Encouragement From The Word

In Willie We Trust?

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to run out of places to shovel snow, especially around the foot of my driveways (I’m blessed with two, living in a house on a corner lot).  I’m ready for a good, long thaw, though only the onset of spring in a couple of months seems to bring any hope of that.


Speaking of which, I note that this coming Monday brings that most sacred of feasts, Groundhog Day.  Each year on February 2nd, two notorious groundhogs – Wiarton Willie and Punxsutawney Phil – make their way out of their subterranean winter nests to make shadowy prognostications about the coming of spring.  Of course, their accuracy is more than a little suspect, but hundreds of people (perhaps more) keenly await the predictions of these diminutive, furry Nostradami each year.


Why?  Perhaps, inspired by the commercials that inundate us with visions of warm, sandy beaches, people want to put their hope in something that will bring about a (mercifully) quick conclusion to what conspires to be another record-breaking winter.  Perhaps, as my friends in Bruce County may remind me, people may want to support the tourism economy of two small communities.


Truthfully, I suspect the former.  (Sorry, all you folks who live south of the Checkerboard.)  People just want to put their hope, their trust, in something.


If putting one’s hope or trust in an albino rodent seems far-fetched, let me remind you of a story in the Old Testament.  One time, when Moses was up on the mountain having a conversation with God over rules for living, Aaron (Moses’ brother) was left in charge.  The people, who were frustrated with Moses’ leadership (and his faithfulness to God), instructed Aaron to make an idol for them to worship.  Spineless wimp that he was, Aaron gave in, and told the people to bring him all their gold, and he would make an idol.  He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool.  Then they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt’” (Exodus 32.4, NIV).


Now, we’ve heard the story before.  We know how it ends.  Upon reading this, our only reaction is to say, How stupid can you get?.  But that’s what our inner drive to worship will do.  They knew that it wasn’t some sort of golden calf that protected them against Pharaoh, parting the Red Sea and bringing plagues.  But in the absence of true leadership, the people had forgotten their God, and crafted one for themselves.


It would be foolish of me to go so far as to suggest that anybody actually worships Wiarton Willie.  I know there are some folks who are pretty fond of him, but saying they’re worshipful is a bit much.  But do see what I mean when I suggest that, if even out of a wintry desperation, some folks are hoping in Willie?  Just hoping his shadow’s absence will hasten the onset of a vernal thaw?


We all have an innate desire to hope in another, to trust something greater, to worship.  Let’s put our focus of praise in the right place.  But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way” (John 4.23, NLT).


God’s best for your weekend – and happy Groundhog Day!  (Happy Candlemas to you higher church folk.)

Encouragement From The Word

Planning Your Walk

This weekend, I’m heading to West Springfield, Massachusetts.


“A winter getaway?” you might be asking.


Hardly.  The forecast high temperature for Saturday is zero (Celsius, thankfully).  It’s not going to be short-pants weather by any stretch of the imagination.  But I’m excited to be going.


Why?  Because West Springfield, Massachusetts is the home of the “Big E”, the Eastern States Exhibition grounds.  And the Big E plays host each January to North America’s largest model train show.  And when I say “largest”, I’m not exaggerating:  this show takes up four buildings, each of which would average out to be the size of a typical Canadian community centre (rink and all).


Think about it:  four community centres filled with model train layouts, displays and vendors in every size and scale.  It’s a sort of “hobby heaven”, if you will.


I could just go and gawk.  The first time I attended this show, I walked around all day with my jaw dragging on the cold concrete floors.  I couldn’t believe that Our Humble Little Hobby had so many people involved.  And because I had no plans, I missed some displays, while mysteriously walking past others several times.


This time, though, I’ve learned my lesson:  not only will I wear my best walking shoes, I have printed off a list of vendors I want to visit, and a map that shows where each will be located.  I’ll wander, to be sure, but I will also plan out my Saturday so that I make the best use of my time – shopping a bit, yes, but looking at layouts so I can learn some new trips and tips for the HO-scale empire I’m building in my own basement.


How many of us live our life of faith the way I spent my first trip to the Big E?  How many of us profess our faith in Christ, and then walk around without plans for our spiritual development?


God invites us to be intentional about our growth in the Lord.  And one thing we quickly learn when we seek to become more mature Christ-followers is that it’s virtually impossible to do alone.


That’s why we need the church.


Contrary to popular belief, being part of the church really isn’t an option for the growing believer.  You can’t have Jesus without the church anymore than you would invite me to dinner at your house and not expect me to bring my wife:  you can’t have one without the other.  The church is the bride of Christ, and they come as a package.  The apostle Paul told the believers at Colossae that the church universal, and its leaders specifically, have a special responsibility:  So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us.  We want to present them to God, perfect (or mature) in their relationship to Christ” (Colossians 1.28, NLT with footnote).


It’s the church – imperfect as it is – that helps us walk through our life of faith with a plan for growth.


When I first attended the big show at the Big E, I attended with a friend who had been there before.  He ‘mentored’ me as I walked around the show, in awe of the sheer volume of stuff and number of people.  And this year, I’m bringing two friends who have never been there.  It’s going to be a blast.


So, how are you doing at mapping out your walk with God?  And are you taking anybody new along with you?


If those questions leave you flustered, talk to a leader in your church about them.  The church’s job is to help you!  And God will be honoured with your effort, offered in faith.

Biblical Messages

What Drives You?

The message you can listen to here, based on Acts 2.14-47, helps answer the question, “What Drives You?” for the church.  Too often, churches are driven by the agenda of the loudest member, or the denominational trend, or nothing at all.  But God’s Word provides us with a picture of the first-century church that gives us a clear picture of what the church should be about. 

We’re driven by our druthers – and Scripture, particularly Acts 2, defines our druthers.

Encouragement From The Word

Who’s Driving?

I’m learning – again – to drive a vehicle with a standard transmission.  I learned on a ‘stick’, and was driving a tandem-axle dump truck on bush roads before it was exactly legal for me to do so; but after about 25 years of driving almost exclusively with an automatic transmission, the adjustment has been, well, wrought with hiccups.


If you’ve never had the joy of operating a manual transmission, it works something like this:  depressing the clutch pedal renders the vehicle as if it were in neutral.  To get the vehicle moving, you have to give it a little gas and slowly lift your foot from the clutch.  But you have to give it enough gas, or the car will stall.  Or, if you give it too much gas, the car will lurch ahead (that’s where those ‘hiccups’ come in!).  It’s a matter of learning how hard to push your right foot, and how quickly to let up your left foot.  There’s definitely more work involved in driving a standard; there’s no ‘texting and driving’ with one of these!


One of these days, I’ll get the hang of the standard again.  But I’ll never get it perfect.  That being said, the car will never banish me from the driver’s seat.  I could stall it fifty times a day, and it would still let me drive.


God, on the other hand, can be seen as the perfect Driver, in a sense.  To make us ‘go’, he fully understands when to put us in gear.  He knows when to let the clutch up, and how much gas to give us.  When we place ourselves in the care of the Driver, trusting him for the proper proportion of gas and clutch, of forward motion and careful examination.


Trusting God is not always an easy thing; for us, it tends actually to be quite difficult.  We say we trust God, and hold things back, trusting in ourselves to solve problems rather than committing them to the care of the Lord.  To encourage us, though, the Scripture is clear:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3.5-6, NLT).


Every once in a while, you can still find a bumper sticker that says, “God is my co-pilot.”  But I prefer the one that says, “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats!” 


Let the Lord do the driving.  He not only knows how much clutch and gas to give, he knows the way to where we’re going.  More than that, he is the Way!



Jeff being inducted by the Moderator, David SherbinoIt’s been quite a day.

I was inducted as Pastor of St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton this afternoon, and I was, to say the least, overwhelmed:  overwhelmed at the presence of God in the place we worshipped, and overwhelmed at the attendance of so many friends.

In The Presbyterian Church in Canada, we have a rite of induction that involves pastors and elders shaking hands with the inductee during the service.  The line of people to shake my hand – and this is during the service! – stretched the entire width of the worship space.  I was amazed at the number of people who drove to our small community on a Sunday afternoon to celebrate what God is doing among us.  There were friends from Milton to Lindsay, Oshawa  to Uxbridge to Pickering to Scarborough, as well as members of the Presbytery of Oak Ridges who might otherwise have enjoyed an afternoon with their families.  Even some friends from the Canadian Bible Society and the band I play in came to celebrate.

There were many members and friends of St. Paul’s who came to do “double duty” for the day, many of whom worked at setting up the refreshments and welcoming people.

I am overwhelmed.  And so grateful.

I was quite emotional today, partly because of my joy at seeing so many friends, and partly because I have, I believe, taken this induction more seriously than any of my previous three.  It’s not because I didn’t feel called to any of those ministries or that I was taking my vows less seriously.  I think the time I have spent outside the local church, the healing that God has brought to my soul, and the reluctance, yet grave intentionality, with which I have returned to local church ministry has made me all the more serious about making this relationship work and work well.  I have referred with our folk to the concept of calling a pastor as being more like a marriage than a job hire:  we are agreeing to live with each other in sickness and in health, etc.  And today, I pledged that with a renewed spirit.  Marriages have struggles, as I’m sure this relationship will at times; but the commitment to make it work for the long haul has made me appreciate the role of the induction service all the more.

This ministry has gotten off to a fantastic start.  My prayer is that the Lord will help us be sustained and grow into new vistas of opportunity under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Biblical Messages

The Value of Sacrifice

At this time of year, God’s people start thinking about budgets:  their own, and their church’s.  This message, preached with a preface to guests that it really wasn’t intended for them but for the committed, seeks to help us understand why churches talk about money and why it needs to be a part of the Christian life to deal with finances in a biblically prudent fashion.

Based on Luke 12.22-34, “The Value of Sacrifice” can be heard here.

Encouragement From The Word

January: Budget Time

It’s the time of year when most folks are thinking about their personal and family budgets.  It’s a time when many of us turn an eye toward the church budget, too.

In tough economic times, whether personal or global, we tend to cut back on those things which we deem not to be ‘essential’.  If only it were that simple!  Each of us has a different idea of what constitutes ‘essential’!

For some, good stewardship – taking care of our various resources – means driving less (though isn’t it ironic that as the economy has worsened, the price of fuel has actually fallen?).  For others, it means fewer or shorter vacations.  For others, it means fewer trips to the mall.  For others, it means buying off-price brands at the grocery store.  And so on.  Many of us, though, find that we have ‘essentials’ that others would deem ‘luxuries’ – and vice-versa. 

It’s about priorities, isn’t it?  What we truly value shows up in how we spend our resources.

But it’s also about faith.

No, I’m not talking about the kind of faith that demands deficit spending in the name of some greater good that may or may not be accomplished.  I’m talking about the kind of faith that says, “Yes” to God when circumstances seem to be dictating, “No”.

In both personal and corporate finances, money follows vision – never the reverse.  If we have a clear sense of vision for what God wants us to accomplish – in life or in the mission of the church – we will commit to it with our resources.  That is, if I have a clear sense that God wants me to grow in my knowledge of Scripture this year, I’m going to put some money into conferences and study materials.  If the church leaders have a sense that God wants the church to reach the unchurched this year, then the church will put resources into outreach opportunities, mission endeavours, and tools that will make the church more culturally relevant.

It’s about investing in eternity.  It’s about making a difference for the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Luke 12.34, NLT).

I’m working on making that true for me every day; I hope you will do the same.  God’s best for your weekend!



A New Beginning

img047I’m starting a new chapter in my life of following Jesus. 

On Monday, I had my last day as an employee of the Canadian Bible Society.  Back to the pastorate I go!

This was not an easy decision, but one that I know is of the Lord.  It is a joy to be back in the trenches, serving among people who are keen to make a difference in the community, and in the lives of those who are far from God.

The formal beginning of this new joint venture is called an “induction” service in The Presbyterian Church in Canada, and it will be held this coming Sunday afternoon, January 11, at 3:00 p.m.  If it’s within a reasonable driving distance for you, you are very welcome to attend.

The photo was taken this afternoon, outside a very snowy St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  It’s such a warm feeling to know that the congregation wants to use this service to “gladly” introduce me to the community!

Biblical Messages

Why The Church Doesn’t Need To Craft A Mission Statement

It’s my firm conviction that the church of Jesus Christ doesn’t need to craft a mission statement.  Why?  Because it already has one!  When Jesus gave the Great Commission (Matthew 28.16-20), he gave the church the greatest mission statement ever!

However, it’s also my firm conviction that the church of Jesus Christ needs to know how God wants that mission statement worked out in the local church – and that’s why statements of vision and purpose should be crafted by church leaders.  You can listen to my talk on this subject, “The Mission Propels The Vision”, here.