Passionately His

Pursuing the Christian life in all its fullness

What are you doing here?

Posted by Jeff on August 12, 2016

What are you doing here?

That’s the question the Lord asked Elijah in 1 Kings 19 – twice:  in verses 9 and 13.

The prophet had just defeated the prophets of Baal and brought rain to a land of drought, and for his trouble, the king’s wife, Jezebel, wanted his head on a platter. He was sick of the race.  So he ran away, and this was God’s response:  “What are you doing here?”

It’s a good question for each of us to ask ourselves – perhaps not about the room we’re sitting in at this very moment, but about our stage in life.  And there are different ways we can ask it.

We can ask ourselves, “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

Notice the different emphasis each time the question is asked.  There is an ancient Christian practice called the examen, where typically at the end of the day, we review the day in God’s presence and examine our conscience and consciousness.  Perhaps God’s question to Elijah, with these different emphases, might be one way to frame a review of the day.

Besides asking important questions about life, this practice also forces us to pause, which is not easy for all of us.  Give it a try today.

Elijah was sick of the race, but he knew he needed more of God.  So the Lord revealed himself to Elijah – not in the windstorm, not in the earthquake, not in the fire – but with the sound of a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19.12).

Pause long enough to hear that gentle whisper, be renewed, and know what you are doing here!

Encouragement From The Word returns on September 2.

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Free*

Posted by Jeff on August 7, 2016

The lowly asterisk often means a lot – especially when you see a deal that seems too good to be true.  The gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ can seem that way – and there is an asterisk on its “free”-ness – but it’s all good news.  Have a listen to this message, based on Romans 6.1-14.

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Pay it forward

Posted by Jeff on August 5, 2016

I’m not a big fan of drive-thrus, since, unless one drives a hybrid or an electric vehicle, they tend to be bad for the environment (and for physical fitness).  But there’s one thing I like about drive-thrus:  they’re the commonest places to find people “paying it forward”.

Do you know what I mean by that?  The whole “pay it forward” notion may well be quite old, but it has become more popular with the advent of drive-thrus.  Originally, it referred to repaying someone for their benevolence not by repaying the benefactor, but someone else in need.  Nowadays, it can be something as simple as paying for the order of the person behind you in the drive-thru.

What’s so neat about it is that if someone pays for your order, you can’t even thank the person, because she or he has already driven away.  It’s pure grace – undeserved favour.

As I’m going to discuss in my message this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, this is a great way to illustrate the grace of God in our salvation.  When we come to faith in Christ, we aren’t simply called to be good, moral people – as if to appease God’s wrath.  We’re called to live as those saved by grace, to please God.  Our salvation isn’t dependent on what we do; it is the motivator for what we do.

When we pay for another person’s order in the drive-thru, that person is powerless to pay us back.  The hope is that she or he will do the same for another person at some point.  Likewise, God in Christ has paid for our sins – atoned for them on the cross – and we are powerless to pay God back.  By living for him, and demonstrating his grace in different ways, we are ‘paying it forward’.

What creative ways can you demonstrate the grace of God to others, both in word and in deed?

You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6.19b-20a, NLT).

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BOOK REVIEW: “Deep Church” by Jim Belcher

Posted by Jeff on August 4, 2016

A confession:  I’ve had this book on my ‘to read’ pile for a few years now, and I really wish I had read it sooner.  Deep Church, as the subtitle suggests, attempts to find “A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional”.

Depending on the circles you travel in, you may not know what the author means by “Emerging” or “Traditional”.  Within the realm of evangelicalism, a movement began some 20 years ago that became known as the Emerging (or Emergent) Church.  It isn’t a denomination and doesn’t have formal leadership (though there are informal leaders).  And, as this book, highlights, there is no theological or liturgical unity around the movement.  Some Emerging churches look like mainline liberalism in a new suit, while others look like typical evangelical congregations, but with candles and corporate prayers of confession.

What Belcher looks for is a “third way”, something that finds balance between traditional evangelical Christianity and this somewhat numinous Emerging movement.  What he comes up with is “Deep Church”, as he calls it, the model for ministry that he uses in his own congregation, Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Newport Beach, California.

The big learning for me from this book was about the value of community.  I’ve been thinking a lot about community in the church in recent years, and this has helped me even more to pinpoint what needs to happen if the church is to be effective with the millennial generation.  Belcher writes about his congregation’s four core commitments:  gospel, community, mission and shalom (the latter defined as making or transforming culture, in a Kuyperian sense).

I found the stories he told reinforced the points he was making from his research and his interviews with key players in the Emergent-Traditional debate, and the book’s 207 pages (plus copious endnotes) read fairly quickly.  I wish I had read this sooner.

Deep Church:  A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional by Jim Belcher (foreword by Richard J. Mouw), published in 2009 by InterVarsity Press.  ISBN 978-0-8308-3716-8.

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From Judgment to Rest

Posted by Jeff on July 31, 2016

“Come to me, all you who are weary…and I will give you rest.”  Many are familiar with these words of Jesus, but do we realize what their context is?  The section right before Jesus utters these words unique to the Gospel of Matthew finds him condemning entire communities where he and his miracles were well known, but the response was underwhelming.  The key question in this message is, “How will you witness for Jesus?”

Based on Matthew 11.20-30 in The Message, you can listen to the message here:

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Beyond despondency and despair

Posted by Jeff on July 29, 2016

It seems we learn every day of another tragedy taking place in the world.  That, combined with the state of morality, and the debacle that is the US election process – to which the whole world is subjected through the media – can leave us pretty despondent.  But Christ-followers are left with an alternative beyond despondency and despair.

There is an exclamatory remark that appears obviously only once in the New Testament, but is alluded to in a second place.  It is three simple words, and those three simple words give hope to the people of God around the world, no matter how trying the circumstances.  In 1 Corinthians 16.22, the apostle Paul writes to the church, “Come, O Lord!

In Revelation 22.20, John is told by Jesus, “Yes, I am coming soon.”  John replies, “Come, Lord Jesus.

The language of Jesus’ heart, Aramaic, has a term for this exclamatory remark:  Marana tha.  We sometimes make it one word and say, “Maranatha!”  By this we express a wish for Jesus to return, to consummate the world in his way.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been using that term quite a lot lately.  When I look at the world around me, I long for Jesus to bring his Kingdom.  Are we ready for that?

To be ready for Jesus to bring his Kingdom means to love and trust him by faith, to live to please him, and to bear witness among others to his saving work on the cross.  Why?  Because we want “Maranatha!” to be good news for everybody.

No matter what terror ISIS may leave in its wake; no matter which among the poor choices wins the US Presidential election; no matter what tragedy we learn about in the news – it will all pale in comparison to the second coming of Jesus, who will come to establish his Kingdom.

Marana tha.  Come, O Lord.  We can’t know when he will come.  We can only be ready.  May he come soon.

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Communion FAQs

Posted by Jeff on July 24, 2016

We enjoy celebrating the Lord’s Supper once in the summer at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  But not often do we talk about some of the key assumptions about our celebration of God’s grace!  So this week, we remedied that – at least in part.

Last Monday, I had my gallbladder removed, but I decided that wouldn’t keep me from preaching this week, it being Communion Sunday and all.  And it didn’t, but you will probably be able to tell in listening to this message that I don’t have my usual energy and sometimes seem out of breath.  I should have taken the Sunday off, but I didn’t.  So you get to listen to a message highlighting answers to some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) that I hear about the Lord’s Supper.  Based on 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, you can listen to the message here:

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Every. Little. Thing.

Posted by Jeff on July 22, 2016

Not long ago, I received word that my family physician is going to be retiring at the end of September.  I’m particularly sad about this, because he’s one of those “old school” doctors who takes the Hippocratic Oath very seriously, who still makes house calls when necessary, and who almost always has enough room in his daily schedule to fit in those last-minute needed appointments.  I will miss having him play a role in my life.

He has engaged a firm that will digitize his patients’ files so that all the records of my years of being seen by him will fit onto a CD that I can carry to my next doctor, whoever that may be.  Everything that he has seen me for in the past eight years will be available for the new physician to review.  Every.  Little.  Thing.  Yes, the important things, like my drug allergy (yikes) and my body mass index (ouch), but also the less affirming things, like the time I had to be treated for a boil on my bottom (let’s not go there).  Every.  Little.  Thing.

Of course, this is all for my good, right?  The new doctor will need to know my background fully in order to be able to treat me properly when I come for assistance.  The new doctor needs to see the big picture.

I like how God can see the big picture – the whole picture – but chooses not to.  The apostle John says of the Lord, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1.9, NLT).  And when does that happen?  The earlier part of the verse says it happens “if we confess our sins to him”. And when God receives our confession of sin and forgives us and cleanses us, he keeps no record of our sins.  They are gone like dust in the wind.

Let’s not kid ourselves:  God could remember every little thing if he wanted to.  But he chooses not to.  As the old saying goes, he throws the sins we confess to him into the lake of forgetfulness, and posts a ‘no fishing’ sign there.  While our medical records may have the good, the bad and the ugly in them, our divine records do not – when we live in relationship with God, believing that Jesus died to take away our sins and rose again to draw us to eternal life.  When we are in Christ, God looks upon us as if we have the righteousness of Christ.

Our challenge is to seek to live that way.  Growing in holiness, in righteousness – that’s the best response to realizing that God chooses not to remember every little thing.  I’m praying that God will give you the grace and strength to grow in holiness and righteousness!

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Resident Aliens

Posted by Jeff on July 17, 2016

I borrowed the title for this message from the book of the same name by Willimon and Hauerwas, two professors at Duke Divinity School, who wrote about the importance of the church being the church amid the culture around it.

As “resident aliens”, we need to understand and live our faith effectively if we want to have any hope of influencing culture.  But since all our little sub-cultures are different, each of us may need to handle that ‘living out’ differently.  Based on 1 Peter 2.4-12, you can listen to the message here:

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Why we do Camp

Posted by Jeff on July 15, 2016

This week, St. Paul’s, Nobleton has been holding its annual Vacation Bible Camp.  Each year, it is our privilege, and that of many other congregations, to welcome community children into our midst for a few days to teach them and model for them the way of Jesus.  It’s a sacred trust, and we take it seriously.

Think about it:  yes, we see some of our own home-grown kids, but we also welcome children who are not currently part of our fellowship.  Parents bring them to us, sign a form, and entrust their little loved ones to our care.  For parents, it’s not just about a few mornings when they can have some peace and quiet, or some unfettered time to get some work done; they are entrusting their kids to us and allowing us to build into the spiritual formation of these little ones.  We are helping to shape their lives for God’s Kingdom.

Volunteers, and sometimes staff, put countless hours into the planning, preparation and execution of these camps not because they want to babysit strangers’ children, but because they truly believe, in the words of Reggie Joiner, that in a hundred years, the only thing that’s going to matter is what these kids did with Jesus.  As churches, we offer these ministries to families because we want them – parents and kids alike – to have a life-changing encounter with the Lord.

Kids memorize Bible verses that may stick with them and may not.  They also learn songs that definitely stick with them.  (I meet parents in the grocery store year after year who tell me – in the dead of winter – that their kids are still singing camp songs.  Children’s memories are amazing.)  Everything we do at camp is centred on knowing Jesus and loving him.  Because of our proximity to Canada’s Wonderland, these families could get season’s passes and go there every day.  Some parents tell us that their kids are more excited to come to Vacation Bible Camp than they are to go to Wonderland.

Why?  We don’t have rides (well, we have a cool waterslide…).  What we have is Jesus.  And he is compelling.

It’s not like Jesus shows up in body, looking like the Bible comics we used to get in Sunday school when we were kids.  No:  Jesus shows up in those who serve.  He comes in the form of caring leaders, teachers and helpers who carry a conviction that in a hundred years, the only thing that’s going to matter is what we did with Jesus.

What we can accomplish in five mornings can be the equivalent of a whole year of Sunday morning kids’ ministry.  And the community lines up to bring their children.

It’s a sacred trust.  And we wouldn’t give it up for the world.

What are you doing to encourage kids to love Jesus?

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.  All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom” (Psalm 111.10a, NLT).

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