Passionately His

Pursuing the Christian life in all its fullness

A sun dog morning

Posted by Jeff on February 12, 2016

Sometimes, stereotypes exist for a reason. For example, I am about to talk about the weather. I’m a Canadian. We talk about the weather. That’s a stereotype.

Yesterday morning, on my way to the church office, I spotted something in the sky. It wasthumb_IMG_2023_1024 hard to miss, frankly. An ‘ice halo’, otherwise known as a ‘sun dog’, was plainly evident in the southeastern sky. It was a bright, cold, clear day in Nobleton, save for some cirrus clouds in the upper atmosphere. The conditions were right for this unusual meteorological phenomenon. And the timing to catch it was perfect.

Why am I talking about the weather? Well, there’s so many ways we could go with this, but let me limit my thoughts to two.

First, while it was the coldest morning we’ve experienced this winter, and not everybody is a fan of the cold, one isn’t going to see a halo around the sun when it’s warm. Rainbows, yes, but halos, no. Sometimes, we need to experience some discomfort in order to experience a unique blessing.

Have you ever found yourself enduring difficult circumstances, only to discover, later, that those difficult circumstances paved the way to something amazing? Those of you who have given birth will understand this better than the rest of us, I expect. But we who have never birthed a child can understand it, too. Sometimes, we find ourselves in challenging situations. In their midst, we might feel like the world is crashing down around us. But once we pass through those situations, we might find our character has been strengthened, or our hearts have been opened to some greater thing God had planned for us. This may not be true in every difficult circumstance, but something good can come from it, though we may not enjoy it at the time.

Second, timing matters. Often, I don’t head out the door until closer to 9:00, since I live quite close to the church. But yesterday, I was at the church at 8:40. Why? The only reason I can guess is that the Lord wanted me to see that beautiful meteorological feat of his. (Sure, physics can explain it, but who made the physics possible, right?!) When we are open to God’s timing, and ready to go when God says ‘go’ – even if it’s just a 750 metre trip – we can experience blessings that we might miss if we remain chained to our own schedule.

All this might seem like a stretch just from seeing a sun dog, but that was my Thursday morning experience, and it was a blessing for me. How has an uncomfortable situation, or being in the right place at the right time, been a blessing for you?

When you go through deep waters,

    I will be with you.

When you go through rivers of difficulty,

    you will not drown.

When you walk through the fire of oppression,

    you will not be burned up;

    the flames will not consume you” (Isaiah 43.2, NLT).

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Posted by Jeff on February 7, 2016

The concept of union with Christ, more commonly discussed among mystics than among everyday followers of Jesus, really is the ultimate goal of the Christian life.  How do we experience union with Christ in prayer?  This message, based on Matthew 17.1-8 and John 15.1-8, explores that question.  Have a listen!

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A lesson for the church from the death of Tim Bosma: Reprise

Posted by Jeff on February 5, 2016

The trial for the two men accused of killing Tim Bosma, an Ancaster man who was murdered when he took two individuals out to test drive a truck he was selling, began this week. I thought it would be appropriate to reprise my Encouragement message from the time of his death, almost three years ago. Time has passed, but the lesson for us – one of many, I’m sure – remains.

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).

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Posted by Jeff on January 31, 2016

If you never thought you could learn about the value of confessing sin from a Bible story about a talking donkey, you need to listen to this message.  It’s based on the story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22.21-35.

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Celebrating good news

Posted by Jeff on January 29, 2016

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the Challenger spacecraft that caused the death of several astronauts from NASA. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since that fateful day. Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when you first heard about it?

Remembering tragic events in history tends to be a generational thing, doesn’t it? People of a certain generation remember where they were when war was declared on Germany, or when John Kennedy was shot, or when the attack on the World Trade Center took place.

But do we remember where we were or what we were doing when we first heard about something good?

You know – like when you heard you were going to be a father, or a grandparent, or when you learned one of your children was engaged to be married, or when you got your acceptance to university or college – things like that. If you stop to think about it, you probably do remember these things, but all forms of media remind us of the global tragedies first. And, to be fair, they don’t know when you heard one of your children was engaged to be married, unless you were a prime minister, a president, or some sort of royalty.

But what about occasions like the driving of the last spike to create the first transcontinental railroad? (For the record, that spike was driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia, on November 7, 1885. Those of you who know me well wouldn’t be surprised I would remember that.) Or what about the day Newfoundland officially entered Confederation? (That one I had to look up: March 31, 1949.)

These ‘good news’ events are less often marked widely than the ‘bad news’ memories. And while ‘bad news’ history can serve to remind us not to repeat it, ‘good news’ history can inspire us to greater things.

Here’s an idea you can try with your family for remembering ‘good news’ events. Do you celebrate your (or your children’s) baptism dates? What about the anniversary of your public profession of faith? (Depending on your tradition, those two may be the same or different.) Why not celebrate them the way you would celebrate a birthday, by having cake and a party? Celebrating good news, and its memory, can strengthen faith, build families, and remind us that the world is not all about bad news.

Lord, throughout all generations, you have been our home! Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God….Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives” (Psalm 90.1-2, 14, NLT).

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Posted by Jeff on January 24, 2016

In our tradition, we’re not much for physical expression.  It’s not that we think it’s wrong, it’s just a cultural thing.  “God’s Frozen Chosen”, we’re sometimes called.

But the Bible has much to say about physical expression, particularly in prayer.  In this message, based on Exodus 17.8-13 and Psalm 100, we learn a little bit about how to use our bodies in prayer, and the value of paying attention to what our bodies do in our expressions to God.

I commend to the listener’s interest a book by Roy de Leon called Praying With the Body, published by Paraclete Press.  We even tried a practice of using bodily expression in our praying of Psalm 100.  Lots of people participated; it was kind of fun!  Give a listen:

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BOOK REVIEW: Still Voices – Still Heard

Posted by Jeff on January 23, 2016

Still Voices – Still Heard is a collection of biographies of prominent, albeit dead, Canadian 50441043Presbyterians connected to the Presbyterian College, the seminary of The Presbyterian Church in Canada at McGill University in Montreal. These are the “still” voices; the individuals are no longer living. This is interesting enough in itself, and not all that uncommon a topic about which to write. But making the book even more interesting is that, appended to each chapter, there is material written (or spoken, in the case of sermons) by the individuals profiled in the book.

The format is a great idea, and it was compiled in honour of the 150th anniversary of the College. The chapters are organized chronologically, which helps the reader follow the development of the College. The book begins with the early years of the school, beginning with William Dawson, a Presbyterian scientist who was the Principal of McGill University from 1855 to 1893. It was his vision that brought about the founding of Presbyterian College as a seminary of the Free Church, which broke away from the (Auld Kirk) Church of Scotland as a result of the Disruption of 1843, which made its way to Canada in 1844 (even though the issue that brought about the split was not an issue for the Canadian church).

What Dawson was to the University, D.H. MacVicar was to the College. His writing on the role of ruling elders in the church, which accompanies the biographical sketch, was helpful in his day and remains helpful today.

What follows are stories of people who are variously remembered who made significant contributions to Presbyterian life in Montreal and Canada, and to the College specifically. They include Jane Drummond Redpath (a key promoter of mission; her husband’s family name remains on many bags of sugar to this day), A. Daniel Coussirat (who pioneered French work among Presbyterians in Quebec), Andrew S. Grant (a pioneer in western Canadian church extension), James Naismith (the creator of the game of basketball; how many of those tall American men who play can credit their game to a Canadian Presbyterian minister?), George C. Pidgeon (a major Presbyterian player in the cause of church union, a student of MacVicar, and the first Moderator of the United Church of Canada), W.G. Brown (preacher, journalist, politician, and missionary to the Canadian west), Cairine MacKay Wilson (the first woman senator in Canada), John W. Foote (Presbyterian military chaplain), C. Ritchie Bell (pastor and teacher of pastors), Alison Stewart-Paterson (one of the early women to graduate from the College to ordained ministry), and R. Sheldon MacKenzie (pastor and educator).

Each of their stories is unique, with a common connection to the Presbyterian College. And each of their contributions to the life of the denomination was significant. I’m sure the editors could have chosen many other individuals to profile, but their choices were good ones, helping the reader to see a broad view of The Presbyterian Church in Canada and one of its colleges.

The contributors were clergy and laity, and it was often easy to tell which was writing by her or his understanding of the context of the history of the denomination. The pieces written by those who had enjoyed a personal relationship with the subject were especially engaging because of that personal connection. Not all articles followed what seemed to be the desired structure, which, while not a significant factor in gaining the knowledge intended, these felt ‘different’ in their flow. Some repeated information within the chapter itself, which the editors could have fixed without changing the integrity of the contributions. And, as happens more and more commonly in books nowadays, there were small errors in spelling and word intention that could have been picked up either by the editors or at the publisher’s end. However, that set aside, it is a good and helpful read, giving one a good sense of the context of the Presbyterian College and enabling the reader to celebrate what God has done and is doing through the College.

In my opinion, the best-written and perhaps most interesting chapter was William Klempa’s piece about Andrew Grant. Other readers could choose other contributions, of course. I found each chapter was of a length that it could be read in a single sitting, allowing the whole book to be read in about 13 sittings.

In the preface, current Principal Dale Woods says that this book seeks “to capture the spirit and passion of those who helped shape the life of the College and those who graduated from the College” by enabling them to “speak in their own words.” With that goal in mind, the authors and editors have succeeded. Anyone wishing to read a decidedly different but entirely interesting history of one of Canada’s lesser-known but highly influential seminaries will find this to be a most engaging read.

Still Voices – Still Heard, published in 2015 by Wipf & Stock, edited by J.S.S. Armour, Judith Kashul, William Klempa, Lucille Marr, and Dan Shute. ISBN 978-1-4982-0831-4.

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Posted by Jeff on January 22, 2016

Most of us know what it’s like to be thirsty. Perhaps you are a runner, and you’ve sprinted a long distance; the first thing you crave is water. Or maybe you’ve just eaten a salty meal; your body longs for fluid.

Thirst is especially noticeable in hot, dry climates – like the climate of the land in which the Bible was written.

But did you ever think of your soul as being thirsty?

David did. He wrote Psalm 63 when he was in the desert of Judah, having been forced into the wilderness by his son Absalom. Consider the first verse of Psalm 63:

O God, you are my God,

earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,

my body longs for you,

in a dry and weary land

where there is no water. (NIV)

David found himself in a desert place, not only geographically, but figuratively, too. His spirit was parched from the persecution he was facing.

Our own spirits can be parched and dry from persecution, but for us, that thirst is more likely to come forth because we have failed to drink deeply of the Water of Life. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4.14, NLT).

What are you doing to keep your soul from being thirsty? Read the Scriptures and pray daily. Engage in a spiritual discipline – maybe one you haven’t tried before. Read good Christian literature. Listen to Christian music that inspires you. Then, your soul will not thirst for God, nor your body long for him, because you will be filled to overflowing with his Spirit, and ready to share it with others.

Don’t let your spirit go dry; don’t let your fire get cold! Nurture your soul daily. God knows what he may do with you as you do!

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God speaks to us

Posted by Jeff on January 17, 2016

When we want to experience God in prayer, we often think of talking to God.  But what about listening to God?  In a personal relationship with the Lord, it’s like any other relationship, in that there is dialogue.  But how does God speak to us?  Through Scripture.  How can we read Scripture so that, through it, God speaks to us?

This message is inspired by John 10.22-30, particularly verse 27:  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

In this message, we also engaged in the practice of lectio divina with Isaiah 43.1-4.  Have a listen!

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Know where you’re going

Posted by Jeff on January 15, 2016

Happy new year! I hope that 2016 has gotten off to a great start for you.

This past week seems to have been a big week for the passing of famous people. I must admit that I don’t pay a lot of attention to famous people, but one’s use of the Internet seems to make them a trifle hard to ignore.

I was especially intrigued by a quotation from David Bowie, who died this week, who apparently said this: “I don’t know where I am going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.

I’m sure many people found that humorous, in that in this life, David Bowie made sure it was never boring. What saddens me is that he had no sense of what his future destiny was. “I don’t know where I am going from here.” Isn’t that sad?

The whole of the Christian life is not just about “knowing where we’re going”, but the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ certainly includes that. In fact, “knowing where we’re going” is, in part, our impetus to share our faith, and to make a difference as Jesus would have us make in the world.

“Knowing where I’m going” is a big reason I’m not afraid to die. That’s probably true for you, too. But not everybody understands this. Let me encourage you to live your life in Christ in a way that makes others long to have the same confidence you have in where you’ll spend eternity. Because eternity is a long time, and I want everybody to experience ‘forever’ in the presence of the Lord. Don’t you?

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.  If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14.1-7, NLT)

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