Don’t You Love It?

On the verge of Valentine’s Day the flowers are filling the shops and cards and chocolates are finding their way into grocery bags. Does giving a special gift one or two days a year make up for everything else we do or don’t do the rest of the year?

Okay, I don’t live your life and I don’t know what you deal with. Gifts may not be your love language.

At Faith we’re talking a lot about Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages.” A short workshop with our Daycare staff left them wanting more. A few of our couples, staff and friends have been able to connect a little better when they found out the hidden secrets that a hug, a note, an act of service, a gift, or a little bit of time could make in someone else’s life.

The image we are given is of something called a love tank. Imagine a water tank for something concrete to get hold of this. When we speak our love language to another or when they speak our love language to us we are filled up. When others act or speak in conflict with our love language it is like a puncture wound in that tank which then drains us. Healing can take time so taking care from the start of a relationship is important. We’re not all as together and strong and resilient as we look on the outside.

We’ve been calling the whole family at Faith to think a little more intentionally about the relationships in their social circle. A love language is a channel through which you communicate your love for another and through which you receive love to maximum impact. Chapman lists the five mentioned earlier.

The key to effective communication with love languages is to discern what another person’s love language is and to speak to them in the way that they best appreciate. In order to discern watch how they attempt to show you they care and try responding in kind.

Several of us discovered to our great surprise that some of our quiet leaders had the love language of touch. More than anything, a hug upon greeting meant the world to them. Others of our leaders could last a week when a card with encouraging words was put into their hand – or a two minute phone call of appreciation was shared.

A few long for others to stop for a few moments and spend some quality time just being with us in our space. They could get gifts, notes, calls and all kinds of good deeds sent their way but it wouldn’t have the same impact.

Acts of service are key ways that some of our volunteers show they love. Faithfully completing the tasks behind the scenes is their way of communicating as clearly as they can. You’ll see some of these big hearts in hospitality or other hidden ministries.

But for some – gifts are what it’s all about. Valentine’s Day or any day is a good day to give a gift and to get a gift. Watch who is giving you the gift when they have no real reason to do so. That person may be giving you a hint.

Do you know your love language? Maybe you’re fluent in all five or maybe you’re working hard to learn another one to communicate with someone you know. If you don’t know someone’s love language check it out on line and start making a difference right where you are.

Start where you are

The great British author (Oxford and Cambridge professor), C.S. Lewis once said that “you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

C.S. Lewis started his professional career as an atheist. He ended his life as a follower of Jesus. He was actually raised as an Anglican and embraced atheism in his teens. Few people remember why he returned to a true faith in 1929. One man made the difference. The man was George Macdonald – a writer of fantasy. C.S. Lewis was fascinated by the “quality of cheerfulness” which convinced him that righteousness was not a dull thing.

C.S. Lewis absorbed all he could learn from his spiritual teacher and then started producing classics which young believers still thrive on. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, The Allegory of Love and The Discarded Image take people into deep thought on the Christian Faith.

Lewis is better known by some of us for his Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and the Great Divorce. Others served to probe deeply into our human soul and to free our minds to consider the truths of our relationship with God.

My focus today is on the importance of mentoring. I was approached after our Sunday service by one of our new believers who rightly said, “Isn’t there someone I can meet with regularly to grow spiritually? I don’t want to just keep all my learning to Sundays. I want to ask questions and understand and expand what I know.”

Perhaps there are others, like C.S. Lewis, waiting for a friend, mentor, teacher, to come alongside them and show them the great things of God in creative and gracious ways. I encourage you to consider passing on what you know to someone younger in the faith. The ideal is that you are learning from someone more mature in the faith while at the same time you are passing on what you know to someone younger in the faith. This vital intergenerational sharing of the good news brings vitality to the body of Christ.

C.S. Lewis was wounded fighting the Germans in 1918. He married Joy Gresham (a converted American) while she was facing the challenges of cancer. He died on the same day as President John F. Kennedy. Not much of this is remembered. It is his writings from a place of deep faith which set him apart. And it is his forgotten mentor which wooed him into the deep faith that made a difference for so many others.

What keeps you from stepping into the role of learning or teaching? Who can you look to in the body of Christ as someone you can connect with?

Would Anyone Notice Us If We Left?

Have you ever had that secret fear that if you stepped away from everyone you knew that no one would really miss you? No one at work, school, family or church.

Who in our neighbourhood would notice if our church stopped meeting? Do people notice us because of what we provide for them or because of who we are?

Two years ago, the New Hope Community Services Society (Refugee Houses) which we started moved their main center to Surrey; this week, the Foodbank let us know they were transferring their FoodHub Depot from our facility to the South Van Neighourhood House. These two ministries of ours were key outreach points in helping us to establish our current reputation as a vital community partner and community builder. What happens now?

What if we redevelop our facility and disappear visibly from the community for two years? Would we be missed? Would we be anticipated when we came back?

Our mission is to make disciples of Christ from all nations. Our practice is to love God and to love our neighbour. Depending on programs and events which we create doesn’t make disciple makers who make disciple makers.

Perhaps it’s time to get back to basics – small home groups, practicing friendship, mentoring plus sharing our faith with our neighbours through hospitality and community service.

A year ago, we were asked, along with other flourishing churches, how we engaged with our neighbourhood. The initial results were published in the January / February edition of Faith Today by Joel Thiessen. He writes: “Without exception, the congregations we identified as flourishing appear to have done their homework on the community where they are situated. They say they know who lives in their community. They know facts about family status, stage of life, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and more. From this information churches identify what possible needs, points of convergence and opportunities exist. Churches garnered this information by speaking with local community association and organization leaders, reading city demographic reports and interacting with neighbours in various social settings around the church property.”

It seems clear that neighbours would notice us if we noticed them first. They would engage with us if we first engaged with them. Perhaps it is time to try something new in our neck of the woods. Anyone out there willing to risk new ideas on reaching our neighbours?

Have you reached that age yet?

There’s something about us that likes to think we’re at an age different than we are. If we’re younger we like to feel and act older. If we’re older we like to think or act younger. Maybe that’s only me and the people around me.

It takes a certain level of maturity to be who you are and to be settled with that. Discipleship and mentoring grow out of that stable foundation. Once you are settled with who you are you can start investing in others.

In our cross-cultural training we were asked the question: “Do you want to be the hero or the hero-maker?” In our team building times we say do you want to be the discipler or the one who creates disciple-makers who make disciple-makers?

The generation after you needs someone who will reach back and encourage them upward on this climb through life. That’s true whether you’re in your twenties or in your eighties. God has given you experiences and wisdom that was meant to be shared and God has created someone who needs to learn what you know.

Have you ever had a mentor – someone who took an interest in who you are and what you’re doing? Someone who listened just a little more and stayed in your corner just a little longer? We all need someone like that and we all need to be someone like that for others.

Regi Campbell, in his book Mentor Like Jesus (pp. 39-40) says “Great mentors know who they are. They get great joy in seeing their wisdom, knowledge, and experience live on to help others… When a person knows who he is, he’s comfortable in any situation. He doesn’t spend energy wondering what the other person is thinking. He can spend all his energy listening and trying to understand.”

Maybe there’s someone in your own family circle who needs a mentor – or maybe not. Maybe God has someone in our own church family ready to glean from your supportive encouragement. I recently watched a senior supporting a single professional over a period of months and the rally of a discouraged heart was obvious to anyone who knew her. Both of the women benefitted from the engagement.

Make this a prayer as you prepare for the next months ahead. Lord, if there’s someone I can encourage and share my life with (in a mentoring way) please set up a divine appointment and a significant conversation so I don’t miss it. Keep me alert and ready to share your heart wherever I am.

Bless you as you pour yourself into the next generations.

He sets the lonely in families -II

Psalm 68:6 says “God sets the lonely in families.”

 

The Vancouver Foundation consistently claims that loneliness is one of the biggest challenges for people living in this city. Seniors isolated in their apartments, care homes or rooms are lonely; young moms struggling to raise children are lonely; refugees and immigrants are lonely; leaders are lonely; young professionals fixed to the internet are lonely; people riding in Skytrains and buses are lonely; even some married people shelter behind closed doors in their own loneliness.

It is hard to see loneliness as a part of our churches. We think that if we can get isolated people into groups of people that loneliness will take care of itself. Several people have told me over the years that the hardest thing is to come to a service, to stand in the middle of so many happy people, and feel all alone.

 

The United Kingdom has now appointed a minister of loneliness to deal with the issue among 2 million seniors who are isolated from community – 200,000 admitted they regularly go over a month without speaking to another human being. In our city, it isn’t surprising to see people drive or commute alone, shop alone, eat alone, order coffee alone, watch a movie alone, walk or jog alone, read alone.

 

Local studies say at least one in five of us experience the sadness that comes from social isolation – reaping the impact on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Surprisingly, social media seems partially responsible for the sense of separation and human connection we tend to thrive and flourish on.

 

Connecting to community is essential for our overall health. Being part of a small group where you can share your life, get prayer support, learn with others, enlarge your perspective on God and sense a personal connection with the life stories of others seems to be something God has designed when he made us.

 

When’s the last time you shared a heart connection with someone who really saw you for who you are? When have you taken the time to initiate a contact so you could see someone else for who they are?

Working It All Out

Why do you get out of bed in the morning? If you work, or have worked in the past, why spend your
energy and time putting out effort to accomplish anything? Who is going to remember what you did day
after day, week after week, year after year?
What a way to get depressed at the start of a year – Wondering if there is any purpose to what I do. All
of us want to accomplish something. Sometimes we’re successful and sometimes we aren’t. But what
does our effort matter? Won’t it all eventually fade away as others take our place, as the new way of
doing things replaces the old way, as another generation focusing on the possibilities of the future set
aside the past like yesterday’s trash?
Oh, reality. How harsh and how hopeful.
Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Church in New York, writes something significant in his book
Every Good Endeavor (p. 29): He says, “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any
difference, and all good endeavors, even the best will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of
the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, even the simplest ones,
pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever. That is what the Christian faith promises. “In
the Lord, your labor is not in vain,” writes Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verse
58.”
Keller says that as believers who want our work to matter we need to answer three questions: “Why do
you want to work? (That is, why do we need to work in order to lead a fulfilled life?) Why is it so hard to
work? (That is, why is it so often fruitless, pointless, and difficult?) How can we overcome the difficulties
and find satisfaction in our work through the gospel?”
Some of you will be looking to answer these questions from your past experience, some from your
current challenges and some from what is still ahead. You were designed to accomplish something
significant for God’s glory. If your heart is still beating the work isn’t done yet. Have you figured it out
and are you doing it. Take some time to share this with another pilgrim on the road with you.

What if You’re Not Alone

Have you ever been certain that you were alone until you heard that noise in the darkness? Was it a
creak from the house, a footstep in the hallway, a mouse in the wall?
Sometimes we live our life as if we’re alone. We go through dark struggles and feel alone; we engage
and break relationships as if it is only us; we drive our cars and walk the streets as if we are alone; we
eat, we watch and we pray as if we are on our own. We even sit in church singing and listening as if no
one else can sense the motives of our hearts, the thoughts of our mind, or the distractions of our
memories and hopes.
But what if we remembered that God has invaded time and space – not just two thousand years ago
when Jesus walked in Galilee – but now, wherever we are. Not just invaded our time and space but
infiltrated our mind and heart.
David, the psalmist, says in Psalm 139:1-5 NIV, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You
know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my
lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word in on my tongue you, LORD, know it
completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”
Many of us, like former atheist C.S. Lewis, don’t want God to “interfere” with our lives.
The book of John records testimonies like that of ‘doubting Thomas’ for a reason. In John 20:30-31 we
read “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this
book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by
believing you may have life in his name.”
Every transformed life in our world is a creak in the dark for souls that feel alone. The question to face
now is, am I the creak that others can’t miss, or am I the one needing to stop and realize that right in the
middle of what I’m facing right now, I am not alone?

He sets the lonely in families

Have you ever experienced loneliness – Deep, heart-throttling dread which squeezes all the joy, hope and sense of being loved out of you? Or perhaps, just a sense of wondering whether you belong – if anyone notices you or cares about you more than the ‘like’ you can give to their smiley ‘post.’

The Vancouver Foundation report this past year concluded that the loneliest people in Vancouver are aged 18-34. The generation that populates Facebook and Skype – who multiply friendships on-line – they are lonely. The claim from this group is that they have trouble making ‘real’ friends because of lack of time; family obligations; distance; finances; stress.

Most feel they don’t know their neighbours well enough to connect and at least half feel they will have moved elsewhere within five years so there’s no point in building relationships that aren’t going to last anyway. In the past 5 years attendance in churches has dropped by 50% among the younger generation. Is there a correlation?

David’s note in Psalm 68 seems significant when he says “Sing to God, sing praise ot his name, extol him who rides on the clouds – his name is the LORD – and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.”

This may be a reflection on what happened to David’s own great-grandmother Ruth who was welcomed into God’s family by Boaz.

From the first chapters of scripture we read that “it is not good for man to be alone.” People were made for relationship with God and with other people. J. Oswald Saunders in his book “Facing Loneliness” cites two historical figures with insight on our issue. “Blaise Pascal, the noted French scientist, held that in every heart there exists a God-shaped vacuum. Centuries before him, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, put his finger on the root cause of loneliness: “God created man for Himself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him.”

Know any lonely people? There’s a family waiting. Perhaps a creative invitation would help. Looking forward to how God will build community through you this year.