Blog posts

Encouragement From The Word

Rethinking dominion

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. 

Encouragement From The Word

The sound of silence

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).

Encouragement From The Word

Pride and prejudice

I read a quotation this morning that struck me, and I thought I’d share it with you.  The late Reformed theologian, R.C. Sproul, said, “You don’t have to give up your intellect to trust the Bible.  You have to give up your pride.”

Ouch.

Now, some may misread this and assume that we are putting our faith in a book instead of in the Lord.  Of course, we place our trust in Jesus – but how do we learn about Jesus, how do we know anything about God, except through his Word?

Many skeptics think that you have to check your brain at the door to be a Christian.  I think it’s quite the opposite: we really need to engage our brains as followers of Jesus.  But don’t let pride get in the way of believing what the Bible tells us.

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” (Hebrews 4.12, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

How great is our God!

Spend a few moments reading, and re-reading, Psalm 29 (NLT).  Then, use it as a jumping-off-point for prayer as you consider the characteristics of God that it gives us.  How great is our God!

Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
    honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
    Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
    The God of glory thunders.
    The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
    the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
    he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
    with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
    and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
    The Lord reigns as king forever.
The Lord gives his people strength.
    The Lord blesses them with peace.

Biblical Messages

The Big ‘But’ of the Reformation

The Protestant Reformation began on this day, October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther proposed some ideas to reform the church from within. In today’s message, we look at Ephesians 2.1-10, a pivotal passage that helps us understand why the Reformation was needed to help redirect the church back to God’s Word. You can watch the message alone below, or the whole worship gathering just below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Patience *and* kindness

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: …patience…” (Galatians 5.22, NLT).

I often end the Encouragement with the Scripture, but I decided to start with it this time, because, as of the time of writing, it is at the fore of my mind in a big way.

Let me tell you a story.

On Wednesday, late in the afternoon, I received an email from one of our national airlines, with whom we had booked a January holiday, indicating that a change to our itinerary had been made, and that I should call the airline about it.

So, after supper, I settled in for what I expected would be a bit of a wait.

Boy, did I underestimate that “bit”!

I was on hold with the airline for four and a half hours.  

Did I speak with someone?  Nope.  I hung up, because, according to the website, their customer service line closed at that time.

So I tried again on Thursday morning.  Another four hour wait.  Never spoke with a soul.

(Thankfully, I used my cell phone’s speaker mode, so I could accomplish important tasks while I waited, and waited, and waited!)

Yes, I signed up for a call-back, but the matter is a bit time sensitive, and the call-back is scheduled for nextWednesday.

I will keep trying, but even if I have to wait until next Wednesday’s call-back, I will do my best to be kind.

I will need to be kind, because I’m sure the problem is not the agent’s fault.  (Given my experience, I suspect there is but one agent taking calls!)  

That verse I cited earlier, along with saying that the fruit of the Spirit is patience, also says the fruit of the Spirit is “kindness”.  

Not coincidentally, I think, they are cheek-by-jowl.  We need to be patient and kind, because, well, these are characteristics of followers of Jesus who are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Patience and kindness do well to be together, because even when we manage to muster up enough patience in a situation like this, it sometimes takes all the energy we have and leaves little room for kindness.  But they are both important as part of our witness to the good news of Jesus.

Is this experience testing my patience and kindness?  Oh yeah.  But the power of the Holy Spirit at work in my life is greater than any issue with a vacation.  It has to be.

And I need to be attentive to that power…even when I’m on hold for a cumulative eight-and-a-half hours…so far.

Where could you exercise more patience and kindness, two of the fruit of the Holy Spirit? 

Biblical Messages

Antagonists in the church

Again this week, we had challenges with our equipment (but different ones!). We apologize for the quality of the video and audio, but hope that you are encouraged by this service, which includes a message from 3 John on how to deal with people who want to take charge and be antagonists in the church. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Give thanks

Some view Thanksgiving weekend as the last gasp of summer, the time to escape to some place other than home and chill.  Others see it as a time to gather family around a big dinner table (you might want to be careful about that one this year!).  Still others see it as a time for, well, giving thanks.  (And then there are those who view the weekend in all three ways!)

The apostle Paul told the church in Thessalonica, and the Lord tells us through him, to “be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.18, NLT).  So for the Christ follower, Thanksgiving isn’t the second Monday in October; it’s every day.

Still, on Thanksgiving weekend, our minds may be drawn to common Thanksgiving songs.  A common Thanksgiving hymn, coming from the 19th century, is “Come, ye thankful people, come”.  I enjoy singing it on Thanksgiving Sunday…or, honestly, any other Sunday.  Why?

It’s not because it reminds me to give thanks, as important as that is.

It’s because the author, Henry Alford, related the idea of giving thanks for the harvest to nothing less than the second coming of Jesus.

The verses tell one story, but consider this verse in particular:

For the Lord our God shall come and shall take his harvest home;
from the field shall in that day all offences purge away,
give the angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast,
but the fruitful ears to store in God’s storehouse evermore.

What if we gave thanks to God this weekend with an understanding that Jesus is coming again…soon?

Ponder that while you gnaw on your turkey, and be thankful.

Uncategorized

BOOK REVIEW on friendship

Real friendship, true friendship – this is not as common as it once was. The pandemic hasn’t helped that one bit. I know that I haven’t been as good a friend as I could have/should have been over the past couple of years. And that bothers me.

So an interest in friendship, along with my widely-known passion for bacon, means that a new book caught my attention right away. It’s called Smells Like Bacon: The Skit Guys’ Guide to Lifelong Friendships (Rocklin, CA: K-LOVE Books, 2021).

Yup. You read that right: The Skit Guys. Eddie James and Tommy Woodard. The zany men best known (at least to me) for their humorous sermon illustration videos. You know this had to be an interesting, if not funny, read.

And it was…even though, admittedly, bacon played merely an illustrative role. (That part was a little disappointing.)

In this book, James and Woodard chronicle the thirty-plus years of friendship they have kindled, and offer some suggestions on how we can be better friends.

Their friendship started in high school. Tommy was instrumental in seeing Eddie come to faith in Christ through a simple invitation to an evangelistic meeting. They have seen each other through the ups and downs of life. Even though they live in different states, and often work together, they still make time for each other and cultivate their relationship with intentionality.

Frankly, though the book is unapologetically and unsurprisingly Christian, even people of another faith or of no faith would find this book inspiring in their relationship building. Some might even be inspired to place their trust in Jesus!

Three things made my highlight reel of principles in this fairly quick read.

First, being open with your friend. One might think it goes without saying, but many friendships, depending on the ‘tier’, are very surface-oriented. And they note, “Openness becomes easier the more open you are with God” (p. 52), citing Psalm 139.23-24.

Second, vulnerability. In the chapter entitled, “Why Don’t You Hug Me?”, they note, “Remember this: If someone is taking the time to say a hard thing to you and has mustered up the courage to say it while bracing themselves for the impact it might have, don’t you think that person must find you valuable?” (p. 83).

Third, the value of interruptions. Using Jesus as an example, the authors note, “He was willing to be interrupted for the sake of connection, of relationship. Jesus didn’t mind people or the constant interruptions…. Jesus knows the secret – that every interruption has the power to be an encounter of eternal significance. But it all begins with a yes. In much the same way, keeping our agenda on a loose leash will allow relational interruptions into our lives. This approach allows us to prioritize people over agendas” (p. 171).

The book is written in a narrative style with the typical interjections one would expect from The Skit Guys. These interjections are in the form of dialogue that usually brings a snicker, and help keep the reader engaged.

This is not an academic book, nor was it intended to be one. It is for ordinary people who want to be better friends. And in these days of physical distancing and ‘screen friends’, anything that promotes real friendship, with deeper bonds, is altogether welcome.

It’s available in hard copy, audio book, or on Kindle. Pick it up and be encouraged.

Biblical Messages

Love. Stand. Remain.

We are often entranced by novelty. Mostly, we think of technology (September, after all, is the month the new iPhone is released!). But it happens in the church, too – and has for as long as the church has existed. John’s second letter illustrates this, and tells us how to stay focused theologically amid the challenges that come…sometimes from within. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that. NOTE: We had technical challenges today, so much of this service uses just B roll video and the poor quality audio that goes with it. We apologize for the hiccup that was beyond our control.

Encouragement From The Word

In a world where there are Octobers

Perhaps the most famous Canadian pastor’s wife was the late Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942), though she was not known for her marriage to The Rev. Ewen Macdonald (1870-1943) quite so well as she was for her literature.

Montgomery led a very sullen personal life, though one would never know it by reading her Anne of Green Gables stories.  (Some suggest she lived vicariously through her writing.)

Lest today’s Encouragement take a hard turn for the morose, let me say that it was a quotation from the original Anne of Green Gables story that came to mind as we mark the turning of the calendar today:

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Thus said Anne Shirley, the namesake heroine of Montgomery’s most famous book.

One of the great blessings of living in Canada is that we experience four very different and distinct seasons.  The shoulder seasons – spring and fall – are perhaps more stunning for their beauty than their solstitial siblings.  The beauty of deciduous trees coming into leaf, and the splendor of their changing colour, are unparalleled.

If I had to choose, though, I would always choose fall.  The crisp air, the russet maple leaves falling to the ground – though they are harbingers of the coming cold and snow, they are perhaps the most delightful harbingers God could have created.  Anne Shirley was right:  I, too, am so glad that I live in a world where there are Octobers.  That quotation could almost be right from the Bible.

In reality, though, this sentiment appears in Scripture – though differently worded, to be sure.  

One of the ways God reveals himself to the world is through creation.  Theologians call it “general revelation” – the notion that seeing the beauty of the world ought to point us to the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Depending on where you live, you might experience autumn differently than I do, living in southern Ontario.  And, of course, the colours of the falling leaves vary with temperature variations from year to year.  But, unless you live in the desert or in the arctic, there is no denying that fall is a beautiful time of year.

Take some time in the coming days and weeks to pause and soak in the beauty of the world around you.  And praise the Lord, who made it all to point to his glory.

Then, respond by giving him glory!

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.  The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

A 100% certainty

Earlier this week, I saw a tweet from a fellow named Dustin Benge that put a lot of wisdom in a few words.  He said:

There is a 0.0296% chance that your child will become a professional athlete.

There is a 0.0086% chance that your child will become a famous celebrity.

There is a 100% certainty that your child will stand before Jesus.

What are you teaching your children?

Even if you’re past the stage of parenting, or are not a parent, there is still helpful instruction in that short tweet.

Each of us has a measure of influence over some children, whether of our own family, our church family, or our neighbourhood.  We have an opportunity in each interaction to have an influence.  Are we taking advantage of that opportunity?

It can be through our use of words, our actions, even our gestures.  What are we saying to the kids with whom we have contact?

No matter what or who they become as adults, there is a 100% certainty that they will stand before Jesus one day.  And you might be the conduit through whom they come to know him as Lord and Saviour.

Think about that as you engage with kids of any age.

Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127.3a, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Satan’s role in the end times, and the fate of those who’ve never heard of Jesus

In this penultimate instalment in the series on heaven, we tackle two questions offered by congregants: first, the role of Satan in the end times; and second, the fate of people who have never heard of Jesus. Early in the service, we welcome three young ladies into church membership on their profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The message is based on Revelation 20 and Romans 1 (and others). You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Sifting

Sifting.

When we think of sifting, we tend to think of wheat, even though most of us probably have never actually done that, unless we’ve lived on a farm.

Sifting is the separation of the grain from the chaff.  The grain (wheat is the commonest one) is useful, but the chaff is not.

Metaphorically, the Bible makes use of this term in a number of places, particularly in the separation of followers of Jesus from those who don’t follow him.  Jesus even told Peter, as Jesus was preparing for his death on the cross, that Satan wanted to sift the disciples like wheat (Luke 22.31).  In that case, the evil one’s desire was to attempt to separate believers from their faith.

There’s a lot of that kind of sifting going on in the world today.

The devil is doing his level best to try to get followers of Jesus to walk away from the Lord.  He is putting all manner of trials in people’s lives in an attempt to separate people from Jesus.  He is trying to sift us.

But guess what:  he can’t pull it off.

Why not?

Because Satan doesn’t have that kind of power.

It actually takes very little to fend off the devil.  All you have to do is resist.

How do I know that?  Well, there’s some personal experience, but better than that, I know it because it’s right in God’s Word:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4.7, NLT)

That’s all it takes.  You need merely to resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  As a follower of Jesus, you have the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through you.

Can I ask a favour of you?

Whether you’re in a challenging season or not, I’m asking you to commit that verse to memory.

Even if you don’t feel like you need it right now, it’s a pretty safe bet that you will need that word of encouragement at some point along your journey of faith.  If you put that piece of Scripture in your arsenal right now, you’ll have it forever.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Memorize that, starting today, and then you’ll remember, at any point that Satan is trying to sift you, that all you have to do is resist, and he’ll leave you alone.  This may sound simplistic, and I assure you, it may be a long process; it may even be a daily struggle.  But if you resist, again and again, in the power of the Holy Spirit, you will overcome.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

(By the way, I’ll be talking about Satan’s role in the end times on Sunday, and this verse will play an important role.  You’re welcome to join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, or on our YouTube channel if you’re too far away to come.)

Biblical Messages

Is the rapture a real thing?

There’s plenty of talk in society – especially for the last 100 years – about how the end times is going to unfold. Some believers, those in the ‘premillennial dispensationalist’ camp, think that Jesus’ return will involve a secret removal of followers of Christ from the earth, to meet the Lord. If one reads the Scriptures, this makes little sense. In fact, the whole notion of being ‘left behind’ is actually backwards, according to Matthew 24. That’s the focus of the message in this worship gathering. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Stropping your faith

I spent part of Labour Day learning something new.  I love learning new things.

This week, it was learning how to strop.

Not “stop” – it wasn’t a typo – “strop”.

In recent years, I have amassed a modest collection of pocket knives.  Having a knife in my pocket is a handy thing, especially with the uncanny number of Amazon boxes that have shown up on my doorstep during the pandemic.

It’s also handy when there’s cheesecake.  You never know when that might present itself.

But if one is going to have a pocket knife or two, one must also learn how to maintain them, and part of knife maintenance involves sharpening.

However, if I sharpened my knife every time I used it, before long, there’d be no steel left to cut with. 

That’s why I’m learning how to strop.  It involves infusing a piece of leather with a compound that I then rub my knife on.  (If you were ever in a barber shop when you were young, and saw a chunk of leather hanging from the barber’s chair, that’s what he used to keep his straight razor keen between uses.)

Stropping a knife allows me to hone the edge without sharpening it.  It’s sort of like a mini-sharpening between sharpenings.  It keeps the knife useful, and safe…because a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, whether you’re cutting packing boxes or chicken legs.

This has parallels with our faith life.  Let’s say that coming to worship, confessing your sin, hearing the Word, and listening to the preaching is like sharpening your walk with the Lord.

But between Sundays, you can keep your walk with God ‘on edge’, as it were, by ‘stropping’ your faith.  You do this through participation in a small group, through the daily reading of Scripture, through prayer, through acts of justice and kindness done in Jesus’ name and power.

If ever your faith feels dull, you can strop your faith between sharpenings, and find that your faith is quickened, built up, and ready for engagement.  If you’re not doing that now, give it a try in the coming days.  You won’t regret it.

Using a dull ax requires great strength,
    so sharpen the blade.
That’s the value of wisdom;
    it helps you succeed” (Ecclesiastes 10.10, NLT).