Elijah’s Harbor ~ A Place To Recharge

All too often I find myself looking for a place to recharge. Four years ago my wife and I were financially strapped but desperate to get away. So I did what anyone would do (to my wife’s laughter)…I typed into the Google search bar “vacations for pastors.” Lo and behold! I found an article written by Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today which had links to places where pastors/church leaders could go for a reasonable cost. One of those places was Elijah’s Harbor.

Joe and Patty Gatas oversee the ministry there and they are an incredible couple! Our stay this past May was just what we needed. You can have them cook meals for you at an extremely reasonable cost and, when Joe describes the meat as “cooked perfectly”, it truly is cooked perfectly! The setting, the rooms, the food and the ministering of the people there truly does make it a harbor for rest.

If you are looking to take your family there are houses to rent on the property as well. They have ATVs to take out, animals to see, fishing gear to take to the stream, park passes if you venture out, an infinity pool and hot tub to relax in, an old fashioned ice cream shop for indulging, a brand new coffee shop for the caffeine connoisseurs, and a movie theatre for staying in. I’ve posted the link to their website below. Check them out!

https://www.elijahsharbor.com

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/march/free-or-discounted-getaways-for-pastors.html

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Isaiah 43:19 ~ A Personal Journal Entry/Reflection

“Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.”

Look!” – Take a moment/take time to observe the work I’m doing, the transformation taking place before you, in you, in others. Purposefully take a moment to OBSERVE.

I’m doing a new thing” – Don’t believe that someone is fully and finally formed! Don’t think they can’t transform, grow, mature, change. There’s no hope in that — neither for yourself or others. GOD is doing a new thing. It’s HIS work.

now it sprouts up” – Even NOW God is making growth occur. Anticipate it NOW…why do you think it will take a long time for new shoots to break the surface? Why can’t it be now? Everything has a beginning…a time when movement/development move forward to more maturity.

don’t you recognize it?” – Are you looking at MAN things or GOD things? Do you so believe a person can’t change that you are blind? Have you so little faith in the transformational power of God that you don’t even recognize when He’s at work? What measures are you using? Are your expectations blinding you? Perhaps you don’t recognize it because it’s MORE glorious than you anticipated/expected! You aren’t God…Look for HIS handiwork.

I’m making a way in the desert” – Yes, in the sands of the desert there seems to be no clear way…it all looks the same! But GOD can make one, guide, show clearly, be with ou on it. Even when the says seems invisible it’s clear to God.

[I’m making] paths in the wilderness.” – In the desert it’s all one big empty canvas with no scenery to guide — it’s so barren that any path is open — overly so. In the wilderness the way is rough, overgrown, needing clearing. There is no path because there is so much stuff — so many obstacles that a clear path needs to be cut and navigated. In the overgrowth of our lives in the wild wilderness, God can provide clarity and move obstacles we think will hinder or may hinder.

A Prayer: God open my eyes to see more clearly the work you are doing in me and in others. Help me to replace expectations with expectancy because You are faithful in Your promises to transform and Your power to accomplish it. When I see no guide posts along the way, I pray you make the path of travel clear to me. When all I see are obstacles blocking at me, thorns threatening to tear my flesh should I move forward, I pray You clear a path in the wilderness for me to follow Your lead. Thank you for your steadfast love.

[A journal entry March 2019]

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A Personal Journal Entry: Reflections On Riley

I’ve been thinking about Riley and how much I tell him he’s loved. Riley is our cat. He may have a small inkling about what being loved means but as a cat and therefore on a different plain of thinking, feeling, etc., he is limited in truly knowing he’s loved.

But no matter how little he’s able to grasp that, I continue telling him that he is loved — he’s a good boy — over and over every day. I think on some level that has shaped him and his personality as a cat: he’s social, loves people, is relaxed, asks for treats/food/water, without any fear of rejection. He trusts us to provide for him and care for him.

Yes, he sheds hair ALL OVER THE PLACE! Sometimes he makes a mess. Sometimes he takes things too far in his playing. Sometimes he is a bully with our other cat or complains when his nails need trimming. Often times he tries to take my spot when I momentarily vacate a seat to get up to get something. Yet he’s still loved.

I think I’m like Riley…except Riley has a greater understanding of what it means to be loved and to live confidently, freely and joyfully in that reality.

I struggle to know and accept that I am loved. Often, I think all God sees is the mess that I make, is disappointed when I don’t act in a way that pleases Him, is sad when I try to take His place (that He never vacates). Most of all though…He just loves me and tells me over and over again even though I think and feel on a different plain than Him…He is constantly affirming it. To Him, I am a good boy…and I am loved…unconditionally. Even though I don’t get how much He loves me He is faithful to provide for me in numerous ways. In those moments I do manage a small, small glimpse into what God’s amazing love looks like my mind and heart get overwhelmed.

Thank you for continuing to say it, God. Thank you for continually telling and affirming to me that I am loved. Thank you for seeing me amid my mess and letting me know I matter to You — You see me and know me and treasure me.

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Church Leadership & The Call For Transparency

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” ~ 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

This past week I had the privilege of praying with people from a church in crisis. When I write “crisis” I mean “CRISIS!” Over $40 million in debt, leadership transitions, information being communicated from all sorts of different parties…the situation is a mess. At the heart of it is really poor unbiblical leadership choices which are leaving behind a wake of confused, hurting, incredible, wonderful Christians who are now left to piece together what went on and how they are to deal with the fall-out. The court of public opinion in many ways has lumped everyone in the scenario together: the leaders who sinfully did wrong, the leaders who watched the sin continue but did nothing, the staff and leaders who didn’t know what was going on “but should have”, and the congregations who desired to serve the Lord but are now seen as naive. How did things progress so far? Was it a lack of accountability? Poor leadership structure? Lack of transparency? Leadership attitudes of entitlement? Yes. And more. At the end of the day it was an incredible reminder to me of the responsibility we have when we lead congregations but also that one day, regardless of what happens on earth, us leaders will give account before the Lord. Were we good stewards with what God entrusted us with or were we charlatans? Were we good shepherds with the flock we were to feed well and care for or did we act like hirelings out for our own profit and self-preservation?

Where is grace in all of this? What role does repentance play? What do we do when our brokenness and bad decisions on are display for the world to see? What should our next steps be? In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul makes a startling statement regarding how we are called to judge those inside the church. For many, this goes completely against the church culture they grew up with where it was beaten into them, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (KJV Matthew 7:1-3…And yes, I purposefully used the KJV version). Who is right? Jesus? Paul? Is this a conflict of teaching? No. Without getting too deeply into it, Jesus is talking about an attitude of superiority or the “haughty spirit” where one sees others as failing without taking into account our own failings and frailty. We are to examine ourselves daily! Martin Luther wrote, “our Lord and Master Jesus Christ . . . willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This means followers of Christ are in constant reflection, seeing their failings, and bringing them to Jesus for forgiveness and transformational change in living. When this happens we are able to approach each other with the same standard we use for ourselves because we will be living in a constant state of grace. Which is why Paul also wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” (NLT Galatians 6:1)

Which is it Paul? Are we to help that person back on the right track or cast them out? I guess one should/could ask, “In 1 Corinthians 5:13, what makes the person to be considered ‘wicked’ so that they are removed from the body of believers?” When we look throughout scripture the answer is anyone who refuses to repent. That is, anyone who is sinning, is aware of their sinning, has had others come to them to talk to them about their sinning and yet still refuse to turn from that sin and be restored to Christ (while still claiming to be a Christian). THAT is the wicked person who needs to go. That, is what being wicked is: choosing to remain apart from God while championing our own sinful independance and glorying in it. That is what we as believers need to be judging amongst ourselves.

In our current culture we attach the word “judge” to always be negative. “You’re so judgmental!” would summarize how we understand the word judge to be. But there are positive aspects of judging. For example, when we are at an ice cream shop we like to look at the products before us and we “judge” which ones looks most appetizing. After we purchase our ice creams, we begin to taste them and examine them on the basis of flavour, texture and richness. We “judge” which of them are bad and which are good (in our opinion). In the future, we remember the good and order accordingly. In this example, is judging bad? Do you feel “bad” for the “rejected” flavours? No of course not! It’s pretty subjective and so my friends may have judged the variety of ice creams and come out with a list of “acceptable” flavours different than mine.

But what about another example where judgment is not so flexible? When we have suffered injustice and our case is brought before a judge we pray he does make a righteous judgment. We hope and pray our lawyer will plead our case and the judge will render a favourable verdict on our behalf. Should he do that we would be pleased that he had “judged.” When it comes to God and the people of God, there are truths that are not subjective and are rooted even deeper than human law. For example, Jesus says unequivocally, that people will know we are his disciples by our love. How we love is a mark of his followers. Therefore, when we look around at our church family, one should be examining how love is being displayed among and by the people of God. First, we aim the question at our own person: “How am I doing at loving others and showing them love?” THEN, we ask ourselves to reflect more fully on the church family: “How are WE doing at loving others and showing them love?” This is a GOOD judgment to ponder and make!

I write this understanding that I am NOT a perfect leader and I do NOT show love perfectly. I make many, MANY mistakes and am blessed with a Board and a church family that constantly offer grace and love to me. Upon observing this large church family in crisis it became clear that most, if not all of their leadership issues came from not judging as Paul recommends. An even more basic observation would be that the leaders never asked themselves the questions: “How am I doing at showing love and care to others?” and “How are WE doing at showing love and care to others?” Had they done that their current crisis would have completely been avoided. In fact, if most of us were honest with ourselves, the majority of our relational issues would be completely avoided or resolved if we asked ourselves about how we were doing in the “love” area.

Of course, the most important question to ask ourselves (especially as leaders) is, “How are we glorifying God?” I love the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s opening question: “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” This is a theme throughout scripture — to watch one’s life closely so that you are honouring the Lord and glorifying him (Deuteronomy 6). Everything was made by God for God to worship God and point others to Him. To that end, as Christians, as Christian-leaders, shouldn’t that be the FIRST question we ask? If we were honest, it is a sobering and softening question for anyone who is serious about living their lives for King Jesus. Perhaps it’s in this question that the pride of leadership finds itself righteously crushed and holy perspective regained. Followed up with honest reflections about loving others and actively following through, we simply cannot go wrong.

So what do we do when we have fallen short in leadership? What is the path back? Transparency. Humility. Confession. Repentance. I have heard it said from numerous leaders in this particular church situation that i mentioned that the path to restoration was long and complex. No. It isn’t. You know what is long and complex? Trying to massage truth in order to help yourself not look so bad. Trying to spin things so your leadership decisions don’t look like sinful drives or incompetence. Trying to discern what the bare minimal exposure of truth can be so that you don’t have to reveal the entire debacle and still claim you are being honest. That’s what takes a long time. That’s what takes a TON of energy and effort. The exposure of truth, being broken and contrite before others, takes a TON of courage but it is actually quite quick in it’s execution. “We were wrong. We made these mistakes (name them plainly). We sinned. This is what we will do in the future to correct our path. Please forgive us. Please show us grace.” Then comes the part we all hold our breath on — will grace be given? Will forgiveness be offered? I’m not sure. That’s up to the other person. But in putting the truth before them they can now make an educated decision about how THEY will follow Jesus in biblical forgiveness. Then they can decide what forgiveness + godly accountability looks like. Then they can reflect on the value that they give to transparency. But unless those confessions come forward…business cannot continue as usual and there is no path to health for the future. Once leadership sin is out there for all to see yet remains unacknowledged by leaders, all they are doing is wearing “the emperor’s new clothes” and with trust broken, no movement forward can be had. And God certainly is not pleased. And God’s people won’t be blessed. And God’s Bride remains broken.

I believe in grace for fallen leaders who repent. I am not sure what the future looks like for them as each scenario is unique. One thing is for sure though, without transparency, without repentance — TRUE repentance where its not crocodile tears but heart-rendered actions toward change — the downward spiral of crisis will only get worse. It’s so counter-intuitive to our human nature to move on godly pathways because in order for things to get better the ugliness of our sin needs to be exposed! The world says, “Bury it! Don’t let anyone see that! They’ll never accept you again!” but God says, “Expose it! Let me bring it to the light…then you can be free and you can have life and there is grace for the heart open before the Lord.” And, somehow, trust is restored or at least it begins to be rebuilt. Because at the end of the day, we all need and desire grace and love. We all need and desire to be accepted with our faults and failures with hope for future transformation. Then we begin to transform and grow into something beautiful through the power of Christ in us.

Please pray for this church I purposefully haven’t named. They need your love as they feel very alone and attacked right now. And maybe, just maybe, we will see a miracle where public shame gets turned into God-glorifying holiness. O God, let your glory fill the earth! Let your church rise up and shine to Your glory and Yours alone. Amen.

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Being On Fire For Christ: Stop! Drop! Then Roll!

Acts 1:1–5

[1] In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, [2] until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. [3] He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

[4] And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; [5] for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (ESV)

This past Sunday as I prepared to preach on this passage I was reminded of being in elementary school and sitting through safety training.  “In case you find yourself on fire, stop, drop and roll.”  My first thought was, “WHAT!  I could catch on fire!”  Of course, the premise is simple: stop running and fanning the flames trying to consume you, drop to the ground so you can then roll and put out the flames through smothering them against the ground.”  I think we can all safely say that none of us wants to catch on fire and be a human candle.

Of course, when we WANT to be on fire in our Christ life we rarely think these principles apply to us. We think if we are to fan the flames of passion for God we need to go FASTER and feed the flame!  We can spend time on the ground we need to fly like the eagles and SOAR!  And who wants to smother anything?!  We just want to be in motion for Jesus.  According to Jesus, if we truly want to produce fruit for him, if we truly want to be impassioned for the Kingdom, if we really want to be empowered and see God do amazing things in and through our lives, we need to, “Stop!  Drop! Then roll!”

We first need to stop and abide in Christ.  We need to get connected to and stay connected to the vine.  There aren’t any branches that can leave the vine and produce fruit.  In fact, the branches themselves might be the carriers of the fruit but its the nutrients carried to them by the vine that enables them to have any fruit at all!

John 15:1–8

[1] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. [2] Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [3] Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. [4] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5] I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [6] If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. [7] If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (ESV)

If you find your relationship with God very dry perhaps you have disconnected from the Vine?  Perhaps you have run ahead to stir the fire but have had the exact opposite become your reality.  You need to Stop and be with Jesus so he can produce fruit THROUGH you.

Step Two: let the Holy Spirit DROP on you.  Don’t just sit in the Word of God but ask God to make it transformative in your heart and mind.  Ask God for the power of the Holy Spirit to give you strength and wisdom and love BEFORE you start your day.  It’s only through the Spirit we can even begin to live for God!

Step Three: then ROLL!  Once we have solidified our connection to the Vine — once we have the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, fresh, every day, THEN we can go and serve Jesus in the world with power.  And what a power that is!  According to Romans, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us!

So why am I writing this AFTER I have already preached on the passage?  In the book of James 1:22-25 we read,

[22] But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. [23] For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. [24] For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. [25] But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (ESV)

Yesterday I started reading through the Bible in a year.  It’s been a couple of years since I have done this and I decided to read through the Bible chronologically.  I am now in Day #2 having read up to and including Genesis 7 and already I know God is more present than He was last week.  Already, I am more inspired in my spiritual walk.  Already, my hunger and thirst for God’s Word is growing.  I was encouraged to do this by one friend and today I was able have another friend join me in this adventure through the Bible.  Let me encourage you — if you are wanting more in your relationship with God, stop, drop then roll.  Get into God’s Word, spend time with God in prayer (this is a RELATIONSHIP not a RELIGION).  Speak to your pastors or elders if you want help finding reading plans or help with prayer times but DO SOMETHING!  Don’t just continue wandering in a spiritual desert wondering why there isn’t more.  Get connected to the Vine and see how the Lord’s meets you!  These verse apply to the exiles returning to their land once they have returned to the Lord but the heart of the Lord is the same for us when we feel like we have wandered and our heart’s home is not anchored in God.

Jeremiah 29:12–14

[12] Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. [13] You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. [14] I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (ESV)

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Our Christmas Hero!

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
~ 1 Timothy 1:15-16

This past week Tanya and I went Christmas shopping and then out for a date movie – we saw Hacksaw Ridge (romantic…I know).  For those unfamiliar with Hacksaw Ridge, it is the Maeda Escarpment that the Japanese held in World War II.  It was called Hacksaw Ridge because the amount of cover fire the Japanese laid down was so thick it literally cut soldiers in half.  It was a desperate situation and many lives were lost in this battle for Okinawa.  In the midst of this horror is the real life story of army medic Desmond Doss who, in one 12 hour stint, is credited for rescuing over 75 men by himself.  Facing impossible odds he averaged saving one man every ten minutes by dragging them from an enemy infested battlefield, over to the 350-foot cliff  and lowering them down via a rope sling.  One at a time.  All night long.  By himself.  As one who didn’t believe in killing, Army medic Desmond Doss never carried a weapon and was seriously wounded at Hacksaw Ridge.  After this battle he was left 90% disabled and was unable to work a full-time job after the war.  He was known to be a man of dedicated prayer and Bible reading refusing to compromise on taking Saturday as the sabbath (he was a Seventh Day Adventist).  What one man gave up in order to save the lives of others is inspiring.  Even more so, the other soldiers, including Doss himself, believe what Doss did on Hacksaw Ridge was nothing short of a miracle:

When you have explosions and bursts so close you can practically feel it, and not get wounded up there when I should have been killed a number of times. I know who I owe my life to as well as my men. That’s why I like to tell this story to the glory of God, because I know from the human standpoint, I should not be here.” (Desmond Doss in Medal of Honor: Oral Histories)

As incredible as this story is, Christmas is even more so!  Christmas speaks of Jesus coming down into a world contaminated by sin which was cutting down people one at a time with no hope of salvation.  The escarpment of sin was just too deadly to be taken and beaten – no one could climb it and conquer it.  And yet, God had a plan.  Instead of sending a fully grown equipped warrior, the Father sent the Son as a baby without weapons but full of love.  Jesus would grow up in our world tempted as we are, facing opposition as we do, and being called to bring glory to God regardless of his circumstances just as we are.  Without a weapon and all by himself, Jesus would go on to be wounded unto death, giving his life not for 75 men in one night but for all humanity for all time, for all who would believe in him and call on his name.  He wouldn’t remain dead and be disabled but would rise in glory victorious over sin and death!

In September my niece Heidi and her husband Derek had little baby Ellie (yes, that makes me a great uncle).  Ellie is so beautiful…it’s hard to imagine what she will do in life and what she will experience.  So much potential wrapped up in a soft pink little bundle.  Even as we see our children grow up can we really know all that they will be able to do and accomplish throughout their lives?  At Christmas time we have the incredible ability to not only see baby Jesus sent from the Father full of potential, but the savior “who takes away the sins of the world.”  We know that the very baby the angels sang about and shepherds came and worshipped grew up and became the New Adam who redeems the effects of sin and offers hope to all who are being cut down by world we live in.  He is the one who binds our wounds, carries us to safety and defeats the enemy for us when we couldn’t imagine any possible victorious outcome.  One day he will return as a warrior to completely decimate sin and the Devil and bring in his Kingdom in all its glorious fullness.  But until that time, let us look with wonder and awe upon the cradle in which the Prince of Peace was held.  Let us behold our King who in love gave up his throne in heaven to come to earth and take our sin upon himself so the righteous judgment of God could be met and the loving heart of God could be seen.  May we gaze upon the Light of the World and let him lift our darkness, inspire us to hope, and fill us with love beyond ourselves so that we too may offer our lives up in service to God for his glory.  Merry Christmas, CAC Family!

You are loved!

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
~ Luke 2:10-11

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Journaling Scripture To Make It Come Alive

There are some basic questions I automatically ask someone when they tell me they are having a spiritually low point in their life or they feel disconnected to God: 1) Are you reading your Bible, 2) Are you spending time in prayer?, and 3) How is your diet and sleep?  I rarely need to go past question number one.  When I ask about why the person isn’t in God’s Word I receive numerous responses but rarely are they new.  “I’m not a reader”, or, “I try but I find it so ‘dry’ for me.”  The first answer is usually a product of answer number two.  You find Scripture “dry” and therefore you are not a reader.  If we were to be honest, if someone told us that there was a book able to reveal to us the secrets of life for peace and contentment and fulfillment we would become readers!  We would hop on Amazon.ca or boot it down to Chapters to pick up this incredible book ASAP…until the person tells us the book is the Bible.  Our perception of the Bible is what makes it dry.  If I told you there was a book containing the most incredible story of love and that story of love included YOU as being a recipient, that sounds much more interesting, doesn’t it?

The reality is, the Bible is JUST THAT.  It is God’s love story with our world and with us as His creation.  It does offer the ways of peace, contentment and fulfillment.  It shows us God’s incredible love which encompasses us when we didn’t/don’t love Him or want Him and how He reaches out to woo us back to His heart and pay for our wrong-doings that would otherwise eternally condemn us.  The first and most important filter we need to have when reading the Bible is “God is love.”  That means everything in the Bible somehow communicates God’s love even in the most disturbing of stories.  So, how can we read it so that it becomes more personal and more alive?  I have found one way that has been particularly helpful for myself.  First, I pray that God would be with me in my reading of the passage – that He would bring clarity and insight beyond my own perception.  Then, I read the passage and after reading it through a couple of times I then journal through it paying careful attention to how it communicates God’s love – especially God’s love for me.  In essence it’s like I am writing a personal commentary on the side.  Below I will post an example and I hope not only will it be helpful for those of you reading this incredibly popular blog (yeah right) but it will spur you on to at least trying this method for yourself.  May it bless you and fan your flames of love for God.  So grab a cup of coffee/tea, crack open your Bible and read along with me. 🙂

Psalm 91 Reflections On God’s Love

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

~ I’ll say these things because God will deliver me from traps set for my destruction and the death-giving plagues of this world.

~ Like a powerful bird of prey He covers me with his feathers and wings, claiming me to be his own to all challengers and dangers.  His faithfulness to me because of His love for me becomes a dependable shield/wall even against seen and unseen dangers.

~ Others may succumb to the darkness and it’s terrors — they may fall into and be consumed by it’s encompassing vacuum but I’ll not be drawn in…I’ll be nowhere near the hopeless death.

~ But I will see the wicked get sucked down into it with the realization and shock of what is happening showing in their eyes.

~ The Lord as my dwelling place (the place in which I live) is impervious to the disease of despair and the fever of performance fatigue.  Even the evils of this world will be transformed and muted into only good.

~ For all of this, God will even enlist his army of angels on my behalf!  And they, on their mission/command from God himself, will life and protect me.  Because of this I can live fearlessly (not foolishly) against those intimidating and poisonous forces who may desire to do me harm.

~ In living with God, dwelling in His presence in this way with faith, trust and love, God says, “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.  In knowing my name, he knows me.”

~ O Lord, keep my grip strong to you, fan my love for you, reveal your name to me in such a way, so deeply, that I’ll never forget it and call on it often.

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A New Paradigm For Discipleship In The Church

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Compared to some of you out there I have not been in ministry a long time. I began participating in church leadership teams from grade 8 onward and progressed to full time ministry in 1996. From there I have been in various stages of pastoral ministry and schooling. Throughout all that time one constant remained: we are called to make disciples for Jesus. But what does that mean? How does one do that? I can say I never felt like I was purposefully discipled as I grew up in the church. Nor was I purposefully discipled as a pastor in training or throughout my schooling. Now, I find myself as a lead pastor staring at the Great Commission and wondering what it should look like.

Books, articles, blogs, conferences, and special leadership study teams have all come my way and I really haven’t left any of them feeling content. Greg Ogden’s material has been the closest I have seen to something that points to what discipling looks like. Some have said that the “go” in the Great Commission means we always need to be outward focused and “find the lost sheep.”  In finding them your church will grow numerically.  I have heard many leaders discuss “conversion growth” vs “transfer growth” in churches. This means your church grows by people OUTSIDE the church coming to faith and then coming INSIDE the church versus people outside YOUR church leaving THEIR church and then coming to yours. When we take this and look at the Great Commission one might begin to believe that in order for any church to make disciples they need pure conversion growth (as previously defined) otherwise they really aren’t “going and making” disciples. This ends up with leadership scratching their heads regarding what they are to do with those already in their church. Transfer growth often has a negative connotation to it and if leaders concentrate on helping develop those inside the church they feel accused of being “inward focused” instead of “outward focused.” Perhaps we need to create a new paradigm for understanding discipleship in the church with new measurements? What if discipleship is in fact both an inward and outward focus?

Here is what I have been pondering. Our church has gone through a Church Health Assessment process and we are beginning to take the information now and review it. The questionnaire our people filled out covered some good areas to measure church health (preaching/teaching, leadership communication, vision and direction, etc.) but seemed skewed towards churches that have programs for everything. If you have a program for adult ministry people would score the church high because we “have that covered.” In our church we have tried to be less about programs and more about developing people as disciples who would listen to the voice of God, pray about what they should do, and then act in obedience. We have focused on individual relationships in the church, leadership development, people empowerment, preaching and communication. This translated into low scores in the some of the areas that would have been covered by programs. No, we do not have specific evangelism programs. No, we do not have an adult program, etc. The big question we asked ourselves as leaders was, “But have we seen discipleship growth?” We all agreed we had indeed and as we reviewed our church family we discovered some had been in the church for years and were now branching out into other areas of ministry. There was mentoring happening. Some of our young men committed themselves to full time ministry. Other people were pursuing full time mission work. Some became baptized. Some committed to go on short term mission trips organized by our church and all the extra training involved. New young leaders were coming onto the Board. People were going out from our congregation to other places to pursue eduction or engage in different ministries. And, we found many of our people participated in community events and other ways to care for people that could never be tracked by a survey.  Is that NOT growth in discipleship?!

We were so encouraged! For me the paradigm has shifted. People inside AND outside the church need to become disciples. People transferring to your congregation have been sent there by God and they too need to be discipled.  In the Great Commission it says we are to teach people to obey the teachings of Christ and that is what it means to make disciples.  So we are to teach everyone who enters into our atmosphere of influence as a church family. Here is what I propose the new discipleship paradigm should look like: A church knows it is making disciples when it sees movement in lives (in particular those who are attending): it sees an increase in the prayer life both corporately and individually, missional hearts reaching out to others beyond the group, open hearts receiving those who come into the group, missional action moving forward in obedience, an increase in thirst for the Bible, new people coming to faith through the various vines of contact and ministry of the church family, and decisions for the future based on Kingdom call instead of personal comfort. Some seeds may lay dormant in the heart for a long time but then the light of the Gospel shines on them, springs of living water flow over the seed, and the Spirit breathes new life. It doesn’t matter how small or large your church family is. What matters is faithfulness to the Great Commission and helping those closest to you grow as disciples in their love for God and their neighbor and beyond. May God bless us with conversions both of those who are currently “outside” and those who are “inside” and may the fruit of the Harvest abound!

It’s all about Jesus, it’s only about Jesus, it’s always about Jesus.

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The Love Of God…so misunderstood…so desired

Have you ever wanted to be wanted?  I mean, REALLY wanted!  And loved…DEEPLY loved!  I think we all do.  I think we all crave someone to take us and accept us and cherish us.  And so, we set about trying to create a persona that will attract people so they care about us and care for us.  We primp and we present our best sides and skill sets.  We work hard to being the best we can be so that we appear to be desirable.  Eventually someone comes along and says the three magic words we long to hear, “I love you.”  Please know, I am not talking about romantic notions here (although we do these things even more when trying to attract a life-partner). I am referring to the basic human desire to be loved.  Now we are loved.  Phew!  We can relax, right?!  No.  Not really.  Deep in the recess of our psyche there sticks a small thorn…the thorn of fear.  This thorn can cause us internal irritation and not even draw a lot of specific attention to itself.  Something is wrong but we can’t put a specific name to it.

There is the other side of the “love coin” and that is, we want to be a loving person.  Perhaps we have been mistreated in the past and we “never want to become like those people.”  We try so hard to love and accept people but continue to be critical of them and untrusting.  In fact, sometimes we can be downright abusive!  We get frustrated with ourselves and vow to try harder, to be better, to love stronger.  For the next while we actually do pretty good!  But then, then there’s “that” person…the one who is very trying.  “That person” who is like the Mount Everest to your “love climb.”  If you could love “that person” you would KNOW how far you’ve come.  Unfortunately, it only takes one very frustrating encounter and you find yourself exhausted, wondering what is wrong with you.

There may be a third side to this love-scene…you enter into a place that claims to be loving.  I.e. The church.  Some say its 50/50 as to whether or not you will actually find a church that truly loves people.   Unfortunately, I think that ratio may be quite optimistic.  I know what you’re thinking…either, “WHAT?! You are a pastor!  You are supposed to be selling…errrr, I mean, supporting the church and promoting it as the representatives of Jesus here on earth!”  OR you may be have thought, “Damn straight!  The people I have met who have claimed be Christians never seemed very loving to me.  The once or twice I did enter into a church no one ever seemed warm and inviting…or their warmth lasted the length of their handshake and directing me to a seat.  I think I’ll pass on church.”  The reality is that churches are filled with people who also want to love and be loved but there is a shared issue between us all: we can only love others as we ourselves have experienced being loved.  Did you catch that?  We can only love others as we ourselves have experienced being loved.

Which brings me to the title of this article “The Love Of God…so misunderstood…so desired.”  The reason that the love of God is so misunderstood is because we apply our view, experiences and expressions of love to the love of God.  For example, if we found while growing up that in order to be loved and accepted we needed to achieve and perform at a high level of excellence, we very well might believe that unless we are perfect God can never love us.  Applied to others, it means when others don’t meet our expectations we don’t communicate the warmth of love to them.    Or, perhaps you have found that unless you looked a certain way you are not accepted.  Therefore, if we don’t look a certain way God won’t accept us.  So we may try to lose that weight or buy certain clothes etc.  It also means that we transfer that onto others.  The list is endless and in your heart you may already have begun thinking about your own experience of being loved and accepted or rather, unloved and rejected.  And therein lies the thorn…fear.  The thorn of fear goes something like this, “If they really knew me with all my faults and failures, temptations and sins, they would never love me…God would never love me.”   We read in 1 John 4:18-19,

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us.

To be truly loved means we have no fear in that love.  That is, we are loved through and through, completely and totally, brokenness and all!  God loves us with  all of our warts, failures, temptations and twistedness.  God loves us with all of our fears, darkness, drives and sin.  He knows you better than you know yourself and he loves you…all of you!  Did you catch v19?  “We love because he first loved us.”  He loved us first…the Bible tells us that while we were still sinners – while we were still his enemies – God loved us.  How does that make you  feel to know that God loves you completely and totally?!  He loves you no matter what you have said or done, are saying or doing, will say or will do!   You cannot diminish or increase God’s love for you.  God loves you.  Period.  He is crazy about you!  He loves you so much that while he takes you as you are he doesn’t want to leave you as you are which is why he died for you so you can be free from fear.  He put himself out there first as fully as another person can by dying for you.  He became broken so you can become whole.  He took on sin so you could be free from it’s shackles.  He was rejected so you would be accepted.  And all of this he did while you were still rejecting him because he loves you that much.  There is nothing that you have attained or accomplished that wooed him to you.  He just loves you.

The cool thing is that when we come to him and accept his love we don’t have to earn it and we can just soak in it.  And because of this we can pass it along to others.  We can let God’s love move through us to other’s who are going through life either skeptical of love or fearful in love.  We are told in the Bible that when we come to God and receive him, we become his children, that is, we receive his DNA, his seed (1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 3:9).  What does that mean for us?  In the bible we are also told that, “God is love” (1 John 4:8) which means love isn’t something God does…its something God is.  I had been reflecting on this and asked myself, “How can God love me?  How can he love me with all of my struggles and sin?”  My counselor responded by saying, “When you ask that question you reveal that you don’t know about God’s love.  Love is God’s DNA…God cannot NOT love.  For example, an orange tree produces oranges because it has the DNA of an orange tree.  It won’t or cannot produce apples unless its DNA changes.  God is love, that is, he cannot do anything but love.”  When I heard this my mind blew up and my heart was overwhelmed.  God loves me.  Period. God loves you.  Period.  Come up with as many reasons as you like as to how this is not possible and not one of them will hold any weight in light of the Bible and the truth of God’s love.  When we are the seed of God it means we too can love like God loves.  Others around us will not need to meet our expectations or perform to certain levels or look certain ways before we can authentically love them as they are.  We can love them extravagantly just as God loves us…we can do this because we have now experienced love in a new way, a more complete way.  And now, we can pass it on to others who are craving to love and be loved.  The love of God…now do you understand?  God loves you!!!  How will you respond?

“They will know you are my disciples by your love.” ~ Jesus

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Words Of Encouragement For Those Living In Shadows

Some of you may be reading this because the title caught your attention and you can relate to it.  Others of you are curious about what will be written and the reason for this publishing of this blog article.  Regardless, I hope you will find encouragement and hope within the next few paragraphs.

Shadows are caused by an object coming between your sight and a light-source.  It blocks your ability to see light and can cast you into a place of shade and even darkness.  Others around you, in different places, can bask in the light while you remain in the shadow.  Some of them may not be able to understand why you are unable to see light even though they may be able to see the object blocking or the shadow it produces.  But for you, living in the chill of the shade, it can be a very dark place and, at times, be without hope.  This can take several different forms.  It can look like discouragement, frustration, depression , anger and even delve into suicidal thoughts.  The deeper you find yourself being sucked down the more desperate you become for someone, anyone, to understand you.  You may even reach a point of feeling shame for your feelings and thoughts which actually cause you to huddle even more in the shadow.  Often times you may feel misunderstood and completely alone.  You may even come to recognize that some of how you are feeling is extreme and not even accurate and still it has sunk into your bones and being and you cannot seem to shake it.

Here are four thoughts I hope will encourage you in this midst of this darkness:

1) You are not alone – there are others around you living in the shadows hoping no one else can see their struggles.  To believe that you are singular in your experience and struggles is simply a lie which can further alienate us from our support structures.  We never can know who around us is in the midst of struggle and shame.  They may not be as far along the path as you are.  They may be able to bury it or hide it better than you can.  That doesn’t mean their struggles are any less real or debilitating than yours.  Truthfully, it can mean they actually weigh heavier.  People in leadership positions be it in the home, at work or in the church, often push down their struggles because people depend on them.  In their roles they feel they cannot reveal the struggle and must push forward giving the outward impression of stability.  All that being said, it helps to recognize that others are also struggling and trying to find their way back “into the light.”  Be encouraged!  You are not alone.

2) There is no shame in seeking out help.  One might argue that to seek out help is a significant step on the pathway to healing and freedom!  Who should you ask about resources for help?  I would begin with those you trust.  To ask everyone and anyone is to invite questions which may cause you to shrink back and stop your progress down this particular path.  If you are an employee, ask your human resource person is there is any counselling available in your employment package.  If you are part of a church, ask your pastor or elder if there is counselling available through the church or if there are counselling agencies they would recommend.  If you are on staff at the church, ask your pastor what is available for you or, if relations are tense in that area, speak to your district leader regarding this.  If you are a pastor, ask your district leadership team to see if the district has resources available for you.  However you need to have hands to pull you up and out or ears to listen, sounboard, and counsel, DO IT!  Find the help you need and ask.  It can only lead to brighter days once the hard work is done.

3) Know and believe that God’s Word is true and unchanging.  Specifically, God loves you!  Numerous things can cause us to dip into darkness.  It can be hormone imbalances, stress in different areas of life, frustrations with situations, and even shame regarding personal sin and failure.  In all of these things are told that God loves us.  In fact, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8).  Not what others have done, not what you have done, not situations in life seemingly stacked against you — nothing!  “When darkness seems to hide His face I rest on His unchanging grace.  In every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.”  Check your anchors.  If they are any but God your anchor will not hold.  Only God is the unmovable Rock on whom we can place our trust.  I was listening to The Rock Won’t Move by Vertical Church Band and found these lyrics to be of great encouragement.  I pray they would encourage you as well: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8RpLB7bAlYc

When the ground beneath my feet gives way and I hear the sound of crashing waves — All my world is washing out to sea.  I’m hidden safe in the God who never moves — Holding fast to the promise of Your truth — You are holding tighter still to me.

Oh, the Rock won’t move and His word is strong — The Rock won’t move and His love can’t be undone (x2). The Rock of our salvation

My hope is in the promise of Your blood — My support within the raging flood — Even in the tempest, I can sing.  I’m hidden safe in the God who never moves — Holding fast to the promise of Your truth — You are holding tighter still to me.

On Christ the solid rock I stand — All other ground is sinking sand — The Rock won’t move (2x). And when darkness seems to hide His face — I rest on His unchanging grace — The Rock won’t move. No, the Rock won’t move

4) God has a specific purpose and calling on your life.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  God sees you and knows you.  God created you for a purpose to do something no one else can do.  In the midst of our struggles it is easy to forget this truth because we can become overwhelmed and consumed with only seeing what is immediately around us.  I think this is why Paul tells us to keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus “the author and perfector of our faith” who was able to endure struggles joyfully for the goal before him.  This goal was to pour out his life for you and I so that we could be reconciled with God.  Are you separated from God right now?  Might this be a major contributing factor to the darkness you are in?  I would never seek to minimize what you are feeling but realize ones perceptions and emotions are amplified by the experience of living in the shadow.  There is hope.  There is light.  Seek the help you need.  Pray!  Get into God’s Word.  Move back towards your support structures.  Know that God’s mercy is new every morning.  There is forgiveness for those who ask and cleansing in repentance.  Come back into the light one step at a time knowing others are seeking to do the same.  Come out from behind that source blocking the light and step towards the Son.

This song, I Will Follow, has been a comfort to me in times of darkness – be at peace:  https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh3ZK7JecK0

When the sea is calm and all is right —  When I feel Your favor flood my life.  Even in the good, I’ll follow You.               When the boat is tossed upon the waves —  When I wonder if You’ll keep me safe.  Even in the storms, I’ll follow You

I believe and I will follow You — I believe everything that You say You are — I believe that I have seen Your unchanging heart.            In the good things and in the hardest part — I believe and I will follow You.  

When I see the wicked prospering — When I feel I have no voice to sing.  Even in the want, I’ll follow You

When I find myself so far from home — And You lead me somewhere I don’t wanna go.  Even in my death, I’ll follow You. When I come to end this race I’ve run — And I receive the prize that Christ has won.  I will be with You in Paradise

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