Musings

My Favourite Centenarian

I received word this evening of the death of my favourite centenarian.  She was a friend, a counsellor, and a true Barnabas, a real encourager.  And she was my honorary grandmother.

I met Eleanor when she was but a young thing, aged 77.  She was a member of the search team that called me to a congregation I served.  At the time I was being interviewed, she was simply another member of that team.  But when my call was processed, she was part of the group that came to support the call.  After the call was sustained, I escorted the group out of the church where we were meeting, and she said to me, “I’d like to be a grandma to you if that’s okay.”

I readily accepted.

Little did I know how much I would come to appreciate her wisdom, her faith and faithfulness, and even just her presence.  She had a spiritual gift of hospitality that manifested itself in countless ways, not least of which were leading and hosting two small groups for the church, and welcoming her Pastor at anytime of the day or night, with the promise of being able to put up my feet, sip on a wee dram, and share what was going on – good or bad.

She was a faithful member of the Session (the elders’ board) during my entire tenure, and always had a wise word to offer to whatever issue was being deliberated.

When the Lord led my wife and me to serve another church, and our house sold and closed the day before my last Sunday, Eleanor put us up for the night before my final service.  We have kept in touch ever since.  In more recent years, our keeping in touch has been limited to telephone calls, usually on her birthday or mine, since they are a day apart (plus a few years!).

I spoke with her on my birthday, not quite two months ago.  I was not surprised I could not reach her on her birthday, since I expected she was being well feted by her caring family, for one who turns one hundred years old ought to be celebrated!  And she wisely went to bed early that night.

I have always wished that the Lord would bless every church I served with an Eleanor.  In fact, I wish that every church ‘period’ would have an Eleanor, for every pastor and every church need people who will provide calm wisdom, a loving smile, and an open door.

Eleanor provided all that, and more.  I will miss her.

I am teary for me, and for her close family and friends.  But I am not sad for her.  For though she has seen ‘through a glass darkly’ as the old King James put it, now she sees ‘face to face’.  The Lord Jesus, whom she served so well, has welcomed her to her eternal home.

As they say good-bye to Eleanor, her family will sing a song that probably is not often sung at funerals.  It is a song that I introduced to the church in which we were co-labourers, and one that she so loved that I remember her saying, perhaps 20 years ago or more, “I want this sung at my funeral.”

It’s not a song about being sad.

It’s not about gardens or flowers.

It’s about Jesus.

The Eleanor I knew centred her life on Jesus.  So it’s very appropriate that her send-off should include something that turns the attention of those present to the Lord she loved and served.

I’ll append a YouTube video below that plays you the song and displays the Jesus-centred lyrics.  It was written by Graham Kendrick, a British Christian musician.  It’s called “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”

Jesus shone through Eleanor in a way to which I can merely aspire.

I pray that her family and friends will take comfort in the grace of the Lord Jesus that shone through Eleanor.

Encouragement From The Word

Sowing seeds

One day, Jesus told his friends a story.  “A farmer went out to plant some seeds.  As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.  Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow.  But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died.  Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Matthew 13.3-8, NLT).

When I was in Bible Society work, I often preached on this passage, because, as Jesus notes later in that passage, the seed is the Word of God, and I was in the business of promoting the reading, promotion and distribution of God’s Word.

It has another layer of meaning, though, too.

When we sow seeds of faith, we can’t always see immediate results.  It might take years for those seeds to take root and grow.

I’ve heard a few stories this week of people in whom much has been invested spiritually who are starting to bear fruit.  It’s exciting to watch, and exciting to hear these stories.

Here’s another example.  A few weeks ago, I was called to oversee a ‘celebration of life’ service for someone who had died.  I knew no one in the family at all.  In the conversation, I learned that the reason I was called is that a young person in their family has attended our summer Vacation Bible Camp.

Because our volunteers helped a child learn about Jesus while having fun, I now have an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with a group of grieving family and friends.

We have no idea what may happen when we sow seeds of the Word, seeds of faith.  Ultimately, that’s up to the Lord.  We may benefit in our own part of God’s vineyard, or some other congregation may benefit.  Either way, the Kingdom wins when we share faith.

Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15.58b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Bring A Friend!

Every year, on or about the fourth Sunday of September, St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton celebrates “Bring A Friend” Day. While any Sunday is a good Sunday to bring a friend to church, we make a special effort on that weekend: invitations are issued, lunch is shared, guests are ‘expected’.

It’s become challenging for many people to issue the invitation, to make the ask. As I’ll say on Sunday, we’ve been taught for a few generations now not to talk about politics or faith in polite company, and the result, especially in our polarized society, is that we are no longer able to dialogue in a civil manner about the Lord Jesus.

The key is to build relationships.

When we are engaged in healthy relationships with our neighbours, our friends, our family members, and when faith is an integral part of our lives, those with whom we share those relationships will naturally want to know why faith is part of who we are.

And that opens the door to inviting them to join you for worship.

I’ve occasionally shared a vlog done by Penn Jillette some years ago about how, despite his avowed atheism, he admired a man who gave him a Bible after a show.  His point was this:  If we believe we know the way to eternal life, how much do we have to hate someone else to be unwilling to share it?

It’s a good question.  And a haunting one, if we’re honest.

Whatever congregation you’re part of as you read this, I hope you’re not waiting for an excuse to invite someone to worship with you.  If you’re looking to understand why this is important, I will be talking about our role as ambassadors this Sunday.  I’m inviting you!

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5.20, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Marking an anniversary

Australian Christian singer-songwriter, Darlene Zschech, famously sang these lyrics some years ago, written by Hillsong worship pastor, Geoff Bullock:

     I will never be the same again.

     I can never return, I’ve closed the door;

     I will walk the path, I’ll run the race,

     And I will never be the same again.

I have long resonated with these words, for they reflect two stories in my life: my conversion, and my call to ministry.  (You can read the rest of the lyrics to the song here.)  When Jesus calls us to faith in him, we cannot ever be the same again.  We have turned away from sin, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says, which is our nature, to grace and salvation in Jesus. Such a radical change means we can never return!

Likewise with a call to ministry – which we all have, though for a few, it is to full-time Christian service.  Once we are called, finding our niche in ministry, whatever that is, puts us on a path. It might be leading worship, or keeping spaces clean, or organizing events, or teaching children, or leading a small group, or praying fervently.  There are countless areas of ministry where God can call us to serve, and when we find the one or ones for which we are spiritually gifted, we find ourselves walking a path, running a race, and never being the same again.

Is your discipleship walk such that people who knew you before you were a Christian would say that you are not the same person you once were?  In whatever ministry you serve, would you yourself say that you are not the same because of the ministry you undertake?  I encourage you to consider those questions, and if need be, dig deeper with Jesus, because he calls us to be different in and because of him.

I reflect on the words of that song today, as I mark the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacraments.  Since God got hold of me, I have never been the same.  And since God called me to full-time Christian service, it’s been a wonderful adventure that I’m grateful to be on. Whatever avenue of service you undertake for Jesus, I pray that it is a life-changing adventure for you!

[A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5.17, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Unbelievable!

When Jesus concluded his public ministry to the Jewish people (John 12.37-50), John remarked at how few people actually believed in Jesus, despite his presence, his words and his miracles.  This was to be expected, though, given the prophecy John noted at the beginning of the gospel (1.11) and that he quotes from Isaiah.  “Unbelievable” is what some people thought Jesus’ ministry was; but others knew better.  How can we share our faith story with others?  Learn that by watching below.  (The message itself starts at 30:53.)