On a life-changing trip to the Middle East last spring, we were surprised to find this St. George Church in old Cairo, Egypt. Certainly more dragons to slay over there!
Louise recently attended a study on Re-imagining Church led by area Bishop Linda Nicholls. Following are some of her thoughts and impressions.
It’s not that the church of God has a mission in the world, but that the God of mission has a church in the world.”I went into this study comfortable as a Christian, sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning, being fed the Word of God, sometimes wondering how we, at St. George’s, could make ourselves more inviting and welcoming.
The bishop challenged us in this study to quit focusing on our church and bringing people in (not that that’s not important) but to find ways to take the church out into the community. We must find a fresh expression of church for our changing cultures, to benefit people not attending any church.
Church once formed the focal point of our communities. How do we make it relevant again? If you asked people on the street what our church building means to them or to the community, how do you think they would answer?
The church must be like water – flexible, fluid and changeable. Water doesn't change but the container might. Jesus taught his disciples through example and sent them out (Mk. 3:13-14). He promised that he would be with them “always, even to the end of time” (Matt. 28:20).
Confident in God’s promise, we are to go out and spread the Gospel. We are to listen carefully, to connect with people through loving service, to form community (not necessarily in a church building), to evangelize through example and to show our Christian love through our actions. Amazingly this can evolve into worship.
How we know someone is a true pastor is not by their certificates or even their compassion for people, but when we see our Shepherd in them.
Similarly, we know someone is called to leadership in the church when we see our King coming forth in them. No one can have true spiritual authority unless abiding in the King.
[adapted from Dan Luehrs' The Ascending Lifestyle]
Wherever you stand in your belief system, you know this is not right. Whether something good went wrong, or really wherever and however infection set in, we are infected. The planet and its people are infected. If you’re not infected personally, you are at least affected. And infection always spreads. With nearly as many permutations and combinations as beauty, it keeps us ever seeking new antidotes.
Mysteriously however, a huge infection being slowly well-treated in most of society continues to infect, primarily, people of faith. As much as we Christians in particular proclaim freedom for all, an oppressed people group remains in our midst: women.
“Nonsense,” church men reply. “I let my wife do whatever she wants.” You let your wife?
What's worse is many otherwise powerful Christian women, in ministry themselves, confess to traces of misogyny. When you’re in the culture, absorbing, for example, all the scriptural references to men, how can you not feel at best ‘less than’, at worst, invisible?
Once upon a time I dated a black fellow who would proclaim he was not ‘black’, but ‘brown’. Well yeah ... and I’m not white, I’m pink. But I didn't feel any need to make that point. Obscure analogy I admit, but perhaps it begins to at least partially, racially, illustrate the gender issue.
Recently I listened to, and was gobsmacked and hugely healed while listening to, a talk by Danny Silk which inspired all these ruminations. As Danny says, the message is for "anyone who knows a woman.”
Preview: did Jesus—this Friend of humanity/brother/prophet—come only to break the curse over men … and not women?
You can download Danny's talk here: The Invisible Ceiling. He has also written a book on the topic: Powerful and Free: Confronting the Glass Ceiling for Women in the Church.
Even if you don’t understand, even if you don’t know where it may lead, even if you are afraid, even if you can find all kinds of excuses, begin to believe in Jesus right now, and your life will change.Read More
"I hope that this book will help us to pay close attention both to the beams that surround us and the Source that upholds us, in such a way that time and eternity, this world and the next, are always intersecting." —Leighton Ford, The Attentive Life
As the world swirls faster and faster about us, headlines scream, sirens blare, lights flash, computer screens whir, iPhones sing and shout. And people, who created all this stuff to make life easier, safer or simply more fun, begin to burn out. Or already have.
Enter, for one, the Slow Movement. Stress has obviously led to unprecedented health problems. ‘Stop the world I want to get off’ is a feeling we all have sometimes. Why is this happening? What is wrong? What are we searching for? The one thing common to all these trends is connection. We want connection to all that it means to live—we want to live connected lives.
Interestingly, the French word for ‘slow’ is lent. And this particular season of the year, the 40 days before Easter in Christian circles, is called Lent. Not for that reason of course—it’s just that the connection fascinates me. The term’s real origins come from old German. Since spring is the time of year when days become longer, the Germans called the season Lencten, derived from their own word for ‘long’.
So Christians sometimes try to fast from something during Lent, which in a round-about way is how Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Lent, got its name. Translating from the French it means Fat Tuesday: Eat all you can so it won’t spoil while you're fasting (once upon a time); eat and party all you can just because you can (now).
Yet the true idea of Lent is, within Christianity, to do less of something, symbolizing giving up one’s own selfish desires and focus more on getting right with God. To pay attention to caps-lock LIFE, instead of this, that and the other.
Which brings me to a beautiful, brilliant book, The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things, by Leighton Ford. The miraculous story of how I connected with Dr. Ford and discovered his work and writings I'll leave for another day.
Dr. Ford explains his certainty that too often we keep ourselves busy and distracted out of fear that if we slow down and are still, we may look inside and find nothing there.
"What God is doing in both [our vocational and our personal journeys] is similar; very much like the interweaving of the intricate strands in a Celtic cord, a work of art designed to show how God is at work weaving the inner and outer parts of our lives into a unified pattern.”
In a section entitled One Who Paid Attention: C.S. Lewis Looking Along a Beam, Ford writes of Lewis’s realization of “two ways of looking at life: looking at the dancing and moving events, the happenings and surroundings of each day, and looking ‘sideways’ so to speak, ‘along the beam’—to see not only what is happening but why, and what it is that gives meaning to the happenings of our lives.”
Ford blames French philosopher René Descartes for bedeviling us with dualism: the idea of a division between mind and matter. “Many of us now assume,” he writes, “that knowledge is either ‘scientific’ and based on facts or ‘mystical’ and based on fancy, and never the twain shall meet.”
Lewis provides the counterargument from Christianity, Ford notes, it being "the most materialistic" of all religions. “God must have loved material things: after all, he made them!"
"We need again to heed his [Lewis’s] wisdom. True knowledge is found in the Word who became flesh, as we look both ‘at’ and ‘along’ the beams each and every day.
"This knowledge from God and of God, and not just the experiments of the scientist or the intuitions of the mystic, will save us and transform this world.”
At a Vital Church Planting Conference in Toronto a few years ago, the U.K.’s Rev. David Male imagined the future by suggesting that pioneering church planters committed to expanding the mission-shaped church should “keep in the slipstream of God.”
"In looking to what lies ahead," Mr. Male said, “Listen to the whisper of the spirit.”
He also warned church pioneers not to fall into the trap of tarting up a bankrupt, old-model church in contemporary disguise to try to attract the unchurched. He compared this to the makeover given old cars on the television show Pimp My Ride. Stay away from the “pimp my church” approach, he said.
To illustrate for modern-day disciples, Male spoke of the uncertain future faced by the disciples after Jesus’ death. He also quoted John V. Taylor’s observation that mission is more like an unexpected explosion than a physical extension of an old building.
[Click here to read the entire article in the Anglican Journal]
Jesus and Satan were having an on-going argument about who was better on the computer. They had been going at it for days, and frankly, God was tired of hearing all the bickering.
Finally fed up, God said, “THAT'S IT! I have had enough. I am going to set up a test that will run for two hours, and from those results, I will judge who does the better job.”
So Satan and Jesus sat down at the keyboards and typed away.
They e-mailed with attachments.
They did spreadsheets!
They wrote reports.
They created labels and cards.
They created charts and graphs.
They did some genealogy reports.
They did every job known to humanity, and more.
Jesus worked with heavenly efficiency and Satan was faster than hell.
Then, ten minutes before their time was up, lightning suddenly flashed across the sky, thunder rolled, rain poured, and, of course, the power went off.
Satan stared at his blank screen and screamed every curse word known in the underworld.
Jesus just sighed.
Finally the electricity came back on, and each of them re-started their computers. Satan searched frantically, screaming, “It's gone! It's all GONE! I lost everything when the power went out!”
Meanwhile, Jesus quietly added all his files from the past two hours of work to a memory stick to show God.
Satan observed this and became irate. “Wait!” he screamed. “That's not fair! He cheated! How come he has all his work and I don't have any?”
God just shrugged and said, "JESUS SAVES."
"For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.” Luke 1:37, Amplified Bible
While the Christmas season ends for another year, the mystery enfolding—and enfolded by—the season never ends. It didn’t even begin that first Christmas. It simply revealed itself to us: to all and any who could see or hear, listen—who had ‘eyes to see’ and ‘ears to hear’—in the eons to come. A mysterious Word, existing since the beginning of time, wrapped in a baby and born into a world so already full of its own words, wonder, beauty and noise—that hearing, seeing, the capital-W Word and Wonder beyond and behind it can be nigh on impossible.
In Mary’s encounter with the angel and then with the Holy Spirit, the divine seed was planted. She treasured and wondered at the words spoken to her, and her body nurtured the ‘Word’ to term.
Imagine carrying and giving birth to a mystery. In a way every mother does, but can you imagine carrying and giving birth to a world-changing mystery that both pre-existed you, life itself, and contained the answers of time and eternity? Completely impossible to comprehend, and that’s the point. Mary embraced what she did not understand, nurtured and treasured it. The holy seed came to term and the world would never be the same.
Have you ever had an inexplicable, dramatic encounter with holiness, with God? By its very nature you can’t explain it to anyone else, but like Mary, you can treasure and nurture it. Trust that the divine seed will come to term.
People who hold onto and nurture what God has said to them, or allowed them to experience—even though they don't understand—carry the fruit of the revelation from God that says: "Nothing will be impossible with God." That’s the commonly translated version of the angel’s words to young Mary when she wondered aloud how on earth she could give birth. A more accurate translation from the Greek would be more like “no freshly spoken word of God will ever come to you that does not contain the ability to perform itself.”
If the world, your world, seems crazy right now, this is the book for you.
Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) wrote from her own brokenness, pain, sorrow and loss into incredible peace, joy and ‘foundness’ in God alone.
Her husband had been one of the 19th century’s most celebrated evangelists. Tragedy thundered in via first the loss of a young daughter, later a son, and then public scandal which devastated her marriage.
A wise, discerning woman, Hannah aptly analyzed and examined the day’s religious movements which so mirror many today. Whether attempts to legislate purity or holiness, an over-emphasis on razzle-dazzle emotionalism, the promotion of success in the material world as opposed to spiritual victory over the world-bound soul—she found no truck with any of them.
Safe Within Your Love, a compilation of Hannah Whitall Smith’s writings into a 40-day devotional by David Hazard, is sadly out-of-print. So while I try to convince the publishers to get it out there again, forthwith are some nuggets:
"Earthly cares are a heavenly discipline. But they are even better than a discipline. They are God’s chariots, sent to take the soul to its high places of triumph…. The dangerous ‘vehicle’ is the visible thing; the chariot of God is the invisible.”
"Some Christians think that the fruits which the Bible calls for are some form of outward religious work—such as holding more and more meetings, visiting the poor, conducting charitable works, and so forth. The Bible scarcely mentions these . . . but declares that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). A Christlike character must necessarily be the fruit of Christ’s indwelling.”
Editor and compiler David Hazard offers a reflection at the end of each short chapter. Here’s one gem:
"My Physician Father, I see it now…
For every one of my soul-sicknesses, you give me a ‘medicine’ for my healing.
For my pride and independence, you give one who likes to dominate. For my impatience, you send one who grates. For my criticalness, you give me one who is sorry indeed.
Today, I will receive your treatments . . . even if they sting.”
Harry Morgan, pastor of the area United Churches, opened with prayer. He also joined in with the talented music group, led by Karen Frybort. The team of singers and musicians from several local churches confessed to having only practised together once beforehand, but had 5 weeks of prayer backing them up.
“This polar bear once looked just like this block of wood!” he explained. After describing the transformation, he had the young people turn to face the crowd behind them and proclaim:
"Give God something to work with!"
Bert Zavitz, former pastor of West Guilford Baptist Church, brilliantly illustrated the biblical idea of “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Bert had been asked to bring a tossed salad for a Kawartha Lakes Youth Unlimited staff meeting.
“What goes into a tossed salad and who do I get to toss it at?” he first wondered. But as he got down to the business of creating, he began to see how the ingredients could be compared to our unity-in-diversity in the body of Christ, the church. Each ingredient represents a different church in our community and individual Christians within our churches.
First there’s lettuce: without water, it wilts. And who of course is the water of life who keeps us from wilting? Tomatoes “are meals unto themselves, churches that have everything and do not need anyone else. But boy, they add a lot to the salad when they join!” he added.
Peppers: more colour, crunch, and that needed extra spiciness of the Holy Spirit’s fire. Onions add flavor but also bring tears to our eyes, like “those churches where there is a lot of weeping, even when a joke is told”. Oh and carrots: great colour, more crunch, plus improve our vision. They’re the “churches and individuals who have had vision for our community for things like Youth Unlimited, Church of the Rock, and the Jericho Centre.”
What or who might the croutons represent, he wondered. Perhaps "those dried-up squares in every church, the traditional types still wearing suits and ties?” For those who like to add bacon bits, what might they represent? How about “the churches and individuals who are what Jesus called us to be, salt and light in the world?”
Finally, what every salad need to bind it all together: salad dressing. “The Holy Spirit is like that salad dressing, binding the whole salad of the Kingdom of God together,” Bert surmised.. Over and over the bible speaks of oil: the oil of joy, anointing with oil, the oil of peace. “The oil of the spirit works like oil poured on troubled waters to bring peace and unity.”
Bert is a violinist, and the ‘mother of all violins’ is of course, the Stradivarius. A Stradivarius can’t be hung on the wall as a museum piece; it must be played every day, he explained. Just as with the special gifts God has given each one of us. They’re not to be 'hung up'. Not used properly they can even become instruments of war. They are not toys to play with, but instruments to play, tools to build with.
He further illustrated his point (and the main thrust of Paul’s message to the Ephesians on unity) by referring to a quote from A.W. Tozer:
Has it ever occurred to you that 100 pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are … tuned to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So 100 worshippers together, each looking to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”After Pastor Anne Moore's prayerful close to the service, Harry Morgan officiated at the post-service baptism of Freyja MacDonald, who attends his church. While full immersion isn’t the United Church’s normal protocol, it is how Jesus did it and how Freyja wanted it as well.
The visitor went inside for Sunday School, found an empty seat and sat down. A young lady from the church approached him. "That's my seat!” she exclaimed. “You took my place!" Somewhat distressed by the rude welcome, the visitor said nothing.
The visitor then went into the sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him. "That's where I always sit! You took my place!" Even more troubled, the visitor still said nothing.
Later, as the congregation prayed for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood up. His appearance began to transform. Horrible scars appeared on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and called out, "What happened to you?"
The visitor replied, as his hat became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye, "I took your place."
(adapted from various sources)
by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore
It is said that on one occasion Michelangelo turned to his fellow artists and said with frustration in his voice,
“Why do you keep filling gallery after gallery with endless pictures on the one theme of Christ in weakness, Christ on the cross, and most of all, Christ hanging dead? Why do you concentrate on that passing episode as if it were the last word, as if the curtain dropped down there on disaster and defeat? That dreadful scene lasted only a few hours. But to the unending eternity, Christ is alive; Christ rules and reigns and triumphs!”
Lent, and especially Holy Week, are a preparation time of denial to ensure that Easter is even more glorious by comparison. Jesus’ death on the cross finished his work of sacrifice to take away our sins. We must remember that terrible Good Friday and try to understand his suffering. It may be helpful to do that in the company of others at worship. We also must joyously celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and victory over the grave every day—but especially at Easter. Christ is alive and so are we, forever.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."by Jon Walker
Joseph’s life was anything but peaceful. He was sold into slavery by jealous brothers and later thrown into prison on false charges. Yet, he remained free of bitterness or regret and saw God as the 'Great Engineer' behind even the worst of circumstances.
In a final confrontation with his brothers, he graciously noted, “You meant it for bad; God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20).
“God meant it for good” says:
You can accept the past. No sin, no action, no choice on your part is too big for God to handle or too big to be worked out for good. Just ask Joseph! Better yet, ask his brothers who ended up relying on him for their survival.
You can embrace the present. There’s no need to play the 'what if' game. The past is forgiven and gone, and the future is in God’s omnipotent hands; so you’re free to focus on the present: “Wherever you are, be all there,” says Jim Elliot. God wants you in the present because that’s where His grace will flow.
You can look expectantly toward the future. Even if you make mistakes today, God still controls your future. Walking in the Spirit, you can live life to the fullest, without fear of making mistakes that take you out of God’s control. Even when things appear to be terrible, you can trust that God is still working out His divine plan for your life.
Jon Walker is editor of the Daily Hope Devotionals and author of Costly Grace.
"Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come." 1 Timothy 4:8 (NLT)
As a long-time proponent of the huge importance of physical well-being if we're to be all we're designed to be, this recent Purpose-Driven posting hit home.
One of the ways we train for godliness is by maintaining our physical health. The truth is, your body was not designed for inactivity. God created you to be active. Even a daily walk will make a difference in your physical and spiritual well-being. And even while I've been away in Australia these past few weeks, I've done my darnedest to keep up my 'prayer walks': my physical/spiritual exercise combo.
Most of us are convinced but not committed. We know exercise is good for us. We are convinced, but that doesn’t mean we are committed to exercise.
What is the common excuse? ‘I don't have the time.’
Let me ask, do you have time to be sick? If you don't make time for exercise, you'll probably be forced to make time for an illness. Is that how you want to spend your time?
What is the common mistake? We overdo it at the start. We have the philosophy that if something is good, then more is better. We’ve been out of shape for several years, but then we try to get in shape in one week! And so we work ourselves to death, get totally exhausted and, as a result, we wear out quickly and give up.
The key is training not straining. If you want to get in shape fast, exercise longer, not harder. And that will help you stay committed to a consistent, regular exercise program.
As mentioned, I find simple walking works the best. Proven one of the best, easiest, most natural and least-expensive exercises, it fits easily into almost any life or environment. You get to know your neighbourhood and neighbours (new or old) as you walk, and can pray for them, for others, for your own concerns, for whatever.
"This was the work of Jesus himself: to heal the sick, feed the hungry, give sight to the blind, care for the poor; give righteousness to the scandalous and scandalize the self-righteous; give hope to the hopeless and love to the loveless. And he's not done yet."
These final lines in an article by John Ortberg published earlier this year by the Christianity Today organization sum up what needs to be the prime work of those who now represent Jesus on earth, the Church.
Ortberg, a pastor, writer and editor, begins by ruminating on Paul's words in Colossians 1: “We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this reason I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me."
“If your church is looking for a big hairy audacious goal,” he continues, “this will do for starters."
The piece wanders through concepts of maturity, even touches on the movie Avatar, before coming to the conclusion "the church must be in the compassion business." You can read the original article here.
(adapted from Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Connection devotional)
Many fear letting God into their lives, thinking God will make them give up anything and everything fun. In other words, they believe that to become a Christian is the same as saying the party's over; that to be spiritual is to be miserable.
People frantically look for fun fixes, but that means they operate under the law of diminishing returns. They spend more time, more money, and more energy to get less and less of a thrill. They go around asking, "Are we having fun yet?" or, "Is that all there is?"
But the way you fight fear is with truth. And the truth says: God "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Tim. 6:17b, TNIV). He doesn't want you to live without fun.
The apostle Matthew spent three years with Jesus. "Jesus came, enjoying life" is basically what he wrote in the 11th chapter, 19th verse of the book bearing his name. In Jesus' first recorded miracle, after all, he turned water into wine for a wedding party that had already drunk plenty!
"Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life." —1 Tim. 6:17-19, The Message
God wants you to enjoy life. Honest to God!
A further powerful point is that even through the worst times, while it will in all likelihood be impossible to be happy, let alone 'have fun', we can still have that internal "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (see 1 Peter 1: 6-9).
St. George’s church has probably never been so full—of people, of Presence, of sorrow and of joy—as it was recently for the funeral of Ave Petch, longtime parishioner and tireless community worker.
Chris Postlethwaite knew her well. The following is excerpted from an article Chris wrote for the parish newsletter back when Ave was awarded "The Bishop’s Award for Faithful Service" from then Archbishop Terence Finlay.
"Ave received the award for her untiring service to her God, church and the community throughout the years. This has included her quiet work as Directress of the Chancel Guild, assisting [then rector] Christopher [Greaves] with server training, working with brides for their wedding arrangements, and decorating the church for festivals and special occasions as only Ave can, with such artistic talent.
She has been instrumental in keeping the ACW functioning, and has made endless phone calls for organizing Pancake Suppers, receptions for funerals, comforting the families, and organizing fund-raising lunches. The list is endless, but all these functions are handled with quiet dignity and tasteful presentations.
As Director of the 4 C’s, she dons another hat, and organizes the ordering, receiving, and distribution of huge quantities of groceries for the food bank. She has been involved with this organization since its inception by the Rev. Trevor Denny in 1979.There is no mistaking Ave’s love for God, and her courage to serve Him. She may not be a missionary in faraway places—her discipleship is close to home, where she has shown by her actions that serving God is a rewarding and often humbling experience."
All the activities Chris mentioned Ave kept up till her sudden passing.
As the master in the book of Matthew congratulates his servant on faithful and fruitful activity, we know our Lord does the same for our friend and fellow-parishioner, Ave Petch. We’ll miss you, Ave.
In the 4th century, the Roman emperor Julian was concerned about the spread of Christianity in his empire, and was determined to revive the traditional Roman pagan religions.
Here's how he expressed his frustration at his seeming inability to stop the growth of Christian faith:
"Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstition of these Christians as their charity to strangers. The impious Galileans provide not only for their own poor, but for ours as well.”
Julian failed. Christianity was irresistible. Why? Because no matter what charge could be made against the Christians, their charity to strangers and their provision for the poor, Christian and non-Christian alike, was evident for all to see. Love won. It still can.