Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

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.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
– John 1.1-3, NLT

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Anticipation…

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.

Happy Advent!

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).

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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.

 

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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.

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Picture This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BEING THE CHURCH: No Turning Back

The last part of Paul’s final letter, 2 Timothy, might be of the sort where you might say, with Brother Maynard in this Monty Python clip, “Skip a little, brother.”  But as we find out in this message, it’s worth paying attention to for the life of the church!

Have a listen to this message based on 2 Timothy 4.9-22.

Unfortunately, the Facebook Live feed chose not to work today.  😦