Are You Wise?

I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t want to be wise. We may readily admit that we are not intellects, that we are not athletes, that we are not runway model material, or whatever……But wise? Even if we concede that we’re not as wise as we’d like to be, most of us want to at least imagine that we possess a modicum of wisdom.

Did you know that the Bible talks a great deal about wisdom? An entire section of the Bible (Job through Song of Songs) is categorized as ‘Wisdom Literature’. The Book of Proverbs is largely a description of wisdom and its practical benefits. In the New Testament, James takes up the subject explaining first how to obtain wisdom (James 1:5) and secondly by describing the character of wisdom (James 3:13-18).

I love the way James introduces the subject in chapter 3. He asks a question to which we desperately want to answer in the affirmative: “Who is wise and understanding among you?”. James then challenges us to back up our talk with our walk: “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility” (James 3:13).

In other words, James is saying that wisdom can be verified. There is a way to measure how wisely, or unwisely, we are living. And it’s not just a matter of what we have done, or are doing, but it is hugely relevant how we are engaged in good deeds. For James, it’s not enough to do the right thing, we must do the right thing rightly. That is, our motivation for acting, and our purpose for acting, is immensely relevant for how God evaluates a deed’s ‘goodness’.

As I spoke on this subject this morning at St. Giles Kingsway, one of the key points I was wanting to convey was that, when it comes to progressing in wisdom, the effort required from us is at the acquisition stage and not at the application stage. Wisdom will always bear fruit. We’re not called to manufacture wisdom’s marks. Wisdom cannot be put on. We can’t become more wise by gritting our teeth and trying harder. The effort required comes in when we seek wisdom from the One who offers it “without finding fault”. Yes, one of the amazing things about God’s dispensing of wisdom is that it is not related to merit. Wisdom is not portioned out according to what we deserve, but according to our asking. Sound too good to be true?

Have a listen while you read along in James 3:13-18 and James 1:5-8. Wisdom is ours for the asking. This is awesome news. I need wisdom (some would say I need lots of it!), and so I’m delighted hear that gaining more of it is neither elusive or complicated.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

What about you? Are you wise? And, if there’s room for improvement, will you do what is required to get more of it?

Lifetime Achievement

In an effort to extend my hockey-related TV watching by one more night, I watched the annual NHL awards ceremonies last evening. Two of my favourite players, Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk, cleaned up winning 6 major awards between them. The highlight of the awards ceremony, however, was the introduction of a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, presented to a man known as ‘Mr. Hockey’, Gordie Howe.

It was a touching tribute to a man whose playing career stretched into his early 50s. As his nickname testifies, Howe is a hockey legend of monumental proportions. The ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ was a fitting exclamation point on Howe’s hugely impressive resume of hockey-related accomplishments.

The name and nature of the award got me thinking …… this is a man who will be remembered for many generations for what he did as a hockey player. This is understandable. By virtue of what he did for a living, and by virtue of how well he did what he did, Gordie Howe will be forever remembered as ‘Mr. Hockey.’ This got me thinking about my own legacy…What would I be remembered by? How would I like to be remembered?

My 5 year-old daughter unintentionally answered that question for me the other day. My wife had told me about something my daughter’s kindergarten class had been assigned ahead of Father’s Day. Today I got to see it for myself, and delighted my heart. On a huge piece of paper was the heading: ‘I love my father because:’

Each child in the class offered a single line answer. About halfway down the page was my daughter Anya’s entry: ‘I love my father because he tells others about Jesus.’

Wow……just typing that makes me tear up.

That’s my dream. If there’s anything about Bryn MacPhail worth remembering, I would hope it is in relation to my commitment as a follower of Jesus.

As the disciples of Jesus began to become well known, Jesus reminded them of what was most important in life. On one occasion in particular seventy-two followers of Jesus came back from visiting a region, and they were beaming with joy. They were rejoicing that “demons were submitting” to them (Luke 10:17). After affirming their work (Luke 10:18, 19), Jesus refocused them: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Ultimately, the most important thing about each and every person who ever lived will be whether our name is written in the Book of Life. Everything boils down to our standing before God. When we die that is all that will matter. We may have a myriad of worldly accomplishments, we may be highly respected by our peers, but for the sake our our eternity we need to eventually learn as the apostle Paul did, that all of this is “rubbish in comparison to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Sometimes I get this. Sometimes I forget……I forget, and I begin to recollect the rubbish again. My daughter, inadvertently, put me back on track: “I love my father because he tells others about Jesus.” Oh, how I long for that to be my legacy!

What about you? How would you like to be remembered?

The Well – Updated and Online

I think it is safe to say that The Well has moved beyond the ‘proposal’ stage and is now on the fast road to becoming reality. The September 7 launch date is coming quickly and the preparations are moving along nicely. Today I ordered upholstered, linkable, chairs for our Sports Hall (locale of The Well). On Monday, with the help of my good friend Jim Allan, we got one of the 25 ft high walls painted in our ‘A frame’ hall. The scaffolding/ladder combo was suspect, but less so than the “tape the paint brush to the end of a 6 ft pole” technique we used for painting the highest peak. The video equipment has been ordered (12′ wide x 7′ high screen BTW!) and should be installed within a week or two.

On the promotional side of things, I finally added a web presence for The Well on the St. Giles Kingsway website. It’s bare bones at this point, with most of the links pointing you back to here(!). You can, however, listen to a song from The Well’s music coordinator, Cliff Cline on it. I’ve also ordered 1,000 promotional/invite cards. My hope is that the leaders of The Well will deliver ~by hand~ ALL of the invites between now and Christmas 2008. That’s about 50 cards per leader.

As time marches on I’m finding myself more enthused than ever about what God might plan to do through The Well (and I was pretty pumped to begin with!). I’ve heard from, and heard about, just a handful of nay-sayers, but figure that isn’t unusual for a bold ministry initiative like this. In contrast to the nay-sayers, what has been a massive source of confirmation for me is the ‘buy in’ (literally) by folks with no historical connection to St. Giles Kingsway. Cliff Cline stepping forward is huge (he lives in Burlington, ON…a 40-45 min drive from here). Additionally, I have pledges totalling nearly $10,000 from folks who don’t even call St. Giles Kingsway home (that’s one quarter of our pledges BTW). Either I’m a master fund-raiser or God is moving in this….and I’m certain the former is not true.

I’m so hopeful and optimistic at this stage, my biggest anxiety is the limited seating in our Hall (150′ish). That being said, I don’t know if we’ll see 40 people or 200 people on September 7. We’ll keep planning, praying, and promoting and leave the numbers up to the Lord. I’ve really never had a ‘big church’ vision for The Well. All along, my aim has simply been to reach the ‘unchurched’ and the ‘barely churched’. If we meaningfully connect with even a dozen folks who otherwise wouldn’t be attending a local church with a traditional format, this will have been worth it all. I take that back. Jesus said that one returning sheep is worth the search. I agree!

Words Matter

How you ever considered the power of your words? By what you say, and how you say it, you possess the ability to build a person up or tear a person down. The Bible has a ton to say about the manner in which we speak. Proverbs 10:11-21 is a great place to start. For me this is hugely challenging stuff: “When words are many, sin is unavoidable” (Proverbs 10:19). James, in his book, outlines the damage we can do with our words, comparing our tongue (speech) with a spark that sets a forest on fire (James 3:5). James goes on to deliver more bad news when he says that “no man can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). And yet, James still concludes that the harm caused by words ought not to be a part of a Christian’s life (James 3:10).

What do we do with this? On the one hand we’re told that the tongue can’t be tamed, but on the other hand we’re reminded of the necessity of taming the tongue. Have we been given mission impossible? What can be done?

As I spoke on this passage from James this morning, I reminded my listeners of Jesus’ words: “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34). In other words, the answer to taming the tongue lies within the human heart. The trouble there, however, is that the Bible also says that our heart isn’t well (Jeremiah 17:9). Thankfully, God is in the business of renovating human hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). What we’re left with then is the following equation: The best way to take control of your tongue is to give up the control of your heart.

James, admittedly, emphasizes the ‘taming’ part. Read James and you might be tempted to think of proper speech in terms of what you refrain from: cursing, gossiping, speaking harshly, and so on. The apostle Paul, however, balances this discussion on speech by advancing past what we ought to avoid in order to tell us what to embrace. Speech that honours God is speech that encourages and builds up other people (Ephesians 4:29). I’d love for a gathering of Christians to concentrate on that. Rather than be known for what I’m against, I’d love to be known for what I’m for; I’d love for a group of Christians to be known for their commitment to encouraging and building other people up.

I often reflect on Sunday mornings about how the church can and should make a difference in this world. We need not contrive grandiose visions to accomplish this. Words are powerful. Words influence people. We can make a huge impact on others by the words we choose.

I encourage you to have a listen to this message, delivered earlier today. My words are designed not merely to instruct, but also to build you up and encourage you. I pray that’s your experience.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback.

Renewing Your Strength

It’s not a huge surprise that the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last night. I am amazed, however, at what they endured to claim the Cup. I’m thinking in particular of their Game 5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Wings had dominated the play after rebounding from a 2-0, 1st period, deficit. They were up 3-2 late in the game and, to most, seemed destined to claim the Stanley Cup in 5 games. Instead, Maxime Talbot shocked Motown by scoring with 34 seconds left in the 3rd period. The shock was complete when Petr Sykora of the Penguins scored the winning goal in triple overtime.

But here’s what got me thinking about the emotional state of the Red Wings players. When a team is about to win the Stanley Cup a whole bunch of things begin to happen behind the scenes. Late in Game 5 a CBC camera detected the Cup being taken out of its casing to be prepared for on-ice presentation. At the same time there would have been a crew wheeling cases of champagne into the Red Wings dressing room. Another crew would have been installing plastic sheets in the dressing room to protect against spraying bubbly. And still another crew would have been bringing in Stanley Cup t-shirts and hats for the victors. These things would have been ready and in place with a minute remaining in Game 5. But then the Penguins tied the game with 34 seconds left. I can only imagine what the scene was like 34 seconds later…Red Wings players returning to their locker room. They would have seen all this stuff quickly trucked out…the champagne, the shirts, the hats. They would have witnessed a crew hastily tearing down plastic sheets. It would have been dejection poured onto dejection.

But now, we see how the story ended. The Red Wings picked themselves off the floor, took the play to the Penguins in Game 6, and won the Stanley Cup. How did they do it? What helped them to emotionally recover? How did they renew their strength? We can only speculate. Intense mental preparation. Good coaching. Strong inner resolve. Positive communication between teammates. I suspect that all of those things positioned the Red Wings to overcome the adversity that resulted from their Game 5 loss.

It is probably safe to say that the readers of this blog will never compete for the Stanley Cup, but it is likely that we all know what it is like to be floored emotionally. We all likely know the feeling of utter dejection and total frustration. When you find yourself in the day of trial, how do you cope? Do you rely on a strong inner resolve? Do you rely on the counsel of others to coach you through? Do you draw from the well of your previous experiences?

These things were enough to help one hockey team beat another hockey team. I, too, have been helped by wise counsel, positive communication, and unyielding determination. But I have also found that there are trials in life that require much more than a strong will and a good set of friends. As a Christian I have learned that enduring strength and contentment is a gift from God procured through earnest prayer.

If you find yourself in a deep, dark place, laid low by painful circumstances, only God will do. King David, commander of the Israelite army, understood the temptation to trust in human resources amid tribulation, and this is what he writes in Psalm 20: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They have bowed down and fallen; but we have risen and stand upright.” (Psalm 20:7,8).

I have found this to be entirely true in my own life. It’s not that I ignore the human/material resources; they are helpful and often necessary. But, like David, I am learning not to depend on them. I need something bigger than my inner resolve to get me through difficult days. I need something bigger than my education and my life experiences to stand firm through life’s fiercest storms.

A couple Psalms previous, David also writes, “With God’s help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29). The normal course of life presents walls for each of us to climb over. Some of us are still climbing. Some of us have suffered from repeated falls and are now wondering if the wall can be even scaled.

The Bible says yes. When we trust “in the name of the Lord” we will prevail. Hardship will come. Being a Christian provides no exemption from suffering. However, the Christian who suffers needs to know that sufficient Help is nearby. “With my God I can leap over (life’s) walls” (see also Philippians 4:13).

We may get knocked down, but by God’s grace we’ll get back up again. And when we do, we’ll find our strength renewed and our faith in Christ refreshed.

Has that been your experience? Would you like that to be your experience? Let’s turn to Him. Let’s leap over that wall.