Biblical Messages

Gifts I’d Like For Christmas: 1. Time

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On Sunday, November 30, 2008, I began the “Sunday” part of my ministry at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, ON.  The “rest” of it begins officially in January.  What a joy to share today among people who are so encouraging, and welcoming!  It was an awesome morning.  Want to know how considerate these people are?  They are now making a pot of decaf coffee!!

I spoke on Ecclesiates 3.1-15, talking about time, and how it seems to slip past us, especially at this time of year.  Time is certainly one of the gifts I’d like for Christmas!

The message opened with a video, which you can view here.

This service included a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Listen to the message here.

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Encouragement From The Word

Christmas Gifts All Year

            With the season of Advent beginning this weekend, we mark the beginning of the Christian year, and we start to count down the days until Christmas.  For the follower of Christ, this takes on a decidedly different tone than for those who see Christmas as a holiday dedicated to the amassing of stuff.

 

            One thing I like to do at this time of year, instead of making a list of things I’d like to receive for Christmas, is to look back on the year that has passed and give God thanks for the many gifts I received throughout the year.  Some of these gifts are material, yes, but many of them are not.  Let me tell you about one.

 

            A number of years ago, for reasons I won’t get into here, I was spiritually wounded in a profound way.  I didn’t even really know it as such at the time, but for more than four years, I walked with a spiritual limp.  The wounds on my soul, as I have come to see them now, needed time, and God’s grace, to heal.

 

            This past January, I realized one day (again, by God’s grace) that those wounds had healed.  Are there scars there?  You bet.  Scars are what remind us of our experiences; but they don’t produce pain anymore.  For instance, I have a scar on the lower knuckle of my right index finger; it reminds me that, one day when putting extra weight in a freight car for my model railroad, some hot glue dropped on my knuckle, and my immediate reaction was to wipe it away – which I did.  But because the glue dries fairly quickly, that wiping also wiped away some skin, which took some time to heal up.  And now, probably 10 years later, I have a scar to remind me of that wound.

 

          Do I remember what wounded my soul?  Oh yes.  But is there pain anymore?  No!  The Lord has taken away the pain.  I am healed.  That was the greatest gift God gave me in 2008.

 

            When the Lord acts to heal us, we do well to respond.  I have responded with greater love and thankfulness, and a new appreciation for those who have been wounded.  And I have done more than that.

 

            One of the things that my spiritual wounds did to me was to render me unable to pastor a local church.  Oh, I tried – but in the end, it was unfair to that church to have a wounded pastor, I determined, and I resigned.  That is when I came to the Canadian Bible Society.  CBS has been, for me, a safe place to serve God while he dealt with my wounds.  I have loved serving the Lord through CBS, making a Kingdom impact while encouraging people to engage with God’s Word.  It has been a real joy.

 

            But one thing I had to do when I realized that the Lord had healed me, spiritually, was to reconsider my pastoral calling.  In response to that, God has called me to return to the local church, and I am going to do so, effective in January, 2009.

 

            When I was still dealing with my wounds, I thought it would be a very, very long time before I ever considered going back to congregational ministry.  But our God is a God of surprises!

 

            To make a long story short, I will begin in January to serve as Pastor of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Nobleton, Ontario – a small community northwest of Toronto.  I am excited at the future that God is laying out before me, and I am grateful beyond words for the healing I have received.  That’s what’s enabled me to go back to what God first called me to do and to be.

 

            The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” (3.1, NLT).  The Lord has shown me that the time for my ministry at the Canadian Bible Society must come to an end, but that my ministry in the church is really only just beginning.

 

            May I encourage you to look back on this year, and thank the Lord for the gifts he has given you this year?  And then, will you respond in some tangible way to what God has done in your life?  None of it may look like what has happened in my life, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that we gratefully acknowledge God’s gifts to us, and respond with a greater expression of love and devotion to him.

Biblical Messages, Musings

Celebrating God’s Grace

On November 23, 2008, I had the privilege of preaching at the two morning services at Grace Church (Presbyterian), West Hill, Ontario – the easternmost part of Scarborough, which is the easternmost borough of Toronto.  I have some dear friends who are part of that church family, so it was a delight to be asked to preach there, on the day they celebrated their 50th anniversary as a congregation.

Grace has two different kinds of worship gatherings each Sunday:  a somewhat laid-back traditional service, and a more ramped-up contemporary service.  Each of these was well-attended by people at various ages and stages of life.  As go the services, one might say, so also go the leaders!  The Interim Moderator (the pastor who oversees the church when there is no incumbent minister) is my good friend, Dr. Everett Briard, who until 1997 had been the pastor of that congregation for some 28 years.  As he provides interim leadership to the congregation, he has the privilege of greeting, as adults, people he baptized and people he welcomed into membership during his tenure.  His presence gives Grace a sense of stability when they need it the most.

Grace’s other pastor is Mona Scrivens, who had initially served as the congregation’s youth director.  Sensing God’s call to ordained leadership, she engaged in theological study while maintaining her work at Grace.  Then, earlier this year, the congregation called her to be an assistant pastor with a special responsibility in family ministry.  Mona brings an energy and passion to her leadership that is, in my experience, unparalleled.  Her love for the Lord and for the people she serves spills out of her moment by moment.  I have walked with Mona through her student days, and marvelled at her enthusiasm.

Both Everett and Mona bring different gifts to the ministry at Grace, and the Lord is blessing the church through them.  I don’t visit a lot of churches that have a “buzz” when the people gather.  Grace Church has a “buzz”.

prodigal_sonThe message I preached in celebration of their 50th anniversary may have been “preaching to the choir” for some of them, though several people in each service told me how it challenged them.  Give it a listen and let me know what youthink.  (If you’re from Nobleton, parts of this will sound familiar.  I think every church can stand to hear this application of the parable of the lost son!)

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Encouragement From The Word

Get ready, get set…

            I don’t know what it was like where you live, but the past few days around here have been a bit of a winter wonderland.  Had I not been able to look outside to confirm the presence of all that white stuff, I need only have listened to the radio:  According to Wednesday night’s news reports, there had been something like 302 accidents reported to the police in the Greater Toronto Area.

 

            It isn’t like we weren’t warned:  meteorologists had been preaching the gospel of snow for several days, citing the speedy movement of an “Alberta Clipper”, in conjunction with the relatively warmer open waters of the Great Lakes.  We all heard about the impending weather, but many weren’t prepared.  They neither changed their tires nor changed their driving habits, and they paid the price.

 

            How often in our society we fail to heed the warnings!  In the summer, we neglect to apply sun block, and get a burn.  In the winter, we neglect to drive cautiously with an appropriately-prepared vehicle, and we have a collision.

 

            This isn’t the only area of life where we are warned, though.

 

            In Mark 13, Jesus talked to his friends about the future.  He forecast the destruction of the temple, that would happen within barely more than a generation.  He told people that lots of folks would show up claiming to be the Messiah, but that they should be wary of who they see coming in God’s name.  Jesus said that he would one day return.  And his simple admonition to people everywhere was, “Watch!” (verse 37).

 

            In many churches, this Sunday, people will gather to celebrate the reign of Christ, that he is the coming King.  We don’t know when Jesus will come again, but each of us does well to be ready for that time, by placing our faith and trust in him as Saviour and Lord.  And when we have trusted him, we will have nothing to fear on that day, for he will stand as our Advocate.

 

            So – get your snow tires on, get your winter driving habits honed, and trust the Lord, who will one day consummate all that is.  Then, and only then, can you rest confident!

Encouragement From The Word

Sunshine on dark days

            In my Neck Of The Woods, yesterday was just a dark, damp day.  From sunrise to sunset, the colour of the sky never seemed to change.  It would have been easy to slip into a funk just because of the weather.  And I spent half the day on the road, so I saw quite a lot of the sky.

 

            I got home at suppertime and remarked on this to my wife, who immediately smiled and said, “But now you’re home with your sunshine!”

 

            I grinned.  She was right.  It was all I could do to refrain from breaking into a Stevie Wonder song at that moment.  Diana is my sunshine.

 

            It would be possible to leave the thought right there, and encourage every reader to embrace his or her spouse and be grateful for that “sunshine”.  But what about those who have no spouse, or those whose relationship with the spouse is not all it could or should be?  Does that mean that on dank days, there is no sunshine?

 

            Hardly.

 

            The Bible says, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84.11, NIV).  See?  The Lord himself is our sun and our shield:  he is both the light of our day and the protector of our lives.  And as we grow in holiness, and walk honestly with God, he delights in showering us with all good things.

 

            How long will that last?  Well, in Revelation 22.4-5, this is what John sees among those who serve the Lord:  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.  And they will reign for ever and ever” (NIV).

 

            The sun is shining on my face as I write this, and I am grateful for its warmth.  But when the sun disappears behind the clouds, and even on the days when my wife doesn’t much feel like the sunshine she is to me, the Lord will be my light.

 

            And yours.

Encouragement From The Word

What’s God got to do with the express line?

            Earlier this week, I stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few needful things.  Because my version of “a few” that day was precisely “three”, I found the nearest express desk and queued up.  While I wasn’t particularly pressed for time, I did find myself losing a measure of patience as I counted the items being placed on the conveyor belt by the customer in front of me.  When the number passed 8 – the maximum number of items permissible at this particular checkout – I started to get kind of incensed. 

 

            Now, you might be expecting me to say how awful it was that I was impatient.  You may be expecting me to offer some brief lesson on the value of using our time in store line-ups to pray for those around us.  To tell you the truth, I offered that lesson several months ago, so I won’t give it to you again.

 

            This might surprise you, but while I may not have had the right to be angry – and I showed no sign of anger at the clerk or the customers around me – I did have the right to be irritated when THIRTEEN items were removed from the basket of the customer ahead of me at the checkout.  Why?

 

            The customer in front of me had a good command of the English language.  She gave the impression, by use of her credit card, of an ability to read and write.  This means, essentially, that she had no excuse for buying 13 items via a checkout that is reserved for customers purchasing up to 8 items.  No excuse!

 

            Calm down, Jeff, I can hear you thinking.  It was just a few grocery items.  It cost you, what, an extra minute?  And you’re right:  it was just a few grocery items, and it did cost me mere seconds on a day when time was not of the essence.

 

            So what’s the point?  The point is that if people regard such helpful guidelines as express checkout limits as “optional”, what prevents them from viewing such helpful guidelines as stop signs, red lights, and murder laws as “optional”?

 

            Some folks think that it’s a big stretch between checkout limits at the grocery store and the traffic lights at Yonge and Bloor.  But is it, really?

 

            True, disobeying a checkout limit merely draws grumbles from fellow customers at best, or, at worst, the insistence of a strongly-backboned store clerk that the offender move to a different queue.  Disobeying traffic laws can result in fines and demerit points, if not death or dismemberment.  There’s a big difference between the consequences of these kinds of offences.  And the grocery store guideline doesn’t have the backing of a law enacted by Parliament.

 

            Still, if we choose not to respect others by disobeying the express line limit, what prevents us from not respecting others by refusing to cede them the right-of-way while walking through a crosswalk?

 

            Penalties and consequences encourage us to obey laws, which help us to respect the needs and rights of others.   Yet we live in such a self-centred, individualistic society today, we practically require penalties and consequences to keep people from failing to respect others.  Whatever happened to good, old, common respect?

 

            Perhaps, with our society’s loss of biblical memory, it has lost that commonest of biblical references with it:  the Golden Rule.  With an eye to the laws of the Old Testament, Jesus said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7.12, NLT). 

 

            How do you suppose the customer ahead of me at the groceteria would have reacted had I been purchasing 13 items?  How would the impatient driver react were someone honking the horn at him as he walked across the street?  You get the idea.  It’s not just about guidelines or laws.  It’s about respect.  It’s about seeing others as part of God’s special creation.

 

            And this isn’t really a religious issue:  more than twenty religious traditions have some variant of the Golden Rule in their sacred writings or traditions.  It’s a human issue, a spiritual issue.  Everyone who holds us up, or cuts in front of us; everyone whom we hold up or cut in front of – each is a child of God.

 

            So next time the customer ahead of me buys more than the posted limit, I’m going to view that person as a child of God, in need of his embrace.  And if each of us does that, the world will be a better place – and the Kingdom will be hastened.