Types of Desert Experiences: Whose Fault Is It?

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Apr 272016
steps in the desert

How did I get here?

How do we end up in a desert season or experience in our lives? Whose to blame for being stuck in a desert? What desert experiences can be avoided or shortened? How long will these desert seasons last? While there are human factors and choices that contribute to our experiencing or prolonging a desert experience, there is a fair amount of mystery involved. As the common expression goes: “S*#t happens.” What is our part in landing us in a desert? What is just part of living in a broken, messed up world where bad things happen for no apparent reason or Satan trying to harm us? What is God’s part in the journey into the desert. Human nature is to try and figure out who is to blame or scapegoat. What is important is for us to discern what is ours to own, and what do we chalk up to the necessary, normative, and deeply formative experience of our being shaped in character and for our calling in the desert.

From my own experience, and what I have learned from stories of other fellow sojourners is that there are 3 types or causes of desert experiences.

1. Self Induced Deserts. The first is a desert experience that is self-induced, or prolonged by our own sin and foolish choices. After the nation of Israel was freed from the bondage and slavery of Egypt, they had to go through a desert to get to their promised land. It was a necessary part of the terrain they had to pass through. The journey at most would have taken two and half weeks, or approximately 22 days. Instead, the nation of Israel had to wander around and go in circles for 40 years (40 is the number for wilderness in the Bible) in the desert because of their unbelief in God to get them through, and grumbling. (Numbers 14:26-35; Deut. 2:1)

If we are going in circles around the same mountain seeing the same terrain and vegetation, we are stuck in the desert and need to ask the question: Why?

The people of Israel had a choice after the spies came back with a report from the promised land. Would they listen to the 2 spies Joshua and Caleb who gave a faith filled report, and trust God to be their Protector, Provider, and Power source to get them through the desert and into the promised land?

When we are at the end of our rope and fear grips us who and what do we turn to for medication or to flee the pain?

The Israelites chose to listen to the 10 naysayer spies who filled the nation with fear by focusing their report on all the insurmountable obstacles, and challenges in taking their promised land. The people wanted to go back to the slavery of Egypt instead of trusting God to provide for, and protect them as they journeyed through the desert and into their promised land. The result of giving into their fear and unbelief was that those 20 and older would not get to enter into the promised land, but stay stuck for 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and in the end die there!

How many times do we forfeit or delay our destiny by our choices rooted in fear and unbelief?

Gripped by fear many of us stay stuck in the desert, or go back to the slavery and pseudo-security of the Egypt (reverting to false comforts and coping mechanisms to assuage our fears, returning to the shackles of systems/institutions that control us, and holding onto an illusion of being in control to protect ourselves) we know rather than taking the leap of faith into the unknown and embarking on a wild adventure of trusting God to get us through the desert into our promised land. We would rather be enslaved than be free men and women!  

Real freedom is letting go of everything that owns us so that we can fully live!

Another example of a self-induced desert is found in the story of Moses. The life of Moses is a classic case study in how God prepares a person for leadership in His Kingdom. God is more concerned about the character of a leader than He is about pedigree or position.

Moses spent 40 years in the desert of Midian, because he tried to fulfill God’s destiny on his life to rescue theambition-desert Israelites from slavery through his own methods, and through his impatience with timing. He killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, and as a result had to flee for his life. Moses wasn’t ready in character to steward power and authority from a posture of humility and patience! In the desert, He got busted and purged from his selfish ambition, arrogance, anger, and over inflated view of his importance by serving his father-in-law Jethro in tending his sheep! Forced Downward Mobility!

To steward  power and authority in a safe way a leader must be broken and busted in the desert, so that he or she does not hurt themselves or the people they are called to serve!

The training camp for leading in God’s Kingdom requires one to go down before they go up. When we are weak than we are strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10)!

The greater the responsibility in leadership the deeper and longer the desert experience in the life of a leader to prepare them to steward power and authority in a safe way! 

2. God Initiated Deserts. The second kind of desert has nothing to do with our choices, but is initiated by God. It says in Luke 4:1 that Jesus full of the Holy Spirit was led by the Spirit into the desert. Jesus had not sinned or made any foolish decisions to land himself in the desert. He was led there by God. Satan takes advantage of this time of weakness and vulnerability in Jesus life to tempt Him in all the constellation of temptations surrounding TRUST. Will we be seduced by Power to be our own God and build our own Kingdom? Who will we trust and give credit to for our Provision in good times and bad times? Who will we trust for Protection in our time of need. This time in the desert was part of Jesus’ training as a Son for His calling, and so he could relate to us when we go through desert experiences.(Hebrews 2:18, 5:8)

He was tested in all the classic trust issues: Who and What do we put our trust in or turn to for our source of Provision, Protection, and Power in seasons of Blessing and Brokenness?

Another case study is the life of Job. God seems to give Satan permission with limitations to sift and test Job. Satan takes from Job his wealth, his family, and even his health. The one line that keeps popping up after each test is Job did not sin in charging God with wrongdoing. His friends tried to find the cause for Job’s afflictions. It must be some sin in your life or something you have done or others have done to make God angry. It’s God’s fault! Job never goes there. In the end, Job chooses to not become bitter and turn his back on God. After this extremely painful time in his life, God gives back to Job twice as much as he had before.

One’s true character is revealed in times of testing, trial, and temptation!

There is a lot of mystery in the story of Job. It raises a lot of questions about the nature of God and who causes what. In the end, Job is not privy to the source of his afflictions. His declaration in Job 13:15 sums up the response of one who though he is stripped of all and completely broken will not turn his back on God: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him…!”

Sometimes things will happen in our life where there is no rhyme or reason. Instead of trying to point the finger or look for who is to blame, we are called to simply let go and throw ourselves on God to get us through when all that we hold near and dear seems to be taken from us.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to a rouse a deaf world. C.S. Lewis

3. Mixed and Messy Deserts. The third kind of desert experience is what most of us go through. Most deserts arePics 2015, Brazil, Arizona, Highwood Backpacking 1369 a combination of some of our own dumb choices, inexplicable and painful things happening out of the blue, our adversary coming like a snake or scorpion trying harm us, and God walking with us into a desert. By owning our responsibility for our bad choices or sin, we can to some degree determine the length of our time in the desert. In saying that, my personal experience is that there is a fair bit of mystery when it comes to desert experiences, especially when it comes to the length of time spent in a desert. Sometimes the start and finish is a set of definable moments that are affected by our decisions mixed with God’s sovereign intervention, and sometimes there is no rhyme or reason. All I know is that who we are becoming is far more important to God than what we do. He is not in a rush!

And now, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to start all over again. I’m taking her back out into the wilderness where we had our first date, and I’ll court her. I’ll give her bouquet of roses, I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope. She’ll respond like she did as a young girl, those days when she was fresh out of Egypt. And then I will marry you for good -forever! I’ll marry you true and proper, in love and tenderness. Yes, I’ll marry you and neither leave you or let you go. You’ll know me God for who I really am! (Hosea 2:14,19)

Alone in desertWhen God leads us into a desert it is not because He is mean or cruel. He is a loving, passionate Husband and Father who will woo His bride and wean His bride from abusive lovers we keep going back to. He is a good Dad who is intentional in growing His kids up to be mature in the character and gifts He has given us. The Kingdom Way is descent before ascent. The Desert is all about deepening our trust and dependency in God through letting go. Trust is all about letting go so that we may be free to fully live as friends of God!

Why the desert experience is summed up in Deuteronomy Chapter 8. Read and soak in it. The desert is to humble us and to expose or surface what is really in our hearts. Who and what do we put our trust in? When we are at the end of our resources and limits we have a chance to see God provide, protect, and show His power in the midst of our weakness. This prepares us for those seasons of our lives where there is tremendous blessing and fruit. Our memory of the desert reminds us where we have come from, and that it all comes from God and God alone!

In the next set of blogs, I want to explore in more detail the learnings and lessons of the desert from my experience summed up in this overarching thread that weaves through the desert tapestry:

The desert experience is about letting go so that we may love more deeply and live more freely!”

The Desert: Why Go There?

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Apr 072016


Pics 2015, Brazil, Arizona, Highwood Backpacking 1034Have you ever been so thirsty, hungry, and hot that you thought you would die? That’s what just a day in the desert without water, food, or shade will do to a person! Why would anyone want to go through a desert?

I grew up on the edge of the Sahara Desert in Niger, West Africa in a a buffer or borderlands known as the Sahel. This strip of terrain made up of low brush, thorny trees, and sand is all that stands between the ever encroaching desert, and the rest of Africa. It is an inhospitable place with sandstorms that blow in like a blizzard with fine sand particles penetrating every nook, crook, and cranny. As a kid, I remember waking up after a sandstorm hit in the middle of the night, and seeing the white outline of my body sketched on the sheets by a fine layer of brown dust. The scarcity of water, unrelenting heat, and sparse vegetation means it is a constant struggle for every living thing to simply survive.

The scorching temps reach 50+ Celsius during the middle of the day, and every living thing comes to a stop finding cover in the shade to sleep and cool down. I vividly remember it being so hot and still for about a month before the rainy season that even at night we would roll out our beds onto an outdoor veranda to sleep, sometimes naked, with a wet towel draped over us to try and keep cool.

The desert and the borderlands are places that most people choose not to live in, and try to avoid at all costs. If people haveDesert Pic to go through the desert, it is because the desert stands between them and their desired destination on the other side. Most folks want to get through a desert as fast as possible!

Yet in the desert there is a profound encounter with beauty and life formed out of the suffering, struggle, and hardship found nowhere else. I remember the stunning sunsets, shapes of sand dunes and rock carved by the wind, and the beautiful people, vegetation, and wildlife uniquely adapted to life in the desert.

Just as the desert is a physical reality, there is a spiritual experience in life referred to as the desert or wilderness, the dark night of the soul, or a season of winter. It is period of one’s life where there is a unquenchable thirst for deeper in the soul and spirit. The spiritual terrain is dry and barren. The normal pathways of connecting to God do not satiate or satisfy the inner void, thirst, and longing. The scorching heat of suffering, testing, and trial leave one wondering if they will ever make it through to the other side. One feels alone, done, forgotten, and hidden away in obscurity. In this chapter of one’s life, there is loss, lots of silence and solitude, waiting, depths of despair, doubt, and depression. God seems to be quiet, distant, and to have abandoned us.

Throughout the Bible as well as in other religious texts such as the Koran, and throughout Church history there is a repeating pattern found in the stories of the Apostles, Desert Fathers, saints, mystics of all faiths, and ordinary folks who share of their desert experience as a necessary and normal part of their spiritual quest to grower closer to God. For Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Mohammed, and Paul the desert experience, both spiritually and physically, was essential in their character formation, in clarification and preparation for their calling. For each of them, the desert was not an experience that could be shunned, avoided, bypassed, or rushed through on life’s road map.

We must go inside the belly of the whale for a while. Then and only then will we be spit upon a new shore and understand our call. Richard Rohr

Pics 2015, Brazil, Arizona, Highwood Backpacking 1212I have just come through a deep, prolonged desert experience that lasted 10 years to the week. I think I’m out, or at least in the borderlands, I hope! I will be sharing more about my time in the desert in this and future blogs. It has been the most powerful and most painful time of my life. As I say repeatedly, I wouldn’t wish what I’ve gone through on my worst enemy, and yet I wouldn’t trade what I have learned for anything. It has been a time of preparation, training, formation, gestation, and incubation for the next leg of my journey.

I will be doing a series of blogs sharing some of the life lessons and wisdom that has be squeezed, pressed, and tattooed into me during my time in the desert.

If you are presently going through a time of grieving, loss, and feeling spiritually barren or dry. If the world seems grey without any colour, or you have plummeted into a pit of despair, and are experiencing a time of deep questioning of your faith. If God seems to be far from you and silent, know that you are not alone.

Though you may be in a desert know that there are deep, hidden wells and springs of life to be found in this place, and that God will guide you to them . There is an intimacy, union, and communion with God that can only be found by walking through the desert. God is as near to you as He ever has been even if you can’t feel, see, or hear Him.

In the desolation and darkness, God is as near to you as a mother hen holding her chick close under the shadow of her wing. (Ps. 17:8)

Take heart my friend and fellow seeker that though this season is painful and not for the faint of heart, if you let go and hold on to Jesus for dear life you will find deep character, beauty, and treasure formed in you and around you during this part of your sojourn! There is an end! This to shall pass! you will come through more free and fearless!

Every devout soul which has loved to see God in His house will be refreshed by visions of God in the wilderness of sorrow and solicitude.” Christopher Wordsworth

In my next blog, I’ll explore the types of deserts and how we end up in a desert.


How My Neighbourhood Saved Me: By Becoming More Hopeful

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Jun 252015

Becoming More Hopeful!

Love My Neighbourhood

With all the bad stuff happening in the world, it’s easy for me to fall into despair and hopelessness, especially when terrible things happen to family or friends for no rhyme or reason.

Hope is being honest with our present struggle with evil, pain, and poverty while imagining, and working towards a better future with God’s help!

Today I can testify that beauty can come out of ashes, and light can pierce the darkness. My neighbourhood is being transformed, and I’m being changed with it. I have watched the lines between the churched and non-churched folk get blurred as we serve together to make Bowness a better place to live.

There is a grassroots movement bubbling up of common people to band together to share their gifts, welcome the stranger in, and work hard to see their neighbourhoods become places of beauty, justice, and peace!

During the flood a couple of years ago that devastated parts of our hood, I experienced voluntary serving like I have never seen before. The flood did not discriminate between the rich and the poor. I saw wealthy people in need, and receive help when normally they would not ask for or need help. The poor serving the rich and rich serving the poor, church folk and not churched folk pitching in to make meals, clean out sewuage filled basements, rip out dry wall, and just be there for people who had lost so much. Hope filled my heart.

Other signs of transformation are the Bowness run, and a parade every year where we celebrate together what anBeauty out of brokenness awesome place this is to live. There is a bike repair shop where folks can gather to fix their bikes and old bikes are re-cycled to give away to kids who can’t afford one. The number of people who give of their time and energy to serve with no pay is incredible. I see community gardens popping up, and this month we are having a neighbouring day where there will be block parties, and all kinds of creative ways of connecting that are simply highlighting what’s going on throughout the year. The downtown of Bowness is being transformed as new businesses move in.

The invitation is for us to pour our lives into a few people and a place!

Crime is starting to go down, and our youth are being given a vision of hope for today and tomorrow. It is becoming a safe place for all.  I love how green our community is, and the desire and action being taken to protect our green spaces.

My neighbourhood is becoming a desirable place to live. Young families are moving in, the price of houses are going up, but more importantly folks in my hood are hearing the song of the Kingdom with the resounding themes of beauty, peace, justice, reconciliation, and transformation. God is at work through whomever will hear this song of the Kingdom, and respond whether inside or outside the church.

Has Bowness become utopia? No! Have I been fully perfected. My wife would say surely not. There is still a lot of work to be done. What I do know is that my hood and I are being saved.

Learning from each other

Learning from each other

I am tasting of a little bit of heaven coming here on earth in my neighbourhood, and in the process I am becoming more human, more humble, and more hopeful which I think is what a fuller understanding of the word salvation means.

I am living and experiencing this Jesus idea of Peace – a total sense of well being in every area and sphere of my life and the life of Bowness! It it the outworking of the Hebrew word Tikkun Olam which means repairing a broken world and healing wastelands. 

We have been invited to join the Creator on His Grand Idea of returning this world back to the beauty, peace, and right relationship with God, creation, and each other. Tasting in the here and now the stewardship, innocence, and fullness of life found in the Garden of Eden before the fall.

Excerpts from Isaiah 60 below sum up the vision I have for me, my family and hood. As you read the text below let the seed of hope grow in you by loosing your imagination, and then diving into your hood and joining others who want to see your neighbourhood transformed. In doing so you will be saved!


Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight.
    God’s bright glory has risen for you.
The whole earth is wrapped in darkness,
    all people sunk in deep darkness,
But God rises on you,
    his sunrise glory breaks over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    kings to your sunburst brightness.
Look up! Look around!
    Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you:
Your sons coming from great distances,
    your daughters carried by their nannies.
When you see them coming you’ll smile—big smiles!
    Your heart will swell and, yes, burst!You’ll know that I, God, am your Savior,
    your Redeemer, Champion of Jacob.
I’ll give you only the best—no more hand-me-downs!
    Gold instead of bronze, silver instead of iron,
    bronze instead of wood, iron instead of stones.
I’ll install Peace to run your country,
    make Righteousness your boss.
There’ll be no more stories of crime in your land,
    no more robberies, no more vandalism.
You’ll name your main street Salvation Way,
    and install Praise Park at the center of town.
You’ll have no more need of the sun by day
    nor the brightness of the moon at night.
God will be your eternal light,
    your God will bathe you in splendor.
Your sun will never go down,
    your moon will never fade.
I will be your eternal light.
    Your days of grieving are over.
All your people will live right and well,
    in permanent possession of the land.
They’re the green shoot that I planted,
    planted with my own hands to display my glory.
The runt will become a great tribe,
    the weakling become a strong nation.
I am God.
    At the right time I’ll make it happen.”

life together 4


By Tim Schultz

How My Neighbourhood Saved Me Part 2: Becoming More Humble!

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Jun 212015

Becoming More Humble!

Love My Neighbourhood 3I used to think that to be effective we the Church had to have all the money, all the answers, and be at the center of power in our hood. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe Jesus is the answer to the transformation of my hood and that His Church has a key part to play in that. What has changed in my thinking is the notion that we the Church have the corner on Jesus, and that we own Him and His Kingdom.

My blinders were that somehow His Kingdom was contained within the Church, and that the Church was the only vehicle through which Jesus would work to change our hood. This translated into an attitude and approach towards my hood whereby we would come charging in like modern day crusaders to save Bowness.  It was a subtle arrogance that needed to crumble.

Throughout history when the Church has had a ‘unholy alliance’ with political or economic power, and perverted or twisted truth to control people, we have been guilty of the sins of ‘colonization by violence’, and abuse of power rather than the Jesus way of letting go of systems of power and serving through love. We are so slow to learn from history, and end up repeating the same sins in the present. The upside down way of the Kingdom is that when we are weak, we are strong!

Here is my confession. Like most leaders, I like to be in a position of strength not weakness. I like that feeling of importance that comes with having all the answers and being the spout through which resources flow one way. I dare say that most leaders are a bit narcissistic. We like to be at the center and feel indispensable. I like having all the resources to dispense to those without. I don’t like to be in the place of need where I become vulnerable, and need help from others.

Especially us leader types need to open ourselves up to receiving, and not always be in a position of giving. When people feel like they have nothing to offer you it is demoralizing, and breeds an unhealthy dependency that constricts the 2 way flow of resources. This is the problem with much of the work to overcome poverty both in the developing world and here at home! When giving is a one way street it weakens and devalues the relationship.

Yet it is in that place of need when others can give to us that we experience true friendship. I call this lateral or sideways giving and receiving versus top down giving. This is the Kingdom way of sharing. It is not that we all have equal resources, but we all have something to give, and we all need to receive.

The last 10 years have been a humbling journey of loss and letting go. I have come to the place where I have as manyHumlity 2 questions as answers. My posture has changed to one of being a fellow seeker of truth who is just beginning to get to know Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In many ways I feel like I’m in kindergarten again, and discovering Jesus in people I would never have expected Jesus to speak through. This last year I had a profound experience of a person who I didn’t know, and who is not a church goer receive a dream from God for me that was life changing!

I am a broken person needing grace and healing, and a sojourner looking for some friends and a community to go on the journey of life with. We need each other, and we all have been given a little bit to share. As we offer up the little we have, God can multiply it to change a hood. No one agency, church, government program or person can do it on their own. God designed it that way so that we become interdependent!

I have watched God work through all kinds of people and agencies including, but not exclusively through the church to transform our hood. The Good News is that even when I, or we the church make a mess of things God is not flustered or panicking! He is saving our hood, and simply invites us to join Him, and watch what He can do. He doesn’t need me on His dream team, but He really likes to hang with me. When we all offer up the little resources we have amazing things begin to happen. God takes what seems so small, and multiplies it.

After 13 years of coaching some of the same boys and girls in spring soccer and hockey in the winter, I have had the privilege, honor, and invitation to walk with these kids and their families as they have celebrated big and small milestones such as a first goal, or making it up a mountain that they didn’t think they could climb.

Together we have suffered through some hard times like the flood a few years ago, the trauma of a receiving the news of a family members illness, or the tragic break up of a relationship. These children and their families have changed me as we have invited each other into our joy and pain. In the solidarity of suffering and sharing, we have experienced a taste of the Kingdom to come.

Healing 1Coaching kids in sport has brought healing in my life as I’ve re-connected with my love of coaching, and rediscovered the pleasure and sheer joy of carefree play with friends found through sport .

Over the years, I have seen Jesus and experienced His upside down way of forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, and serving through folks inside and outside the church. The humbling part is that we have received as much if not more than anything we have given. For example, one of my neighbourhood friends invites me every winter to his cabin to hunt in prime moose country, and in the spring phones me up to going fishing on his boat for lake trout. I can’t afford to own a cabin, and I don’t have a fishing boat, but my neighbour generously offers me hospitality, friendship, and opportunity to do what I love.

When my wife was diagnosed with cancer last year we were surrounded by friends inside and outside the church who walked with us, supported us, ran for us in cancer charity runs, brought us meals, and loved us through. In our position of weakness when we didn’t have much to offer, we were saved again and again!

I’m slowly getting it. The Jesus way is that we are most powerful when we let go of power! This way is so contrary to our thinking that we need to have it all together, or come in a position of strength to be effective. In our weakness, we realize we need each other, and that we really need Jesus to show up or we’re in trouble!

By Tim Schultz

How My Neighbourhood Saved Me: Becoming More Human!

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Jun 122015

Love My Neighbourhood 1I love my hood of Bowness, and there is no other place I would rather live in our city of Calgary. It is a quircky and eclectic place where the rich and the poor live in close proximity to each other. It is a place of beauty, generosity, and diversity. No two houses look alike, and we have verdant green spaces with tall mature spruce and pine trees!

Truth be told my love for my neighbourhood was not a ‘love at first sight’ kind of deal. To be honest when we first felt the nudge to move here, I fought the idea. Bowness was known in our city as one of the rougher hoods, and a place that you would want to move out of as quick as possible to a safer part of the city. When we moved in there was a biker gang called the Grim Reapers based in the hood with a fortified club house to boot. A few years later the notorious Hell’s Angel’s crew swallowed up the Grim Reapers, and set up shop. There were youth gangs including the Indian Posse, grow ops, drug deals, frequent B & E’s, and folks living on the margins because of urban poverty.

Jesus loves to show up in what we think are some of the most dodgy, dangerous, and dark places!

Bowness in many people’s minds was an undesirable place to live compared to the new burbs popping up around the city that had the outward appearance of looking squeaky clean and safe. I wanted to live close to the university and start a church with young college age kids who were cool and trendy, or plant in the suburbs where there were young middle class families with money, and where I was under the illusion we would be safer. 

Somewhat begrudgingly, I moved into the hood with a wheel barrel full of hubris mixed with a smidgen of good intentions. We would swoop in and save this poor and needy place. I had, though I would never vocalize it, some kind of slightly twisted, grandiose Superman complex. I thought God needed me on His dream team to parachute into Bowness like the elite Navy Seals, and rescue it. Instead, my story has been mostly about how my neighbourhood has saved and changed me.

That is not to say that we haven’t had a few things to contribute and offer during our years here, but I can truly say IHumility 3 have received far more from my hood than what I have given back in return. Over the years what we have tripped into is an incredible place to live with hidden beauty, outlandish generosity sometimes from people who have very little, and an ongoing story of redemption where out of the ashes, pain, poverty, and brokenness my neighbourhood is being transformed. God has been at work here long before we ever showed up! I’ve simply been invited to go along for the ride, and in so doing I’m being changed and saved.

Here is how I’m being saved by my neigbourhood. Through my time in the hood I’m becoming more human, more humble, and more hopeful! I will share on this journey in a 3 part series of blogs.

Becoming More Human

Being Human 2Many of us so called Christians, including yours truly, can tend to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good! We often come across as weird and abnormal for all the wrong reasons. We get caught up with talking about religious stuff in a lingo that not many understand or relate to. We can be so uptight about ‘evangelizing’ people causing folks to be suspicious about our motives for friendship. Many of us are not comfortable being outside the comfort zone of our church turf and circle of friends. We become anxious or withdrawn in settings where we are not in control.

The amazing thing about Jesus was that He was both God and human. This collision of the divine intersecting with our messy humanity is true spirituality, and what makes Jesus so appealing to me. An example of this from the life of Jesus is that his first miracle was not done in a church meeting, but at the normal, human, everyday event of a wedding where they ran out of wine. He took water and changed it into wine, and I dare say that it was alcoholic, though some may disagree with me. I wonder if some of the folks by this time in the wedding party were not already a bit tipsy! How much more human can you get! When was the last time you were at a wedding, and they ran out of wine or beer and a follower of Jesus turned some water into beer or wine…just sayin!

In my early days of being a pastor, and running the church, I was so busy trying to be Superman saving the world, and running the church that I had no time to do some of things that I love.

My interests and hobbies that people can relate to, and that would connect me to folk inside and outside the churchBeing Human 1 were squeezed out of my life by what I thought were higher priorities. I thought that these normal activities of life were not quite as important, or spiritual as prayer meetings, church services, and organizing programs to keep people coming to church. I had become abnormal.

In the last 10 years, I have gotten back to coaching my son’s hockey and soccer teams, back to hunting and fishing, and back to being normal. Re-connecting with these very earthy and human activities has brought me such joy, fulfillment, new friendships, and a better understanding of who Jesus is, and where He would show up.

Where my thinking and action has changed is that Jesus is present at hockey or soccer game as He is in a church meeting.

RootedAnother aspect of becoming more human is to be rooted in a place. As a missionary kid who gets wander lust every 3 months, to stay put in one place for so long is really foreign. Living out the daily, and at times overwhelming, mundane routines of driving kids to school, owning a house, paying a mortgage, mowing a lawn, and shuttling kids to sporting events on week nights and weekends is where most people are living. Walking out the reality of Jesus showing up in these daily experiences makes me more relatable, and gives me more credibility than all the grand stories of my international travels.

If I don’t live and experience hospitality, vulnerability, sharing, conflict resolution, pain through loss, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption in my hood on a regular basis in the rhythms of normal life, then my message has no meaning for life in the now. I end up telling 10 year old stories of my encounter with Jesus and His Kingdom breaking in, but have no fresh stories of how Jesus has shown up in my life and neighbourhood in the last week.

I have the privilege of traveling and speaking a little bit in different places about neighbouring, community, and mission. The temptation is to get on the circuit and not be present and involved at home. Thus I have to say no to some really good things and opportunities so that I stay grounded and real. It’s a juggle sometimes. I don’t want to be a disconnected itinerant speaker with an intergalactic vision traveling the world, yet to busy zooming in and out to walk out these ideas in my own backyard! I don’t want to wait till after I die to experience life to the full in the here and now!

Today I’m a more rooted, healthy, and real person for all the hours of simply being present with these friends in the hood doing the things that I love!

Stayed tuned for part 2 as I share on how my neighbourhood as helped me become more humble.

By Tim Schultz


5 Trending Themes for 2015: Join A Movement!

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Jan 282015

Trending 1I’m a guy who likes to sift through all the information we get thrown at us everyday, and distill things down to a few key ideas that are like signposts pointing me in the right direction for how I should spend my time, energy, and money. These themes have been rising to the surface again and again in my conversations, the music I listen to – or my kids listen to, the social media banter, the books, magazines, and papers I read, the movies I watch, or in the reoccuring thoughts that percolate in my mind as I stop and reflect.  

These trending threads help me map out my priorities for the nextClues year and beyond. They are like clues to what God might be up to, and where His life and activity might be found! That’s where I want to be found.

The fact of the matter is that these themes are not that avant garde. They are old ideas that transcend time because they are God ideas that work whether you believe in God or not!

These trending themes are growing into grassroots movements as more and more people start to repattern their lives one by one, and live these ideas.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but I think these ideas may resonate with what you may have been feeling, thinking, and hearing like a tuning fork ringing true inside of you. By living these ideas, you and I can be part of joining organic movements changing the world one person at a time. Pretty amazing!

1. Dive into Neighbouring and Community Transformation:

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” John 1:14

This idea of neighbouring has been popping up wherever I turn.neighbouring 2 From the front page of a Macleans magazine, the August 18, 2014 edition, entitled Stop Ingnoring Your Neighbours; to books on the art of neighbouring; to the upcoming World Vision leaders forum for church leaders going across Canada in 2015 entitled Neigbourhood Mappingwww.churches.worldvision.ca (come out to the heart and soul forum for leaders on April 8 in Calgary); to church planting experiments bubbling up such as the Parish Collective. There is something exciting going on that I want to be a part of.

The longing to belong, to simplify one’s life, to put down roots, and to work together to find solutions to the problems of crime, poverty, and loneliness right where we live is igniting a grassroots movement. 

Folks are falling in love with their neighborhoods, and digging in for the long haul to see their neighborhoods transformed into places of beauty, harmony, and abundance. “

Without great fanfare, people are serving their neighborhoods inGiving and Receing 2 ordinary ways with extra-ordinary results. There is a ground swell of normal folks joining and volunteering in community associations, coaching sports in their neighborhood, putting on block parties, and renovating the homes of those who can’t afford it. Neighbours are becoming friends and getting involved in each other’s lives.

Folks are choosing to shop in their neighborhood, work and start businessess in their neighborhood even when its not as financially lucrative. People are working together to find solutions to what ever ills plague their neighborhood with the aim of making their hood the best place to live.

Churches are calling their parishioners to move into the neighbourhood where they meet, and become part of the fabric of that hood!

This journey of transformation is happening in my neighbourhood of Bowness and I love it. There is no other place I would rather live in our city of Calgary. This last Christmas I watched volunteers from our hood, both church and folks who don’t go to church, put on a meal for about 400 neighbours including the elderly and less fortunate or lonely. What an awesome place to live.

This idea of community transformation is also impacting how we get involved in the developing world. Rather than simply throwing money at the problem, we are becoming friends with communities living in poverty, and walking with them to find local solutions that will provide clean water and sanitation, health care, food, education for the children, and jobs through micro-enterprises. Communities are overcoming poverty and having their dignity restored as they become transformed in everyway.

How could you offer up your gifts and abilities to serve and love your neighbourhood? Do you know your neighbour by name, and have you ever had them in your home for a meal or coffee? Get your church involved with World Vision and adopt a community in the developing world. www.churches.worldvision.ca/gpo

2. Start Partnering and Sharing: 

“The whole congregation of beleivers was united as one-one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, ‘That’s mine; you can’t have it.” Acts 4:32

Giving and receiving 4All around us we seeing the growing trend of sharing demonstrated through enterprises such as community gardens, car sharing, couch surfing, churches sharing buildings, or businesses sharing knowledge such as in the case of finding a vaccine for Ebola. The idea that we can do it on our own, and that it is better to compete than collaborate is proving to be a bankrupt idea in all arenas of life. The silo mentality of hoarding and not sharing has been found wanting.

Investing in the slow journey of building trust in relationships between people in teams, between departments in businesses, and between churches so that we gladly share our resources of knowledge, time, money, and people with each other is the key to real partnering and sharing. 

I am starting to see large churches partnering and sharing resources with small organic missional communities with no strings attached. I’m seeing small churches in neighbourhoods banding together to reach their hoods while letting go of their proclivity to protect their turf out of the fear of losing members. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see large businesses help up-start companies with capital and coaching! Yes, helping out the competition. I believe we can win by losing.

Partnering and sharing is not taking advantage of another for personal gain, but looking for ways to further unleash each others little dreams like creeks that flow together to become a mighty River!”

Who are you partnering with where out of trust you would willingly share your time, energy, money, and knowledge to see a dream come true?

3. Live Peace and Justice: 

“Work for Justice, Help the down-and- out. Stand up for the homeless, Go to bat for the defenseless.” Is. 1:17

The song of justice is being sung all around us if we listen. From thePeace and Justice bands U2 to Rise Against, the call to action is being sung loud and clear. The exploitation of children and women for sex or work slaves is wrong and must be stopped. The gross injustice of not paying workers enough to support their families in the developing world, so that we can have cheaper clothes is wrong. Not being able to go to school or have clean drinking water and 3 healthy meals a day is simply incomprehensible . The genocide of minority groups happening today is unfathomable and an evil that needs to be confronted and overcome with a revolution of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation!

The solution to these injustices is not to fight them with violence which begets more violence, but by going to the root of the problems and finding positive and creative solutions to overcome poverty and injustice.

We need a movement of peace makers who will not be afraid to expose and confront evil, yet give their lives to go in the opposite spirit of loving their enemies to overwhelm evil and darkness with goodness and light.”

children in povertyStart by sponsoring a child living in poverty! Sponsor Now  Get involved in advocacy to stop the exploitation of children and women. Check out www.worldvision.ca for practical ways to get involved in advocacy, and giving to children, families and communities in need because of natural disasters or because of war in fragile states. Be a peace maker where there is a conflict happening in your family, work place or neighbourhood!

 4. Be or Find a Hidden Catalyst: 

“This is the assigned moment for him to move to the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.” John 3:30 

Cow catcherOther words that might describe thise folks are pioneers, poets, entrepreneurs, apostolic, artists, or innovators who are change agents who don’t give a rip about popular opinion, and will swim upstream against the current. 

Most of these folk have spent time in obscurity, the wilderness, and been tested so that their message carries weight and has been birthed in the cauldron of testing and suffering.

They know what its like to be the cow catcher on the front of the train and be hit by the proverbial poop!

This ilk of people are committed to start things, connect people, and then get out of the way not caring who gets the credit. They are willing to pay the cost for some ‘big ideas’ that are worth giving their lives for.

In this day and age of fame and glory seeking, inflated egos and narcissim, protecting of one’s turf, and taking credit for what’s not ours, we need a movement of initiators who willing fade into the shadows.

Hidden catalysts have caught a vision of the ‘Big Story’ and are more concerned about God’s Kingdom being advanced than building their own brand, company, or little personal kingdom.”

They think out of the box and present new ways of doing thingsout of the box that may challenge the status quo.

This movement of initiators and innovators love diversity and are not threatened by people who are different from them. In fact they befriend and gather around them those who are of a different worldview, ethnic background, personality, and gift mix to compliment who they are.

Do you have an idea or dream for something you’d like to start? Would you be willing to call a few friends together and initiate an idea or dream? What testing or winter season are you going through to prepare you to steward the message or dream you carry? Do you have some friends or co-creators around you who think and do life in a different way than you?

5. Link Arms with and Follow the Next Generation:

“Don’t let anyone put you down because you are young.” I Timothy 4:12

Next GenerationMost movements are started by young people in their teens and early 20’s. Young people have hope and are crazy enough to experiment with and try some outlandish things. Most of them have not become so jaded that their hope of making a difference has been snuffed out of them or buried deep within them.

For my own salvation, and as an antidote for my own cynicism, I need to hang around the next generation. They keep me young, and perhaps I will have the privlege of holding onto their shirt tails, and hitching a ride as they initiate movements that will make our world a better place.”

They will be the ones to start spiritual revivals and renewals. They will spear head the quest for ways to care for and steward our environment while also managing the economy in such a way that the wealth of this planet is shared by all in sustainable ways. Their bright minds will find cures to diseases such as cancer or Ebola.

Now that I’ve turned 50, I realize that its not about me anymore. Its about my way of doing things, and promoting my personal tastes or agendas. In the next season of my life, I am called to serve the next generation, and be a cheer leader and champion for them. If and when asked, maybe I will have a few words of wisdom to impart, but mostly I will learn from them.

What will church look like for my kids? I know they seek spirituality that is real, raw, and relevant; community where every voice is heard, decisions and learning happen through community discernment and discussion, and where there is a sharing of life together that goes beyond a meeting. They want to be part of a mission which involves doing the works of Jesus which may earn us the right to say a few words.

We are living in exciting days, and I’m convinced that this nextYouth Movement generation will lead us into new frontiers where we taste and experience more of Heaven coming to earth!

Who is a teenager or 20 something that is right in front of you that would love to spend time with you? Cheer on, champion, and join the experiments, artitstic endeavours, and causes of the young adults around you. Let them lead by walking with them!

To embrace and live the above themes will take ‘much grace’ – all of God’s resources to be and to do what He has called us to be and do. The #5 is the number for grace and as this is the year 2015, I believe that God is offering us much grace if we show up where He’s at work. So go have fun tripping into the Kingdom in 2015!


Tim Schultz


Hope: Living Good News in the Midst of Bad News

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Jan 092015

Hope 2The economy of fear is big business in our world. Fear is what sells news, books, horror and apocalyptic movies about the end of the world, insurance, and is a key driver behind much of the health/pharmaceutical industry. Whether it is the Ebola crisis, the stock market and oil prices plummeting, the war against terrorism both in the Middle East and on our shores, global warming and the extinction of species, we are being bombarded with bad news that preys on our worst fears. 

This unhealthy diet of bad news is fueling a pandemic of either resigned fatalism on the one hand or radical fanaticism and unrealized triumphalism on the other hand. 

Fatalism born out of despair is like a fog or darkness choking out theFear 2 light. It seeps into our brains, and our emotions convincing us that it doesn’t matter what we do because this world is going to hell in a hand basket. So we cover our eyes, and hope this is all a bad dream that will go away. We are numbed into inaction. We lose hope and give up. We start to see the world as grey rather as a world full of colour!

Proverbs 13:12 describes it this way: “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.”

Sinking ship 1Even some of our theology, reflected in the recent end times movie, Left Behind starring Nicolas Cage, feeds into a doom and gloom worldview in which this world is like a sinking, burning ship.  Our only hope is to put on the life jacket of personal salvation to give us hell insurance, and to be our ticket into heaven in the afterlife. The best we can do is huddle in our life boat with a few other chosen folks – the church – waiting for Jesus to come airlift us out of this mess.

Now I am not suggesting that we live in despair, or buyPlanet of the Apes into the debunked and dying Enlightenment doctrine of truimphalism that promised through science, technology, and the power of humanism everything would get better and better until we reached utopia. Our experiment in hoping that the evolved human race could reach the heights of replacing God and fix all that ails us has not produced the end result we had hoped for. The movie The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an interesting commentary on the consequences of our hubris as a human race.

With all of our intellect and innovations, we have not been able to eradicate the heinous evils of genocide and ethnic cleansing, or stop the exploitation of children and women. Our progress and rampant greed has led to the raping and destruction of the natural resources and environment for profit. With all our advances we still have not been able to wipe out diseases such as cancer. These stark realities are humbling.

Fanaticism in religion has not fared any better. We can see daily the ugly fruit of  its various iterations such as: Dominion theology – the belief that we are to rule over all the earth by taking over the power structures of every sector (politics, religion, education, business, entertainment, ect.) of our society and setting up a prototype of God’s physical kingdom on earth …kinda like what Constantine the Roman emperor did in the 4th century when he made Christianity the state religion, or what Calvin tried by being a spiritual dictator and trying to set up a theocracy in Geneva in the 16th century, or ISIS in Iraq and Syria today.

Fear 1Another expression is the Manifest Destiny theology. We see this especially in the the political and religious right wing camps in North America. This is the belief that we are God’s favourites with His backing to promote and spread our brand of politics and religion. The extremes of the above are found in Fundamentalist theologies that use God to rationalize and justify the use of fear, force, and even violence to enforce their worldview, doctrine, and morality.

These doctrines have not worked, and have even back fired to create more Bad News!

Much of the bad stuff happening out there we can try to hold at arms length. What happens when it hits close to home? This last year we as a family had to live through the sudden bad news that Esther, my wife and mother of our 3 boys, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. When I heard the news it was like someone had punched me in the stomach. Why Esther? Esther is one of the nicest people I know. She eats healthy, has no history of breast cancer in her family, and doesn’t smoke or drink at all. Haven’t we had our fair share of hard stuff happen to us?

The question is not whether we will face bad news, but how do we face the reality of bad news in our lives, and not succumb to negativity, fear, despair, or a fatalistic resignation to simply circle the wagons and hope bad stuff doesn’t happen to us?

Hope 1The answer is found in the word Hope. What is Hope? How does hope help us walk out being Good News when we experience bad news in our lives? How does hope motivate us to do our part to make this world a better place in the here and now?

My two Heroes of Hope are my wife Esther and Jesus who have been examples of how to live Good News in the midst of bad news. Below are the ways that they have showed me what walking out hope looks like.

1. Hope is letting go of the notion that life is fair. Bad things happen to good people and it simply doesn’t make sense. The sooner we stop trying to figure out all the answers to the ‘Why’ questions the sooner we get on with living life. Esther has not let bitterness creep in to her heart by becoming angry and blaming God. She has not let herself get stuck in the muck of self-pity by focusing on the ‘Why me?’ question. Instead she has accepted the fact that life is full of mystery, and that she wants something beautiful to come out of her journey. She has been honest with the fact that cancer sucks, but she will not let this awful disease rob her of living life with joy.

2. Hope is a posture of alert expectancy for good to come out of the bad! (from the Message Rom 5:5). It is believing for the best and not giving into fear. Hope is first and foremost a choice to be postive even when things look bleak.

My wife Esther has been a living example of this unfailing optimism in how she has walked through the last year of battling cancer. Instead of feeling sorry for herself she has lived every day to the full with an expectancy that she will be healed. Her joy and peace through it all lifted the anxiety and fear that could have settled over our boys. 

The Good News is that we believe God has healed her from the cancer through both the health care she received and through the prayers of so many! Today she feels great and the past year seem surreal. Her perspective is that it could have been much worse. She sees her scars as a mark of grace…kinda like a tatoo she didn’t have to pay for! She has a story of hope to share with others of how God can turn the bad around for good. 

3. Hope is an attitude of being thankful for every good gift even when you face the bad stuff. Right from the get go Esther has modeled being grateful for the fact that the cancer was caught early (Stage 1), that she had one of the best surgeons in the city, that she didn’t have to have a mastectomy, that she came through radiation with little side effects, and that she is deeply loved by so many. Esther doesn’t seek attention and shies away from the limelight, so it was cool to see her become the center of so much attention and pampering!

4. Hope is an action! We live hope when we do something to makeHope 3 this world a better place. Every act of service like shoveling your neighbour’s side walk, every smile, every time we recycle, every time we forgive an offence, every moment spent creating something beautiful like a poem, painting, or song, we live hope in action. It is doing our part to be an answer to the problems plaguing our world. 

Let’s be advocates for justice by supporting a child from a needy community through World Vision or Compassion, or lobbying our government for tougher laws against child exploitation! Let’s be peace keepers by mediating between two parties in conflict, or by becoming a friend of a person from another part of the world or religion than our own.

Let’s encourage the Next Generation that they have a purpose for being on planet earth. Through their talents and gifts they can make this world a better place by discovering cures to cancer or Ebola, by finding and inventing renewable sources of energy, and by working to eradicate poverty through education, health, food and water, well paying jobs being available for all!

5. Hope is found in the person of Jesus and His promise of a coming Kingdom. The Grand Dream that I wait for, live for, and work for is a day that is coming where every wrong will be made right, where the earth will be renewed in all its beauty and harmony, where there will be peace and reconciliation in every relationship and between every race and religion! A day where there will be no more poverty, sickness, death or tears!  Jesus promises to come and complete His restoration plan for this world. Let it be so and let us live so no matter what we face.


Tim Schultz

What is Church? Part 3: Best Practices for Weaving a Visible Tapestry of Church

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Jun 292014

The Visible Tapestry of Church: Practicing Sacraments with Life!


Can you see God's tapestry of relationships connecting all around you?

Can you see God’s tapestry and beautiful mosaic of relationships being connected all around you?

Within the hidden tapestry of the Kingdom and the invisible Church, God’s idea is for there to be visible, local, and unique shapes of church where at least 2 to 3 followers of Jesus gather together, and live life together. These organized and visible expressions of church will be made up of diverse ethnic groups, age groups, socioeconomic groups, styles, and models. Each of these unique shapes of church when seen as a connected whole form a colorful and beautiful mosaic. Each church is one of the threads that when woven together create a tapestry that reflects a picture of what Jesus and His Kingdom look like.

Our practices are the borders that define who we are!

Our practices are the borders that define who we are!

The unchangeable DNA or nucleus is Jesus and His Kingdom way of living. Then there are distinctive practices that form the semi-permeable borders or boundaries of the visible church, defining who we are and what we are about. Irrespective of culture, context, model of church, or period in history, these practices have given the visible church a clear collective identity.

How we express these practices, or the packaging through which these practices are expressed will be varied and diverse as we try to be culturally relevant.

These essential practices are what I will refer to as sacraments. To a Jesus follower, all of life is to be an act of worship or a sacrament. There is to be no separation or compartmentalization between our lives of worship in the normal routines of work, play, eating, marrying, raising of kids, and the practices or sacraments we walk out in our church gatherings. What we do in a church gathering is to bleed into or spill over into our everyday normal life, and gives reality to our worship rituals when we meet together.

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around-life—and place it before God as an offering.” Romans 12:1

What are sacraments? Simply put sacraments are holy practices where heaven and earth kiss. Invisible God in some mysterious way meets with us and reveals Himself to us in the participating together of these visible practices.  What makes a practice or sacrament holy?

In God every act of life is holy!

In God every act of life is holy!

Sacraments are visible rituals, rites, and practices we participate in as a community that remind us of our identity in Jesus, and demonstrate a Kingdom culture, ethic, and way of living life. These practices become holy when God infuses His life into our normal, sometimes mundane, human activities in some mysterious way. If we come to these sacraments with an open heart, we invite the Spirit of God to change us from the inside out.”

For us to get a full picture of God’s idea of the Church, the open, invisible tapestry of church needs to be become visible. This happens when a group of Jesus followers commit to come together and form a local community around their raison d’etre found in Jesus. As a community, they call and encourage each other to walk out the Kingdom Rule of Life summed up in Matthew 5-7. When they gather as a community, they participate in a rhythm of practices infused with the life of God. Their identity in Jesus and these practices differentiate them from any other club or community.

Another way to put it is that the visible church is not just an open system with no borders where we simply conform to our culture and context with no clear identity. Where there are no values and practices to define who we are, we are no longer able to be salt and light. We become a tasteless blob. In some of the current ways of walking out church, some have watered things down to the lowest common denominator because of a desire not to offend anyone, or to try and fit in with the culture.

There are some essential practices that need to be part of the rhythm and routines of any gathered church in any country or culture, irrespective of model of church, and which transcend the changes going on around us. Though the packaging or form can be adapted to any culture or context, the core practices remain the same.  What are those ageless, best practices of the church gathered?

1. The Sacrament of the Table: Centering, Celebrating, and Communion!

What is the Eucharist sacrament?

What is the Eucharist sacrament?

One of those sacraments is what we in the church have called the Lord’s supper, communion or the Eucharist. For most of us who have grown up in the church this ceremony involves a priest, pastor, or elder of the church dispensing some wine or juice and a tiny piece of bread or wafer to be partaken of in a rather somber and serious way.

For those looking in or who have a distant religious memory, there are some questions that pop up. During this ceremony of eating a wafer and some wine do the elements actually turn into the blood and body of Jesus? Sounds kinda gruesome to be eating someone’s body and blood! Do you have to be a card carrying member of that church to be able to participate?

I remember as a kid thinking that if this ceremony is meant to celebrate Jesus why are we so skimpy with the portions, and why do people act like they have just been to a funeral. Why don’t we grab a hunk of bread and with a full goblet of juice or wine toast King Jesus with a hearty clinking of our cups and a cheer? Why don’t we practice this ritual around a sumptuous meal with friends?

This ageless practice is first and foremost to center us as a community around Jesus. He is the reason we exist as a community. It is the simplest, and the central act of worship. We celebrate that in some mysterious, yet tangible way, Jesus is present with us in eating of the bread and wine. We are acknowledging His presence, expressing our love for Him, and inviting Him to infuse us with His life to go out into the world.

It is also to a time to celebrate and say thank you, Jesus for reconciling us to God. We are celebrating the coming of His Kingdom through His life, death and resurrection bringing freedom to us from sin, death, and Satan.

We welcome all to come to the table and receive the ‘life to the full’ that Jesus promises us. In Luke 14: 1-23 Jesus tells us to go out and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, the foreigner, and the lonely to come to the table. We are really practicing or having a dress rehearsal for the big Feast that is coming when there will be people from every tribe and tongue sitting at the table together.

Celebrating Jesus and life together with a circle of friends around a fine meal!

Celebrating Jesus and life together with a circle of friends around a fine meal!

Since food is the language of relationship, it is hard to eat with our enemies or those who have hurt us. In coming around the table, we have a chance to reconcile through the giving and receiving of forgiveness.

In our more  formal ways of practicing the Eucharist, the ritual is done at the front with each individual receiving a wafer or piece of bread and some wine or juice from a elder, priest, or pastor. We eat and drink the bread and wine returning to our pew or seat. Though this approach is most practical when you have a larger group gathered, I would like to suggest that we miss out on some of the communal and celebratory parts of this communion. It becomes somewhat of an individualistic ritual.

The practice of this sacrament with a smaller group of friends and guests we invite to the table, like new immigrants, around a shared meal allows for a deeper exchange of intimacy. Instead of one person dispensing the bread and wine, we share the bread and wine with each other.

Weave this sacrament into your planned gatherings big or small on a regular basis, but also into your suppers with your family, or when you are practicing hospitality with some friends who may not be church goers. Share a meal together with food from the different countries represented, and then cap off the meal with a time of toasting King Jesus with a chunk of bread or handful of rice, and some juice or wine. Though the packaging or form can be adapted to any culture or context, the core practice remains the same. Include prayer for special needs such as healing as part of the sacrament.

2. The Sacrament of Baptism: Initiation Rites Into the Community

Outward sign of an inner decision to walk out faithfulness!

Outward sign of an inner decision to walk out faithfulness!

Baptism is a visible act of saying, “Yes, I’m in.”  The act of baptism in and of itself doesn’t save anyone. It is like a gang member getting a tattoo. The physical symbol brands that person, and shows the rest of the world that this person is serious about their allegiance to this particular gang. As well, the gang welcomes that person in with all their backing and protection.

Piercing is not just a modern day phenomenon to communicate the inward choices or convictions of the heart. In the O.T., when a servant was given their freedom by their master, the servant could voluntarily out of love choose to get their ear pierced. This outward sign was to show that they had become a bond servant for life out of love. (Ex. 21:5-6) What a great picture!

In a similar way, a person in our community who is wanting to outwardly demonstrate their love and commitment to Jesus and the community would be baptized. Whether you sprinkle, or fully dunk to me makes no difference. The rite should be public with some vocal declaration of the person’s choice to pledge their allegiance to King Jesus, His Kingdom, and His community.

Be creative with this. I remember baptizing a friend, and now member of our family, in a tub in our kitchen! Another friend of mine baptized some folks under a shower when on a trip to a country where becoming a follower of Jesus can be a dangerous decision. It’s fun to do this at a park by the river or lake so outsiders can observe.

Baptism like marriage is a ceremony where in front of friends, family, and even strangers we are committing to walk out being faithful to Jesus and His community called church.

3. The Sacrament of Reading and Practicing the Scriptures: Learning, Living and Passing On the Jesus Way of Life

What is the Big Story?

What is the Big Story?

The reading of the Scriptures, interpreting, and applying of the Scriptures together with the help of the Holy Spirit is a key sacrament. We need to be constantly reminded of the Big Story of God’s redemptive plan for this world, and how we can play a part in this Meta-narrative.

There are some who are gifted to teach and explain the Scriptures to us. Public or platform teaching does not exclude the need to be reading and applying the Scriptures in the context of a smaller group where there is room for dialogue, discussion, even disagreement, and formation through application.

Information and knowledge alone do not change people. We need an encounter with Jesus that motivates and empowers us to change. We need some friends to show us the way! We learn a way of life by watching others and then going for it. We pass on a way of life by inviting others to live life with us so we can learn from each other!Learning by copying

Learning includes motivation, information, and application. In most of our gathered settings, we have been fairly effective in motivating, and informing people on the Big Story and the Kingdom way of living.

Where we’ve been remiss is in not creating space in our meetings for folks to get with a couple of friends in a break out group to share how the Holy Spirit has been speaking to them about applying what they have heard in the teaching.  The sharing would also include an opportunity to be accountable for acting on what they hear, and prayer for empowering.

Learning from each other

Learning from each other

We all need some trusted friends to show us the way and to be accountable for follow through on what we say we will do. This kind of application and accountability best happens in a small group.

The key is to blend the motivation and informational types of teaching and preaching of the Scriptures in larger gatherings with the application and accountability happening in smaller clusters of friends.

Another practice should be the regular telling of stories from our everyday lives of how we have had the chance to be part of God’s unfolding Big Story at work, school, in our neighborhoods, and in our families. How have we encountered Jesus and His Kingdom last week or today? The ageless story becomes fresh when we live it daily and weekly.

4. The Sacrament of Sacred Space and Symbols: 

Iona 1In a worldview that does not separate the secular and the sacred, we realize that everywhere we go is a holy place, and that God is not contained in a temple or church building. (Acts 7:48; 17:24) Often God is showing up in the dark places as well as in the normal venues of our home, neighborhood, work place, and such.

Having said that, I do believe that there is a tension here. I remember visiting Durham Cathedral and the island of Iona some years ago while on a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts.  On the outside of the Durham Cathedral was a plaque that read, “For more than a thousand years prayer has been offered in this place…” When you enter the Cathedral you can sense the presence of God in a very tangible and powerful way. The place has been saturated with God.Iona 2

Iona, a remote and beautiful island where a Celtic Christian community was founded, is known as a thin place in Celtic Christianity and by spiritual seekers of all sorts. A thin place is said to be a location where the separation between heaven and earth is as thin as a tissue. In these places, it seems easier to connect with God. In creation these places are often high places, or remote and rugged places of raw beauty. Often these become places of worship whether to God or the dark side.

I believe that as the church gathered we need sacred spaces where the separation between heaven and earth is tissue thin. We can do this by reclaiming buildings where a church used to meet, but has died. We can do this by soaking new venues or dark places such as a former strip club with prayer and worship.

People are looking for places of serenity and beauty as reprieves from the consumerism and chaos of city life. Many new churches build or choose utilitarian buildings for meeting spaces out of a value for maximizing the use of their building beyond Sunday morning.

Creating places of beauty as icons.

Creating places of beauty as icons.

In the Protestant world, we have tended to be iconoclastic and diminished the value of beauty as an end unto itself.  In our value for good stewardship, let us not neglect the value for creating spaces of beauty investing time and money. This may seem wasteful, but the God we worship loves to lavishly invest in beauty even when it doesn’t seem to serve any useful purpose.

If we are meeting in facilities that are plain and functional such as a community center, commission the artists to create a place of beauty through paintings, murals, sculptures, icons, and mosaics that help us connect to an invisible God.

5. The Sacrament of Shared Life Together: Diving in Close to Home with Some Friends

In our fragmented world, most of our lives are lived separated from one another. We are suffering from a pandemic of loneliness, busyness, and consumerism. There is a longing for belonging, integration, simplicity, deeper friendships, family, and the sharing rather than hoarding of resources.

Living life together!

Living life together!

Many of us have stories of experiments, mostly in our youth, where we pursued the ideals of  ‘deeper’community. We wholeheartedly gave of ourselves to live life in close proximity with some friends. The pursuit of a shared life together may have included sharing some common meals together, pooling of finances to be distributed to those in need, and some sort of rule of life. Some of these turned out, but many of them ended up in disaster due to immaturity, and host of other factors.

Often in our zeal we leapfrogged to the ideal without the grace needed to live out the ideal. There was nothing wrong with the ideal. We simply didn’t have the character of Jesus yet to live it out. We may have become disillusioned and vowed to never risk like that again.

We’ve settled for church lite. We go to meetings, but avoid the risk of going deeper in our relationships.

There is no better way to surface our growth issues and selfishness than to live in close proximity with some other people who are different from us. It is a chance for real formation into the nature of Jesus to occur.

no admittance signIn most of church expressions, our gatherings allow us to rub shoulders, but we can leave the meeting being polite with one another while hiding the rooms in our interior castle that have a ‘No Admittance’ sign. We can show the nice side of who we want people to see without the pressures of living close to one another surfacing our ‘dark side’.

Often what seem like small things such as differences in parenting styles, differences in personality or how we practice sharing fester and blow up a good thing.

In most monasteries or monastical orders, a newbie, called a novitiate, who wants to join the community spends at least a year in a trial period so that both sides can evaluate whether it will work or not. After a year, the novitiate takes their vows to commit to the order. When one signs up for the order the rule of life is clear and not up for negotiation. Either you buy in or not.

The question is how do we pursue ‘deeper community’ without killing each other or starting a monastical or missionary order with clear lines of ‘in and out’? Most real lifers cannot live to that degree of intensity or commitment.

I suggest we start by calling a few folks to move into the same neighborhood together. Buy separate homes on the same block or within walking or biking distance of one another, so that we can drop in on one another spontaneously.

Another option is to get to know our immediate neighbors, and listen for those who are longing for deeper community. You can start with a block party to simply deepen connection. Look for those who are longing for more, are open to spiritual conversation, and serving one another. Form a small group with these folks where you share a meal, celebrate communion, and pray for one another.

life together 4

Talk through and negotiate an agreed upon rule of life with 2-5 folks.  This rule of life might start with a common meal together once a month, and over time increasing it to once a week. Share resources with one another like baby sitting, car pooling, lawn mowers, a shared community garden in one person’s yard, and chip in to a pool of finances to be given away to whoever has a need.

Try serving together in a common mission in your neighborhood. If you can learn to resolve conflicts in a healthy way, and stay together for 1-5 years, anything is possible.

My hope is to see many small circles of friends ask the following questions:

Beauty out of brokennessWhy don’t we go on a God adventure by moving into the same neighborhood and living life together? What would it look like to love our hood to Jesus by serving the felt needs of our hood, and making it a better place to live? Where is God already at work in our hood restoring relationships, rebuilding the ruined places, bringing beauty out of devastation, bringing joy where there has been sorrow, and bringing freedom where there has been bondage? How can we be part of that?

Now with God’s backing go for it!

Tim Schultz

What is the Church? Part 2: Best Practices For Weaving God’s Invisible Tapestry

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Jun 242014
The invisible and visible tapestry being woven

The invisible and visible tapestry being woven

To fully understand God’s idea of church, we need to see the Church through the bifocals of an invisible yet visible tapestry that God is weaving. The hidden dimension or structure of the tapestry is often invisible to the naked eye. It is mystical, and though very real, hard for us to see clearly, and hard for us to define. The Church is one thread in this larger tapestry of the Kingdom taking shape.

In God, every act of life is holy and sacred!

In God, every act of life is holy and sacred!

As human beings, we need the invisible God to express Himself in the earthy and tangible human experiences of life. Everyday God is revealing His invisible nature through the threads of joy, intimacy, beauty, justice, creativity, sorrow, and pain woven into our human activities of work, play, feasting, making love, a smile, a song, a death, and the new life of a baby being born. All of life is sacred and holy when one has a God saturated view of the world.

Anytime the body is separated or disconnected from the spirit, or the spiritual is elevated over the natural human experiences we are falling into the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, or a Greek Platonic worldview of dualism in our thinking and acting. These faulty worldviews compartmentalize and fragment the world into the secular and sacred, a closed or open system, and a material or spiritual reality detached from one another.

A more healthy worldview connects and intersects the lines between the spirit/body, closed/open systems, and visible/invisible realities. There is weaving together of a tapestry that paints a picture of heaven coming here on earth. It makes room for porous borders.

Permeable borders allow us to give and receive!

Permeable borders allow us to give and receive!

One of the metaphors in the Bible for the Church is a body. The Church is the flesh and blood through which, albeit imperfectly, the world around us can see, smell, and touch God. The Church is to be both an open system welcoming all while colliding with closed systems that separate the ‘in from the out.’

The Church is to show a third way where there are permeable boundaries like a cell, yet a clear nucleus that is not compromised.  Our nucleus or DNA is Jesus and His Kingdom,and not on the table for negotiation.  With Jesus and His Kingdom as our center, we invite others to come in and shape how we reflect Jesus and His Kingdom.

What are these best practices of the invisible yet visible tapestry of Church and His Kingdom coming where God can be seen, smelled, touched, and tasted?

The Invisible Tapestry of Church: Practicing Inclusion and Incarnation!

The Nicene Creed, a liturgy recited in churches as a confession of faith states: “We believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” What in the world does that mean? The word ‘catholic’ means the universal Church, and is not referring to the Catholic denomination or organization of the church with its HQ in Rome. Apostolic means we are a ‘sent people’ on the Mission of God.

Who is part of, and what is this universal, mystical Church? What is God’s Mission and how do we get to be in on it?

In Jesus, God's love becomes flesh and blood kissing our humanity!

In Jesus, God’s love becomes flesh and blood kissing our humanity!

The mission of the circle dance of the Trinity has been to put out the invitation that we are all welcome to be apart of their perfect community of love. Jesus came as God with skin on to show us who God really is, and what He is really like. (2 Cor. 4:4) Spirit became flesh. The Divine came in human form.

In the greatest act of voluntary love and sacrifice, Jesus gave His life on a cross and then rose again. In this penultimate demonstration of His love and ‘upside down power’, He defeated evil, death, and sin by overcoming violence with non-violence.  This is the core ethic of His upside down Kingdom. He wants to restore all of creation back to His original order of beauty, peace, and life TO THE FULL forever.

Those who have said ‘Yes’ to the invitation from Jesus to be reconciled in their relationship with God and to enter His upside down Kingdom belong to a huge international family that goes beyond religious, tribal, and denominational associations such as the Baptists or Anglicans. We will be shocked one day when we see who is in the the Family of God. There are many who have said ‘Yes’ to King Jesus and are a part of His Kingdom, but don’t belong to the religion called Christianity or go to a visible church!

Jesus hung out with the misfits, outcasts, and rebels in His day. He invited prostitutes, tax collectors, blue collar fishermen, and even terrorists of His day (the Zealots) to come into His Kingdom. We need to be an inclusive community that embraces all people into our community. The borders are porous and permeable.

Inclusion means we give up the right to be the judge of who is ‘in and out’. It also wrecks the need in all of us to keep score and transforms our inherent need to build our own ‘kingdom’.

How do we practice inclusion?

There is so much competition in church culture. If we are honest most of us church leaders want to get people into our church so that we feel successful. Now there is nothing wrong with wanting people to become part of our local church community and wanting our church to grow. Yet we often put the cart before the horse so to speak. If we start with a Kingdom mindset or agenda we see the beautiful and colourful tapestry of the Kingdom first. Our local church community is just one thread.  Our priority is to see where God is at work and get in step with where His Kingdom is coming.

Partnering with all who sing the Kingdom song!

Partnering with all who sing the Kingdom song!

We will want to work together with all unique expressions of church in serving and loving people in our neighborhoods. We will begin to see, even if faintly or dimly, the invisible tapestry of the Church being woven together into the larger tapestry of His Kingdom. The lines get blurred and it doesn’t matter whether folks go to X or Y expression of church. We see the Church as one. We realize we are simply stewards and own nothing. We freely give money, buildings, and even people to help another church grow. When one wins we all win!

We will also build relationships and partnerships with folks outside the church who sing and live the Kingdom songs of justice, peace, beauty, reconciliation, stewardship of creation, generosity, and care for the poor. These are all liturgies and lyrics of the Kingdom song being sung in and around us. We will work together with any Kingdom ambassadors or agents to see a taste of heaven come on earth. This may mean building homes for the poor with a Muslim community or serving side by side with agnostics to advocate for housing for the homeless.

Incarnation starts by moving into a neighborhood and immersing ourselves in the life of the neighborhood. It means fighting fragmentation with integration by moving towards shopping, playing, and even working in our hood if possible. We engage in our neighborhoods by serving wherever there is a felt need by using our gifts and talents to make our neighborhood a better place to live. It means helping connect people to God and one another so that they can live life to the full.

We need to see how God is knitting people together!

We need to see how God is knitting people together!

I’m slowly learning that I am one of the pastors in my neighborhood parish in which there is a hidden tapestry of the Kingdom of God and His Church being woven together. My job is to be a connector, cheer leader, and coach. I view my whole neighborhood as my parish or church. When I coach soccer I am as much a pastor as I am on a Sunday morning at a church gathering.

“People are generally not turned off to Jesus, but the packaging He comes in. We the church need to be Good News before speaking the Good News. Words are shallow if not backed up with living what we say. Through serving and voluntary sacrifice we will have the authority to say a few words. When we love some people and a place we will have true authority to bring about transformation!

In my next blog, I share on the best practices for weaving the tapestry of the church visible.






What is Church? Part 1: The Invisible and Visible Community of Jesus

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May 302014

Visible and Invisible ChurchThere is a lot of discussion and confusion around the word ‘church’ these days. What is the church, and who is part of the church? How does one join or get in on this faith community? Is the church some mystical, invisible, world wide, secret society who have a covert, or sometimes not so covert, mission to convert everyone to the religion of Christianity? Is there a secret hand shake to identify whose in, or do you have to have the fish symbol on your car to belong to the club? Is the church a meeting in a building on Sunday morning at 11am where some people called Christians gather to practice some strange rituals like the Eucharist, or listen to a talking head trying to be a stand up comedian telling jokes that are not all that funny?

Is the church not Jesus followers ‘being and doing’ the words and works of Jesus 24/7 where they work, live, or play? Is there any value in going to a sacred space and participating in the ageless sacraments with a community of Jesus followers we have committed to go on this journey with? What does it mean to be the church scattered and the church gathered? Are we to invite our friends who don’t go to church to come to an attractional gig or do we go to the people and be Jesus with skin on?

Here is my working definition of what the Church is. The Church is simply the ‘the invisible and visible family ofProdigal come home God’. (Ephesians 1:5; 3:14)  Anyone who says “Yes” to the invitation calling us as estranged kids to come back home to the outstretched arms of Dad are welcome back with a party. (Luke 15;11-32) Only God knows for sure who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. That is not for us to judge. We will be surprised when one day we see who is all part of this great Family of God.

This Family of God called the Church is then called to be and speak the Good News of a new country or culture called the Kingdom of Heaven. We are really resident aliens who are citizen’s of a different country, yet fully engaged in making this world a better place. (Heb. 11:9; I Peter 2:11)

The Church is to be ‘colonies of Heaven’ here on earth. We are called to be living icons reflecting the culture of this new country and giving our full allegiance to King Jesus. The Church is part of this Kingdom or country, but the Kingdom of Heaven is much larger than the Church. We don’t own Jesus, nor do we have the corner on truth. The fact is that sometimes the organized church doesn’t always reflect or demonstrate what the Kingdom of Heaven is really like when we clamor for power and money, when we back stab and betray each other, and when we abuse or neglect the little, and the least. Upside Down Kingdom

The Church is a part of a bigger deal that is coming down. The Kingdom or country ruled by King Jesus will restore all of creation back to God’s original idea. A leopard will lie down with a goat. (Is 11:6) There will be no more war and poverty. (Is.2;4) All tribes and nations will sit together at the great Feast. (Luke 13:29-30) Children, the poor, and women will lead. (Is.11:6, Matt. 18:2-4; ) It is an upside down Kingdom that has come and is coming.

Justice, peace, freedom, healing, reconciliation, redemption, and unity with diversity are all themes of the songJustice for Children 1 of the Kingdom that are being sung all around us, and like a tuning fork, are ringing within us if we only stop and listen. (Luke 10:9; 17:21)

We respond to the song of the Kingdom when we stand in awe at the beauty of the Creator in a rainbow; when we reconcile with someone who has hurt us; when we hear the heart cry for justice coming from a child working in a sweat shop, and we refuse to buy clothes from the companies profiting from such injustice; when we say ‘No’ to racism, or the oppression of any marginalized group of people by being their friends and speaking out on their behalf; and when we care for the environment by planting an organic garden, or cleaning up some trash.

The Church scattered and gathered is to help connect people to this song of the Kingdom being sung in us and around us. The Church is to be this mysterious paradox between the invisible, scattered community of God as well as a visible, gathered, local expression of this community. (Acts 2:46; 5:12; Romans 16:5; I Cor 1:2)

In my observation and personal journey, it is so easy to veer to one side or the other. We can claim to be part of the ‘church invisible’ where we are living out our faith in our neighborhood, work places, school, and places of play 24-7, yet rarely, or never commit to gather with a group of Jesus followers to be a visible demonstration of what the upside down Kingdom culture of Jesus looks like. Welcomg Home the Prodigal 2This view of church as an amorphous blob or a community of ‘me and God’ is not a full or clear picture of church.

People need to see a visible, practical, and local expression of a community of followers of Jesus living out Kingdom culture (verba visibilia).  As Jesus said, “They will know you are my apprentices by how you love one another. (John 13:35)”  How we love one another is a sign and commercial for what the culture of the new country and Kingdom of Heaven is to be like.

“As I often say, the greatest sign and wonder is when two or three Christians actually get along by passing the test of time, and pressing through conflict. Many days I have more faith to raise the dead than I do that two Christian can walk out being faithful to and forgiving one another.”

This is not to say we as the gathered church are perfect in any way. We are all broken people in need of the mercy and grace of God. We are an imperfect icon of Jesus and His Kingdom. We are like a stained glass window with some cracks. What lacks integrity is when we are not honest with our sin, and hide behind religious pretense or masks.

There are many who have given up gathering with other followers of Jesus, and committing to a visible faithScattered Church community. (Hebrews 10:25) The reasons for not gathering or committing to a visible church are various and sundry. We become disillusioned around the dysfunction and politics of the church. We suffer disappointment around unfulfilled, lofty expectations of what we thought church would be, or we carry the wounds of unresolved hurt experienced through relationships in the church. We become rugged individualists who choose to walk out our faith journey on on our own.  We deem community life to just be to hard, or sometimes we are too busy with other activities to carve out the time to gather with other Jesus followers. Its easier to sleep in on a Sunday than to make the effort to go to another ‘thing’.

For some folks, there is a deep seated fear of being used or taken advantage of by institutions and authority figures. It is clear that there is a growing distrust in our culture with big government, organized religion, and institutions that are meant to serve people, but instead are often self-serving.  In the church culture, these people become Christian anarchists or iconoclasts who express a distaste for any leadership, organization, church buildings, rituals, and liturgy. Gathered and Scattered Curch

On the other hand, many of us have been so consumed with running the church gathered that we don’t have time to develop any significant friends outside the church. We are so busy running church programs that we have no time for serving in our neighborhoods. Church becomes an isolated sub-culture that is so detached from the world that we have little effect.

We so called ‘Christians’ can sometimes be really weird, uptight, fearful folks. We fear the big bad world out there, so we hide in our holy huddles lobbing self-righteous diatribes about all the horrible sins outside the camp. The reality is that all those same sins come with us to church every Sunday often cloaked or hidden behind religious garb and flowery religious talk.

Because of the pressure or guilt some of us feel around converting our friends, we become abnormal and strange. We anxiously or zealously look for opportune moments to pigeon hole our friends and blurt out our scripted evangelistic presentation like a telemarketer spitting out their sales pitch on the phone. It comes across in a pushy, stiff or forced way that leaves our friends feeling used or that they are somehow inferior to us. If all we can talk about is ‘spiritual stuff in churchy language’ we come across as religious nut cases.

If we treat our friends as projects to convert, we communicate that we have relationships with an agenda. We then wonder why people want to avoid us. This is not to say that we should be embarrassed to tell our story of what Jesus is doing in our lives. There is a time to speak words.  This needs to be as natural as sharing any Good News we have. The key is that our words carry weight when we are actually living Good News.

I think a healthy expression of church involves both the invisible, scattered reality alongside the visible, andVisible and Invisible gathered community of God. The invisible church without the visible expression is like a tree with sap but no trunk. The gathered church that is not scattered would be like keeping salt in the salt container never sprinkling it on food to bring out the flavor.

In my next blog, I will discuss the bare essentials or unique practices and distinctives of what it means to be the church invisible and visible no matter what the culture or context.