God Our Help(er)

There’s a word in Hebrew that means help, or helper.

rescue

The word is ezer (עֵ֫זֶר), and probably the most well-known time it’s used in the ancient Jewish scriptures is in reference to Eve, and the purpose of her creation (Gen. 2:18-25).

Out of the 21 times the term is found, however, 15 of them are actually referring to God Himself (Ex. 18:4; Deut. 33:7, 26, 29; Psalms 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19; 115:9-11; 121:2; 124:8; 146:5; Hos. 13:9) – that’s over two-thirds of all instances of it!

Out of all these instances, my favourite is Psalm 124:8 – “Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

God, who made the heavens and the earth, the almighty sovereign God, is also the one who helps us. And since He created the heavens and the earth, and more than that since He raised His Son Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead, is there any problem or issue that is too big for Him to help us with?

Today, whatever you’re going through or whatever challenges you’re facing, you are not alone. The same God who created all of space and everything it contains is the same God who desires to be your helper. Call on Him like the Psalmist “Come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay” (Ps. 70:5) – don’t try to solve or weather it yourself, whatever it is.

God will be faithful to answer when we call on Him, so with the author of Hebrews, we’ll be able to boldly proclaim “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Heb. 13:6).

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Haiku Prayers

Jesus my true King,

Strike down these gods within me,

Glorious freedom.

Holy Spirit come,

Flood Your Church with new power,

Revive us again.

You the rightful head,

We have decapitated,

Forgive us O Lord.

Plans most practical,

Wisdom gleamed from business world,

Speak Your voice instead!

We busy ourselves,

Distracted by life’s good things,

Remind us what’s best.

This last one is not explicitly a prayer, but what my vision (and prayer for) is for enCompass church, turned into a haiku if I could. Doesn’t quite work:

Passionately pray,

Know, obey, reach out, welcome,

enCompass vision

To be a church that passionately prays (Col. 4:2), knows and obeys the Bible (Rom. 6:17), reaches out into the community with evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20) and good works (Jer. 29:5-7; Eph. 2:10), and welcomes all people well (Rom. 15:7).

or

Passionately prays, knows and obeys, reaches out, and welcomes well.

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On the Cusp of the Promised Land

Twelve leaders of the people went in to spy out the land before going in to take it.

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Ten of those leaders said “no,” it can’t be done. There’s giants there. The enemy is too big. It’s too much work. It’s more comfortable here. It’ll cost too much. Take too much sacrifice.

Two of the leaders said “yes.” God has promised to be with us and to give it to us.

The people listened to the ten, and as a result they all remained in the desert, wandering, for 40 years.

This is the story we read in Numbers 13-14. For leaders of the church – pastors, elders, board members, deacons – this is a serious story. Because we have that decision to make too: to say “yes” to what God is doing and wants to do, or to say “no.” The naysayers’ arguments will always be logical, practical, and appeal to our sense of security. Change is hard work. Change is unknown.

But the stakes are high. The cost of listening to the naysayers is remaining in the desert. With the Promised Land within reach. And more than that, with the Promised Land given and, well, promised, by God. Along with His promise to never leave us or forsake us (Is. 41:10). Along with Jesus’ promise that in fact, we would do greater works than He did while on earth, with faith and obedience (John 14:12).

Saying “yes” doesn’t mean it will be easy, of course. We still have to fight. We still have to work. It will require change and sacrifice – not just as a church or a leadership team, but as individuals too.

But saying yes will be worth it.

Saying yes is how we will see our churches on fire for Jesus, passionately living for Him. Passionately telling others about Him.

The question before each of us is: how will you answer?

 

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Witness as Evangelism: Recap & Reading Recommendations*

Last Sunday at enCompass Church in Winnipeg, I preached on evangelism in terms of witnessing (seeing and hearing) what God was doing in a person’s life or situation, and then speaking about that (or witnessing to that) to them, like a detective discovers evidence and presents it to their clients.

While many Scripture passages talk about evangelism this way, Peter and Paul’s response to the Pharisees trying to get them to stop preaching impacted me a lot: “As for us, we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

detective

Along with a detective, I used the image of a sniper, waiting patiently to speak to those God directs us to in the ways He shows us, instead of using a ‘shotgun’ approach like random evangelism with abstract (yet true) facts about our separation from God and need for a saviour. And I used the image of a tour guide – we don’t just tell people where to go or see, but we join them (or have them join us) on the journey closer and closer to Jesus.

There will always be a need to explicitly speak the Gospel to people (Rom. 10:13-15), but a more effective way of initially bringing people to Jesus in our current culture is to show them (witness to) what Christ is already doing in and around their lives, and to tell of our own experiences of answered prayer and His activity in our lives.

Philip and his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) was a perfect example of these three illustrations: he listened to the orders of the Holy Spirit, he observed that the Ethiopian was reading from the prophet Isaiah and responded by acting on that, and then journeyed with him and explained the Gospel to him using Isaiah as his starting point.

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For those interested, I would like to suggest four books that I found helpful for my sermon, or that I’ve found helpful in the past regarding evangelism:

  1. Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism, by Carl Medearis
  2. Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier, by David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw
  3. Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey, by Rick Richardson
  4. Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation, by Gordon T. Smith

What books or other resources have you found helpful as you think and practice witnessing Jesus and witnessing to Him?

*cross-posted from here.

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Leaving Blessings

Simpson Quote

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July 21, 2016 · 4:49 pm

Discipleship in the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).

China 2011-95-S

The merchant sold all he had for the pearl of great value because he was able to recognize its value and beauty. Once he possessed it, however, he was functionally poor (in the sense he couldn’t buy food, clothes, pay rent, etc).

This parable is not about using God to become wealthy, but it’s about the worth of the Kingdom of God – the worth of ‘possessing’ Jesus.

In the parable, the merchant sees its worth. Now, in order for him to become a merchant, and to be able to recognize the worth of the pearl, he had to be taught. He had to apprentice under someone (probably his father, in that culture).

This is where we see the importance of discipleship in the Christian life. Teaching, but also modelling and apprenticing others in the ways and teachings of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything [He] commanded…” (Matt. 28:20).

The challenge for all Christians is to see the beauty and glory of Jesus so much that we devote our lives to Him, “selling all that we have,” and “taking up our cross daily and following Him.” And the job of mature Christians is to help others  in the church to see Jesus properly (that is, to see His beauty, glory, and inestimable worth). This is especially true for church leaders – elders, deacons, teachers, worship and small group leaders, and of course, even the pastors.

pearl_quality

Having said that, we can only train others as far as we ourselves have gone. If I’ve only studied to learn about the size, colour, and shape of pearls, then that will be all I can teach and show. I won’t be able to teach about the lustre, surface quality, or nacre quality of them.

The other aspect of this is that being able to see Jesus’ true worth is a gift and grace from God. So maybe it’s not so much teaching and modelling to others how to see Jesus, but to see Him better, or, to see Him more accurately.

And so the challenge for me then is to know Jesus intimately and recognize His presence, work, glory, and beauty in and around me and in and around the life of those around me, in order to point them to Jesus to be able to recognize Him better themselves.

And as we see the glory of Jesus, we are changed more and more to be like Him (2 Cor. 3:18).

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Living in God’s Will

One of the questions that Christians commonly ask is “What is God’s will for my life?” or “How can I know God’s will?”

What-should-I-do

In actuality, Scripture is very clear on God’s general will for the believer’s life: He wants us to love Him with all our heart, strength, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Luke 10:27). He wants us to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, deny ourselves, and take up our cross to follow Him (Matt. 16:24-25). He wants us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). And so on.

These things, in a very real way, are also God’s specific will for each believer, and we need to honestly assess whether we are being obedient to His will in these ways. But usually when someone asks what God’s will is, they’re looking for more concrete and direct answers, instructions on what specifically they should do or where they should go.

Two promises the Scriptures make regarding the Holy Spirit guiding us are Isaiah 30:21 and John 16:13:

“Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left” (Is. 30:21).

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13).

But while we are promised this guidance from the Holy Spirit, does that even include things like what type of degree we should get, who we should marry, where we should live, and things like that?

Sometimes, but not always.

Having said that, there is one way we can know if we are living in God’s will or not, and if what we want to do out of our myriads of options is in His will. We can test it by Colossians 3:12-17.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

With verses 12-16 as an important background, we can ask “with what I’m doing or with what I want to do, can I honestly do it in the name of the Master Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father?”

Obviously this question would then exclude all and any sinful actions. And this questions requires that we not just think about what we do, but why we do it too. To examine our motives.  It means we need to be intentional about what we do and don’t do, so that whatever we do in word and deed can be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.

If we live this way, with let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and let the word of God richly dwell within you, we will be living in God’s will. No, we still won’t have clear directions on who to marry or where to work, but the more our actions and lives please God and line up with His will as revealed in Scripture, then the more easily will we be able to discern His specific will for those types of things (and I think we’ll find that He’s really quite permissible. With a lot of the choices we have in life He’s more concerned with the why and how of what we do than the what itself, to a degree).

Of course, doing this doesn’t replace the need to pray for wisdom (James 1:5-8), to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), and to seek godly counsel (Proverbs 19:20), but it both enhances them and ensures that we are living lives pleasing to God (which also makes us more receptive of hearing God’s voice!).

This passage, Colossians 3:12-17, is especially important for those who lead in churches, in any capacity. Do we do it intentionally and with right motives? Can we say everything we do and don’t do, every decision and action we make as leaders, and why we make them, is in the name of our King Jesus?

Just as for individuals, God will guide us and those we lead as we frame our decisions with this in mind: “whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

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