Encouragement From The Word

The Decade of the Internet Meme

We live in the Decade of the Internet Meme. You know what I mean: those little sayings and phrases that are superimposed over some funny or awe-inspiring photo, designed to make us angry, make us think, or make us snort whatever we’re drinking out of our noses upon reading. We went from fifteen minutes of fame to the thirty-second sound bite to the 140-character tweet to the internet meme. To what we’ll degenerate next, I’m not sure. Grunts, perhaps?

I shouldn’t be quite so hard on internet memes. Some of them are quite clever, and others really do make you think. I saw one 10409612_10152661367262263_1917381814540968253_nyesterday that falls in the category of the latter. It said, “The enemy will try to limit your praying because he knows your praying will limit him.

Yep.

Whether young or mature followers of Jesus, we all have ‘dry seasons’ in our prayer lives. There are times when our conversations with God are rich and fruitful and totally energizing. There are other times when we wonder whether God is even listening – or why we wandered away from God while he was listening. And when those dry seasons come, you know that the author of lies is at work.

There is a fundamental belief inherent in that meme: a belief that there is an enemy. The enemy is the devil, Satan. We don’t know as much about the devil as we think we do, but this much we can determine: he is a spiritual being, with less power than the Holy Spirit, who seeks to keep God’s faithful from being all they can be in Christ. Sometimes, Satan gets blamed for things that are our own fault, but Jesus’ own experience with the devil (recorded for us in Matthew 4) suggests to us that there is a power that seeks to take us away from a single-mindedness oriented toward God’s glory and God’s kingdom.

And when we don’t pray, our orientation toward God’s glory and kingdom is diverted. Just as a lack of conversation with a spouse or a friend can lead to a lesser relationship, so a lack of conversation with God can lead to a relationship with the Lord that seems more distant…even though God has not moved.

There is another fundamental belief inherent in that meme, though, and that is that Satan’s power is really not that strong. Ordinary Christians can thwart the work of the enemy simply by praying. Our simple, child-like conversation with God can undo all manner of work that the devil has sought to do. That’s another reason why our prayers are so important. First, because they build our relationship with God and draw us closer to him; and second, because the work of evil in our lives and in the world is ruined by their simple utterance.

Didn’t know you had that kind of power, did you?

Of course, the power is God’s, but when we pray, God’s power works in and through us to deepen our walk with the Lord, and thereby to disarm Satan in his efforts to keep our relationship with God at the level of a casual acquaintance.

So keep on praying! Know that it encourages God, deepens us, and sends the enemy away with his (perhaps forked?) tail between his legs.

Next the devil took (Jesus) to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  ‘I will give it all to you,’ he said, ‘if you will kneel down and worship me.’ ‘Get out of here, Satan,’ Jesus told him. ‘For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him’” (Matthew 4.8-10, NLT).

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Biblical Messages

Christ Our Sacrifice

Jesus’ sacrificial death wasn’t just about saving us from our sins, as important as that is.  Jesus’ sacrificial death, which leads to our salvation, also undergirds our ethics.  Pictorially:

______Standards____

Sacrifice & Salvation

Peter’s words to the church in 1 Peter 1.13-2.3 tell us that Jesus’ atoning death should affect how we make decisions.  This message was preceded by this video.  Have a listen:

Encouragement From The Word

A lesson for the church from Target

Target announced yesterday that it is pulling out of Canada, closing the 133 stores that it has opened here over the past few years. The problem? There’s no prospect that the company is going to make any money; the Canadian operation has been gushing cash from the outset. So the US-based retail chain is going to cut its losses in Canada and get out before they lose more money.

Most of us, if we went into a Target store in Canada, know why they lost money. We walked in expecting to see something very much like the Target stores in the US that we have visited, only to find that they are not. In fact, they don’t look a great deal different than the Zellers stores that some of them replaced. The prices were not bargains, and the selection seemed quite ho-hum compared with other options out there on the Canadian retail landscape.

In short, Target didn’t understand the culture into which it was coming, nor that culture’s expectations of what it would be. It came in with assumptions that were incorrect, and the purchasing public made it clear by keeping its collective wallet shut. (A Toronto Star article yesterday suggested that Target’s failure in Canada was almost orchestrated, but I will leave that for more knowledgeable pundits to address.)

I will say this, though: the church can learn a lesson from Target Canada.

It is important for the church as a living organism, and the church as individual followers of Jesus, to have an understanding of both the culture and the target (if you’ll pardon the term) audience being sought. As was once wisely said in a George Harrison song, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

When church leaders say, “We want to reach everyone,” what often happens is that we reach no one, because our circle is drawn too widely. Of course, it’s not wrong to want to reach everyone with the gospel; it is difficult, though, to do so through one source or by one means.

As individuals, when we share our faith (you do share your faith, don’t you?), we can’t use the same approach with all people and expect the same results. It just doesn’t work that way. People in sales understand this. Trying to sell a mattress to an insomniac doesn’t happen the same way as when trying to sell it to someone with back trouble. In sales, they know to know the customer.

Trouble is, in the church, we often think that we’re the customer. Oops.

No, we’re in sales. And we need to know to whom we are pitching the offer of Jesus if we’re going to have any success at it. That’s why friendship evangelism works so much better than handing out tracts on a street corner – there’s a relationship. And where there is a relationship, there is a bridge already built toward ‘closing the deal’, as they say in sales.

Of course, we’re talking not about hoisting the bottom line; we’re talking about investing in eternity. But our friends at Target remind us that knowing how to reach the customer is an important part of helping others enjoy a personal relationship with the Lord. And seeing the light come on that leads a person to faith is more richly satisfying than any commission we might make on a sale.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise” (Proverbs 11.30, ESV).

Biblical Messages

The Buck Starts Here

Normally, we think of the phrase, ‘The buck stops here’, as uttered by Harry Truman when he was President of the United States.  But for Christians as stewards, the buck starts here.  We are called to make priorities in our spending.  Our biblical example comes from the lowly ant!  Look at Proverbs 6.6-11, and listen here:

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: “How Your Church Family Works”

Peter L. Steinke’s How Your Church Family Works:  Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems (The Alban Institute, Steinke-How-Church-Family-Works1993, 2006) is by no means ‘hot off the press’, but I picked it, and a companion volume, up at a sale last spring, and finally got around to reading it in the past few weeks.

I wish I had read it sooner.  A lot sooner.  Like, when it was first published in 1993.  It might have been a game-changer for me.

This short (144 pages) work is essentially an abridgement of Edwin Friedman’s classic work, Generation to Generation.  Friedman’s book is out of print, and therefore hard to find except through used booksellers.  But this is not only a fine abridgement with great application for the church, it is highly accessible.

I’ve occasionally heard some pastors say that the church would be a wonderful place if it weren’t for the people.  They almost always say it tongue-in-cheek, but there is also a measure of truth to it.  The church is people, of course, but it is people who live life after the fall.  We, singly and collectively, are sinners.  And when you get a bunch of sinners together, there’s bound to be some tension.  Every church leader can tell you about some tension that has been experienced; if there hasn’t been tension, growth almost certainly hasn’t taken place, for it is in the crucible of conflict that growth occurs.

The tension we experience as the church is often a tension that comes from human interactions, what some call systems.  The simplest, perhaps, is person A having a conversation with person B.  No problem there, of course, until person A starts talking about person C, who is not party to the conversation, and with whom person A has a beef.  Then we have what’s called triangling, where one person (person B) is brought into the conflict that exists between person A and person C.

That might sound complicated, but believe me, it can get worse.  Systems and sub-systems exist in churches, and it takes emotional maturity to be able to navigate through the tensions that exist just because people are people, children of Adam and Eve.

Steinke’s goal is to help congregations understand themselves in this light, and to rise above the problems that can come about as a result of sinners gathering together with other sinners.  One of the key points made by Steinke is borrowed from Kurt Lewin.  It says that behaviour is a function of the transaction of personality and environment.  When any one of those factors changes, the whole dynamic changes.  Steinke doesn’t just elucidate problems, though; he offers solutions.  As the book draws to a close, he offers congregations ways that they can be fully aware of who they are and how that is affecting their interpersonal relationships, in an attempt to bring about the greatest degree of emotional health moving forward.

And of course, spiritual health is tied into this, because as Pete Scazerro says in The Emotionally Healthy Church, a person (or a church) can only be as spiritually healthy as she, he or it is emotionally healthy.

The read is not that difficult; the challenge comes in applying it.  I highly recommend this book for anyone in any form of church leadership.

P.S.:  There is a short YouTube video that helps illustrate the points in Friedman’s theory that will help you understand all this.  Watch it here.

Encouragement From The Word

A calendar change

Happy new year!

I have a habit – a tradition, of sorts – that I undertake every time I change a calendar. I did it this morning before sitting down to write this. In my study hangs a calendar, right over my computer table, which I can consult for checking dates – but also for receiving modelling inspiration and invoking memories. It’s a Canadian train calendar. And each year, when I take it down to replace it with the next year’s edition, I review the photos that went with each month. It’s hard to pick a favourite, since one photo might have a favourite locomotive and another might have the most breathtaking scenery. Occasionally, they combine for a “keeper” shot!

(In case you’re interested, 2014’s calendar favourites included a tie between VIA’s Canadian tied down in the station in Vancouver in 1986 and a Canadian Pacific RS-18u posing in front of the majestic old CP station in MacAdam, New Brunswick. I’ve visited the former; I hope to see the latter on a future trip east.)

A similar habit could be undertaken of the snapshots of our lives over the course of the past year, couldn’t it? If you’re a Facebook user, you know that their magical algorithms choose a bunch of photos for you to display, if you choose, as the highlights of your year in Facebook photos. But your own memory can do better: consider the events that comprised 2014, and look for where God was at work in your life through those events.

This may not be a quick undertaking. You may need to set aside an hour, or even the better part of a day, to ponder, prayerfully, what God has done through the events of your life in the past year.

One of the values of doing this is to quicken your sense of being able to see God’s hand at work in your life this year. Even if you consider last year your annus horribilis, it will still be a good exercise to see where God was at work, even in the midst of your suffering or trials. And I can tell you this: God was at work in you, and God is at work in you. That, if nothing else, should give you cause to start this new year with rejoicing.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139.7-8, NIV).