Encouragement From The Word

Imitating Andrew

“There’s no Scot like a Scot abroad,” as the old saying goes, and there will be plenty of them sporting tweeds and tartans today.  Why?  Because it’s November 30:  St. Andrew’s Day.

Andrew is best known as the patron saint of Scotland, but there’s far more to him than that.  (He’s known as the patron saint of the Byzantine church, too, but we won’t tell our Scottish friends that, will we?)  If you look at the Scottish flag, it looks like a white X on a blue background.  But it’s not about “X marks the spot”.  Traditionally, it is believed that Andrew, one of Jesus’ first disciples, was crucified on a cross that looked like an X, rather than the traditional ‘t’ cross on which Jesus died.  Why?  Because, it is said, he didn’t feel worthy to be crucified on the same kind of cross as his Lord.

So even the national flag of Scotland gives us an indication that there must be more to Andrew than meets the eye.  What does the Bible say about him?

The short answer is, “not much.”  We know he was the brother of the more famous disciple, Peter.  We know he was a fisherman.  And we know that when Jesus called him, he responded without hesitation:  “One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living.  Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”  And they left their nets at once and followed him” (Matthew 4.18-20, NLT).

Really, that is Andrew’s claim to fame (whatever the Scots may say!):  he followed Jesus without any reluctance whatsoever.  And, if tradition is correct and he was crucified for his faith in Christ, then he gave his all, to be sure.

How about us?  We can celebrate this day with neaps and tatties or haggis or tartans or tweeds, but let’s truly celebrate the day by offering our unwavering devotion to the Lord Jesus, who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.  Put Jesus first.  You won’t regret it.

Encouragement From The Word

Talking about the “F” Word

I want to talk about the “F” word.  It’s a word that reviles many people in our world.  It makes many people uncomfortable, but it needs our attention.

No, not that “F” word.  Keep reading.

It’s “forgiveness”.  Surprised?  Don’t be; it’s an “F” word that troubles a lot of folks in our world, and may be a significant issue for dealing with conflict in our society.

Jesus, in giving his dangerous model for prayer, enjoins us to “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11.4a, NLT).  That’s easy to say, and not easy to do.  What do we do when someone sins against us and does not apologize?  Can we be expected to forgive someone who does not ask forgiveness?  In a word, yes.

Someone wise once said that holding a grudge allows another person to take up space in your brain without paying rent – or words to that effect.  And it’s true:  irrespective of whether the transgressor seeks forgiveness, we have the responsibility, as followers of Jesus, to forgive.  If we fail to do so, we are the losers.

Yet our pride often gets in the way, doesn’t it?  In our fallen state, we sometimes think we are punishing the person who sins against us by not forgiving.  Chances are, though, that the transgressor does not think much about whether or not we have forgiven him or her.  No, it rests with us to forgive.

Ideally, this happens in concert with an apology.  But because we can’t take responsibility for other people’s feelings or actions, our act of forgiveness may have to take place without any overture from the other party.

Forgiveness is an act of the will that benefits both the transgressor and the transgressed.  We all win when forgiveness is offered.  Are there areas in your life where you are letting someone else take up real estate in your head without paying rent?  Are there broken relationships over which you continue to obsess?  Make a decision to forgive.  Try, if possible, to offer that forgiveness to the person directly, whether she or he is repentant or not.  If it’s not possible to forgive the individual personally, give it to God in prayer.

How can we forgive another person in prayer?  Here’s an example.  Feel free to adapt it if it’s helpful:  Lord, you know the situation between N and me is not great.  You know what s/he did to me, and it hurt.  But in your holy presence, I forgive N.  Please soften her/his heart, and restore our relationship.  Free me from the ill will I have held toward N.  Forgive me when I have hurt others, and when I have sinned against you.  Put a new and right spirit within me, so that I can follow you faithfully and freely, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Again, this might be easier to read than to say and do.  It might be that the person you need to forgive is not even alive.  It could be that the harm done to you by that person has caused serious mental, physical or spiritual damage to you.  God can heal your wounds; God wants to heal your wounds.  Give them to him, and give the situation over to him.  Invite the Lord to be present with you in your pain.

You might need time to work through your situation with the Lord.  Set aside the time.  If necessary, work with a pastor, a spiritual director, or a trusted friend to help you process your pain.  Whatever it takes, determine to evict the unwanted tenant of unforgiveness from your mind and spirit.  God will be with you.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11.24-25, NIV).

Biblical Messages

A fruitful prayer life

Concluding our series on prayer, “A Fruitful Prayer Life” is intended to encourage you to look at some more basic premises for making your prayer life more abundant.  Based on Jeremiah 29.10-14 and Galatians 6.1-10, you can listen to the message by clicking this link.  The sound quality is a little different on this recording, because I had to use the sound room recording as a backup; my digital recorder’s batteries gave out!

What makes prayer more fruitful for you?  Feel free to comment.

Encouragement From The Word

Conflict in the Middle East…again…still

“Conflict in the Middle East” – it’s a headline once again…or still.  Somewhere in the Middle East, there always seems to be some sort of skirmish taking place – but when Israel is involved, it always garners more attention.

Curiously, this is not just political, but religious – even when it ostensibly involves Jewish extremists and Islamic extremists, some Christians still get involved in the fray.  Why?  Because, depending on how one interprets the Bible, some believe that the political state of Israel plays a major role in the end of time as we know it.

Yes, some believe that the existence and prosperity of the state of Israel today will make a difference in the timing of Jesus’ return.  Personally, I don’t read the Scriptures in this way, but some do.  I prefer to leave the matter of Jesus’ return and the final judgment up to Jesus to determine.  I will simply trust in him as I await that great and glorious day.

That said, there still is a desire on the part of many Christ-followers to see at least some parts of the Holy Land preserved, if for no other reason than to retain the opportunity to walk where Jesus walked, and to see some of the sites of biblical events.  There is a greater desire on the part of Jewish people to maintain the state of Israel, because they believe this is the land that was given to them by God in the time of Abraham.  They believe it is theirs by divine right.

There’s a whole political and theological Can Of Worms that I’m not going to open in that discussion, and frankly, there are many others who are better qualified to do so than I am.  But I will say this:  irrespective of the politics, and who’s firing on whom today, the Bible is unequivocal on one thing.  We are enjoined to seek the peace of Jerusalem.

Pray for peace in Jerusalem”, says the Psalmist.  “May all who love this city prosper.  O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces.  For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, ‘May you have peace.’  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem” (Psalm 122.6-9, NLT).

The people of God were often in conflict with other nations, usually because of their own disobedience.  There was always a desire, though, to maintain their nation, and particularly not to lose Jerusalem.  Major parts of the Old Testament are devoted to the building, or rebuilding, of a temple in praise of the Lord in Jerusalem.  It is no surprise, then, that the Psalmist would enjoin us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and to seek what is best for it.

In the conflict that has arisen in the past few days, I’m certain that there is fault on both sides.  Israel has long been oppressed, and it has oppressed the Palestinians – ironically, many of the Christians – in the occupied territories.  This sort of political stress can only last for so long without some kind of eruption.  Irrespective of blame, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  Whatever constitutes your devotional practice, add Psalm 122 to your readings in these days.

God’s best for your weekend.  At St. Paul’s, Nobleton this Sunday, we’re concluding a series on prayer, and folks are invited to write out a “cardboard testimony” – in this case, a few words about something God has done in their lives through prayer.  It will be an amazing time of encouragement about what God is doing through prayer.  (Don’t forget yours, St. Paul’s folks!  There is some extra cardboard at the church if you need it!)

Wherever you’ll be this Sunday, may your time of worship be blessed.

Encouragement From The Word

You are part of the story!

I’m not a big fan of the earlier part of the day.  I’d like to be, but it just doesn’t seem to be part of my DNA.  But every once in a while, I will wake up at what I not-so-affectionately call “a quarter to stupid”.  I used to just find it irritating.  More recently, though, I’ve decided to embrace this unrequested wakeup call as having some purpose:  I ask God, “Why have you awakened me?  Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” – after Samuel in the Old Testament.

This happened to me on Thursday this week.  I was tired when I went to bed, but after only about four and a half hours’ sleep, I woke up, and despite my best efforts, could not return to sleep.  So I spent some extra time with the Lord, and even walked to the bank machine to make a deposit.  While I was walking, and the sun was slowly beginning to rise, I saw a bright star shining in the east.  It was the morning star.

Though there were no audible voices, no words written in the sky, I knew this was God speaking.  I walked home with assurance of the Lord’s presence.  And when I returned home, I sat down to read Scripture.  The assigned passage for the day began like this:  “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod.  About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him” (Matthew 2.1-2, NLT).

All I could do was shake my head in wonder and praise.  It’s not yet the common time of year to be reading the Epiphany story, but my current devotional exercises have me contemplating the incarnation of Jesus in these weeks.  And on Thursday morning, as I walked in the chilly darkness, I felt like I was part of the story.

Do you know that all of us are part of the story?  Those Gentile soothsayers traipsed a very long distance following that star, and by their entrance into the story of Jesus Christ, they paved the way for us to enter the story of Jesus Christ.

Pay attention to your surroundings.  Admire the details as you walk in your community.  Listen to the sounds drawn to your ears.  You never know when God will speak to your heart, and tell you that you are part of the story.

Biblical Messages

Formula One Praying

Do you ever find your mind wandering while you pray – or while someone else leads you in prayer?  One of the things that can help us pray well is structure.  One helpful structure uses the acronym ACTS – adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.  Today’s message is about that structure, that formula, which can help us become better people of prayer.  It’s based on Psalm 145, Psalm 51, Psalm 136 and Psalm 55.  You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

The Anchor for the Storm

The meteorologists sought to prepare us for the worst, in the hope that it wouldn’t be the worst.  And for us in Ontario, Hurricane Sandy was not the worst.  (Those of sufficient vintage to remember Hurricane Hazel will attest to that.)  Nevertheless, for our American friends on the eastern seaboard, Sandy has left incredible damage in her wake.  Two families who lost loved ones in Toronto and Sarnia on account of this storm, along with many other families in the northeastern United States and many places in the Caribbean, are walking in the valley of the shadow of death in these days because of an unusual weather phenomenon, and they need our prayers.

Beyond the weather, however, we all face storms in life.  They may not leave downed tree limbs or torn-off roofs, but they do leave scars of their own:  broken marriages, estranged children, disappointment, broken promises, litanies of what could have been.  None of us is immune to these storms if we choose to live in relationship with others.  I am reminded of the old gospel hymn:

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,

When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?

When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,

Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

We don’t have to be out on a boat to appreciate what this means.  A boat anchor, of course, is as important as a bailing bucket for those who navigate rough waters.  An anchor, though, can be deemed to be more important, because it will keep the boat firm, in one place, provided it is a strong enough anchor.  A twenty-pound anchor won’t do much good in keeping a cruise ship in place; something more effective is needed.  So too in life:  we need the right anchor to keep our lives rooted and grounded when we’re weathering a storm.  What do we use as an anchor in our lives, when stormy seas become the reality of life for us, even if we are landlubbers?  The refrain of the hymn gives us an answer:

We have an anchor that keeps the soul

Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,

Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,

Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.

No matter the storm, when Jesus is our anchor, we can make it through whatever storms we encounter in this life.  Jesus is not merely our anchor, of course; he is our Saviour, our Lord, our Friend.  Jesus does not simply serve as a crutch when we’re limping, or as a tie-down when our earthly tent is blowing in the wind.  Jesus enriches our lives here, and now.  He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10.10, NIV).  Jesus not only saves us in the storm, he keeps us and augments our lives in the good times, too.  When we hold firm in Jesus our Anchor when times are good, we will have absolute trust and confidence when times are stormier.

At any and all times of life, we can call out with the Psalmist:  “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61.2, NIV).

In the midst of any storm, whether a hurricane or a family crisis, stay fastened to the Rock which cannot move.  Be grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.