It’s Okay! You’re Not Alone

Sunny skies and smooth sailing are the exception rather than the norm for those who have truly given their hearts and lives to Christ. This is a fallen world, after all. Storms come and go and promise to return.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada is about to head into some very choppy waters.

Congregations, sessions, presbyteries and synods have all been presented by the General Assembly Office with a long list of documents to study and report by the end of January 2018. There are four issues: censure definitions, provision for equalizing elders, physician-assisted suicide and human sexuality. The first two are relatively minor. The third is deep and existential. The fourth has enough ammunition to split us in several directions.

Those who have read these eight reports — there are a total of five for sexuality alone — might feel somewhat overwhelmed. Even those ministers, elders and believers who are familiar with these issues (none of which are new) might be tempted to give only cursory examination and selective response. Some might even turn away. To properly digest, study, discuss, pray, discern and respond in such a short time will be daunting.

But we believe the task of studying and reporting can be done if there is a desire to seek and be in God’s will.

For many years, Renewal Fellowship has had several prayers for the PCC. Two of them stand out:

  • a deep hunger for the teaching of the Bible and its authority.
  • a recall to lives of biblical purity, especially on the part of those entrusted with leadership of the people of God.

Yes, those are traditional stances. Some might call them conservative, derisively.

But we at Renewal Fellowship believe that genuine revival awaits for believers congregations and courts which refuse to reinterpret scripture in order to support their human desires.

There is a belief in some circles of the PCC that we have some catching up to do. “It’s time,” they say. It’s time to get with it and change our traditional definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. It’s time to reform our theology in the same way we allowed women as elders and ministers. It’s about social justice, they say.

The reality is much deeper. It’s about sin. It’s about the church adhering to scriptural truth. It’s about gender complementarity. It’s about the enduring struggle to live lives that are in tune with God’s will. It’s about sacrificing our physical desires and seeking a spiritual peace that comes from a connection to our triune God. And we are all — the hetero community and those who are LGBTQ — at fault.

Faced with liberal attitudes in the church and secular culture, it’s easy to get the feeling that we are on the margins, even in our own congregations and presbyteries.

But here’s the good news: you are not alone. I am going to suggest that the Holy Spirit-fueled, apostolic, theologically conservative, evangelical — pick your adjective — element of the PCC is larger and more vibrant than you might think.

Twenty years ago, it took real guts for a hetero person to publicly support the gay community. Now, the opposite is true; it takes the same courage to stand up for traditional beliefs.

Renewal Fellowship is here to say it’s OK to be Holy Spirit-fueled, apostolic, theologically conservative and evangelical! Be strong and courageous. Be counter-cultural in a Christlike way. You have many, many friends.

Renewal Fellowship is here to pray for you and with you. We are here to encourage you and listen. We are here to be a prayerful presence in the courts of our church.

And at the same time, it’s OK to love our friends and neighbours — because we are all created in God’s image — notwithstanding their natural orientations, lifestyles and choices. It’s more than OK: Christ demands it! We can be welcoming without agreeing. We can be loving and listening and respectful and non-judgmental without caving in to secular arguments.

This is a time of great decision in the PCC. Renewal Fellowship is here to remind the church of the words of the Lord to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.”

Let us boldly seek the Creator’s face and do more to turn our lives completely over to Christ’s Spirit.

God’s will be done.

Mistakes Preachers Make

Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston
Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston

by Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston, Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, Ontario

Seven years ago, I left congregational ministry to teach at Tyndale Seminary. I moved from preaching lots of sermons to listening to lots of sermons by seminarians in my preaching classes. I've heard many thoughtful messages from these budding preachers, but I've also listened to some that weren't quite ready for prime time! These student preachers missed the mark, as evidenced by the inattentive, bored faces of their classmates. And while the act of preaching remains a divine mystery in many ways, I've isolated ten mistakes we preachers often make.

1. Planning ahead saves me from the tyranny of having to start from scratch every week. I suggest that you plan your preaching schedule three or four months ahead of time, balancing sermon series that work through a whole book or section of Scripture with more topical or seasonal (church year) messages. Your music and worship leaders will rise up and call you blessed for giving them the necessary time to plan music and other liturgical elements that creatively blend with your chosen sermon themes.

2. Devote yourself to be a true student of the Word of God. Commit to reading the whole Bible through once a year, using a systematic schedule. Also, read widely in biblical theology, particularly the works of accessible scholars like N. T. Wright, Ben Witherington, and Walter Brueggemann; as well as master preachers like Fleming Rutledge, Tim Keller, and William Willimon.

3. Use a weekly exegetical process that gets you wrestling with the biblical passage in a deep, sustained way. Don't be content to settle for a cursory, surface-level reading of the text. One way to insure this is by having at least two solid, scholarly commentaries on hand—but don't turn to them until after you have studied and questioned and grappled with the text yourself. (A good list of preaching commentaries for every book in the Bible can be found at calvinseminary.edu)

4. Work diligently to stick with one main insight or big idea per message rather than going down "rabbit trails" of other thoughts and ideas that are not related to the central theme that you are trying to communicate. Ruthlessly cut out extraneous material. I have listened to (and preached!) sermons that have gone off in all directions at once rather than isolating one central, controlling thought, and letting that theme direct the content and flow of the sermon.

5. Be sure that the "big idea" you have is not simply a moral lesson or three steps to a happy whatever…. Insure that the Triune God of grace remains the subject of your sermon and that God's active, passionate, redeeming love remains central to every message you speak. Only then will the sermon be "good news" and not merely good advice.

6. Don't simply impose your own pre-existing idea onto a passage; be sure that the "big idea" arises out of the text itself, as a result of your honest, prayerful study. I recently heard a student preach from the book of Esther, and he imposed a theme on the text; he focused on Esther's "teachable heart." Well, yes, we all want to be teachable and have hearts and minds open to God, but this is clearly not a major theme in the story of Esther, and was artificially imposed on the narrative.

7. There are many customs and practices from the ancient world that may need explanation, if the congregation is to understand the text. Don't assume your audience knows the cultural background or the personalities or the places mentioned like you do—you've been studying the text for a week or more but they haven't! Instead, clarify the larger context by explaining these customs and practices in a way that teens and adults can readily understand.

8. I recommend for newer preachers that they prepare a full manuscript of their sermons. The value of a manuscript is that it forces you to put down onto paper precisely what you mean, and this has the benefit of exposing imprecise language or leaps in logic. It also keeps you from straying too far from the sermon theme. Even if you don't take the whole manuscript into the preaching event, your sermon will be better because you've forced yourself to wrestle with precisely what it is that you are trying to say.

9. Devote some time to practicing your sermon, literally preaching it out loud to yourself. Whenever anything doesn't sound quite like the way you would say it to someone, then stop and rework the word or phrase until it sounds like "oral" rather than "written" English. Remember that our sermons are meant for the ear and not the eye, and so we should rehearse it out loud and revise any parts that lack clarity or that sound like an essay rather than plain, spoken English.

10. Pray throughout the sermon-making process. The preparation and delivery of sermons is a spiritual discipline joyfully imposed on those who are called to preach the gospel. Pray as you select a text. Pray as you do your exegesis. Pray as you seek to discern the message God has from the text for your congregation at this time in their life together. Pray as you write the sermon out, asking God for order, logic, faithfulness, and creativity. Pray as you rehearse the sermon and make revisions. And pray for your listeners as you walk into the pulpit, trusting that God has given you a word of grace and hope to those who hear it.

Kevin Livingston <klivingston@tyndale.ca>

Consider Faith Today

On behalf of the Board of the Renewal Fellowship, I want to extend our thanks to the Presbyterian Record for what it has meant to many Presbyterians past and present across our denomination. Over the years, we have benefited from the shared experience of having a national printed periodical that connected, challenged, and gave voice to what it meant to be Christian, Presbyterian, and Reformed in our congregations, in our communities, and across Canada.

In recent years, the Record has been very generous in giving the Renewal Fellowship a regular column to bring an encouraging voice of God's renewal and mission within our denomination. Our past Executive Directors, Calvin Brown, and more recently, Fred Stewart, have been regular contributors, along with others, bringing a prophetic and pastoral perspective of God's on-going renewal in our personal, congregational, and denominational life and witness. Most recently, we were pleased that in the Viewpoint column of the November issue, our Annual General Meeting was covered, and in particular, the topic of Being Present presented by Liz Honeyford and Alex MacLeod. To David Harris and the editorial staff, we are grateful, and the loss of the Record is also a loss of a positive and established relationship that the Renewal Fellowship will miss.

As a Board, we have also been asked to recommend an alternative periodical, and though it does not have the same denominational flavour and perspective as the Presbyterian Record, we would encourage readers to consider Faith Today, published by EFC (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada). The editors of Faith Today have made an arrangement with the Record whereby they will be advertising in the December Record issue, then gifting to the Record's mailing list copies of Faith Today in both January and March. Presbyterians can then subscribe or not as they may wish. Personally, I have found that Faith Today strives to bring a consistent perspective that is open to engaging various world views, ideologies, and theologies without compromising the basic orthodoxy of the Christian faith.

In this way, I have found the editorials, articles, and regular columns helpful, as one who is seeking to be an engaged Christian and pastor participating in God's renewal and kingdom work in a Canadian context. As an example, in a recent sermon on the topic of stewardship at Glenbrook PC, I referred to an article in the March/April 2016 edition of Faith Today called "Being, Doing and Having" which I found to be helpful in my research and preparation. Further, in the January/February 2016 issue of Faith Today, there was a timely article entitled "Responding to a Refugee Crisis in 1915" written by Rev. Peter Bush, pastor of Westwood PC in Winnipeg MB. If you are looking for a printed and online alternative for the Presbyterian Record, I would encourage you to give Faith Today a try.

Pastor Ian McWhinnie, Mississauga, Ontario <pastorian@glenbrook.ca>

A Year in the Life

I retired four years ago after 39 years as a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC). This naturally put me out of the loop for a while with much of what goes on nationally in our church. But my vantage point has improved due to a year of frequent online meetings with more than a dozen PCC ministers from British Columbia to the Maritimes. We are part of the recently formed PSALT organization. The acronym stands for "Presbyterians Standing for Apostolic Love and Truth". I am deeply concerned for the church that we share in common, and I hope that you are, too. If not, this article will further your awareness of developments within the PCC.

Since the 1980s, a persistent group within the PCC has continued to lobby for the acceptance, promotion, and celebration of homosexuality at the level of marriage and ordination. This may or may not be an issue for you, but it is now coming to a head in the PCC. Having only organized in the fall of 2015, PSALT is late in engaging this issue. PSALT is a national group which aims at building the Presbyterian Church into a thoroughly biblical and reformed expression of our Christian discipleship and witness. We seek to preserve the biblical, doctrinal, and personal unity that we all once valued in the PCC. We have designated representatives in most presbyteries and it is a growing movement.

If you disagree with me on this issue, God will be the final judge between us, and I'm good with that. My friendship and respect for you will remain, but this article reflects how I am compelled to act out my faith in Christ.

What have I seen as I look at the culture's impact on our church?

The culture:

The initial issue of homosexual ordination/marriage within society has become obsolete. It has morphed into one of "identity" which is now being reworked into a militant promotion of "gender neutrality", the obliteration of the personally obvious and doctrinally critical biblical identities of male and female. Something is broken.

The church:

For the PCC to accede to the demands that the culture is placing upon it would require our setting aside Scripture as the sole authority for faith and life, for the Bible nowhere endorses homosexual activity – nor lying, greed, adultery, etc., for that matter – but clearly condemns all. If the PCC decides to endorse and celebrate the phenomenon of the sexual confusion now so rampant in our culture, it would separate us from Scripture, and it is our adherence to Scripture that defines where and what the church is. We would also be set adrift from our biblically-based doctrinal standards such as the Westminster Confession and Living Faith, and alienate us from our international sister church partners.

What kind of responses have I seen and heard this past year from individuals and sessions regarding the leadership of PSALT in the PCC? There is anger at PSALT: "Why would you oppose what is so obviously acceptable?" There is bewilderment: "We are okay here at St. Andrew's, and we don't wish to deal with this." There is hope: "Can't we all just get along together?" There is sacrifice: "I will be (or my congregation will be) leaving the PCC if this passes General Assembly." And there is also relief: "I am so glad PSALT is there."

It would be naive of us to think that the systemic brokenness that has befallen the United Church, the Anglican Church, and the Lutheran Church could not happen to us. Even a small split in our now precarious national church would have a serious impact on Presbyterians Sharing, the Pension Plan, and Church Offices at 50 Wynford Drive. It will affect your congregation. I want to make you aware of the threat to your church, to encourage your prayers for the PCC, and to motivate you to take appropriate personal action as the Spirit leads you. Yes, I'll even come and speak at your church or else find someone closer to go.

Our role as Canadian Presbyterians is not to be as so many churches have become – "chaplains to the culture" – but to be fearless, prophetic voices proclaiming the good news of new life and eternal life through Jesus Christ as Lord. Scripture teaches us that our true identity is found when we are in Christ, and when it is, we experience what I have personally experienced and seen in so many others, and of which Paul writes so much: the Christian life is transformational.

Sincerely,
James Statham,
Peachland, British Columbia

Check out www.psalt.info
Find us on Facebook
Contact us by e-mail at <contactpsalt@gmail.com>
If you resonate with PSALT's mission and would like to stay in touch, please drop us a note at PO Box 15065, Aspen Woods PO, Calgary AB T3H 0N8

Sure, I'll come and speak at your church – or find someone closer to come.
J.S. <jhwstatham@shaw.ca>

Two-Faced Renewal

The ancient Roman god, Janus, was portrayed with two heads looking in opposite directions. January, the first month in a new year, shares this concept of "double vision" – conveying the sense that as a new year begins and we're now focussing forward, we are not quite free of where we have been. That's a reasonable concept of renewal – going into uncharted territory, yet still connected to one's heritage.

However, I prefer my childhood cartoon images of this transition from one year to the next. The ending year was presented as a bent-over, long-bearded, haggard-looking old man. The approaching year was pictured as a bright-eyed, bouncing, beaming baby.

Now that I appear more and more like the year-ending old man, I find myself preferring the image of this "baby" as a model for renewal. The exuberant infant communicates a delightful message: here is almost unlimited potential; here is a fresh start; here is hope; and here is that often longed-for opportunity to have a "do-over".

You see, the baton passing from a worn-out, weary, old man to a fresh little baby implies that the past mistakes don't go forward with you, but the wisdom acquired from those mistakes does. And that implication has great attraction for me. In over thirty years of congregational ministry, almost as many as a husband and a father, and almost seven decades of life, my list of potential "do-overs" is lengthy.

Regrettably, as much as I am attracted to this "baby" image, spiritual renewal is more like the Janus concept. The thrust is definitely forward, seeking to venture into newness, aspiring to turn good into better, and revelling in the possibility of God's Spirit being released in ways and measures beyond one's imagining.

Yet the past must still be acknowledged – sometimes in good ways – as in affirming the faith that has nurtured us to this point, and celebrating the wisdom that has been acquired and the truths that have proved to be sustaining. And sometimes, this past is less helpful. Consider broken relationships that limp along into the new ventures, or past poor decisions whose effects linger and limit, as well as nostalgic longings that lessen capacity to embrace newness.

With that Janus perspective in mind, let me suggest a prayer for renewal that, if offered in humble trust, might bring the renewing hopes of the Baby more fully into our lives in 2017.

    Lord of time and space, healer of brokenness, finder of the lost, source of eternal hope and provider of strength and wisdom, hear my prayer for renewal.
    May all that has gone before me be a guide into ways of living that are compassionate, grace-filled, and righteous.
    Teach me to embrace with passion what I and my forebears have learned of Your holy love and tender, generous mercy.
    May Your abundant forgiveness free me – and all who love You – from debilitating memories, futile remorse, and paralyzing fear.
    Bless my eyes with visions of service to others that restore and embrace the desperate and the desolate.
    Fill my heart with dreams of passion that confront entrenched mindsets and systems which diminish and destroy.
    Infiltrate my mind with insights that discern truth from error and substance from shallowness.
    Steel my will with courage and boldness.
    And may the glory be Yours alone. Amen.

Ian Shaw, Simcoe, Ontario
<rianshaw48@gmail.com>

Understanding and Interpreting the Bible

Virtually all branches of the Christian Church refer to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the standard of belief with regard to their doctrine and to their practices of faithful living and rituals. In spite of that common affirmation, the diversity of doctrine, practices, and rituals among those who self-identify as Christians is staggering. Even when one narrows the sample down to one particular denomination (e.g. The Presbyterian Church in Canada), the range of doctrinal emphases and/or exclusions, of stresses in personal faithfulness, of methodologies in worship, and of priorities in mission are unbelievably high.

Yet, in denominational life, core unity in essential doctrine, lifestyle practices, and governing regulations is a requirement for organizational vitality and focus. To determine the extent and the content of those requirements, Presbyterians most often turn to the Scriptures for guidance. Given all the diversity arising from various understandings of the Bible as noted above, how do we achieve that goal of core unity?

At last June's General Assembly, the Committee on Church Doctrine presented a study paper, Understanding and Interpreting the Bible. It outlines some principles of interpretations that seek to provide a basis for a common and accepted approach to understanding and applying the Scriptures to our life, mission, and governance as a denomination. The 2016 General Assembly has commended this document to The Presbyterian Church in Canada for use, but also invited response both to its usefulness and to its comprehensiveness. The deadline for said responses is January 31, 2017. Responses can be sent to the Committee Convenor, Blair Bertrand, through the General Assembly Office. The document, Understanding and Interpreting the Bible, can be downloaded at presbyterian.ca/downloads/29161/ or found on pp. 265-278 of the 2016 Acts and Proceedings. This study paper provides good material for personal and congregational reflection. Your feedback can assist the Committee, so what is now good can become excellent. Given the challenges before us in this century, a guide that is excellent is a treasure to be passionately pursued.

Ian Shaw, Simcoe, Ontario
<rianshaw48@gmail.com>

Recommendation No. 7 That the document Understanding and Interpreting the Bible be commended to congregations, presbyteries, and other groups in The Presbyterian Church in Canada for their use.

Recommendation No. 8 That sessions, presbyteries, and other interested groups using the document Understanding and Interpreting the Bible report comments to the Committee on Church Doctrine through the Assembly Office by January 31, 2017, and that the results of these comments be reported to a future General Assembly.

What is "Up!"?

"Up! – Get up, look up, be up" is a daily e-mail devotional written by Rev. Matthew Ruttan, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Barrie, Ontario. It is published five days a week (Tuesday to Saturday), and is something you can read in about one minute. I started my subscription about a month ago, and I found the devotionals practical, easy to read, and creative. I wondered, "How and why does this busy pastor, with a young family and a dynamic church, find the time and energy to write five devotionals a week?" So… I asked him. He told me that he previously subscribed to some e-mail devotionals that he found helpful, but sometimes seemed vague or not connected to his day-to-day life. He also told me that he enjoys writing and that he thought God wanted him to write as a part of his ministry. It fit well with his overall ministry focus on teaching, some of which was firmly rooted in online ministry through a blog, website, and social media. Matthew reminded me that Jesus met people where they were – on hillsides, by the lake, at the workplace. Today the majority of people, and especially younger people, are spending lots of time online – sometimes in positive ways, and sometimes in unhelpful ways. It is Matthew's hope that his online devotionals will help people in very straightforward and practical ways to get on board with the reality of God's imaginative plans for our lives and our world.

UP! started in April 2015 with a few dozen followers. A year later, the daily subscribers total almost 300. Subscribers include members of his congregation, a wider group of people from Canada and the U.S.A., and even a few from elsewhere in the world.

I asked Matthew, "What is your motivation to continue?" He said, "Jesus and His kingdom are the motivation. Seeing people mature in their faith is the motivation. As the ministry grows, I personally know fewer and fewer of the subscribers, but from what I can tell, the readership is very diverse. There are devout Christians who receive it, as well as people new to the faith, and many who are just curious about this whole Jesus thing. It's energizing to see how a range of people can be helped in real, day-to-day ways in their faith. Plus, it keeps me growing as a leader. Just like a sermon, each devotional I write is first written to me. So writing this devotional keeps me "up" on my toes about living with integrity as a follower of Jesus."

I also asked him, "How do you find the time to write five devotionals a week?" He answered, "I get that question a lot! I'm disciplined with how I use my time. I set time aside each morning to read and write. I don't have an exact count, but I probably read between 20 and 40 books a year. And when you produce a lot of content like I do (blogs, devotionals, sermons, Bible studies), you very quickly develop a system for cataloging ideas, inspiring quotes, and helpful stories. That really helps. So if I want to use a story I heard Fred Craddock tell or a quote that C.S. Lewis said, I have a system where I can pull it up in about 30 seconds. Plus, I really enjoy writing, so it's a part of my day I look forward to, and that gives me energy for other things."

Wherever you are in your journey of faith, I think that you'll find these short, practical devotionals a great part of your day. Want to learn more and be blessed? Just visit www.MatthewRuttan.com/Up and you can sign up in 13 seconds.

Linda Shaw
Past Chair of the Renewal Fellowship Board
Coordinator, Renewal Fellowship Prayer Calendar

Head-Banging Worship

Listening for God's Word in Human Culture

Sunday morning at a Presbyterian Church: Valleyview Community Church, Calgary, Alberta.
Sunday morning at a Presbyterian Church: Valleyview Community Church, Calgary, Alberta.

A few days before Sunday, November 8, 2015, my daughter's minister "warned" her the plans for worship would be somewhat different. He shared this in order to prepare her for an extended time with the children in their Sunday morning program. I've had the privilege of participating in a wide range of worship experiences and been part of countless "conversations" about renewing worship, but this Sunday in my daughter's church may have been the "edgiest" effort I've experienced in innovative congregational worship.

Except for chairs arranged in "pew-like" rows, the opening welcome and verbal announcements and a couple of closing musical pieces, nothing felt like church or even worship (whatever worship is supposed to feel like!). Valleyview Community Church, Calgary (Yes it's Presbyterian Church in Canada) had decided for the month of November to incorporate a "talk show" format to engage a number of cultural topics with the gospel. It's part of their ongoing use of Natural Church Development insights to shape their ministry.

Talk show set
Talk show set

The decision was reflected initially in the setting. The entire front of the sanctuary had been re-organized to replicate a TV studio, though in a bit of a reversal, the interview nook was set up to one side and the house band (sometimes moon-lighting as a worship team) was anchored in the center. At times space determines function! On the other side of the studio/stage, there was space for guest musicians in evidence.

After the announcements, the talk-show began with the band leader/host's side kick giving an upbeat opening welcome and leading intro music and then came the dramatic introduction (with over the top volume and energy) of the host. From off-stage our host/minister entered talking all the way, with the stereotypical high energy patter outlining the "show" and special guests.

Immediately the banter between side-kick and host began, all moving the show's themes forward, but interspersed with the requisite cheap shots and set-ups. Then it was time for commercial breaks (downloads from youtube) and the top ten ways God can surprisingly speak to us. Both parts again addressed the theme of the morning.

John Van Sloten, pictured on the left, interviewed by Grant Gunnink
John Van Sloten, pictured on the left, interviewed by Grant Gunnink

The piece de resistance this day was two-fold. The special guest was a local minister, the Rev. John Van Sloten (author of the book "The Day Metallica came to Church"), discussing the themes and quests found in Metallica's music. This interview was pre-recorded, seamlessly spliced into the service. The AV was never a distraction and presented in two parts.

Calgary cover band Andrenalize performs
Calgary cover band Andrenalize performs

In the middle of the interview, the guest musicians, Adrenalize, a Calgary cover band specializing in heavy metal music, came "on stage" and pounded out two Metallica pieces, "Unforgiven" and "Until it Sleeps". From several vantage points, it was mind-blowing! Part 2 of the interview attempted to engage those songs in parallel with the gospel. It was insightful and effective.

What compelled me after the service wasn't any awesome sense of God's presence evoked in the service (I had moments of that, but nothing overwhelming); rather, it was several other abiding memories. One was grace. In the live public exchanges between the host and Adrenalize's leader, there was a sense of respect and a willingness to risk with the other. (I suspect the band was late to bed and far earlier to rise than normal on a Sunday morning!) Van Sloten also was deeply respectful of Metallica as he spoke of their music's themes and longings. And gentle grace as we interact with our culture was one of the messages underscored throughout "the show".

Another is creative courage. Sometimes we hear/sense God nudging us out of our comfort zones. How does one engage the community in which we live? There are tried and true and often effective ways, but sometimes a different form comes to mind (e.g. talk show format is not standard liturgy). Will we risk? Will we allow ourselves or others to risk?!

And, thirdly, will we commit? Doing something "off the wall" can be either hokey or merely an effort to appear "cool", avant-garde, or cutting edge. To do something radical demands not just gifts (don't try this at home unless…), but lots of hard work, e.g. re-designing the sanctuary, preparing dialogue, getting into roles and deep-sixing three point alliterations. Like music, if it is not done well, it matters little if it is "contemporary" or "baroque"; it's not inspiring!

So I commend Valleyview for trying to connect the gospel in culturally relevant ways with their community. I have no idea if the November talk show series will prove to be a lasting memory that produces long-term effects, or more of a learning experience of things not to replicate in the future. It certainly stimulated yours truly to remain alert to those strange nudges that might better connect the gospel to my community, both my community of faith and my community of neighbours.

This service occurred November 8, 2015 and can be found in the listing of sermons posted on the church webpage

Ian Shaw, Simcoe, Ontario <ianandlindashaw@gmail.com>

Hope for the New Year

As we are entering another new year, I am reminded of the apostle Paul's words, particularly in light of the Christmas story: the weakness of God is stronger than our strength and the foolishness of God is wiser than our wisdom. I can only imagine how weak and foolish God's response to this world appeared to so many: a baby lying in a manger. The troubles of that world were many and profound. Moreover, God's people were being oppressed by Rome and that was insidiously and blatantly infecting them with the poison of corruption. All the power and strength lay in other hands and God's people wondered how they might ever prove to be faithful, let alone survive the next year.

So too may we wonder as we approach the New Year. Nothing is certain and the powers of the world seem to be taking the world in a direction we would rather not go. No matter what we do we feel ourselves to be powerless about it all because, ironically, today we are the weakness and foolishness of God. God enters this world in us to do his saving work. Our task is simply to be faithful to God's own weakness and foolishness in Christ. We are called to love even our enemies. We are urged to lay down our lives for one another. "We are compelled to be faithful and to guard the good deposit entrusted to us" (2Timothy 1:14), even when the world crucifies the weakness and foolishness of God.

I have to admit that there are many times, when I look ahead, that despair seems stronger than hope. And so I am reminded of the weakness and foolishness of God lying in the manger, or as the apostle Peter put it: the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! This weakness and foolishness of God overcame death itself and rose up far more powerful and glorious than ever before. This is the Lord's intention for God's people as well: that the weakness and foolishness of God would overcome this world again through us. So this year, in light of the One born of God and lying in a manger, I need to enter the New Year with the apostle's words in my heart. Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith, because the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.
Continue to pray morning and evening at 7:14 for The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

The Lord's blessing to you in 2016.

The Rev. Charles Cook
Bethel Presbyterian Church, Riverview, New Brunswick, and Renewal Fellowship Board Member <cscook@bethelpresbyterian.ca>

Prayer is a Challenge

Prayer is a Challenge

Renewal Fellowship Board Members meet in October 2015 in Simcoe, Ontario: Back Row – Fred Stewart (Executive Director), Doug Johns, Ian McWhinnie, Germaine Lovelace, Bill Harrison (Administrative Assistant). Front Row – Janie Robertson, Karin Cowan, Nan St. Louis, Charles Cook, Linda Shaw. Absent: Duncan Cameron, Leslie Ruo.
Renewal Fellowship Board Members meet in October 2015 in Simcoe, Ontario: Back Row – Fred Stewart (Executive Director), Doug Johns, Ian McWhinnie, Germaine Lovelace, Bill Harrison (Administrative Assistant). Front Row – Janie Robertson, Karin Cowan, Nan St. Louis, Charles Cook, Linda Shaw. Absent: Duncan Cameron, Leslie Ruo.

The Renewal Fellowship Board two-day meeting in October was held in my home in Simcoe. Yes, we all slept in one house, with some sleeping on mattresses on the floor in their sleeping bags. It was what you might call "a bonding experience."

As I was organizing the continental breakfast on the morning of the second day, the alarm on The Rev. Nan St. Louis' watch went off. I asked, "What's that all about?" Nan said, "It's 7:14 and that's my reminder to pray for The Presbyterian Church." I was amazed and somewhat embarrassed because even though I've been on the Renewal Fellowship Board for 13 years over my lifetime and am currently the Chair of the Renewal Fellowship Board, I have not been faithful in taking up the Prayer Logo challenge. Why not? Too busy with an assortment of other responsibilities? But that is not a good excuse, is it? I don't have an alarm on my wrist-watch and I don't even own a cell phone, but I do need to figure out a way to remember my commitment to pray for our denomination morning and evening.

Here's a less "jazzy" tech solution to the reminder problem: How about those of you who are praying morning and night email me and ask me how I'm doing? It would be encouraging to hear from those who have taken up the challenge and motivating for those of us who are a little too distracted with the other cares of the day. Email me and tell me you are praying for The Presbyterian Church in Canada. I won't publish your name, but I will let everyone know in our Spring Renewal News how many people have taken up the challenge to pray morning and night for The Presbyterian Church in Canada – the church we love and the church which needs renewal and God's wisdom at this time in our history.

As the New Year begins, may the Holy Spirit protect our church, and challenge us to be faithful and renewed in our witness and calling to follow Jesus in 2016. Let's take up the challenge of 2 Chronicles 7:14. May God bless us and make us a blessing to our communities, our country, and the world.

With thanks for your ongoing support of the Renewal Fellowship, and wishing you a "wonder-filled" New Year.

Linda Shaw
Chair, Renewal Fellowship Board <rfprayer@gmail.com>