He sets the lonely in families

Have you ever experienced loneliness – Deep, heart-throttling dread which squeezes all the joy, hope and sense of being loved out of you? Or perhaps, just a sense of wondering whether you belong – if anyone notices you or cares about you more than the ‘like’ you can give to their smiley ‘post.’

The Vancouver Foundation report this past year concluded that the loneliest people in Vancouver are aged 18-34. The generation that populates Facebook and Skype – who multiply friendships on-line – they are lonely. The claim from this group is that they have trouble making ‘real’ friends because of lack of time; family obligations; distance; finances; stress.

Most feel they don’t know their neighbours well enough to connect and at least half feel they will have moved elsewhere within five years so there’s no point in building relationships that aren’t going to last anyway. In the past 5 years attendance in churches has dropped by 50% among the younger generation. Is there a correlation?

David’s note in Psalm 68 seems significant when he says “Sing to God, sing praise ot his name, extol him who rides on the clouds – his name is the LORD – and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.”

This may be a reflection on what happened to David’s own great-grandmother Ruth who was welcomed into God’s family by Boaz.

From the first chapters of scripture we read that “it is not good for man to be alone.” People were made for relationship with God and with other people. J. Oswald Saunders in his book “Facing Loneliness” cites two historical figures with insight on our issue. “Blaise Pascal, the noted French scientist, held that in every heart there exists a God-shaped vacuum. Centuries before him, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, put his finger on the root cause of loneliness: “God created man for Himself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him.”

Know any lonely people? There’s a family waiting. Perhaps a creative invitation would help. Looking forward to how God will build community through you this year.

Vision Beyond Your Resources

Have you ever dreamed a dream that was so big you knew it could never happen? – but it didn’t stop you from hoping.

When the leadership at Faith Fellowship decided in 1996 that they wanted this church to reflect our community more they agreed that we should become more culturally diverse. Our small vision team in 2002 dreamed of starting a daycare, refugee houses and other significant ministries which would help us reflect the “every tribe, tongue and nation” image of Revelation 5 and 7. We decided that we “want to get a taste of heaven now.”

50 nations in one family is a dream now realized. One that needs new energy and guardianship lest we take our diversity for granted. New Hope Childcare has nurtured over 500 children and New Hope refugee homes have sheltered over 600 refugees from 60 different countries. While we gained some stimulus toward diversity from these initiatives they haven’t been the bridge we depend on for growth. Only as you share your life, faith and invitation will we see this dream grow for what God has next.

God has been gracious. But sometimes, when you see a dream come true, it comes to be the norm and we stop being amazed at what God has done, is doing, and can still do.

In Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker, he describes how a couple in New York gave a generous gift toward the vision of coffee-house style churches all over because it was a “vision beyond your resources.”

Here’s what he says to stimulate our own dreams about what God can do.

“The rationale behind the gift was just as meaningful as the gift itself. And that rationale has inspired us to keep dreaming irrational dreams. Those four words, vision beyond your resources, have become a mantra for the ministry of National Community Church. We refuse to let our budget determine our vision. That left-brained approach is a wrong-brained approach because it’s based on our limited resources rather than on God’s unlimited provision. Faith is allowing your God-given vision to determine your budget. That certainly does not mean you practice poor financial stewardship, spend beyond your means, and accumulate a huge debt load. It does mean that you take a step of faith when God gives you a vision because you trust that the One who gave you the vision is going to make provision. And for the record, if the vision is from God, it will most definitely be beyond your means.” (pp. 62-62)

What is your biggest dream for our church community? What do you think God’s biggest dream for us might be? How will you pray this year as we wait for the good plans he is unleashing?

Is That Someone Watching You?

Do you ever feel that someone is watching you? As if your life is being lived out on a grand stage and there’s an audience taking note of your every move? It’s a new year but you’ve probably had this feeling before if you’ve had it. If you haven’t had this feeling maybe you should think about reality.

I’m not talking about the security cameras which are in every bank, mall, store, church and street corner – or so it seems. I’m not talking about some stalker or parent or preacher or government agent.  I’m talking about another unseen observer.

The Psalmist, David, says in Psalm 139:1-7 “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your and upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

Did you notice? The observation is closer than we feared. It is internal where our bodies have now become the very dwelling place of God. Every word is known before we speak it. Every thought lays open; every action is noticed; every motive of the heart is known. There is no escape – did you want one? – an escape I mean. Is there something at the start of the new year that needs realigning?

Apologist, Ravi Zacharias, calms our thoughts about this intense observation. “When God is our Holy Father, sovereignty, holiness, omniscience, and immutability do not terrify us; they leave us full of awe and gratitude. Sovereignty is only tyrannical if it is unbounded by goodness; holiness is only terrifying if it is untempered by grace; omniscience is only taunting if it is unaccompanied by mercy; and immutability is only torturous if there is no guarantee of goodwill.”

He’s saying that while we are being closely watched and monitored there is a watcher without motivations of harm.

Unfortunately, He is not the only observer. Perhaps we need to be observing ourselves a little more often.

Does your life need a trellis?

If you’ve ever seen grapes or roses or vines growing you might have noticed the importance of a trellis. A trellis is the support structure which enables the vine to grow up enough to bear fruit. This structure keeps it from slumping on the ground where its fruit will be ruined.

Ken Shigematsu, in his book ‘God in My Everything’, states that having a spiritual trellis for our lives “supports our friendship with Christ so that we bear the fruit of his character and are able to offer his nourishing life to others…. It serves as a pattern for life that enables us to experience the presence of Jesus in each moment of our lives, empowering us to become people who embody his love to others.”

Recognizing the importance of a spiritual trellis focuses our attention on the strength of the culture in our church family to support the growth of its members. A church filled with grace, hope, love, care and encouragement also needs to be a place of accountability, truth, learning, service and outreach.

Shigematus continues, “People grow – they become who they are – not because God zapped them while they walked across a field but because they make a conscious effort to respond to the grace of God and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, cultivate the gift they have received. Those who flourish in their lives with God have a Spirit-initiated rule of life, a rhythm of practices that enables them to welcome and respond to Jesus.”

What do you think? Is this right? How does it show up in your own walk with Jesus? What does your spiritual trellis look like?

To pray or not to pray

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

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

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

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

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

Disciples of All Nations? Really ?

Someone has challenged me that they don’t think churches are making disciples anymore. In fact, they don’t think most people calling themselves Christians are really followers of Jesus. They believe there are a lot of deceived people inhabiting churches feeling secure and comfortable without reason.

Real disciples, they say, are making new disciples. They are sharing their life story with others around them; they are studying the word of God as daily soul food; they are praying actively for others by name to be saved; they are engaged in meeting the needs of others around them; they are generous and hospitable and active in using their gifts for the building up of the body of Christ.

Do you know anyone like this? Is this the role of every believer individually or is the role of the church collectively?

Regardless of your response, how are you involved in helping to make disciple makers who make disciple makers? We’re not talking about people who you lead to say a prayer and then live their lives without real transformation. How do you make disciples whose lives start becoming more like Jesus and then share that transformation so others are transformed?

I’m told young adults are leaving the institutional church in droves because the older generations aren’t investing in their spiritual care and development – in other words, they aren’t being discipled.

Is my friend right in saying we don’t make disciples anymore? What can we do about it?

Are you living the right story ?

We live in a world of stories. We love to hear stories and tell stories. Our stories
fill out our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope. My son Richard was home
from Rwanda a month ago and he and his sisters and I were sitting around our
living room sharing stories. It got a little weepy at one point. My young
granddaughter Kylie stopped at the door for a moment, left and returned with an
armload of stuffed sheep. She quietly went to each person and dropped a sheep
into their arms then she left. We all hugged our sheep and kept telling stories but
that sensitive act of Kylie is a story worth telling.
The Christmas story is a story of God stepping into our weepy human story with
a lamb and weaving our story into his bigger story. The challenge for most
people is that there are so many different versions of Christmas stories that it
can be confusing. Getting the right story is important because that story will
define our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope.
The main Christmas story most of our children hear is that they are at the center
of the story. By being good and doing good they can get what they want. If they
get what they want they will be happier, with-it, smarter, comfortable, loved. All
their hopes and dreams will be satisfied.
Christmas in the first story is about what we give and what we get. When we get
older it’s about dressing up and getting out, eating, putting a smile on our face
and staying busy shopping – but it’s still about giving and getting. There’s a
popular commercial that boldly says “I want that.” That’s the first story.
The alternate Christmas story of the Bible is the one we quickly refer to at this
time of year and then put back on the shelf until next year. In this story God is at
the center and it is all about him – his love, his gift, his action, his sacrifice. The
story is plain and simple, nothing to attract Hollywood to make a film about it.
It’s about a sin-broken world wrestling with overwhelming issues, people making
self-destructive choices, desperate for a Saviour, hoping against hope to make it
through another day. It’s about the Creator stepping off his throne as our king
and being humiliated to becoming a baby in a refugee family. When we grow up
with this story we realize that the tag line changes from “I want that” to “He
wants this.”
Why is the right Christmas story so important when it comes to our identity,
purpose, need and hope?
Perhaps during 2018 we can focus more intentionally on exposing our hearts to
the right story.

A Question !

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

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

Daring to faith it

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