Preaching doctrine is not always popular, but it is necessary for God’s people to know, or be reminded, of the foundational truths of their faith. Among those foundational truths are the five “solas” of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fidei, Sola Gratia, Sola Christo, and Soli Deo Gloria. We’re spending five weeks exploring these truths and how they relate to our lives today. You can listen to the first part, “Sola Scriptura”, based on 2 Thessalonians 2.13-17, by clicking here.
Yesterday, I heard a story from a woman who has experienced real community in the life of her church. When she was a new believer, she found herself on her own with four children. In need of short-term housing, one of her church friends took her and her four children in. When that short term needed an extension, it was graciously granted. When she acquired housing for herself and her kids, her church family came together to bring trucks and trailers to help them move. They set everything up, put pictures on the wall, and made it look like they’d live in the house for years.
When Christmas came, a tree was cut down for them, and people brought gifts for her and her kids. There always seemed to be food available when they were hungry. Hers is a church that takes “love one another” very seriously.
There was even more to the story, but it all spoke in grateful praise for a church family that put love in action…all in response to the question, “What do you like about your church community?”.
I asked an entire group that question, and got a wonderful rainbow of responses. Often, as followers of Jesus, we find it easy to love the Lord, but we don’t find it as easy to love his church. Yet when the church is truly being the church, there is much about her to love – because the church reflects her Lord.
Take a few minutes and do an audit of your own church: does your church reflect the Lord whom she serves? As a church, are you functioning as the body of Christ? Are you using the gifts that God has given to you in community? Twentieth century thinker Francis Schaeffer said, “Because every (one) is made in the image of God and has, therefore, aspirations to love, there is something that can be in every geographical climate – in every point of time – which cannot fail to arrest his attention. What is it? The love that true Christians show for each other and not just for their own party.” (The Mark of the Christian, p. 16)
How is your church living out God’s love? How could it live out God’s love?
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4.16b, NIV).
February 15 should be known as “Half-Price Chocolate” day. After all, like many other days intended to celebrate virtuous occasions, Valentine’s Day has become a commercial racket in which outlandish prices are charged for flowers, chocolate, cards, special meals, and other things that people purchase as a means of expressing undying love for another.
While I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeonly cheapskate, the reality is that the expression of undying love for another can happen without monetary expenditure. (Sorry, gents, if I’m a day late in announcing this.) Don’t get me wrong: expressions of love can be costly without costing money. We can express our love with the gift of time spent, with the gift of an unexpected completion of a necessary task (like making dinner or washing the floor), or with the gift of words written in our own hand that state not only our feelings, but some of the reasons for our feelings. These are just examples, but they, and many more, can be done.
You don’t have to wait until next year to try these out, however. Someone asked me what I was doing for my wife for Valentine’s Day, and I said that we treat every day like Valentine’s Day. That sounds trite, and while we don’t succeed 100% of the time, we do give it our best shot every day.
What’s more, the offering of these expressions of love doesn’t have to be limited to those who are married, or in committed relationships. They can be offered among friends, colleagues, siblings, and any other kind of caring relationship. Why limit ourselves?
God did not limit himself. God’s perfect expression of love came in the giving of himself, in the form of his only Son, whose birth and life all pointed to his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven to intercede for us. That, too, can sound trite, until we realize just what that meant.
God did not have to offer himself. God could have left us in our sins, slaves to the law, and miserable. But because God’s intention toward his favourite created ones has always been love, God chose to complete the plan of salvation with the greatest valentine of all. He chose to give himself to experience the limitations of human frailty. The Infinite became finite so that we would have the opportunity to experience infinity in the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus and in the power of his death and resurrection.
A meme has been going around the internet which expresses it so well, as a paraphrase of John 3.16. May the truth of God’s perfect love be yours – not just on February 14, but every day of the year! God’s gift, after all, awaits us with patient love.
I received a flyer in the mail this week with a picture of a local citizen, smiling, and flipping pancakes, advertising the local Lions’ Club annual pancake supper this coming Tuesday; that means Lent must be just around the corner.
Indeed, Lent begins the next day, on Ash Wednesday. The day before is called Shrove Tuesday (shrove is the past tense of shrive, which means to present oneself to a priest for confession, penance and absolution), or Fat Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday. In one community where we once lived, it’s called Paczki Day – that’s pronounced poonch-key – thanks to an old Polish tradition of making rich jelly-filled doughnuts. However you look at it, the old tradition behind it is that households would get rid of all their rich foods by cooking them up before giving them up for the season of Lent.
“Lent” simply is an anglicization of a word that means ‘lengthen’, as in the days of spring. From whence came the tradition of giving things up for Lent? It is a season of penitence, a time when believers traditionally sought to draw themselves closer to God through abstinence from certain things, whether chocolate or sex or fat or television.
There are forty days in Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. But if you use your fingers and toes, and one other person’s fingers and toes, you’ll find that if you count the days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, you will run out of fingers and toes. Why are there only forty days in Lent, but more days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday? Do the math: if you don’t count the Sundays in Lent, you will find there are forty days. Sundays don’t count. Why? Because Christians believe that every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, irrespective of what the liturgical season might be.
That’s why, even if one might choose to give up something for the season of Lent, those things need not be given up on the Sundays in Lent! We are called to celebrate that Jesus is alive each Sunday, so there is no fasting to be done – from anything.
I always ask, when someone tells me that she or he is giving up something for Lent, “Is it drawing you closer to God?” If it isn’t, why bother? It becomes a hollow ritual if it just happens, or worse, we do it just to make ourselves feel good (or righteous). Somehow, with February 14 falling on the first day after the beginning of Lent, I sense that sweets (and maybe sex) may be given up by fewer people this year!
Anyone who wishes to observe Lent through some sort of fast should, I suggest, choose to give up something significant and meaningful if the desire is to be drawn closer to God. When we fast from food, after all, the idea is to be drawn nearer to the Lord with our hunger pangs. If you choose to give up something for Lent, make sure it has an impact on you. If you don’t eat a lot of chocolate, what’s the point of giving up chocolate? It won’t likely draw you closer to God, since you won’t really miss it.
Instead of omitting something, may I suggest that you consider adding something to your life in Lent? Consider serving at a homeless shelter, or inviting a family you don’t know very well from your church or community to share a meal with you. Instead of removing something from your life to give glory to God, think about doing something that will give glory to God. That’s a Lenten discipline that can benefit not only you, but many others.
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2.10, NIV).
May you know God’s blessing as you prepare to mark Jesus’ journey toward the cross.
Our India mission team arrived home safely on Thursday afternoon. It was a bit of a bumpy ride into Toronto, because of the wind, but we landed without incident and all our bags arrived with us! We all are so grateful to God for his kindness in preserving us through this whole trip.
We also are grateful to God for the prayers of so many. While we were in India, we witnessed all kinds of spiritual warfare. The church is a small and sometimes persecuted minority in India, and those believers need our prayers.
After crawling home in snowy traffic, I had a shower, Diana and I had supper, I called my parents, and we went to bed. Nine hours later, I awoke, and I’m really hopeful that this will be the extent of my jet-lag…but I’m not sure that’s the case. We’ll see how the next few days pan out!
I’m sure I will muse more about this trip in the coming days and weeks, but I wanted to thank you for your part in our journey.
Many, many thanks to those of you who have prayed for me and the team with whom I travelled to minister to the staff, faculty and students of the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies in Bangalore, India, these past few weeks. We have been blessed in many ways, and we hope we have been a blessing. God has ignited a fire in the community there to give personal spiritual formation a greater role in the life of the school. If we accomplished nothing else, that would be enough – though we did find that many men and women found themselves spiritually nurtured through our ministry of spiritual direction and sharing the Word in chapel services and small groups. We were honoured to be so warmly welcomed by everyone there.
What is especially exciting is that the key administrators of SAIACS now have a vision to see the foundational principles of spiritual formation more intentionally integrated into the academic life of the community. There is a vision that the Lord has given, and the leadership there is prepared to do what it takes to make that vision a reality.
The news this week reported that Queen Beatrix, the reigning monarch of the Netherlands, is going to abdicate her throne in favour of her eldest son, who will become king. Her mother did this for her, as did her mother before her. This shows such a clear sense of vision on the part of the Queen! She could hang on until she dies, and she’d have every right to do so. But she wants a new generation of citizens of her country to be inspired through the leadership of a younger monarch.
As I’ve said before – not originally – having vision is like planting a tree under whose shade you will not sit. And sometimes, that vision requires sacrifice. In the case of the Queen of the Netherlands, it’s abdication of a throne rightfully hers. In the case of the administration of SAIACS, it’s stepping outside a comfort zone of pure academics – knowing about God – in order to encourage everyone to know God better.
What vision has God given you? And what sacrifices will you have to make in order to see that vision come to fruition?
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good ,pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12.2, NIV).