Encouragement From The Word

The significance of (seemingly) little things

So, according to this week’s federal budget, Canadians will soon be penniless.  (I don’t mean we’re all going to end up on welfare, I mean we’ll literally be without pennies:  they’re being taken out of circulation.  Apparently, they cost more to produce than their face value.)

Most of the initial reactions I read to this had to do with the cost of thoughts increasing (i.e., “A penny for your thoughts” will have to become “A nickel for your thoughts”).  My first reaction was, “What will I use to weigh down my freight cars on my model railroad?”

There will be some significant ramifications for Canadians once this move takes place.  Since credit and debit cards are used for so many transactions nowadays, it may not matter as much as we initially think, but when paying with cash, will figures be rounded up or down?  Even if prices are rounded off, the addition of taxes will force the need to round up or down again.  (And you can bet your bottom dollar – since you won’t have any pennies anyway – that the bulk of the rounding will be “up”.)

There will almost certainly be other smaller, less noticeable changes necessitated by the removal of the penny.  But it reminds us that even something as lowly and seemingly insignificant as the penny, to which we pay little heed today, will, with its disappearance, cause societal problems in our land.

There is something else to which most Canadians pay little heed which, if it disappeared, would also cause societal problems:  the church of Jesus Christ.  A lot of people think the church is out of touch with society and should be abandoned entirely, but this arrogant concept is lobbed out quite thoughtlessly.  Even to those who do not believe in God, the church plays a significant role in society, advocating for the family, providing community, and providing for the needy – among countless other important responsibilities.  For those who do believe in God, the church needs to be a treasured organism, since it is God’s means of providing hope to the world through its proclamation and embodiment of the truth of Jesus Christ.

We who are the church do well to live, love and serve as those who are instruments of the Holy Spirit in providing hope to the world around us.  Being an organism – not an organization – is key to fulfilling this responsibility.  An organization tends to live for its structure; an organism lives to grow, and ceases to live when it stops growing.

Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  Jesus replied…’Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it’” (Matthew 16.16-18, NLT).

Let’s live and grow as the church, which matters to God, and matters to our world – even if it’s not yet noticed by many around us.  God is at work.

Defending the faith

How do you invest in others?

How do you invest in others?

This question is on my mind right now, as I have been spending some time preparing a brief lecture for a group of students at Tyndale Seminary that I will present next Wednesday evening.  The topic is “clergy self-care”, about which I have a fair bit of experience, both positive and negative.  I look forward to sharing my experience and insights with these people from varying backgrounds who will be out in the field as pastors themselves before too long.  I look forward to helping them learn from my mistakes!  Sharing what I’ve learned along the journey of twenty-plus years of ministry is a great way to invest in others.

I seek to do the same with the good people of St. Paul’s, Nobleton each Sunday, and through the week, in every aspect of my ministry.  Whether it’s a message or a prayer during worship, a chat at Tim’s, the post office or the study, or even at a meeting – my goal is to invest in people so that their walk with the Lord may be enriched somehow.

So how do you invest in others?  One way you can do that is through a simple invitation to worship.  A few times a year, the Outreach Team at St. Paul’s does its best to make that easier for our gang by sending mailers out to the community.    (One side of this Easter’s postcard, thanks to lifechurch.tv, is pictured.)

What we’re sending out isn’t so much an invitation to come to church at Easter, though the timing of it is quite intentional that way:  I find that beginning a new series – one that should be of interest to the community – on a ‘major’ Sunday like Easter not only attracts attention for Easter itself, but also for the whole series.  This year’s Easter season series is on marriage – “Take A Vow”.  (If you’re wondering how I’m going to tie a message on marriage to the resurrection of Jesus, well, you’ll have to show up to find out!)  Rest assured that this series is not just for married people.  It’s for everybody, including those who have never been married, were married and aren’t anymore, and everybody else.  There will be a challenge and a word of encouragement for all people in this series (even if your marriage wasn’t or isn’t all you’d hoped it would be.)

I hope you’ll find this mailer to serve as good ‘support’ for you as you invite your friends to worship at St. Paul’s for Easter or any other Sunday.  It will be distributed to all households in Nobleton, the rural routes north of town, and some of the homes in Schomberg.  If you invite a friend who receives it, each will reinforce the other and the possibility of your friend attending will be greater.

If you find it difficult to invite a friend to church, ask God to give you the courage and the strength to do it, and see it as an investment in eternity for your friend.  Many people have found their lives changed through one simple invitation to worship.  I know you can do it!

Encouragement From The Word

Inspired by Percy Saltzman

Until I was called to ministry, my career goal was to be a meteorologist.  Yep.  One of those people who gets a paycheque even when they “get it wrong.”  (Don’t be too hard on the weather people.  Forecasting, even with computer-generated models coming from a variety of sources, is still rather an inexact science; I really don’t know why they try to forecast anything beyond two to three days, when you consider the variables involved.  But I digress.)

Because of my childhood love of meteorology, I developed a “pen pal” relationship germane to the field:  it was with Percy Saltzman.  He was a TV weatherman, working for the CBC for many years, and later in life at Global.  Even in the early days of computer forecast models, Percy still used a chalkboard with a map of the country, and big, thick pieces of chalk to draw cold fronts and warm fronts and to put temperatures on the board for various communities.  I think I might still have a few satellite photographs that he sent me when I was in about Grade 8.  I learned a lot from him.

One of Percy’s choice pieces of wisdom was this simple poem:

Whether it’s cold or whether it’s hot,

We will have weather, whether or not.

(Hey, he was a weather forecaster, not a poet.  Cut him some slack.)

This week has certainly shown us the anomalous side of the weather.  Who’d have guessed we’d be out in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops, washing vehicles as March Break came to a close?  We’ve been breaking weather records almost daily for the past week or so.  (Is it global warming, or is it because of two people in my community whom I know bought snow blowers this season?)

Irrespective of the weather, though, Percy Saltzman’s sage wisdom holds true:  no matter what it’s like, there will be weather.  On that we can rely!  If there were no weather, it would be like living on the moon:  we’d have no real atmosphere to speak of, and life would not be sustainable.

As long as there is life, there will be weather.  God is like that.  (You were wondering when God would show up here, weren’t you?)  We can’t predict what God will do, but we can be certain of his presence.   And without God’s presence, there could be no life.  As the apostle Paul said to the council in Athens,  He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.  “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.  For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’  And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone” (Acts 17.24-29, NLT).

God is not predictable, but he is always present.  Or, as C.S. Lewis wrote of Aslan, the Christ-figure in his writings, he is not safe, but he is good.

We will always have weather, whether we like it or not (and I think we have liked it this week, mostly); and we will always have God.  Will we embrace him, and walk with him in faith?


“A Christian alone is no Christian”: a brief excursus

Yesterday, I tweeted a great quotation from Tertullian, one of the church’s earliest theologians; he lived in the late second and early third centuries in north Africa.  He said, “A Christian alone is no Christian.”

This generated a fair bit of conversation on Facebook, so I thought I’d take a moment to expand a little on what that means, as I see it.  Remembering that Tertullian wrote in the years before the Christian faith was established and had any credence with society at all, the church had a much stronger sense of community.  Under persecution, the church experienced the value of community in ways that it generally doesn’t appreciate when it is not persecuted.

If you need an example of how community is cherished in persecution, consider the Jews.  We tend to think of how they ‘stick together’ and look out for each other in the shadow of the Holocaust, but in reality, this has been true since the diaspora in the second century.  Anytime a Jewish person or family is in crisis, it is the Jewish community that tends to the needs first.

What Tertullian is telling the church is that we could learn from our Jewish friends.

But this is true not just in a practical sense, but in a theoretical, theological sense, too:  with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2, never again in the New Testament are Christ-followers highlighted positively except in connection with a  community of faith, the church.  Without other Christians, it is virtually impossible to be a Christian.

This is why Sacraments are celebrated within the community of faith.  This is why church membership so strongly emphasizes participation in church life.  This is why the genius of Presbyterian polity involves the whole leadership of the church, not just the pastor, in the care of the congregation.

Can we be Christians in isolation?  If our faith is strong and our isolation is mandated, perhaps; but if we intentionally isolate ourselves from fellow believers, it is unlikely that our faith can stand.  We were made for Christian community.  And that’s what Tertullian would have us know, in brief.  The church may not be perfect, but it is the beautiful Bride of Christ, and it’s “part of the deal” when it comes to engaging as followers of Jesus.

Biblical Messages

God’s Invitation To Doing

Last week, I spoke about how God invites us simply to ‘be’ with him, to spend time with him in Sabbath, solitude and silence.  This week, the message is about how God invites us to ‘do’ – to put our faith to work, and to ensure that we ‘do’ for God out of the strength of our ‘being’ with God.  Based on Matthew 12.46-50, you can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Seeing others through God’s eyes

You never know what burdens people are carrying.

Last Monday, my wife and I were out for a drive, and we stopped at a big-box plaza to allow her to pick up some needful things.  I waited outside, and watched people – a fun avocation that I recommend everyone try.  One woman came out of a store with a toddler in tow, very obviously doing everything she could do to hold back tears.  As she loaded the child into her vehicle and prepared to get into the driver’s seat, I could see that the dam was breaking and she began to weep.

Being a perfect stranger and from another community, it didn’t seem the appropriate thing to inquire as to how I might have helped her.  Instead, from the isolation of my vehicle, I took a moment to pray for her, not knowing her plight, but realizing that it seemed to be taking a toll on her.

This experience illustrated for me the value of trying to see the best in people.  I have not always found this easy; in fact, I still find it a real challenge.  Once we’ve been ‘jaded’, we find it hard to bounce back to that place where we can see the best in others.

Here’s a thought:  instead of trying to see the best in people on your own, why not look at people through God’s eyes?  I’ve used this video a couple of times in the past to illustrate this idea.

To be sure, this isn’t easy, either.  It’s far easier to take someone’s grumpiness personally, and assume the person has a hate on for us or is just naturally of a poor disposition.  We have a tendency to think of ourselves first.  But if we can think of the other person first, and her or his predicament, it may help us to see the person as God sees him or her, and to realize that the problem isn’t natural grumpiness or anger at us.  There is a deeper struggle that shows itself in a mood.

When we see others as God does, it helps us love them as God does.  After all, God does not just love us; Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, NIV).

Who knows?  Maybe our attempts to love others as God loves them will result in some people accepting that love from God, and becoming disciples of Jesus.  Even if that doesn’t happen, though, God calls us to love people.  And Jesus is the perfect model, the perfect embodiment of God’s love.

Keep on loving!  You’re making a difference.


“I don’t have time” or “It’s not a priority”?

After seeing a friend’s Facebook status the other day, I chose to write about how “I don’t have time” versus “It’s not a priority” relates to God’s invitation to being…

Based on the comments I received on the theme of last Sunday’s message, I get the sense that many of you are living the harried life!  Several of you spoke of how the shaken, cloudy water resonated with you.  I know what you mean.   But where does it go from here?

It’s one thing for us to commiserate, but quite another to do something about the problem.  That’s the hard part, isn’t it?  Most of us simply shrug our shoulders and say, “I don’t have the time,” when in reality, what we might better say is, “It’s not a priority.”

I’ve often wanted to try an experiment.  (I’ve wanted to, but have regularly said, “I don’t have the time!”)  I’d love to take a typical day and chronicle everything – everything – I do, and write it down so I could see where my time is really being spent.  It wouldn’t just be writing down “work” from 9 to 5 (or whatever), but denoting exactly what comprised that “work”.  Something tells me that if any of us did that, we might be a trifle surprised, maybe even humbled, by the results.  But that would be a great way to begin the process of prioritization.

Hopefully, you want to make time to just “be” with the Lord.  Rather than say, “I don’t have time to just ‘be’ with the Lord,” try saying, “I don’t make it a priority to just ‘be’ with the Lord.”  Ouch.  Trouble is, we often find ourselves with an even odder conundrum:  we don’t make it a priority to re-order our priorities.  Maybe that’s the place to start.

Even if you don’t bother to try my little experiment noted above, clear an hour from your schedule.  Sit in a quiet place, in a comfortable, upright position.  Take a notebook, or a sheet of paper, and write down the major things that are part of a typical day, and a typical week, for you.  There will be sub-categories, of course, but among your major categories might be such things as sleeping, eating, working, spending time with people you love, and having fun.  How would you prioritize these?

Clearly, earning a living is important, unless you’re already retired (which leaves you with more free time, at least in theory).  Sleeping is also important, since you need rest in order to be able to function fully.  Spending time with people you love matters, too, because your marriage (if you are married) is foundational not just to your own family but to all of society; your kids and other family members are important, too.  And we all need fun once in a while.  So where do we fit God into this scenario?

Ideally, God is part of every part of your day (and he is, whether we realize it or not).  But where do we fit intentional time with the Lord into this picture?

Something else you should gauge among the things you do in the day is the time you waste.  Most of us waste some time during each day; some of us are really good at it!  A friend of mine, who was struggling to find enough time to spend with the Lord, decided to cut out the 11:00 news at night, which, she reasoned, sent her to bed flustered anyway.  That produced a minimum of an extra three-and-a-half hours each week that she could spend with the Lord.

I’m confident that each of us, if we see time with God as a priority instead of just another thing to add to the list, can deepen our walk with the Lord through quality time sitting in his presence.  May God bless you as you work on your priorities!

Biblical Messages

God’s Invitation To Being

In our busy world, we regularly forget that we were not made to go hard 24/7.  We were made to spend six days in our work, and one day in rest.  And that rest – that gift of Sabbath – should include availing ourselves of God’s gifts of solitude and silence.

Prior to this message, based on Matthew 11.25-30, this video was shown.  You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Practise what you preach!

Sometimes, I am amazed at God’s ability with irony.

The past two weeks, I’ve been running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off:  flitting from one responsibility to the next, hardly budgeting time for personal renewal, to allow my soul to catch up with my body.  This isn’t terribly new, and is certainly not unique to me.  But today, I’m reflecting on the irony.

What is so ironic?  This Sunday, as part of the “Growing in Holiness” series at St. Paul’s, Nobleton, I will be preaching on the subject of “God’s Invitation to Being”.  And I know for certain that I will be preaching that sermon – once it is finally prepared! – to myself before preaching it among those who gather for worship on Sunday.

Any preacher worth his or her salt willingly preaches his or her own sermons to the self before preaching them to others.  And by that I don’t just mean rehearsing.  As a preacher, I need to take what I say to heart before I can expect anyone else to do so.  Just as a leader can only lead people as far as the leader has gone, or is willing to go, so a preacher can only be authentic in the preaching of a sermon that she or he has integrated or is willing to integrate into her or his life.

This is an important principle for all believers, that we practise what we preach – even if we aren’t “preachers”, as such.  Sometimes, we proclaim God’s good news by how we live far more effectively than by what we say.  Still, what we do and what we say should match what we profess to believe.  It’s not always easy, and we always make mistakes.  But if we say we believe something, we should do our level best, in the grace of God, to put it into practice…even if that means making some sacrifices, or saying “no” when you want to say “yes”.

The Lord Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their unwillingness to practise what they preached:  “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses.  So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example.  For they don’t practice what they teach.  They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23.1-4, NLT).

I don’t want to be a stumbling block to those among whom I serve, so I’m going to listen carefully to the message I preach this week, and put it to work!

Last night, I admitted to a friend that I had not yet prepared the Encouragement, and wasn’t sure about what I would write.  He suggested that I might write about the irony of my need to slow down in order to do things like write the Encouragement!  Not a bad idea.  🙂

Encouragement From The Word

Lessons for us from the tragedy of VIA Train #92

I wrote a few weeks ago about how disturbing I find it to see transportation vessels in some position other than what is intended – such as the Costa Concordia lying half-submerged on its side in the sea.  As a railfan, you can imagine how disturbing I found it to see the accident involving VIA Rail Train #92 earlier this week.  Seeing FP40-2 locomotive #6444 lying down in the ballast on the engineer’s side was very disturbing, as was the loss of the three crew members’ lives.

Like many others awaiting the findings of the Transportation Safety Board, I was wondering, What could have caused this derailment?  After all, the weather was clear, it was a straight stretch, the track appeared to have been in good repair; the train was using a crossover to move from one track to another.  Then came the report:  the train was moving at 67 miles per hour, when the legal speed to move through a crossover is 15 miles per hour.  And no brakes had been applied.  Ouch.

There may be many unanswered and unanswerable questions surrounding this tragedy.  But there also may be lessons for us in our walk with God.

Slow down when you’re changing tracks.  The physics of how trains move through crossovers necessitate that it be a relatively slow movement compared with normal track speed.  For us, the emotion of significant change in our lives necessitates that it happen slower than the normal pace of life.  For example, when someone you love dies, you’re ‘changing tracks’:  let the process of grieving take its course, and don’t be afraid to let that happen slowly.  Or, if you are retiring, that means ‘changing tracks’ too; ease into it, and take the time to get used to the change.

Be aware that your movements are being recorded in the “black box”.  Unfortunately for this incident, the railways’ “black boxes” (which are orange!) don’t record voices in the cab, unlike aircraft “black boxes” which do.  Had there been an indication of what the two engineers and the trainee were talking about, it might have given the Transportation Safety Board some clues as to why the train was speeding through a crossover.  In our lives, however, nothing we do is truly kept in secret.  God, who is all-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere, knows what we say and what we do at all times.  I don’t mean by this that we should view God as a “Big Brother” figure, or even a Santa Claus figure; no, God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent with a purpose of love.  He longs for us to be in constant conversation with him, and he is disappointed when what we do or say does not reflect the faith we profess.  And Scripture says that we will be judged at the end of time based on what’s in our “black box”, but that’s a judgment not for our salvation (which is based on faith), but for some other divinely intended purpose.

It may seem like a stretch to pull these thoughts from the tragedy of a train derailment, but they are meant to encourage us to pay careful attention to the details of our lives, that we may live them to God’s glory!

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90.12, NIV).