Biblical Messages

Surrender as an Act of Bravery

In this “Bring A Friend” Sunday worship gathering, we hear a message about the importance of surrendering to Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and how, in this culture, it is a very brave act to surrender! Based on Matthew 16.21-26, you can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Be a spiritual prepper

With so many other shiny things in the news lately, we haven’t heard much about hurricane season.  But Fiona, the most recently-named storm, has pummeled Puerto Rico and has its sights set on Atlantic Canada, and though it will likely not be rated as a hurricane, it has the potential to do some serious damage.

Residents are being encouraged to ensure they have sufficient supplies for a hold-and-secure period of not less than 72 hours, and that their sump pumps are working.  This is the time when the “prepper” community – those whose hobby (or obsession) is emergency preparedness – has its opportunity to shine!

Often, it is experience that teaches us to be prepared for trouble, whether it is something large and uncontrollable like a weather phenomenon (remember the big ice storm of ’98?) or something localized and preventable (like a car accident that knocks out a transformer).  Until we are prepared, we end up scrambling.  And in reality, it may not be possible to be prepared for every eventuality, unless your commitment to emergency preparedness truly is an obsession that gobbles up your entire life.

Whether it’s having a good supply of potable water or a generator or a pantry full of canned goods or dehydrated food – to say nothing of fully-charged electronic devices and backup battery packs – it’s difficult to be ready for everything, but there’s one thing that many of even the most prepared people neglect, and that’s eternity.

You can be ready for a power outage so that your freezer’s contents aren’t destroyed, but that doesn’t make you ready for the second coming of Jesus; you’re not going to need your freezer when he returns.

The challenge for eternal preparedness is that it’s not a matter of buying More Stuff.  It’s about readying your heart and your soul, and quite frankly, that’s harder work, because God’s holy standard is perfection, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t measure up to that standard.

However, there is good news:  the bulk of that harder work has been done for you by Jesus.  The Bible tells us that “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).  When Jesus died on the cross, he became our sin.  He was perfect, and he bore the weight of our sin – even yours and mine – so that we could be brought back into a right relationship with God.

And the benefit of this comes to us simply by faith.  When we can truly say in our hearts that Jesus is Lord – that he is Master of our lives – the benefits of Jesus’ work on the cross become ours, and our hearts and souls are made ready, fully prepared for eternity.

So, whatever befalls you, ensure your emergency preparedness kit includes faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  Then, and only then, will you really be ready.

Encouragement From The Word

You Want A King

Many around the world are mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II.  It is an emotionally difficult time, particularly for residents of the UK, because at the same time they are mourning the death of one monarch, they are rejoicing at the accession of another.  Imagine the strain on the emotions of King Charles III right now!

A television interview I watched yesterday highlighted the role that Camilla will play as Queen Consort; her biographer noted that many Britons are dropping the “Consort” part and simply calling her Queen Camilla.

Whether or not you are a monarchist, whether or not you live in a Commonwealth nation, we all face the same reality, a reality that is as old as time itself:  we want a ruler, a leader we can look up to.

For some, it is a monarch; for others, it is a president or a prime minister; for still others, it might be a leader of a different sort.  And in one sense this is as good thing:  good leaders help to provide structure and order to society.

At the same time, though, we are quick to put a leader in a place that belongs to God alone.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites bellyached until the Lord gave them a king.  They wanted to be like the other nations; they had forgotten that their place as a chosen people meant they had the Lord as their king!  But they wanted an earthly king, so they could fit in with all the cool countries.

God granted their request, and for the most part, things went downhill from there.

Looking up to someone in leadership is well and good, but make sure that the One to whom you most look up is the Lord himself, our one true King.

Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance.“Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods’ (1 Samuel 8.5b-8a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Grunt Work

Our nation is in mourning after a number of people on the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan were stabbed to death this past weekend.  The whole matter came to a tragic end with the arrest, and subsequent death, of the alleged perpetrator, Myles Sanderson.

It’s a heartbreaking story with many, many facets.  Mr. Sanderson was a young man in his 30s with a long rap sheet.  What could have made him a career criminal?  Again, there are many facets even to this aspect of the story, and I want us to consider just one of them.

I know nothing of his childhood and nothing of his family, so I won’t speculate.  But something we can learn from this tragedy is the value of raising children with intentionality and care.

Parenting is hard; it’s the hardest job known to the human race.  It has not been my privilege to parent.  I have served parents, though, throughout my many years of ministry, and those who have done well have parented intentionally and carefully.

It’s one of those tasks that never seems to end, at least when one is in the thick of it.  It’s especially challenging for Christian parents, because they are constantly fighting against a world (with much media in its arsenal) that seeks to suck children into its vortex.  Christian parents are always having to hold their kids by the ankles to keep them from being taken in by the world and its ways.

Some might say the answer is to shelter them completely, but I suspect that does them few favours as they grow up and see what’s going on around them.

Parents must talk to their kids, and equip them for the world they will face.  They need to help their kids develop profound discernment skills so they can make decisions well – not just how to cook and clean and buy a car, but how to have a strong sexual ethic, a deep value for life, a profound respect for all people – and countless other skills.  

And it’s the church’s job to help parents with this.

Traditional models for Christian education largely assumed that parents had all the tools they needed to raise their kids not only to be good citizens, but to know and follow Jesus.  Those traditional models – still employed in some churches today – worked in the Christendom age, when most western nations were still considered Christian countries, but they don’t work today.

That’s why it’s important for churches to stand by parents, and to equip them, so that children are ready to face the world.  Most of the work parents need to do cannot be farmed out to others, the way we employ someone to teach our kids how to play the piano.  Parents must do this work themselves.  And some feel ill-equipped to do it.

The church exists to make disciples of Jesus; that’s our mission.  And it’s not just about getting more professions of faith, as important as that is; it’s also about equipping God’s people for life’s most basic and most profound tasks.

Perhaps your church, like ours, invests in family ministry for that purpose.  If it doesn’t, why doesn’t it?  It’s an investment that pays off not only in the Kingdom of God as we envision it in the future; it’s an investment that affects the world we live in for today and tomorrow.

It’s grunt work.  It can be painful.  It can be heart-wrenching.  But when it is done well, I also understand it is very satisfying, not only for parents, but for everybody else.

Direct your children onto the right path,
    and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22.6, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

He will carry you through

This weekend marks the unofficial end of summer; though the meteorologists tend to think of it this way, astronomical summer doesn’t end, of course, until much later this month!  There are traditional celebrations of labour, but mostly, it’s either a scramble to get ready for back-to-school, or it’s that one final excuse to take it easy before the fall season ramps up.

Back-to-school has a lot more gravitas to it this year, doesn’t it?  There’s controversy over potential job action, over vaccinations, over masking policies, over safety…it’s a lot to take in, and a lot to manage for those who are most affected.

In the midst of the craziness, the weight, even the fear, let me encourage you to renew your trust in the Lord.  Just as yesterday was no surprise to him, neither is today, or tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day.  We serve the Lord of all time and space.  He wants to guide you through whatever this next week (or weeks) will bring.

Let me offer you a guided prayer; you can use this as a jump-start to your own prayer for the day, the weekend, and the weeks to come:

Lord, you know my situation (you can describe it to God here).  Thank you for having been with me through all I’ve dealt with, good or bad, in the past.  You have been trustworthy; help me to renew my trust in you today, knowing with confidence that whatever I face, you will be with me.  Pour out your Holy Spirit upon me, that I will be able to discern well what is your will for my life.  Help me to accept Jesus’ invitation, to come to him with my weariness and my burdens, so that he can give me rest.  Enable me to unload my own burden and to take his yoke upon me, which is easy…or, at least, easier, because of your grace at work in my life.  I ask this in Jesus’ name…

Consider the chorus of an old hymn by Horatio Palmer.  It calls God’s people to avoid temptation, but I think the words of the chorus apply even to those who are dealing with craziness, weight, and fear of what the new season will bring:

Ask the Saviour to help you,

Comfort, strengthen, and keep you;

He is willing to aid you,

He will carry you through.

Then Jesus said, ‘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).

Biblical Messages

How Do I Witness?

In this worship gathering, we hear a message on the importance of sharing our faith as followers of Jesus, recognizing that there are many anxieties that build up in us as we think about the process. This message helps us overcome those anxieties and gives us suggestions on how to share our walk with the Lord. The message is based on John 1.29-42. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Worth the effort

This week, our congregation has hosted Bible Fun Camp, our annual outreach to community children.  It’s been great to be back after a pandemic hiatus.

The amount of work involved, and the number of volunteers needed, to pull off a vacation Bible school is massive.  Even with a solid and user-friendly curriculum, the effort required is still significant.

But when it’s all said and done, we may be weary, but we will always say it was worth the work.  Why?  Because we have had the privilege of influencing children’s lives for Jesus.

I put an ad on Facebook for Bible Fun Camp about a month ago.  The first comment to come on our ad – which circulated to users in a radius of only about 20 kilometres around Nobleton – was from someone who was accusing us of brainwashing children.

While it saddened me to read, I replied to the comment, leaving both the comment and the reply visible for a short time before deleting both.  In my reply, I simply said that yes, we would be ‘brainwashing’ children, in one sense.  Parents, in leaving their children with us for five mornings, were giving us permission to influence their kids for the gospel of Christ.  But in reality, parents have a choice:  they can brainwash their kids with Jesus and his love, or they can leave it to popular culture to influence them instead.

I often say to parents at a baptism that when they take vows to raise their children to follow Jesus, they are making the choice to brainwash their children, instead of letting Beyoncé do it.  (You can name your favourite popular culture figure instead; I wasn’t just picking on Beyoncé.)  It sounds a bit rough, maybe even offensive, but the fact is that parents have a responsibility to shape their children’s values.  If they fail to do so with intent, the world around them will pick up the slack, and the parents may not be happy with the result.

Churches are called to equip parents to ensure their children’s values are shaped according to the gospel.  And sometimes, it starts with a five-morning adventure for the kids in the summer.  That’s often how the relationships start.

It’s worth all the work!

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22.6, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The wildest thing in the world

Last week, my wife forwarded a tweet to me that really resonated.  It was written by a writer and speaker named Kaitlyn Schiess.  She wrote:

A few days ago someone who is not a Christian said to me,

“If Jesus Christ really was raised from the dead, that is the wildest thing in the world
and I don’t know how you’d ever be able to get over that.”

She’s right, and I cannot stop thinking about how clearly she saw it.

Do you ever wonder what your friends who do not follow Jesus think about the claims he made, or the claims we make on his behalf?  In many cases, we simply view them as facts we have held dear for a long time, but in our holding dear, do you suppose we sometimes take these claims for granted?

The resurrection of Jesus – if it is true, as we believe it to be – is the most amazing thing ever!  It’s more amazing than flying to the moon, more amazing than a seaside sunset, more amazing than tiger tail ice cream (okay, that last one is a personal bias).  It is the most remarkable phenomenon that has ever occurred.  Ever.

It’s so remarkable that it affected time itself:  the world measures time based on the person of Jesus.  (A.D., after all, stands for anno domini – the year of our Lord – and even though many people choose to use C.E. nowadays, standing for ‘common era’, it still hearkens back to the fact that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection affected how we tell time.)

We are invited to live as a people of the resurrection, this world-altering phenomenon that so many of us simply take for granted.  It really is, as the writer’s friend said, “the wildest thing in the world.”

Yet many followers of Jesus seem to live as if they have gotten over it.  That’s a mistake.

We should live as the beneficiaries of the resurrection:  we are invited, not only to look forward to the eternal life that it bought us, but to live out the life and joy it brings us today.

When your friends look at you, do they see the joy of the victory of resurrection life in you?

Let’s live out the truth of what Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11.25-26a, NLT). 

Biblical Messages

How do I grow?

In this worship gathering, we hear a message about the importance of growing in our faith. There are many ways and many tips that could be shared, but what we hear in this message are some foundational notions that help us understand the importance of not remaining static in our faith journey. It’s based on Galatians 5.13-26, and you can watch the message below, or the entire gathering below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Choose growth!

I have known a number of people who used the early period of the pandemic to take up a new hobby.  My wife, for example, took up paper flower making, and what she has created is one of the best examples of art imitating life that I’ve ever seen!  (You can see for yourself if you like.)  

People made the best of a difficult situation by stretching themselves to try something new.  It’s a healthy part of human existence:  it’s growth.

Like plants – the real ones, not the ones my wife makes – we have two choices:  we can grow, or we can die.  There is no in-between.  True, our skeletons stop growing when we are young, but our skin never stops (if you’re not sure about that, consider how dusty your house gets!).  And our minds never stop growing either.

The same should be true of our faith-walk with God.  When we make a public profession of faith in Jesus, that is not the end of the journey; it’s just the beginning.

Challenge yourself to grow in Christ, while there’s still some time this summer!  Borrow a book from your church library.  Watch a video series on RightNowMedia (hit me up if you need an invitation).  Read your Bible daily.  Talk to God in prayer.  These are all ways you can grow your faith.

Doing this will increase your faith, increase your discernment skills, and strengthen your witness for the gospel.  It’s worth the investment.

So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us.  We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ” (Colossians 1.28, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Boundaries

I’ve been reading a book this week, while on retreat, about the importance of boundaries.  (The book, not surprisingly, is called Boundaries!  It’s a classic, written 30 years ago and updated more recently by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.)

All healthy people have boundaries in their lives, among them the ability to be able to say ‘no’ when needed.  There are some folks who can’t do that, even for the best of reasons.  Some people think that it would be unchristian of them to say ‘no’.  

But there are times when it is wholly appropriate.  I’ll let you read the book to learn more about that.

One key application, though, comes in this manner:  we do well to say ‘no’ to something good, in order that we may say ‘yes’ to something better.

For instance, it is wise to deprive ourselves of some purchase in order that we may save to make a better purchase.  That’s an unpopular approach these days, given the ease with which we may go into debt!  But it’s wise stewardship.

Or we may not get involved in a relationship with a potential spouse when we know it would be ‘settling’; better that we wait for a better match.

Even church leaders have to make these kinds of decisions, don’t they?  If a person or group in the congregation proposes to the leadership that they undertake a particular ministry, sometimes the leadership needs to say ‘no’, in order to allocate human and financial resources toward something that better fits the mission and vision of the church.

Boundaries matter.  Even Jesus had boundaries, whether it was in being in the temple, about his Father’s business, at age 12 (while his parents went looking for him), or walking away from a crowd demanding miracles so that he could spend alone time with the Father.

This isn’t a book review, but I commend the book to your interest.  You can find it here if you’d like to read it.  (For St. Paul’s readers, let me know if you’d like to be involved in a study of this book…there are some copies available.)

Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home.  After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray”  (Matthew 14.22b-23a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

What occupies your mind the most?

I once had a conversation through social media with an acquaintance (whom I have actually met in person) in which, at its pinnacle, she claimed not to be religious.  Based on what she posted online, though, I knew she was searching deep inside, but wasn’t prepared to admit that.  I had offered counsel prior to that time, and she knew the door was open for conversation.

It’s astounding that people claim not to be religious, but it happens all the time.  Many people today are what sociologists of religion call SBNR:  Spiritual But Not Religious.

And yet, they are religious…just not in the traditional way.

People who spend every weekend at the casino?  Religious.

People who keep a Buddha statue in their garden?  Religious.

People who subscribe to porn channels?  Religious.

You get the idea.

When we have any kind of ritual – even a subtle ritual – that surrounds an activity to which we ascribe worth, that makes us religious.  And that activity becomes a form of worship.

What do you worship?  To answer that question, ask yourself:  What occupies my mind the most?

Come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the LORD our maker, for he is our God” (Psalm 95.6-7a, NLT).

Biblical Messages

How Do I Know God?

In this worship gathering, we learn how we can know God. Despite all the advice we might receive online for ways to know God without reference to the Bible, Scripture is clear that this is the only way we can truly know God. We can get an introduction to God through creation (Psalm 19), and we can know God by knowing Jesus (John 14), but the only way to know Jesus is through the Bible – and not just the Gospels, but the whole Bible. You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Praying over your eggs

I was chatting with a friend yesterday who visited the southern United States while on a recent vacation.  One of the things on which she remarked was how she and her husband observed a young man purchasing a meal – a plate of eggs – and when he sat down with it, he bowed his head and prayed.

“That’s not something I see here,” she said, remarking about Canada, her homeland.  “I wish we saw more of that here.”

Pausing to ponder this idea, I suggested to her, “If you want to see more of that here, why not begin by praying over your own eggs?”

By that I wasn’t intimating that table graces might spark revival in our country.  But maybe it’s a place to start!

Michael Green was an Anglican pastor who had a great heart for evangelism.  He was known to say that too often, Christians are like people going through customs in the airport:  nothing to declare.

And yet we have much to declare, don’t we?

One of the challenges faced by followers of Jesus in our time is that our friends and neighbours look at us and see very little difference between us and them.  In one sense, that’s not bad – we don’t want to be seen as freaks, which would take away any opportunity for witness – but it’s also kind of sad, because followers of Jesus have something that our non-Christian friends and neighbours lack:  the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul, a onetime Jewish Pharisee whom Jesus supernaturally brought to himself, was commissioned to bring the good news of salvation to the non-Jewish population of the known world at the time.  One of his passions was to remind God’s people that they are ambassadors for Jesus wherever they go, 24/7.

And he likened the saving grace we have received in Christ to a precious treasure, contained in jars of clay, fragile vessels.  Sometimes, to reach that treasure, the fragile jars must be broken.

By that I mean that when we pray over our eggs, when we bear witness to God’s love in Jesus, we are taking a risk.  It’s said that one never speaks about religion or politics in polite conversation, and the big problem with this is that we have lost the ability to have polite conversations about matters of religion and politics, each of which is an important part of being a citizen of this world.  

One way our witness can be strengthened is through having such conversations, with grace and truth, possibly opening doors to encourage others to love and serve Jesus.

And maybe – just maybe – it will all start by praying over your eggs.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4.7, NLT).