Weeping With Those Who Weep

Romans 12:15 calls us to “weep with those who weep.”
And that’s what we’ll be doing on Sunday.
Standing beside a mom who has to watch her child die.
That’s something a number of you have personally experienced.  Or you’ve been close to someone who experienced this horror.
They are experiences we cannot, simply cannot, understand.
They just ARE.
Hard.
Dark.
Jagged.
Puzzling.
Painful.
When God’s Son came into the world, his becoming fully one with us in it includes this huge piece of suffering.
We’ll stop on Sunday and feel that.
Without any sort of great logical discussion about the why’s and what’s of it all.
Just stop.
Sharing the moment.
And praying for those whose lives continue to be impacted by such chapters of pain.
We will ALSO take a little peek forward – to something that Mary couldn’t see from her vantage point at the foot of the cross.  We’ll go forward three days.  To an event that changed absolutely everything!   And gives hope to all who struggle.  To Mary.  And to us.
Psalm 30 says, “Weeping may last for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
It comes on Easter Morning most of all.
But the journey to Easter begins at the cross.
With the weeping.
And  only BECAUSE of that, could Easter happen.
And only THEN could it be possible for the words of Romans 8  to be written:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?… 
…Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And only with THAT hope can we possibly face the hard struggles that life may have thrown, and may well yet throw, in our direction on this side of Heaven.
Please pray with with for those who grieve, and rage against the pain and scars in their life.  And join us at KCRC this Sunday as we journey to the cross – with Mary (see John 19:16-27).

Something Special For Lent

         Over the next few weeks we at KCRC will get the opportunity to “taste” a practice that the “patron saint” of Reformed churches, John Calvin, wished the church of his day would use, but didn’t quite get to experience.
        Calvin, in his “The Institutes Of The Christian Religion” writes how important the Lord’s Supper is as a divinely-ordained means for our souls to be fed with the shed body and blood of Christ.  He was passionate that the then-common custom of celebrating Lord’s Supper once a year  was insufficient.  Not even quarterly was enough, he said.  Calvin argued for believers to come to the Table “at least once a week.
        More and more Reformed congregations are moving towards adopting Calvin’s call, making the celebration of the Lord’s Supper a part of weekly worship, along with the weekly prayers, singing, reading of God’s Word, and preaching – praying, as they do, that the Holy Spirit would empower the gatherings and render them spiritually effective.
        This year we’ll be doing weekly Communion throughout the season of Lent.  Reminding ourselves through these coming weeks of the Amazing Grace Sacrifice of Jesus – for us!  And praying, as we do, that the Holy Spirit would fill and nourish our souls with the power and Presence of Jesus Christ.

Anything, Lord, I’ll do anything for you…… really?

Have you ever watched a child throw a temper tantrum?
Just watched. The assumption being that you, dear reader, NEVER threw one yourself.
Right?  😉

And I’ve wondered this week:
– Who teaches them how to behave this way? What causes this behaviour?
– And why is there such remarkable consistency among kids in how they do them?

I’ve also begun to wonder, do we ever really get past the urge to throw a tantrum once in a while?
What does it take for that to happen?
What do we need to overcome this ranting and raving because we don’t get what we want, or expect, or think we deserve?

Got to thinking about that as I read the story of Mary being visited by the angel, and told that she’s been chosen to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38).

Most painting I’ve seen of this even show a calm, peace-filled woman in a posture of acceptance.
Then I re-read the text a little more carefully.
And I’m not so sure that it really was all like that.
It reads more like she really struggled at the beginning.
Like she had to overcome some significant obstacles, before getting to the point of being willing and able to say the famous words, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

I wonder if I could say that were my life to take a sudden left-turn?
How about you?
What would it take for you and me to get to the point where we could pray, “Anything, Lord. I’m ready to do anything for you”??

Worth pondering this Advent season?

God’s grace and peace be with you.
Pastor Ken

Willy, always go!

So, recently I went on a prayer retreat with a couple of pastor buddies.
We landed at a retreat centre run by a certain “Brother Willy.”
Along the way, Willy shared his remarkable testimony, how the Lord spared him through a fatal heart attack, where he was clinically dead for some 30 minutes, and granted visions of life beyond the grave, then sent back to serve Christ.
He quit his million dollar career, and with vows of simplicity now runs the retreat centre.
As part of his story Willy shared that a spiritually life-saving link in his story was the admonition given to him by his grandmother.   He said, “I didn’t really like it – but she was my grandmother and I was raised to respect her.  So, if she said it, I would do it.  Period.
Willy’s grandmother approached him before he immigrated from Germany to Canada and said, “Willy, whatever you do, always go to church.  If you believe, go.  If you don’t believe, go.  If you feel close to Jesus, go.  If you feel no love for him at all, go.  Always, go.”
Willy, when you wander from God’s path, still go.  Go, sit in the back row, where the sinners sit.  And soak in the prayers and songs of the people.  Let them carry you.”
Willy did as he was told.
Wherever his high rolling lifestyle as an executive in the exotic meat industry took him, Willy ALWAYS attended worship.  For years not believing.  But wanting to honor his grandma.
He looks back on it now and realizes that it was life-saving advice.
While he wasn’t so inclined, the prayers of the other who DID believe propped up his soul  and kept it from shrivelling to dust.  And the songs of faith stirred the smallest of embers in his heart.
And it was then into that soul that the Lord came with a powerful miracle.
And the Holy Spirit blew into a roaring flame the small embers.
Grandma’s advice was key to it all.
She spoke as a messenger of the Lord, probably without being aware of it.
I’ve thought of that advice much, since  I met my new friend.
Willy…. go…. always.”
Now, I don’t know where you are at in your spiritual life.
Believing.
Half believing.
Struggling.
Worse.
Friend – take hold of the advice from Willy’s grandmother.
Go!
It won’t be a waste of time.
It may save your life.

Thoughts On A Christian Response To The Refugee Crisis

Recently I’ve been party to conversations about the whole refugee crisis. And what our response should be. I listen with interest to what people say, particularly since I’m convenor of a group called R. I. N. G. (Refugees In North Grenville). It’s comprised of area churches, service clubs, World Hope (Canada) and other community groups in and around Kemptville. You’ll be hearing about us  in the local Press in the near future.  KCRC is part of this group.   R.I.N.G.’s objective is to pave the way to bring some refugee families to North Grenville.
What I get asked constantly (at the grocery store, McDonalds, Canadian Tire, etc) is “Why?”
It’s a question asked out of sincere longing to understand, but also one mixed with a great deal of fear (especially after Paris).
For the sake of this blog, let’s consider – “Why should Christians serve strangers,  and refugees,  especially given that many of them may have grown up being taught to think of us as their enemies?”
How others respond is their business, shaped by their values.
My business is to respond as a follower and apprentice to Jesus.
So – why serve them?
Quite simply – because we have no option but to do so.
Jesus is blunt and clear.
In Luke 6:27-36 & Matthew 5:39-42  Jesus calls his followers to love their enemies.  He says, “It’s no credit if you love your friends.  I don’t care about that.  What I’m interested in is how you respond to your enemies.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
And in Matthew 25:34-40 He tells us that the way we treat the hungry & thirsty, the stranger (note – NOT the friend or person we know well), the naked, the imprisoned…. the way we respond to them is something he takes very personally.  As if what we do to them, we do directly to HIM.
Which makes me wonder – what did he think about the Canadian church in 1939 when they were party to a nation  closing its doors to a ship-load of Jews, who ended up in gas chambers?
This sort of  talk is echoed throughout the remaining pages of the New Testament.
Blunt.  And clear.  And often.
There’s actually way more in Scripture about this than about some other topics which generate a lot of heat in some of our churches.
As I chat with people, I am hearing lots of objections that try to side track this conversation.
Talk about giving to those who deserve to more….  Except that Jesus never links giving and deserving in his teaching.
Talk about care for our own first,  and dealing with the outsiders later… Except that God’s Word never  makes allowance for setting up and pitting  one group against the other. Help both, it says.
I know this might sound rather strange.  Especially to people outside of the Christian faith.  Some might even find this all “unrealistic.”   Fine.   But, as far as our response goes, it IS what our Lord commands.  No exceptions.
And so….. Do we go with what we consider realistic,  or what he commands?
Where will this all take us?
Who knows?
We do, of course, still need to have serious and wise conversations, locally and nationally, about numbers and timelines and the like.
But act we must.
I’m grateful to the leadership at KCRC for not even batting an eyelash, but being first to the mark to join R.I.N.G.   And pray that we will follow and help when they call.

When Less Is More

LESS IS MORE.
We’ve all heard the saying.
Maybe even said it.
It’s a pretty hard one to accept, though – at least when it applies to stuff that we collect for ourselves.  Or opportunities for pleasure for ourselves.  Then we’re maybe not so interested in “Less.”  Then maybe we’d really like to focus on “More.”
The trouble with “More” is that when is it enough?
And could “More” ever become “Too Much”?
I know that’s true for diet.  I happen to love the taste of salt.  Especially on a greasy french fry.  YUM!!
My (not-so) friendly family Dr has kindly informed me, though, that if I don’t get my blood pressure down IMMEDIATELY she has a bunch of pills she’d like to introduce to me.
Hmmmm.
Could that also be true for others parts of my life?  Where wanting “more” has slipped into “too much” and is causing health concerns for me?  Perhaps for my spiritual and emotional health?
In Matthew 6:19-20 Jesus warns against “more.”  And in the verses that follow he explains why.
More stuff tends to clog up our time and attention and interest and energy.
We get the stuff.
We take care of the stuff.
We protect the stuff.
We try to figure out how to pay for the stuff.
We replace the stuff with newer stuff (and bigger loans).
        Etc.
And two things, crucial parts of healthy living, get pushed to the sidelines in the process.
Not always.
But they easily can get pushed to the sidelines.
Anybody remember what Jesus named as the two most important priorities in life?
        1. Love the Lord your God with all you’ve got.
        2. Ditto for your neighbor.
How can either of those happen when our lives are full of concern for stuff?
This coming Sunday, the last one before Advent and the arrival of the Christmas season, we’re going to wonder about that.
We’ll also be reading a warning that Moses gave to his people way back in Deuteronomy 8:1-18, thousands of years ago.  It would seem they also faced the temptation of stuff.
I guess things don’t change much over time, do they?
In this season when the glossy flyers come into my mailbox by the dozens, and slick ads fill up my TV and computer screens, Dear Lord please help me to keep my head screwed on straight.
        Maybe to want a little less.
        And share a little more with someone who has less than me.
        All in honor of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, and who gave up EVERYTHING so that we could gain a rich eternity.
Oh yes – one way I’m doing that is with a gift list that contains this “want”:
                    World Renew Gift

Suffering…. and the Lord’s Table

These weeks I’m thinking a lot about the sorts of things that have the potential to damage or cripple a person’s faith. Or even the faith of an entire community.

Like:
– When it seems like one bit of bad news after another keeps coming from the doctor.
– When we watch a gentle, innocent person victimized in some way.
– When we’re stuck in a trap of poverty – really stuck. And the bills keep flooding in at a rate greater than our ability to deal with them.
– Or living with fallout from the accident.
– Or a family member who is, for whatever reason, such a challenge to live with.

And we wonder – “Why?”
“Why, Lord, does it have to be so?”
“Why so hard?”
“Why no relief?”

When we are truly getting bashed around by the bad things of life, our faith can be busted up pretty badly, too.

It’s something that we continually wonder about.
This Sunday we’ll be digging into the topic at KCRC with
Faithbusters #2…. When Bad Things Happen.

Hope you can join us.

In the meantime, let me say that I am deeply grateful that we’ll be able to tackle the topic in the context of a worship service where we celebrate Holy Communion.
At the table we’ll remember Jesus come to earth as man – his body broken, his blood shed to take away the sin of this world that groans as in childbirth (Romans 8:22).
He is the One who will, one day, make everything new (Revelation 21:5).

And THAT, for me, is the focus I need to keep when thinking about injustice, pain, and so much unexplainable suffering in life.

I want to keep that focus, rather than throwing away my faith.
I want to cling even tighter to a faith that trusts in a God who loves this broken world SO much that he descended into it, becoming part of it, to set in motion eternal heavenly events that will one day set the Cosmos totally free of sin & decay.

And so, whatever else I think and do, I try to remind myself – and want to encourage you, dear reader – that we take our pain, our hard experiences, our struggles – to the cross of Jesus.
Bring them to the place where God became human, and where he experienced the very worst of injustice, of suffering, of weakness, and of death.
It is here, at the Communion Table, where we take part in Christ’s broken body and shed blood that we are deeply confronted with the reality that pain, evil and suffering are so strong, and the hold they have are so deep, that God himself needs to come to deal with it.
Personally.

Don’t ever say God doesn’t care about pain or suffering or death.
He cared enough to die for it.

When we waver, let’s run as fast as we can to the Table of the Lord.
And there, at the Table, remember:
with the cross comes the resurrection.

Remember what we say at the end of every single worship service?
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

I totally believe that suffering needs an eternal perspective to find a true answer.
And I encourage you to think that way.
Think big picture.
Think eternity.

We’ll not ever fully get it figured out.
Not on this side of glory.
But we can trust that, somehow, he will. And does.

God’s grace and peace be with you.

The Jesus that people see in us

Had an encounter this week which renewed my awareness that we have more influence than we probably realize. That is – we have more influence on the attitude that people may take towards spiritual matters than we first suspect. People will be more or less friendly towards conversations about eternity, God and Jesus depending on how more or less winsome our attitudes and actions are.

For example – our attitudes towards each other. And actions – how we treat each other. When kids and teens witness their parents and older siblings fighting over traditions and interpretations of Scripture, doesn’t it make sense that they quietly begin to close their mind to the idea of becoming an active part of the church?

Perhaps this is what Jesus was concerned about when he prayed to the Heavenly Father, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)

Or what 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 says: Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live…

Or Romans 2:24 which warns us to be careful about how we live, because if we go around preaching one thing, and then end up living another way, “God’s name is blasphemed among unbelievers because of you.”
GULP!

Or – what if people don’t see or hear from us at all?
What if we live in isolation from the rest of North Grenville? Then those who have never heard about Christ, except as a swear word, won’t have a clue of what a life shaped by the love of Jesus might look like. And won’t be drawn to consider it for themselves. How sad!

There’s a song that was popular some years ago… probably more years ago than I care to consider (they say time moves quicker as you get older…. yikes!):
You’re the only Jesus some will ever see.
You’re the only word of life some will ever hear.
So let them see in you the One in whom
Is all they’ll ever need.
You’re the only Jesus some will ever see.

I hope my neighbors see Jesus in me.
And I pray my influence will make them even just a little more open to thinking about exploring who Jesus is and what he might have to offer for them.

Holy Spirit, please guide my speech and actions that this would be so.
And do the same for all my brothers and sisters at KCRC.

Handling Treasure With Care

Sharon and I love to watch Antiques Road Show.
Eager people line up, clutching their treasures.
The lucky chosen ones end up on TV, gasping as they hear the appraised worth of their peculiar object.
Often the expert will give them a firmly worded bit of advice on how to care for the item – what to avoid, and what to be SURE to do to ensure that it is protected and the value maintained or even enhanced.
And sometimes the guests will, upon regaining their composure, sheepishly say something like, “Well, I guess I won’t be taking it home in the shopping bag that it came here in.”
Valuable treasures need special care.
Yes, they do – they need special care.
Including the valuable treasure known as a “human  being.”
Made,
            custom,
            each one,
                            by the Creator as a little slice of himself.
In faith language we call that, “created in the image of God.”
Psalm 8 suggests that humanity was made “just a little lower than the angels.” (v.5).
“Ruler over everything God has made.” (v.6)
That’s about as good as it gets.
Well, actually not.
1 Corinthians 6:3 tells us that we will, one day, have a higher place in the Creation order than angels.
A promotion.
The only thing higher than angels is God.
Making people “second-in-command” at that point.
Can people become any more valuable than that?
Valuable treasures need special care.
People need special care.
Treat  each other with special care.
And the Bible is very clear about that.
Take gossip – beginning in Leviticus 19:16, verse after verse, all the way into the New Testament, through 2 Corinthians 12:20, Titus 2:2-3… dozens of verses strictly commanding us to be very, very careful on how we speak about each other as valuable treasures, made by the Creator himself, needing special care.
Or honoring each others’ bodies – the topic of sexual purity comes up again and again.  Some will wave it all off and say, “Ah, the Bible is so out-of-date and uptight.  Just relax.”
No, actually.
The Bible is calling people to very careful thought and behaviour towards each other.
Because the way we view each other sexually, and the way we treat each other, matter deeply.
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 teaches that when people connect sexually there is something deep – very, very deep – that goes on.  Something mysteriously spiritual gets joined in such intimacy.
And if that is not handled with the greatest care, respect and honor it can be deeply damaging.
Any therapist would tell you this is so.  They will work with people that have endured a physical beating, and while traumatic, there is often good recovery.  However, they also work with people that have endured an unwanted sexual event with someone – and there can be a lifetime of working towards recovery of one degree or another.
Valuable treasures need special care.
People need special care.
Treat each other with special care.
With respect.
With gentle purity.
Valuable treasures also need to be guarded.
So the experts on Antiques Road show sometimes have to admonish someone who is taking poor care of the object.  Neglecting it.  Handling it roughly.  Forcing it somewhere it ought not have to be.
We need to be on guard for each other, too.
Ensuring that homes and church are safe places for all.
Shutting gossip down when we hear it.
Challenging rough language towards one another.
Reminding our children that nobody has the right to touch them or talk to them in uncomfortable ways.
Protecting and nurturing respectful boundaries at home, school, church and work.
Reporting violations of such immediately.
The Creator of the Treasures wants no less from us.
And the Treasures….
            Female & male
            Young & old
            Married & single
                        ….deserve it!

What About Those Refugees?

Well, the refugee crisis continues to dominate the media headlines these days as we witness the biggest human migration crisis since World War II.  Some people scorn the publicity it gets now, reminding us that this problem has been brewing for four years.  True enough, I suppose – but anything that helps get things moving towards some sort of at least mildly adeqaute response now is better than the mere pittance that has happened to date.  Better late than never.

The pastors of churches in Kemptville discussed this issue at their meeting this week, and are beginning to connect with other groups in our community to discuss what the best local response might be.  I’m grateful to be part of that conversation, and that this is a project we can approach together as brothers and sisters joined by one faith in Jesus, the Saviour who rescued us all from eternal death.

It’s interesting to note the secular media’s attitude towards this crisis –  time and again they are pointing to the Church as the leader in providing a significant response.
Which I’m glad they recognize.
For if they didn’t, it would be because we haven’t been clear enough in word or deed.

We serve a Saviour who gave up everything to rescue us who were “refugees” of sin – caught in a downward spiral towards eternal death.  He paid the GREATEST PRICE EVER to secure our eternal freedom.
He calls us to follow his example in Matthew 25 where we directly commanded to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned.
And St.Paul coaches us in Philippians 2 to have the same mind that Jesus had – being willing to empty ourselves of everything.

Doesn’t that seem to include some sort of welcome to refugees?
Beyond a two hundred million page form that has to be filled out in triplicate, and a multiple year review process?

There are, of course, concerns about terrorist and criminal elements.
But as we discuss these, let’s be careful they don’t become convenient roadblocks, just to protect our cushy way of life.

And let’s also not allow ourselves to be sidetracked by comments suggesting they’re really quite wealthy, or they are the enemy (ie Muslim), or they ought to have stayed in X___ or gone to Y____
I don’t recall Jesus giving room for such when he taught about turning the cheek, sharing the tunic, loving your neighbor…. AND your enemy (Matthew 5:38-47).

Ryan Dueck wrote a compelling blog post yesterday on this topic. He says  it better than I ever could.
Please read it –
http://ryandueck.com/2015/09/16/im-sorry-christian-but-you-dont-get-to-make-that-move/

Here’s my personal take on it.
Many of us at KCRC are in this land because of immigration.   Not quite refugee, but if you dig into your family’s background, odds on are that it wasn’t far off.  Many of our families came from war-devastated Europe where there was no hope, no visible future.  They piled into old troop carriers, packed together, and endured many days in less-than-pristine conditions to cross the ocean where they were welcomed and given new hope and opportunity.  We, the generations who followed, are blessed and rich because of the journey they took.
Now there’s another group of people on the move.  Migrating because of untold horrors at home.
Would it not seem to make sense for those who were blessed by being accepted into this country to be the first in line to want to bless this new vulnerable group?
Especially those here as (grand)children of immigrants who are followers of Jesus?

I do hope that you’ll be discussing this issue in your living rooms and around your kitchen tables.
Pray with me for the Holy Spirit’s clear direction on how best we can respond as a community of Jesus-followers.