Passionately His

Pursuing the Christian life in all its fullness

Christ our Strength & Joy

Posted by Jeff on June 28, 2015

The first letter of Peter, through which we have been working off and on since the winter, has several allusions to the importance of suffering as followers of Christ.  Today, we may be more likely to encounter persecution than ever in recent memory, given the intolerance of biblical Christianity that exists today.

But what is the end of suffering?  Of what value has it for the Christian?  Suffering readies us to spend eternity with God.  Based on 1 Peter 4, you can listen to the message here:

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Marana tha!

Posted by Jeff on June 26, 2015

Marana tha. It’s not a phrase we hear tossed around much anymore, even in the church.

Marana tha. Even though it’s alluded to among the very last words of the Bible, most of us aren’t acquainted with it.

Marana tha. Interestingly, I have heard several people speak about it in the past few weeks, given all that’s going on in the world.

Marana tha. “Come, O Lord.” It’s becoming a popular prayer again.

Marana tha. This simple Aramaic prayer, uttered by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16 and hinted at by John in Revelation 22, says so much in so little space.

Marana tha. It’s a term of submission, in which we name Jesus as Lord, suggesting we ourselves are not Lord. It’s a term of hope, in which we look to the future we know God has in store for all who love him. It’s a term of desire, in which we long for Jesus to make right what the human race has made wrong. It’s a yearning for order, a yearning for peace, a yearning for justice.

Marana tha. We are invited to pray that prayer, for the restoration of God’s world and the meting of God’s justice. And while we wait for the wonderful return of our Lord, he invites us to answer our prayer with action on his behalf.

We can’t hasten the second coming. But we can help to prepare the world for it.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.  And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2.11-13, NLT).

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Christ Our Lord

Posted by Jeff on June 21, 2015

After a few weeks away, it’s good to be back in the pulpit!  With this message, I resumed a series started in the winter on 1 Peter.  Peter helps us understand some facets of what it means for us to call Jesus “Lord”.  Based on 1 Peter 3.8-22, you can listen to the message here:

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Lessons from Charleston

Posted by Jeff on June 19, 2015

By now, you may have heard about the massacre in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this week. Shootings are always tragic, but when one happens inside a church building, all of us, even those who are not big fans of the church, are rattled by it.

Whatever would cause someone to engage in such a heinous act? Reports say that the shooter was an obsessive white supremacist, and that he truly hated black people.

Why? What causes someone to develop this? Racism isn’t a genetic trait; it’s learned. And in this case, it was costly to many families, and very costly to one church family.

There are many instructive points for us in this terrible story, but perhaps one that hits close to home is the importance of having healthy, engaged community surrounding our children and youth, starting in the home.

Parents, grandparents and other relatives, surround your kids with love and encouragement. Let them see that, just as in God’s eyes, all people have value. True, all of us are fallen, broken sinners, but we are still all made in the divine image and carry intrinsic value as a result.

Parents, grandparents and other relatives, teach your kids that violence is not the way of Jesus. While we in Canada don’t have the same kind of ‘gun culture’ that exists south of the border, there is, nevertheless, an unnecessary degree of violence that takes place, often among youth, and frequently in our cities. Help your kids learn that dialogue and conversation are more useful tools than guns or knives.

Parents, grandparents and other relatives, model for your kids the love with which God has showered you. Children and youth want to know, above all, that they are deeply loved. We all want to know, above all, that we are deeply loved! You are deeply loved by God, and that enables you to love others. It is hard to love when we do not know that we are loved. Tell your kids you love them. Tell your kids that God loves them. Prove it with your actions.

And pray for the people of Charleston, South Carolina – for the church family at Emanuel AME Church, for the families left behind, and for those whose hearts are hard enough to kill because of colour.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3.1, NIV).

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Respect

Posted by Jeff on May 15, 2015

Maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but until this week, I had never heard of this supposed trend among certain men to walk up to female reporters (and perhaps others) and offer an exclamation whose acronym is FHRITP. The fact that Shauna Hunt of CityNews in Toronto was willing to call some men out on this abhorrent activity has brought it to light, thanks to the viral nature of social media.

Critics are right to complain that this is unacceptable behaviour. Where does it come from? What would prompt men to disrespect women in this way – or in any other way?

Schools can do all the teaching they want to on values and the like, but if boys (and girls) are not taught at home about the innate value of human persons, it’s not likely to stick. Parents, and especially Christian parents, have a responsibility to teach their children – particularly by modelling it – that everyone deserves respect.

Do you treat your spouse respectfully? Your parents? Your kids? Your friends?

Do you have the guts to call out a friend who treats another person disrespectfully?

After all, as followers of Jesus, we have the greatest reason of all to respect others: all human beings, according to Scripture, are made in God’s image. And that in itself should be enough to enable us to respect others.

What about those who are not followers of Jesus?

Well, there’s one more reason to share the good news of Christ with them!

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27, NLT).

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BOOK REVIEW: “KINDLING DESIRE FOR GOD” by Kay L. Northcutt

Posted by Jeff on May 14, 2015

You know how, every once in a while, you go shopping for one thing and come home with more than you bargained for? That happens to me when I visit Amazon. Their version of the “up-sell” is that section on the page for the book you’re interested in that says, “People who bought XYZ also purchased…”.

It’s a trap. Really. But when you’re stricken with bibliophilia, as I am, it’s an inevitable trap.

That’s how I came across Kindling Desire for God. Had I known much about the author’s theology, I probably would have skipped it. But, as so often happens, the subtitle got me: “Preaching As Spiritual Direction.” As both a preacher and a spiritual director, I had to know what this was about. So I bit.

Amazon wins again. But, in truth, so did I.

Kay Northcutt is a preaching professor at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a certified spiritual director. While I would not share her theological position, I greatly appreciate how she handles this different paradigm for preaching.

As a preaching professor, the author is exposed to all manner of different preaching styles, and this book seeks to help preachers, whether certified spiritual directors or not, to see preaching as a form of spiritual direction. All pastors, whether trained in spiritual direction or not, do undertake a measure of it by virtue of office, and that can extend from the study to the pulpit.

To that end, Northcutt seeks to encourage pastors to reclaim the authority that is rightfully theirs, spiritually – to move from being problem solvers to being spiritual guides. The authority, though, is seen not in CEO terms, but is “grounded by prayer, intimacy with God, and an explicit knowledge – as well as felt experience – of being the ‘God-person’ and the spiritual guide for congregations” (58).

She laments the loss of what she calls our “own inherited texts” – not only Scripture, but the early church mothers and fathers,41cSqihmgHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ and spiritual classics. We would rather quote Jack Welch than Julian of Norwich. We would rather cite Oprah than Origen. The author encourages preachers to make their preaching a spiritual act. At the end of the book, she offers some examples of her own preaching, showing how preaching can be a form of spiritual direction.

I would not suggest that these sermons are models of outstanding biblical exposition, but there is a pastoral, spiritual element to them that all preachers could learn from.

If you’re looking for a different kind of preaching text, give this one a try. If nothing else, it will call you to a deeper relationship with God – something every preacher and congregation can benefit from.

Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction by Kay L. Northcutt. Published in 2009 by Fortress Press in Minneapolis. ISBN 978-0-8006-6263-9.

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BOOK REVIEW: “SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP” by Norm Allen

Posted by Jeff on May 14, 2015

Knowing my interest in spiritual formation, a friend and colleague gave me this book, written by a friend of his. Intrigued by the subtitle (“The Art of Being Friends With God and a Few Others”), and the brevity of the book (it’s a quick read at about 100 pages), I jumped right in.

The author is the founder of Touchstone Ministries in Orangeville, Ontario. His business is to nurture friendships among Christians in leadership in various walks of life, and his book illustrates why that is important to him, and hopefully, to the rest of us.

Spiritual friendship is a model of spiritual formation that can complement other ways of going deeper with God. To illustrate his51NNE34MOLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ understanding of this model, Allen draws from the rich breadth of Christian tradition – from the Celts to C.S. Lewis to Miroslav Volf . He tells many stories of his own experiences in spiritual friendship that have both blessed and challenged him (as any good friendship should).

We may say we have a lot of friends, when in reality what we probably have is a lot of acquaintances. How many others know us at the depth of our being? There are no gold stars for the number of friends we have who can read us like a book, of course, but there is great value in having at least one friend with whom we can share deeply, and mutually. It becomes easy for hard sharing to be one-sided, where one person becomes vulnerable and the other simply listens. But in order for a spiritual friendship to be truly mutual, it must involve both parties sharing deeply – not in an attempt to one-up the other, but to be transparent and honest with the other.

Spiritual Friendship will challenge and encourage you to find and engage in a friendship with another Christian who will walk with you as you walk with God. I recommend you pick it up.

Spiritual Friendship: The Art of Being Friends With God and a Few Others by Norm Allen, published in 2012 by Clements Publishing Group, Toronto. ISBN 978-1-926798-08-0.

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Living In and Through

Posted by Jeff on May 10, 2015

Following up on last week’s message, this one is intended to help us understand the importance of living in and through the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, the church is dead.  With the Spirit, the church has joy and power.  Based on Galatians 5.16-26, you can listen to the message here:

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Hiding behind the façade of social media

Posted by Jeff on May 8, 2015

I don’t know if you’ve noticed – if you are a social media user – but lately, it seems to me that Facebook has been getting nasty. With an election in Alberta, and a sex education curriculum in Ontario, and the Stanley Cup playoffs (among other things), it seems that everyone has an opinion or two. And social media is a common place to air those opinions.

Sadly, what seems to be happening is that people are using social media as a screen, such that they somehow believe it becomes appropriate not to fight fairly, making pot-shots and sweeping statements that would not ordinarily occur in the course of civil conversation. I think it’s because we don’t have to look each other in the eye on Facebook. (This seems to be less of an issue on Twitter, where the limit of 140 characters seems insufficient to air a rant or rebuttal.)

In life, there will always be areas where disagreement happens. It’s true in families and marriages, in friendships and collegial relationships – even in church. And there must be room for disagreement. That doesn’t negate the reality of absolute truth, of which there is much, but it does require tolerance.

Tolerance, nowadays, has been watered down to mean the acceptance of (and even belief in) everything. But what it really means is to give someone the right to be wrong. The awkward thing about this is that two people who argue, each of whom believes she or he is right, can tolerate the other and believe him or her to be wrong. That’s called agreeing to disagree.

Sometimes, agreeing to disagree is best left tacit – that is, the argument never actually happens. But in social media, that civility has lately been left behind.

So, if Jesus were on Facebook, what would he do? Well, that’s sort of a moot point, because even if the Internet had existed in the first century, Jesus had this thing about personal relationships. My guess is that if Jesus were on Facebook, he would say to everybody, “Let’s get away from this façade and have a personal conversation.”

Of course, that’s hard to do when one is conversing over social media with someone halfway around the world. But that might translate this way: “Have your social media conversations in the same way you would face-to-face conversations.”

Or, as Peter put it: “So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness” (1 Peter 2.1-3, NLT). The great thing is that this is a helpful word even if we are not social media users!

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How Big?

Posted by Jeff on May 3, 2015

How big is the Kingdom of God?  In our “Selfie Generation”, even the church can be inclined to be a little too self-focused.  Why shouldn’t that be the case?  Based on Acts 1.1-8, you can learn why in this message. Give a listen:

(By the way, the selfie pictured was taken early in the message.  Yes, people like to sit at the back, but most people were over my left shoulder, out of the picture!)

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