painting with no canvas

Evangelism, evangelism and more evangelism.

This is the desperate cry of many churches around the world (or at least in the wealthy, comfortable, ‘established’ parts of the world). We are losing members fast, and we want to get them back. So, we launch ourselves into much activity to bring about the desired result. Books are written, strategies are implemented. Seminars are given. At least two groups arise out of the activity.

1. Individuals who are oblivious to the lack of ‘evangelism health’ and are not moved to action.
2. Individuals who are obsessed with need for evangelism, and feel the need to force the others to action.

Evangelism is a commandment of Jesus, but to emphasize the Great Commission while forgetting the 1st and 2nd Commandments is a grave error. The purpose of the Church is not merely to evangelise, but firstly to bring honour and glory to God. It’s not the first Good Idea, it’s the first and Greatest Commandment! That means it cannot be excluded! If we are just trying to do all right things without doing them out of devotion to Him, then we are just contestants in a rather large morality contest.

An over emphasis on Evangelism often reveals a mis-placed priority on the number of people in our churches. Do we want to reach people because we love our Master or because we love the idea of being “spiritually successful?” Let’s consider this analogy:

If we’re building a house, the order of progression goes something like: foundation, floor, walls, roof, wall-board, many other things, and finally… paint. If we use this analogy to represent evangelism, let me say that I think we are standing around during the entire project holding a brush and a paint can. We’re not really interested in the ‘foundations’ and ‘floors’ and ‘walls’ of the Gospel, love and self-lessness. This is lazy evangelism. The fact is, you might have to actually CARE about the person you are trying to reach. If you do care about them, you might start doing some radical things like… oh, I don’t know… making time for them, investing in their lives, meeting their needs and the like.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” – Jesus

-Dale

fools and rules

Last week, we talked about how important thoughts are.

This week I want to continue that theme as we look at a passage in Galatians. Our thinking about sin and righteousness just plain matters. In the first century, Paul, who was a Jew among Jews (Gal. 1:13-14), was radically transformed into the Apostle that we know so well for reaching Gentiles (non-Jews) with the Gospel. When he converted, he eventually joined the rest of the Apostles. In Galatians, Paul recalls a ‘disagreement’ he had with Peter (yes, Peter.) and a few of the other Apostles. (And you thought disputes in church were a recent thing?) Paul literally got in Peter’s face about being a hypocrite. When Peter was at Antioch, he had no problem eating with Gentiles until some folks arrived that said that believers had to be circumcised. Peter was afraid that he would be seen eating with these uncircumcised Gentiles, so he stopped eating with them!

Paul openly rebuked him, asking him why he should expect Gentiles to live as Jews, when he (a Jewish believer) lived as a Gentile? Paul then reminded Peter that justification was not from keeping the Law, but by faith in Christ!

Some of the early Jewish-Christian believers of the 1st century struggled to welcome Gentiles into the church. After all, they were the good, moral, circumcised, Sabbath-keeping ones. They were appalled by these Gentiles walking around like they own the place. After all, these ‘other’ people didn’t keep the Sabbath, they weren’t circumcised, they ate pork and other non-kosher food… they just weren’t like them! How could these people be believers?

The Apostle Paul consistently reminds us that we are not saved by what we do, but by the grace of God. That’s it! It’s true! Done deal! You don’t have to jump through all the right hoops or measure up to any standards.

“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes from the law, then Christ died in vain.” – Galatians 2:21

May we recognise where our life comes from, and extend grace even to those who don’t dress, talk, smell, look or act like we do.

Trusting in His Grace,
-Dale

help! i’m not acting right!

Thoughts, Feelings, Actions

Here’s a theologically loaded statement:
Right beliefs (ortho-doxy) create right feelings and lead to right actions (ortho-praxy).

As Christ-ians, our life (and thereby, our life-STYLE as well) is all about Christ. This is true isn’t it? Whatever we think, feel or do ought to be thought, felt or done in regard to Christ. Pretty amazing to think that Christ wants to renew our thinking, give us joy, and (as if that’s not enough) DO great things through us.

Thoughts
It starts with our thinking or our beliefs, doesn’t it? They are of utmost importance. When we actually believe that the God of the universe would not just merely be interested in us, but also would be willing to die for us, that has an effect on us!

Feelings
Once we are thinking straight, and it starts to sink in that Christ paid a debt that we would never have been able to pay, I’m just guessing that our feelings should take perhaps a small positive turn! That is what joy is all about! Would a prisoner that had been freed from a death-sentence show no emotion? Well, whether you realise it or not, or just have forgotten, If you are a Christian, you were a prisoner, and you have been set free from your death sentence!

Actions
This is where it gets interesting. We tend to be terribly distracted when our actions (or someone else’s) are either lacking or not of the right “kind.” If we’re not careful, we can slip into a pattern of thinking that our actions shape and form our beliefs. It’s the other way around. Our REAL thoughts and beliefs are seen in the way we act. It’s a tricky distinction that can easily be missed. Put plainly, you can’t serve your way into having Christian beliefs. You can, however, believe your way into serving in a Christian way. As church-type-people, we often act like the former statement is true. We care less about what people believe or how they feel, and instead just try to find ways to get all of the Christian jobs done! We must not do this.

If you are experiencing a ‘dry spell’ in your Christian life, check your beliefs and feelings. One of the many great things about the Christian life is that we are not simply converted and then put on a shelf, we are grown, tested, tried, bruised, etc. These bumps are to cause us to remember Who we are intended to rely upon. The dry spells aren’t there to get us to try harder, but to help us realise our inability to please God with our flesh, and remember Who our strength is. One of the greatest passages in the Bible about God’s will for living the Christian life is the beginning of the 12th chapter of Romans. Among other things, it says to “be transformed (continually) by the renewing of your mind.”

Thoughts are important.

Blessings,

Dale

i love you because…

Find True Love Now…
What’s More Fun Than Love?
Live. Love. Learn.

Perhaps you’ve seen the following tag-lines for one of the latest online dating services, called True. The success of such services says something about the way we think about love.

We seem to want it really bad.
We seem to hope we “find” it someday.
Also, we seem to be extremely afraid of getting hurt by it.

Thoughts matter. The Bible says, “as a man thinks, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) Our thoughts determine our actions. So, what is wrong with our thinking about love? It’s not just about romantic love, either. May I make a few suggestions that will hopefully apply to all of us?

We are all familiar with how abused the word love is, right? I love ice cream… I love God… I love my brother… etc. It appears that we often think that love is simply what it means to like something so much that your affection for the thing moves outside the realm of ‘like’ and into the green pasture of ‘love.’ While this is partially true, I think we’re missing one of the most essential aspects of love.

Un-conditionality.

As humans, we are just selfish. This is the easiest truth to demonstrate. We love ice cream because it does something for our taste buds, or we might love email, because it makes it easier for US to stay in touch. When we apply this logic to inter-personal relationships, we end up ‘loving’ people because they do something we like, make us feel a certain way, etc. As long as they maintain this appealing quality, we continue to ‘love’ them.

Stop thinking like that. (Romans 12:2)

If we continue to love one another like that, we are destined for failure. The minute someone lets us down or doesn’t meet our expectations, we withdraw from what we thought was love. Imagine if God loved us like that! We would have NO hope. Perhaps that’s what Paul was getting at when in 1 Corinthians 13 he talks about this long-suffering, not self-seeking, patient kind of love. Perhaps that’s what Jesus was getting at when he challenged the disciples to love their enemies, for “if you only love those that love you, what reward is there in that?” After all, Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners.”

You might be starting to realise just how HARD it is to love people that are… well… HARD to love.

Next week, we’ll look at what Galatians 5 has to say about HOW to love like that.

In His Grace,

Dale

no offense…but you’re worthless

It’s just not what you read in the newest self-help books.

It’s completely contrary to every trend in society. We adjust grading methods to make students feel better about themselves. We say that everyone is special and don’t stop to consider that by saying that, we make no one special. (this is well illustrated in the brilliant movie-cartoon: The Incredibles) Why do we do this? What’s the deal?

So many of the belief-systems in the world struggle to deal with the condition of humanity. I think this is very interesting. The fact that humans are bent on selfishness is quite possibly the easiest truth to demonstrate! We all hide our wrong and promote our good. Yes, even in churches! We look for the fastest lane in traffic, and the shortest line at the grocery store. We’re always looking out for our own best interests!

I love Christianity for many reasons, one of which is it’s realness. Jesus wasn’t out to flatter humanity. His disposition with humankind is very succinctly described by His half-brother James, who wrote that God “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

One of Jesus’ most striking message to humanity was that we aren’t good enough. He raised the ‘bar’ of morality so high that nobody would be able to say they were good. That is why Jesus was always barking at the Pharisees! He called them white-washed tombs, and made no ‘bones’ (pardon the pun) about how he felt about their self-righteousness! In sharp contrast, He forgives and welcomes sinners who are repentant and aware of their moral bankruptcy. The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus’ message in passages like the third chapter of Romans, where he quotes various passages in the Psalms: “There is none righteous, no, not one… none who seeks after God… they have together become unprofitable (see title of this article)… etc., etc.

As Christians, our confidence is NEVER in ourselves. Not in the past, not now, and not in the future. We were never good enough, we are still not good enough and we will never be good enough! The technical-theological definition of grace is undeserved favour. Take a good guess why it is undeserved. Because we can’t earn it, and we don’t earn it!

Why are so many Christians BORED with the Christian life? I think we have forgotten just how BIG a deal God’s grace is!

May we live in the awe of God’s grace to the point where we see for ourselves just how ‘amazing’ it really is.

In Him,

Dale

through the week

Greetings,

So how was your church on Sunday?

This phrase illustrates how grossly incorrect we use the word ‘church.’ We use the word as if it means a place and a time (most commonly the church ‘building’ on Sunday morning). Some of you will be familiar with the Greek term behind our English word church which is ‘ecclesia.’ The literal meaning of this word is ‘those called out’ or ‘called out ones.’ So in the book of Romans for instance, the apostle Paul was not writing to ‘the building in which Christians meet’ at Rome, but to ‘those called out’ at Rome. Many of you will know that many early churches in the first century met in homes. For centuries, however, the majority of Christians have met in buildings. Lately, you will have noticed that the trend of ‘home groups’ has been popular all over the world.

Can I just say that I don’t really believe it matters WHERE or WHEN the church meets? Can I also say that even though we must meet corporately together, the Church is not (or at least should not be) defined by what happens when ‘it’ meets? We tend to compartmentalize our lives in to sacred or secular sectors, and this ought not be so.

In Acts 2, the earliest Christians met daily in the temple, but that was a central place of community for their Jewish culture. Reading these kinds of passages, you quickly get the idea that there was never a time or place when the early Church was not being the Church. We ought to follow their example. Didn’t Jesus himself say that WHENEVER two or more are gathered in His name, that He would be there with them? So why do we argue about where and when to meet?

In modern days, Christians are very concerned by how our services run, and what percentages of people are in small groups, etc. We find safety and comfort in such noble things as mission trips, bible studies and meetings.

I’m interested in joining God in being a part of a culture of Christians that are letting Christ live in them to the point that it makes sense that they bear His name. Not a once or twice a week irrelevant gathering of warm bodies, but an ongoing, constant culture of self-sacrificing, serving, slaves of Christ. May we begin that culture in our own hearts.

In His Grace,

Dale

tough going

Alright,

Let me share what I’m learning about how God shapes us.

People approach the Christian life with different mindsets. Some literally think that God’s sole purpose for their existence is that they can be happy, fulfilled, financially independent, popular, etc.

True; the Christian life comes complete with times of happiness and fulfillment. And yes, God will allow many Christians to live quite public and comfortable lives. He even sometimes uses that for His glory. But none of these are His sole purpose. He wants us to KNOW Him.

Our relationship with Him is a relationship that is not just initiated by faith but also grown and/or shaped by faith. And yes, I think the whole idea of faith has been prostituted in the church. Faith is dragged through the mud as some kind of force that you grab a hold of and harness and if you can manipulate it, you can have huge blessings. That idea is a gross mis-interpretation of biblical faith. Perhaps the best synonym I can think of for faith is the word trust. We don’t manipulate God to do something for us, but we trust that even if we don’t get all of our greeds, He will still provide our needs.

So how are we shaped by faith? God allows really frustrating things to happen to us. Yep. If God wants you to be more loving, He doesn’t create the most likely environment for love, but instead will allow the most frustrating person you’ve ever met to cross your path. To build patience, He’ll allow you to switch from lane to lane on the motorway only to find that each lane you force yourself into becomes the slow lane! He’s not
interested in our comfort, but our character!

“Hey church! When you fall into different trials, see the joy in it, and know that God is testing your faith and wants to build patience!” James 1:2-3 (Dale’s loose paraphrase)

In His Grace,

Dale

not the doctor

Howdy,

Last week we addressed how poor usage of time can and will keep our churches and lives from being ‘hospitals.’ Hopefully, we all took a much needed look at just how busy we are.

This week, let me share some more thoughts, taking the hospital analogy just a bit further…

How DARE we act like WE are the doctor!!! What am I talking about? Am I contradicting myself? Let me explain…

We are NOT the doctor. Nope. Not in the ‘hospital’ of the Church. We can be assistants, nurses, janitors, and even patients, but we must never call ourselves the doctor. The Great Physician, Jesus, is the One who mends, heals and saves. We are His apprentices, and yes, sometimes His patients.

As apprentices, we need to KNOW the Physician more and more. As we do, we will get better and better at the work He wants to do through us. We must not try to improve on His methods or timing, but trust that He knows what He is doing. Are you trying to be the Doctor in someone’s life? Are you trying to ‘fix’ them? Or are you leaving room for God to grow that person, using His methods and in His time?

As patients, we need to TRUST the Physician. He allows us to get hurt but has a purpose for it and wants to use it to grow you. Later in life, you can be there for someone going through what you’re going through now! Are you upset that God is letting you go through a certain situation? He is NOT there to keep every bad thing from happening to you (though many Christians act, believe and pray this way). He IS there to be TRUSTED. Let the Physician work. Are you resisting the authority of the Doctor? Are you trying to ‘fix’ yourself? Hello? YOU CAN’T!

He will allow you to struggle and struggle to ‘fix’ yourself and succeed for a while and then fail. You know the cycle? Up, down, up, down. You have to take your hands off the wound for the Physician to get in there and heal it. Yes, taking your hands off of it might mean others will see it, but it’s the only way for REAL healing.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” -Jesus

In His Grace,

Dale

what all did you do today?

Alright,

Last week we looked at an analogy between churches and hospitals. Makes sense enough, right? Well, there is one thing that will KILL our ability to turn our churches into ‘hospitals of grace’…

Being busy.

Want to know one force that NOBODY has ever been able to stop or even slow down??? The force of time. It just keeps on going. That’s why it is so precious!!! Many, many attempts are made at helping us ‘make the most’ of our time. The race is on to see how much ‘stuff’ we can get done in the least amount of time.

Much more could be said, but suffice it to say that our busy lives are killing us. We are tired, worn out and lethargic. This has a lethal effect on our ministry. We show up for ‘church’ once and twice a week, and wonder why it often seems so meaningless, so irrelevant, so…. dead.

We need to make more time for church in our lives. No, not more of what we do on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights (or whenever), but time for the growing of relationships. Ironically, the church ‘building’ isn’t usually the best place for ‘church-building’.

(that sentence might deserve a re-read)

Please, I beg you, take a look at your schedule. Write it all out if you need to. Cut out the bad stuff, cut out some good stuff, then leave time open for the best stuff. STOP patting people (or yourself) on the back for being busy! It’s cancer to individuals and the church!!! And we’re all prone to get it!!!

“for my yoke is EASY, and my burden is LIGHT” – Jesus

Love and Grace,

Dale

excuse me, nurse?

Howdy,

This week, I want to focus on ‘realness’ in our Christian lives. Let’s be honest, most of the time, Christianity is a dog-and-pony show where the ‘most spiritual’ award goes to the one with the least sin, and the biggest smile on Sunday morning. Is that the goal? Is that even reality? Is that what Jesus had in mind for the church? I think not.

We need to be open and honest with each other. I look at a church (not the building or the time spent in the building, but people) as a HOSPITAL. Hospitals are full of people that are hurting. Hospitals are places where people go to have their wounds healed. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be if an injured person went to a hospital and the doctors and nurses were appalled and disgusted by the wounds they had?

“I’m sorry, miss, but we don’t allow bleeding here, can you please cover that wound? It’s making many of the others uncomfortable.”

Is this not what we do in our churches? Sure, we give much lip service to the idea of being a place of healing, but secretly, we wish for good, clean, sin-less, happy, European, comfortable church members that are more ‘like us.’ I desire to be the kind of Christian that people know they can come to when they are hurting.

This week, ask the Holy Spirit two questions…
1. Am I the kind of person people can confess sins to? Can people be ‘real’ with me?
2. Am I confessing my sins (specific) to anyone? Am I being ‘real’ with others?

May our lives and our churches be hospitals of mercy and clinics of grace…

In His Grace,

Dale