Prayer Calendar: Neighbour-Nudging Prayer

Dave is the EFCC's Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst

It was neither an innocent nor a sincere question, but self-serving, self-justifying. Jesus had answered his first question, which sought the path to eternal life, with “Love God and your neighbour.” Then the law expert blurted out this second question, “Who is my neighbour?” Not a bad question, really.

Jesus responds in Luke 10 by telling a story. We call it the parable of the Good Samaritan. Neighbours are people who are in need of our compassion and God’s mercy, but the parable shifts the focus from identifying neighbours to being neighbours.

It is one thing to identify who our neighbours are. It’s quite another thing to be a neighbour to them.

If we are going to become more and more a gospel-sharing people, we need to be more intentionally in the lives of our neighbours. I’ve been on a “neighbour-nudging” journey for over a year now. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I’ve learned to intentionally ask God to identify my neighbours to me. That has been an unpredictable journey! I have neighbours now in Boston, Moose Jaw and Kelowna. They are family, but I have started seeing them as neighbours in need. Surprisingly, through unexpected circumstances, I now have neighbours in Turkey, Australia and Toronto. We interact through email and Face Book. And I have neighbours here in my home town of Lethbridge, people that I see regularly moving in and out of their lives.

Not everyone in my life is a neighbour, but these are the ones God has singled out by laying them on my heart with a burden to see them become followers of Jesus Christ and continue deeper into that journey.

I’ve learned to intentionally ask God to show me how to be a neighbor to them. First and foremost, God has taught me to pray for them. This is neighbour-nudging prayer. I ask God to bless them, to reveal himself to them, to be active in their lives in such a way that they recognize him. I nudge them towards Jesus. Prayer paves the way for the gospel. By the way, they know I pray for them.

Next I look for ways to love them. I live the gospel before them. Here at home my wife and I run errands for the couple who are confined to their house. Last week we had a “neighbour” couple over for dinner and a chat. We find ways to be present in their lives.

Then, I look for ways to speak the gospel. Sometimes that is long in coming and other times it’s there before I know it. A couple of weeks ago I sent an email to one of my distant “neighbors” answering some questions about faith and telling the story of Jesus.

The Pulse: The Language of Insiders

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It’s natural for insider language to develop around, well, pretty much anything.

My cousin has diabetes. He has since he was a child. He hasn’t let it hold him back. He’s been a world-class athlete, he’s building a tribe of healthy, active people also living with the disease. And he’s doing some things that are on the frontlines of science in the field of diabetes research and development.

I’ve seen him in his tribe. And it’s fascinating how mid-sentence, he can suddenly stop talking English. I mean, I recognise some of the words, like “insulin” and “testing”. But it’s really its own dialect; a mish-mash of slang, technical terminology and brand names. It’s clear that they understand what they’re talking about.

But I sure don’t.

When you’re in a tribe, specific language is abundantly useful. It helps convey with clarity and precision the unique realities which exist in it. It also bonds the people who are in it.

The problem is that it keeps outsiders outside.

Most of the time, this doesn’t matter too much. Sticking with the diabetes-tribe example, there aren’t too many times when people peripheral to the tribe need to understand the tribe’s code. The conversation is really only relevant to the people within it.

Church is different.

I’ve been a part of conversations that all of a sudden I felt excluded because I hadn’t read a certain book, or multiple books in a particular field. People who are well-read, or who have shared interests and levels of education can resort to what I call “book-title code”.

In my experience, time spent in a conversation like that is just wasted.

Hey, I get it: it’s fun for the people who are in it. They’re bonding, and they’re going deeper with the ideas and paradigms than they would on their own. The trouble is that we believe at its core that the kind of stuff being talked about in a holy huddle is, or should be, directly relevant to all people, including those who are outside of it. If we get stuck in the gear of jargon and theological terms, then it’s hard to be relatable to people who aren’t conversant at that level. If we aren’t able to express our thoughts clearly, perhaps they’re not clear to us.

If we’re not being responsible with our language, people don’t feel invited.

I think this is one of the gut-level issues that Jesus was addressing when he said that we need to be like children if we’re to enter the Kingdom. Ultimately, he was talking about making faith accessible. Jesus’ message is all about invitation — the biggest, deepest, richest invitation we can imagine. If invitation is the common thread to all of Jesus’ teaching, then preventing anyone from experiencing and knowing that they’re invited is antithetical. An unintentional barrier is often created in the way we use language.

As I started out saying, it is natural. Which means it takes intentionality to counter it.

Using children as our lens doesn’t mean that we “dumb things down”. Because for one thing — and I know this firsthand — kids are smart! Even though their vocabularies aren’t as developed, they can apprehend and understand more than we often give them credit for…a lot more! Ahem.

What it does mean is we need to make sure that we’re giving relatable on-ramps for understanding. We need to check in with people to understand how they’re understanding.

When we do that, we start to get this concept of invitation right. Our communication comes from a place of humility, putting other people’s interpretations ahead of our own intended meanings.

And when that happens, we might just find ourselves learning in the very places we’re trying to teach.

The Pulse: What Fills Your Heart?

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This past week I ran across the phrase, “What fills your heart will lead your life”. The principle stated here is not new or revolutionary by any stretch, but it is worth thinking about.

The implications for followers of Jesus are staggering.

As part of our EFCC theme, Revitalize: Becoming a Gospel Sharing People, I conducted a survey with EFCC churches to see how our gospel sharing endeavors are going. I talked with pastors and a few board chairs from 120 of our churches. There is a general feeling that we have some room to grow in sharing the gospel. One question asked was, “on a scale of 1-10 (low to high) how passionate do you feel your church is to share the gospel?” The answer across the EFCC – 5.6. That answer was often qualified by statements about how there is a passion to share the gospel that does not necessarily translate into intention or action.

When I asked pastors about the obstacles they see people in their churches struggling with, as they try to share the gospel; the top responses fell into these five categories:

  • fear
  • too busy
  • a lack of spiritual passion
  • a lack of relationship with non-Christians
  • a lack of personal experience with, or understanding of, the gospel

As I have mulled over these results, I wonder if what we really have is a “heart” problem. John tells us that “love drives out fear” (I Jh 4:18). Paul seems to indicate that love is the starting point as well. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts…Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives…and whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Col. 3:14-17).

Are we struggling with sharing the gospel because deep down there are other things that compete for the attention of our hearts? Is that the primary reason we feel we are too busy and lack passion? Have our hearts truly been captured by a ravishing vision of the love of Christ and his good news, which is filling every corner of our lives?

Maybe what fills our hearts will actually lead our lives.

These are challenging thoughts for me. As the EFCC National Mission Director, I’m supposed to be encouraging evangelistic efforts, church planting, and mission in Canada. Yet there are days when I have to step back and ask myself “what is filling my heart?” And if it isn’t Christ and his good news, how am I supposed to encourage others along the same path? If we desire to be a gospel sharing people, I believe we first have to be a gospel saturated people.

Let’s pray together toward that goal.

Enchant’s 100th Birthday!

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(Photo by Cory Skretting, used with permission.)

100 Years of the EFCC

Well, as I write this, Canada is getting ready to celebrate its 150th birthday. We will highlight all the things that make Canada unique and a great place to live. We may even think back over our history and reflect on how that has shaped our understanding of Canadian values – but I wouldn’t count on it. Far too often our reading of history takes today’s events, beliefs, realities and values and reads them back into our history – making it say what we want it to say.

I trust I am not about to do that with my reflection on this past weekend’s celebrations in Enchant, Alberta (look it up on a map folks!); the longest serving church in the EFCC.

First of all, kudos to those who did all the work planning the event! It was fun and the reflection on the faithfulness of God and His people was inspiring. This was a huge undertaking for a small church. But this shouldn’t surprise any of us. The list of Christian leaders who have been trained and mentored in the Enchant church is impressive!

As we were served a wonderful meal by our Alberta friends on Saturday night, I was so taken by the list of those God has called into full time ministry from this tiny town! These folks were pioneers who planted churches, became missionaries and sacrificed for the gospel and their Lord. Their lives are convicting – they really did believe that the gospel was the power of God for salvation!

My second impression from the celebration is how powerful the faithful service of those called to lay ministry has been in this church and throughout the EFCC across generations. The Enchant story reminds us that everyone has a calling to follow Jesus! The heroes of the Enchant story are lay and clergy alike! Sam Odlund becomes a believer – he attends the Free Church Bible College in the US – comes home and returns to his calling as a large farmer in the area. Pretty unimpressive, right? Wrong! He and his wife serve the church and the people in the area lovingly, share their home, and lead many to Christ – Carl Fosmark among them! Carl Fosmark and his younger brother Lee eventually become pastors in the fledgling Free Church movement in Canada. Carl later returns from Oregon to pastor in Enchant and is a key leader of the EFC in Canada! Lee the big gentle encourager, plants churches all across the Canadian prairies. Yet neither one of them is used of God unless the Odlunds follow Jesus in a life of hospitality and Christ witness – in farming!

Lastly, I was struck by how the Free Church began in Canada. All of this happened because a preacher from the US came to Canada and preached revival – repentance and commitment to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We in the EFCC are currently focused on “Revitalize: becoming a gospel sharing people”. We want to return to that pioneering spirit where we obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit and share our lives and our hope with others. Yet I am reminded that it all begins with personal revival.

I must first have a white hot faith in Jesus, the Messiah, King and Lord of all creation – and my life. I must really believe that he is the Hope of the nations. And I must live as part of His family in such a way that others will ask me to give an account of the “hope that is in me”.

This church has been a community of saints (not perfect, I am sure), but to see the love they had for former pastors and that love those pastors had for these people was inspiring. That kind of Christian community will be key to sharing the gospel in the next 100 years as it was in the last 100! May we be a movement, reflecting the love of Christ, obeying his calling as pioneers who sacrifice so lives will be transformed for eternity.

Serving with you,

Bill

PS — you can see more impressions of Enchant’s 100 year celebration on Facebook and Twitter.

Prayer Calendar: Team Prayer

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LDCat

Dave Acree is our Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst. This is a welcome to the monthly Prayer Calendar which we publish to promote prayer throughout the EFCC family. If you would like to receive the Prayer Calendar by e-mail, you can sign up for it on this page, or you can see the latest copy here.


Let’s get to the point right at the start. I have a “big ask” to make. Would you be willing to become part of a team praying for the EFCC, that we would fully enter into Revitalize, asking God to help us all become more and more a Gospel sharing people?

That’s the “ask”, now let me explain. I’ve become convinced that solo praying is not enough. It’s good, even important, but it minimizes the power of community. Right before Pentecost and after, the early church prayed in community. “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” (Acts 1:14) “They raised their voices together in prayer to God.” (Acts 4:24) We seldom do that today.

If you say “yes” to the challenge and “sign on” we will set up an electronic network joining us together across the EFCC through which we will pray regularly “together” for the EFCC to be “Revitalized!”

We will pray for your church and the churches of the EFCC. Read these passages: Matthew 22:37, 39; Acts 1:8; Philippians 2:14-16; Luke 10:2; and Colossians 4:3. We will pray for our churches that we will have love, power, character, harvesters and opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

We will pray for the people of our churches. Read Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:4-6; and
1 Peter 3:15-16. We will pray that our people will be bold, gentle and respectful in sharing the Gospel.

We will pray for your “neighbours”. We will pray together with you that God will reveal himself to them and be involved in their lives in such a way that they will recognize him. We will commit together to seek tangible ways in which to express Christ’s love with them. We will ask God for opportunities to share with them what Jesus means in our lives.

Now the hard part. If all of this resonates with you, email me at dave.acree@efreelethbridge.ca and join the team.