Be Weak

I’ve always wanted to be strong. As a young lad, physical strength was what I wanted more than anything and so I began lifting weights at the age of 12. My mother, on the other hand, wanted me to possess a different kind of strength—she wanted me to have strength of character. Accordingly, self-sufficiency was among the most valued traits in our household.

I no longer view strength as I once did. It’s not that I don’t want to be strong—I do—but I’m convinced that strength does not come from walking the path of self-sufficiency. And, as I look to the Scriptures, I find an entirely different posture encouraged. What I see is the value of weakness.

This past Sunday, at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, I delivered my 3rd of 5 messages under the heading “Parting Words From Your Pastor”. I want the people I serve to recognize that taking on a posture of weakness is the key to experiencing tremendous strength.

My Old Testament example of this was Gideon who, when commissioned by the Lord, answered, “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15). What Gideon eventually learns is that his strength was not relevant to the success of the mission. What was most critical was not Gideon’s strength, but God’s strength.

I suggested that what we see in the story of Gideon is not unique, but rather we see a pattern that is repeated throughout the Scriptures. The pattern is God glorifying Himself by using ordinary people to carry out His awesome purposes. To put it another way, our weakness qualifies us to receive God’s strength.

This was the testimony of the apostle Paul who had petitioned the Lord three times to remove his “thorn” of adversity (2 Corinthians 12:7, 8). But, instead of the removing Paul’s thorn, the Lord replies: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul ultimately gets this and explains to the Corinthians , “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10).

I want every follower of Jesus to know that the way to success, the way to growth, and the way to strength, does not come by way of the path of self-sufficiency. The Lord is not looking for people who “can do it”. The Lord is looking for individuals who are willing to trust in His ability to do all things.

King Solomon, unmatched in wisdom, wealth, and influence understood this causing him to write:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

I am confident that the congregation I presently serve can survive my transition to Nassau, Bahamas, because their strength does not lie with their pastor. The strength of a congregation does not lie with any individual, committee, or leadership group. The strength of a congregation comes from the Lord.

In the audio below I offer what I hope are some helpful and practical ways in which we can take on a posture of weakness.

I still very much want to be strong. Only now I look outside of myself for that strength (see Ephesians 6:10).

Do you want to be strong? Of course you do. Then it is my privilege to declare to you that Divine strength is available to you. But first—but first you must become weak.

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Pursue Lost Sheep

When Jesus tells three parables in Luke 15—the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son—there is a unified message: Lost people matter to God.

It’s a comforting thought to know that God is pursuing us. It’s heart warming to note that He cares to bring us back to the fold. My concern, however, is that once we become followers of Christ we don’t often consider our role in being a part of this pursuit of others.

While we like the idea of God going after lost sheep, we’re not always keen to do the same. Truthfully, I’m not always ready to seek after those who do not yet know Christ as Lord. It’s not even that I’m too shy or too nervous, but for whatever reason I seem to allow dozens of less important things come before my seeking “the lost.”

Two years ago I wrote a short parable entitled, The Parable of Found Sheep. In this story, I attempt to capture the mindset of those within the local church who are unmotivated to engage in evangelism. I think that part of my motivation to write this parable was to increase my own distaste for what I would call a fortress mentality—a mindset that I fear is entrenched within many congregations.

The Parable of Found Sheep is, however, merely my personal perspective. What should be more compelling is the perspective of the Lord when it comes to seeking the lost. Accordingly, I found myself recently gripped by the Word of the Lord delivered through the prophet Ezekiel:

Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only look after themselves!…You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. (Ezekiel 34:2,4)

The leaders of Israel were judged by God according to whether or not they pursued lost sheep. I don’t think it is a stretch to suggest that the Church will be similarly judged according to our willingness to do the same. I know that it’s not pleasant to imagine God evaluating and judging our behaviour, but I can’t seem to find a way around the “Woe to” warning in Ezekiel. Particularly we who have been entrusted with the flock have been given a clear priority: Pursue lost sheep.

I may be engaged in 101 good and helpful things, but if I don’t have an active concern for those who aren’t yet here, I’m neglecting one of my key duties.The Parables of Luke 15 are more than a beautiful description of how God pursues us. These parables are designed to inspire us to the same.

On Sunday, April 18, at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, I delivered a message (audio below) on this subject as the 2nd message in the series, “Parting Words From Your Pastor”. I am convinced that pursuing those who are not yet following Christ is to be among our highest priorities.

May we always aspire to follow in the footsteps of our Good Shepherd!

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Understand The Gospel

On April 11, I began a message series at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well entitled, “Parting Words From Your Pastor”. In that I will be transitioning to St. Andrew’s Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas at the beginning of June, I wanted to leave my congregation here with what I regard to be the 5 messages most vital to their spiritual wellbeing.

Message number one is, “Understand The Gospel”.

I understand that much more is required than simply understanding the Gospel. We must also believe the Gospel, we need to be living out the Gospel, and we need to be passing the Gospel message on.

My thinking behind this particular emphasis is that if we have a thorough understanding of the Gospel there will inevitably be an overflow where we will have a growing inclination to live out the Gospel and to share the Gospel with others.

So where in Scripture do we turn to, if we want to understand the Gospel? My conviction is that studying a single passage of Scripture will not exhaust the depths of the glorious Gospel message. There is the sense in which every book of the Bible has a part to play in the Gospel orchestra. But if we have to choose one passage, where might we go? John 3:16 is undoubtedly the most popular summary verse for the Gospel. The Book of Romans is widely regarded as providing the most thorough treatment of the Gospel within a particular book. Looking for something shorter, however, I chose Ephesians 2 to provide the basis for my message, “Understand the Gospel”.

Within my message (the audio is available below) I outline what I discern to be the key components of the Gospel message. Rather than reproduce that outline here, I think it might be helpful instead to elaborate further on why I think understanding the Gospel is so vital for the follower of Christ.

If someone were to assert that believing the Gospel is more important than merely understanding the Gospel, there is a sense in which I would agree with them. 19th Century theologian, Charles Spurgeon, using the analogy of a starving man, notes that a hungry man does not wait until he understands the composition of his food before he eats. A starving man, once he discerns that the food before him will satisfy his hunger and not harm him, immediately indulges.

If the Gospel has the capacity to save and satisfy our souls apart from our fully comprehending it, why fuss over the fine theological details?

Staying with the analogy of food, my answer is that once we have tasted the Gospel our status changes. Having been fed by the Gospel, we take on a new responsibility to feed others with the message we have received (see 2Timothy 4:1-5). When we were starving we may not have needed to know the composition of the food that satisfied our hunger, but as a servant of Christ we do need to be able to recognize the authentic Gospel dish as it sits among a plethora of imitation dishes.

Thankfully, we’re not called to cook up this message. The Gospel has been perfectly prepared and is sufficiently conveyed within the Scriptures. Our task is simply to deliver what has already been prepared without making a mess on the way to the table.

Of course, serving the Gospel is far more important than serving a meal. But this is all the more reason to increase our familiarity with this soul transforming message.

If you have been fed by the Gospel message, I want to encourage you: Understand the Gospel so that you will be able to feed others.

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My Blogging Wife

My dear wife, Allie, never ceases to surprise and amaze me. Just this week she created her own blog, entitled, “Uprooted To Paradise“. Her opening posts have been heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. I am delighted that Allie has chosen to share her story with the rest of us, as I realize that my version of our transition to Nassau, Bahamas fails to hit all of the notes. Allie’s blog nicely fills the gap with clever analogies, her winsome spirit, and some earnest reflection.

While Allie and I are headed to the same destination, on so many levels, I am reminded that our respective journeys are vastly different. I’m encouraged by what I’ve read in her blog thus far, but more so, I’m encouraged that Allie is trusting in the Lord, and in the wisdom of His providence. The journey is sometimes unnerving, but our destination is sure.

As we wait upon the Lord, we are reminded,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

Breakfast With Jesus

When I suggest that Christianity is not so much a religion as it is a relationship, I’m not attempting to be clever. As I survey the New Testament I just don’t see Jesus setting up a system. Nor do I see him establishing an organization, but rather, I see Jesus engaging His followers in deeply personal ways. This is exactly what we find in the Resurrection account recorded in John 21 (The audio message of “Breakfast With Jesus” is available below).

Here Jesus appears to some of His disciples who were fishing in the Sea of Galilee. As a piece of history this account is fascinating enough, but more than that I regard John 21 to reveal a pattern for how Jesus engages His followers of every age.

The first thing we see in this interaction is that Jesus initiates contact. Jesus had already appeared to these men. The fact of His Resurrection had already been established with His disciples, and yet He chooses to come to them again. Jesus initiates to further the relationship.

The second thing we see in this interaction is Jesus asks a question. “Haven’t you any fish?” (John 21:5). Undoubtedly, Jesus already knew the answer, but by asking the question He reveals His concern for what His friends are lacking.

The third thing we observe is that Jesus gives them a relevant command. Think of all the instructions Jesus could have given that day. Jesus could’ve said, “Never mind all of this fishing. Go preach the Gospel”, or “Go care for the poor”, or “Gather together for prayer.”  Instead, Jesus offers a relevant command, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some (fish)” (John 21:6).

We need not speculate why it was the “right side” and not the left side. What is vital is that the disciples heeded the instruction of Jesus—which leads us to the fourth element of this exchange: Jesus provides for the needs of His followers.

John reports that when they lowered the nets on the right side of the boat “they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish” (John 21:6).

By this point, the men realize that the man shouting instructions from the beach is Jesus, and so Peter jumps out of the boat and heads for shore. The fishing boat follows, towing the net with 153 large fish in it (John 21:7-11).

The final element of Jesus’ interaction with His disciples might be the most encouraging of them all: Jesus serves His followers. Jesus calls them, “Come and have breakfast” and then proceeds to serve them fish and bread (John 21:12, 13).

Anyone who would doubt that Jesus wants to have a relationship with us ought to have a close look at this text. There are so many personal elements here: 1) He initiates contact, 2) He asks a question (expresses interest in what they are lacking), 3) He gives a relevant command, 4) He provides for their needs, 5) He serves them.

Again, I love that last element. The glory of Resurrection has not changed the heart of the King. The second member of the Trinity, the holy Son of God, the One who has just conquered sin an death, is serving breakfast!

The call of Jesus is not a call to religion as much as it is a call to relationship.

The pattern of Jesus is to initiate with us, provide for us, and serve us.

Some will resist Him. Some will run from Him. Some will pretend that He’s not there. Some will use rules and regulations to keep Him at a safe distance.

I urge you to receive Him. The King approaches—be encouraged—He’s serving breakfast.

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