Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Picture This

“Picture this.”  Can you imagine yourself in a Bible story?

There’s an ancient spiritual practice called “Gospel Contemplation”, in which we pray, asking the Lord to sanctify our imagination, and read a story from one of the Gospels several times, each time paying more attention to the details in the story.  We use all five of our senses to place ourselves in the story.  It can be a way that the Lord speaks to us through his Word.

For example, consider the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10.46-52 (NLT):

46 Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. 47 When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

48 “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.

But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”

So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!”50 Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.

“My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”

52 And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.

Read this several times over, paying more attention to the details each time.  Toward the end, ask the Lord, “Who am I in this story?”  And ask, “What do you want me to learn from my role in this story?”

It’s possible that the Lord Jesus might be asking you, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Sit with that question in the presence of the Lord.  Seek the boldness to ask it.

There’s nothing formulaic about this; we can’t command God’s presence.  But we can seek to broaden our experience of his Spirit in our lives as we read his Word.  Why not try using your holy, sanctified, God-given imagination as you do?

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Encouragement From The Word

The Sound of Silence

“The sound of silence.”

Some of us may think of the old Simon and Garfunkel song when we hear those words. That song may not give the most solid advertisement for the value of silence!

The reality, today, is that most of us do not know the sound of silence, because we hear so little of it.

For some, it’s simply a mindless habit: when we get up, we turn on the radio or the TV or a streaming device, and sound motivates the start (and maybe middle and end) of our day.

For others, it’s an intentional act to avoid silence because they fear what they will encounter in the silence.

Understand this:  silence is where God may want to reach you.  Silence may be where you have the best opportunity to hear from God.

Elijah learned this.  He had conquered the prophets of Baal, with God’s help, and was now running from Queen Jezebel.  He stopped to rest, basically parking under a broom tree saying that he’d had enough of life. God sent an angel to feed him and give him strength for the journey ahead (that he didn’t want to take).  God said he would speak to Elijah, so Elijah went into a cave at Mount Sinai, as if to hide.

God asked him what he was doing there.  Elijah offered an excuse.  God sent him to the edge of a mountain, and along came a windstorm, and then an earthquake, and then a fire.  But God was not in those phenomena.  We read in 1 Kings 19.12b-13 (NLT), “And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

God spoke in the gentle whisper.  It was not the booming sounds of windstorm, earthquake or fire in which the voice of God was to be heard, but in the quiet.

When you spend time with God, do you set aside time in silence?  Who knows how the Lord might speak if you set aside all the noise of life even for a few minutes.

Encouragement From The Word

From the archives: Saying Thanks

This bug that’s going around has clouded my mind, so I thought I’d pull something out of the Encouragement archives from 2010 for you this week. JFL

In Matthew 25.40, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (NIV).  In the context of that story – about the sheep and the goats – the righteous are surprised to learn that they had served the Lord in small ways, such as feeding, clothing and caring.  Acting on the grace of God at work in their lives through faith, they had ministered to others, and thereby ministered to Jesus himself.  What they were doing just flowed from them naturally, because of their faith in Christ.

Have you ever thought about the little encouragements you give, the little kindnesses you share?  Perhaps these are ministries both of and to Jesus.  Nobody gets too much encouragement.

For example, last night, having had some minor trouble with my smart phone, I called Bell Mobility tech support to try to get the problem solved.  The chap I spoke with, while not perfectly fluent in English, was extremely courteous, very patient, and gave me the impression that he really wanted to help me with the problem.  While the difficulty turned out to be simple to solve, the process of ‘getting there’ was a bit more complicated than either of us had anticipated.

Still, when it was all done – nearly an hour of trying things and waiting on hold while he talked with another expert – I did not feel exasperated (as I often do at the end of such calls).  I felt that I had been heard, and my concern had been taken seriously.  And he worked to solve the problem to my satisfaction!

When we were finished, I said to him, “I need to ask one more thing of you:  will you put me through to your supervisor, so I can tell that person what a good job you have done for me?”  I think he was a bit surprised that I asked, but glad that I had said why I wanted to talk with his supervisor, because all too often, when consumers ask to speak to the supervisor, it’s to complain.  But I wanted to commend, rather than complain.

I had to leave a voicemail for the supervisor, but at least I had the opportunity to speak some encouragement into the life of a faceless technical support person who could have been in another city or another country for all I knew. But I was pleased with his work and I wanted his boss to know that.

Who have you thanked for doing a good job for you lately?  That may be one of the little things you do for Jesus.

Encouragement From The Word

Position yourself for growth

If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for any length of time, you know the importance of growing in your faith.  So often, we get the notion in our minds that we have to work at it – and while there is some truth to that, we need to understand that it’s not our job.

I’m fond of the definition of spiritual formation given by the late Robert Mulholland, who taught New Testament at a seminary in the United States.  His definition of spiritual formation is that it is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.

When we come to faith in Jesus, it is not the end of a journey, but the beginning. When we begin our relationship with God, we submit ourselves to the process of being conformed – it’s not our job, but that of God the Holy Spirit living within us.

And we are being conformed to the image of Christ – as the apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth, “the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3.18, NLT).  That’s our goal – not to be “better people” or “more moral”, but to be more like Jesus.

Why?  For the sake of others.  We don’t grow in faith for our own sakes, but so that the world God made and the people God loves may benefit, and glimpse more of his goodness through us.

The work is God’s, but we are invited to be willing instruments.  Position yourself for growth this year.

Encouragement From The Word

A Psalm about Self

There’s a little book of creative writing that was written by Joe Bayly, and compiled after he died.  It’s called Psalms of My Life, and as we start a new year of Encouragement, I’d like to share one of Bayly’s pieces, called “A Psalm about Self”.  See if you can find anything in here that might help you start your 2019 right.

Lord save me
from myself
my settled self
unsettle me
bring to end of rope
but only
if you
are at the end.

My procrastinating self
that can so easy find
side roads
that are more interesting
even ones where
errands can be run.

Send me back
to
my comfort loving self
uncomfort me
pull the covers from me
on cold night
that I may
wake.  Starve my body
that my soul may feast.

My proud self.

Give me grace to bend myself
And keep me bent
lest you should
one day
bend me to the breaking point.
My righteous self
show me sin
that lurks beneath
my conscious thought
motivating
that pushes me
to settling
comfort pride
and self
rationalizing self
that finds excuse
for what I do
and don’t.

Save me from myself
Save me so that
self may die
and save me
from pride

that self is dead.

Joseph Bayly, Psalms of My Life:  Daily Reflections on Newspapers, Wild Flowers, New Jobs, Hotel Rooms, Birthdays, and other Nitty Gritties of Life (Weston, ON:  David C. Cook, 1987), 16-17.

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11.2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The Saviour…all year

I hope you enjoyed a blessed Christmas!  This week between Christmas and the new year is always a nebulous week for me.  For pastors, it’s a time of recovery from what is often a lot of worship celebrations in a short period of time (five in three days for me…but I knew that when I signed up!).  For families, it’s a balancing act between visiting relatives and keeping kids from being bored or fighting with their siblings; now that Christmas is over, “naughty or nice” has gone out the window for some children!  For some people, it’s a heavy travel time, with highways busy and airports crowded. And for some of us, the week gets clouded even more because our birthdays fall during that week.  (Mine happens to be today.)

Too often, amid all that, the Reason For The Season gets left behind.  Christmas helps us to focus on Jesus as our Saviour.  But if we’re not too careful, as time goes on, Jesus gets relegated to a lesser place than he deserves.

In my message this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m going to say something I think bears repeating more widely.  I’ll quote Old Testament scholar John Oswalt, who said, “When we think the solution to our problems is to be found within ourselves, we are liable to think of God as an assistant or a fall-back device.” And in this state, we think we do not need a Saviour. We may need a teacher or a friend, but we do not need a Saviour.  That’s why, in part, Christmas has become this strange combination of consumerism and romanticism.

Jesus has become ancillary to the celebration of Christmas, because the concept of a Saviour seems unnecessary.  We, as the church, will be used by God to turn that around, because humanity is in deep need of a Saviour, in deep need of the Saviour, the one who is called Jesus the Christ, who came to save us from our sins.  We may be saved by grace, but we still sin (well, at least, I do).

So, as the memory of Christmas services fades into the past for another year, and a new year stands on the horizon, let me encourage you to keep Jesus’ place as Saviour in the forefront.  Remember that you need him as Saviour.  Remember that your loved ones who are far from God need him as Saviour.  Remember that “this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, NLT).

I wish you a happy and blessed new year.  And may you know the delight of Jesus as your Saviour all year.

Encouragement From The Word returns on January 11.

Encouragement From The Word

Longing (in a minor key)

Well, we’re getting close!  Christmas is just around the corner.  I hope and pray that your preparations have been less-than-frazzling for you, that you have had time to breathe and enjoy the blessings of the season of Advent.

At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we’re going to open our service this week with the Advent carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. It’s a perennial favourite for some, and not a favourite of others.  (This is true of most music, isn’t it?  One of the things I consider when I’m choosing music for worship besides, “Will this fit with the theme of the service?” is, “You can’t please everybody,” and it’s true.)  I suspect some people may not be fans of it because the song is in a minor key.  Some folks just have an aversion to songs in minor keys, and yet there is a good reason why this, and any number of other traditional songs of the season of Advent, are in a minor key:  it’s a musical expression of longing.

That’s what we do in the season of Advent: we long for Jesus to be born.  We long for his ministry to begin.  We long for his atoning death and resurrection to happen. (The latter is a reason why many songs in Lent are in a minor key, too, though we tend to expect that, since Good Friday has a ‘minor key’ feel to it altogether.)

So amid all that has taken place in these past few weeks – getting the house decorated, getting gifts purchased, getting baking done, getting meals prepared, etc., etc…have you had time for some longing?

Here’s a setting of the carol, in case you’ve already sung it this season, or if you’re one of the many recipients of Encouragement who does not attend St. Paul’s.  As you sing it, let your heart be open to longing for Jesus.

[T]he Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)” (Isaiah 7.14, NLT).

Merry Christmas!