Even though our summer has started out rainy and cool, I hold out hope that the sun will shine and we can enjoy warm temperatures soon. I am grateful for our summer season, to be outside, in the garden, taking in festivals and all the other activities we can do with friends and family. Another thing that I have been thinking about lately and am EXTREMELY grateful for are the global relief and development agencies at work in our denomination. Our world is a complex one, there are so many factors at play and groups like World Renew, Resonate Global Mission and Partners Worldwide have a lot of valuable experience from years of being involved (in many different ways). The people serve, evaluate, learn and adapt with each passing experience. I have recently been pointed towards a couple of videos that I would guess these two groups have wrestled with and are ones that we too have to be aware of and consider when we move from a posture of thinking, evaluating and then acting. Take a look...
This past June saw the NADC meetings experiment with two regional gatherings and experience a NADC first. As you can see in the pictures above, we had deacons of all varieties, including pelicans, deer and Homo sapiens!
Our central/south meeting was held at Sonrise CRC in Ponoka, on the heals of one of the walking segments for the Walk for Common Ground (pictured above with Wampum Belt). It featured a guest presentation by Tarence Barg from the Canadian Food Grains Bank.
The next evening was the North/Central meeting, held at the Lady Flower Gardens in Edmonton, where we experienced a walk and talk with our hosts and were joined by the other deacons you see in the pictures. Muriel Hogarth toured us around the property and our meeting was comfortably hosted in the yurt, arranged by a gracious invitation from Doug Visser and Kelly Mills.
See the attached files below, of the draft minutes of those meetings, for details as well as web links for mentioned features and presentations.
Walking for Common Ground - www.treatytalks.com
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank - www.foodgrainsbank.ca
Lady Flower Gardens - www.ladyflowergardens.com
A posture that has been growing in missions work is that of recognizing the fact that God is already present in places we are headed to, even if we may not realize it. We have a difficult time not falling into the temptation of making assumptions and judgments about people and cultures we do know a lot about. We can be forgiven for that, and God gives us grace, because even Old Testament fathers like Abraham, who closely communed with God, made the same mistake. We know Abraham was a great man of God, and God appeared to him multiple times, so clearly he knew God’s voice.
In Genesis 20 verses 1-6 we see that Abraham may have been making some assumptions without listening or looking for God’s presence. "20: Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. 3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” 4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her.”
God then tells the King to return Sarah, so he did asking Abraham in verse 10 and 11, “10 Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?” 11 Abraham replied, “I thought, ‘this is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.”
Author David Smith, in his book Learning from the Stranger, highlights the incorrect assumption of Abraham. “I thought, this is a godless place.” How wrong he was because clearly God was there, God has the power to be everywhere and talk to everyone, even people who may not outwardly appear to be walking with him. He spoke to the King directly through a dream. This is both a challenge and a reminder for us, God goes before us and is present, even when we may not see or understand it. We would do well, as we go into situations in mission’s fields near and far, to listen for the Holy Spirit and listen to others in our presence, watching for signs of God and His love.
On my learning trip to Mexico, we had the opportunity to share an afternoon with an Indigenous leader named Nacho Torres. It was a unique time of listening and learning because of their cultural practice of oral teaching. He held a deep historical knowledge about his people, the land and the connectedness of them with the Creator. I was intrigued by how he used and defined terms like dualism and syncretism because they were different than how I have heard people in our culture defining them. This raised questions for me but is something that I would have to learn more about from the different contexts and would not be something I would feel comfortable drawing a conclusion about God’s presence and workings in that place. It would take deeper engagement, stronger relationship connection and listening to the Holy Spirit, as we were formed in community together.
I grew up working for my dad in concrete construction and many of our jobs were in the small towns and surrounding farming countryside. We would often eat our lunch in the work truck and listen to Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" on the radio. You will recognize his distinct voice in the video below, made popular as a Super Bowl Commercial.
"So God Made a Farmer" was a speech given by radio broadcaster Paul Harvey at the Future Farmers of America convention in 1978. It has origins (or should I say roots) that were inspired by parts of “A definition of a dirt farmer” published in The Farmer-Stockman magazine back in 1940.
Farming is something that requires deep knowledge of the land, of creation; it requires faith and perseverance. It is a physical reality of how we can work as co-laborers in God’s loving and renewing mission. Farming involves a balanced relationship with our creator, creation and those who need His sustenance; everyone.
Wendell Berry, someone many of you may have heard of, was a farmer and writer who embodied what it meant for faith to be lived out as a farmer. In a collection called The Art of the Commonplace: Agrarian Essays, Berry wrote these words:
"We must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it."
So as we spend time in God's creation, no matter what we are doing, let us practice that act of being worshipful in God’s creation and each other’s presence. Maybe you have experienced a prayer walk or have practiced a spiritual discipline called Lectio Divina. Lectio Tierra is very similar to that, but instead of resting in Gods word, listening for his voice, we spend time in God’s natural revelation, His creation.
As you enjoy creation this summer, if it is camping, leisure, or practising Lectio Tierra, be aware of all your senses, notice the elements of creation that God is drawing your attention to and offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for His creation, His grace and His presence with us; knowing that we are His beloved children.
I recently had the nerve racking, and stretching, experience of being a part of preaching some of the message one Sunday morning. My pastor approached me about sharing some thoughts during the sermon he was going to preach on Philippians 2: 19-30. We sat down and talked about the passage, what I could share from my role as deacon and then worked on how to fit it into the message. I was grateful that I was given the small opportunity to share in that way and here is the simple, short part of Sunday morning worship I was blessed to be a part of...
The CRCNA denomination has an international ministry called the Timothy Leadership Training program. It is a ministry that has recognized the huge wave of church growth in other parts of the world and the need for training up local leaders to serve in the churches there. In many places, the needs and resources are very different than what we experience here in Canada, but that does not hold the people back from risking, forming and being church. I have seen it first hand, in my time in Mexico and Honduras, people with seemingly almost nothing, finding ways or means to give to their church community and reach out in evangelism to others.
The image of open hands has always been an impactful one for me as a visual learner. Open hands are outstretched in order for God to take us by the hand and lead us in use of our gifts and to also place something in them; gifts from the Holy Spirit. When we close our hands to hold onto something, we can no longer receive more. If our hands remain open, we can then easily give things to others and in service with others. When this is done in community, it builds each other up and we can often give more as a group than we can on our own. We are also more likely to give to those we have formed relationships with, so I would encourage all of us to look around for a moment. There is a wonderful diversity of people in our midst, who we can get to know and love more deeply. When we do that, we will grow, desire to live and serve each other more sacrificially and enter into the work of Christ together.
As mentioned in the text in Philippians chapter 2 verse 21, our culture tells us to look out for number one and serve our own interests, but through God’s covenant with us, we know living in communion with each other and God, is a much better path. I strongly believe that giving is also a camouflaged way of receiving. If we are open to listen for the spirits leading in our lives and step out and give at the leading edge of our own comfort, God has ways of blessing us beyond what we have given. When we do this together we also have the security of Christian fellowship to encourage and lift each other up along the way. That encouragement of being served opens the door to then allow others to give and serve. By modeling the servant heart of Christ, we are living out the mindset of Christ as described in verses 5-8. Many times, serving in community means we are also planting seeds in God’s Kindom that may be watered and harvested by others, for God’s glory.
I encourage you brothers and sisters in Christ, in words from the Contemporary Testimony, Our World Belongs to God, lets embrace God’s mission in our neighbourhoods and the world, through the giving of our daily lives in acts of service, mercy, compassion, justice and love … for God’s sovereign purposes.
Let the following questions rest on your heart and mind and see where the Holy Spirit is nudging you this week. It may be about money… time… talents… service to others… changing priorities or even words of encouragement and the good news of Jesus Christ.
What have I received?
What can I share?
What can I give?
Recently I took some time to attend one of the Dunamis Conferences, with a group of other CRC people, called Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit. It was a valuable time of learning about and experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit. In the beautiful setting at Providence Renewal Centre, we had time to go out for a prayer walk. I want to share my experience with you in a digital way to familiarize and encourage you if you have never done something like this in the past. It is an excellent spiritual discipline practise and especially enriching when done in creation, focused on silence and solitude. So this medium will be imperfect but will hopefully inspire you to then head outside and practise it for yourself!
The instructions were simple; God gives us times of refreshing, but they spring from when our hearts are repentant and prepared. As you pray through the following scriptures listen to that still small voice of the Lord. Go out, walk until you are drawn to stop and then reflect and pray. When you feel you are done meditating on that passage, move on to the next spot and passage.
Psalm 100:4 - The first thing I was drawn to was this hedge. I thanked God for the chance to be outdoors, in creation and to feel a warm sense of created-ness and protection. I praised God for being our sustainer, provider and for His renewing presence.
Acts 3:19 - The second spot I paused was at this tree. As the text reflects, I considered the sin in my life and the need to let it be peeled away from me and drop off. Like this tree, even though it may expose softer more vulnerable parts of the trees interior, it is necessary for growth. With roots firmly in place in the soil, it is able to face the elements around it and continue to thrive.
James 4:6-7 - As I walked past some towering columnar aspens, into a corridor of green space, there was a distinct difference between what was on my right and left. To my left was a stand of deciduous trees (middle picture) and to my right a stand of coniferous trees (right picture). It was striking to me how they were only separated by the walking trail but very little mixing of the species was to be seen. I stopped and reflected on the size and magnitude of trees and how our own sin and pride can get in the way of our relationship and service to God and others. I prayed for humility and for God to reveal the ways certain stands of pride had grown in my life that I needed to let go.
Ephesians 4:29-32 - I stopped in front of this burning bush, (how could I not!) to hear from God about the deepest convictions of my own heart and actions. Was there any bitterness or unforgiveness in me that needed healing? Are there relationships that need mending? Are there parts of my life, like the picture on the right, that have been clearcut, stripped bare, where only stumps and roots remain? This sadly happens in our human interactions and relationships with each other and with creation. What needs to be done in my own life to heal and repair this. I sat, prayed and considered these things while ever conscious of the warmth of the sun on my skin.
Acts 1:8 - The final passage to reflect on took me down a hill to a bridge at the bottom of the ravine. There I was drawn to the water, the element that is so important to sustaining and flourishing of life. Like our own spiritual journeys, the need for a complete communion with the entirety of the Trinity is essential. I thanked God for what he has done in my life and asked for more of the power of the Holy Spirit to be a witness and continue the path of walking with Him. Down to the water for refreshing, to make the journey up again.
Download your edition here as a pdf file or click on the "NADC Newsletter Archives" button above for this and past issues. Many resource, book and artist suggestions to check out and much more.
You may remember that last year in the summer deacons and CRC congregation members were invited to walk with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. That walk commemorated the 50th anniversary of the closing of the residential school located in St. Albert. That short walk was later followed up with an 18 KM walk, to be in step with the reconciliation action happening in our communities.
This summer, Walking for Common Ground is going to a whole next level and version 2019 is going to take walkers from Edmonton, all the way to Calgary! Organizers from the Mennonite, Anglican and Catholic churches, have planned a two week long trek through some of our CRC communities. Walks will be followed up with Treaty Talk presentations and sharing circles in the evenings. www.treatytalk.com/commongroundwalk
Participation is open to all and I am currently seeking more details to see if our deacons and churches can be more involved. Take a look at the poster, check your calendar and see if there is a day that you could participate on a stretch near you. Starts and stops are going to include Edmonton, Leduc, Ponoka, Lacombe, Red Deer and others. If you would like to be directly kept in the loop, please email me and I can send details your way when I get them. (firstname.lastname@example.org) For now, see and share the poster. I have attached it here as a pdf for you to download.
In one of our Classis discussions, during a presentation by Bernadette Arthur from Race Relations, I suggested a book resource called Living in Color. The author of that book is Randy Woodley and he is an Indigenous theologian, scholar and church ministry leader. He has a wealth of experience in pastoral ministry and gives others a picture of what racial reconciliation could look like. As a Keetoowah Cherokee member and someone who has studied biblical theology, Woodley helps the reader celebrate God’s beautiful plan to reveal Himself through every culture. I selected this as the NADC book recommendation, for the latest newsletter, but I wanted to give a bit longer book review of it here.
Woodley starts the book in the most logical place for Christians, at creation, in the book of Genesis. The Creator made a world of immeasurable diversity and our natural world is still revealing new and diverse forms of life that have been previously undiscovered. Even in the things we know a lot about, we see complexity that suggests our Creator loves diversity, including human diversity. “He is a God of innovation and extravagance, diversity and lavishness. God is the artist who formed the planet Saturn and its beautiful surrounding rings. He is the humorist who formed the giraffe and the narwhale, the armadillo and the platypus.”
At our last Classis meeting we were introduced to a beautiful new song but isn’t it interesting how our own contexts can bring different emotions in times of worship. I understand this to be song of celebration of our salvation in Christ Jesus and a promise from God of perfect restoration, but being shortly removed from spending time in Mexico, it was a difficult song for me to sing. Now when I say Mexico, I don’t mean resort Mexico, I mean Mexico the way seventy percent of the population lives it. I joined a team to travel to Cuernavaca for a program called Quest Mexico (www.quest-mexico.org). The final line in the chorus of the above song (We will feast and weep no more) is referring to a future time of hope and unification with our creator, but in the realness of here and now, in places like Tlamacazapa, Mexico, weeping and hunger are what the people face every day.
My heart was broken as I tried to sing through tears, thinking about the people I met, who welcomed me into what they called their home. In this little rural village in south/central Mexico, there are limited (at best) amenities of electricity and water and no septic system at all. Families struggled to survive using palm leaves to weave into baskets and trinkets. They also hand crafted small bracelets to try and sell in the streets. Children as young as six years old were being taught to weave and employed into the family business to try and make enough money to provide the basics of daily bread.
When we asked why the children were at home and not school, the parents told us that they could not send their children to school because they were fearful of losing them. In recent months, members of a local drug cartel had come into the community and kidnapped a dozen children from the school to use as forced workers in their drug business. The rural village is not on the radar of the government or law enforcement units and so the people are left to struggle on their own. It is this isolation and lack of resources that makes the people vulnerable and now fearful to even let their children out of their sight. As a parent with young children, this was one of the most difficult stories for me to see and hear about. It broke my heart to see kids not being able to be kids, not being able to go to school and flourish in the freedom, joy and young bliss that they should be able to live in.
We left that day, challenged to find hope in a situation that felt utterly hopeless. Wondering what could be changed to allow the systems of injustice to be loosened for communities like this. Praying that God will remain with them in ways we do not know or understand, to comfort and sustain them. This was just one encounter of an eye opening, challenging and informative journey that I was blessed to be a part of. I will share more stories of it in the near future, I hope to engage diaconates with some of the ways it connects directly to our lives in Canada and despite the trouble and challenges we saw, the over-riding message we encountered was one of renewing hope.
Despite the challenge of the song for me on that day, as I reflect on it further, it does fit in with that sense of hope we heard over and over. It was also paired with the call to worship from Isaiah 25 and verses 4 and 5 speak to the situation well. “But you are a tower of refuge to the poor, O LORD, a tower of refuge to the needy in distress. You are a refuge from the storm and a shelter from the heat. For the oppressive acts of ruthless people are like a storm beating against a wall, or like the relentless heat of the desert. But you silence the roar of foreign nations. As the shade of a cloud cools relentless heat, so the boastful songs of ruthless people are stilled.
This we pray today, Amen. - Jesse