Nov 28 2014

Struck Down Like Milkweed

When I was a boy growing up in Georgia, I LOVED playing in the woods. Actually, who am I kidding? I still love playing in the woods. So I guess a better start would be . . . when playing in the Georgia backwoods as a boy, my favourite activity was to pretend that I was some sort of hero on epic adventures, climbing trees, leaping over ditches, hopping across creeks, and vanquishing foes with tree-branch swords. My favourite enemy to cross swords with was a milk-weed. These tall, relatively thick-trunked weeds had a hollow center and could be sliced through completely with a well placed strike and a good “blade.” Truth be told, I was always surprised by how easily the mild-weed would break away — it was a great confidence builder for a young warrior. At times, I would find entire groves and lay waste on my quest for victory and justice.

The image of the would-be strength of milk-weed stalk giving away under a calculated blow often comes to mind when the Lord uses a surprisingly small truth to cut to the heart of me. For all my would-be strength, composure, and expectations for my walk with God, sometimes a quick flick of the Holy Spirit slices me right through, exposing my core, convicting of sin, raising questions, revealing direction. Recently this happened with John 6:12.

The context is the Apostle John’s account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. John records Jesus giving instruction to His disciples after everyone had eaten, and I’m convinced that we are meant to see more importance in Christ’s words than merely preparing leftovers for the next day. I think Jesus is revealing a facet of His compassion for people and the nature of His mission. Here’s the verse:

“When they were filled, He said to His disciples, Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.”

Now I don’t want to go overboard in trying to interpret something from this text that isn’t there, but as I read that verse, I thought of Christ’s compassion (Matt. 9:35-38), and the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). I felt convicted over my tendency to do the “easy” things and not necessarily value making sure “nothing is lost”. The reality is that there are many attitudes, important tasks, missed opportunities, and potential rewards that fall through the cracks of my life and faith, my focus and maturity. But deep down, I don’t want this to be the case. I want to fill in those cracks.

Reading John 6:12 over and over again, because it seemed like God was trying to get my attention, eventually led me to a simple yet profound prayer:

God make me, and make C!C, faithful to go and gather! Let none be lost!

Would you join me in that prayer? Coming out of a major sermon series on sharing our faith AND the focus on the persecuted church, would you ask God to cut down the milk-weed grove of your own plans and burden you for His harvest “so that nothing will be lost”? We are not responsible for saving the entire world, but we are responsible for faithfully presenting the Gospel as we have opportunity. Jesus doesn’t ask for more than we can give; He just asks us to give our best.

Who will you challenge to take a step of faith? Who will go out of your way to encourage? How will you prepare yourself to give an answer for the hope that you have?


Nov 25 2014

GO Strat Recap

slider-GoStrat

Many thanks to everyone who joined us for some part of our series “Who Will Go For Us?: equipping the church to fulfill the call of God”. I was repeatedly encouraged throughout the process both by the content as it challenged my own faith and practice as well as by quality conversations about how you were encouraged/challenged. If you missed any part of the series or want to refocus on any part, you’ll find the whole series at www.celebrationchurch.ca/media/sermons/whowillgoforus . Today, I wanted to briefly offer a bit of a “postscript” in order to accentuate the hope that I have in us each owning the call to “GO: lead to Jesus”.

Allow me to remind those of you who have given your life to Jesus, that God’s Spirit lives in you. The Holy Spirit, the Living, Effectuating Power of God is in you. The power and creativity that called the world into being, the voice in the mouths of the prophets throughout the ages, the victory that defeated sin and death, the wind and fire that fueled the Apostles, the sustaining force that has marched the worldwide church on through the ages IS AT WORK IN AND THROUGH YOU.

Pause for a moment and re-read that last paragraph. . . . Try reading it once more and then close your eyes and as God to confirm in your heart whether that is true of you.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. . . . If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2Corinthians 5:16-21)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . [nothing] in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35,39)

 

Yes. God is at work in you, through you, and around you, and He’s not going anywhere.

What if we began to desire, explore, and display the kind of power and purpose that God has always worked through His surrendered children?!? Who among our families and friends and acquaintances would God use us to miraculously reach with the gospel? I, for one, would sure love to find out. I deeply desire to see Celebration! Church Ottawa go “all in” to fulfill the call of God, joining the Great Adventure.

Consider this an explicit invitation to join with us to:

 

L:         Look for where God is at work
O:         Overcome obstacles
V:         Verbalize God’s Story
E:         Encourage taking a step

 

What part of that needs some attention and development in your life? Remember that God’s power resides in you to make you awesome at this!

To close, let me encourage you with a report of what happened when the Apostle Paul and his company were faithful to do these things where they were (in Antioch in Pisidia):

And when [the people] heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. (Acts 13:48-49)

 

Father, may this be so in our day, in our church, in our lives. Amen.


Sep 12 2014

A Curve-ball in the Rough

So I’m doing a pretty good job keeping up with our annual Bible reading plan. But I’m not boasting . . . I’m just leveling with you: I’m in Ezekiel. Ezekiel is a TOUGH section to stick through. Isaiah and Jeremiah are pretty long and intense books, but then to hoof it through 48 more chapters of primarily gloom and doom . . . it’s a difficult part of the yearly readings, for sure.

Sometimes I find myself skimming in order to power through a section in order to just check off another day. Oftentimes while doing this, I’ll sniff a curve-ball under the chin that I never saw coming (forgive the metaphor if you don’t like baseball). One such convicting surprise happened just the other day.

In my life context, I’m gearing up for a sermon and small group series aimed at better equipping us evangelistically. So I get to Ezekiel 33 & 34. Here the Lord calls Ezekiel a “watchman” of Israel who is told to warn the people of coming disaster. If he is faithful to warn and the people do not prepare, then the guilt is on their heads. But if the watchman fails to warn and the people are destroyed, though they may have been deserving of the punishment, the watchman will be help partially responsible.

Similarly in the next chapter, the Lord warns against shepherds who feed themselves, and yet do NOT feed the sheep, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the straying, or seek out the lost. In light of this, there is a great promise that God will be the shepherd for his people and will seek out and provide for them.

In these two pictures, I couldn’t help but see a profound call to action for believers. Christ has commissioned us to be “watchmen”, to be “shepherds”, and to exhibit our faith through care for the marginalized, the needy, and the not-yet believers. Please join me in praying for our faith family as we take on this focus to be equipped and inspired toward more missional living. Pray that we will receive the call with surrendered hearts, and pray that God will raise up workers for His harvest from among us. I’m excited about the season that is spreading out before us. Will you join me in running toward what God has in store for us?!?


Nov 23 2012

He Kept His Scars

Carrie and I wanted to do something new and fun together that was flexible, cheap, and didn’t involve the television.  So we decided to read a fiction book together — as in reading it to each other. About the same time that we were trying to pick a book, we watched the movie “The Hunger Games”.  Knowing that it was one of a trilogy, and figuring they’d likely make more movies we decided to read those books.  It’s been pretty fun.  Part of our nightly routine as the evening winds down has been to crawl up next to each other on the couch or in bed and ask, “Okay, should I read or do you want to?”, and we descend together into an interesting and entertaining world providing a fascinating criticism of modern culture — namely reality TV.

Anyway, let me stay focused on the point of this post: scars.

So at one point in the story one of the main characters receives a particular medical treatment that removes every imperfection from his/her skin (no spoilers here!).  During this scene, the author sort of alludes to the character lamenting the loss of some of the scars earned over the years, which is a legitimate thought, right?  Because scars tell stories.  Whatever the source of the scar, whether a good story or a bad one, our scars partially define who we are.   Scars are reminders.  Sometimes scars are conversation starters.  Some scars are on the outside and are obvious.  Some scars are on the inside and are carefully guarded.  Since that is the case, I wonder if you had the opportunity, would you erase your scars and help remove the memory, the story?  That’s exactly what happened in “The Hunger Games.”

But that’s not what happened with Jesus.

Think about it.  When Jesus paid for the sins of humanity and absorbed the wrath of God, it wounded Him deeply.  But because He didn’t deserve the payment of sin, He willingly bore it for us, by the power of God He rose from the dead, defeating death, sin and hell.  Jesus rose the Forever Perfect Victor, and soon ascended into the perfect heaven to be with our Perfect Father.  Jesus certainly had the power to also rise with perfect skin, showing no trace of the brutality and injustice that He bore to the cross.  However, He kept His scars.  He kept His scars.  Why?  He kept His scars because they tell a good story . . . more than that, they tell the greatest story that could ever be told!

Those scars tell the story of redemption and of hope.  That story enables us to realize the purpose for which we were created — giving all glory to God because we, who have been saved through what those scars represent, have seen both the Justice and Grace of God perfected.  That story couldn’t be hidden . . . it can’t be erased.  That story is meant to be proclaimed from the rooftops as well as in prayer closets.  It is to be repeated in every generation and to every nation, tribe and tongue.  Jesus showed His scars to His disciples to confirm the story in their hearts.  He commissioned them to go be witnesses of the story behind the scars.  The scars bear witness to our hearts of Jesus’ sacrifice to save us from the penalty and power of sin.  And the fact that Jesus kept His scars ought to remind, even compel us to tell the story, the greatest story ever told.

I’m so glad Jesus paid my debt, even though it gave Him scars.  And I’m so glad that He kept His scars.  Scars tell great stories.  I have scars, too, and I want my scars to echo of His, making my story bear witness of His story.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Fix your eyes on 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 12:2-3)

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
it satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
( Hymn: I Love to Tell the Story, Katherine Hankey, 1834-1911)


Nov 9 2012

Hanging With The Wrong Crowd

Even though I don’t like it . . . I still have a tendency to judge people by appearances.  I like praying for people while I ride the bus, but sometimes I catch myself slipping into a “people watching” mode where I lump individuals into categories and ascribe labels that, if I did deep enough into my own heart, are laced with subtle prejudices.  For this, I must repent and surrender to God in search of a heart that’s more like Jesus — each time I see it in myself.

Recently while biking to work I passed an ominous looking bunch of high school students who eyed me as I cruised past.  I found myself thinking:

Yikes, what are those kids up to . . . probably nothing good.  Oh man, my kids are going to be that age one day . . . I wonder what my kids will be like . . . I hope they don’t hang out with the wrong crowd.

And though my feet kept pedaling, that’s where the Holy Spirit stopped my in my tracks:

“Wrong crowd”, huh?  What’s so wrong with them?  I made them and love them just as much as I made and love YOU and your family.  Who have you been reading and preaching about Jesus hanging out with?

Then it hit me (again) that Jesus hung out with the wrong crowd — most of the time.  I mean think about how often Jesus was criticized for going to parties with “sinners”, for reclining at the table with non-religious types who were apparently prone to overindulgence based on the fact that Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.

Jesus hung out with people who . . . get this . . . needed Jesus.  Even the most religious ones in the bunch were some of the worst influences on the people.  And Jesus hung out with them, taught them, and showed them a better way.  Lots of them never turned to Jesus’ way, but He still spent time with them in order to show them the Way.  And therein lies the major take-away from my bicycle-bible-lesson: Jesus hung out with the wrong crowd, but didn’t let it change Him.  Jesus was with them, but He was not like them.  And the vast majority of the time, the wrong crowd LIKED having Jesus around!

Maybe I should hang out with the wrong crowd more often.  Maybe I should desire for my kids to hang out with the wrong crowd . . . but with a foundation fixed on Jesus so as not to be moved from the Truth.  So for myself, my family, and my church, my prayer has become:

  • Lord, make us people that the “wrong crowd” likes to be around.
  • Lord, make us unafraid, pure-hearted, and motivated as we live with and love on the “wrong crowd.”
  • Lord, make us holy as You are holy, equipping us to hold out Your Light while holding onto Righteousness.

Jun 8 2012

Who are you listening to?

Carrie and I watched the miles of Ontario countryside parade by the car windows as we plodded back home after a couple days of mini-vacation.  Conversation turned to the latest chapter in the book Carrie is reading on the Sabbath, entitled “The Rest of God.”  In the truth of the chapter, we noticed what seems to be a foundational piece of a proper understanding of evangelism that we all need to understand.

Here’s a nuanced definition of evangelism to help explain the point:

Evangelism is taking advantage of an opportunity to action and/or speak the truth of God when given the chance.

This means that we are taking action to relay something about the truth of God and also that there is someone(s) receiving our action.  Furthermore, this means that the truth itself, the message, is “of God.”  So from this definition, here’s the teaching point that Carrie and I reflected on.

Evangelism opportunities are like divine appointments where a person has some degree of readiness to hear or receive spiritual truth, whether that degree be big or small.  When this opportunity arises, we become the messenger, NOT the message.  Thus, it is vitally important that we have been listening for the message that we are meant to relay.  I wonder if part of the reason so many Christians dread evangelism opportunities is that they just haven’t been listening in order to receive the message they’re meant to give.  It is almost like trying to play the “telephone game” that many children love where you pass along a message down a long line of messengers, except when it’s your turn, you don’t actually listen to the person passing the message to you.  You are left unequipped and uninspired to pass the message along the chain.

A sobering thought is that we are created to be “listeners.”  We seem to absorb almost everything, even when we’re not realizing it.  That’s why there are signs, flyers, billboards, t-shirt messages, etc. filling the world around us.  And that’s not to mention what we input ourselves: books, music, television, movies, etc.  So the question becomes, “Who are you listening to?” If you aren’t making time to listen to Jesus, then you are choosing to NOT receive what you’re meant to pass along.  You’re short changing God’s plan for your life and the work that He’s doing in others’.  Don’t miss out on listening to the Lord and the beautiful, inspiring things He shares.  It will bless you and provide the message that you’ll be able to share with confidence.

Here’s an example of listening to the Lord.  It comes through the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8:

1 Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the children of man.
5 O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.
6 Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right,
7 for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
8 All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
9 They are all straight to him who understands,
and right to those who find knowledge.
10 Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
11 for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.


Oct 26 2011

A Thing for Shepherds

I had a great time at !group last night.  Though we’re not a big group, and I’m not sure that Denny’s knows exactly what to think about us, it just feels good to be together.  And it feels even better to talk about things that matter – things that matter to God and things that matter to the group.

In the midst of discussing the text for this week (Luke 2:8-21 … you can check it out yourself and listen to the sermon online!), we noticed something sort of amusing, unique and special:  God seems to have a “soft spot” for shepherds.

As we noted how striking it is that the Heavenly Host would deliver the Divine Birth Announcement to a bunch of shepherds, we realized that shepherds often pop up as having a prominent role in salvation history.  Here are some examples that we discovered:

  • Cain and Abel: Abel tended sheep, and his sacrifice was accepted
  • Shepherd/Nomad was the “profession” of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the patriarchs
  • When Joseph was in charge in Egypt, Israel immigrated as a nation of shepherds, introducing the dynamic that would lead to them flourishing and eventually being expelled as per God’s plans
  • King David was a shepherd boy, and that period of life greatly informed his view of God
  • Psalm 23 relays that “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . .”
  • In John 10:7-18, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, explaining how He knows, loves, and provides for His sheep
  • Jesus tells Peter in John 21:17, to “Feed My sheep.”

See?  God seems to really like shepherds!  As I meditated on this fascinating theme, one of the ways I felt that this is significant is that it reflects the Perfect Paradox that we spoke of this past Sunday.  Jesus is Perfectly Powerful, and He is Perfectly Humble.  Historically shepherds are looked down on and seen as extreme “blue-collar” labour.  Yet their job is one of significance and power.  The shepherd often holds the power of life and death over the sheep.  The shepherd leads them to food and water; the shepherd keeps them together; the shepherd protects against attacks; the shepherd loves the sheep.

So what’s the application for us?

Well in light of the truth of Isaiah 53:6, “We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned each one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all,” here is what I believe to be some application.  God is calling us to be enlisted shepherds.  He has mustered a spiritual family of shepherds to lead people to the Good Shepherd.  The flock is scattered, malnourished, deceived.  We’ve been given the Power of God in the Truth of Jesus.  And we’ve been given the Call of Humility in the vocation of shepherding.

Take some time to look around your world and find where you can practice some shepherd-skills.  Remember that the flock is on the move and the enemy on the prowl, looking for someone to devour.  We can’t shepherd while napping in the shade, we’ve got to be purposeful and proactive.  How will you respond?

What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. Matthew 18:11-13