Stuart Townend’s song exclaims, “How deep the Father’s love for us! How vast beyond all measure!” As we heard the resurrection story from Matthew 28, and the inspiration for Townend’s song in 1 John 3.1-10, we asked the question, “How Deep?” in today’s Easter celebration message. Listen here:
Posted by Jeff on April 18, 2014
Posted by Jeff on April 18, 2014
On this Good Friday, I thought I’d share some encouragement from a few years back. Take a look…
If you are a listener to sermons, it may help you to know that even preachers don’t always remember preaching entirely or exactly. I have one vivid memory, however, of a sermon I heard one Sunday before Easter as a teenager, around the time I gave my life to Jesus. I’ve never forgotten its basic message.
There’s so much of the Scripture that we hear on Good Friday and Easter Day that is rich and deserves deeper attention; I hope you’ll meditate on a passage such as Luke 22, 23 and 24 this weekend. But I want to focus on just a few words from Jesus, uttered from the cross, to a criminal who was hanging on a similar cross on one side of him. This criminal had a different stance than the other. One of them insulted Jesus and, thinking of himself, tried to get Jesus to use his power as the Christ (which he willingly acknowledged!) to rescue the three of them from the death they were about to face. The other criminal rebuked him and said, “‘Don’t you fear God,…, since you are under the same sentence?…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23.40-43, NIV).
This was the text of the sermon I remember so well. It was a word of hope, a word of grace, a word of love. Jesus could have chosen to feel sorry for himself as he hung on the cross, naked, bleeding, gasping for air, dying. Instead, he chose to reach out to a sinner who recognized him and who repented.
Both criminals knew Jesus for who he was; even the insulting criminal averred, “Aren’t you the Christ?” (Luke 23.39b, NIV). This man was willing to acknowledge that Jesus was who he claimed to be. But he was not interested in what Jesus stood for, unless it was going to get him out of his immediate situation.
The other criminal, looking around Jesus, rebuked his partner in crime, saying that while they were getting what they deserved, Jesus had done nothing wrong. Then he asked Jesus to remember him in his eternal kingdom. And at that moment, when any normal human being might have ignored him, Jesus reached out. His loving arms nailed to a cruel cross, all Jesus had with which to reach out were his words: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Can you imagine being that criminal? Can you imagine having that assurance, right from the lips of the Saviour himself? “Today!” No delay. “When you breathe your last, you’ll be with me,” is what Jesus said, in effect.
Of course, if the cross were the end, Jesus couldn’t have said what he did. His death would pay the price for sin, but only when he broke the bonds of death on the third day would he open the gates for believers to receive eternal life. And because that happened on that first Easter weekend, all who follow Jesus, everywhere, ever since, have had the promise of freedom from sin and new and everlasting life.
Think you’re not good enough? Of course you’re not. None of us is. But it’s not our goodness that wins our salvation. It’s faith. That’s why a career criminal was the first to taste eternal life – at the invitation of the Saviour.
God’s best for your weekend – in sorrow at the cross, and in victory at the empty tomb!
Posted by Jeff on April 13, 2014
The final chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, is a call to come to Jesus, and a call for Jesus to come. Yet we wait. How can we wait, constructively, for Jesus’ return? Listen to this to learn more:
Posted by Jeff on April 11, 2014
Yesterday, I had a three-hour conversation with a colleague whom I deeply respect and genuinely like. Our conversation went ‘around the world’ in one sense, but found its focus on God, the things of God, and being leaders of God’s people. It was the kind of conversation that leaves one energized and encouraged about the task of serving God’s kingdom.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in church leadership or not; you need a friend with whom you can have those comfortable conversations. Ideally, you need a friend with whom you can talk about your work and your faith; for my colleague and I, of course, those two things are intricately interwoven. But to be able to chat freely, openly, and vulnerably with someone about life and faith is a real gift. Hopefully, you can do this with your spouse, if you have one, and that’s an important part of any marriage; yet it’s also good to have friends, particularly who share similar vocational or avocational interests, with whom to exchange ideas and just generally commiserate.
John Calvin certainly had this in mind when he created his Company of Pastors, a weekly gathering of clergy from all around Geneva and environs, in the 1530s. Not all jobs have any sort of built-in method for fellowship, but that doesn’t stop us from creating them. Even if we are not working outside the home everyday, as is the case with retirees and stay-at-home parents, there can still be room for connecting with friends in a similar place in life. (If you’re not sure of the value of this, check out any moms-and-tots group, or the coffee klatch at the nearby donut shop most weekday mornings!)
These examples allude to another form of Christian fellowship from which we all can benefit: the small group. Congregations have different names for their small groups; at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we call them LifeConnect Groups. They are avenues for study, fellowship, mutual support, and service, and are key means of helping the congregation fulfill its mission to connect with God, grow in Christ, and serve in community. Being part of a small group is a great way to remember that our faith is not just a Sunday thing; God calls us to integrate our faith into every aspect of our living. That’s basic discipleship. Following Jesus is the vocation from which every other part of life flows. Having a church family, a small group, and faithful friends make a difference in our walk with God.
We all need people in our lives to keep up sharp, in the best way. They are gifts from God; sometimes, though, we need to seek out those gifts! Have you?
“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27.17, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on April 4, 2014
Most readers of Encouragement From The Word are involved in a local church, so I probably don’t need to sell you on the importance of engaging in worship. We understand the importance of the church, and we get that it’s not just a building; it’s the people that matter. It’s a community of faith. To encourage your ongoing participation, though, I want to share a quotation I read earlier this week: “The community provides rules and boundaries against which I can break off some of my sharp edges (or they are broken off!). And it provides authentic models” (Norvene Vest, Preferring Christ [Morehouse, 2004], p. 148).
Did you ever think of the church playing those roles for you? The church, the community of faith, can round some of our corners and sand us down a bit. Most of us would rather not admit our need of this, but if we’re honest, we know we all need a bit of, shall we say, smoothing out. And loving, caring Christian community can do that for us.
The church can also provide models in authenticity for us and for our children. There aren’t enough role models out there today whom we can really trust, are there? Many parents say that their kids won’t listen to them, but they’ll listen to other adults in their circle of acquaintance. The church can be the place where you find a mature follower of Jesus to mentor and disciple your son or daughter – and where another parent finds you to mentor and disciple her or his child! It also can be the place where you yourself find someone who will make a difference in your own life and walk with the Lord.
All this means, of course, that the church is not just a body gathered together for an hour (plus coffee) on Sunday morning. Deepening relationships involves an investment of time. Make no mistake – it is an investment: there are dividends that are paid. Those dividends, though, are not paid to us, at least not directly; they are paid to the person in whom we invest, and in turn, in the Kingdom of God. Think of those whom you may meet in heaven who will be able to thank you for spending time helping them love Jesus better! They may be little ones you taught in children’s ministry or adults you walk with in a small group. They may be people with whom you spent an hour in the coffee shop one day, on a whim. All because you journeyed together as the church of Jesus Christ.
Along the way, others may have come along and helped to make you a more beautiful disciple, shaping and sanding and breaking off corners to help you live more like Jesus.
Sure, there’s sawdust on the floor, and maybe bits of clay. There are empty coffee cups, poopy diapers, and notes tucked into Bibles, written on napkins. Being the church, being active, can be messy. But with God, not one bit of it is wasted.
“Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10.25, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on April 2, 2014
I read a quotation on Twitter last week that I found really thought-provoking. I don’t know who said it, but it has been kicking my butt ever since I noticed it. Take this in:
We should be more concerned with our sending capacity than our seating capacity.
The more I think about the future of the Christian church in Canada, the more I believe that sending is going to matter more than seating.
Don’t get me wrong: gathering for worship is crucial to our spiritual development and our maturation as disciples of Jesus. We want to grow numerically even as we grow spiritually. But as time goes on, we are going to have to move from an attractional model of being the church to a missional model. And that says more about going out than coming in.
My latest reading has been Al Roxburgh’s book, Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009). Among his premises in the book is a bit of a head-scratcher: the concept of ‘missional church’ cannot be clearly defined. He says that trying to define the missional church is like trying to define the Kingdom of God; it’s just too big to wrap our heads around.
However, we can garner principles that will help the church in the future. And key to those principles is getting out and being the church in the community, serving people in mission. That can be a mission of helping, such as doing lawn mower maintenance (or even lawn maintenance) for single moms. It can also be a mission of listening, such as hearing from business owners and school administrators in the community about what the church can do that will make a difference.
What are your thoughts on what it means to be missional as a church? I’d love to read your comments and start a dialogue.
Posted by Jeff on March 28, 2014
Media of all sorts provide us with many entertainment and information options, and we are left with choices. If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t always choose wisely, do we? Even if what we pick seems benign in its morality or its message, it’s easy to fill our minds with cognitive junk food. Even non-violent video games, some of which aid our hand-eye coordination, so well exercise one part of our brains that the other part feels edged out.
Much of what passes for news is not very encouraging, and even some bits that are intended to take our minds off the discouraging news are not altogether edifying. (I mean, really, who cares that Kanye West is inviting royalty to witness his marriage to Kim Kardashian? Really?) All this, coupled with what feels like a much-delayed onset of spring, can leave the mind feeling pretty flabby.
The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi from prison, encouraged the believers in this way: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4.8, NLT). In a sense, what Paul wrote was not just good advice, but a helpful spiritual discipline. When we are tempted to think or speak or act negatively, we can fix our thoughts on what is true, honourable, right, pure, lovely, admirable. We can choose to see the glass half-full.
It doesn’t have to turn us into religious pollyannas; we can still be realistic. But amid our realism, it is good for us to think positively, to attempt to see others as God sees them, and to live in such a manner that others see Jesus Christ living in us. May people see us, and long to follow Jesus!