Bloom where you are planted

 

Wherever you are, God has planted you there for a reason and a season. In your family. In your neighbourhood. In your workplace. At your seniors’ centre. At school. In the hospital or clinic. Playing sports. On the internet. God has you where you are for a purpose.

The Scriptures use the things of the natural world to reveal spiritual truths. Plants and trees and vines are images of our lives because they grow and reproduce themselves through their blossoms and fruit. Once we are joined to Christ through our faith in Him, we are enabled to reproduce His likeness through our lives as we allow His resurrection life to flow through us. Our job is to let this happen.

There are people everywhere we go who need our prayers and our love and our trust in the Lord to help them to know that Jesus is there for them—to help them to experience the presence, comfort and strength that the Holy Spirit brings into anyone’s life who will believe in Jesus.

God has given us a powerful implement in prayer. Everywhere we are, we can pray for others. When you see a bad driver—instead of cursing them—pray that they will not hurt themselves or others. When you become aware of some tragic or difficult circumstance in someone’s life, don’t be oblivious or get overloaded, pray that the Lord will help them—especially that they will see that the Lord cares and that they will receive the gift of faith so that they can come to Jesus and believe in Him. We have something so precious to give and God will use us if we let Him.

Prayer is the most important part of this process. You don’t have to stop to pray. You can pray quietly as you go about your business. You can keep your eyes open as you drive and pray. Prayers can be short and to the point. Let the Holy Spirit give you the words.

The next thing that is needed is the willingness to speak and act. Sometimes you just have to mention something in passing. Just say “God bless” or mention something about God or church in a positive way. We don’t need to force anything on others. We just need to be ourselves. Are God and your church an important part of your life? Would you share good news if you found a good medical treatment or a good television program or a good brand of some product? If you’re going to talk about God or church, make sure it’s in a positive context and that you are genuinely friendly and engaging. People will start to make subconscious connections that overcome the stereotype of Christians as odd, judgmental, self-righteous, harsh or just plain cranky. And if there is something you get a nudge to do, do it!

Sometimes we are tempted to think that we can only bloom effectively for the Lord if we are ordained and up front on Sunday morning or at least have some certificate to show we’ve been trained for something or if we go overseas on a short or long-term mission. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You are His agent right where you are. Don’t miss the opportunities that God gives you every day!

You can make a difference in this world every day—in the lives of the people around you. Bloom where you are planted! Prayer makes a huge difference. Words and actions led by the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus have more of an impact than we realize.

Remember the words of Jesus: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…” (John 15:5 New International Version, ©2011) May His Resurrection life flow through you today and always.

Don’t be afraid

Do not be afraid” said the angel Gabriel to Mary who was troubled by the angel’s previous words of greeting as he appeared to her (see Luke 1:26-38 ESV). So many times this is God’s message to individuals and to God’s people in general throughout the Bible. “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not.” The message comes through angels, visions, dreams, a voice from heaven, the Word of God Himself before His incarnation, Jesus during His time on earth, the Holy Spirit. And all these come to us as we reap the benefits of all these accounts written in God’s Word. These are written for us so that we will be released from the debilitating effects of fear.

There are many things that cause us to be afraid and fear comes in many forms. Sometimes fear is subconscious. We don’t always realize that hidden fear is what is driving us or troubling us. Sometimes fear is all too obvious and disrupts our waking hours and our sleep.

When God appears to people in various ways, their first response is usually fear when they realize it is God or a heavenly messenger of God. This happened to both Zechariah and Mary when angels suddenly appeared to announce miraculous births. But immediately the angels brought the reassuring words: “Do not be afraid.” Words from God create the very thing they speak forth. God created everything through His Word spoken. So when God says “Fear not”, He at the same time creates the ability in the hearer to be without fear. The hearer just has to allow himself or herself to believe and receive God’s creative Word.

Often we too are afraid to really come fully into the Lord’s Presence. This fear may be covered up with busyness and distractions. Will He really receive me with open arms in light of all my failings? What if He brings things to the surface that I am afraid to deal with? God’s love both accepts us as we are and changes us as we spend time in His presence. How awesome is God’s love! God the Father invites us to come in to His eternal throne room through the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from every sin, “known and unknown, done and left undone”. Here we can receive the love that alone casts out every fear (see 1 John 4:7-21 ESV especially verse 18).

Allow God to receive you just as you are with all your fears and other struggles and let His love flow in and over you as you rest in His presence. His love will deliver you from every fear.

Greg

Be Still

Ashbridges Sunset

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 ESV). This short passage of scripture is so easy to commit to memory and so hard to remember to apply in everyday life. It goes along with “trust in the Lord with all your heart” as a verse that God brings to my attention over and over. It happened again yesterday (from a small bookmark tucked unobtrusively in the corner of a mirror) and when it did, I knew I needed to write about this simple but profound truth today.

It is so easy to get caught up in fretting about large and small things. In Psalm 46, the context is major upheavals such as war. We too may become concerned about many things including large scale political, social and economic issues and their implications both for the fabric of society and for us personally and our offspring. Often, we are concerned about personal issues including relationships, work, school, how to cope with the challenges of our current stage of life, losses of various kinds, health, money and so on. These things can preoccupy us and cause a sense of unsettledness and anxiety.

Constantly being exposed to outside stimulation from modern media can distract us from the kind of quiet that we need to be still and know that the Lord is God. This verse reminds us that all our concerns need to be given to the Lord and our main job is to learn to rest in Him—that He is indeed God and He alone can bear the weight of the world and all our individual and corporate struggles. He alone knows how He will work all things together for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28). This does not mean we are to be passive about life and to adopt a lethargic, “whatever” sort of attitude. But it does mean we are to have a different inner attitude about things which is not marked by fussing and fuming.

How can we be free from these inner and outer stresses and distractions that we all experience? Take time to be still and know that He is God. The New American Standard version of the Bible translates this passage as “cease striving and know that I am God.” Yet in the book of Hebrews (4:11), it says “strive to enter His rest”. The question is where do we put our effort? Is it in trying to figure everything out and trying to be or feel in control of every area of life? Or is our greatest goal to rest in God’s presence—to be still and know that He is God. Jesus said of Mary of Bethany that in sitting at Jesus’ feet in His presence listening to Him, she had chosen the best part.

It is in these times of turning to Jesus and letting go of all our concerns and resting in Him that we can receive His love and grace which will guide us, sustain us, heal us and sanctify us. One of the ways I find I can be still in the Lord’s Presence and receive is in quiet and contemplative reading of His word and other Christian writings. So I offer this writing to you in the hope that this will help you even now to enter his Rest and receive from Him.

With love and prayers,

Greg

Listening to music that draws me into the Lord’s Presence and letting it wash over me also helps me to be still and receive. May the following selection be a blessing to you.

Trust in the Lord

Pastor Greg“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5 NIV). This has been my theme verse since soon after I opened my heart to Jesus in 1982. After returning to the Lord, I was really struggling with a deluge of questions about everything and anything to do with God and the Bible and my life in relation to God. My mind has always been very active and I was having great difficulty resting in my new-found relationship with the Lord. In fact, the enemy of our souls was tormenting me with thoughts that in effect questioned God’s goodness and trustworthiness.

I came across Proverbs 3:5 and soon found it to be so helpful and applicable. Every time I started to fret and obsess about something or was bombarded by thoughts that seemed to be of both fallen human and demonic origin, I would say this verse aloud or to myself or read it silently. My wife Jen did a cross-stitch of it and it hung on the wall to be read every time the Holy Spirit drew my attention to it which happened often. I also was given a bookmark quoting it and it would leap out at me whenever I need to be reminded of this instruction.

Over the years the Lord has often and repeatedly spoken to my heart to trust Him. This has been about both large and small matters. This happened again last Friday night during the opening worship at the first session of “Intimacy with God” led by the Reverend Garth Hunt of our own St. George’s Church. I sensed the Lord saying I had a word. Then, as I sought the Lord, a single word came into my mind: “Trust.” The Lord literally meant a word. Sometimes God is very brief and to the point in His communications with us. No room for confusion!

I understood this word to be for this blog posting which is why I am sharing it with you. But it also turned out to be a theme for the “Intimacy with God” teaching by Garth. You can hear an audio of Garth’s very helpful teaching by going to www.stgeorgesonline.com/pursuing. Garth emphasized several times that you can’t have an intimate relationship with someone you don’t trust. So if you want to have an intimate relationship with God, you must learn to trust Him.

In my experience, it’s not automatic to trust God. I believe there are a couple of reasons for this. The first is our fallen natures. Though we don’t realize it except in retrospect, all human beings inherit a tendency to mistrust God. This is what it means to be fallen. The first people fell away from God and began to hide from God and feel estranged from God. Ever since, people have struggled in this area of trust.

Once I put my faith in Jesus, the battle around trust became clear. Before that, I was unaware of the battle. That’s what I mean when I say it was only in retrospect that I realized that this is the normal human condition. Such mistrust may be covered over with lots of rationalization which may show up as anything from atheism, agnosticism or belief in an impersonal force (I progressed through all three in that order) to religious activities focussed on our own abilities or good works rather than trust in God’s salvation and in His agent of salvation, Jesus.

The second reason for mistrust of God is that our lives are marked by both trust-building and trust-destroying experiences with other people. Sometimes breeches of trust may be small. Some are very serious. Some we may remember. Others are buried especially if they happened early in life. But on a heart level there are issues of trust versus mistrust based on our experiences growing up as well as in adult life.

Because of our fallen natures, we tend to project our trust issues onto God—especially if breeches of trust have involved parents or parent figures. The goodness of God’s Fatherhood is called into question because of disappointments with earthly parents and other parent figures. If these happen early, the child hasn’t really put these hurts into words so the issue is not in their conscious memory but is an unresolved and hidden emotional issue of the heart.

The solution to all this is to begin to choose to trust God with all your hearts—to believe that what His word says about Him is true. God’s Word, the Bible, consistently affirms that God is good! In the first letter of John (1 John 1:5b NIV), it is written: “…God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” This verse also helped me enormously. Just think of it, no darkness at all! Is there any room for ambiguity or confusion or question in John’s mind. No, none at all.

Don’t forget that John was the disciple who was the most intimate with Jesus because he was so responsive to Jesus’ love. If anyone trusted Jesus it was John and he was confident that Jesus was without any dark or hidden motives and that Jesus perfectly represented God—that Jesus and the Father are one (see John 10:30 NIV or ESV).

The whole witness of Scripture and of God’s people throughout history is that God is entirely trustworthy. We are to take God at His word and choose to trust Him for everything pertaining to this life and the next. We are not to base our trust on how we feel at any given time nor on outward circumstances. Trusting God is a moment by moment choice. As we make this choice and especially at crucial points in our lives, we find that God is indeed trustworthy and our faith is increased and our trust deepened.

This does not mean that things always work out the way you or I had initially hoped. But as we grow in trust we see that God’s purposes for our lives unfold. Often, we may not understand God’s purposes until later, sometimes much later and sometimes, I believe not until we join the Lord in heaven. But as we choose to trust God regardless of either inner feelings or outward circumstances, God enables us to in fact trust Him and to discover that He is entirely trustworthy and good. God always brings into being what He says in His Word if we will choose to act on what He says. Choosing to trust enables actual trust.

The second line of Proverbs 3:4 is crucial to this: “Lean not on your own understanding.” If we try to first figure everything out in our limited understanding, trust will be eroded and we will be on a shaky foundation. But if we choose to trust God and not rely on our own ability to figure everything out, trust will be built up and what we need to understand will be made plain at some point by God. Some things are beyond our current ability to understand and we can rest in God’s trustworthiness even and especially when we don’t understand.

All this helps us to be able to receive more of God’s love. Remember: helping us all to receive more of God’s love is my goal. We cannot receive if we don’t begin to trust. The more we choose to trust, the more love and grace we can receive and the more we receive the more we experience the gift of trusting God with all our hearts.

Greg

 

“God moves in a mysterious way” is a wonderful hymn by William Cowper. Cowper led a very emotionally pain-filled life, yet the words he penned demonstrate his deep trust in God. The folowing verses are especially helpful.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence (outward circumstances), He hides a smiling face.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His works in vain.
God is His own interpreter And He will make it plain.

Listen to Lori Sealy perform “God moves in a mysterious way” in the video below.

Receiving God’s love

Pastor Greg“This is love: not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 NIV)

Love starts with God. We as creatures made by God must receive everything from God. It is only because of our fallenness that this is not obvious. We are not the source: God is.

Yet we are commanded to love God! How is this possible? Without God it is impossible. The commandments are given to us to show us what God desires but also to show us that we are unable to do what God asks. This helps us to see that we need God to love God. As those who have believed in Jesus as God’s unique Son and have received him through the Holy Spirit into our hearts, we now have God living in us. We begin a life-long process of being receivers of God’s love so that we can love God more and more in return.

This same pattern can be seen with children. Infants must first receive love from their parents. Infants and young children are completely dependent on their parents and even as they get older they still need regular infusions of their parents’ love and support. Infants who do not receive such love and care eventually become withdrawn and unresponsive. Children who have to grow up too quickly or are traumatized by those who should be nurturing them have underlying deficits and hurts that can make it hard for them to receive love.

You may remember the fall of the very oppressive communist government of Rumania late in December 1989. Afterwards, severely neglected children were discovered in state-run orphanages. They had received so little care that they were terribly damaged in their ability to respond. Both their intellectual and social development were seriously impaired.

As good parents and caregivers of children we do not expect our children to love us without first receiving our love. Similarly, when we become children of God the Father through faith in God’s Son, God knows much more than we do how much we need to receive His love. We need to learn to become receivers of the Father’s love. Like needy children, we need to receive regular infusions of His wonderful, perfect and transforming love.

Because we have previously not fully known God’s love (before turning to Christ) and especially if there have been deficits or traumas in our experience with parental figures and others, we may unwittingly resist or not know how to receive God’s love. We may feel afraid or unworthy or have difficulty believing or trusting God’s goodness and faithfulness. Our fallen natures are not tuned into God’s love and the hurts of our lives may hinder us temporarily but our new natures are increasingly able to receive. The more we choose to receive, the more we can receive. And God’s love heals the very areas that make it hard to receive in the first place.

My own heart yearns to love God and to desire to seek Him. But I also realize that my heart can be lethargic, weighed down and easily distracted from this goal. I have been asking God to draw me–to give me a greater desire for Him. He is answering as He has before by pouring in more of His love and more of His nature. My main task is to receive and to go on receiving. It is His love that draws me to Himself and makes me want to both receive more and give love back to Him and to others.

Greg

Prepare for the Harvest

Pastor GregLast Sunday (February 10), Pastor Paul spoke on the following passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 5:

5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:5-10 NIV)

As I reflected on this passage, I was again struck by the portions I have marked in bold print. Notice that Jesus uses the experience of catching fish to illustrate the task to which He was (and is) calling His followers—the task of finding people who will respond to God’s call and be caught up into God’s Kingdom: i.e. “catching people”. Two things stand out.

First, Jesus makes it clear that, though they caught nothing on their own, when they fished under His direction and grace they caught an overabundance. At another time, Jesus says this explicitly (John 15:5 NIV) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Second, there is the dramatic picture of catching so many fish that their nets begin to break and then the boats became so full that the boats began to sink! What is the meaning of this part of the analogy? I believe it gives us a picture of moves of God that bring in so many people that the existing church structures are strained to the breaking point and would break if it were not for God’s provision. One of my parishioners in Montreal was from Kazakhstan, a former republic of the aggressively atheistic Soviet Union. After the fall of communism, she described a great move of God in her country in which she and many of her countrymen came to believe in and follow Jesus. She described a time when many new congregations sprang up led by relatively young believers. Similarly, we see in the Book of Acts how the early church grew exponentially. The Bible also makes it clear that there will be an unprecedented harvest of souls at the end of this current age. (See, for example, Revelation 7:9-10.)

We don’t know precisely when such a move of God will come to the western world but you can be sure our time will come as God does not play favourites (Acts 10:34) and He is never early or late but always on time.

In this kind of scenario, we will have exactly the opposite problem from the one we have now: from a dearth of people in church to an overabundance that is so great as to threaten our capacity to handle it. Instead of worrying unduly about any current issues, let’s individually and corporately decide to prepare ourselves as best we can and by God’s grace and leading to be useful to God and His Church and to play the unique part for which each one of us is being called and equipped by the Holy Spirit for the harvest to come.

Lent is a good time to think and pray about how God would want to prepare you for service to bring in a great catch. The word Lent comes from the Old English lencten or lengten meaning lengthen (as in the lengthening days of spring): it is a time to stretch oneself and get out of ruts and comfort zones and unhelpful distractions by being more open to being filled, led and gifted by the Holy Spirit.

The following passage from Isaiah 54:1-8 gives us great encouragement:

54 “Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.

2 Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.

3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.

4 “Do not be afraid [as Pastor Paul reminded us lastSunday]; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.

You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

5 For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.

6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.

7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

8 In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.

This was one of the verses I alluded to in my recent sermon on the Church as the Bride of Christ. I think it all ties together in the above passage. We may feel God has left us and our country of Canada on the back burner spiritually. But get ready: this is a temporary state (like the winter before the spring) during which God has been preparing us for the stretching and glorious times to come!