Biblical Messages

A Grinch-free Christmas: Having a pure heart

It’s easy for us to get into “Grinch” mode when we look around at the commercialism and the pace of the Christmas season.  How can we have a “Grinch-free” Christmas?  This series will help us see how changes in our character can help us make this truly the most wonderful time of the year.

This message is based on Matthew 5.1-12, and specifically on verse 8.  You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Jesus Bling

At St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we just completed a Sunday morning series on the importance of sharing our faith with others.  It all sounds good and noble, and we can be kind of pumped about talking about the Lord with others when we’re at church, but once we get back out into the world, it’s a different story for many people.  There’s just that innate fear of being rejected, or being asked a question we can’t answer, or of being so nervous that we say something wrong.  It’s a pretty common fear.

While going into a conversation with someone with the express intent of helping them come to know Jesus is daunting, there are other, perhaps more natural, ways to share our faith, too.  Let me tell you about an experience I had one day last week.

I went to a big-box store in a nearby town to pick up some water softener salt, and as I was paying for it, I noticed that the cashier was wearing a large cross made mostly of large clear stones.  So, to make conversation (and share my faith a little), I said to her, “That’s some pretty big ‘Jesus bling’ you’ve got there!”

The store was not busy, so this got her talking at some length about what the cross means to her (and the fact that this one was of the costume jewellery variety).  She talked a bit about religion, and I was able to say to her, “It’s all about what you do with Jesus.”  I said it two or three times throughout the very pleasant conversation, and my hope was that she would remember that phrase.

Before I left, she asked me to keep her in my prayers, which I promised to do.  This enabled me to give her my business card and invite her to email me with updates so that I could pray for her more effectively.  (This also served as an invitation to worship.)

Did I leave having given her a theological bone to chew on?  Possibly.  Did she get down on her knees and pray a sinner’s prayer right there in the store?  No.  But I did share my faith with her.  Often, with strangers, it is very difficult to share faith in a personal way because the relationship doesn’t exist.  Unless that cashier gets back in touch with me, or I’m back in the store and she remembers me, there may not be an opportunity for me to build on the conversation we had.  But the conversation was positive, and she was certainly left with something to think about.  I sowed some seed.  I tilled some ground.  Perhaps here, perhaps in heaven, I’ll see what God may have done with my effort.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3.6, NLT).  When we all participate in sharing our faith, each of us can play a role in helping people come to know the Lord.  Who knows?  You might meet up with that young cashier and have an opportunity to talk about Jesus, too, and through us, working together, God may draw her to himself in faith.

When you share your faith, make it natural.  Let the love of God flow through you.  In that way, whether you’re on a “committee” or not, you participate in your congregation’s outreach.

Biblical Messages

GO FISH: The one that got away

If you’ve been a serious fisher at some point in your life, you’ve probably got a story about a fish that got away.  Depending on how good a story-teller you are, your fish tale might be pretty dramatic!  When we fish for people, though, as God calls his followers to do, the stories of the ones that get away are far more heartbreaking.

Why?  Because the Bible makes it clear that there are two possibilities for the eternal destiny of all people.  Each is equally real, though if we admit it, most of us are far more keen to think about heaven than hell – especially the Bible’s picture of hell.

As you listen to this message, you’ll hear me say that many people have a tolerable picture of hell that they have created with their own imaginations.  Yet none of the religious traditions that depict hell paint a tolerable picture of it.  If we take seriously what the Old Testament, the New Testament, or even the Qu’ran say, you’ll find that hell is not a place anyone would want to go.

This was a hard message to prepare and to preach; after all, talking about the devil’s domain is not something he wants God’s people doing – he’d rather we have these tolerable pictures of hell so that we will be less likely to come to the One who has the power to redeem us from the real hell that we deserve.  Jesus’ death and resurrection were, once-for-all, what it took to snatch us from the hands of the devil.  All we need to do is trust him.

I based the message on Luke 16.19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. 

You can listen to the message by clicking this link.  A few times throughout the message, you’ll hear long pauses, but don’t stop – keep listening.

Encouragement From The Word

A wall of fire, and glory within

I don’t know about you, but when I do my devotions (that’s churchy-speak for a time followers of Jesus set aside each day for Bible reading and prayer), sometimes  – not every day, but sometimes – there’s something that stands out for me among all the things I read.  One day last week, something stood out for me in a profound way.  My Bible reading for the day was Zechariah 2.

Zechariah’s book is among the 12 ‘minor’ prophets – so-called because their books were smaller, rather than because their writing was less important than others’.  Zechariah prophesied during the time that the people of God were coming back to the promised land from captivity in Babylon and Persia.  And in chapter 2, a chapter reminiscent of the writing style of John in Revelation, Zechariah sees a man with a measuring line in his hand.  He was getting ready to measure Jerusalem to build its new walls.

Through one of his messengers, the Lord said that there wasn’t any point in building a wall around Jerusalem, because its population would be too great to contain it.  And then he said this, which so struck me:  “’And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within’” (Zechariah 2.5, NIV).

I shared this with our elders last Tuesday night, saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if the Lord himself were our wall of fire?  Wouldn’t it be great if God were the source of glory within the church?”  For our gang, I meant it as encouragement, because I believe, in so many ways, that this is true for our church.  And my heart wishes it would be true for every church.

Some churches seek their glory from the amount of money they can amass in trust, to save for a rainy day.  Others seek their glory from community service, being the go-to place for whatever ails you.  Still others seek their glory from a prominent radio or television ministry.  I believe Zechariah’s prophecy had it right:  let the Lord himself be the glory within the church, and that glory will shine through the church.

Easy to say, but how does that happen?

First, understand that God wants to be the glory of the church.  If the people are willing, and will submit to the Lord in worship and seek to follow his will, God will be the glory of the church.

Second, when our focus is on pleasing God, rather than satisfying the desires of others or on seeking community prominence in other ways, God will be the glory of the church.  We can focus on pleasing God through our study of his Word in Scripture, and through our application of what we study in prayer and service.

Let me challenge you:  first, if you are in leadership, to lead your church around that great statement in Zechariah 2.5.  Second, if you are not in leadership, to pray for your church’s leaders, to the end that Zechariah 2.5 would be true in your church.  God can do better than serve as a hedge of protection around your church; he can be a wall of fire around it!  And he will be its glory within.  Let it be so!

Biblical Messages

GO FISH: Fish Guts

Sharing our faith is not an easy thing.  People who love Jesus, in our culture today, often find it very difficult to talk about the Lord without great fear – of inadequate answers to questions, of persecution, of embarrassment – so they don’t.

God has called each believer to ‘go fish’, but it takes guts!  Peter and John had guts, and the community of believers prayed for them, and for each other, to have boldness in Acts 4.23-31.

You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Caring enough to share

We had a new curler playing with our team at the rink last night.  It was about his third time playing; he’s very enthusiastic, and he’s trying hard.  But he has quite a lot to learn about how to deliver a stone.

And it has implicitly fallen to me to try to teach him some skill – to mentor him as a curler.

I encouraged him all night, every time he did something right.  I reminded him that there is a great deal to think about when it comes to throwing a rock:  weight, turn, line for the stone – and all the body alignment issues that contribute toward weight, turn and line.  I fear for his knees if he doesn’t adopt a more proper delivery soon!

I marvel at the irony of this situation.  You see, I’m still learning technique myself, eleven-and-a-half years after throwing my first stone.  I’ve only recently managed to be happy with a consistent delivery style.  And now I’m supposed to teach someone else?!

One of the great things about teaching a sport – or anything else – is that you don’t have to be perfect at it to be able to mentor a beginner.  You don’t have to have all the answers.  You just have to care enough to share what you know.

The same is true with our faith.  When we talk about Jesus with other people – a daunting thing for any of us to do – we often fear that we just don’t know enough to be able to face the potential questions we’ll face.  But there’s no need to shrink back at this prospect.  We don’t need all the answers.  We don’t need to be Bible experts.  What we need is faith that Jesus is who he claimed to be, and enough love for others to care enough to share what you know.

I want to teach my young curling friend how to throw a rock because I’m concerned that the cartilage in his knees will be no better than spaghetti in a few years if he doesn’t change how he’s delivering the stone soon.  And I want to share my faith with others because I’m concerned that their eternal destiny is at stake.

No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2.23, NIV).  This is just one of the Scripture passages that makes it clear that Jesus is the way to God – not a way, but the way.  That’s not very politically correct these days, but then, the Bible was never known for its political correctness.  This is what drives us to share our faith – a conviction that Jesus is not just the way to God ‘for me’, but that he is the way to God ‘for all’. 

There are several safe ways that can render a curling stone to the place of the skip’s choosing.  But there is only one way that will render a person’s eternal destiny in heaven.  His name is Jesus.

Don’t be afraid that you don’t know enough.  God will give you the words to say.  And he also has given you a faith community to support your evangelistic endeavours.  I encourage you to lean into your church family when you share your faith.  Introduce your Christian friends to those with whom you are sharing the Lord.  Rely on your small group leader or your pastor to help you get answers to questions that your as-yet-unbelieving friends are asking.

 In so doing, you are not just going to church.  You’re being the church – just as God intended.