Friday 22 April 2016

Is singleness a command, a curse, a choice, or a gift?

"Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry." 

1 Corinthians 7:1

Does the bible teach that we should not get married?  Is singleness a command, a curse, a choice, or a gift?  Join us this Sunday at Knox Midland as Pastor Alton explores these questions and what God has to say about singleness and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7.  P33 will lead us in music and there will be coffee and snack afterwards.  So please join us.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Our Coming Saviour - Advent at Knox Midland 2015

Hi folks,

I am listening to Christmas music right now in my study.  A little early?  Not for me.  I am already busy working with P33 and Messy Church leaders planning Advent at Knox.

As you know, we put a lot of effort into the Christmas season.  Partly because Christmas is my absolute favourite and partly because people are most open to Jesus at Christmas.

Advent is just 4 Sundays from now and I want to start spreading the word now about what we are doing because I want you to join me and the leaders of Knox in praying for it. 

Sure we can get people out on Christmas Eve, but with this series I can’t help thinking about something that my wife, said to me the other day.  She said, “If we could get people in not just on Christmas Eve but from the start of Advent we could change their lives.”

I know it is hard for people to make the decision to gather with us in worship, but would you join me in praying that people come?  Not just Christmas Eve, but all of Advent.  Can you imagine how joyous it would be to see people and families make Jesus part of their Christmas experience?

So please pray for us as we plan and perhaps the Holy Spirit will lead you to someone who needs an invitation to Jesus this Christmas.  

In Christ,

Rev. Alton J. Ruff


Tuesday 24 March 2015

I want to share with you my sermon manuscript from Sunday.  I think the context it brings and the overall conclusion is that important.  I'd LOVE to hear from some of you that responded to the challenge at the end.



Luke 6:32-26
Rev. Alton J. Ruff
Knox Presbyterian Church, Midland
March 22, 2015

The gist: Being nice is not an evangelism strategy.  Unchurched people are nice too. But loving a person who has hurt you, that goes against culture and witnesses to the love of Christ.  

INTRO: skit: being nice – an evangelism strategy

I came to faith in the early 1990’s.   This was back when we just starting to realize that Canadian culture and its attitude towards Christianity were beginning to radically shift.  The baby boomer generation was abandoning the church in droves and Gen X’ers coming after them (my generation) just didn’t care a flying fig about Church.  Mission donations and volunteers were both down.  Pastors had to work hard to fill their pews each Sunday.  Volunteers were busy with secular events.  Churches were closing.

You see a political decision was made in the early 90’s that has lasting effects to this day.  There are some here today who can’t remember a time when businesses were not allowed to open on Sundays.  Just imagine; you would walk down Main Street and every door of every business, with very few exceptions, would be locked – all but the Church door, that is.

You see Canada had this act, called the Lord’s Day Act, which prevented business owners from opening so that people would be free to keep the Lord’s Day holy.  This act went back to the Christian roots that founded the country.  But in 1985 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that according to the newly adopted Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Lord’s Day Act was in conflict with Canadian ideals about religious freedom. 

However, in Ontario, and other provinces, the provincial governments held their own acts that still regulated the opening of businesses on Sundays.  Many of you who are my age or older will remember clearly that in June of 1992 Ontario’s Rae government, bowing to strong public pressure, repealed the Retail Business Holiday Act that prevented the majority of businesses in Ontario from opening on Sundays most of the year.  Many other provinces soon followed suit.

This was the death knell for Canadian Christianity as we had known it.  Although modernity had taken its toll on the Church in the 20th century, nevertheless before 1992 filling a Canadian Church was sort of easy.  People had few choices.  Stay at home and have brunch, which admittedly is fairly attractive, or go to Church.  After 1992 the options went from that to: 1. Go to Church; 2. Do anything else.

You see before 1992 not only were businesses closed on Sundays but so were many other activities.  Kid’s programs, sports, entertainment were largely avoided on Sundays.  When people looked around and saw the mall open on the Lord’s Day they said, well why don’t we start scheduling pee wee hockey on Sunday mornings too?

The Church, which for the most part had become antiquated and out of touch with the needs of many people, began to empty as people explored their newfound freedom. 

So what did we do?

First, and most importantly, we panicked.  Second, we realized that we needed to change in order to grow.  Adapt to survive.  But what to do?

Many people looked to the mega churches in the US like Saddleback and Willow Creek for guidance.  While others were declining, their numbers were swelling into the thousands.  What was their secret?

Seeker Sensitive Services.

That’s it!  Everybody develop a seeker sensitive service!  Well what the heck is that?

An SSS, or Seeker Sensitive Service was a worship service geared towards the seeker (2 slides).  A seeker was one who did not go to Church, did not have a relationship with Jesus, but turned up on your doorstep and was willing to hear what you had to say. 

I always thought the term “seeker” was a bit optimistic.  Like, they are seeking out Jesus like the monastics in the middle ages.  I always thought we should call them “Mildly Curious Sensitive Services” or MCSS’s for short.  Or maybe “Dragged to Church by a Friend Sensitive Services” or DCFSS’s for short.  But I digress…

In these SSS’s the gospel message was sort of watered down, made more palatable.  The music changed and was less 18th century and more 20th century.  Clerical robes were traded in for jeans and Hawaiian shirts.  The service was high energy and instead of preaching the lectionary, the preacher spoke short sermons about parenting and finances, from a biblical perspective of course.

In November 1995, Pastor Andy Stanley stood in front of a gathering of believers at a North Atlanta convention center and cast the vision for a new church. He said, "Atlanta does not need another church. What Atlanta does need is a safe environment where the unchurched can come and hear the life-changing truth that Jesus Christ cares for them and died for their sin." So began North Point Community Church, now the largest Church in North America with 33,000 people attending a campus each weekend.

And then Willow Creek and Saddleback and later, North Point all started to package the secret to their success and we ate up like a chocolate Sundae.  Just devoured it.  I mean, many churches refused to change and to this day have been doing the same thing for two hundred years, but a lot of us started our own seeker sensitive services in our small towns, suburbs and cities which focused on attracting the un-churched (our new designation for those who didn’t go to Church – I know… clever right?). 

All over North America overhead projectors complete with transparencies were now perched at the front of our sanctuaries, organists were being put out to pasture and praise teams were formed.  We sang rousing renditions of, “Shine Jesus Shine,” and “Shout to the Lord” as we smiled to ourselves broadly and waited for the masses to flock unto us.

But they didn’t.
I mean, some places experienced growth, but not all of us.  Not a lot of us.  Not most of us!  What happened?

You see we had fallen for an ideal that worked in some very specific contexts but didn’t work everywhere.  It turns out that God’s specific leading to specific people in specific places wasn’t necessarily universal.  Although the mega-churches down south would always warn people that their methods couldn’t always guarantee success in other demographics, they still held these huge conferences and spoke 99% of the time like it would.

And we believed it.

So we were heartbroken.  We worked so hard and prayed so much, and believed so deeply, for what?  To alienate the elderly who didn’t love the changes?  To spend money that yielded little in return?  To mobilize a congregation for growth only to watch it not happen and the people become disenchanted or even question their leadership’s ability to lead?

And so we started to realize that maybe we were missing something.  Not doing it right.  And then someone said, “I know what we’ve done wrong,” we’ve forgotten to evangelize the masses.  We need to let people know that we’ve changed.  We need to get them into our buildings on Sundays so that they can see how cool we are now.  We need to evangelize.  But how?

You see, we’d done a lot of overseas missions.  We knew how to convert the “heathen” in other countries, but we didn’t know how to do that here.  We never had to before.  In fact the whole idea made us uncomfortable.

And then somebody said, “Here’s what we’re going to do.  We are going to be so stinkin’ nice to people that they are going to look at us and say, ‘Wow! You are so stinkin’ nice!  Tell me how I can be as stinkin’ nice as you!’”

Pastors called this “lifestyle evangelism.”  Conferences were held.  Training took place.  So we put on our biggest smiles, we cut out all cursing, we didn’t get drunk in front of people, and we tried our best to be as nice as possible to our friends and coworkers, and do you know what happened?


It turns out that the “un-churched” are pretty nice too.  At least a lot of them are.  It also turns out that a lot of Christians aren’t that nice.  So in the end we just kinda blended in for the most part.

So that strategy failed.

But we probably should have seen that coming.  I mean, even Jesus talked about how this “be nice to others” strategy was doomed from the start when He said:

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even 'sinners' do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full.  Luke 6:32-34

Jesus is basically saying, being nice isn’t going to get you very far.[1]  Even ‘sinners’ as Jesus so delicately puts it, are often very nice people.  So what are you getting at Jesus?

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  Luke 6:35-36  

What?  Love my enemies?!  Do good to them?!  I don’t think so!  I mean, that sounds good on paper, but you don’t know what my enemies have done to me.  You don’t know the hurt and the pain and brokenness I have received at their hands.  Jesus, you don’t know how my back tenses and my stomach roils when I even hear the names of some of my enemies.  You don’t know.

Doesn’t He?  Doesn’t He know everything?

And doesn’t He know what it is like to have enemies of His own?  Who betrayed him and beat him, mocked him and crucified Him.  And He in return repaid the favour by asking God to forgive them.

Doesn’t He know?

It seems to me that in our day and age when the Church isn’t the only game in town on Sunday mornings anymore, we need to adapt.  But we won’t succeed by trying to be cool, seeker sensitive worshipers (that’s the attractional model), and we won’t succeed by being nice and hoping that people notice and randomly ask us why we are so nice (which is just a variation of the attractional model) but if the Church is going to succeed we need to change our game plan.  We need to learn to love.

And when I say love, I mean like Christ loves us.  Like loving the poor who can never repay us.  Or loving the emotionally unwell who can’t love us back.  Or loving those who have hurt us, even if it is hard.  To be merciful just as our Father in Heaven is merciful.

Now do you see why we tried the other models first?  Because this way is hard.  But it is the only way.

We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:19-21   

Friends, we’ve come a long way since 1992.  And we’ve learned a lot.  I like that Knox is a cool hip place to be, at least as far as churches go.  I like that we are sensitive to the needs of seekers who darken our door. I like that our attendance is growing, even if just a few people at a time.  And I like that you are all very nice people (with a few notable exceptions), but let us never forget our primary directive: to love.  To really love.

There is so much more to say, so I’m going to pick this up again in a number of weeks in a series I’m calling “Church Is.”  But for now I want you to do something for me.  I want to ask you to think about one person in your life who needs to be loved.  Not a friend who will pay you back, or a relative who will reciprocate that action.  But somebody who may never return the favour, but needs to be loved.  Can you think of one person?

Then do me a favour, ask God this week how you might love them.  And then write me and tell me what happened if you choose to follow through with the Spirit’s leading.  


[1] You might remember that the apostle Peter boldly shared his faith in Christ on the Day of Pentecost in the streets of Jerusalem, and 3,000 people were converted to Christ and baptized as a result (Acts 2:41). Shortly afterwards, he and the other apostles were taking action to meet the needs of widows (Acts 6:1-7).

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Do you attend church regularly? How “regular” is being redefined.

Do you attend church regularly?  What does “regular” mean to you? 

  • Every week, without fail, rain or shine
  • Most weeks, so long as there isn’t a NOFO (non-optional family outing) or weekend getaway planned
  • Once or twice a month.  I have a lot going on after all but I still want to feel connected.
  • Every once in a while I actually go the building, but I listen to the message online and interact with church folks through social media, text, and email.
  • I rarely go on Sunday morning, but I belong to a small group/book study/service group/other mid-week program and that’s church to me.
  • Christmas and Easter.  Is the church open between those dates?

It is likely that you can find yourself somewhere on this list.  It is also likely that you are surprised by one or more of these definitions of regular church attendance.  Many Millennials and Generation Xers will marvel at the commitment of our older members who carve out that precious hour every Sunday morning without fail.  Those from the Greatest Generation may be surprised that someone could rarely if ever attend a Sunday service and yet still consider themselves a consistent participant in the life of a local congregation. 

But they do.

More and more our congregations are talking about shrinking attendance. “Where did everybody go?” we ask scratching our heads as we survey empty pews on Sunday mornings.  However,  before we can get far down the road of understanding this unique time in the life of the North American Church, we need to first understand how culture has shifted, and how that affects our understanding of being the Church. 

If what we mean by Church growth is directly correlated to Sunday attendance then no wonder we are frustrated because it doesn’t really mean that anymore.   Does it?  More importantly we might be missing out on a huge opportunity.  Being the Church in the 21st century is so much more than the number that the ushers hand in to the Church secretary each week.

So what about you?  Do you attend church regularly?

Rev. Alton J. Ruff