Encouragement From The Word

We’re *all* “Pentecostal”!

This Sunday, the church marks Pentecost, fifty days after Easter.  It was named after the Jewish festival of Pentecost, which came fifty days after Passover (that’s where the “pente” part comes in).  It  was the day the Holy Spirit was given to Jesus’ followers.  You can read about it in Acts 2.1-13.  When we talk about the giving of the Holy Spirit, our reading often stops there.  But if you read on, you find some important events in the remainder of the chapter.

First, you see that the giving of the Holy Spirit was accompanied by bold preaching.  The crowds thought the apostles were drunk when the Holy Spirit landed on them and they started speaking in unknown languages, but Peter corrected that assumption and proclaimed the good news of Jesus to all those people, using Old Testament Scriptures to back it up – passages that would have been well known to these Jewish onlookers.

Second, a strong sense of community developed among the believers.  The disciples were concerned about Jesus’ ascension to haven, in no small part because they would be left alone.  Of course, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to be him with them, but they were worried.  As the community developed, and the church was born, the early Christians realized that they needed each other to be a strong voice in a hostile world.

We can learn from the aftermath of Pentecost.

I believe that the circumstances of the church in western society today more closely resemble those of the early church than ever before.  And if that’s the case, we do well to emulate the actions of the early church as we seek to be faithful to the Lord in our time.

So, Christian, you have the Holy Spirit living in and through you.  You can share your faith boldly with others, knowing that while you may not have 100% success in leading people to faith, you will plant seeds that could later grow into faith.  Don’t be ashamed of the gospel:  share your faith with your friends and family, and trust the Holy Spirit to do the work of ensuring that those seeds of faith grow.

And make sure you are engaged in Christian community.  The Christian faith is a team sport; being a “solo” follower of Jesus is antithetical to what the Bible tells us we should be.  Make sure you are part of a church community.  Worship together – in person, if you are physically able to do so.  Engage in service together as much as your station in life permits.  Study God’s Word together; at St. Paul’s, we have LifeConnect Groups that meet for both study and service, as well as “doing life” together.  If you belong to another fellowship, I’m sure your church has small groups, too.  

Be involved.  Be active.  Talk about your faith; believe it or not, your friends do kind of wonder about it.  Being a follower of Jesus in our time is difficult enough!  Don’t make it more difficult by trying to do it on your own.  

In that sense, I suppose, we’re all “Pentecostal”!

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer” (Acts 2.42, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

An under-appreciated feast

Yesterday was Ascension Day, the day the church marks the ascension of Jesus into heaven, 40 days after his resurrection (that’s why it always lands on a Thursday).  Though it is a national holiday in some countries, for most of the Christian world, Ascension Day is undercelebrated.  So, in honour of this special day, I simply encourage you to reflect on these two passages from Scripture.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.  As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!
                                                                         – Acts 1.6-11, NLT

Come, everyone! Clap your hands!
    Shout to God with joyful praise!
For the Lord Most High is awesome.
    He is the great King of all the earth.
He subdues the nations before us,
    putting our enemies beneath our feet.
He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance,
    the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves. 


God has ascended with a mighty shout.
    The Lord has ascended with trumpets blaring.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King over all the earth.
    Praise him with a psalm. 
God reigns above the nations,
    sitting on his holy throne.
The rulers of the world have gathered together
    with the people of the God of Abraham.
For all the kings of the earth belong to God.
    He is highly honored everywhere.      – Psalm 47, NLT

One of my favourite Ascension Day choral anthems is based on Psalm 47.  It was written by Gerald Finzi (apparently an agnostic Jew, himself).  Enjoy it along with me here.

By the way, some of you have been praying for my mother, and I appreciate that.  She died a week ago today, and her funeral took place yesterday – Ascension Day!  My wife and I appreciate your prayers as we deal with both grief and administration and execution of her will.  We are greatly comforted in knowing she now sees the Lord she served by faith face to face.

Encouragement From The Word

A (sad) study in contrasts

Last Sunday, while wrapping up our week of vacation, I experienced an interesting study in contrasts.

First, we chose a congregation with which to worship God, not far from the campground we were staying at.  Like most people looking for a church, we consulted the websites of several nearby congregations, and found one with a statement of faith that we could resonate with, so we opted to tell our GPS to send us there.

The congregation was surprisingly small.  In Canada, we expect this, but in the US, most churches (while still under 100) tend to be a bit larger than what we experienced.  The people were friendly and there were lots of young families, so we felt welcomed.

Then came the sermon.

The preacher – who may have been a guest, a member of the church, an intern, or the incumbent, I have no idea – managed to embody an unfortunate trifecta in his preaching:  long, boring and repetitive.  

He didn’t say anything wrong; his theology was fine and his manner was sincere, but his communication approach made the good news of Jesus seem boring.  He was rounding the corner to Point Number Three at the 45-minute mark, not yet having uttered the word “finally”, and we had a bit of a schedule to keep, so we ducked out the door from our back pew, largely undetected.

Contrast that with our next stop, for lunch, which was at the growing American phenomenon known as Buc-ees.

If you’ve never visited one, picture what might be the result of a love affair between a Walmart and a gas station.

Upon entering, you’re greeted boisterously by the staff (still clearly heard over the din of hundreds of people wandering around the place).  Trying to take it all in, at one point, our train of thought was interrupted as a staff member announced, “Buc-ee is in the house!”  And everyone cheered, and started taking pictures of the company mascot, a beaver, who looked like he would be more at home trying to rouse the fans at a baseball game than posing for photos in the middle of a massive truck stop.

As we walked past, opting not to take up valuable storage in our phones with “Buc-ee and me” selfies, we noticed quite a commotion at the kitchen, which is also prominently placed near the centre of the huge building.  Those who were cooking were also engaged in various forms of mutual encouragement and pep-talk, clearly attracting the attention of hungry shoppers.  (Try the brisket sandwich if you go.)

As I reflected on the contrast between these two experiences, I caught the irony.  Maybe you see it, too:  the best news in the world was shared with as little enthusiasm as possible, while consumerism, personified by some dude dressed up like a fuzzy, buck-toothed, oversized rodent, was splayed forth with an almost hysterical call-and-response.

I’m not suggesting that everything we do as the church needs to be like a pep rally.  But I am suggesting that if we want to engage the world with what we know is the best news going, we had better act like it’s the best news going.

The atheistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “I will believe in your redeemer when your people look more redeemed.”  Who do you know that might be convinced to follow Jesus if they saw in you and me a love for God that was undeniable?

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14.17, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word


Intimacy:  it’s a word we don’t often associate with God.  

In fact, many of us would be inclined to think that intimacy should be kept from God…as if it were possible to keep anything from God.

If we take time to consider and admit it, many of our ideas of intimacy are cloaked in Victorian embarrassment.  That is, our definition of intimacy is heavily influenced by our culture, and sometimes, our culture is as difficult for us to define as trying to get a fish to describe what it means to be wet.  (Plus, fish can’t talk.  I know.)

All that to say, we think intimacy isn’t something that belongs in the realm of faith…except it does.

Consider the terms we see used for God in the New Testament.  We see God called “Father”, a familial term that connotes a close relationship.  Jesus called God Abba, an Aramaic term that translates as “Daddy”.  Jesus is referred to as both our Lord and our “brother”.  The Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us, is our “comforter”.

Those are terms of intimacy, are they not?

I often tell couples when I conduct their weddings that people should be able to look to their love for each other and see a reflection of God’s love for the world.  That’s intimacy.

And God desires it with us.  

Intimacy is not just about sex.  It is about a deep connection of love and openness and honesty.  It is about a heart’s yearning.  

How can we be intimate with God?

Start by making him your heart’s desire.  My wife tells me that when I’m out and she’s at home, her heart skips a beat when she hears the garage door open.  Sometimes I tell her, “That’s because you’re looking for a place to hide your boyfriend,” but I’m kidding, of course.  That excitement when I come home is a sign of an intimate relationship.

When you come to worship, whether on your own at home, daily, or with the church, weekly, does your heart skip a beat when you enter the presence of the Lord?  That’s intimacy.

When you open your Bible to read God’s Word and hear from him, does your heart skip a beat as you anticipate what the Lord will teach you?  That’s intimacy.

Our relationship with God is an intimacy of both head and heart.  He desires it with us.  Do you desire it with God?

[Y]ou must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6.5, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

God has done!

There are some Christians who have doubts about their salvation.

Even within those traditions (including my own Reformed tradition) that uphold the doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints” – the idea that once we make a true profession of faith in Christ, our salvation is sealed for eternity – there are people who go through seasons in which they doubt that they could possibly be saved.

While we journey with people through the valleys of doubt, it’s important to remember that salvation is a gift from God alone that no one can take away.  God could, but he has promised us that he will not take it away.

It’s important to remember that, unlike other world religions that involve human action to earn salvation, the Christian faith is not about “we do.”

It’s about “God has done.”

If you and I have sincerely, with a full heart, given ourselves to Jesus as Lord and Saviour – with as much understanding as we had at the time – at that point our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life in indelible ink.  We can’t undo our salvation.

We may mess up at some point, and mess up badly; but the grace of God that entered our lives to enable us to say ‘yes’ to Jesus does not go away.  Our sin cannot undo the work of Jesus on the cross.

Of course, as the apostle Paul points out in Romans 6, we should not willfully engage in sin and thereby take advantage of the grace of God at work in our lives.  Not at all!  But we should not worry about whether sin or anything else can separate us from God and thereby remove our salvation.  When grace is given to us to believe, it cannot be taken from us.

The apostle John reminds us of this when he writes to the early church:  “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3.1, NLT).

If you have professed faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, you are a child of the Father.  You want to talk about identity?  That’s your identity:  child of God.  And if that profession, at whatever point in your life, was real, nothing can snatch that from you.So walk today in assurance that what God has done in bringing you salvation is a gift that will not be taken away!

Encouragement From The Word

Of worms and sinners…and us

On Good Friday, at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we opened worship with the old gospel hymn “At the Cross”, an adaptation of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Alas, and did my Saviour bleed”.  In it, there is a line that says:

Would he devote that sacred head to such a worm as I?

While Watts will surely have taken his inspiration for that moniker from Psalm 22.6, today, we might wonder whether that’s an appropriate term for a human being.

The Psalmist used the term to denote his feeling of dehumanization from oppression and suffering.  That certainly applied to Jesus, and he appropriated the passage for himself more than once, as you’ll see if you read the entire Psalm.

In response, some hymnal editors have rephrased the line to read:

Would he devote that sacred head to sinners such as I?

This also captures the essence of what Watts was trying to express:  that is, the tragic irony that the perfect God-Man Jesus gave his life for the decidedly imperfect human race.

Sadly, people today tend to track toward one extreme or the other.  That is, people either view themselves as the worst of the worst, hopelessly irredeemable; or they view themselves as ‘darned near perfect’ – not sinners, and definitely not “worms”!

One of the challenges God’s people face in sharing the gospel with others is that many people don’t think they’ve sinned, so they don’t need a Saviour, while others think they are so bad that there is no hope for their redemption.

But we know that in Jesus, neither of those views is true.

Anyone who claims not to be a sinner need only be furnished with the ten commandments to be reminded that she or he has not lived up to God’s perfect standard.  And anyone who claims to be irredeemable need only be told of the apostle Paul’s reminder to the Christians in Rome that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5.8, NLT), or his statement to Timothy, his young protégé:  “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.  But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1.15-16, NLT).

On those days when we feel like we’re on top of the world and can’t do anything wrong, Jesus still died for us.  And on those days when we feel lower than a snake’s (worm’s?) belly, Jesus still died for us.

We are created in God’s own image, and he proclaimed us, with all creation, to be “very good”. We messed that up in disobedience, but Jesus came to redeem the least and the worst of our disobedience.

Walk with him in confidence today!

Encouragement From The Word

Who do you want to meet?

I’m sure, like me, you have a long list of people you want to talk to when you get to heaven.  On my list is someone not everybody might put in their Top Ten.

It’s Simon of Cyrene.

In truth, I don’t even know if I will meet him in heaven, because we have no indication from Scripture – though we do from tradition – that he ever professed faith in Jesus.  I hope the tradition is right, and he did.

In Roman culture, it was common for one condemned to be crucified to carry the horizontal part of his own cross from the place of the trial to the dump outside the city where crucifixions happened; the long vertical poles would be left there for re-use.  

According to the Gospel account in Luke 23.26-27 (with parallels in Matthew and Mark), though, the soldiers who accompanied Jesus to Calvary commandeered Simon of Cyrene to carry this piece for Jesus, whom they deemed was already weak enough from the beating and scourging he had endured that he would not be able to carry it himself.

This is the only canonical (i.e., Scriptural) mention of Simon of Cyrene.  All we know about him from the Bible is that he was from Cyrene – a city in north Africa – and that he was appointed (by force, it seems, since he was “seized”) to carry Jesus’ cross for him.  Mark mentions his two sons, Alexander and Rufus.  But that’s all we know.

One assumes Simon was Jewish, because Jews came from all over the world, as they were able, to mark the Passover in Jerusalem.  But even that is an assumption.  There is a tradition that says that Simon of Cyrene returned to Africa and shared the gospel with the people of Egypt, but there is little to back this up, even if it is true.

But since the Lord is not into wasting words, we are left wondering why Simon of Cyrene even gets mentioned.  The Gospel writers simply might have said that a passerby was pressed into service, but the three Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – all mention him by name.

That’s why I hope to meet him in heaven.  The fact that he was mentioned by name piques my curiosity.  

I want to know what it was like to carry that crossbeam.  I want to know what he thought of the whole situation, how he beheld Jesus in such a weary and beaten state.  I want to know if he stayed at Calvary to watch Jesus die, to hear his last words, to see the sky go dark, to hear of the temple curtain torn in two.

Simon is perhaps the most literal illustration of Jesus’ exhortation to his followers:  “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Luke 9.23-24, NLT).

On this Good Friday, be inspired by Simon of Cyrene.  Take up your cross – not only today, but every day.

Encouragement From The Word

Let the Word wash over you

This weekend, the church marks Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when we traditionally begin our commemoration of the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry and life.  

Unless your church tradition is one that has services every day during Holy Week, it’s likely that you’re not hearing many of the accounts of the activities that took place during that week.  Of course, you may be reading these gospel accounts at home, which is great!  But there is much that happened during that final week of Jesus’ life between the waving of palms and the hammering of nails.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke, we read that Jesus cleared the temple, told many parables, taught about judgment, and was anointed for his death – all before the last supper.  In the Gospel of John, the order is presented a little differently, since he had a different original audience.  The clearing of the temple happens early in John’s Gospel, and much occurs between the triumphal entry and Jesus’ betrayal, including not the last supper, but the washing of the disciples’ feet.

Even between Jesus’ betrayal and death, there are accounts worth reading that may or may not be heard in church.  So let me encourage you, this coming week, to carve out time to read the last half of one of the Gospel narratives.  Don’t make it just another thing to do, though; take your time with it.  Spread it out over the course of the week.  Read the parts that happen after the crucifixion but before the resurrection on Saturday, before Easter.  

Let the Word wash over you like the jar of expensive perfume that was poured over Jesus’ head while he ate in the home of Simon in Bethany.  As Jesus said, “She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Matthew 26.12-13, NLT).

Perhaps this act will quicken your heart for the joy of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Let the Word wash over you.

Encouragement From The Word

It wasn’t free

This week, I fell victim to a scam…sort of.

I received an email from someone trying to give away a piano – something that does happen from time to time – provided the recipient would pay for the move.

Makes sense, right?  Someone giving away a piano shouldn’t have to bear the burden of the cost of moving it, which can be significant.

I announced it to the congregation, in case anyone was interested.  Someone was.

Thankfully, that person did his homework, and discovered it is a scam.  It turns out that the requirement was to use the donor’s moving company, which was fake, but was receiving people’s money and not delivering anything.

This was one of the most convincing scams I’ve seen yet.  We all get those phone calls from “Canada Revenue” or “Amazon” or “Credit Department” claiming that we owe money or are about to be incarcerated.  We understand that they are fake and we hang up on them.

But an email, seemingly credible, with an offer of a gift that sometimes happens anyway?  Seems legit.  Nope.

I’m glad my friend did the research.

All too often, something that claims to be free isn’t free…unless you’re talking about the gospel.

What sets Christianity apart from every other world religion is that salvation is free…for us.

But it wasn’t free for Jesus.

That is, Jesus paid the price for our sins.

Many people respond when they hear the gospel by saying it seems too good to be true.  In this case, though, it’s not too good to be true.  It is good, and it is true!  

It’s not like a “get out of jail free” card; Jesus bled and died on the cross to set us free from sin.  He experienced death for three days and rose again from the grave to bring us eternal life.

He paid the price, but it wasn’t free.

Yet for us, it is free. No catch.  No hidden fees.  No asterisk.

Have you given yourself wholly to Jesus, who paid the price for your sins?  It’s no scam.  It’s real, and it’s true.  He did it for you and for me.

God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.21, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

An inspiring experiment

I saw a meme on social media the other day (pictured), and attended a webinar, each of which inspired me to share this with you.  Read on.

As Christians, we are called to love one another as Christ loved us. Part of that love includes praying for one another. Praying for others is a powerful way to show our love and concern for them, and it can have a profound impact on their lives.

The Bible tells us to pray for one another, to bear each other’s burdens, and to encourage one another. When we pray for others, we are demonstrating our faith in God’s power to intervene in their lives. We are also aligning ourselves with God’s will for their lives, which is ultimately for their good.

Prayer is not just a one-way street. When we pray for others, we are also opening ourselves up to receive the blessings of prayer. We become more compassionate, more patient, and more loving as we focus our attention on the needs of others. We also become more aware of our own needs, and we can bring those needs before God in prayer as well.

Prayer is not just a private matter between ourselves and God. When we pray for others, we are also building community and strengthening relationships. We are showing our love and support for one another, and we are creating a network of support that can sustain us through difficult times.

So let us commit ourselves to praying for one another. Let us take the time to lift each other up in prayer, to encourage one another, and to bear each other’s burdens. Let us trust in God’s power to work in our lives and the lives of those around us. And let us rejoice in the blessings that come from a life of prayer and love for one another.

I hope this inspired you.  It inspired me.

But I must provide full disclosure.  This was an experiment.  I did not write the piece.  I asked ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence machine available widely online, the following:  “Please write a one-page Christian devotional on the importance of praying for one another.”  Within about sixty seconds, it produced what you read above in italics.  (The webinar I attended was about how church leaders can make use of artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT.)

Of course, you who know my writing style will have immediately picked up on the fact that this did not come from my hand.  Nevertheless, while it may lack some of the colour I might normally include, there’s nothing inherently wrong with what it says.

Artificial intelligence is here to stay, I think.  And we will have to wrestle with how best to use it as followers of Jesus. Undoubtedly, it will have some benefits for society, if used with integrity.  But it will never replace the importance of such things as praying for each other through the gaps of life, as the meme illustrates.  AI will never replace authentic, praying community.  Who are you praying for these days?

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

For Such A Time As This

Those of us acquainted with some of the stories in the Old Testament remember the account of Esther, a young Jewish woman who found favour with the king of Persia, married him, and through her office managed to save the Jewish people from the evil plot of Haman.  (It’s what the recently-celebrated festival of Purim marks for Jewish people.)  In that story, as the plot to kill the Jewish people grows more obvious, her cousin, Mordecai, famously says to Esther, “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14, NLT).

It’s a great illustration that reminds us that God’s timing is always right.  There are no coincidences.

Earlier this week, I met with my spiritual director.  I could tell something wasn’t quite right, and she revealed that she had just flown back from visiting her nonagenarian father, who had fallen and broken his ankle.  The family was concerned for his health.

While we were talking, her cell phone rang.  Normally, she would have ignored it, but because of her family situation, she chose to answer it, and I completely understood.

Matters had gotten worse, and her sister had called to tell my spiritual director.

Her sister put her dad on the phone, and my spiritual director talked with him briefly and prayed with him.

At that point, I knew our spiritual direction session was over.  That was okay; it could wait.  My spiritual director neededmy support at that time, and I sought to provide it as best I could.

When I departed, she told me, “I’m glad you were here today.”  

So was I.  I knew that it was no accident that all this would transpire while I was with her.  My spiritual director and I are friends, too, and I was honoured to be able to care for her in that moment of need.  I was there “for such a time as this.”

Let me encourage you to consider those occasions that you might think of “coincidences” as something more than that:  whether good or bad, whether rejoicing or in crisis, think about how God may have placed you in a particular situation “for such a time as this,” and allow his ministry to take place, whether through you or through another person who is with you at the time.

As of the time of writing, my spiritual director’s father is improving.

Consider how God may place you in certain situations “for such a time as this.”

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t just consume; serve.

It’s no secret that we live in a consumer society.

Our economy is based on buying and selling, whether it’s things as simple and necessary as groceries or as unnecessary as trinkets.  Where there is a market, items will be offered and consumed.

In many ways, it’s passive:  most of us do not farm what we eat, and most of us do not make our own trinkets.

In simpler times, and in a more rural economy, most people farmed their own food and did not buy unnecessary items.  It was more active.

The times being what they are, the consumer economy has leaked into other areas of life, too, not least the church.  We have, in some ways, become religious consumers:  we gather for worship, in person or online, and we take it in, but that’s where it ends.

But the church was not designed for that.  God put the church in place to be a growing organism, one in which people not only received, they gave.

Yes, that includes financial giving, which is necessary for any number of things from paying the preacher to keeping the lights on, but it also involves serving:  we participate actively in the work of God’s Kingdom, in ways for which God has equipped us.

Some are gifted to teach.  Others are gifted to repair things.  Still others are gifted to care for others.  All followers of Jesus have special abilities to serve in the body of Christ, and each is called by the Lord to use those special abilities in some way that edifies the church and helps it grow.

Do you know your spiritual gifts?  You should, because if you don’t, you may be convinced that you don’t have any special ways to serve, and may end up being a religious consumer.

We may start out that way, finding a relationship with God and consuming in order to grow in that walk with the Lord, but it can’t be an end in itself:  we must find avenues for service.  We can’t just rely on the “religious professionals” to do the work of ministry; it is a calling that is placed on each follower of Jesus.

And our model for this is none other than Jesus himself!  He tells us in Mark 10.45 that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NLT).

Ponder that verse today, and consider how you might best serve in your local church; I am certain that if you approach your pastor with a heart to serve, you will be gratefully put to work in an area of your gifting.

If you don’t know what your gifts are, let me know, and I can help you with that.

Don’t just consume; serve.  After all, it was likely someone who used his or her gifts that helped you come into relationship with the Lord in the first place, and you can do the same for someone else.

Don’t just consume; serve.

Encouragement From The Word

Another stinker?

Last week, I wrote about the revival taking place in the chapel at Asbury University in Kentucky.  There are many opinions circling the Internet about it, and as I said, its legitimacy will be seen down the road by the fruit borne from it.  I am praying for great things to happen as a result!

Some back stories are starting to come out about how all this began.  One of them comes from the preacher on the day the revival began, February 8.  A volunteer soccer coach at the university gave what news reports are calling an “improvised sermon” about real love, and invited students to come forward if they wanted to receive prayer to experience a better love than the world (or, sometimes, even the church) had shown them.

He closed by saying, “I pray that this sits on you guys like an itchy sweater, and you gotta itch, you gotta take care of it.”

The soccer coach-preacher, off the platform, then texted his wife to say his sermon was “another stinker” and that he would be home soon.

As the last couple of weeks have demonstrated, though, that sermon was anything but “another stinker”.  God showed up and moved in the hearts of those present, and those who would come later, even days later.

I tell you this to remind you that words matter.

Whether you’re a preacher or not, your words have an impact on others.  And when your words are spoken to the glory of God, the Holy Spirit can take your efforts and multiply them many times over.

I’ve experienced this myself.  There are weeks, as a communicator, that I don’t think I’ve offered the best I could give.  Yet, invariably, when I feel that way, someone will express to me how the Lord moved that person because of what I said (or, sometimes, what she or he thought I said!). 

As I often tell students and preachers alike, what happens from the time the words fall out of your face and into the ears of listeners is not up to us:  the Lord can do amazing things.  

That doesn’t mean we should be less careful with our words, whether spoken publicly or privately; we should always give our best, and speak to the glory of God, all the while understanding that in the end, it’s not up to us.

Who knows?  Maybe the Lord will use your words to spark a revival in your home, or your school, or your church, or your community!

[W]hatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Colossians 3.17, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Revive us again!

In case you haven’t heard about it, there is currently a revival going on at Asbury University in Kentucky.  For several days now, there has been a steady stream of people entering the university chapel to pray and worship God.  It all started when a chapel service ended, and nobody left.

That building has now been occupied with worshippers, sometimes a full house, for over a week.  Why does this matter?

If nothing else, it demonstrates that God is at work in the world!

At a deeper level, it shows us that the human race has not been forsaken by the Lord. 

Among the most socially impactful revivals were the Great Awakenings in New England in the 18th century, sparked in large part by the faithful biblical preaching of Jonathan Edwards.

Even a cursory study of history will show that periodically over time, in various places in the world, movements of the Holy Spirit have taken place that have had an impact on society.  Perhaps you remember the Toronto Blessing from the 1990s as an example of this.

A dear friend and colleague and I drove to Toronto one snowy Sunday night to witness this movement.  Seated with some seminary professors in the back row, we took it all in.  People were laughing, people were doing “carpet time” (as it was called), being slain in the Spirit.  It was vastly different from what my service that morning had looked like!

But in all honesty, as one with the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits, I was not alarmed.  

While it might not have been “my thing”, I found it difficult to doubt that God was at work in the midst of that.

Revivals are great.  Everybody likes a show.  What really matters, though, is the fruit that is borne from it.  As my friend, John G. Stackhouse, Jr., wrote recently, the revival at Asbury will have been a remarkable work of God if there is some seed of growing discipleship demonstrated among the people affected by it.  

Should we pray for revival in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our nations?  Undoubtedly, yes!  And as we do, let’s likewise pray for the desired result of revival:  changed hearts and lives.  Otherwise, we will have enjoyed the sizzle, but not feasted on the steak.

God is still active in our world.  He has not forsaken us, the pinnacle of his creation.  Let’s pray that many, many people are directed to follow Jesus with greater devotion as a result of revival.

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15.5, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Make the ask!

I was at the dentist’s office on Wednesday for a checkup.  Some people are not fond of these necessary events, but I’m not bothered by them at all.  One can’t hate on dentists and hygienists; they’re just doing their jobs.  Even when we diligently care for our teeth and gums, there may come a time when procedures must be done that are necessary and possibly uncomfortable, but the pain we experience in the dentist’s chair is generally more manageable than the pain we might suffer were we to neglect such care.

It may seem strange, but I rather enjoy visiting my dentist’s office, mostly because of the people.  They are kind and friendly, and we usually engage in some sort of conversation.

As I was leaving on Wednesday, I mentioned to the receptionist that we are going to have a ‘chili competition’ pot luck lunch on Sunday.  As I said this, another patient who was waiting chimed in to say that she had been invited to a chili pot luck, too.

Turns out, it was the same event!

The patient told me who invited her; it was one of our elders, with whom she had a relationship.

I was pleased to see that invitations were being given!  Sometimes, a second invitation – which I offered – might just be enough to encourage the person to attend!

Never underestimate the value of the invitation.  Whether it’s to worship, a lunch, a small group, or some other event in church life, we can make the ask.  The person might say no, but she or he might say yes, too, and you’ll never know if you don’t make the ask.

It might take multiple invitations before the person says yes.  You don’t want to badger your friends and loved ones with invitations, but you don’t want to ignore them, either.

A friend of mine was regularly invited to church by a coworker.  At that time, my friend was not a Christian and had no interest in going to church.  But later, when, by God’s grace, he did become a believer, guess whose church he went to?  

Yep.  He went with the coworker who invited him so many times.

Persistence without belligerence has a far greater chance of bearing fruit than keeping the invitation to yourself.  Make the ask.

Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  And the reality is that God’s people aren’t taking many shots.  Make the ask.  It could make an eternal difference in someone’s life.

Come and see what our God has done,
    what awesome miracles he performs for people!” (Psalm 66.5, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

Get a new outfit!

It’s not an easy time to be a follower of Jesus.

It seems like virtually every possible establishment intentionally or unintentionally works against the principles of the gospel. 

What’s more, the new developments of technology and social media have made it even more challenging.

There are times, if we’ll admit it, when it would just seem easier to throw in the towel and live like the rest of the world, without regard for Jesus or what he has done for us.  And lately, those times seem to be more frequent for some people.

If you’re in that place – and even if you’re not in that place (because, one day, you probably will be there) – I encourage you to buy a new outfit.

But this isn’t “retail therapy”; it’s spiritual preparedness.

Put on the whole armour of God.

Read this passage a few times, and let it be a theme for your day, maybe even for a few days.  Spiritually arm yourself; it’s a battleground out there.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.   Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  (Ephesians 6.10-17, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

Consider the context

I’ll admit that when I see someone quoting the Bible on social media, I get a little excited.  It’s always great to see God’s Word sent forth through whatever channels we can, whether to encourage or challenge.

So I saw the following post earlier this week; I’ve blotted out the information about the posters for their own security.  Can you see the problem?

The person who posted this decided that she would appropriate this passage of Scripture for herself.  I pointed out that the “her” in Psalm 46.5 doesn’t refer to any woman who decides to read it, but to “that city”, i.e., Jerusalem.  (Not all translations use the feminine pronoun for Jerusalem in this passage, which is helpful in situations like this one!)

In response to my pointing out that the text was about Jerusalem, the poster’s response was to say, “I am Jerusalem.”


As someone smarter than me once said, all Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applied.  When we yank a passage out of context and apply it to ourselves, or a given situation – without regard for the context of the passage – that’s called “proof-texting”.  It might also be called abuse of the text (and, when applied to others in this manner, spiritual abuse of another sort).

Psalm 46 is not about the person who posted this on social media in that sense.  There are principles we can draw from the Psalm, not least the “be still, and know that I am God” part (verse 10).  Even that, though, can be abused; I remember a famous Hollywood person many years ago using this verse to suggest, in some sort of ersatz Eastern meditation seminar, that the participants be still and know that they are God.

Nope.  All kinds of nope.

The Bible is not given for us to snip bits we like.  When you pick up a saw, you’re not just using one of the teeth, right? To use it effectively, as intended, you’re making full strokes with the saw, using all the teeth.  Trying to cut a piece of wood with one saw tooth would take you a very long time (you would die before you were finished).  It is no less foolish to lift parts of Scripture and misapply them.  While it might make us feel good and be a boost to our energy, we’re actually deceiving ourselves in so doing.

By all means, please do read the Bible.  But don’t yank out parts of it that inspire you without yanking the context out with it.

Let me give you one more example.  I saw this verse posted on a daily tear-off inspirational desk calendar one time:  “I will give it all to you if you will kneel down and worship me.”

Sounds inspiring, even empowering, right?  But consider the context:

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”  “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him.  “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4.8-10, NLT)

Ouch.  Not so inspiring in context, is it?

Scripture is intended to be inspiring and challenging.  But until we pay attention to the context, we’re playing with fire.  It is, after all, a sword.

Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17, NLT).

(By the way, you could accuse me of pulling Scripture out of context when I close each Encouragement with a verse or two, but rest assured I have considered the context around what I choose and seek to apply it helpfully.  Feel free to battle back if you think I misuse a Bible verse!)

Encouragement From The Word

Jesus got angry!

One of the key tenets of the Christian faith is that we believe that Jesus was both divine and human:  fully God, fully man.  Sometimes, though, I know I am guilty of focusing on Jesus’ divinity and neglecting his humanity.

We don’t always reflect on just how human Jesus was:  that he felt every emotion known to the human race, yet did not sin.

Sure, we know Jesus was happy and sad, but Jesus also experienced anger.

Often, when we do think of Jesus getting angry, we think of how he turned over the tables of the money-changers in the temple (John 2).  But Jesus also got profoundly angry at the Pharisees and teachers of religious law, the “establishment” in the Jewish world of his day.  Much of Matthew 23 is dedicated to Jesus’ verbal tirade against these highly-respected religious leaders.

Many people are taught that it’s wrong to get angry – maybe even unchristian.  Yet Jesus got angry…for the right reasons, for righteous reasons.  So did the prophets.  So did the Psalmists.  So does the Father!

It’s not unbiblical to be angry before God.  Everything we do is before God anyway!  And because Jesus expressed anger, we can, too.

Our challenge is to be able to do so without sinning.  That’s the hard part, isn’t it?

When we are angry for righteous reasons, perhaps we are less inclined to sin in our anger, directing that energy instead toward upholding the glory of God.

So don’t hold back your emotions before the Lord.  Be honest, be real – but don’t let your emotions get the best of you.  He knows how you feel anyway.  Because Jesus experienced every human emotion, you can be sure God really knows how you feel.

’[D]on’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4.26-27, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Perspective and Original Intent

There is a meme that has been making its way around social media for the last few years that has always troubled me.  It depicts a number painted on the ground, appearing either as a six or a nine, depending on the perspective from which you come to it.  The caption reads, “Just because you are right does not mean I am wrong.  You just haven’t seen life from my side.”

In some ways, it may seem comforting to know that, yes, there are different sides to every story and every situation.

But what it fails to communicate is an important truth:  What was the original intent of the person who painted that number on the ground?  Was it intended to be a 6 or a 9?  Unless it was painted maliciously – to get people to fight about it – the only way one can know whether it is a 6 or a 9 is to know what the painter intended it to be.

There are, of course, small matters on which this meme depicts reality.  Let’s say, for example, that instead of a number it was a pitcher of milk that was sitting there.  One person may come at it with great joy, because she loves milk and has it on her cereal every morning.  Another person may approach it with great revulsion, because he hates milk, having been forced to drink it warm from the cow’s udder by his mother.

That, though, is a matter of taste, not objective truth.  Trouble is, some people apply the same principles to truth as they do to taste, and that’s where we get into difficulty.

We live in a strange time.  Western society used to treat objective truth as just that.  Then we moved into a phase where truth was believed to be relative (what’s true for you might not be true for me, etc.).  Now, in some ways, society has moved back to a place where truth is absolute, but only when it suits our own agendas.

For example, as a friend posted on social media yesterday, it’s astounding how some people will believe that the Bible can speak clearly and objectively about the importance of caring for refugees, but those same people may not believe the Bible speaks clearly and objectively about matters of sexuality – or vice-versa. 

We can’t pretend to control what the world thinks or believes, though we can seek to influence it.  As followers of Jesus, we need to be on the same page – literally and figuratively.  We need to be willing to submit to God’s Word as objective truth.  Yes, we read it with sensitivity to its cultural context, but we also must read it with full knowledge of our cultural context.  That is, at the same time as we take the culture of Bible times into account when we read it, we must also be fully aware of our own culture, being careful not to read our cultural norms into the Bible’s context.

This is why it is so important for us to read prayerfully, with an eye to how students of Scripture have read and interpreted it over the course of the two millennia of Christian history that preceded us.

In short, read Scripture the way it wants to be read, not the way you want it to read.  And yes, be sensitive to the perspectives others bring, but look primarily for the original intent as you read.

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” (Hebrews 4.12, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t forget your spiritual health

Okay, who got a Peloton bike or a Bowflex set for Christmas?  How about a gym membership?

These things are very popular gifts for those who are resolving to get in better physical shape in the new year.  And after eating our way through December, it’s common to resolve to improve our health. 

Some will even want to attend to their mental health, perhaps through counselling, and that can be a good thing as well.

Trouble is, we often focus on our physical health, and possibly even our mental health, while ignoring our spiritual health.

As I’m going to talk about on Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we can and should pay attention to our spiritual health as we look to a new year.  Just as we can’t ignore our physical or mental health, we can’t ignore our spiritual health, either.  In many respects, as Pete Scazzero says, our emotional health is tied to our spiritual health.

How can we work on our spiritual health, which affects the rest of who we are as people?

The best way is to understand our spiritual health as a relationship with God, and then to handle that relationship the way we would handle growing any relationship:  time spent together, and conversation.

We spend time with the Lord by sitting still (or even going for a walk) intentionally in his presence.  Being mindful that the Lord is with us whatever we do, wherever we go, has an impact on our spiritual health.

As for the conversation, we can talk with God in prayer, about anything and everything; after all, he already knows what’s going on in our lives, and like any parent, he delights in hearing us talk about our lives.

But that’s only a one-sided conversation.  

We hear God speak to us through his Word.  Read your Bible every day.  Listen for God to speak to you as you read the ancient truths of Scripture.  

Create a reading plan for yourself, or borrow one from any number of online sources.  Each day’s passage doesn’t have to be lengthy.  In fact, I am not an advocate for the “Bible in a year” plans; forcing yourself to get through such a lengthy volume in a year, while entirely attainable, may leave you rushing through a passage, “just to get it done”, when perhaps the Lord wants you to sit on it for a bit.  There have been times when the Lord has left me on the same passage for multiple days at a time so that I can absorb the richness of what he is telling me.  Do have a Bible reading plan, but hold it loosely; it may need to spill into the next year.

As you read, be sure to allow silence, giving space to God to speak into your heart as you read his Word.

Of course, there are other spiritual disciplines that you can practise, too, and I’ve written about them before.  But Scripture and prayer are the two most important.

This Sunday brings a new year, and it can bring a new you:  when you consider your health, don’t ignore your physical and mental health, but also keep in mind your spiritual health; eternity is a long time, and you’ll want to be in practice for eternity.

[A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5.17, NLT).