Month: December 2008
The Sole and Soul of the Matter
Last week, I was doing some ‘on the road’ work for the Canadian Bible Society as I wrap up my tenure with the organization. There wasn’t much snow on the ground at that time, so I decided to wear a particular pair of shoes that day that I thought would suit my travels.
A while after I was away from the house, however – too far away to be able to turn back! – I discovered that the sole of my right shoe had almost completely separated from the shoe itself.
Crud, I thought. Now what do I do?
I had a few minutes to spare prior to a lunch appointment, so I stopped at a store to attempt to solve the problem. First, I looked in the shoe department: finding a size 11.5 wide in a shoe that interested me was, well, impossible. So I took the next step: I looked for some sort of glue to re-secure the sole to the shoe. I must have looked quite silly dragging my right leg through the store, and then taking off my shoe on a bench at the end of the checkout, gluing my shoe back together!
The friend with whom I had lunch was, thankfully, understanding; he was tempted to call me his homeless friend from Toronto, but refrained from doing so but once. In retrospect, I should have asked him for some duct tape!
I had one more appointment that day, though, and it would require a fair bit of walking; so some new footwear was definitely in my future. I just had to find something that would be useful beyond the moment in my size.
I finally found some new shoes, and wore them out the door, the busted ones having been unceremoniously dumped at the shoe store.
But this got me thinking: How often do I treat my soul the way I treat my sole? That is, I took the sole of my shoe for granted, and did nothing for it until it was broken. What about my soul? Do I take it for granted, doing nothing for it until it breaks?
Thankfully, no: I engage in activities that regularly nurture and care for my soul. This includes, but is not limited to, such things as:
- Bible reading, just for the sake of hearing from God;
- Prayer – talking to God, in response to God talking to me in Scripture;
- Worshipping God among his people, the church; and
- Spending time with friends of faith for mutual edification and encouragement.
How about you? What are you doing to nurture your soul?
I know there have been times in my life where I have not been as careful to care for my soul as I should have been, and the result has been something akin to what happened to the sole of my shoe: a disconnect of some sort occurs, that makes my relationships with God and others less than it could be. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.
As 2008 draws to a close, you may be looking toward the year to come, and what you’d like to do for your own spiritual growth in 2009. Please, make sure you look after your soul. Don’t let happen to your spirit what happened to my shoe. Care for, challenge, and deepen your walk with the Lord in 2009. You’ll be glad you did.
Equipping the Church: The School of Urban Biblical Studies
Beginning in January, one of my personal mission endeavours and one of my passions will merge: I will teach a course in the School of Urban Biblical Studies, a “subway seminary” being overseen by SIM Canada. One night a week, I hope to be able to provide some teaching and encouragement to church leaders across the Greater Toronto Area who might not otherwise be able to receive a theological education.
I first learned about SUBS when it was still a glint in the eye of one of SIM Canada’s staff, who ‘pitched’ the idea to a group of people sitting at a breakfast table for a special prayer gathering almost two years ago. The idea so struck me that I left my card with him, and here we are.
The idea behind SUBS is to provide a low-cost basic theological education principally to immigrant pastors and church leaders who work all day at a secular job in order to support themselves and their families, while also pastoring churches in their ‘spare’ time. Many of these leaders could not afford a formal theological education. Many also do not have cars, so the courses are all offered in church buildings within a reasonable walk of a transit line (thus the idea of a ‘subway seminary’).
The course I will be teaching is called “Growing a Healthy Church Community”, and will focus on helping leaders understand both how God has wired us up spiritually and emotionally, and how to deal effectively with people who can sometimes be difficult.
If you or someone you know would be interested in sitting in on this course, taught at the People’s Church, Toronto, then check out www.urbanbiblicalstudies.org.
The Laramie Project and Westboro Baptist Church meet at Uxbridge Secondary School
Normally, I don’t comment much on controversial news items, but after watching the 11 o’clock news on Friday night, I couldn’t help myself. It seems that Uxbridge Secondary School is staging several performances of “The Laramie Project”, a theatrical presentation that decries the senseless death of Mathew Shepard, a young man who was killed in Laramie, Wyoming, some ten years ago simply because he professed to be homosexual in orientation. The production (which I have not seen) seeks to discourage people from hating others, particularly based on their sexual orientation.
This would not be newsworthy in Canada, except that the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, made (in)famous by its outspoken pastor, Fred Phelps, has decided to do a little cross-border picketing: according to this proclamation, people from this rather unique congregation are ferrying themselves into rural Ontario from the Breadbasket of the Midwest to tell the people of Uxbridge that they are on their way to hell (in a breadbasket, perhaps?!) because of the staging of “The Laramie Project” at Uxbridge Secondary School.
Now, I don’t happen to believe that, according to Scripture, it is God’s will for a person to live a homosexual lifestyle. However, I also don’t happen to believe that Westboro Baptist Church’s approach to discouraging such a lifestyle choice is in any way helpful or even godly. If anything, saying that “God hates fags” – and by association that “God hates the Uxbridge Secondary School” – is among the most ungodly things one could ever say. It is presumptuous to believe that one has such a firm grasp on the will of God that one could aver that God “hates” anyone, or anything except sin! To tell the people of Uxbridge – a community that I know has a large number of exceptionally mature followers of Christ – that they are on their way to hell simply because their high school wants to discourage hatred is beyond comprehension.
God loves all people – even those who engage in intentional sin, whatever that sin may be; God so loves us that he yearns to see us grow out of intentional sin. Jesus died for all who sin – people like me. The Holy Spirit leaves open the door that Westboro Baptist Church has sought to shut tight. Any repentant sinner is welcomed into the family of faith when she or he chooses to trust Jesus as Saviour and Lord and seeks to walk in a way that pleases God. To engage in the degree of vitriol and rhetoric that Westboro Baptist Church does actually discourages people who may consider turning away from an ungodly lifestyle. In short, the kind of actions shown by Westboro Baptist Church are, in my opinion, intentionally seeking to thwart the work of the Spirit in bringing about genuine conversion, and attempting to portray to people something the Bible does not: that one sin is worse than another.
The glorification of the homosexual lifestyle and any attempt to make it appear acceptable from a biblical standpoint are likewise not helpful to the cause of the gospel. Deception in one direction is no better than deception in another! But, if I read Scripture correctly, the language of love is much more likely to convince us of our sinfulness, and lead us into a relationship with our Creator, than the language of hate.
Mr. Phelps, and Westboro Baptist Church, you are not helping build the church of Jesus Christ. You are turning people away from it. May God have more mercy on you than you expect he will have on those who disagree with you!
And to the people of Uxbridge, and the students at USS: please know that Westboro Baptist Church does not speak for the church universal. Christians don’t all agree on the issue of sexual orientation, but those who truly follow Jesus do agree that God loves all people and that he longs to have a personal relationship with each of us through Jesus – a relationship that changes us from the inside out, making us more like Jesus with every breath we take and every step we make.
Praying and Promptings
Anybody who knows me well knows that “early mornings” and “Jeff” generally don’t mix very well. My favourite mornings are the ones when I can sleep in until I feel totally rested (usually around 9 o’clock).
I can tell you that I don’t get too many favourite mornings! And Thursday was an example of that.
I woke up just after 5 on Thursday. Sure, I had to do what commonly has to be done when one awakens early in the morning, but then, sleep was not to be regained. I was frustrated, but at the same time, intrigued by what the Lord had placed on my mind that morning.
Virtually every day, I wake up with a song in my head. On Thursday, it was an 80’s choir anthem by Bryan Jeffery Leech called “Come Share The Lord”. I haven’t sung it for years. But along with that came a distinct call to pray.
Only occasionally am I ‘jolted’ (perhaps a strong word for the context) to pray for someone I don’t know personally or have some personal connection with, but on Thursday morning at 5:07, I felt a distinct nudge to pray for a young woman named Sangita Patel who is a weather specialist on City TV in Toronto.
I was able to learn only a little about her by using internet searches, so I know nothing of her faith life at all. But I distinctly felt God asking me to pray for someone in her life to share the Lord with her. I don’t even have an email address at which I could contact her, which I normally would do when I feel that nudge from God. So I simply have to trust that the Lord is going to act on that prayer.
When little things enter your mind – whether at the start of the day or ‘whenever’ – how do you respond? I remember the story of the call of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3. Samuel had been hard-prayed-for by his mother, who had been unable to conceive; and when she did, she promised to give her son over to God’s service. So, as a lad, Samuel served the Lord in the company of Eli, the tabernacle priest. One night, Samuel heard a voice call out repeatedly, “Samuel!” And each time, Samuel would go to Eli, who had been sleeping – assuming that Eli had been calling him. After several episodes of this, Eli realized that the Lord was calling Samuel, so he instructed him to reply, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3.9b, NLT). And when Samuel so replied, God revealed a measure of his will to Samuel.
I promised God that I would pray for Sangita throughout Thursday, trusting him to bring someone she knows and respects to share the Lord with her. I also promised God that I would be careful to keep in mind the little thoughts he places before me – even at five o’clock in the morning.
This Christmas Pageant Is Different…
Last week, the church I’m soon to pastor, St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, celebrated its annual Christmas Pageant.
Big deal, you’re thinking. Lots of churches put on Christmas pageants. Ho-hum.
But this one is different. It really is.
Why do I say this?
Because this Christmas Pageant, each year, welcomes some four hundred children from three community schools, who come to the church building to see this presentation of the real meaning of Christmas. Yes, I wrote that correctly: four hundred children.
Months of preparation go into the presentation. This year’s was “Bethlehem Treasure”, and it involved thirty children – not all of whom are actively involved in the congregation. So not only did we have the opportunity to reach out to the children of the community, whose teachers willingly bring them; we also shared the Christmas story with a number of children who were cast members, who may not ordinarily have the opportunity to hear about the love of God, and see it demonstrated by a committed group of Christ-followers.
The people who put this presentation together – Liz, Erma, Ida, Lynda, and their helpers – worked very hard. Some of them got sick through the process, because of the effort they put forth. And they count it all joy, because the seed they have sown, we pray, will fall on good soil, drawing more young hearts into the loving arms of the Lord. St. Paul’s, I am proud of you!
Christmastime in Schomberg
On Saturday night, I was privileged to be welcomed into a Christmas tradition in the town of Schomberg, Ontario (just a little north of where I live). Every year, the main street of the community is closed to vehicular traffic. Fire barrels are set out on the sidewalks. Shops open up. Hot chocolate and apple cider are sold. People meet up who may see each other only that one time each year. And a parade happens, but this is no ordinary parade: farm implements of every sort are decked out with Christmas lights and pulled down Main Street to a delighted crowd of onlookers (See photo.)
Okay, so my cell-phone-cam photography isn’t going to win any awards. I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this was some esoteric map of the Great Lakes – but it really is a large farm tractor covered in Christmas lights.
I spent the evening with some new friends walking down Main Street, listening to music, watching an ice sculpture be created before my eyes, and ambling into shops to look around – all very carefully, as I was bundled up like no other time I remember since putting my Hallowe’en costume on over my snow suit as a kid growing up in northern Ontario. Then, when Santa had successfully sat on the hood of a massive combine, waving at everyone (I remarked that he appeared to have been going to the gym over the summer), I went back to the home of a family in the congregation I will soon be pastoring.
What a delightful evening! Making new friends, and making connections with neighbours, while enjoying a celebration of Jesus. True, the parade didn’t even have as much as a nativity scene (that I noticed, anyway), but the gathering afterward was consecrated with grace over a wonderful pot of chili, during which we were reminded that this time of joy and laughter is a celebration of the birth of the One who was present at the creation of the world.
For that, and for the friends with whom I spent this whole evening, I give great thanks.
Praying over the Prorogue
If you’re a Canadian, you’re probably a bit on edge right now, no matter what side of the political fence on which you find yourself. For the first time since no-one-can-remember, the Prime Minister requested the Governor General to prorogue Parliament; and on Thursday, she agreed.
Last week, few of us had ever heard of the verb ‘to prorogue’, and now it’s part of daily conversation. But it’s not there willingly, I think, for most Canadians; our decided preference would be to see the government function as it was elected to, rather than see the politicians fearmongering and jockeying for power and the like. Heavens, we just had an election, and saw quite enough of that then.
Still, we are left in a period of uncertainty: the civil service will continue to run the country, as it has for 141 years, but in the House, there is, well, a domestic dispute. And none of us knows exactly how it will be resolved.
Followers of Jesus exist in every political party in Canada. This doesn’t necessarily make sense to everyone, but it’s the reality in which we dwell! And our responsibility as Christ-followers, whether we have much interest in politics or not, is to pray for our government. Why? Because, as the apostle Paul put it, “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13.4, NLT).
Most of us probably wish that “the authorities” remembered that they are God’s servants, and not the other way around! Nevertheless, we are called to lift them before the Throne of Grace, interceding before the Father for our politicians at every level, that they may know the mind of Christ.
If Jesus were walking the halls of Parliament Hill, would he be a Conservative? A Liberal? A New Democrat? A Green? A Béquiste? Or (f), None Of The Above? You know the answer to that. Jesus transcends labels. Jesus is not about politics anymore than he is about religion. What Jesus is about is the Kingdom, and that is why he sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in us – so that we (including politicians) may usher in the Kingdom of God.
Like you, I want this over – soon – and preferably with no blood on the floor. So join me in praying for our leaders, at every level and in every party.
Canadian Pacific’s Christmas (Holiday) Train
Being the nutty railfan that I am, and my wife being the loving wife that she is, we braved the cold and the wind to watch the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Christmas (Holiday, as they now call it) train come rolling into Nashville, Ontario (between Bolton and Kleinburg, in the city of Vaughan).
A good time was had by all, but I froze solid taking this video, so please enjoy. 🙂
Canadian media mogul Ted Rogers has died. My friend Carey Nieuwhof has blogged about how the church can learn from this media giant’s way of doing business. I encourage you to read it.
This is how I commented on Carey’s post: “Good points, Carey. I think there are several reasons we don’t see many tenacious Ted Rogers types in church leadership – at least, here in Canada, anyway. A dearth of truly gifted leaders leading. A lack of conviction that our ‘business’ really matters. A lack of faith in the power of God to be able to accomplish the vision he places in leaders’ hearts. You know what I mean.
“Ted Rogers not only had vision, he had the determination to carry it out. He planned, he set goals. He didn’t become the head of a media giant overnight.
“What’s more, he understood culture – something the church often chooses to refuse to do. When he started CHFI, it was a classical music station. I remember listening to it on “cable FM” as a kid. By the time I moved to Toronto for grad school, it was playing the top 40 of its day. Today, CHFI is playing mostly the same songs it was playing when I was a student 20 years ago – because that station now has a niche to reach people like me. Ted has other stations that reach other niches as well. But he understood culture and knew what would appeal to people – and wasn’t afraid to change formats if that was what was needed.
“Harsh? Maybe. True? Let the reader decide! :-)”
Of course, the big difference between running Rogers Media and leading the church of Jesus Christ is that the message, in our case, never changes. The way it’s presented, though, must, if the church and its message are to appear as relevant as they truly are before the world.