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?

We prayed

praying for those who needed some specific care from the Good Shepherd

Well we did it. We celebrated Resurrection Day. We affirmed that Jesus is alive in this universe, in this world he made, in this country he rules, in this church he leads, and in us individually. He is alive.

He is alive and so we prayed. We prayed in our small group Wednesday night; we prayed in our Thursday morning prayer time from 8-10am; we prayed in our staff meeting; we prayed in our accountability sessions; we prayed as we sat down for meals and as we started our meetings. We prayed because we know there is no one else who can handle all that is happening except the one who lives.

He is alive and listening to our prayers. He is alive and responding to our prayers. He is alive and prompting our prayers. He is alive and interceding for us.

In this past Thursday morning prayer group we started praying for those who needed some specific care from the Good Shepherd. We started at 8 am and by 10 am – with only one break for a few songs – we prayed continuously for person after person after person… It became clear. Every single person in our church family and beyond needs the gracious touch and care of Jesus.

We took time in the middle of all that to reaffirm who we believed God is. That was crucial to keep us from feeling overwhelmed.

Tim Keller (prayer, p. 97-98) reminds us of John Calvin’s first rule of prayer which focused on the principle of reverence for God. In helping focus on the magnitude and seriousness of prayer he says “it is a personal audience and conversation with the Almighty God of the Universe.” He draws us to consider the sense of awe and reverence we experience as we realize that the one we dare to approach is such a glorious majesty that we dare not grieve him – and so we experience a strange mix of joy, grace, humility and fear of grieving or dishonoring him.

He is not only alive but he is near. The insert in our bulletin reads as follows:

God continually moves into our neighbourhood. He is not a God who can be restrained or reduced. He can’t be managed or manipulated. He can’t be contained or confined.

I can celebrate a God like ours because when He says something He means it. He does not change. When He promises something, He can do it. When He puts me under His protection there ain’t nobody going to get through to me. Our God is an awesome God. He’s a Rock and a Refuge. He’s a Savior and a Sovereign. He’s the Creator of the Universe and the Conqueror of Evil. He’s the High and the Holy. He’s the One and only Hope of Humanity. Do you know Him?

Our God is the God who overcomes unbeatable giants, unscalable walls, and uncrossable seas. Our God is the God who brings something out of nothing, who breaks the chains fo the captives, who walks us through the valley fo the shadows without fear. Ur God is the Shepherd and the Shaper, He’s the Guardian and the Guide. He’s the Lover and the Loved. He’s the Almighty. Do you know Him?

God personally has moved into our neighbourhood and He does expected us to represent Him there. That’s why we spend so much time on our knees.

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.

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?

Don’t Read This

Once again, don’t read this if you don’t want to know how bad things are in our city. Don’t read this if you don’t want to admit how hard things are just to be human in this environment. Don’t read this if you think you are the only one struggling with sexual temptation.

The British apologist C. S. Lewis, stated that “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it not by lying down. A man who gives into the temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.“

If you’ve ever stood on the deck of a BC ferry and walked into the wind there are times when you could almost be blown overboard. Those resting inside have little idea how challenging it is to stand or walk for those on the outside.

In my best dreams as a pastor I would like to imagine that all followers of Jesus are safe inside the ship and that the winds are wreaking their havoc on those who deliberately refuse to come inside and get away from all the images on television, in the theatres, on the computers, in the magazines, in the malls, in the bookstores, in their classrooms, in their workspaces, in their community centers, in their doctor’s offices, on the billboards, on their tablets, on their phones and in their own imaginations.

The carnage on our society is deadly. How can prayer impact the direction and consequences we are seeing unleashed around us as Romans 1 promised?

Huge percentages of youth, young adults, married men and women, and even seniors are confessing in groups designed for believers that they are enslaved by pornography, masturbation, sexual fantasies and addictions, pre-marital and extra-marital sexual encounters, inappropriate thoughts, attractions, lusts or desires.

An enemy is working hard to cripple the church from being an effective witness. How can we stand up under this onslaught? As someone said to me today, you can’t keep playing with this fire and not get burned. Are we facing a wildfire that has gotten out of control?

Last week we had three policemen join Cathy Peters in meeting with daycare workers from several of our daycares throughout Vancouver. We hosted this important event to highlight how child sex trafficking is rampant in our own communities. We’re going to share this same information with parents in the next little while but there is serious concern that parents won’t believe that their son or daughter could be at risk.

 

 

More on this in the next blogs.

It is said of Billy Graham, in memory of his passing, that he took sin seriously in guarding his own exposure to temptations or compromising situations, but he also took redemption seriously when it came to the sins of others. Perhaps as you ponder what is going on around you it might be a good time to take both of these things into consideration as we deal with ourselves and others. What is God asking of you as you work to become a wounded healer in our broken world?

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.

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.

 

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?

 

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?

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.