Today’s Thought – August 7, 2020

Scripture: John 3

A flashlight can be a fun thing to play with, but it’s also a very useful tool.

If you had to go out after dark looking for something or someone, a flashlight would be very helpful, wouldn’t it? Today, I want to tell you about someone who went looking for something after dark – someone who, if he had had one, might have used a flashlight. His name was Nicodemus, and he was looking for a very important person: Jesus.

Like many people who heard Jesus speak, Nicodemus was intrigued by Jesus’ teachings. He wanted to know more about who Jesus was and what he had to say. But Nicodemus was afraid to go and see Jesus in the daytime. Why? Because Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees, and the Pharisees, as a rule, did not like Jesus.

The Pharisees were a crooked and greedy group. They were entrusted with teaching the Word of God to God’s people, but they had become corrupted by their own power. So when Jesus showed up, the Pharisees did everything they could to discredit him without bothering to listen.

But Nicodemus did listen, and a lot of what Jesus said made sense to him. Still, Nicodemus was afraid to be seen talking to Jesus because of his position. So Nicodemus went to see Jesus after dark, late at night.

It’s not always popular to be a fan of Jesus. You’ve likely encountered other people who don’t believe in Jesus. Some may even mock or laugh at those who do believe. It’s tempting to stay quiet and hide our faith around people like that, but Jesus doesn’t want us to hide. Jesus loves those who mock just as much as he loves us, and he wants us to shine our light in this dark world.

There’s a neat ending to Nicodemus’ story that comes much later. After Jesus was crucified, a man named Joseph claimed Jesus’ body and buried it in his family tomb. Guess who helped him to bury Jesus? Nicodemus! Even after all the disciples but one had abandoned Jesus, Nicodemus came forward to help bury the man he had come to believe in as a saviour. He was no longer afraid because he had come to believe what Jesus had told him was true.

One of the things that Jesus told Nicodemus is probably the first verse you ever learned. Nicodemus’ story comes from John 3, and right in the middle of that chapter is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not die, but have eternal life.”

Jesus died for Nicodemus, for the Pharisees, for us, and for those who would make fun of our beliefs. If we hide our faith, we might spare ourselves some embarrassment, but we’d be keeping a secret the world desperately needs to hear!

Today’s Thought – August 6, 2020

Scripture: Nehemiah 1-2

Today, I want to tell you about a man whose job was to serve glasses like this. Actually, his job was a little more complicated than just serving drinks. His official title was “cup bearer.” That means he served drinks to the king and his court. But that’s not the end of it either. Sometimes, before serving the king, the cup bearer tasted the king’s drink. Do you know why he did that? Because the king was afraid of being poisoned! If the cup bearer drank and didn’t become ill, the drink was safe. If the cup bearer got sick or died – well, the king didn’t drink the wine. How would you like that job?

Because of the nature of this job, cup bearers were highly paid. They were also among the most trusted people in the palace because the king literally put his life in the cup bearers’ hands. So when I tell you that Nehemiah was a powerful man who had great wealth and the king’s ear in ancient Persia, you get an idea of just what I mean.

But Nehemiah was not a Persian. He was an Israelite, and as a young boy, he was taken from his homeland as a prisoner when Babylon conquered Israel. It says a lot about Nehemiah that a slave boy would grow up to be one of the king’s most trusted servants.

Nehemiah loved the king, and he had a very comfortable life in Persia. But when Nehemiah learned about how things were in his homeland, he became greatly troubled. The city of Jerusalem was in ruins. The walls were still broken down, and the city’s most beautiful places lay in ruins. Nehemiah wanted to do something, so he began to pray.

Nehemiah felt the Lord leading him to go back to Israel. He went to the king and told him about this, and the king allowed his servant to return home. There, Nehemiah became one of the new leaders of Israel. Nehemiah spent the next several years of his life living among ruins and working hard to rebuild a conquered city that was constantly under threat of attack.

Can you imagine giving up a position of power like Nehemiah? Imagine leaving a big, fancy house and an important job to go live in a war zone. Yet that’s what Nehemiah did. He didn’t consider how much harder life would be. He didn’t even think about how dangerous it might be. Someone had to start rebuilding the nation of Israel, and when God called, Nehemiah didn’t hesitate to go.

Maybe God is calling you to leave your nice home, your safe city, or maybe even your country. God may call you to go someplace dangerous. God may send you into a war zone. God might call you to do something even more terrifying – like standing up for the truth when no one else will. When that time comes, remember the man who held the king’s cup. He didn’t stop to think about all that it would cost him to obey God. He simply obeyed.

Today’s Thought – August 4, 2020

Scripture: Exodus 3

Do you have one of these in your house? Are you someone who can’t make it in the mornings without at least one cup of coffee?

For a lot of adults and even teenagers, coffee is an essential part of the day. People can’t begin their day without a cup of coffee. But there’s a funny irony in people’s dependence on coffee to get through the day. Coffee takes a little time to make. You can’t just open the fridge, take the cap off the jug of coffee, and pour yourself a tall glass of coffee. You have to wash out the pot, dump out yesterday’s coffee grounds and filter, put a new filter in, scoop in some new coffee grounds, pour in the hot water, and then wait for the coffee to slowly drip down and fill the pot.

Imagine how frustrating it can be for some people who desperately “need” that cup of coffee, having to wait as long as five whole minutes to get their coffee so they can begin their work.

Now imagine waiting 40 years before you can get started on your work!

That’s the story of Moses. Many of you may know Moses as the man who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. But did you know that Moses had to wait 40 years before he was ready to do the job God had given him?

Moses was raised in the palace by Pharaoh’s daughter, but he was an Israelite who was well aware of his heritage thanks to his birth mother. Moses saw the way the Egyptians were treating the Israelites, and he wanted to help them. In fact, one day he killed an Egyptian for mistreating a Hebrew slave.

But violence was not part of God’s plan for Moses, and these actions led to him living in exile as a shepherd. He lived in the wilderness, far from the splendor of Egypt, tending sheep for his father-in-law. Then one day, 40 years after leaving Egypt, God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and told him to return to Egypt.

God has a plan for all of our lives. For some people, those plans are difficult to see. For others, they could not be clearer. But whether God gives you a clear calling or keeps you guessing, remember the story of Moses. Wait on the Lord, and let him tell you when it is time to act. You may think you have it all figured out, but God sees many things we can’t see. Wait on the Lord, and you will be amazed at his perfect timing.

Telling Our Faith Stories to All Generations – August 3, 2020 – Rev. Paul DuVal

Matthew 13:47-52

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

I don’t know what these collated parables really mean. However, I overheard echoes of a quote from a church historian named Phyllis Tickle when she said,

“Every 500 years, the Church goes through a rummage sale, and cleans out the old forms of spirituality and replaces them with new ones.”

The last major housecleaning was in the early 1500’s during the reformation. We are now due for another “rummage sale”. What are the things (attitudes, ideas, doctrines, practises) we need to let go in order to discover something new about our faith and life? What are the things we need to hold onto because they are timeless and fundamental to our life in community and in the world?

Church history is seen by some to be a recounting of dusty, old, and by definition irrelevant stories of the past. For others church history is a grand overarching story of all the ideas, beliefs and directions that have been followed by believers through the centuries. The United Church of Canada is a small subset of all the Christian churches. Yet, our roots can be traced through Presbyterianism to John Knox and Jean Calvin, through Methodism and John Wesley to King Henry VIII and the English reformers, and through Congregationalism to the Puritans, and the Quakers, and Unitarians, and a myriad of other traditions whose practices we sometimes remember.   

Earlier on in my church life, I was touched by two writers who have inspired me to think historically about the church. One was John Shelby Spong. In his 1998 book, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” he writes, “I am convinced that the future of the Christian Faith rests not on reasserting those words of antiquity, but on our ability to refashion the symbols in which Christianity is to be understood in our time.” The stories we tell must make sense to the people who are hearing them.

The other source that inspired me was Loren Mead. In his 1991 book The Once and Future Church

He describes how Christendom (the assumption that Christianity is the Normal faith of the culture or society) is ending, and the privileged position of the Church in communities will not last. It is time for us to forge a new identity and a new mission as people on the edges of our culture. 

He writes, “A new church is being born. It may not be the church we expect or want. The church of the future may not include our favourite liturgy or hymn, our central theological principle, or even our denomination! God’s promises always arrive with surprises in them. The form of the new world and new church is not in our hands.

What is in our hands is the chance to respond to God’s call. To put our skills and wills to the tasks of discerning the opportunity points, the places and times for change effort, and to add our gifts to God’s church in this time of change. How God uses our gifts we cannot predict.”

Something you have read or talked about has no doubt inspired in you a curiosity about the church that is coming to be. What is it in the stories of faith, in this time, that encourage you? What kind of church do you want to build? Where will you put your energy in the future?

We are in this together!

I will be taking a few weeks off from writing these pieces. If you think you might have thoughts to share, contact Candace at office@prairiespirituc.org. She can help put your ideas online.

Be safe,
Rev. Paul

Today’s Thought – July 31, 2020

Scripture: Acts 16:13-15, 40

Do you like the colour purple? Purple was a very special colour back in biblical times. Do you know who wore the colour purple? Purple was usually reserved for royalty and people who were very wealthy.

The book of Acts tells us a story about a woman whose job was selling purple cloth. Her name was Lydia, and because we know she sold purple cloth, we know that she was a wealthy woman. We also know she was a believer in God because when we meet her, she is at a prayer meeting with Paul and Silas.

Lydia heard a message that day in which Paul told these believers in God that they needed to also believe in God’s Son, Jesus. Paul told them that Jesus was a descendant of David and that God had raised him from the grave in order to offer forgiveness of sins.

Lydia believed in Jesus that day, and she and her whole house were saved. But Lydia’s story doesn’t end with her accepting Christ. Lydia invited the believers to come and meet at her house! In fact, Scripture says she begged Paul and Silas to stay with her so she could take care of their needs.

Later on in this same chapter, we read that Paul and Silas were put in prison. As soon as they were released, guess where they went? They went back to Lydia’s house, where they were cared for once more.

A lot of people think that becoming a Christian is all about what we call their personal walk – their relationship with Jesus. They think it’s about coming to church, Bible study, small groups, quiet times, and prayer. It is about those things, but that’s not all! Being a Christian means putting our faith into action the way Jesus, his disciples, the apostle Paul, and Lydia did.

Lydia didn’t wait two or three years to start serving God. She didn’t say, “As soon as I get my walk with God straight, I will serve the Lord.” She accepted the Lord, and she immediately offered to God what she had: her home.

Having a personal walk with Jesus is very important, but if we never open our eyes to see others’ needs – if we never step out and take action to meet those needs – are we really acting like followers of Christ? Lydia reminds us that you don’t need a lot of years of walking with God to serve him. You just need to be willing to take action!

Today’s Thought – July 30, 2020

Scripture: Numbers 13-14

Take a close look at this glass of water. Look closely at how much water is in here.

Do you think this glass is half empty? Or do you think this glass is half full?

The truth is that both answers are right. If the glass is half full, then it is also half empty. But some people like to use this sort of question as a test of your personality. An optimist looks at the positive: The glass is half full. The pessimist looks at the negative: The glass is half empty.

There’s a story in the Bible about optimists and pessimists that changed the future for an entire nation. The children of Israel had traveled out of slavery in Egypt toward the Promised Land, the land of Canaan that God promised to their forefather Abraham. When they arrived at the border of Canaan, their leader Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land.

When the spies came back, two of the men, Joshua and Caleb, reported that the Promised Land was everything God had said it was. It was a land filled with milk and honey. It was ripe for the taking. God was faithful, and God was going to fulfill his every promise.

But 10 of the spies brought back a different story. Canaan was dangerous, a land filled with giants and

terrifying warriors!

So which of the two groups were right, the 10 who saw giants or Joshua and Caleb?

They were both right. Canaan was the Promised Land, a land of milk and honey. But it was also a country of giants. God had promised to give this land to the Israelites, but after all the miracles God had performed to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, to whom do you think they listened? They listened to the 10 men who talked about the giants. They were so afraid of the giants, some of them said they were better off being slaves in Egypt!

Because the Israelites ignored Joshua and Caleb, God punished the entire nation. They were forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until every one of them had died. God would let their children, led by Joshua, enter the Promised Land instead.

Sometimes we are faced with our own giants – challenges that seen impossible to overcome. There may be people telling you to give up. But if God has made a promise to you, be careful that you listen to him and not to the pessimists. Believing in God is not mere optimism. It’s called faithfulness, and when you are faithful, God will be faithful and bless you with all that he’s promised!

Theological Banquet – July 28, 2020 – Congregant Contributor

(Excerpts from workshops with Rev. Janet Gear, Vancouver School of Theology)

Theological streams guide our hopes and dreams, our expectations of “church”, and understanding who we are as individuals and collectively as a community of faith.

God connects each of us in unique ways. We search for words and images to speak about our profound experience – that’s “theologies” – that’s the Theological Banquet.

Which of the five theological streams fits for me, and which ones do I encounter in my community of faith?

1. Evangelical – biblical tradition – lived by faith
Goal – share Jesus with others (joyful, passionate, urgency, eager to share the good news)
Gift – of scripture – of spirit

2. Ecclesial – come together to learn about God
Goal – worship at church (sharing ideas, stories, music, nurturing)
Gift – the gathering, quality time together

3. Missional – faith is about service – outreach – go where the need is
Goal – meeting needs of people where they are – even within our church group, in the streets, the thirsty, the hungry
Gift – acts of service – connect, one to another, and to God

4. Ecumenical – being engaged for social change
Goal – public theology, social change, transform the world
Gift – engagement

5. Spiritual/Contemplative – loving the sacred pause, mystical
Goal – open to silence, be quiet and listen to God, open my life to holiness and wisdom, welcome the pause
Gift – contemplation is the heart of the spiritual gathering
“Be still, and know that I am God”

Which stream do I flow in… one… or several?

We welcome, acknowledge, and honour the diversity which graces our community of faith at Prairie Spirit United Church.

Telling our faith stories to all generations. – July 27, 2020 – Rev. Paul DuVal

The central story of the Christian Faith is the story of Jesus. In the yearly cycle of scripture lessons, we remember his birth, his ministry, his passion and death, his resurrection, and his commissioning of the disciples to carry on his mission.

The truth is that outside of the gospels there is not very much historical information about the life and ministry of Jesus. Even the gospels themselves were written long after the events they remember, and reflected the issues and concerns of the time and communities in which they were written.

Because we do not have much historical confirmation of the events of Jesus’ life, it is possible to interpret his life and ministry in a variety of ways, in differently focused stories. I am going to suggest three possibilities, and then ask you to think of the Jesus story that carries power and significance for you in your life. What is the story you would want to tell to succeeding generations?

1. The “atoning sacrifice story”
Jesus emerged from first century Judaism, a time when offering sacrifices in the temple for purity and forgiveness of sin was part of religious practice. Many Christians looking back on Jesus’ death, saw in his crucifixion a deeper, more lasting sacrifice that ushers in forgiveness for all believers who repent.

2. The “challenging empire story”
Jesus is portrayed in all the gospels as challenging the Pharisees and the religious leaders of his day and also challenging the authority of the Roman rulers who made Caesar a god to be worshipped, and ruthlessly dominated Israel. Some interpreters go so far as to suggest that Jesus was aligned with the Zealots, a Jewish resistance movement, and this was what lead to his crucifixion. Others simply point out that at every turn Jesus challenged his followers to choose whether their primary allegiance was to Caesar, or to God. This was apparently seditious enough.

3. The “Jewish mystic, wisdom teacher story”
There are those who say that Jesus had an uncanny connection with the teachings of Judaism and was able to touch the hearts of his followers with a vision of how God’s grace might come to be in the midst of human community.

These are not the only stories, and they are not exclusive, and each of them has implications for how we live. Who is the Jesus that informs your life? Who is the one who inspires you to live with purpose and with dedication?

Send us your thoughts to PrairieSpiritUC@shaw.ca.