Encouragement From The Word

Two-way mentoring

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of spending part of my day with a young man from our congregation.  It was “take your kid to work day”, and since this particular young man understood his parents’ work, he asked them if he could spend some time with me.

Of course, I readily agreed!

Since no two days of my ministry are alike, I wasn’t sure exactly what we would do, but I invited him to help me with a number of regular activities in the study, and we made a ‘road trip’ to the Canadian Bible Society to pick up a Bible my wife and I want to give to an acquaintance.  So I showed him the vast range of English and non-English Bibles available for purchase and distribution.  We had lunch, and on the way home we stopped at Tyndale University College & Seminary to see the chapel and the bookstore, where my wife works.

Amid all the activities we undertook from the time I picked him up until I took him home, we chatted about a vast array of matters, including how faith impacts his life as a Grade 9 student.  He may have learned a little from me, but I learned a lot from him.

While I may have spent the day mentoring my young friend, he also spoke into my life as a Christian leader.

It leads me to ask you:  are you engaged in relationships with people younger than you including (but by no means limited to) your own children?

There is mutual learning that can come from that. The young person understands that you care, in a tangible way, because you are giving him or her the gift of time and wisdom.  And you learn from the young person because you get to view life and faith from a very different perspective.

You might think to yourself that you were young once, and that’s certainly true; but the cultural context in which you and I were young is vastly different from the culture in which today’s youth live.  And if you’re like me, you don’t often immerse yourself in youth culture today. We need to learn from our young people what life is like for them if we’re going to help equip them, and their parents, for effective Christian living in the current cultural context.

So spend some time praying about whom you might come alongside.  Offer that young person your faith and wisdom.  And listen to that young person’s story to learn what contemporary culture is really like.

It doesn’t mean that you or the younger person have to change your views on matters of theology, but the dialogue will enrich you both.

The dialogue I shared with my young friend certainly enriched me.  Give it a try!

We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Romans 12.5, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word will return on November 30.

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Encouragement From The Word

No Greater Love

This Sunday marks the 100thanniversary since the declaration of the armistice, ending poppythe First World War.  It was deemed “the war to end all wars”, yet it certainly did not turn out to be so.  Along with one other significant global conflict, there have been regional, local, and various civil wars that have taken place around the world since that celebratory day in Compiègne, France, on November 11, 1918.

Remembrance Day, as we call it in Canada, is one of those days in the year where church and state comingle in an interesting yet often awkward way.  As Canada has grown more pluralistic, the presence of Christian clergy has been augmented by the presence of other religious leaders, and has often been diminished by restrictions placed on how pastors can speak at some Remembrance Day ceremonies.

The Scripture most often cited around Remembrance Day comes from Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 15.13:  “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NLT).  Unfortunately, when it’s not given context, one can conclude that this was a passage about the valiance of war.  And while it is true that the valiant sacrifices made by those who laid down their lives in the cause of world peace and democracy are significant and not to be forgotten, this was not the context in which Jesus said those words.

Jesus was not talking about brave soldiers.  He was talking about himself.

John 15.13 isn’t about a war between nations; it’s about a war between humanity and God.

Sin separates us from God, and puts us at war with our Creator.  But Jesus came to pay the price for our sin, and make us right with God once again.  Indeed, as the Apostle Paul said, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” (Ephesians 2.14-15a, NIV).

There will always be wars on earth, until Jesus comes again, or until the whole world knows his peace.  So let’s all commit to sharing Jesus’ peace with others, humbly and winsomely, so that war will be a thing of the past – between people and people, yes, and between people and God.

Let Remembrance Day be a reminder of our need for peace of all sorts, especially “God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4.7a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

What’s wrong with the world?

From time to time, when the bad news seriously outweighs the good, we are tempted to throw our arms in the air and exclaim, “What’s wrong with the world?”

This is nothing new, for many years ago, a correspondent of the Times of London was researching and reporting on many of the challenges of society – many of them similar to today’s – and would end every piece he wrote with that same statement:  “What’s wrong with the world?”

The renowned English writer, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote a reply to that correspondent which has become one of the things for which he is best known. He wrote,

Dear Editor:

What’s wrong with the world?

I am.

Faithfully yours,

G.K. Chesterton.

If we want to know what’s wrong with the world, we can start with some self-reflection. That’s why I commend to all followers of Jesus the ancient practice of the examen – examining our conscience (for sin) and our consciousness (of God’s presence in our lives) every day.  Consider concluding your day with a time with the Lord in which you review your day to see where God seemed most distant and most near to you.  Respond to where God leads you in that time with your own resolve to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in not being what’s wrong with the world.

Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7.20, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Remembering a mentor I never met

Eugene Peterson – follower of Jesus, pastor, author, Bible translator – died this past Monday.  He was a mentor to me.

But I never met him in person.

How can someone mentor another person without actually meeting face to face?

Peterson did it with me through his writings.  I was introduced to his books early on in my seminary training, and once I’d read one, I couldn’t read enough.  When his memoirs were published, entitled The Pastor, I felt like I knew him well, to the point that I actually wrote him a letter of thanks in response to reading his memoirs.  I have no idea whether he got it, given that I had nothing more to put on the envelope than his name and the Montana town near which he lived, but it wasn’t returned to me, so I’m hopeful that he received it.

It’s valuable for all followers of Jesus to have mentors, and it’s certainly ideal for those mentoring relationships to be ‘live’ and face to face.  But we can be mentored passively by people we’ve never met simply by reading their writings.

What giants in the faith have mentored you, either in person or through their writings? Among passive mentors, Peterson’s at the top of my list, and I’m comforted in knowing that he has now received his eternal reward with Jesus, whom Peterson described this way in John 1.14 (The Message):

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

Encouragement From The Word

Essentially speaking

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

This phrase has shown up in a couple of conversations I’ve had in the past few days, and it has stuck with me.  It is variously attributed:  some say it was Augustine of Hippo, others say it was John Wesley, and still others attribute it to one or another person.

It is a phrase commonly used among Christians, and almost certainly it arose from some sort of theological discussion.  It remains an extremely helpful reminder to us as we look at what it means to be the church in various expressions today, but it has its share of challenges, too.

I think most every sane follower of Jesus can agree that “in all things, charity”, or love, is crucial.  Jesus told us his disciples of old to love one another, and that applies to his disciples today, too.

What, though, is considered “essential”, and what is considered “non-essential”? That’s the tough question this phrase begs.

There will be a lot of answers to this, to be sure.  But followers of Jesus generally can agree on some key essentials, such as a belief in the Triune God: God the Father, made known in his Son Jesus Christ, living in believers today by the Holy Spirit.  Basic stuff.

We can consider essential that Jesus died for our sins, and rose again – bodily – on the third day.

But once you get past these key beliefs, the definition of “essential” starts to vary. And this is why, I think, we will always have denominations.  There will be different branches of the church of Jesus that hold different tenets as essential.

The big challenge comes when a Christian group opts not to define what it considers to be essential.  If a creedal church – one that upholds the ancient creeds of the early church – simply states that the Apostles’ Creed, or the Nicene Creed, is what defines what is essential, is that sufficient?  (After all, even the Nicene Creed has two versions, depending on whether you believe the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or just from the Father. A lot of ink was spilled over that one a long time ago.)

The Bible is replete with statements that any church could consider to be essential, core statements of faith.  I don’t think it’s up to each person alone to decide what is essential.  Certainly, as an individual, I can read Scripture and discern what I believe is most important to my faith, but then I am wise to affiliate with a body of believers that holds those tenets as essential.

Whatever those essentials are, they need to be grounded in a simple reading of Scripture, and grounded in the history of the church.   The Holy Spirit still works, to be sure, and the Holy Spirit never contradicts the Word of God.

So ask yourself:  what is essential for your church?  What is essential for you?  And then ask the Holy Spirit living within you to enable you to live in charity – in love – even with those with whom you disagree.

Sometimes, that can be difficult, and sometimes it means keeping fellowship at a distance.  That may be a different definition of unity, but in this day and age, it may be all we have.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3.13-14, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Canada’s going to Pot

This week, I received a postcard in the mail, but it wasn’t from a friend travelling in IMG_7018faraway lands.  No, this was from the Government of Canada, giving me advice on how to deal with the new law that comes into effect next Wednesday, legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.

For a lot of you Dear Readers, what I’m about to suggest will not be a surprise, but if anyone happens to read this who is wondering, here’s my encouragement to you: just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

When marijuana is prescribed by a physician, the dosage and mixture of elements is specifically and carefully set to provide relief for the patient; I have friends who have received much help, and been able to set aside the Tylenol® bottle, thanks to a properly-prescribed cannabis dose.  While even this is controversial, it holds no candle to the legalization of pot for recreational use.

As I see it, the government did not think through the ramifications of this bill. Of course, some will say that regulation along with legalization will make a difference, but the last time I checked, under-age drinking still happens, so I’m not sure how the government thinks that the regulation of cannabis is going to stop people who are below the age of majority from accessing it.

I’m particularly concerned for young people in this case because it is a documented fact that cannabis use before brain development is complete can contribute to the onset of schizophrenia, which causes all sorts of other challenges.

And I’m concerned for followers of Jesus.  Some will say that the Bible doesn’t talk about pot, so why not give it a try?  Well, the Bible doesn’t talk about Brussels sprouts or jumping off a cliff, either. This is where scriptural principles need to be applied in other areas of life, wisely, by Christians.

I won’t address whether God’s people should eat those Little Green Balls of Death, leaving that to your conscience.  But we recognize that jumping off a cliff may not be expressly prohibited in the Bible, but it’s universally seen to be a bad idea.  Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

Christians differ on issues of alcohol and tobacco use, to be sure.  But all agree that addiction is problematic.  And as I understand it, the likelihood of addiction with cannabis use is significant, and those who become addicted don’t just get more weed; they move on to other drugs, all of which are known to be harmful to health and destructive to society.

Let me encourage you not only to avoid recreational cannabis use, to preserve your witness for the gospel, but also to act to seek to get this law repealed, for the good of the human race.  Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up’ (1 Corinthians 10.23, NRSV).

Encouragement From The Word

Playing with fire

Have you noticed that a lot of people seem a bit obsessed with Hallowe’en?

I’m not talking about kids going out and soliciting sugary treats from neighbours here – I’m talking about grown up adults who have turned the month of October into a season of macabre decorating.

In one sense, there can be much fun in this.  After all, many people – sometimes, the same people! – have fun decorating for Christmas.  I suspect that most people who make a big deal out of Hallowe’en do so simply for fun.

But there can be a darker side to this fun.

When adult celebrations of Hallowe’en become more about the spiritual realm, we’ve moved from fun to fire.  And dabbling in the spiritual realm is playing with fire.

What followers of Jesus need to understand – and remember – is that while much of life on this earth is fun and enjoyable, we fight a spiritual battle every day.

Every day, there are attempts made by the devil and his angels to undermine the work of God, and all work for good, in this world.  And God’s people have a responsibility to fight those attempts, not celebrate them.

By all means, go and buy yourself a bag of ‘fun size’ chocolate bars; I recommend waiting until All Saints’ Day (November 1), when stores have these treats on a deep discount.  But don’t celebrate that which the Lord works to destroy.

If you choose to take your children trick-or-treating, let them have fun with it. But take the time to explain to them that what we are doing is a fun way to meet neighbours and get some treats. As they get older, help them realize that there is a spiritual realm from which they require protection from God the Holy Spirit, and that Hallowe’en shouldn’t go beyond the realm of fun for people who belong to Jesus.

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3.8, NLT).