Open Doors lead to Open Hearts

Do you remember the first few people who welcomed you at Faith? How about at your first work place or your school? Sometimes that welcome has a lasting impact on us.

There is nothing like feeling welcomed. When I enter someone else’s place it makes all the difference if the welcome is warm. When I enter another church it changes everything if there is a warm welcome or not. When others come to Faith I expect them to get a warm welcome from all of us who consider this home.

The firstcomers at our small group love to welcome those who come later and there is a genuine joy expressed at being welcomed into a group. When a refugee family spent the afternoon eating and sharing with us there was a sense of inclusion at having an open door and an open table being offered. I notice even at the youth group that the welcome once you’re in the door makes all the difference.

Rick Warren, in his book Better Together (p. 48), has gathered several verses in different versions which give us the importance of hospitality for the Christian who is following Jesus.

“Open your homes to each other without complaining.” I Peter 4:9 (TEV) Also, Isaiah 58:6-9; Luke 14:12-14.

Warren adds, “For some, hospitality is as natural as breathing. For others, the practice must be acquired. For all, the gift must be nurtured.”

He declares the difference between entertaining and showing hospitality. “Entertaining declares, ‘This is mine – these rooms, these adornments. Look, please, and admire.’ Hospitality whispers, ‘What is mine is yours’ (Acts 2:44).

As followers of Jesus the neighbourhood in which he has placed us is our open door to reach out and demonstrate hospitality. Filling our schedules with activities, not chosen purposefully to connect with others, will short-circuit our chances to open our hearts and open our doors.

You can’t show hospitality to everyone but you can show welcome to a few.

The same happens when we gather for services, banquet or events. You can’t invest a significant welcome for everyone but you can with those around you. Keep looking and reaching out.

What did you feel like when you entered a place of worship and no one welcomed you? So, who have you welcomed into fellowship lately? How can you use your hospitality in the weeks to come?

Why does God Choose the Foolish?

Growing up in today’s world, where you might get a participation ribbon for showing up and a hero’s reputation for doing anything thoughtful, it isn’t hard to start feeling like you are someone special – a cut above the average. Being somewhat, half-decently good as a prep for your eulogy seems to get you a pass by the judgement seat and straight on in to heaven – or so it seems to many of the tearful at our funerals.

The apostle Paul has a way of diminishing any pride we might have in who we are. In I Corinthians 1:25-31 he says “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one many boast before him. It is because of Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The message seems clear. God chooses people who can’t possibly live up to what he has designed for them so that it’s clear to others that the only way they can do it is because of Jesus. Sometimes, those of us in the church have forgotten that it’s only because of Jesus that we can live up to the life God sets out for us.

Brennan Manning, in his book, The Importance of Being Foolish (p. 21), says “As the sincere Christian opens himself to the life proposed by Jesus a life of constant prayer and total unselfishness, a life of buoyant, creative goodness and a purity of heart that goes beyond chastity to affect every facet of our personality – his sense of awe and wonder can quickly sour into cynicism and pessimism. The suspicion grows that the gospel ethic is impractical, impossible, and therefore irrelevant. The words are nice, but who pays them any mind? After all, I can’t be asked to do all that! I can’t survive in the jungle out there if I take Jesus’s revelation seriously. I can’t be always giving. There must be a limit. But Christ sets no limit.”

So, what do we do with this? How can we thrive in the jungle, flourish in the storms, grow through the impossibilities? How are you doing it?

We’d be foolish to keep trying to do it on our own.

Our Big Picture Thinking

Apologist Ravi Zacharias lays it out clearly in his book The Grand Weaver (p. 42) “What the brain is to the body, the mind is to the soul.”

Zacharias notes that what we call faith is “a thing of the mind. If you do not believe that God is in control and has formed you for a purpose, then you will flounder on the high seas of purposelessness, drowning in the currents and drifting further into nothingness.”

He further cites Essayist F. W. Boreham who declares that “faith is actually the mainspring of the universe, the sheet anchor of civilization. It lies at the heart of all negotiations and worldwide relations. All sound finance builds on it. When people clutch their money, thinking they have concrete reality, they are, in fact, clutching to faith. Money, in that sense, has no value without trust. It is all worthless paper without the promises and pledges of other people and systems. The entire financial structure depends on credit, trust, confidence, belief, and faith.”

Losing faith means the potential loss of hope and love. God’s Word has been given to us as a gift to build faith, hope and love in a world which has lost direction and control. It is food for our minds so that our soul gets clear truth in a world which hasn’t quite grasped it.

How is your mind grasping this thought? Does this make sense to you? Do you see the centrality of how we function from a core of faith?

The problem for many of us is that our faith is misplaced. We place our faith in the money Zacharias speaks of, or we place our faith in other people, an accomplishment, a reputation, a dream, or even in our own might, wisdom and intuitiveness. These will all fail us ultimately, but they will give us the illusion of exercising our mind for some kind of god-designed purpose.

How can you live so that you are operating by faith in Jesus and not in some other object? How will you continue to live that way in what you’re facing? May God grant you the discernment you need in this journey.

Is there room for doubt in our faith?

Have you tried to share your faith lately with an unbeliever? What was that like? Did you know how to respond to the questions you were being asked, the doubts that were being expressed, the pushback you were being given?

Peter, Jesus’ lead disciple, had this to say in I Peter 3:15, 16. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

We don’t expect ourselves to embrace things we don’t believe are true and we surely don’t expect others to embrace things they don’t believe are true. Few are won by being argued into the kingdom. Most are intrigued by seeing the real expression and trust in Jesus when our life is anything but good. “How do you have hope now?” they want to know.

The time for effective witness doesn’t start when we’re confronted by an unbeliever with their haunting questions. They time for witness comes when we speak to our own heart first about what we really believe about Jesus, His word, His church, His world. If you’ve grown up in a ‘Christian’ environment, surrounded only by supportive relationships, it can be a shock to be mocked by skeptics.

The age of entitlement and privilege is over for most followers of Jesus in Canada. It is time to look seriously at what Scripture is teaching us on how to live in a world whose values are not aligned with God’s. This is especially true for students and young professionals.

Winfried Corduan, in his book Reasonable Faith (pp. 16-17), says

“There should come a period in our lives, as we mature in our faith, when we need to confront our inherited belief system and ask ourselves whether it has really become ours. The developmental psychologist James W. Fowler sees a personal re-examination of beliefs as necessary for full maturity. Through most of our adolescent years we are very peer-oriented in all of our life’s decisions. We respond to groups and easily pick up the group’s beliefs as our own. This is why evangelism on the high school levels needs to be socially oriented. Many times during the period we recommit ourselves to our family’s values. However, in late adolescence or early young adulthood, we ought to escape from the peer-oriented mode; we need to decide whether we can really claim ownership in everything we have taken on as beliefs. In most cases, this process involves raising questions about the truth of these beliefs.

“This re-examination does not mean tearing down everything so that it can be rebuilt. It may simply be a matter of making sure all of the nails are holding and applying a little more glue here and there. Unless a person is willing to go through such a process, his or her faith may always be suffering from a lack of conviction.”

So, how has this worked out in your life and faith? How strong are your convictions and where did they come from? Do you have confidence in sharing what you believe with someone still filled with doubt? Are you first living out your faith so that someone would even ask you about your faith?

To pray or not to pray

Thursday was set aside for 12 hours of prayer with different leaders hosting each hour. During an hour hosted by our intern Yosef he played a song with a short clip of a John Piper sermon. The message declared that no pain that we have ever experienced is without purpose or meaning. God is working in us deliberately an eternal weight of glory. That thought requires deep meditation.

A friend of mine is a pastor at a church which has a prayer meeting every night of the week with Friday as a loud and long one. I confessed that while our church has built a healthy multi-cultural community, our prayer times together are still weak. They are building their church on prayer with 20% growth every year and new believers every week.

Today was an effort to say that it is time to reaffirm that only the Spirit of God does the real work in transforming dead hearts, blind eyes, deaf ears and numb minds. In pastor Tim Keller’s book on Prayer his wife used a story to get him to realize the seriousness of prayer. Here is what she said,

“Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine – a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No – it would be so crucial that you would not forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.”

Does that illustration speak to you? Do you really believe prayer is that essential? Maybe your response and mine shows a lot more about what is happening in our life than we realize.

A Question !

Happy New Year. A question to start us off. Is there a parallel between the physical and spiritual climates in our country? A few days ago the warmest place in Canada at 3 degrees celsius was still colder than many other countries have ever experienced. For example, Taiwan, Indonesia, Cuba, the Philippines and Jamaica have never been that cold – ever.

Does our weather drive us indoors and inside ourselves? It often impacts attendance at Sunday services. What motivates us to snuggle back in for more rest, choose alternate activities, or head out to connect again with the body of Christ? Has the coolness outside impacted us inside?
Faith’s mission is to make disciples of all nations – all generations in all nations. The influx of nations into our church has kept it vibrant, active, loving and inviting. However, we live in a time and place where surveys show that the love of many toward Christ and his church has grown cold.
My question? Is it the weather or something else.

Daring to faith it

Today’s rising generation in our church needs the courage of Daniel and the daring of David to
embrace a faith that is rapidly falling out of favor with their peers. It’s no longer uncommon for
even church goers to go for weeks or months without considering what the Bible has to say
toward the situations and relationships they are dealing with.
Many millenials state openly they no longer believe that any of the religious texts which have
been guides to other generations and other nations have any value or relevance for today. None
of them are better than another.
Churches have tried to spin out more apps and digital resources, podcasts and YouTube
presentations, blogs, websites, Facebook and twitter posts, Instagram, Snapchat and other social
media in an effort to entice the next generation toward the faith. Even all this has limited
response.
And yet, these rising generations which are sloughing off the practices, traditions and even
beliefs of established institutional churches, have a deep curiosity about what is authentic,
meaningful and transformative.
The big thing they desire is to belong in the story we embrace. They don’t just want to hear it.
They want to live it. That’s all about relationship across generations and across nations. They
want to be welcomed, listened to, shared with, appreciated. They want to engage in hospitality
around tables and circles where they can experience belonging.
There’s been enough modeling of what doesn’t work and what doesn’t change our world. This
new generation is looking for something that speaks to their heart, their hands and their hopes.
They need space and opportunity to wrestle with the declarations, demands and diverse teaching
of Scripture.
Our church’s established members need daring faith to encourage those who are embracing
the truths we have held closely for so long. I’m encouraged to see how these next opportunities
will show themselves in our community and in our city.
In the first message after Jesus’ triumphant death, resurrection, ascension and birth of the church,
Peter quotes Joel’s hopeful declaration: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons
and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream
dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days
and they will prophesy.”
Together, across generations, we have a daring faith to embrace, live out and share. If the rising
generations are going to find their place in God’s story then those of us who have walked it for a
while need to constantly welcome them into the journey.