The Most Famous Song Ever?…Remixed

There must be people who don’t care for this hymn, I just haven’t met any of them yet. Written by English clergyman, John Newton in 1772, Amazing Grace has established itself as arguably the most beloved song in the history of the Christian Church. The words are compelling, the doctrine is sound, and the tune (New Britain) is memorable. The 2006 feature film by this name, traces the work of abolitionist, William Wilberforce, while also recounting the origin of John Newton’s hymn. Among a myriad of musicians who have recorded and/or amended this hymn in recent years, Chris Tomlin’s version has garnered perhaps the most accolades. Have a listen/look at the video. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Keeping The Fire Lit

I consider myself to be a passionate person. When I believe in something, or someone, I tend to get behind it/them 100%. But, admittedly, in spite of my best intentions, I have observed that unfettered zeal can be difficult to sustain. For some people, when they lose their passion for something or someone, the natural response is to get out. Move on to other things. End the relationship. Find something, or someone, capable for reigniting the passion.

Christians don’t have that option. The God who initiated our relationship with Him, preserves that relationship (John 6:39, 40). I am so thankful for the fact that I cannot escape God’s merciful grasp. But, here’s the trouble–or challenge–as I see it. The God who sovereignly preserves my relationship with Him, does not force me to respond lovingly to Him. And because growth in godliness requires choice; because my passion for Christ is connected to my will, I sometimes find my passion lacking. The commitment remains. The relationship remains. But the fire, the intensity, I have in following the Lord sometimes vacillates.

Now, imagine this on a grander scale. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of Christians gathered together on a Sunday morning because of their existing relationship with, and commitment to, Jesus Christ. But, in this instance, it is a gathering of people whose passion for Christ has waned. The results can be devastating. Those who had yet to make the same commitment to Christ (often our youth) become disenchanted. Visitors, failing to detect any zeal, move on to warmer pastures–or worse, they altogether give up their search for an authentic Christian community.

I wish I could tell you that such gatherings are rare. They’re not. The New Testament sends enough warning signals to convince me that keeping our passion for Christ is neither easy nor automatic. Check out how the apostle John has to address the churches in his day (see the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation)–he challenges the Christians at Ephesus writing, “you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). In other words, they had lost their fire, their zeal, for Christ.

Along similar lines, the apostle Paul takes a proactive approach with the Colossians, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him” (Colossians 2:6). The idea here is that we begin well with Christ. We begin our Christian life with an overwhelming sense of joy, gratitude, zeal, and hope and Paul wants us to maintain that. Paul wants us to continue in the manner we began. Paul wants us to do whatever it takes to keep our fire for Christ lit.

A passion-less church–not only will that not attract the world, but it will repel the world. Some would say it already has. Well, today is a new day. If you have lost a bit of your passion, now is the time to reclaim it.

God stands nearby ready to engage us, ready to heal us, and ready to inflame our passions for Him and His purposes. Everything we need is within our reach.

This was my burden this morning as I delivered my Sunday message at St. Giles Kingsway. I framed my main point as a math equation:

PASSION for Christ + POWER from Christ = effective kingdom service

If that’s something that interests you, I invite you to have a listen.

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Which Way Should You Go?

What should I do? Which way should I go? How can I know if I’m on the right track?

I get asked these questions a lot. To be candid, I ask these questions a lot. Not too long ago, it was popular to address these types of questions with another question: What would Jesus do? (WWJD). The motivation for asking this question is superb–let’s lead a life congruent with our Lord. However, it wasn’t long before folks noticed the limitations of WWJD as a formula for decision making. WWJD isn’t the best question for a young man wondering if he should get married. Nor is WWJD a helpful question for the person (or couple) thinking about buying their first home. RRSPs? Life insurance? I just can’t picture Jesus caring much for these things (but we probably should).

So, if not WWJD, what then? If the Bible doesn’t speak specifically to our situation, what are we to do? What governing principle, or principles, should we be employing when making key decisions? Shall we ‘follow our heart’? Should we listen to our ‘gut instinct’? What role do promptings play in our deliberations?

Inner promptings can be helpful. However, promptings can also lead us astray. Promptings can come from God (Nehemiah 7:5). Promptings can also come from self-serving desires (James 4:1-3). This is why promptings alone is not a good approach to decision making. And this is why when I am asked by others for counsel on which way to go I always give a two-pronged answer: Promptings and Providence.

Promptings, because they can be a function of self-serving desires, need to be tested. I sometimes hear people say, ‘I think God is calling me to this’, or ‘I think God might be calling me to that.’ Most often, the person is sharing with me their inner promptings. But, if that’s all they are going on, imagine if my counsel employed this approach and I say, ‘I don’t think God is calling you to that.’ Who is correct? The person with the strongest inner promptings? I don’t think so.

We need something bigger than inner promptings to help our decision making. That’s where providence comes in. It has been my experience (limited as that may be) that if God is truly prompting you to do something, corresponding providence will eventually follow. It logically follows that if God calls you to ‘A’, then the door to ‘A’ will eventually open. Conversely, if our self-serving desires prompt us to pursue ‘A’, we shouldn’t be surprised when we find the door to ‘A’ locked. Moreover, if we have been led entirely by faulty inner promptings we should thank God for the locked door! We should be like C.S. Lewis who regularly thanked God for unanswered prayer, realizing in hindsight what a mess he would be in if God granted all of his requests.

Promptings and Providence. I don’t want to oversimplify decision making. This two-pronged approach doesn’t guarantee that you will do all the right things all of the time. I do, however, see this as a more sensible approach than merely following one’s ‘heart’ and ‘gut instincts’.

As I type this, I see before me decisions to be made–or, forks in the road ahead, as they say. And in the absence of a Bible passage telling me exactly what to do, I need some sensible, God-honouring principles to guide me.

Pray a ton. Ingest all the Scripture you can. And, having done that, let Promptings and Providence guide you.

Spread The News

Most Christians that I meet are afraid to share what they believe. I confess, that I’m reluctant at times as well. In our postmodern culture, ‘sharing one’s faith’ is often looked at as tantamount to an attempt to impose one’s beliefs on another. This kind of imposition is largely regarded by our society as intolerant, arrogant, or both. (For an outstanding, and brief, response to the charge of ‘arrogance’–have a look at my friend Mike Wilkins’ post on this).

I’m not sure how we got here as a society. Nor do I understand what all the fuss is about. ‘Sharing one’s faith’ ought not to be a controversial thing. I love the way the New Testament frames things for us–’sharing our faith’ is really the announcement, and spreading of, Good News. This news can be accepted by others as true, or it can be rejected as suspect. The news can be celebrated and embraced, or it can be altogether disregarded.

I love the way the New Testament presents the task of spreading the news because it is entirely natural for human beings to want to share good news. A couple learns that they are expecting a baby and they become eager to spread the word–by phone, by letter, in person, on their facebook status, by way of their blog–by any, and every means available. The same goes for the news of a job promotion, or the receiving of an award. Friends naturally share with friends the things that bring them the most joy.

When I think about Christianity in terms of sharing Good News, I’m not nearly as intimidated by the prospect of telling others what I have discovered.

At St. Giles Kingsway, we are on the cusp of creating a ministry which, we expect, will announce the ‘Good News’ in a vibrant and relevant manner. So, if you’re not ready to share ‘Good News’ with your friends, I want to encourage you to invite your friends to a place where we can share the ‘Good News’ on your behalf.

This past Sunday, I spoke about the apostle Paul’s commitment to proclaiming the Good News and how I hope The Well is our answer to following in Paul’s footsteps. Have a listen and let me know what you think.

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Church…Re-Tooled

In the Greater Toronto Area there is a well-known multi-site congregation known as ‘The Meeting House‘. I confess that I’ve never been to a service there (I’m kind of busy most Sundays), but I’ve heard some very positive reports about what they are doing. I have also noticed on some of their literature the slogan: a church for people who aren’t into church. I think I get that. The Meeting House–a church–doesn’t want people to be ‘into church’. They want people to be ‘into Jesus’.

I want that too.

This may be a strange place to be quoting Augustine, but his sentiments seem timely for this discussion. Augustine once asserted, ‘You (God) have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.’

That helps me focus.

No church can satisfy the restlessness we feel–only God can do that. I don’t have a church-shaped void in my heart; I have a God-shaped void in my heart. The true measure of a ministry then, is not how many are drawn to church, but how many are drawn to The Almighty.

I make this qualification purposefully as I share with the readers of this blog about a proposal that will be distributed to the people of St. Giles Kingsway Presbyterian Church over the next few weeks (our annual general meeting is this Sunday). The proposal seeks to launch, what would be for us, a new and radically different ministry: The Well (see John 4 for the story which inspired the name).

The Well intends on delivering the timeless message (the ‘Good News’) in a culturally relevant manner within an irresistible environment. What we’re proposing (to my knowledge) isn’t being done in Etobicoke (the nearest gathering of The Meeting House is downtown Toronto, and the nearest gathering of Connexus is in Barrie).

Rather than having me detail the proposal here, I invite you to read the proposal for yourself. I’d love to hear your feedback–you can share that here for all to read, or send me an email.

Thanks in advance for your interest, and stay tuned to this ‘station’ for further updates.