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.

Belonging, Becoming, Believing

Belonging, Becoming, Believing

Michael Whitmer’s book, Don’t Stop Believing ( Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough) helps us to pause and reflect on the relationship of Belonging, Becoming and Believing. For as long as I can remember being part of a Bible-believing church the order for newcomers has been clear. Believe then you can belong and then become what you are supposed to be.

In order to believe, we were instructed to pray a prayer – confessing our sin, accepting what Jesus did on our behalf and embracing a relationship with God. Belonging meant getting baptized so we could join the church so we could be held accountable for our spiritual growth. Becoming meant staying obedient, pure and resisting temptation.

Many postmodern churches think that belonging should be the first step in our relationship with the church. Being missional is considered most important and we should be embracing others rather than condemning them.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch illustrate by saying that conservatives love to build fences to show who is in and who is out while missional churches dig wells and invite all to come and partake. “Rather than seeing people as Christian or non-Christian, as in or out, we would see people by their degree of distance from the center, Christ. In this way, the missional-incarnational church sees people as Christian and not-yet-Christian. It acknowledges the contribution of not-yet-Christians to Christian community and values the contribution of all people.” (p.101)

Some people have gone further in saying it isn’t how close you are to Jesus but in which direction you’re headed. They want the church to feel like a safe, hospitable community where they can belong. The believe that faith is a pilgrimage which we are all on.

In this later framework, we belong first, become and then learn to believe. “Evangelism or mission… is no longer about persuading people to believe what I believe … It is about shared experiences and encounters. It is about walking the journey of life and faith together, each distinct to his or her own tradition and culture but with the possibility of encountering God and truth from one another.”

Conservatives tend to focus on believe, belong, become because they emphasize the impact of the fall and so define us as sinners who need to repent. Our condition is that of fallen sinners; our goal is to convert; our means is to find answers and discover truth; our ministry is to confidently declare the authoritative truth and our church tends to cater to people who believe like us.

Missional churches see our condition as that of created seekers on a spiritual journey who are asking questions, wondering about truth. Believers humbly invite others to participate in the journey and welcome community members to join the larger faith family as they explore. We would love to see all of us engaged with Jesus, bringing truth, grace and love to those around us. (This is our vision statement).

Each of us might have a clear preference for one or the other option but Whitmer sees both options as inadequate. The missional church is too permissive – allowing a wide diversity of beliefs as long as one is inclusive and tolerant. The conservative view is seen as stifling and oppressive when one has to believe all the right things before being accepted.

Whitmer sees the missional view as positive for those on their journey toward faith and the conservative view as strengthening for those who have embraced the faith and what it stands for. He summarizes his teaching as follows (p. 108)

“When we combine both models in the way we do church, we will gladly admit that Christian and non-Christian alike are on a journey, but we will emphasize the turning point of repentance and faith to get on track. We will clasp the clear, life-giving answer of Christianity in one hand and raise a hand for questions with the other. We will expect new Christians to grow in love and righteousness, and we will compassionately embrace those who struggle. We will limit membership in the body of Christ to those who believe but welcome and make room for those who do not.”

Where do you think Faith’s family falls in helping believe to belong, believe and become? Regardless of where you fall, realized that you are loved more than you can ask or imagine. Pastor Jack

Restorative Justice?

Years ago, I was part of a community which was given responsibility for the health, education, spiritual life and relationships of 500 students. We had 100 staff members working together to attempt to provide a sense of Christian love and care. Not everyone got this right and students felt the impact of the fallenness of their leaders and their peers.

That school is attempting to adjust its discipline system to one called restorative justice. Restorative justice, according to Howard Zehr and Henry Mika in their focus on principles, sees the primary issue is one of a violation of people and interpersonal relationships. As Christians, we would say that the main problem with the fall was not that Adam and Eve broke a rule but they made a choice which broke relationships. The purpose of restorative justice then is to move from punishment for a broken rule to restoration of a broken relationship. We see that God did all that was necessary through Christ to restore our relationship with Him.

We have a narrow view of rule breaking. The Apostle Paul and the Corinthian church wrestled with these realities in the area of church discipline. We don’t see that while there may be primary victims of a harmful action or offense there are also secondary victims – like family members, witnesses or others in the affected community. The ripples of the rock thrown in the pond of choice travel far broader than we imagine. All these relationships must be addressed in line with the harms resulting from the choice made.

Can this process work in a church as a way of thinking in line with the grace and compassion given to us by God through the gospel? Victims and offenders together provide input into the process so that restoration, healing, responsibility and prevention are all verbalized. Everyone involved is a part of the process so it doesn’t take much to see that there is a lot more investment by the community than one individual declaring the penance for the offender while the victim is left to find his own way toward healing and recovery.

The offender is responsible to make things right – as much as possible. Victims have a big say in what this looks like. The harm to individuals and to the community needs to be understood and processed. Ideally, the offender and victims participate voluntarily. The purpose of everything is to try and make the relationships right. While the process may be painful and humbling it is not designed to be vengeful. Restitution would be a primary goal in many instances.

Community support for victims of offenses, as a way to meet their needs, is accepted by all participants. The community carries the weight of care for members to provide a safe, welcoming and healing environment for all. Reintegrating offenders back into fellowship is a clear goal as is encouraging and reconciling the victim.

Restorative justice seeks to foster healing and reconciliation. The process may bring out “information, validation, vindication, restitution, testimony, safety and support” as starting points. Safety for the offended party is a priority and their input is maximized. Offenders must be involved in the repair of harm as much as possible. Some personal exchange of offender and offended may be anticipated but the offended sets the boundaries of how any verbal exchange may happen. Remorse, forgiveness and reconciliation is a desired outcome.

Offenders also may need to have their own needs for healing and integration into community addressed. The desire is for “personal change over compliant behaviour.” The resources of the community are crucial to this process so that the community is encouraged and strengthened. One goal of the process is to build enough awareness and sensitivity into the community that such actions are limited from happening again.

There is no cookie cutter solution to human relationship problems. Each may find its own unique solution and pathway for community integration and wholeness.

As we share the grace and compassion of the gospel with each other in our community it is good to remember that we are loved more than we can imagine.

A MAZE ING religions

A MAZE 'ing religions -God ,divine being,Sovereign-all religions make exclusive claims and do not believe the same things

It doesn’t take long to be in Canada before you realize that most Canadians honestly believe that if religion is a valid option in this tolerant society than all religions are equally valid. It is true that some Canadians believe religion is dangerous and not something for any sane person to pursue, but for many there is still some sense of spiritual sensitivity to something. It only takes a national tragedy to realize this.

The Chaplain of the Humboldt, Saskatchewan junior ice hockey team devastated in the crash that killed 15 of the 29 members on board the bus that was T-boned by a semi-trailer truck remarked that two questions haunt us in tragedies like this. Why? And Where? We ask Why did this happen? And we ask Where was God? He said that although he couldn’t answer why he knew that God was both on the throne in control of this and he was in the middle of the valley of the darkness with the broken-hearted and wounded.  He said the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus showed God’s commitment to help us fear now evil because he was with us.

Few other religions have this sense of Immanence and Transcendence so intimately tied together. Many of the existing faiths consider that we are all travellers finding our own trails up the mountain of belief to get to the top where we will all meet God as he is. They don’t think he is really knowable.

What if the world of multi-cultural faith options are really a maze created by men to try and answer the four questions of who am I? where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Since we all have the same questions it makes sense that we’re all trying to find the same solution. We just find different ways to get there. Like finding our own path to the local Starbucks or McDonalds.

The vision of a maze makes sense if you realize that there is only one true path even if it appears that there are many ways to enter and find your way to the center. In reality, all are dead ends except for the path of Jesus.

In reality all religions make exclusive claims and do not believe the same things, regardless of what we would like to imagine. Most religions, apart from Buddhism, believes in the existence of some divine being – already we have a major difference. While Judaism, Christianity and Islam claim that there is one God while Hinduism presents the divine essence as made up of millions of gods and goddesses who inhabit the physical images created to represent them. Islam and Judaism rejects that Jesus is God in the flesh and therefore shows more differentiation in what we believe.

Ravi Zacharias, in his book Jesus Among Other Gods (p. 7), states that “All religions are not the same… At the heart of every religion is an uncompromising commitment to a particular way of defining who God is or is not and accordingly, of defining life’s purpose. Anyone who claims that all religions are the same betrays not only an ignorance of religions but also a caricatured view of even the best known ones. Every religion at its core is exclusive.”

Most of us are committed to what we follow because we have come to believe it for one reason or another. Why have you staked your eternity on what you understand to be true? How do you share your truth with people who believe differently than you? What is the best picture you can think of as to how we present the various attempts of man to find his way to God?

What’s the Difference?

difference,saviour

A TIME magazine article by Reynolds Price from November 28, 1999 states that “the single most powerful figure – not merely in these two milleniums [sic] but in all human history – has been Jesus of Nazareth … a serious argument can be made that no one else’s life has proved remotely as powerful and enduring as that of Jesus.”

Dr. James Francis, back in 1926, preached to a group of youth on “the Real Jesus”. The following is an adaptation of his fuller message.

“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

“He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…

“While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

“Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

“I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”

What is it that distinguishes the founder of our faith from others?

Perhaps, the clearest difference is his exclusive claim not just to be the way to God but to be the God we all long to connect with.

C.S. Lewis, the great atheist turned Christian apologist, states in his book Mere Christianity that

“If you are a Christian you o not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through… If you are a Christian you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth… But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic – there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.”

Barton Priebe, in his book, The Problem with Christianity (p. 111) quotes Albert Mohler from a conference message:

If all we need is a teacher of enlightenment, the Buddha will do; if all we need is a collection of gods for every occasion and need and hope, Hinduism will do; if all we need is a tribal deity, any tribal deity will do; if all we need is a lawgiver, Moses will do; if all we need is  a set of rules and a way of devotion, Muhammad or Joseph Smith will do; if all we need is inspiration and insight into the sovereign self, Oprah will do; but if we need a savior, only Jesus will do.”

Why do you think Jesus is different than all other faith founders? How has this impacted the choices and relationships you make on a day to day basis?

Truth and Culture

Truth and Culture-comforts,values, morals, habits,lifestyles, beliefs

Many of us who are followers of Jesus grow up in a bubble of truth we assume defines reality as it is. To others being nurtured on the sap of secularism the arrogant, or even tentative, truth claims of Christians can only be condemned as intolerant.

The Christian World has just re-energized its foundational beliefs over these past weeks with a focus on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Our music, our liturgy and our focus on the Scripture stories appeal to our soul convictions that we are right in what we ‘preach’ to the world around us.

Our Canadian culture swirls a mix of beliefs, knowledge, laws, social media, art, morals, customs, habits, education, hopes and dreams together to establish what it thinks is acceptable. In this past week, 15 out of 29 members of a junior ice hockey team were killed in a bus crash in Saskatchewan. Only one boy out of the 29 passengers was able to be released from hospital with minor injuries. The whole hockey world deemed it acceptable to pause for moments of silence, for fundraisers, for memorial services, and even for prayers on behalf of the boys and their families.

Humans have a strange habit of dismissing the spiritual realm, life after death and thoughts of eternity as long as life is moving along ‘normally’. It is when something tragic happens that we wake up to something beyond ourselves. Some God-shaped space inside our ‘made in the image of God’ selves wriggles for attention.

Our secular environment has become as normal to us as a fish in an aquarium perceives the water around it. The pollution index and its evidences may be clearer to observers from the outside but for us the norm is what it is.

The one hope that infiltrates our carefully guarded secularism is the immigration of multi-cultural communities working to find a root and an identity in our country, our cities and our churches. Newcomers provide enough of an outside perspective on values, morals, habits, beliefs, knowledge and customs that we are slowly impacted. It might begin with a new food item, a new form of entertainment, a new style of dress, a new expression of music or a new rhythm of relationship.

Our sense of entitlement to the comforts and conveniences of our modern lifestyles is infectious, not only to ourselves, but to newcomers who see and desire. In a world where our mosaic has the possibility of bringing the bright colours of a rainbow, we begin to blend everything into a dull form of brown or grey.

There is a hidden danger here where nothing carries special worth or value any longer. Without a rational basis for holding onto anything as true, humanity has to face up to the numerous empty escapes it perpetuates to distract itself. Relativism captures the laws and moods of our land. Different religions are seen as something like different ways to communicate with a God if such a being exists. This pulls us toward inclusivism which naturally has no room for an exclusive ‘faith’ like Christianity claiming that Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life.

In what ways do you feel the pressure from our culture in considering that no religious view is better than another? Do you believe something is exclusively true regardless of what others around you say? What basis do you have for establishing your truth as the ultimate truth?

We prayed

praying for those who needed some specific care from the Good Shepherd

Well we did it. We celebrated Resurrection Day. We affirmed that Jesus is alive in this universe, in this world he made, in this country he rules, in this church he leads, and in us individually. He is alive.

He is alive and so we prayed. We prayed in our small group Wednesday night; we prayed in our Thursday morning prayer time from 8-10am; we prayed in our staff meeting; we prayed in our accountability sessions; we prayed as we sat down for meals and as we started our meetings. We prayed because we know there is no one else who can handle all that is happening except the one who lives.

He is alive and listening to our prayers. He is alive and responding to our prayers. He is alive and prompting our prayers. He is alive and interceding for us.

In this past Thursday morning prayer group we started praying for those who needed some specific care from the Good Shepherd. We started at 8 am and by 10 am – with only one break for a few songs – we prayed continuously for person after person after person… It became clear. Every single person in our church family and beyond needs the gracious touch and care of Jesus.

We took time in the middle of all that to reaffirm who we believed God is. That was crucial to keep us from feeling overwhelmed.

Tim Keller (prayer, p. 97-98) reminds us of John Calvin’s first rule of prayer which focused on the principle of reverence for God. In helping focus on the magnitude and seriousness of prayer he says “it is a personal audience and conversation with the Almighty God of the Universe.” He draws us to consider the sense of awe and reverence we experience as we realize that the one we dare to approach is such a glorious majesty that we dare not grieve him – and so we experience a strange mix of joy, grace, humility and fear of grieving or dishonoring him.

He is not only alive but he is near. The insert in our bulletin reads as follows:

God continually moves into our neighbourhood. He is not a God who can be restrained or reduced. He can’t be managed or manipulated. He can’t be contained or confined.

I can celebrate a God like ours because when He says something He means it. He does not change. When He promises something, He can do it. When He puts me under His protection there ain’t nobody going to get through to me. Our God is an awesome God. He’s a Rock and a Refuge. He’s a Savior and a Sovereign. He’s the Creator of the Universe and the Conqueror of Evil. He’s the High and the Holy. He’s the One and only Hope of Humanity. Do you know Him?

Our God is the God who overcomes unbeatable giants, unscalable walls, and uncrossable seas. Our God is the God who brings something out of nothing, who breaks the chains fo the captives, who walks us through the valley fo the shadows without fear. Ur God is the Shepherd and the Shaper, He’s the Guardian and the Guide. He’s the Lover and the Loved. He’s the Almighty. Do you know Him?

God personally has moved into our neighbourhood and He does expected us to represent Him there. That’s why we spend so much time on our knees.

How do you believe this?

Followers of Jesus face a challenge lifestyles ,family,society influencing

In this age, when an avalanche of fake news through social media almost crushes us with statements and claims which stretch the limits of our ability to believe, it can be easy to dismiss the gospel claims about who Jesus was, why he lived, died and rose again. Existential skepticism, reasonable doubt, unbelievable truth, mixed freely with a kaleidoscopic array of cultural, religious and social ideologies, might excuse us setting aside the crucifixion / resurrection narrative as obscure, superstitious and irrelevant to our contemporary lifestyles.

Followers of Jesus face a challenge. Our mandate is to share the gospel story as the only hope for humanity but we are often left without clear understanding of how to answer all the questions, objections and skepticism of those we want to share with. Our integrity can’t encourage people to ignore their questions and embrace our faith without confidence in its truth claims. Intellectual honesty for both the inquirer and the responder are necessary if commitment is to last.

What we believe is often filtered through the family, culture, church, country, education system and social group we grew up with. We believe what we’re told until it doesn’t seem so believable anymore. Somewhere, we start to think that unless what we believe can withstand every question posed that we can’t hold it any longer. We start to realize that perhaps this is a faith which was never ours. Holding our faith surrounded by doubts limits our ability to effectively share what we believe.

Winfried Corduan, in his book Reasonable Faith (p. 20), states that:

“People usually learn about the facts of their faith from some form of authority. These sources might include parents, clergy, teachers, or the Bible. Because we are taught to respect these authorities, we accept what they teach us about God. No one can be expected to examine all of his or her beliefs before committing to them as true. Many people do not have the capacity, time, or interest to undertake a thorough evaluation of a doctrine and its alternatives. For that matter, if the world had to wait for the “experts” – theologians and philosophers – to come to agreement on beliefs before accepting any of them, nobody could believe anything. So God has seen to it that some people are commissioned to represent His truth as He has revealed it in His Word, the Bible. Such is the obligation of all parents to their children and all others who occupy a teaching or preaching capacity in the church. We see then that it is both possible and proper for all articles of belief to be accepted on the basis of faith, that is, out of respect to the authority that teaches them.”

The issue is never the questioning of our faith but the integrity of the questions we ask of it. To arrive at commitment we accept that there is a knowable truth given by a knowable God who is able to intervene in human history with a reliable communication we can access, understand and apply to life. From that source we are able to sort our way through the puzzle of whether Jesus is Legend, Lunatic, Liar or Lord.

Ultimately, we are engaging in a reasonable faith which grows over time.

Confused?

confussed happy smily college freshman

March 2015. I’m sitting at the back of my English 101 tutorial classroom. Alarmed brain signals careen along the labyrinths of my mind as the course instructor announces:

“According to this theory, marriage is an unnatural constraint on sexual freedom. Marriage infidelity shouldn’t be shameful! Things would be a lot more ‘natural’ if everyone simply indulged in their desires.”

As he elaborates on the theory with eloquent arguments and examples from the media, my long-held values backflip like a half-cooked pancake on a griddle. Traces of doubt slither into my mind. Have I been living in a bubble up until now? 

Four years later, looking back at my wide-eyed university freshman self in English 101, I realize how much I trusted my professors to be right. When you’re eighteen and surrounded by seasoned thinkers, it’s easy to blindly believe the best-argued case. Problem is, universities are peopled with scholars who argue their case for a living. Most of them are pretty good at it.

Torrents of ideas have come crashing down on me in lecture halls. Ideas about society. Ideas about the origin of the world. One astronomy professor insisted that the universe created itself from scratch and that humans were random networks of stardust. Another literature professor nonchalantly reduced Christianity to a system of murderous colonizers and power-hungry church leaders.

I’ve also picked up new ideas from friends. University exposes you to a huge variety of perspectives from different religious groups and worldviews. Even between two Christians, opinions can differ wildly on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and gender-neutral washrooms.

It’s no wonder that, flailing in a sea of opinions, some students pick and choose a set of beliefs as they would select choice morsels at a buffet spread. They live only by the ones that seem palatable to them and adjust their views to their tastes. Paul already knew these customized worldviews were coming when he warned, in 2 Timothy, that “people…will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (4:3).

Others, like me, become plain confused.

It goes without saying that my Christian beliefs took a good shaking-up in university. But they have solidified into a stronger faith and greater trust in God and in Jesus’ salvation.

How in the world did I soak up four years of “enlightening” theories, many of which encouraged me to abandon my faith, and still end up a Jesus follower?

My astronomy professor shared his frustration that, despite his measuring tools, he couldn’t solve all the puzzles of outer space. My literature professor bemoaned our inability to break off the “chains of religious influences”. Even with all their professed insight into the mysteries of life, they were still confused.

And it hit me: humans don’t have all the answers. The most articulate scholars don’t. Neither do the brains behind the theories. But poring over the word of God, I find all I need to know in one handy guidebook. It comforts me when I’m at my worst. It gives me amazing discernment in sticky situations. It rebukes me when I wander off from where God wants me to be. And it boasts the mind-blowing mystery of salvation that makes life worth the living.

Yes, I respect human reason and university textbooks. But now, I also know that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ” (Colossians 2:4). The Bible, the lamp to our feet and light for our path, has the power to dispel confusion and trumps any man-made philosophy