A Fresh Start with Finances ~ A Conversation That’s Needed but Often Not Wanted

O1428100_36158286n Sunday we are talking about finding a fresh start in a very important area of our lives: finances.

And I know the church has a well-deserved bad rap for how we discuss finances. But the truth is it is an area many of us need a fresh start in. Many of us are stress-filled about our finances, we are worried-filled about our futures, or our happiness is so tied to our income that we can’t seem to find joy. The number one cause of divorce is also finances. So finances adds stress to our relationships. And these are many good reasons to talk about finances.

But the truth is there is one more really good reason to talk about finances. Because finances are actually spiritual. Meaning that finances are intertwined with faith.

So we are going to explore that intersection on Sunday, and how you can leave with a fresh start in your finances. And I know that most churches, when it comes to finances, either beg, berate, or bribe you into giving. And I don’t think any of that is Biblical. Instead, on Sunday I want to let God share with you why finances, giving, and generosity are so closely tied together and how when our priorities get straight he can bless you.

So that’s where we are going on Sunday, I know a topic not many of us like to discuss, but a topic that can be freeing. And that’s my prayer for Sunday that we’d be freed and find a fresh start with finances.

Why I Love an Old Fashioned Christmas

1435391_49019940On Sunday we shared a lot about the traditions surrounding Christmas. Or if the word tradition bothers you – think instead of rhythms that surround Christmas. Because traditions are funny things, they are rooted in the past, but they actually preserve the future. That’s what they do.

Traditions are things that grow, that hold faith and family together. And without them family and faith can slip away or fade away.

This is something that I’m beginning to realize more and more. That traditions create memories, they are containers that hold meaning, and draw family together and pass along faith.

So on Sunday I shared some of the traditions that are part of my family.

Watching National Lampoons every year

  • Decorating the tree
  • Going to Christmas Eve services
  • Praying before gifts
  • Reading the Christmas story
  • And many more

The point is that the traditions – or rhythms – ground my family and my faith. They ensure that I remember that something important is happening and someone important is coming.

So we closed Sunday with giving a simple challenge: what is one tradition you want to start this year, and one tradition you want to keep and really invest in.

And I know in one sense all this talk about tradition makes me old fashioned. But that’s okay, because what really matters to me isn’t being cool and new. What really matters is my family growing closer, being pointed towards Jesus, and having memories that last, linger, and shape them.

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Creating and keeping traditions matter.

Teaching Points:

  • The stories are the point
  • That traditions are often the cradle and the keeper of faith.
  • Creating and keeping traditions matter
  • Traditions hold family and faith together

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What was funny? What are some of the traditions your family kept growing up? What are some of your favourite memories? Why do you think traditions might be important? What are some traditions you keep in your family? What are some you might want to start? How can tradition help to pass along faith, and hold family together?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Talk to your kids about some of your favourite traditions. Then ask them, “What traditions should we have around Christmas?” Why not invite them into the discussion and take up their ideas. Sundaes on Christmas Eve? Why not. Wake up before the sun on Christmas day? Sure. Talk to them and develop some traditions.

Challenge for the Week: What traditions do you want to start, and keep?

Traditions, Turkey, and Tree’s

1435915_59713170This Sunday is our annual Christmas meal at the church. So if you’re in the area and want some turkey, come on by and join us.

But this is one of the things that I love most about Christmas. I love how there are traditions that we do every year. That there are reminders that Christmas is coming, that there are markers that point to Jesus, that there are memories that go back decades.

For me, one of the memories I have is watching the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas each and every year. It was my dad’s favourite movie, and every year we’d watch it together.

But what about you? What makes Christmas – Christmas for you?

Because traditions matter, memories matter, and markers matter.

So that’s what we are going to be talking a little bit about on Sunday before we eat lots of turkey. But before we get there, why not think through what traditions matter to you. Because the funny thing about traditions is they root us in the past, but point us forward to the future. And that’s what we’ll explore on Sunday.

Faith Isn’t “Believing in God” ~ Its Trusting in God

1341194_84514919On Sunday we looked at the topic of faith. And rather than seeing faith as belief, we talked about how faith is really all about trust. Faith is about trusting in God, and putting that trust in action. Those are the two aspects to faith: trusting in God, and putting trust in action.

And this is such a different, healthier, and more biblical way to look at faith. Rather than seeing faith as a set of intellectual beliefs or doctrines, see faith in a relational way. See faith as putting trust in a person, not just believing certain things about a person.

That’s what we looked at on Sunday. How Hebrews presents faith as an active thing, a trusting thing, not just a belief thing.

We ended asking a serious but important question: do you trust in Jesus? This moves the discussion beyond just debating doctrines, and positions and moves to a heart level. Do you trust Jesus? Do you trust him to guide you? Do you trust him to care for you? Do you trust that his way of living is the way of living?

Because this is really what is at the heart of faith. Living a life of trust.

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Faith is trust in Jesus, and putting that trust in action.

Teaching Points:

  • Culture sets our normal.
  • Faith as belief is the normal way of thinking about faith.
  • Faith is trusting in God, even in the dark.
  • Faith is trust in God, and putting that trust in action.
  • Trust without action isn’t real.
  • Placing our faith in God is never wasted.
  • Are you willing to trust Jesus?
  • Trust can begin with a decision.
  • Is there some junk in your life you need to get rid of?

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? How amazing was that camel picture?

How have you thought of “faith” before? Why is it important to place trust in Jesus in the tough times? What helps you to do that? How is your trust in Jesus right now? Is it high or struggling? Is there any junk you need to get rid of? Who can help you do that? Can you bring them in?

Questions for Young Families:

Talk with your kids how faith isn’t just about believing but actually trusting. Why not try it out practically to show the difference and do “trust falls” with your kids to talk about how trust means stepping out.

Weekly Challenge: Trust in Jesus and live out that trust.

What is Faith?

1264648_14417319This Sunday we are looking at the topic of faith. And we want to peel back some of the misconceptions about faith. Because the most common answer to “What is faith” is: belief.

But I don’t think that answer is helpful, healthy, or even all that biblical.

  • Because if faith is belief – what happens to it when you doubt?
  • Because if faith is belief – what happens if you believe the wrong things, or have been taught the wrong things?
  • Because if faith is belief – does it matter how you act as long as you believe?

These are some of the difficulties with “faith as belief”

So that’s what we want to explore and clear up on Sunday, by looking at Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 is the classic chapter on faith, but it presents a different view of faith that differs from “faith as belief”

So that’s where we are going, but before we get there why not read Hebrews 11 yourself. It’s a great chapter, and it’s one that not only is about faith, but asks us to put our faith into practice. Which as it will turn out, is what faith is all about.

The Leadership Trap

??????????I love learning about leadership. I have a book reading problem (just ask my wife) and many of the books are on leadership.

I want to be a better leader. I want to grow in my leadership so that the lives around me are better. This is a good goal. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. In fact, I hope everyone would seek to be a better leader.

But there is one subtle trap that reading books about leadership, attending leadership conferences, or classes (which I’m in right now) can create. And it’s this: we can trust the technique rather than God.

Now if you’re not a Christian feel free to skip the rest of this, because this is definitively a Christian problem. And here it is. When we read about a leadership technique, skill, or ability we start to implicitly believe that if we follow that technique good things will happen. What can subtly happen is that we start trusting more in leadership experts to deliver the right techniques to bring success, rather than trusting in the faithfulness of God.

The writers in a new book, The New Parish, put it this way, “Technique wants your trust, even at the expense of your trust in God”. And this is true. Whenever we believe that following a technique, method, or practice will bring us success more than following Jesus – we’ve created an idol. And in today’s day and age (especially in the pastor world) there is no bigger idol than leadership. That if we bow to the feet of leadership gurus our churches, lives, and careers will become more successful.

Now take this all with a grain of salt, as I am currently reading 3 leadership books, and enrolled in a leadership class online. So I’m not against leadership. What I am against is anything replacing or capturing my attention more than God, and for many of us it can be the practice or technique of leadership.

All I’m saying is this: leadership techniques matter, but listening to God matters most. And getting that order right is often the difference between learning about leadership, and demonstrating it.

An Impossible Step of Faith

200390_9299On Sunday we looked at the story of Joshua in Joshua 1 and 2, because the story of Joshua is really a story of “Plan B”. The Israelites have been in a holding pattern for years, wandering in the desert, wondering when their breakthrough would happen, wondering when Plan B would end and they would move into the promised land.

This is where we find the Israelites in the first few chapters of Joshua, anticipating the future but not sure how to get there.

And God comes and speaks to Joshua and tells him something clear, but also something difficult. He says take the Ark and go and stand in the Jordan River. That’s it. That’s all he says. That’s all he gives.

The difficulty is that the Jordan River is what stands between the Israelites and the Promised Land. The difficulty is that the Jordan River is not a lazy peaceful river. In verse 15 we read the Jordan River was raging, at flood stage, was not peaceful at all. The Jordan River starts way up high, and runs very quickly towards the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.

And so what is happening is all the water, all the rain, all the moisture is now rushing downwards creating a raging, flood-high, dangerous river for Joshua to cross.

And God says go step in the river and wait. That’s it. That’s all Joshua has to go on.

But Joshua takes an impossible step. He steps into the raging waters. He steps into the flood and he waits, and God acts and does a miracle and makes dry land.

But here is the thing: God doesn’t act until Joshua has taken the step. God doesn’t do the miracle first, God’s miracle comes after the trusting step of faith.

So on Sunday we looked at how if we want to get out of the “Plan B” situations we are in, it often takes a step of faith. It often means us taking an impossible step. It means us trusting in God, and then stepping out to see how God might come through.

The main point was this: To move out of Plan B, requires a step of faith.

We closed by asking ourselves: what is our Jordan River, and what is our step of faith? What is the obstacle we face that is stopping us from moving forward into the Promised Land? What is the obstacle that is stopping us from receiving God’s promises? And what is the step God is asking us to take? For some it’s a phone call to a fractured relationship, for others applying for that job or starting that business, for others, to admit that you need help. The point is that before God acts, he asks us to trust. So what step in trust is he asking us to take?

The challenge then this week was simple: take the step of faith, and step into the flood. My prayer then was that this week we all might see dry land, and walk through to the Promised Land, as God proves his faithfulness to us.

 

 Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: To move out of Plan B, requires a step of faith.

Teaching Points:

  • Suffering, of course, can lead you in either of two directions: It can make you very bitter and close you down, or it can make you wise, compassionate, and utterly open. Richard Rohr
  • God’s promises don’t have an expiration date.
  • When life doesn’t turn out the way you thought it was going to turn out, you may think you’re losing control. But the truth is, you never had control in the first place. Pete Wilson
  • We don’t give up on God, and we don’t give in to fear.
  • You grow more through difficulty and hardship than through the easy times of life.
  • Plan B times are tough, but they are also times of growth.
  • First, that God asks us to take a step of faith, Second, that we don’t always know how things will turn out, Third, the step is often difficult
  • Moving out of Plan B requires an impossible step.
  • “Plan B situations force us to rely on a power outside of ourselves” – Pete Wilson
  • In Plan B times our faith will either grow or shrink.
  • What step is God asking you to take?

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

How have you seen Plan B times either shut down someone’s faith, or be a reason it grows? What about you personally? Has a Plan B time ever shrunk your faith, or opened it? How before has God ever asked you to take an impossible step? What happened when you stepped out in faith? What obstacles or river are you facing now? Do you have a sense of your next step? Who can help you support you as you take it?

Discussion Question for Families:

Talk to your kids about this week’s story, and how Joshua has to trust in God. Teach them that sometimes God asks us to take steps before we know what might happen.

Ask them if they have any obstacles in their life (Jordan Rivers) and what step God might be asking them to take. Pray about their obstacles, and help them take their next steps.

Challenge for the Week: Take the step into the flood.

Emptying Yourself and Not Controlling the Outcomes

863912_92856468So on Sunday I was preaching in St. Catharines on Emptying Yourself. The main idea was that Jesus emptied himself, and so we are also called to empty ourselves on those around us. The idea was to see people not as interruptions but opporutnties to empty ourselves, giving away grace, hope, and life.
And so after the service I went out for lunch with two of the pastors from the church. And as I’m leaving the downtown area a man looks at me sitting on a bench near my car and says, “Sir, do you have any change, I have a handicap and would love a coffee”?
I looked in my dash and there was a $2 (which I thought was God’s provision ~ because I never ever seem to have cash). I gave him the toonie and went to get back in my car. But my sermon kept echoing around in my mind, and I wondered – “Is this emptying myself?” So I talked with the man a bit more, and he asked if I was a Christian. I said I was, and I saw that my bank was directly behind where we were talking. So I quick walked in, grabbed some more cash, and gave it to the man.
This is normally in the story where God moves in and changes lives, where people accept Jesus, and where we feel like we did a wonderful thing. Expect that didn’t happen at all. Instead the interaction with the man turned sour. He got quite angry at me for not getting out more money. And so as I gave him the money he turned and stomped off leaving me feeling a bit confused, unsure, and unsettled. I wondered to myself, “God what did I do wrong?”
But I think that’s sometimes the wrong perspective isn’t it. We focus on the outcomes, rather than the obedience. We focus on the change we create, rather than leaving that up to God, and simply following in his footsteps. These were my thoughts as I walked back to my car.
I thought maybe there is something I can learn from this…
And as I’m thinking this through, a lady drives up next to me and rolls down her window and gets my attention. She says to me, “I just saw what you did, and you are far too nice. I never would have been able to do that.” She said “I hope that he uses the money for the right things, and not drugs.” I said to her, “I hope so too, but as a Christian my calling is to give, and not judge how the gift is used”. She said she’d never thought of that before and thanked me for what I did and drove off.
As I reflect on this whole little experience I believe I learned one key thing. Focus on following Jesus, and leaving the rest up to him. Maybe I was to give the money to help the man, to help this lady, or even for me to learn something. And maybe God is using this experience to change all three of us.
The point is I think we should focus on following more than anything else. Don’t worry about the outcomes, and whether the action or gift worked or failed. Focus on being faithful and following as best you can. That’s what I learned and what I want to keep learning and most of all keep practicing.

The Failure of Religion

1412713_28106567Recently I was reading some of my notes on Abraham Joshua Heschel’s excellent book “God in Search of Man”.  I came across this quote that I’d wrote down. I thought I would share it because of its depth, its challenge, and I think its truth:
“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – it’s message becomes meaningless.”
What do you think about it? When I read this quote, it so convicted me as a pastor, because the life of faith shouldn’t be dull or insipid. But I wonder how often faith moves from a living fountain, to a dead pool? I also wondered how am I ensuring that the faith I preach is living? That the love I espouse is active? That the relationship I have with God never becomes irrelevant, dull, or oppressive. These are the questions that this quote brings up for me that I’m thinking through today.
What about you? What do you think about it? What questions does it bring up?

Pocket Jesus

Untitled-1For a long time people thought of “evangelism” as bringing Jesus with them to people who needed Jesus. It was almost as if we have Jesus in our back pocket and our goal was to bring him out in conversation with people. The goal was to bring Jesus into conversations, relationships, or places where he currently wasn’t. We were “storming the gates the hell”, “bringing salvation to the heathens”, or “taking the world for Jesus”. Perhaps you’ve heard or even used a phrase like that.

If you notice something though, the focus of every one of those statements is on our activity and not Jesus’. We bring Jesus, we make converts, and we storm the gates of hell all in the name of “evangelism”. I call this type of evangelism “pocket Jesus evangelism”  because it’s based on us carrying Jesus with us and sharing him however and wherever we can.

And while the idea of sharing Jesus with others is beautiful and absolutely necessary, the idea that we bring Jesus to places he isn’t leads to ugly evangelism. Perhaps you have seen or even experienced this yourself where well-meaning people seem more intent on forcing Jesus than sharing Jesus. Where conversations seem forced, unnatural, aggressive, and somehow off repel people from Jesus rather than draw them in. The reason this type of evangelism can so easily become ugly is because it’s built on a shaky foundation and faulty theology.

The faulty bit of theology is pretty clear when you think about it: you don’t bring Jesus anywhere, because he’s already everywhere.

Here is the point, as Christians Jesus absolutely does reside within us, but Jesus is not limited to us. To limit the world changing, life transforming, and Kingdom expanding work of the Father, Son, and Spirit to the work of Christians and the church is not only bad theology but just plain wrong. God is the primary actor in changing the world, we simply get to partner with him in what he is already doing. The world is being changed by the Father’s initiative, the Son’s sacrifice, and the power of the Spirit and we get to join in what God is doing.

The point is this, we, as Christians, do not take Jesus to a God-absent world. God is already active in the world and we get to join him in what he is doing. The very first act of Jesus Christ was to move into the neighborhood, and he’s been doing it ever since (John 1). If Jesus moved into an obscure, poverty riddled, Jewish family in the first century I’m pretty sure he’s already active on your street.

So then does evangelism still matter? Absolutely! The only difference is the focus shifts. Rather than forcing Jesus into conversations I watch for how he is active in conversations and follow his lead. Rather than trying to push Jesus into a relationship I see how he is guiding that relationship and listen to his direction.

The point is that no longer am I trying to “convert” anyone. What I am doing is joining in the work of Jesus who is already active in seeking and saving the whole world. I’m trusting that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the ones who save and “convert” people, I just want to do my part.

So my question is where do you see Jesus active in your friendships? Is someone open to forgiveness more than usual? Is Jesus directing you to spend more time with someone who seems to be growing? Who can you show love to, that is receptive or needing of grace?

The point is simple: I’m no longer taking Jesus with me asking him to join me in what I’m doing; I’m looking for what he is already doing and seeking to partner with him there.