The Spirit-filled, Gospel-centered Life

doveWhen I joined staff with Campus Crusade (Power to Change now) in 2003, I remember distinctly during our training being told that the message of the Spirit-filled life was the most important thing that I could share with a believer.  It contained a challenge to the Lordship of Jesus, a clear call to walk in the Spirit through confession & repentance, and a reminder of the work of the Spirit to empower us to walk in fruitful obedience.

In the decade since then, I’ve noticed that as staff we have become reticent to share this message with students. Sometimes we blame outdated booklets, other times because we simply assume it’s too basic, and most recently, I’ve heard people say that they aren’t sure how the SpiFiLi (as I like to think of it) squares with the gospel-centered movement.

The gospel centered movement has been a great refocus for the church, helping us keep in mind, as Tim Keller would say, that the gospel isn’t just the ABC’s of salvation, but the A-Z. The implication is that our struggle with sin isn’t resolved by an additional ingredient to the gospel, but by a particular application of the gospel itself to an area of idolatry in our lives.  Or as old Thomas Chalmers says,

“There is not one personal transformation in which the heart is left without an object of ultimate beauty and joy.  The hearts desire for one particular object can be conquered, but its desire to have some object is unconquerable.  The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection by the expulsive power of a new one.”

So if the answer to my deepest needs post-salvation is the gospel, where does the Spirit-filled life fit in?

1.  The Spirit-filled life is the message that the Holy Spirit has come to apply  the benefits of the gospel to our lives.

For example, in Ephesians 3 Paul prays that the church at Ephesus would have “strength to comprehend, with all the saints, … to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” And how will that strength be imparted to them? Paul begins by asking that “he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” 

So what do we need?  A deeper understanding of the gospel — the message of Christ’s sacrificial love for us.

How will we get it?  The Spirit will come and strengthen our inner beings so that we will comprehend the incomprehensible love of God.

2. The Spirit is actually the One who convicts us of sin & righteousness, and therefore causes the gospel to shine.

According to John 16, the Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.  The conviction that we feel over sin, which drives us to the hope and comfort of the gospel, comes from the Spirit. Our growth in holiness and love for Jesus comes as the Spirit presses home to us the dual reality of our lives: We are more sinful than we ever dared believe, and more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. (T.K)

3. Spiritual breathing (Confession, Repentance, Surrender) IS the work of the gospel transforming our hearts.

The SpiFiLi talks about spiritual breathing as a dynamic process by which we “continue to experience God’s love and forgiveness.”  (emphasis added)  I love this line… this is exactly what I want for my walk with God: a continued experience of God’s love and forgiveness!

One ways that we can “preach the gospel” to ourselves is by engaging in the practice of spiritual breathing – confessing sin as it happens, repenting of it, and surrendering our lives to the control of the Spirit again.

So what other parallels do you see between the Spirit-filled life and the gospel-centered movement?

Kenny Rogers on leadership


“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

The Gambler

In reading leadership blogs recently I’ve come across what initially appeared to be contradictory advice.  I’ve been wrestling with how to continue to drive change for the sake of maximum impact in our ministry, and wondering about the balance between persevering in a strategy over time and making radical changes to revitalize flagging strategies.

In reading through Michael Hyatt’s blog and listening to his podcasts, I’ve been encouraged by his challenge to embrace the power of incremental changes and their ability to lead to great impact over time. In ministry in general, I’ve witnessed the power of picking a direction and then working with diligence and intention over a period of years. Then quarter over quarter, evaluating the work and making necessary adaptations and changes to refine a system in order to produce greater fruit.  I believe in the power of incremental change, and the damage that comes through vacillating between models and approaches rather than putting down roots and focusing on growth.

In reading lately from Andy Stanley and Bill Hybels, I’ve been reminded of the need for radical change in order to pursue radical growth. Hybels says in Axiom, “Incremental thinking, incremental planning, incremental prayers–it’s the kiss of death. Don’t fall for it.” As an entrepreneur, I resonate with the desire to rethink, re-engineer, and re-market ourselves in order to engage the maximum number of “customers.”

Don’t get me wrong: these authors aren’t in conflict with each other!  The conflict arises when we as leaders struggle to understand when to make incremental adjustments to refine a moderately effective system, and when to scrap an ailing system in order to implement a potentially much more effective one.

Kenny Rogers knows something about wise leadership! An effective leader is not just someone with great ideas and a vision for the future.  Rather a wise leader knows when to pursue incremental growth and when to drive exponential growth through radical changes.

As our ministry is currently in its annual strategic planning process, this is the question to wrestle with as leaders in each of our strategies:

Do we hold ’em, believing that with some tweaks and refinements that they will take us to where we need to be.

Do we fold ’em, seeing a better way to accomplish our goals through another strategy or a radical overhaul.


Michael Hyatt (@michaelhyatt) has some great ideas on how and when to pursue incremental change:

How to avoid Silver Bullet Thinking

Bill Hybels (@billhybels) has a great chapter in his book Axiom on the danger of incremental thinking.

The dangers of incrementalism (first pages of the chapter)

photo credit:”>meandmybadself  via”>photopin

Jesus & Story: What do you do about death?

I’ve been reflecting lately on the power of story as it relates to helping people engage with the message of Jesus.  Particularly, I’ve noticed the power of story to create curiosity about Jesus and his message.

A couple weeks back, I was on campus at Dawson College talking with a couple students about Jesus, and was asked, as a Christian, what I think happens after we die.  We were having a great conversation – this was probably around the 55 minute mark of our time together – and when I heard the Christian student that was with me whip out the easy theological answer of heaven and hell, I felt like we somehow lost the heart of the question in giving the easy doctrinal answer.  So here’s what I said:


There are a couple different ways to answer that question. Probably the best way would be to tell you a quick story about how Jesus himself dealt with death when he came face to face with it.

The story starts with Jesus hearing that a good friend of his is sick.  Lazarus is the brother of two of his other friends, Mary and Martha, who were sending the news to Jesus, hoping that he would come and help. Jesus though, decides to wait a couple days before coming, and Lazarus dies.  When Jesus finally arrives at Lazarus’ house, he has already been dead four days.

Martha, one of the sisters of Lazarus, approaches Jesus as he arrives in the town and says, “Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus responds by telling her that her brother will live again, and then in strong words says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though they die, they will live.” He follows up the answer with a question for Martha – “Do you believe this?”

In a sense what Jesus is saying to Martha is this: there is life after death – that’s a fact – and the way to have it is to believe in me.  In fact, if you believe in me, even though your physical body might die, your soul will live on forever.

There’s the theological answer to your question – what happens after we die? Jesus makes it clear that there is life after death, and that life is found in believing in him.  But there’s more to the story.

Martha goes to find her grieving sister Mary, who upon hearing that Jesus is in town, goes running to find him. Mary runs up to Jesus, weeping, and says the exact same thing her sister Martha said: “Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

How do you think Jesus reacts?

Surprisingly, Jesus reacts totally differently.  Instead of reminding her of the deep truth that death is not the end, he was deeply moved.  He asked to be brought to where the body was laid, and then he wept.

I love this picture of Jesus.

You see, even though Jesus knows the deep truth about death not being the end, and even though this story actually ends with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there is something about death & grieving that touches even the heart of God.  There is something about death that is deeply wrong – we all sense it.

I love this about Jesus, the fact that two people ask the same question and get two different answers. And why? Because the son of God knows the heart beneath the question and gives each of them the answer that they need to hear.

So what do Christians believe about death? Jesus tells us that death is not the end and illustrates it by raising a man from the dead; he tells us that there is hope for life after death through belief in him. But he also shows us that death and grieving were not God’s intention for our world, and he mourns with us over the sorrow that death creates.

My goal in sharing this story with these guys was to hopefully create some curiosity in their minds about the person of Jesus.  We went on to have a great conversation about the uniqueness of Jesus and they indicated interest in connecting again to look more at who Jesus really was! Praise God!

How have you used story to help people engage with the message of Jesus?

The power of story in engagement

A couple of months back, I was part of a team that invited Ravi Zacharias to come speak in Montreal at McGill University.  The lectures were attended by some 1500 individuals, many of whom were brought by a believing friend from the McGill community. Ravi spoke on two consecutive nights on the topics of “What does it mean to be human?” and “Why Jesus, given the options?”

The best part of these events is often the question and answer period, where the speaker is forced to leave their notes aside and deal with a wide range of questions from the audience. Aside from the obnoxious questions from people with obvious agendas (ie. Christians who want to hear Ravi tell them when Jesus is going to return) there are often profound questions with the opportunity for fascinating interaction with the speaker.

Ravi was fascinating in his ability to weave stories into his answers – change that, to weave answers into his stories! It was the stories that dominated his answers, and he seemed to have a story to answer every question.  And somehow in telling stories, Ravi unpacked not only the answer to the question, but the answer to the question beneath the question. At one point, he had the audience in tears as he told a story from his childhood in India that illustrated perfectly the answer to the question, “Why do you think God love us?”

Leaving the auditorium that evening, I realized that what Ravi had done that evening was exactly what Jesus had done so well 2000 years earlier. He had engaged a mixed crowd of believers and skeptics with stories that answered the question that was asked and the question that was implied.

As we wrestle as those who would engage a post-christian culture with the message of Jesus, our challenge is to return to the ways of Jesus, who never missed an opportunity to share a story when a theological question was asked of him. The problem is that we’ve learned to share a theological answer when a story is asked of us.

In engaging people in gospel-themed conversations over time, I think that a significant way that we build curiosity at the front end of those engagements is through the power of story. And as people become curious about Jesus, we then have the opportunity to show them the Jesus of the gospels: compelling, enigmatic, gracious and loving. And as they see Jesus, the “facts” of the gospel, the theological truths of his message, become compelling and practical.

How have you seen the power of story at work in our culture?

I need to win

I realized something profound about myself lately: I need to win.  At very least, I need to feel like I’m winning at something.

A couple weeks back now, I decided to replace the kitchen in our home.  My wife has especially hated the old tile floor, so the major work to be done involved removing 200 square feet of old tile, set in 3 inches of cement.

So after church a couple Sundays ago, I set down on my hands and knees and decided that I wouldn’t quit until I had removed all 200sf of tile.  Around 8pm Sunday night, I realized that I was within striking distance of my goal – only 20sf to go! By then my hands were in a fair amount of pain from gripping an air chisel for 8 hours already, my knees ached anytime I moved, and the dust was killing me.  But I held out for another 2 hours and finished the job.

Surveying the wreckage afterwards felt incredible — better than I’d felt about anything that I’d accomplished in the weeks leading up to this moment.  And thinking about it was both encouraging and frustrating.

Ripping out a stupid tile floor was seriously the least important thing that I had accomplished in the previous month — but it was the most tangible.

The month leading up to this was a good month: I spoke at an outreach at McGill, I mentored different staff around the province, I travelled and participated in meetings that contributed to our 2016 goals for our ministry, I taught the bible to our students in Quebec city.  All good activities, all things that I chose to do and believe are important.

A couple reasons why I think removing tile felt better than a month of ministry:

  1. Resting and surveying your work:  There is something great about being able to *see* what you’ve accomplished.  In ministry, I probably drive too hard and forget to stop and reflect on what God has been accomplishing.  Writing this post was actually helpful in realizing what I did accomplish in the last month.
  2. Goals along the way: Renovating a kitchen is a big job – more than a Sunday afternoon.  The lion’s share of the work was left to be done after I had ripped out the tiles, but having a mid-point goal along the way helped me understand progress. I don’t always do this day by day or week by week in ministry, and I should.
  3. Understanding the present in light of the future:  More than just goals, I think I probably need to understand / remind myself of how my days work is contributing to my strategic plan.  How does what I am doing today bring me to my ideal future?  10 hours of chipping at tiles was an awful way to spend a Sunday afternoon (napping would be the ideal) but I could endure it in light of my goal of having a new kitchen (and happy wife) after 10 days.

If I’m not careful, I could easily be satisfied at winning at the wrong things – not bad things, just lesser things. I need to be disciplined to set up winning conditions / goals in the areas of my life that are most important.

Organizational culture that lifts up young leaders

It would seem that any organization should value the kind of leadership that steps up and solves problems, but that doesn’t guarantee that our overtures are always well received.

In retrospect, I’ve been spoiled in working with Power to Change. My director has provided all the leadership challenges that a young leader would want, as well as the support and encouragement to contribute significantly to finding solutions.

In my experience, at least 4 things are crucial in the building of organizations that raise up young, action-oriented leaders:

1. An organizational culture that values progress and mission more than hierarchy. Are we creating a culture that makes room for young leaders to tackle significant problems?

2. An organizational culture that listens to emerging voices. Not just open to their voices, but creating spaces for those voices to be heard.

3. Training for emerging leaders in the 360 degree leadership. Another helpful talk from Bill Hybels years back helped me understand how to use my leadership influence wisely to influence those below me, but also how to thoughtfully engage my peers and leaders. Not that I’ve always been so thoughtful or sensitive, but the thinking behind this was helpful!

4. Senior leaders who actively look for younger leaders that they can platform through conferences, leadership opportunities, working groups, etc.  Working in Quebec in my first couple years with Power to Change, I’ve loved the opportunities that I’ve had to forge international partnerships, to represent our ministry abroad at conferences and working groups, and to have my voice heard on a variety of subjects (many of which I’m not sure I contributed significantly, but I grew through the engagement).

What about you?  How does your organization encourage or discourage young leaders? What would you add to the list?


ps. Here is a great link to a summary of John Maxwell’s 360 leader book.

Bias towards Action

A number of years back, I remember hearing an excellent talk at the Willowcreek Leadership Summit about the characteristics of effective leaders. Hybels illustrated one particular characteristic from the life of the Apostle Peter, showing how Peter’s first reaction in most situations was to take action, (although sometimes to his own detriment!).  Hybels referred to this characteristic as a “bias towards action” – an essential characteristic for leaders.  Leaders take action to solve problems, to act, to engage others in finding solutions.

When Jesus walked on water, Peter was the first out of the boat.  When Jesus was arrested in the garden, Peter was the first to (impetuously) jump to his defence by hacking a servant’s ear off with a sword.  When Jesus was on shore after his resurrection, Peter jumped out of a boat with his clothes on to get quickly to Jesus.

A leader’s instinct when facing a challenge is to take action to overcome obstacles.  A leader is often at their best when facing challenges!  A problem pops up and instead of simply voicing frustrations or complaining about poor planning or lack of resources, they take action to creatively solve problems.

I watched some great leaders this week take action to solve problems.  It was refreshing to watch them take initiative to fix logistical gaps, to serve the needs of satellite campuses, and to lead others in solution-minded thinking.

Nice work this week Quebec P2C-S staff!  I’m inspired.

The value of a framework for engagement

As we’ve wrestled with sharing the gospel in a post-Christian, post-modern environment like Québec, there have been a few “ah-ha!” moments where we’ve discovered tools, language, or ideas that have connected.  Reading “I once was lost” for the first time was one of those moments for me.  It’s not that there was anything revolutionary proposed in the book, rather it just made sense based on what we’d experienced.

The book is the product of a study that was done to analyze how thousands of university students from North America came to faith over a ten year period. The question that they were preoccupied with in their study was the question of process: what barriers did people need to overcome in order to put their faith in Christ. They propose 5 barriers:

  1. Grow to trust a Christian
  2. Become curious about God/Jesus/Christianity/Meaning of Life
  3. Become consciously open to changing their mind about life and God. Willing to verbalize a felt need for something else.
  4. Begin to consciously seek for God.
  5. Cross the line and become a follower of Jesus.

As we’ve sought to help our students and staff understand that people are in process, and that evangelism takes time, adopting this language and framework has been most helpful in allowing us to feel “ok” to a certain degree with the fact that we see less people pray to receive Christ per gospel presentation here in Québec.  It’s freed us up to trust in a sovereign God who calls people to himself.

There is something about having a framework in our minds when we engage with others that helps us to gauge where to take the conversation, how to pray, and what resources might help this person take the next step in discovering Jesus.

And it’s not that I didn’t have a framework in my mind before this, but just that my former framework was simple and undefined, binary almost. And a binary framework is limited in it’s ability to shape tools, define processes, measure success, or engage culture.

There is of course a part of us that will never be happy with anything less than revival, but having a framework for understanding progress has been immensely helpful for keeping ministry in perspective in the day-to-day.

What’s been helpful for you in maintaining perspective as you accompany your friends to faith in Christ?

Gospel proclamation in the experience economy

I’m reading a fantastic book right now, at the recommendation of @realwillwhy called “The Experience Economy” by Pine and Gilmore.  The premise is that our economy has gone through several changes, moving from commodities based, to goods based, through services, and now on towards an experience economy.  It’s not that we’ve left commodities, goods, or services behind, but that their relevance and profitability has been limited as margins within those spheres have shrunk over and over again.

Their point is that the companies and organizations that are thriving in North America right now are the ones that have recognized that shift and have begun to market an experience, rather than a commodity, a good, or a service. The easiest (and most delicious) example would be coffee.  The coffee bean is a commodity that sells for pennies, is transformed into a product (roasted beans) that sells for slightly higher, then becomes a service when sold by retailers such as Tim Hortons for $1 or $2, but then is marketed as an experience by Starbucks and sold for $4-$6.

 While ministries might not need to worry about shrinking margins in the experience economy, there are some general lesson to be learned in terms of how consumers (people) are wired to respond to products / services / content. Increasingly, we’re looking for an experience rather than just information.  You see this really clearly when you look at the way that information is communicated via the internet. How many videos have you watched in the last few months that feature someone drawing at a frantic pace on a whiteboard while some scientist / prof gives a lecture in the background?

As we’ve wrestled with the question of how to communicate the gospel to university students in a post-modern, post-christian culture, we’ve unwittingly stumbled onto the same understanding.

Historically, I think I’ve understood communication of the gospel to be primarily an issue of information: people need to know the information about Jesus in order to make a decision to follow Him, therefore we should train them in the communication of that information using transferable tools (booklets) that allow them to faithfully transmit this content.

As we’ve wrestled with declining numbers of students making decisions to follow Jesus, we’ve shifted to focus on this idea of engagement.  We’re not content for the information to simply be presented, but we want to engage students in gospel-themed conversations that allow them to understand and wrestle with the message of Jesus, while engaging with an authentic representative that embodies the message of Jesus.  Presenting the information is still vital, but unless the person is engaged, unless the conversation leads to contemplation, we’re not sure that the presentation of information is as helpful.

Or to use the language of The Experience Economy, we realize that our product has higher perceive value when our customers are engaged in an experience of the gospel rather than simply receiving the information via pamphlet.

So then, how do we invite the uninitiated to experience the gospel?

Mixed loyalties

I’ve heard one of the workplaces shifts that have taken place in our culture over the last few decades described as a shift in loyalties. The first post-war generation is described as being loyal to their company at all costs.  There was an unwritten rule that if you put in the hours, worked hard, and didn’t question authority, then the company would take care of you through consistent pay and adequate retirement benefits. Stability at all costs, resulting in a generation that worked one career and often one company their whole career long.

The Boomer generation is described as being loyal to the company, but differently.  Their loyalty is often motivated by particular leaders to whom they are loyal within the organization.

Generation X is often described as a loyalty free generation, and their has been much criticized about the loyalty of Generation Y as well… however the consensus seems to be that these generations are more likely to be loyal to a cause over an organization or a particular leader.

In struggling to raise up labourers for the mission that would be loyal to the cause, to organizations, and to leaders, I was struck by something in the leadership of David.

In 2 Samuel, David deals strangely with 2 situations that he is faced with. In the first chapter, a young Amalekite from the camp of Saul reports to David that Saul is dead and that he struck the deathblow himself. David responds with mourning (surprising, since Saul was actively trying to kill David) and killing the Amalekite. “Your blood be on your own head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed.'”

In the third chapter, there is a similar story. David has been at war with Abner, the former commander of Saul’s army. Abner approaches David and asks for peace, which David gladly offers. When the commander of David’s army, Joab, finds out, he is furious and pursues Abner and kills him.  Again, David’s reaction to this event is somewhat surprising: he mourns and weeps for the man who had spent his life hunting him and rebukes and curses the man who defended him (Joab).

So what does David teach us about loyalty?

Loyalty to leaders produces people who do what they think the leader wants, even when that action is wrong.  David was upset with the young Amalekite because in spite of how David benefited from this victory, God’s anointed was killed.

Loyalty to causes produce single-minded, driven, results-oriented followers who will do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission, no matter the cost to their integrity.  Joab was a fantastic leader and general; he just never knew when to stop.  You catch some of this when David was being hunted by Saul & Abner in 1 Samuel and is urged to kill Saul when he had the chance. David wasn’t willing to win at a cost to his integrity in doing what was against the command of the Lord.

So what was David loyal to, and what should we call those that follow us to be loyal to?

The Lord. David was a warrior whose first allegiance was to the Lord -not the mission, not the battle, not his men. Getting issues of first loyalties right puts our other loyalties into their proper light