Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

St. Nick’s more famous accomplishment

In western Christianity, today is the commonly-celebrated day for the feast of St. Nicholas – the guy who brought you Santa Claus.

Well, sort of.  The Santa Claus we know today, visually at least, is said to be a creation of the Coca-Cola Company.  But the notion of a benevolent figure who brings gifts certainly conjures notions of Nicholas of Myra, a bishop whose fourth-century dealings with poor women’s dowries is the stuff of legend.

Believe it or not, though, that’s not what Nicholas was most famous for.

He lived through the time of the early church’s Council of Nicaea, which in AD 325 formulated the doctrine of the Trinity:  One God, Three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And Nicholas is said to have played a role in articulating a truth Christians hold dear today:  that God the Father and God the Son are of one substance.  (This same application was made to the role of the Holy Spirit later on.)

That might seem like a bunch of tiny theologians dancing on the head of a pin, but it’s actually really important for the historic Christian faith.  For if Jesus or the Holy Spirit were merely of a similar substance to the Father, Jesus could not be God, and could therefore not have been the final, perfect sacrifice for our sins.

In fact, without being of one substance with the Father, Jesus would just be another dude…a righteous dude, to be sure, but just another dude.

On St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6, some cultures celebrate their gift-giving in honour of St. Nick himself.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But let me encourage you likewise to remember the gift of St. Nicholas as a theologian, who helped shape the church’s understanding of the mystery of the Triune God, upholding Jesus as of one substance with the Father.

Small though it may seem, it makes a big difference.  For if Jesus were not God, there would be no reason for the season.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
– John 1.1-3, NLT

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Anticipation…

It’s great to be back in the saddle!  Thanks to all who prayed for me while I was on Inter-Mission/Sabbatical.  It means so much!  I will be talking this Sunday about one important aspect of my experience that is applicable to all of us (you can join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton or catch the service on YouTube later), and bits of my experience will trickle out over the course of the next while, including through Encouragement.  Stay tuned!

This week begins the season of Advent, which many Christians mark as a time of anticipation for the birth of Jesus.  Outside certain churches, it’s not widely practised in western society.  Why?

I think it’s because we have learned to expect everything according to our timetable.

Waiting is not our strong suit.

Yet anticipation, if we stop to think about it, actually heightens our excitement over what we wait for.  If you don’t believe me, let me ask you how much time you spent deciding what you were going to buy today…Black Friday.  (Many of you probably won’t buy anything on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but sales statistics suggest that not all of us will resist.)

The fact that we are not good at waiting is noticeable even in the church, where there are overt suggestions (if there is no overt pressure) to sing Christmas carols well ahead of Christmas Eve.  I get this; they’ve been played on the radio and in the malls since the day after Remembrance Day (or sooner); let’s enjoy them while we can.

But if we wait, it heightens our anticipation of what is to come.

True, the scenario ends the same way each year: Jesus is born!  But this rhythm of time centred around the salvation narrative is so different from what we experience out in the world that I think it helps strengthen our faith.  (Granted, there are many ways to make that happen.)

So this year, don’t open all the boxes on your Advent calendar in the first week.  Don’t sing “O come, all ye faithful” just yet.  Don’t buy everything you want for Christmas so that there are no surprises greeting you under the tree, symbolizing the greatest gift of all – the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God with skin on, breaking into history to redeem us from sin from which we couldn’t hope to save ourselves.

Happy Advent!

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9.6, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Rest

Rest:  it’s important.

We all know it’s important.

Yet too few of us take time for real, significant rest.

We live in a time when the culture values busyness, almost as a badge of pride.  “How are you?” someone will ask.  “Oh, I’m great.  Really busy,” we reply.

A while back, I saw a meme online that showed the image of a cellphone battery in the ‘red zone’ – less than 10% power remaining.  It said, “You’d never let this happen to your phone.  Why do you let it happen to yourself?”

We are a society of the dangerously tired.  We so tightly schedule our own lives – and those of our children – that we leave little margin for God to work in our lives, or for us to notice God’s work in our lives.  We need rest.

The Bible follows an “order of creation” model for teaching us about the value of rest by suggesting that because God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, we, too, should take one day a week for rest and re-creation.  Every week.  Yes, every week.

Many of us think that would be impossible to do, but it wouldn’t be impossible.  We just have to undertake the hard work of prioritizing what matters in our lives.

As I’ve said before, in a hundred years, the only thing that’s going to matter is what you did with Jesus.  Work does not prepare us for eternity.  Sports do not prepare us for eternity.  But worship and rest do prepare us for eternity.

Eternity is a long time.  Don’t you think that which prepares us for eternity deserves top priority?

Christians traditionally take Sunday as their day of rest, because it was the first day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead.  And it is from that day of rest and worship that we are able to have the energy to undertake all that the coming week holds.

I know that not everyone is able to take Sunday as a rest day in our secular culture.  But if you can’t take Sunday every week, at least take a day somewhere in there.

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20.8, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word is taking an eight-week hiatus while I take a long-planned and much-needed Sabbatical.  This weekly email will return on Friday, November 29, 2019.

Encouragement From The Word

Digging

It’s federal election season in Canada, and as has been the custom, there’s all manner of digging going on, trying to find sordid things about candidates’ past. The digging is normally done by people active in one of the other political parties, rather than by the ordinary folks of the electorate.

If you’re anything like me, you’d rather hear what a particular candidate or party stands for, as opposed to what they stand against.  And you want to know what’s going on in their beliefs and platforms now rather than what may have happened in the past.

In one sense, the goal of the diggers is noble:  they want to unearth past truth about a person in order to find out if that happens also to be present truth.  As with so much of life, politics is a complicated beast.

But you know who one of those diggers won’t be?

God.

When we present ourselves to God in faith as we are, now, God is not concerned with the past.  We might lie awake at night, from time to time, thinking about that stupid thing we did 20 years ago, ruminating about how stupid it was, but God never does that.

When we come to God in faith, believing that Jesus died to take away all our sins, and believing that he rose again to bring us eternal life, God receives us as we are.  He doesn’t care about what we did 20 years ago.  Jesus died to forgive that sin, too.

Unfortunately, human beings are not often as gracious as God.  I wonder if we can change that, one human being at a time?

For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
  He has removed our sins as far from us
    as the east is from the west” – Psalm 103.12, NLT

Encouragement From The Word

Bring A Friend!

Every year, on or about the fourth Sunday of September, St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton celebrates “Bring A Friend” Day. While any Sunday is a good Sunday to bring a friend to church, we make a special effort on that weekend: invitations are issued, lunch is shared, guests are ‘expected’.

It’s become challenging for many people to issue the invitation, to make the ask. As I’ll say on Sunday, we’ve been taught for a few generations now not to talk about politics or faith in polite company, and the result, especially in our polarized society, is that we are no longer able to dialogue in a civil manner about the Lord Jesus.

The key is to build relationships.

When we are engaged in healthy relationships with our neighbours, our friends, our family members, and when faith is an integral part of our lives, those with whom we share those relationships will naturally want to know why faith is part of who we are.

And that opens the door to inviting them to join you for worship.

I’ve occasionally shared a vlog done by Penn Jillette some years ago about how, despite his avowed atheism, he admired a man who gave him a Bible after a show.  His point was this:  If we believe we know the way to eternal life, how much do we have to hate someone else to be unwilling to share it?

It’s a good question.  And a haunting one, if we’re honest.

Whatever congregation you’re part of as you read this, I hope you’re not waiting for an excuse to invite someone to worship with you.  If you’re looking to understand why this is important, I will be talking about our role as ambassadors this Sunday.  I’m inviting you!

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5.20, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The best things in life…

The devastation left in the more northerly islands of the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian this week has been unspeakable.  The images that have been flooding social media (perhaps an unfortunate, yet apt, choice of verb) have torn at our hearts.

People take different lessons from natural disasters.  Some will say a deity is angry (a strange notion and a stranger way for said deity to express it) and that we need to appease it.  Others will say it’s a side-effect of climate change (which would be difficult to prove) and that we should take better care of the planet (which is always a good idea).  There may be countless other lessons people will take from the hurricane.

But here’s one to consider: life is fragile.

I remember a number of years ago being given a tour of the beautiful home of some friends.  In their daughter’s bedroom there was a small plaque that simply said, “The best things in life aren’t things.”

How true that is!

In recent years, as I have reflected on vacation times, I’ve discerned that my favourite part of vacation has been conversations with people; that’s a big deal for an introvert!  But more than bringing Stuff home, more than seeing great sights, what has been most impactful is encounters with people.

When someone is in a tragic accident, or when a loved one has died, we often read social media posts to the effect of, “Hug the people you love.”

For those folks in the Bahamas, and in other places severely affected by this hurricane, that phrase may have more meaning than many of us will ever know.

Stuff is helpful.  Things are meaningful.  But none of it matters as much as people.  Life is fragile.

O Lord, what are human beings that you should notice them,
    mere mortals that you should think about them?
For they are like a breath of air;
    their days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144.3-4, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The spiritual value of walking

I am grateful that I have the opportunity, quite often, that I can walk to work.  It’s a privilege not everybody receives.  I don’t have to fight traffic, losing hours from family time just trying to get to and from work.  Being able to walk to work enriches my life, both for the physical activity and for the enhancement of family life.

But it has another side benefit, too, that I experienced recently.

I was walking to work, taking my usual route, and a young neighbour, to whom I would wave when I’d see him, called me over to where he was sitting outside his front door.

Perceiving that I worked “at that church over there”, he proceeded to start a most interesting conversation about the life of faith.  We chatted for perhaps 10 minutes about similarities and differences between denominations, and he seemed genuinely intrigued with my subtle presentation of the good news of Jesus.

I invited him to our “Bring A Friend” Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on September 22, and he gladly accepted; I will pray for him, and hope that he comes!  (If you’re in the area and don’t  have a church family to call your own, please come as my guest – that Sunday, or any Sunday at 10:00 a.m.!)

Even if you don’t have the opportunity to walk to work, you do have the opportunity to take walks through your neighbourhood.  Consider whether the Lord is inviting you to do so – for exercise, yes, but also for sowing seeds of new relationships with important conversations that can lead to spiritual discussions…and possibly spiritual transformation.

We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord” (Romans 15.2, NLT).