Partnering with the Holy Spirit

I have not written a blog for a very long time. This is sad because it is a sign that I have not had much opportunity to reflect and think. However this week I have the opportunity to share something that has been ruminating inside my heart and mind. In ministry it is important to go to mentors and ministry leaders for advice because they know things a young person in ministry may not know. A couple of weeks ago I decided to talk to a mentor of mine about how to develop a team of leaders and a ministry that continues to be fruitful. One of the phrases he kept using was “partnering with the Holy Spirit.” He encouraged me to partner with the Holy Spirit in the work he is already doing instead of trying to create my own success and going in my own direction. He encouraged me to ask all the leaders in the ministry of Bethel Youth to partner with the Holy Spirit.

After that conversation I was left reflecting on what it meant to partner with the Holy Spirit and my first instinct was to react and say that the idea was quite lofty! Partnering for me had connotation of equality. However partnering has nothing to do with equality.

The Bible is littered with people who partnered with the Holy Spirit and his work! Look at Acts 16 when the Bible directs Paul to go to Macedonia instead of Asia because the Holy Spirit wanted to do something through Paul and his team in Macedonia. Or when Peter in Acts 10 hears from the Lord and is told to go to Cornelius’s house (a Roman Centurion) to share the gospel with someone no one knew was allowed into the covenant of God yet! These disciples, at that time, thought they knew what God wanted. Peter thought the gospel was only for Israel and the Holy Spirit revealed it was for Gentiles (people who are not Israelites) as well. Paul thought he was supposed to go into Asia with the Gospel but was told instead to go to Macedonia and the ministry yielded great fruit both times!

There are many more examples of stories like this in the Bible but the point remains that the same Holy Spirit who directed Paul and Peter desires to use the Church to share the Gospel and to spread the good news today. The Holy Spirit wants us to Partner with him not because he needs us but because he desires to give us purpose and use us. That is why he gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit and empowers us to share the gospel. This concept is evident all over scripture and it explains why the church exists today. The next natural question is: How do we partner with the Holy Spirit?

When we look at partnering in any other context we see that an effective partnership requires the same goals, ambitions, direction and values. A good partnership also requires excellent communication.

I would like to share a quote with you from Richard Foster on prayer from his book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. He writes:

” In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills. Progressively we are taught to see things from his point of view.” (33-34)

I believe the most crucial thing a Christian can do if he or she desires to partner with the Holy Spirit in his work on earth is to pray. Why? Because prayer reveals the heart of God. It helps us to see what He desires. It is not an instrument we use to manipulate God. Prayer provides the opportunity for God  to reveal himself to us and allows him to work on our hearts so that we desire the things he desires.

I believe that if the church truly wants to see people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that if the church wants to be effective in the Lord’s work in our various contexts, we need to pray so that we can be receptive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Without a partnership with the Holy Spirit the church will be ineffective and motivated by fear. It is not flashy Sunday morning services or an excellent sermon or praise  that is a catalyst for change and growth in the Church; it is the work of the Holy Spirit. And we as the church are called to Partner with him through the means of prayer.

We need to Pray to get to know God.

We need to Pray to be directed by God.

We need to Pray for the sake of the lost.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

It’s been a long time since I have written a blog. Lately something that has been ruminating inside my mind and heart is the extent to which the Holy Spirit functions and should function in the modern church. This topic has come up in a number of my conversations, classes and ministry.

First, in our young adults Bible study at church we have been going through the Gospel of John. We discussed chapters 13-15 over the last number of weeks and in these chapters Jesus encourages and comforts his disciples before he goes to the cross for our sins. He encourages them with the promise of the Holy Spirit. He talks about how he must go so that the Holy Spirit can come and be an advocate for us, a guide, a counselor, and a source of strength and empowerment. At the end of our discussion on John chapter 15 we resolved to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily Christian walk.

In youth group we discussed the different ways we can pray. We discovered that in Prayer the Spirit works on our hearts and minds to bring our wills in line with the will of God the father.

Finally in my course on Peter’s Epistles at McMaster Divinity college we discussed the role of the Holy Spirit. The last class our professor brought in a another professor from MAC and this professor discussed how Peter’s Epistles can be applied in our current context. At some point in his lecture Dr. Beech asked: “what is the biggest stumbling block with regards to knowing how to live as Christians in our world?” The answer: Contextualization (that is the process of assigning meaning as a means of interpreting the environment within which a text or action is executed). Dr. Beech argued that many factors play into why this is a problem. He suggests there are many different emphases that need to be considered in order to understand how to live life as Christians in our current context. The major ones he mentions are:

  • Spirit, Tradition, Experience, Community, Culture, Reason, Scripture

The problem is that many Christians have a hard time knowing which factors to emphasize over others. Many churches emphasize sola scriptura which means scripture alone. The problem with this is that we are so far removed from the original culture of the Bible that we have difficulty interpreting it. Other churches rely on tradition. An example would be Catholicism. The problem with this approach is that the root of tradition is based on what the church has done in the past in a different context and we aren’t always aware how much our sin plays into our church’s history. Other churches live by experience. The problem with this approach is that everyone’s experience is different and if bad experiences occur; their faith will be tested because their faith is circumstantial. If a church relies too heavily on community they can lose focus of Jesus and develop ideas or traditions that appeal to their community instead of God… often cults form as a result. Churches who focus on reason limit what God can do through means that can’t be explained.

This professor suggested that the early church relied on the Holy Spirit to determine what to do about Old Testament laws, and who could and couldn’t be saved. It relied on the Spirit to give them words in the face of opposition and trial. Now; I would caution that God would never goes against what he has limited himself to in his word.  However the Holy Spirit is God so it makes sense that he would guide his church.

So my question is: Do we as Christians rely on the Holy Spirit as much as we should when approaching christian life in our 21st century context? The truth about scripture is that it spoke to a different context. the New Testament was written to a first century audience. We are over 20 centuries departed from that time. How do we get guidance for how to approach the internet, technology, or transportation? How do we learn how to reach people who live in the 21st century context?

I would argue that we need to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit. It requires patience and practice to discern his voice. It also requires that we familiarize ourselves with the other tools previously mentioned because the Spirit can speak through them. However the voice of the Holy Spirit is the most important voice to listen to and we as Christians should learn to hear his voice in our heads by spending time with God in prayer and his word(the Bible). Why prayer and his word ? because the Holy Spirit was involved in the writing of Scripture and He never goes against what he has said in his word because he never changes. His voice will never contradict scripture. Why prayer? Prayer is when The Holy Spirit aligns our motives and pursuits with his will-the will of the Trinity-who is God.

Have you discerned His voice? Have you followed it?

Operating out of Fear

The last number of weeks in my life and ministry have been very exciting and fun-filled so I have not been able to write as much as I would like. However, this topic has been weighing on my heart lately especially in light of the recent terrorist attacks our world has been subject to.

Many of you may have just let out a deep breath of frustration at the thought of another blogger, pastor, friend and average social media user ranting about terrorism and what happened in France with the ISIS attacks; and I hear you. I’m sick of all the different opinions and rantings that are filling up social media sites but I think the issue of fear is deeper then just this specific issue.

In the very small amount of time that I have been in full-time paid ministry I have noticed a trend. It permeates many different christian ministries, programs, activities and the everyday lives of people. It is the trend of people to operate out of fear.

I am not talking about fear in the healthy way such as the fear of the Lord; I am talking about the fear that limits our potential as God’s Children.

So often we make decisions as Christians out of a spirit of fear. As a church we are scared to do certain things for fear of losing people, or declining involvement in programs, or the fear of causing division. This fear so cripples that it can cause us to stagnate with regards to growth. We are afraid to take risks and as a result we stay stuck in the same place because we think that if we keep things the way they are we won’t ruffle any feathers. As a result of this lack of direction we don’t grow the church.

We approach our relationships with people within the church this way. We are scared to be vulnerable in our relationships with fellow believers because we don’t want people to know too much. However when we make a decision to put up walls we limit our friends’ ability to speak the word of God into the deepest parts of our hearts.

Sometimes we are scared to worship God freely without fear because we are afraid of looking too spiritual or looking weird to our friends. Also we are afraid to share the joy of the Lord with someone because we don’t want to come across bigoted or close minded. Or maybe we are afraid people won’t receive our message and we will be rejected or labeled extreme. Because we operate out of fear we may never teach our children or those around us that we have to worship God with everything we have. Or we because we are scared to share the gospel a person who may have needed the encouragement or a message of salvation may never have received it.

We approach God this way! We are scared to seek His heart and give up our entire being to Him. Why? Because sometimes we are comfortable with our lives and we are scared that He might tell us to deal with a sin we don’t want to deal with or maybe He will call us to a life we don’t find comfortable. Maybe He will send us across the world or command us to stop a sin we may enjoy. Because we don’t give God our all we limit the purpose, joy and meaning He can provide for our lives.

ISIS is another example of how fear limits our ability to be God’s hands and feet. Unfortunately many of the places in the world that need the love of Jesus are surrounded with instability and the potential for bad things to happen. The problem is that when we choose to sin there are natural consequences. When ISIS chose to murder and cause pain the people of Syria didn’t feel safe and as a result we have instability and refugees. Unfortunately the rest of the world started to react and live in fear as well. Now we have numerous western countries wrestling with whether or not to allow refugees into our countries. We fear that terrorists will be hidden among the refugees. We fear that the influx of people of Muslim faith will change our countries religious landscape. Because of this fear we may lose the opportunity to show Jesus’ love to a group of people who don’t know Jesus. We may miss the opportunity to minister to the broken and confused people of our world. We focus on the negative but who knows the positive impact we could have on these refugees!?

The Truth is Jesus took risks. His disciples took risks. We are called to take risks. Sharing the Love of Jesus is not easy. Jesus risked his reputation and livelihood by hanging out with “sinners.” He eventually lost his life revealing the love of the God the Father. He was resurrected sure; but pne day we will be as well! Losing our earthly life is not the end! To quote Gandalf in Return of the King when Pippin asks about what the end will be like; he says: end? This is not the end. Death is merely the beginning.

Paul gives some words of encouragement to Timothy.

” for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV)

As Christians we need to take this verse seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

Hypocrisy

This may be a slightly controversial claim but as Youth Pastor I am a hypocrite. In an ideal and perfect world Youth Pastors shouldn’t be hypocrites but we all are. One of our mandates as Pastors is to call our congregation to a relationship with Jesus and a lifestyle that reveals a life changed by Him.

Every week at youth group I am encouraging my students to Love Jesus with everything they are and have. I believe its through a relationship with God that students can find their true identity and purpose in this life. I tell them things like be vigilant, keep focused on God, don’t get distracted by the allure and attractiveness of what the world around them glorifies but focus on Jesus. Don’t get sucked into sin because it will ensnare you, and spend time getting to know Jesus through prayer and the Bible His Word.

As much as I encourage my students to focus on God and to live lives emulating His Son Jesus Christ. I struggle.

Yesterday I talked with  our students about how technology is a means for humanists to display their lack of need for God; it’s an issue of human pride. I also talked about how technology is an object of Idolatry. I talked about how we spend so much time either playing video games, watching Netflix, spending time on social media, or playing with the next gadget that we tend to neglect our relationship with God. I talked about how we as humans spend our free time is an indicator of what we value most in life.

I shared with them a conversation I had with a close friend from Bible college. His name is Matthew Houle and he is a youth Pastor at a small Baptist church in the Ottawa Valley. I asked him how much time I should be spending watching Netflix or enjoying media for entertainment. He said something along the lines of: “However much time you spend on entertainment you should be spending more time with God” That means that if I spend an hour watching Netflix I should spend at least an hour with God. If I spend 6 hours bingeing a show on Netflix I should be spending at least 6 hours with God. WOW!

I bet when you first read that you were like wow! Is he crazy!? Who has time for that? But think about it! Why is our tendency in our free  time to vegetate and watch T.V. and play video-games instead of finding rest in God? Imagine the implications!!! Imagine a church/generation of Christians so in tune with their God and Father that they know His heart! So in tune with God that they can basically discern His will in every situation! Imagine a generation of Christians that knows their Bible so well that they are ready in every circumstance to give a reason for their faith!

I want to be clear: anything we do in life can be an act of worship to God but i want to challenge us to evaluate how we spend our free time. Matt’s claim may a little strong but it challenges us to spend time with our creator and I think that is important .

Also much as I desire this ability to spend my time more wisely I must confess as a mentioned before; I am a hypocrite. I have this tendency after a long hard day at work to flop on my couch and play a cool game of Stronghold Crusader or watch funny YouTube videos. I also believe as a leader I need to model the way. So how can I motivate students to grow their relationship with God when it’s so difficult for me? I don’t know… I need God and I need to continue to strive towards the goal as we all do.

Seek and You Shall Find!

Sometimes during youth group I have these moments where I think to myself; ” man its so cool how God can teach me even though I am a leader.” The last couple of weeks in youth group, as per our theme, we have been studying perspective. As I have reflected on this theme over the past couple of months I have come to realize that humans are very easy to manipulate or indoctrinate. Typically our world assumes that it is the church or religion that indoctrinates. However as I scroll through facebook, twitter, and yes more recently, instagram, I realize that the secular gospel is a powerful one. Every cliche picture or statement is wrapped up in a shell of self-promotion and vague spirituality. Any post that promotes free will, a pursuit of pleasure or selfishness is glorified. Anything that involves a denial of self or an allegiance to God is trashed as outdated even though our society promotes the idea of  acceptance and openness. The elections are a another prime example. If I dare put any of my political opinions online numerous people will brow-beat me with a barrage of statements to destroy my political views if they aren’t what the crowd believes or values. In a world that promotes autonomy and self-actualization I find it extremely interesting how close-minded and bigoted many can be towards a different opinion or position.

OK that may have been a bit of a rant.

Back to our youth group theme. I want to say that what I have learned is that perspective is really important. We all see life through a lens and sometimes we forget that. We all approach live with different presuppositions.  I think it is important to really make an effort to focus our perspective and sharpen it. I firmly believe that if we as humans seek the truth wholeheartedly we will find it. I believe that if you truly seek truth you will find it in Jesus because He is truth. So many people in this world seek to find wholeness and fulfillment in themselves and feel empty. I want you to know that Christ is where we find wholeness and truth. Test the concept…try to find truth and I believe you will find it in Jesus. I think we have to start with renewing our focus or perspective.

Busyness and this Crazy Desire for More!

Today I want to write a brief article on Busyness. I came across a video that I think churches across North America need to watch. Here is the Link:

http://www.vergenetwork.org/2015/09/22/the-biggest-challenge-facing-the-church-today/?mc_cid=7cfbde2acf&mc_eid=082f44fb1b

This video suggests that busyness is robbing life from the church and our faith. We tend to prioritize everything else, including work, and then we try to squeeze our faith and church in when it fits. Even as a youth pastor I can get so preoccupied with my work that I forget to spend time in the presence of the Lord. Last week was a prime example; I had a crazy busy week (as most youth pastors do this time of year) and I made the mistake of squeezing God in when I could. I made it worse by thinking the way for me to rest after a busy week was to vegetate on my couch on my day off. What I should have been doing is coming into His presence and finding rest in Him. Part of this busyness we see is motivated by a desire for more; more fun and more happiness. Unfortunately we look to the wrong things for these feelings. We think that if we work more we can buy more stuff and be happy because we have nice things. We think that if we get better at a sport or hobby that we will have greater self-esteem or be more liked by those around us. We think that we can find rest behind a T.V. or playing a video game. It makes mes sick how twisted our priorities are. We have succumbed to so many other gods. Luckily for us God is gracious and continually invites us into His presence with open arms. He is the only place we can find rest and fulfillment.

“Those People”

It’s been a while since I have written a blog. I just haven’t had ideas or thoughts that have given me a huge desire to rant in blog form. Today’s rant or thought is a result of something that has been stirring inside of me for the past little while. I have been thinking about the problem of what I would call “brokenness.” I have noticed in our society we label people and put them into categories of how successful they are. We rate them on things like their appearance, their social status, their employment, and their achievements. Not only do we rate people this way but, in North America, it seems we expect people to meet certain expectations and standards. We judge people who are social outcasts, impoverished, uneducated, or undomesticated.

Sometimes I worry that the church (for the most part) is no different. I say this because I am pretty sure that if someone who swore a lot, or dressed funny, or smelled funny or had what we defined to be a sinful lifestyle came to our church we would be shocked or at least uncomfortable. I can just imagine the reaction of most church attendees if someone, while speaking or sharing a testimony in church, swore and used the f-bomb. There would most definitely be an awkward silence or at least a gasp.

In Mark 2:17 when Jesus was asked why he hung out with what his society would deem social outcasts, he responds by saying:”It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” If Jesus said that why do we expect so much from people? Why do we get so uncomfortable around “sinners?” Why aren’t we sacrificing our comfort and our social status or appearance to serve and be a companion to the downtrodden or social outcast? Why do we get so shocked when someone swears or talks about their drug addiction or sinful habits? Aren’t we supposed to be Jesus’ hands and feet? Don’t people understand following Jesus and loving people like he did takes sacrifice?

The Irony of all this is that sometimes I feel as though we in the church are more like the Pharisees and Sadducees (the high class people in Jesus’ day who asked why he hung out with such an odd bunch) then anyone else. The spiritual leaders of Jesus’ day said and did all the right things. They were respected by the community but in Matthew 23:27-28 Jesus says this to them:  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Jesus’ warning to them is way more stern than to those His culture would define as sinners! Why!? they thought they had it all together! They thought they didn’t need a doctor!

We cannot deny that we in the church struggle with sins too. The Ashley Madison leak is a prime example. Relevant posted an article that said 400 church leaders and pastors would have to resign as a result of being linked to this site that promotes affairs. (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/slices/expert-400-church-leaders-will-resign-sunday-because-names-surfaced-ashley-madison-hack) Many of these people are leaders we thought had it all together.

The truth is we all sin; our sins may not be as visible and may not look as obvious or painful but we are still sick and in need of a doctor. Luckily Jesus is the great physician. He made a way for us to be healed of our sins through the death of His son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. We have experienced abundant Grace so let us be quick to share that grace with everyone even if our culture deems them as outcasts or different.