If you are like me, you might struggle with finding time to be with God throughout the week. I know I should do devotions, read my Bible, and pray but many times it just doesn’t get done (or isn’t done as well as I’d like). While this is not a new problem for many people, it is growing more acute as our lives fill up with other things, too often God is the first one bumped from our schedule. Perhaps the best way to make God a priority in our lives is to build Him into our schedule.
We are a people who thrive on the predictability of a patterned life. It is well noted that children thrive, feel more secure and confident when there is a daily routine in place where they can anticipate when is coming next. Even God built a pattern into creation, “so God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3). Some take this patterned life to the extreme (see Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory) while others may not even recognize their need for predictability in life. Live into a patterned life with Jesus at the centre!
It is not my intent to guilt you into doing anything, I simply want us to be honest with each other that setting apart time to rest and enjoy the company of God does not come naturally in our sinful world.
First, establish a precedent of being in church every Sunday. It is great that you watch Christian programing but it doesn’t replace actually being with your fellow believers worshiping God. We need each others support and encouragement. Taking an hour and a half out of your week to worship acts as a foundation for your spiritual habits throughout the week. Our worship services intentionally look similar every week so that the patterns of worship become part of you. The pattern of singing, confession, hearing Scripture, and prayer is demonstrated each week as a model for our worship life the other six days. Our liturgical pattern helps us enter into God’s story while orienting our lives around God. Weekly worship is critical for our spiritual health and vitality.
Second, set apart some time each day to be in God’s Word and prayer. Some find it helpful to do this in the morning while others like to do it at night. Experiment with what time works best for you but be sure to schedule in a time, write it in your day planner or put it in your phone. There are many ways that you can be in Scripture: maybe you start in Genesis and read a few chapters a day, or you start with the Gospel of John and hear the story of Jesus, or perhaps you follow a devotional book that leads you to different Scriptures each day. No matter how you structure your time, allow God to lead you into His Word.
Also during this time be sure to pray. Pray not just for your needs but for the needs of others and for the church. Offer prayers of thanksgiving for God’s provision and action in your life. Confess your failures and receive God’s words of pardon. Simply be quiet as you allow God to speak to you words of encouragement, direction, or correction. Just take time to be with and to hear from God in prayer and His Word. One way we are encouraging our church to be attentive to God through prayer and the Word is with Trinity’s Summer Commitment.
It is not my intent to guilt you into doing anything, I simply want us to be honest with each other that setting apart time to rest and enjoy the company of God does not come naturally in our sinful world. In fact, sin is continually enticing us away from God. As Christians, we always ought to do what we can to encourage one another into a deeper relationship with Jesus.
So in these slower summer months when schedules are easier to manage, let me challenge you to establish a pattern of worship in your life: make it a priority to be in church each week, devote a few minutes each day to time in God’s Word and prayer, take time to simply rest in God’s creation free from distractions and stress, and think about Trinity’s Commitment to God this summer.
Some resources to help build God into your routine:
Family Prayer- These devotions follow the structure of daily prayer and can be used in the family (Anglican Church of North America)
Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (For purchase on Amazon)
Daily Text- A new prayer and Scripture readings every day of the year (Moravian Church)
This past Sunday we talked about the certainty of the return of Jesus and what that means for us now and in the future. In Bible Study, a question was asked about what it means to hasten the coming of the day of the Lord from 1 Peter 3:11-12: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God..”
The reality in which we live as Christians is that the Kingdom of God has already been established on earth but has not yet been established in its fullness. The only way Jesus’ life on earth makes any sense is if He came inaugurate His Kingdom, an entirely new way of doing things which even His disciples didn’t fully grasp. The only way Jesus’ death and resurrection make any sense is if they were the decisive acts in human history in which the kingdom of sin, death, and the devil were once for all defeated and a new kingdom was established. The only way Jesus’ ascension makes any sense is if He is with God the Father reigning over an actual kingdom in which all believers participate. The Kingdom of God is here. The church is its visible presence on earth until that day when Jesus comes again; that day for which we as kingdom people long.
If this is the reality to which we are called into by the Spirit of God, how ought we to live? Should our lives not look radically different as a result of us being partners in Jesus’ kingdom? Peter gives us a hint when he says, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness…” Holiness and godliness are words thrown around often negatively, in connection with a rigid legalism or as a target of criticism of the hypocritical church that can’t live up to its own standards. While we can’t live a holy and godly life in our own power, it is nonetheless the ideal God has had for His people for thousands of years.
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel is continually being called to be holy; to be the people God formed them to be: a people of covenant and a people set apart as a city on a hill. God called Israel out of all the other nations so that they might be different, that people would look at how different their lives are because of God and desire that for themselves. The same call to holiness is extended to God’s people throughout the New Testament as well. Peter, in his first book, instructs his readers using the command from Leviticus 11:44, “Be holy as I am holy.” Later, he says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
In being a people living holy and godly lives, set apart for the glory of God, we look different, we act different, and we proclaim the Gospel with our lives. The proclamation of the Gospel through our actions and words is central to hastening of the coming of the day of the Lord. Jesus declares in Matthew, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (24:14). And Peter expands this by saying, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s desire is that all people would have the opportunity to hear the Gospel, to have their hearts pierced by it bearing repentance and life in Jesus. Until the Gospel has been proclaimed to all, giving all an opportunity to have their hearts transformed by it, Jesus will not come.
So, how do we hasten the day of the coming of the Lord? By being a Gospel people, living and proclaiming that the Kingdom has come in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and by pointing to the hope that is ours when Jesus comes again ushering in the fulfillment of His Kingdom in the new heavens and new earth.
By now, you’ve likely seen the Tweet pronouncing the wildfire which decimated a large portion of Fort McMurray as a Karmic #ClimateChange Fire. The reasoning is as follows: the oil sands cause pollution in a vastly disproportionate way (which evidence shows is false) therefore nature and/or God is getting back at the oil sands for the damage caused the planet. Is this a case of what goes around, comes around? Is that even a Christian way of thinking?
In another way, whenever a natural disaster afflicts a particular region, there are always some who are quick to pronounce the tragic event as God’s wrath or judgment being poured out upon an unrepentant people. Certainly, God has worked through cataclysmic events throughout history as a way of calling His people back to Himself. Many take issue with this premise because it does not seem to be consistent with how God is revealed in the New Testament; we’ve so fully embraced a God of unconditional acceptance and tolerance that we forget that God is holy and desires holiness from His people. Part of God’s character (which must remain unchanging while His actions can change as He chooses to deal with issues in different ways) involves wrath, not in a hateful or vengeful way but as a means of preserving His holiness. Christians love Jesus because He took upon Himself all of God’s wrath toward us as He satisfied the sentence of death placed on our lives because of sin. Is God’s wrath the context we as Christians ought to use to reflect on the current situation in Fort McMurray?
I will be the first to admit that there are no easy answers when trying to reconcile why bad things happen. And I am fully aware that any answer given may perpetuate hurt or cause offense when heard in the midst of grief and despair; I am trying to avoid this while helping us to see God in the midst of the devastation. With that disclaimer, I offer a few reflections on the wildfire in Fort McMurray (which is also applicable to any other event which causes us to stop and wonder, ‘why?’.
First, we need to be clear about what this disaster isn’t
Photo Public Domain Author: U.S. Department of Agriculture; Source: Flickr: 20120620-FS-UNK- 0009
From time to time, we in small towns suffer from an inferiority complex; we are just a small town without many resources, fancy infrastructure, or the population to make a difference. Don’t get me wrong: we work hard and are very generous with our time and resources, and I can’t imagine a better place to raise a family. But we have big city envy. The same is true in the small town church, where we fall prey to that same thinking—we want to look like the big city church with lots of programs and nice stuff but think we don’t have the resources to do it.
Yesterday (March 13), the Leader & District Ministerial hosted a Mission Connection event which brought representatives from 14 mission agencies that are doing work locally and abroad. My heart is filled with joy and excitement after hearing stories of the work God is doing in people’s lives across the globe.
The most encouraging thing for me was the local connection. Each and every one of the organizations had some local connection: a person serving on the board, involved as a missionary or volunteer, funds that had been raised locally and sent out, seminars offered here that have brought change in people’s lives, or ideas cultivated in Leader and are now a reality.
It can be surprising the impact that little old Leader has/is having in God’s Kingdom. In talking with the representatives at this event I heard repeatedly the amazement at the local church’s missional mindedness which was evidenced in having 14 organizations make the effort to come to Leader. I also heard time and again the impact of the people of Leader’s generosity and heart to see God’s Kingdom come.
I was especially moved by the story Tom Brook, representative from Canadian Lutheran World Relief, shared of his travels in Ethiopia. In trying to describe what country he came from, he simply said Canada to see if the people were familiar with it. The people in this region of Ethiopia were very familiar with it and immediately said, “Oh yes, Leader, Saskatchewan.” You see, their lives have been changed through the funding supplied for relief and food sustainability projects in the area and the mission trips taken. Leader has a reputation all the way to Ethiopia as being a kind, generous, and missional community.
During the event, my mind was drawn to John 1:46-47 where Nathanael expresses doubt to Philip about the call Philip just received to follow Jesus. “Nathanael said to him, ’Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” We may be tempted to wonder, ‘can anything good come from Leader?’ I pray that Mission Connection would be the ‘come and see’ moment for the church in Leader, that indeed something (and many things) good can come from this small, out of the way place.
It is my hope that this event will have far-reaching consequences for the ministry of the church in Leader that we would see and be excited for the work God has entrusted to us. May our ministry and work be encouraged and our resolve strengthened to see God’s Kingdom come in Leader and around the world.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
These are the words that get spoken over us on Ash Wednesday as our foreheads are marked with the sign of the cross in ash. I’ve always loved the rich imagery and symbolism tied together in this event: the mixture of ash and oil; the tension of (new) life and death; the reminder of our mortal immortality. These are important tensions with which each of us as Christians live. Ash Wednesday speaks to our human existence in a profoundly powerful way: we have it right there on our forehead the reminder of our sin and God’s perfect answer to it.
As a pastor, I get to enter into people’s humanity in a way not everyone does. I experience the joy of a family celebrating God’s work in baptism. I see people’s thankfulness when they come to the Table and are refreshed by Jesus’ body and blood. I sense the conviction and remorse as I place ashes upon my brothers and sisters’ heads. I love that I am welcomed into those intimate moments of people’s journey with God. And yet, in a very real sense, I am able to maintain some distance that is until last night when my two oldest children (4 and 2 years old) came forward on their own and I had to look them in the eyes, speaking these words over them: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
In that moment I was overcome by my emotions but at a deeper level had an encounter with God. All the realities of Ash Wednesday came to a head at that moment. The reality that my children are sinners and contend with desires that pull them away from God. The reality that my children have and will face the effects of the fall: hurt, brokenness, despair; the reality of my own children’s mortality. But, inseparable from all of these realities, the greater reality.
Yes, my children (and I) are sinners and face temptation that pulls them away from God; but God’s grace is greater and the Holy Spirit dwelling in them is stronger.
Yes, my children (and I) have and will live with hurt, brokenness, and despair from the fall; but in Christ they have forgiveness and hope.
Yes, my children (and I) are finite and will one day face death; but Christ took our eternal death on Himself and they have the promise of resurrection life.
Last night, Ash Wednesday became real to me in a new way. May we learn to embrace these very real tensions in our lives. Though we have times of doubt and struggle, when our sin threatens to overwhelm us, we have a greater reality in Jesus, one that offers hope, strength, promise, and life.
How do we as Christians respond to events such as the terrorist attack in Paris on Friday? That is one part of the question that I’ve been wrestling with while the other goes deeper. How do we respond to the growing threat of the radicals within Islam? At first look, you may be expecting a complicated answer and certainly there are important nuances of which we must be aware. But the answer is surprising simple and it comes from the Gospel reading for this past Sunday.
We are reminded in Mark 13 that first of all, we should not be surprised by this event. We may be shocked by how brazen the attacks were or we may have been startled that terrorism once again is striking close to home but we should not be surprised. Jesus tells us that we ought to expect these sort of things as they “must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Mark 13: 7-8). Our Lord continues by saying, “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 9:13). The unsettling reality we must live with is that we, as Christians, will be hated by the world—everything and everyone that is opposed to God.
Does that mean we ought to cower back, change our message or lifestyle, or feel sorry for ourselves? No! For we know that the victory is ultimately won. Jesus is victorious! God is working to bring His peace and presence to this hurting and broken world. In times such as these we ought to look ahead and long for that day when Jesus returns triumphant.
For we know that the victory is ultimately won. Jesus is victorious!
But we can’t sit back and wait for that to come. God has called us as His people to be His agents in establishing His perfect peace, rule, and reign on the earth. So while we wait we must confront the question at the beginning, how do we as Christians respond to these terrorist attacks?
Loving our enemies also does not mean that we should harbour hate and fear against refugees. Just as not all Muslims are radicals, not all (in fact the overwhelming majority) of refugees are not terrorists. They simply are people trying to survive and keep their families safe; it is not a choice they would have liked to make for themselves.
I pray that we would be mindful of these things as the situation continues to unfold. There are many emotionally charges responses we as human might want to take but we as Christians must remember our command to love God and our neighbours even to the point of death.
Picture from Pixaby. License CC0. Public Domain
If you’ve paid attention to the news recently, you’ll know that there is a humanitarian crisis spreading across the Middle East and Europe. Millions of people are being displaced from their homes in Syria and Iraq because of political and religious unrest and persecution.
The numbers are absolutely staggering:
While we in North America are confronted with these enormous numbers representing people who are clinging to survival and are inundated with pictures of children and families taking great risks to escape the violence, our first response can be one of paralysis. We may think, ‘how can we possibly make a difference?’
Yes, the scale of this crisis is beyond pale which makes it tempting to give up before taking any action. But the good news we as followers of Jesus cling to is this: our God created this world, is bigger than it, is active in it, and continues to love and redeem it. It can seem like nothing could possibly make a difference to this situation: it is out of control and unstoppable. Throughout history, God has intervened in precisely these moment—perhaps not when or as we think he ought but nonetheless He has been at work and is at work.
But the good news we as followers of Jesus cling to is this: our God created this world, is bigger than it, is active in it, and continues to love and redeem it.
Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask for God’s Kingdom to come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That is precisely how we should pray for Syria, for the refugees, and for those accepting the displaced people. May God’s Kingdom—that upside Kingdom where the rich and powerful of this world bow at the name of Jesus—come and be established in the villages, towns, and cities of Syria. And may God’s Kingdom come and be established in the hearts and minds of those who are in a position to help (especially the western world) that we might boldly open our doors to the poor of this world.
So what can we possibly do?
For more information, check out these resources:
Canadian Lutheran World Relief- http://clwr.donorshops.com/product/685132A/syrianrefugeerelief.php
Mennonite Central Committee- http://mcc.org/learn/more/syria-iraq-crisis-response
Top Photo: IHH: Humanitarian Relief Foundation. https://www.flickr.com/photos/ihhinsaniyardimvakfi/9577266320. Used under Creative Commons License.
Last week we thought a little about some differences in English Bible translations. All English translations would presume to take God’s Word literally and are trying to best convey what God is saying to His people through the written word. A word-for-word translation attempts to convey God’s message directly as recorded in the original language which often makes it more difficult for an English reader to understand what is being said. Whereas a thought-for-thought translation attempts to convey God’s message in terms of the thrust of the thought which makes it easier to understand but can sacrifice preciseness of the text.
So how can we be sure that what we are reading in our Bible is actually the Word of God as it was originally given? To answer this, let’s step back in time and see how the Bible (we’ll focus on the New Testament) has been handed down throughout the ages.
During the time of the New Testament and shortly thereafter, there were a number of different methods for recording Scripture. The books of the New Testament were primarily written on pieces of papyrus (a paper like material made from a papyrus plant) and passed throughout the churches. If a new copy was needed it had to be copied by hand which took time and careful attention to detail. There were a number of methods to check the accuracy of their copy and given the sheer volume of the work, there are a surprisingly few differences between copies.
When looking at the manuscripts of the New Testament and their copies, there are four general categories that differences (variants) of text are classified.
1. Spelling errors or nonsense errors- The scribe could simply misspell a word, perhaps adding or forgetting a letter in the word, creating a different word entirely. After copying line after line of text in a dimly lit room, the scribe’s eye could ‘wander’ and lose his place whereby he might start copying on a different line of text.
2. Minor changes that do not alter meaning- This category is primarily for cases where word order is switched around between copies which can happen in Greek without affecting the meaning of the sentence.
3. Changes that are not plausible- Sometimes a well-meaning scribe would add a word or two to try to clear up a difficult reading or try to make it sound like another part of Scripture. Other times a scribe with a certain theological agenda might make an intentional change. For instance, Matthew 27:35 reads: Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots.” Whereas a variant reading has: Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.”
This is reading is rejected because it adds a line of explanation to the text that isn’t necessary which likely reflects a scribe trying to clarify the text.
4. Major changes that are possible- Out of all the variants of text, these major changes account for less than 1%. Two of the most obvious major variants are Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 which were omitted in the earliest manuscripts and do not seem to fit the writing styles of Mark or John.
A few things must be said in light of this information. While we have no original copies of the New Testament (there are portions of manuscripts which date to within 100 years of the completion of the New Testament) there is remarkable continuity between all available copies. If an error was discovered, that copy was destroyed. While there are a number of different possible readings of texts there is broad consensus of what comprises the Majority Text (the accepted text and likely the original text).
Reading all this may have caused you to wonder about the accuracy of your Bible and whether the words you have are the words God intended to be there. This information can be unsettling but it must be said that the disputed texts of Scripture do not change the meaning of Scripture or any theology derived from it. We can have confidence in the Greek text as we have it today (from which our English Bibles are translated) as it was meticulously maintained and preserved and accurately reflects the original text of God’s Holy Word.
I often have people ask me which translation of the Bible is the best to use. My reply is, “It depends on what you are doing with it.” This sometimes catches people off guard assuming that there should be a one size fits all answer, after all how can the Bible be God’s unchanging Word if every translation seems to say something different?
One of the first things to keep in mind about our English Bibles is that they are a translation from the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. As in all translation work, choices of sentence structure and word order must be made. We often structure our sentences in English around the basic layout of Subject, Verb, Object upon which we add adjectives, adverbs, or other modifiers. Other languages do not always structure their sentences in such a way, which makes word for word translating very difficult. For instance, our English Bibles have Jesus saying in John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser/gardener.” The word for word translation in the Greek is, “I am the vine true, and the Father of me the husbandman is.”
A precise word for word translation does not make sense in the way we structure English. While this particular example is relatively straightforward (you can easily move the pieces around so they make sense to us) not all sentences in the Scriptures are. There are sometimes difficult decisions which must be made about which words belong together. In the above example, one can also see that not every Greek or Hebrew word has an English parallel. This is the real challenge of translation.
Each translation or version of our English Bibles has a team (you can find out who was involved in the translation work by flipping to the front pages) working together to bring the Hebrew or Greek language into English. It is their task to choose a word which is true to the original language but also gives understanding for modern readers. The Greek word in John 15:1 ‘husbandman’ therefore gets translated into English as vinedresser or gardener depending on your translation. There are other instances in Scripture where more than two options of word choice could plausibly be used.
These are two very basic issues which makes translating Scripture from the Hebrew or Greek to English challenging (there are many other issues which I’d be happy to talk with you about). We end up with a variety of translations because each version tries to do something different. This results in a spectrum of translation. Some versions try to be as true to a word to word translation as possible often at the expense of readability. This is known as Formal Equivalence. On the other extreme there are versions which strive for easy of reading and understanding (capturing the thought of the sentence) at the expense of the literal word, also known as Dynamic Equivalence.
So, which translation is right for you? Well it depends! For an in-depth study of Scripture a translation on the Word for Word side of the spectrum would be ideal. If you are looking for a Bible for devotional use then a translation closer to the Thought for Thought side might suit your purposes. We are blessed to have a wide variety of English translations which are helpful for our growth as Christians. Having several translations available is always a good idea so you can compare words and thoughts to gain a better understanding of what God’s Word says.
No matter which translation you choose, it is always important to ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see and heart to comprehend God's Living Word.
After being in Leader for 2 ½ years, one thing I still marvel at is the interconnectedness between people and creation, it is one of the most important things I have learned during my time here. People know the land and they know the weather. Everything instinctual for those whose livelihoods are dependent on knowing and being connected to the land. It matters what happens on their land because a decision today will have lasting consequences.
On Thursday, the Pope released his latest encyclical, Laudato si' (On Care For Our Common Home) which focuses on climate change, its effect on the poor and the moral responsibility of the church to respond. There was some debate outside of the church whether the Pope should be speaking about scientific matters. The church should have a leading role in caring for creation as that is the commission God gave to His people from the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:28). This commission along with the unique relationship to God and the creative qualities bestowed upon humanity of freedom, knowledge, and will set humanity in a distinct position over and above the rest of the created order.
The document decries humanity’s abuse of power which has led to the neglect and destruction of creation. Pope Francis lays blame on an incorrect theology whereby there “was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about” (116). At best, we are guilty of neglecting care for the world and at worst we are guilty of exploiting the world for our benefit/amusement.
“there can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself”
However, Christianity is in a unique position of being able to speak into the situation and offer hope. Pope Francis shares the core of the human problem and the answer that Christians offer when he writes, “there can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself” (118). This is the crux of Christian faith—the hope (read: assurance) that the God who created us has begun the process of restoring in us that which was tarnished in the fall—the imago Dei, the image of God.
The Christian church is in the business of relationship; the vertical relationship between humanity and God and the horizontal relationship that exists among humans. God is renewing and restoring these relationships as we the church proclaim the renewal of relationship through the blood of Jesus to a world that is broken, hurting, and destructive. Until all relationships are fully restored at the return of Christ when the whole earth becomes God’s dwelling place, the world will continue to suffer the effects of sin and brokenness.
Thanks be to God that He is working restoration, healing, and hope in the world through us His people. While the ecological crisis we are facing may seem daunting, the church’s task is to proclaim the healing that comes through Christ Jesus alone and to live out our creation mandate of being faithful stewards of God’s creation.
Photo used under Creative Commons: CC0. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/New_Holland_tractor_in_a_field.jpg
Pastor J-M shares some occasional thoughts and musings on our life together as followers of Christ. The views are his own.