Encouragement From The Word

You’ll never walk alone!

When you walk through a storm

hold your head up high

And don’t be afraid of the dark.

At the end of a storm is a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind,

Walk on through the rain,

Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone…

One or two of you may remember that those words come from a famous anthem in the musical Carousel.  I’ve even heard it sung by some church choirs, implying with whom we will walk, since we won’t walk alone.

Most people who come to church come to connect with God, in some fashion or other.  There are some, I imagine, who come to connect with other people.  Yet the healthiest approach to coming to church includes both:  to connect with God and people.  The church is, after all, defined as ‘those called out’ – a group of men and women, with their children, set apart by God as his family.

You might be thinking, You’re not telling me anything new here, Jeff.   I know.  Read on.

See, there are countless people who come to church week by week who, despite being part of ‘those called out’, despite being told they’ll never walk alone, do indeed walk alone.  Indeed, an alarming number of people try to walk their faith journey alone.

For too long, the church subliminally taught that we could walk our faith journey alone.  I don’t imagine that is what was meant by the hymn writer who made famous the line, “You in your small corner and I in mine”, but that is what many people have taken from it. 

It’s sad, because it isn’t supposed to be that way.  And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Consider the words of the Teacher, who wrote in Ecclesiastes 4.9-12 (NIV):

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labour:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Notice how the Teacher moves from two to three.  The way I read that is that we have one another, and God, the invisible Third Party, binds us together.

Are you trying to live the Christian life alone?  If so, I imagine you’re finding it very difficult, because God did not design the life of faith to be lived in constant solitude.  There are times when solitude is very appropriate, but it is not the norm for most believers.  We all need community, where God is present with us together.

If you’re trying to live the Christian life alone, sneaking in to church as it starts and sneaking out as it ends (or worse, not participating in corporate worship at all), do yourself a favour:  join a small group (at St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we call them LifeConnect Groups).  Stay for refreshments after worship.  Engage with others, and engage with God on a deeper level as a result.  “Doing life” together is one of the joys of our faith.

Biblical Messages

Moral Margin

We’ve tackled scheduling margin and financial margin – and today, we’re looking at moral margin.  There are many aspects of morality that we could explore, but I’ve chosen to look at sexual morality, since it is the one our society struggles with so frequently – and on which the church has tended to be deafeningly silent.

Based on James 1.12-18 and 1 Corinthians 6.18-20, you can listen to this message – which closes with good news of grace and forgiveness – by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

The Supreme Sacrifice

The past 10 days have been difficult for men and women in emergency services, especially police officers.  The tragic death of Sgt. Ryan Russell in Toronto last week shook the policing community to the core, as evidenced in the sea of uniformed humanity that marched through the downtown core to attend Sgt. Russell’s funeral last Tuesday.  Including the family and a number of onlookers from the community, some 14,000 people attended that service.

Sgt. Russell did not die in a glamorous, movie-like manner.  He reportedly slipped and fell in the snow while attempting to avoid being hit by a snow plow attached to a truck being driven by a deranged individual.  Yet in the throes of that, he was attempting to protect the citizens of 52 Division by stopping that truck from doing more damage.  Sgt. Russell did not die the way they do in movies, but he died protecting and serving – doing what police officers are trained to do.

His love for policing came naturally, having followed in his father’s footsteps.  He understood what was involved in being a cop.  He knew that there was always the risk that he would not go home at the end of his shift.  That risk, he reasoned, was outweighed by the greater good of serving and protecting the people of the community.  Yet he made the supreme sacrifice.

Consider how blessed you are – not only to have such honourable people as Sgt. Russell to protect you from criminals, but to live in a place where you can express your faith, in the vast majority of circumstances, without fear of dying.

You may or may not know that in many countries around the globe, people who express their faith in Christ run the risk of death every day.  For instance, some of our sisters and brothers in the Chaldean Church, the oldest religious group in Iraq and the main Christian group, were kept from celebrating Christmas services this past year by their church leaders, out of fear that there would be violence, thanks to Islamic persecution.

It is patently illegal to be Christian in many nations around the world, and in others, where the faith is tolerated formally, it is informally (and quietly) eradicated.  Were you in such a position, would you still stand up for Jesus?  Would the risk be worth the possibility of death?

As you remember Sgt. Russell, and support his colleagues with gratitude, remember your sisters and brothers in the persecuted church, and pray for them.  They are living the risk that we don’t have to…at least, not right now; never, we hope.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15.13, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Financial Margin

 Margin:  the difference between what you have and what you need.  And when it comes to finances, most of us find ourselves with less of what we have than what we need.  Financial margin is not something many of us have, but it is something that the Bible says wise people have.  Proverbs 21.20 says, “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has” (NIV).

A maxim I taught the children of the congregation before this message applies to us all as really good advice:  give ten percent, save ten percent, and spend the rest with thanksgiving.  God, after all, can do more with our 80% left over than we can do ourselves with the 100%.

This message is based on 1 Timothy 6.6-10, and can be listened to by clicking here.

How are you doing with financial margin?  Got any tips or tricks to share?  Leave a comment!

Encouragement From The Word

Making It Right

As I write this, on Thursday evening, the windows in our home are rattling, and there’s a certain vibration in the floor.  No, there’s no earthquake or tornado rumbling through Nobleton.  There is a construction crew, with very heavy equipment, digging up the street adjacent to our home.  This is nothing new.

Shortly after we moved to town, the street was dug up for the installation of municipal sewers, in anticipation of the building of many new homes in a new subdivision in the north end of the community.  For an entire spring and summer (and a fair bit of fall) one year, leaving our driveway was an experience in off-roading.  It seemed like the work would never be done.  Finally, in October, it was repaved.

The spring thereafter, the road began to cave in in several spots.  Again, the contractors dug up the road, and repaved it.  The ‘top course’ of asphalt was added last spring.

But none of that matters now, because not only is the asphalt gone, there is a hole dug halfway to the centre of the earth in our street.  Why all this digging and re-digging?


Yep.  Water.

Apparently, the sewers are leaching too much ground water for the successful operation of the sewer system (not to mention the good of the potable water supply in town).  And there is some pressure to get the sewers operating properly, since some of those new homes have been built, and are now occupied.

What I know about planning and building a proper sewer system would fit easily through the eye of a needle, so I’m not about to comment on the competence of those who have done so outside my house.  But this much I can say:  such things need to be built in anticipation of ‘the worst’.

That is, the sewers around this community need to be built in such a way as to be able to handle the high water table that everybody and his dog knows exist in our town. 

Life is like that, isn’t it?  We need to build and grow our lives in order to be ready, should ‘the worst’ ever happen.

We build strong marriages, family relationships, and friendships, and find that they are the relationships that buoy us up when life’s turmoil visits us.

Many people whose relationships with God are weak or non-existent in good times often find that when things go bad, they say, “Where is God?”  Yet when people build strong relationships with God in good times, they find God’s power and strength to be very present when things get difficult.

When things are going well, don’t ignore God.  Praise him.  Build your relationship with the Lord, so that when and if things go poorly, you will have the strength of that relationship to encourage you through the valley.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.   But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7.24-27, NIV).

Ask God to strengthen your walk with him today.  He is faithful, and he will do it – and he will share that responsibility with your small group and your church family so that together, you grow.

Biblical Messages

Scheduling Margin

When you ask someone, “How are you?” – and you take time to listen to the answer – do you ever talk to anybody who says, “Good; nothing much going on around here”?  Probably not.  In fact, we tend to think an answer like that belies a certain laziness in the person about whose health we’ve inquired.  The culture has told us it’s good to be busy.

But at what cost do we find ourselves being busy?

This week’s message, “Scheduling Margin”, is based on three simple verses from Ephesians 5.15-17:  “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (NIV).

Part of being careful how you live involves, sometimes, saying ‘no’ to good things in order to say ‘yes’ to the best things.  Remember that the next time you pull out your smartphone!

You can listen to the message here.  It concludes with a prayer.  If any part of that prayer resonated with you, email me (jeff<at>stpaulsnobleton<dot>ca) and tell me about it.  I’d love to pray for you!

Encouragement From The Word

Ora et Labora – Pray and Work!

One of the things I notice – through conversation, but especially through social media like Facebook – is that many, many working people don’t really like their work.  For some, that may not be true, but the impression I get is that people would rather do anything than the job they have at that given moment.  And it’s sad.
It seems that many people live for the weekend – or whatever days off they get.  And it seems, to me, a sad thing.  After all, we spend many of our waking hours at work, so oughtn’t we try to make the best of it, at least?  Or, preferably, shouldn’t we do work that we can enjoy?
Ora et labora is a common motto among monastics.  It means, “Pray and work”.  Since many people have the impression that monks and nuns do nothing but pray, they quickly conclude, “That’s easy for them to say.”  However, in reality, every monastic has a job, whether within or without the monastery.  Work is highly valued among monastics.  It is almost as highly valued as prayer; indeed, it is (as the motto attests) placed right alongside prayer as part of the vocation of every member of the community.
There’s a great statement that comes from the Trappistine Nuns at Santa Rita Abbey in Arizona.  It says, “It is at our work, more than anywhere else, that our human dignity is honoured, our generosity called forth, our selfless love for one another evoked.  Work is the unfolding of our prayer.  Through our work we are united with the poor of this world and with its fruits we contribute to their needs.”
Isn’t that a great statement?  The idea is not that work is a ‘necessary evil’ that is required of us in order to pay the bills and keep up with the Joneses.  Work is something God gives us to do as a means of bringing him glory, and using the gifts God has given us.
It seems, though, that a lot of people don’t look at work that way.  Instead, they see work as something they must do in order to faciilitate their desire to do what they want to do.
Work, however, is not evil.  Some, when they read the account of creation and the fall of humanity, assume that because Adam was ‘sentenced’, if you will, to work strenuously at tilling hard soil, his role in pre-fall paradise must have been to sit around and admire the animals and the rest of God’s creation.  But Scripture tells us that God commanded Adam, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2.15, NIV).
Work is not something from which to escape, but something to embrace as a gift, and a calling from God.  However, it is not to be embraced too hard!  Turning our work into an all-consuming passion makes it an idol.  We call it workaholism, but God calls it idolatry. 
No, balance is the key – as in so much of life.  Embrace your work.  Do it well, and to honour God.  Don’t make it all you live for.  Likewise, don’t eschew it as something merely to be tolerated.  Each of us has a divinely-ordained task to accomplish.  Do it with joy.  And do it alongside your life of prayer.

Defending the faith

Elders: why women?

This Sunday, at St. Paul’s, Nobleton, I will be ordaining two new ruling elders to serve in leadership in the congregation.  (We will also welcome one elder who has served before and will be inducted again.)  These two new elders whom I will ordain are women.  They are not the first women, by any means, who have been ordained to serve in this church family.  Indeed, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has ordained women to both teaching and ruling eldership since the late 1960s.

(Among mainline denominations, by the way, we were comparatively latecomers:  the Convention Baptists, from which I trace my Christian roots, have ordained women since the 1950s; and the United Church of Canada, since the 1930s.  Pentecostal and holiness movements started giving leadership roles to women from their very earliest days in the first decade of the 20th century.)

Many people, especially those from very conservative backgrounds, wonder how it is that we can ordain women, in light of certain passages in the New Testament.  I could argue at length about my own (and my denomination’s) interpretations of these texts, and I could tell my own experience of women in leadership roles who have influenced me – not least my maternal grandmother, who became a Baptist deacon while I was still in short pants.  But I would rather turn it over to one more eloquent – and convincing – in his speech and writing, my friend Dr. John Stackhouse, who teaches at Regent College in Vancouver.

Read John’s blog post on egalitarianism here. I welcome your comments, as does John.

I believe that God has given extraordinary spiritual gifts for service in leadership in his church to the women I will ordain on Sunday, and I look forward to serving with them (likewise with the fine man of God who will be welcomed back onto the Session after a time serving in other areas of church life).

The role of women in leadership divides some Christian groups, and I think this is unnecessary.  Mature believers can agree to disagree, but I believe these women are called by God to serve in leadership.  Another stage in the adventure begins this weekend!

Biblical Messages


The past month has reminded most of us that we live at an unsustainable pace and we choose to call it ‘normal’.  This message begins a new series, entitled, “Margin” (the idea for which was borrowed from LifeChurch.tv).  When we fail to create margin in our lives, we cheat ourselves out of what is often the very best.  The message is based on the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10.38-42.  You can listen to the message by clicking here.  (Note that while the audio quality is pretty good on this recording, the sound may need to be turned up.  I was a bit hoarse of voice.)