In this series entitled, “Epidemic in the Church”, we’re learning about the problem of spiritual immaturity. If we live as Jesus did as shown in the gospels, we will develop spiritual maturity. So far, we have looked at the characteristics of identity and intimacy; this week’s message focuses on the characteristic of community, and how Jesus valued it and espoused it. And so can we! The message is based on Matthew 18.15-20. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message right below that.
Earlier this week, a Canadian Member of Parliament “showed up” (if you’ll pardon the expression) in the virtual House of Commons – an online meeting of our nation’s legislators – without clothing.
He claims it was accidental, and I’m not going to judge that one way or the other. You can read the news articles for yourself.
But it got me thinking about how God sees us.
We in western culture tend to like to dress to impress, and sometimes dress for the role we play, even if that means, in this age of online meetings, wearing something formal on top while wearing track pants (or less) on the bottom, which will not be seen (apparently, unless you’re that Member of Parliament!).
There was a time when church-goers would wear their “Sunday best”. Whether that was because of societal pressure, common tradition, or because they believed that giving God their best in worship included their dress code, one cannot be certain.
Nowadays, the garb worn to church tends to be a combination of what’s comfortable and what’s acceptable. If you’re limiting your worship attendance to online, you might be going to church in your pajamas, or in The Altogether! And that’s okay. Because while people may judge (though they shouldn’t), God does not – or so we surmise.
I think if there is one reason why we should not be too concerned with what people wear to worship (or wear, generally), it’s that God knows what we look like naked. He sees all of us: our beauty, our flaws, our inside and our outside. And he is still head-over-heels in love with us.
When it comes to “dress to impress”, we don’t need to do that with our Creator. He knows exactly what we look like without our suit from Rosen, our blouse from Laura, or our t-shirt from Walmart. And he loves us.
So if you’re going to clothe yourself to impress God or anybody else, try this: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Peter 3.3-4, NLT).
The traditional Gospel story for the Sunday after Easter is the walk to Emmaus, told in the middle verses of Luke 24. In that story, a couple of people who had placed their hope in Jesus for the rescue of Jerusalem were walking home from that city, not having heard of the resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus appears, walking beside them, though they don’t recognize him. They’re talking about the events of the weekend, and Jesus acts as though he doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But as time goes on, he explains how the Bible predicted that the Messiah would rise from the dead.
He makes like he’s going beyond Emmaus, but his fellow travellers, upon reaching home, invite him to stay. He sits at table with them, and all at once, the guest becomes the Host, because he breaks the bread – and in that moment, they recognized Jesus! And he disappeared from their sight.
With that, they abandoned their supper and high-tailed it back to Jerusalem to find out about the resurrection of Jesus. And one remarked to the other:
“… ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24.32, NLT).
Have you ever experienced that kind of heartburn? Have you felt that passion for God and his Word as you read the Scriptures, or hear them explained?
The Lord invites that passion to erupt within you. It’s part of how we become mature followers of Christ.
(By the way, I’m preaching a series right now called “Epidemic in the Church”, that deals with the characteristics of Jesus that we can emulate in order to become spiritually mature. You’re welcome to join us live, in person or online, any Sunday morning at 10, or catch up on past messages via our YouTube channel.)
Here’s hoping you’ll get that heartburn that no antacid can quell!
“April showers bring May flowers.” That’s not in the Bible, but it could be, except that it doesn’t apply to folks in the southern hemisphere. (So if you’re reading this from the southern hemisphere, add six months and read it later!)
It’s an idiom that we northerners use to try to add a little hope to what can often be a dreary month. We understand that we need the rain in order to bring about the verdancy that comes with late spring, just as we need the sunshine. I suppose some might appreciate a compromise where it rained only at night (when it doesn’t much matter) and the sun shone through the day, but weather systems are not always that cooperative.
If we’re honest, though, we are a spoiled people: we want what we want when we want it. And when we don’t get what we want when we want it, we sometimes tend to think that life isn’t fair.
But I don’t remember reading anywhere that life is supposed to be fair.
This is underlined for us when we experience inconvenience, yes, but even more so when we experience tragedy.
Perhaps a loved one dies unexpectedly, or a pink slip arrives, or sickness befalls us.
Some – even some followers of Jesus – would say that we need to cheer up, and “just praise the Lord.”
While it’s good to praise the Lord, and to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5.18), we should not prevent ourselves from the practice of lament.
To lament means to feel sad, and sometimes, even mad. And in the Bible, we see examples of both – and they are directed at God.
It’s common for Christians to think there’s something wrong with expressing anything but joy to the Lord, but Scripture demonstrates that it’s not wrong to lament before God, too.
There are some very raw laments; Psalm 137 comes to mind. And there are others that simply express before God exactly what the writer (usually on behalf of God’s people) is feeling. Psalm 130 is a gentle one. Psalm 6 is more blatant.
Take some time to look up “Psalms of lament” and ponder what the Bible tells you in terms of the freedom you have to share your “rainy days” with the Lord. Listen for how God responds as you offer these passages to him.
And give thanks that God can handle anything you say.
“You know what I long for, Lord;
you hear my every sigh.
My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
and I am going blind” (Psalm 38.9-10, NLT)
A friend of mine relayed a story recently about Ray Stedman, a well-known American pastor from the 20th century. He had flown to a speaking engagement (remember the good old days, when people actually flew places?), and the airline lost his luggage (we don’t miss that part!). In that culture, preachers didn’t get up to speak without wearing a suit – and he didn’t have one, thanks to the airline.
Stedman asked his host what could be done, and the host pastor said he would arrange to get Stedman a suit in which to preach the next morning, making note of his measurements.
When the suit was delivered to the hotel, Stedman dressed, and tried to put his wallet in a pocket. Much to his amazement, he realized the suit had no pockets in the jacket or even in the pants!
He mentioned this to his host pastor, who quickly admitted that the suit had been acquired from a local funeral home!
This was a suitable reminder for Stedman, as for us, that ‘you can’t take it with you.’
I’m often amazed at the stories I hear – and sometimes witness – about people wanting to be buried with some sort of treasure that mattered to them, whether money or things. But they will do us no good in the afterlife. The only thing we can bring with us when we die, that will do any good, is faith.
As we are reminded when we sing the old hymn by Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling!”
So rather than filling our proverbial barns and buying more when they are full, we can invest in opportunities that will enable more people to carry faith into the afterlife. The dividends paid by that will last for eternity.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6.19-21, NLT).
A friend of mine was living and studying in Toronto in 1992, when the Blue Jays won the World Series for the first time ever. I remember speaking with my friend and mentioning this. I got a quizzical look back.
My friend had no idea that Toronto’s franchise had won baseball’s biggest title. I was gobsmacked!
Maybe you’ve heard the pejorative phrase, “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.” Perhaps you can think of someone who fits that description pretty well.
And it’s true: it can be challenging to deal with people who have no significant awareness of their surroundings or their culture.
At the same time, though, there are many people who claim to be followers of Jesus who are so focused on this life that they have no grasp whatsoever on the future for which Jesus has ransomed them.
It’s possible to be so earthly minded as to be (dare we say it?) no heavenly good.
Granted, there’s a lot about heaven that we don’t know. All we can know is revealed to us in the Bible, and a lot of what people actually believe about heaven bears no resemblance to anything Scripture tells us about it. Even in the church, there’s a lot of “folk religion” that’s held tightly, at least when it comes to the afterlife.
The key, I suppose, is balance. As God’s people, we want to be focused on what Jesus has promised for us. And we want to live in the world in which God has placed us in the here-and-now. We need to ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each believer, to help us bring about that balance, so that people will take us seriously when we do point them toward heaven.
I invite you to do that today: ask the Holy Spirit to help you balance the delights of heaven with the needs of the world. When he helps you achieve that balance, who knows how many people may look to you to have the same hope for the future that lives in you!
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3.1-3, NLT).
Picture this: you have a friend whose birthday is coming up. You decide on the perfect gift to give him or her. You purchase it, wrap it up, and on your friend’s birthday, you hand it to him or her with a greeting and a smile.
Your friend thanks you for the gift, sets it down…and never opens it.
How would you feel?
Did you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus, God has given you at least one special gift by the Holy Spirit? Yet, in reality, most of us never open them.
Knowing our spiritual gifts is vital to our proper functioning as part of the body of Christ, the church. By knowing our gifts, we know how most effectively to serve the Lord in the edification of his church.
Lots of people burn out serving Jesus. Sometimes – oftentimes, I think – it’s because we’re serving outside of our gifting.
When we know and use our spiritual gifts, we are able to function harmoniously in the perfect role God has planned for us in his church.
Do you wonder what your gifts are?
This Sunday, I’ll be talking about the importance of service in the church as an expression of our faith in the Lord, and I’ll be inviting participants to join me in a seminar on Zoom for unwrapping our spiritual gifts.
The seminar will be held on Thursday, March 18 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. If you’d like to join me in that seminar, I invite you to comment, with your email address. I’ll send you the Zoom link, and also a link to an inventory of your spiritual gifts that you will fill out before the seminar. It would be good to see your face – unmasked, even!
If you do know your gifts, use them to the glory of God, and the edification of his church. But if you don’t know your gifts, please feel free to join me. I look forward to hearing from you.
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children” (Ephesians 4.11-14, NLT).
The recent news items centring around people’s offence over children’s toys and books have been poignant reminders of how easily society today is offended – often over little things. It’s not surprising that secular society should be like this. Without significant and historically-rooted moral footing, it becomes easy to get annoyed about anything. But God’s people can and must be different.
And yet, in the church, where we have a biblical moral compass, we often see people taking offence, don’t we?
Some years ago, I remember hearing a sermon by Craig Groeschel of Life.Church, the theme of which I adapted for use myself. Groeschel said that we need to lay down on the altar of God’s grace our right to be offended.
The antidote to offence is forgiveness. How do we do it?
First, give the other the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best was meant.
Second, don’t label people. Putting people in a box is unfair and usually inaccurate.
Third, remember that we’re called to forgive as we have been forgiven. In Jesus’ model prayer, he calls his followers to pray that God will forgive us as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
And, as Groeschel said, the closer we get in relationship with God, the less forgiveness is a process; it becomes more reflexive.
How are you doing with laying down your right to be offended, both within the church and among your neighbours?
“Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs” (Proverbs 19.11, NLT).
If your experience is anything like mine, you might have found that even the pandemic and its restrictions have not slowed you down all that much.
Sometimes, we find that if we stop doing something, we get restless, thinking that the time could be used more productively. (For some, playing a video game or watching television might feel like productivity!)
But if just sitting in silence, alone with your thoughts, seems daunting, try this: sit with an image.
You might have heard of the ancient practice of lectio divina, or holy reading, where we take a short passage of Scripture and read it over a few times, meditating as we go to grasp what God may be saying to us through it. But have you heard of visio divina? That’s a practice where we take an image and look at it intently for a period of time, to discern whether the Lord may have a word for us through that.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a sacred image; it could be any piece of art. For instance, consider this image. Take a few minutes just to look at it, with no other distractions. Does God have a word for you in that image?
If anything came to you, write it down on a piece of paper, or in your journal, and talk to the Lord about it. Maybe this could be a new way of engaging with him.
Today, we have a guest post from my friend, Adelle Lauchlan, who is on staff at Uxbridge Baptist Church. She is well known to many people of St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, as a regular guest preacher when I’m not around. Amid all that’s still going on, receive some comfort! – Jeff+
Before I became a Christian, I lived, for a short time, in Banff, Alberta, a small town surrounded by six mountains. While this town was never quiet (although it might be now), I always found it very peaceful. There was something about living in the shadow of a mountain that I found comforting.
As an image, think about it as living inside a hug from the earth; or, as living under the watchful and protective care of the earth. And, as protected and cared for as people are by those mountains in all their glory and splendor, all that pales in comparison to the care and protection that we have when we rest in the shadow of God Almighty, God Most High.
As God Most High, our God is Sovereign. He reigns supreme. He will never crumble into the sea. He will never lose His power and might. He has conquered death and sin. As God Almighty, He is all-powerful, and He protects and cares for us. He offers us shelter and rest. The assurance of His love and His might is greater than anything the world can offer.
Psalm 91 begins with these two names of God as a reminder of His might and His protection; a reminder that when we are faced with the unknown, faced with struggles, when we feel unsafe or uncertain, God forever remains in control. With God as our dwelling place, we can have confidence and comfort. He is our shelter and our rest.
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:1-2, NIV).