Shortbread, Sweaters, and Unending Praise ~ Pastor Gary

With just two and a half weeks until Christmas (sorry for reminding you) you are likely in the midst of all the planning and activity for the season. Surely no time of year has such predictable rhythms and traditions associated with it. We plan office parties and our holiday visiting schedule, we bake the time-honoured family favourites, hear all the traditional carols many times over, decorate the home, put off our shopping, and pull out that ugly Christmas sweater again. For many of us these rhythms provide a sense of stability and comfort, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, as I was meditating during devotions earlier this week, I also reflected on the dangers of familiarity. There is a lot of truth to the expression familiarity breeds contempt. I was thinking of our advent season, and particularly our sermon series centred on Isaiah 9:6:  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. This is the best known of the prophecies concerning the birth of Christ, and we are guaranteed to come upon it every year through devotional reading, Christmas cards, cantatas, or preaching. How do we protect our hearts from the dangers of familiarity? How do we approach the familiar with the kind of awe and wonder of a child on Christmas morning? As I expressed my desire to the Lord to not treat him with apathetic familiarity (or worse contempt even) he drew my attention to Psalm 145. I know it probably feels like I...

The Word made flesh: our life and light. ~ Pastor Gary

In 1866, a Welsh missionary with the London Missionary Society named Robert Jermain Thomas departed China with the objective to provide bibles to the Korean peninsula. At this time the Chinese and Korean languages shared some characters such that educated Koreans could read Chinese bibles. According to a personal diary entry Thomas learned enough Korean to share “some of the most precious truths of the Gospel.” It would not be without risk as the Korean people, as a whole, were hostile to foreigners and bibles were given or taken at the risk of fines, imprisonment, and even decapitation. “Death to the Western Barbarians! Death to all Christians!” were slogans shouted on the streets of Pyongyang. Yet in his first visit, in the fall of 1865, Thomas found some eager to listen to the good news of the gospel and to accept Christian literature, even with the known risks. And so, Thomas was eager to return and boarded an American ship whose intentions we are today unsure of. Various reports suggest either smuggling, spying, or trading; any of the aforementioned being forbidden within this closed culture. In addition to a large supply of bibles, Thomas carried a love for the Korean people and a desire for the light of God’s love to shine upon them. Unfortunately, hostilities broke out between the American ship and the Korean coast guard resulting in the burning of the ship. As it sank, Thomas struggled to the shore as the lone survivor taking with him all the bibles he could carry. When the Korean soldiers came to him he thrust God’s Word into their hands,...

Opposition or Opportunity? ~ Pastor Gary

Have you heard the one about the two salesmen? Well, looking to expand its business a shoe company sent a salesman to a remote part of the country. When he arrived, he was dismayed because everyone went around barefoot. So he sent word back to home office: “No prospect for sales. People don’t wear shoes here.” Later, another salesman went to the same territory. He too immediately sent word to his company saying: “Great potential! People don’t wear shoes here!” Isn’t it remarkable how different our perspectives are! It is no different when it comes to spiritual perspective. Where one Christian sees opposition another sees opportunity. This is certainly true for evangelism. Why do some of us so regularly have opportunities to share our faith whilst others see only opposition? Could it be a matter of perception? In Numbers 13 we read of the twelve spies spying out the promised land and reporting back to home office. All of the spies saw the tremendous fruit of the land, a land “flowing with milk and honey”. But they also saw fortified cities and inhabitants so large they felt as grasshoppers in their own eyes. Due to the opposition ten of the spies gave a bad report of the land and its opportunity, whilst two (Joshua and Caleb) said, “go for it”. Ten of the 12 spies forgot God’s promises. They forgot his faithfulness, he provision, and his works. All they could see was opposition. They took their eyes off the solution, off what they knew to be true, and dwelt on the problem. Is it possible that you sometimes focus...

Dead Men Walking ~ Pastor Gary

It is said that in some American prisons which still have a so-called “death row”, when a prisoner conducts his final walk to his execution the guard will shout, “dead man walking”.  It tells others to get out of the way and show some sort of respect for a man about to leave this life.  In New Testament times when a Roman official sentence someone to death he would shout out: “Put the cross on the man!”  The horizontal beam would be strapped to the man’s body and the prisoner would carry it to the sight of his crucifixion.  Is this what Jesus had in mind when he taught that those who wished to follow him must “take up his cross”?  Is he not asking us to be dead men walking? Now, you may say I see evidence of dead men walking every day.  Countless people marching lifelessly from sunrise to sunset every day, bored with life and frustrated by the seaming futility of it all.  This is not the kind of walking dead of which Jesus spoke.  In fact whenever we read of the life God grants, whether that which he breathed into Adam to make a “living soul” (Genesis 2) or that “life abundant” courtesy of the Good Shepherd (John 10), it is the kind of life that puts hope in our hearts and a spring in our steps! Paul writes in Galatians 2:20 that he has been crucified with Christ, the result being that the life he now lives he lives by faith in the resurrected Christ, the right kind of dead man walking.  He has...

Living by faith ~ Pastor Gary

I have heard some people describe the Christian faith as taking the things you like to do the most and stop doing them, whilst also taking the things you like to do the least and start doing them.  Yikes, not exactly what anyone would have in mind when thinking of something called “good news”! In short, to many, Christianity is a list of do’s and don’ts.  How do so many come to this kind of conclusion?  Certainly some may get their notions of our faith from “rule-keeping” styled legalists not unlike some who opposed the Apostle Paul in his day.  But when we think of it, all of us have a tendency toward rooting our acceptance by God in ourselves and our actions, rather than in Him.  Last week we learned of the two methods of justification before our holy God: self-justification and justification by faith alone in Christ alone.  The truth that we are made right before God by faith in Christ alone is radical, provocative, and utterly unique.  It is the opposite of the human ‘gospel’ of self-esteem, and of all efforts to self-justify. And so Paul was steadfast against the idea that God desired a legalistic faith from his children.  Such a gospel was not only false, but no gospel at all!  The ‘rule-keepers’ were not satisfied!  They argued Paul’s doctrines of faith, grace, and Christian liberty would leave society lawless.  ‘Without our rules to follow’ they argued, ‘we will have no moral anchor!’  There would be no moral boundaries, even suggesting that Paul’s teaching made Jesus to be a “servant (or minister) of sin”.  How...

Justified by Faith Alone ~ Pastor Andrew

The date was October 31, 1517.  The 33 year old monk Martin Luther headed to the chapel of Wittenberg, Germany.  As a professor of biblical theology, Luther wanted the Catholic Church to discuss and debate the issues surrounding indulgences.  Like others who wanted to post academic ideas for discussion, Luther nailed his 95 theses to the chapel door. The Catholic Church of the time had made a practice of selling indulgences.  By purchasing an indulgence, the buyer was given a promise that loved ones could have time off of their suffering in purgatory. What drove Luther to challenge the religious system that controlled Western Europe?  Why question indulgences?  For Luther, indulgences kept people in bondage and condemnation, and this had been his previous experience. Earlier in his life, Martin had been saved from a near death experience.  In response, he became an Augustinian monk, applying himself to be the best monk possible.  Taking seriously confession and obedience, Luther became wracked with guilt.  He could never perfectly obey, nor could he find peace even after confessing sins for hours. Luther’s confessor and spiritual advisor, Johann von Staupitz, was becoming exhausted by the monk’s inability to move past his sin.  In a pastorally wise move, Staupitz pointed Luther away from continual introspection and directed him toward the merits of Christ. He taught that true repentance does not involve self-inflicted penances, but trusting in Christ’s atoning death.  He directed Martin to study and teach the Bible. Luther had always feared the righteous God.  A righteous God would punish unconfessed sin.  And Luther hated that his conscience never found any peace with God.  But...