Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Does the Bible read you?

I imagine you’d expect me, as a pastor, to ask you if you read the Bible. And, as a follower of Jesus, I, likewise, would expect that you do. But let me ask you this little twist:   Does the Bible read you?

Often enough, we read Scripture because we should. Our devotion can be motivated more by guilt than by desire, more by ‘should’ than by ‘love’. Frankly, that’s not all bad, because a routine of reading the Bible is a healthy one, and it can serve us well when we are in times of crisis.

Do you ever wonder why soldiers are so disciplined, even when they’re on their own bases in peace time? It’s simple: they are so regimented in knowing what to do, that when they are in battle, and under stress, what they learned in peace time comes naturally; it’s reflexive.

Our faith life can be that way, too, though we have to be on our guard to keep it from being mindless. It’s easy to have a routine through which we go every day in Scripture reading, and find that when it’s all done, we couldn’t tell another person a single thing about what we read – it was not absorbed, because the mind wasn’t in it.

Engaging the mind in Scripture reading is important. So is engaging the spirit.

When we engage our spirits in reading the Bible, we can read the Bible, yes, but we also can let the Bible read us. God’s Word is timelessly relevant, and even a passage in the most obscure part of the Old Testament can jump to life in us if God wants to speak to our hearts through it. When we let the Holy Spirit speak through the Word, we may be reading the Bible, but even more importantly, the Bible is reading us. And through that experience, we can learn more about ourselves, and what God desires from us as his disciples.

So…does the Bible read you?

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart” (Psalm 19.7-8, NIV).

Biblical Messages

What It Means To Be Relevant

Today, St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton celebrated its 56th anniversary.  We also marked, much to my surprise, the 20th anniversary of my ordination (which falls on May 31) – this explains how the message starts out!

To celebrate our anniversary, I thought it would be valuable to have a foundational talk on the importance, and relevance of the Bible.  Churches can try to be ‘relevant’ all the time, but what it means to be relevant changes with the wind.  But God has made his Word timelessly relevant.  Based on 2 Timothy 3.10-17, listen to the message here:  

Encouragement From The Word

Soul Food

I’ve been thinking this week about the importance of Scripture. That’s probably not a bad thing for a pastor to do, right? But here’s the kicker: I spend a lot of time in Scripture on a weekly basis – partly because I enjoy reading God’s Word, and partly because it’s my job. So it’s easy for me to forget that spending time in the Word may not be atop everyone’s list of priorities.

For the follower of Jesus, though, it needs to be.

As God’s people, we can’t survive on just a Sunday dose of the Bible; we need it all week. The preacher’s job, as I heard one person put it, is to whet the listener’s appetite for the Word of God. When the preacher climbs into the pulpit to expound on Scripture, she or he isn’t giving you a week’s worth of Bible to tide you over; she or he is giving you a taste so that you’ll want more.

Think about it: if I ate one big meal on Sunday evening, would that be enough to sustain me until the following Sunday evening? Of course not. We eat more regularly because the body needs more nourishment, and it needs it in regular intervals, lest we find ourselves malnourished and unable to function normally.

The same is true when we feed on the Word. If all we get comes in one relatively small ‘meal’ called a sermon, once a week, it’s not enough. The Sunday worship experience was never designed to be enough for the week; the message is an act of worship on the part of the pastor, and an opportunity to help the listener desire more.

That’s why small groups, and personal devotional time, are of ultimate importance for the growing Christian. When we take time alone with God and read his Word, there is daily nourishment. And when we take time with a small group of fellow disciples to explore the Word more deeply, there also is nourishment. These disciplines ensure that the soul will not be starved.

What’s more, as we grow, these spiritual ‘meals’ we receive, through reading and studying Scripture, need to become deeper. We can’t thrive and grow if our spiritual input remains at the level of Grade 1 Sunday School (as good as the foundational material is). We need to go deeper if we are going to grow in our walk with the Lord. Are you challenging yourself to do that?

Consider what Peter told the early church: “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness” (1 Peter 2.2-3, NLT). As we grow up, we move from milk to more substantial foods, so our bodies grow. Likewise, we move from spiritual milk to spiritual meat as our souls develop. Praying with you that your soul is growing deeply in the Lord’s goodness!

Encouragement From The Word

You are honoured and loved!

This Sunday, I’m going to preach on the story of Daniel’s three friends and their time in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).  Every time I hear that story, I am reminded of God’s comforting words in Isaiah 43.1-4:

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.

O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have
ransomed you.

 I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you go through deep waters, 
I will be with you.

When you go through rivers of difficulty,
 you will not drown.

When you walk through the fire of oppression,
 you will not be burned
the flames will not consume you.

For I am the Lord, your God,
 the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in
your place.

Others were given in exchange for you.

I traded their lives for yours
 because you are precious to me.

You are honored, and I love you.

Okay, now go back and read those words again.  Ask yourself:

  • Are there deep waters through which I am going?
  • Are there rivers of difficulty that I fear may cause me to drown?
  • Is there an oppressive fire that I fear will consume me?

Then read those last few words again:  “you are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you”.

Even if you are in the midst of a trial right now, claim that promise from the Lord:  you are precious; you are honoured, and God loves you.  You may not understand what you experience in these days, but there is a divine purpose that will work for your good, and for God’s glory.

Whatever you face in these days, know that you are honoured and loved by the One who made you.

Encouragement From The Word

Living in Regulation Time

I announce, with sadness, that the Boston Bruins tied its series against my beloved Montreal Canadiens last night – in overtime. Overtime always brings tense moments in hockey, and especially in the post-season. It’s stressful and exciting, but it’s a game – in a sense, not quite real. What takes place in the good ol’ hockey game is very real for those on the ice and the bench, but it really doesn’t parallel life.

There is a sense in which life is a game, but it’s definitely not a game when it comes to the concept of overtime. We simply don’t get overtime in life.

True, some people will argue that after a tragic event in life – even one that may bring us near death – we feel as though we’ve been granted overtime, another of the proverbial nine lives of a cat. But the reality is that we are “playing in regulation” from the time we are born until the time we die.

In other words, we don’t have extra time beyond what we are afforded, by God’s grace, in this life. In playoff hockey, the game can’t end until a tie has been broken, and if that requires overtime, they play until a goal is scored. But in real life, everything has to happen in regulation.

Of course, many people understand this to mean that it’s important to cram in as much fun into life as possible, leading them to a hedonistic lifestyle. I won’t argue that having lots of fun in life is valuable, and even important for a complete and fulfilling life. But what matters more, I think, is that living life in “regulation time” involves investing in eternity – living beyond the here-and-now.

Billy Graham, in his crusades years ago, used to talk about the immediate need to give our lives to Christ, because if we say we’ll wait until we’re on our death bed, we could be hit by a bus when leaving the arena! There was a bit of humour in that, but also a great truth: we never know when we are going to die. It could happen at any time, without warning. It’s of absolute importance that we invest in eternity while we are living, enjoying a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ while we are able.

The great benefit of a relationship with God while we live is that we get to enjoy (and share!) the blessings of life in Christ; it’s not just about getting a ticket to heaven when we die. There won’t be an overtime period; regulation time is all we’ve got. Have you made an eternal investment? Are you walking with Jesus as his disciple?

For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “righttime” is now. Today is the day of salvation‘ (2 Corinthians 6.2, NLT).

Biblical Messages

In memory of Barb

It is not an easy thing to bring the Word at the memorial service of a close loved one.  Such was my task on Wednesday, May 7, 2014, as I preached at the memorial service of my mother-in-law, Barbara Tubb, in the Presbyterian Church in St. Marys, Ontario.  You can listen to the message of hope, based on 1 John 4.7-21 here:  

Biblical Messages

Staying True: Strangers in a Strange Land

“Did anyone try to turn you into a Babylonian this week?”  Today, we began a series of message on the book of Daniel in the Old Testament.  Starting with Daniel 1, we looked at how Daniel and his friends were strangers in a strange land – Israelites carried off to Babylon – but they kept their integrity.

We live in a world hostile to the gospel, and Daniel gives us some tips on how best to do that.  I apologize for the audio quality this week, as there was a technical glitch.  Listen here:  

Encouragement From The Word

Who are you when no one’s looking?

I once heard character defined as ‘who you are when no one is looking.’ I think it’s a pretty apt definition! Our character is, like a watermark on a sheet of paper, an indelible part of who we are in every part of our lives, every day. At a basic level, our character defines us; it defines us more than our family heritage, more than our vocation, and more than our possessions.

This is true of everyone, not just those who follow Jesus. But it is perhaps especially true of Jesus-followers, since we know that our lives cannot be compartmentalized. We cannot be Christians, with the character that involves, on Sunday morning, and something else the rest of the week. It doesn’t work that way. In reality, no one can be one thing at one point and something else another time, and maintain any sense of integrity. Even a chameleon, which can change colours to blend in with its environment and fool predators, is still a chameleon; it doesn’t become a rock, like the one on which it is perched when it changes colour.

I’ve wanted to avoid using this illustration, but I am compelled. The Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, who checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic yesterday, consistently said – after being forced to admit to crack cocaine use – that what he did in his private life did not affect his work as the Mayor of Canada’s largest city.

I willingly admit that I did, at one time, have a fair degree of sympathy for Mr. Ford, but once he started saying things like that, he lost my sympathy and gained my pity. When a human being believes he can be one kind of person with one group of people and another kind of person with another group, there is a disconnect that indicates a loss of grasp on one’s own personal reality.

Frankly, it’s a lot easier to be the same person irrespective of who you hang around with; there’s nothing to hide, and no one is surprised to see you in any other context, because who you are at the root of your character dictates what decisions you will make and what actions you will take.

As a follower of Jesus, does that describe you? Are you a Christian when you drive? When you work? When you hang around with your friends? When you invest?

To be sure, none of us is going to get it all right, all the time; perfection for us is reserved for God’s eternal Kingdom. But the hope is that each of us, as we follow and serve the Lord, will become more like Jesus every day, maintaining consistent character, being known as a follower of Jesus wherever we go and whatever we do. It’s a growth process; let’s be growing in the right direction. Remember the Golden Rule?

Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6.31, NIV).

Good, consistent Christian character goes a long way toward fulfilling it.