Encouragement From The Word

The legacy of Gordon Fee

Earlier this week, Gordon Fee died.  That name may not mean anything to you, but if you’re a follower of Jesus, there’s a good possibility that you’ve read something that he was involved with.

Fee was a Christian who pastored a church for a little while, but ultimately felt called to the academy.  He taught New Testament studies at Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and at Regent College in Vancouver, from which he retired some years ago.

But you probably don’t know him from his teaching appointments.

His greatest legacy, other than the students he taught, was threefold.  First, he was active on the translation team for the original New International Version of the Bible, so if you’ve read the NIV at all in the past, you’ve probably read some of his contributions to Bible translation.  Second, he wrote commentaries, principally on the letters of Paul (so if you’ve heard me preach on, say, 1 Corinthians, Gordon Fee touched your life that way!).  And third, he co-wrote a book called How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth (a copy of which I gave away just yesterday!).

Fee was Pentecostal and a scholar, and he believed that the Holy Spirit plays a role in our study of the Bible as well as in our living out of the Christian life.  He wasn’t the first person to assert this, of course, but he was used by God to promote the spiritual life in the midst of learning and growing in Christ.

I recommend that you read anything he wrote.  And I also recommend that you read what he would have recommended, and that’s the Word of God.  Read your Bible – for all its worth.  Notice that as I just used it and in the title of Fee’s book, there is no apostrophe:  we don’t read the Bible for all it’s worth, but for all its worth.  We want to get the most out of the Bible, which has great worth to us as followers of Jesus.  It is how the Lord communicates most clearly to us.  It’s how we learn the Christian life.  It’s how we gain comfort and are challenged in our walk with God.  

So I don’t encourage you to read the Bible as a tribute to Gordon Fee; he wouldn’t ask you for that.  But I do encourage you to read the Bible because of what it is:  God’s Word to us.  The Word of Life.  The Truth. 

Take even five minutes today, if you haven’t already, and read a portion of Scripture.  Let the Lord speak to you.

Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear” (Jesus, Mark 13.31, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

When two worlds collide

One of the redeeming qualities of Facebook is finding out that you have two friends from different parts and times of your life that know each other.  This sometimes gets seen in birthday greetings, a factor that keeps me interested in social media (Facebook birthdays are awesome!).

I found out this week, through offering Facebook birthday greetings to a friend I met while helping her church find a new pastor many years ago, that she is related to the husband of a friend with whom I went to high school.  It’s amazing to see two worlds collide like that!

As followers of Jesus, though, we’re used to the notion of two worlds colliding.  We live and breathe that reality every day.

All human beings are born into and live in the world we know and see around us.  When we come to faith in Jesus, we are adopted into God’s family, and become citizens of his Kingdom.  So it’s a bit like being someone who was born in one country but works in another: while you live in one nation, your usual rights and privileges exist in another.  But they’re still in the same world, so the analogy breaks down.

As Christians, where our two worlds collide in the more literal sense is in the area of values.  There are some things that may be legal and permissible in the physical jurisdiction in which you live that are not permissible under the law of God’s Kingdom, and that’s where the collision takes place.  We are stretched by being pulled in one direction by the world, and in another direction by our understanding of the Word of God.

It is not an easy position.  Yet we find ourselves increasingly pulled in both directions as western society moves farther and farther away from its Christian foundation.

Since our first loyalty is to the Lord, who has graciously saved us by faith in his Son Jesus Christ, we do well to immerse ourselves in the reading of the Bible so that we can know how citizens of God’s Kingdom  should act.  And because it is not easy to swim against the current, we do well to immerse ourselves in Christian community so that we can encourage one another, especially when our two worlds collide and we are faced with challenging decisions.

Read the Word, because it’s God’s revelation to us.  And engage in Christian community, because we don’t just go to church; we are the church.  It’s now easier!  Perhaps in your community, as in mine, masks will be optional starting this Sunday.  

[W]e are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.  He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control” (Philippians 3.20-21, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Pride and prejudice

I read a quotation this morning that struck me, and I thought I’d share it with you.  The late Reformed theologian, R.C. Sproul, said, “You don’t have to give up your intellect to trust the Bible.  You have to give up your pride.”


Now, some may misread this and assume that we are putting our faith in a book instead of in the Lord.  Of course, we place our trust in Jesus – but how do we learn about Jesus, how do we know anything about God, except through his Word?

Many skeptics think that you have to check your brain at the door to be a Christian.  I think it’s quite the opposite: we really need to engage our brains as followers of Jesus.  But don’t let pride get in the way of believing what the Bible tells us.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4.12, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Spiritual Heartburn

The traditional Gospel story for the Sunday after Easter is the walk to Emmaus, told in the middle verses of Luke 24.  In that story, a couple of people who had placed their hope in Jesus for the rescue of Jerusalem were walking home from that city, not having heard of the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus appears, walking beside them, though they don’t recognize him.  They’re talking about the events of the weekend, and Jesus acts as though he doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  But as time goes on, he explains how the Bible predicted that the Messiah would rise from the dead.

He makes like he’s going beyond Emmaus, but his fellow travellers, upon reaching home, invite him to stay.  He sits at table with them, and all at once, the guest becomes the Host, because he breaks the bread – and in that moment, they recognized Jesus!  And he disappeared from their sight.

With that, they abandoned their supper and high-tailed it back to Jerusalem to find out about the resurrection of Jesus.  And one remarked to the other:

… ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24.32, NLT).

Have you ever experienced that kind of heartburn?  Have you felt that passion for God and his Word as you read the Scriptures, or hear them explained?

The Lord invites that passion to erupt within you.  It’s part of how we become mature followers of Christ.

(By the way, I’m preaching a series right now called “Epidemic in the Church”, that deals with the characteristics of Jesus that we can emulate in order to become spiritually mature.  You’re welcome to join us live, in person or online, any Sunday morning at 10, or catch up on past messages via our YouTube channel.)

Here’s hoping you’ll get that heartburn that no antacid can quell!

Encouragement From The Word

Hiding the Word

Many people don’t realize it, but there are many English idioms that come from the Bible – most from the King James Version of 1611 (and thereafter), and some from even before that.  Because Bible reading used to be much more prevalent in society at large, these phrases became commonplace in English.

I’m going to be talking about one of them on Sunday.  It comes from Proverbs 25.22, cited later by the apostle Paul in Romans 12.20.  It’s the idea of doing good to your enemies being like heaping burning coals on their heads, in the context of leaving revenge to God.  (In the Old Testament, the idea of burning coals is an image for the judgment of God.)

Just for fun, I took to social media the other day to ask people what their favourite English idiom with biblical roots might be.  Here’s a sampling of the answers I got:

  • “The writing is on the wall” – from the book of Daniel
  • “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” – from Jesus in Matthew
  • “Scapegoat” – from Leviticus (this one dates back to the time of William Tyndale’s translation in the 1500s!)
  • “Eat, drink and be merry” – from Ecclesiastes
  • “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – from Genesis
  • “A drop in the bucket” – from Isaiah
  • “A fool and his money are soon parted” – from Proverbs

To be sure, there is a move afoot to expunge the Bible from culture.  But that’s next to impossible to do; because the Bible has had so much influence on culture, literature, art, and virtually every other aspect of society, it would take far more effort than most people are willing to put forth to remove the Bible from our culture entirely.

It’s one thing, though, to have a Bible-laced vocabulary of idioms; it’s another thing to have the Bible ingrained in us in such a way that we live its principles and follow God’s ways as we live in relationship with him.  That has much more potential to change the world!

I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119.11, NLT).

Encouragement From the Word will return on November 27.

Biblical Messages

Slaves No More

In this message, based on Jeremiah 17.5-10 and Romans 6.15-23, we learn how God does not want us to be slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness. How can we do that? Root ourselves deeply. How does that happen? Through engaging in spiritual disciplines. We learn three of them in this message. You can watch the whole (edited) broadcast below, or catch just the message just below that.



Encouragement From The Word

Instructions Help

In August, my wife and I were given a gently used gazebo by our friends.  We were thinking about getting one, so the price was right, and we were glad to go and pick it up from them!

The catch? No instructions.

With the exception of one hand-drawn sheet from our friends that showed how the corners went together – which was immeasurably valuable, as it turns out – we had to figure out how somewhere around 50 pieces of metal fit together. It involved a lot of standing and staring last Saturday afternoon, and a fair bit of finger-tightening and finger-loosening and finger-tightening again.  (There’s no point in fully tightening something you’re not sure fits in that spot, right?)

Well, 3.5 hours later, we successfully completed putting all the pieces together where IMG_4640they belonged.  The photo gives proof.  Now we just need to get it covered – a task which might get accomplished in the next few days.

I figure that if I had had the assembly instructions, this task could have been accomplished in approximately half the time.  But that extra time is a small price to pay for a free gazebo!

It got me thinking, though, how human beings try to get through life without instructions.  The old joke is that men never ask for directions, and that if Moses had asked for directions, the Israelites would not have wandered in the desert for 40 years! Yet even if we are willing to read a map (old school!) or input an address into a GPS and follow it, in an attempt to get to a specific place, we often are reluctant to follow instructions to progress in day-to-day living.

Someone has said that the word “Bible” is an acronym for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”  I’m not sure it’s all that simple, but it’s also not all that complicated, either. If we want to put together a puzzle, we look at the picture on the box.  If we want to put together a bookshelf, we read the (wordless) directions from IKEA.  The manufacturer provides instructions that make the process better.

That is, in part, what Scripture is for us:  instructions provided by the manufacturer that make the process – of living – better.

Struggling in life?  Read the Bible – especially the Psalms, wherein you will find every possible emotional response to God – and let the Lord speak into your life through his Word.

How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey.  Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life.  Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119.103-105, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Near to the Father’s Heart

If you want to know God, you need to know Jesus, who is near to the Father’s heart.  And we know Jesus by reading Scripture.  Listen to, or watch, this message based on John 1.15-18.

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Encouragement From The Word

(Don’t) follow your heart

I’m going to make this short and to the point.

“Follow your heart,” the world says.

And sometimes, the church says it, too.

But what does the Bible say?

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.    Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17.9, NLT).

So pay more attention to your Bible than to your heart.  Your Bible will point you to God.

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

THE TALK: 3. Latitude in Gratitude

A hard talk about sex on Thanksgiving Sunday might seem difficult or awkward, so I opted today to talk about the biblical foundation on which we base our Christian sexual ethics.  Based on Psalm 119.97-112 and 2 Timothy 3.10-17, you can listen to the message here:

As a response to the message, everyone was invited to come forward with a ‘leaf’ each had been given at the beginning of the service, on which a treasured Scripture verse had been written.  Here is the result!  thumb_IMG_1871_1024

Book Reviews

Book Review: “Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer” by Rowan Williams

On a Facebook recommendation, I pre-ordered, and received quickly from Amazon.ca, the latest publication by Rowan Williams, entitled,  Being Christian:  41YEga+-9rL._SL500_AA300_Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans, 2014).  It is a surprisingly small book, at under ninety pages.  And it is a quick read; it arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, and I had it completed before going to sleep (with several other needful things done in between).

I recommend this book for those looking for a basic refresher on some of these fundamental aspects of what it means to follow Jesus.  As the subtitle suggests, he writes (about twenty pages on each) about the meaning and implications of the sacrament of Baptism, how we read (or hear) the Bible, what it means to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and then gives a brief summary of three views on the Lord’s Prayer (from Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Cassian, all classic Christian writers from early [pre-AD 600] Christianity).

Williams is clear, concise, and accessible in his writing style.  He writes with a modest Anglican bias, which the reader would only expect coming from the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury!  But even with that ‘filter’, Williams could be read quite satisfactorily by an inquirer, or by a believer from any branch of the church.

There were six especially helpful learning points that I noted for myself in the book:

  • In the Eastern Christian tradition, some icons for the baptism of Jesus depict Jesus up to his neck in water, with river gods, representing chaos being overcome, beneath the water.  The old ways are always trying to claim us back.
  • The Bible is, in a way, our own story, so history matters when reading Scripture.
  • In the Eucharist, Jesus is telling us he wants our company.
  • Prayer is about changing your attitude.
  • Prayer is a promise to God.
  • This one deserves to be quoted:  “[Prayer] is opening our minds and hearts and saying to the Father, ‘Here is your Son, praying in me through the Holy Spirit.  Please listen to him, because I want him to be working, acting and loving in me'” (p. 80).

Reflection and discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter for use by individuals or groups.  This is a short and helpful read, and I recommend it.

Encouragement From The Word

God’s Love Letter

How do you read the Bible?  By that I mean, do you read it to gain information, or do you read it to hear God speak to you?

These two are by no means mutually exclusive; I love it when, in my reading the Bible in preparation to preach, for example, God also takes the passage and speaks to my heart.

Most of the time, we tend to read Scripture to “get something out of it”, like the consumers the world has shaped us to be.  Too often, though, our desire to get something out of it comes with an agenda.

What if we could read the Bible, and let God set the agenda?

Think of the Bible not as a newspaper to be scoured, only to line a bird cage later; think of it as a love letter from God.  We read love letters differently than we read newspapers.  There is more interest; there is deeper engagement.

There is an ancient practice in the Christian tradition that in Latin is called lectio divina; in English we just call it ‘holy reading’.  Once we prepare ourselves with silence and peace, there are five movements in the process of holy reading (thanks to Ruth Haley Barton for the alliteration):

  • Read.  Read the passage you’ve chosen slowly, allowing the words to sink in.  Perhaps a word or phrase may jump out at you; take note of it, and after theimages-1 passage is finished, keep a few minutes’ silence to pray over that word or phrase.
  • Reflect.  Read the passage once again, and keep silence to ask how that word or phrase you identified speaks into your life right now.
  • Respond.  Read the passage yet again, and in silence, respond to your reflection; pray with and over your word or phrase, to let God know your feelings about it.
  • Rest.  Read the passage a final time, and use your time in silence to rest in the Lord.  Soak in his presence, and be open to how God may move.
  • Resolve.  This final step encourages you to live out the experience you have just had, letting that word or phrase stay with you for the day or the week or however long God may want it to stay with you.  Let it live in you as you let the Holy Spirit live God’s life in and through you.

This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours if you want it to.  Give it a try; read the Bible like a love letter from the One who loves you unlike anyone else can.

“…you are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43.4b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Yes, the Bible *is* relevant today!

A lot of people wonder how a series of compiled documents that are thousands of years old can be relevant for today.  But the Bible is not like other documents, for God’s Spirit breathes through the words of Scripture to bring them alive for us at just the right moments.  Let me give you an example.

I was in a meeting this week during which we had a discussion about how God has prompted folks in our congregation to share generously.  I was reflecting on the story of the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14), noting how encouraging it was to see our people stepping up to the plate in a variety of circumstances.

One person in the meeting mentioned that he had just been reading in Scripture about Barnabas, a church leader who was appointed by God to serve as an associate of the apostle Paul.  Barnabas is otherwise best known by the meaning of his name:  Son of Encouragement.

Another person in that meeting took notes about this, in the hope of following up on it in his own devotional life.  He happened to have those notes with him at work the next day, and he wrote to me about how that affected his work day:

The next day, I was working with one of my staff, and after spending a very long time, he finally delivered a report to me, which was not the quality it should have been, especially given the amount time spent on it.  As I began my process of reviewing notes, I struggled with how to get him to perform at a higher level.  While considering this, I opened my work folder to take some more notes, and saw my note from Tuesday night:  “Barnabas – Encouragement!”.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this colleague’s name IS Barnabas, and that I’m being given a not-so-subtle reminder to provide encouragement rather than criticism.  

It might seem small, and to some it might seem a coincidence.  But this is one way God works in our lives when we encounter his Word; and when we spend time together discussing the Scriptures, and our experience of them, it’s amazing how a portion can become immediately relevant in an area where might not expect it.

I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness” (Psalm 40.10, NLT).

How has God’s Word been hidden in your heart as you have talked about it, only to find that it is revealed for a useful circumstance?

Spend time in the study of the Bible, and be amazed at how God uses it to encourage you – or someone else.


Some early highlights of the 138th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada

This week, I am a commissioner to the 138th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada.  Since each Presbytery sends one-sixth of its ministers, and an equal number of elders, to Assembly each year, it means that most pastors get to be commissioners several times over the course of their ministries.

I’m not able to slack off, though, because I was appointed to the Assembly’s Committee on Business, which is sort of the embodiment of mad duck-paddling that takes place in order for the agenda of the Assembly to float smoothly down the proverbial river.  Together, the committee members are trying to make the Assembly’s agenda run like a well-oiled machine, and we seem to be having a measure of success at it.

The Assembly began on Sunday afternoon with “Q&A@GA”.  Formerly, Assemblies hosted briefing groups for the whole of Monday in order to allow commissioners to be brought up to speed on the work of the committees and agencies of the church.  This year, it was moved to a less formal ‘marketplace’ model and held as commissioners arrived on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday evening saw the opening worship and installation of the Moderator.  Worshipping with a thousand others is a great experience.  The outgoing Moderator, Rick Horst, gave a fine message challenging the church to be more missional.  He then installed the new Moderator, John Vissers, who has chaired each sederunt (sitting) of the Assembly since his installation.

On Monday, numerous reports were heard and acted upon by the Assembly, and the Assembly banquet was held.  The entertainment was a youth choir from the Durham region, and they sounded great.  Catching up with old friends made it all a real blessing.

On Tuesday morning, the Assembly took on a celebratory tone as retiring national staff and missionaries were feted.  Along with that, we heard from a Presbyterian leader from Taiwan, who came to celebrate with us the completion and printing of the entire Bible in Hakka.  Hakka is a dialect of Chinese, spoken by many people in Taiwan.  It was an emotional occasion to see our own Paul McLean, a missionary and translator, talk about (and read from) the Hakka Bible.

Having served the Bible cause in parachurch work at one time myself, I understand the value of having the Bible in one’s heart language.  It was great to see one more translation completed.  (Last Sunday, the Canadian Bible Society celebrated the completion of the Bible in Inuktitut, so that’s two translations in one week!)

This just gives you a taste of what’s going on at General Assembly.  Being able to spend free time with friends that I don’t get to see very often is a treasured bonus of coming to Assembly.  We may not be in the ritziest town in Canada for Assembly, but it doesn’t really matter:  most of our time is spent sitting in a gymnasium listening to stories of the work God has done, and praying and deciding about the work God may and will do among us.

I love being part of a connectional church, where we are, indeed, not alone.  When you see little bits in the bulletin each Sunday that connect us with the wider church, you’re getting a taste of our connectedness, and how it enables us to serve God and build his kingdom more effectively.