Jan 9 2015

Tested Tips For Seeking Grace

Today I was reflecting on David . . . you know, the shepherd, musician, warrior, king of Israel. David, the “man after God’s own heart,” one of the most relatable, influential characters in the Bible. As I continue preparing and working through our current sermon series on Grace In The Everyday, I find myself thinking that David was a guy who really had an operational sense of the grace of God.

Through the “ins” & “outs”, the “ups” & “downs” of David’s life, he seems to generally keep his gaze on God. God provided the strength, the resolve, the comfort in all of David’s circumstances. Whether moments of triumph like winning battles or moments of sorrow like guilt over sin, David runs to God – regularly and completely. And with God, David finds what he needs.

So I asked myself, “What qualities of David’s life may have contributed to such a consistent leaning on the grace of God? And can I (and C!C) emulate that to better tune our lives to God and His grace?”

Here are three practices from David’s life as seen through the Psalms that helped David keep his eyes on God:

 

  • David sought God in His temple.

 

The Lord is in his holy temple (Ps 11:4)

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Ps 27:4)

In addition, there are many Psalms of Ascents which functioned to help focus one’s worship while approaching and entering the temple. I think we can interpret God in His temple as the seat of His Presence and source of His revelation. For us today, this is primarily accomplished through spiritually discerning God’s Word. Saving faith in Christ initiates the Holy Spirit dwelling inside the believer to enable intimate relationship and communication with God! Seek Him where we know He can be found. Spend dedicated, introspective time in the Bible, praying and meditating about what it says and how it might influence your life. Such sacred time will pave the way to experiencing more of God’s grace.

 

  • David sought God in nature.

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Ps 8:3)

The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. (Ps 19:1-3)

The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Ps 29:9)

I can’t help but be inspired by how consistently nature responds to God by doing what it was created to do. If only I could so naturally respond to God’s promptings. Even in the deepest days of winter (and sometimes especially there), a walk in the woods with my dog awakens affections for Christ that my to-do list somehow renders dormant. Spend some time outside. Get in the woods and look up, letting the Spirit lead you deeper into grace. (He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Ps 103:10-12)

 

  • David sought God by being with God’s people.

 

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. (Ps 16:3)

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! . . . Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. (Ps 34: 1-3, 11)

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! (Ps 122:1-2)

I love this one. Between work, family, leisure, social networks, etc., it can be easy to give a backseat to initiating spending time with other believers. Let me be clear to say that spending time together on Sunday morning is NOT enough for growing in grace through being with God’s people. For the sake of God’s kingdom, we should make time to have one another over more often. We should attend various functions together. We should share with one another. It may be difficult and/or awkward at first – but most of life’s best things start that way. Take the initiative to meet someone new at church this week. Then go out of your way to contact and/or meet up with someone from church. Talk about a Bible verse that you’ve found encouraging. Share what you find special about grace. Do this and get ready to experience a special blessing as the One Spirit that you share leads you deeper into the joy and grace of the Lord.

Let’s all “go after God’s heart.”


Dec 4 2014

Risk-Taking Faith (a “post-script”)

Risk-HopeInAction

This past Sunday we kicked off Advent 2014 by taking a slightly different perspective on the traditional theme of HOPE. We specifically spoke of RISK and how essential it is to having a growing faith, built on Matthew 14:22-33. We noted the significance of faith to abundant life in that faith is described at “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Additionally, “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is that which grounds us to HOPE; it helps us lay hold of that which we cannot see, like hope in the nature of God and hope for the promises of God. Risk, on the other hand, could be described as the action taken in light of faith/hope. This risk, taken at the prompting of Jesus, grows our faith. A risk-taking faith encounters the power and presence of God in mighty ways.

 

In the days following the sermon, I’ve had some great questions and conversations come up in regards to risk (from POINTgroup, from emails, and in person!). In light of these, here are some quick thoughts to prod you a few steps further:

 

  • If I had to define “risk” in terms of the spiritual truth that we are going after here (which I probably should have done in the sermon!), it would be this. “Risk is taking action, based on a perceived leading of the Holy Spirit, where the desired outcome is ONLY possible through the power of God.” This has three main parts. 1) Risk is action, not just attitude. 2) It’s based on God’s leading and/or His priorities, not simply on us having a “good idea”. 3) The outcome rests in God’s control, not ours, so that He gets the credit and the glory.
  • One way to evaluate whether you are taking risks, is a) whether you ever feel fear, and b) what you do about it. If you never notice yourself feeling fear, you probably need to ask Jesus why you don’t see Him and how he wants you to “get out of the boat”. Conversely, if you feel lots of fear, but it seems to shackle or control you, then you are probably still not taking healthy risks and finding Jesus faithful in the midst of your fear. Interestingly, in the story from Matthew 14, Jesus doesn’t condemn the disciples for their fear . . . He tells them to “take courage”. A healthy risk-taking faith desires to be with Jesus wherever He is, even when it’s scary. This opens the door for courage. Don’t feel guilty over fear or run from it. Look to Jesus and take courage!
  • We must self-analyze our risk-taking faith beyond what feels “difficult” or “challenging”. Perceived challenges can arise from too many sources to validate a risk-taking faith. In fact, challenges can arise because of sin, because our faith is being challenged (and we remain unyielding), because we are simply overextending ourselves in directions where the Lord isn’t leading, etc. I believe healthy risk will often be challenging, but in a profoundly hopeful way that is consistent with the promises of Scripture.
  • One of the absolute best ways to know whether you are employing a healthy risk-taking faith is simple. Are you growing in affection for Jesus? Can you point to ways that you’ve obeyed what He’s asked. I think this is why the “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews is followed up by:

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

 

  • Here are a handful of examples of these sorts of risks from my life where I’ve seen God grow me, my faith, my relationships and ultimately my affection for Him . . . all of which have prompted me to desire to risk more!

    • Making time to read my Bible, whether I’m busy and/or tired
    • Go on short-term missions
    • Learn how to play the guitar (because I sensed God wanting me to do it)
    • Let someone hold me accountable to practical discipleship principles like time in the Word, Bible memorization, and overcoming sin
    • Giving tithes and offerings to the local church and other worthy causes
    • Asking a friend, “What is stopping you from following Jesus?”
    • Living within my means and saying “no” to certain wants, even if I could technically afford it
    • Having kids
    • Admit (to God and others) my limitations as a parent, husband, friend and leader, etc.
    • Prayerfully considering how to better lead and love my wife
    • Purposefully disciple another person
    • Be an invested member of a local church

 

I hope this goes a small way in continuing to grow a risk-taking, God-honouring, soul-satisfying faith! Here’s a parting thought from the Apostle Paul:

 “But Jesus said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Corinthians 12:9-10)


Mar 22 2013

C!C in the local newspaper

The Old Ottawa East community, which is the neighbourhood surrounding where Celebration! Church Ottawa meets for our worship services, has a local newspaper called the Mainstreeter.

Here’s the inclusion from C!C in the upcoming issue:

 

In the Neighbourhood, Around the World

“We are a small group, but we’re not afraid to dream big.”  This comment from a leader at Celebration! Church Ottawa (C!C) when reflecting on plans for the rest of 2013 and beyond.  The start up church, whose original group consistent of almost entirely university students, has made a big splash in the Old Ottawa East neighbourhood as well as in other parts of our city as they’ve grown.  And with one of their core values being to “meaningfully connect with both campus and community”, they see that widespread impact continuing.

Some of these efforts are: the C!Station children’s booth at the Main Farmers’ Market, help with local events like the Main Event and neighbourhood BBQs, Easter Lily sale for FREEDOM, kids activities in Brantwood during the Summer, and of course, their weekly worship gathering (10:30am inside Saint Paul Univ.).  While other local initiatives are still being planned, one interesting area of involvement that is blossoming is anything but “local.”

C!C has begun exploring a partnership with a small people group in the mountains of Honduras called the Tolupan.  In working together with locals and other invested organizations, C!C hopes to bring food, education, better health care, and better farming practices to a very poor, isolated, and often maligned group of people.  Pastor Jason Byers, who spent a week with the Tolupan in February, explains, “The reality seems to be that no one is looking to help these people.  In many ways, they are either forgotten or ignored.  So we want to do what we can to increase their quality of life in a way that honours their native culture.  This involves a lot of listening, and in time, helping.  The help would take many forms: food, supplies, tips on their coffee production, dental services, English lessons, and more.  We are also open with them about the role that Christianity plays in our quality of life on earth and in our hope of life after death.  Many people are curious about the Christian worldview, and so we are sensitive to communicating this truth, so important to us, in a way that could enable an indigenous church.  The bottom line is that we are trying to help meet legitimate needs without creating a sense of dependency.”

When asked why a small church from Canada would go to such great lengths in Honduras, Pastor Jason replied, “It really stems from who we are at our core.  Being loved by God and having a love for Jesus motivates us to serve other people.  The Bible points to that having an expression locally as well as abroad.  When we came across the Tolupan of Honduras, they sort of captured our hearts . . . much like the neighbourhood around our church has.”  Then he smiled and added, “And who knows, we have a big dream of one day having our own coffee shop that serves as a kind of home-base for our ministries.  Maybe we will serve Tolupan coffee.”

Maybe they will.  But for sure, they’ll continue dreaming big while offering a helping hand in the neighbourhood and around the world.

 


Oct 10 2012

Tasty Inspiration Toward Meaningful Community

Life lessons from chicken pot pie?  You bet.

 

As I write this I’m thoroughly enjoying a bowl full of leftover chicken pot pie, and it totally inspired this devotional article, trumping the previous would-be topic.

Here’s how I believe the pot pie originated: once upon a time an resourceful mother opened her dry cupboard to find a random assortment of ingredients all on the verge of going bad.  A look into the root cellar revealed the same situation.  Not to be dissuaded from her mission of feeding her family and managing resources well she daringly glared at the pile of ragamuffin ingredients and . . . threw them all in the same pot.  After stewing everything for a proper amount of time with the necessary savory spices, she tasted her concoction and low and behold it was fantastic.  However, it looked terrible.  And this sharp-minded chef knew that her kids would certainly judge the dish by appearances.  So she did the most sensible thing in the world.  She covered the dish with a pastry.  And ever since, generations upon generations have enjoyed this culinary casserole-marvel, cleverly concealed under a crusty cover of awesomeness.

Here’s the life-lesson.  We are just like chicken pot pie.  We’re a messy conglomeration of feelings, histories, conclusions, hidden talents, hopes and hurts.  Most of the time we’re pretty sure that people will judge us if they could see our character-casserole, and so we work hard to cover ourselves with a nice fluffy pastry for others to look at.  And whenever we interact with folks, we typically only let them into the crust level – gotta keep things nice and sweet, buttery and safe.

And this is where REAL community comes in.  Gospel centered community is like the gleaming silver pastry knife that slices all the way through us, scooping deep to retrieve and dispense a hearty helping of the messy mixture hidden beneath the surface.  Now here’s the best part.  When we let Gospel community expose and share who we really are, we begin to find that the Holy Spirit has “seasoned” our lives in a wonderful manner in order to mesh with other people’s lives.  We find that the “real” part of each others lives are actually pretty savory and contribute to a well-balanced Body of Christ.

I wish to encourage everyone to take a purposeful step toward letting Gospel community bring out the most in your life.  So come on, pastry top, messy middle and all . . . it’s gonna be good.