Monday, October 24, 2011

Not a Fan...

I have never been much of a fan of "Church" curriculum, perhaps in part because when I first started in ministry I did not know there was such a thing, so I created my own (which others may not have been a fan, also because some of what I have seen has been trite or a reworked production of many that have gone before..

However at the recommendation of a pastor from our email list-serve,  I have recently been checking out this "Not a Fan" curriculum.  I first went to the site and I enjoyed the testimonial clips and the preview of one of the powerful small group videos. So I am ordering this small group video study to use with our Young Adults and then implement it with our church as a small group study after that. 

Being a bit of a bibliophile I bought the book to read as I wait. I have only read the preface so far, so I can not give you a fair assessment but if the preface is anything like the rest of the book I am excited.  With that in mind let me share with you the preface (it's worth the read), perhaps it will resonate with you as well, and encourage you to check out the book.

It's a Thursday afternoon and I am sitting in the church sanctuary.  It's empty now, but Easter is only a few days away.  More than thirty thousand people will likely come to the weekend services, and I have no idea what I'm going to say to them.  I can feel the pressure mounting as I sit there hoping that a sermon will come to mind.   I look around at the empty seats hoping some inspiration will come.  Instead there's just more perspiration.  I wipe the sweat off my brow and look down.  This sermon needs to be good.  There are some people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter (we call the "Creasters").  I want to make sure they all come back.  What could I say to get their attention?  How can I make my message more appealing?  Is there something creative I could do that would be a big hit and get people talking?

Still nothing.  There is a Bible in the chair in front of me.  I grab it.  I can't think of a scripture to turn to.  I've spent my life studying this book and I can't think of one passage that will "wow" the Creasters. I consider using it the was I did as a kid.  Kind of like a magic 8 Ball, you ask a question, open up the Bible and point to the page, and whatever it says answers your questions.

Finally a thought crosses my mind:  I wonder what Jesus taught whenever He had big crowds.  What I discovered would change me forever.  Not just as a preacher, but as a follower of Christ.  I found that when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was like to cause them to leave.

In that empty sanctuary I read of one such occasion in John chapter 6.  Jesus is addressing a crowd that has likely grown to more than five thousand.  Jesus has never been more popular.  Word has spread about His miraculous healings and his inspirational teaching.  This crowd of thousands has come to cheer him on.

After a full day of teaching, Jesus knows the people are getting hungry, and so he turns to his disciples and asks what all these people will do for food.  One of the disciples, Philip, tells Jesus that even with eight month's wages , it wouldn't be enough money to buy bread for everyone to have a bite.  from Philip's perspective, there really wasn't anything that could be done. But another disciple, Andrew, has been scanning the crowd and he tells Jesus of a boy who has five loaves and two small fish.  Jesus takes the boy's sack lunch and with it he feeds the entire crowd.  In fact,m the Bible tells us that even after everyone had their fill, there was still plenty left over.

After dinner the crowd decides to camp out for the night so they can be with Jesus the next day.  These are some big-time fans of Jesus.  The next morning when the crowd wakes up and they're hungry again, they look around for Jesus, aka their meal ticket, but he's nowhere to be found.  These fans are hoping for an encore performance.  Eventually they realize that Jesus and His disciples have crossed over to the other side of the lake.  By the time they catch up to Jesus they're starving.  They've missed their chance to order breakfast and they are ready to find out what's on the lunch menu.  But Jesus has decided to shut down the "all you can eat" buffet.  He's not handing out any more free samples.  in verse 26 Jesus says to the crowd: "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill"

Jesus knows that these people are not going to all the trouble and sacrifice because they are following him, but because they want some free food.  Was it Jesus they wanted, or were they only interested in what He could do for them?  In verse 35 Jesus offers himself, but the question is, would that be enough? " Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty""

Jesus says, I am the bread of life.  Suddenly Jesus is the only thing on the menu.  The crowd has to decide if he will satisfy or if they are hungry for something more.  Here's what we read at the end of the chapter: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (John 6:66)"

Many of the fans turn to go home.  I was struck by the fact that Jesus doesn't chase after them. He doesn't soften his message to make it more appealing.  He doesn't send the disciples chasing after them with a creative handout inviting them to come back for a "build your own sundae" ice cream social.  He seems okay with the fact that his popularity has plummeted.

As I sat in the sanctuary surrounded by thousands of empty seats, here's what became clear to me: it wasn't the size of the crowds Jesus cared about; it was their lever of commitment.

I put the Bible back in the chair in front of me.

I cried.

God, I am sorry.

Almost, as soon as I said it to him, I knew it needed to go further.  A few days later on Easter Sunday, a crowd of thousands gathered and I began my sermon with a choked up apology.  I told the crowd that I was wrong for being too concerned with what they would think and how many of them would come back.  I think over the years my intentions were good; I wanted to make Jesus look as attractive as possible so that people would come to find eternal life in him.  I was offering the people Jesus, but I was handing out a lot of free dread.  In the process I cheapened the gospel.

Imagine it this way.  Imagine that my oldest daughter turns twenty-five.  She isn't married but she really wants to be.  I decide I'm going to help make that happen.  So, imagine I take out an ad in the newspaper, put up a billboard sign, and make up T-shirts begging someone to choose her.  I even offer some attractive gifts as incentives.  Doesn't that cheapen who she is?  Wouldn't that make it seem that whoever came to her would be doing her a favour?  I would never do that.  I would set the standard high. I would do background checks and lie detector tests.  There would be lengthy applications that must be filled out in triplicate.  References would be checked and hidden cameras installed.  If you want to have a relationship with her, you better be prepared to give her the best of everything you have.  I don't want to just hear you say that you love her; I want to know that you are committed to her.  I want to know that you would give your life for her.

Too often in my preaching I have tried to talk people into following Jesus.  I wanted to make following him as appealing, comfortable, and convenient as possible.  And I want to say that I am sorry.  I know it's strange to start off a book with an apology, but I want you to know that the journey I'm inviting you on is one that I've been traveling.  It's a journey I continue to be on, and I should tell you it hasn't been easy.  It was more comfortable being part of the crowd.

I know typically you put something in the introduction that makes people want to read the book.  You have a celebrity write it, or you have someone else write it so that person can tell all the readers how great the writer is. At the very least the author should write something in the introduction of a book that makes people want to read it.  I'm not sure if I've done that...probably not.  My guess is an apology from a man who got it wrong for a long time doesn't exactly inspire confidence.  But I just want to be clear that this book is not just information on a page or a pastors' commentary on the Scriptures.  This book is written by one of those in the crowd of John 6 who thought Jesus was great but was really in it for the free meals.

I hope you will read this book and discover with me what it really means to follow Jesus.  I will talk more about repentance than forgiveness, more about surrender than salvation, more about brokenness than happiness, and more about death than about life.  The truth is, if you are looking for a book about following Jesus that lays out a comfortable and reassuring path, you find it here.  Don't get me wrong, I want you to keep reading: I just want to be up-front and let you know there won't be a lot of free bread.         

Now to some the preface may seem a little harsh and unbalanced but as I scanned through the chapters, It seems that the book is well rounded,  as encouraging as it is challenging, and I am looking forward to reading it.

If you have already read it please feel free to share your reviews. 

If this has peeked your interest, why not pick up a copy and read along with me and we can share our thoughts.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Well it has been one month since I began my 36-4-36 challenge.  What a month it has been, I didn't expected much to transpire this first month, but the past 30 days have been full of surprises, blessings and lessons learned. What follows are some progress highlights.

#1) Lose AT LEAST 36lbs: So far success! I have lost some weight - 13lbs since June 15th, not sure how much of that is since September 9th, but hoping I can far surpass the 36lb goal over the next 11 months.

#6) Read AT LEAST 12 books of which 6 are not Academic/TheologyI completed 3 books this first month.  "A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS" by Khaled Hosseini, this was my favourite of the 3 books, I actually finished reading it, through tears, sobbing as the story came to a close.  My favourite quote from the book was "A woman who will be like a rock in a riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but SHAPED, by the turbulence that washes over her." The second book I finished was "ROOM" by Emma Donoghue.  I started this one night before going to bed and finished it the next day.  It is a riveting story, told through the eyes and language of a 5 year old.  My favourite quote from this book, at least the one that caught my attention was "the little cards with numbers all over are called a lottery, idiots buy them hoping to get magicked into millionaires."  Finally I did read an academic book for my course called "UNDERSTANDING PEOPLE" by Dr. Larry Crabb.  I highlighted a lot of this book, too many good quotes to just share one. "Something is wrong when the message from a loving God to the people He created becomes more an academic treatise to be studied rather than a wonderful truth to be grasped and breathed." and "...the real culprit behind all non-organically caused human distress: a steadfast determination to remain independent of God and still make life work." Finally this quote "...They thereby avoid responsibility for facing the painful reality of confusion and helplessness...Facing wrong directions that are painful to realize and repenting of them is no longer at the exact centre of the change process. It is no longer minds that need renewal; it is rather some internal psychological condition for which we bear no responsibility (we are victims), which must be changed by a mystical operation of the spirit.  Active repentance is replaced by passive yielding "

#8) Give TV up for the year, plus a different thing for a month, each month: Giving up TV has been a remarkable thing.  It has allowed me to redeem the time and use it for more productive endeavours.  I am more inclined to remain visiting a little longer, go out and do something active, or simply read a good book. I gave up playing Settler's online for the month of October, again just another thing to distract me from more important things.

#9) Write & Mail a personal note of encouragement a dayIn the last 30 days, I have mailed 38 notes of Encouragement.  I was so touched when one of the recipients came to my home to tell me how it had arrived at the most perfect time, and touched her heart so deeply, that she cried for an hour!  God is so good, to place a person on my heart, and to provide me the words to share so that their hearts may be encouraged.

#10) Do a 3 day fast once a month: Completed and Lesson Learned.  Perhaps it was not so much a lesson learned, as a point driven home.  I have fasted in the past, in fact years ago I did a 40 day fast, where I drank only pure fruit juice and water. Some might think, wow what discipline, what spiritual fervour - if this is you - save your kudos.  In the interest of authenticity, that fast was a failure.  Sure I did not eat, and in fact I found it quite easy to not eat.  I never found myself consumed with thoughts of food.  After those 40 days I realized I had simply, though perhaps unconsciously, replaced eating with more work and more doing.  I kept my mind occupied, I was doing twice as much, going twice as fast. At the end of the fast, I wondered why I did not feel any different, why it seemed to have so little impact.  I knew better however, and I realized that the whole Fast was spiritually pointless, because I actually didn't consciously and consistently take the time to focus on God. While I never found myself consumed with thoughts of food, I also rarely found myself consumed with thoughts of God.  Not all my fasts have been such a dismal failure, but that one certainly was, and I was the only one to blame.  So this year, as part of my 36-4-36 challenge, I was committed to fasting properly, more consistently! Giving up food would not be as much of a challenge as giving up doing!  But I did - for 3 days my schedule and the menu was cleared. The difference was astonishing!  I was hungry, hungry for food and hungry for more of God.  My thoughts at the beginning were consumed with food, wanting to end the stomach pain that felt like someone was scraping the inside of my belly with a metal spoon, as if it were a pumpkin being removed of it's innards. It was a pain I never felt during my 40 days of not eating, but now felt after only 1 day of fasting and simply being.  As the days progressed, more and more my thoughts were consumed with God, with prayer, with being in His word. Did I have any mystical revelations, visions or experiences? NO, not to say that it couldn't happen. What I did experience was a phenomenal opportunity to focus more on God, to shift my attention away  from the things of this world that often consume me and place them on the only one that should.  Fasting in this way, has and will continue to serve as a disciplined way for me to develop a deeper understanding and closer walk with God.  That being said, over the next few months, as I continue the 3 day fasts, I will be seeking clear direction, and clarity of God's will, in a decision that I am struggling with.  Should I come to your mind, please feel free to pray for me with regards to this.  The lesson learned, the one I knew in my head, but hadn't adequately applied to my life is "If you wanna go fast, you gotta slow down."

#13) Memorize an entire chapter of the Bible: I decided on Proverbs 3, reasoning that I would do well to memorize it's sage advice, recall the encouragement, share the truth, and live the principals. I have memorized thus far verses  1-4.  I realize it is not a lot, but I am pacing myself so it is well hidden in my heart.

#16) Finish at least 6 required courses: I've submitted assignment 1 of 5 for my PSY277 course with Briercrest Univeristy,

#19) Invite 1 new and different person to church a month: I have done just this, and to my surprise each person has said yes.  More than this, one young woman that I met at the gym has been coming out to our church as well our young adults program for almost a month now and has even gone so far as to have her picture taken for our church directory.  I was telling my new friend Maria (see previous post) about our churches community dinner and movie night, and she said she would love to go. I then decided to invite her to a Sunday morning service, at which she excitedly agreed to attend, and also asked if she could take part in the Sunday morning Discipleship class I teach, explaining that she would like to get involved in a bible study as she has never made bible reading and bible study a priority and would like to pursue that more.

#27) Recycle: Everything was sorted into boxes in my storage closet/now a recycling room. I am not sure I got it all right, but I only had one little shopping bag of garbage at the end of the month, the rest was all recyclable.

#28) Volunteer at least twice a month: Started going back to Martha's Table, serving the homeless and transient of Kingston, food and love.  I love this ministry, such a privilege to be a part of it.

#31) Go to the gym at least twice a week for the year: So far so good, spin class and Kickboxing have been my go to classes.  However Spin Classes have been cancelled the last couple weeks, so I have taken it upon myself to climb the stairs in my building - 20 flights 160 stairs with 3.5 additional pounds in each hand.  The first time I ascended and descended the 20 flights twice, for 320 stairs up and 320 down. This past week I did it 3 times for 480 stairs in each direction.  Let me just share, that if you have flights of stairs, you do not need a gym membership, it was a grueling regime.  I have also begun walking each week with my friend.  First week we did 5km, this past week we did 7.5km.  I am looking forward to our upcoming weekend of hiking, as the trees create a cornucopia of colour.

#33) Do something just for me every two weeks: You wouldn't think this one would be hard for me, but it is.  I was delighted to receive a record player, something I had been trying to acquire for a few months now, so as a treat I took an hour or so, and went down to value village and picked me out some sweet vinyl.

Another delightful consequence of initiating my 36-4-36 list, is that others have contacted me, saying that they were encouraged to create their own lists, and have shared with me their challenges for the year!  What are you up to this year?  Consider joining us - maybe I will start a FB group where we can all encourage and support one another, share ideas, success stories, and challenges.

I remain so excited for what is going to unfold this year as a result of undertaking this challenge. For the ways that I am going to be stretched and grow closer to God, the ways I am going to be blessed, and hopefully be a blessing to others.