While writing this article I was reminded about this song by Casting Crowns called “Does Anybody Hear Her” which seems to hit the nail on the head.
Do Churches Still Help?
I had a conversation recently where we were discussing the place of “para-church ministries” within the realm of global and local missions and it dawned on me that North American churches (and many para-church ministries) are lagging way behind the secular world when it comes to having the reputation of being helpful people.
Back in “the day”… [you know “the day” when your granddad had to walk back and forth from school, up-hill both ways, in 6 feet of snow (and he was only 4 feet tall), in only his socks, dragging a 300 pound bag of books, and only ate dirt for lunch… and LIKED IT!]… it used to be that the church was the premier place to come for help, protection, comfort, healing and peace. We were the first call for education, healthcare, protection from tyrants, help for the poor, the lonely, the bereaved, the lost, etc.
But now, honestly ask yourself: Why would anyone call the average North American Church for help? Or for that matter, the average North American Christian? If they are sick, they go to the hospital. If they’re poor, call the government. Hurt, lonely or afraid? Call a 1-800 help line. If they’re addicted to drugs, they can get into a secular program. Protection from tyrants? Go to the police. If they feel bad or need to make a life change, call a psychologist. If they are unhappy, call a psychiatrist. It seems that the church has lost (or given up) almost everything it once did to help people.
Individual Christians have a hard time with this too. We have lots of excuses why we don’t stop to help someone in need. “I have to protect my family.” “I could get hurt.” “I don’t know anything about medicine or cars.” “I’m too busy.” Lots of excuses… most of which stink.
The Speed Dial Principle
So, here’s a challenge for all Christians to get back to their roots of being people full of grace and mercy. I’m going to call it the “Speed Dial Principle”.
Here’s how it goes:
I propose that we do everything we can to be the first call on everyone’s speed-dial. It is my hope that those around us, without a shadow of a doubt, know that we can be counted on to help NO MATTER WHAT is going on in their life!!!
- How many phones do you have with speed-dial?
- Who are the top 3 people and why are they there?
- Are you on the top of anyone’s speed-dial list?
- Using your position on other people’s speed-dial as your reference, how good is your reputation as a helper? [First call, second call, last choice, not even thought of]?
I propose we try to live our lives as someone trying to make themselves the number one person on everyone’s speed-dial. We want to be their #1 button because they know we are a great friend will never let them down, we have resources to help, and will be there full of joy and without condemnation. Whether it’s helping carry in the groceries, driving someone to another province, helping a kid with homework, cleaning someone else’ house, making a meal or picking up your drunk friend after too much partying… what can you do to be the first person they call.
What about you? What do you think of the “Speed-Dial Principle”? Is it realistic? How can we help our local churches reclaim their ministries of grace and mercy?
I’ve seen some wonderful miracles throughout my life, and this past year has been even more amazing. Sometimes I get miracle and coincidence confused, but not this year — it’s been pretty obvious. I’ve been unemployed or underemployed for almost a whole year now, and even though it’s been financially tough, we have seen God show up and miraculously provide for us time and again.
He has been teaching me the paradox of being dependent on Him, while at the same time practicing wisdom and diligence. He’s been teaching me how important it is for me to back off and let Him act, provide, defend, etc. instead of stressing out, panicking, and doing something because I’m afraid and want to take control.
I’ve learned to sit back and say, “I wonder how God is going to solve this problem, because I’ll just make a mess of it if I try to fix it.” In other words, I’ve learned to trust in God’s Common and Special Grace.
Sometimes, with all the bad news floating around us, it’s hard to remember that His grace and provision is truly abundant. Theologians (who love to embrangle simple ideas in complicated language) talk about the good things that happen to humanity in two categories: Common Grace and Special Grace.
Common Grace (click here for a very embrangled definition) encapsulates all the good things that happen to everyone. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:45, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Or, as John Murry of Westminster Seminary defines it: “Every favor of whatever kind or degree, failing short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.” It is the Common Grace that allows us to be alive, even experience joy and love, while in a condemned state (2 Peter 3:9). It is his Common Grace that provides for all humanity, even when we are completely undeserving.
Special Grace (click here for more embranglement) is that wonderful, amazing gift where God changes our hearts so that we may see our sin, turn from it, and accept Jesus as our Saviour. Without His Special Grace we would never see our sin for what it is, never hate our sin, and would therefore never turn from it. It is His Special Grace by which we are saved.
Take some time today to thank God for His Common and Special Graces. First, for the salvation of our souls in Jesus, but also for rain, sun, food, teachers, medicine, books, plants, cold water, smiles, loved ones, cotton… and any other good thing.
What about you? What did it miss? What Common Graces are you thankful for?
Matthew 6:19-34, John 15:5-8 are key verses to read and know if we are to understand life as a Christian. They are encouraging, reassuring and powerful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read them or referenced them in sermons. Life with Jesus is meant to be a life where our worries are minimized, our joy is maximized, and where we effective and joyful and “bear much fruit”. So how come most of us feel the exact opposite of that?
We love to quote the words of Jesus in John 10:10 to each other,
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Really? Some of us say “my life is full”… but it ain’t full of the things that Jesus was promising. It’s full of problems, frustrating situations, difficult people, money issues, time crunches and fatigue — full to the brim with problems.
Romans 8:31-32 says
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
If God was so loving and gracious to send His Son to die for us, and is willing to forgive our sins through His blood… then He’s already proven that there is no limit to what He will do for us out of His love.
So how come our life doesn’t look like that? Why does our existence, at times, seem so meagre?
The Apostle Paul had to deal with this paradox all the time. How did he reconcile his knowledge of the love of God and the painful life he was living? A few verses later, in Romans 8:35-36, he says,
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.””
First he tells us of his unshakeable faith in the love and protection of God, and then proceeds to tell us about his life… trouble, famine, nakedness, danger, swords, and death all day long. Was he crazy? How can “if God is for us, who can be against us” be in the same breath as “we face death all day long”? Do those things really go together in this “abundant”, “fruitful” Christian life we’re supposed to have?
His answer to this conundrum comes in verse 37,
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
“Conquerers”? That doesn’t sound like the life of a conqueror! But there’s a very important word stuck in the middle there. A naughty little word that we don’t want to hear, but is in there anyway. The word “in”. “In all these things…”. Check out what John Piper says about this section:
“What I think “more than conquerors” means for your happiness is that a conqueror has his enemies lying subdued at his feet. You’ve got distress, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, persecution, and there they are, conquered at my feet. ‘More than conquerors’ means they’re not just at my feet. They are serving me. They’re not just in chained in prison. They are serving me. My persecution, my famine, my nakedness, my loss—as painful and as tearful as they are—are my servants. God works them all together for my good.
Now, that good that he works in and through them is the foundation of my happiness. It isn’t the circumstance. There’s plenty of tears. Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Paul says, “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”… So yes, God wants you happy. But he doesn’t do it with circumstance. He does it with himself. He does it with the gospel. And he does it in and through circumstances.”
That’s how to untie this knot. That’s the balance. Therein lies our hope and our perseverance.
Tomorrow I want to show you a picture of how I believe this works. It took me about 3 months to develop this picture, and I’m not saying it’s perfect (it’s more likely that I’m just slow), but it really helps me to remember how life works, and how to keep my priorities straight. I call it “Minding my buckets” and it has everything to do with being happy with God… not with circumstance, but being happy and filled with God himself. Seeking first His kingdom, and his righteousness, and having everything else come after. Connecting to the Vine who is Jesus, trusting the Gardener who is God, and living a life that abides in the source of our life.
Check it out tomorrow.
I recently began a sermon series called Plug In: The Spiritual Disciplines, where I plan on going through 10 weeks of study on different ways we can meet God, know more about Him, understand our faith, and grow closer to Jesus. This was given as the first sermon in the series. I realized after the service that it was too much to take in all at once (especially after a few people came up to me, breathing heavily, and told me so!). Many people requested a copy, so what I’m going to do over the next few days is chop it up into more bite size pieces so folks can review it and, hopefully, learn more.
What is Bible Study?
I came up with my own definition that we can take apart.
Bible Study is “making the choice, under God’s direction, to methodologically spend time, energy and concentration to better understand God’s Word.”
“Making the choice”
Getting to know the bible better is a choice. Anything we do that is challenging requires us to make a choice. It does not happen merely by chance, or by osmosis. Sitting through sermon after sermon, and going to various groups does not make you a student of the bible. You need to make the choice to engage your mind, heart and hands in the process. One must say, “I see value in knowing the scriptures, and therefore I choose to invest my time and energy into studying them.”
“Under God’s direction”
We cannot really understand the bible without God’s help. Yes, we can learn about the people and places the bible speaks about, but we cannot truly be impacted by the full worth of God’s Word unless He works within us to help us understand it. It is His letter to us, and when He is not involved in the reading of it, it becomes stale and fruitless. If we don’t come to God before we study it, the bible will be foolishness to our ears, and produce nothing but guilt, showing us all the ways we don’t measure up. But if we seek God when we come to His world, then inside of it we will not only find conviction, but also wisdom and freedom.
Like any other study, Bible study requires a plan. This is a huge stumbling block to some people. They don’t like being told what to do, or that they need someone else to teach them about the bible, so they try to make it up all by themselves. But we need a guide to help us, a plan to complete the task, and a system by which we gather the knowledge. If we come to the bible without techniques and tools, then we cannot say we are studying it, any more than a scientist can say they are studying something if they have no equipment, system, process, reports, or methodology.
“Time, Energy and Concentration”
Bible study will take your time. This is probably the greatest expense to us, because our time is very valuable. It seems that we would much rather spend any other resource we have than time. Bible study will also take energy. It’s not something we can do very well when we are tired at the end of the day, but it will require some dedicated energy. And it will require concentration. We have to choose… there’s that word again… to put our concentration into the study. Anyone who has ever taken a class knows that you can sit through class, take notes, and even do the assignments, and not learn a thing because you’re just going through the motions to get the grade! To get anything out of bible study you will be required to concentrate and invest.
“to better understand God’s Word.”
Our goal is to understand it, not to read into it, manipulate it or use it for our own purpose. This is the Word of God that He has given to us. Our agenda is to have God speak to us through it, and to bring us to an understanding of what God has said, and is saying, through it.
“Why is Bible Study important?”
People see the bible in different ways. Some see it as an emotional antacid that you read only when your life has your stomach tied in knots. As a sleeping pill that you read to cure insomnia. Or, as an insurance policy where you may not have read the fine print but are hoping that by owning one you can get some help in the event of trouble. Some see it as a holy book reserved for monks and gurus. Or, as a story book filled with fables and fairytales. Some perhaps see the Bible as ancient wisdom literature pertinent to a bygone culture, but not relevant for today.
What is your view of the bible? Write down on your sheet… “The Bible is…what?” Now let’s ask a second question: How do you treat the bible? Do you treat the bible in the same way that you view it? Does your use of the Bible… how much time you spend in it, the effort you make to understand it, and the authority level you give the words… correspond to your view of it?
Why is it important that we know this book, and become a people grounded in this book? The answer is because this book contains the very words of God, given through human agents, to all of humanity, to guide us in this world, and ultimately lead us to salvation from hell and into eternal life. If you believe that, then you need to study it that way. It’s a very important book. Now, if you don’t believe that, then you should study this book and determine for yourself whether these claims are true or not. It’s still a very important book.
I came up with 5 reasons why Christians need to study the bible, but I’m sure that there are many more.
First, without bible study we soon forget God’s promises.
If we are not in the word regularly, we can forget what God has done for us, and is doing through us. We can get bitter, afraid, confused, or prideful if we are not reminding ourselves of the presence and promises of God regularly. We need these kind of reminders often. And it’s amazing how when we are going through a devotional guide, or a bible study, how often God will use the content to remind us of His goodness, greatness, love for us, and tell us what we need to hear that day.
Second, we become an easy target for the devil’s schemes.
When the banks, or tellers, or the RCMP study counterfeit money, they don’t spend time memorizing all the ways that a 20 dollar bill can be counterfeited, they spend their time memorizing what the real thinglooks like. That way anything that differs from the authentic note, must be a counterfeit.
Think of the Garden of Eden. What was Satan’s opening line there? The first line he ever spoke to humanity in Genesis 3:1 “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” He challenged God’s word. And Eve fell for the trap of dialoguing with Him. Then she modifies what God says, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” She changes the word of God ever so slightly…
And then Satan says, “You will not surely die… For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.””
The whole conversation was based on God’s word. Can you trust God’s word? What did God really say? Can God’s word be modified for this situation? When Jesus was facing the same temptations in the desert, He didn’t even speak His own words, or dialogue with the tempter at all. He merely quoted the truth of the bible and shut down the conversation. Most of us don’t know our bibles enough to shut down the conversation, and so we get drawn into the dialogue, and ultimately fall. If we don’t know our bibles… if we don’t know the truth… then we are open to being deceived.
Third, we become closed-minded.
We get stuck on one or two verses or ideas that define how we conduct our lives, our church, our families, and our friendships. Some people learn Matthew 7:1, “judge not lest ye be judged”, and never get past it. And therefore never speak to anyone about anything they are doing wrong. They never pull aside a brother or sister in Christ and tell them to get right with God.
And that’s because they’ve never gotten as far as Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” The words “spur on” literally mean “irritate, provoke and incite”. Or what about Proverbs 27:17 which says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Or, Matthew15:15where Jesus says, “If your brother sins go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” We are commanded in scripture to figure out how we can lovingly challenge and confront one another until we are caring for each other properly and doing the right thing.
We need the whole counsel of scripture to have a greater picture of what it means to be a Christian, not just picking and choosing a few favourites that fit with what we want to believe.
Fourth, we won’t be able to, as 1 Peter3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
I’m convinced that this is a big reason why people don’t share their faith. It’s because at some point they were told the truth, and they believed it, but they never locked away that truth inside of them to share with others. They are afraid that questions will come up that they won’t have answers for, so they don’t start the conversation at all. But if we are good students of the bible, then we will have the answers to many (not all, but many) of those questions, and have more confidence when we tell the story of what Jesus has been doing in our lives, and in this world.
And fifth, without diligent study we can be led, and lead others into heresy.
The word heresy literally means, “to choose other beliefs.” It is the opposite of the word “orthodoxy” which means “same thinking”. If God’s word is a revealed word, then it was revealed for a purpose, with a meaning in mind. There is a right way to read it.
2 Peter talks about the importance of reading what the Bible says and taking meaning from it, rather than putting meaning into it. Turn to, and listen to the words of 2 Peter 1:16-18, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Peter says, “Listen, we didn’t make this stuff up. And the prophets of the Old Testament didn’t make it up either. They weren’t interpreting things the way they saw them, or putting down their own ideas. They were simply writing what God told them to write.” That’s makes the bible a very special book.
We can’t say that these people wrote and taught this stuff to be popular or to make money. Most of the people who wrote the books of the bible lived difficult lives and were brutally murdered for what they believed.
And because of this, we need to remember that when we read the bible, we are not reading opinion, but we are reading the words of God, and we let them speak to us. If we stop reading the bible, or start reading into the bible, we will begin to introduce heresies… or “other beliefs”, that can lead us and others away from the truth.
Listen to how serious God takes heresy as I continue to read 2 Peter 2:1-3, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
We need to have good bible study habits and consistent accountability or we run the risk of promoting heresy, and what we think about a subject, rather than what God thinks.
So let’s get practical.
What are some methods we can use to study the bible to make sure we get it right? We need two things: Techniques and Tools. I only have time here to talk about the techniques. I brought some tools this week for you to see later.
There are 4 basic kinds of bible study that we can do: Topical, Exegetical, Biographical, Favourites.
Topical basically means that we pick a subject like salvation, heaven, hell, joy, judgement, prophecy, love, sacrifice, or grace and we see what the bible says about that topic. We find verses about that topic, and look up those words in a concordance to see what comes up. We read topical helps that talk about that subject.
Exegetical study means that we go verse by verse through the bible. We pick a book and study it chapter by chapter, verse by verse, word by word. This is generally how I preach when I go through a book. We go verse by verse, finding the key ideas, seeking out the context, and learning what the individual words meant then, and what they mean today.
A Biographical study is the study of a person. Moses, Ruth, Nehemiah, David, Solomon, Jesus, Paul. Pick a person and read all the books, verses and topics about them. Identify with them in your own life. Read their ups and downs. Study where they lived, and what their life was like. How did they live? How did they die?
And the fourth is a junk-drawer word I’m just calling Favourites – just picking and choosing a favourite passage. This would be studying the Lord’s Prayer, or Psalm 23 or 51, or all the definitions of love from 1 Corinthians 13. It’s mostly exegetical, and a little bit topical, and a little bit biographical.
How To Do A Bible Study
But what do you need to do? No matter what kind of study you’ve chosen, whether it’s topical, exegetical, biographical or a favourite, you’re going to come at it in the same way. Rick Warren has a great book called “Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods” and it has lots of different ways to go about doing a bible study. But it all boils down to three things you need to do:
Observe, Interpret, Apply.
First we Observe.
This is where we build our foundation of understanding the content. This is where we ask the “5W’s and an H” – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Here are some questions you can ask when looking and observing a passage:
1. What does it say?
What is the most obvious thing that this verse says. First impressions. Most basic, obvious observation. Let’s grab a difficult verse like John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” First impressions. Well, the NIV has the word “Word”capitalized, so it must be a proper name. And that proper name is probably a person who… wasn’t a human… but then became a human… and then lived among other humans. Ok.
2. What are some key words that I need to understand?
This requires a word study. What did the word mean back then and what does it mean today? Well, a few obvious words we need to understand are “Word”, “Flesh” and “Dwelling”. Let’s pick the word “Dwelling”. I went to www.blueletterbible.org and found the original text and learned that it is the Greek word SKENOO which means “Tabernacle” or “Tent”, and occurs 5 times in the bible. Once in John and 4 times in Revelation. I also remember that the Old Testament had a “Tabernacle”… I wonder if there’s a connection…
3. What’s the literal context?
What words are surrounding it? Who’s talking? Who is being spoken to? Well, we’d have to read the whole chapter and find out. What is the main idea that the author is trying to get across in this book, and in this paragraph, and in this sentence. And if God inspired the writing, then each word is important. Why did He choose that word, and what did that word, and sentence, and paragraph mean to the people then?
And what kind of literature is this? Knowing what kind of literature this is will help me interpret it. If you’re reading a poem, and you treat it like an encyclopaedia, you’re going to mess up the meaning. In the bible there are many kinds of literature. There are teaching sections, Legal writing, Narrative stories, Allegorical stories, Poetry and Prophecy. It’s important to figure out what kind of style you are reading before you interpret it.
4. What is the cultural context?
Where was the person when he wrote this? Who was he writing to? What were the political, social, economic, religious conditions during that time? Was there persecution? Famine? Was the author in prison like Paul? Or the leader of a country like Nehemiah? Or on the run like David? Was it being written to a church in a rich city, or a person who was a slave owner, or is this a chronicle of events to be kept in a library for reference? Cultural context is critically important for understanding the bible. What did it mean then?
My study bible says that John was a Jewish man, who wrote his book to both Jews and Gentiles. So he must have used the word “Tabernacle” to bring up something important in the minds of the Jewish and gentile readers, who understood about the tent that moved around with the people of God in the wilderness as they searched out the Promised Land.
And John uses that word to describe what Jesus did for us! The presence of God, in a fleshly tent, just like in the days of Moses.
5. What cross references apply?
Now we leave the verse we are studying and look around the bible for other verses or ideas like the one we are looking at. We always study difficult to understand verses in the light of verses that are easier to understand. If we can’t get it, then find another place in the bible that is more clear. The Bible will never contradict itself, but will always interpret itself rightly. Now, if we have learned that “the Word”, which we understand to be referring to Jesus, “became Flesh”… then does that mean that He was no longer God? Does that mean that he was sinful like other humans? We need to look at other passages to see.
- Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
- 1 John 3:5, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
Ok, now we’ve covered that part a bit. Cross references are very necessary in figuring out what’s going on, and a good study bible will help you find these cross references.
Now it’s time to Interpret.
In other words, ask the question, “What does it mean?” Based on your observation and all that you know about the context, meaning, words, cross-references, author and the rest: What did it mean then, and what does it mean now? What’s the main point God is getting across?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Is this passage teaching me doctrine? Is this passage rebuking me and telling me of a sin I have in my life, or that is in the world, that needs to be avoided and repented of? Is this verse correcting me and straightening out something that I’ve gotten wrong, or that others have gotten wrong? Or is this verse training me to do something like help someone, fix something, serve someone, or encourage someone? What does it mean?
Well, the main point of our verse seems to be that Jesus is God in the flesh, and chose to become one of us. Jesus, “The Word”, became human, and took on a “tent” of flesh, and decided and chose to live among us.
If we kept studying this we’d discover things like Jesus existed from eternity past, and was never created, but chose in love to become a human, for our sake, to take our penalty, because only a human could take the punishment for another human. And only a perfect human could take on Himself the wrath of God against sin for all humanity. And we would learn to identify the “Words” of God with the power of creation. Calling Jesus “the Word” represents Him as having the full power and majesty of God, the very power to create the universe.
We would also learn that in Greek culture “The Word” was considered to be an abstract, impersonal force, like the principle of reason or knowledge that gave order to the universe… but Jesus was not an impersonal “Word”, but was a very personal God who had the power to give order to all things through His very words. It is by His hand all things are sustained. That’s a powerful truth.
Now, interpreters have been studying this passage for 2000 years, so we’ve only just scratched the surface of what it means. But already we’ve learned something powerful. But so what?
Now we Apply what we’ve learned.
This is why we don’t end with Observation and Interpretation. It’s great to know what it says and what it means, but… what does it mean to me? This is God’s book. It is not written just to others, but to you and me as well. We need to ask “What does this passage really mean?” and then follow it up with, “And now what must I do?”
What do I need to change? What encouragement can I take from this? Who do I need to tell this to? What plan can I make to learn this lesson, and open my heart to God helping me to live more like Jesus. I’ll leave this part up to you today. What does God want you to do with this?
Observe, Interpret, Apply.
Bible Study is a rich and wonderful exercise, and I want each of us to be a person of the word. We need to work alone on this, and together in our groups.
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.
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,
“ And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  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.