Changing seasons

Yesterday marked the change of seasons in Canada.  While the calendar said it was autumn, the weather certainly didn’t indicate any such change!  But today shows signs of being cooler.  Every time we see a change of seasons, I am reminded of these classic words from the Teacher, Qoheleth, who wrote Ecclesiastes.  Linger for a few minutes over this passage.  Read it a few times, and ask the Lord if he has a word for you in it.  And rejoice in the changing of the seasons, by the plan of God.

For everything there is a season,

a time for every activity under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal.

A time to tear down and a time to build up.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.

A time to embrace and a time to turn away.

A time to search and a time to quit searching.

A time to keep and a time to throw away.

A time to tear and a time to mend.

A time to be quiet and a time to speak.

A time to love and a time to hate.

A time for war and a time for peace.

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Hospitality alive!

What could possibly be held in common by a former student, someone I worked with at a denominational formation event, the CBC television show Still Standing, and my vacation?

I don’t normally write about my holidays, but when all of these disparate things came together, I thought it would be worth a post.

One of our favourite TV shows is Still Standing, wherein comedian and actor Jonny Harris (of Murdoch Mysteries fame) visits small, struggling towns in Canada to get to know the people and the difficulties they face with industry closures and the like.  It’s informative and funny, the two things I like best about television.  I knew that this season, Jonny would be visiting Fort-Coulonge, Québec, because an online student of mine last winter, Jane Pitfield, told me that she was having to deal with preparations for his visit to her little town not far from Pembroke, Ontario.  So I really enjoyed watching that particular episode, aired earlier this summer, because someone I knew would be in it.

My wife and I decided that it would be interesting to see what Jane was doing in the little town where her great-great-grandfather was responsible for bringing the logging industry (and thus prosperity).  So we arranged a visit as part of our holidays.

When we arrived, the hostess at the inn run by Jane (in the house built by her great-Spruceholme-Front-Viewgrandfather), we were told to go across the street to the Presbyterian church, where the student minister was waiting for us for a visit.  That was where we met Dave McFarlane, whom I had gotten to know at our denomination’s guidance conference for students last summer.  We caught up and chatted a bit, saw the historic building, and, not wanting to keep him from sermon preparation, we went back to the inn to await Jane’s return from a trip to Ottawa.

Claire, the delightful young hostess, kindly gave us a tour of the inn and the additional facilities that Jane had added on only in the past few years, including a bistro, contained in a barn that had been in her family which she had rebuilt on the site of the inn, and a reception hall (where the community show for Still Standing was taped).  It was so interesting to see such rich history brought back to life in a modern context.

We waited in the bistro for Jane, and shared a tasty supper and conversation with her there.  Knowing we had a campsite to get to before dark, Jane then took us to her home, which comprises an old log cabin that had been in her family many years ago, at the mouth of the Coulonge River, where it meets the Ottawa River – a site where many logs were moved for transport downstream.

We were amazed and astounded at the work Jane has undertaken to help to revitalize this small community where her ancestors had made such a difference.  The inn, the bistro and the conference hall have the opportunity to bring much tourism to Fort-Coulonge, and that fact that she is directly related to someone who is a much-honoured founder of the community has meant she is not considered “from away”, and can have a real impact.

That impact has been shown not only in the revitalization of buildings and industry, but in the skill Jane brings to her community as a politician; she is a former Toronto City Councillor, so she knows how to “get things done” in a political sense.  Though she does not hold the family name – Bryson – she is known as one of them.  Her great-great-grandfather and her great-grandfather were both members of the Québec Legislative Council in the early days of Confederation, right through to the early part of the twentieth century.  Some 70 years of continuous public service were rendered by those two men.  In her own way, Jane now carries that tradition on.

It’s not often one gets a front-row seat to such efforts, and we were glad to see what God is doing through Jane – for as one with a spiritual gift of hospitality, she longs to use that gift to make a difference for the Lord among the people of her community.

Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.  God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Peter 4.9-10, NLT).

To learn more about Jane’s work, visit http://www.spruceholmeinn.com/

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

From Judgment to Rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary…and I will give you rest.”  Many are familiar with these words of Jesus, but do we realize what their context is?  The section right before Jesus utters these words unique to the Gospel of Matthew finds him condemning entire communities where he and his miracles were well known, but the response was underwhelming.  The key question in this message is, “How will you witness for Jesus?”

Based on Matthew 11.20-30 in The Message, you can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Beyond despondency and despair

It seems we learn every day of another tragedy taking place in the world.  That, combined with the state of morality, and the debacle that is the US election process – to which the whole world is subjected through the media – can leave us pretty despondent.  But Christ-followers are left with an alternative beyond despondency and despair.

There is an exclamatory remark that appears obviously only once in the New Testament, but is alluded to in a second place.  It is three simple words, and those three simple words give hope to the people of God around the world, no matter how trying the circumstances.  In 1 Corinthians 16.22, the apostle Paul writes to the church, “Come, O Lord!

In Revelation 22.20, John is told by Jesus, “Yes, I am coming soon.”  John replies, “Come, Lord Jesus.

The language of Jesus’ heart, Aramaic, has a term for this exclamatory remark:  Marana tha.  We sometimes make it one word and say, “Maranatha!”  By this we express a wish for Jesus to return, to consummate the world in his way.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been using that term quite a lot lately.  When I look at the world around me, I long for Jesus to bring his Kingdom.  Are we ready for that?

To be ready for Jesus to bring his Kingdom means to love and trust him by faith, to live to please him, and to bear witness among others to his saving work on the cross.  Why?  Because we want “Maranatha!” to be good news for everybody.

No matter what terror ISIS may leave in its wake; no matter which among the poor choices wins the US Presidential election; no matter what tragedy we learn about in the news – it will all pale in comparison to the second coming of Jesus, who will come to establish his Kingdom.

Marana tha.  Come, O Lord.  We can’t know when he will come.  We can only be ready.  May he come soon.

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

Communion FAQs

We enjoy celebrating the Lord’s Supper once in the summer at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  But not often do we talk about some of the key assumptions about our celebration of God’s grace!  So this week, we remedied that – at least in part.

Last Monday, I had my gallbladder removed, but I decided that wouldn’t keep me from preaching this week, it being Communion Sunday and all.  And it didn’t, but you will probably be able to tell in listening to this message that I don’t have my usual energy and sometimes seem out of breath.  I should have taken the Sunday off, but I didn’t.  So you get to listen to a message highlighting answers to some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) that I hear about the Lord’s Supper.  Based on 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, you can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Every. Little. Thing.

Not long ago, I received word that my family physician is going to be retiring at the end of September.  I’m particularly sad about this, because he’s one of those “old school” doctors who takes the Hippocratic Oath very seriously, who still makes house calls when necessary, and who almost always has enough room in his daily schedule to fit in those last-minute needed appointments.  I will miss having him play a role in my life.

He has engaged a firm that will digitize his patients’ files so that all the records of my years of being seen by him will fit onto a CD that I can carry to my next doctor, whoever that may be.  Everything that he has seen me for in the past eight years will be available for the new physician to review.  Every.  Little.  Thing.  Yes, the important things, like my drug allergy (yikes) and my body mass index (ouch), but also the less affirming things, like the time I had to be treated for a boil on my bottom (let’s not go there).  Every.  Little.  Thing.

Of course, this is all for my good, right?  The new doctor will need to know my background fully in order to be able to treat me properly when I come for assistance.  The new doctor needs to see the big picture.

I like how God can see the big picture – the whole picture – but chooses not to.  The apostle John says of the Lord, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1.9, NLT).  And when does that happen?  The earlier part of the verse says it happens “if we confess our sins to him”. And when God receives our confession of sin and forgives us and cleanses us, he keeps no record of our sins.  They are gone like dust in the wind.

Let’s not kid ourselves:  God could remember every little thing if he wanted to.  But he chooses not to.  As the old saying goes, he throws the sins we confess to him into the lake of forgetfulness, and posts a ‘no fishing’ sign there.  While our medical records may have the good, the bad and the ugly in them, our divine records do not – when we live in relationship with God, believing that Jesus died to take away our sins and rose again to draw us to eternal life.  When we are in Christ, God looks upon us as if we have the righteousness of Christ.

Our challenge is to seek to live that way.  Growing in holiness, in righteousness – that’s the best response to realizing that God chooses not to remember every little thing.  I’m praying that God will give you the grace and strength to grow in holiness and righteousness!

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

Resident Aliens

I borrowed the title for this message from the book of the same name by Willimon and Hauerwas, two professors at Duke Divinity School, who wrote about the importance of the church being the church amid the culture around it.

As “resident aliens”, we need to understand and live our faith effectively if we want to have any hope of influencing culture.  But since all our little sub-cultures are different, each of us may need to handle that ‘living out’ differently.  Based on 1 Peter 2.4-12, you can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Why we do Camp

This week, St. Paul’s, Nobleton has been holding its annual Vacation Bible Camp.  Each year, it is our privilege, and that of many other congregations, to welcome community children into our midst for a few days to teach them and model for them the way of Jesus.  It’s a sacred trust, and we take it seriously.

Think about it:  yes, we see some of our own home-grown kids, but we also welcome children who are not currently part of our fellowship.  Parents bring them to us, sign a form, and entrust their little loved ones to our care.  For parents, it’s not just about a few mornings when they can have some peace and quiet, or some unfettered time to get some work done; they are entrusting their kids to us and allowing us to build into the spiritual formation of these little ones.  We are helping to shape their lives for God’s Kingdom.

Volunteers, and sometimes staff, put countless hours into the planning, preparation and execution of these camps not because they want to babysit strangers’ children, but because they truly believe, in the words of Reggie Joiner, that in a hundred years, the only thing that’s going to matter is what these kids did with Jesus.  As churches, we offer these ministries to families because we want them – parents and kids alike – to have a life-changing encounter with the Lord.

Kids memorize Bible verses that may stick with them and may not.  They also learn songs that definitely stick with them.  (I meet parents in the grocery store year after year who tell me – in the dead of winter – that their kids are still singing camp songs.  Children’s memories are amazing.)  Everything we do at camp is centred on knowing Jesus and loving him.  Because of our proximity to Canada’s Wonderland, these families could get season’s passes and go there every day.  Some parents tell us that their kids are more excited to come to Vacation Bible Camp than they are to go to Wonderland.

Why?  We don’t have rides (well, we have a cool waterslide…).  What we have is Jesus.  And he is compelling.

It’s not like Jesus shows up in body, looking like the Bible comics we used to get in Sunday school when we were kids.  No:  Jesus shows up in those who serve.  He comes in the form of caring leaders, teachers and helpers who carry a conviction that in a hundred years, the only thing that’s going to matter is what we did with Jesus.

What we can accomplish in five mornings can be the equivalent of a whole year of Sunday morning kids’ ministry.  And the community lines up to bring their children.

It’s a sacred trust.  And we wouldn’t give it up for the world.

What are you doing to encourage kids to love Jesus?

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.  All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom” (Psalm 111.10a, NLT).

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

Engage the Culture

Are Christians supposed to be like turtles, chameleons, or fish out of water?  We’re called to engage the culture as God’s people, without retreating from the world and without forsaking our principles and looking like the world around us.  What does that look like?  Jeremiah 29.1-14 gives us an idea.  This week looks more at theory, and next week will look more at practice.  Have a listen:

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

It’s also about us

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was a Jewish Rabbi whose writing was and remains immensely popular.  Last week, I learned a paraphrase of something he said about the Scriptures:  the Bible is not a book that humanity wrote about God, but a book that God wrote about humanity.  Of course, Heschel was writing about the Bible he knew, which we call the Old Testament.  But I think it can be equally applied to both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, from our perspective.

It’s natural for us to turn to the Bible to learn something about God – and we can do just that!  There are two kinds of revelation known to followers of Jesus.  General revelation is the creation around us, the belief that just looking at a snow-capped mountain or a lake as still as glass should lead us to believe in the existence of a benevolent Creator.  Special revelation comes to us in the Word – the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, and the Word written, which testifies to him.  The Bible does tell us everything we can know about God the Holy Trinity.

But, as Heschel intimates, the Bible is also about us.

When you look in the mirror, you see an accurate reflection of your physical being.  When you read the Bible, you can see an accurate reflection of your spiritual being.  When we read the stories of the people of God in the time before Jesus, we see our own rebellion in theirs.  When we read the Psalms, we see our own emotions reflected in the ancient words.  When we read the New Testament, though, we see something more:  we see an image of what we are called to be.  In the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, we see a reflection of the ethics to which he calls us; in the words of Paul and the other New Testament writers, we see a picture of who we are invited to become as the people of God, individually and collectively as the church.

It may be challenging at times to carve out time to read the Bible, but I encourage you to do that every day.  There is no part of God’s Word on which we cannot reflect.  Every part of the Bible is equally inspired; of course, it is not all equally applied, but the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, along with the tradition of the faith in which we find ourselves, to discern how best to grapple with any and every part of the Word.

When you read the Bible, look for God.  And look for yourself.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3.16, NLT).

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

God, Keep Our Land

When we sing Canada’s national anthem, we are praying; did you know that?  In this message, we look at where the inspiration for the Dominion of Canada came from, and how we can act as citizens of Canada who are also citizens of God’s Kingdom.  Like people, like ruler!  Based on Psalm 72.1-14 and Romans 13.1-7, you can listen to the message here:


Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Being like John

On the church calendar, today is known as the Feast of St. John the Baptist.  In Québec, it’s known as La Fête Nationale; it’s their version of Canada Day (which is generally considered moving day there).  I remember camping near the Québec border one year around this time, thinking, Why are there so many people here from Québec?  Then I looked at the calendar.

Most Christians pay less attention to June 24 than do our friends in la belle province.  But we do well to pay heed to the story of John the Baptist and to give God thanks for his ministry of preparation.  Read again part of what John said to introduce Jesus to the world:

“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!

    Clear the road for him!’”


“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  (Matthew 3.2-3, 11, NLT)

Here’s your question today:  what are you doing to introduce Jesus to the world?  Maybe you’re not walking around in a burlap sack and eating bugs while shouting to any who will listen, but what are you doing?

You can engage with your neighbours in helpful ways (last Sunday I suggested the example of cutting the lawn of an ill neighbour).  You can invite them to dinner.  You can clean up the trash in your neighbourhood.  There are all sorts of ways you can introduce Jesus to your community.  Take some time to pray, maybe right now, and ask the Lord what yours will be.

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

Judge Not?

Matthew 7.1, some say, has surpassed John 3.16 as the Bible’s best-remembered verse.  Trouble is, context is everything, and it often gets misused, if not abused.  What djudge-not-11oes Jesus mean when he tells us not to judge other people?  That’s what we explored today in looking at Matthew 7.1-6.  Have a listen:


Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Consider the ant!

This morning, traversing my driveway on my walk to work, I noticed a misplaced little pile of dirt on the approach.  As I got closer to it, I discovered that this little pile of dirt was moving.  It wasn’t dirt at all; it was an unfathomable number of very small ants.

I’ve had my share of run-ins with ants over the years, but I will say this for them:  they are industrious little creatures.  When I commented to my neighbour about this little pop-up colony, he said, “Darned critters are going to take over the world one day!”

While that might be an exaggeration – I hope it is! – the truth is that we have something to learn from those ants as the church.  God calls us to be active.

As one old preacher once put it, while we are called to be standing on the promises, we are too often found sitting in the premises.  The holy huddle just won’t do anymore; we need to be in our neighbourhoods, engaging with people who are not yet in a relationship with Jesus, modelling for them what it means to love God and love others.

That means being active, though not necessarily busy.  Busyness, says Eugene Peterson, is an illness of spirit.  Most of us are addicted to being busy.  But if we’re busy, that may not leave us time to engage with others as the Lord calls us to.  We do well to find a balance, and to maintain it.

How can you be active, but not busy?  Present a non-anxious presence to your friends and neighbours.  Exude confidence in the God who made you, redeemed you and sustains you.  Don’t be afraid to share the good news that Jesus can do for them what he has done for you.  And be helpful.

Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.

    Learn from their ways and become wise!

Though they have no prince

    or governor or ruler to make them work,

they labor hard all summer,

    gathering food for the winter” (Proverbs 6.6-8, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Stop and smell the roses

Last Friday through Monday, I was a commissioner to my denomination’s annual national gathering.  We met on the campus of York University in Toronto.  We almost always meet on college or university campuses, but the challenge this time is that the walk from the residence in which we were staying to the hall in which the Assembly was meeting was a solid kilometre.  That meant building extra time into the journey to get from the dorm to breakfast and then to the hall.

As much as I need the exercise, though, I found it a nuisance to walk that distance a couple or more times each day…until Monday morning.

About fifty paces in front of me, I recognized a colleague, whom I know to be a gardener.  At one point, she stopped in front of the law building, where there were some lovely white wild roses growing.  She leaned into one of the roses, smelled it, paused, and continued walking toward the Assembly hall.

I was immediately convicted.

Where I saw an annoyingly long walk, she saw an opportunity – quite literally – to stop and smell the roses.

How often do we find such blessings amid the mundane tasks of life?  They are there, if we will be alert enough to see them.

Every time I see white wild roses in the future, I think I will stop to smell them…and ask the Lord what he wants me to notice around all the busyness of the day.

Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are” (Luke 12.27, NLT).

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

Songs in the Key of Life: 8. Rest

One might think ‘rest’ would be a good topic for a holiday weekend, but this isn’t about

See?  Compared with a Douglas Fir, I’m not that big after all.  (Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, May 2015)

Sabbath rest – more like the eternal Sabbath rest!  Psalm 95 harkens back to the time when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness during the Exodus.  Conveniently, the writer to the Hebrews gives us a helpful exposition of that part of Psalm 95.  Have a listen!




Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Grace and mercy

Since my friend Matthew Ruttan wrote about grace this morning, I feel inspired to offer a word or two about mercy, grace’s companion in the Christian life.

Grace is getting what you don’t deserve – unmerited favour, like (as Matthew so brilliantly said) dissing a cashier, finding that your debit card was rejected, and then finding the cashier paying for your order.  That’s grace: getting what you don’t deserve.

Mercy, on the other hand, is not getting what you do deserve.  I’ll admit that it’s a little bit less popular (okay, a whole lot less popular) to talk about mercy than grace.  Grace is always framed in the positive, while mercy tends to be framed in the negative.  But each is equally important if we are to understand the Christian life.

Mercy is harder for us to swallow because, for the most part, we tend to think that we can’t possibly deserve something bad enough that it needs to be held back from us.  After all, we might think, we give to the church, we help little old ladies cross the road, we haven’t killed anybody (yet).  Surely that means we’ve ducked from punishment, right?

Honestly, that’s not how the Christian life works.

Put simply, a holy God requires perfection, apart from which perfect sacrifice is necessary.  This is what we see portrayed in the Old Testament.  Humanity has been in rebellion from God since our first parents disobeyed.  Yet only once did God flood the earth and effectively decide to start again.  How many time since must God have wanted to obliterate the human race and hit the reset button?!  But he has not done that.

No.  God has shown mercy.  He has not given us what we deserve.

The beautiful part of salvation is that grace becomes the icing on the cake.  When Jesus died for our sins and rose again to bring us eternal life, that was the greatest example of grace ever given:  we got what we didn’t deserve.  And we got it because we didn’t get what we did deserve.  We received mercy.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of this makes me fall on my knees in gratitude!  God has spared us when we deserved death.  God has saved us when we deserved nothing.  This idea isn’t intended to make us feel lower than a snake’s belly; it’s intended to remind us of the wonder of God and his kindness in extending both mercy and grace to us.  May you express your gratitude to God today!

Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy” (1 Peter 2.10, NLT).

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

Songs in the Key of Life: Sage Advice

On this Pentecost Sunday, we remembered the story in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came upon the believers with tongues of fire, and the unity that brought to these first Christians.  In this message, we looked at the end of Acts 2 and Psalm 133 as we considered that unity is a fruit of community.  Have a listen:

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

How majestic!

Today, just take a few minutes and let the Word encourage you itself.  Read this a couple of times, slowly, letting the text wash over you.  Ask the Lord to highlight a word or phrase that may be pertinent to you.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

Your glory is higher than the heavens.

You have taught children and infants

to tell of your strength,

silencing your enemies

and all who oppose you.

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—

the moon and the stars you set in place—

what are mere mortals that you should think about them,

human beings that you should care for them?

Yet you made them only a little lower than God

and crowned them with glory and honor.

You gave them charge of everything you made,

putting all things under their authority—

the flocks and the herds

and all the wild animals,

the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,

and everything that swims the ocean currents.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!  (Psalm 8, NLT)

So what word or phrase jumped out for you?  How will you bring that to life today?