Encouragement From The Word

Our Christian heritage, set to music

Happy Canada Day weekend!

As Canadians, we’re not big on flag-waving.  We’re pretty meek and humble when it comes to our national pride.  (So it’s a little ironic, in the area where I live, that I see more Italian flags this weekend than Canadian ones, given what will be the final battle in the Euro Cup Soccer Tournament!)

Amid the multicultural mosaic that is Canada’s reality today, we must not neglect the fact that Canada was built and founded on Christian principles by Christian leaders.  Even our national anthem, despite attempts to excise “God keep our land” from the official text, still points to our Christian roots as a nation.  If you dig deeper, you’ll find an even stronger Christian tie.

For example, the French text of the anthem, translated into English, reads like this:

O Canada! Land of our forefathers

Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.

As in thy arm ready to wield the sword,

So also is it ready to carry the cross.

Thy history is an epic of the most brilliant exploits.

Thy valour steeped in faith

Will protect our homes and our rights

Will protect our homes and our rights.

The text of Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier says more about homes and rights than it does about Canada, but it also has us sing that we are “ready to carry the cross” – there’s no more blatant Christian image than that one!

And The Hon. Robert Stanley Weir, who wrote the original English text to O Canada, offers in his last verse (there were four) a very brave prayer:

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,

Hold our dominion within thy loving care;

Help us to find, O God, in thee

A lasting, rich reward,

As waiting for the Better Day,

We ever stand on guard.

O Canada! O Canada!

O Canada! We stand on guard for thee.

O Canada! We stand on guard for thee.                   

As we wait for the “Better Day”, let’s do all we can to help all Canadians know the “lasting, rich reward” that can be had by faith in Christ.

He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Psalm 72.8, NIV).

Biblical Messages

God’s idea of tolerance

“Tolerance” is a big deal today.  But its meaning has changed over the years, morphed into something it was never intended to mean.  In the book of Habakkuk, God’s idea of tolerance is different from either of the definitions we embrace today!  Take a look at Habakkuk 1.12-2.20 and see what I mean! You can listen to the message I preached on this passage by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

The view from the valley

If you had never heard of Nik Wallenda before, chances are pretty good you know who he is now – especially after last Friday night’s daring stunt, during which he walked across a two-inch cable strung across Niagara Falls.

The cable, stretched from Niagara Falls, New York to Niagara Falls, Ontario – a distance of about 400 metres.  The insurance requirements of the ABC television network in the United States, which televised the event for the Americans, insisted that Wallenda have a harness tethered to the wire, so that if he were to have slipped, he would not have plunged to his death in the swirling waters below.

As it turned out, though, he didn’t need it.  He made the journey look like a walk in the park.

I wasn’t able to watch the spectacle because of another commitment, but my wife was riveted to the television for the walk.  And several things struck her, which are worth sharing.

First, while he was being ‘coached’ through the event by wireless communication throughout the walk by his dad, Wallenda spent the entire trip in conversation with his heavenly Father.  While some may think he was a bit wacky, anyone who knows much about the performer understands that his faith is a significant part of his life.  His trust in the Lord is key to his motivation, and his success as a stunt artist.

Second, Diana noticed what Wallenda did in the middle of his walk.  The cable strung across the gorge was not taut; it had a bit of bow in it, in order to face the winds that invariably blow through the Niagara gorge and have physics in his favour.  At the bottom of the bow, Wallenda stopped and gave thanks to God for the view he had from that point.

Diana was quick to draw an analogy, and a lesson.  How often, when we find ourselves at a low point in life, do we stop to give thanks to God for the view?

Usually, when we find ourselves in the proverbial valley, we’re not quick to look up to God and give thanks.  But that can be a good discipline, for we almost never find anything good about looking down in the valley, or looking around.  Why not look up, and be thankful for the view, and that the trip out of the valley, leading to better things, is ahead?

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me” (Psalm 23.4a, NLT).

Biblical Messages

The Odyssey of Theodicy (or, It’s Okay to Ask God, ‘Why?’)

Theodicy:  not a common word in our language.  What it refers to is the study of the existence of evil and injustice in the world, amid the reality of God’s care and control over the world.  The odyssey of theodicy is the path on which the prophet Habakkuk found himself, living in the later 7th and earlier 6th centuries BC as God’s prophet to the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

The first in a short series of messages on asking God, “Why?”, this message is based on Habakkuk 1.1-11, and can be listened to by clicking the link below.  Just before the message, I showed this helpful introductory video found on YouTube.

My digital voice recorder’s batteries failed while I was preaching this message, so the recording found here is a re-recorded message in the home office.  I appreciate my wife listening and providing the necessary (but entirely too quiet) laugh track!  Listen here.

Encouragement From The Word

Yes, the Bible *is* relevant today!

A lot of people wonder how a series of compiled documents that are thousands of years old can be relevant for today.  But the Bible is not like other documents, for God’s Spirit breathes through the words of Scripture to bring them alive for us at just the right moments.  Let me give you an example.

I was in a meeting this week during which we had a discussion about how God has prompted folks in our congregation to share generously.  I was reflecting on the story of the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14), noting how encouraging it was to see our people stepping up to the plate in a variety of circumstances.

One person in the meeting mentioned that he had just been reading in Scripture about Barnabas, a church leader who was appointed by God to serve as an associate of the apostle Paul.  Barnabas is otherwise best known by the meaning of his name:  Son of Encouragement.

Another person in that meeting took notes about this, in the hope of following up on it in his own devotional life.  He happened to have those notes with him at work the next day, and he wrote to me about how that affected his work day:

The next day, I was working with one of my staff, and after spending a very long time, he finally delivered a report to me, which was not the quality it should have been, especially given the amount time spent on it.  As I began my process of reviewing notes, I struggled with how to get him to perform at a higher level.  While considering this, I opened my work folder to take some more notes, and saw my note from Tuesday night:  “Barnabas – Encouragement!”.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this colleague’s name IS Barnabas, and that I’m being given a not-so-subtle reminder to provide encouragement rather than criticism.  

It might seem small, and to some it might seem a coincidence.  But this is one way God works in our lives when we encounter his Word; and when we spend time together discussing the Scriptures, and our experience of them, it’s amazing how a portion can become immediately relevant in an area where might not expect it.

I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness” (Psalm 40.10, NLT).

How has God’s Word been hidden in your heart as you have talked about it, only to find that it is revealed for a useful circumstance?

Spend time in the study of the Bible, and be amazed at how God uses it to encourage you – or someone else.

Biblical Messages

Membership has its advantages!

Remember when American Express used as its slogan, “Membership has its advantages”?  I think they’ve mostly stopped using that because people today are not really “joiners”.  Yet membership in the church is an important part of what it means to follow Jesus.  Why?  This message looks at why membership, biblically, is important.

It’s based on 1 Corinthians 12.12-27, Matthew 18.15-20, John 10.11-18, and Hebrews 10.19-25.  You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

The value of words

Never underestimate the value of words.

Many of us remember the old story of the pastor who called the children to the front of the church for their weekly children’s time, whereupon he produced a tube of toothpaste.  The pastor squeezed some toothpaste onto a piece of cardboard, and asked the children to figure out how to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

They were, of course, unsuccessful, and the pastor thus reminded the children that our words are similar:  once we say something, it’s out.  We can’t take it back.  So it’s important to choose our words carefully, to build up and not tear down with our words.

We regularly regret hurtful words we say, but we can’t take them back; we can only apologize and hope to be reconciled with the person or people whom we hurt with our words.

While attending my denomination’s general assembly these past few days, I heard a lot of words:  motions, amendments to motions, amendments to amendments to motions, impassioned pleas, stories of joy and stories of woe.  I also had occasion to chat with someone from a congregation in which I had done ministry a couple of times many years ago.  As we spoke, she reminded me of some words I had shared with her – a loving challenge, really – which had been significant for her.  I remembered that encounter, and she reiterated her appreciation for those words, and reminded me that the words I say can make a difference.

Never underestimate the value of words.  The words you say can make a difference.  Choose your words wisely and well.  God can and will use them.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18.21, ESV).  Let’s all bear the fruit of love, and share the fruit of tongues whose power is used to edify others.


Some early highlights of the 138th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada

This week, I am a commissioner to the 138th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada.  Since each Presbytery sends one-sixth of its ministers, and an equal number of elders, to Assembly each year, it means that most pastors get to be commissioners several times over the course of their ministries.

I’m not able to slack off, though, because I was appointed to the Assembly’s Committee on Business, which is sort of the embodiment of mad duck-paddling that takes place in order for the agenda of the Assembly to float smoothly down the proverbial river.  Together, the committee members are trying to make the Assembly’s agenda run like a well-oiled machine, and we seem to be having a measure of success at it.

The Assembly began on Sunday afternoon with “Q&A@GA”.  Formerly, Assemblies hosted briefing groups for the whole of Monday in order to allow commissioners to be brought up to speed on the work of the committees and agencies of the church.  This year, it was moved to a less formal ‘marketplace’ model and held as commissioners arrived on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday evening saw the opening worship and installation of the Moderator.  Worshipping with a thousand others is a great experience.  The outgoing Moderator, Rick Horst, gave a fine message challenging the church to be more missional.  He then installed the new Moderator, John Vissers, who has chaired each sederunt (sitting) of the Assembly since his installation.

On Monday, numerous reports were heard and acted upon by the Assembly, and the Assembly banquet was held.  The entertainment was a youth choir from the Durham region, and they sounded great.  Catching up with old friends made it all a real blessing.

On Tuesday morning, the Assembly took on a celebratory tone as retiring national staff and missionaries were feted.  Along with that, we heard from a Presbyterian leader from Taiwan, who came to celebrate with us the completion and printing of the entire Bible in Hakka.  Hakka is a dialect of Chinese, spoken by many people in Taiwan.  It was an emotional occasion to see our own Paul McLean, a missionary and translator, talk about (and read from) the Hakka Bible.

Having served the Bible cause in parachurch work at one time myself, I understand the value of having the Bible in one’s heart language.  It was great to see one more translation completed.  (Last Sunday, the Canadian Bible Society celebrated the completion of the Bible in Inuktitut, so that’s two translations in one week!)

This just gives you a taste of what’s going on at General Assembly.  Being able to spend free time with friends that I don’t get to see very often is a treasured bonus of coming to Assembly.  We may not be in the ritziest town in Canada for Assembly, but it doesn’t really matter:  most of our time is spent sitting in a gymnasium listening to stories of the work God has done, and praying and deciding about the work God may and will do among us.

I love being part of a connectional church, where we are, indeed, not alone.  When you see little bits in the bulletin each Sunday that connect us with the wider church, you’re getting a taste of our connectedness, and how it enables us to serve God and build his kingdom more effectively.

Encouragement From The Word

Building bridges with the community

Every day is a good day, as far as I’m concerned, but yesterday was an especially good day.  Let me tell you why.

I had two unexpected opportunities to spend time with people in my community, particularly in my neighbourhood.  Both were what you might call serendipitous (happy accidents, one could say).

The first occasion was at a local print shop.  I had stumbled across a lovely photograph that had been taken by Andrea Kollo of our church’s tower, with the tree in front in bloom.  It was a terrific picture, so I asked her if I could use it on the front cover of our Anniversary Sunday bulletin – to which she happily agreed.  It is such a nice photo, I thought it would be nice to print the bulletin cover in colour.  Having checked big-box store pricing, I thought I’d get a quotation from a local print shop.  So I got in touch with Lucy at King Print and Design, who came in with a great price.  I took the bulletin to the shop on a jump drive, and in the course of conversation, we realized that we are near-neighbours.  What’s more, she is a friend of a delightful individual in our congregation, who speaks well of our church – so Lucy, too, has a positive view of our church.  (She even printed the inside of the cover for me, as a favour.  I was really impressed.)  I look forward to more great conversations with her!

The second occasion came as I was walking home from the church in the evening, having called a meeting at which, apparently, none of those invited were able to attend – so I had an unexpected evening free.  On the way home, another near-neighbour, with whom I have had many chats, invited me up the driveway for a chat.  He and his wife and I shot the breeze for a while, getting to know each other even more than we did before.  Even though I would love to have had the meeting with the folks with whom it was set, I am convinced that God orchestrated it so that I could spend time with these neighbours!

For pastors, it can be hard to engage with the community, because we are notoriously busy serving the people among whom God has called us to minister.  So when those occasions arise to chat with folks who are currently outside the congregation, it’s great to be able to take the time with them.  It builds bridges.

The apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4.7, NIV).  Make an effort to make friends with people in your community.  God can use you to build bridges!