Discipleship

Discernment

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Discernment When my daughter Eowyn was very little, she took it upon herself to simplift the alphabet.  She’s replaced all the C’s, G’s, and K’s with the letter D.  It was cute, (and if it caught on, would have made spelling a lot easier) but it made her difficult to understand at times.

“Daddy, dan I have some dum or dandy in de dar?”

That one’s easy, but I remember the time when she wanted me to “dade a pidder.”   She was very insistent that I “dade a pidder” right away!  “DADDY, DADE A PIDDER!”  It took about 5 minutes of my wife and I playing 20 Questions / Charades until we figured out that she wanted me to “take her picture.”

As amazingly smart as my little girl is, and as good as she was at getting her point across most of the time when she was very small, I really had to listen extra hard to discern what she’s trying to say.

Which brings me to today’s topic: Discernment.  Figuring out what is right, wrong, good, bad, wise, foolish, helpful, distracting, kind, unkind, unimportant, important or urgent.   There are so many competing voices and choices around us that to find what is right and good takes work, focus and often, help from others.  I came across some great links about discernment that will hopefully be of help to you if you are trying to figure something out.

Be Discerning about Twilight – Mark Driscoll (Youtube – 10 min) (Yes, it’s a little old, but the principles are universal)

Praying the 6 D’s – John Piper (Short Blog)

5 Ways to Know if You’re Really a Christian – Owen Strachen (Article)

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment – Tim Challies (Book)

Slow Down and Chew

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I read recently about the importance of eating slowly.  Here’s a quote: “Most Americans eat too fast, and, as a result, they take in too many calories before they realize they’ve eaten enough. It takes approximately 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send out signals of fullness.” (source)  Wow!  20 minutes?!?  I finish my plate in 20 seconds!  I’ve always eaten fast, and it’s hard to remember to slow down.

This revelation has other implications to my life which came up in my prayer time today.  I’m working through Psalm 37 and was on verses 7-13 today.  This section begins, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him”, and as I continued certain words were jumping off the page: “be still”, “wait patiently”, “fret not”, “refrain”, “turn from”.  The Lord was reminding me –again– that I need to slow down and just be with Him.

Many times I treat my spiritual life like I do meal time – I wolf if down and move on.  Read Bible – Check!  Pray – Check!  Listen to see of God has something to say – Check!  “Ok Lord, I gave you 5 minutes to say something, now it’s time to get back to work!”

Jesus reminded me this morning that He said “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4).  He followed that up with, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)  What that means to me today is that I need to take the same advice I’ve been given for meals, and apply it to His Word.  So, that’s my advice for you today.

We need to chew longer.  The article says, “Not only does eating slowly and mindfully help you eat less, it enhances the pleasure of the dining experience…. Take a bite, eat it slowly, savor it, and do nothing but enjoy the flavor, texture, and experience….”   We need to do that with the scripture.  Instead of ploughing through 5 chapters at a time, take a small bite of a word or phrase and chew on it for a while.  Savor it.  Taste it.  Explore the texture, meaning and what the Spirit is saying to you.  Swallow and sense what God is doing as it gets under your skin.  Let it digest through your system and spread it’s life-giving essence to every part of your life.

By Request: “A Good Church”

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I recently spoke at the 165th anniversary celebration for Beckwith Baptist, a church in the Ottawa area.  I got a lot of comments and requests for the text, so I thought I’d post it here this week.  It’s based on Acts 2:42-47.

A Good Church

If you ask the question, “What is a church?” a lot of people will give you some pretty sterile answers that usually involve describing the building.

 

What is a church?”  Well, a church is a big building with a cross on it, full of pews and a stage for someone to stand on and talk for a while.  Some have stained glass, or statues, or even beautiful organs.  A really good church will have beautiful architecture, a lovely garden, beautiful woodwork and stonework, and have a powerful effect on you when you see it.  Christians do this too sometimes when they walk into a large, impressive church building.  They think “Wow, this must be a really good church!”

Hopefully you know that a church is not made up of brick and mortar, wood and nails, but a good Church, the kind of church the Bible describes, that we all want to be a part of, the one that Jesus died for, is made up of people.  “Church” in the bible is the Greek word EKKLESIA and it basically means “a group of people who have left their homes to come to a public place”.  It has come to mean “gathering of believers in Jesus”, but originally it was just a “gathering”.

When we say “church” here, we’re talking about the “Christian Church” or what we like to call  “The Body of Christ” which we get from verses like Romans 12:5.  A gathering of people who come for the purpose of being Christians, proclaiming Christ, and doing Christian things.

When a church is as established as Beckwith Baptist we sometimes forget that the church isn’t the building.  We begin to associate Beckwith Baptist with the walls that surround us, the place that sits on the corner of 7th line and Tennyson Road.  People ask us where we go to church? We say Beckwith Baptist.  I wish we would learn to say, “Where does your church gather?” or “Where do you go to be a part of the church?  It is so much more biblically accurate to say, “I am a part of a church, and our building is at 277 Tennyson Rd.”

I hope, no matter where you have come from today, whether this is where you meet, or somewhere else, that you are part of a strong group of believers that love Jesus and love you.  That is my prayer.

When this church was first planted, that was the dream.  They wanted to gather together people who would love Jesus, love one another, and spread that love to the community around them.  No matter what church you are a part of, that’s the goal.  And people need that so badly.  All people need to be a part of a good church.

Let’s try something.  It might be a little difficult, but for a moment, clear from your mind all of your preconceptions about church.  Imagine that you’ve never been part of a church.  You’ve never set your foot in the doors of any church building in the world, and you’ve never heard anything about them.  You don’t know what they look like, what goes on in there, or anything about what it means to be a Christian.  Somehow you’ve grown up in a place and a family where the word “church” never came up, and you weren’t around any believers.  So you have no preconceived notions of what a “Christian Church” is.

And then, one day,  as a plane flies overhead it hits some turbulence and a bible falls out of the luggage area and lands right in front of you.  All the pages start to blow away all over the place, but what lands in front of you is the page that contains Acts chapter 2.  Fortunately it’s in your native language and you start reading.

You’ve just read Peter’s first sermon preached at Pentecost and have been introduced to the person of Jesus Christ.  He is the Crucified Lord, the Chosen Messiah come to make possible the forgiveness of sins.  You’ve read that after that sermon was preached a multitude of people turned their lives over to Jesus, repented of their sins, were baptized in His name, and began to meet together regularly.

You continue on to read about the change that this message brings to the life of these people.  You know that these same people were the ones who crucified Jesus, who rejected Him, and where His enemies.  They were once people who were destined to be destroyed, but were now people who were called “saved”… saved by Jesus!  And this gospel message so changed their hearts that they began to meet together all the time.  They wanted to talk about, celebrate, and learn more about who Jesus is, and the amazing things that Jesus had done for them.  And so you begin running around gathering as many pages as you can, and you sort them together until you have most of the New Testament.  You read it, and believe it, and give your life to Jesus.  You are now one of the “saved!”

 

And then around the corner, in that same moment, your boss comes to you and says that you are going to be immediately transferred to another branch office.  You’re still reeling from what you’ve been reading and he says, “I’m sending you to Ottawa,Canada’s capital city.  Actually, you’ll be just outside of it in Carleton Place. You’re going to be working there for a while so we’ve bought you a house on the South-West Side, in a neighbourhood called Beckwith.  You leave tomorrow.”You pack your things, move them to your new home, and on your first day you notice a brick building on the corner of the road you now live on.  At first you think it might be a store, or a school, but as you round the corner you see a sign, and the sign says “Beckwith Baptist Church”.  You have no idea what a Baptist is, but you’re heart begins to race as you pull your makeshift bible out of your pocket and it dawns on you that this building houses a group of Christians.  They’ve bought a building and they meet together!

The excitement is almost palpable.  You run up to the door, trying to get in, but the door is locked.  Temporarily saddened, you turn to see that the gathering is on Sunday morning at 10:30am.  You can’t wait!  The week is a blur!  All you can think about is being there so you can see all that you’ve been reading about in the scriptures come to life.  This group of people who know Jesus, love Jesus, teach about Jesus, pray to Jesus, hear from Jesus, sing about Jesus, and who have the very Holy Spirit of God living within them.  This group of people who doesn’t conduct itself the way the world does, but call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ.

And as you stand out on the lawn you thank God for this place, and pull out your favourite page.  The first one that landed at your feet.   And you read Acts 2:42-47,

“[42] And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43] And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. [44] And all who believed were together and had all things in common. [45] And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

You can’t wait to meet this group, this church, this body of believers and be one of those who have been added to their number.

This was the vision of those who planted this church.  This is what they desired it to become.  I would also imagine that this is the deepest desire of the heart of every person who comes through these doors.  They want to be a part of a group like that – a good church.  It’s what we look for our whole lives.  Amen?

Acts 2 is one of the primary verses in scripture that drives me to do what I do and say what I say.  I love these verses.  Not because it is a prescription of “what to do”, but because it is a description of what happenswhen we allow God to take over our lives and let the Holy Spirit reign in our hearts.

Sometimes people read these verses as a prescription.  If we do these things, then we’ll be a church.  If we check all these boxes: “Apostles teaching”, “Break bread”, “Pray”, “Generously Share”, “Meet together”… check… then God will add to our number and we’ll be a group of good Christians and a good church.  But this verse isn’t prescriptive, it’s descriptive.

It’s not telling us what to do… it’s showing us what happens when God gets a hold of a group of people.  This is the clearest picture the bible gives us of what God desires from a Christian church.  What’s on His heart, on His mind, and what it look like when He’s fully in charge.

Some churches and church leaders believe that if they institute enough rules and ministries they can achieve this.   They say “if we do these things we will be a good church”.  People have tried that for literally centuries.

  • “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t play cards or go to movies, or play loud music, and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Have a really nice building, with shiny floors and a big cross, and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Get involved in politics and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Be multi-ethnic and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Have really good children’s programs and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Get a dynamic preacher, a popular music leader and some nice visuals and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Support global missions and send out lots of missionaries and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Support local missions and volunteer at lots of places in town and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Be open to everyone, get rid of any negative words like ‘sin’ or ‘evil’ or ‘discipline’ and remove the biblical qualifications for leadership… let anyone preach, teach, or lead and you’ll be a good, popular church”

Books and books and books have been written with tricks on how to increase attendance, giving, outreach, evangelism, commitment, prayer… and everything else.  And many people put them into practice and they get that area going pretty good.  More people come, more people read their bible, more people serve… but being God’s church doesn’t mean we get one or two areas of ministry right, it means we get our hearts right with God, open our ears to His voice, and walk wherever He wants to lead us.

If you’ve been around the North American church for a while then you’ve heard of Bill Hybels and Willow Creek church.  It has been the trendsetter for many churches over the past 30 years.  They basically invented the “seeker-sensitive”, “consumer-drive” movement and have generated a huge amount of the ministries, content, songs and directions for churches all over the world.  Over 22,000 people will be attending Willow Creek Church today.  Most pastors and churches would give their left arm to have even half of that attendance.

Well, a couple years ago they came out with a book called “Reveal” where they made a confession that rocked the Christian world.  I want to read you part of an article where Bill Hybels talks about what they learned:

“Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life.  Hybels confesses:

‘We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.’

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage. (Source)

This HUGE church is learning this lesson, and so are many others:  God doesn’t need help to be living, active, creative, dynamic, powerful and relevant in our lives.  It’s not about how amazing the building and facilities are.  It’s about incarnating the gospel, and growing closer to God through a relationship with Jesus.  That will always be true!  The Gospel is not bound to any time, people or culture.  The choices God has given us for how we organize how we do church is multifaceted!  Therefore, as time moves on, people and culture changes, and so does the way we communicate our message, but the gospel, the message of Jesus Christ, and the fundamentals of the faith will absolutely stay the same.

Now, even though the foundations of our faith will remain rock solid, no church can simply keep doing what it’s been doing and hope it works forever.  The people who planted Beckwith Baptist in the very beginning knew that.  They were starting something new!  They wanted a place that would meet their community’s needs and would spoke in a way that would honour God and where His message could be understood.  Something different than was already present.

This is true now more than ever because things are changing so quickly.  We need to know where the bedrock of our faith lies, and be able to meet people’s most basic spiritual needs, but the way we do it is going to constantly change.

Culture today is totally different than it was when I was a teenager – and that was only about 15 years ago!  I used to consider myself pretty informed about what’s going on around me, but now I just can’t keep up!  I’ve been surpassed in technology, music styles, clothing, magazines, and even language.  I find myself having to look up a lot of slang terms on Google just so I can understand what people are saying.  And in similar fashion, the ministries we have, the music we play, and way we communicate needs to change as well.

The Church may look different, sound different, and be conducted differently from place to place, and from generation to generation, but the fundamental, bedrock motivation for the ministry – the gospel of Jesus Christ, the core message of a “good church” — will NEVER CHANGE.  Beckwith has proven that fact over and over in its history.  And this church, this group of people, can and will experience the same thing the Acts 2 church experienced, if we allow God the freedom to do as He pleases with us.

Beckwith Baptist, even today, is working through some deep issues.  We are praying and studying and seeking God, ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be the church of Jesus Christin our own cultural context, in this place, at this time?  How can we effectively share the love of Jesus with, and minister to, as many people as possible by providing for their most basic spiritual needs?  What will that look like as we look into the future of this church?”  We are too small to provide every need of every type of person, but we cancreate ministries that will supply what all people desire most, and what God desires most for them.

We all want to be a part of a good church.  A church that inspires us to worship God throughout our week, in every part of our life.  A church that strongly tied together in the bonds of fellowship, caring for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging and holding each other accountable.  A disciple making church where we are all challenged to grow closer to God through our relationship with Jesus Christ, and live out that faith in practical ways.  And part of a church that is reaching out into our local community and beyond, changing lives by the power of God and seeing more and more people saved by His grace.

That’s the journey that Beckwith has been on for a while now, and one that they continue to pursue.  The next year is going to be amazing, and I look forward to seeing everyone here come together and work on this as a family.  My hope is that everyone can get excited to see what God has done, and will be doing as each of us work together towards clarifying the direction, improving the ministries, strengthening ourselves spiritually, and more effectively reaching out to our community.

I’m excited about this process, and about what God can continue to do with this church.  We’ve seen Him work already in many ways over the years, and many have been blessed by the ministries and people here.  The people of this church have gone through a lot together, and I believe, are on the cusp of something very exciting and life-changing.

I ask for your prayers.  Pray for God’s blessing on this family of believers.  On those who have chosen to leave over the past while, and the new people who have come.

Pray for the leadership who is taking on this challenge of renewing and listening for God’s heart for Beckwith Baptist.  Pray that God sends workers to be with them so that they won’t be overburdened.  Pray for the community around us, that God might send the healing rains to soften the soil of their souls, so that when we cast out His word it would find fertile ground.

And above all pray for God’s blessing and protection.  That He would bless us with open ears, wise actions, a fearlessness to do what is right, the courage to act, and the conviction to flee from sin.  Pray that each of us would have a soft heart for the needs of others, and a long-suffering patience for those who are going to make this difficult.  Pray that the attacks of Satan would be repelled by the faith of the people here, and that God would grow us in ways that we can’t even conceive of right now.

To Those Who Are Consistently Late For Church

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English: Alarm clock

Ok, I’ll admit that this may come across a little rant-ish, but I want to give a message to those who are Consistently Late for Church.  You may want to print this one and pass it around.

(First obvious question: “Are you talking about a certain person/family?”, the answer is “No. This problem is quite broad spread.” Second obvious question: “Does this apply to new-comers or non-Christians?”, the answer is “Very No. This is for those who have been attending for a while.” Third obvious question: “Does this apply to super-snowy days or when weird, occasional, morning set-backs happen?”, the answer is “No, of course not.”)

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t be Late for Church:

1. It’s Disrespectful to the musicians, singers, ushers, servants, preacher, nursery workers, teachers, and anyone else who showed up early to get ready on time and who is working on a tight schedule.

2. It’s Distracting for those who are trying to concentrate on the service. No matter how quiet you think you are, people notice, and it distracts them from what they are trying to do — be attentive to the speaker, worship God in song, run the powerpoint, etc. Though they may not show it on the outside, even those on stage are distracted, Oh, and all the people you are waving at — are even more distracted. There are enough things distracting people from worship in this world. Don’t be one of them.

3. It shows a Consumerist Mindset. You’re treating the church like a restaurant or a grocery store. Showing up consistently late means you believe that this church must meet your needs, your way, on your time. That’s not how a family treats each other. You need to repent of your self-centred attitude ask yourself what you can give and not merely receive from the people around you.

4. It sets a Bad Example for others. You are causing people to stumble. For the children, new Christians, and weaker brothers and sisters who struggle with attendance and complacency, you are a bad example. For the non-believers who wonder if people take this seriously, you are teaching them that certain parts of the service are not important, it’s ok to treat people and ministries like commodities, that you don’t need to take church seriously.

5. It Means you are Unprepared for why you are here. If you are coming late for service you are probably not in any kind of spiritual condition to worship God, serve your church, or hear the message. If you wonder why the music isn’t touching you, why the sermon seems hard to follow, why the people seem distant, and why you aren’t growing in God (“being fed”)… it’s probably because you are not prepared to be at church. You are tired, distracted, complacent, disengaged, not serving, and unprepared. Sunday morning starts on Saturday night.

Honestly, it’s really not that hard to get up a little earlier, show up 10 minutes before service, greet people, come into the sanctuary and ask God to prepare your heart for what He wants to do to you today. Try it and see if it changes how you view God, your faith, and your fellow believers.

Great Post: 25 Influential Preachers

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This one couldn’t wait until “Link Friday”!  I just stumbled across a great post by 4given2serve who put together a list of what he calls “The 25 Most Influential Preachers of the Pastor 25 Years“.  I’m not going to criticize his list, nor do I want you to.  I’m also not going to try to argue with any of these men.  Just go and check out this awesome set of preachers and teachers, and then sign up to their blogs, newsletters, podcasts and whatever else you can find.

* Note:  I realize how ironic it is to link to a page focused on popular individuals who stand alone on a stage declaring truth when today is “Fellowship Wednesday”.  I’ll try to do better.

Coffee & Discipleship

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Why yes, I did paint this. My Ode to Starbucks.

Let’s keep the brainstorm going and see if we can connect Coffee and Discipleship.

Coffee/Discipleship is Personal

Coffee, like discipleship, is a very personal thing.  People like their coffee a certain way, and if it’s not done right… well, as my dad used to say, “It’s like drinking dirty dishwater.”  Walk into a Starbucks sometime and listen to how people order their drinks – some of them sound like they are crafting it right down to the molecule.

“I’ll have a Venti, sugar-free vanilla, non fat and soy, 1/2 pump almond, half pump mocha, two pumps sugar-free cinnamon dolce, with whip and caramel drizzle.”

[Here’s a list of “Secret Frappuccinos” if you want to get into the craziness]

Christian disciples can become the same way about their discipleship.

“I’ll have an Utmost for His Highest reading, 3 chapters of the Gospels, 1 Psalm, 4 proverbs, 10 minutes of prayer, 3 minutes of meditation, 1 contemporary church service, a Wednesday night traditional prayer meeting, teach Sunday School twice a month, and may I please have some Chris Tomlin CD’s drizzled on top.”

Can Coffee Help us Become Better Disciples?

I believe it can.  Here are some ideas:

1. Try Different Coffees & Methods of Discipleship – Consistency is wonderful and important for building habits, complacency and being dispassionately mechanical in your walk with God is not.  Knock yourself off of your rut by experimenting with kinds of coffee and coffee drinks.  Expand your horizons!  (Here’s 22 ways to brew coffee.  Here’s 63 different coffee drinks to try.)

And at the same time, try different Discipleship methods.

  • Change your time, place, book, words of your prayer, place you serve.
  • Here’s a challenge: Don’t use the words “Lord, be with him” when praying for someone else.  And don’t use the word “just” at all.
  • Try not singing for a Sunday, and just let the words wash over you.
  • Try taking notes (or not taking notes) during the sermon.
  • Be the last person to stay on a Sunday morning.
  • Ask a friend to meet you for a spiritual conversation.
  • Research a theological question that has bugged you and don’t stop until satisfied.

2. Drink Coffee from Missionary Locations – If your church sponsors missionaries, do some research on how their country drinks coffee, buy some and drink it for a while.  Learn about that country and the missionary, pray extra for them until the coffee is gone, and then move on to a different missionary.

3. Study Fair Trade – Scripture is clear that we are to take care of our environment (it was our first job) and those around us.  If you have your head in the sand about where your morning cup of joe comes from, and are unaware of the implications of globalization, then it’s time to pull it out and take a look around.  Here’s 2 places to start:  Here.  Here.

What about you?  What’s your favourite way to drink coffee and practice Discipleship?  Can you think of any other ways to connect Coffee and Discipleship?  Have you become complacent in your faith journey?

Discipleship Fundamentals

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I’ve always loved watching and playing sports.  And anyone who does knows that there is one word phrase that pervades all sportsdom — “We’ve got to get back to the fundamentals.”

If our team is on a losing streak, the answer is always getting “back to the fundamentals.”  If you are practicing, you spend time “working on the fundamentals.”  If you go to training camp, or a draft, do you know what they look for?  “The fundamentals”.  They are where everyone starts, and what everyone must master.

That being the case, what are “the fundamentals” of discipleship?  Sometimes, just like when I was playing baseball, I start to get too fancy with my Christian walk.   Instead of simply trying to learn more about Him, and making space for God to speak, I try to get fancy by reading a lot of books, trying exotic prayer techniques, moving around different locations, or trying to multitask by doing devos while working out, driving, or doing the dishes.

Not that any of that is bad (in fact, my earlier article was all about meeting God in every part of our lives) — it’s just that fancy techniques can be distracting and sometimes cause me can drop the ball.

So my challenge over the next while is to “get back to the fundamentals”.   What does that mean?

  • To allow God to inhabit every part of my day.
  • To read less scripture, but meditate on it more.
  • To find a regular place and time to pray.
  • To come to church simply to meet God there.

What about you?  Do you struggle with the fundamentals?  Do you ever get too “fancy” with your spiritual life?  What ways can we “get back to the fundamentals”?