Credo – Mar 2019

I’ve spent most of my life working on aligning what the Bible says with what I believe with how I behave with what I preach and teach. I would hope that all followers of Christ would seek for this alignment. The Latin word for “I believe” is “credo,” from which we get the English word “creed.” A creed, therefore, is a statement of belief.

A song that greatly impacted me earlier in my walk with God was simply titled “Creed.” While there are many songs with this title, this song was by Rich Mullins and David Strasser. (You can find this song easily on YouTube if you would like to listen to it.) It’s taken from the Apostles’ Creed, which was developed in the early church as a baptismal confession.

I memorized the Apostles’ Creed during my teen years. There is a solidness to these early church confessions. There is also a depth to them that is often missed when it is simply seen that way. I am not equating faith statements with the Bible. The derivative cannot equal the source. However, I am concerned with both the solidness and depth of Christians today.

The chorus of the Rich Mullins song has always gripped me:

And I believe what I believe
Is what makes me what I am
I did not make it
No it is making me
It is the very truth of God
And not the invention of any man

What I truly believe, not only informs my thinking but affects my life. And, if the source of that truth is truly God, then that truth is making me instead of my making truth. I become more of a reflection of a holy God instead of God reflecting fallen man. Information without actualization is trivialization. We should not trivialize the truth of God.

I trust that as our church journeys through the Apostles’ Creed that it will be transformational and not trivial.

Journeying with you,

Pastor Merril


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This One Thing – Feb 2019

Life today is full of distractions. I’m not saying that there haven’t been distractions throughout the history of the world but that there is more reaching out to grab your attention than ever before. When I was growing up, I had tv, radio, books, sports and friends, but generally you had to go to your distraction. Now we carry our smartphones everywhere so we can be distracted by social media, email, texts, games, streaming services and whatever other apps you install … not to mention the phone itself. Plus, we can have these apps push for our attention. Even when using computers or smartphones for valid reasons, we get advertising and spam emails that pop up.

We can be just as distracted and interrupted emotionally. We can be distracted by unforgiveness and resentment. Negative self-talk can distract us from accomplishing the things we should be focussed on. Wishful thinking about the future instead of concentrating on the present is a distraction. (I’m not referring to thoughtful planning and goal setting; this is about emotional distraction.) Dwelling on the successes of the past while struggling with the present is a distraction.

The apostle Paul wrote: “… I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.” (Phil. 3:13-16, NLT)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the church cannot afford to get distracted in 2019! We have been charged to “focus on this one thing.” To be spiritual superstars … oops, no. To have our destinies fulfilled … hmm, no again. To feel significant and satisfied in life … um, a no again. We cannot afford to be distracted by even the good things that may come as a by-product of doing the one thing. The one thing we are tasked with is making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20) and to do so means that we must be good disciples of Christ ourselves, since disciples follow and imitate those who disciple them. The church must focus on this one thing and let Jesus worry about the rest (in line with Matt. 6:33).

Journeying with you,

Pastor Merril


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The Christian Journey – Jan 2019

We’re starting a journey this month … more like continuing a lifelong journey. There are many aspects of the Christian journey. I have worked on and continue to work on the spiritual disciplines: prayer, worship, giving, Bible reading, Scripture memorization, mediation, service, community, etc. While these all are important, we can lose sight of the forest for all the trees. While there is no forest if there are no trees, there is something lost if we fail to recognize what its all about.

I’ve hinted at it already but the whole of the Christian life and journey is about discipleship. The spiritual disciplines are about exercising and growing in our discipleship. The love we express to the Lord and our neighbours is about being a disciple of Christ. The commission that Jesus left us with is about being disciples who make disciples (Matt 28:18-20).

Paul writes to the Colossians: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col 2:6-7 ESV).

We receive Christ Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. We are supposed to continue walking in Him in the same way we received Him. If a believer only received Him as their Saviour and friend, then they may have difficulty growing as a disciple because they did not receive Him as their Lord. Our minds and hearts more readily receive discipline from our Lord than our brother/friend/saviour.

The plan for Freedom Centre for January and February of 2019 is to examine discipleship—the lifelong journey of a Christian. May it stir our souls and spirits to better be the disciples that Jesus call us to be.

Journeying with you,

Pastor Merril


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What Are You Giving for Christmas? – Dec. 2018

I was talking with my wife, Betty, today and she asked me about Christmas presents. This is often an important conversation for parents at this time of year. She also desires to know what I want for Christmas (which I usually don’t know). She also needs to tell me what I’ve already bought her for Christmas. 😉 While this is normally what we discuss when it comes to Christmas presents, she wanted to get my thoughts on what Jesus wanted for Christmas.

I’ve thought about this before but not during this season. It struck me that I had not thought about it this year. Has my life become so cluttered / busy / distracted that I’m forgetting what Christians should be focusing on in this season? Just because I am busy, that does not mean that I should lose the focus of Christ at the centre of all of life.

During our last Prayer Summit, I felt led to share a passage of Scripture from Philippians, part of which is: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Phil 2:14-15, ESV) This reminded me of how many people, Christians included, are during this busy season of shopping, and baking, and schoolwork due, and exams and, and, and. Yes, it can be busy, but where is the “peace and goodwill towards mankind?” (Luke 2:14)

I chose the cover art for this month’s bulletin: “Uncluttered.” I appreciate people who assist in the church and share the load. There are too many to name and I don’t want anyone to feel devalued by having some listed and others not. There are so many people involved in ministries that may seem more or less obvious but are no different in importance. Things don’t simply happen on their own but people desire to give Jesus a gift—the gift of returning to Him the love, devotion and service He has given to us.

So, what gift are you giving to Jesus this Christmas? It’s not about money or skills or talents or time or effort. Unclutter yourself from all the things and get back to the heart of the matter. Give Jesus your love and your life. When we have that back in focus, all the other things can be sorted properly and we can actually enjoy Christmas, in this season and year-round.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Pastor Merril


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Magic Dragons – Oct 2018

As I was musing about the upcoming legalization of marijuana for recreational use, my mind drifted to a song that was thought for some time to be linked to it: “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” The co-authors of the song say that it is not about smoking pot but rather a simple children’s fantasy song … and I have no reason to doubt them. According to Wikipedia, as early as 1964 people were making connections between the song and cannabis use. It seemed like a place for a mental springboard for my musing this month (though, again, it was not the intent of the authors of the song).

Puff – it seems we are always looking for an easy answer. It seems more and more people don’t want to bother worrying about or trying to address issues that can be solved with a pill or a puff. The use of drugs and alcohol to combat stress and emotional difficulty has been on the rise in North America. While there are clinical reasons to correct chemical imbalances, people may instead choose numbing and covering their struggles rather than dealing with the anger, strife, fear, etc. As life gets difficult, people can turn to numbing substances to escape reality (one report noted that “one-in-five men in the Russian Federation die due to alcohol-related causes, compared with 6.2 percent of all men globally”).

Magic – it seems to promise more than it delivers. Ok, I am not one of those who don’t believe in going to the doctor or in not using medication (sorry for the double-negative). The Apostle Paul even tells Timothy to drink some wine for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). What I mean by “magic” is similar to “puff” in that people can look to pot (or other substances) to somehow be the silver bullet that slays all your problems. The concept of magic is of a supernatural force in action outside of God and this is what I believe many who will smoke marijuana outside of clearly limited medicinal versions (with very little to no THC) engage in to some degree.

Dragon – it seems harmless in the eyes of many but that cute dragon can bite your head off. On a purely anecdotal level, I have smelt more pot being smoked in the last few months than at any time before in my life. Many claim that it doesn’t dull the senses or pose any health risk but even the Canadian government still posts documents about the risks. If there was no impairment, then there would be no need for regulations concerning driving under its influence. Then there is the concern of it being a gateway drug to other substance abuse and the ramifications of that. We are supposed to remain sober-minded lest the dragon get us (1 Pet. 5:8; cf. Rev. 12:9).

The government and people of Canada do not dictate the morality of Christ’s Church. Just because something is legalized does not mean that it is good or appropriate for Christians. If Canada legalized prostitution, the church would not therefore say it was ok to engage in (especially since it’s prohibited in the Bible). The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC, with whom our church is affiliated) stance concerning mood altering drugs and alcohol is to abstain except in the case of medical prescription. Medical prescription in this way is for helping the person to think rightly. Paul wrote that he would not let anything control him (1 Cor. 6:12) and that leaders especially must avoid being addicted to or affected by a mood altering substance (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7). While we recognize that church attendees and members may be working towards abstinence from alcohol, cigarettes, or other legal but addictive substances, we will be calling our church leaders to a higher standard. We most certainly caution against the recreational use of marijuana and warn against puffing the magic dragon.

Journeying with you,

Pastor Merril

 


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It’s Still Good News – Sept 2018

I came across a quote that is supposed to have been made by a nineteenth century evangelist named Rodney Smith: “There are five Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian, but most people never read the first four.” This is a call to us to not only read the Bible but also to be read by others. Paul put it this way: “Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This ‘letter’ is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.” (2 Cor. 3:3, NLT) Paul agrees and disagrees with Rodney, as do I.

There is only one gospel, not five. All four of the writings we call the Gospels are a specific type of biographical narrative that has been typed as a gospel. However, each one is titled “The Gospel According to ________.” What this is saying is that the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ is one truth told by four witnesses in our Gospels. Paul is also saying that we are to be the witnesses to the truth of the gospel by how it has affected our lives. Paul even says that there is only one true gospel that should be told. (Gal. 1:6-9)

The truth of God’s grace and its powerful impact upon our lives is something we should always be allowing others to read. The truth of the gospel of God’s grace intersects with our imperfections too. We are not presenting a gospel that cannot reach others but one that truly is good news that can connect with every life, as exemplified in our own.

So, what would you say is the gospel according to you? Is it still good news? Gospel means “good news.” I believe it still is. Let’s get better at both believing it and sharing it.

Journeying with you,

Pastor Merril


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There Was Once a Dream – August 2018

You may be familiar with the movie quote that I allude to in my title. It comes from “Gladiator” where the Caesar tells his general, “There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it – anything more than a whisper and it would vanish.” As I was asking God about what to write this month, this came to mind.

There was once a dream that was Freedom Centre. Such a statement can be provocative – eliciting a strong emotional response. Whether you have been at Freedom Centre for long or not, we all become part of something bigger than ourselves with a sense of destiny or direction. We face this in our own lives as we graduate from grade school with a vision or promise of some sort of achievement in life. We all have a dream.

Then when the circumstance of life intersects with that dream, we can become discouraged and disillusioned. The second word, disillusioned, is probably a most accurate way of describing it and yet to say so is to also risk losing the dream. The difficulty we face is that we often interpret and extrapolate the dream instead of investigating and exploring the dream. The dream God puts in our hearts often does not come out how we envision it.

A good example is to consider the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning Jesus. If Jesus had looked and lived as many expected, they would have received Him as their Messiah. We can look back and see how Jesus fulfilled prophecies concerning His being rejected and needing to die for our sins. However, how easily would we have seen it if we were with His disciples at that time. Jesus even told them that He had to die and rise again but they still missed itAlso, consider how visions and prophecies can seem to be speaking of something that happens in an instant or over a short period of time and yet the realization of them can take time and process.

I believe there still is a dream in the heart of God for Freedom Centre. I believe there is a dream for your life in Christ. It is not a thing of the past but of the present and future. We may have missed seeing the process that brings a completeness to the dream, but it is still at work. We may not see the valleys between the mountain tops but they are part of the journey. I want to encourage you to press forward in God for the promises of God are “yes” and “amen.” (2 Cor. 1:20)

Journeying with you,

Pastor Merril


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If You Build It – July 2018

Some of you may remember a movie staring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. It’s a summer movie about baseball. Costner is an Iowa corn farmer who is close to losing his farm due to foreclosure by the bank but hears a voice saying, “If you build it, he will come.” Maybe you saw “Field of Dreams” (even if it has lots wrong about it concerning life, death and the afterlife) and it made you think about that one line concerning building something.

The church is something that isn’t just created in an instant by the grace and power of God – the church is something that is built. The apostle Paul wrote: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” (1 Cor. 3:10, ESV) Peter wrote: “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” (1 Pet. 2:5, NLT) Paul also wrote about us as stones in a building: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph. 2:19-22, NIV)

Jesus said that worship would shift from a physical place to a spiritual place. (John 4:19-24) However, Jesus did not say that there would be no building involved. In fact, He said: “I will build my church.” (Mat. 16:18, ESV) Paul writes several times in 1 Corinthians 14 about building up the church and concludes this section by saying, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Cor. 14:26, NIV)

We must work together to see God’s church built. There can also be physical realities that reflect spiritual ones. So, I have been greatly encouraged by the engagement of people in seeing our physical facility renewed and renovated. I believe this reflects a heart for the same spiritually. Let’s build a place that Jesus and others are pleased to come to.

Journeying with you,

Pastor Merril


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Legacy – June 2018

Legacy is a term that never really came onto my radar until I was in my forties. Most people don’t think long-term these days – nothing seems to last that long. Even when we do think about it in our youth, we don’t feel the need to act upon the impulse. (E.g. most younger people don’t put money away for retirement.) The thought of legacy isn’t even so much about retirement as it is about what remains after you move on.

Even the early church did not consider legacy until the apostles started dying and getting older. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples just stood there waiting for him to come back (Acts 1:9-11). As the church grew numerically and geographically, they were focussed on Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. The gospel spread by word of mouth using the Old Testament Scriptures. However, they still operated with a sense that the Lord’s return was “at hand” (Phil. 4:5; Jas. 5:8; 1 Pet. 4:7). Having a larger geographic area to connect with, the apostles started writing letters to keep the church on track (cf. Acts 15:22-23). It was as apostles like James died (Acts 12:2) and apostles like Paul were getting older and possibly going to be martyred (Phil. 1:19-26).

And so, with Paul firmly believing that he will probably die in prison, he writes to Timothy, “the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these things to faithful people who will be competent to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:2, LEB) Paul is concerned that the legacy of the gospel continues beyond himself and Timothy. There is a greater sense of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) now going beyond a single generation and extending through generations – making disciples who obey Jesus’ teachings.

Legacy is in my heart and in the heart of the elders of Freedom Centre. There is both a legacy in the church of expecting that Christ’s return is at hand (any day, any hour) but also of seeing the church go on into following generations. We desire all generations to grow in their love and knowledge of our God and Saviour. The survival of natural and spiritual species requires babies be born who grow into healthy, mature adults who can then have babies of their own that live beyond them.

Journeying with you for the glory of God,

Pastor Merril


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What has God been telling you? – May 2018

Any time I’m asked this question, I can tense up for a moment. It’s not that God hasn’t been speaking to me – Jesus said that His sheep will hear His voice (John 10:4). Jesus also said that He would send the Holy Spirit to teach us (John 14:26). This question causes a tension within me because it requires me to respond to it in two ways; not just one. The first aspect of the question that I must respond to is whether I have heard God speak. Hearing is the ability to perceive sound: thus, we speak of people as being hearing-impaired if they cannot hear sounds. For most people who do not have significant hearing loss, we hear many, many sounds constantly. That brings up the second aspect of the question which is whether I have been listening to God. While the Internet isn’t necessarily the best place for information, a quick search of “hearing vs listening” can show the difference that notes listening is about consciousness and understanding of what we are hearing.

For instance, I’m typing this at my home right now with the windows open. Current sounds include the wind, birds, a dishwasher running, a TV show playing and clicking from me typing on my laptop. While concentrating on what I am typing, most of those sounds are usually ignored and filtered from my consciousness. There could also be traffic sounds, breathing sounds and other sounds that I am just not perceiving right now. Amidst all the noise of life, where does God fit within the scope of our hearing and listening. Do we hear God speak while we pray, while we read Scripture, while we dream, through visions, through life circumstances, etc.? Then, are we listening – going beyond awareness to understanding.

Listening to God’s voice then raises a secondary question – am I responding to His voice? Jesus said that we must be willing to do God’s will if we want to discern His voice from the others we hear (John 7:17). Jesus also said that we should be careful to not call Him Lord if we not going to do what He tells us (Luke 6:46). Being His sheep, being His people, being His disciples … this comes with a responsibility. We need to work on hearing His voice but then we must work on obeying His voice. While this may seem to be a personal matter, recognizing the voice of God and responding to it is something we are supposed to do together. Together we are supposed to discern and discover the love of God (Ephesians 3:14-19). Together we are supposed to interpret Scripture and prophecy (2 Peter 1:20). Even the leaders of the early church knew that they had to function in community (Acts 15). I’ve seen people wander away from a solid, biblical faith when interpreting God’s voice in Scripture and as they believe they have heard in other ways because they abandoned this truth and went on their own.

Let’s journey together in the great adventure of living for God.

Pastor Merril


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