Encouragement From The Word

He’s got the whole world in his hands…right?!

The political tension that exists in the Ukraine these days reminds us that the world is not exempt from turmoil that results from everything from greed to InHisHands5political or religious differences. For a while – in the west – it seemed that we had been experiencing relative peace.

Times like this are good times to remember the truth of the old children’s song: “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” We teach kids this little ditty and get them clapping, but do we honestly believe it’s true? Do we believe that God has the whole world in his hands?

Many people find it hard to believe. They look at the world around them and see war and injustice, and they think it would hardly be possible for God to have the world in hand when there is so much going on that would not please God. But does that mean God is not caring for the world?

We do not always understand God’s plans for the world, or for us. The divine mind is infinitely greater than we can grasp or imagine, so God’s plans for the world, likewise, are beyond our understanding. Not that God’s plans would include war or injustice; but can we believe that whatever human freedom exists can be leveraged for God’s greater purpose?

You and I see things going on in the world that anger us, frustrate us, even scare us, if we’re honest. But in the midst of that, can we trust – trust – that God has the whole world in his hands? That God cares infinitely more than we can grasp or imagine?

It can be challenging to let God be God and trust him with the world’s turmoil. Of course, God invites us to work for justice so that his world can more closely reflect his heavenly Kingdom. But if we can, in faith, say, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” and trust God for the present and the future, that will free up any preoccupied space in our minds to reflect on how we can serve to make the world a place that shows forth God’s reign and realm.

The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation” (Psalm 145.8-9, NLT).

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Biblical Messages

How Deep?

Stuart Townend’s song exclaims, “How deep the Father’s love for us!  How vast beyond all measure!”  As we heard the resurrection story from Matthew 28, and the inspiration for Townend’s song in 1 John 3.1-10, we asked the question, “How Deep?” in today’s Easter celebration message.  Listen here:  

Encouragement From The Word

Today…with me…Paradise…

On this Good Friday, I thought I’d share some encouragement from a few years back. Take a look…

If you are a listener to sermons, it may help you to know that even preachers don’t always remember preaching entirely or exactly.  I have one vivid memory, three crosseshowever, of a sermon I heard one Sunday before Easter as a teenager, around the time I gave my life to Jesus.  I’ve never forgotten its basic message.

There’s so much of the Scripture that we hear on Good Friday and Easter Day that is rich and deserves deeper attention; I hope you’ll meditate on a passage such as Luke 22, 23 and 24 this weekend.  But I want to focus on just a few words from Jesus, uttered from the cross, to a criminal who was hanging on a similar cross on one side of him.  This criminal had a different stance than the other.  One of them insulted Jesus and, thinking of himself, tried to get Jesus to use his power as the Christ (which he willingly acknowledged!) to rescue the three of them from the death they were about to face.  The other criminal rebuked him and said, “‘Don’t you fear God,…, since you are under the same sentence?…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’  Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23.40-43, NIV).

This was the text of the sermon I remember so well.  It was a word of hope, a word of grace, a word of love.  Jesus could have chosen to feel sorry for himself as he hung on the cross, naked, bleeding, gasping for air, dying.  Instead, he chose to reach out to a sinner who recognized him and who repented.

Both criminals knew Jesus for who he was; even the insulting criminal averred, “Aren’t you the Christ?” (Luke 23.39b, NIV).  This man was willing to acknowledge that Jesus was who he claimed to be.  But he was not interested in what Jesus stood for, unless it was going to get him out of his immediate situation.

The other criminal, looking around Jesus, rebuked his partner in crime, saying that while they were getting what they deserved, Jesus had done nothing wrong.  Then he asked Jesus to remember him in his eternal kingdom.  And at that moment, when any normal human being might have ignored him, Jesus reached out.  His loving arms nailed to a cruel cross, all Jesus had with which to reach out were his words:  “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Can you imagine being that criminal?  Can you imagine having that assurance, right from the lips of the Saviour himself?  “Today!”  No delay.  “When you breathe your last, you’ll be with me,” is what Jesus said, in effect.

Of course, if the cross were the end, Jesus couldn’t have said what he did.  His death would pay the price for sin, but only when he broke the bonds of death on the third day would he open the gates for believers to receive eternal life.  And because that happened on that first Easter weekend, all who follow Jesus, everywhere, ever since, have had the promise of freedom from sin and new and everlasting life.

Think you’re not good enough?  Of course you’re not.  None of us is.  But it’s not our goodness that wins our salvation.  It’s faith.  That’s why a career criminal was the first to taste eternal life – at the invitation of the Saviour.

God’s best for your weekend – in sorrow at the cross, and in victory at the empty tomb!

Encouragement From The Word

Iron sharpens iron

Yesterday, I had a three-hour conversation with a colleague whom I deeply respect and genuinely like. Our conversation went ‘around the world’ in one sense, but found its focus on God, the things of God, and being leaders of God’s people. It was the kind of conversation that leaves one energized and encouraged about the task of serving God’s kingdom.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in church leadership or not; you need a friend with whom you can have those comfortable conversations. Ideally, you need a friend with whom you can talk about your work and your faith; for my colleague and I, of course, those two things are intricately interwoven. But to be able to chat freely, openly, and vulnerably with someone about life and faith is a real gift. Hopefully, you can do this with your spouse, if you have one, and that’s an important part of any marriage; yet it’s also good to have friends, particularly who share similar vocational or avocational interests, with whom to exchange ideas and just generally commiserate.

John Calvin certainly had this in mind when he created his Company of Pastors, a weekly gathering of clergy from all around Geneva and environs, in the 1530s. Not all jobs have any sort of built-in method for fellowship, but that doesn’t stop us from creating them. Even if we are not working outside the home everyday, as is the case with retirees and stay-at-home parents, there can still be room for connecting with friends in a similar place in life. (If you’re not sure of the value of this, check out any moms-and-tots group, or the coffee klatch at the nearby donut shop most weekday mornings!)

These examples allude to another form of Christian fellowship from which we all can benefit: the small group. Congregations have different names for their small groups; at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we call them LifeConnect Groups. They are avenues for study, fellowship, mutual support, and service, and are key means of helping the congregation fulfill its mission to connect with God, grow in Christ, and serve in community. Being part of a small group is a great way to remember that our faith is not just a Sunday thing; God calls us to integrate our faith into every aspect of our living. That’s basic discipleship. Following Jesus is the vocation from which every other part of life flows. Having a church family, a small group, and faithful friends make a difference in our walk with God.

We all need people in our lives to keep up sharp, in the best way. They are gifts from God; sometimes, though, we need to seek out those gifts! Have you?

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27.17, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Celebrate!

The Bible gives us few glimpses of heaven, but perhaps the most vivid is in Revelation 21.  Today’s message helps us understand not only a little bit of the symbolism involved in this complicated chapter, but also how we can prepare ourselves for life in the New Jerusalem.  Listen here:  

 

I also sang “The Holy City” in this service, but I’m not broadcasting that recording!!