Summer Series: Salt + Light

This summer we’re going to hear from a broad cross-section of people in our community as they explore what it means for them to be salt and light in the places they go. What impact does being a Jesus follower have on their work life? What are the implications of seeking God’s Kingdom in their normal everyday activities? Together we will be encouraged, inspired and challenged to find big and small ways to live out the Jesus way in the places we go and with the people we see on a regular basis.

“You are the salt of the earthYou are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. – Jesus (quoted in Matthew 5:13-16)

Lent 2020 – Having the Mind of Christ

This year throughout the season of Lent (from Ash Wednesday until Good Friday) we will be exploring Philippians 2:1-11. This passage is such a beautiful and poetic description of one of the major themes of Lent: letting go. In our pursuit to follow Jesus (be disciples, work out our salvation, etc) we are to be imitators of Jesus. This means that we are to follow in Christ’s footsteps and, as Paul enjoins, to have the mind of Christ – the same attitude – follow in his footsteps.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Image Credit: Tree Top View Vectors by Vecteezy

Sermon Series

For the next few months we’re going to be exploring what it means to have Emotionally Healthy Relationships (EHR). In the Fall we worked through the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS) both on Sunday mornings and during Wednesday evenings when we hosted the course. This was a great success.

Where the primary focus of the EHS series was on learning to love God well, this series on Emotionally Healthy Relationship will focus on loving others. It’s the second part of the complete package of what Jesus said were the most important things (Mark 12:30-31).

We’ve got a number of great speakers lined up to help us through this material. We’re praying that God will continue to work health into every part of us – both emotional health and spiritual health – which we’ve learned are inseparable. We won’t be doing the EHR course right now, but are looking at good options for the future (as well as doing the EHS course again).

Fingerprints: noticing God’s activity and presence

“…We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

I have a set of pottery mugs I like to use for communion. The mugs are beautifully irregular. You can almost see the finger and thumbprints of the potter as they squeezed these mugs to create indents in their midsection, making them a little more eccentric than normal perfectly symmetrical vessels. They remind me that life is full of imperfections and that we humans are shaped by many forces and circumstances pressing into us and leaving their marks.

Scripture has a beautiful image of God moulding and shaping us like a potter forming lumps of clay. It is a messy image but it’s also a picture of slow, tender and intentional formation – making us into something both beautiful and usable. Invariably, the potter leaves a mark. For those who have eyes to see, the Creator’s fingerprints are all over creation.

This summer we’re going to pause to notice the imprints that God has made in our lives. We’re going to be giving space to hear those golden nugget stories which have God’s fingerprints on them – those moments God was present to us in a special way that resulted in some kind of transformative shaping in us. We’re going to hear various people share their stories of God’s presence and activity in their lives. It will be a season of encouragement through hearing other’s stories, as well as being challenged to notice God’s fingerprints in our own lives!

>>Where do you see God’s fingerprints in your life?

 

Summer 2019:

Fingerprints: personal stories of God’s presence and activity

The Beatitudes – Blessed are you Now!

I’m excited to be embarking on a new mini-series this Spring centring on the Beatitudes. God has been impressing the Sermon on the Mount on me for some time now and I’m excited and curious to begin to explore the beginning of this most famous of Jesus’ sermons. Excited because of what God will stir in us – and curious because I can only guess what the Spirit has in store! Why not follow along in your own personal times of reading and prayer as well as in your House Groups. The Beatitudes are found in Matthew 5.

We will look at the context of the Beatitudes – which are sometimes read as prescriptive rather than descriptive. What I mean by this is that often we read them like Jesus is saying “if you are like this, then one day you’ll be happy (or blessed)”. Kind of like a stick and carrot – just stick through this trouble that you’re in and you’ll be happy once you get through it… or worse… God will bless you more because you’ve suffered more. But this isn’t how they’re meant to be read! They are descriptive – meaning that Jesus is saying blessed are you right now if you’re mourning, or poor in spirit, or seeking peace, etc. It is the Kingdom come right now in the midst of these circumstances we find ourselves in. It is the hope of the Gospel – that the Holy Spirit comes in the middle of our muck and brings fresh perspective, healing and courage to help us keep moving forward. This is not a triumphalistic vague promise of a better time to come, nor is it a blind denial of our actual present circumstances. Rather it is a radical call to follow Jesus. It is a call to trust him with our very lives and follow him in the midst of all that this world can throw at us! It is a call to take Jesus seriously in the here and now and to reorient our lives around his upside-down, inside-out invitation as described in the Sermon on the Mount.

 

Image Credit: “The Sermon on the Mount” by Károly Ferenczy

 

Let Me Ask You a Question

Questions have a way of engaging the heart. Doctrinal statements, creeds, arguments and various proclamations don’t produce the kind and quality of engagement that a well placed question can. Jesus certainly knew this and often harnessed the power of the question – there are over 300 recorded in the bible.

This winter we’re exploring a few questions Jesus asked. Our intent is not so much come to Jesus with our own questions but rather to have him interrogate our hearts through his questions. This may sound harsh, but his questions do have a way of cutting through the clutter of our own lives and hearts, of helping us notice what is already there, but we may not be aware of it. His queries help us to be reflective in a way that our society does not typically encourage.

“Our deepest longing is not for answers but for Him. Ultimately we’re happier and more satisfied with mysteries than with any amount of explanation.”

Jesus’ questions also encourage relationship. He doesn’t just tell us what to believe – he invites us, through his questions, to enter into a dialogue with him – to engage relationally and not just simply seek him for the right answers. Mike Mason says, “Our deepest longing is not for answers but for Him. Ultimately we’re happier and more satisfied with mysteries than with any amount of explanation.” (Champagne for the Soul: Rediscovering God’s Gift of Joy, 171) This is what we’re after – meeting Jesus in his questions!

You can catch up here if you’ve missed any of the sermons so far.

Note: this series is based on the book “Let Me Ask You a Question: Conversations With Jesus” by Matthew Croasmun.

 

Cultivate: tending lives that produce good fruit

One of my family’s favourite outings is to pack all six of us into the van and head down to Corydon Ave. We all eagerly race into Nucci’s gelati for a tasty frozen treat – we run because usually it’s raining when we all go – a weird quirk of this particular family tradition. Walking into that little shop and seeing the array of vivid colours lined up side by side fills my heart with love and my tastebuds with anticipation. All those amazing flavours beckoning to be tasted (favourites include Pistachio, Mullberry, and Tartufo Bianco). One delicious frozen treat, many mouth-watering flavours.

When Paul speaks of the work of the spirit in our lives the language he uses is that of fruit. He famously lists what he calls the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. It’s not a complete list of the Spirit’s work in our lives (scholars agree) – how could the work of God be summed up in a simple list?! However, he is clear that all these various fruit are rooted in one kind of fruit… kind of like a whole bunch of delicious flavours of gelati but it’s all one type of desert. Many flavours – one fruit. The Passion Translation says it like this:

“But the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit within you is divine love in all its varied expressions: joy that overflows, peace that subdues, patience that endures, kindness in action, a life full of virtue, faith that prevails, gentleness of heart, and strength of spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

This summer we’re going to be exploring these and other “flavours” of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Good fruit grows on healthy plants. While the good fruit our lives produce is ultimately a work of the Spirit we can either partner with or work against the Spirit’s work in our lives. How do we “remain in the vine” to use Jesus’ phrase (John 15)? What do these various fruit actually look like on the ground in the dirt of our actual lives? How do we cultivate good soil in which to grow?

We’re going to explore these and other questions as we look at some of the fruit Paul names. We’re going to explore how they are all really many flavours of the one real fruit of the spirit which is love itself. You could say we’re gong to look at nine flavours of love this summer. When we root ourselves deeply into God – that is, when we grow into his very character, we begin to produce beautiful fruit.

To whet your appetite, here are some of the themes we will be exploring:

  • Cultivating patience in an age of hurry.
  • Cultivating love in a world of indifference.
  • Cultivating joy in happyland.
  • Cultivating peace in a time of disruption
  • Cultivating self-control in an age of greed.
  • Cultivating gentleness in an aggressive city.
  • Cultivating faithfulness in a rootless society.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” Matt 7:20

These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” James 1:15

The Holy Spirit and the Road to Pentecost (Spring Series)

Jesus’ resurrection was and is just the beginning. After Easter comes Pentecost, but those forty days is a journey. For Jesus’ disciples the time between the upper rooms was confusing, exhilarating, surprising and empowering. You remember both upper rooms, right? In one they gathered to hear Jesus talk about his betrayal and death. In the other they experienced something so mind boggling that Luke, who records the whole incident, can only say the “blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house” and something that “seemed like tongues of fire came and rested on each of them” (Acts 2)! Whoah…

This Spring, we’re going to explore the person and work of the Holy Spirit on the road to this remarkable day called Pentecost. Far from leaving our Hot Buttons behind, we’re going to explore what gifts God has for us, how we may be empowered and encouraged to live our lives between the upper rooms, so to speak.

Each Sunday there will be supplemental material to the sermon which you can take home for personal use or group study. Make sure you collect them all – One per household.

 

Fixed On Jesus Part 3: In Non-essentials, Liberty. What are the Hot Buttons?

This winter marks the return to our “Fixed on Jesus” series. We’re going to be exploring three Hot Button topics that you think the church should be talking about (thanks for participating in the survey).

The point is to hear each other –  to listen deeply – to love well, especially those we may disagree with

As mentioned previously, the point of this series is not to nail down where we stand (as a church or as individuals) on these nor any other hot button issues we may encounter. For this series, the point is to hear each other –  to listen deeply – to love well, especially those we may disagree with. Our model for this is Jesus, and our tool is GYVE. We explored this in November and have provided a resource booklet for your use.

The Hot Button topics we’ll be addressing (and we may address more as time goes on… there are many) are:

  1. Creationism & Evolution (our origins and how we came to be)
  2. Affirming & Traditional (human sexuality / LGBT2SQ+)
  3. Poverty & Prosperity (our relationship with money)

There are a few other topics that were also high on the list, and some of your suggestions didn’t really fit into a neat and tidy category. We tried our best to accurately categorize the various topics. We are going to tackle them in a very systematic manner.

Each of the topics will have a Sunday morning devoted to sharing the various perspectives of the issue, zoning in on how each perspective is represented or interpreted in scripture. We will then have two Sunday evenings devoted to hearing two people do GYVE together for the first two Hot Button Topics. We encourage you to come to both evenings (Jan 21 & Feb 11) – they will be special and it will be helpful to have a witnessed the model in action before we get to the hottest button (Affirming & Traditional / LGBT2SQ+)!

In between these Sundays, we will be exploring how the church has either nailed or failed dealing with diversity in the past. There are many examples, some quite humorous to our sensibilities. Of course we will also be digging into scripture, as is our habit. All along we will be engaging in ways to “double down on our centre” – we also have a Celebration Service scheduled which will help keep us focussed on Jesus as we tackle some of these “non-essentials.”

Here’s the schedule:

  • January 14: Introduction & Call to Prayer
  • January 21: Creationism & Evolution
  • January 21 Evening: Doing GYVE with Creationism & Evolution.
  • January 28: Nailed it, Failed it
  • February 4: Affirming & Traditional
  • February 11: Nailed it, Failed it
  • February 11 Evening: Doing GYVE with Affirming & Traditional
  • February 18: Celebration Service
  • February 25: Poverty & Prosperity

 

>>Listen to the sermons here.

>>Read the articles here.

>>Download the GYVE booklet here.

 

 

 

Jesus: The Song of St. Perpetua

For my birthday last year, Jennifer (my wife) bought me a lovely edition of the 1954 volume called “Lives of Saints.” One of my favourite accounts is of St.Perpetua, a twenty-two-year-old who was martyred for her faith in the year 203. Perpetua was married and had an infant; she was one of five catechumens (those at the time who were being prepared to be received into the Church but had not yet been baptized) who were arrested for their faith and imprisoned.

During the subsequent trial, Perpetua’s father appeared with her child in his arms. He pleaded for Perpetua to deny the faith, imploring her to “have pity on the child.” Nonetheless, when the judge asked her “Are you a Christian?” Perpetua said “Yes, I am.” When the group was sentenced and led into the amphitheatre where they would eventually suffer death by wild animals and gladiators, Perpetua was singing.

In the last two weeks, the lectionary has featured several passages which resonate with our current sermon series (Fixed On Jesus: how to hold the centre in an age of diversity). In one particular passage, Jesus clarifies the practical (and radical) implications of having him as the centre of our lives:

Luke 14:26-27: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Later, in verse 33: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

These days – without the threat of wild animals and gladiators, and given the prevalence of much cushy Christian pseudo-psychology that masquerades as authentic spirituality – many of us come to (or stay with) Jesus believing that our most cherished relationships, life, and possessions can remain happily uninterrogated. It’s especially tempting to minimize or altogether ignore the part about carrying the cross; to forget that the way of Christ is the via Dolorosa.

In the passage above, Jesus is straightforward and unapologetic: it’s impossible to follow him without cost, and the cost is everything. I love the great Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor’s take on this reality:

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”

The “hate” of family and life itself that Jesus speaks of is comparative. The idea is that we’d love him so passionately that our attachment to everyone and everything (including all we own and all our cash) would, by comparison, seem like hate. Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8-9 convey the beauty and power of this movement: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him […].”

The real heart of Jesus’ words in Luke is an invitation for us to experience, over and above anything and everything, his “surpassing worth.” Experiencing him this way is the only thing that evokes the kind of love for and devotion that obscures everything else. If we shudder at the cost of being without the dearest people, things, or whatever-it-may-be in our lives, it’s likely because we have not yet fully experienced the immense, satisfying, and incomparable joy of Jesus. Gaining and being found in him is having everything, and more.

It’s entirely possible to accept Jesus’ invitation and centre our lives on him in this way. Perpetua’s family, possessions, and very life – significant though they were I’m sure – were negligible compared to the pricelessness of having Christ. I imagine that’s why, even as she “carried the cross” and was processed to her death, she was singing.

May it be that we too so thoroughly experience the unrivalled love, life, grace, and abundance found in the person of Jesus alone that following him – regardless of any and all cost – remains a perpetual song of joy. After all, if we have everything, there’s nothing else we need.

Fall Series – Fixed On Jesus

Diversity is Great but has Some Challenges

We live in a time of immense diversity. Every subject imaginable has a myriad of opposing viewpoints – from politics, economics and science, to arts, religion, sports and more. As if that weren’t enough, adherents to virtually any opinion can find facts and figures to back up their position, adding emotional horsepower to whatever position they hold. Of course, the church isn’t immune from this. Theology can be politicized to the point where it manifests itself in people doing ugly things in the name of truth. How should the church hold to what is true in times like this? What are we to believe? How are we to behave toward each other and toward those who are not yet following Jesus? What are we to do with diversity within the church?

Thankfully, the church has always lived in diverse times.  It is true that today we may face some new challenges, but ever since the birth of the church there have been controversies they’ve had to work through. In fact, much of the New Testament contains stories, advice and even warnings to the early church regarding how to conduct themselves in the mist of differing ideas. Furthermore,  the New Testament church didn’t figure it all out and usher in a period of unity and uniformity (those aren’t the same, by the way!). The past 2,000 years of the church is full of all kinds of controversy. At times, this diversity has led to divisiveness – in the extreme it’s even become violent. In other instances, the church has managed to stay true to what its called to do: to love God and love each other like we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31) and to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son

the church has always lived in diverse times
and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded (Matt 28:19). But how does one actually do this in such turbulence? What are the keys that the early church held that can help us through our times? What mistakes have been made that we can avoid? And, what authority does the Bible have in all of this?

This Fall we’ll be exploring how to hold the centre in the midst of tremendous diversity – we’ll be attempting to speak to these and other important questions for our time.

A Model:

In the 17th century a German Lutheran pastor named Peter Meiderlin lived during incredibly difficult times.  The infamous 30-Year War was raging and all of Europe (almost literally) was fighting (literally) over theology. Doctrine had become politicized to the point that Christians were killing each other over points that might seem ridiculous to us today. In the midst of this, and with the help of a God-dream, Meiderlin coined a catchy little phrase (well, it’s catchy in Latin) which reads: “In essentials, unity.  In non-essentials, liberty.  In all things, charity.” In other words, keep the main thing the main thing – everything else that is not essential to salvation, even though it’s important, should not be given central priority – and love each other through it all. While this rubric didn’t put an end to the fighting of his time, it has become helpful to many Christians since.

We’re going to use Medeirlin’s phrase (although mix up the original order) as an outline for this series.  

What are the essentials that we must hold on to?

What are the “essentials” that we must hold on to? Far from nailing down a set of theological ideas, our centre is a Person – Jesus – who is both fully God and fully human. We must always keep him at the centre, and anything or anyone who begins to displace him must be named and put back in its proper place. This means that good ideas, moral ideas, holy ideas, even good theology is not our centre. They are all good, but we are not to anchor ourselves in them. Like the writer of Hebrews says, we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 11:1-2). Next we’ll explore how to have charity in “all things”.  In other words, how do we listen well to those we may disagree with over non-essentials? How do we love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ amidst diverse opinions, theologies, experiences and values?  Lastly, in the new year, we will begin to explore some of the many ways our community is diverse – the “non-essentials” – which may still be important, but just not our centre – not what defines us. At our annual retreat in the Spring, the elders identified 12 issues (and there are likely more) in our church that people will deeply disagree with others about. However, before we get there, we must keep the centre in view and always posture ourselves in love.

Resources:

We will be compiling some additional resources for those who want to go deeper.  For now, here is an article by Gary Best (former director of Vineyard Canada) called “Unity and Truth – A Historical Reflection”. We’ve found Gary to be very helpful in setting the tone for this conversation. In this article, he articulates how one should be concerned with taking a good posture before taking a position on any given topic. Check it out and let us know what you think either in the comments below, or by contacting any of the pastors or elders.

Notes:

>> This series may bring up some anxiety in some of you. If this is the case, please, please, please find a healthy place to process. The Pastoral and Lay Elders have been praying for this process for some time now and are all prepared to provide support and care where needed.

>> Both the Upstairs Gatherings and Downstairs Gatherings will be exploring the same topics throughout this series.

“…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” 

Hebrews 12:1-2

 

Streams of Living Water: Get the book, follow along

This Spring and Summer we’re going to be embarking on a new series called “Streams of Living Water: exploring unity and diversity in the church”.  We’re going to be exploring the wondrous and varied expressions of the body of Christ – streams, if you will.  There are many streams that comprise the whole body of Christ.  We hope to place ourselves in a position in which we can be challenged by and learn from other streams and, ultimately, come to love Jesus more through the beautiful expressions of his Bride.  In John 4, Jesus offered the Samaritan woman a drink from a stream of “living water” that he promised if we drank from we’d never thirst again.  In John 7:37-38 Jesus said, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!  Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.”  This is what we want for each of us and we believe that this will happen through the exploration of these streams of the church.

This series will be based on a classic book by Richard Foster called “Streams of Living Water”.  Perhaps you want to grab a copy and follow along.  We’ve heard from many of you that this would be a good idea – so let’s make it happen!  We’ll be starting June 4.

Why On Earth?

We’re embarking on a new series entitled, “Why On Earth?: David, calling and the pursuit of God”. No matter where we are in life we all need to grapple with the big questions like: Why on earth am I here? What’s my calling? What kind of person has God called me to become? And, how can I figure it out or get more clarity on it?

These are some of the questions we’re going to be exploring together as we look to David’s life for some guidance. We’ll let his story be our guide in this process of pursuing God’s will for our lives – of gaining clarity on some of those big questions. We’ll trace the ups and downs of his failures and successes and glean what we can to apply to our 21st century lives. We are also going to be looking to a few others along the way who will help us contextualize God’s invitations for us today. In particular, the 16th century’s St. Teresa of Avila and her “Interior Castle” and the “7 Stages” of our own Vineyard founder, John Wimber.

Our hope is that through this series, God would clarify his calling for each of us, and encourage us on our journeys as we follow Jesus throughout our lives. For some of us, it will be a journey of self discovery. For others, we’ll gain new insights on our calling as we already understand it. Ultimately, as we see God’s heart for David, we’ll be able to also see his heart for us and those around us. Fredrick Buechner stumbled screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-11-24-12-amupon some wisdom when he wrote, “the place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  (in Wishful Thinking: a theological ABC). We pray that each person in WCV would find that sweet spot, and that we’d be a people “after God’s heart” (1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22).