Encouragement From The Word

Notre Dame and Dofasco

Normally, on Good Friday, I write about the crucifixion.  And make no mistake: the fact that Jesus died is an important fact on which to meditate, and for which to give thanks in worship today.  (You can do so at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, at 10:00 a.m. if you are able!)

But a big event from last Monday prompts me to go in a different direction.

Last Monday, a serious fire occurred within Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.

The outpouring of emotion on social media was palpable.  To be sure, it is profoundly sad that this icon of religious architecture would be nearly destroyed by fire.  It appears that the structure may be saved, and French leaders, with large donations from wealthy people, are vowing to rebuild what has been lost.  (That in itself has caused no small amount of controversy.)

What I’m left wanting to ponder with you, though, is the reality that though a building may be destroyed, the church is not.

The church is not a building: the church is people.

Every time I say or hear that, I am reminded of a very old radio ad I used to hear as a child for Dofasco, a steel fabrication company in Hamilton, Ontario. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the commercial itself, but the tagline has stuck with me for well more than forty years:  “Our product is steel.  Our strength is people.”

The company knew that while they would be known for producing steel products (among those with which I’m best acquainted are the side frames for Canadian-built locomotives), they could not produce those steel products without the employees who make it happen – everyone from the people who heat the molten material to the people who sweep the floors to the people who keep the books in the office.

The same is true of the church – almost.

When we think of the church as bricks-and-mortar, we have only an imagined product.  A church building in and of itself is only a tool.  The building does not preach the gospel.  The building does not care for the sick.  The building does not feed the hungry.  The building does not advocate for justice.

It’s the people who do that.  We are the church.

So yes, be sad for the significant damage done to a magnificent church building which has stood for almost nine centuries as a testament to the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  But be resolved to be  the church.  Some of the most effective gatherings of God’s people in the world do not worship in an architectural masterpiece; some of them don’t even have a building to call their own.  And while people may be inspired by the incredible architecture of great church buildings (and there are many), let your inspiration be channeled into a deep and abiding faith in Jesus, who died and rose again for us, that we would be his hands and feet in the world – preaching the good news, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and advocating for justice.

When the church loses these characteristics, we ought indeed to mourn.

But you and I aren’t going to let that happen, right?  It doesn’t matter if we have a building or not:  we are  the church.

Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18.20, NLT).

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Encouragement From The Word

Religious Respectability

In his book Prayer:  Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster writes about various facets of the gemstone of the Christian life that is prayer.  Among them is “authoritative prayer”, in which Foster suggests that God’s people are too often too timid about exercising their God-given abilities in prayer.

He cites all kinds of times when Jesus spoke authoritatively in prayer, and then he writes,

“Certainly I should not be expected to do those kinds of things.  But then I came upon Jesus’ shocking words:  ‘Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14:12)….In my concern over falling off the deep end, I realized that I just might fall off the shallow end.  My desire to maintain religious respectability could easily result in a domesticated faith”  (pp. 234-235, emphases mine).

Re-reading this book always challenges me, and on this go-round, it was this section that slapped me ‘upside the head.’  Am I more interested in religious respectability than I am about doing the work God has intended for me to do?

It’s as if I would sooner sit in the cold than get up and turn on the furnace.

Now, what might be running through your mind certainly courses through mine, and that’s this:  What about the sovereignty of God?

Foster would remind us that any prayer we offer authoritatively must come not from any authority of our own, but from the authority of the Holy Spirit working in and through us – and the Holy Spirit, as the third Person of the Trinity, is sovereign and ultimately decides whether a prayer should be granted or not.

Yet, I want to suggest, too often we don’t even bother.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying, “There’s nothing we can do,” what if we were to speak to the sickness in our loved one, in Jesus’ name?

Many of us are reluctant to do such things because we don’t own a white polyester suit, or a personal jet; we don’t want to be lumped in with those Christians.  To be sure, any authoritative ministry we exercise does not happen for our own self-aggrandizement, but for the glory of God.  But if God were willing to heal, willing to cast out, willing to aid – if we were simply to ask – would that not be worth the risk of losing religious respectability?

Encouragement From The Word

Arrested!

As we prepare to enter holy week, I thought I’d use this week’s Encouragement to give you the opportunity to meditate on a piece of art (well, a photo I took of the piece of art), and the Scripture that goes with it.  This mosaic is called Les Outrages chez Caïphe, and it comprises part of the west wall of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu in Jerusalem, on the west slope of the Kidron Valley, where Jesus was arrested.

Spend a couple of minutes examining the mosaic, and read the Scripture.  Just let this few minutes’ pause begin your holy week.

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47 But even as Jesus said this, a crowd approached, led by Judas, one of the twelve disciples. Judas walked over to Jesus to greet him with a kiss. 48 But Jesus said, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

49 When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” 50 And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear.

51 But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

52 Then Jesus spoke to the leading priests, the captains of the Temple guard, and the elders who had come for him. “Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? 53 Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.”– Luke 22.47-52, NLT

Encouragement From The Word

In him there is no darkness at all

There is a hymn text, written in 1966, that has come to have meaning for me, especially on the darker and duller days that come and go with life.  It was written by Kathleen Thomerson, an American church musician (who also wrote the tune that goes with it).  The hymn goes like this:

I want to walk as a child of the light; I want to follow Jesus.

God set the stars to give light to the world; the star of my life is Jesus.

In him there is no darkness at all; the night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the light of the city of God:

Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

 

I want to see the brightness of God; I want to look at Jesus.

Clear Sun of righteousness, shine on my path, and show me the way to the Father.

In him there is no darkness at all; the night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the light of the city of God:

Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

 

I’m looking for the coming of Christ; I want to be with Jesus.

When we have run with patience the race, we shall know the joy of Jesus.

In him there is no darkness at all; the night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the light of the city of God:

Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

Here’s a link to a rendition of this hymn:

 

Sometimes, the changing seasons can bring sadness (or, literally, SAD – seasonal affective disorder).  May the light of Jesus, and the promise of his return, bring you fresh joy as it does me!

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1.5, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Looking at all four legs?

Leadership expert John Maxwell tells the story of why animal trainers go into a cage of lions carrying whips, pistols and stools.  Why stools?

Apparently, the trainer holds the stool by the back, and thrusts the legs toward the face of the wild animal.  It tries to focus on all four legs at once, and in that attempt, a sort of paralysis overwhelms the animal.

It becomes tame, weak and disabled, because its attention has been fragmented.

Does that sound just a wee bit familiar?  It does to me, that’s for sure.

I keep myself busy, without a doubt, as I’m sure you do.  And at times, I consider whether I should stop doing something, but when I do, I realize that if I did stop something, I would likely just pick up something else in its place.

We have accustomed ourselves to doing something all the time.  There can be value in that, but only up to a certain point. Each of us needs margin in our lives.

If you’ve been looking at all four legs on that stool, and you feel paralyzed, it’s time to stop and re-evaluate.  What could you give up to build more margin into your life?  Sometimes, we need to give up something good, something very good, in order to have time for that which will make usbetter, not least of which is time with the Lord.

Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46.10, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Love your neighbour

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages his hearers (and us) to take a different look at how we understand the Old Testament.  It was radical teaching, because over the years, the Jewish leaders had added cultural traditions to the Scripture that the text itself may not have implied.

For example, in Matthew 5.43 (NLT), Jesus says, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy.” Many faithful Jewish people had assumed that the law told them to love their neighbours and hate their enemies, when in fact, the text does not call God’s people to hate their enemies. (This is why the single quotation marks appear around ‘Love your neighbour’, because that is the Old Testament quotation, from Leviticus 19.18.)  Jesus goes on to say, “But I say, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!  In this way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.44-45a, NLT).

This was challenging teaching for Jesus’ first hearers, because they had been in political struggles with enemy nations, and theological struggles with Samaritans and the like, for so long, the notion of hating one’s enemies had become engrained in the culture.

At another point, Jesus would challenge their concept of love of neighbour by telling the

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Wadi Qelt.  That’s Jericho, top right.

story of the Good Samaritan, whose aid of a Jewish man on the road to Jericho (pictured: the green areas highlight what was the original road to Jericho; taken from Wadi Qelt, between Jerusalem and Jericho, February 19, 2019) was radically counter-cultural.

How are you doing with love of neighbour?

How are you doing with love of “enemy” – however you might perceive your enemy?

In this age of outrage, especially on social media, followers of Jesus are called to love neighbour and enemy…even if they are the same person.

(I’m going to expand on this in my message, “Lessons From St. Patrick” at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, this Sunday.)

Encouragement From The Word

Keep your eyes on Jesus

Have you ever looked up the definition of the term ‘debacle’?  Loosely defined, it’s a great big failure.

It seems we don’t need to look very far these days to find an illustration for that!

On both sides of the border, politics is providing its share of debacles.  Organizations are seeing leadership debacles. Companies are seeing economic debacles.

Where can we turn to find something better?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas.  Your strength comes from God’s grace” (Hebrews 13.8-9a, NLT).

Too often, as followers of Jesus, we are easily drawn in to all the troubles of the world.  Indeed, we should be active in the world, and pray for the world, but we should keep our eyes on Jesus, on whom we can depend all the time.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12.1b-2a, NLT).

Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good, but likewise, don’t be so earthly minded that you lose sight of heaven.