Busyness is Killing The Church

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I wrote this article a while back for ChristianWeek and it feels like it’s time to resurrect it.

Pastor: “How you doin’ Bob?”
Bob: “I’m so busy I can’t catch my breath!”
Pastor: “How are the kids, Bob?”
Bob: “They’re busy! I can’t find them most days.”
Pastor: “How’s your wife, Bob?”
Bob: “Really busy…I think…I haven’t talked with her in a while.”
Pastor: “How’s your ministry doing, Bob?”
Bob: “Uh, I’m too busy to get around to it.”
Pastor: “How’s your time with Jesus been, Bob?”
Bob: “Ummm…”
Pastor: “Bob, I think we need talk.”
Bob: “Sorry Pastor, I can’t…I’m busy.”

I’m worried about you Bob, and all the believers that follow in your footsteps. I’m worried about your marriage, kids, ministries and your relationship with Jesus. I’m worried that your body will crumble beneath you, that your church misses you and that you are seeing your faith as time-consuming rather than life-producing.

The unholy trinity of stress, overwork and despair, which travel under the more polite pseudonym of “busyness,” is killing the Christian Church one believer at a time.

The Lord Jesus has made me an under-shepherd to His sheep, but for some reason many have started to run in circles at breakneck speeds, and I can’t stop them! But, what about you, Bob?

I want to talk to you. Perhaps God has granted you a moment of solace, most likely forcing you to stop as a result of “nature calling,” and you have brought this article with you. Can you just pause there for a moment? I want to say a few things.

First, I want you to embrace this minute. Yes, this one. I want you to thank God that you have been given a minute to stop and listen. I think you’ve been fooled into believing that you need to be busy to be significant. You don’t. Right now you have stopped and are not being “productive,” but you are still significant. God loves you right now. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Implicit in that statement is that God is not as interested in your production value as you think He is.

Second, I want to tell you that your body has a message for you. You’ve been putting it on hold for some time now, but it keeps calling back and asking to speak to the manager. Here’s the message: “I’m tired!”

When Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” He was talking to you.

Bob, your adrenal gland was designed to be used in case of emergency, but you’ve been living off of it! In fact, you’re addicted to it. According to Dr. Archibald Hart, adrenaline is not only energizing, but it provides a sense of elation and exhilaration. And you’re addicted.

Have you noticed that you’re grumpy, tired (which is why you drink so much coffee), and afraid to stop or you may not get started again? Your body is asking you to take a Sabbath. And Bob, one of these days it’s going to force you to take one whether you want to or not.

Finally Bob, before you go, ask yourself something: Are you passionately pursuing things that really matter—things that God has created you to do? Or are you building sandcastles on the beach that will wash away with the tide of time?

I’m afraid that when you look back you will have so many regrets, and I don’t want that for you. I love you and God loves you. So Bob, make time to talk to me this week and let me help you get things straight, okay?

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.

Father’s Day “Relationships & Success”

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I’m breaking pattern this week so I can share something I wrote for Father’s Day, a sermon based on Psalm 1:1-2.  It’s challenging and practical, and I hope will help you next time you have the “I’m worried about the path you’re going down” talk with someone.

——

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
(Psalm 1)

Happy Father’s Day!  This morning I’m going to give you a tool to use as dad’s (and mom’s, and anyone else too, it’s pretty universal), and a challenge for you to look at in your own life.  It’s a tool because after I’m done here you should be able to replicate this little drawing I’ll show you on a napkin while having dinner with your kid, or even an employee, or someone you are mentoring.  It’s a challenge because I also want you to think about these concepts for yourselves.  This morning we are going to talk about Success.

There seems to be an insatiable desire among people to be seen as, and feel, “successful”, no matter what the cost.  And I think the reason is because in a lot of people’s minds, “success” equals happiness… or at least it’s supposed to.  We sacrifice a lot of things to achieve this thing called “success”.  We work hard at school, sacrificing our time, our friends, and sometimes even our health to be top of our class.  Then we get into the working world, and we do the same … whatever that looks like in our field of work.

Is that ok?  I think that the desire to be successful, and happy, productive and pleased with our work, is a God given desire, and therefore is holy and good.  I believe that God made man for happiness – it was His intention to create beings that would be happy, productive and thriving– to have an abundant life.  So it’s a good thing.  And on the other hand, nobody wants to be unhappy, a failure or miserable.  There are some who do things that, in the end, will make them miserable or set themselves up for failure, but no one starts out their life wanting to live that way.

But there’s a problem with our pursuit of happiness and success – or at least the way many people try to achieve it.   One famous theologian (Adam Clarke)  states the problem this way,

“So perverted is the human heart, that it seeks happiness where it cannot be found; and in things which are naturally and morally unfit to communicate it.”

In other words, we have this burning desire to attain a life of achievement, accomplishment, happiness and contentment, but we are so clouded by sin and selfish ambition that we end up going all sorts of wrong places to find it.  And that hurts the individual, and their relationships with those around them, and their relationship with God.  So this morning, I want to talk a little bit about what success really looks like, and to show an important step we must take to attain it.

I started out this morning reading Psalm 1 because I believe it gives us a picture of a successful person… what he looks like, and what he doesn’t.  Take a look at the beginning of this verse.  The first word in the book of Psalms, the song-book of the bible, is the word  “Blessed”.  It’s the Hebrew word ESCHER and it’s the word for “Happy”.  In Latin it’s translated BEATUS which is where we get the word “beatitude”, which is used in the New Testament when Jesus begins longest set of teachings, His Sermon on the Mount, with a list of “Beatitudes”… “Blessed are the peacemakers…”… or “Happy are peacemakers…”  He starts His longest sermon with a picture of what a blessed, happy life looks like.

And that’s what we’re shooting for in life isn’t it?  Happiness.  It’s what we’re searching for.  It’s what we want to provide for ourselves, our children, and those we love.  But what does it look like, and where can we get it?

I think it’s highly appropriate to talk about this subject on Father’s Day, because Dad’s (and of course mom’s too!) need to get this right.  A lot of dad’s mess this part up, and end up having a lot of regrets in the middle or at the end of their life when they realize that what they had worked so hard to achieve, or spent a lot of time pursuing things that weren’t going to make them truly successful.  And I don’t want that for any of you.

So, how does one define success?   Is it something that we get to choose ourselves and direct our life towards, or is there a definition that is common to everyone, that is a quintessential measurement of human success?

People define success in many ways.   Some measure it in wealth.  If you have the most money and stuff, or enough money and stuff to live comfortably, or at least more money and stuff than someone else… then you are doing well – you are a success.   Some measure it in health.  If you can live the longest, or can run the farthest, lift the most, or hit it harder than anyone else, then you are the best – a success.

Some measure it in popularity.  It doesn’t matter how much money you made, or even if you are the best.  If you are known by more people, then you are successful.  There are people today who are famous for being famous, and that is their end goal.  They make nothing important, say nothing important, and contribute very little to society, but they are famous and therefore feel successful.  TV shows and magazines follow them around like mosquitoes, and lots of people will do anything to become famous like them – because that’s success.

I heard a little girl on the radio last week when they were doing a radiothon for CHEO.  This little girl, who had gone through so much in her life, surrounded by amazing doctors, nurses, specialists… The host asked what she wanted to be when she grew up?  Her answer, “I want to be famous.”  That is a very telling statement about what we are teaching our youth about how to define success in their life.

Some define success by their peer group.  Wealth and fame doesn’t matter, as long as they are acknowledged to be part of a certain group.  They work their whole live to get that title.  CEO, Elite Status Member, VIP, MVP, Gold Medal Holder, World Record Holder.  There are people who have actually died trying just to get into the Guinness book of World Records.  One woman died trying to break the world’s Free Diving record… she went 561 feet under water and didn’t come back alive.  Many have died trying to set speed records on land, sea and in the air.  I read that a man from London essentially killed himself because he wanted to set the world record for spinning in circles.  He fell down, cracked his head, and died.  He wanted to be identified with that group called “World record holders” so bad, it cost him his life.

So, how do you define success?  When you look at what you are putting your effort, energy, time, money, strength, attention, life and heart into… what are you trying to achieve?  Happiness, right?  Why do it if it won’t make you happy?  Well, my hope today, dads, moms, and everyone else here too, is that what you are pouring your life into is actually something worth achieving, and will really bring you true, lasting happiness.  And hopefully this is something you can share with others, and can be doing in a way that worships God.  It’s based on Psalm 1:1-2.

Let’s read verse 1 again, and today I’m using the English Standard Version, but it’s really close to the NIV.  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…”.  “Blessed is the man…” “Happy is the man…” “Successful is the man…”.  He’s showing us a picture here and uses a pretty neat poetic structure to do it.   So here’s your picture.

Bill Cosby once said, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”

In other words, the people you are in relationship with, and who influence your life the most, will inevitably dictate its direction.  That’s what it says here too.  When you think of a person, or when people think of you, who do they associate you with?  When people think of you, and summarize who you are at the core… they think… what?

Let me show you the poetic structure and how the psalmist paints the picture of this man’s life.  There’s a pretty neat set of three progressions here.  The first is: Walking, then Standing, then Sitting.  And this is all about commitment to certain relationships.  It’s a picture of how this guy got to be who he is today.

Picture yourself at a party, and it’s easier to understand this.  First you come into the party and you’re walking around.  You’ve still got your jacket on, you’re schmoozing and getting drinks and going to the snack table… you’re not committed to staying, but you’re there.  At least when you’re walking you have some kind of momentum and could turn around and walk out the door, change who you’re talking to, and do something different.

But at some point you stop… now you’re standing.  You’ve found a group to chat with that seems to have something in common, or is someone you want to get to know.  Now you’re not moving and have decided to stick around.  Conversations are had, jokes told, stories shared, advice given… but you’re still standing.  It’s awkward to hold your snack plate, you can’t really have freedom to gesture or you’ll spill something.  You are more committed to this relationship than when you were walking, but you’re not fully comfortable, and could still excuse yourself.

But then comes sitting.  Now you’re not just attending the party, you plan on sticking around for a while.  You’ve gotten to know some people, moved to the couch, taken off your shoes and your jacket, you’re comfortable there, and you are beginning an intimate conversation with someone and it will take a good effort to get up, gather your things and go somewhere else.  This is you at their kitchen table, or in the living room on their couch—this is friendship.

This is the progression of how we build relationships.  Walking, Standing, Sitting.  The Psalmist here is saying, “Be careful who you associate with.  Where you walk, who you stand with, and who you get comfortable around.  Your happiness and success will be built on your associations with the people you end up sitting with at this party called ‘life’.”

Now look at the next progression – Counsel-Way-Seat.   First is “counsel”.  When someone is counselling you, they are talking to you.  This is a picture of who influences this man.  This is the building of influence.  First, it’s talk.  It’s advice.  Take it or leave it, but the voices are there.  This is the lowest level of influence… the voices around us.  Those who we hear as we walk around this life.  Some are louder, but we are not committed to listening to them.

Next comes “the way”.  This is a beautiful word, DEREK, that means journey, path, or direction.  In other words, you’ve now moved from this person or group’s voice being just advice that is floating around your ears, and have appropriated their words as ones which guide your way of life… you are now on the same path as them, going the same direction.  Your journey and destination is the same as theirs.  You go their way.  You’ve moved from them being an outside group, to them being people who actually have enough influence to sway the direction of your life.  These are your friends and partners.

And finally comes “the seat”.  This word MOWSHAB means dwellings, or house, or land or a place to sit.  In other words, now you’re living with these folks.  You sit and eat at their table and they are like family.  They have the highest level of influence in your life.

God’s word here in Psalm 1 seems to be saying that everybody will go through this process.  This is non-optional in life.  We are going to be walking, standing and sitting with someone, or many someones.  And we are going to be influenced by these people, and we will give some of them greater influence over us than others.  The caution, and the secret to success and happiness shown here, is being careful when choosing who these people are, and knowing where and what they are leading us towards.

So who are these people?  This is the third progression – building associations.  This is a picture of who this person IS NOT associating with.  Blessed is the person who IS NOT associating with these people.  The Wicked, Sinners, and Scoffers.

“The wicked” is a term used for unrighteous people.  Now scripture says that we are all sinners, we are all unrighteous, and need God’s grace to be saved.  But this word is not talking about our general condition of being sinners, it is speaking of people who are committed stirring up trouble.  The word picture is of a person who is like the water of a troubled and turbulent sea, constantly churning up dirt and muck from the bottom, never stopping to let anyone see clearly.  They stir themselves up, and they stir up others, and cloud people with sinful chatter.

These are people who are good talkers, and love to counsel people.  They are great whisperers, and backstabbers, and trouble makers.  They might not be folks who necessarily commit crimes that people see… and are usually so smooth that people can’t really pin down what they’ve done wrong… but they are the ones who use their words to tear people down, set people up for failure, and lead others astray.  We all know these kinds of folks, “the wicked”, and have been hurt by them, right?

Next in the progression comes “sinners”. Now again, we are all sinners, and if we were to try to avoid ever being around sinners, we’d not only be lonely, but we couldn’t even be around ourselves.  But this word is an emphatic one.  These people are right out in the open with their sin, even bold and daring about the bad things they are doing.  They don’t even really try to hide it.  They post pictures on Facebook and videos on Youtube of them doing these sinful things!  They brag about it!  The “wicked” are a bunch of talkers… these people called “sinners” are doers.  These are the folks who will even announce their sin before they do it.  “We’re going out to get drunk, start a fight, and probably end up in jail, so get out of my way.”  Or “I’ve figured out a whole bunch of loopholes in my taxes so I can get a bunch of money that I don’t really deserve… and I’ll show you how!”  or “I think pornography and fornication is good, I want to do it, and I think you should join me.”  “I want you to come over to my house and let’s gossip and slander the people we know.”

These people are ok with their sin, and boldly proclaim it.  But then comes the next part of the progression where one moves from listening to bad things, to doing bad things, to actually working against God and those who follow Him.  This is the third group – “the scoffers”.  Proverbs 21:24 defines what the word “scoffer” means: ““Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.”  This is the person who actually derides, mocks, and openly ridicules God and what God wants.  The “wicked” talk about sinful things… the “sinners” do sinful things… “scoffers” do both of those, and go further to even despise and make fun of the most sacred precepts of religion, piety and morals.  They even invent ways to ridicule God and His people.  They put themselves purposely above God, saying He doesn’t exist, that He is foolish, and what He says doesn’t matter… but what they say does matter.

You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do.

 

This is the third place of the progression.  Sounds harsh doesn’t it?  But it’s true when you think about it.  You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do.  You begin by talking about sin… gossiping, backbiting, verbally abusing, sexual talk, joking about cheating, wishing out loud you had someone else’s stuff, even discussing the what-ifs of certain sinful behaviours… and that eventually leads to the action of sinning.  And just like when you stand in a place with a foul smell long enough that you get used to it, you will get used to that kind of thinking and behaviour, and begin to see things from the perspective of those people.  It becomes normal.  Slander, cheating, fighting, swearing, cutting corners, taking things that don’t belong to you, stretching and breaking the laws… that becomes normal.  “That’s just the business world!” we say.  “That’s how it is at work!”  “That’s what has to be done if you’re going to survive in this world!”  “Everybody does it!”  “All your friends are doing it.”  “It’s a natural part of life.”  “It’s biological.” “It’s normal.”

But it goes further.   When sin becomes normal, it also becomes our god.  We take the True God out of our life and replace him with something else – a god that tells us what we want, and lets us do whatever we want.  And as that becomes normal, it’s easier to mock God, His priorities, and His people.  Purity is seen as prudishness.  Pursuing a holy life is considered to be like living in a prison, restricted in movement, and unpleasant to consider.  Worshipping and reading God’s word is considered a waste of time, or even wrong.

Have you ever heard this:

“Churches are just breeding grounds for hypocrites and fakers.  If God really loved this world it wouldn’t look like it does… He must be a horrible God.  Christians have a blind faith is anti-intellectual and is only for stupid people who get fooled into it.  We’ve all moved so far past that old way of thinking.  We are in a new age, a new time, and they are still stuck in the Dark Ages.  All they want to do is control people, condemn people and take their money.  Christianity is for the weak and the dim-witted.”

Easy to see, isn’t it?  We’ve all heard it.  And this picture in Psalm 1:1 is the progression of how we get there.  Some of us came from there and have lived it, others of us still visit there from time to time… and still others are there right now.  You may hear this kind of thing regularly, and that’s why you hesitate to tell people you are Christian, or that you go to church.

 

This is the picture I want you to see and that I want you to be able to draw for your friends, your mentoree’s, and your kids when you have that talk about “the path I see you going down right now”.  You know that talk… when you see someone listening to dangerous voices, doing wrong things, and heading towards some serious problems in their life.  This is what you can draw for them.

 

You can say, “Listen! Success isn’t defined by what you have, what you do, who you know, or who knows you… it’s defined by who you are.  Who you are when no one’s around except you and God.  Who you are in your thought life, your will, your priorities and your desires.  Your character.  Your integrity.”  That’s success!

Verse 2 shows us who this man does associate with, and who he really is.  He IS NOT with the wicked, the sinful or scoffers,  “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  Some of us hear that and tense up.  Oh great… meditating day and night… reading the bible all day and living on some mountaintop somewhere, eating stewed potatoes and contemplating the complexities of the Book of Job all day long.  That’s not what this means.

In easier to understand language it says — a happy and successful person delights (or enjoys and finds benefit in) what God says in the Bible, and throughout his day, from morning to evening, He makes God’s voice the greatest influence in His life.  When he’s at work, at the gym, out hunting, doing his taxes, playing with his kids, changing the oil in the car, making dinner, cleaning the house, talking to a neighbour or dealing with a problem, He’s allowing God to have the first say in how he reacts and what he does.  Jesus gets first dibs.  He listens to Jesus’ counsel, walks in Jesus’ way, and sits at Jesus’ table.

That’s what a successful life looks like.  When those who are closest to you and know you best (spouse, children, friends) respect you, know you love God, delight in His word, that you love them with all your heart, forgive them of their wrongs, help them to become better people – because that’s what Jesus does for you — then you are a success.

So, to close, I ask you this question: When people think of you, who would they say your number one relationship is with, who your greatest influence is, and who you associate with?  Ask your spouse, your friend, or even your kids, to do some association with you.

Do you ever play word association games?  I say a word, and you say the first thing that pops into your head.

I say “BLACK”, you say…

I say “CAR”, you say…

I say “FOREST”, you say…

I say “REMOTE” you say…

Now… I say [Your Name], you say…

What is your association?  Do this with a friend.  Say your name… “When you hear my name, what is the first word that springs to mind?”

When your kids hear “I’m home”!  “Dad’s home!”, or “Mom’s Home!” or “Grandpa’s Here!” do they associate that with the thought “Yay!  I have to get to the door and get a hug!”  Or is it “I have to hide until I find out what mood they’re in before I go anywhere.”  What about your wife (or your husband, ladies).  What word do they pick?  “Angry”, “Grumpy”, “Caring”, “Generous”, “Cheap”, “Funny”, “Serious”, “Confusing”, “Unavailable”, “Dark”, “Dirty”, “Hard-Worker”, “Godly”.

Is that word a characteristic of the people from verse 1, or the man in verse 2?

Coffee & Outreach

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So far so good this week, so let’s continue our experiment and see if we can connect Coffee and Outreach.

Basic Outreach

Outreach, in its most basic form, is simply sharing the love we have experienced through Jesus Christ with others through our words and deeds.  We are grace, therefore we are gracious.  We have been forgiven, therefore we forgive.  We are to God, so we are peacemakers.  Our Father gives us good gifts and we share them.  We have been given the message of the Gospel, the only way by which we are saved from the consequences of our sin, and so we share that story with others.

Touching People’s Hearts With Coffee

I believe it is possible to use all of God’s good gifts (James 1:17) to share His love with others — and that includes Coffee.  Here’s a great video from The Skit Guys connecting coffee and love:

Now was it the coffee that touched this father’s heart?  No, it was the love of his children.  In the same way, we can use something as simple as a cup of coffee to show people that we love them, will listen to them, acknowledge their hurts, and want to be used by God to bring them peace (even if only for the time it takes to drink a coffee).

Some Ideas

1. Take a depressed friend out for coffee.  Part of the struggle of depression is that it drives people into isolation.  Depressed people begin to believe that no one cares about them, and then reinforce this belief by avoiding contact with people.  They wait for someone to call, and when no one does, their perception is confirmed.  Be active and call them, take them outside their environment, encourage them to sit on the patio in the sun (or even the rain!) and let them know in no uncertain terms that you love them, God loves them, and both of you will continue to care for them.

2. Use your Coffee With Your Father time (see Coffee & Worship) to specifically focus on praying for people’s salvation.

3. Here’s a way to use your next coffee time to present the gospel!  Here’s a great video from Billy Kangas connecting Coffee to the Gospel of Jesus:

Coffee & Fellowship

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A-Z of being a Modern Christian by Cake Or DeathLet’s continue our brainstorm by linking Coffee to Fellowship, which is admittedly, the easiest of the bunch.

Coffee and Fellowship… Fellowship and Coffee… they go together like coffee and cream.  Cream and sugar.  Coffee and cookies.  Chocolate and coffee.  Coffee and cake.  Cake and ice cream.  Ice cream and chocolate sauce.  Mmmm… coffee flavoured ice cream…  Ooops, sorry!  Got carried away.

Some Surprising Similarities

I’m sure you agree fellowship (aka people getting to know one another, supporting one another, serving one another..) seems indelibly connected to coffee.  It’s treated like the glue that binds the fellowship together.  But did you know there are other similarities?

1. Both seem simple at first, but are far more complex than we realize.  Check this out these suggestions: 70g/Litre, course ground trimodal particle distribution, no covering to allow the grinds to bloom so you don’t get an uneven extraction from the cake of coffee.  Wow!

Similarly, one would think that sticking people in a room with readily available hot beverages would create Fellowship.  Not so, but this is the approach of most of the churches I’ve been to take.  Provide a space, perk some coffee, make juice, pour water, steep tea (for the hippies), add some no-nut cookies and sliced veggies (again, for the hippies), and just watch the fellowship bloom.  But it’s not that simple is it?

True fellowship is not just meandering around the same floor space sharing insights about the weather and the local sports teams.  True Christian fellowship requires time, risk, sacrifice, determination, leadership, emotional energy, purposeful interaction, mission and the imbuement of the Holy Spirit.  People need education on how to move their conversation to a deeper level, they need encouragment to let down their guard because many of them have been hurt, they need a reason to meet together beyond sharing a location (a good cause, a decision to make, an issue to support, etc.), and they need lots of time (15 minutes on Sunday after church isn’t enough).

2. Both are terrible lukewarm.  No one, not even Jesus, likes lukewarm drinks (Rev 3:16)!  They are best hot, or cold.  Lukewarm fellowship is even worse.  No one likes a hypocrite, and most people can tell pretty quickly when someone is detached, inauthentic or uninterested, even though they walk up to you with a cheery, “How are you?”  It only takes a couple of emotionless, mindless, useless conversations for a person to know that the relationship is fake and that they don’t want to waste their time.  I’m sure you’ve felt this.

3. It’s not good when it’s too strong.  Some people like strong coffee, but even they say it can be too strong.  In the same way, when a fellowship goes from being committed and loving (Acts 2:42-47) to being a clique full of nosey busybodies (James 2:1-13, 1 Tim 5:13), they’ve taken a good, God-given thing, and made it into something bad.

Connecting Coffee to Fellowship

So here’s some ideas:

1. Pretend you’re a barista and serve everyone else first.  Be the first one to the coffee pot and the last one to take a sip.

2. Make some coffee gifts.  A dollar store mug with some chocolate covered espresso beans and a nice, non-preachy note is cheap and does the trick.  Give them to folks you see on the periphery of your daily life (Store clerk, bank teller, newcomer to church, neighbour, mechanic, etc.).

3. Have an International Coffee Tasting night where people bring over their coffee machines and a unique blend of coffee and try them all out!  I recommend “Kopi Luwak” or “Weasel Poop Coffee”.  (I bought it for my brother for Christmas one year.)

What about you?  Have you ever drank a drink that came from the rear end of an animal?  What has been your best fellowship experience?  What has been your worst?