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 15 2013

Nature of Faith in Gratitude

In a recent Sunday sermon, we looked at Luke 17:11-19, where Jesus heals ten lepers and affirms the faith of the “foreigner” who returned after being healed to thank Jesus.

The main take-aways ought to have obvious and significant expressions in our daily lives and therefore deserve repeating:

1 … Jesus still shows mercy to those who ask. (What do you need to consistently bring before Him for mercy?)

2 … Genuine faith is evidenced in gratitude. (see below for expounding)

3 … Genuine faith becomes mission. (What impact on lostness, defined by Eph. 2:12, will you have?)

This idea of gratitude to God and Jesus for the work of life and salvation is important.  The Apostle Paul regularly instructs us to “be thankful”, to “overflow with thankfulness”, and “give thanks in all circumstances”.  In our culture today, gratitude and thankfulness usually find themselves directed toward temporal things.  We are thankful for our homes, jobs, cars . . . grateful for food and clothing and even for our “toys.”

One biblical scholar, though notices a different trend in Scripture:

A perusal of the Word provides a full list of large reasons to be grateful.

God is thanked for his deliverance (Ps 35:18), for loving us and being faithful (Ps 52:9; 107:8), for hearing our cry (Ps 118:21), for safe arrival after a long, arduous journey (Acts 28:15), for other believers and for the testimony of their faith (Rom 1:8), for the gift of salvation that enables one not to sin (Rom 6:17), for delivering us from our tendency to sin (Rom 7:25), for the spiritual gift of being able to address God (1 Cor 14:18), for resurrection hope (1Cor 15:57), for testimony, deliverance and victory in the midst of persecution (2 Cor 2:14), for the support of a colleague in ministry (2 Cor 8:16), for other believers (Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 2 Tim 1:3; Philemon 4), for those who respond to God’s Word (1Thess 2:13), for being able to serve others for God (1 Tim 1:12), and for his attributes (Rev 4:9).  Those are just some of the options for thanksgiving.

Notice that this list includes not one item having to do with things, with possessions.  The occasions for gratitude all have to do with relationships or circumstances in relationship to others. (Bock)

 

 

In light of this, how’s your gratitude toward God, your relationship toward Him and toward others? How might your genuine faith better express itself in gratitude and thanksgiving?

I am convinced that if we consistently expressed the kind of gratitude described above, then the joy, peace and dependence on God that would flow out of our lives would certainly translate into effective mission.  People would see the God-radical nature of our Christ-exalting lives, and they would be drawn to Him.

Consider confessing and expressing some gratitude even now.

 

For the sake of the Name,

Jason

 


Jul 13 2012

A Future Not Our Own

This poem was passed along to me by Emily Crawley . . . a fantastic young lady at C!C.  The poem is by Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador – assassinated while celebrating mass in the cancer hospital where he lived.

 

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.

 

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession bring perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives include everything.

 

This is what we are about; we plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water the seeds already planted knowing they hold a future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

 

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this.

This enables us to do something and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


Oct 1 2011

Some of My Surrender

The tenor of this past week’s sermon application was that of surrender.  Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s news of her being chosen to be filled with the Spirit to bear the Messiah was one of surrender—sure, she had some logistical questions, but her heart was trusting, believing, desiring to see God’s work accomplished in her life.  On the heels of that message, I thought I’d candidly express a few personal reflections on surrender in my life currently.

When I think about the issue of surrender before the Lord, I think of related topics like faith in God’s plans over me, trust that He’ll get me through hard times, and hope in the big-picture-plan-of-God of which I know I’m just a part.  Some verses that encourage me in this are:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anythingJames 1:2-4

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.  You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:11

 

Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Therefore, make every effort to confirm your calling and election.  For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ2Peter 1:5-11

As Christ followers, our journey on this earth is wrought with the need for faith, surrender, perseverance, and godly action based thereon.  Lately for me this calling has taken two primary forms which I must repeatedly put on the altar of surrender.

The first is the coming of Baby Byers #3.  As I’m sure any mom or dad can attest, parenting is a unique tool of God to expose areas that need refining in holiness.  Little else in life can simultaneously expose our self-centeredness, our lack of patience (esp. when tired), our shortsightedness, our lack of relying wholly on the Spirit, etc.  I often find myself struck by the mystery of how this raging battle can open us up to the painful refining fire of sanctification and at the same time fill us with such joy and pleasure at seeing what God is growing in these little lives.  I don’t know how having a third child (two in diapers) will affect things like my relationship with Carrie, my productivity at work, and numerous other things.  But one thing that I keep coming to . . . I KNOW that if I can remain surrendered in faith to the Lord, one way or another, “all these things will be added” to me.

The second big area of surrender is the work and fruit at C!C.  As Carrie and I await the approval of our renewed work permits, I am often faced with the difficulty of evaluating questions like: “What are the next steps for C!C?” “Where is the fruit of our labour?” “What would happen if You called us somewhere else?” I love being a part of C!C, and I have such an excitement and a desire to see God grow our community and ministry.  And so all I can do to answer some of the looming questions that don’t always have answers is offer them up to the Lord in surrender.  In faith I place my trust in the fact that He has promised good over me and over His church.  So I strive to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithfulHebrews 10:23.

What is an acute area of surrender for you?  Let us hold on, for He is faithful.

 


Aug 26 2011

Scariest Moment — Turning It Over

Caleb & Lillie

Pool Time

I’ve had plenty of intense moments in my 30+ years thus far on earth.  Some of them, I would even classify as “scary.”  Examples of varying consequence come to mind:  university dining hall mystery meats, tuition payments, jumping off cliffs into rivers, sleeping on the cold ground in Malawi with malaria-carrying mosquitoes around, money troubles, health troubles of loved ones, moving away from family and support system, and the list could go on.  And yet, yesterday provided the scariest moment of my life — as I chugged through my to-do list in the basement office, a fearful scenario that has initiated in my head many times began playing out.

The kids were upstairs asleep.  Lillie had a bit of a fever earlier in the morning, and so Carrie had gone upstairs to check on her as she napped.  Next thing I know, Carrie is frantically calling my name to come upstairs because something is wrong with Lillie.  As Carrie had checked on her, she had begun to rouse herself from her nap only to lay down and go limp.  When Carrie picked her up, she went into a febrile seizure.  By the time I hit the top of the stairs, her lips were blue, face pale, eyes rolled back, and she was shaking.  As I tried to steady my voice in order to clearly speak to the 911 operator, I realized that I was the most scared I’d ever been.

Carrie held her, rocked her, wiped cool water over her head.  We spoke to her, and we begged the Lord to help us all.  That’s when the thought first flashed through my head: “Do you trust me?

After only a couple of minutes, the colour came back to her face . . . her eyes began to look a little more focused . . . her silence turned to moans which turned to a muffled cry . . . all good signs.  I woke Caleb up from his nap as the paramedics arrived and finally had more time to think.  Again: “Do you trust me?”  A few initial tests, a few gathered neighbours, and Carrie and Lillie headed off in the ambulance — stable — but still with plenty of questions.

As Caleb and I drove to CHEO, three references played repeatedly through my head:

  1. Lyrics from a Ginny Owens song:  “When the whole world turns against me, and I’m all by myself, and I cannot hear you answer my cries for help.  I’ll remember the suffering Your love put You through, and I will go through the valley, if You want me to.”
  2. 2Corinthians 12:9a > “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
  3. Luke 22:42 > “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Thankfully, as it turns out, the seizure did not last long enough for serious concern, and while the infection causing the fever has not been identified, Lillie’s blood tests look fine.  As well, her body now seems to be responding to fever medication.  What’s more is that we learned that febrile seizures are not terribly uncommon in children under 5yrs when high fevers strike.

But while the seriousness of Lillie’s illness doesn’t warrant the level of fear that struck my heart, the thoughts and struggles in the midst of the fear are no less valuable.  As I prayed for my daughter and for my family, I was forced to face the reality: Will I trust in the valley?  Is His grace sufficient in my weakness?  Am I okay with HIS will being done?

Praise the Lord that Lillie seems to be doing just fine . . . and praise Him all the more that in this crucible moment, my heart connected with Truth and how the Lord has been faithful to me in the past, and I was able to respond in faith.

I pray that this will be an encouragement to all (including myself in days ahead) to be able to say, “All to Jesus, I surrender”  . . . and, “It is well with my soul.”


Aug 19 2011

Silence Speaks

In reading through Hebrews chapter 11 earlier this week, I was struck by something peculiar.  I was surprised by what the text didn’t say.

Most of the first 29 verses of the chapter detail significant faith-related events from Israel’s early history.  Verse 29 itself gives us the faith-full declaration that when stuck in an impossible scenario between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army, faith led the people to walk through the sea to safety.

Now here’s the surprise.

The next verse, 30, jumps more than 40 years of Biblical history and states, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after being encircled for seven days.”  Consider what was skipped over:

  • Giving of the Law
  • Instituting the priesthood
  • Moses talking “face to face” with God
  • Manna from heaven
  • Spying on the Promised Land
  • Moses passing leadership to Joshua
  • Crossing the Jordan
  • and more!

And yet there is no mention of any of this in the Hebrew’s “Hall of Faith.”  Now while we should be VERY careful when drawing interpretation from what the Bible doesn’t say, a fair question to entertain is “Why is all of this skipped over?”

To be honest, I don’t feel qualified to speculate too far.  But what I have reflected on is that much of the time in those 40+ years of history was spent with the people NOT exhibiting proper faith.  They complained about almost everything.  They doubted Moses’ leadership.  They questioned God’s ability and desire to provide for their needs.  They usurped God’s authority in worship.  When they finally reached the Promised Land, they fearfully set aside His power to deliver the Land.  There was no consistent faith in “the reality of things hoped for, the evidence of what is not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

This makes me pause and take a “birds-eye” look at my season in life, my general attitude, the general attitude of my family . . . and also that of my faith-family (C!C).  Are my life and relationships characterized by facing impossible scenarios by putting a foot in the Red Sea or marching around the fortified city with a ridiculous military strategy . . . because God said so?!?  Or are my life and relationships characterized by complaining, second guessing, and waiting for my options to open up while ignoring God’s call to trust and obey?

History is being written, friends.  Consider the attitudes you have and the decisions you make.  Do your life and relationships reflect the kind of faith that we see God rewarding time after time after time?

Maybe it’s time for us to consider the history and the “great cloud of witnesses” and get serious about running “with endurance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (see Heb. 12:1-2).