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Biblical Messages

Who is Worthy?

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 5 that focuses on the worthiness of Jesus to open the scroll – thereby demonstrating that he is worthy to care for us amid all the world’s challenges.

Near the end of the message, we watched a video of Andrew Peterson’s song, “Is He Worthy?”, which you can view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FEuAr8f6bo

You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Worship and who it’s for

In the Christian world, we seem to find two extremes in our worship gatherings:  on one end, we have those churches that use smoke and lights and hundreds of decibels to excite us.  On the other end, we have those churches that do everything in their power to make the gospel as boring as possible.

I don’t think either of those is the way to go.

Last Sunday, I talked about the importance of worshipping God in the midst of the crazy world in which we live.  In that message, I said this:

“When you come to worship, don’t come expecting to be entertained, though that may happen from time to time.  Don’t even come expecting to learn something, though I hope that will always happen.  Come expecting to encounter the living God, made known in Jesus Christ, who indwells us and inhabits our praise by the Holy Spirit.”

Worship is more than music and effects.  Worship is more than historic words.  Worship includes these things, as well as prayer, silence, preaching, and even the offering.  We don’t “have a time of worship” that is followed by “everything else”.  That “everything else” is also worship, if we couch it as such with intentionality!

And it’s not for us.  While churches should be particular about how they craft their worship gatherings in terms of relating to the culture around them, the purpose behind that is not to entertain the masses, but to facilitate the people’s praises of the unchanging, holy God.  When we come to worship, God is the audience.  Not us.  And he loves to receive the praises of his people.

This Sunday, I will tie all of this together with an understanding that we worship God because he is worthy.  That can and should be the antidote to the epidemic of fear that has gripped our world.

O nations of the world, recognize the Lord;
    recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong.
 Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!
    Bring your offering and come into his courts.
 Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.
    Let all the earth tremble before him.
Tell all the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’
    The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.
    He will judge all peoples fairly” (Psalm 96.7-10, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Welcome home

In Ontario, it was announced this week that the mask mandate, put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, is being lifted as of March 21 in most settings.  This means that many people are thinking about resuming “normal” activities – things they did before the pandemic hit.

A lot of those activities will involve other people: being involved in community.

For those who walk with Jesus in faith, community is a significant part of our journey.  We engage in Christian fellowship through corporate worship; through participation in small groups for study, prayer and service; and through more casual means such as getting together for coffee with a friend or having people over for dinner.  

It will be nice to be able to resume these activities as we did before.

But did you know that community is also a spiritual discipline?

Very, very few Christians are called to be hermits.  They have existed over time, but they have been the exception to the rule.  In general, followers of Jesus are called to function in community.  This is true regardless of one’s state in life:  married or single, children or none; no matter our race or job or ability, we are called to function in community.

For some, this has meant living in intentional community, where believers live together under one roof, or in a commune-like setting, essentially becoming a church.  For many, though, functioning in community has meant living with one’s family, or alone, and engaging in community through the local church.

The word church, after all, literally means “those called out” – people called by God to faith in Christ, called to separate themselves for his Kingdom, called to do together what is either difficult or impossible to do alone.

It saddens me that these two years of restraint have, in a sense, cauterized some people: they have lost their sense of the value of community.  Church has become something they tune into on their computers, not people with whom they can ‘do life’ together.  They forget that the church is not the building, but the people.

If you follow Jesus, you are the church.  If you’ve been waiting for the “all clear” to be sounded, it looks like that signal is coming later this month.  See it as a call from God to be the church, to worship, study and serve with others who likewise are looking to Jesus as the Author and Finisher of their faith (Hebrews 12.1).

Welcome home.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Romans 12.5, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Keep your Alleluias!

This week marked Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  I saw a post on social media about the tradition that some have during this period of the year where they put away, or “bury”, their “Alleluias” – they do not use this term to praise the Lord throughout the season of Lent, as a sign of penitence.

I think this is a wrong and misguided tradition.  Let me tell you why.

Sometimes, little words make a big difference.  For example, the church marks the Sundays in Lent, not the Sundays of Lent.  What’s the difference?  Well, Lent is marked for forty days, that being a biblically significant number (think flood, exodus, temptation, etc.).  But if you count the number of days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Day, you will find more than forty.  Why?

Because the Sundays aren’t included.  Every Sunday, no matter the season, is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  So yes, you might hide your Alleluias from Monday to Saturday, but on Sunday, you are enjoined to haul them back out, because even though we trace the route to the cross in Lent, each Sunday remains a celebration of the resurrection, a “little Easter”.  

Whatever you may choose to do to mark the season of Lent, set it aside as you enter public worship, because every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection.  It is a break from the fast.  It is a relief from the penitence.  

And we can count it all joy.

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
    praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
    praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
    praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
    praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!  (Psalm 150, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

Throwing and Flooding

I met with my spiritual director earlier this week, and she read this familiar verse from The Message, which always manages to take the familiar and make one think about it:

Jesus once again addressed them: “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” – John 8.12

It was a really good reminder for me that though we live in a time of darkness, with the pandemic and all the divisions that have been created and underlined by it, Jesus still provides plenty of light to live in.

It can be easy to point fingers and take pot shots (especially on social media, where we can’t see the other).  This verse reminded me of the importance not of pointing out the deficiencies of one, but of flooding all we know with the light of Jesus.

Since getting interested in the world of everyday carry (EDC), I’ve learned more about things like flashlights than I ever thought I would need to, or care to learn.  Some flashlights are made to throw light a long distance.  These lights have a fairly narrow beam, but you can see a long distance with them.  Other flashlights are made to flood a smaller area: you can see a lot around you, but not for very far.

Let me encourage you, in this politically and socially challenging time, to flood the world with the light of Jesus.  Not everybody lives in his light; some do stumble around in the darkness.  But we can flood the world around us with the light of Jesus, prayerfully hoping that some will see that light and turn to him and live in that light.

We all long for a peaceful world, free of division and strife.  Jesus is the way to fulfill that longing, and he invites us to spread that light.  By flooding the world around us with his light, we will have a greater impact as we seek to share the One who is our peace.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us” (Ephesians 2.14, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

God’s concoction: rest

I was talking with a group of people the other day about busyness, and how our society glorifies it.  Anytime you ask someone, “How are you?”, you’ll get the reply, “Great.  I’m so busy.”

Even the church sometimes glorifies busyness.  We would look askance at a pastor, for example, who said she or he was always bored.  We’d be thinking, Why aren’t you doing your job?

But there’s doing your job, and then there’s slowly killing yourself.

This isn’t a cry for help – I have lots on my plate, but I also take a weekly Sabbath, a day for rest from my regular work that allows me to be refreshed for the week to come.  Yet I think we all need a reminder that the glory of busyness is entirely a worldly concoction.

The idea of Sabbath, where one day in seven is set aside for worship and rest, is God’s concoction.  He modelled it for us in creation.  In Genesis 1, we see that he made the world and everything in it in six days, and on the seventh day, he rested.

Why did he do that?  Is God so weak that he needs time off?

Not at all!  He rested on the seventh day so that his covenant people would see their own need for a day of rest.

In ancient Hebrew culture, this day of rest grew to have all manner of laws and rules attached to it.  A friend of mine, a few years ago, was out for a walk in his neighbourhood when a lady called him to her door.  He thought she was in distress, but she had a small task for him:  to turn on her oven.  She was Jewish.  It was the Sabbath.  She wasn’t allowed to turn on her oven on the Sabbath…laws and rules.

He turned on her oven and carried on with his stroll.

Jesus reminded his followers that the Sabbath was made for humanity, and not the other way around.  He even healed on the Sabbath, which the Pharisees considered work.

Rarely, though, do we give much thought to how we observe Sabbath, mostly because we’re not very good at observing it at all.

Let me encourage you to view Sabbath not as a law, but as a gift.  On whatever day you are able to take a Sabbath, accept Jesus’ invitation:  “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11.28-30, NLT).

Work hard.  And rest in the Lord.

Encouragement From The Word

The alternative to prayer in school

In last week’s Encouragement From the Word, I recounted part of the story of Cassie Bernall, the student at Columbine High School who was killed for being a Christian, relating that to the reality of suffering and persecution among believers.  This elicited a heart-tugging response from a subscriber who was part of a tragic school shooting at one time.

This person told me how important a role prayer played in the aftermath, noting that “Amongst the sirens and the ambulances and the police, we gathered in small groups, holding hands and praying.  God was there giving comfort to us in our time of greatest need”, and that when the school reopened, a few days later, a prayer was offered over the PA system to bring comfort to the injured and the families of the victims.

Most schools today, at least where I live, don’t offer the option of public prayer.  And while I would welcome a call to restore school prayers, I fear that horse has left the barn, as the saying goes, and that nothing short of national revival is going to bring it back, especially in the political culture in which we find ourselves these days.

So what is the alternative?

Prayer at home.  (Now there’s a concept.)

Those students who gathered to pray amid the chaos in my interlocutor’s story must have had some foundation of prayer, both at home and in the church, to lead them to pray together.  It served them well to provide comfort in an unimaginable moment.

Too often, in our consumer culture, we depend on institutions to do work that more rightly belongs to the family.

We should not rely on the school system – even a Christian parochial school system, if that’s where our kids go – to teach them such foundational faith basics.

I dare say we should not even rely on the church to do this.  (Gasps come from the crowd.)

I think this is the responsibility of parents.  In fact, this is not my idea; it’s deeply rooted in the history of God’s people.  Consider that sharing the basics of faith has been considered a family mandate from as far back as the time of Moses:

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6.4-7, NLT).

Of course, parents themselves have to learn this, if they weren’t taught it by their own parents.  And that’s where the church comes in.  The church’s job is to equip parents to be used by God to shape their children as followers of Jesus.

Someone has said, tongue-in-cheek, that as long as there are exams, there will always be prayer in school.  But in an age of increasing persecution for followers of Jesus, all the more do children and young people need to be spiritually formed at home – including knowing how to communicate with God in a loving relationship – so that they can be strong in their faith, no matter what they face, in school or elsewhere.

It may not be bullets that they face (and so we earnestly pray!), but it may be words, which injure in different ways, or something else that comes with persecution.  As the church equips the parents to form the children, we will see great spiritual renewal among the people of God, which we need for the world in which we live today.

Encouragement From The Word

Would You Say ‘Yes’?

A number of years ago, there was a tragic school shooting in Columbine, Colorado.  The world was shocked by the event, and rightly so.  One of the stories to come out of it was chronicled in a memoir entitled She Said Yes.  It was about a student named Cassie Bernall, written by her mother, about how Cassie became one of the students to be shot on that horrific day.

The perpetrators, fellow high school students, had asked Cassie if she was a Christian.  Being a follower of Jesus, she responded that she was.  And that was what caused the deranged student to pull the trigger and kill Cassie.

What would you say had you been in that situation?  When the adrenaline is coursing through you, and you’re faced with a question about your faith that could cost you your life, would you say ‘yes’?

Some might lie and say ‘no’, even though it was not true, in order to preserve their lives and thereby be able to engage in Christian living for years to come.  But let’s say you were under coercion to recant your faith on the threat of death.  Would you?

This is mostly theory to us, but to the believers in the early church, this described daily living.  In the first three centuries of the existence of the church, Christian faith was not tolerated by the Roman empire.  Christ-followers were often killed because they refused to say “Caesar is Lord”, and worship their ruler.  Instead, they lived by the statement of faith that declared, “Jesus is Lord.”

It cost many disciples of Jesus their lives.

I certainly hope and pray that it never comes to that in our time, though in some parts of the world, it still happens that followers of Jesus are killed for their beliefs.  As biblical Christianity becomes less and less popular, it is becoming less and less tolerated in society.

Would you say ‘yes’ if confronted with the question about identifying with your Christian faith?  What price would you be willing to pay?

I pray that you never are faced with the need to choose between your profession of faith and your life.  But I also pray that the courage of your convictions will cause you to stand firm no matter what sort of suffering or persecution you might face.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5.10, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Your First Love

It’s amazing what the human memory can retain and what it can’t.  

Some days, I can barely remember why I got up to go to the kitchen.  But I can remember the strangest minutiae that don’t matter in the least.

I remember when I was in kindergarten – kindergarten, almost 50 years ago! – I decided there was a girl in my class that I liked…a lot.

At our school, the kindergarteners had their own designated, smaller yard set aside for recess.  And at recess one day, I decided I would express to my classmate how I felt about her.  So I started chasing her around the yard, with the express intent of kissing her.

It seems she wanted no part in this, and it also seems she could run faster than I could, because I don’t recall that my lips ever reached her cheek (which was all I would have aimed for at such an age)!

I guess you could say that was my first love, requited though it was.

In Revelation 2.4, John records the ascended Lord Jesus’ words to the Ephesian church when he accuses them:  “You have forsaken the love you had at first” (NIV).

Jesus wasn’t talking about a love like my kindergarten attempt at romance.  He was talking about love for him, as well as love for their brothers and sisters in the faith.

In our culture, which applauds busyness, we can get so tied up in an activity for which we have passion that we forget the whole reason we do it in the first place.

We get so busy studying doctrine or defending our faith that we fail to love others well.

We get so busy advocating for some issue – poverty, climate change, social justice – that we fail to spend time with the Lord who gave us that passion in the first place.

We forsake our first love.

Let’s remember, whether we are studying God’s Word or supporting a cause, to love the Lord and his people first and foremost.

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22.37-40, NLT).

Biblical Messages

A letter to seven churches

In this worship gathering, we hear a message introducing the Book of Revelation as our new series. What is the real message of the book? Is it all about predicting the end of the world, or is there more substance than that? Based on Revelation 1.1-20, you can watch the message alone below, or the entire worship gathering below that. The introductory video is available as a stand-alone video here.

Encouragement From The Word

Who was, and is, and is to come

These are crazy days, aren’t they?  There are statements made and retracted by provincial and federal governments, vaccine taxes being assessed in Quebec, numbers being reported in limited ways, and just a whole lot of confusion around the pandemic.

In one sense, it’s understandable, since none of us has ever gone through anything like this before.  (Remember “Two weeks to flatten the curve”?  That’s ancient history now!)  We are all tired and frustrated, and we want life to go back to normal – or at least to proceed toward the new normal, post-pandemic.  And we just wish that we’d get some definitive answers.  But in such an unpredictable season, those answers are not forthcoming.

Amid all the uncertainty, there are some things we can know for certain.  One of them is the sovereignty of God: the belief that God is in charge.

It might seem like a goofy concept, thinking that God is in charge with the mayhem swirling around us.  But it’s true.

We don’t know why a sovereign God sees this going on and seemingly stands there.  (I would argue that if God were just ‘standing there’, matters would be a great deal worse!)  Our role is not to know why; it is to trust in the One who does know why.

As John the apostle begins the recording of his vision from the Lord in Revelation, he offers this greeting to the seven churches to which the book was originally written:  “Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come” (Revelation 1.4b, NLT).

The Lord is, he was, and he is still to come.  God has seen all of history.  He sees the future.  And he sees what we’re dealing with today.  And he remains Lord of all, even though, at times, it might not seem that way.

On those days when you feel especially frustrated, at your wits’ end, or hanging on to the end of your rope, just remember that verse and proclaim – even if just to yourself – that no matter what, you trust the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come.

We will get through this.  God has promised that he will preserve his church, despite all odds.  It might not look like it always has, but it will still be the gathered faithful, praising the Eternal Father of the universe, rejoicing in the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

By the way, this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we are beginning a new series on the book of Revelation!  If you’d like to learn a bit of background about the book, you can watch this introductory video here.  And you are welcome to attend in person or tune in online to any of our services.

Grace and peace!