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.

Part of Something Bigger

One of the passions of youth – when they surface from their phones or tablets – is that they want to put
their energy into something world changing, meaningful, significant, bigger than they are. Actually, most
of us are familiar with that feeling.
Missionsfest 2018 was another reminder how we are part of something bigger. Hundreds of
organizations set up booths to share what God is doing in his world to remind us of who he is.
Workshops, films and keynote speakers stimulated the faithful to stretch a little further in sharing the
God who transforms and reconciles his creation. It was good to see some of you there volunteering or
exploring all that your eyes and ears could take in.
Jesus is the Lord of the Nations and he is meeting people in every country on this planet as he fulfills his
promise to have men and women from every tribe and tongue and nation gathering around his throne
one day.
On the Saturday morning of Missionsfest representatives of the agencies and churches of the Fellowship
Pacific (100 churches of which we are part of – 500 across Canada) gathered over breakfast and break
out sessions to increase understanding of how greater synergy could be developed between groups. We
are part of something bigger and more amazing every year.
The Fellowship is designed to leverage the collective strengths of its churches and agencies to make a
God honoring impact and to make disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. Baptist Housing (Owner
of Shannon Oaks and Clarendon Court) – an arm of the Fellowship’s ministry to seniors – helped host the
event.
Here are some brief highlights of what your brothers and sisters in Christ are involved in.
W.I.N.G.S (Women in Need Gaining Strength) – opened its third home, started work on a townhome
complex for single moms recovering from trauma, and expanded its ministry of counseling to men who
are attempting to overcome abusive and negative patterns in their marriages. Any men or women from
Faith are now welcomed to access the program at a reasonable cost. Sometimes our personal challenges
are part of something bigger than we are and we need to reach out for help.
CAMP QWANOES – this camp of ours (for 25 years) situated on Vancouver Island took in more kids than
ever this year. They trained 150 youth in their counselor training program. Any youth aged 15-18 can get
special life changing training from highly challenging and competent trainers. The camp is hoping to
build a new dining room which will seat up to 850 youth. For any family at Faith – or a friend of a family
at Faith – there are special scholarships available for those who can’t afford the camp costs. This is an
opportunity to invite some of the unreached community kids to attend for somethings they might hear
no where else.
DID YOU REALLY THINK THAT ALL THE ‘BIGGER THAN US GOD THINGS’ HAPPEN INSIDE OUR FOUR
WALLS?
(more wow ministries tomorrow)

Open Doors lead to Open Hearts

Do you remember the first few people who welcomed you at Faith? How about at your first work place or your school? Sometimes that welcome has a lasting impact on us.

There is nothing like feeling welcomed. When I enter someone else’s place it makes all the difference if the welcome is warm. When I enter another church it changes everything if there is a warm welcome or not. When others come to Faith I expect them to get a warm welcome from all of us who consider this home.

The firstcomers at our small group love to welcome those who come later and there is a genuine joy expressed at being welcomed into a group. When a refugee family spent the afternoon eating and sharing with us there was a sense of inclusion at having an open door and an open table being offered. I notice even at the youth group that the welcome once you’re in the door makes all the difference.

Rick Warren, in his book Better Together (p. 48), has gathered several verses in different versions which give us the importance of hospitality for the Christian who is following Jesus.

“Open your homes to each other without complaining.” I Peter 4:9 (TEV) Also, Isaiah 58:6-9; Luke 14:12-14.

Warren adds, “For some, hospitality is as natural as breathing. For others, the practice must be acquired. For all, the gift must be nurtured.”

He declares the difference between entertaining and showing hospitality. “Entertaining declares, ‘This is mine – these rooms, these adornments. Look, please, and admire.’ Hospitality whispers, ‘What is mine is yours’ (Acts 2:44).

As followers of Jesus the neighbourhood in which he has placed us is our open door to reach out and demonstrate hospitality. Filling our schedules with activities, not chosen purposefully to connect with others, will short-circuit our chances to open our hearts and open our doors.

You can’t show hospitality to everyone but you can show welcome to a few.

The same happens when we gather for services, banquet or events. You can’t invest a significant welcome for everyone but you can with those around you. Keep looking and reaching out.

What did you feel like when you entered a place of worship and no one welcomed you? So, who have you welcomed into fellowship lately? How can you use your hospitality in the weeks to come?

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?

Is there room for doubt in our faith?

Have you tried to share your faith lately with an unbeliever? What was that like? Did you know how to respond to the questions you were being asked, the doubts that were being expressed, the pushback you were being given?

Peter, Jesus’ lead disciple, had this to say in I Peter 3:15, 16. “But in your hearts revere 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 behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

We don’t expect ourselves to embrace things we don’t believe are true and we surely don’t expect others to embrace things they don’t believe are true. Few are won by being argued into the kingdom. Most are intrigued by seeing the real expression and trust in Jesus when our life is anything but good. “How do you have hope now?” they want to know.

The time for effective witness doesn’t start when we’re confronted by an unbeliever with their haunting questions. They time for witness comes when we speak to our own heart first about what we really believe about Jesus, His word, His church, His world. If you’ve grown up in a ‘Christian’ environment, surrounded only by supportive relationships, it can be a shock to be mocked by skeptics.

The age of entitlement and privilege is over for most followers of Jesus in Canada. It is time to look seriously at what Scripture is teaching us on how to live in a world whose values are not aligned with God’s. This is especially true for students and young professionals.

Winfried Corduan, in his book Reasonable Faith (pp. 16-17), says

“There should come a period in our lives, as we mature in our faith, when we need to confront our inherited belief system and ask ourselves whether it has really become ours. The developmental psychologist James W. Fowler sees a personal re-examination of beliefs as necessary for full maturity. Through most of our adolescent years we are very peer-oriented in all of our life’s decisions. We respond to groups and easily pick up the group’s beliefs as our own. This is why evangelism on the high school levels needs to be socially oriented. Many times during the period we recommit ourselves to our family’s values. However, in late adolescence or early young adulthood, we ought to escape from the peer-oriented mode; we need to decide whether we can really claim ownership in everything we have taken on as beliefs. In most cases, this process involves raising questions about the truth of these beliefs.

“This re-examination does not mean tearing down everything so that it can be rebuilt. It may simply be a matter of making sure all of the nails are holding and applying a little more glue here and there. Unless a person is willing to go through such a process, his or her faith may always be suffering from a lack of conviction.”

So, how has this worked out in your life and faith? How strong are your convictions and where did they come from? Do you have confidence in sharing what you believe with someone still filled with doubt? Are you first living out your faith so that someone would even ask you about your faith?

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.