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

Janelle’s Birthday, Red, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and My Impact in the World

February 6, 2016. Janelle’s Birthday, Red, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and My Impact in the World. Today my oldest granddaughter Janelle turned twenty—two decades! When I was twenty, I went back to Holland to rediscover my past and my future (see my post of January 28, Rootless No More). So I thought about “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.” Last night, I went to see the play Red by John Logan at Theatre Aquarius in downtown Hamilton. I read the review “Red: It’s about more than art,” by Gary Smith in the Hamilton Spectator (The Spec) and decided to go because he said that this play “makes you question why we’re here.”

As we engage the play, we witness the anguish of the artist Mark Rothko as he harangues and rails at his assistant, an artist-wannabe. Rothko is painting a set of canvases for a trendy and expensive new Four Seasons restaurant in New York and getting paid handsomely for it. But he is fearful for the future. Will his paintings still move the viewers when he’s gone, or will rich people buy a painting because it “goes with their couch”? Will they think about his art in the restaurant or use its presence as an affirmation of their own riches and importance and snobbishness? Has he as an artist sold out as Picasso did, signing menus in restaurants, and as Warhol did painting soup cans? Will future artists sniff at his kind of abstract impressionist art? Will his “red” be eventually swallowed up by his “black”? The play did what Gary Smith said it would: it made me look inside myself to see what I’m living for. Well, I’m not living for the kind of fame or recognition that Picasso got. No-one has yet asked me for my signature (if want it, bring your own pen) nor am I producing art to make a deep impression. But I do want a legacy, the kind that Jesus told us we should be working for: Don’t store up treasures for yourself on earth but in heaven, for where your treasure is, there will be your heart. You could turn that around and say that “where your heart is, there is your treasure.” My heart—totally, I pray—is set on God and then on my family, wife, children, grandchildren and with all the other roots and branches. Daily faithfulness in our ongoing relationships and tasks is what we need; daily faithfulness in the small ordinary stuff of every day.

But what we do daily is really part of something bigger (see my summary of February 3, “The Last Word on Politics”). That’s what I took from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This past week, I watched both the 1981 BBC version (194 minutes) and the 2005 Touchstone-Disney version (109 minutes). I read the book years ago. A very ordinary British man, Arthur Dent, lies down in front of a bulldozer to save his house from being razed to the ground to build an expressway. His friend Ford Prefect comes to take him to the pub while the bulldozer crew’s foreman takes his place on the ground. Fortunately, Ford Prefect is not really British; he is actually an alien from the vicinity of Betelgeuse and has been pretending to be an out-of-work actor. Ford has come to save Arthur from the destruction of earth that is to happen in about twelve minutes because someone in the galaxy—who turns out to be Zaphod Beeblebrox—has ordered the destruction of earth’s galaxy for the building of a hyperspace express route. Arthur and Ford hitch a ride on a Volgon spaceship and travel throughout the universe using the Hitchhiker’s Guide and a Babelfish in their ears that automatically translates all brain waves it gets into human language. They have a snack in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe as they search for “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.” They finally hear this question asked of the smartest computer ever built. After thinking for seven million years, the computer tells them the answer is 42. When they want to know what the question really meant, the computer confesses it does not know but will construct an even smarter computer that will figure out the answer. They visit the computer-building workshop and see planets under construction. At the end of their journey, they find themselves on this new planet and discover that it is the reconstructed earth—given a second chance, as I see it, to figure out the meaning of life and the meaning of our own lives.

What do I take from all of this? I need to use the wisdom God has given me and the rest of his people to figure out what the real question is and what the right answer is. As Ecclesiastes puts it, “Of making many books and movies there is no end, and it can weary your body and your soul. But here is the conclusion of the whole matter: Honour God and do his will, which is to love God and love your neighbours; that is what it means to be human.”

Shape your thoughts and your deeds by that invitation and experience joy!