Blog posts

Encouragement From The Word

Watch for him!

In every generation, there have been self-proclaimed prophets of the end times.  In the time of Jesus and even before, people have thought they had the end of the world figured out.

So far, it seems, they didn’t.  We’re all still here.  Jesus has not returned.

Some people have dismissed the notion that Jesus will one day come back, that the world will be consummated.  But other still look for clues.

Most who look for clues comb through the pages of the final book of the Bible:  the Revelation.  They think they can find answers there.  And often, they create their own formulas to force upon the text.

In the end, though, they are frustrated.

Revelation is a hard book to understand, in no small part because of its genre.  Apocalyptic literature is hard to understand for those who are not living in the time in which it was written.  Revelation, having been written near the end of the first century, when Christians were experiencing severe persecution from the Romans, would have made perfect sense to its first hearers and readers.  

It makes less sense to us.

But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to figure it out, or even imposing their own approaches to make it say what they want it to say.

When we think about the end times, the one thing we can know for certain is that we don’t know much about it.  There are not fewer than five ways of interpreting the book of Revelation held by sincere, Bible-believing followers of Jesus today.  (I talked briefly about these last Sunday.)

Commonly, in any given generation, one view will gain the upper hand among believers.  (This is less true with scholars.)  The predominant view in popular Christian culture today, despite its popularity, is somewhat confusing and is based on a very small portion of Scripture.  

When will Jesus come back?  We can’t know for sure.  

In what order will the events of the end times take place?  Some think they know for certain, others are unsure.

But this much we can know:  if you have confessed Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and sought to live for him, and are ready for his return, nothing in the book of the Revelation should scare you.

Take comfort in that, if you’re a follower of Christ.

This Sunday, I will be tackling the question of what will happen at the end of time as we know it.  I’ll look at some of the alternatives, and why I think the predominant view among many followers of Jesus is definitely not the only one, and might not even be the right one, from a biblical perspective.

Feel free to join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning if you don’t have another church to go to in person, and we’ll learn together.  (If you are too far away to come, join us live online at 10, or watch the whole gathering or just the message, which will be posted to our YouTube channel later that afternoon.)

We know the end will come.  We know Jesus will return.  We know followers of Jesus will be safe for eternity.  Beyond that?  Let’s explore some options together.

I say to you what I say to everyone:  Watch for him!” (Mark 13.37, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t give up

The western pull-out from Afghanistan has been heart-wrenching to watch on television.  As I mentioned last week, the resurgence of the Taliban has placed many people at risk, especially women and Christians.  For the Americans, the way this is playing out is very reminiscent of their time in Vietnam.

Canadian forces are saying that they wish they could have stayed.  But the Big Fish in the Pond has decided that the multinational effort is over.  It’s like they have given up, in some ways, though I’m certain this is an oversimplification.

Have you ever put effort into something – say, a friendship – and found it an uphill battle?  It’s common for us to give up when we’re not making any progress.

This is especially true when we are seeking to encourage someone to embrace faith in Christ.

We might find ourselves getting blocked every time we try to “go there” in terms of spiritual conversation.  But let me encourage you not to give up.

To use another battle image, consider the speech given by Prime Minister Churchill to the British Parliament in 1940, in the midst of the ugliness of World War 2.  It is one of the most inspiring speeches ever given!  Quite near the end, Churchill tells his fellow parliamentarians, and the world:  “…we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”.

When you’re sharing your faith, like on the battle fields, it’s a matter of life and death. Don’t give up.  Never surrender.  Even when you get pushback, be loving and respectful, but continue to witness to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in your life.  

For your friend, eternity is in the balance.

But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke.’  We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.  All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4.13-18, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Pray for Afghanistan

Finally, something has eclipsed the pandemic in the news:  the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.  It is fraught with political nuances and challenges for those of us who may not have been following the story closely for years, going back to the time before and during the western nations’ war and occupation that sought to keep the nation under some form of democratic rule.

But with the final withdrawal of American troops, the Taliban has solidified its control.  And with that will come some form of Islamic law, which is concerning to many women, as well as to Christians in general.

It is said that this nation is second only to North Korea in its record for persecution of Christians.  And that is only apt to get worse, not only in Afghanistan, but in other middle eastern countries, where terrorist groups may feel empowered by recent events favouring the Taliban.

I want to encourage you today to take some time to pray for Christians and churches in Afghanistan, and throughout the middle east.  Pray for protection, for peaceful co-existence, and for the power of the gospel to triumph over hatred and persecution.  And pray that western nations will stand up for the rights of women and religious minorities in these countries.

You may have trouble finding the words, but give that to the Lord, too.  He will know the groaning of your heart.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8.26, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Rest

At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m preaching a series on heaven right now.  In a few weeks, I’ll be talking about the concept of heaven as “rest”, but that theme is on my mind right now, so I thought I’d share a little bit about that as a ‘teaser’ for our people, and as encouragement for everyone else!

The Bible talks about heaven in a number of ways, and one of those is “rest”.  The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later.But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.

That is why the Holy Spirit says,

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
    when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
    even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
 So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
    They refuse to do what I tell them.’
 So in my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters.  Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.  For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.  Remember what it says: 

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
    as Israel did when they rebelled.”

 And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt?  And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness?  And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him?  So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest.  (Hebrews 3.5-19, NLT)

I gave you that long passage to afford you some context.  The author cites Psalm 95 in his discussion on heaven, and uses that reference to “rest” to talk about eternity.

Summer is often a time for rest, when we step back from our daily labours to be rejuvenated, doing things we most enjoy with the people we most love.  I hope you are taking some time in these warm months to do just that.

Vacation time is like an extended Sabbath.  And so too, says the writer to the Hebrews, is heaven.  This has been reiterated in church music over the years.  Peter Abelard, a twelfth-century French theologian, wrote an anthem (translated into English much later by John Mason Neale) in which one verse states:

O what their joy and their glory must be, 
Those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see; 
Crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest: 
God shall be All, and in all ever blest. 

(You can listen to Healey Willan’s setting of this piece here.)

In one sense, then, vacation time is truly a taste of heaven!  Make sure you get some rest.  If you are a follower of Jesus, it’s part of your eternal future!

Biblical Messages

Why Bother With Heaven?

We begin a new series on heaven today – a topic that isn’t often heard from many pulpits. Why is that? We’ll look at several Scriptures that give some images of heaven, and why thinking about heaven matters for followers of Jesus, based on Colossians 3.1-17. You can watch the message alone below, or the whole worship gathering just below that. The message began with a video of the song, “I Can Only Imagine”, by MercyMe, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lrrq_opng

Encouragement From The Word

Curiosity

Last Sunday, Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Airways and many other enterprises, fulfilled a lifelong dream:  he went to space…on his own craft.

Granted, he didn’t get very far, galactically speaking:  he soared to 50 miles above the surface of the earth, which doesn’t quite reach the definition of “outer space”, but he proved that some form of space travel does not have to be the purview of only astronauts.  Branson proved that anyone can go – provided, of course, they have the cash to make it happen.

This got me thinking:  the curiosity of the human mind is amazing.  Inventions come to pass because people believe there might be a better way to do something, and they do the work required to bring it to fruition. There was Alexander Graham Bell with the telephone, Schaffer with the washing machine, Ford with the assembly line, etc., etc.  These people had the ingenuity to invent, but they first had the curiosity to explore the possibilities.  It is a gift from God.

Your curiosity is a gift from God.  What are you doing to glorify him with it?  You don’t have to go to the outer reaches of the atmosphere.  Maybe your curiosity will do something to help your small group.  Maybe it will build the church.  Maybe it will help missionaries do their work.  Whatever it is, let your God-given curiosity bring him praise.

It is God’s privilege to conceal things  and the king’s privilege to discover them” (Proverbs 25.2, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Healing In His Wings

As we conclude our series on the Old Testament book of the prophet Malachi, we learn that there is a reference that will remind us, of all things, of Christmas! You’ll find that the message from Malachi 3.16-4.6 is both a challenge to those who are far from God and an encouragement to those who follow and obey the Lord. You can watch the message alone below, or the whole worship gathering below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Holy reading

Today, I encourage you to spend a few moments meditating on God’s Word.  The word “meditate” has been hijacked in contemporary society, and sometimes, Christians are afraid to use the word for fear that they are practising some sort of eastern religious act.  Not so!  Meditation has been part of church life since the earliest days of the Christian faith.  One of the ways we practise meditation on the Word of God is through holy reading, what the ancients called lectio divina.  In this practice, we read a passage of Scripture to get familiar with it; we pause, and then we read it again to discern a word or phrase from the passage that the Lord may be highlighting for us; again we pause, and read it a third time, taking time to hold that word or phrase before the Lord to know why he has highlighted it for us; and finally, we read it a fourth time and rest in God’s care and provision, thinking prayerfully about how we might respond to what the Lord has said to us through his Word.

Try it with this passage:

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
    O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom;
    I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
Others were given in exchange for you.
    I traded their lives for yours
because you are precious to me.
    You are honored, and I love you.  (Isaiah 43.1-4, NLT)

How did the Lord speak to you through this passage?  How can you respond?

Biblical Messages

Cheating God

As we continue our journey through Malachi, we get to the part that most church people are familiar with, because pastors use it as a passage that deals with stewardship. But there is more to Malachi 3.6-15 than just tithing! In it, we learn about the character of God, and our response. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

I went to jail this week!

I had an interesting experience this week…I went to jail.

Don’t worry, though: I wasn’t remanded in custody for a crime.

I was in Facebook Jail.

It seems that the digital robotic algorithm which constantly monitors posts for things it has unilaterally decided are hateful, offensive, or against its ‘community standards’ picked off a meme I reposted from someone else and decided that it violated ‘community standards’.

I thought it was funny, and so did several other people.  In fact, I can’t imagine who would have found it anything but funny.  But the algorithm doesn’t share my sense of humour, apparently.  So I couldn’t post for 24 hours (probably not a bad idea anyway), and I can’t go ‘live’ or place an ad on Facebook for 30 days.  I guess this is the equivalent for getting 2 minutes for roughing and a game misconduct…from a blind referee.

Thankfully, I don’t rely on Facebook for anything except mild entertainment and the opportunity to post spiritual encouragement, so the repercussions are not life-altering for me.

It’s almost impossible to hit a moving target – which I deem Facebook’s algorithm to be – so I will have no idea whether what I post in the future will be targeted.  So I will have to be much more judicious in what I post.  It will mostly be ministry-related.  (Hopefully, they won’t start targeting Christians for spiritual things!)

I couldn’t find a means for appeal, but if I could, I would encourage Facebook to alter its algorithm so that it has at least a mild sense of humour.  After all, if we can’t laugh, especially at ourselves, life is not as rich.

Make sure you get in a good laugh today, even if it’s not at something I post on social media, because, as the Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Proverbs 17.22, NLT).

Biblical Messages

A Blazing Fire

Fire does more than burn. That’s what the Lord tells us in Malachi 3.1-5. And we also get a hint at the coming of Jesus! Some advice for handling our own periods of refining, and awaiting the second coming of Jesus, can be found in the message that’s part of this worship gathering. The whole worship gathering can be viewed below, or you can catch the message alone below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Remember

There’s a very important word in the Old Testament that not many people think about, but to the Hebrew people of old, like the Jewish people of today, it’s a word that’s deeply grounded in their culture.

It’s the word remember.

One of the earliest examples is during the exodus, and the reminder of the Passover meal:  “This is a day to remember.  Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord” (Exodus 12.14, NLT).

Another early example is right in the Ten Commandments:  “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20.8, NLT).  

When the Israelites did not remember their past, they disobeyed the Lord.  “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (Judges 2.10, NLT).  This story repeated itself over the course of history.

Of course, the most common remembrance today for Jewish people (for us outsiders) comes in the remembrance of the Holocaust.  If you’ve ever visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, or any of the other similar museums around the world, you were moved by the exhibits that will preserve the memory of the death of six million Jewish people for all time.  The same could be said of the prison camps in Europe: they exist as reminders of the past.

The Jewish people want to remember the past, both for the sake of their relationship with God and for avoiding the repetition of evil.

Thus am I troubled when I see news reports of people wanting to rename streets, take down monuments, and find other ways to attempt to erase history, because it is through that history that we learn.  “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” said Spanish philosopher George Santayana, famously.  While we may not want to glorify people for atrocities committed, we must keep those things which enable us to remember those atrocities, lest they be repeated.

Context is important, too.  If we remove all memory, for example, of John A. Macdonald or Egerton Ryerson (here in Canada), how will we remember the many good things they did for our country?  Rather than erase history, let’s put it in context, so we may be inspired by the good, and discouraged from the ill.

As followers of Jesus and people of the new covenant, we are called to remembrance as well.  Among the greatest of these remembrances comes whenever we gather around the Lord’s table, mindful that Jesus celebrated the last supper and called us to celebrate “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19, NLT).

As long as the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, we will have a visual reminder that cancel culture has no place among God’s people.

Biblical Messages

Clerical Advice

Our journey through Malachi takes us to 2.1-9 today, in which we learn that the spirituality of God’s people in Malachi’s time was so low that even the priests were ignoring God’s covenant. What can we learn from this for our life in Christ today? You can watch the whole gathering below to find out, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Learning from the pandemic

As more and more people receive vaccinations against COVID-19, people are starting to sense that the end of the pandemic is in sight.  I hope that’s true!  And it prompts me to ask a question:  What have we learned from all this?

I’m sure the answer to that question would be a list as long as my arm, but I want to focus on the spiritual end of it.  Perhaps I might frame the question this way:

How has my walk with God been affected by the pandemic, and what have I learned as a result?

The answer to that, too, can and perhaps is long and complicated.  But let me focus on one particular area:  rest.

For the last number of years, “busy” is a badge that people have worn with honour.  And there has been a cost involved.

Early in the pandemic, when everything was shut down and (let’s face it) many people lived in fear, there was a sense of equilibrium returning to nature:  the air got cleaner, the dolphins returned to the canals of Venice, the traffic was manageable.

People were slowing down.

But as the first wave ebbed, and a limited reopening took place, we seemed to forget the serenity and peace that came with that first shutdown.  The pace picked up.  While people worked from home, the boundaries were blurred.

Where I live in Ontario, the economy begins reopening today.  Stores will be open with a limited capacity.  Outdoor patios will be open, within limits.  And our church will be open to 15% capacity!  It’s a start!  

But before we try to “get back to normal” – whatever that’s going to look like – let me encourage you to take a step back and look at what you’ve learned about your spiritual rhythms from the experience of the pandemic.  Spend some time in conversation with the Lord over that in the coming days.

Then – and this is the difficult part – apply what you’ve learned to the “new normal.”

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God.  So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted: 

‘Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 4.6-7, NLT).