Encouragement From The Word

A cure for anemic preaching

One of my long-held convictions is that there is a lot of anemic preaching out there today.  In so many cases, as I hear about and experience myself, preaching is either weak in content or weak in communication.  These two scenarios are most common:  either the preacher speaks well and passionately and has nothing to say, or the preacher shares the Word of God accurately and faithfully but without any sort of affection.

When we get strength in both content and communication, that’s when preaching becomes powerful. And I want to encourage you, whether you’re involved in the church I am or any other congregation, to hold your preacher to a standard that brings excellence.  How?

First, expect that your preacher will bring you the Word of God with power.  Come to worship with readiness and expectation. Engage in the singing; pray with the prayers; listen to the Word; be ready to act on what the preacher says. I can tell you that good listeners make better preachers.

Second, study the passage yourself, ahead of time, if you know what your preacher will be talking about.  Each week, I put the next Sunday’s message title and text in the bulletin – not so that people will say, “Oh, that’s nice, he’s talking about…” whatever.  No, I do that in the hope that people will have a look at the passage, ponder it, and come to worship the next Sunday ready to hear from God, ready to interact with the text and with what God gave you from it through the week.

Third, don’t hesitate to ask your pastor to help you work through a Bible passage that you’ve been reading.  If a text challenges you, moves you, or confuses you, talk about it.  (You can also do this with your small group.)  Let your pastor know that you’re engaged with the Bible, and that will make him or her more engaged with the Bible, too.

Fourth, pray for your pastor.  When people tell me they pray for me, I am moved, sometimes to tears, because I know what a difference that makes in my life – and in the life of the person who prays for me.  Preaching is a spiritual act of worship for the preacher and for the listener.  God can and does move by his Holy Spirit in amazing ways through the act of proclamation and intentional listening.

When you do these things, holding your preacher to a higher expectation of preaching that is both transformational and passionate, it’s amazing what the Holy Spirit will do with the church.

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.  I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling.  And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.  I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2.1-5, NLT).

This week, I’m working through The Art of Better Preaching, a course by Carey Nieuwhof and Mark Clark.  It inspired me to write this.  If you’re a preacher, I encourage you to take this online course.  (Nobody paid me to say that, I promise.)

God’s best for your weekend.  How will you change how you listen to preaching?

Encouragement From The Word will return on August 24.

Biblical Messages

The Dead Will Rise

“What happens after we die?” It’s a question not often enough asked.  There is much mystery to life beyond this life, but the Bible does address it in many places.  In our passage for today, John 5.24-30, we learn a few things that should encourage followers of Jesus…and should encourage people to become followers of Jesus!  Listen or watch below:

Encouragement From The Word

Celebrating by giving

In some cultures, I’ve learned that when an individual is celebrating a milestone of some sort, the individual gives gifts to those who have helped him or her to achieve the milestone, rather than the common North American tradition of others bringing gifts to the individual.  I’ve come to appreciate that.

This year, our church decided to try that approach.  We are celebrating our 60th ICG14anniversary of ministry and service to our community, so last Wednesday evening, we borrowed an idea from a friend of mine, and hired an ice cream truck to roam the streets of town for an evening.  We stopped at a seniors’ residence, a soccer pitch, and a community park – and for any passersby as we journeyed along.  People were expecting to have to pay for the ice cream.

But they didn’t.  We did.

Why? We did it to invite our community to celebrate with us, and to get the word out that serving Jesus and having fun can be compatible.

We weren’t preaching to anyone.  We told them St. Paul’s was celebrating its 60th anniversary by giving away ice cream cones.  The driver/server of the ice cream truck was so thrilled at what we were doing that he told everybody he gave a cone to where the church is and what time worship begins!

Will this result in higher attendance?  Possibly, but not likely.  That’s not really why we did it.  But if our act of kindness to our community planted a seed or two, it will have been successful. You never know what opportunities may come about down the road because we offered an ice cream cone on a warm evening, in Jesus’ name.

Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” (Romans 12.11, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Here comes the judge

Jesus is equal to God.  Jesus is sovereign over life.  Jesus is Judge.  The second section of John 5 deals with some foundational theological issues that deserve our attention.

This message starts with the first part of this video from Laugh-In, from back in the day:

You can watch or listen to this message, based on John 5.16-23, here:

Encouragement From The Word

Government by public opinion

Warning:  Today’s Encouragementis about as political as I’ll ever get.  I’m not looking for a debate.  I encourage you to consider the broader issue and what God’s Word has to say to that broader issue.  Thanks for reading.  JFL

Government by public opinion is almost never a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that we should ditch democracy; after all, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”  I think it’s good that the people should elect their governments; I’m blessed to live in a country where that happens regularly.

But when that government, elected by me and many thousands of others, decides to rule by public opinion, we are in trouble.  Big trouble.

Take, for example, the report that came out earlier this week that the public health department in the city of Toronto believes that all drugs for personal use should be decriminalized.  Why do they believe this?  They say that the city’s current policy regarding drugs is not working, and furthermore, they say that a public health consultation has indicated that in general, people favour decriminalization.

Now, personally, I think this is a dangerous idea (that carries a dangerous precedent with it), but let’s set aside the issue of drug decriminalization, and look instead at the principle of government by public opinion.  Why is it such a bad idea?  After all, if the people elect the government, shouldn’t the government do the people’s bidding?

In theory, at least, we elect people to public office to govern us because we believe they have the necessary gifts, talents, skills, and wisdom to undertake the task.  And when a majority of the people in a given geographical area share that opinion, individuals are elected.  At the federal and provincial levels, at least, a particular party is declared to be the governing party when a majority of its representatives are elected by the voters.  We then entrust the responsibility of governing to these people.

When a government decides to legislate based on opinion polls and consultations – particularly on issues of morality – that government to which we entrusted responsibility then abdicates its responsibility to do what it discerns is best for the people.  Instead, it does what the people want…and in this fallen, sinful world, that’s not always what’s best for them.

Imagine if your family ran like that?!  If you and your spouse decided to do public consultations with your toddlers on what they should eat, when they should go to bed, whether or not they should look both ways before crossing the street, etc., how does that demonstrate responsibility for your children – and love for them?

In theory at least, the government is supposed to be the parent, and we are supposed to be the children.  That certainly seems to work when it comes to the Canada Revenue Agency; why not in other areas?

The Bible says, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God…. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13.1, 4, NLT).

Of course, some will cite National Socialism in Germany in the 20th century as a “but” to that passage, yet we cannot let our interpretation of the Scriptures be based on exceptions.  The Nazi regime was a notable exception, but it is an exception.  In general, governments (even harsh ones, as in the context in which the apostle Paul wrote Romans 13) are put in place for us to follow, not for the government to follow us.

Pray for your elected officials at all levels. Pray that God will give them wisdom and strength to do the hard work of governing placed before them.  Write to your elected officials; encourage them to make hard decisions that they believe will benefit society.  If you think they make the wrong decisions, let them know at the next election!  But let’s not tie the hands of government by suggesting that they should rule based on public opinion.

Above all, pray for the salvation of your elected officials.  Pray that these people will have a life-changing encounter with the living God, made known in Jesus Christ!  Imagine what God could do with a government composed of Spirit-filled men and women who want what God wants for your city, province or nation?

Biblical Messages

Sin and Sabbath

There are varying opinions among followers of Jesus as to what one should do with the concept of Sabbath.  In John 5.1-15, we see the Sabbath Police at work, and Jesus connection sin and sickness.  What on earth can we do with these concepts?  Watch below and find out how the Holy Spirit invited me to draw them together.  (Sorry, no audio-only file this week.)



Encouragement From The Word

Don’t let your clock wind down

We live in a world that never sleeps, don’t we?

It used to be that we’d refer to New York as “the city that never sleeps,” but it seems like the whole world is that way now.  And it’s rubbing off on us: we’re working long hours, wasting our time getting worked up over pointless things, and not getting enough rest.

Someone once likened the human body to a seven-day wind-up clock.  (Last week I wrote about a watch that ticked; today, it’s about a clock that needs winding!  Watch for next week’s instalment, where we talk about sundials!)  Yes, back in the day, clocks needed to be wound or they would not keep time. If the winding ritual were to be neglected, the clock would run down and stop completely.

Taking a day of rest – a Sabbath of some sort – is like winding the clock of your body, mind and spirit.  We can’t work constantly and expect to keep our health at any level.  And by “work”, I’m referring not only to your ‘day job’, but also to anything that saps joy from you.

Unless you’re a pastor, it’s hoped that you can take Sunday as your Sabbath rest day. For a long time, it was assumed that you couldn’t do anything fun on the Sabbath; if we adhere ourselves to the ceremonial laws of Leviticus, that’s true.  (Of course, if we adhere to those laws, we should be taking Saturday off, not Sunday – but we are an Easter people, and we celebrate the Lord’s Day!)

Take time on your Sabbath for worship, for rest, and for doing that which gives you life. But above all, take time for Sabbath. Don’t let your clock wind down.

This Sunday, I’m going to be talking about the importance of Sabbath (and its connection to sin).  You can join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, watch the message on Facebook Live, or catch it later on my blog or on YouTube.

It may be summer, but it doesn’t always feel like a time of rest.  Honour God and yourself by taking time for Sabbath.  Don’t let your clock wind down.

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 5.12, NLT).