Tag Archives: Mennonite

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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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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All things Menno

I have friends named Menno.  I never thought of that as funny until I met someone named Luther.  They were Lutheran and they were named Luther:  Luther the Lutheran.  And then I realized that Menno the Mennonite is kind’ve funny too!

I go to the First Mennonite church, I read the publication “The Mennonite”, I cook from “The Mennonite Treasury” and “Mennonite Girls Can Cook”, I attended Canadian Mennonite Bible College.  Everywhere the word Mennonite. But who is this Menno that is so present everywhere, and why is he so present everywhere?

And why are we called Mennonites and not Simonites?

What do you know about Menno Simons?   I think we bear this name but lots of us don’t really know anything about this man.  This Sunday we’ll be looking at the life of this faithful leader, and his devotion to God and the church. What is it about his leadership that so inspired people, that they were labelled as belonging to his flock?  What was happening in the church at that time that they needed  a leader “for such a time as this?”

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That rings a bell

In my silent retreat this week at a monastery in New York, the worship services began with a bell ringing. A big bell is a beautiful sound that draws your attention. It’s no surprise that many religious traditions begin services with the sound of a bell. But Mennonites are not bell ringers. Long ago we decided that we didn’t need fancy bells and whistles to get our attention. We will come to church without external calls to worship, and assemble on time for our services. We come to worship because we want to hear what God is saying to us.

One of the things that I particularly appreciate about First Mennonite is that people pay attention when I’m preaching. Having listened and worked hard to hear God’s good news message for our church, I appreciate that people are respectful and listening, even though I know that not every sermon speaks to everyone equally.

I would like to see the same sort of respect and attention given to the scripture that begins our service. God calls us through scripture, and each week the call to worship is like a bell that should draw and focus our attention. I wonder if you notice that I do not begin the service with some chitchat about how I am and what nice weather we’re having. If it was chitchatting, then it wouldn’t matter very much to me if people drifted in gradually and others buried their head in the bulletin reading the announcements.

The call to worship is proclamation. It is God’s word from scripture that sets the tone and theme of our worship service. Because it’s the first thing that we hear in a service, it’s strength and power has the potential to reverberate in us throughout the week.

To enable us to hear this call to worship, I am asking that if you are in the foyer when I reach the pulpit, please remain at the back of the church until people stand for the first song. You may think you are being inobtrusive, just slipping in. But I can assure you since I have a view of everyone’s eyes, many people’s heads and most people’s eyes are turning to watch you take your seat. So not only are you missing the call to worship because you are walking in late, you are distracting everyone else’s concentration.

I wonder whether part of this inattention has to do with preparation for worship; we aren’t quite tuned in at first. By the time the prayers of the people and the sermon come around we are more focussed. Perhaps we need to begin our preparations at home with this week’s prayer:

Dear God: You know I need good news this week; you have words that will touch the deepest longings I have. On Sunday morning as I get ready and come to church, give me an expectant and open heart so that I can hear all you have to say to me.

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Peace on the home front

This Sunday is peace Sunday. Mennonites believe that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and that as Christians we should be peaceful people. We have a peace position as a denomination. When push came to shove in world politics, and Canada went to war in 1939, it turns out that just over 50% of Mennonites eligible to enlist decided to be conscientious objectors, choosing to not take up arms. That leaves a pretty big percentage of Mennonites who did choose to fight.

There’s lots to discuss here. Why did they fight, how did they fit that in with their Christian faith, what do people believe now, what is our position about military involvement, should Christians ever bear arms, what about being a police officer? (to name a few discussion directions!) There are lots of debatable points.

The peace I want to talk about this Sunday is closer to home. Do almost 50% of Mennonites tolerate violence in their homes, or are we more peaceful the closer to home we get? And just what is a violent act? It’s time to take a good hard look at our home lives, and see whether the Prince of Peace is welcome there. Take a deep breath…here we go!

This week’s prayer: Too often we cry peace, peace, when there is no peace. Lord, open our hearts to think clearly about violence that is close to home. Show us the paths to peace that we need to walk.

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