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Bible Word Studies: The Pleasure and Peril (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 101A)

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Steve’s away so Chad and Al get their nerd on with some talk about the pleasures and perils of Bible Word Studies.

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Our Testimonies (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 75)

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Chad and Steve tell the stories of how they came to faith. After our last episode which teaches how to give a testimony it only seemed right for us to give our own.

Podcast Audio

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Pray for us!

2. Subscribe and rate us on  iTunes and watch us on YouTube!! (If you don’t have iTunes use FeedBurner)

3. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (We love this the most!)

4. Send a question or comment through Facebook Twitter, or E-mail!

5. Buy some cool stuff from our new Merch Store! (And check out our friend Kim’s amazing art while you’re there!)

6. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com and our Media Kit with your friends and church. Sharing is caring!

Life Sucks Then You Die

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Habakkuk 3 - Life Sucks Then You Die

Please open up to Habakkuk 2, and as you get there let me give you a quick reminder of what we’ve covered so far.

Quick Review

Habakkuk is a book that show us a conversation between God and one of his prophets about the incredibly sinful things he’s seeing around him. His whole nation was corrupt and He wanted to know what God was going to do about it.

Habakkuk’s first question was one that we’ve all asked, “Why are all these bad things happening to us and what are you going to do about it?” God’s answer was, “I see the bad that is happening and my plan to deal with it is to discipline my people by destroying their city and sending them into captivity.” Habakkuk then asks the follow up question, “Ok, God, I know that you are good and just and hate sin, so how can you use people as utterly sinful as the Chaldeans to punish Israel – which though sinful, isn’t nearly as bad as they are? It seems unfair that you would use a greater evil to correct a lesser one.”

Then, as we ended last week, Habakkuk closed his mouth and went to sit and wait for God’s answer. Today we catch up with the prophet, sitting in the watchtower, waiting for God explain how God uses evil to bring about good. But as happened last week, God’s answer wasn’t exactly direct.

Let’s open up to Habakkuk 2:2-4 and read the first part of God’s answer to Habakkuk. But once again, realize that God isn’t about to give a direct answer. No, instead He’s going to get to the heart of the issue instead.

“And the LORD answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

The Disparity Gospel

Habakkuk really strikes close to our hearts, doesn’t it? We all suffer. We all want to know the answer to Habakkuk’s questions, right? We’ve all wondered Why God would use destruction to build people up, why He would use physical or mental illness to bring about spiritual health, why God would crush someone before making them well, why God would ordain (or plan out in advance) that His people would suffer. Why is that the way the world works? Surely there must be a better way!

I titled this message “Life Sucks and Then You Die” to be a little provocative, but also because it’s sort of true. Life does suck a lot of times, doesn’t it? Suffering and evil isn’t something that we usually talk about out in the open, is it? I’m supposed to be up here giving you the good news, aren’t I? My kids often accuse me of being “Mr. Bad News” and tell me I spend way too long telling people how bad they are and how bad the world is and not enough time telling them the good news. They’re probably right, but I think it might be because God has set me up as a counterbalance to the prosperity gospel.

I think I might be preaching the Disparity Gospel. Not as in my job is to bring you to despair… Disparity means “lack of parity” or “lack of equality”, a “lack of fairness”. Where the prosperity gospel preachers say that God wants you to have your best life now and that if you follow him all your worldly dreams to come true, I preach the disparity gospel that reminds people that this world isn’t fair and has a lot of suffering and inequality in it. The wicked prosper, the righteous suffer. Good deeds are punished, and criminals run free. Healthy people suddenly drop dead, and people that abuse their bodies for years continue on. It’s not fair.

And as I read Habakkuk, I’m reminded how unfair, disjointed and frustrating life is. But that’s close to our hearts too, isn’t it? I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I stood up here and said that life is always great, that the life of a believer is always happy, and that Jesus wants you to have your best life now – because that’s just not true.

Yes, without question, God made this world a good place. James says that God is not the author of evil or temptation, and that every good thing in this world is a gift from above. God fills this world with light and hope. He is the glorious one who makes this life worth living. (James 1:13-17)

The book of Ecclesiastes, as hopeless and frustrated as the author is, continuously reminds us that the normalcy of life is still good. We work, we live, we play, we sing, we dance, we eat and drink, and we live under the brightness of the sun. There is a lot of good in this world, and we are right to rejoice in it.

It proves that the curse of sin that came through Adam and Eve is not complete. God has given us common grace and abundant love. Much of life is good and wonderful and even happy. But – not always. Sometimes life kicks you in the shins. The question is, during those times, how are we going to respond?

The Dangers of Avoiding Suffering: Some Examples

Part of studying Habakkuk is to realize that suffering is normal and it’s good for us to accept that and then bring our big questions about suffering and evil to God. Habakkuk is just asking a normal, human questions.

We all hate suffering, don’t we? I know, that’s a weird question to ask. No one likes suffering! No one wants to suffer. But let me make a quick point here before we dig into the scripture: That I think we’ve forgotten that suffering has an important role in this world. We are right to be joyful and happy during the good times – but I think we’ve forgotten that God’s good plans for us sometimes include times of suffering.

The society around us disagrees completely. In fact, they disagree so profoundly, that people are literally killing themselves in an attempt to completely eliminate suffering from their lives.

Let me give you an example: The New York Times published an article recently that said that the death rates of young white adults in the US is climbing. We have better and more access to medicine than any time in history, but now these young people are dying faster than they have since the 1970s. Why? Because of drug overdoses and suicides. Here’s a quote:

“Rising rates of overdose deaths and suicide appear to have erased the benefits from advances in medical treatment for most age groups of whites.”

In other words, the amount of people that are being saved by new medical technology from diseases are cancelled out by those who are dying from overdosing on drugs or committing suicide.

They want to avoid pain so much that they are literally killing themselves.

Or consider the rise of abortion and euthanasia (or doctor existing suicide) in Canada. Instead of caring for babies and the elderly, our most the vulnerable citizens, we have decided to get rid of them instead. The thinking is that if the existence of the baby causes any form of suffering to the mother – including physical, mental or financial – then it should be killed. We avoid suffering via murdering someone else.

And, if the “quality of life” of an elderly person isn’t up to their standards – in other words, if they are suffering in any way they feel is too much – whether that’s physical, emotional or financial – then they should be allowed to kill themselves to alleviate the suffering. Our society is fleeing suffering at all costs – even the cost of human lives.

Consider this: There’s also the growing epidemic of addiction to prescription pain killers. What do we do if we get a headache? Grab a pill. If our back hurts? Grab a pill. The thinking is that pain is always bad. We should always avoid pain. Even Christians are caught up in this. We avoid alcohol, smoking, even caffeine, because we see them as potentially addictive and dangerous – but then we go to the doctor and he gives us a jar of narcotics which we munch down with delight because it helps us avoid pain.

And of course, I have to mention the utter stupidity of the Government of Canada considering the legalization of marijuana. There are people in Canada who want to be allowed to take a drug that is known to alter their senses, deadens their brain, and affects their memories. I read a while ago that they’re even looking into perfecting a pill that works by eliminating bad memories from the brain altogether. Take the pill, wipe out the bad memory.

And this idea of fleeing suffering at all costs goes even further. We’re completely losing our ability to judge right and wrong anymore. We can’t tell anyone that their sin is hurting them and others, because we might offend them – and to cause anyone any kind of emotional pain, even if the motivation was to help someone, is becoming tantamount to a crime.

Do you know what you call someone who can’t feel pain? A leper. It’s a disease. We need pain in our bodies so we can know when something is wrong. Feeling pain is part of being healthy. When we can no longer feel pain, it’s a big problem. We bump into things, cut ourselves, even break a leg, and we won’t know it. We need pain in order to live in this world.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should go looking for suffering. Nor am I trying to say that all suffering is good. If someone is violently attacked, has a crime committed against them, becomes terribly ill, or is treated unjustly, even God feels pain for that person. He suffers with the suffering. I’m not saying that we should get rid of Tylenol and reject medical help when we go to the hospital. I’m certainly not saying that people who are in pain are closer to God, or worse, that we should cause ourselves pain so we can be closer to God. That’s a heresy called “asceticism”, and it’s addressed in scripture as being wrong.

No, what I’m saying is that we live in a society that will do anything to avoid any kind of pain, and that’s terribly unhealthy!  And when we avoid pain at all costs, we miss out on the benefits that come from when God prescribes suffering as a treatment for our spiritual condition. We need to feel the pain so we can know that there’s something wrong with us.

When our first reaction to any kind of pain – physical, emotional or mental – is to turn immediately to anything that will remove that pain as quickly as possible, we do ourselves a disservice.

Suffering & Pain Serves Us

Let me give a few examples:

A friendship or a marriage goes through a rocky patch where there is a lot of arguing and painful conversations. One of the common reactions is to leave the relationship, get a divorce, and find someone else – and then repeat the problem with them. However, God’s will isn’t for us to evacuate when the difficult times come, but to draw closer to Him, and work through the pain to get to the other side where there is deeper love, more respect, a better friendship, and a higher level of understanding for each other. Leaving the pain of working through a difficult relationship time robs us of the joy that was mean tot come later when we worked through it. (I’m not talking about abuse situations!)

Or here’s another example of going through suffering so we can come out better on the other side: God gives us a passion to do something. Say it’s go to the mission field, switch careers, or quit our job and be a stay at home mom. We feel the tug in our heart, and believe it’s God’s will – but it’s going to be hard. It means financial struggles, a total life change, a whole bunch of uncertainty, and perhaps even some very difficult conversations with people who won’t understand. Our natural reaction is to try to avoid the pain – to dip our toe in, realize how hard it’s going to be, and then quit before we get started. Or start doing it, and then compromise our integrity or God’s plan to make it easier. Our refusal to go through the pain of that transition robs us of the blessing of fully obeying God and doing what He has called us to do.

One more example: Say we have a personality issue that we don’t see: we are impatient, or easily angered, or lazy, or lustful, or addicted to something. And God works it out in our life that that area of our life suddenly becomes a huge problem for us. Suddenly life starts to suck, everyone around us seems to be our enemy, and nothing is going right. Our first reaction is to dig into our addictions, avoid the pain, and blame everyone around us. But that’s not what God’s doing. No, He’s trying to show you that your impatience, or anger, or laziness, or lust, or addiction, is growing in you like a cancer, and that it’s going to take your life someday.

And so, like a healthy body, He sends a shot of pain into your life so you can register that something is wrong. And that pain is meant to force you to reevaluate things so you can see clearly and address the issue. It forces you to go to Doctor Jesus to see if He can do something about it. You wouldn’t have come to Jesus otherwise, right? You needed to feel that pain before you would come to Him so He could fix it.

That’s what I’m talking about sometimes God uses suffering to give us a new perspective on life and drive us to Him so we can receive the healing we need.

That’s what he was doing for His people during the Babylonian exile. They were a sick nation that didn’t even know how bad off they were. They were on the edge of spiritual death, and so God caused them pain so they could feel how bad off they were. That pain drove them to despair, but it also drove them to God.

“So He May Run”

In verse 2 God says to Habakkuk, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.”

Remember the context: God is sending the Chaldeans to wipe out the city and drag everyone into exile for 70 years. So here we see God doing something very kind for His people. He’s giving the people a chance to get out while they still can. Now, that sounds like He’s giving them a chance to avoid the suffering, but it’s not. What God is doing is telling them to accept the suffering that will come because they are leaving their homeland because God has decreed it. He’s giving them a chance to decrease their suffering through obedience to His word.

Like a skilled surgeon, He’s both inflicting a wound and doing pain management. He tells them to accept the pain of leaving their homes and accepting God’s discipline for their sin, but to leave the town now so they didn’t have to go through the horror of the siege.

God does the same for us now. He puts us into this wonderful world, but then tells us not to get caught up in the joys of it too much. He tells us about the effects of the curse of sin and how to be free from the curse. And then, He gives us the same choice He gave to the people who would listen to Habakkuk’s prophecy: accept the pain and suffering of this life, allowing it to change us into what God wants us to be, or refuse, pretended it’ll be fine, try to avoid the pain, eat, drink and be merry, and then feel the full weight of his wrath.

Either accept God’s plan to use suffering to drive you to Him now, or feel the full weight of greater suffering in hell later. Avoiding the pain of this life is not only physically dangerous, but also spiritually dangerous! If we refuse to allow the pain of guilt and conviction of sin, or the sadness, grief and anger that comes when we are affected by it, we deaden ourselves to the great revelation that God wants to show us! That temporary pain is meant to cause us to hate sin and want righteousness, hate immorality and want good, to flee evil and desire the presence of God. If we avoid feeling guilt, shame or grief, then we will not come to God for relief.

Evil Conquered and Enslaved

But here’s something else. God does something even better. Not only does he use the suffering to bring us to knowledge of sin and desire to be saved, but He actually makes all that suffering work for our good! Nothing is wasted in His economy. That’s why Paul says in Romans 5:3-5 that Christians…

“rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

        Read Romans 8:35-37:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

What does it mean to be “more than a conqueror”? It means that the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, and slaughtering we face all day long won’t just be eliminated – but will actually serve us. Jesus is the conquering king that not only kills the evil in this world and gets rid of our enemies, but actually turns the enemy into our servants! Total, utter, victory! All the schemes of the devil, all the suffering he tries to inflict, not only come to nothing – but end up working out for the good of God’s plan!

It’s a mind boggling thing to process, I know, but it’s amazingly true. Habakkuk asks, “God, how can you use a greater evil to punish a lesser one?” and the answer we read throughout scripture is that God is so utterly perfect that He can even suffering and evil as His servants to bring about goodness and righteousness. The Chaldeans evil will work for good.

Again, this is most perfectly seen in the cross of Christ as humanity committed the worst atrocity imaginable, viciously murdering the perfect Son of God. And yet God used that worst of all evils, and turned it into the greatest good, the greatest gift imaginable. Listen again to Isaiah 53:3-5:

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

Conclusion

So that’s my message for today, and something we all need to remember when suffering comes. So here’s the two things we talked about today:

First: Remember that suffering is an unavoidable part of this world – no matter how hard we try to run from it. Our instinct is to avoid pain at all costs, but that’s not only unhealthy, but doesn’t work for our good in the long term. If you are suffering today, or know someone that is suffering, I want you to remember that suffering is normal, it comes with this world, you are not alone, and it is only temporary. God desires to walk with you every step of the way.

Remember Psalm 23: God doesn’t just keep us in green pastures and still waters. It is in the Valley of the Shadow of Death that we learn that we need not fear evil, and know the comfort of the Good Shepherd. It is sitting at the table in the presence of our greatest enemies that we are covered with God’s blessed oil.

Second: Remember that God allowed this suffering for a purpose. If it’s something you brought on yourself, then it’s there to teach you something about yourself. If it’s something that happened to you, completely beyond your control, then it was given to you by God. I realize that takes a lot of faith and maturity, but it’s absolutely true.

Allow the pain of your suffering to force you to go to Doctor Jesus for help. Allow your suffering to drive you to God. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” That means that no matter how bad it feels now, the good that comes after will be exponentially better. Don’t waste your suffering by trying to deny it or avoid it.

If you go to God with your pain, He will do something with it. He’s going to use this terrible, frustrating, difficult time for His glory, your good, and the good of others. He promises to do that! Get into the watchtower and watch for what God will do through this time in your life. You are, right now, surrounded by people who can tell stories of how they have suffered in their life, and how God brought them through it, and how God used it for His glory and their good.

Is Halloween Evil (and Should Christians Participate)? (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 49)

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Halloween

Halloween is coming up soon, so the CT guys perform a skit and take on the perennial question of whether a Christian should participate in Halloween or not. We didn’t realize how heated the discussion was going to get!

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Behind the Scenes Video:

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The Importance of “We”

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Podcast Audio:

“I Need a New Seven-Hundred-and-Ten”

A man walks into a car dealership. He’s not fond of being there, because he knows that some of these places are famous for ripping people off, so his plan is to not let on that he has no idea what he’s talking about. He gets into the long line and patiently waits his turn until he can get to the counter. The mechanic behind the desk looks up from the computer and asks him what he needs and he says in his most confident voice, “I need a new seven-hundred-and-ten”.

The mechanic is puzzled and asks again “What is it you need?” He replies, with even more confidence, “Oh, I just need a new seven-hundred-and-ten.” Some of the other mechanics around the shop hear this exchange and start to wonder over – some hoping to help, others wondering about this part they’ve never heard of.

The man at the computer says, “Hold on, let me gets the parts manager.” So, out comes the parts manager and says, “We’d love to get you a new one… but what exactly is a seven-hundred-ten?” By now the man was starting to feel a little frustrated, and replies, “You’re the mechanics. C’mon! You know, the little piece in the middle of the engine? I was working on my car, lost it and need a new one. It had always been there and I clearly need to replace it…”

By now all of the mechanics were huddled together wondering about this mysterious piece, when one of them had a great idea. He gave the customer a piece of paper and a pen and asked him to draw what the piece looked like. Maybe that would help them figure it out. He grabs the pen, frustrated with how a shop full of mechanics couldn’t give him a simple part, and drew a circle with a few bumps around it – it looked like a flower – and in the middle of it wrote the number 710. Each mechanic, in turn, took a look at the paper and scratched their head. They had no clue what a flower with the words 710 could possibly be.

Finally, one of the other mechanics had another idea and said, “Do you think you could point it out if we opened up one of the cars in the showroom?”  “Of course I can!”, the man replied.  They walked over to another car, similar to his own, which had the hood up and asked, “Is there a 710 on this car?” Immediately he pointed and said, “Of course, it’s right there!

Beliefs Drive Our Mission

We’re talking about vision today – another word could be perspective. Our very first question that we must ask ourselves is “What do we believe?” and that outlines the most fundamental, bedrock beliefs about God, Jesus, Scripture and the Church.

Jesus is Lord of all and a member of the Holy Trinity. He came to us, born of a virgin, and it is only through Him that we can be saved. One day He will come again to judge the living and the dead. Satan is a real person and Hell is real place. The Word of God is our highest authority. Every believer has the right to deal directly with God because Jesus is their mediator. The church consists only of people who believe in Jesus as their savior and Lord. Baptism is the first significant act through which a believer proclaims their faith, and therefore baptism is for believers only. These are our non-negotiables, our bedrock beliefs.

Why A Church Needs a Mission Statement

After answering “What do we believe?”, it’s natural to ask the question, “What is God asking us to do?”  On top of the bedrock of our common faith we build the framework of how that faith will be expressed in our own local context.

It’s true, and important for us to remember, that Jesus gave all Christians a mission statement in Matthew 28:18-20:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

That is most definitely applicable to our individual lives and our church – but when we gather as a group, our question is, “What does that look like in Lanark County, in Beckwith, on the corner of Tennyson and 7th Line? If Jesus put us here, in this place, then how do we ‘go and make disciples’ where we are?” That’s what a mission statement is for. It tells us what we believe God wants from us in our local context. Mission statements aren’t only used by Christians, but by companies, charities, schools, and even individuals. It is an important way for a group of people to define our priorities, make our decisions, and set our ministry strategies.

Our Mission Statement

The mission statement we chose as a congregation is “We exist to inspire and equip our community to share the love of Jesus through Biblical teaching and loving relationships.” That’s a very complex and meaningful sentence.

When we asked ourselves, “Why does Beckwith Baptist Church exist? What’s it here for? What should we be doing? Why did God put us here? What’s His mission for us?”, that sentence is the answer we came up with. We sat together, prayed together, talked to God, read through the scriptures, and carefully crafted every word of that sentence. The whole leadership team, elected by the congregation, was in agreement that this was why God placed us here.

Then we brought it to the congregation. We printed out a bunch of copies, passed them out to everyone who we could find and said, “Ok, this is what we think God is saying. Please look at this, pray about this, and then get back to us with what you think God is saying.” Everyone had a chance to read it and comment. We took those comments back and did our best to incorporate everyone’s take on God’s plan for our church.

Then we had a vote. We sat together in a room, prayed for God’s guidance and wisdom, and then covenanted together to make this our Mission Statement. We all asked God, “Why do we exist and what do you want us to do?” and then we listened. And after listening we said, altogether, “We exist to inspire and equip our community to share the love of Jesus through Biblical teaching and loving relationships.” That was such a good thing and an important day in the life of our church.

Each one of the words in that statement was carefully chosen and is significant to us in our context, and so, as we kick off our September ministry season, I want to go through them together to remind us of what God told us last year. Today we’re going to talk about the first word — “We”.

The Priority of “We”

The first word is “We”. It’s a word which word that reflects the high priority God has placed, in scripture, on us working together.

It’s not “I… ”, or “They… ”, or “The Leadership Team…”, or “The Pastor…”, or “The Deacons…”, or “The people who have the time…”. It’s “We”. We together will do this thing that God has asked us to do. Philippians 2:1-2 says,

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

Read it this way — “If Jesus is an encouragement to you… if the love of Jesus comforts you… if the Holy Spirit is fellowshipping with you… if you know the friendship of Jesus and the comfort from Jesus during times of trial and struggle… let that flow out of you from Jesus into one another.”

Paul says that if the church does that it will “complete [his] joy”. There is no greater joy for a pastor than to see the people he is equipping for ministry actually doing it. Watching and participating in a church full of people who are “of the same mind” (agreeing on their faith and their ministries), “have the same love” (a love for Jesus and for one another that they sacrifice willingly to meeting each other’s needs), and in “full accord” (not fighting, not gossiping, not bickering, not complaining, no one feeling they are better than another, no one feeling left out, no one forgotten, united in spirit), brings great “joy” to the elders, pastors and missionaries who have been chosen by God to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12). And it makes God happy to. When a minister sees his church being “we”, he knows that God is being glorified, the Gospel is being lived out, Jesus is being honoured, and the Holy Spirit has room to move wherever He wants.

I can tell you that’s absolutely true in my case. When we are being “we”, and not “I”, it makes my heart smile. And it does that – and this is going to sound a little selfish – because it means you’re doing your job and I’m doing mine.

An Elder (Pastor) Has A Special Job

A great summary of my job description, as your pastor, is found in Ephesians 4:11-16. It says that when Jesus was designing the church, after He had ascended into heaven, He

“gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…”

These are people with specialized jobs, given to them by Jesus. We read what that is in verse 12:

“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”

Do you see that? The leaders of the church, appointed by Jesus, have been given the important job of equipping the people in the church to do the work God has given them to do. Their job is to work to build up the people that God calls into the church. To disciple them, challenge them, help them improve their skills, support them and teach them how to listen to and obey God.  And while they are doing this, they need to maintain “unity of the faith” and “knowledge of the Son of God”. In other words – step in and be peacemakers and disciplinarians when there’s a problem and ensure that Jesus is being preached and taught everywhere, all the time. That’s a big, important job.

But why? Why did Jesus appoint special leaders to that task? Shouldn’t everyone be doing that? Sort of. Yes, everyone has a responsibility to pray and learn and be peace makers, but God appointed special people to make sure it happens. Look at verse 14 to see why.

“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

If “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” aren’t doing their job, there is a danger that all kinds of things will go wrong. The people may remain immature in the faith – it’s these special people’s job to make sure that the congregation grows in maturity. And without those God appointed leaders there’s a danger that cunning humans (elsewhere in scripture called “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 5:17)) will come in and deceive people. So God gave certain people the job to dedicate their whole lives to praying through, studying and teaching the scriptures, so they can be sensitive to what’s God wants and contradict error when it comes. They are the sheriffs, the guardians, the firefighters, the police, the under-shepherds who work with Jesus to keep the church strong and safe.

One Body Many Parts

It’s important to know how Jesus put His church together. The church, in scripture, is likened to a human body – one being with many parts. Not all the parts are meant to be the same, and by necessity they need to be different. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 12:14-19,

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”

People who do crafts or have a hobby where they build things, or has built their own home understand this. Jesus picks the parts He wants, designs how He wants them to look, and then joins us together in the shape He wants. He has a plan. Jesus is the head, and then He appoints certain people to be leaders and equippers, and then he appoints the people who are to be led and equipped by them to be the rest of the body. And, under Him, they work together in love to grow. We don’t get to pick which part of the body we are. And we don’t get to pick which part of the body someone else is. It is Jesus who designs and gifts people to be what He wants them to be.

Therefore, I need you, you need me, and you need the person sitting next to you and in the rows behind and in front of you. We need the people who decided not to come today. I need you to do your job and you need me to do mine, and we both need them to do theirs. I have been appointed by God and so have you. If you’re doing my job instead of yours, you’re in sin. If I’m doing your job instead of mine, I’m in sin.

We Have Different Jobs

We’ve read this before, but it’s important that we remember it, so we understand that though we are all part of the same church, serving the same community, with the same faith and the same Lord – we don’t all have the same job.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

Now look at Romans 12:4-8,

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Do you see the balancing act in both of these sections of scripture? We have the same Lord, same Saviour, same Spirit inside of us, same mission – but very different functions.

Listen: Some Christians are built and designed by God to be especially wise and knowledgeable people who are very discerning and want to make sure the church is listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. They sniff out wolves and keep the church from sin.

But we can’t all be that so God designs other Christians to be prophets and teachers who study and concentrate and agonize to make sure that the Word of God is properly proclaimed and fully obeyed. They are the megaphones God uses to tell people things.

Some Christians are designed by God to be passionate about mercy and love and healing people and wanting to perform miracles of God. They love to visit people, and open shelters, and get involved in all the messy stuff in the world.

And all of those Christians need the folks who designed by God to be generous and give resources and funding to their ministries. We are all supposed to be generous, but God gives some people the amazing ability to make money and equip ministries. That’s their job.

And all of those people need the people who are specially gifted by God to be exhorters and encouragers to stand around everyone else and shake their pom-poms and yell “Go Team Jesus!” and “You’re doing a great job!” and “Wow! You’re awesome at that!” “Great sermon pastor!” “Nice job on the potluck!” “This place is decorated so great!” “Loved that song today, singers!” “You’re such a great listener!” “I’m so glad you’re here!” “Keep trying, you’ll get it right eventually!” The encouragers keep the wise from getting discouraged by all the fools around them. They help the prophets to have the energy and motivation to come back week after week when it seems that no one is listening to them. They help people stuck in sin to keep trying. They make the tired servants feel appreciated. The exhorters and encouragers are just as important as the preachers and ministry leaders!

From “We” to “I”

But you know what happens? (And I know you’ve experienced this.) The prophets and teachers start to get prideful and think their job is the most important because they spend all their time in the Bible and start to look down on people who spend so much time just talking to people or just giving away their money. They look at the cheerleaders and call them shallow. They look at the healing ministry and criticize them for not doing enough bible-study.

The wisdom and knowledge people start thinking that they should be in charge of everything. So they start messing with the ministries, telling them how to help people better and the right way to perform miracles. They start telling the encouragers how they are supposed to encourage people. Their not healers, their not encouragers… but they think they know more.

Then the people in the healing and mercy ministries can’t understand why the prophets and teachers spend so much time studying. Don’t they know that God wants them out from behind their books! They accuse the teachers of not loving people and not loving God properly because they aren’t doing the ministries that they think are most important.

And so the church, instead of acting like a “We”, starts to thinking about themselves as a group of “I’s” and they break apart. One church is full of Prophets and Teachers who love to read the Bible and hear sermons – but no one does anything helpful, no one gives generously, and no one is encouraged.

And another church starts that’s full of healing and mercy people who are amazing at meeting the needs of their community, and loving the poor – but they start to do goofy things with the money because they have no Godly wisdom people, and they become heretics because they have no Godly prophets and teachers.

And all the encouragers stay home because they can’t stand watching people fight. Right?

Conclusion

I know we’ve only covered one word of our Mission Statement today, but it’s an important word. God built the church so that we would work as a “We”. That word has a lot of implications. We work a community. We serve as a group. We respect each other’s differences and we are thankful for how God built each one of us. We are only truly the church of Jesus Christ when we are working together. “…of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

 

Just for Fun: A Fake Intro to a (hopefully) Soon to be Real Podcast

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We are so cool. Our running title is “Pastors With a Point”. Kinda lame. Any suggestions?

A fellow pastor (Chad Graham), a good friend of mine (Steve Bastian) and I are in the process of putting together a new podcast/vodcast where we spend some time chatting about big questions and current events. So, just for fun, I put together an intro for him. He liked it so much that we agreed to share it!

Check it out.

[Yes, that was “Pinky and the Brain” in the background. Seemed appropriate. I’m not going to tell you which of us is “The Genius” and which is “Insane”.]

Sharing this also gives us an opportunity to gauge interest in this kind of program. Is it something you would want to listen to?

There are lots of global and Canadian issues we can chat about (The Slenderman Murders, Quebec Voting for Euthanasia, Legalizing Prostitution in Canada…) and here’s a list of other issues we’re thinking of taking on:

  • Should Christians eat Organic & Local?
  • Predestination vs Free Will
  • What’s the Best way to do devos?
  • Which is better, mega church or micro church?
  • Who was/is the greatest preacher or author of the 20th century?
  • What book has helped you the most as a believer?
  • Should pastors have a dress code?
  • Is being fat a sin?
  • What is the role of women in the church?
  • What’s the scariest (true) church story you’ve ever heard?
  • How should Christians use social media?
  • What can I do if I’m addicted to porn?
  • Beards or no beards?
  • What kinds of movies are Christians allowed to watch?
  • What’s the deal with Mark Driscoll?
  • At what age should kids be baptized?
  • Who is allowed to take communion?
  • Why are there so many kinds of churches?
  • What is [Christian author]’s best book?
  • Can Christians get cosmetic surgery?

Would you be interested in such a program? Do you have any suggestions that could make it better? If so, comment below and let us know.

Christian Integrity: Keep Your Vows

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7 Psalm 15 - Keep Your Vows - TITLE BANNER

Here’s the Audio for this sermon:

For the past while we’ve been studying the characteristics of a person and a Christian of integrity. We’re asking the question, “what does it mean to look and act like a Christian, and a Christian church?” It all starts with the first verse, the question that is asked at the of the list, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” In other words, what do the people of God look like? What does a believer act like?

Let’s read the rest of the Psalm together. I’m reading from the ESV now.

“He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose yes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”

Quick Review

What we see in Psalm 15 are some very important words that describe what Christian Integrity looks like. We all want to be – we want our children to be – people of Christian integrity. We want to work with, compete against, and have friends who have integrity. But what does that look like? Psalm 15 tells us 5 critical things that we need to have in order to say that we have integrity. These are perfectly shown in the life of Jesus, who is our model for life.

If we are to be his people, then we must always be Truthful (we tell the truth all the time), Loving (we love all people and never discriminate based on outward differences), Honouring (we reject hypocrisy and hypocrites, but honour people who are working out their faith every day), we are Trustworthy (we never break our promises) and we are Generous (we use our money well). This week we are looking at the second part of verse 4 where it says that a man or woman of God, “…swears to his own hurt and does not change;”. I like the NIV translation of this verse which says, “…who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;” or the New Living Translation which says, “…and keep[s] their promises even when it hurts.”

A Multivitamin Psalm

I’m amazed that this short psalm is so encompassing. It’s like a multivitamin — small, but full of important things we need to live. And in a way it’s also like a multivitamin because if we let it get inside us, it can do well, but sometimes chewing on it can taste pretty bitter. Psalm 15 covers our everyday actions (what we do), the motivations of our heart (why we do what we do), the importance of how we use our words, how we treat believers and non-believers, how to protect our reputations, and how we use our money. You can’t live on multivitamins though, which is why we are going to the rest of scripture to get a balanced diet – to help us understand more about what’s going on and how we can obey God’s word.

Divided in Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength

Integrity is rooted deep in the heart of all believers. To have integrity means being a whole Christian – worshipping and serving God all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all our strength (Mark 12:30). Not just our minds, or just our hands. It means not being divided between two things – ourselves and God, or the world and God. It means not being split in our hearts, which causes us a lot of grief.

If you are a believer, then I’m sure you’ve felt this. You are faced with a choice, and the pulling in your heart begins. You love God, but you also feel emotionally attached to something else… or you know that obeying God means you will feel bad for a little while, or lose a friend, or look bad in front of people. And so your heart is divided.

Or you feel a division in your soul. Part of you wants to pray, but the other part wants to pretend God doesn’t exist – to watch TV, sleep, read a favourite book. Every time you are tempted to sin, you feel that division in your soul – part wanting to obey God, part wanting to reclaim your soul to yourself, to give it back over to the devil so you can experience some worldly pleasure. And it causes you pain because you have a divided soul.

Or you have a divided mind. Your thought-life sometimes feels like a game of racquetball, your thoughts bouncing around from worship songs to sexual sin, from bible verses to jealousy and bitterness, from love to fear and worry. You want to devote yourself fully to God, but moments later you are fanaticizing about what you could do if you won the lottery. Right in the middle of a time of prayer you start to make a grocery list. A divided mind, and it causes you to feel guilty and frustrated.

Or divided strength. The same hands you used to help someone, that you raised in worship, that turn the pages of your bible, that hug your children, within hours are used in private sin. The natural talent you have allows you to worship God in a special way, but it is also a way to elevate yourself above others so you can feel superior to them.

Everyone feels this. Not one person in this world has perfect integrity. Not even the most dedicated monk, living in the most distant monastery thinks about God all the time. Not even the Apostle Paul could! Listen to him wrestling in Romans 7, the same way each of us does:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15-24, ESV)

Jesus as Our Model and Strength

Paul is caught up in the same spiritual warfare as we are, daily battling our fleshly/worldly desires and our spiritual ones. Who will save us from this body that wants to eat spiritual death, walk the path of death, enjoy spiritually dead things, revel in demonic, hell-spawned sin, hang around spiritually dead people? Who can save us from this divided heart?

We can’t save ourselves. Paul answers the question this way in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” What is required to save us from this divided heart, this “body of death”, is that someone live a perfect life, be a perfect model, and then go through death, be killed, and then destroy death by rising from the dead! Who can kill death? Who can save us from this body of death? The one who destroyed death once and for all, Jesus Christ!

In other words, when God saved us, we became His people. As Psalm 15 says, we “dwell in his sanctuary”, we “live on his holy hill.” He saved us. He adopted us into his family and since we are his, we have access to the same privileges as Jesus Christ. We are not alone in the struggle for integrity. We have the Holy Spirit inside of us, convicting us of sin, reminding us of our hope, showing us our Father, giving us new wants and desires. And when we listen to Him, we will have what is needed to combat our divided hearts.

Stay Close to Jesus!

This is why every mature believer since the beginning of time has said the same thing over and over – it has not changed!

Stay Close to the Word of God: Read, study and meditate on the Word of God. If you want to live a wise life, go to the source of all wisdom. If you want to be like Jesus, read about Jesus.

Stay close to Jesus: Talk to Him all the time – be in prayer in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, about all things. If you want to be protected, strengthened and encouraged, stay close to Jesus.

Stay around Jesus’ People: Love and be loved by other believers. Serve and be served by other believers. Don’t try to draw strength from hypocrites, unbelievers, and people who play for Satan’s team. Lean on your Christian friends and Elders in the church.

It hasn’t changed for millennia!

This is what God said to Adam and Eve – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.

This is what God said to Israel – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.

This is what God said to every prophet – Tell them my word, tell them to draw close to me, tell them to start taking care of each other.

This is what Jesus told Paul and Peter and James and John to write to His churches – Tell them to stay in my word, tell them to stay close to me, tell them to take care of each other.

And that’s what Jesus came to do for us and to model for us – Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s word, Jesus was in perfect union with God, Jesus cared so deeply for people that He gave His life for them.

And He gives us access to His Spirit when we obey Him!

God Makes Promises and Keeps Them

Using this as our stepping off point, let’s talk for a little bit about this idea of being trustworthy and how our ability and desire to be trustworthy comes from God. God has made a lot of promises and it would be counter to His very nature, since He is God and can do anything, to break a promise. He can always keep His promises because of who He is.

Listen to some of these:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
  • John 10:28-29, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
  • John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
  • (And my favourite verses) Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”
  • (And perhaps the most comforting promise) 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We live and die by the promises of God. We believe that He will follow through on them. He is not a liar. He does not go back on His word.  Whether we realize it or not, when Christians are in trouble, we echo the words of Psalm 119:154, “Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!” When we worship God, foremost on our minds are his promises, like in verse 162, “I rejoice at your word [“promise” NIV] like one who finds great spoil.” When we read and remember all of the promises He has given us, and his ability to follow through, it’s like looking over a vast treasure. They are our sure inheritance.

Keep Your Vows

And so what God is concerned about here in Psalm 15 is our reputation for being like Him, like one of his people – to be trustworthy. What we say is always what we do. A person of integrity doesn’t break their promises. We are not liars. My ESV Study bible says this, “Vows must be kept because God keeps his promises and desires that his people imitate his moral character.” Therefore God takes what we say very seriously.

And if you made a vow to God, it was very serious business. Listen to part of the Law from Deuteronomy 23:21-23,

“If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.”

Remember the vow of Jephthah from the book of Judges. He was facing down an enemy army, and even though God had already promised Him the victory, He panicked and made a rash vow to God that if God let him win, when he returned from battle, anyone or anything that came through the door of his house would be offered as a sacrificed. Of course God kept His word and Jephtheh won the battle, but the one who came through the door was his daughter. And He dedicated her the service of God and that she would never marry, ending his own bloodline. His life is a lesson in rash vows.

A person must be careful with what they say, especially to God. And when they do make a promise, they need to fulfill it quickly, and no delay. Why? Because God will hold everyone accountable to their actions, and to their promises. Even the rash and foolish ones. He wants to teach us that words matter.

Turn to Ecclesiastes 5:2-7 and read another warning,

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.”

Scripture teaches us that we need to be careful with our worship, our prayers our words, and our promises when coming before God. God will hold us accountable to these things. He says that it is the fool who comes before God with many words, and many promises, but doesn’t keep them.

In verse 6 we see the messenger coming to collect on the vow and the person who made the vow saying, “Oh no… I didn’t mean it. It was a mistake. I was just in the moment. I didn’t mean to. That was just part of the song I sang. I was desperate. I was afraid. I was caught up in emotion.” And God still holds them accountable.

Proverbs is right when it says in 20:25 says, “It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.”

Vows Today?

Now, just so we don’t think this is an academic exercise that only applies to ancient Israel, let’s ask the question: Can this happen today? We don’t make blood sacrifices any more, and I can’t remember the last time I took an ephah of grain to a temple because I needed a new set of oxen, so can we make a vow before God today?

I believe we can, but it’s different for us, because I believe that God takes what Christians say today even more seriously.

You’ve probably heard people say, “I swear to God!” “I swear on my mother!” “I swear on the Bible!” People did that back then too. They used to swear by all sorts of things: By earth, heaven, the temple, the alter sacrifices, the gold in the temple… but like good Pharisees, they had all these little rules about it.

In Matthew 23:16-21 Jesus looks at the Pharisees and teachers and talks about this very thing. He says,

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

His point is that everything is God’s so no matter what you are swearing by, it is all holy! You are accountable for all your words and vows, no matter what you swear on, because everything God has done is sacred. Even the hairs on your head belong to God. You can’t even swear by your own head, because you are not your own! Therefore, all vows are holy and need to be kept.

A Higher Standard

But Jesus went even farther. In the Sermon on the Mount we read Jesus talking to His followers about being trustworthy and careful with our words. And, as Jesus always does, He pushes beyond the Old Testament Law. Turn to Matthew 5:33-37.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

He said to His followers that they need to be so well known for their trustworthiness that they don’t even need to make an oath or a vow. It should simply be… “Oh, that person’s a Christian? They follow Jesus? Well, then I can trust them because everything they say is true.”

People used to use these oaths, and vows, and pledges, to get around things. They tried to find loopholes and ways to get off the hook. “Oh, I vowed by the temple, and not the gold… so it doesn’t count.” “I vowed by the alter and not the sacrifice, so it doesn’t count and I don’t have to do it.”

Jesus always took the Old Testament Law and then raised it up to a higher standard. As one of my commentaries said, “Instead of letting people off the hook, he set the hook deeper. Jesus spoke about oaths in order to point out that they were not the main problem – integrity was. A liar’s vow expresses a worthless promise. But when a person of integrity says yes or no, that person’s simple word can be trusted.”

Anything Beyond…

I think what affects me the most is this verse in Matthew 5:37,

“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

The first thing that grabs me is that this is supposed to be simple. And it really is. Just do what you say. When you say something, mean it. When you say you’ll do something, do it. When you say you won’t do something, don’t do it. Keep your promises.

But the other part is, “Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” I think what this means is that we shouldn’t be adding a bunch more words to our words. People should just be able to trust what we say, without a bunch of extra explanation, excuses, justifications, pretexts and rationalizations.

For example, if someone comes up and says, “Will you do this?” We should be able to say, “Yes, I will.” And leave it at that. It’s when someone is a known liar and can’t be trusted, that more and more words start coming. People only need oaths when there is a possibility that the other party is lying! That’s why we have such a proliferation of contracts in our world. We can’t trust anyone! Believers know that every word they speak will be held accountable by God, and so they simply do what they said they would do, or don’t do what they said they wouldn’t do.

Two Applications

So, in keeping with what Jesus has said, and what the Psalm has said, let me pull two simple applications out of this.

First, and this is obvious, Christians need to be careful with what we say. And this means both “yes”, and “no”. If you don’t plan on doing it, then don’t say YES. If you don’t want to do it, then say NO. If you don’t have the time to do it, then say NO. If you are already way over committed, then just say NO. If a telemarketer calls you on the phone and asks for a pledge, and you aren’t going to, don’t lead them along, or pretend… just say NO.

If someone asks you to do something that you cannot accept, you shouldn’t need to launch into the 20 minute explanation of your schedule, your health, your family problems… and all the reasons why you can’t say yes. Simply say “I’m sorry, NO, I can’t.” If you have a good reputation then they know you’re not being rude, or blowing you off, they know you can’t because you said so.

And when you learn to say NO, when you say YES to something, it will mean so much more to you and the people around you! You’ll be known as a person who is able to follow through. You will have integrity.

So the first thing is that we need to be careful what we say, and what agreements we make. Just let our YES be YES, and our NO be NO, and let that be that… anything else is evil.

Modern Vows You May be Breaking

The second application I’d like to make, is that we need to keep the vows we make — the YES’s and NO’s we’ve already got. I’ve been thinking about this, and this may hit home for some of you. We, as Christians who will stand before God, and who know that all of His things are holy, even us… must fulfil our vows, pledges and promises. He takes them very seriously because our integrity reflects His character, His Kingdom and His Son.

So let me ask you this. Are you fulfilling the agreements you’ve made? Are you looking for a way out? Or, are you breaking any? Remember the Psalm. “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” One “who keeps his oath even when it hurts”.  Here’s some examples of some promises that we make today. How are you doing on these?

Rental / Lease agreements. You promised to pay your rent on time, take care of the place, not sub-let, to report things that go wrong, and to clean up after yourself. How are you doing?

Copyright Agreements. Every movie and CD you’ve ever bought has had a copyright in it. In Canada you are not allowed to copy music or movies you didn’t pay for. Not even for “private use”. You can’t borrow from the library and put the music onto your computer. It’s illegal. Have you broken that agreement? Are you clean in this area?

If you have Netflix then you are only allowed to watch programming available in your region. Changing your computer to get the “American Netflix” breaks your terms of service agreement. It’s the same with American Satellite systems. They are illegal in Canada.

Business agreements. Are you fulfilling all of your business agreements? Are you doing good work, done on time, without gouging the customer for extra profit, cutting corners, using inferior products, and all the rest? Are you a trustworthy business person?

Employment contracts. When you started your job, you probably agreed to certain things when you signed an employment contract. You promised not to steal anything from work… not even a pen or a paperclip. You agreed to use your sick days when you are sick… not other times. You may have signed a confidentiality agreement. Employees, are you keeping it? And if you are an employer, then are you following your agreements? Paying on time and in proportion to their work, granting them their time off without guilt or frustration, making sure they get their break times, that they are trained and understand their job.

Visitor Agreements. When you bought that that day-pass to the zoo, the park, the campus, the hotel, or whatever, you probably accepted a visitor agreement. You agreed not to take pictures of certain things, not to take anything home, not to pick any flowers, to clean up after yourself, to stay away if you feel sick, and many have the agreement to “not make unreasonable demands”. Are you abiding by your agreements?

Loan or Credit Card contract. When you agreed to take their money, you promised you would pay it back. Are you? Or are you trying to find all sorts of ways around having to pay back what you owe them? People think that they are just big, evil corporations… but you made a contract with them. God takes that very seriously! Are you keeping your end of it?

Store agreements. When you bought that thing from the store, you agreed to pay for it. Did you pay the right price for it? If they made a mistake and gave you too much, did you go back and tell them and pay more? When that poor, underpaid, overworked cashier told you “I’m sorry, that’s not our policy”, did you freak out on them? You agreed to purchase it there. You paid for it. The return policy is written on your receipt, on the wall, on the website. Do you expect special treatment? Are you asking them to break their own rules, to make their YES into a NO, for your sake?

Church Membership. When you became a church member you agreed to certain things. You agreed to support the church financially, and with your time and abilities. You agreed to be actively involved in votes and meetings, even when they are boring.

When you voted for last year’s budget, they whole church raised their hands to say they would allow the deacons to spend the money, and that they would give in proportion. Have you been living up to that agreement? We have a large financial deficit this year, so either we agreed to spend too much, or people aren’t supporting in the way they agreed to.

There are people who used to attend this church, who agreed to support it during good and bad times, but left others here to pay the bills and fulfill their ministry responsibilities in their place. They broke their promise to the church.

When you voted for the elders and deacons you agreed to submit to the eldership, support new ministries with your work, attendance and finances. As a Church Member you agreed to be active in your spiritual development, and practice church discipline. If you are a member, are you doing these things, even when it’s inconvenient, or difficult… “even when it hurts”?

Marriage agreements. A vow taken before God for life. Even when it’s hard… when it’s next to impossible to see how it’s going to work out… are you willing to stay together and seek reconciliation? Are you putting effort in? Serving for, suffering for, loving, caring, and pursuing your mate like you are supposed to? Husbands, are you being Jesus to your wife? Wives are you respecting and caring for your husbands? Or is there a point at which you believe it is ok to break your covenant because it is too hard. Maybe not divorce, but merely avoid each other – live separate lives. Do you have that thing in the back of your mind that says, “If they do that again… I’m out of here… I’ll never forgive them!” Or, have you said to yourself, “I’m going to love them and serve them and keep my vows, no matter what!”

I could go on, but you get my point. Is your YES YES and your NO NO? Are you sticking to your contracts, agreements, and covenants… even when it hurts? Or are you like the world that seeks to blame others, wants special treatment, makes excuses, breaks promises, and walks away when it’s too hard?

You are a child of God who has the Holy Spirit within them, a new creation that does not love the things of the world anymore. Are you leaning on God and drawing from His strength so you can obey Him in this way?

Pastoral Prayer: Against Sin

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Pastoral Prayer Banner

It is a good day when you give us a glimpse into ourselves

Sin is our greatest evil, but you are our greatest good

Each of us has cause to loathe ourselves,

to not seek self-honour,

because when we look at ourselves,

by ourselves,

we realize that we are glorying in rubbish.

Our country,

our families,

our church

are worse because of our sins

– let us never have the false belief that our sins are small,

or that you are not angry with our sin.

Let us not take other good men,

families or churches as our examples,

holding them up as our idols,

and think that we are somehow good because we are like them

or better than them.

What pride!

No man is as good as you want them to be.

None of us are consistent.

None follow rightly in the ways of your holiness

or feel as they should when they are afflicted.

God, help us know when something is evil

when we are tempted to think it is right and good.

Help us to know, that when something is lawful according to the government,

that it is still wrong when it comes from evil purpose –

like a desire for reputation, for wealth, for worldly things.

Guve us grace to recall our needs.

Help us to know your will in scripture.

We need wisdom to guide others,

and daily repentance

which we so often neglect.

We need to have the spirit of prayer.

Keep us from having words without love.

Give us zeal for your glory,

never seeking our own ends.

Give us joy in you

and your will,

and a deep love for others.

You have an abundant fountain of grace.

Help us to not come up short of our need and desire for it.

Help us to touch the eternal spring.

Help us draw your life giving water from above.

In Jesus Name we pray, Amen

(Inspired by “Self Knowledge” from Pg 122 of “The Valley of Vision”)

How to Plan a Spiritual Retreat

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In my previous post, “How to Make a Strategic Withdrawal During Busy Times“, I said that I would be happy to help anyone that needs help during the planning stages. I realized after a reader took me up on that offer that it might be more helpful to post it here. If you haven’t read the previous article yet, I encourage you to, since this is a follow up.

Before You Start:

When it comes to making a get-away plan, it’s not as complicated as you might think.  First, if you have a “significant other” I recommend that you talk to them about a not-too-far-away time when you can spend 2 days away from home. Explain that it’s not a “Vacation”, but a “Spiritual Retreat”, and then tell them that, to be fair, you will free up a time for them to do this too! Then you’re not imposing, life is fair, and they have something to look forward to. Plus, they can help you with the planning stages and pray for you.

Once you have your date set, inform your church, your job, and anyone else that needs to know that you won’t be available and that your cell phone will only allow emergency calls. The iPhone has a very cool “Do Not Disturb” feature that only rings when one of your “Favourite” numbers call. Android has a couple apps that might help too.

I don’t recommend using “Sick/Stress Leave”. Here’s why. It’s best to use vacation time or your regular time off. If you have a nice boss, see if you can get your shift schedule changed around to be more compatible.

Regarding Food:

I recommend bringing a simple diet of healthy food that you bring with you (sandwiches, pepperoni sticks, sliced veggies, crackers and cheese, etc.). That way you don’t have to leave wherever you’re staying to go find a restaurant, and if you go for a walk, you can bring your food with you. Avoid big meals that need to be cooked and snack foods that will make you feel sluggish and ill. If you need a morning brew and are staying in a place with a coffee pot, great, but if not you might want to bring a thermos or two full. Bring some fruit juice as a nice treat.

Regarding Destination:

Where you go doesn’t have to be a big deal either. I recommend that you make a point to be alone for most of the time (i.e. don’t go to a coffee shop, a library, or the mall). If you have the money, a hotel room is perfect, but if that’s out of your price range, a camp ground or retreat centre is a good option. If you stay in a hotel, make sure you LEAVE THE ELECTRONICS AT HOME and CALL AHEAD AND GET THE TV REMOVED FROM THE ROOM!

There are lots of websites to look up Christian Retreat Centres. Here’s in the Ottawa area: http://alpha.ncf.ca/alpharet.html

Another option is to sleep in your own bed and then wake up early, have coffee, kiss the family goodbye, and take a drive up to a nice place where you can sit, walk and enjoy nature (I recommend a place like the Gatineau Hills). Come home when it gets dark and then go somewhere else (or back to the same place!) the next day.

The important thing is to know where you are going and stick to the plan. Don’t try to figure out where you want to go that morning or the night before. Have a place, and then a back-up place if the weather changes. Perhaps a quiet museum or an indoor arboretum.

A Note About Spiritual Attacks:

If you are going to get away and be with God, I have a bit of bad news for you: your life is going to get worse before it gets better. Why? Because you’re decision to grow in your devotion to God will make you a target for Satan. You’ll start finding a lot of excuses to forget about it, your work-life might get kooky, and the people around you may start going squirrely for no particular reason. In other words, you will be under spiritual attack.

Stay in daily prayer and devotion. After prayer, set the date for your “Strategic Withdrawal” and KEEP IT! Tell the people who need to know what you are planning to do and ask them to pray for you during the planning stages and while you are there.

Regarding “Chosen People”:

I recommend you call a good Christian friend of the same gender, or your small group leader of the same gender, or your pastor of the same gender, and ask them to meet you during that time. Whether they come to your room or meet you in a coffee shop, work out a time and place to sit down for a long, afternoon conversation with them (about 2 hours, but not more than 3).

Make sure they know that you are trying to be purposeful with the conversation and use it to grow spiritually. Tell them you are calling because you believe they can help you take another step forward in your Christian walk. Below is a list of discussion questions that you can ask them to spark conversation. Make sure you listen humbly and seek clarification.

  1. Where would you say I am in my spiritual pilgrimage?
  2. How have you seen me grow personally and spiritually over the past while? In what areas have I had the most growth?
  3. What do you think my spiritual gifts are?
  4. How have you seen God use me over the past year?
  5. How well do you think I handle pressure and stress?
  6. How well do you think I deal with disappointment, rejection and discouragement?
  7. Would you say that I’m a low-drama person or a high-drama person?
  8. Have you witnessed any times where I handled my anger poorly?
  9. Have you witnessed any times where I was selfish or proud?
  10. Have you witnessed any times where I have judged others too harshly?
  11. Looking at my life, would you say that I have my priorities straight?
  12. Do you see any addictions in my life?
  13. Am I materialistic in any way?
  14. Would you say that I obey 1 Timothy 5:1-2? (“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”)
  15. As you’ve observed me on Sunday mornings, would you say that I worship God in Spirit and in Truth?
  16. What is my reputation like among the people who attend church with us?
  17. Is there anyone that you are aware of that I need to ask forgiveness from, or give forgiveness to?

Anything Else?

I hope that helps! If there is anything I missed, let me know and I’ll add it to this post.

 

Echo The Voice of God – A Mother’s Day Sermon

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[If you are part of my church — SPOILER ALERT — this is Sunday’s sermon! I’m sending this out into the world early to help folks who are looking for a little Mother’s Day inspiration. This isn’t just for mom’s though, it is a message for everyone with children in their lives — the Biological, Adopted, and Spiritual Mothers and Fathers throughout the Christian Church.]

Psalm 78 is a Historical Psalm. A Psalm that tells the story of the nation of Israel in song, and along the way draws out lessons from it. This is the longest of the Historical Psalms, but it only really has one lesson, and it hits it home over and over: Bad things happen when you forget who God is and what He has done. Today I want to read the first 8 verses where the writer of the psalm introduces the theme and gives the first challenge: Pass your faith along to your children so they won’t forget and fall away — then we’ll  key-in on verses 2-4.

“1 O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old— 3 what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. 8 They would not be like their forefathers— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.”

The Decline of Mom’s and Dad’s

Moms and Dads, I want to give you a challenge today. I want to challenge you to pass along your faith to the future generations and be the second most dominant voice in their lives after the voice of the Holy Spirit. Some of you may not be biological mothers and fathers, but that doesn’t mean you are not spiritual parents, just as Paul was the spiritual father of Timothy. Just because you don’t have biological children does not mean you have not been given the responsibility and privilege to be the spiritual mothers and fathers to the next generation. This challenge is for you too.

We need men and women who pass along their faith without compromise, without error, and without fear. We need an older generation who will be a consistent voice in a child’s life, pointing them to Jesus, to Scripture, to God, to Prayer, and to Wisdom. We have a generation of kids who have a head full of voices which are causing them to fall away from God. The dominant voices in their lives are corporate advertisers, a corrupt educational system, intellectual garbage throughout the internet, their own foolish peers, and a host of pagans who are leading them away from faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dad’s have been absent since the industrial revolution which took them away from the farm or family business and stuck them in factories and buildings far from home for hours and hours per day. And since the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism we now also have a couple generations of children who have grown up without a consistent, faithful, positive, mother’s influence in their lives either. Instead they are raised by government institutions, television and their peers. Both Christian and secular studies are now showing how detrimental that has been to the children, and how messed up these kids now are.

I’m a Mama’s Boy

I’m the firstborn of two brothers and I’ll freely admit that I grew up a momma’s boy. I had a childhood that, I’ve learned, is exceptional these days. My dad was a shift-worker at the mill, my mom a stay-at-home mom. Both have been an active Christians for as long as I can remember. They are still married today and will celebrate their 37th anniversary this year.

When I think of my mother, one thing that comes to mind is her love of trying new things – something she’s passed on to me. She loves getting gizmos and do-dads from the shopping channel or other strange places and then seeing what they can do. She loves to experiment with food, decorating, crafts and lots of other things just to see what will happen – sometimes included me.

For example, I have very, very straight hair. One day, it crossed her mind that it might look nicer if it had a little wave in it, so she bought an at home perm kit. I wasn’t so sure about it, but she assured me that all she would do was me a little wave in my hair… what I ended up with was a very tight, very fuzzy perm that I had to explain to all of my friends for months to come.

My mom also made sure that I had some life-skills that most boys don’t have the luxury of knowing. She taught me things like etiquette and manners – like how to set a proper table with all the little forks and spoons (all of which I’ve almost completely forgotten). If a fancy dinner ever broke out in the cafeteria of my high school, I would have been prepared.

My Mother’s Voice

I didn’t get into all of the nonsense that many high school kids got into, and get into, these days, and I credit the grace of God and my mother’s persistence with that. At the time, it was very frustrating, and I argued with her about it, but she had a set of rules which she drilled into my head, and I lived by them. I give thanks to God for my mother’s voice, because I don’t have to deal with a lot of bad memories and regrets that others have to.

I had a secure home where I knew I was safe, accepted, loved and special. And in that home there was always my mother’s voice… and when I left that home, no matter where I was, she was in my ear, guiding me through life.

I remember, at times, wanting to do something bad… but not doing it… only because my mother wouldn’t approve. I had convinced myself, and my friends told me it was a good idea, and I wanted to, and it was right there in front of me… but there was always my mother’s voice… “Allan… that’s not a good idea. Allan… that’s trouble. Allan… that won’t end well. Allan… you’re not stupid, so don’t act stupid.” And so I’d walk away. My friends and peers, who didn’t have that voice in their head, got themselves in a lot more trouble than I did.

[It reminds of this song, which has the same message]

Moms, Dads and Spiritual Fathers and Mothers… my challenge to you is to be the voice in the head of the next generation. You may think that you’ve said it a 1000 times, and that you don’t need to say it again… but I tell you to say it 1000 times more. You may think that they are not listening, but I assure you, they are. You may think that it’s too late… but it’s never too late for a child feel love, comfort, forgiveness and wisdom from someone being guided by God.

One Generation

Turn for a moment to Judges Chapter 2 and listen to a scary passage. Judges 2:8-13,

“8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.”

There was the generation under Moses who followed God and came to the Promised Land. Then there was the generation of Joshua who had followed God and conquered the Promised Land. Now, read from verse 10,

“10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.”

One generation. All it took was one generation of parents not passing along the story, not teaching their kids, not being the voice in their children’s heads, for them to forget what God had done for them and turn to evil. How could a generation not tell the stories of Moses, the Red Sea parting, the plagues in Egypt, the pillars of fire and smoke, the walls of Jericho falling? How could they not pass along all that God had done? I don’t know, but it only took one generation.

And I believe it’s not different today. Surrounding us are a generation of children who were never told the stories of the faith – they are completely ignorant of Christianity. Their mothers and father’s didn’t pray with them, many because their grandparents didn’t pray either. We have a generation of parents who want to be friends with their kids… not their parent… they want to be cool, modern and culturally sensitive – instead of being loving, Godly and righteous.

We are surrounded by men and women who want to be politically correct instead of giving their child loving, godly guidance towards what is right, good and holy. A group of adults – parents and non-parents – who look at these children and say foolish things like “I just want to let them find their own way.” avoiding their responsibility to lead and guide them in the way they should go (Pro 22:6). We have a generation of adults who are not intentionally and proactively being the voice in the head of the child God has placed around you. Instead, they are allowing other voices to dominate. They are not the voice of reason, and truth, and godliness, teaching those children how to listen to God. And that’s all it takes to lose a generation.

Sharpen Your Children

I implore you not to give away this privilege and responsibility to others. Don’t let unbelievers and fools be the most prominent voice in the life of the young person (whether it be your own children, or the children God has placed around you). Mom’s especially — others do not love your child as much as you. Others do not know your child like you do. You need to be the dominant voice in your child’s life, the one they hear everywhere they go. Because if it is not your voice, it will be someone else’s. If you are not guiding them, teaching them, and helping them to see Jesus, then who is? Who are you allowing to be the foremost voice in your child’s life?

And if you do not have children, or you don’t have children at home, then you need to be all the more diligent and intentional about being inside the head of this generation. They are lost and they have no guidepost. They have no one pointing them to Jesus, to scripture and to wisdom – and the precious little time you have with them – whenever that is – is the time you must intentionally capture to give them a new voice in their heads. You can be the one voice in their lives that points them to Jesus when every other voice is seeking to corrupt them and turn them to an idol.

You may not think you’re cool enough, or have the right language, or understand technology, or the newest trends, but I promise you that none of that matters – the universal need of all people is for an authentic relationship with Jesus, and passing along that message has nothing to do with being culturally aware and everything to do with simply sharing your heart sharing with another person.

This is be heart of God for Christian mothers and fathers – and I would say by extension, spiritual mothers and fathers as well. Listen to what God said to the people of Israel when it came to passing along the stories. Listen to Deuteronomy 6:4-8,

“4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

DSC_0345The word “impress” there… is the word SHANAN and it means to be sharp, to sharpen or whet like a sword, or to prick or poke. Sharpen your children with these words. Poke your children with them. Drive these words into them. Let them be ever-present in their life, let them be everywhere they turn. Every day, all the time. When they wake up, they hear your voice, and your voice guides them to God. When they sit down at home, they hear your voice, and your voice guides them to Jesus. When they lie down to bed, the last thing they hear is your voice guiding them to know the Holy Spirit.

When they look at you and listen to you, they need to see and hear the heart of God. When they look around your home, on your doorframes, your walls, your gate, your fridge… they need to see the words of God, the stories of Jesus, the reminders of His Grace, provision, and protection. Parents, saturate your home and your children in the things of God – and remove the demonic, distracting, life-sucking, confusing and worldly garbage that has crept into your homes. You have been given the charge, the responsibility, and the privilege, and the gift of being the most consistent voice in this person’s life… will you guide them in the way they should go, or are you going to abdicate your responsibility and give that amazing gift to someone else? What voice will they hear for the most formative years of their life?

There are so many people that want to be the biggest voice in your child’s life. I pray that for your children, it is your voice. And that one day, as your child grows… that your voice will be mingled with, and then taken over by the voice of God, because you have taught the children God has given you to how to hear the voice of God.

Echo The Voice of God

And that’s the most important thing. That the words you repeat, that you embody, that you write on your homes, must be the words of God. Not your own personal opinion. Not your own worldly wisdom. Not your own hang-ups and fears. Not your own hopes and dreams for them, but God’s. God’s voice. God’s wisdom. God’s strength. God’s plans and hopes and dreams for that child, that boy or girl, that young woman or young man. What God wants may not be exactly what you want… let that be ok. I know that my mom never would have guessed in a million years that I would be a preacher one day… she still can’t! But she knows it’s the will of God. Point your children to the voice of God.

Let the words of Psalm 78 guide you. Commit to them. Let them be your commitment to your children. Commit to being different than the other voices out there.

A Pledge

I would like the mothers and fathers – those with biological children, adopted children, and the spiritual mothers and fathers who have spiritual children in their lives, just as Paul was a spiritual father to Timothy…  to stand repeat after me the commitment of the words of Psalm 78:2-4:

I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old—

what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children;

we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,

his power, and the wonders he has done.

Interview with a Christian Hypnotist

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I really enjoy having conversations with  people who think differently than I do. Not only do I learn a lot by listening to their worldview, but many have become my friends. These friendships help me grow as a disciple because they help me discover my assumptions, prejudices, and places where I lack knowledge or experience. It’s not that I agree with everything they say, but as their worldview collides with mine I am forced to reexamine my thinking about scripture, life, faith and dozens of other things (it’s often the case that I learn the most when we disagree!). It is my hope that sharing these interviews will challenge and help you grow too. I encourage you to read with a heart full of grace and a mind in pursuit of truth.

While you read, ask yourself questions like:

  • What can I learn about faith and life from this person?
  • What can I take away from this that will help me grow closer to Jesus?
  • What assumptions have I been making about this topic? Why did I assume that?
  • What is my emotional reaction to this? Why?
  • Are any of my personal prejudices being revealed?
  • Are their conclusions scriptural?

My first interview is with my good friend Adam who is wonderful Christian, father, husband and a “Consulting Hypnotist” Certified with the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) who practices in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. 

The Interview:

(The responses are all directly from Adam without any editing by me.)

1. Can you tell me a little bit of your Christian testimony?

A lot of people I know have come to Christ out of some major life event or crisis…not me. I have always felt that there was more to life than “just this”. I was at an Anglican church for the Baptism of my wonderful God Daughter when during the service before the Baptism I suddenly began to get the most spiritual feeling come over me and I knew that there was a God. From that moment on I began my spiritual journey by buying a NIV bible and devouring it word for word, from Genesis right through to Revelations.

I remember calling various churches asking lots of questions from Pastors and church staff. The date I don’t remember , but I gave myself to Christ one afternoon in my living room when I went on to my knees and asked Christ for acceptance and forgiveness. The one thing I’ve realized for sure about being a Christian is that everyday and every step in a Christian’s life is one of learning and discovering. It never ends. It’s not supposed to. I guess that’s why it’s really called the Great Mystery.

2. In your own words, what is “hypnotism”?

First of all it’s greatly misunderstood. Most people get their understanding of hypnosis from old T.V shows.

My first recollection of hypnosis was from an episode of Gilligan’s Island. The professor tried to hypnotize the Skipper so he could recall how to fix the radio and make it a transmitter. First of all I have to say that for a guy who could make electricity and generators from coconuts and and bamboo but can’t fix a transistor radio, I don’t REALLY think wants off the island. But I digress…

Hypnosis is ,simply put, a very relaxed state of mind where your unconscious mind can see and remember things so much more clearly than the conscious mind can. The unconscious mind, when very relaxed, can remove mental barriers that can prevent an individual from succeeding.

For example: a child is told he is not very smart and will never amount to anything in life. The child remembers this and the conscious mind believes it. The child grows up believing this. When hypnotized a persons unconscious mind sees the stumbling blocks of those hurtful, mean words and can remove that negative thought process, with the hypnotist guiding the individual and helping that individual to see the truth, the individual removes the negative blocks and sees things in its true light.

Hypnosis is in essence just a very relaxed state of mind where when asked, the mind can focus on specific things to the exclusion of everything else.

3. Hypnotism isn’t something Christians talk about (or practice) very often. How did you get into it?

I became involved in hypnosis honestly; my mother is a hypnotist and my great uncle was an FBI agent during a time when the power of the mind was a very big thing with world governments, be it “Remote Viewing” or reading of minds, etc. I have found this all very interesting and studied it. I’ve come to believe that the good Lord gave each one of us a mind and, unfortunately, we don’t utilize it as well as we should.

4. How have you used hypnotism to help people?

I have helped people to quit smoking, gain confidence, fight ailments such as IBS, and constant uncontrollable blinking. Some of these people have asked if I could incorporate faith in the hypnosis session, where it is re-enforced that God works in all helping, even through hypnosis.

5. Some Christian teachers have a problem with hypnotists and hypnotism for various reasons (including that Franz Mesmer, the “father of hypnotism” was apparently an occultist). Have you struggled with whether or not to practice it?

Ahhhh…once again little understanding of hypnosis rears its ugly head…

First and foremost hypnosis is NOT mind control! As a matter of fact if under hypnosis a person were asked to commit an act that they just morally couldn’t do THEY WOULDN’T DO IT! You can’t get a hypnotized person to do something they don’t want to do.

“What about those people on stage who get hypnotized and do funny things?” Remember the class clowns in high school, the extroverted person you know, the comedian of the group? Those are the ones who clamour to get on stage. They WANT to be the class clown…Hey, add some alcohol and it can help turn the introvert into a extrovert. In short, these folks aren’t doing anything they don’t mind doing.

So Mezmer was an occultist. I don’t know. Maybe, but so what. I know doctors who have performed abortions. Should we ban doctors from practising medicine? What about police officers who are on the take? Ban law enforcement people? How about politicians? Ever heard of a politician that was on the crooked side? Should we ban politicians then? (OK. You got me on that one.) What about Priests and Pastors who molest children or fleece their flock for all the money they have? Ban religious leaders?

Every profession has it’s small share of bad apples but most are genuine and sincere…out to help and do right. Hypnotists are no different. We have training and sincerity that can help everyday people with everyday problems. Like all people, whether we choose to do good or evil is an individual choice that God has given us all to make.

6. One site I went to said that hypnotism is problematic because of the transfer of control over to another person leaving the individual susceptible to suggestion. That seems to go against a number of scriptures (Galatians 5:22-23; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8). Is hypnotism biblical?

Again as I have explained hypnosis IS NOT mind control. Yes we as hypnotists can help people achieve the goals THEY want to achieve by using positive suggestions and guidance but hypnotists CAN NOT make anyone do something they don’t want to do. On the contrary; hypnosis can help people do what they want to do.

God commanded us all to be disciples and go and tell the story of Jesus and to spread the Good Word to every beast on earth. Is this not a type of hypnosis that we get people to focus on us and tell them the truth? Hypnosis is a way to help people be free negative binds, sometimes sinful binds. Are we not supposed to do that as Christians?

7. How do praying that God changes us and hypnotism work together?

I would recommend hypnosis to all people in Christ as a way to help free themselves from sinful bondage or feelings. It’s important to remember that hypnosis itself is a gift from God and is to be used to help.

Praying for guidance, clarity and success goes a long way in all things including hypnosis. I would venture to say that faith grounded people will stand to gain more from hypnosis than non-faith people simply by the virtue of having God with them on the inside.

 8. What advice would you give to a believer about how to get over bad-habits?

I always say that to overcoming anything negative, including bad habits, should start and end in prayer. Pray for guidance. Pray for a means of success. Pray with thanks at the successful conclusion. Pray even if you don’t feel you’ve succeeded. If you’ve prayed and you haven’t succeeded yet then your mission has not come to its conclusion. God will never lead you astray.

9. Is there anything else you would like to share about hypnotism?

I would always suggest to anyone who is interested in using hypnosis to make sure that the hypnotist they use is affiliated with the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) the largest professional hypnosis organization in  the world which ensures its members (which I am one) has proper training and professionalism. Like any professional you use, the client/hypnotist relationship should be a comfortable one. Use you instincts as you would any professional you seek.

Intentional Discipleship: A Warning

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[Click here for the video.]

We’re in the home stretch of The Foundations Series. We’ve certainly covered a lot of ground in the past 9 weeks, and it is my prayer that it has been helpful and has given you a new understanding of the Christian faith, Christ’s church, your responsibilities as a believer, and a newfound joy of being in relationship to your Lord and Saviour.

10. Intentional Discipleship 1 - A Warning

God Isn’t A Gumball Machine

I’ve worked hard over the last bunch of sermons to prepare for the next four. What I’ve been doing is laying the groundwork for the part that most Christians I know really want to get to. I’ve had many people over the years sit across from me in my office, or at a small group, or after service, and ask the same question: What do I need to do to grow as a Christian?

What many of these folks want is a program, a system, a list of things to do that will deepen their faith, help them know the Bible more, answer their theological questions, challenge them to serve more, and help them become a better Christian. I’m thankful for these folks. They have a desire, but they don’t know how to get started.

Other people will ask that same question, “What do I need to do to grow as a Christian?”, but they are not doing it out of a thirst for more, but out of a place of pain. What they are really saying is,

“I’m barely holding on to the faith here. My life is a mess, my priorities are messed up, I’m addicted to things that are hurting me, my relationships are in turmoil, I haven’t felt peace for a long time, I’m not enjoying church, I don’t have any close friends, I don’t feel worship, I think I’m losing my faith, my salvation, and maybe my soul.”

They are crying out for help. They want to know what spiritual activity will fix these problems and will make God bless them so they can feel better. I certainly don’t blame them for wanting that, and I most certainly want to help in whatever way I can.

This is why I’ve  spent so many weeks leading up to the next four weeks. I needed to build up an understanding of what it means to be a sinner, to be saved, to have faith, and to be a Christian. I needed everyone to have an understanding of the basics… the Foundations… of Christianity before I got into the “how-to” section.

I’ve been putting off this practical section in hopes that you won’t come into it believing that doing all of these things will give you the answers. No, these are tools by which you can access the answers you are looking for.

I’m going to say something strange now, so please pay attention: If you are trying to grow as a Christian, or are trying to figure out how to get out of the messes in your life, you don’t need to know how to pray better. You don’t need to read your bible more. You don’t need to fast, or join a class, or go to more worship services, or get a mentor, or get baptized, or learn more verses. It is not about what you can do.

As we come into this practical section it is absolutely imperative that you grasp that what I’m going to teach you is not a way to build up credit with God, twist His arm, impress Him, or anything else that will make Him indebted to you. Spiritual disciplines are not a way to make God bless you. Putting in more time in prayer or reading the bible does not equal God’s blessing. God is not a gumball machine that you can put in a quarter, spin the dial, and get something. This is not like exercise where if work hard enough you are guaranteed to see results. It doesn’t work like that. Your spiritual life doesn’t work like that.

Everybody – everybody! gets this wrong at some point. They look at God and say, “I’ve done so much for you, now you should do something for me.” And they site all of their spiritual works, their service, their church attendance, all the things they’ve given up, and list all the ways they have been a good boy or girl that deserves a cosmic cookie from God.

It doesn’t work like that. And if there is something that I wanted you to get out of the past 9 weeks it is that your salvation is a work of Jesus, out of the mercy and great love of God, nothing that you have done. God has poured out blessing to you, but it is from His grace, not out of a sense of indebtedness. He saved you from Hell, gave you a new heart, a new life, the gift of the Holy Spirit, of the church, and so much more, not because you deserve it, but because HE LOVES YOU SO MUCH.

Go to Church and Sin

Turn to Amos 4:4-5 and lets chew a while on the proper motivation of our hearts towards these spiritual disciplines. It is critical that we see that God is after our hearts, our love for Him, our relationship with Him, our obedience to His will, and NOT about our religious activities. He wants a relationship like a child has with a father, not like a bank has with a client.

This is such a common temptation that we have to snuff it out at the onset. We cannot come to our daily devotions, to church, prayer, study, visiting the sick, tithing, or anything else with the hopes of trying to get something out of God. It must, must, MUST be motivated by our love for Him, our thanksgiving for salvation, and our relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ.

Listen to how God talks to His people to show them how ridiculous their spiritual activities have become to Him. He says:

“‘Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years [some translators say “days”]. 5 Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings—boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Can you hear the sarcasm? There’s a lot going on here, but let me summarize. Gilgal and Bethel were important places of worship for the Israelite people, and they were full. They were equivalent to some “mega-churches” today, or the big revival tents of old. (Please understand that I’m not about to bash megachuches. Some of them are AMAZING, Christ honouring, God-fearing, people loving places, with amazing pastors and congregations!)

They were abuzz with religious activity. People were coming from all around to be a part of this amazing “church”. Let’s take a look at the description of what these churches were like 5:21-26 – but we’ll do it in reverse. God is speaking with derision and hatred towards them, but let’s look at them from a human point of view. Perhaps you’ll see some of yourself in these descriptions:

 “21 I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.”

These folks were having great festivals, parties, and assemblies. People were moving and shaking at this church! They were following enough of the religious language and ancient practices that they could call themselves a “church”, but not so much that they were being hampered by the old, boring, restrictive practices of the Law of Moses. Like many Christians today, the people who went to Bethel and Gilgal appreciated the modern twist that this church had taken on their worship times.

 “22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.”

This church, and these people were into new worship, new modes, the fun assemblies — the really good stuff — not the boring, orthodox stuff. In chapter 4 which we read before it says that the were coming either every three years or every three days… the idea being that they allowed people to sacrifice either less or more often than they were required so they could show how open, spiritual and cool they were. Show up whenever you want and you don’t have to follow the rules.

Verse 5 says they were bringing “leaved bread” to their sacrifices, which was strictly prohibited by Leviticus 2:11. So in other words, “Worship whenever you want, however you want, in the way you want, with the things you want, and the people you want – it’s all about you!” I can just hear them saying, “God is all about love! Love wins! God isn’t just about rules and regulations, He wants you to enjoy life, to be successful, to have great bounty… so come, bring your sacrifices to the church if that’s what you’re into – or don’t.  In fact, this is a place where you can and celebrate your offering — bring your good stuff, your “choice fellowship offerings” and we will make sure that we tell everyone – then God and everyone who comes will be impressed with you! Or don’t… whatever! It’s all about you!”

“23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.”

This church had a great band too! All the most modern instrumentality, the coolest singer, the nicest light system. This was a good show to come and watch!

 Skip to verse 26, “You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.” Another translation has this, “You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves…”

They had some cool stuff that other churches didn’t have. They were so inclusive! Not only did they worship Yahweh, but they allowed you to worship Sikkuth and Kiyyun who were associated with astrology and the planet Saturn. They had pagan idols right inside the church. This church didn’t make you feel bad for checking your horoscope, in fact they printed it right in the bulletin. They had all the coolest religious stuff from all the different religions – prayer wheels, and native spirituality, worshipping mother earth, you can call God a “she” or an “it”… they let you worship however you wanted, whenever you wanted and whoever you wanted. Worshipping these other gods also had the added benefit of allowing you to circumvent the Law of God and indulge in all kinds of sexual immorality and become wealthy through any means possible. You could have your religious cake and eat it too!

This church wouldn’t judge you. They would accept you with open arms. They would let you feel like you were worshipping the One True God, but also let you have a couple of other pagan gods on the side. They wouldn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to do, believe anything you didn’t like, or do anything difficult. They were all about health, wealth, freedom and peace.

A Church You Can Brag About

Look at the end of Amos 4:5:

“‘…brag about your freewill offerings—boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,’ declares the Sovereign Lord.”

This is a church you could be proud to call home. They are in all the papers, the pastor is on all the tv shows, he writes best selling books, the band has their own top 10 CD! I bet that was their slogan: A Church You Can Brag to Your Friends About. This church was all about letting people do what they “love to do.”

A lot of people want this kind of a church and this kind of Christianity. They are quietly ashamed of their conservative church that believes the Bible is the Word of God and that Jesus is the Only way. They wish their church would get more press, be more popular, compromise a little more, and have some of the things the cool churches have. They wouldn’t say it in public, and they certainly wouldn’t say it to their church, but they quietly believe it in their hearts. They can’t brag about their church because it is too closed minded, too conservative, to bible-thumping, not open enough to current trends, current thinking, the new social agenda, modern viewpoints and other worldviews. I believe this is why many Christians swap churches. Not because of any biblical reason, but because their church isn’t cool enough for them.

A Pagan Mindset

(Found on tumblr from “thoushallalwayskill”)

Why do I tell you all this in the context of personal, spiritual development and as an introduction to our “how-to” about intentional discipleship and growing in the faith? Because I need you to get the motivations of your heart straight before you ever start down this path of Christianity. I need you to have your heart in the right place before you take the next step of discipleship. I need your spiritual life to be motivated by your love for your God, your thankfulness to your Saviour Jesus Christ, and a passion to connect with His Holy Spirit – not by a selfish desire to get health, wealth, comfort or anything else.

Does God want to give you good things?

Will you find peace if you do these things?

Will you be comforted? Will you be able to deal with stress, and loss, and fear, and anxiety better?

I would say unequivocally YES!

I believe that if you practice these disciplines you will, without question, grow as a person, become a better person, a better husband or wife or child, a better worker, be able to save your money, live on purpose and feel like you are contributing to the world, be physically, emotionally and spiritually healthier! BUT If you are doing these things for that reason, you are completely missing the point. I hope you understand that!

Read what Jesus said in Matthew 6:31:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

The pagan mindset is to try to manipulate the spiritual realm for advantages in the physical realm. They build whole religious systems around manipulating their gods to do things they want to do. They do horrible things like cutting themselves or child sacrifice so they can prove their worth and their fear, and they do ridiculous things to impress their gods so they can get goodies from them.

A pagan worries every day about whether or their god is going to bless them, curse them, give them good things, or wipe them off the planet. They just don’t know. And it is completely un-Christian, counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for a Christian to think that way about their Heavenly Father! He’s not a petty, angry, easily manipulated, easily distracted and sinful pagan God, but a loving Father who knows your deepest needs and has already made provision for you by sacrificing His beloved Son on your behalf.

In the next verse Jesus tells us how we need to approach spiritual maturity and our study for the next 4 weeks. He says,

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Sometimes, as you seek God’s Kingdom and Righteousness first, God will take you places you never wanted to go, lead you to do things you never wanted to do, and use you in ways you never dreamed possible. The fruit that is going to come out of your life when you turn your life over to Jesus (and stop trying to use Him as a spiritual ATM) will surprise you, and will always require sacrifice. He will ask for more and more of you as you give yourself more and more to Him.

And as you do that, I promise you, you will not be thinking “Wow, I had it better before, when I was a pagan.” You will be thinking, “I can’t believe where I am, how much I care, how hard this is, how much of me this is requiring… and I can’t believe how much joy there is here! I would never have chosen this for myself, but knowing I’m where God wants me gives me something I could never get from the pleasures of the world.”

Your life and mine can be a flourish of religious activity, and our hearts can still be far from God. It’s possible, like in the time of Amos, we could see a revival of sorts happen in our church, but have it be a worldly one. It’s possible that you could do everything I’m going to talk about over the next 4 weeks, and do it with all your might, and have none of it deepen your relationship with God, but instead puff you up with pride because you feel so super religious – or cause you to feel absolutely depressed because it’s not working and you feel like God’s not doing His part. I don’t want any of that to happen.

True Revival

Let me close by quoting what J Vernan McGee’s commentary says about Amos 4:4-5 (Pg 354):

“It’s very easy for us to join a large, happy religious crowd, enthusiastically sing rousing songs, and put money in the offering plate, and yet not be changed in our hearts. The test of a spiritual experience is not ‘Do I feel good?’ or ‘Did we have a big crowd and a good time?’ The real test is “Do I know God better and am I more like Jesus Christ?’

The people in Amos’ day didn’t return home determined to help the poor, feed the hungry, and care for the widows and orphans. They went home with the same selfish hearts that they had when they left home, because their ‘worship’ was only empty ritual (Isa 1:11-17). Any religious ‘revival’ that doesn’t alter the priorities of Christians and help solve the problems of society isn’t a revival at all.

It’s interesting that Amos mentioned music, because that’s an important part of the church’s worship. However, what the Jews thought was beautiful music, God considered nothing but ‘noise’ (Amos 5:23). People today pay high prices for tickets to ‘Christian concerts.’ Yet they won’t attend a free Bible study class or Bible conference in their own church….”

I find that very convicting, and will spend time seeking God in the next while for places in my heart where I have been trying to manipulate Him like a pagan or where He has been changing me, and asking me to respond, but I have stopped Him because of my own fear, prejudice, unmet expectations, or plain laziness. I encourage you to do that as well this week and as we get into the practical steps towards spiritual maturity next week.

Growing At Church: 8 Ways to Lean On Your Leaders

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It is my deep desire to help you pursue your faith, fall in love with Jesus and His church, serve and make your church the place where you expect great things to happen. What happens in the Christian Church is what is going to last for eternity. What we do together is what we will be talking about and celebrating with Jesus one day. Your church is worth pursuing and sacrificing for.

The Most Important Organization on Earth

I’ve been part of the Christian church for a long time. For literally as long as I can remember, with only a short period of rebellion during my first year in college to break the chain, I have been a part of a Christian family and have attended Christian services.

The Christian church is very important to me and the closer I have gotten to Jesus the more I care for His church. The longer I have worked for the church the more I’ve grown to believe that it is the most important organization on the planet. We are capable of so much more good than any other organization. There are Christian churches in every nation in the world full of believers who want to do good for others and share the message of salvation. Christians around the world are working hard to make the gospel real in people’s lives by sharing not just the message of salvation, but practical examples of grace too.

Christian Relief Organizations

I don’t usually make political commentary during my sermons. Politics are complicated and I don’t consider myself informed enough to be able to speak on the subject with any kind of authority, so I generally avoid any kind of political commentary. But something happened a little while back that bugged me, and seemed to bug a lot of evangelical Canadians. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, said that evangelical Christians go “completely against” Canadian values and law. He was talking about the Crossroads group that builds wells and provides clean water to people in Uganda, who also teach that homosexuality is a sin.

This irritates me because on of our national core values is being a nation that helps other nations — and it is the Christian Church throughout the centuries who has led the charge of mercy missions throughout the world. No, Christians don’t have a perfect record, but it is overwhelmingly the Christian church who have left their homes, spent their money, risked and lost their lives, in order to bring mercy (and the gospel) to the world. That’s very Canadian.

I did a quick search of the top disaster relief organizations in the world and then specifically went down the list of groups that went to aid in Haiti in 2010. They are overwhelmingly Christian organizations. Samaritan’s Purse, Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army, Feed the Children, Food for the Poor, Habitat for Humanity, and World Vision (and I could go on and on) help millions and millions of people around the world and they are all Christian-based organizations [even Red Cross was started by a Christian]! Of course, this doesn’t even count the work of local Christian churches.  These amazing people have been bringing global assistance to victims of natural disasters, war, disease and famine, at great cost to themselves. They share food, water, shelter, and education to the most struggling, most dangerous areas of the world — in Jesus’ name. The Christian church is changing lives all over the world, all the time, and I am proud to be part of that group.

Living Out Our Purpose

Over the years I’ve learned a lot of lessons about what it means to care for His people and the place He has for me in His organization. I spent a lot of years working through who I am in Him, and who I am NOT – and trying to reconcile those two things for His glory. In the same way I  have been praying about and working out our church’s place in the global body of Christ – our responsibility, our local expression of the Kingdom. I believe that God has a mission and a purpose for every believer, and I believe that He brings believers together locally to accomplish a His special purpose together.

God plants His churches and calls every Christian. He has a purpose for us, and it is up to us to work out together what that is. It is only when we are pursuing our purpose that our relationship with God will grow, we will mature as disciples of Jesus, we will see the work of the Holy Spirit, and our love for each other will grow deeper.

Applying the Truth

I was talking to a pastor whom I hold in very high esteem this week who reminded me that I missed an important part of my sermon last week (and maybe the last few weeks): the application. He reminded me that it’s not enough to simply relate the truth, it must be grounded in reality and give us something to do. His words ring in my ears, “Most people don’t really care about the truth… they just want something that works.” So I can stand up here all day long sharing truth, but it only becomes helpful when coupled with application I think a lot of people, if given a piece of truth can’t (or won’t) naturally take the leap to applying it without some guidance.

The Apostle Paul, as he was writing his various letters to the churches, would write deep theological truths, and then give commands and encouragements on how to apply it. It’s almost a 50/50 split – half teaching, half application. God is just as interested in us knowing the truth as He is in us living it out.

A Deficit of Maturity

Last week I said this:

“If we are in KOINONIA with Jesus, then we will have KOINONIA with the people of the church. It’s a powerful truth that the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we will feel to His people, and the further we are from Jesus, the further away we will feel from His church.”

I want to go back to that for a moment. There is a dramatic deficit of mature believers today, and I believe one of the key reasons people are distant from Jesus is because they are distant from the church. There is a consumerist mindset among Christians where they are more concerned with being “fed” than growing closer to Jesus and the people around them.

Some of you feel a tug in your heart to grow closer to Jesus but you don’t really know where to start. You have questions that plague you, which are a stumbling block on your spiritual journey. You don’t know where to find the tools you need to take the next step towards Christian maturity. Some of you are struggling with relationship issues, addictions, fears, anxiety, anger, depression… and you’ve never told anyone – or you’ve only told a few people who have been affected by your pain – and you don’t know what to do.

Some of you have a gift, but you’ve never used it to serve God, and don’t know what it’s like to bless others in the way God designed you. You may even think that you don’t have a gift because you don’t look like the people around you. There are things you love to do, that you are good at doing, and have no idea how to do it in a way that would serve God and His church. Some of you have a passion in your heart, something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, but don’t know how to take the next step towards pursuing that passion.

This is why God created the church! You are in the exactly the right place to become exactly who God has created you to be – but many Christians don’t know, or don’t believe that to be true. They are looking for something else, when what they need is right in front of them.

God designed this organization, His Church, to be a place where you can reach your full potential to bless God and others. This is a place where you can find healing for your deepest hurts, and support in your darkest times. This is the greatest organization in the world, which has the greatest resources, the longest reach, the best cause, the most reason, and the best Leader – Jesus Christ.

Over the next couple of weeks, as part of this Foundations series, I want to share with you a few ways that you can reach your potential right where you are.

Lean On Church Leaders

The first way that I want to share with you about how to use the church to grow as a believer is to Lean on Your Church Leaders. As one who God has called to be a church leader, this one is particularly close to my heart but it’s difficult to talk about. If I don’t tread carefully here I can easily come across arrogantly, as though I have some kind of Messiah complex or think I’m better than everyone else. I don’t believe that, so I want to make a bit of a biblical case for what I’m talking about here.

A Biblical Case for Christian Mentors

The scriptures talk a lot about imitating not only Christ, but also other Christians especially good, Christian leaders.

  • Paul says to the Philippians , “Join with others in following my example.”(3:17).
  • To the Thessalonians  he says, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord… And so you became a model to all the believers.” (1 Thess 1:6-7).
  • To the Corinthians Paul says, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Cor 4:16)
  • To the elders of the church Peter says, “…be examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3)

Hebrews 13 has a couple of verses which give some pretty strong commands to believers:

  • “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

Why It’s Not Happening

Christian mentoring is supposed to be normative in the church, but it’s not happening the way it used to. I believe there are a myriad of reasons why it isn’t happening in churches today.

1. Because of some very high-profile failures, people hesitate to trust Christian leaders, and so they write them all off.

2. Some people worry that imitating another Christian or even having leaders in the church goes against scripture because it makes idols of them. Which can be true, but I would argue is rarely the case on the local level (though it can happen to people who begin to idolize certain “celebrity” pastors and teachers).

3. Another reason might be the rise of these “celebrity Christians” who become a long-distance models for Christians who would consider them their mentor. They don’t meet with them, talk to them, know them, or pray with them, but they consider them mentors. It’s not that we can’t learn from these folks, but Christian leaders and mentors are meant to be people who you meet with regularly, who know your name, your family, your struggles, and who care for you as an individual. Long-distance, celebrity preachers, can’t do that.

4. Another problem is that there are a lot of Christian leaders who simply are not worth imitating because they are not pursuing their relationship with Jesus. It’s not a lack of desire for some people, but a lack of option. Unfortunately the Canadian and North American church does have some bad eggs, and many churches are stuck with immature elders and leaders, and they are ruining it for those who desire to grow.

5. Another problem is that many Christian leaders don’t see it is their responsibility to mentor other believers. In my experience, and after a lot of reading, I know that many church leaders think their job begins and ends with getting their ministry tasks done. I know of very, very few Christian leaders who believe their primary job is to replicate their faith into the next generation of believers. I’m not sure if it’s laziness, or they are too busy, or it’s lack of training, (or all of those), but most Christian leaders don’t find mentoring and training to be an important part of their job.

6. On the other hand, there are some great leaders out there who are not being taken advantage of! It really does break my heart that there are some great Christian leaders, pastors and teachers in North America – hundreds and even thousands of competent ministers who know the scriptures, pray for their people, have wisdom that they want to share – but are watching the people they care for whiz by them towards destruction without so much as a word. These leaders, both the professionals and the lay-leaders (and I know how they feel), stand ready to bring sound teaching, good doctrine and wise counsel, practical love and have access to lots of ways to help – but coming up against a wall that they can’t seem to get over.

How To Pursue Your Church Leaders

So my encouragement to you, as it is to every Christian I talk to, is to pursue your local Christian leaders. That’s how God designed his church to work.

Here’s what I’m not saying: I’m not saying we are perfect – far from. But I and the other leaders of the church have been given to you as a gift from God (Ephesians 4:11-12) – and that can come across as prideful, but believe me I (and the other leaders here) don’t see it that way – if anything, it’s terrifying (especially Hebrews 13:17)!

So, that being said, let me share a few ways that you can take the ball and run with it. I’m going to share some of these from a personal perspective, but I believe they are universally applicable for other church leaders as well. So, here are some ways you can use your church leaders to help you grow in spiritual maturity:

1. Test us. Make sure they are called of God and qualified to lead. God has a list of requirements in scripture for the men and women He calls to be leaders in His church. The list of qualifications for elders in the church is found in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9. The list of qualifications for deacons is found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Before you submit to their authority and give them a voice in your life, check out their life out and test them first.

2. Tell us your dreams, aspirations, fears and anxieties. Take off the mask, and take down the wall. Share your heart with them, not just the news and weather. My heart is to help you meet Jesus in new ways, and to help you explore your full potential in Him, and I can’t do that unless I get to know you better. It does you no good at all to pretend in front of me, make things up, or put on some kind of holy façade to impress me. Let me know what is going on in your heart, and let me help you unpack that from a Christian, Biblical worldview.

3. Bother us. Don’t think you’re a nuisance or a bother because serving you is what we live for! I have been given to you for the purpose of helping you meet Jesus. Like any other person I am happiest when I am able to exercise my gifts and abilities for the glory of God – but my gifts require you in order to exercise them! You are not a bother, you are the whole reason we are here.

4. Ask us tonnes of questions. We’ve put a LOT of work into studying life, scripture, theology, history, the church, personal and family counselling, and some other things because we want to be able to help you. Pastors all over the world are seeking God in prayer and studying their little hearts out so they can be of service to you! So ask us some things – there’s a good chance you’re going to get a decent answer, or at least you’ll have a fellow believer who will be seeking those answers with you. The only thing keeping you from a good answer to that nagging question is yourself.

5. Trust us. This could come across as a sort of power trip, but if you have checked us out using the criteria in 1 Timothy and Titus, then we are supposed to have a good reputation, care for people, be sober-minded, respectable, not quarrelsome, gentle, and not be in this job for money or our own selfish pursuits. One of the qualifications of an elder is that we not become “puffed up with conceit” because as soon as we start power-tripping or manipulating people or situations to our advantage we lose the blessing of God.

This is just standard, no-brainer advice. If you walk into the doctor and he says, “you’re sick, take this pill”, you do it. If you walk up to your personal trainer and he says, “eat this and do these exercises”, it’s not a power-trip, it’s why you came to them in the first place. Yes, anyone can be wrong, but hopefully what this Christian leader is saying is coming from scripture, blessed by the Spirit of God, from a heart that cares for you, and is tempered with the wisdom of experience. No, you don’t have to submit, and there’s really nothing we can do about that, but it’s to your own disadvantage not to. At least give it a try!

6. Help us pray for you. I’ve said this already, but it can’t be overstated – share your heart and concerns with us. Stop me where I am and ask for prayer. Call me and ask for prayer. Email me and ask for prayer. It’s not that my or any other Christian leader’s prayers are worth more than yours, or anyone else’s, or that God somehow listens to us more than you, but a huge part of my ministry, according to scripture (Acts 6:4), is to pray for you, and I can only do that effectively if I know what is happening in your life. I can mobilize people to pray for you too. I have a voice and connections you don’t have, and I can get more people to pray, if that’s what you want. Share your prayer concerns with me and the leaders of the church.

7. Get to know us as people. Some people see Christian leaders as talking-heads who aren’t really people, but super-busy, bible-quoting machines, holier-than-thous who float above everyone because they get to go to special meetings and talk on Sunday. Let me assure you that Church leaders are just people. I like wings, beer, steak, pizza, pool, sports, books, and tv – maybe even a little too much. Many Christian leaders are introverts (including myself), and so it’s tough for them to get to know people sometimes. Sure, we love people, but we also hide behind the work of ministry so we don’t have to get out of their comfort zone. So we need you to come at least half-way. I would like to get to know you and your family more, so please give me a call and let’s get together. Not because it’s my job, but because I really want to know you more.

8. Lovingly support us, and help us grow so you can grow. The scriptures say in 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” This is a tough job. It’s public, political, religious, and all-encompassing. Our hearts are on the line every day. We are under constant spiritual attack. It is a HUGE, terrifying, weighing, responsibility to bring the Word of God to people week-after-week in a way that is infused with the Holy Spirit, proclaims the gospel of Jesus, honours and worships God, and helps the people we care about.

Pastors and Christian leaders are dropping like flies – 1500 leaving the ministry each month due to burnout, conflict or moral failure. If you have a good pastor (elder, deacon), be good to them and take care of them. Do what you can to strengthen them, and help them to grow as a believer, a leader, and a person. Take care of them financially, physically and emotionally. Bless them so they can be a blessing to you.

What’s In A Name?

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I’m a HUGE fan of the AWANA program and have been blessed with the opportunity to speak a couple of times. Last night I gave a talk called “What’s In a Name?” to a group of kids aged 5-12 and their leaders. It’s an adaptation of the sermon I gave on Sunday, but I was amazed how God changed the message when writing for a younger group.

Here’s the audio (12 minutes) from the older kids (9-12):

Here’s the audio from the younger kids (5-8):

Let’s play a name game. Here are some things I bet you didn’t even know had names:

  • What’s the name of the metal part on the pencil that holds the eraser? FERULE
  • What’s it called when your second toe is longer than your big toe? MORTON’S TOE
  • What’s it called when your tummy rumbles? A WAMBLE
  • What’s the name of that little groove between your nose and lips? A PHILTRUM
  • What’s the name of the little plastic bit at the end of your shoelace? AN AGLET

Names of Things

Do you know the name of the church you are in right now? Rideauview Bible Chapel. Chapel is another name for Church. Do you know where the word “church” comes from? It’s a strange word, isn’t it? What is a “church”? Some of you here say that you “go to church”, but does “church” just mean “the building where Christians go to worship Jesus”?

The word “Church” actually means “belonging to the Lord”. It’s used to describe a building that belongs to the Lord and also the people inside of it that “belong to the Lord”. But there are lots of other names in the Bible that are used to describe what being part of the Church is all about – and I want to share three of them with you.

“CONGREGATION”

This is the word that Jesus uses to describe His people. Do you know what a “congregation” is? It just means any group of people that aren’t in their own house. Any group of people, anywhere, is a “congregation”. If you go to a restaurant and there are other people there, you are part of a congregation. If you go to a baseball game, or a hockey game, you’re part of a congregation. It just means “a group of people who aren’t in their home.”

But when Jesus use it, He used it in a special way. In Matthew 16 (vs 16 & 18) Peter says to Jesus “‘You are the messiah, the Son of the Living God’…Jesus replied ‘…on this rock I will build my church…” “Congregation” and “church” are the same word, but did you hear that? What did Jesus call us? “MY Church”. That what He calls us, you and me, “My Church”.

Isn’t that cool? When we are together with other Christians, we are part of a group of people who aren’t just together… we are together because Jesus called us together to be HIS!

Do you ever use that word – MINE! Sometimes you hear little kids use it. “That toy is MINE!” MINE! What do you mean when you use it? When someone comes and takes something that is yours and you think, “Hey, that’s MINE!”

You mean “I love that! I want it! I want to protect it! I’ll take care of it! I want it around me! It’s MINE!” And when you lose something that is MINE, I’ll be sad, right?

That’s how Jesus thinks of His church. We are HIS! He loves us, wants us, protects us, takes care of us, wants us around Him. We are HIS!

So if sometimes you feel like you aren’t very special, or that you aren’t worth much, or are feeling sad, forgotten, alone, or afraid, just remember that Jesus is looking at you and saying “Hey! He’s MINE! She’s MINE! I love them! I want them! I’ll protect them! I want to be around them forever!”

“THE WAY”

Another way the Bible describes the church is by calling us “The Way”. Have you ever heard that? Remember what Jesus called Himself? “The Way, the Truth and the Life”, right? Well, in the very beginning of the Christian church, in the book of Acts, Christians would call themselves “The Way”.

“The Way” is just another word for “the Road” or “the Path”. What street do you live on? I live on Chatelain AVENUE. Right now we are on Prince of Wales DRIVE. Maybe you’ve driven down Merivale ROAD, or Scott STREET. Avenue, Drive, Road, and Street are all just words for the path that you go down to get where you’re going.

When Jesus said that He is “The Way”, He meant that He is the road that we need to go down to get where we are going. Remember the whole verse? “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) So, if you want to get to the Father, who is God, how do you get there? Through Jesus. He calls Himself the only road to God, the only road to heaven, the only road to eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. And so the church started calling themselves “The Way”, which meant that they were following the only “Way” there was to be saved from our sins. They were following Jesus.

I think this is a very cool word for the church because it reminds me that whenever I feel worried, lost, or afraid, or confused, or don’t know what to do, or how the future is going to go… I remember that Jesus is “the Way” and that as long as I’m following Him, I don’t need to worry about all those things because He knows what He’s doing.

Do people ask you what you’re going to be when you grow up? I wanted to be a computer guy, but God made me into a Pastor instead. I would never have guessed that was going to happen. But as long as I was following Jesus, He was leading my down His “Way”.

So don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re going to be when you grow up. Don’t worry if you don’t know how your day, your week, or your month is going to go. Just keep reading your bible, talking to Jesus, and listening to Him, and He’ll guide you on His “Way” and will get you to where you need to go.

“CHRISTIANS”

There’s another word that the bible uses to describe the people in the church, it’s the word “Christians”. It means “follower of Christ” or “belonging to Christ”. You’ve heard that word before, and many of you here would say that you are Christians. You’ve asked Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and now you are a Christian.

But did you know that when people were first called Christians, it wasn’t a nice thing to be called! No, it was meant to be an insult. People didn’t really understand who Jesus was, what He had done, or what people did when they became a Christian, so they thought all Christians were really weird.

Think about it. We call each other family, and we say that we are “brothers and sisters in Christ.” Well, someone who didn’t know anything about Christians would look at two people who were total strangers calling each other brothers and sisters and think they were crazy! Or two people who called themselves brother and sister and then got married!  That would be weird!

And when we have communion we say that we are remembering Jesus dying on the cross by drinking wine that represents His blood, and eating bread that represents His body. Well some people thought that Christians actually got together and drank real blood and ate real people! They didn’t know it was just wine and bread, they thought Christians were cannibals!

I think this is a cool name too because I’m reminded that when we become Christians, we are going to be misunderstood and people are going to think we are weird. When we close our eyes and pray before we eat, we are going to look different than the people who don’t thank God for their food. When we tell people that we don’t want to join in when they are doing something bad, we are going to look different and maybe even lose some friends. When we say that we believe the Bible is the word of God, some people who don’t believe that are going to make fun of us. When we go to church on Sunday and miss out on an important practice, or an important game, our team is going to think we are weird. When we don’t watch the same tv shows and movies as everyone else, they are going to think we are crazy.

But this word Christian, reminds me that it’s ok to be different. In fact, being a Christian means I’m going to be different. Christians don’t belong to the world, they belong to Jesus. We don’t do what everyone else does, we do what Jesus does. We don’t act like, look like, sound like, behave like, or think like the rest of the world – and that’s ok, because don’t want to be like the rest of the world. We want to be like Jesus.

The Foundations: What is a Church?

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For some, a “church” is simply a building. If you punch the word “church” into Google images that’s what you get – pictures of beautiful buildings. You’ve probably been asked the question, “Do you go to church?”, as though “church” was a destination to reach, or an address to be found. If it was the middle of the night and you happened to drive by your church building you might  say, “That’s my church!”, even if the lights were off and no one was there. The word “church” can be used to describe a building, but that’s certainly not the full meaning, and the etymology of the word “Church” is actually quite interesting.

I clearly have too many A's in my name.
I clearly have too many A’s in my name.

EKKLESIA – “A Congregation”

The word we normally read in the New Testament as “church” is the Greek word EKKLESIA, which simply meant “a congregation of citizens called out from their homes into a public place” – there wasn’t really a religious connection to the word – it could be any congregation of people for any reason. When Jesus looked at Peter and said in Matthew 16:18, “…on this rock I will build my church…” He was used the word EKKLESIA to refer to His “called-out ones”, or His “congregation” – the special group of people that would be His followers.

Throughout scripture the word “church” is used to describe a congregation of believers, but never to describe a building. In Romans 16:5 Paul says, “Greet also the church in their house.” showing the clear difference between the congregation and the building. A New Testament believer would never have said “I go to church”, they would have said “I’m part of a church”. The church is the people, the house is the building.

HODOS – “The Way”

Another common word used in scripture to describe the followers of Jesus was HODOS, or “The Way”. When Paul was running around persecuting the church he was chasing a group who called themselves “The Way”. Acts 9:1-2,

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

Jesus called Himself “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6), a word that simply meant “the path”, or “the road”, but was also used to describe “A way of thinking, feeling or deciding”. Just like today if we said we want to “walk a mile in their shoes”, we don’t their actual shoes, but their way of life.  Followers of Jesus said that they were following The Way of Jesus.

CHRISTIANOS – “Christians”

That’s what they called themselves, but later, as the church grew and spread, the non-believing culture started calling them something else – CHRISTIANOS or “Christians”. Acts 11:26 says,

“For a whole year they met with the church [Notice it doesn’t say “they met at the church”] and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

This wasn’t meant to be complimentary. The ending “–ians” simply means “belonging to the party of” or “follower of”, so it was shorthand for this crazy group of people who kept talking about this back-from-the-dead Jesus fellow who turned random people into brothers and sisters who met together regularly to eat His body and drink His blood (Christians were pretty misunderstood at the beginning – and still are today, I suppose). These “Christians” said that Jesus was the one whom the Jews called Christ, so the culture around them started calling them “Christians” – “followers of Christ”. Amazingly, and in a relatively short period of time after Jesus walked the earth, these believers went from being a small “congregation” to an identifiable group, distinct from Judaism and distinct from the Gentile religions.

“Originally built by the mother of Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D., the Church of the Holy Sepulcher commemorates the hill of crucifixion and the tomb of Christ’s burial.”

KURIAKOS – “Church”

Let’s see what we have so far. We have a Congregation [EKKLESIA] of Christians [CHRIASTIANOS], who call themselves “The Way” [HODOS]. So why do many English translations of the bible use the word “Church”? Where did that come from?

The word “Church” actually comes from a different Greek word – KURIAKOS which simply means “the lord’s” or “belonging to the lord” (KURIOS = “lord”). It is used in scripture a couple of times (1 Cor 11:20, Rev 1:10), and the word could mean any human lord, but it always refers to Jesus in scripture. For Christians there really is only one Lord, so when Christians started to gather into larger groups, designate places of worship, and even build buildings, they would call them KURIAKOS – places that “belong to the Lord”.

This really took off when Emperor Constantine (circa 300AD), the first Christian Emperor of Rome, started building places of worship all over the place and wanted to set them apart from the other public buildings he was erecting and so called them KURIAKOS. The pronunciation of the word changed over the years, but now the buildings that we build which are meant to house a group of believers still have that same name –we call them Churches.

And so, to summarize, on Sunday morning you sit in a “Church”, a KURIAKOS, which is a building dedicated to the Lord. Surrounding you are Christians who make up the EKKLESIA, the Congregation of people who have been called out from the world to become followers of the HODOS, The Way, of Jesus the Christ. Don’t you love word studies‽

KOINONIA

Word studies are so much fun, let’s do one more. We’ve talked about the names of this body of believers, but there’s another great word that describes what happens among the people who are part of this group. It’s a word that is used both to describe and to identify what the church is and does.

It’s the word KOINONIA. The Church of Jesus Christ is meant to practice, experience and be defined by their expression of KOINONIA. It’s used 20 times in the Bible and is such a wonderfully expressive word that it takes many English words to fully capture it’s meaning.

KOINONIA = Commitment

It’s first occurrence is in Acts 2:42, right at the birth of the church, shortly after the Apostle Peter has given his first sermon and 3000 are converted to Christianity. It says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship [KOINONIA], to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” It describes the group of people who had come together under the banner of Christ. They committed themselves to one another. They became a community, a group, a united front built upon faith in and love for single leader, Jesus Christ.

KOINONIA = Spiritual Unity

aul uses it in Philippians 2:1-2 as he is teaching believers about pursuing Christ like humility and how to treat other believers. He says,

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation [KOINONIA] in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

This is the spiritual aspect to KOINONIA. It’s not just about being united in our minds, wills, and decisions, but also describes how Christians are drawn together by the Holy Spirit to care for one another and worship God. It describes a group of people who are not only seeking agreement and united in their purpose, but serving God, one another, and serving alongside one another with love and joy.

KOINONIA: From Jesus to Church

This love for one another does not come from inside ourselves, but is built upon and flows from our relationship with Jesus. KOINONIA is also used to describe our relationship with Jesus. Listen to 1 John 1:6-7,

“If we say we have fellowship [KOINONIA] with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship [KOINONIA] with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

If we are in KOINONIA (loving fellowship, agreement, service, intimate communion) with Jesus, then we will have KOINONIA (loving fellowship, agreement, service, intimate communion) with the people of the church. It’s a powerful truth that the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we will feel to His people, and the further we are from Jesus, the further away we will feel from His church.

We cannot say that we are loving, serving, enjoying, and participating with Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, passionately pursuing the mission God has for us, while at the same time being distant from His people, arguing with another believer, avoiding another Christian, or sinning against a brother or sister in Christ. They work together. We express our love for God by loving His people. We express our service to our Lord Jesus by serving His people. When we are listening to the Holy Spirit, He will point us towards His people. Our KOINONIA with God flows directly into our KOINONIA with His church.

Therefore if you feel stuck in your spiritual life, if you feel a distance from God, if you are feeling dispassionate in your relationship with Jesus, if you don’t regularly see the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, one sure way to reclaim that is to pursue KOINONIA with His people.

KOINONIA = Sacrifice

Consider that another way this word is used is to describe a sacrificial gift given from one believer to another (or group of believers) who is in need. In the same section of scripture where Paul is talking about being a cheerful giver and teaching that God supplies our needs generously so we can give generously (2 Corinthians 9:6-15), he uses the word KOINONIA to describe “generously sharing” with other believers who are in need.

In other words, when you are meeting the needs of another believer, whether in friendship, or service, or through a financial or practical gift, you are exercising KOINONIA and are not only growing closer to that person, but closer to God.

KOINONIA = Communion

Allow me one final use of KOINONIA in scripture. Listen to 1 Corinthians 10:16-17,

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [KOINONIA] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [KOINONIA] in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

When we have Communion, the Lord’s Supper, we are participating in an exercise of KOINONIA. We are expressing our KOINONIA with Jesus, and our KOINONIA with His church. I read a section from a passage in 1 Corinthians 11 every month during the Communion Service, but let’s read context:

“17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!”

So what’s Paul’s problem with the church here? The KOINONIA, the intimacy, fellowship, joy of service, unity in spirit, is broken. The church gets together to eat, to worship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but they aren’t serving one another, they are divided, they are abusing each other, disregarding each other’s needs, not helping those who need it, letting those who need food go hungry, some eating and drinking it all before the rest can even get there!

Like many churches, they are doing their religious thing, putting in their time, going through the motions, but the KOINONIA isn’t there. They should be loving one another, serving each other, seeking unity, taking care of the ones who have needs, blessing each other, encouraging the weaker among them… but instead they come to church and pretend that it exists for them, and that their relationship with God has nothing to do with the Christians around them. They do their religious duty thinking only of themselves.

Paul looks at this church and says, “You’re not eating the Lord’s Supper, you’re just having a worldly party. Because you have lost your KOINONIA, you are no longer a church.”

He continues in verse 23,

“23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Now read to the next part carefully:

“27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”

Communion is a time for us to examine ourselves, but some ministers (myself included) may be negligent in reminding us what we are to be examining ourselves for. Consider the context, what is Paul really concerned about? KOINONIA!

An Unworthy Manner

What does it mean to “eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner [and] sin against the body and blood of the Lord”? We often assume it means just searching our hearts for sins that no one knows about, that we haven’t confessed yet, bitterness or jealousy or lust we have in our hearts… and that is only part of the meaning. We should certainly do that. But remember the context.

We “sin against the body and blood” when we participate in the Lord’s Supper and are not in KOINONIA with Jesus and the brothers and sisters around us. This is why the Lord’s Supper is reserved for believers alone. Only those who have given their lives to Jesus can have KOINONIA with Jesus, and with the Church. This is why many churches only allow members to take Communion, in an attempt to not bring judgement upon their church for allowing people who are not in KOINONIA to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Eating & Drinking Judgement

Look at verse 29 again to see how serious this is, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” What does it “recognizing the body of the Lord” mean?

It means two things:

First, we have to recognize the actual body of Jesus Christ, which was give up for us at the Great Exchange, made the Propitiation for our sins, and which was hung on the cross in our place. We must have that at the forefront of our minds as we partake in the bread, which symbolizes Jesus body, given for us, and the cup, which reminds us of His blood which was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

Second, we must also recognize the other way the “body of the Lord” is used in scripture. Over and over and over in scripture the Church is called the “body of Christ” (Romans 12:5, 1 Cor 10:17, 12:27, Eph 4:12…”). Jesus is the head, we are the body. We are His hands and feet in this world, the body by which He manifests His will and through whom He works the most.

When we take communion without being in KOINONIA with the brothers and sisters around us, we eat and drink judgement on ourselves. How serious is this? Verse 30 says that in the Corinthian church God’s judgement came down “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”

One of my commentaries says this,

“To not come to the table in unity and acceptance of fellow believers revealed arrogance and ungratefulness for what Christ had done. To take the Lord’s Supper – to eat the bread and drink the wine – as though it were no more than a regular meal to assuage hunger is to miss the sanctity of this spiritual rite. Those who did so were eating and drinking God’s judgment against themselves. This ‘judgement’ was severe, one of the most severe in the New Testament. The judgement was disciplinary in nature; that is, it did not refer to eternal judgment, but it was sever enough to cause many of the believers to be weak and ill, while some had even died. That some of the people had died may have been a supernatural judgement on the Corinthian church. This type of disciplinary judgement highlights the seriousness of the Communion service. The Lord’s Supper is not to be take lightly; this new covenant cost Jesus His life. It is not a meaningless ritual, but a sacrament given by Christ to help strengthen believers’ faith.” (Life Application Bible Commentary – Pg 165-166)

What’s In A Name?

There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of the word “church”, and the complexity of how it came about. The story of how we came to call this place, and these people, a “church” gives us a glimpse into the complexity of the organization and the simplicity of what is meant to do. What happens here, among us, each day, each week, while we are in service together and while we are caring for one another during the week, is unique to the Christian church. We are the only group that can experience KOINONIA with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and with Each other.

We are the only group who has the HODOS, The Way, because we know the One who truly is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are the EKKLESIA, the called-out ones, who were once part of the world, but are no longer. We are now CHRISTIANOS, those belonging to Christ, His people. And we come here, to this KURIAKOS, this place that belongs to the Lord, this place of worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, love, joy, commitment, praise, power, unity… so that we can be KURIAKOS a people who belongs to the Lord.

Through my years as a Christian, and as a pastor, as I have learned to love Jesus, I have learned to love His church and His people too, and it is my prayer that you would do the same.

 

Study Notes:

Sermon Reflection Questions: 

  • What do you think of when you hear the word “Church”? What positive and negative connotations does the word
  • What does it mean to be part of an EKKLESIA – “A Congregation”
  • What does it mean to be part of  HODOS – “The Way”?
  • In what ways has the meaning of the word Christian changed for you?
  • What is KOINONIA?
  • How serious does Jesus take The Lord’s Supper? How has today’s lesson changed your view of Communion / The Lord’s Supper?

Small Group Study:

Icebreaker: What are three things you would most like to accomplish in the next year?

Read & Discuss: 1 John 1:6-7

Vs 6:

  • Why would some say they have “fellowship with Him”, but not really mean it? What benefits are there in giving lip-service to the faith?
  • What does it mean to “walk in darkness”?

Vs 7:

  • What does it mean to “walk in the light”? How can we “walk in the light as He [Jesus] is in the light?”
  • Look at how the verse builds. “IF we walk in the light…[THEN] we have fellowship with one another AND the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” How does all that work together? What is the connection to having “fellowship with one another” and being “cleansed from all sin”?

From Shrove Tuesday to Mardi Gras

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My nephew was asked to put together a report on Mardi Gras which reminded me of a reflection piece I had written that might be of help to him, and hopefully you too.

Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath Water

The traditional Christian season of Lent starts on February 13 this year. Christians have been practicing the 40 days of Lent for literally hundreds of years, since the third century. It’s only recently, in the grand scheme of things, that many believers have decided that they are not going to participate anymore. Some avoid it because it’s associated with the Catholicism or old-school Christianity, and I can understand that, but as with many other modernizations of the practices of our faith, I believe we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater and have lost a lot of traditions that were very powerful tools in Christian discipleship.

The Reformation was all about combatting the false teachers in the church who were telling people that they had to do certain things (like pay money, go on pilgrimages, say so many prayers, do penance before God would forgive them) and had moved away from the true message of salvation which says that we are saved only and fully by the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ – the exchange of His life for ours on the cross. In correcting this error and walking away from this corrupt teaching they also walked away from many of the practices and disciplines that were part of the church.

Ancient practices like Advent, Lent, and Good Friday, were given up because they had been corrupted by false teachers who were using them to manipulate the faithful. They were started with the best intentions to be regular times on the calendar where Christians would remember and celebrate the life of Jesus and practice various spiritual disciplines, but then the false teachers started saying that Christians had to do them in order to be saved. Protestants rightly said, “No we don’t.”, but then many stopped participating in the holidays and disciplines surrounding them.

It is my belief that we should recapture some of the old ways because many of them are still good ideas, and powerful ways to experience God.

Lent

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and goes until Easter. It is a period of 40 days, which is a number we find all over the bible. The rains that brought the flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights, the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Moses fasted 40 days before receiving the 10 commandments, Goliath came out and insulted the Israelites for 40 days before David came, God told Jonah to give Nineveh 40 days to repent, and Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and confronting Satan. It’s a spiritually significant number.

Lent is to be a time of reflection and preparation before we get into the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. Instead of being like the world and avoiding sadness, lamenting and sacrifice, we choose to embrace it and seek to be more like Jesus as we meditate, mourn, repent and fast. We stop eating certain foods and avoid parties and celebrations for a time, so we can contemplate the meaning and significance of crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Instead of skipping straight to the resurrection, we take a long time to think about why Jesus was crucified, what He went through, what our personal salvation cost, and what consequences that has for us, our family and our church.

It is a time of prayer and repentance, of fasting and meditation, of consideration and mortification of sin, a time to think less of ourselves and more about Jesus, a time to give a sacrifice of our time, energy, and efforts to God in a special way. To practice self-discipline and open ourselves for God to show His amazing provision for our souls.

The Corruption of Shrove Tuesday

The day before Lent is called Shrove Tuesday and the story of the corruption of this day emphasizes a serious problem in the Church.

Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the word “shrive”, which means to confess sin. It was a day set aside to clean out our hearts before the special season of Lent began. To prepare ourselves for this very serious and spiritually significant time of the year. It was a day of becoming real with ourselves and our sin. A day to pray to God with David in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

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Pancake Day = Fat Tuesday = Mardi Gras?

But here’s what happened. There were certain foods that people would traditionally give up for Lent, foods like meat, fish, fats, eggs and milk. Like the Israelites with their unleavened bread, they would let their diet show what was going on in their hearts. And since they were going to give them up, and they would certainly spoil before the 40 days was over, Shrove Tuesday became the day that people would use up these foods.

And what’s the best way to get rid of fats, eggs, milk and meat? A pancake meal. So it became tradition that on this day of confession and repentance, of getting right with God, there would also be a large feast where families would get together on Shrove Tuesday and eat up all the foods they wouldn’t be eating during Lent.

And so Shrove Tuesday became Pancake Tuesday… or Fat Tuesday, because it was the day you would eat pancakes and use up your fatty foods. The French name for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras — maybe you’ve heard of it.

And when you and I think of Mardi Gras, the first thing that comes to mind is Repentance, Confession, and getting right with God, right? No, it went from a day of getting right with God to a day to tell God to get lost so we could indulge in as much sinful behaviour as we can!

It’s incredibly ironic what some of the customs for Mardi Gras have become. In place of opening our hearts to God, coming clean, and letting God shine His light on our lives, we have the “Mardi Gras mask” where people cover up their identities and be someone else for a day so they can get away with whatever they want without people knowing who they are.

Instead of preparing ourselves for a time to remember the sacrifice of Christ and to fast in His name, Mardi Gras has become a time to indulge ones self, to go overboard, to do everything to excess!

Where Shrove Tuesday was a time to confront temptation and sin, Mardi Gras has become an overly sexual, hedonistic day where men and women give up their dignity and “flash” the crowd to win some beads.

A Mardi Gras Heart

Now, believe me, I would love to spend the rest of our time pointing out other people’s sins, pointing out what’s wrong with the world and everyone one else… and say “Wow! Those guys are really bad!” But I can’t because you know what? I do the same things they do. Except I’m worse because I’m supposed to know better.

This is classic human, sinful behaviour, and something we all need to watch ourselves for! How many of us really act the way we are supposed to act as a Christian? How many of us are truly walking the walk of faith? The truth is that not many of us are. Not really.

Please understand that I’m talking to the more mature believers, not the new believers and the non-believers. Right now I’m talking to the people who have claimed to be believers for a while. Those who should be remarkably different after a long walk with Jesus. Those who claim that Jesus resides in their hearts, and who have listened to the Holy Spirit for a while. And that’s me included.

The “Christian Atheist”

Christian AtheistPastor Craig Groeschel wrote a book a while back called “Christian Atheist” which is all about people who claim to be Christians, but live as though God doesn’t exist. In other words, Christians who talk about Shrove Tuesday, but live with a Mardi Gras heart.

He begins with a very common story about two different kinds of atheists. The first are common atheist who doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t claim to. He then introduces another kind of atheist – the Christian Atheist. Check out this story from the book:

“Before our plane took off, Michelle struck up a conversation. Somewhat nervous about flying, she seemed eager to talk, as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend— who’s scared to death of marriage— she asked me about my life.

Creating a diversion from my “I’m a pastor” answer, I explained that I am married and have six children. “Six kids?! Don’t you know what causes kids?” she joked. After some more small talk, Michelle asked me what I do for a living. No longer able to dodge the inevitable, I answered, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m the pastor of a church.”

This revelation gave Michelle permission to unleash a stream of Christian words and stories. Dropping the occasional “God told me” and “God is good,” she smiled softly as she described how she “gave her life to Jesus” at the age of fifteen at a Christian youth camp. After praying sincerely, she was eager to get back to school to share her faith and live a life of purity and spiritual integrity.

Michelle held on to her new belief in God but soon slipped back into her old way of life. As if in a confessional, Michelle continued pouring out her life’s darker details. She looked down as she admitted that she was doing things with her live-in boyfriend that she knew she shouldn’t. She told me she wanted to go to church but was simply too busy working and studying. She did pray many nights— mostly that her boyfriend would become a Christian like she was. “If only he believed in Jesus, then he might want to marry me,” she said, wiping her tears.

At last, Michelle expressed one final confession: “I know my life doesn’t look like a Christian’s life should look, but I do believe in God.”

Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist.”

I really understand where that girl is coming from, because I often act the same way. I see this kind of Christian Atheism — this Mardi Gras Heart — in myself quite often. I can’t speak for you because I don’t know your heart – but I know mine. Saying one thing, and doing another. Struggling with the same sins and temptations, time after time. Going days without praying or reading my bible. Going through the motions in worship and my devotional times. I may not have a huge, public sin to confess that would cost me my position as pastor… but I can certainly understand what it means to be a hypocrite in my own eyes – and in the eyes of God.

A Holy, Different People

God has been teaching me something over the past while, and I encourage you to ask yourself these questions: How are Christians different than other people? Why are we different? What makes you different than you were before you met Jesus? What does being a Christian look like on the inside and the outside? How do we keep from turning the parts of our life that are supposed to look like Shrove Tuesdays into the self-indulgent hedonism of Mardi Gras?

God describes His chosen people in Exodus 19:4-6 saying, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Some of us think, “Well sure, Israel was special! They were the people of God! They had Mt. Sinai, the 10 Commandments, and were the people God chose to bring the Messiah Jesus Christ through. That’s true, but read 1 Peter 2:9 which was written to Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

That’s what a Christian is:

Chosen.

Royal.

Holy.

Different.

God’s people.

 

A Prayer of Confession

Lord, you have made me special. You said you knitted me together in my mother’s womb, set me apart from before creation, and have appointed good deeds for me to do in advance. You are the giver of good gifts, the author of salvation, and my personal redeemer. You bought me back from death, from captivity, from the rightful consequences of my sin. I rightly deserved Hell and you came for me. Lord, you demonstrated your love for me in this: while I was yet a sinner, you died for me.

And yet, in so many ways I live as though you don’t exist. In my daily life, I forget about you. I reject you. I disappoint you. I refuse to listen, and sometimes even ignore you. I take control of my life when I should be giving it to you.

I know that it is not my deeds, my good works, or anything that I do, that saves me. Yet, I also know that faith without works is dead. I know there is nothing I can do to make you love me more or love me less. But I also know that your love should spur me on to good deeds, and that your Son’s life is the perfect example of how I should live.

Lord, there are some areas of my life that I need you to deal with. Areas that I’m not proud of… and, in fact, I’m ashamed of. Areas of sin, rebellion and pride, idolatry and disobedience. Lord, you say in your word that if we confess our sins, that you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I want to confess to you because I need cleansing.

I pray with David the words of Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment….”

Lord, there are areas of my life that are not pure, and times when I have chosen filth over purity… I’ve chosen to look upon sin… to listen to sin… to touch sin… to taste sin… to revel in and think about sinful things… and I’ve gone back for more… forgive me. Cleanse me.

Lord, I have made places of my heart and life off limits to you. I’ve heard you knocking on the door, and I’ve refused to answer. I’ve loved my secret places more than I’ve loved you. Please open up those doors and let your light in… no matter how painful it might be. I need you to clean those areas out.

Lord, I have lived dishonourably, and dishonoured others. I have taken the reputation of Christ and dragged it through the mud. I have been dishonest and disloyal. I have not let my yes be yes, and my no be no… and I have broken promises. Forgive me. And help me make it right with those I’ve hurt.

Lord, I have rejected your word. I have read parts of your bible and argued with you. I’ve even chosen to avoid parts of your word because they make me feel uncomfortable. When someone has asked me about what I believe, I have told them my opinion, which was not in line with your word, because I was ashamed of what you said. Forgive me for my arrogance and my fear of man.

Lord, You have given me opportunities to share my faith, and I have not taken them. You have given me chances to inject your truth, and I have kept my mouth closed. You have stirred my spirit to speak, and I disobeyed and walked away. There were chances to give you glory, to give you credit, to say that you are the one who did it… and I stole your fame… or I gave it to someone else… or simply didn’t say anything. Forgive me.

Lord, there are times when I have sought out the darkness. You call me to live as a child of light, but there are times when I have closed the blinds, locked the doors, turned off the lights, and preferred the darkness because it covered my sin. I have hidden my sins from my brothers and sisters in the faith. They have asked me, and I have lied to their face. You have given me chances to flee temptation, and I have dismissed them, and continued to walk towards sin, invited you to leave… and then I committed sin, on purpose… in the darkness of my private life. Forgive me.

Lord, I have rejected your church. I don’t really love your people, the body of Christ, as I should. In fact, I avoid them. I prefer the company of non-believers. I give my service to other places. I give my time to other people. I have come to church time and again, and then left quickly to avoid your people. I don’t ask how other people are doing because I don’t want to get involved. I make myself busy so I have an excuse to stay away. I do not treat other believers as my family. I have even mocked them, ridiculed them, and gossiped behind their back. Lord, forgive me for how I treat your beloved bride… your church.

Lord, I life too much as a citizen of this world, and not of your kingdom. I embrace many worldly things unquestionably. I have put idols in my home, idols in my work, idols in my car. I live by the world’s standards, not yours. I have spent money I don’t have, on things I don’t need, to impress people I don’t even really know. I am in debt because I want to be more like the world. I’m not different than the non-believers around me… in fact there is almost no discernible difference between me and them. Lord, forgive me for not living as the salt and light I should be.

Lord, I don’t acknowledge the spiritual realm. I live as though what I see is all that there is. I do not store my treasures in heaven, but instead spend time building bigger and bigger barns here on earth. I do not put on my spiritual armour… the armour of God which you have given me… but leave it off to the side every day as I go into the world. And then I blame you when I fall. When a battle is waged in my soul, I give up far too easily because I do not want to fight… I am too lazy… too selfish… too worldly. I love my flesh and the god of my stomach too much. Forgive me for not thirsting for You alone.

Lord, I ask you to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit…. to sustain me”

The Five Solas: Sola Scriptura

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(This is a follow-up post to The Foundations: The True Gospel)

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Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone, is the principal and belief that The Bible is the supreme authority in all spiritual matters. It is the acknowledgement that the Bible contains the very Words of God. They are not, as 2 Peter 1:16 puts it, “cleverly devised myths”, but are divine revelations and eye witness accounts which contain, as 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says, “sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

It is not A BOOK about God, it is THE BOOK about God.

It is not A BOOK about humanity’s history, purpose, worth and destiny, it is THE BOOK about humanity’s history, purpose, worth and destiny.

It is not a confusing book because it was intended to be read and understood.

It is not a simple book, because it contains immense truths about everything that truly matters to the human heart.

It is not a nice book meant to make us feel happy all the time, it is a truthful book that will bring us face-to-face with who we really are, the depravity of our souls, and our desperate need for a Saviour, and then bring us elation and joy beyond any other human experience as it teaches us how to restore our relationship with our beloved Creator who did everything possible to restore us back to Him when we would not and could not.

Some will tell you this is one book of many religious books that point to God. That’s an impossibility because this book and it’s author claim absolute exclusivity.

Some will tell you that this book is full of ancient truths for a different time. That’s wrong because this is the living, breathing, perfect for every human being ever, Word of an Eternal God who chose every single word, and has protected from corruption for generations.

Some will argue that since the bible is not a scientific textbook, it must be wrong, but it was never intended to be and it has been proven right and accurate in every area it has been tested against.

Certainly Christians are helped by many other kinds of books, but every Christian must believe in Sola Scriptura, that Scripture Alone is the source of the perfect revelation of God, or they will open themselves to falsehood, lies, and deception. Everything is tested by scripture. God is absolutely clear that no one is to add or take away from what He has written (Rev 20:18-19, Deut 4:2) and the true church has been vigilant to correct and combat anyone who has tried to do so because within this Book are the words of life.

The Foundations: An Introduction to Intentional Discipleship

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A Daunting Task

I have a deep and abiding passion for discipleship, which is probably why this series is has been hard to write – because I want to get it right. I don’t want to leave out anything important. I want to give you everything you need to be forgiven, know God, and to develop your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I want you to be able to defend your faith, trust the bible, know sound theology, and have access to resources that will broaden your understanding of the church of Jesus Christ, what He has done throughout history, is doing today, and will be doing in the future. And I want to do that in six weeks. A daunting task at which I will inevitably fail miserably.

I previously showed you “Two Sheets of Paper that have Captivated my Life”. The first paper I shared was where the whole process started. One day, and I can’t remember how it came up, I asked myself, “What does a Christian need to know?”, which immediately brought up the next question, “What does a church need to do for people?” So I got out my computer and some books and started making a list… a list that made me feel very overwhelmed.

So, armed with this list I asked myself the even scarier question, “So, as their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to this church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded. The task I set before myself was impossible, and it wasn’t long until God told me as much.

Discipleship Is A Lifestyle

He reminded me that discipleship is not something that you go through once, check the box, and then say you’ve done it. It’s not a class that you need to take, a test you need to pass, or a sermon series that I can preach.

Discipleship is a lifestyle, lived out every day, moment by moment, choice by choice, day by day, relationship by relationship. I can’t make you into a disciple. I can’t make you into anything. My job is to simply set the table and invite you to eat. I can only say with the Psalmist, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). The rest is up to the Spirit of God working in you, and your willingness to obey Him.

My Story

Intentional Discipleship training has been a preoccupation of mine for a long while, and I have seen far too many churches that have little interest in it. There are LOTS of ministries dedicated to it, but a low percentage of churches who are engaged in it. As I said a while back, everyone loves to see the effect of good discipline, but there are not enough that will go through what it takes to become disciplined. Think about your own spiritual journey. How intentional has it been? What steps have you followed? Who has laid out those steps for you?

I know this because I myself have struggled along the path of discipleship, not knowing what to do or where to go for my next spiritual step. I grew up in a Christian family, but like most people, Christianity was about attending church, going to the various holiday and food-related functions, reading the bible and praying. I didn’t know much more than that and it was all I did for the first 15 years of my faith.

It wasn’t until I went to BibleCollege that I was introduced to other forms of discipleship, and the amazing amount there is to know about God, the church and Christianity. I’m a natural born sceptic, so I had lots of questions and was fascinated by how much thought people had put into, what I considered, the basics of the faith and obscure scriptures and concepts I’d never heard of.

As I matured in those years in college I learned a lot about the bible, prayer, spiritual disciplines, theology, history… and so much more. Christianity became more than something I grew up knowing because my parents were Christian, God was far more than just a person that I closed my eyes and talked to now and again, and Jesus became someone important to me… not just someone who died on a cross for the world… but someone who died on the cross for me.

I began to experience worship that touched my heart, spiritual attacks that I needed the community of believers to pray for me to overcome, freedom from burdens I’d been carrying for years, and a love for the gospel and the church.

And, as I entered seminary, I began to learn more about the depth of scripture, how each Word is a fountain of wisdom and knowledge, and about lofty thoughts I could never begin to understand or explain. Through each of these steps I was guided by teachers, professors, curriculum, pastors and mentors, leaders in the church, and fellow brothers and sisters who challenged me further.

As I entered into ministry I discovered that as far as I had come, much of my relationship with God was still in my head. I knew a lot of answers to a lot of questions, but not enough of it had taken the twelve inch journey from my head to my heart.

I learned that because God brought me to a place where my head knowledge and my natural talents would be useless, and where I would feel bitter pain, embarrassment, disappointment and failure. I would learn what a spiritual life that is lived only in the head accomplishes – nothing.

I was fortunate to have good counsellors and mentors who kept giving me books, challenging me to grow, pushing me to pray, and pointing me at resources that would fix my eyes, mind, and heart on Jesus.

And though I still struggle, I have a strong relationship with God today. I hear His voice often. I know His scriptures… maybe not as well as I would like… but enough to know to trust Him and to bring myself – and give – comfort when hurting. I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence when I am tempted, or when I am exercising my spiritual gifts. I am learning what it means to love Jesus, and to have Him love me.

And that’s what I want for you. I want that for each of you. I want you to go beyond what I have experienced and have far more than I. I want you to develop skills and abilities you never thought you could have, and experience life in a way you never thought possible. And the way to do that – and I believe this deep in my heart – is to be on an intentional path of discipleship.

It makes me sad that what I have experienced is the exception and not the rule. There are not many Christians around us that have a close relationship with God and are growing in their faith.

Do-It-Yourself Discipleship

1 Do It Yourself Maze

That said, however, I do believe that discipleship can be guided. Jesus guided His disciples (who we call apostles today) through a discipleship process, taking them from fearful fishermen who didn’t know what was going on to fishers of men who were boldly preaching the gospel even in the face of great persecution. And I believe he wants to do the same for us.

As I was researching this topic, and putting together the series, and the subsequent materials that the church will be using to do intentional discipleship, I did some reading and research online, called some of my pastor friends, and talked to others who were leaders in their churches and did not discover one church that had an intentional plan of discipleship. The conversations almost all went the same way:

“We have no real plan to get people saved, but when they do we have a baptism class or a membership class… and then we leave it up to them to join things that we offer in hopes that they will grow all by themselves. Eventually, we take the good ones that manage to figure out some kind of maturity and we beg them to be leaders because there are so few people who even come close to being spiritually mature enough to be called by God to lead and teach in the church.”

I’ve done a lot of reading on that subject, and the “do-it-yourself” approach simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in school, at work, or any other place I can think of.

My daughter, Eowyn, just turned five a couple days ago and is a very smart little girl, but she needs guidance about what she needs to know and encouragement to practice what she is learning. Imagine if every week we asked her “What would you like to learn this week?” and just let her choose. She doesn’t even know what she’s supposed to be asking for, let alone what order she needs to learn it in. She could say “I don’t want to learn anything this week.” or, “I really like colouring, I want to colour for the next year.”… and never learn how to read, write, or do math.

No job would ever do that. Imagine walking into a new job and having the boss say, “Ok, there’s some equipment, go build me something.” “There’s the computer, get to work.” “There’s the kitchen, feed people.” “Here’s the classroom, go teach them something.” No, they have safety courses, training courses, requirements people have to meet, meetings about expectations, efficiency and product knowledge. They can’t expect their workers to do well and be successful unless they are taught what they need to know to do their job.

Salvation Is An Intentional Process

Why would we think it works in church? You come in to church and listen to some sermons, sing some songs, meet some nice people, and then God does something in your heart and you want to know more. But how can you know what to do if no one tells you.

Listen to the conundrum posed in Romans 10:13-15 says,

“‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”

There is a delineated process of getting someone to the point of salvation, isn’t there? Someone has to be sent to tell them the gospel, then they have to believe it, then they call on the Lord’s name and are saved. It’s an intentional process – with steps to follow, and I believe that our spiritual journey, under God, towards Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, is as well.

We could extend the questions in the passage: How can someone be sent if they are not trained? How can someone be trained if there are no teachers? How can someone teach if they have not learned? How can someone learn if there is no one to help them study? And so on…

It is my desire and I believe strongly in my heart, that it is the deep desire of many Christians, to create a culture of intentional discipleship in the church – they just don’t know how to do it.

An Intentional Discipleship Path

As I said before, armed with the “needs, knows does” list I asked myself, “So, as their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to this church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded.

After picking myself (and my grey matter) off the floor, and praying A LOT, I sat down to make a plan which I’ve been working on and adapting for quite a while now – literally years – which means that it’s going to take a while to go through, but hopefully it’s simple enough to get the basics from without that. Check it out here.

Discipleship Path

Why an Intentional Path?

I’ve already described part of the reason, but there are three more.

First, people like to know what to expect. Whether it’s a menu at a restaurant, a college course syllabus, a job description, or the introduction to a book, people like to know what’s coming. As much as we like to watch mystery shows, it’s the resolution that we are watching for – we want to know who did it, how they did it, and why they did it. So I’ve set up this path to help you know what to expect from the church and from yourself when it comes to your individual plan of discipleship.

Second, because people like to know where they stand. This tool will give you a kind of standard to look at to see where you are on the path of maturity. Is it perfect? No. Can you have some aspects from each of the phases? Sure. But this can help you see where you are at, and hopefully, challenge you to take the next step in maturity. I encourage you to take some time to go through the plan and then let’s discuss it on Wednesday night.

Third, and most importantly, discipleship is a command from God. We are compelled to do this and do it right. Read the great commission from Matthew 19:20 again: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Jesus says, “Go and Make” those are very proactive words. He does not say, “let them do it themselves and hope for the best”, He said, “Go and Make disciples”. He commands us to “baptize them” – in other words, lead them down a practical path of discipleship that isn’t just head knowledge, but practice too. He commands us to “teach them to obey”, which again says, “make a path, be intentional, give them good knowledge, and then teach them what to do with it.”

The Table is Set, Will You Eat?

Table Choices

My deepest desire is that you will evaluate yourself and see where you are at. That you will engage in this discipleship path, and journey towards maturity. That we will, together, make the church into a disciples-of-Jesus-Christ factory. That each of you will “taste and see that the Lord is good”, and then draw others to the table.

Let me close by repeating what I said before: This is an intentional process, but I can’t make you engage in it. It is to your own detriment, and your own loss, if you choose to let these opportunities pass by – but that is your choice.  I have learned over throughout my Christian life, and my life as a pastor, that the church can set the table, and make good food, but it is the choice of the individual believer to come to the table, to choose good food, to chew on it themselves, to swallow it and let it get deep inside, and to let it nourish them. And it is the individual’s choice to use the energy and nourishment which they have been given to serve God and others. I can set the table… we can set the table… but we cannot feed you.

The choice is laid before you, and there are a few responses you can have:

— You can choose not to come to the table at all, but instead eat what the world feeds you and live in sickness.

— You can eat a little at the table, but then go out and eat what the world offers too, which will give me a sour stomach and the life of a hypocrite.

— You can come to the table, complain about what’s on it, and go from table to table (church to church) looking for the perfect, designer, exactly-what-I-want-the-way-I-want-it food. And in doing so you will starve to death.

— You can come to the table, and stay at the table forever, and gorge yourself… never leaving to use the energy that you’ve consumed, and be just that – a Christian consumer.

— Or, you can come to the table, eat well, refuse the food the world offers, but instead tell others of the good food found at the table, and use the nourishment you’ve graciously received to serve God and others. That is a healthy life, and a life that will see blessing.

What to Do with Bad News

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In light of current events I put together this handout to give to my church tomorrow. I thought it might be helpful to give you some things to do when you hear or experience bad news. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but is what is on my heart to share right now.

1. Pray in Concentric Circles

Personal Bad News: Start with yourself work your way outwards (ex. you, spouse, children, close family, extended family, church, neighbourhood, town/city, province, nation, world).

Other’s Bad News: Start with the affected person/people and work your way outwards (victim, culprit, family of victim, family of culprit, local churches, community affected, local officials, government, nation, world)

Talk to God about your concerns, worries, hurts, fears, frustrations and confusion. Ask Him to work miracles by His Spirit, through you, and through His church to bring wisdom, comfort and peace. Thank Him for His never-ending love and His promise to help.

2. Protect your Thought Life

Personal Bad News: A temptation you will face will be to enter a negative-thought-cycle where you continuously dwell on the problem and avoid sharing it with others. Satan wants you to feel alone and forgotten. Remember to include family, friends, and good Christian counsellors when you are working through bad news. They can pray for you, help you, encourage you, and keep you from sinking into a negative-thought-cycle that will lead to depression.

Other’s Bad News: The media uses bad news to gain more viewers and grab your attention – so they can make more money and sell more advertising. They will release half-baked stories and sensationalize trivialities in an attempt to fill their 24 hour news cycle. It’s good to stay informed as you grieve for the victims, but it’s important to remember, especially at the beginning of a crisis, that the truth won’t really be found for a while. It’s also important to remember that it’s not good to spend too much time dwelling on things that create fear, dread and anxiety within you.

3. Watch your Words

Personal Bad News: As you are sharing your bad news with others, be careful not to gossip or slander. Use emotive language (“I feel…, “I felt…”) and share from your own perspective. [If you are the listener, remember that the emotions will be raw and they want your comfort, not random Bible verses, hackneyed advice and trite answers.]

Other’s Bad News: It’s normal to want to talk about bad news, but be careful not to draw conclusions, offer spurious information, or say that you know why it happened. Remember that the situation is far more complex than you understand, there were real people involved so we need to be compassionate, and that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts so our explanations will never be satisfactory.

 

Jesus, Cold & Wet

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Why isn’t He wet?

I don’t know why this never occurred to me before, but it wasn’t always hot and sunny while Jesus walked the earth. Maybe I’ve seen too many pictures of Jesus standing in a sunbeam or walking along a desert road, but it never really crossed my mind that Jesus would have been cold. I tried to find a picture online of Jesus walking in the rain, but couldn’t. Even during the “great storm on the sea” where Jesus is walking on water, He doesn’t even get wet!!! I saw Jesus making rain, and Christians in the rain, but not one where Jesus stands with chattering teeth, soaked to the bone, rubbing his arms to keep warm, about to sneeze, while trying to deliver a message with a stuffed up nose. [I wish I knew how to draw so I could create such a picture — anyone out there got the mad skilz to help me?]

Jesus Got Cold?

Why was this such a big revelation to me? Probably because, like many Christians, I forget that Jesus was fully human, living in a real world. Because of my love, respect, and awe of Him, it’s easy to think of Him curing the blind man, calming a storm, walking on water, ascending into the clouds… but Jesus with a cold… that’s somehow harder.

This happened today as I was reading a book I’m reviewing for Moody Press called “Thirty Days in the Land with Jesus” by Charles H. Dyer [full review coming soon]. He pointed me to John 10:22-42 which begins like this, “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe.'”

Dyer points out,

“Jerusalem is a beautiful city, but late December is not always the best time to visit. December through February are the coldest–and rainiest–months of the year…. The days can be dark, damp and dreary. And if there’s a cold, biting wind pushing in from the Mediterranean, you can quickly become chilled to the bone… And that’s why, in John 10, we find Jesus…’walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.'”

An Excuse to be Grumpy

The Portico of Solomon. Notice the lack of moisture…

What Dyer had probably meant as background to the narrative he was telling about Jesus, I took as a powerful point. I know that Jesus suffered, “was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3), and “has been tempted as we are” (Heb 4:15), but I forget sometimes that those temptations included regular days when he had every excuse to be grumpy, selfish and whiny — like I am sometimes.

Of course we don’t know for sure, but it seems logical that in John 10 Jesus is cold, wet (after walking there), and surrounded by people who are being grouchy and pushy. How many times has he already told them that He is the Christ? Dyer points out that He had told Nicodemus (a Pharisee) he was the Son of God (John 3:16), told the woman at the well He was the Messiah (John 4:25-26), publicly told the religious leaders He was the one predicted by Moses (John 5:45-47) and had told a whole crowed that they should believe in Him and that He had existed before Abraham had (John 8:56-58)! It’s not like He kept it a secret!

I don’t know what His tone was when He said “I told you…”, but I know what tone I would have had!

I TOLD YOU A MILLION TIMES! *ZAP WITH LIGHTNING* I’M COLD! I’M SICK! I’M GOING HOME!

I was amazed by Jesus again this morning. Amazed at His love, grace, and how much He can identify with me. I’m also amazed at how much I’ve been forgiven for, and how much more sanctification I need!

 

Going Dark

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I went dark recently — in a bunch of ways.

I bought some dark coffee — Starbucks Christmas Blend (super yummy!) and Muskoka Roastery’s Black Bear (which is so dark it’s like drinking ink… delicious, delicious, ink. It even seems to argue with the milk saying, “No, we won’t be turning mocha-coloured today. We’re shooting for a dark-grey.”)

I went through a dark mood — I occasionally battle depression. It’s not as bad or as long as it used to be, but it happens and I know how to deal with it.

And, I’m not sure if anyone noticed, but I went dark online — no Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linked-In, WordPress…

The last one was the biggest challenge. I’m so active online these days that it was really hard to unplug. I almost think in “status updates” now! When I’m having fun I think, “I should post this…”. When my kids do something cute I think, “I should post this…”. When I have a funny or deep thought I think, “I should post this…”.

 

Al, It’s Time To Go Dark

About 10 days ago I felt God tell me that I had a problem, so I went dark. Now that I’m back I want to pass along to you what He said and what I learned. Perhaps you’ve been listening to God and He’s been saying something similar.

(No, this isn’t word-for-word what He said (it doesn’t work like that — at least not for me), but it is certainly the impression He gave me.)

“It’s becoming about you again, Al. You want attention, accolades, ‘likes’, hits, comments, praise and glory. You should know better by now, but you keep setting yourself up for this temptation and therefore you keep falling for it! Remember, I didn’t give you a voice so you could squander your words on trivial, mundane, uninspired tripe. I gave you your voice to bring Me glory. I didn’t allow this technology to be created so you can feed your pride-monster, but so that you can teach, learn from, support, encourage, and point people toward me. I’m fine with you using these things if you use them to grow closer to me and serve my people, but if they get in the way, I will have to remove them from you for your own good. Be careful not to replace My voice with someone else’s or seek affirmation from worldly sources — it will lead you into trouble. I want you to shut them down for a while. Don’t post a status saying you will be stopping — that focuses the attention on you — just stop. I’ll let you know when you can go back on.”

 

Lessons From The Dark

Now, this wasn’t easy. When I went dark:

– I lost that constant stream of worldly affirmation I was getting through hits, retweets, reposts, comments, likes, and the rest.

– I wasn’t getting immediate feedback and had to wait for God to speak rather than seek the voice of others.

– The constant flow of digital information stopped and I felt out of touch. When the only voice inputting new information was the voice of God through scripture, worship music, meditation and prayer, I found that it wasn’t enough, which was quite scary for me to realize.

– I found myself craving media. In fact, there were times that I just wanted to see the glowing light of a screen — I didn’t even care what was on it. There’s something seriously wrong with that.

– I learned that I multitask way too much and don’t focus my activities for any length of time, so not stopping to check e-mail, Twitter and Facebook feeds right in the middle of reading a book was actually difficult.

 

Now That I’m Back

It took at least 7 days before my mind stopped saying “Hey, post that” or “Go check Twitter”, but after that time, things started to get so much better. I felt closer to God, less stressed, less pressed, more focused. I picked up a book and read page after page, and was able to really get into it and take the journey with the author. Going dark became a joyful and learning experience for me.

I almost didn’t come back. I almost closed all my accounts and stayed dark. The only reason I didn’t was because of God saying that He gave me this voice, and the technology to get it out there, for His glory and He wants me to use it. So, I’m back and hoping to bring you better, more focused, deeper and more helpful content than ever. After all, the mission of this blog is to be “Passionately dedicated to helping you find the tools and inspiration you need to pursue a deeper, consistent and more meaningful relationship with God.”

If there is any way I can do that, please let me know!*

 

*Yes, I realize that writing this post and ending it by asking for feedback drips with irony.

Review of "Twelve Unlikely Heroes" by John MacArthur

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This is my first official book review, so I would love some feedback.

Twelve Unlikely Heroes

How God Commissioned Unexpected People in the Bible and What He Wants to Do with You

By John MacArthur

Summary

If there’s one the success of The Avengers movie taught us, it’s that we love heroes — and the bigger, the stronger, the flashier, the better! However, scripture doesn’t classify heroes the same way we do. In the introduction to this book John MacArthur quotes 1 Corinthians 1:27 (“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise…”) and then goes on to give twelve powerful examples of what heroism really looks like. MacArthur gives hope to those of us who look at ourselves and wonder how God could possibly use us to serve His kingdom and bring Him glory. This book isn’t about heroes that wear capes and fight crime, its about people with “a rock-solid confidence in God and a willingness to live according to His word no matter the consequences.” (Pg. XII)

My Review

I have to admit that I was very much anticipating Booksneeze.com sending me this book (I’m a blogger and I get them for free). I appreciate John MacArthur’s ministry, love to read biographies of scriptural characters and recently preached a series on “The Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11, so I was primed and ready to learn more. I was not disappointed.
The are so many things to learn when we mine out the details of scripture, and I’ve been mightily blessed by authors who are able to go beyond the surface lessons and obvious conclusions to show us a God who works in the smallest details, through every part of the story, and with characters who don’t immediately jump off the page. John MacArthur is one of those authors.
MacArthur is a pastor-teacher and a great storyteller who has a gift for relating complicated information in an interesting, accurate and practical way that hits me right where I live. This book is ripe with deep theology, biblical exposition, historical context and big ideas, but not cumbersome to read. He tells these familiar stories in a captivating way that touches my heart, stirs my spirit, and makes me want to keep reading.
A book like this can help us forgive others and trust God more because it helps us appreciate differences, embrace the belief that God has a bigger plan, and can do good things with tough situations. It reminds us that the only perfect person in the bible was Jesus, and everyone else made some big mistakes — yet God still chose to work through them — and can also work through us. It tells that God is unexpected, unpredictable and unprecedented in how He operates. His ways are not our ways, but His track record is astonishing!

A Missed Opportunity

Though I enjoyed this book immensely, found it helpful, and recommend it highly, there was something that bothered me. Certainly, God is the motivating force of each person in this book, but MacArthur isn’t explicit enough about pointing to Jesus as the perfect example of what these folks are meant to embody. In fact, Jesus is presented more as an under-currant rather than wind that could have driven the sails of this book.
MacArthur makes some wonderful points, and directs us straight to God, but I believe he stops one base short of a home run. Instead of making his main point “How can we imitate the faith of Enoch (or Miriam or James)?” I believe he should have closed each chapter by asking “How can we be like this person as they are like Jesus?” Even during the stories of John the Baptist and James, Jesus is presented as a figure in the story rather than the central figure of the story. Again, even though this is a good and helpful book, emphasizing that would have turned a triple into a home-run.

I review for BookSneeze®

Giving & Receiving Criticism

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“You can please some of the people, some of the time”, they say. I would add, “and some of the people who aren’t pleased have no problems telling you why.”

Criticism is something we all have to deal with, isn’t it? None of us are perfect, and yet it surprises people when someone makes a mistake. As a pastor I deal with my fair share of criticism, but I also know that I do some criticizing of others. Sometimes I deal with it correctly, other times I don’t. Criticism in itself is not sinful, even though it can be painful. We can take some comfort in knowing that even though Jesus is perfect, He was constantly criticized — and doled out a good deal of criticism as well.

It’s how we deal with criticism (giving and receiving) that sets us apart from others and shows us to be like or unlike Christ.

Two Kinds of Criticism

First, there’s Constructive Criticism which I would define as: Important and relevant information given by a compassionate individual, in a caring way, directly to a person they want to help — even though it might hurt. A wise person understands that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6).

On the other hand there is Destructive Criticism which is: Information given (though often not directly) to an individual purposefully meant to hurt them, damage their reputation and break their confidence. It may have grounds in reality, and possibly even be true (though not always), but it is not given to build up, but tear down.

Let Us Be Careful

I feel in my heart that Christians need to be more mindful of how we are giving and receiving criticism.  We need to evaluate our words and our motives by testing them with scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), and checking with the Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1) to see if it is His prompting which is motivating us to speak — lest we become a false prophet.

We may think our critical words are meant to be helpful, and even deserved, but they can be very damaging if not tempered with wisdom from God, grace, love, and a peacemaking heart (1 Corinthians 13:1-8). Ironically, even when we have been the targets of harsh criticism that has hurt us, our response can be to criticize the critic and hurt them back. That only deepens the wounds and feeds the “bitter root” (Hebrews 12:15).

On the other hand, some people need to remember not to give others too much of a voice in their lives. They are in constant fear of someone else’s words, and are kept from obeying what God wants them to do because they live in fear of man.  They must learn how to listen carefully, mine out truth, not to be shaken by difficult criticism, to rise above and bear with those brothers and sisters who are being foolish (Colossians 3:13), and to dismiss the words of those who work for the enemy of our souls .  It behooves us all to ask God for the wisdom to discern what is being said, and the heart behind the speaker (Jam 1:5).

A Memory Verse for Giving Criticism:

When giving criticism, remember this:

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col 4:6 ESV)

Two Memory Verses for Receiving Criticism

When someone is giving your feedback directly, or you hear something someone said behind your back, remember:
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 Jn 3:21 ESV)
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”  (Pro 12:1 ESV)


For further study:
Mark Driscoll – 6 Kinds of Critics (Youtube)
Bible Verses on Criticsm (Blogpost)

We All Need A Good Church

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I just paused my sermon prep for a moment so I could post this to the blog. I’m currently writing a sermon on The Powerful Witness of Unity in the Church and remembered that I had written in a Facebook Post earlier in the week. The two didn’t really connect in my mind until now, so I want to share it with you. I’ll post the sermon later.

We all Need a Good Church

The last five chapters of judges shows what life is like when a group of religious people try to govern themselves. Selfishness, pride, foolishness, hardheadedness and hardheartedness is played out in spades as God is given lip service but not truly consulted, obeyed or worshipped. It breaks my heart to read of the abuses these people heaped on each other and how the weaker among them (women and children) suffered so greatly at the hands of these religious men who were “doing as they saw fit”.

This reminds me of how important it is that we are part of a good church and how dependent we must be on the daily provision the Holy Spirit gives us. When I think myself wise enough, strong enough, spiritual enough, smart enough to move forward without God and His people, I am setting up disaster for myself and pain for those around me.

There are so many in this world who have been inoculated against the church and who do not want to set their foot inside the door because of hurts or pride. They believe they can set up their own religion, meet God on their own terms, and live as they see fit outside the Church God has given us. That is folly.

Be careful when you begin to think that you can live outside the influence, support, and discipline found within the Christian church. You are setting yourself up for temptation, foolish mistakes, and courting an avalanche of disaster. We are built to be in community, led by His Word, taught and held accountable by wise elder believers, and ultimately under God. It is in that place where we will be happiest and most fruitful.

Own Your "Why?" – A Christian Response to Halloween

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Own Your “Why?”

Some time ago I came up with a phrase that I try to live by and give away as much as possible — “Own your ‘Why?'”  What it means is that when you do something (anything), make sure that you own up to your motives and reasons for doing it. Don’t try to fool yourself or anyone around you, but move forward with a defense for why it’s okay with God.  Think through the consequences.  “Own your ‘why?”

There are a lot of questions that we don’t ask ourselves. Too often we do things without thinking through why we are even doing them. And when challenged on these actions most can come up with any reason deeper than “It’s fun”, “I’ve always done this”, or “Everybody does it”. It’s not here yet, but it’s time to start thinking about a Christian response to Halloween.  So, to process Halloween, let me give you some questions to ask so you can “Own your ‘Why?”‘:

Why do I do what I do for Halloween?

— In what ways can we redeem something a day used to celebrate gluttony and our society’s disturbing fascination with gore, death and evil?

— Are you going to “trick or treat”?  Is it a fun way to get to know your neighbors, or just going door-to-door begging strangers for candy?

— Will you dress up? What is an appropriate, God-honouring costume? What are the limits you must set?

— Can you carve a pumpkin to show that “just like Jesus put a smile on our face and His light inside us, so we have done this to the pumpkin…”, or do we use it as a time to talk about the pagan foolhardiness of trying to ward off evil spirits with a carved up gourd?

— Is celebrating Halloween okay if everyone does the same thing but in a church? What if we dress up, eats lots of candy, carve pumpkins, and watch a G-rated Halloween movie… but we call it a “Harvest Party”?

— What place does the gospel have in Halloween?  How can you use this day to teach people more about salvation through Jesus Christ?

— Is it right to pass out food that’s both unhealthy and addictive in a country that is facing a childhood obesity problem?

— Is it right to avoid participating altogether, turn off your lights and hide in the basement until it’s over?  Is that a good “witness to your community”?

— If you give out healthy food or gospel tracts and your house gets egged, is that considered “suffering for the Lord”?

If one takes the side of being able to “Redeem Halloween”, then one might appreciate these links and ideas:

 

Here’s a couple resources to help you make your decisions:

 

I'm Now an Official Book Blogger!

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Being bald and bespectacled makes my book reviews even better!

Even though blogging has its downsides (carpal tunnel and trucker butt), there are some pretty great benefits to being a blogger. Check these out:

1. All the coffee I make I get to drink… after I offer my wife a cup.

2. A chair that goes up, down, round and round, and also reclines!

3. Having a forum by which I can bare my soul, share my deepest thoughts and emotions, and help thousands… hundreds… ok, a couple dozen… AMAZING readers find tools and inspiration to pursue a deeper, consistent and more meaningful relationship with God.

And now, to put the proverbial icing on the cake, I am now part of a “Blogger Review Program” for Tyndale, Moody Publishers and BookSneeze! I love books, and to be able to get them free and be allowed to honestly review them will not only feed my soul, but help me to point you towards even more great resources to feed your soul.

The books are in the mail, so look forward to some reviews in the coming weeks!

Christian View of Suicide

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During the “Ask The Pastor” meetings on Wednesday nights at the church I serve, many questions come up that I don’t have the time or equipment to be able to give a full answer to.  I believe there are many who have similar concerns and questions, so for a little while I’m going to use this forum to share a few resources to dig deeper into these important topics.

Many people have been affected by today’s topic — suicide. I’ve known friends and family who have attempted or even committed suicide. I’ve presided over a funeral service for a man who had killed himself. I know how deeply emotional and confusing this topic can be — even doing the research for these links broke my heart — so I hope these links will help your mind be at rest, and expand your faith in the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Important Note: If you are contemplating suicide, or are looking here for a way to be able to commit suicide but still go to heaven, then please seek help. Call your pastor, a Christian friend, or click here to find a place to go for help.

A Christian View of Suicide

John MacArthur’s Grace to You Q&A – “Can one who commits suicide be saved”?

GotQuestions.org – “What does the bible say about suicide?”

Christianity Today – Suicide and the Silence of Scripture

Christianity Today – Is Suicide Unforgiveable

AUDIO – Tom Holladay answers “What does the Bible say about suicide?” at Saddleback Church

VIDEO – The “Bible Answer Man” answers “What happens to Christians who commit suicide?”

Christian Conflict Management Tools

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Asking For Forgiveness
(Photo credit: hang_in_there)

I have some friends that are in a difficult place, trying to help some people they know reconcile hurting relationships.  I offered to give them some helpful articles and tools, and believe that they may be able to help others.

Some Articles:
Tools:
Have you ever been caught in the middle of two friends who won’t forgive?  What did you do?  What do you believe is the best advice to give a Christian friend who is holding a grudge?

Christian Meditation: Stopping & Listening

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Meditation is a multifaceted and religiously loaded term.  There are many Christians today who shy away from practicing  meditation because they aren’t sure that it’s “allowed”.  Let me assure you it is, and it is the key to developing a deep life and focus on God’s priorities for you.

Christian meditation only has two components:  Stopping and Listening.  Other religions have meditation as a religious practice, particularly eastern religions, but for them, meditation is designed to purge all thought, desire and will – it is to empty themselves.  Christian meditation is not an emptying … but a filling of ourselves with God.  In Christian meditation we focus on our obedience and faithfulness to God and the person of Jesus Christ.

First, let’s talk about Stopping.

For some of you that period of silence we just had before I came up was refreshing, for others it was annoying, and maybe even agonizing.  Take a second and think: What was going through your mind?  Godly thoughts?  What was your body doing?  Were you at peace, or were you keyed up?  Some of you are so tired that if there is no sound or activity, you will just fall asleep.  For those of you who are staying awake with me, let me ask you about your feelings about “stopping”.  How do you see stopping?  Is it a sin?  Are stopped people, lazy people?  What emotion does the word “stop” conjure up?

Christian Psychologist Carl Jung said,

“Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil.”

Why?  Because when we don’t stop, we cannot listen to God, love our neighbour, serve the church, or worship properly.  We must make the time to stop.  It is the first step in meditation.

Hurry Sickness

John Ortburg, in his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” talks about  “Hurry Sickness”, and he gives a few symptoms of people who are “hurry sick.”  Let me ask you to identify any of these in your own life, because if you have “hurry sickness”, then you will not stop.  And if you will not stop, you cannot meditate.  And if you cannot meditate, you will not deepen yourself, or hear the voice of God.

The First symptom is “Constantly Speeding up Daily Activities”.  Do you find that everything in your life is a race because you are plagued by the fear that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done?  Do you read fast, talk fast, and keep nodding so the other person will speed up their talking?  Do you find yourself being anxious about which line to stand in at the store, or what lane to be in when driving?  Do you ever find yourself rushing around, even when there’s no need to?  You’re just so used to going at 110% that you can’t stop.  Do you find yourself making up pretend races with your kids or loved ones so that you can get them out of the way at the end of the day?  People do this.  They tell their kids to race through brushing their teeth, and taking a bath, and then race through reading them a book… because they need to get them to bed.  Married couples race through dates and even sex so they can get through it so they can do something else.  Are you always speeding things up?

The Second symptom Hurry Sickness is “Relentless Multi-Tasking”.  Do you find yourself unsatisfied, or even feel guilty, if you are only doing one thing at a time?  Some people do.  They can’t just read.  They have to read with music, and the news on, with the computer on in the background, while sitting next to someone having a conversation.  Some people can’t just sit outside and have a coffee… they have to bring a crossword puzzle, or a grocery list, or something else… because somehow just sitting there with a coffee is somehow a sin.  Some people can’t let the phone ring… they have to answer it.  Do you always have to multi-task?

 Third, “Clutter”.  A hurry sick person cannot fathom simplicity.  They have every time-saving gadget in the world, and ten things strapped to their belt, and in their backpack.  Their closets and bedrooms are stuffed to the brim with things they never use or wear, but will “get to later when they have time.”  Do you lead a cluttered existence?

 Fourth, “Superficiality”.  Richard Foster calls it “the curse of our age.”  Relationships are superficial because time is not given to deepen them.  Marriages break down because the depths of love are not plunged.  Spiritual life is superficial and unsatisfying, so people go to all kinds of sins and idols to fill their spiritual hunger.  So many people live their life on the surface, and have no idea that there is a depth to existence they will never see unless they stop, wait and listen.

The end result of hurry sickness becomes an inability to love.  This is the most serious danger of hurry sickness.  We race and run and live a superficial lives and we become jaded to love, and unable to love.  Why?  Because love and time are indelibly tied.  We cannot hurry and love.  Love takes time.

When we hurry, we lose our sense of gratitude, and our sense of wonder.  Carleton Place, and the Ottawa Valley are truly beautiful, but you won’t really experience its beauty if you whiz by in a plane or a car.  To really appreciate it you have to get out of the car and take a walk, go on one of the bike-paths, or sit in a park.  You’re spouse is wonderful, but you won’t fully experience that sense of wonder or gratitude to God for them unless you stop and truly experience them for a concentrated period of time.

Jesus knew how to stop.

And He did it often.  He had the most important mission in the history of the universe, and yet He took time to stop.

When Jesus heard about the beheading of His cousin John the Baptist he was in the middle of an itinerant preaching journey.  But he stopped.   Matthew 14:13, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”  But the crowds were relentlessly following him.  So Jesus teaches them for a time, miraculously feeds them and then dismisses them.  Now many of us would have went for a nap, or went with our friends somewhere, but Jesus sends His disciples away in a boat, and then stops again.   Verse 23 says, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”  Why didn’t Jesus get swept up in all the things we get swept into?  Because He stopped regularly to listen to God.

Before Jesus chose the disciples He stopped to listen to what God had to say.  Luke 6:12-13, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”   We get the impression from the Gospels that despite Jesus’ popularity, people coming to Him day and night, dealing with family matters, having to train the disciples, teaching, preaching, miracles, traveling, the Pharisees chasing him down, and all the rest, Jesus took time away to be with God.  If Jesus needed to do this… how much more do we?

Second, let’s talk about Listening

Not many people are good at this.  And it is certainly not something that is encouraged in our culture.   Richard Foster says,

“What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary of the heart.”

Think of your inner life like a building that you have been working on for some time.  God started you with some materials to work with, your parents gave you pieces and tools to build more, hardships and life events added to the design, and so did your schooling and friends.  You have this inner house built up that represents every part of you.  But when you ask Jesus to take over your life, what you are doing is asking Him to rebuild your house.

When we stop and listen, what we are doing is giving God the time and focus to rebuild our house.  During our meditation time, God opens doors that we had locked and stuffed full of anger, bitterness, and pain.  He takes our favourite trophies down off of our shelves.  He points out the structural problems and weak designs we have incorporated into our house.  And He starts the process of rebuilding us.  And in our listening we have time to ask Him, “God, does that have to go?”  And we listen to when He says, “Yes.”  And we ask Him, “What parts of me need to be added?  What needs to be torn out?   What should be kept?”  And in our listening time God begins that work.

So often we love to go to others for this advice.  And there is certainly a place for that.  But if we really believe that we live in a universe created by a personal God who loves us and still speaks to this day, then we must listen to Him.

How to Listen to God

There are many ways that we can listen to God, but let me tell you the two most helpful that I’ve found.

First is listening to scripture.  Open the bible and read it as though it was written to you.  Now, I don’t mean bible study.  I mean just take a bible, without study notes, and meditate on one part.  Maybe one section, or one verse, or even one word, and let God speak to you about it.  Use your imagination to put yourself in the place of Elijah by the stream, or Paul on the road, or become one of the throngs of people listening to Jesus on the mountainside.  What do you hear, see, sense, feel?  Meditate on scripture and let God speak to you through it.

Next, just get quiet.  Take a period of time and just turn everything off and listen.  Indoors, outdoors, wherever.  Don’t pray, or talk, or read, or listen to music, or bring a friend… just listen.  If you’ve never done this, it’s going to be really hard.   Try it for 1 minute.  Then 5 minutes.  Then 15 minutes.  Then half an hour.  Don’t feel guilty if your mind is racing and you can’t focus.

Once you get to the 10 or 15 minute mark, grab a piece of paper and a pen, and then go find someplace to just listen.  If something comes to mind that you need to do… write it down.  I have to do laundry… write it down.  I have to talk to someone… write it down.  I should pick up frozen corn next time I go to the grocery store… write it down.  Get it all out on paper and just listen.  If you don’t write it down then you’re going to keep hearing the same thing over and over.  Eventually your brain will stop coming up with distractions and you will be able to listen for God’s voice.  If and when He speaks… write it down.

And then go check out what you’ve been listening to with the Bible and another Christian friend/Pastor.  Simply say, “This is what I’ve been hearing from God and what I believe He’s saying… what do you think?”  That will help you from being deceived, and will keep you accountable.

What do you need to do this week to get started?

 1. Ask for the desire to listen.  The ability and desire to meditate is a gift from God.  Begin by asking Him for the want to and gumption to actually do it.  This is certainly a prayer He will answer.  God loves to give us gifts that bring us closer to Him.

2. Slow Down and Stop.  Deliberately do things that make you practice waiting.  Drive in the slow lane for a month.  Get in the long line at the grocery store.  And then find ways to stop.  Declare an electronics free day, or week.  No ipod, no tv, no cell phone after work, no computer after work.

3. Make Space.  Set a time in your calendar that will be a meditation day for you.  A couple of hours, or a whole day where you will just go and be alone and listen.  Tell people that you’re going, and set the date.  Then find a spot to be alone.  Not the mall, or the coffee shop, or the gym.  How about the park, or a place by the Ottawa river, or alone in your room?  And don’t take anything!  Nothing.  Nothing.  Nope, not that either!  Ortburg says,

“Solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mould us.”

Who do you want to mould you, society, or God?

Don’t get worked up if this is hard for a while.  No one can do this perfectly.  But God honours those who seek Him… He promises we will find Him.

The Story of Robin

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I spoke on Meditation this week, beginning with a story of a man named Robin.  Do you see yourself in his story?

 

Robin wakes up once again to the beeping of the alarm clock, and hits snooze one more to see if he can squeeze out nine more minutes of sleep from his morning.  He didn’t go to bed until well after midnight last night, and hasn’t gotten more than 6 hours of sleep any night in the past week…

As the alarm goes off again he looks at the time.  Great, now he’s going to be late.  He jumps in the shower, thankful that he has the special 2-in-1 shampoo, so he doesn’t have to take all that important time up having to use two bottles.  He runs into his bedroom and tries to find something to wear in the disaster he calls a closet.  He finally just grabs the clothes he wore yesterday, gives them a quick sniff, throws them on and bolts out the door, skids into the kitchen, grabs a banana and a granola bar, and prays that God will miraculously open up the traffic the way He did the water for Moses at the Red Sea.

He gets in the car, and hears that familiar “ding!” that reminds him that something is wrong with the car… but he doesn’t have time to worry about that right now.  As he’s pulling out of the driveway, there’s another “ding!”, and he sees that he’s out of gas.  He doesn’t have time for that either, so he prays that God will miraculously keep his tank full enough so he can get to work.

On the way to work Robin dodges in and out of traffic, weaving from lane to lane, cursing the transport trucks and anyone who gets in his way.  His mind flies through every map he’s ever seen of Ottawa, wondering if there is a route to take that would shave valuable minutes off of his commute.  He mentally reminds himself to check the map later… he’d write himself a note, but he’d probably crash if he looked down to find a pen.

He pulls into work, and gets through the door with seconds to spare.  He throws his banana into his locker and walks straight into doing his job.

When lunch time comes, Robin goes through is daily routine of grabbing a coffee, checking his e-mail, updating his Facebook status, looking at sports scores, and looks over the paper in the break room.  Then in walks Phil… or is it Paul… whatever, it doesn’t matter.  He starts with “Hey Robin, how’s it goin’?”  “Oh, great”, Robin thinks, “he wants to chat.”  Robin pretends to be busy doing something, and asks “What do you need… uh, man… I’m right in the middle of something.”   “Oh, sorry!” is the reply, “I’ll leave you alone.”  And he walks back out the door.

After dodging that bullet, Robin decides he really does need to get back to work.  The end of the day comes and Robin wonders if he’s done enough… if not he’ll just put in some overtime later to catch up.

On the way to the car a catastrophic thought strikes Robin’s already very tired mind.  “Oh no… it’s Jane’s birthday tonight!”  Now he’s torn.  He’s tired and doesn’t want to go.  He probably should, seeing as it’s his sister, but he didn’t have time to get a gift, and he’s already looking at a list of things to do at home.  All he’s had to eat today is a banana, 5 coffees, and some Timbits someone brought into work, so he’s hungry… and no one likes someone comes to a party hungry and eats all the food.  His clothes don’t smell right, and if he went home to shower and change, he’d probably be late.  Jane probably won’t mind if he misses the party… although he did miss last year’s too.  But he sent her a really nice e-card a couple days later.

And Robin is getting upset again… “Jane is always asking for things like this.  It’s always about her.  Doesn’t she know I have things to do?”  And Robin decides there and then not to go.  So he quickly texts Jane with an apology and says they’ll catch up later.

When he gets in the car Robin hears “Ding!”  and then “Ding!”.  And his head hits the steering wheel, when he realizes that he’s going to have to stop for gas.  The first “ding!” will have to wait another day.

As Robin pulls into the gas station his phone vibrates with another e-mail.  He pulls off the gas cap, shoves the pump into the car, and gets to work replying to the message.  But the longer he stands there, the more impatient he gets.  “Don’t they have the technology to make gas pumps any faster?  They can put a man on the moon, but they need to me to stand here for this long to put gas in my tank?”  “Click!” goes the pump, Robin hangs it up, and rushes into the store, still trying to finish the e-mail on his phone.

But there are two lines in the store.  Robin quickly sizes up the lines.  Who has their wallet out?  That guy’s got chips and a pop which will take longer.  So he picks his line… but keeps looking up from his phone to see if the other line is moving faster so he could jump into it if need be.

After waiting an agonizing 5 minutes he finally pays for his gas, runs to the car, fires it up, hears the familiar “Ding!” and speeds away… leaving the gas cap on top of the car, and the little gas-door open.

As he’s shoulder checking to see how narrowly he can cut someone off, he notices the open gas door and lets out a couple of swear words.  Now he’s going to have to go all the way back to the gas station!  Robin is angry again.

On the way back his phone rings.  “Hi Robin, it’s Paul.”  “Yeah, what?”, Robin barks.  “Robin, I think we need to have a chat.  Can I come over tonight?”

“Oh, I don’t know Paul… I’ve got a lot do to.”  Robin replies.

“Ok, well, give me a call sometime when you’re free.” Paul replies.

Robin goes home, and now it’s getting late.  He heats up some leftovers for dinner, leaves the dishes sitting on the counter, checks his e-mail again, updates his Facebook, sits down in his chair and flicks on the TV.  A passing thought rolls through his mind… “Maybe I should go to the party.”  But he puts it away.  Another thought… “Well, maybe I could call Paul.”  But he puts that one away too.  “I still have to do some grocery shopping.”  But he’s too tired.  “Maybe I could read some bible before bed.”  But he puts that thoughts aside too with the conclusion that he’s too tired to concentrate on it anyway.  Now he feels tired and guilty.

After too much time in front of the TV watching nothing-in-particular, it’s late again.  Too late.  He’s going to pay for this tomorrow.  Robin groans and slumps off to bed.  Before his eyes close, Robin prays to God in his mind, “God, I sure wish I knew you better.  I wish I had some more friends.  I’m sorry for getting upset so much today… and yesterday.  God, please take care of my mom…” and before he has time to finish that sentence he’s asleep.

 

Do you see yourself in that story?  What would you say to Robin?  Would you call him a deep person?  A friendly person?  A focused person?  What will his life look like in 5 years?

I'm Angry with my Toothpaste

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Oh toothpaste, how you have let me down! You promise so many things! In your TV commercials you tell me that no person can respect, love or enjoy the company of someone without shiny, white teeth. You tell me that the reason that I’m not successful in life is because my choppers are too dull. You say that if my bicuspids were whiter, I’d smile more often, be more popular and have a more positive attitude towards life.

And it’s not just the positive hopes that have imprisoned me in your diabolical trap, but also the fearsome negatives… those scary promises that you and your cohorts with the drills have pounded into my brain since the days of my youth. My enamel will never, EVER grow back!  Drinking pop or coffee may as well be drinking battery acid!  If I forget to brush before I sleep, when I wake, after I eat, or snack, or chew too much… I could contract all sorts of terrible, fatal diseases like tartar buildup, halitosis, bleeding gums, heart disease, arthritis, or even cancer!!!

“BUT NEVER FEAR!”, you say, “I, TOOTHPASTE, will make it all better!”

And I try to follow your ways!  I try to keep up with this maniacally strict regimen of brush-rinse-floss-rinse-pick-swirl-massage-rinse-repeat, but FORGIVE ME TOOTHPASTE for I have sinned — it has been 12 hours since my last brushing!  Cleanse me of my filmy iniquity, wash me from the foul odor of last night’s garlic pizza.

I live in a world which is more concerned with my dental color and oral freshness than my talents, skills or personality qualities — so I need you.  I need you to make me right with the world.  I need you because there’s an outside chance that my wife and children may knock me out and leave me for dead on the side of the road if I wake up with dragon-breath one more time…

But alas, and to the shame of my family and kin, I have been using an older brand of toothpaste; one not fit for today’s diabolical dental attacks.  And so I have given my offering unto another, better, NEWER toothpaste!  It’s got baking soda. It’s got peroxide. It’s got ultra-foaming-action. It whitens, brightens, lightens, heightens and frightens plaque away.

And I brush.  Two times a day I brush. Yea, verily, three times daily do I brush.  Surely the wondrous technology captured within the chemicals of this intoxicatingly minty-mixture will overcome my shortfalls.  Surely this seven dollar tube of menthol flavored miracle juice will make my life better. Surely the science behind this cool-blue gel will finally bring me everything I’ve ever wanted: success, fame, fortune, the adulation of an adoring public, respect, a secure home, a blissful, pain-free existence!  Surely this is the missing link, the key to everything that I’ve ever hoped for!

But alas no. It has been two months now and I have no more fortune, success or adulation than I did before.  And so I have turned my wrath unto the giver of the great promises… my toothpaste.  I am angry with my toothpaste.  It has let me down.

But I saw a commercial last night for something called “botox” and those people were pretty happy… hmm…

The Complexity of Christianity

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candle serenity
(Photo credit: Phil Dowsing Creative)

I was invited for an “Ask The Pastor” night last week and brought along this handout I’d been working on.  I sat in front of the white board and asked myself “If I am going to help the people in this church grow as Christians, then what does a fully functional disciple of Jesus look like?”  And I started to write.  And write.  And write.  And came up with something so complicated it almost made me cry.  No wonder many ministers are tearing their hair out trying to simplify their church’s discipleship process.

I’d love some feedback on this:

Simple Discipleship?

A Fully Functional Disciple of Jesus…

 …Needs…

Emotional Support

Financial Support

Help with Family Issues

A Place to “Be Real”

Excellent, Uplifting, Moving Spiritual Experiences

Friends, Confidants, Brothers and Sisters

A Place to Serve with their gifts Meaningfully

A Places to Escape Pain

To be Challenged

Accountability to an “Equal”

Accountability to Someone in Authority

Clear Boundaries

Freedom to Make Mistakes

To Know their Purpose and Worth

To Experience God’s Touch

…Knows…

Soteriology: Study of Salvation

Apologetics: Defending the Faith

Hermeneutics: How to Study the Bible

Systematic Theology: Truths about God

Homiletics: How to Apply the Bible to Life

Sacraments: Communion and Baptism

Eschatology: End Times, Heaven, Hell

Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit, Spiritual Gifts

Christology: The Life of Christ

World Religions: Cults and Other Faiths

Evangelism: How to Share Your Faith

Creationism: How Everything Came to Be

Ecclesiology: How the Church Functions

Church Discipline: Confrontational and Corrective Measures in the Church

Spiritual Disciplines: Methods to Grow Deeper

Missiology: God’s Work in the World

…Does…

Mercy: Acts of Kindness

Forgiveness: Asking and Giving

Peacemaking: In Life, For Others

Giving: Tithing and Generosity

Service: God, Church, World

Encourages: Mentoring, Discipline

Submits: God, Authority, Others

Studies: See “Knows”

Prays: Private and Corporate

Suffers Well: Rejoicing Always

Worships: Lifestyle of Worship

Attends: Shows up to Learn, Work

Grows: Pursues Christlikeness

Sacraments: Baptism/Communion

What do you think?  Did I miss any?  Why is this so complicated?  Or is it?

Rethinking Facebook

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Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

I almost went back on Facebook this last week.  I had left “the social network” quite some time ago for a myriad of reasons.  It was taking up a lot of time, feeding my pride, and when a friend told me Facebook was a contributing factor to his adultery, it was the last straw and I deleted my account.  It is still very tempting to return, but then I read these stats and simply can’t support or encourage anyone else to get involved with this site.  These stats break my heart.  I encourage you to read these and make your own judgment.

People are messing up their relationships with it (Men’s Health – no Link because of racy pictures):
– 24% use the social network to flirt with someone other than their current partner.
– 11% of the women surveyed put provocative pictures on their account to attract men.
– 17% of users check their ex’s Facebook page at least once a week.
– 59% of users admit to having “stalked” someone through their Facebook account.
– 32% of women tried to reconnect with an ex — 16% of them women were in a relationship at the time.
– 36% of men tried to reconnect with an ex — 20% of these men were in a relationship.

People are messing up their jobs with it (Marketwire):
– 39% use social media (Facebook, Twitter) while at work
– 26% for more than an hour a day
– Facebook are Twitter are potentially costing the British economy up to £14 billion a year in lost working time (eweekeurope)
.
Young women are getting addicted to it (Oxygen @ Mashable):
– 39% of women age 18-34 are self-proclaimed Facebook addicts
– 34% of women age 18-34 make Facebook the first thing they do when they wake up, even before brushing their teeth or going to the bathroom.
– 21% of women age 18-34 check Facebook in the middle of the night

Teens are putting themselves in danger on it (Information Week):
– 69% of teenagers have included their physical location in a social networking status update
– ~33% chat online with people they don’t know
– ~50% share their real first name with strangers (24% shared their e-mail, 18% a photograph of themselves, and 12% their cell phone number)

Flame Wars in The Church

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A lot of churches today are currently embroiled in e-mail “flame wars”. They must stop!

Did you know you can use salt to put out a fire?  In fact, if you have a kitchen grease fire (and don’t have a fire-extinguisher) you shouldn’t use water, but instead cover it with salt.
Why bring this up?  Because there are some people out there reading this who need to use their salt (Col 4:5-6) to put out some fires.
Have you ever heard of the internet term “Flaming“?  Wikipedia defines it this way,

“Flaming is hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users… usually the result of the discussion of heated real-world issues…”

When it really gets out of hand it’s called a “Flame War“.  Wikipedia wisely remarks,

“Flame wars often draw in many users (including those trying to diffuse the flame war) and can overshadow regular forum discussion if left unchecked.”

Email is a wonderful way to send information to people in a hurry, but it is also terrible at conveying emotion and meaning.  And because of this a lot of churches today are now embroiled in e-mail “flame wars”.

One one side there are people using this God-given technology to incite arguments, slander and spread lies.  On the other are well-intentioned people are trying to help by responding to the emails.  And as these messages get more frequent and made more public as others get CC’d (and some even printed out to share), more people are pulled into the fray.  This is extremely damaging to every part of the church – fellowship, outreach, worship, and discipleship ministries.

My simple message is this: In the name of God it has to STOP!

If you get one of those e-mails, don’t respond to it electronically.  If your heart is burning because of what you just read, bring the war to God (Rom 12:19), and don’t add fuel to the fire.  The water you are spraying to put out the fire may only be spreading the grease and making it worse!  After you have prayed, if so led, get on the phone, or better, go see the sender face to face.  E-mail is too easy to send (and later regret) and too easy to misunderstand.

I entreat you with the words of scripture and beg you to read them prayerfully:

It takes a long time for life to come back to the forest after the flames do their damage.

“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”  (James 3:5-12 ESV)

What about you?  Have you ever gotten one of these e-mails?  How did you respond?  Ever been part of a “Flame War”?

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.

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?

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”?