Tag Archives: faith

Sensing God Through Our Sight

This Sunday, we’re kicking off a new series at The First Mennonite Church called Sensing God Through Our Worship.  The series was created by Arlyn Friesen Epp of Mennonite Church Manitoba and explores how we might experience God through all 5 of our senses.

This Sunday, we’ll be looking at Sight!

For me personally, there are two sights that often come to mind for me when I think of God.  The first is Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son.

Rembrandt

Of course, I’ve been personally impacted by much of Henri Nouwen’s writings on this painting, and this image often reminds me of things such as God’s grace, mercy, love, acceptance, belonging, and redemption.  The Son finds true healing, true self-worth, and true self-value in the intimate embrace of the Father.

When I think of seeing God in nature, my mind immediately jumps to a very special place for my wife and I, Vespers Point at Camp Hermosa in Goderich, ON.

the point_Fotor

Not only do you get incredible sunsets and a view of Lake Huron that constantly reminds you of the amazing things that God has made; but this is where people have been taking time to worship God every summer evening for over 80 years.  Marriages have been proposed here.  People have shared vulnerable, gut-wrenching stories of loss here.  People have made their first decision to believe in God and follow Christ here.  Families have been meeting here for several generations.  This sight reminds me of a very sacred place on God’s good earth.

What sorts of sights connect you to God?  Or make you feel like you are experiencing something of the divine?

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Wrongs to Rights

This Sunday, we kick off a month-long exploration into a discussion that affects all of us.  For the next few weeks, we’re going to look into one of the moments in history when church was not at its best.  And we need to hear this truth.

The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, published in 2015, details just how much churches participated in the systemic cultural genocide of First Nations people across the country of Canada.  And this doesn’t include just particular denominations or particular churches.  It largely includes all of us who were doing church in Canada over the last 200-300 years.

But we believe there is hope.  Hope both for our First Nations brothers and sisters and for the church.  The TRC is a step forward in hope.  Now, the next step is for us to listen, learn,and discern how we will respond to the evidence of history.

This Sunday, Tom Neufeld will share with us on some of the history behind the church’s colonialism and exploitation of First Nations peoples, and he will share this within the context of stories within the Bible itself where people of faith decided that it was okay to harm and exclude a particular race or group of people.

To get the conversation started, here’s a video from Mennonite Church Canada connected to the TRC sessions that took place in Montreal in 2013.  We think this will be of great value for you to check out before we begin on Sunday

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Why does God make it so hard to reach heaven?

Continuing on our list of questions from our Googling for God series, this is one of the questions that we received online.

I think this raises one particular question for me.

What is your assumption about getting to heaven? In other words, what exactly are you under the impression that it takes to get to heaven?

I think if I knew the answer to this question, I could likely best answer you. But unfortunately, we don’t have the opportunity to go back-and-forth for clarity. So, I think I’ll make an assumption here that is fairly common when I converse people on this topic: we get to heaven by performing enough good deeds and avoiding enough bad deeds.

Christians have often believed this assumption. We have often said that we have to do the right things, avoid enough of the wrong things, wear the right clothes, hang out with the right people, avoid the wrong people, and do enough of these things in order to get to heaven.

In fact, this assumption is fairly common amongst many spiritual and religious views. For some of us, we believe we have to follow all of the right laws and not break any of those laws. For some of us, we must prove that we are a good person by performing enough good deeds or acts of kindness.  For others, if we perform enough spiritual rituals or acts, then God will accept us.

Most of these views predicate themselves on the action and the work of the believer. It’s up to the believer to get him or herself to heaven.

So long as our arrival in heaven depends on our personal efforts, it is going to feel hard. Will I ever be good enough? How do I know that I am good enough? What if I’m deceived into thinking I’m good enough? Will I ever be able to do everything that God demands of me?

In this situation, it IS hard to reach heaven!

Many faiths and religions run under the assumption that heaven is like a mountain. We’re all trying to be good enough to reach the top and avoid any bad things that may drag us down.

But here’s the thing that’s interesting in the Christian story: God comes down from the mountain and lifts humanity up to the top.

Christianity seems to suggest that when Jesus dies on the cross and is resurrected, he removes any and all need for us to perform ritual sacrifices, say and do the right things, and earn our way into heaven. Instead, it is all done for us.

Paul says this in Romans 3: 27-28: “Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal [another way of saying reaching heaven] is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”

When he’s asked by some of his followers what he expects them to do in order to be saved or reach heaven, Jesus says, “This is what God wants you to do: Believe in the one he has sent.”

I can understand why you may be under the assumption that you have to work to earn your way to heaven. That’s a pretty common assumption. But maybe you need to hear the Good News that God came down from the mountain and paid the price, so you don’t have to worry about earning enough to make your way to heaven.

Now, you simply have to trust and believe that God has done this for you; and see what life looks like when you live in that reality.

I think Jesus means it when he says in Matt. 11: 28-30: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

I hope that’s Good News to you today!

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Trump, the Pax Romana, and Palm Sunday

This Sunday, many churches around the world, including our own, will take time to remember and honour Palm Sunday: the moment when Jesus enters into Jerusalem and begins the events prior to his arrest and crucifixion.

Two particular things happen on Palm Sunday: Jesus rides a donkey colt, and a number of people wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The symbol of riding on a donkey colt was meant to conjure up the image of a King riding into Jerusalem.  Solomon rides on a mule when he is anointed as King over all of Israel.  Zechariah also prophesies that when the long-awaited Messiah, the great King of Zion, will enter Jerusalem “riding on a donkey’s colt” (Zech. 9:9).

The addition of palm branches is interesting.  Palm branches were already a common symbol of royalty in Jewish culture at the time; but palm branches were particularly connected to when the King entered the Temple and performed a sacrifice upon the altar.

Palm Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry as a King into Jerusalem and we see two things quickly emerge in this image of Jesus: 1) the donkey colt was also a symbol of humility and 2) Jesus is going to be a King performing a sacrifice.  But instead of sacrificing an animal on the altar, he sacrifices himself upon the cross to heal the world of its sins.

Now try lining up this image of King with that we see quickly emerging in our beloved Donald J. Trump.  As a leader or ruler, Trump says things like:

“We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning. Believe me.”

[Speaking of a protester] “I want to punch him in the face.”

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ’em, would you? Seriously. Okay?”

“See, in the good old days this didn’t use to happen [people protesting], because they used to treat them very rough. We’ve become very weak.”

When asked about the recent assault of a protester who was subsequently manhandled by three police officers (not the man who actually assaulted him), Trump says, “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

Trump represents what we could call the Pax Romana or “Peace of Rome.”  Just before the birth of Christ until about 180 A.D., Rome enjoyed about a relative peace for about 200 years.  Their claim was that the civilization and military expansion of the Roman Empire had engineered this peace.

However, the Pax Romana was anything but peaceful.  The Empire engaged in widespread torture and executions in order to maintain power over oppressed cultures, and it still engaged in warfare.  It just didn’t have any major civil wars during this time or any major opponents who threatened the stability of the Empire.

But the basic concept of the Pax Romana was that physical force and violence against your enemies creates security and peace.

This is what Donald Trump believes will happen when he uses physical and verbal force against protesters.  This is also what also lead Trump to say things like: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

This was the logic of the Pax Romana.  Use whatever physical force is necessary in order to ensure peace.

Two different leaders.  Two different concepts of “King.”  One leader advocates that because he is so rich and powerful, he will make America great again.  The other leader rides on a donkey colt to announce his arrival.

One leader says you have to sacrifice people on the altar of peace and security in order to be safe.  The other leader sacrifices himself to save the world.

This Palm Sunday let’s ask ourselves “What is truly the peace that we want for the world? And which kind of King will we ultimately follow?”

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To recant or not to recant, that is the question!

 Our Sunday school class teacher posed a real puzzler of a question to us,  “If you were a Christian, and someone came with a gun, and they were killing people who were Christians, and they asked you, ‘Are you a Christian?’   What would you say?”

Our whole class fell silent.  This was a serious question to ponder and it really captured the attention of this normally rowdy group of grade six-ers.

Finally Betty-Jean raised her hand.  “I would tell them I was not a Christian, but inside, I would still be a Christian!”    I remember this so clearly because that was exactly the answer I had come up with, it’s just that Betty-Jean had the courage to say it out loud.

Then our Sunday school teacher looked very serious, and shook his head solemnly, saying that was the wrong answer, and then he quoted a verse which says that if we deny Jesus, Jesus will deny us.

Where a minute before I had been jealous of Betty-Jean for sharing my answer, now I was so relieved that I had not said anything out loud!

This week we are going to meet another early Anabaptist leader, a female leader. The issue of recanting, or denying something you believe in  was a very real question at that time.  Come to church and hear about what she decided to do.

This week’s prayer:  As we proclaim good news Lord, give us wisdom to know how and when to do it!

 

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No Sunday school picnic

Tomorrow I am performing a wedding ceremony for someone in my family.   While weddings are joyful occasions,  there is always a part of me that is amazed that we embark on such risky ventures.  As someone who has been married over 25 years, part of me wants to grab these young people by the shoulders and speak very sharply to them, “Do you know how hard this will be?”  

At the same time, I know that we are equipped by God to meet challenges; a lot of marriages do survive, even through very very hard times.

This week we are going to be looking at a text where Paul speaks sharply to us.  He wants us to know that this is not going to be a Sunday school picnic.  We are heading into battle when we get baptized.  And in order to stand firm, we need to be equipped.  We need to put on the full armour of God.

Armour!  Hey, that’s not a very Mennonite image!  Hope to see you Sunday!

This week’s prayer:  We want to stand firm this week.  Show us the way, open our eyes to the ways you are equipping us for this challenge.  Amen,

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A time for silence

This Sunday evening we are gathering at church to hear the testimonies of our baptismal candidates, as well as sharing our testimonies with them.  I remember when I was 17, I had to share a testimony before I got baptized, but it was with a group of deacons.  Maybe you had to share a testimony when you were a young adult, you know that it’s a nerve-wracking experience.  Speaking in public is never easy, and speaking in public about something as deep as faith is even harder.

Our tradition encourages sharing testimonies before we are baptized because there is a time for words.  A time to sit down and struggle to put words to something personal and meaningful. How well will your words express what you need them to express?  It depends, but often we find that words are inadequate.  They capture something of what we want to say, but not all of it.

This Sunday I will be finishing our series on “God and the Spiritual Life”, and I’ll be talking about the fact that there is also a time for silence.  A time where words fail us, a time where we need to give up the word thing and just be with God.  When is it a time for words, and when is it a time for silence?    That’s the tricky part!

Today’s prayer:  Help Claire and Jesslyn as they work to find words that express their faith in you.  Help  us to have courage to articulate our own faith when we  are given the chance.  Give us wisdom to know when we are called to speak, and when we are called to be silent.

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