On Thanksgiving Sunday we spent some time in Habakkuk, a small book in the Old Testament. Habakkuk was a prophet who was called by God to give a message to the people that judgement was coming because they had been so disobedient and spiritually dysfunctional. Frankly, Habakkuk is ticked with God that He won’t do anything about it, and that the people are getting away with their sinfulness. He writes,
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Hab 1:1-4)
Israel was in spiritual ruins, and God tells Habakkuk that he is going to use the Babylonians to judge Israel’s sinfulness (1:6). Habakkuk does not see this as a good thing and complains again, basically asking God, "Aren’t you able to do this some other way?".
God uses this moment to instruct Habakkuk about who He is, what He is doing, and how He is going to go about doing it. He also takes the time to remind Habakkuk about our proper response to God during times when we don’t completely understand what God is doing or why He is doing it. God reminds Habakkuk that “the righteous will live by faith”. There is a quiet confidence that the child of God can know that when we don’t completely understand our challenges, that we can trust Him.
Through a series of conversations between God and Habakkuk, Habakkuk finally comes to grips with what is happening. He understands that even though he and the people might suffer under the Babylonians, that God is still God and is sovereign and will be with them through it all.
Often the greatest tests of our fragile spirituality happens when we are faced with impeding suffering, pain and abuse. I am not talking about some fake, mask wearing, smile faking spirituality that tell everyone that “I’m ok”. What I am saying, and I think Habakkuk is instructing us, is that even when life is tough, God is there, doing something that requires faith and trust in Him.
The climax of the book comes when Habakkuk announces his reconfirmed faith and trust in God, and the song he sings is captured in chapter 3. For our time on Sunday we focused on three truths about cultivating a heart of thankfulness, even when we don’t feel like it or understand what God is doing. They flow out of the verses found in Habakkuk 3:17-19:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk realizes because of who God is, that he can...
- Thank God regardless of the challenges (17)
- Thank God for his salvation in the challenges (18)
- Thank God for God’s strength through the challenges (19)
So what was the take away for Thanksgiving Sunday?
Despite our challenges, what are we thanking God for? He has given us His Spirit to be present with us through our challenges, and that He ultimately gave us His Son, Jesus Christ. That through faith in His work on the cross we can find hope for this life and the one to come. Even while we wait and trust through the challenges we face, God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness.
I hope this is your experience with God. If you have any questions about this or about following Jesus in the challenges of life, I'd love to talk with you. Send me an email or set up a time to talk on a Monday night.
Pastor Aaron Groat
I'm a big story kind of person. Not necessarily the small details, but the overall larger story.
One of the things you often hear when working in youth ministry, is the question “Where does God fit in to my life?” … or perhaps “Where does God fit in to my story?”. Well, this fall our Students are working through a lesson series from Compassion Canada that tries to shift that focus. Shift it away from ourselves, and instead on to how we get involved in God's story. But do you ask that question of yourself? Where does God fit in to your life, your story?
In my early days as a believer, I had a very me-centred focus on God and what it was to be a Christian. I thought it was all about what I had to gain, about how God fit in to my overall story arc. And as I mentioned, I'm a big story kind of guy, I like to look at how the thing unfolds. So, in my late teens, God was just becoming the supporting character in MY story arc. But it wasn't until a few helpful and loving people stepped in, to show me the error in that logic, that I began to see that I was, in fact, NOT the main character.
I think too often we view God in that lens, from our perspective, from our story line. We're the main characters in the story of our lives. Everyone else is a secondary or supporting character. But is that really how it is? When you read the Bible, who's the main character? Is it the people interacting with God? or is God the main character, and all the people in the Bible are the supporting cast? I'd argue that it's the latter, that we are the supporting characters in the far greater story of God. We are the characters who are part of the cast, some of us have speaking roles, some of us nod, shake our heads, or otherwise react to what's happening in the scene in front of us. We each have a role to play in this story of life, but ultimately this is a story of God. Of His almighty sovereignty, His everlasting grace, His big beautiful plan for redemption. And because of that, we don't need to ask where God fits in to our story, but rather where we fit in to God's story.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Secondary characters don't pull stunts like this. This is the work of one really big main character whose story is bigger and better than anything this world could come up with. And I'd like to know more about how I can get involved in His story.
Mike Sanders, Youth Director
I love to go on long walks and hikes. Everyday I walk my dog in the park by my home I always pass a tree. It’s just an old tree, and I’m not even sure of what type it is, but every time I go by, I am reminded of my children and when they were little. Each of them climbed this tree on our visits to the playground, and somehow they all carefully navigated their way to the main branch.
That tree seemed so much bigger back then. Now when I pass by, I recall those moments and how quickly life goes by.
Have you noticed that the tree is a very symbolic image in Scripture? Many varieties are mentioned including the olive, palm, oak, willow, pine, fig, and poplar – just to name a few. There are many themes that come from this imagery as well. We often talk abut being rooted in our beliefs and values, and bearing fruit from our faith.
We have such a small window of time to build into our children, to guide them and to be examples.
I love that our church has a Sunday school program where our children can gather, grow and learn. Our children’s ministry is rooted in God’s Word and we teach from Bible-centred curriculum. May we be reminded that the roots are what give a tree its strength, and nutrients!
Tanya Chant, Director of Family & Children's Ministry
“Let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” Psalm 96:12
“He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:8
Is there any better feeling than being the best at something?
It doesn't even matter if it's something seemingly insignificant. Somehow, there's still satisfaction in knowing that if your talent somehow became an Olympic sport, you'd win the gold.
You may not know it, but I was pretty athletic as a kid. Track and Field was one of my favourite days of the year. Triple jump, high jump, 100 metre dash, I loved it all.
I remember one year in particular, when I was in grade 7. My whole class was out at the track, cheering each other on as groups of us ran the 400-metre race. I remember being so nervous, my heart beating so fast, as my group lined up and we were told to “Get ready... get set.... GO!” And I went! Sprinting around the track with all my might. The race was two times around the oval track and after the first lap I was in the lead. Classmates cheered all of us on as we started our second and final lap.
About halfway through the second lap, my classmates cheers became more intense, shouting my name and urging me to go faster. I pushed myself even harder, and by the time I crossed the finish line my legs felt like jelly.
My time was noted, confirmed, and my teacher announced that I had broken the school record for the girl's 400-metre run.
It was official. I was the best.
At the 400-metre race, at least, and even then, my record was broken the very next day when the 8th grade girls ran the race.
But for that one day, for 12-year-old me, life was good.
It's so easy to understand why people chase that feeling. It's also easy to understand why so many people are left frustrated and disappointed when their best doesn't measure up to those around them.
I have been serving as the Worship Director at this church for just over a year now. And I am thankful every day that Jesus accepts my best, even when it is far from the best. Every Sunday morning, as the nerves start to kick in, I pray a prayer that reminds me that what I offer to God – on a Sunday morning or otherwise – only has value because of the heart I offer it in. I want my worship to come from a heart that desires to bring glory always and only to our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
A month ago, I sent this article to our worship team about the attitudes of worship. I encourage you to read it. And as we come together on Sunday morning, let us come with honesty and humility, bringing our whole heart to Him as we worship.
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
But the Lord said to Samuel, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
- 1 Samuel 16:7
When I was in High School I attended a church that believed that when you were too old to attend Sunday School, you were just the right age to begin teaching Sunday School. By the time I hit grade 10, I was teaching a boisterous class of grade 4 boys in a big gymnasium crisscrossed with room dividers.
Words can’t describe the noise level. Each week I came, woefully unprepared, to teach Bible stories to those boys and hoped I was making some sort of a difference.
Recently I read Psalm 78 and reflected on those early days of teaching Bible stories in a gymnasium in Kitchener. You have to understand that Psalm 78 was written by Asaph; he had been appointed to pass on the stories of the marvellous deeds of God Almighty so that future generations would know and worship the Lord. But here’s the thing you'll notice when you read that Psalm: Asaph didn’t just tell the historical stories; he taught lessons about the goodness of God in the face of Israel’s repeated disobedience.
Stories and lessons? C’mon, what’s the difference?
Well, the facts of what happened in Israel’s past is the story, but why and how God responded is the lesson. The physical and spiritual acts performed by God to rescue his people is a story, but the impact of how we worship and serve a faithful God is the lesson.
Psalm 78:6-8 tells us that God established a testimony and law which we are commanded to teach to our children so that they in turn tell their children, so they will set their hope in God and not forget His works. Check it out:
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
And I think this goes beyond the value of just teaching stories to our own children – this is transferrable to the relationships we have with those who are spiritually younger as well. By knowing the law and testimony of God (the stories and the lessons), future generations will not harden their heart toward the Lord.
I confess that many times I have told the stories of God without teaching the lessons. Telling the story is easy, but teaching the lesson is hard because it means getting personal. It means examining my heart to ensure that God is doing a work there before I teach others about God wanting to do a work in their heart. It means being humble and teachable and vulnerable. It means ensuring that my testimony begins with God’s testimony. It means knowing with certainty that God is the hero of my story (both the parts in the past and the parts yet unwritten) before I try to teach anyone else that God also wants to be the hero of their story. I taught Bible stories for years before I realized that if the people don’t see how the lesson impacts me, they’ll never see how it can impact them.
You might be a Sunday School teacher or helper, or maybe you are influencing future believers in your family, workplace or your community. As you communicate God’s Word, remember that it is the lessons that draw people to set their hope in Christ.
I’d love to hear from you about the lessons God is teaching you. Let’s grab a coffee (or three!) and encourage each other with the marvellous works of the Lord.
Candi Thorpe, Director of Administration, Communication and Frontline Ministries
As September comes with the renewed energy from some rest over the summer, we embark on a new ministry year that promises to move us as a church toward greater spiritual maturity – measured by a deepening love for God, love for His people and serving our community. I hope you are anticipating and praying for God to do something very special among us as a church this year.
September is also a time for me as your pastor to point us towards Jesus and His church in a very intentional way. For 4-6 weeks, I address a topic of the local church and our call to mission. Themes have varied from year to year but I believe it’s important to focus in to what God would have our church be for the coming year. This September I want us to zoom in on what it means to be a worshipping church.
Worship is something that we often take for granted in the local church. We make statements like “the worship was really good there” or “I didn’t like the worship” without really thinking through the implications of such a subjective comment. Worship is much more than “really good” or “not likeable” if we have a firm understanding of what worship is. Worship is hard to define but put simply, “is the priority we place on who God is in our lives and where God is on our list of priorities.” (Delesslyn A. Kennebrew).
So, beginning this Sunday, I will be preaching for sermons in a series entitled, “The Worshipping Church”. Each week we will unpack a various aspect of worship and its implications for the local church as we make it a priority. It is my prayer that these messages will challenge us to reconfirm what we believe about worship and how what we do on a Sunday morning collectively is so important.
What I want to challenge you with this as we lead into Sunday is summed up in one word, “Preparation”. What is critical to these messages is how we prepare for them in advance. Have you ever thought that the week leading up to Sunday is preparing us for what happens when we gather to worship as a church? I came across this quote from Jerry Bridges and it cuts to heart of what it means to be true worshippers of God who prepare.
“The vitality and genuineness of corporate worship is to a large degree dependent upon the vitality of our individual private worship. If we aren’t spending time daily worshiping God, we’re not apt to contribute to the corporate experience of worship. If we aren’t worshiping God during the week, how can we expect to genuinely participate in it on Sunday morning? We may indeed go through the motions and think we have worshiped, but how can we honour and adore One on Sunday whom we have not taken time to praise and give thanks to during the week?
"I Exalt You, O God: Encountering His Greatness in Your Private Worship”, Jerry Bridges
Let me encourage you spend some time preparing for Sunday through Scripture reading, prayer, silence, service, whatever it takes to make sure that when we come together on Sunday we are ready to participate together and focus on our great God! I hope you will come with an expectant heart – ready to celebrate what God is doing and what He will continue to do.
See you the, by God’s grace,
You are dearly loved,
This Sunday is “Name-tag Sunday” and I am so excited! And not just because I am terrible at remembering people's names (although I often am), but because most of my introductions go like this:
Me: Hi there! My name's Jolene.
Invariably a sweet older lady: Oh, Julie! What a pretty name!
Me: Oh, no, sorry, I'm JOLENE.
Older lady: Angeline! How nice!
Me: You know what? Just call me Jo. So nice to meet you!
Those interactions can be awkward and difficult, but there is value in being known, and being known rightly.
I could have let that little old lady call me Angeline, but that's not who I am.
It's interesting, though, that I would put so much time and effort into making sure people pronounce my name correctly, but when it comes to who I really am, I allow myself to get it wrong all the time.
All too often, I let Satan convince me that my identity is based on personal effort and accomplishments, and because of that, I am never satisfied with who I am.
I am constantly striving.
Constantly trying to make more of myself.
Constantly trying to prove my worth.
Constantly trying to hide my flaws.
There's a song I've really grown to appreciate called “Who You Say I Am”, and what I love about it is that it brings me back to the truth - that my identity is not based on what I do for Christ, but on what Christ has done for us.
Because when we strive to make more of ourselves, we are inherently making less of Jesus.
Of His power.
Of His might.
And I thank God that His power is made perfect in weakness, because often that seems to be all I have to give Him, but I am even more thankful that I am not defined by my weakness. That through His power and through His promise, who I am is wholly and completely because of who Christ is in me.
Jolene (Jo!) Sanders, Director of Worship,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- Galatians 2:20
A wise son listens when his father tells him the right way, but one who laughs at the truth does not listen when strong words are spoken to him. Proverbs 13:1
Growing up in Markham, we lived in a house that had a basement. It wasn’t a huge basement but the TV (a 13" black and white) was down there, and off in the corner, was my Dad’s desk.
It wasn’t a fancy desk but it was his. He had taken two filing cabinets and laid a large desktop across the top of those to work on. As kids, we weren’t supposed to use the desk but it was a temptation that was hard to resist. When he wasn’t looking, I would sit at his desk and pretend that I was some big-shot business guy who had important work to do. He had all the cool tools - like a stapler, a red LED calculator, along with graph paper and lots of pens and paper. Who could resist?
Many nights I can remember waking up from my sleep and wandering downstairs to see my Dad hard at work. We used to call it “work work” (as opposed to school work or church work) that he had brought home that needed to be done before the next day. I would see him sitting there, head down and extremely focused like all good Engineers would do. It was just the normal thing for us to know that Dad would do some “work-work” after we went to bed.
Later in life I asked my Dad about his “work work”. He said that in those days the pressure at work was unbelievable. The stress on him to complete all his responsibilities was enormous and there were always younger people just waiting in line to take his job. Making sure that our family was provided for was important to my Dad and so to ensure that the work got done, he brought it home. He could have stayed at work to get it done but that would have meant that he would have missed out on suppers, family time and church responsibilities and he wasn’t prepared for that to happen.
So, in our home, my dad would show up at home for supper at 6:00pm (literally on the dot, right after the 6 Million Dollar Man episode was finished). We would eat together and do family things. Once all the family stuff was done and everyone was heading to bed, my dad would regularly head downstairs to catch up on work.
I always know that Dad made our family time a priority. Sure, there times that it was harder to do that, but for the most part he modelled where his true commitments in life lay.
On this Father’s Day, I want to thank God for the lessons that He taught me through my Dad. I have sought to listen well to both my fathers - my heavenly and earthly one - so that I make sure that my family knows that I am there for them. Joleyne and I have worked hard to ensure that dinner time is a priority. We have sought to listen to the wisdom of our fathers and try to pass this on to the next generation for the glory of God.
Thanks for the lesson of your desk, Dad. You taught me more that you’ll ever know.
Aaron Groat, Senior Pastor
Have you noticed the theme in Sunday school this quarter? It’s honestly an exciting ministry to be a part of. Where else can you play Captain’s Deck, learn about dolphins, go on a Bible adventure in the desert, paint a sea creature and use glitter? That’s exactly what we did this past Sunday!
Our CB kids in grades JK–5 began a new summer series called "Finding Jesus Under the Sea" by CMD. The big idea is that we can learn to take our faith deeper. Each week our children will learn about a different sea creature and Bible story. By exploring the ocean life and all of the amazing creativity and wonder that God created, we learn more about who God is and how He cares for us.
The focus verse for summer is one of my favourites:
“Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39 NIV
It’s going to be an exciting summer under the sea!
Our CB kids have also started helping out with our Calvary Serves project. For the month of June we are working with the whole church family to bring in non-perishable food items for Food for Life. Our Sunday school kids will be collecting, counting and organizing the food for donation. Be sure to bring in your cans this Sunday and every Sunday in June – our goal is 600 items!
I have always loved desert imagery in the Old Testament; there’s something pretty amazing about God bringing beautiful new life to ground that had once been dry and barren.
In 2010 I had been going through a dry season in my spiritual life. I still loved Jesus and I knew He loved me, but I felt somewhat stuck in the ways I was growing. I was desperate for some relief from the dryness of my prayer life. I would go for walks in the evenings, asking God, “What needs to change? What are my next steps?”
One morning I opened an email from FEB Central and the first line jumped off the page. It said, “Have you ever wondered about your next steps?”
The email described Women’s Ministries Institute, a 9-month course offered by FEB Central to equip women to grow deeper in their spiritual journey for effective leadership. I prayed about it and decided to join the class, graduating in June 2011. A few years later, Sarah Bean also joined, graduating as the Valedictorian of her class (Yay Sarah - great job!).
If you are a woman and are feeling like you are going through a place of spiritual drought, you are not alone. I know that there are days where you just go through the motions, and there are other days that you don't even bother trying to do that.
Sisters (and brothers!), we are promised in Isaiah 41 that when we are feeling dry and parched, God will not forsake us. He will pour out rivers, filling our valleys with life-giving water. He brings new growth to those places in our spiritual lives that have felt barren and dead.
If you'd like more information about WMI, you can talk to Sarah Bean or myself, and visit their website here: www.womensministriesinstitute.com. Maybe WMI isn't for you at this time, but please don't stop asking God, "What are my next steps?" Because God will always remind you that your next steps are the ones that draw you closer to Him.
This past Sunday we talked in our service about Pregnancy Support Services of Hamilton. PSSH is a Christ-centred ministry which promotes life-affirming pregnancy options. They offer education, support and assistance to women and their partners as they face important decisions about pregnancy and sexual integrity. With PSSH clients receive pregnancy options counselling, post-abortion support, mentoring for both men and women, and Sexual Health and Relationship Education, plus there's an on-site baby boutique for infant wear and maternity clothes.
PSSH saw 250 new clients in 2017. Their services are free of charge, and they rely solely on donations to run their programming. One of the trends that they have observed is an increasing number of people who call from the Burlington and Oakville area who don't want or aren't able to travel into Hamilton. With this in mind, it has been on their hearts to expand their program into Burlington and Oakville to provide assistance to men and women in this area.
Formula 4 Hope is an opportunity for Calvary to partner with PSSH to help them raise money for their current clientele, and for their future site in Burlington/Oakville. We're asking each family to take a baby bottle home and to fill it with money. You can do this daily by filling it with whatever spare change you have in your pocket or purse at the end of each day, or you can do a one-time donation with paper money and/or cheques. Continue collecting until June, then return your filled baby bottles on Father's Day.
It's our tradition on Mother's Day and Father's Day, in lieu of giving small gifts to the men and women in the church, to donate those funds to an organization that is on the ground working with people in crisis. This year, in addition to the Formula 4 Hope baby bottles, Calvary is donating to PSSH on behalf of each man and woman who attends the church. In this way we can have the cumulative effect of seeing many small amounts add up to one big donation.
Please be generous; PSSH does so much great work in our area and it would be wonderful to see them continue to expand to meet the growing needs of our busy city. If you have any questions, please contact us, or visit PSSH online at www.preghamilton.ca
It took me a while to decide what to write about this week. I wanted to write something beautiful and inspiring, but instead I’m going to write about discipline.
I even gave a few tries at writing a lovely little Mother’s Day blog, but no… we’re going to talk about discipline.
Before we go any further, take a moment to read through Hebrews 12.
To many of you it’s a familiar passage. It encourages us to run the race set before us. When I was younger, I always thought that was a great analogy, because it seemed so exciting! I pictured the 100-meter dash at the Olympics; adrenaline pumping, crowds cheering, putting everything on the line.
But the reality is that our race is more like a really, really, really long marathon.
You’re probably going to feel like walking for part of it. Or you might get a cramp partway through and wonder if you’ll make it to the finish line at all.
You will get tired.
But the author of Hebrews writes, “It is for discipline that you have to endure…. For the moment, all discipline feels painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Emphasis added)
As a parent, I know how difficult it can be to discipline a child. But I also know that not to discipline my son would be a disservice. Because I don’t just care about who he is now, I care about his whole life. It can be painful and frustrating, but we discipline our children because we love them.
And how much more does our Father in Heaven love us. So much so that he takes the time – despite our resistance, despite our stubbornness – to shape and mold us into who we are meant to be.
So press on - even when you feel exhausted, even when you’re overwhelmed – press on to the finish line.
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
“I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
“For He disciplines for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10)
Each week we post about a range of things from the Christian life, faith and more.
In these posts we hope you'll catch a glimpse of ordinary people who serve an extraordinary God.