a house open to get people who needed Jesus to Jesus. People who were willing to go above and beyond for the sake of others because of Jesus and his grace. The Gospel is the power to change the lives of all men. Deuteronomy 12 can be summarised as, “Revel not in what you have done to impress God, but remember what God has done for you.” God literally says that he detests those willing to trample over and use others in an attempt to impress him; that he is far more honoured and glorified by those who sacrifice of themselves for the sake of others because they remember what God has done for them. It’s the picture of grace. There is nothing you can do to earn it because earning is completely the antithesis to grace. Grace does not know the word earn, they don’t exist in the same realm. Grace is unwarranted favour and when you receive it, you work hard to give it, not because you are trying to earn it, but because it is something to freely give, something to freely pass on.

When we stop remembering what God has done for us, when we turn from his word that reminds us over and over again as to who he is and what he has done, cities suffer for it. Israel neglected to make God the Lord over all areas of their life and their people suffered for it, and their cities, like the cities of those before them, were taken away from them by Babylon (Amos and Jeremiah). Seventy years later, they get their city back, they rededicate themselves to God and his word and a mere 12 years later they neglect it again, refusing to teach it to their children and once more, people (cities) suffer for it (Nehemiah). Even in Jesus’ day the same things happen. In Mark 11-13, people become more concerned with impressing God with power and wealth that they completely neglect their worship. God does not become the Lord of all areas of life, and the people suffer for it. Jesus’ disciples try to placate him by reminding him how amazing a building the temple is. “Hey, Jesus, I know your visit didn’t go the way you planned, but check out the temple. You gotta admit, it’s pretty boss.” Jesus tells them that he has no interest in the temporary work of the hands. That he has no interest in the works of the hands of men designed to impress God with their own ego, that it is the things built in the Spirit and in Truth that will last forever while all other things fade away. Jesus uses verses from Daniel, a book written during the Babylonian occupation, to emphasise his point. Babylon, a once proud nation, that revelled in their own power, lost to the ages. He speaks of Rome sacking the Temple, a mighty nation and the house of God, worshipped for being a grand house, both torn down and no more.

Spirit and truth last forever. Our cities will thrive not by the works of our hands, natural disasters and any number of things can undo that. But a people dedicated to the revelation of Jesus Christ in everything they do is a boon.

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#4YYC

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Over the past 5 months at Urban Grace Church, we’ve studied the book of Nehemiah and taken a very serious look at how, in God’s plans to reach the world, the city bears great importance. As we’ve learned, in order to bring the grace of Jesus to the city, we have to know what the city is like and what the city needs. So, beginning in July, we are challenging you to join us in a little summer venture. We’re calling it ‘FOR YYC.’ The challenge is to use the next two months of our summer to take part in as many possible experiences and activities Calgary has to offer. This challenge does not require you to go broke, and it does not require you to become even more swamped than you usually are. The point is to stimulate you to experience more of Calgary than you usually do.

Let’s not forget that in all of these explorative activities, we are not looking to just do more stuff, but to meet the people behind the ‘stuff’. So, as you explore the city, don’t simply try to ‘get stuff done.’ Observe the people behind all of the places and things that you do. Be a curious and gracious citizen as you explore. Meet as many people as you possibly can. Tell them you appreciate their place in the city. Find out their story. And–enjoy your urban exploration. We have a great opportunity to spread grace in a great city that will only get better with more grace from Jesus.

Some of you won’t know where to start, so here is a list that our own city-exploration team compiled. Please add your own ideas to the list. We’ve also provided different ways for you to record what you’re doing. By recording your explorations, you will benefit yourself and others. You will have a future reference for Calgary activities, and, as you compare notes with others during the challenge, you will share good ideas. So we’ve hand-crafted our own UGC edition of Field Notes: you can manually and creatively record your activities. We’ve also created a facebook page and an instragram account so that you can record your journey with technology. Looking forward to seeing you on the streets of Calgary!

  • Sick of your music? Browse vinyl with a Stumptown coffee @ Luke’s Drug Mart

  • Mozy across the Peace Bridge @ Prince’s Island Park.

  • Scream for ice cream @ the Eau Clair Market Wading Pool.

  • Chow down on a Boogie Burger @ Boogie Burger.

  • View a film @ the Plaza Theatre.

  • Treck up Nose Hill Park.

  • Step inside the giant white head @ the base of Bow Tower.

  • Get the blues @ Blue’s Can in Inglewood.

  • Get a new perspective @ the Calgary Tower.

  • Wolf down a PB & J hotdog @ Tubby Dog.

  • Cheer on a cricket match @ Riley Park.

  • Cool down @ Village Ice Cream.

  • Stay @ the Burger Inn in Mission.

  • Smell a book @ Central Memorial Library in the Beltline.

  • Get a pitcher, not a belly itcher @ Bowness batting cages in Bowness.

  • Court one another @ Shouldice Park (free tennis).

  • Visit Fort Calgary and discover our city’s history.

  • Stroll through Canada Olympic Park.

  • Be artisy @ Glenbow Museum downtown.

  • Get your game face on @ a Stampeders game with friends.

  • Get wild @ the Calgary Zoo.

  • Feel like Kings and Queens @ the lobby of the Palliser Hotel.

  • Finally get your teeth cleaned @ Apple Appeal in Kensington.

  • Bomb the Mountain Bike trails at C.O.P.

  • Get shaky @ Shakespeare in the Park (Prince’s Island)

  • Experience the extraordinary @ Livingstone & Cavell’s Extraordinary Toys in Kensington.

  • Wake up and smell the bacon @ OEB (Over Easy Breakfast) on Edmonton Trail.

  • Wolf down a hamburger & a milkshake from Angel’s Drive Inn in Bowness.

  • Hunt for great used books @ Fair’s Fair in Inglewood.

  • Tune in for some Bluegrass @ the Irish Cultural Club in Bowness.

  • A River Runs Through Calgary: Fly-fish the Bow River in the city limits. (Contact Dana Lattery @ Bow River Fly Fishing to book 1-403-968-9877)

  • Improvise @ the Improv Guild in Erlton.

  • POUTINE @ the Big Cheese Poutinery on 17th.

  • Find out where everybody gets Field Notes @ Reid’s On 17th.

  • Ride the sky: take the C-train over the 4 story bridge @ the Sunalta station.

  • Wave goodbye to the airplanes @ 32nd Ave.

  • Devour maple-bacon deliciousness @ Jelly Modern doughnuts.

  • Hunt and gather @ the Calgary Farmer’s Market.

  • View the city skyline @ McClough’s Hill.

  • Tweet us @ Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

  • Soldier on @ the Calgary Military Museum.

  • Get a crew together and go paint “The Rock” at the University of Calgary.

  • Flip out @ Kensington’s Flipp’n Burger.

  • Stuff your face with Mini Donuts at the Calgary Stampede.

  • Sit on the edge of your seat @ the Chuck Wagon Races.

  • Get a sweet tooth @ the Stampede Parade.

  • Be sporty @ the Canada Sports Hall of Fame.

  • Get cultured @ Chinese Cultural Centre.

  • See the Skyline from the SAIT Soccer Field.

  • Get a picture under the worlds largest Skylight @ TD Square.

  • Test the waters @ the Bow Habitat Station.

  • Soar @ the Aero Space Museum.

  • Drop your jaw @ Marion Nicoll Art Gallery, UofC.

  • Get up the creek @ Fish Creek.

  • Be outdoors while indoors @ the Devonian Gardens.

  • Watch the sk8ers @ Millennium Skate Park.

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!