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Surprise!

August 12, 2010 Leave a comment

I never thought I’d see the day.

I was surprised. That’s it. Surprised.

But this is no small matter. First, having been a pastor for more than a decade, there isn’t much that manages to surprise me any more. And second, I have the kind of mind that likes to put two and two together. I love puzzles and mystery novels. I take pride in solving them. So the fact that I was 100% surprised last Thursday night is a compliment to those who surprised me. That would be the whole Church.

In retrospect, the thing was executed brilliantly. Those who were responsible chose a deviously simple way to throw me off the scent – they put me in charge of the event.

So I set about to plan our Big House Group event, not suspecting that all of my preparations were to be ultimately ignored, and that my requests for assistance in this or that capacity for the evening were greeted with passive acceptance and quiet, knowing smirks.

I even preached! And everyone just let me share my devotional, knowing that the whole event would shortly be shanghaied and that the evening would be taken from my hands as soon as I was done talking.

Then Danielle came up to share a song that she had innocently volunteered to sing. When that song turned out to be the Flintstones’ “Happy Anniversary” song, I vaguely suspected that something was amiss. When a picture of Karen and me appeared on the screen with the words “Happy 25th Anniversary” emblazoned on it, I wondered if this had to do with us. And when our parents and the Warkentin’s and Sandee came in through the stage door amid balloons and flowers and congratulations, adding themselves to the unusually large attendance at this big house group, I was pretty sure there was something going on. We were surprised. By the whole Church. They knew about this for weeks, and Karen and I didn’t have a clue.

So the rest of the evening was devoted to blessing us on the occasion of our 25th anniversary. And what an evening it was! Blessing followed blessing, as Cari sang an original song about us, as we were put through humbling, challenging games and questions (to the delight of all), as our sons performed a song that was particularly meaningful to us, as the Church gathered around us to pray for us, and as a presentation line formed to contribute towards our honeymoon holiday. Afterward, a wonderful reception was prepared for us downstairs, crowned by an incredible “pièce montée” cake fashioned by Joel. I was alternately in tears and laughter through much of the evening.

So the whole Church planned this 25th anniversary party to bless us, and we didn’t even know. That’s cool. But what is even cooler is that there was something that the Church didn’t know. They didn’t know that these days I had been feeling the effects of many months of work without a holiday, along with the daily pressures of leadership in the Church. They didn’t know that I was asking the Lord for a word of encouragement to bring refreshment to me along the way.

But God did. And I received that word of encouragement in the best way imaginable – through the love, care and support of our families, and of God’s people in FireLight and LivingStones, the ones whom Karen and I have devoted our lives to serving, for the Lord’s sake. Needless to say I am indeed refreshed, encouraged and grateful. Even though we all knew some things and didn’t know others, God knew about everything.

It seems that the Lord loves surprises too.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” – Eph. 3:20-21

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

How wonderful, how pleasant!

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

There were a lot of people in Church on January 10th. About 8,000.

No, FireLight Christian Fellowship didn’t experience a slight spike in attendance that Sunday. Actually, that was the estimated attendance at the One Heart City Church service that we were part of at the MTS Centre. As you may recall, it was an event where on that Sunday, twenty-six Churches decided to meet together instead of in our own local venues. Stepping out of our parochial comfort zones to worship the Lord together is risky business. We (the leaders who had planned and participated in it) expected maybe up to 4,000 people to show up. Boy, were we wrong.

The place was comfortably full by 10:30, and uncomfortably full by 11:00. Although, it didn’t seem to matter, and the MTS Centre was abuzz with activity and anticipation as the starting time drew near. That’s when the wave started. Really. The Wave. The whole place erupted spontaneously into a loud and joyful expression of wavy corporate unity that would rival any crowd at a sports event. This wave offering wasn’t what they were referring to in the Old Testament, but I’m sure it put a smile on the Lord’s face nonetheless. And it was only the beginning.

A children’s choir from the Churches began (Emmaus from FireLight and Nassia from LivingStones were in the choir), then pastors from the Churches shared the reading of scripture from the book of Revelation Chapter 5, verses 6-14 (I got to read verse 6). The next thing was an entry of the nations – Christians in cultural dress carrying the flags of 50 nations. Our very own George Balaktsis looked very Greek and in his traditional outfit and very proud as he hoisted the flag of his forbears. Ron MacLean greeted the people, and then a worship team put together from all the Churches led the giant congregation in songs of worship to our Lord Jesus (Brad Warkentin from LivingStones led one of the songs). Then there was communion (LivingStones’ Krishna and Konner were part of the usher team supervising that gargantuan task), a clever puppet show, and a great message about evangelism courtesy of David MacFarlane. We then gathered as pastors and gave the benediction to the people together. Wow!

I was moved to tears several times during the service. Even after more than a week of reflection, I can only get a glimpse of why. I think I was feeling something that was bigger than my mindset or my perception could intellectually process. In the end, I believe I may have been feeling a bit of what the Father would feel in seeing His children trying to get along, a bit of His pleasure at seeing the Church cooperating with Jesus’ prayer from John 17, that we His people would be brought to complete unity in Christ, a bit of the blessing that follows an action on our part that is near to the heart of God. What we did as Churches gathering together and sowing into the unity of the Body of Christ is, after all, biblical. And so is the blessing we experienced:

“How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony!  It is like the precious anointing oil running down from Aaron’s head and beard, down to the collar of his robes. It is like the dew on Mount Hermon, falling on the hills of Zion. That is where the LORD has promised his blessing— life that never ends.” – Psalm 133:1-3

We hope to do this again next year, with even more Churches participating. Will there be enough room? Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

Let’s not catch this.

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s a serious disorder. All over the world, many Christians suffer from it. It drains the power out of their Christian walk, chokes the spiritual fruit from their lives, robs them of purpose, and even causes some to shipwreck their faith. What is this terrifying blight – this real threat to our abundant life in Christ? Spiritual instability.

The symptoms of spiritual instability are numerous – wide spiritual mood swings, a loss of appetite for truth, low resistance to sin, spiritual lethargy, an allergic reaction to meaningful fellowship, restlessness, moral confusion, and tragically, a form of spiritual dementia that lashes out at those who care for them the most.

This is no isolated problem. In some ways, spiritual instability has gone pandemic – especially in our North American society, which sells selfishness, unhealthy independence and instant gratification to a brainwashed consumer culture. Unfortunately, all this has been sneezed on the Church, with disastrous results.

As followers of Jesus are infected with various strains of worldliness, their spiritual balance is affected, causing them to become disoriented and prone to stumble and fall away, sometimes taking others down with them. The resulting spiritual instability in its members has weakened the Church, and we find the Body of Christ suffering from a kind of low-grade fever, a sense of chronic spiritual fatigue that affects its muscles and joints, touching every aspect of its life. A Church suffering from spiritual instability in its parts becomes aimless, lethargic, anaemic in its resources, and relationally transient. Basically, it begins to fall apart.

In September of this year at FireLight, we felt that the Lord gave us a word of warning about spiritual instability, and an encouragement to actively work against this disease by being intentional about our life in Christ, bucking the world’s commitment to being noncommittal and decisively embracing the fact that we are disciples of Jesus in fellowship together. As we have begun to really look into how we can battle against worldliness, we have found that there is much we can do to cooperate with the promotion of spiritual stability in our individual lives, and consequently, in the life of the Church. For example, we can prevent spiritual disorientation by employing our GPS (God’s Positioning System), otherwise known as the BIBLE. In a world that has lost its way, the Word of God is extremely useful in helping us to get a true sense of where we are at, and who we are. In fact, spiritual stability is impossible to achieve without the regular use of this life-saving GPS. In addition to this, one of the most effective elixirs against worry, which leads to spiritual instability, is TRUST. Settling our trust issue with God – simply deciding that we believe Him when He says that He is there and He is good (not to mention all of His other wonderful promises) – brings a peace which passes all understanding. And that peace gives us a firm foundation to live on. The result is spiritual stability. Then there’s remembrance, belonging, investment, sincerity, and a host of other spiritual instability-busters that we will be examining together at FireLight over the next while.

Are you tired of being sneezed on by the world? Are you interested in prevention or recovery from spiritual instability? You’re invited to join us at FireLight as we seek the Lord together on this.

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” – Eph 4:14-15

 May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

Turkey Day? I don’t think so.

October 1, 2009 Leave a comment

madameblueberry

Ah, fall! I always love this time of year. For some reason it’s a time portal for me – most of my most vivid memories from childhood are from this season – the smell of fresh grass in my face as my brother tackles me in one-on-one football, school starting (yes, I loved school!), volleyball season, crunching leaves underfoot in the park, going door to door with a Batman costume stretched over my parka… And Thanksgiving!

As a kid I loved Thanksgiving because it was a special family time, and because it seemed like the one day where eating more at once than any other time in the year was possible. After the pumpkin pie shovelling contest, my grandmother would offer us ice bags to put on our stomachs, and we would lie prone and slightly panicky on couches hoping that our guts would not go on strike.

Like many things, as I have gotten older (and hopefully wiser), Thanksgiving has taken on a deeper meaning than merely food, family and digestive feats of strength. When I became a follower of Jesus, the spiritual background of Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter came into sharp relief, bringing new, deeper perspectives into the significance of these holidays, and consequently new memories that are part of my spiritual growing up years.

The world – and especially the humanistic social engineers that have some kind of strangle hold on the public school system – doesn’t know what to do with Thanksgiving. Being grateful is an undeniably desirable human quality, but Thanksgiving ultimately means giving thanks to – gasp – GOD – for His love, His provision and His blessings. This being unthinkable, someone somewhere decided that Thanksgiving must go the way of Christmas, which means that sleighs, presents and elves must at all costs drown out mangers, shepherds and…Jesus. So there has been a characteristically misguided push to refocus Thanksgiving, re-branding it TURKEY DAY. I would have considered this day aptly named if it was a day recognizing the achievements of the humanistic social engineers who thought of it, but unfortunately, the intent was to make the day all about turkeys and pumpkin pie and cousins and ice bags, sacrificing its most important element on the altar of political correctness – THANKFULNESS – just because the gratitude may go God’s way.

Thankfulness to God is not just a nice idea or a commendable practice – it is essential to our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. To lead healthy lives, we need to know and live out of the truth about God – that He is good and He loves us. The Enemy targeted that foundational truth from the beginning, and he has been robbing people – even Christians! – from the joy of this truth ever since. Ingratitude is not only a false foundation for life. It is a poisonous perspective that increasingly affects its unfortunate hosts as well as those around them. In Romans 1:21 Paul aptly encapsulates the plight of those who refuse to acknowledge God in gratitude: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Living a life of ingratitude to God is far from the reality of His love and blessings, but the self-imposed darkness of this point of view becomes a real prison nonetheless.

The bitterness of the fate of the ungrateful is even more poignant when we realize that the way out of the prison is so simple. When we acknowledge the truth – that God is there, and that God is good, our eyes are opened to the reality of His blessings in our lives, even through the challenges that life will inevitably bring. And when we acknowledge that God is there, and God is good, we see the reality of Jesus, His Son, and the magnitude of His love for us as He laid down His life to save us from the road to hell that we were on. Loved! Saved! Thanksgiving flows naturally from there, and joy follows. Indeed, the anonymous vegetable child in “Madame Blueberry” was right when she sang, “A thankful heart is a happy heart”.

So during this season of Thanksgiving, as you anticipate cousins and turkey and pumpkin pie, I encourage you to establish yourself in the truth – that God is there and God is good – and allow the Lord to open your eyes to His blessings that are all around, even in the challenges. The result will be thanksgiving to cheer your heart, and joy to cheer the hearts of others.

So Happy Thanksgiving!

May the Lord bless you,

Rob  (weccwinnipeg.ca)