Encouragement From The Word

Get a new outfit!

It’s not an easy time to be a follower of Jesus.

It seems like virtually every possible establishment intentionally or unintentionally works against the principles of the gospel. 

What’s more, the new developments of technology and social media have made it even more challenging.

There are times, if we’ll admit it, when it would just seem easier to throw in the towel and live like the rest of the world, without regard for Jesus or what he has done for us.  And lately, those times seem to be more frequent for some people.

If you’re in that place – and even if you’re not in that place (because, one day, you probably will be there) – I encourage you to buy a new outfit.

But this isn’t “retail therapy”; it’s spiritual preparedness.

Put on the whole armour of God.

Read this passage a few times, and let it be a theme for your day, maybe even for a few days.  Spiritually arm yourself; it’s a battleground out there.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.   Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  (Ephesians 6.10-17, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

Consider the context

I’ll admit that when I see someone quoting the Bible on social media, I get a little excited.  It’s always great to see God’s Word sent forth through whatever channels we can, whether to encourage or challenge.

So I saw the following post earlier this week; I’ve blotted out the information about the posters for their own security.  Can you see the problem?

The person who posted this decided that she would appropriate this passage of Scripture for herself.  I pointed out that the “her” in Psalm 46.5 doesn’t refer to any woman who decides to read it, but to “that city”, i.e., Jerusalem.  (Not all translations use the feminine pronoun for Jerusalem in this passage, which is helpful in situations like this one!)

In response to my pointing out that the text was about Jerusalem, the poster’s response was to say, “I am Jerusalem.”

Really?

As someone smarter than me once said, all Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applied.  When we yank a passage out of context and apply it to ourselves, or a given situation – without regard for the context of the passage – that’s called “proof-texting”.  It might also be called abuse of the text (and, when applied to others in this manner, spiritual abuse of another sort).

Psalm 46 is not about the person who posted this on social media in that sense.  There are principles we can draw from the Psalm, not least the “be still, and know that I am God” part (verse 10).  Even that, though, can be abused; I remember a famous Hollywood person many years ago using this verse to suggest, in some sort of ersatz Eastern meditation seminar, that the participants be still and know that they are God.

Nope.  All kinds of nope.

The Bible is not given for us to snip bits we like.  When you pick up a saw, you’re not just using one of the teeth, right? To use it effectively, as intended, you’re making full strokes with the saw, using all the teeth.  Trying to cut a piece of wood with one saw tooth would take you a very long time (you would die before you were finished).  It is no less foolish to lift parts of Scripture and misapply them.  While it might make us feel good and be a boost to our energy, we’re actually deceiving ourselves in so doing.

By all means, please do read the Bible.  But don’t yank out parts of it that inspire you without yanking the context out with it.

Let me give you one more example.  I saw this verse posted on a daily tear-off inspirational desk calendar one time:  “I will give it all to you if you will kneel down and worship me.”

Sounds inspiring, even empowering, right?  But consider the context:

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”  “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him.  “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4.8-10, NLT)

Ouch.  Not so inspiring in context, is it?

Scripture is intended to be inspiring and challenging.  But until we pay attention to the context, we’re playing with fire.  It is, after all, a sword.

Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17, NLT).

(By the way, you could accuse me of pulling Scripture out of context when I close each Encouragement with a verse or two, but rest assured I have considered the context around what I choose and seek to apply it helpfully.  Feel free to battle back if you think I misuse a Bible verse!)

Encouragement From The Word

Jesus got angry!

One of the key tenets of the Christian faith is that we believe that Jesus was both divine and human:  fully God, fully man.  Sometimes, though, I know I am guilty of focusing on Jesus’ divinity and neglecting his humanity.

We don’t always reflect on just how human Jesus was:  that he felt every emotion known to the human race, yet did not sin.

Sure, we know Jesus was happy and sad, but Jesus also experienced anger.

Often, when we do think of Jesus getting angry, we think of how he turned over the tables of the money-changers in the temple (John 2).  But Jesus also got profoundly angry at the Pharisees and teachers of religious law, the “establishment” in the Jewish world of his day.  Much of Matthew 23 is dedicated to Jesus’ verbal tirade against these highly-respected religious leaders.

Many people are taught that it’s wrong to get angry – maybe even unchristian.  Yet Jesus got angry…for the right reasons, for righteous reasons.  So did the prophets.  So did the Psalmists.  So does the Father!

It’s not unbiblical to be angry before God.  Everything we do is before God anyway!  And because Jesus expressed anger, we can, too.

Our challenge is to be able to do so without sinning.  That’s the hard part, isn’t it?

When we are angry for righteous reasons, perhaps we are less inclined to sin in our anger, directing that energy instead toward upholding the glory of God.

So don’t hold back your emotions before the Lord.  Be honest, be real – but don’t let your emotions get the best of you.  He knows how you feel anyway.  Because Jesus experienced every human emotion, you can be sure God really knows how you feel.

’[D]on’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4.26-27, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Perspective and Original Intent

There is a meme that has been making its way around social media for the last few years that has always troubled me.  It depicts a number painted on the ground, appearing either as a six or a nine, depending on the perspective from which you come to it.  The caption reads, “Just because you are right does not mean I am wrong.  You just haven’t seen life from my side.”

In some ways, it may seem comforting to know that, yes, there are different sides to every story and every situation.

But what it fails to communicate is an important truth:  What was the original intent of the person who painted that number on the ground?  Was it intended to be a 6 or a 9?  Unless it was painted maliciously – to get people to fight about it – the only way one can know whether it is a 6 or a 9 is to know what the painter intended it to be.

There are, of course, small matters on which this meme depicts reality.  Let’s say, for example, that instead of a number it was a pitcher of milk that was sitting there.  One person may come at it with great joy, because she loves milk and has it on her cereal every morning.  Another person may approach it with great revulsion, because he hates milk, having been forced to drink it warm from the cow’s udder by his mother.

That, though, is a matter of taste, not objective truth.  Trouble is, some people apply the same principles to truth as they do to taste, and that’s where we get into difficulty.

We live in a strange time.  Western society used to treat objective truth as just that.  Then we moved into a phase where truth was believed to be relative (what’s true for you might not be true for me, etc.).  Now, in some ways, society has moved back to a place where truth is absolute, but only when it suits our own agendas.

For example, as a friend posted on social media yesterday, it’s astounding how some people will believe that the Bible can speak clearly and objectively about the importance of caring for refugees, but those same people may not believe the Bible speaks clearly and objectively about matters of sexuality – or vice-versa. 

We can’t pretend to control what the world thinks or believes, though we can seek to influence it.  As followers of Jesus, we need to be on the same page – literally and figuratively.  We need to be willing to submit to God’s Word as objective truth.  Yes, we read it with sensitivity to its cultural context, but we also must read it with full knowledge of our cultural context.  That is, at the same time as we take the culture of Bible times into account when we read it, we must also be fully aware of our own culture, being careful not to read our cultural norms into the Bible’s context.

This is why it is so important for us to read prayerfully, with an eye to how students of Scripture have read and interpreted it over the course of the two millennia of Christian history that preceded us.

In short, read Scripture the way it wants to be read, not the way you want it to read.  And yes, be sensitive to the perspectives others bring, but look primarily for the original intent as you read.

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” (Hebrews 4.12, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t forget your spiritual health

Okay, who got a Peloton bike or a Bowflex set for Christmas?  How about a gym membership?

These things are very popular gifts for those who are resolving to get in better physical shape in the new year.  And after eating our way through December, it’s common to resolve to improve our health. 

Some will even want to attend to their mental health, perhaps through counselling, and that can be a good thing as well.

Trouble is, we often focus on our physical health, and possibly even our mental health, while ignoring our spiritual health.

As I’m going to talk about on Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we can and should pay attention to our spiritual health as we look to a new year.  Just as we can’t ignore our physical or mental health, we can’t ignore our spiritual health, either.  In many respects, as Pete Scazzero says, our emotional health is tied to our spiritual health.

How can we work on our spiritual health, which affects the rest of who we are as people?

The best way is to understand our spiritual health as a relationship with God, and then to handle that relationship the way we would handle growing any relationship:  time spent together, and conversation.

We spend time with the Lord by sitting still (or even going for a walk) intentionally in his presence.  Being mindful that the Lord is with us whatever we do, wherever we go, has an impact on our spiritual health.

As for the conversation, we can talk with God in prayer, about anything and everything; after all, he already knows what’s going on in our lives, and like any parent, he delights in hearing us talk about our lives.

But that’s only a one-sided conversation.  

We hear God speak to us through his Word.  Read your Bible every day.  Listen for God to speak to you as you read the ancient truths of Scripture.  

Create a reading plan for yourself, or borrow one from any number of online sources.  Each day’s passage doesn’t have to be lengthy.  In fact, I am not an advocate for the “Bible in a year” plans; forcing yourself to get through such a lengthy volume in a year, while entirely attainable, may leave you rushing through a passage, “just to get it done”, when perhaps the Lord wants you to sit on it for a bit.  There have been times when the Lord has left me on the same passage for multiple days at a time so that I can absorb the richness of what he is telling me.  Do have a Bible reading plan, but hold it loosely; it may need to spill into the next year.

As you read, be sure to allow silence, giving space to God to speak into your heart as you read his Word.

Of course, there are other spiritual disciplines that you can practise, too, and I’ve written about them before.  But Scripture and prayer are the two most important.

This Sunday brings a new year, and it can bring a new you:  when you consider your health, don’t ignore your physical and mental health, but also keep in mind your spiritual health; eternity is a long time, and you’ll want to be in practice for eternity.

[A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5.17, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

God is with us…are we with God?

My preaching series this Advent season has centred around this pivotal verse from the Bible:

Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel, 
    which means ‘God is with us.’

(Matthew 1.23, NLT)

And as the season of Advent wraps up with our celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we do well to be reminded that in the birth of Jesus, we know that God really is with us.

The question that remains is this:  are we with God?

Often, in English parlance, when we say that someone is “with God”, that usually means the person is dead.  You know, “Great Aunt Hortense is with God” is a spiritualized equivalent of the idiom, “She’s pushin’ up daisies.”  She’s deceased.  She ain’t comin’ down for breakfast.

But I’d like us to think of being “with God” in a different light.

We take great comfort in the belief that in Christ, God became human and really is with us.  With the coming of the Holy Spirit, God lives in and through all followers of Jesus.

The challenge comes in our response:  God is with us, but are we with him?

We can give nodding acceptance to the notion that God is with us in Christ.  We like it; it’s like a warm blanket.

But if we do nothing about it, is it really all that comforting?

If we’re honest, most church-going people are quite content to think about this in a very universal way:  “God with us” means “God with everybody”, which in turn means “Everybody’s going to heaven.”  Trouble is, Scripture is pretty clear that this is not the case.

Yes, Jesus came for all.  “God so loved the world,” said Jesus in the famous John 3.16.

But Jesus’ coming really only matters for those who respond:  “…that everyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life” – that’s how the famous verse concludes.  Everyone who believes in him.  

And those who believe in him do so in practical ways, starting with active faith:  “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10.9-10, NLT).

God is with us in Jesus; that’s what Christmas is all about.  It is through active faith that we are with God.

So when you attend Christmas services, come with faith.  Come with your heart; that’s what Jesus really wants.  He came so that we could be with God.

(If you’re looking for Christmas worship opportunities, you’re welcome at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Christmas Eve at 7:00 p.m. and on Christmas Day at 10:00 a.m.

Merry Christmas!  God is with us…let’s make sure, by faith, we are with God.

Encouragement From The Word

Verify Your Identity

The weeks leading up to Christmas are busy for most everybody, whether it’s preparing extra services (hello, preachers!) or going to celebratory gatherings or buying the right gifts for people we love.

And in the retail world, especially online, it’s a busy time for fraudsters.  We know of this personally in our house.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife’s Amazon account became inaccessible.  It turns out that someone had successfully guessed her password, turned on two-factor authentication to his or her phone, and then made some fairly big purchases.  We only found this out when we called the credit card company to cancel the card and re-issue it; the outstanding balance on the card was A LOT higher than we ever keep it.

After several days and several calls, the issue seems to be resolved with both Amazon and the credit card company, but the challenge my wife had with this whole ordeal was being able to verify her identity – something that we always have to do when dealing on the phone with any number of organizations.

Whether it’s through passwords or verification texts or multi-digit codes or one’s mother’s maiden name or what-have-you, the ways in which we must verify who we are can be confusing, as necessary as these things are (and, in the end, they’re not always tamper-proof).  Isn’t it good to know, then, that there is one iron-clad aspect to our identity that can’t be messed with?

For followers of Jesus, that’s our identity in Christ.

Identity has become a big buzzword nowadays, not just in terms of commerce, but in terms of nationality, sexuality, pronouns, vocation, and countless other things.  It can be quite confusing, especially for those who are particular about it.  But for people of The Way, for Christians, there is only one aspect of identity that really counts:  we belong to Jesus.

And the really good news is that this identity cannot be stolen from us.  It is given by the Father, and he will not take it away.

If there is any two-factor authentication for our identity in Christ, it’s in how we live.

We don’t engage in good works to earn our identity in Christ; that’s given to us.  It’s all grace.   But we can prove our identity in Christ by what we do.

Whether it’s offering a kind word to the person who serves you coffee, or shovelling a neighbour’s driveway, or inviting a lonely friend for a meal – the possibilities are endless – we prove our identity as followers of Jesus by what we do, by how we live.

So make sure you have two-factor authentication turned on so you can verify your identity as one who belongs to Jesus.

[L]et your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5.16b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Follow your heart?

“Follow your heart.”  It’s advice we read everywhere, especially on social media, usually accompanied by several sappy emojis.

One would think that its popularity suggests it is a universal truth – and some people think it is just that.

But, honestly, I think that’s why the world is in the ethical pickle it’s in today.

Okay, truth be told, the other extreme isn’t always better, is it?  “Follow your brain.”  While this has a certain appeal to many, when we do what is logical without regard for its impact on others, that can be scary, too.

When I work with people in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, I often have to deal with questions surrounding the Thinking-Feeling continuum.  Yes, thinkers feel, and feelers think; it’s just that for each, one is more reflexive, preferred over the other.  (This is why working in teams is both very beneficial and sometimes challenging.)

So what’s so wrong with following one’s heart, then, if feelings are legitimate and important?  Well, I don’t think I could put it any more clearly than did the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah:

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17.9, NLT).

The heart was seen in those days not as the seat of emotion (that was the bowels, if you can believe it!), but the seat of one’s life and strength.  To talk about the heart in the Bible was to talk about the soul, the spirit.

And here’s Jeremiah, pouring rain on our parade.  But he’s right.  The Bible illustrates for us time and again just how untrustworthy our hearts can be.  Heck, the news illustrates for us time and again just how untrustworthy our hearts can be.

Should we trust only our minds, then?  All parts of us are under the curse of sin.  But our redeemed hearts and our redeemed minds, in tandem, can be powerful tools for doing the work of God’s Kingdom in the world.  

The trick is to ensure they are redeemed – not just once, but daily!  When we invite the Lord to pour out his Holy Spirit upon us as each day begins, we engage in an ongoing conversion of our lives.  And that prevents our hearts from becoming the “idol factories” that theologian John Calvin wrote about so many years ago.

So don’t focus on whether or not to follow your heart, or your mind.  Follow Jesus, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  That’s what will make all the difference.

Encouragement From The Word

Jesus is not part of the story of Christmas…

We are just completing the first week of the season of Advent.  Advent is a word that means “coming”, and is a four-week time of preparation for the birth of Jesus.  

Among all the traditional Christian ‘seasons’, it was the last to be adopted (even though it’s the first in the Christian calendar).  And originally, like Lent, it was a season of penitence, where people often engaged in physical deprivation as part of their spiritual preparation for the birth of the Saviour.

Nowadays, even the church has transformed Advent into a season of anticipation and joy, perhaps in an attempt to keep up with the secular season of “Christmas” that begins at various times, depending on what store you’re visiting.  (In Costco, it tends to be late September; in some other places, after Hallowe’en; and in others, after Remembrance Day.  The retail side of Christmas still beats out Advent every time, chronologically.

Happily, though, the church has not transformed the season into complete compliance with the world; secularism can have its mountains of presents, but the church still has the greatest gift of all to offer in Jesus Christ.  After all, he is what Christmas is all about.  I saw an unusual post on social media the other day that illustrated this.  It was what I would call an “Orthodox meme”:  it was a meme, in the sense that it was an image that had text around it; and it was Orthodox, in that the image that was at the centre of the meme was an eastern Orthodox icon, depicting the incarnation!  Its message was this:

Jesus is not part of the story of Christmas.
Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.

Whatever you do to celebrate this season of preparation and celebration leading up to the nativity, put Jesus at the centre of it.  He’s not just part of the story of Christmas; Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.

Central to our anticipation of his birth is this truth, prophesied in the Old Testament and proclaimed in the New:  

Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel, 
    which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1.23, NLT).

No matter what you are going through – and this is a tough season for many – God is with us in Jesus Christ.  That’s what it’s all about.

Encouragement From The Word

Life is not measured by how much you own

Customarily, I take a week off before the season of Advent begins, and I did so this year – but I spent it in a different way than I have before.

Like most couples, my wife and I have accumulated a lot of Stuff over the 30 years of our marriage, and while we have no plans to move, we found that the volume of Stuff around which we were living was getting a bit overwhelming.

So, inspired by having just cleared out my mother’s house – my childhood home –  following her move to a retirement facility, I was ready to do a little decluttering and purging of my own.

The adventure began in the basement, where many things go to die from ignorance.  We were able to donate many things that we had been saving for a yard sale we were going to have after the pandemic hit.  Items we had been saving, thinking, “That’s going to be handy someday” were let go to enable them to be handy for someone else.  We had our share of thoughts of, Why on earth did I save THAT? as they were boxed up for donation.

There was a reasonable volume of trash. And a mountain of recycling.  I even had a full carload of Stuff to take to the hazardous waste depot!

In the end, the basement is much better organized, and several shelves upstairs are bereft of long-ignored books and trinkets.  While there is more that could be done, I am deeply satisfied with what was accomplished.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, the day before my decluttering week began, I met with my spiritual director, and together we explored the commonalities between decluttering the home and decluttering the heart.

When I live surrounded by clutter, my senses make it hard for me to focus on the Lord.  So there were times when I was saying to myself, I need to deal with all this Stuff when I should have been in conversation with the Lord.

Decluttering isn’t a panacea by any stretch of the imagination, spiritual or otherwise.  But it has helped me be at peace more than I was before the events of last week.  In one sense, to borrow from the title of a popular book by the late Dallas Willard, not only did I declutter my home last week, I undertook a renovation of the heart.

What decluttering needs to happen in your life in order for your relationship with God to flourish?  It might have to do with Stuff, or it might have to do with toxic relationships, or other challenges you face.  Whatever it is, get to purging it.

Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (Luke 12.15b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Take care of the basics

In a conversation yesterday, a friend pointed me to the State of Theology report, prepared by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research.  From time to time, it surveys Americans generally, and those who identify themselves as “evangelicals”.  What is most notable is the trend that is seen as the years go by:  the United States is becoming more secular.

As Canadians, we already know what that’s like.

In the US, though, it takes on a different meaning, because of the common conflation of conservative Christianity and conservative politics.  (For example, while it is not universally true, many Americans who vote Republican would also classify themselves as evangelicals, even if their core beliefs do not reflect the theological tenets of evangelicalism.)

If you review the survey results cited in the link above, you will find that the surveyors ask questions about both theology and ethics.  It is interesting that as our understanding of the authority of the Bible changes, so too do our ethics.

Of greatest concern to followers of Jesus should not be the changing views on abortion or human sexuality or any number of other ‘hot button’ issues of our time, as important as these are.  What should be most concerning is the drift that is noticeable on what constitutes authoritative truth.

If we no longer believe the Bible to be God’s authoritative Word, then our views on social issues will not be as likely to reflect the position of the Lord as outlined in Scripture.  

This is true, no matter what country or culture we live in.

As people of the Lord, we need to be committed to the basics of our faith.  In one sense, we could say that if we take care of the basics, the basics will take care of us.

So when you read your Bible, take it seriously, and let God’s Word affect all aspects of your life.

The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (Isaiah 55.10-11, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

He will preserve his church!

It’s a different world today.  

I probably don’t need to tell you that in this post-pandemic-but-still-kind-of-COVIDy time.  (Yes, I just made up that word.)  But the 2021 census data on religious diversity is out, and that just confirms that we live in a different world than even 10 years ago.

helpful chart based on these census figures has been prepared by Waybase.  It notes that while 53% of Canadians still identify as Christian, that figure is down 14% since 2011.  And, other than Quebec, the steepest decline in Christian identification among Canadian cities appears to be taking place in what was once a bastion of traditional values, the Maritimes.

It would be easy to read statistics like this and throw up our arms in defeat (or maybe just throw up!).  But that’s not an option for followers of Jesus, because we believe that Jesus is not finished with Canada, nor with any other part of the world.

Here’s the deal:  there may be churches closing in Canada at an unprecedented rate (which is true); there may be fewer and fewer Canadians identifying as Christian (which is also true).  But the Lord will preserve his church!

If you’ve read the book of Revelation (and you should), you’ll see that what was going on in the first century among the seven churches of the province of Asia to which Revelation was first written looks eerily similar to what’s going on today in our neck of the woods.  And if you read to the end of the book, guess who wins?

The Roman empire was a great threat to the early Christians, but it was no threat to God’s agenda for his church.  And while the Roman empire faded into history almost 1600 years ago, the church has continued, and even flourished, in the many centuries since.  What evidence is there to lead any of us to believe that’s going to change?

That doesn’t mean we should sit back and let history take its course.  No:  God has a plan for his church, and it includes all faithful followers of Jesus!  The Lord has entrusted us with the important task of building a strong, biblically faithful, Christ-centred church for a new time – for a different world…the one in which we live.

Be filled with the Holy Spirit, and roll up your sleeves.  It’s time to serve.

[T]he Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3.3, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The legacy of Gordon Fee

Earlier this week, Gordon Fee died.  That name may not mean anything to you, but if you’re a follower of Jesus, there’s a good possibility that you’ve read something that he was involved with.

Fee was a Christian who pastored a church for a little while, but ultimately felt called to the academy.  He taught New Testament studies at Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and at Regent College in Vancouver, from which he retired some years ago.

But you probably don’t know him from his teaching appointments.

His greatest legacy, other than the students he taught, was threefold.  First, he was active on the translation team for the original New International Version of the Bible, so if you’ve read the NIV at all in the past, you’ve probably read some of his contributions to Bible translation.  Second, he wrote commentaries, principally on the letters of Paul (so if you’ve heard me preach on, say, 1 Corinthians, Gordon Fee touched your life that way!).  And third, he co-wrote a book called How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth (a copy of which I gave away just yesterday!).

Fee was Pentecostal and a scholar, and he believed that the Holy Spirit plays a role in our study of the Bible as well as in our living out of the Christian life.  He wasn’t the first person to assert this, of course, but he was used by God to promote the spiritual life in the midst of learning and growing in Christ.

I recommend that you read anything he wrote.  And I also recommend that you read what he would have recommended, and that’s the Word of God.  Read your Bible – for all its worth.  Notice that as I just used it and in the title of Fee’s book, there is no apostrophe:  we don’t read the Bible for all it’s worth, but for all its worth.  We want to get the most out of the Bible, which has great worth to us as followers of Jesus.  It is how the Lord communicates most clearly to us.  It’s how we learn the Christian life.  It’s how we gain comfort and are challenged in our walk with God.  

So I don’t encourage you to read the Bible as a tribute to Gordon Fee; he wouldn’t ask you for that.  But I do encourage you to read the Bible because of what it is:  God’s Word to us.  The Word of Life.  The Truth. 

Take even five minutes today, if you haven’t already, and read a portion of Scripture.  Let the Lord speak to you.

Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear” (Jesus, Mark 13.31, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Breathe!

Whatever you’re doing right now (other than reading this), stop.

Breathe.

Rest.

If only for a few moments, pause from your daily activity and give thanks to God.

Do it now.

There.

Doesn’t that feel just a little bit better?

One of the things the Lord is constantly teaching me is the importance of rest.  It becomes too easy to hop on a treadmill (alas, not the kind that burns calories) and become a human doing, when the Lord made me (and you) to be a human being.

If you don’t pause from time to time, something will happen that will force you to pause.

I am reminded of a quotation by Christian author Wayne Muller in his book, Sabbath:  “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath – our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.”

Read that again.

And rest.

So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God.  For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world” (Hebrews 4.9-10, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Are you thrilled?

Usually, when we think of the word “thrill”, our minds turn to amusement park rides, or a first kiss – things that tend to elevate our heart rate!  Rarely do aspects of our faith come to mind when we think of the word “thrill”.

But maybe they should.

I was reading the Psalms the other day, and in the New Living Translation, Psalm 92.4 says, “You thrill me, LORD, with all you have done for me!  I sing for joy because of what you have done.

Now, most translations will use the more gentle (if more passive) “You make me glad” in translating a verb that means “to brighten up”.  But I think “thrill” is an accurate and appropriate translation – and one that makes us think.

In this, the afterglow of Canadian Thanksgiving, we do well to remember that while Thanksgiving is another statutory holiday, and a good excuse to eat turkey, gratitude should characterize us all year long.  When we think back on that for which we are grateful to God, can we say that we are “thrilled”?

Often, we take a lot for granted.  The fact that we have air to breathe, food on the table, people who love us – can we say that we are “thrilled” by these gifts?

Take some time today to review the past few days in your mind.  Think about what thrills you.  And turn that thrill into a prayer of thanksgiving to God that raises your pulse with joy!

Encouragement From The Word

Doggie Bags

Last Sunday, our Pastoral Intern preached a message about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in which she illustrated with the concept of taking home leftovers after a scrumptious meal at a restaurant.  I want to think about that idea with you for a moment.

If you, like most Christians around the world, celebrated the Lord’s Supper last Sunday, you probably received a wafer or a morsel of bread, and just enough wine or grape juice to wet your whistle.  It doesn’t seem like enough to require a doggie bag!

But when you feast upon God’s grace in this sensory manner, you are invited to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, and to be filled – not with bread and wine, but with the Holy Spirit.  In this way, you have ‘leftovers’ to last you through the week…leftovers that you can share.

One of the realities that many of us church leaders have been talking about for the past several years is now becoming a reality, thanks to the accelerated change caused by the pandemic:  we need to take the church out into the neighbourhood.

Because the church is people – followers of Jesus and their children, gathered – it is possible to take the church away from the building.  Not to say that gathering together for corporate worship and fellowship are not important (they very much are!), but God’s people need to start thinking beyond the four walls, taking God’s love and truth, God’s justice and righteousness, into our neighbourhoods.

What can this look like?

It can mean hosting a Bible study (what we call a LifeConnect Group) in your home, and inviting your neighbours to join in.  (This is nothing new, by the way; my grandmother hosted a neighbourhood Bible study in our home in the 1970s!)

It can mean inviting neighbours to share a meal with you, in which part of the conversation opens a door to talking about your faith.

It can mean reaching out to a neighbour who has experienced some sort of illness, loss or life crisis with kindly deeds done in Jesus’ name.

It can mean sharing information by text or email among your neighbours and friends who are still fearful of stepping out their front door, inviting them to a watch party for a Sunday worship broadcast.

The list could go on and on, but the point is that if an invitation to cross the threshold of the church building doesn’t work, you can take the church to the neighbourhood.

This becomes the ‘doggie bag’ that you take away from a worship gathering, whether it involves the Lord’s Supper or not, because we can ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit anytime…and that infilling can overflow, and splash onto the people with whom you interact day by day.

God knows the difference you will make.

If you’re not sure you can do this, rest assured that you can’t do it on your own.  So ask the Lord to fill you with his Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised at his ascension:  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

October is my favourite colour

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,” wrote Lucy Maud Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables.  The delight of seeing the verdure of deciduous woods transform into hues of red and yellow and gold is a sight that never gets old.  (As I type this, I am beholding this transformation right in front of me, as my wife sits in the driver’s seat on our way to visit my mother in hospital; please pray for her!)

The dramatic nature of the colour change varies, depending on location.  If you live in the desert, you’re not going to see much change.  But in more temperate areas, the transformation is definitely more noticeable.  If you experience any kind of significant season change, you will see more colour.

And then, you will see no colour…just sticks coming up out of the ground.  And then, white sticks.  And then, melting, and buds, and leaves, and verdure once again.  The cycle continues year after year after year, in God’s grace.

The changing seasons remind us of the all-too-quick passing of time.  It is our most precious commodity.  How will you make the most of it?

The starkness of autumn reminds me of the importance of investing in eternal things – things that won’t decay with the passage of time.  This involves lining out our priorities.  Someone once wisely quipped, “What are you going to do with your dash?”, referring to the line between the year one was born and the year one died.  Will you use your time wisely, in ways that will impact your and someone else’s eternity, or will you fritter it away?

The leaves are starting to fall.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Be a spiritual prepper

With so many other shiny things in the news lately, we haven’t heard much about hurricane season.  But Fiona, the most recently-named storm, has pummeled Puerto Rico and has its sights set on Atlantic Canada, and though it will likely not be rated as a hurricane, it has the potential to do some serious damage.

Residents are being encouraged to ensure they have sufficient supplies for a hold-and-secure period of not less than 72 hours, and that their sump pumps are working.  This is the time when the “prepper” community – those whose hobby (or obsession) is emergency preparedness – has its opportunity to shine!

Often, it is experience that teaches us to be prepared for trouble, whether it is something large and uncontrollable like a weather phenomenon (remember the big ice storm of ’98?) or something localized and preventable (like a car accident that knocks out a transformer).  Until we are prepared, we end up scrambling.  And in reality, it may not be possible to be prepared for every eventuality, unless your commitment to emergency preparedness truly is an obsession that gobbles up your entire life.

Whether it’s having a good supply of potable water or a generator or a pantry full of canned goods or dehydrated food – to say nothing of fully-charged electronic devices and backup battery packs – it’s difficult to be ready for everything, but there’s one thing that many of even the most prepared people neglect, and that’s eternity.

You can be ready for a power outage so that your freezer’s contents aren’t destroyed, but that doesn’t make you ready for the second coming of Jesus; you’re not going to need your freezer when he returns.

The challenge for eternal preparedness is that it’s not a matter of buying More Stuff.  It’s about readying your heart and your soul, and quite frankly, that’s harder work, because God’s holy standard is perfection, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t measure up to that standard.

However, there is good news:  the bulk of that harder work has been done for you by Jesus.  The Bible tells us that “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.21, NLT).  When Jesus died on the cross, he became our sin.  He was perfect, and he bore the weight of our sin – even yours and mine – so that we could be brought back into a right relationship with God.

And the benefit of this comes to us simply by faith.  When we can truly say in our hearts that Jesus is Lord – that he is Master of our lives – the benefits of Jesus’ work on the cross become ours, and our hearts and souls are made ready, fully prepared for eternity.

So, whatever befalls you, ensure your emergency preparedness kit includes faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  Then, and only then, will you really be ready.

Encouragement From The Word

You Want A King

Many around the world are mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II.  It is an emotionally difficult time, particularly for residents of the UK, because at the same time they are mourning the death of one monarch, they are rejoicing at the accession of another.  Imagine the strain on the emotions of King Charles III right now!

A television interview I watched yesterday highlighted the role that Camilla will play as Queen Consort; her biographer noted that many Britons are dropping the “Consort” part and simply calling her Queen Camilla.

Whether or not you are a monarchist, whether or not you live in a Commonwealth nation, we all face the same reality, a reality that is as old as time itself:  we want a ruler, a leader we can look up to.

For some, it is a monarch; for others, it is a president or a prime minister; for still others, it might be a leader of a different sort.  And in one sense this is as good thing:  good leaders help to provide structure and order to society.

At the same time, though, we are quick to put a leader in a place that belongs to God alone.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites bellyached until the Lord gave them a king.  They wanted to be like the other nations; they had forgotten that their place as a chosen people meant they had the Lord as their king!  But they wanted an earthly king, so they could fit in with all the cool countries.

God granted their request, and for the most part, things went downhill from there.

Looking up to someone in leadership is well and good, but make sure that the One to whom you most look up is the Lord himself, our one true King.

Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance.“Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods’ (1 Samuel 8.5b-8a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Grunt Work

Our nation is in mourning after a number of people on the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan were stabbed to death this past weekend.  The whole matter came to a tragic end with the arrest, and subsequent death, of the alleged perpetrator, Myles Sanderson.

It’s a heartbreaking story with many, many facets.  Mr. Sanderson was a young man in his 30s with a long rap sheet.  What could have made him a career criminal?  Again, there are many facets even to this aspect of the story, and I want us to consider just one of them.

I know nothing of his childhood and nothing of his family, so I won’t speculate.  But something we can learn from this tragedy is the value of raising children with intentionality and care.

Parenting is hard; it’s the hardest job known to the human race.  It has not been my privilege to parent.  I have served parents, though, throughout my many years of ministry, and those who have done well have parented intentionally and carefully.

It’s one of those tasks that never seems to end, at least when one is in the thick of it.  It’s especially challenging for Christian parents, because they are constantly fighting against a world (with much media in its arsenal) that seeks to suck children into its vortex.  Christian parents are always having to hold their kids by the ankles to keep them from being taken in by the world and its ways.

Some might say the answer is to shelter them completely, but I suspect that does them few favours as they grow up and see what’s going on around them.

Parents must talk to their kids, and equip them for the world they will face.  They need to help their kids develop profound discernment skills so they can make decisions well – not just how to cook and clean and buy a car, but how to have a strong sexual ethic, a deep value for life, a profound respect for all people – and countless other skills.  

And it’s the church’s job to help parents with this.

Traditional models for Christian education largely assumed that parents had all the tools they needed to raise their kids not only to be good citizens, but to know and follow Jesus.  Those traditional models – still employed in some churches today – worked in the Christendom age, when most western nations were still considered Christian countries, but they don’t work today.

That’s why it’s important for churches to stand by parents, and to equip them, so that children are ready to face the world.  Most of the work parents need to do cannot be farmed out to others, the way we employ someone to teach our kids how to play the piano.  Parents must do this work themselves.  And some feel ill-equipped to do it.

The church exists to make disciples of Jesus; that’s our mission.  And it’s not just about getting more professions of faith, as important as that is; it’s also about equipping God’s people for life’s most basic and most profound tasks.

Perhaps your church, like ours, invests in family ministry for that purpose.  If it doesn’t, why doesn’t it?  It’s an investment that pays off not only in the Kingdom of God as we envision it in the future; it’s an investment that affects the world we live in for today and tomorrow.

It’s grunt work.  It can be painful.  It can be heart-wrenching.  But when it is done well, I also understand it is very satisfying, not only for parents, but for everybody else.

Direct your children onto the right path,
    and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22.6, NLT).