Encouragement From The Word

Hearing and Doing

Like many people, I was saddened to hear that a famous lion named Cecil had senselessly been killed recently in Zimbabwe by an American dentist. The outrage and vitriol that has been unleashed toward the man is unprecedented.

To be sure, it is a tragedy when an endangered animal is needlessly killed, as if for sport. We should seek to protect endangered species.

I wonder, though, why it is that western society finds it so easy to get behind causes – like Cecil’s – that are a world away, while we find it so much more difficult to stand up for causes that are closer to home?

I fear it may be because there is so much more effort involved in putting our money where our collective mouth is when it comes to supporting causes that are on our doorstep.

Last weekend, on my way home from a week of study and prayer, I visited something I might call the biggest model railroad in the world, except it’s not a model. It comprises a full-size 18-stall roundhouse, with turntable, all built to the standards of the mid-1900s, a backshop, and a whole bunch of steam and diesel locomotives – all 12-inches-to-the-foot scale. There had to be an investment of at least US$100 million on the property. And it was all built and amassed for the pleasure of the owner.

I found myself thinking, There are so many amazing things that could have been done with the money that’s tied up here. I have no idea what other wealth the owner has, or what he does with it, but I do know that $100 million would build a lot of Habitat For Humanity homes. It would serve as seed money for a lot of small businesses that would employ those without work. It would plant a lot of crops to feed the hungry.

But the fact is, I can’t do anything about what another rich person does with his money. I can only do what I can to support causes that matter to me – human causes, causes that are close to the heart of God.

I can tweet about all manner of awful situations, but what am I doing about them? How am I putting muscle and sweat, along with money and speech, into efforts that will help build God’s Kingdom?

I encourage you to ask yourself the same question.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.  For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.  You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like” (James 1.22-24, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Searching for me!

For some reason, last week’s Encouragement From The Word didn’t post here, so – a few days late! – here is last Friday’s instalment.  Another will be here tomorrow. – JFL

Last week’s Encouragement about how we leverage the hours outside church for discipleship prompted one of our faithful readers, Angela, to share with me a poem she wrote. Perhaps you will find it encouraging, too! I share it with you, with Angela’s permission.

Searching for me!

Searching for me!

Where oh where can my ‘who’ be?

I’ve protected you for so long,

By avoiding and denying,

Escaping the truth?  Or, the real me?

Molding into illusions created by others.

What do I need?

Permission to be ‘who I am’!

What do I want?

A way – a method – to discover my ‘self’,

My true identity as

‘the blessed one’,

‘beloved child of the Father’.

I am that one sheep

The shepherd left 99 to find.

I am the lost coin,

Sought for and rejoiced over.

I am the prodigal daughter

Whose father awaits her return.

I am the Father’s treasure, His pearl of great value –

And He gave everything He had to redeem me.

May you see yourself as the Father’s treasure!

[T]here is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15.7b, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Sowing and Reaping

First, a confession:  If you listen to these messages regularly, you may think you have heard some of this one before.  You have.

I preached most of this message as part of a series in 2013, inspired by Craig Groeschel.  Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher of London, England, once said that a sermon worth preaching once is worth preaching twice.  There are parts that are different, and I added a video clip (which is only available through membership in RightNowMedia; I hope you can at least hear the testimony given by the couple through the audio recording.  Stewardship is an important part of the Christian life, and learning (or re-learning) the principles behind it helps us become more well-rounded disciples of Jesus; thus the message bears repeating!

Based on 2 Corinthians 9, you can listen to “Sowing and Reaping” here:

Encouragement From The Word

24/7 Discipleship

I’ve been reading a book entitled Imagine Church, by Neil Hudson. It’s about helping God’s people plan and vision for the future by encouraging whole-life discipleship.

Is that a term with which you are familiar?

It could be otherwise phrased, but what the author means by it is that our walk with Jesus touches every aspect of our lives: no part of who we are or what we do goes untouched by our faith life.

It was as if Hudson was revealing something new when I read that there are 168 hours in a week, and that we might ordinarily spend, say, 48 of those sleeping. That leaves 120 hours in the week. Perhaps the most committed Christ-followers could serve 10 hours per week in the church; that leaves 110 hours for work, family time, and fun.

The matter that the book tries to get to the bottom of is this: how can those 110 hours become hours dedicated to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? How can we leverage our work time, our family time, our recreation time as time that God can use to build our faith, and as time that God can use to make us more fully devoted followers of Jesus?

There are programs, there are formulas – but in the end, it boils down to the willingness of each individual Christian. Your church family may offer opportunities for you to grow in faith, as well it should. But are you taking advantage of those opportunities, and are you translating that growth into your everyday life?

It doesn’t matter what you do: you could be a labourer, a business owner, a factory worker, a sales person, retired or a student – whatever you do with those 110 hours, seek to be a disciple of Jesus in all of them.

The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. The Holy Spirit lives in each person who names Jesus as Lord, and the Spirit will help us to live fully and authentically, whatever we do, doing it for the Lord.

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ” (Colossians 3.23-24, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Connect, Grow, Serve

Our vision for ministry – what God calls us to do, flowing from the Great Commission – at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, is to help people connect with God, grow in Christ, and serve in community.  But how does that all happen?

Because, as Andy Stanley reminds us, “vision leaks”, it’s important to be reminded now and again what it is that God has Blue Logocalled us to be as a community.  Based on Ephesians 4.11-24, you can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word

An holy partnership

This week, we’ve been hosting our annual Bible Fun Camp at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton. I think when a church puts on a vacation Bible school, it receives a sacred trust from parents, grandparents and guardians.

But, as I said to the parents gathered last night, the church is not the purveyor of a consumer religious service. Parents don’t bring their kids to Bible Fun Camp so that we can dispense religion to their kids. No: sharing faith is the parents’ job, primarily, and the church’s job is to act as a partner with the parents, grandparents and guardians in helping their children experience a personal relationship with Jesus.

Neither party can do it alone. If we leave the spiritual formation of children to the church alone, it will not work, as the past 50 years have proven. And if we leave the spiritual formation of children to the parents alone, they will grow weary and discouraged; they need the church to support them and partner with them.

If you have children in your care, I ask you to let the church partner with you in helping your kids to know and love Jesus. If you’re in the leadership of a church, find ways to help the congregation partner creatively with parents so that they don’t feel cast adrift in a sea of various spiritualities.

Being a parent is the hardest job known to the human race. Being a Christian parent is harder still! If you’re seeking to raise children to know and love Jesus, I’m in your corner. Let us all pray for parents as they steward the church’s future!

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6.6-7, NIV).

P.S.: Today is International Hug A Calvinist Day, otherwise known as John Calvin’s birthday. If you see someone with a Reformed bent today, give that person a hug!

Biblical Messages

Christ Our Shepherd

Agrarian language and metaphor worked in the first century world, because everybody understood sheep and shepherds.  The apostle Peter, in the last chapter of his first letter, applies this to the life of the church when he gives advice to congregations and leaders.  Based on 1 Peter 5, you can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word

It’s a different world!

As my friend Carey Nieuwhof has pointed out, the much-publicized decision of the United States Supreme Court in late June should come as no surprise to followers of Jesus, because it’s foolish of us to expect a secular society to follow Christian principles and practices.

We who are old enough to remember what a more ‘Christian’ Canada was like may have more adjusting to do than the younger generation. Just as some young people today are astounded to learn that the world existed before the Internet, some mature followers of Jesus are astounded to learn that we no longer live in a world where Christian principles and practices are universally known and lived out.

That’s a challenge for the church going forward, but it’s a challenge the church can meet if it has the will to do so. What will that look like, for us as individual believers?

First, it will mean pulling back the reins on judgment of people who aren’t Christians. Years ago, that judgment came out when someone showed up to church not dressed appropriately. Nowadays, that judgment can be unleashed in other ways, but we should refrain from judging, and welcome people who are brave enough to cross the threshold of the church and check us out.

Second, it will mean taking the church outside the four walls of the building and into the neighbourhood. As Alan Roxburgh has written in several of his books, the church in the 21st century must become “missional”. That means we don’t go to church, we take the church out into the neighbourhood. We get to know our neighbours, and learn how we can serve them in Jesus’ name. We take God’s love to them, wherever they are and in whatever state they find themselves; we don’t wait for them to come to us.

Third, it will mean being more intentional as Christians and as the church at living out God’s Word and his love, since we can’t assume anyone knows anything about the faith. I heard a story last Sunday about an individual who was asked to put on some music at work, and it turned out to be Christmas carols…and it wasn’t Christmas. This person simply didn’t know what Christmas music was; she or he had no Christian background (and, it seems, never visited the mall in December!). By not assuming people know anything about the faith, we can be sharper in our witness and more clear in our expression of God’s truth – with care and concern, not condescension.

Living Faith, a statement of faith of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, says this: “…in the spirit of humility, as beggars telling others where food is to be found, we point to life in Christ” (9.2.1).

God’s love for the world has always been sacrificial. Though the world around us – right now, anyway – might seem less Christian, God’s love is no less powerful. How will you be the living expression of God’s love today?

Always 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 3.15b, NIV).