This Pastor is Appreciated!

I don’t normally share our weekly in-house email, Between Sundays, with the wider public, but I think this one deserves to be shared.  If you’re not tangibly appreciating your pastor, here’s some inspiration to do so, whether in October or any other time of year – since nobody gets too much encouragement! — JFL

I was speaking with my spiritual director last week, telling her about October. Insightfully, she said, “October is like Christmas for you.”

She was absolutely right.

October is a month for giving thanks in Canada, and it is Pastor Appreciation Month. I am the envy of many of my colleagues, whose congregations have never heard of Pastor Appreciation Month.  I brag a little bit each year – not about what I receive, but about you, and how, even after ten Pastor Appreciation Months with you, I am still surprised, honoured, and humbled by your kindness.

(Can you believe it’s been ten Pastor Appreciation Months?  It was 10 years ago today that Diana and I moved into the manse, with me in some fear, some trepidation, and a lot of faith as I eased my way back into the pastorate after two and a half years in parachurch ministry.  What an amazing journey this has been, and continues to be! God is good.)

I have a collection of cards on my desk; each will be kept, read again, and treasured, as I have done for the past 10 years.  I’ve mentioned before that in previous congregations, I had a “happy file”, in which I kept notes of encouragement that I received from congregants.  Early on in St. Paul’s, I learned that a “happy file” won’t do; I actually have to keep a “happy drawer” in my desk, one of the deep drawers, to contain all the encouragement I’ve received over the years. I’m sure it’s no secret that your encouragement makes it a joy to serve the Lord among you, and I truly hope that “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27.17), that I am able to be an encouragement to you, too.

I don’t know who organizes this, but it’s obviously a coordinated event.  Most people sign their cards, allowing me to thank them.  Some choose not to sign, and that’s okay, too – though if I recognize the handwriting, I thank them anyway!  There was one person who scratched out a signature, thinking it was supposed to be anonymous, and that person’s handwriting eludes me.  (Whoever you are, thank you!)

October has always been my favourite month of the year, with beautifully-coloured leaves and crispness in the air.  But you have doubled my delight with your ongoing kindnesses.

A culture of gratitude – not only toward the pastor, but from the pastor, and toward one another – makes a church’s culture irresistible to those seeking a church home.  So keep up the good work of being grateful, as will I.

Again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  It truly is a joy to serve the Lord together.

Encouragement From The Word

Remembering a mentor I never met

Eugene Peterson – follower of Jesus, pastor, author, Bible translator – died this past Monday.  He was a mentor to me.

But I never met him in person.

How can someone mentor another person without actually meeting face to face?

Peterson did it with me through his writings.  I was introduced to his books early on in my seminary training, and once I’d read one, I couldn’t read enough.  When his memoirs were published, entitled The Pastor, I felt like I knew him well, to the point that I actually wrote him a letter of thanks in response to reading his memoirs.  I have no idea whether he got it, given that I had nothing more to put on the envelope than his name and the Montana town near which he lived, but it wasn’t returned to me, so I’m hopeful that he received it.

It’s valuable for all followers of Jesus to have mentors, and it’s certainly ideal for those mentoring relationships to be ‘live’ and face to face.  But we can be mentored passively by people we’ve never met simply by reading their writings.

What giants in the faith have mentored you, either in person or through their writings? Among passive mentors, Peterson’s at the top of my list, and I’m comforted in knowing that he has now received his eternal reward with Jesus, whom Peterson described this way in John 1.14 (The Message):

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

Biblical Messages

Scratching the Surface

In a world of superficiality, Jesus brought depth, and that was hard for people to understand – then as now!  We may resist having others scratch the surface of us, finding the real ‘you’, but it is oh, so worth it in terms of the healing it can bring.

We had our mayor, ward councillor, fire, EMS and police with us to celebrate Civic Services Appreciation Sunday, and together we heard this message from John 7.10-24.  Listen, or watch below.  LifeConnect Group Discussion Questions are here: 2018 10 21 lcg questions.

Encouragement From The Word

Essentially speaking

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

This phrase has shown up in a couple of conversations I’ve had in the past few days, and it has stuck with me.  It is variously attributed:  some say it was Augustine of Hippo, others say it was John Wesley, and still others attribute it to one or another person.

It is a phrase commonly used among Christians, and almost certainly it arose from some sort of theological discussion.  It remains an extremely helpful reminder to us as we look at what it means to be the church in various expressions today, but it has its share of challenges, too.

I think most every sane follower of Jesus can agree that “in all things, charity”, or love, is crucial.  Jesus told us his disciples of old to love one another, and that applies to his disciples today, too.

What, though, is considered “essential”, and what is considered “non-essential”? That’s the tough question this phrase begs.

There will be a lot of answers to this, to be sure.  But followers of Jesus generally can agree on some key essentials, such as a belief in the Triune God: God the Father, made known in his Son Jesus Christ, living in believers today by the Holy Spirit.  Basic stuff.

We can consider essential that Jesus died for our sins, and rose again – bodily – on the third day.

But once you get past these key beliefs, the definition of “essential” starts to vary. And this is why, I think, we will always have denominations.  There will be different branches of the church of Jesus that hold different tenets as essential.

The big challenge comes when a Christian group opts not to define what it considers to be essential.  If a creedal church – one that upholds the ancient creeds of the early church – simply states that the Apostles’ Creed, or the Nicene Creed, is what defines what is essential, is that sufficient?  (After all, even the Nicene Creed has two versions, depending on whether you believe the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or just from the Father. A lot of ink was spilled over that one a long time ago.)

The Bible is replete with statements that any church could consider to be essential, core statements of faith.  I don’t think it’s up to each person alone to decide what is essential.  Certainly, as an individual, I can read Scripture and discern what I believe is most important to my faith, but then I am wise to affiliate with a body of believers that holds those tenets as essential.

Whatever those essentials are, they need to be grounded in a simple reading of Scripture, and grounded in the history of the church.   The Holy Spirit still works, to be sure, and the Holy Spirit never contradicts the Word of God.

So ask yourself:  what is essential for your church?  What is essential for you?  And then ask the Holy Spirit living within you to enable you to live in charity – in love – even with those with whom you disagree.

Sometimes, that can be difficult, and sometimes it means keeping fellowship at a distance.  That may be a different definition of unity, but in this day and age, it may be all we have.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3.13-14, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Never early, Never late

“We serve an on-time God”, the saying goes, so we do well to discern God’s will and God’s timing for his will.  Listen to, or watch, this message from John 7.1-9 to learn more…


LifeConnect Group Discussion questions can be accessed here:  2018 10 14 lcg questions

Encouragement From The Word

Canada’s going to Pot

This week, I received a postcard in the mail, but it wasn’t from a friend travelling in IMG_7018faraway lands.  No, this was from the Government of Canada, giving me advice on how to deal with the new law that comes into effect next Wednesday, legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.

For a lot of you Dear Readers, what I’m about to suggest will not be a surprise, but if anyone happens to read this who is wondering, here’s my encouragement to you: just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

When marijuana is prescribed by a physician, the dosage and mixture of elements is specifically and carefully set to provide relief for the patient; I have friends who have received much help, and been able to set aside the Tylenol® bottle, thanks to a properly-prescribed cannabis dose.  While even this is controversial, it holds no candle to the legalization of pot for recreational use.

As I see it, the government did not think through the ramifications of this bill. Of course, some will say that regulation along with legalization will make a difference, but the last time I checked, under-age drinking still happens, so I’m not sure how the government thinks that the regulation of cannabis is going to stop people who are below the age of majority from accessing it.

I’m particularly concerned for young people in this case because it is a documented fact that cannabis use before brain development is complete can contribute to the onset of schizophrenia, which causes all sorts of other challenges.

And I’m concerned for followers of Jesus.  Some will say that the Bible doesn’t talk about pot, so why not give it a try?  Well, the Bible doesn’t talk about Brussels sprouts or jumping off a cliff, either. This is where scriptural principles need to be applied in other areas of life, wisely, by Christians.

I won’t address whether God’s people should eat those Little Green Balls of Death, leaving that to your conscience.  But we recognize that jumping off a cliff may not be expressly prohibited in the Bible, but it’s universally seen to be a bad idea.  Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

Christians differ on issues of alcohol and tobacco use, to be sure.  But all agree that addiction is problematic.  And as I understand it, the likelihood of addiction with cannabis use is significant, and those who become addicted don’t just get more weed; they move on to other drugs, all of which are known to be harmful to health and destructive to society.

Let me encourage you not only to avoid recreational cannabis use, to preserve your witness for the gospel, but also to act to seek to get this law repealed, for the good of the human race.  Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up’ (1 Corinthians 10.23, NRSV).

Encouragement From The Word

Playing with fire

Have you noticed that a lot of people seem a bit obsessed with Hallowe’en?

I’m not talking about kids going out and soliciting sugary treats from neighbours here – I’m talking about grown up adults who have turned the month of October into a season of macabre decorating.

In one sense, there can be much fun in this.  After all, many people – sometimes, the same people! – have fun decorating for Christmas.  I suspect that most people who make a big deal out of Hallowe’en do so simply for fun.

But there can be a darker side to this fun.

When adult celebrations of Hallowe’en become more about the spiritual realm, we’ve moved from fun to fire.  And dabbling in the spiritual realm is playing with fire.

What followers of Jesus need to understand – and remember – is that while much of life on this earth is fun and enjoyable, we fight a spiritual battle every day.

Every day, there are attempts made by the devil and his angels to undermine the work of God, and all work for good, in this world.  And God’s people have a responsibility to fight those attempts, not celebrate them.

By all means, go and buy yourself a bag of ‘fun size’ chocolate bars; I recommend waiting until All Saints’ Day (November 1), when stores have these treats on a deep discount.  But don’t celebrate that which the Lord works to destroy.

If you choose to take your children trick-or-treating, let them have fun with it. But take the time to explain to them that what we are doing is a fun way to meet neighbours and get some treats. As they get older, help them realize that there is a spiritual realm from which they require protection from God the Holy Spirit, and that Hallowe’en shouldn’t go beyond the realm of fun for people who belong to Jesus.

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3.8, NLT).