Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Equipping You To Share The Truth In Love

When God's church engages our culture with His loving message we are often perceived as judgmental, hypocritical and unloving. Since God has laid upon us the mission of communicating His truth, the onus lies upon us to do our very best to make sure that what we are communicating is clear, true and helpful to those we are communicating to.

Fifty years ago in Canadian culture the church was generally viewed as a helpful and trusted source for information. Today, culture has shifted and the church is no longer viewed in a generally favorable light. In fact, our world views us  with suspicion and even contempt. Communicating the truth of the gospel to our neighbors, friends, co-workers and family must be done with an awareness of how we are perceived and an attempt to overcome the barriers that present themselves. How can we do this?

Sincere love. As we relate people in the world we live in we can start by being sincere in our love for them. Rather than seeing them as impersonal souls to be "harvested" or potential "notches" on our soul-winning belt. We must engage them as people and love their whole person; spirit, soul and body. We must ask God to help us sincerely love them without "strings attached". One of the best ways we can do this is by simply engaging with people fully in each moment, caring about their needs and desires and listening carefully to them. It's amazing how these behaviors that communicate sincere love happen more naturally when we genuinely care. May God help us genuinely care for those we come in contact with on a daily basis.

Sensitive love. Sometimes we can think that for truth to really get through to people, it must be presented with a harsh and even angry attitude. Although there is a time and place for blunt and forceful communication, I believe Christians would be wise in our current cultural malaise to use a far different approach when presenting truth. The goal is not to change or even soften the truth, it is simply to present it with a gentle, sensitive and tenderhearted approach.

Compassionate love. When our neighbor is hurting it is easy to become cold and mechanical about their pain. Sometimes we do this as a coping mechanism because there is too much pain for us to process. Sometimes we do it because we feel that the best way to diagnose and help them with their pain is to remain aloof so that we can properly help them with it. But Jesus sets us the example of one of ached with pity and compassion when people were hurting (Matthew 9:35-38) and who reached out to touch the leper while bringing him healing. This is a love that is willing to get personally involved and empathizes with pain rather than remaining indifferent. Every human being has sorrow and suffering as part of their journey, if we can learn to enter into their suffering, even as Christ does for us, we can offer a kind of love that our world longs for and that earns us permission to share the truth they so desperately need.

How often I have tried to be loving without compromising on the truth. I think I may have communicated more accurately with our culture had I made more effort to communicate truth without compromising on love! Paul prayed for the Ephesian church that they would be "rooted and grounded in love" (Eph. 3:17). I find it interesting that he didn't ask that they would be rooted and grounded in truth (That would fit more with my preconceptions of what it means to be rooted or grounded).  Of course, it doesn't need to be one or the other - but maybe in emphasizing truth and neglecting authentic love we have miscommunicated with a culture that is hearing from us things we are not meaning to say.

Good communication has not taken place until the hearer receives what the communicator intended. I am increasingly convinced that for the truth of God to be accurately communicated in our culture is must be wisely and carefully wrapped in a sincere, sensitive and compassionate love. May God fan the flames of authentic love in us so that more and more people can hear and receive God's truth through us, a people who are rooted and grounded in the love that is so high and wide and deep that it is beyond comprehension.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

God's Word - My Friend: How I Build A Relationship With God's Word

God's Word is living and active. It is powerful. It offers wisdom, joy, life and peace. It is the primary doorway to the knowledge of God. I want to be like the man in Psalm 1 who meditates on it day and night and who delights in the Word of God. I want to be like the Psalmist of Psalm119 who longs for the Word of God passionately. I want to be a person of the Word.

But how do I practically do that?

For ever 20 years I have been focused on this aim and in those 20 years I have developed several daily practices to help me build a great relationship with the Word of God. Maybe some of these will help you develop your own practices that will build and further your relationship with the Bible.

1. Saturation: I choose a book of the Bible to saturate myself in. I do this about once a year. I usually pick a shorter New Testament book (though I have done some Old Testament etc.). Each day for 3-6 months I read two things on top of my regular Bible and book reading.
   a. I read this particular book of the Bible every day. Sometimes I read the whole book in one sitting. Sometimes a chapter or two. But I read it every day, at least one chapter. I do this so long (over the course of a few months) that often I have read the book over 100 times in a row.
  b. I find as many commentaries as I can (written about that particular book of the Bible) as I can and put them in a pile by my morning reading place. (A commentary is a book about a book of the Bible). I read one chapter of one commentary per day. Most commentaries are about 10-15 chapters long so this means I will read it for about 2 weeks before starting the next commentary. My goal is to read a minimum of 6 commentaries and I have done up to 12. The amount of commentaries I can find on a given book of the Bible determines how many I end up reading. I enjoy Warren Wierbe's commentaries as well as the Life Application commentaries and many more. I buy all my commentaries used from used bookstores and thrift shops for $1 or $2 since they tend to be very expensive new. By the time I have finished my last commentary, I have saturated myself in a book of the Bible for 3-6 months.

2. Overview: I use a Bible reading program that gets me through the Bible in a year. I tend to do this part of my Bible reading fairly quickly and somewhat superficially. My goal is to read through the entire Bible every year at least once and sometimes twice. My goal is not depth but gaining a broad perspective on what the entire Bible says and is. I have been doing this every single day for over 10 years and I am still amazed at finding stories and passages that I didn't know were there.

3. Devotional: I pick the areas of the Bible that have been most meaningful to me (Psalms and Epistles). I read a chapter of two and invite God to speak to me. When I neglect this part of my Bible reading I find that my relationship with the Word and with God becomes more dry and mechanical.

4. Study: This part of my Bible study is less systematic. I listen to sermons, prepare sermons, read books, attend church and small groups, attend conferences and much more. Each of these offers me helpful insights into scripture from multiple angles. It keeps me fresh and challenged to get a wide variety.

5. Memorization: I memorize various verses. Sometimes the verses I memorize are ones that my kids are memorizing for school or groups they are a part of. Sometimes they are verses that are meaningful to me or that are related to something I feel I need to work on in my life. Occasionally I pick a passage that I am working on and memorize parts are all of it. My work in this area has been somewhat sporadic (rather than daily) but I have managed to memorize hundreds of verses this way.

These are my five main practices for building a relationship with God's Word and becoming a person of the Word. There are two other things I try to keep as attitudes in order to stay effective at this.
1. DAILY: I do most of these things every single day. No matter if it is a holiday, a busy day or a normal day.
2. TO KNOW JESUS BETTER. I remind myself that knowing the Bible is not an end in itself. It is means to the goal of knowing Jesus. God's primary means of self-revelation is His Word.
3. CHANGE IT UP. I do occasionally try new things (listening to the Bible aloud on cd, reading it aloud when I am reading it each day, writing out my favorite verse from each day, journaling about my Bible reading, lectio divina, etc. etc.) in order to keep things fresh and also to experiment with new practices that might be better than my current ones.

I hope this blog does not discourage you but rather inspires you to find and build practices in your life that help you build your own relationship with the Bible.

Monday, September 7, 2015

My Current Favourite Author

Why Tim Keller is my current favourite author.

Yup, I have read most of his books and I keep buying more - though he writes them too fast for me to keep up. He is a Presbyterian pastor in New York, apologist and evangelist, especially to the modern unchurched and atheist. Here is why I love his writing.

1. It is Christ-centered. Reading a paragraph from Keller on the glory and wonder if who Jesus is and what He has done for us fires me up! Keller never drifts far from Jesus no matter what He is writing about, He brings it back to the Center.
2. It is gospel saturated. Grace changes everything. Keller's writing drips with grace. He is crystal clear that anything God requires of us He has accomplished for us. I love the gospel, it is my lifeline. I love Keller's writing because I need to be brought back again and again to the gospel of God's grace as revealed in Christ and His cross.
3. It is brilliant and intellectually challenging. I am suspicious of writing that takes intellectual shortcuts. Although I find Keller over my head on occasion, I appreciate being stretched. Reading radically Christian authors who are intellectually honest strengthens my faith.
4. It is unapologetically experiential and passionate. Keller never apologizes for reminding us that true Christianity is a love relationship that must be personally experienced and engaged in order to be authentic. Christ is a real Person and can be really known in the deepest and most personal ways a human can experience "knowing".

Thank you Tim Keller or being faithful to testify of Christ to your culture and generation.

If you want to read one of his books as a starter I would recommend "Counterfeit Gods."

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Best Investment You Can Make

Every day you are investing your life in something. Whether it's your yard, your work, your friendships or your favorite video game. You are spending the currency of time and energy all day long. It can't be saved, it is spent consistently as life moves along.

But the scary reality is that most of us give little thought to what we are spending our lives on or what we are investing them in. Wouldn't it be great if we "spent" (or even better, "invested") our lives intentionally rather than haphazardly? What could we invest our lives in that would give us the best return on investment?

Well, since we are accountable to God for how we spend our one and only life, we better be thinking about what He would like us to invest our lives in. Of course, that would mean in some way that I am to invest my life in God or in godly endeavors. Actually, Jesus invited us to invest our lives in His kingdom (Matt. 6:33). But what exactly does that mean?

I think the answer is people. I believe God has called us to invest our lives in people - it is people God loves and people Christ died for. Everything else will fade away but people are eternal.

Here are three ways I try to invest in the people God places in my life:
1. See their potential. Everyone has gifts and potential. If we are going to invest in people, we have to see what could be in and through them.
2. Time and energy. There really are no shortcuts for simply taking the time and offering the energy necessary to be with people. I believe that if we are really going to invest in people we have to think in terms of both quality and quantity time.
3. Entrusting with responsibility. Investing in people means challenging them and giving them responsibilities that they can run with. Each person needs challenges that are appropriate to where they are at and what they can handle.

Take a look at the above three ways to invest and ask yourself how you can apply those with each of the important people in your life. With your spouse, your kids, your friends, your co-workers etc.. I believe the best thing I can invest my life in is people and investing in people has been one of the greatest joys of my life.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Do you know what happened to you?

Sometimes we have experiences that change our lives but we do not fully grasp what has really happened to us. For example, when I had a my first child and I became a parent, I had no idea all the realities what were now mine. I had a whole series of privileges and responsibilities that I needed to embrace. The same is true with salvation. When you give your life to Christ and invite Him to save you He does an amazing work in your life. But if you are unaware of what He has done you won't enjoy the privileges that are yours. Check out this list of things the Bible says happened to you at salvation. As you read them, invite God to make them real to your heart and ask yourself how your life would be different if you lived as if these things were real and true about you every day.

Thirty-One Things That Happen at Salvation
You are redeemed from slavery to sin (Rom. 3:24; 8:23)
You are reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18–20)
You are forgiven for all your sins (Col. 2:13)
You are freed from the law of sin and death (Rom. 6:14; 8:1–4; Gal. 5:1–4)
You are adopted by God (Gal. 3:26–4:7; Eph. 1:4–5)
You become a child of God (John 3:3, 7)
You are accepted by God (Eph. 1:6)
You are justified by Jesus Christ (Romans 4; 5:1)
You are glorified with Jesus (Rom. 4:16–17; 8:30; Col. 3:4)
You are united to Jesus (Col. 2:9–10)
You possess every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3)
You are brought close to God (Eph. 2:13)
You are delivered from the power of darkness (2 Cor. 4:3–4; Col. 1:13)
You are transferred from Satan’s domain to the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12)
You are given as a gift (John 17)
You are circumcised in Christ (Col. 2:11)
You join the priesthood of believers (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6)
You join the people of God (1 Pet. 2:9)
You receive citizenship in heaven (Eph. 2:19; Phil. 3:20)
You are a member of the family of God (Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19)
You take up the fellowship of the saints (John 17:11–23; Eph. 4:1–3)
You are granted access to God (Heb. 4:16; 10:10–20)
You become an inheritance (Eph. 1:6, 18)
You receive an inheritance (Eph. 1:14; Col. 3:24; 1 Pet. 1:4; Heb. 9:15)
You become as light to the world (Eph. 5:8)
You are in God (1 Thess. 1:1)
God the Father is in you (Eph. 4:6)
You are in the Son (Rom. 8:1)
The Son is in you (John 14:20)
You are in the Spirit (Rom. 8:9)
The Spirit is in you (1 Cor. 2:12