Encouragement From The Word

Faith At Work

            Yesterday, I had an appointment with a specialist to whom I had been referred by my family doctor for what turned out to be nothing, thankfully.  But the visit wasn’t about nothing at all.  (I hope you can keep pace with my double negative sentence there…)

            When I started filling out paperwork for this doctor, I couldn’t help but notice at the bottom of every page the phrase, “In God we trust.”  This left me wondering whether he was trying, subtly, to get a religious message of some sort across, or if he had a ‘thing’ for American money!

            I decided the best approach to take would be to ask him outright:  “What’s the deal with the ‘In God we trust’ on your paperwork?”

            He smiled, having gotten precisely the reaction he surely hoped he’d get from every patient.

            He proceeded to tell me about his faith in Christ and, knowing I am a pastor, felt more free to do so with me than he might have with other people, especially since the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario looks askance at colleagues who express their faith in anything but the most subtle way.

            We talked about his church family a bit, and then he told me a marvellous story of how he had, that very morning, performed a very tricky procedure on a patient who also was a believer.  He said to me, “Whenever I find myself in a position like that, I always pray and ask God to help me.  And every time, he does!”

            I was thrilled with his testimony, and grateful to God that this physician places his trust in the Great Physician!

            It got me thinking:  you don’t have to be a medical professional to ask God to help you in your work.  You don’t have to be a preacher to share your faith in the workplace.  All followers of Jesus can seek God’s help in what they do, and can share their faith in their workplace.

            Seeking God’s help?  Most will say that’s pretty easy, and is just a matter for private prayer.  True enough, though it can  mean much more, too.  But sharing faith in the workplace?  Some reading this might say, “Jeff, you don’t know the people I work with.”

            No, I don’t know the people you work with.  But I do know the God you serve, and I am confident that he can, and will, give you the words to say when they need to be said, and the open doors through which to walk, to share those words when the time is just right.  Make no mistake:  there are right times and wrong times to share our faith with others.  Part of our prayer for God to help us in our work should be to show us the open doors to encourage other people to follow Jesus.

            The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3.23, NLT).  When we leave our faith at home, or worse, at church, the good news is bottled up, and God’s light is kept under a bushel basket.  Take your faith to work.  Let the light of Jesus shine through you.  You might not even need words to share your faith – people might just come and ask!  Now that’s an open door.

            I’m praying with you, for God to open doors for you to share his joy with others.

Biblical Messages

OUR MISSION, OUR PURPOSE: Grow in Christ, Serve in Community

 At St. Paul’s, our mission, which is our purpose, is to connect with God, grow in Christ, and serve in community.  Last week, we talked about what it means to connect with God through worship.  This week, we talked about growing in Christ and serving in community and how we can do those things and be an effective church.

The message was based on Colossians 1.24-2.5; 3.22-24.  Toward the latter part of the message, I showed a video that you can see here.

Listen to the message here.  At one point I ask what you may think would help to engender a culture of service in the church.  I welcome your ideas!

Encouragement From The Word

Authentic Community

The church has fallen on hard times.  (I guess that’s not news to you.)

What with the rather public troubles that the Roman Catholic Church is facing, and the theological debates going on that are tearing other churches apart, I suppose it wasn’t that surprising when I read in Reader’s Digest the other day that among the most trusted professionals, Canadians ranked ‘religious ministers’ twenty-third out of forty-one.

As one of those whom the Reader’s Digest calls a ‘religious minister’, I was disappointed – nay, crestfallen! – upon reading that statistic.  But I suppose I ought not to have been surprised.  Because, at least in Canada, the church no longer holds a place of privilege, there is a sense in which the church must take a “book of Acts” approach to its ministry.  That is, if the church in Canada is to thrive in a (modestly) antagonistic culture, it must approach ministry with a ‘new frontier’ kind of mentality, assuming no knowledge of the faith among those with whom it engages, and discovering people’s greatest soul-needs and working within the cultural milieu of its surroundings to meet those needs.

That doesn’t take long to read, but it takes a huge amount of time to discern and execute.

As you look at the surroundings of the church you’re involved in, along with people’s need for Jesus, you’ll probably find that people have a deep soul-need for authentic community.

It’s not that people aren’t getting community at all; indeed, we are probably the most community-oriented we’ve ever been as a society.  Consider what goes on in Tim Horton’s morning by morning, or in the stands at the local hockey arena, or even on Facebook.  People are engaging with one another, to be sure.  But does that sort of engagement – personal or electronic – meet a deep soul-need for authentic community?

I don’t think so.  That’s where the church comes in.

Lest this turn into a sermon, let me simply suggest that you take a look at the congregation with which you are affiliated (you are going to church, aren’t you?) and undertake an ‘authentic community’ audit.  What opportunities does your church have to encourage people to ‘do life’ with one another in a real way?  And by ‘real’ I mean that people have opportunities to share from the depths of their hearts in safety, where they will not be judged or laughed at for making themselves vulnerable.

Authentic community also involves sacrifice for the sake of the world for whom Jesus may be nothing more than a swear word.  In their book Essential Church, Thom and Sam Rainer state that “an essential church community is a sacrificial church community that surrenders time and convenience for the sake of telling others about Jesus Christ” (p. 51).

The church no longer holds sway the way it once did.  For the church in Canada to thrive, we need to be real about our faith, and be willing to adjust so that others can come to faith.  And we need to express it authentically in community.  God will use the church that does this.  Acts 2.42-47 illustrates this for us beautifully:  “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.   A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.  They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (NLT).

Keep that picture of the early church in mind as you look at your own congregation.  God knows the difference you can make.

Encouragement From The Word

Can’t we just agree to disagree on small stuff?

A recent blog post by a friend of mine has been burning up the internet with comment upon comment upon comment.  It’s nothing new to get lots of comments on a blog post, but I am reminded by many of these comments (having morphed into a debate) that sometimes, Christians are adept at  tearing one another down.  This is never good, but it is especially bad when done in full view of the public, where unbelievers can use such vitriolic debate as yet another way to deface the Christian faith.

I have, on occasion, participated in that tearing down, and I have had to repent of it.  It doesn’t build the kingdom of God when God’s people speak ill of one another.

The sad thing – and it is, after all, only human – is that such behaviour usually occurs over relatively minor points of Christian faith or doctrine.  The trouble is, in the heat of the moment, for sincere believers who are pitted against one another on a matter of interpretation, something relatively minor often takes on unbelievably major proportions.

There are differences in the way Christ-followers think, believe and act.  There always have been.  A faith tradition where there is no room for debate is more commonly called a cult.  In a cult, you can’t call into question any of the ‘official teaching’.  In a Christian church, you can, because an inquisitive mind is a gift from God.

That doesn’t mean that the church can’t take a stand and say that something is wrong.  There are, after all, no small number of absolutes on which a difference of opinion would separate the proverbial sheep from the goats.  But there are many other matters which are debatable, and about which Bible-believing followers of Jesus can agree to disagree.  The challenge, it seems to me, is getting to the point of agreement to disagree without some sort of public blood-letting on both sides.

If we take Scripture seriously, then we need to take all of Scripture seriously.  And while all Scripture is equally inspired, it is not all equally applicable.  This is why, in any sort of debate on matters of faith, believers do well to heed Jesus’ great commandment first:  “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22.37-40, NLT).

It’s all too easy, in the heat of the moment, to put the debate of minutiae ahead of loving others.  But even if you lose the debate, you may win the heart of an observer just by the way you conduct yourself…in love.

P.S.:  If you’re interested in checking out my friend’s blog post, click here.

Biblical Messages

Our Mission, Our Purpose: Connect With God

Have you ever wondered what it means to worship – or why we even gather together to worship as followers of Jesus?  In this week’s message, I looked at Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.1-30 to help us understand the value of authentic worship as a day-to-day experience, and not just a Sunday morning ‘thing’.

The message began with this video to illustrate the point.  Check out the message here.

Encouragement From The Word

A legacy of faith: sixty years on…

This weekend, we are celebrating my wife’s parents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.  (Yes, sixtieth.  This is a big deal!  My brother-in-law is presenting both his parents with trophies, for having lived with each other all these years.)  It’s my joy to preach the Word in their home church on Sunday in honour of this special event.  And given that I am married to their daughter, who is a wonderful, Spirit-filled, Godly woman, I’m going to talk about the importance of sharing faith as a legacy – something that rubbed off on her!

See, our walk with God is not just about us and God:  it’s about us and God and everybody else around us – especially our immediate family members.  Sunday School kids used to sing an old gospel song whose refrain ended with, “You in your small corner, and I in mine.”  And there’s a measure of truth to that, in that each of us has a particular corner of God’s vineyard in which he calls us to work.  Each of us has a unique place in the world God made, and he invites us to “shine with a clear, pure light” in that place.  But we don’t do it all by ourselves:  by our profession of faith, we are all one in Christ, parts of his body.

We share our faith because it’s not just what we do on Sunday; we share it because it is who we are.  We exist because we belong to Jesus Christ.  Nobody should be surprised to find out we follow Jesus; our character should have such consistency that we are easily spotted by others as God’s people.  (And that ought to be defined far more by what we do than what we don’t do!)

A heritage of faith is far more caught than taught – though teaching goes a long way toward having children affirm the faith of their parents.  However, the best teaching, if not backed up by living it out, is rarely caught by the next generation.  This is why I cringe when I hear people talk about their faith as a very private matter.  Sure, they may not want to stand on a street corner and hand out gospel tracts, but if they tell no one about their personal walk with God, then their legacy of faith ceases to be a legacy, because there is nothing handed down.  No, in ways consistent with how God made us, we must share what we know to be true down to our toenails with our kids, or our grandkids, or our friends’ kids – whoever we can share it with.

Deuteronomy 6.6-7 has appeared in Encouragement From The Word before, but it bears repeating if we’re going to play our role in building God’s kingdom:  “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).

Live out your walk with God, and watch the legacy of your faith make a difference in the lives of the next generation.  I am married to the result of one couple’s best effort at that, by God’s grace.  Imagine what it can do for your family!

Biblical Messages

CHRISTIANITY 101: THE APOSTLES’ CREED – You can’t keep a good man down

 Jesus is alive!  That’s what Easter is all about!  So when we say in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, we can say it with confidence because God has revealed this truth to us.

There is a resurrection account in each Gospel, but the one we read today was John 20.1-18.  And the message of hope through the resurrection of Jesus cn be heard by clicking here.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Now go and tell.

Biblical Messages

CHRISTIANITY 101: THE APOSTLES’ CREED – It’s All Uphill From Here!

Probably no other phrase in the Apostles’ Creed gives us so much theological angst as “he descended into hell”.  Did Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, actually go to hell when he died?

What makes the conversation difficult is that there is very little Scripture to help us deal with this.  What we do have, difficult as it is, is 1 Peter 3.13-20a.

You can listen to the message here.  At the end of the message, I showed a video, which you can find here.

Jesus died for all.  Will you believe?

Encouragement From The Word

John Updike on the Resurrection of Jesus

John Updike (1932-2009), an American writer, penned these marvellous words for a religious arts festival at a Lutheran Church in Massachusetts.  As we come to the greatest celebration of the Christian year, I thought you might be encouraged by “Seven Stanzas At Easter”.  God’s best for your weekend!

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.