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.

Serving in the Hood

know your neighbour

From the foundation of Faith in the 1940’s in South Vancouver, serving the neighbourhood has been a priority for us. In recent years that has involved housing for refugees, partnering with the Foodbank and South Van Neighbourhood House, operating two daycares, hosting the Royal Conservatory of Music exams, sharing the facility with El Redentor (a Spanish congregation), teaching ESL classes, tutoring, celebrating our East Side celebration, plus catering outreach banquets, Christmas eve dinner and candlelight service for the community, and hosting services and events for all generations without discrimination.

We state the value as follows:

Servanthood means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will grow toward

1) putting the best interests of others ahead of our own

2) utililizing our gifts, resources and abilities to the benefit of building up the body and the individuals in it

3) choosing humility, graciousness, gentleness and compassion as our first response to others inside and outside our immediate fellowship.

Growing up in a religious environment can have the effect of prompting us to unconsciously (or even consciously) categorize people, actions, lifestyles, situations, careers, and even fashion as white (good) or black (bad). Thinking in the grey zone between those extremes often leaves us uncomfortable and uncertain.

If there is clear scriptural teaching on something then we consider the culture and context of the original writer/readers and our current culture and context to communicate the teaching accurately without resorting to manipulation or guilt.

In this article I am merely pointing out that our service to others isn’t usually limited by who they are or what they do. It is more often our own heart that puts unnecessary boundaries in place to limit our effectiveness in crossing cultural, social or personal barriers in meeting the needs of others.

Duane Elmer, in his book, Cross-cultural Servanthood (p. 55), states that “nearly forty years of observation suggests to me that my (older) generation has tended to reject cultural diversity because we have not adequately distinguished it from religious diversity. We have tended to mix our culture and Christianity quite easily, quite comfortably and with little critique. Often confusing cultural differences with religious differences, we have judged cultural differences as wrong. In recent year the opposite seems to be more true. The younger generation, perhaps influenced by postmodernism and the general relativism of society, has been less inclined to distinguish between cultural and religious differences. They often prefer to see both as valid choices. Thus the younger generation blurs religious and cultural issues, tending to believe if peoples’ hearts are sincere, whatever their religious convictions, God will accept them. Both tendencies have their dangers, thought they are not the same. My own sense is that the two generations need to converse, moderate each other’s extremes and in doing so move closer to where God is.”

What do you think? Can we serve the diversity of our neighbourhood better by communicating between generations? Do you have any significant conversations with those of another generation or culture so that you understand how to serve better? Keep reaching out.

Does Prayer Change Anything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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.