By Pastor Vern Kratz

I am a creature of habit. For the most part this has worked well for me. I like to park in the same stall. I like to leave my keys in the same spot. I do my work assignments in a similar order with regimented routine.

And because of these habits I can appear to be in control of my situation and very much on top of things. And when all the gears are in motion I have a happy countenance, a pleasant demeanour, and I find it easier to be friendly with people.

But my routines are like a house of cards – you take one away and the whole thing can collapse. The true test of my character doesn’t really happen until I am forced to react to a situation that is apart from my normal routine. Then my true character shows through.

How do I react when an unexpected curve ball is sent hurdling my way? Am I still able to keep a pleasant demeanour and a happy countenance? Is my interaction with people still friendly? Thankfully, most times I can say, “Yes.” But there are times I know I have a lot of room for improvement.

I didn’t realize how much of a creature of habit I was until I was displaced from my office for a few days. Much needed renovations are taking place and I am very grateful and excited about what my office will look like when the improvements are complete, but in the meantime, I have to wander and find other places to work.

At first I just walked in circles and was having a lot of trouble dealing with my temporary situation (I know, I sound like I am whining.) But eventually I found other ways to get things done. I’m sitting in the sanctuary of the church writing this blog. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’m used to sitting at my desk (does it sound like I am whining again?) And I’m going to get this writing done!

In all seriousness, sometimes things happen to us that are out of our control. Even though the situation was not of our making or of our choosing – we still have a choice as to what our reaction will be to that situation.

“A true test of character isn’t how you are on your best days, but how you act on your worst days.”

I don’t hope for bad days or for bad things to happen to me – but sometimes they do. Trouble comes to everyone at some time or another. There will be times we are knocked off our routine, or someone will pop our happiness balloon. How will we react on those days? God, give me the strength to be the same person of strong character.

This morning at the men’s breakfast gathering we look at a man from the bible named Nehemiah. An author wrote this about him:

“It’s hard to imagine your life in captivity. This was the lot of Nehemiah. His beloved nation had been conquered, his people driven to a foreign land where they lived as captives. But Nehemiah was not going to let external circumstances control his character. Instead, he resolved to live with integrity and in reverence before God, regardless of his locale.”

What a strong statement of character. Let’s not allow external circumstances control our character today.

“This too shall pass…”

I’ll be back in my office next week!

Prints in the Sands of Time

By Pastor Gary Jennings Sr.

John Maxwell is a global leadership trainer who is currently inspiring millions to reach for the top in life and to do something of significance. Every day Leadership Guru John comes into my life for a just a minute or so via a video coaching program I subscribe to on the internet. The program is called A Minute with Maxwell. In this short time span John comes alongside me and begins by saying, Today’s Word is…. And then he impacts my life with a great truth. Many of these truths are so simple and yet they are so profound.

Recently John’s one minute word was Laziness. When I knew this was the word for the day, I knew it was going to be a good lesson because I know that John does not like laziness and that it really bugs him. Sure enough it was a great lesson. He said that lazy people waste their potential instead of use their potential; that God created us for greatness, not laziness; and that laziness is a slap in the face of God who created us.

What came next will be embedded in my mind for a very long time. He mentioned that some people speak of leaving footprints in the sands of time. Then he said that some people are guilty of leaving butt prints in the sands of time. That hit a homerun with me. I weaved that line in at least two of my Sunday sermons. It was such a simple combination of words, but what a picture I received in my mind. I saw cheek prints in the sands of time. They were two little egg shaped stationary divots that did not resemble moving foot prints. These prints lead nowhere. These prints were not inspiring. These prints showed no effort or advancement. These prints meant major slowdown.

I determined that those butt prints would never be my prints. My footprints may only be size 8 ½ each, but as long as I have breath I want them to be moving ahead and going somewhere.

A young man was once moving in line to receive his diploma for graduating at the end of his year in college. The instruction he received while in line to get that diploma was keep moving. He said that was the best advice he received that day. I really believe it takes more work to leave a butt print than a footprint, because you can’t stop to take a rest.

Laziness or Legacy is our choice. After we are gone, will people find us hard to forget or easy to forget. I guess that depends upon what kind of print we left in the sand.

Book of Job Part 1

by Pastor Gary Jennings Jr.

The book of Job. What a wonderful book. I wanted to do a blog series on this book, and so I started reading and studying it again and started to remember how deep and complex this book is. Probably the most well known verse in this book is in Job 1:21b, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”. Many know this verse because we sing this verse in the worship song “Blessed be the Name of the Lord”. Its something worth thinking about for sure, but that isn’t the only thought provoking part of this book. This book deals with some very big questions like 1) why do good people suffer? 2) who is God? 3) If God is good, why is the good world he created so . . . not good at times? These are big complex questions that are all raised in the book of Job, and the book tackles these questions in such an interesting way. So I am going to do a few blog posts on some things that jump out at me as I read this book, and maybe how to deal with some of these big questions.

Before we get to any of those big questions, its probably worth doing a quick overview of the book. The book is about a man named Job who was moral, wealthy, had a big family, a successful business, and was respected by everyone. In Job 1, he is described as “the greatest man among all the people of the east”. This was the man everyone held up as the model to emulate, because he was living proof that doing the right thing always pays off. Doing the right thing always leads to prosperity, wealth, health, good family life, and respect . . . right?

In Job 1, we also read about a scene that takes place in heaven. Satan approaches God and says Job only does what is right out of self interest. Who wouldn’t be moral if it always meant a big pay out or reward? Men do not obey God because they love Him, they only obey to advance themselves. Is this true? Do we only follow God because of what he can do for us, in this life or the next? This is an important question for all of us to ask.

Lets go back to Job, he is a wealthy man who is blessed in every way, but then tragedy hits. War, thieves and natural disaster hit all at the same time and instantly his business is ruined and his children are dead (if you want to know how this happened, you can read it in chapter 1 of Job). In chapter 2, Job becomes very ill. In the following 36 chapters we read about Job and his friends trying to make sense of these events. In the final 4 chapters, God breaks his silence and speaks to Job and his friends. So I like to look at Job as having 3 parts. Part 1 – Tragedy hits (ch 1-2), Part 2 – Job and friends try to understand tragedy (ch. 3-38), Part 3 – God speaks (ch. 39-42).

In the next post, we will look at what Job’s friends have to say about tragedy. We will also talk about how we should understand God’s blessing in the Christian’s life.

Watering and Planting

by Pastor Nikki Ragush

Although this blog may sound like it will be about the excitement of spring and the beautiful flowers that blossom, I will admit quickly that I am not a gardener. I appreciate the smell, and look of beautiful flowers but have no desire to plant any myself. We live today in a society where we have been taught to appreciate instant gratification. If we need an answer to any question it is at most of our finger tips as we quickly pull out our smart phones and type in the question, or for some of us we simply ask our wonderful friend Siri. We are at a time in our culture where waiting for anything causes anxiety, frustration, anger, and grumbling. This is all to say, I would rather see the blossoming of a flower than be the one to plow the ground, plant it, water it, protect it, etc. I’m going to make the assumption that most people enjoy seeing the end product more than the actual doing of the work, sometimes the only thing that keeps us on task is the thought of the end product.

Recently, I have not been able to get away from the Lord reminding me of this passage.

1 Corinthians 3:6-9,

“6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

God continues to teach me in life how important it is to listen to what Paul is saying in this moment. Many times in life I have been involved in people’s lives through school, sports, and youth group and later wondered what happened to them. Sometimes the stories are expected and encouraging, I see someone pursuing God’s calling just as I suspected. Other times the stories are unexpected, seeing them go down a path of unfortunate hurt and hearing their cries of “Why me, God?” But there is another group that I must not forget, those unexpected stories that encourage me. Those stories where I realize that my job the entire time with them was not to watch them grow, or even to water them, with some it was to plant a seed and others it was the step before that of ploughing the ground.

Paul is giving some warning here, and I think it is important for each one of us to listen to what He says, “But only God, makes things grow.” We must be humble of the work we are doing if we see growth take that as encouragement however it is God who has grown it. If we don’t see growth, don’t be discouraged because it is still God who will grow it. If no one plows the ground then no one can plant, if no one plants the person who waters it has no job, if the seed is never watered then it will not grow. So although Paul is giving a warning to us He also is giving an encouragement, “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). Even when there is no growth, “let us not become weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9). God has called us to be co-workers in His mission, let us celebrate with one another on the victories that come in our journey, and encourage each other to pursue God’s purpose for us at each moment of our lives.

Life After Easter

By Pastor Vern Kratz

As I was cleaning up the platform after our Easter presentation I found myself saying things like, “Well, we won’t need these choir risers for another year.” And as I boxed up and labelled the music books, getting them ready for the archives (possibly never to be pulled out again), I realized that I was forgetting what Easter was really all about.

Easter, the empty cross, the empty tomb, and the risen Savior isn’t just an event that happened in the past. Yes, I truly believe it was the greatest day in all of history, but never has there ever been an event in the past that has such profound effects on our future.

The truth of Easter isn’t just something I reflect on as a past event, it is something that challenges and shapes how I live today and my decisions about tomorrow.

Easter is the story of new life and new opportunity. It is the story of new beginnings, because without the event of Easter we would be without hope.

Because of Easter we have the opportunity to have a real relationship with Almighty God right now. And to all who believe in the truth of Easter there is a home in heaven waiting for them in eternity. This hope and truth affects how I live every day – not just the days leading up to Easter.

So yes, the choir risers have been put away for another year, and the music has been archived, but the message of Easter lives on. I trust the truth of Easter continues to resonate in your heart and gives you hope and joy for your life and will continue to affect how you live throughout the entire year!

I love that Easter always comes in the spring – just as spring is a reminder to us of new life, so Easter is a reminder of new life and new beginnings.

“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:15&17

Exalt Christ

By Pastor Gary Jennings Jr.

When I read Philippians, I am struck by one word, optimism. Paul must have had a huge amount of it in order to write a book like Philippians while in jail in Rome, awaiting a trail which would determine whether he would live or die. If I were in a similar situation, what kind of letter would I write? Who knows, but Paul’s letter has a surprising amount of life and optimism and joy, given that it is written by someone in jail somewhat preparing himself to die. How does somebody in such circumstances write such a letter? Well, lets take a look at Philippians 1:18b – 20:

“I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

When Paul talks about death, he isn’t thinking about a far off event, he is talking about the outcome of his trail. And this is how he deals with it, ‘whatever the outcome of the trail is, Jesus will be exalted in my body either way”. What an attitude. Paul goes on to say that whether he is free or in chains, whether he preaches or others preach the good news, its all good. No matter what happens, God’s plan will continue.

Many of us can be crippled by our uncertainty of the future. We deal with all sorts of either/or’s. Will I get this job or that job? Will I succeed in this or will I have to take another route? Paul dealt with probably the most stressful either/or I can think of, will I live or die? Although those are important questions, Paul wants to draw our attention to something even more important, will I exalt Christ in every situation? A lot of times God’s plan depends less on events and more on our choice in the midst of events. Paul was jailed 3 times and shipwrecked 3 times. I am sure it was tempting to see these events as getting in the way of Gods plan, but Paul instead saw them as opportunities to exalt Christ.

In a few days we will be celebrating Easter, Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s a celebration of how God can take the worst events and make them fit perfectly into His plan. So no matter what you are going through, be encouraged that we can exalt Christ in any situation, and that any shipwreck in our life can be redeemed.

Thank God It’s Monday

By Pastor Vern Kratz

Whether you are a manual laborer, or a pencil pusher; an artist, or on an assembly line; the boss, or an intern; a homemaker, or have a big office downtown – we were all created to work.

That’s right. Our ultimate purpose isn’t to make enough money to find some sense of euphoria in retirement – our purpose is found in what our hands find to do right now – our jobs.

Today’s culture twists it around and we begin to think it’s all about living for the weekend, and counting down the years to retirement, but that isn’t what God intended for us. I do believe in taking time to relax, recreate, and take time to rejuvenate. But we need to find fulfillment and joy in our place of work because it is what God has created us for.

Right from the very beginning of time it is recorded in Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

If you struggle each day going to work, you have one of four choices: 1. Quit your job and stay in bed, or 2. Keep living like your living, and stay miserable, or 3. Quit your job and find a new one, or 4. Change your attitude towards your job.

Obviously just quitting and choosing not to work isn’t a good option, because we know God wants us to work. But continuing on without making any changes isn’t healthy either. God wants us to find fulfillment in what we do. So that leaves the last 2 options as the only real viable options left. Before you jump ship and look for a new job I strongly challenge you to make sure you have the right attitude towards work first. Because even if you are blessed to find a different job, if you take the same attitude to your new job, it won’t take long until you find yourself in the same rut again. But if we change our attitude towards our job and our work then we can do almost anything to glory of God!

We can pray before we write, paint, perform surgery, balance the ledger, pour concrete, prepare a meal, or pull weeds – and ask God to help us do our very best so that he will receive glory through our task.  In this way we are consciously seeking to set apart our work for God and his purposes.

Brother Lawrence was a monk from the 17th century. He spent most of his life within the walls of the priory, due to his lack of education he could never become a cleric, but rather worked in the kitchen for most of his life and as a repairer of sandals in his later years. I love this quote by him:

“We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for the love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up straw from the ground for the love of God.”

What a wonderful attitude to have towards work! “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might!” Ecclesiastes 9:10

Music and Theology

By Pastor Gary Jennings Jr

I ran into a video on Youtube a while back called “Theology through the Arts” (I will share the link below). In this video Jeremy Begbie talks about how music can give us insight on how to understand our relationship with God. One observation he makes is that when a mistake is made during a performance, there is no going back. The absolute worst thing you can do as a musician is to stop playing, apologize for the mistake (and draw attention to it), and start over. A good musician will instead keep going and work the mistake into the piece as if it belonged there right from the beginning. It no longer becomes a mistake, it becomes improvisation, it becomes a new song. Our spiritual lives are much the same way.

I remember listening to an interview with an actor who recently started doing theatre. One of the major differences between film and theatre is that in theatre you never get a second take. Its a performance. If a mistake is made, there is no stopping the show and doing it over again, the show must go on.

There was a scene in one of his plays where he was supposed to walk into a room and have an argument with his wife. When he went to open the door on set, the door was jammed. This was not part of the script, so he had to improvise. He began having the argument outside the room through the door, and eventually ends up kicking the door open to get into the room. That of course added to the drama and the scene ended up being way better than what was originally written.

We are all going to hit wrong notes in the future, we are all going to run into jammed doors in the days ahead. Are these occasions to stop the performance? Or are these occasions to create something new? Jeremy Begbie says that even the worst situations can we woven into God’s purposes. So whatever happens to us in the days ahead, lets remember that we serve a God that can take any situation and turn it into something wonderful.

My Praise, His Praise

By Pastor Gary Jennings Sr.

At the beginning of this New Year, I was saddened to hear of the death of Andrae Crouch. His funeral took place on January 21. It was live streamed and I believe it was about 4 ½ hours in length. Throughout the service I would check in to see and hear his life being celebrated. I was greatly inspired as I tuned in. Andrae wrote the song entitled, My Tribute (To God Be the Glory). During the funeral someone quoted from this song the words, and should I gain any praise, let it go to Calvary. Then he made his comments about any praise we receive. He said that we need to immediately let praise go and not hang on to it, because it’s not good to keep it. I found myself saying amen and amen. He also said that there is too much arrogance in the church today. That made me say ouch, but I could not deny the fact that in some cases this is a problem. Maybe it’s because some believers hang on to too much praise instead of passing it on to Jesus, and this makes the head swell up.

The truth is we are nothing without Christ, but through Him we can do all things. We need to keep this in proper perspective. I am not saying that we should not receive complements or believe in ourselves and our abilities, gifts and talents. Yes we can hold our head high; receive kind words, and accomplish great things for God. But we just need to be quick to pass the glory on to Christ. Why, because flesh has a tendency to fight for glory and praise. Flesh is an attention seeker. Flesh loves fanfare, lime lights and center stages. That’s where flesh lives and thrives best.

Many times during my preaching I address our need for humility. I am not shy about saying that we must decrease and He must increase. I am not shy about saying that it’s not all about me, but all about God. I am not shy about saying that if we raise ourselves up that God will bring us down. I really believe this. The truth is pride really does stink.

Paul the apostle said that we must slay flesh and keep the old man under our feet. How do you do that in your life? Do you have a plan that works? Who will get the final and ultimate praise is up to us. By the way, humility is not weakness, but rather a strength. Humility is not low self-image, but rather right self-image.

Should I receive any praise, let it go to Calvary.

Life Long Learning

By Pastor Nikki Ragush

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”-Henry Ford

Very few people appreciate having others describe them using that nasty three letter word, OLD! I am in a strange position here at the church; I have the opportunity to spend time with the seniors monthly at their get-togethers while I also meet weekly with the youth on Wednesday nights. I hear two conflicting opinion about my age; one group says I’m still so young and have lots of life ahead of me, while the other one nicely reminds me how I’m out of touch with teenage culture and yes they use the word old sometimes. As strange as this position is, it comes with an amazing opportunity. I realize more and more how I have so much to learn, not just from the older generation, not just from the younger generation, not just from my own generation but from each separate group there are new things to learn and great reminders to be implemented.

I was blessed with having each of my grandparents alive when I was born, learning quickly that the older generations are not outdated or out of touch with reality but sometimes they remember that although culture has changed morals and respect should not waver. I think of the impact that Timothy’s Grandmother had on him that Paul speaks about; also I am reminded of Titus 2 which speaks of the impact and the learning that can come from older men and women. I learn best from life stories, and there are many mentors in my life who have forever changed me and taught me so many things by allowing me to be a part of their lives.

I have also been blessed by God with so many friends of a similar age as me; ones who have had very different life experiences which include travel, varied education, difficult trials, and different worldviews. This doesn’t mean that I sway on my foundational beliefs, but it helps me to become more understanding and loving toward people. My time at my bible school was a fantastic opportunity not just because I was given a degree and had lasting memories, but the bulk of my learning took place at coffee shops, McDonald’s runs, and in dorm rooms, where I could speak to others about what it meant to truly live as a Christian. The verse “Iron sharpens Iron” (Proverbs 27:17) is a key verse I think about when I reflect on that time.

The last group I’ll talk about is those younger than me, which are in two separate groups in my mind; children and teenagers. Jesus said “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 18:3) As I have grown older and responsibilities increase I think to this verse, children don’t stress when things don’t go perfect. Children understand having faith without proof, Children trust completely without question, Children get excited to learn new things and grow. There are so many ways I am so far from being a child, but so much pureness and delicacy that comes when we seek to have child-like faith. Children don’t slow down, especially when they become teenagers seeking to do big things in the world having vision to change the entire world. When I look at some of the teenagers I work with I see a drive and potential, and I become excited for what they can do I encourage them, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12).

We could simply say this is great that each group has sometimes to offer but we’ll offer what our age group has, and that’s good for them but not for me. However, it is like Henry Ford’s quote says if we choose to stop learning then we will be old, but instead let’s continue to learn and seek what God has for each of us each day. Let’s wake up like a child who is excited for what the day brings, continue our day like a youth who sees the ability they have to make a difference, learn from others who may differ from us but seek to be what God intends us to be, and finally use wisdom like those older than us and learn from the experiences they themselves have had.

Proverbs 1:5

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance