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    WedWednesdaySepSeptember13th2017 Gospel boots on the ground
    by Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    Warfare today is different from the past. Military powers prefer to utilize their technological advantage whenever possible, preferring armed drones and cruise missiles, which can be operated remotely, to actually committing soldiers to the battlefield. Deploying troops to a battle zone is referred to as having “boots on the ground”. Despite the preference, military authorities still recognize that sometimes the best way, or even the only way, to get the job done is to send in the troops. 

    This idea of “boots on the ground” has traction with me when I think of the Christian mission in the world. We want to let people know the difference that Jesus makes. We want people to see the light and come to share in the same hope that we have, because of our faith. We want to see people healed, transformed, set free and happy in reconciled relationships. We know that the Gospel can do all of that! 

    So how do we get our message out there? We can televise it. Some Christians do that. We can plaster it all over social media. Some prefer that. We can invite people to come to church with us so that they can see and experience it for themselves. That’s a good option. We can write about it, even blog about it, in the hope that someone somewhere will read it and be drawn in by the message. (Hint, hint). All good stuff.

    But I love the image used by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. In describing how they should prepare themselves for living out the Christian life in this world. He wrote, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth bucked around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14-15). Did you catch that? Part of the outfit every Christians is supposed to be wearing is gospel boots!

    Someone once said that, out of all the “armour” described in Ephesians 6, only two pieces are not defensive in nature. One is the sword of the Spirit (6:17) and the other is the footwear. Paul tells us to slip our feet into the footwear that best prepares us to proclaim the gospel in our world. I take that to mean that we are to be equipped and ready to introduce the gospel wherever we place our feet in life. In other words, you and I are Christ’s boots on the ground.

    And what is the gospel of peace? That’s what we’re learning about this year in our theme of “Restoring the Kingdom”. One of my favourite places in Scripture where I think we find the gospel (or good news) of God in its fullest expression is 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself …” We bear truth to that reconciliation ourselves, and we offer the good news of reconciliation to all others through Christ. It is so inclusive! God has reconciled all things to himself in Christ! And that is what we get to share with people everywhere we go. 

    The good news is meant to touch everything. Every person, every place. To get that news into every crook and cranny of our generation we can’t just rely on a remotely operated aerial barrage. We need street fighting that goes house to house. And for that, we need to put the boots on the ground.
     
    ThuThursdayAugAugust3rd2017 You can see Gratitude
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    There’s a principle in evaluation theory that says, “Everything can be measured”. Even things which seem intangible can be quantified with a bit of effort. In that way you can measure changes and determine whether or not, or even to what degree, you’re accomplishing what you hoped for. I was reminded of that today when I was reading 2 Corinthians 8. 

    The Apostle Paul is encouraging the Christians in Corinth to follow through with their commitment to contribute generously to the offering being collected around all the churches in support of the people in Jerusalem, who were going through a hard time. He pointed to the example of the Macedonians (who said we can’t learn from others?) who gave liberally, even though they were pretty poorly off themselves. By comparison, the Corinthians were quite well off and one would expect their offering would reflect that (if one was comparing, that is).

    Apparently Paul didn’t mind comparing them. After citing the example of the Macedonians, Paul says, “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:8-9). Paul knew what the Corinthians were capable of, and he was watching to see what their response would be. He drew a direct line between their contribution to helping others and their appreciation for what God had done for them in Jesus. 

    Ouch! Can someone really do that? Isn’t that pretty judgmental? Well, actually not always. In fact, Jesus did the same thing with a woman who came to see him at a Pharisee named Simon’s house one time. This woman had a well-known reputation (and not a good one) and when she arrived she began to weep over Jesus’ feet, washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Simon, his host, was not impressed and Jesus called him out for it (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus told Simon a parable about how people who are forgiven large debts are much more likely to be generous in forgiving others – common sense, right? Then Jesus dropped the kicker saying, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house and you did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair … therefore, I tell you, her sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (verses44-47).

    Ah! There it is! The direct correlation between a person’s own sense of personal forgiven-ness, and their output of generous grace and love toward others. What Jesus is saying here is that you can tell how much someone appreciates God’s grace in their own lives by how much grace they show to others. And that’s what we need to think about. For too many of us, our appreciation for what Jesus did for us dims over time. We begin to see ourselves as “pretty good” Christians, forgetting that there but for the grace of God we go. The danger then is that we begin to fall into Phariseeism in our approach to others. 

    But – if we will hold on to the truth of God’s grace in our lives – if we will cultivate that, relish it, appreciate it and be oh, so grateful for it – then we will be prone to respond to the needs of others with grace, generosity and love. This summer we’ve been preaching about the 7 words which should change the world (1 John 4:19). It’s the same principle here. Our capacity to show love to others is a direct result of our awareness of, and appreciation for, God’s love for us in Jesus. Want to think some more about this? Read the book, “Unshockable Love” by John Burke. I highly recommend it.
     
    FriFridayJunJune30th2017 About Healing
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    We’re not going to live forever. Well, not in these present forms anyway. As you know, we’re currently in a 3 part teaching series on healing. We’re looking at the healing ministry of Jesus, our own experiences with healing (or lack of same) and the role our community of faith plays in healing. Even with this, we’re only scratching the surface of such an important subject.

    In order to understand healing you really have to begin with a theology of suffering. From God’s perspective, wholeness, health and vitality are normal. Robust mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health is what God intended from the beginning. In fact, at the very start of things human beings actually were intended to live forever!

    But when sin entered the human story all of that changed. Faced with the choice of taking matters into our own hands rather than completely trusting in God for all things, the Maker warned us, “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because when you do you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And God didn’t mean here, “touch it and I’ll strike you dead!” He meant that, on the day humanity chose to follow its own wisdom, the process of death began its unrelenting and all-encompassing sweep through history. All suffering, disease, accidents, disabilities, sorrow, waste and loss found root and began to grow within the human story.

    So because of human sin, suffering and death are normal. That’s the ordinary consequence of sin (Romans 6:23). The real wonder is not that there is so much suffering in the world, but that there isn’t more. It is God’s love and grace alone that holds it at bay (Psalm 103:10).

    Healing is when the power of God breaks the natural cycle of sin and death, interrupting it with wholeness and life. And the good news is that God’s power has been released in the world to do that more and more, because of Jesus Christ. He became sin’s curse for all of us, and took it to its penultimate fulfillment on the cross (Galatians 3:12-13). So now, through Him, life is reborn. The age of new creation has begun (2 Corinthians 5:17). It’s a new epoch, and new time in human history. Jesus demonstrated this through his own remarkable ministry of healing and he empowered his followers to continue that work of announcing, and demonstrating, the healing power of the Kingdom of God (Mark 16:15-18).

    So the question then is this – if Jesus did all of this for us, why is there still so much sickness, suffering and death in our experiences?

    That’s a good question. One which many still ask today!

    There’s a short answer, and a long one. I’ll offer the short one here. Sickness, suffering and death still exist in our world because sin still exists. Human beings continue to perpetuate a world polluted by sin. As such, the wages of sin – destruction and death – continue to stalk humanity. But everywhere the effects of sin show their ugly faces they can be countered by the Gospel, and the power of God. Every place that is dark can be enlightened by the good news of what God has done, and is doing, in the world today. This counter attack of God’s goodness is meant to prevail over the shroud of darkness, redeeming, reconciling, forgiving, restoring.

    As Christ-followers you and I are the ones who are empowered with both this message, and the demonstration of its truth, as we encounter folks day after day. With the power of the Holy Spirit who is within us, we are entrusted by God with the work of bringing the salvation and healing accomplished on the cross into present reality, through our words and actions as the people of God.

    It’s a glorious, yet heavy, responsibility if you think about it. 
    WedWednesdayMayMay10th2017 Take a look Around
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    From time to time I hear great stories about how God speaks to people in obvious but unexpected ways. Two come to mind. One time someone who was struggling to connect with God cried out that He give them a sign! While they were driving home that very day they noticed a huge billboard with a Scripture passage on it that spoke directly to their need. They had driven past that spot hundreds of times before and never “saw” that billboard before that moment. Another time a person was struggling with a big decision they had to make and asked God to make it clear to them. They were driving in the country and said, “God, if this decision I am making is the right one – let me see a deer along the side of the road”. Within a matter of minutes they looked and spotted a deer just off the highway. “That’s too much of a coincidence” they said to God. “If this is really you, let me see another one.” Almost immediately they saw a second deer trotting along the side of the roadway! 

    These are great examples of how God sometimes communicates with us. Listening to God doesn’t always mean we’re waiting to hear an audible voice inside our heads. It means tuning ourselves to His wavelength. It means paying attention – with ears and eyes open, mind and heart prepared to ponder and receive. God can use any variety of means to make His mind known to us. But we’ll miss it if we’re not looking for it.

    The Patriarch Job complained that God wasn’t responding to him in the midst of his suffering. His friend, Elihu, disagreed. Elihu corrected Job by saying, “You’re wrong Job, dead wrong. God always answers, one way or another, even when people don’t recognize his presence.” (Job 33:12-14 The Message). Elihu then went on to give some concrete examples: In a dream, a vision at night. Or through pain and suffering. Or by an angel, sent to help us make sense of our situation. Elihu says, “This is the way God works, over and over again. He pulls our souls back from destruction so we’ll see the light” (Job 33:29-30 The Message).

    Many years ago I had a boss who lived outside of the city in a country home. These were the early days of satellite TV and he had a huge satellite dish outside of his house pointed up into the sky. There was a little control knob inside the house which you used to manoeuver the dish to improve the reception. Because the planet is moving you had to do this frequently! It made watching TV rather frustrating I’m sure.

    God may use our circumstances to speak to us, but in order for us to hear what He’s saying we have to be tuned into Him. Could it be He’s trying to get our attention even now? What’s going on in your and my life that should be drawing us to fall on our knees and seek God (verse 26)? What could we be doing differently to help us pay better attention? Being still so we can hear God doesn’t mean we’re looking for the spooky or the supernatural – it means we’re being discerning and reflective. That way when God does speak to us, we won’t miss it.
     
    WedWednesdayAprApril19th2017 God, can I trust you?
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    It’s one thing to listen for God to speak to you. It’s another to actually trust Him when he does. That’s why I love the stories of the Patriarchs and saints in the Old Testament. These men and women from ancient times had real lives, real struggles and real flaws when it came to their lives of faith. Through their stories I am encouraged that God is patient, and that His grace works out in our lives, even when we get it wrong ourselves. I’ve been there!

    In Genesis 31 we have the account of Jacob’s departure from his time of servitude in Laban’s household. Jacob has spent twenty years working for his father-in-law. In that time he’s been tricked, deceived and cheated multiple times by Laban – yet all the time God has been blessing Jacob and causing him to prosper. But the time comes when God speaks to Jacob in a dream and tells him it’s time for him to go home to the land of his father and grand-father, Isaac and Abraham (verse 13). Jacob shares what he has heard in his dream with his wives, Leah and Rachel, and together they agree that it’s time to leave Laban’s household and return to Jacob’s land. 

    When the time comes to depart, we learn that Rachel decides to steal her father’s household idols to bring along with them. Hedging her bets for additional good luck for the journey perhaps? And we’re told that Jacob decides to sneak away without actually telling Laban he was leaving – because he was afraid Laban wouldn’t let him go (verse 31). Sure enough, the very thing they were fearful of happens. Laban gathers his men and pursues them for seven days. 

    In the end it all works out. God speaks to Laban in a dream, warning him not to harm Laban, and Jacob and Laban work it out between themselves (though, interestingly, Rachel gets away with keeping the idols – more to come on that another time I’m sure). 

    But why all the drama? Why did Jacob try to sneak away – even after he knew that God had told him to return to his home? Didn’t he think that God would be able to watch over him and protect him once he had stepped out to do what God had said? The short answer is, no – he didn’t. Jacob clearly heard God speak to him, and he understood clearly what God told him to do. But that didn’t mean that Jacob trusted God as much as he needed to. He was still learning that.

    Jacob believed God had spoken to him, but he didn’t trust Him. Belief is not the same as faith. Belief can be mostly mental – we cognitively recognize the truth of something. But faith is trust. Faith is when we put things on the line to actually “do” the thing God has spoken to us about. Faith is not recognition of God speaking – it is following through on how God has spoken. 

    It’s good that we are learning to listen to God. It’s good that we are asking God to speak to us, individually and as a congregation. But let’s be prepared – what will we do once God does say something to us? What will we do then? Will we have faith?
     
    WedWednesdayMarMarch29th2017 What it means to Listen
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    Isaiah 28:9-10 was a memory passage for me when I was a young Christian. It says, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. 10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little”. 

    I grew up in a King James only church so of course I memorized it in that version. I was taught that this passage meant that understanding the Bible was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle. Topical studies were best, because you had to pull all the references on a certain subject from all over the Bible and put them together in order to see the big picture. I believed and practiced that for quite a few years.

    But there was a problem. That’s not what that passage means – in fact, it’s not even what it says! The whole context of Isaiah chapter 28 is God’s rebuke of Israel for their unwillingness to listen to Him. The specific thought expressed in this passage actually needs to include verses 9 through 13, if one really wants to understand what it’s saying. Here it is in an English translation of the Jewish Bible:

    Can no one be taught anything?
    Can no one understand the message?
    Must one teach barely weaned toddlers,
    babies just taken from the breast,
    10 so that [one has to use nursery rhymes]? —
    Tzav la-tzav, tzav la-tzav,
    kav la-kav, kav la-kav
    z‘eir sham, z‘eir sham
    [Precept by precept, precept by precept,
    line by line, line by line,
    a little here, a little there].
    11 So with stammering lips, in a foreign accent,
    [ADONAI] will speak to this people.
    12 He once told this people, “It’s time to rest,
    the exhausted can rest, now you can relax” —
    but they wouldn’t listen.
    13 So now the word of ADONAI for them comes
    “precept by precept, precept by precept,
    line by line, line by line,
    a little here, a little there,”
    so that when they walk, they stumble backward,
    and are broken, trapped and captured!

    The Hebrew in verse 10 is ambiguous and difficult to translate. In the Message, Eugene Peterson translates it as, “Blah, blah, blah”. The very point of this passage is that the Word of God becomes childish jibberish to those who have stopped listening to God. The passage doesn’t teach us that the way God wants us to understand Scripture is through the cut and paste method – it actually tells us that we end up approaching God’s Word that way when we’ve stopped listening to God with our hearts.

    When it comes to listening to God. We don’t just listen to His Voice with our ears – we listen with our hearts. The message I take away from this passage is that we open the ears of our souls by listening with a genuine heart that wants to be led by God’s Spirit. So listening to God begins with the heart, and not the ears. Without the right heart, we’ll only hear what we want to hear, and not what God is actually trying to say to us. 

    That’s crucial to this 90 day exercise in listening that we’ve undertaken as a church. We shouldn’t come to this expecting God to confirm things we already think we know. If we do, that’s exactly what we’ll think we’ve heard. Listening begins with opening the heart to God. Be willing to be surprised by God. Be willing to be made to think and reflect deeply on what He has to say. Be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit. That is the key to listening.
    MonMondayMarMarch20th2017 Listening to God - How it Works
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    A little while ago I was working on a study guide for the 90 day listening prayer exercise we’ve introduced at Forest Brook and I came across a book on the subject, which I had originally read in 2001. It was a bittersweet moment for me, as I remembered that time in my life, when I was first introduced to the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God. I say bittersweet because I recall trying it out for a time, but dropping it quickly because I found it didn’t produce the results I wanted. 

    You see, I’m a bit of a results-oriented guy.  I’m not usually one for process. I remember trying to practice the presence of God, but without really experiencing anything – so I gave it up. I told myself that it was something for the mystics and contemplatives, not a busy pastor like me. I needed results. 

    All of that changed for me a year ago. During our leaders’ annual planning meeting last March, as I listened to the litany of challenges we were facing as a church, I was struck by how often I had heard this list vocalized over the years. In fact, I was dumbstruck as the morning unfolded. It was like I had gone back in time ten years and was hearing the leaders share the same frustrations, desires and lack-of-growth pangs that I had heard back then. As I listened I asked myself, “Have we really made so little progress in all this time?” 

    It was then that I heard it. That still, small voice that I’d heard a few times before in my life, yet I recognized instantly. God said, “This is what you can accomplish in your own strength. You need to learn what can be done in mine.”  I was crushed, and I seriously wondered whether my tenure at Forest Brook was over!

    But God, in His mercy, had other plans. Over the next few weeks I wrestled with God, sharing my experience with the elders and other leaders at the church. God showed me that, instead of replacing me, we could try another approach – we could actually learn how to listen and be led by His Spirit. So we set our hearts to understand how to do that better. 

    I’ve been practicing the presence of God, and listening prayer, every day for six months now. And I can tell you it works. Not because God has changed. I have. This time I’m listening for God on His terms – because I know I need Him, and I both want, and need, what He wants to say to me. And another thing – God speaking to me really hasn’t been what I expected. It’s a conversation but He’s the One in charge and He gets to decide where to start and what’s the thing which is most important on His mind for me. 

    But that’s okay. I can’t tell you how much more peace I have, and confidence, that God’s got this. I am so much more aware of His Presence, His Spirit at work around me all day, every day. And that’s making a huge difference in my life! A mystic is a person who opens up to God’s Presence, and as Jesuit Armand Nigro says, “God wants us to be normal, ordinary, everyday mystics.” I get that now, and I’m happy to be on my way at last.
     
    SunSundayFebFebruary26th2017 Who needs the Holy Spirit?
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    We’ve just finished the Alpha weekend and I find myself, once again, reflecting on the incredible importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and the individual believer. If you’re not familiar with the Alpha course, it’s a 10 week course designed for non-Christians, to help them explore the meaning of life from a Christian perspective. There are specific sessions on Jesus, the bible, prayer, the church, etc. But in the middle of the course there is something special. Participants are asked to come away over a weekend to spend an extended time together around the person and work of the Holy Spirit. There are actually three talks devoted to this subject! 

    Seems a little unbalanced right? I mean, shouldn’t Jesus get the most air-time? Why this inordinate amount of attention to the Spirit? Well, if you’re an everyday evangelical Christian you might be surprised to learn the answer to that. 

    The Holy Spirit is essential to everything about God, faith, Jesus, the Bible, Christianity, church – you name it. The Holy Spirit is the One who undergirds it all. Now I’m not saying that the Holy Spirit is more important than any of those things – each is infinitely important in its own way! But without the action of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life none of those things will be understood in the fullness of their realities. It is the Holy Spirit who brings all the things of God to life in the heart, mind and soul of the believer. 

    Jesus said to his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (John 16:12-15). The Holy Spirit doesn’t make up his own stuff. He takes the stuff that comes from the Father, through Jesus, and makes it known to us! It is the Spirit who gives us the understanding of God, Jesus and spiritual things. The Spirit is not an end in itself; He is the ultimate means to every end. 

    You don’t need the Holy Spirit to believe that Jesus lived, or that he was a great moral teacher. Anyone can come to that conclusion with a little common sense. But you cannot come to believe in Jesus as God incarnate, Messiah and Saviour, Lord and King, without the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them”. So how exactly does the Father do that? He does it by sending the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit, who makes known the things of God!  (If you still need convincing, check out 1 Corinthians 2:9-16.)

    Raniero Cantalamessa is the Vatican preacher who has served through three different popes. In the Alpha talks, he says that the Spirit does not add to, or take away anything from Jesus. What the Spirit does do, is make Jesus alive to us today. He goes on to say that, “whatever the Spirit touches, the Spirit changes.” 

    And that’s why the Holy Spirit is key to the Alpha Course. People need the touch of the Holy Spirit to come to faith! Over the course of the weekend, we encourage and help people to listen to the Holy Spirit, who has come alongside of them. Psalm 104:30 says, “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” The Holy Spirit is the midwife attending every new believer’s birth. But notice – it is also the Spirit who gives renewal! 

    So the Holy Spirit is for everyone, not just our Alpha guests. If you haven’t thought of the Holy Spirit recently, you should. If you’re feeling a bit parched spiritually – if your life in Jesus has become routine and humdrum – you need to be renewed by the Holy Spirit. And as we tell the folks attending Alpha, God gives the Holy Spirit to everyone who asks (Luke 11:13). If you want to experience a resurgence of life in Jesus, and all that comes with that – ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. And be sure to let us know how that turns out! 
     
    ThuThursdayFebFebruary2nd2017 Oxygen
    byRachel Kay Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    There’s a man who walks around the church neighbourhood with his new Boxer puppy.  This gentleman is older, and almost daily I see him brave the cold temperatures and the icy sidewalks to give this energetic little pup the exercise he needs.  I admire this determination and dedication alone - but the thing that has struck me about this man is that he walks with the leash in one hand, and pulling an oxygen tank in the other.  Clearly, he has some sort of medical need that means he needs to be on oxygen.  

    During our Spirit. Powered. Church. Acts series - we’ve been learning and thinking about what it is to be Spirit-born, and Spirit-led.  I will confess that this is “new-er” for me as a believer.  I’ve always loved God and have seen his leading, direction and provision in my life – he has been faithful to me beyond what I can express.  But lately, I’ve felt a desire to see Him more day-to-day and in real-time.  I find it easy to look back over my life and see his faithfulness, but much more difficult to sense where he is moment by moment.

    Just this week, God has used this man and his Oxygen tank to remind me what Spirit-led life looks like.  I listen to a Christian radio station in my car, and there’s a song that plays often right now called “Oxygen” by Lincoln Brewster.  Part of it goes like this:

    “You are life, every breath
    You're the heart beating in my chest
    I breathe out and breathe You in
    I need You more than oxygen
    Each step, I find that You are
    Speaking Your will to my heart
    Your love leading me all of the way
    You speak, I am an echo
    Your voice, I choose to follow
    Your love leading me all the way”

    This is how we’re called to live our life in The Spirit.  Just like this man wheels his oxygen tank along with him wherever he goes; we take the Spirit with us wherever we go - asking him to make us aware, to open our eyes, to direct our steps, to be our breath, to speak, to show us how to follow.  Our job is to manifest God’s presence into our world – to open our eyes, to pay attention. 

    Part of “paying attention” is acknowledging and calling it out when God does something – even just gently teaching us a lesson such as this.  I do not believe it is a “coincidence” or random happening that I pass & notice this man daily, and that I hear this song on the radio daily – I believe it is God revealing himself as I’ve been asking.

    I’m learning, we’re all learning, and I pray that this brings joy to God’s heart; and that he would respond to this desire by making his presence known to me - and to us.   

    MonMondayJanJanuary30th2017 Hard Truths
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Shirley and I got to spend a day with some of the younger adults in our congregation at their winter retreat this weekend. They’re a fun group, and they were eager to engage with the teaching. The theme of the weekend was “Real” and I was asked to speak on the topic of “church”. We went through the Scriptures and I showed them that church was not something that you joined or that existed to suit all of our personal preferences. I showed them that church was a special community that God actually calls each of us to be a part of, and that He even places us exactly where He wants us to be (1 Corinthians 12:18). Best pastoral practice after that is to “grow where you’re planted”. Then I asked them, since this is what God says, is there ever really a good excuse for changing churches?

    Some of them really wrestled with that. And I get that. Some of God’s truths are hard for us to hear, and even harder to submit ourselves to. They’ve always been hard truths!

    The day after I came back my devotional was from Matthew 19, where this idea of “hard truths” is underscored. There are two examples in the chapter – the first is when a group of Pharisees tried to test Jesus by asking him about divorce. Jesus told them that divorce was allowed under the Law because of the hardness of the human heart, but that from God’s perspective the only just ground for divorce was infidelity. When the disciples heard this they were shocked and replied, “If this is the case, it’s better not to marry!” (verse 10). They recognized that this was a hard truth. Jesus admitted as much when he said “Not everyone can accept this word.”

    The second example is when someone asked Jesus what they had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commandments. He replied that he did, so Jesus said, “Yeah, but if you want to be perfect sell everything you have, give to the poor and follow me.” The guy couldn’t do it and after he walked away Jesus said, “I’m telling you, it’s hard for the rich to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven – in fact, it’d be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” When the disciples heard this from Jesus they reacted with shock again – “Then who can be saved?” Jesus affirmed the difficulty of this truth but then added a key part they were missing: “Humanly this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

    So here’s the thing about hard truths – they are hard because they are humanly impossible for us to keep. We’re just not naturally wired that way. We’re shocked by them because we’re far too human! That’s why we need God. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit. Because with the Spirit, we are no longer mere humans (1 Corinthians 3:1-4) – we are more. We are Spirit-born, Spirit-led children of God. And with God’s Spirit all things are possible – even the hard things.

    Anytime we try to do the Christian life without depending upon God’s Spirit, we’re going to fall short. We’re not going to be able to do it. We won’t have the faith, or the compassion, or the courage. To do things God’s way takes us leaning into God and trusting Him. It requires us submitting to Him and following the lead of the Spirit in our lives.

    That’s the truth. And we would do well to come to terms with it.

    MonMondayJanJanuary23rd2017 Inspired Listening
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Most of us love to listen to good preaching. We love Jim Chen for example. He’s witty, funny, and engaging – yet he’s also deep thinking and steeped in the Spirit. It’s a great combination, and anytime Jim, or one of our other great speakers, takes the platform we know we’re in for something good.

    But what about when one of our “less than” speakers is up there? What if it’s one who is not one of our favourites? Do we still have an expectation that we’re going to hear something great that Sunday morning?

    We absolutely should. And if we come prepared, I guarantee we will. I know this because of what I read in 1 Corinthians 2. The Apostle Paul outlines what goes into inspired preaching and teaching. He talks about how he didn’t rely upon the wisdom of the world or natural powers of persuasion as means to get his message across. Instead, he relied upon the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal, teach and interpret what was to be said. He says this, “We speak these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual” (verse 13). Every inspired preacher takes the same approach.

    But Paul doesn’t leave it there. Trusting in inspired preaching isn’t enough. Paul goes on to say that even inspired preaching is lost on those who don’t have inspired hearing.  He says, “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (verse 14). So Paul is saying that it’s possible for someone to “hear” inspired preaching and still think there’s nothing to it. And if you read the whole chapter you’ll see that Paul is actually taking to “mature” Christians!

    In this Acts series we’re focusing on what it looked like for the early Church to be a Spirit-led community. When they gathered as a group, they gathered homothumadon – meaning that they were already inspired when they got together. They didn’t gather to catch the fire – they gathered because they had the fire.

    So if you’re a Christ follower, please hear this: Don’t come to church to be inspired. Don’t come to church hoping to be fired up by good preaching. Don’t come to church expecting the worship team to whip you into a spiritual good mood. Instead, come to church already fired-up. Come to church already tuned-in spiritually. Bring your fire. Come to church ready to participate in our shared shout-out to our Lord God. And I guarantee you’ll leave that morning even more filled by the Spirit and ready for mission than when you walked through the front door. 

    TueTuesdayJanJanuary3rd2017 El Roi
    byKevin Armstrong Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    El Roi – it’s one of the most encouraging names for God found in the Bible. It means, “the God who sees”. We find it in the story of Hagar, the Egyptian slave girl who belonged to Sarah, Abraham’s wife. It’s a compelling story in many ways (you can read it for yourself in Genesis 16). In this story, Sarai (her name hadn’t yet been changed to Sarah), Abram (same thing) and Hagar all behaved badly in one way or another – each contributing to make a royal mess of their relationships with one another. In the end it was all too much for Hagar to take. She was pregnant with Abram’s child and facing continual harassment from Sarai, Abram’s wife (talk about your soap opera). So she ran away.

    Like so many runaways, Hagar was in a desperate situation. She had no place to go and no way of looking after herself. She was in trouble. She slumped down near a well in the desert and waited. But God saw her and sent an angel to speak to her. The angel encouraged her to go back to Sarai and Abram and reassured her that God was watching out for her and her unborn child. That is when the real magic happened.

    Hagar had a “burning bush” moment with God. The God she had heard about in Abram and Sarai’s household suddenly became very real to her. She realized that it was this God who knew all about her and cared for her and her child. Moved by the grace and compassion she felt from God she coined a new name for Him – calling Him, El Roi, the God who sees me. And notice she made the name personal. He is not just the God who sees everything – He’s the God who sees everything including me! She was so struck by this personal experience with God that she even named the well after Him.

    The God who sees me … and you. If there is ever a time in your life when you wonder if God cares, think of Hagar and her name for God – El Roi. God sees you. He sees what you’re going through. He sees your struggles, hurts, frustrations, pains, and anxiety. You’re not just a number to Him. You’re not just one of many people He cares about. He sees you. He cares about you. He is with you.

    Remember, Jesus told his disciples that when he went away he wasn’t going to leave them orphans. He was going to send them another comforter (John 14:16-18). God is not far from any one of us. He is still the God who knows all our circumstances and cares for us. Oh that you and I may know intimately and for certain the God who sees us! He is still our El Roi. 

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