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).

Encouragement From The Word

I Give You My Heart

Reuben Morgan, a musician who is part of the Hillsong Church movement that began in Australia, penned these simple words.  Meditate on this short prayer to centre your day in the Lord.

This is my desire
To honour You;
Lord, with all my heart
I worship You.
All I have within me,
I give You praise.
All that I adore
Is in You.

Lord, I give You my heart,
I give You my soul,
I live for you alone.
Every breath that I take,
Every moment I’m awake,
Lord, have Your way in me.

I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.   And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations” (Ezekiel 36.26-27, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Valentines

For some people, the one day that’s scarier than Friday the 13th is Friday the 14th…when the 14th lands on a Friday in February!  (Okay, there’s also tax deadline day, but that’s another story.)

Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day.

As a child, I remember that it was customary to bring a valentine for everybody in my class at school.  Looking back, I think that seemed a bit artificial, but there was value in leaving no one out.  At the same time, I sort of wished I could have just brought one valentine…usually for the prettiest girl in the class.

Though Valentine’s Day is in no particular way a Christian feast day – not even among most of those who celebrate saints’ days – my childhood experience does reflect something of God’s view on love.  That is, God has a valentine for everybody.  After all, Jesus said that God so loved the world – not a select few.  God’s love for everybody is what sent his only Son into the world…that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.

Here’s a way I’ve seen it depicted visually.  Spend a few minutes pondering this image, and give thanks to God that he sent you a valentine in Jesus.  Will you send one back to him?

john-316-coloring-valentine