Encouragement From The Word

Hate

This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m going to talk about hate.  It’s a pertinent subject, since there’s a lot of it going around these days – but not all of it gets publicized in the same way.

Jesus tells his disciples the blatant truth in John 15.18-19 (NLT):  “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world.  I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

That seems like pretty bad news.  How do we survive, let alone thrive, in a society where we are surrounded by hate? (You’ll have to stay tuned for the answer to that.  You can join us at 10:00 a.m. for worship on Sunday, or tune in to our live-stream on Facebook, or later on YouTube or on the church website.)  Hatred toward followers of Jesus is not widely talked about, perhaps because the church has been a dominant force in society for so long…but it isn’t anymore.

But the good news is that there is help.  We aren’t consigned to live the Christian life alone.  We have the Holy Spirit, and each other.  Each is important!

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, given to us by the Father and the Son to live in and through us when we come to him in faith.  Living the Christian life without the Holy Spirit is like trying to breathe without oxygen: it can’t be done.  The Holy Spirit is our Helper, our Advocate in the midst of the hate the world offers.

There are a lot of “one another” phrases in the New Testament, and these underscore how important Christian community is.  We need each other if we are going to make a difference in a world of adversity. We need each other in both a macro and a micro sense, sharing corporate worship as well as a deeper intimacy with the Lord and each other through small groups.

The world will hate us for following Jesus, because it hates Jesus.  But the good news is that the church of Jesus has been historically proven to thrive under persecution.  Think of the Christians in China, forced underground to continue their devotion to the Lord.  Imagine how much community means to them!  Imagine how much they rely on the Holy Spirit!

We don’t know much about persecution here in the west…yet.  But we can be ready for it by relying on the Holy Spirit and each other.

See you on Sunday.

Advertisements
Encouragement From The Word

Be alert

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, my phone, quietly charging on my dresser at the other end of our bedroom, started buzzing.  Funny, thought I as it awakened me, I have my phone on ‘do not disturb’.

Apparently, “amber alert” notifications trump the ‘do not disturb’ function.  I learned that at 3:00 a.m. on Thursday. Oddly, these late-night alerts have happened before, and I was not awakened; I suppose there must have been some sort of conflagration of nocturnal events that roused me from my slumber.

Amber Alerts can be broadcast at any hour of the day or night as the need arises. After all, it’s possible that an Amber Alert could contribute to saving a child’s life.  That’s why the majority of people don’t mind this intrusion into their privacy.

There is a time coming – we don’t know when, so there’s no point in predicting – when the most important “alert” you’ll ever get will happen.  Will it be broadcast to everybody’s cell phone?  I have my doubts, but when it occurs, none of us will have any difficulty knowing about it.

It’s the second coming of Jesus.

Lots of time is spent and plenty of ink is spilled over trying to deduce or discern the day and time of Jesus’ return, but that is all wasted.  Even the Lord Jesus himself said, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24.36, NLT).

What can we do?  Be ready.  Be alert. Be prepared.  Trust Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  The rest will fall into place, irrespective of various theological constructs that may exist (and which any of us may hold dear).  He will come, and we won’t need an Amber Alert to tell us about it.

Find strength in the words of the apostle Paul:

 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves.  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.  So encourage each other with these words (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, NLT).

Don’t wait for your phone to start buzzing in the middle of the night. Trust Jesus today, and his return will be pure joy.

Encouragement From The Word

Holy Gazing

Along with the somewhat more common spiritual practice called lectio divina, or holy reading, whereby we read a passage of Scripture a few times in order to hear from the Lord, there is also a less common spiritual practice called visio divina, or holy watching.  In this practice, we spend a protracted time gazing upon an image, likewise in order to hear from the Lord.

When we look upon an image, we may see something that prompts a memory, something that might encourage us to have a conversation with God.  The idea is certainly not to use the image as an object of worship, but to allow God to use it to speak into our lives in some way that will build our relationship with him.

Today, I’m encouraging you to spend a few minutes – as long as it takes – looking at this image.  Ask yourself these questions:

What stands out to me the most?

Is there a colour that quickens me in some way?

What emotions am I feeling as I look at this?

Then, pause, and offer your answers to these questions to the Lord.  Perhaps he wants to speak to you.  Even if you get no clear message, spend some time praising him, inspired by the image.

Panorama1-copy-368cwogzj5b3z14aria0p6
“If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  This is a large mural on the wall of the lower chapel at Magdala in Israel.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.  The world and all its people belong to him” (Psalm 24.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Investing in eternity

Each morning this week at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we’ve welcomed some 50 children to our vacation Bible camp, ‘Camp WannaKnowGod’.  As we come to our last morning, everybody’s a bit tired out, but we’ve done this work with joy.  Why?

Because we’ve been investing.

In one sense, these five mornings have been like a whole year of Sunday kids’ ministry crammed into 15 hours.  No wonder everybody’s tired!  But we carry on because we are investing…in the spiritual lives of 50 kids.

All the time, money, creativity, and effort that have gone into making this week possible have had but one motive: to help this group of children entrusted to us have a personal encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ.

These kids could be at soccer camp or at the cottage or at Canada’s Wonderland, but they are with us.  And we express our gratitude by investing in them.

Because, after all, in 100 years, it won’t matter how good they are at soccer.  It won’t matter how much time they spent at the cottage.  And it definitely won’t matter how many roller coasters they’ve ridden.  The only thing that will matter in 100 years is what they did with Jesus.

Some of my earliest Christian memories are of a vacation Bible school, which was done in the form of a musical called “A 100% Chance of Rain”, about Noah and the flood. I was probably around 5 or 6 years old. While that was not a “give my heart to Jesus” time, I’m sure the Lord used it to prepare my heart for the time when I would trust Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

This week, our prayer is that these children would know Jesus.  And if not through us this week, then in the future, when someone else’s ministry leads them to faith, and our investment will pay eternal dividends for the children.

We also hope to invest in the parents, equipping them with resources that will help them nurture faith in Jesus.  After all, they have a lot more hours to invest in their kids than the church does!

How are you investing in children – either as a parent, or as a part of the church?  It’s an investment in eternity where others reap the benefits, and God gets the glory.

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

Encouragement From The Word

Staid Brightness and Reckless Abandon

This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’ll be talking about a passage of Scripture that includes these verses:

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.  You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.  Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14.12-14, NLT)

Now, your reaction to these few verses may be heavily dependent on the tradition from which you come.  If you come from a skeptical tradition, you’ll likely doubt that anything miraculous was ever undertaken.  If you come from a charismatic tradition, you may believe this is a name-it-and-claim-it kind of proof text.  And if you come from a more mainline tradition, it probably either scares you or baffles you.

When Jesus said these words to his disciples in the context of the beginning of his farewell discourse, he was encouraging his disciples to embrace the power that would be theirs by the Holy Spirit.  See, after Jesus died and rose again, he hung around his disciples for 40 days, and then ascended into heaven.  And 10 days later, God sent the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name so that his followers could experience the same power that he had – and, if you read that passage carefully, even greater works could be done than Jesus did!

But what does it mean to “ask me for anything in my name”?  Doesn’t that just make Jesus seem like a genie in a bottle?

Well, it can if you don’t read with understanding. When we ask for anything “in Jesus’ name”, what’s implied there is a desire that his will be fulfilled. Praying in Jesus’ name is not some sort of guarantee our prayer will be answered our way; if anything, it’s a humble request that it be answered Jesus’ way.

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit and submit ourselves to God’s will for us in Christ, we will have power to do great things in his name.  Two contrasting images come to mind here:  plugging in a lamp, and letting a dog off the leash.  One is stationary, one is free; but each is doing what it’s designed to do – one with staid brightness, the other with reckless abandon.

Spend a few minutes today, holding that passage before the Lord, asking how he wants it fulfilled in your life.

Encouragement From The Word

Make Canada Thine Own!

Here’s one from the vault.  Happy Dominion/Canada Day weekend!

In recognition of our Dominion’s 152nd birthday, I thought I’d share with you a poem, often sung as a hymn (to O Canada, of course), written in 1915 by Canadian Methodist teacher-physician Albert Durrant Watson (1859-1926).  Let it be your prayer, as it is mine, for our nation.  (At St. Paul’s, we’ll sing this on Sunday.)

Lord of the lands, beneath Thy bending skies,

On field and flood, where’er our banner flies,

Thy people lift their hearts to Thee,

Their grateful voices raise:

May our Dominion ever be

A temple to Thy praise.

Thy will alone let all enthrone;

Lord of the lands, make Canada Thine own:

Lord of the lands, make Canada Thine own!

 

Almighty Love, by Thy mysterious power,

In wisdom guide, with faith and freedom dower;

Be ours a nation evermore

That no oppression blights,

Where justice rules from shore to shore,

From lakes to northern lights.

May love alone for wrong atone;

Lord of the lands, make Canada Thine own:

Lord of the lands, make Canada Thine own!

 

Lord of the worlds, with strong eternal hand,

Hold us in honour, truth and self-command;

The loyal heart, the constant mind,

The courage to be true,

Our wide extending Empire bind,

And all the earth renew.

Thy name be known through ev’ry zone;

Lord of the worlds, make all the lands Thine own:

Lord of the worlds, make all the lands Thine own!

 

Lord, all the nations belong to you.  Make all their citizens yours, by grace, that your Kingdom may come on earth, just as it is in heaven.  Amen.

He will rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Psalm 72.8, NIV).

Encouragement From The Word

Lessons from the Raptors’ parade

In case you’ve been otherwise occupied recently, I can tell you that the Toronto Raptors won the championship of the National Basketball Association last week, and that the city hosted a little party to celebrate the victory in downtown Toronto on Monday.

Oh, by the way: that little party had about two million people in attendance!

In some ways, the news about the victory parade from the Canadian National Exhibition grounds to Nathan Phillips Square (Toronto city hall) was a bigger story than the Raptors’ win itself.  Everybody expected a crowd, but nobody expected the size of crowd that appeared.

Sadly, there was some violence that marred the happy occasion, but thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I think there are a couple of lessons in this for the people of God.

One is that we should always be prepared.  In the wake of the parade and its many onlookers, the City of Toronto sought to learn from its mistakes and be ready for such a gathering if it ever were to happen again.

A maxim to which I’ve long subscribed is that the church will always receive as many guests as it is ready to receive.  So, for example, if a congregation is hosting a ‘big day’, such as Christmas, Easter, or an event to which the community is invited, it needs to be sure that it has sufficient priority parking spaces set aside for guests. It needs to have people prepared to be hospitable and welcoming to those who may be stepping inside the church building in fear and trepidation.  It needs to be prepared with the words that are used so that no ‘insider language’ is used, and people who may be unfamiliar with the church and its worship can fully understand what’s going on.

Another lesson for God’s people is to be aware that, as Jesus said, “The fields are already ripe for harvest” (John 4.35, NLT).  Many congregations struggle these days, but the aerial views of that parade last Monday were a reminder for churches everywhere – not just in Toronto – that there are still many people who have yet to be reached with the good news of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ.

That’s not to say that all the people attending that parade were not followers of Jesus; I know for a fact that some of them are!  But when we despair that the church is going to die for lack of attendance, we do well to be reminded that there are many people in our communities, large and small, who do not follow Jesus.  Our task from Jesus is to reach out to them in grace and humility with the truth of his love and mercy.

It’s God’s job to grow the church, but he yearns for willing partners in accomplishing that task.

So, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors!  And may the church of Jesus be ready to receive the many people who have holes in their souls and need the good news that only he can offer…through us.