Tag Archives: God

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.


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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MCEC Annual Gathering 2016

At the end of April, delegates and representatives from Mennonite churches across Ontario and all of the eastern Canadian provinces gathered in Leamington, ON, and spent time hanging out, singing and celebrating together, and touching base on family business.

There were messages from long-established Mennonite churches on what is new in their neck of the woods, and there was time to hear from churches who are newer to the MCEC family.  There was also a lot of time spent being challenged to dream for new things, and being challenged to ask the question, “What does God have in store for us next?”

If you were unable to be at this gathering, or if you were unable to catch the livestream online during the event, check out this page for links to videos that cover many different aspects of the weekend together: https://mcec.ca/annual-church-gathering-highlights

Definitely check out the videos from Stuart Murray and Alex Ellish on Finding God in my Neighbourhood!

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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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Does God Change With Time?

I think you could actually break this down into two questions:

1. Does God change with time?

No, the Bible seems to say that God is eternal and unchanging. In Malachi 3:6, God says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change.” (NLT). Abraham and Moses both refer to God as the “eternal” god (Gen. 21:33, Deut. 33: 27), and Paul certainly picks up that theme in Romans 1:20 where he refers to God’s “eternal power.”

However, I think a good second question would be:

2. Does our relationship with God change over time?

In this case, emphatically yes! Paul says in Gal. 3: 24-25, “The law was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came. So now, through faith in Christ, we are made right with God. But now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.” (NLT)

 A pretty scandalous statement for a Pharisee and expert in the Law of Moses to make!

Paul seems to suggest that the Torah or Law in the Old Testament (with all of its guidelines about what to eat, what to wear, how to relate with people, etc.) was given to the Jewish people (and incidentally to the world) for a time as a way to show us what is right and wrong; as a way to show us what God wants us to do.

But now Paul seems to say that we have changed. We have grown up, so to speak. For a time, the law was given to us to act like a guardian or a babysitter; telling us when to go to sleep, don’t eat too much candy, etc. But now, because we can place our faith in Christ, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

Paul seems to suggest that in Christ, we mature in our faith, and living out love as Jesus teaches will actually fulfill all of the requirements of the law. (Matt. 22: 34-40)

Love will now allow us to maturely live out the principles that were given to us in the law.

When we are 5 years old, we need to be told when to go to bed. We need to be told don’t eat too much chocolate or we’ll be sick. We need that sort of guidance at that age. However, try telling a 20-year old when to go to bed!

Hopefully by 20 years of age, we’ve learned why it’s healthy to get a lot of sleep, and we don’t need to be told when to go to bed.  In fact, if we try to live by the same rules at the age of 20 as we did when we were 5, it will actually be harmful to us and to others!

Now, if you are the parent of a child such as this, and you change how you relate to your child, does that mean you have necessarily changed? Certainly not! But your relationship with your child has changed because time has passed and they have grown.

This is what the Bible seems to suggest has happened in our own spirituality.

In the Bible, we have an Old Testament and a New Testament. We have an old way of relating to God and a new way of relating to God. We have an old way of living by religious rules and regulations, and a new way of living by the principle of love that Christ teaches.

But the eternal, unchanging God is the same parent behind both ways of relating.

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Dangerous Religious Thought?

If you’ve been following the story, Gretta Vosper is a minister in the United Church who recently made headlines as a church minister who is openly…wait for it…atheist. That’s right. She works as a minister, and she openly and intentionally teaches that God does not exist; neither does Jesus.

Now, this raises all sorts of interesting questions. What does it mean to be the church? What is the connection between God and the concept of church? How do doubt, skepticism, and just outright disbelief fit into a community that uses the word “church” to describe itself? How do we handle things when someone disagrees with us on our understanding of God? How do we facilitate dialogue between different opinions?

I don’t want to spend a lot of time initially on the question of whether or not Gretta can be a minister and be an atheist (that’s a whole different series of questions); but I did find one particular comment that she made interesting. During a recent CBC interview (link is below), Gretta Vosper says, “Our use of theological language that posits a moral authority is a very dangerous tool in the 21st century.” Gretta seems to suggest here that belief in a deity that leads to moral authority is dangerous. And I’d actually like to respond to this statement in two ways. Today, I’ll share part one of my thoughts.

I’ll start by saying this: “You don’t have to just be religious about God to be dangerous. You can be religious about anything and be dangerous.”

What do I mean by “religious?” Let me suggest that in this context, I’m using “religious” to refer to “anyone who believes so certainly in an idea or a principle that no difference of opinion is accepted.”

It is not wrong to simply have an idea or a principle, or even a moral authority. This is actually just how thought, interaction, and relationships all take place. For example, your moral authority could be “God wants me to be kind to people,” or you might say, “it is generally good for the survival of human beings to be kind to one another.” Both are moral decisions, and both possess a moral authority that drives someone to make a decision. In one case, it’s the theological idea of a God that says be kind to others; in the other case, the moral authority is a philosophy that might make reasonable sense to the person who chooses it.

All of our interactions with the world are fueled by ideas and principles (ie. it is good to have friends, I like this person, I wish to be kind to this person, it is good to be kind to people, etc.). A problem arises when we become religious about our ideas and/or principles. By this I mean, it is dangerous when we believe so certainly in our idea and our principle that any degree of coercion and/or force is justified in order to cause people to conform to your idea or principle.

For example, “non-believers are going to hell, we must make them confess belief in God through any means necessary,” or “religious belief is the opiate of the masses, we must eliminate religion through any means necessary.” Many people have made both kinds of statements.

I agree with Gretta that being religious about something can be very dangerous. We’ve certainly seen that play out in most major religions in the world; even my own faith of Christianity.

However, I would say that religions do not have the corner market on religious behavior. As human beings, we can be religious about a great many things: political systems, economic systems, scientific theories, socio-economic class divides, sports team fandom, racism, and more.

I’ll give you a bit of a teaser for next week’s part two of my response to Gretta Vosper’s statement: when asked about people who disagree with him, or are “enemies” with him, Jesus says, “love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you…if you love only those who love you, what good is that?” (Matt. 5: 44-46, NLT).

More next week!

Here is also the link to the CBC interview with Gretta Vosper:



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My last post

With a title like that, I feel I should have bugle music in the background!  Yes, the time has come for me to write my last post for this blog, because this Sunday is my last service as minister at The First Mennonite Church in Vineland.

When I was called to this church as pastor, we had an “installation” service.  So I guess this means that I am being “uninstalled” this Sunday.  I’m not sure those words really fit, because it sounds too impersonal, sort of like furniture or an appliance.

The theme I’ve chosen for this Sunday is “Letting Go”.   I am “letting go” of my role as pastor here which frees the space for a new minister to come, and you are “letting go” of me, so that I am free to leave, and minister in other places.

I let go of writing this blog, which allows someone else’s voice a space, I let go of preaching, pastoring, administrating…   And so it’s a transition time.  Transitions are tough.  It’s often in transitions that we realize how much we need God’s help and guidance.  God leads us from ending to beginning, from here to there, from this to that.  God shows us the way.

I am entirely confident in God’s leading into the future.   Blessings to First Mennonite and all the people here, I have been so blessed to be a part of this community.  I have seen God’s face here in your faces, experienced God’s love through your love.

This week’s prayer is an old Irish blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Carol Penner

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This old house

When I tore up the rug off the stairway at home to replace it in preparation for selling our house, I got a surprise.  There was a note there under the underpadding.  It read, “This carpet was put down by Carol and Katie and Alex in 1999” and each of us signed our name.    Now there’s a new carpet on the stairs.  I didn’t leave a note this time.

And then yesterday  I was cleaning the patio.  There’s a piece of cement that has our family handprints in it.  On a different part of the patio there is another handprint with the date 1908 written in the cement. 

Time goes by, we have spent time fixing up this old house, but it’s not ours to keep forever.  It was here before I was born, sheltering families, and it will be here after I am gone, sheltering people not yet born.

The church is the house of God, it’s a place where people come to meet God and meet each other.    It’s easy to think about “my church” and have a wish list of the ten most great things I’d like to see in my own personal church.

But that’s not what church is about.  This is God’s house, and we get to live in it for a short time.  What will we make of the time?

This week’s prayer:  Thank you for letting us be a part of your church in this time and this place.  Bless our discussions about the nature of First Mennonite.

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