Truth and Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We prayed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

 

Can Different Generations Really Come Together as One?

It’s no secret that while building up a church family with multi-generations is the dream of most congregations that this is more challenging than it seems. Different generations have different soul language with the music they respond to; they have different heart language in what they feel committed to with their time and resources; they have different body language in terms of how they build relationship and share their lives.

Sociologists might label the four key generations as Builders, Boomers, Gen Xers and Millenials. Each has been shaped by different backgrounds, different times, different perceptions of their culture and different experiences of faith. Perceptions , actions and reactions to what is happening will vary. How do you build unity in the middle of so much chronological diversity?

Loving your different generation neighbor often involves first building a relationship – taking an interest to show you care by listening, asking insightful questions, praying for and supporting in practical ways. Our seniors would love to have someone sit with them over tea and ask them to share their experiences. There needs to be verbal expressions of respect for their experience and wisdom. They can make great mentors.

Liz Selzer, in her book 3D Mentoring (p. 122) says “People need to see each other as competent, authentic, able to create meaningful connections, accountable, and dependable. “ They need to find their voices in three ways: by building a learning culture where everyone’s strengths are celebrated and appreciated; give opportunities for all to participate in a way where it is safe to take risks and fail; establish a forum where everyone’s voice gets heard and encourage everyone’s contribution.

This kind of culture happens one on one as we intentionally sit with each other and listen to each other. There is a God story in the life I am facing and preparing myself to hear it and appreciate it changes my whole attitude toward what God has done and what He is still doing.

Which generation can you expand your heart toward? How will you do that?

What do disciple-makers look like?

The reality of vanishing disciples means that we need disciple-makers who know how to make disciple-makers. How do we know that we’ve got a disciple-maker? Their regular commitment to reading and applying the word of God, their involvement in a small group for accountability and encouragement, and their consistent participation in the life of their local church might be foundational things to think about. What else might we look for? See if this resonates with your understanding and let us know.

 

Disappearing disciples?

When you think of disappearing disciples your mind might fixate on what happened in the garden of Gethsemane when the close followers of Jesus hustled away as Jesus was arrested and taken to trial. In our country of Canada, with new progressive liberalism steamrolling traditional Christian values through legislation and funding directives it almost appears that our leaders assume that current disciples are ready to fade into the night as well.

Perhaps it is time to re-emphasize why Jesus called us to make disciples of Christ from all nations. I met with a denominational leader today who told me that most churches don’t have a strong focus or plan for discipleship. Jesus’ directive to go make disciples has fallen on deaf ears.

One of the reasons I hear as to why we don’t make disciples is that we don’t have enough disciple makers. A disciple maker is one who invests their life into another who is younger in faith and experience.  Those who are disciple often grow into leaders who can disciple others. John Maxwell claims that “Leaders develop daily, not in a day.”

Liz Selzer, in her book 3G Mentoring, explains what it takes to develop an effective mentoring relationship. She says “an effective mentor is a good listener, authentic, trustworthy, wise ( has something to offer), understands the power of a good question over a good piece of information, is skilled in giving feedback, committed, insightful, inspiring, has a tolerance for mistakes, shows flexibility and patience, is discerning, is able to set boundaries, has a learning attitude, and has learned from his or her own successes and failures.”

Okay, before you write yourself off as no longer available, a disciple is a learner who is willing to grow and who is willing to help others grow.

This is not the time to disappear along with the others who have written themselves off. Our culture is not the environment in which followers of Jesus are going to naturally birth and thrive. It takes intentionality from those who have already understood who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he has called us to do.

We are promised the Holy Spirit to be with us in the middle of our significant conversations and we have the Word of God to inform our hearts and minds. Now is the time to prepare and share.

Peter pushes us to try discipling those who haven’t even accepted Jesus yet. He says (I Peter 3:15-16) “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks ou to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Set apart Christ as Lord in your own heart and you’ll have one less disciple disappearing into the landscape around us. Who have you got in your social circle who you might start a significant conversation with as you try to make disciples for Jesus?

 

Start where you are

The great British author (Oxford and Cambridge professor), C.S. Lewis once said that “you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

C.S. Lewis started his professional career as an atheist. He ended his life as a follower of Jesus. He was actually raised as an Anglican and embraced atheism in his teens. Few people remember why he returned to a true faith in 1929. One man made the difference. The man was George Macdonald – a writer of fantasy. C.S. Lewis was fascinated by the “quality of cheerfulness” which convinced him that righteousness was not a dull thing.

C.S. Lewis absorbed all he could learn from his spiritual teacher and then started producing classics which young believers still thrive on. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, The Allegory of Love and The Discarded Image take people into deep thought on the Christian Faith.

Lewis is better known by some of us for his Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and the Great Divorce. Others served to probe deeply into our human soul and to free our minds to consider the truths of our relationship with God.

My focus today is on the importance of mentoring. I was approached after our Sunday service by one of our new believers who rightly said, “Isn’t there someone I can meet with regularly to grow spiritually? I don’t want to just keep all my learning to Sundays. I want to ask questions and understand and expand what I know.”

Perhaps there are others, like C.S. Lewis, waiting for a friend, mentor, teacher, to come alongside them and show them the great things of God in creative and gracious ways. I encourage you to consider passing on what you know to someone younger in the faith. The ideal is that you are learning from someone more mature in the faith while at the same time you are passing on what you know to someone younger in the faith. This vital intergenerational sharing of the good news brings vitality to the body of Christ.

C.S. Lewis was wounded fighting the Germans in 1918. He married Joy Gresham (a converted American) while she was facing the challenges of cancer. He died on the same day as President John F. Kennedy. Not much of this is remembered. It is his writings from a place of deep faith which set him apart. And it is his forgotten mentor which wooed him into the deep faith that made a difference for so many others.

What keeps you from stepping into the role of learning or teaching? Who can you look to in the body of Christ as someone you can connect with?

Blessed Bubble-Wrapped Believers

I still can’t find the verse. You know, the one that says believers will be bubble-wrapped and protected
from having a hard time in this world.
I did find what Jesus said in his sermon on the mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you,
persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because
great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before
you.”
Francis Chan reminds us in a short video clip that we don’ t have to worry about what we need to say
when we’re called before those who oppose us because, as Jesus told us in Luke 12:11-12, the Holy
Spirit inside us will tell us at that time what we are to say.
Today, I received an email from one of our university students who had a pro-choice professor
expressing his views on gender fluidity and sexuality. He supported the Prime Minister’s cut of summer
grants to churches who will not support abortion or transgenderism. He mocked Trinity Western’s
contract encouraging students to stay sexually pure. This student spoke up in class and was amazed that
the professor listened. She said “This is my firsthand experience that God can and does proclaim His
truth through timid spokespeople when the time is right! Still, it’s so easy to just keep quiet… please
pray for faith, courage and love to testify to those around me, and also that I can act out my faith.”
If you know how to pray there are people who need you. If you are in the front lines facing the insults
and the bubble-wrap free zone then you need prayer warriors around you. The strength of our faith
comes not only in our quiet times alone but in our vibrant interdependence as members of one body –
one family – one church.
I’ll finish today with Peter’s encouragement to believers facing challenges in his day. “Who is going to
harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do
not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be
prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But
do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously
against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it God’s will, to
suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
I guess we’ll save the bubble-wrap for Christmas presents.

Why does God Choose the Foolish?

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

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

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

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

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

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