None so deep…

While working on the next installment of the Jude project, I came across this:

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Pits happen. Whether because of health struggles in our family, stress at work, problems in our relationships, or an unforeseen time of grief and crisis…pits happen.

Doesn’t matter who you are, what you have, or how good things may seem at this moment – it’s a fact of life that sooner or later you will find yourself in a pit.

And when you do, you will need something to pull you up out of the deep. And so I share this with you. Because I simply don’t know a better thought to keep around for your next (ahem) pit-stop.

Corrie ten Boom knew about the pits of life. During the Second World War she was arrested for helping Jews escape persecution and placed in a concentration camp. Though her sister died there, she survived and went on to run a rehabilitation centre for those traumatized by their wartime experiences after the war. She lost a lot, she saw the worst of humanity and she spent time in the deepest pit of modern history. But she refused to stay in the pit because she always knew God’s love to be deeper than the pit.

May you also know that God’s love is deeper than any pit life may throw you into. May you experience his love, even in the lowest pit. May you trust in His love to pull you out of the deep.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭38-39‬ NIV

The Jude Project: More and more…

May God give you more and more mercy, peace, and love.
Jude 1:2 NLT

In North America we are kind of obsessed with “more.” More storage on our laptops, more mileage per tank of gas, more returns on our investments, more minutes on our phone plans, more, more, more…

Sometimes I wonder if more will ever become enough (doesn’t seem so when it comes to Gigs on our hard drives, or other storage devices!). I read a short story recently in which the characters were faced with never feeling like anything was “enough.” They would eat themselves sick if they didn’t learn to curb their endless appetites. Sometimes it feels like we live that way. There is a frightening trend toward consumerism that is rife in our society.

And I have long suspected that this obsession with “more” has to do with the fact that we don’t have enough of certain things. Not that we don’t have enough of the things we strive to have more of – no, wanting more of those things is a symptom. I suspect what we don’t have enough of is neatly summed up in the last four words of this verse “mercy, peace and love.”

I suspect if we had enough of those things, the other things would seem a lot less important. I suspect if we had enough of those things, our hunger for more would start to wane. I suspect if we had enough of those things, we would be more concerned with what others might need and less concerned with what we ourselves want.

So I stand with Jude, praying that God will give you (and me!) more and more mercy, peace and love. So that we all might be filled up with the right things and emptied of our desire for the wrong things.

we need more love and dreams

The Jude Project: the safe slave…

This letter is from Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James. I am writing to all who have been called by God the Father, who loves you and keeps you safe in the care of Jesus Christ.
Jude‬ ‭1‬:‭1‬ NLT

Often in the Bible we come across verses that almost seem like part of the background: a list of names or places, a detail about where the events took place, or the official opening greeting of a letter or epistle. Sure, these details were important to the people of the day, and certainly they help biblical scholars authenticate the writings, but do they have anything to do with my – with your – everyday life?

This is what I call “the ‘so what?’ question.” As in, so what does this have to do with me? With how I am living and the struggles I am dealing with each day?

Well, the first thing that jumps out at me is Jude’s reference to himself as a slave of Jesus. I don’t like that word. It has some pretty horribly negative connotations given the history of humanity to this point in time. The word kind of makes me squirm. It brings up images of abuse and degradation. In fact, some translations prefer the softer word, “servant.”

But I think Jude chose slave on purpose. Because I think Jude knew that being a slave of Jesus would not be like being a slave to an earthly master. He talks of being “safe in the care of Jesus.” I think he chose the word slave to grab his reader’s attention. To make them ask why anyone would choose to be a slave – what was so different about Jesus that it made a man willing to be his slave?

I think Jude wanted his readers to know that he was fully and willingly submissive to the will of Christ and that he felt absolutely safe in that. I think that Jude knew that Jesus would never abuse or degrade him, that the will of Christ would always hold far better things for him than his own personal will would.

And that’s what we can know, too. There is no place safer than the centre of Christ’s will. What he wants for each of us is better than we can ask or imagine for ourselves.

So bend a knee, friends, to the master who will never let you down, and in whose care you will always be perfectly safe.

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Surprised by GRACE…

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About this time last year we launched our GRACE Groups network at St. Andrew’s. GRACE Groups are geographically defined and exist to Glorify God, build Relationships, do Acts of Service, create Caring Community and further our spiritual Education (G. R. A. C. E.).

These groups have been a joy to oversee and to participate in. My group has done some gardening around the church, had some really great times of fellowship, studied John Ortberg’s God is Closer than You Think and made Christmas tree ornaments for the children of our church as a ‘thank you’ for their presentation on Pagaent Sunday in Advent.

Through my group I have gotten to know some of the folks in the pews, been encouraging of them as well as encouraged by them, and shared in times that simply did my soul some real good.

Tonite, after arriving home from my regular class at the gym, I was called by my co-leader to come over to the church for a moment. When I arrived, I found my group BBQing burgers, putting out salads and wearing “happy birthday” hats. My birthday isn’t for another 5 days, but my group wanted to celebrate with me and they wanted to surprise me. They succeeded in both.

In the five points that make up the GRACE acronym, I think Caring Community might be the most nebulous. But my group showed me this evening what that looks like. By coming together, gathering a little food and sharing their time and laughter, my group showed the depth of their care for me. And I was so touched and so blessed by it.

If you are a member of St. A’s and want to get connected with a GRACE Group, please come speak to me about it. If you are already involved with a GRACE Group or if you are a coordinator, why not spend a little time thinking about how you can embody Caring Community? Ask yourself if there is someone in your group or in your neighborhood who could use a kind little touch – a bit of baking, a “thinking of you” card, an errand that they might need help with – to brighten their day. When we care for others, we show God’s love and kindness to them in ways that are deeper than words.

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. (‭Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭10‬ NLT)

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The Jude Project: It’s coming…

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So I mentioned in my last blog that there are times when it is hard to come up with the words or ideas for regular new posts. That happens in preaching, too. It is more than possible to sit down to prepare a sermon and be hit by a terrific case of writer’s block and the sneaking suspicion that you have literally said it all before.

The way I combat that in preaching is to work in series: 4-6 week thematic or topical progressions. That way there is always a meta-narrative to touch upon, an over-arching idea from which to begin that week’s conversation. My easiest seasons of blogging follow a similar pattern: working through the season of Advent or Lent, and continually touching on the themes and events of those seasons.

But what to do when it isn’t Advent, when it isn’t Lent? When the inability to decide upon a topic leads to the inability to write a post?

Sometime in the past several months of not blogging, it occurred to me that I needed to come up with a project for those “off seasons.” Then it occurred to me that it should probably be a Bible-based project. Then it occurred to me that the simple thing would be to choose a book of the Bible and work through each verse – one verse, one post.

So, I give you the Jude Project. I chose The Epistle of Jude because it’s a book I don’t know that well (yes, even ministers have books of the Bible we don’t know that well…there are 66 of them, and some of them are really long…it’s a big book of books and we don’t have it memorized!). I thought I should choose something that would benefit me as much as my readers. Because when I am blogging regularly, it really does become a spiritual practice in my life. And getting to know an unfamiliar book of Scripture sounds like a very good spiritual practice to me.

So – The Jude Project will start this week. I expect I will also blog about other things alongside of The Jude Project. I don’t want to be tied to this project, ahem, religiously. But I do think it will help me in the practice and discipline of regular blogging. And I’m very much looking forward to it.

The Jude Project: it’s coming, people. But for now, I will leave you with this verse, which I believe to be true and which has always been a guiding principle in my life and vocation:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.
‭2 Timothy‬ ‭3‬:‭16‬ NLT

Accountable…

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One thing about preaching – it keeps you honest. I told my congregation in last Sunday’s sermon that I would be returning to blogging this week. And as the (short, because of a holiday) week has rolled on, I began to wonder if I would find the time and inspiration to actually get a blog written. And then I remembered: I said it in a sermon, in front of God and everyone. I could (and should!) be held accountable if I let the week slip past without a blog.

I’ve learned the value of accountability over the past few years, while I’ve been on a weight loss and fitness journey. I am ten times more likely to make it to the gym, or do a workout at home, if I know my online group of workout friends are waiting for me to post what I’ve done for the day. They aren’t putting any pressure on me – in fact, they are incredibly supportive and understanding when it comes to ‘I just didn’t have it in me’ days. But just knowing that there is an expectation (even if it is my own) that I will post saying what class I did that day or how many push-ups I managed at home, makes me more motivated to get it done.

The same can be said about blogging. I love this blog, and I love that people tell me that they miss it when I go silent for a while. But as with all writing, sometimes you go through a dry time: when the words and ideas are just dried up, not flowing. For me, that happens when I am tired. I took some time off after Easter, I was tired. But the problem with that bit of a rest was that it stretched into a little more time off, and then I had a hundred reasons why I was too busy the next week and the next week and the next week.

So I am glad that the Spirit moved me to put an accountability clause in last week’s sermon. I am glad that dry times don’t last forever, and I very much look forward to a new season of blogging. Beginning now.

Is there something you need to be held accountable for? Something in your spiritual journey or a need to commit to some exercise or a change in your eating habits? Maybe a time away from screens and work so you can build up relationships with those closest to you? Think about it, pray about it. And then invite someone you trust to help hold you accountable. Often just knowing you had that conversation with whomever that person is for you, will be enough to keep to your commitment.

May you find blessing in being held accountable to your commitments and may God provide the right person to go that road with you.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.
Ecclesiastes‬ ‭4‬:‭9-10‬ NLT