Who Will You Invite?

Tomorrow morning I head out to the cottage for an extended holiday. I’m uncertain about when I’ll have my next opportunity to post on this blog. Until then, I’d like to put out a challenge to followers of Christ who are reading this: Who will you invite to your place of worship this year?

If we sincerely believe that life as a follower of Jesus is the best course for each and every human being, for this life and for the next, we should be inviting friends, family, neighbours, and coworkers to join us where we gather to hear from the Word of Christ.

My motivation for inviting others is NOT to pressure them into believing what I believe. My motivation is to SHARE with those I care deeply for, something that has transformed my life. As a colleague of mine puts it, ‘Jesus is the one we all really long for.’ I believe that. Every human being has a God-shaped void and, as Augustine puts it, ‘our hearts remain restless until we find our rest in Him.’

I want that for my friends and family. I want them to experience rest for their souls. So…..who will you invite?

As I contemplate the launch of The Well on September 7, I’m thinking about people who I’d love to share this celebration with. I hope to invite some dear friends. I don’t know if they’ll be interested, but the prospect of them saying ‘no’ isn’t enough to deter me. This is too important; too good to keep to myself.

Check out this video from Connexus Community Church.

Who comes to your mind? Invite them.

Almost Ready!

I can hardly believe The Well launch is only 48 days away! I literally just got off the phone with the chair company; we’re expecting the shipment to arrive today at 3 pm. The last big addition will be the audio equipment, which I hope(!) arrives tomorrow. After that, we’re looking at detail work; things like signage, plants, and coffee supplies. The pic above is of the ‘Coffee Corner’, which has its own seating area within the hall of The Well. The same pic also shows off the newly refinished maple floors. Doesn’t the floor look amazing?!

More regular updates for this ministry can be tracked via The Well’s facebook group. Please remember is in prayer as Sept. 7 approaches.

How Then Shall We Live?

It matters to God how we live. Saying that, I want us to understand where God-honouring living fits in. Many people, mistakenly, think it matters to God how we live in the sense that our lifestyle decisions will determine whether or not we are accepted by God and given entry into heaven. Many imagine God keeping a ledger of our good and not-so-good deeds. Within this scenario, salvation is gained by remaining on the right side of the ledger, by making sure our good deeds outnumber our mistakes and our shortcomings. The Bible, however, presents a very different equation.

The apostle Paul, for example, explains that “no person will be declared righteous in God’s sight by keeping His laws” (Romans 3:20). This is because no human being has lived up to God’s standard…but One. It is the testimony of Scripture that only Jesus, the Son of God, was righteous. And, wonderfully, Jesus was righteous on our behalf. Moreover, on the cross, he took the penalty for our sin. By believing this, by placing our faith in Him, we gain salvation (Romans 3:21-28).

In other words, how we live contributes nothing to our gaining salvation. I’m not a Christian because I’m ‘better living’ than someone who is not. I’m not a Christian because of anything I’ve done (Romans 9:16). My being a Christian has everything to do with what Christ has already done for me.

Is my lifestyle irrelevant then? Shall I go on sinning so that God’s grace towards me increases? May it never be! (Romans 6:15). In response to what God has done to save me, I owe Him everything. Paul calls this being a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1,2). Re-orienting my life, following Christ, is not my attempt to gain salvation. Rather, it is my expression of gratitude for salvation already received. I’m not attempting to earn God’s favour; I’m attempting to say ‘Thank-you’ for favour already bestowed.

Yes, it matters to God how I live. My grateful response to grace brings God glory. What does that response look like? Paul provides helpful instruction in this regard in Romans 12:9-21. Today, at St. Giles Kingsway, we surveyed this passage as I delivered a message entitled, “Living Worship.” Have a listen. Within the message I summarize the Christian Gospel while detailing what an appropriate response to grace ought to look like.

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.

My key point was that, whether you realize it or not, your life is an act of worship. Worship is not singing. Worship is not going to church or listening to a sermon. Worship isn’t even praying. These are components of worship, but worship is bigger than any of those things. Worship is the totality of your response to who God is and what He has done for you through His Son, Jesus Christ.

If this is true, if your entire life is an act of worship, is there any area that needs adjusting?

My answer, if I’m honest, is ‘Yes.’ In view of what God has done for me, certain things in my life need to change. Attitudes need to be transformed. Harboured bitterness needs to be let go. And, as I labour to give myself over to these changes, I’m so thankful that my salvation does not depend upon my reaching some higher standard of goodness with these things. Jesus has already met that standard for me. I’m attempting now to honour His sacrifice. I want my life bear witness to my intense gratitude. I don’t want to merely worship once and a while……I want to be living worship.

10 Things I Want To Accomplish On Holidays

10. Play with my new iphone – Some might suggest that, spiritually, I’m not off to a good start here, but I’m being honest…My new apple iphone 3G is scheduled to arrive in the mail today and I’m seriously excited! Here’s a crazy fact for you: I’ve never owned a cell phone before. I never wanted to be the guy chatting on the phone in the restaurant, and I’m entirely convinced you shouldn’t drive while talking on a cell phone (hypothesis by observation, not experience). I’ve heard cell phones ring during Sunday services, weddings, and funerals (yes, funerals!) alike, and it’s always grated against me. But, here I am, about to join the massive fraternity of cell phone users. Some of my colleagues completely unplug while on holidays but, for whatever reason, I find myself wanting to preserve a link with the environment I plan to soon leave behind.

9. Re-read John Calvin’s, Institutes of the Christian Religion – Don’t worry, I have some less daunting reads in my book bag as well. I’m way overdue for a refresher on Calvin. I wish we wrote theology today the way Calvin did. Against the stereotype that the Reformers and Puritans provide a cold orthodoxy, I have yet to read a contemporary book where the author demonstrates as much passion for Christ as Calvin does in his books. Beyond his obvious brilliance and expertise in handling the Scriptures, John Calvin’s love for his Saviour is palpable and immensely contagious.

8. BBQ huge quantities of red meat – I probably think about this activity way more than what is normal. Striploin steaks, short ribs, hamburgers……mmmm good!

7. Complete a 1,000 piece puzzle – My wife appreciates when I do this because it frees up the TV for about three days. I enjoy puzzles because they relax me without deadening my brain cells. At various points in the puzzle completion, this becomes a father-daughter project as my 6 year-old seems to have a keen eye for pulling together some difficult pieces for me.

6. Bass Fishing – Another activity that I find hugely relaxing. I fish in a canoe, on a relatively small lake, and so it is particularly quiet, which is perfect for prayer and for pondering life in general. We’re bringing the deep fryer to the cottage this summer, so I have some extra incentive to actually catch some decent sized fish!

5. Enclose my garage port with vinyl siding – I’m not exactly what you would call a ‘Handy man’ so I hope I don’t gum this up! Our existing garage is way too big for someone with so few tools and machines, and so we’re converting it into a bunkhouse. The attached ‘breezeway’/garage port is smaller and, when enclosed, will be adequate for the modicum of garage things I own.

4. Prepare outlines for my Sunday messages – I realize that many pastors would frown against such a practice while on holidays. I get that. But at the same time, I tend to write my best stuff while at the cottage. I read way more, have way more quiet time, and way less distractions. My best chance at saying sensible things on Sunday this Fall hinges in part on my using holiday time to prepare messages.

3. Stop making ‘To Do’ lists! – I’m far too task oriented. I get a charge out of making monster sized lists of things to do, and then completing them. On some level, I need to mortify this practice while on holidays. As you can see, however, I wanted to finish items 4 through 10 first!

2. Spend quality time with my wife and daughter – I need to be intentional about putting down my iphone, putting away the hammer, putting down the pen and paper, walking away from the puzzle table in order to enjoy the two most precious people in my life, Allie and Anya. Swimming will likely be the uniting activity for the three of us. With Anya, kicking a soccer ball back and forth is also a great time for bonding.

1. Spend quality time with God – I have been so blessed. God has been good; He has been so patient with me; He has delivered 100% of the time when I needed that extra portion of His strengthening grace. That being said, there’s a sense in which I feel like I’ve treated God like that gifted friend who can always help me complete a task. I need time with God just to be with Him. I want to put down my ‘I need list’ for a time so I can simply enjoy who God is and what He has already done for me through His Son, Jesus Christ. More than anything else this summer, I want to reconnect with my Lord. I want to draw close to Him and learn anew the joy of clinging to Him (Psalm 63:1-8).

What about you? What are you doing to recharge this summer?

Healthy Things Grow

It is a rule of nature with only a few exceptions: Healthy Things Grow. I marvel at how quickly my 6 year-old daughter has ‘grown up’. It seems like just yesterday that Anya employed basic sign language to articulate her needs. Today, she can hold her own in an argument while employing well-reasoned responses. It seems like just yesterday she was drowning in her oversized pajamas. Today, I see those same pajama bottoms fitting more like a pair of capris. Yes, healthy things grow. If Anya wasn’t growing, if we weren’t observing outward and obvious signs of development, my wife and I would be quick to consult with a doctor. Since we regard growth as a normal expectation, we would be highly alarmed if we weren’t seeing any.

Why then, do we not express similar alarm when we observe stunted growth within Christian congregations? I have heard some of the explanations given within my own denomination, “Well, you see, there just aren’t that many Presbyterians moving into the neighbourhood anymore?” (At the risk of sounding harsh, since when did the mission become ‘fishing for Presbyterians’?!). Others lament, “We’re an older congregation. Our kids have grown up and moved away. We can’t expect growth the way we used to.”

These statements may be absolutely true. Convinced Presbyterians may not be moving into the neighbourhood. A congregation may very well be aging, while not retaining their youth. Even still, we ought not to resign ourselves to a position of non-growth. If we do, I reckon that is tantamount to an admission of sickness…because healthy things grow.

As I spoke on this subject this past Sunday, I referenced one of my favourite passages of the New Testament. Following the confession of Peter, that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:16), Jesus responds with a promise: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). I love that verse. That verse gets me out of bed each morning. That verse inspires me to enter the pulpit each Sunday. The expansion of the kingdom of God, the spread of the Gospel, does not depend on me! Jesus promises to build His Church. I’m not being counted on to ‘make converts’, but rather, Kingdom growth comes from God (see Ezekiel 36:26, 27; Acts 2:47; 1Corinthians 3:6).

What do we say then, when local Christian congregations diminish and eventually close their doors? Has Christ’s promise failed? Absolutely not! Jesus has not promised that my particular congregation will grow, or that your particular congregation will grow; He has promised that the body of Christian believers worldwide will increase.

And while Kingdom growth ultimately comes from the Lord (1Corinthians 3:6), God’s people should not view themselves as irrelevant to the process. It is God’s design for us to participate in the process whereby people become followers of Jesus (see Matthew 4:19; Matthew 28:19,20; Romans 10:14, 15). To this end, there are things we can do to promote the conditions in which growth is likely to occur. Again, we can’t control growth anymore than a farmer can control the size of his harvest. But we can do some things which promote a healthy environment. When reading about the habits of the early Church, we glean certain priorities that, when applied, will contribute to the health of a local congregation. For a more thorough treatment of Acts 2:42-47, I commend to you the audio of Sunday’s message.

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.

The early Church was marked by 1) Study, 2) Generosity, 3) Worship, and 4) Outreach

I would maintain that the degree to which we are marked by these four things will chiefly determine a congregation’s health. And while we look ultimately to the Lord for numerical growth and growth in grace, we are nonetheless encouraged by the truth of the principle, Healthy Things Grow.