Encouragement From The Word

Rest

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

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

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

That is why the Holy Spirit says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encouragement From The Word

Curiosity

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

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

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

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

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

Encouragement From The Word

Holy reading

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

Try it with this passage:

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

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

Encouragement From The Word

I went to jail this week!

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

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

I was in Facebook Jail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encouragement From The Word

Remember

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

It’s the word remember.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encouragement From The Word

Learning from the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

People were slowing down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encouragement From The Word

Medical Tests, Vaccines and Jesus

Today, we have a guest post from my wife, Diana, who had an experience last week worth sharing.

Desiring to follow the health directives of my doctor, I attended a medical lab for a couple of tests.  This was not prompted by any concern, but was part of my “tune up”, as my physician referred to his requisitions.

As a part of the pre-test screening, the technician asked me a number of questions, including when my first COVID-19 vaccine had been administered.  When I told her, we both commented on the shortened waiting period between shots, and what that would mean for travel plans.

As she continued the preparations for the imaging, I told her that we have talked about taking a road trip to Arizona when time allows, and the border is re-opened.  She wistfully told me that she longs to go to Sedona, wanting to experience the spiritual healing people report there.  I said that I didn’t know about those things, but that one of my favourite sights is the first glimpse of the mountains as one heads out of Calgary toward the Rockies along the Trans-Canada highway.

My explanation of what that view does for me is “a complete centering of my being.”  Her reply to this (remember, all of this is happening while I was in, well, not the most comfortable of positions) was that she feels exactly that way when she goes into a church.  She was quiet for a moment, and then said, “I was raised Hindu, but that is similar to how I feel when I am in a church.”  I said that when I am able to soak in such a glorious part of God’s creation, it is a reminder of just how great He is, but just how important I am to Him. 

And then, after another moment of quiet, she said, “I’m sorry, you are the only the second person I’ve ever told that to.  The other was my husband.”

That trusting statement, after such a brief encounter, was a sacred one for me.  I responded to her with a smile and said, “Thank you for sharing, but let me tell you that my husband is a pastor, and I am a long-time friend of Jesus.  I think what you experience is Him wanting to spend time with you.”  

She sighed and smiled, and said, “Imagine!”  It was at that point we were finished, and I headed to the next part of my time at the lab.  Telling Jeff, the sacredness of that moment fully hit me.  There I was, in a fairly vulnerable setting, apparently being safe enough for this lab technician to admit something that in some parts of the world would see her severely punished!  To top it off, God opened the door for me to sow the seed of Jesus wanting a personal relationship with her.  The conversation was as natural as one about the weather, but I think maybe, just maybe, God spoke to her – He certainly reminded me of his presence and desire to be in relationship with all of us.

Pray that God will position you for a conversation like that, and watch what happens!

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.  The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The Purpose of Pentecost

This weekend, the church celebrates Pentecost, the occasion recorded in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit fell upon the gathered followers of Jesus, made manifest in tongues of fire and languages heretofore unknown.

The Holy Spirit was given to equip disciples to minister in the power and authority of Jesus after he ascended into heaven.  Those first disciples had come to rely on Jesus during his ministry for the ability and the blessing to minister in his name.  When he ascended into heaven, he promised them the Holy Spirit, so that they would not be left alone.

To this day, all who follow Jesus are given the Holy Spirit to enable us to undertake God’s mission in the world.  And the first task of all disciples of Jesus is to make more disciples.  The Great Commission, given at a resurrection appearance before Jesus ascended, promised that in his authority, Jesus’ followers would be given power to make disciples of all nations.

Pentecost reminds us that this is our primary aim as the church: making disciples.

If we are pouring our primary efforts into other things, no matter how noble they be, those efforts are misdirected.

Yes, the Holy Spirit came and still comes and sometimes manifests himself in signs and wonders, as well as in less flashy ways.  But the principal purpose of the Holy Spirit’s coming is to empower for making disciples.

And that starts with us, with our own formation in Christ, our own spiritual maturity.

If you want to celebrate Pentecost well, spend personal time with the Lord, and tell a friend about what Jesus has done for you.  Be a disciple, and make a disciple.

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.18-20, NLT).

Encouragement From the Word returns on June 4.

Encouragement From The Word

Forty Days later…

Yesterday was an important day in the Christian calendar, but because it always falls on a Thursday, many believers in western society ignore it, and that’s unfortunate. 

It was Ascension Day.

It commemorates the ascension of Jesus, 40 days after he rose from the dead.  And 40 days after Easter Sunday always falls on a Thursday.  While we in North America don’t celebrate it widely (though many Anglicans, especially those whose parish churches are named “The Church of the Ascension”, will have special services for it), in much of western Europe, it’s still a public holiday.

Why does it matter?  Why should we mark the ascension of Jesus?

It fulfills the promise he made to the disciples, even before he went to the cross.  In John 14.28, Jesus told them, “I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am” (NLT).

Of course, the disciples didn’t understand this at the time, though everything became clear as time went on.

Jesus, in ascending to heaven, went to be with the Father, and began his promised role as our Intercessor.  From that day forward, Jesus’ primary responsibility as the Second Person of the Trinity would be to pray for us.

Isn’t that amazing?  Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father’s throne in heaven, interceding on our behalf.  And it all began on that first Ascension Day.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, he lays our case before the throne of grace.  Think of that every year, 40 days after Easter.  And think of it every day as you pray in the powerful name of Jesus.

Encouragement From The Word

Valuing life

When I’m scrolling through my social media feeds, it takes something significant for me to “stop the scroll”.  Reading a post a couple of weeks ago by an acquaintance, whom I met while on a mission trip to India several years ago, made me stop.

As you may know, India is having severe challenges with the virulent spread of the Coronavirus.  Thousands of people each day are dying.

He said that the problem wasn’t that India didn’t have the resources to stop the spread of COVID-19; the problem is that there is a lack of value for human life.

Now, that’s just one man’s opinion, but this is his nation and his culture he’s talking about.  He understands it far better than I ever could.  And this is a sad assessment indeed.

I fear it is not limited to India, nor to the issue of the pandemic.

It’s a deep pond we’d be wading into, filled with quicksand, were we to begin the journey; this is not the forum for such conversation.  But you know the issues as well as I do:  once-civilized societies are demonstrating a lack of value for human life, whether at its beginning, its end, or its middle.

How do we turn that around?

One simple step is for all of us – starting with followers of Jesus, but spreading to all of society – to treat every other person as Jesus would treat him or her.    This doesn’t mean agreeing on everything; it doesn’t mean approving of everything; what it does mean is that each person has value because each person is made in God’s image.

Not every cultural or religious tradition grasps this, but as Christians, we do.

Let’s set the example.

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Groaning

Where I live, Wednesday morning was dreary.  The sky was dark, indicative of the thunderstorm that was rolling through.  Even in front of a window, I needed artificial light for the Zoom call I had with my spiritual director.

As we talked about finding the fingerprints of God in my unique life situation these days, the word “weird” came up…a lot.  There is no doubt that for all of us, these “unprecedented times” are weird; in some weeks, there are varying kinds of ‘weird’ by the day!

My spiritual director asked me about my response to the weirdness in terms of prayer.  I said that, along with my usual Benedictine prayer offices, there are a lot of brief, incomplete sentences being offered to God in prayer these days.

She asked if these brief, incomplete sentences could be termed ‘groans’. 

I nodded in agreement.

We both welled up a little, but in a good way.

This was a realization for me that even these brief utterances of prayer which, on some days, are all we can muster with the Lord, are important parts of our relationship with God.

If you have days where your prayers seem like little more than groans, don’t despair.  God is listening.

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

Post-Script:  After I wrote this, I read this in N.T. Wright’s little book, God and the Pandemic (Zondervan Reflective, 2020, p. 42):  “…when the world is going through great convulsions, the followers of Jesus are called to be people of prayer at the place where the world is in pain.  Paul [the apostle, in reference to the latter part of Romans 8] puts it like this, in a three-stage movement:  first, the groaning of the world; second, the groaning of the Church; third, the groaning of the Spirit – within the Church within the world.”

Groan on, church.  Groan on.

Encouragement From The Word

Created to pray

Early in the pandemic, my friend, Adelle Lauchlan, shared with me some thoughts that she had shared with the congregation of which she is a part.  From time to time, with her permission, I have shared one with you, and this one in particular spoke to me today.  Enjoy! – Jeff+

I think a lot about prayer, maybe because I pray a lot. Praying is one of the perks and privileges of my work. 

But praying isn’t something I grew up doing. 

Although I grew up going to church, prayer wasn’t part of my response. Prayer was something someone else did for me, or more accurately, “over me”. I fell away from church for over a decade after high school, and when I found my way back to church, I asked my pastor for a book on how to pray. He handed me a book titled Teaching Conversational Prayer

I never read it. 

It sat beside my bed for months. But it was the most transformative book never to be read. The title taught me what I needed to grasp. Prayer is a conversation. Prayer is a response to God’s love. 

That book title was a revelation for me. Once I let faith rule in my heart, once I let Christ live in my heart, prayer became natural. Prayer didn’t need to be fancy, it didn’t need to be formatted, it just needed to be me talking to my God, my Creator, the One who loves me, the One who sent his only Son to save me; it just needed to be done. 

I didn’t need to know how to pray, I just needed to pray.

My prayers are a loving response to the One who loves us best, to the One who is love. He created us to pray. And when I forget this or my prayer life turns stale, I need only look to Scripture for encouragement, for a reminder of God’s love.

The Apostle Paul prayed a lot. I love his prayer for the Ephesians; here is just a small bit of it.  This is my prayer for you: “I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit – not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength – that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in” (Eph 3:16-17, The Message). 

Thanks, Adelle!

Encouragement From The Word

Getting naked

Earlier this week, a Canadian Member of Parliament “showed up” (if you’ll pardon the expression) in the virtual House of Commons – an online meeting of our nation’s legislators – without clothing.

He claims it was accidental, and I’m not going to judge that one way or the other.  You can read the news articles for yourself.

But it got me thinking about how God sees us.

We in western culture tend to like to dress to impress, and sometimes dress for the role we play, even if that means, in this age of online meetings, wearing something formal on top while wearing track pants (or less) on the bottom, which will not be seen (apparently, unless you’re that Member of Parliament!).

There was a time when church-goers would wear their “Sunday best”.  Whether that was because of societal pressure, common tradition, or because they believed that giving God their best in worship included their dress code, one cannot be certain.

Nowadays, the garb worn to church tends to be a combination of what’s comfortable and what’s acceptable.  If you’re limiting your worship attendance to online, you might be going to church in your pajamas, or in The Altogether!  And that’s okay.  Because while people may judge (though they shouldn’t), God does not – or so we surmise.

I think if there is one reason why we should not be too concerned with what people wear to worship (or wear, generally), it’s that God knows what we look like naked.  He sees all of us:  our beauty, our flaws, our inside and our outside.  And he is still head-over-heels in love with us.

When it comes to “dress to impress”, we don’t need to do that with our Creator.  He knows exactly what we look like without our suit from Rosen, our blouse from Laura, or our t-shirt from Walmart.  And he loves us.

So if you’re going to clothe yourself to impress God or anybody else, try this:  “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. 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 3.3-4, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Spiritual Heartburn

The traditional Gospel story for the Sunday after Easter is the walk to Emmaus, told in the middle verses of Luke 24.  In that story, a couple of people who had placed their hope in Jesus for the rescue of Jerusalem were walking home from that city, not having heard of the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus appears, walking beside them, though they don’t recognize him.  They’re talking about the events of the weekend, and Jesus acts as though he doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  But as time goes on, he explains how the Bible predicted that the Messiah would rise from the dead.

He makes like he’s going beyond Emmaus, but his fellow travellers, upon reaching home, invite him to stay.  He sits at table with them, and all at once, the guest becomes the Host, because he breaks the bread – and in that moment, they recognized Jesus!  And he disappeared from their sight.

With that, they abandoned their supper and high-tailed it back to Jerusalem to find out about the resurrection of Jesus.  And one remarked to the other:

… ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24.32, NLT).

Have you ever experienced that kind of heartburn?  Have you felt that passion for God and his Word as you read the Scriptures, or hear them explained?

The Lord invites that passion to erupt within you.  It’s part of how we become mature followers of Christ.

(By the way, I’m preaching a series right now called “Epidemic in the Church”, that deals with the characteristics of Jesus that we can emulate in order to become spiritually mature.  You’re welcome to join us live, in person or online, any Sunday morning at 10, or catch up on past messages via our YouTube channel.)

Here’s hoping you’ll get that heartburn that no antacid can quell!

Encouragement From The Word

April Showers: Thinking About Lament

“April showers bring May flowers.”  That’s not in the Bible, but it could be, except that it doesn’t apply to folks in the southern hemisphere.  (So if you’re reading this from the southern hemisphere, add six months and read it later!)

It’s an idiom that we northerners use to try to add a little hope to what can often be a dreary month.  We understand that we need the rain in order to bring about the verdancy that comes with late spring, just as we need the sunshine.  I suppose some might appreciate a compromise where it rained only at night (when it doesn’t much matter) and the sun shone through the day, but weather systems are not always that cooperative.

If we’re honest, though, we are a spoiled people:  we want what we want when we want it.  And when we don’t get what we want when we want it, we sometimes tend to think that life isn’t fair.

But I don’t remember reading anywhere that life is supposed to be fair.

This is underlined for us when we experience inconvenience, yes, but even more so when we experience tragedy.

Perhaps a loved one dies unexpectedly, or a pink slip arrives, or sickness befalls us.

Some – even some followers of Jesus – would say that we need to cheer up, and “just praise the Lord.”

While it’s good to praise the Lord, and to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5.18), we should not prevent ourselves from the practice of lament.

To lament means to feel sad, and sometimes, even mad.  And in the Bible, we see examples of both – and they are directed at God.

It’s common for Christians to think there’s something wrong with expressing anything but joy to the Lord, but Scripture demonstrates that it’s not wrong to lament before God, too.

There are some very raw laments; Psalm 137 comes to mind.  And there are others that simply express before God exactly what the writer (usually on behalf of God’s people) is feeling.  Psalm 130 is a gentle one.  Psalm 6 is more blatant.

Take some time to look up “Psalms of lament” and ponder what the Bible tells you in terms of the freedom you have to share your “rainy days” with the Lord.  Listen for how God responds as you offer these passages to him.  

And give thanks that God can handle anything you say.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind” (Psalm 38.9-10, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

No pockets

A friend of mine relayed a story recently about Ray Stedman, a well-known American pastor from the 20th century.  He had flown to a speaking engagement (remember the good old days, when people actually flew places?), and the airline lost his luggage (we don’t miss that part!).  In that culture, preachers didn’t get up to speak without wearing a suit – and he didn’t have one, thanks to the airline.

Stedman asked his host what could be done, and the host pastor said he would arrange to get Stedman a suit in which to preach the next morning, making note of his measurements.

When the suit was delivered to the hotel, Stedman dressed, and tried to put his wallet in a pocket.  Much to his amazement, he realized the suit had no pockets in the jacket or even in the pants!

He mentioned this to his host pastor, who quickly admitted that the suit had been acquired from a local funeral home!

This was a suitable reminder for Stedman, as for us, that ‘you can’t take it with you.’

I’m often amazed at the stories I hear – and sometimes witness – about people wanting to be buried with some sort of treasure that mattered to them, whether money or things.  But they will do us no good in the afterlife. The only thing we can bring with us when we die, that will do any good, is faith.

As we are reminded when we sing the old hymn by Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling!”

So rather than filling our proverbial barns and buying more when they are full, we can invest in opportunities that will enable more people to carry faith into the afterlife.  The dividends paid by that will last for eternity.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6.19-21, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Heavenly Minded

A friend of mine was living and studying in Toronto in 1992, when the Blue Jays won the World Series for the first time ever.  I remember speaking with my friend and mentioning this.  I got a quizzical look back.

My friend had no idea that Toronto’s franchise had won baseball’s biggest title.  I was gobsmacked!

Maybe you’ve heard the pejorative phrase, “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.”  Perhaps you can think of someone who fits that description pretty well.

And it’s true: it can be challenging to deal with people who have no significant awareness of their surroundings or their culture.

At the same time, though, there are many people who claim to be followers of Jesus who are so focused on this life that they have no grasp whatsoever on the future for which Jesus has ransomed them.

It’s possible to be so earthly minded as to be (dare we say it?) no heavenly good.

Granted, there’s a lot about heaven that we don’t know.  All we can know is revealed to us in the Bible, and a lot of what people actually believe about heaven bears no resemblance to anything Scripture tells us about it.  Even in the church, there’s a lot of “folk religion” that’s held tightly, at least when it comes to the afterlife.

The key, I suppose, is balance.  As God’s people, we want to be focused on what Jesus has promised for us.  And we want to live in the world in which God has placed us in the here-and-now.  We need to ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each believer, to help us bring about that balance, so that people will take us seriously when we do point them toward heaven.

I invite you to do that today:  ask the Holy Spirit to help you balance the delights of heaven with the needs of the world.  When he helps you achieve that balance, who knows how many people may look to you to have the same hope for the future that lives in you!

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3.1-3, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

You’re Gifted!

Picture this:  you have a friend whose birthday is coming up.  You decide on the perfect gift to give him or her.  You purchase it, wrap it up, and on your friend’s birthday, you hand it to him or her with a greeting and a smile.

Your friend thanks you for the gift, sets it down…and never opens it.

How would you feel?

Did you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus, God has given you at least one special gift by the Holy Spirit?  Yet, in reality, most of us never open them.

Knowing our spiritual gifts is vital to our proper functioning as part of the body of Christ, the church.  By knowing our gifts, we know how most effectively to serve the Lord in the edification of his church.

Lots of people burn out serving Jesus.  Sometimes – oftentimes, I think – it’s because we’re serving outside of our gifting.

When we know and use our spiritual gifts, we are able to function harmoniously in the perfect role God has planned for us in his church.

Do you wonder what your gifts are?

This Sunday, I’ll be talking about the importance of service in the church as an expression of our faith in the Lord, and I’ll be inviting participants to join me in a seminar on Zoom for unwrapping our spiritual gifts.

The seminar will be held on Thursday, March 18 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.  If you’d like to join me in that seminar, I invite you to comment, with your email address.  I’ll send you the Zoom link, and also a link to an inventory of your spiritual gifts that you will fill out before the seminar.  It would be good to see your face – unmasked, even!

If you do know your gifts, use them to the glory of God, and the edification of his church.  But if you don’t know your gifts, please feel free to join me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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. Then we will no longer be immature like children” (Ephesians 4.11-14, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

No Offence…

The recent news items centring around people’s offence over children’s toys and books have been poignant reminders of how easily society today is offended – often over little things.  It’s not surprising that secular society should be like this.  Without significant and historically-rooted moral footing, it becomes easy to get annoyed about anything.  But God’s people can and must be different.

And yet, in the church, where we have a biblical moral compass, we often see people taking offence, don’t we?

Some years ago, I remember hearing a sermon by Craig Groeschel of Life.Church, the theme of which I adapted for use myself.  Groeschel said that we need to lay down on the altar of God’s grace our right to be offended.  

The antidote to offence is forgiveness.  How do we do it?

First, give the other the benefit of the doubt.  Assume the best was meant.

Second, don’t label people.  Putting people in a box is unfair and usually inaccurate.

Third, remember that we’re called to forgive as we have been forgiven.  In Jesus’ model prayer, he calls his followers to pray that God will forgive us as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.

And, as Groeschel said, the closer we get in relationship with God, the less forgiveness is a process; it becomes more reflexive.

How are you doing with laying down your right to be offended, both within the church and among your neighbours?

Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs” (Proverbs 19.11, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Visio Divina

If your experience is anything like mine, you might have found that even the pandemic and its restrictions have not slowed you down all that much.

Sometimes, we find that if we stop doing something, we get restless, thinking that the time could be used more productively.  (For some, playing a video game or watching television might feel like productivity!)

But if just sitting in silence, alone with your thoughts, seems daunting, try this:  sit with an image.

You might have heard of the ancient practice of lectio divina, or holy reading, where we take a short passage of Scripture and read it over a few times, meditating as we go to grasp what God may be saying to us through it.  But have you heard of visio divina?  That’s a practice where we take an image and look at it intently for a period of time, to discern whether the Lord may have a word for us through that.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a sacred image; it could be any piece of art.  For instance, consider this image.  Take a few minutes just to look at it, with no other distractions.  Does God have a word for you in that image?

MP 113, Laggan Subdivision, CPR, near Lake Louise, Alta.; © 2015 Jeff Loach.

If anything came to you, write it down on a piece of paper, or in your journal, and talk to the Lord about it.  Maybe this could be a new way of engaging with him.