Blog posts

Encouragement From The Word

Let the Word wash over you

This weekend, the church marks Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when we traditionally begin our commemoration of the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry and life.  

Unless your church tradition is one that has services every day during Holy Week, it’s likely that you’re not hearing many of the accounts of the activities that took place during that week.  Of course, you may be reading these gospel accounts at home, which is great!  But there is much that happened during that final week of Jesus’ life between the waving of palms and the hammering of nails.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke, we read that Jesus cleared the temple, told many parables, taught about judgment, and was anointed for his death – all before the last supper.  In the Gospel of John, the order is presented a little differently, since he had a different original audience.  The clearing of the temple happens early in John’s Gospel, and much occurs between the triumphal entry and Jesus’ betrayal, including not the last supper, but the washing of the disciples’ feet.

Even between Jesus’ betrayal and death, there are accounts worth reading that may or may not be heard in church.  So let me encourage you, this coming week, to carve out time to read the last half of one of the Gospel narratives.  Don’t make it just another thing to do, though; take your time with it.  Spread it out over the course of the week.  Read the parts that happen after the crucifixion but before the resurrection on Saturday, before Easter.  

Let the Word wash over you like the jar of expensive perfume that was poured over Jesus’ head while he ate in the home of Simon in Bethany.  As Jesus said, “She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Matthew 26.12-13, NLT).

Perhaps this act will quicken your heart for the joy of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Let the Word wash over you.

Encouragement From The Word

It wasn’t free

This week, I fell victim to a scam…sort of.

I received an email from someone trying to give away a piano – something that does happen from time to time – provided the recipient would pay for the move.

Makes sense, right?  Someone giving away a piano shouldn’t have to bear the burden of the cost of moving it, which can be significant.

I announced it to the congregation, in case anyone was interested.  Someone was.

Thankfully, that person did his homework, and discovered it is a scam.  It turns out that the requirement was to use the donor’s moving company, which was fake, but was receiving people’s money and not delivering anything.

This was one of the most convincing scams I’ve seen yet.  We all get those phone calls from “Canada Revenue” or “Amazon” or “Credit Department” claiming that we owe money or are about to be incarcerated.  We understand that they are fake and we hang up on them.

But an email, seemingly credible, with an offer of a gift that sometimes happens anyway?  Seems legit.  Nope.

I’m glad my friend did the research.

All too often, something that claims to be free isn’t free…unless you’re talking about the gospel.

What sets Christianity apart from every other world religion is that salvation is free…for us.

But it wasn’t free for Jesus.

That is, Jesus paid the price for our sins.

Many people respond when they hear the gospel by saying it seems too good to be true.  In this case, though, it’s not too good to be true.  It is good, and it is true!  

It’s not like a “get out of jail free” card; Jesus bled and died on the cross to set us free from sin.  He experienced death for three days and rose again from the grave to bring us eternal life.

He paid the price, but it wasn’t free.

Yet for us, it is free. No catch.  No hidden fees.  No asterisk.

Have you given yourself wholly to Jesus, who paid the price for your sins?  It’s no scam.  It’s real, and it’s true.  He did it for you and for me.

God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.21, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

An inspiring experiment

I saw a meme on social media the other day (pictured), and attended a webinar, each of which inspired me to share this with you.  Read on.



As Christians, we are called to love one another as Christ loved us. Part of that love includes praying for one another. Praying for others is a powerful way to show our love and concern for them, and it can have a profound impact on their lives.

The Bible tells us to pray for one another, to bear each other’s burdens, and to encourage one another. When we pray for others, we are demonstrating our faith in God’s power to intervene in their lives. We are also aligning ourselves with God’s will for their lives, which is ultimately for their good.

Prayer is not just a one-way street. When we pray for others, we are also opening ourselves up to receive the blessings of prayer. We become more compassionate, more patient, and more loving as we focus our attention on the needs of others. We also become more aware of our own needs, and we can bring those needs before God in prayer as well.

Prayer is not just a private matter between ourselves and God. When we pray for others, we are also building community and strengthening relationships. We are showing our love and support for one another, and we are creating a network of support that can sustain us through difficult times.

So let us commit ourselves to praying for one another. Let us take the time to lift each other up in prayer, to encourage one another, and to bear each other’s burdens. Let us trust in God’s power to work in our lives and the lives of those around us. And let us rejoice in the blessings that come from a life of prayer and love for one another.

I hope this inspired you.  It inspired me.

But I must provide full disclosure.  This was an experiment.  I did not write the piece.  I asked ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence machine available widely online, the following:  “Please write a one-page Christian devotional on the importance of praying for one another.”  Within about sixty seconds, it produced what you read above in italics.  (The webinar I attended was about how church leaders can make use of artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT.)

Of course, you who know my writing style will have immediately picked up on the fact that this did not come from my hand.  Nevertheless, while it may lack some of the colour I might normally include, there’s nothing inherently wrong with what it says.

Artificial intelligence is here to stay, I think.  And we will have to wrestle with how best to use it as followers of Jesus. Undoubtedly, it will have some benefits for society, if used with integrity.  But it will never replace the importance of such things as praying for each other through the gaps of life, as the meme illustrates.  AI will never replace authentic, praying community.  Who are you praying for these days?

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

For Such A Time As This

Those of us acquainted with some of the stories in the Old Testament remember the account of Esther, a young Jewish woman who found favour with the king of Persia, married him, and through her office managed to save the Jewish people from the evil plot of Haman.  (It’s what the recently-celebrated festival of Purim marks for Jewish people.)  In that story, as the plot to kill the Jewish people grows more obvious, her cousin, Mordecai, famously says to Esther, “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14, NLT).

It’s a great illustration that reminds us that God’s timing is always right.  There are no coincidences.

Earlier this week, I met with my spiritual director.  I could tell something wasn’t quite right, and she revealed that she had just flown back from visiting her nonagenarian father, who had fallen and broken his ankle.  The family was concerned for his health.

While we were talking, her cell phone rang.  Normally, she would have ignored it, but because of her family situation, she chose to answer it, and I completely understood.

Matters had gotten worse, and her sister had called to tell my spiritual director.

Her sister put her dad on the phone, and my spiritual director talked with him briefly and prayed with him.

At that point, I knew our spiritual direction session was over.  That was okay; it could wait.  My spiritual director neededmy support at that time, and I sought to provide it as best I could.

When I departed, she told me, “I’m glad you were here today.”  

So was I.  I knew that it was no accident that all this would transpire while I was with her.  My spiritual director and I are friends, too, and I was honoured to be able to care for her in that moment of need.  I was there “for such a time as this.”

Let me encourage you to consider those occasions that you might think of “coincidences” as something more than that:  whether good or bad, whether rejoicing or in crisis, think about how God may have placed you in a particular situation “for such a time as this,” and allow his ministry to take place, whether through you or through another person who is with you at the time.

As of the time of writing, my spiritual director’s father is improving.

Consider how God may place you in certain situations “for such a time as this.”

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t just consume; serve.

It’s no secret that we live in a consumer society.

Our economy is based on buying and selling, whether it’s things as simple and necessary as groceries or as unnecessary as trinkets.  Where there is a market, items will be offered and consumed.

In many ways, it’s passive:  most of us do not farm what we eat, and most of us do not make our own trinkets.

In simpler times, and in a more rural economy, most people farmed their own food and did not buy unnecessary items.  It was more active.

The times being what they are, the consumer economy has leaked into other areas of life, too, not least the church.  We have, in some ways, become religious consumers:  we gather for worship, in person or online, and we take it in, but that’s where it ends.

But the church was not designed for that.  God put the church in place to be a growing organism, one in which people not only received, they gave.

Yes, that includes financial giving, which is necessary for any number of things from paying the preacher to keeping the lights on, but it also involves serving:  we participate actively in the work of God’s Kingdom, in ways for which God has equipped us.

Some are gifted to teach.  Others are gifted to repair things.  Still others are gifted to care for others.  All followers of Jesus have special abilities to serve in the body of Christ, and each is called by the Lord to use those special abilities in some way that edifies the church and helps it grow.

Do you know your spiritual gifts?  You should, because if you don’t, you may be convinced that you don’t have any special ways to serve, and may end up being a religious consumer.

We may start out that way, finding a relationship with God and consuming in order to grow in that walk with the Lord, but it can’t be an end in itself:  we must find avenues for service.  We can’t just rely on the “religious professionals” to do the work of ministry; it is a calling that is placed on each follower of Jesus.

And our model for this is none other than Jesus himself!  He tells us in Mark 10.45 that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NLT).

Ponder that verse today, and consider how you might best serve in your local church; I am certain that if you approach your pastor with a heart to serve, you will be gratefully put to work in an area of your gifting.

If you don’t know what your gifts are, let me know, and I can help you with that.

Don’t just consume; serve.  After all, it was likely someone who used his or her gifts that helped you come into relationship with the Lord in the first place, and you can do the same for someone else.

Don’t just consume; serve.

Biblical Messages

Come!

In this worship gathering, which includes the Lord’s Supper, we hear a message concluding our series on the book of the Revelation, from chapter 22, entitled, “Come!” We learn some principles that are helpful for our walk with God, and some challenges that remind us of the importance of taking the Scripture seriously. You can watch the message below, or the entire worship gathering below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Another stinker?

Last week, I wrote about the revival taking place in the chapel at Asbury University in Kentucky.  There are many opinions circling the Internet about it, and as I said, its legitimacy will be seen down the road by the fruit borne from it.  I am praying for great things to happen as a result!

Some back stories are starting to come out about how all this began.  One of them comes from the preacher on the day the revival began, February 8.  A volunteer soccer coach at the university gave what news reports are calling an “improvised sermon” about real love, and invited students to come forward if they wanted to receive prayer to experience a better love than the world (or, sometimes, even the church) had shown them.

He closed by saying, “I pray that this sits on you guys like an itchy sweater, and you gotta itch, you gotta take care of it.”

The soccer coach-preacher, off the platform, then texted his wife to say his sermon was “another stinker” and that he would be home soon.

As the last couple of weeks have demonstrated, though, that sermon was anything but “another stinker”.  God showed up and moved in the hearts of those present, and those who would come later, even days later.

I tell you this to remind you that words matter.

Whether you’re a preacher or not, your words have an impact on others.  And when your words are spoken to the glory of God, the Holy Spirit can take your efforts and multiply them many times over.

I’ve experienced this myself.  There are weeks, as a communicator, that I don’t think I’ve offered the best I could give.  Yet, invariably, when I feel that way, someone will express to me how the Lord moved that person because of what I said (or, sometimes, what she or he thought I said!). 

As I often tell students and preachers alike, what happens from the time the words fall out of your face and into the ears of listeners is not up to us:  the Lord can do amazing things.  

That doesn’t mean we should be less careful with our words, whether spoken publicly or privately; we should always give our best, and speak to the glory of God, all the while understanding that in the end, it’s not up to us.

Who knows?  Maybe the Lord will use your words to spark a revival in your home, or your school, or your church, or your community!

[W]hatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Colossians 3.17, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Revive us again!

In case you haven’t heard about it, there is currently a revival going on at Asbury University in Kentucky.  For several days now, there has been a steady stream of people entering the university chapel to pray and worship God.  It all started when a chapel service ended, and nobody left.

That building has now been occupied with worshippers, sometimes a full house, for over a week.  Why does this matter?

If nothing else, it demonstrates that God is at work in the world!

At a deeper level, it shows us that the human race has not been forsaken by the Lord. 

Among the most socially impactful revivals were the Great Awakenings in New England in the 18th century, sparked in large part by the faithful biblical preaching of Jonathan Edwards.

Even a cursory study of history will show that periodically over time, in various places in the world, movements of the Holy Spirit have taken place that have had an impact on society.  Perhaps you remember the Toronto Blessing from the 1990s as an example of this.

A dear friend and colleague and I drove to Toronto one snowy Sunday night to witness this movement.  Seated with some seminary professors in the back row, we took it all in.  People were laughing, people were doing “carpet time” (as it was called), being slain in the Spirit.  It was vastly different from what my service that morning had looked like!

But in all honesty, as one with the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits, I was not alarmed.  

While it might not have been “my thing”, I found it difficult to doubt that God was at work in the midst of that.

Revivals are great.  Everybody likes a show.  What really matters, though, is the fruit that is borne from it.  As my friend, John G. Stackhouse, Jr., wrote recently, the revival at Asbury will have been a remarkable work of God if there is some seed of growing discipleship demonstrated among the people affected by it.  

Should we pray for revival in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our nations?  Undoubtedly, yes!  And as we do, let’s likewise pray for the desired result of revival:  changed hearts and lives.  Otherwise, we will have enjoyed the sizzle, but not feasted on the steak.

God is still active in our world.  He has not forsaken us, the pinnacle of his creation.  Let’s pray that many, many people are directed to follow Jesus with greater devotion as a result of revival.

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15.5, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Make the ask!

I was at the dentist’s office on Wednesday for a checkup.  Some people are not fond of these necessary events, but I’m not bothered by them at all.  One can’t hate on dentists and hygienists; they’re just doing their jobs.  Even when we diligently care for our teeth and gums, there may come a time when procedures must be done that are necessary and possibly uncomfortable, but the pain we experience in the dentist’s chair is generally more manageable than the pain we might suffer were we to neglect such care.

It may seem strange, but I rather enjoy visiting my dentist’s office, mostly because of the people.  They are kind and friendly, and we usually engage in some sort of conversation.

As I was leaving on Wednesday, I mentioned to the receptionist that we are going to have a ‘chili competition’ pot luck lunch on Sunday.  As I said this, another patient who was waiting chimed in to say that she had been invited to a chili pot luck, too.

Turns out, it was the same event!

The patient told me who invited her; it was one of our elders, with whom she had a relationship.

I was pleased to see that invitations were being given!  Sometimes, a second invitation – which I offered – might just be enough to encourage the person to attend!

Never underestimate the value of the invitation.  Whether it’s to worship, a lunch, a small group, or some other event in church life, we can make the ask.  The person might say no, but she or he might say yes, too, and you’ll never know if you don’t make the ask.

It might take multiple invitations before the person says yes.  You don’t want to badger your friends and loved ones with invitations, but you don’t want to ignore them, either.

A friend of mine was regularly invited to church by a coworker.  At that time, my friend was not a Christian and had no interest in going to church.  But later, when, by God’s grace, he did become a believer, guess whose church he went to?  

Yep.  He went with the coworker who invited him so many times.

Persistence without belligerence has a far greater chance of bearing fruit than keeping the invitation to yourself.  Make the ask.

Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  And the reality is that God’s people aren’t taking many shots.  Make the ask.  It could make an eternal difference in someone’s life.

Come and see what our God has done,
    what awesome miracles he performs for people!” (Psalm 66.5, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

Get a new outfit!

It’s not an easy time to be a follower of Jesus.

It seems like virtually every possible establishment intentionally or unintentionally works against the principles of the gospel. 

What’s more, the new developments of technology and social media have made it even more challenging.

There are times, if we’ll admit it, when it would just seem easier to throw in the towel and live like the rest of the world, without regard for Jesus or what he has done for us.  And lately, those times seem to be more frequent for some people.

If you’re in that place – and even if you’re not in that place (because, one day, you probably will be there) – I encourage you to buy a new outfit.

But this isn’t “retail therapy”; it’s spiritual preparedness.

Put on the whole armour of God.

Read this passage a few times, and let it be a theme for your day, maybe even for a few days.  Spiritually arm yourself; it’s a battleground out there.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.   Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  (Ephesians 6.10-17, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

Consider the context

I’ll admit that when I see someone quoting the Bible on social media, I get a little excited.  It’s always great to see God’s Word sent forth through whatever channels we can, whether to encourage or challenge.

So I saw the following post earlier this week; I’ve blotted out the information about the posters for their own security.  Can you see the problem?

The person who posted this decided that she would appropriate this passage of Scripture for herself.  I pointed out that the “her” in Psalm 46.5 doesn’t refer to any woman who decides to read it, but to “that city”, i.e., Jerusalem.  (Not all translations use the feminine pronoun for Jerusalem in this passage, which is helpful in situations like this one!)

In response to my pointing out that the text was about Jerusalem, the poster’s response was to say, “I am Jerusalem.”

Really?

As someone smarter than me once said, all Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applied.  When we yank a passage out of context and apply it to ourselves, or a given situation – without regard for the context of the passage – that’s called “proof-texting”.  It might also be called abuse of the text (and, when applied to others in this manner, spiritual abuse of another sort).

Psalm 46 is not about the person who posted this on social media in that sense.  There are principles we can draw from the Psalm, not least the “be still, and know that I am God” part (verse 10).  Even that, though, can be abused; I remember a famous Hollywood person many years ago using this verse to suggest, in some sort of ersatz Eastern meditation seminar, that the participants be still and know that they are God.

Nope.  All kinds of nope.

The Bible is not given for us to snip bits we like.  When you pick up a saw, you’re not just using one of the teeth, right? To use it effectively, as intended, you’re making full strokes with the saw, using all the teeth.  Trying to cut a piece of wood with one saw tooth would take you a very long time (you would die before you were finished).  It is no less foolish to lift parts of Scripture and misapply them.  While it might make us feel good and be a boost to our energy, we’re actually deceiving ourselves in so doing.

By all means, please do read the Bible.  But don’t yank out parts of it that inspire you without yanking the context out with it.

Let me give you one more example.  I saw this verse posted on a daily tear-off inspirational desk calendar one time:  “I will give it all to you if you will kneel down and worship me.”

Sounds inspiring, even empowering, right?  But consider the context:

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”  “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him.  “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4.8-10, NLT)

Ouch.  Not so inspiring in context, is it?

Scripture is intended to be inspiring and challenging.  But until we pay attention to the context, we’re playing with fire.  It is, after all, a sword.

Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17, NLT).

(By the way, you could accuse me of pulling Scripture out of context when I close each Encouragement with a verse or two, but rest assured I have considered the context around what I choose and seek to apply it helpfully.  Feel free to battle back if you think I misuse a Bible verse!)

Biblical Messages

The Great Prostitute

In this worship gathering, we ordain some new ruling elders for our leadership team, and hear a message from Revelation 17 about the image of the Great Prostitute – the Roman Empire – and how it would fall…and some potential modern-day equivalents (like the World Economic Forum). More on that in chapter 18 next time! You can watch the message alone below, or the whole worship gathering below that.