You Don’t Have What It Takes

LifeChurch.tv makes available great visual resources for church leaders to employ in their worship services. One series in particular captured my attention: ‘You Don’t Have What It Takes.’ The series makes 4 negative claims that, instinctively, cause us to raise our defenses. However, as I let my mind linger with these negative claims, I found myself entirely agreeing with them. Yes, I do have limitations. Left to my own devices, I can’t handle everything that comes my way. The unknown road ahead can be intimidating.

Beginning on November 9, I plan on exploring these 4 negative claims at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well.

 You’ll Never Be Good Enough (Nov. 9)

 You’ll Never Please Everyone (Nov. 16)

 You Can’t Handle It All (Nov. 23)

 You Can’t Control The Future (Nov. 30)

It didn’t take me long to find ample biblical text affirming these claims. And, thankfully, these negative claims don’t have to have the final say in our lives. There is a better way. It’s not all up to me. 

I should offer this warning though: This series is an indictment against those committed to self-sufficiency; to those who would seek to be governed by a do-it-yourself worldview.

This is no ‘self-help’ series; this is a ‘I need help’ series.

I know I certainly resonate with the ‘I need help’ vantage point, and I’m delighted to report that the help I’ve needed has never been lacking (see, for example, Psalm 23). I invite you to journey with me, and to discover how our limitations uniquely position us to accomplish great things. Check out the video trailer below.

What’s your instinct on this? Do the negative claims repel you, or intrigue you? Are you a do-it-yourselfer? Or are you looking for help for the journey? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Living Out Of The Overflow

A couple of weeks back a very talented musician, Sarah Walker, led the music at The Well. Sarah has written, and led us in singing, a song called ‘Overflow’. The key lines of the chorus that stuck with me were, ‘I want to live out of the overflow…Reflecting compassion and Your grace for all to see Your love in me.’

For about 6 weeks now I’ve been emphasizing in my messages our need to draw close to the Lord, and to drink deeply from what he offers to satisfy our souls (see John 4:13, 14). But recently, my burden in this regard expanded. Then what? We draw close to God, He satisfies our soul….then what? How is the world around me different because of my drawing close to God?

I love that God satisfies my soul, but I’m reminded that there’s more to the equation than just me. I’m reminded that my life ought to resemble a bright light shining through darkness, and salt that wards off decay and adds flavour to food (see Matthew 5:13-16). I’m reminded that there ought to be an overflow effect from my drinking from the wellspring Jesus offers. The world around me ought to be positively impacted by my walking closely with Jesus. 

As Sarah Walker well puts it, ‘I want to live out of the overflow’.

I want my proximity to Jesus to do more than just benefit me. The way I put it this past Sunday was as follows:

 The love of Jesus which draws us in to Himself, also drives us out to act lovingly toward others. 

The order here is important. There is limited value in running around by our own strength and initiative trying to help others (see 1Peter 4:11). The first charge upon our attention is to draw close to the Lord. The second is to live in a manner that reflects the impact of our proximity with Jesus. In other words, we can’t manufacture overflow—we receive it. And, having received an overflow of grace we let it spill out and impact those around us.

How does that sound to you? Are you living in the overflow?

My message from this past Sunday picks up this same theme. It is based on Matthew 12:1-14, and is entitled, ‘Bigger Than Religion.’

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Exceeding My Expectations

In my recent post, Get The Word Out, some of my friends commented, detecting some concern I had for a recent low attendance Sunday at The Well.

Yes, I was concerned. 

The Well, when it was only 5 Sundays old, experienced a Sunday that was about half the attendance of the first Sunday. I was exhorted to be patient. Another was hopeful of a revival. Frankly, I didn’t, and still don’t know, what to expect. But what I was looking for was some indication that God’s favour was upon us with this new ministry. More personally, I was looking for some indication that God was pleased with me. My greatest fear as a Christian, and as a pastor, is being out of step with the plans of The Almighty.

This past weekend, God overwhelmed me with His grace. Mercifully, God intervened powerfully and has allayed many of my worries and insecurities.

It began on Friday evening when I conducted a memorial service for a dear member of our congregation who had recently passed away. The reception was coming to a close and so I began to make my way back upstairs when I was stopped by one of the sons of our member who had died. He pulled me aside and immediately said, “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I don’t think much of ministers.”

I thought to myself, “Oh no, what do I do here? How do I respond to that?”

As these questions swirled in my head, enough time must have passed that he continued, “And I don’t think much of religion.”

0 for 2.

What followed I hope I never forget: “I don’t think much of ministers and I don’t think much of religion, but listening to you tonight is causing me to rethink both of those things.”

I hope my facial expression didn’t totally give away the “WOW!” exclamation felt in my heart.

Whether at a wedding, a funeral, or a Sunday morning service, I suspect many pastors wonder if what they are saying makes any difference. Most of the time I’m left to guess, and speculate about, the impact being achieved. I’m so grateful that the Lord didn’t make me have to guess following that Friday evening service. My heart was greatly encouraged, and for that, I am immensely thankful. 

Then along came Sunday. After experiencing low attendance at The Well the week before, I felt myself lowering my expectations for Thanksgiving Sunday. I knew that about a half dozen families of The Well would be away (those families amounted to almost 30 people). Thinking that this might be the lowest attendance yet, I only set up about 70% of the seats. Well, I was practically giddy when Sunday morning came and I had some of our hosts asking if we should roll in some more chairs—we were at 100% capacity! (with 70% seating).

The Lord was not obligated to accommodate my fragile expectations, but mercifully He did. I was looking for some small indication of His approval and, instead, I got a huge-sized indication. I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It is for good reason that the apostle Paul writes, “To Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to His power at work within us, to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph. 3:20, 21).

 >>>>><<<<<

If you would like a glimpse into our Sunday morning service, have a listen to the message, “To Whom Will You Go?”, based on John 6:60-69.

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If you live in or near West Toronto, may I encourage you to join us on Sunday morning. Come and encounter the God who continues to exceed our expectations!

 

Resisting Complexity

As usual, I get the sense that I’m a few steps behind my colleagues. That’s ok, as the youngest of three children, I learned a lot and avoided many mistakes by being last. I just finished reading ‘Simple Church’, commended by Jeff Loach in his blog, Passionately His. I also detected that the principles found in this book are often expounded in the blog of another friend/colleague, Carey Nieuwhof. Being the 3rd among friends to weigh in here, I’ll be brief in order to avoid redundancy.

First let me offer a qualifier for my friends who like to ‘sink their teeth’ into reformed theology…This is no theological treatise. Not enough close.

Let me offer an analogy, which I hope will highlight the value of this book. Think of the church as a house. The church, like a house, needs a firm foundation. This, of course, is Jesus Christ. On this foundation are other materials: walls, floors, ceilings, windows, etc. If you’re looking for a book to help you build appropriate structures, I would recommend something like Mark Dever’s, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.

Dever’s book, along with John MacArthur’s, The Master’s Plan for the Church, tend to do a great job in helping us to build on the right foundation and they provide excellent guidance for selecting the best materials with which to build. However, what is often lacking in such books is a description of a helpful layout. How many walls? How many rooms? How far apart should the windows be?, and so on. What often results is that we have a firm structure, built with all the right materials, but due to lack of attention to layout, we have difficulty navigating within the structure.

Simple Church has a word for this poor layout: Complexity

The thesis of this book is that complexity hinders the spiritual progress, vitality, and growth of the local church. Simplicity, on the other hand, promotes all of these things. Therefore, local congregations would do well to engage in an Extreme Makeover: Church Edition. Congregations should take steps to eliminate complexity, based on the principle that less is more.

I realize that such a principle is counterintuitive. The authors also recognize this and offer this response based upon their research:

Less really is more. Less programs mean more focus on the programs offered. Less programs means more excellence. Less programs mean more energy for each program. Less programs mean more money allocated to each program. Less programs mean more people coming to the ones that are offered. 

In highlighting the value of Simple Church and the emphasis on “layout”, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I am placing substance on the periphery. A house with an appealing, sensible, layout is not desirable if it is built on sinking sand with defective materials. Nevertheless, I am grateful for a book like Simple Church, which warns me to resist complexity at every turn. 

My experience confirms the thesis of the authors on the complexity side. I hope to be able to say the same as I lead the people entrusted to my care towards a more simple way of being the church in this world.

The Nature of Spiritual Nourishment

I am a junk food addict. If there were chips in my house every night, I would eat chips every night. I love pizza, chicken wings, and McDonald’s. I don’t like vegetables. The effects of such habits are becoming increasingly evident: my clothes are shrinking. When playing hockey (recreationally), I notice that I become winded more often (and I’m a goalie!).

My poor diet has taught me a basic principle: We need our intake of nourishment to correspond with our activities. The negative effects of eating junk food are most acutely recognized when I attempt physical activity. My wife regularly runs 3-5 km. Even my 6 year-old daughter ran in a cross country race this past Monday. I cannot imagine doing the same because of my eating habits.

I’ve noticed this same principle translates with Christian activity. I have found that those who are spiritually undernourished have diminished endurance when it comes to serving within a Christian community. Christians who do not have a regular intake of Scripture, Christians who do not regularly engage in prayer, tire and burnout more easily.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The New Testament explains that there is enough spiritual nourishment for us all. The grace God gives is sufficient for all that is required of us.

I worry, however, that few understand the nature of spiritual nourishment. We don’t fully appreciate our need of it, we don’t fully understand the benefits of it, nor do we appreciate the frequency with which we need to pursue it.

This past Sunday I addressed the subject of spiritual nourishment, based on a section of Scripture found in John 6:27-35. I was encouraged by what I found there, and hope you might be as well. Have a listen. 

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