On Hallowe’en and Standard Time

Two interesting occurrences will befall us this Saturday evening:  Hallowe’en, and the changing of the clocks back to Standard Time.  (Well, there is a third happening, which interests me more than the other two:  my beloved Habs play on their home ice against the four-pointed Leafs that evening!)  As a spiritual discipline, however, I will limit my thoughts to the first two matters.

 There are divergent opinions on what followers of Jesus should do about Hallowe’en.  Is it just an evening for kids to dress up and collect mountains of candy from trusted neighbours, or is it a celebration of all things evil?  I think the answer to that question really depends on the individual’s perspective.

 Hallowe’en is a shortened name for “All Hallows Eve”, which in the ancient and mediaeval church was (and, for many today, still is) the night before All Saints’ Day – a day when the Church remembers, with thanksgiving, those who have laboured for the Lord and have gone on to heaven.  Like Easter, whose name and timing find their roots in a Christianized pagan feast, Hallowe’en stems from an ancient Celtic festival for Samhain, the lord of the dead.  When the Romans conquered Celtic lands, there was some intermingling of practices.  It was in 835 that All Saints’ Day was moved to November 1, and that’s when October 31 became All Hallows’ Eve (or Hallowe’en).

 Some say Christ-followers shouldn’t have anything to do with an event that celebrates a pagan deity.  And to be sure, there is a disturbing reality that goes with Hallowe’en among those who continue to follow the Celtic rituals.  I won’t go into the details here, but there are practices that go along with the ‘religious’ side of Hallowe’en that would make you sick to your stomach (and would cause your spirit to recoil in horror).

 Other believers see Hallowe’en as an evangelistic opportunity – a chance to share the light of Jesus on a dark night with people who willingly come to your door looking for goodies.  With the candy you give, you could offer a printed message of good news and a blessing for those who come.

 Still others see Hallowe’en as just a fun night for kids.  As Christians, how can we make a fun night for kids into something that can be potentially life-changing?  Pray about that one!

 “Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97.10, NIV).

 How about the switch to Standard Time?  (If you’re in Saskatchewan reading this, you may think this doesn’t affect you, but read on.  When my wife and I were travelling through Saskatchewan this summer, we couldn’t remember whether their time equated with Alberta or Manitoba!)  The use of Daylight Saving Time in the warmer months has its name as its purpose:  to make the best use of daylight. 

 Again, this is a secular activity that has little spiritual bearing – or does it?  Can God’s people make use of something as seemingly innocuous as the time shift to share the good news?

 Maybe it’s too late for this time, but think about it:  we shift the time because we want to take advantage of the light.  What does the apostle John say?  “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1.7, NIV).  It’s simple, but it can have an impact.  Give it some thought.

 By the way, don’t forget to turn your clocks back on Saturday night after the Canadiens win the hockey game.  You’ll get an extra hour of sleep, and you won’t find yourself arriving at worship on Sunday before the doors are unlocked!

Biblical Messages

GO FISH: Why Fish? We were all fish once…

If you’re a follower of Jesus, how did you become one?  It’s most likely that someone else whonana frerends loved Jesus shared his or her faith with you, and you became a follower, too.  Jesus invites his friends to “fish for people”.  Just as someone else ‘fished’ for us, we can ‘fish’ for others, too, by sharing our story of faith!  Go fish!

This message is based on Matthew 4.18-22 and Acts 4.1-22. Near the end of the message, I show the video linked here.

Listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Vision and plans

I heard a great quotation the other day, from Andy Stanley, that applies so well to the church:

“Be in love with your vision, and infatuated with your plans.”

Do you see the difference?  Love is enduring; infatuation is, at best, temporary.

When God blesses a church’s leadership with vision – with a glimpse of his preferred future for that gathered congregation – the leaders need to love that vision and treat it as the gift from God that it is.  They are called to be faithful to the vision, because love is faithful.

And when God blesses a church’s leadership with vision, those leaders need to plan.  They need to find ways to execute the vision God has given them.  But they can’t have the same love for their plans that they have for their vision, or the vision will never come to fruition.   Why?  Because plans need to change.  Sometimes it’s because of a culture shift, sometime’s it’s because of a boneheaded idea that just didn’t have what it takes to work.  Whatever the reason, plans change.

I attended a seminar on Thursday that gave the perfect illustration of this.  Consider the Apple Computer company.  What they set out to do – their vision from the beginning – was to make an excellent computer.  (There’s probably a vision statement that is much more exacting than that, but you know what I mean.)  What that “excellent computer” looked like could not always be the same.  Their first Mac Pro was a good effort for the mid-1980s; but for today, it wouldn’t fly.  There’s more memory on the smallest thumb drive today than there ever was offered on the Mac Pro.  The newest offering from Apple is the MacBook Air – ostensibly the best computer on the market today (and I’m a PC guy, by the way).

Here’s what we didn’t see between the Mac Pro and the MacBook Air:  some 80 changes in plans.  There were many computers offered in between these two, and many more changes in plans, all because the folks at Apple love their vision, to make excellent computers.

How about us, church?  God has given us a basic mission:  “go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I [Jesus] have commanded you” (Matthew 28.18-19, NIV).  How that happens can work really well in one place at one time, and not so well at another time.

Sometimes, people cluck their tongues at churches that are innovative, as if the innovators were thumbing their noses at the sacred; in fact, the reverse is true.  It is those who refuse to change their plans in order to fulfill the vision that thumb their noses at the sacred.

Cardinal Newman said, “To live is to change, and to live well is to change often.”  That doesn’t mean the vision changes – but the plans to carry out that vision must change.  It means church leaders need to be on top of the culture, and ready to learn what will reach another generation for the Lord.  And it means church members must be willing to adapt to change, if the church is to avoid extinction within a generation.

If you’re in church leadership, pray over your vision, and be willing to change your plans as the vision evolves and the culture changes.  If you’re not in church leadership, pray for your leaders, that God will infuse them with passion for reaching those who are far from God – whatever it takes.

Encouragement From The Word

Beyond Thanksgiving

Are you still giving thanks?

Yeah, I know, Thanksgiving was last weekend.  Depending on the size of your gathering and the size of your bird, you might still be eating leftovers (I know we are).  But beyond that, is Thanksgiving still alive in your life?

For some, being thankful is a once-a-year thing, like going to church on Christmas Eve or visiting the in-laws on their anniversary.  But for the growing follower of Jesus, being thankful is a lifestyle choice.  The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-17, NLT).

There are a few things worth noting about those two short verses.

First, the verb tenses indicate ongoing activity.  Joy, prayer, and thanksgiving should be characteristic of who we are.

Second, thanksgiving doesn’t stand alone.  Joy and prayer are the companions of thanksgiving, and help to make thanksgiving a natural outworking of a life filled with joy and prayer.

Third, thanksgiving is not momentary, nor is it intended to be a blind, pollyanna-ish blanketed thanksgiving ‘for everything’.  When we visit our loved ones and they welcome us warmly, we might depart by saying, “Thanks for everything!”  But we hardly do that in every aspect of life, do we?  If we’re in a car accident, do we give thanks for the accident?  I doubt it!  What Paul exhorts us to do is to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances.

Giving thanks in all circumstances requires a great degree of patience and Christian maturity.  After all, if verse 17 is true, we don’t expect those who are not followers of Christ to be thankful in all circumstances.  The verse says that such is God’s will “for you who belong to Christ Jesus” – not for anybody else.

To that end, giving thanks in all circumstances can be a powerful testimony of faith to others.  When people see you enduring hardships or trials of various sorts, and thanking God in the midst of those troubles, they will see a faith that is worth investigating, if not adopting.

Without a doubt, giving thanks in all circumstances – all of them! – is not easy.  It only happens by the grace of God flowing through us.  But when it does, life takes on new meaning.  Deeper meaning.  Eternal meaning.

So, are you still giving thanks?

Biblical Messages

TRUE[ISH]: What do we do with truth?

If we’ve come to a place where we believe in Jesus as the Truth, and we have seen our own sinfulness and accepted his healing and forgiveness, what happens next?  What do we do with truth?

On this Thanksgiving weekend, it’s appropriate that we should give thanks for the Truth, and live a life characterized by gratitude.  It is that Truth living inside us by the Holy Spirit that allows us to be grateful, to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5.17).

This message is based on Colossians 3.1-17, and includes this video.

You can listen to the concluding message in this series by clicking this link.

Encouragement From The Word

The Root of our Thanksgiving

This weekend, we celebrate Thanksgiving.  For many, it’s an opportunity to gather with family – a widely-touted excuse to consume remarkable amounts of turkey.   For others, it’s a time to go to church (not as popular as Christmas and Easter, but close).  To be sure, there are some who will sit down to dinner this weekend and pray before they eat who are not usually pray-ers before they are eaters.  But heaven rejoices when anyone talks to God, for whatever reason!

For those of us who follow Jesus, Thanksgiving is another Sunday in the year, but one that holds special significance especially for those with an agricultural background.  What we call “Thanksgiving” is really “Harvest Thanksgiving” – an opportunity to praise God for the crops yielded in the summer just past.

 Do we often think about why we are thankful?  The simple answer, I suppose, would be that we are thankful for all that God provides.  After all, the old hymn says

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above;

So thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.

We gather at Thanksgiving to thank the Lord.  But that answers why we celebrate Thanksgiving – not why we are thankful!

 Here’s a hint:  God is the object of our thanks, but he is also the source.  It is through God and in Christ Jesus that we are able to be thankful.  Colossians 3.17 says, “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (NLT).  We are thankful to God, through Jesus.  It is through Jesus that true thanksgiving is offered to God.

 Thus it’s possible for anybody to be thankful; after all, it’s part of the array of manners we are taught as children (hopefully!).  However, those who are in Christ are best able to thank the Father.  Why?  Well, we who have been rescued from slavery to sin are able to look back on the evil behind us (read Martin Luther’s “Fourteen Consolations” to go deeper on this).  When we see what we have been, and see what God is making us into now, we have greater cause to be thankful – quite apart from the bounty of food we enjoy.

 There are many blessings for which to be thankful.  The greatest of these is our relationship with God, which matters for eternity.

 I’m especially thankful that I get to share my relationship with God with my church family at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  The past week-and-a-bit have proven to be a most interesting adventure, as some unique and thoughtful (and unexpected!) gift has shown up at my door each day since October 1 – to celebrate Clergy Appreciation Month (a story about this can be found here).  Like all thanksgiving, my thanks in this context are rooted in grace.  We do nothing to earn God’s love, our salvation, or even a bountiful harvest!  Likewise, I have done nothing to earn the appreciation of the people among whom I serve.  That’s why, through Jesus, I am humbled in grace to be able to say to God, and to these wonderful people, “Thanks.”

Biblical Messages

TRUE[ISH]: As long as I don’t hurt anybody…

Most people, if you ask them why they think they’ll go to heaven (if they care at all), would probably answer, “I’m a good person.”  It’s a pretty common understanding.

Yet one of the most true[ish] beliefs we can hold is that we’re basically not bad people, that we can do whatever we want, that anything can be true as long as we don’t hurt anybody in the process.

This is what people want to hear, but 2 Timothy 4.1-5 tells us that stuff like this is just what our itching ears want to hear – but it’s not the truth. 

You can listen to this message by clicking this link.

Encouragement From The Word

The Phoenix Coyotes: What Would Solomon Do?

So it looks like neither successful Canadian businessman and ardent hockey fan Jim Balsillie, nor the NHL itself, represented by Commissioner Gary Bettman, will be the owner of the Phoenix Coyotes!  A court in Arizona ruled on Wednesday that neither bid to take over the team was acceptable, but that the fate of the team will rest, nonetheless, in the hands of the League.

In a sense, it was a victory for the NHL Board of Governors, which retains the right to select its owners and the locations of its franchises.  The judge did say that it wouldn’t take much to bring the NHL’s bid up to snuff, but the bid of the Blackberry Billionaire is over.  And he’s not appealing, saying that he has done all he can to attempt to bring a seventh NHL franchise to Canada.  To be sure, it was not a victory for fans who would love to see another team in Canada, and particularly in the most densely-populated part of the country:  southern Ontario.

When I heard the result of this bit of legal stickhandling, my mind immediately went to a story that is recorded in 1 Kings 3.16-28, whereby King Solomon demonstrated just how wise he was:

Some time later two prostitutes came to the king to have an argument settled.  “Please, my lord,” one of them began, “this woman and I live in the same house. I gave birth to a baby while she was with me in the house.  Three days later this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there were only two of us in the house.

“But her baby died during the night when she rolled over on it.  Then she got up in the night and took my son from beside me while I was asleep. She laid her dead child in my arms and took mine to sleep beside her.  And in the morning when I tried to nurse my son, he was dead! But when I looked more closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t my son at all.”

Then the other woman interrupted, “It certainly was your son, and the living child is mine.”

“No,” the first woman said, “the living child is mine, and the dead one is yours.” And so they argued back and forth before the king.

Then the king said, “Let’s get the facts straight. Both of you claim the living child is yours, and each says that the dead one belongs to the other.  All right, bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought to the king.

Then he said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other!”

Then the woman who was the real mother of the living child, and who loved him very much, cried out, “Oh no, my lord! Give her the child—please do not kill him!”

But the other woman said, “All right, he will be neither yours nor mine; divide him between us!”

Then the king said, “Do not kill the child, but give him to the woman who wants him to live, for she is his mother!”

When all Israel heard the king’s decision, the people were in awe of the king, for they saw the wisdom God had given him for rendering justice.  (NLT)

Of course, the analogy breaks down, since most Canadians would think that Balsillie would be the ‘real mother’ of this ‘baby’!  And yet, the analogy works, because many of us would reason that Balsillie really is the party to this case that wants the Phoenix Coyotes to live.  He just doesn’t want them to live in Phoenix, and the NHL can’t handle the sort of spirit with which the RIM boss comes to the table.

Will this ‘baby’ die?  It wasn’t cut in two, but its creditors would say it was already on life support.

Solomon demonstrated his God-given wisdom in his order to cut the baby in two, because he knew that love would prompt the real mother to give up the child rather than see it die.

I sometimes wonder if churches are like that.  There are times that churches die because bickering parties can’t agree on what is usually not a life-and-death issue.  For all churches everywhere, let’s pray for wisdom from God to see them live and thrive!

As for the Phoenix Coyotes, well, I guess time will tell.