Friday, 28 November 2014

Hymn Sing, November 30, 6 p.m.

This Sunday evening you are invited to Ancaster Christian Reformed Church for a good ol' fashioned hymn sing, Wonderful Words of Life.  We'll be singing lots of your old favourites.  Join us!

Getting ready for Christmas - put up the lights!

November 30 is the first Sunday of Advent, and we are getting ready for Christmas. We spend some time with an elderly couple who hear the most precious words any of us could hope to hear: "Don't be afraid; your prayer has been heard."  The story of Zechariah & Elizabeth is part of a much bigger story.  The True Light has come into the world! Our stories too, are part of a bigger story of God's plan for the entire world.  Sunday, Nov 30, 10 a.m.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Zoë Isabella Hope

Yesterday was a celebration.  We witnessed the baptism of Zoë Isabella Hope, baby daughter of Rob and Krista Vandekuyt.  Zoë's baptism sealed her membership in God's covenant family.  Thanks be to God for his gift of grace!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Knowledge is power

Knowledge is power.  Many will agree with that statement because they believe that knowledge will enable you to achieve your dreams and your goals, to acquire all the good things this world has to offer.  But knowledge isn't, first of all, about us.  Knowledge points outside of ourselves to an awesome world, crafted by an awesome Creator.  When our knowledge of the Creator and his creation is shared, it is transformed into something much bigger:  wisdom.  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111).

This Sunday we will see how the knowledge of what God has done in our lives leaves us with no other response than to worship him. Our worship this Sunday morning includes the baptism of Zoe Vandekuyt.  November 23, 10 a.m.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Did Jesus show up?

The list of books I have read this week covers a broad range of topics.  This final book, Creature of the Word; The Jesus-Centered Church, orients it all back to where it belongs:  with Christ.  When I was in seminary, we were required to critique our classmates’ sermons.  The litmus test we used was this question:  “When did Jesus show up?”  Respected voices in the preaching world may contend that not every sermon has to speak the name of Jesus, that the gospel is still being preached.  Yet, I resonate with Charles Spurgeon who said, “You do not really preach the gospel if you leave Christ out—if He is omitted, it is not the gospel!” (Christ’s Triple Character, 1878). 

Authors Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger, chose the subtitle “Jesus-Centered” rather than “Gospel-Centered” because they recognize that “although the gospel does impact everything, everything is not the gospel” (7). Creature of the Word is how the Reformers described the church; the church is birthed from God’s Word.  Anything less or more is flawed and dangerous.

This book, written by pastors, covers almost every area of ministry.  I share with you a number of quotes that I found provocative or inspiring.  Enjoy:

If we lose sight of who Jesus is, “Our churches end of with a God who is safe, but weak; domesticated, but limited” (32).

“The reality is that everybody is a theologian; some of us have just unwittingly become heretics” (35).

“Worship gatherings are not always spectacular, but they are always supernatural” (42).

“While our faith is indeed very personal, it is definitely not private” (45).

“Cultural frustration [they are talking about your church’s culture] always precedes cultural transformation” (118).

“Corporate worship celebrates what God has done” (114).

“The church budget is a doctrinal statement” (192).

The church shouldn’t just survive, but thrive (218).

“Ministry will always be inefficient… We must recognize the limitation of best practices, then begin to reprioritize our approach to ministry” (230).

Friday, 7 November 2014

Do Hard Things

As I read Do Hard Things, I’ll confess that I needed to do a bit of repenting.  I too, have bought into our culture’s  view of teens and adolescents, that we cannot expect much of these young people as they go through these troublesome years. While our sons did not cause us too much grief during their teen years, I know I have used the language about having “survived” that era, of having “made it through;” I have made the jokes about locking up our kids and letting them out when they are 25, about how they become “nice people” and then move out! 
    Twin brothers Alex and Brett Harris challenge all of this in Do Hard Things; A teenage rebellion against low expectations.  This is a book by teens, for teens.  At times I felt as though I was eavesdropping on a private conversation.  Had the book been written by a 50 year old pastor, it would never have gotten the attention it is now receiving. 
   The teen years are to be a season of daring, when younger people see life as an adventure and jump in head first.  Oh to retain some of that enthusiasm for life when we reach our 50's!  Historically, there was no separate category for teens; you were either a child or an adult.  We may have done our youth a huge disservice by creating a special nomenclature for them. 

     At the end of the book the authors rattle off a list of 100 hard things that teenagers have done/could do.  A fun read, but more – a rally call to tap into the gifts of our younger members and to expect to see God bless them and use them to bless others.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Prayer & distractions

Just before we left for Florida, two people from my church told me amazing stories about how they had been prompted by God to act in a way that was totally unexpected. They had heard God speaking.  But in order to hear God speak, we have to be listening.  Paul Miller makes that clear in his book, A Praying Life; Connecting with God in a Distracting World.  Throughout his book, Miller weaves anecdotes about his autistic daughter Kim, demonstrating in very real and painful ways that our prayers are often not answered in the way we would hope, or at least not in our timeframe.  One of those prayers was that Kim would be able to speak, but that didn't happen until many years later when Kim learned to speak by means of a computer.
Miller encourages us to listen for God's voice, and he reminds us that "God is weaving a larger story" (216), of which we are a part.  There's a big picture happening, which we may never see (and that's probably true for the two people who I mentioned at the beginning of this post.)
Reading this book has been a joy. It has also been a reminder that prayer must be a priority in my life. One would think that a pastor would not have the distractions that others have - not true.  I couldn't help but think that it was easier for Martin Luther (the book, of course, mentioned his commitment to 3 hours of prayer per day) - Luther was a monk!
What a wonderful gift from my church, to be able to take a reading break, to quiet my soul in order to listen for God's voice.  

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Hole in our Gospel

A few weeks ago I was asked to complete a survey which had me rank 10 attributes, in order of priority, that would be important for the next co-director of World Renew to have.  As I read The Hole in our Gospel, by Richard Stearns, I discovered the top priority:  it's a heart that cries for those who are hurting.
As he explores what it is that God demands of us, Stearns traces his own call to become President of World Vision - a call he resisted vehemently.
We've been doing a series of messages at Ancaster CRC that ask the question, "what is salvation for?"  Stearns captures the For the Life of the World refrain when he says this:  "Worship is not enough. Personal morality is not enough. And Christian Community is not enough. God has always demanded more" (3). Stearns reminds us that being a follower of Jesus of Jesus requires much more than a personal relationship with God; we are called to a public and transforming relationship with the world.  (Wish I'd said it that succinctly from the pulpit!).
You don't have to be the director of World Vision or World Renew to move the mountain that is poverty.  Remember the old joke about "how do you eat an elephant? - one bite at a time."  Do you have faith that can move a mountain?  We CAN move mountains-- "What if Jesus meant for millions of his followers to each put their faith into action by grabbing a shovel -- and challenging the mountain one shovelful at a time? Any mountain can be moved -- even the one called Poverty, or Hunger, or Injustice-- if we have enough people 'shoveling'" (275).
God chose to use Stearns; he will use us.  He will also use the new director of World Renew to move a mountain.  [At one point in the book Stearns mentions a meeting with a man named "Andy" from an organization called World Relief.  I wonder if he is talking about CRWRC - Christian Reformed World Relief Committee - now World Renew, and our retiring co-director, Andy Ryskamp. I'll have to ask Andy about that!]

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Good Girls

Grace for the Good Girl; letting go of the try-hard life, could alternatively be called Grace for the Good Man, Good Employee, Good Pastor. Don't I know it! The scenario Emily Freeman describes is not foreign to those of us who try to live a good life. Our sense of justice is strong- we harbor the belief that "there should be reward for those who do good and punishment for those who don't" (103).
Someone once wondered about what kind of a pastor I could be because I don't have a "story" --no tragic past of drugs or cancer or poverty from which I had been rescued.  Rather, I am perceived as one of those "good girls."   I resonated with Freeman's observation that "when bad girls perform to get their needs me, they get in trouble.  When good girls perform to get the same thing, we get praise" (24).  We set expectations for ourselves, we strive to meet others' expectations, we keep our private struggles to ourselves.  This is the case for a lot of women, and it's doubly true for pastors.  No church wants a "needy" pastor, we pastors say to one another.
I should probably read this book every year.  I need to stop trying to be like Jesus (143) and simply trust Jesus to be himself through me.  That's grace.


I thought I'd start with something light, (I'm referring to the length of the book, not the topic!) reading Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle's, Erasing Hell: What God said about Eternity and the things we made up. 
The book has been described as "ground breaking."  While I have read larger tomes on the topic, the book is timely. With several references to Rob Bell's, Love Wins, the book serves as a needed counter-voice to our fingers-crossed hope that all will be saved.  Erasing Hell leaves us with no doubt that the bible takes hell seriously.
The line in the book that resonated with me most strongly was the reminder that "This is not just about doctrine; it's about destinies."  If we eliminate hell, or reduce it to some innocuous state of nothingness, we will be ignoring much biblical evidence to the contrary.  But perhaps even worse, if we deny hell, then we have minimized the work of Jesus.  Our alienation from God was so big, so all encompassing, and the destiny that awaited us was so horrific that God was prepared to pay the ultimate price to rescue his people from "that place."  Really, why would Jesus have willingly died such a torturous death if what awaited sinners was some nirvana-ish state of nothingness?

Hell - it is serious business. The Bible takes it seriously.  Jesus took it seriously.  So should we.