Blog posts

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).

Biblical Messages

How Do I Worship?

In this worship gathering, we hear a message in which we explore why we worship God, and how we go about worship – since there is nothing precisely laying out how we are supposed to gather to praise the Lord. It’s based on Isaiah 6.1-8 and Colossians 3.12-17. You can watch the entire worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

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).

Encouragement From The Word

Reading for Formation

This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I am beginning a series called, “How Do I…?” in which I will spend some time on practical tips for some of the basic disciplines of following Jesus that not everybody fully grasps.  This week, the discipline is prayer.’

One of the points I’ll make is that prayer is not only talking to God, but listening to God as well.  The primary way we hear from God is from his Word, the Bible.  We can read the Bible for information – to learn something – or for formation – to be shaped in the image of Jesus.  Each is valuable, and each has its place.  But too often, we focus on reading the Bible for information; rarely do we read the Bible to be formed.

An example of reading the Bible for formation comes in the ancient practice of holy reading, what the ancients called lectio divina.  It’s a practice whereby we read a short passage of Scripture four times, with each time having an emphasis:

Read:  what word or phrase stands out for you?

Reflect:  how does the passage impact you?

Respond:  talk to God about your reaction.

Rest:  embrace God’s thoughts for you as a result of your experience.

Let me suggest that you try that for a few moments, using the passage below.  Let the Lord speak; don’t worry about the meaning of any part of the passage in this exercise.  See if God has a word for you in this part of the Bible.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 5.14-16, NLT)

Read.  Reflect.  Respond.  Rest.

God is in charge.

Biblical Messages

The Powers That Be

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 13.1-10 that illustrates how the apostle John shared his vision with the early church, illuminating the Roman Empire for what it was – an ugly beast. We apply the passage to our own situation as we learn to discern what really constitutes persecution. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

We are the church, together!

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a treasured colleague.  Though he was a good age, it was still difficult for his family and his friends.  His daughter-in-law read a letter from friends who could not be present.  His son shared about him in a loving way, and another colleague, who took the service, spoke warmly as well.  But if that was all there had been, it would have felt like something was missing:  fellowship.

I was grateful that there was an opportunity for fellowship after the service was over.  Throughout most of the last two and a half years, the fellowship component to funerals has been missing because of concerns over the pandemic.

But I’m glad it was back for this gathering, because there were people who are dear to me with whom I wanted to be able to express personal condolences and have a conversation.  I know from experience that in many ways, as important as the service itself is, the opportunity to share grief in community makes a significant contribution to the healing process.  

Likewise, community is strengthened when there is an opportunity to share table fellowship.  Last Sunday, our congregation had its first pot luck lunch in almost 3 years, and it was wonderful.  Twice as many people stayed as had actually signed up to stay, which was great – there was plenty to eat – but it was a sign that people hunger for fellowship.

Since March 2020, when the world shut down, fellowship has been hard to come by.  For a while, of course, people stayed apart on the advice of officials who were still trying to figure out the unknown communicability of COVID-19.  But, thanks mostly to the media, that caution became an abject fear in some people that has continued to this day.

And, as a result, they are losing out on one of the most wonderful things about being human:  community.

This is especially true for followers of Jesus, because Christianity is definitely a team sport.  We can’t go it alone; we need each other.

So be cautious, yes, but don’t deprive yourself of the fellowship you need to keep your faith strong.  Christian, you are the church!  We are the church, together!

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10.25, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Strategic Withdrawal

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 12 that helps us understand the cryptic nature of John’s vision of the dragon and the pregnant woman – and how we shouldn’t read contemporary ideas into an ancient text. The story parallels the exodus from the Old Testament, and we look at the importance of retreat as part of our defence against the devil. You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.

Encouragement From The Word

The value of retreat

This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I will be talking about the value of retreat as part of the message (something one might find surprising to pull from Revelation 12!).  I thought I’d take a minute to say a bit more about its importance.

Followers of Jesus, like everybody else in this world, are bombarded by noise.  Often, we think of ‘noise’ as an unpleasant sound, like fingernails on a chalkboard, or that sound that grabs our attention when an amber alert shows up on the television.  But in this case, I’m referring to ‘noise’ as any sound – even a pleasant sound – that keeps us from hearing from God.

We love the sound of our preferred music.  We love the sounds of the voices of people we love.  We might even love the sound of the hustle and bustle of the city.  And it all has its place – but it can all serve like earplugs, keeping us from hearing God’s voice.

That’s why retreat is such an important part of the Christian life.

Lots of churches go away on retreat, taking time away from the normal environment for fellowship and teaching.  But not very often do those times include silence and solitude.

Those retreats end up just changing up the noise.  Don’t get me wrong:  it’s probably good noise!  But I maintain that time apart, in quiet, is important for balancing our relationship with the Lord.

Many times, in the Bible, we see stories of people who set themselves apart from the crowd, and the noise, to be with the Lord:  think of Moses, Elijah, even Jesus (who was, after all, already God!).  Yet, in our high-demand, high-energy world, we don’t usually make time to be apart from the crowd.  And when we do, we usually fill that time alone with sound – even good sound, like edifying music or podcasts or TV shows.

Here’s a challenge for you:  block out some time in your schedule to go away somewhere, with no agenda but to be with God.  Turn off your phone, and be somewhere as quiet as you can find.  It needn’t be far from home; I recommend that it not be at home, simply because the environment is so familiar, and the temptation exists to do something.

If that sounds daunting, start with 5 minutes.  Go into your bedroom, perhaps read a verse from Scripture that you love, and just sit with the Lord.  Some will find this difficult.  Others will find it exhilarating.  But try it.  And when you have success with 5 minutes, start ramping it up, until you are ready to go away for a weekend or a week with a goal of simply being with the Lord.

I call it “strategic withdrawal”.  And you might be amazed at the difference it makes in your life.

Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19.11-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Duct cleaning prep

Maybe you know someone who pays an individual to do their house cleaning.  Almost everyone I know who has a house cleaner actually cleans house before the house cleaner arrives.  I suppose one must pick up certain bits of clutter, but otherwise, I’ve never quite understood why people clean house, and then pay people to clean house for them.

Yesterday, I had the ducts cleaned in our house.  (No, I didn’t succumb to one of those robocalls with someone from south Asia, representing heaven-knows-who.)  It was just time to get the job done.

But, like many people with their house cleaners, I found myself preparing for the visit by cleaning house.  We dusted and vacuumed in areas where we don’t always remember to dust and vacuum.

Why?


Because, I reasoned, if we’re going to have clean ducts, why would we want the cold air returns sucking in the dust and dirt and hair we had not cleaned off the floors?  It would negate the whole purpose of getting the ducts cleaned.

This got me thinking:  in some ways, coming to worship with God’s people is a bit like getting your spiritual ducts cleaned.  And there’s value in being prepared for it.

Do you prepare for worship?

I don’t just mean by getting to church five minutes early so you can catch your breath before the gathering begins.  

You can prepare for worship even the night before, by setting out your clothes (and maybe those for other members of the family, if they need help in that department), having Sunday’s dinner ready to go – things like that.

But you can also prepare your heart.

While time in silence and solitude, meditating on God’s Word, is a good practice for every day of the week, it might be especially helpful on Saturday evening as you prepare for worship with the church on Sunday.  It can quicken your heart to be ready for God to speak to you.  It can ready your soul to open up in praise of the Lord who made you, who redeemed you in Christ, and who sustains you every day by his grace in the Holy Spirit.

It is the dusting and cleaning you do before you get your spiritual ducts cleaned.  And it can make all the difference.  Give it a try tomorrow night before you go to bed!

Worship the Lord in all his holy splendour” (Psalm 96.9a, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Safe and secure

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 11 that helps us understand that God’s faithful people are kept safe by him, have power, and will win the final victory despite suffering. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that. We apologize that there are no song lyrics this week; our projection program was not working properly. Message slides were added in post-production.

Encouragement From The Word

Choose life.

Earlier this week, we received the horrific news of a school shooting in Texas.  The school was for 7- to 10-year-olds.  Nineteen children and two adults were killed, and many others were wounded.  This was the 27th school shooting in the United States this year.

The shooter was just 18 years old.

He is also suspected of killing his grandmother before the rampage began.

To be sure, the young man must have been deeply, deeply troubled.

Many people think that guns are to blame for such events.  And while American culture is fond of its second amendment right to bear arms, rarely are these tragedies caused by law-abiding, legal firearms owners.

The problem is that our society has been taught not to value human life.

Of course, the deeper problem is that of innate human sinfulness, something that society at large, and sometimes even the church, fails to acknowledge and deal with.

But the lack of respect for human life is the main symptom of sinfulness that rears its ugly head in situations like this, and countless others – and they don’t all involve weapons.

Parents, school curricula, even churches fail to stand up for the innate value that each human being, from conception, has in the eyes of God – and should, therefore, have in our own eyes.

But between an emphasis on rights over responsibilities, and profits over people, western society continues to collapse before us.  (Honestly, the rest of the world is not much better off in that regard; the war in Ukraine is a good example.)

Please join me in praying for the grieving families of the deceased in the Texas shooting, and for parents, teachers, educational bureaucrats, and churches, that we will see how important it is choose life when there is so much violence going around.  Maybe if we can get people to think more properly about life, we can get people to act respectfully toward life.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life” (Deuteronomy 30.19-20a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

A special day looms…

One of the most often overlooked days in the entire Christian year is sneaking up on us.  It happens next Thursday.  But unless you live in a land that treats it as a public holiday – there are still a few that do – it might slip under your radar. Yet, without the event marked by this day, the church could not have come into being as it did.

I’m talking about Ascension Day.

It often sneaks under the radar of most followers of Jesus because it always falls on a Thursday.  Some churches celebrate it the Sunday before or the Sunday after, but Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday.  Why?  Because it happened 40 days after the resurrection of Jesus, and when you add 40 days to a Sunday in the spring, you’re always going to land on a Thursday.

But what was “it”?

It’s the day Jesus ascended into heaven.

Why does it matter?

Well, among many other things, had Jesus not ascended into heaven, the promised Holy Spirit would not have come.  And the church as we know it would not have been born.

Ascension Day is a good day to celebrate!  It’s the day when Jesus gave his Great Commission.  And as the disciples followed that Great Commission, ten days later, the Holy Spirit fell on the believers at Pentecost, and the church came into being, spreading across the world, over time, into the vessel of God that brings the gospel to the nations.

The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about what happened in those 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus.  But it surely involved much preparation for the disciples to be ready to venture forth on their own, with the promised Holy Spirit’s guidance, to build the Kingdom of God.

When the ascension happened, it inaugurated a new era – an era in which we still participate today.  

So next Thursday, give a wink and a nod – or more! – to the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, and give thanks for his providential care.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.  As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

                                                                              – Acts 1.6-11, NLT

Biblical Messages

Final Boarding Call

It was an interesting morning…we had no electricity in the whole town due to a car that decided to take out a power pole. Without sufficient cellular signal to live-stream worship, we simply recorded the service on a phone, and what you have here is the edited result. We hauled out hymn books and sang some traditional songs that gave us words to unite our voices in praise, despite the lack of power to project words on a screen. In this worship gathering, we hear a message based on Revelation 9 that helps us understand the importance of sharing faith with people who don’t know Jesus, and our fuel, our impetus, is found in the sad judgment that we see in Revelation 9. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Friday the 13th!!

Since it’s Friday the 13th, I thought I’d share a reprise of an Encouragement from a similar day several years ago.  In light of the culture of fear in which we live today, perhaps this is more timely than ever!  — JFL

 Well, we’ve arrived at our first Friday The Thirteenth of 2015. (Since this is not a leap year, you can expect another in March. We won’t see another until November.) Some in western culture do see it as an “unlucky” day (as if there really were such a thing as luck, but that’s a topic for another day!). The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. I don’t know if anyone seriously fears these days anymore; most of the time, what I see on social media just laughs them off.

But one thing is for certain:  human beings do have fears.  It’s part of who we are as those who live in the time after the fall of humanity.  And it’s amazing what we will do, sometimes, to compensate for our fears.

People who are afraid of heights, for example, will normally try to steer clear of places where they fear they may fall a great distance, such as roofs, balconies, or mountaintops.  People who are afraid of dogs will try to stay away from homes where dogs may be kept as pets, or from pounds, kennels or veterinary clinics.

Some fears, though, can’t be compensated for.  They must be faced.

One might be afraid of public speaking; I think I read that this is the commonest of all fears.  And while some people may be able to escape it their whole lives, others must speak publicly, whether for their employment or to voice a conviction or to laud someone at a retirement banquet or a funeral.  Sometimes, upon conquering the fear once, it is discovered that it can be conquered again.  Soon enough, the individual realizes that the fear wasn’t all that rational after all.

Followers of Jesus, like everyone else, experience fear.  But we have an additional source that can encourage us to face our fears.  King David, who had his share of enemies during his life, proclaimed, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27.1, NIV).  It would have been easy for David to run into the Judean hills and hide from his enemies, but he stood fast because the Lord was with him.

Whatever fears you may face, the Lord will be with you, too.  Why not make Friday the 13th an occasion to rejoice in the Lord, who has the power to take away our fears?