Wednesday, 7 June 2017

No more living for Jesus

It’s time to change the way we think about what it means to be a Christian, students at Smithville Christian High School were told at chapel this week. Instead of living FOR Jesus, try living IN Jesus instead, said Spiritual Life Director Gord Park.

As he prepared for his final chapel talk of the 2016/2017 school year, Park said he was thinking about the year’s spiritual life theme, “Living in the Light.”As he prayed, Park said he realized that the most important thing that students needed to hear was the same thing that he needed to hear: that God doesn’t need us to believe in him and that our efforts to please God are doomed.

Just as Jesus told Nicodemus about our need to be born of the Spirit and he told the Samaritan woman about having the living water IN us, we need to be convicted of the truth that Jesus is in us, Park said.
The relationship that Jesus had with God the father is the same relationship that we can have – God as the one who talks to us, leads us and guides us. Yet, we struggle so much, trying to obey the rules or please God.

And that’s the problem: those efforts are wasted. If we are trying to prove ourselves, to live FOR Jesus, to work for him or please him, we are guaranteed to fail. We will always tell lies, or be unkind, or fall short. We can never read the Bible enough or apologize enough.

“I am trying, but it’s just not working,” Park said. “I am doing good stuff, but I am tired. When it comes to being a good Christian, I quit.”

The secret is living IN Jesus and letting Jesus live in you by letting his Spirit take over.

“When you do that, you are set free from rules and measuring up. What the Spirit wants is to reveal Jesus to you in the everyday decisions of your life – who you date, where you work, what you study, how you are with your mom and dad, what you do in your private life.”

Instead of worrying about meeting a standard, all we have to do is say “thank you. Lead me on.”
Jesus is the light of the world and if we let him shine through us, we will be changed.

Park read Romans 12: 1,2 from The Message. “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.”

Student praise team, Citizen, led worship with three songs: Touch the Sky, Your Love Awakens Me, and Anchor.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

This is how we know God is here

Students at Smithville Christian High School learned how a live art demonstration at the school’s recent fundraising gala is evidence of God’s hand at work in their lives – and in their school.

At this week’s chapel, spiritual life co-ordinator Gord Park told a remarkable story about Grade 12 student Mariah Ellis sharing a snippet of her life story at the March 3 bursary bash. 

As Mariah told her story on stage at the gala, St. Catharines artist George Langbroek, who had read Mariah's script a few days in advance, was on stage with her, creating a painting inspired by her tale.

Mariah shared how she had been motivated to action by a chapel talk given in October 2016 by Grade 11 student Lau Mussa. Lau had recounted the story of a dream he had had about being stuck in a pit and calling out for help. In his dream, Lau heard a voice telling him to look up. When he did, he saw a hand reaching down to rescue him. Lau didn’t know what the dream meant, but a week later he met some Canadian visitors to the orphanage in Tanzania where he lived. After serving as a translator for the visitors, Lau was eventually invited, and sponsored, to come to Canada to attend Smithville Christian High School, where the visitors’ relatives – Gemma, Owen and Shasta Ricker – went to school. At the October chapel, Lau told the students the dream was prophetic, that being a student at Smithville Christian was the rescue he had dreamed about.

Fast-forward five months to Mariah, at the gala. Mariah told the dinner guests that after she met Lau and learned of the lack of food and education that Lau’s family was experiencing in Tanzania, she launched a series of fundraisers at Smithville Christian to raise money for his family. With the help of her mother, Mariah made and sold candy apples, brownies and apple crisp to fellow students at lunch – earning enough money through sales and donations to pay a year’s worth of school fees for Lau’s brothers at home.

Meanwhile, on stage with her, Langbroek was painting Mariah’s story. She spoke of bake sales and school fees, but she did not talk about Lau’s dream.

Yet, what was appearing on Langbroek’s canvas was an astonishing image of a person in a pit, being rescued by someone else reaching down, against the backdrop of a third figure with arms outstretched in crucifixion or joy.

Langbroek said afterwards he had no idea he was painting the scene from Lau’s dream. Langbroek said he had interpreted Mariah’s bake sale story as evidence of the power of Godly people and Godly community to help each other, but he had no idea that the metaphoric image he had chosen was exactly the same as Lau’s dream. For guests at the gala, this was a spine-tingling revelation.

At this week’s chapel, Park told students that Langbroek’s painting tells each of their stories too.
“This is not just Lau’s dream,” Park said. “This is all of us.”

Each of us in the person in the pit, mired in our own sins and shortcomings and needing to be rescued by a Saviour. But each of us also has the ability to be Christ to others, to reach out a hand to help someone else – whether it’s selling brownies or leading in worship as part of a student praise team.

“And we are all part of the celebration,” Park said, referring to the third figure in the painting, “or this is God behind all of it.

“We are the ones being rescued, we are God’s hands and we are the ones worshipping him.

“God is good and God is here.” 

Friday, 25 November 2016

This is what hope looks like

One of Laura de Jong’s “all-time favourite movies” is Princess Bride.

The 1987 film is a story within a story, de Jong said, with a grandfather reading a story about pirates and princesses to Fred, his grandson, who is sick in bed. As the story ends with the good guy dying and the princess marrying the evil prince, Fred protests.

“Grandpa, you read it wrong!” he says. “That can’t be how it ends! She can’t marry the prince. She doesn’t love him. And what about Westley? He can’t be dead!”

De Jong said the movie scene shows that we all have a pretty good idea of how stories should end. “There should be triumph, right should conquer wrong, the hero should get the girl. We know a good ending when we see one.”

De Jong’s final message during Spiritual Emphasis Week 2016 focused on the final chapter of Jeremiah, which, like the story in the movie, had a similarly bad ending. The king is still in captivity, the country is still under foreign occupation and the people are still exiled.

The last few verses of Jeremiah 52 end with forgotten King Jehoiachin being released from prison and dining at the table of the invading king.

“Still an exiled king, still technically a prisoner. Eating fish and dates and drinking wine with the enemy until the day he dies,” de Jong said. “If I was an Israelite, this would seem like an unsatisfactory ending to me.”

After chapters and chapters of God warning the Israelites of the consequences of their unfaithfulness, of capture, exile and occupation, and of God’s promise of restoration, the ending seems anti-climactic and unfinished. And that’s not the only unsatisfactory story we see. We turn on the news and see stories of out-of-control wildfires, villages being bombed, racist attacks or children sold into slavery by their impoverished parents. We look around us and see cancer, family breakdown, or parents who lose their jobs.
Like the people of God at the end of Jeremiah, we are “still in limbo,” she said.

De Jong said the story of Jehoiachin dining at the king’s table is an example of “anamnesis” and “prolepsis” – Greek words for lived memory (anamnesis) and lived future (prolepsis). A modern example of anamnesis and prolepsis would be turning up the heat and having an impromptu Hawaiian party in the dead of winter, complete with barbecued food, flip flops and dance tunes. The party is both remembering what summer feels like (anamnesis) and a bold declaration summer will come again (prolepsis).

That’s what is happening at the end of Jeremiah. The writer is emphasizing that despite his captivity, Jehoiachin is still the king of Judah and he is still in the lineage of David – and Jesus.

“And though captive, we see a glimpse of what things were like before – fine clothes, good food and a seat of honour,” she said. Jehoiachin is acting out a memory of the time when God’s people lived in God’s favour.

These verses also represent an invitation to all of us to live into God’s promise, she said. Jehoiachin’s dinners at the king’s table are a reminder of God’s promise of another king, and indeed, Jehoiachin is mentioned in Matthew 1 in the genealogy of Jesus.

“For the people of Israel, hope looks like King Jehoiachin eating at the table of the king,” she said.
For the people of God, in all times and in all places, hope still looks like a table – a communion table or a library table or a classroom table.

“It’s all the places and times we gather together and offer love and courage and hope to each other through our small acts of service and love,” de Jong said. “We are the body of Christ and we remind each other that God is faithful.”
“God is faithful, and the end of the story is a good one,” de Jong said, because God is good and he loves us. Even when we mess up, run away or yell in anger, God loves us, and invites us to live in the goodness of his new creation. Even if things are going wrong, we get to practice the end of the story.
Whenever we, as Christ-followers, act out the ending and live the goodness, joy, peace and love of the Kingdom of God, we are showing the world and each other how good it will be, de Jong said.
“That’s what hope looks like.”

DeJong said she had a great week at Smithville Christian, and took a selfie with the school.
Spiritual Life Director Gord Park prayed a prayer of thanks and blessing over de Jong as she finishes her studies at Calvin Theological Seminary.

"God's word came through you to us," he said. " You revealed Jesus to us."

Click here to read more about where Laura de Jong's been and where she's going.
* * *
A student praise team led in worship with "Love Come Down," "Holy (Wedding Day)," and "I'm Not Ashamed." We are so blessed by the musicians and AV technicians who make worship possible every day during Spiritual Emphasis Week. Join us for chapel every Wednesday morning -- everyone is welcome.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

It looks like nonsense but it's really hope

Sometimes Christians do goofy things, students at Smithville Christian High School were told at today’s chapel. 
 “One of my favourite coffee table books is ‘Stuff Christians Like,’” said speaker Laura de Jong at the fourth chapel of Spiritual Emphasis Week 2016.

The book contains descriptions of things Christians do that might seem baffling to others, she said. Side hugs, knowing how to avoid being asked to lead a group prayer,  leaving room for the Holy Spirit at a high school dance or using a Christian pick-up line like: “I was reading through the Book of Numbers and realized I didn’t have yours.”

Sometimes these things are funny but often they make no sense to others, de Jong said. That is what was happening in Jeremiah 32. The prophet was asked to do something – buy his cousin’s field – that made no sense.
Jeremiah had run afoul of the king and was under a form of house arrest, the Babylonian king was about to invade and make the land worthless, yet Jeremiah obeyed God and fulfilled the Israelite custom of redeeming a family member’s property.

But Jeremiah’s “nonsensical economic exchange made a bold statement about the future,” de Jong said. The Israelites were in trouble, but Jeremiah’s purchase “was a concrete, tangible sign of hope.”

There are more things – not in the coffee table book – that Christians do that do not make sense to the rest of the world, she said.

They believe that to receive, they must give.
To gain strength they must surrender.
To succeed they have to learn to fail.
To find themselves they must lose themselves.
To fulfill themselves they must forget themselves.
To live is to die to self.
To be first is to be last.
They give away 10 per cent of what they earn, they spend hours a week in church, and look for answers to today’s problems in a 2,000-year-old book.

Sometimes, she would prefer to focus on clothes, music or popularity instead of a relationship with Jesus, de Jong admitted. 

“I want to fit in to this me-first, celebrity-driven, power-hungry world.”

But it’s better to live more like Jeremiah.

“We are people who anticipate a future beyond the realities of this world,” she said. “We know that the day is coming when the backwards, upside-down kingdom of God” takes over and makes all things new.

“We live in the hope of a fully restored earth, a new creation.”

Until then, we live as “already, but not yet” citizens of a kingdom, opening ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit, and living not for personal advancement or fame but in order to tell the whole world that there is hope.

*  *  * 
A student praise team led in worship with “We Were Made to Thrive,” “Multiplied,” and “Come as You Are.” 

Spiritual Emphasis Week concludes with a final chapel on Friday at 9 a.m. and a concert at 1:15 with FM Reset. All are welcome.

More about Laura de Jong            
Laura de Jong grew up in St. Catharines, and attended Beacon Christian High School. She studied History, English, and Congregational Ministry Studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she also led worship and worked in residence life. Laura is finishing up her Masters of Divinity at Calvin Theological Seminary, and hopes to do church ministry after graduation. She's a staunch defender of all things Canadian, is enjoying finally learning how to cook, and believes next year belongs to the Blue Jays.

To contact Laura de Jong or to find out more about where she's been or where she's going, check out LauradeJong

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

We are not here to go to heaven

Spiritual Emphasis Week speaker Laura de Jong has spent the past seven years living in the USA, where she says she has endured every Canada joke and Canadian stereotype “known to humankind,” she said.

“For example, what do the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Titanic have in common?” de Jong asked. “They both look good until they hit the ice.

“Or, how do you get a Canadian to apologize? Step on their toe.”

Speaking at the Wednesday chapel at Smithville Christian High School, de Jong said her experience of living in the USA is similar to what God’s people were experiencing in the time of Jeremiah: they were aliens, living in a strange land.

De Jong outlined the story of the Babylonian conquest, of the exile of the people, and of Jeremiah’s surprising prophecy – found in Jeremiah 29. Instead of prophesying his normal message of doom and gloom, Jeremiah tells the people to settle down, get married and plant gardens.

“You are here for the long haul,” de Jong said Jeremiah told the people. “Get comfy.”

And don’t just worry about yourselves, de Jong said. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city, for if it prospers, you prosper.”

That message was shocking to the Israelites because they preferred to see their captors as the enemy and themselves as victims, she said. But God had a different message. He “wanted his whole world to flourish.”

Like the Israelites in Babylon and like de Jong in the USA, “we are also people living in a land that is not our own,” de Jong said. At our baptisms or dedications, we became citizens of the kingdom of God, making us “resident aliens” of the places we now live. “We are citizens of heaven, this is not our home.”

But just as the Israelites were to seek the peace and prosperity of their city, we are to do the same. We can’t live as if we’re waiting for heaven, or put all our effort into getting to heaven, or sit back and hide out in our comfortable, Christian huddles. The water of baptism signifies that we have been washed, and sent out to get our hands dirty, not to feel superior and think we have it all figured out.

Like genteel society woman, Frances Perkins, who turned a tragic 1911 New York City factory fire into a lifelong mission as a labour activist to improve worker safety, we are to work for the benefit and blessing of those around us, de Jong said.

“We are marked out for heaven and thrust into the business of earth.”

De Jong invited students and guests to come forward to dip their hands into a basin of water, representing the cleansing water of baptism, and to take from the bowl a pebble to remind them of their city. She asked them to reflect on the corner of their world – sports team, or family member, or co-worker or friend – for whom they could be praying.

“We are not here to go to heaven,” said Spiritual Life Director Gord Park. “We are here to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.”
* * *

A student praise team led in worship with “Stars,” ”We Believe,” and “This is Amazing Grace.” 

Spiritual Emphasis Week continues with two more chapels: Thursday morning at 9:30 and Friday at 9. Guests are always welcome. Students are also participating in daily discussion groups, meeting with translators who speak Korean and Mandarin, and visiting the prayer room. The week will close with a Friday afternoon concert by FM Reset.

To contact Laura de Jong or to find out more about where she's been or where she's going, check out LauradeJong.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The gift of story and grace

There was a time when Laura de Jong was not happy to be Dutch.

Speaking during the second chapel of Spiritual Emphasis Week at Smithville Christian High School, de Jong said when she was a young girl, she thought she'd much rather be Scottish.

"I watched Scottish dramas on BBC, listened to Celtic music and, when I was 12, I even started learning Gaelic," she said.

But de Jong's attitude toward her ancestry changed after she spent a summer in The Netherlands.

Guided by maps, photographs and directions given to her by her father, de Jong retraced the steps taken by her grandparents and great-grandparents, visiting the villages, attending the churches and listening to the stories that had shaped her roots.

"Through these stories I discovered who I was,” de Jong said. “My family's history became my history. "Now I am wholly and unapologetically Dutch."

DeJong said stories "shape our identity. They remind us who we are and where we came from."

The Israelites had stories too – of how God had chosen them, rescued them and protected them. Yet, by Chapter 2 of the Book of Jeremiah, "they had stopped telling their stories."

They had forgotten who they were, and even worse, they had forgotten who God was. They began worshipping the gods of their neighbours.
De Jong said we might think that we would never do such a thing, but we live in an age where it's very easy to become confused about our identity. 

"Today, belief is simply one option among many," she said, and even people who call themselves Christians are often content to put God in a neat Sunday box.

It's also easy to let our identities be shaped by how others see us, or to believe our culture’s messages that we can create our own identities, she said.

"You do you, YOLO, it's your party, express yourself."

When what you wear or who you're dating or your personal self-fulfilment become more important than your commitment to something because it's right, you are in danger of forgetting your story, de Jong said.

God’s message to the Israelites is harsh: he accuses them of making his heritage an abomination and warns that even their children’s children will suffer for what they have done.

But God doesn't stop there. Jeremiah's message, as harsh as it seems, is actually a reminder of their story.

"God offers them, and us, a way back,” de Jong said. In reminding them of the story of God’s love and faithfulness, Jeremiah reminds us too.

And God’s story of grace in our lives isn’t always dramatic or shocking.

“God extends his grace to us in the humdrum things we do, day in and day out. This is good news, friends. God’s grace is everywhere and grace comes to us as we tell our stories.

Our story is that we are beloved children of God, forgiven and made new. How popular we are, or who we are dating, or whether we are a homebody or an adventurer does not matter.

“Our story is not about reputation or earning a place. Our story is a gift.

“God loves you and that is who you are.”

* * *
A student praise team led in worship with “Awake My Soul,” “Heroes,” and “Beautiful Things.”

Spiritual Emphasis Week 2016 features chapel every morning at 9 a.m. (Thursday at 9:30), extended time for daily devotions and discussion, a prayer room and a Friday concert featuring FM Reset. Everyone is welcome to chapel.

To contact Laura de Jong or to find out more about where she's been or where she's going, check out LauradeJong.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Can you be inadequate and still be a disciple?

Jeremiah was just a teenager when he was tapped by God for a difficult job, students at Smithville Christian High School were told. 

Speaking at the first chapel of Spiritual Emphasis Week 2016, speaker Laura de Jong read Jeremiah 1 and said Jeremiah’s response to God was that he was not up to the task.

Just as de Jong, a reluctant runner, did not feel she was capable of running a half-marathon, Jeremiah did not feel he was capable of being God’s agent of doom to an audience of people who would definitely not want to hear his bad-news message, she said.

God’s people had broken their covenant with God and their near future included only death and destruction, de Jong said. But over Jeremiah’s protests, God’s response was “trust me. I got this. Just do it.”

What does that mean for us?

“Most of us are not called to be prophets in the traditional sense,” de Jong told students, “but all of us are called to be disciples.”

And just as de Jong accepted her friend’s challenge, downloaded a training app and bought new running shoes, Jeremiah did the things God told him to do. De Jong followed the app’s instructions, improved her stamina in small doses, and finished the race. Jeremiah obeyed God and confronted the powerful leaders of his day with the prophecies of impending disaster. But luckily for Jeremiah, he didn’t need an app or a six-point plan “because God was in control, not Jeremiah.”

Today, discipleship might require us to be counter-cultural, to remind people that they can’t buy happiness, that they can’t secure their safety or position at the expense of someone else, or that the people who think they have power or influence are not really in control because God is, she said.

“This is hard to do,” de Jong admitted. “It’s not going to make you popular or make you friends in high places.”

It’s also hard to do because it doesn’t always seem like God is in control, she said. There are conflicts on a global level, refugees fleeing their homes, ecological destruction, environmental disaster, starvation, parents who divorce, friends who have car accidents, sickness and uncertain futures after high school or post-secondary studies.

Yet it would be worse to think that we are in control, de Jong said, to think that we can rely on the latest smartphone, clothes, friends or career path.

“There is very little direction when following God’s plan, no charts or six-point plans for success,” she acknowledged. “But the beauty of God is that he is God and we are not.”

Twice God assures Jeremiah that he will be with him, and the same is true for us, even if we feel inadequate.

“God is with us and we are with God,” she said. “We don’t need to figure it out or have a plan or know how it will work out. God has the plan and we only need to run the distance that is needed for the day – walking if necessary.”

Sometimes, God’s provision is best seen in hindsight, she said. In Jeremiah’s case, we know how the story ended, that God rescued his people and sent a prince who died and rose again to save the whole world.

“We have a God who says ‘you are with me, I’ve got this,’ “ de Jong said.

“So lace up your shoes and follow.”

* * *
A student praise team led in worship with "Build Your Kingdom Here," "Good, Good Father," and "Holy (Wedding Day)."

Chapel continues every morning this week at 9 a.m. (9:30 on Thursday). All are welcome.

 * * *
More about Laura de Jong           
Laura de Jong grew up in St. Catharines, and attended Beacon Christian High School. She studied History, English, and Congregational Ministry Studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she also led worship and worked in residence life. Laura is finishing up her Masters of Divinity at Calvin Theological Seminary, and hopes to do church ministry after graduation. She's a staunch defender of all things Canadian, is enjoying finally learning how to cook, and believes next year belongs to the Blue Jays.

To contact Laura de Jong or to find out more about where she's been or where she's going, check out LauradeJong