Encouragement From The Word

Irregardless…

In case you weren’t sure the world is a different place these days, I learned this week that Merriam-Webster, an American dictionary, is now including the word “irregardless” as a legitimate word.  Even as I type this, my word processor has underlined that term in red as an error.

As one friend pointed out, lexicographers simply accommodate terms in regular use; they don’t see themselves as “Grammar Nazis”.  That’s a pity, because the word simply makes no sense as it tends to be used.  People will say, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h irregardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”  But the “ir-“ and the “-less” actually cancel each other out!  So what they’re literally saying is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regarding the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h,” which makes no sense whatsoever.  What they mean is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”

This is just one sign of the generally accepted principle that there are no objective standards anymore.

Here’s another:  on a flight last year with WestJet, I was saddened to see that a curtain had been added to the aircraft, separating the “plus” seats from the ordinary seats.  One of the policies that attracted me to WestJet when it first started was that everybody flew in the same class.  That started to slip some years ago when the first few rows were given special menus and drink preferences – for a price.  Then, it slipped further when the middle seat in the first few rows became an armrest and drink holder for the occupants in the aisle and window seats.  Now, at least on some flights, it has slipped even further to the point that a curtain is drawn, and the front washroom is reserved for those in the first few rows, making it little different from its main competitor.

I lamented this fact to a flight attendant, whose reply was, “The company is simply doing what the customers want.”

With businesses, I get that “the customer is always right.”  Yet WestJet seems to have fallen from its guiding principles, set out at its founding as a company, that everyone should be treated the same way.

These seem like fairly harmless phenomena, for most of us.  A lot of people can overlook the use of the term “irregardless”, and the majority of people don’t fly enough to care whether they have to traipse all the way to the back of the aircraft to use the washroom.  But when applied universally, these things are symptomatic of a more troubling trend, and we see it happening in the church.

Let’s just give people what they want.

If people want to use “irregardless”, regardless of the fact that it is not a sensible word, let’s legitimate it by putting it in the dictionary.

If people want to separate extra service and private washrooms from the masses in steerage, let’s make it happen.

If people want to do something the Bible says is wrong, let’s overlook it.

Not such a big leap, is it?

While there are some advantages to our emergence from Christendom, one of the things society has lost is the value of objective truth, and now, in some cases, it’s even being lost in the church.

If you’re in church leadership, don’t ignore the objective truth of God’s Word.

If you’re not in church leadership, hold your leaders to account, and pray for them to uphold the objective truth of God’s Word.

To keep the world from chaos, we need objective truth.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4.12-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Everything we need

Today’s Encouragement is a guest post from my friend, Adelle Lauchlan, who serves on staff at Uxbridge Baptist Church.  Enjoy! – Jeff+

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3a, NLT).

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most people want to be useful, want to live a productive life, and that Christians want to live a life worthy of Christ’s call. So I find these words of Paul’s very reassuring.

But what are these things that we have been given that allow us to live a godly life?

Well, I think this is what they are:

  • We have the love of Christ, a love so great that he willingly died that we would be saved – it is a love that drew us to him, and it remains with us always.
  • We have the power of the Holy Spirit – we received it, as promised, when we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
  • We have the gifts of the Spirit – those attributes that we share with other believers and which mark us as Christians.
  • We have the Word of God – left to us so that we would know his will for us.
  • We have the model of Christ and how he lived so that we would know how to live out God’s will.
  • We have the company of each other to encourage us in our walk and to help us when we stray.

And we have all these things because God is glory and excellence, and in his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. We live under the new covenant, sealed on the cross. Grace, God’s love and forgiveness, freely given.

Truly, everything we need! A precious promise!

And what are we asked to do in return? Respond in faith. Respond with faith. Faith is the foundation of this great promise. It is everything we need!

Thanks, Adelle!

Encouragement From The Word

Purveyors of hope

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, even in the Old Testament, has always been big on hope.

A lot of people think that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is not the same God as the God portrayed in the New Testament, but even a cursory reading of the Bible suggests otherwise: the gracious, merciful God of the New Testament is also gracious and merciful in the Old Testament.  And he is the great purveyor of hope.

Consider the story of Abraham and Sarah.  When God promised that Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness, would become the father of many nations, it was hard to believe, but as far as he was concerned, a promise was a promise, and so he held out hope, because he believed in the God of hope.  And at age 90, Sarah became pregnant with her centenarian husband’s son – Isaac.

For what do you hope in these days?

A child, like Abraham and Sarah?

The healing of a loved one?

An end to the Coronavirus pandemic?

Put your hope in the God of miracles.  And remember, the church of Jesus is God’s instrument, today, in dispensing hope.

What are you doing to bring hope to the lives of others?

Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, ‘That’s how many descendants you will have!’  And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4.18-19, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Conquering Fear

Nelson Mandela once said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Well, I assume he said it, because, you know, I read it on the Internet.  If he didn’t say it, I’d be surprised, because it sounds like something he would have said.  (And don’t worry, I’m sure he meant it to apply to women, too.)

There is wisdom in those words.

Each of us has fear over something – maybe even every day.  But whatever the subject matter is, we all, from time to time, feel afraid.

To be sure, the current global pandemic has placed fear in a lot of people.  In some ways, I don’t blame them; the Coronavirus is an Unknown Entity in so many ways, and none of us – not even the experts – have been down this road before.  And as parts of the world and parts of our world begin to open, that may strike even more fear into some.

The good news for followers of Jesus is that conquering fear – that to which South Africa’s great freedom fighter commended us – is eminently doable, because we have the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.

In 1 John 4.16b-18, we read, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (NLT).

More often than not, I hear that read as the second-most-favourite Bible passage used at weddings.  But, like its first-place neighbour, 1 Corinthians 13, the context for the passage is not a wedding, even though each passage applies in that kind of setting.  Of course, its context also was not a global pandemic (unless you count sin as a global pandemic, and that’s certainly legit!).  But the principle fits.

Focus with me on one phrase:  “perfect love expels all fear.”  Perfect love is the love with which God loves us, the love that sent his only Son to the cross for us, the love that brought him back from the dead, the love that sent the Holy Spirit on his followers with tongues of fire.  That love, Christian friend, lives in you and me.  And that love expels all fear.

It’s easier to say than it is to live out, however.  Our minds easily get caught up in fear over any number of life situations.  But when we remind ourselves of God’s great love for us, and our desire to follow and serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit, he will cast out all fear.

Being rid of fear certainly shouldn’t rid us of caution.  Just because we’re called to live in love and not in fear doesn’t mean we should be stupid.  But it does mean we can rest in the confidence that God goes ahead of us in solving whatever dilemma causes us fear.

I have no idea if Mandela knew the Lord.  But the best way to conquer fear is to let him do it through the Holy Spirit.

Encouragement From The Word

Pay Attention

“Pay attention.”  We’re told that from the time our parents start talking to us.

We’re told it by teachers in school, by police officers who approach us at traffic stops, by spouses who think we’re not listening, by nurses who want us to take our pills.

Our whole lives, we hear, “Pay attention.”

Yet, so often in life, we fail to do so – especially around truly important matters that might not seem so at the time.

Yesterday, an elder in my congregation was travelling just outside town, when she saw an ambulance turn down a familiar sideroad.  And something told her she should follow it.

Now, this elder is not given to following ambulances; she’d have nothing to gain by doing so, and didn’t have medical training to be able to help.  But there was this nudge inside her, and she paid attention.

As it turns out, the ambulance was going to the home of a fellow congregant.

She followed the ambulance into the driveway, and got out to comfort the spouse of the person who was being treated.

To say the least, this would have been an awkward thing to have done had she not had a relationship with the people involved, and she had no idea where the ambulance was going when she started following it.  But there was this nudge…so she did, and was able to minister to the spouse.

The good news is that the individual was taken to hospital, was treated, released, and is recovering at home.

If you’ve ever had to call 911 for a member of your household and seen that person carted away in an ambulance, you know how helpless you feel.  This would only be compounded by being alone, waiting for information about your loved one.

So imagine how wonderful it must have been for the person comforted by the woman who followed the ambulance, because of this nudge to which she paid attention.

Most often, when we are driving somewhere, we have someplace to go, and usually on a schedule.  Even if we feel a nudge, we tend to ignore it because we have someplace to go and a timetable to follow.

What if we were to make room in our schedules – some margin, if you will – so that when we feel those nudges, we can pay attention to them and act?

It may not be something so dramatic as following an ambulance.  It could be something as simple as making a phone call, or writing a card, or saying the right words at the right time to a loved one.  The scenarios are endless, and the opportunities are endless, if we will only pay attention.

After all, that nudge could well be from the Holy Spirit.

Will you pay attention today?

My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands.  Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding” (Proverbs 2.1-2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Being Somebody

Regular readers of Encouragement From the Word know that I ordinarily end my thought with Scripture.  This week, though, I’m going to start there instead.  Read this through a couple of times, slowly.

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

“Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.  And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.  There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3.23-29, NLT).

The context around the letter to the Galatians is that doctrinal troubles had arisen in churches there, due to the influence of what were called “Judaizers” – followers of Jesus who believed that in order to become Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike had to follow Jewish rituals.  The apostle Paul wrote this letter to disabuse the churches of Galatia of the notion that they had to follow certain rituals in order to be welcomed into the family of faith in Jesus.

In our context, it has any number of applications that I won’t bother to list here.  But I will say this:  so often, we find ourselves wanting to be significant, wanting to be ‘somebody’, and we uplift ourselves at the expense of others.  We’ve seen examples of this at both opposite extremes in the news recently.

Ultimately, though, if you want to be somebody, live by faith in Jesus.

Now, read that passage one more time.

Encouragement From The Word

Listen to my cry

Read these verses over a few times.  What is the Lord saying to you through them?

O Lord, hear me as I pray;
    pay attention to my groaning.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
    for I pray to no one but you.
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
    Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5.1-3

God’s best for your weekend.

Encouragement From The Word

Leisure: not what you think!

One of the things the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us is that our society, indeed the whole world that is influenced in any way by western culture, has been too busy.  Chances are, I don’t need to tell you that: it is more than likely evidenced in your own life, as it is in mine.

I read an article yesterday that was sent to me by a friend who is a monk in Pennsylvania.  It is entitled “Leisure in the Life of the Christian”, and appeared in The Catechetical Review, Issue No. 6.2.  In that article, the author, Simone Rizkallah, a Roman Catholic lay worker, wrote about the meaning of leisure.  She quotes Josef Pieper’s book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, wherein he writes that leisure is a “mental and spiritual attitude, a condition of the soul, an inward calm, of silence, of not being ‘busy’ and letting things happen.”

Since we tend to define leisure as the things we do when we are not working, this might seem like an apt definition by our standards.  But, if you dig deeper, there is far more to it than that.  Rizkallah suggests, echoing Pieper, that leisure is not the ancillary activity we undertake when we’re not doing the ‘main thing’ of life – working – but is intended to be the centre of life.

Talk about countercultural!

That doesn’t mean that our work is unimportant; quite the opposite.  But our work does not, and should not, define us.  (By implication, therefore, our lack of work ought not to define us, either – a word of grace for those who are currently unemployed!)  But we have tended, in our culture, to see leisure as entirely secondary to our work.  Indeed, as followers of Jesus, our true work is actually the practice of prayer and faith.  As Rizkallah writes, “without the silence, space, and time for the cultivation of leisure, I cannot pray well.  I cannot wait well.  And then I may not be in a prime position to recognize ‘when and how’ [God] arrives.”

I’m a big fan of etymology, the study of word meanings.  I’ve been fascinated by it for a long time.  The article I read noted that sloth is actually quite contrary to leisure:  “Slothful people are idle, restless, agitated, and often workaholics.  They are spiritually lazy and easily bored.”

Yikes.  Not quite the same definition as we have given it over time, eh?

Again, echoing Pieper, Rizkallah notes that the word ‘leisure’ in its Greek and Latin roots actually translates – virtually transliterates – to the word ‘school’.  Now, I don’t know many students who think school is leisurely, at least by our culture’s definition of leisure, but it’s where the notion of the liberal arts came from:  “[e]ducation was for the sake of (human) freedom, perfection, and salvation; not for the sake of work.  It seems while the West has largely forgotten this connection, its enemies have not forgotten.  For example, the terrorist group of Nigeria, Boko Haram (which means “Western Education is forbidden”), is one such example.

One more etymological gem:  the root of the word ‘culture’ is ‘cult’, which refers to worship.  Cult doesn’t have the same meaning in North America, where we see it as a hardline religious or ideological group that expects abject obedience from its adherents.  (There is an exception:  French-speaking churches in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada will still refer to their worship gatherings as la culte.)

So if leisure is the basis of culture, then leisure is the basis of worship, at least in one sense.  But what do we worship?  Money?  That breeds materialism, which focuses on the economy rather than on human dignity.  Power?  That leads to a culture that political and even violent, says Rizkallah.  Honour?  We’ll be centred on vanity.  Pleasure?  We’re headed for hedonism.  But if our culture centres on the worship of God, that’s revolutionary.

I say all this to suggest that perhaps this season wherein we have far fewer options to entertain us might be an invitation from the Lord to reframe how we see our lives, and how we contribute to the culture around us.

Are you spending more time in worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, even though we can’t yet gather together to do so?  Are you spending more time in service to others in Jesus’ name, aiding the vulnerable and the needy?

Or are you hankering for things to get back to ‘normal’, so you can crowd out the opportunity to face these challenging questions with more busyness?

Spend some time pondering that today, while you still have the opportunity.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4.21-24, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Hope and service

One of the things that our world’s current situation has shown us is that the church can still be the church, even when we cannot gather.

Chances are, we don’t like it – I know I would rather worship God with the people I love each Lord’s Day – but that doesn’t mean we cease to be the church through this time.

As I’ve heard and often repeated over the last couple of months, we may not be able to be the church gathered right now, but we can be the church scattered.

Each of us, individually and as households, can praise God together each Sunday (with whatever online connections we have with our church families) and every day (through personal and family devotional times).  And we can act on what we read and hear from God’s Word in the various ways for which the Lord may open doors, whether that be helping the needy; continuing to work in an essential service; praying for the sick, the lonely and the unemployed; getting groceries and needful things for vulnerable people who should not be going out in public right now; or keeping an eye on our neighbours.

We can also share our hope in Jesus with anyone with whom we might have the opportunity to converse.

Our witness is made even more strong when we couple some act of service with sharing our hope.

What can you do in these days that will bear witness to our hope in Jesus?

[I]f someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3.15b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Longing and Praying

Around the world, governments are starting to loosen restrictions from the Coronavirus pandemic.  I find this encouraging, and I view it with guarded optimism.

“Guarded”, I say, because we need to be careful.  We’ve never been down this road before, so just because we may have more freedom, for example, to go to the hardware store, doesn’t mean that the virus is dead and gone and will never return.  We will still need to practise procedures that will keep everyone healthy.

Like me, you may be longing – deeply! – to return to holding public worship gatherings, where we can praise the Lord together, instead of uniting by faith, separately, in our homes, watching modified services broadcast over the Internet.  We don’t know when the green light will be given for that.  And we will need to be wise in our roll-out of new practices and procedures that will allow us to be together safely.

In the midst of all that, let me encourage you to pray for the leaders of your church.  At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, where I serve, our elders have begun thinking about what will be permitted once gatherings are allowed once again.  We don’t know how the government of Ontario will roll out permission together, so we will have to abide by those guidelines, but as a witness to the goodness of God, we will err on the side of caution, because doing so demonstrates our love, and God’s love, for the community.

Let me also encourage you to pray for the people of your community.  Pray that they will be released from fear, while not being released from caution.  Pray that they will be given wisdom to retain the important habits and practices they have learned through this time of restriction.  And pray that people will see that only the gracious hand of God has permitted us all to get through this, and that they will want to respond in worship and praise, gathering with the church in celebration of God’s grace.

Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Optimism, Hope, Opportunity

I’ve always thought of May as a month of optimism.  “April showers bring May flowers,” the saying goes, and though that’s not in the Bible, it’s a pretty accurate reflection of reality, at least in Canada.

I haven’t checked the meteorological statistics for April, but even if it wasn’t as rainy as some Aprils have been, it certainly carried a cloudy atmosphere, didn’t it?  None of us has marked down the days of April as we all did this year.  And we are all hopeful that as the rainfall of April brings May’s promised verdancy, so too will April’s air of gloom from the Coronavirus pandemic will bring some hope of emancipation in May.

We live in hope.  That’s good for followers of Jesus, because hope is our commodity.

Buds on the trees and bright yellow flowers on the forsythia bushes signify our hope that summer is coming.  Being meticulous about avoiding the spread of germs, and seeing “the curve” slowly flatten, signify our hope that freedom to congregate again is coming.

While I’ve always thought of May as a month of optimism, I’m not sure I’ve paid quite the same degree of attention to the signs of spring before; perhaps it indicates that I am more eagerly waiting in anticipation of what God may do with our world in the coming weeks.

Each spring brings change to the landscape.  This spring has brought change to the way we live our lives, whether we like it or not.  And with change comes opportunity.

We can choose to find good in this season of restraint that will benefit our lives when we approach the “new normal”, for there will be no going back to the “old normal”.  We can choose new, edifying habits; intentional rest; even loving people we might have taken for granted.

May is a month of optimism, hope, and opportunity – perhaps no more so than this year.  The choice is ours.

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.

Encouragement From The Word

Cauterized emotions

Perhaps, like me, you are finding that some people are equating physical distancing with emotional distancing.  And that’s a pity.

While it’s true that we need to keep our distance except among those with whom we live, that doesn’t mean we can’t exchange pleasantries with people we pass.

I live in a small community that has grown exponentially since we moved here almost 12 years ago.  I don’t mind growth; I think it can be good for a town to experience growth, and I certainly think it can be both a blessing and a challenge to the church when it does.  But since moving here, I have always spoken to, or at least smiled at, every person I’ve walked past on the sidewalk or on the streets where I walk.  I think it’s the neighbourly thing to do.

One of the things I’ve noticed in the past few weeks is that people are so concerned about Coronavirus that some are even avoiding eye contact, as if that somehow communicates the virus.

We can’t let the need for physical distancing cauterize our emotions.

Sure, we can’t hug people who don’t live under our roof right now, and as a hugger, that pains me.  But we can still be nice.

My wife was waiting, briefly, to go into a store earlier this week, and at the appropriate distance, she struck up a conversation with the attendant who was controlling the entrance.  This is an uncomfortable time for all of us, but why not remain human, and pleasant, in the process?

It may be a small and simple way you can communicate Jesus’ love in a season where there just might be more openness to it.

Praise the Lord, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love.  He has kept me safe when my city was under attack” (Psalm 31.21, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Brightness in dark days

Today’s Encouragement From the Word is a guest post from a long-time friend of mine, Dawn Champagne, with whom I went to high school.  Her poetry has shown up here before. The prayer in the image at the end is hers, too.  Thanks for the inspiration, Dawn!  – Jeff+

That second day between the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus must have been the darkest day ever experienced by the 11 remaining disciples. When Jesus had called each one of them to “follow Me,” they did so without hesitation. They readily left their careers, and eagerly listened to His teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven and how it was at hand.

How could they make sense of what they had just witnessed the day before as Jesus hung on that cross, and now dead in the tomb. While we know what occurred on the third day, they did not: all of their ambitions, hopes, and dreams were buried in that tomb as well.

The crisis was now over, and they were left alone. How could they make any sense of what happened, with no hope for the future that they had been taught about? 

When the third day dawned, their grief was changed from sorrow to rejoicing when they found the tomb empty. What a wonderful day of rejoicing that must have been as Jesus began to present Himself to them! A pondering inexpressible joy that cannot be put into words! 

We live in a world of what now seems to be in a season of dark days and turmoil with COVID-19 adding to the tears that flow from those who are suffering. Unlike what the disciples experienced on that second day, praise God, the Christian has been given the ultimate hope at the opposite end of the spectrum as we go through these difficult times. Jesus is alive! 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ whom having not seen you love” 1 Peter 1.3, 6, 8a (NKJV).

Below are words given to me as the Holy Spirit ministered to me in a time of need following a difficult season in the fall of 2016. Praying they will minister to you as well through these uncertain times, and May Jesus be the Brightest Ray on your darkest of days! 

Wishing you all a blessed Easter!

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Encouragement From The Word

Symbols of hope

Perhaps you’ve been walking in your neighbourhood more often lately.  I know I have.  And if so, you’ve probably seen various neighbours’ windows decorated with rainbows.

I went to the all-knowing Google the other day and typed in, “Why are people putting rainbows in their windows”, only to discover mid-search that I’m not the first person to ‘Google’ that question.

It turns out that this trend started in Italy, accompanied by the phrase, andra tutto benne – everything will be alright – when the Coronavirus problem got serious in that country.  And it spread across many countries in the western world, including here in Canada.

Some Christians may be uncomfortable placing rainbows in their windows these days, because of the fear of misunderstanding: a certain demographic some time ago decided to appropriate a variant of the rainbow as its primary symbol, and not everybody understands the difference.

For followers of Jesus, of course, the rainbow is a sign of God’s promise never to destroy the earth again by flood.  It’s a sign of hope.  Indeed, ultimately, everything will be alright.

But if you want to try something different, why not do so?  Some of my social media friends decided to create stained glass Christian images in their windows using masking tape and paint that can later be removed.

With today being Good Friday, and Easter being around the corner, we could use images like the empty cross, or the heart, or even the anchor.  We can even use words, provided they are painted (or printed out) large enough for passersby to see.

Many of our neighbours are hurting and lonely.  A lot of people are looking for hope, looking for something stable to which they may cling in this season of uncertainty.  Consider using your front window as a witness.  When this is all over, who knows what seeds God may have planted in people, through our silent witness, to draw them to him who is unchanging?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13.8, NLT).

By the way, if you don’t have an online church ‘home’, feel free to watch our live-streaming of worship on Good Friday, and on Easter Sunday, at 10:00 a.m.  You don’t need an account to watch at http://www.facebook.com/stpaulsnobleton.  You can watch later at http://www.stpaulsnobleton.ca/sermons.

Encouragement From The Word

Praying together when we can’t be together

When our church’s leaders met on Tuesday (electronically, of course), one of them shared a good idea that I want to share with you.

It’s hard for us to pray in each other’s presence right now.  In times of crisis, one of the church’s greatest and most powerful and encouraging tools is corporate prayer.  But we can’t get together to pray in these days.  It’s just not safe.

It’s possible to have online prayer meetings, and they can be valuable.  But we can also pray, on our own, in our homes (or at work, if we are deemed essential services).

The elder I mentioned above shared with me an email from the Yonge Street Mission that expressed ways that the church can pray.  I’m going to adapt its suggestions as ways that we can pray together, even though we are apart:

  • Pray for peace to reign in our communities. In place of panic and fear, ask the Lord to fill our villages, towns and cities with compassion and grace.
  • Pray for people who will be most impacted by service interruptions, such as access to meals, food banks, fellowship groups, and those who cannot connect with community online because they do not use the Internet.
  • Pray for people whose employment is affected by this crisis – those who have lost their jobs permanently or temporarily, those who are deep in debt, as well as those whose work demands have ramped up or become more dangerous because of Coronavirus. Pray especially for those on the front lines of medical care, and those in essential services.
  • Pray for people who struggle with isolation, especially those who live alone and those who depend on regular visits from friends or loved ones.

As you pray, ask the Lord how he can use you to make someone’s situation better, whether through a phone call or an email, leaving a few needed groceries on their front porch, or sending a card of encouragement.

And pray in faith.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).

By the way, if you don’t have an online church home in these days, you are welcome to join the online community with St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on Facebook Live, or for replay anytime on our YouTube channel.

Encouragement From The Word

The gift of Sabbath

That our current social situation has occurred in the season of Lent is no small irony to me.  For many, though not all, Christians, Lent is a season for sacrifice and penitence, often symbolized by “giving something up” for these forty days.

And globally, we’ve been forced to give up quite a lot!

While many are still working, either from home or as those engaged in what are deemed essential services, one thing that has been taken from us is ordinary social engagement.

We who are introverts may be saying, “I was made for this!”, but with perhaps a few exceptions, even we who gain energy by being alone are finding this time particularly trying.  It’s as if being told we can’t do something makes us want to do it anyway.

I haven’t left town for a week now, but as I look at photos online, the streets and highways are nearly empty.  Malls are closed.  Restaurants, save for take-out and delivery, are abandoned.  Sports and concert venues are now echo chambers.  It’s kind of eerie.

Amid all this, though, we are hearing reports that air quality in many densely populated cities is improving.  Water quality is changing for the better.  The world appears to be healing in ways it never would have without the spread of Coronavirus.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that Coronavirus is a good thing; not at all!  But if there can be any good seen coming from it, the environment may be it.  But there’s more.

When God made the world, the Genesis account says that he made it in six days, and rested on the seventh.  Even in creation, there was Sabbath.

But our society, especially over the past 75 years, has been on a steep trajectory away from Sabbath.  Businesses flourished, stores opened on Sunday, and busyness was considered a badge of honour.

Now, we’ve been placed in a position where, for the most part, Sabbath is not optional.  We can’t go out with others.  We can’t go to concerts.  We can’t take our kids to their hockey practices.  We’re stuck…with the people with whom we live, be it family or friends or even strangers.

It’s like we’re being forced to stop and breathe.  And that’s a good thing.

We don’t know how long this season of restraint will continue, but perhaps a good question for us to consider is this:  will we learn something from it?

Certainly, this time is a gift to our immediate families (however they may be defined economically – that is, by household) as we are given the gift of time to reconnect with them.  It’s also a gift of time wherein we may reconnect with God.

In times like this, people who might otherwise have not given any thought to the Divine are turning the thoughts and hearts toward God – the God who made the world and rested.

This is a time of Sabbath.  Embrace it.  Rest with your family, rest in the Lord.

And carry that into your future, whatever it may hold, when we are free to resume whatever may be called ‘normal’.  Let it be a new normal – if not for others, at least for you.

…enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day” (Isaiah 58.13b, NLT).

By the way, if you don’t have an online church home in these days, you are welcome to join the online community with St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on Facebook Live, or for replay anytime on our YouTube channel.

 

Encouragement From The Word

The church scattered

I was getting my hair cut yesterday.  (Some of you will think I am living dangerously by admitting that, but some things need to be done, and every precaution was taken.)  Steph is part of our church family at St. Paul’s, and she said something quite important as part of our conversation – much of which centred around the current pandemic.

She said, “Maybe this will help us all slow down.”

Granted, this is not the way any of us hoped the call away from busyness would come.  But the Coronavirus pandemic has forced us to simplify our lives, at least in terms of what we do outside of work and being at home.  We may still want to go out with our friends, or play particular sports, or take our kids away for this extended March Break, but we can’t.  It’s a danger to public health if we do.

The current crisis, though, is not going to end soon.  Even when we are permitted to gather in groups again – for conversation, sports, family and worship – we will do so with a new normal in place, and it probably isn’t going to look like what we were doing a couple of weeks ago.

For followers of Jesus, this season of challenge provides us with a unique opportunity: we can express the love of Jesus in new and highly practical ways.

I participated in a webinar yesterday in which one of the speakers said that the power of the church is not in its ability to gather, but its ability to scatter.

Think about that: for a long time, being the church has mostly been about Sunday.  Everything we do leads up to the Sunday experience.  Right now, though, the typical Sunday experience has been taken away from us.  As a result, pastors like me are looking for ways to engage our people in powerful ways that don’t involve getting together on the weekend.

Some have been thinking about this for a long time, irrespective of crises of this magnitude.  There are 168 hours in each week; they’ve been encouraging us to think about what we do with the other 167 hours that are in the week beyond the worship gathering.  The power of the church is in what we do with those 167 hours we’re scattered.

We could dive into any number of rabbit holes around this, but I won’t do that today.  Let me simply encourage you to be thinking about ways you can make faith in Jesus practical with your neighbours in this time.  Think about ways that you can serve others in Jesus’ name while we have this ‘bonus’ time that we’re not doing other things.

And maybe…just maybe…you might not want to go back to the steady diet of those other activities once you figure out the joy of serving others in the power of the gospel.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another….Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen” (1 Peter 4.10-11, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Toilet paper fear

Okay, what’s with the run on toilet paper, people?

Honestly, I can’t wrap my head around this one.  Apparently, scientists are not suggesting that ‘the runs’ are part of Coronavirus.  Perhaps people are afraid of being quarantined in their homes, and fear running out of essentials.  (The good news for me is that most people, apparently, do not consider bacon an essential.)  And besides, when one can’t get out of the house, there are online vendors who will cheerfully drop necessities on your doorstep!

The sense of fear among many people around Coronavirus is unprecedented.  Almost 20 years ago, when SARS was running rampant, there wasn’t this kind of trouble finding things like toilet paper.

The SARS phenomenon occurred a long time ago, and social media as we know it today didn’t exist.  I suspect that it may be playing a role.

Until the last few days, I was <ahem> poo-pooing the whole matter.  But then the World Health Organization declared that Coronavirus is a pandemic.  Flights are being cancelled.  School is being delayed in some places.  Professional sports are postponing their seasons indefinitely.

This is a serious matter – more serious than I was initially prepared to believe.  People are getting very sick, and some are dying from Coronavirus.  And it’s important to take precautions, but for most of us, these precautions are normal precautions:  handwashing, for example…and staying home if you are sick with any communicable illness.

Coronavirus is not the end of the world.  In my opinion, we should not be cancelling our worship gatherings, nor most of our regular activities, because of this concern, provided we take careful precautions.  We should expect people to be responsible adults and avoid public interaction if they are ill, and to wash their hands often to avoid communicating any kind of illness to others.  I’ll admit that this may be unusually optimistic, and I’ll certainly be monitoring the matter in my own congregation and life.

It’s wise to avoid hoarding things like soap and hand sanitizer, since we all need such substances in order to maintain public health.

And we should trust the Lord to be our Protector.  This does not absolve us of our responsibilities, but it should free us from captivity to fear.  And I think fear is a big deal right now…maybe even a bigger deal than Coronavirus.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1.7, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Time

This weekend, we switch to Daylight Saving Time where I live.  Originally, it is said to have been enacted to make the most use of sunlight and to conserve energy.  I’m not sure how true that may still be; all I know is that I lose an hour’s sleep before Sunday worship!

Someone else, putting a positive spin on the notion of ‘springing ahead’, suggested that instead of thinking of it as losing an hour’s sleep, we should think of it as losing an hour of winter.  I can get behind that notion!

All that said, the intentionality of shifting clocks, whether in March or November, makes us think about time.  The twenty-four-hour clock was a human invention, enabling us to tell time in some sort of universally accepted manner.

Sometimes, we count down the time, whether it’s on New Year’s Eve or when we get off work or when we retire.

We might anticipate a time when we leave for vacation, or see someone we love.  We are all mindful of time.

God is mindful of time, too, though his picture of time is far larger than ours.  God can see all time and all space, and knows all things.  God doesn’t need to move his clock ahead an hour to see what’s around the corner, or to see the sunrise.

What an amazing God we serve!  Why not place your trust in the One who transcends time?

Praise the Lord!

How good to sing praises to our God!
    How delightful and how fitting!
 The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem
    and bringing the exiles back to Israel.
 He heals the brokenhearted
    and bandages their wounds.
 He counts the stars
    and calls them all by name.
 How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
    His understanding is beyond comprehension!  (Psalm 147.1-5, NLT)

But seriously, you’re not God, so if you’re not in Saskatchewan, turn your clocks ahead an hour on Saturday night, so you show up to Sunday worship on time!

Encouragement From The Word

Tomorrow is not promised

I’m conducting the funeral tomorrow for the son of a neighbour.  When the funeral home called me, I was surprised; he was young – younger than me.

His heart simply gave out on him.  It was all so sudden.

I’ve often said, “Tomorrow is not promised.”  I’m sure I didn’t come up with that, but it’s true.  By all means, we should plan for retirement, and plan for the future, but we should by all means keep in mind that tomorrow is not promised.

I once knew a man who saved all his hopes and dreams for travel until after he retired.  He died six months after he retired.

Tomorrow is not promised.

That’s why it’s so important to be in relationship with the Lord now.  Some will say they’ll wait until later in life to make amends with their Creator, since they presume that he would only want to cramp their style in the meantime.  (Spoiler: that’s not really the case.)

But tomorrow is not promised.  Restore your broken relationships, for your sake and theirs.  Keep short accounts.  And come to Jesus today.  His hand is extended already, waiting to receive you by faith, and to offer you the joy of his salvation.  (To learn more, click here.)

Seek the Lord while you can find him.  Call on him now while he is near.  Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong.  Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.  Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously” (Isaiah 55.6-7, NLT).