Passionately His

Pursuing the Christian life in all its fullness

Respect

Posted by Jeff on May 15, 2015

Maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but until this week, I had never heard of this supposed trend among certain men to walk up to female reporters (and perhaps others) and offer an exclamation whose acronym is FHRITP. The fact that Shauna Hunt of CityNews in Toronto was willing to call some men out on this abhorrent activity has brought it to light, thanks to the viral nature of social media.

Critics are right to complain that this is unacceptable behaviour. Where does it come from? What would prompt men to disrespect women in this way – or in any other way?

Schools can do all the teaching they want to on values and the like, but if boys (and girls) are not taught at home about the innate value of human persons, it’s not likely to stick. Parents, and especially Christian parents, have a responsibility to teach their children – particularly by modelling it – that everyone deserves respect.

Do you treat your spouse respectfully? Your parents? Your kids? Your friends?

Do you have the guts to call out a friend who treats another person disrespectfully?

After all, as followers of Jesus, we have the greatest reason of all to respect others: all human beings, according to Scripture, are made in God’s image. And that in itself should be enough to enable us to respect others.

What about those who are not followers of Jesus?

Well, there’s one more reason to share the good news of Christ with them!

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27, NLT).

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BOOK REVIEW: “KINDLING DESIRE FOR GOD” by Kay L. Northcutt

Posted by Jeff on May 14, 2015

You know how, every once in a while, you go shopping for one thing and come home with more than you bargained for? That happens to me when I visit Amazon. Their version of the “up-sell” is that section on the page for the book you’re interested in that says, “People who bought XYZ also purchased…”.

It’s a trap. Really. But when you’re stricken with bibliophilia, as I am, it’s an inevitable trap.

That’s how I came across Kindling Desire for God. Had I known much about the author’s theology, I probably would have skipped it. But, as so often happens, the subtitle got me: “Preaching As Spiritual Direction.” As both a preacher and a spiritual director, I had to know what this was about. So I bit.

Amazon wins again. But, in truth, so did I.

Kay Northcutt is a preaching professor at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a certified spiritual director. While I would not share her theological position, I greatly appreciate how she handles this different paradigm for preaching.

As a preaching professor, the author is exposed to all manner of different preaching styles, and this book seeks to help preachers, whether certified spiritual directors or not, to see preaching as a form of spiritual direction. All pastors, whether trained in spiritual direction or not, do undertake a measure of it by virtue of office, and that can extend from the study to the pulpit.

To that end, Northcutt seeks to encourage pastors to reclaim the authority that is rightfully theirs, spiritually – to move from being problem solvers to being spiritual guides. The authority, though, is seen not in CEO terms, but is “grounded by prayer, intimacy with God, and an explicit knowledge – as well as felt experience – of being the ‘God-person’ and the spiritual guide for congregations” (58).

She laments the loss of what she calls our “own inherited texts” – not only Scripture, but the early church mothers and fathers,41cSqihmgHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ and spiritual classics. We would rather quote Jack Welch than Julian of Norwich. We would rather cite Oprah than Origen. The author encourages preachers to make their preaching a spiritual act. At the end of the book, she offers some examples of her own preaching, showing how preaching can be a form of spiritual direction.

I would not suggest that these sermons are models of outstanding biblical exposition, but there is a pastoral, spiritual element to them that all preachers could learn from.

If you’re looking for a different kind of preaching text, give this one a try. If nothing else, it will call you to a deeper relationship with God – something every preacher and congregation can benefit from.

Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction by Kay L. Northcutt. Published in 2009 by Fortress Press in Minneapolis. ISBN 978-0-8006-6263-9.

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BOOK REVIEW: “SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP” by Norm Allen

Posted by Jeff on May 14, 2015

Knowing my interest in spiritual formation, a friend and colleague gave me this book, written by a friend of his. Intrigued by the subtitle (“The Art of Being Friends With God and a Few Others”), and the brevity of the book (it’s a quick read at about 100 pages), I jumped right in.

The author is the founder of Touchstone Ministries in Orangeville, Ontario. His business is to nurture friendships among Christians in leadership in various walks of life, and his book illustrates why that is important to him, and hopefully, to the rest of us.

Spiritual friendship is a model of spiritual formation that can complement other ways of going deeper with God. To illustrate his51NNE34MOLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ understanding of this model, Allen draws from the rich breadth of Christian tradition – from the Celts to C.S. Lewis to Miroslav Volf . He tells many stories of his own experiences in spiritual friendship that have both blessed and challenged him (as any good friendship should).

We may say we have a lot of friends, when in reality what we probably have is a lot of acquaintances. How many others know us at the depth of our being? There are no gold stars for the number of friends we have who can read us like a book, of course, but there is great value in having at least one friend with whom we can share deeply, and mutually. It becomes easy for hard sharing to be one-sided, where one person becomes vulnerable and the other simply listens. But in order for a spiritual friendship to be truly mutual, it must involve both parties sharing deeply – not in an attempt to one-up the other, but to be transparent and honest with the other.

Spiritual Friendship will challenge and encourage you to find and engage in a friendship with another Christian who will walk with you as you walk with God. I recommend you pick it up.

Spiritual Friendship: The Art of Being Friends With God and a Few Others by Norm Allen, published in 2012 by Clements Publishing Group, Toronto. ISBN 978-1-926798-08-0.

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Living In and Through

Posted by Jeff on May 10, 2015

Following up on last week’s message, this one is intended to help us understand the importance of living in and through the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, the church is dead.  With the Spirit, the church has joy and power.  Based on Galatians 5.16-26, you can listen to the message here:

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Hiding behind the façade of social media

Posted by Jeff on May 8, 2015

I don’t know if you’ve noticed – if you are a social media user – but lately, it seems to me that Facebook has been getting nasty. With an election in Alberta, and a sex education curriculum in Ontario, and the Stanley Cup playoffs (among other things), it seems that everyone has an opinion or two. And social media is a common place to air those opinions.

Sadly, what seems to be happening is that people are using social media as a screen, such that they somehow believe it becomes appropriate not to fight fairly, making pot-shots and sweeping statements that would not ordinarily occur in the course of civil conversation. I think it’s because we don’t have to look each other in the eye on Facebook. (This seems to be less of an issue on Twitter, where the limit of 140 characters seems insufficient to air a rant or rebuttal.)

In life, there will always be areas where disagreement happens. It’s true in families and marriages, in friendships and collegial relationships – even in church. And there must be room for disagreement. That doesn’t negate the reality of absolute truth, of which there is much, but it does require tolerance.

Tolerance, nowadays, has been watered down to mean the acceptance of (and even belief in) everything. But what it really means is to give someone the right to be wrong. The awkward thing about this is that two people who argue, each of whom believes she or he is right, can tolerate the other and believe him or her to be wrong. That’s called agreeing to disagree.

Sometimes, agreeing to disagree is best left tacit – that is, the argument never actually happens. But in social media, that civility has lately been left behind.

So, if Jesus were on Facebook, what would he do? Well, that’s sort of a moot point, because even if the Internet had existed in the first century, Jesus had this thing about personal relationships. My guess is that if Jesus were on Facebook, he would say to everybody, “Let’s get away from this façade and have a personal conversation.”

Of course, that’s hard to do when one is conversing over social media with someone halfway around the world. But that might translate this way: “Have your social media conversations in the same way you would face-to-face conversations.”

Or, as Peter put it: “So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness” (1 Peter 2.1-3, NLT). The great thing is that this is a helpful word even if we are not social media users!

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How Big?

Posted by Jeff on May 3, 2015

How big is the Kingdom of God?  In our “Selfie Generation”, even the church can be inclined to be a little too self-focused.  Why shouldn’t that be the case?  Based on Acts 1.1-8, you can learn why in this message. Give a listen:

(By the way, the selfie pictured was taken early in the message.  Yes, people like to sit at the back, but most people were over my left shoulder, out of the picture!)

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MAYDAY!

Posted by Jeff on May 1, 2015

Today is May 1, which in some cultures involves a celebration called May Day. It reminds me of the other use of that term:

MAYDAY!

That’s the call that comes from someone in distress, often on the high seas. It comes from the French term, m’aidez, which means, “help me”.

When certain monks pray, the first words out of their mouths on any given day are, “O Lord, make haste to help me.” (These words come as a response to the cantor’s opening sentence, “O God, come to my assistance.”)

Calling out to God for help is something worth doing every day. We do well to make it habitual. Yet too often, we don’t, because we don’t want to “bother” God.

In one sense, there is wisdom here: we don’t want to bother God by asking for a parking spot close to the doors of Walmart so we don’t have to walk that extra 25 steps. (Get out of your car and walk, assuming you don’t need a handicapped spot!)

However, in another sense, “bothering” God brings him delight. If you’re a parent, you love it when your kids call out to you for help. Your response might be an encouraging, “It’s okay; you can do it!” But you’re delighted just to have your child call out to you.

It’s no different for God. We are his children, and he is our Father. Like the monks, echoing the Psalmist, we can cry out at any time, “Please, God, rescue me! Come quickly, Lord, and help me” (Psalm 70.1, NLT).

Even if you don’t think you need help, invite God to be at your side.

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Facing Your Image of God

Posted by Jeff on April 26, 2015

For people who read and take the Bible seriously, there are many more names for God than just, “God.”  The primary one is “Father,” though for some people, that is a difficult image because of their experiences with others.  What can we do about this?  Based on Isaiah 9.2-7 and Isaiah 66.7-13, you can listen to some biblical thoughts on it here:

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The value of encouragement

Posted by Jeff on April 24, 2015

Some folks just have a perfect, God-ordained sense of timing. Have you ever received a card or a phone call or a hug at just the right time? I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me over the course of my life and ministry. Even this week, after a particularly distressing few moments that had a more profound impact on my psyche than they should have, the Lord used two friends to encourage me: one with an “out of the blue” phone call that communicated just the right words, and another with a card that said exactly what I needed to read.

There is great power in the use of the spiritual gift of encouragement. Nobody gets too much encouragement, right? The Bible mentions this gift in Romans 12: “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well….If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging” (vv. 6 & 8, NLT). People who have this gift find it very easy to seek out the positive and reinforce it. And they are responsive to God’s little nudges, and his overall sense of timing.

George Barna recently reported that more American Christians report having the spiritual gift of encouragement, which – if they use it – should be really good news for churches. Hopefully, this is true for Canadian Christians, too! Encouragement, as I see it, is the fuel for ministry.

Is your church running on empty? Suggest to your church leadership that they engage in a survey of the congregation’s spiritual gifts (I can help you with that, by the way…). A spiritual gift discovery is often a real revelation for people, as they learn what God has equipped them to do in the life of the church. You can be sure that at least one person in your fellowship has been gifted with encouragement. Once you know who that person is (or who those people are), draw them into a nurturing of their gift. Help them understand that their encouragement will strengthen the leaders of the church, and will bring a positive spirit to the life of the congregation. Never underestimate the value of encouragement.

Just ask me. I know.

This edition of Encouragement From The Word was first published on February 13, 2009.

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REBUILDING A PEOPLE: Good For The Soul

Posted by Jeff on April 19, 2015

Confession, they say, is good for the soul.  And God’s people needed to confess their sins in response to hearing God’s Word read to them.  Following the rebuilding of the wall under Nehemiah’s leadership, hearing the Law read and celebrating the feast of Booths, the people were united in prayer – a prayer of confession that extolled the character of God.

Nehemiah 9 shows us that an understanding of God’s character naturally leads us to confession of sin.  Listen to the message here:

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