For those of you who don't know, before I started working here at the church, I worked in retail. (Glorious retail!) And, although I loved the people I worked with, I was so happy to move into the role I have now. I'm especially thankful as the Christmas season rolls around.
This past Christmas, our family was celebrating at my sister-in-law’s home. And as we were eating our Christmas dinner, my husband Mike said, “Hey Jo, remember the last time we were here for Christmas, we were packing up to go home at this time because you had to start work the next morning at 5a.m.”. Because, if there's one thing you know working in retail, it's that Christmas isn't truly Christmas if people can't go shopping for great deals on Boxing Day.
It just seems like people are always concerned with the next thing. Never content with where we are now, we constantly look to what might lay ahead.
To keep going with the retail theme, one year in late January I remember trying to buy some winter boots for my son who had grown out of his pair. No luck, they've already got the sandals out in the shoe store. Looking to buy a nice summer dress in July? Sorry, they've already rolled out the fall flannels. Sometimes this incessant looking ahead drives me crazy!
With one exception.
On December 26, after all the excitement of Christmas is over and I finally have a moment to rest, I sit down... and I think about Easter. Because the story of Christ's birth is beautiful and miraculous, but it means little to us without the incredible, powerful, life-giving work of the cross.
Sometimes these days after Christmas can be disorienting. You've spent so much time looking forward to a certain day, and – in a flash – it's here and gone. But Emmanuel, God with us, is as true and powerful today as it is on Christmas day, and as it was 2000 years ago. So after the wrapping paper has been cleaned up and the decorations are packed away, let's remember that, as God's people, we still have so much to look forward to. We have new life in Him, and an eternity to worship our Christ the Lord!
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
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.
- 1 Peter 1:3-4
It’s unfair that all the fun stuff is made for kids. Light up shoes? For kids. Scented markers? Apparently for kids. And while I do my devotionals and navigate through page after page of monotonous black print on white pages, kids get these beautifully illustrated Children’s Bibles. Pictures of animals lining up 2-by-2 to board the ark, or of the stormy sea before Jesus calms the waves. But my favourite Bible illustration – by far – can be found on the very first page; the lush green landscape of the Garden of Eden.
In my mind, I imagine a Sunday School teacher reading through the story of Genesis to her class. The children in awe as she describes the plants and animals. Giggling as Adam and Eve are strategically placed behind leaves and shrubbery. And then, as the snake slinks out of the tree and starts up a conversation with Eve, I imagine the kids shouting, “Don’t listen to him! Don't do it! He’s the bad guy!”
Or maybe I imagine that because that’s what I’m internally shouting as I read that story.
Looking at those painted figures on a page, it’s easy to think, “Really?? Eve! Adam! What’s the deal?! There was literally only one rule!” Adam and Eve had access to what seemed to be heaven on earth if only they would be obedient in this small way. I would give anything to be in that garden; to walk with God.
And yet, in full honesty, every day I struggle with obedience. Each morning I wake up determined to do my best, and each evening I skulk around like Adam and Eve did after eating from the forbidden tree. But we are not made to dwell on our sin (as I'm so often inclined to do) and it was in reading through Romans 5 that's I've started to reconcile this.
Read the verses here from the Message:
“So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.
Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?”
As we look ahead to communion this Sunday, (and even further ahead as we anticipate Christmas), let us dwell on this incredible “rescuing gift” that God sent in his Son. The sin of Adam and Eve belongs to us still, but the guilt and shame do not! Think about that! Delight in that!
So often I fall into the same sin that Adam and Eve did. And when I see it, I have the same exasperation as when I read that Genesis story. But the beauty of the grace of Jesus is that it far surpasses the sin of Adam. It far surpasses my sin and yours. So please come to Calvary this Sunday prepared to receive the overwhelming grace that is given through Jesus Christ.
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
Is there any better feeling than being the best at something?
It doesn't even matter if it's something seemingly insignificant. Somehow, there's still satisfaction in knowing that if your talent somehow became an Olympic sport, you'd win the gold.
You may not know it, but I was pretty athletic as a kid. Track and Field was one of my favourite days of the year. Triple jump, high jump, 100 metre dash, I loved it all.
I remember one year in particular, when I was in grade 7. My whole class was out at the track, cheering each other on as groups of us ran the 400-metre race. I remember being so nervous, my heart beating so fast, as my group lined up and we were told to “Get ready... get set.... GO!” And I went! Sprinting around the track with all my might. The race was two times around the oval track and after the first lap I was in the lead. Classmates cheered all of us on as we started our second and final lap.
About halfway through the second lap, my classmates cheers became more intense, shouting my name and urging me to go faster. I pushed myself even harder, and by the time I crossed the finish line my legs felt like jelly.
My time was noted, confirmed, and my teacher announced that I had broken the school record for the girl's 400-metre run.
It was official. I was the best.
At the 400-metre race, at least, and even then, my record was broken the very next day when the 8th grade girls ran the race.
But for that one day, for 12-year-old me, life was good.
It's so easy to understand why people chase that feeling. It's also easy to understand why so many people are left frustrated and disappointed when their best doesn't measure up to those around them.
I have been serving as the Worship Director at this church for just over a year now. And I am thankful every day that Jesus accepts my best, even when it is far from the best. Every Sunday morning, as the nerves start to kick in, I pray a prayer that reminds me that what I offer to God – on a Sunday morning or otherwise – only has value because of the heart I offer it in. I want my worship to come from a heart that desires to bring glory always and only to our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
A month ago, I sent this article to our worship team about the attitudes of worship. I encourage you to read it. And as we come together on Sunday morning, let us come with honesty and humility, bringing our whole heart to Him as we worship.
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
But the Lord said to Samuel, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
- 1 Samuel 16:7
As September comes with the renewed energy from some rest over the summer, we embark on a new ministry year that promises to move us as a church toward greater spiritual maturity – measured by a deepening love for God, love for His people and serving our community. I hope you are anticipating and praying for God to do something very special among us as a church this year.
September is also a time for me as your pastor to point us towards Jesus and His church in a very intentional way. For 4-6 weeks, I address a topic of the local church and our call to mission. Themes have varied from year to year but I believe it’s important to focus in to what God would have our church be for the coming year. This September I want us to zoom in on what it means to be a worshipping church.
Worship is something that we often take for granted in the local church. We make statements like “the worship was really good there” or “I didn’t like the worship” without really thinking through the implications of such a subjective comment. Worship is much more than “really good” or “not likeable” if we have a firm understanding of what worship is. Worship is hard to define but put simply, “is the priority we place on who God is in our lives and where God is on our list of priorities.” (Delesslyn A. Kennebrew).
So, beginning this Sunday, I will be preaching for sermons in a series entitled, “The Worshipping Church”. Each week we will unpack a various aspect of worship and its implications for the local church as we make it a priority. It is my prayer that these messages will challenge us to reconfirm what we believe about worship and how what we do on a Sunday morning collectively is so important.
What I want to challenge you with this as we lead into Sunday is summed up in one word, “Preparation”. What is critical to these messages is how we prepare for them in advance. Have you ever thought that the week leading up to Sunday is preparing us for what happens when we gather to worship as a church? I came across this quote from Jerry Bridges and it cuts to heart of what it means to be true worshippers of God who prepare.
“The vitality and genuineness of corporate worship is to a large degree dependent upon the vitality of our individual private worship. If we aren’t spending time daily worshiping God, we’re not apt to contribute to the corporate experience of worship. If we aren’t worshiping God during the week, how can we expect to genuinely participate in it on Sunday morning? We may indeed go through the motions and think we have worshiped, but how can we honour and adore One on Sunday whom we have not taken time to praise and give thanks to during the week?
"I Exalt You, O God: Encountering His Greatness in Your Private Worship”, Jerry Bridges
Let me encourage you spend some time preparing for Sunday through Scripture reading, prayer, silence, service, whatever it takes to make sure that when we come together on Sunday we are ready to participate together and focus on our great God! I hope you will come with an expectant heart – ready to celebrate what God is doing and what He will continue to do.
See you the, by God’s grace,
You are dearly loved,
This Sunday is “Name-tag Sunday” and I am so excited! And not just because I am terrible at remembering people's names (although I often am), but because most of my introductions go like this:
Me: Hi there! My name's Jolene.
Invariably a sweet older lady: Oh, Julie! What a pretty name!
Me: Oh, no, sorry, I'm JOLENE.
Older lady: Angeline! How nice!
Me: You know what? Just call me Jo. So nice to meet you!
Those interactions can be awkward and difficult, but there is value in being known, and being known rightly.
I could have let that little old lady call me Angeline, but that's not who I am.
It's interesting, though, that I would put so much time and effort into making sure people pronounce my name correctly, but when it comes to who I really am, I allow myself to get it wrong all the time.
All too often, I let Satan convince me that my identity is based on personal effort and accomplishments, and because of that, I am never satisfied with who I am.
I am constantly striving.
Constantly trying to make more of myself.
Constantly trying to prove my worth.
Constantly trying to hide my flaws.
There's a song I've really grown to appreciate called “Who You Say I Am”, and what I love about it is that it brings me back to the truth - that my identity is not based on what I do for Christ, but on what Christ has done for us.
Because when we strive to make more of ourselves, we are inherently making less of Jesus.
Of His power.
Of His might.
And I thank God that His power is made perfect in weakness, because often that seems to be all I have to give Him, but I am even more thankful that I am not defined by my weakness. That through His power and through His promise, who I am is wholly and completely because of who Christ is in me.
Jolene (Jo!) Sanders, Director of Worship,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- Galatians 2:20
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
A New Thing
Ugh. February, am I right? What a “blah” month.
(Unless you're really into Valentine's day, or it's your Birthday month, then I'll allow you to enjoy it) The excitement of the holidays have faded. You've likely totally bailed on your New Year's Resolution. (I don't know who's reading this, but let's be honest with ourselves...)
February like the “Monday” of months.
Right now, as I look out the window, the snow is mostly melted; the only remnants being the hardened piles along the side of the road, crusted with gravel and old Tim Horton's cups. The sky is a melancholy grey, intermittent drizzles of rain adding to the dreary effect.
But guys, I'm excited! I'm excited because it smells like Spring. I know, I know, Spring is technically a month away, and there will likely be another snowstorm or two, but I can feel spring coming. That anticipation keeps me going through all of these “blah” February days. And I'm so thankful that – as Christians – we get to live in this same kind of eager expectation.
Isaiah 43:19 says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” God is doing a new thing. God is making us new! He is doing a work in us, even now (Phil. 1:6).
Can you feel it?
Those parts of us that were lifeless – that were buried, and covered in dirt and dust – will spring with new life.
In a couple of months, wildflowers will grow through the cracks in the sidewalk, the trees will be budding with secret promise, and these “blah” days of February will have been forgotten in light of the new life to come.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'” (Rev. 21:1-5a)
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
I think throwing up is pretty much the worst way to start the day. I mean, yes, worse things can happen, but for me, that’s a pretty rough 6am wake-up. I found myself at the start of a day where I eyed the soda crackers suspiciously, not knowing whether their bland taste and texture would eventually wage war inside of me, or whether my glass of ginger ale would be an ally or a foe. Cautiously, I avoided both, and spent the day laying in bed as the energy slowly drained out of me.
That was my Saturday a couple of weeks ago. Just an awful day.
And then came Sunday.
Pastor Aaron had graciously offered to lead worship, but I wanted to come in to do what I could. So I sat at the keyboard and sang a little. Mostly I was just getting through. I was empty. In so many ways, I was empty.
And I’m so glad I came in to church that morning because it was one of the best worship experiences I have ever had.
There is something beautiful and freeing about knowing in a very real way that you don’t have anything that you can bring to God – that simply your presence is enough (because sometimes even that can be difficult).
There’s an album I love by Shane and Shane called “Bring Your Nothing” and in describing the idea behind it, Shane says “The only thing I bring Him is what put him on a cross, and I bring that in and He trades it for everlasting life…”. That hits me pretty hard. There is nothing we can do to redeem ourselves, but when we come to God In humility – when we bring our nothing – God does an amazing work in us, through us, and for us.
My challenge and my prayer for you this week, is that you embrace your “nothing”. Don’t feel guilty about it and don’t just accept it; rejoice in the knowledge that when God invites you into his presence, all He wants is you.
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost. (Isaiah 55:1)
Jolene Sanders, Worship Director
Hey guys! It's Jolene here, writing my first blog post as Worship Director here at Calvary. I have to say, I feel really blessed to be serving in this role. For those who may not know, I attended Emmanuel Bible College for a degree in Youth and Worship Leadership which has really shaped how I worship and how I think about worship. One of the biggest takeaways from my time there was the importance of authentic worship. That whatever we encountered in our week, whatever roller-coaster ride of emotions we've been on, that's what we bring on Sunday morning. We come broken and we come dirty. Sometimes we come confused or overwhelmed. But God takes where we're at, and turns it into something beautiful.
I'll be honest, as excited as I've been to take on this role, I've also felt hopelessly inadequate at times. But I know that even on those mornings I'm feeling anything but confident, God can take what little I have to offer and use it for His glory. What an amazing God we serve! And I can't think of a better place to serve him.
Church, I love worshipping with you. And I'm so thankful for a team that is committed to using their gifts to bring praise to our God. I love forward to learning and growing with you as we worship together.
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. - Romans 11:36
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
Each week we post about a range of things from the Christian life, faith and more.
In these posts we hope you'll catch a glimpse of ordinary people who serve an extraordinary God.