At Home with Suffering

At Home with suffering-lonely,struggles,overwhelming,tears,burden,losing hope,carrying cross

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him…” Philippians 1:29

Two weeks ago was devastating for my friend. She had lost her wallet and all her credit cards. The weight of the world was on her shoulders as she dealt with the police and made the calls to cancel her life and identity.

With her feet kicked out from under her, the rest of the world took on the form of a growing burden that overwhelmed her.

Fortunately, she had taught her son about Jesus and the truth he gives us. That son confronted her, told her to smarten up and deal with her attitude of getting stuck in an attitude that refused to change and acknowledge God’s control in all she had been through.

My friend had been born in a Christian home and gone to Christian schools in Pakistan. She had been taught the Bible from her earliest days. She was thoroughly marinated in Christianity but sitting across from me she declares “it was not enough.” She knew that life wasn’t meant to be a bed of roses and things have been hard. She knew it didn’t take faith to love God and follow him if the road was smooth. Now she declared again to me. “Every person needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and they need to keep walking in that commitment. It’s not enough to say a prayer or live on what you’re taught.”

My friend had always been in control of things. She was confident in her work with children. She was used to being independent. She was taught to be sure as a leader so children could look to her for their strength.

Now she felt helpless.

Previously, she had looked down on others who acted helpless. She didn’t understand the attitude. Now, in her own moment of emotional paralysis over a lost wallet, she began to empathize. She changed from within.

Every morning my friend takes out the Daily Bread and reads. Every morning it says exactly what she needs for that day. On this day it says the glory of life is to love – not so you are loved, to give – not so you get, to save – not so you are saved. This reading and all the ones before this rekindle hope to face another day in personal weakness and godly strength.

My friend says that “faith and life, if they’re smooth, are not functional and they’re not real.” She says “the closer I want to get to God the greater the challenges – the more challenges now the more blessed I feel.”

She know God is in control. She provides an insight when she says “God uses those close to us to probe the areas of our weakness. Because they are close we can’t walk away from them. God loves us and he wants the best for us.”

Her son hit her hard with this statement. “Mom, Jesus gave you a cross to carry. If you’re going to carry it then do it happily.”

What hits you hardest about my friend’s story? Can you relate at all? How do you live your life like Jesus is living in you? Do you think others who see you living are convinced that you serve a risen Savior who is in the world today?

Pull up a Plate

Love,Food,Hospitality,Church,All nations,Sunday

There’s nothing like food to bring people together. I’ve gotten closer to people over Halal chicken, Thanksgiving turkey, Sushi, Vietnamese noodle soup, tacos, ice cream sundaes, hamburgers, potatoes with peanut sauce, casseroles, and biriyani or steak dinners. Our church believes in hospitality in all its forms.

Jesus was known for his “eating and drinking” with sinners and some of our memorable stories are of him with Matthew, Zacchaeus, the 5000, the 4000 and the Disciples at the Last Supper.

Perhaps at our meals, we are together vulnerably expressing our mutual need for ‘daily bread’ and our humble thankfulness for God’s most recent provision. There is a togetherness that often helps us relax and share on a more personal level. As long as there is food on our plate we are present and available to share one more story, to hear one more antidote, to discuss one more idea.

When we share food from another culture there is the extension of friendship and acceptance. There is the taking in of something which is important and meaningful to another. There is a drawing together across differences in something common which makes us alike.

Meals pull people to cross social barriers since wealthy and poor alike enjoy good food. There is joy in the creation, the serving, the consuming and even comradery in the cleanup if that is part of the routine.

We recently shared a wedding shower for our intern and his fiancé. This event with multi-cultural food brought diverse cultures, ages, social classes, genders and faith groups together into one joy filled occasion where cuisine played a central role.

What you are eating across from me helps me stay face to face with you. In a world filled with technology which can keep us connected but apart, it is nice to sense close proximity to another person made in God’s image who is struggling through the challenges of life, breathing in the same air, experiencing the same atmosphere, taking the same time just to be here, together.

We claim to be 50 nations in one family.  The second Sunday of each month we celebrate the food from a different part of the world and our members love preparing, displaying and offering what is close to their hearts and stomachs.

When food is offered, somehow people come when nothing else might draw them into relationship.

What have you done to express your hospitality across barriers? What is your favorite food to offer to someone with whom you want to share friendship or welcome? When you think back on the all the meals you’ve eaten, which food offered to you did you enjoy and appreciate the most? What made it so special?

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.

VALUES: FAITH – PART TWO

Our insurance company sent us a DVD on “Facing the Risk.” It features a section on the top ten liability risks facing Christian Charities. It also presents an overview of effective abuse prevention strategies for our organization. I mentioned yesterday that part of our value of FAITH at Faith is leaning toward “prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking for the sake of the gospel.” This clearly demands great wisdom in a society where we have examples of people who plunge negligently through clear barriers and boundaries, where others are risk averse, or where some are ignorant or apathetic about risks.

Today, I want to expand the rest of our statement on Faith. We stated that our value of FAITH:

Means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will lean toward

1)prayerful and wisdom-saturated risk-taking for the sake of the gospel

2)body and soul-stretching outreach initiatives

3) open-handed and open-hearted efforts of generosity and hospitality

This last section is challenging. I know we have Paul’s directive in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (NIV)

So, today, our church planter walked us through an old building which has come available for the next couple of years while the developer awaits permits from city hall. The costs are significant to have a presence on the fringe of an area which says it wants no religious or political presence. The costs of not moving in are also significant as units for 17,000 people are arising as fast as spring flowers from the dirt.

We sat and dreamed of how we could turn this opportunity into a potential foothold for the gospel in the area. Our values would seem to encourage us to move positively, as wisely as possible, toward taking this step.

This would be risk-taking to transform and old concrete building into a church/business center; this would be a body and soul-stretching outreach initiative; this would require an open-handed and open-hearted effort of generosity and hospitality to come up with the resources needed. (We would need about $150,000 to cover the next two years – plus some solid volunteer labor to get the place in shape).

There are many more ways we evidence our FAITH value. We began two daycares, housing for refugees, a partnership with the Vancouver Foodbank, internships, community celebrations and outreaches to street boys and orphans in Uganda. We are looking at innovations in tutoring, youth, language learning and even thinking of bringing a Korean missionary from Korea to help us reach international students.

All of this demands visionaries, generous givers, strategic thinkers, gutsy leadership and people of faith.

We’ve seen God bless in drawing representatives from 50 different nations into one family. What more can he do to build his church? How has he gifted you to demonstrate this value of FAITH? Perhaps you might even have a role to play in some of the vision he is drawing out of us.

 

Vision

It seems obvious doesn’t it? When you are driving at night you put on your headlights? Why? So you can see where you’re going.

Mission is about knowing where you are going and vision is about seeing where you are going.

At Faith, our mission and vision statements are like the headlights on our car. We say we are making disciples of Christ from all nations. Engaging with Jesus, we bring truth, grace and love to all those around us. We say this because Jesus, in Matthew 28:18-20 told us “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

This short passage provides our headlights.

We see that there is only one authority who gives us direction. All authority belongs to the risen and living one, to Jesus.

We see that his direction is clear. As we are going about our everyday life we are to make disciples of all nations. This isn’t a task we accomplish individually but it’s a task we participate in with others from the church. We can’t make disciples of everyone, but we should be making disciples of someone without prejudice as to what nation they come from.

The words “baptize them” literally mean “to immerse them” in water and so when someone confirms that by grace God has brought them into a right relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins won by the shed blood of Christ on the cross; that they desire to follow Jesus as revealed in the Scripture; that they desire to join with his people in a community of faith, hope and love – then we celebrate their new life in an immersion during one of our services where all can witness God’s goodness.

We also see that a disciple is a lifelong learner who must be taught to obey everything Jesus commands. In humility, we recognize that we are all life-long learners in a relationship where we are teaching and growing at the same time. We recognize that our life as part of a faith community now impacts others and we are careful to protect the values and truths Jesus teaches us.

We see that Jesus promises to always be with us. This gives us great confidence and hope in our gatherings, in our small groups, in our mentoring. We don’t walk alone.

We see finally that this age will end and therefore our time for making disciples is limited. We ask God for divine appointments and for significant conversations with those he brings into our social circle and then we alertly watch, pray and share.

One day, we will stand with countless others from every tribe and tongue and nation around the throne of Jesus to celebrate his victory over death and sin. Until then, we want a taste of heaven by making disciples of Christ from all nations who God brings our way.

Who has God placed in your social circle so that you can learn with? What steps in relationship building are you taking so that trust is being established? When is the last time you shared your own testimony of God’s grace in your life?

Is this mission and vision of discipleship clear for you?

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?

Helping or Hurting?

Can you imagine going to a doctor and getting a diagnosis which says you have an infection when in reality you have a brain tumour? One of the families we helped with some grocery gift cards recently faced this experience. How do you help someone who can’t get enough to eat because they have serious physical set backs (the family also has an autistic son, a three year old daughter and other complications which keeps the mom from being able to work much)?

Poverty is a complicated reality because every story of an impoverished person is different. We are designed for relationship with God, with others, with creation and with ourselves but these seem to get fractured as we get caught in the web of poverty. The solution isn’t simply giving material handouts. You can’t buy love at the grocery store.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, in their book Helping Without Hurting, state that “When these relationships [listed above] are functioning in the way God designed them to function, humans experience the fullness of life that God intended: we experience deep communion with a loving God; we understand our inherent dignity and worth as image-bearers; we live in positive, giving relationships with others; and we actively steward God’s creation, both caring for it and being able to work and to support ourselves as  result of that work. Indeed, when these relationships are working properly, the results bubble up in all aspects of our lives: families are nurturing, communities are flourishing, work is meaningful, and we are bringing glory to God in all that we do.”

Perhaps we are more impoverished than we realized. Our own addictive behaviors, our abuse or exploitation at the hands of others, our living under oppressive systems and our vulnerability to demonic forces can leave us emotionally, psychologically, mentally, socially or spiritually weakened.

The need for a vital, caring, prayerful, dignified, compassionate community in our church is vital but it is the need for rich relationships and opportunities which seem to be the best counter to personal poverty in whatever forms it appears. Since the fall, every one of us is broken, hurting or needy in some way.

What do you think? Are there signs of poverty in your own life which show you need community? Are there practices or efforts in our church family which need to be adjusted to truly deal with the poverty in our neighbourhood and in our own fellowship? Be rich to one another.