Biblical Messages

Beautiful Feet, Holy Power

“I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news,” you’ll sometimes hear.  Which do we take first?  When it comes to the Good News, we need the bad news first.  Find out why in this message from Isaiah 52.1-12.

(I’ve stopped recording an audio-only version; if you were finding this helpful, please let me know and I can start doing it again.)

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Encouragement From The Word

The Saviour…all year

I hope you enjoyed a blessed Christmas!  This week between Christmas and the new year is always a nebulous week for me.  For pastors, it’s a time of recovery from what is often a lot of worship celebrations in a short period of time (five in three days for me…but I knew that when I signed up!).  For families, it’s a balancing act between visiting relatives and keeping kids from being bored or fighting with their siblings; now that Christmas is over, “naughty or nice” has gone out the window for some children!  For some people, it’s a heavy travel time, with highways busy and airports crowded. And for some of us, the week gets clouded even more because our birthdays fall during that week.  (Mine happens to be today.)

Too often, amid all that, the Reason For The Season gets left behind.  Christmas helps us to focus on Jesus as our Saviour.  But if we’re not too careful, as time goes on, Jesus gets relegated to a lesser place than he deserves.

In my message this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m going to say something I think bears repeating more widely.  I’ll quote Old Testament scholar John Oswalt, who said, “When we think the solution to our problems is to be found within ourselves, we are liable to think of God as an assistant or a fall-back device.” And in this state, we think we do not need a Saviour. We may need a teacher or a friend, but we do not need a Saviour.  That’s why, in part, Christmas has become this strange combination of consumerism and romanticism.

Jesus has become ancillary to the celebration of Christmas, because the concept of a Saviour seems unnecessary.  We, as the church, will be used by God to turn that around, because humanity is in deep need of a Saviour, in deep need of the Saviour, the one who is called Jesus the Christ, who came to save us from our sins.  We may be saved by grace, but we still sin (well, at least, I do).

So, as the memory of Christmas services fades into the past for another year, and a new year stands on the horizon, let me encourage you to keep Jesus’ place as Saviour in the forefront.  Remember that you need him as Saviour.  Remember that your loved ones who are far from God need him as Saviour.  Remember that “this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, NLT).

I wish you a happy and blessed new year.  And may you know the delight of Jesus as your Saviour all year.

Encouragement From The Word returns on January 11.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: “Christians in the Age of Outrage” by Ed Stetzer

Have you noticed that as social media have become more commonplace that people 81P-q0lP98Lseem to have gotten nastier?  I know I’ve seen it.  And, if I’m honest, there may have been a few times where I participated in it.  Some people make it their life’s goal to call people to correctness – or to their opinion, at least – and hiding behind the computer monitor allows them to do so with a greater degree of vitriol than they probably would use in face-to-face conversation.

Sadly, Christ-followers have not been immune to being sucked into the vortex of ugly online conversation.

Dr. Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair for Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College in Illinois, is a prolific participant in social media conversations.  Having worked for LifeWay Research before heading to the Windy City, he understands how to gather and communicate statistics in ways that will help build up the church.  And he has done so once again in Christians in the Age of Outrage:  How to bring our best when the world is at its worst (Tyndale House, 2018).

I was provided an advance reader copy (for my Kindle app) of this book by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., and had high hopes of completing the book and churning out a review much sooner than this, but better late than never, here it is.

To be sure, this book is aimed primarily at an American audience, and given the proliferation of tweeting taking place at the hand of the sitting President of that nation, and the likes, retweets and replies that come with them, it is not surprising that Stetzer would tailor the book to his home country.  That said, the principles apply to users of social media throughout the world.

Stetzer’s goal is to encourage people who love and serve Jesus to carry their faith not only into their face-to-face dialogues, but into their digital conversations, too.  Unfortunately, Stetzer has observed that the online outrage that has emerged over the past several years has Christians caught up in it, too.

Each disciple of Jesus has a sphere of influence, and we are called to remember that the world is watching not only how we act at work, and how we respond when our kid doesn’t get put in the game by the coach, but also how we respond when someone posts something to social media with which we may disagree.  As Stetzer notes in the second part of the book, “Outrageous Lies and Enduring Truths”, “in a culture where everyone’s default response seems to be indignation, we can justify our outrage as righteous anger.” That’s one of the outrageous lies he mentions.  Followers of Jesus are called to ‘turn the other cheek’, as Jesus says.  That doesn’t mean we should just let bad theology and the misrepresentation of the Christian faith simply float away; it means we should avoid using unhelpful language and tone in our online discussions, while also helping people to see that there is another side to the story.

We often don’t do this, because it takes work.  There’s researching the topic at hand in such a way that we have our facts straight, and then taking the time to present the more accurate, cogent argument in a winsome manner.

As a pastor, I took some great advice from this book on how I should handle my social media presence.  (I also got some great sermon ideas, though I’m sure that’s secondary to the main point Stetzer was trying to make!)

Stetzer’s heart, as a church planter, teacher and mentor, is to see the church fulfill its core mandate: to make disciples.  In order to do so, we must first be discipled ourselves, so that we can go and make disciples.  This is foundational to everything Stetzer writes in the book.  To that end, he writes about some of the idols that we demonstrate we hold, as expressed in our use of social media, such as politics, identity, and personality.  When any of these takes the place of God – which is what an idol does – it shows in what we write and how we write it.  And those idols keep us from being the ambassadors of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I could go on at length, as the book is quite lengthy (perhaps my one criticism of the book).  However, nothing Stetzer writes in Christians in the Age of Outrage is superfluous to his main focus or his undergirding principle.  I would call this “recommended reading” for pastors who use social media, and even for those who don’t, that they might (a) counsel congregants who do use social media (and that’s most of them) and (b) consider engaging in social media themselves.  Stetzer doesn’t recommend hiding from social media, since it’s not going away anytime soon.  I would also recommend this book for Christians who would consider doing a gut check on their own social media “tone of voice”, as well as to help them understand the current phenomenon of outrage that exists at the click of a mouse.

Christians in the Age of Outrage, by Ed Stetzer, published by Tyndale House.  ISBN 978-1-4964-3362-6.

Biblical Messages

Father Abraham

Remember how Dana Carvey, the American comedian, used to have a character called “the Church Lady”?  Everything bad was Satan’s fault, in her eyes.  But did you know that Satan can even use God’s people to accomplish his ends?  Jesus demonstrated that to his Jewish interlocutors in John 8.42-59, and we learn how to apply it in the message, which you can listen to or watch below.

Will you do me a favour?  Let me know if you actually prefer to listen to the message rather than watch it on YouTube, because I’m considering no longer making a special audio recording of the message, now that we are videoing it.  Thanks.

 

Encouragement From The Word

Longing (in a minor key)

Well, we’re getting close!  Christmas is just around the corner.  I hope and pray that your preparations have been less-than-frazzling for you, that you have had time to breathe and enjoy the blessings of the season of Advent.

At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we’re going to open our service this week with the Advent carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. It’s a perennial favourite for some, and not a favourite of others.  (This is true of most music, isn’t it?  One of the things I consider when I’m choosing music for worship besides, “Will this fit with the theme of the service?” is, “You can’t please everybody,” and it’s true.)  I suspect some people may not be fans of it because the song is in a minor key.  Some folks just have an aversion to songs in minor keys, and yet there is a good reason why this, and any number of other traditional songs of the season of Advent, are in a minor key:  it’s a musical expression of longing.

That’s what we do in the season of Advent: we long for Jesus to be born.  We long for his ministry to begin.  We long for his atoning death and resurrection to happen. (The latter is a reason why many songs in Lent are in a minor key, too, though we tend to expect that, since Good Friday has a ‘minor key’ feel to it altogether.)

So amid all that has taken place in these past few weeks – getting the house decorated, getting gifts purchased, getting baking done, getting meals prepared, etc., etc…have you had time for some longing?

Here’s a setting of the carol, in case you’ve already sung it this season, or if you’re one of the many recipients of Encouragement who does not attend St. Paul’s.  As you sing it, let your heart be open to longing for Jesus.

[T]he Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)” (Isaiah 7.14, NLT).

Merry Christmas!

Encouragement From The Word

To love and serve

I was doing some research for a message this week, and I encountered a prayer-hymn. It struck me to the point I thought it would be worth sharing with you.

It was written by Richard Baxter, a 17th-century Puritan clergyman who wrote widely and deeply about Christian faith.  His seminal work is called The Reformed Pastor, which is worth reading even if you’re neither Reformed nor a pastor!  (Truth be told, he wrote it in response to The Country Parson, Anglican cleric George Herbert’s work on pastoral care.)

Background aside, I think you will find this a prayer worthy of your lips.  If you’d prefer to sing it, it’s set in Common Meter (8.6.8.6).

Lord, it belongs not to my care
whether I die or live:
to love and serve thee is my share,
and this thy grace must give.

Christ leads me through no darker rooms
than he went through before;
he that into God’s kingdom comes
must enter by this door.

Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
thy blessed face to see;
for if thy work on earth be sweet,
what will thy glory be!

Then shall I end my sad complaints
and weary, sinful days,
and join with the triumphant saints
that sing my Saviour’s praise.

My knowledge of that life is small,
the eye of faith is dim;
but ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
and I shall be with him.

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90.12, NRSV).