Causes of Community Catastrophe

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There are many changes at work in the broader culture relating to how we communicate with one another.  As we adapt to these massive changes, it is helpful to keep in mind the factors that can threaten a community.

The first is a Culture of Criticism.  Individuals will not step forward to complete the tasks at hand, or initiate a new program in a culture where others are waiting around to criticize.  Criticism though is calmed by Charity.  Charity is the old translation of the Greek word agape, or love.  When I was a student studying philosophy, we would speak about what we called “the principle of charity” a principle we would keep in mind when we criticized the work of others. According to the principle of Charity, criticism is done best, when the person wanting to offer a criticism, tries to understand as best they can the position they intend to criticize.   So you wonder why was this done this way?  And how is the other person thinking about this?

You try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, walk down their pathway for a while.

Then the principle of Charity takes things a step further and asks, How can I improve, or can I improve the position I am criticizing?

Now what happens?  If you are able to prove to the other person that you completely understand them, you earn respect.  And with that respect comes an openness to receive the criticism with Charity.  And this is because the Criticism was given in Charity.

So if you feel the urge to criticize, whether in person or in secret, take a moment to walk in the other person’s shoes, wonder why they did what they did and offer your thoughts with Charity.

Number 2.  A culture of criticism, if allowed to linger too long, spawns a cancer of complacency.  If I know that my ideas and my labour for the church will be criticized, I will eventually close my mouth and stop my labor.  I become complacent.  I stop offering my time and talents to the community.  Why should I help again, after I was criticized before?  Unlike most cancers, this cancer is contagious.  As different individuals step back from full involvement in the community, others follow suit.  Soon, it becomes difficult to find volunteers.  And those who do volunteer find themselves overwhelmed by the work.

But take heart, there is Chemotherapy for complacency.  And that comes through connection and invitation.  Start small, seek out someone you don’t normally speak to and start a conversation.  Encourage someone who is down.  Support the weak.  Compliment rather than criticize.  Now, Chemotherapy, many people have told me is an uncomfortable process.  Chemotherapy for complacency is no different.  It involves changing one’s priorities and putting the needs of the Church community ahead of other considerations.

Number 3.  If left unchecked, the culture of criticism and resulting cancer of complacency creates a crisis of commitment.  Everyone else has something else that they need to do.  As result, the lonely are not visited, those interested in the faith are not given opportunities to learn, the young are not properly instructed, and the spiritual needs of those around us go unattended.  This crisis of commitment is catastrophic for Christian community.

So what do we do?

We begin with a renewed Commitment to Christ and to the Church Community.  I put it this way because our first commitment is always to Christ and secondly to his body as it is found in the local church.  So I encourage you over this Christmas season, to renew your commitment to Christ, to remind yourselves of the promises you made at profession of faith.  A promise first and foremost to “Love the Lord.”   And secondly to review your commitment to the local church.  Where is God calling you to serve?  How is God calling you to serve?

For I remain convinced that God’s will for his Church to be salt and light, remains God’s will for his church.  God is pouring out his blessings on us, he is filling us with his wisdom, and he is opening our hearts to people from all over the world.  God is forming us into a community here, a community where Jesus is the center, and where grace and mercy flows.  Do not be discouraged, the task to be faithful is being made more difficult in these trying times. Do not be discouraged.  Remember that Jesus has overcome the world.  Rest in that comforting hope.

For where there is charity in the face of criticism

And Chemotherapy of connection to treat the cancer of complacency

And renewed Commitment to Christ in the midst of challenges to community

There we find the elusive Christian community we seek.

 

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The Blue Dragon

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Here is the link to the article in wired about the blue dragon:

Absurd Creature of the Week: This Crazy-Looking Sea Slug Has an Ingenious Secret Weapon

The blue dragon incorporates the stinging cells of the man of war into its own body and gains the ability to sting others.  This as we said in the message, is something like us. We are stung by others and we incorporate that sting into ourselves ready to sting the next unsuspecting person to come our way.

Peter in I Peter 3:9 tells us that Christians should not return evil for evil or insult for insult.  When we are stung, we should not sting someone else.  But how can we do that?  Only by hope in Jesus who takes the stings and sin into himself and buries them in the grave.  The sins committed against us and the sins we committed are removed.  We are set free from the cycle and able now to respond to evil with blessing.

The sermon can be heard here.  (in a few days when it is online)

picture taken by SYLKE ROHRLACH/FLICKR

 

Prayer

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“Teach us to pray.”  This is one of the few times, if not the only time the disciples directly ask Jesus to do something for them.

It was a number of weeks ago now, when I heard a sermon on those lines.  The preacher imagined what the disciples might have seen when they saw Jesus praying.  The disciples must have seen heart felt love and that Jesus gave and received from his Father.  The disciples must have seen the deep compassion as Jesus prayed for the needs that he encountered.  The disciples must have seen his face light up with thanksgiving as loaves and fishes multiplied before the eyes of the 5000.  The disciples must have seen the bitter anguish as Jesus wrestled with his future and pleaded, “not my will, but thine.”

The preacher, whose name I cannot recall, said, When the disciples saw Jesus pray, they must have thought, I want to pray like that!  Teach me to pray.  And with those simple words Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come… Jesus taught them and teaches us to pray.

And some of us learn the lesson better than others.  Through this, God gives the rest of us leaders and teachers who teach us to pray merely because they are following closely the greatest Prayer Teacher there ever was.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go home and to preach at my home church.  The pastor, who has been there since before my family began attending was gracious enough to share the pulpit with me.  He lead the service, and I preached the sermon.

He was praying for the needs of the world and the needs of the congregation and I was listening.  I began to think, “hey! he says what I say!”or more profoundly, I say in my congregational prayers what my home church pastor says.
Rev. Jim Settles taught me to pray.

He never sat me down and said, “Now when you become a preacher, this is how you pray.”  He never said in passing, “How do you pray for your flock?  Let me tell you what I say.”

No, Pastor Settles just prayed, he prayed humbly and consistently, he prayed reverently with a deep faith that God would move mountains if God saw fit.  He prays out of the deep conviction that we are God’s children and that God hears us because God loves us.  He prays with those who come forward to pray and he prays with the whole congregation and there is no doubt that he prays alone, in the upper room where his Father can hear him.

And without knowing it, I learned from him how to pray.  Thank you Pastor Settles for being faithful.

-Nate

 

 

 

To Follow the Crowd

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Yesterday the sermon was on Luke 4, where Jesus offends a fawning hometown crowd by highlighting Elijah’s visit to the widow at Zarephath and Elisha’s healing of Naaman the Syrian.  In the sermon, which can be found elsewhere on this website, we looked to see if we would find our own reflection in that hometown crowd.  Do we also wish that Jesus would do for us what he did in Capernaum?

And more importantly, what is behind that wish?  Surely there is nothing wrong with desiring a miracle.  But miracles are signs, so what kind of sign is behind such a wish?  A sign that points toward me or a sign the points toward God?

Given Jesus’ strong reaction, it is clear that the signs the hometown was looking for were signs that pointed toward them rather than toward God.  The miracle in Nazareth would put Nazareth on the map.  The miracle in Nazareth would have made us proud that Jesus was one of us.  The miracle in Nazareth would have reduced Jesus to another exhibit in the Nazareth talent show.  Someone to be proud of, but not followed.  Come to Nazareth home of Jesus the Healer!

Jesus doesn’t want to be a part of the local advertising campaign.  Yet, he does offer them a miracle; a rather odd miracle.  He parts the crowd that is trying to throw him over the cliff and goes on his way.  The mission of Jesus to find more widows at Zarephath and more Naamans who need a dunk in muddy Jordan, will not be hindered by a hometown crowd’s desire to pat their own backs.

Jesus shows that Nazareth crowd both then and today, that his miracles are signs of the kingdom, a kingdom that can’t be patented or trademarked, a kingdom that is not always invited and may not stay invited for long, but comes anyway.  Jesus sets his own agenda, and goes on his way.  Perhaps some in Nazareth followed him, tired as he was with the shameless self promotion all around.  The Gospel writer Luke invites us to follow Jesus, for Jesus shows the way out of the region of self-centered, self promotion and leads the way into the dark world he came to save.

There is another sermon in this text, that tackles these themes from another angle.  Rather than preach it, I thought I would outline it here.  The beginning of Luke 4 is the famous story of the three temptations of Christ.  There is the temptation to turn the stones into bread, the temptation to worship the Devil, and the temptation to ‘throw yourself down’ in some spectacular way.  Jesus, like the blessed one in Psalm 1, defines himself in response to these three temptations as the one who does not.

Jesus does not live on bread alone, but on the Word of God.  Jesus does not worship anything, but God alone.  Jesus does not put the Lord God to the test.

As we continue reading in Luke 4, we can see again the pattern of temptation and Jesus stating that he does not.  This time the source of temptation is not the devil, but the crowd.  And this time, like so often happens in our lives, the temptations are not divided into neat little categories with clear little responses.  The temptations come rather in a storm of activity and flattery.

All the temptations are there though.  There were sick and dying in Nazareth, so the temptation to turn stones into bread was clearly there.  The crowd’s praise and amazement surely offered a temptation to appease and render service to its desires.  So the temptation to worship the Crowd, not God was present in Nazareth too.  Finally, they wanted Jesus to do for them what they had heard he did in Capernaum.  The final temptation to test God, to do something marvelous for its own sake, was there too.

As Jesus responded to the devil, so Jesus responds to the crowd.  He quotes not one passage but three.  The passage from Isaiah explaining who he is, and two passages from Kings explaining what prophets like him could be expected to do.  Then Jesus does not and goes on his way.

From this perspective, we see Jesus tempted in every way that we are, yet with out sin.  We see Jesus showing again that temptation is resisted by the power of God’s word and that the blessed one does not.  And like Joseph fleeing the clutches of Potifer’s wife, Jesus leaves Nazareth, preferring his mission over the tiresome temptations of the crowd.

The place you find yourself on your walk with Jesus will probably determine which of these two perspectives meets you more where you are at.  Some will relate to that crowd, longing for Jesus to do what I want! Some will relate to the tempted Jesus, trying to resist the urge to give in to what everyone else wants. Both can learn from the blessed way of Jesus who does not.  Disciples do not demand what “I want” in prayer, they trust that their Father knows what they need and they let Jesus teach them to pray.  Disciples do not give in to the demands of crowd but follow Jesus on his way.

(The image is of the CRC Synod 2014)

 

Being One Body

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Being One Body LogoBeing One Body is the summer youth project hosted by Maranatha.

Dates: July 2nd  to 7th , 2013

Theme: “A spring welling up to eternal life”  Our lives are like buckets that can be filled with good things or with bad things.  Sometimes, our buckets are empty, sometimes they are drained out.  However, the living water of Jesus is like a spring that wells up in our buckets, causing them to overflow and assuring us of eternal life.

Opportunity: This will be an opportunity for youth from various communities to come together to establish bonds of friendship, grow in Christian faith and gain an understanding of their involvement and or role in church and community.

We are excited to partner with Pastor Steve Frieswick.

Our projects will include: Interior painting of apartments and houses.  Volunteer work for a Women’s Shelter.  Volunteer work for a local food bank.  Cross cultural engagement with the local Muslim community.    And more!

Speaker: Donna Kramer, from Winnipeg.

Band: Happy the Dog

Stay tuned for more updates.

The Passover

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One of our members, Neil Glass made the doorframe we see in this picture. The red paint on the doorframe symbolizes the blood of the lamb. On the inside of the house is safety, and the promise of deliverance from bondage. On the outside of the house is judgment, weeping and destruction. The blood of the lamb marks the line between judgment and mercy, destruction and salvation.

Likewise as Christians we believe that the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was suspended between heaven and earth on the cross. Again this blood separates judgment from mercy, destruction from salvation. On this side of the blood of Jesus, there is mercy and salvation. All are invited to find rest on this side of the cross. The whole message can be heard under sermons, The Passover.

 

Those more historically astute may recognize that the Menorah on the door would not have been there in Egypt.  However, the passover feast was celebrated for generations of Jews and continues to be celebrated today, even after Hanukkah.  The Menorah on the door reminds us of the continuity between what we call the Old Testament and the New.

Sermons

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The sermon is the point in the worship service where God’s Word from the Bible is explained and then applied to our present day experience.  A sermon usually begins with a reminder of our trouble and sin and ends with the remarkable and always unexpected announcement of God’s grace.

To hear some of the sermons preached at Maranatha click here.

The Mystery of Holy Saturday

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In between the Friday we call Good and Easter Sunday is the dark day called Holy Saturday.

We don’t attend services on that day.  We typically let it pass as we move from the darkness of Good Friday to the Celebration of Easter.  But we should not be too quick to jump through Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday is the time of waiting and uncertainty.  Holy Saturday is the time between “It is Finished!” and “He is Risen!”  Holy Saturday is the day that must have been filled with anxiety, doubt and fear.  The scriptures tell us that the disciples deserted Jesus and fled.  All their hopes and ambitions must have come crashing down.  They thought they had picked the right Messiah.  They were so sure that Jesus was the chosen one.

Now what?  Return home to parents and husbands and wives?  “I told you so!”  “How’d you get caught up in following that guy anyway?”  “I hope the Romans don’t find you.”  The humiliation of being wrong would have been unbearable.  It couldn’t be true could it?  It couldn’t be true?  Jesus.  Dead.

This is the space of Holy Saturday, when the only hope comes in the form of words that are so preposterous, so outrageous, they are utterly unbelievable.

On the third day he will be raised to life!

They hoped he was the Messiah.  Now he is dead.  It would take one stubborn person to keep hoping after that.

So they huddle together in that dark upper room.  Waiting.  Not daring to hope too much, but also not daring to not hope.

This is Holy Saturday.  Holy Saturday is today.  We too live in between.  We live in between “He is Risen” and “Behold I am making things new!”  Sometimes in the darkness we too are not daring to hope too much, but also not daring to not hope.

We too live in a time when the only hope comes in the form of words that are so preposterous, so outrageous, they are utterly unbelievable.

This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.

Let us take courage to hang together in our upper rooms.  Let us be stubborn in our hoping.  He who fulfilled the hopes of his disciples then will fulfill the hopes of his disciples now.

The Practice of Faith

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I had an email exchange with a friend of mine this week.  She has not been to church in a while.  As I listened to her story I remembered a story I once heard.

There was a young priest who had been serving his parish for a few years.  He began to realize that he did not believe any more and found himself plagued by doubts.  He became deeply concerned about his doubts and reported them to his bishop as a confession.

The bishop was silent for a long time.  Then he looked at the priest and said, “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.  Return to the practice of faith and faith will return.”

There is something about the practices of faith, worship, prayer, study of scripture, receiving the sacrament of communion, which strengthen our faith and renew our faith.  This too is grace.

Return to the practice of faith and faith will return is an important point to keep in mind, when doubts plague and depression lingers close.  Sometimes, Christian practice comes before deep understanding.

When you forgive someone, then you will know why it is essential that Christians forgive.  When you pray, then you will understand why prayer is essential.  When you love, then you will understand the love God has for you. When you choose to be a follower of Jesus, then you will understand that Jesus chose you.