Blogging Calvin’s Institutes in 2017

2017 is set to be a memorable year.
There is some great celebrations ahead. Canada, my home and native land, is celebrating its 150th Anniversary. I am looking forward to digging deeper into some of the historical and cultural developments of our great nation. I am your typical Canadian, apologetically patriotic (read ‘closet nationalist’) and outspokenly bias (read ‘defending our right to own hockey’ by using cutting sarcasm). I have begun to put together some reading on the history of our provinces and the cultural development of our country for my reading list in 2017 (any suggestions would be welcomed).
Another significant celebration is the 500th year of the protestant reformation. Sparked by Martin Luther, fuelled by Augustine and clarified by several key reformers including John Calvin.john-calvin
At the end of 2016 I began to read John Calvin’s Institutes. The first half has been so thought-provoking and spiritually deepening that as I reviewed some of the personal notes and applications that I made I decided to try to blog out these insights.

I am not claiming to be an expert in either Church History, the Reformation or John Calvin studies but I am leaning in as a student of all the afore-mentioned. You may want something more scholarly or analytical.
I am  a practitioner. A dad and a Pastor. My roles in life include helping others navigate the world around them in meaningful ways. Ways that will cut through lies, half-truths or confusion and bring clarity, purpose and move ahead truthfully.

This is my approach to reading , thinking and blogging through Calvin’s institutes.  I am reading to learn and apply into the context of today’s culture. In particular, the leading edge liberal culture that is mine, in Canada.

I can’t promise you that these blogs will be short – ‘4 steps to a better…’ – kind of blogs. But I do hope they will be meaningful, insightful and helpful to those who find themselves having to navigate a liberal culture that is in desperate need of a spiritual reformation back to the great God of glory.
For those interested look for a “Blogging the Institutes” at the end of each week in 2017.

Thanks for reading
BRS

Sheep don’t really ‘go wild’, just lost.

sheepgrunge

Dogs left on their own are known to form up in wild packs to survive. Horses left alone in the wild become wild herds. Even cats abandoned can reproduce feral litters and band together for survival.
However, you never hear the scary camp story of the farmer who’s sheep wandered away from the fold but banded together with other wild sheep and are “even now out there terrorizing the country side, so don’t close your eyes tonight.. in case a crazed wild sheep…. (I’ll leave the scenes of devastation to your imagination)….ahhhhhh!”  Nope. Doesn’t work. No such thing.

 Domestic sheep don’t really become wild, just lost.

I wonder if this is part of the reason the Bible uses the term for sheep to describe various categories of people?

Let me introduce you to what I am afraid is a growing category of ‘sheep’.

SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD

Over twenty plus years of part time and full time work in churches (as a summer intern, youth leader, associate pastor, youth pastor, church planter and lead pastor) I have come across this growing category of people. In the recent years, I have also needed to work in construction to supplement income. On the construction site, from a world view perspective, I have met dozens of  people who I would place in this category of ‘sheep’.

This growing category of sheep might be attributed to a wide variety of reasons (in following posts I am going to try and discuss some of the more common reasons) but there are some common identifying markers. Furthermore, this particular category of sheep is not simply harmless to themselves or others, but if left unchecked can have some detrimental long term affects – both to themselves, their friends, their families, churches they might be involved with and in the general culture they live.

A few common identifying makers of ‘Sheep without a Shepherd’:

Unrest- Our homes, our churches, our neighbourhoods and our countries are full of unrest. Unrest plays out in a growing discontentment with those around you. This kind of unrest soon turns to anger and acts out in attitudes and actions of hate. “I don’t like the music here.” “I am not able to worship with these people.” “I can’t stand being around them.” “I don’t trust those people”. “I can’t follow these leaders”. People who’s lives are marked by a constant and growing unrest create toxic relationships and environments. It doesn’t matter if they are on a job site, in a church, family or friendship- unrest is a powder keg just waiting for the right spark.

Offended- “It’s not my fault,” kind of offended is what I mean here. Pointing fingers, deflecting blame, and wallowing in offence. Unable to plot a course through the crap of hurt, either perceived or real, to get to the other side of reconciliation marks the broken past of most of these sheep.

    Discontented- Covetousness, or envy, has been referred to as the mother of all sin. In the epistle of James  you could make a case for this. Covetousness is the want for more, or something else or someone else, with the lust driven thought that if you only had this or didn’t have to put up with a current life situation – then a major problem would be solved and your life would finally make sense or be fulfilled. Covetousness breeds an “Eve” size discontentment.  For more on that you should really read this excellent book, “The Envy of Eve”  

    Self-deceived-  Like the kind of self-deceived where the husband says, “Yeah of course I know where we are.” Making himself the proof text of all things GPS. While the family is living out the realities of being lost, again. This kind of self-deceived however has greater implications then merely a few hours lost on the road.
John Bunyan personified  it like this:
  Ignorance: “But my heart and life agree together, and therefore my hope is well grounded.”
  Christian: “Who told thee that thy heart and life agrees together?”
  Ignorance: “My heart tells me so.”

Lost- You’ve seen the ‘lost’ look before. Sometimes you have even had that look. I know, I have. Searching, wandering, stopping, searching some more, looking, longing, worried, anxious, unsure, panic turned to hopelessness and clinging- these are all words that might describe the inevitable emotions we go through when we come to the conclusion we are lost. 

I don’t think that the growing category of ‘Sheep without a Shepherd” is  simply a North American phenomena or a recent occurrence. The roots are deeper then the sum of our present culture but our present culture seems to dramatically emphasize this emotional, mental and spiritual state – even incubates and rapidly breeds it. If you look around our world and our churches, even in our mirrors, you will see we are populated with those who have the marks of Sheep without a Shepherd.

 Life has very dangerous consequences for sheep who have NO shepherd. 

I’ll write more about that later this month. Until then feel free to drop a comment.
Thanks for reading,

BRS

 

Gasping for Revival

ol_fellar_bookCAUTION DO NOT READ THE BOOK OF ACTS

Four marks of authentic revival

  1. Sleepy Christians waking-up.
  2. A holy seriousness
    of sin.
  3. An insatiable appetite for the voice of God (His word), the ear of God (prayer), and to be in unity with His people (the Church).
  4. An affected reform in the culture that we live.

We have been studying the book of ACTS as a part of our worship services at PAXnorth. There is so much to learn from this historical account of how the Church post-Christ experienced the work of Christ, through the Holy Spirit and the fall-out in the disciples lives.  Four of those things are in the list above. We have just completed Chapter 4 (4 chapters six weeks… not bad).

I feel like Luke should have written a warning label though at the first of this book.
A fair warning to those who have been living sleepy Christian, sleepy church lives. A serious caution to those who say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” A word of disclaimer for the modern-day christian who basically feels they have 75-80% of life figured out and are happy that they can use Jesus, or His mission, or His church to top themselves up.

Luke should open this second book of his ongoing record of the words and works of Christ (Gospel of Luke being the first in the series) with:

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK IF YOU ARE ACCUSTOMED TO GOING TO JESUS TO TOP UP YOUR LIFE.
    The very narrative of the book of Acts flows out of  thesis paragraphs, like Acts 2:42-47, describing a church that refuses to be identified based on the things they own, their reputation in a hostile world, the grasping for and holding tightly to possessions, or the controlling of outcomes, schedules and programs. These are sadly the very things that often mark todays church.  Our churches are often filled on Sundays with those who are grasping for intimacy with God based upon the feel good high of a well executed worship service. At the same time, throughout the daily grind of the week, making a piecemeal identity out of the various idols that we surround ourselves with. What we own, how we look, how our kids look, how our kids act, what comforts we can obtain, what food we eat, what vacations we go on…etc, etc.
CAUTION! The book of Acts will confront the ‘keep Jesus to Sunday’s’, ‘fake it ’til I make it’ kind of Christian. The lives and sermons of the early Church will not allow us to go to Jesus for a spiritual high or for some sort of a tag-a-long blessing in hard times while we live disobedient or distracted lives. 

DONT READ ACTS IF YOU ARE LIVING A DISTRACTED LIFE! It will leave you gasping for revival!

Thanks for reading.

Living a Deceived Life

Authenticity is a much toted quality now-a-days. We want to know that our friends, our feelings, our beliefs are 100 (% real). Most of all we want to believe that we ourselves are authentic- genuine to what we say we hold as true and important.
Meaning what?  Usually this shapes out in two streams. (1) I want to be able to be as raw and real, as self-revealing, self- actualizing, self- identifying as I want to be- without anyone giving me push back or questioning what I might consider ‘my authentic self’ (2) I will no longer live under the excuses that I have constantly made, or the script that has been handed to me, or in the shadows of what my life has become-  I will live life out of my most authentic expression of my success that I can. I will realize myself to a better life (equated as a more authentic life).
Both of these version of ‘authenticity’ are based out of ME, MY, MINE own self as the basis of authority for what is truly real and best for me. It is truly a prime doctrine of our westernized world.
   There are all kinds of reasons why we might not want to hear that theseintent to deceive.jpeg versions of authenticity may be a great deceit of our age.

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

Noël Coward, Blithe Spirit

Calling ourselves “christian” or attending a church doesn’t exempt us from being deceived by this very same doctrine of deceit. It is very possible that even now we might simply be living a life with the prime goals of self-actualizing but trying to use Jesus as one of many means to becoming all we believe we deserve to be. To get all that we believe we deserve to get.

A read through Revelation, particularly chapters 17,18  gives us a terrifying panoramic view of how drunk we get on the deceitful promises of self-actualizing. Paying close attention to the source of these deceitful promises (pictured here as a seducing harlot that drinks blood and a promised city of hope that delivers only sorrow). This is to serve as a resoundingly shocking picture to those who’s minds and hearts believe that we are meant to finally be all we can be through the resources of embracing self (read: self-effort, self-comfort, self-forgiveness, self-worth, self-indulgence, self-realizing- pretty much all that the western world equals as our greatest expression of authenticity). The shock comes to those of us who call ourselves Christians when we realize that living for a self-indulgent life  is always opposed to the goodness and glory of God. My self-determined life is always opposed to, at war with, the will of God.

These are some incredibly important truths to wrestle with. I have been trying to work this through in the 20 some passages of the New Testament where Christ’s followers are warned by Jesus, the Disciples and Paul, “Don’t be deceived”  – (study note: most of these passages fall into one of two categories regarding living a deceived life 1- deceived by living out of the resources of a deceiving kingdom 2-deceived by living out of  personal deceiving desires)

It is incredibly easy to believe that what I am understanding about myself, what I want, what I need. How I choose to live my life. What gender, what role, what I want to understand as truth is REALLY 100% the authentic self-expression of who I am convinced I am supposed to be. I then shape my own life around what I hold as my truth for me. So that the very truths of God sound strange or strained in my ears and life. The sin of selfish living becomes my norm, my custom. When this begins to take place we are being intoxicated by the seductive harlot that drinks the blood of the saints of God. We are believing and living in a Kingdom that promises hope but is only able to deliver poison.

The custom of sinning takes away the sense of it, the course of the world takes away the shame of it.- John Owen, “The Works of John Owen” 1826

   “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues”
– Jesus, Revelation 18:4

The truth of who we are is ultimately and most greatly realized in the purposes and hope of God’s great plan of redemption in our life.
 “The joy of seeing God is the true blessedness of man, because the fountain that supplies it is equal to man’s desire and capacity”– Jonathan Edwards, ‘Altogether Lovely, early 1800’s
crf-Ephesians 3:17-19

“Don’t be deceived”

Thanks for reading
BRS

The Most Terrible of God’s Qualities [This is a Christmas Theme!]

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.”
-Psalm 147:5

THE OMNISCIENCE OF GOD- God has complete and perfect knowledge of all things, including past, present, future and everythi_saw_that_goding actual and potential [Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:12-14, 46:10; Psalm 139:1-6; Job 42:2; Hebrews 4:13]                                 – from PAXnorth‘s Gospel Journey 101 FAITH Lesson 2:: GOD

God is simple.  The reformed theologians, and the puritans that followed, held that God is not simply a collection of divine attributes. He is the purest and completest of each attribute. To understand God as love is to understand Him as pure love, fully love. To understand God as Holy is to understand Him as wholly Holy, to the fullest purity of holiness that holiness can be. Each of the characteristics of God is complete in Him, both in its essence and its expression. “Where there is the greatest simplicity, there is the greatest unity; and where there is the greatest unity, there is the greatest power.” – Stephen Charnock, Existence and Attributes, 1840, as quoted from A Puritan Theology, pg62

Thinking on the characteristics of God I think that the pure, completeness of God’s knowing of all things- past, present and future- is to His enemies the most terrible of God’s qualities.   

It must be the most frustrating of all of God’s terrors to the devils, that God always and already knows the will and outcomes of His adversaries. That as the attack plan is being considered, organized….put into careful, hateful, and meticulously evil of places… God has already arrived with the contrivings of grace to bring about redemption. Even before Hell’s gates have been opened to unleash its hoards to have launched its arsenal – God has already planned the breaking of dawn!

This is a Christmas theme! Luke 1:78-79
God knows the depth of humanity’s brokenness.  From it’s beginning, to it’s end, and all the hurt in between.
God knows the plans that are in the heart of mankind. From global dominations, to personal dominations.
God knows the hopes that make up the daily lives of people. From good desires, to desires that will destroy.
God knows the needs of people. The desperation of all of time, of all the earth, in all cultures.
God knows the life of each one that He has given breath to. From Hitler, to Mother Theresa, to you and me.

God has seen it all before it unfolded. He set a plan in place before the foundations of the earth, so the Bible would tell us, Christianity would hold.
Omniscience:: This is the most terrible of God’s qualities:
– For thoughtful, desperate souls experiencing pain, it begs the same questions that Job’s own soul cried out- Why this….? Where are You…? Who is able to …..? What am I to do …..? How do I understand…..?
– For those who would consider themselves the enemies of God it will be the means of God’s right calling into account and bringing about the fullness of His justice.
– To those who hope to be let into heaven based upon our own good deeds, it remains the unnerving truth that God sees, knows the very nakedness of our souls.

But for those who have no other hope…. God’s Omniscience is the means of His redeeming! Yes, He knows. He doesn’t have to wait to see if we are able to clean up our own life, or heal our own wounds, or bring about the fullness of our own justice, or bring a needed sacrifice for every wrong deed that we have done or that has been done to us. Even while Adam and Eve stood in the garden in their uncomfortable state of fig-leaved coverings, trying to hide from God and each other- God calls out, “Where are you?”. He knows but like a good dad he longs for them to come to him in open repentance. Acknowledging what He already knows and will make a way to right the wrongs.
We are broken. We need a Saviour. A saving from God. A saving by God.
This is Christmas! He knows and He comes to save.

Joy to the World for the terrible All-knowing of our God!

BRS

 

‘Atheist’ is the new main stream Canadian ‘Christian’

proud-canadian-atheist-womens_design.png    Not that long ago when you sat down with someone who you were getting to know, deeper than a ‘hi’ across the grocery counter and  happened to wander into conversations about religion, most people in Canada would verbally identify as ‘christian’. It was said basically in the same way that you would respond to the question of citizenship, “Well, of course I’m a Christian, I’m Canadian.”   I would argue it would be possible that this person might have held a sense of traditional Christian moral values [“Don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t hang around those who do.”- wisdom jokingly handed out by my dad, rural New Brunswick style]; Most likely went to a christian church semi-regularly or forced to go as a kid; Held the basic assumption that there was some kind of a God who kick-started this spinning ball and who at least checks-in every so often to see how things are going; Probably would believe that when the bell tolls they’ll find themselves standing in front of some manner of pearly gate and giving reasons why God should be happy enough with them to  give them a key to their own private cloud, some harp lessons and a halo then basically leave ’em alone to chill for an eternity.

  “So what religion are you?” “Of course I’m Christian” = I’m Canadian, basically good and God’s cool with that.

I don’t think this main stream is the main stream anymore. Conversations within our community. Talking with my older kids friends. Interaction with young skeptics. Listening to the young parents in our neighbourhoods. Add to this, the broader spiritual climate that we hear echoing in the greater Canadian cultural conversations I would propose:                      ‘Atheists’ are the new main stream ‘christians’ 

What does this main stream atheist look like? They would say they don’t really believe in a God, I believe in science. They equate traditional moral values with organizational and religious restraint and navigate moral issues on a need-to-know basis (using their own understandings in the moment as the source of authority); From here, what they believe is atheism gets blurry… I’ve had self-identifying ‘atheists’ ask if I believe in angels, ghosts, spirits, demons,and ultimate powers that we can’t see? THEY do. My push back is that the main stream atheist in not really an atheist but more of an agnostic, it’s just more accepted even celebrated to call yourself a ‘science’ guy/girl.

“So what religion are you?” “Oh I’m not religious. I’m an atheist. I believe in science” = There’s probably not a traditional God. I don’t want outside moral restraint but, “do you believe in the spirit world ’cause I do?”

Why do you care?
  Perhaps, for many of you, it doesn’t matter. If you are someone who calls yourself a follower of Jesus- it should.
First, just because main stream identifies as ‘christian’ doesn’t mean most people are genuine Christians. That’s important if we claim Jesus is the only way to God and that there is an eternal consequence for rejecting Him, then it’s important that we know what truly being a Christian means.

Second, just because main stream is identifying as ‘atheist’ doesn’t mean people are genuine atheists. Knowing that most ‘atheists’ are open to spiritual conversations should be refreshing. In fact its a great place to have both broader and more pointed conversations. Broader in helping people navigate the reality that we have a spiritual side that is left feeling empty or searching for the mystical if we simply state, “I don’t believe”. Pointedly, are you just identifying as an atheist because you don’t like the idea that there might be moral standard outside of yourself? God does change us…. but maybe not in the ways you think or fear.

Thanks for reading.
BRS

 

The Problem with Purity

psalm51_10

 Purity-  καθαρός – clean (from Strong’s Greek)

 Everyone who has kept their purity, unstained and holy- please stand up.

  There are all sorts of great gifts that God, in His wisdom and love to us- as a means of demonstrating His glory and illustrating His pursuit of us- has inserted into our make-up.  SEX is one of these great gifts.

  If you’re an agnostic or an atheist, those opening few lines probably bother, maybe puzzle, or even infuriate you. Most likely you just stopped reading. The problem with thinking of sex as something more then an appetite of our nature, propelled by anything other then our evolutionary ancestoral species, holds a true dilema. It would have to mean that the point of sex is more then merely our need to satisfy our natural urges,  a raging appetite, or merely a need to reproduce our species. Further it would mean that we can’t simply choose when, where, why and with whom we pursue sexual relationship, because it holds something more then sexual satisfaction as it’s primary goal. Further it would mean there must be some level of sexual purity that is expected?  When we get to that level we are talking  about a moral standard, a morally pure standard.

When we start down the road of moral purity we eventually have to ask , “Who sets the standard?” The top options that we are presented with are our nature, our perceived needs, or some sort of an outside influence (religion, family standards, peer pressure, cultural influence, beliefs, etc). The moral standard you hold will shape or provide answers for such questions like – What relationships will I pursue?  When will I know sex is the next level of intimacy in relationship? How far is too far? What importance will sexual relationship hold as a measure of right relationship?

  From these two considerations alone, sexual desire and moral standard, I would re-state my original point,
There are all sorts of great gifts that God, in His wisdom and love to us- as a means of demonstrating His glory and illustrating His pursuit of us- has inserted into our make-up. SEX is one of these great gifts.”
  I know, it’s bad form to quote yourself- but let me make the point- These two realities of human relationship (sexual desire and moral standards)  demonstrate this to be true -because sex typically brings such confusion when introduced into relationship prematurely (Song of Solomon points this out with poetic force);  or when sex is introduced into a relationship it confuses  the relationship so that it becomes the central shaping force,  also,  the fact that our heart breaks so deeply as though we have given away a part of us to another when the sexual relationship is ended. Leaving us with all sorts of feelings of hurt, guilt, shame, regret, or an all consuming appetite for more. All this points to the truth- SEX has been given to us for something more- a greater purpose, a more presdigious place then we, our culture, typically give it, a place of pure enjoyment. If that is true then it has to be enjoyed within the parameters that God sets and not simply as a means to fill our void of loneliness.

 NOW THE REAL KICKER:: As an honest Christian (not perfectly honest but trying to be honest to Christian truth) I am forced to admit there is no one who has kept fully sexual and moral purity, except One. This doesn’t mean that sexual purity is not important. This does mean that our purity holds a limited-time value.

  Sexual, moral and ethical purity does:

  1. Please God, who made us for relationship. Yet He knows the brokenness of our hearts and places boundaries for our greatest protection, and as a means to enjoy His good gift to us.

 2. Gives us these boundaries to enjoy freedom. Boundaries in relationship allow for us to get to know each other, to cultivate deep and growing relationships (such as friendship) without being consumed by self-satisfaction, self-gratification and protecting us from simply using each other for self pleasure. When lust leads it does not create it consumes.

3. Lays the ground for true intimacy. True intimacy does not equal nakedness. If you think it does then you have all but doomed yourself to young love. Not the kind of ripened, life-long covenant love that brings confidence and will ultimately result in a deep shaping of hope in your life. Young love only breeds disappointment, a trail of broken relationships, and a ever deepening loneliness.

In these ways purity matters and has a lasting affect on our lives. Yet our own purity holds a limited time value.

 To hold up our PURITY as a trophy or as the means of saving our lives, even our marriages,  simply won’t hold up.
The truth before God (a Sermon on the Mount kind of truth) is that we have all failed when it comes to purity. This smashes the purity myth that YOU can save yourself for someone as if to save your relationship. You and I cannot be our own Messiah’s. When it comes to purity we need a Saviour we are not the saviour. The purity of our own making that we might possess is not a purity that has an eternal value. The purity that we might possess -moral purity, sexual purity, or ethical purity- is not a purity that we in the end get to cling to as proof of our right standing before God. Nor is it the ultimate saving grace of your relationships. The only purity that we will ever possess that will matter before God is a purity that is given to us, not a purity we have or have earned. It is a purity that was secured for us by another, One outside of ourselves. It’s Christ’s purity. It is an exchange that can only be made by faith at the cross of Jesus- dying for our impurity and offering us His purity. This truth applied is the place of healing for our sexual brokenness. ~that thought will take a longer conversation.

  We are made to delight in pure relationship. Ultimately this is fulfilled in us as we learn to delight in God through Christ- this primary place of delight shapes and brings a practiced purity to all the other relationships God has given us to delight in.

     Thanks for reading

Brad

Justin Trudeau is the Answer to Your Prayers

 trudeau1

Yesterday, October 19, 2015 marked a decisive day in Canada’s political landscape. Democracy was exercised across our great country in all ten provinces and 3 territories resulting in some unprecedented results. Approximately 17,410,656 people were engaged in voting, the highest voter turn out in more than a decade with more than 60% of eligible voters showing up to exercise their freedom to choose their leaders. This on the heels of a very long, according to Canadian standards, political campaign period, 78 days. Still, this resulted in a reportedly large numbers of first time voters (students, new citizens, etc.) and a strong turn out of aboriginal first nation communities making this federal election feel like democracy is alive and well in our country. Snap shot of the results

  But did we get what we were asking for? 

I think I am like the typical Canadian. I have an opinion, try to keep it politely to myself until directly asked then try to communicate with a calm cool nonchalantness and deep conviction on MY right opinion. I was asked several times through the election campaign who I will vote for (by both family, friends and acquaintances). I could tell that most of them, like me, were wearying from the constant berating of one party’s rhetoric against the other. The constant deflecting or the spin machines that so often deflect from the deeper issues that no politician would talk about. Mainly because in our politically correct, post modern culture they know they would be committing political suicide.

Then there are the morning after Facebook feeds,  WOW! I won’t write everything that surprised me by the Facebook feeds that I stream, except this one thing: I am struck with the incredible negative responses from my Conservative Christian voting feeds, not all but the majority. I recognize the sentiment, the feelings of frustration that no one wants to talk about issues that line up with the deeper truth of Biblical morals (not even the Conservatives). Or that whole parties are seeming to forbid any kind of conversation about these issues (abortion vs pro-life; euthanasia, actions to care for the poorest among us, etc). These frustrations, if I am not mistaken, have moved Christians in our country to pray for these elections, our party leaders, or local candidates more intentionally then perhaps a long time.
I think more Christians than usual were moved by this election to a biblical response when faced with the clash of our consciences and government. More than normally, I know I was pressed into prayer,  to hope and to clarify a vote, for the option that will cause us to live out of a peace and quietness that brings a freedom to both believe and preach the Goodnews of God, which is Jesus (I Timothy 2:1-7 kind of response).

But two questions in the aftermath, my fellow followers of Jesus:
1. Do you believe God answers the prayers of His Church?  It seems many of us don’t. Our response to God’s answer to our countries act of democratic vote is “DOOMSDAY!” We prayed, we hoped, we voted and now look what God’s given us for an answer… Justin Trudeau. You may, or may not, find this answer lacking – but it is God’s answer. If you don’t see it that way then I’d press this second question to you;

 2. Do you believe in the Sovereignty of God?  I see the God of both the Old and New Testament not as a passive or reactive God. I see God both giving his people the kings, rulers, emperors, ruling nations that they often deserve, or even don’t deserve. But however you look at it, you soon discover that God is always, and will forever be able to make, shape, direct both the heart of the rulers and the fate of the nations.

If we believe in these two simple Biblical understandings about the character of God- He answers the prayers of His people, and He is sovereign  then we need to understand, this morning when we woke up God has given us an answer in keeping with these two truths- the answer right now, that will shape both the people of God, and the Kingdom of God in our Country is Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal party.

To these truths then I think our first response needs to be prayers of thankfulness, trust, and enthusiasm to push in to be better, more engaged and hopeful citizens of Canada then we have ever been. For God is working out his grace through His Church in our Country as a response to the prayers and actions of His people.

Here’s a helpful response written by another Canadian Christian blogger – This demonstrates a trust in the Sovereignty of God and an engagement in the answers of God to His praying people. “Dear Prime Minster Trudeau” – thanks Aaron

“The King’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.” – Proverbs 21:1

Prayer and God’s Benevolence [What makes you pray?]

I have been thinking a lot lately on the place of prayer in the christians life- in my life. I certainly don’t give prayer the space, time, and credit that it deserves or that it should have.   images

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6

“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” – Matthew 21:22

[ The Parable of the Persistent Widow ] “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” – Luke 18:1

[ The Fellowship of the Believers ] “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”– Acts 2:24

“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”– Acts 6:4

“Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.”– Acts 8:22

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”– Romans 12:12

[ Further Instructions ] “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”– Colossians 4:2

“Pray without ceasing”- I Thessalonians 5:17

[ Pray for All People ] “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people”- I Timothy 2:1

“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” – I Timothy 2:8

This is just a short sampling of the importance and instruction for Christians to pray.
                     This is helpful, maybe even instructive- but does it increase the actual desire in me to pray?
         What increases my desire and therefore my discipline to pray?
I have heard a ton of both good quotes and very bad pithy quotes about prayer that are suppose to move me to become a better prayer-er. But if I am honest they tend to make me feel mildly guilty or somewhat self-willed towards prayer. One thing I know about myself- I am great at assuaging my guilt with a nicely laid out plan to do better. I can start a habit out of self-will that will make me feel I have become something that I really am not- at least until I don’t care to keep the habit anymore.

What has truly caused me to have a growing appetite in prayer recently is God’s Benevolence.
I have been thinking on this since the summer, in new ways. Several things have moved me to a deeper appreciation of the reality of God’s goodness shown to me, to us, to humans. One is a slow re-read of John Piper’s book Desiring God. Another is a deeper appreciation for the Puritan writers understanding of God. But mostly it is just a growing realization of my hearts need to delight in something bigger, greater, more then what is here.

It has become a thirst that longs to be quenched daily. It has become a hunger that can only be filled when my head and heart is oriented around the person and purpose of God. This need to find true delight has caused me to grow in prayer.

I recently read a sermon by one of my favourite old dead preachers, Charles Spurgeon, with this same basic idea of DELIGHTING in PRAYER- In it he makes a ten point argument on why it is impossible to believe in a GOOD (benevolent) God and then to think that God might not hear or answer our prayers.

 “It is NOT possible, that a man should sincerely, in God’s own appointed way, seek for mercy and eternal life and not find it. It is not possible, that a man should earnestly from his heart, pray unto God, and yet a gracious answer be finally refused.”
How do we know this? [here’s simply a list of Spurgeon’s points- he argues each one out of scripture texts]
“1. Why then, are men exhorted to pray at all?
2. (If we have no or little hope of an answer) he who prays would be worse off than he who does not pray.
3. A God who does not hear prayer would be the authour of unnecessary misery.
4. A decent man would not treat his fellow-men with such a mean practical joke; God is greater then any decent man.
5. God has ordained answers to prayer to be a constant memorial, by which he is distinguished from the false gods.
6. If God doesn’t hear and is moved by prayers then His promises would remain empty.
7. If God has left prayer as a means only to emptiness then the cross of Christ is a mockery for the saints. (Christ makes a clear way for the saints to come boldly before God).
8. If God turns a deaf ear to prayers then those who call themselves saints have no gospel hope to preach. (The Christian God invites us into relationship not simply to keep rules so that maybe someday we might possibly gain favor with a god who might or might not be assuaged)
9. If God cannot be moved by our prayers then where does this leave the believer’s hope?
10. What mockery would hell make of all that it is to know Christ, if God refused to listen to the cries of his saints?”

This is what continues to fuel my renewed desire to pray:: Because God is good He invites us to pray to Him. It is the delight that we can find in the benevolence of God that causes us to become people of prayer.

BRS

The Worst Church Plant Strategy of All Time!

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Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”  – Jesus’ idea of a call to discipleship

How would you like a hand full of fishermen (and some other odd, unknown men) following you around the country side for three years? When you wake up they are there, when you lay down they are there. When they need food, they look to you. When they need directions, instructions, answers, they look to you. They don’t understand half of what your saying and less of what you’re actually doing. When they act on your behalf they seem to do the very things you’d never dream of doing. That has got to be the worst church plant strategy of all time!- being followed around 24/7 by a rag tag bunch of guys who don’t seem to get it.

From a church growth strategy point of view (if your not familiar with that idea- yeah they actually have written volumes of books, blogs, articles, held conferences on how best to make your church grow bigger -no link needed, do a google search) Jesus’ methodology is flawed. In fact it doesn’t even start right! He doesn’t find the influencers in culture or the region he is trying to reach. He mostly goes to obscure places (guess he didn’t have a very good regional growth statistics team) and hardly stays long enough to keep a crowd (in fact it seems he is more likely to hide from the crowd, slip through the crowd, leave the crowd, insult the crowd, anger the crowd or lead the crowd into impossible situations); He doesn’t seem to care enough about his reputation, the rewards that following him could bring, or how explosive ministry actually works (you know, you catalyze a movement- by hosting big events, spending your time with the mover, shakers, money, well-known bloggers, and getting the invites, doing the video/podcast, simulcast conferences, writing the books and getting the sponsors). He doesn’t do ANY of that!

Discipleship Jesus style is SO inefficient! I doubt many churches would have backed Jesus as a movement maker or a church planter if they knew he was hoping to pour into primarily 12 guys over three years- then die, and leave them behind to carry on (I’d like to see that promo brochure sent out to potential donors). When he answered, in the church plant assessment question, “What’s your plan for being a church that reproduces other churches?” he fills out “Die!”- that probably would have raised some flags.

Yet, we (all Christians and even many who wouldn’t call themselves Christians) would have loved to be with him, taught by him, do life with him. To authentically experience, to touch the person of Jesus – would have been life changing for all of us!
It still is– when discipleship is done with Jesus and with others in the inefficient ways of life on life- in the midst of laughter, tears, confusions; You at my house- me at your house; You seeing where I am broken and need the truth of God to remake me; Me having permission to press these same truths into your life. Our lives don’t stay the same.
This way of discipleship will probably never get the credit it deserves or the press it needs, at least not here on earth. It will mean in many small unseen places and ways there will be those who will take up the cross of Christ and die to self to spend countless hours waiting on the sick (both physically and spiritually), taking the criticisms of being inefficient and misinformed on good methodology, sacrificing far beyond their own worldly means (even threatening their own comforts or the comforts of their family), being misunderstood, lonely, unknown – and in the end die, with the hope that this is how God designed the Church to reproduce and find life!

How do you plan to make disciples?

BRS