Monday, 08 June 2015 00:00

Word and Deed.

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I am convinced that it is important that we bear witness to Christ in both word and deed.  Speaking about the grace of God without showing the grace of God is useless.  Yet good deeds are not enough to help people find a relationship with Christ.  I feel the pressure of balancing both.  Our recent adult class series "Vanishing Grace" by Phillip Yancey has made a good case for the importance of being grace dispensers in our cynical culture.  This is so hard and so important when the media is quick to pick up on any harsh and judgmental religious message.  In another book by Kevin DeYoung, (What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission), I read that " In the end, the Great Commission must be the mission of the church for two very basic reasons: there is something worse than death, and there is something better than human flourishing.  I think this will always be a bit of a balancing act but I am convinced that if we walk by the Spirit, we will be used by God even when we make mistakes.  With a gentleness and courage I think we will avoid the serious errors of hypocrisy and fear.  May God guide us as we act and as we speak.  
Wednesday, 03 June 2015 00:00

Cuba was Good for Me

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I am thankful for the opportunity to join a CBM mission trip to Cuba last week.  It was a pleasure to see how the church is growing in this land.  While many of the cars and buildings seem to be falling into disrepair, there is evidence that leaders are being trained and churches are growing.  I have much to reflect on after my trip.  One lesson that I want to apply on a personal level is the challenge to be more relational.  The Latin culture in Cuba is very friendly.  Churches exist as extended families and many pastor live in or near their church buildings.  Greetings are more intimate.  Everyone seems to hug and touch cheeks.  For a more introverted Canadian, this takes some adjustment.  One of the nights after a three day pastor's retreat we had a night of fun.  The Cubans wanted to see some Canadian dancing, so we obliged and tried to teach square dancing, which was fun but confusing.  Each of us Canadian pastors were then forced to join in some Latin dancing.  We were awkward, but happy.  Alongside the relational Cuban culture, I also say the importance of teambuilding among our small group of Canadians.  Living for a week in a room with bunk beds and spending almost every waking hour together could have created some friction.  I was pleased with how encouraging the team was.  I felt appreciated and several good friendships were formed.  Cuba was good for me because I see in a fresh was the importance of relationships, friendships and teamwork.  I want to invest more in getting to know people here at Emmanuel and continue to build a welcoming community.
Thursday, 21 May 2015 00:00

Resurrection And Motivation

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I have been reading and preaching on themes of hope and the future.  One of the books that I have enjoyed is N.T. Wright's book "Surprised by Hope".  With him I am happy to affirm that the Christian view of the future has nothing to do with disembodied souls in some kind of fluffy cloud heaven.  We will receive spiritual bodies and enjoy God's presence in a new heaven and a new earth.  One of the struggles I have with Wright's book is that he sees a clear connection to this view of resurrection and our motivation to make a difference in the world today.  He says that "people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present. (p. 214)  Earlier he suggests that somehow our work in this world will make it through and be redeemed in the next.  "You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are— strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself— accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. (p. 208)  Although I like his sentiment, this seems too bold a statement especially in light of 2 Peter 3:10.  When I think of ruins of past civilizations it seems evident to me that our work in this world may not be part of the next.  For me the motivation to live and work in this world comes more from the truth of creation than from resurrection.  Indeed resurrection does affirm that God approves of bodies and creation, but we do not need to say that every good work today will become part of God's new world.  God as creator and redeemer is clearly interested in this world.  Earthly flourishing now is a part of his gracious salvation.  It is entirely wrong to say that God will one day make a new earth so why bother caring for this one.  We can and should work to make this a more just and beautiful world.  This is our mandate from creation.  This world is still a gift from God.

Monday, 11 May 2015 00:00

How Do You Describe Glory?

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Yesterday we looked at 1 Corithians 15 and 2 Peter 3 and considered what the Bible teaches about our final destiny.  We will be raised to new spiritual bodies and will live in a new heaven and a new earth.  Although I was able to describe what the Bible teaches, I had a keen sense at the end of the message that we need something more than a good description, we need a sense of awe and excitement.  This is one of the benefits of the book of Revelation.  While we may not feel that we fully understand the details of the symbols in this book, there is an overall sense of power that comes from reading it's descriptions of the future.  The book of Revelation is more about the feeling of awe than it is about clarity of explanation.  When I read it, I am not exactly sure what I am seeing, but I know it is glorious.

Revelation 7:9–10  After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Revelation 21:18–21  The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

Monday, 04 May 2015 00:00

Happy Endings

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While our stories are never wthout hardship and loss, much is made up for by a happy ending.  Cynics may dismiss the notion of the fairy tale ending but part of us need to believe in it. Tolkien in his essay "On Fairy Stories" suggsts that the happy ending is essential to the genre.   He writes "The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief."

The deeper parts of our souls connect with the need for this final grace that resolves our current struggles.  The Christian story is the ultimate story and our fairy stories have their power partly because they connect with what is ultimately true. The Christian story tells us that there is an essential truth to the happy ending.  Without dismissing suffering, we are given hope.  Christ who entered into our death also was raised to life.  The gospel shows us life with a happy ending.

Of the Christian story, Tolkien says, "There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits."

You can read Tolkien's Essay Here


Monday, 27 April 2015 00:00

Devotional Reading Video

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As a follow up to my thoughts on media and mentoring, I decided to try to put together a quick example video.  This video is meant to instruct people in approaching the scriptures through devotional reading.  It is not a highly polished video but I am pleased with the outcome.  It connects with my January 4, 2015 message on hearing God in scripture.  
Monday, 20 April 2015 00:00

Discipleship Media and Mentoring

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With the launch of our new webstie I have been thinking of the power of online media to help build discipleship in our community at Emmanuel and to have an impact well beyond Victoria.  I have watched my son use online videos supplied by his math teacher to learn his school lessons from home.  Having watched the video, he then puts what he learns to practice in the classroom where the teacher is able to answer questions and help the students with their problems. Could this model could work for spiritual formation?  In my searches online, there are dozens of legthy sermons, but very few practical concise lessons on discipleship.  I see several examples of acedemic lessons which are trying to be comprehesive, but cannot find this for topics of faith.  I am not sure where this will lead, but I think there may be value in creating some simple videos on discipleship, which could be enhanced through one on one mentoring or small groups within Emmanuel.  Is this something that you would be intertested in being involved with?
Monday, 13 April 2015 00:00

Culture of Uncertainty

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Recently I have been learning about the thinking of Charles Taylor through a book bt James K. A. Smith called "How (Not) to be Secular."  The book describes our secular age as one which is defined by contested belief.  Faith in God seems impossible, but it also seems difficult to be satisfied with life lived merely on this earthly plain.  We live in what Taylor calls a cross pressured life.  Those who have faith feel the pressure of doubt.  Those who choose doubt feel pressured by a sense that life and love and beauty cannot be accounted for in a merely natural world.  I like the quote that says, "The doubter’s doubt is faith; his temptation is belief, and it is a temptation that has not been entirely quelled, even in a secular age."  As I reflected on John 20 and preached on doubting Thomas I recognize that faith and doubt are facts of life.  It is the same for everyone in this secular age.  Still for me it is easier to take the risk and trust God in these uncertain times than it is to believe my doubts and accept that there is nothing beyond the material world.
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 00:00

Do we need a slogan?

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Throughout Emmanuel's history we have used slogans to focus our attention and define our aspirations.  In the 1980s and 1990s Emmanuel's slogan was "God's Family Place."  This defined our desire to build family ministry and be a welcoming place for all.  Currently our slogan is "A Church for campus and Community."  I like how this slogan encourages us to serve outside the church and to have a focus on student ministries.  As we have begun a process of vision clarification we are considering whether or not it is time for us to adopt a new slogan.  We have played with the phrase "Living God's Love"  but are unsure if this is clear enough.  My hope is to maintain a focus outside our doors, but would also like to see more of a focus on the worship and enjoyment of God.  It has also been suggested that since a slogan can date itself quickly and it is always difficult to have clarity in few words, that it might be best to not use a slogan.  I look forward to considering how Emmanuel will face the future and I wonder if a slogan will help us shape that future.
Tuesday, 03 February 2015 00:00

Integrated Mission

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Duane Guthrie challenged us on Sunday to think about how we integrate faith and work.  He called us to give up on the sacred / secular divide and see that our faith must be lived out each day of the week.  I was struck by the truth that most of our personal networks are formed more at work than in our neighbourhood.  We know our coworkers better than the people next door.  For those of us in workplaces, this can be a freeing concept.  Rather than beating ourselves up for not knowing our neighbours, let us live our faith at work.  For those who are not working or volunteering in our community, it presents us with a greater challenge to meet people outside of church.  A second thought that crossed my mind is how we might practice integrated mission as a church.  It got me thinking about our property and how we might be able to develop in a way that brings together, church and business.  Could we develop our property and add student residences, a cafe, a Chinese restaurant or an art studio.  Could we create a building that encourages the church to connect with our community.  We already do this at student dinner and with our preschool.  I plan on talking more with Duane about how to do integrated mission in Victoria.

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