Encouragement From The Word

Let the Word wash over you

This weekend, the church marks Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when we traditionally begin our commemoration of the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry and life.  

Unless your church tradition is one that has services every day during Holy Week, it’s likely that you’re not hearing many of the accounts of the activities that took place during that week.  Of course, you may be reading these gospel accounts at home, which is great!  But there is much that happened during that final week of Jesus’ life between the waving of palms and the hammering of nails.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke, we read that Jesus cleared the temple, told many parables, taught about judgment, and was anointed for his death – all before the last supper.  In the Gospel of John, the order is presented a little differently, since he had a different original audience.  The clearing of the temple happens early in John’s Gospel, and much occurs between the triumphal entry and Jesus’ betrayal, including not the last supper, but the washing of the disciples’ feet.

Even between Jesus’ betrayal and death, there are accounts worth reading that may or may not be heard in church.  So let me encourage you, this coming week, to carve out time to read the last half of one of the Gospel narratives.  Don’t make it just another thing to do, though; take your time with it.  Spread it out over the course of the week.  Read the parts that happen after the crucifixion but before the resurrection on Saturday, before Easter.  

Let the Word wash over you like the jar of expensive perfume that was poured over Jesus’ head while he ate in the home of Simon in Bethany.  As Jesus said, “She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Matthew 26.12-13, NLT).

Perhaps this act will quicken your heart for the joy of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Let the Word wash over you.

Encouragement From The Word

It wasn’t free

This week, I fell victim to a scam…sort of.

I received an email from someone trying to give away a piano – something that does happen from time to time – provided the recipient would pay for the move.

Makes sense, right?  Someone giving away a piano shouldn’t have to bear the burden of the cost of moving it, which can be significant.

I announced it to the congregation, in case anyone was interested.  Someone was.

Thankfully, that person did his homework, and discovered it is a scam.  It turns out that the requirement was to use the donor’s moving company, which was fake, but was receiving people’s money and not delivering anything.

This was one of the most convincing scams I’ve seen yet.  We all get those phone calls from “Canada Revenue” or “Amazon” or “Credit Department” claiming that we owe money or are about to be incarcerated.  We understand that they are fake and we hang up on them.

But an email, seemingly credible, with an offer of a gift that sometimes happens anyway?  Seems legit.  Nope.

I’m glad my friend did the research.

All too often, something that claims to be free isn’t free…unless you’re talking about the gospel.

What sets Christianity apart from every other world religion is that salvation is free…for us.

But it wasn’t free for Jesus.

That is, Jesus paid the price for our sins.

Many people respond when they hear the gospel by saying it seems too good to be true.  In this case, though, it’s not too good to be true.  It is good, and it is true!  

It’s not like a “get out of jail free” card; Jesus bled and died on the cross to set us free from sin.  He experienced death for three days and rose again from the grave to bring us eternal life.

He paid the price, but it wasn’t free.

Yet for us, it is free. No catch.  No hidden fees.  No asterisk.

Have you given yourself wholly to Jesus, who paid the price for your sins?  It’s no scam.  It’s real, and it’s true.  He did it for you and for me.

God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.21, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

An inspiring experiment

I saw a meme on social media the other day (pictured), and attended a webinar, each of which inspired me to share this with you.  Read on.

As Christians, we are called to love one another as Christ loved us. Part of that love includes praying for one another. Praying for others is a powerful way to show our love and concern for them, and it can have a profound impact on their lives.

The Bible tells us to pray for one another, to bear each other’s burdens, and to encourage one another. When we pray for others, we are demonstrating our faith in God’s power to intervene in their lives. We are also aligning ourselves with God’s will for their lives, which is ultimately for their good.

Prayer is not just a one-way street. When we pray for others, we are also opening ourselves up to receive the blessings of prayer. We become more compassionate, more patient, and more loving as we focus our attention on the needs of others. We also become more aware of our own needs, and we can bring those needs before God in prayer as well.

Prayer is not just a private matter between ourselves and God. When we pray for others, we are also building community and strengthening relationships. We are showing our love and support for one another, and we are creating a network of support that can sustain us through difficult times.

So let us commit ourselves to praying for one another. Let us take the time to lift each other up in prayer, to encourage one another, and to bear each other’s burdens. Let us trust in God’s power to work in our lives and the lives of those around us. And let us rejoice in the blessings that come from a life of prayer and love for one another.

I hope this inspired you.  It inspired me.

But I must provide full disclosure.  This was an experiment.  I did not write the piece.  I asked ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence machine available widely online, the following:  “Please write a one-page Christian devotional on the importance of praying for one another.”  Within about sixty seconds, it produced what you read above in italics.  (The webinar I attended was about how church leaders can make use of artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT.)

Of course, you who know my writing style will have immediately picked up on the fact that this did not come from my hand.  Nevertheless, while it may lack some of the colour I might normally include, there’s nothing inherently wrong with what it says.

Artificial intelligence is here to stay, I think.  And we will have to wrestle with how best to use it as followers of Jesus. Undoubtedly, it will have some benefits for society, if used with integrity.  But it will never replace the importance of such things as praying for each other through the gaps of life, as the meme illustrates.  AI will never replace authentic, praying community.  Who are you praying for these days?

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

For Such A Time As This

Those of us acquainted with some of the stories in the Old Testament remember the account of Esther, a young Jewish woman who found favour with the king of Persia, married him, and through her office managed to save the Jewish people from the evil plot of Haman.  (It’s what the recently-celebrated festival of Purim marks for Jewish people.)  In that story, as the plot to kill the Jewish people grows more obvious, her cousin, Mordecai, famously says to Esther, “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14, NLT).

It’s a great illustration that reminds us that God’s timing is always right.  There are no coincidences.

Earlier this week, I met with my spiritual director.  I could tell something wasn’t quite right, and she revealed that she had just flown back from visiting her nonagenarian father, who had fallen and broken his ankle.  The family was concerned for his health.

While we were talking, her cell phone rang.  Normally, she would have ignored it, but because of her family situation, she chose to answer it, and I completely understood.

Matters had gotten worse, and her sister had called to tell my spiritual director.

Her sister put her dad on the phone, and my spiritual director talked with him briefly and prayed with him.

At that point, I knew our spiritual direction session was over.  That was okay; it could wait.  My spiritual director neededmy support at that time, and I sought to provide it as best I could.

When I departed, she told me, “I’m glad you were here today.”  

So was I.  I knew that it was no accident that all this would transpire while I was with her.  My spiritual director and I are friends, too, and I was honoured to be able to care for her in that moment of need.  I was there “for such a time as this.”

Let me encourage you to consider those occasions that you might think of “coincidences” as something more than that:  whether good or bad, whether rejoicing or in crisis, think about how God may have placed you in a particular situation “for such a time as this,” and allow his ministry to take place, whether through you or through another person who is with you at the time.

As of the time of writing, my spiritual director’s father is improving.

Consider how God may place you in certain situations “for such a time as this.”

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t just consume; serve.

It’s no secret that we live in a consumer society.

Our economy is based on buying and selling, whether it’s things as simple and necessary as groceries or as unnecessary as trinkets.  Where there is a market, items will be offered and consumed.

In many ways, it’s passive:  most of us do not farm what we eat, and most of us do not make our own trinkets.

In simpler times, and in a more rural economy, most people farmed their own food and did not buy unnecessary items.  It was more active.

The times being what they are, the consumer economy has leaked into other areas of life, too, not least the church.  We have, in some ways, become religious consumers:  we gather for worship, in person or online, and we take it in, but that’s where it ends.

But the church was not designed for that.  God put the church in place to be a growing organism, one in which people not only received, they gave.

Yes, that includes financial giving, which is necessary for any number of things from paying the preacher to keeping the lights on, but it also involves serving:  we participate actively in the work of God’s Kingdom, in ways for which God has equipped us.

Some are gifted to teach.  Others are gifted to repair things.  Still others are gifted to care for others.  All followers of Jesus have special abilities to serve in the body of Christ, and each is called by the Lord to use those special abilities in some way that edifies the church and helps it grow.

Do you know your spiritual gifts?  You should, because if you don’t, you may be convinced that you don’t have any special ways to serve, and may end up being a religious consumer.

We may start out that way, finding a relationship with God and consuming in order to grow in that walk with the Lord, but it can’t be an end in itself:  we must find avenues for service.  We can’t just rely on the “religious professionals” to do the work of ministry; it is a calling that is placed on each follower of Jesus.

And our model for this is none other than Jesus himself!  He tells us in Mark 10.45 that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NLT).

Ponder that verse today, and consider how you might best serve in your local church; I am certain that if you approach your pastor with a heart to serve, you will be gratefully put to work in an area of your gifting.

If you don’t know what your gifts are, let me know, and I can help you with that.

Don’t just consume; serve.  After all, it was likely someone who used his or her gifts that helped you come into relationship with the Lord in the first place, and you can do the same for someone else.

Don’t just consume; serve.