Biblical Messages

JIVING WITH JOEL: Receive God’s Grace

Finally, we get some good news from Joel!  In this week’s message, based on Joel 2.18-32, we learn that when God’s people pray, he responds; and when his people return to him, we see that he has never wavered in his faithfulness toward his people.

What’s more, we get a glimpse into the reality of his treasured people being expanded!  In a sermon in Acts 2 by the apostle Peter, the latter part of Joel 2 is quoted as being fulfilled…and it is being fulfilled in us today!

You can liste to this message, and receive God’s grace through it, by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Old Testament Scripture, New Testament Hope

The more I read them, the more I’m a fan of Old Testament prophets.  These guys had guts (and more).  They spoke the truth when it wasn’t popular, and spoke it in such a way that people listened.  They led people back to God’s path in ways that are, to our way of thinking, nothing short of miraculous.

I mean, think of Nathan.  He had the rather daunting responsibility to call up King David on his sin.  Would you like to go to the reigning monarch and call her out on some egregious behaviour?  But the king knew Nathan spoke for God, and he repented of his ways.

Or think of Hosea.  When God called him to be a prophet, he appointed Hosea to marry a prostitute.  How would you like to get a reputation by marrying someone with a reputation?!  But Hosea knew God had a purpose in it, and he endured the scorn of people in order to get God’s point across.

My favourite part about reading Old Testament prophets, though, comes when they give us little glimpses of the future.  This week, I was reading Joel, as I have been for the past few weeks.  Reading Joel is tough sledding, when you consider that pretty much the first half of the book is bad news all around:  locusts, destructive weather and invading armies don’t make for happiness, but that was what Joel was called to proclaim.  Then, in the middle of chapter 2, a corner is turned, and God’s covenant faithfulness shines through (more on that on Sunday; you can always listen to the message on my blog).  And when we get toward the end of the chapter, we see that little glimpse of the future in Joel’s prophecy:

28 “And afterward,
   I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
   your old men will dream dreams,
   your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
   I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
   and on the earth,
   blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood
   before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
32 And everyone who calls
   on the name of the LORD will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
   there will be deliverance,
   as the LORD has said,
even among the survivors
   whom the LORD calls.

Do you see the glimpse?  Many Christians believe it is, at least in part, fulfilled in Acts 2.  While others focus on the sizzle, I like the steak in this prophecy:  the covenant is opened wide.  God makes a love-agreement not just with the Jews, but with Gentiles, too – anyone who will call on the Lord can enter into covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

See, even in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scripture, there is New Testament hope.  That’s why I like reading the prophets.  I hope you will, too!

Biblical Messages

Jiving with Joel: 3. Give Your Heart

Repentance:  it won’t earn us our salvation.  If we look at it that way, it’s just another ‘good work’.  But it should be the fruit of our salvation!  And the great thing is that God always takes the initiative – that’s how much he loves us!  God takes the initiative to encourage and seek our repentance.

Our continuing study in the Old Testament prophet Joel shows us that repentance can and should be corporate as well as individual.  Based on Joel 2.12-17, you can listen to “Give Your Heart” by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Community: expanded!

The word “community” has taken on a life of its own in our time.  For most of human history, the ‘community’ was a relatively small conglomeration:  a small group, a church family, a neighbourhood, or at the biggest, a town.  Today, however, the ‘community’ is much larger.

People talk today of the ‘global community’.  In this sort of community, we don’t know most of the people who comprise it.  Think about it:  I am in the same ‘global community’ as an unskilled labourer in India and a business executive in Germany.  I don’t know these people, but we make up the same global community.

Social networking has also changed how we see community.  We can have ‘online community’ with people who live thousands of kilometres away, whom we may or may not have ever met.  The Internet allows us to ‘reach out and touch someone’ (an ancient motto of Bell Canada from its rotary telephone days) in numerous ways:  email, text messaging, voice-over-Internet-protocol ( like Skype), even video calling.  This has changed all the rules with respect to regular contact.  Grandparents can watch their grandchildren grow up, day by day or week by week, even though they live an ocean away.  A WiFi connection allows long-distance talking for hours at a time at no cost.   Distance is no longer a barrier to community.

However, the larger we draw the circle for community, the less sense of responsibility each member of that community has for the others.  There was a time when it was commonplace for community members to look out for one another.  And it can still happen.

For example, I was part of an organized event one time where a woman was injured and hospitalized.  When she was released from the hospital, the person she called to bring her home was not a member of her family, or a neighbour, or a Facebook friend.  She called the leader of her church small group – someone she knew she could count on, someone who really was ‘love with skin on’. 

In Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who!, the community of Whos is only rescued when each member of the community participates in making noise to enable them to be heard by those other than the large-eared Horton.  Every member of the community had a responsibility to ensure the well-being of the entire group.

This is why the local church still has a huge role to play in human society.  Despite all the technology that has made the world One Big Community, people still long for face-to-face, authentic human friendship.  And nobody offers that quite as well as the local church does – or should.

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12.27, NLT).

May it be true of every local church, that we provide the best kind of community, just as God intends!

Biblical Messages

Jiving With Joel: 2. Turn Around!

Christ-followers will often use the word ‘repent’.  It’s a churchy kind of word that simply means “turn around”.  When we repent of our sin, we are willingly turning away from it and walking the other way.

Joel, the Old Testament prophet, called the people of Judah to turn around, to repent, from the sin that was keeping them from a full relationship with God.  The consequence of messing around with other countries in political allegiances was what Joel pictured as an army of locusts in our text, Joel 1.13-2.11.

You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Getting ready for tax season

Bit by bit, over the past couple of weeks, I have begun amassing the pile of papers that will constitute the raw material for completing my income tax return for 2010.  While I don’t know many people who enjoy working on their taxes, there is one part of the exercise that is somewhat valuable.  Sometimes, it’s even enjoyable…sometimes.

When I have to go through all my receipts to determine the category in which they will be used as deductions, I am able to remember, in many cases, the experience that brought about a given receipt.  Maybe it was a meal with a colleague, or the purchase of a resource that had an impact on the way a message was presented.  Some of those receipts bring back good memories.

Other receipts are less pleasant to tally.  While I’ve done many good and enjoyable things with the kilometres I’ve driven, learning how much I spent on gasoline over the course of the year sometimes causes me to shudder.  The process of preparing my tax return brings with it the good, the bad and the ugly.

When the Canada Revenue Agency receives my return, a basic check of my work will reveal whether it believes the ‘bottom line’ that I’ve derived is correct.  Occasionally, the CRA will disagree and I will have to recheck my work, but most of the time, I receive a notice of assessment (and, happily, a small refund).  Still, there’s always a bit of a nervous sense about submitting my own math, and accompanying paperwork, to a building full of nameless, faceless auditors who are paid to look for my mistakes.

Isn’t it great that our faith life is not like that?  God is not a nameless, faceless auditor whose job it is to look for our mistakes.  God is one with whom we can have a personal relationship.  He does not go looking for our mistakes, because when we are in Christ, our mistakes have been pinned on Jesus, and all God sees in us is the righteousness of Jesus.

Each of us has memories of things we have done that we have enjoyed, and others that we have regretted.  Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, hope that those regretted memories will go away, and we really hope that God won’t bring them up with us. 

He won’t, because Jesus paid the price for those things.  When we repent (turn around) and confess our sins, God has no reason to remember them.  They’ve been taken care of by Jesus.

The key is belief, and trust.  When we live in a relationship with God through Jesus, we are set free from our past, that we may live in God’s future.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21, NIV). 

Have fun with your taxes, but be honest!  The CRA may not extend as much grace as God does.

Biblical Messages

Jiving with Joel: 1. Wake Up!

This week begins an expository walk through the Old Testament book of the Prophet Joel.  While it doesn’t open with really good news – you have to hang on toward the end for that – it does give us pause for thought, especially in this season of unrest in the middle east.

The message is based on Joel 1.1-12, and you can listen to it here.

Encouragement From The Word

Praying for the middle east

We have witnessed  the unfolding of events in Egypt this week in ‘real time’ – that is, the news stations have reported what has happened as it has happened.  The technology that is available today is truly remarkable, allowing us to see what is going on literally half-way around the world as it is happening.  We really do live in a global village.

Sir Sandford Fleming, the Scottish Canadian who invented Standard Time, was himself invented by the God we serve – so even though Egyptians’ watches and clocks are several hours ahead of ours, when we see live footage on television, we can pray for the people of Egypt in ‘real time’.  We can pray for their safety and security, for the avoidance of looting and violence, for political stability.  We can pray for Egyptians in their moment of need.

And we can pray for their loved ones in faraway places, like Canada.    There are many Egyptian Christians in Canada who are praying alongside us, seeking God’s peace for that nation.

The news has been reporting on what we might call ‘aftershocks’ of the Egyptian turmoil that are happening in Yemen.  With all this trouble in the middle east, some may be wondering what the future holds.  None of us knows.  But we do know the One who holds the future!  So commit it all to the care of our God, who has his best planned for his people, and who will look after the needs of people all around the world.  Cry out to God for the troubled nations of the middle east.  He will hear, and respond in his way and in his time.

4 Let the whole world sing for joy,
      because you govern the nations with justice
      and guide the people of the whole world.

 5 May the nations praise you, O God.
      Yes, may all the nations praise you.
 6 Then the earth will yield its harvests,
      and God, our God, will richly bless us.

Psalm 67.4-6, NLT

God’s best as you pray.