Blog posts

Encouragement From The Word

To love and serve

I was doing some research for a message this week, and I encountered a prayer-hymn. It struck me to the point I thought it would be worth sharing with you.

It was written by Richard Baxter, a 17th-century Puritan clergyman who wrote widely and deeply about Christian faith.  His seminal work is called The Reformed Pastor, which is worth reading even if you’re neither Reformed nor a pastor!  (Truth be told, he wrote it in response to The Country Parson, Anglican cleric George Herbert’s work on pastoral care.)

Background aside, I think you will find this a prayer worthy of your lips.  If you’d prefer to sing it, it’s set in Common Meter (8.6.8.6).

Lord, it belongs not to my care
whether I die or live:
to love and serve thee is my share,
and this thy grace must give.

Christ leads me through no darker rooms
than he went through before;
he that into God’s kingdom comes
must enter by this door.

Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
thy blessed face to see;
for if thy work on earth be sweet,
what will thy glory be!

Then shall I end my sad complaints
and weary, sinful days,
and join with the triumphant saints
that sing my Saviour’s praise.

My knowledge of that life is small,
the eye of faith is dim;
but ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
and I shall be with him.

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90.12, NRSV).

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Biblical Messages

The Great I AM

Jesus had a simple mission:  to do what the Father wanted him to do.  In John 8.21-30, we learn how this Great I AM – Jesus, the Messiah, the holy presence of God – undertook that mission.  Watch, or listen, below.

 

Encouragement From The Word

Advent: anticipating something wonderful

I was recently asked by a friend, “How do you celebrate Advent?  I mean, we know how the story’s going to end already! How can you anticipate something that you know is going to happen?”

It’s a good question.  The answer that came immediately to mind was an analogy from my childhood.

It was the autumn of 1978.  I would turn 11 before the end of that year.  The crispness of the season was in the air, and the leaves were changing colour.  The brilliant red of the maples was especially resplendent that year.  And Dad decided it was time to buy a new truck.

He knew I liked to drive; he’d had me on his lap, steering, on back roads since I was about 4.  (We have differing views of what made us end up in the ditch one time!)  So I got to participate in the truck-buying process.

Dad knew what he wanted:  a 1979 F-100 standard cab, 351 engine (which was a bit of a lemon, as it turned out!), and a 4-speed overdrive standard transmission.  And I was good with all that; after all, I didn’t have a clue what most of it meant!  But at nearly 11 years old, I knew my colours pretty well.  So it was up to me, said Dad, to pick the colour.

Ford had a number of colour choices even then, which probably left Henry “You can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black” Ford rolling over in his grave.

My choice was obvious:  Candy Apple Red.

I still wonder if Dad thought that was a bit too sporty for him (I really should ask him!), but he went along with it.  The papers were signed, the deposit handed over, and then we waited.

See, this truck had to be built; it wasn’t sitting on the lot.  So there was a bit of a wait, a time of anticipation.  We knew it was coming, and we even had a date – but there was a time of waiting that just built the anticipation of having a new truck.

I remember when the truck was delivered.  I walked down to the dealership to get a sneak-peak at it, but it was covered in snow from the previous night’s storm!  Still, when Dad and I went to pick it up, I remember beholding the beauty of that Candy Apple Red pickup.  (Every time I smell Ziebart® rustproofing, I still think of the first time I got into that truck.)

Dad kept that truck for several years.  I learned to drive in it, though, thankfully, I didn’t have to take my road test in it (which is another story altogether).  But even today, every time I see a Ford pickup in any shade even close to Candy Apple Red, I am taken back to the months preceding my 11th birthday, and filled with anticipation all over again.

Let Advent be that for you:  a time of anticipation for something wonderful that you know is coming…the birth of the Saviour of the world!

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us” (Isaiah 9.6a, NLT).

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: INVITATION TO RETREAT by Ruth Haley Barton

I’ve never read a book by Ruth Haley Barton that didn’t speak to my heart, and this is no exception.  Being a teacher of and on retreats, and a regular retreatant myself, I was looking forward to reading this small but helpful guide to the how’s and why’s of making a retreat.

For many Christians, especially Protestants, retreats are foreign, something made by Roman Catholics or disguised as preaching or evangelistic events.  Those are certainly legitimate and useful, but Barton’s subtitle, “The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God” hits the nail on the head of what a retreat should be.

The book is divided into four sections, introducing the concept of true retreat, preparing ourselves for retreat, what to undertake during retreat, and how we move back into day-to-day living from retreat.  Each of the twelve chapters offers practical assistance to the retreatant in terms of preparation and execution of the retreat.  Two appendices are offered for guidelines for fixed-hour prayers and planning a retreat.

For the person considering a retreat but not sure where to start, this book is a good place to start.  It helps us know ourselves as individual followers of Jesus as well as giving us tools for introspection when gearing up for a retreat and actually being away.  Among the key learnings, of which there are many, is to understand oneself as being able to be off-limits to anyone but God during that time, that none of us is indispensable.  Needing to be connected, 24/7, is often one of the biggest hurdles to an effective retreat, and Barton reminds the reader that such disordered attachments are not helpful to connecting fully with God.

Retreat is one of the main gateways to true spiritual freedom.  This book is a helpful guide in aiding us to achieve the true spiritual freedom the Lord seeks for us.

Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Retreat:  The Gift and Necessity of Time Away With God (IVP, 2018), ISBN 978-0-8308-4646-7.  I am grateful to Martin at Parasource for the desk copy he provided for me.  The book is available at most Christian retail outlets, including the Tyndale Bookstore in Toronto.

Biblical Messages

Light of the World

“Light of the World” – that’s what Jesus calls himself in John 8.12-20, the focus of this message.  What does it mean for us?  Listen, or watch, below.  The link to the video shown at the end of the message is at the bottom.

The video shown at the end of the message can be found here.

Encouragement From The Word

Drop everything…

In branches of the church that mark saints’ days, today is known as St. Andrew’s Day. 2000px-Flag_of_Scotland.svg(Even some Presbyterians, not necessarily known for their veneration of saints, will celebrate November 30 because Andrew is the patron saint of, among other things, Scotland.  Because of this, there are hundreds of Presbyterian churches in Canada called “St. Andrew’s.”)

While I’m not one for giving any one Christ-follower a higher ranking than another (the Bible says that all followers of Jesus are saints, by grace), I’ve long believed that recognizing saints’ days gives us the opportunity to learn about great men and women of faith and how they served God devotedly, often in very hard times.  So let’s take a look at Andrew.

Andrew was not, contrary to some assumptions, born in Scotland!  He was a Galilean Jew, the very first disciple Jesus called (along with his brother, Simon Peter).  He was a common fisherman, likely coming from Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  (By the way, you can visit that, and many other sites in the Holy Land, this coming February with my wife and me – click hereto learn more about our Israel pilgrimage.  We’d love to have you come!)

When Jesus called Andrew and Peter to follow him, he said, “I will show you how to fish for people” (Matthew 4.19b, NLT).  And how did they respond?  Matthew records that “they left their nets at once and followed him” (Matthew 4.20, NLT).

Andrew was called by Jesus, and he immediately walked away from his livelihood to follow.

That doesn’t mean, when Jesus calls out to you, that he’s necessarily calling you into vocational ministry (though that may be true for some).  But Andrew’s model for us is to attune our hearts to listen for the voice of Jesus, and to follow what he says.  In our time, of course, this primarily happens through our reading of Scripture, wherein God speaks to his people.  It can also happen through prayer, which, after all, is not just talking to God, but listening to God as well.

So on this St. Andrew’s Day, let me encourage you to emulate that first disciple, and respond to the call of Jesus, whatever you’re doing.

Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land…” (Deuteronomy 5.33, NLT).