There are many baseball analogies that have crept into regular English conversation; some of them work well in the life of faith. In this message, based on John 3.1-21, I speak about what it means to “slide into home” – to be saved by God’s grace. Listen to it by clicking here.
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).
Posted by Jeff on May 3, 2013
This week, I have been participating as a counsellor at a discernment event for potential ministry candidates within my denomination. It truly is a privilege to get to know these people and to hear their stories of God’s call on their lives.
In my tradition, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, we require that people seeking to be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacraments not only attend seminary and learn their intended craft, but that they spend time figuring out what their sense of call really means. What saddens me is that in most branches of the church, we limit this discernment process to future pastors.
What if all of us were to engage in discerning God’s call on our lives? After all, at least among Protestants, our theology is pretty clear: God doesn’t just call clergy, he calls every believer to his service. But do we all stop to ponder what it is that God is calling us to do?
Often, we let others – or the church’s needs – dictate what we do in the service of the Lord. We give in to the “warm body” syndrome, taking positions of service or leadership in areas where the need is made known. But does this always align with how God has equipped us to serve him? I encourage everyone to take an inventory of their spiritual gifts. (I offer seminars on this for those interested.) Take a look at Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4 to get a sense of what the Bible says about the array of spiritual gifts that God gives to believers.
The Lord wants us to serve the way he wired us up to serve. Yet too often, we don’t take the time to consider what that may look like – we just barge in where the need arises. Frankly, sometimes we need that ‘barging in’ approach, but it’s always best if we examine how we are equipped by God to serve before we volunteer.
Discernment can be challenging, because it often requires that we say ‘no’ to something good, in order to say ‘yes’ to something better. And God always desires us to say ‘yes’ to the better thing that he sets before us.
How are you serving the Lord? Is it energizing or draining? If it’s draining, consider discerning your gifts and praying over your service to God. If it’s energizing, congratulations. Continue doing what God has planned for you!
“Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?’ I said, ‘Here I am. Send me’” (Isaiah 6.8, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on April 26, 2013
In the past while, there has been a Lexus commercial on television that has intrigued me – not because I’m in a position to be able to buy a Lexus (were I even interested in doing so), but because of the tag line at the end of the commercial: “Some day, your life will pass before your eyes. Make it worth watching.”
That’s an excellent tag line. But as I see it, it has nothing to do with cars and everything to do with the far more important aspects of life.
Now, I see people almost every day for whom you get the impression that the vehicles they drive might well be what the believe makes life worth watching. (Don’t get me started on the guy I see driving the Ferrari around our little town. What’s up with that? You’d never burn the carbon out of the engine!) I think Lexus has used in its commercial a line that could easily be employed by the church.
After all, what is it that most enriches life? It’s not cars, that’s for sure. In fact, it’s not things at all. It’s relationships, and especially our relationship with God. I am constantly astounded at the number of people I meet – even people who go to church, sometimes – for whom the concept of a relationship with God is brand new. (What have preachers been telling these people all these years?) Our personal relationship with God really must be the Number One Priority of our lives. Everything else will find its place when we make the Lord Priority One.
Some people balk at that notion, thinking that their spouse or kids need to come ahead of God. But that’s not God’s plan for us. He made us first to be in relationship with him. Once that relationship is firmly established, relationships with others come next, and come more healthily – especially when we understand how truly and fully loved we are by God.
Most of us know someone whose relationships are largely dysfunctional, in part because they are looking for love in all the wrong places, instead of looking for love from the One who is Love. Some look for love in Stuff (like cars), while others look for it in acceptance by others. Ultimately, though, our self-worth comes from knowing that we are deeply loved by our Creator, who longs to be in relationship with us: it’s why he created us in the first place! As Augustine said in the fourth century, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Some day, yes, your life will pass before your eyes. You want to make it worth watching, but not because of the car you drive. Make it worth watching because of the relationships that unfold in it – especially the relationship with God, who in Jesus Christ has come to give us life to the full.
“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone” (John 1.4, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on April 19, 2013
Normally, after a week that has had so much “news” – everything from an ice storm to bombs going off – I would write to reflect on where God is in the midst of all this. And I could still do so, but there is someone who already has done so, and with eloquence. If you are not familiar with Ann Voskamp, and her book, One Thousand Gifts, you will be after you read this post that she wrote yesterday.
Her words capture what we need to know in these challenging days. May they be a blessing to you. And don’t hesitate to click the links in the text of her meditation. They will enlighten you with some details of what has been going on in our world. Please read Ann’s post.
Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16.33b, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on April 12, 2013
Yesterday, where I live, we had one of those rare late-season “snow days”. The school buses were cancelled, and warnings were being issued all over the place advising against unnecessary travel. When I got up, there was nothing going on at all, meteorologically speaking. I was hoping that the weather warnings would end up being a non-starter, because I had four appointments that required me to be out of town for quite a bit of the day.
Within about an hour of my needed departure time, the snow started. Not quite the freezing rain and ice pellets that were forecast initially, but the news was telling me those nasty things were falling where I needed to go that morning. So I rearranged these appointments. The later one ended up needing to be rescheduled for other reasons (and the weather still wasn’t looking promising anyway). So I ended up with some “bonus” time to get caught up on other tasks.
Sometimes, we think of these interruptions as annoying inconveniences. But have you ever thought of them in a positive light?
After all, I would have preferred to accomplish what my schedule set out for me. Rescheduling is sometimes difficult and time-consuming. But I’ve learned that changes to the schedule often come with divinely guided opportunities.
For example, yesterday’s rescheduling afforded me the chance to make some phone calls I needed to make, allowing me to engage in some deep and needed conversations. Because my wife also got a “snow day”, we were able to walk up to the local Tim’s for a bowl of chili (the perfect comfort food for a yucky day) and enjoy some ‘bonus’ time. And I was able to move up a local meeting that afforded us to have a longer, deeper and more blessed conversation than time might otherwise have permitted.
So, despite the troublesomeness of needing to reschedule appointments because of the weather, there were many great things that happened as a result. God blessed me through inconvenience!
How has the Lord blessed you through inconvenience?
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3.1).