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.

Encouragement From The Word

God Most High

Today, we have a guest post from my friend, Adelle Lauchlan, who is on staff at Uxbridge Baptist Church.  She is well known to many people of St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, as a regular guest preacher when I’m not around.  Amid all that’s still going on, receive some comfort!   – Jeff+

Before I became a Christian, I lived, for a short time, in Banff, Alberta, a small town surrounded by six mountains. While this town was never quiet (although it might be now), I always found it very peaceful. There was something about living in the shadow of a mountain that I found comforting. 

As an image, think about it as living inside a hug from the earth; or, as living under the watchful and protective care of the earth. And, as protected and cared for as people are by those mountains in all their glory and splendor, all that pales in comparison to the care and protection that we have when we rest in the shadow of God Almighty, God Most High. 

As God Most High, our God is Sovereign. He reigns supreme. He will never crumble into the sea. He will never lose His power and might. He has conquered death and sin. As God Almighty, He is all-powerful, and He protects and cares for us. He offers us shelter and rest. The assurance of His love and His might is greater than anything the world can offer. 

Psalm 91 begins with these two names of God as a reminder of His might and His protection; a reminder that when we are faced with the unknown, faced with struggles, when we feel unsafe or uncertain, God forever remains in control. With God as our dwelling place, we can have confidence and comfort. He is our shelter and our rest. 

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:1-2, NIV).

Encouragement From The Word

The gift of time

February 5 has always been a special day for me.  It’s the birthday of the woman who gave birth to me!  I wish I could be with her to celebrate the completion of her 82nd trip around the sun, but the stay-at-home order we’re experiencing here in Ontario prevents that from happening.  So if you know my mom, feel free to phone her or inbox her with your own greeting!

I’m finding as I age that birthdays seem to get closer and closer together:  time passes quickly.  That may or may not be everyone’s experience, but that reality, for me, is a reminder of the precious nature of time.

God understands this; he is, after all, the Author of time.

There is much in the Bible that speaks to how we best may steward the time allotted to us in this world, even as we prepare for the world to come.  Consider these:

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3.11, NLT).

Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring” (Proverbs 27.1, NLT).

And this one – this one really stands out:

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalm 90.12, NLT).

There are hundreds of others, but these give you the idea.  

How are you being a steward of the time God has given you?  With every breath, we acknowledge our Creator, whether we realize it or not.  Let’s choose to realize that, giving God praise with every breath we take.  Let’s choose to see time as a precious gift, enjoying the moments we have with those we love, and living in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection are what gain us eternity.

Encouragement From The Word

Influencing

This week, we heard news about a group of individual investors, brought together through Reddit, a social news website with all manner of topics and subtopics available for mutual discussion.  They undertook a risky and interesting social-financial experiment:  they bought up a bunch of shares in low-stock-value companies, raising their value.

The hope, initially, was to cash in and make a quick buck.

But what has happened as a result of this is that the Wall Street and Bay Street establishments have been put on notice:  social media can have a powerful influence on the way things have always been done.

This isn’t really new at all, of course; it’s just new in its application.

Social media have been influencing societal trends for years, and the huge organizations that largely own social media – Facebook (which owns Instagram), Google (which owns YouTube), Twitter, and even upstarts like TikTok – know this all too well, and they use their power over these platforms to influence people toward the views that their owners hold.

Analogously, they have replaced the church in western society in terms of their influential role.

It used to be that if people wanted to know what to believe about any number of issues, they turned to their local church pastor, their parish priest, or their denominational policies.  

But even within the church, that doesn’t much happen anymore.

People are most influenced by that with which they spend the most time.  And for most people, that’s social media.

A couple of thoughts come to mind as I ponder this heavy, stinging reality.

First, we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the world around us, so we don’t want to tell people to avoid social media.  (In reality, it’s pretty hard for most of us to avoid anyway.)  We’re not seeking to create monastic communities of our churches.

But what if we sought to be influencers ourselves, as followers of Jesus, by sharing biblical perspectives on social media?

I have to admit that I find this hard to do, because the feedback that comes is often pretty harsh, and I just don’t want to deal with the drama.  But at the same time, if we have a wide circle of social media connections, we can speak into the lives of others and be influencers in our own right when we stand up for what the Scripture says is true.  Even if other people choose not to believe it with us, at least we have given them another perspective to think about.

The other thought that comes to mind is that if we are going to share what our faith says about various issues, we do well to study what the Bible says about it.  And that means digging deeper in the Word to understand how Scripture applies to these life situations – beyond what the preacher says during worship.

The result is that you end up spending more time reading the Bible than you do reading your Instagram feed.  And I accept this as a word from the Lord to me, since if I’m honest I probably spend a lot of time on social that I could be spending in the study of God’s Word.

If that reversal happens, I’m pretty confident that my posts will be of greater depth and higher quality than they are now, and that my witness for the faith will be clearer.  Maybe the same will be true for you.

So equip yourself:  make sure you own a Bible that’s in a translation you find simple enough to read, and in a print size that makes it easy to read (don’t discount that last part!).  Perhaps acquire a study Bible that has notes in it, prepared with scholarship that seeks to help you apply the Word in helpful, contemporary ways.

But don’t leave it on the coffee table; pick it up and read it every day.  Or use an app on your phone, if that works better for you.  

Don’t bemoan the waning influence of the Christian faith in society; be that influence.

[I]f someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3.15b-16a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Remembering to lament

Perhaps, like me, you are finding the restrictions of the pandemic, at least here in Ontario, wearying.  Even with the promise that vaccines are rolling out, we get the sense that the process is slow.  Even with the entertainment we have received over the past days, weeks and months from our neighbours south of the border, there is a feeling that so much of life has become elegiac – lamentable, in a sense.

And we have a problem:  our culture has largely lost the ability to lament.

Most of the music we hear nowadays, at least popularly, is meant to be positive, even to hype us up.  But there are occasions when we need artistic expression of other emotions to help us induce the feelings that need to be manifested.

As I write this, I am listening to a piece of music that, for me, evokes lament – the Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, arranged for organ.  Not exactly a top 40 hit. 

But I find listening to certain pieces of music will conjure the emotion that is pent up inside.

So do the Scriptures.

Not all Bible passages, in or out of context, are meant to be “keep your chin up” texts; in both the stories and the songs of the Bible, there are laments.  We find few, if any, of them paraphrased in the CCLI Top 150.

Of course, there is a whole book seemingly devoted to lament; we call it “Lamentations.”  But there are many other examples in Scripture.  Several of them are in the Psalms – and there are even different types of laments found there.

When we think of the Psalms, our minds likely move toward “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23) or “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121), since these are words of comfort.  Yet the beloved Psalter contains numerous laments; feel free to look them up after you’re done reading this.

But for now, consider Psalm 38.  Read it over a few times, slowly, paying attention to your breathing as you do.  Perhaps the Lord will highlight a particular word or phrase, as he did for me.  Yours may be different from mine, as mine is different from another’s; God uses his Word to speak to our hearts and minister to us where we have need.

O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.

13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
    or rejoice at my downfall.”

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
    facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
    I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
    they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
    and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
    Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
    O Lord my savior.  (NLT)

When David first wrote, or sang, this, he was acknowledging the pain in his heart.  You can do the same as you read it.  And as you acknowledge your pain, remember that the Lord is your Saviour; he will come to help you.  He came to help David, and he has come to help me.

Encouragement From The Word

Hold on to the One who holds the future

I’m torn about how best to write to you today.  As we enter a second state of emergency in the province of Ontario, which affects many of our readers, I want to tell you to keep your chin up and your face smiling, that better days are ahead.  Or, as the Premier of Ontario said when he announced the new stay-at-home order, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”  (Whether he knew it or not, he borrowed that from the late televangelist Robert Schuller!)

However…even though I call this Encouragement From The Word, I’m not here to be a cheerleader.  It’s Encouragement From The Word.

So I’m not going to tell you to keep smiling or keep your chin up; I’m not going to tell you to be tough, even though these are not bad pieces of advice.

I’m going to tell you to hold on to the One who holds the future.

I know many people who are acquainted with hardship in these days – and I don’t mean the “hardship” of wearing a mask.  I’m talking about sickness – severe sickness – that has left the ill and their family members desperate.

I’ve heard of the heartbreak of people having to drop sick loved ones off at the hospital door, because they are not allowed to accompany them.

I’ve heard of people so focused on the mere act of breathing that nothing else matters.  (Remember the old motto of the Lung Association?)

And I wonder:  without faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the future, who knows tomorrow, how does anyone cope?

We don’t know when things will be better.  But they will be better.  Trusting Jesus right now makes life better, both for today and for eternity.

In him you will find your strength.

[T]hose who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40.31, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Submit?

Happy new year!

A week in, and we’re already on pins and needles, eh?

I have to admit, I was going to write about the sad lunacy of the whole “Amen and A-woman” debacle in the US House of Representatives, but then this past Wednesday happened.  I’ll save the other one for another time.

It might be the first time the White House was stormed since, well, the Canadians burned it during the War of 1812!

I’ve never believed in coincidences, not even homiletical coincidences.

When 9/11 took place, I was preaching through the book of Jonah.

This Sunday, returning to a series I broke from for Advent and Christmas, I will be preaching on Romans 13.1-7.

I’ve been looking forward to this passage for quite a while, but I wasn’t expecting such a current illustration as we got on Wednesday!

Everyone must submit to governing authorities.  For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13.1, NLT).

Amid the rioters on Capitol Hill, amid the pandemic and the lockdown, where lies the boundary for submitting to governing authorities?

The key comes in understanding the verb, “submit”.  Rather than meaning “blindly obey”, its definition has more to do with appreciating the hierarchy that exists within the rule of law.  

God is at the top of the chain, but he places governments – through various means – in place over us, and we are called to respect them.

For some, though, the question becomes, “To what extent do I submit?”

If the government forces you to do something that is patently and obviously contrary to God’s will in Scripture, that may be the point where civil disobedience kicks in.

If you want to know how that relates to the widespread lockdown we find ourselves in currently, tune in live on Sunday at 10:00 a.m., or on demand any time after 4:00 p.m.

Encouragement From The Word

The Glue and the Head

This Advent, we’ve been looking at Jesus through the eyes of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians.  In Colossians 1.17-18, he writes, “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.  Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.  He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead.  So he is first in everything” (NLT).

Imagine that:  were it not for Jesus – who, we learned, was present in creation – the world would quite literally fall apart!  He is the Glue that holds creation together.

And this Amazing Baby we celebrate in these days is also the Head of the church.  No matter what your tradition or polity, the very top of the chain of command is reserved for Jesus.  Why?  Because he was born for it, gave his life for it, and rose from the dead for it.

So, this Christmas, let me encourage you to make him, in Paul’s words, “first in everything”.

You won’t be disappointed.

Since the next two Fridays happen to land on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas, and happy new year.  Thanks for reading Encouragement From The Word.  It’ll return in January.

Make Jesus first!

Encouragement From The Word

This Amazing Baby

This Amazing Baby whose birth we anticipate is, as I’ve been pointing out in this Advent season, no ordinary Baby.  Not only was he present at creation, but he was active in creation.

How can a baby do that? you might rightly ask.  

Well, Jesus was not always a baby.

Of course, we know that he grew and became a man and ministered until he was crucified.  He rose from the dead and ministered again until he was taken up to heaven, from whence he came.

See, Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate version of the second Person of the Trinity.  The Trinity is a difficult doctrine, one that is inferred by Scripture and that has been a hallmark of apostolic Christianity for almost 1700 years (so it’s proven the test of time).  As the second Person of the Trinity, our Saviour was active in creating the world, so it’s no wonder that he was willing to give his earthly life for it.

Yet Jesus did not only create the mountains and valleys, the lakes and trees and rocks; he also set forth less immediately tangible realities.

This Amazing Baby in the manger is the Creator of heaven and earth.  Imagine that! 

He’s worth anticipating, worth worshipping, worth being ready for when he comes again.

[F]or through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.  He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.  Everything was created through him and for him.  He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together” (Colossians 1.16-17, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The Birth of the Firstborn

In Advent, we anticipate the birth of Jesus – something that happened more than 2,000 years ago.  Yet it has been commemorated annually by his followers for centuries.  What makes it a birthday worth getting ready for?

Jesus was no ordinary baby.  I’m pretty sure, though, contrary to the carols that proclaim “Silent night,” and “no crying he makes”, that his birth was a fairly normal human birth, with all the liquid and drama and emotion that go with it.

Mary, his mother, knew he would be different.  An angel of the Lord had told her as much.  But we can’t be certain when that different-ness became obvious to either Jesus or his mother.

Still, the birth was special, because Jesus was no ordinary baby.  The Apostle Paul would write later that “He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation” (Colossians 1.15b, NLT).  Other translations render that as Jesus having been the firstborn of all creation.

No wonder he would later say to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was even born, I AM!” (John 8.58, NLT).

There’s definitely something special about celebrating the birth of One who has existed since time began, One who was present at the very creation of the world.

Whatever your seasonal celebrations look like this year – and I’m sure they will be different than in years past, at some level – there is definitely a reason to keep them special, since we’re celebrating the birth of no ordinary baby.

What will you do to make it special this year?

Encouragement From The Word

All about family?

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day in the US.  Today is Black Friday.  This Sunday begins the season of Advent, as we count down the days to Christmas.

And we’re still in COVID.

Many people say – reinforced by countless television commercials aimed at selling you something neither you nor your loved ones need – that “The Holidays are about family.”

I’ve been saying for years that this statement misses the mark significantly.  And this is the year to find out if that’s true.

I’m astounded – nay, gobsmacked! – at the attitudes I see on social media with respect to the pandemic and family gatherings.  These days, I see photos of some of my American friends, gathered in large crowds for Thanksgiving, as if they are unaware of the risk that if even just one person in a gathering is carrying Coronavirus, the whole group could be infected.  Why are they taking this risk?  Because “the Holidays are about family.”

In other words, maintaining a tradition is more important than preserving life.

We are entering what is usually the most socially-packed month on the calendar.  This year, that may need to be handled differently.

This may be the year that you prove that the Holidays are not really all about family.

It is possible to be thankful without having The Whole Gang present in the room.

Christmas parties can take place virtually, or in physically distanced settings.

We can still celebrate the birth of Jesus when it’s just our own household.

I don’t want to pretend I’m anybody’s Medical Officer of Health, and I’m certainly not trying to engender fear in anyone.  We serve a God who is bigger than any virus!  But as Advent begins, I think this is the year we can demonstrate, once and for all, that the Holidays are not all about family.

In this year of craziness, let’s focus on the One (in the) Stable:  let’s remember the Reason for the Season.

Whatever shape your Advent and Christmas celebrations take, be safe.  And let Jesus be the Centre of it all.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15a, NLT).