Thanksgiving is Good for the Soul

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father (Colossians 3:16-17).

The full, content life doesn’t have room nor time for bitterness or complaints. Grumbling, the norm and virtue for cultural puritans, cannot comment on gratitude in any meaningful way because they are primarily concerned with fighting and acquiring power for personal and societal reasons. All work and no play . . . and yet, many Christians too have been pulled into the grip of griping. They bemoan in their impoverished spirits, having neglected the riches of Christ, attributing their highest happiness to materialism, statues, money, political parties, popularity, and on and on. There are goods to be had, no doubt, but they are not the fullness of life: only God can be that which our souls yearn for the most. And once satisfied, the soul is replete with thanksgiving that goes beyond the pale of televised accolades.

A thankful heart is also resilient. It is not easily swayed by circumstances or peoples perceptions. It does not readily give in when others disagree or settle on contrary opinions. The thankful heart approaches the day with joy and a song that’s sweet and light, rising from the sidewalks through branches and clouds, beyond the stars to the very heavenly seat of Christ. The seriousness of the day isn’t lost on the buoyant soul. Weighty matters ought to boggle and cause some soul searching. But they need not drag appreciation from our storehouse of goods. We are stronger and freer in thanksgiving, able to fully appreciate God’s goodness and weather the storms of life. We have true shelter amidst complainers, who have abdicated blessings for that which they have not; and ever, do they wonder, why they will eternally be impoverished? If you let go of what God has given you, what makes you sure that God will give again? He is no dusted-off-genie out of a lamp, ready to grant wishes; for you see, you haven’t rescued Him, but He you.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others (Cicero).

This Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks to our Creator and Savior, to our friends and family, to all those who came before us to give us our way of life, and let us do this not as a one time ceremony but as a way of life.

Pastor Aaron Talbot

The Light for a Dark Heart

A dark heart knows no end to gloom. Abundantly shower the dark heart with goods and resentment will squander every faithful gift, every act of mercy, every gesture of grace, every surprising hope, and every measure of love. The dark heart, if it’s to be rescued, must be flooded with the love of Christ.

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them” (John 17:25-26).

The love of the Father through the Son illuminates and frees the dark heart from its self dug grave of resentment. Lovingly embracing (believing) Jesus necessitates that we drop the shovel and step out of the lonely, cold dirt for abundant life. The Father’s providential purpose is clarified in our lives as we walk towards then with Him. His ways become our ways. And our dark hearts become full of His light and full of His love.


The Jesus Response to Worry

Worry gives a small thing a big shadow. -Swedish Proverb

Worry is also like a wolf, and if you don’t hunt it down it’ll cause havoc. Sure, there’ll be more wolves, but they’re just wolves. You can always outsmart them. And, with patience, even find peace amidst their distant howls.

Worries need not control you, for you can be at peace if you adapt to the Jesus response to worry.

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? -Matthew 6:25-27

Response 1: Take Your Blinders Off

Worry tends to limit our attention to a narrow width of experience, and for a time we lose our ability to gain helpful insights. Race horses are fitted with blinders to keep them on track. Without the necessary equipment, the horses and jockeys would collide horrifically with one another. No one would be able to finish the race. Blinders are ideal when conditions call for narrow sprints forward, but worrying isn’t a sprint. Worry initiates our natural tendencies of fight and flight, which in turn narrows our thoughts on that which seems to be causing the worry. Jesus teaches us an alternative response, one in which we are to think more generally and consider other beings, like birds, who are surprisingly cared for by our Heavenly Father. And since we place beings like birds lower in importance than people, and concede that God cares for each bird, we are able to gain insight on our worry. It’s shadow dissipates and shrinks in stature. Take your binders off and look around.

Response 2: Enjoy Your New Future

Jesus asks, “can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” When you worry, you tend to live in the future as a what-if. What if your husband doesn't like the new recipe? What if your daughter doesn’t make any new friends her first year of college? What if she makes new friends but they’re of poor character? Imagination can cast shadows where there are none to be had, and throw a blanket of darkness over you head in the sunniest of situations. Jesus’s question is meant to challenge your brooding imaginations that cannot add moments to your life but merely robs you of time and energy. Understanding the ineffectiveness of worry empowers you to drop the default position and adopt a hopeful, God given future. Enjoy it.

Response 3: Keep The Focus To Keep Consistent

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” -Matthew 6:31-33

It’s not good enough to be aware of your worries - you must also adjust your focus. Like someone climbing out of a long stay in a dark cave at midday, you need to be patient with yourself as you adjust to living in the light. Living righteously, that is, living in right relationship with God and others (and yourself) takes effort that is probably beyond your current capacity. Coming out of the darkness of worry and into the light of God’s confidence allows you to see, but your eyes need to grow accustomed to the brightness of His goodness. So you turn your gaze downward and shield yourself from His radiance. You might even hide behind trees and rocks to give your eyes a break; which is to say, giving up your propensity to worry is partially painful because you’ve habituated yourself to worry, and there’s comfort in your habits. Seek His Kingdom by consistently turning over small worries. As you see God’s faithfulness fulfilled in small ways, you’ll grow in confidence and be able to give over bigger worries. Your eyes will grow accustomed to the light, and the shadowy darkness of worry will grow smaller and smaller till you notice it only in passing. Keep your focus on Him and you'll keep consistent.

Worries need not control you, for you can be at peace if you adapt to the Jesus response to worry.

Fresh Hope

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13).

Each new day brings divinely fresh hope. Yet we are often too distracted to notice all the good God is doing amidst the windstorms, earthquakes and fires. God is obviously bigger, stronger and superior to the challenges we encounter through the day, and He always takes an eternal perspective on our lives, never becoming bogged down in despair nor rash in unrealistic optimism. God can work miracles and is always with you no matter how down and out you may feel - so pay attention and apply this daily habit and this attitude of excellence:

Turn Off the Entertainment: Entertainment can alleviate some feelings of despondency and subside frustrations, but it only prolongs your inevitable need to one day deal with whatever’s troubling you. Start by taking 15 minutes a day to pray and practice silence. It doesn’t take a lot of time and it’ll deeply refresh your soul.


Do Small Things Well: It’s fashionable to whine and complain about everything from the mundane and trivial to the most valuable and important issues. Being concerned and voicing your opinion can be helpful, but often it does little to change the situation. Instead, make note of a few small things that you can do well throughout the week. Once you feel that you’ve mastered those small habits, add a few more and continue to improve. God has given you many things to do. So practice whatever small and good habits are at your disposal and have faith that He will continue to speak to you through the small things.   

Just as God was in the whisper, so too is He in the silence. Also, consider all the small things that you do daily and you will find God amidst you. Each day is a new day and God has fresh hope for you.
 

Upgrade Your Soul

“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Romans 8:12-13).

Imagine owning a smartphone that has a dysfunctional operating system. Most times you’re able to turn it on and sometimes you can access contacts and receive text messages; though, each message is garbled beyond recognition and is considered a mystery. Most apps are nearly impossible to access, but when you’re able to finally open up, say, Facebook, you rejoice and try and tell others, unable because all of your messages fail to send. Such a smartphone would hardly be carried in your pocket and would most likely end up with other technological artifacts: in the trash, in a museum or in the hands of a few collectors.  

Unfortunately, our spiritual operating system is akin to the above example and is in desperate need of an upgrade. Most of us have a foundation in Christ but have failed to take a dedicated initiative to pursue an active, life giving faith. We’ve pursued careers, education, investments, physical activities, health, family, entertainment, and other quests, but have for too long neglected our souls. 2 Peter 1:5-7 recommends to “make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” Peter then goes on to say that “the more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins” (2 Peter 1:7-9).

In other words, if you’re not growing in your faith then you’re reverting back to bad habits and sinful ways that are both destructive and guilt inducing. To guard against this and have a functional spiritual operating system, you and I must constantly rely on the Holy Spirit when pursuing the spiritual disciplines of soul care like prayer, worship and study. Our motives ought to be comprised a cautionary stance to repel backsliding and a ready engagement to follow in the ways of God. We are not to live in the shadows of fear, anxiety, stress, depression, nihilism, and the like - all of which hamper our souls and ultimately destroy us when left unchecked. Instead, and to begin with, we are to take small steps forward by praying daily for God’s guidance, strength and peace; we are to regularly engage in devotions by reading the Bible for ourselves; and we are to worship weekly in a church with others.  

Upgrade your soul today. Begin by praying this simple prayer: 

Lord Jesus, please forgive me of all my sins and help me to better follow and rely on you this day. Thank you for your mercy and thank you for your strength. Upgrade my soul so I may be like you and reflect you to others.

Next, begin reading through the Gospel of John. Start by reading a chapter a day. Reflect on each chapter by answering this question: What is God saying to you through your readings?

Finally, go to church. I know, it's difficult. You don't get along with everyone and you've got other hangups as well. But if you hang in there and go, God can us your faithfulness to upgrade your soul.

Jesus loves you and wants to see the best in you. Take these steps of faith in a consistent way and you will experience a soul upgrade.

7 Ways to Get Involved with VBS

Vacation Bible School (VBS) is just around the corner (3 days from this entry), and some of you are probably wondering what you can do to get involved. Not to worry. Here are 7 ways you can be involved with this year’s VBS:

1. Pray: Ephesians 6:18 tells us to “pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” This weekend our church has a great opportunity to impact future generations for the sake of the Gospel. Pray for our volunteers, the kids and their families.
2. Tell Others: The best way to invite others to this year’s VBS is by word of mouth. It’s easy enough to miss the giant sign on the church lawn, the handouts, Facebook promos, and bulletin announcements. A personal invitation goes along way, especially when it comes to church events.
3. Volunteer: This year we’ve been blessed with a lot of dedicated volunteers. That’s not to say that we haven’t room for you :) Jesus says, “ Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me” (John 12:26). Jesus is undoubtedly with the children. So when we serve the kids, we serve Jesus too!
4. Drop In: Perhaps you’re unable to help out this year but still want to see what VBS is like. Feel free to drop in! It’s a joy to see the kids having fun and learning about Jesus. Oh and did I mention there’ll be snacks?
5. Bring Someone: Maybe you have some grand kids or nieces or nephews that could benefit from the VBS experience. Drop ‘em off - it’s free! And I’m sure they’ll have a great time.
6. BBQ: I think I’d mentioned snacks before . . . we’re also hosting a BBQ this Sunday, right after the Worship Service. Bring your appetite and a friend.
7. Share This: Finally, by sharing this post we’ll be able to reach parents and others about our upcoming VBS, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They can go over to our Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/fcogtulare) and register for the event. 


Come Grow With Us!

Pastor Aaron
 

The Author of Life Solves the Problem of Evil

I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed. -Jonathan Swift

Children often pose difficult questions by simply asking ‘why’. Our daughter is currently four and is satisfied with the current, simple answers that we offer her, sometimes in haste but usually befuddled ourselves, seeking to give her something that’s pragmatic, concrete and to the point. She has yet to develop an understanding of the abstract. The spiritual world is a mystery to her and as her faith grows, so too her understanding . . . but still, why evil?

It’s a good question that we’ve all wrestled with, especially when evil’s afoot in our neighborhoods and households. In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he tackles the issue head on and right out of the gate:

God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them (1:18-19).

For Paul, evil happens because people choose to reject God. This is a willful act, not one born out of ignorance, done in spite of God’s revelation of His “eternal power and divine nature”  through creation (v. 20b). Many of the Ancient’s, like Paul, understood that everything has an efficient cause; that is, a creator. Aristotle outlined all that is within the tenants of the four causes: material, formal, efficient, and final. If God is rejected then so too are the last causes, which then depletes our understanding of good and evil to mean survival. If Materialism is all there is then the material universe is its own efficient. Merely existing or survival is then the standard of good and evil. It’s definitely part of a working definition but not the totality of it.

Being human isn’t only about survival - we yearn for more. Paul understood this and worked out some of the behaviors that would accompany the godless soul:

Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy (v. 29-31).

It should be noted that some have pretended to believe and have lived godless in the past and that some believers have succumbed to temptation. There will always be hypocrites and failures. We all are always in need of God’s grace and the grace of others, for not only do we fail to live up to God’s ways but our own. We regularly act against our conscience and trip others up (purposefully and accidentally). And why . . . because we ultimately choose to.

But we can choose otherwise.

1 John 2:2 says, “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins - and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” Our step away from God and into evil always leads us away from the Author of life. Take steps towards God today by trusting Jesus with your thoughts and actions. Trust Him with your life and receive, life!

A Beacon Of Gratitude Shines In The Following Fog Of Events:

One month ago, Easter descended on our community with the fervor of a child seeking chocolate eggs at the crack of dawn, basket in hand. The sugar rush lasts throughout the morning but wanes sometime around noon, as too the Pastor’s ability to focus on any particular voice after a long day of preaching, meetings, counseling and the like. This happened to me a few days ago. Coming home from a long day at the office, I found myself exhausted, and, as Melisa related something of her day to me, I could not for the life of me, in that moment, concentrate on the sequence of sentences that spilled from her lips. I nodded in approval of what was said, but it didn’t make any sense. She noticed by the look on my face that I’d somehow misinterpreted her, so she reiterated. I agreed, again, but this time changed my tone and so was able to navigate the fog.

But where’d the fog come from, and why was I wandering around in it?

A lot happens in The Valley. There are events for everything, and this is something that I’m curiously growing accustomed to. On one hand, I like the pace and productivity. Tulare county is known for its high production of dairy and grows nearly anything under the sun. There is an old fashioned work ethic that's somehow survived post-modernity and reminds me of hauling barrel sized stumps and logs out of the bush. My father, brother and I would cut up wet poplar, spruce and pine and drag them to the truck, loading the box to the max for a slow ride home. The wood would sit for a year beside the garage and then we'd split the stuff into fours when it was properly dried. The logs would pop and crack under the slow, merciless hydraulics of the wood splitter.

On the other hand the sheer pace of running from one event to the next is a little maddening. There’s nothing hard about going to events and shaking hands and passing out contact info and drinking coffee and chatting about the differences between Canada and California (most notably the weather) and sitting through the National Day of Prayer after a hearty breakfast. I don’t feel worn because of that. But I do feel hollow when I haven’t had much time to pray and think. Being a busybody is precisely that - the soul passively moves from one place to the next, one interaction to another, and is deprived of nourishment. The soul is slow. It, I mean me and probably you too, need a human pace that’s divinely orchestrated rather than mechanically synchronized for surface level encounters. Less is more, as they say, and, they’re right in the way 1 John 2:17 is right: “And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” Simplicity in this age of hyped-spectacle glut is golden because it reminds us of our mortal natures. Thank the Lord we have the freedom in Christ to turn off our devices, say no to a few things and walk in His creation as we first did.

The mountains out here are never far away, nor the ocean for that matter. I’m told that many in The Valley get away from it all with quick trips to either location, but not always. About a week and a half after Easter Sunday, a friend invited me to the Sequoia Cycling Classic, a day long hodgepodge of bike races in downtown Visalia. We watched a couple hours of racing and even walked the track to get a better sense of the corners. There were a few announcers who kept the crowd into it and a beer garden about half full, with the rest of the spectators milling either around the finish line or by some of the booths selling tacos and bike gear. You watched because you either were into cycling and racing or knew a competitor. Or because you were just passing through . . . which got me thinking about how hard it was to train for anything, let alone 30 to 75 minute high speed races of constant pedaling and maneuvering. Looking from the sidelines, I could relate with the discipline needed to just make the event and was struck with an odd sensation that had somehow been hidden among the fog: gratitude.   

* * *

The trek to Phoenix, Arizona for the Church of God Regional Convention pushed us along nine hours of freeways and semi-trailers. There isn’t much for the mind to think about after the first few hours, but Ben Hayes (Youth Pastor outta Exeter, Church of God) and I knew the drill. We’re both from Western Canada and have driven through its vast tracts of prairie, Rockies and snow drift nights to know that good conversation can get you six, maybe seven-hundred miles. After that, sections of the brain start to shut down, leaving only the lights on in the primordial areas. Once arriving, it gives you that oh-we’re-here-already effect; the numb feeling of fatigue where the last hundred miles are somehow obliterated from memory.

Pulling into Maricopa, I asked Ben about our host.

" I don’t know him.”

“You don’t know him”, I replied, suddenly feeling alert.

“Yeah, I talked to him over the phone once for about forty-five minutes, but I’ve never met the guy.”

This is how Youth Pastors role. They’re betwixt weird worlds of teenagers and adults and have to pull off late nights and early mornings with relational zeal hovering somewhere around professionalism, but not too much, lest they be considered an Associate. Spontaneity is key in order to be with the kids and keep up with their schedules.

Our host, Pastor Chris Leon, grew up in the Central Valley but is now ministering with his wife, Katie, and three children at Community of Hope Church. We talked for hours in their spacious kitchen as tri-tip and ribs smoked in the backyard. Chris and his wife weekly host kids from in and outside the church. They are a family on mission and take the Gospel wherever they go. And sometimes, it need only go as far as their living room.

After the meal, Ben, Chris and I decided to venture out for ice cream. We drove through the sleepy town of Maricopa and discussed the difficulties of playing the town’s disc golf course, which runs parallel to the road and rows of houses, giving any noob limited room for error and plenty of chances to be out-of-bounds over a fence or on the asphalt and under the moving tires of a SUV full of kids meandering slowly to the next soccer game.    

We pulled up to a Sonic Drive-In and proceeded to the drive thru. Looking through the long menu of ice cream, floats, shakes, and everything else, we finally settled on what we were to order. We also noticed that shakes were cheaper past eight p.m. . . . and lo and behold we were well past the hour.

“Hi, welcome to Sonic. How may I help you?”

Chris: “Yeah, are your floats also half off?”

Nothing. Did she hear us? O, wa-

“Whaaaaaat?”

Chris: “I said, are your floats half off too? It says that your shakes are but I was wondering if your floats were too?”

Nothing, again. Is there some sorta delay between us and the teenage girl at the window? Are they transmitting the message to Sonic’s headquarters in Oklahoma City before relaying it to-

“Did you want friiiiies?”

At first, I started chuckling. How’d she get fries out of that? Looking over, I noticed Chris was laughing as well and had his head slightly bent down as if not to laugh right into the microphone. That’s when Ben decided to do what was only reasonable, and answer for Chris.

Ben: “Yes. Fries.”

My chuckle began turning into a laugh. Not a full blown laugh, but a quiet, maintained laugh. Chris was laughing too and unable to cut Ben off.

“Whaaaaaaat?”

This was getting to be too much. How was our communication breaking down so badly? Amidst the laughter, Chris reiterated his question and it was met with more silence, and then this:

“DId you want to order fries, half off?”

I began laughing heartily.

Ben: “Yes. Are your fries half off?” He said it composed, as if he were the one really trying to order, not Chris.

That was it. I lost it. Tears of laughter trickled from the corners of my eyes as I laughed, crouched up into my knees in the passenger seat, thinking that this was never going to end and that somehow we’d be stuck with a few bags of lousy fries. The miscommunication kept going on, back and forth, till it was finally made clear that no one really wanted fries and Chris wanted floats half off (which they were). Driving back to Chris’s house, I was grateful to be with two spontaneous and godly men, full of ice cream and jovial banter.

* * *

Six a.m. came quick with the annoying buzzing of the alarm, and some thirty minutes later I was driving up Mooney towards the National Day of Prayer in a button up and tie. I typically don’t dress up in Tulare since California casual pervades, but decided to this time around. The Rotary Club was hosting the event, and that, at least to my assuming, groggy mind, meant a level of formality. I was right as most had dressed just formal enough to make you think twice about sneakers.

After the hearty breakfast, we listened to a local quartet sing a few songs that sounded familiar. I hadn’t heard the songs before, but I knew the sound. There was hope in their voices as they sang in harmony. Faith permeated the words and I couldn’t help but be reminded of God’s unconditional love for every soul in and outside the room. And again, like the bike rally and drive thru, a bright light of gratitude filled me and cut through the fog. As James 1:17 states, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.” Some inner beacon of gratitude within me kept turning on as I stumbled in the fog, and it kept pointing me to Christ. I’m here because of Him and grateful that He steers me right, out of harm's way and further into His good way.

Volume Up

David Crowder at The Warnors . . . CheeseCake Comatose . . . Ramblings on Buying Worship . . . & Unmute Me

The Warnors Theater in Fresno California was slowly filling with worshipers of all ages as the April sun crept west into the fading Saturday evening. Getting in and finding our seats was easy, but finding a parking spot among low-riders on one-way streets, wandering high school students dressed to the nines (Winter Formal), bunched families trickling along crosswalks, and random dudes urinating in back alleys (you needn’t see them actually hunkered in a corner to know this was going on - you could easily smell it from about 100 yards) was challenging in the construction riddled labyrinth called Downtown. But after a few missed turns and laps we were finally able to park in a hidden spot, 2nd level of a parking garage.

Previous to this, we had too much cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory. Note: when planning to attend a concert, DO NOT fill up on dairy laden sweets. I hadn't thought of this before the drummer kicked things off, but only desired to conquer whatever was placed before me, even if it was a heavy macaroni & cheese burger, side of sweet potato fries and a too rich for this kid piece of white-chocolate-macadamia-nut-caramel-cheesecake. I’d learned my lesson some 10 years ago in Seattle. That Cheesecake Factory got the best of me. My manhood had been seriously challenged when I couldn’t finish my dessert. I left in shame and vowed never to repeat the failure least a curse of 7 generations befall any Talbot who dare enter the Cheesecake Factory.

Bloated, we strolled into The Warnors while the opening band, The Young Escape, warmed up the crowd. I hadn’t been to a concert in . . . I couldn’t remember. It had been a while, four, maybe five years, or more. And I couldn’t remember who I’d last seen. But that didn’t matter. The place had a good vibe to it. The opening act was engaging the crowd between songs, taking their time and having a little bit of fun with the easy going attendees. Nobody seemed in a hurry. We all knew Crowder was gonna play shortly.

This wasn’t my first worship concert. I’ve been to others (mostly in churches) and have always found the line between worship and entertainment fuzzy. I get that we want to get something out of the experience. I mean, we do buy tickets to get in, so that’s something to consider (as well as the merchandise). There are expectations placed on the bands. And they better deliver or we ain’t picking up any of their shirts after the show.

Ah yes, the acquisitive nature. Do we go to these things to meet with God or with someone famous? Are we inclined to fill our hands or empty our hearts? The Psalmist says, “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God” (Psalm 95:6-7a). This sentiment and soul searching worked its way into my thoughts as I sat and stared around the theater. Here we were, capturing the whole thing on our phones while simultaneously worshiping and texting friends about the loud base and “I can barely understand what he’s saying up there” complaints.

Maybe we hadn’t really come to worship at all?

Or maybe we had. It’s the 21st Century, after all, and we better get used to worshiping amidst the nagging distractions of our devices. Incorporating them into the experience has been the norm since the death of camcorders. So what was it? Surely not my own heart? Did I show up with a soul full of worshipful expectations? Or was I merely there to check things out and listen to some good music?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We all need a break from the fast paced world of deadlines and the grind of meetings. Day to day life tends to mute joy and fun; it’s there, playing in our subconscious, somewhere. We just need a divine touch to get the song’s volume up.

That was definitely part of it, but it wasn’t the whole thing. It was a heart thing. I needed a venue away from the pulpit to worship and open my mind to the Spirit without having to think about the Sermon. I needed a place to come humbly and bow before the Lord as one in the congregation. I needed to be like the priest who sat a few rows down - amidst the church to simply be the church. I needed to essentially forget myself and concentrate on the glory of God.

And I did.

And then I left Fresno to pick up our daughter, go home, fall asleep and preach the next morning with the vlolume up in fun and joy.

This Is My #sticksoutforHumboldt

On April 6th, around 5pm, a passenger bus carrying the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s  Humboldt Broncos - kids aged 16-21 - collided with a semi-trailer in devastating force at the Highway 335 junction not far from Tisdale, SK. A town of just over three-thousand people, Tisdale is considered the Honey Capital of the province and an important agricultural center for prairie dwelling farmers on the edge of the boreal forest. I’d spent a number of years ministering near Yorkton, living among farmers and miners alike, being only a 3 hour drive from Tisdale. Growing up, I’d even hunted for whitetail with my father and brother nearly every November, sleeping in a hunting shack for days just outside of the Moose Capital of the World, Hudson Bay.

Hockey, like hunting and fishing, was an exciting part of my childhood. It was also an important component on the school-ground. As soon as the early parts of fall would turn frosty, the football would be put away for hockey sticks and yellow tennis balls. The recess bell would sound, teams would be drawn up and for fifteen glorious minutes we would vigorously play street hockey, either winning or losing but always, and undoubtedly, relishing with exuberance the time away from desks, assignments, reading out loud, rules, teachers, and above all the dreaded and confusing interactions with the opposite sex. For these were pre-dating days, and so the schoolyard was full of boys playing hockey.

But that doesn’t last long and soon enough the hockey on the streets is ignored for the serious play in the arenas. I remember going to Flin Flon Bomber games (my hockey playing experiences are limited to the most amateur settings, away from the leagues), sitting among my peers as some viciously yelled at the reefs for nearly every blown whistle against us. It was, at times, bordering the barbaric, especially when the gloves were dropped at center ice halfway through the third period of a close and frustrating 2-1 game. Load the penalty box at that moment: we didn’t care. Someone had to pay for goalie interference. Even if he’d hacked their right-wingers shines since the start of the game, a reckoning would befall all who habitually trespassed the goalie’s crease.

Those outside of hockey culture don’t get this sorta justice. But it’s an integral part of the game just as the game is an integral part of the community. Winters in Western Canada are long, brutal affairs that can easily extend into the early weeks of May. Cabin Fever is a serious problem, rigidly setting in depressions, thick as a four feet of ice on a barren lake. The hockey arena has been a good antidote amidst howling northern winds. It’s been more than a game, more than the goals and accolades, but a source of warmth for kids and adults alike. It’s at the heart of the community where generations are able to huddle together and get along over a cup of coffee and an arena burger.

The tragic death of sixteen lives has touched so many because most of us can relate with the kids, parents, trainers, coaches, bus driver, and trucker. The team is in pain, hospitalized and grieving. We grieve too in expressions ranging from anger and calls to inquiries and justice to heartfelt sadness, tears and prayer. A whole community has been rocked and there are the injured, and the parents, siblings, families and friends who are trying to make sense of the whole thing the best they can. Grief is a lot like midnight waves of the sea - it comes and goes with strange frequencies, pushing our emotions all over the place while swamping our ability to think straight. As best you can it’s better to ride it out rather than fight or ignore the waves, one day at a time. Know too that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed “ (Psalm 34:18). Through the cross, Jesus has shown us that He is never far from our pain. He too knows what it means to suffer. And as our Heavenly Father, He understands grieve. To all my friends and family in the Great White North, we are praying and grieving with you. May our Lord be with you and may His peace be in abundance.

Pastor Aaron

Breaking the News Fast, Sorta

Today my fast from the news ends and I’m reluctant to read and watch with the same level of concentration that I had forty days ago. It was refreshing to get away from the talking points, spin, illogical debates and arguments, splinters of information taken out of historical context, hype without hope, and politics. I really, really, really enjoy politics. But only in a disciplined approach away from the banter of pundits and sophistry of powerplayers. The top news networks are successfully splitting communities and families over ideologies and constant, nauseating coverage of politics. News and politics are nearly indecipherable, which is detrimental to free speech, free press and governing. The two have nearly consumed each other and are wholly concerned with propagating rather than telling the truth. Objectivity is rejected for subjective opinions and I’ve grown tired of the whole game. Furthermore, there is nothing in Scripture nor in nature that demands I keep paying attention to this vicious coliseum of childish actors appealing to our bases desires and fear.

One could argue that I ought to pay some attention so as to relate with others, but I would respond that human nature hasn't varied since the last news cycle. Also, I could easily ask a few questions to get the gist of what’s on everyone’s mind (which usually isn’t the news).

But let’s say I exercise my right to vote (as a Canadian citizen in Canada (unless the law of the land changes and allows non-citizens to suddenly vote (which could happen here in the beautiful state of California, and is an entirely different discussion for, perhaps, another blog posting))), shouldn’t I be informed and wouldn’t the news give me the best information? Of course I ought to be informed. It’s been said that Democracies get exactly what they deserve. If that’s true then I better know what each party stands for, their track record and the various people running for office. Yet even before that I should know the functions and limitations of our current politia so as to ensure that I make wise decisions. All of this takes work and interpretation, and that’s precisely how I’ve come to understand much of the news: broadcasters are interpreting for the general population and supplementing the work and study one does to discover the truth. They have become the quick fix, which rarely works out and probably never in politics. Finally, the news cannot best inform because it functions more like a mixture of vaudeville and telegram. It’s short bursts of entertainment.    

One last thought: Ephesians 6:10-12 says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Fasting from the news has not only given me room to think a bit more deeply but also to pray for peace and justice. We are all in need of both and it is the work of Christ in and through us that brings this about. Our obsession with current events cannot. May Christ be our strength.

March 26th - April 1st Weekly Lineup

With Easter Quickly approaching, and Lent ending this Thursday (yesssssss!!!), we've a few things going on in the life of the church. The community's Good Friday Service will be here, 12pm, to remember the day our Lord went to the cross for us. All are welcome. Also, the Sunrise Service is taking place at Mission Oak HS Quad, 6:30am. Parking can be found at the rear of the school off Oakmore Ave. Drink some coffee, do a few jumping jacks and bring a friend. 

Thursday is of course Celebration Thursday at the Office. There's always some sorta treat and we love to hear all that God's doing in your life! 

Finally, Easter is April 1st (no fool'n!). Join us at 10:30am while we worship with Citizens of Glory, celebrate with a number of baptisms and hunt for Easter eggs after the service.

Let us go forth inspired by God's word: And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6).

The Depths of God's Faithfulness

“Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.” This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, “Tell the people of Jerusalem,  ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt’” (Matthew 21:2-5).

Palm Sunday is near and it usually means children and songs and palms and our Lord overlooking Jerusalem with the cross in the forefront of His mind and His disciples amidst Him, clueless of all that’s to transpire. I’ve preached Palm Sunday many times, and often reflecte on the mixed emotions of joy and sorrow that Jesus would have felt as He rode the donkey down to Jerusalem (the joy part is something I’ve always questioned: sure, the multitudes are joyful and singing, but was Jesus, knowing His terrible death was but days away?).

After much study and thought, it’s become apparent that there’s more to the procession than I’d originally understood. The fulfilled prophecy mentioned in Matthew is from Zechariah 9:9. It’s an old promise of redemption that God gave to His people, and it’s deep. Like the depths of a river, God’s Spirit moves and gives life with an incredible, subtle power. We often live on the shores of God’s river, enjoying life as a beach or dock. But it’s more than that and it’s wonderfully meaningful, for the shore line may recede into a muddy mess or dry up, but God’s depths of faithfulness will always remain.

I’ll see you this Sunday as I preach on Matthew 21:1-11, The Depths of God’s Faithfulness.

 

Pastor Aaron