TrueCity 2: Apprentices Cultivating Jesus’ Character

2016 February 27. True-City 2: Apprentices Cultivating Jesus’ Character.

Saturday at the TrueCity Hamilton conference continued the theme of being an apprentice learning from the Master, Jesus. If I want to learn from the Master, I have to become like him.

The main speaker, Chris Schoon, pastor of First Christian Reformed Church in Hamilton, reminded us that God says in 1 John 2:2-6: “anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.” There is grace in that: I don’t have to be like other people, only like Jesus. Chris Schoon gave us three snapshots that show how we can cultivate the character of Jesus in ourselves. Mind you, this does not happen overnight but it is a journey I have begun and will carry on to the end of my life. I’m on a life-long pilgrimage.

Scene 1: Dying and Rising with Jesus. Philippians 2 tells us to have the same mindset as Jesus did. Jesus was the highest in the universe, equal with God, but he did not hang on to that position for his own selfish purposes. He lowered himself to become human, submitted to John’s baptism, spoke to people in the dregs of society, and even let himself be put to death on a cross. Because of that, God raised him to become the ruler of all things. During his life on earth, he gave signs of this new life in raising Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus and healing many. In the same way, I need to be humble and show that I have become new person in Christ by bringing grace and healing and reconciliation in my relationships and my sphere of influence.

Scene 2: Abundance in Community. In Ephesians 4:1-16, God tells us that we are not alone. In fact, all of his people form one unity, one body, in which each of us plays a role. We become like Jesus when we show in our actions that we belong together and we find the full measure of this when we work together in service. Even Jesus did not work alone. He got twelve apprentices (disciples) to learn his ways and help him. He even took three of them along to the Mount of Transfiguration, the high point of his life on earth, and to Gethsemane, the lowest point. Our unity is based on being conformed to Christ, not being uniformly like each other; each one of us retains our uniqueness. “Each person is a once-in-eternity expression of God’s love and faithfulness to the rest of God’s creation.” We can experience this unity best when we join with people different from us, as in True City and in welcoming the “others” who are not “like” us.

Scene 3: Jesus Love Lives Among Us. 1 John 4:9-17 tells us that God loved us so much that he gave us Jesus; that’s why we should love each other. That is the evidence that God lives in us. In fact, “his love [for the world] is made complete in us.” When we become like him in this world, then we will have confidence on the day of judgment.

Then Chris left me with two questions: (1) How am I doing in growing to be like Jesus, and (2) am I willing to live with the right and the responsibility to love others as Jesus loved me. That’s where my apprenticeship to the Master is meant to lead me.

By God’s grace, I’ll get there.

P.S. You can learn more about Chris Schoon from his blog at http://christopherjschoon.com/

TrueCity Hamilton, Heaven & Earth, and Apprentices for Jesus

2016 February 26. True City, Heaven and Earth, and Apprentices for Jesus. Tonight I returned from the opening evening of the True City Hamilton annual conference pumped about True City and the opening talk.

True City Hamilton is a movement of congregations that work together for the good of the city. These churches work together on specific projects such as www.RideforRefuge.com to raise money to help refugees, homeless people, and victims of trafficking. The program Backpacks provides back-to-school kits for students in need. Christmas Hampers does what it says (as we all should). Churches also meet regularly to learn from each other and share ideas. The annual conference recharges our batteries and lets us enjoy each other’s company.TrueCity Hamilton

Kevin Makins, six years into a growing church plant, gave a wonderful talk on what it means to be disciples of Jesus. Actually, he said, people nowadays have no idea what “disciples” means: they think anyone with “disciples” is leading a cult – BAD!! Instead, let’s call them “apprentices.” Sounds good: we’re learning how to work like Jesus. He’s the Master, we’re the apprentices, and he’s teaching us how to show people the way to heaven, or better stated, the way to the kingdom of God.

Now heaven, said Kevin Makins, is not some other place outside of earth and unconnected to earth. The ancient Jews, and Jesus, knew that heaven and earth overlapped. Earth is a physical place while heaven is a spiritual place that overlaps earth. Think of two circles that overlap each other. When Jacob saw a vision of a staircase with angels going up from earth and back down from heaven, that staircase showed the overlap of heaven and earth. The tabernacle and the temple showed the overlap as well—the place where God and humans met. When Jesus came to earth, he was the overlap, being God and human both at the same time.

We Christians recognize this overlap when we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In fact, if we truly believe, we are also part of the overlap between heaven and earth. When Jesus returns at the end of time, heaven will come down to earth and the two will overlap completely. Those who die before the end of time are taken up completely into heaven temporarily, but at the end, their physical bodies will be raised as renewed bodies and will be part of the united heaven and earth.

Now when we’re saved, we are not just saved FROM sin and alienation from God, but we are saved FOR God and FOR Jesus and FOR bringing others into the presence of Jesus by showing them God’s love and grace just as Jesus did. The Master has called us to be his Apprentices. We gather on Sundays not just to get fed and to enjoy and consume the experience, but to be fed so we can work in the week to come. It doesn’t matter whether we “enjoy” church on Sunday, but whether we worship so we can go out and BE the church all week.

Wood Ducks: My Springtime Beauties

2016 February 21. Wood Ducks. I first saw wood ducks in 1971 when we visited Reiffel Wildfowl Refuge in BC. They were the most beautiful ducks I had ever seen and I still consider them Canada’s most beautiful duck. Now we live in the country in Ancaster, with a pond and woods containing about half beech trees and the rest oak, shagbark hickory, maple, cherry, hop hornbeam (ironwood), and more. One spring morning years ago, I got up and looked out our bedroom window at the pond and the woods. I was astounded to see two ducks walking around about fifteen feet up on the branches of the trees. They were checking around for holes in which to nest. Now I have them coming to visit my pond every year, thanks to my friend Alfie who brought me a duck house. The first year, nothing happened. The next year, a pair of Hooded Mergansers nested and raised a brood of ducklings. The following year it was Wood Ducks and most years since. We usually see the ducks starting in March each year, with sometimes three or four pairs of Wood Ducks and a pair of Hooded Mergansers jockeying for position around the duck house. Usually the Wood Ducks succeed in getting their eggs laid, though not necessarily from a single pair. We have had as many as thirty eggs in the box. My friend Alfie came and took quite a few of them out and brought them to a friend who had a licence and hatched the eggs in an incubator and released them after they had hatched.

To this day, Wood Ducks are my early sign of spring and renewal and of the beauty that God gives us in creation. They inspire me to take as good care of the earth as I can. The picture you see is not one I took, but it shows the kind of duck house I have and two wood ducks in or on it. Enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.

2016 February 17. O Canada! Yet Again. Today the Hamilton Spectator had another letter as follows:

To these politically correct politicians and readers who want to change who we are and what makes Canada Canada, such as readers who want to change the national anthem, just STOP IT!

Well, what am I to think of this sentiment? Am I politically correct? I know many who would say I am not. Is wanting the anthem to stop excluding women being politically correct? I don’t think so. Is Canada only Canada if it reflects the thinking of fifty years ago? I don’t think so. I rather think this is a tempest in a teapot, certainly compared to the debate the country had when a new flag was introduced in 2015, Canada’s first national flag. Before that time, the flag was the Union Jack, British emblem, or the Red Ensign, a modified version of the flag of the British merchant fleet. In the debates about the flag, some wanted to cling to the colonial origins while others fiercely wanted to move past that. Many people told Prime Minister Pearson that he was dividing the country, but Pearson did not STOP IT. The new flag was first flown on 15 February, 1965. (See the Canadian Encyclopedia at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/flag-debate/ for more information on the flag debate.)Flag_of_Canada.svg

Should I continue to sing “True patriot love in all of us command” or should I STOP IT?

Tell me what you think.

Worship: That Is Worthy

2016 February 16. Worship: That Is Worthy. This past Sunday, Diane and I worshipped with my brother and his family at Calvary CRC in Ottawa. (Surprise: my diesel started on at -28.5 degrees!) The ripples in my mind went far afield (as usual).

What is worship? The Old English word is worthscip. It is a word like hardship. Hardship is the experience of something that is hard, and so worship is the experience of something that is worthy. When we worship God on Sunday, we declare that he alone is worthy. As Peterson says, “In worship God gathers his people to himself as center: ‘The Lord reigns’ (Ps. 93:1).” Worship is a meeting at the centre so that our lives are centered in God and not lived eccentrically (off-centre). (You don’t want to be eccentric, do you!?) Rev. Pieter Heerema quoted C. S. Lewis from The Screwtape Letters in which the senior devil advises a young devil how to lead people to fall. He says, in effect, don’t tell people that God lies and don’t tell them not to obey God; only tell them, “you can do it tomorrow.” If people do this, said Heerema, they will move God slightly to the left or to the right, but God will no longer be central. Then they are on their way down.

I need to be aware of this danger, for the minute God is not at the centre of everything in my life, then I am saying, in effect, that he is not the only one worthy of my love; then I am worshipping an idol; then I am not devoted only to him. And my worship in church has to be carried into worship in all of life: my marriage, family, friendships, employment, studies, leisure—everything. The basic question is to what or to whom am I devoting my life. Worship in church is my declaration that God alone is worthy of my love and devotion; life outside of church is my demonstration that I really believe this.

O Canada! Once More!

2016 February 10. O Canada Once More! In today’s Hamilton Spectator, a letter writer commented:

 Why all the hype to change one little word…who is offended? Is this about being politically correct—did someone say the word “sexist”? Oh, come on folks, do you really stay up at night thinking of such insignificant rubbish? With all the overwhelming events surrounding this world of ours, ISIS, Zika, our province drowning in billions of debt, you are worried about one little word? Geesh, people, get a life!

What do you think of this response, my readers? I have to laugh at the thought that I have been “staying up late at night” over “one” little word while ignoring the real problems of this world. By God’s grace, if every person in the world did the equivalent of changing “one little word,” we could make a difference on all the big problems. That’s my life: change something for the better every day. Remember (in the words of the Christian Reformed Church’s pitch to raise funds): When we add all our little changes, God multiplies them to do something big.

O Canada! Again!

2016 February 10. O Canada Again! On February 2, I posted an article about changing the words to our national anthem, “O Canada,” to be more inclusive. A week later, in the Spectator of February 9, the following letter appeared:

Thanks to Herman Proper for suggesting that everyone interested begin using the more inclusive term, “all of us” instead of “all our sons” in the wording of our national anthem, O Canada.

When I became president of the National Council of Women of Canada in 1991, I learned that the NCWC had previously recommended this change—and one other as well—to the government of the day. In the first line of our anthem, we speak of “our home and native land.” For many Canadians, Canada is not our “native” land. Especially at a time when we are welcoming refugees from the Middle East, it would be most appropriate to make an additional change to “our home and cherished land,” the wording proposed by the NCWC several decades ago.

Usually political changes require a groundswell of public support. Perhaps progressive Hamiltonians could lead the way by starting to sing a new version with both inclusive changes, and encourage family and friends to join them.

What do you think? Should we make both of these changes? Actually, let’s sing the anthem this new, more inclusive way!

Unquenchable Love and Ash Wednesday

2016 February 9. Unquenchable Love. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty days of Lent leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ and his Resurrection. Lent is a time to reflect on our own death: that’s what the ashes spread on our foreheads symbolize. As you may know, I’m a student at Redeemer University College. Today, I read the devotion that the chaplain, Deb Roberts, prepared. She gave me permission to share it on my blog. I hope you will be blessed by it as I was. The graphic “The Witness of Fruitful Seasons” is the theme for the academic year.

Unquenchable Love

“… pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love …” 1 Timothy 6:11

It is purely coincidental that this devotional, reflecting on the next object to pursue, love, falls just before February 14th.  That of course is the day when sales of chocolates soar and the price of a dozenFruitful Seasons Graphic red roses triples. Occasions like this are lovely and can bring a bit of happiness in the middle of the winter season.

But what is sometimes surprising is that romantic love is often expressed as how someone else makes a person feel. In a conversation I had with a young man a few years ago he remarked that his soon-to-be fiancé was “right for him.” He seemed a bit startled when I asked if he was right for her. “I hadn’t thought about it like that before” he replied.

And perhaps that is what makes the love Paul is encouraging young Timothy to pursue so different from other expressions of love. This is the agape type of love which is always outward giving, always seeking the best for others. That well-known chapter on agape (I Corinthians 13) that Paul wrote does not describe what agape receives, but what it gives.

The Apostle John, drawing upon the example of the love God demonstrated by sending his Son for us, reminds us that agape is neither an emotion that we feel nor a sentiment that we speak but is lived out in how we act and what we do.

Like faith, this love is only available through our relationship with God who is, and the source of, agape. The love that all human beings desire is only truly fulfilled in the love God invites us to seek in him.

Copyright © 2016 Redeemer University College, All rights reserved.

[Used by permission in this blog.]

All the Gold That’s in This World

February 8, 2016. All the Gold That’s in This World. I love the music of Bruce Cockburn, one of my few favourite artists. I love his conversion song, “All the Diamonds In This World that mean anything to me, are conjured up by wind and sunlight sparkling on the sea.” (Van Morrison also has a song about his conversion called “Full Force Gale,” also a wonderful song.) On 2012 September 5, Diane and I were heading south on the Dempster Highway in Yukon, coming back from Inuvik back to Dawson City. Down the seven-mile hill we went into the widening Ogilvie-Peel valley which was filled with the golden yellow of aspens and poplars. Diane was driving and commented on all the golden colours in the valley. That set my mind to song and I combined the beauty of the scenery with the gold rush and Yukon into the words of this song, based on the tune and idea of Bruce Cockburn’s song of conversion to the Christian faith, “All the Diamonds” (in This World). If you know the tune, you can sing it to yourself.

All the gold that’s in this world,

Has its source in the mother lode.

The Ogilvie-Peel River valley sends

Its gold far afield.

 

Dropping down the seven-mile road,

Gave us vistas of its veins.

They followed the banks of the rivers down

And filled the valley plains.

 

Chorus:

Seasons of gold come every year again,

Gold you can hold only in your heart my friend.

No-one can take it though you can freely lend,

Like all God’s gifts it can grow without end.

 

We moved on and rain did fall,

Though our hearts stayed warm and dry,

The gold will grow again my friend,

From sunshine up on high.

 

For this gold there is no rush,

There’s enough for all to share;

You cannot hold it in your hands,

It won’t cause you any cares.

 

Chorus:

No-one can take it though you can freely lend,

Like all God’s gifts it can grow without end.

Seasons of gold come every year again,

Gold you can hold only in your heart my friend.

 

From the Yukon we’ll soon be gone,

Seasons of our life will pass.

And though my mind may lose its gold,

My heart will hold it fast.

By the time I started driving again, my song was done. The drive back from Inuvik was a rewind of the trip up, with some new points of view and discoveries. Tombstone is the highest point between the two ends of the Dempster Highway, the exact point being where we crossed the continental divide, and therefore the coldest at night and the colours the most beautiful. As we slowly dropped down to the Klondike Highway and Dawson, the red diminished in favour of gold.

May your blood be red as bear-berries and your heart be filled with the gold of God’s love displayed in his treasures to us, better than diamonds and gold.

Serendipity and a Blast from the Past

February 8, 2016. Serendipity and a Blast from the Past. What goes around comes around, and blasts from the past may arise to awaken memories or to bring new connections to things present. Presently my niece Esther is married to Mike Lessard and that happy couple has two kids. This is my present. While looking through my stuff—cleaning up of course, an ongoing task when one scours through the detritus of the past while searching for one’s future—I found a receipt from a trip to Chatham on August 17, 1992. I stopped for a late lunch at 1:32 p.m. at Mike’s Place and was served a haddock dinner by none other than Tammy Lessard. I don’t know what the connection is between Mike and Tammy and Mike Lessard, but the concatenation of names between diner and waitress and my niece’s husband was curious. I’m guessing it was the result of the recent activity of the “infinite improbability drive” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that I read recently. If you know any other reason for the connection, please let me know, even if you think it was mere serendipity. J