That Difficult Fruit

We know the fruits of the Spirit. Drummed into our heads – either by memory or by that catchy kid’s tune – you can probably rhyme them off: “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22-23).

We have no problem embracing and working on the first eight fruits. But that’s where the fun ends. It’s that self-control thing that most of us wrestle with.

Self control? Take stock of our lives and most of us register a “fail”. Not that we’re perfect performers with the first eight. But doing what we do not want to do, and not doing what we should do is arguably the biggest challenge in the “How now shall we live?” department.

Take our fascination with everything online, particularly social media. The news has been awash in recent weeks with stories of tech leaders hanging their heads in shame, admitting that the industry has known for a long time that we are latched to smartphones in the same way addicts are slaves to their substances: the technology relies on the same neural pathways.

The former president of Facebook admitted that they rely on dopamine, which is released when the brain expects a reward or gains knowledge. “You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” he was quoted as saying. Another ex-Facebook VP told a business school audience that he “felt tremendous guilt … we are destroying how society works.” We are becoming antisocial, unhealthy, addicted and less intelligent. Sobering stuff. And quite possibly true. But does it have to be this way?

I get a lot of my news online, but I also read newspapers the old fashioned way. Old and new. Hmmm. Here’s a suggestion: what if we opened our eyes to our human frailties and tendencies and recognized all this as temptation and refused to give in?

Enter that crazy little thing called “self control.” As I admitted to my congregation last Sunday, I frequently get lost on a bunny trail of click bait. But when I become aware of my human nature (and the guiles of the devil) I take control. More than that: social media actually helps me focus. For example, I typically read a newspaper with a smart device at my side. When I want background, I tap and click and I get enlightened. But then – and here’s the key – I don’t go further. I return to the article in question and carry on. No rabbit hole.

Self control takes time, practice, endurance, and discipline. Imagine that. What’s old – taught by our grandmothers – is suddenly new again.

Deceived by Packaging

How often do we stop and consider the meaning of our words – the absolute and true meaning? Take the word “resolution”. In everyday use, especially at this time of year, it refers to a New Year’s decision to change. Frequently, the resolution dies within a few weeks or months. Life goes on. But check out the deeper meaning. “Resolution” is one of those words used in different contexts. One meaning provided by the Oxford English Dictionary is “The smallest interval measurable by a scientific (especially optical) instrument; the resolving power.” I like that. A high-resolution photo is sharp, no matter how much it is enlarged. Technically speaking, the highest-resolution photos are the best quality.

I recently read Faith Undone by Roger Oakland. It’s a scathing dissection of the emergent church. His argument is that while the movement may appear to be the wave of the future – some even call it a new Reformation – it’s rooted in ancient spiritual practices that are at odds with sound, traditional, biblical Christianity. Even those in the movement who brand themselves as conservatives and evangelicals have been deceived by Satan, the author suggests. There’s no use condensing the book’s message or even reviewing it in this space, as I could not do it justice. I do urge you to read it. For me, it was an eye-opener.

I am now listening and reading more closely, more critically. I have a minister friend who always listens intently to what I say. More than once, he has caught me speaking untruth, tossing out nuggets of wisdom as if they were Scripture. But does the Bible really say that? Uh, no. Guilty. While annoying and somewhat embarrassing, I have come to appreciate his attention to detail. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 NIV). We need to be there for each other.

I recall visiting a church where I got talking with a man who had been a member for more than fifty years. On the wall behind him were photos of every minister who had served during his time. I asked if he remembered them all, and he said that he did. I asked if one stood out above all the others. He pointed to one. When asked why, he described his theatrical style, his voice, and his pulpit presence, bringing Scripture to life like an actor on a stage. Lacking in his description was any reference to content, theology, proclamation of truth, or calling sinners to repent. In this dear gentleman’s mind, it didn’t seem to matter.

I have a strong sense that we are all subject to such deception – myself included. So, my resolution is this: that 2018 be the year in which I learn to listen closely, to read carefully, and to pay close attention to the content and less to the packaging, all with the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

I think I can? I know I can!

These unforgettable lines from the 1930 children’s classic, The Little Engine That Could, became a motivational mantra for generations.

And they are just as powerful today. I read the story – via PowerPoint – at our after-school kids program recently. It was an illustration of Proverbs 28:20: “A faithful person will be richly blessed.” I was taking a chance. Would the message come through despite the dated language and lifestyle? I delivered it with dramatic punch – and it worked! The kids chanted the lines with me. Timeless messages can shine through ancient illustrations.

In the same way, it’s worth knowing that an old-fashioned small group gathering retains its power in an age of online everything. That’s how my congregation, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Dresden, Ontario, is tackling the reports handed down by 2017 General Assembly for study. We have partnered with Knox Presbyterian Church, Wallaceburg, and have contracted a recently-retired Presbyterian Church in Canada minister to take the lead. We started with two evening discussions on physician-assisted suicide. We heard intelligent questions, profound insight, and powerful stories. Four evening presentations and discussions on sexuality and marriage are on tap.

As moderator of the Presbytery of Essex-Kent, I took privilege and closed our September meeting with a pep talk. Our denomination’s action on sexuality and marriage will change us in a profound way, no matter what we do, hence the importance of these conversations at the congregation level.

Yes, the volume of documents is heavy, in every sense of the word. Yes, many of our minds are already made up. But we still need to gather, pray, and talk.

At the 2017 General Assembly, some commissioners were opposed to the additional motion to add the Life and Mission Agency (LMA) report to the document pile. We already have four documents, and the challenges of predominantly aging and declining congregations are already a burden for our ministers. I will never forget the final speaker, a young minister of a small-town charge: “I have no problem finding the time for important theological reflection,” he told assembly.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the conclusion of the LMA paper or are passionately opposed; we are called to study it. The Apostle Paul’s command to submit to governing authorities demands it. In Dresden and Wallaceburg, we are committing an entire evening to it.

On the issue of finding the time, our Saviour’s words in Mark 9:24 come to mind: “Anything is possible if a person believes.” Jesus was chastising His disciples’ inability to cast out an evil spirit, but this truth can be applied to any ministry. We can get through it. We can do it.

Gathering in person to pray, open the Bible, and apply its timeless truths to postmodern problems may be considered old school. But with faith, it will happen. We can wade through lengthy documents and provide Reader’s Digest versions on PowerPoint or in print, as many have done in recent weeks.

The Renewal Fellowship is encouraging all congregations, whatever their theological bent, to study these documents. Earnestly pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal truths and untruths.

I think I can? I know I can, for anything is possible if a person believes.

Our Favourite Links

The following links are sites of interest recommended by The Renewal Fellowship, without necessarily advocating all that you may find there. Happy surfing!

The Presbyterian Church in Canada <presbyterian.ca>

General Assembly Moderator’s Prayer Page <presbyterian.ca/gao/moderator/>

PresbyCan Daily Devotional <presbycan.ca>

The Reformed Theology Source <reformedtheology.ca>

Being a Christian and a Presbyterian in Canada Today <www3.telus.net/rdr/update1.html>

Wycliffe College Institute of Evangelism <institute.wycliffecollege.ca>

Knox College, Toronto ON <knox.utoronto.ca/>

St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver BC <standrews.edu>

Presbyterian College, Montreal QC <presbyteriancollege.ca>

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada <www.evangelicalfellowship.ca>

Speak Up!

At first glance, 105 pages of reading isn’t all that much.

But not all reading is equal. The stack of documents each congregation is being asked to study and report on by the end of January contain some profound and hugely divisive material. We know that many in The Presbyterian Church in Canada pay no attention to matters sent down from General Assembly each year, and this year the temptation is even greater. They may say “It’s too much for our brains and schedules to handle” or “We can see the writing on the wall and our voices won’t matter.”

Wrong and wrong.

If there is ever a time to speak up, it’s now.

Renewal Fellowship exists, in part, to encourage The Presbyterian Church in Canada to be strong and courageous in the face of secular and liberal forces which say we are on the wrong side of history.

I believe too many evangelicals with a healthy respect for biblical purity are afraid to speak up. 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: The Holy Spirit-fueled, apostolic, conservative, and evangelical elements of the PCC are larger and more vibrant than we may think.

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

Be counter-cultural in a Christlike way. You have many friends. We are here to pray for you and with you. We are here to encourage you and listen. This is a time of great decision in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Make your voice heard.

God’s will be done.

Rev. Andy Cornell, Executive Director

We Make House Calls

Our executive director, Rev. Andy Cornell, is available to speak to congregations, sessions and any group or court in the PCC.

He will bring a message of hope for all ministers, elders and congregations — of every theological stance — who are feeling increasingly alone in an unbelieving world.

He will bring a message of encouragement for ministers, elders and congregations who are experiencing division over the debate over sexuality and marriage in the PCC.

He will bring a prayerful presence and a listening ear.

He will bring a reminder that the church is a precious body and that our primary purpose is to proclaim to the world that Christ — the son of God — came to reconcile us with the Father. We are to put all selfish, human desires aside and seek God’s precious will for our lives. We are to submit with joy to power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify and empower us to do the work of our triune God.

A Prayerful Presence at General Assemblies

Report From The Floor of GA 2017

Commissioners to 2017 General Assembly chose neither the narrow path nor the wide avenue on the issue of human sexuality, opting instead to take a rocky road.

A decision on whether to allow ministers to immediately bless same-sex marriages and begin the process to redefine marital union was deferred. A strong majority of commissioners, after several hours of debate, voted to put off a vote on recommendations 11-15 of the joint report of the Committee on Church Doctrine (CDC) and the Life and Mission Agency (LMA) until the CDC's "final report on this matter has been received and that the General Assembly, in its wisdom, has made a decision regarding The Presbyterian Church in Canada's doctrine concerning same-sex relationships."

However, the PCC's lower courts, congregations and colleges will be asked to study and report on two weighty theological documents, one advancing the current stance that marriage is between a man and a woman, the other calling for marriage to be defined as two people. Perhaps as a parting blow in response to the deferral, a smaller majority of commissioners added two additional reports for study, both leaning liberal: the LMA report responding to the overtures on human sexuality and a paper entitled "The church and people who are transgendered and intersex."

In addition, the church is being asked to consider the document "Where from here?" – which asks for direction on which course to take on the issue: status quo, wholesale change or allowing individual minsters and congregations to choose on their own. The report also invites other suggestions.

Assembly thus set the course for a twisting and turning journey over the next seven months, sending five documents on the sexuality issue to congregations, colleges and lower courts for study and reporting by the end of January 2018.

The only firm decision was to finally enact a process to repent on past acts of hatred against those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and intersex communities. The initiative will see steps taken to create a space for the LGBTQI people to tell their stories, draft a response and identify "concrete actions" to remedy the situation and report back within three years. It's intended to fulfill a section of the 1994 General Assembly statement of human sexuality which was never acted upon.

A related issue, gracious dismissal, received wide consensus. For the third year in a row, Assembly received several overtures seeking the right of congregations to leave the PCC with their buildings. The requests came from sessions and presbyteries representing both sides of the human sexuality debate. As it was the year before, the official response from the church was lukewarm. However, very early in the assembly, commissioners agreed to strike an immediate committee to form terms of reference for a special initiative to address the issue. Those terms were approved unanimously. Among the issues to consider: the ongoing wounds that resulted from the congregations which left in 1925 to create the United Church of Canada, the regulatory framework that currently prohibits congregations from leaving the denomination with their buildings and the potential harm to the PCC and the wisdom of allowing gracious dismissal to take place prior to a final decision on sexuality.

The debate over human sexuality revealed more than a theological divide in the PCC. Our growing, ethnic-based congregations – Korean especially – emerged as vibrant supporters of the traditional, biblical witness, and yet overlooked by General Assembly office. Last year's document, "Body, mind and soul" was never translated into Korean. Many of those congregations have not bothered with the debate, being more focused on the actual work of the church. On a motion from the floor, assembly agreed to provide translations of the two main documents in the human sexuality debate by the end of August. (This lack of recognition of our ethnic congregations – which are among the healthiest – was ironic given the significant amount of time the PCC has spent on repenting for its part in the Indian residential school era.)

Lost in the haze was another report on an equally weighty issue: physician-assisted suicide. Commissioners received a detailed and moving pastoral report on the issue prepared by a CDC sub-committee. It was also sent down for study, with a reporting deadline of January.

The final tally: congregations are being asked to read and report on six documents by the end of January. That's a lot of reading, study, prayer, discussion and decision.

It could have been worse, in more ways than one. Had commissioners voted in favour of recommendations 14 ("That being in a same sex civil marriage shall not be a reason to bar any person from candidacy or ordination as a minister of Word and Sacraments, elder, or designation of a diaconal minister") and 15 ("Christian marriage is a union in Christ whereby two individuals, regardless of gender, become one in the sight of God") then congregations would have had two other issues to study and report within the same deadline. Judging by the overwhelming majority which voted in favour of deferral, there was no appetite for a life-and-death decision at the 2017 General Assembly.

The lack of a decision was heartbreaking to some in the liberal camp, who were noticeably frustrated. At the same time, some on the traditional side are grieving the death of a once-vibrant, biblical denomination; to them, the end is inevitable. Thus sets the stage for an eventual showdown.

Rev. Andy Cornell <amcpastor1@gmail.com>

Report from the Prayer Room at General Assembly 2017

Renewal Fellowship has hosted, for the past number of years, a Prayer Room during General Assembly. This reflects, since its inception thirty-five years ago, our focus on prayer for our denomination. This focus has crystallized in our "7:14" initiative, praying morning and night, claiming the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14.

There has been a host of prayers rising to God's throne, culminating, I believe, in this Assembly. It was my privilege to be in the Renewal Fellowship Prayer Room during this Assembly, to uphold in prayer all of the commissioners, staff, committees and our moderator during the proceedings. This year's Prayer Room was located in a residence, which was very handy for anyone between sessions, and also for me. I was joined, of course, by many others off-site and a good number in the Assembly hall as well. There were Presbyterians there representing PSALT (Presbyterians Standing for Apostolic Love and Truth) and Dunamis, and their own congregations. What a blessing!

An added blessing was to join the early morning prayer times with the moderator, along with as many as twenty others, joining in one accord to pray. I was grateful for the text messages from the floor, keeping me up to speed on proceedings, and for those who dropped by to pray.

Certainly, our task is not over. The call to pray goes on! Thanks be to God for faithful men and women who know the power of prayer and who hold up the PCC in their prayers. Pray for Holy Spirit to breathe his Life into our congregations, to empower them to carry out Christ's mission on earth, to make his name known and to bring in his kingdom here, as it is in heaven.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be at Assembly, for the people I met and talked to. Thanks be to God!

Rev. Nan St. Louis, Chairperson, Renewal Fellowship Board <nanstlouis1@sympatico.ca>

What We’re Doing

In humility, Renewal Fellowship seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling God’s vision.

This is what we’re currently up to:

  1. Call to prayer campaign. See logo at right and supporting Scripture below.
  2. Daily prayer requests by email. See today’s request at right.
  3. Quarterly Renewal News.
  4. Spring Renewal Days with guest speakers and AGM.
  5. Conferences.
  6. House calls: Executive Director on the road.
  7. A prayerful presence in the courts of the church.
  8. Regional prayer meetings.
  9. Telling encouraging stories.
  10. Executive Director’s blogs.

7-14If 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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

The Renewal Fellowship is committed to pray for the Presbyterian Church in Canada. This logo is a call to pray each day at 7:14 AM and 7:14 PM.