SPIRITUAL HOT SPOTS

This past week I was privileged to spend some time in silent prayer retreat at Stillpoint House of Prayer, in Burnstown.

If you’re ever looking for a safe, supportive Christian place to get away – for an afternoon, overnight, or more; with or without spiritual direction; in a setting of peace and quiet – S.H.O.P. is it. Check it out at www.stillpoint.ca

Aside from being right on the banks of the beautiful Madawaska River, one of the real benefits of this rural location, down in a valley is…….

NO cell phone coverage

and

NO internet access

So, given that there is a SILENCE rule enforced in the house, the only one you can make contact with, at all, is

GOD.

And, judging from the sharing that goes on at chapel time (yes, we’re allowed to talk then – even encouraged) most people do. The Lord, in his gracious mercy, truly responds to the promise given through the prophet:

“When you seek me, you will find me, when you search for me with all your heart.”  (Jeremiah 29:13)

When believers retreat in order to meet the Lord in still and quiet they are following a deep biblical pattern, one that Jesus himself practiced. As I read through the gospels this past week at S.H.O.P, two things struck me:

a. How incredibly demanding Christ’s ministry was. Scarcely a moment to himself. Certainly no summer frolicking at the cottage! Those in need were forever seeking him out and banging on his door. And he ALWAYS responded when they came!

b. How, in the midst of all that frenetic activity, Jesus carved out intentional time to pray – alone. Even before the most difficult part of his assignment on earth, he took time aside in Gethsemane to pray – alone. If he found it necessary and helpful, why should it be any less so for us, his apprentices?

All that said, though, I firmly believe that private retreat is NOT meant to be the sole way for encountering the power and presence of God. Actually, neither do the people at Stillpoint – they’ve also built evening group chapel into the daily rhythm. And neither does James Smith, philosphy prof at Calvin College. In his book, “Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation” he reaches to the Internet world and pulls out the image of WiFi “hotspots.” You know – the little sign at the coffee shop that says, “WiFi here” and allows you to pull in an internet signal and bang away on your laptop while sipping their latte’s and eating their oh-so-decadent oatmeal raisin cookie the size of a frizbee. Go to the next store, and you lose the signal. Got to be in the right location to get connected to the Web.

Smith suggests that while we all as good Reformed folk profess that our Triune God extends his presence to every square inch of Creation, there are places and times when we can “connect” with more intensity to God than others. They are, we could say, spiritual “hot spots.”

He’s following the lead of our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters, who have maintained this for years.

And they get it from hints in Scripture. Like the Psalmist, who finds the glory and beauty of the Lord in mind-blowing ways when he steps into the sanctuary of the Temple (eg Psalm 27). It seems to be a physical “hot spot” – sacred space.

Or the words of Jesus in Matthew 18. After pounding away at the disciples’ stubborn independent and selfish streaks, with teachings on the importance of protecting and including the little ones in the faith community, of seeking the one who wanders, and the importance of restoring the sinner to the fold – after all that Jesus says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Remember, he’s speaking to a crowd that was raised on the Scribal teaching that it took 10 circumcised Jewish men to be gathered in one community before a Synagogue could be established and God could be worshipped there.

Jesus takes the synagogue rule and changes it. It doesn’t matter who is in the group, or what the number count is. That people come together in unity and community – wherever that happens in the name of Jesus, His Presence will be there, through the Spirit. That’s his holy, sure and special promise. And THAT, we could venture, makes such gatherings spiritual “hot spots.” Where the power and presence of the Lord is experienced in greater intensity than otherwise might be the case in day-to-day living.

Could that be why one of Satan’s biggest tools is to try and bring division within the Body of Christ? It diminishes the power of such “hot spots” and heightens his devilish chances of “success.”

By the way – I think the odds for the devil’s success are pretty good in North America right now, given how incredibly independently-minded most of us are. Less groups gathering = less spiritual “hot spots” = easier for his evil to spread.

Spiritual hotspots – when believers gather at sanctified times and places in the name of Jesus. Which includes the gatherings for worship. The unknown author of Hebrews pushes the same button in 10:25 — “Don’t neglect getting together!!” he says. IGNATIUS wrote, “When you frequently, and in numbers meet together, the powers of Satan are overthrown, and his mischief is neutralized by your likemindedness in the faith.” (reflecting on Hebrews 10:25)

Whatever you think of the writings of such “old, dead guys” (as one person put it to me recently), I think he may be on to something.

Agree?

So –

Sunday’s coming.

All across the city, spiritual hot spots will come alive as believers gather in worship.

Will you be there?

What do you think?

God-Incidences: Do We Notice Them?

Greetings to all.
The second week of the Study Leave is almost done.
And you dear people almost were left without a pastor….. well, sort of.

A couple of days ago we took a lunch walk on a little nature trail across the road from the motel.  In a nature preserve, that backs on a lagoon.  The sign posted by the entrance suggested it best to keep small children nearby, and NO dogs on the trail.  In we went – and as we came around a corner by the lagoon, gulp = there we were, face to face with Rippy the ‘gator.  No more than about 10-15 feet away.  His tail laying in the lagoon.  His very big snout some 2′ from the path.  Just watchin’ for whatever would stroll by.  Which, after a good look at this fascinating critter the likes of which we’ve never seen in Algonquin Park, we decided  we wouldn’t do.  Better to deal with it in a biblical fashion….. like the wise men….. and we went home by a different way.  Sorry, Rippy.  You’ll need to find lunch elsewhere.

Actually, it was a rather amazing thing to see.
AS amazing as standing on the beach on the other side of our motel, watching the waves just before supper time, and suddenly – lo and behold! – there about 100 metres off shore was a Right Whale, surrounded by a pod of bottlenose dolphins.  It is the most rare of all whales – only about 400 left.  Apparently they swim down from the North Atlantic to have their babies here.  We called the Hot Line to report it – which sets in motion a flurry of activity, coordinated by the Navy, to protect the beast.  Later, at the local interpretive center, we discovered that this was the first sighting of the season.  How cool is that!!

Well, as cool as when we happened upon a group from the local “Marine Mammal Rescue Center” at the side of the highway, preparing to release a huge truck load of sea turtles – loggerheads and greens.  So, we got out to have a look, and I actually got to help carry some into the lagoon.  They ranged in size from 20 to about 100 lbs.  Marvelous creatures.

Which was as wonderful as taking  a short hike around a little trail, and just happening to peek through some Red Mangrove roots to find myself face to face with a Yellow-Crowned night heron.  A new bird species for us.  Too close to use binoculars.  Saw every detail of him while he stared at us with his bright red eyes.  Neither party moved for quite a while.  Lovely!!

The alligator, the whale, the turtle, the heron – in each case we just “happened” to be “lucky enough” to be at the right place at exactly the right moment.

SO – how to deal with such events?
Chalk it all up to sheer dumb luck, or coincidence?
OR – take them as little gifts from God to a couple of his children – ones that help us celebrate His glory, together with Psalm 19?

Me?
I’ll take the latter approach.
Thanking God that he moved us to be in those right places, looking in the right directions, at the right moments.
And through these little gifts, being reminded that the Triune God continues to be at work at all times all around the world.

I encourage you to be on the watch for little gifts of grace and joy moments in your life –
– be on the watch, and give thanks for them.
Have you seen such in your life?
Did you remember to give thanks for them?

When you notice them, remember that these little grace moments are part of our lives being lived within the embrace of the Saviour, and within the sweeping scope of His restoring work in Creation — moving all things along that Salvation timeline of
Creation —- Fall —- Redemption  —- Final consumation at His return.

Yes, these little grace moments remind us that we’re part of that Grand Narrative.
A narrative where our Triune God is the major player – and He in grace invites us along to share in the mission.

Thank you, Lord!

THE FAMILY OF JESUS – REACHES IN

How wonderful it was to begin the new year with Holy Baptism.
There was Alexandra Skylar deRidder – small, vulnerable, able only to receive and not to give or offer a single thing.  Surrounded by brothers and sisters from all sorts of different backgrounds and ages who pledged to support and encourage and protect and guide her in life and faith along with her parents.
Wow!!!
What a HUGE advantage this young sister in Christ has as she begins life.
And what an encouragement to Craig and Amy, her dad and mom.
Not only do they have the love of the Lord, and the guiding presence of Christ’s Spirit with and in them, they’ve got the assurance of a whole church family that they’ll have all the help they need in daycare on Sundays, in church school classes, in youth clubs, and teen ministry…….
‘Cause we all made that baptismal vow before the face of God.
Right?
We did it as the hands and feet and mouth and eyes and ears of the Body of the Christ who said, “Let the children come to me.”
We are the ones who will model that to Alexandra……. and to the dozens of other little ones who gathered around her as she was baptised.
May we never let any of them down!

And – in  case you might be wondering – this is a very real part of what it means to be a Church that REACHES IN, as part of her apprenticeship to Jesus Christ.

Calvin CRC – Apprenticing with Jesus by….. Bowing Down, Reaching Up, Reaching Out, and Reaching In.

THE FAMILY OF JESUS – REACHES UP

Recently we’ve been considering the most significant biblical image for the Church –
remember??

– the FAMILY.

(you can find previous reflections on this topic at pastorkensnotes.wordpress.com under the “consider with me” TAB)

We in the Church are the Family of Jesus.
You could say, actually, that here at Calvin Church we are one household within the Global Family of God in Christ.
And we have certain characteristics that we think help us understand who we are as part of that family.
They’re on the front of our weekly bulletin.
As a family we BOW DOWN.
And, as a family we REACH UP.

If you wonder what that is all about head down to the Day Care area after a worship service and watch a child’s reaction to their parent’s arrival.  A smile comes across their face and hands eagerly reach up to embrace mommy or daddy.  They want to be held.  They want to be close.  Together.
I can’t help but think of Psalm 131 – a child snuggling close and safe with their parent.  “That’s how I feel with you, Lord” says the Psalmist.
That’s our sacred privilege – a gift to us through the Elder Brother.

We get to REACH UP and be held.
We get to REACH UP and receive divine help.

And

We get to REACH UP, along with century after century of believers who have gathered in churches and homes, and stood before altars, and knelt in prayer chambers to
WORSHIP.
Reach up to declare “glory and power and blessing and honor” be to you Lord.
In that way we reach up our hearts along with the saints and angels who worship 24/7 in heaven.  We’re part of the great, timeless chain of worship of believers from all times and places.
What an amazing, amazing opportunity and privilege.
Let’s not take the call to worship lightly.
Let’s not overlook it.
Let’s treasure it.
Let’s make the most of it.

See you Sunday!!!!!!!!!

Whose Story Is It, Anyway?

The Christian faith – what is it?
What are we celebrating at Christmas, anyway?

One concern I have with talk about “Jesus as MY Saviour” (like what we’ll do Sunday AM) is that I can easily begin to have the whole faith thing begin to revolve around ME — my life, my hopes and dreams and disappointments, my thoughts and feelings, etc.

I’m concerned about that because, at the core of it all, the Christian faith is not about that.
It’s not really about me.
Not really.
Not first of all, anyway.

It’s about God.
It  is the mysterious and wonderful True Story of
– God creating a universe, and this world within it, and humanity as stewards of that world.
– God not allowing humanity and Evil’s rebellion to have the last and destructive word over Creation after the tragedy of the Fall
– God entering the human scene through His Son whose birth, life, death, and resurrection ushered in the beginning of a New Order…. a salvation order
– God moving history towards the day when Christ will return and  Creation will be made completely NEW (us included!!!!) and it will fully and finally take on the shape that He had so divinely and perfectly dreamed and planned and made it to be in the first place.
(ie…. Creation / Fall / Redemption / Consumation)

It is God’s story – and, wonder of wonders, we’re invited into it!
More than that, we are drawn into it.
And, as followers of the Saviour, we discover that God’s Story affects every area of our lives –
– individually and corporately.

We begin to live as God designed us to be.
Living,
in the Spirit’s power,
already now
as New Creation beings.  (check out 2 Corinthians 5.17)
even though that is not yet there in fullness.

So we seek to work as God perfectly designed us to work.
We love as God would have perfectly and divinely designed us to love.
We play in holy ways.
We rest in divinely planned and blessed fashion.

We, apprentices of the Jesus who is at the centre of God’s Story,
work and love and play and rest and do all the other stuff of life
seeking to make creation a little more of a theatre
that declares the glory and praise of God,
and that enjoys fellowship with him.

Go into that living – to serve and love the Lord of the STORY!
And remember – He goes with you.
Until the end of time.

On Relationships

Recently, while trying to practice the stuff we considered last week, namely taking time to stop and reflect and pray in God’s presence, I got to meditating on God as the Divine Lover for whom relationships were, are, and will be extremely important.

In summary, the deal is this:
God takes relationships very seriously.
He values them.
He lives in them.
And calls us to value them, and live in them, too.

Consider, if you will:
– within the mystery of the Trinity what do we see?  The three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit living with perfect unity of love, of purpose, of work, of power, of care, of communion.  It is the ideal and most holy of relationships, in a mysterious and wonderful way.
– In Genesis 1:26 we read of God creating our first parents, and inviting them into the wonder of creation stewardship.  There it is – amazing!! God and humanity in living, working relationship.  Dare we say it?  Partners in the task of Creation stewarding.
– Then there is the gracious act of the incarnation (John 1:14 where, as Peterson paraphrases it, “God became human and moved into the neighborhood”).  Into a work marred by sin and the curse, God takes the initiative to restore the broken God-human relationship by crossing the great divide himself.  He comes to us!!
– Still more…… going to John 17, and the great High Priestly prayer that Jesus uttered to the Father just before going to the cross.  What do you think is on his holy heart as he prepares to suffer and die for the world?  Well, we read about:
– gratitude for the unity between Father and Son (relationship)
– intercession for unity among believers (more relationship)
– After the resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples and….. calls them to go into the world and build relationships with people everywhere (check out Matthew 28:16-20)
– Finally, going right to the very end of Scripture, relationship renewed is at the very heart of the grand vision of Revelation 21:  the New Heaven and New Earth, where God will dwell with us, and we – together – with Him!

Do you see?
God takes relationships very seriously.
He values them.
He lives in them.
And calls us to value them, and live in them, too.

So……
there’s the challenge for us in our uber-busy urban lives.
‘Cause relationships take time and lots of effort.
And they are risky – no guarantees provided on how they’ll turn out.

But
they
are
oh
so
very
important
to
God.

So, maybe,
just maybe,
they need to be high up on our “TO-DO” lists, also, eh?

With family.
With our next door neighbour.
And with that new person that you noticed at church last week, but didn’t quite get around to talking to……. yet.

More on noticing

So – I was all set to write something brand new for this week.
But – then a little voice prompted me to stop, and review what I wrote last week.
Which I did.
And….
….well….
I hope you won’t throw rotten fruit or toss dead cows at me off the castle wall, but I’d like to remind you of it.

Why?
Because, because you see, I needed to hear it again.
Not because I actually forgot what I wrote.
….. ok, well, yes – that too, a little bit, anyway.
But more because it is really hard to put into practice in our compressed busy urban pace of life.

Could it be that if I struggle with it, you do, too?
Please, somebody say “Yes!”

Say that “yes,” you also find it a challenge to STOP in the midst of the busyness of servant-living.
It’s a challenge to STOP regularly.
To take Sabbath time to STOP and just “hang out” with Jesus and his people in weekly worship and fellowship, and to find refreshment for your body and soul.
And, in taking time to STOP, also making sure to notice.

Notice where God is at work in your life.
I remember the first time that someone asked me about that.  No one had ever done so in such direct terms before.  She tilted her head to one side and said, “So, what’s the Lord been doing in your life lately?”
I didn’t really have an answer for her.
Why?  Was it because God wasn’t present, or at work within and around me?
No.
It was more because I hadn’t taken the time to notice.
I had never really thought about that question or looked around to try and figure out an answer to it.

Noticing – it’s a spiritual discipline.
That is, taking regular time to slow down and ask,
Lord, where are you working in my life?
How are you shaping my soul?
What do you want me to learn?
Whom and how would you have me serve?

Noticing – it is the stuff of Psalm 46, where God speaks into the roaring, foaming chaos that is the present reality of the writer.  Amid all the pressures and threats, God calls his people to stop and notice that He is the ultimate authority, keeping the final Word for himself, and exercising his divine sovereignty over their lives.
Perhaps we don’t have enemies breathing threats at the doorstep of our city in literal ways.  But the pressures are many.  And challenges never go away.
And they could easily dominate our lives and attention and energy – consuming it all.
So, perhaps we need to hear what the Spirit was speaking through the sons of Korah
Be still and know that I am God….

If we are intentional about trying to notice, I promise you that the Spirit of Christ will not let us down.
For if we seek him, we will find him – when we search for him with all our heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)
When we ask, it will be given to us.  When we seek, we will find. (Matthew 7:7)

If you’d like to chase this idea a bit, to explore a new spiritual discipline, may I suggest reading some of the work of Richard Foster or Henry Blackabee or Henri Nouwen or Don Postema or Dallas Willard (forgot to mention him last week) on the theme of contemplation or noticing.
Call or write, if you’d like, and I’d be delighted to sit down and share conversation around this theme.

It’s something Sister Betty reminded me of this week.
Without being aware of it, reminding the preacher of his own message of a week ago. 😉
Thought that maybe you’d like to hear Sister Betty’s reminder, too.

Slowing down and noticing

I was meeting with a believer from another denomination earlier this week.  She shared, “I’m impressed by how active the people of Calvin Church are in serving the Lord.  I run into them all over the place.”

She’s right.
Earlier this year Council did a quick inventory of the various ways that brothers and sisters from Calvin CRC are involved in Kingdom Service.
It was a long list – so long that it surprised many on Council.
We stopped to say “Thanks” to the Lord.

Allow me now to say “THANKS” to you.
Thank you for giving your time, your energy, your love, your passion to the service of Christ in all sorts of ways and places across the city and beyond!

I’d also like to encourage you, in the midst of your busyness of servant-living, to STOP.
Yes – STOP.
Not all the time.
But regularly.
Take Sabbath time to STOP and just “hang out” with Jesus and his people in weekly worship and fellowship, and to find refreshment for your body and soul.
And, take time to STOP and notice.

Notice where God is at work in your life.
I remember the first time that someone asked me about that.  No one had ever done so in such direct terms before.  She tilted her head to one side and said, “So, what’s the Lord been doing in your life lately?”
I didn’t really have an answer for her.
Why?  Was it because God wasn’t present, or at work within and around me?
No.
It was more because I hadn’t taken the time to notice.
I had never really thought about that question or looked around to try and figure out an answer to it.

Noticing – it’s a spiritual discipline.
That is, taking regular time to slow down and ask,
Lord, where are you working in my life?
How are you shaping my soul?
What do you want me to learn?
Whom and how would you have me serve?

Noticing – it is the stuff of Psalm 46, where God speaks into the roaring, foaming chaos that is the present reality of the writer.  Amid all the pressures and threats, God calls his people to stop and notice that He is the ultimate authority, keeping the final Word for himself, and exercising his divine sovereignty over their lives.
Perhaps we don’t have enemies breathing threats at the doorstep of our city in literal ways.  But the pressures are many.  And challenges never go away.
And they could easily dominate our lives and attention and energy – consuming it all.
So, perhaps we need to hear what the Spirit was speaking through the sons of Korah
Be still and know that I am God….

If we are intentional about trying to notice, I promise you that the Spirit of Christ will not let us down.
For if we seek him, we will find him – when we search for him with all our heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)
When we ask, it will be given to us.  When we seek, we will find. (Matthew 7:7)

If you’d like to chase this idea a bit, to explore a new spiritual discipline, may I suggest reading some of the work of Richard Foster or Henry Blackabee or Henri Nouwen or Don Postema on the theme of contemplation or noticing.
Call or write, if you’d like, and I’d be delighted to sit down and share conversation around this theme.