About thinkingoutsidethetextbox

I've been pastoring in a small town since 1996. I thought I'd share some of my experiences and things I've learned or am learning along the way. Presently I'm pastoring Bow River Alliance Church in Carseland, Alberta, Canada. This is a church with an average attendance of about 65 in a town of 650.

We need to love the Lonely

I was flipping through the local newspaper when this small article popped out. A Cuddling business is expanding from Vancouver to Edmonton. The article goes on to explain that people pay a “professional cuddler” anywhere from the basic $35 up to $260 depending what all is involved. They clearly state that there is no nudity or sex involved. But you can have someone to cuddle with, to hug, to cuddle and watch a move, someone to stroke your hair and so on.

At fist I was appalled and even a little disgusted – first that people would actually advertise themselves as providing such a business and then secondly, that there would actually be people who would pay for such a service. But then I realized that this is telling something about society that we already knew. People are lonely.

As families move around the countryside for new work opportunities or new experiences, families are not as tight as they used to be. Fewer people have good friends to hang out with. People fill their days with work and “busy” things but have little time to connect in meaningful ways with other people in natural physical contact.

And then I began to wonder if the church is really missing an opportunity here. I’m not suggesting that we offer “cuddling” as a new service to our members, but I do think we need to be more creative in finding ways to show people that they can find good friends in church. Maybe we need to do a better job helping our members to be good friends.

The Bible says this a number of times: “Love one another”. I think these people are longing for true friends who will just love them for who they are. And so they hire someone whom they can pretend is their friend. It’s a sad commentary on the independence and separate-ness of our culture. Could we maybe do a better job loving people and introducing them to the God who is Love?

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Christmas Eve Service – a free resource

It’s hard to find ways to keep Christmas fresh and exciting when you have the same story and the same carols every year. At the same time, people like some of the tradition and familiarity, so I don’t think we need to always try to do something different.

But I know I always like to find new resources to see if there is something different or creative I can add in. So with that in mind, I’m going to share with you my Christmas Eve service. Feel free to use any of it that might be helpful for you next year. Just think, you could already have next year’s Christmas Eve service all figured out.

Here it is, exactly as we presented it:ChristmasEve3_Logo

CHRISTMAS EVE 2014

Brass Trio – 2 songs?

Video: Worthless Christmas

Welcome – introduction?

Welcome to our Christmas Eve service. Thank you for recognizing that Christmas without Christ is actually meaningless. And so you have come tonight to remember and celebrate the Christ of Christmas with others.

We are celebrating the coming of God to earth. In Matthew 1: 23 we read: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us”.

This was something that was promised long before it happened. It was prophesied in a number of different places in the Old Testament. One prophet who spoke about the coming of this special child was Isaiah.

Listen as I read from Isaiah 9: 2-7. This was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. (read)

Let’s sing together…

Carol:         –Come thou Long Expected Jesus (v. 1,2)

John 3:16

Probably one of the most familiar verses of the Bible is John 3: 16.

Here it is. (on screen)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God – This verse begins with God. The Bible is very clear – there is a God. This God was the Creator of the world. And he created the whole world in order to have a place for people who he could be in relationship with.

The World –Then we are told that God loved “the World”.

This is not referring to the earth, but to the people who live on earth. God loves people. They are created by him because he wanted a relationship with them.

But very shortly after the description of creation we get the description of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, disobeying God.

Genesis 3 describes how God kicked them out of the Garden of Eden because their relationship with God was now broken. Before this, God would come and spend time with Adam and Even in the Garden. Now that was over.

But do you know why they were kicked out of the Garden?

We might assume it was because God was mad at them, but that’s not the reason given in the Bible. It wasn’t because God is a mean God. In fact it was because he loves us. He kicked mankind out of the garden because they had sinned – they had disobeyed. And now we follow in that same pattern, we sin. We disobey God and what he has taught in the Bible.

Loved – John 3: 16 tells us God “loved” the world. He loved the people. He loves us! God doesn’t delight in making life difficult for people. God doesn’t delight in the fact that many people are separated from a friendship with him.

But God removed them from the garden for their own Good. For our good!

Here’s Genesis 3: 22. (pp)

Genesis 3:22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Because God loved them, loves us, he removed mankind from the garden of Eden before they had an opportunity to eat from the tree of life that would enable them to live forever. Because then they would live forever in their sin. If God had not removed Adam and Eve from the garden, we would be separated from God forever.

Look at the rest of John 3: 16. (pp)

He gave his one and only Son – God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus – that is what we are celebrating. The birth of Jesus Christ.

But why did God do this? What did sending his Son accomplish?

That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God loved mankind enough to remove them from the Garden of Eden after they sinned so that they wouldn’t eat from the tree of life and live in their sin forever.

Now, centuries later, Jesus finally comes, and he takes our penalty of death by dying on the cross for our sin. As we then “BELIEVE” in him he offers us eternal life. Jesus forgives our sins and makes us right with God – so now when we are offered eternal life it is eternal life in relationship with God. We don’t need to live eternally in our sin separated from God and heaven.

God loved us enough to make sure we did not need to continue in sin forever separated from God.

Listen to the next two verses: John 3: 17-18. (read)(pp)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Christmas is the birth of the one who would set things right so that we could come into a relationship with God, through faith in this one – Jesus, and then have eternal life.

My prayer is that each one here tonight would put their faith in Jesus so that you would leave her tonight with a confidence that you have received his forgiveness and the eternal life he offers to all who believe.

This was the one who was prophesied about in the Old Testament. The people of God knew that a Messiah, a Christ, was to come.

And so tonight we celebrate. Let’s sing Joy to the World.

Carol:         –Joy to the World  (1,2,3,4)

Scripture:    Matthew 1: 18-25 (Angel to Joseph)

Luke 1: 26-38 (Angel to Mary)

Carol:         Hark the Herald Angels Sing  (1,2,3)

Scripture:    Luke 2: 1-7 (Jesus’ Birth)

MANGER:

The reading we just had told us that Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Bethlehem was full of travelers as they had to come to their home towns to register for the census that Caesar Augustus had called for. It was so full that there was no bed available for Mary and Joseph, even though she was pregnant.

Because of the manger, some have assumed that they were in a stable, but there is no mention of a stable. Quite likely they were in a place that was used by travelers as a place to leave their horses or donkeys, or whatever they were travelling on. And so these animals would have needed to be fed, so a manger would have been used.

Jesus, the Son of God, was then placed in one of these feeding troughs.

Can you imagine, the Son of God, left the glory of heaven to confine himself in the body of a human baby. And then he was placed in a manger, not even in a bed or a cradle.

God came to earth in the most humble of ways.

Let’s sing together… Away in a Manger.

Carol:         –Away in a Manger        (1,2,3)

O Little Town of Bethlehem    (1,2,3,5)

Scripture:    Luke 2: 8-20 (Shepherds and Angels)

SWADDLING CLOTHES:

The shepherds found Jesus in a Manger. Wrapped in swaddling clothes. What is the significance of this?

It doesn’t tell us why Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes so people have made all kinds of assumptions.

I think the reason the swaddling clothes or the cloths he was wrapped in is mentioned is because that is what a newborn was usually wrapped in. This was to make clear to the shepherds that they were looking for a newborn. They were not looking for a toddler but for a child who had just been born that night.

Video: What Child is this- Song video

Carol:         -It Came Upon  A Midnight Clear     (1,4)

O Come all Ye Faithful (1,2,3)

Video: A Christmas Response

RESPONSE:

Tonight we have heard a number of scriptures read. We have sung a number of songs about that first Christmas. As the video invited you, “what is your response?”

Will you just go home and check Christmas Eve Service off your list? Been there, done that.

Or this a moment where you stop and acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. And not just Lord – but Your Lord??

Jesus came to forgive us our sins. All we need to do is put our faith in him and live our life in obedience to Him.

Why not put your faith in him right now!?

In a moment we are going to sing our last carol. Silent Night.

We have a fun twist to add to it.

Instead of everyone holding a candle as we sing, we are going to hand out glow sticks. We’ll sing Silent Night with the glow sticks.

So as soon as you get yours, go ahead –bend, snap, and shake them to light them up.

>>>Hand out Glow Sticks ?

Carol:         –Silent Night                             (determine which pp to use) (1,2,3)

Closing Prayer                                           

Brass Trio: We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Kids Choir Brings out the Family

One of the Christmas traditions of our church for a number of years has been our annual Christmas choir. We have a lady in our church is loves music and loves children. She announces the choir early in October. The local school even allows her to promote it through the school. Practices usually start right after Thanksgiving and go until the first weekend of December. Practices take place right after school so the children just wander over to the church as soon as they are out of class. The choir director takes time to also do a short Bible Study with the kids as part of each practice. There was one child that said he wanted to say Yes to Jesus!! A few helpers also make sure their is always a snack as well.

The Choir presentation usually takes place on the first Sunday of December. We do away with the regular service plan and schedule the presentation to take place at 10:30 Sunday morning in place of the regular service. We sing a few Carols together but then give most of the time to the choir performance. After the presentation we invite people to stay for some apple cider and Christmas cookies and other baking. This is a great way for guests to meet a few of our church family.

This past Sunday was our 2014 Carseland Kids Choir Presentation. There were 16 kids in the choir between the ages of 8-12. Two teenagers also did some readings. This year’s presentation was called “Get to the Manger”. Their were a few common carols and then a number of new Christmas songs. They did a great job.

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One thing that amazes me is who attends. I would expect that parents would come and cheer on their children, and they do. Out of the 16 choir members, only one is a regular attender in our church. So we had a number of families come who rarely attend church. But not only do the parents and siblings come. So do the grandparents. And even Aunts and Uncles come with their families! It’s a big deal to come and cheer on their child or their grandchild or their niece or nephew!

We had 119 people come out! Our regular attendance is about 50-55 people right now. We had more than double our regular Sunday attendance. It was a great way to connect with a number of community people. Now we will pray that some of them may come back.

The Importance of a Local Watering Hole – or Eatery

Small communities often struggle to provide enough meaningful services for their community. Some don’t have enough places to shop for clothes. Others don’t have a local hardware store. Some lack enough sports facilities to meet the needs of their children and youth.

SONY DSCA while back we were without a local restaurant in our town. We have a small corner store/grocery store, a gas station, a liquor store, a bar, and a place to buy some snacks, but we didn’t have a place to sit down for a meal of meet someone for coffee. We do not even have the usual hockey arena. This limits where people can gather socially in town. We do have a great community hall that has activities every couple of months, but we needed a restaurant.

It opened up again just a few months ago. People were talking about it in the community and looking forward to it with great anticipation. The first week I was in there at least three different times. I met one man for coffee. I had breakfast with a community friend. I had lunch with a member of the church who leads my care group. There was a place to meet with people in a casual friendly way. Not everyone enjoys coming to the church office for a visit, but a community restaurant isn’t threatening at all.

Rural ministry needs places where one can meet with people to build relationships. Many of my meetings take place over a meal or a cup of coffee because there is something disarming and relaxing about enjoying a meal together. So I am very grateful for the local restaurant we have.

A Rural Remembrance Day Service

Rural communities like their community gatherings and ceremonies. I reminded of this again this week as we had our community Remembrance Day Service. We had a couple of hundred people show up at our community hall on one of the coldest Remembrance Days “in the last 29 years” according to the news. People come to show their respects. One of the highlights is the wreath laying. All the children present are invited to take part in carrying up and placing the wreaths which individuals and companies and clubs have sponsored. And then the children are invited to lead in the reciting of In Flanders Fields. It’s a real community event. And I got to play my trumpet along with another trumpet and trombone as we played for a few of the hymns.10277900_10152779181402279_4259368773732011211_n

I’m also attaching my “Meditation”. It’s hard to know what to say at these services so I thought I’d let you know what I said. Feel free to use any or all of it next year if you need ideas.

“We Want Our Life to Matter”.

We all want our life to matter. We want our life to count in some way.

Maybe we wish we could be a famous inventor or build a more fuel efficient car. Maybe we want to make a difference in our community by volunteering and helping with the normal activities of our town. We want a relationship with someone, maybe a spouse, or a friend, – where they care about us and love us. We want to make a difference in our world somehow.

Young men and women dream of starting their own business or getting a Degree in Science and discovering the cure to cancer. High School grads leave home looking to make their way in life and to make a difference to someone in our world.

When a loved one dies, we grieve. We are sad. If they are older we are sad because they are gone – we miss them. If they are younger we grieve the fact that they were “taken too young – they were taken too soon.”

We understand that our life has an expiration date, but we expect and want that it should be when we get into our 90’s and older. Not when we are young.

Job 14:1-3 describes the shortness of human life.

 “How frail is humanity!
How short is life, how full of trouble!
 We blossom like a flower and then wither.
Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.

Most flowers have very short lives. The plant itself may last a little longer than the blossom, or might bloom again each year, yet the flower itself doesn’t often last very long. The Bible reminds us that our life is short.

When we come to Remembrance Day and we remember those who served and who died fighting for their country, we are reminded again of the frailty of life and how quickly it can end. And we should remember how young many of those were who gave their lives for our freedom.

Many, if not most of those who served and died in the early years would have been young. They wouldn’t have had a chance to get a University degree or start their own business. Most of those who served were single. They may have left girlfriends behind but most wouldn’t even have had a chance to start a family to pass their name onto.

Today, more and more soldiers who serve and lose their lives are family men, a little older, with children at home. So not only is that soldier gone – that family’s husband and father or wife and mother are gone.

In some ways, we might say that those who fought in the World Wars weren’t even old enough to make a difference in the world. Yet they did.

We tend to measure the success of one’s life based on how much money they made or how famous they were or if there are songs written about them. We might think the average 19 or 20 year old is just starting out on life and hasn’t really made a difference yet – but when we remember those who have died in the battlefield, we remind ourselves that it didn’t matter how young or how old they were – these men and women made a difference.

In John 15:13 Jesus says…

 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Those who have served and fought for Canada over the years have made a huge difference by giving their lives – for their families, their friends, and their country.

Jesus is talking about sacrificial love – and he knew what he was talking about as shortly after making these comments, Jesus was crucified on a cross.

He wasn’t killed for anything he had done wrong but because he was willing to pay the penalty – the death penalty – for the sin of all mankind. Those who died for their country – even in the last few weeks – stood in between the enemy and their country. They loved their country enough to give their lives.

It was a sacrifice – no doubt!

Many gave up the chance to get married or to have a family. Instead, they did what they could to stand in the way between the enemy and their loved ones back home.

Jesus Christ gave himself on the cross, standing between mankind and sin and the penalty of death that came with sin.

Jesus was willing to die so that we might enjoy life – eternal life. He was willing to die so that we could live. Those who have given their lives on the battlefield out of sacrificial love have done so so that we who are left behind can enjoy our life. They were willing to die so that we could live.

And isn’t it fitting that many of these graves of soldiers are marked with crosses. This reminds us that just as Jesus died on the cross for our life, these soldiers gave their lives for our life.

So today is a day to remember

  • -to remember young lives lost
  • -to remember sacrificial love
  • -and to remember that our continued freedom comes at the cost of other’s lives.

Today, we remember.

A Memorial Service on the Bow

Well I had another one of those unusual experiences. I had a memorial service outside, along the edge of the Bow River. A nice display had been set up on the river’s edge. There was a picture of the man who had passed away, along with a few other items. Most people stood around a few chairs where some of the family sat. On the edge of the river was Bill’s canoe, looking as if it was ready to launch. He had built a special platform for his two dogs to ride on so they sat there through much of the service, as if just waiting for him to take them down the river.DSCN0244

We had the service. It consisted of a few tributes, a lot of tears, some scriptures and prayers, and then the spreading of the ashes. Bill’s brothers grabbed the urn and walked out into the water to spread his remains. As I left, the family was still taking their time, crying together and encouraging each other. What an interesting experience!

 

We Need More Scoring Chances

I was listening to a local sports talk show the other day. They were analyzing what happened for the Calgary Flames in the last game. One commentator said, ” They didn’t have enough scoring chances.” I had been thinking about how few new believers we have had in our little church in the last couple of years, and so I immediately thought about how this fits with our desire to have our friends come to know Jesus.

We need more scoring chances! We need to find ways of setting things up for a conversation about Jesus. I don’t mean we treat people like projects or statistics. Nothing like that. But we do want people to surrender their lives to Jesus. After all, the Bible is clear that if they do not, they are headed to hell. So we want to have conversations with our friends where we introduce them to Jesus. We wan to be able to talk about the prayer Jesus recently answered. We want to talk about the peace we experience as we are in relationship with Jesus. We want to talk about how our life with Jesus gives us a purpose beyond just the endless rat race of life.

hall12So we need more scoring chances. These will come as we intentionally connect with our friends. And as we are playing Dominion with them, or as we enjoy ice cream at Dairy Queen. These opportunities to talk with them about Jesus will come as we hang out together over the years talking about our kids and our holidays, maybe even sharing holidays together! We will find times to talk about Jesus as we go through tragedy’s and joys together. Opportunities will come as we continue to pray for them and love them and care for them. Some of those opportunities might come as we invite them to events at church.

Jesus loves our friends even more than we do. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He understands when we weep over our friends. And as we pray, Jesus has promised to send his Holy Spirit. Pray that the Father would draw our friends to Himself. Pray that the Spirit would open their eyes to the truth of Jesus. As we look for more opportunities to love our friends, the time will come where we can help them come to faith in Jesus!