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?

What Should I Ask For?

The Lord’s Prayer is a great template for us as we begin to grow in our intentional communication with God. We see him as our Father, someone to be honored in his place of authority as we submit ourselves to his designs for our life and our world. We express our trust in his protection and provision. We anchor our hope in his commitment to bring glory to his name.

As we turn the focus of our intercessions onto the others around us we look at how Paul prays for believers. He seems to focus constantly on the importance of a rich personal relationship with a Sovereign Savior who will never let anything get in the way of his love. He constantly focuses us away from the challenging outward experiences we endure and refocuses us on the Lord who walks with us through those hardships. This is the only way to find peace in the world we live in.

It’s who we are in secret, when no one else is watching, which counts – How thankful, how thoughtful, how gracious, how generous, how peaceful. Our time in prayer is what mirrors our internal reality as we walk back into our circumstances. It’s who we are in secret, but it is also who we are in community as we join in corporate prayer. The balance of public and private prayers are essential to growing as a disciple of Christ.

Author Tim Keller, in his book Prayer (p. 25), says “When your prayer life finally begins to flourish, the effects can be remarkable. You may be filled with self-pity, and be justifying resentment and anger. Then you sit down to pray and the reorientation that comes before God’s face reveals the pettiness of your feelings in an instant. All your self-justifying excuses fall to the ground in pieces. Or you may be filled with anxiety, and during prayer you come to wonder what you were so worried about. You laugh at yourself and thank God for who he is and what he’s done. It can be that dramatic. It is the bracing clarity of a new perspective. Eventually, this can be the normal experience, but that is never how the prayer life starts. In the beginning the feeling of poverty and absence usually dominates, but the best guides for this phase urge us not to turn back but rather to endure and pray in a disciplined way, until … we get through duty to delight.”

Finding creative ways to pray with each other can encourage this intimacy of communion with Our Father in heaven. Try popcorn prayers – short sentence prayers where others can pop in – focus on who God is, on what you’re thankful for, on specific intercessions for others.

What do the following verses say to you in their context?

John 14:13, 14 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

John 16: 23, 24 “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Now, what will you ask for in Jesus’ name?

Does Prayer Change Anything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Would Anyone Notice Us If We Left?

Have you ever had that secret fear that if you stepped away from everyone you knew that no one would really miss you? No one at work, school, family or church.

Who in our neighbourhood would notice if our church stopped meeting? Do people notice us because of what we provide for them or because of who we are?

Two years ago, the New Hope Community Services Society (Refugee Houses) which we started moved their main center to Surrey; this week, the Foodbank let us know they were transferring their FoodHub Depot from our facility to the South Van Neighourhood House. These two ministries of ours were key outreach points in helping us to establish our current reputation as a vital community partner and community builder. What happens now?

What if we redevelop our facility and disappear visibly from the community for two years? Would we be missed? Would we be anticipated when we came back?

Our mission is to make disciples of Christ from all nations. Our practice is to love God and to love our neighbour. Depending on programs and events which we create doesn’t make disciple makers who make disciple makers.

Perhaps it’s time to get back to basics – small home groups, practicing friendship, mentoring plus sharing our faith with our neighbours through hospitality and community service.

A year ago, we were asked, along with other flourishing churches, how we engaged with our neighbourhood. The initial results were published in the January / February edition of Faith Today by Joel Thiessen. He writes: “Without exception, the congregations we identified as flourishing appear to have done their homework on the community where they are situated. They say they know who lives in their community. They know facts about family status, stage of life, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and more. From this information churches identify what possible needs, points of convergence and opportunities exist. Churches garnered this information by speaking with local community association and organization leaders, reading city demographic reports and interacting with neighbours in various social settings around the church property.”

It seems clear that neighbours would notice us if we noticed them first. They would engage with us if we first engaged with them. Perhaps it is time to try something new in our neck of the woods. Anyone out there willing to risk new ideas on reaching our neighbours?

Are you living the right story ?

We live in a world of stories. We love to hear stories and tell stories. Our stories
fill out our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope. My son Richard was home
from Rwanda a month ago and he and his sisters and I were sitting around our
living room sharing stories. It got a little weepy at one point. My young
granddaughter Kylie stopped at the door for a moment, left and returned with an
armload of stuffed sheep. She quietly went to each person and dropped a sheep
into their arms then she left. We all hugged our sheep and kept telling stories but
that sensitive act of Kylie is a story worth telling.
The Christmas story is a story of God stepping into our weepy human story with
a lamb and weaving our story into his bigger story. The challenge for most
people is that there are so many different versions of Christmas stories that it
can be confusing. Getting the right story is important because that story will
define our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope.
The main Christmas story most of our children hear is that they are at the center
of the story. By being good and doing good they can get what they want. If they
get what they want they will be happier, with-it, smarter, comfortable, loved. All
their hopes and dreams will be satisfied.
Christmas in the first story is about what we give and what we get. When we get
older it’s about dressing up and getting out, eating, putting a smile on our face
and staying busy shopping – but it’s still about giving and getting. There’s a
popular commercial that boldly says “I want that.” That’s the first story.
The alternate Christmas story of the Bible is the one we quickly refer to at this
time of year and then put back on the shelf until next year. In this story God is at
the center and it is all about him – his love, his gift, his action, his sacrifice. The
story is plain and simple, nothing to attract Hollywood to make a film about it.
It’s about a sin-broken world wrestling with overwhelming issues, people making
self-destructive choices, desperate for a Saviour, hoping against hope to make it
through another day. It’s about the Creator stepping off his throne as our king
and being humiliated to becoming a baby in a refugee family. When we grow up
with this story we realize that the tag line changes from “I want that” to “He
wants this.”
Why is the right Christmas story so important when it comes to our identity,
purpose, need and hope?
Perhaps during 2018 we can focus more intentionally on exposing our hearts to
the right story.