Musings

Preparing the way

Last Sunday, I spoke at All Saints’ Anglican Church, Whitby.  The congregation has two different types of service each week, so, glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to preach two different messages (according to the length of time allotted me, and according to the lectionary readings I was assigned).  [I may post mp3s of those messages, so check here to find them.]  I’m not often invited to speak in Anglican congregations, so it was an enriching experience for me to participate in a Eucharistic service that was completely spoken – no music at all – at 8:00 a.m., and to participate in a “choral mattins” service that was almost completely sung at 10:00 a.m.  As a low and free church kind of guy, I find it’s enjoyable to experience a higher liturgy now and again.

What struck me the most about the services, especially the choral mattins service, is how infused they are with Scripture.  There’s not just the four prescribed readings from the lectionary; there are biblical allusions and quotations in many of the sung and said portions of the services.

Of course, it’s possible to infuse any style of worship with Scripture.  Scripture choruses, metrical psalms, etc., all draw us into the Word, often in very subtle but effective ways.  These can prepare the way for the Scripture to fill our hearts with the love and knowledge of God.

I was particularly struck, too, by the reception that I received.  Betty, our Bible Store manager, was with me, and together we were welcomed at All Saints’ as royalty!  Many people came prepared to purchase Bibles, and happily anticipated the preaching of the Scriptures.  It was a really happy experience!

This happened because the Rector, The Rev. Ken Davis, had prepared his people for our visit.  Sunday was the kick-off to several weeks of Bible engagement for the congregation.  Ken’s desire is to get all of his congregants reading the Bible, and preferably studying it in small groups.

As the area Bible Society Guy, how could I argue with that?

Keep up the good work, All Saints’.  God knows the difference you’re making!

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Encouragement From The Word

Sharpening Up

            I drove to Peterborough on Thursday, not really encouraged about my work.  There is so much that needs to be done – far more than can be handled by what my budget allows for human resources.  Not really sure what the meeting in Peterborough would hold, I felt a slight, but persistent, sense of despondency.  I arrived at the meeting, alongside several of my fellow District Directors, to hear from the Director of Scripture Resources for the Canadian Bible Society.  Joel talked to us about his hopes, dreams, and plans for the Bible Stores that are operated by each district across the country.

 

            He told us excitedly about his desire to make sure the stores are supported with excellent Bible and Bible-related products; his plans to offer online services for customers; his hope for new and better things for the stores, which are a visible presence for the Society throughout Canada.  He also gave each of us a “book table in a binder” – a tool that we can take to churches so that congregations can look at products being offered by CBS, right down to the actual print size in Bibles, and place orders.  In this way, people will have easy access to a copy of the Scriptures in a language, and version, they understand.

 

            This got me, and the other District Directors, excited about what God may do with our retail ministry at CBS.  It’s pretty hard for one store in Toronto to serve a district that runs from Mississauga to Trenton, Owen Sound to Bracebridge to Bancroft.  The “book table in a binder”, and the promise of online access, will open many doors for people to obtain a Bible so that God will speak to them through his Word.

 

            In Scripture, we read, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27.17, NLT).  I walked into that meeting feeling pretty dull, but walked out of it feeling sharp.  That’s what fellow believers can do for each other.

 

            It doesn’t have to involve presentations, meetings or retail matters.  It can be simply a warm smile, a firm handshake, a joyful embrace.  It can involve words of encouragement from another.  It’s the genius of community, and why the church was, despite its flaws, one of God’s greatest ideas.  The Lord puts us in community for a reason – to encourage, edify, and sometimes to correct and reprove one another. 

 

            Each of us, in our walk of faith, needs to be sharp.  Heaven knows, the devil loves it when God’s people are dull.  So I thank God for my friend Joel, who sharpened me up on Thursday.  I thank God for the many followers of Jesus who have sharpened me over the years.  I hope, and pray, that I have been able, now and again, to do the same for others.

 

            How about you?  Who are you hanging around with that can sharpen you?  And whom are you sharpening in the faith?  God knows the difference each of us can make for one another.

Musings

What happens when you slow down

Don’t tell anybody at work, but today was a slower day.  For a variety of very ethical and helpful reasons, I worked from home today.  (Besides, it was Earth Day, and I reduced my emissions by driving less!)

At the end of one appointment, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some fixin’s for supper.  As I pulled up to a really great parking space (without even having prayed about it – imagine that!), I saw a senior gentleman standing outside his car, hood raised, booster cables at the ready.  I parked the van and approached him.

“Do you need a boost, sir, or is someone coming to help you?”

The short answer was that a boost would indeed be helpful to him, so I repositioned the van, and got him and his wife (their car, that is) boosted up and on their way.  My good deed for the day, I thought to myself.

Then, once I was home, van parked, another senior gentleman approached me.  He was delivering a prescription for a local pharmacy, and wondered where a particular street was.  I didn’t know, but volunteered to look on my map to help him.  Two good deeds for my day?  This got me thinking there was something unusual going on.

Here’s the deal:  normally, I’m going at a mile a minute.  I see people in need more than just today, but most of the time, I don’t have time to help them.  I just speed past and focus on the task at hand, for which the clock awaits me like a tireless taskmaster.  Not today.  I worked from home, had things spaced out sufficiently to allow for a more relaxed pace.  And look at the opportunities God placed before me.

Jesus said that if do helpful things for others, it’s like doing them for him.  So I was happy to serve my Lord today in ways unexpected.

So why not slow down yourself?  You might be surprised what happens.

Encouragement From The Word

Sweet Victory

As I write this, the Montreal Canadiens have (finally) won their first-round NHL playoff series against the Boston Bruins. As a life-long fan of the Habs (les Habitants Canadiens, bien sur), this is a sweet victory – yes, only one of several steps toward the Stanley Cup, but a sweet one nonetheless.  It’s left me (and every other Montreal fan) pumped.

But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15.57, NIV).  I wonder why everyone who claims the name “Christian” doesn’t feel pumped every day – at least at some level – by this truth?

Musings

Binge Reading

I picked up a book at the Bible Society the other day, and when I paid for it, I remarked to the manager that I am a self-labelled “binge reader”.  That book I bought would be the fifth book I’d have on the go at that point, not counting the Bible.  It might say something about my inability to finish one thing before starting another, though I think that probably applies to my model railroading more than it applies to my reading. 

A goodly part of my vocation involves reading:  Scripture itself, books about the Bible, commentaries, etc., etc.  And, to achieve at least some sort of touch-point with those who hear me, read me or dialogue with me, I try to read as widely as time permits beyond the theological.  That means reading books, yes, but also blogs, newspapers, magazines, and the like (including audio books, which allow me to redeem much of the time I spend on the road).  I’m constantly reading something, even if it’s just a model train magazine. 

Yet there are times when my reading goes ‘over the top’, like these days.  I can’t seem to get enough.  I wish I knew why that is, and I wish these ‘binges’ would last longer.  I never fail to be unspeakably enriched by these times.

It leaves me wondering why some folks, despite their self-admitted literacy, choose not to read much – or choose not to read things that will develop their spiritual lives.  The Christian Booksellers’ Association (now defunct in Canada) has said that some three-quarters of church-going people have no idea that Christian resources, such as those found in Christian bookstores, exist.  Three-quarters! 

To be sure, there is a fair bit in Christian bookstores that could not be labelled as anything more powerful than drivel.  (Opinions, it should be noted, vary as to what constitutes said ‘drivel’.)  But along with the not-so-profound stuff there is much excellent, edifying reading to be found – and with the near-equalizing of the Canadian and American currencies, it can be found at more reasonable prices than in recent memory.

So – do an online search for a Christian retail outlet near you, or check the Christian sections of amazon.ca or chapters.ca, or go to christianbook.com.  There’s lots of good stuff to be read out there.

When I finish one of those volumes I’ve got on the go right now, I’ll post a review in my “book reviews” section of passionatelyhis.com. 

Now, what page was I on…?

Encouragement From The Word

Where People Are

            When I jumped in and became blogger a few weeks back, a good friend of mine suggested that I also join Facebook.  I resisted, principally because I feared the time it would usurp from both my work and my hobbies.  I’ve heard some horror stories of people who got no work done because of their time spent on Facebook – and some employers who banned their employees from using it at work!  Did I really want to become part of such a network?

 

            I wasn’t sure.  But a couple of weeks ago, I gave in.  Why?  One simple reason:  to promote my blog!

 

            That being said, there have been some positive off-shoots from this.  I’ve reconnected with people I haven’t seen in twenty-plus years.  I’ve made some new “friends” (electronically speaking).  I’ve honed my multi-tasking skills.  (Ever tried to watch hockey, write a blog posting, talk to your spouse, and play 3 games of Scrabulous, all at the same time?)

 

            But the main purpose remains:  I joined Facebook to promote my blog, and thereby to help people think about what it means to have a relationship with God (or to draw them deeper in their walk). 

 

            I never considered myself a decent candidate for blogging or Facebook, quite frankly, but I jumped in anyway.  Why?  Because that’s where people “are”.

 

            A congregation I once served was planning to have a “Bring A Friend” Sunday.  When one person in the church family announced to me that she had no friends who didn’t go to church, I suggested to her that she needed some new friends!  Followers of Jesus can’t be isolated.  We must be engaged with the world.  We aren’t to be ‘of’ the world, but we do have to be ‘in’ it.

 

            I love what the apostle Paul told the Corinthian church when he was both defending himself and telling the church that he had given up his rights as an apostle:  I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ.  I do all this to spread the Good News, and in doing so I enjoy its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9.22b-23, NLT).  When Paul was hanging around with Jews, he acted like a Jew.  When he was hanging around Gentiles, he acted like a Gentile.  He wasn’t being a chameleon in any malevolent sense:  he was just trying to fit in with the culture so that his message – uncompromised – would be heard.

 

            Being engaged with the world while not compromising our message is one of the great challenges for the Christ-follower of the twenty-first century.  But God, who is full of grace, gives us the ability to do it.  Whether it’s something simple like Facebook, or something more challenging like learning to eat the food of another culture, we can do it.  We have the best reason of all:  to bring people to Christ.

Encouragement From The Word

Why Christian Television should air Jerry Springer

Okay, this should be interesting, you’re thinking. 

Actually, it’s a true story.

I had lunch with my friend David Harrison today. He is the founder of Bus Stop Bible Studies, a ministry dedicated to getting Biblical messages before the transit-riding public.  He was telling me about a conference he attended recently, during which one speaker told the story of having to decide, as the manager of a Christian television station, whether or not to air Jerry Springer.  Why was that an issue?  Apparently, the investors liked Rush Limbaugh, and the station could only buy Rush if they also bought Jerry.  After much prayer and consideration, the manager decided to go ahead.

Why?

Because her neighbour at her cottage caught more fish than she did.

Okay, now I’m confused, you think.  Read on.

In the state she lived in, it was “the thing to do” to have a cottage, and all the necessities to go fishing.  So she purchased all that she needed, and went fishing, but never caught anything.  Why? she wondered.  She remarked to herself that her neighbour always had loads of fish.  So she asked him what was the secret to his success.

“To catch the fish, you’ve got to fish in dark waters, and use smelly bait,” he said, matter-of-factly.  And with that, he handed her a mittful of leeches!

As momentarily unpleasant as that probably was, it was just the lesson she needed for her TV station:  if you’re going to reach people, you’ve got to meet them where they are.  So she agreed to run Jerry Springer, late at night, on her Christian station.  She made a deal with the people that ran a local prayer centre to scroll its phone number across the screen during Jerry Springer, so that people needing prayer could call and receive help.

The phone lines were jammed.  The calls were too numerous to take.  All of a sudden, running Jerry Springer on Christian TV was a ministry.  It worked.

David reflected on this with me with these verses:  “One day as Jesus was walking along the shore beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers – Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew – fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen.  Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!’  And they left their nets at once and went with him” (Matthew 5.18-20, NLT).  Where did Jesus go to find his friends, and what was his bait?

Jesus went to where the people were, and he ‘baited’ them with a God-sized vision of the Kingdom.  It was so compelling that they dropped the work they were doing and immediately followed.

All followers of Jesus can learn from this.  If we truly want to be effective in our desire to reach out with the Good News, we need to be where the people are – sometimes in seedy places.  Jesus did this all the time:  he was accused of hanging around with tax collectors and women of ill repute and the like.  Why?  Because sick people are the ones who need a doctor.  Folks who are far from God are the ones who need the Gospel. 

That’s why organizations like Bus Stop Bible Studies exist.  And it’s why organizations like the Canadian Bible Society exist – to assist those who are reaching people with the Word.

If Bibles remain only in churches or people’s homes, how will others hear?  That’s why Christian Television should air Jerry Springer, and why the Bible should be on the buses.