The church is referred to in the Bible as the “body of Christ”. Part of the basics of being a follower of Jesus is understanding what it means to be the church. In this message, based on 1 Corinthians 12.12-31a and Matthew 16.13-20, we learn more about what it means to be the body of Christ in the world today. You can listen by clicking here.
Posted by Jeff on June 14, 2013
At St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we have a small group discussing a video series by Ruth Haley Barton entitled Sacred Rhythms, based on her book of the same title. In last night’s introductory study, we looked at the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10.46-52. In it, Jesus asks a deeply probing question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51).
Most of the time, when we read Scripture, we read it to gather information. Yet we can read Scripture to shape our lives. As I’ve been known to say, information fills the mind, but formation shapes the person. We can read the story of Bartimaeus to learn about the plight of the blind in the first century, and we can read it to place ourselves in the story, even opening ourselves to have Jesus ask us, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Have you ever considered that? Have you ever opened yourself to express your deepest desires to Jesus?
Because Jesus is God, he already knows our deepest desires, but there is something powerful, something intimate, about expressing them ourselves. It’s like telling our spouse what we want to experience sexually – it’s that intimate, and arguably more so.
Perhaps that can be, today, your entry point into a more intimate relationship with the Lord. Sit quietly as you ponder what you most want from the Lord. Take time to tell him your deepest desires. Allow yourself to be shaped by the Holy Spirit as you express them.
Why not do it right now?
Posted by Jeff on June 7, 2013
As followers of Jesus, we often hear about the importance of knowing and following God’s will. Yet, it seems so elusive, doesn’t it? Like looking for a needle in a haystack – or a lost coin or a lost sheep or a lost son. After all, we aren’t born with an owner’s manual; we don’t know exactly what we’re designed to do. So often, that is discerned by trial and (lots of) error.
That said, we do have the Bible as God’s written Word to us. While it may not contain every specific thing for our lives (there is no index telling us whether to buy a particular house, for example), it does contain some general principles that help us know God’s will for us. Indeed, there is no other written source by which we may know even a hint of God’s will!
Of course, God can speak to our hearts through other sources, but those other sources will either underline or corroborate biblical principles. Our goal, in the end, is not for us to properly fulfill some sort of divine checklist of things we’ve done that are “God’s will.” Instead, our goal is to become more like Jesus.
David Benner is a Christian spiritual writer who lives on Vancouver Island; I commend any of his books to your interest. He has said, “Learning to desire God’s will is not something we can accomplish by resolve and willpower. It occurs only when we live so close to God’s heart that the rhythm of our own heartbeat comes to reflect the divine pulse.” Perhaps you know what it’s like to be so intimate with someone that you can feel the beat of that person’s heart. We can experience that with God, too. God longs for us to share that degree of intimacy with him.
When we pray – when we enter God’s holy presence at more than just mealtime – we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with him. When we serve the poor, we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with him. When we read the Scriptures and learn from biblical teaching, we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with God. Anything we do that drew the passion of Jesus in his ministry as recorded in Scripture can draw us closer to God’s heart, and have us living in God’s will.
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on May 31, 2013
The week had been very warm – not unlike what we’re experiencing today. And the inside of the worship space of the church had just been painted, so there was that peculiar smell of oil-based paint in the air. But, by God’s grace, a cold front had come in, and brought cooler weather on May 31, 1994 – nineteen years ago today. The windows could be opened and the space could be aired out.
It was a good thing, too, that the air had cooled down, for there would be close to two hundred people file into the pews of Knox Church, Tara, that evening. It would be a warm place, irrespective of the weather.
A young man had been educated, and examined by the Presbytery. And that night, he would have many hands laid on him as a symbol of his ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacraments. It was a big step on what would become a lifelong journey.
Little did he know the entire scope of what would be involved in all of those responses of, “I do,” and, “I will, God being my helper.” The journey would not be without its bumps and struggles, but it would likewise not be without its joys and blessings.
Someone once said that any journey begins with the first step. How often are we afraid to take that first step, because we don’t know what the future holds? In one sense, that’s where faith comes in: faith in the process as it unfolds, and, of course, faith in God to guide and encourage us on the journey, whatever it may be.
Trusting God is not only about our eternal salvation; it’s also a daily decision in the matters of the here-and-now, as well as future planning. Each day we make decisions which can, and should, involve both spiritual discernment and trust in the God we worship. We are invited to trust God to do what the Psalmist proclaimed: “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever” (Psalm 121.7-8, NLT).
Nineteen years ago today, a young man took a big step on the journey of life and ministry. And he still trusts the Lord to watch over his coming and going. Here’s a picture of that young man and his young bride. He had more hair back then!
May you have such confidence in the Lord, to trust him to keep watch over everything you do, every step you take on the journey of life.
Posted by Jeff on May 24, 2013
Sometimes, the world seems like a more evil place than ever before. In reality, I imagine it isn’t much more or less evil than in days gone by; it is our technological advances that enable us to know more about what’s going on in the world, thereby drawing our conclusion about evil. Nevertheless, this has drawn out fear in some people.
The Bosma case, about which I wrote last week, is an example of this. Advances in information sharing arguably led to Mr. Bosma’s abduction (because he was selling a truck online) and to our knowing about it (through mainstream and social media). One could argue that the advent of terrorism, of which we rarely spoke in the past, has come as a result of how much we can know and how quickly we can know it.
And terrorism, if you think about it, has its root in fear. Terrorism is commonly defined as the use of violence and intimidation for political gain, but if you break it down, terror itself is extreme fear. Those who engage in terrorism are trying to make people afraid – afraid enough to give in to what the terrorists want.
Terrorism, then, doesn’t just happen with guns and bombs and planes and land mines. It can happen even with words alone. And because we have greater access to more words than ever before in the history of the human race, it has become easy to terrorize people with words. Fear is struck into many hearts as a result.
What do you fear? It’s a good question to ask oneself. The root of our anger is fear, and in extreme cases, we are driven to do whatever we do in life by fear. But that is not God’s plan for us.
In 1 John 4.18 we read that “perfect love expels all fear” (NLT). The deeper we grow into the love of God – which is perfect love – the less fear we will have. The Psalmist wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea” (Psalm 46.1-2, NLT). And who can count the number of times Jesus told us not to be afraid?
Easier said than done, right? Fear is one of the devil’s great tools against followers of Jesus. Face your fears head-on, mindful that you have the Creator of the universe going ahead of you and behind you (Psalm 139.5). Give them to God in prayer, but don’t take them back. Let God’s perfect love drive out your fears. This might not all happen at once, but as the Lord works in your heart, you will find your fears replaced with God’s perfect love.
Posted by Jeff on May 17, 2013
The death of Tim Bosma recently has been a sad story to hear, and to see unfold. Bosma was a man from Ancaster, Ontario, who mysteriously disappeared while accompanying two men who had come to test-drive a truck he had put up for sale. His body was found, burned beyond recognition, on a farm near Ayr, Ontario. So far, one man is under arrest for his murder.
By all accounts, Mr. Bosma was not a typical murder victim. He was a man of Christian faith, active in his church community, and not involved with the ‘wrong people’. Why was he killed?
The answers will, hopefully, come out in court. What I found especially interesting about the situation as it developed, though, was the role played by the Mr. Bosma’s faith community. After it was announced that his body had been found, and Mrs. Bosma spoke to the media, who was standing behind her?
Her family, yes – as one would hope and expect. And her pastor.
That spoke volumes to me.
It didn’t have to be her pastor; it could have been her small group leader or a close Christian friend. Either way, her faith community was part of her support network. They were “there” for her in her time of trial.
Most of us, when we go through a crisis in life, don’t have it displayed before the world via the press. Mrs. Bosma had little choice but to ‘go public’ with her grief; thanks to the mainstream media, and social media (which put up a remarkable campaign to help find her husband), her difficulties were widely known. Most people observe their grief, their pain, their problems, without such obvious support.
This is especially poignant for followers of Jesus. Why, when we have a whole community of love surrounding us, do we keep our troubles to ourselves? Too often, I fear, there is a tacit culture that says, “Be happy” in the life of the church. Or, there may be a culture that says, “We don’t know what to do when you grieve, so please keep it to yourself.” And that’s just wrong.
The church, literally, is ‘those called out’ from the world, to love and serve Jesus Christ and his Kingdom – and to love and serve his people. We are not isolated individuals; we are a community. God calls us to look after each other, even when we don’t know what to do or say. When Mrs. Bosma spoke to the media, her pastor stood behind her. He didn’t say anything, and didn’t have to say anything. We have no idea what he might have said to her privately, nor is it our business to know; but his mere presence spoke to the significance of a community of faith that wanted to rally behind one of its own that was grieving.
When you are going through a difficult time, do you feel safe enough to share it with your church leaders? With your small group? With the friends with whom you sip coffee after worship? Of course, we do well also to ask if your church community creates a culture of safety for you to share your trials. In an era of unprecedented connectedness via the Internet, we remain, largely, a disconnected society. People long for a place of safety, with real people who might not have all the answers but who serve a God who is big enough to know the answers and personal enough to care. Those real people are called the church.
How is your church doing in that regard? Is it a safe place to share?
And are you willing to share your burdens? Give it a try. Hopefully, you will experience the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Spirit.
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on May 10, 2013
What does prayer look like for you?
For many people, even seasoned believers, prayer is something that happens at meal times, maybe at bed time, maybe for a few minutes before the morning rush ensues. But few of us take much time for this rich and important fellowship with the Lord.
If you’re one of those for whom time in prayer is limited, you’re in good company: even most pastors do not spend much more than 5 minutes a day in prayer. That said, such ‘good’ company is auspicious indeed. What kind of relationship would we have with our spouses if we spent only 5 minutes a day in conversation with them? Not much, right? So why does God get crowded out of our lives in terms of the priority of time?
Perhaps one reason is that we cannot see God, at least not in a physically obvious way. “Out of sight, out of mind,” we might say. Another reason God gets crowded out of our lives has to do with his character: God is patient. Because God is Creator and we are the creation, God has no need of us, so he has no reason to beg us to be in relationship with him. Yet God wants to be in relationship with us, so he finds subtle ways to invite us into his presence. Can we slow down enough to take the time to notice God’s subtle invitations, and respond?
We seem almost to wear it as a badge, don’t we? Someone asks, “How are you?” and we respond, “Great. I’m really busy.” Yet even the most noble tasks – even the most godly tasks – which make us too busy to spend time with the Lord need examination by us if we are to carve out time for our Maker.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. And it can start simply. There will be interruptions, but as one person has suggested, consider each interruption yet one more opportunity to return to God. Start with five minutes a day, and add a minute each week to your prayer time. Even if you find you don’t have enough to say to fill the time, sit in the silence. Let God speak to you, or just enjoy the silence with God as your Companion.
“Rise up, my darling! Come away with me, my fair one! Look, the winter is past, and the rains are over and gone. The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air. The fig trees are forming young fruit, and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming. Rise up, my darling! Come away with me, my fair one!” (Song of Songs 2.10-13, NLT).