Marc Vandersluys

Women in Church Leadership (helpful resource)

The Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination Malmo belongs to, has been ordaining women (i.e., allowing them to be lead pastors) since the 1970s.

If you’re wondering why we believe that women can serve in all levels of leadership (perhaps you are new to our church) this short podcast episode is a helpful starting point to understanding why we believe what we do.

It doesn’t cover all the potentially relevant passages, but it’s a great starting point.

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Palms up, palms down prayer

During worship last Sunday, the children and the rest of the congregation was led through the “palms up, palms down” prayer. This is a prayer that anyone can do at any time.

Prayer is simply conversation with God—listening to and speaking with him. Sometimes it’s helpful to use our bodies when we pray to help us focus. This is not unusual: people lift their hands during worship, fold their hands and close their eyes during prayer, or perhaps kneel or lie prostrate when praying.

Palms up, palms down prayer is a way to help us focus on God by letting go of the things that distract us, worry us, frustrate us, anger us, and so on, and giving them to God, and to give us a posture to receive what God has for us. This is a prayer that seeks God, nothing more, nothing less. It is about being in his presence and trusting him.

It’s very simple—even a child can do it, as we saw on Sunday. Here’s how you can begin*:

  • Sit comfortably and take a deep breath.
  • Place your hands palms down on your legs.
  • Imagine letting whatever is distracting (worrying, frustrating, angering, etc.) you drop out of your hands. You could even give whatever it is to Jesus. Watch them drop out of your hands.
  • When you have let go of as much as you can, turn your palms up in a posture of receiving. Tell God that you want to receive whatever he has for you today. Remain in silence with God.
  • When your mind starts wandering, turn your hands palms down and let those distracting thoughts drop away.
  • When you are ready, turn your palms up again to receive in silence.
  • Do this as many times as you need to release the things that burden you and be with God.

*Source: Diana Shiflett, Spiritual Practices in Community: Drawing Groups into the Heart of God (IVP Books, 2018)

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Inviting God into your day (simple morning prayer)

It’s the time of year where many of us have committed to improving something in our lives or to develop better habits. Some of those commitments are large and some of them have been broken already! Here’s a suggestion for a simple habit to develop: first thing in the morning, before you do or say anything else, invite God into your day. This can be a short prayer you say as you sit on the edge of your bed, bedhead, half-open eyes and all (you don’t need to look or smell good to pray!)

Here are some suggestions for prayer. You can use individual ones or a combination (you may even want to start all of them with a “Good morning, Lord”):

  • “Lord, please walk with me through this day.”
  • “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you today.”
  • “May your will be done today.”
  • “Lord, I need your help to get through this day.”

You can, of course, come up with your own. Or you may want to pray something longer, such as The Lord’s Prayer or what some call the Jesus Creed.

This way you start your day in conversation with The One who gave you this day and it will serve as a reminder throughout your day of The One who is with you.

This is a simple practice you can teach to your children as well.

You might also want to end your day with a prayer reflecting on how God has answered or responded to your morning prayer. (In another post, I’ll tell you about the Prayer of Examen, which is one way you can reflect on your day with Jesus.)

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Praying with scripture (resource for individuals and families)

There is a whole lot of devotional material available. You may have your own preference for that stuff or maybe you’re overwhelmed by all the options and don’t know where to begin. I’d like to highlight one unique resource that I have found very helpful in my walk with God. It’s called Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible Through the Year.

This book has one entry for every day of the year, beginning with Advent. Each day includes a couple of short scripture readings for reflection and prayer, and/or conversation with your spouse or children, some suggestions for “free prayer”, and a closing prayer and benediction. It’s simple and reflective.

There are two things I especially like about this resource:

  1. It puts very little in between you, God, and his word to us. It’s just you, scripture, and a few prayer suggestions.
  2. It’s simple: everything you need for a given day’s prayer and reflection can be found and read on that day’s entry. There’s no flipping between pages or reaching for your Bible to find the passages for the day.

This is a resource that could work for individuals or families and would serve this purpose for many years. Malmo gives this book to its high school grads as a gift to encourage ongoing conversation with God. It might be too late for you to acquire this before Advent begins, but you can start any time. Consider getting it for yourself or your family for Christmas!**

Here are a couple of places you can find it: Wisemen’s Way // Chapters/Indigo // Amazon.ca.

(Compact edition [smaller size, otherwise identical]: Wisemen’s Way // Amazon.ca)

**Pastor Marc has a copy of his own. You’re welcome to have a look at it. Just ask!

 

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Is the Old Testament a complete mystery to you?

Sandra L. Richter, author of The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament, has a diagnosis for many of us when it comes to the Old Testament: “dysfunctional closet syndrome.” Most of us have a drawer or closet in our homes where we throw all the random things we don’t know where to put and after a couple of years we’re not even sure what’s in there anymore. Similarly, many of us have grown up with a jumble of various Old Testament stories, stories which have been stuffed into our mental closets, and those closets can be quite a mess. These are stories which we can fairly easily recall but aren’t quite sure how or where they fit into the Old Testament or what they have to do with us.

The Epic of Eden is meant to help us put our Old Testament “closets” in order and to give helpful tools to keep them in order. She does this not by walking us through every detail in the Old Testament, but by highlighting and explaining the major themes, ideas, and turning points in the Old Testament by which we can grasp the larger whole. In this way, Richter help us to see how the Old Testament story flows, how it is intimately connected with the New Testament, and what it has to do with us as Christians.

The Bible is one of the primary ways in which we come to salvation (2 Timothy 3:15) and encounter Jesus Christ (John 5:39). Note that in both of these passages the scripture it’s referring to is the Old Testament! So reading, understanding, and meditating on scripture, including the Old Testament, is a significant part of being a disciple of Jesus. But that’s difficult to do if two-thirds of the Bible is a confusing mess! This accessible book will help put the pieces together for you and give you deeper understanding of the story of God’s love and faithfulness.

It’s not a difficult read and it’s not long (about 220 pages) and will help you understand the Bible better. There’s a copy available in the church library, or you can order it through Wisemen’s Way, Chapters/Indigo Books, or Amazon.

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Tractor Spirituality: Listen to a Podcast

Tractor Spirituality: spiritual practices for the seeder, the combine, the road, the shop, and the home.

Practice: listen to a podcast.

One thing you can do as part of your journey of discipleship is something you might call a practice of “guided listening.” That’s a fancy word for listening to a podcast, something you can do in the combine, on the road, in the shop, over lunch, or in bed. Podcasts can encourage, grow, and inspire your faith.

There’s a whole range of Christian podcasts out there to choose from—teaching, preaching, theology, current events, and many other topics—and it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Below are two different kinds of podcasts that have been meaningful for myself and many other people. One engages the mind, the other engages the heart.

Unbelievable?: A weekly podcast featuring “apologetics, theology, debate, and dialogue” about various Christian topics. Be encouraged in your faith, hear different points of view, and be stretched in your thinking.
Website: www.premierchristianradio.com/unbelievable (also available through most podcasting apps).

Pray as You Go: a daily 12-minute guided prayer podcast featuring music, scripture reading, thought prompts and time for reflection and prayer. A great way to start your day!
Website: www.pray-as-you-go.org/ (also available as a standalone app and through podcasting apps).

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Why Do We Sing in Church?

Tomorrow morning we will gather at Malmo again, as we have been doing faithfully for 125 years or so, to worship together through fellowship, prayer, scripture reading…and singing.

Singing has been a part of Christian worship since the first Christians gathered. In fact, some parts of the Bible are widely believed to be taken from early Christian songs of worship. For example, Philippians 2:6-11 is often referred to as the “Christ Hymn”:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)

These stanzas contain not only generic praise to God, but they tell a story—the salvation story, in fact: God becomes human, dies on the cross, is raised from the dead and made Lord and Messiah.

But why do we do this? Why do we sing together in church, especially when some people don’t like singing or think they don’t have a good voice?

I can think of several reasons, and none of them have anything to do with being able to sing or carry a tune: singing brings glory to God; it helps us remember the gospel story; it is modelled and encouraged (even commanded!) in scripture; it brings believers together and encourages them (have you ever been at a concert or worship event where thousands of people sing along together? There are few things more unifying and beautiful).

(There are more reasons, I’m sure. In fact, here are a couple of further explanations for Christians singing that I have come across that you might find helpful: “The Three Rs: Why Christians Sing” and “Seven Biblical Reasons Why Singing Matters.”)

So as we gather tomorrow and in the weeks to come, consider: can I choose to participate in worship, including the singing, even if I (think I) don’t sing very well, even if I don’t fully understand why we do it?

Author and pastor Eugene Peterson wrote, “Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.” Often we talk about worship, and especially the singing part of worship, as an expression of our feelings for God. That may be true, but there are some people who do not express their feelings for God in that way, and there are some days when my feelings for God are not great.

In a much more important way, whatever our feelings may be on a given day, our singing praise, our singing the gospel, plays a significant role in transforming us bit by bit over time, through low seasons and high seasons, as individuals and a community, into the people of God…if only we will open ourselves up—both our mouths and our hearts!

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Helping our children embrace faith

This morning I came across an article in the latest edition of Faith Today (May/June 2017**) called“Help Your Kids Embrace the Faith.” It’s a short article reflecting on the experience and findings of a 22-year-old Christian in relation to the question, Why do some children remain faithful to God and why do others rebel? 

As parents we want more than anything for our children to commit themselves to Jesus and his kingdom. But we fear this not happening, so we take steps that in the end are more about making faith happen in our kids (a fearful response) through what in the end amounts to control. This is not, it seems, conducive to healthy, long-term faith in our children. Instead, the writer suggests that we best facilitate faith or make room for faith to grow (a loving approach) though authenticity, trust, and openness, among other things—helping faith rather than forcing faith. These appear to be the hallmarks of Christian parenting and families with children that have remained faithful.

Of course, these are not a guarantee. There are all kinds of factors at play in our children’s spiritual development that we are not aware of, but generally speaking the approach of gentleness and love seems to be more successful than a demanding and legalistic one. In any case, this short article will at the very least provoke some thought about the ways in which we instil faith in our children. In addition to hardcopies available at the church, you can find the article online here: “Help Your Kids Embrace the Faith.”

(The author, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, is releasing a book on the subject in October. It’s called Why I Didn’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed on the Straight and Narrow—and How Your Kids Can Too.)

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**if you are a regular attender you would have received a copy in your church mailbox and there are extra copies on the Malmo table)

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Another year gone by!

Last Wednesday Malmo Community Youth Group had their year-end party, which included a wiener roast, a water fight, and a giant slip-n’-slide. God answered prayer: at 4:00 it was overcast and cool, by 5:15 there were barely any clouds in the sky and the sun was shining warm and bright. We have a lot of fun at this party every year, and as leaders we had conflicted feelings of both sadness and relief!

Thanks to our youth for making this a fun year! We wish you all the best through the summer. Remember: be a neighbour!

It was another good year for our youth ministry. We had an average of 36 youth on Wednesdays (sometimes breaking 40, other weeks not breaking 30), from all over the place and various stages of faith. This last bit—various stages of faith—has been both exciting and challenging for the leadership. How do we challenge the youth more mature in the faith but also encourage those at early stages to go deeper? This, it seems, is the eternal challenge of youth ministry.

As I was preparing for our last evening together, I did some rough calculating about how many people were in one way or another involved in this ministry, and the number is impressive:

Leaders present on an average youth night: 8
Substitute leaders on call: 3
Leadership/planning committee: 4
Other “unseen” ministries: 7
Number of unique cooks throughout the year: 39

There is some overlap between the different categories, but that’s 61 different roles involved in our youth ministry, and this doesn’t include everyone who helped with socials and all of you who prayed for the youth ministry throughout the week and especially when the call went out on Facebook on Wednesday nights! This tells me that we have a community behind this ministry in many different ways, and we are grateful.

Of course, numbers aren’t everything. A gathering of 5 youth with a leader would be an equally valuable ministry. The numbers speak mostly of support.

So, thank you to each of you for a great year and for your support. Please continue to pray for our ministry as we say goodbye to some of our leaders and discern new leadership as well as what’s next for this ministry.

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Christmas week readings and 2015 devotional resources

Below is a reading plan for Christmas week for families or individuals. Take some time to reflect on the Christmas story this week.

Read the passage and encourage your kids to make observations (e.g. “did you notice anything new?”) or ask questions about the story. If they stump you with a question, it’s okay to say, “Good question! I don’t know.” You don’t have to have all the answers. Ask them some questions, too.

Monday: Luke 1:1-25 – The birth of John the Baptist foretold
Tuesday: Luke 1:57-80 – The birth of John the Baptist
Wednesday (Christmas Eve—you could spread these reading out over the course of the day or read one at each meal):
Matthew 1:18-24 – Joseph’s story
Luke 1:26-38 – Mary’s story
Luke 1:39-55 – Mary and Elizabeth
Thursday (Christmas Day): Luke 2:1-21 – Birth of Jesus
Friday: Matthew 2:1-12 – The visit of the Magi.
Saturday: Matthew 2:13-17 – Escape to Egypt

Looking for some devotional resources for 2015? Here are some options:

The Covenant Home Altar – This is our denomination’s quarterly daily devotional book. We have some copies available on the Malmo table in the foyer and the copies for the new year should be here soon.

Our Daily Bread – Another quarterly daily devotional. You can read it online every day at www.odb.org or you can order the quarterly booklet from the same website.

YouVersion – the YouVersion Bible app for smartphones has many daily reading and devotional plans available (including Our Daily Bread). Get the app here: www.bible.com

The Revised Common Lectionary – A weekly Bible-reading guide used by millions of Christians and churches around the world (including Malmo!). Visit www.lectionarypage.net

For a variety of other Bible reading plans, visit www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans or www.backtothebible.org/bible-reading-plans

 

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