Encouragement From The Word

Baptism: an Orange kind of thing!

Who doesn’t like baptisms in church?  Regardless of your tradition, it’s one of those things that pulls on the heartstrings.  If it’s a baby, everybody coos over the baby.  Some might even remember presenting their own children for baptism.  If it’s a new believer, everybody celebrates the person who has found new life in Christ.

At  St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we’re celebrating a baptism this Sunday, and I’m beginning a new preaching series on the meaning of baptism.  As I’ve read and researched for this topic – not the easiest topic – one of the things I’ve learned about the baptism of infants under the covenant is the concept of promise.  That is, baptism is the sign of a promise.

This helps us understand the meaning behind baptizing people who are unable to verbalize their own faith in Christ, because the baptism becomes a sign and seal of a promise from God:  a promise to forgive and redeem us.  But a promise is only effective if we believe it! 

As my colleague, Victor Shepherd, has pointed out, this promise is like a cheque for vast riches, written out to the child, but kept in trust by the parents until the child is old enough to be able to avail himself or herself of those riches.  But for riches to be accessed, the cheque must be endorsed.  When the child decides to follow Jesus himself or herself, and believe the promise that was sealed at baptism, the cheque is endorsed and can be cashed.

When we baptize a child, the parents present the child in faith, and promise – with the help of the whole congregation – to raise that child to know the riches of Christ, so that, when old enough to begin to understand the meaning of those riches, he or she will say ‘yes’ to the Lord and follow him in faith.

In that sense, the baptism of infants under the covenant is very much an Orange thing when it is taken seriously by parents and churches alike.

Someone said that it takes a village to raise a child.  I think it takes a church to raise a child into a Christ-follower – a church committed to sharing the riches of Jesus with parents, and with kids, so that the family and the church work together to build spiritual giants for the next generation.

As I baptize this Sunday, that will weigh heavily in my mind and on my heart, that the grace of God extended through this mystery, this sacrament, will result in an outpouring of grace from church to parents to child, all to the glory of God.

Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28.18-20, NLT).

Is your church using every opportunity – even baptisms – to partner with parents?

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Biblical Messages

A Fresh Start for Transformation

“Transformation.”  That’s often a word we associate with a home makeover or a fashion makeover, but in a spiritual sense, it involves a makeover from the inside-out.  It’s about letting God change us from the inside out.

That was the theme of the message at St. Paul’s, Nobleton this week as we celebrated Bring A Friend Day. We had numerous guests, and many of those I spoke to felt warmly welcomed by the St. Paul’s family. Being part of God’s family is about being forgiven, and giving ourselves to the process of being transformed, made into the image of Jesus.

This message, based on Romans 12.1-6a, can be listened to by clicking this link. After the message, we showed this video.

Biblical Messages

A Fresh Start for Information

We are bombarded with information every day, from every aspect of life.  Yet the Scriptures remain a resource from which we can still receive information daily if we will spend time in the Word and allow the Holy Spirit to take what we learn and apply it to our lives.  Information is most helpful when we apply it to our lives.

Listen to this message, based on Colossins 1.15-29, by clicking this link.

Encouragement From The Word

From a baptism to a wedding

You know you’re getting old as a pastor when you start marrying off people that you baptized.  That’s happening for me this weekend, as I conduct the wedding service for my cousin and her fiancé.  (She’s old enough to remember her baptism, so I guess I’m not that old.)  But it underlines for me how rites of passage are often tied together.

When I baptized Lisa (and her brother and sister), I reminded them, and their parents, of the promises of God, and of God’s claim on their lives as they were presented for baptism.  When Lisa and Erik stand before God and a gathered throng on Saturday, I will remind them of the promises of God, and of God’s desire to be integral to their life together as they are united in marriage.

The God who called Lisa to faith is the same God who will be present at her wedding.

I am thrilled that, among the Scriptures she and Erik have chosen to be part of the service, is a passage from Colossians 3 that includes this:  “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.  For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.  And always be thankful” (Colossians 3.12-15, NLT).

I’m thrilled with this choice of text not only because it contains good advice for people getting married (even though it was written for a church community); it also contains two marvellous truths about God:  God chose you and the Lord forgave you.

When followers of Jesus can remember those truths, and apply them in life (as Paul sought to do with the Colossians) and in marriage, the world is indeed a better place.

One of the “God” billboards that can be seen on highways, especially in the United States, says “Loved the wedding.  Invite me to the marriage. – God”.  That’ll be my hope for Lisa and Erik, that they’ll invite the one who chose them, and forgave them, into their marriage.

May that be true for yours, too!  And if you’re not married, let it be your prayer for those you know who are.

Encouragement From The Word

September: Time for a fresh start

September is a time for returning to routines, and for starting new routines.  Nowhere is this more noticeable than in church!  This Sunday, people will see friends they’ve missed over the past few months, with vacations and family visits having kept them from their usual worship routine.  There will be a sense of comfort for many people this weekend as they nestle back into their comfortable pews and renew old habits.

September is a time for returning to routines, and for starting new routines.  This is one of those times of the year when God’s people have an open door to the community.  People move to new communities, or long to start new routines in their lives, and one of the things that makes it into people’s minds is the idea of going (or going back) to church.

Where these two intersect is at the place of the comfortable pew!

That is, we who are renewing our routine have an opportunity to reach out and invite our neighbours and our friends to worship.  The idea of raising any topic with people that is even remotely religious can really scare some church people, but in general, it doesn’t need to do so.  In fact, many of your neighbours and friends are probably secretly hoping you’ll invite them to church with you sometime.  So why not take that first scary step and issue the invitation?

True, there will be some who will reject the idea outright.  But not all of them will.  Most of the growth that happens in churches today happens this way!  More than 80 percent of people who come to church with a friend stay in that church.  That’s a very good “retention rate” if you ask me!

We can’t rely on immigration, or on merely flinging wide the doors of the church building, for growth to happen.  The church must be proactive and take the first steps, making the invitations that so many are waiting for.  And September is a good time to make one of those invitations.  (If you’re curious, other opportune occasions are Christmas, Easter, and times of personal or global crisis.)

At St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we want to make that step of inviting a friend as easy as possible, so we’ve designed invitation cards that people can give to friends and neighbours to invite them to a special “bring a friend” day we’re having on September 26.  Our theme for September is “A Fresh Start” – something many people are looking for.  And we want to roll out the proverbial red carpet for folks on the 26th, in the hope that we can let them experience what the church is really like, thus taking away (we trust!) their fears about the unknown.

If you’re part of St. Paul’s, you’ll see an invitation in your bulletin this Sunday, with more available at the Connection Desk.  If you’re not part of St. Paul’s, why not consider inviting a friend to church this September?  You don’t need a special day, just a willing spirit.  While you’re issuing the invitation, offer to pick up your friend, and maybe take him or her for lunch after worship.  It can be a time to connect more deeply with each other, and with God!

Encouragement From The Word

The Psalms: God’s songbook of emotion

This Sunday at St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we’re going to celebrate the Bible’s songbook by worshipping God through hearing, reading, and singing Psalms.  Comprising a large part of the centre of the Bible, the 150 biblical Psalms show us much about how the ancient Hebrews engaged with God.

There are the familiar ones that can’t be missed by most believers:

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want… (23)

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  (27)

I lift my eyes to the hills; from where does my help come?  (121)

These are among the most comforting words in Scripture.  But the Psalter contains more than comfort, as important as that is for us in our walk with God.

One of the strangely comforting things about the Psalms is that they contain every human emotion.  Some Psalm writers cry out to God in fear, in anguish, in destitution.  Other Psalm writers cry out to God in praise, in jubilation, in exaltation.  But did you know that some Psalm writers cry out to God in anger, too?

Yes, anger.  People got mad – sometimes at God, sometimes at their enemies – and the compilers of the Bible decided to keep even the angry words in the sacred text.  God inspired those words, after all, so they must be worthy of our attention.

Many of us grew up with the verbal or tacit instruction that we were not supposed to get angry.  What has often resulted from this, for many people today, is that anger is the only emotion they manage to be able to demonstrate.  If only we were taught that it’s okay to be angry, and to vent it appropriately.

Some of the Psalms that show a gentler kind of anger really are statements of faith and longing on the part of the Psalmists to let God know that they are crying out to him in trust, but really wishing that they would be granted the justice they deserve.

Consider Psalm 5, which we’ll also hear on Sunday (chanted, even!).  David calls out to God in faith, and bears his heart about his feelings toward his enemies:  “My enemies cannot speak a truthful word.  Their deepest desire is to destroy others.  Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.  O God, declare them guilty.  Let them be caught in their own traps” (Psalm 5.9-10a, NLT).  It might seem exceedingly gentle on paper (or on screen), but picture King David – emotional guy that he was – singing this to God!  Feel his anguish, his frustration.

There are people who say it’s wrong to be angry with God, but I would sooner see someone shake a fist at God in furious faith than to sit on the real feelings, because if we’re taught to hide them from God long enough, we’ll learn to think that God doesn’t care about our feelings.

God does care about our feelings – he created us to be emotional beings.  So don’t be afraid to share every feeling with God.  He cares, and wants to bring us comfort and flood our hearts with love, no matter how we feel.

It’s an ancient custom of Christ-followers all around the world to read, meditate on, and sing the Psalms.  We can even pray the Psalms, letting these inspired words inspire our words – or sometimes even be our words, when other words will not come forth.  The divine songbook is a gift to the church.  Receive, and emote in faith.