Encouragement From The Word

You don’t have to be famous for your death to be noticed

So two famous people died yesterday:  first Farrah Fawcett (to whom I paid much attention in my youth), and then Michael Jackson (to whom I paid no attention ever except when he made the news for some freakish activity like holding an infant over a balcony railing).

Each of these people had an effect on our media-saturated world.  Even those who are not fans of Jackson’s music cannot deny the indelible imprint he made on contemporary popular music.  And Farrah?  Well, thanks to her, I misspelled the synonym for my kitchen taps for years.  I don’t think I ever owned “the poster”, but I do remember coveting it once or twice.

It’s not everybody’s role or place to be famous – or infamous.  Most of us live in relative obscurity for much or all of our lives.  But that doesn’t mean that what we say and do goes completely unnoticed.  You and I might never make the six o’clock news for reasons good or bad, but our every move is seen by the One who made us, who redeems us by his Son Jesus Christ, and who longs to be in relationship with us through his Holy Spirit.

Does that sound a little “big brotherish” to you?  The difference is the heart of love.  “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it” (Matthew 10.29, NLT).  God watches over us and sees our every move out of sheer love for us whom he created in his own image.  That calls for a response from us.

The Lord Jesus goes on to say that people are worth more to God than sparrows.  We don’t have to have the Paparazzi chasing after us for us to be famous.  We are famous in the eyes of our Creator!  We are famous in the eyes of the only One whose fame and whose attention truly matter!

The three Hollywood deaths that occurred this week (don’t forget Ed McMahon earlier) will be talked about for days to come.  When you or I die, our death might be talked about for hours to come here on earth.  But when we live in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, our death will be a homecoming in heaven.

I don’t know about you, but rather than being written up in every newspaper in the world on my death, I look forward to being “high fived” by my Lord.

I’m praying that your relationship with God puts you in a similar mind set!


Defending the faith

The Dead Sea Scrolls Are Coming!

…and numbers of you are saying, “So what?!”  But before you click elsewhere, take a minute to read why I think this is a pretty big deal.

 The Dead Sea Scrolls are rolls of parchment, or fragments of parchment, on which are written portions of the Old Testament.  They were found beginning in 1947, initially by shepherd boys who were tossing stones into caves high above the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea is a large, salty (thus ‘dead’) lake that separates Israel from Jordan, east of Jerusalem.  See the map for orientation (thanks to MSN/Encarta).map of dead sea

 The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls revolutionized Old Testament biblical scholarship as we know it.  There is an entire discipline within biblical studies that is dedicated to the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it has a language all its own.  If you thought my ModelTrainSpeak was difficult to understand, try carrying on a conversation with a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar!  Each scroll fragment has an alphanumeric designation that makes my references to an AC4400CW locomotive seem simplistic.  Really!  In 2007, as part of my work with the Canadian Bible Society, I attended a symposium on the scrolls that we sponsored.  Most of the lectures went a long way over my head.

 The great thing, though, is that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has confirmed the reliability of the Old Testament.  Understandably, no one has possession of original manuscripts of the Old Testament.  So when the scrolls were found, scholars were very curious to find out if the manuscripts they had been working with – which were virtually all more recent than those found at Qumran (the ancient community whose ruins are near the caves) – would show any significant differences in how we understand the Old Testament.

 Remarkably, the differences were very, very few – usually in the form of small spelling errors that had been made in the process of copying manuscripts.  (Remember, this was in the days before Xerox or Gutenberg!  Everything was copied by hand.)  Where there were significant differences, these have been noted in all newer Bible translations beginning with the Revised Standard Version in the 1950s.  Footnotes are used to show where there are differences.  For example, in the New International Version (our pew Bible translation), Isaiah 51.19 reads, “These double calamities have come upon you – who can comfort you? – ruin and destruction, famine and sword – who cana console you?”  Then, at the bottom of the page, the footnote reads, “a19 Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Vulgate and Syriac; Masoretic Text / how can I”.

 What that footnote means is this.  When scholars looked at the Dead Sea Scrolls, they found that the scrolls agreed with the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, originally dating back to around 250 BC), the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible, originally dating back to the 4th century AD), and the Syriac version of the Old Testament (the Bible in that language dates back to around the 5th century AD).  They found that this was slightly different than the Masoretic Text, which was, up to the time the Scrolls were found, the oldest version of the Old Testament available for translation.  It was named for the Masoretes, who were a faithful guild of Jewish transcribers of the Old Testament.

 The Dead Sea Scrolls contain some part of every book of the Old Testament except the book of Esther.  In the case of Isaiah, Deuteronomy and the Psalms, there are multiple copies.  Most of the scrolls are written in Hebrew, but some are in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke).  There are writings in the scrolls that are not part of the accepted canon of the Old Testament, too.

 dead sea scrollsMaybe I haven’t gotten to the “So what?!” part for you yet.  Here’s a thought:  the Scrolls are coming for an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto beginning June 27.  Many of your friends have an interest in the Bible, even if they don’t go to church.  Why not have a fun day with your friends, and invite them to join you on the trip to the ROM?  You’ll find, together, that the exhibit will strengthen your trust in the Old Testament as an integral part of God’s Word.  It might even open your friends to consider coming to church with you.

 In 1 Peter 3.15, the apostle Peter wrote to the church (and to us):  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect”.  Being “always prepared” doesn’t mean having to have all the answers; it means being receptive to the questions, and willing to seek answers.  The ROM is giving us an opportunity to share our faith with hundreds of thousands of people who will visit the museum during this exhibit; some of them will be our friends.  I encourage you to see this as an opportunity to share your love for the Lord and his Word with others.


Biblical Messages

MYTHBUSTERS: Church is not for guys

While God didn’t intend it that way, many churches often structure and present themselves in ways that don’t really appeal to men.  Strawberry teas and quilting generally don’t reach many guys for Jesus.  What does?  Adventure, challenge, risk – these things appeal to men, and it doesn’t mean the church has to be all about rock-climbing.  Even the regular worship and service life of the congregation can involve these elements.

Using Hebrews 10.19-25, I have attempted to bust the myth that church is not for guys.  You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

A Guy’s Kind Of God

Good morning!

With Father’s Day approaching this weekend, I’m thinking about dads and men and their roles within the local church.  Let’s face it:  there are a lot of guys out there who think that the whole ‘church’ thing is just not for them.  Most of them believe in God, and many of them understand what Jesus did to bring us back into relationship with God.  But expressing that through engagement in the local church just isn’t part of the equation for large numbers of men.  Why is that?

Well, just as every guy is different and every church is different, there will be a myriad of reasons why men aren’t engaging with God through the church.

For some, the alternative of a morning to laze around, tinker with stuff, or have breakfast with a buddy seems more interesting.

For others, the idea of going to church doesn’t bug them too much.  They’re not crazy about getting dressed up (as some church cultures still require), and some of them are really not crazy about singing out loud, especially about, or to, a Saviour who seems, well, a little bit girly.

Does this mean that churches needs to start offering different worship opportunities for men and women?  Definitely not.  What it may mean, however, is that churches need to step back and examine their overall ministry to see if they strike a balance, in the light of Scripture, in (a) how they portray God, and (b) how they equip their people and serve the community.  That is, the social nature of much of the church’s ministry doesn’t always appeal to men:  guys aren’t into tea parties, but they do like to get stuff done!  So if the church isn’t making a measure of its ministry practical, and hands-on in nature, then it isn’t striking a balance to help appeal to men (not to mention that it’s missing the Bible’s call to put faith into action).  And, as long as the church continues to feed its people a steady diet of worship songs that sound like they belong on a CD of Air Supply’s greatest hits, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the guys would rather stay home and mow the lawn.

Please don’t get me wrong:  I’m not advocating that the church be turned upside down.  I think, though, that a more balanced approach to ministry will reach the community in a more holistic manner.  It may not seem politically correct, but the reality is that when husbands and fathers sign up to follow Jesus, there is a much greater likelihood that the rest of the family will follow suit.

The writer to the Hebrews, in encouraging people not to forsake the discipline of corporate worship, uses some strong practical verbs (action words!) to describe what the church should be doing.  For example:  “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10.24-25, NIV; emphasis mine).

If you know anything about cowboys and horses, you know the word “spur” as a noun.  As a verb, it makes me jump as much as the noun’s implementation does for a horse.  Spurring each other on is a great ministry!  And so is encouraging.  We tend to think of it as a term of comfort, which it is, but literally, to encourage is to offer words that give another person greater courage!

This Sunday at St. Paul’s, Nobleton, I’ll be exploring the myth that church really isn’t for guys.  May that truly be a myth in your church and in mine, that God may use us to reach men, women and children, for his glory.

Encouragement From The Word

Luck is just a myth

Occasionally, I do crazy things.  (Okay, if you know me well, you know that can be seen as an understatement.)  One of the crazy things I did, one year, was go shopping on Boxing Day. 

Shopping on Boxing Day is, to me, a crazy thing to do – unless one has some specific purchase in mind, it’s otherwise an act whereby “you save a lot of money, spending money you don’t got” (in the words of the great theologian Stompin’ Tom Connors).  But one year, when we lived within walking distance of a large Toronto mall, I walked over to check out the bargains.

When I was leaving – with little or nothing in hand, if memory serves me correctly – I was walking across the crowded parking lot toward the city sidewalk that would lead me home.  I was amazed at the number of people who were ‘lurking’ for a parking space.  I see this all the time, not just on Boxing Day:  people will waste inordinate amounts of fuel and time waiting to get a parking space as close to the door of the mall as possible.  This practice is environmentally irresponsible to say the least, and, if I may say so, kind of annoying.  Unless folks need the handicapped spot and have the necessary paperwork to back it up, why can’t they enjoy the walk from a little further back in the lot?  I often do this just for the exercise (not that it helps a lot).

These folks are among those who think they’ll “get lucky” and find a parking space.  Of course, there are some people who will pray for a parking space, too.  Two thoughts come to mind on that one.

First, there are those who pray for a parking space and then thank the Lord for its provision.  Part of me really wonders whether God is not terribly interested in the provision of a parking space at the mall, and might otherwise classify it under our ‘free will’.  (I’m going to explore this concept later in the summer.)

Then there are those who make promises to God about the parking space.  You know the drill:  “God, if you find me a parking space near the door, I’ll go to church every Sunday.”  Moments later:  “Never mind, God, I found one myself.”

The people who treat God and good luck in much the same way are missing out on a lot that being a follower of Jesus has to offer.  When we treat God like a lucky rabbit’s foot, that we rub in our pocket when we want some sort of wish, we trivialize God and treat him as an impersonal force instead of a personal God who relates to people he created.  The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote to the church in Philippi, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.19, NIV).

God loves to meet our needs, because he loves us first and foremost.  Given that reality, why put your trust in luck?  It isn’t going to dry your tears when you mourn.  Luck won’t comfort you when you’re troubled.  Frankly, it won’t even get you a parking space.

Luck?  That’s just a myth.  Trust in God.

Biblical Messages

MYTHBUSTERS: “Graduation from Sunday School is the end of my Christian education.”

This Sunday was the “child-led” service at St. Paul’s, Nobleton – the day when children participate in the worship gathering and talk about what their year in the Christian education program has meant to them.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to deal with the myth, widely believed based on the actions of many church-going people, that our Christian education ends when we finish Sunday School.

In the message, I tried to encourage the children, and the adults, never to stop pursuing a deeper relationship with the Lord.  When God calls us to faith in Christ, he calls us to life-long learning in the Lord.

The message is brief, because of the nature of this service, and is founded on Colossians 2.6-10.

Click here to listen to it.

Encouragement From The Word

Sunday School alone can’t do it…

This Sunday at St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we will celebrate our annual “child-led” service.  This is something I’ve never experienced before, and I’m looking forward to it.  As part of the service, two of our young people who are completing secondary school this spring will give testimonies of what God has done in their lives over the course of their years in the church’s Christian education ministry.  And the children will lead us in worship.

Not being able to resist the opportunity, I will be busting another myth, that being the myth that when we “graduate” from Sunday school, our Christian education is over.  It would be so easy to just say that and sit down, I suppose, but it will warrant some explanation.

We all know somebody who disliked school so much, when she or he completed all the education that could be stomached, the books were closed and that was that – the person chose never again to learn anything by that traditional means.

Chances are pretty good that a person like that hasn’t progressed very far in life.  Why?  As the old saying goes, when you stop learning, you die.  Sure, not everybody finds the academic life or the classroom altogether stimulating, but there are plenty of other ways to learn.  The trick is to ensure that we continue to learn even beyond our formal years of education, be it in school or in church. 

I didn’t go to Sunday school as a kid, but whenever I ask someone who did, they tell me that if their Christian education had stopped when they stopped going to Sunday school, they wouldn’t have much maturity of faith.

Or, to talk about it in Orange terms, the 40 hours in a year that the church has to influence children for Christ can’t make a believer mature all by themselves.  There must be more.

To many adults think that, once they finish Sunday school, they can get all the Christian teaching they need just by listening to Sunday morning messages.  That will help, but it’s not enough.

This is why St. Paul’s will be launching its LifeConnect Groups this fall.  These will be small group opportunities for people to connect with God, grow in Christ, and serve in community – weekly opportunities to enjoy the presence of God, learn to apply our faith more, and work with others to make a difference in the community.

Wherever you hang out with other Christ-followers, it’s vital to your Christian development that you have some forum in which you can deepen your walk with God.  Sunday morning alone can’t do it.  “So, then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2.6-7, NIV).  Our earliest Christian education can root us in the Lord, but it takes more to build us up.  Keep on learning.  Maturity awaits!