Singing Pigs

Have you ever spent a lot of time, effort and resources working on something that turned out to be a waste of time?

Charles Swindoll says he has a friend who has a plaque on his wall reading: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

Swindoll focuses us on the efforts of Jesus to confront the Pharisees and their grace-killing ways (Simple Faith, p. 67). The more he exposed the hypocrisy of the religiously self-righteous the more hostile they became. No one likes to have their inauthenticity uncovered for all to see. We fight to keep the carefully crafted masks and reputations in place to guard our sense of who we want others to imagine us to be.

It’s amazing what sets of our sense of self-righteousness. Things as simple as the diet we are on – the foods we eat or don’t eat; the exercise we do – the lifestyle we choose to rest through or with which we challenge our bodies and minds; the travels we take or don’t take; the money we spend or don’t spend on ourselves; the fashions we would wear or not wear; the activities we deem acceptable to Christians and the activities we deem unacceptable – even if there is no specific scriptural warrant of prohibition; and of course the depth of our prayers, giving, witnessing, Bible reading, church attendance and service.

In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 Jesus sets up a higher standard of following for his disciples which takes us beyond the observable outward appearance and deals with the inside reality which only God sees. The true condition of the heart is what sets us apart with God.

Self-righteousness escapes its hiding place in our heart in ways we hardly recognize. It slips out in our speech in the way we quietly address the value, worth or character of another person to someone we consider on our side. It slips out in our attitude on who we would sit beside on the bus or in church; who we would invite to our homes for a meal; who we would help out in a time of crisis. It slips out in our humour and in our stereotypes as we watch the news, people watch in the mall, or determine who would make an appropriate relationship for ourselves or for some significant person in our lives.

The waste of time for us is expecting ourselves to just try harder when we mess up – which we will.

I was in a meeting yesterday where someone mentioned that they came from a family of racists and never realized it until they were confronted. They realized that the best way for them to defeat a racist heart was to build friendships with the people who they knew very little about. They said that made all the difference for them in building an attitude of acceptance, trust and welcoming.

Scriptures slay the self-righteous spirit by declaring that all of us are equally dead in sin without hope on our own. Unless the Spirit of Christ recreates us into new creations we will continue to experience the frustration of pigs trying to learn to sing.

Our church family is embracing the saying PBPWMGINFWMY. Please be patient with me – God is not finished with me yet. We trust that God’s Spirit in his time will mold us into the image of Jesus who alone perfectly embodies the character of God in its fullness.

What are some of the efforts you have spent your time on without significant results? What shadows of self-righteousness tend to sneak up on your heart when you let your guard down? What solutions have you found to deal with the character traits which fall short of what Jesus modeled?

What’s the Difference?

difference,saviour

A TIME magazine article by Reynolds Price from November 28, 1999 states that “the single most powerful figure – not merely in these two milleniums [sic] but in all human history – has been Jesus of Nazareth … a serious argument can be made that no one else’s life has proved remotely as powerful and enduring as that of Jesus.”

Dr. James Francis, back in 1926, preached to a group of youth on “the Real Jesus”. The following is an adaptation of his fuller message.

“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

“He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…

“While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

“Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

“I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”

What is it that distinguishes the founder of our faith from others?

Perhaps, the clearest difference is his exclusive claim not just to be the way to God but to be the God we all long to connect with.

C.S. Lewis, the great atheist turned Christian apologist, states in his book Mere Christianity that

“If you are a Christian you o not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through… If you are a Christian you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth… But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic – there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.”

Barton Priebe, in his book, The Problem with Christianity (p. 111) quotes Albert Mohler from a conference message:

If all we need is a teacher of enlightenment, the Buddha will do; if all we need is a collection of gods for every occasion and need and hope, Hinduism will do; if all we need is a tribal deity, any tribal deity will do; if all we need is a lawgiver, Moses will do; if all we need is  a set of rules and a way of devotion, Muhammad or Joseph Smith will do; if all we need is inspiration and insight into the sovereign self, Oprah will do; but if we need a savior, only Jesus will do.”

Why do you think Jesus is different than all other faith founders? How has this impacted the choices and relationships you make on a day to day basis?

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.

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?

What’s it All About?

The messages I get often start with Why or Where. Why is God letting this happen to me? Where is God right now and why isn’t he answering my prayers? Why am I here?

Rick Warren, in his book Better Together (p. 12), says “the purpose of your time on earth is not primarily about acquiring possessions, attaining status, achieving success, or even experiencing happiness. Those are secondary issues. Life is all about love and developing relationships – with God, and with other people. You may succeed in many areas, but if you fail to learn how to love God and love others, you’ll have missed the reason God created you and placed you on this planet. Learning to love is life’s most important lesson. Jesus called it the “great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). Nothing else comes close in importance.”

If you’re like me, it’s easy to nod my head in agreement but then I meet real people in real life.

For example, K. is the mom whose son is an aggressive autistic wreaking havoc in the community. K. has a husband dying from a brain tumour and acting out against her. K. has a daughter who gave her a three-week-old child to look after since the daughter didn’t want to leave her life of drugs and prostitution. Now K. has kidney cancer and lives in serious pain. Her messages to me express how overwhelming life is. Her trust and faith in God were ejected long ago. How do I love in this situation?

  1. came by for prayer again today. One son is an alcoholic and one a drug addict. She converted to Christianity from another religion and is seeing huge transformation in her own life and choices. She battles and fights for her boys but is drained of energy. She can’t keep a job because she is always chasing to intervene in her son’s latest escapade. The things she loves disappear again and she knows who took them. Yet today, she declares that God knows who needs those things most and she releases them without animosity toward her son. Still, she is in desperate need. How do I love in this situation?
  2. is a young professional who was lonely. She prided herself on her purity until she met an older man who overwhelmed her with compassion and care. She quickly fell prey to his sexual advances and found herself involved in things she never imagined doing. When that relationship ended, within a week, she was into another relationship with a younger man who repeated the same activities with her. She feels trapped because of her loneliness, guilt because of her faith, helplessness to make meaningful choices. How do I love in this situation?
  3. is an older refugee who longs for connections. He had significant status in his home country before he had to run for his life and come to Canada a year ago. He is learning English and loves to talk but no one seems to have time for him. He is constantly sending out invitations to come and share food at his home. He would love to still make a difference in his home country through a politician here but needs help accessing his representative so he can share his story. How do I love in this situation?

Every person we meet has a different story and love needs to be applied uniquely to their situation. We need wisdom and compassion and grace greater than we can imagine.

Who are the significant people in your community who need practical demonstrations of love? What can you do for even one of them?

Distinguishing God from nature

We live in an age where many seem to worship the creation more than the Creator. The lines between stewardship of creation and worship of creation are blurring. This probably shouldn’t surprise us as the signs of this shift are evident in our culture.

We have people who create havoc over how cows and chickens are slaughtered but who ignore the slaughter of babies in the womb even when the child’s organs are being harvested and sold to keep other humans healthy and whole. We have people who flaunt abhorrent sexual practices as a right while ignoring the sex trafficking, bondage, abuse and oppression that such lifestyles often nurture.

In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul says that God designs creation in such a way that his character can’t be misunderstood by those who search for him. Those who suppress the truth of his power and divine nature have no excuse. When people shift from worshiping the Creator to worshipping the creation God gives them up to their own foolish thinking. One of the first evidences is that they compromise their God-oriented sexuality. “They exchange the truth of God for a lie.”

Once this step is taken the slide continues into “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (NIV)

Paul finishes by saying that the most amazing thing is that they not only do these things but they approve of others who do them. Ever notice how our society celebrates openly those who do these things? If not celebrates, at least tolerates willingly to avoid being labeled.

That’s not how we would usually expect God to express his wrath when we go our own way – to let us have the consequences of our own choices and to let us explore the depths of our own sin nature.

All along, God wants us to see that there is nothing but Him who can satisfy the deepest desires of our heart. There is nothing but the way he designed life which will meet the deepest needs of our soul. By allowing us to follow the options we choose we are meant to see that this option won’t meet our expectations for soul-satisfaction. Tasting the fruit of our soul’s destruction, brought on by wrong choices, is meant to prod us back to him and the way he designed for us.

Yes, care for creation – pick up that trash, grow those trees, steward the fish and birds and whales – but realize that you do this to remind others of how good and how gracious the Creator is in providing everything we need for life and godliness.

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.

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.