Encouragement From The Word

An anniversary marked, a journey continued

The week had been very warm – not unlike what we’re experiencing today.  And the inside of the worship space of the church had just been painted, so there was that peculiar smell of oil-based paint in the air.  But, by God’s grace, a cold front had come in, and brought cooler weather on May 31, 1994 – nineteen years ago today.  The windows could be opened and the space could be aired out.

It was a good thing, too, that the air had cooled down, for there would be close to two hundred people file into the pews of Knox Church, Tara, that evening.  It would be a warm place, irrespective of the weather.

A young man had been educated, and examined by the Presbytery.  And that night, he would have many hands laid on him as a symbol of his ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacraments.  It was a big step on what would become a lifelong journey.

Little did he know the entire scope of what would be involved in all of those responses of, “I do,” and, “I will, God being my helper.”  The journey would not be without its bumps and struggles, but it would likewise not be without its joys and blessings.

Someone once said that any journey begins with the first step.  How often are we afraid to take that first step, because we don’t know what the future holds?  In one sense, that’s where faith comes in:  faith in the process as it unfolds, and, of course, faith in God to guide and encourage us on the journey, whatever it may be.

Trusting God is not only about our eternal salvation; it’s also a daily decision in the matters of the here-and-now, as well as future planning.  Each day we make decisions which can, and should, involve both spiritual discernment and trust in the God we worship.  We are invited to trust God to do what the Psalmist proclaimed:  “The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.  The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever” (Psalm 121.7-8, NLT).

Nineteen years ago today, a young man took a big step on the journey of life and ministry.  And he still trusts the Lord to watch over his coming and going.  Here’s a picture of that young man and his young bride.  He had more hair back then!ordination night

May you have such confidence in the Lord, to trust him to keep watch over everything you do, every step you take on the journey of life.

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Biblical Messages

CHRISTIANITY 101: Things Are Getting Better

Darkness can seem powerful.  When you walk through a dark room, it is as if inanimate objects take on a life of their own, and jump out in such a way as to cause you to stub your toe.  Our minds play tricks on us.  We think that some horrific creature is going to attack us.

We associate darkness with evil, and for good reasons:  a lot of violent crime takes place under cover of darkness.  Satan is known as the prince of darkness.  When we close our eyes, we see only darkness, knowing that there is a remote possibility that we will never open our eyes again.  Literature, even the Bible, practically equates darkness with evil.

But the funny thing about this terrible, awful darkness is that it can be dispelled very quickly.  A lot of darkness can be dispelled by a little bit of light.
“Better to light a candle than curse the darkness”, said the founder of Amnesty International, quoting a Chinese proverb.  “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle”, said St. Francis of Assisi.

People light candles at all sorts of events for various reasons, but almost all of them have this in common:  hope.  Where there is light, there is hope.  Where there is light, we know that things are getting better.

So it is for us:  the apostle Paul told the church in Ephesus nearly 2000 years ago, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5.8a, NIV).  When we are light, we are getting better.

Based on Ephesians 5.8-20, you can listen to this message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Face your fears

Sometimes, the world seems like a more evil place than ever before.  In reality, I imagine it isn’t much more or less evil than in days gone by; it is our technological advances that enable us to know more about what’s going on in the world, thereby drawing our conclusion about evil.  Nevertheless, this has drawn out fear in some people.

The Bosma case, about which I wrote last week, is an example of this.  Advances in information sharing arguably led to Mr. Bosma’s abduction (because he was selling a truck online) and to our knowing about it (through mainstream and social media).  One could argue that the advent of terrorism, of which we rarely spoke in the past, has come as a result of how much we can know and how quickly we can know it.

And terrorism, if you think about it, has its root in fear.  Terrorism is commonly defined as the use of violence and intimidation for political gain, but if you break it down, terror itself is extreme fear.  Those who engage in terrorism are trying to make people afraid – afraid enough to give in to what the terrorists want.

Terrorism, then, doesn’t just happen with guns and bombs and planes and land mines.  It can happen even with words alone.  And because we have greater access to more words than ever before in the history of the human race, it has become easy to terrorize people with words.  Fear is struck into many hearts as a result.

What do you fear?  It’s a good question to ask oneself.  The root of our anger is fear, and in extreme cases, we are driven to do whatever we do in life by fear.  But that is not God’s plan for us.

In 1 John 4.18 we read that “perfect love expels all fear” (NLT).  The deeper we grow into the love of God – which is perfect love – the less fear we will have.  The Psalmist wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea” (Psalm 46.1-2, NLT).  And who can count the number of times Jesus told us not to be afraid?

Easier said than done, right?  Fear is one of the devil’s great tools against followers of Jesus.  Face your fears head-on, mindful that you have the Creator of the universe going ahead of you and behind you (Psalm 139.5).  Give them to God in prayer, but don’t take them back.  Let God’s perfect love drive out your fears.  This might not all happen at once, but as the Lord works in your heart, you will find your fears replaced with God’s perfect love.

Encouragement From The Word

A lesson for the church from the death of Tim Bosma

The death of Tim Bosma recently has been a sad story to hear, and to see unfold.  Bosma was a man from Ancaster, Ontario, who mysteriously disappeared while tim_bosma.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxaccompanying two men who had come to test-drive a truck he had put up for sale.  His body was found, burned beyond recognition, on a farm near Ayr, Ontario.  So far, one man is under arrest for his murder.

By all accounts, Mr. Bosma was not a typical murder victim.  He was a man of Christian faith, active in his church community, and not involved with the ‘wrong people’.  Why was he killed?

The answers will, hopefully, come out in court.  What I found especially interesting about the situation as it developed, though, was the role played by the Mr. Bosma’s faith community.  After it was announced that his body had been found, and Mrs. Bosma spoke to the media, who was standing behind her?

Her family, yes – as one would hope and expect.  And her pastor.

That spoke volumes to me.

It didn’t have to be her pastor; it could have been her small group leader or a close Christian friend.  Either way, her faith community was part of her support network.  They were “there” for her in her time of trial.

Most of us, when we go through a crisis in life, don’t have it displayed before the world via the press.  Mrs. Bosma had little choice but to ‘go public’ with her grief; thanks to the mainstream media, and social media (which put up a remarkable campaign to help find her husband), her difficulties were widely known.  Most people observe their grief, their pain, their problems, without such obvious support.

Why?

This is especially poignant for followers of Jesus.  Why, when we have a whole community of love surrounding us, do we keep our troubles to ourselves?  Too often, I fear, there is a tacit culture that says, “Be happy” in the life of the church.  Or, there may be a culture that says, “We don’t know what to do when you grieve, so please keep it to yourself.”  And that’s just wrong.

The church, literally, is ‘those called out’ from the world, to love and serve Jesus Christ and his Kingdom – and to love and serve his people.  We are not isolated individuals; we are a community.  God calls us to look after each other, even when we don’t know what to do or say.  When Mrs. Bosma spoke to the media, her pastor stood behind her.  He didn’t say anything, and didn’t have to say anything.  We have no idea what he might have said to her privately, nor is it our business to know; but his mere presence spoke to the significance of a community of faith that wanted to rally behind one of its own that was grieving.

When you are going through a difficult time, do you feel safe enough to share it with your church leaders?  With your small group?   With the friends with whom you sip coffee after worship?  Of course, we do well also to ask if your church community creates a culture of safety for you to share your trials.  In an era of unprecedented connectedness via the Internet, we remain, largely, a disconnected society.  People long for a place of safety, with real people who might not have all the answers but who serve a God who is big enough to know the answers and personal enough to care.  Those real people are called the church.

How is your church doing in that regard?  Is it a safe place to share?

And are you willing to share your burdens?  Give it a try.  Hopefully, you will experience the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Spirit.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Making time

What does prayer look like for you?

For many people, even seasoned believers, prayer is something that happens at meal times, maybe at bed time, maybe for a few minutes before the morning rush ensues.  But few of us take much time for this rich and important fellowship with the Lord.

If you’re one of those for whom time in prayer is limited, you’re in good company:  even most pastors do not spend much more than 5 minutes a day inimages prayer.  That said, such ‘good’ company is auspicious indeed.  What kind of relationship would we have with our spouses if we spent only 5 minutes a day in conversation with them?  Not much, right?  So why does God get crowded out of our lives in terms of the priority of time?

Perhaps one reason is that we cannot see God, at least not in a physically obvious way.  “Out of sight, out of mind,” we might say.  Another reason God gets crowded out of our lives has to do with his character:  God is patient.  Because God is Creator and we are the creation, God has no need of us, so he has no reason to beg us to be in relationship with him.  Yet God wants to be in relationship with us, so he finds subtle ways to invite us into his presence.  Can we slow down enough to take the time to notice God’s subtle invitations, and respond?

We seem almost to wear it as a badge, don’t we?  Someone asks, “How are you?” and we respond, “Great.  I’m really busy.”  Yet even the most noble tasks – even the most godly tasks – which make us too busy to spend time with the Lord need examination by us if we are to carve out time for our Maker.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  And it can start simply.  There will be interruptions, but as one person has suggested, consider each interruption yet one more opportunity to return to God.  Start with five minutes a day, and add a minute each week to your prayer time.  Even if you find you don’t have enough to say to fill the time, sit in the silence.  Let God speak to you, or just enjoy the silence with God as your Companion.

Rise up, my darling!  Come away with me, my fair one!  Look, the winter is past, and the rains are over and gone.  The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.  The fig trees are forming young fruit, and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming.  Rise up, my darling!  Come away with me, my fair one!” (Song of Songs 2.10-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Discernment: it’s for everybody!

This week, I have been participating as a counsellor at a discernment event for potential ministry candidates within my denomination.  It truly is a privilege to get to know these people and to hear their stories of God’s call on their lives.

In my tradition, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, we require that people seeking to be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacraments not only attend seminary and learn their intended craft, but that they spend time figuring out what their sense of call really means.  What saddens me is that in most branches of the church, we limit this discernment process to future pastors.

What if all of us were to engage in discerning God’s call on our lives?  After all, at least among Protestants, our theology is pretty clear:  God doesn’t just call clergy, he calls every believer to his service.  But do we all stop to ponder what it is that God is calling us to do?

Often, we let others – or the church’s needs – dictate what we do in the service of the Lord.  We give in to the “warm body” syndrome, taking positions of service or leadership in areas where the need is made known.  But does this always align with how God has equipped us to serve him?  I encourage everyone to take an inventory of their spiritual gifts.  (I offer seminars on this for those interested.)  Take a look at Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4 to get a sense of what the Bible says about the array of spiritual gifts that God gives to believers.

The Lord wants us to serve the way he wired us up to serve.  Yet too often, we don’t take the time to consider what that may look like – we just barge in where the need arises.  Frankly, sometimes we need that ‘barging in’ approach, but it’s always best if we examine how we are equipped by God to serve before we volunteer.

Discernment can be challenging, because it often requires that we say ‘no’ to something good, in order to say ‘yes’ to something better.  And God always desires us to say ‘yes’ to the better thing that he sets before us.

How are you serving the Lord?  Is it energizing or draining?  If it’s draining, consider discerning your gifts and praying over your service to God.  If it’s energizing, congratulations.  Continue doing what God has planned for you!

Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?’  I said, ‘Here I am. Send me’” (Isaiah 6.8, NLT).