I have always loved desert imagery in the Old Testament; there’s something pretty amazing about God bringing beautiful new life to ground that had once been dry and barren.
In 2010 I had been going through a dry season in my spiritual life. I still loved Jesus and I knew He loved me, but I felt somewhat stuck in the ways I was growing. I was desperate for some relief from the dryness of my prayer life. I would go for walks in the evenings, asking God, “What needs to change? What are my next steps?”
One morning I opened an email from FEB Central and the first line jumped off the page. It said, “Have you ever wondered about your next steps?”
The email described Women’s Ministries Institute, a 9-month course offered by FEB Central to equip women to grow deeper in their spiritual journey for effective leadership. I prayed about it and decided to join the class, graduating in June 2011. A few years later, Sarah Bean also joined, graduating as the Valedictorian of her class (Yay Sarah - great job!).
If you are a woman and are feeling like you are going through a place of spiritual drought, you are not alone. I know that there are days where you just go through the motions, and there are other days that you don't even bother trying to do that.
Sisters (and brothers!), we are promised in Isaiah 41 that when we are feeling dry and parched, God will not forsake us. He will pour out rivers, filling our valleys with life-giving water. He brings new growth to those places in our spiritual lives that have felt barren and dead.
If you'd like more information about WMI, you can talk to Sarah Bean or myself, and visit their website here: www.womensministriesinstitute.com. Maybe WMI isn't for you at this time, but please don't stop asking God, "What are my next steps?" Because God will always remind you that your next steps are the ones that draw you closer to Him.
This past Sunday we talked in our service about Pregnancy Support Services of Hamilton. PSSH is a Christ-centred ministry which promotes life-affirming pregnancy options. They offer education, support and assistance to women and their partners as they face important decisions about pregnancy and sexual integrity. With PSSH clients receive pregnancy options counselling, post-abortion support, mentoring for both men and women, and Sexual Health and Relationship Education, plus there's an on-site baby boutique for infant wear and maternity clothes.
PSSH saw 250 new clients in 2017. Their services are free of charge, and they rely solely on donations to run their programming. One of the trends that they have observed is an increasing number of people who call from the Burlington and Oakville area who don't want or aren't able to travel into Hamilton. With this in mind, it has been on their hearts to expand their program into Burlington and Oakville to provide assistance to men and women in this area.
Formula 4 Hope is an opportunity for Calvary to partner with PSSH to help them raise money for their current clientele, and for their future site in Burlington/Oakville. We're asking each family to take a baby bottle home and to fill it with money. You can do this daily by filling it with whatever spare change you have in your pocket or purse at the end of each day, or you can do a one-time donation with paper money and/or cheques. Continue collecting until June, then return your filled baby bottles on Father's Day.
It's our tradition on Mother's Day and Father's Day, in lieu of giving small gifts to the men and women in the church, to donate those funds to an organization that is on the ground working with people in crisis. This year, in addition to the Formula 4 Hope baby bottles, Calvary is donating to PSSH on behalf of each man and woman who attends the church. In this way we can have the cumulative effect of seeing many small amounts add up to one big donation.
Please be generous; PSSH does so much great work in our area and it would be wonderful to see them continue to expand to meet the growing needs of our busy city. If you have any questions, please contact us, or visit PSSH online at www.preghamilton.ca
It took me a while to decide what to write about this week. I wanted to write something beautiful and inspiring, but instead I’m going to write about discipline.
I even gave a few tries at writing a lovely little Mother’s Day blog, but no… we’re going to talk about discipline.
Before we go any further, take a moment to read through Hebrews 12.
To many of you it’s a familiar passage. It encourages us to run the race set before us. When I was younger, I always thought that was a great analogy, because it seemed so exciting! I pictured the 100-meter dash at the Olympics; adrenaline pumping, crowds cheering, putting everything on the line.
But the reality is that our race is more like a really, really, really long marathon.
You’re probably going to feel like walking for part of it. Or you might get a cramp partway through and wonder if you’ll make it to the finish line at all.
You will get tired.
But the author of Hebrews writes, “It is for discipline that you have to endure…. For the moment, all discipline feels painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Emphasis added)
As a parent, I know how difficult it can be to discipline a child. But I also know that not to discipline my son would be a disservice. Because I don’t just care about who he is now, I care about his whole life. It can be painful and frustrating, but we discipline our children because we love them.
And how much more does our Father in Heaven love us. So much so that he takes the time – despite our resistance, despite our stubbornness – to shape and mold us into who we are meant to be.
So press on - even when you feel exhausted, even when you’re overwhelmed – press on to the finish line.
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
“I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
“For He disciplines for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10)
This past weekend our Student Ministry leaders attended the annual Youth Summit in Cambridge, a training weekend hosted by FEB Youth. Together with churches from around our Region, we heard five different speakers training and encouraging youth leaders to stay the course and persevere even when if we feel like giving up.
Our Saturday afternoon speaker was Sid Koop. And Sid's encouragement to us was to pursue intimacy with the Father as a way of remaining steadfast and finishing well. Not only is this valuable in Student Ministry, there's also something to be gleaned for the church as a whole. Each of us has our own ministry field – our place of business, family, friends – and this concept of finishing well by pursuing intimacy with the Father applies to all.
We looked at the well-known Psalm 139. In the first 12 verses, we see David wrestling with a God who knows everything about him, a God who has gone before him, has searched him, who knows the words he will speak before he even speaks them. In verse 6 we see David saying “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” And this was our turning point. In the original language, this verse is really saying that “This is overwhelming.” David is unpacking the sheer presence of God in his life. God has gotten into everything, God IS in everything...and David is saying, “Where will I go that you are not?”
As 21st century people, we can certainly relate to David's feelings. We live in a world of self-security, self-preservation, and self-promotion. But God doesn't see any of those things. He doesn't see the brave faces we put on, or the filtered image of ourselves that we post to Instagram.
God breaks through that facade to see our innermost being. And that can be overwhelming to us. We like to be in control, we like to dictate our future. What if God doesn't like what he sees, or He comes in and wants to change something? But we need to remember that God doesn't see our facade, God sees us, the true us. And what's more? He sticks around. Despite our flaws, despite our sin, despite the ways we fail Him...He's. Still. Here.
When David realizes this, it blows his mind. And his response is to then press in to God. Verses 23 and 24 say “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” David finishes his Psalm by requesting that God get to know him even better. To search him for any grievous ways and lead him toward the everlasting. David is pressing in to God. He's amazed at how God has stuck around, and so David's response is to ask God to come even closer.
When you read through Psalm 139, you'll see how that comes full circle for David. You'll see how he realizes, that God knows everything about him, knows his thoughts and his actions, YET, God sticks with him. David cannot go anywhere that he'd be away from God. God stuck around for David, and he'll stick around for you. And our response should be to press into God. We need to pursue that intimacy with Him. When we do that, we'll see the difference He can make, so that we can finish well.
Mike Sanders, Director of Student Ministries
There is no doubt that the tragic events of the past couple weeks have rattled us all a bit. From the tragic loss of life in a bus crash to the senseless violence of a man in Toronto, all of us have been forced to hold our loved ones closer and recognise the brevity of life.
There are no easy answers when it comes to the why. Why did this happen? How could God have allowed this to take place? These are good questions. These are hard questions, and in the middle of the crisis there are no easy answers. I find later that after some time has passed, allowing a period of reflection, we can come to terms with some of these things, but it’s never an easy process.
What encourages me about both of these events is that people came together to reach out beyond themselves to find hope and encouragements. Many turned to their faith and it was in the confidence and hope of the gospel, they were able to start the process of healing and restoration.
Sean Brandow, the chaplain to the Homboldt Broncos, spoke to the community vigil of this hope when he said,
“Where was God? That question has two answers. God is on the throne and God is with the broken-hearted. We know that God is on the throne, Jesus walked this earth, he died, he was buried, he rose again. It says in the scripture that he is now seated at the right hand of the Father, in control of setting up our leaders, putting people in the place where they need to be at just the right time, for just the right purpose, making sure that things line up according to his plan. I don’t claim to understand how this seems like it’s in God’s control at all, but it is. He’s still on the throne, he’s still God. You know, I asked the question as you look at God on the throne, it’s easy to look at God from a distance but the second part of that question of where is God is that he’s with us.” 1
I’ll allow you to read the rest of the message yourself, but those two answers cut across the airways of Canada and beyond. In other words, our God is still sovereign and He is still with those who suffer. Powerful words to our nation who is struggling to find meaning in these situations. I don’t claim to understand how God’s sovereignty works, but I do know that He is working out His plan in this world that is so much bigger than me or my comfort. I don’t claim to understand how his comfort works but I do cling to the truth that He is with me no matter what. He loves us and in spite of the evil around us, He is with us through the pain and anguish – gently encouraging and speaking words of hope and love.
So this week, in spite of what is happening in the Homboldt or Toronto, be reminded of the hope that we have in Christ. Peter reminds the church of this hope today and a time coming soon.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:3-6
Pastor Aaron Groat
As I begin to write this blog it is actually snowing outside. I’m not sure that we’ve had ice storms and snow hang on this long in quite some time. Although the snow can look beautiful on certain landscapes, I’m sure we are all ready for a real spring. We are ready for some sunshine, some colour in our gardens and to get outdoors! Today as I look out at the grey sky, I am reminded of Psalm 113:3 “From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised!”
I love the fact that whatever the topic, or lesson, story, big idea, praise or need for encouragement, the Bible always has an answer. In our Children’s Ministry we encourage our children to learn about the Bible and to study Scripture. Our focus verse for this year has been Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” We also review a new verse with our Bible story each week. We believe that it is important for our children to learn about the Bible and who God is and how much he cares for them. We also want our kids to understand how Scripture applies to their day to day life.
One of the resources I recently came across can be found at Ministry to Children. They offer lots of free lessons and ideas for learning verses. There is one titled “Short Bible Verses for Kids” and there is an option to print a colouring page for younger children. Check it out if you think it might be something fun to study.
Tanya Chant, Director of Family & Children's Ministry
I love a good story. No matter if it is a children’s book, a biography, or an engaging video, I love to hear a well-crafted story. Unfortunately, if you have been in a relationship or married for any length of time, you know that stories can get old. So much so that I jokingly tell newlyweds to not use all their best material in the first year – they have the rest of their lives to tell the same stories over and over again (profound apologies to my dear husband who has heard all of my stories repeatedly over the last 27 years).
What about you, what's your story? When someone asks you about your faith, are you still talking about the moment that led up to your conversion, or do you have a new story to tell?
Don’t get me wrong - as believers we are supposed to tell the story of what God has done in our lives. Psalm 66 says, “Come and see what God has done; he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of men… Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.”
Yet, when the Psalmist wrote these verses, I don’t think they were meant to serve as a passive observation of all the things the Lord once did. Instead, I believe they were meant to be a call for others to witness and testify to God’s mercy and power. Come and see! Come and hear! Come and experience! Come!
Notice how many times the Psalmists write about singing a “new song” to the Lord (see Psalms 33, 40, 96, 98, 144, and 149 as examples). These ancient hymns tell us, "Sing a new song, you who love the Lord, because God continues to demonstrate goodness, marvellous grace, mercy, victory over the enemies of His people, and many other amazing things."
If you are a Christ-follower, you definitely have a conversion story. That thing that God once did in your life. But if God doing new things in your life and in mine, why are we still telling the same old story?
Now, before you think that I am defaming the song, Tell Me the Old, Old Story, please hear this - the story of the cross is timeless and absolutely should be told over and over again. That beautiful thing that was done on our behalf to deliver us from death to life underpins every single thing we could ever share about who we are, but it should also underpin why we live the way we do! We give God the glory because it is He who is doing the work in our lives.
So what’s your story? Throughout the month of April, write down at least four ways the Lord has met your need, sustained you, answered your prayer, or delivered you.
Sing a new song. Tell a new story. God’s deeds are awesome yesterday, today and forever.
Candi Thorpe, email@example.com
On a recent Sunday morning while driving to church with my family, I listened to a message on the radio telling the story of Jesus' crucifixion. And as the pastor was walking us through the sequence of events that day, a thought struck me that had never occurred to me before.
The pastor started by saying that the two criminals hanging on either side of Jesus initially mocked Jesus in his plight, even though his fate was the same as their own. Along with the crowds, they ridiculed this man who claimed to be the King of the Jews.
But somewhere in that time, the attitude of one of the criminals shifts. Instead of scorn, this criminal begins to rebuke the other, defending Jesus' innocence. Then he goes even further, asking Jesus to remember him when He enters His kingdom.
I know many of you reading this already know the story. You've probably read it numerous times. So had I. And yet, something struck me, and challenged the way I understood this situation.
At this moment, Jesus had been abandoned by pretty much everyone that was close to Him. The crowds in Jerusalem that were singing his praises a week ago, were now demanding his death. One of his disciples betrayed him, another denied knowing Him at all. And as he hung on a cross, He felt forsaken even by his Heavenly father.
Jesus was dying. And his dying carried the crushed hopes of all who had believed in Him and the reign of His Kingdom.
But this criminal looked at Jesus hanging on the cross – Jesus who was beaten and bloodied, who barely looked like a man anymore – and saw a Saviour; saw HIS Saviour.
Do I have faith like that?
Can I look beyond the broken and the bruised and see Jesus?
Despite my circumstances, can I cling to Jesus in hope of His Kingdom to come?
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
You may recall that during the month of February, our Student Ministries was working through the four ancient Greek words for love. We do studies like this to help us better understand what the original authors of the New Testament were trying to convey with their letters. And to better wrap our 21st century brains around 1st century people. We finished our series with the ultimate of all loves, which is Agape. Agape love describes the unconditional, divine love that God has for his creation, for us. Agape is a love that is selfless, and sacrificial. While researching this I stumbled on an article that describes Agape love like this;
“Agape...is unmotivated in the sense that it is not contingent on any value or worth in the object of love. It is spontaneous and heedless, for it does not determine beforehand whether love will be effective or appropriate in any particular case”
Agape love is not based on the value of what's being loved. Agape doesn't say, “If you're worthy of this, then you can experience it.” It doesn't require something; it is an undeserved love. Which makes perfect sense to why this is the love that the New Testament authors would use to describe God's love for us. We've done nothing to deserve His love, yet he gives it anyways.
Isn't that amazing?
I think of a passage like Romans 5:8, which states:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
Agape love. Unconditional, undeserving, sacrificial love for His creation. Why? Simply, because He does. We've done nothing to deserve it, we've in fact done everything in our power to reject it. Yet, He gives it, to the point of sending His son to die on a cross, that we might know it. Wow.
It's really easy to stop there, and just say, Agape love, that's God's love for us, neat!... BUT, our New Testament authors don't stop there. Several times we see this word used to describe how we ought to love others. John 15:9-13, We see Jesus commanding his followers...
“This is my commandment, that you love (agapate) one another as I have loved (egapesa) you.”
Jesus is calling us to love each other sacrificially, selflessly, unconditionally, and maybe the toughest of all, undeservedly. That's tough, don't get me wrong. Agape love is a tall order that none of us should take lightly. But it's something we've been commanded to by Jesus himself. This word is also used to describe the love, in a passage you all likely know very well, Galatians 5:22-23, which states;
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love (agape), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
It's really easy to zoom past that first “fruit” and get to some of the more specific fruits of the Spirit. We get caught up thinking, okay, be kind, be patient, be peaceful, be good, be faithful, be loving. But the word used here is not philia (which describes a friendly love), nor storge (familial love). The word used in Galatians 5:22 is agape; unconditional, undeserving, selfless, sacrificial love. The fruits of the Spirit at work in our lives STARTS with this kind of love. And under this kind of love, the rest of the fruits get their framework, and their purpose. How God loves His creation, we too are to love.
We are about to enter into that time of the year where God's agape, love, is on display for all to see. Even the un-churched will hear of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us all. When you approach the cross this Easter, reflect on God's agape for us. Reflect on the fact that you can't earn it, and that you've done nothing to deserve it, YET, God gives it freely, unconditionally, and sacrificially, because He loves you.
Mike Sanders, Youth Director
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
I remember one of the first times I worked my way through the book of Hebrews. I had been hesitant to read Hebrews because I found it hard to understand all the Old Testament references and what they had to do with the message that the author of Hebrews was trying to communicate.
So, I sat down and started chasing all those footnotes and cross references that you find in your Bible (a little aside – this is one of the reasons why I don’t think your primary Bible should be a digital device that doesn’t include these). As I read the Old Testament quotes, suddenly the book came alive as I saw the incredible way the author built the case surrounding the supremacy of Christ and the power of salvation through His death on the cross.
One of my favourite sections – and really it’s the pinnacle of the book in many ways – is in chapter 10 where the author writes, (italics mine)
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Hebrews 10:11–14 (ESV)
When I first read those verses, I wondered why it would mention “stands daily” and then “sat down”. Why would the author put these little details in? As I chased down the cross-references and read some other material I was struck with the thought that the reason why the priest could never sit down was because his job was never done. Every day, day after day, sacrifices would have to be made for the people by the priests. It was a never-ending job that required unbelievable dedication and endurance. There was no shortage of work. Sin continued to be committed, sin needed to be atoned for, and a sacrifice was necessary.
Until THE day when everything changed. Jesus changed everything.
Jesus gave His life as the final and ultimate sacrifice for your sins and mine. In one final act, Jesus took the punishment for our sin. The punishment that we are responsible for because we can’t keep God’s perfect law, was taken on Himself. Not multiple sacrifices, but ONE SINGLE SACRIFICE that made atonement for all sin for all time.
Let that sink in a minute as we approach the time of year where we come together as a church to remember that Jesus died and rose again (Good Friday and Easter) so that our sins can be forgiven and we can be made right with God. And then Jesus SAT down.
The priests in the tabernacle had no need of chairs because their work never ended, but Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, offered himself as a single sacrifice for sins, for all time. After his sacrifice was offered and accepted, he did what no other priest serving in the tabernacle had done before. He pulled up a chair and sat down at the right hand of His Father (1). Your sin and mine has now been covered by the sacrifice that Jesus made. By faith, we accept that gift of grace. It moves me to tears to think that my Saviour did that for us, for His church, for any who would believe.
As we gather this Easter weekend, it is my prayer that the prodigiousness of this grace, that was poured out in the finality of Christ’s sacrifice, would move us all to proclamation and mission - proclaiming the good news to our friends and neighbours and serving people as an expression of love because of what Christ has done for us. Why not invite them to join you on Easter Sunday at Calvary – you never know what they will say until you ask.
And remember…. He sat down…
Pastor Aaron Groat
I have always enjoyed reading the book of Psalms. It’s often my ‘go to’ if I’m looking for encouragement or I want to read a few verses for devotion.
The idea of God as our protector is a beautiful image and of great comfort.
The person who rests in the shadow of the Most High God
Will be kept safe by the Mighty One.
I will say about the Lord, “He is my place of safety. He is like a fort to me.
He is my God. I trust in Him.”
The Lord says, “I will save the one who loves me.
I will keep him safe, because he trusts in me.
He will call out to me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him in times of trouble.
I will save him and honor him.
I will give him a long and full life.
I will save him. (Psalm 91:1-2, 14-16)
The Bible offers many verses describing God as refuge, fortress, deliverer, shield, protector and strength.
On a drive to work one morning, there were two children who presumably were walking to school. The older sister looked to be caring for her younger brother. As they walked down the sidewalk, a large truck was parked, and was blocking part of the walk way. The sister intuitively moved her little brother to her side opposite the truck and out of potential harm. She was protecting her brother, took his hand and cared for him.
This small illustration made me think of God going before us and acting as our protector. While we may face trials and obstacles of all sorts- God will certainly walk through things with us.
Director of Family & Children's Ministry
Psalms 46:1 - God is our place of safety.
Recently I was reading the first part of the book of Ephesians, and I was struck by the use of the word ‘in’ - have you noticed it before? I would encourage you to grab your Bible or a Bible app and take a minute to check it out.
The word 'in' is just a small word but it is amazing how it reminds us and reassures us.
In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds the believers that in their trespasses they were dead. Separated from Christ, without hope and without God. Remember, he says, because you were inside a life of sin you were outside of a relationship with the Heavenly Father.
But Paul also uses the word in to reassure us. Paul says to the Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus we who once were far off have been brought near” (Ephesians 2:13). As believers we are in Christ Jesus, and being in Christ is a pretty amazing place to be! Look at what Ephesians 1 says about being in Christ:
In him, we were chosen
In love, we were predestined for adoption
In him, we have redemption through his blood
In him, we have forgiveness of our sins
In him, we are lavished with grace
In him, we can know the mystery of God’s will
In him, we have an inheritance
In him, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit
In him, the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of inheritance, to the praise of God’s glory
In our sin we were cut off and shut out, lost forever. But now in Christ we can enjoy a loving and right relationship with God the Father.
I’m so thankful for the small word in. Are you?
Director of Administration, Communications & Frontline Ministry
Each week we post about a range of things from the Christian life, faith and more.
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