How do you believe this?

Followers of Jesus face a challenge lifestyles ,family,society influencing

In this age, when an avalanche of fake news through social media almost crushes us with statements and claims which stretch the limits of our ability to believe, it can be easy to dismiss the gospel claims about who Jesus was, why he lived, died and rose again. Existential skepticism, reasonable doubt, unbelievable truth, mixed freely with a kaleidoscopic array of cultural, religious and social ideologies, might excuse us setting aside the crucifixion / resurrection narrative as obscure, superstitious and irrelevant to our contemporary lifestyles.

Followers of Jesus face a challenge. Our mandate is to share the gospel story as the only hope for humanity but we are often left without clear understanding of how to answer all the questions, objections and skepticism of those we want to share with. Our integrity can’t encourage people to ignore their questions and embrace our faith without confidence in its truth claims. Intellectual honesty for both the inquirer and the responder are necessary if commitment is to last.

What we believe is often filtered through the family, culture, church, country, education system and social group we grew up with. We believe what we’re told until it doesn’t seem so believable anymore. Somewhere, we start to think that unless what we believe can withstand every question posed that we can’t hold it any longer. We start to realize that perhaps this is a faith which was never ours. Holding our faith surrounded by doubts limits our ability to effectively share what we believe.

Winfried Corduan, in his book Reasonable Faith (p. 20), states that:

“People usually learn about the facts of their faith from some form of authority. These sources might include parents, clergy, teachers, or the Bible. Because we are taught to respect these authorities, we accept what they teach us about God. No one can be expected to examine all of his or her beliefs before committing to them as true. Many people do not have the capacity, time, or interest to undertake a thorough evaluation of a doctrine and its alternatives. For that matter, if the world had to wait for the “experts” – theologians and philosophers – to come to agreement on beliefs before accepting any of them, nobody could believe anything. So God has seen to it that some people are commissioned to represent His truth as He has revealed it in His Word, the Bible. Such is the obligation of all parents to their children and all others who occupy a teaching or preaching capacity in the church. We see then that it is both possible and proper for all articles of belief to be accepted on the basis of faith, that is, out of respect to the authority that teaches them.”

The issue is never the questioning of our faith but the integrity of the questions we ask of it. To arrive at commitment we accept that there is a knowable truth given by a knowable God who is able to intervene in human history with a reliable communication we can access, understand and apply to life. From that source we are able to sort our way through the puzzle of whether Jesus is Legend, Lunatic, Liar or Lord.

Ultimately, we are engaging in a reasonable faith which grows over time.

Confused?

confussed happy smily college freshman

March 2015. I’m sitting at the back of my English 101 tutorial classroom. Alarmed brain signals careen along the labyrinths of my mind as the course instructor announces:

“According to this theory, marriage is an unnatural constraint on sexual freedom. Marriage infidelity shouldn’t be shameful! Things would be a lot more ‘natural’ if everyone simply indulged in their desires.”

As he elaborates on the theory with eloquent arguments and examples from the media, my long-held values backflip like a half-cooked pancake on a griddle. Traces of doubt slither into my mind. Have I been living in a bubble up until now? 

Four years later, looking back at my wide-eyed university freshman self in English 101, I realize how much I trusted my professors to be right. When you’re eighteen and surrounded by seasoned thinkers, it’s easy to blindly believe the best-argued case. Problem is, universities are peopled with scholars who argue their case for a living. Most of them are pretty good at it.

Torrents of ideas have come crashing down on me in lecture halls. Ideas about society. Ideas about the origin of the world. One astronomy professor insisted that the universe created itself from scratch and that humans were random networks of stardust. Another literature professor nonchalantly reduced Christianity to a system of murderous colonizers and power-hungry church leaders.

I’ve also picked up new ideas from friends. University exposes you to a huge variety of perspectives from different religious groups and worldviews. Even between two Christians, opinions can differ wildly on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and gender-neutral washrooms.

It’s no wonder that, flailing in a sea of opinions, some students pick and choose a set of beliefs as they would select choice morsels at a buffet spread. They live only by the ones that seem palatable to them and adjust their views to their tastes. Paul already knew these customized worldviews were coming when he warned, in 2 Timothy, that “people…will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (4:3).

Others, like me, become plain confused.

It goes without saying that my Christian beliefs took a good shaking-up in university. But they have solidified into a stronger faith and greater trust in God and in Jesus’ salvation.

How in the world did I soak up four years of “enlightening” theories, many of which encouraged me to abandon my faith, and still end up a Jesus follower?

My astronomy professor shared his frustration that, despite his measuring tools, he couldn’t solve all the puzzles of outer space. My literature professor bemoaned our inability to break off the “chains of religious influences”. Even with all their professed insight into the mysteries of life, they were still confused.

And it hit me: humans don’t have all the answers. The most articulate scholars don’t. Neither do the brains behind the theories. But poring over the word of God, I find all I need to know in one handy guidebook. It comforts me when I’m at my worst. It gives me amazing discernment in sticky situations. It rebukes me when I wander off from where God wants me to be. And it boasts the mind-blowing mystery of salvation that makes life worth the living.

Yes, I respect human reason and university textbooks. But now, I also know that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ” (Colossians 2:4). The Bible, the lamp to our feet and light for our path, has the power to dispel confusion and trumps any man-made philosophy

In Less Than 5 seconds

arrogance-pride-categories

If I met you for the first time, how long do you think it would take you to form an opinion about who I am and whether we could have a relationship of any kind?

Duane Elmer, in his book Cross-Cultural Servanthood (p. 48), cites an American study which demonstrated that it takes between 2.4 and 4.6 seconds to make an unconscious decision about whether we like them and whether there is any potential for relationship. With only a glance at the surface characteristics of features like “skin texture, hair style, nose size or ear shape” I decide whether you are worthy of my relationship.

It seems like the height of arrogance, pride and superiority to pass someone off so quickly, especially when it takes a lot to convince us that our first impressions might be wrong.

Now, consider arriving at church. If it’s a new church to you then you’ve already made some huge decisions by the time you’re greeted, walked a few paces into the lobby and scanned the age, ethnicity and energy of the people in your vicinity. The music and preaching might pull you past those impressions, but not necessarily. We trust our first instincts a lot.

Imagine you’re a family arriving and your children use their 5 seconds to form an opinion. You hear about it clearly afterward. Despite your own experience, you feel the pressure of catering to your child who may drop out of church, faith and life if you get this wrong (or so your own feelings tell you). We are naturally risk-adverse when it comes to those we care about.

Imagine that you arrive in your home congregation and someone unfamiliar is in your path (or in your seat) looking at you. Perhaps they’re dressed differently, expressioned differently, talking differently or responding differently than you would expect of someone in this place. Your 5 seconds of decision making will be over before you realize. Your greeting or lack of greeting may confirm their first impression of this church. Nothing we do, or don’t do, only impacts us.

What does Jesus mean when he responds to those who made their 5 second conclusion about him because of his actions on the Sabbath? In John 7:24, he says “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (NIV).

Suspending judgment seems to be an unnatural act for us – even as followers of Jesus. Elmer advocates for openness and says (p.51) “Too often we see negatively what God sees as difference. If it is merely different and not wrong, we should stay open and be accepting.”

We claim to be a church family where every generation and nation is welcomed. That’s a lot to live up to for all of us – whether we are coming for the first time and dealing with our first impressions – or whether we are regulars given the responsibility of welcoming and receiving other newcomers.

Thank you for thinking twice or three times about your first time impressions.

Have you ever caught yourself deciding quickly whether you like someone or not? What categories did you use to make your decision? Did you ever end up changing your mind about someone later on?

VALUE: MULTI-GENERATIONAL AND MULTI-NATIONAL COMMUNITY

Visioning what heaven will be like is something beyond us even if “we can only imagine.”

Revelation 5:8-10 pictures living creatures and elders in worship before Jesus singing a song that says “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood your purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (NIV)

We have fifty nations in one family at Faith. Although, a newcomer named Robert let us know that he was here representing the fifty-first nation.

We have demonstrated this value through opening refugee homes which have now welcomed over 500 people from 60 nations. (This ministry called New Hope Community Services Society now operates in Surrey with an apartment building as a cornerstone.) We also started New Hope Childcare for new Canadians and single parents – this ministry has also helped over 500 families since it opened in 2002. We have partnered in hosting the Foodbank on Fridays as well over 150 individuals and families are supplied representing 30-40 different nations.

This value has changed us. Our community engagement is different as we do outreach events. Our banquets are different in the menus, programs, music and mosaic of guests who come. We see our differences as a strength since every culture reflects the face and heart of God slightly differently – giving us all a fuller picture of who we serve and worship.

We believe God is asking us to represent the unity in diversity demonstrated in the picture given in Revelation. We say we are here to get a taste of heaven now. While we are imperfect, weak, foolish and often stumbling our way trying to keep in step with the Spirit we trust that we have a Good Shepherd leading us home.

Multi-generational and multi-national community is our second value. Twenty years ago we had very few generations and very few nations represented here. Now, there are members from many ages, nations, careers, social levels, gift sets and interest groups. God has been gracious.

We present the value as follows:

Multi-generational and multi-national community – This means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will grow toward

1) inclusivity and diversity in our private and corporate gatherings and social circles

2) intentionality in our welcoming of others unlike ourselves

3) deepening and broadening of relationship building through our conversations and purposeful activities

It seems to be our human nature – especially in a community with a huge number of introverts – to narrow our circle of relationship to those who demand less of us. To continually welcome and invite newcomers into our social circle stretches our emotional, psychological, personal and sometimes spiritual limits. Our boundaries get tested more than we feel we can bear.

This value is key to the core of who we are. It is sometimes easier to practice in our corporate gatherings than in our private gatherings. In our private gatherings we appreciate those who are most familiar, most like us and most undemanding.

We see that since this is not always natural for us to include newcomers then we need to be intentional in our choices, conversations and activities. How are you demonstrating diversity in Christ’s family? How will you show this value in your relationships better?

Values: FAITH -PART ONE

In Faith’s family we have three key values which we use as a grid to mark the kind of community we would like to see. Today, I asked a newcomer over coffee what he observed about his experience so far at the church. He said, “I’ve been to a lot of churches and it’s different here. It feels like a community. People don’t rush away and they don’t rush by you when the service is done.”

Yesterday, in our prayer time before the service, another new comer said, “this is the friendliest church I’ve ever been to. You walk into the prayer room and everyone stands up to hug you.”

I’m not sure if our values are the reason why our community networks with each other, but God seems to be doing something special among us for which we are grateful. Our leadership has something to do with it, our prayer base has something to do with it, but our members are the ones making a difference.

We say three things about the value of FAITH in our expression of church. We say that FAITH means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will lean toward

  • Prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking for the sake of the gospel;
  • Body and soul-stretching outreach initiatives
  • Open-handed and open-hearted efforts of generosity and hospitality

FAITH is our confident trust that God is with us as we live out his truth in our contemporary world. We lean toward prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking for the sake of the gospel, meaning that we come before God with a bold confidence to seek his wisdom and his way for divine appointments and significant conversations as we look for bridges in sharing who Jesus is and what he has done in giving his life for us. We share personally on how God has worked in our own life and we share candidly on what he has done in our world.

We haven’t mastered prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking, individually or as a community. but we are trying to lean in that direction.

When Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor, was chasing down Christians on his way to Damascus, he met Jesus in a dynamic encounter. He was changed because two people took risks for the sake of the gospel. First, Ananias was prompted by Jesus to place his hands on him and restore Saul’s sight. Ananias responded, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he had done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13)

The risk was real but Jesus told Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Twice, Ananias is told “go” just as Jesus tells us to “go” in his great commission. Sometimes a person’s outward persona or reputation holds us back from taking risks. It doesn’t feel safe to share and it seems obvious that this person wouldn’t be interested anyway.

Saul tried to join the disciples in Damascus by preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. This confused everyone who thought they knew who he was and this led to death threats from his former allies. Saul escaped to Jerusalem and again tried to join the disciples there “but they were afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas too him and brought him to the apostles…”

Two people showed their faith by taking risks with Saul and this has made all the difference for all of us who read our Bibles and see what Saul (who became the Apostle Paul) wrote for us who live outside the Jewish world.

How has God helped you lean toward prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking as you share the gospel? How have you witnessed evidences of this in your faith community?

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.

 

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?

 

Have You Really Left Home?

This is an incredibly challenging time and place to find a new home – especially if you’re young. Spaces and dollars are few for many of you. It takes a reorientation of your expectations to find your roots and to dig them down so that you hold on and grow where you are.

This day is often focused on encouraging people to stretch themselves and their dollars to reach out and demonstrate your affection for others in your world. Dinners, cards, flowers and calls are intentionally shared. Those in marriages are encouraged to push their expressions of intimacy even deeper. It is sometimes easy to give something other than yourself to accomplish your duty.

Donald Harvey has written a book called “Love Decisions” focusing on a dad’s talk with his daughter about the potential for love and her preparation for it. The first question he brings up is “Have you really left home?”

His biblical focus is on Genesis 2:24 where we are told that a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife so they become one flesh. A person who is ready for lasting relationship both detaches and then attaches. Some who have been already married haven’t really effectively detached from their birth families and they find themselves constantly torn between two loyalties.

The issue isn’t only about moving your body out of a shared space with your birth family. It is about making the primary motivation for your mental and emotional decisions based on a foundation other than your parents. Of course, family will always be important and have some degree of influence on many of our decisions but it is the degree of that decision making which shows whether you have left home or not.

Preserving a healthy family relationship, while developing other positive relationships, is an important part of developing some level of independence. You don’t have to rebel or move far away to establish this readiness.

Here’s what Harvey (p. 18) tells us. “When you have truly left home, you will demonstrate independence versus dependence – you will act versus react. And your decisions will have more to say about you than about other people. The bottom line will always be, “This is what I think is the best thing for me to do,” and you will act accordingly. If, instead, your behavior is a reaction to others, then maybe (you guessed it) you still haven’t left and there’s still some work to do before you’re ready to make any real lovedecisions.

“Leaving home is not as simple as it sounds. It isn’t just a by-product of age. Nor is it always indicated by a change in address. It’s a process – one that requires many steps and encounters many interferences. Still, it is not only an accomplishable goal but one that must be attained before you are ready to make any significant lovedecisons. Assess yourself and your relationships. Have you made the break from home and dependence to self-sufficiency and independence? Are you somewhere “in process”? Or are you still clearly tied to your parents?

Developing a faith that is your own is an essential part of this readiness for intimacy. If your heart has learned to love God and to be loved by him then it is tuned to understand how love works in the human realm.

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?