Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

PRACTICAL LOVE: For Jesus, For Others

When my wife listened to this message, she said, “I’d never thought of that passage in that way before.”  Maybe you’ll have a similar reaction, or maybe not!  The parable of the sheep and the goats is often used as a cattle prod to encourage people to good deeds – but to what end?  And whom are we serving in the process?  Perhaps the exposition of Matthew 25.31-46 will be a surprise for you, too.  You can listen to the message here:

If you’re interested, here is a recording of the choral piece I cite in the message.

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Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Religion or Relationship?

A friend on social media recently asked an interesting question:  Is Christianity more about religion or relationship?  Or a bit of both?

How would you answer?

There have been congregations, even whole denominations, that have been built on the concept of selling Christianity as relationship and not religion.  I think that may have been a bit of a reaction to the over-religionization (I think that might be a new word!) of the Christian faith.

I have always seen the Christian faith as being primarily about relationship, but expressed primarily in religious ways.

Think about it:  the focus of Jesus’ ministry was the Kingdom of God, which is built by and ushered in by Jesus, through his Spirit. What we do with Jesus, and how we relate to Jesus, is key to the expression of Christian faith.  (After all, it is “Christ”-ian!)

But how we express our relationship with God has a religious element to it.  From the time of the earliest church, modelled after the Jews in the synagogue, Christians gathered together to worship the Lord God, made known in Jesus Christ his Son.  How that gets expressed varies quite a lot among the different traditions of the Christian faith, but there is a religious element that can’t be ignored.

Many people say they can worship God and be Christian without going to church, without being religious.  Maybe they think they can, but I’m not sure anyone has tried and succeeded.  Perhaps those who try simply have a different sort of religious expression.  And, of course, there’s the whole aspect of community that gets lost when the individualistic “I” says, “I don’t have to be religious.”

(There’s also those who claim to be spiritual but not religious; again, I suspect they are just as religious, but it may be expressed differently, or aimed in a different direction.  But I digress.)

By all this I mean to say:  our relationship with the Lord is best lived out through our religious expression as the churchNotice that I didn’t say “in the church”, but “as the church”.  The church is those called out and gathered together; in that togetherness we make religious expressions of praise, confession, thanksgiving and supplication to the Lord, that we may be empowered to take that religious expression outside the building and put to work in our own neighbourhood as we serve the Lord faithfully.

Even religious expression involves serving others.  So, how are you living out your relationship with Jesus?

I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10.7b, NLT).

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

PRACTICAL LOVE: A cup of cold water

We sometimes misread passages of Scripture, don’t we?  I approached Matthew 10.37-42 expecting a different conclusion than the Lord gave me in it.  This message, surprisingly to me, came out as a call to discipleship and a call to take care of the family of faith.

Don’t stop five minutes in!  I’m not attacking the family…I promise.  Listen here:

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

The *really* bleak mid-winter

February is a challenging month for many people who live in the northern hemisphere.  It may be the month for celebrating love and family, and it may be the shortest month, but it often is the dullest month of the year, too – the month that brings to life the C.S. Lewis quotation:  “Always winter, never Christmas.”

I want to encourage you to consider this text by the English poet Christina Rossetti.  Victorian and pre-Victorian English hymnists loved to make references to the weather; one might think they assumed that December weather was the same in England as it was in Palestine!  Often, this text is sung only at Christmas, since it appears in the Christmas section of most hymnals (and its text is filled with the nativity).  It definitely fits the Christmas theme, but perhaps in February, which is the really bleak mid-winter, we do well to revisit this classic text:

In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan,

earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

in the bleak mid-winter, long ago.

 

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;

heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.

In the bleak mid-winter a stable place sufficed

the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,

worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

 

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

 

Here’s a link to listen to this text, with a more delightful English choral tune than is often found in most hymn books.

As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night” (Genesis 8.22, NLT).

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

PRACTICAL LOVE: 1. What’s at Stake?

We begin a new series today on “practical love” – a good theme for Valentine’s Day – as weprodigalsonremb work toward the cross and through the season of Lent.  I revisit a theme I spoke on not long after my arrival at St. Paul’s, asking, “What’s at stake?” – using a real wooden stake.

This message is based on the parable of the lost son in Luke 15.11-32.  Have a listen:

 

 

 

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

A sun dog morning

Sometimes, stereotypes exist for a reason. For example, I am about to talk about the weather. I’m a Canadian. We talk about the weather. That’s a stereotype.

Yesterday morning, on my way to the church office, I spotted something in the sky. It wasthumb_IMG_2023_1024 hard to miss, frankly. An ‘ice halo’, otherwise known as a ‘sun dog’, was plainly evident in the southeastern sky. It was a bright, cold, clear day in Nobleton, save for some cirrus clouds in the upper atmosphere. The conditions were right for this unusual meteorological phenomenon. And the timing to catch it was perfect.

Why am I talking about the weather? Well, there’s so many ways we could go with this, but let me limit my thoughts to two.

First, while it was the coldest morning we’ve experienced this winter, and not everybody is a fan of the cold, one isn’t going to see a halo around the sun when it’s warm. Rainbows, yes, but halos, no. Sometimes, we need to experience some discomfort in order to experience a unique blessing.

Have you ever found yourself enduring difficult circumstances, only to discover, later, that those difficult circumstances paved the way to something amazing? Those of you who have given birth will understand this better than the rest of us, I expect. But we who have never birthed a child can understand it, too. Sometimes, we find ourselves in challenging situations. In their midst, we might feel like the world is crashing down around us. But once we pass through those situations, we might find our character has been strengthened, or our hearts have been opened to some greater thing God had planned for us. This may not be true in every difficult circumstance, but something good can come from it, though we may not enjoy it at the time.

Second, timing matters. Often, I don’t head out the door until closer to 9:00, since I live quite close to the church. But yesterday, I was at the church at 8:40. Why? The only reason I can guess is that the Lord wanted me to see that beautiful meteorological feat of his. (Sure, physics can explain it, but who made the physics possible, right?!) When we are open to God’s timing, and ready to go when God says ‘go’ – even if it’s just a 750 metre trip – we can experience blessings that we might miss if we remain chained to our own schedule.

All this might seem like a stretch just from seeing a sun dog, but that was my Thursday morning experience, and it was a blessing for me. How has an uncomfortable situation, or being in the right place at the right time, been a blessing for you?

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 up;

    the flames will not consume you” (Isaiah 43.2, NLT).

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

EXPERIENCING GOD IN PRAYER: The Ultimate Goal

The concept of union with Christ, more commonly discussed among mystics than among everyday followers of Jesus, really is the ultimate goal of the Christian life.  How do we experience union with Christ in prayer?  This message, based on Matthew 17.1-8 and John 15.1-8, explores that question.  Have a listen!