Biblical Messages

The real place of sanctuary…

We tend to think of a “sanctuary” as a physical place of worship, a building where we take ‘sanctuary’ from the world.  But in reality, the real place of sanctuary is the human heart.  When we make the interior journey, we can worship and pray anywhere, because God lives in our hearts by faith when we have trusted Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  The church still is important, of course, because it is this community for which Jesus died, and about which his Spirit is passionate to build into.

This message begins a series on growing in holiness, and we begin by looking at God’s holiness in Isaiah 6.1-8, and then explore the value of worship, and prayer (based on Philippians 1.3-11).

You can listen to the message by clicking here; the video shown near the end can be watched here.

Encouragement From The Word

It’s a great time to be alive!

It’s a great time to be alive.

Well, I say that every year around this time, because my favourite sports are on television in massive quantity:  hockey season continues (it may not be our year, Habs fans…), and there’s plenty of curling on.  The Scotties Tournament of Hearts has been underway all week, and the playoffs begin today.  In a week or so, the Brier begins.  Then the women’s and men’s worlds are on.  Indeed, it’s a great time to be alive.

I started watching curling in the early 1990s, and watching it sparked an interest for me to learn how to play.  In the little town we lived in at the time, we had a curling club, but I didn’t know anybody who played, so I didn’t learn how.  The next community in which we lived was much larger, but its curling club was about the same size.  There, however, I knew someone who played – and he invited me to learn.  And I have been playing ever since.

There are a couple of encouraging words for us here.  First, watching isn’t the same as playing.  One can learn a lot of strategy and the basic rules of the game by watching it, but you’ll never learn how to deliver a stone or sweep if you don’t put on two different shoes and get on the ice.  Second, an invitation is sometimes all it takes to get someone in the game.  Most people won’t just walk in to the rink and say, “Teach me to play.”  Someone needs to extend the invitation.

But because this is Encouragement From The Word and not Encouragement From The Curling Club, you know there’s got to be an application for our faith life here.

Watching isn’t the same as playing.  Going to church is not always the same as being the church.  We can attend church services, and that’s good, but to be the church takes faith, and action.  Being the church takes what forms us and informs us by going to church and putting it to work to make a difference for the Lord in the world – not to appease God, but to please him.

An invitation is sometimes all it takes to get someone in the game.  While churches do get “walk-ins” – people who just show up for worship – the vast majority of people who come to a church and stay have come at the invitation of a friend.  We can’t keep our faith life to ourselves if we want our loved ones to experience the same relationship with God that we have.  Sticking your neck out and offering the invitation to church, or to a small group, could make an eternal difference in a friend’s life.

It’s a great time to be alive.  We who follow Jesus have so much to share by being the church, and inviting others along!


It’s Ash Wednesday, but Sunday’s comin’!

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar.  It’s a “moveable feast”, meaning its timing is always tied to Easter (which fluctuates by the moon – a story for another day!).  Ash Wednesday occurs 40 days before Easter – excluding Sundays – and marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.

In Presbyterian circles, not much has been made of Lent over the course of its history, for the very reason I mentioned above:  the season excludes Sundays.  Reformed Christians were never big on celebrating the Christian year anyway; talk to some older Scots, and you’ll find that in the extremes, even Christmas wasn’t recognized as such in the church.

The church year is a human construction, after all, but it can be helpful for many believers who like to have some structure to their personal and corporate spiritual life.  I celebrate Lent in my devotional life, but it doesn’t get much more than a wink and a nod from me on Sundays, because if you count the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, you’ll find that it only adds up to 40 if you don’t count the Sundays.  Each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection – a little Easter!  So we don’t stop singing our hallelujahs and the like for the Sundays in Lent, because those Sundays are havens from the penitential nature of the season.

Lent has also become something I’m not sure it was ever intended to be by those who first cooked up the idea. Even people who haven’t much time for God will use Lent as a season for “giving something up” – like coffee or chocolate or something like that.  (Rumour has it that Tim Horton’s moved its iconic “Roll Up The Rim To Win” promotion to coincide with Lent because too many people were giving up coffee!)

To those who give up things for Lent I’m prone to ask, Is it drawing you closer to God?  Because if it is, it would make good sense to give it up permanently!

Lent can be a season that allows us to step back and consider our relationship with God, and what may be keeping us from growing in that relationship.  It can be a very meaningful observance.  But it should not involve somber, joyless Sunday worship gatherings.  We may be entering Lent, but the tomb is still empty!

By the way, if you’re looking for a nice meditation and an interesting family activity to begin the season of Lent, check out Ann Voskamp’s blog here.

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t be like your smartphone!

I was monitoring the battery level on my smartphone all day on Thursday.  (Well, it wasn’t all I did, trust me.  But every time I had the phone in hand, I was looking in the upper right-hand corner to see where the battery level was.)

Why does this matter?

One of the things I’ve learned about the batteries in devices like smartphones is that they hold their charge best when they are periodically allowed to be completely depleted.  So I found excuses to use it last night so that I could bring the charge level down below 5%, so that when I plugged it in at bedtime, it would get a complete charge.

Wait a minute, Jeff, I hear you thinking.  This is Encouragement From The Word, not Cellphone Technology 101.  And you’re right.  But this little exercise in electronics reminded me that the way I treat my phone is not how I treat myself.  We don’t work the same way!

I know a lot of people who run on empty, to mix my metaphors a bit.  They let their physical, emotional and spiritual batteries get dangerously discharged.  And by the time they get around to an attempt at recharging – through vacation, or a spiritual retreat, or some counselling or the like – the damage has already been done.

We were not designed to function like lithium ion batteries.  We need topping up – recharging – as often as possible.  It’s the way God designed us.  We were designed to have a day of rest and re-creation every seven days.  We were designed to be emotionally recharged with the company of good friends and loved ones as often as possible. We were designed to be refreshed in spirit not just weekly, but daily.  It’s what helps us understand the abundant life that Jesus promised us:  “life to the full” (John 10.10).

You take a few minutes out of your Friday to read Encouragement From The Word, and I’m glad you do.  Take a few more minutes today, will you?  Take some time to do a diagnostic test on your physical, emotional and spiritual ‘battery level’.  Where are you at, right now?  What needs recharging?  What can you do today to recharge it?

Don’t try to be like the battery in your phone, which  benefits from complete depletion.  Be recharged daily!

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10.10, NLT).

Are you fulfilling Jesus’ purpose for you?  Do you have a rich and satisfying life?  Be recharged today!


Biblical Messages


Those who are adopted understand God’s saving grace better than the rest of us, I think.  They know what it’s like to be chosen to be loved.  In Colossians 3.1-17, the apostle Paul reminds the church what it means to live as those who are chosen by God.

This message begins with one of our teens, Joyelle, talking about her experience of adoption.  Then I talk about Paul’s desire for the church in Colossae – and for us – to be able to live as those who know they are God’s chosen.  Listen to it here.

Encouragement From The Word

Life is temporary

The horrific accident that occurred earlier this week northeast of Stratford, in the village of Hampstead, Ontario, has served to remind us that life is fragile – and temporary.  Eleven lives were lost in an instant.  Many families are devastated.

The word ‘temporary’ itself suggests something that has to do with time.  It means “to last a short time”.  We may think of our lifespan as being something more than temporary, but on God’s eternal timeline, our lives each take up but a small dot.  In the Grander Scheme Of Things, we don’t take up much space.  Yet, in what time we do have on this earth, we make an impact.  We matter to people.  Much more do we matter to God!

God cares deeply about our every breath, even if the span of our lives is but a dot on God’s timeline.  Too often, though, we live as though we figure we’re going to live forever, don’t we?  This, despite some of our peculiar sayings, such as, “He’s driving that car like there’s no tomorrow” (meaning that the driver was going too quickly or recklessly).  Life is temporary.

People who move beyond middle age often begin to realize this, and they evaluate their lives – which sometimes results in the creation of a “bucket list” – a list of things these people want to do before they die.

There’s nothing wrong with having a “bucket list”, but when it focuses on things that are, like life itself, temporary, the bucket list itself becomes somewhat vapid.  For instance, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go zip-lining before you die.  In fact, it might be kind of fun – but it is decidedly temporary.

What if we really understood the temporary nature of this life, and decided to do things that, instead of impacting a few minutes now, actually made a difference for eternity?

Starting with ourselves, it means making sure that our own accounts are settled with God.  As yourself:  Am I engaged in a growing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?  Am I serving him with a community of believers and their children?  Have I received the grace that God longs to pour out upon me?

Then move to your loved ones:  Have I encouraged my children, my family, my friends to walk with the Lord, even as I do?

Beyond that, consider:  Do I engage in acts of service that will help God’s kingdom come on earth, just as it is in heaven?

An horrific accident like the one in Hampstead shows us how quickly life can be taken away.  Let’s live each moment we have investing in eternity.  We don’t know when eternity may become our now!

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalm 90.12, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Weeding Out The Bull…

It was not lost on a few neighbours that on the week when the church sign announced the message title, “Weeding out the bull”, the contractors were digging in front of the church to decommission our septic system and install our hook-up to the new municipal sewers!  However, this message is not about *that* kind of bull.  It’s about all the stuff that competes with the truth of the gospel to attempt to deceive the church, and move it away from the focus of Jesus, who is enough!

This message is based on Colossians 1.24-2.23 and can be listened to by clicking here.

The three questions I ask you to ponder at the end of the message are:

•Have I suffered for my faith in any way?
•Does my life reflect the biblical reality that Jesus is enough?
•Do we live in unity and freedom?
Encouragement From The Word

Thank Goodness we don’t serve a Throwaway God!

While driving to Massachusetts last weekend, one of the guys with whom I was travelling remarked on the size of a large hill alongside Interstate 90.  “That’s an old landfill site,” remarked another.  “You can tell because there are pipes sticking up out of the ground all over the hill.”

Those pipes served two purposes:  to allow oxygen in and to let methane out.  Without that process, the breakdown that is intended to occur in a landfill site that’s been covered over with grass couldn’t take place.

Garbage is a big deal.  If you’re not sure about that, ask residents of Toronto, who are under the threat of another strike, which could impede the collection of their trash, and see it piled up in parking lots and outdoor rinks, as happened a couple of summers ago.

Anyone who drives on Highway 401 understands that garbage is a big deal.  Truck after truck of it is sent barreling down the 401 every day, to meet its final resting place in the state of Michigan.  We Ontarians produce an awful lot of waste.

I wonder, though, how much of that is really necessary?  It would be possible, but not altogether practical, to avoid putting garbage to the street at all.  But it would be quite impossible to avoid producing any garbage, period.  We are, after all, consumers.

Some people, I fear, may see their role as consumers as more of an holy calling than a necessary evil.  While I am neither a pack-rat nor a hoarder, I am a bit reluctant to throw something away if I think it will have some good use.  (The difference, I think, may happen at the purchasing end.)  And with organizations that collect used clothing and even used electronics for various noble purposes, not to mention the ubiquitous nature of yard sales (three seasons of the year), there is a great deal of recycling that can take place, even before the blue box gets used.

Part of the necessity for such organizations and sales comes about as a result of our society having transformed itself into a throwaway society.  Once something is no longer useful, or cool, we simply toss it aside.  There are some folks who even do that with friends – other people – who cease to be ‘useful’ to them.  Sad, isn’t it?

In my devotions the other day, I read a most interesting statement from author Yushi Nomura, who wrote this in his book Desert Wisdom:  Sayings From The Desert Fathers (p. 11):

Abba Mios was asked by a soldier whether God would forgive a sinner.  After instructing him at some length, the old man asked him:  Tell me, my dear, if your cloak were torn, would you throw it away?  Oh, no! he replied, I would mend it and wear it again.  The old man said to him:  Well, if you care for your cloak, will not God show mercy to his own creature?

I think this may hit the nail on the head when it comes to why our society has such a difficult time grasping God’s grace.  Because we are prone to tossing things (and, sometimes, people) aside, we create a picture of God that is rather like us, and we assume that God would toss us aside, too.

Abba Mios, one of the early Christians who lived austerely in the desert to be closer to God, had a good point when he asked if the soldier would throw away his cloak just because it was ripped.  The soldier rightly answered that he’d fix it and keep wearing it.  (After all, there was no Quartermaster Store to gain a replacement!)  That’s why it made so much sense for Abba Mios to remind the soldier that God cares for us more than we care for our stuff…much more.

Jesus said, “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens:  They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12.23-24, NIV).

Thank Goodness we don’t serve a Throwaway God!