Friday, December 17, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Are You Listening?


Is there a God up there or not? If you go by the way that I live my life, you'd probably wonder. It's amazing how many times I find myself living as though God doesn't exist, or at least as though He's disinterested in me and the events in my life. Yet I know that is the farthest from the truth.

There have been times in my life when I've sensed the presence of God in such a real and tangible way that I was sure I'd open my eyes and see Him there. But there have been other times when I've prayed, even wept in desperation, looking for a glimpse of Him, but felt nothing. Then I'm reminded... it's called faith for a reason.

Hebrews 11:1 says "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." The rest of the chapter gives us a glimpse into the lives of people who lived out this faith walk. People like Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who walked in relationship with a God that they could not physically see. The whole thing is totally nonsensical to a lot of people.

But I do think that is precisely the point. God wants us to choose Him; not be so overwhelmed by the evidence that we have no other choice. If you desire to see God, you'll see Him everywhere; if not, you won't. You either marvel at the beauty of God`s creation and the intricate systems that have been established in order to sustain human life on this planet, or you marvel instead at the way that impersonal time and chance have resulted in the statistically improbable beauty of this planet within this solar system, within this galaxy within the universe. What are the odds?

That's why it declares in Hebrews 11:6 that "...without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." And this is the part where I sometimes fail. I do believe in God; I have built my life upon that faith. However, there have been times when I have failed to live that way.

I'm sure I'm like many others who tend to be too independent. I like to solve my own problems wherever possible and, often, I turn to God as my final alternative. Yet this flies in the face of the way that God intended for us to live. He desires relationship with us, not merely religious service out of some kind of guilt motivation.

Throughout Scripture we see God calling us to this kind of lifestyle, particularly as God revealed Himself through Jesus. He modelled that kind of relationship for us. It didn't matter what He was doing; how busy He was, He always found the time to get alone with God the Father. It was the relationship which was key in His accomplishing His purpose.

So, how do we follow this model? How do we live our lives in such a way as to demonstrate that the God we serve is alive and working?

First of all, it must be intentional. Like any relationship, in order to grow in it, we must work at it. King David, who was called "a man after God's own heart" said in Psalm 5:3 "In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." I have found it makes a huge difference if I take time in the morning to reaffirm my commitment to God. Too many people rely on their past experience and neglect the relationship.

It's not only the morning, though. I've learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to ask the question, where is God in this? Since Scripture clearly teaches us that God is intimately involved in the details of our lives, it makes sense to look for His handiwork. What has been most helpful for me is to look at each challenge through the lens of John 10:10.

In this verse, Jesus says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." What we see clearly represented in this verse is the spiritual reality taking place around us. The first truth we need to understand is that we have an enemy, and he's trying to destroy us. The second reality is that we have a God who loves us, who calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and who has come to give us life. 1 John 3:8 tells us that "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work."

I ask three questions based upon these realities. The first question is: What is the enemy trying to accomplish in this situation? The second is: What is God trying to do in this situation? The third is the question that reveals where the rubber meets the road. In light of those two realities, what ought I to do in this situation? Living life in these terms brings us into alignment with what is taught in the Proverbs. Proverbs 3:5-6 teaches "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

So, is there a God, or not. Absolutely there is, and He wants to be known by us. He speaks to us through His Word and by His Spirit. In order to hear Him, therefore, we must take the time to read the Bible and to spend the time in prayer, not just talking, but listening as well. Try it this week, you might be surprised at what you hear.

Related Articles:
The Faith Of A Child
The New Bigotry
Christianity & Science


 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Deliver Us From Mediocrity


Many years ago I remember sitting in a conference hosted by John Maxwell as he spoke on the subject of excellence. The lesson has never left me. He began by talking about the plague of mediocrity.

That word makes an interesting study. Its a compound word (medi and ocris) which literally means "halfway up a stony mountain." Now doesn't that create a great picture? It accurately describes our situations when we fail to give our best. We end up halfway there, unsuccessful and precariously placed on the side of a mountain.

The story's told of climbing companions attempting to scale the heights of a majestic mountain. The journey begins with relatively easy hikes over the foothills to the higher peaks. As the days go by, the trek becomes more and more challenging, and some begin to question the wisdom of the adventure altogether. Just before they reach the base of the main peak they plan to climb they reach a lodge. This was built to help travelers rest up for the most difficult part of the climb.

The weary climbers are able to sit by a roaring fire, eat hot meals and drink coffee in the shelter the lodge provides. But an interesting thing happens. When it's time to leave, some of those who were once excited about reaching the summit decide that they will wait here at the halfway point for their friends to return. They're satisfied to stop half way.

They take a comfortable seat on the front porch with their coffee and watch as the committed few begin the hardest part of the journey. At first the conversation is loud and the laughter is easy. They talk about how much pain the climbers will endure as they reach for the summit. But, as the day wears on, something interesting happens. From their vantage point, they can still see their friends as they climb higher and higher, closer to their goal. But the loud talk and the laughter cease, and each is left with their own quiet thoughts as they watch those with whom they started climbing, ascend to the peak without them.

There are relatively few people who are willing to do what it takes to pursue excellence, because excellence is not easy - it costs. What does it cost to pursue excellence?

1. It costs time to pursue excellence.
It matters not the field in which you find yourself, whether that be sports, academics, a trade or public service. Excellence is not simply a choice; it is a series of choices. It is a daily decision to do your best: to take the time to study, practice, write or rehearse, whatever it takes.

Charles Swindoll, one of the most enduring of Christian writers, decided early on in his ministry to make such a commitment. Already dealing with a heavy workload as a pastor, he chose to arise one hour earlier each day and to spend that hour writing. Years later, he has now written over 50 books and has become one of the most respected spokesmen for Christianity.

Michael Jordan is on everyone's short list of the greatest basketball players of all time. He is a six-time NBA champion, a five-time MVP, a 10-time scoring champion and a 14-time All-star. When it came time for a game to be decided, there was never a question who would be holding the ball - it would be Michael. How did he reach such heights of excellence?

Alongside the other accolades, Michael Jordan has been called the best practice player ever. He took seriously every opportunity he had to improve his game It was said that he performed every drill as if it was a game situation. He did this so that, when faced with an opportunity when it mattered, he would always be prepared. It takes time to achieve excellence.

It costs resources to achieve excellence.
Excellence is the result of investing in your personal growth over a long period of time. Not everyone who has achieved excellence has a university education (many don't), however, those who are consistently excellent are those who have made a commitment to be life-long learners.

The question is often asked, "but what about those who are just born with natural talent." That is certainly an advantage, but the world is full of talented bums, people who have wasted their potential because they relied on their talent alone. With talent comes responsibility. As a high school basketball coach I have seen naturally gifted players that I would gladly trade for less talented ones with a higher commitment level. A true gift is a player with talent and a teachable spirit; that is the place from which greatness comes.

So how do we grow? You can grow from school, books, mentors, seminars, etc... but it starts with a commitment to invest. Look for someone who knows what you want to learn and ask for help. Find the right books, listen to the right CD's, go to the right places, attend the right events... and learn.

3. It costs emotionally to achieve excellence.
This statement speaks of relationship. The sad truth is that not everyone wants to reach excellence; not everyone is willing to pay the price to reach the summit. If you surround yourself with people who are unwilling to pay the price, you will never reach your potential. Conversely, if you surround yourself with people who make the same commitments as you do, your investments are multiplied as "iron sharpens iron."

Please hear me accurately. I'm not saying that we should have nothing to do with people who do not share our dreams and commitments. I am saying that our key friendships and relationships will have a great deal to say in whether we achieve our dreams. Constantly dealing with insecure people can be like the proverbial kittens in the basket. None can get out because they take turns pulling each other down. This is opposed to the Biblical advice from Hebrews 10:24 - "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."

The person who is committed to excellence not only makes a difference in their own life; they have a positive impact on those around them. When the Chicago Bulls saw their most talented player working harder in practice than anyone else, it drove each one to work harder and raised the bar for the whole team.

I've been encouraged over the course of my ministry to see that many churches are beginning to understand the importance of excellence in the church. After all, we profess to be working for the Creator of all things, the One who could say at the end of creation that "it was very good." We are created in His image; therefore, we should work to do the best we can as well.

This applies to all areas of church life: music, preaching, children's ministries, youth ministry, the arts, technology, teaching, all of it. I want to do better. I want to do better at communicating the truth of God's Word in a way that people can understand. I want do better in providing the very best worship to God of which we are capable. I want to do better in producing life-impacting events that are second to none. I want to do better in utilizing the latest technologies to help to demonstrate eternal truths. I want to do better because God deserves the very best of which I am capable.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Rebekah Principle



I remember when gas station attendants pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield and checked your oil and fluid levels for you while they were filling your gas tank. (Actually, I was one of those attendants for a while.) Today, the best we can hope for is that they be polite when we go into the gas bar and hand over our money after doing all of those things for ourselves. That's a far cry from the woman in the title of this blog.

I'm not sure who coined the phrase first, but "The Rebekah Principle" is taken from an Old Testament story found in Genesis, chapter 24. It's the story of the selection of a wife for the Jewish Patriarch, Isaac. Abraham had sent his chief servant to find the right woman from his home country. The servant arrived at the well which was a center of activity. The women of the area were arriving to draw water from the well.

A young woman named Rebekah came to draw water and the servant asked if it would be possible for her to draw him some water to drink. She not only drew water for him, but willingly drew water for all of his camels as well. While this encounter is only given a couple of verses in Scripture, it's important to see the details. She drew water for ten camels before she stopped. A thirsty camel can drink up to 30 gallons of water in 10 minutes. But let's say, for arguments sake, that they weren't all that thirsty and drank ten gallons each. That's 100 gallons of water drawn by hand from a well. Even if the well were only a few feet deep, such a commitment would take considerable time, measured in hours, not minutes; yet Rebekah did so willingly.

The result of Rebekah being willing to do more than was required of her was that she was selected to become the wife of Isaac. She will forever be remembered for being willing to go the extra mile: this is the kind of person God uses.

There are a lot of life lessons we can get from Rebekah's example. Here are a few.

"There are no traffic jams on the second mile."
I'm not sure who first said this, but I heard it first from Zig Ziglar. Very simply what it means is that if you want to stand out in whatever field you've chosen, go the extra mile. Do what others are unwilling to do.

I've found that there are at least three different types of people:
1. People who don't do what they're supposed to do.
2. People who only do what they have to.
3. People who do what they are required to do... and then some.

Think about it, which of these people would you want working for you? If you were choosing a company to do business with, wouldn't you choose a business that goes above and beyond; a company that will see that you are satisfied? If you were hiring an employee, would you want the guy who will show up only when it's convenient, or the guy who's committed to get the job done right?

"If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right."
My mother used to tell me this when I was haphazard in cleaning my room. My response was usually something like "well I guess it's not worth doing then." What do you expect? I was a teenager.

Colossians 3:23-24 says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." This was Mother Teresa's secret: the people to whom she ministered, in her eyes, represented Jesus Himself. Each of them, therefore, were deserving of all of the dignity and love she could give.

We get one shot at this life, we want to do it well. In fact, there seems to be something built into human beings that takes a real satisfaction in a job well done. I've seen it in sports, the arts, church life and the business world. We were created to be productive and creative, when we aren't we sense the void, even if we can't describe it.

"In order to hear the words, 'well done,' we must first 'well do.'"
There are many principles that flow from this, including "play now, pay later, or pay now, play later." The point is that there are too many people who are not willing to pay the price for achieving excellence, yet who want the reward. This is one of my pet peeves with unions. They have a purpose, but often serve to reward people who are incompetent and lazy.

In our society at large, we find a culture of entitlement that can be stated like this: "the world owes me a living." Uh... wrong. God gives us life, talents and abilities: that is His gift to us. How we use this life and those gifts, talents and abilities is our gift to Him. The Bible is actually very clear about those who are unwilling to do what they are capable of doing. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says "...If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either."

There is so much that needs doing. There are so many challenges that must be met. There are so many hurting people and so many causes looking for a champion. How can we be satisfied to sit back and assume that someone else will do it? Take some time today to think about what it is that you were put on this earth to do. You are not a cosmic accident, you were created by God to do good works. For a clue to what that may be think about these questions: What do you cry about? What do you laugh about? What keeps you awake at night? The answer to those questions often leads to our passion.

Don't settle. Be all that you were meant to be.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Straight Talk For Tough Times


That great comic-strip philosopher, Pogo, said it best when he said "We've seen the enemy, and he is us." In the battle for the hearts and the minds of people, perhaps the most effective weapon of the enemies of the truth is the well-intentioned (sometimes) influence of some of those who claim to speak for the church. I'm speaking of the rise of liberalism in the church.

There have been differences of opinion in the church since the earliest days - read the letters to the Corinthians for example - but, almost without exception, there has been a common appeal to Scripture as the arbitrator of those disagreements. There are still differences between Christian denominations over baptism, the role of women, interpretation of prophecy, etc..., but the major tenets of Scripture have been accepted by all Christian groups who didn't want to find themselves on a list of cults.

Those beliefs have been summarized in different ways over the centuries, but the Apostolic Creed is certainly representative: "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen."

This creed, and other such confessions, could be agreed upon because there was first a fundamental commitment to the Bible as the inspired Word of God. These creedal statements are clear teachings which have been passed down from the teachings of Jesus and His disciples to the church and which are clearly evident in Scripture. There have been those within the church over the course of history who have challenged some of these teachings, particularly in the early days of the church, whose positions were clearly and soundly rebutted by the early church fathers. God has called the church to be the "pillar and ground of the truth," the place where God's truth is to be declared. Sadly, in many churches, liberalism and compromise have replaced the sound teaching of Scripture.

Modern liberalism has arisen partly as a response of some within the church to the pervasiveness of naturalism and the perceived need for the church to be more relevant to those raised in a scientific age. So, they've created a gospel with a small "g;" they've espoused a Jesus who was a good teacher, but performed no miracles, and who certainly wasn't virgin-born. Some have gone so far as to claim that Jesus was an amalgam of myths assembled from many different cultures and times that had little similarity to the Jesus of history.

Challenges like these are not new. What is new is that these challenges are coming from those who purport to be Christian ministers and who preach from Christian pulpits. Many within their own congregations sre shocked to find that their pastor doesn't believe in Easter; in fact denies the resurrection. People always have a right to their opinion, but how hypocritical is it to be receiving a salary from a Christian church while, at the same time, denying the fundamental beliefs upon which that church was established?

This, I believe, is a far greater threat than anything outside of the church, and this challenge should be met head on. We don't decide what Jesus said because a bunch of liberal scholars in "The Jesus Seminar" voted with colored beads; we have God's Word handed down to us from generation to generation. There are literally tens of thousands of manuscripts, of a better quality and quantity by far than for any other ancient manuscript. When you begin your deliberations believing that there's no such thing as miracles, you find what you're looking for. In fact, these remind me of those Paul warned of in 2 Timothy 3:5 - "having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people."

Thankfully, it seems that, by and large, their message is being rejected. Eileen Lindner reports in her Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches that: "the more liberal a church is the faster that denomination is declining." What concerns me is the confusion that is sown by those who don't take the time to look deeper and see that these arguments are not based on evidence but on presumption.

So, what is the answer? We need to know what we believe and why. I recommend courses like "The Truth Project" for every Christian. If that's too deep for you, start with "Alpha." If you're up for a challenge, read some of Ravi Zacharias' work. But apply yourself to know the truth. Be able to defend yourself. The truth matters.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Musings

Lately my reading and discussions, and therefore my thinking, have been returning often to how to make the church more relevant. There is a great deal of concern about the trend of many Christians away from the church. With some of the churches I've visited, I can certainly understand where some of these people are coming from.

However, regardless of the wide varieties of reasons for the decline in church attendance across North America, my concern is with helping our local congregation become all that it was intended to be. As imperfect as it is, the church was and is God's chosen instrument to help people find relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. That being said, the question is: how can the church relate the Gospel message effectively to the world, while continuing to minister to the Christ-followers in their midst? It's a challenge we're going to continue to work through because it's worth the effort to get it right.

As I've been unable to preach over the past couple of months, I haven't had the same outlet for the thoughts that I'd like to share. So what I've been doing is preparing for the time whan I am able to speak again. One series in particular has been rattling around in this little pea-brain of mine and I've tentatively called it "Straight Talk For Tough Times."

I've had the chance to observe much of the human drama played out around me and have had opportunity to minister to a great many people in various kinds of distress. I know this: some people's lives are very difficult. Sometimes, but not always, the challenges they face are self-inflicted. I see Young Adults thrust into a world for which they are largely unprepared. I see pre-adolescents forced to grow up too soon. I see teens dealing with issues their parents and grandparents can't fathom. I see adults who don't like change forced to adapt to a society that will not slow down.

So.... I think we're well past the stage where we just want to come to church to hear someone talk about a subject that has no bearing on our daily living. I sense that people are looking for answers to the questions and challenges life is constantly throwing their way. That's where I need your help. I'm looking for your input on some of the real issues you would like to see addressed from the pulpit. What would you like to hear addressed from a Biblical perspective? What issue or concern do you think your non-churched neighbor would like help with?

I'll be working on this series over the next few weeks and I'd really appreciate your input. If you feel better doing so privately, send your response to my e-mail: tdbok@rogers.com. If you're not shy, post it as a comment to this blog. I hope to hear from you.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Assumptions


By definition, an assumption is: "the act of assuming or taking for granted." I've been surprised lately by how often I've encountered the thought-stifling power of assumption. We all do it. We look at someone and we draw a quick conclusion by appearances and we place someone in a category - often the wrong one. Or sometimes even worse, we make assumptions about our own, or others, ideas and beliefs that are based on nothing but tradition or regurgitated opinion. It reinforces my opinion that a large majority of people do not want to do the hard work of thinking.

I can relate to this myself because, particularly as a High School student, I spent my time looking for creative ways to get out of doing anything that required serious thought. But that changed for me in College. Somehow the lights came on and there awakened in me an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I love to read from a wide variety of fields and subjects and explore new concepts and ideas.

One of the common denominators that I have found in my reading is that, as I alluded to earlier, there are a great number of people who have not learned the discipline of critical thinking. I think that this is so important for all of us to master: to be able to ask the right questions, to question the assumptions and the preconceptions of those who would presume to teach.

We live in a culture that has moved far from the ideal of a free exchange and debate of ideas. Now we live in an age of political correctness, of acquiescence for fear of offense, with some notable exceptions. The problem with this is that we end up in the ridiculous position of moral relativism which, taken to its extreme, contends that all views have equal merit and that objective moral truth does not exist.

But ideas have consequences. It was Malcolm Muggeridge, the distinguished British journalist, who commented, “One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we've developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.” He did a great deal of writing about the consequences of the atheistic communist regimes of the Soviet Union, China, et al. Those regimes were/are responsible for the murder, imprisonment and denial of human rights to billions of people. These abuses flow directly from the idea that people have no intrinsic value; there's nothing special or unique about anyone except as a cog in a machine. A Chinese official, when confronted by an American tourist about the fact that thousands of people had died at the hands of their own government in the Tianenmen Square massacre in 1989 replied, "so what, we have billions of people in China."

While communism has gone out of vogue for the most part in the 21st century, we are still left with its intellectual roots - atheism. The new atheists (men like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens) have become more and more strident in their condemnation of all who would dare to differ with their assertions. There have been bestselling books recently trying to convince people that God is simply a figment of our imagination.

The good that comes out of this is that there can at least be debate, and there should be. This question is the greatest question of our time, or all time: Does God exist? This question needs to be asked because the greatest assumption of our day is the negative statement that God does not exist. This basic assumption underlies much of our culture: science, education, our judiciary, government, etc... The results of this belief can be seen in virtually every corner of our culture. It is at the root of the "intelligent design" debate in the U.S. Since the basic assumption of modern science is that there is no God and therefore there can only be a naturalistic explanation for everything that is, anything appearing to demonstrate "intelligent design" must be the result of other processes. I have read two articles recently in which respected scientists have gone so far as to say that either intelligent aliens somehow implanted life forms on the earth or life must have arrived here on the back of a meteor. This leap of faith was necessary in order that we not appeal to someone called God. Bizarre to say the least.

Complicating things further are what I would term "functional atheists." These are that large group of people who would claim to be Christians and to believe in the God of the Bible, yet who live their lives as if He does not exist. They are a far bigger threat to the Church than the new atheists will ever be. They ignore, or are completely unaware of, the clear teachings of Jesus. They confuse those who are sincerely seeking because of their hypocrisy.

Part of this (most of this?) must be laid at the feet of the church, which has failed to disciple people properly. Much of the church has turned away from the confusing controversies and hard questions and retreated to their "holy huddles" where they sing Kum-By-Yah and reminisce about the good old days. Well, the good old days are gone, and it's time to ask the hard questions. Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ relevant for today? Is there evidence for the existence of God? Why should I believe the Bible? How can we know the truth? Is there such a thing as truth?

There are good answers to these questions and, if Christians really care about people around us, we would be making sure that we know why we believe what we believe. And no, just because your Momma told you so is not a good enough reason. As 1 Peter 3:15-16 says: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you 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."

What we believe does matter. I love the C.S. Lewis quote: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” I believe that it's of infinite importance. Jesus Christ has made all the difference in my life. Let me challenge you to start looking at the evidence for yourself.

You can start by attending a debate we're showing live via satellite on Sunday, May 2, 7:00 PM at Clearview Community Church in Stayner. It features Christopher Hitchens vs. William Lane Craig on the subject "Does God Exist?" It ought to be very interesting. Who knows, it might even make you think.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Follow Me!


I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking lately about the church and what it's supposed to be. I know that there almost as many opinions on this as there are people, but I think it's important. The question that I've been asking myself is, what kind of church did Jesus intend when He first established it? By the way, the church was Jesus' idea, not anyone else's.

We used to live in a society that was openly Christian; therefore the role of the church was assumed and central. Those days are long gone. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. When the church's role is assumed it tends to rely on custom and tradition and, at least to me, seems to lose sight of its purpose. So, why is the church here?

Throughout Scripture we see that God uses people, as imperfect as we all are, to carry out His purposes. He chose the nation of Israel through whom he would reveal Himself. He told them that they were called out to be a light to all of the nations in the world. The church is a continuation of that purpose. Jesus called His disciples "salt and light." He declared that the church would carry on His work, and even do greater works than He Himself had done, through the Holy Spirit whom He sent (John 14:12-13). The nature of the church is expanded upon in the New Testament as in 1 Peter 2:9: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."

As for how the church operates, what it looks like, the style, etc., I believe the Bible is deliberately vague. That is so that it can be effective and relevant in different cultures and times as it reaches out to all peoples in all places. Paul said it well in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he said, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." The core message doesn't (shouldn't) change, but the packaging varies widely. What is that core message? Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 that he passed on what was of "most importance." "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time."

In other words, the core message is that Jesus did come in the flesh, lived, taught, performed miracles, died and rose again so that we also may live. He commanded His church to preach this Gospel to all who would come after and to teach them to follow His teachings (Matt. 28).

Now to the point of my blog. Some of you reading this attend Clearview Community Church. You may or may not be aware that we have tried to tailor our Sunday morning services to relate to people who are "seekers," those who are interested in Christianity, but still have questions. We've tried to keep those services free of confusing forms and traditions while presenting the message clearly through music and speaking. Thankfully, we've seen many people come to that place where they have become Christ-followers. Here is where I'd like to be clear.

This is only the beginning of the process. I've already written on what it means to be a Christ-follower (look at the older blogs if you'd like) but I'd like to help us understand what many Christians worldwide, already understand. The Christian life is a life of surrender. Jesus' invitation in Matthew 16:24-25 is to "take up (our) cross and follow (Him)." I think it's particularly appropriate to write of this on Good Friday, a day set aside to remember the sacrifice of Christ.

Jesus willingly laid down His life in order to accomplish a reconciliation between us and God. He walked in heroic obedience, knowing that it was the only way. We honour our soldiers and firefighters and other first responders because they willingly put themselves in harms way for the sake of others. Jesus was the ultimate example of that. Then he invited us to take up our own cross of sacrifice and follow Him into a life of purpose.

What is God's call to you? You will never find it if you are only "interested." God's deeper purposes are revealed only to those who are willing to swim in the deep waters and trust Him. Take the time to read through some of the narratives in Scripture and dare to place yourself in them.

See yourself in the story of Gideon, a young man, from a weak family in a small tribe who God used to save a nation. See yourself in the story of Paul, a rebel against God who was turned around and used as (arguably) the greatest missionary in the history of the world. Or how about Rahab, a prostitute who switched allegiances, saved God's people and ended up being one of Jesus' ancestors.

God is writing a story that ends with the recreation of a new heaven and a new earth. He's calling a people who are willing to help Him make that happen, because He chooses to use people. Not the smartest, or the strongest or the richest, just the willing; those who understand that what He has to offer is worth laying down our lives for. Remember that on Good Friday he laid down His life as well, and on Sunday He rose again so that we can rise as well. "Follow me!"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'm offended!


I'm not really offended, but a lot of people are. There are a lot of people carrying around a sack full of grudges slung around the chip on their shoulder. It really amazes me how easily we allow ourselves to be offended on the one hand, and how careless we are with our words on the other. I'm sure that each of us has been on both ends of this equation from time to time in our lives. I think it's worth addressing for that reason alone, but also because of the tremendous damage that is done to families, churches and communities over this thing called offense.

When we drill down into the root cause of much of the damage, we often find that it stems from a misunderstanding; and that usually springs from poor communication. So, what I'd like to do is talk a little bit about communication in this blog. For those of you who have sat through my pre-marital counselling, consider this a review.

Let's first state that this is a very serious problem, whether within Christian circles or otherwise. I'm going to come at this from a Christian perspective however. If we take the Bible seriously, we first have to admit that all of the dissension is, very simply, wrong. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:18 "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." That's pretty clear, but if it's not strong enough, try Ephesians 4:3, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

So it's important to get along, but how best can we do that? I've found that there are a few keys that have worked well for me that I've picked up over the years. The most important is something called "good will." Good will is really a frame of mind. It's the assumption that the person that we're dealing with means well and wants the best for us. It may be naive, but I find that it's a lot better than trying to pick a fight with everybody I talk to. When we have good will, we're giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.

This attitude leads to a healthy internal dialogue. When someone says something that strikes us the wrong way, instead of assuming they're being a jerk and reacting accordingly, thus escalating the situation, we instead can look for a way to get to the root of the problem. I find this is particularly helpful in marriage situations. We often fall into bad habits of fighting to win an argument, rather than trying to communicate. Our spouse will say something that strikes us the wrong way, and we immediately jump to the defensive. They then get defensive and round, round we go. Try this instead. Ask yourself whether you heard them correctly. After all, haven't we all been misunderstood before? Wouldn't we have appreciated it if someone had given us the benefit of the doubt and dug a little deeper?

Communication is a complicated thing sometimes. An idea may be completely clear in my mind, but by the time it's filtered through my vocabulary, out my mouth, into your ears, filtered through your vocabulary and assigned a meaning by you, chances are it's not exactly what was intended. So, communication should really be defined as "a meeting of meanings." When what I intend to say is what you understand me saying we've communicated - maybe not agreed, but communicated.

So in order to be a better communicator, try to apply this time-honoured principle: "Seek first to understand then to be understood." For many people, what they're really looking for is simply to be heard. You never know, you might actually learn something. I've found that if you dig deeper when having a disagreement with someone, you may not be as far apart as you thought.

Another principle to remember at times is that on some points you may just have to agree to disagree. Some wise man said that "If you make everything a life or death issue, you're going to be dead a lot." Please admit that you're not always right. In fact, those of you who think you're always right are extremely offensive to those of us who actually are! It's alright to hold a position that is different from someone else. Just be sure that you're respectful of the other person's right to hold theirs.

Admit when you're wrong. I understand this is hard for some, but when everyone else knows you're wrong, you might as well admit it and apologize. People will not think less of you, quite the opposite actually. They will appreciate your honesty. A sincere apology can go a long way to repairing damaged relationships.

Jesus said, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matt. 7:12) Each of us wants to be understood. We want for people to think well of us. We want people to try to get along with us, to be loved, to be valued. Do yourself a favour, reach up and take the chip off your shoulder and smile at the next person you meet, it's likely they're having a bad day. Help make it better.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Iron Sharpens Iron


This week I've had a number of people express to me their need for a mentor and asking me how they go about finding one. Because I value the art of mentoring so highly, I wanted to talk a little bit about this. Generally, where a few are asking, many are feeling the need. Let me begin with some general principles that I've picked up over the years.

Everyone needs mentoring.
Asking for a mentor is not an admission of failure or weakness, it is an expression of a willingness to learn. Someone stated that "the self-taught man has a fool for a teacher." Each of us has room to grow and mature in various aspects of our lives. Mentors can be a great benefit to help us grow.

Mentors aren't perfect.
If you're looking for the complete package, the person who has the right answer to every question, you'll be looking for a long time. The reality is that each of us has strengths and weaknesses.

You may want more that one mentor.
Different people have different strengths. You may look to one individual to help you in a certain area of your life, say finances for example. You may choose another mentor for advice in helping you with your relationships. You also may actually outgrow a mentor. In that case, maintain the friendship but find someone else who can take you to the next level. A wise mentor will see this coming and perhaps even recommend someone else.

When you choose a mentor, reach up.
What I mean is this: the point of mentoring is to help you improve. Reach out of your circle. Aspire to a better place than you are today. Look for the best possible mentor and take a risk. Which leads to the next point.

Ask.
When I was making the transition from my previous church to Clearview Community, I had to attend some orientation meetings for my new denomination. The sessions were lead by the then District Superintendent, Bill Morrow. Bill and I had crossed paths a few times. He had a background in counselling and had been a successful pastor and leader for years. One of his sessions was on mentoring. At the end of the session he said that while he heard a lot of people talking about needing a mentor, he did not see a lot of people asking. So, I asked.

That was 14 years ago, and since that time Bill moved on to be the General Superintendent of the PAOC and is now the President of Masters College and Seminary. I have met with him over the years - usually when I've been in a crisis of decision or needing advice on how to face a ministry challenge. He has always been there when needed and has often referred me to someone who could help me in a specific way... But I had to ask.

How does one find a good mentor?
Firstly, if you're a Christian, pray that God would guide you to the right individual(s). Another key is to ask the right questions. What exactly is it that you're looking for help with? Identify that need. Is it with life in general? Is it with developing your spiritual life? Is it leadership? Is it in family life?

Once you've asked the right questions, look around you for someone you admire in that particular area. Make sure that they share the values you feel are important. Do you honestly feel that they have something they could teach you and are you willing to listen?

Buy them a coffee or a cup of tea and ask them. Talk about how you see this working and how often and ask them if they're interested. Don't set anything in stone until you've given enough time for both of you to determine that it's something you want to pursue. Think about what you bring to the table. Perhaps that means buying them lunch once a month or at least expressing your appreciation.

Finally, look around you for someone into whom you could pour yourself. We ought to be reaching up to those who can teach us, but also reaching down to those who are now where we were. I believe that this is true ministry. It is a picture of Biblical community that is uniquely powerful and attractive. We can teach people from a distance, but we impact them up close. I hope this has been of some benefit to someone. Talk to you soon.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Season Of Silence


"To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal ...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance ...
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace."

- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

If you're a part of the Clearview Community Church family you will likely already have heard that I am having to take an extended break from preaching and singing. I have small callouses on my vocal chords which have limited my singing range for a while and are now affecting my speaking voice. So, the prescription is vocal rest and vocal therapy. So this is a time for me to stop talking!

I appreciate all of the wisecracks and the offers of duct tape, etc... I also appreciate all of the concern. However, I would like to say that it's not all that bad. I can talk, I'm just not supposed to. I have heard horror stories of pastors who have permanently and completely lost their voice. We're certainly not in that ballpark, thankfully.

The plan is for me to take a break from all of those tasks which would put a strain on my voice for the next few months. That includes singing, preaching and counseling. If results aren't seen by May, we'll take a look at laser surgery as a worst case scenario. I'm very thankful for a supportive board and capable staff who will allow the work of the church to carry on uninterrupted.

So, what will I be doing with myself?
The way I look at it, God is not surprised by this and, therefore, there's something I can do to be productive during this time. The reality is that this time gives me a great opportunity to focus on a lot of things which have been neglected for a while. We have been experiencing a wonderful time of growth here at the church and now I can look at what I can do to prepare us for even bigger things ahead. I'm planning on developing strategies to help to take us to the next level. I'll be able to take the time to participate in some helpful conferences. I'm working on a loooong "to do" list. I might actually get my desk cleaned. I'll do a lot more writing. : )

What I would ask you to do is this: look for ways to support the ongoing work of the church. Each of you is important to the success of this church and without you, we are all diminished. If you have suggestions for areas of improvement, outreach ideas or future sermon series, I'd love to hear from you. Perhaps you'd like me to deal with a specific issue in my blog. Let me know. You can e-mail me privately, or use this forum or Facebook me. I will do my best to be in touch at least once a week.

I love what I do and am looking forward to continuing as the pastor of CCC for as long as I'm useful. If I can help you in any way please let me know. Talk to you soon!