This newsletter has 4 parts.
Let’s start with the New Year… I had a wonderful experience at First Baptist Vancouver this past Sunday, in part due to Tim Kuepfer’s teaching on baptism; his invitation to come forward as a public commitment of a re-identification with Christ and our own commitments in our baptism. There were several stations that were populated by First Baptist staff. As has been a model for so many years each person who came forward, myself included, was greeted with a wonderful sense of welcome, called out by name, and blessed with a prayer including the simple act of anointing with olive oil in the sign of a cross on the forehead. I did not find it an overwhelming emotional experience, but I found the invitation and the making of a public declaration a wonderful opportunity and gift. Thank you, Tim, especially since as the lines alternated it was you who prayed for me. It might be helpful spiritual exercise, and helpful act of commitment to do this more frequently in our churches.
On a lighter note, I teased Tim who preached that morning as he sought to paraphrase a piece of scripture. He used the phrase “as God says… and I’m paraphrasing here.” I suggested to Tim that every pastor should have the same humility: that we never dare to speak for God and recognize that indeed we always paraphrasing… way too subtle and maybe not as funny as I think, but I clearly enjoyed it.
Secondly, I attended chapel at Regent College this morning. I wish to share both a scripture and a prayer of covenant that was part of the service there. The passage is from Galatians.
Galatians 2:19-21 (NRSV)
19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Galatians 2:19-21 The Message
19-21 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
Jeff Greenman, the President, led a devotional around a Wesleyan Prayer of Covenant:
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Thirdly, I feel convicted about memorizing scripture this year. I have started with small steps with a family Psalm on my mother’s side, Psalm 103. I can think of no better way to start the new year than to begin with Psalm 103:1 “Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.”
Lastly, and I find this an excruciatingly difficult thing to share since I do not want to be misunderstood, I plead with you to hear me well that the work we are doing together in the name of Christ to welcome Syrian refugees is a sacred calling, work well done, things we must be about in even greater ways. I want to stretch the full application of 1 John 4:7-21. It is true in verse 19 – it is true because he first loved us – and there is much to be said for our love for those refugees whom we are welcoming, but I also want us to never lose sight of some of the needs that are present in our midst. The decline of the Canadian dollar and the rise of the price of food has had a devastating effect on not only those on public assistance but the working poor and those like in the Mustard Seed Food Bank in Victoria, those who are having to pay higher prices for food than they can afford. I will not belabor the point. I know that like 1 John 4, our love of God and of others comes from God. I know and profoundly trust that our compassion extends not only far from our “hearth and home” beyond the sea and across the world, but also to the elderly neighbour or attender whose pensions have had such reduced buying power that they are eating less to make ends meet. I do not belabor because I so profoundly trust the work of the Holy Spirit and the generosity that that Spirit has worked in so many in this family of churches.
Peace and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you in this New Year.