Heart (Re)tuning

My palms burned as I held the tuning peg on my cello in a death grip, tightening it millimetre by stubborn millimetre. Would it stay put? Cautiously picking at the string, I heard a perfectly pitched “A” ring out. The moment I released the peg, though, it immediately backslid to the original position, leaving me with a string hanging limply by a piece of wood. As time-consuming as the tuning process took, there was no shortcut if I wanted the instrument to play decently. I just wished I hadn’t let it sit long enough to get *so* out of tune.

In the daily news, harsh tones of fear and anxiety echo throughout the COVID-19 reports, stories of senseless murders and racist attacks, and accounts of other horrors ranging from the local to global scale. Facing this cacophony, I wonder if we as a church also need to regularly check our built-in instruments of worship–our hearts–to make sure they’re in tune.

Too often, whatever thanksgiving my prayers start off with is too quickly buried under a landslide of requests: that God would have mercy on the suffering, that He would keep my family and friends safe, that He would give me a discerning heart for the topsy-turvy challenges of the coming day, that He would give a certain student a helpful nudge to hand his homework in…the list goes on.

God does want to hear us voice our needs. Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father is more than willing to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11). In fact, we are encouraged to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). Yet, sometimes, the worries and sorrows and all I want the Lord to do threaten to take centre stage in my conversations with Him, pushing into the wings all that He has already done.

Time and again, the themes of praise and thanksgiving pop up in the Bible. Almost every one of Paul’s New Testament letters opens with a passage thanking or praising God. Curiously, these words of thanksgiving always come first. And I wonder if these joyful prologues serve as heart-tuners. Tuning pegs that pull us away from the “sour notes” of worry, bitterness, shame or irritation lingering in the chambers of our souls. Thought-knobs that limber up the strings of limp, exhausted spirits.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Remember you are talking with the God who:
● enriches you in all speech and all knowledge (1 Corinthians 1:4),
● mercifully comforts you in all afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:3),
● blessed you in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, predestined you for adoption as a child through Jesus Christ, redeemed you through his blood, forgave your trespasses and lavished grace upon you (Ephesians 1),
● begins and completes good works in you (Philippians 1:6),
● teaches believers to grow in faith and love (2 Thessalonians 1:3),
● gives us a spirit of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:3),
● … (It turns out that the list goes on here, too.)

A friend and I recently discussed what it would be like to begin prayers with at least one minute of praise and gratitude for what God has already done. It’s not always easy. Years of launching into litanies of supplication after only a brief note of appreciation tempts me to spend more time on the “Would you please, Lord,” than on the “Hallelujah! Thank you, Lord!”

But the more I focus on all that this Lord has already done for me and humankind, the more I am awed by His gracious and generous character. Sometimes, the gratitude list gets so long that I never get to the requests. Or, if I do, it is less out of desperation or frustration and more out of trust in the One who gives the best gifts in His time.

While it takes time to tune–and retune–my heart to thanksgiving as it backslides to discontent, fear and other “sour notes,” this promises the hope of living and thinking in harmony with the great Conductor of heaven and earth.

How do you fine-tune your heart to sing in the tones of reverence, awe and gratitude that are due to the loving Creator and Saviour of all things? How can we challenge ourselves and each other to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God” (Philippians 4:5)?

Who’s Enough?

who is enough

“I’m too fat; I’m too tall. I sing off-key and I don’t fit at all.”

So runs a rhyme I made up as a seven-year-old with a crippling case of self-doubt.

For several years, I chanted this merciless mantra under my breath whenever I did something wrong, couldn’t find friends to play with, or “messed up” in one way or another. Why I enjoyed replaying this negative self-talk remains a mystery. What I do know is that replacing it with Biblical truths about who I am as God’s created treasure I and many others struggle with to this day. Almost every day, the underlying currents of self-doubt—Am I beautiful? Am I lovable? Am I good enough? simmer in the back of my mind.

The North American consumer culture capitalizes on self-doubt. Advertisers design their commercials to make us feel not enough: not rich enough, not successful enough, not good-looking enough. The hope is that we will buy their products and services in the wild goose chase of becoming “enough.” Societal influences like pornography and misuse of social media platforms, which laud “perfect” and often unrealistic images, become key ingredients in recipes for self-destructive thoughts, harsh self-criticism, and depression. The discontentment that runs rampant in the adult world filters too easily into the teenage sphere: high school students can fall prey to the comparison game as they vie for good grades, brand name clothing, athletic ability, looks and popularity.  

What hope is there for those who battle with self-doubt? Here are three tools which have helped me in the past and which I am still learning to use:

1. Look to the Word.

God’s Word alone has the power to lift people from a spiral of mantras borne of fear, shame and guilt. Romans 12:3 reads, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” According to John Piper, Paul says through this verse that our pride is found in our valuing of Christ Jesus and therefore in our “faith.” Thinking of ourselves with “sober judgment,” we avoid both becoming puffed up with an inflated self-image and beating ourselves up with unnecessary criticism. Instead, we can learn to “look away from ourselves to Christ as our truth and treasure.”

2. Look to the Lord.

Praise the Lord that, when we look to the Word, we discover that “it is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is…the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The fact is, when it comes to salvation, everyone misses the mark. No one is good or smart or beautiful enough to win their own salvation—if we were, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die on the cross. Writer Andy Stanley sums up the gospel this way: “The good news is that good people don’t go to heaven—forgiven people do.” Thank God that Christ came not to save the healthy and righteous, and but the sick and the sinners.

Where we are not enough, His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).  It’s funny how “I”-focussed my childhood rhyme was and how obsessed I was (and still am, sometimes) with my perceived shortcomings. When we take our eyes off our many limitations and shift our focus to Him, we go from saying “I can’t do this” to “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Our attitude turns from one of self-pity and fear to one of gratitude and worship.

3. Look to the world.

Shifting our focus to the Creator demands shifting our focus to His created. As a high school teacher, my focus is conveniently forced outward. Juggling students’ questions, reactions and needs, I have very little time to spare for berating myself on a less-than-ideal lesson and wondering if I can really teach (although, granted, there are days when that’s all I waste time thinking about!) Instead I can choose to wonder, What can I do better to help them now/next class/the next time we do this activity?

Sometimes looking to the world may take the form of intentional acts like:

-Encouraging someone else—a classmate, a colleague, a stranger

-Volunteering

-Doing a good deed for a family member or a friend

-Enjoying nature—garden, hike or play with a pet—and thanking the One who gives us these good gifts

How do we look to the Lord, the Word and the world to combat self-doubt? How do we replace the doubts niggling at the backs of our minds with words of thanks and worship:

“For you created my inmost being, You knit me together in my mother’s womb;

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

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.

The Next Generation

The Next Generation

Almost everyone loves a baby. Welcoming several into our church family through recent dedications has been inspiring. We readily stand as a church family and pledge ourselves to pray and to support the parents as they do the hard work.

Then the teen years arrive and the wrestling for independence. What do we do with the next generation – especially when so many of them get busy and start caving to peer pressure? Researchers are optimistic and see this group as the most “connected, educated and sophisticated generation in history.”

Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak, in their book Marching Off the Map, remind us that today’s students are unique in that they “put technology in the same category as air and water.” With that access the next generation is ‘down to earth, distracted, distressed, discerning and determined.’

In 2020, we have six distinct sociological generations living together – negotiating for space. The Builders (1929-1945); The Boomers (1946-1964); The Busters (1965-1982 Generation X); The Millennials (1983-2000 Generation Y); The Centennials (2001-2018 Generation Z); The Next (2019-)

Anthropologist Margaret Mead says “WE are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” (p. 69)

Clearly, the next generation is anxious about the fragility of the environment, about the untrustworthiness of their governments, about the uncertain nature of truth, about their financial prosperity, about their long-term housing stability, and about the temporary nature of love and relationships. How do we speak hope, life and peace to them so they don’t get overwhelmed?

Too often, we’ve left our children to get their answers elsewhere – in school, on-line, from their peers. Christian adults need to nurture relationships with the younger generations so that trust and truth can be established and embraced early. Youth don’t see the same need to belong and are disengaging from political parties, churches, and traditional organizations. They care more about opportunity than about loyalty. They care more about what’s trending on social media.

As influencers of the next generation this is a time for authenticity – acknowledging what we do know and what we don’t know. Our youth are navigating a world filled with mental health challenges, growing suicide rates, escalating addictions, gender confusion, fake news, ethnic diversity, changing cultural and social values, etc. Who will walk with them?

Our world promotes ‘speed, convenience, entertainment, nurture and entitlement’ (p. 73). Students are left thinking that slow, hard, boring, risk and work are bad. How do we in the church give the next generation a different sense of who Jesus is for them in the midst of all the changes they face?

While 2020 is still young, this is a time to be on our knees for the next generations. It is also a time to intentionally be reaching back to provide whatever support, encouragement and relationship is needed. Just as God has not abandoned us, those who come after us need daily reminders that he has not abandoned them. Regardless of which generation you are growing with, remember you are loved more than you could ask or imagine. Pastor Jack

Doing Real Life Face to Face

Vancouver continues to be considered one of the loneliest places for people who want honest face to face relationships. The pressure to accomplish, to survive, to be significant can be overwhelming. Even if you’re proficient with social media – sometimes that flow of seconds between responses seems like an unbridgeable gap.

Have you had moments where you felt a tinge of loneliness lately? There didn’t seem anyone available to share in your joy, your challenge, your desire, your hope? The space around you seemed a little too empty?

Vancouver continues to be considered one of the loneliest places for people who want honest face to face relationships. The pressure to accomplish, to survive, to be significant can be overwhelming. Even if you’re proficient with social media – sometimes that flow of seconds between responses seems like an unbridgeable gap.

Most people have their eyes locked on a screen instead of locked on the eyes of another. The upcoming generation is considered the “connected generation” and yet they can sit side by side without even looking at each other. People have chirps, chimes, buzzes and tones streaming out of their pockets. These distractions keep them from getting to any depth with anyone they could be physically present with.

We’ve grown used to the delusion and deception that somehow the individual who is not here is more important than the one we are with – and the one left sitting alone while the other person leaves to talk is left to accept this reality. It’s a subtle message we don’t always realize we are delivering. This tension of always having to be available for someone else (where we say I have to take this) sucks at the margins we need to create healthy relationships.

Technology itself is no more evil than paper. It’s a tool for communication that can be used for good or harm. The issue of disconnecting from each other only accentuates our sense of loneliness.

Carey Nieuwhof, in his book Didn’t See It Coming (pp.71-71) sees that technology, as it is often used, has brought about the demise of genuine conversation and of confession. He says:

Great conversation is a beautiful art. It involves the exchange of ideas between two or more people who care enough about one another to listen as well as speak. Sadly, conversations seem to be devolving into an exchange of monologues among people who don’t seem terribly interested in one another. People today appear to be talking at one another more than they’re talking with one another. Next time you’re in a conversation with someone, wait to see how often you get asked a question. It might be as simple as “How are you doing, really?” or “That’s fascinating – can you tell me more?” Questions are the turning points for great conversation and intriguing connections with people.

Social media sometimes gets us focused on telling others what we are doing and our live verbal interactions follow suit to the point where we are simply exchanging chunks of information back and forth without the curiosity and communication we crave for in human relationship building.

Nieuwhof also notes that the loss of confession is also significant (he doesn’t mean Catholic). He says:

The type of confession I’m talking about has a much broader and far deeper meaning….Confession is a part of prayer and life where we come before God and one another to admit all that we aren’t: our shortcomings, our intentional sins, and myriad unintentional sins. When we confess our brokenness, we admit that we are not all we pretend to be, hope to be, or could be. We own up to the fact that we are a mess.

He continues: “We avoid confession because it requires us to look in the mirror. It demands revealing the real you that you don’t want anyone to see. This is the you God would love for you to bring to him, but you (and I) steadfastly refuse to surrender. The shift away from confession leaves most of us in a precarious state. Particularly younger adults, teens, and kids who were raised in a society that ignores sin.”

Something to think about. What keeps you disconnected from others? At Faith we are building a culture of grace where people can connect face to face. Through sacrificial hospitality, caring small groups, corporate worship and compassionate acceptance we trust that God is doing something special among us in a city that is filled with desperately lonely people. You can change all that by changing the focus from what is happening to you to focusing on what is happening to someone near you. It’s amazing what happens within you when you discover what is happening in someone else. For the health of us all, think of how you can engage another with questions and ask away. Whatever happens, remember that you are loved more than you can ask or imagine. Pastor Jack

Praying Radically Yourself

praying radically

Have you noticed something different at the end of our last decade? You can see it in services like Doordash and Skip the Dishes. You can see it in demands for services like Amazon and Uber. You can see it in the way food is prepared in
super markets. Many people have moved from doing it yourself to do it for me.

When my daughter was young she got to the place where she would say “do it self.” She was about two. Now, her two-year-old is saying “do it self.” Most of us parents saw this step toward independence as a potentially good thing if it was nurtured and channeled. But something is changing. Youth and adults have become starved for time and overwhelmed by decision making. There is too much information to process everything.

When the average cell phone user touches their screen between 2500-5000 x a day there are a lot of distractions and demands happening and people no longer want to do it all myself.

Canadian author Carey Niewhof says “In a culture where most people feel overwhelmed, overcommitted and overworked, people are willing to pay money for anything that shaves off minutes or does the thinking for them.”

GPS is one example. Pre-sliced apples in stores that cost up to 10x an unsliced apple is another.

Unfortunately,I think, some of this tendency has crept into the church when it comes to prayer. We have become all too willing to let others pray for us and this is sad for one main reason. A praying church is the most powerful body of people designed by God to demonstrate his power and wisdom to the universe.

Superheroes and Starwars rebels have nothing on a church committed to prayer. Paul tells us that Ephesians 3:14-21.

14-15 Paul prays because he is part of a single world-wide family God has chosen, redeemed and sealed. We pray because of what God hasl already done in adoptin us into this universal family. In doing this we remind the enemy and all who listen that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.

I don’t know about you but I found recently that when I get too busy and distracted to pray that my world focuses very quickly more and more on me, what I want, what I’m doing, what I need.

Prayer expands your mind and heart toward the fact that God is reconciling the universe to himself and he is doing it through the church as the body of Christ. through the gospel he is bringing together men and women from every tribe and tongue and nation so that the devil and all his demons realize how wise and loving and powerful he is You and I are ment to be part of that story. Let’s read a few verses.

Ephesians 3:14-15 “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

For what reason? – notice those first few words. Look back at Ephesians 3:1 where Paul says “For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles”

That takes us back to chapter 2 where Paul says this: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who i now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

But because of his great love for us, who is rich in mercy, mad us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from your, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast. for we are God’s handiwork in Chris Jesus to do good works, God prepared in advance for us to do.

Paul is trying to make it clear that none of us deserved God’s favor. In chapter one he tells us we are chosen before the creation of the world to be adopted as God’s children and that God made known the mystery of his will to us. When we believed we were incorporated into his family we were sealed with the Holy Spirit in such a way that our redemption was secured.

This is why Paul starts off his prayer in 3:14 by saying “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

Most Jews stood to pray lifting up their faces and hands toward heaven. Paul is in a state of awe and so he kneels before the heavenly Father who has brought Jews and Gentiles into one family called the church. This is an incredible mystery which astounds the spiritual forces around us. The enemy and his forces try to destroy, disrupt and divide but in the church, God is bringing all things together.

In 2:13-16 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

When you and I show up as part of a church family made up of people from different tribes, tongues and nations. When we come together from different social backgrounds.

When we come together with different personalities, different hopes, different political persuasions, different tastes in music and food and education – when we act as one, we confound the spirits who are diligently watching what God is up to. When you keep coming here – despite how crazy your world has gotten you are saying something much more than you realize.

At our New Year’s Eve service, we used a puzzle of the nativity to discern spiritual lessons for the New Year. Someone made the observation that each piece by itself didn’t show much but all the pieces together revealed an image that captured our awe. So, it is true with the body of Christ. Together, we show the beauty and awe of who Jesus is and what he’s done for the universe. We pray together for each other in recognition of the great work God has already done.

16-19 We pray not only to remind the heavenly forces of what God has already done but we pray to remind each other of what he is still doing.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have poser, together with all the Lord’s holy people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Wouldn’t you love someone to be praying this for you? That you might be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. That you would be rooted and established in love. That you would grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. That you would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Wow. We need to pray this for each other.

Why? Because of the mystery. What mystery? Paul says God has shown us a great mystery which no one understood before – and which few still understand. The mystery is this:

3:6 “The mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

The mystery is that through Jesus God has brought all of us outsiders into his family and all the promises he gave to Israel are now ours.

Paul says in vs. 9-11 that he was given the task to make the mystery plain. “God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Did you see this again? God is using us, as the church, to show angels and demons how wise he is in pulling all of us together. In a few chapters Paul is going to conclude his letter in Ephesian 6:10 by saying “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God… vs 18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

Do you see why we need to pray now? Not only has Jesus brought us into a family in the past to show the angels and demons how wise and powerful God is but now we are locked in a battle with those demonic forces who are trying to destroy what God is doing.

Our battles are not with each other so don’t let the enemy make you think so. Pray for our strength, unity, power, fullness. Pray that God would bring even more members from every tribe and tongue and nation into this body to prove his wisdom and power.

No church exists to show how great they are. We exist to show how wise and good and loving and gracious and powerful God is. As we pray for each other we are doing this so we see God continue to complete the good work he began in us.

If you were to look at this chapter a little more you would see that Paul says that even our suffering is part of God’s plan to prove his wisdom. By hanging onto our faith when things aren’t good, we show that we love him for who he is and not just for the good he gives us. This confounds the enemy. Even when Jesus faced the worst pain, suffering and torture he didn’t abandon his Father. As we hold onto God in trust through the hard challenges of life, we are again a witness to those forces who won’t believe.

We pray to remind angels and demons about what God has done and we pray to remind each other what God is still doing.

Vs 20-21 We pray to declare what God will still do.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Some of our youth have stepped out and want to make a difference on our planet and that’s a good thing – but it’s a small thing compared to what God designs and desires for us. Some of you are engaged in causes which might make a difference for a short time on a few people but God is calling you to something even longer lasting and more impactful. Some are working hard to alleviate injustice and suffering among people and that is good but God is wanting us to engage in alleviating on a grander scale.

Because we believe that God is alive, aware and attentive to what is happening with us we come boldly before his throne of grace for help. He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. What can you imagine? Sounds like a commercial… but God can do more than you can imagine. Why would he do so much for his church?

Paul tells us in his letter to 1 Timothy (3:14-16). “I am writing you these instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

The church is the pillar and foundation of truth. We are the vehicle through which the good news about Jesus gets out to all the nations. We are the ones whose prayers unleash the power of the Spirit to transform hearts and minds. Some of our missionaries and ministers, like Paul and Jesus, will suffer great things to get that message out there. They need our prayers.

Is there someone who you can’t imagine would come to Jesus? Perhaps that is the one thing you can do at the start of this year. Change what you can imagine and start praying for that.

God’s Design and desire is to form for himself one people from all over this planet.One people who will join the long line of prayer warriors and praise givers who he embraced his wisdom and power throughout all the generations.

He wants you to step into the family with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Daniel, Esther, Mary and Paul. Don’t settle for sharing God’s goodness with those around you. Step out and start making a difference in the universe.

Estimates say that there are 17,000 ethnic people groups. Of these groups over 7,000 have less than 2% of their population who know Jesus. 40% of the world’s people groups have no recognized churches for people to worship, witness, grow and pray. The largest 50 of these people groups include 1 ½ billion souls. How will these people join God’s family?

I want to finish by highlighting what the gospel did in Korea. Missionaries went to Korea in 1885. In 1974 Korean churches sent out 24 missionaries. 40 years later there were 27,436 Korean missionaries serving in 170 countries around the world.

Korean tradition has people going to church at 5 am to worship and pray before work and in those dawn prayers many have been called to mission service. This priority of prayer and obedience has been transformative in our world.

In Africa, evangelical Christianity, with its focus on the Bible, the cross, conversion, justice and mission has led fights against slavery, poor health, lack of education, famine and oppression starting in the 1700’s and beyond. Africans from the earliest days of the church have played a significant role in leadership. Now, in Latin America, the Philippines and China, God is raising up his church. Some areas are still a challenge in the face of persecution.

What does Paul want us to remember as we start off a new decade in God’s church here?

Why kneel before our heavenly Father as one family together? 1. As a witness to all the universe about what God’s wisdom and power has done in bringing every tribe and tongue and nation into one church through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has done the impossible.

2. We pray as a weapon on behalf of each other in our spiritual war against enemy forces and to bring power and courage into our efforts to live out our faith before a hostile world. 3. We pray as a work that expands our vision for what God can still do beyond all we could ask or imagine.

Let’s take a few minutes as the church to come boldly before the throne of grace. In this time pray for the realities we’ve reviewed. Prepare for communion.

Developing a Hunger for God

developing a hunger for God

In a season of feasting, celebrating and giving it is not always apparent who or what we are hungry for. The health of Faith’s family depends on an ongoing hunger for God but when all our needs are met how do we stay aware of this underlying hunger?

In John Piper’s book, A Hunger for God, he focuses the believer on the discipline of fasting and prayer. His thoughts are anchored on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 9:14-17.

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

When fasting is a common practice in religions, cultures and societies why should we join in? Doesn’t the arrival of Jesus do away with harsh and manipulative practices by people trying to fill some form of law? Aren’t we, in the church, living in post-resurrection days beyond the realm of ritual and self-denial? Shouldn’t we, as Spirit-filled people, live above the pulling and prodding of our bodily appetites and pleasures?

Piper notes that, although fasting is a universal practice, no one knows its origins. It has been used to mark religious festivals, political purposes, health pursuits and mourning rituals. Outside the gospels, the practice of fasting is hardly mentioned among church disciplines.

Still, Jesus says that his followers will fast after he leaves. Piper says “in this age there is an ache inside every Christian that Jesus is not here as fully and intimately and as powerfully and as gloriously as we want him to be. We hunger for so much more. That is why we fast.” (p. 38) He notes that our longing is based on the finished work of Christ and not out of an emptiness of some kind.

“We have tasted the powers of the age to come, and our fasting is not because we are hungry for something we have not experienced, but because the new wine of Christ’s presence is so real and so satisfying. We must have all that it is possible to have. The newness of our fasting is this: its intensity comes not because we have never tasted the wine of Christ’s presence, but because we have tasted It so wonderfully by his Spirit, and cannot now be satisfied until the consummation of joy arrives. The new fasting, the Christian fasting, is a hunger for all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19), aroused by the aroma of Jesus’ love and by the taste of God’s goodness in the gospel of Christ (I Peter 2:2-3).

“…Faith is a spiritual feasting on Christ with a view to being so satisfied in him that the power of all other allurements is broken. This feasting begins by receiving the past grace of Christ’s death and resurrection, and then embraces all that God promises to be for us in him. As long as we are finite and fallen, Christian faith will mean both delighting in the (past) incarnation and desiring the (future) consummation.” (pp. 42-43)

As Isaiah reminds us (58:1-12) true fasting in God’s eyes “looses the chains of injustice, sets the oppressed free, shares food with the hungry, provides the poor wanderer with shelter, clothes the naked and takes care of needy humans in our community.

Now, is there some way that our hunger for Jesus to be fully present among us might stimulate us to see those around us and meet their needs? Faith’s family needs this hunger for Jesus to show itself in real and practical ways. May God bless you as you put your hunger into practice. However you demonstrate it, know that you are loved more than you could ask or imagine. Pastor Jack

Spiritual Leadership

In our recent Remembrance Day ceremonies, we recognize that many of the war’s leaders emerged under fire from necessity. Not often enough, we recognize that many of the church’s leaders arise from the reality of the spiritual warfare we are involved in. In our November Leadership Forum we will be envisioning the importance of younger leaders rising up to embrace the future movement and impact of the church.

One of the standard works of leadership is Henry and Richard Blackaby’s Spiritual Leadership. The premise of their book is that spiritual leadership means moving people onto God’s agenda. This is a book which the members of our board of governors is working our way through.

The task of a spiritual leader involves the following at Faith and anywhere else where God’s men and women step up to this responsibility.

Spiritual leaders move people through influence to pursue God’s purposes. We are on a journey together toward the destination God has designed for his people. Change is an inevitable part of being in God’s family. It affects our attitudes and behaviours and requires us to exemplify the pattern and lifestyle for the vision we are embracing. Not everyone likes change but leaders need to learn to thrive in the midst of it. The church is continually handing off the keys to decision making to the next generations and that requires a humble trust with what the Holy Spirit is doing through those who walk beside and behind us.

Spiritual leaders use spiritual methods to move people and soon realize they are trying to accomplish spiritual change in people which only God can accomplish. Someone has wisely said, “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you.” God’s agenda for his church is often much larger than anything we can ask or imagine.

Spiritual leaders are accountable to God and this means that leaders don’t make excuses when their attempts to influence God’s people fall short. The leader is not successful until he has moved others onto God’s agenda. A leader can easily fill a position or role without accomplishing their purpose to move others onto God’s agenda. Faithfulness and fruitfulness are both essential.

Spiritual leaders focus on people even when having to consider budgets, visions and strategies. With so many introverts rising to influential positions it is important to recognize that leadership is not always a comfortable role. Leaders move toward people and with people and for people. When you sense yourself withdrawing or withholding it is wise to review the factors impacting your personality and action. It is ideal to enjoy people as those made in God’s image and as those whom Christ has called into partnership to finish the good work he began.

Spiritual leaders expand their influence over people beyond the borders of the church. Together, we are designed and purposed to reach out into the communities of our world. No matter what profession or place of work, God’s Spirit desires to reach and impact the lives who work there. Our significant influence nudges people toward God. Blackaby notes that “history is replete with examples of Christian men and women exerting spiritual leadership upon secular society.” He notes the examples of William Wilberforce in the abolition of slavery and cites Joseph’s role in setting up a grain distribution system to take Egypt through the famine years. Christ followers are invested in significant roles all around this planet.

Spiritual leaders find the foundation of their work in God’s agenda rather than in their own. “His purpose is to turn his people away from their self-centeredness and obsession with temporal, material concerns and to draw them into a relationship with himself so they are his instruments for accomplishing his purposes.” (p. 40) We often envision something we can control and manage whereas God is building something only he controls. We can develop “aggressive goals”, “grandiose dreams”, and “grand visions”, and then ask God to bless the work of our hands but this is not our role. We seek God’s will and agenda.

7. Spiritual leaders must be oriented toward God’s voice so they can hear and follow him. Developing a vibrant, dynamic relationship with the living God is vital before any good thing can be accomplished. Jesus is the perfect model of the spiritual leader and studying and imitating his life is a good start for understanding how to understand God’s agenda and how to influence others toward that agenda.

For Faith’s family, we understand that God is making multi-cultural, multi-generational disciples from all nations. Focusing on how we can do this together is the vision we continually embrace and follow. May God give you strength to lead in your area of influence and may you always know that you are loved more than you could ask or imagine.  Pastor Jack

Licking Frozen Flagpoles

Licking Frozen Flagpoles

Seasons have a way of bringing their own hazards. Spring and Fall can bring floods, summer can bring drought and heat stroke, winter can bring frostbite and frozen flag poles. Churches can have seasons with hazards and benefits but first let me share a story of the frozen flagpole. It reminds us that there are skeptics who question whether the wisdom of others could be true. They have to learn the hard way.

Jean Shepherd has written A Christmas Story of a different kind. In her story, Ralph, Flick and Swartz huddle with a handful of other students trying to stay warm. As they talk and watch their speech turn into vapor clouds, one of the boys remembers a warning from his father – “if you touch your tongue to a frozen flagpole, you’ll never get it loose. You could be stuck there for life.” Another boy chimes in that his father knew someone who put their tongue on a frozen railroad track and had to be freed by the fire department.

The boy name Flick is skeptical and so one of the boys challenges him to go ahead and try licking the flagpole for himself. It took a double-dare to prod him to think about it but when a boy named Swartz triple dares him there is no turning back. Flick may not have wanted to but his pronounced skepticism and the peer pressure of a triple-dog dare meant no turning back. He stuck out his tongue and licked the flag pole. Sure enough – he’s stuck. When the bell rings for school and everyone runs he stays. His teacher has to call the fire department to free him.

Our skepticism of God’s laws and principles get us proudly committing ourselves to foolish choices. A quick look at pornography or mature rated movies, because we don’t believe we could be stuck to that frozen flag pole, leaves us wrestling with unwanted images in our minds. A compromise at work or in a relationship gets us stuck in a situation with consequences we couldn’t imagine.

Sometimes, it’s the little consequences which grab hold of us. We stick the tip of our tongue out and think that we could get away from a frozen flag pole at any time we want. We eat a little too much, a few too many times, and the results are slow in accumulating. We bypass our exercise, our devotions, our prayer times, our small group accountability, our church attendance, our giving, our use of our spiritual gifts and, all of a sudden, we realize our spiritual laziness starts showing in all the wrong ways.   

Facing the peer pressure of our culture and society can push us into places of regret. Just as Flick couldn’t resist a triple-dog dare, we can easily fall to the pressure of the cultural, sexual, political, social, environmental, religious and educational voices around us. Technology and social media is a not so silent voice consistently pushing on our value of acceptance and inclusiveness. We are subject to a barrage of what is normal and tolerant and welcomed as one who belongs.

Scripture reminds us in Philippians 4:8 to focus on what the Bible considers to be true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. This is the grid that is designed to protect us from the compromises which get us frozen to the flag poles stuck on all around us in the winter of our lives. There are other dangers in the summer when we get dry and burned. Staying alert so we avoid the impact and regrets of poor choices is an important disciple for believers of all ages.

May God encourage you in your choices.

And remember, no matter how many frozen flag poles you’ve tried out in the past, you are loved more than you could ask or imagine.  Pastor Jack

Building a Church Family Culture

Faith Fellowship Baptist church people

September 8th Faith Fellowship’s family paraded around 62 flags representing the nations who had come to gather in worship. Three more countries had representatives but we didn’t have their flags – yet. We talked about courage – the courage of God for entrusting less than perfect people with a message of hope for the nations. We talked about the courage we needed to share that hope through the life and message we are called to live in the world in which God placed us.

Daniel Coyle, in his book, The Culture Code (The secrets of highly successful groups), states that “when you ask people inside highly successful groups to describe their relationship with one another, they all tend to choose the same word. This word is not friends or team or tribe or any other equally plausible term. The word they use is family. What’s more, they tend to describe the feeling of those relationships in the same way.” (pp. 6-7)

How do you know you’re a family if you’re not part of the same birth group? What characteristics are we striving for in a church family made up of diverse cultures, personalities, socio-economic levels, and professions?

Coyle says he found the same characteristics, whether he studied a special-ops military unit, an inner-city school, a professional basketball team, a movie studio, a comedy troupe, a gang of jewel thieves, and others who had proved successful. He says that there is an energy, an individualization and a future orientation. What he means is that “members invest in the exchange that is occurring; “they treat the person as unique and valued”; and “they signal the relationship will continue.” (p. 11)

What makes those of us in a church different than a gang, a team, or a group that has been drawn together for a common cause or goal? Certainly more than something psychological or experiential -although it could easily remain that way if we don’t understand the work of the Spirit, the Word and the Body.

Coyle says “when I visited these groups, I noticed a pattern of interaction. The pattern was located not in the big things but in little moments of social connection. These interactions were consistent whether the group was a military unit or a movie studio or an inner-city school.” (p. 7)

He made a list:

Close physical proximity, often in circles – (sounds like our small groups)

Profuse amounts of eye contact

Physical touch (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs) – sound familiar?

Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches) – after the service, lunches

High levels of mixing; everyone talks to everyone

Few interruptions

Lots of questions

Intensive, active listening

Humour, laughter

Small, attentive courtesies (thank-yous, opening doors, etc.)

All this only makes us feel safe as a group and makes us feel like we might be wanted and maybe even belong somewhere. The reality is that we have a common Spirit drawing us into one family; we have a common Lord who has paid the price for our sin and removed all the barriers that may have divided us; we have a common Father who created us for everlasting relationship with himself. Knowing this, we embrace each other, we flow into small groups for disciple making, and we pray earnestly for each other as we face our own brokenness in a broken world. No matter who you are or where you come from, you are welcome in Faith’s family.

Always remember: you are loved more than you could ask or imagine. Pastor Jack