Again this week, we had challenges with our equipment (but different ones!). We apologize for the quality of the video and audio, but hope that you are encouraged by this service, which includes a message from 3 John on how to deal with people who want to take charge and be antagonists in the church. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.
Some view Thanksgiving weekend as the last gasp of summer, the time to escape to some place other than home and chill. Others see it as a time to gather family around a big dinner table (you might want to be careful about that one this year!). Still others see it as a time for, well, giving thanks. (And then there are those who view the weekend in all three ways!)
The apostle Paul told the church in Thessalonica, and the Lord tells us through him, to “be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.18, NLT). So for the Christ follower, Thanksgiving isn’t the second Monday in October; it’s every day.
Still, on Thanksgiving weekend, our minds may be drawn to common Thanksgiving songs. A common Thanksgiving hymn, coming from the 19th century, is “Come, ye thankful people, come”. I enjoy singing it on Thanksgiving Sunday…or, honestly, any other Sunday. Why?
It’s not because it reminds me to give thanks, as important as that is.
It’s because the author, Henry Alford, related the idea of giving thanks for the harvest to nothing less than the second coming of Jesus.
The verses tell one story, but consider this verse in particular:
For the Lord our God shall come and shall take his harvest home;
from the field shall in that day all offences purge away,
give the angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast,
but the fruitful ears to store in God’s storehouse evermore.
What if we gave thanks to God this weekend with an understanding that Jesus is coming again…soon?
Ponder that while you gnaw on your turkey, and be thankful.
Real friendship, true friendship – this is not as common as it once was. The pandemic hasn’t helped that one bit. I know that I haven’t been as good a friend as I could have/should have been over the past couple of years. And that bothers me.
So an interest in friendship, along with my widely-known passion for bacon, means that a new book caught my attention right away. It’s called Smells Like Bacon: The Skit Guys’ Guide to Lifelong Friendships (Rocklin, CA: K-LOVE Books, 2021).
Yup. You read that right: The Skit Guys. Eddie James and Tommy Woodard. The zany men best known (at least to me) for their humorous sermon illustration videos. You know this had to be an interesting, if not funny, read.
And it was…even though, admittedly, bacon played merely an illustrative role. (That part was a little disappointing.)
In this book, James and Woodard chronicle the thirty-plus years of friendship they have kindled, and offer some suggestions on how we can be better friends.
Their friendship started in high school. Tommy was instrumental in seeing Eddie come to faith in Christ through a simple invitation to an evangelistic meeting. They have seen each other through the ups and downs of life. Even though they live in different states, and often work together, they still make time for each other and cultivate their relationship with intentionality.
Frankly, though the book is unapologetically and unsurprisingly Christian, even people of another faith or of no faith would find this book inspiring in their relationship building. Some might even be inspired to place their trust in Jesus!
Three things made my highlight reel of principles in this fairly quick read.
First, being open with your friend. One might think it goes without saying, but many friendships, depending on the ‘tier’, are very surface-oriented. And they note, “Openness becomes easier the more open you are with God” (p. 52), citing Psalm 139.23-24.
Second, vulnerability. In the chapter entitled, “Why Don’t You Hug Me?”, they note, “Remember this: If someone is taking the time to say a hard thing to you and has mustered up the courage to say it while bracing themselves for the impact it might have, don’t you think that person must find you valuable?” (p. 83).
Third, the value of interruptions. Using Jesus as an example, the authors note, “He was willing to be interrupted for the sake of connection, of relationship. Jesus didn’t mind people or the constant interruptions…. Jesus knows the secret – that every interruption has the power to be an encounter of eternal significance. But it all begins with a yes. In much the same way, keeping our agenda on a loose leash will allow relational interruptions into our lives. This approach allows us to prioritize people over agendas” (p. 171).
The book is written in a narrative style with the typical interjections one would expect from The Skit Guys. These interjections are in the form of dialogue that usually brings a snicker, and help keep the reader engaged.
This is not an academic book, nor was it intended to be one. It is for ordinary people who want to be better friends. And in these days of physical distancing and ‘screen friends’, anything that promotes real friendship, with deeper bonds, is altogether welcome.
It’s available in hard copy, audio book, or on Kindle. Pick it up and be encouraged.
Perhaps the most famous Canadian pastor’s wife was the late Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942), though she was not known for her marriage to The Rev. Ewen Macdonald (1870-1943) quite so well as she was for her literature.
Montgomery led a very sullen personal life, though one would never know it by reading her Anne of Green Gables stories. (Some suggest she lived vicariously through her writing.)
Lest today’s Encouragement take a hard turn for the morose, let me say that it was a quotation from the original Anne of Green Gables story that came to mind as we mark the turning of the calendar today:
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
Thus said Anne Shirley, the namesake heroine of Montgomery’s most famous book.
One of the great blessings of living in Canada is that we experience four very different and distinct seasons. The shoulder seasons – spring and fall – are perhaps more stunning for their beauty than their solstitial siblings. The beauty of deciduous trees coming into leaf, and the splendor of their changing colour, are unparalleled.
If I had to choose, though, I would always choose fall. The crisp air, the russet maple leaves falling to the ground – though they are harbingers of the coming cold and snow, they are perhaps the most delightful harbingers God could have created. Anne Shirley was right: I, too, am so glad that I live in a world where there are Octobers. That quotation could almost be right from the Bible.
In reality, though, this sentiment appears in Scripture – though differently worded, to be sure.
One of the ways God reveals himself to the world is through creation. Theologians call it “general revelation” – the notion that seeing the beauty of the world ought to point us to the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Depending on where you live, you might experience autumn differently than I do, living in southern Ontario. And, of course, the colours of the falling leaves vary with temperature variations from year to year. But, unless you live in the desert or in the arctic, there is no denying that fall is a beautiful time of year.
Take some time in the coming days and weeks to pause and soak in the beauty of the world around you. And praise the Lord, who made it all to point to his glory.
Then, respond by giving him glory!
“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19.1, NLT).
Earlier this week, I saw a tweet from a fellow named Dustin Benge that put a lot of wisdom in a few words. He said:
There is a 0.0296% chance that your child will become a professional athlete.
There is a 0.0086% chance that your child will become a famous celebrity.
There is a 100% certainty that your child will stand before Jesus.
What are you teaching your children?
Even if you’re past the stage of parenting, or are not a parent, there is still helpful instruction in that short tweet.
Each of us has a measure of influence over some children, whether of our own family, our church family, or our neighbourhood. We have an opportunity in each interaction to have an influence. Are we taking advantage of that opportunity?
It can be through our use of words, our actions, even our gestures. What are we saying to the kids with whom we have contact?
No matter what or who they become as adults, there is a 100% certainty that they will stand before Jesus one day. And you might be the conduit through whom they come to know him as Lord and Saviour.
Think about that as you engage with kids of any age.
“Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127.3a, NLT).
When we think of sifting, we tend to think of wheat, even though most of us probably have never actually done that, unless we’ve lived on a farm.
Sifting is the separation of the grain from the chaff. The grain (wheat is the commonest one) is useful, but the chaff is not.
Metaphorically, the Bible makes use of this term in a number of places, particularly in the separation of followers of Jesus from those who don’t follow him. Jesus even told Peter, as Jesus was preparing for his death on the cross, that Satan wanted to sift the disciples like wheat (Luke 22.31). In that case, the evil one’s desire was to attempt to separate believers from their faith.
There’s a lot of that kind of sifting going on in the world today.
The devil is doing his level best to try to get followers of Jesus to walk away from the Lord. He is putting all manner of trials in people’s lives in an attempt to separate people from Jesus. He is trying to sift us.
But guess what: he can’t pull it off.
Because Satan doesn’t have that kind of power.
It actually takes very little to fend off the devil. All you have to do is resist.
How do I know that? Well, there’s some personal experience, but better than that, I know it because it’s right in God’s Word:
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4.7, NLT)
That’s all it takes. You need merely to resist the devil, and he will flee from you. As a follower of Jesus, you have the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through you.
Can I ask a favour of you?
Whether you’re in a challenging season or not, I’m asking you to commit that verse to memory.
Even if you don’t feel like you need it right now, it’s a pretty safe bet that you will need that word of encouragement at some point along your journey of faith. If you put that piece of Scripture in your arsenal right now, you’ll have it forever.
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Memorize that, starting today, and then you’ll remember, at any point that Satan is trying to sift you, that all you have to do is resist, and he’ll leave you alone. This may sound simplistic, and I assure you, it may be a long process; it may even be a daily struggle. But if you resist, again and again, in the power of the Holy Spirit, you will overcome.
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
(By the way, I’ll be talking about Satan’s role in the end times on Sunday, and this verse will play an important role. You’re welcome to join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, or on our YouTube channel if you’re too far away to come.)
I spent part of Labour Day learning something new. I love learning new things.
This week, it was learning how to strop.
Not “stop” – it wasn’t a typo – “strop”.
In recent years, I have amassed a modest collection of pocket knives. Having a knife in my pocket is a handy thing, especially with the uncanny number of Amazon boxes that have shown up on my doorstep during the pandemic.
It’s also handy when there’s cheesecake. You never know when that might present itself.
But if one is going to have a pocket knife or two, one must also learn how to maintain them, and part of knife maintenance involves sharpening.
However, if I sharpened my knife every time I used it, before long, there’d be no steel left to cut with.
That’s why I’m learning how to strop. It involves infusing a piece of leather with a compound that I then rub my knife on. (If you were ever in a barber shop when you were young, and saw a chunk of leather hanging from the barber’s chair, that’s what he used to keep his straight razor keen between uses.)
Stropping a knife allows me to hone the edge without sharpening it. It’s sort of like a mini-sharpening between sharpenings. It keeps the knife useful, and safe…because a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, whether you’re cutting packing boxes or chicken legs.
This has parallels with our faith life. Let’s say that coming to worship, confessing your sin, hearing the Word, and listening to the preaching is like sharpening your walk with the Lord.
But between Sundays, you can keep your walk with God ‘on edge’, as it were, by ‘stropping’ your faith. You do this through participation in a small group, through the daily reading of Scripture, through prayer, through acts of justice and kindness done in Jesus’ name and power.
If ever your faith feels dull, you can strop your faith between sharpenings, and find that your faith is quickened, built up, and ready for engagement. If you’re not doing that now, give it a try in the coming days. You won’t regret it.
“Using a dull ax requires great strength,
so sharpen the blade.
That’s the value of wisdom;
it helps you succeed” (Ecclesiastes 10.10, NLT).
In every generation, there have been self-proclaimed prophets of the end times. In the time of Jesus and even before, people have thought they had the end of the world figured out.
So far, it seems, they didn’t. We’re all still here. Jesus has not returned.
Some people have dismissed the notion that Jesus will one day come back, that the world will be consummated. But other still look for clues.
Most who look for clues comb through the pages of the final book of the Bible: the Revelation. They think they can find answers there. And often, they create their own formulas to force upon the text.
In the end, though, they are frustrated.
Revelation is a hard book to understand, in no small part because of its genre. Apocalyptic literature is hard to understand for those who are not living in the time in which it was written. Revelation, having been written near the end of the first century, when Christians were experiencing severe persecution from the Romans, would have made perfect sense to its first hearers and readers.
It makes less sense to us.
But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to figure it out, or even imposing their own approaches to make it say what they want it to say.
When we think about the end times, the one thing we can know for certain is that we don’t know much about it. There are not fewer than five ways of interpreting the book of Revelation held by sincere, Bible-believing followers of Jesus today. (I talked briefly about these last Sunday.)
Commonly, in any given generation, one view will gain the upper hand among believers. (This is less true with scholars.) The predominant view in popular Christian culture today, despite its popularity, is somewhat confusing and is based on a very small portion of Scripture.
When will Jesus come back? We can’t know for sure.
In what order will the events of the end times take place? Some think they know for certain, others are unsure.
But this much we can know: if you have confessed Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and sought to live for him, and are ready for his return, nothing in the book of the Revelation should scare you.
Take comfort in that, if you’re a follower of Christ.
This Sunday, I will be tackling the question of what will happen at the end of time as we know it. I’ll look at some of the alternatives, and why I think the predominant view among many followers of Jesus is definitely not the only one, and might not even be the right one, from a biblical perspective.
Feel free to join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning if you don’t have another church to go to in person, and we’ll learn together. (If you are too far away to come, join us live online at 10, or watch the whole gathering or just the message, which will be posted to our YouTube channel later that afternoon.)
We know the end will come. We know Jesus will return. We know followers of Jesus will be safe for eternity. Beyond that? Let’s explore some options together.
“I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!” (Mark 13.37, NLT).
The western pull-out from Afghanistan has been heart-wrenching to watch on television. As I mentioned last week, the resurgence of the Taliban has placed many people at risk, especially women and Christians. For the Americans, the way this is playing out is very reminiscent of their time in Vietnam.
Canadian forces are saying that they wish they could have stayed. But the Big Fish in the Pond has decided that the multinational effort is over. It’s like they have given up, in some ways, though I’m certain this is an oversimplification.
Have you ever put effort into something – say, a friendship – and found it an uphill battle? It’s common for us to give up when we’re not making any progress.
This is especially true when we are seeking to encourage someone to embrace faith in Christ.
We might find ourselves getting blocked every time we try to “go there” in terms of spiritual conversation. But let me encourage you not to give up.
To use another battle image, consider the speech given by Prime Minister Churchill to the British Parliament in 1940, in the midst of the ugliness of World War 2. It is one of the most inspiring speeches ever given! Quite near the end, Churchill tells his fellow parliamentarians, and the world: “…we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”.
When you’re sharing your faith, like on the battle fields, it’s a matter of life and death. Don’t give up. Never surrender. Even when you get pushback, be loving and respectful, but continue to witness to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in your life.
For your friend, eternity is in the balance.
“But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke.’ We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4.13-18, NLT).
Finally, something has eclipsed the pandemic in the news: the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. It is fraught with political nuances and challenges for those of us who may not have been following the story closely for years, going back to the time before and during the western nations’ war and occupation that sought to keep the nation under some form of democratic rule.
But with the final withdrawal of American troops, the Taliban has solidified its control. And with that will come some form of Islamic law, which is concerning to many women, as well as to Christians in general.
It is said that this nation is second only to North Korea in its record for persecution of Christians. And that is only apt to get worse, not only in Afghanistan, but in other middle eastern countries, where terrorist groups may feel empowered by recent events favouring the Taliban.
I want to encourage you today to take some time to pray for Christians and churches in Afghanistan, and throughout the middle east. Pray for protection, for peaceful co-existence, and for the power of the gospel to triumph over hatred and persecution. And pray that western nations will stand up for the rights of women and religious minorities in these countries.
You may have trouble finding the words, but give that to the Lord, too. He will know the groaning of your heart.
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8.26, NLT).
At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m preaching a series on heaven right now. In a few weeks, I’ll be talking about the concept of heaven as “rest”, but that theme is on my mind right now, so I thought I’d share a little bit about that as a ‘teaser’ for our people, and as encouragement for everyone else!
The Bible talks about heaven in a number of ways, and one of those is “rest”. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:
Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later.But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.
That is why the Holy Spirit says,
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Remember what it says:
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled.”
And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest. (Hebrews 3.5-19, NLT)
I gave you that long passage to afford you some context. The author cites Psalm 95 in his discussion on heaven, and uses that reference to “rest” to talk about eternity.
Summer is often a time for rest, when we step back from our daily labours to be rejuvenated, doing things we most enjoy with the people we most love. I hope you are taking some time in these warm months to do just that.
Vacation time is like an extended Sabbath. And so too, says the writer to the Hebrews, is heaven. This has been reiterated in church music over the years. Peter Abelard, a twelfth-century French theologian, wrote an anthem (translated into English much later by John Mason Neale) in which one verse states:
O what their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see;
Crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest:
God shall be All, and in all ever blest.
(You can listen to Healey Willan’s setting of this piece here.)
In one sense, then, vacation time is truly a taste of heaven! Make sure you get some rest. If you are a follower of Jesus, it’s part of your eternal future!