How To Be a Miserable Christian

Blinded by the lightIt might seem like a strange “how to” guide, but if you want to be a miserable Christian there is a simple formula: Go Half-Way

Jesus and all of his students have said many times that the Christian life is joy and peace and rest. It is full of suffering and difficulty, but because of the clear vision of what we will become and the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, following Christ is joy even in the worst suffering.  Jesus did not want to die on a cross. He did not enjoy the experience itself.  But he did it out of pure joy.  Joy over what would happen through his suffering.

But…Jesus and his students were able to find joy and peace in suffering because they went all the way.  They made it the great object of their lives to keep the truth strongly before their minds and to become constantly more like God, their Father.  They made a leap. They gave up their own lives, every day, in favor of the life of Christ.  The experience of being a Christian is quite different if we go halfway.

Consider some of the analogies the Bible uses.  Becoming a Christian is called a movement from darkness to light.  If you grew up in the dark it would be painful to come into the light.  After a while you would get used to the light and it would be infinitely better than living in the dark.  But what if you only came a little bit into the light and then retreated from the pain?  It would be painful over and over again. You would never reach the joy of being in the light.

The Bible calls becoming a Christian the creation of a new person in you. It says the new person being created is at war with your old self.  The new person is true life and peace. But what if you only go partway and then stop?  Part of you will love the light and part the dark. You will be literally at war with yourself. What will your life be like then?

Or again the Bible calls becoming a Christian a new birth. Babies are safe in the womb for a time, as long as they don’t stay too long. They are safe once they are fully born.  But can you be halfway born?  A baby halfway born will suffer and die quickly if the situation is not corrected.

It is just like this with the Christian life.  We must go all the way or we will never know the joy it brings. God will allow suffering to come into our lives. These ‘bad things’ are allowed to help make us into new people like Christ on the inside.  But if we do not see that strongly enough and why it is very much worth the cost, we will think God has abandoned us or hates us.

Lay down your self and push through to the joy of Christ.

Take My To Do List Upon You

To do listAt the end of Matthew 11 Jesus has been working so hard it is almost unbelievable. Teaching, healing and listening to people all day. Staying up many times all night in prayer. Often he didn’t even stop to eat. After months of this and hundreds of astonishing miracles he finds that the vast majority simply don’t believe his message.

You might think that Jesus would be discouraged. Is he about to break under the stress and obvious failure of all his hard work? Then at verse 25 he stops,  looks up to heaven and begins to praise God in sheer joy. How is this possible?

Next he gives us one of the most profound teachings in all of the Bible. He does it by using imagery from everyday life: oxen and yokes. The huge problem for us is that we no longer have any experience of these things. They remove us from Jesus’ point, exactly the opposite of what they did for his first students.

The ox and yoke were both symbols of work. This is because most people’s everyday work involved oxen and yokes. A yoke is just the thing you put on the ox’s shoulders so it can pull a plow or a cart.

What image represents everyday work for us now? My answer is: a To Do List. This is the symbol of the burdens and tasks we have before us each day. Almost everyone uses one at least some of the time.

So, here is a modern reworking of what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples all those years ago. When almost anyone would have been broken from overwork and apparent failure, Jesus stood up and worshiped, spontaneously full of joy. Then he said,

My Father has given me everything! He truly knows me and I know him. In fact, it is obvious I am the only one who actually knows Him. But my one desire is to teach you what He is like so you can know Him too.

Come to me all of you who are worn out with too much to do. I will set you at rest. Take my To Do List upon you. We will do it together and you will learn to work like me. I am gentle and humble in my heart and you will find rest down to the depths of your soul. Because my work is easy and my list is so light. “

Can this really be true? I am stunned by his words just reading them again. But yes. It is true.

Jesus has a list of stuff to do?  Yes.

How can adding His list to my already way-too-busy life possibly result in me finding rest?!

Because He will be right there next to you doing it all with you! Imagine going through a to do list with Jesus, literally working on the same things together, having Him show you how it is done. What could you accomplish if His kind of power were available?

This is what he is saying. This is the secret of His life. He didn’t go around doing hard stuff he hated because he knew he was supposed to. No. He actually knew God. He joined into the work God was doing and because of their deep working relationship together he was given everything, All Power. The most difficult work imaginable was then joy and rest to him.

His great desire is to teach you and me this secret, to train us to work with Him and share His power, joy and rest.

Lessons Learned From Christmas Visits with the Elderly

Elderly ManEvery year at Advent I visit some of the ‘shut-ins’ of our church.  That is, members who are now physically unable to attend.  I bring them poinsettias and do my best to listen.  Here are four lessons I learned from the experience this year.

1) Life Is Short

You hear this all the time, but it really sinks in when you hear it again and again from people closer to the end. Almost everyone I visited this year expressed it. Time seems to speed up as you get older. It continues to speed up in old age.

2)  Some People Are Given Time To Reflect At The End Of Life

Many people are given a space at the end of their life where they have nothing to do.  They are no longer working, cooking or cleaning.  Their spouse has passed away along with many friends and relatives. The structures that gave shape to their life are gone.

There are two reactions to this empty time. Some people do nothing, give great importance to things that are trivial and often become depressed or at least bored.  Others seek God and truth in the stillness. They pray, drink in information about God, listen, watch and serve in all kinds of creative ways. These people experience spiritual growth even as their bodies fade.

I met a man who entered into a real, vital relationship with God at the age of 84, after a lifetime attending church. When the busyness of life faded he found God waiting for him in the quiet.

3) No One Cares About Their Job Or Their Money At The End

I can imagine there are cases where people do care about these things at the end, but I didn’t find any.  The elderly still have physical needs of course and that can be expensive, but no one talked to me about money or plans to get more. No one talked about the stock market or investments.  Even more striking, no one told me about their former job. The thing they spent most of their time doing in their life was not even mentioned.

What do they care about?  Four things: God, Family, Trivial Details or Nothing. Some talk about nothing but God and Family, others only talk about the minute details of their schedule.

4) Every Life Is Both Worse And Better Than It Appears

Many of the people I visited opened up to me. Some feel the need to share things with a pastor they have never told anyone before.

Every life is worse than it appears. Beneath the surface are deep wounds, anger, disappointment, depression and struggle. And yet, if you listen long enough you can get beyond this. At the deepest level and everywhere you find a God who is constantly watching, leading, calling and restoring. Take a ‘normal’, decent life.  Look deep enough and you will find vast evil.  But do not stop there.  Look even deeper and you will find God Himself doing amazing things that mostly go unnoticed.

Staring at Your Hands – What We Can Learn from Babies this Christmas

Hand zeigt StopRecently while driving on a family trip I was telling my wife about my new habit of staring at my hands. She gave me a strange look and seemed a little embarrassed. But this new habit has had amazing benefits in my life.  Here is how it started and why I do it.

First, I have been reading the book ‘Kept For the Master’s Use’ by Frances Ridley Havergal.  Frances is the woman who wrote the hymn Take My Life and Let It Be. The book was written near the end of her life in 1895.  It goes through the different parts of a human being and imagines how these can be given entirely to God. It includes parts such as our will and mind, as well as our hands and feet. The book is not easy to read unless you are used to old churchy language, but it is well worth reading if you are up to the challenge.

In her chapter on hands Frances notes how amazing and miraculous our hands actually are. And it’s true!  We take so much for granted.  What would my life be like if I were often amazed, full of thanksgiving and joy over my hands? I am full of excitement over a new phone I get, but it is nothing compared to the fantastic miracle of the hands that hold it. So, I spent some time staring at and thinking deeply about my hands, trying to wake myself up to how great they are.

Second, I have been thinking deeply and reading about habits. I want to grow in Christ.  But how do I do it?  When I am full of thoughts of God and truth I have no problem doing many of the things Christ teaches.  When I forget and am distracted by other things then I fail and my life spirals down away from God. Habits must be a huge part of the solution to this problem. If what I automatically do leads my heart and mind toward God then it will be so much easier to imitate Him.

So, I thought, what habit could I build around my hands? They are always with meI decided that every time I washed my hands I would hold them up in front of me, flex them and stare at them like a little baby.   I spend about five or ten seconds doing this, remind myself how much I have been given and how well I am loved by God.  I do this EVERY time I wash my hands so that it has become automatic.

The results have been excellent. God is automatically in my mind more often and I am in a better mood every time I wash my hands. 

The one drawback is that my wife thinks I am weird. But as long as I don’t talk about it too much or tell the whole internet what I am doing I think she will be okay.

How to Worship With Little Kids

andrew and joy 2We have four boys, ages 11, 7, 2 and 3 months. Our two year old is loud. In church he dances all over the place and yells things during prayer. Even when he whispers you can hear it four pews away.  Yes, our church has pews. At our church the kids stay in the main service during worship.

So how do you worship when you have little kids?  Here are a few things God has shown me over the years.

Don’t Model Embarrassment

Your kids are going to become like you.  They learn from your actions more than your words. What do you want to model for them in worship?  Are you going to sit in the back because they are so loud and you are embarrassed?  What does that teach them? We need to hide our messiness from the church and from God?  Sit in the front.

What are the little things you do during church teaching your children?

Talk to Them in Worship

You have your mind focused on God.  You are thinking about all the amazing things He has done for you.  You can feel the Holy Spirit.  Does that mean you can’t talk to your kids?  No, it means you have to talk to them from the heart.

Lets suppose you are in worship and your kids start fighting.  Separate them.  Then use your prepared heart to try and draw them in.  I will take one of my fighting children, put an arm around them and talk to them about God.  I usually start by asking them if they understand the song, or what we are doing.  Or I ask about a symbol in the church. What does that dove mean son?  As soon as I find something they are interested in I answer their questions from a place of worship.

Discipline is Part of Worship

Kids need discipline.  Adults need discipline from God. We need it to make us better people. We need it to be happy. Why would this not be part of worship?

Christians claim to be a family of God.  We claim to be a community of deep love.  And in this family of love am I afraid to discipline my child the way I would at home?  Why?  I am not saying you should spank your toddler in front of the whole church. But I have heard the excuse many times that parents can’t make their kids listen in church because they can’t discipline them there.  I do it all the time.

Time out. Take away a toy. For older kids taking away a privilege later. All these are effective means that can be done right in your seat.  What if they still don’t listen.  Then you pull them out of the middle of the service and deal with it thoroughly. Last month I made our two year old take a nap in another room for half the service. He screamed bloody murder. Some people heard it. I missed part of the service, but the last few weeks have been much better.

Use Their Presence to Make Your Worship More Authentic

Our kids aren’t going to be perfect.  We often put up such a perfect image in worship.  We are clean and nicely dressed and happy and singing with our hands lifted up.  Our kids bring a dose of real life into worship. Use it.  Your kids are part of you and you of them. The things they do right or wrong are also in you. Take everything you are, kids included, and place it before God.

What Does Mike Frost Have to Say?

mike-frostMike Frost is a writer, speaker and generally cool guy you would want to have a beer with.  He talks about something called Missional Church.  If you are part of certain church circles you feel like everyone is talking about Missional Church and you either hate it or love it.  If you aren’t then you have no idea what it is. Mike was in Vancouver last week and so a bunch of pastors and church leaders got together to listen to him. Here’s what he said.

He gave a very clear definition of Mission Church.  he drew a diagram like this.


Pretty cool eh?  W = Worship  D = Discipleship  C = Community and M = Mission  The diagram represents the functions of a church.  If you do these things then you are a church.

Missional Church, according to Mike Frost, is a church in which all these functions are shaped and catalyzed by Mission.

This is different than most churches, where Mike says all these functions are shaped and catalyzed by Worship. What does he mean?

Imagine you go to a typical church every Sunday.  You feel part of the community. What is it that makes you part of the community?  It’s the fact that you show up for worship on Sunday morning.  If you stopped showing up people would think something was wrong and (hopefully) call you.  If you continued not showing up soon you would not be part of the community.  Simple. So community is shaped and catalyzed by Worship.

This is the same for discipleship and mission.  Discipleship is the process of bringing people closer to God and deepening their faith.  A typical church does this through the Sunday morning worship service.  People come, pray, sing and listen to a sermon.  The idea is that this will help them grow in faith.   Many churches have small groups and bible studies, but these are often secondary.  We put far more energy into Sunday morning.  If you had to quit bible study or Sunday morning which would you quit first?

And how do we do Mission?  We send money to foreign missionaries, run church programs and sometimes talk to our friends. We collect the money to send during our worship services.  The programs that we run and even talking to friends about Jesus are often intended to bring people into church on Sunday.  Imagine your Vacation Bible School or youth outreach program went exactly the way you would want it to. What would that look like?  People would become Christians and then they would come to church on Sunday morning.  If a friend is interested in Jesus we invite them to church. So mission is shaped by worship.

Mike suggests that instead of Worship, Mission should be the shaping and catalyzing force in the church.  Mission should be the goal that everything else is structured around.

Can you see what a dramatic change Mike and all these Missional Church guys are really pushing for.  A church where the members no longer see attending Sunday morning worship as the center? To make this kind of change would feel like your church, as an organization, was dying and starting all over.  How many churches will realistically be able to do this?  Is it even right?

by Isaac Whiting

If you have heard anything about the Missional Church, or even if you just go to church please comment and tell me what you think.

Sermon Review: How Jesus Brings Your Job Back To Life – Ryan Cochran

This is a review of a sermon by Pastor Ryan Cochran preached last Sunday, April 15th, 2013. Vancouver BC.
I haven’t ever reviewed a sermon like this, especially one at my own church. This one struck me as especially important.

Main Point:  Your Job is meaningless, but the resurrection of Jesus gives it meaning.

Flow of the Sermon: 
  • Ecclesiastes says everything is meaningless, including work. That’s right. When we try to build our identity or put our hope in our jobs we will always be disappointed. If our purpose is just our work then life is meaningless.
  • Our jobs are ONLY good if they are for the purpose of following, loving and worshiping God.
  • We should do four things
    • DIE to the idea that our jobs can be who we are and what we live for.
    • BE OPEN TO GOD at work by viewing our jobs as a gift from Him and praying for our work.
    • HAVE JOY in our work because it is for God.
    • SEE IT AS MISSION.  The work itself is part of God’s work. There is no separation between church and God and the rest of life.  It is all one.
Good Stuff:
The ways we worship God in church are just an image of the ways we should be worshiping him in everyday life.  In communion we eat and give thanks. We give our money. We pray for people. We study the Bible.  We are supposed to be doing these daily in our lives. Church is training for worship in the rest of life.

Conclusion:  You should believe that God has given you your job and sent you to that place.  This faith will bring your job back to life.

What Will I DO in Response?
  • think about this sermon again by editing my notes on it (which you are now reading)
  • Remember the image of Sunday worship service as training for everyday life.  Try to implement all the ways we worship on Sunday into my life outside Sunday morning.
by Isaac Whiting
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Church Experiments: The Awakening Part 1

 alarm clock

The following are my reflections on a specific attempt in 2008-9 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Vancouver BC  to generate true Christian community through a one month experience of seeking God together called ‘Awakening‘.

Youth Ministry Before

I started at Ebenezer in June 2005. The youth ministry was a Wednesday night meeting, Sunday morning bible studies with virtually no attendance, and a once a year vacation bible school for teenagers in the summer.  Anyone who wanted to could come to these events. In this sense they were exactly like our Sunday morning church services. Whoever walked in was the meeting for that night. A particular group of teenagers would come for a while. Then new people would show up, and old people leave and the group would change. Over the course of three years this happened several times.

This ministry as I did it was also based on my performance. Because there were always new people and those who were attending would only be there for a short time there were discipline problems and virtually no interest in the real purpose of the group, the mission of Jesus. My response was to consistently present ‘powerful’ messages that shocked and held the attention of the group. Sometimes this had a positive effect. Several youth became more serious about their faith and a few ‘decided’ to follow Christ for the first time. I also spent a considerable amount of time one-on-one with several young men in the group.

Man this is Terrible!

In the fall of 2008 my frustration with this kind of ministry peaked. It was hard to face discipline problems and lack of interest every week. What kept me going was the hope that the message would get through to some. However, I began to realize that even those who wanted to go deeper with God had no opportunity to do so. One-on-one ministry seemed to me the only really fruitful thing I was doing. I did not, however, see any way to change the Wednesday night meetings.

Our Children’s Pastor Chris Hensel began to push me about the way Wednesday nights were and to consider changes. He asked me what youth ministry would look like if I could make it any way I wanted. Conversations I had with him and our Senior Pastor Ryan Cochran resulted in the following idea.


The youth group should be a committed community seeking God. It should not be open to just anyone at any time. The youth group was disbanded and reformed. Membership required completing a one month experience called Awakening. During this month participants would be required to call each other every day, complete set scripture readings every day, pray at set times twice per day, meet together twice per week to prepare, eat meals, read scripture and pray, complete a two week media fast, go on a one day spiritual retreat together, follow a common menu for all meals for one week and be baptized.

These practices were designed to mimic living together under common spiritual discipline without being physically present with each other more than twice per week. We tried this idea first with church staff families in preparation for use with the youth group.

To Be Continued…

Christians – Stop Using Words that No One Else Knows!

can't hear you smallMy Beloved Brethren dwelling in fellowship through the righteousness and loving-kindness of our glorious and only begotten Lord, I declare to you this day the dire need for our confession and repentance from the sins of the tongue. For the sake of our evangelical outreach, witness and testimony, that we might see salvation, redemption and assurance of new birth in the holy spirit come to unreached sinners we must turn away from speaking in foreign tongues without an interpretation.

Translation: Christians – STOP USING WORDS NO ONE ELSE KNOWS!

Seriously, just stop it right now.

Imagine that you were not part of our weird church culture  The words we use on Sunday or in a prayer meeting would make no sense to you. It would be a foreign language. 

Here’s why you should stop using special christian words.

1)  Special Christian words block the way to God

Jesus was constantly angry at the priests because they were keeping people from coming close to God. They required people to eat certain food, dress a certain way and use certain words to worship God.  This made regular people think they could never be close to God. We are doing the same thing!

2) There is nothing special about this language, we are just used to it

Some might object that many of these words are necessary because they have special christian meaning. Wrong. When properly understood many of these words do have a specific meaning that is hard to match exactly in other language, but that doesn’t matter.   

The earliest followers of Jesus knew concepts about God that were easier to express exactly in Hebrew or Aramaic, their native language and the language Jesus spoke with them.   Greek didn’t have the right words.  But they didn’t hesitate to translate the message immediately into simple, everyday Greek. The Greeks would never understand the message in the old language.  New words had to be used.

3) It Messes Up the Way WE Think About God

Using these words creates a division in our brains between what we do for God or at church and our ‘regular’ life.   It makes church and God stuff feel different than the rest of our life. The bible recognizes no such division. When we pray with a bunch of fancy words our prayers easily lose the deep and personal connection that is supposed to be there between us and God.

Often we don’t even understand what we are saying. Take your pick of special christian words we use all the time and ask around at your church to see how many people can tell you what it means. The answer is very few.  I am talking about words we use literally every time we meet like majesty, gospel, holy and hallelujah. I estimate that over half the regular members at our church cannot explain what these words mean. If that is true then what the heck are they doing in worship, prayer or when the bible is being read?!  Not much. They are left out. Only the core, born and bred, older, native English speakers are able to really understand these words. The core worships while the rest sit on the sidelines.

by Isaac Whiting

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