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Reverse Advent Calendar 2022
The Holiness of God
This is a message I preached to the Presbytery of Oak Ridges on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, on the holiness of God, based on Isaiah 6.
BOOK REVIEW on friendship
Real friendship, true friendship – this is not as common as it once was. The pandemic hasn’t helped that one bit. I know that I haven’t been as good a friend as I could have/should have been over the past couple of years. And that bothers me.
So an interest in friendship, along with my widely-known passion for bacon, means that a new book caught my attention right away. It’s called Smells Like Bacon: The Skit Guys’ Guide to Lifelong Friendships (Rocklin, CA: K-LOVE Books, 2021).
Yup. You read that right: The Skit Guys. Eddie James and Tommy Woodard. The zany men best known (at least to me) for their humorous sermon illustration videos. You know this had to be an interesting, if not funny, read.
And it was…even though, admittedly, bacon played merely an illustrative role. (That part was a little disappointing.)
In this book, James and Woodard chronicle the thirty-plus years of friendship they have kindled, and offer some suggestions on how we can be better friends.
Their friendship started in high school. Tommy was instrumental in seeing Eddie come to faith in Christ through a simple invitation to an evangelistic meeting. They have seen each other through the ups and downs of life. Even though they live in different states, and often work together, they still make time for each other and cultivate their relationship with intentionality.
Frankly, though the book is unapologetically and unsurprisingly Christian, even people of another faith or of no faith would find this book inspiring in their relationship building. Some might even be inspired to place their trust in Jesus!
Three things made my highlight reel of principles in this fairly quick read.
First, being open with your friend. One might think it goes without saying, but many friendships, depending on the ‘tier’, are very surface-oriented. And they note, “Openness becomes easier the more open you are with God” (p. 52), citing Psalm 139.23-24.
Second, vulnerability. In the chapter entitled, “Why Don’t You Hug Me?”, they note, “Remember this: If someone is taking the time to say a hard thing to you and has mustered up the courage to say it while bracing themselves for the impact it might have, don’t you think that person must find you valuable?” (p. 83).
Third, the value of interruptions. Using Jesus as an example, the authors note, “He was willing to be interrupted for the sake of connection, of relationship. Jesus didn’t mind people or the constant interruptions…. Jesus knows the secret – that every interruption has the power to be an encounter of eternal significance. But it all begins with a yes. In much the same way, keeping our agenda on a loose leash will allow relational interruptions into our lives. This approach allows us to prioritize people over agendas” (p. 171).
The book is written in a narrative style with the typical interjections one would expect from The Skit Guys. These interjections are in the form of dialogue that usually brings a snicker, and help keep the reader engaged.
This is not an academic book, nor was it intended to be one. It is for ordinary people who want to be better friends. And in these days of physical distancing and ‘screen friends’, anything that promotes real friendship, with deeper bonds, is altogether welcome.
It’s available in hard copy, audio book, or on Kindle. Pick it up and be encouraged.
Pray for Afghanistan
Finally, something has eclipsed the pandemic in the news: the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. It is fraught with political nuances and challenges for those of us who may not have been following the story closely for years, going back to the time before and during the western nations’ war and occupation that sought to keep the nation under some form of democratic rule.
But with the final withdrawal of American troops, the Taliban has solidified its control. And with that will come some form of Islamic law, which is concerning to many women, as well as to Christians in general.
It is said that this nation is second only to North Korea in its record for persecution of Christians. And that is only apt to get worse, not only in Afghanistan, but in other middle eastern countries, where terrorist groups may feel empowered by recent events favouring the Taliban.
I want to encourage you today to take some time to pray for Christians and churches in Afghanistan, and throughout the middle east. Pray for protection, for peaceful co-existence, and for the power of the gospel to triumph over hatred and persecution. And pray that western nations will stand up for the rights of women and religious minorities in these countries.
You may have trouble finding the words, but give that to the Lord, too. He will know the groaning of your heart.
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Romans 8.26, NLT).
Placing the Ladder
Some say we live in hopeless times. People go looking for hope in all kinds of places – emotional support, financial stability, you name it. But true hope comes from knowing Jesus. In this message, inspired by Andy Stanley, we learn how to find and nurture our hope in the Lord. It’s based on Psalm 33. You can watch the whole service below, or the message alone below that.
In this service of worship, we look at the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is found in Christ Jesus our Lord. It has many implications – watch and learn! It’s based on Romans 8.31-39. The whole service is below, and the message alone is below that.
Open for (God’s) business
The Session at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton decided today to open this Sunday, June 21. This is the (edited) content of an email sent to the congregation tonight.
The building has been sanitized. All materials have been removed from the seats in the worship space. The lobby has been emptied of all furnishings except the small table next to the worship space doors. With the exception of the main doors, the lobby, the upstairs washrooms and the worship space, the building has been cordoned off.
Hand sanitizer will be provided and its use will be mandatory as you enter the building. If you choose to come – remember, nobody’s twisting your arm here! – and you are more comfortable wearing a mask, please bring one with you. We will have a few extras available in case you forget.
Here’s what will happen if you choose to come this Sunday at 10:
- As you enter the parking lot, please try to avoid parking adjacent to another vehicle.If you must, then please ensure the occupants of the nearby vehicle are not exiting their vehicle at the same time as you.
- All entry and exit will take place via the main doors that face King Road.All other entrances will be locked. Upon arriving at the main doors, if others are nearby, please maintain a two-metre distance from them as you wait your turn to come in.
- At the door, a masked elder (this Sunday, it will be Erma, in case the mask fools you) will write your name on a sheet of paper so that we can notify Public Health if for some reason we find anyone present is later diagnosed with Coronavirus.
- You will be instructed to use hand sanitizer at this time.Please do not wear gloves; you will be asked to remove them.
- Someone will escort you to a place to sit in the worship space.Households will be seated not less than two metres apart, staggered throughout the worship space. If you have a preference for where you wish to sit, you can express that, recognizing that priority will be given to those arriving first. You will be asked not to get up and move from the time you are seated until you are called on to depart the building. If you think you might need to get up and use the washroom after you’ve been seated, please be sure to wear a mask.
- Children are welcome to come, too.Individually packed take-home resource packages will be provided for smaller children to keep busy during worship. There will be no children’s ministry of any other sort provided at this time for health reasons.
- The worship gathering will follow much the same format as we’ve seen online, with acknowledgement of the people in the room.There will be two songs sung near the end. If you are not comfortable with having people singing around you, it is recommended that you sit nearer the back. (The science on singing and the spread of Coronavirus is somewhat conflicting; some say it is problematic, while others say that at a safe physical distance, it poses no threat.) Paul Mason will be joining me to lead the singing.
- When the gathering is over, you will be asked to leave as a household, with safe gaps between households as they depart.
- If you want to share fellowship at a safe distance, it is recommended that you wear a mask, bring your own beverage (if desired), and stand in the parking lot to do so.The lobby will not be made available for fellowship during this stage of re-opening.
The gathering will be limited to not more than 54 persons, inclusive of volunteers and worship leaders. So we’re asking that you indicate your intention to attend this Sunday if you plan to do so, by commenting below. That way, if guests appear, we will know how many we can welcome. It’s not like us to turn away anyone at the door, but under the current emergency regulations, we have no choice but to limit physical attendance.
We ask that if you feel unwell or have symptoms of Coronavirus, please stay home and watch the live-stream. And if you are in a vulnerable category, that is, elderly, or with a pre-existing health condition that compromises your immune system, likewise, please stay home and watch the live-stream. Furthermore, if you are not quite ready, whether emotionally or physically, to gather with others in worship, don’t feel that you must come because the doors are open. As much as we all would like to see one another in person, your health is your top priority. The live-stream broadcast will continue irrespective of the restrictions that may or may not be placed on public gatherings, so a worship experience will always be available to you online, as it has been for the past few months (and many months before that).
By opening for public worship this Sunday, we are offering an option for those who are ready and well enough to come together. I have no doubt it will feel a bit weird, coming into a familiar place that in some ways will seem unfamiliar because of the situation we’re in. But if you are physically and emotionally ready to gather together in God’s praise, this Sunday, we’ll be ready for you. The flag will be out at the road to welcome you…and if you come early enough, weather permitting, I might be out at the road to welcome you, too!
Again, if you plan to attend this Sunday, please comment below. Thanks!
May the Lord be with us as we take this step of faith.
Kids’ activity, April 19, 2020
Tend to the inside first
Possibly as you read this, I am having a root canal done. 9:00 a.m. Friday. Tooth 2-4. I’ve often thought that if ever I were going to lose a tooth, it would be that one. The root canal, I’m told, is what will help me not lose that tooth. As I write this on Thursday, pain-free, I’m not wholly convinced! But the endodontist is a professional. I’ll trust him.
Apparently, the procedure will clear the roots of the tooth of nerves, pulp, and whatever else may be in there, and they will be filled with a rubber substance that will not break down. It will clear out the inside, in order to preserve the outside.
Jesus talked about this from a spiritual point of view. The Pharisees and teachers of religious law were terribly concerned about outward appearances, but were not dealing well with their inner lives.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23.25-28, NLT)
It would be easy to use some sort of whitener to make the tooth look good, but if it’s dying on the inside, that’s not going to ameliorate my life in any way. The same is true with our spiritual lives. If we keep up appearances, but are dying on the inside due to spiritual malnutrition, that’s not going to be to our benefit.
Let me encourage you to tend to the inner life as a matter of first priority. If you take care of your relationship with Jesus first and foremost, that will position you better to tend to other matters.
St. Nick’s more famous accomplishment
In western Christianity, today is the commonly-celebrated day for the feast of St. Nicholas – the guy who brought you Santa Claus.
Well, sort of. The Santa Claus we know today, visually at least, is said to be a creation of the Coca-Cola Company. But the notion of a benevolent figure who brings gifts certainly conjures notions of Nicholas of Myra, a bishop whose fourth-century dealings with poor women’s dowries is the stuff of legend.
Believe it or not, though, that’s not what Nicholas was most famous for.
He lived through the time of the early church’s Council of Nicaea, which in AD 325 formulated the doctrine of the Trinity: One God, Three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And Nicholas is said to have played a role in articulating a truth Christians hold dear today: that God the Father and God the Son are of one substance. (This same application was made to the role of the Holy Spirit later on.)
That might seem like a bunch of tiny theologians dancing on the head of a pin, but it’s actually really important for the historic Christian faith. For if Jesus or the Holy Spirit were merely of a similar substance to the Father, Jesus could not be God, and could therefore not have been the final, perfect sacrifice for our sins.
In fact, without being of one substance with the Father, Jesus would just be another dude…a righteous dude, to be sure, but just another dude.
On St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6, some cultures celebrate their gift-giving in honour of St. Nick himself. There’s nothing wrong with that. But let me encourage you likewise to remember the gift of St. Nicholas as a theologian, who helped shape the church’s understanding of the mystery of the Triune God, upholding Jesus as of one substance with the Father.
Small though it may seem, it makes a big difference. For if Jesus were not God, there would be no reason for the season.
In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1.1-3, NLT
It’s great to be back in the saddle! Thanks to all who prayed for me while I was on Inter-Mission/Sabbatical. It means so much! I will be talking this Sunday about one important aspect of my experience that is applicable to all of us (you can join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton or catch the service on YouTube later), and bits of my experience will trickle out over the course of the next while, including through Encouragement. Stay tuned!
This week begins the season of Advent, which many Christians mark as a time of anticipation for the birth of Jesus. Outside certain churches, it’s not widely practised in western society. Why?
I think it’s because we have learned to expect everything according to our timetable.
Waiting is not our strong suit.
Yet anticipation, if we stop to think about it, actually heightens our excitement over what we wait for. If you don’t believe me, let me ask you how much time you spent deciding what you were going to buy today…Black Friday. (Many of you probably won’t buy anything on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but sales statistics suggest that not all of us will resist.)
The fact that we are not good at waiting is noticeable even in the church, where there are overt suggestions (if there is no overt pressure) to sing Christmas carols well ahead of Christmas Eve. I get this; they’ve been played on the radio and in the malls since the day after Remembrance Day (or sooner); let’s enjoy them while we can.
But if we wait, it heightens our anticipation of what is to come.
True, the scenario ends the same way each year: Jesus is born! But this rhythm of time centred around the salvation narrative is so different from what we experience out in the world that I think it helps strengthen our faith. (Granted, there are many ways to make that happen.)
So this year, don’t open all the boxes on your Advent calendar in the first week. Don’t sing “O come, all ye faithful” just yet. Don’t buy everything you want for Christmas so that there are no surprises greeting you under the tree, symbolizing the greatest gift of all – the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God with skin on, breaking into history to redeem us from sin from which we couldn’t hope to save ourselves.
“For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9.6, NLT).
A Presbytery Primer for Ruling Elders
In years past, in my role as Clerk of the Presbytery of Oak Ridges, I have led a brief discussion about the role of the Presbytery and the role of the elder in the Presbytery. This has been aimed at new-to-the-Presbytery elders, but can be helpful for anyone.
In order to allow elders to attend their committee meetings in September, though, I decided to put together this video, along with a couple of handouts, to expedite the process, and allow for time at the September meeting for any who have questions.
Download these handouts:
An overview of Bourinot’s Rules of Order: Bourinot Overview
Excerpts from the Clerk’s Handbook: Clerk handbook Presbytery
And watch the video below.
Come and see for yourself!
My apologies…being out of the country, I failed to post this beyond my Mailchimp campaign!
Hello, from Israel! My wife and I are helping to lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We arrived yesterday, and (no thanks to Air Canada) were late arriving, so not only did we hit the ground running, we hit the ground running past our first stop, since it would be closed by the time we arrived. Still, we managed to get to Mount Carmel before dusk last evening.
It’s a great place to start, actually, because from the roof of the Discalced Carmelite Monastery atop the big hill, you can see so much history: to the west, the Mediterranean, where Elijah and his young assistant watched for the coming, promised rains; and to the east, the Jezreel Valley, where so much biblical history took place; and beyond that, you can squint and see into Galilee, where we are as I write this.
If you have not made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I recommend that you do so if you are able. It really makes the Bible come alive in three dimensions when you can picture places that you are reading about.
We are spending a few days in Galilee, and as I write this (what for you is Thursday afternoon, but for me is Friday morning!), we are going to visit Nazareth today. When I think of Nazareth, and visiting the Holy Land, I am reminded of Nathanael’s response to Philip’s invitation to meet Jesus. “Nazareth!…Can anything good come from Nazareth?” ‘Come and see for yourself,’ Philip replied” (John 1.46, NLT).
Indeed, do come and see for yourself. It will change you forever.
“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?