Blog posts

Biblical Messages

The Needy Church

In this worship broadcast, we hear a message from Romans 15.23-33 that helps us understand the local church does not exist within its own bubble. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper near the end of the service, so feel free to have your bread and juice handy to join in. You can watch the whole broadcast below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Visio Divina

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?

MP 113, Laggan Subdivision, CPR, near Lake Louise, Alta.; © 2015 Jeff Loach.

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.

Encouragement From The Word

God Most High

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).

Biblical Messages

The Mission

How does God’s mission get accomplished? The apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Rome in the first century, gave a clear picture of what that looked like for him, and there are things we can learn from his experience as we seek to undertake the work of God in our time. Based on Romans 15.14-22, you can watch the entire worship broadcast below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

The gift of time

February 5 has always been a special day for me.  It’s the birthday of the woman who gave birth to me!  I wish I could be with her to celebrate the completion of her 82nd trip around the sun, but the stay-at-home order we’re experiencing here in Ontario prevents that from happening.  So if you know my mom, feel free to phone her or inbox her with your own greeting!

I’m finding as I age that birthdays seem to get closer and closer together:  time passes quickly.  That may or may not be everyone’s experience, but that reality, for me, is a reminder of the precious nature of time.

God understands this; he is, after all, the Author of time.

There is much in the Bible that speaks to how we best may steward the time allotted to us in this world, even as we prepare for the world to come.  Consider these:

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3.11, NLT).

Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring” (Proverbs 27.1, NLT).

And this one – this one really stands out:

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalm 90.12, NLT).

There are hundreds of others, but these give you the idea.  

How are you being a steward of the time God has given you?  With every breath, we acknowledge our Creator, whether we realize it or not.  Let’s choose to realize that, giving God praise with every breath we take.  Let’s choose to see time as a precious gift, enjoying the moments we have with those we love, and living in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection are what gain us eternity.

Biblical Messages

One Voice

In this video, we hear a message about the importance of setting aside selfishness in favour of serving others – something that will become very important as the church emerges from the pandemic, with many worshippers choosing to remain online and not gather in person, either because they are at a distance or because they don’t have experience as in-person worshippers in community. It’s based on Romans 15.1-13. The whole worship broadcast is available below, and just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Influencing

This week, we heard news about a group of individual investors, brought together through Reddit, a social news website with all manner of topics and subtopics available for mutual discussion.  They undertook a risky and interesting social-financial experiment:  they bought up a bunch of shares in low-stock-value companies, raising their value.

The hope, initially, was to cash in and make a quick buck.

But what has happened as a result of this is that the Wall Street and Bay Street establishments have been put on notice:  social media can have a powerful influence on the way things have always been done.

This isn’t really new at all, of course; it’s just new in its application.

Social media have been influencing societal trends for years, and the huge organizations that largely own social media – Facebook (which owns Instagram), Google (which owns YouTube), Twitter, and even upstarts like TikTok – know this all too well, and they use their power over these platforms to influence people toward the views that their owners hold.

Analogously, they have replaced the church in western society in terms of their influential role.

It used to be that if people wanted to know what to believe about any number of issues, they turned to their local church pastor, their parish priest, or their denominational policies.  

But even within the church, that doesn’t much happen anymore.

People are most influenced by that with which they spend the most time.  And for most people, that’s social media.

A couple of thoughts come to mind as I ponder this heavy, stinging reality.

First, we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the world around us, so we don’t want to tell people to avoid social media.  (In reality, it’s pretty hard for most of us to avoid anyway.)  We’re not seeking to create monastic communities of our churches.

But what if we sought to be influencers ourselves, as followers of Jesus, by sharing biblical perspectives on social media?

I have to admit that I find this hard to do, because the feedback that comes is often pretty harsh, and I just don’t want to deal with the drama.  But at the same time, if we have a wide circle of social media connections, we can speak into the lives of others and be influencers in our own right when we stand up for what the Scripture says is true.  Even if other people choose not to believe it with us, at least we have given them another perspective to think about.

The other thought that comes to mind is that if we are going to share what our faith says about various issues, we do well to study what the Bible says about it.  And that means digging deeper in the Word to understand how Scripture applies to these life situations – beyond what the preacher says during worship.

The result is that you end up spending more time reading the Bible than you do reading your Instagram feed.  And I accept this as a word from the Lord to me, since if I’m honest I probably spend a lot of time on social that I could be spending in the study of God’s Word.

If that reversal happens, I’m pretty confident that my posts will be of greater depth and higher quality than they are now, and that my witness for the faith will be clearer.  Maybe the same will be true for you.

So equip yourself:  make sure you own a Bible that’s in a translation you find simple enough to read, and in a print size that makes it easy to read (don’t discount that last part!).  Perhaps acquire a study Bible that has notes in it, prepared with scholarship that seeks to help you apply the Word in helpful, contemporary ways.

But don’t leave it on the coffee table; pick it up and read it every day.  Or use an app on your phone, if that works better for you.  

Don’t bemoan the waning influence of the Christian faith in society; be that influence.

[I]f someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3.15b-16a, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Eating and Drinking: Adiaphora

If I follow Jesus, should I be a vegetarian?  Vegan?  Pescatarian?  Or can I eat whatever I want?

Can a Christian take a job that makes one work on Sunday?

If I love the Lord, can I have a glass of wine with my supper?

These may not be the most pressing questions in the world today, but they do come up from time to time, and they are addressed by our Scripture focus today, from Romans 14. You can watch the whole worship broadcast below, or the message alone below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Remembering to lament

Perhaps, like me, you are finding the restrictions of the pandemic, at least here in Ontario, wearying.  Even with the promise that vaccines are rolling out, we get the sense that the process is slow.  Even with the entertainment we have received over the past days, weeks and months from our neighbours south of the border, there is a feeling that so much of life has become elegiac – lamentable, in a sense.

And we have a problem:  our culture has largely lost the ability to lament.

Most of the music we hear nowadays, at least popularly, is meant to be positive, even to hype us up.  But there are occasions when we need artistic expression of other emotions to help us induce the feelings that need to be manifested.

As I write this, I am listening to a piece of music that, for me, evokes lament – the Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, arranged for organ.  Not exactly a top 40 hit. 

But I find listening to certain pieces of music will conjure the emotion that is pent up inside.

So do the Scriptures.

Not all Bible passages, in or out of context, are meant to be “keep your chin up” texts; in both the stories and the songs of the Bible, there are laments.  We find few, if any, of them paraphrased in the CCLI Top 150.

Of course, there is a whole book seemingly devoted to lament; we call it “Lamentations.”  But there are many other examples in Scripture.  Several of them are in the Psalms – and there are even different types of laments found there.

When we think of the Psalms, our minds likely move toward “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23) or “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121), since these are words of comfort.  Yet the beloved Psalter contains numerous laments; feel free to look them up after you’re done reading this.

But for now, consider Psalm 38.  Read it over a few times, slowly, paying attention to your breathing as you do.  Perhaps the Lord will highlight a particular word or phrase, as he did for me.  Yours may be different from mine, as mine is different from another’s; God uses his Word to speak to our hearts and minister to us where we have need.

O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.

13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
    or rejoice at my downfall.”

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
    facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
    I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
    they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
    and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
    Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
    O Lord my savior.  (NLT)

When David first wrote, or sang, this, he was acknowledging the pain in his heart.  You can do the same as you read it.  And as you acknowledge your pain, remember that the Lord is your Saviour; he will come to help you.  He came to help David, and he has come to help me.

Encouragement From The Word

Hold on to the One who holds the future

I’m torn about how best to write to you today.  As we enter a second state of emergency in the province of Ontario, which affects many of our readers, I want to tell you to keep your chin up and your face smiling, that better days are ahead.  Or, as the Premier of Ontario said when he announced the new stay-at-home order, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”  (Whether he knew it or not, he borrowed that from the late televangelist Robert Schuller!)

However…even though I call this Encouragement From The Word, I’m not here to be a cheerleader.  It’s Encouragement From The Word.

So I’m not going to tell you to keep smiling or keep your chin up; I’m not going to tell you to be tough, even though these are not bad pieces of advice.

I’m going to tell you to hold on to the One who holds the future.

I know many people who are acquainted with hardship in these days – and I don’t mean the “hardship” of wearing a mask.  I’m talking about sickness – severe sickness – that has left the ill and their family members desperate.

I’ve heard of the heartbreak of people having to drop sick loved ones off at the hospital door, because they are not allowed to accompany them.

I’ve heard of people so focused on the mere act of breathing that nothing else matters.  (Remember the old motto of the Lung Association?)

And I wonder:  without faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the future, who knows tomorrow, how does anyone cope?

We don’t know when things will be better.  But they will be better.  Trusting Jesus right now makes life better, both for today and for eternity.

In him you will find your strength.

[T]hose who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40.31, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Not Quite Libertarian

There has been no time such as this in our lifetime to share the relevance of Romans 13.1-7. In this service, we hear a message about what it means to submit to civil authorities, and how that relates to the uprising in the US last week and the current pandemic. You can watch the whole service below, or just the message below that. Apologies for some of the poor video; we had some technical issues this morning.

Encouragement From The Word

Submit?

Happy new year!

A week in, and we’re already on pins and needles, eh?

I have to admit, I was going to write about the sad lunacy of the whole “Amen and A-woman” debacle in the US House of Representatives, but then this past Wednesday happened.  I’ll save the other one for another time.

It might be the first time the White House was stormed since, well, the Canadians burned it during the War of 1812!

I’ve never believed in coincidences, not even homiletical coincidences.

When 9/11 took place, I was preaching through the book of Jonah.

This Sunday, returning to a series I broke from for Advent and Christmas, I will be preaching on Romans 13.1-7.

I’ve been looking forward to this passage for quite a while, but I wasn’t expecting such a current illustration as we got on Wednesday!

Everyone must submit to governing authorities.  For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13.1, NLT).

Amid the rioters on Capitol Hill, amid the pandemic and the lockdown, where lies the boundary for submitting to governing authorities?

The key comes in understanding the verb, “submit”.  Rather than meaning “blindly obey”, its definition has more to do with appreciating the hierarchy that exists within the rule of law.  

God is at the top of the chain, but he places governments – through various means – in place over us, and we are called to respect them.

For some, though, the question becomes, “To what extent do I submit?”

If the government forces you to do something that is patently and obviously contrary to God’s will in Scripture, that may be the point where civil disobedience kicks in.

If you want to know how that relates to the widespread lockdown we find ourselves in currently, tune in live on Sunday at 10:00 a.m., or on demand any time after 4:00 p.m.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Canoeing the Mountains

If you’re a church leader, especially a pastor, hands up if you’ve muttered in the past year, “They didn’t teach me this in seminary”?

For me, it became a mantra as the reality of the pandemic set in, along with the first round of lockdown, back in March of 2020.  Not long after that, I was given a copy of Canoeing the Mountains, and I thought it sufficiently intriguing that I would read it, if for no other reason than to give me a break from watching YouTube videos telling me how to do some of the things that seminary didn’t teach me.

The title itself beckons the reader to pick up this book.  Whoever heard of canoeing the mountains?

Exactly.  That’s why this book needed to be written, and why it needs to be read by Christian leaders, especially in these days.

The book is premised on the expedition of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery.  For us Canadians, that has an almost solely academic meaning, but to the average American, especially those living west of the Mississippi, the heart skips a veritable beat when these names arise.  They are woven into the fabric of American history in the years after the Revolution.

But this is not a history text.  I will admit, however, that as a Canadian, I learned more about the Lewis and Clark expedition in this Christian leadership book than I ever knew before.  Illustratively, Tod Bolsinger, a minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, makes masterful use of Lewis and Clark to help church leaders realize that what seminary prepared them for is not what they’re navigating today.

When Bolsinger wrote this, he did not anticipate a global pandemic that would change the face of the world – and the church – forever.  By God’s grace, the principles he writes about, while entirely applicable to pre-pandemic leadership, are going to be doubly applicable in mid- and post-pandemic leadership.

Leaning heavily on the writing of Edwin Friedman, particularly in A Failure of Nerve, Bolsinger applies, and demonstrates through the relation of personal experience, family systems theories to the process of change in the church.  

He makes good use of the research of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, noting that “Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb” (124).  I remember sharing that quotation and getting a prickly reaction, but I think there is some wisdom in it.  As Bolsinger later states, those people whom you disappointed at a rate they could absorb will later be your strongest allies.

This book is both a comfortable read and (in a sense) an uncomfortable read, well worth the time for anyone in Christian leadership.  I’m glad I took a break from tech-ed YouTube to read it!

Canoeing the Mountains:  Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger

(Downers Grove:  Inter-Varsity Press, 2015).  ISBN #978-0-8308-4126-4.

Biblical Messages

Climbing the Ladder (Or, “Teleoanticipation”!)

“Teleoanticipation”: use that in a crossword puzzle this week. It was a new word to me, introduced to me by my spiritual director. In this worship gathering for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we learn what it means, how it applies to our current situation, and how Mary exemplified it. While we “teleoanticipate”, we climb the ladder of faith. How? Watch to find out. The message is based on Luke 1.26-56, and can be viewed as part of the whole worship broadcast below, or by itself just below that.

Our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day broadcasts have been pre-recorded and will be available for viewing on our YouTube channel on December 24 in the afternoon and December 25 in the morning respectively, or anytime after those times as may be convenient for you. Merry Christmas! I’ll post them here as well.

Encouragement From The Word

The Glue and the Head

This Advent, we’ve been looking at Jesus through the eyes of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians.  In Colossians 1.17-18, he writes, “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.  Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.  He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead.  So he is first in everything” (NLT).

Imagine that:  were it not for Jesus – who, we learned, was present in creation – the world would quite literally fall apart!  He is the Glue that holds creation together.

And this Amazing Baby we celebrate in these days is also the Head of the church.  No matter what your tradition or polity, the very top of the chain of command is reserved for Jesus.  Why?  Because he was born for it, gave his life for it, and rose from the dead for it.

So, this Christmas, let me encourage you to make him, in Paul’s words, “first in everything”.

You won’t be disappointed.

Since the next two Fridays happen to land on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas, and happy new year.  Thanks for reading Encouragement From The Word.  It’ll return in January.

Make Jesus first!