In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 3.7-13, Jesus’ letter to the church in Philadelphia, highlighting how our weakness is God’s strength. Take whatever strength you have, and use it for the Lord. You can watch the entire worship gathering below, or just the message below that.
I met with my spiritual director earlier this week, and she read this familiar verse from The Message, which always manages to take the familiar and make one think about it:
Jesus once again addressed them: “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” – John 8.12
It was a really good reminder for me that though we live in a time of darkness, with the pandemic and all the divisions that have been created and underlined by it, Jesus still provides plenty of light to live in.
It can be easy to point fingers and take pot shots (especially on social media, where we can’t see the other). This verse reminded me of the importance not of pointing out the deficiencies of one, but of flooding all we know with the light of Jesus.
Since getting interested in the world of everyday carry (EDC), I’ve learned more about things like flashlights than I ever thought I would need to, or care to learn. Some flashlights are made to throw light a long distance. These lights have a fairly narrow beam, but you can see a long distance with them. Other flashlights are made to flood a smaller area: you can see a lot around you, but not for very far.
Let me encourage you, in this politically and socially challenging time, to flood the world with the light of Jesus. Not everybody lives in his light; some do stumble around in the darkness. But we can flood the world around us with the light of Jesus, prayerfully hoping that some will see that light and turn to him and live in that light.
We all long for a peaceful world, free of division and strife. Jesus is the way to fulfill that longing, and he invites us to spread that light. By flooding the world around us with his light, we will have a greater impact as we seek to share the One who is our peace.
“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us” (Ephesians 2.14, NLT).
I was talking with a group of people the other day about busyness, and how our society glorifies it. Anytime you ask someone, “How are you?”, you’ll get the reply, “Great. I’m so busy.”
Even the church sometimes glorifies busyness. We would look askance at a pastor, for example, who said she or he was always bored. We’d be thinking, Why aren’t you doing your job?
But there’s doing your job, and then there’s slowly killing yourself.
This isn’t a cry for help – I have lots on my plate, but I also take a weekly Sabbath, a day for rest from my regular work that allows me to be refreshed for the week to come. Yet I think we all need a reminder that the glory of busyness is entirely a worldly concoction.
The idea of Sabbath, where one day in seven is set aside for worship and rest, is God’s concoction. He modelled it for us in creation. In Genesis 1, we see that he made the world and everything in it in six days, and on the seventh day, he rested.
Why did he do that? Is God so weak that he needs time off?
Not at all! He rested on the seventh day so that his covenant people would see their own need for a day of rest.
In ancient Hebrew culture, this day of rest grew to have all manner of laws and rules attached to it. A friend of mine, a few years ago, was out for a walk in his neighbourhood when a lady called him to her door. He thought she was in distress, but she had a small task for him: to turn on her oven. She was Jewish. It was the Sabbath. She wasn’t allowed to turn on her oven on the Sabbath…laws and rules.
He turned on her oven and carried on with his stroll.
Jesus reminded his followers that the Sabbath was made for humanity, and not the other way around. He even healed on the Sabbath, which the Pharisees considered work.
Rarely, though, do we give much thought to how we observe Sabbath, mostly because we’re not very good at observing it at all.
Let me encourage you to view Sabbath not as a law, but as a gift. On whatever day you are able to take a Sabbath, accept Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11.28-30, NLT).
Work hard. And rest in the Lord.
In last week’s Encouragement From the Word, I recounted part of the story of Cassie Bernall, the student at Columbine High School who was killed for being a Christian, relating that to the reality of suffering and persecution among believers. This elicited a heart-tugging response from a subscriber who was part of a tragic school shooting at one time.
This person told me how important a role prayer played in the aftermath, noting that “Amongst the sirens and the ambulances and the police, we gathered in small groups, holding hands and praying. God was there giving comfort to us in our time of greatest need”, and that when the school reopened, a few days later, a prayer was offered over the PA system to bring comfort to the injured and the families of the victims.
Most schools today, at least where I live, don’t offer the option of public prayer. And while I would welcome a call to restore school prayers, I fear that horse has left the barn, as the saying goes, and that nothing short of national revival is going to bring it back, especially in the political culture in which we find ourselves these days.
So what is the alternative?
Prayer at home. (Now there’s a concept.)
Those students who gathered to pray amid the chaos in my interlocutor’s story must have had some foundation of prayer, both at home and in the church, to lead them to pray together. It served them well to provide comfort in an unimaginable moment.
Too often, in our consumer culture, we depend on institutions to do work that more rightly belongs to the family.
We should not rely on the school system – even a Christian parochial school system, if that’s where our kids go – to teach them such foundational faith basics.
I dare say we should not even rely on the church to do this. (Gasps come from the crowd.)
I think this is the responsibility of parents. In fact, this is not my idea; it’s deeply rooted in the history of God’s people. Consider that sharing the basics of faith has been considered a family mandate from as far back as the time of Moses:
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6.4-7, NLT).
Of course, parents themselves have to learn this, if they weren’t taught it by their own parents. And that’s where the church comes in. The church’s job is to equip parents to be used by God to shape their children as followers of Jesus.
Someone has said, tongue-in-cheek, that as long as there are exams, there will always be prayer in school. But in an age of increasing persecution for followers of Jesus, all the more do children and young people need to be spiritually formed at home – including knowing how to communicate with God in a loving relationship – so that they can be strong in their faith, no matter what they face, in school or elsewhere.
It may not be bullets that they face (and so we earnestly pray!), but it may be words, which injure in different ways, or something else that comes with persecution. As the church equips the parents to form the children, we will see great spiritual renewal among the people of God, which we need for the world in which we live today.