Encouragement From The Word

Give thanks

Some view Thanksgiving weekend as the last gasp of summer, the time to escape to some place other than home and chill.  Others see it as a time to gather family around a big dinner table (you might want to be careful about that one this year!).  Still others see it as a time for, well, giving thanks.  (And then there are those who view the weekend in all three ways!)

The apostle Paul told the church in Thessalonica, and the Lord tells us through him, to “be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.18, NLT).  So for the Christ follower, Thanksgiving isn’t the second Monday in October; it’s every day.

Still, on Thanksgiving weekend, our minds may be drawn to common Thanksgiving songs.  A common Thanksgiving hymn, coming from the 19th century, is “Come, ye thankful people, come”.  I enjoy singing it on Thanksgiving Sunday…or, honestly, any other Sunday.  Why?

It’s not because it reminds me to give thanks, as important as that is.

It’s because the author, Henry Alford, related the idea of giving thanks for the harvest to nothing less than the second coming of Jesus.

The verses tell one story, but consider this verse in particular:

For the Lord our God shall come and shall take his harvest home;
from the field shall in that day all offences purge away,
give the angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast,
but the fruitful ears to store in God’s storehouse evermore.

What if we gave thanks to God this weekend with an understanding that Jesus is coming again…soon?

Ponder that while you gnaw on your turkey, and be thankful.

Encouragement From The Word

In a world where there are Octobers

Perhaps the most famous Canadian pastor’s wife was the late Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942), though she was not known for her marriage to The Rev. Ewen Macdonald (1870-1943) quite so well as she was for her literature.

Montgomery led a very sullen personal life, though one would never know it by reading her Anne of Green Gables stories.  (Some suggest she lived vicariously through her writing.)

Lest today’s Encouragement take a hard turn for the morose, let me say that it was a quotation from the original Anne of Green Gables story that came to mind as we mark the turning of the calendar today:

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Thus said Anne Shirley, the namesake heroine of Montgomery’s most famous book.

One of the great blessings of living in Canada is that we experience four very different and distinct seasons.  The shoulder seasons – spring and fall – are perhaps more stunning for their beauty than their solstitial siblings.  The beauty of deciduous trees coming into leaf, and the splendor of their changing colour, are unparalleled.

If I had to choose, though, I would always choose fall.  The crisp air, the russet maple leaves falling to the ground – though they are harbingers of the coming cold and snow, they are perhaps the most delightful harbingers God could have created.  Anne Shirley was right:  I, too, am so glad that I live in a world where there are Octobers.  That quotation could almost be right from the Bible.

In reality, though, this sentiment appears in Scripture – though differently worded, to be sure.  

One of the ways God reveals himself to the world is through creation.  Theologians call it “general revelation” – the notion that seeing the beauty of the world ought to point us to the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Depending on where you live, you might experience autumn differently than I do, living in southern Ontario.  And, of course, the colours of the falling leaves vary with temperature variations from year to year.  But, unless you live in the desert or in the arctic, there is no denying that fall is a beautiful time of year.

Take some time in the coming days and weeks to pause and soak in the beauty of the world around you.  And praise the Lord, who made it all to point to his glory.

Then, respond by giving him glory!

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

Encouragement From The Word

A 100% certainty

Earlier this week, I saw a tweet from a fellow named Dustin Benge that put a lot of wisdom in a few words.  He said:

There is a 0.0296% chance that your child will become a professional athlete.

There is a 0.0086% chance that your child will become a famous celebrity.

There is a 100% certainty that your child will stand before Jesus.

What are you teaching your children?

Even if you’re past the stage of parenting, or are not a parent, there is still helpful instruction in that short tweet.

Each of us has a measure of influence over some children, whether of our own family, our church family, or our neighbourhood.  We have an opportunity in each interaction to have an influence.  Are we taking advantage of that opportunity?

It can be through our use of words, our actions, even our gestures.  What are we saying to the kids with whom we have contact?

No matter what or who they become as adults, there is a 100% certainty that they will stand before Jesus one day.  And you might be the conduit through whom they come to know him as Lord and Saviour.

Think about that as you engage with kids of any age.

Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127.3a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Sifting

Sifting.

When we think of sifting, we tend to think of wheat, even though most of us probably have never actually done that, unless we’ve lived on a farm.

Sifting is the separation of the grain from the chaff.  The grain (wheat is the commonest one) is useful, but the chaff is not.

Metaphorically, the Bible makes use of this term in a number of places, particularly in the separation of followers of Jesus from those who don’t follow him.  Jesus even told Peter, as Jesus was preparing for his death on the cross, that Satan wanted to sift the disciples like wheat (Luke 22.31).  In that case, the evil one’s desire was to attempt to separate believers from their faith.

There’s a lot of that kind of sifting going on in the world today.

The devil is doing his level best to try to get followers of Jesus to walk away from the Lord.  He is putting all manner of trials in people’s lives in an attempt to separate people from Jesus.  He is trying to sift us.

But guess what:  he can’t pull it off.

Why not?

Because Satan doesn’t have that kind of power.

It actually takes very little to fend off the devil.  All you have to do is resist.

How do I know that?  Well, there’s some personal experience, but better than that, I know it because it’s right in God’s Word:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4.7, NLT)

That’s all it takes.  You need merely to resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  As a follower of Jesus, you have the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through you.

Can I ask a favour of you?

Whether you’re in a challenging season or not, I’m asking you to commit that verse to memory.

Even if you don’t feel like you need it right now, it’s a pretty safe bet that you will need that word of encouragement at some point along your journey of faith.  If you put that piece of Scripture in your arsenal right now, you’ll have it forever.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Memorize that, starting today, and then you’ll remember, at any point that Satan is trying to sift you, that all you have to do is resist, and he’ll leave you alone.  This may sound simplistic, and I assure you, it may be a long process; it may even be a daily struggle.  But if you resist, again and again, in the power of the Holy Spirit, you will overcome.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

(By the way, I’ll be talking about Satan’s role in the end times on Sunday, and this verse will play an important role.  You’re welcome to join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, or on our YouTube channel if you’re too far away to come.)

Encouragement From The Word

Stropping your faith

I spent part of Labour Day learning something new.  I love learning new things.

This week, it was learning how to strop.

Not “stop” – it wasn’t a typo – “strop”.

In recent years, I have amassed a modest collection of pocket knives.  Having a knife in my pocket is a handy thing, especially with the uncanny number of Amazon boxes that have shown up on my doorstep during the pandemic.

It’s also handy when there’s cheesecake.  You never know when that might present itself.

But if one is going to have a pocket knife or two, one must also learn how to maintain them, and part of knife maintenance involves sharpening.

However, if I sharpened my knife every time I used it, before long, there’d be no steel left to cut with. 

That’s why I’m learning how to strop.  It involves infusing a piece of leather with a compound that I then rub my knife on.  (If you were ever in a barber shop when you were young, and saw a chunk of leather hanging from the barber’s chair, that’s what he used to keep his straight razor keen between uses.)

Stropping a knife allows me to hone the edge without sharpening it.  It’s sort of like a mini-sharpening between sharpenings.  It keeps the knife useful, and safe…because a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, whether you’re cutting packing boxes or chicken legs.

This has parallels with our faith life.  Let’s say that coming to worship, confessing your sin, hearing the Word, and listening to the preaching is like sharpening your walk with the Lord.

But between Sundays, you can keep your walk with God ‘on edge’, as it were, by ‘stropping’ your faith.  You do this through participation in a small group, through the daily reading of Scripture, through prayer, through acts of justice and kindness done in Jesus’ name and power.

If ever your faith feels dull, you can strop your faith between sharpenings, and find that your faith is quickened, built up, and ready for engagement.  If you’re not doing that now, give it a try in the coming days.  You won’t regret it.

Using a dull ax requires great strength,
    so sharpen the blade.
That’s the value of wisdom;
    it helps you succeed” (Ecclesiastes 10.10, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Watch for him!

In every generation, there have been self-proclaimed prophets of the end times.  In the time of Jesus and even before, people have thought they had the end of the world figured out.

So far, it seems, they didn’t.  We’re all still here.  Jesus has not returned.

Some people have dismissed the notion that Jesus will one day come back, that the world will be consummated.  But other still look for clues.

Most who look for clues comb through the pages of the final book of the Bible:  the Revelation.  They think they can find answers there.  And often, they create their own formulas to force upon the text.

In the end, though, they are frustrated.

Revelation is a hard book to understand, in no small part because of its genre.  Apocalyptic literature is hard to understand for those who are not living in the time in which it was written.  Revelation, having been written near the end of the first century, when Christians were experiencing severe persecution from the Romans, would have made perfect sense to its first hearers and readers.  

It makes less sense to us.

But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to figure it out, or even imposing their own approaches to make it say what they want it to say.

When we think about the end times, the one thing we can know for certain is that we don’t know much about it.  There are not fewer than five ways of interpreting the book of Revelation held by sincere, Bible-believing followers of Jesus today.  (I talked briefly about these last Sunday.)

Commonly, in any given generation, one view will gain the upper hand among believers.  (This is less true with scholars.)  The predominant view in popular Christian culture today, despite its popularity, is somewhat confusing and is based on a very small portion of Scripture.  

When will Jesus come back?  We can’t know for sure.  

In what order will the events of the end times take place?  Some think they know for certain, others are unsure.

But this much we can know:  if you have confessed Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and sought to live for him, and are ready for his return, nothing in the book of the Revelation should scare you.

Take comfort in that, if you’re a follower of Christ.

This Sunday, I will be tackling the question of what will happen at the end of time as we know it.  I’ll look at some of the alternatives, and why I think the predominant view among many followers of Jesus is definitely not the only one, and might not even be the right one, from a biblical perspective.

Feel free to join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning if you don’t have another church to go to in person, and we’ll learn together.  (If you are too far away to come, join us live online at 10, or watch the whole gathering or just the message, which will be posted to our YouTube channel later that afternoon.)

We know the end will come.  We know Jesus will return.  We know followers of Jesus will be safe for eternity.  Beyond that?  Let’s explore some options together.

I say to you what I say to everyone:  Watch for him!” (Mark 13.37, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t give up

The western pull-out from Afghanistan has been heart-wrenching to watch on television.  As I mentioned last week, the resurgence of the Taliban has placed many people at risk, especially women and Christians.  For the Americans, the way this is playing out is very reminiscent of their time in Vietnam.

Canadian forces are saying that they wish they could have stayed.  But the Big Fish in the Pond has decided that the multinational effort is over.  It’s like they have given up, in some ways, though I’m certain this is an oversimplification.

Have you ever put effort into something – say, a friendship – and found it an uphill battle?  It’s common for us to give up when we’re not making any progress.

This is especially true when we are seeking to encourage someone to embrace faith in Christ.

We might find ourselves getting blocked every time we try to “go there” in terms of spiritual conversation.  But let me encourage you not to give up.

To use another battle image, consider the speech given by Prime Minister Churchill to the British Parliament in 1940, in the midst of the ugliness of World War 2.  It is one of the most inspiring speeches ever given!  Quite near the end, Churchill tells his fellow parliamentarians, and the world:  “…we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”.

When you’re sharing your faith, like on the battle fields, it’s a matter of life and death. Don’t give up.  Never surrender.  Even when you get pushback, be loving and respectful, but continue to witness to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in your life.  

For your friend, eternity is in the balance.

But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke.’  We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.  All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4.13-18, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Pray for Afghanistan

Finally, something has eclipsed the pandemic in the news:  the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.  It is fraught with political nuances and challenges for those of us who may not have been following the story closely for years, going back to the time before and during the western nations’ war and occupation that sought to keep the nation under some form of democratic rule.

But with the final withdrawal of American troops, the Taliban has solidified its control.  And with that will come some form of Islamic law, which is concerning to many women, as well as to Christians in general.

It is said that this nation is second only to North Korea in its record for persecution of Christians.  And that is only apt to get worse, not only in Afghanistan, but in other middle eastern countries, where terrorist groups may feel empowered by recent events favouring the Taliban.

I want to encourage you today to take some time to pray for Christians and churches in Afghanistan, and throughout the middle east.  Pray for protection, for peaceful co-existence, and for the power of the gospel to triumph over hatred and persecution.  And pray that western nations will stand up for the rights of women and religious minorities in these countries.

You may have trouble finding the words, but give that to the Lord, too.  He will know the groaning of your heart.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8.26, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Rest

At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m preaching a series on heaven right now.  In a few weeks, I’ll be talking about the concept of heaven as “rest”, but that theme is on my mind right now, so I thought I’d share a little bit about that as a ‘teaser’ for our people, and as encouragement for everyone else!

The Bible talks about heaven in a number of ways, and one of those is “rest”.  The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later.But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.

That is why the Holy Spirit says,

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
    when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
    even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
 So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
    They refuse to do what I tell them.’
 So in my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters.  Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.  For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.  Remember what it says: 

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
    as Israel did when they rebelled.”

 And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt?  And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness?  And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him?  So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest.  (Hebrews 3.5-19, NLT)

I gave you that long passage to afford you some context.  The author cites Psalm 95 in his discussion on heaven, and uses that reference to “rest” to talk about eternity.

Summer is often a time for rest, when we step back from our daily labours to be rejuvenated, doing things we most enjoy with the people we most love.  I hope you are taking some time in these warm months to do just that.

Vacation time is like an extended Sabbath.  And so too, says the writer to the Hebrews, is heaven.  This has been reiterated in church music over the years.  Peter Abelard, a twelfth-century French theologian, wrote an anthem (translated into English much later by John Mason Neale) in which one verse states:

O what their joy and their glory must be, 
Those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see; 
Crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest: 
God shall be All, and in all ever blest. 

(You can listen to Healey Willan’s setting of this piece here.)

In one sense, then, vacation time is truly a taste of heaven!  Make sure you get some rest.  If you are a follower of Jesus, it’s part of your eternal future!

Encouragement From The Word

Curiosity

Last Sunday, Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Airways and many other enterprises, fulfilled a lifelong dream:  he went to space…on his own craft.

Granted, he didn’t get very far, galactically speaking:  he soared to 50 miles above the surface of the earth, which doesn’t quite reach the definition of “outer space”, but he proved that some form of space travel does not have to be the purview of only astronauts.  Branson proved that anyone can go – provided, of course, they have the cash to make it happen.

This got me thinking:  the curiosity of the human mind is amazing.  Inventions come to pass because people believe there might be a better way to do something, and they do the work required to bring it to fruition. There was Alexander Graham Bell with the telephone, Schaffer with the washing machine, Ford with the assembly line, etc., etc.  These people had the ingenuity to invent, but they first had the curiosity to explore the possibilities.  It is a gift from God.

Your curiosity is a gift from God.  What are you doing to glorify him with it?  You don’t have to go to the outer reaches of the atmosphere.  Maybe your curiosity will do something to help your small group.  Maybe it will build the church.  Maybe it will help missionaries do their work.  Whatever it is, let your God-given curiosity bring him praise.

It is God’s privilege to conceal things  and the king’s privilege to discover them” (Proverbs 25.2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Holy reading

Today, I encourage you to spend a few moments meditating on God’s Word.  The word “meditate” has been hijacked in contemporary society, and sometimes, Christians are afraid to use the word for fear that they are practising some sort of eastern religious act.  Not so!  Meditation has been part of church life since the earliest days of the Christian faith.  One of the ways we practise meditation on the Word of God is through holy reading, what the ancients called lectio divina.  In this practice, we read a passage of Scripture to get familiar with it; we pause, and then we read it again to discern a word or phrase from the passage that the Lord may be highlighting for us; again we pause, and read it a third time, taking time to hold that word or phrase before the Lord to know why he has highlighted it for us; and finally, we read it a fourth time and rest in God’s care and provision, thinking prayerfully about how we might respond to what the Lord has said to us through his Word.

Try it with this passage:

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
    O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom;
    I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
Others were given in exchange for you.
    I traded their lives for yours
because you are precious to me.
    You are honored, and I love you.  (Isaiah 43.1-4, NLT)

How did the Lord speak to you through this passage?  How can you respond?

Encouragement From The Word

I went to jail this week!

I had an interesting experience this week…I went to jail.

Don’t worry, though: I wasn’t remanded in custody for a crime.

I was in Facebook Jail.

It seems that the digital robotic algorithm which constantly monitors posts for things it has unilaterally decided are hateful, offensive, or against its ‘community standards’ picked off a meme I reposted from someone else and decided that it violated ‘community standards’.

I thought it was funny, and so did several other people.  In fact, I can’t imagine who would have found it anything but funny.  But the algorithm doesn’t share my sense of humour, apparently.  So I couldn’t post for 24 hours (probably not a bad idea anyway), and I can’t go ‘live’ or place an ad on Facebook for 30 days.  I guess this is the equivalent for getting 2 minutes for roughing and a game misconduct…from a blind referee.

Thankfully, I don’t rely on Facebook for anything except mild entertainment and the opportunity to post spiritual encouragement, so the repercussions are not life-altering for me.

It’s almost impossible to hit a moving target – which I deem Facebook’s algorithm to be – so I will have no idea whether what I post in the future will be targeted.  So I will have to be much more judicious in what I post.  It will mostly be ministry-related.  (Hopefully, they won’t start targeting Christians for spiritual things!)

I couldn’t find a means for appeal, but if I could, I would encourage Facebook to alter its algorithm so that it has at least a mild sense of humour.  After all, if we can’t laugh, especially at ourselves, life is not as rich.

Make sure you get in a good laugh today, even if it’s not at something I post on social media, because, as the Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Proverbs 17.22, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Remember

There’s a very important word in the Old Testament that not many people think about, but to the Hebrew people of old, like the Jewish people of today, it’s a word that’s deeply grounded in their culture.

It’s the word remember.

One of the earliest examples is during the exodus, and the reminder of the Passover meal:  “This is a day to remember.  Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord” (Exodus 12.14, NLT).

Another early example is right in the Ten Commandments:  “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20.8, NLT).  

When the Israelites did not remember their past, they disobeyed the Lord.  “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (Judges 2.10, NLT).  This story repeated itself over the course of history.

Of course, the most common remembrance today for Jewish people (for us outsiders) comes in the remembrance of the Holocaust.  If you’ve ever visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, or any of the other similar museums around the world, you were moved by the exhibits that will preserve the memory of the death of six million Jewish people for all time.  The same could be said of the prison camps in Europe: they exist as reminders of the past.

The Jewish people want to remember the past, both for the sake of their relationship with God and for avoiding the repetition of evil.

Thus am I troubled when I see news reports of people wanting to rename streets, take down monuments, and find other ways to attempt to erase history, because it is through that history that we learn.  “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” said Spanish philosopher George Santayana, famously.  While we may not want to glorify people for atrocities committed, we must keep those things which enable us to remember those atrocities, lest they be repeated.

Context is important, too.  If we remove all memory, for example, of John A. Macdonald or Egerton Ryerson (here in Canada), how will we remember the many good things they did for our country?  Rather than erase history, let’s put it in context, so we may be inspired by the good, and discouraged from the ill.

As followers of Jesus and people of the new covenant, we are called to remembrance as well.  Among the greatest of these remembrances comes whenever we gather around the Lord’s table, mindful that Jesus celebrated the last supper and called us to celebrate “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19, NLT).

As long as the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, we will have a visual reminder that cancel culture has no place among God’s people.

Encouragement From The Word

Learning from the pandemic

As more and more people receive vaccinations against COVID-19, people are starting to sense that the end of the pandemic is in sight.  I hope that’s true!  And it prompts me to ask a question:  What have we learned from all this?

I’m sure the answer to that question would be a list as long as my arm, but I want to focus on the spiritual end of it.  Perhaps I might frame the question this way:

How has my walk with God been affected by the pandemic, and what have I learned as a result?

The answer to that, too, can and perhaps is long and complicated.  But let me focus on one particular area:  rest.

For the last number of years, “busy” is a badge that people have worn with honour.  And there has been a cost involved.

Early in the pandemic, when everything was shut down and (let’s face it) many people lived in fear, there was a sense of equilibrium returning to nature:  the air got cleaner, the dolphins returned to the canals of Venice, the traffic was manageable.

People were slowing down.

But as the first wave ebbed, and a limited reopening took place, we seemed to forget the serenity and peace that came with that first shutdown.  The pace picked up.  While people worked from home, the boundaries were blurred.

Where I live in Ontario, the economy begins reopening today.  Stores will be open with a limited capacity.  Outdoor patios will be open, within limits.  And our church will be open to 15% capacity!  It’s a start!  

But before we try to “get back to normal” – whatever that’s going to look like – let me encourage you to take a step back and look at what you’ve learned about your spiritual rhythms from the experience of the pandemic.  Spend some time in conversation with the Lord over that in the coming days.

Then – and this is the difficult part – apply what you’ve learned to the “new normal.”

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God.  So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted: 

‘Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 4.6-7, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Medical Tests, Vaccines and Jesus

Today, we have a guest post from my wife, Diana, who had an experience last week worth sharing.

Desiring to follow the health directives of my doctor, I attended a medical lab for a couple of tests.  This was not prompted by any concern, but was part of my “tune up”, as my physician referred to his requisitions.

As a part of the pre-test screening, the technician asked me a number of questions, including when my first COVID-19 vaccine had been administered.  When I told her, we both commented on the shortened waiting period between shots, and what that would mean for travel plans.

As she continued the preparations for the imaging, I told her that we have talked about taking a road trip to Arizona when time allows, and the border is re-opened.  She wistfully told me that she longs to go to Sedona, wanting to experience the spiritual healing people report there.  I said that I didn’t know about those things, but that one of my favourite sights is the first glimpse of the mountains as one heads out of Calgary toward the Rockies along the Trans-Canada highway.

My explanation of what that view does for me is “a complete centering of my being.”  Her reply to this (remember, all of this is happening while I was in, well, not the most comfortable of positions) was that she feels exactly that way when she goes into a church.  She was quiet for a moment, and then said, “I was raised Hindu, but that is similar to how I feel when I am in a church.”  I said that when I am able to soak in such a glorious part of God’s creation, it is a reminder of just how great He is, but just how important I am to Him. 

And then, after another moment of quiet, she said, “I’m sorry, you are the only the second person I’ve ever told that to.  The other was my husband.”

That trusting statement, after such a brief encounter, was a sacred one for me.  I responded to her with a smile and said, “Thank you for sharing, but let me tell you that my husband is a pastor, and I am a long-time friend of Jesus.  I think what you experience is Him wanting to spend time with you.”  

She sighed and smiled, and said, “Imagine!”  It was at that point we were finished, and I headed to the next part of my time at the lab.  Telling Jeff, the sacredness of that moment fully hit me.  There I was, in a fairly vulnerable setting, apparently being safe enough for this lab technician to admit something that in some parts of the world would see her severely punished!  To top it off, God opened the door for me to sow the seed of Jesus wanting a personal relationship with her.  The conversation was as natural as one about the weather, but I think maybe, just maybe, God spoke to her – He certainly reminded me of his presence and desire to be in relationship with all of us.

Pray that God will position you for a conversation like that, and watch what happens!

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

Encouragement From The Word

The Purpose of Pentecost

This weekend, the church celebrates Pentecost, the occasion recorded in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit fell upon the gathered followers of Jesus, made manifest in tongues of fire and languages heretofore unknown.

The Holy Spirit was given to equip disciples to minister in the power and authority of Jesus after he ascended into heaven.  Those first disciples had come to rely on Jesus during his ministry for the ability and the blessing to minister in his name.  When he ascended into heaven, he promised them the Holy Spirit, so that they would not be left alone.

To this day, all who follow Jesus are given the Holy Spirit to enable us to undertake God’s mission in the world.  And the first task of all disciples of Jesus is to make more disciples.  The Great Commission, given at a resurrection appearance before Jesus ascended, promised that in his authority, Jesus’ followers would be given power to make disciples of all nations.

Pentecost reminds us that this is our primary aim as the church: making disciples.

If we are pouring our primary efforts into other things, no matter how noble they be, those efforts are misdirected.

Yes, the Holy Spirit came and still comes and sometimes manifests himself in signs and wonders, as well as in less flashy ways.  But the principal purpose of the Holy Spirit’s coming is to empower for making disciples.

And that starts with us, with our own formation in Christ, our own spiritual maturity.

If you want to celebrate Pentecost well, spend personal time with the Lord, and tell a friend about what Jesus has done for you.  Be a disciple, and make a disciple.

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.18-20, NLT).

Encouragement From the Word returns on June 4.

Encouragement From The Word

Forty Days later…

Yesterday was an important day in the Christian calendar, but because it always falls on a Thursday, many believers in western society ignore it, and that’s unfortunate. 

It was Ascension Day.

It commemorates the ascension of Jesus, 40 days after he rose from the dead.  And 40 days after Easter Sunday always falls on a Thursday.  While we in North America don’t celebrate it widely (though many Anglicans, especially those whose parish churches are named “The Church of the Ascension”, will have special services for it), in much of western Europe, it’s still a public holiday.

Why does it matter?  Why should we mark the ascension of Jesus?

It fulfills the promise he made to the disciples, even before he went to the cross.  In John 14.28, Jesus told them, “I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am” (NLT).

Of course, the disciples didn’t understand this at the time, though everything became clear as time went on.

Jesus, in ascending to heaven, went to be with the Father, and began his promised role as our Intercessor.  From that day forward, Jesus’ primary responsibility as the Second Person of the Trinity would be to pray for us.

Isn’t that amazing?  Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father’s throne in heaven, interceding on our behalf.  And it all began on that first Ascension Day.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, he lays our case before the throne of grace.  Think of that every year, 40 days after Easter.  And think of it every day as you pray in the powerful name of Jesus.

Encouragement From The Word

Valuing life

When I’m scrolling through my social media feeds, it takes something significant for me to “stop the scroll”.  Reading a post a couple of weeks ago by an acquaintance, whom I met while on a mission trip to India several years ago, made me stop.

As you may know, India is having severe challenges with the virulent spread of the Coronavirus.  Thousands of people each day are dying.

He said that the problem wasn’t that India didn’t have the resources to stop the spread of COVID-19; the problem is that there is a lack of value for human life.

Now, that’s just one man’s opinion, but this is his nation and his culture he’s talking about.  He understands it far better than I ever could.  And this is a sad assessment indeed.

I fear it is not limited to India, nor to the issue of the pandemic.

It’s a deep pond we’d be wading into, filled with quicksand, were we to begin the journey; this is not the forum for such conversation.  But you know the issues as well as I do:  once-civilized societies are demonstrating a lack of value for human life, whether at its beginning, its end, or its middle.

How do we turn that around?

One simple step is for all of us – starting with followers of Jesus, but spreading to all of society – to treat every other person as Jesus would treat him or her.    This doesn’t mean agreeing on everything; it doesn’t mean approving of everything; what it does mean is that each person has value because each person is made in God’s image.

Not every cultural or religious tradition grasps this, but as Christians, we do.

Let’s set the example.

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Groaning

Where I live, Wednesday morning was dreary.  The sky was dark, indicative of the thunderstorm that was rolling through.  Even in front of a window, I needed artificial light for the Zoom call I had with my spiritual director.

As we talked about finding the fingerprints of God in my unique life situation these days, the word “weird” came up…a lot.  There is no doubt that for all of us, these “unprecedented times” are weird; in some weeks, there are varying kinds of ‘weird’ by the day!

My spiritual director asked me about my response to the weirdness in terms of prayer.  I said that, along with my usual Benedictine prayer offices, there are a lot of brief, incomplete sentences being offered to God in prayer these days.

She asked if these brief, incomplete sentences could be termed ‘groans’. 

I nodded in agreement.

We both welled up a little, but in a good way.

This was a realization for me that even these brief utterances of prayer which, on some days, are all we can muster with the Lord, are important parts of our relationship with God.

If you have days where your prayers seem like little more than groans, don’t despair.  God is listening.

And be encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul:  “…the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8.26, NLT).

Post-Script:  After I wrote this, I read this in N.T. Wright’s little book, God and the Pandemic (Zondervan Reflective, 2020, p. 42):  “…when the world is going through great convulsions, the followers of Jesus are called to be people of prayer at the place where the world is in pain.  Paul [the apostle, in reference to the latter part of Romans 8] puts it like this, in a three-stage movement:  first, the groaning of the world; second, the groaning of the Church; third, the groaning of the Spirit – within the Church within the world.”

Groan on, church.  Groan on.

Encouragement From The Word

Created to pray

Early in the pandemic, my friend, Adelle Lauchlan, shared with me some thoughts that she had shared with the congregation of which she is a part.  From time to time, with her permission, I have shared one with you, and this one in particular spoke to me today.  Enjoy! – Jeff+

I think a lot about prayer, maybe because I pray a lot. Praying is one of the perks and privileges of my work. 

But praying isn’t something I grew up doing. 

Although I grew up going to church, prayer wasn’t part of my response. Prayer was something someone else did for me, or more accurately, “over me”. I fell away from church for over a decade after high school, and when I found my way back to church, I asked my pastor for a book on how to pray. He handed me a book titled Teaching Conversational Prayer

I never read it. 

It sat beside my bed for months. But it was the most transformative book never to be read. The title taught me what I needed to grasp. Prayer is a conversation. Prayer is a response to God’s love. 

That book title was a revelation for me. Once I let faith rule in my heart, once I let Christ live in my heart, prayer became natural. Prayer didn’t need to be fancy, it didn’t need to be formatted, it just needed to be me talking to my God, my Creator, the One who loves me, the One who sent his only Son to save me; it just needed to be done. 

I didn’t need to know how to pray, I just needed to pray.

My prayers are a loving response to the One who loves us best, to the One who is love. He created us to pray. And when I forget this or my prayer life turns stale, I need only look to Scripture for encouragement, for a reminder of God’s love.

The Apostle Paul prayed a lot. I love his prayer for the Ephesians; here is just a small bit of it.  This is my prayer for you: “I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit – not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength – that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in” (Eph 3:16-17, The Message). 

Thanks, Adelle!