The Pulse: Reaching Beyond our Borders

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As a young college student, with a heart to share the Gospel and make a difference in the world, I believed I was “called” to serve the Lord as a missionary. For me, that meant leaving the country and culture I was used to, learning a different language, and going to some unreached corner of the world to share the Good News about Jesus. At the time, I was part of another denomination, one that had all kinds of cultural trappings, including our own language and even a cookbook!

I couldn’t imagine going out to plant that denomination’s churches in some primitive tribal location. And so, like many passionate prospective missionaries of that time, I applied to a non-denominational mission to pursue my missionary career. A career, by the way, that continued in conjunction with my 40 years of pastoral work here in Canada! It is a great organisation, and continues to do great work around the world.

Now I find myself the Director of the Evangelical Free Church of Canada Mission (EFCCM) — the international ministry arm of the EFCC. Not everyone knows that this is part of the EFCC, and it makes sense to explain why this is so.

In a Christianity Today article called “Missions, Denominations and Honest Questions”, author Ed Stetzer points out that denominations are a tool and not the goal. Our primary goal is not to plant Evangelical Free Churches in the places where we serve. Our goal is to see lives transformed by the power of the gospel, and to see new believers enfolded into new or existing churches where they can be lovingly nurtured and discipled to become obedient followers of Christ.

The task of the church is defined by The Great Commission — to go into the world and share the good news of Jesus Christ. Each local church has a responsibility to fulfill that task, but no single local church could accomplish this. One of the core reasons our churches have associated is to partner, to share resources and encourage each other in this. And together we can accomplish far more than the total of what we can accomplish if we continue to work independently.

Not only is the EFCC’s Statement of Faith a compelling, comparatively simple expression of what unites us, our ethos endorses collaboration. Our commitment to inclusivity of all those who share the Hope that is ours in Christ allows us to partner with other like-minded ministries. We can build bridges because of our doctrinal position where others cannot. We can bring people together to impact communities and nations in ways that are unique and creative.

The EFCCM is not a mission committed to any one specialised form of ministry. We are a generalist kind of mission, committed ultimately to seeing the Gospel work dynamically in lives and seeing local churches being born and being strengthened to further the work the Christ began. This gives us freedom to be creative in our approaches to sharing the Gospel as we seek to serve with cultural sensitivity.

We can encourage each local church in Canada to be a Great Commission Church. We can encourage every member and adherent of our churches to be Great Commission Christians. And we can help churches and individuals find way to give practical expression to that commitment.

Ed Stetzer raises an important question that must always be before us: “Is our denomination being a good steward as a tool for the mission?” By God’s grace, we want to come together as one body across our nation, united around our ethos, and empowered to carry out the Great Commandment and Great Commission of our Lord.

Prayer Calendar: Ritualistic Prayer

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The word “ritual” doesn’t play well in a Free Church tradition. I hesitated even using it but couldn’t shake it loose. I use it with this definition, “a customarily repeated often formal act or series of acts.”

Why the negative connotation?

Maybe it’s because we associate ritual with churches of questionable beliefs, or maybe we think that praying something over and over again causes it to lose its freshness or even meaning. Maybe it’s because of the throw away world in which we live. With diminishing attention spans, we’re easily bored. Use something for a while and then on to the next thing. Instead of change being an important part of life, it has become so much the fabric of our lives that repetition won’t be tolerated. Whatever the reason, “ritual” is in need of a new press agent!

In the midst of our complex and ever-changing world, I find myself longing for simplicity. Ritualistic prayer is one of the ways in which I find it.

Let me explain.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them what we call the “Lord’s Prayer”, to be repeated or recited regularly. In Jesus time on earth the Jews prayed repeated prayers three times a day, a practice that Jesus himself may have followed.

Before I preached last Sunday, I publically prayed two prayers, one for myself and one for the congregation. This is my “ritual” every time I preach.

  • “Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (from Psalm 19)
  • “Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.” (from Samuel)

I start off almost every day with three ritualistic prayers with our triune God in heart and mind.

  • “Heavenly Father, I pray that this day I will love you with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength and that I will love my neighbour as myself.”
  • Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I will take up my cross and follow you.”
  • “Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Why do this?

  • It’s meditative; it causes us to think deeply about scripture and where it connects with life. Notice that all of these prayers are directly from scripture.
  • It’s focusing; it causes us to focus on God and what he wants.
  • It’s centering; it causes us to center attention on what is important and best in the midst of life’s complexity.

Prayer Calendar: Cleansing Prayer

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Our Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst, Dave Acree, contributes to our monthly EFCC Prayer Calendar. To subscribe to that, click here.

“Too much” or “too little” often wins out over “just enough.” We humans don’t do “balance” very well. Take sin for example.

In years past we tended to make too much of sin. We saw sin everywhere. Not just biblically identifiable sin but also culturally determined (by the church) sin, like going to movies or drinking alcohol or shooting pool down at the “hall.” We became so burdened down by sin that life became almost unlivable and our non-church friends (if we had any) saw us as holier-than-thou hypocrites, not something they wanted to be part of.

In times present, we tend to make too little of sin. We’ve managed to do away with most of those culturally determined sins but even the biblically identifiable ones are often now seen as too narrow and binding and perhaps in need of some redefinition, or just ignored. We don’t much like to talk about sin anymore.

In years past confession, or cleansing prayer, was a regular part of our prayer menu, both in public gatherings and in private prayer. Not so much in times present.

If you haven’t read Psalm 51 recently, you should. It’s good for the soul. There’s something cleansing and refreshing about confession of sin. Of course, that means we have to recognize and own up to our sin.

Maybe that’s why 1 John 1:9 is one of the first verses from the Bible we have people memorize. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Back in the 15th century, Ignatius, developed what he called the “examen.” Let me recommend a modified form for you today. At the end of each day think back to where you saw God at work and thank him for it. Also, think back to where you walked away from God’s path and sinned. Confess it and be cleansed.

We all need a daily “prayer bath.”

Prayer Calendar: Deep Prayer

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Dave is the EFCC’s Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst. His regular contributions are excerpted in the monthly Prayer Calendar.

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Have you ever tried to explain something when you knew you didn’t know how to do it? Well, here goes! Prayer comes in all sizes and shapes. One isn’t better than the other. They all fit a certain moment with a compelling need.

 

Many times I find myself praying what I call “grocery list” prayers. I go grocery shopping with a list, either electronic on my phone or an old-fashioned piece of paper with items listed. I find the item and delete or scratch it from the list.

 

I’m more comfortable praying like that. I have a list of concrete, specific items or people to pray for, pray and tick them off the list having fulfilled my responsibility. However, I don’t find many examples of that kind of praying in the Bible, if any. Maybe they did some praying like that, but they don’t record it for us to see.

 

I think I default to such praying because it’s neat and clean, measurable and takes the least amount of time and effort. I hate to admit that, but there it is. I think there are times that God wants more than that. He wants us to pray below the surface where it’s messy.

 

He wants us to pray deep.

 

I’m preaching Sunday on Romans 10. Paul starts the chapter like this. “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” He started off chapter 9 by saying that he had such a desire for his countrymen that he was willing to be cursed and separated from Christ for their sake. I wish I could have heard his prayer. It wasn’t an item on a grocery list. It was deep and messy.

 

To the church at Colossae, along with Timothy, he prayed, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.” That’s deep!

 

I’m trying to wean myself off of defaulting to “grocery list” praying. Of course there’s a need for such prayer but there’s also a need to go deeper. Why not join me!

 

Prayer Calendar: Prayer Habits

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Dave is the EFCC’s Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst. His regular contributions are excerpted in the monthly Prayer Calendar.

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Habits seldom receive good press. In fact, in today’s culture of suspicion, to speak favorably of them might be labeled fake news. To develop and sustain habits of any kind are viewed by some as burdensome, confining and boring. Many want lives that are spontaneous, unplanned, busy and full, lived in short bursts rather than the long haul. Maybe that’s why people groan when they think of New Year’s resolutions. They take intentional work and seldom last. Resolutions don’t often turn into habits.

Prayer habits are essential to a healthy prayer life.

I had to think after writing that last sentence if I believed it, and yes, I stand by that statement. I’ve become convinced that times of prayer don’t happen easily in our North American culture. Habits help the prayer to flow.

Of course, you already have some prayer habits. Take the following quiz to identify a few of yours.

“For me, prayer happens most often . . . “

  • In times of crisis
  • When I want God to act
  • When I want to spend time with God

 

  • In church
  • In smaller groups with other believers
  • When I am alone

 

  • Whenever I need to
  • At set times of the day
  • When someone asks me to

 

  • With my head bowed
  • On my knees
  • With up-raised hands

In Luke 11, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he didn’t go into the “how” of prayer, what prayer habits to engage. Instead, he gave them a model prayer for group recitation and taught them to ask things of the Father with a spirit of audacious expectancy.

Yet there were prayer habits in his life, which the disciples would have observed. Scot McKnight in his book, Praying with the Church (Paraclete Press, 2006), reminds us that Jews in the time of Jesus intentionally prayed three times a day (morning, afternoon and evening). They would pray the Psalms, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6), and the Ten Commandments. Jesus probably did the same. Luke 5:16 (and other passages) tell us, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Jesus Christ had certain practices/habits that intentionally brought prayer into his life.

It might, then, be a good thing for us to develop practices/habits that intentionally draw us to pray rather than waiting for the “spirit (ours)” to move!