Sacrificing For The Mission?

SacrificeThere is a cost for freedom.

On November 11, we set aside time to remember that many gave their lives in order to preserve our national freedom.

Whenever Christians gather at the Lord’s Table we remember that Jesus gave up His life in order to obtain our eternal freedom.

There is a cost for freedom.

You could say that anything worth having, or keeping, comes at a price. There are times when the cost is so high that we term the payment as a sacrifice.

I recently delivered a message, based on Nehemiah 5:1-19, entitled “Sacrificing For The Vision” (audio below). In this message I identify the “sacrifices” made by those charged with rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. I note the sacrifices that Nehemiah makes, giving up certain allowances and privileges and sharing his resources with those in need.

The pattern we see throughout Scripture is that faithfulness to God takes work. We have to give up things. I think it is noteworthy that the Gospels don’t simply say that the first disciples followed Jesus, but we’re told that Simon Peter and Andrew “left their nets and followed (Jesus)” (Mt. 4:20). James and John are said to have “left the boat and their father and followed (Jesus)” (Mt. 4:22).

Indeed, there is a cost to discipleship.

Our role models in this regard are many—Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Nehemiah, the early apostles, are just the first that come to mind when I think of those who gave up much in their effort to honour the Lord.

My encouragement to the people of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk was to prepare themselves to similarly sacrifice for the kingdom of God. I urged them to give time, energy, and resources to help further the Gospel of Christ. In a word, there was a call to sacrifice for the mission.

And yet, part of me blushes to use the word sacrifice. Yes, discipleship is costly, but I think David Livingstone ‘s response to Cambridge University students in 1857 sheds appropriate light for us:

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

It takes considerable commitment and effort to walk the narrow road and to promote the Gospel in the face of persecution, but perhaps we need to choose a word other than sacrifice.

What I can safely say is that we need to move beyond half-measures. Or to quote the great hymn writer, Isaac Watts:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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“Sacrificing For The Vision”, based on Nehemiah 5:1-19, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, October 30, 2011.

A Pastor’s Guide To Twitter

Twitter AwardsWhen I signed up for Twitter a few years back I had pretty low expectations. I never imagined that this social network tool could be meaningfully used to convey biblical truth to those seeking to learn and be edified. I began using Twitter in order to send information (“tweet”), but now find that my primary use of Twitter is to receive information/inspiration (by “following” others).

I realize that Twitter has developed a helpful “Who To Follow” mechanism, but just in case you want a little extra help in choosing who to “follow”, I have developed my own “Twitter Awards” commending particular “Tweeters” for your edification (and for my own amusement). The awards below are not the result of any objective assessment, but rather are rooted in my profound bias.

The list of people I “follow”, between my two Twitter accounts (bryn31 and Nassau_Kirk), is quite small. Accordingly, I would love to hear your recommendations, which could possibly lead to a sequel awards presentation in 2012.

Category: Best Reformed Tweeter
Winner: Ligonier (5,914 tweets / 17, 988 followers)
Runner-up: DesiringGod (4,232 tweets / 64,939 followers)
Ligonier Ministries, founded by R.C. Sproul, has a great balance of edifying quotes, ministry updates, resource recommends and helpful retweets. Desiring God Ministries is equally adept at using Twitter, but I give Ligonier the edge for their more intentional promotion of Reformed Theology.

Category: Best Tweeting Preacher
Winner: RickWarren (4,190 tweets / 434,734 followers)
Runner-up: JohnPiper (2,831 tweets / 212,415 followers)
Keep in mind that the award is not “Best Preacher Tweeting”, but “Best Tweeting Preacher”. My two favourite preachers, Alistair Begg and Francis Chan, are not Tweeters. Warren uses Twitter in a wide variety of ways. Sometimes he’ll tweet about items/people he is praying for. On other occasions you’ll see him encouraging other pastors. Warren won’t be winning my “Most Retweetable Preacher” award, but there are times when he will offer up a 140 character gem.

Category: Most Retweetable (Quotable) Preacher
Winner: DailyKeller (530 tweets / 47,833 followers)
Runner-up: MaxLucado (2,822 tweets / 286,490 followers)
Max Lucado has a much larger tweet database and a more extensive following, but I give Tim Keller the edge based on the percentage of his tweets which I retweet. Virtually everything Keller tweets is gold. If we could convince Keller to become a “tweetaholic” the Christian community would be even better served.
Keller tweet: “The heart of the gospel is the cross, and the cross is all about giving up power, pouring out resources, and serving.”
Lucado tweet: “You have not been sprinkled with forgiveness. You have not been spattered with grace. You are submerged in mercy. Let it change you!”

Category: Tweetaholic Preacher
Winner: EdStetzer (14,739 tweets)
Runner-ups: cnieuwhof (8,986 tweets) & PerryNoble (8,626 tweets)
We’ve known for thousands of years that preachers like to talk, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find that preachers also like to tweet. I do not mean for this award to be a slight—I follow these guys for a reason–they’re smart, gifted, godly pastors. Ed Stetzer was the keynote speaker at my denomination’s General Assembly in June 2011. Carey Nieuwhof is a friend and colleague from the years we served together in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. But, like I said, we preachers like to talk. These guys are tweet machines!

Category: Up-and-coming Tweeter
Winner: ihelpyouthrive
I told you I was biased! This is my wife’s professional Twitter account. She is an accredited Marriage & Family Therapist (AAMFT) and I happen to think she is a perfect combination of clever and funny. 27 tweets isn’t much, but to use a sports term, she’s a tweeting “prospect”.

Category: Best Toronto Blue Jays Tweeter
Winner: jparencibia9 (2,054 tweets / 49,224 followers)
I can’t be serious all the time! I also follow the athletes from my favourite sports teams. J.P. Arencibia is a young, power-hitting, catcher, who is also a Twitter stand-out.

Category: Best Toronto Maple Leafs Tweeter
Winner: armdog (1,338 tweets / 60,416 followers)
Colby Armstrong is tough as nails on the ice, but on Twitter we see a sophisticated sense of humour.

Category: Best Comic Tweeter
Winner: JimGaffigan (1,871 tweets / 747,404)
Admittedly, Gaffigan does use some edgy religious content in his jokes (mostly to do with bacon)—but to be fair, he also admits to using edgy ketchup jokes.
Gaffigan tweet: “I like swimming with a sun shirt. People always look at me like I fell in the pool.”

Hope you enjoyed these recommends. Like I said, would love to hear your recommends—besides friends, I tend to “follow” Christian pastors/authors, professional athletes, and people who make me laugh.

The Primacy Of Humility

Have a close look at Romans chapter 12 and I think you will agree that one trait stands out from the crowd. Emerging from a substantial list of imperatives is the call for followers of Jesus to be marked by humility.

I wonder if that surprises you. Perhaps you were expecting love to be the dominant trait. Or maybe you expected kindness, or forgiveness, to be our primary trait.

Could it be that the reason Paul emphasizes humility is because our level of humility determines our capacity to excel with these other traits?

We can actually test this hypothesis with a simple question: If I struggle with pride and self-centredness, will this impair my ability to love others?

If that’s true—if selfishness hampers love, if pride hinders peace, if self-centredness stunts my generosity, then you would expect the remedy to lie with humility, wouldn’t you?

Paul begins his emphasis on humility in 12:3: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

It is important to avoid the temptation of regarding yourself according to the opinion of others. Inevitably, some will think too highly of us while others will think too little of us. Paul wants our self-evaluation to happen within the context our our relationship with God. There we will find a necessary balance. We’ll celebrate that we are children of the King, but children by grace. We’ll rejoice in being forgiven, but we’ll remember that this standing was not something we earned.

In 12:5, Paul arrests our tendency to pursue our own personal preferences when he declares that “each member belongs to all the others.” We have an obligation to one another that can only be met within an environment marked by humility. Paul says something quite similar in 12:10 when he writes, “Honour one another above yourselves.

Notice that Paul does not simply say, “Honour one another.” He doesn’t simply give an imperative for mutual respect. No, he takes this to another level: “Honour one another above yourselves.

Imagine how progress in this regard would help to transform marriages, churches, and communities. Think about it—how does conflict survive if I care more about what you need than what I need?

Paul closes out this section with even more explicit instruction on humility: “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom. 12:16).

It should go without saying that Paul’s statement relates to worldly standards. God does not look at some as though they were in a high position and others as though they were in a low position. It is the world which distinguishes between the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

You could even summarize Paul’s teaching in Romans 12 by saying:

“Don’t be like the world. Be like Jesus.”

“Don’t be governed by societal standards. Be governed by biblical standards.”

As a young boy, I was obsessed with being in first place. I wanted to win every race and every competition. I wanted to be first in line for everything.

I’m trying to grow out of that remembering the words of Jesus, “if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mk. 9:35).

By every appearance, my capacity for kindness, my capacity for generosity, my capacity for love is determined by my ability to “be the very last, and the servant of all“.

Humility is not some secondary trait for the follower of Jesus. Humility is of massive importance for our advancement in Christ-likeness. To this end I urge you to pursue last place.

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“Be Humble”, based on Romans 12, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, September 18, 2011.

Good Religious Zeal

Many will read the title of this post and think that I’ve just stated an oxymoron.

“The word ‘good’ and the words ‘religious zeal’ do not belong together”, some will say.

This generation has certainly seen its share of religious zeal gone bad. History  also records a trail of religious movements that sought to forcefully impose their beliefs on others.

One of the unfortunate side effects of this is that today’s Christian church is feeling pressure to produce a brand of Christianity that is devoid of any zeal. There is a pressure to be moderate. There is an expectation for us to be entirely quiet and private about what we believe.

I want to suggest an alternative. The answer to “bad zeal” is not the absence of zeal. The answer to “bad zeal” is “good zeal”—what I would term “biblical zeal”. I say this because the Bible actually commands our zeal. The apostle Paul says to the Romans, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).

The Greek word, translated “keep“, literally means “to guard“. What is implied here is that every follower of Jesus begins with zeal—zeal for the Lord and all that He has done for us. We begin with zeal for the mission, and all that we are required to do. But it appears that there are things that threaten our zeal, and so we must “guard” it.

I appreciate Paul’s imperative while living in an age where there is pressure—sometimes even the expectation—that we will give up our zeal.

As I seek to guard my zeal from those who would have me give it up, I am challenged to examine the nature of my zeal. Because as I look at Paul’s command in context I see a particular kind of zeal being described.

The imperatives which surround the call to zeal are marked by selflessness. Paul begins with a challenge to love with sincerity (12:9). He goes on to encourage devotion to others, to the extent that we would honour the needs of others above our own (12:10). Paul exhorts Christians to be marked by joy and to be patient in affliction, while remaining faithful in prayer (12:12). Paul goes on to encourage generosity and hospitality (12:13).

Keep reading and you’ll find imperatives for humility, empathy, and harmony (12:14, 15). There is a call to integrity (12:17) and a call to peace (12:18-20), ending with the command: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21).

As I consider the placement of the command for me to be zealous, I cannot help but connect that command with the traits which surround it.

The answer to “bad zeal” is not the absence of zeal. The answer to “bad zeal” is biblical zeal.

Biblical zeal loves sincerely.
Biblical zeal acts humbly.
Biblical zeal serves joyfully.
Biblical zeal endures patiently.
Biblical zeal prays faithfully.
Biblical zeal gives generously.
Biblical zeal pursues peace.

Our world bears the scars of misplaced zeal. Biblical zeal is different. Biblical zeal promotes healing and transformation.

Don’t be shy about pursuing biblical zeal!

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“Be Zealous”, based on Romans 12, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, September 11, 2011.

My Job Has Changed

Urban Renewal CentreMy focus in ministry has changed over the past year. I didn’t mean for it to. I’m not even sure how to explain it. My theology is pretty much the same, so why is the application of my theology changing so dramatically?

For the first 13 years of ordained ministry, I was consumed with the work that took place within the walls of the local church I was called to. I was like a manager seeking to maintain peace and order within the institution. Today, I find myself consumed by the work which lies outside the walls of the local church I am called to. I feel like a hybrid between a local church pastor and a missionary.

Some of my colleagues would say that I’ve moved from an “attractional” ministry model to a “missional” one. That might be the best explanation. For the sake of those who do not recognize those terms, an “attractional” ministry sets itself up in such a way as to become attractive to those who might be looking for a church home. In the attractional model, ministry is largely fixed in a particular location while hoping to draw others in. The “missional” model, by contrast, is marked by sending (see John 20:21). Members of the local church are encouraged to go (see Matthew 28:19) and be difference makers in their respective communities.

I don’t know that there was a defining moment that pushed me into the missional mindset. Nor can I point to a meeting or a decision that rendered St. Andrew’s Kirk a missional church. But as I write this, it has become obvious that the shift has already happened. We’re meaningfully involved as a primary partner for the Bain & Grant’s Town Urban Renewal Centre. We have a regular presence at the Ranfurly Homes for Children. We’re in discussion with a nearby high school about how we can help mentor teens who are struggling. Every Sunday we pay for a bus to go through the neighbourhood to pick up children who have no other way to get to church.

The number of Kirk members who are involved in these efforts is growing at a rapid pace. The resources being expended beyond our walls is increasing. I discern our ministry posture becoming joyfully missional.

One of the other really neat things I have discerned in this ministry shift is that the ministry within our walls is being enhanced.

I know—it sounds counter-intuitive to say that focussing ministry outside the walls of the church is the key to improving ministry within the walls of the church, but that’s exactly what I perceive to be happening.

This approach may be counter-intuitive, but it’s biblical. Jesus told us to “Go and make disciples” (Mt. 28:19) and explained that we are to be His “witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

I’m grateful to be able to say that I think we might be tasting some of the blessing described in Isaiah 58, where the Lord says,

“If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isa. 58:10, 11).

I’m a bit embarrassed by how long it took for me to embrace this ministry emphasis. And I get the sense that we’ve only just begun. Being missional can’t be reduced to a few strategic initiatives. Being missional, I suspect, is something we become and will grow in as we give ourselves to Jesus and His priorities. It’s entirely possible then, that my job will continue to change.