More Than A Hockey Tournament

In a couple of hours I will be packing my bags to play in a hockey tournament in Waterloo, Ontario. My friends are well aware of my passion for hockey. And yet, for me, as I head out to play in this tournament, hockey will be secondary. Our team has been entered in the ‘recreational’ division, which is code for ‘we’re not all that great, so nobody get too serious.’ The team I’m playing for is the Muskoka Woods Alumni. For me, this tourney is more about my reconnection with Muskoka Woods than it is about my playing hockey. You see, in 1985, a snotty, know-it-all, 12 year-old (me!) surrendered his life to Jesus Christ……at Muskoka Woods. For the next few years I struggled to appropriately live out this new found faith. Nonetheless, by God’s merciful providence, I was hired by Chris Little to work in the kitchen at Muskoka Woods in 1989. At this point, I was by no means a mature Christian, but I was feeling positively challenged and stretched in my faith. This continued in the summer of 1990, when one of my roommates was Brian K. Smith. If you know anything about ‘B.K.’ you know he relishes challenging himself and those around him. I needed that. I responded well to that.

In 1991, I was off to the University of Western Ontario, where I lived in the residence next to that same Brian K. Smith. In 1992, I rented a house in London with two other Muskoka Woods alumni, David Terry and Derek Herbert. That was a great year for me. By 1993, we were hosting a home group Bible study which attracted another Muskoka Woods alumnus, Bernie Skelding.

I give this background because today I’ll be reunited on the ice with David Terry, Derek Herbert, Bernie Skelding, and another good friend from Muskoka Woods, Iain Lovatt. You might say this will be a ‘blast from the past’, and I would say ‘Yes’ in the best sense of the phrase. These gentlemen remind me of my spiritual beginnings. These men knew the Bryn MacPhail who struggled in so many ways as an immature Christian. These men also had a hand in influencing who I am today. Muskoka Woods had a hand in influencing who I am today.

I’m not alone in this. Chris Little, who hired me to work at MW in 1989, is a highly regarded Presbyterian minister in Innerkip, Ontario. Brian K. Smith is a recent graduate of Masters Seminary in California and has been called to minister with Harvest Bible Fellowship. Bernie Skelding is a Presbyterian minister in Wingham, Ontario. David Terry is an elder where I minister (St. Giles Kingsway P.C.). Iain Lovatt works full-time for Muskoka Woods.

I’m so grateful for my spiritual roots. I’m so grateful for the friends who have shared the journey with me and who positively impacted my walk with Christ.

I love hockey. But today is not about hockey. Today is about celebrating what God has done in each of us through a place called Muskoka Woods.

Starting Over

As I kid I remember riding around the neighbourhood on my BMX looking for things to jump. My inspiration for this at the time was Evel Knievel. I didn’t know much about Evel Knievel–only that he could do things on a motorcycle that no one else on the planet would even dare to attempt. Later in life, I learned of the extent of Evel Knievel’s wealth–that he had 5 Rolls Royces, 5 Ferraris, Lamborghinis, 2 jet airplanes, diamonds, gold, racing horses–you name it, Evel Knievel likely had it. What I didn’t know until recently was that, in spite of all that he had accomplished, Evel Knievel regarded himself to be “empty”. For years Evel resisted Christianity and the God who pursued him. By his own admission, Evel Knievel “didn’t want to be told what to do.”

Thankfully, this story takes a remarkable turn. After much searching and struggling, Evel Knievel learned that Christianity wasn’t so much about rules as it was a relationship. Evel learned that the One he spent his life running from and resisting was actually the answer to his search for fulfillment. “I’m so complete now”, was how Evel Knievel described himself after finding salvation in Jesus Christ.

Evel Knievel died in 2007 as a man feeling “complete”.

Undoubtedly, this ‘completeness’ is something we all want for ourselves. This desire for fulfillment is a function of our being created by God for God. Yes, there is a God-shaped void in all of us. Instinctively, we attempt to fill that void with a myriad of things, but are unable to shake the “empty” feeling within us.

Thankfully, God pursues us. The grand message of the New Testament is that the God who created us for Himself, draws us to Himself and “completes” us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Connected to Christ, what is empty is filled up; what was once lost is now found; what was old and tainted is replaced by that which is new and pure. In short, we change.

There’s the sense that what Evel Knievel experienced should be what each of us experiences when we come to Christ. It’s a new start and a spiritual rebirth (John 3:3). The new start doesn’t mean we’re now perfect (far from it!), but it does mean we have a new direction, a new purpose, and a new hope. And above all, we have a new Master, Captain, and King. Evel Knievel got that, and it satisfied his soul.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be like Evel Knievel. I still want to be like Evel Knievel……just for different reasons now.

May I encourage you to listen to my message, ‘The New You’ (based on Colossians 3:1-10)

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The Parable Of Found Sheep

Once upon a time there was a shepherd with one hundred sheep. One day, however, the shepherd noticed that one of his sheep was missing. After giving the ninety-nine sheep some parting instructions, the shepherd left them in the open country in search of the missing sheep.

Almost immediately, some of the remaining sheep began to grumble.

“Why would he leave us behind? This makes no sense. There are ninety-nine of us here and only one that is lost.”

“I entirely agree. Mr. Shepherd should have more appreciation for the ninety-nine who are here. We’re always on time. We never wander. And we never deviate from our routine.”

“You’ve got that right! And besides, that lost lamb is always exploring places he shouldn’t. Remember that time he got himself caught in a thicket?”

“I do! But that’s the way the lambs are these days. It’s not like when you and I were lambs you know.”

“I realize that. And doesn’t Mr. Shepherd understand that these wandering lambs often return on their own? They just need some time to themselves. How does that proverb go again?”

“You mean the one that says, ‘Raise up a lamb in the way he should go and he will not soon depart from it’?”

“That’s the one! You would think that Mr. Shepherd would just be more patient—just sit back and wait–like the rest of us.”

“Well, what’s done is done. Mr. Shepherd is gone and we need to develop a plan to keep the rest of us safe.”

“But what about Mr. Shepherd’s parting instructions? When he said we need to…”

“Don’t you get it? Mr. Shepherd is not around. We need to look after ourselves. Plus, don’t you think Mr. Shepherd would want us to try and survive? Taking chances doesn’t seem prudent given our current predicament. It’s a scary world out there–lots of wolves and wild dogs. We need to stay focused on us–you know, the ninety-nine that didn’t cause any trouble.”

“OK, I get that. So, what should we do?”

“Glad you asked. I know some sheep from the pasture beyond the ravine, and what they did is they formed committees.”


“Yes, committees. Ninety-nine is the perfect number to divide into three committees. These committees will ensure that we’ll be well-fed and safe for a long, long, time. You and I will each convene a committee, and we’ll ask Meek if he’ll convene the other.”

“Sounds good. What will the committees be responsible for?”

“Well, if you’re asking about our common vision, that’s easy: Self-preservation. As for the distinct committee mandates, I have some ideas. We definitely need a defence committee. This group will be responsible for our safety plan. They’ll make recommendations regarding protection from outsiders, and they’ll be charged with showing us the best places to hide.”

“Who will take that committee?”

“I will–I’m great at hiding.”

“What committee do you want me to take?”

“You should take the land management committee. We need someone to make sure we don’t overtax a particular part of our pasture. These sheep need to realize that if they are too active, it is hard on the environment. The best way to keep our land in good shape is to minimize our movement.”

“Roger that. And the third committee? That must be the search committee?”

“Search committee?! Are you kidding me?! Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying? It’s dangerous out there! We’re not trekking to some place we’ve never been before. Besides, Mr. Shepherd is out ‘searching’ for his precious lamb–he doesn’t need us.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“I know I’m right. The third committee will be our food distribution committee. Meek will take that one—although he’ll definitely need to be more assertive.”

“You really think we need a food distribution committee? I mean, we really just eat the grass and plants around here.”

“I see you’ve already forgotten about those sacks of grain Mr. Shepherd has.”

“Oh, I did forget!”

“That grain is too valuable to be carelessly frittered away. I expect Meek will have to develop some rules governing the consumption of the grain. Don’t worry, I’ll tell him what he has to do.”

“Are you sure we shouldn’t have even a small search committee? I think there are ten or twelve sheep who are actually concerned about that lost little lamb.”

“Tell those sheep to refocus their concern inward—we have a lot of work to do around here! Let me frame this for you another way: What if Mr. Shepherd not only finds the one missing lamb, but what if he finds a bunch of missing sheep out there? If we don’t have a tight grip on that grain supply those newcomers will eat it up in no time!”

“We’re staying put then? No matter what?”

“No matter what. Remember, it’s not our fault these sheep are running away.”


May the above parable provoke us to follow the lead of our Good Shepherd (Luke 15:3-7).

Make It Stick

I wonder how many of us follow through on our good ideas. We dream up a plan. We develop a vision. We write a proposal. The wheels of momentum begin to turn, but we can’t quite seem to sustain what we’ve started. Or we begin down a certain track only to have unexpected challenges force our vision off the road.

If you are at all like me, composing the vision is not the difficult part–keeping it on course is. If you’ve been tracking my blog, you are aware that my congregation is considering the launch of a very different kind of ministry. The Well is designed with the unchurched and the barely churched in mind. The Well is our response to the fact that, in large measure, my generation (I’m 35) and the generation after me, aren’t attending church. Part of me gets that. I am not too many years removed from the days when church bored me to tears. It shouldn’t be this way…ever. The message of Jesus Christ is the most exciting message in the history of the world….but you wouldn’t know that by examining the way some congregations deliver that message. Or, as a colleague of mine puts it, ‘We’ve managed to make the most irresistible message in the world resistible.’

I’m not trying to be unkind. I am, however, eager for the local church to amend their delivery (not the content!) of the Christian message. The container needs to change in order to be comprehensible to a new generation (1 Corinthians 10:22, 23).

So, here I am ready to go. The proposal for The Well has been written, printed, copied, distributed, and posted online. We’ve had committee meetings, presentations, and prayer meetings around the prospect of launching The Well. The word is out, I’m convinced of that. I’m not convinced, however, that the word is sticking.

I’m grateful to have come across a little book, written by Andy Stanley, entitled, ‘Making Vision Stick’. That’s my challenge today as I type this. I’m learning the hard way (as usual) that ‘Vision doesn’t have much adhesive’ and that ‘vision doesn’t stick without constant care and attention’ (Stanley).

Someone might say, ‘Bryn, if the vision is of God, it will stick.’

I think that is partly right. If the vision is of God, it will stick to some degree. It will stick in some places and with some people. By no means, do I think successful launch of The Well depends entirely upon the leadership of Bryn MacPhail. Nor do I think I am irrelevant to that process either. If the vision doesn’t stick, the leader, or the courier, of that vision needs to look in the mirror and examine what he or she did or didn’t do to keep the plan on track.

That’s where I’m at today. I’m praying. I’m wrestling. I’m strategizing. I’m hoping. And, I’m wondering if you have any ideas around what it takes to make a vision stick.

This is Fun

I’ve been blogging for almost a month now–and I love it! It feels like online journaling, except for the fact that my thoughts are open for the whole world to see. That’s kind of scary and kind of cool, all at the same time. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments a few of you have left, and it is my sincere hope that the number of comments increases. Because, in my view, what makes the blogging experience unique is your ability to talk back. My expectation is that your comments/responses to posts will inspire my future posts. In other words, I want this to feel more like an online dialogue than me giving a sermon (not that sermons are bad!).

Speaking of sermons….I’m mindful that this domain used to be the location for finding reformed theology resources (The Reformed Theology Source). I am still very much interested in furnishing you with resources to assist you in your journey of faith. Much of the content on the right-hand side bar reflects this desire. Let’s walk through that side bar now:

Random Quote: I have amassed a great collection of quotes over the years, but I’m sure that I have only begun to scratch the surface. If you have a short quote relating to God’s BIGNESS (His supremacy), I’d be glad to receive it from you, and I’ll consider it for use on this blog.

Facebook Profile: OK, this isn’t a resource as much as it is a utility, but I have been amazed at the two-way traffic I’ve discerned between my blog and my fb profile. I’m utilizing a plug-in, Wordbook, that notices when I write a post and kindly previews that post on my fb profile–very cool!

Featured Resource: I hope self-promotion doesn’t bother you. The featured resource is a little booklet I wrote, inspired by the hymn, Here, O My Lord, I See Thee. I use the hymn as a springboard to reflect theologically and devotionally about the meaning of The Lord’s Supper. The Heavenly Table really is a booklet, and is priced accordingly at $3.00.

Blogroll: I’m grateful that there are so many people smarter than I who are blogging. It’s a mixed group: two are full-time pastors, one is finishing training for the pastorate, one is a world renowned history professor, one is a professional musician, and one is a layperson whose knowledge of reformed theology exceeds my own. I encourage you to take the time and visit each of these quality blog sites.

Featured Messages: I opened this post by saying how I want this blog to more closely resemble a dialogue than a sermon. Well, hopefully you won’t consider it a huge contradiction to find some of my sermon notes on this blog! I have selected, and linked, what I regard to be some of the key messages I have delivered over the past few years. I have attempted to cover a variety of topics and texts with this selection. If you’ve heard me preach, or if you’ve read some of my sermons in the past, and think I’ve left out a critical message–please let me know. I’ll happily honour requests in this section!

Recommended Sites: Kind of self-explanatory. They are all worthy spots to visit!

Horatius Bonar CD: Remember the hugely knowledgeable lay person I mentioned earlier in the blogroll? Well, he has meticulously put together the best collection of Horatius Bonar resources you’ll ever find. Not familiar with Bonar? Want more info on the CD? Then visit here. (Just make sure if you buy the CD, you mention this blog post—I think I can get a breakfast out of it 🙂 )

Recommended Reading: You are looking at cover images of four books (randomly selected) from my library. These books range from John Calvin (1500s) to present day authors. You’ll find a variety of genres represented in this selection.


That concludes our tour of the right-hand side bar for today. We hope you enjoyed the trip and I look forward to reading your comments 🙂