Tag Archives: church

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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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.

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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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The Role of Forgiving & “Forgetting” in Unity

One of the greatest killers of community is unforgiveness.

There can be a myriad of reasons we may harbour unforgiveness against someone, from minor things like “he didn’t put the toilet seat down again,” to the horrific like the continued Boko Haram atrocities, the Charleston church shooting, or Guido Amsel sending bombs to his ex-wife and their lawyers here in Winnipeg .

In church settings the effects of unforgiveness always lead to disunity; fellowship is broken, and I’ve heard of people going to the same church for decades and never speaking to each other. This is very sad, and extremely contrary to the way of Jesus, who at the end of His life prayed for our unity (John 17).

Forgiving

And while forgiveness doesn’t negate consequences (a forgiven murderer still goes to jail, a forgiven slanderer still needs to recant their words), we know that repentance or the lack thereof is not dependent on us forgiving. This makes it one of the hardest things we can do; and also, one of the most Christ-like. As I know only too well, the act of  ‘dying to self’ is greatly needed in order to forgive sometimes.

But because we have been forgiven by God, God expects us to in turn give that same grace to others. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15 sound harsh to our ears: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” but there’s really no way to understand these words except at face-value (this is not to say that we earn God’s forgiveness by works of our own forgiveness of others, but shows the seriousness with which God expects us to love others the way He loves us (see Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18)).

“Forgetting”

Often forgiving someone is not enough to restore unity, however. At least not the way we practice forgiveness today (a shallow, un-christ-like type of forgiveness which says the perpetrator is forgiven, but will never be trusted/spoken to/loved again). This is why Miroslav Volf, in his “Exclusion & Embrace“, talks about the need to forget, or “nonremembering,” in order to forgive in such a way that unity and relationship can be fully restored. This nonremembering properly takes place after “perpetrators have been named, judged, and (hopefully) transformed” (131), and after the victims are safe and have healed/mourned. For without it “as long as it is remembered, the past is not just the past; it remains an aspect of the present. A remembered wound is an experienced wound” (133). This forgetting is not a complete obliteration of the memories, which is frankly impossible, but a sort of “backgrounding” of the memory that allows us to move beyond the offense and pain of it. Volf says that this is the final, and most difficult part, of reconciliation (131).

This week, before next Sunday, examine your heart and see if you are holding any unforgiveness or bitterness towards anyone in your community; and if you are determine to forgive them in the strength of God’s forgiveness given to you. And keep forgiving them for as long as you need to in order to “forget.” It will be difficult, but it will be more worth it than you can imagine beforehand.

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Expanding Our God-in-the-Box

You put God in a box. And so do I.

We don’t do it on purpose, or even consciously, of course, but because we are finite beings it’s impossible for us not to. And all our boxes look different; they’re constructed by our upbringing and our church backgrounds (or lack thereof); by our relationships and our media consumption; by the way we read Scripture and pray (or don’t do those); and by a host of other things which would be impossible to name them all.

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These boxes say “God is like this, but not like that” or “God does this, but doesn’t do that” and such things. And invariably they contain both a lot of truth about God and a lot of untruth, even lies.

But because our boxes are all made up differently and because we all carry one, one of the great things that I’ve noticed about including more people into my life and into the groups I’m part of is that our “God-in-the-boxes” crash against each other. And as they crash together my box actually expands and grows – even splinters, and cracks open. And God becomes bigger in my life. Becomes more of who He is and who He wants to be in my life.

Now, if this is true for me then I can reasonably expect that it is also true for you. While this doesn’t mean we will always agree with everyone, which is a good thing, it does mean that we don’t need to be hesitant to include others. Rather, we should be eager to do so, knowing that we will see more of God because of them.

It also means that we need to learn to listen well. Not to discount or shrug people off when they don’t agree with us. Part of what breaks our boxes as they collide is our differing opinions. So, what does the Indigenous Christian, or the Latino Christian, or the Indian or African or other non-Western Christian say about God? What does the Calvinist or the Arminian say about Him? What do poor or wealthy Christians say? What do LGBQT Christians say about God, even?

One of the beautiful things about the Kingdom of God is its diversity – which we’ll finally experience to its full extent at the End of Time, when we’ll be able to say with St. John:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!””

god-box

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Jeremiah Speaks to the Modern Church

It’s been a long time since I read any of the prophetic books, and honestly I don’t like reading them that much compared to the NT, but I knew that I should, and I randomly chose to read the book of Jeremiah. And I find that as I’m reading it I’m thinking about the Church a lot. Specifically, the Church in North America, but my own local congregation as well.

Publication1While Jeremiah was speaking to a specific people in specific contexts, three passages have especially stood out to me so far as being especially relevant for us today:

Jeremiah 2:13

“For my people have done two evil things:
They have abandoned me—
the fountain of living water.
And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns
that can hold no water at all!”

When I read this I was again reminded of how we have a great lack of the Spirit’s power in our churches today (and indeed, also in my own life). We have abandoned prayer and dependence on God and instead have turned to the methods and practices of the world – especially the business and entertainment worlds.

A great example of the latter is the Global Leadership Summit, put on by Willow Creek every year. Its target audience is church leaders, and its speakers are high profile church leaders and successful business leaders. Many of the business leaders they have speak are not Christians, and their talks focus on how to be a successful & productive manager/CEO of the church, using secular business models.

Examples of the former include things like sermons that aim to be relevant and accessible (and are generally about having a better/happier life – “5 Keys to a Healthy Marriage” – as opposed to pointing us to Christ and His work on our behalf), and worship songs that make the singer the main subject (as opposed to God). Some of these songs don’t even mention God, preferring the pronoun “you,” and are generally indistinguishable from pop love songs on the radio.

This is a problem on so many levels. But enough ranting there.

Jeremiah 16: 11-12

“Then you will give them the Lord’s reply: ‘It is because your ancestors were unfaithful to me. They worshiped other gods and served them. They abandoned me and did not obey my word. And you are even worse than your ancestors! You stubbornly follow your own evil desires and refuse to listen to me.

I’m ripping this passage even more out of its original context (God is spelling out what Judah’s idolatry is leading to: lots of death and eventual exile), but this passage made me think of how, as a young believer I yearned for godly mentors and leaders in my church, who would take me under their wing and show me what it means to be a Christian (having an unbelieving mother and a new-believer father myself). Mentorship is so important!

And I think about how my current church has prayer meetings that only two or three people attend, and how the love of Jesus is not very evident in our midst, and how our media habits and our life-goals are not any different than the worlds, and how this is the example we’re giving our young people of what it means to be a Christian.

And so if we get it so wrong, how much more will the next generation? This breaks my heart. However, I am solaced with the thought that God always preserves a remnant for himself. What we will have to answer for though!

Jeremiah 14: 19-22

Although our sins testify against us,
    do something, Lord, for the sake of your name.
For we have often rebelled;
    we have sinned against you.
You who are the hope of Israel,
    its Savior in times of distress,
why are you like a stranger in the land,
    like a traveler who stays only a night?
Why are you like a man taken by surprise,
    like a warrior powerless to save?
You are among us, Lord,
    and we bear your name;
    do not forsake us!

This is the prayer that I prayed for myself, my church, and the Canadian and U.S. Church after I read it. I’ll continue to do so, and I invite you to pray it with me.

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“Be strong and courageous!” Is Joshua 1:9 Wrongfully Used by Christians?

There are a lot of promises God makes in the Old Testament that Christians love to appropriate for themselves, and are notorious for ripping out of context. You’ll see these printed on mugs and posters, and magnets and bumper-stickers, and retweeted and posted to Facebook. Jeremiah 29:11 readily comes to my mind as the worst of the lot, and it’s highly likely I don’t need to write out the verse for you to know what it says.

Even this pic shows the proper context - unless you're a slave exiled in ancient Babylon, this promise isn't for you.

Even this pic shows the proper context – unless you’re a slave exiled in ancient Babylon, this promise isn’t for you.

And it seems to me the trend lately is for there to be a good backlash against this practice; with pastors and churches looking at the context of the promises, and learning about what they actually meant for their original (and solely intended) audience. Of course we still learn from these promises, but it means we don’t appropriate them as promises meant for us, thousands of years later in a completely different context.

One of the verses this happens a lot with is Joshua 1:9, probably the best-known passage in the whole book of Joshua: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

joshua_1.9_nlt_picture

Lions seem to need reminding of this a lot according to Google image search.

This encouragement was given to Joshua just after Moses died and just before Joshua was to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. And Joshua needed it! Moses was the greatest prophet and leader Israel had ever had (Deut. 34), and Joshua was stepping into those shoes. Also, Joshua was about to lead a whole nation into a land they had never been in, to conquer and possess it (as per God’s promise to Abraham centuries earlier). That left a lot of unknowns. So Joshua needs all the affirmation and encouragement he can get.

So we can see that this command (“be strong and courageous”) and this promise (“the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”) is specifically given to Joshua in his context. So, is it right for Christians to appropriate it for our own encouragement?

To answer this, we turn to the New Testament and ask “are there any scriptures there that are given to Christians and say the same thing as Joshua 1:9?” And we find that there are.

The Promise – “the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”:

Matt. 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”

Matt. 28:20 “And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”

John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

The Command – “be strong and courageous”:

Rom. 8:15 “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.””

2 Tim. 2:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

1 Cor. 3:13 “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.”

Heb. 13:5-6 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?””  (actually, this passage contains both the promise and the command in it!)

—————————

For the follower of Christ we have no need to fear, because Jesus has both promised to be with us himself and to send the Holy Spirit to be with us (which he did shortly after his ascension – see Acts 2).

Is it right for Christians to appropriate the promise and command given to Joshua for themselves? Yes, yes it is. Joshua 1:9 is a pithy summary of what God consistently commands and promises throughout the Bible to those who follow him. While given to Joshua specifically and solely in Joshua chapter 1, there are enough NT passages that encourage and remind us of the same thing.

Joshua1-9Something to note, though, is that the emphasis in Joshua 1:9 and elsewhere is primarily on the presence of God with us. Because he is with us, we can be strong and courageous. God’s continuing presence is the both the basis for and source of our courage!

So, if you are a follower of Christ, then be strong and courageous! because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

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How to be Perfect in One Easy Step

Do you want to be perfect like God is perfect?

Jesus tells us how to do it, and it’s shockingly easily.

Being good at this game is not what Jesus had in mind...

Being good at this game is not what Jesus had in mind…

 

There’s an interesting section in the Sermon on the Mount that I believe we easily overlook in our reading of it. Here’s the pericope:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48 NRSV)

We readily see “love your enemies” (hasn’t that become something of a catch-phrase?), and then we skip over the rest. Maybe we think “I don’t have enemies,” or “that’s too hard,” or “he/she doesn’t deserve that!!”

And, if we have enemies, we should love them of course (though how many of us in the West truly do?). But Jesus expands this message from “enemy” to everyone, in the proceeding verses. He says “if you only love those who love you… if you only greet your friends…” thereby including those who are strangers to us, or indifferent, or Other. Jesus is essentially saying love everyone, and greet everyone. Reminds me of how he summed up the law and prophets: Love God and love others.

But the way Jesus ends this section is what blows my mind. He says ‘if you do this, you will be perfect like God is perfect.’ How simple sounding, eh!

——————

The young adults at a church I worked for all saw the need to reach out to new people and visitors, and welcome them and say hi and invite them to join the community, but every week they would still clump together in their closed groups of friends and exclude everyone else (there were exceptions of course). One of them told me that it was hard because they only saw their friends in real life on Sundays, they were so busy during the week.

At my current church one of the guys told me that, as a single late-20’s guy, he won’t talk to new married couples or families, or those who are in an older generation than him.

But this is why I think Jesus says we will be perfect when we do extend our welcome though – God, in the trinitarian oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the most perfect, complete, whole, unified, loving friendship anywhere – sent Jesus to earth to love and welcome us into God’s family. We who were not friends, we who had nothing in common with him.

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So, on the surface this is the most easy thing in the world for us to do (unless you’re an introvert, like I am – but if I can try do it so can you!). Yet in practice it’s hard for us to break out of our patterns, our comfort zones, our friendship groups, our mindsets. But if we do, we will be perfect like our Father in Heaven, who reached out to welcome strangers like us into his Kingdom, and into his union with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

“Be perfect, therefore, like your heavenly Father is perfect.”

 

 

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