Encouragement From The Word

The Sound of Silence

The sound of silence.

For some, it is a reference to Simon and Garfunkel.

For others, it is the noise made by the refrigerator or the HVAC system.

For some, it is deafening.

For others, it is the most beautiful sound on earth.

Whatever it may mean to us, the sound of silence is a gift, whether we acknowledge it or not.  For it is in silence that we are most clearly able to commune with God as friend to Friend, as servant to Master, as disciple to Lord.  Think about it:  when you are having an intentional conversation with a close friend, you’re probably not having to shout over a loud racket, right?  When it’s a serious conversation, there’s probably no discernible noise in the background.

So why not do this with the Lord?

At times, we may wonder why we don’t hear from God; it’s less likely that God is silent, and more likely that we are not making space to listen.

As you read the Bible, as you pray – whatever shape that takes – consider doing it accompanied by the sound of silence.  You may be surprised how much you hear.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 62.5-6, NRSV).

Advertisements
Encouragement From The Word

How and why

In a recent message, I cited a conversation that the great 19th century American evangelist, D.L. Moody, had with one of his critics.  His critic said to him, “I don’t like the way you share the gospel.”  So he inquired of his critic how she shared the gospel, and upon learning that she did not share her faith with anyone, Moody retorted, “I like the way I share the gospel better than the way you don’t share the gospel.”

It is our responsibility – indeed, our high calling – to share our faith in Jesus with other people.  How can you do that?  You can tell them what having a relationship with the Lord means to your life:

  • how it gives you strength when you are weak
  • how it gives you hope for the future
  • how it assures you of freedom from slavery to sin
  • how it promises you eternal life in the holy presence of God when you die
  • how it builds your character to be a better human being by God’s grace

And you need to say not only how, but why. In short, talk about John 3.16.

Live in such a way that people see the difference in you, and want to know more.  Then, be prepared to tell them more.

It has been widely believed that Francis Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”  There is no evidence that he actually said this, and frankly, I think he’d disavow it. If we are not prepared to use our words, how will our righteous living be understood?

If you don’t think you’d be very good at sharing the gospel ‘off the cuff’, then write it out.  Hold it before God as you do.  And share it with a Christian friend who can help you reflect on what you’ve written, and thereby help you learn what you’ve written, so you will be able to share it more freely in the future.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10.14, NLT).

 

Encouragement From The Word

Marking an anniversary

Australian Christian singer-songwriter, Darlene Zschech, famously sang these lyrics some years ago, written by Hillsong worship pastor, Geoff Bullock:

     I will never be the same again.

     I can never return, I’ve closed the door;

     I will walk the path, I’ll run the race,

     And I will never be the same again.

I have long resonated with these words, for they reflect two stories in my life: my conversion, and my call to ministry.  (You can read the rest of the lyrics to the song here.)  When Jesus calls us to faith in him, we cannot ever be the same again.  We have turned away from sin, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says, which is our nature, to grace and salvation in Jesus. Such a radical change means we can never return!

Likewise with a call to ministry – which we all have, though for a few, it is to full-time Christian service.  Once we are called, finding our niche in ministry, whatever that is, puts us on a path. It might be leading worship, or keeping spaces clean, or organizing events, or teaching children, or leading a small group, or praying fervently.  There are countless areas of ministry where God can call us to serve, and when we find the one or ones for which we are spiritually gifted, we find ourselves walking a path, running a race, and never being the same again.

Is your discipleship walk such that people who knew you before you were a Christian would say that you are not the same person you once were?  In whatever ministry you serve, would you yourself say that you are not the same because of the ministry you undertake?  I encourage you to consider those questions, and if need be, dig deeper with Jesus, because he calls us to be different in and because of him.

I reflect on the words of that song today, as I mark the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacraments.  Since God got hold of me, I have never been the same.  And since God called me to full-time Christian service, it’s been a wonderful adventure that I’m grateful to be on. Whatever avenue of service you undertake for Jesus, I pray that it is a life-changing adventure for you!

[A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5.17, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Hollow Love

Earlier this week, I met with my spiritual director, as is my monthly custom.  As she was praying for me at the conclusion of our meeting, a thought came to my mind which I have been holding before the Lord ever since.  It is this: “For a Christian to elevate love over holiness renders love hollow.”

As I’ve spent time pondering this – and even asking a few friends to reflect on it – I’m convinced that it is true.  Secular society, and even some of the church visible, makes love the ultimate virtue. Of course, we would expect nothing more of secular society, since in not knowing God, it cannot grasp the concept of holiness.  But God’s people are called, first, to make him exclusively our God (Exodus 20.3), and in response, to be holy because God is holy (Leviticus 11.45).  It is only then that we can love fully, because his love is made perfect in us (1 John 4.12), only then that we can fulfill Jesus’ commandment that disciples love each other as he has loved us (John 13.34).

For Christians, to prize love over holiness cheapens both.  However, we likewise can’t prize holiness without love, since that would make us legalistic.  Love is best expressed through holiness, and in a sense, we can communicate a sense of the holiness of God through our expressions of love – but only if we are first committed to growing in holiness ourselves.

I know some people have come from or are in traditions where the call to holiness is accompanied by guilt and shame.  But that’s not the biblical call to holiness.  Jesus doesn’t say “straighten up”, he says, “Come here!”  The Lord’s call to holiness is a call to follow him in every way, recognizing that there is grace to help us in the ebb and flow of our walk with him.

So my encouragement to you today is to pursue holiness, for only as we grow to become more like the Lord will we be able to love others with the “agape” love with which he loves us.

13 So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.16 For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1.13-16, NLT, citing Leviticus 11.45).

Encouragement From The Word

Rest on your long weekend

Where I live, this weekend heralds the unofficial start of summer:  the Victoria Day long weekend.  The major north-south highway that is just a few kilometres from here will be plugged with vehicular traffic making its way to and from the cottages that populate the many lakes of what Ontario calls “Cottage Country”. People will be breaking out the shorts and the sandals, irrespective of the weather.  But opening up the cottage can be a fair bit of work.  There’s cleaning and raking and so many other little tasks that need to be done in order for enjoyment to take place.

Many people, though, will stay home, preferring to mark the long weekend with yard improvements and maintenance.  This is the time when nurseries and home renovation stores do a booming business.

Here’s a question to ponder:  how often does a long weekend, for you, include rest?  The idea behind statutory holidays is to give workers time off from their paid labour, to be sure; but whether or not we include time off from our unpaid labour is our own responsibility.

As human beings, we were created not for constant work, but for a cycle of work and rest.  When God made the world, he made it in six days, and rested on the seventh.  This is not so much a scientific statement as it is a theological statement:  the God of the universe, who is all-powerful, so believes in the value of rest that he himself took a day off.

So why wouldn’t you?

We live in a culture that values busyness.  But the church, we are reminded, is called to be counter-cultural.

By all means, enjoy your cottage, enjoy your back yard, enjoy whatever this weekend holds for you…but take one day off from things that mustbe done.   I recommend that day be Sunday, so you can worship God in community and share fellowship with others.  See you in church!

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62.1, NIV).

Encouragement From The Word

The gift of motherhood

This Sunday in the Christian calendar is called Christian Family Sunday.  It’s an effort to make Mother’s Day as inclusive as possible, since, it seems, Father’s Day doesn’t get much press (and some people struggle with the day, either because they did not have children or their mothers are deceased).  Whichever way you look at it, this is an opportunity to remember your mom, or to make your mom feel special.

Though it was written in a patriarchal period in human history, the Bible highlights many great mothers.  Two examples that come to mind are Hannah, the mother of Samuel, who prayed earnestly to bear a son (1 Samuel 1), and Mary, the mother of Jesus, who at a very young age agreed to fulfill the Lord’s will and give birth to the Son of God.

One greatly desired a child from the Lord, and the other had her maternity thrust upon her by the Lord.  What they have in common is that both of these women lived out of a deep relationship with God.

If you’re a mom, your relationship with God will be the greatest inheritance your children will receive.  Talk about it with them, and model it for them; they will see how you walk with the Lord, and no matter how far they may stray, they will remember it as they age. God may use that memory to draw them back to him.

If you’re not a mom, perhaps your mom planted a seed of faith in you; use this weekend as an opportunity to thank her, if she is living, or to thank God for her, if she is not.  If your mom is not a follower of Jesus, maybe this weekend will provide you with an opportunity to witness to God’s grace at work in her!

One way or another, this weekend can be a time of celebrating God’s goodness toward us all in Jesus Christ.  Whether or not your church makes a big deal out of Mother’s Day, you can praise God for the gift of motherhood.

You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Peter 3.4, NLT).

 

Encouragement From The Word

Privilege and Persecution

The tragedy in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, and its politicization, has illustrated the reality that Christians are under attack, being persecuted and executed in these days, and often, the western media don’t even mention it.

It’s not getting any easier to be a follower of Jesus in our time.  Even as little as 50 years ago, the church still enjoyed a privileged position, in our country and in many western nations.  But that is no longer true.  As time rolls on, our relationship to the culture is looking more and more like the church of the first century.

And in many ways, that’s actually good news.

The church that experiences cultural privilege is less likely to rely on God. The church that experiences cultural persecution is more likely to rely on God, because he’s all there is to rely on!

And the church that experiences cultural persecution has a greater tendency to grow if it’s being faithful to Jesus and his Word.

So don’t worry about persecution; remember that Jesus is greater than any persecution we could face.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16.33, NLT).