Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Tend to the inside first

Possibly as you read this, I am having a root canal done.  9:00 a.m. Friday.  Tooth 2-4.  I’ve often thought that if ever I were going to lose a tooth, it would be that one.  The root canal, I’m told, is what will help me not lose that tooth.  As I write this on Thursday, pain-free, I’m not wholly convinced!  But the endodontist is a professional.  I’ll trust him.

Apparently, the procedure will clear the roots of the tooth of nerves, pulp, and whatever else may be in there, and they will be filled with a rubber substance that will not break down.  It will clear out the inside, in order to preserve the outside.

Jesus talked about this from a spiritual point of view.  The Pharisees and teachers of religious law were terribly concerned about outward appearances, but were not dealing well with their inner lives.

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.  What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.  Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23.25-28, NLT)

It would be easy to use some sort of whitener to make the tooth look good, but if it’s dying on the inside, that’s not going to ameliorate my life in any way.  The same is true with our spiritual lives.  If we keep up appearances, but are dying on the inside due to spiritual malnutrition, that’s not going to be to our benefit.

Let me encourage you to tend to the inner life as a matter of first priority.  If you take care of your relationship with Jesus first and foremost, that will position you better to tend to other matters.

Encouragement From The Word

Sowing seeds

One day, Jesus told his friends a story.  “A farmer went out to plant some seeds.  As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.  Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow.  But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died.  Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Matthew 13.3-8, NLT).

When I was in Bible Society work, I often preached on this passage, because, as Jesus notes later in that passage, the seed is the Word of God, and I was in the business of promoting the reading, promotion and distribution of God’s Word.

It has another layer of meaning, though, too.

When we sow seeds of faith, we can’t always see immediate results.  It might take years for those seeds to take root and grow.

I’ve heard a few stories this week of people in whom much has been invested spiritually who are starting to bear fruit.  It’s exciting to watch, and exciting to hear these stories.

Here’s another example.  A few weeks ago, I was called to oversee a ‘celebration of life’ service for someone who had died.  I knew no one in the family at all.  In the conversation, I learned that the reason I was called is that a young person in their family has attended our summer Vacation Bible Camp.

Because our volunteers helped a child learn about Jesus while having fun, I now have an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with a group of grieving family and friends.

We have no idea what may happen when we sow seeds of the Word, seeds of faith.  Ultimately, that’s up to the Lord.  We may benefit in our own part of God’s vineyard, or some other congregation may benefit.  Either way, the Kingdom wins when we share faith.

Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15.58b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

God gives you more than you can handle

People often say that God will never give us more than we can handle.

Malarkey.

God gives us more than we can handle all the time!  The fact is, God never gives us more than he can handle through us.

There can be times when we feel overwhelmed.  I’ve been there, and I imagine you have been, too.  But as followers of Jesus, we do well to remember that he is in our corner.  In fact, he even prayed for our protection.

We tend to refer to “Our Father, who art in heaven…” as the Lord’s prayer, but that is a model Jesus gave his friends.  The real Lord’s prayer – the prayer that came from Jesus’ own heart – is in John 17.  And in the middle of that prayer, here’s what Jesus prays for his followers:

Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.  During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me” (John 17.11b-12a, NLT).

Take comfort!  As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, dying and rising again, and ascending into heaven, he was asking the Father to protect us by the power of Jesus’ name.

Remember that, next time you find yourself in a difficult place.

Encouragement From The Word

Resolutions or Rule?

Happy new year!  I hope your Christmas and New Year celebrations were deep and rich.

When it comes to the new year, there seem to be two kinds of people:  folks who make resolutions, and folks who don’t.  Fitness facilities everywhere rely on the former, at least for the first few weeks of the year!

It’s one thing to make a resolution, but it’s another thing to create a habit.  This is why I prefer to consider a rule of life rather than resolutions.

What do I mean by a rule of life?

In one sense, you can think of a rule of life as a series of new year’s resolutions that you actually keep, that are integrated into your lifestyle.  A rule of life is a plan that you set out for yourself, prayerfully, that you can achieve, that will enhance your life and your walk with God.

It can involve things you will undertake daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.  So, for example, you might want to make reading the Bible and praying for half an hour, and going for a 2 kilometre walk while listening to an edifying podcast, part of your rule for each day.  A regular day of rest and a date with your spouse or significant other could be part of your weekly rule.  Monthly, you could vow to read a solid work of theology and take a long hike (though perhaps not at the same time!).  Yearly, you could set out to make a retreat, guided or alone, to build your relationship with the Lord, and ensure you take at least two weeks of vacation.

These are just examples, but if you set your mind to them, and seek the grace of God to fulfill them, these are achievable goals.  And if, for example, you miss a day in your Bible reading and prayer, instead of abandoning the idea altogether, you get up and carry on the next day, because you know it’s the right thing to do.

A rule of life can also be shared with fellow Christians who are close to you, as they can help you evaluate the achievability and appropriateness of your chosen rule.

And the good news is that it’s never too late to create a rule of life.  We may be a few days into the new year, but you can start prayerfully discerning your rule of life today!

Here’s more good news:  when you keep a rule of life that strengthens your walk with God, you’re not the only beneficiary: your small group is enriched, your church is enriched, and the Kingdom of God is enriched, because you are growing as a disciple of Jesus.

Give it a try!

To encourage you, here’s a rule of life that the apostle Paul gave to the church in Rome (even though he didn’t call it that):

 Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good.  Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself.  Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord.  Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.  Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home.

 Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them.  When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad.  Be friendly with everyone. Don’t be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people.  Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others,  and do your best to live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12.9-18, CEV).