Guest Post: 5 Bible Verses That Got Me Through Stuff

Hello, friends! Today we welcome back the wonderful Abby Bell, who is part of our Core Team at Ecclesia. She's sharing five of her favourite Scripture passages that comfort, encourage, and enlighten her even in the most difficult times. Grab some coffee or tea and enjoy!

(This was originally published on Abby's own blog. Check it out!)

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God gave us this beautiful book to turn to at any point of our lives; in joy and happiness, but also when life gets tough to face. This book, in my opinion, is life’s survival guide and the story of the ultimate unconditional love story. This book is the Bible.

In this post, I’m going to be sharing some verses that I heard/read when life got really tough. I’ll also give a quick little explanation on what the verse means to me specifically!

1.The Life Verses: Jeremiah 17:7-8
“The person who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed.
8 He will be like a tree planted by water:
it sends its roots out toward a stream,
it doesn’t fear when heat comes,
and its foliage remains green.
It will not worry in a year of drought
or cease producing fruit.”

This verse is my life verse that has brought me through so much! I remember hearing this verse from my mom when I was having a rough week; I was in high school and I was feeling so discouraged about my grades and being a teenager. Since that moment, this verse has brought so much encouragement that I can do anything when I give it to Jesus. The visual of being a strong tree reminds us that we need to be constantly seeking the Lord in all everything and that we will see “the fruit” when we do.

2.The Verses That Reminds Me to Keep “Marching On”: Philipians 3: 12-14
“12 Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead,
14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

Sometimes we lose sight of the big picture in life. I remember when I was struggling through university and wishing that I could find purpose in what I was doing when this passage had the most impact. These verses remind me that I do have purpose in what I do, and that as long as I keep marching on and pursuing a relationship with Jesus, that alone is what I’m called to do.

3. The Verse That Tells Me I’m Loved Beyond My Weaknesses: Psalm 73:26
“26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart,
my portion forever.”

Weakness is inevitable, we are all broken and in need of healing and restoration at many points in our lives. I know that I am in need of a Saviour; one that loves me and can carry the burdens that I try carry by myself.
I’m extremely independent and can be very stubborn, so to know that I have a Heavenly Father who is willing to break my walls down and love me is all I need to know.

4. The Verse That Helps Me Find Faith Over and Over Again: Hebrews 11:1
“11 Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.”

This verse is so sweet and simple, yet sometimes one of the hardest things to fully understand. Sometimes putting faith into something that my human brain can’t always comprehend is difficult, but so worth it when I do. Because that’s when Jesus shows me his love, joy, peace and hope and that I need to keep going.

5. The Verses That Reminds Me to Find Joy In Everything: 1 Peter 1: 5-9
“5 You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.6 You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials 7 so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

I’ll be the first person to admit that it’s hard to find joy when life gets hard. Sometimes I fixate on the negative and fixate that life is awful and it will never get better. But then I remember who has been by my side since the beginning and who has brought me through the storms in life: Jesus. Even in the highest points in life – the mountains, and the lowest of the lows – the valley, he is there. This verse also encourages that we can come out of the storm stronger than we were before and find joy in that. I can’t find joy in anything else but the Lord himself.

I hope that you found this blog post encouraging. I think it’s important that we are vulnerable and willing to share with each other what we found to be encouraging when life gets rough. Tell me a couple bible verses that have encouraged you!

Until next time,

Abby

How awesome is this place.

Hello! This week is Holy Week - the week after Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and the week preceding Good Friday and Easter, when we remember Christ's death and resurrection. This is always an incredibly meaningful week for me (even if it's a bit co-opted by my story with my husband, who first told me how he felt on a particularly - albiet ironically - lovely Holy Saturday). That said...I wanted to share with you a sermon I recently preached at my partner church, Zion CRC here in Oshawa. It's not particularly Lent or Holy Week focused, but I do think it's a good reminder of one way in which we live into our resurrection identity every day. So - here you go:

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Genesis 28:16-17
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it; how awesome is this place.

Jacob had a dream.

Jacob - the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. The constantly-referred to Jacob throughout the Old Testament - “the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” That Jacob had a dream.

Jacob had been travelling and fighting and leading God’s people to what he hoped was the promised land. And one night he fell alseep outside - using a rock as his pillow - and had a dream. And in this dream he saw a ladder, reaching all the way from earth into heaven. And God’s angels were walking up and down that ladder - coming down to earth, then back to heaven, then back down and up and down and up.

And as the angels were getting this workout, God speaks. And God promises that he is with Jacob, and that he will deliver Israel to the land he had promised them. God promises that Jacob’s people would become a great nation - numbering more than the stars in the sky.

God reiterates the promise he had made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. God reinstates the covenant. Renews his vows - so to speak.

And when Jacob wakes up from this dream, he was in awe. And a little afraid. And he says - you can almost hear the breath catching in his voice - “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it. How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

I’ve experienced places like this from time to time. I’m willing to bet you have, too. I’ve experienced places that make me stand in awe and see so clearly God’s presence there. I’ve experienced this in Yosemite National Park in California, standing at the base of a massive waterfall, looking across the valley at all the mountain peaks. I’ve experienced this in Alaska, with moose and bears and eagles and whales and mountains like I’ve never seen before. I’ve experienced this in Vancouver, standing at the top of Grouse Mountain looking down over the city bathed in snow. I experienced it in Malaysia, riding on the back of an elephant just before he dumped me over into a river. I experienced it last summer, sitting on the beach in Muskoka, watching my daughter laugh and run with glee in the sand. I experienced it this past fall, in the hospital here in Oshawa, when I held my son for the first time.

There are places, there are times, there are moments throughout our lives that illicit this kind of response. Surely the Lord is in this place; how awesome is this place. Moments that beg us to recognize God’s presence there with us; moment’s we’d have to be blind to miss. If we’re lucky, those moments happen often and throughout our lives.

For Jacob, though - this was not one of those moments.

Jacob was travelling from one place to another. Jacob had just done a terrible thing; he tricked his aging father into giving to Jacob the family blessing that belonged to his older brother. And now he was leaving home, in search of a wife whom his family could approve.

And in the middle of his journey, night falls. And he falls asleep. Making the best of the situation, he puts his head on a rock, because...I guess that’s better than nothing? And he has this crazy dream.

There was nothing particularly beautiful or special about this place. The Bible, in fact, just calls it “a certain place.” The only description we get of this place is that it was..a certain place, which really is no description at all. The Bible gives us no real adjectives, no word pictures...just...a place. A place to sleep. And then in this sleep Jacob has this crazy dream of angels and ladders. I don’t know about you - but I tend not to put a whole lot of stock in dreams when I have them. But there was something different about this dream. Jacob knew he heard God speak.  And Jacob couldn’t help but stand in awe of this everyday, ordinary, non-descript place that didn’t even warrant any adjectives. Because God was there.

It’s easy for me to see God’s presence in places that are particularly beautiful, or where good memories or important life events take place. But what difference would it make if we could actively see God’s presence in the ordinary places? The places that don’t really warrant any adjectives? The places that are always right under our nose - the places we live, work, study, and play? How would it change how we do life - how we work, how we engage with our neighbours, how we spend time with our kids our our friends or our kids’ friends - if we looked at every place we find ourselves in and say, “Surely the Lord is in this place; how awesome is this place!”

At Ecclesia, we’ve named “place” as one of our guiding ideas - one of our core values. This idea of “place” is central to who we are and who we are becoming as a brand new little baby church here in North Oshawa. At first glance, this may be a strange word to use for a core value of a new church. Why would Place be an important value of any church? Well, because our place has a lot to say about how and why we scatter - how we love our neighbours in real, tangible ways. And because God is already at work in our places.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but where we are matters. When we are, matters. The fact that Ecclesia is being planted in the North Oshawa, Ontario in 2018 has a lot to say about how we “do church.” We can’t engage with Oshawa the way that a church might engage with New York City or Vancouver or Uzbekistan or Uganda. We have to respond to our neighbourhood, to our community - and we have to recognize the beauty and the difficulty of the place where God has put us. And what’s more, the Incarnation is an essential part of our Christian faith. The Incarnation - this moment of God at work, the launching pad into this season of Lent we remember now - this moment is God Himself putting on flesh and coming to live with and among and for people. This is what we base our whole worldview around. The idea of the God of the Universe humbling himself to become human is inconceivable in many other religions, even blasphemous. But this is who Jesus was. And it’s a beautiful example of how we are to live. 

Jesus intentionally became a person and rooted himself among us. And now we can follow His example, rooting ourselves among our neighbours right where God has placed us. But this is a difficult undertaking. As Michael Frost wrote in his book, Incarnate, our world has become increasingly disconnected. Technology has changed the way we think and engage with each other. Advances in travel and connectivity has made the world smaller, making it easier to leave our homes and see the world - bringing with it both a beautiful availability of the rest of the world, as well as a lessened connection with our own homes. Our online personas make it all-too-easy to disengage with those who don’t agree with us, to objectify other people and other places, to experiment in virtual realities that don’t connect with our actual lives. Frost calls all of these realities “excarnate living.” The remedy? The incarnation. Recognizing God’s example of John 1:1 (The Message) - “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood” - and finding ways to follow suit. To move into our neighbourhoods in the most profound sense, and truly, deeply connect within our own context. Our own place.

I was listening recently to a podcast called RePlacing Church, put together by my friend Ben Katt, in which he interviewed Ron Ruthruff, author of Closer to the Edge: Walking with Jesus for the World’s Sake. In the interview, Ron had the most beautiful insight on this idea of responding to our place, suggesting that our place informs how we understand our current realities. For example, if I say, “It’s raining,” we can all understand the basic meaning of those words. We all know what rain is. But, our place informs the real meaning of those words. If I’m in Vancouver and say, “It’s raining,” you might say, “So what?” If I’m in New Orleans and I say, “It’s raining,” you might say, “Oh no.” If I’m in the Sudan and say, “It’s raining,” you might say, “Thank God.” Our place makes a huge difference in how we understand the realities around us.

In Ecclesia, we want to respond to our place. We want to get to know the people and the places in North Oshawa, so that we can know what’s good about our place as well as what’s difficult. We want to engage meaningfully with our place - to find where God is already working and to partner with Him in that work. Because God is at work in our places. God was there ahead of Jacob, in this non-description place - and God is here ahead of us. God is already at work in our neighbourhoods, and we have the opportunity to partner with Him in that work. Imagine what a difference it would make in our own lives and in the lives of others if we allowed ourselves to recognize that God is here, already, in this place. 

One way in which we feel called to our place at Ecclesia is through a community space. We’re feeling led to open a community space in our neighbourhood - a place that feels like the living room of Oshawa. We’d love this to be a flexible space - something like a storefront in our neighbourhood - and we’d love to fill it with a number of things. This “living room” could include an area for kids (most of our neighbourhood is filled with young families!), study space for students at the local university - along with workspace for local businesspeople, a small kitchen for sharing meals with friends and neighbours. We’d love to use it for everything from yoga classes to budgeting seminars; story time for children to Alpha courses and Bible studies for adults. We see this space as a way to connect with our neighbours who don’t know Christ. We sense a longing throughout Oshawa for a place to belong, and we want our church to step into that gap and offer a space to fill that longing, where all our neighbours - young, old, rich, poor, and everything in between - can gather together to connect with one another and, ultimately, with Christ. We see this space as a way to declare in a real, tangible way that surely the Lord is in North Oshawa - how awesome is this place!

So that’s what we’re up to at Ecclesia - what about you?

Oshawa, Ontario may not be the most grand or picturesque place on the planet. We may not look at King Street or Simcoe or Costco or WalMart and immediately recognize God’s presence there. But God is here in this place - even if we’re not aware of it. How awesome is this place! Oshawa is none other than the house of God; it is the gate of heaven. And the same is true for you and your city, wherever that may be.

What might it look like for you to respond to God’s presence here, wherever "here" is for you? How can you keep your eyes open fo what God is doing ahead of you here and now - especially as we continue to move through Holy Week?

After all, this is part of living into our resurrection identity as children of the Risen Lord. How awesome is this place!

Where We Are & Where We're Headed

Happy Wednesday, friends! Today, I wanted to share with you a bit of what's happening on the ground at the moment with Ecclesia, and a bit of what's in store for the future.

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God is at work with and for and among Ecclesia. We’re continuing to meet weekly for worship on Sundays at 4:30 pm in my home (we’d love to see you stop by for a visit!). As we head towards Easter, we’re finishing a series based on the book The True Story of the Whole World by Craig Bartholemew and Michael Goheen, looking at the whole narrative of Scripture and seeking to find our place in it. Next, we’ll be looking at the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, using them to continue to help us find our place as God’s people in all the places we live, work, study, and play. Plus, we’ve now doubled in size from our small-but-mighty group of seven to a less-small-but-still-mighty fourteen! It’s been beautiful to see new faces and families join us in our worshipping community, and we pray that God continues to lead people into this time together.

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The focus of this year, though, is some intentional work to connect with our neighbours throughout North Oshawa. Just last week we launched a new kind of men’s group that we’re calling Scotch & Scripture, and we’re excited to say that many of those who are interested are people who aren’t already part of a church. Later this month we’ll also be doing our first ever Alpha course. We’re also joining up with a local mom’s group to do some neighborhood story times in our local community centre in April, plus hosting a paint night event in June, and participating in the city of Oshawa’s Canada Day celebrations on the lake. We’re going to be busy, but we’re excited for these opportunities to build relationships with our neighbours and to add value to our community.

Plus, we're working towards opening a community space in our neighbourhood. We’re feeling led to open a place that feels like the living room of Oshawa. We’d love this to be a flexible space - something like a storefront in our neighbourhood - and we’d love to fill it with a number of things. This “living room” will include some toys for kids (most of our neighbourhood is filled with young families!), study space for students at the local university - along with workspace for local businesspeople, a small kitchen for sharing meals with friends and neighbours. We’d love to use it for everything from yoga classes to budgeting seminars; story time for children to Alpha courses and Bible studies for adults. We see this space as a way to connect with our neighbours who don’t know Christ. We sense a longing throughout Oshawa for a place to belong, and we want our church to step into that gap and offer a space to fill that longing, where all our neighbours - young, old, rich, poor, and everything in between - can gather together to connect with one another and, ultimately, with Christ.

Of course, if you're local and you’d like to join us in any of these events and initiatives, we’d love to have you! Just drop me a line (email is best - jana.koh@gmail.com) and I’d be happy to include you. In the meantime, please join us in praying that God continues to make clear where He would have us go next, and that we would be bold in following Him.

Thanks for your friendship, encouragement, and for joining with us in this beautiful work in God’s Kingdom!

Alive

Today we have a guest post from my friend and teammate Dan Wilson. Dan is part of the Ecclesia team, and has been a passionate leader for us. He's a wonderful worship leader, preacher, and lover of people - and I'm blessed to have him join the adventure that is Ecclesia. So, here are some reflections from Dan flowing out of some of his experiences and conversations with Ecclesia:

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I’m called to be alive; not just to live. Not even just to be.

The bible doesn’t start with sinners in a sinful world where we are just hanging on to be; that was never God’s intention. His intention was for everything to have life, to be sustained, to be perfect, to be loved, to be cherished. In the Amplified Bible version of Genesis, specifically the creation story, after every moment he created something – He spoke it to be – it says “it was very good and He sustained it completely.”

Sustain simply means to strengthen or support. However, I have a feeling that from the beginning this word was perhaps translated to mean more than just that. 

God wants. God desires. He loves and orders everything He created to be. There was (and is) no chaos. Even in other translations of the bible, it often just ends with “and He saw that it was good.” There is nothing wrong with that, but I just get the sense that in these moments, when He created something and knew what He wanted it to do – very specifically – it was so indescribable, that “good” was the best word to be used for us to understand. I mean, when we create something we spent time on, had a vision, and love once it’s complete, we think it’s more than just “good”, don’t we?

So what does it mean to be alive, then?

I’m breathing, so I’m alive.

I can move my hands and feet and arms and legs, so I’m alive.

I can relate, interact, see, taste, feel, touch, so I’m alive.

This is what the world often refers to, when it thinks about life or being alive. But there must be so much more to it than that.

Consider this:

To be means: to exist. To be identified as someone or something.

To live means: remain alive, have life. To continue in existence or operation. 

To be alive means: living, having life. In existence, alert, active. 

They all, on their own, have a specific intention and can be sustained on their own. Some people strive to be – they need an identity and once they find it, they may find that life has meaning. Some people strive to take that identity and live; or maybe just live without an identity finding ways to just remain alive (work, alcohol, drugs, pornography, relationships, food, etc). Some people may want to long to feel alive, maybe go sky diving or white water rafting or some kind of extreme sport or once-in-a-lifetime activity.

 

See, when God created the world He called something to be, then He gave it life, but then He also wanted it to have purpose – He wanted it to be alive, to be alert and active. Everything He created was given purpose. The sun, the stars, the moon, the water, the sky, animals, plants, humans – they were all given a reason to be alive.

One thing I’ve learned over the last three or four months is about purpose. What’s my purpose? What’s our purpose? What’s the worlds purpose? I was looking for a deep, long, complex answer that would satisfy that craving for knowledge, only to find out that this craving will never actually be defeated – the more you get, the more you crave.

Knowledge isn’t a bad thing, but it needs to come with an understanding. If we don’t understand what we’ve come to know, then our whole foundation can be moved, rocked, swayed, cracked, maybe even destroyed.

One thing I have learned in taking part in the beginnings of planting a new church is how essential a foundation is not just to a building, but to life itself. If we don’t understand what we are called to do, who we are called to be, how can we possibly build and sustain a foundation that we want to stand on, believe in or support our every movement and step we take?

Our city is. Our city lives. But is our city truly alive? Is our neighbourhood truly alive? 

God longs for us to dream, to live out a calling, to hope, to long for and desire to see something more; something good happen. Just like He did, from the very beginning of creation. After 30 years (now you can try and guess how old I am) I have finally come to not just know, but understand what my calling is; what makes me alive, what God’s purpose is for me.

This was because I finally surrendered wholly and completely to God and said, “God, how do you want me to be alive? Tell me my purpose.” Not and what I think God wants. It’s a posture of surrendering, waiting, and actively listening to God’s voice and paying attention to His story – being intentional about wanting to actively be a part of it.

You’d think I would have done that a long time ago. But it’s also a scary thing to do. It means giving up full control and walking with God, not just beside Him, but with Him. Then, having faith in that step of obedience, hoping and trusting in Him and His kingdom coming to earth; which we, as followers, get to be a part of.

I can’t tell you how excited I am, how giddy I get sometimes, how overwhelming I feel in knowing, hoping and trusting in what God is going to do in me, through me, in and through us as the church and in this very neighbourhood we want to build our foundation.

I have no doubt that when this little idea was just a seed being planted, God surely said with a glowing smile, and with excitement breathing out in every word, when He said, “it is very good and I sustain it completely.”

He wanted Ecclesia to be.

He spoke it to life.

He calls it to be alive.

 

The True Story of the Whole World

2 Timothy 3:14-17
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

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Over the next 8 weeks, we at Ecclesia are embarking on a journey focusing on The True Story of the Whole World. With the guidance of the book by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, we’ll be digging in to the entire story of the Bible - the full picture of the scriptural narrative - in order to help us find our place in the big, beautiful story God is writing in the world.

Last night, in our weekly worship gathering, we began with an introduction the series and a discussion about why this is an important endeavour. And ultimately, it comes down to this: stories shape us. Stories are formative. They change and shape and form and transform who we are and how we live in the world.

This all comes down to our worldview - the way we see the world. Everyone - male, female, young, old, religious, non-religious, everyone - has a worldview; it’s the way in which we organize the world in a coherent manner in order to make sense of the world around us and our place in it. It’s the story through which we filter all our experiences, relationships, and values so that we can understand them, and understand ourselves in light of them. Our worldviews are created by stories, whether we’re conscious of them or not. And, according to Bartholomew and Goheen, the way our worldviews get formed is through creating a story, at the centre of which are four basic questions of human existence:

  1. Who am I? (What does it mean to be human?)
  2. Where am I? (Where did our world come from?)
  3. What is wrong? (Why does the world seem so troubled?)
  4. What is the remedy? (Who or what fixes the problem?)

The way we answer those questions tells us our worldview. And what’s more, for those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ, we find the answers to these questions in Scripture. In the Bible. 

But it’s not just pieces of the Bible that are important. It’s the whole of Scripture. The Bible is more than just a book about religion, or an owners manual for Christian living. Instead, the Bible is a drama; it is a book that contains the true story of the whole world. We as Christians can get ourselves into a lot of trouble by breaking up the Bible. For example, Hitler and the Nazi regime used Scripture to justify their racist beliefs and tragic actions. Nazism was a pseudo-Christian belief system, and the leaders looked to Scripture to show the morality of their claims. Of course, this was a misinterpretation of the Bible - but they chose the bits and pieces that furthered their anti-Semitic agenda, and made a compelling enough case that hosts of people followed them.

One way to remedy this danger is to understand the trajectory of Scripture. To see it as a whole narrative, a drama unfolding throughout history - a story in which we now get to play a part. To understand the Bible not just as a book about religion, but as the true story of the whole world.

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So, that’s what we’ll be focusing on in Ecclesia for the next 8 weeks. In Bartholomew and Goheen’s book, they lay out six acts in the Bible, like acts of a play. They are:

Act 1: Creation (God Establishes the Kingdom)
Act 2: The Fall (Rebellion in the Kingdom)
Act 3: Redemption Initiated (The King Chooses Israel)
[Interlude: The Intertestamental Period (A Kingdom Story Waiting for an Ending)
Act 4: Redemption Accomplished (The Coming of the King)
Act 5: The Mission of the Church (Spreading the News of the King)
Act 6: Redemption Completed (The Return of the King)

If you’re interested, come join us! We gather on Sundays at 4:30 pm at my home in Oshawa. Hope to see you there!

He is Enough

This time away from work for a few months has been a gift, and it’s swiftly coming to an end. I’m simultaneously itching to get back to the daily work of leading our new little church, and I'm beginning to mourn the end of this season with my new little son. It’s such a sweet thing to be consistently present for these ever-changing moments with my littlest little one (not to mention my 3-year-old).

 My preferred state of being these days

My preferred state of being these days

And, at the same time, there’s something about these early days of life with a new baby that are uniquely capable of making me feel incredibly self-conscious. Many words have been written about the culture of “mommy shaming” around the internet, and I’m not immune to that - although I think the bigger hurdle for me is the constant uncertainty. Caring for the every need of a little mini person is daunting when that little person has limited ability to tell you what his needs actually are. Sometimes parenthood feels like a constant experiment. Is he hungry? Wet? Tired? All of the above? Well, you don't know until you try! Plus, in these earliest days there is little to no routine or schedule or predictability. Just when I think my baby is settling into his own little routine, he changes it up on me. Suddenly the time of day when he had slept soundly in his own bed for three hours every day for the last three weeks becomes the time when he’s sobbing uncontrollably for no apparent reason. And I have a fairly easy baby on my hands; we have no health problems, no allergies that we know of, no major issues. Just regular, tiny baby things. I can only imagine how parents with babies with reflux or food allergies or heart problems or major developmental difficulties must feel.

It’s so easy to feel like you’re not enough in this season of life.

And, the fact is, these feelings aren't just confined to parenthood. Because my pregnancy and church planting happened concurrently, it's not difficult for me to see the corollaries between the two. There's something simultaneously sweet and terrifying about midwifing a new community of faith into being, and there's so much uncertainty. In the beginning, everything is an experiment. Everything you try could either be a raving success or a devastating failure. Will this time work for our worship gathering? Will this person connect with this event? Will this neighbourhood initiative become the driving force of our church, or a one-time failed attempt at connection? You never know until you try. And so, again, it's so easy to feel like you're not enough in these early days of tending to a brand new baby church.

Enter: nap time.

Now, I love a good nap as much as the next girl, but that's not what I mean here. Lately, nap time has become my moment to connect with God. As I rock my baby to sleep, I’ve been reading to him from either The Jesus Storybook Bible or Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing - both of which were written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago. This has become an incredibly meaningful time for me, not only because the first books I’m reading through completely with my Son are thoughts and stories from Scripture, but also because I’ve been hearing God’s voice through these simple words for children.

What has God been saying? He’s been saying that, even if I may doubt myself or my abilities, whether in church planting or in being a mother or in my relationships with people around me - I am enough. I am enough not because of what I can do or how great I am; I am enough because God is enough. It's God's work, and He is at the helm - and He can do anything. I am enough because it is this lovingly powerful God who is work in and through and around me. Always.

One particular essay from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing spoke deeply to me the other day. Maybe it was seeing the words paired with this picture, mirroring the exact thing I was doing with my own child. But as I read this to my little boy, tears welled up in my eyes, and joy and hope welled up in my heart. Here they are for you (taken from Thoughts to Make your Heart Sing, page 76-77):

 A beautiful illustration from Jago,  Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing p. 76

A beautiful illustration from Jago, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing p. 76

RESTING AND RELYING

When you were little, did someone big ever carry you? Did you rest your head on his shoulder, lean your whole weight on him?

Faith is leaning your whole weight on God. Resting your head on his shoulder.

Faith means resting - relying - not on who we are, or what we can do, or how we feel, or what we know.

Faith is resting in who God is and what he has done.

And he has done EVERYTHING.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”
1 John 4:16 (NIV)

Stopping in to say, "Hello."

He's here!

Meet Rowan - the newest addition to our family, and to our Ecclesia community! 

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This little guy was born on Sept. 27th, and everyone is home now and doing well. We're all adjusting to the reality of being a family of four now, as well as to the new hours and responsibilities that brings - but Jeremy, Norah, and I are all head-over-heels for our newest little buddy.

So, as we enjoy this Thanksgiving weekend, we have much to be thankful for! Included in that is gratitude for your prayers and encouragement for this current season of life. Thank you!

What's New from "With You"

I haven’t talked about this much (if at all?) on this blog - but you may or may not know that my family and I are expecting my second child. In fact, he (yes, it’s a boy!) is due to arrive in about a week!

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I have to admit, it’s been a challenge to do much of my first year of church planting while pregnant. However, it’s also been a constant reminder that this work is not my own; instead, I get to spend my whole day, each day, doing my best to partner with what God is already doing in Oshawa. And He has brought us here to this point, and He will carry us through to what’s next. I knew this truth in my head from the very beginning, but the process of preparing for the birth of my baby alongside the “birth” of my baby church has made me feel it and know it and live it with my whole heart these last months.

My maternity leave begins this week. So, before I take some time off and focus on this new chapter for my family, I wanted to stop in and let you know what all these changes will mean for Ecclesia.

As I said, I’ll be taking some time away from work. I’m not taking the full year of maternity leave that’s standard here in Canada; instead, I’m taking mid-September through mid-December off, and then returning part-time through the end of December so we can hit the ground running in the new year. In conversations with those who are used to the Canadian maternity leave, people tend to look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about this shorter maternity leave. But, my daughter was born in the US, where I had a 12 week maternity leave, so this feels like what I’m used to. Plus, I can take advantage of the fact that my husband is at home with our children, and my work as a pastor is busy, but fairly flexible - and certainly not the kind of work where I need to commute 2 hours every day and spend my full day in an office downtown. So, especially in the early months, you can expect to see me with a new little sidekick in tow from time to time, and finding creative ways to balance work and family well.

As for Ecclesia, I’m really excited about where we are and what’s in store for the fall! As you may already know, we just had our first worship gathering this past weekend, and we’ll continue to gather weekly on Saturday evenings at 6 pm in homes of our Core Team members. The way that we’ve structured our worship gatherings allows for anyone on our Core Team to lead, and we have a schedule of worship leaders and facilitators to take us through Christmas. I have an incredibly passionate and gifted team, and I have no doubt that they’ll lead these worship times with a whole lot of beauty. I’ll be there as often as I can, but I’m grateful for my team for stepping up to take on the real, on-the-ground leadership each week. Plus, we have great plans for some events in our neighbourhood to help us build relationships with those with whom we live, work, study, and play. Again, members of our Core Team are taking the lead on these - and I am 100% confident that God will use them in powerful ways!

So, that's a bit of the low-down on what’s happening with the Koh family, and with Ecclesia. This space will probably be a bit quieter for the next few months, although I might pop in for an update from time to time. In the meantime, check us out on Facebook and Instagram (look for @ecclesiaoshawa in both places!), as well as on our website, to follow along with what God is doing in North Oshawa!

And check back here in a week or two for some cute baby pictures. 😋 Thanks for your support and encouragement along the way!

What to Expect When You Worship with Ecclesia

In just one week, Ecclesia Church will start worshipping together weekly for the first time! We’re really excited about this next step, and I wanted to share with you a bit of what we have in store for our gatherings.

First of all, the details. We’ll be meeting on Saturday evenings at 6 pm, beginning on September 9th. Our first gathering (on the 9th) will be at Jana & Jeremy Koh’s house (my house!) - and we’ll host subsequent gatherings in different team members’ homes. If you’d like to join us, just send me an email (jana.koh@gmail.com) and I’ll let you know the address - that way, we’re not advertising friends’ homes on the Internet!

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What can you expect? Well, you can expect a small gathering of folks longing to go deeper in their spiritual journey. Some of us are people of deep faith and have been part of the Christian church for a long time. Others of us may be newer to the Christian faith or asking questions about what it means to follow Jesus. And still others may be somewhere in the middle. No matter where you fall on that spectrum - expect to be welcomed into a loving space, and expect to be able to participate.

We’ll start our time together with some singing, led by one or more of our Core Team members. This time will also probably include some prayer, some readings from the Bible, and maybe some other words from our leaders. Then, we’ll unpack a few verses from the Bible together. To do that, someone from our team will lead us in reading our words for the week, maybe more than once. Then, we’ll have five questions to guide some discussion time. We’ll ask:

  1. What can this passage teach us about God?
  2. What can it teach us about people?
  3. What else can we learn?
  4. If you believed this, how could you put it into practice?
  5. What would be the advantages of that practice? What would be the disadvantages?

All of us around the circle will have the opportunity to reflect and share our thoughts together, as much or as little as we feel comfortable. For some of us, we may jump at the chance to tackle some big questions together and seek out answers. For others of us, it may feel a little intimidating, or we may prefer to listen and glean from others’ thoughts as we process our own. And, again, some will fall in the middle. Of course, if you’re there with us on a Saturday night, we want to hear from you - but we’ll understand and respect your silence if you don’t feel comfortable jumping in right away.

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As often as possible, we’ll participate in a special moment called Communion. In communion, we eat bread and drink wine (well, for us it will be “wine”…and by that we mean grape juice) to symbolize the body and blood of Jesus Christ in his sacrifice for us. We remember Jesus’ great gift of grace and salvation for our behalf. We actually get to taste and see how good our great God is. For those who aren’t used to this, it might sound strange - but as we grow to understand how God moves in this moment, it will take on more and more meaning for us as a community of faith together. In our celebration of Communion, you are welcome to participate or not; it’s okay to watch until you understand a bit more of what’s going on, or you can jump right in with us.  

Finally, we’ll end with a bit more prayer and singing, and be sent out into all the places we live, work, study, and play with a renewed sense of love for our God and love for our neighbours. 

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We hope we’ll see you on a Saturday evening sometime soon! Again - if you’d like to join us, just send me an email (jana.koh@gmail.com) and I’ll give you the address of where we’ll be meeting (as our hosts don’t want to advertise their home address on the internet!).

Guest Post: Inside Out

Friends, I'm excited to give you words from yet another wonderful Ecclesia Core Team member, Dan Wilson. Dan is a deep thinker, a passionate Christ-follower, and a gentle leader. He's a talented musician, and has a beautiful heart for leading God's people in worship - PLUS he's one fourth of my new favourite band, Collision Worship. I'm honoured that he took the time to share his heart here on this little blog, and I'm blessed to call both Dan and his wife, Lydia, friends and teammates in this church planting journey! So - enjoy these encouraging thoughts from Dan:

I trust you are comfortable. If not, grab a pillow or walk on over to that lazy boy (if you can move whatever device you are reading this on) with a beverage that you can hold on to for a few minutes – maybe a coffee or a tea. I want to take you on a journey. It’s one that you might relate to, one that I think most of us probably had as a kid.

The first day of school.

If it has brought some uneasy memories back to the surface, I apologize. 

But maybe for some of us, it has brought to light – or even reminded us of – those memories where we felt like we could stand tall, on top of the world, with nothing in our way and victory in our sight.

For me, it was uneasy. 

I was (what felt like) the shyest, most reserved and self-conscious kid on the planet and now I must get thrown into a room of 20 other kids (or these days it would be 30 – yikes!) and share my feelings, thoughts, and actually do things that my teacher will report back on?!?!

I think I’d rather hibernate. Maybe even try osmosis so I can stay home, but still learn somehow.

Then, I can come out of hiding on my own time, learn my own way, at my own pace, with my own people (which as an introvert means just by myself, thank you).

Why did it feel necessary to send me, as a 5-year-old kid, to school to associate with other people – some who might be smarter, more outgoing, more attractive, taller (…maybe) – that could do anything better than me?

Well, fast forward 25 years (now you can probably catch on to how old I am) and I can tell the 5-year-old me that it really was (and is) worth it in the long run.

Now I’m not as shy, as introverted, as self-conscious as that little version of me. Instead, I was given an opportunity to understand and learn things about me, the world, and life and grow a little bit along the way (yes, a little taller, too). You really can learn things from other people that fade in and out of your life as you journey onwards to bigger and better stuff. Maybe some of those people stick by your side through it all (for me, that didn’t happen!). 

So, this is a nice story (maybe) and it was a relatable read (maybe) – but what the heck does it have to do with anything (specifically, Ecclesia)?

Well, friends. This is the moment. This is where everything is bonded together in one fascinating story!

Remember that first day of school for me, how it was intimidating and (just slightly) overwhelming (and I put on a good face to hide it from everyone – it’s what introverts do!)?

I had a flashback moment to that day about 5 months ago when I was approached to ask to consider being part of a church plant.

WHAATTT?!?!?!?! ME?!?!?!?!?! They do know I am introverted, self-conscious, and reserved……RIGHT?!?!?!

But I put on a good face. I probably looked really, really excited and honoured that I was being asked to be part of the future of an essential part of the Kingdom.

No pressure, though. 

I remember coming back to my wife after hearing about it in the “recruiting” session and being excited to tell her that we were on the radar for this opportunity.

There is something that moves inside of us when we are called and anointed for Kingdom work that is much greater than all those barriers the world has determined we are.

Which really, at the end of the day, is each one of us – called to do Kingdom work (and it looks different for each one of us) and we are potentially our own barriers to that calling. 

 I can’t tell you why I was so excited or eager about this opportunity.

I can’t tell you why those underlying things (self-conscious, reserved, introvert) didn’t even show their face – not even to me.

I can tell you that when God has a plan and you are a part of it, He really plans on making you a part of it.

I can tell you that when the Kingdom is about to get a little bit stronger, and a little bit bigger, there is not a single wall, or barrier, or hindrance that can’t be broken down. 

So if I could send a message back to me 5 months ago, that is what I would send.

I have learned about that so clearly over that time, but even more so over an 8 week study we did by Karen Wilk called Don’t Invite Them To Church. 

Weird title, isn’t it? Isn’t that our “duty”? Our “obligation” as followers of Jesus? If we invite them to church, then our job is done. We’ve brought someone to Jesus and enhanced the Kingdom of God.

Really? 

Isn’t that just like throwing that 5-year-old me into his first day of school and saying, “Have fun, Daniel, I’ve done my part – I brought you here!”

Listen:
(from Karen Wilk’s book) “The Bible describes the church as the people of God, or the community of God with a mission. The biblical word for church is ecclesia, meaning “called-out ones”. We are called out, not to leave something, but to love and to be God’s presence where we are…that is what the church was made and meant to be, and that is what we find in the New Testament: a community of Jesus’ followers with the mission of bringing God’s blessing where they live.”

That’s my new pet peeve, I am certain of it – throwing someone into a church building that you hand picked off the street, or maybe an old friend or acquaintance because of that feeling of obligation as a Christ-follower to bring someone to Jesus. One more check on the list, right?

Does God do that? Does God hand pick us to be His child, then leave us to fend for ourselves? 

If there is anything that has become so crystal clear to me as I’ve been on this journey – and the 8 week journey of our study – it is that everyone matters. I know that seems obvious. But part of making everyone matter also means putting forward an effort to love them. This also means that a relationship needs to happen. There’s no on the fence, um’s and ah’s, or conditions to it – it’s a necessity.

There is more work to be done outside the walls of a church building than there is inside. 

Isn’t there?

Otherwise, what Jesus do we really represent? What Kingdom are we really living for? What are we really a part of? Why do we just come to church on Sundays and believe that’s it? 

Aren’t we called to love our neighbour?! Surely that doesn’t mean just the person who sits beside us in our pew every week. 

Being on the introvert side, I must say I can relate to those who feel uncomfortable when they hear the word church and walk through it for the first time (or maybe its just been a long time). Or even, if we are part of the church hearing those dreaded words “go out and be disciples to all nations”. But I also know that God can use an introvert to build His Kingdom. He doesn’t care what you are, He cares who and whose you are and whether you have a heart for Him.

Something happens to me when I let God use me as part of Kingdom work. I never would have told you I would lead small groups, lead worship, share my testimony, pray out loud (sometimes), or even that I would be a leader within the church, or preach, or help plant a church. When we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and let that move in us and trust that, amazing things can happen.

This is one of those things – the church plant. It is and it will be a journey. But the beautiful thing is that it is a journey that 8 of us (so far) are taking together, and God is at the centre – the heart – of it all. 

And don’t ever think that God won’t teach or reveal things to you that are outside of the box of what it is you are doing. I’ve learned more about me, about others, about the body of Christ, about church, even about discipline (the discipline of study and commitment to the Word) than I could have ever imagined. 

Here I thought I was being thrown into the wolves for a church plant.

Turns out God has been teaching me not to just see the church, but be the church.

That also means be Jesus. Don’t just see him.

A heart that truly follows Jesus can shake things up. Just have heart.

I guess it’s time to shake the Kingdom. 

Matthew 5:13-16 says,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

So it gives Light to everyone. We don’t hide “under a bowl” (or keep it inside the doors). Let it shine for everyone to see. So, be inside out people. Be an inside out church. Just like when you turn a shirt inside out – the label disappears, but the foundation colour is still there and it catches your attention, because people will ask you why, or tell you, your shirt is inside out.

So the same thing with church. Why are you outside your church walls? Why are you out here?

So this is an exciting time. We now, with people on fire and a heart for God’s Kingdom, can be a church that goes out, that does things a little differently, that wipes the labels away.

As a 5 year old introverted kid, I was content to sit in a corner and watch. But I wouldn’t have learned much, grown much, or challenged myself in any way. 

Love is the biggest Light that cannot be contained, so just Love. If you’ve ever wondered what this all means, being a follower, being missional – just Love. 

What does that look like?

Love over hate. Love over stereotypes, prejudice, racism, fear, religion, politics, violence. 

Love for justice. Love for hope. Love for people. Love for the future of the world. Of us. For us.

Please. 

Sometimes it’s ok to sit and watch for awhile, and know what you are getting into.

Don’t watch too long, though, or you might miss what’s going on outside.

 

Why Ecclesia?

If you follow me or our new church on social media (check out @ecclesiaoshawa on both Facebook and Instagram!), you may have heard that we officially have a name now! We started meeting with our Core Team in May, and quickly decided that we needed a name for our new community of faith. So, we named our little baby church Ecclesia Church.

You might be thinking, “Ecclesia? That’s a weird word. Why would you choose that?” And, you’d be right. It is a weird word. And that’s partly why we chose it.

Our name tells the story of who we want to be. The Greek word ecclesia is used in the New Testament for the church, and was used throughout Greek culture for a group of people who came together for a purpose. When Jesus used it for the church, however, it seems to have taken on new depth for the early church. Ecclesia literally means “the called out ones,” and the church, then, are those who are called out for God’s purpose. At Ecclesia Church, we want to truly live as God’s called out ones in our world.

 This is what it's all about, friends!

This is what it's all about, friends!

But “called out” doesn’t mean “called away.” We don’t call ourselves ecclesia because we long to be carried away from the world, to divorce ourselves from the place and time in which we live. Instead, we believe that we’re called out to share God’s love right where we are, with the people “right under our nose.” We want to experience God’s presence and faithfully live out the hope we have in Christ right here, with and for and among all the people where we live, work, study, and play. To be a called-out people in the midst of our culture, not separated from it.

We hope you’ll join us in living out this identity as the called-out people of God, right here where God has placed us. Curious to know more about what this looks like for us? Check out this summary of the ideas that guide us, and this dive into our rhythm of life together. We hope you'll join us in living into our identity as God's called-out ones in our neighbourhood in North Oshawa!

Guest Post: You Were Created Exactly How You Are Supposed to Be

Happy Monday, friends! Today we have a guest post from Abby Bell, one of the beautiful souls who is part of Ecclesia. Abby is about to start her final year at Durham College, where she's studying Public Relations, and she is especially passionate about how social media and online communication affects our culture and relationships. PLUS, she's a musician, has a great eye for photography, and loves dogs - which makes her pretty cool in my book. She has a fantastic blog of her own, but today she took the time to share some of her heart and her experience on the Ecclesia team. So - a big thanks to Abby, and enjoy her words below:

Hey there! 

My name is Abby and I’m a part of the core team at Ecclesia church and I’m excited to share what’s been on my heart and I hope it resonates with you!

First of all, I want to remind you that you were created exactly the way you are supposed to be. I know I can sometimes get wrapped up in the things I’m not good at and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. I think we all long for a sense of belonging, but sometimes insecurities can prevent us from allowing ourselves to feel that way. Good news though: we all have a place in God’s kingdom. The way we think, communicate, create, plan, process and feel things are all unique to who he created us to be. The gifts that were given to us are what he wants us to use to bring glory to him, whatever that looks like. 

However, some gifts and talents can seem to be more important than others, especially in a church setting. Often we compare our gifts and short-circuit ourselves because we feel that they aren’t good enough, let alone see the value of them being used in our churches. The truth is, as Christ-followers, we need to allow God to show us how to value our personalities and gifts and see them as what makes us an asset in our churches and being in our communities. 

Our first 8 weeks as a core team we met, did a study together and got to know one another, God really showed me how every single person belongs in a church community and that we all have something to offer to make that community stronger.

Jana had us take Strengths Finder as a core team. Strengths Finder is test that you can take that will identify and describe your top 5 strengths. We did this so that we could get to know not only the group’s strengths, but also get to know ourselves. I love personality tests a lot, (especially Myers-Briggs) so of course I was excited to see what Strengths Finder thought my strengths are. To sum up my top 5 strengths, according to the test: (Ideation, Input, Communication, Positivity, and Woo) I’m creative, a people-person, positive, full of ideas, and a good communicator, but not very good at the whole logic thing. Logic and strategic thinking are very important, luckily those are strengths that other members of the Ecclesia team have, thank goodness! We saw that our individual strengths are complimentary as a team, it was like we were meant to be! Our strengths that God specifically created us to have are going to bring out the best in each other, and I believe is what will help shape Ecclesia into the community God wants it to be. 

Guess what we can get excited about? We all belong in community together; strengths, weaknesses, the whole 9 yards!

In Romans 12: 4-5, Paul compares a group of Chris-followers/ the church as a human body: “4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” (NLT) 

Every single person who steps into a church has something to offer. When I struggle with who I am, I turn to Christ to show me that my gifts and strengths are valuable. Also, my weaknesses can also be brought to him as well. 

Whether we have known about our gifts all of our lives or are just figuring them out now, it’s about the journey, not the destination, right? 

Thank you for reading! 

If you would like to learn more about Ecclesia, check out this summary of our values.. 

Until next time and God bless,

Abby

"We Just Cared More."

As I write this, it’s Tuesday, and I’m spending my Tuesday in my favourite coffee shop (which I’ve lovingly dubbed “my office”), working through some long-term planning and goal-setting, along with my (decaf) coffee and chocolate chip cookie. And, on a little “brain break” from my real work today, I came across a great quote from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

 Have you seen our awesome logo yet?

Have you seen our awesome logo yet?

I’ll be honest, I don’t often turn to Mark Zuckerberg for church-planting inspiration. But…maybe I should. After all, he took a little seed of an idea and turned it into not only a multi-billion-dollar company, but also a world-changing technology. For all the criticisms you could level at Facebook (and perhaps rightly so), it’s become a major means of communication and connection for people all over the world. It’s my main ways of keeping up with friends and family who live far away. I overshare cute pictures of my daughter there, because that way my parents and my siblings and my long-distance friends might get some sense of who she is, even though they’re far away. Facebook Messenger has become a go-to texting service to get in touch with my friends locally.

So, on the tenth anniversary of Facebook, which was in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a reflection on what those ten years had meant to him. In that reflection, Zuckerberg said this:

“When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it. 

The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.”

We just cared more.

As I spend my day doing lots of strategic planning and dreaming and praying, I keep returning to this large question of, “Who will we be at Ecclesia?”

Another way to ask this question, I suppose, is “What does Ecclesia care about the most?”

 The first gathering of our Core Team.

The first gathering of our Core Team.

What do I care about the most?

We have a core team of seven people. We’re just regular people, trying to listen to God’s voice and follow where He calls. We have very few resources. Perhaps, on paper, other churches would be more equipped to touch lives and transform our neighbourhood than seven people with no money.

But - boy - we care.

We care about our neighbours in North Oshawa experiencing the love and grace and community that we experience in Jesus every day. We care about speaking hope into difficult places.

We care about being a church that gathers and scatters. About not being a community that only “does church” on Saturday evenings in our worship gatherings, but also intentionally lives out our faith every day of the week - together, and as individuals. We care about being a church that share’s God’s love with others where we live, work, study, and play - with the people “right under our nose.”

So sure, we’re small, and our resources are few. Other churches might have more money or more people or more space or more history. But God has given us a beautiful vision for our neighbourhood in North Oshawa - and we love it. We care.

And we’re so excited to see what’s next.

Calling Stories

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
    But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
    Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  Jeremiah 1:4-10

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Some of my favourite moments in the Bible are when God calls someone to something big. I find a strange sort of comfort in how these stories play out.

Jeremiah 1:4-10 shares an intimate moment between the prophet Jeremiah and God Himself, when God calls Jeremiah to do his difficult work of preaching bad news to the nation of Israel. God begins the conversation with a beautiful, poetic address to Jeremiah, telling him that before Jeremiah was born God had set him apart as a prophet. This was Jeremiah's destiny. This is what Jeremiah was created to do.

And Jeremiah responds in such a human way. He comes up with excuses. "I don't know how to speak," he says. "I'm too young." Jeremiah knows this is a big deal. God just laid out his entire purpose in life, and Jeremiah isn't so sure God has the right guy.

I don't know about you, but I know I've done the same thing. Looking back over my life, I can see a number of moments as I was growing up where God was trying to show me that I was supposed to go into ministry. But I was sure I was supposed to do something with music, or teaching (like all my siblings), or something...not church. And when I got the call to plant a church in Oshawa, I could have told you a million reasons why I was the wrong person. I'm not the Alpha-male, CEO-type leader that's often thought of for church planting. I'm in the wrong life-stage; my husband and I still want to have another baby, and it would be crazy to do both (right?). Moving to Canada would be too hard. We don't know anybody in Oshawa, and we'd be completely starting life over.

But Jeremiah and I aren't the only ones to respond to God's big call in this way. Moses did it (Exodus 3:10-14), saying, "Who am I that I should go?" Sarai (or Sarah) did it (Genesis 18:1-15), laughing when God sent visitors to bring the news that she and her husband would have a son in their old age. Jonah did it (Jonah 1), running away to the point of having to be thrown off a boat and swallowed by a fish to get him to listen. In fact, in almost every instance in Scripture, when God comes calling and shares His purpose for someone's life, their response is almost always to resist at first. There are always excuses, or disbelief, or running away, or even laughter.

And in each instance, God's response is the same. God says, "Don't be afraid. I'll be with you." 

In the face of our excuses, our fear, and our disbelief, God simply responds with his faithful presence.

When you look at Jeremiah - or Moses or Sarah or Jonah - it turns out that God was right. And he remained true to his word; God was always with each of them, every step of the way.

What big calling does God have for you next? Maybe He's calling you to step out in faith, or to connect with your neighbours in a deeper way, or to be more open about who you are and the One who shapes your life to your friends and family who are outside of the church. Or maybe He's asking you to step into relationship with Him for the first time. I know for me, in my calling to start a new church in North Oshawa, I'm holding on every day to the assurance of God's presence with me. And today, I invite you to do the same.