Monday, October 26, 2015


I first became acquainted with the "What Would Jesus Do?" movement in the late 1990's when golfer Payne Stewart wore the letters in a bracelet.  Turns out, that was a revival of a much earlier practice.  In 1896 Rev. Charles M. Sheldon published a book called In His Steps.  It was a huge, best seller at the time.  Although the author made almost no money from the book, he  delighted in the fact that so many people read his message of living a life as Christ would.
    Over the years several authors wrote adaptations of In His Steps and in 1997 Garret W. Sheldon, the great grandson of Charles Sheldon wrote What Would Jesus Do?, a contemporary version of his ancestor's original book.  
    When I began the book, I wasn't sure I'd like it, the writing style is reminiscent of 1960's Sunday School leaflets, but I soon became so fascinated with the characters and their tales that my inner editor fell away.  The story, this is fiction, concerns the minister of a large, well-off congregation who realizes that their church is "successful"  in secular terms but failing in their duty to model Christ to the community around them.  So he and a number of his congregation take a pledge to live their lives in accordance with Jesus' teachings.  Every time they must make a decision they ask first "what would Jesus do?"  The results are amazing.
     Attendance at church drops, but attendance at the after-church meetings of those taking the pledge goes up.  A TV station decides not to air questionable programming or advertising.  The result is an increase in viewers.  A store keeper decides to remove pornography, tobacco and liquor from his shelves.  His business falls away.  He faces financial set backs and his wife is very unhappy.  A young woman breaks her engagement.  The congregation sets up a mission in the seedy part of town and sees many broken souls respond to Christ's call.
    Living "What Would Jesus Do?" has consequences, some welcome, some more difficult.  
    The book is an easy read, but one that made me think, made me consider my own choices, turned "what would Jesus do?" from a slogan on a coffee mug into a real question for life.  Thanks to Rev. Irwin for loaning it to me.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Post Thanksgiving

    The fine china is back in the cupboard, the linens laundered and today we finished the last of the turkey leftovers.  But my season of thanksgiving is not ended.  Today I give thanks for the good things I've found at Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church.

    First on the list is the Living Flame Choir.  They sang on Sunday, in case you missed it, and they were terrific.  I'm grateful to this group of children/youth for their willingness to tackle a challenge, their creative solutions to problems and their enduring friendship.  I've been directing a junior choir at SPPC for nearly fifteen years.  I've had the privilege of watching my most junior singers learn and grow, develop their skills and share their talents, and move from novice to leader.  They've included me in their circle of adult friends, extending an invitation to school events and other extra-curricular activities.  I always offer them cookies when extra practices take place at my house.  Last week I was the visitor and a choir member offered me a cookie.  When I was first asked to take on the role of developing and leading a junior choir I agreed, with conditions.  I had no idea what joy this ministry would bring to me and to the congregation.  I've dropped all the conditions of my participation.  I whole-heartedly give thanks for the Living Flame Choir.

     Another area of thanksgiving is Bible Study.  We're doing John Stott's study of The Sermon on the Mount, you remember, all those "blessed are. . ." verses that seem totally contradictory.  "Blessed are the poor in spirit.. . .  Blessed are they that mourn . . .Blessed are they who hunger and thirst . . ."
Scholars consider this chapter of Matthew one of the most important in Scripture, but it can sure be confusing.  But . . . every Wednesday morning we meet, break into small groups and talk about the passage, following the questions in Stott's study guide.  Then we meet together to share our thoughts while Irwin leads us through the finer points of the verses.  It is a wonderful time of fellowship and teaching.  No question is considered too trivial, no comment is dismissed as "wrong."  In fact, Irwin is an expert at making us all seem brilliant.  Death has claimed some stalwarts from the Bible study group and we miss them dearly, but newcomers have come to fill the empty seats and are most welcome.  Feel free to join the study on Wednesdays at 9:30 am.  You don't have to attend every session.  You can join any time.  Coffee and goodies are freely shared, as is the laughter and the stories.

    The Shepherd's Way, our church newsletter is another item on my gratitude list.  There was a new issue in time for Thanksgiving.  You've got to read Ruth's item about "huggitis" as she caught it at SPPC and as she spreads it among her neighbours and friends.  At an age when she could rightly say, "I've done my turn," Blanche keeps on keeping on, putting out the newsletter and filling our mailboxes with stories and quotes and chuckles and information.  Bill draws the pictures, making each issue a work of art.  I was thinking the Sunday School children could colour those drawings as part of a lesson sometime.

   This list is far from complete, but three is supposed to be the ideal number of points in an essay. I've found many more blessings  in this congregation, a.  I invite you to add your own items, either in the comments section below or in a blog post.  I'm always happy to feature other members of the congregation on this page.  In fact, those who write for the blog are very high on my gratitude list.

Monday, October 12, 2015


Thanksgiving day -- turkey's roasting in the oven, pies are cooling on the shelf, autumn leaves provide a colourful background and friends are gathered together.  It's easy to give thanks.  
But I am reminded of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  She strove to give thanks, even when life wasn't perfect.  She listed squabbling children in her journal, thankful that they were healthy and independent and hers to teach.  She gave thanks for a jumble of shoes in the hallway, the sign of a happy, busy household.
   She also points out in her devotional of the same name that a list of easy gratitudes may not lead to real thanksgiving.  Unless we dig deep in the less pleasant moments of life to find true blessing, we haven't really achieved Paul's admonition to "give thanks in all things."  Discontent is part of human nature.  We will never rid ourselves of discontent by trying to root it out.  That leaves a vacuum and discontent comes racing back. But if we replace discontent with gratitude, one small moment at a time, then we can experience true grace.  All those little moments add up until they overwhelm greed and envy and worry and our lives are transformed.
   I was reminded of her words when I listened to The Vinyl Cafe on CBC radio.  This thanksgiving weekend, Stuart McLean, storyteller and creator of The Vinyl Cafe gave out the Arthur Awards, a recognition of small acts of humanity that have enriched the lives of family and neighbourhoods.  The awards are small, a copy of McLean's latest book, or maybe tickets to a show, the acts are small, like phone calls or snow shovelling, but they have tremendous effect on their corner of the world.  
     This year there was a nomination for a voice -- the letter-writer didn't know who owned the voice, but every morning she heard it shout, "Wah-hoo," and it brightened her day.  The voice has gone silent and she misses it.  Another time the Arthur was awarded to a man who had made it his business to string Christmas lights on a lonely stretch of highway, to cheer strangers passing by. 
    I'd love to nominate McLean himself for an award.  His tales, filled with humour, gentleness and just plain goodness, are a welcome antidote to the steady stream of tragedy and disaster and evil that dominate our airways.  However, people who work on the show aren't eligible to receive an Arthur so my nomination remains unsent.  
    I'm grateful to the Apostle Paul for his witness and his instruction.  I'm grateful to Ann Voskamp for her writings on thanksgiving.  And I'm grateful to Stuart McLean for his stories of the small things that add up to a grand thanksgiving.
   Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  I hope your table groans under the spread of food, that you run out of chairs for your many guests and that you find a small moment in the day to be grateful for all things.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Church Around the World

 Often people confuse church with church buildings, or with particular congregations or even particular denominations.  Not so. As the hymn says, "the church is wherever God's people are gathered."  God's people.  Not God's steeples.  (Actually, I like steeples and bells and stained glass windows, but that's another story.)  The church, as Christ envisioned it and Paul and Peter established it, was a group of people who followed Jesus' teachings and sought to be like Him.  Many turned their lives upside down.  Matthew gave up his lucrative post as a tax collector.  Saul/Paul turned from persecutor to persecuted.  Lydia, a seller of purple, had her whole household baptized.  Roman soldiers mixed with Jews, masters mixed with slaves.  Care for each other was paramount. There wasn't a steeple in sight.
   On Sept. 20, World Peace Day, we saw an example of that borderless church.  About 200 people gathered at the band shell at Beacon Park in Sidney.  There were speakers from many faiths, flags, puppets, balloons, music and a Peace Pole.  The weather was perfect, the mood was joyous and the message of peace was carried from the sanctuary to the street.  The event was organized by Faithlink.
    This Sunday was another example of people of the worldwide church coming together for World Communion Sunday.  On this day Christians around the world and in many denominations come to the Lord's table in solidarity with one another.  Whether we choose steeples and prayer books or gymnasiums and slideshows, we are all one family, all followers of Christ, all believers in one God.  As we celebrate the Lord's Supper as "one church, one faith, one Lord," we fulfil our calling as one body in Christ.  
    It is easy to confuse "church" with building or with "congregation."  But that view is too narrow, too parochial and not faithful to the Bible.  While we may love our own buildings and our own congregations we rejoice in the love of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. World Communion is more than just a date on the calendar.  World Communion is true "church."