Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

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.

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).

Uncategorized

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.