Biblical Messages

Faithful Love

In today’s message, which begins just after the 11:00 mark, we look at Psalm 118 for comfort in this time of distress in the world, remembering that God is good, and his faithful love endures forever.  We begin with a message of comfort for children from the story of Noah.  Have a look!  Feel free to ask questions, too!

 

 

Encouragement From The Word

The gift of Sabbath

That our current social situation has occurred in the season of Lent is no small irony to me.  For many, though not all, Christians, Lent is a season for sacrifice and penitence, often symbolized by “giving something up” for these forty days.

And globally, we’ve been forced to give up quite a lot!

While many are still working, either from home or as those engaged in what are deemed essential services, one thing that has been taken from us is ordinary social engagement.

We who are introverts may be saying, “I was made for this!”, but with perhaps a few exceptions, even we who gain energy by being alone are finding this time particularly trying.  It’s as if being told we can’t do something makes us want to do it anyway.

I haven’t left town for a week now, but as I look at photos online, the streets and highways are nearly empty.  Malls are closed.  Restaurants, save for take-out and delivery, are abandoned.  Sports and concert venues are now echo chambers.  It’s kind of eerie.

Amid all this, though, we are hearing reports that air quality in many densely populated cities is improving.  Water quality is changing for the better.  The world appears to be healing in ways it never would have without the spread of Coronavirus.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that Coronavirus is a good thing; not at all!  But if there can be any good seen coming from it, the environment may be it.  But there’s more.

When God made the world, the Genesis account says that he made it in six days, and rested on the seventh.  Even in creation, there was Sabbath.

But our society, especially over the past 75 years, has been on a steep trajectory away from Sabbath.  Businesses flourished, stores opened on Sunday, and busyness was considered a badge of honour.

Now, we’ve been placed in a position where, for the most part, Sabbath is not optional.  We can’t go out with others.  We can’t go to concerts.  We can’t take our kids to their hockey practices.  We’re stuck…with the people with whom we live, be it family or friends or even strangers.

It’s like we’re being forced to stop and breathe.  And that’s a good thing.

We don’t know how long this season of restraint will continue, but perhaps a good question for us to consider is this:  will we learn something from it?

Certainly, this time is a gift to our immediate families (however they may be defined economically – that is, by household) as we are given the gift of time to reconnect with them.  It’s also a gift of time wherein we may reconnect with God.

In times like this, people who might otherwise have not given any thought to the Divine are turning the thoughts and hearts toward God – the God who made the world and rested.

This is a time of Sabbath.  Embrace it.  Rest with your family, rest in the Lord.

And carry that into your future, whatever it may hold, when we are free to resume whatever may be called ‘normal’.  Let it be a new normal – if not for others, at least for you.

…enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day” (Isaiah 58.13b, NLT).

By the way, if you don’t have an online church home in these days, you are welcome to join the online community with St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on Facebook Live, or for replay anytime on our YouTube channel.

 

Musings

Routines

The Lord gave me a thought as I was going to sleep last night, and I’d like to share it with you.

Like you, I’ve been feeling an unusual kind of stress this week.  But what’s behind it?

As I was reviewing my day, looking for God’s gracious and faithful hand at work, he gave me this thought:  You are feeling stressed because your routine has been turned upside-down.

The more I considered it, the more I believe it is true.  Like most people’s, my week has an ordinary rhythm.  And this week, that rhythm was not there.  Meetings I normally have, people I usually see, tasks I normally do…most of these things changed.  It felt – it feels – strange.

Compound that with the odd paranoia that we all have about touching things other people have touched, standing closer than two metres to another person outside of our household, and wondering if there’s going to be enough toilet paper to go around, and that makes for a stress-filled life.

(By the way, I think “paranoia” might be too strong a term; we need to be careful and diligent, to be sure, and even a previously excellent record of hand-washing should be vigorously increased, but I don’t think we need to be paranoid.  And yes, there will be enough toilet paper, and everything else, to go around.  Paper plants and farmers are still in operation.)

The good news amid all this is that God is in charge and he will keep us in perfect peace when our minds arefocused on him (Isaiah 26.3).  Remember that.

The photo shows our “studio” for the live-stream of worship.  Same time, same place, same station…but a different set-up.  You’ll be able to see the screen, because I’m going to put the slides on the television monitor.  We’ll sing a song, pray, hear a message wrapping up the book of Ruth, and sing another song.  The whole broadcast should be around 40-45 minutes.  As I noted yesterday, I will live-stream to both my Facebook feed and the church’s Facebook page, accessible here:  http://www.facebook.com/stpaulsnobleton

There’s hope for our present circumstance even from an old book like Ruth.  I hope you’ll tune in.  Feel free to share questions in the comments on Facebook or YouTube (if you watch it later).  I’ll gladly respond.

Don’t hesitate to be in touch if I can help.  And please check in on your neighbours, and folks from the congregation who are not connected to the internet.  Offer to pick up groceries for people who are quarantined or self-isolating.

And trust God.

Encouragement From The Word

The church scattered

I was getting my hair cut yesterday.  (Some of you will think I am living dangerously by admitting that, but some things need to be done, and every precaution was taken.)  Steph is part of our church family at St. Paul’s, and she said something quite important as part of our conversation – much of which centred around the current pandemic.

She said, “Maybe this will help us all slow down.”

Granted, this is not the way any of us hoped the call away from busyness would come.  But the Coronavirus pandemic has forced us to simplify our lives, at least in terms of what we do outside of work and being at home.  We may still want to go out with our friends, or play particular sports, or take our kids away for this extended March Break, but we can’t.  It’s a danger to public health if we do.

The current crisis, though, is not going to end soon.  Even when we are permitted to gather in groups again – for conversation, sports, family and worship – we will do so with a new normal in place, and it probably isn’t going to look like what we were doing a couple of weeks ago.

For followers of Jesus, this season of challenge provides us with a unique opportunity: we can express the love of Jesus in new and highly practical ways.

I participated in a webinar yesterday in which one of the speakers said that the power of the church is not in its ability to gather, but its ability to scatter.

Think about that: for a long time, being the church has mostly been about Sunday.  Everything we do leads up to the Sunday experience.  Right now, though, the typical Sunday experience has been taken away from us.  As a result, pastors like me are looking for ways to engage our people in powerful ways that don’t involve getting together on the weekend.

Some have been thinking about this for a long time, irrespective of crises of this magnitude.  There are 168 hours in each week; they’ve been encouraging us to think about what we do with the other 167 hours that are in the week beyond the worship gathering.  The power of the church is in what we do with those 167 hours we’re scattered.

We could dive into any number of rabbit holes around this, but I won’t do that today.  Let me simply encourage you to be thinking about ways you can make faith in Jesus practical with your neighbours in this time.  Think about ways that you can serve others in Jesus’ name while we have this ‘bonus’ time that we’re not doing other things.

And maybe…just maybe…you might not want to go back to the steady diet of those other activities once you figure out the joy of serving others in the power of the gospel.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another….Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen” (1 Peter 4.10-11, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Toilet paper fear

Okay, what’s with the run on toilet paper, people?

Honestly, I can’t wrap my head around this one.  Apparently, scientists are not suggesting that ‘the runs’ are part of Coronavirus.  Perhaps people are afraid of being quarantined in their homes, and fear running out of essentials.  (The good news for me is that most people, apparently, do not consider bacon an essential.)  And besides, when one can’t get out of the house, there are online vendors who will cheerfully drop necessities on your doorstep!

The sense of fear among many people around Coronavirus is unprecedented.  Almost 20 years ago, when SARS was running rampant, there wasn’t this kind of trouble finding things like toilet paper.

The SARS phenomenon occurred a long time ago, and social media as we know it today didn’t exist.  I suspect that it may be playing a role.

Until the last few days, I was <ahem> poo-pooing the whole matter.  But then the World Health Organization declared that Coronavirus is a pandemic.  Flights are being cancelled.  School is being delayed in some places.  Professional sports are postponing their seasons indefinitely.

This is a serious matter – more serious than I was initially prepared to believe.  People are getting very sick, and some are dying from Coronavirus.  And it’s important to take precautions, but for most of us, these precautions are normal precautions:  handwashing, for example…and staying home if you are sick with any communicable illness.

Coronavirus is not the end of the world.  In my opinion, we should not be cancelling our worship gatherings, nor most of our regular activities, because of this concern, provided we take careful precautions.  We should expect people to be responsible adults and avoid public interaction if they are ill, and to wash their hands often to avoid communicating any kind of illness to others.  I’ll admit that this may be unusually optimistic, and I’ll certainly be monitoring the matter in my own congregation and life.

It’s wise to avoid hoarding things like soap and hand sanitizer, since we all need such substances in order to maintain public health.

And we should trust the Lord to be our Protector.  This does not absolve us of our responsibilities, but it should free us from captivity to fear.  And I think fear is a big deal right now…maybe even a bigger deal than Coronavirus.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1.7, NLT).