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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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LeapOfFaith89

Unexpected

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In the midday heat of summer, while traveling in the American South, my wife and I stopped for ice cream. On the wall behind the counter we saw a sign reading, " Absolutely No Snowmobiling. " The humor worked because it was so unexpected.

 

Sometimes saying the unexpected has the most effect. Think of this in regard to a statement by Jesus: "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). In a kingdom where the King is a servant (Mark 10:46), losing your life becomes the only way to find it. This is a startling message to a world focused on self-promotion and self-protection.

 

In practical terms, how can we "lose our life:? The answer is summed up in the w word sacrifice When we sacrifice, we put into practice Jesus's way of living. Instead of grasping for our own wants and needs, we esteem the needs and well-being of others.

 

Jesus not only taught about sacrifice but He also lived it by giving Himself for us. His death on the cross became the ultimate expression of the heart of the King who lived up to His own words: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).

-Bill Crowder

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We all are his disciples and ought to be his follower i.e. live our life like him because he is the way, truth and the light of the world.

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    • The Unexpected Friendship That Prepared Me for Ministry

      Barry called me every day for 11 years, usually more than once, sometimes up to 20 times a day. When Barry didn’t call, I thought something might be up. When Barry didn’t answer my call, I knew something was. After one particular day of radio silence, I went by Barry’s apartment. It was on the ground floor, which meant I could bang on the windows when he didn’t answer the door. On this occasion, I glimpsed Barry huddled under a windowsill to stay out of my sight. Barry was 6’3″ and weighed 360 pounds, so he looked like a grizzly bear trying to hide behind a lampshade. I was filled with righteous indignation (at least that’s how I justified it). “I know you’re using in there, Barry!” I yelled. “You can pretend you’re not in there, but God is—he sees you right now! A holy God is in that apartment while you light up!” Barry responded, “You just don’t understand, man. You don’t know what I’ve been through and how hard it is.” It stings to admit I acted this way as a 23-year-old seminary student. I felt prophetic at the time, but I was a fool. I thought I was standing in Peter’s line calling “Repent!” when in reality I was far closer to the Pharisee: “Thank God I’m not a sinner like this.” Only as I arrived to pick up Barry one Sunday morning did I begin to understand the depth of his struggle. I found him sprawled across the table with both arms gashed open, blood everywhere. Life was barely clinging to him. I called 911, and then lifted his arms above his head to slow the blood flow. As I hugged my dying friend, the depth of his pain was excruciatingly evident. Barry wasn’t spending his days marking out dark plans for his next hit. The next hit was a mirage of relief. He was chasing an illusion of freedom—freedom from memories of abuse, from sins of the past, and from harsh realities of the present. Friends on a Mission Barry and I became friends when his first pastor called me. Barry needed distance from the trials and temptations of the neighborhood. The old bar around the corner and the old friend next door pose a challenging atmosphere to a young believer. Barry moved a couple miles away into my neighborhood—a long way when you ride the bus or walk—in order to create helpful space for new habits and relationships to grow. Our friendship sprouted from God’s Word. I would drop by and read the Bible with Barry. We’d read, talk, pray and then grab a bite at the deli down the street. Barry would try his most recent rap on me over a coney dog, or we’d throw a fishing line in the Detroit River to see if anything was biting. Barry and I became partners in the gospel as the Spirit used our different gifts and strengths to help each other. Barry had a heart for the broken, the needy, the downtrodden. He knew their struggle, largely because it mirrored his own. He was always stepping out to help them. Until the day Barry died—of sepsis in March 2018—he lived on less than $1,000 of income and government assistance per month, yet I saw him give food away nearly every week. I saw him give the good news about Jesus away even more. When I introduced Barry to a man just released from prison, Barry gave him a bed in his apartment within five minutes. The mission fused our friendship. I’d studied farming; Barry could see the harvest. God used us together in ways I never could’ve imagined. But he also used Barry to change me. Friendship as a Mirror I inhaled one piece of cheese bread after another as I stood by the kitchen sink. My wife told me to grab a plate, sit down, and slow down. I had tunnel vision. A complex counseling situation was crushing me. I was responding the way I’d responded so many times before: with food. Suddenly, it dawned on me just how similar Barry and I were. Where I grew up, you didn’t deal with stress through drugs or alcohol. Those things weren’t acceptable, but other sin was. I ran to pizza because no one raised me to run to dope. But make no mistake: my kitchen counter was Barry’s corner. His bar was my pizza shop. My sin was more culturally acceptable, but it was no less lethal when I leaned on it rather than God. The Spirit began using Barry to expose my sinfulness. At a heart level, he and I were no different. We had different mentors, knew different neighborhoods, and were taught different ways to cope. My life was a mountain of undeserved kindness. I was raised in church; generations of my family knew Jesus; my education was phenomenal; my upbringing was sheltered. Not so for Barry. His upbringing was different in almost every way. Yet there I was, nursing the same sinful habits with more culturally acceptable nameplates. Replacing God brings judgment, regardless of whether we use carbs or cocaine. A psychologist might call my misunderstanding of Barry the Fundamental Attribution Error. When other people fail, you point to their flawed character or harmful intentions. Their failure is a problem with who they are or an expression of their hostility toward me. When I fail, however, I point to the circumstances and pressures in my life. You’re late because you’re lazy or don’t care. I’m late because I’m busy and it’s been a crazy week. My pride told me that Barry was naïve and too soft on people, that his struggles were personal discipline problems. That man Barry housed straight out of prison? He stole Barry’s coat. Those people who needed food? They could somehow afford cigarettes. My clinical analysis saw through them. In fact, I saw only the worst in them. Other Side of the Tracks Barry would often gently remind me: “You gotta remember, Wavey Gravey (his nickname for me), God gave you loving parents and a safe home and so many blessings. Lots of people are just trying to survive. They’ve almost never felt safe and they’ve never been taught.” I can’t remember those words without tearing up. He was correct. I grew up on the “right” side of the tracks. I had—and still have—so much to learn. Barry wanted me to treat others in light of the grace God had shown me. The Spirit had created a gentle, merciful heart in that mountain of a man. Without Christ, Barry embraced the harsh facade a drug dealer wears to survive the street. God mercifully stripped Barry of that and replaced it with a Spirit-wrought gentleness toward the least, the last, and the lost. And he used Barry to strip away the pride in me. The Spirit used Barry’s understanding of the gospel to transform my perspective of myself. In Christ, we can both see sin clearly and also show mercy gently. Every person is a complex combination of villain and victim. They have done horrible things. Horrible things have been done to them. They need to turn from sin to Jesus Christ. Every month I helped Barry with his budget. I did this for 11 years. And every month for 11 years I would bust him over spending more than he had on stupid stuff. But as I sat with a young man in seminary this morning, I told him, “You know what, Barry never got that stinkin’ budget in order. Despite all that time I spent harassing him about it, he never got it down. But what does it matter now? Barry is with Jesus! He’s experiencing unending joy in the presence of our King. Jesus didn’t stiff-arm Barry at the door because his budget was out of whack—he embraced him with the love bestowed upon a righteous son. I see it now! The God who began a good work in Barry completed that work (Phil. 1:6) without needing me to get him all spiffed up and squared away.” God’s truth deserves obedience and demands declaration. But sometimes, people like me need to take a chill pill and walk gently with those who struggle. The Spirit’s the barber, and he’ll get everyone lined up right in the end. These lessons have transformed how I’ve gone about planting our church. You can’t plant a church without gentleness (okay, you can, but you certainly won’t lead it well). Gentleness is treating others in light of God’s kindness toward you. A gentle man knows that God has produced the good in him—against his best efforts. A gentle man knows he’s more sinful than others perceive. A gentle man understands the magnitude of God’s mercy given him in Christ. And this was Barry. Was he a messed-up sinner? You bet. But he knew it. And he reveled in the grace of God in Christ. Because of that, he was gentle. He’s gone now, but I’m praying that God would make me more like my late, gentle friend. View the full article

      in Christian Current Events

    • The Unexpected Trend Reviving Canadian Christianity

      Fifty years ago, Canada was 88 percent Christian. But the trends were worrisome. “Organized religion in Canada has declined sharply in the past generation and will continue to do so, according to the first large-scale study of religion and religious attitudes ever conducted in this country,” the Toronto Star reported in 1976. The study’s director, sociologist Reginald Bibby, watched religion wane for another 17 years before publishing Unknown Gods: the Ongoing Story of Religion in Canada (1993). He predicted churches would continue their slide straight into old age and death. “Even with the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is hope for a better next year,” he told Canadian news magazine Maclean’s. “Whereas with religion, it looked pretty much over.” But when Bibby checked in on his predictions in 2015, religion wasn’t over. It was less popular—only 30 percent of Canadians embraced religion. But only a quarter rejected it outright (26 percent). Angus Reid Institute And those churches that had been declining—32 percent in 2000, compared to 23 percent in 2015—were stabilizing (42 percent) or even growing (36 percent). “What I screwed up on—it sounds so naive looking back—[is] I didn’t allow for the immigration variable,” Bibby told Maclean’s in 2015. Immigrants to Canada topped 300,000 for the first time in 2016; the country is aiming as high as 340,000 in 2020. Between 2001 and 2011, Canada welcomed 478,000 new Catholics, 162,000 Christians, 23,000 Anglicans, and 17,000 Presbyterians. (Immigrants self-identify their religion, so it’s up to them whether they categorize themselves as Christian or as something more specific like Catholic or Anglican or Presbyterian.) In 2017, the BBC concluded that Toronto was the most diverse city in the world. “There are 45 different languages spoken at our church,” said Robbie Symons, lead pastor of Oakville Harvest Bible Chapel, 40 minutes south of Toronto. (Symons’s church is part of the Great Commission Collective, a church-planting organization established after the Harvest Bible Fellowship was disbanded in 2017.) “We literally have the nations here worshiping. We love that.” Most immigrants come with a basis of faith, and are more likely than those born in Canada to attend church or embrace religion. But the immigrant infusion hasn’t been the only thing growing Harvest Oakville from a Bible study of 18 in 2003 to a consistent weekly attendance of 4,000 today. “What we’ve seen happen here is a contemporary expression of conservative theology that is refreshing for churched people but is also uniquely engaging for unchurched people,” said Ted Duncan, who led Harvest Oakville’s first church plant. Over the past 14 years, Harvest Oakville has baptized more than 1,000 people. “The news in Canada is discouraging on a lot of levels,” Symons said. In the past six months, the Supreme Court rejected the country’s only Christian law school, and the government required organizations looking for summer-job funding to sign off on an attestation affirming LGBTQ and abortion rights. “But the gospel is advancing,” Symons said. “Lives are being transformed, people are being baptized, and churches are being planted. . . . God is alive and well in Canada.” Saved by the Light Symons grew up in an Anglican home but wasn’t saved until he was 22. Freshly graduated from university and already weary of the meaninglessness of life, Symons hit “random” on his CD player and heard DC Talk’s “In the Light.” I keep trying to find a life on my own apart from You. I’m the king of excuses, I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do. What’s going on inside of me? I despise my own behavior. This only serves to confirm my suspicions that I’m still a man in need of a Savior! “I was instantly captured by Jesus,” Symons said. “I felt so chosen, so enlightened. I knew life would never be the same again.” Robbie Symons / Courtesy of Harvest Oakville Symons resisted the ministry at first—he’d watched his grandfather pastor a small-town Anglican church, and “ministry seemed so small to me.” However, “God’s claim became stronger and stronger, and I gave in to the notion of seminary and then pastoral ministry bit by bit.” After seminary, he landed a job as an associate pastor but longed to see God do more. “I was in churches where leadership was based on good stuff like compassion,” he said, “but it wasn’t theologically substantive.” Then, in the early 2000s, Symons was exposed to a simple and biblical vision for the local church at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago. “That’s when I got introduced to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology,” he said. Symons read John Piper and Al Mohler and Don Carson, then George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. “I fell in love with the truth in a new way,” he said. From there, it was an easy jump to dream about planting a gospel-centered church with Reformed theology in Toronto. Planting in Ontario In the summer of 2003, Symons held a Bible study. Eighteen people came. It wasn’t an auspicious time to start a conservative church. Days before, Canada’s first same-sex couple was legally wed. They would be chosen as Time magazine’s Canadian newsmakers for 2003. “The two men have come to symbolize something much bigger: the unprecedented acceleration of social liberalism in Canada in 2003,” Canadian bureau chief Steven Frank wrote. “From gay marriage to moves to decriminalize marijuana and provide supervised injection booths for drug addicts in Vancouver, 2003 will go down in history as the year that Canada rethought what was taboo.” Canada’s largest Protestant denomination—the mainline United Church of Canada—was keeping pace with society, voting to endorse same-sex marriage in August. Around the same time, Canadian religious attendance began to drop more rapidly across the board. So it was surprising, then, when Symons’s little group increased to 24, then 30, then 45. They outgrew an office building, then a church basement. “People were coming in with such an appetite for the preaching of the Word,” Symons said. “It seems so basic, but God was moving. . . . There was an apparent hunger in the people he drew to us.” The expansion and excitement caught the attention of a nearby Baptist church. Which is why, just five months in, Harvest Oakville’s 70 attendees moved into a $7 million building. Room to Grow The Baptist congregation was “severely struggling, and on the verge of closing their doors,” Symons said. There were only about 100 people left in the building that sat 400. “They gave us their building, but more importantly, they gave us their people,” he said. In a single day, the church population more than doubled as “they became us.” Harvest Oakville held its first official service in the new building on Easter 2004. By fall, they needed two services. A few years later, even with four services, there were too many cars for the parking lot. Harvest Oakville moved into a new building in 2012. / Courtesy of Harvest Oakville At first, the growth came largely from dissatisfied believers in other churches. (“We aren’t trying to steal sheep, but we’re not going to apologize for growing green grass,” Symons said.) But over time, those joining were new converts. “We hear amazing stories,” Symons said. “So many people are lost and miserable and hopeless. Time and again we hear people say, ‘I went through life and I bottomed out before meeting Christ’—the classic gospel conversion story.” In 2012, Harvest Oakville moved into a larger building. Within a month, they’d grown from 2,000 to 3,000 regular attenders. A few years later, the number rose past 4,000. But Symons’s ambitions were never to build a megachurch. “I’ve been up close to all that stuff, and it’s overrated,” he said. “I’m not against it. I think God is using it to do great stuff. But that’s not what we set out to be.” So they started to plant. Plants Pose Challenges In 2009, Harvest Oakville planted its first church, 30 minutes closer to Toronto. The core group was 50 adults. Today, about 1,000 attend. “Where we are, so many people are brand-new to the country,” Duncan said. “That’s really exciting but also poses a lot of challenges.” One is the lack of default culture. “We’re having to learn and grow in our ability to understand the paradigms and perspectives people bring with them from their culture of origin,” Duncan said. “How do Caribbean people think about motherhood? How does a person from East Asia deal with honor and shame? How do those raised in Africa approach work, family, and leisure? These are all things Westerners don’t even think about. I’m continually having to apologize and correct myself because I so often wrongfully assume that everyone thinks the way I do.” Ted Duncan planted Harvest Bible Chapel Brampton. / Courtesy of Ted Duncan But the religious foundation that most immigrants share—generally, they aren’t as secular or atheistic as those born in Canada—is helpful, he said. “Everybody is religious in some way, shape, or form,” he said. “Where we live there are all kinds of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus. So when I take an Uber to work and I’m talking to a Hindu or Sikh driver, there is already a context of faith and religion and common ground in that they believe something about something. . . . I’m able to build on that.” Jason Matta pastors Harvest Oakville’s third church plant, which is even closer to Toronto’s city center. Added to the ethnic diversity—half of Toronto is a visible minority—he sees socioeconomic differences that transcend ethnicity or race. “We have found it to be messy for sure,” he said. “The more we’ve reached into the community, the more we’re dealing with complex issues. It’s not clean-cut, like, ‘Oh, God, you have us in a diverse church and now we’re all happy.’ . . . It’s more like, ‘Okay, now I don’t know what to do.’ Now we have to figure out how to do life together and how to meet certain needs.” Matta’s team leans a lot on Tim Keller’s Ministries of Mercy. And his evangelism strategy, like Oakville’s, is the people themselves. “Our people are very missional,” Matta said. “Every week people are introducing me to people they bring from work or school or family members. The body is inviting them in.” That didn’t just happen. Like Symons, Matta tells his congregation, “Our evangelism strategy is you. You’re sitting next to people at work and school. Share the gospel with them.” Milk and Meat High numbers of recent immigrants compounds one of the biggest challenges that pastors face: the unevenness of spiritual maturity in the congregation “We don’t feel the need to tailor the service to the unbeliever,” Matta said. After all, he’s also teaching to seminary professors. “But we do work very hard to communicate God’s Word in a way that is simple and clear.” Duncan likens it to preparing “meat rather than milk” for every service, but “cutting it into small pieces.” “What has captivated people is we sing contemporary worship songs and speak in everyday language, but we don’t try to simplify things—we teach the whole counsel of God,” he said. For example, they nixed formal language such as “partake” but kept “theologically rich” terms such as “substitutionary atonement” and “reconciliation.” Duncan has watched Symons put words such as “justification” on the screen and then break it down for the audience. “He doesn’t water down the theology or get rid of it,” said Duncan, who follows Symons’s example. “That’s the thing that changes people’s lives. If you teach people, they’ll be hungry and leaning in.” Or they’ll lean all the way out. “Every weekend I have people stand up and walk out of my sermons,” Symons said. “As much as we have people who are hungry and fired up, we also have people who are walking away in a hurry.” That doesn’t bother Symons. Even those who stay should feel “uncomfortable,” he said. “We challenge them not to stay here unless they’re serious about what the Lord is doing. . . . We’re trying to prune so the growth is healthy, and to make it difficult for people who are here for the wrong reasons.” Because it’s clear there is a time of “sifting” bearing quickly down on them, Symons said. “We’re one of the few Reformed conservative evangelical churches in our area, certainly for our size,” Symons said. “People are dumbfounded, because ‘How do you possibly grow when you believe [things like complementarianism and traditional marriage]?’ For the outsider, it doesn’t make sense.” Jason Matta planted Harvest Bible Chapel Toronto West. / Courtesy of Jason Matta The social pressure has only increased over the past 15 years. “We’re in a very critical time, because many churches are on the verge of being tempted to capitulate to culture,” Symons said. “The pressure has never been greater, with the sexual revolution leading the way.” The sifting isn’t all bad news—“you should have a strengthened church” at the end, Symons said. He can see it already: Harvest Oakville’s men’s conference sold out 1,400 tickets in 18 hours last year. The women’s conference with Jen Wilkin and Nancy Guthrie sold out in three. Attendees came from about 150 area churches. One was Grace Fellowship Church, planted in 2000 by TGC Canada Council member Paul Martin. Another was Grace Toronto Church, which was replanted in 2004 with 10 people and has since grown to hundreds. A third was St. George’s, which left the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC)—and with it, their building—so pastor Ray David Glenn could keep preaching the gospel. He wasn’t the only one—after the ACC began blessing same-sex in 2002, dozens of clergy left to start the Anglican Network in Canada. Glenn and the others have “been a tremendous encouragement standing for truth,” said Ryan Robertson, a former Harvest staffer now working at Reaching and Teaching International. “It’s the church, not our church,” Symons said. “We’re blown away by what is happening out there.” Sharing the Joy “At the end of the day, there’s no formula that’s going to create growth,” Symons said. “It’s God’s grace. We never want to come across as saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got it figured out.’” In fact, at one point the Harvest Oakville elders bought T-shirts with “We don’t know what we’re doing” on the front and 2 Chronicles 20:12 on the back. “Church planting can seem like cool music, an amazing well-dressed pastor, and thousands of millennials filling a church,” Matta said. “But when you read through the book of Acts, it’s more of a steady perseverance and endurance.” And a deep, contagious joy. “We aren’t just talking about evangelism as, ‘You gotta get out there and do it,’ motivated by guilt,” Duncan said. “We’re looking for gospel motivation: ‘Don’t we have the greatest message ever? Everyone should know about this!’” View the full article

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