In this worship gathering, we hear a message on Revelation 2.1-7 entitled, “Rekindle Your First Love”, encouraging the church to balance its passion for God’s truth as well as love for the Lord and each other. It was an issue for the early church, and it’s an issue for the church today! You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.
It’s amazing what the human memory can retain and what it can’t.
Some days, I can barely remember why I got up to go to the kitchen. But I can remember the strangest minutiae that don’t matter in the least.
I remember when I was in kindergarten – kindergarten, almost 50 years ago! – I decided there was a girl in my class that I liked…a lot.
At our school, the kindergarteners had their own designated, smaller yard set aside for recess. And at recess one day, I decided I would express to my classmate how I felt about her. So I started chasing her around the yard, with the express intent of kissing her.
It seems she wanted no part in this, and it also seems she could run faster than I could, because I don’t recall that my lips ever reached her cheek (which was all I would have aimed for at such an age)!
I guess you could say that was my first love, requited though it was.
In Revelation 2.4, John records the ascended Lord Jesus’ words to the Ephesian church when he accuses them: “You have forsaken the love you had at first” (NIV).
Jesus wasn’t talking about a love like my kindergarten attempt at romance. He was talking about love for him, as well as love for their brothers and sisters in the faith.
In our culture, which applauds busyness, we can get so tied up in an activity for which we have passion that we forget the whole reason we do it in the first place.
We get so busy studying doctrine or defending our faith that we fail to love others well.
We get so busy advocating for some issue – poverty, climate change, social justice – that we fail to spend time with the Lord who gave us that passion in the first place.
We forsake our first love.
Let’s remember, whether we are studying God’s Word or supporting a cause, to love the Lord and his people first and foremost.
“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22.37-40, NLT).
These are crazy days, aren’t they? There are statements made and retracted by provincial and federal governments, vaccine taxes being assessed in Quebec, numbers being reported in limited ways, and just a whole lot of confusion around the pandemic.
In one sense, it’s understandable, since none of us has ever gone through anything like this before. (Remember “Two weeks to flatten the curve”? That’s ancient history now!) We are all tired and frustrated, and we want life to go back to normal – or at least to proceed toward the new normal, post-pandemic. And we just wish that we’d get some definitive answers. But in such an unpredictable season, those answers are not forthcoming.
Amid all the uncertainty, there are some things we can know for certain. One of them is the sovereignty of God: the belief that God is in charge.
It might seem like a goofy concept, thinking that God is in charge with the mayhem swirling around us. But it’s true.
We don’t know why a sovereign God sees this going on and seemingly stands there. (I would argue that if God were just ‘standing there’, matters would be a great deal worse!) Our role is not to know why; it is to trust in the One who does know why.
As John the apostle begins the recording of his vision from the Lord in Revelation, he offers this greeting to the seven churches to which the book was originally written: “Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come” (Revelation 1.4b, NLT).
The Lord is, he was, and he is still to come. God has seen all of history. He sees the future. And he sees what we’re dealing with today. And he remains Lord of all, even though, at times, it might not seem that way.
On those days when you feel especially frustrated, at your wits’ end, or hanging on to the end of your rope, just remember that verse and proclaim – even if just to yourself – that no matter what, you trust the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come.
We will get through this. God has promised that he will preserve his church, despite all odds. It might not look like it always has, but it will still be the gathered faithful, praising the Eternal Father of the universe, rejoicing in the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
By the way, this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we are beginning a new series on the book of Revelation! If you’d like to learn a bit of background about the book, you can watch this introductory video here. And you are welcome to attend in person or tune in online to any of our services.
Grace and peace!
Part of Minnie Louise Haskins’ poem, made famous by King George VI in his address to the Commonwealth in December 1939, reads thus:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied:
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
Here we stand at the gate of the year once again. By God’s grace, we survived 2021.
We had higher hopes for it than were produced, in terms of the pandemic, though each of us surely had some highlight that made the year worth living. Personally, I could make a list of things that made 2021 worth living!
That said, we are, shall we say, cautious about our entry through the gate of the year.
There’s been a cartoon floating around social media lately, showing a group of people hiding around a corner while one of them reaches with a broom handle and gently pushes open a door labelled “2022”. It’s pretty apt; most of us are wondering what could possibly come next. (The next letter in the Greek alphabet is pi, though they’ve skipped over a few before…if there’s a pi variant, I hope it’s blueberry.)
But seriously, many of us are crossing the threshold of the new year with caution. But Haskins’ poem is an apt reminder for us: we must go out into the darkness, and put our hand into the hand of God. We are, after all, a people of faith.
Our faith is a specific faith, a faith that believes Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, and rose from the dead to pave the way to eternal life for all believers. But it is also a more general faith, in which simply lying down to sleep at night is an act of faith that we will rise the next day. That is more than placing our hand in the hand of God: it is placing our entire being in the care of God. And at that each of us is well-rehearsed.
So walk boldly into the surprise that will be 2022, knowing that for the One in whose hand we place ours, it will be no surprise at all.
“…because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan” (Ephesians 1.11, NLT).
Happy new year!
Encouragement From The Word returns on January 14.
There are many beloved Christmas songs. Some, like O come, all ye faithful and Hark! the herald angels sing are rich in theological depth and meaning. Others are more experiential. And even the experience-based songs can speak to us.
Among those that I’m thinking of this year is the Victorian classic, O holy night. (It’s going to be sung at our service tonight.) In that song, there’s a line that seems particularly poignant this year. In reference to the Saviour’s birth, we hear:
A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices,
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
The weary world rejoices.
It’s been a challenging year. We need a reason to rejoice.
Even in what might be argued as the height and hopefully last gasp of the pandemic, Jesus’ birth gives us a reason to rejoice.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4.4, NIV).
One of the most beloved Christmas carols is “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In that carol, New England preacher Phillips Brooks wrote, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Well, let’s say that 2021 has brought with it its own share of hopes and fears, intermingled. And Brooks’ words have never been more true: even the hopes and fears of 2021 are met in Bethlehem’s manger. No matter what the world may throw at us, Jesus is able to meet it head on.
And this is not just warm, fuzzy romanticism: if we will believe it, it is true. Of course, there are those for whom the truth proclaimed in Christmas carols remains mere romanticism, because they lack faith in the One those carols exalts. But when we believe that Jesus came into this world to save sinners like us, we realize in a most profound way that “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
The late theologian, J. I. Packer, once said, “Faith is not just believing Christian truth, but forsaking self-confidence and man-made hopes to trust wholly in Christ.”
We might look back on the year and be pretty proud of ourselves – for surviving, if nothing else. But faith in Christ means realizing that even that comes solely by God’s grace.
So bring your hopes and your fears, and lay them at the foot of the manger in Bethlehem. It’s a move you won’t regret.
“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy” (Psalm 34.4-5a, NLT).
Does December feel a bit different this year?
I could have asked that question last year and gotten a resounding YES! out of most any reader. But what about this year?
Despite rising case numbers and the advent of the Omicron variant, this month leading up to Christmas seems a bit more normal than last year, for many people. After all, stores are open, people are shopping, traffic jams in mall parking lots are there – but does it feel the same as in the past?
For those of us in church life – staff or volunteer – last December showed us how different it could be. Commonly, our churches have been bustling with activity, from pageants to suppers to services. Combine that with family obligations, and a lot of Jesus’ followers were pretty worn out by the time it came to celebrate his birth.
Last year was different. Where I live, anyway, we were in lockdown at Christmas. Activities were curtailed. Family gatherings were discouraged. Services were online-only and, in many cases, pre-recorded.
This year, unless things change drastically in the next two weeks, we’ll be able to have limited activities, gatherings, and services, all face-to-face. But my sense is that the pace is slower. The tension is lower. The frenetic level of activity around this holy season has been reduced.
To me, it feels more…human.
After all, this scurrying about that we do in December is all in celebration of God who became human. That’s what incarnation means.
When John, the Gospel writer, gave his version of a birth narrative, he proclaimed that “the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1.14, NLT).
In this version of the New Normal (and, we sense, there will be at least one more version yet to come), we have a bit more time, amid our celebrating, to behold the unfailing love and faithfulness, the glory of God, who became human and made his home among us.
I hope, in these weeks that remain before Christmas, that you will embrace that opportunity to behold those things…because busy isn’t always better.
The pandemic has taught us all kinds of new terms, hasn’t it?
Perhaps the most popular has been pivot. We’ve all had to pivot in some ways to make do during this interesting season of life.
Another that we may have learned, more familiar to those in the inner working of business, is supply chain.
Until recently, most of us didn’t know or care how things got to the stores where we bought them; it just happened.
But these days, we hear of all kinds of things that are in short supply because of supply chain issues.
For example, I was getting the oil changed in my vehicle the other day. My lease is coming due in the new year, so I thought I’d spend some time in the showroom at the dealership while I waited.
There was one vehicle in the showroom. One.
When I inquired of a salesman about my options with my lease contract coming to completion, I was told that if I ordered a new vehicle that day, I might have it by May. And this is for a vehicle that is made in Canada.
Crazy, isn’t it?
It all has to do with microchips that are, apparently, in short supply because of the pandemic. It’s a supply chain issue.
On the radio yesterday, I heard that people should go out and buy their Christmas gifts now because many of the things we might like to buy for our loved ones may be hard to find, because of – you guessed it – supply chain issues.
Thankfully, we’re not talking about essentials like toilet paper, which was in short supply during the early days of the pandemic, but that wasn’t a supply chain issue; that was a hoarding issue.
All this reminds, me, though, that Christmas will happen whether there are supply chain issues or not. It’s appropriate to give gifts at Christmas as a symbol of the greatest gift ever given to the human race in the incarnation, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean there has to be a huge number of gifts sitting under the tree on Christmas morning.
Perhaps a shortage of the usual gifts may serve as a reminder that there really is one Gift that will never be in short supply. The gift that is Jesus will always be available. Indeed, he is waiting for us to embrace him today.
If only we would embrace the Lord Jesus with the same haste and enthusiasm with which we seek to purchase things that will last only a while. Faith in the One who came to redeem us from sin on the cross and bring us eternal life through the empty tomb is ready to receive us into his family by faith.
Yet the time will come when the proverbial supply chain will dry up, when Jesus will return to receive his own to himself, and then…then it will be too late if we have waited.
The media tell us not to wait to buy things. I encourage you not to wait to embrace the One who bought youwith the price of his life. Trust him today.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10.13, NLT; cf. Joel 2.32).
In Genesis 1.27-28 (NLT), we read:
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
Over the course of time, there have been countless views opined on what constitutes the human mandate to “govern” the earth. The older translations refer to this as our responsibility to “subdue” the earth.
There is no doubt that in the order of creation, humanity was given the mandate to steward the world, because, as the Psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24.1, NLT). But to what degree can we “govern” or “subdue” the earth, while also being stewards?
The terrible flooding in British Columbia recently has raised this question in my mind. The area most ravaged by these ‘atmospheric rivers’, around Abbotsford, was once a lake. Sumas Lake, as it was called, was drained to create a fertile prairie for agriculture. A process was begun around 1909 and completed in 1924 that created dikes and drainage systems that left the lake bone dry…most of the time.
The human creation of that fertile prairie has come at a cost: there are records of periodic floods that have caused untold amounts of damage.
Perhaps our understanding of dominion over the earth needs some adjustment. The earth is our gift from God, to be used for our sustenance and enjoyment. But it is still his world, and we must take due care to ensure that we honour God in our enjoyment of his creation.Please join me in praying for the people of British Columbia who are affected by these floods.
My wife and I made our last shopping trip of the year to Costco on Monday. (Why the last one of the year? Well, let’s put it this way: we find we are better able to bear the fruit of the Spirit when we avoid places like that in December!)
While there, I made a purchase I had been pondering for a while: a pair of noise-cancelling ear buds.
They’re handy for tuning out the drone of an aircraft when flying, or when listening to music without background racket.
The reality of contemporary life is that “background racket” is pretty hard to avoid.
If you sit in your home, there’s the sound of your heating system, or the refrigerator, making noise, albeit subtle, from time to time.
If you sit outside, you might have a neighbour assaulting your ears with a leaf blower. (Don’t get me started.)
Unless you’re out in the woods, alone, it can be hard to have no sound but nature. I’m sure that’s why noise-cancelling earphones were invented in the first place.
One of the challenges of modern life is that we often do not really want quiet.
Most people who use noise-cancelling earphones use that feature to keep out the sounds of the world around them so they can listen to the music or podcast or whatever they want, without distraction.
Rarely will people put on noise-cancelling earphones and not play something.
When we are so used to some sort of sound, whether the din of the city or the music of our choosing, sitting in silence can feel awkward, if not unnerving.
But for followers of Jesus, it can also be immensely rewarding. It’s most often the way in which the Lord has room to speak to us.
I encourage you to try it: sit in silence for an hour, even half an hour. If you can’t find a place where you can have silence, and you have noise-cancelling earphones, use them, but don’t play anything.
You might feel uncomfortable, because the first time you do it, it will be like a detoxification process. But the second time, as you listen for God to speak, you might actually hear something in your heart.
Read the Scriptures while you sit in silence. Choose a short passage, or even one verse, and sit with it. You may be tempted to do all the talking with the Lord, but try sitting in silence. It might be challenging, but perseverance will pay off.
Enjoy the sound of silence.
“I wait quietly before God,
for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62.1-2, NLT).