Musings

It’s Ash Wednesday, but Sunday’s comin’!

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar.  It’s a “moveable feast”, meaning its timing is always tied to Easter (which fluctuates by the moon – a story for another day!).  Ash Wednesday occurs 40 days before Easter – excluding Sundays – and marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.

In Presbyterian circles, not much has been made of Lent over the course of its history, for the very reason I mentioned above:  the season excludes Sundays.  Reformed Christians were never big on celebrating the Christian year anyway; talk to some older Scots, and you’ll find that in the extremes, even Christmas wasn’t recognized as such in the church.

The church year is a human construction, after all, but it can be helpful for many believers who like to have some structure to their personal and corporate spiritual life.  I celebrate Lent in my devotional life, but it doesn’t get much more than a wink and a nod from me on Sundays, because if you count the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, you’ll find that it only adds up to 40 if you don’t count the Sundays.  Each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection – a little Easter!  So we don’t stop singing our hallelujahs and the like for the Sundays in Lent, because those Sundays are havens from the penitential nature of the season.

Lent has also become something I’m not sure it was ever intended to be by those who first cooked up the idea. Even people who haven’t much time for God will use Lent as a season for “giving something up” – like coffee or chocolate or something like that.  (Rumour has it that Tim Horton’s moved its iconic “Roll Up The Rim To Win” promotion to coincide with Lent because too many people were giving up coffee!)

To those who give up things for Lent I’m prone to ask, Is it drawing you closer to God?  Because if it is, it would make good sense to give it up permanently!

Lent can be a season that allows us to step back and consider our relationship with God, and what may be keeping us from growing in that relationship.  It can be a very meaningful observance.  But it should not involve somber, joyless Sunday worship gatherings.  We may be entering Lent, but the tomb is still empty!

By the way, if you’re looking for a nice meditation and an interesting family activity to begin the season of Lent, check out Ann Voskamp’s blog here.

Musings

Why is Christmas a ‘downer’ for so many?

In reading a sermon for Christmas by William Willimon this morning, I was reminded of the real reason why Christmas can be such a ‘downer’ for so many people:  they’re emphasizing that which will pass away, that which will disappoint, in one way or another, eventually.

When we emphasize gifts, it’s obvious enough that they’ll break or wear out or cease to be sufficiently interesting.  But even when we emphasize children or family, which so many do today to avoid being too ‘religious’ about Christmas (!), these things can disappoint, too, because people are people; they sin, they get sick, they move, they disappoint, they die.  There is a let-down when we emphasize family and children because these don’t line up to the fairy-tale TV special standards, or at least, not for very long.

Family disappoints when we no longer hang a stocking or set a place at dinner for them.

No, the key is to emphasize that which is eternal and eternally faithful and eternally significant:  when we emphasize the birth of Jesus, and his great qualities, instead of emphasizing anything human, we will be less apt to be disappointed at Christmas. When Jesus – God-become-human – is what really matters, Christmas is never a ‘downer’.

Something to think about.

Musings

A Microferroequinologist’s Night Before Christmas

As “That Time Of Year” approaches, I am reminded of this piece of classic poetry, especially aimed at the model railroader…

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through my pike,

Not a steamer was stirring, not even a Mike.

My yard tracks invitingly empty and bare,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

 

The diesels were nestled all snug in their sheds,

While visions of DCC danced in their heads.

While I, in my blue-and-white engineer’s cap,

Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.

 

When down in the train room, there rose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the basement I flew like an ace,

Tripped over the cat and fell flat on my face.

 

I stifled a curse meant for Chessie (the cat),

And I muttered to no one, “I meant to do that,”

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But an HO-scale sleigh and eight Preiser reindeer,

 

With an engineer driving, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than GG-1’s, onward they came,

And he blew a steam whistle and called them by name:

 

“On Athearn! On Lionel, Kato and Walthers!

On Kadee and Micro-Trains, Atlas and others!

To the top of the mountains of Hydrocal plaster,

Now dash away, dash away, dash away faster!”

 

As dry leaves that behind a new Genesis fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So in through the window the coursers they flew

With the sleigh full of trains, and St. Nicholas too.

 

And then, on my roundhouse, I saw on the roof

The prints in the dust of each HO-scale hoof.

As I drew a deep breath, and was turning around,

From beneath the benchwork, St. Nick came with a bound.

 

He was dressed like an engineer from head to foot,

And his clothes had that fine smell of ashes and soot;

A bundle of trains he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

 

His eyes – just like marker lights! Dimples, how merry!

His cheeks like a Warbonnet, nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And his beard was so white, it would please Phoebe Snow.

 

He puffed on a pipe as he refilled its bowl,

And the smoke, it smelled just like bituminous coal.

He had a broad face and a belly (I found)

That shook like a tank car with wheels out-of-round.

 

He was chubby and plump, and I wanted to shout,

“Yes! The man’s got a route the UP can’t buy out!”

A wink of his eye as he passed near the door

Soon gave me to know I’d have freight cars galore.

 

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work.

He filled all my yard tracks; then turned with a jerk,

And leaving an airbrush he’d found on eBay,

And giving a nod, he returned to his sleigh.

 

He pumped up the brakes, blew two blasts on his whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL! KEEP ‘EM ROLLING! GOOD-NIGHT!”

Musings

A Trip of a Lifetime: Train Travelogue 2011

It was as if Tuesday, August 9, 2011 was Christmas morning for two children:  our hearts were aflutter.  We had been anticipating this trip for years, and planning it for months.  Finally, the night arrived, and as we made our way to Union Station in downtown Toronto, the realization that we were going to board VIA’s Canadian had
come.  After a very hot wait in the Panorama Lounge (the air conditioning was off in order to keep dangerous fumes from bringing our trip to a halt), we were called up to the platform.  We walked and walked and walked – beyond the shelter of the train sheds – until we finally reached car 122, the second-last car on the train, where our accommodation for the next four nights would be found.  We boarded the train, went to cabin ‘D’, and unloaded our stuff in this room that was slightly bigger than 5’x7’ (and occupied by two bunks by this time).  No matter:  we were on the train!  We settled in, and as the train began to move, made our way to the rear car, Kokanee Park, where we would enjoy the first leg of the journey.  My vow was that I would sit up in the dome until the lights of Toronto were but a memory, listening, of course, to Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy.  I welled up a little at the realization that Diana and I were embarking on one of the world’s most legendary train trips.  From this vantage point, we would see more than half of Canada, and meet people from across the globe.

Being a railfan, knowing the consist of the train was important.  Despite our car attendant’s enthusiasm for trains, he was unable to secure the list of cars for me, so two mornings later, in Winnipeg, I walked the length of the train – nearly half a mile! – and wrote down every car name and number, and the locomotive lashup as well:

  • Diesel power:  VIA 6440 (General Motors Diesel F40PH-3) in second-generation VIA paint, and VIA 6409 (same type) in VIA’s third-generation ‘Renaissance’ paint scheme.
  • Baggage-Dormitory car #8604
  • Coaches 8133, 8125, 8107
  • Skyline Dome Car 8516
  • Diner Frontenac
  • Skyline Dome Car 8503
  • Sleepers Jarvis Manor, Blair Manor, Monck Manor, Brock Manor, Bell Manor, Sherwood Manor
  • Sleepers Chateau Latour, Chateau Lévis, Chateau Rouville
  • Skyline Dome Car 8501
  • Diner Acadian (where we ate every meal)
  • Sleepers Amherst Manor, Bayfield Manor, Hearne Manor (where we slept)
  • Dome-Observation Car Kokanee Park

The scenery was predictable to us, only because we had travelled much of this journey by highway.  With the exception of the first full day through north-western Ontario, where the lakes, rocks and trees were the same but new to us, most of the time, the rails were quite near one branch or another of the Trans-Canada Highway.  Because the journey takes place on Canadian National trackage, from Portage La Prairie on, the tracks followed the Yellowhead Route.

From lakes, rocks and trees, we moved to wide expanses of prairie with wheat and sunflowers.  The Qu’Appelle Valley was a surprise to many who think the prairies are entirely flat!  From northern Alberta, we transitioned into what most everyone wanted to see:  mountains.  Ah, mountains:  no matter how many times we see them, we
never tire of them.  “The firmament proclaims his handiwork,” said the Psalmist of our Creator God.  Nowhere is that made clearer to us than in the mountains of western Alberta and British Columbia.

Because the VIA journey ceased only for picking up and detraining passengers and crew, there was a lot of scenery that passed us by in the dark.  But that would be atoned for when we heard the “All Aboard!” for the second leg of our journey, the Rocky Mountaineer.

We heeded the call to board the Rocky Mountaineer after two short but pleasant days in Vancouver, spent with friends whom we love.  The Schindells ferried us through some of Vancouver’s nicest places.  The Savills gave us lodging and a place to scratch my preaching itch, among the people of Richmond Presbyterian Church.  The visits
were short, for 5:30 Monday morning came calling all too quickly.

Aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, we retraced our steps, this time in daylight, across the lower mainland, and up the Fraser Canyon to Kamloops.  A night in a simple Kamloops motel was followed by another early morning that was met with as much anticipation as the trip itself, for on this day, we would ride only Canadian Pacific trackage.  Not only would we see some of Canada’s historic and engineering feats, we would ride them.

Even though we could not stop there, to be able to glide slowly past the wonderful cairn that marked the driving of the last spike that created Canada’s first transcontinental railway brought out not only Canadian, but Scottish patriotism as I said, “Stand fast, Craigellachie!”, in the spirit of Donald Smith and George Stephen, without whom the CPR may never have been completed.  Sitting in the yard at Field, awaiting our turn at the Big Hill, was also a long-anticipated moment.  For this time, we would not just stop at the roadside pull-off to look at the foliage eclipsing the lower portal of the spiral tunnels; we would be in it!  Riding through a rocky cavern on a constant curve, then coming out, ascending, and riding through another rocky cavern on a constant curve, was amazing.  The tunnels are shorter than they seem, but the grade they cut down and the lives they saved, since their creation in the early years of the twentieth century, reminded us of the ingenuity of Canadians.

The greatest anticipation for me, and the only time I went to the vestibule to take pictures without glass between the lens and the scenery, came as I rose from my seat east of Lake Louise, and at mile point 113 on the Laggan Subdivision, started snapping pictures as we rounded Morant’s Curve.  This is the most photographed piece of railway in Canada, and my plan was to take pictures of railfans taking pictures.  Alas, there were no railfans there at that moment!  But to say it was a near-spiritual experience to ride the rails around Morant’s Curve is an understatement.

A brief stop in Banff was followed by the onset of darkness as we left the mountains for the foothills, thence for the lights of Calgary, where our rail journey of a lifetime would come to an end.  The fun was not over, of course, for more great friends, the Woodwards, were there to meet us and delight us with four more days of conversation, sightseeing, and fun.  Travelling home again by air might seem anticlimactic, but by then, we were ready for a shorter journey.  The plane took off on time, landed early, and encountered no difficulty.  A warm hug and a smooth ride home landed us into bed with a tiny bit of jetlag, and a lot of great memories to treasure for the rest of our lives.

Make no mistake:  we will see the good friends, and the scenery, many more times, God willing; whether we will do so by rail remains to be seen, but if that does not come to pass, we can say that we did it, without regret.

Musings

Judgment Day?

This is an article I prepared for The Gatherer, the newsletter of St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton where I serve as Lead Pastor.  It will appear in the June issue, but I thought I’d give blog readers a preview.  It’s not an easy subject, but I’d be glad for your comments and constructive criticism.

As I write this, the earth is supposed to be shaking, and the judgment of humanity is supposed to be taking place – or, so says the owner of several American Christian radio
stations, who has gone to great trouble and expense to alert the world to his reading of Scripture, which leads him to the conclusion that the beginning of the consummation of the world was supposed to take place on Saturday, May 21, 2011.

If you’re reading this, that didn’t happen.  That doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened; but, as I’ve explained in Encouragement From The Word, my weekly email, it’s not up to us to try to predict when that might happen.  Jesus himself said that only the Father knows for sure when it will happen.  It seems to me, then, a waste of otherwise
valuable time to attempt to figure out when all this will take place.  As one friend wrote on this blog, “too many believers spend far too much time peeking down the hall to see if the Lord is coming that they forget their need to be out working in the field.”  If these folks who were putting their energy into predictions instead put their energy into growing God’s kingdom, we might get closer to fulfilling the Great Commission!

Still, all the hubbub about this prediction has a moment of instruction for us, a reminder that in fact, there will be judgment that will be faced by the whole human race.  A good study Bible will help you understand how the Scripture demonstrates this, but here are a few tips:

One of the more popular stories outlining the coming judgment is found in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.31-46.  On the surface, this appears to be a works-based judgment, yet we believe in a faith-based salvation!  Why this apparent discrepancy?  We need to read the text more carefully, for  there are layers of meaning behind it.  First, we need to understand that the criterion of judgment is not how we treated other people, as important as that is; the criterion of judgment is how we treated Jesus.   Did we love Jesus enough to care for him?  That’s what matters, ultimately, in the judgment.  Lesser criteria have to do with how we lived out our faith, but how we lived out our faith does not determine our final, eternal destiny.

In parabolic terminology, followers of Jesus will be sheep, and those who did not follow Jesus will be goats.

Of course, this is a very simplified reduction of what Scripture says about judgment, but my purpose here is to assure you that if you love Jesus, if he is Number One in your life, you do not need to fear the coming judgment – whenever it may come.

Those we know (and those we don’t) who have not made Jesus Number One in their lives, however, should fear the coming judgment.  But our goal is to help them experience the blessings of the Christian life, and let that draw them to faith.  Fear and intimidation is unlikely to work.

So if, by faith, you are ready for Jesus’ return, fear not.   We don’t know much about what the end of time will look like, in spite of the snapshots the Bible gives us.
What Scripture tells us about the final judgment is like the part of an iceberg that we can see:  it is, quite literally, just the tip of the iceberg.

Because we can’t see more, we must trust.  And isn’t that, after all, what the life of faith is all about?

Musings

Knowing yourself: Important!

I am an introvert.  I’ve known this for a long time, but only in the past three or four years have I begun to grapple with what this means in any sort of significant way.  When I was in graduate school, one of the first orientation projects we were given was to undertake a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (R).  The MBTI was new to me then, but it’s old hat to me now.  I was trained a few years ago in how to administer it and became qualified to do so.

My ‘type’ has always been consistent each time I’ve taken the inventory:  ISTJ.  That means that I gain my energy from being alone, I take in information through my five senses, I process information by thinking, and I order my life in a predictable way.  Today, I have been reminded of my introversion most profoundly.

Today was my day off.  I always take Monday, because there’s always the best probability that I will get the day if I take it early in the week.  Not every pastor subscribes to this notion, but it has worked for me.  I am blessed inasmuch as my wife is also able to take this day off, so we normally get to spend it together as our Sabbath.  However, the reality of ministry is that, sometimes, one has to forsake one’s regular day off in order to undertake profoundly important matters of business.  In this case, it was a funeral, and a pre-marital counselling session with a couple I love dearly and with whom I have had much difficulty scheduling time together.  It was a good day, and I don’t have any misgivings about having given up my day off for these purposes.

But I am totally wiped out.

The reason is that I spent virtually the whole day engaged in conversation, surrounded by people.  And as an introvert, that drains my energy.  Does that mean I shouldn’t engage in conversation, or be surrounded by people?  I suppose one could take that route, but in my line of work, I wouldn’t last very long in the job!  No, the answer doesn’t come from avoiding those things which drain my energy.  The answer comes in compensating for the loss by spending a significant amount of time on my own – which I have done this evening.

Because it was my day off, however, this over-extraversion, as I might call it, also upset my weekly rhthym of rest.  Again, I am in no way regretting how I spent the day, but as the day comes to a close, my body and my spirit are making it abundantly clear that their normal patterns have been shaken.  I will need to compensate for this in some way – though I’m not sure what way that is just yet.

All this is to say that it is important that we know ourselves.  I can, of course, highly recommend the MBTI as a means of learning more about ourselves (email me if you’d like to take the inventory online, and walk through its meaning with me, for a small fee).  There are other tools, of course, but whatever you choose to do, please learn more about yourself.  You’ll be glad you did.  Like me, perhaps you’ll discover how and why you react to various things that happen in your life!

Musings

Memorial Service for The Rev. Ken Wild

On Saturday, February 27, 2010, I was honoured to have preached at the memorial service for a dear friend, The Rev. Ken Wild.  Ken was a servant of Christ whose humour always left one feeling better for having chatted with him.

The service opens with a welcome from The Rev. Dr. Creola Simpson, Minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Southampton; the service is led by The Rev. Peggy Kinsman, Minister of the Lucknow-South Kinloss pastoral charge, and another good friend of Ken.

A recording of the entire memorial service can be heard here.

Musings

Putting things in perspective

As I type this, the massive memorial for Michael Jackson, late pop singer, is beginning, and is being broadcast all over the world in every media format.  But I’m not watching it – for two reasons.

The first reason is that I simply wasn’t a fan of Jackson’ s music or his life.  When my friends were buying “Thriller”, I was buying other styles of music.  It just wasn’t my thing, and it never became my thing.  Further, regardless of what one may have thought of his music, his character never impressed me as one that was worth following.  So I didn’t.

The second reason is that I’m tired.  Why?  Because I’ve spent all morning leading children at Camp WannaKnowGod, the Bible Fun Camp at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  I did it yesterday, too.  And I’ll do it again for the rest of the week.  By week’s end, I’ll be totally pooped.  And I’ll count it all joy.  Why?  Because leading people, and especially children, to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is the highest privilege I can be afforded.  I don’t care how much energy it takes – I’ll do it.

I’m putting things in perspective here.  People are mourning the passing of an icon; while a death should be grieved, there are people – the news reporters interview these folks – who feel that their lives will barely go on without Michael Jackson.  I can understand if his family or even his close friends may feel this way for a time.  But fans?

On the other hand, I’m convinced, with the Bible as my guide, that without Jesus, life does not go on.  Oh, sure – we live until we stop breathing with or without Jesus in our lives, but after we die – what?  I’m banking on the promise of Scripture that I am spending all week teaching children:  “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10.9, NIV).  I don’t want to find out what eternal life without Jesus could be like.  And I don’t want anyone else to find out, either – which is why I have dedicated my life to spreading God’s good news.  And it’s why I’m taking the time to teach these kids.

In 100 years, Michael Jackson will be but a memory.  But in 100 years, what we did with Jesus will make all the difference.  I want these kids to experience new and full life in him.  So I’m happy to be tired.  But not so tired that I can’t put things into perspective.

Musings

Blessing a pastor’s heart

june windowsI had to take this picture.  What was going on when it was taken totally made my day.  And blessed my heart.

This is June, one of the greatest servants of God I know.  She and her husband, John, came in to the church building early this morning to clean some windows.  While they cleaned, John was whistling, and June was singing praise songs. 

It’s one of the great privileges of ministry, to be in the presence of people who love the Lord so much that even the simplest tasks bring joy to the heart.

John and June, thanks for cleaning my windows.  But more than that, thanks for blessing my heart with your love for the Lord and your service to his church!

Musings, Uncategorized

Hockey Safety Fail

Every once in a while – okay, more often than that – some sign catches the eye and screams, “Something’s not quite right here.” So it is with this sign, found at the Golden Arches on Highway 27 in west Toronto.

They’re trying to tell us two things, but, well, they failed.

Kids, don’t try this at home.img_0047

Musings

What Recession?

I had to stop today at one of our local megamalls to deal with a defective zipper on a winter boot I had bought there almost a month ago.  Saturday is a day I tend to avoid malls at the best of times, but usually, “in the bleak mid-winter”, it can be tolerable.

Maybe usually, but not today.

Today, it was like the week before Christmas in that mall.  The crowds of people were shoulder-to-shoulder.  It left me asking myself, What recession? 

When I spoke to the clerk in the shoe store I was dealing with, I mentioned this.  She said, “Yeah, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”

“People have the money to buy what they want to buy,” said I.  “It’s a matter of priorities.”

I’m no economist, but maybe it will be people’s willingness to spend beyond their means that may help bring the economy out of recession.  But in the long term, what good will be done by the amassing of all that debt?

Lots of questions I can’t answer, but when I look at the shopping malls, one thing I can say is that people are still spending.

Any thoughts?

Musings

Overwhelmed!

Jeff being inducted by the Moderator, David SherbinoIt’s been quite a day.

I was inducted as Pastor of St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton this afternoon, and I was, to say the least, overwhelmed:  overwhelmed at the presence of God in the place we worshipped, and overwhelmed at the attendance of so many friends.

In The Presbyterian Church in Canada, we have a rite of induction that involves pastors and elders shaking hands with the inductee during the service.  The line of people to shake my hand – and this is during the service! – stretched the entire width of the worship space.  I was amazed at the number of people who drove to our small community on a Sunday afternoon to celebrate what God is doing among us.  There were friends from Milton to Lindsay, Oshawa  to Uxbridge to Pickering to Scarborough, as well as members of the Presbytery of Oak Ridges who might otherwise have enjoyed an afternoon with their families.  Even some friends from the Canadian Bible Society and the band I play in came to celebrate.

There were many members and friends of St. Paul’s who came to do “double duty” for the day, many of whom worked at setting up the refreshments and welcoming people.

I am overwhelmed.  And so grateful.

I was quite emotional today, partly because of my joy at seeing so many friends, and partly because I have, I believe, taken this induction more seriously than any of my previous three.  It’s not because I didn’t feel called to any of those ministries or that I was taking my vows less seriously.  I think the time I have spent outside the local church, the healing that God has brought to my soul, and the reluctance, yet grave intentionality, with which I have returned to local church ministry has made me all the more serious about making this relationship work and work well.  I have referred with our folk to the concept of calling a pastor as being more like a marriage than a job hire:  we are agreeing to live with each other in sickness and in health, etc.  And today, I pledged that with a renewed spirit.  Marriages have struggles, as I’m sure this relationship will at times; but the commitment to make it work for the long haul has made me appreciate the role of the induction service all the more.

This ministry has gotten off to a fantastic start.  My prayer is that the Lord will help us be sustained and grow into new vistas of opportunity under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Musings

A New Beginning

img047I’m starting a new chapter in my life of following Jesus. 

On Monday, I had my last day as an employee of the Canadian Bible Society.  Back to the pastorate I go!

This was not an easy decision, but one that I know is of the Lord.  It is a joy to be back in the trenches, serving among people who are keen to make a difference in the community, and in the lives of those who are far from God.

The formal beginning of this new joint venture is called an “induction” service in The Presbyterian Church in Canada, and it will be held this coming Sunday afternoon, January 11, at 3:00 p.m.  If it’s within a reasonable driving distance for you, you are very welcome to attend.

The photo was taken this afternoon, outside a very snowy St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  It’s such a warm feeling to know that the congregation wants to use this service to “gladly” introduce me to the community!

Musings

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.

Musings

This Christmas Pageant Is Different…

pageant-08Last 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!

Musings

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.)

img046Okay, 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.

Musings

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.  🙂

Musings

Ted’s Tenacity

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.

Your thoughts?