Encouragement From The Word

Remembering to lament

Perhaps, like me, you are finding the restrictions of the pandemic, at least here in Ontario, wearying.  Even with the promise that vaccines are rolling out, we get the sense that the process is slow.  Even with the entertainment we have received over the past days, weeks and months from our neighbours south of the border, there is a feeling that so much of life has become elegiac – lamentable, in a sense.

And we have a problem:  our culture has largely lost the ability to lament.

Most of the music we hear nowadays, at least popularly, is meant to be positive, even to hype us up.  But there are occasions when we need artistic expression of other emotions to help us induce the feelings that need to be manifested.

As I write this, I am listening to a piece of music that, for me, evokes lament – the Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, arranged for organ.  Not exactly a top 40 hit. 

But I find listening to certain pieces of music will conjure the emotion that is pent up inside.

So do the Scriptures.

Not all Bible passages, in or out of context, are meant to be “keep your chin up” texts; in both the stories and the songs of the Bible, there are laments.  We find few, if any, of them paraphrased in the CCLI Top 150.

Of course, there is a whole book seemingly devoted to lament; we call it “Lamentations.”  But there are many other examples in Scripture.  Several of them are in the Psalms – and there are even different types of laments found there.

When we think of the Psalms, our minds likely move toward “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23) or “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121), since these are words of comfort.  Yet the beloved Psalter contains numerous laments; feel free to look them up after you’re done reading this.

But for now, consider Psalm 38.  Read it over a few times, slowly, paying attention to your breathing as you do.  Perhaps the Lord will highlight a particular word or phrase, as he did for me.  Yours may be different from mine, as mine is different from another’s; God uses his Word to speak to our hearts and minister to us where we have need.

O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.

13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
    or rejoice at my downfall.”

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
    facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
    I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
    they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
    and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
    Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
    O Lord my savior.  (NLT)

When David first wrote, or sang, this, he was acknowledging the pain in his heart.  You can do the same as you read it.  And as you acknowledge your pain, remember that the Lord is your Saviour; he will come to help you.  He came to help David, and he has come to help me.

Encouragement From The Word

Hold on to the One who holds the future

I’m torn about how best to write to you today.  As we enter a second state of emergency in the province of Ontario, which affects many of our readers, I want to tell you to keep your chin up and your face smiling, that better days are ahead.  Or, as the Premier of Ontario said when he announced the new stay-at-home order, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”  (Whether he knew it or not, he borrowed that from the late televangelist Robert Schuller!)

However…even though I call this Encouragement From The Word, I’m not here to be a cheerleader.  It’s Encouragement From The Word.

So I’m not going to tell you to keep smiling or keep your chin up; I’m not going to tell you to be tough, even though these are not bad pieces of advice.

I’m going to tell you to hold on to the One who holds the future.

I know many people who are acquainted with hardship in these days – and I don’t mean the “hardship” of wearing a mask.  I’m talking about sickness – severe sickness – that has left the ill and their family members desperate.

I’ve heard of the heartbreak of people having to drop sick loved ones off at the hospital door, because they are not allowed to accompany them.

I’ve heard of people so focused on the mere act of breathing that nothing else matters.  (Remember the old motto of the Lung Association?)

And I wonder:  without faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the future, who knows tomorrow, how does anyone cope?

We don’t know when things will be better.  But they will be better.  Trusting Jesus right now makes life better, both for today and for eternity.

In him you will find your strength.

[T]hose who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40.31, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Submit?

Happy new year!

A week in, and we’re already on pins and needles, eh?

I have to admit, I was going to write about the sad lunacy of the whole “Amen and A-woman” debacle in the US House of Representatives, but then this past Wednesday happened.  I’ll save the other one for another time.

It might be the first time the White House was stormed since, well, the Canadians burned it during the War of 1812!

I’ve never believed in coincidences, not even homiletical coincidences.

When 9/11 took place, I was preaching through the book of Jonah.

This Sunday, returning to a series I broke from for Advent and Christmas, I will be preaching on Romans 13.1-7.

I’ve been looking forward to this passage for quite a while, but I wasn’t expecting such a current illustration as we got on Wednesday!

Everyone must submit to governing authorities.  For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13.1, NLT).

Amid the rioters on Capitol Hill, amid the pandemic and the lockdown, where lies the boundary for submitting to governing authorities?

The key comes in understanding the verb, “submit”.  Rather than meaning “blindly obey”, its definition has more to do with appreciating the hierarchy that exists within the rule of law.  

God is at the top of the chain, but he places governments – through various means – in place over us, and we are called to respect them.

For some, though, the question becomes, “To what extent do I submit?”

If the government forces you to do something that is patently and obviously contrary to God’s will in Scripture, that may be the point where civil disobedience kicks in.

If you want to know how that relates to the widespread lockdown we find ourselves in currently, tune in live on Sunday at 10:00 a.m., or on demand any time after 4:00 p.m.

Encouragement From The Word

The Glue and the Head

This Advent, we’ve been looking at Jesus through the eyes of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians.  In Colossians 1.17-18, he writes, “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.  Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.  He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead.  So he is first in everything” (NLT).

Imagine that:  were it not for Jesus – who, we learned, was present in creation – the world would quite literally fall apart!  He is the Glue that holds creation together.

And this Amazing Baby we celebrate in these days is also the Head of the church.  No matter what your tradition or polity, the very top of the chain of command is reserved for Jesus.  Why?  Because he was born for it, gave his life for it, and rose from the dead for it.

So, this Christmas, let me encourage you to make him, in Paul’s words, “first in everything”.

You won’t be disappointed.

Since the next two Fridays happen to land on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas, and happy new year.  Thanks for reading Encouragement From The Word.  It’ll return in January.

Make Jesus first!

Encouragement From The Word

This Amazing Baby

This Amazing Baby whose birth we anticipate is, as I’ve been pointing out in this Advent season, no ordinary Baby.  Not only was he present at creation, but he was active in creation.

How can a baby do that? you might rightly ask.  

Well, Jesus was not always a baby.

Of course, we know that he grew and became a man and ministered until he was crucified.  He rose from the dead and ministered again until he was taken up to heaven, from whence he came.

See, Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate version of the second Person of the Trinity.  The Trinity is a difficult doctrine, one that is inferred by Scripture and that has been a hallmark of apostolic Christianity for almost 1700 years (so it’s proven the test of time).  As the second Person of the Trinity, our Saviour was active in creating the world, so it’s no wonder that he was willing to give his earthly life for it.

Yet Jesus did not only create the mountains and valleys, the lakes and trees and rocks; he also set forth less immediately tangible realities.

This Amazing Baby in the manger is the Creator of heaven and earth.  Imagine that! 

He’s worth anticipating, worth worshipping, worth being ready for when he comes again.

[F]or through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.  He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.  Everything was created through him and for him.  He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together” (Colossians 1.16-17, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The Birth of the Firstborn

In Advent, we anticipate the birth of Jesus – something that happened more than 2,000 years ago.  Yet it has been commemorated annually by his followers for centuries.  What makes it a birthday worth getting ready for?

Jesus was no ordinary baby.  I’m pretty sure, though, contrary to the carols that proclaim “Silent night,” and “no crying he makes”, that his birth was a fairly normal human birth, with all the liquid and drama and emotion that go with it.

Mary, his mother, knew he would be different.  An angel of the Lord had told her as much.  But we can’t be certain when that different-ness became obvious to either Jesus or his mother.

Still, the birth was special, because Jesus was no ordinary baby.  The Apostle Paul would write later that “He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation” (Colossians 1.15b, NLT).  Other translations render that as Jesus having been the firstborn of all creation.

No wonder he would later say to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was even born, I AM!” (John 8.58, NLT).

There’s definitely something special about celebrating the birth of One who has existed since time began, One who was present at the very creation of the world.

Whatever your seasonal celebrations look like this year – and I’m sure they will be different than in years past, at some level – there is definitely a reason to keep them special, since we’re celebrating the birth of no ordinary baby.

What will you do to make it special this year?

Encouragement From The Word

All about family?

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day in the US.  Today is Black Friday.  This Sunday begins the season of Advent, as we count down the days to Christmas.

And we’re still in COVID.

Many people say – reinforced by countless television commercials aimed at selling you something neither you nor your loved ones need – that “The Holidays are about family.”

I’ve been saying for years that this statement misses the mark significantly.  And this is the year to find out if that’s true.

I’m astounded – nay, gobsmacked! – at the attitudes I see on social media with respect to the pandemic and family gatherings.  These days, I see photos of some of my American friends, gathered in large crowds for Thanksgiving, as if they are unaware of the risk that if even just one person in a gathering is carrying Coronavirus, the whole group could be infected.  Why are they taking this risk?  Because “the Holidays are about family.”

In other words, maintaining a tradition is more important than preserving life.

We are entering what is usually the most socially-packed month on the calendar.  This year, that may need to be handled differently.

This may be the year that you prove that the Holidays are not really all about family.

It is possible to be thankful without having The Whole Gang present in the room.

Christmas parties can take place virtually, or in physically distanced settings.

We can still celebrate the birth of Jesus when it’s just our own household.

I don’t want to pretend I’m anybody’s Medical Officer of Health, and I’m certainly not trying to engender fear in anyone.  We serve a God who is bigger than any virus!  But as Advent begins, I think this is the year we can demonstrate, once and for all, that the Holidays are not all about family.

In this year of craziness, let’s focus on the One (in the) Stable:  let’s remember the Reason for the Season.

Whatever shape your Advent and Christmas celebrations take, be safe.  And let Jesus be the Centre of it all.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Hiding the Word

Many people don’t realize it, but there are many English idioms that come from the Bible – most from the King James Version of 1611 (and thereafter), and some from even before that.  Because Bible reading used to be much more prevalent in society at large, these phrases became commonplace in English.

I’m going to be talking about one of them on Sunday.  It comes from Proverbs 25.22, cited later by the apostle Paul in Romans 12.20.  It’s the idea of doing good to your enemies being like heaping burning coals on their heads, in the context of leaving revenge to God.  (In the Old Testament, the idea of burning coals is an image for the judgment of God.)

Just for fun, I took to social media the other day to ask people what their favourite English idiom with biblical roots might be.  Here’s a sampling of the answers I got:

  • “The writing is on the wall” – from the book of Daniel
  • “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” – from Jesus in Matthew
  • “Scapegoat” – from Leviticus (this one dates back to the time of William Tyndale’s translation in the 1500s!)
  • “Eat, drink and be merry” – from Ecclesiastes
  • “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – from Genesis
  • “A drop in the bucket” – from Isaiah
  • “A fool and his money are soon parted” – from Proverbs

To be sure, there is a move afoot to expunge the Bible from culture.  But that’s next to impossible to do; because the Bible has had so much influence on culture, literature, art, and virtually every other aspect of society, it would take far more effort than most people are willing to put forth to remove the Bible from our culture entirely.

It’s one thing, though, to have a Bible-laced vocabulary of idioms; it’s another thing to have the Bible ingrained in us in such a way that we live its principles and follow God’s ways as we live in relationship with him.  That has much more potential to change the world!

I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119.11, NLT).

Encouragement From the Word will return on November 27.

Encouragement From The Word

Sacrifice

As Remembrance Day approaches, the word “sacrifice” looms large.  We remember, with gratitude, those who gave their lives in the service of our country’s freedom and sovereignty.

But sacrifice is not limited to those who die in battle.

Yes, often, we think of Jesus’ words to his disciples – a veiled reference to himself – when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15.13, NLT). 

But the notion of sacrifice also relates to our own walk with God.  The apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12.1, NLT).

He calls us to give – once for all, as a victim – our bodies, which contextually refers to our whole selves – as a living sacrifice.

As disciples of Jesus, our worship involves the complete giving of every part of us to God, in his service, for his Kingdom, for his glory.

So, yes, gratefully remember those who sacrificed their lives for Canada’s freedom.  And gratefully sacrifice your body, your mind, your soul, for the glory of God, who in Jesus Christ has redeemed you for his good purpose.

Encouragement From The Word

Self-Control

Call me Captain Obvious, but it’s axiomatic that apple trees produce apples, and pear trees produce pears, and pine trees produce pine cones.  (I don’t recommend eating that last one.)

You won’t get an orange from an apple tree, and you won’t get a lemon from a pear tree.  A tree bears the fruit it was designed to bear.

Followers of Jesus, according to the Bible, receive the Holy Spirit when they name Jesus as Lord and believe that he was raised from the dead to cover our sin.  So if the Holy Spirit lives in us, it makes sense that we should bear the fruit of the Spirit.  That’s what the last eight weeks of Encouragement have focused on.

Today, we come to the final fruit of the Spirit (as outlined by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians).  And it may be the least popular.

We’ve talked about love, joy and peace (wonderful), patience (who doesn’t need more of that?), kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness (all great).  But self-control? Oh, boy!

We live in an age where self-control is less admired than pitied.  We live in a time of more, a time of excess, a time not of self-control, but of self-indulgence.  I think that may be, in part, why the restrictions of the pandemic have proven to be exceedingly difficult for many of us.  And I’ll readily admit that it’s probably the fruit of the Spirit that I least exude.  You might be in the same boat as I am.

So what do we do about that?  Moving to a hermitage is probably not the answer for the vast majority of us, and that simply takes us from one extreme to another.  Self-control is not austerity, though in some cases it may lead to that.  The word in the original language has to do with the mastery of the self.  It is, as one commentator has put it, the Christ-follower’s overcoming of the works of the flesh that Paul outlines in earlier verses in the same chapter (Galatians 5).  The term also refers to the way an athlete disciplines her or his body in preparation for competition.  

In short, self-control is our refusal to give free reign to impulse and desire.  Or, perhaps better put, it’s about submitting our desires to the One who has given us the ability to desire.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires”, says Psalm 37.4 (NLT).  I think it was St. Augustine who said, “Love God and do as you please.”  The concept is the same:  when you truly submit to the Lordship of Jesus, he will transform your desires, and help you (by the Holy Spirit) to bear all of the fruit of the Spirit, including self-control.

Maybe it’s as simple as Charles Sheldon made it seem in In His Steps: if we evaluate each move we make by asking, “What would Jesus do?”, self-control will not be as unattainable as it may seem.

Give it a try!

Encouragement From The Word

Gentleness

When we think of gentleness, our minds often go to instructions we give children on how to pet an animal, or advertising for dish soap, but as a fruit of the Spirit, there must be more to it than that.

The word from the original language of the New Testament that is translated as “gentleness” doesn’t connote “meekness”, as some older translations put it; commonly, according to one commentator, the term was used to describe a person in whom strength and gentleness would meet.

That commentator goes on to say that gentleness often refers to one with a humble disposition that submits to God’s will, and is associated with such characteristics as love, forbearance, patience, humility, and avoiding quarrels.

I wouldn’t mind being known for gentleness when I grow up, that’s for sure!

The apostle Paul gives this encouragement to Titus, as he oversees a young church:  “Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone” (Titus 3.1-2, NLT).

Maybe in these days, especially, gentleness is an important character trait for us to develop.  Give it a shot, with God’s help.

Encouragement From The Word

Faithfulness

Faithfulness:  literally, it means to be full of faith.  But in context, it also can mean the same thing as fidelity or loyalty.

We talk of being faithful to our spouse, or being loyal to the monarchy.  But when it comes to God, there’s more to it than that.

Faithfulness is about more than having faith; it is also about practising faith.

As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11.1, NLT).

That sounds a bit ethereal, but it’s true:  faith does show us the reality of what we hope for, and it gives us evidence of things we cannot see.

To put our faith into practice means taking risks, sometimes.  

When I plunk myself down on a chair, I’m acting in faith that the chair will hold me.  (I’ve been known, on occasion, when visiting someone’s home, if the chair in which they invite me to sit will hold me – particularly if it is an antique or is somewhat rickety-looking.)  Every day, I act in faith in ways I don’t even think about.

But when it comes to our faith in Jesus, acting on it means living in daily relationship with him, in the same way we would with a spouse.  In that sense, faithfulness to Jesus is fidelity to Jesus.

Take a step of faith today.  You will find that God is even more faithful.

Encouragement From The Word

Goodness

“Goodness.”  It’s a strange term in our culture, isn’t it?  It has so many uses.

Sometimes, it’s a substitute swear word:  “Oh, my goodness.”

Sometimes, it’s an exclamation:  “Goodness, me!”

Sometimes, it’s a character trait.

For a lot of people, “goodness” is what characterizes everybody:  “He’s such a good person”, or “We all have inherent goodness.”

And there is some truth to that:  all human beings are made in God’s image, and there is a certain goodness that comes with that.  The challenge with that is that our inherent goodness is badly stained by sin.

I once heard the late renowned theologian and apologist, R.C. Sproul, offer what I thought was the best answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” 

His response?  “There are no good people.”

Not very encouraging, eh?  But he was right.

The apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Rome in the first century, said, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3.23, NLT).

In other words, the goodness in us is tainted by the reality of our sin, our inability to measure up to God’s perfect standard.

Thankfully, God also gave a solution to our problem:  Jesus.  As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “For 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).

This means that when we place our faith in Jesus, receiving his death and resurrection as being for us, personally, we receive the righteousness of Jesus by faith.  So when God looks on people of faith, he sees only the righteousness – the goodness – of Jesus.

That’s why we can bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit – a fruit that includes goodness.  It’s not something that comes from within us; it’s something that is borne through us by God the Holy Spirit, who lives in all followers of Jesus.

And for that, on this Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, we can be thankful.

Encouragement From The Word

Kindness

There’s a meme floating around social media that has grown more popular through COVID times.  One variant of it says this:  “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Always be kind.”

Another says this:  “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

Very warm and fuzzy indeed.  But what does it mean to be kind?

The dictionary refers to it as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.  Fair enough.  But when we remember that one of the fruit of the Spirit is kindness, that kicks it up a notch for followers of Jesus.

Anybody can be friendly, generous or considerate when they need to be, or want to be.

Followers of Jesus, who have the Holy Spirit living in them, are called to bear the fruit of kindness, which is on an entirely different level.  Consider what the apostle Paul wrote:  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4.31-32, NLT).

See what I mean?

Being kind means more than being nice.  There’s stuff to get rid of and stuff to appropriate.  Paul suggests that being kind involves being tender-hearted, and forgiving other people in the same way Jesus forgave you.

Now there’s a challenge.

The good news is you can do it, because if you follow Jesus, you have his Spirit in you, and his Spirit enables you to be able to forgive in his way as part of being kind.

Are you harbouring a grudge against anyone?  Today’s the day to let go and forgive.

That doesn’t mean what the other person did was right.  It doesn’t mean you will forget.  But it means you can release whatever was wrong into the merciful care of God, without taking it back.

You can do it.  If you follow Jesus, his empowering Spirit will help you.

Encouragement From The Word

Patience

Whoops! Forgot to post this on Friday!

You want to have a big party, but you can’t right now because it’s not safe to do so.

You’d like to cross the US border and do some shopping, but the border’s closed.

You have had it up to here with electronic meetings and online school.

Your patience is running thin, six months into the pandemic.

Well, join the club!

As a society, we have been so used to having the freedom to do certain things that when that freedom is (temporarily, we hope) removed, our patience is tested.

As followers of Jesus, people who have the Holy Spirit living in us, we are called to bear the fruit of the Spirit.  But there are two of them that are wildly unpopular and often in short supply, even among the people of God.  One of them is patience.

Even though there are many circumstances working against us right now, we need patience and we need to ask the Lord to give us more patience.  Often, though, we forget to ask!

The Bible is replete with stories of people who had patience in the midst of trying circumstances:

Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, and they were in their eighties before Isaac came along.

Joseph was tormented by his brothers, sold into slavery, and had to rise up in the ranks of Egyptian officials before he could help to redeem his people.

Job lost everything he had, but never cursed God.

If those stories aren’t enough to make us want to ask God for patience, we can remember how patient God has been with his people over the course of time – even you and me!

So ask God for more patience.  The good news is that he is willing to give and give and give if we are willing to ask for it.  Say something like, “Lord, I need you to help me be more patient with my family, my coworkers, even the people driving near me on the streets and highways.  Give me more patience, so that I can witness to your patience with humanity, and shine your light in the world.”

The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Psalm 103.8, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Peace

September startup has looked different for most everyone this year, but it holds one thing in common with all its predecessors:  it’s been a little crazy.  It may have been crazy for different reasons, but it’s still been crazy.

Whether it’s trying to figure out if your kids are going to school or going online, or understanding what programs will and won’t resume in the church, or trying to do some of the traditional September shopping, it’s been nuts.

We could all use a little peace.

Back in the 1960s, ‘peace’ was all the rage:  “Give peace a chance,” trumpeted perhaps the most famous song on the subject from that era.  In the midst of the cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam conflict, and all else that was going on, people were crying out for peace.  And, over time, they got it…in one definition.

The Bible’s definition of peace is quite different from the mere absence of war.

When it first shows up in the Old Testament, the word “peace” is an English translation of the Hebrew word shalom – still a common greeting among Middle Eastern people today – and it doesn’t just mean, “I hope you don’t have any war today.”  It’s a wish for groundedness, particularly in your faith in God.

True peace – the kind that is the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – is a sense of comfort in your relationship with the Lord, an ability to give thanks in all circumstances (as Paul would tell the Thessalonians).  It’s something that other people can spot in you at a distance.

If you want true peace amid all that’s going on this fall – this year! – place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and experience what Paul wished for the Christians in Philippi:  “Dont worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience Gods peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Joy

Joy:  it seems so elusive to many people.  Why is that?

Sometimes, I think it’s because it easily gets confused with happiness.  In fact, sometimes even Bible translations confuse us on this matter, using “happy” when they mean “joyful”.  It may seem like angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin semantics, but in everyday language, I think we do well to keep the two terms distinct.

Think about it in terms of cultural sayings popular in the west:

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy [your favourite thing], and that’s the same.

Happiness depends on ourselves.

Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.

That last one comes from Ayn Rand, a Russian-American philosopher of the twentieth century.

We are a people who strive for happiness, and we often find it lacking something once we think we’ve achieved it.

There’s nothing wrong with being happy, but it can’t possibly compare with joy.  While, etymologically, the terms are connected, for followers of Jesus, there is a depth that comes with joy with which “the pursuit of happiness” just can’t compare.

Think about the special times in the life of church and family that are celebrated: what’s the common word that’s used, say, at Christmas and Easter?  “Rejoice!”  

That’s where joy comes from – rejoicing in the goodness of God.

We may think we have the right to be happy, but we have the privilege of joy.  Embrace it as a gift from God.

…the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8.10b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Love

Love.

It’s what makes the world go around, some say.

It’s what will keep us together, according to a song from my youth.

It’s rooted in God, according to the Bible.

So why is it so complicated?

The short answer is we make it complicated.  The longer answer is that our predisposition toward sin affects how we love, and how we view love.

But as God loves us unconditionally, so he calls his people to love others unconditionally.

This is especially difficult with people we find hard to love.  They may be people with whom we disagree on an important matter, or people whose personal hygiene makes us uncomfortable, or people who have hurt us in some way.

We may think that we can’t love these people on our own.  And that’s true.  We can’t love them on our own.

But as followers of Jesus – recipients of this love of the Father that sent his Son to the cross for our sins – we have the Holy Spirit living in and through us, and that is why we can love those we find hard to love.

Here’s a challenge for you and for me:  think of someone you know whom you consider hard to love.  Pray for that person to know the Lord and to serve him.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you love him or her.  And, amid physical distancing requirements, act in some way to show love to that person in the coming week.

Then, focus on another person, and do it again.  And again.  And again.  You get the idea.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.  No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4.11-12, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Embrace and Nurture

Earlier this month, my wife and I did some camping in northern Ontario.  On the first evening, we were late arriving because we were detoured away from an accident on Highway 400.  (Unlike Highway 11, some of the interchanges on the 400 extension are just for dead-end cottage roads, so we ended up adding about 3 hours to our trip.)

I was setting up the camper van, plugging into the electricity and water, and the chap at the adjoining campsite was inspecting the front of his trailer.  Just trying to be a friendly camper, I made a compliment about his trailer, and he started telling me quite a bit of his life story.

I’ll spare you the details, but one part of his story struck me.  He was telling me about the business he is going to start when he moves, and said, “I was raised an evangelical Christian…” and proceeded to disparage his upbringing.

My heart ached as I completed that conversation so I could cook supper, not only for him, but because I know there are others who have a similar story to tell.

In some ways, in recent years, it has become trendy to walk away from one’s spiritual roots, but it is especially poignant when those spiritual roots are in the historic, apostolic, biblically-based expressions of Christianity.

The reality is that no church is perfect, and most churches have made assumptions about how well-equipped parents are to raise their children to know and love and serve Jesus.  They’ve let down their families.  But every church that roots itself in the basics of Christian faith seeks to do its best to see its children grow in Christ.  And when that doesn’t happen, the church mourns.  It should mourn.  And God’s heart breaks.

My fellow camper ideally would have held on to his faith roots, but he didn’t.  I don’t know the reasons.  But whatever your role in your local church, do all you can to disciple the children in your midst, starting with your own.  Equip them, and their parents, to embrace and nurture faith in Jesus in a world that is doing its best to do the opposite.  And leave the rest to God.

[Y]ou must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6.6-7, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Hype

I had a good conversation this week with a friend.  As happens in so many conversations these days, talk turned to the pandemic.  He told me about an acquaintance of his who lives his life in fear of the pandemic because of everything he has read on the Internet.

While there is no doubt that we should be vigilant and careful in these interesting times, I think embracing fear is not part of our mandate.  When we live paralyzed by fear, we are not really living.

This is why I encourage you to choose your information sources wisely, and even broadly.  It’s a natural human tendency to gravitate toward news sources that affirm what we already believe to be true.  In a time like this (pandemic or not), getting a broad spectrum of views helps widen our perspective on the situation, and helps loosen any grip that fear may have on us.

The reality is that even the health experts are flying in the dark without instruments right now, because none of us has ever faced this sort of pandemic before.  The fact that a global crisis has been made political in many places does not help.  It can be wildly confusing.

But all this is not confusing to God.  He has it all figured out; our job is to follow.  Don’t let yourself start walking in front of the One who holds all time and space in his hand.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
  Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3.5-6, NLT).