Encouragement From The Word

Getting ORANGE around the kitchen sink

My wife and I spent our day off this week camping with some friends.  As I was building the fire, our friends were doing the supper dishes, and my wife was getting the ingredients ready for a fun-filled dessert.  Once everyone had reconvened at the campfire, my friend said to me, “Jeff, while we were washing the dishes, we were having a theological conversation about…”

Now, that might not seem *too* strange, except that the “we” in that sentence was a dad and his two teenage children (mom was away at work, sadly).  Yes, a dad and his two teenage children were talking about the Christian life over the dishes.

I’d call that remarkable.  And wonderful.

It’s a terrific example of a parent being a spiritual leader to his children – not just once, but over the course of their young lives.  I know these kids, and they’re used to having regular conversations about their life in Jesus.  And their comfort in drawing me into the conversation tells me that they also are used to inviting others along for the journey.

This is what God intended for us all!  If you read the Old Testament, the parents took full responsibility for the spiritual development of their children, and the community played a role in that development.  Consider Deuteronomy 6.6-7, which follows on the heels of the giving of the Ten Commandments:  “And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children.  Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (NLT).

I encourage you to take my friends’ experience as a model.  If you have children, be spiritual leaders in their lives.  Show them how to walk with God.  Draw others into the dialogue so that your kids can hear your answers from another voice.

If you don’t have children, consider being one of those “others” who are drawn into the conversation.  Be an example of Christian faith to the kids in your church, in your neighbourhood.  Engage them so that they don’t see talking about the Lord as “weird”.  Let them know it can be as normative to talk about our faith as it is to wash the dishes.

God knows the difference we will make if we will do this, and do so intentionally.

Biblical Messages

MYTHBUSTERS: The church is full of judgmental hypocrites

One of the commonest beliefs outside the church is that the church is full of judgmental hypocrites.  The sad thing is that in some places and in some cases, this is true!  But a church full of growing followers of Jesus makes for less judgmentalism (but clearer judgment) and less hypocrisy (and more truth).

Many people love to quote Jesus’ words in Matthew 7.1:  “Do not judge”.  But they neglect the context around it, in which Jesus proceeds to give his followers some tools and criteria for judgment!

The key is not to avoid judging, but to avoid judgmentalism.  What’s the difference?  Listen here, to this message based on Matthew 7.1-6, 13-23.  (You’ll notice a little difference in the sound quality before the Scripture reading – I neglected to begin my recording during worship and had to re-record the introduction later.  But it’s all the same information!)

Encouragement From The Word

Make a difference: avoid hypocrisy

I learned a lot from cartoons when I was a kid.  One of my favourite memorable lines from a Sylvester and Tweety vignette came when Sylvester was supposed to be “looking after” Tweety, but when Grannie wasn’t looking, Sylvester was doing all he could to ingest Tweety!  After being found out, at one point, Tweety said, “Ooo, what a hypotwit!”

Now, I must admit I’m a bit fond of the idea of creating a new word that combines hypocrite and twit to make ‘hypotwit’, but in reality, Tweety was just calling Sylvester a hypocrite.  So I learned from that cartoon that a hypocrite is somebody who says s/he will do one thing and then turns around and does the opposite.

Hypocrisy is not restricted to the realm of animated cats and birds; you and I have been victims of hypocrisy, and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve even committed hypocrisy at some point in our lives.

People often say that the church is full of hypocrites.  And there’s a measure of truth to that statement, inasmuch as any group of people, brought together, will have hypocrites in their number.  Since the time of Adam and Eve’s fall, hypocrisy has been part of human society.

The trick, for growing followers of Jesus, is to be intentional about seeking to avoid hypocrisy.  It’s easy enough to just admit we’re sinners and live with our hypocrisy.  But God invites us to grow beyond it, so that as the church becomes more mature, it becomes less hypocritical.  And when that happens, people will see the difference, and want to know what makes you different!

The same is true of judgmentalism.  People often levy a charge of “judgmental hypocrisy” against the church, and sometimes it’s right.  After all, we’ve all seen the unfortunate placards that the people of a certain church in the US use to discourage people from homosexual activity.  They’re not in any way kind or gracious; they are, in fact, judgmental.

It’s a myth, though, that God doesn’t want his people to judge.  We’re all required to judge, for if we didn’t, there would be nothing but chaos in the world!  But there is a difference between being judgmental and judging.  Making judgment calls, and speaking the truth in love with words characterized by grace, is biblical.  Condemning sin and sinner with one whip of the tongue (or one slip of the pen) is not biblical.

Again, as growing followers of Jesus, God invites us to be intentional about moving away from judgmentalism toward making judgment calls characterized by grace.  If we can avoid being hypocritical, and avoid being judgmental – while still speaking and living God’s truth – we will find that the church of Jesus Christ will be more like what God designed it to be, and it will change the world.

Biblical Messages

MYTHBUSTERS: The body is shameful

North Americans are an enigmatic lot when it comes to the human body.   The culture seems to welcome the objectification of the body, especially women’s bodies, and yet it can’t handle simple, non-sexual nudity in, say, a group of seniors at a free beach.  Why is that?

In this message, I talk about how the culture has equated Victorian values with biblical ones – erroneously – and how it has been assumed that sex is to be either for procreative purposes or illicit purposes, instead of being for the pleasure of a man and a woman united in the covenant of marriage.

What has been perceived as Christian culture has done little to help the issue of body shame.  In the Bible, clothing became part of human reality not because of shame, but because of fear.  God created our bodies, and said they were not only “very good”, but in his very own image!  So if God makes everything glorious, as the David Crowder Band has sung, and we are his, what does that make us?

Based on 1 Corinthians 12.14-26 and Psalm 139.1-16, you can listen to a message debunking the myth that the body is shameful here.  The message concludes with a video montage from YouTube accompanied by “Fingerprints of God” by Steven Curtis Chapman, viewable here.

Encouragement From The Word

Cream pies for Jesus

I take great delight in watching the joyful abandon of children.  Last week, St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton held its annual Bible Fun Camp – five mornings of fun and Bible learning offered to the children of our community.  When I volunteered to be “of any help I could,” little did I know that I would be depriving someone else of the privilege of teaching children for the week!  While it made for a very busy week (with all the usual responsibilities), it was a week of blessing.

Watching children concentrate on a craft helps me see their creativity.  Watching them listen carefully to a biblical concept as it’s taught, and watching them learn a Scripture verse by memory, is heart-warming.  Watching them go on a scavenger hunt for various things in God’s creation gives me hope.

Watching them prepare with absolute glee to throw cream pies at me, however, simply struck fear in my heart!

jeff's cream pies


Photo courtesy of kingweekly.com

Actually, I offered to be the victim for the cream pies.  I hadn’t honestly banked on being the recipient of thirteen cream pies, but thankfully, they were small.  (I’m still digging NutriWhip out of my right ear.)

Why would I submit to all this?  As a pastor, don’t I have the right to say, “I’m too busy”?  Probably, but here’s why I gave up five mornings and let children play target practice with my head:  memories, and relationships.

My earliest memories of church life are of Vacation Bible Schools of my childhood.  I didn’t go to church as a youngster, so VBS was pretty much my only exposure to church as a kid.  But those concentrated weeks of learning and fun were part of the foundation for what became my profession of faith in Jesus Christ.  I thank God still today for the people who gave of their time and themselves to help me know Jesus through VBS.

And relationships are key to growing faith in young people (and their families).  Many people still have a view of clergy as ‘untouchable’, as aloof, as different.  I have worked hard to be as accessible and as ‘normal’ as possible in my ministry, because it helps to tear down barriers that otherwise keep people at a distance from me – and thereby from the church, and even from the Lord.

The Apostle Paul was all for breaking down these barriers, too:  “When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ.  Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some” (1 Corinthians 9.22, NLT).

This is why engagement with the culture is so important.  It’s not the church’s role to assimilate itself into the culture, becoming indistinguishable, but to use the culture’s means to communicate the timeless truth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

If doing things like taking pies in the face will help bring people to Jesus, all I can say is, “Bring on the NutriWhip!”  How about you?

Biblical Messages

MYTHBUSTERS: God has a blueprint for my life

One thing that every Christ-follower, and even some who are not committed to faith, seek to do is to find and understand God’s will.  Some people even think that God has a “blueprint” for our lives!  Yet, if you think about it, when we make one mistake, that blueprint is completely distorted.

Some take it to a ridiculous extreme, and even worry over which shoe to put on first in the morning (the message you’ll hear begins with me, pondering which shoe to put on first). 

In this message, based on Ephesians 5.15-20, I explore the possibility that God doesn’t have a blueprint for our lives – but he does have a game plan!

Click this link to listen to the message and find out the difference between a blueprint and a game plan.

Encouragement From The Word

Remembering the birthday of a friend

Today marks the birthday of a dear old friend of mine.  He died a long time ago, but he left an indelible mark on me and on countless others.  It could be said that there was no greater thinker of his time; some might even suggest there has been no greater thinker since.

 He is missed, but through his writings and those who have studied him, like me, he lives on.  Yes, today marks the 500th birthday of the Frenchman born Jean Cauvin.  We know him better by his anglicized name:  John Calvin.

 john_calvinCalvin’s name has been equally praised and maligned by people throughout the centuries since he became the Reformed pastor in Geneva in the sixteenth century.  There are those who think his understanding of God and of Scripture is harsh, while others think it is supremely insightful.  In the words of some other Great Theologian, “You can’t win ‘em all.”  (It might have been Yogi Berra.)

 There are five tenets that popularly denote Calvin’s theology:

  • That humanity is, by virtue of the sin of Adam and Eve, inherently sinful and unable to choose right when left to our own devices;
  • That followers of Jesus are, by God’s grace, chosen by God to be his without condition;
  • That there is no universal salvation – only those who profess Jesus as Lord and Saviour are able to be saved;
  • That when God fills us with his grace, we are powerless to resist it; and
  • That those whom God calls and chooses as his own are his forever.

 These five tenets are all biblically defensible, though not always palatable.  Truth is not always easy to swallow.

 I celebrate the life and work of Calvin not simply because I affiliate myself with Presbyterianism, which he, through John Knox, founded as a denominational expression of Christianity.  I celebrate Calvin because he reminded us all that no matter what may happen in this world, God is in charge.  That is, he is “sovereign”.  And he has a plan for his people – a plan to prosper and not to harm, to bring a hope and a future (see Jeremiah 29.11).

 I celebrate Calvin because he reminded us all that God’s grace – his unmerited love and favour – is greater than our sin.  “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103.12, NLT). 

 I celebrate Calvin because in his preaching and teaching ministry, he sought to excite the hearts and minds of people with the Word of God.  He knew that the best way to captivate people with the majesty of God was to fill their hearts with the Word of God.   This was the legacy of both his preaching and his writing, for Calvin left not only his mammoth Institutes of the Christian Religion (which are worth the read, by the way), he also left commentaries on virtually every book of the Bible.  Calvin wasn’t an ivory tower theologian; he was a pastor who met people where they were with an understanding of Scripture that built people up and convinced them of the glory of God.

 I don’t pretend to be a thinker like Calvin.  But I do aspire, like my 500-year-old friend, to captivate people with the majesty of God – and the knowledge that his love never fails.

 Happy birthday, John Calvin.  Thanks be to God for your legacy.