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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Praise, Praise, Praise and more Praise

I'm amazed at how quickly Advent has come and gone. Time flies by so quickly at this time of year, which is the main reason I make it a point at this time of year to sit down and read through the birth stories of Jesus and let them simply sink into my heart and soul. This means slow reading, letting each of the scenes rest for a while in my imagination and heart as they settle inside, coming together in a story of simplicity and great depth, of bewilderment and questions, of trust and faith, messiness and more.
This year the overarching theme that has risen up within me from the settling inside is praising God. Beginning with Elizabeth and Mary, moving onto the angels and shepherds, then to Simeon and Anna and finally the Magi; they all respond with praise and worship. Their immediate situations don't change; as far as that goes, Mary's situation became much more difficult, along with Joseph's, and yet praise is the primary response to the news and coming of Jesus.
The shepherds go back to tending their sheep, still despised by most of the townspeople, the Magi go home, swinging around Jerusalem, Simeon and Anna are never heard from again and likely pass away shortly afterwards, the angels head back to heaven where Jesus isn't there, at least for a time. Still, though nothing seems to change on the outside, the response is praise!
What's your response to Jesus' birth? Is it praise? Is there something preventing you from praising God? Last week I received news my father was in the hospital again and his heart is not so strong anymore. Naturally, the first thing was to pray for healing and for God's presence with my dad, but then it struck me, is this going to keep me from praising God? Christmas has a bitter sweet place inside of me since my mother died just before Christmas and my brother died just after Christmas, both many years ago, yet when Christmas comes, the memories come back too. Then the what ifs kicked in, what if my dad died as well? Would I, could I still praise God right now? As I worked this through inside myself, I realized there is so much to give praise for: my dad knows Jesus, he taught me about Jesus and showed me how important it is that knowing about Jesus impacts how I live, not just what I think, that belief shapes what I do and who I am as a person. My dad is not afraid of death because he knows death is not the end because of Jesus. As the oldest son, and a rather stubborn son at that, my dad and I haven't always been close, but over the last decade, we've grown closer as we've learned to appreciate who the other person is. Another thing to give thanks for and to praise God for.
But how about you, do you give praise only when God answers your prayers the way you want or expect? That's rather simply and shallow if that's the only time you praise God. Can you give praise when God says 'no.' Do you give praise for the ordinary everyday kinds of things? Things like family, friends, food on your table, a roof over your head, your health, beauty around you, neighbours and a neighbourhood to be in, jobs, your mind, your church family, and so much more. They may not be perfect, but then you aren't either.
And of course you are invited to join Mary, the shepherds, angels, magi and others in praising God for his goodness, for the gift of his son who came in order to die for us that we might once again be right with God. Praise God! You can come praise God because of the gift of the Holy Spirit who is also Emmanuel, God with us; meaning you are never alone, God is always with you, no matter your circumstances. Praise changes you even when your situations don't because praise creates gratefulness and joy, shining light and hope even if the darkness is deep.
By the way, my dad should be alright, but the day is coming, sooner or later when I shall have to say those good byes, but the Christmas story brings me to a place where I can praise God no matter what comes.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Spirituality: what is it to you?

Over the past few weeks I've heard a number of people quote statistics that say the province I live in, Quebec, is "spiritual" but not religious and been thinking about what it means to be spiritual. I've been reading Eugene Peterson's Subversive Spirituality to prepare for our deep discipleship group's reflection for next month on spirituality, and now, honestly, I still can't define exactly what spirituality, or being spiritual, really is. People in church will say they're not being spiritually fed, or they'll say they're spiritual and don't need to attend the church and I'm never sure exactly what they want or who they're saying they are. Mostly I see people who aren't much different than any of my neighbours who never go to church or even believe in God.
What struck me with Eugene Peterson's book is a comment he made about spirituality, he goes something like this: when we are healthy and good in our relationship with God we don't think a whole lot about spirituality, but if we're off the track in some way with our relationship with God, we blame it on the church's lack of focus on spirituality. It seems to me that spirituality is mostly about living right with God and with others and when we start living in a way that causes us to drift away from God's ways, or we get into dysfunctional or unhealthy relationships with others, all of a sudden we get a desire for "spirituality" and we start looking to find a way to "feel" good about ourselves again, usually meaning we're trying to find a way to justify the way we're doing things, or the way we're living, then we say we're tapping into our "spirituality." I think most times we're just fooling ourselves instead.
Maybe we need to get back to a simpler faith instead, live according to how God calls us to live with him and each other. The problem is this is a lot easier said than done since the way to live God's way is to live with love; healthy love where we are looking out for the best for others, not the artificial love Hollywood would have us believe is real love. A young man blamed me for not warning him how hard it was going to be to live like a follower of Jesus. When I asked him what he meant, he told me he was finding it really hard to live in a way that focuses on helping others to see what living in healthy ways is. He realized that this is what loving your neighbour is all about. But that means caring a lot and being willing to take a chance to confront his friends, co-workers and even family when he would notice something in what they were doing or how they living that was hurting themselves or others. Yet when I pushed him on how he was doing with God, he mentioned that by working so hard at really living out this loving your neighbour thing, that his relationship with God was stronger than he expected. He had thought because his friends and others ignored his advice so often, that he would feel guilty because of his lack of success, instead he believes he understands God's love for us a lot better now since we're so often like his friends, not really listening to God's advice.
Perhaps spirituality is simply nothing more than reading our Bible more faithfully to get to know God better, and than living out the way of living Jesus laid out for us. It's not about "feelings," but about a commitment to a deep caring of the people around us, along with talking with God through prayer, and spending time with God's people who are trying to live the same way so you can encourage each other, help each other and worship God together.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Maturity and Gratitude

Preaching through Ephesians has been good for me this fall, and I hope good for our church too. One theme that has jumped out to me is maturity. How mature are you as a follower of Jesus? Maturity looks like knowing what you believe so that you're able to engage with our culture wisely, recognizing both the good and the wrong, and working towards healthy communities. It looks like serving others instead of yourself, it looks like unity (as I talked about in my last post), and maturity looks like gratitude. All of these things that reflect maturity, except the first which contributes to and shapes the others, are all outwardly looking attributes.
The one that strikes me the most however is gratitude. The most mature followers of Jesus I know are those who look at their lives, no matter how difficult their lives have been, no matter how much suffering they have experienced, they're all able to thank God regularly and sincerely for who He is and how He is present in their lives.
I have a 3 year old grandson living with us, and it's an amazing blessing because I see the wonder in his eyes as he sees and learns something new. I've learned to appreciate the world around me all the more again as I look at it through his eyes. But I'm also often reminded that he is a child and has a lot of growing up to do before he becomes an adult, which is alright since he's only 3 years old. What I've learnt again is how children can be so happy one moment and then how angry and upset they can be the next minute simply because something has not gone their way, or because they don't have something they suddenly want. This is because children are inherently focused on themselves. The goal as parents and adults is to help them grow out of this self preoccupation, and yet the church seems to often to be filled with children in adult bodies concerned about themselves first and often unwilling to be sacrificial in their relationships with others. I will take some responsibility for this as a pastor in not teaching and equipping our members well enough, but at some point, it is also a personal responsibility for each follower of Jesus to grow up and become spiritually mature.
Gratitude allows us to be sacrificial because we've learned to trust that God is with us, that he loves us and is working out all things for our good even if we don't always understand why some things happen the way they do. A spirit of gratitude reflects on how much we already have instead of what we don't have, it does not focus on what others have that we don't. Grateful Christians know that they can be part of a church and not always need everything to go their way; they look at what God is doing now instead of constantly harking back to the "good old days," and look at how they can build up the church to create an atmosphere of blessing.
As we head into advent, join me in counting our blessings. Write them down, share them with others, and if you're struggling with this, ask others what they see in your life that you can be grateful for. Sometimes we need others to remind us of how blessed we really are and how much we can be grateful for.
Personally, these are just a few of  the things I am grateful for: my wife, my children and grandchildren. I am extremely grateful for a church community that is growing closer together and are becoming more deliberate in being followers of Jesus, for a church community who has allowed me to make mistakes and helped me grow as their pastor. I am grateful for God who continues to work to save His creation and sent His son Jesus to save us from our sin that we might experience God's blessings.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Unity

The last few weeks have had me thinking a lot about unity in the church and how often the church is known more for its disunity instead of its commitment to stay together through thick or thin. Our church connected with other churches in the area to celebrate a conference with speakers coming in who focused on unity in the church and among the different churches and denominations and traditions represented among the churches participating. It was good to work together and to reflect on what we can learn from each other and what we have in common in worshiping God, rather than focusing on our differences.
I'm teaching through Romans during a weekday class and one of Paul's great desires for that church is unity, and on Sundays this fall I've been working though Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus and the theme of unity is strong throughout the whole letter.
Paul talks in Ephesians about being mature and how unity is a sign of maturity in the church and I made the connection in my head with Jesus' prayer in John 17, "  "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." When you grow up you become more willing to give up things so that you can bless others. In the church, it looks like this, "I'm willing to let you have things your way because I want you to be blessed. I'm willing to accept that we will not always agree, even about what the Bible says, but our relationship with Jesus and each other is more important than my insisting on being right." 
How many breakups in the church or relationships are based on wanting things your own way instead of caring about unity? How often have we said that unity is important, but when it gets too uncomfortable and things don't go our way often enough, we go our own way? 
I believe that too many Christians often don't really care enough about what Jesus has taught or desired about unity. Too many are more concerned about their own level of comfort and their own desires than Jesus'. How else do we explain the number of church splits or Christians who leave their churches for another because the new one better serves them rather than work on  your relationship with the church? 
Hard words, but the call for unity in Scriptures, especially in the New Testament is challenging me to reflect on my own heart and relationships; both with God and others and how committed am I to others and how often do I walk away from people because it's too much effort to express grace and work  through our differences. I may put fancy words around my decisions, but often it comes down to what I want and what's easiest for me, a mark of childish thinking instead of maturity. 
It's in unity within the Body of Christ, the church, that the world sees that God has sent Jesus and that God loves the world even as God loves Jesus. Isn't unity worth all the effort and sacrifice it takes if that's true? What might that look like where you are?

Monday, 20 October 2014

Being a disciple and obedience

I'm reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship again and every time I read his book, it gets me thinking. Some would say that's a good thing, some might say it's kind of scary, but here's what Bonhoeffer has me thinking about today.
I'm struck again by his emphasis on obedience as a key part of being a disciple of Jesus. In fact, without obedience to God, there is no faith. This is striking a chord in me. Granted, the institutional church has gotten a bad name because of its focus on rules over grace and on believing the right doctrine over right living together, yet obedience is still relevant and important.
I'm thinking about hockey and how, if you don't obey the rules the coach makes, you don't play, and if it goes on long enough, you get thrown off the team. This weekend in the NHL, a player has been suspended because he hasn't obeyed society's rules on how to treat a woman. He allegedly beat her and now is off the team for a time, and if found guilty, he's off the team for good and everyone says that's a good thing. But now if you relate this to faith and following Jesus, people want to keep their options open. They want quick forgiveness with little or no consequences when they don't obey God; after-all, isn't God all about grace? It seems kind of odd to me that many people want sport organizations to have higher standards than the church or God, with the excuse that we need to show grace. Yet rebelling against God is a life or death act.
Can you be a real follower of Jesus without radically obeying his teachings? I guess you can if you accept him only as teacher, but can you not do everything you can to obey and follow Jesus' teachings if you accept him as God?
One last thought, Bonhoeffer asks whether you try to get around Jesus' teachings by spiritualizing them or turning them into metaphors so you can say you are obedient without really obeying? God created us with imaginations, and I'm often amazed at how we use our imaginations to get around God's call on our lives instead of using them to discover even more ways to obey him. Don't get me wrong, I believe in grace; in deep radical grace, and I need this grace more than anyone, but I wonder if we understand what this grace is really all about and how much it cost God? I wonder if we've read so much of the forgiveness and grace passages without reading the passages about the extreme life Jesus calls us to when he says, "Come, follow me."
How would your life be different if you really obeyed Jesus? I've got a long ways to go still; are you willing to join me in this journey? We do this better together!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Grace Saved Me

Do you think of yourself as a sinner? What a strange concept for so many people today. We live in a time where everyone wins and everyone gets praised for normal everyday achievements. I don't normally watch shows like American Idol, but I did appreciate one of the judge's comments to a singer who was especially bad, "Hasn't anyone ever told you that you cannot sing?" When the person in question answered  that her mother always praises her singing, the judge replied, "She did you no favour in lying to you." When no one is willing to tell you that you that you might be horrible at something like singing, however could they tell you that you're a sinner in the need of forgiveness?
Yet, when we're honest with ourselves, we all realize that not all out thoughts, all our actions are right; that we can be awfully self-centered most of the time, easily ignoring others and failing to help when we have opportunities to help. These are sins of omission, and then there are all those times we actively sin by our words or actions. It's actually healthy to acknowledge that we are sinners; it makes us more open to recognizing our need for someone to help us deal with our sins, because if we could deal with them ourselves, we would have. Simply having sinned shows us we cannot deal with sin ourselves.
I appreciate the Apostle Paul's honesty when he admits that he does the things he doesn't want to do because he knows  they're wrong, and all those good  things he wants to do, he way too often doesn't do them. It puts me in good company. This is why I've embraced the hope found in Paul's words in his letter to the people in Ephesus, "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions---it is by grace you have been saved."
These words have transformed lives from drudgery to joy and beauty, from worrying if God loves you and you are worthy of God's love to experiencing God as your father, from needing to work at earning God's attention and favour to resting in God's hands because he's taken care of the sin you've done and fallen into, picking you back, washing you clean and declaring that you are now princesses and princes in the world as daughters and sons of God saving you from death. This, all from God with nothing needed from you, based in his love and mercy, his grace. There is nothing you need to do to be saved, there is nothing you can do to be saved, it's all in God's hands, based on his love and kindness. For this reason alone, we need not worry about whether we are saved from death and eternal separation from God, instead we can focus on life and living.
So on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, give thanks, but not just for your stuff, but for the grace and forgiveness from God that brings real living. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Chosen by God: election



We live in a culture where we have so much choice in almost everything. We choose what to eat, a blessing so many people in the world don't have. We choose our school, our job (to a certain extent anyway), our church (lots of church hoppers and shoppers out there), our clothes (some make better choices than others my kids tell me), and how we spend our time among all our other choices. Is it any wonder then that a lot of believers want to believe that they have chosen to believe and accept God rather than believing that God chose us before we chose him, something the church calls 'election.'

It's about control; who is really in control of your life? In a culture as individualistic as ours, being our own boss, being in control over our own lives is important to many people. Few people like being a follower and accept that others can tell us what to do. When I talk to human resource managers or small business owners, they all say similar things, no one wants to start at the bottom anymore under other people, everyone believes they are smarter and better than everyone else and should be the one in charge, or at the very least, second in charge, but only for a short time.

But when it comes to our relationship with God, I'm glad it doesn't rely on my having chosen God first because otherwise there would be no relationship with God; I know my own heart and tendencies! I love how Paul puts it in Ephesians 1 "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." God chose us because he loves us and this love means that he not only chooses us to be his followers and people, but he chooses us to be his daughters and sons; members of his family. 

If you believe that you chose God first and that he chose you only because he knew you were going to choose him, you over-estimate yourself. You also take the grace out of salvation because now you are taking credit for choosing God rather than accepting the amazing grace and love God has for you even though you're still a sinner who consistently chooses to do your own thing instead of submitting yourself completely to God's will. 

There's amazing comfort in knowing God chose me even though I'm a mess-up because I know I'll stay chosen. If my relationship with God began with me, I could also un-choose him, something like many people do today with their churches and with God. I can admit my sins, confessing and repenting, but never having to fear that God will get fed-up with me. It allows me to sleep well at night knowing I'm completely in God's hands and nothing, especially myself, can knock me out of  them. Praise the Lord!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Coveting and Contentment

Coveting, an older churchy Bible word that means 'to really want something.' Coveting is not something bad in itself, you can covet good things and bad things, in good ways and bad ways. People have come up to me saying, "I covet your prayers," meaning they would really appreciate it if I prayed for them. Often though, coveting is used in a more negative way, in the way God uses it in the last commandment, "You shall not covet......" in wanting something that someone else has and you don't. But what's wrong with wanting something that someone else has? Isn't that the motivation behind working harder so you can get it for yourself? Isn't that the foundation of the Canadian (American) dream; always looking to achieve or get more: a bigger house, better job, cottage, whatever? Though I can see that if you covet your neighbour's wife or husband it's rather negative and I feel really bad for your spouse, you're not supposed to be trying to get yourself a new spouse when you already have one. But why would God tell us that a strong motivating emotion like coveting is wrong if it makes us work harder?
I believe the reason God takes such a strong stand against coveting is the tendency we have to make gods out of the things we really want. We aren't very good at keeping things in balance or perspective, and coveting feeds that part of our hearts that says, "more, more, me, me..." and forgets what God has already given and blessed us with. Coveting makes it really hard to be content and appreciate what you already have. It takes your eyes off of God and his desire for us and sets our eyes on ourselves instead. Contentment is the counter to coveting, and contentment is hard to learn, hard to embrace when all around you the mantra is to work harder to get more, to get more because you deserve it.
So how do you practice contentment, or do you think it's rather foolish and simply an excuse for lazy people to slack off? Personally, the more I work at keeping my focus on God and what I already have, the more I'm experiencing contentment and God's joy and happiness in the family, work and things I have, and the more I want to be a blessing to others. Try it, it's life changing!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

making sure justice works

As I sit here writing this, my province is once again home to people banging pots trying to intimidate the government to bow to one group of citizens over the province as a whole. Now to be honest, it's not a clear cut issue as the government has placed itself in this position of having to go back on work contracts signed in the past. But the workers themselves hurt their own cause by storming into the council chambers of our city, trying to disrupt the work of the city councilors and intimidating them through a show of force.
This reminded me of the principle behind the "don't bear false witness" commandment. We too often make it too small by restricting it to telling our children not to lie, but the whole thought behind the command is that people need to be honest in order for justice to happen and for our civil society to be trusted by its citizens. We need to think bigger than that when we look at hos God is calling us to live with each other here. Intimidation tactics, whether in city hall, in parliament or in the church creates distrust among regular people; forcing  through laws or rules without proper negotiation or consultation is an abuse of power which also creates distrust in the leaders, whether in city hall, parliament or the church council. Neither respects the others, both create distrust and weaken the society they profess to care about and say they want to protect and grow.
In the 10 Commandments, God is giving his people a way of living together based on respect and honesty, especially in this commandment to not bear false witness. God has created us all in his image and he desires that his people live this out in their relationships with each other. In God's society, it's not about taking what we can get for ourselves and always fighting for every last dollar, it's about creating a society where people take care of each other and work towards creating health, trust and a sense of belonging for all those who live among the people of God. Take a look at the regulations God put into place about aliens and foreigners and you see grace and welcome.
How can you, how can we work together to create a church that models justice, trust and health together so that our society can get a glimpse of what God's kingdom is all about?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

What's yours is yours, especially your name

I taught a class a while ago on the commandment about stealing. Now just to be clear, I was against stealing, after all, what is yours should be yours. But I was amazed as I did some research on this command that the early church wasn't all that concerned in this command about stuff, but instead they were more concerned about someone stealing another person's good name through gossip or slander. Now I had always associated gossip and slander with the not giving false testimony command, but I was wrong. When I was a young man, my father took me aside and told me, "I don't have much to give you as we are not wealthy, but I've worked hard to make sure that I could give you a name that is filled with honour. This is the best gift I can give you, hang onto it with pride and keep it valuable for your children." It's something I've taken to heart, not just for my children, but also because I call myself a Jesus follower and know that in the eyes of our world today, my name also reflects on him.
As I thought about this angle that stealing here is about a person's name and reputation, I was convinced that these previous thinkers are onto something, especially as I thought about an incident a number of years back where someone accused me of doing something wrong but never spoke to me, but simply told a number of people in our faith community. As a pastor, my reputation is important, not just for myself, but for the church and my family. Now after the elders did an investigation, it was found that the accusations were false and based in anger over something else, but needless to say, I was shook up, as well as my family and friends. As a fellow pastor mentioned, it's something we face, but it's never a pleasant experience and there are always people who want to believe the worst about others no matter what.
Gossip is not a harmless past time and it reflects on what is going on in the person's heart; that there is a spirit of bitterness or anger inside that comes out in the telling of stories that belittle or hurt others. It's made me appreciate Paul's words to encourage and build up others because that comes out of the love Jesus calls us to, and makes the church family a safe and beautiful place to belong to and a reflection of the kingdom Jesus is ushering in.
May your words be words that bless rather than hurt.  

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Purity

As a pastor, I have been often asked why the church and Bible seems so preoccupied with sex, whether premarital or homosexuality. I normally tell the person asking me that they are the ones bringing it up, not me so they seem to be more preoccupied with it than I am. Yet they have hit on an important part of what it is to be a follower of Jesus; purity. Now purity is considered really important when it comes to things like drinking water or our food supply since no one wants to get sick. And no bride wants a gold ring that is not pure gold with a real diamond instead of imitation, at least my wife didn't; she wanted the real thing as a sign of my love and commitment to her.
Purity is about being as close to the absolute realness of what the object is as possible. So there are restrictions on how many impurities can be in our water supply, our food is monitored so that there is as few bug parts and other unwanted elements in it so we can eat without fear.
So when it comes to being a follower of Jesus, purity, or holiness is about being the person God has created you to be. It's not all about sex or sexual identity, it's about a whole bunch to things that make us who we are. Reading through Jesus' teaching, it's about cultivating grace, forgiveness, generosity, joy, self-control, kindness, a gentle tongue, compassion, and more. The goal is that when people see you, they see an image of who Jesus is; that image of God that got twisted when Adam and Eve sinned.
I believe that the focus on sex and sexuality as the defining aspect of purity comes because as a culture we worship our individuality and the seeking of pleasure above everything else. Our mission statement too often has become, "If it feels good, do it." The sad thing is that this is so self-focused and many don't realize the hurt and brokenness that such a mission statement creates. We live in a time when the ability to communicate and relate to others has never been higher and yet the common complaint I hear from all ages is, "I'm lonely." Over time, when a number of relationships have failed, or the relationship they're in fills up with stress and hurt, they come asking what is wrong and why.
This is when I get to talk with them about who they have made themselves into as a person and the results of it. Then I offer them the opportunity to become who they have been created to be. All it takes is to really accept Jesus as Lord, meaning that you place Him in the position of authority of your life and you shape your life on who He is calling you to be as His disciple. Almost without fail, you will discover joy, peace and hope, but you will also discover God's wisdom in how our relationships should be with each other. Purity in our thoughts and actions creates trust and strength leading to the ability to be more open and deep with others because the focus is on the other instead of the self. This is why God made a commandment against adultery, giving us the gift of marriage, a relationship where we are able to experience the beauty and depth of commitment where the focus is on the other and helping them to become the person God has created them to be. Purity, not only in sex, but in who you are becoming, is the command God gives you so that you can experience life as full and deep and blessed.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Dealing with people you may love but don't like

I was talking with gentleman the other day when in frustration he said something to this effect, "I wish that I could just forget for a day that I follow Jesus." When I asked him why, he mentioned how there was a person in his life right now that he was so angry and frustrated with, didn't really trust, who he simply wanted to tell them off really good. I thought to myself, I wonder how many of us face the same thing, we're supposed to "love our neighbour as our self," but can't we just can't stand our neighbour. I've said in jest, kind of anyway, that I have times where I love my neighbour but don't like them. 
These are the people that we find it hard to speak well of, people that we think inside our own heads, "You fool," or worse. Then I come across those words of Jesus that challenge my thoughts, "I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to punishment, any one who says, 'You fool,' will be in danger of the fire of hell.' This is the same punishment for those who murder! 
It's hard to really love others at times and it's hard to control our negative thoughts about others, but I'm starting to understand where Jesus is coming from. In the long run, the way we think about others and the way we speak about others shapes how we will treat them. If I am constantly negative towards someone in my thoughts or words, I will never find it in my heart to love them, to wish the best for them, to respect and honour them. I have to take responsibility for my thoughts and my words, even though I can understand what that frustrated gentleman said the other day abut wishing he could forget for one day that he is a Jesus follower. Yet simply by allowing those thoughts and words inside us even for one day sows a seed that will find way too many opportunities to grow. 
It sounds so easy to summarize life into two rules; to love God with everything you have and are, and to love your neighbour as yourself, but when you really get serious about following Jesus, you quickly discover that these are the two most difficult rules to live by. It is only by the grace of God that we are able to even want to begin to live this way and experience the wonder of living out of love instead of anger, frustration or hate. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

relationship with my parents

If you've read the past few posts, you've probably figured out I've been reflecting on the 10 Commandments and how I've been focusing on them in my own life. I remember how they felt like a whole list of don't and didn't really pay too much attention to them when I was learning them in church and school, especially the honour your parents one. It's not that I was a bad kid, it's more that I kind of ignored my parents. If figured as long as I mostly followed the rules they set and made sure they didn't catch me in the ones I didn't follow, that I was alright.
This commandment took on a lot more meaning when I became an adult and a parent, not because I wanted my kids to obey me without any questions because of my great wisdom (well maybe), but because I felt a call into ministry in my 30s and this meant giving up a really good job and moving my family far away from my family. But what worried my parent more was the financial hit this was going to give my wife and I. Not having a university degree at the time meant that there was 8 years of school ahead of us and lots of student loans. My father strongly urged me to reconsider as it would mean a lot of lean years for my family and big debt afterwards. My dad had immigrated to Canada after WW 2 for a better life and he worked hard to make sure we had things he didn't as a child. He wanted the best for my family and thought I was throwing away a secure financial future.
That's when this commandment really bothered me, did honoring my dad mean not going into ministry? I sat with this question for quite a while because I really wanted to honour my dad's concern and love. Early one morning, while working at the bakery, it struck me that by sitting with this question was honouring my dad, even if I went against his advice, I gave it weight in my decision. It allowed me and my wife and kids to head off into the great unknown of 8 years of school and a call on my heart into ministry with a clear conscience.
I'm grateful for a father and mother who cared enough to challenge my plans and then support us when we went against their advice. The Lord provided for us over the next 8 years, many times in ways that brought tears to our eyes and I believe that I made my parents proud, even if I was a little bit stubborn.
Thanks mom and dad.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

resting

I'm sitting here at home with my grandson, playing in the dirt, had a haircut earlier on, moved our trailer, and now am watching the rain come in. It's been a full and yet restful day; at least for my soul as it has been spent with those I love, helping others out, and just resting before going out to a gospel concert tonight with my wife. Today is a gift, not just because it's a day off from from the other six days which are filled with church oriented activities, but because it's been filled with connecting with those especially close to me.
This is what the whole Sabbath day off is really all about. It's a gift of time every week that God offers to spend time connecting with those especially close to us; think of God here, but also your church family. It's a time of playing as we laugh and share our week, but also a time of helping as we have opportunities to pray for and with each other. It's a day where we're given time to do helping activities with our church family for each other or within the community openly in the name of Jesus, worshiping God in our service and acts of love and grace. It's also a time to simply observe the world around you and the people in it and see how God is moving.
I often feel sorry for those who turn down God's gift of a day set aside to connect with him and each other, to serve others with each other, and to laugh and play with people important to me. For me as a pastor, Sunday often slips into being 'work,' though it is deeply satisfying and fulfilling work, it usually isn't about rest. This is why today, a Saturday, is my rest day, my Sabbath day as the Bible calls it. I thank God for offering it and I embrace it gladly as the gift it is. How about you, do you accept God's gift of a Sabbath day?

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

the language we use

I always find it interesting listening to how people express themselves. That doesn't mean I'm always impressed by how they express themselves, just in how. Over the years I've noticed a decline in how people express themselves; people tend to be much cruder than before. Now admittedly we often don't have very good examples when we listen to our politicians, sports or entertainment stars speak, however I also have to say that even in the church I sometimes cringe when I listen to how people engage in discussions and conversations, even when they're friendly. My father often said that you can tell a person;s intelligence by how they say things; those who swear and use foul language are obviously less intelligent as they are unable to express themselves without resorting to less than edifying language.
But it's in the casual expressions that I hear where I wonder when, as followers of Jesus, we need to be more of an example to the culture we're a part of. Here in Quebec, a very common expression is "Mon Dieu" or "My God." I know it's used in English as well, but you also hear Jesus' name used to express anger, frustration, excitement and in more ways that have nothing to do with talking with Jesus, and I wonder, why aren't we more offended? Why don't we speak up? My father told me right before I left home that he had only one precious thing to give me, my family name, and to protect it as my life reflected on the rest of my family; and I would also say my speech reflected on them too.
When God tells us to not use his name in ways that dishonour it, he's also protecting us and our reputation as his children. How you speak, the language you use reflects not only on you, but on God and all the other followers of Jesus. Perhaps if we thought more about God and each other as we look at how God tells us to live, we might understand how we are interconnected and how what we do does affects each other and God. I encourage to listen to yourself this week and think, "How does the way I'm saying this reflect on God and on the other people in my church family? Am I making them look good, or am I embarrassing them?"

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

images of God

Over the Good Friday/Easter weekend I was thinking about the images we have of God and Jesus. Most of us, at least not until the book The Shack came out really had an image of the Holy Spirit. I wonder how often our images of God have become idols that allow us to keep God small so we can do our own thing and not feel as guilty as we need to, guilty enough to do the repentance thing and actually allow the Holy Spirit to change us, transform us into who we are called to be.
I wrestle with this. I read about the 'Ancient of Days' in Daniel and am filled with awe and wonder at the image we're given of this patriarch who is dressed in clothing white as snow and hair white like wool. His throne is even more amazing as it flames with fire and its wheels are all blazing with fire. Then there's that river of fire that flows out from in front of him and I go, "Wow! so cool!" This is an image of power, but as I embrace this image of God, I pass over who God is besides just a powerful eastern patriarch, that he's also like a mother hen, that he's an artist and a physician, the king and judge, but also father and friend. When I embrace an image of God I tend to make him less; more my size, someone I can handle and shape in my own image.
God tells us not to make idols and I wonder if our images of God or Jesus become mental idols. This is dangerous because our image of who God is shapes how we interpret Scripture and how we live with others. Look at how thinking about Jesus as a handsome man with blondish hair and blue eyes made, and makes, it easier to justify such evils as apartheid or anti-Semitism. Seeing God as a kindly father figure with white hair and a bit of a paunch allows us to believe that God would never really punish us for doing something wrong, after-all, his job is to forgive us right? Would this kind of a fatherly-like God really want us to carry a cross and experience suffering? This then gives us permission that when anything causes us pain, we can do almost anything to numb the pain, or to run away from the things that hurt and are hard, instead of learning how to handle these things with wisdom, grace, perseverance, and so learn character and what it means to be more like Jesus in suffering and pain.
The remedy to using images of God as a way to keep him small is to read all of the Bible, not just the parts that make us feel good or tell us what we want to hear. It means really listening to everything that Jesus taught, not just the blessings parts, but also the 'carry your cross' and 'forgiving' parts. As you fill your mind with all the images of God the Bible reveals to us, you will learn that God is always much bigger, more complex, and less tame than you could ever have imagined. It will give you the freedom to simply trust is a really big God who, for some reason way beyond our comprehension, chose to have a relationship with us.
Learn to rest in the mystery of God and life will become richer and more awe-inspiring that you could ever have thought before.

Friday, 18 April 2014

no other gods

The past few weeks for me has all been about looking ahead to the Good Friday and Easter weekend and all the extra things that go on; an extra worship service tonight, church pot-luck breakfast on Sunday (it's at 9 if you want to come!), and the whole focus on Jesus, death and resurrection and new life. Even those who seldom set foot in a church, or think about God, find it hard to not notice all this focus on Jesus. Some may even find their way into a church on Sunday because it seems the thing to do, but they come to worship God as only one of the many other gods they are following.
I wonder if on Easter, rather than focusing on the stone rolled away, we should be focusing on having no other gods before Yahweh. We have a big tendency to create gods; we so often take God's blessings and turn them into Baals. The old gods such as Thor, Zeus, Aphrodite, Freya have faded away, or at least their names have faded away except in the Marvel comics and Agents of Shield, but the power they represent is still here. We tend to make gods out of everything; eros, money, pleasure, fun, food, beauty, and the list goes on. You might protest that there really aren't other gods and say it's unfair for me to accuse you of worshipping other gods, and yes, I'll agree that other gods don't exist, that the Thors and Baals don’t really exist, but our yearning for prosperity, passionate love, power and strife still do exist today and all too often these things grab our hearts and desires more than God.
The Bible calls for you to make a choice for only one God and to worship him alone. It has to be a radical choice; it’s not both-and, but either-or. You can't choose God and continue to worship whatever else you've been chasing after. As Jesus says, “You can't have two masters.”
One thing that strikes me in the Bible is how often the people of God renewed their covenant with God. It seems as if this needs to be done regularly for our sake so that we can make our choice over again, reinforcing it each time in our hearts and lives.
Choosing God means loving God. The Jews regularly recited the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” This love is emotional, something you experience in your heart for in our love we are responding to God’s love toward us. We understand more clearly what love toward God really is when we see love as a choice. To love God means you stick with your choice. This is about faithfulness to God where nothing is allowed to come between you and God. Jesus later on tells us that love means that we keep his commandments; that we live in the way he has told us to live.
Following Jesus, embracing the Christian faith comes down to worshipping God with an undivided heart; there is no “God and ...” in your hearts; you serve and follow God alone. 
So maybe this Easter we should be covenant renewing; challenging each other to have only one God, and not a god we make, but approaching the God who loved us so much he sent his Son to die and make our promises to love him alone again as God renewed his promises to us through Jesus. Just a thought. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

the future is in His hands

It's been a while since the last post. It's good to be back. It's been a time of reflecting and looking ahead, wondering what God has in mind and where he's leading our church and my family. It's a time of transition for both our church and possibly for our family, a time of potential renewing which is both exciting and a bit anxiety provoking. It came to a head this past Sunday as the text I preached on was Revelation 5 and how heaven was looking for one who was worthy to take the scroll of creation history and open it, setting it in motion and directing it on behalf of God the Father. Jesus, the slain Lamb is found to be worthy because he was slain for the sins of the world, he purchased people for God and has established a kingdom and priests for God. He is worthy because of his obedience and his great love for his people.
I realised that, while the future of our church isn't necessarily clear in terms of what we will look like or where we will even be, there are exciting possibilities and the ability to move forward with the opportunity to do some amazing ministry here, that though as a family we are wrestling through a number of things, we can move forward in trust and with hope because Jesus is in control and, as Paul says, "works everything out for our good," whatever that may be. That doesn't mean we simply drift along trusting in God to do his thing, it means we work hard on where we are heading as a church, that as a family we pray and work out the decisions we need to make. But we can do all this with the confidence that we are not walking along, that we don't need to trust simply in our own wisdom and strength, that God will bless us as we plan and work on doing the work he has placed here for us to do and being his presence here.
With that realization, a peace has come, knowing that the future is in good hands and they're not mine; that as we work on where God is leading, it will work out. I do hope that for those of you who may face big decisions, those of you who may be wondering about your future, that you will realise that it is in Jesus' hands and that by working hard with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you will be led in the right direction where God will be honoured and you will be blessed.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

I need God

Last night I was lying in bed and I was finding it hard to sleep. I kept wondering why the church I'm privileged to be pastor of has such a hard time to keep our young adults and reach out into our community is a more significant way. Being who I am, I kept trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, why my leadership wasn't good enough or strong enough, and suddenly a light went off in my head, thankfully only in my head as my wife was sleeping right beside me, my thinking was way too me-focused. The light bulb didn't go off to let myself off the hook on my responsibilities as the pastor to work hard and faithfully, but it did shine a light on the fact that there are so many other things involved in why our young adults don't stay and why we only attract a few families every year instead of growing in leaps and bounds.
My thoughts started down a different road instead, wondering, why do I need God? Now it's not like things are so horrible for me and my family, we have our struggles as mentioned in previous blogs, but over-all, life is pretty good. My kids are mostly healthy and basically finding happiness even if life hasn't always gone the ways they had expected. Over Christmas and New Years we had most of our kids and grand-kids home, and were able to talk with our other son on Christmas. I'm healthy and happy and God has given me a glass half full way of seeing life along with a pretty hearty laugh, or so I've been told :), so on the outside, it seems as if God doesn't need to be a high priority for me outside of the fact that I am a pastor!! and as a pastor I spend my time preaching about who God is and extending Jesus' invitation to follow Him, teaching about God, encouraging people to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit and allow the Spirit to shape their lives, hearts and minds.
Yet as I was lying in bed, I realised just how much I need God. I need God because without God, I'm pretty scared of what might lie ahead in life. Many fellow pastors I know have been forced to leave their churches because things went bad, often fairly quickly; the family my daughter works for was devastated the other day when the father was in a car accident and he and their son are now seriously injured in the hospital and it doesn't necessarily look good right now; Quebec often feels like a mess right now and it's not always a pleasure to live in such a dysfunctional society; and these are just some of the things that make me realize that life is so often out of my control. As a pastor, I hear of too many relationships, whether marriages, family or friendships that are broken and filled with pain and while I can listen and pray for them and offer advice and guidance as I walk with them, ultimately there is little I can really do to make things different. Over my sabbatical I worked with a counsellor who helped me work through a few issues in my own head and heart, and this week I'm preaching on repentance and I see the sin filled and influenced part of who I am, and it hits me all over again, how much I need God because even in repentance, I'm still pretty messed up in so many ways, unable to really change in healthy ways on my own.
Last night I came to see again  that I need God so I can live without fear and with confidence because I can trust that God is in control and that when I stay connected and focused on God and His way, I can move forward with the ability to love and laugh with joy even if from the perspective of others, there may not be much to laugh about or find joy in. I need God, how about you?