I have been pondering a lot about the purpose of Lent.  Growing up, I never really heard about Lent, possibly because I didn’t hear much in church anyway.  I mostly fell asleep during service and if ever I was awake, the preacher’s words went in one ear and out the other.  A few years ago though, my interest was peaked when I heard of Lent. Allie and I decided to do something.  We decided to not eat meat and do a vegetarian diet for Lent.  I remember going to the grocery store and lusting over the T-bone steaks on sale and having to grit my teeth and go for the tofu.  I remember trying out different forms of “vegetarian meat” products like veggie bacon and veggie sausages.  It was kind of an adventure… “what can I eat that would simulate eating meat without having to eat meat?”  At the end of the Lenten season that year, I immediately ate a Korean BBQ meal.  For those who know anything about Korean BBQ, it is pork and beef seasoned with heaven!  Absolutely wonderful. 

Looking back, I realized that the Lenten fast didn’t mean much.  It was a test of my own will power and possibly it was for bragging rights to say I went 40 days without eating meat.  I don’t think it brought me any closer to God, nor did it bring to light that I am very fortunate to be able to eat 3 meals a day or more.  To be honest with you, I don’t think I had a thankful heart at the time for the over abundance of food I get to eat.

So here I am in 2014.  I would hope that I’ve become a little bit wiser.  And it is day 3 of Lent.  I read a great article that a friend of mine on Facebook posted. It emphasized that Lent is not just about abstaining from our daily pleasures and wants.  It is about creating space to discover just how much gets in the way of us encountering God in our lives.

Our culture of consumption and materialism coupled with our pride of entitlement has enabled us to create great walls.  These walls, over time, have become fortresses that give us a perceived sense of security. These fortresses then have become the kingdoms we seek to maintain.  The problem with this mentality is that we think that these fortresses are forever and we can become blinded to the fact that there is another reality that exists over the ones we create ourselves.  It is a domain where moth and rust cannot destroy and where thieves cannot break into.  It is the Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim and establish. 

Lent is a season for us to step outside of the fortresses we’ve built and look at our lives from a fresh new perspective. To let go of some of the things that give us a perceived sense of security. When we do this, we come into contact with the Kingdom of God, and the King of Kings who sits on the throne.  We get a glimpse of the real and find that God indeed is the one we can put our trust and hope in and God’s Kingdom is a reality that continues to increase.  It never gets dull.  It never gets old.

The God of Blessings

Last week I had something happen to me that put me in awe of God to an even greater degree.  I believe God does these things to show us just how Awesome He is… I received a phone call from one of the new music stores in town.  The nice employee on the other end of the phone said, “Hello James, we have something here for you.”  Now, I’ve been receiving a lot of telemarketing calls lately.  I’ve had calls trying to sell me duct cleaning services, calls telling me I have a problem with my windows computer even though I use a Mac, and I’ve received calls in the past telling me I won a trip to Collingwood.  They were all a nuisance and the last one was totally bogus, so when I received this phone call, I immediately thought, this was another telemarketing scheme.  But the nice employee on the phone added, “Someone bought you a guitar James, and all you have to do is pick it up.”  I immediately got in my car and drove to the music store.  As I stepped foot into the store, I was greeted by the showcasing of the finest guitars money could buy and the fragrance that these guitar gave off was music to my soul.  Then, the employee who was on the other end of the phone came and greeted me and introduced me to my guitar.  He handed me a note from the generous servant of the Most High and it read, “Please accept this as a gift from our Lord.”  I was speechless.  As I opened the case, the fragrance of the Sapele wood lifted my spirits yet at the same time made me nervous to touch it.  It was like meeting someone special for the very first time.  The employee encouraged me to play it.  As I picked it up, I could tell this was not a normal guitar like the one I used to play.  This was unique.  I sat down, held the “G” chord and took my very first strum.  In an instant, the nervousness of my first meeting with the guitar was gone and I sensed a oneness with it.  In just one strum, this became my new instrument to worship the King of Kings with. 

This whole thing brought a great revelation to me.  God is a God who blesses us.  But His blessings upon us are not just so we can receive, but that we can give and be a blessing to others.  The more we give, of ourselves, our time, our resources, our gifting… the more we will receive.

My very first guitar was a beat up old Yamaha.  I learned how to play a few worship songs on it and it helped bring me closer to God.  After learning to play just a few chords, I was asked to help lead worship at my parents’ church.  I didn’t know much about playing guitar, but I agreed anyway.  Soon after, I began to learn more and more, and I led worship more and more.  As I gave of my time and my little ability to play guitar, the Lord gave the increase.  And today, I am honoured to have received the increase in the form of a brand new guitar, ready to be used to bring Glory to God.

What do you have?  It can be difficult sometimes to see what we have, especially if our minds are on what we DO NOT have.  But ask yourself, what DO I have, and how can I use the little I have to bless others?  It is all about blessing others.  When we do, God will bless us even more, so that we can bless others even more. 

Lets not focus on our lack, but focus on what we have and give God glory with what we have.  

Need an adjustment?

A few weeks ago, my back started to feel all out of whack for the first time in a long time.  Years previous, my back was injured in the workplace and I had to get adjustments done at the Chiropractor and Osteopath so that I could walk and sit properly without pain.  After my visits with the Chiro and Osteo dudes, I felt a lot better and life was back to normal.  Get it?  “Back” to normal! ha ha ha… cheesy I know… anyways, a few weeks ago my back needed some adjusting again so I went to the Chiropractor, only this time it was a different doctor.  Nice guy.  We talked and eventually got to the topic of religion and God since I told him that I was a Pastor.  The conversation then became very interesting.  He began to tell me about the important connection between our thought life and our bodies.  Stress can actually throw our bodies out of whack and can put our backs out of alignment.  Then, nerves can become pinched and prevent the proper flow of information from the brain to the other parts of the body.  Now I am not a doctor, nor do I have much understanding, outside of a wikipedia answer, of how our nervous system really works, but I think I got a basic understanding while at the Chiropractor’s office.  The way we think, the way we process the stuff in our lives, effects the functioning of our bodies.  Worry, stress, doubt, anxiety… all have adverse effects on the body. 

Jesus comforts us with his words in Matthew 6:25-34 to not worry about our lives.  So often the stresses of our lives such as bills, food, medical needs, clothing, children, family, work can overwhelm us with thoughts that bring us to a point of breaking down.  It can be so easy to get distracted by all these things and feel like we are drowning.  But Jesus calls us to a new level of thinking.  A new perspective of our situations in life.  He calls us to look to Him, trust Him, seek Him.  Jesus is Lord over the storm.  He calls us to get out of the boat, even though all the odds are against me, even though it seems impssible to walk on the water, he calls us to Himself.  Now of course in the account of Peter walking on water and going towards Jesus, he begins to sink.  The message of that story though, is faith.  To be able to get out of the boat, to be able to see life from a new perspective requires faith.  When we choose to operate out of faith, when we choose to seek first the Kingdom of God, when we choose to not give in to our worries and anxieties even though things look rough, our lives will become aligned to God’s will.  

Now it may mean we will have to work on our finances and become more responsible, it may mean we will need to work on our relationships and be more humble, it may mean that we will have to adjust the way we do some things, but all in all, God’s promise is that He will walk with us and always be with us (Matt 28:20).   God is faithful.  He is a provider, healer and restorer. 
Trust Him in times of trouble. Let us re-align our minds to His will, which is to seek Him first above all other things.  He will take care of the rest and guide us to vistory over the storms.

All Things New

There is this house not too far from mine that was built over 100 years ago.  It is a small bungalow with two bedrooms and a basement.  The basement was unfinished and was still in the same shape as it was 100 years ago; dirt floors, old school farmhouse style walls, and dim lighting.  When I walked into this house, I could smell the mouldy oldness.  It seemed like it was in rough shape.  The walls were stained from all the cigarette smoke, the floors were peeling, and the ceilings had cracks like veins all over.  But what I saw as a hopeless situation, another person saw it as an opportunity to make this house new again.  This person purchased the house, completely stripped everything down to the bare studs and started renovating from scratch.  He put in all new walls, all new electrical lines, and all new plumbing.  The old was gone… the new had come. 

Over time, our lives can become like the old house.  Our lives can become a mess through brokeness in our relationships, in our health, and even in our connection with God.  As time passes even more, our lives can feel like change seems impossible.  In our trials, we can come to a point where we almost accept that things wont change.  The oldness is just the way it is, and just the way it always will be.  There seems to be no way out, no answer, no hope.   But there is hope.

Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).  As we turn our attention and focus on Jesus, we will begin to experience this life He calls us into.  He calls us to listen for Him in our lives.  He calls us to search for Him in our lives.  When we find Him, He will lead us into the pasture, the green fields… a new territory… a new place… a place with new hope, new life…

Paul mentions something really cool in his second letter to the Corinthians.  He said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

I believe that this passage speaks to us from various walks of life.  It’s not just a scripture verse for an evangelistic message given with an altar call.  Some of us may have been a follower of Jesus for many years.  Things were great back in the day but now it has become just “whatever”… New Life applies to you as well.  With God, things are always new… There is no way we can fully comprehend God.  We will constantly be discovering more as each day, as each month and as each year rolls by.  Seek God… He will make all things even more New! 

What are some of the things that need change in your life?  Believe me, God wants to see that change as well.  He is the master renovator.  Turn to Him in your day of trouble, your time of trial, your state of hopelessness… He will make all things New.

Faith and Faithfulness.

In the Alpha course, I learned about a man named Charles Blondin.  Blondin was one of the most famous tight rope walkers of all time.  He is famous for a tight rope walk across the Niagara Gorge in 1859, and several other times afterwards. Blondin walked blindfolded, while pushing a wheelbarrel, and he even stopped in the middle of the walk and cooked an omelet and ate it!  On one occasion, Blondin engaged the crowd by asking if they believed he could take a person in the wheelbarrel on the tight rope.  The excited crowd shouted “Yes, yes!!”  To which he asked for someone to get into the wheelbarrel.  The excitement suddenly dwindled.

It is one thing to say we believe.  It is another to do, act and live in accordance to our belief.  This past Sunday, Tim preached on the importance of faith and faithfulness.  We need both… especially when it comes to living the Christian life.  He mentioned that the greek word for faith or belief means both; to have faith and to be faithful.  There isn’t one without the other.  To believe is to act on what we believe.

As we continue to read through God’s Word, may we come to the understanding that what we read of in the scriptures are possible today.  That God’s Word is for today.

John 14:12-14 says this…

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask meanything in my name, I will do it.”(emphasis mine) (ESV)



Standing on the Mountaintop

I love hiking.  Sort of.  Well actually, I love hiking to places where at the end there is a high point to see a breath-taking view.  But the journey to that point can be quite a challenge.  You may have to walk up hills, climb over rocks, and carefully tiptoe across slippery surfaces.  Along the way you may fall and you may even think to turn back because the end is no where in sight.  All around you, all you see is the tough road ahead and its filled with obstacles.  One after the other.

Isn’t life quite the journey?  Especially the tough times.  We can go through life, just trying to survive yet another day.  Our lives suddenly become just about the challenge.  Just about the obstacle.  Just about the struggle and the trial.  The end is no where in sight.  Yet there is a longing deep inside our souls for more.  For purpose.  For a reason.  And there is one.

When King Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, he was venting.  Venting about the complexities of life and its apparent meaninglessness.  He calls it a striving after the wind.  In his time of contemplation, Solomon wisely states that God has placed eternity into the hearts of man (Ecc 3:11).  Our only hope comes when we search outside ourselves, when we search for God.  God is our source of hope and meaning in this life.

Suddenly the complexities begin to make sense.  They serve a purpose.  They are situations and circumstances in my life to teach me to look up rather than look all around.  To see things from a new perspective.  And when we seek God and find God, we discover that the yearning of our souls, the cry of our hearts, was for God all along.

Then God takes us from the pit to the palace.  From the muck and mire to the green pastures and still waters.  He takes us to the mountaintop.  And from there we can see the journey from a new perspective, heaven’s perspective… And we can see that in the deepest trials and darkest times, God was with us all along.


Gifts from Above

Lately I have been having some moments of frustration and impatience with my kids.  I’m not sure if I am alone in this, but my kids can be quite a handful somedays.  The never ending demands, the messy rooms and the noisy sibling rivalry just makes me want to say, “that’s it, I’m done… MERCY LORD!!!”

But then, when I come home from the office, I am greeted with a loud shout “APPA!!!” to which my two daughters come running towards me straight into my arms with kisses.  They tell me how their day went and show me the pictures they coloured.  Then they run off and go straight back to playing with their toys while singing praise songs to God.  In moments like these, I come to the realization that my children are a gift from the Lord.  They are truly a blessing from above.

Psalm 127:3 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (ESV).

This Sunday, there will be a baby dedication happening at Trinity EMC.  It will be a time of recognition that our childern are gifts from God and we parents, are committing them back to the Lord.  In committing our children to the Lord, we are following the words of Proverbs 22:6 which states, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (ESV)

May the Lord continue to show us how to train up our childern in His ways and learn to follow His voice.