The Pulse: Digging Out Our Ears

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A few years ago, my wife suggested I get my hearing tested. I suspect she thought I had attended too many rock concerts in years gone by. She might be right. My hearing test demonstrated that I am “unbalanced”. For those of you who know me fairly well, you are probably thinking, “we knew that already”. The doctor said I was losing the ability to hear high tones in one ear, and low tones in the other. My hearing is unbalanced. I will eventually need hearing aids. For now, I make do; but when I am in a crowd, I often have to listen very hard. I am slowly losing the ability to listen.

Whether it is on social media, in our political discourse, or even in our theological discussions – we seem to be losing the ability to listen. It seems the primary form of discourse is talking right past each other, and ultimately missing the point altogether.

Jesus put the interests of others ahead of his. His example is opposed to this culture when it comes to the issue of listening.

So how can we listen better?

Psalm 40:6 says, “You have given me an open ear”. Eugene Peterson points out that the literal translation is “ears you have dug for me”. The psalmist here is using a visual image of our heads being like blocks of granite, which God literally has to carve or dig ears out of, for us to hear.

Have we prayed that God would dig ears for us?

If we could say with the psalmist that God has dug ears for us, what would the implications be?

Let me highlight three:

Listening to God

This should go without saying, but…

I hope we do this as we spend time in the Word and prayer, but also as we keep our ears (and eyes) open for the opportunities God brings across our paths daily to live out our faith in word and deed.

Listening to Each Other

What would happen if we listened to other Christians with empathy? Especially those we disagreed with. The primary apologetic that we have been given is our love for one another (John 13:35). Yet often, the church seems to be something other than a place of unity. Yesterday, I ran across an article by Ed Stetzer (our 2014 EFCC Conference speaker) entitled “Why Can’t We Disagree Well”. He is writing about a social issue in the USA, but his words have broader implications. He says,

“Look past…winning the disagreement and actually try to understand the other side. This doesn’t demand your agreement, but it does demand your time, understanding, and charity…How can we spend this week listening to the voices of our fellow believers who disagree with us? How can we honor them as being made in the image of God even when we come with different opinions?”

Those are good words. They dovetail with our EFCC motto, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Jesus Christ”. As we grow in our ability to listen to our fellow believers, I believe we demonstrate a radical “unity in diversity” to a non-Christian world that so desperately longs for and needs to see exactly that.

Listening to Our Neighbours

If we carried out mission with a listening ear, would our witness be more effective? I believe so. Much of our witness today is comprised of presentations and answers. I’m not convinced the presentations and answers connect with the heart of people who need Jesus. I am convinced, however, that listening is key: listening to the culture, the heart cries, the needs, the longings, and the hurts, of those around us. This will lead us into deeper relationships with our neighbours. I also believe it is a great second step, after praying (check out Look Up and Reach Out for more information), in connecting with those who need Jesus.

Overarching Strategy: Growing 3

The Growing 3

The Evangelical Free Church of Canada began as a gospel movement of pioneering believers and churches 100 years ago. As we move forward in a new century, we are praying that God will grow us in three areas: we call this our “Growing 3”.

Growing Family

The EFCC is an “association of autonomous churches”. We value the fact that every church can govern its own affairs and carry out its God given mission without denominational control. However, what it means to be “Free Church” goes far beyond mere autonomy.  Our churches share a common Statement of Faith and Character and Calling. Our motto of “In Essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, in all things Jesus Christ” reminds us that we unite as family around an ethos that agree on gospel essentials, acts charitably towards other believers that hold differing opinions regarding non-essentials and place Jesus at the centre of everything we do and believe. We desire to unite around our identity as Free Church Christ followers and collaborate in the mission He has called us to.

Growing Leaders

The apostle Paul coached a plethora of younger leaders who would serve the Lord and His church. As we move forward as a mission movement, we recognise that we need to coach lay leaders, pastors and missionaries to help them be successful in their callings. We desire to build a culture of coaching where everyone is intentionally seeking out someone to coach and be coached. Additionally we are working to give strategic teams such as church boards the resources and training they need to successfully serve and lead their churches.

Growing Churches

The EFCC is a mission movement that has a history of planting churches in North America and around the globe. We are focused on helping our churches be vibrant, healthy congregations that reach out with the gospel, multiplying believers and churches. We have established the systems of assessment, training (Equip for Harvest, aka E4H) and coaching to help church planters succeed in making disciples and planting churches that will plant other churches. We are seeking to resource and network our churches and believers as they carry out the Great Commandment and Great Commission!

Prayer Calendar: The Long and the Short of Prayer

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If you are looking for a prayer mentor, allow me to suggest Nehemiah as a candidate. I know he’s known for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its walls, but if you overlook his prayer life, you’ll miss the secret of his success. He just didn’t know about prayer, he prayed.

I am not technologically savvy, functional but far from genius status. Even talking about it in the next few sentences will reveal just how limited I am, but bear with me. I am not on Twitter; I barely understand it. My main electronic communication tool is email. I know that in communicating today, less is best. Long emails might not even be read, let alone merit response. Twitter is limited to 140 characters.

In its most basic idea, prayer is communicating with God.

Our lives are so full and we have been so conditioned by culture and society to value brevity, I believe most of our praying has become “twitter-like.” Less is best.

Not that that’s inherently wrong. Nehemiah prayed in twitter prayers at times. “Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king.” (2:4-5) That meets the twitter limit. But what if most of our praying is 140 characters or less? Is that a good thing?

Nehemiah also prayed long and deep, working up prayer sweat. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (1:4) Nehemiah knew both the long and the short of prayer. His twitter prayers were outcomes of his long prayers not a replacement for them.

This is not about the length of our prayers but the character of our praying.

The short of prayer is more about need and asking God to do something. The long of prayer is more about relationship. Both happen, both are needed; but if one is to eclipse the other, let it be the long over the short.

The Pulse: The Necessary Ingredient

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Dan is the EFCC's Leadership Catalyst

Much has been written and said about leading people. But there is one common thread — one consistent and non-negotiable element.

Trust.

For Christians, this takes on a new dimension — the way we trust people is intertwined with the way we trust God.

In his book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge noted that:

To change the behaviour of a system, you must identify and change the limiting factor. The challenge that God has among us is our reluctance to trust.

MISTRUST: when we suspect that people aren’t being completely honest, and/or may have hidden agendas.

DISTRUST: when we’re convinced that people are wilfully deceitful, and/or aren’t working for the common good.

While making my way through chemotherapy these past few months, I have been struck with the importance of trusting God. Oswald Chambers in his devotional book My Utmost for His Highest said:

Put Trust in God First. Our Lord never put His trust in any person. Yet He was never suspicious, never bitter, and never lost hope for anyone, because He put His trust in God first. He trusted absolutely in what God’s grace could do for others. If I put my trust in human beings first, the end result will be my despair and hopelessness toward everyone. I will become bitter because I have insisted that people be what no person can ever be — absolutely perfect and right. Never trust anything in yourself or in anyone else, except the grace of God.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Psalm 20:7

Trusting others, trusting leaders in the kingdom is directly proportional to my trust of Him. The by-product of that focused trust in God is noted by S.D. Gordon:

Cooperation increases efficiency in amazing proportions. Two working together in perfect agreement have a fivefold effect on efficiency in comparison to two working separately. The Bible says that one can handle a thousand but two will put 10,000 to flight. God’s plan for us will involve a new level of unity…a new level of trust.

Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, clarifies things into a formula:

(S x E)T = R  (Strategy times Execution) multiplied by TRUST equals Results.

We always need to be aware of our strategies and evaluating our execution but our trust level demands constant vigilance.

Lewis Smedes said in The Power of Promises:

Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make. I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have a people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God!

What a marvellous thing a promise is! When a person makes a promise, she reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: she will be there even when being there costs her more than she wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least on thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.

We all promised to trust Jesus with our salvation and our placement in His kingdom.
May our trust in Him and our resolve to follow Him together be increased!

 

 

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.