Real Faith Might Hurt

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Will you fear God and follow Jesus for better or for worse, or will pain, suffering and difficulty make you walk in a different direction? I’m inspired by the stories of followers of Jesus who have loved Jesus more than their own lives, and equally uninspired by those who “follow Jesus” in our time only as long as life keeps “working.” As I hear the stories of true followers through the millennia, I wonder to myself if I have the same kind of faith.

I’m inspired by the story of Job. The first chapter of the book called by his name introduces Job as a wealthy man who prayed and made sacrifices for his kids more than once a day. He feared God and worshipped him, and wanted to be sure that if his kids made mistakes God would forgive them. One day, thieves stole every ox (1000), every donkey (500), and every camel (3000) that he owned. That same day every one on of his sheep (7000) was burned up when “fire fell from heaven.” That same day every one of his servants was killed by foreign invaders, except for the few that came one by one to give him the waves of bad news. Most intensely of all, that same day every one of his kids (seven sons and three daughters) was killed when a strong wind came and dropped the roof of the house they were in. What makes the story even more incredible is Job’s response. The first words out of his mouth have been the inspiration for many writings, sermons and worship songs: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Despite his pain and the questions that were swirling (which would take the remainder of the book to sort through), Job realized in that moment that the God who was worthy of worship when Job was born, when he had nothing but the skin on his bones, the God who had given him livestock, servants and children, was still just as worthy of worship in his darkest hour. Continue reading

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Leading Complainers

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If you lead anything (and almost everyone leads something), there is a lesson to be learned from the leaders of the early church as recorded in Acts 6:1-7. In the first five chapters of Acts the church experiences incredible growth, increasing from a community of just over 100 to one of at least 10,000 all in a few years or less. And guess what happens when incredible growth occurs? Tension. You could say, “Mo’ people mo’ problems.” And you should say it that way because it’s fun to say. The specifics of the problem are an interesting story (that some of the widows were not being cared for due to the fact that they spoke a different language than the majority of the church), but the specifics of the problem are not the point of this post. Great leadership is the point.

When tension rises in the church the people start complaining. In the original language the word “complain” means: “to speak privately in a low voice.” How do you respond when you encounter a problem that bothers you? Do you talk about it with the people involved, or do you “speak privately in a low voice” with people who really have nothing to do with the problem? Sometimes it feels good to air an annoyance, but it’s not helpful. Complaining is not the right way to solve a problem. In fact, I believe complaining reveals that we value the problem more than the solution. Complaining, especially in the context of a church, is toxic.

How do you respond when you encounter a complaint? When I hear of people complaining about something that I’m helping to lead, something that I have worked and planned and prayed and put my heart and sweat into, it makes me frustrated and I immediately fantasize about punching them in the face. Well, not always, especially if they’re old and frail, but sometimes the fantasies creep in. But what do these leaders do? Continue reading

Open and Ordered

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Let me ask you two questions. First, how open are you to fresh experiences of God in your life? Second, how ordered or structured are you in your faith approach? Maybe you could picture a spectrum in your mind stretching from one side (ordered) to the other (open). Where do you place yourself on this spectrum? If ordered is red and open is blue, what colour are you?

The interesting thing about this spectrum is that the Bible doesn’t present it as a spectrum. Rather it presents both sides as valuable…

Openness. When you read about Jesus in the gospels and about the early church in the book of Acts, it becomes so apparent that God’s move is impossible to predict. So many of the things that happened had literally never happened before! There was no form or structure with which to understand them. God brought about “new things,” because God loves new things. Consider God’s words through Isaiah: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19). Also notice Jesus’ words: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). If you try to follow Jesus by only experiencing things that have happened before or things that fit within a predictable structure, you will miss out on so much. You might not even actually be following Jesus. Because God loves and the Spirit continually brings “new things.”

Order. At the same time we realize that openness cannot stand on its own. If we admit that there is truth then there must also be falsehood, and so there must be godly boundaries to our openness. This is most prominently portrayed in writing of Paul to the church in Corinth. This church was genuinely full of Spirit-filled believers who had received incredible spiritual gifts and were operating in them publicly and regularly. My heart longs for such a church experience! BUT they were not paying attention to the limits of this openness. It was an “anything goes” environment, where some were getting drunk on communion wine, others were out of control with their sexuality, the congregation was placing more value on speaking in tongues than on clear Biblical teaching, and no one was stepping in to shepherd things in a better direction. To these things Paul teaches strongly and repetitively that, although openness to the Spirit is a critical prerequisite for an “alive” church, godly orderliness is another must-have. Paul says it simply and straightforwardly: “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). In Galatians, Paul encourages us towards freedom, but teaches that this freedom should never be used to sin (Galatians 5:13). Yes, stay open to a fresh move of God’s Spirit, but never allow that openness to move you to a place of disorder or sin.

My perspective on the church (at least in North America) is that few churches (mine included) walk this tightrope well. There are many churches that are very concerned with order, so they study the scriptures scrupulously and guard right doctrine militantly. But so often these same churches are extremely closed off (whether officially or just in practice) to fresh, surprising experiences of the Holy Spirit in their midst. Other churches so strongly value openness to the Holy Spirit that they’d rather have an emotionally intense experience than (1) learn anything deeper about the truths in the Bible or (2) stop sinning. My heart hurts for both of these scenarios.

I long to be a person that lives both sides of the spectrum, and for me that is mostly a call to move towards a greater openness to the new things of the Holy Spirit. And I long to be a part of a church that loves the word of God and continually digs deeply into it, AND a church that stays exceedingly open to fresh experiences of the Holy Spirit, not just in word, but in practice. I long to see my church filled up with those that study with conviction and pray with passion and continue on towards more in both areas day after day. In Ephesians 3:18-19, Paul prays for the church in Ephesus that they would have the power to understand God’s love. And then he prays that they would also experience God’s love, though it is too great to fully understand. This is my prayer for you, for me, for your church and for mine…that we would understand and that we would experience the love of God, living with openness to the Spirit and godly order.

What about you? Do you need to grow more in godly order or in openness to the Spirit? Join the conversation below!

Fresh Experiences

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When was the last time you experienced the presence of Jesus? When was the last time you knew that you knew that you knew that he was in the room with you? In Acts 4:23-31 we see a powerful experience of the presence of Jesus that occurs in the midst of believers passionately praying together. So, let me ask you another question that’s similar to the first. When was the last time you passionately prayed together with other believers for anything? When was the last time that you contended for God with something in prayer with other believers, like Jesus’ story of the widow who just would not quit asking, and finally received what she longed for (Luke 18:1-8)?

In Acts 4:23-31 we read the story of Peter and John returning to their community, their church, their friends who were following Jesus, and reporting that sharing about Jesus has just been banned in their city. The believers lift their voices together in prayer asking God for boldness in their witness and God’s power to accompany it, and the passage ends with God’s powerful response: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (verse 31).

If you are a follower of Jesus you too may long for an experience of God like this, but let’s recognize that this story doesn’t happen to believers who were lying on the couch watching reruns. Rather, it flows out of a community of believers who were regularly devoting themselves to prayer together and were stepping out and talking about Jesus in their real lives, in the real world. When we follow Jesus we should expect to get to the same places Jesus got to, at times having many people respond positively, and at times being opposed, insulted and persecuted. These believers were following Jesus, and when they ran into opposition they did what Jesus did: they prayed. Continue reading

Persecution in Canada? (2/2)

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Will Christians ever face severe persecution in Canada? In my last post, I said that I don’t think we can know the answer to this question for sure. But I believe following Jesus faithfully now (when things are less difficult) is the key to being prepared to follow him faithfully if things ever get more tricky. The story of Peter in Acts 3:1-4:22 is a great example to us for walking faithfully with Jesus in difficult times.

Today, however, I want to point out that for true followers of Jesus in Canada, Canada should not be our only concern.

The fact is that millions of Christians in over 60 countries around the world today face severe persecution. The Apostle Paul says that when one part of Christ’s body suffers, we all suffer with it. It strikes me that sometimes you know that part of your body is hurting (like when you stub your toe), and sometimes you don’t (like when cancer is growing inside). But when your body is suffering it’s suffering!

If you are a follower of Jesus I want to encourage you today to learn more and pray for believers around the world who are suffering. Whether or not we live in a country that faces intense persecution, may we be those who hurt with those who hurt and who ask the Father to intervene, protect, comfort and love those in difficult circumstances, and to continue to give those who are persecuted courage to follow and share Jesus faithfully.

The video below shows a few highlights (or lowlights) of what’s happening around the world, and more information is available at www.worldwatchlist.us. Also check out www.persecution.net, www.idop.ca, and www.opendoorsca.org.

Persecution in Canada? (1/2)

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Increasingly in the last number of years people have asked me, “Do you think Christians will ever face severe persecution in Canada?” My eternally optimistic personality pushes me to respond by saying, “I’m sure we’re fine,” but the honest answer is that really no one knows. I believe as followers of Jesus we are called to live without fear, growing daily in our hope and faith in the ability of God to carry out his good plans regardless of the circumstances. But I really don’t know what the next few years have in store for us.

I had a high school soccer coach who used to say to us relentlessly, “You play like you practice! You play like you practice!” His point was simple: when we were scrimmaging against our own team things were easier than the real game, so the time to play with full intensity was now, during practice, so we’d be ready to play hard when game time came. The truth is that those who practice at 60% intensity don’t improve much when a real game starts.

Regardless of the future of faith-freedom in Canada, I believe these years of relative peace present us with an opportunity to practice truly following Jesus so that one day, if the environment changes, we’ll be as ready as possible to continue in faithfulness. So how do we step onto the practice field of life with full intensity? Continue reading

A Spirit-Filled Church

When the Holy Spirit fills people, what happens to their church?

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Acts 2:41-47 is an incredibly beautiful picture of what the church was like in its earliest days. Yet what is often missed about this passage is the 40 verses preceding it. This was a church that seemed to be devoted to all the right things. They experienced incredibly meaningful and selfless relationships, and they saw daily evidence of God’s power in their midst. And there was a very clear reason: these believers had been filled with the Holy Spirit.

What was happening was not a result of great programs, inspirational personalities, or a sizeable budget. Instead, the Acts 2 church looked like it looked because the Holy Spirit was powering the engines. Acts 2 is often talked about as if it’s a blueprint for what we should strive for as followers of Jesus in community, and while there’s nothing wrong with being motivated with a picture of “things working right” and trying to live it out, this certainly isn’t the author’s goal in recording his description. Rather, it seems clear in the flow of the book of Acts that this is meant to be a picture of what happens to a community of believers (a church) when God’s Spirit fills up its people. Continue reading