Canada Day Message

We live in a world that loves to point out the negative.

This isn’t an inherently bad thing.  Negative things exist.  They should be criticized and fixed wherever possible.

But when we only focus on the negative, the rest of the world gets blurry and we lose context, making way for anger and fear to cloud our decision making and dominate our emotions.

The last couple of Canada Days have not been without controversy in many circles.  Criticisms of historical atrocities, negative reaction to modern cultural trends, and protests of political shifts on all sides have made it hard for some people to celebrate living in Canada.

In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul reminds us, “…whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  He tells us this in the midst of a passage which is trying to help its readers find peace and contentedness in everyday life.  There is a strong emphasis in the Scriptures to keep the positive things of life – the things worth being thankful for and rejoicing in – always in our thoughts.  This has profound spiritual strength, as well as physical and psychological.

Canada is far from perfect.  There are issues at all levels.  But if we don’t celebrate what is good, we will have a significantly harder time dealing with what is bad.  We will lose focus, be given over to anger, and do more harm than good.

 

One of my personal frustrations as a Canadian is the hostile and divisive political climate.  It seems like one liner ideologies rule news and discussion.  Complex issues are reduced to Facebook meme’s and internet algorithms feed us news that we like, allowing our confirmation bias to take control and narrow our actual exposure to differing points of view.  I get annoyed when I see the way people treat those who disagree with them on government issues.  I get even more annoyed when I see our leaders and politicians treat each other even worse.  Sometimes I really struggle to view our democratic system in a positive light.

But then I learned that 121 Mexican politicians have been killed since September 2017.  That’s ten months.  One hundred and twenty one people in ten months were killed for political reasons in Mexico.  We make angry Facebook posts.  They murder each other.  Suddenly, contrasting the political climate of Canada and Mexico helps put some perspective on my complaints.

This doesn’t make my complaints go away.  A problem is a problem.  Just because something is worse somewhere else, doesn’t mean it is suddenly ok.  But it does give me a sense of appreciation and thankfulness.  It helps me gain some patience with our own system.

 

On a more religious note, we often worry about the spiritual climate of our country.  As our society becomes increasingly secular, Christianity carries significantly less cultural weight than it used to.  Decisions like a recent court ruling against Trinity Western University show us that as religious rights are more and more frequently going up against civil rights, religious rights are going to lose.  This worries us.  We fear persecution.  But once again, when all we focus on is the negative, we are open to fear and anger, emotions that hold us back from seeing God’s vision and path for us.

Matthew 10 contains my favourite passage for helping show people that even with these changes in our culture, Canada is still a very safe place to be a Christian.

Jesus said,

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

 

That was Jesus who said that!  Jesus!  The “prince of peace.”  And He said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Why I love this passage so much is how hard it is to explain to people in Canada, and how easy it is to explain to somebody who lives in a nation with significant persecution.

Explaining this to somebody here usually requires a lengthy one on one conversation about the context in which Jesus was talking, and what he meant by this sword and families turning against each other.

But to the Christians I met in Egypt?  No explanation needed, because this passage is the story of their lives.  Many of them were driven from their communities when they came to believe in Christ as the Messiah.  Many of them had to make a choice at some point between their family and their faith.  When an ideology is so rigorously opposed to the Gospel, there is inevitable, heartbreaking conflict.

The ‘persecution’ we experience in Canada is nothing compared to Christians throughout the ages.

But when all we focus on is the negative around us, we are turned over to fear and anger, and we miss what God is doing.

In the midst of persecution, Christianity thrives.  The edge of civilization is where Christianity has been the strongest.  Not the centre.  As we get pushed to the outside, we are put into positions where we have to start making more difficult choices, and making real sacrifices to follow Christ.

When we begin to look for what God has done we are able to see more clearly what He is doing now.  When we hear the stories of triumph in circumstances so much more dire and challenging than our own, we begin to see the hand of the divine shift and move toward that beautiful ending we see promised to us in Revelation 21.

But we fear the persecution.  We fear a faith that costs us.

Remember this:  A faith that costs you is a faith that has value.  A faith that costs nothing – means nothing.

 

Let’s come back to Canada Day.

There is a lot of cause for us to be thankful we live in Canada.

We put those first and foremost in our minds, we can more clearly see where God is moving, and we can navigate the problems and criticisms around us with a stronger, more Spirit centred mind.

As the world shifts and moves around us, are you focused on what God is doing, or are you focused on what humanity is doing?

I love my country.  I love the people in my country.  I know that God loves them too, and he wants to partner with His church to show them the overwhelming hope and love that come through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Happy Canada Day from Pastor Matthew!

Quick Guide on Christian Meditation

In a world with constant distractions and clutter, the practice of Christian meditation can have enormous impact on our spiritual lives.  In a more and more connected world, we need to learn to disconnect and re-engage with God and His Scriptures.

For many of us, the centre of our prayer life is requests.  We go to God to tell Him what we need and tell Him what He should do.  Meditation is the practice of listening.  Of filling our mind with the things of God, connecting to Him, and just opening us to let Him speak into our life and hear Him.

Unfortunately, meditation has become synonymous with Eastern Religions and New Age spirituality and as a result, many Christian circles no longer practice it.  But we see the practice throughout the Scriptures and Christian history.

Christian meditation is the act of filling our minds with something of God.  We all meditate in one way or another now – though we often don’t call it meditation, and often it isn’t positive.  In such cases, we would call it, “brooding.”  We fill our minds with negative thoughts and dwell on them for significant periods of time.  “Can you believe what that person at work said?  Can you believe what so and so did to me yesterday?”  These thoughts fill our minds, and they can significantly affect our day to day lives.

Christian meditation is designed to push out the negative and the clutter, and replace them with Christ and the hope and peace of the Gospel.  There is no specific form meditation must take – one person may choose to retreat into the mountains, another reflect while driving, and another watching a busy street.  What is more important than how we meditate is what we meditate on.

Meditate on the Scriptures and their teachings:

Psalm 1:2, “but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night, that person is like a tree planted by streams of water.

Meditate on God’s Deeds:

Psalm 77:12 “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

Too often we spend much of our time dwelling on what we need God to do, or what we hope He will do, and it can be discouraging.  But taking time to reflect on the past and what He has done can change our discouragement into celebration.  If you read the entirely of Psalm 77, you see this transition take place.

Meditate on God’s Promises:

Psalm 119:148 “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.”

Meditate on God’s Love:

Psalm 48:9 “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”

 

God’s teachings, God’s deeds, God’s promises, and God’s love.  Need a starting place that encompasses all of these?  Meditate on the cross of Christ.  Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The cross of Christ is the fulfillment of promise that creates a new promise of salvation and redemption.  It is an act of love that comes with it powerful teachings for hope and reconciliation.

What does the cross mean to you in this moment?  How would your day be different if you spent time meditating on the cross and carrying the thought of the cross with you?  How would your interactions with people be different if between you and each person you saw the cross?  How would your perspective in your relationships and the situations of your life change if you had the cross on your mind when thinking about them?

The wonderful truth of the gospel message is that Jesus lives  and He is active in this world.  Meditating on the things of God is a way for us to open our spirits to His, and look for where He is at work and join Him there.

I encourage you spend some time each day pushing the clutter out of your mind and filling it with the things of God.

Philippians 4:8
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Humility and Truth

We cannot hope to find truth as long as pride rules our hearts.

 

Truth is one of the most challenging things to find in our world.  The advent of the internet gives us the ability to justify almost any belief we can think of.  Whatever you want to believe, you can find somebody on the internet with reasoning and evidence to tell you that you are correct.  In matters of faith, science, politics, relationships – whatever you want – there is somebody to tell you that you are right.

Online companies know that we like to be edified in our beliefs rather than challenged, and as a result they tailor our news feeds around things they know we already like.  Compare your feeds from Google and other sources with a friend who sits on the opposite end of the political spectrum – you will see different sources and views being sent to each of you.  This is kind of a scary thought, when we realize just how narrow our information becomes despite having access to so much.

But we have to be willing to have our beliefs challenged.  We have to be willing to be wrong.  Pride is what keeps this from happening, and so often we don’t even realize it is pride that has taken over our thoughts.

Think of people who disagree with you.  Why do they disagree?  Too often our first thought is because they are selfish, evil, ignorant, uneducated, etc.  Yet rarely are these actually the reasons why.  Our life stories, experiences and cultures have had significant influence on us, and pride holds us back from saying, “Maybe this person with a different experience and culture has a point.”

We need humility to see the world through another’s eyes and grow in truth.

One of the most important statements of the Scriptures is when Christ tells us about Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6.  We often think of this passage simply as talking about salvation, but there is so much more that Christ wanted to show us and bring us.  He wanted us to know the Father, to see the character of God on display, and to be an example of what it means to have abundant life in this world, not just the next.

And in Christ we see the absolute importance of humility.  As Paul writes of Christ in Philippians 2:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 6 Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

Christ modeled humility in both His life and death.  The way Christ lived is very important if we are to find truth in this world, because without humility, we cannot find truth – not just religious truth, but truth in relationships, community, work, politics – all areas of life.

In humility we listen, and when we listen we learn and understand.  This is not to say that we should expect to find ourselves wrong about everything all the time.  The quest for truth will often lead you to find that you were right!  But at the very least, it helps us understand people who disagree, why they do, and gives us tools to love them and help them in their situation.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” James 1:19b.  This is an important verse that most of us probably think we’re pretty good at.  But if you step back and think about it, how often do you really listen?  We ask questions like, “How could they do that?” but when we do so, they are almost always rhetorical.  We’re not really looking for an answer.  When somebody does something hurtful, asking that question with sincerity makes a huge difference in progress to forgiveness and reconciliation.  That requires deep humility.  To listen means to not elevate your own thoughts and experiences above others, but to acknowledge that even though you disagree with them, their experiences may have something to teach you.  Then we can listen.  Then we can come closer to finding truth.

I encourage you over the coming weeks to take time to intentionally humble yourself when it comes to matters of truth in your life – in relationships, faith, politics… step back and try to look at the mountain from a side you haven’t traveled up before.

Pride will isolate us.  Humility will draw us together.