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Encouragement From The Word

Hype

I had a good conversation this week with a friend.  As happens in so many conversations these days, talk turned to the pandemic.  He told me about an acquaintance of his who lives his life in fear of the pandemic because of everything he has read on the Internet.

While there is no doubt that we should be vigilant and careful in these interesting times, I think embracing fear is not part of our mandate.  When we live paralyzed by fear, we are not really living.

This is why I encourage you to choose your information sources wisely, and even broadly.  It’s a natural human tendency to gravitate toward news sources that affirm what we already believe to be true.  In a time like this (pandemic or not), getting a broad spectrum of views helps widen our perspective on the situation, and helps loosen any grip that fear may have on us.

The reality is that even the health experts are flying in the dark without instruments right now, because none of us has ever faced this sort of pandemic before.  The fact that a global crisis has been made political in many places does not help.  It can be wildly confusing.

But all this is not confusing to God.  He has it all figured out; our job is to follow.  Don’t let yourself start walking in front of the One who holds all time and space in his hand.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
  Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3.5-6, NLT).

 

Biblical Messages

Mirror, Mirror

In this message, we learn how the law of Moses exists to convict us of our sin, and how we can respond to this through the spiritual disciplines of confession and thanksgiving. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that.  It’s based on Matthew 19.16-22 and Romans 7.7-13.

Encouragement From The Word

Dead to the law

In Romans 7.1 (NLT), the apostle Paul wrote something that might seem very strange on an initial, out-of-context reading:  “…don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living?

Seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it?  I mean, I’m not going to care whether a traffic light is green, amber or red when my funeral procession is winding its way to the cemetery.  But all the drivers in that procession should care, because they don’t want to risk injury.  The law only applies while a person is living.

But Paul goes on to say that everybody who has faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord has died to the law: they no longer live under its reign.

That changes the picture a bit, right?  So Paul is telling us that if we have died with Christ through our faith in him, we have died to sin (see Romans 6), and therefore have also died to the tyranny of the law.

Does that mean we should ignore the law of the land?  Well, if we all did that, the number of traffic fatalities would skyrocket (among other things).

Does that means we should ignore the law of God?  There’s the rub:  when we become followers of Jesus, the Old Testament doesn’t fade away, and the Ten Commandments don’t cease to be applicable to our lives.  So what does it mean that we have died to the law?

Just as Paul said in chapter 6 that sin will not be our master, so it is true that the law shall not be our master.  Our goal is not perfectly to keep the law; our goal is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us.

How do we glorify God?  Well, Jesus tells us in John 14.15 (NLT), “If you love me, obey my commandments.” Since we live under grace and not under law, we have come into relationship with Jesus by his favour alone, and in that relationship, we demonstrate our love by following what he tells us to do.  So while we are dead to sin and the law, we are alive to God in Jesus, and in that relationship, we follow the law without fear of being judged for our imperfect ability to keep the law.  We are respectful of the law, but not enslaved to it.

There are some great ways to apply this, and I’ll be talking about that this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  You (and your face mask) are very welcome to join us at 10:00 a.m., or catch the service from the comfort of your home live, or on demand later.  The application may cause you to squirm a little!

Biblical Messages

Slaves No More

In this message, based on Jeremiah 17.5-10 and Romans 6.15-23, we learn how God does not want us to be slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness. How can we do that? Root ourselves deeply. How does that happen? Through engaging in spiritual disciplines. We learn three of them in this message. You can watch the whole (edited) broadcast below, or catch just the message just below that.

 

 

Encouragement From The Word

Masks

Where you live, this may have already been a reality, but where I live, today, a ‘mask rule’ has come into effect.  In all indoor public spaces, people are expected to wear some sort of face covering as a means of slowing or preventing the spread of Coronavirus.

My wife has kindly made me a mask that properly covers my fat, hairy face in a way that does the job and feels almost comfortable.  (The disposable ones made my face look like…well, never mind about that.)  Those who like to sew are getting very creative with patterns and materials, so that all of us, perhaps especially children, can try to have a little fun with what is otherwise not a very fun undertaking.

This got me thinking, though:  masks are really nothing new in our society.  It’s just that now, we can see them.

You know what I mean: people wear masks that cover up any number of things, even if it isn’t oral germs.  Maybe it’s uncanny, heavy makeup to avoid looking too young, or too old, or too vulnerable.  Maybe it’s a permanent smile to cover up the pain we feel inside.  Maybe it’s a face that betrays nothing, to keep people at a distance.  There are all kinds of scenarios that might exist, but make no mistake: most human beings are used to wearing masks.

Interestingly, these same masks are often placed between our true self and the God who made us.

This is a profoundly sad reality, because what we tend to forget is that God sees us as we are, knows us as we are, loves us as we are, and longs for us to be more like him.  Yet we tend to put our best ‘face’ forward with God, for any number of reasons.

Sometimes, we think God won’t accept us if we feel a certain way.  (Usually, this is because someone else won’t accept us that way, and we universalize the principle.)  Sometimes, we think we’re not allowed to ‘be real’ in God’s presence.  This tends to be a matter of culture or conditioning.

If we have an image of God as being like Santa Claus, for whom “you’d better not cry”, it gets stuck in our heads that God won’t accept any emotion except happiness, or, at best, ennui.  And that’s too bad, because if you take even a cursory glance through the Psalms, you’ll see every emotion known to the human race expressed before God.  What’s more, the people of Israel believed all these emotions to be so important, they enshrined these songs in their Scriptures!

In the Psalms, you’ll find joy, sadness, anger, lament, even a desire to see others die.  There are no masks in the Psalms.

And we don’t need them, either.  Except in cloth form, in indoor public spaces, for a season.  The good news is that we can still weep or laugh or gnash our teeth with that kind of mask on.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem” (Psalm 137.1, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Your Master

In this worship gathering, we learn about how God worked through our Bible Fun Camp this past week, and we hear a message from Romans 6.1-14 about the importance of intent and why sin is not God’s plan for followers of Jesus. We also learn a little bit about pocket knives! You can watch the whole service below, or just the message at the link below that.

 

 

Encouragement From The Word

Irregardless…

In case you weren’t sure the world is a different place these days, I learned this week that Merriam-Webster, an American dictionary, is now including the word “irregardless” as a legitimate word.  Even as I type this, my word processor has underlined that term in red as an error.

As one friend pointed out, lexicographers simply accommodate terms in regular use; they don’t see themselves as “Grammar Nazis”.  That’s a pity, because the word simply makes no sense as it tends to be used.  People will say, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h irregardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”  But the “ir-“ and the “-less” actually cancel each other out!  So what they’re literally saying is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regarding the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h,” which makes no sense whatsoever.  What they mean is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”

This is just one sign of the generally accepted principle that there are no objective standards anymore.

Here’s another:  on a flight last year with WestJet, I was saddened to see that a curtain had been added to the aircraft, separating the “plus” seats from the ordinary seats.  One of the policies that attracted me to WestJet when it first started was that everybody flew in the same class.  That started to slip some years ago when the first few rows were given special menus and drink preferences – for a price.  Then, it slipped further when the middle seat in the first few rows became an armrest and drink holder for the occupants in the aisle and window seats.  Now, at least on some flights, it has slipped even further to the point that a curtain is drawn, and the front washroom is reserved for those in the first few rows, making it little different from its main competitor.

I lamented this fact to a flight attendant, whose reply was, “The company is simply doing what the customers want.”

With businesses, I get that “the customer is always right.”  Yet WestJet seems to have fallen from its guiding principles, set out at its founding as a company, that everyone should be treated the same way.

These seem like fairly harmless phenomena, for most of us.  A lot of people can overlook the use of the term “irregardless”, and the majority of people don’t fly enough to care whether they have to traipse all the way to the back of the aircraft to use the washroom.  But when applied universally, these things are symptomatic of a more troubling trend, and we see it happening in the church.

Let’s just give people what they want.

If people want to use “irregardless”, regardless of the fact that it is not a sensible word, let’s legitimate it by putting it in the dictionary.

If people want to separate extra service and private washrooms from the masses in steerage, let’s make it happen.

If people want to do something the Bible says is wrong, let’s overlook it.

Not such a big leap, is it?

While there are some advantages to our emergence from Christendom, one of the things society has lost is the value of objective truth, and now, in some cases, it’s even being lost in the church.

If you’re in church leadership, don’t ignore the objective truth of God’s Word.

If you’re not in church leadership, hold your leaders to account, and pray for them to uphold the objective truth of God’s Word.

To keep the world from chaos, we need objective truth.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4.12-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Everything we need

Today’s Encouragement is a guest post from my friend, Adelle Lauchlan, who serves on staff at Uxbridge Baptist Church.  Enjoy! – Jeff+

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3a, NLT).

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most people want to be useful, want to live a productive life, and that Christians want to live a life worthy of Christ’s call. So I find these words of Paul’s very reassuring.

But what are these things that we have been given that allow us to live a godly life?

Well, I think this is what they are:

  • We have the love of Christ, a love so great that he willingly died that we would be saved – it is a love that drew us to him, and it remains with us always.
  • We have the power of the Holy Spirit – we received it, as promised, when we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
  • We have the gifts of the Spirit – those attributes that we share with other believers and which mark us as Christians.
  • We have the Word of God – left to us so that we would know his will for us.
  • We have the model of Christ and how he lived so that we would know how to live out God’s will.
  • We have the company of each other to encourage us in our walk and to help us when we stray.

And we have all these things because God is glory and excellence, and in his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. We live under the new covenant, sealed on the cross. Grace, God’s love and forgiveness, freely given.

Truly, everything we need! A precious promise!

And what are we asked to do in return? Respond in faith. Respond with faith. Faith is the foundation of this great promise. It is everything we need!

Thanks, Adelle!

Biblical Messages

Bumper Sticker Theology

In this worship gathering, we hear from Psalm 4 and Romans 5.1-11, as well as a moving testimony of God’s faithfulness in the life of one of our church members who has endured cancer in recent years and found God faithful. She was healed, too! If you want to know peace, you need to know God. That’s the thrust of this message. You can watch the whole service below, or just the message below that.

Apologies for the audio and editing troubles – there were a number of gaffes in today’s live-stream that we attempted to overcome in the editing suite, but to little avail. Thanks for your patience.

 

Encouragement From The Word

Purveyors of hope

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, even in the Old Testament, has always been big on hope.

A lot of people think that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is not the same God as the God portrayed in the New Testament, but even a cursory reading of the Bible suggests otherwise: the gracious, merciful God of the New Testament is also gracious and merciful in the Old Testament.  And he is the great purveyor of hope.

Consider the story of Abraham and Sarah.  When God promised that Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness, would become the father of many nations, it was hard to believe, but as far as he was concerned, a promise was a promise, and so he held out hope, because he believed in the God of hope.  And at age 90, Sarah became pregnant with her centenarian husband’s son – Isaac.

For what do you hope in these days?

A child, like Abraham and Sarah?

The healing of a loved one?

An end to the Coronavirus pandemic?

Put your hope in the God of miracles.  And remember, the church of Jesus is God’s instrument, today, in dispensing hope.

What are you doing to bring hope to the lives of others?

Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, ‘That’s how many descendants you will have!’  And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4.18-19, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Righteous for our benefit

God’s promises are true.  Even when they seem far-fetched.  And we can rely on them.  That’s the thrust of today’s message from Romans 4.9-25.  You can watch the whole service (with a  few hiccups here and there) or just the message below.  This was our first broadcast where people, in limited numbers, were able to come to worship together in three months, so there are about 12 people with me in the worship space as we put this broadcast together.  Have a look!

Encouragement From The Word

Conquering Fear

Nelson Mandela once said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Well, I assume he said it, because, you know, I read it on the Internet.  If he didn’t say it, I’d be surprised, because it sounds like something he would have said.  (And don’t worry, I’m sure he meant it to apply to women, too.)

There is wisdom in those words.

Each of us has fear over something – maybe even every day.  But whatever the subject matter is, we all, from time to time, feel afraid.

To be sure, the current global pandemic has placed fear in a lot of people.  In some ways, I don’t blame them; the Coronavirus is an Unknown Entity in so many ways, and none of us – not even the experts – have been down this road before.  And as parts of the world and parts of our world begin to open, that may strike even more fear into some.

The good news for followers of Jesus is that conquering fear – that to which South Africa’s great freedom fighter commended us – is eminently doable, because we have the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.

In 1 John 4.16b-18, we read, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (NLT).

More often than not, I hear that read as the second-most-favourite Bible passage used at weddings.  But, like its first-place neighbour, 1 Corinthians 13, the context for the passage is not a wedding, even though each passage applies in that kind of setting.  Of course, its context also was not a global pandemic (unless you count sin as a global pandemic, and that’s certainly legit!).  But the principle fits.

Focus with me on one phrase:  “perfect love expels all fear.”  Perfect love is the love with which God loves us, the love that sent his only Son to the cross for us, the love that brought him back from the dead, the love that sent the Holy Spirit on his followers with tongues of fire.  That love, Christian friend, lives in you and me.  And that love expels all fear.

It’s easier to say than it is to live out, however.  Our minds easily get caught up in fear over any number of life situations.  But when we remind ourselves of God’s great love for us, and our desire to follow and serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit, he will cast out all fear.

Being rid of fear certainly shouldn’t rid us of caution.  Just because we’re called to live in love and not in fear doesn’t mean we should be stupid.  But it does mean we can rest in the confidence that God goes ahead of us in solving whatever dilemma causes us fear.

I have no idea if Mandela knew the Lord.  But the best way to conquer fear is to let him do it through the Holy Spirit.

Musings, Uncategorized

Open for (God’s) business

The Session at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton decided today to open this Sunday, June 21.  This is the (edited) content of an email sent to the congregation tonight.

The building has been sanitized.  All materials have been removed from the seats in the worship space.  The lobby has been emptied of all furnishings except the small table next to the worship space doors.  With the exception of the main doors, the lobby, the upstairs washrooms and the worship space, the building has been cordoned off.

Hand sanitizer will be provided and its use will be mandatory as you enter the building.  If you choose to come – remember, nobody’s twisting your arm here! – and you are more comfortable wearing a mask, please bring one with you. We will have a few extras available in case you forget.

Here’s what will happen if you choose to come this Sunday at 10:

  • As you enter the parking lot, please try to avoid parking adjacent to another vehicle.If you must, then please ensure the occupants of the nearby vehicle are not exiting their vehicle at the same time as you.
  • All entry and exit will take place via the main doors that face King Road.All other entrances will be locked.  Upon arriving at the main doors, if others are nearby, please maintain a two-metre distance from them as you wait your turn to come in.
  • At the door, a masked elder (this Sunday, it will be Erma, in case the mask fools you) will write your name on a sheet of paper so that we can notify Public Health if for some reason we find anyone present is later diagnosed with Coronavirus.
  • You will be instructed to use hand sanitizer at this time.Please do not wear gloves; you will be asked to remove them.
  • Someone will escort you to a place to sit in the worship space.Households will be seated not less than two metres apart, staggered throughout the worship space.  If you have a preference for where you wish to sit, you can express that, recognizing that priority will be given to those arriving first.  You will be asked not to get up and move from the time you are seated until you are called on to depart the building.  If you think you might need to get up and use the washroom after you’ve been seated, please be sure to wear a mask.
  • Children are welcome to come, too.Individually packed take-home resource packages will be provided for smaller children to keep busy during worship.  There will be no children’s ministry of any other sort provided at this time for health reasons.
  • The worship gathering will follow much the same format as we’ve seen online, with acknowledgement of the people in the room.There will be two songs sung near the end.  If you are not comfortable with having people singing around you, it is recommended that you sit nearer the back.  (The science on singing and the spread of Coronavirus is somewhat conflicting; some say it is problematic, while others say that at a safe physical distance, it poses no threat.)  Paul Mason will be joining me to lead the singing.
  • When the gathering is over, you will be asked to leave as a household, with safe gaps between households as they depart.
  • If you want to share fellowship at a safe distance, it is recommended that you wear a mask, bring your own beverage (if desired), and stand in the parking lot to do so.The lobby will not be made available for fellowship during this stage of re-opening.

The gathering will be limited to not more than 54 persons, inclusive of volunteers and worship leaders.  So we’re asking that you indicate your intention to attend this Sunday if you plan to do so, by commenting below.  That way, if guests appear, we will know how many we can welcome.  It’s not like us to turn away anyone at the door, but under the current emergency regulations, we have no choice but to limit physical attendance.

We ask that if you feel unwell or have symptoms of Coronavirus, please stay home and watch the live-stream.  And if you are in a vulnerable category, that is, elderly, or with a pre-existing health condition that compromises your immune system, likewise, please stay home and watch the live-stream.  Furthermore, if you are not quite ready, whether emotionally or physically, to gather with others in worship, don’t feel that you must come because the doors are open.  As much as we all would like to see one another in person, your health is your top priority.  The live-stream broadcast will continue irrespective of the restrictions that may or may not be placed on public gatherings, so a worship experience will always be available to you online, as it has been for the past few months (and many months before that).

By opening for public worship this Sunday, we are offering an option for those who are ready and well enough to come together.  I have no doubt it will feel a bit weird, coming into a familiar place that in some ways will seem unfamiliar because of the situation we’re in.  But if you are physically and emotionally ready to gather together in God’s praise, this Sunday, we’ll be ready for you.  The flag will be out at the road to welcome you…and if you come early enough, weather permitting, I might be out at the road to welcome you, too!

Again, if you plan to attend this Sunday, please comment below.  Thanks!

May the Lord be with us as we take this step of faith.

Biblical Messages

Off to Faith we go…

We commonly see #blessed on our social media feeds, but what does that really mean?  That’s part of what we’ll learn in our time together in Romans 4.1-8.  The big idea here is that we are blessed not because we have earned righteousness, but because it is given to us.  Abraham is used as the example by the apostle Paul in this passage.

We can’t earn our salvation.  It has to be given to us.  And when we receive that which is given, we are truly #blessed!

Watch the whole broadcast below, or just the message portion below that.

 

 

Encouragement From The Word

Pay Attention

“Pay attention.”  We’re told that from the time our parents start talking to us.

We’re told it by teachers in school, by police officers who approach us at traffic stops, by spouses who think we’re not listening, by nurses who want us to take our pills.

Our whole lives, we hear, “Pay attention.”

Yet, so often in life, we fail to do so – especially around truly important matters that might not seem so at the time.

Yesterday, an elder in my congregation was travelling just outside town, when she saw an ambulance turn down a familiar sideroad.  And something told her she should follow it.

Now, this elder is not given to following ambulances; she’d have nothing to gain by doing so, and didn’t have medical training to be able to help.  But there was this nudge inside her, and she paid attention.

As it turns out, the ambulance was going to the home of a fellow congregant.

She followed the ambulance into the driveway, and got out to comfort the spouse of the person who was being treated.

To say the least, this would have been an awkward thing to have done had she not had a relationship with the people involved, and she had no idea where the ambulance was going when she started following it.  But there was this nudge…so she did, and was able to minister to the spouse.

The good news is that the individual was taken to hospital, was treated, released, and is recovering at home.

If you’ve ever had to call 911 for a member of your household and seen that person carted away in an ambulance, you know how helpless you feel.  This would only be compounded by being alone, waiting for information about your loved one.

So imagine how wonderful it must have been for the person comforted by the woman who followed the ambulance, because of this nudge to which she paid attention.

Most often, when we are driving somewhere, we have someplace to go, and usually on a schedule.  Even if we feel a nudge, we tend to ignore it because we have someplace to go and a timetable to follow.

What if we were to make room in our schedules – some margin, if you will – so that when we feel those nudges, we can pay attention to them and act?

It may not be something so dramatic as following an ambulance.  It could be something as simple as making a phone call, or writing a card, or saying the right words at the right time to a loved one.  The scenarios are endless, and the opportunities are endless, if we will only pay attention.

After all, that nudge could well be from the Holy Spirit.

Will you pay attention today?

My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands.  Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding” (Proverbs 2.1-2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Being Somebody

Regular readers of Encouragement From the Word know that I ordinarily end my thought with Scripture.  This week, though, I’m going to start there instead.  Read this through a couple of times, slowly.

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

“Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.  And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.  There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3.23-29, NLT).

The context around the letter to the Galatians is that doctrinal troubles had arisen in churches there, due to the influence of what were called “Judaizers” – followers of Jesus who believed that in order to become Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike had to follow Jewish rituals.  The apostle Paul wrote this letter to disabuse the churches of Galatia of the notion that they had to follow certain rituals in order to be welcomed into the family of faith in Jesus.

In our context, it has any number of applications that I won’t bother to list here.  But I will say this:  so often, we find ourselves wanting to be significant, wanting to be ‘somebody’, and we uplift ourselves at the expense of others.  We’ve seen examples of this at both opposite extremes in the news recently.

Ultimately, though, if you want to be somebody, live by faith in Jesus.

Now, read that passage one more time.