Emerging from the Pacific Coliseum and looking towards the North Shore mountains hazy in the late evening sun, I felt thankful to be alive in a city where God is so clearly at work. I had just spent three hours on the evening of Canada Day at Voices Together.
Thousands of Christians (one guesstimate from the stage was 10,000) from all denominations, from all over Metro Vancouver, worshipped and prayed together.
There were several highlights, but as I am writing this late on the same evening – so that I can include this story in my weekly update – I will restrict myself to brief accounts of a few elements that struck me as particularly memorable.
First Nations and Canada
Toward the beginning of the evening, Lynda Prince, a former Grand Chief of the Carrier Sekani Nation in northern BC, said: “20 years ago I refused to stand when they sang O Canada – but today I stood.” She said, “We say welcome to Canada; we as the First Nations have released forgiveness to the nation. We release and forgive.”
Later, setting up a time of prayer for First Nations people, she pointed out that 2014 Stats Can figures confirm that Aboriginal people are the poorest in Canada because of government policies. She asked the ‘congregation’ to pray that those policies will change so her people can share in the nation’s prosperity. She also asked for prayer for the high rate of suicide on reserves.
“Every atrocity we suffered was done in the name of Jesus Christ,” she added. “Only three percent [of Indigenous people] have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We pray that the Lord will reveal himself to our people.”
Quoting Psalm 24:1 (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof . . .”), Prince said, “We are only stewards . . . we welcomed you to this land.”
The gathering was warm and responsive to Prince’s comments, and many prayed fervently for Canada’s First People. Dave Carson, a key Voices Together organizer, and one of the hosts, said in response: “I believe we’re touching the heart of God for our nation.”
How Great Thou Art
Singing a great hymn with thousands of fellow believers was a treat. The Worship Central band led several upbeat songs – all good – but the largely a capella version of ‘How Great Thou Art’ was special:
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
One could not help but think of the beauty surrounding the Coliseum, and the good fortune enjoyed by the nation whose birthday we were celebrating – but also, and particularly, about the source of our good fortune.
Francis Chan on unity
Francis Chan spoke for about 20 minutes and was very well received. His talk was passionate, reverent and plain-spoken. He began by saying, “We’re real good at rallies like this, but where is the action?” His main challenge was to take God seriously – to remember that he is watching us at every moment and to take his word at face value.
Chan, a popular author and pastor from the San Francisco area, recounted a story of meeting a man coming out of a halfway house, just out of prison. It turned out he, his wife and three children had nowhere to stay. Chan felt nervous about the man – large and tattooed – but he and his wife (and their seven children!) offered the family a place to stay. That man is now a pastor, in ministry with Chan.
“The church was supposed to be known for its love,” Chan said.
He asked the rhetorical question: “What if Vancouver was the one city where, when God looks down, he sees pastors praying not for their own church but for the other church.”
Chan referred to the oft-quoted passage on Christian unity, John 17:20-23:
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (ESV)
He said that for years he had missed the significance of two phrases: “even as we are one” and “so that the world may know.”
He asked: “Do you think the Father and Son are pretty tight? . . . Have you even dared to believe that could happen?”
Voices Together “is a great start,” he said, “but Jesus is saying, ‘I want more than that.'”
He said the phrase “so that the world may know” always confused him – how, he wondered, would our unity show people who believe in all manner of alternatives to Christianity, or nothing at all, that Jesus is the Messiah? He’s still not sure, but “Somehow we’ve got to start trusting the word of God. . . . If you want to reach people, here’s your best shot – try unity.”
Chan then prayed for the gathering and for Vancouver:
I want to pray for the church in Vancouver . . . We just want the name of Jesus lifted up . . . Let us pray for unity because we want Vancouver to believe . . . Would you bring love and true unity to the church in Vancouver . . . May leaders wake up tomorrow, miraculously, with a love for all the other leaders, and may it trickle down into their congregations . . .”
We spent about 20 minutes praying in small groups, for Canada, for First Nations, for the city. That was a good opportunity to interact with people we didn’t know.
The Faith Chinese North American Baptist Church Choir did a great job on a couple of hymns.
Two dance groups livened things up – quite different, both talented.
Youth leaders were called up on stage to be recognized and prayed over by senior church leaders.
The Chapel Band ended off with a bang; young people were called to the front and danced to the music.
Congratulations to the Church in Vancouver for such a demonstration of unity. I am challenged by your summary of Francis Chan’s comments about living it out the other 364 days of the year.
I was there as well and agree with your comment, “I felt thankful to be alive in a city where God is so clearly at work.” Indeed. What bothers me about this sentiment is that it usually is expressed in contexts of Christian activity. No one denies that He is at work at other times and occasions as well, but it is seldom expressed. De facto the sentiment is basically restricted in its import to Christian activity. It’s not a lie, but we need to be much more aware of the entire scope of God’s work throughout our city and country in spite of the strenuous effort of His opponent as well. The way we tend to resort to this sentiment almost turns it into a lie. At least, it can easily give the wrong impression of a restricted God. Let’s consciously celebrate His activity in every sphere of His creation, even where His name may not be honoured.
I can see your point. However, I was thinking not primarily of the Voices Together event, but also of the God’s work out in the city. That’s one reason I highlighted ‘How Great Thou Art’ – a hymn that stresses God’s sovereignty over all of creation. Lynda Prince’s comments also show how God is active in the Aboriginal community, largely outside of the church. And one of the other stories I sent out this week is about the Living Wage Rally coming up July 8 – Christians are involved, but so are many others.
Having said all that, I’m fine with simply celebrating Voices Together as an expression of Christian unity. As Francis Chan said, that ‘in-house’ activity – and others of a similar nature – will draw many to Christ. Those who have ears to hear and eyes to see will learn to appreciate how broad and culture-impacting a reality that can be.
Yes, Flyn, it was a remarkable evening. I do believe that God was glorified through a well-thought-out Spirit-filled event.
Great demonstration of a move toward all peoples and all generations working together for a common cause…Tim O
Great, blessed time of worship & praise.
Francis Chan’s message was challenging & relevant to be more Christian in relating to my neighbors whoever they may be.
Wonderful atmosphere of unity, friendliness & love in Jesus.
Dance performances were fantastic.
Thanks to all the organizers for holding this Voices Together event.
Only negative comment which several people mentioned – turn down the decibel volume of the drums which reverberated even in my chest. Way too loud even with earplugs!