Encouragement From The Word

Examine it!

The responses to the passing this week of Canadian musician Gord Downey, and of Leonard Cohen earlier this year, remind us of just how influential music is in the lives of Canadians, and of western societies generally.  So attached are Canadians to their music legends that the official and unofficial condolences rival (or even exceed) those offered in memory of world leaders.  After all, how often does the flag get put at half-staff on Parliament Hill?

In light of this, I want to encourage you to examine the music you listen to.  Yes, examine it.  You might say that would take all the fun out of it, but anything worth having fun at is also worth thinking about.

You can ask yourself, How does this music make me feel inside?  Does it soothe your soul?  Does it make you angry?  Does it raise your pulse or lower it?  Does it motivate you?  Does it calm you?  How does the music you listen to make you feel?

For example, some people use loud music with a heavy beat to get them going in the morning; it stimulates them from head to toe.  (I think that’s why I never did well in fitness classes; loud music with a heavy beat just makes me want to walk away!)  Alternatively, some people use quiet music with a floating ambience to help them chill out.  The ease with which we can access recorded music of our own choosing today has made music a universal tool at our disposal pretty well anytime.

So, how does what you listen to make you feel?

You can also ask yourself, What do the lyrics I listen to really say?  This is a kicker for some, who may listen to the music for the beat but don’t realize until they examine the lyrics that what they listen to degrades women, or glorifies sex, just to state two common examples.

Or, you can ask yourself, What does the music I listen to say about me – intentionally or not?  As a follower of Jesus, you are being watched by your friends, family and acquaintances.  People notice if there are inconsistencies in your witness.  Does the music you listen to complement your faith or contradict it?

Some might say that, in response, we should listen only to Christian music.  While I certainly encourage you to listen to Christian music – and there is all sorts of it – I wouldn’t counsel you to limit yourself.  I do encourage you, though, to have a music “filter” that’s always engaged.  Music is a gift from God, something most musicians know innately.  So we can celebrate the gift of music of all sorts, asking the Lord for the wisdom to “filter out” what is blatantly unedifying.

I am reminded of the words of theologian A.W. Tozer:  “What goes into a mind comes out in a life.”  Remember that when you’re examining the music you listen to, and especially when you hear what your kids are listening to.

Take the advice of the apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Philippi:  “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise…. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4.8b, 9b, NLT).

 

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Encouragement From The Word

As far as the east is from the west

Simply spend some time meditating on these words today.  Let them wash over you as you read them several times.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

 He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
 He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
 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 103.8-12, NLT)

How will you respond to the Lord in light of this?

Encouragement From The Word

We can ‘be’ change

The mass shooting in Las Vegas last weekend is a terrible tragedy.  Many lives were lost, many more people were injured, and emotionally, a lot of people are going to need help to resume some semblance of normality – not just the injured and the families of those who died, but also the bystanders and the people who work at the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooting took place.  Long after the news stops talking about it (news channels always find something new and shiny on which to focus), people will still be struggling.

Of course, in this era of social media where everyone seeks to share an opinion, lots of folks are talking about the need for greater gun control, tighter immigration policies, or tougher screening to weed out terrorists.  But there is something else that can be done.

Parents can raise their children.

That might sound like an incongruous non sequitur, but think about it:  if parents raise their children – not just give birth to them, not just feed them, not just provide for their wants and needs, but raise them – we will have a generation of people who become adults who don’t have a hankering to kill people.  That sounds simplistic, but I know too many moms and dads who have engaged in the hard work of raising their kids whose children turn out to be kind, loving adults to believe it can’t be done.

To be sure, there are countless outside influences that work against what conscientious parents are doing, but that only raises the level of the challenge.

It seems like an insurmountable job, and it is.  Parents can’t do it on their own.

Parents need God’s help, and they need God’s agents to help them: the church.

When parents acknowledge that the job is too difficult for them to do alone, and they submit themselves to the Lord who knew their children before they were formed in the womb (Psalm 139.16), they give their children to God, recognizing that even parenthood is a form of stewardship; children are ours to raise on God’s behalf.

Then, the community of faith can partner with the parents to help kids grow up to be good, law-abiding citizens, yes, but also to love and serve the Lord.  When we introduce God into the lives of children, the Holy Spirit becomes an invisible player in the game of child-rearing – that unpredictable, love-engendering, tongues-of-fire-giving Spirit supports the work of diligent parents and churches.  And the result is a generation of adults who in turn raise their children the same way.

Will this work perfectly?  Undoubtedly not; because of sin, there will always be challenges to God’s plan for families.  But while we pray for those affected, while we work to bring change where change is needed in society, let’s start with our own families.  We can bring change; we can be change.

If you love me, obey my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth” (Jesus, John 15.16, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Measure your words

If you’re into social media, you know that one of the challenges of Twitter is that your posts are limited to 140 characters.  This often means that one must be judicious in the number of words one uses in a tweet.

One of the down sides of Twitter character limits is that texting short forms have crept into the mainstream.  (How mainstream?  I once marked an academic paper that had an “lol” in it.  No, really, lol.)

Another down side is, of course, what we might call a failure to communicate.  Any written communication has the possibility of being misunderstood, because facial expression and body language can’t be seen in written communication.  And when character limits are imposed, it becomes singularly difficult to express exactly what one wants to say.

Well, Twitter has some good news for us – or so we think.  Certain ‘elect’ tweeters – I am not among them, as yet – have been granted status to be able to tweet 280 characters per tweet instead of 140.  They now have twice the space to say, well, whatever they want the Twitterverse to know.

This is good news for those who find it difficult to express themselves briefly (maybe us preacher-types are among them!).  It may also be good news for those who are not fond of texting short forms in written communication, though that could prove to be a tougher habit to break.

It may be bad news for those who find even short tweets from certain parties annoying, but they can always be muted.

Whether it’s 140 characters or 280 characters or 140,280 characters, we do well to choose our words wisely.  Consider this:  “The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words” (Proverbs 10.19, The Message).  Measure your words carefully, even if you’re not limited to 140 characters.  It honours God.

Encouragement From The Word

Is tomorrow “the end”?

Is the world going to end tomorrow?  It could.  But it probably won’t.

There has been a fair bit of press lately given to a small number of individuals who are predicting that on Saturday, September 23, 2017, time will be consummated.  One of them calls himself a “Christian numerologist”, which is just a fancy term for somebody who makes it his hobby to study numbers in the Bible; there’s certainly no such thing as a degree in “Christian numerology”.  It tends to be a rabbit-trail that some sincere followers of Jesus go down, usually with good intentions, but most often because what they really need is a decent hobby.  I recommend model railroading.

Of course, the news outlets make a big deal of this – usually so they can make Christians look like fools (something at which some believers in the public square are actually quite adept).  But will the world end tomorrow?  Committed Jesus-follower and public thinker Ed Stetzer doesn’t think so (you can read his article here).  I don’t, either.  But that doesn’t keep me from believing that it could happen – and that we should be ready for it when it does.

There seem to be two solitudes when it comes to eschatology – the study of the end times – whereby people are either obsessed with the second coming of Jesus, or they don’t think about it at all.  I think both are dangerous positions.

It’s dangerous to be consumed with consummation, and it’s dangerous to ignore the end times, too.  Those in the former ‘camp’ tend to see every big phenomenon (like earthquakes and hurricanes) and every small detail (like numbers in the Bible) as signs that point to the return of Jesus, often on some particular date.  Those in the latter ‘camp’ often don’t believe in a literal second coming, or they choose to see it as an incidental matter of faith.

As I understand Scripture, the truth is in the middle.

By trying to pinpoint the second coming, we pretend to know more than Jesus, who said that only the Father knows when that time will come (Mark 13.32).  And by discounting the return of Jesus, we imply that it is unimportant, when clearly it is; after all, Jesus said, “Understand this: if a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Luke 12.39-40, NLT – emphasis mine).

What that tells us is (a) Jesus is coming back; (b) we don’t know when it will happen; and (c) we need to be ready for it.  How can we be ready for something whose timing is uncertain?

Confess and repent of your sins, live in relationship with Jesus, and seek to serve him.  Trust him for your eternal salvation.  Live a life pleasing to him, in response to his gift of eternal life.  And share your faith.  After all, if we really believed that Jesus was coming back, we’d want others to be ready too, right?

At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, this Sunday is “Bring a Friend” day.  If you’re in the area and you’ve been wanting to give Christian faith a try, please join us at 10:00 a.m.  Be my guest for lunch – and let me know you’re coming so I can watch for you!

Wherever you are, assuming the world doesn’t come to an end tomorrow, I hope you’ll gather with God’s people to rejoice in what Jesus has done for you, so that you will be ready for when he does return!

Encouragement From The Word

A lesson from (near) Las Vegas

Last week, I wrote about the constant noise that surrounds a trip to Las Vegas.  This week, I thought I’d share a bit about what happened when we were outside Las Vegas – a very different experience!

Thanks to the genius of Sir Sanford Fleming and his time zones, we knew that we’d wake up on our first morning in Vegas on Eastern Time, so we thought we’d take advantage of that fact by renting a car when we left the airport, and driving outside the city to see two incredible sights:  the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.

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It’s an ambitious drive all in one day, but we did it, and boy, was it worthwhile.  Being up by 5:00 a.m. local time on the day after our arrival, we were able to be up and out of the hotel to be at the Hoover Dam before 7, when almost no one was there.  We took our time, poked around, and saw this feat of human engineering in all its imposing glory.  The concrete is so thick on that dam, it’s still curing, more than 80 years later!

As remarkable as feats of human engineering can be, though, a few hours’ drive later, we were met face-to-face with an even greater feat, one of divine engineering.  The Grand Canyon must be seen in real life, for photography does it little justice.  It’s a mighty deep hole, and it goes on forever!  While we didn’t stay too long, or see the Canyon in its vastness, we both felt like we needed simply to stand there and take it in.

Of course, there have been countless years of weather and erosion and who-knows-what sort of geological activities that have made it what it is today, but the Grand Canyon is sort of the anti-mountain: instead of going up, it goes down – way down! – but it inspires an almost equal awe in me.  I can’t look at a phenomenon like the Grand Canyon and not believe in a benevolent Creator.  It’s part of “general revelation”, the sights of the world that draw one to understand the existence of God.

Mountains capture my heart, geologically speaking, but the Grand Canyon came a close second (well, maybe third, after walking the dusty paths of Galilee when on pilgrimage to the Holy Land).  I know that there are people who will say that this stuff just happened, but I think that takes as much faith as it takes to say that God made it.  And I’d rather side with him, given the choice.

It was a stark contrast to the bells and lights and concrete of the Las Vegas strip, and a welcome one.  And it made me ask myself, Do I make a habit of noticing God’s hand at work in creation?

How about you?  Do you make a habit of noticing God’s hand at work in creation?  Mountains, valleys, and flat places are all gifts from the Lord.  Rejoice in them.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.  The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

A lesson from Vegas

Welcome back to Encouragement From the Word!  It’s good to be back in the saddle.  My time off was, in part, a study in contrasts.  To mark our 25th wedding anniversary (which is actually next Tuesday), my wife and I embarked on a four-night trip to Las Vegas.  Following that, I went on retreat at a monastery for a few days.

Yep, that’s quite a difference.

I learned a lot about life during our visit to Sin City.  One of the most profound takeaways for me was the need some people have constantly to be stimulated.  If you’re one of those people, Vegas is your place.  Without exaggeration, the only places where we could escape from some sort of aural or visual stimulation were our hotel room, and the hallway that led to it.  Every other place we went in Las Vegas had lights flashing, music playing, bells ringing – always something stimulating the senses.

It seems to me that it’s not healthy for us to experience constant stimulation.  Sometimes, we need the silence, we need the stillness – for our own sanity, frankly – but also if we have any hope of hearing from God.

There’s a comic frame that has made its way around social media over the last several years, picturing a sheep in a chaise lounge wearing sunglasses, with a computer on his lap, a TV in front of him, a radio blaring behind him, and an iPod connected to his headphones.  He’s reading one from a pile of magazines that are stacked on top of his Bible, and he asks, “I wonder why I don’t hear from the shepherd anymore?”

The answer is obvious, and the comic challenges us.  We need time away from the noise, so we can hear from God.

What allowance do you make for quiet time?  A few days praying with monks was good for me, but it wasn’t enough; I need time daily, away from the noise.  So do you.

The Lord Jesus, during his ministry in Palestine, often found crowds of people drawn to him.  And he was compassionate toward the people and brought healing and life to many.  But the Bible also says this about him:  “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer” (Luke 5.16, NLT).  Even Jesus needed a quiet place and a quiet time.  So do you.  What will you do to make that happen in this season of trying new things?