Would Anyone Notice Us If We Left?

Have you ever had that secret fear that if you stepped away from everyone you knew that no one would really miss you? No one at work, school, family or church.

Who in our neighbourhood would notice if our church stopped meeting? Do people notice us because of what we provide for them or because of who we are?

Two years ago, the New Hope Community Services Society (Refugee Houses) which we started moved their main center to Surrey; this week, the Foodbank let us know they were transferring their FoodHub Depot from our facility to the South Van Neighourhood House. These two ministries of ours were key outreach points in helping us to establish our current reputation as a vital community partner and community builder. What happens now?

What if we redevelop our facility and disappear visibly from the community for two years? Would we be missed? Would we be anticipated when we came back?

Our mission is to make disciples of Christ from all nations. Our practice is to love God and to love our neighbour. Depending on programs and events which we create doesn’t make disciple makers who make disciple makers.

Perhaps it’s time to get back to basics – small home groups, practicing friendship, mentoring plus sharing our faith with our neighbours through hospitality and community service.

A year ago, we were asked, along with other flourishing churches, how we engaged with our neighbourhood. The initial results were published in the January / February edition of Faith Today by Joel Thiessen. He writes: “Without exception, the congregations we identified as flourishing appear to have done their homework on the community where they are situated. They say they know who lives in their community. They know facts about family status, stage of life, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and more. From this information churches identify what possible needs, points of convergence and opportunities exist. Churches garnered this information by speaking with local community association and organization leaders, reading city demographic reports and interacting with neighbours in various social settings around the church property.”

It seems clear that neighbours would notice us if we noticed them first. They would engage with us if we first engaged with them. Perhaps it is time to try something new in our neck of the woods. Anyone out there willing to risk new ideas on reaching our neighbours?

Have you reached that age yet?

There’s something about us that likes to think we’re at an age different than we are. If we’re younger we like to feel and act older. If we’re older we like to think or act younger. Maybe that’s only me and the people around me.

It takes a certain level of maturity to be who you are and to be settled with that. Discipleship and mentoring grow out of that stable foundation. Once you are settled with who you are you can start investing in others.

In our cross-cultural training we were asked the question: “Do you want to be the hero or the hero-maker?” In our team building times we say do you want to be the discipler or the one who creates disciple-makers who make disciple-makers?

The generation after you needs someone who will reach back and encourage them upward on this climb through life. That’s true whether you’re in your twenties or in your eighties. God has given you experiences and wisdom that was meant to be shared and God has created someone who needs to learn what you know.

Have you ever had a mentor – someone who took an interest in who you are and what you’re doing? Someone who listened just a little more and stayed in your corner just a little longer? We all need someone like that and we all need to be someone like that for others.

Regi Campbell, in his book Mentor Like Jesus (pp. 39-40) says “Great mentors know who they are. They get great joy in seeing their wisdom, knowledge, and experience live on to help others… When a person knows who he is, he’s comfortable in any situation. He doesn’t spend energy wondering what the other person is thinking. He can spend all his energy listening and trying to understand.”

Maybe there’s someone in your own family circle who needs a mentor – or maybe not. Maybe God has someone in our own church family ready to glean from your supportive encouragement. I recently watched a senior supporting a single professional over a period of months and the rally of a discouraged heart was obvious to anyone who knew her. Both of the women benefitted from the engagement.

Make this a prayer as you prepare for the next months ahead. Lord, if there’s someone I can encourage and share my life with (in a mentoring way) please set up a divine appointment and a significant conversation so I don’t miss it. Keep me alert and ready to share your heart wherever I am.

Bless you as you pour yourself into the next generations.

Our Big Picture Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sets the lonely in families -II

Psalm 68:6 says “God sets the lonely in families.”

 

The Vancouver Foundation consistently claims that loneliness is one of the biggest challenges for people living in this city. Seniors isolated in their apartments, care homes or rooms are lonely; young moms struggling to raise children are lonely; refugees and immigrants are lonely; leaders are lonely; young professionals fixed to the internet are lonely; people riding in Skytrains and buses are lonely; even some married people shelter behind closed doors in their own loneliness.

It is hard to see loneliness as a part of our churches. We think that if we can get isolated people into groups of people that loneliness will take care of itself. Several people have told me over the years that the hardest thing is to come to a service, to stand in the middle of so many happy people, and feel all alone.

 

The United Kingdom has now appointed a minister of loneliness to deal with the issue among 2 million seniors who are isolated from community – 200,000 admitted they regularly go over a month without speaking to another human being. In our city, it isn’t surprising to see people drive or commute alone, shop alone, eat alone, order coffee alone, watch a movie alone, walk or jog alone, read alone.

 

Local studies say at least one in five of us experience the sadness that comes from social isolation – reaping the impact on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Surprisingly, social media seems partially responsible for the sense of separation and human connection we tend to thrive and flourish on.

 

Connecting to community is essential for our overall health. Being part of a small group where you can share your life, get prayer support, learn with others, enlarge your perspective on God and sense a personal connection with the life stories of others seems to be something God has designed when he made us.

 

When’s the last time you shared a heart connection with someone who really saw you for who you are? When have you taken the time to initiate a contact so you could see someone else for who they are?

Is it really real?

I have a pastor friend who loves to scour the dregs of Value Village to see if perhaps a treasure has slipped through unnoticed for a bargain. He once found an old coin which he was convinced would gain him a small fortune. He paid the $42 price tag and then tried to pawn it. It was valued at exactly what he paid for it. It wasn’t the authentic treasure he hoped it would be.

Sometimes, our faith takes on an authenticity which stands out like a gold nugget. Sometimes, it has the polish of a clump of mud or a lump of coal.

One of the criticisms from outsiders is that the church is filled with hypocrites. Someone said they like to respond by saying, “glad you noticed, come join us, there’ always room for one more.” That’s probably not going to win the day for you.

In Jesus’ sermon on the mount he seems highly concerned about our authenticity as his followers. It is clear he hates hypocrisy. He woos his followers toward a simple faith void of pretense in their words, actions, thoughts, and desires.

American preacher, Chuck Swindoll, in his book, Simple Faith (p. 6), states “Our Lord wants His true followers to be distinct, unlike the majority who follow the herd. In solving conflicts, doing business, and responding to difficulties, Jesus’ people are not to maintain the same attitudes or choose the same priorities of the majority. And for sure, we are not to emulate pharisaism. When Jesus teaches, “Dont be like them,” He really means it. Hypocrisy, He hates … authenticity, He loves.”

Perhaps one of the greatest encouragements we can give to each other is to be authentic in our joys and in our sorrows. Two sisters visited us at the church yesterday. One had been undergoing a long bout with cancer and was declared cancer free – her tears were plentiful. The other sister is waiting to face a significant surgery of her own – her tears are also real. Both had come to know Jesus deeply in their suffering and both had a deep, authentic faith which sparked our sense of awe.

Have you shared your story with others in the church family? Not so people focus on you, but so that others can see who God is as he shapes us and makes us more like Jesus. The road is often challenging and we need to see some authentic pilgrims on it as we try to walk it together. Who can you share your story with today?

Working It All Out

Why do you get out of bed in the morning? If you work, or have worked in the past, why spend your
energy and time putting out effort to accomplish anything? Who is going to remember what you did day
after day, week after week, year after year?
What a way to get depressed at the start of a year – Wondering if there is any purpose to what I do. All
of us want to accomplish something. Sometimes we’re successful and sometimes we aren’t. But what
does our effort matter? Won’t it all eventually fade away as others take our place, as the new way of
doing things replaces the old way, as another generation focusing on the possibilities of the future set
aside the past like yesterday’s trash?
Oh, reality. How harsh and how hopeful.
Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Church in New York, writes something significant in his book
Every Good Endeavor (p. 29): He says, “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any
difference, and all good endeavors, even the best will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of
the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, even the simplest ones,
pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever. That is what the Christian faith promises. “In
the Lord, your labor is not in vain,” writes Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verse
58.”
Keller says that as believers who want our work to matter we need to answer three questions: “Why do
you want to work? (That is, why do we need to work in order to lead a fulfilled life?) Why is it so hard to
work? (That is, why is it so often fruitless, pointless, and difficult?) How can we overcome the difficulties
and find satisfaction in our work through the gospel?”
Some of you will be looking to answer these questions from your past experience, some from your
current challenges and some from what is still ahead. You were designed to accomplish something
significant for God’s glory. If your heart is still beating the work isn’t done yet. Have you figured it out
and are you doing it. Take some time to share this with another pilgrim on the road with you.

What if You’re Not Alone

Have you ever been certain that you were alone until you heard that noise in the darkness? Was it a
creak from the house, a footstep in the hallway, a mouse in the wall?
Sometimes we live our life as if we’re alone. We go through dark struggles and feel alone; we engage
and break relationships as if it is only us; we drive our cars and walk the streets as if we are alone; we
eat, we watch and we pray as if we are on our own. We even sit in church singing and listening as if no
one else can sense the motives of our hearts, the thoughts of our mind, or the distractions of our
memories and hopes.
But what if we remembered that God has invaded time and space – not just two thousand years ago
when Jesus walked in Galilee – but now, wherever we are. Not just invaded our time and space but
infiltrated our mind and heart.
David, the psalmist, says in Psalm 139:1-5 NIV, “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 in on my tongue you, LORD, know it
completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”
Many of us, like former atheist C.S. Lewis, don’t want God to “interfere” with our lives.
The book of John records testimonies like that of ‘doubting Thomas’ for a reason. In John 20:30-31 we
read “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this
book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by
believing you may have life in his name.”
Every transformed life in our world is a creak in the dark for souls that feel alone. The question to face
now is, am I the creak that others can’t miss, or am I the one needing to stop and realize that right in the
middle of what I’m facing right now, I am not alone?

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.

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.