Looking Up

As a six-year-old, I spent some evenings learning from my mother to write in Chinese. She began by deftly forming several Chinese characters at the head of a large copybook and explaining what they meant. I would then copy each of her characters multiple times in a slightly crooked vertical line below her example.

I quickly discovered that, if I simply looked at the character I had just written while writing the next one, I wouldn’t have to crane my short neck nearly as far to examine my mother’s original work. This strategy seemed to work well until my mother came along and discovered that one of my characters had dropped a line, that the one below had dropped both the line and a little box, and that the third was missing the line, the box AND a central stroke. Relying on my own nearby scrawls instead of on my mother’s smooth models at the top resulted in a sort of Telephone game on paper, where each attempt became less and less like the first example. Accuracy came at the price of taking the time to look up at my mother’s work each time, no matter how confident I felt in my own imitations.

The imitation game changed as I entered teen-hood, full of insecurity over how to behave and what kind of a person I wanted to be. I started looking to role models—teachers and youth leaders, especially—to figure out this crazy rollercoaster called life. Occasionally, I had a phase of intense adoration for some female teacher or young leader. I would observe this person closely for several months, thinking admiringly, “That’s exactly how I want to behave when I grow up. I want her poise, humour, gentleness, confidence…I want to be her!”

Unfortunately, at some point in each of these phases, my blissful bubble of blind devotion popped. My practically perfect role model would do or say something which would make me think, “That’s not what I would do,” or worse, “That’s not what God would want.” There would follow a period of disappointed questioning: did I really want to imitate this person? Or was God calling me simply to be the person He had lovingly formed in my mother’s womb? To look up to His perfect example for how to live my life, even if it meant searching beyond the people around me in prayer and in His Word? In daily life decisions, would it be wiser to ask, “What would she do in this situation?” or discern what Jesus would do instead?

Today, I am a teacher with many wonderful teenage students. As much as I long to do right by them and model God’s love and character through what and how I teach, there are times when I fall short. My prayer is that my students learn to see themselves as God sees them and to know the security of being the perfect Maker’s imperfect, but beloved, child.

Thinking back fondly on my teenage “fangirl” phases, I thank God for the wisdom, character, intelligence and confidence these amazing adult women modelled for me. I believe He brings models into our lives who exude His character—we are made in His image, after all—and whom we can learn from, be it in the church or our neighbourhoods.

I also thank God for those “bubble-pop” moments of disillusionment. Although we are made in the image of God, we are not God: “all have sinned and fall short of [His] glory” (Romans 3:23). To look up to more experienced leaders and Christians is incredibly beneficial for a time, especially as we start on the journey of faith. However, to look only to a fellow human to meet our needs for spiritual and emotional growth, and to fix our eyes on that human rather than on their original Creator, can only disappoint us in the end. If taken too far, it leads to idolatry.

I wonder if the apostle Paul understood this tendency to focus on the close and convenient when he wrote, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

These words used to discourage me. How could I ever be just like God and Jesus? Now, I wonder if Paul was not so much calling the Ephesians to contort themselves towards impossible standards of love and holiness, as he was reminding them of whose they were and whose right example to follow. After all, my mother never expected me to copy her exquisite Chinese characters perfectly from the get-go. All she did was gently remind me to look up.

How can we take the time to look up at the perfect Head who is before all things and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:18)?

The Hour of Darkness – It is Finished

paid in full

I would like to begin with a story.

Many years ago, I taught in Campbell River.   Enrolling students from other countries was just getting started and our school had several Koreans in attendance.  We did not have separate English Language Learning streams in those days so these E S L students were thrown in to regular classes, all taught in English.

I got to know one such student quite well.  I spent many hours helping him after school.  Other teachers did as well.  He recorded his classes and spent hours and hours every night playing them back, translating vocabulary into Korean so he could understand and learn it.  On top of that, his personality and his cultural drive to honor his parent’s financial investment caused him to be extremely dissatisfied if he did not achieve high grades. (really high grades).

I returned to Kenya and he went on to graduate from grade 12.  He finished.  But then it was university and he struggled to find a really good school.  He went to UBC Okanagan and I remember meeting him once while I was on home assignment.  He was struggling with the work load, struggling with his English and struggling with achieving the highest possible grades.    He was at the campus from early morning till late at night.  He wasn’t eating properly, he wasn’t exercising, his church attendance dropped off.    But he finished.  

By now I was back in Canada and we connected again.  Now he wanted to go to into architecture, a highly competitive field.  Again, the struggle, even doubting if this was the right path because it was so hard.  The other day he contacted me and asked me to edit one of his final proposals for a building to promote true multi-culturalism.  It looks like soon he will finish.

Of course, next will be applying for jobs, maybe getting married and I am afraid the struggle for next to perfect performance will continue. 

FINISHED BUT NEVER FINISHED.

Let us read the latter portions of John 19 together.    It is a portion of the Bible normally studied on Good Friday but as we have been going through THE STORY (hold it up) we have reached this point today.

So, the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”[a]

So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST movie was released in February 2004. It grossed over $611 million while only costing $30 million and many people were highly impacted.   I am going to read one review of the movie.

The writer/director was Mel Gibson.  The movie was his depiction of the last hours of the life of Jesus. It’s Gibson’s personal, spiritual statement about the view that the suffering Jesus endured at the end of his life demonstrated his divinity and his sacrifice.

This movie is the prayer of a gifted filmmaker, but it’s also a narrow and harrowing perspective on a story that, no matter what your faith, is bigger than any attempt to portray it on film.  Gibson said that everyone who worked on this film, whether, Christian, Muslim or Atheist were deeply affected and changed. As a movie, it’s a respectful and reverent treatment of a story that has probably been more influential than any other in the history of the world.

This morning we are going to just focus on three little words in English which is one word in Greek.  It is finished. Te tell is sty. It is finished !  Te tell is sty!  I am praying that this time will again deeply affect us.  We will come away with a greater conviction of the divinity and incredible sacrificial love of Jesus FOR US and be spurred to respond to it.

The question we are going to consider is:  What did Jesus mean when he said “It is Finished”?  Te tell is sty ?

 Matthew Henry, who lived over 300 years ago wrote one of the greatest devotional commentaries on record. He lists 8 things that were finished or completed when Jesus cried out “It is finished.”

1. The malice of his enemies was finished. By nailing him to the cross, they had done their worst. There was nothing more they could do to the Son of God.

2. The sufferings ordained by God were finished. Often, during his ministry, Jesus spoke of “the work” he was sent to do and of the “hour” of trouble that was coming. He once spoke of a “baptism” of suffering he must undergo. All those things were ordained by God.   But those sufferings were now at an end.

3. All the Old Testament types and prophecies were fulfilled. Matthew Henry lists a number of examples—He had been given vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21), he had been sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12), his hands and feet had been pierced (Psalm 22:16), his garments had been divided (Psalm 22:18), and his side was pierced (Zechariah 12:10). There are many other prophesies surrounding his death. All those had been or very soon would be fulfilled.

4. The ceremonial law was abolished. As Romans 10:4 puts it, Christ is “the end of the law.” It finds its completion and fulfillment in him. Therefore, all the Old Testament rules concerning animal sacrifices are set aside. And the rules and regulations concerning the priesthood are out of date since the Greater Priest has now laid down his life for his people. Those laws pointed to the cross. But once Jesus died, they were no longer needed.  

5. The price of sin was paid in full. Recall the words of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus? He called him “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) That “taking away” of sin was accomplished by the death of our Lord.

6. His physical sufferings were at an end. “The storm is over, the worst is past; all his pains and agonies are at an end.

7. His life was now finished. When Jesus cried out “It is finished,” he had only a few seconds to live. All that he had come to do had been fully accomplished. His life and his mission came to an end at exactly the same moment.

Before we mention the final and most significant meaning behind Jesus saying It is finished! it would be helpful to expand the meaning of the Greek word Te Tell is sty!

It comes from the verb teleo, which means “to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish.” It represents the successful end to a particular course of action.   You would use it when you climb to the peak of a tall mountain or you make the final payment on your mortgage or cross the finish line of your first marathon. Not just “I survived.” Rather “I did exactly what I set out to do.”

I’m sure we all have some parts of our lives that we feel are successfully completed. However, all of us also have areas in our lives that are  unfinished and may remain unfinished when we die.    

—the half-read book – books in my case – you should see the pile on my table
—the letter started but never sent
—how about the abandoned diet
—or the phone calls never returned 

But it can be much more serious than these
—the job we quit in a fit of anger
—the wrecked marriage
—the bills never paid
—the promises never kept

There is a trail of unfinished projects and unfulfilled dreams behind us all.   Jesus was the one person in history never left behind any unfinished business.   He is the only person who could come to the end of his life and say—with absolute and total truthfulness—”I have finished everything I set out to do.”

But there’s more. Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That’s important because the perfect tense refers to an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It’s not the simple past tense which looks back to an event and says, “This happened.” Rather the perfect tense means   “This happened and it is still in effect today.”

Jesus’ cry of “It is finished,” meant “It was finished in the past, it is still finished in the present, and it will remain finished in the future.”

He did not say, “I am finished,” for that would imply that he died defeated and exhausted. Rather, he cried out “It is finished,” meaning “I successfully completed the work I came to do.” It is the Savior’s final cry of victory, with no unfinished business behind.  

Finally, let me add one more piece of the meaning of Te tell is sty

It means everything listed above, but it especially applies to the price paid for the sins of the world.  Historians discovered this verb was used in the first and second centuries in the sense of “fulfilling” or “paying” a debt and often appeared in receipts. “It is finished” (Tetelestai) could be interpreted as “Paid in full.”

“Paid in full” means that once a thing is paid for, you never have to pay for it again.

So, with this full definition of I will share the last thing Matthew Henry said were finished when Jesus died.

8-The work of redemption was now complete.      

Man’s redemption (buying back from the enemy) was completed.

  1. the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

“God’s plans for the redemption of his world”

  • the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.

So, let me put this all together in the context of our sermon series.

When Jesus said It is finished, He was saying he had accomplished everything He set out to do.  He was saying It was finished in the past, it is still finished in the present, and it will remain finished in the future.”  And he was saying that the work of saving mankind from sin and buying them back    was complete.  Paid in full.

If you have been with us throughout the last year you will be aware that we have gone on a journey through the whole Bible, Story by Story.

Way back at the beginning we learned about the creation of the world and the creation of man and woman made in the image of God.

God placed them in a beautiful garden and came down to live with them – to walk in the quiet of the afternoon together. 

Unfortunately, the man and woman chose their own way, rather than following the good plans of their creator.  This is called sin which is defined by the author of the Story as a preoccupation with selfishness.  Selfishness over otherness.  A disregard for God and a disregard for others in our lives.

This broke the possibility of mankind living together with God and set a chain of events in place in which mankind became separated from God and each successive person inherited the stain or virus of sin from their original ancestors.  Due to that, mankind lost the ability to have fellowship with their creator.  Due to God’s great love for mankind He set in motion an upper story in order to some day restore the ability for men to once again come into His presence.  While He was working out all things in this grand redemptive (saving or buying back) plan in the upper story, the conditions on the earth (the lower story) were tragic and got worse and worse the farther away from the original intent of God.

God chose a people (Israelites) and established rules of conduct (10 Commandments) in order to preserve them and help them be a witness to all nations.  They failed to obey them.  He chose to be their God but they cried out for human kings which he granted but very few of them followed after Him.  He sent prophets to warn and hopefully cause His people to return to Him but the people did not listen or respect the prophets or God. He performed miracles of deliverance to prove his love to his people.  When the conditions on the earth became so bad, judgement came upon people to get their attention always with the promise and reality of deliverance.

And He helped people to make a written record of His commandments for mankind and a history of his dealings with them.  (The Torah or Old Testament as we call it now).  And throughout the whole written record there were foreshadows of the Upper Story plan to redeem mankind and make a way for men to be able to fellowship directly with God again.

When Jesus said It is finished Te Tell is Sty he was saying that the upper story and lower story had intersected (come together) and the plan of God to bring back mankind back into fellowship was completed.  Through Jesus’ sacrificial death people have the opportunity to walk once more in the garden with God.

Application  1: The way is open for you to connect with God.  You don’t have to earn it like my friend constantly does.  Jesus accomplished it all. The finished work of Christ. All you have to do it accept it.  You can’t earn it – you would be foolish to try.  You can’t add to – it is finished.  Let me put it very simply. If Jesus paid it all, you don’t have to. If you try to pay for your salvation, it means you don’t think he paid it all. There is no middle ground between those two propositions.

Since Jesus Christ paid in full, the only thing you can do is accept it or reject it

Application #2:  No sin is too great to keep you from God.  Name any sin – the price has been paid in full.  What sin is keeping you from God today? Is it anger? Is it lust? Is it a hard heart of unbelief? Is it alcohol abuse? Is it an uncontrollable temper? Is it cheating? Is it stealing? Is it adultery? Is it abortion? Is it pride? Is it greed?

Let me tell you the best news you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t matter what “your” sin is. It doesn’t matter how many sins you’ve piled up in your life. It doesn’t matter how guilty you think you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been doing this week. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been. It doesn’t matter how many skeletons rattle around in your closet.  When we accept the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross all of our sins have been stamped by God with one word—Tetelestai—Paid in full.

Along with that we do not have to pretend anymore.  I don’t have to wear a mask and try to appear to be someone I am not.  Application #3:    There is no place for discrimination or pride.  Each person in the auditorium has the same spiritual problem and the same spiritual solution.  There is no place for otherness.  Galatians 3:28 makes is very clear.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Save the Planet

I watched three young teens race their bikes down an alley and hurl their left over snack packs onto the ground as they sped away. Plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, chicken-bone wings, fries, paper napkins, half-used plastic cups with dipping sauce – abandoned. Things like that aren’t hard to clean up despite the negligence of these boys.

Our oceans are another matter. 80,000 tonnes of floating plastic has been photographed swirling around the Pacific – making up a mass larger than France, German and Spain. And it likely isn’t only our youth contributing to this mess which now drifts in five large masses – one stretching to 1.6 million square kilometres.

Youth may be part of our hope as they become passionately engaged in environmental concerns. An 18-year-old Dutchman named Boyan Slat started a group called Ocean Cleanup several years ago to deal with this catastrophe labeled the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. His organization estimates that eight million (out of the 322 million tonnes produced annually) end up in the oceans every year.

Most of us might ignore this out-of-sight, out-of-mind issue until we realize that some of that plastic is being swallowed by the fish we eat. Large tangles of lost fishing net are caught up in this mass, trapping passing sea life like turtles.

Saving the planet is something Christians tend to think is something Jesus did some 2000 years ago. We genuflect to the cross and empty tomb. We say a prayer of gratitude for the eternal life we gained but we don’t necessarily connect that our role may go beyond loving God and loving our neighbour.

Jesus reduced all commands down to the one of loving each other “as I have loved you.” The New Testament is an application and commentary on how we do that. A key piece we may miss is that demonstrating love for you may be demonstrating respect and honour for the place you live and grow – this planet.

As we move into spring and summer the beauty of the world is taking shape all around us with little help from us. What are you doing to keep that beauty from diminishing? What are you doing to help with saving our planet? Yes, the people, but also the place where all these people live.

Pull up a Plate

Love,Food,Hospitality,Church,All nations,Sunday

There’s nothing like food to bring people together. I’ve gotten closer to people over Halal chicken, Thanksgiving turkey, Sushi, Vietnamese noodle soup, tacos, ice cream sundaes, hamburgers, potatoes with peanut sauce, casseroles, and biriyani or steak dinners. Our church believes in hospitality in all its forms.

Jesus was known for his “eating and drinking” with sinners and some of our memorable stories are of him with Matthew, Zacchaeus, the 5000, the 4000 and the Disciples at the Last Supper.

Perhaps at our meals, we are together vulnerably expressing our mutual need for ‘daily bread’ and our humble thankfulness for God’s most recent provision. There is a togetherness that often helps us relax and share on a more personal level. As long as there is food on our plate we are present and available to share one more story, to hear one more antidote, to discuss one more idea.

When we share food from another culture there is the extension of friendship and acceptance. There is the taking in of something which is important and meaningful to another. There is a drawing together across differences in something common which makes us alike.

Meals pull people to cross social barriers since wealthy and poor alike enjoy good food. There is joy in the creation, the serving, the consuming and even comradery in the cleanup if that is part of the routine.

We recently shared a wedding shower for our intern and his fiancé. This event with multi-cultural food brought diverse cultures, ages, social classes, genders and faith groups together into one joy filled occasion where cuisine played a central role.

What you are eating across from me helps me stay face to face with you. In a world filled with technology which can keep us connected but apart, it is nice to sense close proximity to another person made in God’s image who is struggling through the challenges of life, breathing in the same air, experiencing the same atmosphere, taking the same time just to be here, together.

We claim to be 50 nations in one family.  The second Sunday of each month we celebrate the food from a different part of the world and our members love preparing, displaying and offering what is close to their hearts and stomachs.

When food is offered, somehow people come when nothing else might draw them into relationship.

What have you done to express your hospitality across barriers? What is your favorite food to offer to someone with whom you want to share friendship or welcome? When you think back on the all the meals you’ve eaten, which food offered to you did you enjoy and appreciate the most? What made it so special?

In Less Than 5 seconds

arrogance-pride-categories

If I met you for the first time, how long do you think it would take you to form an opinion about who I am and whether we could have a relationship of any kind?

Duane Elmer, in his book Cross-Cultural Servanthood (p. 48), cites an American study which demonstrated that it takes between 2.4 and 4.6 seconds to make an unconscious decision about whether we like them and whether there is any potential for relationship. With only a glance at the surface characteristics of features like “skin texture, hair style, nose size or ear shape” I decide whether you are worthy of my relationship.

It seems like the height of arrogance, pride and superiority to pass someone off so quickly, especially when it takes a lot to convince us that our first impressions might be wrong.

Now, consider arriving at church. If it’s a new church to you then you’ve already made some huge decisions by the time you’re greeted, walked a few paces into the lobby and scanned the age, ethnicity and energy of the people in your vicinity. The music and preaching might pull you past those impressions, but not necessarily. We trust our first instincts a lot.

Imagine you’re a family arriving and your children use their 5 seconds to form an opinion. You hear about it clearly afterward. Despite your own experience, you feel the pressure of catering to your child who may drop out of church, faith and life if you get this wrong (or so your own feelings tell you). We are naturally risk-adverse when it comes to those we care about.

Imagine that you arrive in your home congregation and someone unfamiliar is in your path (or in your seat) looking at you. Perhaps they’re dressed differently, expressioned differently, talking differently or responding differently than you would expect of someone in this place. Your 5 seconds of decision making will be over before you realize. Your greeting or lack of greeting may confirm their first impression of this church. Nothing we do, or don’t do, only impacts us.

What does Jesus mean when he responds to those who made their 5 second conclusion about him because of his actions on the Sabbath? In John 7:24, he says “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (NIV).

Suspending judgment seems to be an unnatural act for us – even as followers of Jesus. Elmer advocates for openness and says (p.51) “Too often we see negatively what God sees as difference. If it is merely different and not wrong, we should stay open and be accepting.”

We claim to be a church family where every generation and nation is welcomed. That’s a lot to live up to for all of us – whether we are coming for the first time and dealing with our first impressions – or whether we are regulars given the responsibility of welcoming and receiving other newcomers.

Thank you for thinking twice or three times about your first time impressions.

Have you ever caught yourself deciding quickly whether you like someone or not? What categories did you use to make your decision? Did you ever end up changing your mind about someone later on?

VALUE: Cross-Cultural Servanthood

Our staff are reading an interesting book called Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer. Faith Fellowship heralds three values: Faith, multi-generational and multi-national community, plus servanthood. This book blends the last two values for us.

The way this value looks for us includes the following definition:

Servanthood – This means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will grow toward

  • Putting the best interests of others ahead of our own
  • Utilizing our gifts, resources and abilities to the benefit of building up the body and the individuals in it
  • Choosing humility, graciousness, gentleness and compassion as our first response to others inside and outside our immediate fellowship

This is far harder than it sounds when reading words on paper. Everything within us seems to fight against acting like Jesus in Philippians 2 where it says he emptied himself and became a bond-servant.

Elmer’s point in his book (p. 17) is that in a cross-cultural situation it is natural for North Americans to act from a point of superiority even without realizing it. He says that our superiority “appears in disguises that pretend to be virtues – virtues such as

  • I need to correct their error (meaning I have superior knowledge, a corner on truth)
  • My education has equipped me to know what is best for you (so let me do most of the talking while you do most of the listening and changing).
  • I am here to help you (so do as I say).
  • I can be your spiritual mentor (so I am your role model).
  • Let me disciple you, equip you, train you (often perceived as “let me make you into a clone of myself).

The author summarizes that “superiority cloaked in the desire to serve is still superiority. It’s not our words that count but the perceptions of the local people who watch our lives and sense our attitudes.”

There is no question then but that servanthood begins from a deep sense of humility as to who I am and a deep sense of respect and honor as to who God has made you to be. Your culture, faith, experience, background, personality and understanding of God as filtered through the Scriptures all are facets of life that I pay attention to.

Our perception of servanthood is filtered through our cultural lens. What we think of as service is easily interpreted as superiority or ignorance by another. This is never so obvious as in the different ways we greet each other and show respect.

Our perception of servanthood is also filtered through our generational lens. We were all raised with what we were told was the “right” way to show respect to others – to those older, to men, to women, to relatives, to strangers, to those in authority, etc.

Being mixed in the soup of multi-culturalism and multi-generationalism can easily leave one feeling like there may no longer be any right way to do much of anything. Servanthood is a value we are still learning. What have you learned about servanthood in your context, culture and circumstances? Bless you as you put Biblical servanthood into practice.

 

VALUE: MULTI-GENERATIONAL AND MULTI-NATIONAL COMMUNITY

Visioning what heaven will be like is something beyond us even if “we can only imagine.”

Revelation 5:8-10 pictures living creatures and elders in worship before Jesus singing a song that says “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood your purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (NIV)

We have fifty nations in one family at Faith. Although, a newcomer named Robert let us know that he was here representing the fifty-first nation.

We have demonstrated this value through opening refugee homes which have now welcomed over 500 people from 60 nations. (This ministry called New Hope Community Services Society now operates in Surrey with an apartment building as a cornerstone.) We also started New Hope Childcare for new Canadians and single parents – this ministry has also helped over 500 families since it opened in 2002. We have partnered in hosting the Foodbank on Fridays as well over 150 individuals and families are supplied representing 30-40 different nations.

This value has changed us. Our community engagement is different as we do outreach events. Our banquets are different in the menus, programs, music and mosaic of guests who come. We see our differences as a strength since every culture reflects the face and heart of God slightly differently – giving us all a fuller picture of who we serve and worship.

We believe God is asking us to represent the unity in diversity demonstrated in the picture given in Revelation. We say we are here to get a taste of heaven now. While we are imperfect, weak, foolish and often stumbling our way trying to keep in step with the Spirit we trust that we have a Good Shepherd leading us home.

Multi-generational and multi-national community is our second value. Twenty years ago we had very few generations and very few nations represented here. Now, there are members from many ages, nations, careers, social levels, gift sets and interest groups. God has been gracious.

We present the value as follows:

Multi-generational and multi-national community – This means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will grow toward

1) inclusivity and diversity in our private and corporate gatherings and social circles

2) intentionality in our welcoming of others unlike ourselves

3) deepening and broadening of relationship building through our conversations and purposeful activities

It seems to be our human nature – especially in a community with a huge number of introverts – to narrow our circle of relationship to those who demand less of us. To continually welcome and invite newcomers into our social circle stretches our emotional, psychological, personal and sometimes spiritual limits. Our boundaries get tested more than we feel we can bear.

This value is key to the core of who we are. It is sometimes easier to practice in our corporate gatherings than in our private gatherings. In our private gatherings we appreciate those who are most familiar, most like us and most undemanding.

We see that since this is not always natural for us to include newcomers then we need to be intentional in our choices, conversations and activities. How are you demonstrating diversity in Christ’s family? How will you show this value in your relationships better?

VALUES: FAITH – PART TWO

Our insurance company sent us a DVD on “Facing the Risk.” It features a section on the top ten liability risks facing Christian Charities. It also presents an overview of effective abuse prevention strategies for our organization. I mentioned yesterday that part of our value of FAITH at Faith is leaning toward “prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking for the sake of the gospel.” This clearly demands great wisdom in a society where we have examples of people who plunge negligently through clear barriers and boundaries, where others are risk averse, or where some are ignorant or apathetic about risks.

Today, I want to expand the rest of our statement on Faith. We stated that our value of FAITH:

Means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will lean toward

1)prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking for the sake of the gospel

2)body and soul-stretching outreach initiatives

3) open-handed and open-hearted efforts of generosity and hospitality

This last section is challenging. I know we have Paul’s directive in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 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.” (NIV)

So, today, our church planter walked us through an old building which has come available for the next couple of years while the developer awaits permits from city hall. The costs are significant to have a presence on the fringe of an area which says it wants no religious or political presence. The costs of not moving in are also significant as units for 17,000 people are arising as fast as spring flowers from the dirt.

We sat and dreamed of how we could turn this opportunity into a potential foothold for the gospel in the area. Our values would seem to encourage us to move positively, as wisely as possible, toward taking this step.

This would be risk-taking to transform and old concrete building into a church/business center; this would be a body and soul-stretching outreach initiative; this would require an open-handed and open-hearted effort of generosity and hospitality to come up with the resources needed. (We would need about $150,000 to cover the next two years – plus some solid volunteer labor to get the place in shape).

There are many more ways we evidence our FAITH value. We began two daycares, housing for refugees, a partnership with the Vancouver Foodbank, internships, community celebrations and outreaches to street boys and orphans in Uganda. We are looking at innovations in tutoring, youth, language learning and even thinking of bringing a Korean missionary from Korea to help us reach international students.

All of this demands visionaries, generous givers, strategic thinkers, gutsy leadership and people of faith.

We’ve seen God bless in drawing representatives from 50 different nations into one family. What more can he do to build his church? How has he gifted you to demonstrate this value of FAITH? Perhaps you might even have a role to play in some of the vision he is drawing out of us.

 

Values: FAITH -PART ONE

In Faith’s family we have three key values which we use as a grid to mark the kind of community we would like to see. Today, I asked a newcomer over coffee what he observed about his experience so far at the church. He said, “I’ve been to a lot of churches and it’s different here. It feels like a community. People don’t rush away and they don’t rush by you when the service is done.”

Yesterday, in our prayer time before the service, another new comer said, “this is the friendliest church I’ve ever been to. You walk into the prayer room and everyone stands up to hug you.”

I’m not sure if our values are the reason why our community networks with each other, but God seems to be doing something special among us for which we are grateful. Our leadership has something to do with it, our prayer base has something to do with it, but our members are the ones making a difference.

We say three things about the value of FAITH in our expression of church. We say that FAITH means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will lean toward

  • Prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking for the sake of the gospel;
  • Body and soul-stretching outreach initiatives
  • Open-handed and open-hearted efforts of generosity and hospitality

FAITH is our confident trust that God is with us as we live out his truth in our contemporary world. We lean toward prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking for the sake of the gospel, meaning that we come before God with a bold confidence to seek his wisdom and his way for divine appointments and significant conversations as we look for bridges in sharing who Jesus is and what he has done in giving his life for us. We share personally on how God has worked in our own life and we share candidly on what he has done in our world.

We haven’t mastered prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking, individually or as a community. but we are trying to lean in that direction.

When Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor, was chasing down Christians on his way to Damascus, he met Jesus in a dynamic encounter. He was changed because two people took risks for the sake of the gospel. First, Ananias was prompted by Jesus to place his hands on him and restore Saul’s sight. Ananias responded, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he had done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13)

The risk was real but Jesus told Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Twice, Ananias is told “go” just as Jesus tells us to “go” in his great commission. Sometimes a person’s outward persona or reputation holds us back from taking risks. It doesn’t feel safe to share and it seems obvious that this person wouldn’t be interested anyway.

Saul tried to join the disciples in Damascus by preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. This confused everyone who thought they knew who he was and this led to death threats from his former allies. Saul escaped to Jerusalem and again tried to join the disciples there “but they were afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas too him and brought him to the apostles…”

Two people showed their faith by taking risks with Saul and this has made all the difference for all of us who read our Bibles and see what Saul (who became the Apostle Paul) wrote for us who live outside the Jewish world.

How has God helped you lean toward prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking as you share the gospel? How have you witnessed evidences of this in your faith community?

What’s it All About?

The messages I get often start with Why or Where. Why is God letting this happen to me? Where is God right now and why isn’t he answering my prayers? Why am I here?

Rick Warren, in his book Better Together (p. 12), says “the purpose of your time on earth is not primarily about acquiring possessions, attaining status, achieving success, or even experiencing happiness. Those are secondary issues. Life is all about love and developing relationships – with God, and with other people. You may succeed in many areas, but if you fail to learn how to love God and love others, you’ll have missed the reason God created you and placed you on this planet. Learning to love is life’s most important lesson. Jesus called it the “great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). Nothing else comes close in importance.”

If you’re like me, it’s easy to nod my head in agreement but then I meet real people in real life.

For example, K. is the mom whose son is an aggressive autistic wreaking havoc in the community. K. has a husband dying from a brain tumour and acting out against her. K. has a daughter who gave her a three-week-old child to look after since the daughter didn’t want to leave her life of drugs and prostitution. Now K. has kidney cancer and lives in serious pain. Her messages to me express how overwhelming life is. Her trust and faith in God were ejected long ago. How do I love in this situation?

  1. came by for prayer again today. One son is an alcoholic and one a drug addict. She converted to Christianity from another religion and is seeing huge transformation in her own life and choices. She battles and fights for her boys but is drained of energy. She can’t keep a job because she is always chasing to intervene in her son’s latest escapade. The things she loves disappear again and she knows who took them. Yet today, she declares that God knows who needs those things most and she releases them without animosity toward her son. Still, she is in desperate need. How do I love in this situation?
  2. is a young professional who was lonely. She prided herself on her purity until she met an older man who overwhelmed her with compassion and care. She quickly fell prey to his sexual advances and found herself involved in things she never imagined doing. When that relationship ended, within a week, she was into another relationship with a younger man who repeated the same activities with her. She feels trapped because of her loneliness, guilt because of her faith, helplessness to make meaningful choices. How do I love in this situation?
  3. is an older refugee who longs for connections. He had significant status in his home country before he had to run for his life and come to Canada a year ago. He is learning English and loves to talk but no one seems to have time for him. He is constantly sending out invitations to come and share food at his home. He would love to still make a difference in his home country through a politician here but needs help accessing his representative so he can share his story. How do I love in this situation?

Every person we meet has a different story and love needs to be applied uniquely to their situation. We need wisdom and compassion and grace greater than we can imagine.

Who are the significant people in your community who need practical demonstrations of love? What can you do for even one of them?