Encouragement From The Word

Let your light shine…through a pumpkin?

There are varying opinions among followers of Jesus regarding what to do about Hallowe’en. Some say we should steer clear of it because God’s people shouldn’t be celebrating the devil’s holiday. Others say we should engage, either because it’s just dressing up for fun or because it’s a way to witness to the community.

I have some sympathy with each side, I must admit.

Hallowe’en is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, the day marked in the liturgical calendar ahead of All Hallows’ Day, or All Saints’ Day, which is November 1. Its origins, my wife reminds me, are Christian: poor children would go door-to-door in search of food. Prayers would be said over homes. The needy would be cared for. God’s work would be done. Only later did a more sinister element come into the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve.

The devilish twist that has come to Hallowe’en is yet another mark of the depravity of humanity. The idea that anyone would throw eggs at the homes of those who do not give out candy is not part of the original plan. Rolling large pumpkins down hills and having them splat into whatever got in their way is not what the poor children of small English towns were seeking to have happen. Putting poison in apples or razor blades in candies is not what was intended for marking All Hallows’ Eve.

Can Hallowe’en be redeemed? For a while, one would see ‘alternative’ gatherings, where kids were asked to dress up as their favourite Bible character and come to the church. But it just wasn’t the same for anybody. There are still alternative activities that are offered, and they can be fun.

Taking your kids around to neighbours’ homes can be a way to build bridges with your neighbours, perhaps leading to relationships that could help you share God’s love. Opening your home to kids who come seeking goodies can be valuable, too. Carve a cross into your pumpkin (to ‘let your light shine’!). Don’t wear a scary costume. Engage the kids in real conversation. On top of that, opening your door to trick-or-treaters can be a way to get Scripture into their, and their parents’, hands and hearts. I especially recommend Scripture selections – little snippets from the Bible on pertinent topics – from the Canadian Bible Society. They aren’t doctrinal in nature – just offering pure Scripture in an easy-to-read translation that will give the kids who come to your door something to think about…something to chew on as they chew on the goodies you’ve given them!

But if you’re going to mark Hallowe’en as a form of Christian witness, make sure the candy you put in beside the Scripture selection is really good stuff. After all, the Bible tells us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34.8a, NIV)!

By the way, more important than Hallowe’en, today is Reformation Day. It was on this day in 1517 that Augustinian monk Martin Luther made public 95 ideas for reforming the church from the inside. In today’s terms, it “went viral”, and began the Protestant Reformation. Happy Reformation Day! May the Lord bless you in whatever way you celebrate.

Biblical Messages

LOVE ONE ANOTHER: Don’t be a fool!

There are better titles I could have chosen for this message, and you’ll learn why I didn’t choose one of them as you listen.  In this new series, we’re taking a journey through the first letter of John, near the end of the New Testament.  Written by the same John who penned the Gospel, the Apostle, the first letter of John is primarily a story about God’s love – and right thinking about the person of Jesus Christ.

Based on 1 John 1.1-10, you can listen to this message here:

Encouragement From The Word

Do not fear

For a long time, we assumed these sorts of things only happened in other places: Tel Aviv. Belfast. New York.

Now we know: Canada is not immune. The terrorist attacks in Ottawa on Wednesday morning have shaken our nation in ways not previously experienced. We are vulnerable. Those who would make Canadians “pay” for our desire to see freedom and democracy for all the world’s peoples are among us.

In other words, we now live as much of the world lives.

We cannot, however, live in fear, for that is what the terrorists want. They undertake their activities in an attempt to terrorize people into succumbing to the wishes of those doing the terrorizing.

Many people in the world live in fear because of terrorism, and it is in those places where the terrorists have the upper hand.

But not all those living under terrorism live in fear. Consider the Christians in Mosul, Iraq. It is they who live with the most visibleNun_arabic_Nazarene sign of terrorism these days. It is they who have the Arabic letter nun painted on their homes by ISIS insurgents who are intent on eradicating the Christian “infidels” from the land they believe is rightfully Islamic territory.

If some armed group were threatening to remove you from your home, what would you do? If your answer is “give in”, you’re not like the Iraqi Christians. Not only are they not giving in, there are reports that more people are coming forward to be baptized into the name of the Triune God of grace – even in the midst of overt persecution.

“Fear” is not in the vocabulary of these believers. Neither should it be in ours.

The days of Christendom, even in good old safe Canada, are gone. To live as an authentic follower of Jesus today is not mainstream. It is, as it always was in New Testament times, counter-cultural. But we serve the God who enabled the prophet Elijah single-handedly to put the prophets of a false god in their place. We serve the God who enabled little David to slay Goliath the giant. We serve the God who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ.

If that sounds a little bit triumphalistic, so be it. The apostle Paul told the Roman Christians, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8.31, NIV). It is this belief that we serve the one true God that has encouraged Christians for over two thousand years.

The threat of terrorism – religious, political, or otherwise – is real for us. But we should not fear.

Take a few moments and slowly read – more than once, if you can – Psalm 46 (NLT). Allow it to soak through you and fill you with faith in the God who will protect you, who will protect all of his faithful, in the face of whatever may come before us. (When you see the word “interlude”, that’s right in the text; pause at those points and let the words sink in.) Believe what you read, and let that be an encouragement to you…and through you, to others.

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.

Let the oceans roar and foam.

    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Interlude

A river brings joy to the city of our God,

    the sacred home of the Most High.

God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.

    From the very break of day, God will protect it.

The nations are in chaos,

    and their kingdoms crumble!

God’s voice thunders,

    and the earth melts!

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;

    the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:

    See how he brings destruction upon the world.

He causes wars to end throughout the earth.

    He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;

    he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God!

    I will be honored by every nation.

    I will be honored throughout the world.”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;

    the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude


Encouragement From The Word

Remain Calm!

A lot of people, it seems, are worried about the Ebola Virus. I wouldn’t call it “mass hysteria” yet, but we are getting close to the need for a “remain calm” announcement!

There is much in the world that can cause harm; it has always been so. The realities of contemporary media mean we hear about it a lot sooner and more often than we used to. But in the midst of that which can harm, there is also that which can bless.

Worrying, of course, does nothing to help us or the situation about which we’re concerned; as Jesus told us, we can’t add to our lives by worrying (Matthew 6.27).

Whatever our concerns, know that we can give them to God and be assured of his care. The answer we receive, whatever it may be, may not be exactly what we ask for, but it can be part of God’s greater plan, which is too vast for us to know.

Take heart in these words from Psalm 90 (NLT), and be at peace.

Lord, through all the generations

    you have been our home!


Before the mountains were born,

    before you gave birth to the earth and the world,

    from beginning to end, you are God.


You turn people back to dust, saying,

    “Return to dust, you mortals!”


For you, a thousand years are as a passing day,

    as brief as a few night hours.


You sweep people away like dreams that disappear.

    They are like grass that springs up in the morning.


In the morning it blooms and flourishes,

    but by evening it is dry and withered.


We wither beneath your anger;

    we are overwhelmed by your fury.


You spread out our sins before you—

    our secret sins—and you see them all.


We live our lives beneath your wrath,

    ending our years with a groan.


Seventy years are given to us!

    Some even live to eighty.

But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble;

    soon they disappear, and we fly away.


Who can comprehend the power of your anger?

    Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve.


Teach us to realize the brevity of life,

    so that we may grow in wisdom.


O Lord, come back to us!

    How long will you delay?

    Take pity on your servants!


Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,

    so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.


Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!

    Replace the evil years with good.


Let us, your servants, see you work again;

    let our children see your glory.


And may the Lord our God show us his approval

    and make our efforts successful.

    Yes, make our efforts successful!

Biblical Messages

ALTAR EGO: The Disease To Please

The “Altar Ego” series has been fun to prepare and preach, and people seem to have been finding it encouraging.  I am grateful for the outlines, and for the writing of Craig Groeschel, who wrote a book called Altar Ego (which you can find here).  In the series, we’ve been laying on the altar of God’s grace our feelings of inadequacy, our need for control, and our right to be offended.  In this message, we look at laying on the altar of God’s grace our longing for approval.  Based on Galatians 1.1-10 and 1 Thessalonians 2.1-6, you can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word

Stop. Rest. Now.

Most Canadian households will celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend in one fashion or another, whether it’s by inviting the extended family over to the house for a turkey dinner, or going north to close up the cottage before the frost gets at the water pipes.  And while I would often take this opportunity to encourage you to be thankful – and I do encourage you to be thankful! – I wish instead to encourage you to take a break.



Not just after the potato overdose kicks in from Thanksgiving dinner, but now.



The time from the day after Labour Day until Thanksgiving tends to be one of the more hectic times of year, with all sorts of activities restarting after their summer hiatus.  Many of you will already be in need of a break, and there’s still the Thanksgiving celebration to attend to.




Simply marvel in God’s goodness to you, and accept his invitation to come, and rest in him.  If you’d like some accompaniment for that rest, even for two minutes, feel free to listen to this setting of a text from the Song of Solomon by the English-Canadian composer, Healey Willan:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdEIYnQsSZQ

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come” (Song of Solomon 2.10b-12a, NRSV).  True, the winter is not past, it is on the doorstep!  But the beauty of autumn remains, and the invitation of the Lord to us, like the invitation of the love to the beloved, remains.




Before the rush of the weekend.

Biblical Messages

ALTAR EGO: That ‘F’ Word (Again)

Many people carry a burden of unforgiveness.  In this message, we’re encouraged to lay on the altar of God’s grace our right to be offended.  It’s based on Proverbs 19.11 and Romans 12.1-5.  In the middle of the message, I showed this video.  You can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word

“We Day” for the church?

Yesterday was “We Day” in Toronto, an annual event that encourages young people to engage with their communities and be good ‘global citizens’. While there is an all-year educational component to it, the annual rally that is held at the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto gets a lot of press. It looks like a peculiar combination of a rock concert and an evangelistic rally – which, as I see it, is precisely what it is. There is entertainment, and there is a strongly hyped message encouraging young people to change the world.

In its comparatively short existence, We Day has had a profound impact. This year, the rally drew over twenty thousand students. I suppose some of that figure is bolstered by the promise of free entertainment and time out of the classroom, but any event that can fill a hockey arena with teens is worthy, at least, of our attention.

In fact, as God’s people, we should be inspired by We Day; we should be inspired to do more and do better, if for no other reason than that the church has an even better reason to encourage young people to engage with their communities and be good global citizens. It’s one thing to “be good for goodness’ sake,” as the old Christmas song puts it, but that has only a limited impact. (In the case of the song, it’s for the purpose of raking in more Christmas presents.) It’s quite another thing to enrich the world for the glory of God and the sake of God’s Kingdom.

To make the world a better place by encouraging young people to engage with their communities and be good global citizens for the sake of humanity is commendable, but it has no eternal impact. To make the world a better place by encouraging young people to engage with their communities and be good global citizens for the glory of God and the sake of God’s Kingdom has an eternal impact.

As I’ve often said about environmentalism, the church should be at the forefront of caring for the world, because while others merely want to preserve the earth for future generations, the church should do so because the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24)! Helping youth to engage more deeply and contribute positively to society should be a key task of the church, in order that they may be disciples of Jesus, formed in his image and living out his will in the world, and in preparation for eternity.

Praise God, there are some churches that are reaching young people and making disciples and changing the world through their ministries. But this shouldn’t be the task of some churches. It should be the task of all churches. It is not easy, by any means; we have an uphill climb merely to regain a winsome standing with the youth of our society. Some think that needs to happen by lowering standards and tossing the Bible out the window, but the churches that are succeeding at engaging youth would tell you that, if anything, they have raised their standards and taken (and taught) the Bible very seriously.

In order to make this happen, churches need to love the Lord more than they love tradition, and they need to love young people more than they love their own preferences. It is congregations that adopt a “whatever it takes” attitude, under the faithful guidance of the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture, that will be able to bring the fervour and positive message of We Day to the place where it belongs.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12.2, NIV).