Encouragement From The Word

Be a spiritual prepper

With so many other shiny things in the news lately, we haven’t heard much about hurricane season.  But Fiona, the most recently-named storm, has pummeled Puerto Rico and has its sights set on Atlantic Canada, and though it will likely not be rated as a hurricane, it has the potential to do some serious damage.

Residents are being encouraged to ensure they have sufficient supplies for a hold-and-secure period of not less than 72 hours, and that their sump pumps are working.  This is the time when the “prepper” community – those whose hobby (or obsession) is emergency preparedness – has its opportunity to shine!

Often, it is experience that teaches us to be prepared for trouble, whether it is something large and uncontrollable like a weather phenomenon (remember the big ice storm of ’98?) or something localized and preventable (like a car accident that knocks out a transformer).  Until we are prepared, we end up scrambling.  And in reality, it may not be possible to be prepared for every eventuality, unless your commitment to emergency preparedness truly is an obsession that gobbles up your entire life.

Whether it’s having a good supply of potable water or a generator or a pantry full of canned goods or dehydrated food – to say nothing of fully-charged electronic devices and backup battery packs – it’s difficult to be ready for everything, but there’s one thing that many of even the most prepared people neglect, and that’s eternity.

You can be ready for a power outage so that your freezer’s contents aren’t destroyed, but that doesn’t make you ready for the second coming of Jesus; you’re not going to need your freezer when he returns.

The challenge for eternal preparedness is that it’s not a matter of buying More Stuff.  It’s about readying your heart and your soul, and quite frankly, that’s harder work, because God’s holy standard is perfection, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t measure up to that standard.

However, there is good news:  the bulk of that harder work has been done for you by Jesus.  The Bible tells us that “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).  When Jesus died on the cross, he became our sin.  He was perfect, and he bore the weight of our sin – even yours and mine – so that we could be brought back into a right relationship with God.

And the benefit of this comes to us simply by faith.  When we can truly say in our hearts that Jesus is Lord – that he is Master of our lives – the benefits of Jesus’ work on the cross become ours, and our hearts and souls are made ready, fully prepared for eternity.

So, whatever befalls you, ensure your emergency preparedness kit includes faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  Then, and only then, will you really be ready.

Encouragement From The Word

You Want A King

Many around the world are mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II.  It is an emotionally difficult time, particularly for residents of the UK, because at the same time they are mourning the death of one monarch, they are rejoicing at the accession of another.  Imagine the strain on the emotions of King Charles III right now!

A television interview I watched yesterday highlighted the role that Camilla will play as Queen Consort; her biographer noted that many Britons are dropping the “Consort” part and simply calling her Queen Camilla.

Whether or not you are a monarchist, whether or not you live in a Commonwealth nation, we all face the same reality, a reality that is as old as time itself:  we want a ruler, a leader we can look up to.

For some, it is a monarch; for others, it is a president or a prime minister; for still others, it might be a leader of a different sort.  And in one sense this is as good thing:  good leaders help to provide structure and order to society.

At the same time, though, we are quick to put a leader in a place that belongs to God alone.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites bellyached until the Lord gave them a king.  They wanted to be like the other nations; they had forgotten that their place as a chosen people meant they had the Lord as their king!  But they wanted an earthly king, so they could fit in with all the cool countries.

God granted their request, and for the most part, things went downhill from there.

Looking up to someone in leadership is well and good, but make sure that the One to whom you most look up is the Lord himself, our one true King.

Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance.“Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods’ (1 Samuel 8.5b-8a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Grunt Work

Our nation is in mourning after a number of people on the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan were stabbed to death this past weekend.  The whole matter came to a tragic end with the arrest, and subsequent death, of the alleged perpetrator, Myles Sanderson.

It’s a heartbreaking story with many, many facets.  Mr. Sanderson was a young man in his 30s with a long rap sheet.  What could have made him a career criminal?  Again, there are many facets even to this aspect of the story, and I want us to consider just one of them.

I know nothing of his childhood and nothing of his family, so I won’t speculate.  But something we can learn from this tragedy is the value of raising children with intentionality and care.

Parenting is hard; it’s the hardest job known to the human race.  It has not been my privilege to parent.  I have served parents, though, throughout my many years of ministry, and those who have done well have parented intentionally and carefully.

It’s one of those tasks that never seems to end, at least when one is in the thick of it.  It’s especially challenging for Christian parents, because they are constantly fighting against a world (with much media in its arsenal) that seeks to suck children into its vortex.  Christian parents are always having to hold their kids by the ankles to keep them from being taken in by the world and its ways.

Some might say the answer is to shelter them completely, but I suspect that does them few favours as they grow up and see what’s going on around them.

Parents must talk to their kids, and equip them for the world they will face.  They need to help their kids develop profound discernment skills so they can make decisions well – not just how to cook and clean and buy a car, but how to have a strong sexual ethic, a deep value for life, a profound respect for all people – and countless other skills.  

And it’s the church’s job to help parents with this.

Traditional models for Christian education largely assumed that parents had all the tools they needed to raise their kids not only to be good citizens, but to know and follow Jesus.  Those traditional models – still employed in some churches today – worked in the Christendom age, when most western nations were still considered Christian countries, but they don’t work today.

That’s why it’s important for churches to stand by parents, and to equip them, so that children are ready to face the world.  Most of the work parents need to do cannot be farmed out to others, the way we employ someone to teach our kids how to play the piano.  Parents must do this work themselves.  And some feel ill-equipped to do it.

The church exists to make disciples of Jesus; that’s our mission.  And it’s not just about getting more professions of faith, as important as that is; it’s also about equipping God’s people for life’s most basic and most profound tasks.

Perhaps your church, like ours, invests in family ministry for that purpose.  If it doesn’t, why doesn’t it?  It’s an investment that pays off not only in the Kingdom of God as we envision it in the future; it’s an investment that affects the world we live in for today and tomorrow.

It’s grunt work.  It can be painful.  It can be heart-wrenching.  But when it is done well, I also understand it is very satisfying, not only for parents, but for everybody else.

Direct your children onto the right path,
    and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22.6, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

He will carry you through

This weekend marks the unofficial end of summer; though the meteorologists tend to think of it this way, astronomical summer doesn’t end, of course, until much later this month!  There are traditional celebrations of labour, but mostly, it’s either a scramble to get ready for back-to-school, or it’s that one final excuse to take it easy before the fall season ramps up.

Back-to-school has a lot more gravitas to it this year, doesn’t it?  There’s controversy over potential job action, over vaccinations, over masking policies, over safety…it’s a lot to take in, and a lot to manage for those who are most affected.

In the midst of the craziness, the weight, even the fear, let me encourage you to renew your trust in the Lord.  Just as yesterday was no surprise to him, neither is today, or tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day.  We serve the Lord of all time and space.  He wants to guide you through whatever this next week (or weeks) will bring.

Let me offer you a guided prayer; you can use this as a jump-start to your own prayer for the day, the weekend, and the weeks to come:

Lord, you know my situation (you can describe it to God here).  Thank you for having been with me through all I’ve dealt with, good or bad, in the past.  You have been trustworthy; help me to renew my trust in you today, knowing with confidence that whatever I face, you will be with me.  Pour out your Holy Spirit upon me, that I will be able to discern well what is your will for my life.  Help me to accept Jesus’ invitation, to come to him with my weariness and my burdens, so that he can give me rest.  Enable me to unload my own burden and to take his yoke upon me, which is easy…or, at least, easier, because of your grace at work in my life.  I ask this in Jesus’ name…

Consider the chorus of an old hymn by Horatio Palmer.  It calls God’s people to avoid temptation, but I think the words of the chorus apply even to those who are dealing with craziness, weight, and fear of what the new season will bring:

Ask the Saviour to help you,

Comfort, strengthen, and keep you;

He is willing to aid you,

He will carry you through.

Then Jesus said, ‘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).

Encouragement From The Word

Worth the effort

This week, our congregation has hosted Bible Fun Camp, our annual outreach to community children.  It’s been great to be back after a pandemic hiatus.

The amount of work involved, and the number of volunteers needed, to pull off a vacation Bible school is massive.  Even with a solid and user-friendly curriculum, the effort required is still significant.

But when it’s all said and done, we may be weary, but we will always say it was worth the work.  Why?  Because we have had the privilege of influencing children’s lives for Jesus.

I put an ad on Facebook for Bible Fun Camp about a month ago.  The first comment to come on our ad – which circulated to users in a radius of only about 20 kilometres around Nobleton – was from someone who was accusing us of brainwashing children.

While it saddened me to read, I replied to the comment, leaving both the comment and the reply visible for a short time before deleting both.  In my reply, I simply said that yes, we would be ‘brainwashing’ children, in one sense.  Parents, in leaving their children with us for five mornings, were giving us permission to influence their kids for the gospel of Christ.  But in reality, parents have a choice:  they can brainwash their kids with Jesus and his love, or they can leave it to popular culture to influence them instead.

I often say to parents at a baptism that when they take vows to raise their children to follow Jesus, they are making the choice to brainwash their children, instead of letting Beyoncé do it.  (You can name your favourite popular culture figure instead; I wasn’t just picking on Beyoncé.)  It sounds a bit rough, maybe even offensive, but the fact is that parents have a responsibility to shape their children’s values.  If they fail to do so with intent, the world around them will pick up the slack, and the parents may not be happy with the result.

Churches are called to equip parents to ensure their children’s values are shaped according to the gospel.  And sometimes, it starts with a five-morning adventure for the kids in the summer.  That’s often how the relationships start.

It’s worth all the work!

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22.6, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The wildest thing in the world

Last week, my wife forwarded a tweet to me that really resonated.  It was written by a writer and speaker named Kaitlyn Schiess.  She wrote:

A few days ago someone who is not a Christian said to me,

“If Jesus Christ really was raised from the dead, that is the wildest thing in the world
and I don’t know how you’d ever be able to get over that.”

She’s right, and I cannot stop thinking about how clearly she saw it.

Do you ever wonder what your friends who do not follow Jesus think about the claims he made, or the claims we make on his behalf?  In many cases, we simply view them as facts we have held dear for a long time, but in our holding dear, do you suppose we sometimes take these claims for granted?

The resurrection of Jesus – if it is true, as we believe it to be – is the most amazing thing ever!  It’s more amazing than flying to the moon, more amazing than a seaside sunset, more amazing than tiger tail ice cream (okay, that last one is a personal bias).  It is the most remarkable phenomenon that has ever occurred.  Ever.

It’s so remarkable that it affected time itself:  the world measures time based on the person of Jesus.  (A.D., after all, stands for anno domini – the year of our Lord – and even though many people choose to use C.E. nowadays, standing for ‘common era’, it still hearkens back to the fact that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection affected how we tell time.)

We are invited to live as a people of the resurrection, this world-altering phenomenon that so many of us simply take for granted.  It really is, as the writer’s friend said, “the wildest thing in the world.”

Yet many followers of Jesus seem to live as if they have gotten over it.  That’s a mistake.

We should live as the beneficiaries of the resurrection:  we are invited, not only to look forward to the eternal life that it bought us, but to live out the life and joy it brings us today.

When your friends look at you, do they see the joy of the victory of resurrection life in you?

Let’s live out the truth of what Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11.25-26a, NLT). 

Encouragement From The Word

Choose growth!

I have known a number of people who used the early period of the pandemic to take up a new hobby.  My wife, for example, took up paper flower making, and what she has created is one of the best examples of art imitating life that I’ve ever seen!  (You can see for yourself if you like.)  

People made the best of a difficult situation by stretching themselves to try something new.  It’s a healthy part of human existence:  it’s growth.

Like plants – the real ones, not the ones my wife makes – we have two choices:  we can grow, or we can die.  There is no in-between.  True, our skeletons stop growing when we are young, but our skin never stops (if you’re not sure about that, consider how dusty your house gets!).  And our minds never stop growing either.

The same should be true of our faith-walk with God.  When we make a public profession of faith in Jesus, that is not the end of the journey; it’s just the beginning.

Challenge yourself to grow in Christ, while there’s still some time this summer!  Borrow a book from your church library.  Watch a video series on RightNowMedia (hit me up if you need an invitation).  Read your Bible daily.  Talk to God in prayer.  These are all ways you can grow your faith.

Doing this will increase your faith, increase your discernment skills, and strengthen your witness for the gospel.  It’s worth the investment.

So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us.  We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ” (Colossians 1.28, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Boundaries

I’ve been reading a book this week, while on retreat, about the importance of boundaries.  (The book, not surprisingly, is called Boundaries!  It’s a classic, written 30 years ago and updated more recently by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.)

All healthy people have boundaries in their lives, among them the ability to be able to say ‘no’ when needed.  There are some folks who can’t do that, even for the best of reasons.  Some people think that it would be unchristian of them to say ‘no’.  

But there are times when it is wholly appropriate.  I’ll let you read the book to learn more about that.

One key application, though, comes in this manner:  we do well to say ‘no’ to something good, in order that we may say ‘yes’ to something better.

For instance, it is wise to deprive ourselves of some purchase in order that we may save to make a better purchase.  That’s an unpopular approach these days, given the ease with which we may go into debt!  But it’s wise stewardship.

Or we may not get involved in a relationship with a potential spouse when we know it would be ‘settling’; better that we wait for a better match.

Even church leaders have to make these kinds of decisions, don’t they?  If a person or group in the congregation proposes to the leadership that they undertake a particular ministry, sometimes the leadership needs to say ‘no’, in order to allocate human and financial resources toward something that better fits the mission and vision of the church.

Boundaries matter.  Even Jesus had boundaries, whether it was in being in the temple, about his Father’s business, at age 12 (while his parents went looking for him), or walking away from a crowd demanding miracles so that he could spend alone time with the Father.

This isn’t a book review, but I commend the book to your interest.  You can find it here if you’d like to read it.  (For St. Paul’s readers, let me know if you’d like to be involved in a study of this book…there are some copies available.)

Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home.  After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray”  (Matthew 14.22b-23a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

What occupies your mind the most?

I once had a conversation through social media with an acquaintance (whom I have actually met in person) in which, at its pinnacle, she claimed not to be religious.  Based on what she posted online, though, I knew she was searching deep inside, but wasn’t prepared to admit that.  I had offered counsel prior to that time, and she knew the door was open for conversation.

It’s astounding that people claim not to be religious, but it happens all the time.  Many people today are what sociologists of religion call SBNR:  Spiritual But Not Religious.

And yet, they are religious…just not in the traditional way.

People who spend every weekend at the casino?  Religious.

People who keep a Buddha statue in their garden?  Religious.

People who subscribe to porn channels?  Religious.

You get the idea.

When we have any kind of ritual – even a subtle ritual – that surrounds an activity to which we ascribe worth, that makes us religious.  And that activity becomes a form of worship.

What do you worship?  To answer that question, ask yourself:  What occupies my mind the most?

Come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the LORD our maker, for he is our God” (Psalm 95.6-7a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Praying over your eggs

I was chatting with a friend yesterday who visited the southern United States while on a recent vacation.  One of the things on which she remarked was how she and her husband observed a young man purchasing a meal – a plate of eggs – and when he sat down with it, he bowed his head and prayed.

“That’s not something I see here,” she said, remarking about Canada, her homeland.  “I wish we saw more of that here.”

Pausing to ponder this idea, I suggested to her, “If you want to see more of that here, why not begin by praying over your own eggs?”

By that I wasn’t intimating that table graces might spark revival in our country.  But maybe it’s a place to start!

Michael Green was an Anglican pastor who had a great heart for evangelism.  He was known to say that too often, Christians are like people going through customs in the airport:  nothing to declare.

And yet we have much to declare, don’t we?

One of the challenges faced by followers of Jesus in our time is that our friends and neighbours look at us and see very little difference between us and them.  In one sense, that’s not bad – we don’t want to be seen as freaks, which would take away any opportunity for witness – but it’s also kind of sad, because followers of Jesus have something that our non-Christian friends and neighbours lack:  the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul, a onetime Jewish Pharisee whom Jesus supernaturally brought to himself, was commissioned to bring the good news of salvation to the non-Jewish population of the known world at the time.  One of his passions was to remind God’s people that they are ambassadors for Jesus wherever they go, 24/7.

And he likened the saving grace we have received in Christ to a precious treasure, contained in jars of clay, fragile vessels.  Sometimes, to reach that treasure, the fragile jars must be broken.

By that I mean that when we pray over our eggs, when we bear witness to God’s love in Jesus, we are taking a risk.  It’s said that one never speaks about religion or politics in polite conversation, and the big problem with this is that we have lost the ability to have polite conversations about matters of religion and politics, each of which is an important part of being a citizen of this world.  

One way our witness can be strengthened is through having such conversations, with grace and truth, possibly opening doors to encourage others to love and serve Jesus.

And maybe – just maybe – it will all start by praying over your eggs.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4.7, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Reading for Formation

This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I am beginning a series called, “How Do I…?” in which I will spend some time on practical tips for some of the basic disciplines of following Jesus that not everybody fully grasps.  This week, the discipline is prayer.’

One of the points I’ll make is that prayer is not only talking to God, but listening to God as well.  The primary way we hear from God is from his Word, the Bible.  We can read the Bible for information – to learn something – or for formation – to be shaped in the image of Jesus.  Each is valuable, and each has its place.  But too often, we focus on reading the Bible for information; rarely do we read the Bible to be formed.

An example of reading the Bible for formation comes in the ancient practice of holy reading, what the ancients called lectio divina.  It’s a practice whereby we read a short passage of Scripture four times, with each time having an emphasis:

Read:  what word or phrase stands out for you?

Reflect:  how does the passage impact you?

Respond:  talk to God about your reaction.

Rest:  embrace God’s thoughts for you as a result of your experience.

Let me suggest that you try that for a few moments, using the passage below.  Let the Lord speak; don’t worry about the meaning of any part of the passage in this exercise.  See if God has a word for you in this part of the Bible.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 5.14-16, NLT)

Read.  Reflect.  Respond.  Rest.

God is in charge.

Encouragement From The Word

We are the church, together!

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a treasured colleague.  Though he was a good age, it was still difficult for his family and his friends.  His daughter-in-law read a letter from friends who could not be present.  His son shared about him in a loving way, and another colleague, who took the service, spoke warmly as well.  But if that was all there had been, it would have felt like something was missing:  fellowship.

I was grateful that there was an opportunity for fellowship after the service was over.  Throughout most of the last two and a half years, the fellowship component to funerals has been missing because of concerns over the pandemic.

But I’m glad it was back for this gathering, because there were people who are dear to me with whom I wanted to be able to express personal condolences and have a conversation.  I know from experience that in many ways, as important as the service itself is, the opportunity to share grief in community makes a significant contribution to the healing process.  

Likewise, community is strengthened when there is an opportunity to share table fellowship.  Last Sunday, our congregation had its first pot luck lunch in almost 3 years, and it was wonderful.  Twice as many people stayed as had actually signed up to stay, which was great – there was plenty to eat – but it was a sign that people hunger for fellowship.

Since March 2020, when the world shut down, fellowship has been hard to come by.  For a while, of course, people stayed apart on the advice of officials who were still trying to figure out the unknown communicability of COVID-19.  But, thanks mostly to the media, that caution became an abject fear in some people that has continued to this day.

And, as a result, they are losing out on one of the most wonderful things about being human:  community.

This is especially true for followers of Jesus, because Christianity is definitely a team sport.  We can’t go it alone; we need each other.

So be cautious, yes, but don’t deprive yourself of the fellowship you need to keep your faith strong.  Christian, you are the church!  We are the church, together!

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10.25, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The value of retreat

This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I will be talking about the value of retreat as part of the message (something one might find surprising to pull from Revelation 12!).  I thought I’d take a minute to say a bit more about its importance.

Followers of Jesus, like everybody else in this world, are bombarded by noise.  Often, we think of ‘noise’ as an unpleasant sound, like fingernails on a chalkboard, or that sound that grabs our attention when an amber alert shows up on the television.  But in this case, I’m referring to ‘noise’ as any sound – even a pleasant sound – that keeps us from hearing from God.

We love the sound of our preferred music.  We love the sounds of the voices of people we love.  We might even love the sound of the hustle and bustle of the city.  And it all has its place – but it can all serve like earplugs, keeping us from hearing God’s voice.

That’s why retreat is such an important part of the Christian life.

Lots of churches go away on retreat, taking time away from the normal environment for fellowship and teaching.  But not very often do those times include silence and solitude.

Those retreats end up just changing up the noise.  Don’t get me wrong:  it’s probably good noise!  But I maintain that time apart, in quiet, is important for balancing our relationship with the Lord.

Many times, in the Bible, we see stories of people who set themselves apart from the crowd, and the noise, to be with the Lord:  think of Moses, Elijah, even Jesus (who was, after all, already God!).  Yet, in our high-demand, high-energy world, we don’t usually make time to be apart from the crowd.  And when we do, we usually fill that time alone with sound – even good sound, like edifying music or podcasts or TV shows.

Here’s a challenge for you:  block out some time in your schedule to go away somewhere, with no agenda but to be with God.  Turn off your phone, and be somewhere as quiet as you can find.  It needn’t be far from home; I recommend that it not be at home, simply because the environment is so familiar, and the temptation exists to do something.

If that sounds daunting, start with 5 minutes.  Go into your bedroom, perhaps read a verse from Scripture that you love, and just sit with the Lord.  Some will find this difficult.  Others will find it exhilarating.  But try it.  And when you have success with 5 minutes, start ramping it up, until you are ready to go away for a weekend or a week with a goal of simply being with the Lord.

I call it “strategic withdrawal”.  And you might be amazed at the difference it makes in your life.

Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19.11-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Duct cleaning prep

Maybe you know someone who pays an individual to do their house cleaning.  Almost everyone I know who has a house cleaner actually cleans house before the house cleaner arrives.  I suppose one must pick up certain bits of clutter, but otherwise, I’ve never quite understood why people clean house, and then pay people to clean house for them.

Yesterday, I had the ducts cleaned in our house.  (No, I didn’t succumb to one of those robocalls with someone from south Asia, representing heaven-knows-who.)  It was just time to get the job done.

But, like many people with their house cleaners, I found myself preparing for the visit by cleaning house.  We dusted and vacuumed in areas where we don’t always remember to dust and vacuum.

Why?


Because, I reasoned, if we’re going to have clean ducts, why would we want the cold air returns sucking in the dust and dirt and hair we had not cleaned off the floors?  It would negate the whole purpose of getting the ducts cleaned.

This got me thinking:  in some ways, coming to worship with God’s people is a bit like getting your spiritual ducts cleaned.  And there’s value in being prepared for it.

Do you prepare for worship?

I don’t just mean by getting to church five minutes early so you can catch your breath before the gathering begins.  

You can prepare for worship even the night before, by setting out your clothes (and maybe those for other members of the family, if they need help in that department), having Sunday’s dinner ready to go – things like that.

But you can also prepare your heart.

While time in silence and solitude, meditating on God’s Word, is a good practice for every day of the week, it might be especially helpful on Saturday evening as you prepare for worship with the church on Sunday.  It can quicken your heart to be ready for God to speak to you.  It can ready your soul to open up in praise of the Lord who made you, who redeemed you in Christ, and who sustains you every day by his grace in the Holy Spirit.

It is the dusting and cleaning you do before you get your spiritual ducts cleaned.  And it can make all the difference.  Give it a try tomorrow night before you go to bed!

Worship the Lord in all his holy splendour” (Psalm 96.9a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Choose life.

Earlier this week, we received the horrific news of a school shooting in Texas.  The school was for 7- to 10-year-olds.  Nineteen children and two adults were killed, and many others were wounded.  This was the 27th school shooting in the United States this year.

The shooter was just 18 years old.

He is also suspected of killing his grandmother before the rampage began.

To be sure, the young man must have been deeply, deeply troubled.

Many people think that guns are to blame for such events.  And while American culture is fond of its second amendment right to bear arms, rarely are these tragedies caused by law-abiding, legal firearms owners.

The problem is that our society has been taught not to value human life.

Of course, the deeper problem is that of innate human sinfulness, something that society at large, and sometimes even the church, fails to acknowledge and deal with.

But the lack of respect for human life is the main symptom of sinfulness that rears its ugly head in situations like this, and countless others – and they don’t all involve weapons.

Parents, school curricula, even churches fail to stand up for the innate value that each human being, from conception, has in the eyes of God – and should, therefore, have in our own eyes.

But between an emphasis on rights over responsibilities, and profits over people, western society continues to collapse before us.  (Honestly, the rest of the world is not much better off in that regard; the war in Ukraine is a good example.)

Please join me in praying for the grieving families of the deceased in the Texas shooting, and for parents, teachers, educational bureaucrats, and churches, that we will see how important it is choose life when there is so much violence going around.  Maybe if we can get people to think more properly about life, we can get people to act respectfully toward life.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life” (Deuteronomy 30.19-20a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

A special day looms…

One of the most often overlooked days in the entire Christian year is sneaking up on us.  It happens next Thursday.  But unless you live in a land that treats it as a public holiday – there are still a few that do – it might slip under your radar. Yet, without the event marked by this day, the church could not have come into being as it did.

I’m talking about Ascension Day.

It often sneaks under the radar of most followers of Jesus because it always falls on a Thursday.  Some churches celebrate it the Sunday before or the Sunday after, but Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday.  Why?  Because it happened 40 days after the resurrection of Jesus, and when you add 40 days to a Sunday in the spring, you’re always going to land on a Thursday.

But what was “it”?

It’s the day Jesus ascended into heaven.

Why does it matter?

Well, among many other things, had Jesus not ascended into heaven, the promised Holy Spirit would not have come.  And the church as we know it would not have been born.

Ascension Day is a good day to celebrate!  It’s the day when Jesus gave his Great Commission.  And as the disciples followed that Great Commission, ten days later, the Holy Spirit fell on the believers at Pentecost, and the church came into being, spreading across the world, over time, into the vessel of God that brings the gospel to the nations.

The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about what happened in those 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus.  But it surely involved much preparation for the disciples to be ready to venture forth on their own, with the promised Holy Spirit’s guidance, to build the Kingdom of God.

When the ascension happened, it inaugurated a new era – an era in which we still participate today.  

So next Thursday, give a wink and a nod – or more! – to the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, and give thanks for his providential care.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.  As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

                                                                              – Acts 1.6-11, NLT

Encouragement From The Word

Friday the 13th!!

Since it’s Friday the 13th, I thought I’d share a reprise of an Encouragement from a similar day several years ago.  In light of the culture of fear in which we live today, perhaps this is more timely than ever!  — JFL

 Well, we’ve arrived at our first Friday The Thirteenth of 2015. (Since this is not a leap year, you can expect another in March. We won’t see another until November.) Some in western culture do see it as an “unlucky” day (as if there really were such a thing as luck, but that’s a topic for another day!). The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. I don’t know if anyone seriously fears these days anymore; most of the time, what I see on social media just laughs them off.

But one thing is for certain:  human beings do have fears.  It’s part of who we are as those who live in the time after the fall of humanity.  And it’s amazing what we will do, sometimes, to compensate for our fears.

People who are afraid of heights, for example, will normally try to steer clear of places where they fear they may fall a great distance, such as roofs, balconies, or mountaintops.  People who are afraid of dogs will try to stay away from homes where dogs may be kept as pets, or from pounds, kennels or veterinary clinics.

Some fears, though, can’t be compensated for.  They must be faced.

One might be afraid of public speaking; I think I read that this is the commonest of all fears.  And while some people may be able to escape it their whole lives, others must speak publicly, whether for their employment or to voice a conviction or to laud someone at a retirement banquet or a funeral.  Sometimes, upon conquering the fear once, it is discovered that it can be conquered again.  Soon enough, the individual realizes that the fear wasn’t all that rational after all.

Followers of Jesus, like everyone else, experience fear.  But we have an additional source that can encourage us to face our fears.  King David, who had his share of enemies during his life, proclaimed, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27.1, NIV).  It would have been easy for David to run into the Judean hills and hide from his enemies, but he stood fast because the Lord was with him.

Whatever fears you may face, the Lord will be with you, too.  Why not make Friday the 13th an occasion to rejoice in the Lord, who has the power to take away our fears?

Encouragement From The Word

Routine maintenance

Twice a year, on my day off, I undertake a task I never look forward to, but I do it anyway.

I change the tires on my car and my wife’s car.

In November, I put on the winter tires, and in April (or, in this case, May 2), I take those off and put on the so-called “all season” tires.

You might be thinking, Jeff, if you don’t enjoy it, why don’t you just hire it out?

Well, I used to do that, back when I was only changing the tires on my wife’s car.  But my insurer now requires that I do so with my vehicle as well.  The hassle and cost of having this job done at a garage left me thinking, Why don’t I just do it myself?

My dad taught me the basics of tire changes when I was young, so I started doing it myself.  The first time, it took me most of a day.  Why?  Because I lacked adequate equipment for the task.

I’d use the scissor jack to lift each wheel, take the lug nuts off with a ratchet, change the tire, and put the lug nuts back on with the ratchet, lower the jack, and tighten them more fully.  I’d repeat this process seven more times (for two vehicles).

Needless to say, my out-of-shape body was feeling it by the time that task was done!

Each time I’d do it, however, the process got quicker; this past Monday, I accomplished the task in less than 2 hours.  Why?  Because I had better equipment and more experience.

This involved two investments:  an investment in tools, and an investment of time.

While I’ll never be able to accomplish the task as fast as a garage mechanic could, I now have a good rolling floor jack, an air compressor, an air tool for the lug nuts, and a modest torque wrench.  And each time I do the job, I find ways to be more efficient.

Growing as a disciple of Jesus is not much different, is it?

By investing in tools and time, our walk with God improves.  It’s not that we want to make it more efficient – our spiritual formation is a life-long process, after all – but as we become more spiritually mature, our life as disciples of Jesus does take on a different character.

Tools such as a good study Bible and some solid theological literature can go a long way toward impelling forward our faith journey.  And the investment of time, through worshipping in community, belonging to a small group, and engaging in personal devotion on our own will advance our maturity in Christ.

In other words, being a follower of Jesus is not just something that we do for an hour on Sunday.  It’s a 24-7-365 venture.  And the results are so worth it.

If you don’t have a good study Bible, a church family, or a small group to which to belong, let me know…I can make recommendations for you.  It’s an investment with eternal dividends.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4.11-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Ya gotta have faith!

One of the latest investment trends is the NFT, which stands for non-fungible token.  (If you’re like me, you want to know what “fungible” means, too:  it means “mutually interchangeable”.)  In other words, these items are not mutually interchangeable, but they can be owned.

The thing is, these items don’t actually exist.  They’re not actually things.

You can own them, you can buy them, you can sell them – but they are digital; they’re not real.  And NFTs can be anything from a piece of digital art to a picture of a non-existent cigar, and everything in between.  I don’t understand either the concept or the craze, but it’s a thing (about non-things) these days.

It seems to me that dabbling in NFTs (or cryptocurrency, for that matter, which is another booming trend) takes a lot of faith.

It takes faith in the person who creates (and sells) the NFT.  It takes faith on the part of the person who might then buy it from you.  You have to believe that this non-existent thing actually exists, by mutual understanding.

I suppose, in one sense, it’s a bit like trading stocks. As long as everybody’s on the same page about the value, and your ability to be able to convert that to hard currency, I can understand the allure.

But it still takes a lot of faith.

This is why I am puzzled when people are unwilling to place their faith in God.  For eons, the Hebrew people placed their faith in a God whom they could not (and would not) see.  When God became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, aspects of God became visible.  He taught as one with authority.  He performed mighty and inexplicable miracles.  Yet many people refused to believe.

Even with hard evidence in the person of Jesus, and in his mighty acts, people would not believe.

I think if I were into the NFT and cryptocurrency trend, I would want to be a person of faith in God.  After all, there’s a lot more hard evidence for the good news of his love for us in Jesus than for the value of a digital image!

We have consistent records of the value of faith in the Lord.  Trust in him today!

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11.6, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Action, in the afterglow of Easter

We have been through Holy Week, witnessing Jesus sharing the last supper with his disciples, humbly washing their feet, subtly being betrayed, helplessly hanging on the cross.  We have waited through those long hours in anticipation of finding the tomb empty.  And it was empty!  Jesus was raised from the dead!

In the afterglow of Easter, though, the party might be over, but the work is not done.

Churches that follow lectionaries for their preaching often spend time in the season of Easter – the Great Fifty Days between the resurrection and Pentecost – studying the book of Acts.  Theologian J.B. Phillips, when translating the New Testament for ease of reading in the 1960s, called it “The Young Church in Action”. 

It’s an accurate title for the book of Acts, because that was the early church’s response to the resurrection of Jesus:  action.

And it should be the response of the church of today, too.

If we remain content to give mere mental assent to the resurrection of Jesus, but then do nothing with it, our faith doesn’t mean much, does it?  Just ‘pie in the sky when you die’.

But Jesus’ victory over death calls us to action, and specifically to grow the church.

Granted, that’s a tough task these days, with secularization on the rise, and sundry scandals among church leaders dotting the news.  In the midst of all that, though, Jesus is alive, and he longs to build his church.

Despite society’s best efforts, the church of Jesus will never die.  If you read statistics, you might not believe that, but maybe you’ll believe Jesus when he said to his disciples that on the bedrock of their faith, “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16.18b, NLT).

The church is, literally, unstoppable.

If you’re in leadership, you’re probably tired right now.  (Join the club!)

If you’re not in leadership, pray for your leaders.  They’ve been praying for you!

Pray that all of us, together, will be the church in action, responding to the grace of God at work in the resurrection of Jesus in this season of such growth potential.

The risen Lord Jesus has not given up on the church, so why should we?

Two thousand years on, we are still called to be the young church in action.