Encouragement From The Word

The Good, The Better

I’ve been pondering trading in my 6-string guitar for a while now.  It was a good instrument, and served me well for almost five years.  But last Sunday proved to be the time I would finalize the decision to trade it in.


I tuned the guitar to the piano in our worship space at 9:30 Sunday morning.  When I picked it up to play just after 10:00, the top end of the instrument had fallen out of tune – perhaps not enough to make mother’s milk curdle, but enough for me to notice, and to strum only the lower end of the guitar.  It turns out that the bridge was separating from the top of the guitar – definitely enough to cause tuning issues.


It would not have been too expensive to have had the bridge repaired and reaffixed, but I decided that it would be best to upgrade.  I’m not disappointed that I made the change.  The better instrument will help me provide better musical accompaniment.  In short, I gave up something good in favour of something better.


Whether in our personal life of discipleship or in our church families, if we want to experience growth, it’s important for us to be willing to give up something good in favour of something better.


A guitar that I’d owned only five years held no emotional tie for me.  It was not hard to give up.  Sometimes, though, we find ourselves needing to give up good things that we do treasure in favour of better things that will help us grow in Christ.  It can be really painful to give up something we care about even if we know it will make a positive difference for ourselves or for our church. 


In the church, it can mean, for example, giving up singing our favourite music in order to sing music that will lead a new generation to faith in Christ.  In our personal lives, it can mean giving up a habit or tradition that keeps us from going deeper with the Lord. 


Singing our favourite songs is good.  Celebrating a tradition is good.  But something that brings about spiritual growth is better.


One of the few flowering bushes that I can recognize without remedial assistance is the forsythia.  It’s the bush that’s bright yellow in the spring and deep green in the summer.  One of the things I’ve learned (in place of learning the names of more bushes, apparently) is that pruning the forsythia will make it bloom more fully in the spring.  If a forsythia bush could talk, it would probably not speak kindly to, or of, the nice lady with the pruning shears!  Why?  Because pruning hurts!  But later, the bush would be grateful for the work done by the pruner, because pruning brings growth.  The flowering done one year is good, but with pruning, it gets better the next year.


Jesus talked about pruning in this way.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.   He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15.1-2, NLT).  When we submit ourselves and our churches to God’s pruning, giving up something good in favour of something better, we honour God.  And draw others to him.

Encouragement From The Word

Spring Cleaning With the Lord

Tomorrow is spring cleaning day at our church.  Every year, I’m learning, we have a cleaning ‘bee’ to get the church building and grounds looking spiffy, taking off the winter’s grime and beautifying the property for another season.  The more volunteers we get to take on various jobs, the faster and easier is the work.  Hopefully, we’ll have a good crowd pitching in!


It’s interesting, though, that if you look at the church building, it doesn’t really give the appearance of needing much work.  On closer examination on Saturday, we’ll find that there is quite a good bit of work needed to be done!  But it takes close examination for us to see it.  Just by coming and going on Sunday, we don’t notice anything significant.  This Saturday, we’ll see it.


Life is like that, isn’t it?  We can move along through life and find little, if anything, needing ‘cleaning up’ at a cursory glance.  But if we take time to stop and examine ourselves carefully, we begin to see the ‘stuff’ that we carry.


Under a certain kind of light, we are able to see germs on our bodies.  Even after we wash our hands, in many cases, there are bacteria and other germs that cover us.  For the most part, the same is true of the sin in our lives; it is uncovered by the Light of the World.  When we invite the Lord Jesus to flood his light over us, we are sometimes surprised to see the sin that so easily separates us from God.  It’s why the Psalmist prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139.23-24, NIV).


When we profess our faith in Christ and join a church, we are often asked a question such as, “Do you renounce sin and the power of evil in your life and in the world?”  This is a question not to be taken lightly.  When we renounce sin, we say, publicly, that we’re not interested in following that way anymore.  When we renounce the power of evil, we are saying that we no longer fall under its cloak, that we are following a new and different way.


This is an intentional decision, and not an easy one.  When we say we’re going to renounce sin – and replace it with Jesus – that begins a new life that involves more-than-annual ‘spring cleaning’ in our lives.  It begins a daily walk that, with the promised guidance and illumination of the Holy Spirit, helps us stop to examine the crud that holds us back from a full relationship with the Lord.  That’s what sin does:  it keeps us from experiencing God in a fuller way.


The self-examination can reveal some surprising things:  how we respond to others, how others see us, even the organizations and groups with which we choose to affiliate.  Do these things make us more like Christ or not?


We don’t want to see those things that make us less like the Lord.  We don’t even want to examine ourselves!  But as the Psalmist said, it’s the Lord who does the searching through our hearts.  When we examine ourselves as his faithful people, he reveals stuff to us that we couldn’t stand to find in ourselves.


And then he washes it all away, by the blood of the Lamb, by grace.


Isn’t God wonderful?


Yes.  Even at spring cleaning time.

Encouragement From The Word

Learning From Corner Gas

This past Monday evening brought the airing of the final episode of “Corner Gas”.  If you’ve never watched it, Corner Gas was a Canadian-written, Canadian-produced, Canadian-directed show that aired on CTV for six seasons.  It definitely went out on a high:  some 3 million Canadians watched the final episode.  It averaged more than 1.5 million viewers each week during its tenure on Monday nights.  It was Canada’s most successful home-grown situation comedy program.


I was sad to see it go.  I lament its end the way some people mourned the termination of M*A*S*H.  There are several reasons for this, but I want to focus on just one.


It’s simple.


Yep, that’s it.  It’s simple.  Life in the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan never got too complicated.  How could it?  Unlike other television shows, especially the dramas, Corner Gas kept life simple.  Life hovered around the local café and the local gas station; they were attached.  Sometimes, things happened in other parts of town, but it was simple, basic small town life.  And I loved watching it.


I’ve lived in communities as small as 750 people (still slightly bigger than Dog River’s alter ego, Rouleau) and as large as 2 million – and several in between.  Even when I was a student, I committed to blooming where I was planted, making the best of wherever God placed me.  Now, I live in a town of 3200, and I’m still trying to bloom where I’m planted.  What I like about these smaller communities is that there is, arguably, a greater opportunity to experience simplicity in life.


Even in Dog River, there was politics; that’s impossible to get away from.  But to be able to experience the joy of being in community with the people in the place you live (which we, ironically, call a ‘community’!) is a real joy I’m beginning to experience.  For example, on Thursday, I had a full morning planned in the office, but got a call early on asking if I might meet someone for coffee at Tim’s a little later in the morning.  I agreed, surmising that I could do the work I had planned for the morning in the afternoon (and I did).  Then, on my way back to the church office after the great time getting to know a dear person in Tim’s, I encountered another dear church member, followed quickly by a neighbour.  These ladies were on foot, and I was on my bicycle.  We chatted for a good 15 minutes or so, just enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company.


In this simpler life, I’m learning that these last-minute calls and chance encounters are ministry.  To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (1 Peter 5.1-2a, NIV).  Doing life in community with the people among whom I serve is perhaps the biggest part of being a ‘shepherd’ for me.  And when it can happen in simplicity, well, that’s what makes it a blessing.


What about you?  Wherever you live, will you live in community?  After all, living in community with the people of your town – and not just your church family – is how you can most effectively be salt and light (Matthew 5.13, 14), working to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20).  Work toward simplicity wherever you live, and watch the difference it makes in your opportunities to share the Lord.

Biblical Messages

Rejoice! Jesus Is Alive!

Easter is a great time to be a follower of Jesus – the time when we celebrate God’s victory over death in the resurrection of Christ.  It’s also a time when many people find themselves in church who otherwise may not show up much – so Easter Day serves as a great opportunity for sharing the real meaning of the day with people.

In this message, based on Philippians 4.4-9, listen and learn that Easter means more than just being good. It’s about a whole lifestyle of rejoicing.

Near the end of the message, there’s a video clip, which you can see here.

Listen to the whole message here.

Biblical Messages

Power Through Powerlessness: When you talk to God…give yourself

On Good Friday, we celebrate – yes, celebrate – the death of Jesus.  It sounds morose to celebrate a death.  It’s not like at a funeral, though, where we celebrate a life.  Christ followers celebrate the life of Jesus all year.  But on this day, we celebrate his death.  Why?  Because had Jesus not died, we would still be stuck in our sins.  And had Jesus not died, he would not have risen from the dead to open the door for us to receive eternal life!

In this message, from Luke 22.47-23.56, we explore how Jesus’ power over death came through what we perceive to be powerlessness.  We see that he gave himself totally.  May we do likewise for his cause.

You can listen to the message here.  It’s Friday…but Sunday’s comin’!  See you at the empty tomb!

Encouragement From The Word

Today…With Me…Paradise

            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!

Biblical Messages

When You Talk To God…Expect An Answer

Can God change his mind?  It’s a question a lot of people ask.  I happen to believe the answer is no (see last Friday’s “Encouragement” post for more on that), but there’s plenty of biblical evidence that people have tried – even Jesus.  In his time in the garden on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22.39-46), Jesus sought to get the Father to change his mind, at least for a moment, as he faced crucifixion.


God always answers.  Not always in our time or in our way, but God always answers.  Listen to the message here.

Encouragement From The Word

What if God had changed his mind?

         We’re entering the week when Christ-followers mark the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  This Sunday is “Palm Sunday”, so called because it’s the day the church celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21.1-11).  From that point forward, Jesus’ face is turned toward Jerusalem, toward the pain he will endure from no doing of his own.


         In his last week, Jesus spent time in the Garden of Gethsemane.  His human side showed there, perhaps as at no other time in the 33 years he had lived; he was totally stressed out about the fact that he was going to die the most heinous, painful death known to humanity at the time:  he’d be crucified the next morning.  And in his humanity, Jesus cried out to his Father to find out if there might be an alternative to what he knew lay before him.


         Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me” (Luke 22.42a, NLT).  One could say that, in these words, Jesus was attempting to change the mind of God.


         Lots of people today ask that question:  Can God change his mind?


         There’s quite a debate to be had on it, but in most circles, it’s understood that God does not change his mind, even though it may appear to us that way.  After all, even the concept of “changing one’s mind” is an anthropomorphism:  it’s a human expression that attempts to explain something beyond itself.  After all, the idea that God has a ‘mind’ that can be changed limits God to human concepts.  God is, of course, beyond that.


         Many look to the decision of God to “relent” from annihilating his people at the pleading of Moses (Exodus 32) as proof that God changes his mind.  Yet in reality, what was God doing in that story but simply fulfilling his original promise to protect and prosper his people?


         In the story of Jesus’ prayer in the garden, it is no different:  Jesus submits to the will of his Father, which was, from the beginning of time, to provide his own Son as the final sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  And Jesus knew it.


         There will be times when we know there are things we need to do – things we know are God’s will, things we know will exact a cost from us – and we beg God to let us out of them.  We ask God to change his mind.


         When we pray like Jesus, we find that our prayers to change God’s mind end up changing our minds.  God strengthens us for the task ahead, and delights in the fact that we talked to him about it.  That’s a win-win.


         I’m grateful that God didn’t change his mind:  after all, had God said to Jesus, “It’s okay, you don’t have to endure the cross”, where would we be?  The Bible answers that question so clearly.  We would be “dead in (our) transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2.1, NIV).


         I’m glad God is sticking to his original plan!