Encouragement From The Word

Jesus is in the house!

There are many churches in Canada that are in decline.  That’s not news.  In my own denomination, congregations are closing at a rate never before seen.  I am grateful that there are some in my own, and in other denominations, that are growing and vibrant.

What do you suppose is the cause of this?  It could be a long conversation to talk about decline, but there’s a story in Mark 2 that helps us understand vitality.  In that story, four friends of a paralytic are so convinced that Jesus can heal their friend that, unable to navigate through the crowd, they dig a hole in the roof and lower him into the house where Jesus was teaching to get Jesus to heal him.

In the beginning of that story, though, Mark sets the scene this way:  “When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home.  Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door” (Mark 2.1-2a, NLT).  I read that story to a friend recently, and those words stopped her in her tracks.  Why?  Because that’s the answer to what brings vitality to the church:  “Soon the house…was so packed with visitors that there was no room, even outside the door.”

Jesus was in the house.  And that made all the difference.

The instructive word for us in the church today is that if we want to see vitality, growth, vibrancy, we need to ensure Jesus is in the house.

That means setting aside our own biases, our own wishes, and praying heartily for the Lord’s presence to be in our worship, in our service, in every aspect of our churches.

Give it a try this week!  God knows what amazing things could happen to the church in Canada if we invite the risen Lord Jesus Christ into our midst – not just in the church, but in our homes.  Is Jesus in your house?


Advice from a mentor: 1. Accept mercy

In this new series on 1 Timothy, we are going to learn how the advice of the apostle Paul affected Timothy, whom he mentored, and how it can help us walk with the Lord in our time.

We are grateful that God is merciful, and gracious.  Do we accept these?  That’s Paul’s advice to Timothy, and to us.  Based on 1 Timothy 1, you can listen to the message here:


Changing seasons

Yesterday marked the change of seasons in Canada.  While the calendar said it was autumn, the weather certainly didn’t indicate any such change!  But today shows signs of being cooler.  Every time we see a change of seasons, I am reminded of these classic words from the Teacher, Qoheleth, who wrote Ecclesiastes.  Linger for a few minutes over this passage.  Read it a few times, and ask the Lord if he has a word for you in it.  And rejoice in the changing of the seasons, by the plan of God.

For everything there is a season,

a time for every activity under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal.

A time to tear down and a time to build up.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.

A time to embrace and a time to turn away.

A time to search and a time to quit searching.

A time to keep and a time to throw away.

A time to tear and a time to mend.

A time to be quiet and a time to speak.

A time to love and a time to hate.

A time for war and a time for peace.

Encouragement From The Word

Anonymous comments don’t edify

You’ve heard me say it before:  nobody gets too much encouragement.  That’s axiomatic.  Yet one of the most common ways to discourage a leader is through anonymous comments.  (That’s one reason why so many blogs and news feeds turn off the comments section – people find it very easy to be rather unvirtuous when they can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.)

It’s surprising, but even though most people know that encouragement goes a lot further than discouragement, sometimes unsigned comments still come along from time to time.

My usual response to them is to ignore them; after all, if someone isn’t willing to stand behind what she or he writes, then it obviously isn’t worth pursuing.

I want to give you an example that isn’t personal, and so isn’t discouraging – it’s just disappointing.  Last Sunday, I received a connection card that didn’t have a name on it.  On the back, rather than responding in some way to the message (which was on having a heart to listen like Solomon, 1 Kings 3), the individual simply printed, “The NLT sounds gosh awful”.

I started preaching from the New Living Translation about a year ago, after the editors of the New International Version made significant changes to the translation.  The program we use to display the Scriptures on the screens moved to that new edition, thus rendering our pew Bibles different from what would be on the screens.  (Besides, I’m not a fan of the grammatical changes that were made to the NIV.)  Given all that, it seemed logical to change to reading and preaching from a translation that used good grammar and reads in contemporary language.  Most folks have just gone with the flow on this.

Had my anonymous connection card submitter affixed her or his name to the card, I would have explained all this, and given more reasons for why I have opted to use this translation.  But because the comment was anonymous, the individual lost the opportunity to benefit from that explanation, and any pastoral care I might have offered in the context of the conversation.  And I lost out on a chance to encourage another person.

Anonymous comments don’t build up.  Whether you’re saying something helpful or something that bothers you, when you deal with other people, always identify yourself.  It opens doors for effective communication, and even spiritual growth!

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1.7 – yes, in the NLT!).

Biblical Messages

An Understanding Heart

King Solomon could have anything he wanted from anybody.  But when God asked him in a dream for anything he wanted, he said he wanted “an understanding heart” – a heart to listen, to hear – so he could lead the people of Israel wisely.  God was pleased with this request, and granted it.  And Solomon got to use it in judging a dispute between two prostitutes, one of whom had a baby die and switched it with another’s baby.

This message is based on 1 Kings 3, and you can listen here:

Encouragement From The Word

Language check

While my wife and I were camping at Bonnechere Provincial Park last month (after our visit to Fort-Coulonge, noted in last week’s Encouragement), we sat outside enjoying the campfire one evening, and couldn’t help but overhear a family’s engagement at a nearby campsite.  They weren’t super loud; the sound just carried naturally.

Sometimes, when we hear other people’s business going on at a campsite, it is unnerving, annoying, and often embarrassing.  But not this time.

This young family had some of the usual interlocutions over the course of the day, talking about going swimming or canoeing or the like.  And in the evening, the mom, dad and three kids sat around the campfire playing a conversational game (the rules of which we never quite caught on to, but which we enjoyed overhearing nonetheless).

What made it so astounding – and gratifying – for us is that each member of the family interacted with the other with the utmost care and respect.  Not in a weird way, just in what we all would hope to be a normal way.  We never laid eyes on any of them, but we would guess the parents to be in their late 30s or early 40s, and the kids to be mid-teen, early-teen and pre-teen (two girls and a boy respectively).  It was obvious that they were ‘normal’ people, but that they truly loved each other.

I suspect, too, that they may have been Christians.  I don’t know that for a fact, of course, but their conversation was so kind that it seemed like a wholesome Christian family.

What most astounded us was that even when exclamatory remarks were made, not once did God’s name get misused.  Not once.

We never heard an “Oh my God!” even one time, which is rare – dare I say, even rare among Christians!

This got me thinking:  how often do we blurt out an “OMG” without really realizing it?  If you watch television, you know that tossing God’s name around has become common sport; people don’t even think about it anymore.  While my instinct may be incorrect, I think the social acceptability of this may have begun with Bonnie Franklin’s character in One Day At A Time, an evening sitcom that was popular in the 1970s, who blurted out a prolonged “Oh my God” at least once or twice a show, with the laugh track ensuing.

The third commandment makes it pretty plain that such cavalier use of God’s name is not something his people should be making:  “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (Exodus 20.7, NLT).

Many of God’s people don’t intentionally do this; for most who do, it’s reflexive, and not thought out.  Still, it is disturbing when followers of Jesus do this.  We should be careful with our choice of words, even when we’re frustrated or angry!

I want to encourage you today to do a language check:  if you’re spitting out even the occasional “OMG”, consider rephrasing your exclamations to honour the Lord you serve.  Be that family at the campsite near ours.  Be the person to whom people look appreciatively when you speak.  It honours the God you serve.

Biblical Messages

God’s Masterpiece

Due to technical difficulties, today’s message did not record.  Also due to technical difficulties, the video I showed at the end of the message did not have any audio.  Here’s a link to the video we saw but did not hear!

But here’s the big idea.  Created in God’s image as the pinnacle of God’s creation, that image was stained by sin, and only Jesus can restore it.  By faith in him, and by faith alone, we find that image fully restored and can see ourselves as God’s masterpiece, his workmanship.

If you’ve got self-esteem issues, or are wondering how you “identify”, look to the cross.  Look to Jesus, in whom we are affirmed in Christ as the magnum opus of God’s handiwork.

This message was based on Ephesians 2.1-10.  We’ll get the technology doing its thing again this week.


Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Hospitality alive!

What could possibly be held in common by a former student, someone I worked with at a denominational formation event, the CBC television show Still Standing, and my vacation?

I don’t normally write about my holidays, but when all of these disparate things came together, I thought it would be worth a post.

One of our favourite TV shows is Still Standing, wherein comedian and actor Jonny Harris (of Murdoch Mysteries fame) visits small, struggling towns in Canada to get to know the people and the difficulties they face with industry closures and the like.  It’s informative and funny, the two things I like best about television.  I knew that this season, Jonny would be visiting Fort-Coulonge, Québec, because an online student of mine last winter, Jane Pitfield, told me that she was having to deal with preparations for his visit to her little town not far from Pembroke, Ontario.  So I really enjoyed watching that particular episode, aired earlier this summer, because someone I knew would be in it.

My wife and I decided that it would be interesting to see what Jane was doing in the little town where her great-great-grandfather was responsible for bringing the logging industry (and thus prosperity).  So we arranged a visit as part of our holidays.

When we arrived, the hostess at the inn run by Jane (in the house built by her great-Spruceholme-Front-Viewgrandfather), we were told to go across the street to the Presbyterian church, where the student minister was waiting for us for a visit.  That was where we met Dave McFarlane, whom I had gotten to know at our denomination’s guidance conference for students last summer.  We caught up and chatted a bit, saw the historic building, and, not wanting to keep him from sermon preparation, we went back to the inn to await Jane’s return from a trip to Ottawa.

Claire, the delightful young hostess, kindly gave us a tour of the inn and the additional facilities that Jane had added on only in the past few years, including a bistro, contained in a barn that had been in her family which she had rebuilt on the site of the inn, and a reception hall (where the community show for Still Standing was taped).  It was so interesting to see such rich history brought back to life in a modern context.

We waited in the bistro for Jane, and shared a tasty supper and conversation with her there.  Knowing we had a campsite to get to before dark, Jane then took us to her home, which comprises an old log cabin that had been in her family many years ago, at the mouth of the Coulonge River, where it meets the Ottawa River – a site where many logs were moved for transport downstream.

We were amazed and astounded at the work Jane has undertaken to help to revitalize this small community where her ancestors had made such a difference.  The inn, the bistro and the conference hall have the opportunity to bring much tourism to Fort-Coulonge, and that fact that she is directly related to someone who is a much-honoured founder of the community has meant she is not considered “from away”, and can have a real impact.

That impact has been shown not only in the revitalization of buildings and industry, but in the skill Jane brings to her community as a politician; she is a former Toronto City Councillor, so she knows how to “get things done” in a political sense.  Though she does not hold the family name – Bryson – she is known as one of them.  Her great-great-grandfather and her great-grandfather were both members of the Québec Legislative Council in the early days of Confederation, right through to the early part of the twentieth century.  Some 70 years of continuous public service were rendered by those two men.  In her own way, Jane now carries that tradition on.

It’s not often one gets a front-row seat to such efforts, and we were glad to see what God is doing through Jane – for as one with a spiritual gift of hospitality, she longs to use that gift to make a difference for the Lord among the people of her community.

Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.  God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Peter 4.9-10, NLT).

To learn more about Jane’s work, visit http://www.spruceholmeinn.com/