Biblical Messages

The ‘Whos’ of Prayer

Reformation Sunday, that which Protestants celebrate nearest October 31, commemorates the beginning of what Martin Luther had hoped would be a re-forming of the church from within.  It took on a life of its own before he knew it, and the Protestant Reformation, as we know it, is said to have begun on October 31, 1517, when Luther nailed 95 propositions for the reforming of the church to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany.

We look at the “whos” of prayer appropriately on this day, recognizing that it is God alone to whom we are invited to pray according to Scripture.  Listen to this message by clicking this link.

Encouragement From The Word

Of Mice and Aircraft

Yesterday morning, I took my wife to the airport so she could fly to Florida for a women’s conference for the weekend.  It was foggy as we drove, but by the time the flight would take off, the fog was likely to have lifted.

Unfortunately, the flight was delayed at takeoff, but not because of fog.  The plane was ready to head for the skies, but the brakes were put on and everybody was deplaned.  Why?  It was one very small reason:  there was an unauthorized passenger aboard the aircraft that needed to be removed.  It was a mouse.

I’m not sure what the authorities used to deal with the mouse, whether it was a trap, a vacuum cleaner or a herd of cats, but after about three hours, the plane was declared ready for takeoff once again, and the flight resumed as normal, albeit delayed.

Do you ever find unexpected little things cause big headaches in your life?   I think we all have these sorts of experiences, though not necessarily involving mice and large aircraft.  How can we respond to them?

The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46.1, NIV).  That’s not just a trite verse; it’s the truth of God’s Word, that in any kind of trouble – mouse-sized or elephant-sized – God will be with you.

When you’re in the midst of one of these niggling little difficulties, try using that verse as a “breath prayer” – something you say to God with the rhythm of your breathing – as a means of expressing your faith that God will take care of you.  Watch how it affects your demeanor!  Perhaps your friends will wonder what’s gotten into you, that you’ve become more calm in the midst of strife.  Then you can tell them:  God is your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Whatever may be your trial right now…God is with you.  God is for you.  Let him be your refuge and strength.

Biblical Messages

The Do’s and Don’ts of Prayer

Preachers are always telling people they should pray.  Trouble is, unless we’ve been taught, most of us don’t know how to pray innately.  And we often gather unhelpful ideas about what constitutes prayer, or who can pray.  We’re looking at the value of prayer in this series, and today, specifically some do’s and don’ts.  Based on Matthew 6.5-8, you can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Idolatry and the hockey lockout

The current NHL lockout has me fascinated.

I’m as interested in seeing another Habs dynasty rise as the next Canadiens fan, but with each passing day, the likelihood of seeing any hockey this year grows more remote.  In the midst of this, the reaction of fans is really, really interesting.

I don’t know of anyone who is on the side of the owners, who give the impression that they are trying to claw back revenue from the players.  Many are on the side of the players, who display themselves as men wanting to play hockey but being prevented by the greediness of owners.

Most fans feel like they’re the losers in all this.  Some fans protest to the effect that their “right” to watch professional hockey is being impinged upon!  But do you suppose – at least in some cases – that the fans are the ones who have brought this on?

A friend of mine hit the nail on the head yesterday when he posted on Facebook that he believes a big part of the problem is idolatry.  We idolize players, and even the game itself, such that fans are willing to pay exorbitant prices for seats at hockey games, and pay outrageous prices for beverages and food, all so that we can see, live, an event called Canada’s national pastime.  Our idolatry (perhaps you consider that a strong term, but I will use it anyway) contributes toward others’ greed.

I like hockey as much as the next red-blooded Canadian male, but I will not pay for a ticket to enter an NHL arena, on principle.  I don’t believe it’s good stewardship of what God has given me.  Do you suppose that if even the die-hard fans stopped buying tickets, perhaps the players and the owners would get a bit of a reality check?

Whether it’s hockey games or concerts or any number of other pleasures in life, we are willing to pay for that which we treasure.  Do we treasure these things more than we treasure God?  That’s idolatry.  Simply put, “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20.3, NLT).

Consider who matters most to you in life, and in death.  When I die, what is going to matter to me most?  If I can die without hockey, I can live without it.  How about you?

Encouragement From The Word

The beauty of the season

I’ve heard numerous people remark that they think this year’s fall colours have been the best they’ve seen in a long time.  There’s no doubt – if you live anywhere near where I live, the hues of red and orange and yellow have been breathtaking.  It’s one of the many reasons I’m glad to serve where I do.

There’s plenty of science behind why the leaves change colour, but in one sense, I like to think of the beauty of autumn as God’s gift of compensation for the winter that is to come.  (I almost wrote “God’s apology”, but I don’t think God needs to apologize for winter.  It too, is a season of beauty.)  I have friends who live in places where the four seasons of the year do not render the same degree of physical expression as they do in Ontario, and I think it would be hard to live in such climes, especially after having lived my whole life in an area with four distinct seasons.

I have visited places where there seems only to be one season, perhaps with varying degrees of temperature.  While there is a certain monotony about these places, there is much beauty and grandeur about them, too.  We all have favourite sights and favourite sites:  I am awed by the snow-capped Rockies and Selkirks in the west.  My friends in Alberta love the deep-red maple trees in Ontario.  Others are captivated by the azure and clarity of the Caribbean ocean.  It’s all good, and it’s all God’s.  “He has made everything beautiful in its time”, wrote the teacher in Ecclesiastes 3.11.  And if we will pause to see the beauty in creation, anytime is God’s time for his world to be beautiful.

Whenever people mention to me that they think this has been the prettiest fall they can remember, I respond by saying, “May you say that every year.”  By that, I mean, “May the beauty of creation capture your heart every fall!”

I pray that to be true for you, that the beauty of God’s creation will capture your heart – not just in the fall, but in every season of the year, and every season of life.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: LIVING INTO FOCUS: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions by Arthur Boers

Arthur Boers is a pastor, seminary professor, author, and Benedictine oblate who has seen his own spiritual journey take a number of turns over the many years of his faithful devotion to Jesus Christ.  In his most recent book, Living Into Focus, he writes about how easily we are distracted from what matters most.

Arthur emailed me some time ago when the book was being released, and I was pleased to have obtained a copy for review, thanks to David C. Cook Distribution, which oversees Canadian distribution for the publisher, Brazos.  I found the book easy to read, well-written, and structured in a helpful way, such that I did not want to put the book down until I had completed reading a chapter.

In the Foreword, Eugene Peterson says that the book “is not a book of condescending advice or a blueprint for imposing suggestions or ‘plans’ for a wholesale renovation of a life that is out of control.  Rather, it is a personal working through and reflection on the difficulties of swimming against the stream of contemporary culture” (x).  This was a helpful prelude to the book, since at times, it did read as if it were just what Peterson describes it not being.

Boers helps the reader find the focal points of life and understand what they mean, including various practices that draw us into focus, such as hobbies and even rituals (if we pay attention to them).  Recognizing the role that technology plays in contemporary society, he offers some suggestions on how to relate to technology, using the acronym ALERTS: Attention, Limits, Engagement, Relationships, Time, Space.  While he admits to using technology himself, Boers writes so glowingly of the Amish that one wonders if he paints a somewhat too radiant picture of older order Mennonite people.

That said, we do well to heed the warning that those things which receive much of our focus today – mostly based in technology – are drawing us away from each other.  While we are more ‘connected’ than ever, and our world is getting smaller because of communication technology, personal relationships are getting fewer and shallower.

Boers offers as alternatives “more fulfilling lifestyles – cooking, offering hospitality, engaging in conversation, exercising, learning arts and crafts” (187).  These are decidedly good habits, good foci; yet in our sinfulness, I think even these can be controlling, like technology.  I think it was C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, who wrote that the best way to discourage a person from the value of walking was to make it into exercise, instead of a journey into the enjoyment of creation.  Even good practices can be mis-practised, or overdone.  Technology, in that sense, is no different.  If we live disciplined spiritual lives, nothing except our desire to glorify and enjoy God forever will be overdone (at least in a perfect world).  That said, Boers cites a young acquaintance of his who observed that spiritual disciplines are decidedly not addictive.

It is altogether too easy to be addicted to those things which may not, except in moderation, aid our cause of being and making disciples.  If we first set our priorities – our key foci in life – then, according to Boers, we can use technology as our servant in making those priorities realities.

This book is worth your time to read.  It will challenge you, and make you reflect on your life as it is now.  We all can stand to experience growth, and this book will help you do just that.

LIVING INTO FOCUS:  Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions by Arthur Boers, published by Brazos in 2012.  ISBN #978-1-58743-314-6.

Biblical Messages

PAIN KILLER: The Pain of Rejection

While it not may sound very Thanksgiving-like as a title, there is much for which to be thankful in understanding the rejection Jesus faced for our sakes.  He knew what he would come up against, since he knew the prophecy of Isaiah 53. He knew his disciples (then and now) would face rejection, too, so he prepared his friends for that when he commissioned them to share their faith with Israel in Matthew 10.1-16.  You can listen to the message, the last in the series, by clicking here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Encouragement From The Word

Choosing to be thankful

I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving has snuck up on me this year.  Because the first of the month was a Monday, the second Monday falls immediately after the first Sunday this year – meaning that it feels like Thanksgiving is a week early.  It also falls on World Communion Sunday, the day set aside by all Christian groups for the mutual celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  So I feel snuck up on!

But that’s okay.  In one sense, it shouldn’t really matter, since for followers of Jesus, every day is Thanksgiving.  (Thankfully, we don’t eat a big turkey dinner every day, or I’d be really fat.)  There are lots of catch phrases for it:  “an attitude of gratitude”, “thanksliving”, and so on.  We know that we’re called to a life of gratitude, but some days, it is really hard to live it fully.

Here’s a suggestion that might help:  consider keeping a journal of things for which you are thankful, and make a point to record at least one each day.  It doesn’t have to be complicated; it’s not a “Dear Diary” kind of journal.  It might be just a list – a list of things, people, places, and so on, for which you are thankful – and you can record one each day.

The apostle Paul wrote a great challenge to the Thessalonian church:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NIV).  It’s not easy to do any of these things.  Sometimes, it’s hard to find life joyful; it is difficult to pray continually; it is really hard to give thanks in all circumstances – but, as Paul says, it is God’s will for us.

So start small.  Examine your life in such a way that allows you to find even one tiny little thing that allows thanksgiving to flow from your heart.  (Remember, the Bible doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything, but in all circumstances.  We can be going through dreadful circumstances, but if we can find even one thing, one person, one phenomenon that allows us to be thankful, we have achieved God’s will in that sense.)

If you still find it difficult, pay attention to your surroundings.  Pay attention to the people in your life.  Look around.  At this time of year especially, it is possible to find something for which to be thankful – if nothing else, then at least the resplendent colour of the trees.  Even they are a gift from God that can spur our gratitude.

Try it every day – list one little thing.  Then, after a while, review your list.  Watch your heart overflow with gratitude as you take a look at all those little things that made you thankful, even if life was not happy for you at the time.

Is this a discipline?  You bet it is.  Growth in the Christian life is about discipline.  But we can do it.  And God will bless us as we make the choice to be thankful.