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?

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?

Vision

It seems obvious doesn’t it? When you are driving at night you put on your headlights? Why? So you can see where you’re going.

Mission is about knowing where you are going and vision is about seeing where you are going.

At Faith, our mission and vision statements are like the headlights on our car. We say we are making disciples of Christ from all nations. Engaging with Jesus, we bring truth, grace and love to all those around us. We say this because Jesus, in Matthew 28:18-20 told us “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

This short passage provides our headlights.

We see that there is only one authority who gives us direction. All authority belongs to the risen and living one, to Jesus.

We see that his direction is clear. As we are going about our everyday life we are to make disciples of all nations. This isn’t a task we accomplish individually but it’s a task we participate in with others from the church. We can’t make disciples of everyone, but we should be making disciples of someone without prejudice as to what nation they come from.

The words “baptize them” literally mean “to immerse them” in water and so when someone confirms that by grace God has brought them into a right relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins won by the shed blood of Christ on the cross; that they desire to follow Jesus as revealed in the Scripture; that they desire to join with his people in a community of faith, hope and love – then we celebrate their new life in an immersion during one of our services where all can witness God’s goodness.

We also see that a disciple is a lifelong learner who must be taught to obey everything Jesus commands. In humility, we recognize that we are all life-long learners in a relationship where we are teaching and growing at the same time. We recognize that our life as part of a faith community now impacts others and we are careful to protect the values and truths Jesus teaches us.

We see that Jesus promises to always be with us. This gives us great confidence and hope in our gatherings, in our small groups, in our mentoring. We don’t walk alone.

We see finally that this age will end and therefore our time for making disciples is limited. We ask God for divine appointments and for significant conversations with those he brings into our social circle and then we alertly watch, pray and share.

One day, we will stand with countless others from every tribe and tongue and nation around the throne of Jesus to celebrate his victory over death and sin. Until then, we want a taste of heaven by making disciples of Christ from all nations who God brings our way.

Who has God placed in your social circle so that you can learn with? What steps in relationship building are you taking so that trust is being established? When is the last time you shared your own testimony of God’s grace in your life?

Is this mission and vision of discipleship clear for you?

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?

Don’t Read This

Once again, don’t read this if you don’t want to know how bad things are in our city. Don’t read this if you don’t want to admit how hard things are just to be human in this environment. Don’t read this if you think you are the only one struggling with sexual temptation.

The British apologist C. S. Lewis, stated that “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it not by lying down. A man who gives into the temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.“

If you’ve ever stood on the deck of a BC ferry and walked into the wind there are times when you could almost be blown overboard. Those resting inside have little idea how challenging it is to stand or walk for those on the outside.

In my best dreams as a pastor I would like to imagine that all followers of Jesus are safe inside the ship and that the winds are wreaking their havoc on those who deliberately refuse to come inside and get away from all the images on television, in the theatres, on the computers, in the magazines, in the malls, in the bookstores, in their classrooms, in their workspaces, in their community centers, in their doctor’s offices, on the billboards, on their tablets, on their phones and in their own imaginations.

The carnage on our society is deadly. How can prayer impact the direction and consequences we are seeing unleashed around us as Romans 1 promised?

Huge percentages of youth, young adults, married men and women, and even seniors are confessing in groups designed for believers that they are enslaved by pornography, masturbation, sexual fantasies and addictions, pre-marital and extra-marital sexual encounters, inappropriate thoughts, attractions, lusts or desires.

An enemy is working hard to cripple the church from being an effective witness. How can we stand up under this onslaught? As someone said to me today, you can’t keep playing with this fire and not get burned. Are we facing a wildfire that has gotten out of control?

Last week we had three policemen join Cathy Peters in meeting with daycare workers from several of our daycares throughout Vancouver. We hosted this important event to highlight how child sex trafficking is rampant in our own communities. We’re going to share this same information with parents in the next little while but there is serious concern that parents won’t believe that their son or daughter could be at risk.

 

 

More on this in the next blogs.

It is said of Billy Graham, in memory of his passing, that he took sin seriously in guarding his own exposure to temptations or compromising situations, but he also took redemption seriously when it came to the sins of others. Perhaps as you ponder what is going on around you it might be a good time to take both of these things into consideration as we deal with ourselves and others. What is God asking of you as you work to become a wounded healer in our broken world?

What Should I Ask For?

The Lord’s Prayer is a great template for us as we begin to grow in our intentional communication with God. We see him as our Father, someone to be honored in his place of authority as we submit ourselves to his designs for our life and our world. We express our trust in his protection and provision. We anchor our hope in his commitment to bring glory to his name.

As we turn the focus of our intercessions onto the others around us we look at how Paul prays for believers. He seems to focus constantly on the importance of a rich personal relationship with a Sovereign Savior who will never let anything get in the way of his love. He constantly focuses us away from the challenging outward experiences we endure and refocuses us on the Lord who walks with us through those hardships. This is the only way to find peace in the world we live in.

It’s who we are in secret, when no one else is watching, which counts – How thankful, how thoughtful, how gracious, how generous, how peaceful. Our time in prayer is what mirrors our internal reality as we walk back into our circumstances. It’s who we are in secret, but it is also who we are in community as we join in corporate prayer. The balance of public and private prayers are essential to growing as a disciple of Christ.

Author Tim Keller, in his book Prayer (p. 25), says “When your prayer life finally begins to flourish, the effects can be remarkable. You may be filled with self-pity, and be justifying resentment and anger. Then you sit down to pray and the reorientation that comes before God’s face reveals the pettiness of your feelings in an instant. All your self-justifying excuses fall to the ground in pieces. Or you may be filled with anxiety, and during prayer you come to wonder what you were so worried about. You laugh at yourself and thank God for who he is and what he’s done. It can be that dramatic. It is the bracing clarity of a new perspective. Eventually, this can be the normal experience, but that is never how the prayer life starts. In the beginning the feeling of poverty and absence usually dominates, but the best guides for this phase urge us not to turn back but rather to endure and pray in a disciplined way, until … we get through duty to delight.”

Finding creative ways to pray with each other can encourage this intimacy of communion with Our Father in heaven. Try popcorn prayers – short sentence prayers where others can pop in – focus on who God is, on what you’re thankful for, on specific intercessions for others.

What do the following verses say to you in their context?

John 14:13, 14 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

John 16: 23, 24 “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Now, what will you ask for in Jesus’ name?

Does Prayer Change Anything?

One of the most frequent requests I get as a pastor is for prayer. Regardless of whether the issue is sickness, finances, relationships, housing, spiritual confusion or lack of wisdom the natural desire for many of us is to ask for prayer. But does it really change anything? Is it supposed to change something?

Significant parts of our North American culture seem to have regained some curiosity around issues of connecting with some form of spirituality. Mindful meditation seems to be the buzz word for the current trend. Eastern forms of mysticism, First Nations’ spirituality, and new age philosophy have infiltrated our culture and even superseded disciplines of a crumbling institutional church.

Within the growing and emerging churches there is a reflection back on ancient practices of contemplation, centering prayer, listening prayer and divine readings designed to promote communion with God. Francis Chan focuses us toward the intimacy of relationship with our Father God through prayer.

Throughout the centuries Christian thinkers have recognized that prayer involves heart, mind, soul and even body. Prayer intertwines intellect and emotion with will and experience. It is a conversation of love between two persons committed to each other.

The apostle Peter (I Peter 1:8) says “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Perhaps this is the first thing that is changed – us. Prayer reorients my heart toward God and what his desires are and it engages my spirit in wrestling for truth in a world that works hard to distract, discourage, and raise doubts in me.

Author Tim Keller, in his book Prayer (p. 18), says “Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change – the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.”

I watched, with pride, as a group of young professionals gathered in the balcony prior to our Sunday service to pray. They were praying for our technology problem when everything else they’d tried hadn’t worked. Moments later, and seconds before our worship team began its first song, a button was pushed and everything worked. God’s grace wasn’t lost on any of us who saw that moment.

Clearly, prayer changed something. What has it changed for you?

Distinguishing God from nature

We live in an age where many seem to worship the creation more than the Creator. The lines between stewardship of creation and worship of creation are blurring. This probably shouldn’t surprise us as the signs of this shift are evident in our culture.

We have people who create havoc over how cows and chickens are slaughtered but who ignore the slaughter of babies in the womb even when the child’s organs are being harvested and sold to keep other humans healthy and whole. We have people who flaunt abhorrent sexual practices as a right while ignoring the sex trafficking, bondage, abuse and oppression that such lifestyles often nurture.

In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul says that God designs creation in such a way that his character can’t be misunderstood by those who search for him. Those who suppress the truth of his power and divine nature have no excuse. When people shift from worshiping the Creator to worshipping the creation God gives them up to their own foolish thinking. One of the first evidences is that they compromise their God-oriented sexuality. “They exchange the truth of God for a lie.”

Once this step is taken the slide continues into “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (NIV)

Paul finishes by saying that the most amazing thing is that they not only do these things but they approve of others who do them. Ever notice how our society celebrates openly those who do these things? If not celebrates, at least tolerates willingly to avoid being labeled.

That’s not how we would usually expect God to express his wrath when we go our own way – to let us have the consequences of our own choices and to let us explore the depths of our own sin nature.

All along, God wants us to see that there is nothing but Him who can satisfy the deepest desires of our heart. There is nothing but the way he designed life which will meet the deepest needs of our soul. By allowing us to follow the options we choose we are meant to see that this option won’t meet our expectations for soul-satisfaction. Tasting the fruit of our soul’s destruction, brought on by wrong choices, is meant to prod us back to him and the way he designed for us.

Yes, care for creation – pick up that trash, grow those trees, steward the fish and birds and whales – but realize that you do this to remind others of how good and how gracious the Creator is in providing everything we need for life and godliness.

More impact ministries

When Jesus told us to go make disciples he had, as our Creator, already equipped us with a creative mind and a hunger for relationship. In our Fellowship there are numerous creative expressions of outreach.

We already looked at the role WINGS (supporting women) and CAMP QWANOES (children and youth) play in strengthening the ministry of Christ in our community. In addition to these vital works there is outreach to First Nations, Seniors, Refugees, Migrant Workers, and students.

ARCH ministries is a newer effort to equip lower income residents of the east side, especially First Nations members, to form healthy community. An after school program includes tutoring and snacks. Students from Trinity Western University partner with New Beginnings church for a youth drop in on Fridays. There is a focus on healing and mentoring in the outreach work with 50% of the staff coming from a First Nations identity.

NEW HOPE COMMUNITY SERVICES SOCIETY was founded by Faith and El Redentor churches and has been housing refugees and vulnerable new immigrants since 2004. Over 500 refugees from 60 different countries have been assisted in their transition to Canada. Safe affordable housing is currently being provided through an apartment building in Surrey. 3000 refugees per year come to this part of Canada. Volunteers gave 6000 hours in providing relationships, community meals, sponsorships, tutoring, and general hospitality.

BAPTIST HOUSING operates the nearby Senior residences of Shannon Oaks and Clarendon Court. They have 17 senior living communities through BC, featuring three levels of care to over 2100 residents supported by 1100 team members. With chaplains and volunteers there is an effort to care for the physical, social, emotional and spiritual well-being of those who shelter with them. Each month we lead a hymn sing at Shannon Oaks as part of our ongoing partnership.

MIGRANT ministries reaches out to the 3000 workers who come to BC, mainly from Latin American countries like Mexico. Soccer games, barbeques and social gatherings have been created to provide an opportunity for the gospel to be shared. The events are held in Spanish so volunteers who want to join with the transformational ministry should be fluent in Spanish.

With this breadth of creative outreach we trust there will be continued impact for the kingdom of God in the Fellowship Pacific Region.

How is your creative outreach finding its expression? We would love to hear about it.