Biblical Messages

20:20 Vision

Jesus is risen!  He is risen indeed!  A fine crowd gathered to worship God and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at St. Paul’s, Nobleton this morning.  We empty_tomb_widerejoiced at God’s gift of new life to us.  We read from Isaiah 65 and John 20.  You can listen to the message, “20:20 Vision” by clicking here.  Near the end of the message, we watched this video.

Encouragement From The Word

Just a “normal” Saturday?

What does Holy Saturday – the day between Good Friday and Easter – look like for you?

For most of us, it’s a busy day of preparing for whatever Easter festivities in which we may participate:  shopping, house cleaning, baking, and such.  In short, largely a “normal” Saturday.

Yet, in God’s calendar, it’s hardly a “normal” Saturday at all.

For God, that first Holy Saturday was a day of unparalleled mourning and loss.  His only Son lay in a stone-cold tomb, a lifeless body.  Does that not deserve some sort of acknowledgement?

In some traditions of Christianity, Holy Saturday is a fast day…a day of mourning and grieving for a death died, a day of waiting and watching for a life to be renewed.  A service of “Easter Vigil” is often celebrated on Holy Saturday evening, during which the congregation prepares and waits for the return of Christ, celebrates baptisms, welcomes new members, and invites the Lord’s presence with the church through the Lord’s Supper.  It becomes, as the whole Season of Lent has been, a preparation for Jesus’ resurrection.

A death, to be observed well, needs to be mourned and grieved.  This takes time, and must be an intentional choice on the part of the mourner.  When we lose a loved one, we encourage this grief to take place.

In the cycle of the church’s life, we are invited to mourn a death each year, as we celebrate Good Friday with the church across the globe, marking Jesus’ death on the cross.  Do we take time to grieve his death?  By making Holy Saturday something that is not “normal”, we can celebrate a weekend that, while celebrated each year, is not “normal”.  In this life, we do not see resurrections from the dead.  It’s worth paying attention to.

How can your Holy Saturday be different this year?  May it make your Easter an even greater celebration.

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?  Look around and see.  Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the Lord brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?” (Lamentations 1.12, NIV).

Biblical Messages

FLYING SOLA: Soli Deo Gloria

What does it mean to give glory to God?  Or do followers of Jesus even realize that they ARE the glory of God?  God’s people are the glory of God, and flying sola headerthey are called to give glory to God!  As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, our chief end, our aim in life, is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  Based on 2 Corinthians 3.7-18, you can listen to the message by clicking here.

In case you’re interested, here are the slides that went with the message.

Encouragement From The Word

Looking for loopholes

In yesterday’s Federal Budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that the government will take measures to plug some of the loopholes in the tax laws that enable people to prevent paying taxes that should rightly be paid to the Canada Revenue Agency.  I say “some of the loopholes”, because we Canadians are a creative bunch:  when some loopholes get filled, we find ways of uncovering others that we can use, until the government decides to fill those, too.

Loopholes tend to be good news for the taxpayer, and bad news for the government.  We’re good at finding them, though, aren’t we?

One time, the great American comedian W.C. Fields was in hospital, and a visitor found him reading a Bible.  Not having been known as an avid Bible reader, the visitor inquired as to his purpose for uncharacteristically picking up Holy Writ.  His response?  “I’m looking for loopholes.”

There are many ways to read Scripture.  Some look, in vain, for a vague hint of fine print that will get them out of trouble for some aberrant belief or preferred sin.  Others read the Bible to gain information that will help fill their minds.  Still others read God’s Word as a love letter, hanging on every word as a message from the Lord.

While all Scripture is equally inspired, not all Scripture is equally applicable.  It’s important to remember that, when we read the Bible, God can and will speak to us in different and often very personal ways.  But the attitude with which we read it is crucial.

When you read the Bible, are you looking for loopholes, or looking for love?

People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4, NLT).

Biblical Messages

FLYING SOLA: Solo Christo

Holding a position that says Jesus is the only way to God is not a popular view in our world today, but it is the view that is held by Scripture.  That flying sola headermeans Christians are expected to grapple with it seriously.  It also was a hallmark doctrine of the Reformation, that Jesus is the only mediator between God and humanity.  We see this illustrated in many places in the New Testament, not least of which is John 14.1-7.  You can listen to the message by clicking here.  I apologize if I sound in a hurry; I preached this message at the beginning of the service, so that I could travel to Fraser Church, Tottenham, to baptize the infant daughter of my colleague there.  A busy day, but a blessed day indeed.

Encouragement From The Word

Lessons for the rest of us from the election of Pope Francis

In case you missed it, the Roman Catholic Church has a new leader as of this week.  Pope Francis is the first pontiff from the Americas, and he has been received with great joy.  From this, there is a lesson for us.

Our Roman Catholic friends are a devoted bunch.  The vigils that took place outside the Vatican as people awaited the white smoke billowing from the pope-selection-white-smoke_65226_600x450chimney of the Sistine Chapel brought people for as far as the eye could see.  And once that white smoke came, there was jubilation – even before they knew the identity of the new pope.  Folks were excited to know that their church had a new leader.

What makes this all the more amazing, from a democratic perspective, is that these folks are showing so much joy at the election of a leader over whom they had no say whatsoever.  And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.

The lesson for us, I think, is multifold.  First, trust the process.  There is very little that’s democratic about the Roman Catholic Church; it doesn’t pretend otherwise.  It’s a top-down system of church government, and the major decisions are made by high-ranking clergy.  The decision over who would be made pope was made by 115 men (cardinals) who themselves have been papal appointees over the years.  And their decision-making process was one that, they trusted, was guided by the Holy Spirit.  Of course, we don’t know what went on in the conclave; but if 115 cardinals can decide, reasonably quickly, that one of their number should become the next pope, there must be something to be said for the process.

Second, trust the deciders.  There were people in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto who prayed for their pastor, Cardinal Thomas Collins, every day from the time he left for Rome, that his decision, and that of the other cardinals, would be Spirit-led.  And once the decision was proclaimed, no one doubted the sanity or opinion of these decision makers.  They accepted it with joy.

Third, support the leader.  Because the people trusted the process and trusted the deciders, it became easy to support the leader.  True, there may be those who had been hoping, maybe even praying, that someone else would be elected.  But nobody is jumping up and down, making a fuss over the election of a new pope.  They are rejoicing with the decision that was made, and celebrating with their fellow Roman Catholics that the Lord has guided the process of choosing a new leader.

What does this mean for us?  It can apply in our politics, and in our churches.

In our politics, the lesson is that once a leader is chosen, through whatever democratic process we have, we support the leader…even if that person’s politics are not the same as ours.  Of course, there is always room for opposition, but it is always, in Canadian parlance, loyal opposition.  (Granted, that loyalty, in context, is to the Crown, but as the one who leads on the Crown’s behalf, there is an implied loyalty that comes even amid asking difficult questions.)  Too often, at least in North American politics, the opposition (both official and unofficial) has become cruel and personal in recent years.  This is not helpful to the cause of governance, nor to the cause of the Gospel that we followers of Jesus seek to live out.  Once the leader is chosen, be supportive.

(I know, I know.  Hitler was duly elected.  But can we call a spade a spade and say that the situation surrounding the Third Reich was an exception rather than normative?)

In our churches, the lesson is that once a leader is chosen, through whatever democratic process we have, we support the leader.  Sound familiar?  The same concept applies.  In my tribe, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the congregation is asked the following question at the induction of a new pastor:  “Do you receive N to be your minister as from Christ?”  That’s a pretty serious question.  If we believe that our leader has been chosen through a divinely anointed process, and that the Lord Jesus is personally bringing this person into our midst as a leader, it stands to reason that we should support him or her – even when we have disagreements with that leader.  That applies to your elders and deacons, too.

This doesn’t mean we can’t air our grievances; what it does mean is that we air our grievances respectfully.  In Christian circles, that means following the principles that Jesus set out for us, particularly in Matthew 18.15-17:   If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (NIV).

The unity of the church for which Jesus prayed (and still prays) will become more real the more we joyfully and prayerfully support our church leaders.  I’m blessed to serve a congregation that offers joyful and prayerful support to its leaders, and I hope you do, too.

Encouragement From The Word

Stompin’ Tom Connors taught us about sharing our faith

Stompin’ Tom Connors, a popular Canadian musician, died earlier this week.  His style was not popular with everyone, but most Canadians know who he was, and the outpouring of sympathy was significant.

It was said of Stompin’ Tom that he made a point of writing songs about Canada and Canadians, and that in one sense, he gave us permission to imagescelebrate being Canadian.  Whether he was singing about “Bud the spud from the bright red mud” of Prince Edward Island, or “The good ol’ hockey game” that is so near and dear to our hearts, or the sundry things one could undertake “On a Sudbury Saturday night”, there was never any doubt that Stompin’ Tom Connors was Canadian and loved Canada.  He may have been one of the first, perhaps alongside Gordon Lightfoot with his Canadian Railroad Trilogy, to open the floodgate of popular Canadian song.

Thanks to the likes of Stompin’ Tom, it became acceptable, and even popular, to sing the praises of Canada.

While it’s by no means unheard of to sing the praises of our Lord Jesus Christ, it can be seen as somewhat unpopular to do so, especially in a public forum – even in simple ways.  I have twice heard Burton Cummings sing the national anthem at a public event, and both times he hummed through the part that says, “God keep our land glorious and free”.  (He doesn’t have to believe in God if he doesn’t want to, but the national anthem is the national anthem.  End of rant.)  My point is that just as we are often reluctant to toot our own horn as Canadians, perhaps too, are we often reluctant to toot our own horn as followers of Christ.

Our open-minded society doesn’t want to offend, and there is a sense in which that is a good thing.  However, “pluralism”, which is essentially Canada’s stand on religion, does not mean either (a) anything but Christian is okay, or (b) we must water down our proclamation to the point of meaninglessness.  No, pluralism means that all religious traditions are to be treated with equal respect, and that each should be reviewed on its own merits.  We do not ask a Hindu to water down her faith, nor a Muslim his – so why ask the Christian to do so?

In fact, it is mostly the ardent secularists who are asking Christians to water down their faith – not the adherents of other religious traditions.  And along with the ardent secularists are some Christians who are afraid to offend.  But you know what?  We don’t need to be fearful.  If anything, we need to be proud of the faith we profess, and not fear sharing it with others.  Just like Stompin’ Tom, who proudly sang the praises of Canada and Canadians, we can proudly sing the praises of our Lord Jesus Christ, wearing our faith joyfully.

After all, the chances are good that your friends wonder about your walk with God.  Why not tell them about it?

[I]f someone asks you about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.  But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3.15b-16a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

For whom do you work?

Have you ever sensed that you were really busy at church?  It doesn’t happen just to pastors and ministry leaders; being afflicted with busyness can happen to most any committed follower of Jesus.

There is an organizational principle that applies to the church, sadly, as much as to any other group, and that is, typically, 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  If you’re part of the 80%, you’re probably oblivious to the fact; if you’re part of the 20%, you’re all too aware of it.

To be fair, there will always be some people who are better able to engage in the ongoing work of the local church, whether because of their stage of life or lack of need to work, or what-have-you.  And the church is grateful for such people, because without key volunteers who have the time to use their gifts to build the Kingdom of God, the church would not thrive.  No ministry can operate solely with even the most gifted and energetic staff.

Last weekend, a number of our committed St. Paul’s, Nobleton ladies were at the church, cutting squares to cater to an outside event.  At one level, they wondered whether there was any value in what they were doing; after all, it was for people who didn’t come to our church.  Yet one of them reminded the rest (and herself): “We’re doing the Lord’s work.”

What a wonderful perspective!  “We’re doing the Lord’s work!”  When we realize this, it can help us appreciate the value of what we do – not just for the here-and-now, but, potentially, for eternity!  Who knows but that some of those who came for that outside event might have sensed the hospitality of a wonderful Christian group, and may want to see what we’re all about some Sunday morning?  It’s the Lord’s work, indeed – even cutting squares, as unimportant (to some) as it might seem.

Do you look at what you do for the church – even what you might think of as menial – as the Lord’s work?  Give it a try.  It might put an extra jump in your step!

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3.23-24, NIV).

By the way, this Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m., History Television in Canada will be airing a five-part series called “The Bible”.  Many ministry leaders are touting this to be a game-changer for millions of people in terms of their engagement with God’s Word.  I encourage you to watch it, and to encourage others to watch it as well.  It could start some great discussions, and I’ll be happy to walk with you through them!