Encouragement From The Word

A (Limited) Fascination With Royalty

Earlier this week, an heir to the British royal throne was born.  Should the monarchy last that long, this child would be third in line to be king.  Anticipation over the impending birth was palpable.  The media were camped out outside the hospital where the child was to be born for at least two weeks prior to the birth.  It was the top news story on television ante, mid, and post partum.

This is nothing new, however.  North Americans – even those ‘rebellious’ citizens of the United States – share equally in the western excitement over celebrity.  In its own muted way it was always present, but was ramped up significantly with the engagement of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer.  It escalated further with the untimely death of Diana, and has continued in its frenzied, Hollywood-like way up to the present.

Our society has a fascination with royalty – but it is a limited fascination.

Why is it limited?

Royalty that acts like celebrity is lauded, but royalty that takes, shall we say, the road less travelled, is ignored.

Consider Jesus.  His birth was foretold to be a royal birth, and it delivered (if you’ll pardon the pun).  It was little-noticed at the time, but that was overcome when the celebration of Christmas became popular.  Even in a secular culture, the celebration of Jesus’ birth (twisted though it can be) is still a big deal, and is a significant part of our fascination with royalty.

But it wasn’t all rosy, was it?  Right up to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was lauded as a hero.  But when Judas’ kiss was given, and the whistle of the whip could be heard, and the sound of nails piercing flesh echoed, all of a sudden, the fascination with royalty evaporated.  This is still true:  look at your church’s attendance on Christmas Eve, and on Good Friday.  Notice any difference?!

The celebration of the resurrection brought back King Jesus’ fame, because everybody likes a happy ending.  Yet he falls out of favour again when we carefully and lovingly read his Word in Scripture, which provides challenge as well as encouragement.  Jesus, through his Word in Scripture (not just the ‘red letters’, but the entire Bible) can shake us to the core of our being.  What he says is not always popular, but because he is God (more than just royalty!), we are invited to obey.  We are invited to be more than fans.  We are invited to be fully-devoted followers of this royal Son, who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Come, everyone! Clap your hands!
 Shout to God with joyful praise!  For the Lord Most High is awesome.
 He is the great King of all the earth.  He subdues the nations before us,
putting our enemies beneath our feet” (Psalm 47, NLT).

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Encouragement From The Word

Reviewing your day with God

What happens when you’re preparing to go to sleep?  Some just fall into bed exhausted and they’re ‘gone’.  Others read for a while.  Still others set out their necessities for the coming day.  Whatever routine we might have, do we also review the day that has passed?

Conducting a review of the day is an ancient Christian discipline.  Called the examen in the historic tradition, it is seen as a daily opportunity for us to take a look back on our day – not to second-guess ourselves so much as to see where God showed up in unexpected or amazing ways.  It was popularized by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises.

It often happens, though, that when we look back on the day, we do so to find fault in ourselves.  “If only I had…”, or, “I shouldn’t have…”.  And while discerning and confessing our sins is part of a daily review, it is not the only part – or, arguably, even the most important part.

If we take Psalm 139 as the structure for our daily examen, as Ruth Haley Barton suggests in Sacred Rhythms, we can find that a healthy process of self-examination involves, first, awakening to the presence of God:  “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me” (v. 1).  To experience a review of the day without experiencing the presence of God would be a graceless activity.  Since we live life in the presence of God, we do well to review it in his presence, too.

Then, we celebrate our created goodness.  For many of us, especially in the Reformed tradition, we move immediately to our sinful nature as fallen human beings.  While our fallen nature is all too evident and not to be ignored, we do well to remember that God created us with delight.  “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb….How precious are your thoughts about me, O God” (vv. 13, 17a).  Revel in the fact that you are God’s precious child, loved unconditionally.  Rejoice in the ways God loved you through the course of your day.

Finally, invite God to take a deep look inside, to reveal where you missed the mark over the course of your day.  (That’s what ‘sin’ literally means:  to miss the images-4mark, as in archery.)  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (vv. 23-24, NLT).  Sometimes, sin sneaks in so quietly that not even we notice it ourselves until we invite the Lord to point it out.  And, of course, we have the promise in 1 John 1.9 that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness – so we can confess our sins with confidence that we will not be shamed, but renewed, when we bring them to the Lord in faith.

Awaken, celebrate, confess.  Close your day with a review, an examen, and watch your relationship with the Lord develop.  Even if you fall asleep in the process, at least you’ve fallen asleep in his arms!

Encouragement From The Word

A lesson from Lac-Mégantic

Until last weekend, few Canadians outside La Belle Province had probably ever heard of the town of Lac-Mégantic.  Now, in the aftermath of a huge disaster, we all have.

Lac-Mégantic is best known among Quebeckers as part of their picturesque cottage country, in the Québecois version of Ontario’s Muskoka.  As a railway buff, I’ve known about the town because it had traditionally been a crew change point – once for the Canadian Pacific’s International of Maine Division; now the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway uses a spot a few miles to the northwest to change from Canadian crews to American crews (and vice-versa) for the cross-border journey.

Now, though, Lac-Mégantic is known as a disaster zone, thanks to a cut of runaway train cars filled with crude oil having derailed, crashed, and exploded right Lac-Megantic--Quebec--Canadian-train-disaster-2-jpgin the centre of town.  Hundreds of buildings were lost, many people are missing, and the death toll continues to rise.  How did this all happen?

One of the things human society is really gifted at is pointing fingers.  We love to lay blame as quickly as possible – as long as the blame doesn’t land on us.  Understandably, the citizens of Lac-Mégantic are upset.  To be sure, the management of the railway has not handled the situation well.  Investigations by the police and the Transportation Safety Board continue.  Until all the investigations are complete, it is unwise to lay blame.

After all, trains of all sorts have been rolling through the town for a very long time.  Many trains have tied down at Nantes  (the spot where crew changes now take place) without incident.  Whatever or whoever caused this catastrophe, one lesson we all can take from it is that one simple error in judgment, or one seemingly small prank, can have a ripple effect that has the potential to alter many people’s lives.

This is true of many decisions we make, isn’t it?  The whole “live and let live” mentality, with which often goes, “Do what you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody”, almost always has consequences we may not know about.  I’m sure that whoever is at fault in the Québec tragedy – whether accidental or malicious – had no idea that his/her/their actions would lead to such a tragic and mass loss of life.  And we may think that our decisions won’t have that kind of ripple effect.  But before you make a decision, stop and ask yourself how it may affect others.  You may find that such a pause is more than worth your time.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).  Let this be our wish for ourselves, and our prayer for those who are affected by the decisions of others, especially those in Lac-Mégantic, Québec.

Biblical Messages

CHRISTIANITY 101: The Best Is Yet To Come

I don’t often prepare a full manuscript for my messages anymore.  Most of the time, I suspect only I would understand what’s on the sheet of paper I carry into the pulpit.  For today’s message, though, I felt strongly enough about the topic that I wanted to offer it both in audio and in print form for those who might like to listen or read it.

This is a message about heaven, with a twist.  Listen, or read, and discover the twist.  The message is based on Mark 8.31-38.

Encouragement From The Word

Your body, God’s temple

North Americans are woefully ashamed of their bodies.  I could cite hundreds of examples, thanks to the Internet, that prove our obsession with being frustrated with our bodies.

As a fat guy, I understand this at least as well as anybody else does; whether for health reasons or for aesthetic reasons, most of us wish we could be thinner.  Or taller.  Or hairier.  Or less hairy.  Or able to grow longer fingernails.  Or be smaller of nose.

You get the idea.

Few of us (save perhaps the naturist community) really understand that the body is a good gift of God.   When God made our first ancestors, he said that, as part of his creation, they were “very good” (Genesis 1.31).  The Psalmist extols God who “knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139.13).

North American society has taken this wonderful gift and offered it to idols – idols that exemplify unrealistic and unhealthy images of the human body, idols that glorify the misuse of sex, idols that work to cause healthy adolescent women to believe they are fat, or cause men to believe they lack what it takes to satisfy their wives.  And it’s all very sad.

God has given us our bodies as integral parts of our being.  As C.S. Lewis famously quipped, we are souls and we have bodies, rather than the reverse; but our bodies were made for God’s glory, too.

Our bodies involve spiritual practices:  caring for our bodies, listening to our bodies, praying in our bodies.  These are ideas that Ruth Haley Barton shares in her book, Sacred Rhythms.  Caring for our bodies is a spiritual discipline.  Caring for our bodies includes listening to our bodies, which are always the first to be able to tell us when we are experiencing stress or trauma or any other difficulty.  And our bodies are used even in prayer.

Too often, we think that there is only one posture for prayer, depending on our denominational or cultural tradition:  whether it’s head-bowed-eyes-closed-hands-clasped, or kneeling, or standing with arms extended, or falling prostrate – or any other physical position – we might have our own preferred posture, but God gave us a body that can be used in a variety of ways in prayer.

Try this:  next time you set aside time for private prayer, choose a different position.  If you’re used to sitting with your hands folded, extend your arms; if you’re used to kneeling, stand with your face lifted toward heaven.  And so on.  Try something different, and see if God speaks to you more clearly, or in a different way, through your prayer time.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6.19a, NLT).  Many people talk about the body as a temple, but in a lot of cases, they’re thinking the body is to be worshipped.  But a temple is not something that is worshipped, but something that is used for worship.  We worship the Lord in our bodies, with our bodies.

Your body is a very good gift of God.  Care for it.  Listen to it.  Pray with it.