Sunday, 30 December 2012

Experiencing Love

Here we are with a storm day and no church service.  Here are a few of the thoughts that I would have shared in the message.

My understanding of human nature is that all of us go around with a sign on our forehead that reads, "Love me." Now, if we said that to everyone we met, they might call the authorities. However, that is one of our soul cravings - to be loved unconditionally. Loved in spite of our faults. Loved because we matter. That is why Jesus is so compelling in how He treats people. Everyone matters. Everyone is welcome to receive all that He has to offer.

While we are looking for that type of love, we still hold on to a suspicion that some people matter more than others - that some people are more worthy of love than others. I've been in a restaurant where a street-dweller was refused service - regardless of ability to pay. I've been in a church where someone wanted to put up a fence to keep undesirables off the property. I'm even guilty of telling jokes that speak of some group not being as worthy of respect. All this is not good.

In Jesus I see people treated in a way that makes us uncomfortable, because it challenges us to love in the same way. After all, that's what being Jesus' disciple is all about. But if we have received this love, how can we hold back from loving others?

I admit, I like certain people more than others. I will enjoy a night out with certain friends. But I must learn to love deeply, even as I desire to be loved. A priest was asked by a TV host why he did not turn in the gang members with whom he ministered. His response was that he did not make his vows with the police department. When a gang member was aksed why the priest did not turn them over to the cops, his response was, "God... I guess." He understood something of unconditional love.

Jesus tells a story in Luke 14 about how we are to think of ourselves and treat others. We are to be humble in our estimation of ourselves. We are to show hospitality to those who cannot repay. And the result is, God will lift us up, and God will repay our obedience.

As followers of Jesus we must learn how to live this way. Our world continues to promote self-fulfillment and entitlement while Jesus commands self-denial and unconditional love. It doesn't make sense. But when I look at the lives touched by Jesus (including this month) the results are supernatural. The Kingdom of God, with all the love to receive, and love to give, is the best gift of Christmas.

Think about your own need for love. How does Jesus meet that need in spite of who you are?
Think about how you love others. Do you have "standards" for giving love, or are you able to be unconditional?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Joy to the World in the Midst of Tragedy?

Like most of North America and beyond, my thoughts have been with those suffering the loss of loved ones in Newtown, Connecticut. It's an unimaginable tragedy. I hope the lessons learned can make a positive difference in the future.

There are a lot of questions surrounding this shooting, and any other incident like it. What goes through the mind of a young adult male to exercise violence against the innocent? Are we even aware of those like him who are so wounded that they they act out so violently? Where do we find healing for broken lives before this happens? How does the Christmas angel message fit? "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."

In this short space I cannot adequately answer these questions, but I do have a few thoughts to share. It would seem that young adults are hurting and somewhat lost with respect to the cravings of our soul. We all crave significance -- that desire to move forward and have a destiny. We all crave love and intimacy. We all crave meaning -- knowing why we are here. I think this last one especially ties in with the sanctity of life, which seems to be lost as well. The theme is "lostness" and pain. And as we can see, hurt people hurt people. Hmmm... Jesus said he came to seek and to save those who are lost. Are we looking for them?

My take on what Erwin McManus has written is that searching for God is like looking for a Balsam Fir at Christmas. The signs are everywhere. You just have to know what you're looking for. On the one hand there are many looking for God and not sure what they are looking for. On the other hand, there are many who follow God who are not sure how to look for and identify the lost.

We are all searching for truth. We are all looking for God. We crave meaning. We long to trust. We need to believe in something. We need to believe in someone. We need to believe in God. Is it possible that Jesus is like a sign that is obscured at Christmas? The seekers can't see it, and the Christ-followers aren't obvious.

When Jesus came -- as light to a dark world -- as healing to broken lives -- as freedom to those held captive -- he did not immediately transform the physical world into paradise. What he did do was offer something that would change the way we live. He said we are a light on a stand, which gives light for all to see. Not "you should be," but, "you are" a light! As he brought healing to the broken hearted, the broken bodies, and the broken psyches, he called his followers to do the same. "Carry each others burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

We wish all was well in our world, and we believe Jesus Christ will set it right. But for now we hold onto his words to us from the Psalms: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul."

As in times of disaster, times of war, and times of unspeakable horror, we look to Jesus. Born into a politically unstable and cruel regime. Born to bring hope, peace, joy, and love to those who need it most. It would seem our young adult population are missing this message. Maybe they haven't been able to read the signs. I hope we haven't been standing in front of them.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Go for the Goal -- becoming a spiritual champion!

Hands up if you spent a lot of time watching the Olympics this summer. Okay, hands up of those who will watch the Paralympics as well! (My rant is always the lack of air-time given to these latter games -- as if disabled athletes are less important. They just bring in less money, I guess.)

Over the four Sundays of August I have taught on Hebrews 12:1-3 which says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (English Standard Version)

The four points (one each week) were as follows: First of all we need to "Remember the Witnesses" who surround us and motivate us to run. This could be those in our present day such as Billy Graham, Amy Carmichael, Mother Theresa, or Tony Campolo. Or, it could be heroes from the past such as Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Liddell, or Augustine. Hebrews 11 mentions two dozen indiviuals and groups from the Old Testament that are noteworthy examples of faithfulness. These disciples ought to grip our own lives to see the possibilities of serving God.

Second, we are to "Remove any Hindrances" which hold us back. This could be sinful aspects of our life which quench the Spirit, or it could be lifestyle choices which squeeze out God from our lives. As any high-level athlete needs to be careful about diet, routines and disciplines, so too the follower of Jesus. Are you feeding yourself from the Bible? Are you listening to God's direction and following it? Are you admitting your weak areas so that they can be changed with God's help?

Third, we must "Run with Perseverance" the race marked out for us. In order to run effectively we must have the desire to run, alter our lifestyle to make it possible, and understand the purpose of why we run. There is a general race for the believer, which includes loving God and others, serving those around us as though we were service Christ, and sacrificing our own lives and agenda for the well-being of others. There is also a person race which connects with who you are and the story you are living in this world.

Fourth, we we need to "Remain Christ-Focused" if we are to run as champions. Jesus ran his race because he knew what lay ahead for God's people -- forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, justice, freedom... He was full of joy in seeing the glory of God revealed, even at great personal cost. Lives are changed when the Spirit gets hold of them. Those who are dead are made alive in Christ when they trust in him. And when we live out our lives in the power of the Spirit, we bear much fruit, show ourselves to be Jesus' disciples, and bring glory to the Father. What amazing reasons to run, and run with perseverance!

What is God's race marked out for you? As a church we have agreed to live like Jesus, build our community, and share our story with others. The one who called us to this race is faithful and he will enable us to do it. Get out there and Run!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Camp Wildwood at 100!

This past weekend (June 29 to July 1) Camp Wildwood celebrated 100 years of camping ministry in McKees Mills. (This is near Bouctouche. Include this location detail when you look for CW on Facebook.) The weekend hosted over 200+ campers, plus another 250+ joined us for a celebration on Sunday evening -- which included fireworks.

For these 100 years Camp has had the privilege to proclaim the good news of Jesus from one generation to the next. (Psalm 145:4) You see, it's the responsibility of all those who believe to tell others about Jesus, and Camp is one of the most effective tools we have for proclaiming that  message. Of course it does not take the responsibility away from us as individuals, but it enhances our proclamation in ways that are difficult in our local church setting. (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8)

Until Jesus Christ returns -- and only until he returns -- we have the opportunity to add to the family of God. Jesus died for the sins of everyone, and he is not interested that any perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) And get this, he left the job to us of telling others about this goal. Are you doing your part?

Camp Wildwood is doing its part as over the years thousands of kids have been at camp, and hundreds have committed their lives to Christ while there. Hey, even some romances started at Camp!! So it's good for us to be both appreciative and supportive of this "arm" of our church. (By the way, as a member church of Convention, we own Camp Wildwood.) This is an inverstment in eternity.

The ministry of Camp Wildwood is only limited by the extent of their partners. In addition to the Director, Geoff Brace, there is the Manager, Terry O'Brien, and 40+ staff who serve during the summer, and some also during the year. However, they cannot do it on their own. It takes so many of us to help Camp be effective. Some of you are already there, giving of your prayers, time and resources to make it happen. Some of you could stand to step up your commitment to this ministry.

At the Sunday evening rally, we noted a few highlights. Geoff is starting his 25th summer as Director. Yeah! The three Baptist Associations connected to Camp each contributed $25/year to the offering. Yeah! (That is $25/year x 100 x 3 = $7500. from Miramichi; Albert; Westmorland-Kent) The rest of the offering was $11,500. Yeah! And, three folks signed up for the "Ember Club", which is a commitment to give $1,000/year for five years. Yeah!

Thanks to all those who came to celebrate, and to those gave. (Philippians 4:18-19)

This is a great time for all of us to get behind Camp Wildwood and make sure that the next five years are the best yet. None of us will be here 100 years from now, but while we are here, let's put our shoulders to the wheel and keep this ministry rolling.

* As a side note, consider joining the Ember Club. It can even be a group who all contribute to make the $1,000/year. I know of one university student who has just signed up - in the midst of all the expense of school. The Ember Club provides resources for maintenance, new projects, unforseen emergencies, and long-range development. Camper fees only cover the programming costs.

Monday, 25 June 2012

What are you doing this summer?

As far as I can tell, the summer months provide the easiest opportunities to love our neighbours. People are outside more often, and participating in the life of the community. If you’re willing to connect, the avenues are there.
 When we look at Jesus’ words to his disciples (and that means us), it is clear that connecting is what we need to be about. It is part of his great mission for our summer. In Mark 8:34-35 Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” If we really want to find the full depth of life in Christ, we must serve others for the sake of the gospel. We won’t find significance in status, sex, or success, but in service.  
God is building a family and he calls on us to invite others to join the family. Christ is coming back, but it won’t be until all the family members are included. In John 17:18 Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” This is our family mission to live like Jesus lived and impact our world for the Kingdom of God.
At the heart of this mission of service is love – love for God and love for others.  In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus is engaged in a discussion with a teacher of the law. In that discussion the teacher answers the question about the greatest commandment. “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ” Wanting to get himself off the hook as to whom he must love, he asks, “And who is my neighbour?”
This is when Jesus tells a well-known story about the “Good Samaritan.” (We even have “Good Samaritan Laws” to protect those who do good deeds.) At the end of the story about two men who choose not to help, and one who acts in compassion, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
I am especially struck by the way the three persons in the story are characterized by Martin Luther King, Jr. “The first question which the Priest and the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But, the good Samaritan reversed the question, ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ “
Love others is not an option for followers of Christ, and it is definitely not a spectator sport. Everyone is included. And, it means connect with others in caring and practical, and often sacrificial ways whenever opportunities arise.
In addition to everyday opportunities which will arise, this summer there will be many events in Sackville connected to the 250th Anniversary’ celebrations.  First of all, participate. Then, look for ways to intersect with people’s lives in non-threatening ways. Have some hand towelettes to give out at a BBQ. Give a mini bottle of sunscreen at an outdoor event. Have a cooler bag with “Freezies” to hand out on a hot day. Help with Vacation Bible School. Show up and help out at the Habitat house. Make connections.
Finally, if anyone asks why you’re doing this, be ready with a response that says something about the fact that you want to show love to our community – with no strings attached.  God will open doors from there.
If I knew of a more important thing to do with your life, I wouldn’t waste your time with this. I make no apology for saying that being a part of God’s plan will be the most significant thing you do with your life. God wants a bigger family, and you’re the one to invite someone to be adopted.
What am I doing this summer? Sharing Jesus with someone!

Monday, 18 June 2012

What's In a Name?

1 Chronicles 4:9-10 Jabez was more honourable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
When Jabez grew up, he had a choice: live with the negative effects of the name given by his mother, or decide to remake his life in God’s power. It seems easier to leave things the way they are, to blame others for our circumstances, and to believe that things will never change. However, as difficult as it is to change someone else, when we ask for God’s help to change ourselves, change happens!
Jabez was desperate enough to cry out to God, and God, knowing the desires of our heart, answers that type of prayer. God’s will is good, and he desires good things for us – and, promises never to leave us or forsake us. Do we really believe that? Are we ever asking with that same type of expectancy.
Here’s what we learn from Jabez:
1                     Have a Passion for God’s Blessing. Stop asking for more things, and ask for more of God. When his power starts to be more effective in us, people will notice, and he will be glorified.
2                     Pursue God’s Purpose. Ask God for more influence and impact in this world. It reminds me of that Sunday School song, This Little Light of Mine. “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine.” Expect that there will be opportunities to talk about Jesus. Ask God for more influence, and realize that you are able to inspire others for the Gospel.
3                     Plead for God’s Presence. Don’t be so unwise as to think you can go it alone. We can accomplish nothing of significance without the power of the Holy Spirit, but we can do all things through him who gives us strength.
4                     Petition for God’s Protection. God will protect us from evil, and when we face temptation, there is always a way out. Our bad choices are not God’s fault, but they are our own. Pastor Kenny Baldwin said, “Sin will take you further than you want to go. Sin will keep you longer than you want to stay. Sin will cost you more than you want to pay.”
5                     Believe God will Provide for Our Prayer. The reason we do not pray, is that we think we’re doing okay without God. The reason we do pray, is that we believe it matters and will make a difference in our lives. Jabez’ prayer was not long, but it was heart-felt and full of faith. He was desperate for a change and knew where to turn for help.
Somewhere along the way someone might have told you that you were a “nobody” and that you wouldn’t amount to much. With God you are a “somebody” and your life can count for almighty God. Consider saying your own prayer to God for a life-change in you this week.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Thinking About Education

Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
As followers of Christ all of life needs to be evaluated by His character and priorities. This, then, includes our own education and the education of our children. At some level, all of us already keep track of the quality of education offered in our systems, and we have our opinions regarding such.  In addition to course of study, we consider the teachers and the subject matter being taught.
The Old Testament offers us a view of education that is first of all God-centred, while being culturally set in a semi-nomadic and agricultural society.
1         God must be the source and goal of all education. His wisdom relates to all of life, and life is to be interpreted through that framework. All truth is God’s truth.
2         The parents are given the primary responsibility for the education of their children in all areas of life.
3         Both informal and formal learning have their place, as does the inclusion of other teachers in the education process.
4         Some wisdom is given by God as universally understood, and we are able to learn from non-believers in some areas, so long as the root of holiness unto the Lord is not compromised.
5         Diversity in education is necessary for application to all of life.
The main consideration for the Jews of antiquity and for Christians today is that "all education is rooted in a worldview and all education nurtures students in that worldview." (Brian Walsh, “Worldviews, Modernity and the Task of Christian College Education,” p.2)  That is to say that whatever education is received at any age, it will have underlying presuppositions that shape the content.  Sometimes the worldview is easily recognizable, but at other times it is not.   This is where we have the responsibility to think critically about what our students learn every day, and consider the environment surrounding that learning.
I believe our students can thrive in almost any educational setting provided they have the same spiritual input and depth that characterised the Jew's learning system.  First, parents must be the primary educators, i.e. take prime responsibility for their children.  Assuming that the public school will instil appropriate values and the best quality education is simplistic. Conversely, passing off our children to a church program or Christian school while remaining in the background will do little better than to indoctrinate them without wisdom.  Second, the leaders of the church must also take responsibility for the instruction of the children in church related education.  Third, believers must have discipleship in their lives if they are to survive and grow as servants of God.  This aspect alone can do much to shape the worldview that will guide the learner.  Fourth, the whole community to which the Christian family belongs must be a positive influence on the children as they are involved together in worship and in discerning where God is leading them.

Our primary educational choices are Home Schooling, Christian/Private School, and Public School. Sackville Christian Academy is a ministry of Middle Sackville Church and began with a group of home-schoolers looking for more support, and other interested families. It has continued as a local alternative to the public schools for those desiring something different, whether it be for social, philosophical, academic, or spiritual reasons.
While any choice can be profitable for learning, the parents must be actively filling the spiritual and God related components, especially if and when the public arena fosters the idea of “Bible myths.” The main concern must be what is best for the child, and this may vary with temperament, age, and external factors taken into consideration.  Just remember, no educational choice should be made from lack of consideration.
Talk about the options. Pray about the right choice. Seek the peace of Christ. Be confident in your decision. Stay actively involved in the process.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Time to Stand Up for Crandall

With the renewed controversy in the media surrounding the “Statement of Moral Standards” of Crandall University, we considered it necessary to voice our position as a supporting organization.
We are not only not anti-gay, we are not anti-anybody. Our church’s mission is based on the idea that people matter to God – all people – all people of all backgrounds, colours, ethnicities, and sexual orientation. The mat at every door reads, “Welcome.”  And, for 250 years we have opened the doors to the full array of humanity that touches the Tantramar region, and hundreds have come to learn the teachings of Jesus. So, to suggest that we are anti-gay, or that we check any kind of issue at the door is simply not true. Just ask the people on various life journeys in our community who have been welcomed here each week.
Now, what is true, is that we challenge homosexuals and heterosexuals to live out the sexual ethics taught in the Scriptures, which encourages full sexual expression between a man and a woman in the context of marriage, and prescribes sexual abstinence and purity for everybody else.
But, even as we challenge all of our people to these biblical standards, we seek to do so with grace-filled spirit, knowing the confusion and brokenness that is rampant in our fallen world. And, at Middle Sackville we honour the journey of everyone who is sincerely attempting to follow Christ. So, it’s unfortunate that some have chosen to attack Crandall U. and its supporters for being anti-gay.
I am also concerned by the propensity to attack any group publically without dialogue. We see this foremost in politics and it makes for strained relationships. Jesus taught and modeled a better way – to treat everybody with respect; to believe the best about others; to seek to understand those with whom we might disagree; and, if we must disagree, to attempt to do so respectfully. We acknowledge our own guilt in not always being like Jesus in this way.
Our desire is to respond in genuine Christian love and say that our church is open to anybody, and we would like to have everyone visit us some day. We all need to be willing to talk with a gracious spirit and see if we can come to a better understanding of what it means to live with respect in the midst of differing points of view. Attacks on either side based largely on prejudice and emotion, are at best unhelpful. 
As for the issue of government funding, every faith-based organization in Canada, of every description, has rights to hold to certain beliefs and operate according to those beliefs. Every one of them also benefit from tax dollars in one way or another. These are taxes paid by adherents to these religious groups as well as the general public. Governments support a variety of causes and special-interest groups, and some of those causes we may not personally support. This is part of our democracy and freedom of religion as stated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The decision of Moncton City Council to issue financial grants is based on their perceived return on their investment, which is their responsibility as community managers. We trust tolerance of differing views will triumph before some seek an end to our rights and freedoms.