Encouragement From The Word

The value of questions

If you’re part of a small group of some sort in your church, chances are, you cherish those times with those people. I know I do; my Thursday night LifeConnect Group, while small, is a fantastic group. One of the things I really like about our group is that nobody is afraid to ask questions. And these folks ask really good questions!

It was St. Anselm of Canterbury who adopted as his motto, fides quaerens intellectum – “Faith seeking understanding”. I think that could be the motto of my small group, too. It could be the motto of your small group as well!

We should never fear asking questions. Often, it’s when we ask questions that, for example, an employer knows we really want to learn something. It’s from asking questions that presumptions and presuppositions are challenged. It’s from asking questions that we get to know other people more deeply. It’s from asking questions that faith is developed.

Some people think that asking questions is the antithesis of faith, but I don’t think that’s true at all. By asking questions, we can find our faith deepened, not challenged. (Of course, our faith can be challenged, too, but by God’s grace, that can lead to deepened faith, too.)

Oh, there are some people who ask questions in an attempt to cast faith in a bad light, but those folks will always exist. But true seekers of God should never be afraid to ask questions – and those who answer them should rejoice that the question was asked, opening the door to further conversation.

Do you have questions? Don’t hesitate to ask. Do you have answers? Be sure to provide them in an edifying manner. The last thing we want to do is discourage a questioner simply by the way in which we answer the question.

Peter advised the early church that Christ-followers should “[a]lways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3.15, NIV). Many assume that this verse applies to providing a testimony or being ready when someone asks you why you are a Christian, and that’s all true. But I think it can also apply to developing an understanding of the Christian faith in such a way that we are not afraid to ask more questions, and then to be able to provide answers for others.

Does your faith seek understanding? Do you ask questions?

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Biblical Messages

Communion and Community

Often, Christians come to the Lord’s Table and think it’s a “you in your small corner and I in mine” kind of experience, where we meet with the Lord one-to-one, and there just happen to be other people around.  But that’s not what Communion is supposed to be at all!  It should be a gathering of God’s people – together – being in such a good relationship with each other that there is nothing separating us from each other, or from God.

Reality often shows us that human relationships are not always what they’re supposed to be, but Jesus envisioned better for us.  As we approached the Lord’s Table today, we heard a message based on Matthew 5.21-26, and Matthew 18.15-17.

During this message, I showed the video you can watch here.  Listen to the message and consider your relationships with fellow Christ-followers.

Encouragement From The Word

Let God surprise you!

Most of us know the story of David and Goliath. Young David, who can’t even walk in a suit of armour at his age and strength, volunteers to take on the mammoth Philistine, Goliath, who has been the poster boy for the enemy of God’s people in that time. With God on his side and five smooth stones in his satchel, he takes aim with his slingshot and beans Goliath in such a way that he is felled like a giant redwood tree, and slain.

The unlikeliest of heroes, David the youngster slew Goliath the giant. And for that reason, among others, David lives on in infamy.

This week, at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, there has been some outstanding women’s curling going on. Perhaps most remarkable, at least as of this writing, has been a David-and-Goliath story: the Nova Scotia team, with a losing record, beat both Manitoba and Team Canada – two of the three top contenders – on Wednesday. Nobody expected it, which is what made it particularly remarkable. Even though Nova Scotia isn’t going to win the Scotties, that team will be remembered for its surprising victories.

There are times that we aren’t convinced we have what it takes to undertake a task. We might question our gifting, our ability; or we might think that someone else – maybe anyone else – would be better suited to the job. When that happens, let me encourage you to step back from the situation for a few moments, and prayerfully consider whether God has drawn you, maybe even called you to the task. And if God has called you to it, you can be sure God will give you the requisite tools to accomplish it.

Don’t think, “I’m too young,” or “I’m too small,” or “Jane would be better at this than I would.” If you’ve been asked to take something on, the individual who has asked surely believes you have what it takes; do you believe it? Believing that you and God together can make it happen can be all the encouragement you need. Remember David; remember Team Nova Scotia. Remember your gifts! Let God surprise you.

The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” (1 Samuel 17.37, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Christ, our example in relationships

Some Bible passages are highly controversial, and can be difficult to preach. Because at least two of my series each year are Bible books preached lectio continua, that is, continually read (or through the book), certain difficult passages can’t be wiggled out of.  Thus it is as I come to 1 Peter 3.1-7.  This is not an easy passage to preach in a contemporary society.  But there is a word from the Lord for wives – and for husbands – in this passage.

Listen for yourself here:

Encouragement From The Word

Facing fears

Well, we’ve arrived at our first Friday The Thirteenth of 2015. (Since this is not a leap year, you can expect another in March. We won’t see another until November.) Some in western culture do see it as an “unlucky” day (as if there really were such a thing as luck, but that’s a topic for another day!). The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. I don’t know if anyone seriously fears these days anymore; most of the time, what I see on social media just laughs them off.

But one thing is for certain: human beings do have fears. It’s part of who we are as those who live in the time after the fall of humanity. And it’s amazing what we will do, sometimes, to compensate for our fears.

People who are afraid of heights, for example, will normally try to steer clear of places where they fear they may fall a great distance, such as roofs, balconies, or mountaintops. People who are afraid of dogs will try to stay away from homes where dogs may be kept as pets, or from pounds, kennels or veterinary clinics.

Some fears, though, can’t be compensated for. They must be faced.

One might be afraid of public speaking; I think I read that this is the commonest of all fears. And while some people may be able to escape it their whole lives, others must speak publicly, whether for their employment or to voice a conviction or to laud someone at a retirement banquet or a funeral. Sometimes, upon conquering the fear once, it is discovered that it can be conquered again. Soon enough, the individual realizes that the fear wasn’t all that rational after all.

Followers of Jesus, like everyone else, experience fear. But we have an additional source that can encourage us to face our fears. King David, who had his share of enemies during his life, proclaimed, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27.1, NIV). It would have been easy for David to run into the Judean hills and hide from his enemies, but he stood fast because the Lord was with him.

Whatever fears you may face, the Lord will be with you, too. Why not make Friday the 13th an occasion to rejoice in the Lord, who has the power to take away our fears?

Encouragement From The Word

You never know…

How scary must it have been for those motorists in Taipei who witnessed that Air Asia plane cross the road in front of them, the belly of the aircraft facing them, as it attempted to land in a nearby body of water! And that’s to say nothing of the horror that would have stricken those on the flight. It’s a miracle that anyone survived, yet many did.

The pilot is being hailed as a hero for steering the plane away from buildings. Though he died in the accident, and his feelings will never be known, he will be remembered for his valiant efforts to minimize the carnage.

This story has so many take-aways for us, doesn’t it?

For one, it teaches us the value of being prepared. The pilot will have had to practise, in a simulator, what would happen with that particular type of aircraft when an engine failed (which is what happened in this case). The pilot and crew will have been well trained in what to do in any kind of emergency. Even the passengers will have been advised of what to do (though many airline passengers have their noses in books or newspapers when they should be learning about the location of life vests and when to put on the oxygen mask that magically appears from the ceiling (that’s before aiding someone else!).

Can we ever be fully prepared for such an emergency? Perhaps not; but when it does occur, at least we can reflexively know what to do.

More importantly, I think this incident reminds us that we never really know when our time will come. So often, we put off important tasks, meaningful relationships, even the life of faith, thinking that we will have all the time in the world, when, in reality, our lives can be taken away in a fleeting moment.

Not the greatest news, I know, but it’s true. In the parable of the rich fool, Jesus said in telling the story of the man who was always trying to get more, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12.20, NIV).

We can’t be sure we’ll have all the time we expect – threescore and ten or otherwise. Being prepared doesn’t just involve emergency preparedness. It also involves setting your life in order – strengthening relationships with those we love, deepening (or just starting) a relationship with God, knowing that our eternal house is prepared for us.

In all likelihood, nobody who got on that Air Asia plane the other day expected not to walk away from that flight on landing. None of us knows, when we rise in the morning, whether we will live to greet another day. Are we ready?

Keep short accounts with those you love, an tell them you love them. Give your life back to the God who gave you life, and trust in Jesus, and his death and resurrection, to secure your place in eternity with him.

Pray for those who lost loved ones in that crash, and for the survivors. And pray for God’s amazing grace to wash over them, and over us.

Biblical Messages

Christ our Foundation

One of the things my addiction to HGTV has taught me is that foundations matter.  A lot.  And the same is true in our walk with God.  Jesus needs to be our true foundation, our cornerstone.  Our reading from 1 Peter 2.4-12 teaches us about our identity in Christ, too.  A rich passage indeed!  In this message, I quote Richard Foster, from Celebration of Discipline, who wrote:

Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

Listen to the message here: