Biblical Messages

The value of (somewhat) careless farming

The parable of the sower (Luke 8.4-15) reminds us how how important it is for us to sling seed – the seed of the Word – in a somewhat careless and haphazard way, so that many hear the good news of God’s love for them.  Successful seed slinging is sloppy seed slinging!  Are you sharing your story of faith?

Listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

The Blue Jays’ trials…and ours

I grew up in northern Ontario, where winter sports were always more emphasized than summer ones.  In the days before the Blue Jays, I remember having a Montreal Expos cap, though I can’t recall ever having watched a baseball game on television when I was a kid.  It wasn’t until I got to know my wife’s aunt that I got any interest in baseball.  She was a Blue Jays fanatic from the team’s very beginning.

For a time, I stayed with her, and she taught me everything I know (and a lot that I’ve forgotten) about the sport of baseball.  She would watch the games on TV, but would mute the sound, and listen to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth on the radio.  I learned to do the same – though I’ll admit I’m still more of a winter sports kind of guy.

If you pay attention to the Blue Jays, you’ll have noticed that on Wednesday evening this week, they sustained a huge loss, and their worst shut-out in team history:  Oakland beat the Jays 16 to nothing.  Die-hard Jays fans everywhere were doubled over in pain – more pain, it would seem, than J.P. Arincibia had when he completed an inning after having his hand broken!  It was a tough loss.

The placement of the team’s star catcher on the disabled list just adds salt to a festering wound of injuries that the Blue Jays have sustained this season.  It’s been a tough year for the team, yet many believe they are still in contention for a wild-card spot in the American League East.  (On Thursday, they did come back to beat Oakland by scoring 10 runs, so there seems to be hope for them!)

The Jays are facing a tough remainder to the season, but one thing you’re not seeing them do is give up:  the team is not throwing in the proverbial towel!  Each player not sidelined with injury will continue to suit up for each game, and each will continue to give his all for the best interests of the team.

At times in our lives, we face trial after trial.  Sometimes, they even seem to pile up on top of each other.  We wonder whether we can continue to function with these myriad difficulties.  And some people will respond by saying that God will never give us more than we can handle.

But I don’t believe that.  I don’t believe it’s true that God will never give us more than we can handle.

What I do believe is that God will never give us more than God and us together can handle, by his grace.  Do you see the difference?

When we think that God won’t give us more than we can handle, that’s about us, and how “good” at handling things we may have become.  But when we believe that God won’t give us more than God and us together can handle, that’s about God.

God has not set the world ticking, given each of us a capacity for trouble, and walked away.  No, God continues to be active in the world every moment of every day.  And God draws nearer us when we call on him in our times of difficulty.

Some think it’s biblical to believe that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  But there’s only one verse in the whole Bible that even comes close to this idea, and it’s 1 Corinthians 10.13:  “No temptation has seized you except what is common to (humanity).  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (NIV).  That verse isn’t talking about trials and troubles, but about temptations – and it is not God who tempts us, but the Tempter himself, the devil!

No, that verse won’t stand up to scrutiny when it comes to the difficulties we face in our lives.  I contend that God will not place us in any situation or time of trial in which his grace will not be enough to sustain us.  The same writer who wrote the quotation about temptation, above, also wrote candidly about his own sustained trial – what Paul the apostle called a “thorn in the flesh” – about which the Lord Jesus himself spoke to Paul:  “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12.9-10, NIV).

Let the Lord Jesus be strong through you.  He will enable you to sustain whatever trials may befall you.

Encouragement From The Word

Want a solution to gun violence? Choose life.

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, or get news from southern Ontario, it’s been hard to miss that there has been a tremendous amount of gun violence lately.  In a city the size of Toronto, it is hard not to have some, and there always is some – but this summer, it seems to have become nearly virulent.  From the tragedy in the Eaton Centre food court to the street party gone amok on Danzig Street, we have been eyewitnesses, through the news, to a growing loss in our society:  the loss of the value of human life itself.

We are used to hearing about gun violence in the United States, even though it saddens us greatly; the most recent occurred last evening at a movie theatre in the Denver, Colorado area.  But in Toronto the Good?  No, thanks.

Of course, the politicians all weigh in with their assessments, right and left:  Mayor Ford says, ‘Catch the thugs and put them in jail, and don’t let them back in the city when they get out’; Councillor Vaughan says, ‘Ban the sale of guns and/or ammunition.’  But the root of the problem is deeper than that; it’s deeper than any politician alone can solve.

The problem with gun violence, I think, has much more to do with how we view human life, and how we are parented – and these are related.

One of the things that is common among many of the violent criminals in Toronto (and perhaps anywhere) is that they often have not had their fathers active in their lives.  (This leads to a long tangent on which I could ride with respect to an aberrant view of sexual activity from which I will refrain for now.)  As politically incorrect as it is to say, kids need both an active mom and an active dad in their lives to grow up well; or, at least, they need both an active female and male figure in their lives to be well-rounded.  Many of these young people with guns in hand have never been taught to respect the weapon for what it is and what it can do.

When I was a child, there were two guns hanging on a gun rack in our spare room.  A .22 and a .303 were just hanging there – long before there was any registry or any lock-up rules – and I knew where the bullets were kept.  Those guns were hardly ever used.  I remember Dad taking me out to an old sand dune to teach me how to use the .22.  I don’t ever remember being especially a good shot, but one thing Dad did in taking me out to learn how to use the gun, and that is that he taught me to respect the weapon.  I’m not sure a lot of people who get guns in their hands and are charged with crimes have ever been taught respect for the weapon.

However, even those who respect the weapon can still willfully misuse it if they have not been taught respect for life.  It seems we have some in our society today who would rather just kill someone with whom they disagree than have an adult conversation that might lead either to mutual disagreement or (gasp) reconciliation.  Why?  Because life doesn’t matter to them.

This is where parents play key roles.  There are some of you, I know, who are pulling your hair out trying to be the best mom or dad that you can be for your children, to help them follow God’s way and live as disciples of Jesus.  It’s the hardest job with which you could ever be charged.  God is for you, and God is with you, as you seek to raise your children not to be criminals, or victims, like we hear about in the news.   Your church community will support you as you do all you can in God’s grace to raise godly children.

Others of you, I know, wrestle with the fact that you did your best with your kids, and they have not turned out as you had hoped.  Outside influences ended up having more of an influence than you did.  Maybe they’re not in prison, but they’re not following Jesus, either.  God hears your heart’s cry for your kids, and maybe your grandkids.  He knows your pain.  He longs to comfort you.

Pray for families.  They are the nucleus of God’s plan for creation and society, and the Enemy will use the dissolution of families to try to break down the church.  Pray that families will engender a respect for life, and a love for Jesus.

Pray for those who take out their pain and frustration on others violently.  Pray that the Lord will grab hold of their hearts and replace their anger with love.

Pray for churches to reach out to parents who struggle to raise their kids, under varieties of sometimes unimaginable circumstances.  Pray that congregations will let God’s love spill over into those who need it most.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life” (Deuteronomy 30.19-20a, NIV).


Interested in a Retreat in Daily Life?

Church life can be about making a difference in your own life, too.  There are many ways that can happen, and one of those ways that’s coming up this fall, about which you have been hearing announcements, is a Retreat In Daily Life that we at St. Paul’s are sharing with our sister congregation, Cornerstone Church in Kleinburg.

A retreat in daily life is a bit like a regular retreat, where you go off to a special place and find yourself challenged by God’s Word as you are led into a deeper walk with the Lord.  But in this case, because it’s “in daily life”, you don’t go off to a special place.  Your retreat happens each day, in your own daily experience.  Then, once a week for five weeks, you meet with a spiritual director to discuss some Scripture passages that you have been reading for each week, and you can talk about how any of those passages have gained new meaning for you as you let them live in your spirit while you went about your everyday activities.  Meeting with a spiritual director gives you the opportunity to reflect on where God is showing up in your life, in ways great or small.

This process is a concentrated (5-week) form of the ongoing spiritual direction opportunity that I offer to people in the congregation, where we meet once every few weeks in a safe, confidential environment to discuss the ways God is at work in their lives.  As I describe spiritual direction, the basic structure goes like this:  I will read a passage of Scripture and pray for you, and then if some word or phrase from the Scripture seems to jump out at you, we can discuss that, and you can share what’s been going on as we look for God in the details of life.  Spiritual direction is not counselling or therapy, but a spiritual discipline which helps to build our faith more and more.  There are different forms that spiritual direction can take, and your spiritual director – me, or the person assigned to you in the Retreat in Daily Life – listens to the Holy Spirit to discern if a particular approach should be taken with you in a given session.

The cost for the RDL is $50, and you can register by speaking to me.  I’ll gladly entertain your questions, too.  The retreat begins with a group worship session on Saturday, September 15 and concludes with a closing session on Saturday, October 20.  Mutually convenient dates for your meetings with a trained spiritual director will be set once we have a clear picture of how many participants there will be between the two congregations.

I know that my own experience with a spiritual director has been life-enriching, and I think some in our congregation who meet with me for spiritual direction would say the same.  So if you’d like to take spiritual direction for a test-drive by signing up for a 5-week retreat in daily life, let me know.  I think you will find it a blessing.

Biblical Messages

Having Faith-Filled Friends

It takes quite the group of friends to cut a hole in the roof to get Jesus’ attention!  But that’s what a group of friends did for a paralyzed man in Luke 5.17-26.  We need to be faith-filled friends who will help others come to Jesus.  What keeps us from making it easy for our friends to come to the Lord?  Listen to this message that will give you concrete steps to consider when keeping yourself from being a barrier to another person following Jesus by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Ropes of kindness and love

Back when you were in nursery school and kindergarten, do you remember how the teachers kept everybody together?  In my day, anyway, it was with the rope.  Typically, the teacher would hold the front of the rope, and a parent or a helper would hold the back of the rope, and in between would be a series of knots in the rope, and each student was required to hold on to the rope near one of those knots.  That way, everybody stayed in line, and everybody was accounted for.

Most of us were pretty excited to ‘graduate’ from walking along beside the rope.  When you’re in kindergarten and some older kids pass by, it can seem pretty embarrassing.  It probably wasn’t really all that embarrassing – instead, it was something that kept us all safe.

I don’t know about you, but when I consider that image, I can still feel the prickliness of the rope.  Can you?  Teachers never used the silken ropes – just the jute ones, or something like that, making you feel like you were holding on to a sack of potatoes.  It was prickly, but it kept us safe.

I thought of this image when I read Hosea 11.4 in my devotions this week:  “I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love.  I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him” (NLT).

The book of Hosea is a book depicting the covenant faithfulness of God in pretty poignant ways (the prophet is enjoined by the Lord to marry a hooker – do I have your attention now?!).  In spite of the people’s unfaithfulness to God, he constantly and continually sought them out and redeemed them.  He led Israel along, as the Scripture says, with his ropes of kindness and love.

Our teachers’ knotted ropes were ropes of kindness and love, too – whether we chose to see them that way or not!  They used those tools for our safety and protection.  Likewise, the Lord protects and guides us, perhaps with ropes invisible.

Think about the times when you have been protected and cared for when you thought you were done for:  perhaps losing control on a highway covered in black ice, or something like that, when you were able to regain control.  The Lord led you with his ropes of kindness and love.

Sometimes, his ropes of kindness and love do feel prickly, though.  We sense that being under divine guidance and discipline is not the most comfortable thing ever.  But it is for our good.  God knows what is best for us, and his guidance, as we hold the proverbial rope, will keep us in his care.


Prayer and responsibility

While soaking up some of God’s free vitamin D today, I was reading David Benner’s excellent book, Opening To God, in which he wrote these very interesting words:

Coming to God in trusting openness does not mean abandoning our agency and responsibility.  Genesis tells us that God invested in Adam and Eve the responsibility for all of creation, and at no time since then is there any reason to believe that God has said:  “Since you have made such a mess of things I now absolve you of that responsibility and ask that you simply trust me to take care of things.”  Prayer is divine communion that enables us to engage the world with renewed focus, competence and passion – and with all of our natural gifts and abilities.  And pondering problems, both personal and communal, can form a central part of that experience of communion with God.  (David Benner, Opening To God [Downers Grove:  IVP, 2010], 96)

What a great reminder!  Even though God is sovereign, and he invites our prayerful communion with him, we are still responsible, and can share our decision making process with God as a form of prayer.

Biblical Messages

Dealing With Temptation

Temptation is something we face virtually every day, but sometimes, we don’t even know it, because right and wrong have been so blurred as to remove the notion of the meaning or existence of temptation.

Jesus experienced temptation, and one place his testing by the devil is recorded is Luke 4.1-13.  His experiences teaches us some valuable lessons in dealing with temptation.  Listen to the message here.

Encouragement From The Word

God is more than a particle!

News came out this week that scientists may have discovered the Higgs-Boson particle, known to us lay folk as the “God particle” (but, apparently, many scientists don’t like us calling it that).  This is an elementary particle in physics which some are hailing, in its potential discovery, as a scientific revelation which could explain how the universe came to be.

The human race has a fascination with origins, whether it’s of the human race itself, or the development of the earth, or the universe as we know it.  We often think in this regard of Charles Darwin, because of the controversy stirred up over the theories created by, and spawned by, some of his discoveries.  But consider that many learned people put thousands of hours each year into ongoing research on the origin of humanity, the earth, and the universe even today.

And consider that enough money has been spent on space exploration in the past fifty years to solve all of the world’s hunger and debt problems – probably many times over.  To be sure, our curiosity has captured the imagination, and the finances, of governments in several countries around the world.  Humanity is looking for answers to a lot of questions.

There was a time when theology was called “the Queen of Sciences”.  Many scientists were also theologians!  People who searched for life’s meaning were often followers of Jesus, and they did their scientific research in the light of their faith.  There are still some scientists who are people of faith.  (One example is Francis Collins, who was the lead researcher in the Human Genome Project; he has written about his experience in light of his faith.)

Much ink has been spilled and many trees cut down in Jesus’ name in an attempt to demonstrate either the absolute separation of, or peaceful coexistence between, science and faith.  Many Christ followers hold strong opinions, either that the Bible is a reliable science book in contrast to scientific effort, or that the work of science need not necessarily look exactly like the stories of the Bible in order for each to have value for the person of faith.

The rest of us, well, we don’t really have strong opinions one way or the other.  And frankly, I think that’s okay.  It’s also why I’m quite comfortable with the term “God particle”, because, as I see it, the how that scientists seek, is less important than the who or the why of world origins on which Scripture is quite clear.

Some folks major on the minors – mostly because they think they are majors, not minors.  For followers of Jesus, the major needs to be who, not how.  When we believe that God is the who, that has a significant influence on our study of how.  And for us, the baseline for any conversation is simply this:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1.1, NIV).  The rest follows from that.  God, for us, is more than a particle!

Biblical Messages

The Antidote to Jabez

About twelve years ago, Bruce Wilkinson published a book called The Prayer of Jabez, which called readers to a sort of prosperity gospel:  “pray this prayer and good things will happen”.  The prayer of Habakkuk, found in Chapter 3 of his book, can be seen as the “antidote” to the prayer of Jabez.  You can learn about both, and how Habakkuk’s prayer can encourage your faith in hard times, by listening to this message.