Spiritual Discipline Series

Over the past little while, we’ve talked a lot about shifting our perspectives and vision toward looking at the world through a “Kingdom” perspective.  But the Christian faith needs more than just an attitude adjustment.

Starting this coming Sunday, we will be looking at different practices in the Christian faith that can strengthen our relationship with God, guard our hearts, and develop the gifts that we have been given.

As our church continues to grow, it is imperative that we allow God to guide and direct us, not just on a community level, but on a personal one as well.  These tools that God has given us are invaluable in building a church.

We’ll also have a blog version of the messages posted each Monday morning in case you weren’t able to make it out Sunday!

February 4:  Introduction to Spiritual Disciplines

February 11: Fasting (Lent begins on the 14th!)
February 18: Meditation
February 25: Prayer
March 4: Study

March: 11 Simplicity
March: 18 Solitude
March 25: Service (Palm Sunday)
April 1Submission (Easter Sunday)

April 8: Confession
April 15: Worship
April 22: Guidance
April 29: Celebration

Humility and Truth

We cannot hope to find truth as long as pride rules our hearts.

 

Truth is one of the most challenging things to find in our world.  The advent of the internet gives us the ability to justify almost any belief we can think of.  Whatever you want to believe, you can find somebody on the internet with reasoning and evidence to tell you that you are correct.  In matters of faith, science, politics, relationships – whatever you want – there is somebody to tell you that you are right.

Online companies know that we like to be edified in our beliefs rather than challenged, and as a result they tailor our news feeds around things they know we already like.  Compare your feeds from Google and other sources with a friend who sits on the opposite end of the political spectrum – you will see different sources and views being sent to each of you.  This is kind of a scary thought, when we realize just how narrow our information becomes despite having access to so much.

But we have to be willing to have our beliefs challenged.  We have to be willing to be wrong.  Pride is what keeps this from happening, and so often we don’t even realize it is pride that has taken over our thoughts.

Think of people who disagree with you.  Why do they disagree?  Too often our first thought is because they are selfish, evil, ignorant, uneducated, etc.  Yet rarely are these actually the reasons why.  Our life stories, experiences and cultures have had significant influence on us, and pride holds us back from saying, “Maybe this person with a different experience and culture has a point.”

We need humility to see the world through another’s eyes and grow in truth.

One of the most important statements of the Scriptures is when Christ tells us about Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6.  We often think of this passage simply as talking about salvation, but there is so much more that Christ wanted to show us and bring us.  He wanted us to know the Father, to see the character of God on display, and to be an example of what it means to have abundant life in this world, not just the next.

And in Christ we see the absolute importance of humility.  As Paul writes of Christ in Philippians 2:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 6 Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

Christ modeled humility in both His life and death.  The way Christ lived is very important if we are to find truth in this world, because without humility, we cannot find truth – not just religious truth, but truth in relationships, community, work, politics – all areas of life.

In humility we listen, and when we listen we learn and understand.  This is not to say that we should expect to find ourselves wrong about everything all the time.  The quest for truth will often lead you to find that you were right!  But at the very least, it helps us understand people who disagree, why they do, and gives us tools to love them and help them in their situation.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” James 1:19b.  This is an important verse that most of us probably think we’re pretty good at.  But if you step back and think about it, how often do you really listen?  We ask questions like, “How could they do that?” but when we do so, they are almost always rhetorical.  We’re not really looking for an answer.  When somebody does something hurtful, asking that question with sincerity makes a huge difference in progress to forgiveness and reconciliation.  That requires deep humility.  To listen means to not elevate your own thoughts and experiences above others, but to acknowledge that even though you disagree with them, their experiences may have something to teach you.  Then we can listen.  Then we can come closer to finding truth.

I encourage you over the coming weeks to take time to intentionally humble yourself when it comes to matters of truth in your life – in relationships, faith, politics… step back and try to look at the mountain from a side you haven’t traveled up before.

Pride will isolate us.  Humility will draw us together.

Envy

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Envy rots the hear.  There’s no easy way to put it.  When we have envy, little by little it destroys us and our relationships.

Dwight L. Moody once told the fable of an eagle who was envious of another that could fly better than he could. One day the bird saw a sportsman with a bow and arrow and said to him, “I wish you would bring down that eagle up there.” The man said he would if he had some feathers for his arrow. So the jealous eagle pulled one out of his wing. The arrow was shot, but it didn’t quite reach the rival bird because he was flying too high. The first eagle pulled out another feather, then another–until he had lost so many that he himself couldn’t fly. The archer took advantage of the situation, turned around, and killed the helpless bird. Moody made this application: if you are envious of others, the one you will hurt the most by your actions will be yourself.

During the history of the Kingdom of Israel, it came to a crossroads.  God wanted the people to see Him as their king.  The governance of the era of the book of Judges had a three prong system of oversight for the nation.  The Judges were primarily military leaders.  The priests we responsible for religious law.  And God was meant to be the third prong – their king.  But over and over again the people rejected God as their king, and began to slowly erode their morals and culture.  By the end of the book of Judges, we see Israel compared with Sodom and Gommorrah, and a civil war break out.  They hit rock bottom.

And at this point, they have a choice:  Finally embrace God as their king and steer back to the right path, or continue to seek hope and faith in earthly things.  1 Samuel chapter 8 shows us the will of the people.

We want a king over us [a human king]. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

This decision would lead to the downfall of Israel as a nation.  In the end their human kings would lead them astray, and bring them into exile under Assyrian and Babylonian rule.

But in that verse above there is a real insight we must take note of.  Why did they want a king?  To be like the other nations.  They suffered greatly from envy, and that envy rotted the nation.

This story from the Old Testament shows on a national scale what happens to us on an individual scale all the time.  We see what others have and our desire for it negatively affects what we already have, or what God wants us to have instead.

Why can’t this town be more like that other town?  Why can’t my spouse be more like that person’s spouse?  Why aren’t my kids more like that person’s kids?  Why don’t I have a job like that person’s job?  How can these thoughts affect us in any way other than by deeply wounding our appreciation and love for what we already have in our lives!?

Envy is so good at sneaking up on us.  It guises itself as, “good intentions,” or, “ambition,” but in reality, its just trying to create a deep and destructive jealousy within us.  Why doesn’t my church have this ministry that I believe is really important?  Sounds like a good question – and very often it is!  But sometimes, its not a question we ask in sincerity, but in bitterness.  Bitterness is where we can begin to identify envy for what it is.

Do our desires and longings for us and those around us make us bitter?  Or do they call us to be better?

Don’t allow envy to rot you, wound you, and take you down a dark path.  Spend some time in reflection and look at the desires of your heart and what they are doing to the rest of you both spiritually, mentally, and physically.  How are they affecting your relationships?  How are they affecting your appreciating for the blessings you already have?  Answer these questions, and uproot the bitterness when you see it.

Hope in the Darkness: Prison Ministry

Imagine discovering you have been forgiven for murder.  How would that change your life?

Hello!  My name is Matthew Magnus.  I have the wonderful privilege of serving as pastor of Pineview Alliance Church in Grande Cache, and also of serving as a part time chaplain in our local federal prison.

Prison is a spiritually dark place, and the chapel serves an enormous value to many of the inmates during their incarceration.  The power of Christ’s grace and love is so strong here; you can really feel it each and every time you go.

One of the most common phrases you’ll hear from an inmate is, “There’s no forgiveness for what I’ve done.”  So many come from a place of deep guilt, expecting chapel to just be something that helps them get parole and a cup of coffee.  It’s always an incredible moment when one begins to realize the grace of God is greater than their sins.

To see the Gospel transform men who are angry and full of shame into people who are forgiven and full of hope – on a weekly basis – is one of the most rewarding ministries I can imagine.  This is a place where cycles of sin and despair can be broken, and helping one person here can make waves when they get out and re-engage with their families and communities.

It is an inspiration to continually see men react to the gospel, not just as a simple change in belief, but a change in purpose.

But like all ministries, it is not without its challenges.  Prison is a very spiritually dark place, and the prayers of God’s people are among the most effective tools of cutting through that darkness.  And not just with the inmates, but the staff as well.  Many of them deal with enormous stress, anxiety and trauma, and it lingers in the culture of work there.

Additionally, there is no funding for resources for the chapel.  Apart from chaplains’ wages and special diets, the federal government doesn’t spend much money on religious “stuff” and the prisons rely on their local faith communities to provide them with resources.  I’m not sure how well that works in the prisons by the cities, but in Grande Cache, a rural community 90 minutes from the next town, resources are always short.

First and foremost, I ask you to remember us and your local prisons in your prayers.  Yes – I am about to ask for resources as well, but I really do mean prayer as, “first and foremost.”  I was really excited when I got the part time position at the institution, because it would enable me to pray for the prison from within the prison.  Honestly – in 18 months of employment there I can count the number of times I’ve done that on one hand.  It is a very challenging environment.  I praise God daily for the prayers of the people in my church, and the many (many!) staff who have worked there for years and continue to exude positive energy and support for other staff and inmates.  Please, find out the names of your local chaplains for those who live near institutions, pray for them, and pray for the staff and inmates as well.

Second, resource donations are always welcome.  I’ll write up a list at the end of this post with more detail on what we always need at the specific prison I work at, but I also encourage you to keep in mind your local prisons when you find yourself with extra supplies and want to know where to send them.

Third, promote and partner with some of the ministries that currently exist to serve inmates.  There are some incredible programs out there that provide us with resources and support for inmates and run on a donation and volunteer basis.  The most impactful ministry I’ve seen so far is Angel Tree by Prison Fellowship.  This is a ministry that sends Christmas presents to the children of inmates at no charge.  Inmates have very little disposable income, and what is considered a lot of money on “the inside” is actually very little when it comes to sending gifts and supporting their families.  To have somebody from a local church knock on the door and hand their children presents on behalf of their dad is an emotionally powerful ministry.

Thank you for taking the time to read this!  I hope I’ve been able to offer a little insight into the importance of prison ministry and the needs that it has.  If any of you would like to talk more about it, I’d be more than happy to!  Just send me a facebook message or email me at mmagnus@live.ca

Concerning the specific resources the chapel I work in always needs:

1) Pew Style Bibles.  We like to work out of the same Bibles when we have ministries so we can give passage references along side page numbers and also know everyone is working out of the same translation.  Our current collection is falling apart.  A batch of 25-30 Bibles in moderate condition and all of the same printing would be of huge help.  The Gideons have provided us with a case of Bibles, but the print is very small and they are quite flimsy – good for personal use, not for the group settings we have.  Any easy to read translation will do such as NLT – the average inmate comes into prison with a 6th grade education.

2) Bible Studies and Work Books.  We find that when the inmates have a workbook to take back to their cell with them, there is a lot better engagement.  Unfortunately, even at $5-7/book, they can’t afford to buy them more than once or twice a year.  We do a mix of DVD Bible studies and personal teaching.  Concerning topics – these guys are like anyone else, and the majority of Bible Studies are relevant to their lives.

3) Anything music.  Anything.  There are some really talented guys in prison.  We like the chapel to be a place they can participate in worship through music, and also jam for fun and find some joy there.  But our chapel instruments are aging and wearing quite thin.  We have a couple of guitars and a bass that are warped and hard to keep in tune, as well as a drum set that is wearing out, and a piano that hasn’t been tuned… probably ever.  Any parts such as drum skins, drum sticks, strings, or used instruments still in decent condition would be greatly appreciated.  We have an inmate now who is capable of tuning the piano – we just need a key to do it.  Also, worship books with music to learn newer songs.

4) “Old School” Media – namely DVD’s and CD’s.  There isn’t access to online streaming, nor can I bring in a USB for music and movies.  We have to do everything like its 1999!  Newer Christian music would be highly appreciated, as well as CD’s with sermons and messages (though they can’t be burned… sort of… message me if you want to know more).  Also – movies with a strong, positive messages or ones that lead into really good discussions on morality make for great evenings.  I showed them Captain America: Civil War one night and we spent two hours talking about good and bad structures of authority and the the connection between bitterness and lack of forgiveness and grace (from a super hero movie!?  Yeah – there’s actually some pretty solid themes in them).

If you live in the Edmonton area, I can pick up anything you’d like to donate when I come into the city.

Life Saving Station – From June 25

On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.pexels-photo-110126

Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.

Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a miniature lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

-Author Unknown

Whom God Uses – Sunday June 18th

1 Samuel 1:11 “And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”hannah-praying-from-banah.org_

It isn’t uncommon for somebody in life to try and make a deal with God.  It usually follows a basic formula where the person looks at a place in their life where they have need, and in exchange for helping out, they offer God another place in their life where they have abundance.  “God, if you help me get this promotion at work, I will spend more time ministering to the neighbours.”  “God, if you help me get the resources I need to fix my house, I will spend more time volunteering at the food bank or the church.”  In those situations, you need money, you have time, so you ask God to help with the former in exchange for the ladder.

This is a natural mindset for us to have.  After all, this concept of trade is a part of almost every other aspect in our lives.  We do it in business transactions all the time, and even in relationships.

But Hannah’s attitude goes a step beyond that normal thinking, and reaches a place that truly dwells on the divine.  The formula for her requests is not so much a ‘trade’ as it is, “God, please grant me this, and I will give it back to you.”  In that thought you could rephrase the other ones to be, “God, help me get this promotion, and I will use the extra influence and resources it grants me to serve you.”  “God, help me get the resources I need to fix my house, and I will open my home up to those who need it.”

Hannah recognizes that everything comes from God, and everything is already His.  We see this in her powerful prayer that begins 1 Samuel 2 where she lifts the Lord up in praise for answering her prayer.

This is meant to be contrast with the story that follows, which shows the opposite attitude in Eli’s sons.  The story tells us of these men that take things like sacrifices and servants given to the Lord, and use them for their own indulgences.  They what belongs explicitly to God and use it for their own desires.

And in the book of first Samuel, we see the child that Hannah has become one of the great prophets of the Old Testament.  He receives visions from God, retrieves the Ark back from an enemy nation, anoints the first king of Israel, and is prophet and counsel to the kings.

Meanwhile, Eli’s line is cut off.

In this story, it is not so much the bargain that Hannah tries to strike with God that moves His hand in her life, but the attitude behind the prayer.  God wants us to be humble and rejoice in the blessings of our lives by give them back to God.

When we pray, do we reflect this attitude?  Do we have, behind the words of our prayers, those powerful lines that Jesus teaches is in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done?”  Or do we seek things from God simply for ourselves and long for our kingdom to come, and our will to be done?

Whom does God use?  Those who seek Him with humility and offer everything He has given them back to Him.

Whole Life Worship – Sunday June 11

The English language is an ever evolving mess of shifting definitions and meanings.  For example, when the King James Bible was written, the word ‘prevent’ meant to come before, rather than to stop as we use it now.  So passages like, “But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee,” (Psalm 88:13) are easy to misunderstand, and look just plain confusing.

There’s another word that has shifted meaning, though we still use it in our modern translations: Worship.  Understanding the real meaning behind this word is essential to living the life Christ has called us to.  We often think of worship, adoration and praise as synonyms.  In truth, while adoration and praise are forms of worship, the real call of the Bible goes far beyond singing songs and celebrating God in our prayers.

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Romans 12:1-2
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (NIV)

I like to think that the, “Therefore,” this passage starts with is encompassing the entire first eleven chapters of Romans.  In these chapters, Paul gives his detailed views on the problem of sin and death, and the reconciliation and freedom that can be found in Christ through his suffering on the cross.  Now with Romans 12, Paul is calling his readers to act in light of these beliefs.  “Therefore… in view of God’s mercy.”  Rather, therefore, in view of the cross of Christ and power of His death and resurrection, “off your bodies as a living sacrifice… this is your true and proper worship.”

What other response can there be to Christ giving Himself to us, than for us to give our whole selves to Him?  Worship isn’t about select times during the week that we set aside to pray or sings songs.  Worship is about the way we live.  It’s about turning our goals over to Christ.  Its about turning our ambition towards Christ.  Its about sacrifice for the sake of Christ.

Listen to how Paul follows this up in the rest of Romans 12:

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Read through that again!  Look at the call this view of God’s mercy puts on the Church!  Can you imagine how incredible of a testimony that people who lived like that would be for Christ in this world?

To pursue our gifts and give them to God, to be sincere in our love and devoted to one another, to be humble, to associate with people of low statue, or bless those who persecute us – to live and Christ lived.  That is our worship.  When we live as Christ lived, we worship Him.

I encourage you this week to spend time and prayer asking yourself this question, “Who does my life worship?”

Welcome!

Pineview Alliance Church is located in the beautiful mountain town of Grande Cache, Alberta.  We strive to be a welcoming environment for people of all ages and backgrounds.  Come join us for Sunday Worship at 10:30am!

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C&MA Vision Prayer:

O God, with all our hearts, we long for You.
Come, transform us to be Christ-centred, Spirit-empowered, Mission-focused people, multiplying disciples everywhere.