In the midst of summer’s last gasp, as those going back to school might phrase it, we can do a gut check and ask ourselves if we got enough rest this summer. I learned a lesson as I began my vacation – a lesson in rest, a lesson passed on in today’s message, based on Matthew 11.20-30. Listen here:
Posted by Jeff on August 29, 2014
Welcome to Labour Day weekend, when, ironically, we celebrate the value of work by not working! For most people outside the trade union movement, however, Labour Day weekend is mostly about getting away for one last weekend before mundane routine returns with the onslaught of September.
Maybe, though, it isn’t so ironic that we pause to celebrate work. After all, work can’t be done in any meaningful way without time to regroup and re-energize. I know people who work seven days a week, and I can’t quite figure out how – or why – they do so. The Creation story tells us that God created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh. It wasn’t that God needed to rest; he’s God, after all, and God possesses limitless energy. No, God rested on the seventh day to give a model to his covenant people that the rhythm of life needs to include rest.
At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I will be talking on Sunday about the value of rest, and I will touch on how important it is to work not into our rest, but from it. It may seem subtle, but there is a difference.
We can push ourselves to the point where if we don’t take a day off, our bodies will force us into it through illness. That’s working into our rest – we’re resting because we are left with no other viable alternative. And it’s not healthy.
Instead, we should work from our rest, where our Sabbath time is used in such a way as to re-energize us for the week that is to come. And in that process, we can pace ourselves so that we don’t find ourselves saying, “Boy, I sure hope I’m going to make it to my Sabbath this week.” We should look forward to it eagerly, of course, and our bodies, minds and spirits should become accustomed to the rhythm of expecting rest in the midst of our efforts.
For many of us, that means scheduling that day of rest – actually putting it in the calendar. Nature abhors a vacuum, as the saying goes, and if we have blank spaces on our calendars, we are inclined to fill them – often needlessly. By blocking off an entire day for rest, it keeps work activities at bay. And it frees us to do things that energize us and bring us joy. This should include, but not be limited to, worship, sleep, and time with those we love.
So if you’re celebrating Labour Day weekend by not labouring, good for you! Enjoy the rest, and ask the Lord to let it prepare you for the week that is ahead.
Jesus said to his followers that “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2.27, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on August 2, 2014
On a Facebook recommendation, I pre-ordered, and received quickly from Amazon.ca, the latest publication by Rowan Williams, entitled, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans, 2014). It is a surprisingly small book, at under ninety pages. And it is a quick read; it arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, and I had it completed before going to sleep (with several other needful things done in between).
I recommend this book for those looking for a basic refresher on some of these fundamental aspects of what it means to follow Jesus. As the subtitle suggests, he writes (about twenty pages on each) about the meaning and implications of the sacrament of Baptism, how we read (or hear) the Bible, what it means to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and then gives a brief summary of three views on the Lord’s Prayer (from Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Cassian, all classic Christian writers from early [pre-AD 600] Christianity).
Williams is clear, concise, and accessible in his writing style. He writes with a modest Anglican bias, which the reader would only expect coming from the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury! But even with that ‘filter’, Williams could be read quite satisfactorily by an inquirer, or by a believer from any branch of the church.
There were six especially helpful learning points that I noted for myself in the book:
- In the Eastern Christian tradition, some icons for the baptism of Jesus depict Jesus up to his neck in water, with river gods, representing chaos being overcome, beneath the water. The old ways are always trying to claim us back.
- The Bible is, in a way, our own story, so history matters when reading Scripture.
- In the Eucharist, Jesus is telling us he wants our company.
- Prayer is about changing your attitude.
- Prayer is a promise to God.
- This one deserves to be quoted: “[Prayer] is opening our minds and hearts and saying to the Father, ‘Here is your Son, praying in me through the Holy Spirit. Please listen to him, because I want him to be working, acting and loving in me'” (p. 80).
Reflection and discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter for use by individuals or groups. This is a short and helpful read, and I recommend it.
Posted by Jeff on August 1, 2014
Yesterday afternoon, commuter traffic was snarled in the area around Burlington and Hamilton, Ontario, due to an accident. While this is nothing new, the kind of accident was a bit unusual. A tractor-trailer operator, with a long dump trailer, had failed to lower his dump hoist while travelling on the Burlington Skyway, which bridges Burlington and Hamilton across Burlington Bay. And because it was in the Toronto-bound lanes, there was superstructure overhead, and the raised dump hoist meant that the truck crashed into the bridge’s superstructure, causing damage to the trailer and to the structural integrity of the bridge.
As it turns out, the operator has been charged with impaired driving. I suppose that’s not too surprising; ordinarily, those who drive dump trucks are extremely careful to lower their dumping mechanisms, since they can get caught not only on bridge superstructures, but also hydro wires and the like.
I liken an inappropriately-raised dump hoist to human pride. If we let our pride stand out, it can cause us trouble. Like that dump truck accident, it can also cause others trouble, too. Because of that accident yesterday, hours were added to people’s commutes.
On this first day of a new month, take a few moments to do a gut check on your pride. Ask yourself: Have I given my pride over to God? Am I living in humility as God calls me to do? The traffic of your life will flow along more smoothly when pride is lowered to clear any overhead barriers.
“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (Proverbs 16.18, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on July 25, 2014
One of the challenges we face today, having so much information at our fingertips, is that important information often gets covered over by newer information. For example, when was the last time you heard something about the conflict in Syria? It’s still going on, but it doesn’t make the news – unless you go looking for it specifically.
Of course, some information gets sent to the bottom of the news pile for political reasons, too – sadly. There is one ongoing news story that isn’t getting much attention, for both of these reasons. It’s not new, and it’s not politically correct. It’s the terrible, tragic story of Christians who are being persecuted, extorted, exiled, or killed in northern Iraq, just for being Christians.
Pictured is the Arabic letter nun (the equivalent of our N). It is being spray-painted on the homes of Christians, standing for “Nazarene”. This labels the homes so that they are known as followers of Jesus, and can thereby be persecuted, extorted, exiled, or killed, just for being Christians.
Other than a few who make a point of keeping this in the public eye via social media, it’s not being reported on very widely. But as a follower of Jesus, you need to know about this, so you can, at the very least, pray for those Chaldean believers. There seems to be little the international community is willing to do to help these people, being so severely dealt with by their own countrymen, just for being Christians.
Suffering and persecution are not new to the Christian faith. The apostle Paul once wrote to the Romans, “since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8.17, NLT). So we can take heart that the faithful of Mosul, who are being persecuted, extorted, exiled or killed for their faith, are following in the way of Christ; perhaps, in certain moments, they do, too. But that cannot stop us from seeking the justice that these believers deserve.
What if we were in their shoes? What if it were us who were suffering for our faith? Few of us in the western world truly understand what that’s like. But if we live out our faith in its fullest sense, we will experience some degree of persecution. At the hands of the Islamists, Christians in Iraq are experiencing grave persecution, greater than anything we could imagine.
What will we do to aid them? And what will we do to ensure this doesn’t happen where we live?
Think about that.
Posted by Jeff on July 18, 2014
On the news the other night, I saw a tragic story about an elderly couple who, in the process of giving away kittens via Kijiji, fell victim to what’s called a “distraction crime”. While one potential kitten owner talked to the couple, that person’s partner went to use the bathroom and stole some valuables from the couple. The good news from the story is that the robbers have been caught, because a vigilant neighbour recorded the unfamiliar vehicle’s licence plate number. Some of the stolen goods have been recovered.
But there was something very sad that struck me about the story. Near the end, the lady who was robbed said that if she were to encounter the thieves again, she would say, “If I get to heaven, I’d better not see you there.”
That statement broke my heart.
I know absolutely nothing about the spiritual lives of any of the people involved, so I will not say anything about how that lady should have responded. But I will say this: I hope that no follower of Jesus would ever say that to anyone else. Ever.
Many people harbour bitterness in their hearts. And when a crime has just been committed against you, there is an understandable anger and grief that is experienced. But my hope is that as a Christian, I would never find myself saying to someone who had wronged me, “If I get to heaven, I’d better not see you there.” In fact, my hope is that I would see that person there, as a result of the grace of God pouring out over that person, leading to repentance and forgiveness.
People respond to being wronged in various ways. Some respond with anger, even after a long time; they hope, perhaps, that the offender will ‘rot in hell’, or something like that. Others respond with forgiveness and mercy. As Christians, our model is Jesus, who said, even from the heinous pain of the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23.34, NLT).
Think about it: Jesus forgave those who were responsible for his crucifixion, in order that the way would be paved for you and me to be able to be forgiven of our sins – and be free to forgive others their sins. Jesus gave us a dangerous model for prayer when he encouraged us to pray, “…forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11.4, NLT).
Let’s not harbour bitterness or unforgiveness against those who have wronged us. They take up space in our souls and don’t pay rent. It’s not easy to give those feelings up to God, but we are invited by the Lord to do so. When we surrender our bad feelings and ill will, he will open our hearts to enable us to wish heaven’s joy for those for whom it might otherwise have seemed a long shot.