Sharing my Faith – Believe#20

KEY QUESTION
How do I share my faith with those who don’t know God?

KEY IDEA
I share my faith with others to fulfill God’s purposes.

KEY VERSE

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20)

This weekend we conclude section two of our believe series.  This week 20 and ever since week 15 we have been looking at places in our lives that need to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ – that we need to surrender to God. There are things that our culture says to move in one direction and God says move in a different direction. Those are the most difficult places to live as a follower of Jesus.  Whether it is giving time or money or simply living together as a community that honours God with our actions toward one another — all of it brings joy and all of it requires some sacrifice. It is not easy to move against the flow. Yet as one author has written:

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

I think Jesus would agree with that view.  We all want to fit in but Jesus wants us to stand out — and to stand out for the right reasons.  

I just finished teaching an early church history course at Crandall University and one prominent aspect of the early church is that  Christians were known throughout history as being open to sharing their faith. There were seasons of persecution when saying you were a follower of Jesus meant suspicion and possible death. Of course, that is still the case in some places today — but for most of us our path is much less prone to danger.  It is ironic that even without the threat of death  openly sharing one’s faith is still considered one of the more difficult tasks by those who follow Christ in our Canadian context.  

I understand the cultural pressure and difficulty to share about our faith.  Our culture resists such things but we can be sure of one thing — everyone who has been saved by Jesus Christ– everyone who has put their faith in him and made a decision to follow him has been called to share their faith.  We are all…

Called to Share our Faith

We have stories in the gospels of Jesus sending people out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. If you wanted to be a disciple of Jesus — you got sent out. After Jesus rose from the dead, he gave his disciples instructions to go and make disciples.  Just before Jesus returned to his heavenly father his words to all his followers were simple:

…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

We could paraphrase Jesus words as:

“you will talk about me and live according to my teachings at home, with your neighbours — neighbours who are like you and neighbours who are not like you, and all over the world.”

This is something that is inescapable for those who follow Jesus. We are called to share our faith. We must be open about it, not hiding it or shy about it.  If someone says why do you forgive that person — you can say “it’s what Jesus teaches me to do”.  Sometimes people will say “you’re nuts” and other times it will lead to more conversation.  Sometimes the people who call you nuts are just emoting and will come back to you later –sometimes much later — and you can have a conversation.

The key to our call to share is actually loving people enough to tell them. If sharing our faith becomes a duty to dispatch — we do not have the heart of God. When Paul wrote the Corinthians he said “Christ’s love compels us” (2Cor 5:14) and the end of that passage he writes:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20, NIV)

When the prodigal son came home, in Jesus story, the Father disgraced himself by running to greet him and then in joy embraced his son and immediately threw a great party to celebrate his homecoming.  That is the father’s heart for every lost child that comes home. But so often we are the elder brother.  We never had enough love in us to searching for the lost son. The shepherd searched for the lost sheep.  The woman searched for the lost coin — but in this third story about lostness — no one searched.  That was the elder brother’s role, but he did not take it.  He did all kinds of things his father appreciated but he never got his heart.  He never appreciated why his father would watch the road every day for the lost son.

Often we are that elder brother – we follow Jesus as a duty instead of a profound sense of the Father’s heart.  Please hear me, sometimes life is hard and we put ourselves on auto-pilot, I get that I really do.  All I’m saying is let’s not accept it as the best scenario for our lives. The best scenario is loving like God loves. Everything becomes more natural when it is just we are overflowing God’s love. Eugene Peterson has a warning for us all:

“There is nothing more common than for people who want to talk about God to lose interest in the people they are talking to.”
(Eugene H. Peterson, Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers)

The call to share our faith is clear. The danger will always be doing it for the wrong reasons. Internalizing this call to share our faith must be rooted in prayer because in order to share our faith with love requires that our hearts be changed or as John Wesley said of his own heart that it was “strangely warmed”.  

That doesn’t happen from a sermon. That doesn’t happen by reading a book. That happens when God touches our lives and puts his love in us. The passage from Acts, that I read earlier was actually only half of the verse.  The first part goes like this:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…(Acts 1:8a, NRSV)

Our call to share our faith is rooted in our experience of faith and God at work in us helping us to love as he loves. As we travel down that path

We see our calling to share our faith starts …

With our lives

Most of us want to be authentic people. We want to be real. Not only do we want authenticity in ourselves, we appreciate it when we see it …anywhere.  

Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame wrote a book telling the story Starbucks. He make an insightful comment about authenticity:

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”

Sharing our faith starts practically by being authentic. It means doing acts of kindness for our neighbours — it means being a good neighbour in a time when people rarely know their neighbours.  It means going out 30 minutes earlier with your snow blower to help that crazy guy two doors down or stopping in to the elderly person on your street to see how they are doing. It means being a little weird in your kindness. But because it is rooted in your love for your neighbours it will pass the sniff test — they will be suspicious, but they will sense your sincerity as well.  Because you are not looking for anything in return — you’re just doing what Jesus did.  You’re following the way of the Apostles — the better way – as Paul called it– the way of love.  First we love, then we do loving thinags.  Paul writes:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.(Galatians 5:6, NIV)

Then there comes that time when people wonder about us and want to hear something.  As much as doing and not talking may be difficult for some extroverts, this next piece is the hard news for introverts. . .eventually you need to say something about the Gospel.  

We are called to Share our faith with our lives and also

With our words

I came across a book just recently and its title made me chuckle a bit when I read it :

Spiritual Conversations: Creating and Sustaining Them Without Being a Jerk

With a title like that, I had to read a few reviews and then a sample of the book on amazon.  It looks like it is actually a great book.  I think I’ll put it on my every lengthening list of books to read.  But what a great title.  How to have a spiritual conversation without being a jerk.  I think I love the title so much because I have heard so many evangelistic conversations where I felt the person was a jerk — and I already believe in Jesus!

I actually believe that if we get that love part right we have a built-in resistance to the jerk-factor. The people who most often come across as pushy, unkind, confrontational and even angry are people who are talking about Jesus for some other reason than authentic love for neighbour.  It’s not Christ’s love that compels them. . .it’s something else.  

When I have conversations about faith, I like to remember two things.

    1. The amount of relational capital I have with this person.  This is a very important first question.  People who you have deep relationship with can have conversations that allow you to risk saying something hard. They know your heart and so you can get down to difficult things and they still know you care about them. When you have no invested in a person and have little relationship capital, you communicate in different ways. I often use questions or personal stories that include faith. The second thing I remember is…
  • Not to over estimate my place in God’s Kingdom.  When I studied at Crandall University — it was Atlantic Baptist College then, there was a professor there named Jim Beverley.  Some of you may know Jim. I had several classes with him and in one of them we called some big names in theology at that time. One of them was Normal Geisler.  I credit this idea to Dr. Geisler. Dr. Beverley said what if I have to convert this person because I’m the only one who can — he said: “I would say you have overestimated your value in the Kingdom of God”.  I will never forget that class or that phrase.  God has many people working for him.  He has many conversations going on. I have had year-long conversations with people only to find out with surprise that they had been conversing with other Christians that I knew along the way — but I was not aware they even knew that person.  God is doing things in people’s lives that we are not aware of. It reminds us once again to pray for the people we do life with – that they would have ears that hear and eyes that see what God is doing all around them and for them.

It is a freeing thing to know that a person’s salvation does not rest solely on your shoulders.  I’m not letting myself or anyone else “off the hook” about sharing Christ — we are called to share Christ with our lives and our words. And we must pray for boldness like Paul did.  All I am saying is that we serve a great and merciful God. He is worth talking about.  What he has done in Christ is worth talking about.  Even when we feel awkward about it. Even when we would rather run away like Jonah or try to ignore the problem like Esther — in the end we all have a responsibility for a piece of what God is doing the in lives of those around us.  Not the whole thing — just a piece.  Our piece is important and only we can make that contribution.  God’s mighty hand will not be stopped because of someone’s lack of love for him or neighbour — but his reputation will not be enhanced — that’s for sure.

We are called to share our faith with our lives and with our words…

To Everyone

As I mentioned already from Acts 1, the words Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to all the world really mean at home, to our neighbours who are like us and who are different from us and out to the whole wide world.

What is interesting for me these days is how we are okay with sharing Christ at home — here in Moncton.  We are okay sharing our faith in Riverview — neighbours who are like us. But our neighbours who are different — who maybe speak a different language and adhere to a different form of Christianity or religion — we have work to do.  Our Samaria, our neighbour who is different than us could easily be Dieppe.  A different culture. A different language, different faith expressions — close to us but also different.  We must work to share faith with our neighbour — both like us and unlike us.  Likewise we must consider the larger world — to do projects which show the love of God in life and support our workers like Bruno and Kathleen who can put voice and passion to this gospel that we are called to share.  

As we look ahead, we are about to begin Alpha. This will be a season where we can invite people we know and have shared life with to begin a conversation about faith. The faith they have seen in you.  The love they have seen in you.  

Your church is working hard to create opportunities to take what you are doing in your own families and with friends and to help you start new conversations about faith — to continue ongoing faith conversations.  We want to love like Jesus and it is the love of Christ that compels us to explore together this faith that was once and for all delivered to God’s people (Jude 3) because we understand that we are

Called to share our faith
          with our lives,
                    with our words,
                              to everyone.

 

Giving my Resources – Believe#19

A preacher paid a visit to a farmer and asked, “If you had 200 dollars, would you give 100 dollars to the Lord?
“Sure would,” said the farmer.
“If you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?”
“Yeah, I would.”
“If you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord?”
The farmer replied, “That’s not fair. You know I have two pigs.”
(Kent Hughes, Preaching Today Message #205)

This week we are looking at Giving our Resources. There are times when this is easy and money flows from our hands and we are filled with joy that we could help.  But there are other times when it is hard but it is all part of a life that is marked by Faith in Jesus.  

And so our Key Question for today is this: How do I best use my resources to serve God and others?

Of course this presupposes that we want to use our resources to fulfill God’s purposes.  My hope is that if you are following Jesus, that is exactly what you want.  Even if it is hard at times…you want to embrace this spiritual call to giving.

Which leads us to the our Key idea: I give my resources to fulfill God’s resources  

That said, I know there may be others who are just tipping their toe in the water of the Christianity thing and since we are very protective of our resources in our Canadian context — this can be a threatening idea.

Brent Hudson our teaching pastor shares how this was, interestingly, a threatening idea to the early non-Jewish church as well.  Here is how Brent explains it!

The Jewish church had a rich culture of generosity.  You gave to the temple, you gave to the priests, you gave to the poor — sharing resources was part and parcel of what it meant to believe in a Creator God who was personal and cared about your life.  

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” (Psalm 24:1–2)  

How could a person sing that Psalm in the synagogue without a deep sense of all that one had belonged to God.  The Jewish Christians got this — but here’s the thing.  In the first century there was a food shortage in Palestine and so the very Christians who were notably generous were in that moment the ones in need.  

But more than that, the one’s who could help them were people like us — people who were raised to save and invest and work hard but not to give generously.  The non-Jewish Christians — often called Gentiles in the Bible — were brought up in a culture where when it came to resources and money:  what’s yours was yours.  Now Paul was in this place of having to ask the church to help those who were suffering — and did not have the mindset of God’s ownership of all things.  They did not have the mindset of being responsible for each other.  Simply put, they did not have the mindset of generosity.

In 2 Corinthians 8-9 we get a letter from Paul about the great offering that was being collected among the Gentile Churches to help the Jewish church in great need. These two chapters should be read over and over again by non-Jewish Christians.  

We may be 2000 years into the whole Christianity thing, but we are still Gentile Church — in so many many ways we are not unlike the Corinthians of the 1st century.  We know the path God wants us to be on — but everything in our culture makes it hard.  The Christian mindset of generosity simply does not make any sense to anyone who has not been radically saved by Jesus Christ.  And even among the saved — there are struggles.

Let’s look at our main Bible verse today as we develop a mindset that says “I give my resources to fulfill God’s purposes.”

Key Verse:

“But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7)  

Excel in the Grace of Giving

Brent takes us down a path where he helps us dig into the connection between grace and giving.

The word ‘grace’ in the New Testament refers to a very diverse set of ideas.

  • As protestants, we often learn that grace is “undeserved favour” — and it is.  But it is also more than that.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit – those “spiritual gifts” that we looked at a few weeks ago, are literally “grace-gifts” because the Greek word for these is based on the word for grace. In Greek, the word grace is χαρις (charis (ch like Bach not cheese) and grace-gifts is χαρισμα (charisma) – which is “something manifested from grace”.  Sometimes things get lost in translation — like the connection between spiritual gifts and grace — something the readers of the Greek text would have taken for granted.  
  • There are other words built on grace, like εὐχαριστέω which means to give thanks.  The word ‘grace’ can also be used to mean ‘do something generous’.  The New Revised Standard version of the Bible translates ‘grace of giving’ 2Cor 8:7 as “generous undertaking”.  Every time the word grace is used, there are hues of generosity in its meanings.  The grace/generosity connection is not something we make in English — but for the first readers of the Paul’s letters, the connection was in the word itself.

Connecting the dots between grace and generosity can be one of the most powerful things that can happen to us as we think about how we as people who have received grace from God must live in our life together.  Being generous is not confined to financial things — but it certainly must include it.  This was the connection Paul was making to the non giving Gentiles and making to us as we interact with his words about giving.

The Giving Path

Our key verse simply is telling us to excel – to stand out – to become proficient at – to become really good at the grace of giving.

Becoming really good at something implies movement…for example as one works at science, at soccer, or at making speeches one can excel as one moves along a path of proficiency.

So let me suggest we all here in this moment need to consider how we can excel in the grace of giving. Let me further suggest that we need to move through three areas on the path of giving.

We decided we would have some fun by calling each area on the giving a name based on a well known song.

“Let it Go”: The Logic of Grace

For those who are beginning on the path of giving we are calling this group

Let it Go! We are telling those who are at the beginning of this path of giving to consider the logic of grace

For those struggling to get started on this journey of generosity — you need to understand the logic of grace.  

God has given to you salvation by his grace — it is a generous gift. He wants us to be like him.  Jesus tells this story to those who were following him:

“…be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)

That’s obviously a high standard but you don’t abandon a great idea just because it is hard and you may not get 100%.  It is a vision to look to and guide our lives. Who cares if you are more generous than the person next you when the objective is to be children of our Father in heaven.  To be marked by His generous ways.  

We receive grace from God when he forgives us our sins in Jesus Christ. We receive grace from God when he helps us in our struggles.  We receive grace from God when we live in Canada not a war-torn reality like Syria.  It is a gift. It is a generous flow from God. We are to connect the dots between God showing us generosity and us living a life of generosity — to model our character after God character and change our ways to match his ways.  This is the logic of grace — you have freely received, now freely give.

We’ve only just begun: The Cost of Grace

The second group are those who get the logic of grace and who have started on the giving path.  This is a great thing really. It is powerful when we understand the ways of God and begin on the path of following Jesus.  

Sadly, many people who get on the path don’t travel very far before the realization happens that this could get costly.  

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

I think that is the reason that people don’t give very much in our Canadian context.  StatsCan has a webpage devoted to the charitable trends of Canadians. When I read it, it is a sad reality.  Did you know that in New Brunswick, 585,700 people filed taxes in 2015.  Of those filed, 113,040 made charitable donations for a total of $148,680,000. The median gift — if you took every donor and lined them up from lowest to highest, at the very middle — the median is a $310 dollar donation.  There is a reason why CRA doesn’t give you credit for the first $250 of giving — because most people don’t give that much.  The median gift in Quebec is $130 and for the nation is $300.  

When it comes to giving money — all Christians should be outliers in our culture. We should be so far off the cultural map that CRA is writing us letters asking for receipts to prove it — and they will send that letter.

Grace was costly is so is giving!

  1. Mark Dillon, Giving and Getting in the Kingdom (Moody Publishers, 2012 pg. 29; submitted by Kevin Miller, Wheaton, Illinois –

I once heard Warren Buffet say in an interview (I paraphrase here) about his $26 billion gift to the Gates Foundation: “My gift has not changed my lifestyle one bit. I still go to the movies I want to go to and eat at the restaurants I want to dine at. But what about the person who gives a gift that requires they can’t go to the movies or eat out. They are the true givers—the true heroes [of generosity].”

Now, this may offend someone, so let me apologize in advance, that is not my intent.  But if you have been forgiven a debt that was so large there was no way you could pay it and defaulting on that debt would actually endanger your very life — wouldn’t you want to express your gratitude with something a bit grander than a $250 gift of appreciation be a bit embarrassing? Would that really express gratitude for a life-saving act of generosity?  I think that’s the kind of gift you give if you think you’ll never have have to see that person again but feel obligated to give something.  News flash, you’re going to see that person again and actually have to explain why your new TV cost more than your annual giving.

“I can see clearly now”: The Fullness Grace

The fulness is when we see all the aspects of grace coming together in our lives…When we have this clear vision of what grace is — its central role in our lives.  Grace as the foundation for forgiveness.  Grace as the foundation for judging others.  Grace as the foundation for understanding spirituality, Grace as the foundation for our financial giving.  It can all be summed up in a word —  “generosity”.

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:7-15, NIV)

  • Cuba Offering – $525.00
  • Crandall Power Outage – $645.00
  • Christmas Eve – $9475.00
  • Christmas Offering – $2151.00
  • Irene MacLeod Bequest – $50,000

It is all about living our lives with a full understanding of how the giving path is connected to God’s character, my salvation, my experience of the Holy Spirit and what God has given to me to manage during my lifetime.  

Giving is one area of life that is easily measurable. The 10% rule is something that we can evaluate every year at tax time.  Some people quibble about gross income or net, I think that is a diversion.  Our city could be impacted greatly by our church if every family gave 10% of their net income — and you can measure that.  In that sense, it is simple and objective.

So many things about following Jesus can be complicated because it involves our hearts and our emotions — but this area — giving — it’s straightforward — we can measure it — in fact CRA requires us to every . single . year. It may be hard to do because of our own hearts — but it is easy to measure if we are getting it right.

BTW

As we move along the giving path there are three main steps:

Decide to do it
Do it
Do it cheerfully

There are lots of stories in the bible about people on different parts of the giving path that person.  The story of the rich fool in Luke’s gospel who was rich with respect to money but poor with respect to God. The story of the unforgiving servant who was give huge debt forgiveness but did not extend that to a fellow servant who owed him money.  In both cases the people are considered fools who simply do not understand what is important in the grand scheme of things.  

At the other end we have numerous examples of generous giving.  We have the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears and hair and then poured perfume on his feet. Jesus said she had show great love because she had experienced great love. We have the story of Zacchaeus who gave generously and Jesus praised him for his behaviour.

It is between these two bookends that most of us find ourselves on this path of generosity.

 

Giving my Time – Believe#18

Message Bumper (Asaf Avidan – One Day)

Tick-Tock

Did you hear the lyrics in that video we just played? It comes from the song entitled, “Reckoning Song”. We played this commercial as our message bumper because the lyrics speak of time.

“One day baby, we’ll be old
Oh baby, we’ll be old
And think of all the stories that we could have told.”

Tick Tock goes the clock and so does our time.

Today we come to the action step of living out my faith by Offering My Time.

KEY QUESTION
How do I best use my time to serve God and others?

KEY IDEA
I offer my time to fulfill God’s purposes.

KEY VERSE
Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

I want us to look at another important statement of about time found in Ephesians 5:15-17

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

As we contemplate these verses what can we say about time, about us and about faith?

Tick Tock – Time is Passing

There is a sense of urgency in these words of exhortation by Paul. In the Message paraphrase – So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! 17 Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.

When as a child, I laughed and wept,
Time crept;
When as a youth, I dreamed and talked,
Time walked;
When I became a full-grown man,
Time ran;
When older still I daily grew,
Time flew;
Soon I shall find in traveling on,
Time gone.

I sense Paul in light of scripture has a sense of the brevity of life. Scripture repeatedly presents powerful pictures that speak of our brief “season of opportunity” on earth using metaphors such as a breathe, a swift ship, an eagle’s dive, a shadow, a hand breath (thumb to little finger), smoke, vapor, grass, flowers of the field, a weaver’s shuttle!

Casting Crowns has the lyrics that mirror what scripture tells us constantly…

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind

TICK -TOCK  – Time is Passing

TICK-TOCK – We are Careless

Paul’s warning about being careful with our time is because of the temptation and the danger of being careless. We often can act unwisely with our time. A teacher and author Chuck Swindoll – suggests five proven ways to be careless with our time.

First, worry a lot. Start worrying early in the morning and intensify your anxiety as the day passes.

Second, make hard-and-fast predictions.

Third, fix your attention on getting rich.

Fourth, compare yourself with others.

Fifth, lengthen your list of enemies. If there’s one thing above all others that will keep your wheels spinning, it’s perfecting your skill at the Blame Game.

Henry Blackaby observes that when we are careless…If you are spiritually prepared when a crisis comes, you will not have to try to develop instantly the quality of relationship with Christ that can sustain you. If you suddenly have an opportunity to share your faith with an unbeliever, you will be equipped to do so. If you enter a time of worship spiritually prepared, you will not miss an encounter with God. If you are spiritually filled when you meet a person in sorrow, you will have much to offer. If you have established safeguards in your life in advance, you will not give in to temptation. Christians lose many opportunities to experience God’s activity because they have not devoted enough time to their relationship with God.

Ortberg writes that we must all ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives.

Why?

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well. As Ortberg observes for many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Another reason Ortberg gives to eliminate hurry is that love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time and time is one thing hurried people don’t have. The dilemma we all face with our hurry is that we often end up not being able to love those most important to us. We come home with sunset fatigue that leads to unkind words, underlying tension and escapist behaviors like tuning into the TV or computer and tuning out your spouse, children or friends.

TICK TOCK  We are Careless.

Tick Tock – Faith is Now

Paul speaks about discerning the Lord’s will – about making the most of every opportunity. The idea of opportunity is to know the season that you are in and do what you can with it.

Henry Blackaby (known for his excellent study Experiencing God) says

Timing our obedience is crucial. Invitations from God come with a limited opportunity to respond. Some opportunities to serve Him, if not accepted immediately, will be lost. Occasions to minister to others may pass us by. When God invites us to intercede for someone, it may be critical that we stop what we are doing and immediately adjust our lives to what God is doing. Missing opportunities to serve the Lord can be tragic. When an invitation comes from God, the time to respond is now.

Let me quote Blackaby: God has tried, at times, to get our attention by revealing where He is at work. We see it, but we do not immediately identify it as God’s work. We say to ourselves, Well, I don’t know if God wants me to get involved here or not. I had better pray about it. By the time we leave that situation and pray, the opportunity to join God may pass us by. A tender and sensitive heart will be ready to respond to God at the slightest prompting. God makes your heart tender and sensitive in the love relationship you are called to seek to have with Him.

As we consider what it means to seize the opportunities let us recognize that often many can be termed – Inconvenient Opportunities

A history professor once visited a fine ancestral home in Virginia. He followed the aged owner, the last of a distinguished colonial family, as she proudly showed him through her home. An ancient rifle above the fireplace intrigued him, so he asked if he might take it down and examine it. She replied, “Oh, I’m very sorry. I just can’t allow it. You see, it just wouldn’t be safe. The rifle is loaded and primed, ready to fire. My great-grandfather kept it there in constant readiness against the moment he might strike a blow for the freedom of the colonies.” The professor said: “Oh, then he died before the American Revolution came?” “No,” came the reply. “Actually he did not. He lived to a ripe old age and died in 1802, but he never had any confidence in George Washington as a general or as a Commander in Chief. You see, he knew him as a boy and didn’t believe he could ever lead an army to victory.”

He missed out a history making moment.

Making the most of our time comes down to this – taking advantage of every opportunity to manifest the reality of one’s faith.

So how do we do that?

  • Every day is time to depend on God in prayer and listen to his word.

    Everyday is a time to show compassion to a stranger.. those in need.

    Everyday is a time to share my hope in Christ.

    Everyday is a time to grace and practice humility.

    Everyday is time to practice gratitude

    Everyday is time to seek first God’s kingdom…

    Everyday is time to use my spiritual gifts

    Every day is time for loving service, holy adoration, and diligent study.

    Every day is  time to know the mind of Christ and by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives live out His love and truth.

Psychologist, William Marston, surveyed 3,000 people. “What have you to live for?” Ninety-four percent said they were just enduring today and living for tomorrow.

Robin Mark:

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for You?

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I’ve done for love’s Reward
Will stand the test of time

 

Spiritual Gifts – Believe #17

Last week we talked about how we are called in our Christian faith to do “Life Together”. This week as we talk about Spiritual Gifts we need to see an important connection to the community of faith. One way the biblical community is described in the bible is that we are the body of Christ.

In Romans 12:4-6 we are given the implications of being part of the body – read it on the screen or on the teaching outline. :

KEY VERSE: Romans 12:4-6
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” 

In this image there is link made between parts of the body and spiritual gifts. One implication that I find striking is that it is obvious that when I think about a body it is made up of so many parts and they all need to working in a proper and healthy way together in order for the body the to flourish.

I remember years pulling up carpet and in the process damaging nerves near my spinal column. The pain was relentless. I had to go on a strong painkiller – oxycontin ever so briefly…and all I can say is that when that member/part of my body was damaged it affected my whole body.

Paul is reminding us that if we are the body of Christ – we all need to be functioning in a healthy in order for Christ to work through us. That is why the Key Question is important for us to consider:

KEY QUESTION
What gifts and skills has God given me to serve others?

In your journey to act like a follower of Jesus – you need to come to grips with this biblical reality that says that each one of us is spiritually gifted. It is crucial that you in your journey through this life come to a place of self awareness where you can say in our Key Idea:

KEY IDEA
I know my spiritual gifts and use them to fulfill God’s purposes.

When we talk about what on earth am I here for – this understanding of our spiritual gifts is part of that journey into a full meaningful faith where we begin to see how we are called to live before God and with others.

But let’s back up the train for a moment so that we can grasp a fundamental truth about being a Christian. When we make the courageous decision to to step across the line of faith and embrace God’s offer of salvation through the grace and mercy of Christ, we are changed. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in each of our lives.

 The Believing Community is Spirit-filled

This is a mystical and marvelous experience. And since we all experience this for those who have faith in Christ – it means that the church, the body of Christ, the fellowship of believers is Spirit filled.

Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit…John 14:26

John 14:26 (NIV)
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Let’s be clear about the presence of the Holy Spirit. It means the presence of God in our lives. Without God at work in our lives then we may have our plans, our own energy but from God’s perspective it is rather missing the point.

Even in the Old Testament we are reminded about the needed presence of God’s Spirit. Through the OT prophet Zechariah we hear these words – It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. (Zechariah 4:6)

I think of the birth of the church in Acts. The means of this occurrence was through the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the early disciples very specifically about waiting for the Holy Spirit.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When we are describing any church in spiritual terms we have to see that it moves us way beyond organizational structures. We are saying that you and you and you and you have the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. The very presence of God. That means all those who are christians in this gathering of worship are not ordinary by any means. The believing community is Spirit filled.

The Spirit Gives Gifts

Now the implication of Spirit filled people is that we are given spiritual gifts. The bible makes it plain: The Spirit gives Gifts!

1 Corinthians 12:11 (NLT)
It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

There are two critical implications about spiritual gifts for the church. I need to give credit to the late Ray Stedman who was pastor of Peninsula Bible Church for the articulation of these implications about our spiritual gifts.

First…

We cannot consider ourselves insignificant.

Many people in many churches have thought to themselves, I love to coming to church, but I can’t contribute, because I don’t have any abilities. Others are so much more talented or knowledgeable than I am.”

Paul addresses this feeling of insignificance in these next verses of I Corinthians 12 when he says, “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. If the ear should say, ‘Because I’m not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.”

In other words, if the foot should say, “I can’t do all the things a hand does. It’s so flexible, and it’s used all the time. I really don’t belong in this body,” it is nevertheless an indispensable part of the body.

In the same way, if you are a believer and you think you are insignificant just because you can’t preach or lead worship, you are deceiving yourself. Whether you feel qualified or not, you’re still a part of the body. But you have shut your eyes to truth. You need to open them to see the role God has called you to play. There are no insignificant members of the body.

Here is something interesting – there’s a part of your body that is absolutely essential to all of us. It is our big toe. The big toe senses when your body begins to lean or shift or get out of balance, and it immediately strengthens so that we all can stand up. Without your big toe, we would all be in trouble.

There are people in the church who are just as essential to its work as the big toe. Take people with the gift of helps, for example. We think they are nice to have around. Food needs to be served. Chairs need to be set up. They see a need and meet it. We’re glad they help out, but do we really appreciate how crucial their service is to the work of the church? Without those folks, we’d soon be unable to preach or teach. We’d stumble over one another and nothing would get done.

The reason so many people consider themselves insignificant is that we often have the wrong idea of what the work of the church is. It is so much more than our weekend services. People who lead services might lead the rest of the church to think That’s the work of the church, and I can’t do any of those things. Therefore, I have no part to play in the church.

The work of the church is to heal the brokenhearted, to deliver the captives, to open the eyes of the blind, and to preach the good news to the poor and despairing. The work of the church is to encourage and strengthen and deliver. Seek justice, show mercy – meet the needs of others with love.  And alot of that work doesn’t take place inside the church building; it goes on out in the world. What happens inside the church building is that we get organized and trained and inspired. We come here to be equipped and encouraged and educated to fulfill the work of the church out there.

There are many jobs to be done in the work of the church. Some are to be done on when the church is gathered and other times when the church is dispersed. That’s the work of the church; the church is Christ at work in the world. Doing this work requires everyone using their spiritual gifts so that they can do the work God wants them to do.

Second…

We cannot consider ourselves independent.

Paul says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you;’ nor, again, the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” It’s amazing how many people believe they don’t need the rest of the body. They are confident in their own abilities and their own ministries. This attitude of independence hurst the body of Christ.

Think about golfers versus hockey players. I once spoke at a conference for professional golfers. Golfers are, by nature, independent. A golf tournament is a struggle of independent egos against one another. It’s very different from a hockey game,  in which each member plays his own role, working together with the rest of the team to accomplish a goal. I’m afraid many congregations are more like golfers; everybody goes out on his or her own and pays little attention to what others are doing.

Paul points out that this attitude leaves the church in a terrible state. What if the eye said, “I don’t need the rest of the body; I’ll just roll around seeing things and let the rest of the body go”? If that happened, the rest of the body would stumble into everything and the eye would lose its ability to see. We all need one another, no matter how impressive we think we are. For as Paul reminds us that in our physical body the parts that seem to be weaker are actually indispensable.

The power of our spiritual gifts is when they are working together. Quote Ray Stedman – When you begin to see the church as God sees it, you’ll see that God works the whole body together in one beautifully articulated and coordinated thing. The human body is the most beautifully balanced and delicately tuned instrument the world has ever seen. In the same way, there’s nothing more beautiful or effective, nothing more exquisitely balanced, than the church of Jesus Christ. God has crafted it with care. Therefore we ought to show great care for one another. Paul says, “If one member suffers, all suffer with it.” It’s also true that “If one be honored, all are honored with him.”

We need each other’s gifts to accomplish God’s purposes – We are not independent…

 Are you using them?

Are you using the gifts God has given you. Have you unwrapped your gifts?

1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

The list  includes administration, healing, teaching, mercy, discernment, helps, wisdom knowledge, leadership, evangelism, hospitality and faith

Maybe right now your answer is in the negative because of the following reasons:

  1. Don’t know –
  2. Discouraged – don’t grow weary in well doing! Forgive, let go of the past, press on, keep in step with the Spirit, continue to love even when it hurts.
  3. Distracted – keep your eye on the big picture – God has given us spiritual gifts for a season to glorify God and to serve others. We come to see that using our gifts for God gives us a purpose bigger than ourselves.

Matthew 25: 23 (NIV)
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.Come and share your master’s happiness!’

[This post was based on the manuscript written by Pastor David Morehouse]

Biblical Community – Believe #16

Life Together in Christ

In our journey through Believe we are halfway through on what we are called to do in our faith. The first 5 of our doing was focused on deepening our relationship with God.

They were:

  • Worship
  • Prayer
  • Bible Study
  • Single Mindedness
  • Total Surrender

Now we shift from God on how we are to deepen our relationships with others. Let us never forget that the wonderful news of the gospel is that God is creating a new community of people who came from darkness into light to be in relationship for all of eternity because of the work of Christ.

This new community is the church – the household of faith – the body of Christ – the family of God – which we are all called to be part of…

This week let us consider the call to do life together in Christ. In our day of individualism where we prefer the solitary life with a few hand picked family and friends – we are challenged to see how we are called to enter into a household of faith.

A symptom of the struggle to do life together in Christ are the statistics that tell us that church attendance is on a decline. Over 50% – 70% of people who are identify with a church community are not in attendance on any given weekend.

Perhaps the observation by Heather King strikes close to home for many of us. She says this about the reality of biblical community: We worship with people we did not hand pick.  This shatters our egos. We experience a humbling effect of discovering that we are thrown in with extremely unpromising people!—people who are broken, misguided, wishy-washy, out for themselves. People who are … us.  And when we come to church we discover this is the best place – the only place – to hear about the two greatest scandals of God’s grace – 1.) that he loves us – AND – 2.) that he loves everyone else. (Adapted from Heather King – The Better Church)

Let me share one more observation by Carmen Renee Berry – author of The Unauthorized Guide to Choosing a Church (Brazos, 2003) – She writes, “Where human frailty once served as a reason for me to withdraw from the church, with its unruly and divergent congregants, this is now what compels me back to spiritual community. I had overlooked one essential factor—that I am as finite and flawed as everyone else.”

We see the the quality of life in the early church from the description in our key memory verse birth of church in the key memory verse of the week.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:44-47

That leads us to the key question we need to wrestle with – If I am called to do Life together in Christ with those who believe – How do I…

KEY QUESTION
How do I develop healthy relationships with others?

I want us to consider that as we grasp the marks, the qualities of biblical community – we will start to connect with the church the way God intended.  When we get a hold of these qualities – the KEY IDEA of this week – I fellowship with Christians to accomplish God’s purposes in my life, in the lives of others and in the world. – begins to make sense.

So what are the marks of doing life together in Christ?

Work Together

The Israelites returned from 70 years of captivity and were rebuilding their lives under God. Nehemiah was called by God to give leadership in the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem.

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

One mark of Biblical community – engages all its members to use their gifts resources and and time together to accomplish a task important to the plan of God.

Life in Christ means we work together –

  • Alpha,
  • Calling pour nextgen pastor,
  • refreshing our buildings
  • Multisite
  • Embracing our community
  • Serving in a ministry

Stick Together

One of the marked differences between the church and the rest of society is the call to live for others. We are urged to “look out for one another”

Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15:14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

I Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

The call of one another is a radical love – we will be inconvenienced, interrupted and intruded.

We can’t make it just about us. It is a call to break free from self centeredness.

Pastor Ray Ortlund writes, “The kind of God we really believe in is revealed in how we treat one another. The lovely gospel of Jesus positions us to treat one another like royalty, and every non-gospel positions us to treat one another like dirt. But we will follow through horizontally on whatever we believe vertically.”

Ray then goes on to identify the “One Another’s” he could not find in the N.T.:

Sanctify one another, humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, sacrifice one another, shame one another, judge one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins, intensify one another’s sufferings, point out one another’s failings …

C.S.Lewis:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Share (& EAT) Together

Hebrews 13:1-2 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13: 15-16 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

We see the importance of hospitality – inviting others in – sharing our homes and our lives – mysterious about eating together – it breaks down barriers – it is an act of worship before God!

Risk Together

Paul the apostle and great christian missionary had friends who were with him in ministry. Two of these were Priscilla and Aquila

1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla[a] greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

Romans 16:3-4  Greet Priscilla[c] and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

“I believe He wants us to love others so much that we go to extremes to help them.” Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

I can’t help but think we may risk our lives for our family but will we risk them for our brothers and sisters in Christ…

Risk means we become vulnerable and sacrificial. We forget about rights and move into

Go Deep Together

1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 2 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.

1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

We must have a profound sense of the gospel – what God has really accomplished in our lives – radical salvation – from darkness to light – that is the profound basis of our relationship…this context we treat each with a profound sense of depth

Spiritual formation is so often couched in more individualistic terms, that it’s easy to forget the important role the church community plays in our growth as individuals. In her bookTraveling Mercies, Anne Lamott shares a story she once heard from her minister that illustrates well the necessary presence of others in our journey of faith:

When [my minister] was about seven, her best friend got lost one day. The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where they lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark. She was very frightened. Finally a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car, and they drove around until she finally saw her church. She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, “You could let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.”

Lamott further writes:

And that is why I have stayed so close to [my church]—because no matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, and hear their tawny voices, I can always find my way home.

Our linked is the profound relationship we have together in Christ – we are forgiven – we have moved out of darkness into light because of the work of Christ – who we are in Christ means we are a new creation – but all of us are new creations – profound implications

Love cannot exist in isolation: away from others, love bloats into pride. Grace cannot be received privately: cut off from others, it is perverted into greed. Hope cannot develop in solitude: separated from the community, it goes to seed in the form of fantasies. No gift, no virtue can develop and remain healthy apart from the community of faith. “Outside the church there is no salvation” is not ecclesiastical arrogance but spiritual common sense, confirmed in everyday experience. (Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder (HarperOne, 1991) p. 43).

 

God places a high value on the community of believers – the church – How important is it to you – how is it making a difference in your life?  

This week what one idea of life together will take a step toward?

  • Work – share in task that is important to the plan of God
  • Stick – look out for others
  • Share – practice hospitality
  • Risk – make yourself vulnerable
  • Go Deeper – embrace the forgiveness of Christ and come into the family of God.

Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God makes this observation: “We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression ‘I believe in God, just not organized religion’. I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live.”

[This post is based on the manuscript written by Pastor Dave Morehouse]

 

 

 

Bible Study – Believe #13

We are currently in a message series called Believe.  Next week we will look at Worship — but I wanted to point out that these three actions: Worship, Prayer, & Bible Study, really are at the centre of our relationship with God.

Last week we looked at a day in the life of Jesus to see about prayer.  I want to do something very similar today, but not as the entire message — just a brief survey of how the bible intersected with Jesus — how we see that Jesus knew the bible and that he understood it.

Our first encounter with the Jesus story is all about the fulfillment of scripture.  They way the bible is quoted and used in those early chapters of Matthew and Luke assumes that the author is familiar with both the content and authority of the Bible.  Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the temptation narrative is actually a story about misuse of the bible (devil) and proper use of the bible (Jesus).  There is a lot more going on in that story — all Jesus’ quotes come from Deuteronomy in the wandering narrative — where Israel — God’s son — lacked faith in God and his promise.  Jesus was the obedient and faithful son as he faced his temptation in the desert.  

Jesus’ first sermon he takes a scroll and finds his place and reads from Isaiah.  There is a sense of familiarity that we see as Jesus reads the scroll.  Look at our key bible Text today:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12, NIV

The more we read about Jesus words and interaction with others the more it becomes obvious that this is exactly how Jesus thought about the bible.  We need to learn from him.  We need to …

Study the Bible! Experience the change!

Let look at how we can take seriously that the bible is God’s word to us, that it is alive and active and helps us discern the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  

First, we need to…

Read it!

If you’ve been coming here for a while, you know this is not an original idea . . . it has been said many, many times before.  We need to read God’s word — and I would include listening to God’s word for those who find reading a bit painful or if you have health reasons that make reading difficult.  When I say “read it” what I’m really saying is that you need to take what is in the Bible and get it into your head and into your heart.  That is the goal.  If you are reading it and thinking about baking muffins or balancing your budget you are not achieving the goal even though you are technically reading it.  

Just like prayer, Just like worship, Bible study is about God relating to us. It’s not about us.  It is not about having more knowledge, it is not about knowing the geography of the Holy Land, it is not about understanding the ancient culture and languages used at that time — all of this helps — but the main point — the most important point — is God speaking into us his wisdom and his ways.  

If that is going to happen we need to use a version of the bible that we can understand.  It needs to be at our reading level and that’s a very personal decision. The only thing I would say is that it should be a translation and not an all-out paraphrase.  In a sense all translation is paraphrase but a version like the NLT or the new NIV are great for studying. For general reading, I have always enjoyed the Good News Bible — but again it’s personal.  Find something you will actually enjoy reading.

A few years ago, I bought the TNIV on CDs so I could listen in the car.  It has multiple readers and I have enjoyed it very much.  When I was in college, I bought a dramatized NIV new testament on cassette tapes — yes for those who thought CD’s were old — I had a cassette tape player.  But it was a very powerful reading the NT with multiple voiced parts in the Gospels and Acts — it was excellent.  I would listen when I was mowing the lawn or doing household chores.  It was amazing.  

I still remember the day when I was mowing the lawn trying to think of a passage to preach on for Father’s day and I heard 1Thess 2:11-12.

1 Thessalonians 2:11–12 (NRSV)
11
As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12 urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

I was a new dad, I was a new pastor and the weight of having something to say every single week was weighing me down — and then I heard this.  It was more than a Father’s day message it was a message to me about my real goals of pastoring.  I was letting the burden of a weekly message take my focus when what should have taken my focus was doing all I could to urge and encourage the church to lead a life worthy of God because it is his kingdom and his glory that ultimately mattered.  Standing here week after week with something to say is still hard — but it is a lot easier now because God’s word to me that day.  And I heard it mowing the lawn because I got a bible on tape.  Now you can listen online for free.  Bibles are available online for free.  Access is easier now.  But we still need to take the time and let God speak to us.

Maybe you read the bible but needs some help applying it to your life.  Devotional materials can help us take that extra step.  The Bible app is free and has lots of devotional materials for us.  There are other apps out there as well. Olive Tree has a bible app and lots of free books and materials that can help us apply God’s word to our lives.  

Reading the bible is the beginning, reading with devotional helps even better, but if we are going to follow Jesus on this — and really take seriously the message of Hebrews 4:12 — we need to The second thing I would want to …

Go deeper!

We need to go deeper in God’s word.  We need to do more than just read it and hear nice stories about other people applying it, we need to actually study God’s word.  

Jesus was a carpenter and he knew the Bible. In fact, before we say “that was Jesus, he was the son of God” we need to realize that every Jewish child — from the time they are babies until adolescence are trained in the Bible by their parents and by their community of faith.  What we see as extraordinary was actually quite normal for Jewish people.  Even today, Jewish children go to Hebrew school after regular school to learn the language of their bible — the same Bible Jesus had in his day and what we now call the Old Testament.  

I used to do carpentry.  My dad is a carpenter, my grandfather was a carpenter. . .it was a default choice for me. I used to help my dad, work on the jobsite and see how things were done.  When I was a kid, I would clean the yard, sweep the floors, stack lumber, organize stuff, all the while watching the others do their work.  Later when I worked as an apprentice with my uncle — my dad’s brother  — he gave me some great advice.  Spend a little more to buy quality tools.  If you buy the cheaper stuff, you’ll end up replacing it over and over.  I worked with a guy who heard the same advice but he always went for the cheap stuff.  Cheap block planes, cheap utility knives, cheap squares — I say all those things in the plural because just like my uncle predicated, he replaced those items repeatedly.  But before they broke — they produced bad results.  He had to do more work fixing the problems his low-quality tools created. Softer steel used on his block plane would get nicks on it and eventually score the surface of the wood. My Stanley plane never did that. Hard steel, blade stayed sharp, always did what I wanted it to.

The same is true for the tools we use to understand the bible.  If we use low-quality tools, we will have a low-quality understanding. A poor understanding will lead us to apply the bible to our lives in ways that God never intended.  You can see how that can be a problem.  The thing is, when it comes to bible study, high quality tools does not mean expensive or even new — it just means high calibre.  The works of John Wesley or Jonathan Edwards are still full of treasures all these years later — even though they are old and even free online.  There are great commentaries that are free online.  For the person who likes the feel of a paper book — there are lots of bargains on high quality tools.  

We also should listen to good teachers of the Bible.  They have done their work and they are sharing their harvest of knowledge and wisdom with the church.  Tim Keller has free podcast messages.  The apologist Ravi Zacharias has free content online.  The philosopher and scholar William Lane Craig puts his Sunday school class online — which is more like a university class really — but some people are ready for that level of engagement about biblical ideas.  BiblicalTraining.ORG has lots of materials available at the higher end and the internet is teeming with far more content than we could ever listen to in a single lifetime.  Pick a good teacher and start listening.

Most importantly, studying God’s word helps us to hear the author.  The human author of the text — with their language and culture built into the communication as it is in all communication.  But when we see through that, we hear the divine author.  We hear the message from God.

Let me give a simple example.  The phrase ‘evil eye” in English means a hateful look.  If someone gives you the evil eye, it means they are angry with you for some reason.  It is our default understanding and we don’t even think about it.  But with Jesus, evil eye means nothing like that at all.  It means to lack generosity.  Jesus uses it in the parable of the laborers to describe the attitude of the all-day workers getting the same pay as the last minute workers — they were stingy whereas the owner was generous. Jesus uses it in a list of sins that eat away our souls in Mk 7:22 and he uses it again in Matt 6:22 just before talking about not being able to serve both God and money.  The evil eye is different for Semitic cultures than western culture. Going deeper shows us this.

When we choose to go deeper, we make a decision for life change.  The more deeply we understand the Word of God, the more opportunity we create in our lives for God to shape us and steer us.  We create more handles for God to grab hold of.

The danger in all of Christian life is ourselves and our subjective thinking. Everything can become “all about me.”   Our default is to go into ourselves — to rationalize our behaviour or thinking.  The answer to this is going deeper in his word. Doing hard work of study so God’s word is part of your thinking.

First we study the Bible then we let the Bible study us.

At some point need to become teachable people.  We need to allow the work of God’s word to happen in us.  Let’s look at that key text one more time:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12, NIV

The danger in all of Christian life is ourselves and our subjective thinking. Everything can become all about us.  Maybe you are hurting emotionally.  Maybe you have suffered abuse.  Maybe you are just learning something about yourself that is ugly and hard to accept.  Our default is to go into ourselves and to rationalize our behaviour but we have a choice for a new experience.  

The Social Critic, Neil Postman once said that popular culture tells us what we want to hear but God tells us what we need to hear and they are not always the same thing.

Without going deeper in God’s word, by studying it and listening to good teachers, we just go on our own intuition which will lead us to the same experiences of disappointment, creating an itch for something more, something better.  God wants something better for us but we will never get there on our own.  We need to go deeper with God and part of that is going deeper into his word.

Our goal is to see things from God’s point of view –

“It is a dangerous thing to live your life without a spiritual “plumb line,” or standard, by which you determine right from wrong. God’s Word is that plumb line…God established absolute moral and spiritual laws that we are free to ignore, but we do so at our own peril. These laws are timeless. Culture does not supersede them. Circumstances do not abrogate them. God’s laws are eternal, and they will save you from death if you follow them.” ― Henry T. Blackaby, “Experiencing God Day By Day

Our goal is spiritual transformation

The ultimate goal of knowing God’s word is becoming more like Jesus.  Jesus said to the leading Bible scholars of his day:

39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39–40, NIV)

This is the great warning Jesus gives to us. For those who love to do Bible Study — it’s meant to lead you to follow Jesus.

If there is one thing we know from watching Jesus at work with his disciples — not just the 12 but Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Zacchaeus and the rest, following Jesus means changed lives.

We look to the Bible but not to get ideas from what people did for God. We look to see what God did in peoples’ lives.” ― Henry T. Blackaby, Hearing God’s Voice

Studying the bible has as its goal to know God better, to hear his voice more clearly, to love him more, and to follow his one and only Son who was sent into this world for us.

We want to study the Bible not so we can just know it but to allow it into our hearts and souls — or as Paul describes it…

18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)

God’s word is alive and active

Study the Bible! Experience the change!

Prayer – Believe #12

If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me! (Psalm 66:18-20, NIV)

Prayer is connecting with God. It is very personal experience and yet at the same time an outward expression of us walking by faith and not by sight. As we seek to learn to walk in faith with God we come to the spiritual practice of prayer.

Prayer is a central expression of faith. John Calvin spoke of this when he said, The principal work of the Spirit is faith … the principal exercise of faith is prayer.

Introduction: Prayer: A day in the life of Jesus

I don’t know about you, but when I look at my bookshelf, I have a lot of material relating to prayer.  Books by theologians like J.I.Packer by Spiritual Directors like Richard Foster and pastoral and even faddish books ranging from Prayer Evangelism, intercessory Prayer to actual collections of prayer written down by great men and women of faith in the past.  Prayer is such a central and intimate part of our relationship with God, it seems that no matter how much we read or study there is always more to learn and practice relating to prayer. There’s no way I can say everything about prayer, or even everything that is important about prayer in the time frame of a message.  But I can say this, prayer is part of what it means to follow Jesus — because prayer was important to him.

“All prayer is language—language in conversation, conversation between God and us. The most frequent distortion of prayer takes place when we fail to listen to God’s Word to us. We do all the talking, demanding that God do all the listening.” – Eugene Peterson

A conversation with God

Today, I want us to look at a day in the life of Jesus with our focus being the place of prayer.  How did Jesus approach Prayer?  How can we take his example and apply that to our own situations.

Let’s look at a day in the life of Jesus

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and …he prayed.

At the start of the day, Jesus prayed

We don’t know exactly what Jesus prayed. Did he pray in Aramaic, did he pray in Greek. Did he use Psalms as his guide, did he pray extemporaneously.  There are so many question we want to answer — but practically speaking we know this — he got up early to pray.  I can deduce a couple of things from this.  First, Prayer was a priority for him.  It was important enough to get up early for – very early.  

Praying at the start of the day – orients our minds and hearts to hope, peace and love.

It also keeps the tension between praying and doing in a healthy balance. We pray before the day begins where we are called to act and to do.

The other week, Lise went to Thunder Bay to help our daughter Christi move into a new apartment.  Her plane left Moncton at 5am — that meant getting to the airport at 4am which meant getting up at 3:30am.  In my honest opinion — that is just a terrible time to get up — but we did.  We got up because our alarms went off and our alarms were set — lots of alarms were set — phone alarms; clock alarms; I even set my fitbit alarm — because it was important that we get to the airport.  

When something is important we do all kinds of uncomfortable things, don’t we.  When I learned I was lactose intolerant, I gave up milk and along with it all those other things like ice-cream — oh, how I miss ice-cream with Lise’s homemade chocolate sauce — made with cream no less.  All gone.  Why? Because it was important to me to change that habit so I could be more healthy.  

Lots of people here have made changes regarding fitness.  We have several here who have run their first 5k and 10k others who have taken up intense workout routines to become more fit and healthier.  Those kinds of changes don’t just happen.  They require us to prioritize our values — to accept that doing A means not doing B.  

Jesus did that with Prayer.  He chose to get up early to pray rather than catch that extra hour sleep.  He accepted all things things that went with that.  Going to bed at a time so he could get up without the convenience of an alarm clock — or any clock.  He got up when it was dark and he went to pray.

We need to prioritize prayer in our lives. It must become something that happens regularly before the busyness and chaos of the day begins. If we don’t prioritize it — it won’t happen.  Our prayer life will consist of a few sentences to God as we drink our coffee and drive to work.  We can do better than that, but only when we see prayer as important — like Jesus did.  At the start of the day — Jesus prayed.

Mark 6:45-46 …he dismissed the crowd… he went up on a mountainside to pray.

In the midst of heavy demands, Jesus prayed

I think it is safe to say that life in Jesus’ time was simpler than life in our day. The mechanical clock, artificial light — we live in a 24/7 world and we don’t know how to shut things off and we don’t know why we would do such a thing.  Yet despite the simpler times that Jesus lived — his life was filled with activity and interruptions. His life was taken up by the needs of others — he loved people and he did what he could to help and heal those who approached him.  We have a number of stories in the Bible about the kinds of things Jesus did — but sometimes we our information is like Luke 4:40:

At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.

We know the kinds of crowds that followed Jesus. One time he was called upon to feed 5000 men, women, and children.  That’s a big lunch crowd!  In Luke we read of a crowd that came with their sick friends and relatives — people who were desperate and he laid his hands on each one of them.  He did this day in and day out.  Most of us don’t have that kind of crowd problem.  Some do, but not most.  

Ironically, after spending all day with needy people — helping them, counselling them, healing them. . . .   In the midst of heavy demands, Jesus prayed.

John 17:9 (NIV) – I pray for them…

When seeing spiritual needs of others, Jesus prayed

As Jesus was coming to cross we come across his prayer for believers. He prayed for their protection, for their transformation, for their love, for their faith and joy in the midst of this world.

Jesus saw the spiritual needs of others – he prayed for them.

When I pray for other people’s spiritual protection, peace, faith hope and love. When I pray for their journey of faith – it changes everything-  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together wrote:

A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others. (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1954), p. 86 )

Mark 14:36 “…Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

When God’s will is hard, Jesus prayed

Here we come to garden of Gethsemane – Jesus purpose to give his life a ransom for many was at hand. Jesus said “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”

In that garden, the reality of living out God’s will was meeting Jesus head on. As he contemplated the suffering, anguish, the betrayal, taking on the sins of the world – Jesus felt the intense struggle of obedience – But He said – “…Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Where is doing God’s will hard for you. Must become a servant of all – Take up your cross and follow me – pray for your enemies –

The following is a prayer written by Serbian bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, who spoke out against Nazism in the early 1940s. Because of his protests, he was arrested and taken to the Dachau concentration camp.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to Earth; enemies have loosed me from Earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an un-hunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

In all of this the main point — if you remember nothing else remember this.  Jesus prayed, we should too

Prayer is the way Jesus walked His Father – Prayer was a conversation for Jesus – it is a place where we call out to God – where we are silent before God – where reflect on the presence of God – it is where we seek the face of God

Seeking God’s Face – Praying with Bible through the Year

Set prayers are prayers provided for us to keep our praying in company with our ancestors, prayers of others so that we stay in touch with the authentic world of prayer revealed in our Scriptures. They are prayers that we can use to distinguish prayer from prayer impostors, fantasy, and magic. They are prayers that do not depend on our own initiative, prayers that don’t wax and wane according to the phases of our moods.

These are just a few things that we can do to take a next step in our prayer lives.  But it all begins by seeing prayer as important — Just as Jesus did.

Worship – Believe #11

Before Advent and our journey to Christmas, we asked the question: What do I believe? We took a  look at 10 things which that Christians believe.  Now we are going to take another 10 week journey answering the question “What should I do?”   Now that we have these 10 beliefs — how do we put them into practice?  

Just as we started with God when answering the first question, we are going to start with God answering the second as well.  Today we are going to look at Worship and what does it mean to become a true worshipper of God.

True Worshippers

Well, if our 10 week question is “what should I do” our key question for worship is simply this:

KEY QUESTION
How do I honor God in the way he deserves?

It’s a great question because it puts God at the center of it.  Worship is about God with us.  That is an important statement and you since I’m only going to make three of these today, it would be good if we took some time to remember that idea: worship is about God with us.  Let me break that down a bit.  

First, worship is about God.  The very words used in both Hebrew and Greek speak to bowing before someone with your face to the ground.  The idea was making oneself low in the presence of someone great.  While this could apply originally to a servant before a master or a subject before a king — it became a technical term to describe our disposition before God.  We make ourselves low to demonstrate his greatness.  While originally this was a literal action, it because a metaphor sense for our worship of God.  I only say this because it is important for us to see that build right into the vocabulary of worship is the idea that God is at the center — not us.  Even in Psalm 95 we have the words: “Come let us worship and bow down”.  The two ideas are inseparable.  That’s why our big idea today is: “True Worship Bows Down”.  If we are to worship God, we need to acknowledge that he is God and we are his people.  He calls the shots.  Our job is to bow down — to do what he says, to follow his instructions.  If he says be kind, we work up a sweat being kind.  We take God’s word and ways seriously because true worship bows down.

I think this may come as a surprise for a non-christian witnessing our discussions about worship.  Often the only thing missing from our conversation is that it centers on making God great among us.  That it is primarily about demonstrating clearly how much we think of God.  How great we believe He is.  It is so easy in our consumer society to just buy into the idea that it is about me and my preferences and what I want to consume — but when it becomes that it is not longer worship — at least not in a biblical sense.  

When Dave and started on our outline we wanted to say as our point “it’s all about God” but then we realized that was only half true.  When we look at worship in the OT, it happens in specific places.  Whether it is Abraham or Jacob building an altar and worshipping because of something God did in a particular location or whether it was in the Temple, where God’s special presence existed in the holy of holies — the heart of the reasoning for worship was that God was in that place.  The Hebrew people believed that God is everywhere, but they also believed that God showed up in power at times and places. The altars and memorials were a way of declaring: God showed up here — His special presence or Shekinah as it was called in Hebrew manifested in this place.  It was all about God, but also it was about God with us.  The intersection of the Shekinah and human life.

For Christians this is especially important because the Bible tells us in Matthew’s Christmas story that Jesus will be called Emmanuel, which is translated: “God with us” (Mt 1:23).  In other words, we see Jesus as the perfect representation of God in human form.  

Hebrews 1:3 (NIV)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…

Over our Christmas series we looked at how the Word became flesh and came to live among us.  Eugene Peterson said: He moved into our neighbourhood.  This is the amazing truth of Christmas — God is with us.  We can see what God would do by looking at what Jesus did — Jesus, the one who is the exact representation of God’s being.  The one who said: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14.9).

Jesus had a conversation one time with a Samaritan woman at a well.  For us this seems pretty “ho-hum” but for the 1st Century it would be like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton getting together post-election for some brunch & conversation. That just is not going to happen — they don’t like each other – to put it mildly.  Samaritans and Jews were just as likely to get together for polite conversation — they were bitter religious opponents.  They did not like each other.  They would use each other as an insult in their own community.  Jesus – God incarnate – crossed that human division and redefined worship and in doing so redefined what a true worshipper is.  The words were simple but they changed everything:

John 4:23 (NIV)
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

All through John’s gospel we see that Jesus is the truth and way, that the words of Jesus are truth and life, that Jesus himself is the giver of grace and truth.  He tells Nicodemus that to enter God’s kingdom a person must be born again from the Spirit.  We must become a spiritual people quite literally — the Spirit of God must live in us.  Something the Bible tells us only happens when we put our faith in Jesus Christ.  So according to the Bible, true worshippers are those who believe in Jesus and accept his word and example as truth.  It is no longer about worshipping on a mountain like the Samaritans or worshipping in a Temple like the Jews.  Worship is all about God with us.  

Now, true worship starts as we personally believe in Jesus and accept his word and his ways — but it doesn’t end there. Christianity is all about community. We may be required to believe and commit to Jesus in a deeply personal way, but if we are to experience the fullness of Christian worship, we must do that together.  This isn’t an introvert/extrovert argument — this is just the way it is.  Worship is all together.  

Worship celebrates who God is and all he has done for us. While our key statement today reinforces this individually:

KEY IDEA
I worship God for who he is and what he has done for me.

We worship God together.  I remember when I was a child how we would have what we called our “Sunday best” that we would wear to Church.  Our best shirt, pants, & shoes.  We would get dressed up as best as we could to go to church.  It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that wearing our best clothes to church was actually in the bible. In Colossians 3 Paul says:

Colossians 3:12 (NIV)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Now, I must admit that my understanding of “best clothes” and God’s understanding of “best clothes” were a tad different and I realized that perhaps complaining all the way to church because my shoes were too stiff or my shirt didn’t feel right may have revealed that I really didn’t get it as a kid — but the fact is, most of us don’t get as adults either.  If we are to be true worshippers — a spiritual people who follow the word and ways of Jesus — sometimes we don’t clothe ourselves with our Sunday best.  

  • Instead of clothing ourselves with compassion we clothe ourselves with criticism.  
  • Instead of clothing ourselves with humility we clothe ourselves with hostility.
  • Instead of clothing ourselves with patience we clothe ourselves with pettiness
  • Paul tells us we must clothe ourselves in these things because worship happens together and  there is never an authentic “together” when we do not love each other in an authentic Christian way.  

We say we want to become a church that loves like Jesus.  Very practically it means that we must commit to certain behaviours.  Each one of us must decide:

  • To be compassionate not cruel.  
  • To be kind not critical.
  • To be humble not harsh
  • To be gentle not grating
  • To be patient not prickly
  • To bear with each other not be a bear with each other
  • To forgive each other just as Jesus has forgiven us
  • To let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts

Paul’s words in Colossians are just a summary of what we see in Jesus.  There is nothing surprising here for the true worshipper — one who is born of the Spirit and follows the word and ways of Jesus.  What is interesting in Colossians 3 is that all of this relational stuff — how we interact with each other — moves seamlessly into talk about worshipping together — about challenging and encouraging each other with Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and gratitude in our hearts as we give thanks to God through Jesus.  True worship is all together and it flows out of Christ-Inspired interactions with each other and because it is rooted in following Jesus in our how we treat other people, we take this worship mindset everywhere we go. It is all encompassing.

Paul says in Romans 12 that our entire lives are to be a living sacrifice.  Let’s just listen to what he says:

Romans 12:1 (NIV)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Surrendering ourselves completely to God as an act of worship is a 24/7 experience.

As Paul would say in another letter to the early church.  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31) If God is the center – If God has accepted me because of his grace in Jesus – than all of my life needs to express my heart desire to show that I love Him. Every day becomes a place to practise the presence of Jesus. Every day becomes a sanctuary of praise where I can express my trust and obedience to God and my reliance on His grace.   

I like this little story by Barbara Adam –

For 37 years I’ve taught piano, rewarding my students not only for mastery but effort. Points are earned for memory work, amount of practice, written work, and improvements, as well as actual performance.
After finishing his lesson one day, I asked my first grade student, Tyler, if he’d performed for anyone that week. He thought for a long time, finally saying with all seriousness, “God was listening!”

God is always our audience!
So let us finish the phrase that helps us grasp what true worship is all about –
True Worship Bows Down, before God, in the Spirit and truth of Jesus; which we do all together and is all encompassing.