Encouragement From The Word

Taking (the Wrong) Notes

            Recently, I was sitting in a worship gathering among people who have been called to leadership in God’s kingdom.  Not all were clergy.  The leader of the devotional time was preaching his heart out, and as I listened, I noticed a woman sitting in front of me, furiously taking notes.


            Normally, this is the sort of thing that encourages the heart of any preacher.  Seeing someone take notes on our preaching makes us think that there may be hope for the future!  But we were seated in such a way that I could easily see what the woman was writing, without being nosy. 


            She was writing out a menu plan, and a grocery list.  At length.


            As you might imagine, my heart sank.  The encouragement that I had felt in seeing someone so well engaged in the message being preached turned to sorrow, that someone who was supposed to be a leader in the kingdom of God was, in fact, so disengaged with the preaching of the Word that her Sunday dinner was of greater importance.


            It’s not a sin to have the mind wander when we are engaged in spiritual things; it’s why, for example, I like to keep a scratch pad handy when I’m praying, because inevitably, the Enemy will seek to distract me from my conversation with the Lord.  When something irrelevant to my act of worship pops into my mind, I can write it down, and forget about it until later.


            True, there are some messages and some preachers whose droning does not warrant taking notes, but if we truly believe God can speak, possibly in spite of the words of the speaker, we do well to give our complete attention.


            The world offers us plenty of distractions from the work of God; that’s not a bad reminder to receive on October 31, a day that has been made nigh unto religious by some folks.  I encourage you to do all you can to be attentive to the Scriptures, and to their exposition.  Jesus said, “My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10.27, NLT).  When we hear the Word of the Lord, let’s give it our full attention.  Ultimately, nothing matters more.

Encouragement From The Word

Pastors, Be Encouraged!

            This week’s “Encouragement From The Word” has two purposes.  First, I want to tell congregants that you need to honour and encourage your pastor.  And pastors, I want to tell you that there is hope.  Intrigued?  Read on.


            As I visit a broad spectrum of churches in my work with the Canadian Bible Society, I am privileged to meet many members of the clergy.  And, having been a local church pastor myself in the past, I’m prepared to say with assurance that being the pastor of a local church is the second-hardest job known to humanity.  (You’re wondering about the hardest?  Ask your mother.  She speaks from experience.)


            What comes along with the second-hardest job known to humanity is both great joy and great pain.  And for some, sometimes, the great pain eclipses the great joy.  This week, I have been privileged to spend time in retreat with seven other ministry couples, many of whom are at that point of experiencing great pain in their lives.  Every month, some 1500 (yes, one thousand, five hundred) pastors leave ministry in North America, never to return.  Many, if not most, of them were and are spiritually gifted and called to serve the Lord through the church.  But their wounds are just too deep for them to carry on.


            I understand their pain, because I’ve experienced it.  I’ve known what it feels like to serve people, to give them the very best I had to give by God’s grace, only to have trusts betrayed, to experience such biting criticism as to have felt spiritually raped.  For me, the good news is that the Lord has healed my wounds.  True, there are scars that remain, but those scars serve as reminders of the healing power of the Holy Spirit. 


            At this retreat – and it is not over yet, as you read this – both my wife and I have felt sympathy and empathy for others who are in the midst of the valley of pain right now.  And we have felt the soothing balm of love, acceptance, and affirmation.  Oh, the joy I felt, when I was anointed with oil, prayed for, and even (in a quiet, gentle way) prophesied over!  To hear, as if from God himself, that I am “chosen”, that I am “Kingdom bound”, that I am loved and cherished and treasured by God – it was a most exhilarating and humbling experience.


            And then, to listen to these same caregivers pray over my wife – to hear them say how valued and loved she is, how important she is to me, and that she is better than a princess, but is a queen!  It was this that sent the tears streaming down my cheeks, even more than the words said over me.  What an experience.


            If you’re a minister of Christ reading this, I share this so that you may be encouraged in your work.   Be strong, and very courageous”, said the Lord to Joshua (Joshua 1.6, NLT), as he led the people to the promised land.  Don’t give up.  Stop relying on yourself, and rely on the power of God to make your ministry happen.  Catch his vision, and follow it.  Give yourself wholly to the Lord, and he will heal your wounds and make you strong once again for ministry.


            If you’re reading this as a person who normally occupies a pew instead of a pulpit, I share this so that you may be prompted to encourage your pastor.  He or she needs to know that you are praying for him or her.  Your pastor needs to know when what you do makes a positive difference.  So many clergy only hear about their work when it’s seen to be sub-standard, or potentially hurtful, or even just politically incorrect.  A healthy pastor doesn’t need your affirmation, but will be blessed by your affirmation.  Paul told Timothy that those who “direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5.7, NLT).


            All of us, whether church leaders or not, carry wounds within us.  God longs to heal them, if we will open ourselves to his love and trust him to change us from within.  The month of October has often been seen to be Pastor Appreciation Month.  Folks, go and appreciate your pastor!


            Pastors, know that you are appreciated.  You are loved deeply by God.  Your service to him and his kingdom does not go unnoticed.  Keep up the good work.  (And if you’re interested in the kind of retreat I described, email me and I’ll hook you up with some helpful information.)

Encouragement From The Word

Wearing The Jersey Of Faith

            I don’t do it very often, but when I do, it usually yields predictable results.


            Yesterday, I put on some black pants, a white shirt and tie, and over the shirt and tie, I donned my crimson-red Montreal Canadiens jersey. 


Why yesterday?  Because on Wednesday night, the Habs played their 100th home opener, and won (in a shootout, but it was still a win).  Wearing my jersey was a way of celebrating what My Team accomplished.


Now, such an act is a way of taking my life into my hands here in Leafs Nation.  But in a society whose hallmark is tolerance, I should be able to show my true colours without fear of stigma or retribution, right?


I suppose it would depend on where I chose to hang around.  Here at the Canadian Bible Society, I’m among friends; they understand when I commit (in their minds) such irrational acts.  What if I loitered around the Air Canada Centre?  I might not be extended quite the same leeway on my dress code downtown.


Still, we think, this is about hockey.  It’s not a life-and-death matter.


As followers of Christ, when it comes to faith, it is a life-and-death matter.  The merely religious might treat faith as they might treat politics – something not to be discussed in polite company.  But people who are Christ-centred have an inner compulsion from the Holy Spirit that makes us wear our faith like a hockey jersey!


We run into two problems with this reality in our society.  First, we have those who not only wear their faith like a hockey jersey, they put bright, flashing lights on it and insist that everyone around them wear it (in exactly the same size).  The other problem comes from those who have their jersey on, but they do everything in their power to cover it up, almost as if they are ashamed or embarrassed by it.


Neither of those extremes helps convince people that they should cheer for our team (and I mean spiritually).  Faith worn proudly, confidently, and humbly – that has a much better shot at encouraging people not only to cheer for our team, but to be on our team.


Let’s face it:  if I act like a complete idiot, and people see the jersey I’m wearing, they won’t want to be Habs fans.  What’s worse, given human nature, they’ll probably assume that all fans of the Canadiens are complete idiots.


If you think this is a stretch, let me tell you that I know a good number of people who have had one – one! – bad experience with someone who claimed to be a follower of Christ, and they have decided that they will never be a Christian, or have dealings with Christians, ever again.  That’s both sad and pathetic, especially since we all make mistakes, and tarring everybody with the same brush is not acceptable in other areas of life!


What am I getting at?  Wear your faith openly – proudly, confidently, humbly – and live it out, measuring daily growth in your relationship with Jesus.  And to be encouraged in so doing, find a mentor in Christ – someone who is growing, and can walk with you along the oftentimes bumpy journey toward maturity in faith.  The apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians to see him as their mentor:  Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example” (Philippians 3.17, NLT).  Paul had the confidence in faith to draw people near him and to have them follow after his example.  Ask yourself, “Who could be my mentor?  After whose example could I follow Christ?  Who’s wearing the Christian jersey well?”

Book Reviews

FOLLOW ME: What’s Next For You?

Recently, in this post, I reviewed REVEAL:  Where Are You?, published by Willow Creek Community Church following the beginning of its ministry rethink in 2004.  The follow-up volume to REVEAL is FOLLOW ME:  What’s Next For You? (Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Willow Creek Association, 2008).  In this book, the authors follow up REVEAL with their discoveries about what catalyzes spiritual growth.  Their research went beyond the walls of Willow into an additional 200 churches, where 80,000 people were surveyed about their spiritual development.

I won’t give away the findings of the book – let me just say that they were both surprising and not surprising.  Programming isn’t the answer; drawing people into a deeper relationship with Christ is the answer.  And people are drawn into a deeper relationship with Christ when they realize just how head-over-heels in love with them God is.

The big learning point for me in this book is the idea of helping the church shift from making people dependent on the church to creating an interdependent partnership between the church and the maturing believer.  In other words, as people grow more deeply in their faith, their need for the church becomes more of a desire for the church.  The church becomes the coach, the resource-provider, the fellowship-giver, and not the be-all and the end-all of life (that’s Jesus’ job, right?).

I encourage you to pick up both REVEAL and FOLLOW ME.  They’ll be great resources for church leaders as they engage in the continual process of visioning for the church.


Hey, Toronto! You’re Out Of Touch!

If Canada’s 2008 Federal Election proved nothing else, it proved that the city of Toronto truly is out of touch with the rest of Canada – at least as out of touch as some say is the province of Quebec.

It was clear through the results of the vote, riding by riding, that much of Canada was doing its best to give the Prime Minister its confidence (or, at least, showing the Liberals that they elected an inept leader).  Yet what happened in Toronto?  Every “416” seat, with the exception of Toronto-Danforth and Trinity-Spadina, the two awarded to the Leader of the NDP and his wife, became, or remained, Liberal.  The only change in Toronto, in fact, came in Parkdale-High Park, where a Liberal unseated a New Democrat.

It’s almost enough to make one understand why others in Canada cast aspersions on Toronto!

In Quebec, of course, the government’s main competition was from the Bloc Quebecois, rather than the Liberals, and the circumstances there are, of course, quite different.  Yet just as there is a dichotomy between Quebec and the rest of Canada, so is there a similar dichotomy between Toronto and the rest of Canada.  And between them, they have managed to place yet another stranglehold on what could otherwise have become an effective parliament.

Surprisingly, I’m not sure we can lay the blame at the feet of the media – at least, not completely:  the October 10, 2008 edition of the Scarborough Mirror, a community newspaper serving Toronto’s more easterly communities, endorsed every Conservative candidate in its editorial.  The National Postendorsed the Conservatives.  Even CTV News seemed to tip its hand somewhat to the right.  (And there may be others.)  Yet Torontonians, in the majority, did not heed these recommendations.

The electors of Toronto have shot themselves in the foot yet again.  Their votes have ensured that the largest city in the country will have no voice in cabinet or even in caucus in Ottawa.  That’s Toronto’s loss, and one could also say it’s Canada’s loss.

Being out of touch exacts a cost.

(And while I’m at it, may I say how disgusted I am at the voter turnout?  The lowest ever!  If you had the right to vote – a right won for you with the blood of thousands of soldiers – and you chose not to exercise that right, you should be ashamed of yourself.)

Refusing to be in touch with your polling station exacts a cost, too.

Pray for your government.  The Bible says God put it there for our good (Romans 13).



Canadians, today, October 14, is voting day in the federal election.

People gave their lives so that we would have the right to vote.

Whatever excuse you might have come up with for not voting, kindly set it aside, go to your nearby polling station, and make a difference.


Otherwise, you have no right to complain about the government you get.

Just go do it.  Now.

Encouragement From The Word

On Being More Thankful Than Rocks!

            While reflecting by email with a friend yesterday about the changing seasons, I said that autumn is my favourite season, because it shouts the Creator’s praise so brightly.  I’m sure that’s not original, but I believe there is a profundity to the statement – one that could be made of any of the four seasons.  Those whose preference is for spring would speak of the verdant fields shouting God’s praise.  Those whose preference is for summer would speak of the bright blue sky eliciting praise.  Those whose preference is for winter would speak of the delights of new-fallen snow, or icicles on trees.  But me?  I like fall.  Nothing beats the crimson reds and the brilliant golds of Canadian maples.


            I spent a couple of days in Northern Ontario last week, visiting loved ones and taking in the beauty of the surroundings.  There is something truly awe-inspiring about a hillside that mere weeks ago was green as green can be, and is now awash in an array of different colours.  In varying degrees, it happens every fall, but it never gets old.  That’s God’s work.


            I find the same thing is true of my friends who live within sight of the mountains in western Alberta and British Columbia:  those snow-capped hills are always there, yet they always take one’s breath away.  That’s God’s work.


            As we Canadians approach the annual weekend of harvest Thanksgiving, I am moved to thank God for his handiwork in creation.  I think we who live in the Concrete Jungles of the world sometimes miss out on that aspect of Thanksgiving.  We focus on family and food, not always remembering that our food comes from the miraculous act of planted seeds that grow in God’s beautiful creation.  All who live in more rural settings appreciate this far more.  Some of our rural sisters and brothers are not afraid to remind us city-dwellers of this fact when they post signs that say, “Farmers Feed Cities!”


            Just as the gorgeous falling leaves, and the verdant fields, and the bright blue sky, and the new-fallen snow shout God’s praise, so, too, do the plants that feed us.  For all of this, let’s give thanks.


            When Jesus was making his final entry into Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers were shouting praises to God.  The Pharisees wanted them to pipe down, but in response, Jesus said, “If they keep quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” (Luke 19.40, NLT).


            Let’s not let inanimate objects eclipse the praise that we, the highest of God’s created order, can give him!


Fining Stupidity

Maybe it’s all the election hoopla, or something, that’s got to me, but every once in a while, a guy’s got to rant.  So I’m going to rant a little bit.

Throughout our brief federal election campaign here in Canada, because of the global economic crisis we’re facing, the politicians are all crying the blues at one level or another.  There’s never enough money to do what they want to do, or what they promise they’ll do, and some of them don’t want to raise taxes, because they all know that’s unpopular. 

So, governments want more money?  I have a solution:  fine stupidity.

If lawmakers could come up with a reasonable definition of “stupidity” – preferably agreeing with mine! – those who enforce the law could bring millions of dollars into municipal, provincial and federal coffers simply by fining people for their random (or planned) acts of stupidity.  I wouldn’t have enough bandwidth to make a comprehensive list of what I might categorize as public acts of stupidity, but here’s a sampling:

  • assuming everyone knows you want to change lanes, so you don’t signal your intent;
  • wearing headgear that limits your peripheral vision when it’s already limited (especially while driving);
  • figuring it’s okay to step into the express checkout at the grocery store with 22 items in a 12-item lane;
  • talking with your hands – to a passenger or on a cell phone – while you drive;
  • etc. etc. etc.

I could go on, but then you’d want to fine me for stupidity, too.

See, we’re all guilty of stupidity; I’ know I’d get pinched with some regularity.  But there are folks out there – at least where I live! – who’d be fined multiple times a day and would have to take out a second mortgage on their homes to pay their fines.

But what do we do?  We smile, and let things roll off.  Because we’re Canadian?  Maybe.  Because we say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I?”  That might be closer to the truth.

Yours for being saved from even the minutest stupidity, by God’s grace…