Biblical Messages

New Year, New You

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from 2 Corinthians 5.11-6.2 about how God makes us new creations. While we can resolve to improve our physical health, improving our spiritual health takes on an eternal dimension! You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t forget your spiritual health

Okay, who got a Peloton bike or a Bowflex set for Christmas?  How about a gym membership?

These things are very popular gifts for those who are resolving to get in better physical shape in the new year.  And after eating our way through December, it’s common to resolve to improve our health. 

Some will even want to attend to their mental health, perhaps through counselling, and that can be a good thing as well.

Trouble is, we often focus on our physical health, and possibly even our mental health, while ignoring our spiritual health.

As I’m going to talk about on Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we can and should pay attention to our spiritual health as we look to a new year.  Just as we can’t ignore our physical or mental health, we can’t ignore our spiritual health, either.  In many respects, as Pete Scazzero says, our emotional health is tied to our spiritual health.

How can we work on our spiritual health, which affects the rest of who we are as people?

The best way is to understand our spiritual health as a relationship with God, and then to handle that relationship the way we would handle growing any relationship:  time spent together, and conversation.

We spend time with the Lord by sitting still (or even going for a walk) intentionally in his presence.  Being mindful that the Lord is with us whatever we do, wherever we go, has an impact on our spiritual health.

As for the conversation, we can talk with God in prayer, about anything and everything; after all, he already knows what’s going on in our lives, and like any parent, he delights in hearing us talk about our lives.

But that’s only a one-sided conversation.  

We hear God speak to us through his Word.  Read your Bible every day.  Listen for God to speak to you as you read the ancient truths of Scripture.  

Create a reading plan for yourself, or borrow one from any number of online sources.  Each day’s passage doesn’t have to be lengthy.  In fact, I am not an advocate for the “Bible in a year” plans; forcing yourself to get through such a lengthy volume in a year, while entirely attainable, may leave you rushing through a passage, “just to get it done”, when perhaps the Lord wants you to sit on it for a bit.  There have been times when the Lord has left me on the same passage for multiple days at a time so that I can absorb the richness of what he is telling me.  Do have a Bible reading plan, but hold it loosely; it may need to spill into the next year.

As you read, be sure to allow silence, giving space to God to speak into your heart as you read his Word.

Of course, there are other spiritual disciplines that you can practise, too, and I’ve written about them before.  But Scripture and prayer are the two most important.

This Sunday brings a new year, and it can bring a new you:  when you consider your health, don’t ignore your physical and mental health, but also keep in mind your spiritual health; eternity is a long time, and you’ll want to be in practice for eternity.

[A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5.17, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

You can forgive sins!

Our congregation’s LifeConnect Groups have all stumbled on one verse that’s giving us a challenge this week.  It’s John 20.23, which was part of our Scripture focus last Sunday:  “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.  If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (NLT).  Jesus said this to the disciples immediately after breathing on them and giving them the Holy Spirit.

It kind of sounds like it could be a power trip, doesn’t it?  If Jesus has given his followers the power to forgive or not forgive anyone’s sins, that suggests that we could decide who’s in and who’s out.  But I don’t think that’s where Jesus was going with it.  There are a couple of levels of understanding this verse that may be encouraging to us.

First, it can be seen as an approach to personal peace.  By that, I mean that when we forgive others for their sins against us, we are set free from bondage to the transgression.  But when we don’t forgive, it’s another story. Somebody once said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  Seems silly when it’s put that way, right?  But a lot of people refuse to forgive even when the other party seeks it, and that is the poison.

But did you know you can forgive the other person even when she or he doesn’t ask for it?  I’ve had to do that a few times in my life, where someone has not acknowledged wrongdoing against me, but in order to move on with life, I’ve had to forgive that person in my mind and in my spirit.  Even though there may be a sense of injustice about that, it sets you free, and that’s what matters.

The other approach to John 20.23 is to be reminded that Jesus invites us to be partners in forgiveness as we proclaim the gospel to others.  Jesus offers forgiveness of sin that lasts for eternity, and when we share our relationship with him, that opens a door for those people to receive forgiveness of sin.

Of course, a literal reading of the verse suggests that the disciples – and perhaps through them, we – have the power to forgive others’ sins.  While I believe we are empowered to do that in terms of our sins against each other, I can’t see any biblical evidence that suggests we are empowered to offer eternal forgiveness of sin.  That’s Jesus’ job, since he paid the price for our sin at Calvary.

But it’s still through our faith-sharing efforts that doors open for Jesus’ forgiveness to be received.  And that’s why it’s so important for us to talk about our relationship with the Lord.  As the apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church, “Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others….So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5.11, 20, NLT).

Who knows whose life you may affect by your faithfulness in speaking about God’s love?

Encouragement From The Word

Bring A Friend!

Every year, on or about the fourth Sunday of September, St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton celebrates “Bring A Friend” Day. While any Sunday is a good Sunday to bring a friend to church, we make a special effort on that weekend: invitations are issued, lunch is shared, guests are ‘expected’.

It’s become challenging for many people to issue the invitation, to make the ask. As I’ll say on Sunday, we’ve been taught for a few generations now not to talk about politics or faith in polite company, and the result, especially in our polarized society, is that we are no longer able to dialogue in a civil manner about the Lord Jesus.

The key is to build relationships.

When we are engaged in healthy relationships with our neighbours, our friends, our family members, and when faith is an integral part of our lives, those with whom we share those relationships will naturally want to know why faith is part of who we are.

And that opens the door to inviting them to join you for worship.

I’ve occasionally shared a vlog done by Penn Jillette some years ago about how, despite his avowed atheism, he admired a man who gave him a Bible after a show.  His point was this:  If we believe we know the way to eternal life, how much do we have to hate someone else to be unwilling to share it?

It’s a good question.  And a haunting one, if we’re honest.

Whatever congregation you’re part of as you read this, I hope you’re not waiting for an excuse to invite someone to worship with you.  If you’re looking to understand why this is important, I will be talking about our role as ambassadors this Sunday.  I’m inviting you!

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5.20, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Who’s the customer?

Today’s Encouragement is a reprise of one I wrote several years ago.  The message still applies!  Blessings.  JFL

         Recently, I had the opportunity to visit two different businesses in a community different from the one I live in.  One was a musical instrument store, and the other was a hobby shop.  Anybody who knows me well can understand that both are the kinds of stores I tend to frequent.

When I walked into the music store, I was in the place perhaps thirty seconds when I was greeted in a friendly way by a fellow who turned out to be the manager.  He told me his name, and asked me mine as he shook my hand.  With his disarming demeanour, it was easy for me to tell him exactly why I had come into the store.  Like a good salesman, he took me into a separate room to show me a high-end version of what I was looking for.  When I said that I was impressed but unable to spend what that unit would demand, he completely understood and escorted me to another area of the store to show me a unit that was well-priced and, while not as good as the first unit he showed me, would serve me well.  He took the time to demonstrate it, and answered my somewhat amateurish questions without missing a beat.  When my wife came in, he even made a joke with her that we all laughed at.  All the staff in this store handled customers the same way.

Needless to say, I made a purchase there.  I had seen other units in other stores, but the service I received at that point in time was what made me buy there.  And because of that experience, I will shop there again, even though it’s not exactly handy to my home.

By contrast, when I walked into the hobby shop, I was ignored – despite the fact that I was one of two customers in the store and there were three people working there.  Since I had come all the way to the place, however, I browsed for a few minutes.  A stock person spoke to me when I spoke to him, and he opened a locked cabinet to allow me to examine more carefully something that had caught my eye.  I picked up something I needed, and when I went to check out, I waited for ten minutes.  (Remember, the help-to-customer ratio was 3:2!)  When I produced my ‘loyalty club’ card, which I assumed would save me 7 percent on cash purchases such as the one I was making, I was told that because I had not spent a sufficient amount of money in the store in the past year, they could not honour the 7 percent discount.  And the clerk was in no way apologetic about this.

I walked out of that hobby shop – in which I had spent quite a lot of money over the course of several years – having decided it is unlikely I will ever spend money there again.

Do you see the contrast between those two businesses?  Both sell things that musicians and hobbyists need.  Neither holds a monopoly in its field.  These are tough economic times.  Every business should be grateful to have customers at all!  So why was one so encouraging and the other so ignorant?

Personality will have something to do with it, to be sure, but I think the key is that the music shop staff refused the temptation to take customers for granted.

Lest you think this is merely a consumer rant, let me apply this to the Christian life.  When I was inducted as pastor in an earlier church, the preacher at the induction asked this question of the church:  Who is the customer, and who is the sales person?

Many church people assume that the customer is the church member, and the sales person is the preacher.  Wrong.

The customer is the newcomer to the church, and the sales person is the church member.  This has always been true, but in these days when many churches are in a state of decline, it is more true than ever.

The apostle Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5.20a, NIV).  Paul was writing about himself, but he was encouraging all believers to be ambassadors, to be ‘in sales’ for the gospel.  Churches where the people believe that they have no responsibility to care for guests don’t grow, because their guests often have experiences at church like I had in the hobby shop.  Churches where the people know they have a hand in caring for guests will grow, because their guests will feel cared for and will want to come back.

Of course, the Holy Spirit plays themajor role in church growth, but, oddly enough, the Spirit chooses to work throughGod’s people.  Thanks to you, and God working through you, your church can be more like the music store than the hobby shop.  That’s my prayer for you!