Blog posts

Encouragement From The Word

Forty Days later…

Yesterday was an important day in the Christian calendar, but because it always falls on a Thursday, many believers in western society ignore it, and that’s unfortunate. 

It was Ascension Day.

It commemorates the ascension of Jesus, 40 days after he rose from the dead.  And 40 days after Easter Sunday always falls on a Thursday.  While we in North America don’t celebrate it widely (though many Anglicans, especially those whose parish churches are named “The Church of the Ascension”, will have special services for it), in much of western Europe, it’s still a public holiday.

Why does it matter?  Why should we mark the ascension of Jesus?

It fulfills the promise he made to the disciples, even before he went to the cross.  In John 14.28, Jesus told them, “I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am” (NLT).

Of course, the disciples didn’t understand this at the time, though everything became clear as time went on.

Jesus, in ascending to heaven, went to be with the Father, and began his promised role as our Intercessor.  From that day forward, Jesus’ primary responsibility as the Second Person of the Trinity would be to pray for us.

Isn’t that amazing?  Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father’s throne in heaven, interceding on our behalf.  And it all began on that first Ascension Day.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, he lays our case before the throne of grace.  Think of that every year, 40 days after Easter.  And think of it every day as you pray in the powerful name of Jesus.

Biblical Messages

Giving Back

As we continue our series on the epidemic of spiritual immaturity in the church, based on the book Outrageous Love, Transforming Power by Terry Wardle, we get to the characteristic of ministry, the idea that to be spiritually mature, we need to be servants, wounded healers. The Scripture focus is Matthew 20.20-28, and you can watch the message below, or the whole worship broadcast just below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Valuing life

When I’m scrolling through my social media feeds, it takes something significant for me to “stop the scroll”.  Reading a post a couple of weeks ago by an acquaintance, whom I met while on a mission trip to India several years ago, made me stop.

As you may know, India is having severe challenges with the virulent spread of the Coronavirus.  Thousands of people each day are dying.

He said that the problem wasn’t that India didn’t have the resources to stop the spread of COVID-19; the problem is that there is a lack of value for human life.

Now, that’s just one man’s opinion, but this is his nation and his culture he’s talking about.  He understands it far better than I ever could.  And this is a sad assessment indeed.

I fear it is not limited to India, nor to the issue of the pandemic.

It’s a deep pond we’d be wading into, filled with quicksand, were we to begin the journey; this is not the forum for such conversation.  But you know the issues as well as I do:  once-civilized societies are demonstrating a lack of value for human life, whether at its beginning, its end, or its middle.

How do we turn that around?

One simple step is for all of us – starting with followers of Jesus, but spreading to all of society – to treat every other person as Jesus would treat him or her.    This doesn’t mean agreeing on everything; it doesn’t mean approving of everything; what it does mean is that each person has value because each person is made in God’s image.

Not every cultural or religious tradition grasps this, but as Christians, we do.

Let’s set the example.

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Broken

As we continue our series based on Terry Wardle’s book, Outrageous Love, Transforming Power, looking at the characteristics of Jesus that bring spiritual maturity, we come to the theme of brokenness. We all have brokenness, wounds within that we need to give to the Lord. The message is based on Luke 22.39-46. If something deep within has been triggered for you and you’d like to talk about it, go to stpaulsnobleton.ca/connect and let us know – we will be in touch. You can watch the whole worship broadcast below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Groaning

Where I live, Wednesday morning was dreary.  The sky was dark, indicative of the thunderstorm that was rolling through.  Even in front of a window, I needed artificial light for the Zoom call I had with my spiritual director.

As we talked about finding the fingerprints of God in my unique life situation these days, the word “weird” came up…a lot.  There is no doubt that for all of us, these “unprecedented times” are weird; in some weeks, there are varying kinds of ‘weird’ by the day!

My spiritual director asked me about my response to the weirdness in terms of prayer.  I said that, along with my usual Benedictine prayer offices, there are a lot of brief, incomplete sentences being offered to God in prayer these days.

She asked if these brief, incomplete sentences could be termed ‘groans’. 

I nodded in agreement.

We both welled up a little, but in a good way.

This was a realization for me that even these brief utterances of prayer which, on some days, are all we can muster with the Lord, are important parts of our relationship with God.

If you have days where your prayers seem like little more than groans, don’t despair.  God is listening.

And be encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul:  “…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).

Post-Script:  After I wrote this, I read this in N.T. Wright’s little book, God and the Pandemic (Zondervan Reflective, 2020, p. 42):  “…when the world is going through great convulsions, the followers of Jesus are called to be people of prayer at the place where the world is in pain.  Paul [the apostle, in reference to the latter part of Romans 8] puts it like this, in a three-stage movement:  first, the groaning of the world; second, the groaning of the Church; third, the groaning of the Spirit – within the Church within the world.”

Groan on, church.  Groan on.

Encouragement From The Word

Created to pray

Early in the pandemic, my friend, Adelle Lauchlan, shared with me some thoughts that she had shared with the congregation of which she is a part.  From time to time, with her permission, I have shared one with you, and this one in particular spoke to me today.  Enjoy! – Jeff+

I think a lot about prayer, maybe because I pray a lot. Praying is one of the perks and privileges of my work. 

But praying isn’t something I grew up doing. 

Although I grew up going to church, prayer wasn’t part of my response. Prayer was something someone else did for me, or more accurately, “over me”. I fell away from church for over a decade after high school, and when I found my way back to church, I asked my pastor for a book on how to pray. He handed me a book titled Teaching Conversational Prayer

I never read it. 

It sat beside my bed for months. But it was the most transformative book never to be read. The title taught me what I needed to grasp. Prayer is a conversation. Prayer is a response to God’s love. 

That book title was a revelation for me. Once I let faith rule in my heart, once I let Christ live in my heart, prayer became natural. Prayer didn’t need to be fancy, it didn’t need to be formatted, it just needed to be me talking to my God, my Creator, the One who loves me, the One who sent his only Son to save me; it just needed to be done. 

I didn’t need to know how to pray, I just needed to pray.

My prayers are a loving response to the One who loves us best, to the One who is love. He created us to pray. And when I forget this or my prayer life turns stale, I need only look to Scripture for encouragement, for a reminder of God’s love.

The Apostle Paul prayed a lot. I love his prayer for the Ephesians; here is just a small bit of it.  This is my prayer for you: “I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit – not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength – that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in” (Eph 3:16-17, The Message). 

Thanks, Adelle!

Biblical Messages

Life Together

In this series entitled, “Epidemic in the Church”, we’re learning about the problem of spiritual immaturity. If we live as Jesus did as shown in the gospels, we will develop spiritual maturity. So far, we have looked at the characteristics of identity and intimacy; this week’s message focuses on the characteristic of community, and how Jesus valued it and espoused it. And so can we! The message is based on Matthew 18.15-20. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message right below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Getting naked

Earlier this week, a Canadian Member of Parliament “showed up” (if you’ll pardon the expression) in the virtual House of Commons – an online meeting of our nation’s legislators – without clothing.

He claims it was accidental, and I’m not going to judge that one way or the other.  You can read the news articles for yourself.

But it got me thinking about how God sees us.

We in western culture tend to like to dress to impress, and sometimes dress for the role we play, even if that means, in this age of online meetings, wearing something formal on top while wearing track pants (or less) on the bottom, which will not be seen (apparently, unless you’re that Member of Parliament!).

There was a time when church-goers would wear their “Sunday best”.  Whether that was because of societal pressure, common tradition, or because they believed that giving God their best in worship included their dress code, one cannot be certain.

Nowadays, the garb worn to church tends to be a combination of what’s comfortable and what’s acceptable.  If you’re limiting your worship attendance to online, you might be going to church in your pajamas, or in The Altogether!  And that’s okay.  Because while people may judge (though they shouldn’t), God does not – or so we surmise.

I think if there is one reason why we should not be too concerned with what people wear to worship (or wear, generally), it’s that God knows what we look like naked.  He sees all of us:  our beauty, our flaws, our inside and our outside.  And he is still head-over-heels in love with us.

When it comes to “dress to impress”, we don’t need to do that with our Creator.  He knows exactly what we look like without our suit from Rosen, our blouse from Laura, or our t-shirt from Walmart.  And he loves us.

So if you’re going to clothe yourself to impress God or anybody else, try this:  “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Peter 3.3-4, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Let’s Get Intimate!

In Terry Wardle’s book, Outrageous Love, Transforming Power, he notes 8 characteristics of Jesus’ life that, if we emulate them, we will find ourselves getting out of the epidemic of spiritual immaturity that characterizes the church in western culture today. In today’s instalment, we look at the characteristic of intimacy, how spiritual maturity comes from making God your deepest desire. Based on John 17.20-26, you can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Spiritual Heartburn

The traditional Gospel story for the Sunday after Easter is the walk to Emmaus, told in the middle verses of Luke 24.  In that story, a couple of people who had placed their hope in Jesus for the rescue of Jerusalem were walking home from that city, not having heard of the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus appears, walking beside them, though they don’t recognize him.  They’re talking about the events of the weekend, and Jesus acts as though he doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  But as time goes on, he explains how the Bible predicted that the Messiah would rise from the dead.

He makes like he’s going beyond Emmaus, but his fellow travellers, upon reaching home, invite him to stay.  He sits at table with them, and all at once, the guest becomes the Host, because he breaks the bread – and in that moment, they recognized Jesus!  And he disappeared from their sight.

With that, they abandoned their supper and high-tailed it back to Jerusalem to find out about the resurrection of Jesus.  And one remarked to the other:

… ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24.32, NLT).

Have you ever experienced that kind of heartburn?  Have you felt that passion for God and his Word as you read the Scriptures, or hear them explained?

The Lord invites that passion to erupt within you.  It’s part of how we become mature followers of Christ.

(By the way, I’m preaching a series right now called “Epidemic in the Church”, that deals with the characteristics of Jesus that we can emulate in order to become spiritually mature.  You’re welcome to join us live, in person or online, any Sunday morning at 10, or catch up on past messages via our YouTube channel.)

Here’s hoping you’ll get that heartburn that no antacid can quell!

Biblical Messages

EPIDEMIC IN THE CHURCH: 1. Know Whose You Are

In Terry Wardle’s book, Outrageous Love, Transforming Power, he talks about the crisis that exists in the church due to spiritual immaturity. (Get the book. It’s well worth the read, and is available here.) In this series, we’re going to look at the eight characteristics of Jesus’ life that make for spiritual maturity. On this Easter Day, we begin the series with a look at identity, knowing whose you are. It’s based on the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Mark 9.2-10. You can watch the whole worship gathering, including the Lord’s Supper, below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

April Showers: Thinking About Lament

“April showers bring May flowers.”  That’s not in the Bible, but it could be, except that it doesn’t apply to folks in the southern hemisphere.  (So if you’re reading this from the southern hemisphere, add six months and read it later!)

It’s an idiom that we northerners use to try to add a little hope to what can often be a dreary month.  We understand that we need the rain in order to bring about the verdancy that comes with late spring, just as we need the sunshine.  I suppose some might appreciate a compromise where it rained only at night (when it doesn’t much matter) and the sun shone through the day, but weather systems are not always that cooperative.

If we’re honest, though, we are a spoiled people:  we want what we want when we want it.  And when we don’t get what we want when we want it, we sometimes tend to think that life isn’t fair.

But I don’t remember reading anywhere that life is supposed to be fair.

This is underlined for us when we experience inconvenience, yes, but even more so when we experience tragedy.

Perhaps a loved one dies unexpectedly, or a pink slip arrives, or sickness befalls us.

Some – even some followers of Jesus – would say that we need to cheer up, and “just praise the Lord.”

While it’s good to praise the Lord, and to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5.18), we should not prevent ourselves from the practice of lament.

To lament means to feel sad, and sometimes, even mad.  And in the Bible, we see examples of both – and they are directed at God.

It’s common for Christians to think there’s something wrong with expressing anything but joy to the Lord, but Scripture demonstrates that it’s not wrong to lament before God, too.

There are some very raw laments; Psalm 137 comes to mind.  And there are others that simply express before God exactly what the writer (usually on behalf of God’s people) is feeling.  Psalm 130 is a gentle one.  Psalm 6 is more blatant.

Take some time to look up “Psalms of lament” and ponder what the Bible tells you in terms of the freedom you have to share your “rainy days” with the Lord.  Listen for how God responds as you offer these passages to him.  

And give thanks that God can handle anything you say.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind” (Psalm 38.9-10, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

No pockets

A friend of mine relayed a story recently about Ray Stedman, a well-known American pastor from the 20th century.  He had flown to a speaking engagement (remember the good old days, when people actually flew places?), and the airline lost his luggage (we don’t miss that part!).  In that culture, preachers didn’t get up to speak without wearing a suit – and he didn’t have one, thanks to the airline.

Stedman asked his host what could be done, and the host pastor said he would arrange to get Stedman a suit in which to preach the next morning, making note of his measurements.

When the suit was delivered to the hotel, Stedman dressed, and tried to put his wallet in a pocket.  Much to his amazement, he realized the suit had no pockets in the jacket or even in the pants!

He mentioned this to his host pastor, who quickly admitted that the suit had been acquired from a local funeral home!

This was a suitable reminder for Stedman, as for us, that ‘you can’t take it with you.’

I’m often amazed at the stories I hear – and sometimes witness – about people wanting to be buried with some sort of treasure that mattered to them, whether money or things.  But they will do us no good in the afterlife. The only thing we can bring with us when we die, that will do any good, is faith.

As we are reminded when we sing the old hymn by Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling!”

So rather than filling our proverbial barns and buying more when they are full, we can invest in opportunities that will enable more people to carry faith into the afterlife.  The dividends paid by that will last for eternity.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6.19-21, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Faith: Habit or Hobby?

Many people in the world – even some church-going people, even some people who have professed faith in Jesus – treat their faith as an add-on, an option among many other options. Yet to be disciples of Jesus, we need to treat our faith as a habit, not a hobby. That’s the theme of today’s message, based on Colossians 3.1-17. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to use the comment section below!

Encouragement From The Word

Heavenly Minded

A friend of mine was living and studying in Toronto in 1992, when the Blue Jays won the World Series for the first time ever.  I remember speaking with my friend and mentioning this.  I got a quizzical look back.

My friend had no idea that Toronto’s franchise had won baseball’s biggest title.  I was gobsmacked!

Maybe you’ve heard the pejorative phrase, “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.”  Perhaps you can think of someone who fits that description pretty well.

And it’s true: it can be challenging to deal with people who have no significant awareness of their surroundings or their culture.

At the same time, though, there are many people who claim to be followers of Jesus who are so focused on this life that they have no grasp whatsoever on the future for which Jesus has ransomed them.

It’s possible to be so earthly minded as to be (dare we say it?) no heavenly good.

Granted, there’s a lot about heaven that we don’t know.  All we can know is revealed to us in the Bible, and a lot of what people actually believe about heaven bears no resemblance to anything Scripture tells us about it.  Even in the church, there’s a lot of “folk religion” that’s held tightly, at least when it comes to the afterlife.

The key, I suppose, is balance.  As God’s people, we want to be focused on what Jesus has promised for us.  And we want to live in the world in which God has placed us in the here-and-now.  We need to ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each believer, to help us bring about that balance, so that people will take us seriously when we do point them toward heaven.

I invite you to do that today:  ask the Holy Spirit to help you balance the delights of heaven with the needs of the world.  When he helps you achieve that balance, who knows how many people may look to you to have the same hope for the future that lives in you!

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3.1-3, NLT).

Biblical Messages

God Calling

If you follow Jesus, you’re a gifted person. The Bible tells us in a number of places that every follower of Jesus has at least one special ability, given by God, to serve him in the church. These are called “spiritual gifts”. And today’s message is about one of the passages that shows some of the spiritual gifts. Maybe one or more of those is yours! The message is based on Ephesians 4.1-16. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that. If you’d like to participate in the spiritual gift seminar on Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 7:00 p.m., on Zoom, you can comment on this post with your email address, and I’ll send you the Zoom link, and the link to the spiritual gift inventory you’ll want to complete before attending.

Encouragement From The Word

You’re Gifted!

Picture this:  you have a friend whose birthday is coming up.  You decide on the perfect gift to give him or her.  You purchase it, wrap it up, and on your friend’s birthday, you hand it to him or her with a greeting and a smile.

Your friend thanks you for the gift, sets it down…and never opens it.

How would you feel?

Did you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus, God has given you at least one special gift by the Holy Spirit?  Yet, in reality, most of us never open them.

Knowing our spiritual gifts is vital to our proper functioning as part of the body of Christ, the church.  By knowing our gifts, we know how most effectively to serve the Lord in the edification of his church.

Lots of people burn out serving Jesus.  Sometimes – oftentimes, I think – it’s because we’re serving outside of our gifting.

When we know and use our spiritual gifts, we are able to function harmoniously in the perfect role God has planned for us in his church.

Do you wonder what your gifts are?

This Sunday, I’ll be talking about the importance of service in the church as an expression of our faith in the Lord, and I’ll be inviting participants to join me in a seminar on Zoom for unwrapping our spiritual gifts.

The seminar will be held on Thursday, March 18 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.  If you’d like to join me in that seminar, I invite you to comment, with your email address.  I’ll send you the Zoom link, and also a link to an inventory of your spiritual gifts that you will fill out before the seminar.  It would be good to see your face – unmasked, even!

If you do know your gifts, use them to the glory of God, and the edification of his church.  But if you don’t know your gifts, please feel free to join me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children” (Ephesians 4.11-14, NLT).