Encouragement From The Word

What does the Bible say?

October 31 is an important day, but maybe not for the reason you think.

Yes, October 31 is also the day candy sellers and dentists everywhere look forward to each year, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

October 31 – tomorrow – marks a very important day in the history of Christianity. It was on October 31, 1517, that a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther decided to post 95 ideas he had derived, as a result of reading the New Testament, for reforming the church from within.

Now, when I say, “post”, I’m talking old school here: he did not post them on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. He literally nailed these notions to the big wooden door of the cathedral church in Wittenberg, Germany. It wasn’t all that odd; it was the normal way of disseminating information. It was the social media of the day. (Remember, even the printing press was a relatively new innovation at this point.)

The idea was that other scholars would read what Luther had written, and there would be dialogue and debate about how to make these ideas work for the benefit of the church.

However, some ordinary folks (read: not scholars) got hold of these ideas, because someone had taken them down and sent them to a printing press for wide dissemination. And when the ordinary folks got hold of these ideas, they ran with them, and went even further than Luther wanted to go.

Thus began the Protestant Reformation, on October 31, 1517.

Luther’s idea wasn’t to start a new church, but to make the Roman church better. And though Protestantism, and its many denominations, saw birth in the Reformation, there was good that came out of it for the Roman church, too, as it reformed from within.

It depends on one’s perspective, I suppose, but while some would see the Reformation as a celebration of the breakup of the church, others see it as a call to get back to the Scriptures. Much of what has been emphasized in Protestantism has been a call to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”

As you mark Reformation day tomorrow (perhaps with copious amounts of candy), think about the many matters that go through your mind, and on which you must make decisions. Then ask yourself, “What does the Bible say about this?” That will be an apt celebration indeed.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119.105, NIV).

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Encouragement From The Word

Trusting Challenges

We’ve just marked the first anniversary of the shooting that took place on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. My friend, Hugh McGreechan, a subscriber to Encouragement From The Word, kindly allowed me to adapt an article he wrote for his church newsletter, reflecting on the event. Read on…

I lead the team of Special Constables at the Ontario Legislature, so needless to say, the tragic incident last October in Ottawa has greatly affected how we think, act, work and carry out our assigned responsibilities of protecting the Legislative Precinct. To this end, much time and effort has been committed to reviewing how we operate, to see if there is a different way to do business. As you may have read, one option was to introduce firearms for our team. This proposal has required countless long stressful hours of meetings, discussions, research, policy writing and training.

As part of the team, I have had the amazing (more now in reflection) opportunity to travel about the province and country for specialized training, but this was quite a step (no, a major leap) outside of my personal comfort zone. No matter how I tried to convince myself otherwise, I knew I was troubled, and unsure of what exactly was to occur. In typical Hughie fashion I have to get myself worked up into a ‘bit’ of a tizzy for such challenges, and this proved to be no different. These multiple courses left me feeling shaken, scared, alone and unsure; and only when I took a breath was I able to get my head back to where it needed to be. Make no mistake: this breath was not a simple pause to gather my thoughts and get it together; this is when I remembered that it could not be too rough, as God was there, too, and through him all things are possible. Through much prayer and conversation, and by his grace, I was able to complete the courses and do what was needed to successfully meet these challenges.

After I successfully got thought the multiple testing stages, I could not believe the feeling of overwhelming joy and enthusiasm. All stress and worries were completely gone, allowing me to see it for what it was and enjoy what I had experienced. During the qualifiers, although aware of the pressure and challenge ahead, a sense of calm was ever-present, assisting me to do what was required. When I looked back at what I went through, I could not believe the time, energy and health wasted worrying about what may be instead of enjoying what was. More importantly, I felt badly that I had not been stronger in my faith at the onset, to trust and seek God’s help sooner; thankfully he is there to help us and does not judge, condemn or disown us when we stray, slip or falter. Like an ever-watchful parent, he is there holding out his hand to support and remind us that there is no need to worry as he is always there every step of the way, even if we forget.

It was absolutely incredible to come to church on my first Sunday back, feeling the joy and security of what had occurred, to see that the hymns and message were all structured around trusting in God and knowing he is always there. It was as if the service had been set just for me. It always intrigues me how things all tie together as constant reminders of what has occurred and is possible. He truly works in mysterious and marvellous ways.

Perhaps if I (maybe we) would take on roles or challenges more often we would learn what is possible or just what we are actually capable of with his help. By staying safe and not taking the venture, we are not sure what to do when called upon to act, and being new it always seem much bigger than it is or has to be. This is one thing I am working on and hopefully one day will master (or at least improve upon) it.

I have often discussed with people how amazing it is to me that the actions of one person on that day in Ottawa could so change aspects of society but now just imagine what could be achieved if that energy was designed to help others.

What about each of us? What could we achieve if we stepped outside of our comfort zone and challenged ourselves to do more, help others and share the Lord’s message? If we seek and find other believers, it strengthens our resolve. If we introduce new people to his Kingdom we get to actually be the disciples he intended us to be. If we faced challenges head on, remembering God was there with us, all of our nervous wasted energy could be used to achieve an even greater result.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4.13, NIV).

Biblical Messages

THE TALK: 4. Satan’s Sex Ed

This may be the hardest sermon I’ve ever preached.

Some will say I pushed too hard, some will say I soft-pedalled it, but I believe this is what the Holy Spirit was leading me to say as we wrapped up our series called “The Talk”, on forming a biblical Christian sexual ethic.  In this message, we alluded to Psalm 51 and worked through 1 Corinthians 6.  Have a listen:

Encouragement From The Word

God, keep our land

On Monday, Canadians go to the polls to elect a new federal government. It has been a long campaign, and filled with more rhetoric and attack than visions and promises.

For followers of Jesus, it would be nice if there were one party with whose platform we completely agreed with, for that would make it easier to cast a vote. But we are not likely to find such a thing. And there are Christians in all parties (as well as people of other faiths, and no faith at all).

So what’s a believer to do?

Really, there are three things we are called to do around an election.

First, learn. We need to go through an election campaign prepared to learn what each party (and candidate) espouses in terms of platform, core values and promises. Try to wade through the propaganda, which is everywhere, and learn what each party and candidate stands for. Then ask yourself, How does this mesh with what I believe?

Second, pray. Once you have learned as much as you can, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you prepare to vote. Don’t just take sixty seconds to pray before you mark your ballot; pray as you learn, and ask the Lord to help you discern what is going to be best for Canada before you get to the polling station.

Third, vote. God appoints a government for a nation through the people who vote. It is both a civic and a Christian responsibility to participate in the democratic process that has the potential to shape the future of the country.

As we approach election day, join me in praying those familiar words of our national anthem: God, keep our land glorious and free!

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13.1, NLT).

Biblical Messages

THE TALK: 3. Latitude in Gratitude

A hard talk about sex on Thanksgiving Sunday might seem difficult or awkward, so I opted today to talk about the biblical foundation on which we base our Christian sexual ethics.  Based on Psalm 119.97-112 and 2 Timothy 3.10-17, you can listen to the message here:

As a response to the message, everyone was invited to come forward with a ‘leaf’ each had been given at the beginning of the service, on which a treasured Scripture verse had been written.  Here is the result!  thumb_IMG_1871_1024

Encouragement From The Word

A whole world to be won

Last week, the Toronto Blue Jays clinched Major League Baseball’s American League East Division title for the first time in 22 years. There was, as you might imagine, much rejoicing at this, from both players and fans alike.

But did you notice what happened immediately after the game they won that clinched the title? They lost the next couple of games – games that, arguably, they should have been able to win (especially the first one). Granted, that first one saw a number of second-string players getting field time, but one might have thought they’d play better than they did.

It was as if the Blue Jays had gained a title, and then let their guard down, forgetting what was at stake (which, in this case, was home field advantage). There are more series yet to play!

Sometimes, we can be like that in the life of faith, can’t we? We come to faith in Christ, with all the excitement that comes with that, and maybe we serve for a season, but then we decide it’s time for someone else to take over. We let our guard down.

Yet there’s a whole world to be won.

Trusting Jesus for our eternal salvation is important, but it’s not the end of the road. We don’t believe and then start spraying the proverbial champagne. No – when we come to faith, that’s when the real work of being followers of Jesus begins. Jesus told us to pray that God’s Kingdom would come on earth, just as it is in heaven. And for that to happen, Christ-followers have to work.

So celebrate your faith, but don’t rest on your laurels. There’s a whole world to be won!

The harvest is great, but the workers are few.  So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Matthew 9.37b-38, NLT).

Biblical Messages

THE TALK: 2. Not just a piece of paper

Marriage, some say, is just a piece of paper.  But the Bible suggests there’s more to it than that.  It is God’s intended context wedding photofor sexual expression.  That’s pretty complex, as the six points of this message indicate.  Based on Proverbs 5 and 1 Corinthians 7.1-9, you can listen to the message here:

(The young couple pictured at right are referred to in the opening part of the message.  If you see this guy, congratulate him on the catch.)