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).

 

Encouragement From The Word

Dead to the law

In Romans 7.1 (NLT), the apostle Paul wrote something that might seem very strange on an initial, out-of-context reading:  “…don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living?

Seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it?  I mean, I’m not going to care whether a traffic light is green, amber or red when my funeral procession is winding its way to the cemetery.  But all the drivers in that procession should care, because they don’t want to risk injury.  The law only applies while a person is living.

But Paul goes on to say that everybody who has faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord has died to the law: they no longer live under its reign.

That changes the picture a bit, right?  So Paul is telling us that if we have died with Christ through our faith in him, we have died to sin (see Romans 6), and therefore have also died to the tyranny of the law.

Does that mean we should ignore the law of the land?  Well, if we all did that, the number of traffic fatalities would skyrocket (among other things).

Does that means we should ignore the law of God?  There’s the rub:  when we become followers of Jesus, the Old Testament doesn’t fade away, and the Ten Commandments don’t cease to be applicable to our lives.  So what does it mean that we have died to the law?

Just as Paul said in chapter 6 that sin will not be our master, so it is true that the law shall not be our master.  Our goal is not perfectly to keep the law; our goal is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us.

How do we glorify God?  Well, Jesus tells us in John 14.15 (NLT), “If you love me, obey my commandments.” Since we live under grace and not under law, we have come into relationship with Jesus by his favour alone, and in that relationship, we demonstrate our love by following what he tells us to do.  So while we are dead to sin and the law, we are alive to God in Jesus, and in that relationship, we follow the law without fear of being judged for our imperfect ability to keep the law.  We are respectful of the law, but not enslaved to it.

There are some great ways to apply this, and I’ll be talking about that this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  You (and your face mask) are very welcome to join us at 10:00 a.m., or catch the service from the comfort of your home live, or on demand later.  The application may cause you to squirm a little!

Encouragement From The Word

Masks

Where you live, this may have already been a reality, but where I live, today, a ‘mask rule’ has come into effect.  In all indoor public spaces, people are expected to wear some sort of face covering as a means of slowing or preventing the spread of Coronavirus.

My wife has kindly made me a mask that properly covers my fat, hairy face in a way that does the job and feels almost comfortable.  (The disposable ones made my face look like…well, never mind about that.)  Those who like to sew are getting very creative with patterns and materials, so that all of us, perhaps especially children, can try to have a little fun with what is otherwise not a very fun undertaking.

This got me thinking, though:  masks are really nothing new in our society.  It’s just that now, we can see them.

You know what I mean: people wear masks that cover up any number of things, even if it isn’t oral germs.  Maybe it’s uncanny, heavy makeup to avoid looking too young, or too old, or too vulnerable.  Maybe it’s a permanent smile to cover up the pain we feel inside.  Maybe it’s a face that betrays nothing, to keep people at a distance.  There are all kinds of scenarios that might exist, but make no mistake: most human beings are used to wearing masks.

Interestingly, these same masks are often placed between our true self and the God who made us.

This is a profoundly sad reality, because what we tend to forget is that God sees us as we are, knows us as we are, loves us as we are, and longs for us to be more like him.  Yet we tend to put our best ‘face’ forward with God, for any number of reasons.

Sometimes, we think God won’t accept us if we feel a certain way.  (Usually, this is because someone else won’t accept us that way, and we universalize the principle.)  Sometimes, we think we’re not allowed to ‘be real’ in God’s presence.  This tends to be a matter of culture or conditioning.

If we have an image of God as being like Santa Claus, for whom “you’d better not cry”, it gets stuck in our heads that God won’t accept any emotion except happiness, or, at best, ennui.  And that’s too bad, because if you take even a cursory glance through the Psalms, you’ll see every emotion known to the human race expressed before God.  What’s more, the people of Israel believed all these emotions to be so important, they enshrined these songs in their Scriptures!

In the Psalms, you’ll find joy, sadness, anger, lament, even a desire to see others die.  There are no masks in the Psalms.

And we don’t need them, either.  Except in cloth form, in indoor public spaces, for a season.  The good news is that we can still weep or laugh or gnash our teeth with that kind of mask on.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem” (Psalm 137.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Irregardless…

In case you weren’t sure the world is a different place these days, I learned this week that Merriam-Webster, an American dictionary, is now including the word “irregardless” as a legitimate word.  Even as I type this, my word processor has underlined that term in red as an error.

As one friend pointed out, lexicographers simply accommodate terms in regular use; they don’t see themselves as “Grammar Nazis”.  That’s a pity, because the word simply makes no sense as it tends to be used.  People will say, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h irregardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”  But the “ir-“ and the “-less” actually cancel each other out!  So what they’re literally saying is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regarding the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h,” which makes no sense whatsoever.  What they mean is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”

This is just one sign of the generally accepted principle that there are no objective standards anymore.

Here’s another:  on a flight last year with WestJet, I was saddened to see that a curtain had been added to the aircraft, separating the “plus” seats from the ordinary seats.  One of the policies that attracted me to WestJet when it first started was that everybody flew in the same class.  That started to slip some years ago when the first few rows were given special menus and drink preferences – for a price.  Then, it slipped further when the middle seat in the first few rows became an armrest and drink holder for the occupants in the aisle and window seats.  Now, at least on some flights, it has slipped even further to the point that a curtain is drawn, and the front washroom is reserved for those in the first few rows, making it little different from its main competitor.

I lamented this fact to a flight attendant, whose reply was, “The company is simply doing what the customers want.”

With businesses, I get that “the customer is always right.”  Yet WestJet seems to have fallen from its guiding principles, set out at its founding as a company, that everyone should be treated the same way.

These seem like fairly harmless phenomena, for most of us.  A lot of people can overlook the use of the term “irregardless”, and the majority of people don’t fly enough to care whether they have to traipse all the way to the back of the aircraft to use the washroom.  But when applied universally, these things are symptomatic of a more troubling trend, and we see it happening in the church.

Let’s just give people what they want.

If people want to use “irregardless”, regardless of the fact that it is not a sensible word, let’s legitimate it by putting it in the dictionary.

If people want to separate extra service and private washrooms from the masses in steerage, let’s make it happen.

If people want to do something the Bible says is wrong, let’s overlook it.

Not such a big leap, is it?

While there are some advantages to our emergence from Christendom, one of the things society has lost is the value of objective truth, and now, in some cases, it’s even being lost in the church.

If you’re in church leadership, don’t ignore the objective truth of God’s Word.

If you’re not in church leadership, hold your leaders to account, and pray for them to uphold the objective truth of God’s Word.

To keep the world from chaos, we need objective truth.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4.12-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Everything we need

Today’s Encouragement is a guest post from my friend, Adelle Lauchlan, who serves on staff at Uxbridge Baptist Church.  Enjoy! – Jeff+

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3a, NLT).

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most people want to be useful, want to live a productive life, and that Christians want to live a life worthy of Christ’s call. So I find these words of Paul’s very reassuring.

But what are these things that we have been given that allow us to live a godly life?

Well, I think this is what they are:

  • We have the love of Christ, a love so great that he willingly died that we would be saved – it is a love that drew us to him, and it remains with us always.
  • We have the power of the Holy Spirit – we received it, as promised, when we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
  • We have the gifts of the Spirit – those attributes that we share with other believers and which mark us as Christians.
  • We have the Word of God – left to us so that we would know his will for us.
  • We have the model of Christ and how he lived so that we would know how to live out God’s will.
  • We have the company of each other to encourage us in our walk and to help us when we stray.

And we have all these things because God is glory and excellence, and in his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. We live under the new covenant, sealed on the cross. Grace, God’s love and forgiveness, freely given.

Truly, everything we need! A precious promise!

And what are we asked to do in return? Respond in faith. Respond with faith. Faith is the foundation of this great promise. It is everything we need!

Thanks, Adelle!

Encouragement From The Word

Purveyors of hope

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, even in the Old Testament, has always been big on hope.

A lot of people think that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is not the same God as the God portrayed in the New Testament, but even a cursory reading of the Bible suggests otherwise: the gracious, merciful God of the New Testament is also gracious and merciful in the Old Testament.  And he is the great purveyor of hope.

Consider the story of Abraham and Sarah.  When God promised that Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness, would become the father of many nations, it was hard to believe, but as far as he was concerned, a promise was a promise, and so he held out hope, because he believed in the God of hope.  And at age 90, Sarah became pregnant with her centenarian husband’s son – Isaac.

For what do you hope in these days?

A child, like Abraham and Sarah?

The healing of a loved one?

An end to the Coronavirus pandemic?

Put your hope in the God of miracles.  And remember, the church of Jesus is God’s instrument, today, in dispensing hope.

What are you doing to bring hope to the lives of others?

Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, ‘That’s how many descendants you will have!’  And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4.18-19, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Conquering Fear

Nelson Mandela once said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Well, I assume he said it, because, you know, I read it on the Internet.  If he didn’t say it, I’d be surprised, because it sounds like something he would have said.  (And don’t worry, I’m sure he meant it to apply to women, too.)

There is wisdom in those words.

Each of us has fear over something – maybe even every day.  But whatever the subject matter is, we all, from time to time, feel afraid.

To be sure, the current global pandemic has placed fear in a lot of people.  In some ways, I don’t blame them; the Coronavirus is an Unknown Entity in so many ways, and none of us – not even the experts – have been down this road before.  And as parts of the world and parts of our world begin to open, that may strike even more fear into some.

The good news for followers of Jesus is that conquering fear – that to which South Africa’s great freedom fighter commended us – is eminently doable, because we have the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.

In 1 John 4.16b-18, we read, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (NLT).

More often than not, I hear that read as the second-most-favourite Bible passage used at weddings.  But, like its first-place neighbour, 1 Corinthians 13, the context for the passage is not a wedding, even though each passage applies in that kind of setting.  Of course, its context also was not a global pandemic (unless you count sin as a global pandemic, and that’s certainly legit!).  But the principle fits.

Focus with me on one phrase:  “perfect love expels all fear.”  Perfect love is the love with which God loves us, the love that sent his only Son to the cross for us, the love that brought him back from the dead, the love that sent the Holy Spirit on his followers with tongues of fire.  That love, Christian friend, lives in you and me.  And that love expels all fear.

It’s easier to say than it is to live out, however.  Our minds easily get caught up in fear over any number of life situations.  But when we remind ourselves of God’s great love for us, and our desire to follow and serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit, he will cast out all fear.

Being rid of fear certainly shouldn’t rid us of caution.  Just because we’re called to live in love and not in fear doesn’t mean we should be stupid.  But it does mean we can rest in the confidence that God goes ahead of us in solving whatever dilemma causes us fear.

I have no idea if Mandela knew the Lord.  But the best way to conquer fear is to let him do it through the Holy Spirit.

Encouragement From The Word

Pay Attention

“Pay attention.”  We’re told that from the time our parents start talking to us.

We’re told it by teachers in school, by police officers who approach us at traffic stops, by spouses who think we’re not listening, by nurses who want us to take our pills.

Our whole lives, we hear, “Pay attention.”

Yet, so often in life, we fail to do so – especially around truly important matters that might not seem so at the time.

Yesterday, an elder in my congregation was travelling just outside town, when she saw an ambulance turn down a familiar sideroad.  And something told her she should follow it.

Now, this elder is not given to following ambulances; she’d have nothing to gain by doing so, and didn’t have medical training to be able to help.  But there was this nudge inside her, and she paid attention.

As it turns out, the ambulance was going to the home of a fellow congregant.

She followed the ambulance into the driveway, and got out to comfort the spouse of the person who was being treated.

To say the least, this would have been an awkward thing to have done had she not had a relationship with the people involved, and she had no idea where the ambulance was going when she started following it.  But there was this nudge…so she did, and was able to minister to the spouse.

The good news is that the individual was taken to hospital, was treated, released, and is recovering at home.

If you’ve ever had to call 911 for a member of your household and seen that person carted away in an ambulance, you know how helpless you feel.  This would only be compounded by being alone, waiting for information about your loved one.

So imagine how wonderful it must have been for the person comforted by the woman who followed the ambulance, because of this nudge to which she paid attention.

Most often, when we are driving somewhere, we have someplace to go, and usually on a schedule.  Even if we feel a nudge, we tend to ignore it because we have someplace to go and a timetable to follow.

What if we were to make room in our schedules – some margin, if you will – so that when we feel those nudges, we can pay attention to them and act?

It may not be something so dramatic as following an ambulance.  It could be something as simple as making a phone call, or writing a card, or saying the right words at the right time to a loved one.  The scenarios are endless, and the opportunities are endless, if we will only pay attention.

After all, that nudge could well be from the Holy Spirit.

Will you pay attention today?

My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands.  Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding” (Proverbs 2.1-2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Being Somebody

Regular readers of Encouragement From the Word know that I ordinarily end my thought with Scripture.  This week, though, I’m going to start there instead.  Read this through a couple of times, slowly.

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

“Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.  And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.  There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3.23-29, NLT).

The context around the letter to the Galatians is that doctrinal troubles had arisen in churches there, due to the influence of what were called “Judaizers” – followers of Jesus who believed that in order to become Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike had to follow Jewish rituals.  The apostle Paul wrote this letter to disabuse the churches of Galatia of the notion that they had to follow certain rituals in order to be welcomed into the family of faith in Jesus.

In our context, it has any number of applications that I won’t bother to list here.  But I will say this:  so often, we find ourselves wanting to be significant, wanting to be ‘somebody’, and we uplift ourselves at the expense of others.  We’ve seen examples of this at both opposite extremes in the news recently.

Ultimately, though, if you want to be somebody, live by faith in Jesus.

Now, read that passage one more time.

Encouragement From The Word

Listen to my cry

Read these verses over a few times.  What is the Lord saying to you through them?

O Lord, hear me as I pray;
    pay attention to my groaning.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
    for I pray to no one but you.
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
    Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5.1-3

God’s best for your weekend.

Encouragement From The Word

Leisure: not what you think!

One of the things the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us is that our society, indeed the whole world that is influenced in any way by western culture, has been too busy.  Chances are, I don’t need to tell you that: it is more than likely evidenced in your own life, as it is in mine.

I read an article yesterday that was sent to me by a friend who is a monk in Pennsylvania.  It is entitled “Leisure in the Life of the Christian”, and appeared in The Catechetical Review, Issue No. 6.2.  In that article, the author, Simone Rizkallah, a Roman Catholic lay worker, wrote about the meaning of leisure.  She quotes Josef Pieper’s book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, wherein he writes that leisure is a “mental and spiritual attitude, a condition of the soul, an inward calm, of silence, of not being ‘busy’ and letting things happen.”

Since we tend to define leisure as the things we do when we are not working, this might seem like an apt definition by our standards.  But, if you dig deeper, there is far more to it than that.  Rizkallah suggests, echoing Pieper, that leisure is not the ancillary activity we undertake when we’re not doing the ‘main thing’ of life – working – but is intended to be the centre of life.

Talk about countercultural!

That doesn’t mean that our work is unimportant; quite the opposite.  But our work does not, and should not, define us.  (By implication, therefore, our lack of work ought not to define us, either – a word of grace for those who are currently unemployed!)  But we have tended, in our culture, to see leisure as entirely secondary to our work.  Indeed, as followers of Jesus, our true work is actually the practice of prayer and faith.  As Rizkallah writes, “without the silence, space, and time for the cultivation of leisure, I cannot pray well.  I cannot wait well.  And then I may not be in a prime position to recognize ‘when and how’ [God] arrives.”

I’m a big fan of etymology, the study of word meanings.  I’ve been fascinated by it for a long time.  The article I read noted that sloth is actually quite contrary to leisure:  “Slothful people are idle, restless, agitated, and often workaholics.  They are spiritually lazy and easily bored.”

Yikes.  Not quite the same definition as we have given it over time, eh?

Again, echoing Pieper, Rizkallah notes that the word ‘leisure’ in its Greek and Latin roots actually translates – virtually transliterates – to the word ‘school’.  Now, I don’t know many students who think school is leisurely, at least by our culture’s definition of leisure, but it’s where the notion of the liberal arts came from:  “[e]ducation was for the sake of (human) freedom, perfection, and salvation; not for the sake of work.  It seems while the West has largely forgotten this connection, its enemies have not forgotten.  For example, the terrorist group of Nigeria, Boko Haram (which means “Western Education is forbidden”), is one such example.

One more etymological gem:  the root of the word ‘culture’ is ‘cult’, which refers to worship.  Cult doesn’t have the same meaning in North America, where we see it as a hardline religious or ideological group that expects abject obedience from its adherents.  (There is an exception:  French-speaking churches in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada will still refer to their worship gatherings as la culte.)

So if leisure is the basis of culture, then leisure is the basis of worship, at least in one sense.  But what do we worship?  Money?  That breeds materialism, which focuses on the economy rather than on human dignity.  Power?  That leads to a culture that political and even violent, says Rizkallah.  Honour?  We’ll be centred on vanity.  Pleasure?  We’re headed for hedonism.  But if our culture centres on the worship of God, that’s revolutionary.

I say all this to suggest that perhaps this season wherein we have far fewer options to entertain us might be an invitation from the Lord to reframe how we see our lives, and how we contribute to the culture around us.

Are you spending more time in worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, even though we can’t yet gather together to do so?  Are you spending more time in service to others in Jesus’ name, aiding the vulnerable and the needy?

Or are you hankering for things to get back to ‘normal’, so you can crowd out the opportunity to face these challenging questions with more busyness?

Spend some time pondering that today, while you still have the opportunity.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4.21-24, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Hope and service

One of the things that our world’s current situation has shown us is that the church can still be the church, even when we cannot gather.

Chances are, we don’t like it – I know I would rather worship God with the people I love each Lord’s Day – but that doesn’t mean we cease to be the church through this time.

As I’ve heard and often repeated over the last couple of months, we may not be able to be the church gathered right now, but we can be the church scattered.

Each of us, individually and as households, can praise God together each Sunday (with whatever online connections we have with our church families) and every day (through personal and family devotional times).  And we can act on what we read and hear from God’s Word in the various ways for which the Lord may open doors, whether that be helping the needy; continuing to work in an essential service; praying for the sick, the lonely and the unemployed; getting groceries and needful things for vulnerable people who should not be going out in public right now; or keeping an eye on our neighbours.

We can also share our hope in Jesus with anyone with whom we might have the opportunity to converse.

Our witness is made even more strong when we couple some act of service with sharing our hope.

What can you do in these days that will bear witness to our hope in Jesus?

[I]f someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3.15b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Longing and Praying

Around the world, governments are starting to loosen restrictions from the Coronavirus pandemic.  I find this encouraging, and I view it with guarded optimism.

“Guarded”, I say, because we need to be careful.  We’ve never been down this road before, so just because we may have more freedom, for example, to go to the hardware store, doesn’t mean that the virus is dead and gone and will never return.  We will still need to practise procedures that will keep everyone healthy.

Like me, you may be longing – deeply! – to return to holding public worship gatherings, where we can praise the Lord together, instead of uniting by faith, separately, in our homes, watching modified services broadcast over the Internet.  We don’t know when the green light will be given for that.  And we will need to be wise in our roll-out of new practices and procedures that will allow us to be together safely.

In the midst of all that, let me encourage you to pray for the leaders of your church.  At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, where I serve, our elders have begun thinking about what will be permitted once gatherings are allowed once again.  We don’t know how the government of Ontario will roll out permission together, so we will have to abide by those guidelines, but as a witness to the goodness of God, we will err on the side of caution, because doing so demonstrates our love, and God’s love, for the community.

Let me also encourage you to pray for the people of your community.  Pray that they will be released from fear, while not being released from caution.  Pray that they will be given wisdom to retain the important habits and practices they have learned through this time of restriction.  And pray that people will see that only the gracious hand of God has permitted us all to get through this, and that they will want to respond in worship and praise, gathering with the church in celebration of God’s grace.

Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Optimism, Hope, Opportunity

I’ve always thought of May as a month of optimism.  “April showers bring May flowers,” the saying goes, and though that’s not in the Bible, it’s a pretty accurate reflection of reality, at least in Canada.

I haven’t checked the meteorological statistics for April, but even if it wasn’t as rainy as some Aprils have been, it certainly carried a cloudy atmosphere, didn’t it?  None of us has marked down the days of April as we all did this year.  And we are all hopeful that as the rainfall of April brings May’s promised verdancy, so too will April’s air of gloom from the Coronavirus pandemic will bring some hope of emancipation in May.

We live in hope.  That’s good for followers of Jesus, because hope is our commodity.

Buds on the trees and bright yellow flowers on the forsythia bushes signify our hope that summer is coming.  Being meticulous about avoiding the spread of germs, and seeing “the curve” slowly flatten, signify our hope that freedom to congregate again is coming.

While I’ve always thought of May as a month of optimism, I’m not sure I’ve paid quite the same degree of attention to the signs of spring before; perhaps it indicates that I am more eagerly waiting in anticipation of what God may do with our world in the coming weeks.

Each spring brings change to the landscape.  This spring has brought change to the way we live our lives, whether we like it or not.  And with change comes opportunity.

We can choose to find good in this season of restraint that will benefit our lives when we approach the “new normal”, for there will be no going back to the “old normal”.  We can choose new, edifying habits; intentional rest; even loving people we might have taken for granted.

May is a month of optimism, hope, and opportunity – perhaps no more so than this year.  The choice is ours.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” – Ecclesiastes 3.11, NLT.

Encouragement From The Word

Cauterized emotions

Perhaps, like me, you are finding that some people are equating physical distancing with emotional distancing.  And that’s a pity.

While it’s true that we need to keep our distance except among those with whom we live, that doesn’t mean we can’t exchange pleasantries with people we pass.

I live in a small community that has grown exponentially since we moved here almost 12 years ago.  I don’t mind growth; I think it can be good for a town to experience growth, and I certainly think it can be both a blessing and a challenge to the church when it does.  But since moving here, I have always spoken to, or at least smiled at, every person I’ve walked past on the sidewalk or on the streets where I walk.  I think it’s the neighbourly thing to do.

One of the things I’ve noticed in the past few weeks is that people are so concerned about Coronavirus that some are even avoiding eye contact, as if that somehow communicates the virus.

We can’t let the need for physical distancing cauterize our emotions.

Sure, we can’t hug people who don’t live under our roof right now, and as a hugger, that pains me.  But we can still be nice.

My wife was waiting, briefly, to go into a store earlier this week, and at the appropriate distance, she struck up a conversation with the attendant who was controlling the entrance.  This is an uncomfortable time for all of us, but why not remain human, and pleasant, in the process?

It may be a small and simple way you can communicate Jesus’ love in a season where there just might be more openness to it.

Praise the Lord, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love.  He has kept me safe when my city was under attack” (Psalm 31.21, NLT).