Meditation – What? Me? How?

Image result for christian meditationThis past Sunday we talked about the importance of prayer and meditation in our journey along the Steps To Wholeness.  Those of you familiar with 12 Step groups may recognize this as Step 11.
And during Q&A one of you asked for some tips and suggestions to get started in meditation.
Thank you so much for asking that!  Important question.  Glad you poked for that!!
So…. here goes –
May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD Psalm 104:34
 
Someone wrote that “Christian meditation can be described as a peaceful focus on God.”
It doesn’t have to be hard work.
Neither does it have to follow a set formula.
So don’t get all worried about not getting it right.  Instead, relax, and enjoy the journey and blessings that come with growing closer to your Lord & Saviour through prayer & meditation.
Let me suggest some things about
SETTING
PACE
TOOLS
TECHNIQUE
and then
A WARNING
 
 
SETTING
– A setting that you find peaceful might be totally distracting to me.  Where would be a peaceful place that you could use for regular prayer & meditation? A path in the woods? By your fireplace? At the kitchen table? Coffee shop? Go there.  
 
PACE
Don’t rush.  It’s hard to be intimate with your spouse while saying, “I’ve only got 5 minutes.”  Same here.
TOOLS
– Have a note pad & pen handy.
– Keep your bible open.
Pad & Pen?  You bet! Our spiritual enemy will not be delighted to see us spend time focused on our Lord and Saviour and will try to distract us in all sorts of ways (eg the item that MUST be added to the grocery list RIGHT NOW, the email we should write IMMEDIATELY, the chore that CAN’T wait, etc).  When such an “urgent” item shouts in your mind write it down, so you can deal with it later.  And, by the way, you might well discover that after your quiet time is over, they suddenly don’t seem so compelling any longer.
Bible?  I like to read a Psalm as the beginning of my quiet time; and include a piece from the life of Jesus (the Gospels).  It keeps my thoughts grounded in God’s truth – so critical!
Oh yes, and you might find yourself helped by a book of prayers by a writer that you connect with.
TECHNIQUE
The pattern to follow in meditation will also be very personal.  Perhaps you begin with closing your eyes, paying attention to your breathing to calm down after getting the kids to school, and repeat a simple prayer, or maybe even the name of Jesus – welcoming him.  I suspect most of us will need some way to enter our Quiet Time, putting the rush of daily routine to the side.
There are many patterns to follow – let me suggest one that has been personally helpful.  It involves four steps, based on a daily scripture reading – whatever passage you choose to use – read; meditate; pray; contemplate.
READ – read the passage.  Don’t rush. Don’t skip pieces because you already know the story.  Take your time to let it speak to you – every word of it.
MEDITATE – think about what you just read.  What jumps out at you today? Is there something you didn’t notice before? Wonder – what message are you getting from God’s Word right here, right now?
PRAY – speak to God about what you’ve learned or heard or noticed.
CONTEMPLATE – stop talking, and just BE with the passage and its truth. Be aware that the Spirit of Jesus is right there with you.  This, now, is a bit of time not about content, not about new – just about BEING with your Lord and Saviour.
And then, after that time of four-part reading, a time of prayer.
Based on ACTS – Adoration (praise God), Confession (oops, God I am sorry), Thanksgiving (yes, God, you HAVE heard and answered!), Supplication (i.e. making requests).
 
Finally,
A WARNING…
True Christian meditation is NOT, as some other spiritual traditions might suggest, the emptying of my mind or the goal of losing my identity in order to be united with some cosmic force.
Instead it is me, heart & soul & mind & strength – all of me, inside and out, being open to the Living Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Welcoming the Trinity into my mind, my will, my emotions, my experiences – everything.
To only focus on emptying leaves one, well, empty.  In Luke 11:26 Jesus warns against being spiritually empty inside.  You simply don’t know what sort of “spiritual squatter” will take up residence inside!!
Does that help?
As always, if you want to dig further, feel free to drop me a note.
– Pastor Ken

The Women In Jesus’ Life: An Adultress… Q&A feedback

Last week’s teaching from John 8 got a few of you thinking, and digging into your bibles.
Which is SO awesome!  What we do together on Sunday is good and all…. but just the beginning.  There’s always more. Always deeper riches in God’s Word to be explored and treasured.
THANKS for sharing what you found!

The first came in as written Q&A response.  We shared it together during our “open mike” segment of the service.  The writer pointed to Jeremiah 17:13, “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame.  Those who turn away form you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.”
“Maybe Jesus was thinking of this?”

Which got another of you thinking and reflecting and writing.  And sending me the following in an email earlier this week:
Jeremiah’s prayer starts with:
“O Lord, the Hope of Israel.”
Jesus has come; He is the fulfilment of the OT or of the law.
Jewish leaders still hold the Law over Him and others.
They bring the adulteress to Him to see the OT law ‘fulfilled’ or applied.
Jesus rather applies the law of GRACE/LOVE
a. to the leaders: he let’s them decide
as OT leaders their names are being written in the dust, uprooted, written down as
judged not worthy, written off, not written in the book of life
b. to the woman: “You may go, too; sin no more.”
They are all free to go.
This is a visual demonstration of the OT LAW traded in for NT GRACE.
It took Jesus to do that.
Jesus is the Hope of Israel.
We don’t know how the leaders responded after this incident. (There is Nicodemus & others)
We don’t know how the woman responded after this incident.
How will we respond after this incident?
The choice is follow Jesus or keep walking in our past.

So true!
Follow Jesus, and live in his gracious love – and find eternal life.
Or go the way of rules, of judgement and find everything crumbling into dust and disappearing into nothing.
How will we respond?

TWIJL: His Ancestors – Post-sermon conversation @ KCRC

The first message in our new, post-Christmas series, “The Women In Jesus’ Life” was shared this past Sunday at KCRC.  And, there was some open-mike Q&A conversation that followed.  Also, one comment was emailed. You can catch the conversation by clicking on the link below.

But, first the written comment.  Someone wrote in:
“During the sermon it struck me that the Tamar you talked about (from Genesis 38) was a combo of two biblical Tamar’s. Is that possible? Did l hear you say she was raped? That’s not how I read the story.  It seems that her husband and then the other man were terrible, but l don’t see where the Bible tells us she was raped.  It was the Tamar, daughter of David, who was raped by her half brother.  Either way, both women had incredibly difficult lives and l find hope in both of these women’s stories.  The first Tamar had twins, double joy for her pain, one child so to speak for each lousy relationship. And one twin in the lineage of Jesus!!  I was trying to imagine Tamar’s face when she finds this out in heaven. Amazing!   Tamar 2 – we don’t really find what beauty comes from her ashes, but l wonder if she died of her shame? Maybe that’s why Absolom named his daughter Tamar, and the Bible tells us she was very beautiful, (just like her aunt). 
As someone who can identify with Tamar’s story, it helps me remember what while I don’t know why stuff, even very hard stuff, happens, and while I may never know, Jesus does.  And that helps a lot.”

Couple of things by way of response:
A. Thanks for this hugely honest and courageous sharing.  You speak on behalf of a HUGE number of women in churches all across Canada who have, somehow, lived Tamar’s story of abuse and misuse.  I SO thank God for the hope and comfort he is providing you.
B.  You are actually correct in that the Bible doesn’t name the violation of Genesis 38 as “rape.”  Here’s what I was thinking when I named it as such – the surrogate husband was asked to stand in and perform the act of a husband, to father a child in the dead man’s name. He agrees (maybe with a smile on his face). He beds Tamar, but knowing full well he’s NEVER going to do what he is supposed to do.  Takes the privilege and pleasure, without fulfilling his responsibility.  Call it what you will, I suppose – rape, incest, assault.  Something. Just plain evil and wrong!

 

When DID all this stuff happen?… some post-sermon Q&A from KCRC

A question came in after last Sunday’s message.  Got handed to me after the service……
“John 19:31 indicates that the Jews wanted those crucified to be dead and off the crosses because the next day was a special Sabbath (a high day), the Passover Sabbath.  Does that mean it was most likely not a real Sabbath?”
Thanks for asking.
There are, actually, a number of things that are a little fuzzy around the timing, etc of Jesus’ death on the cross, and how that related to Passover.
And that of the Sabbath is but one question.
For example, the meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples in the upper room, out of which the Lord’s Supper came – was that a real Passover meal, or not?  How is it that he ate on Thursday evening, but the Passover didn’t seem to begin until the Friday?
How does the timing of Jesus’ crucifixion compare to the slaughter of the Passover Lamb in the Temple, especially in light of Mark 15, which shows him crucified at 9am, and dying at 3pm?
If you search around you’ll find all sorts of articles pushing this theory and that.
Some are more far-fetched than others.
Interesting reading – but mostly not central to the main point.
Key to everything, the real main point, is that Christ is our ultimate Passover Lamb. Scripture is ever so clear about that (1 Corinthians 5:7).  It speaks over and over about Jesus as the Lamb who was slain to take away the sins of the world (for example – John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 13:8).
Hang on to that.
Believe that with all your heart.
Trust that to be true – your sins, and those of the world, forgiven because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.  Period.
As for the other stuff, having waded through all sorts of material, here’s the best I can figure…..
1.  the special Sabbath (high day) – yes, it was very much a real Sabbath.  But a special one – just like Easter Sunday for Christians is a special Sunday, but still Sunday.  This Sabbath of John 19 was the Sabbath that fell in the Passover season, and hence deemed more sacred than others.
2.  timing of the Last Supper – Jews who lived in Galilee and other far-flung places away from Jerusalem often celebrated festivals for two days instead of one because of calendar discrepancies that related to the lunar cycle.  The Rabbis insisted that those “from away” should have an earlier and a later celebration, just in case they got their timing wrong – better an extra celebration than being too late.  Some Jews, to this day, celebrate two Seder meals.  I believe that this is what was happening with Jesus and his disciples.
3.  timing of Jesus’ death, as recorded in Mark 15 – historical sources tell us that in the Temple there were two Lambs sacrificed every day, for the sins of the people.  This was known as “the perpetual sacrifice.”  When were they done?  9am and 3pm.  Jesus was crucified with the first sacrifice, at 9am.  He dies at the second sacrifice, at 3pm. He fulfils them both!

Why Do A Seder?

As has become our custom, we at KCRC will prepare for Easter Weekend by celebrating a Seder meal & worship event this coming Sunday at 11AM.  And from time to time people question – “Why bother with this?”

Good question. It DOES seem rather odd – to engage in ritual that is from another time and place and to which we are not really connected.

Except that, well, we ARE connected to it. The Old Testament Story is OUR Story. The grace of God revealed there is the same grace that moves and reveals itself today. What the Lord began among Israel came to fullness in Jesus.
The Seder is the celebration of Passover – THE great meal of God’s Old Testament people, Israel. It represented their freedom from slavery in Egypt. The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb represents their life coming through the death of another. Blood shed for life and freedom.

Throughout the course of the Old Testament “Egypt” came to be a sort of symbol for slavery to sin and disobedience. And the coming of Messiah would bring freedom from this. In the New Testament the book of Hebrews riffs on this image in 3:13-4:11: a picture comparing Israel’s leaving Egypt to Christian’s leaving the life of bondage to sin.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 tells us that Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us – and to celebrate the festival, therefore, with sincerity and truth. Our life comes through his death. Blood shed for life and freedom.

Why do a Seder?
It gets us out of our little “bubble” and reminds us that we are part of a long, deep, marvellously and miraculously RICH True Story of divine grace and mercy and deliverance!

It goes further back than our personal professions of faith or baptisms.
It was there way before the founding of Kemptville Christian Reformed Church.
Way, way before any of our forebearers landed on this continent from wherever.
It’s a Story that began already in the Garden of Eden.
Involving Abraham & Sarah.
And Rachel & Jacob.
And Moses & Miriam.
And David & Bathsheba.
And Joseph & Mary.
And…… us.

It’s the Story of Salvation.
Jesus is at the centre.
As he’ll be while we celebrate the Seder.
Just like believers have done for centuries.
Hope you’ll be able to join us for this annual worship event.

Q&A @ KCRC – on Ham & Canaan; spare the rod; and tongues

There are a couple of questions that were submitted quite some weeks ago.
Growing roots, by now, on my desk.  And begging for a stab at an answer.
Along with one that came in after Sunday.
So….. here we go!
1.  In Gen 10:6 we read that Ham had four sons.  Yet in Genesis 9:25 Noah curses Canaan, Ham’s youngest.  Were only 1/4 of Ham’s descendants cursed?
 
Well, now – you’ve hit on one of the passages of Scripture that’s been the subject of debate for hundreds of years.
Why, exactly, does Noah curse Canaan instead of Ham?
Why only that one of the four boys?
And the answer is…… ready?…….. We don’t know.
Oh, there’s been lots of speculation.  But at the end of the day, we just don’t know.
It’s one of those very densely compacted stories in Scripture.  Just the basic outline is told to us.
Was it a curse that was prophetic in nature – with Noah seeing that Canaan and his descendants would take on the worst of their father Ham’s characteristics?
Had Canaan participated, somehow, with Ham in dishonoring Noah?
Some bible scholars write L-O-N-G essays attempting to explain it all.
And, sometimes, the longer the essay on a complex text, the more suspicious you ought to be.
At the end of the day, we simply don’t know.
Just this – for some reason of sin and corruption, there was a curse.  And a sub-group humanity subjected to a slavery.
That’s all we know for certain.
Sorry, wish I could tell you more.  But it would all be “perhaps” and “maybe.”  No more.
2.  “Spare the rod and spoil the child” – where’s that from? What is the “rod”?  What impression might this leave to people checking out the Christian faith?
That exact quote itself is not found in Scripture.  It is a take-off from Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”
We may immediately have pictures of beatings with sticks.  But wait!
Where else do you recall reading about a “rod”?
What VERY famous Psalm – which is often recited in hard times?
Psalm 23:4, of course.  “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Huh?
How do you derive comfort from a beating?
So, “rod” in Hebrew is “shabat.”  Which is the stick used by shepherd.
Sometimes they threw it beyond a wandering sheep – sending it scurrying back to the flock.
Sometimes it was used to ward off wild animals wanting to attack the sheep.
Sometimes it was used to examine the fleece, checking the health of the sheep.
All of which is way different than something flailed to give sheep a whumping.
Sheep were cared for, guided, and kept in line by the rod.
Which gave them comfort.
This text, then, is not proof that the Bible supports or demands corporal punishment.
Rather, it is a call for loving, firm, consistent discipline.
Such discipline can involve correcting, punishing, admonishing, building up, instructing.
And – like the shepherd using the rod – all in loving and appropriate ways.
And THAT will provide security and comfort to children.
That’s the heart of the proverb.
3.  What does “speaking in tongues” mean?  And how do we know when someone is speaking in tongues?
     Speaking in tongues is one of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to the Church to bless believers, encourage those who struggle, and deepen connections between the spirit of a Christian and the  Spirit of Jesus.  It is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12, 13 & 14.  We see an example of it in the story of Pentecost in Acts 2.  The gift of tongues can show itself in different ways – but all have the believer speaking in a language that is not her own native tongue, generally not being aware of the content of what  she is saying.  In Acts 2 the miracle showed in languages that others could understand.  In 1 Corinthians 14:2 & 19 Paul is speaking of a form of the gift which is not naturally understood by people, but requires an accompanying gift of Interpretation – that is, someone to whom the Spirit gives an understanding of what is being said.
        Not every believer receives this gift (1 Corinthians 12:30).  It is a good gift, one for which Paul gives thanks (1 Cor 14:18) and which he uses.  It is not less, nor is it more, than many other gifts that the Spirit gives.  When it is used, like all other gifts, the believer who has it remains in control of it and uses in prayerfully in ways that are edifying and upbuilding to the Body of Christ.
        I give thanks for believers who have that gift, and through whom they and others find encouragement.  And I also give thanks that the days are gone when Reformed churches would deny the active presence of this gift, saying it belonged only to the days of the Apostles.  Let us not say that of ANY of the good gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Instead, let’s be watching for gifts He gives and then encourage & use them faithfully and actively in ways that bring attention and honor to Jesus.
Hey, thanks for the questions.
SO glad that we can be in a community where we can share and discuss and wonder together.
And where we can trust the Spirit of Christ to guide and grow our minds into deeper truth and obedience.

About Satan – And Regret

This past Sunday we shared in part three of our Lent series, “We Were There….”
It gave us a bit of a peek into the life of Judas Iscariot.
And the theme we teased out was “regret.”  Judas couldn’t shake his regret and it led to his suicide.
Had a question and a comment come in as follow-up to the message.
 
Question – “Where was God in Judas’ life?  Where is the connection with the spiritual battle God is leading? His opponent is still powerful, don’t you think? Judas was in the darkness of God’s opponent. We are in danger of being trapped there in our own last battles. Yes?”
This is a challenging question – and I’m not sure we can provide a totally complete answer to it.
For part of the answer lies in the sovereign will of God, which Scripture does not fully reveal to us.  We are privileged to see SOME of what God thinks and does, but not all of it.  As with Revelation 10:4, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said” – there is eternal truth that is not ours to know.  Not in this lifetime, anyway.
Psalm 41:9 says, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”  This seems to be not only David’s personal experience – which occurred during the revolt of Absolom – but also a direct prophetic word about Judas sharing the bread of Passover with Jesus.
And that this, then, is what Jesus references in John 17:12, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.  None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”  Jesus spoke this at the time of the Last Supper, knowing already what Judas would do.  In fact, he knew that early on – John 6:70  “‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!’ He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.
In two places we read of Satan entering Judas:
– Luke 22:3, before Judas went to the Priests to agree to betray Jesus
– John 13:27, when Judas prepared to gather the mob to arrest Jesus
   John 13:2, referring to the same incident as Luke 22, says “the devil had already prompted Judas to betray Jesus.”
 
How, mentally/physically/spiritually/emotionally, that all exactly works we’ll never fully know.
Was is clear is that the Devil somehow came to Judas and prompted/tempted him to betray Jesus.
Judas was not fully and continually demon-possessed.  The devil’s presence came and went, says the Bible.
It is also clear from John 12:6 that Judas was never fully on Jesus’ side.  He was stealing from the fund meant to support Jesus and his disciples.  Cash was more important than commitment.  In that spiritually weak state he was vulnerable to the devil’s temptations (which came in the form of 30 pieces of silver…. more cash).
Seems to me that the more we wander from Jesus, the more vulnerable we are to the Devil’s seductions.  No one who has the Spirit of Jesus within can say “Jesus be cursed” (1Cor.12:3), which is what the Devil is all about.
And so, as Judas wandered, he fell.
Lesson — Want to remain safe?  Stay close, ever oh so  as close as you can, to Jesus.  You can never be close enough.  Others may call that “fanatical.”  I’d rather think of it as “safe” – “safe in the arms of Jesus.”
1 Peter 5:6-11 begins by coaching us to “humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand.”
It tells us that devil is prowling around looking for someone to devour.
The only safe place is right close to the Lord.
Always.
By the way – this is perhaps a good time to put in a plug for our post-Easter series, Soul Revolution.
The bottom line of which will be to help equip us with spiritual training tools that keep believers in that safe space close by the Lord.
Hope you’ll be around for that.
We also got a comment from one of our older members, reflecting on the whole idea of regret.
This person said…..
“My sense/experience is that as I get older that for whatever reason the “regret” voices seem to get louder. 
We older folks have more years to have done things they regret :-(. 
 
And, of course, there are probably all kinds of psychological reasons why some of us have a harder time quieting those regret voices.  
But those voices are real and loud.
 
I wonder if our “head” Protestant Christianity makes it harder for us to genuinely receive and experience the fully satisfying forgiveness that comes through Jesus. We live in our heads. We read our Bibles silently. We pray in our heads. We agree with theological ideas in our heads. 
But I wonder if regret goes beyond just the head, into our heart.
 
And maybe letting go of regret needs something beyond just a head statement.
I wonder if we’ve lost something by giving up confession to a pastor or another trusted believer, verbalizing our “regrets,” and hearing personally the assurance of forgiveness.  
 
Call it “penance” or whatever – have we lost something by not doing it?  Not penance to make up for the wrong we’ve done, not earning some favour, but as an expression of repentance.  Maybe even in the context of Lord’s Supper where in some communities believers walk forward to receive the presence of Christ and his forgiveness in bread and wine?
 
I’m not explaining it well in these few words, but I somehow wonder if getting further out of my “head Christianity” will also move me further or more deeply away from the haunts of my “regrets.” 
Thank you for this very real and honest sharing.
Actually, I think you explain things VERY well in your few words!
Our Creator calls us to love him (and neighbor) with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength (Mark 12:30).  So – when we have times that we fail and the regret begins to build, why should we think that all we need is a quick word to our mind and everything will be dealt with.
What you are hinting at makes sense – healing of regrets, and forgiveness, needs to touch the heart, and go deep into the soul, and even involve our “strength” (i.e. body).  Physical acts are part of that.  Relationships with other believers (heart stuff) can help. And spiritual rituals can sometimes touch the soul in ways nothing else can.
Worth exploring, I think!
Thanks to both of you for asking and sharing.
If others of you have thoughts, feel free to share them here in the comments section.

Say WHAT? Aren’t there more rules to Christian living than THAT?

Good afternoon everyone.

This past Sunday (February 7) we finished the four-part series, “Does The Bible Really Say That?“.
We were exploring issues around rules and regulations and customs and practices which we encounter.
Are there times when we can confidently say, “All Christians Should….
Does the Bible really say that?

The message was posted here on the PKN blog yesterday, along with the study guide.

Two questions came in, continuing the conversation.
Here they are, along with some of my thoughts by way of response.
If you have any comments you’re welcome to post them.

Thanks for submitting, reading, and sharing the journey of learning in faith and growing as apprentices of Jesus!

Question 1
I’m wondering – the message seems somewhat incomplete. The Bible clearly identifies things that are sinful or wrong. And we are called to mutual accountability. What about Matthew 18:15-20? Are you suggesting “anything goes”?

Question 2
I agree, you cannot judge others. BUT does God not also say that if what you do causes distress to a fellow Christian you should NOT do that?

Good questions. You’re poking at some of the contours and edges of the issue. Asking questions that I’m sure a bunch of other people were probably thinking. Glad you did!

So, let’s get started…..

Question 1
I’m wondering – the message seems somewhat incomplete. The Bible clearly identifies things that are sinful or wrong. And we are called to mutual accountability. What about Matthew 18:15-20? Are you suggesting “anything goes”?

Matthew 18:15-20 talks someone “sinning against you.” And about the power of community in calling each other to the kind of life that Jesus wants his followers to live.
How would you define such a lifestyle? What are the “bones” that give it shape?
We mentioned them on Sunday.
They are simple.
There are two of them – that look remarkably alike.
(see Mark 12; Matthew 22; Luke 10)
And everything else grows out of them.
a. Love God with all you’ve got.
b. Love others like yourself.

Practice these…
…And repeat.
Which is far from an “anything goes” way of living.

Here, too, is where the problem often comes.
Religious people look at these two and feel uncomfortable.
Because they are rather general in nature. We tend to be more comfortable with specifics.
The New Testament lists a few examples of what “Love God/Neighbor” living looks like. Surprisingly few, actually. Especially when compared to ancient Jewish religion, where there were over 600 catalogued laws and rules believers had to follow. To the letter.
So what happens over time is that religious communities begin to take certain ways of doing things that may be good, very good even, and start writing them up as non-negotiable. Matters that, if you really pushed and dug, were more issues of culture or custom. Certainly not God-ordained non-negotiables.

The New Testament Church had to wrestle with this question – Can we impose what happens to be the custom of our particular practices on all believers? On Sunday we peeked in listed some of the conflicts they experienced (check out Acts 15:19-21 along with Galatians 2:10, and Romans 14:1-8, and Colossians 2:16).

The Church today still wrestles with it. Issues that turn out to be more matters of culture or custom, and not matters of Loving God/Neighbor and all that grows out of that. It’s amazing how much we can lay the hammer, so to speak, to another person over issues like:
– do you wear jeans to church, or a tie?
– is worship to be on Sunday, or could you go on Saturday?
– may you drink wine, or should you abstain?
– can we read from this or that version of the Bible in Church?
– should I practice fasting (especially in Lent)
– may I cross myself while praying? Raise hands? Kneel?
– what about burning incense? What if the incense is sweetgrass?
– may First Nations people use their drum in worship?

Our default tendency is to over-tighten the regulations.
Declaring our custom or culture to be THE right way.
Grace, New Testament version, has much wider boundaries than we might care to admit.


Question 2

I agree, you cannot judge others. BUT does God not also say that if what you do causes distress to a fellow Christian you should NOT do that?
Two thoughts on this –
a. Yup, fully agree with you. We don’t want to cause distress to another person. That’s a key part of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I am responsible for my fellow believer. And if there’s something I’m doing that is truly crippling their faith, and drawing them away from Jesus, I had better NOT be doing that right under their nose. Love demands that.  Jesus calls me to that!

b. However (ah yes, isn’t there always one of these?) – over the years I’ve seen people use this call from Romans 14:13 as a “club” they use to beat down people with other points of view. “You’re causing me to stumble, and so you have to stop…… x / y / z.”

And when you listen for a while it doesn’t take long to see that it really isn’t a matter of Bob doing something that is causing Jacob’s faith to be shaken and crippled. It’s just that Jacob doesn’t like what Bob is doing. And starts bad-mouthing it. And uses this verse as a power tactic to try and control Bob.   Worship wars are classic examples of where this happens.

In which case I’ve had to go to people like Jacob and gently encourage them to keep reading in Romans 14 all the way down to verse 16 – “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.”

Just because I may not like something doesn’t make it wrong. And I need to learn to speak with care and to hold my tongue about something that may be near and dear to another believer. That, too, is part of “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In both cases it is easy to become all fixated on the particular habit or behaviour and to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Romans 14 continues by telling us that the Kingdom of God is about “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification…” (v.17-18)

Again, keep the big picture.
Live with generous helpings of grace.
Recognize the broad boundaries of Christ’s kingdom, especially in matters of custom and culture.
Hey, I’m sure that not every angle got covered in these thoughts.
So, if anyone has further nuggets to add to the conversation, love to hear it.

Faithbusters: Stuff…….. post-sermon Q&A

So, a question came in via email about last Sunday’s message.
You might remember that we talked about what I believe to be the most dangerous of all Faithbusters at large here in Canada.
Namely,  STUFF.
Obsessing about it,  wanting lots of it,  protecting our stuff…  All that sort of thing can quickly begin to dominate our energy,  and suck up all available passion from within our souls.
If you didn’t get a chance to hear it,  the podcast is posted here at Pastorkensnotes.com
As is the study guide.
So,  to the question :
North American culture fosters students to excel in creativity, purpose, results. When they are knowledgeable in their field there is money to be made and wealth can show in home and on the yard. Does your sermon not discourage effort with a reward and compel people to do a half hearted job in order to be obedient to the wealth teaching of the New Testament?
Thanks for thinking about it, and for asking.
I’m sure there are more than one person asking the same thing.
So – could this teaching actually be a de-motivator for work and honest effort?
There is an assumption built into this question.
Did you notice it?
It is this:
the greatest reward,  the incentive that counts, the carrot at the end of the stick which keeps us moving forward in our training and work,  be it in our paid careers or otherwise, is accumulated wealth. 
A healthy bank account. 
A big home. 
A beautiful yard. 
These things keep us doing our best at work.  
Take away those rewards,  says this assumption, and there’s no real reason to get up and get going.
Do you believe that?
Or – might there be another way to stay motivated?
Might there be some other reason to get up and work each day?
What do you think?
I just got back from a short prayer retreat at the Divine Mercy Centre in Lanark.
Got to spend some time with my new friend, Brother Willy,  founder of the community.
Last night Willy shared his testimony with me and my buddy Shawn.
Willy gave up a multi-million dollar career to found this centre.
He had it all –  cars,  dollars,  parties,  etc.
But had a near-death experience through which the Lord showed him that these things,  while OK in their proper place,  are
             NOT what life is about;
             NOT why you are given talents and abilities and opportunities.
Reality is WAY bigger than that.
Life –  and all we have in it – is a gift from God.
We are entrusted with it,  and called to serve him through it.
As such, we are called to do whatever we do,  as if the only one watching us,  were the Lord himself.
So – care for his  Creation.
Love his people.
Seek to bring a smile to his face.
And, while you’re at it, imagine that Christ were cheering you on.
Imagine him watching your Monday-Friday, nodding with approval,  and saying “well done!”
Let THAT be your motivation.
After his encounter with death,  and being given a glimpse of the vast reality that exists beyond death,  Willy realized that he hadn’t  cared at all if he were breaking Christ’s heart through his business practices; that it had been all about Willy.  He realized that this had to change….  NOW!
Well, it HAS changed… totally.
Willy now seeks to spread the mercy of Christ through the community he leads.
And finds his joy in that.
He knows,  through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit,  that the Lord is pleased with what he does.
THAT is his motivation to get up each morning.
Does he have less stuff?  Yup.
Enough? Oh yes. Manna shows up all the time.
Is he happy?
One look in his eyes answers that.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of talents.
Opportunities and resources are entrusted to some servants by their master.
After a time the master calls the servants to account.
He praises those who gave their all,  and used their stuff, in his service.
You and I are those servants.
My bank account,  your car,  the job with influence, the people we come to know at work and elsewhere…  These are opportunities and resources entrusted to us by our Heavenly Master.
Can we see that?
And deal with them accordingly?
Can THAT be our motivation to find joy in the work,  to do our best,  to serve well?
Can we follow the call of Colossians 3:23-24, which says:
 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
I think that if the big reason we go to work is to fatten the bank account,  or secure the bigger mortgage, or drive the nicer car,  maybe it’s time to quit.
Or maybe go spend a weekend at Willy’s. And hear his story.
Be blessed, friends, as you bring a smile to Jesus’ face this week!
May it be your motivating joy.

Faithbusters: Broken Bodies (post-sermon Q&A)

This past Sunday we were exploring some of the factors that we all experience in our bodies and minds and discovering how they can affect the shape and health of our faith.

A couple of questions came up during Q&A:

  1.  Are we aware enough of the power of singing for keeping the devil at a distance?  Memorizing and singing a psalm, hymn or spiritual song at the time of an attack chases him away.
  2. In the Bible, God’s voice is heard in judgement (like Adam & Eve, or David & Bathsheba).  Yet his voice is silent in suffering (like Job, Paul’s thorn in his flesh).  Why the difference?

Thanks for asking and, in doing, enriching the conversation.
So…..

1. Are we aware enough of the power of singing for keeping the devil at a distance?  Memorizing and singing a psalm, hymn or spiritual song at the time of an attack chases him away.
So glad you raised this.  Couldn’t agree with you more.  Indeed, music and song are emotionally and spiritually powerful.  They are the language of the soul.  Which is why, I believe, one of the first places that the Devil tries to get a community of believers to start fighting is…. about music.   It’s highly effective, because of the power  in song.
         I’ve also seen struggling, anxious people find a real measure of peace from listening to music in a genre that speaks to them.
A biblical example of this is the troubled King Saul of Israel.  Who suffered severe paranoia, and associated emotional & mental problems.  His servants brought in David to bring calm to the King (1 Samuel 16).

Christian music can give new courage and hope when we are floundering.
It reaches deep into our being, beyond immediate circumstances.  And beyond whatever blocks the mind can erect.
It helps us praise God as almost nothing else can do.
That’s also why I am SO strong on congregational singing in worship.  Not just a concert where the band plays, and a few on stage sing.  But – everyone singing.  New stuff.  Oldie-but-goodies.  Ancient music.  Together as a community.  Where we can hear each other sing.  And share the experience.  When we do, we are pouring medicine and encouragement into each other.
I’m grateful to be part of a church community that can and does sing – from the bottom of their heart.
Thank you, Lord!

2.  In the Bible, God’s voice is heard in judgement (like Adam & Eve, or David & Bathsheba).  Yet his voice is silent in suffering (like Job, Paul’s thorn in his flesh).  Why the difference?

I appreciate you pointing out that God’s voice comes out at times in Judgement.  Like the examples you list.  And others, of course.  But there are times where God does not raise his voice in judgement.

AS well as times when God DOES raise his voice in comfort.  Think of the coming Christmas season, when we’ll all be quoting Isaiah 40, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”  Or the words of God’s angel – remember the first words spoken just about every time an angel appears to someone?  “Fear not.”  Or so much of Jesus’ presence and ministry on earth – yes, there is judgement spoken to the ruling elite.  But there is deep comfort and compassion in his voice spoken to the struggling and suffering.  I would dare say that the Son of God was more about speaking comfort than judgement.  Which, perhaps, is what is behind the Holy Spirit inspiring St. James to write “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”  (James 2:13).

May we be agents of mercy and healing for brothers and sisters, whose damaged bodies and minds are causing pain and struggle in their faith lives.