Encouragement From The Word

Monday: election day in Canada

Unless you gave up taking in any form of news for Lent and then some, you are aware that Canada is in the throes of concluding a federal election campaign.  On Monday, we will have the opportunity to elect a government to give leadership to our nation.

In this day and age, I think politics is an even more controversial topic for conversation than religion; there is such division between parties, and such acrimony between leaders and even individual voters over party politics in Canada today that it is difficult to have even a genteel conversation about politics in our country anymore.

Not even all followers of Christ agree on what party should be elected.  There is so much that is not as black-and-white.  There are biblical principles sincerely held by each party, and there are principles contrary to the Word of God that are sincerely held by each party.  We can’t say that any one party or leader is truly “of God”, even though most of us probably have an opinion as to who or which is closer!

But this much we do know:  whether it knows it or not, the government is supposed to work for God for the betterment of the people.  I don’t think the apostle Paul was being naive when he wrote to the church in Rome, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities.  For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13.1, NLT).

In the culture from which Paul wrote, the government was multi-faceted and wielded a largely unchecked authority.  It could be both patronizing and brutal at the same time.  Yet Paul said that the government is put in place by God.

I think this leaves followers of Jesus with a special responsibility as voters.  If anybody knows God’s will, it should be Christians.  And if God’s will is to be exercised by the government, then we do well to elect a government that will best be able to fulfill the divine mandate.

Again, we’re not all going to agree on which party should form that government, but hopefully, we can all agree that we cannot set aside our beliefs when we mark our ballots.  Because if those in positions of authority have been placed there by God, in our democratic system, God is using us to place them.

Please remember to vote on Monday.

Biblical Messages

Blessed with new life!

Easter – the day most celebrated by Christians all year, when we specially mark Jesus’ resurrection – is, as my friend Carey Nieuwhof notes, is largely tuned out by much of the world. Why? Perhaps it’s because the church has done well at telling the world that Jesus is alive, but hasn’t done so well in telling the world why that matters.

What does it mean for us to have new life? Why does it matter in the here-and-now? Was Jesus’ resurrection truly a physical, bodily resurrection? These are questions we consider when we look at John 20.1-10, 19-29. You can listen to this Easter message by clicking here.

Biblical Messages

More Than Mere Memorial

This is the message I preached on Good Friday, 2011, in response to the query as to why we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper on Easter Day instead of Good Friday.  It’s more informational than formational, but you may find it interesting; it’s pretty brief.  You can listen to it here.

Encouragement From The Word

Good Friday: why is it “good”?

Did you ever wonder why a day commemorating the death of the Saviour of the world is called “Good” Friday?

Like most terms that don’t make much sense to us, it stems from an adaptation from another language.  There are two possibilities:  one is that it comes from a Germanic term that could mean either ‘holy’ or ‘good’; the day used to be called “Holy Friday” by many Christians.  The other possibility is that “Good” is a replacement for “God’s”, since for some, the name of God is too holy to speak.

Either way, it is a good day indeed, because it is on this day that we remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us, once for all, as he died on the cross for our sins.  If that was the end of the story, of course, there would be precious little ‘good’ about Good Friday.  But we have read to the end of the book:  we know how the story ends.  There is victory.  There is resurrection.  There is new life.

But for today, we go to dark Gethsemane.  We survey the wondrous cross.  We watch our Saviour bleed, our Sovereign die.  We come, and mourn awhile.  We take our stand beneath the cross of Jesus, beholding the sacred head, now wounded.

There is nothing wrong with leaving church today in sadness.  Good Friday should make us feel sad – sad for ourselves, especially, since it was our sin that necessitated the cross in the first place.  But there is more to come!

Grieve on Friday.  Let your grief turn to anticipation on Saturday.  And enter the house of worship on Sunday with a spring in your step.  By allowing yourself to grieve today, you will better appreciate the joy and victory of Sunday.

But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed.  All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all” (Isaiah 53.5-6, NLT).

See you at the empty tomb!

Biblical Messages

HUNGRY…for an escape

On Palm Sunday, we mark Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and look to the last week of his life.  Ahead of the day of his crucifixion, Jesus invited Peter, James and John to be with him at Gethsemane.  You can read the story in Mark 14.32-52.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed like he had never prayed, seeking from the Father an escape that would enable him to avoid the excruciating pain he would endure the next morning.  What did his discples do?  Peter, James and John – all of whom had promised to stick it out with Jesus – slept.  What happens when we are asleep, spiritually?  We’ll answer that question in the message.

You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Ride on, ride on in majesty

As we make our way into holy week, beginning with Palm Sunday this weekend, I thought the words of the hymn writer, Henry H. Milman, would suffice as we consider what the Lord Jesus has done for us.  Ponder this text prayerfully; sing it, if you know the tune (commonly Winchester New):

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes Hosanna cry;
O Saviour meek, pursue Thy road
With palms and scattered garments strewed.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die!
O Christ! Thy triumph now begin
Over captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
The wingèd squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
The Father, on His sapphire throne,
Expects His own anointed Son.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, Thy power, and reign.

Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Mark 11.9, NIV)

Wave your palms this weekend, and stand at the foot of the cross next Friday. Good news is just around the corner!

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: My Soul Purpose® by Richard Leslie Parrott

Let me begin with a full disclosure:  the author is my friend.  He was also my doctoral supervisor.  As a result, I come to review Dr. Richard Parrott’s newest book with a certain bias.

Richard has a story to tell – the story of his own journey, during which he has experienced joys and blessings, as well as pain and turmoil.  My Soul Purpose® is more than a chronologue of his story, however; it is a tool intended to help followers of Christ to search for, and find, the purpose God has for their lives – their soul purpose.  Dr. Parrot’s desire is that believers find their “true and best in Christ”.

The stage is set for the book with a quotation from C.S. Lewis on the title page:  “You don’t have a soul.  You are a Soul.  You have a body.”  Few of us take note of this truth.  Because we can see the body, we tend to regard it as the be-all and end-all of our being.  But the soul, the intangible part of who we are, is really the truth of who we are.

Something I see with alarming and increasing frequency these days is church leaders who are in profound crisis.  That crisis takes on many forms – everything from questioning one’s sense of call to dealing with serious conflict to moral failure.  Having gone through a major burnout myself, I understand what crisis means and what it does.  And I also understand what it means when the author writes, “The crisis of the soul must be faced to live true to your best in Christ” (p. 108).  When I was a student, I was told by one of my supervising pastors that God cannot truly use us until we have been broken.  I didn’t really understand this when I first heard it, even though I acknowledged it to be true.  This is what Dr. Parrott is writing about:  being broken.  But if we leave it there, we’re destined to remain mired and separated from what God’s plans are for us.  We must move beyond brokenness to reach our God-given potential as his people.

Moving through crisis usually involves grieving, which Dr. Parrott acknowledges is hard work.  It is “the soul’s work of healing” (p. 223).  Many people endure crisis without the work of grieving; these are people who find themselves unable to heal, and therefore unable to move on to our “true and best in Christ.”

This is a helpful book, both for individuals and groups.  One cautionary note:  Richard is an American, and so he writes, understandably, from an American perspective and in certain senses for an American audience.  Canadians like me, and people from other parts of the world, will have to do a minor amount of ‘translating’ to make the book their own, but this is a minor matter – something that Canadians are quite used to doing anyway, since so much literature (and particularly Christian literature) comes from the United States.

The companion volume to My Soul Purpose® is a workbook, uniquely styled with a ‘Spiritual Conversations’ section when opened normally, and a ‘Personal Journal’ section when inverted and opened from the other side.  This enables the workbook to be used for group and individual study discretely and respectively.  Each chapter in the book has an accompanying chapter in both ‘sides’ of the workbook.  Richard was wise to prepare the workbook, since I think it serves as a useful companion to the book itself.  Without the thoughts raised in the workbook, or similar material prepared by the reader, My Soul Purpose® would not be as helpful as it is.  Using the workbook allows the reader to process some ‘stuff’, either alone or with others, which may easily be suppressed without the evocation of the workbook’s two parts.

I recommend My Soul Purpose® for both individual and group study.  I hope that many people are able to be moved toward God’s help and healing through it, as they seek their “true and best in Christ.”

Encouragement From The Word

Loving deeply

Last week, my wife and I were privileged to be able to spend a few days in Nassau in the Bahamas.  It was our first trip to the Caribbean, and my first trip outside Canada or the United States.  Travelling with good mutual friends, we were there at the invitation of my friend, Bryn MacPhail, minister of St. Andrew’s Kirk there.  It was my joy to preach the Word and lead the congregation’s singing from the organ, as well as accompany my wife as she ministered in song.  (If you want to listen to the message, it can be heard in the post below.)

Many people have asked me what the highlight of my trip was, thinking it was the beautiful sandy beaches or relaxing around a pool or visiting the downtown core of the city and eating local fare.  And while I enjoyed all of these, it wasn’t any of them that was the number one highlight.  It wasn’t even watching the best ball-hockey game I’ve ever seen (a bunch of ex-pat Canadians, including ex-NHL players, get together for this).

It was people.

Visiting our friends, and seeing them thrive in a new environment, was amazing.  But what touched my heart the most was seeing how loved they are by their new church family.  I met approximately 40 people that evening I preached, and they all spoke in glowing terms of the gifts and ministries of and appreciation for their new pastor and his family. 

Granted, this is still the ‘honeymoon’ period between a pastor and his flock, but not often do I see the genuine love and esteem that I saw that Tuesday evening even in a seasoned ministry relationship.  It blessed my heart to witness the love and support that Bryn and his family receive from the Kirk – and, as I quietly learned, that love and support is not merely words.  It’s followed up with action, some of which we experienced ourselves.

The older I get, the more I believe in the value of personal relationships – and expressing how we feel within those relationships.  God demonstrated his love for us by giving us the Lord Jesus Christ.  How do we demonstrate our love for others?  Loving our sisters and brothers in Christ is a strong witness to the power of the gospel.  Loving others beyond the Christian community is likewise a powerful testament.

I saw both of these in the Kirk.  How are we doing, in our own various faith communities, at loving each other, and loving beyond our borders?  God calls us to love deeply.

23 This is what the Lord says:
   “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom,
      or the powerful boast in their power,
      or the rich boast in their riches.
 24 But those who wish to boast
      should boast in this alone:
   that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord
      who demonstrates unfailing love
      and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth,
   and that I delight in these things.
      I, the Lord, have spoken!

(Jeremiah 9.23-24, NLT)

God’s best for your weekend!

Biblical Messages

HUNGRY…for God’s Will

Most followers of Jesus have a notion that they should probably be following God’s will, but if the truth were told, most of us probably don’t think much about it because we don’t often know how to discern God’s will.

This message offers eight ideas for discerning God’s will as we seek to make decisions.  It’s based on John 4.31-42, and you can listen to it by clicking here.

To be sure, it’s a bit formulaic, and God isn’t formulaic – but these ideas can be helpful.  Listen, and respond!