Encouragement From The Word

God gives you more than you can handle

People often say that God will never give us more than we can handle.

Malarkey.

God gives us more than we can handle all the time!  The fact is, God never gives us more than he can handle through us.

There can be times when we feel overwhelmed.  I’ve been there, and I imagine you have been, too.  But as followers of Jesus, we do well to remember that he is in our corner.  In fact, he even prayed for our protection.

We tend to refer to “Our Father, who art in heaven…” as the Lord’s prayer, but that is a model Jesus gave his friends.  The real Lord’s prayer – the prayer that came from Jesus’ own heart – is in John 17.  And in the middle of that prayer, here’s what Jesus prays for his followers:

Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.  During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me” (John 17.11b-12a, NLT).

Take comfort!  As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, dying and rising again, and ascending into heaven, he was asking the Father to protect us by the power of Jesus’ name.

Remember that, next time you find yourself in a difficult place.

Encouragement From The Word

Resolutions or Rule?

Happy new year!  I hope your Christmas and New Year celebrations were deep and rich.

When it comes to the new year, there seem to be two kinds of people:  folks who make resolutions, and folks who don’t.  Fitness facilities everywhere rely on the former, at least for the first few weeks of the year!

It’s one thing to make a resolution, but it’s another thing to create a habit.  This is why I prefer to consider a rule of life rather than resolutions.

What do I mean by a rule of life?

In one sense, you can think of a rule of life as a series of new year’s resolutions that you actually keep, that are integrated into your lifestyle.  A rule of life is a plan that you set out for yourself, prayerfully, that you can achieve, that will enhance your life and your walk with God.

It can involve things you will undertake daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.  So, for example, you might want to make reading the Bible and praying for half an hour, and going for a 2 kilometre walk while listening to an edifying podcast, part of your rule for each day.  A regular day of rest and a date with your spouse or significant other could be part of your weekly rule.  Monthly, you could vow to read a solid work of theology and take a long hike (though perhaps not at the same time!).  Yearly, you could set out to make a retreat, guided or alone, to build your relationship with the Lord, and ensure you take at least two weeks of vacation.

These are just examples, but if you set your mind to them, and seek the grace of God to fulfill them, these are achievable goals.  And if, for example, you miss a day in your Bible reading and prayer, instead of abandoning the idea altogether, you get up and carry on the next day, because you know it’s the right thing to do.

A rule of life can also be shared with fellow Christians who are close to you, as they can help you evaluate the achievability and appropriateness of your chosen rule.

And the good news is that it’s never too late to create a rule of life.  We may be a few days into the new year, but you can start prayerfully discerning your rule of life today!

Here’s more good news:  when you keep a rule of life that strengthens your walk with God, you’re not the only beneficiary: your small group is enriched, your church is enriched, and the Kingdom of God is enriched, because you are growing as a disciple of Jesus.

Give it a try!

To encourage you, here’s a rule of life that the apostle Paul gave to the church in Rome (even though he didn’t call it that):

 Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good.  Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself.  Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord.  Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.  Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home.

 Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them.  When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad.  Be friendly with everyone. Don’t be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people.  Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others,  and do your best to live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12.9-18, CEV).

 

Encouragement From The Word

A Year-end exam

As we round out 2019, I thought I’d reprise an Encouragement from a few years ago at this time.  Happy new year!

One of the great spiritual practices of the ancients that is being revived in these days among Christians is the notion of the examination of conscience and consciousness.  Normally, this is a daily undertaking, whereby we consider the day that has passed, and ask the Lord to help us see both where we have sinned (that we may confess and be forgiven) and where we have seen God at work (that we may rejoice).

This can also be an annual practice, however.  As we sit at the end of the year, let me encourage you to spend some time before God today or tomorrow, asking him to help you review your year, particularly to highlight areas where you have seen his hand at work in your life.  Take some time to sit with that and praise the Lord for his faithfulness.

There’s no formula for it; we can see God’s beauty in a flower growing by the roadside in summer, or in a snowdrift in winter; we can see God’s hand at work in a ministry we undertake or in the lives of our children as they grow in Christ.  God’s fingerprints are all over so much!  The challenge for us is to take time to notice them, and to praise the Lord for his activity in our lives.

At the same time, take time to ask God’s blessing on the year to come.  If it helps, use these words from hymn writer Frances Ridley Havergal:

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be

In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.

Another year of progress, another year of praise,

Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

 

Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,

Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;

Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;

Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.

 

Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,

Another year of training for holier work above.

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be

On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.

May the Lord bless you with more grace as you look for where he has been active this year, and as you pray for him to be active in the year to come!

 

Encouragement From The Word

Are you ready?

The kids will be finished school today.

Maybe, you’ll be finished work today.

Christmas is coming.  Are you ready?

Well, I still have baking to do, and a turkey to buy, and presents to pick up for…

No, are you ready?

Despite what the culture teaches us, being ready for Christmas has less to do with making sure the tree is decorated and the table is set for dinner than with making sure your heart is prepared.  That’s what the season of Advent has been all about.

This coming week, we will celebrate the birth of the Son of God in a hewn-out cave behind a Bethlehem motel.  But it’s not just about an historical commemoration.

The nod to the newborn Jesus lying in a manger is vested with its deepest meaning when his birth in Bethlehem is replicated in our lives.  As we plead in one of the old Christmas carols:

          O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

          Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.

When Jesus is born in us, that’s when his birth in Bethlehem’s stall becomes most meaningful, and when we are truly ready.

Let Christmas be significant for you this year.  You still have a few days to get ready!  Invite Jesus to be born in you.  It’ll be like being born again.

Wait a minute, I’ve heard that somewhere before…oh, right:

I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3.3, NLT).

Christmas has the most meaning when Jesus is alive in our hearts.

If you’re looking for a place to worship the newborn King this Christmas, I invite you to join me at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  It would be awesome to see you.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas in Nobleton 2019

Encouragement From The Word

Things are not always as they appear

Last week, I ordered a feather-style flag sign for our church, something that could be used to catch people’s attention and welcome them to our gatherings.  I made the design myself, but paid for a bit of help to make it into the shape of the flag.  That all worked well, and the flag and pole arrived yesterday – about a week sooner than promised.  Everything was working out well.

I put the pole together (with big help from our office administrator, who managed to be able to get two pieces attached that I wasn’t able to do, no matter how I tried), and then unfolded the flag and fed it onto the pole.  I stood it up in front of me, and took a look.

I wasn’t happy.

If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see a lot of pixellation – places where the letters look decidedly jagged.  That’s not what my prototype looked like.

IMG_0508

 

I called the company that made it, and their representative was very apologetic and agreed to remake the flag and send it as quickly as possible.  From a business standpoint, they handled the matter well.

It would have been easy to overlook this, though; after all, if you stand back even 10 feet from the flag (or 5 for me, if I take off my glasses), the pixellation disappears.  Everything looks smooth, perfect.

But up close, it’s obvious that not everything is smooth or perfect.

The old saying reminds us that sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees.  And it’s good to see the forest.  But there are times when we need to pay attention to the trees.

The big picture matters, but so do the details.  Most of us are hard-wired with preferences for one or the other, but it can be of great value to prefer both.  I want our flag to look great for the people driving toward the church on the road, but I also want it to look great for the people walking past on the sidewalk.

When we are making decisions, discerning God’s will for our lives, we need to take a step back, and we also need to take a step forward.  It’s wise to examine all aspects of what we may decide to do, because a decision can have a significant impact on ourselves, our families, our church communities, and even our world.

Details matter.  A pixellated life, a pixellated church, a pixellated theology – these are not what God wants for us.  Step forward, and step back, in whatever your discernment process may be.

People may be pure in their own eyes,
    but the Lord examines their motives” (Proverbs 16.2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

St. Nick’s more famous accomplishment

In western Christianity, today is the commonly-celebrated day for the feast of St. Nicholas – the guy who brought you Santa Claus.

Well, sort of.  The Santa Claus we know today, visually at least, is said to be a creation of the Coca-Cola Company.  But the notion of a benevolent figure who brings gifts certainly conjures notions of Nicholas of Myra, a bishop whose fourth-century dealings with poor women’s dowries is the stuff of legend.

Believe it or not, though, that’s not what Nicholas was most famous for.

He lived through the time of the early church’s Council of Nicaea, which in AD 325 formulated the doctrine of the Trinity:  One God, Three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And Nicholas is said to have played a role in articulating a truth Christians hold dear today:  that God the Father and God the Son are of one substance.  (This same application was made to the role of the Holy Spirit later on.)

That might seem like a bunch of tiny theologians dancing on the head of a pin, but it’s actually really important for the historic Christian faith.  For if Jesus or the Holy Spirit were merely of a similar substance to the Father, Jesus could not be God, and could therefore not have been the final, perfect sacrifice for our sins.

In fact, without being of one substance with the Father, Jesus would just be another dude…a righteous dude, to be sure, but just another dude.

On St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6, some cultures celebrate their gift-giving in honour of St. Nick himself.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But let me encourage you likewise to remember the gift of St. Nicholas as a theologian, who helped shape the church’s understanding of the mystery of the Triune God, upholding Jesus as of one substance with the Father.

Small though it may seem, it makes a big difference.  For if Jesus were not God, there would be no reason for the season.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
– John 1.1-3, NLT

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Anticipation…

It’s great to be back in the saddle!  Thanks to all who prayed for me while I was on Inter-Mission/Sabbatical.  It means so much!  I will be talking this Sunday about one important aspect of my experience that is applicable to all of us (you can join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton or catch the service on YouTube later), and bits of my experience will trickle out over the course of the next while, including through Encouragement.  Stay tuned!

This week begins the season of Advent, which many Christians mark as a time of anticipation for the birth of Jesus.  Outside certain churches, it’s not widely practised in western society.  Why?

I think it’s because we have learned to expect everything according to our timetable.

Waiting is not our strong suit.

Yet anticipation, if we stop to think about it, actually heightens our excitement over what we wait for.  If you don’t believe me, let me ask you how much time you spent deciding what you were going to buy today…Black Friday.  (Many of you probably won’t buy anything on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but sales statistics suggest that not all of us will resist.)

The fact that we are not good at waiting is noticeable even in the church, where there are overt suggestions (if there is no overt pressure) to sing Christmas carols well ahead of Christmas Eve.  I get this; they’ve been played on the radio and in the malls since the day after Remembrance Day (or sooner); let’s enjoy them while we can.

But if we wait, it heightens our anticipation of what is to come.

True, the scenario ends the same way each year: Jesus is born!  But this rhythm of time centred around the salvation narrative is so different from what we experience out in the world that I think it helps strengthen our faith.  (Granted, there are many ways to make that happen.)

So this year, don’t open all the boxes on your Advent calendar in the first week.  Don’t sing “O come, all ye faithful” just yet.  Don’t buy everything you want for Christmas so that there are no surprises greeting you under the tree, symbolizing the greatest gift of all – the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God with skin on, breaking into history to redeem us from sin from which we couldn’t hope to save ourselves.

Happy Advent!

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9.6, NLT).