“Timely”

April 15th

I recently had the pleasure of conducting the wedding for two lovely gentlemen, one of who has been a friend throughout my ministry at St. James. As is the norm, the wedding ceremony was followed by a fun reception for all the guests. My wife, Lois, and I were included amongst the invitees and enjoyed the fine hospitality of the two grooms immensely. It was a great party!
Following the reception for the wedding guests, there was to be a brief pause, and then a big family dinner hosted by the newlyweds. Not being family members, Lois and I weren’t invited, which was to be expected. Nevertheless, the grooms wanted to make sure we fully understood that it wasn’t meant as a slight; they were simply taking advantage of having so many family members together in one place. Naturally, no offence was taken. I always encourage people to get together for happy occasions, and was thrilled that the groom’s families would be able to have yet another great party.
This timely response to a rare confluence of events is an example worth following. All too often I hear people lament that they didn’t spend enough time with the ones they loved. Funerals seem to be the most frequent times that some families get together, and of course, while there is joy in seeing the people you care for, it’s difficult to celebrate the reunion when mourning the loss of a loved one.
God created us to be with other people. None of us can survive without family members, friends, co-workers, fellow hobbyists, store clerks or friendly strangers sitting next to us on the train. When it comes to families it’s important that we take the time to celebrate when we can, to be together to share our stories and build on the relationships that have shaped us. It’s not always easy; families aren’t perfect and not all relationships are ideal. Sometimes families spread out to places far and wide, making it hard to be in the same place at once. Still, it’s worth the effort to get together without waiting for a special occasion or a tragedy to make it happen. When there are no timely opportunities, for a party or gathering, then they need to be created. After all, the time is always right to have some fun with the people you love.

Advertisements

“Balanced”

April 8th

A large wind tower near my hometown of Chatham recently collapsed. A careful investigation revealed that a problem with one of the three blades caused the failure. Large, moving systems like those turbines require surprisingly delicate balance. The three blades of the propellers must be perfectly and precisely matched in mass to keep them from vibrating and tearing the whole machine apart. Even smaller aircraft propellers require balancing to within a few grams because they spin so fast. Any imbalance between them could result in catastrophic, and even deadly failure.
Balance is equally important in human life. Effort must be balanced by rest. Work must be balanced by play. Body, mind and soul each must be nurtured carefully so that the entire person can be in harmony and balance.
Christians believe in the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. These correspond to the human mind, body, and soul. God represents the wisdom and plan that informs our minds. Jesus is the physical manifestation of God, the earthly aspect that we call our bodies. The Holy Spirit is God’s living breath, God’s presence within us that gives us not just life, but a unique sense of, and need for God not found in other living creatures.
To be a complete, healthy human being requires that we balance our mental, physical and Spiritual selves. If we neglect the care of one aspect, the others suffer. Our bodies might not be perfect and our physical health dodgy, but we still have to take care of them in order for our minds and souls to soar. If we fail to pray and meditate regularly, our Spiritual selves suffer and our minds and bodies feel the consequences. If we don’t exercise and use our minds, or fill them with nonsense, we make bad decisions and life choices that can cause physical and Spiritual distress. Balance matters.
However, we aren’t quite as restricted as a propeller in our need for absolute balance. God has designed us so that our minds and our Spirituality can compensate for broken or failing bodies. We might not be able to do everything with our bodies; we might have physical limitations that cause us to depend on others to live; yet our mind and Spirit can still thrive and grow despite having less than perfect bodies. And it is our mind and Spirit that bring us closer to God. Our minds allow us to understand God and God’s love; our Spirits allow us to feel that love and to share it with others.
Here again, balance matters. Our mind and Spirit must work together in harmony to know and to express God’s love. God’s Spirit moves us; God’s mind guides us. Our bodies make certain things happen. Yet should our bodies fail for whatever reason, our minds and Spirit can take up the slack and balance out our lives so that we are complete and perfect in God’s heart.

“Jesus Loves”

April 1st

“Jesus Saves” the bright neon-lit sign said. It hung outside a non-descript building on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto, just around the corner from where the stockyards used to be. The sign was shaped like a cross, the implication being that the cross and salvation went hand in hand.
I was young when I used to see the sign, and even though I went to church regularly, I didn’t quite get the connection between the cross and salvation. I knew that it was where Jesus died on the cross and I knew that Jesus saved sinners, but somehow I didn’t quite associate the two as being related. Maybe it was the way I was taught. Or, maybe, it was the difficulty of understanding what “Jesus Saves” meant.
Salvation is a good thing. But it is a challenging concept for a child. It means that we have been made whole. It means we are forgiven. It means sin no longer has any power over us. It means our relationship with God has restored. See what I mean? Even as an adult, Salvation takes a little explaining. It’s no wonder its meaning was rather lost to me as a child. It was simply too complex.
At Easter we recount and rejoice our salvation. From the sombre Good Friday service to the celebratory Easter morning worship we tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and give thanks for what He did for us. Telling the Easter story every year, we are not just reminded of Jesus’ one-time action on the Cross, but of the way that one event comes into play every time we stray from the path and require God’s forgiveness.
Jesus saves. That matters. But I think what matters even more is why He did that for humanity. Jesus did it out of love. God sent Jesus to save us out of love. Love is the motivation for our salvation. And love is also the goal of being saved.
Being saved is not an end in itself. The point of being saved is so that we can be in a full, healthy, loving, relationship with God. We are saved so that we can follow Jesus. We are saved so that we can love as we have been loved. Jesus saves, yes. But more importantly, I believe, Jesus loves. And if we loved others the way Jesus loved us, people wouldn’t need neon signs telling telling them Jesus saves. If we loved others the way Jesus loves us, our very lives would be bright, glorious signs pointing not to the Jesus’ that saves us, but to the very heart of the Jesus that loved us enough to make us worthy of being saved.

“Curious”

March 25th

The Bible is a curious book. Although it is God’s word, it was written by human beings. It is a compendium of different writings, styles and authors, written over thousands of years. It includes great mythical aspects describing the origin of the universe and mundane genealogies. There is no single, original copy of the text but there are enough sources to provide a reliable, accurate rendition of what was first penned. Dozens of writers contributed to the contents but none of them ever intended their works to be gathered together as they were in the Bible. It is written from different perspectives, in different styles, serving different purposes and, as a result, seems disjointed or even self-contradicting.
Clearly, the Bible is not your typical “read”. It’s not like a novel with a clear plot line that can’t be put down until its final denouement. It is not a guide-book or an instruction manual to be followed literally. It isn’t an encyclopaedia to be referenced when a particular fact is needed. It is a collection of history, myth, Spiritual truths, laws, songs, lament, advice, prophecy, advice, wisdom, warning and encouragement that calls for careful, devoted reading and study.
Despite these challenges, the message of the Bible is clear: God cares for humanity deeply, and despite the way we often frustrate, annoy or ignore our Creator, our Creator never gives up on us. God loves us too much to ever abandon us, a truth revealed in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s own child.
For the person of faith, the Bible is required reading. It is the only way to understand our Creator and where we fit into Creation. It is not, however, an easy thing to read. It needs to be studied carefully, taking into account not just that it is a human expression of God’s story, but that it is very much a product of the historical period in which it was written. Thus, it requires careful interpretation and discernment. It calls for the wisdom of other readers and the guidance of wise mentors.
The Bible is a curious book. If read carefully, regularly, and prayerfully, it is our greatest source of instruction, information and guidance for living a life that honours God, and allows us to love others the same way that God loves us.

“Curious”

March 25th

The Bible is a curious book. Although it is God’s word, it was written by human beings. It is a compendium of different writings, styles and authors, written over thousands of years. It includes great mythical aspects describing the origin of the universe and mundane genealogies. There is no single, original copy of the text but there are enough sources to provide a reliable, accurate rendition of what was first penned. Dozens of writers contributed to the contents but none of them ever intended their works to be gathered together as they were in the Bible. It is written from different perspectives, in different styles, serving different purposes and, as a result, seems disjointed or even self-contradicting.
Clearly, the Bible is not your typical “read”. It’s not like a novel with a clear plot line that can’t be put down until its final denouement. It is not a guide-book or an instruction manual to be followed literally. It isn’t an encyclopaedia to be referenced when a particular fact is needed. It is a collection of history, myth, Spiritual truths, laws, songs, lament, advice, prophecy, advice, wisdom, warning and encouragement that calls for careful, devoted reading and study.
Despite these challenges, the message of the Bible is clear: God cares for humanity deeply, and despite the way we often frustrate, annoy or ignore our Creator, our Creator never gives up on us. God loves us too much to ever abandon us, a truth revealed in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s own child.
For the person of faith, the Bible is required reading. It is the only way to understand our Creator and where we fit into Creation. It is not, however, an easy thing to read. It needs to be studied carefully, taking into account not just that it is a human expression of God’s story, but that it is very much a product of the historical period in which it was written. Thus, it requires careful interpretation and discernment. It calls for the wisdom of other readers and the guidance of wise mentors.
The Bible is a curious book. If read carefully, regularly, and prayerfully, it is our greatest source of instruction, information and guidance for living a life that honours God, and allows us to love others the same way that God loves us.

“Discipline”

February 18th

Growing up in a Roman Catholic household meant the season of Lent was taken very seriously. Lent begins forty-six days before Easter and is marked by the sombre ceremony of Ash Wednesday. The Ash Wednesday ceremony involves placing ashes on one’s forehead as a reminder that we were made from dust and that we will one day return to dust. From that moment until the Easter celebration, people are called to reflect on their own sin and how they have fallen short of God’s expectations of them.
Along with this sombre period of reflection, a personal sacrifice is often performed. This usually consists of giving up something one cherishes, a small but noteworthy effort that points to Jesus’ even greater sacrifice. This year I’ll be giving up Chocolate for Lent. This might not seem like a big deal, but when you consider that whenever I make coffee at home, I substitute a spoon of sugar with a spoon of Chocolate powder, you realize that it’s a significant part of my daily routine. It’s such a part of who I am that it will be a big enough challenge not to automatically open the cupboard and reach for the Nestlé’s Quick canister.
Sacrificing something for Lent might seem a little bit over the top, and I’ll admit, sometimes I wonder if it’s too much, but it always boils down to one word for me: discipline. Discipline is a rigid practice; it’s also a way of making amends for having blown it. As a human being, I know I’ve made countless mistakes without realizing it. None of them might seem huge, but they are still sins, still ways I’ve let God down. Easter is all about God’s grace and mercy and Christ’s self-sacrifice that allows for our forgiveness. So, for me to prepare for understanding and celebrating that gift fully, Lent is discipline I take seriously. It’s a time fo reflect on my part in Christ’s crucifixion, and to make a sacrifice that helps me to be more disciplined in my prayerful pondering on God’s great love for me despite my shortcomings.
This practice of sacrifice and reflection isn’t for everybody. If you weren’t raised in a household that practices Lent faithfully, it might be hard to understand, but the underlying discipline of prayer and calling oneself to account should be straightforward. As people of faith that believe Jesus died for our sins, it’s important to remember that we continue to sin and that we must continually seek God’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit’s help to do better. For me, the discipline around Lent helps me deal with my sin throughout the year. How about you? How do you acknowledge your own sin? What discipline do you practice to reflect on the fact that Jesus not only died for us, He also died because of us?

“Arrogance”

February 11th

arrogance (n.)
“a manifest feeling of superiority of one’s worth or importance, combined with contempt of others”
Some of my colleagues in Ministry have expressed their disgust at those who pass themselves off as Christians yet demonstrate nothing of Christ in their lives. I’ve wondered myself about so-called followers of Jesus who seem to think that following Him means doing the exact opposite of what He either modelled or called for. The “Christian Right” or Evangelical Christians (or at least a certain number of them) have tainted the world’s view of our faith and have largely embarrassed the rest of us. Not that we’re perfect, by any means, but there is something about them that rubs everyone the wrong way.
I was wondering about what it is that sets them apart, or why it is that they are so irritating to many, and suddenly one word came to mind: Arrogance. That’s it! The perfect word. Arrogance connotes a sense of superiority and contempt of others and that’s exactly the attitude of many less-than-Christlike Christians. Another way of looking at it is that it’s all about them: they have the answers, they have the wisdom, they have God’s ear in a way that the rest of us don’t. Coupled with an outrageous and misguided sense of nationalism, it leads to an attitude that is racist, anti-LGBTQ and xenophobic. In other words, their arrogance makes them anything but Christ-like.
Jesus had some pretty strong opinions. He didn’t hold back when he called the Jewish leaders and ruling class to account but did have great compassion for everyone. When someone came to Him in need or seeking guidance, He helped them, regardless of who they were. Whether it was a woman sneaking up from behind or a rich ruler with nothing to lose, Jesus dealt with them patiently and kindly. Not everyone accepted His wisdom or healing, but no-one was ever rejected by Him.
To be Christian is to follow Jesus humbly. It means loving others whether or not others deem them worthy or not. Through Christ’s eyes, everyone is worthy; we are superior to no-one. We are all equal, created in God’s image, as was Jesus, God’s Son. To see a neighbour, friend or stranger is to see an image of Jesus, or maybe even God. More importantly, when others look at us, they should not simply see an image of Jesus; they should feel and know His love and compassion. There can be no arrogance in one who follows Jesus truly.