Encouragement From The Word

Heavenly Minded

A friend of mine was living and studying in Toronto in 1992, when the Blue Jays won the World Series for the first time ever.  I remember speaking with my friend and mentioning this.  I got a quizzical look back.

My friend had no idea that Toronto’s franchise had won baseball’s biggest title.  I was gobsmacked!

Maybe you’ve heard the pejorative phrase, “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.”  Perhaps you can think of someone who fits that description pretty well.

And it’s true: it can be challenging to deal with people who have no significant awareness of their surroundings or their culture.

At the same time, though, there are many people who claim to be followers of Jesus who are so focused on this life that they have no grasp whatsoever on the future for which Jesus has ransomed them.

It’s possible to be so earthly minded as to be (dare we say it?) no heavenly good.

Granted, there’s a lot about heaven that we don’t know.  All we can know is revealed to us in the Bible, and a lot of what people actually believe about heaven bears no resemblance to anything Scripture tells us about it.  Even in the church, there’s a lot of “folk religion” that’s held tightly, at least when it comes to the afterlife.

The key, I suppose, is balance.  As God’s people, we want to be focused on what Jesus has promised for us.  And we want to live in the world in which God has placed us in the here-and-now.  We need to ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each believer, to help us bring about that balance, so that people will take us seriously when we do point them toward heaven.

I invite you to do that today:  ask the Holy Spirit to help you balance the delights of heaven with the needs of the world.  When he helps you achieve that balance, who knows how many people may look to you to have the same hope for the future that lives in you!

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3.1-3, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Sufficient Evidence

There’s a lot of excitement among Toronto sports fans these days.  By the miracles of good playing and better mathematics, the Blue Jays secured a one-game wild card playoff against the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week.  The two teams were very evenly matched, as is evidenced by the fact that the game went to eleven innings.

The tension of the tie was broken in the bottom of the eleventh when Edwin Encarnación hit a walk-off home run, securing Toronto a shot at the American League Division Series, which the Jays are now playing against the Texas Rangers.  (If last night’s game is any indication, Toronto could be moving on quickly!)

Interestingly, at least in the Toronto media, what has taken at least an equal place in the news with the team’s move into the post-season is the story of an individual who tossed a beer can onto the field during the wild card game, nearly hitting a Baltimore outfielder.

Shame has been heaped upon this individual from all sides.  The Toronto Police Service believed they had footage of the individual, and recommended that he turn himself in or find his photo released to the public.  (I’m not sure that someone who would seek to hit a baseball player with a beer can would respond to the threat of public shaming, but that’s another story.)  Once the photo was released, the individual was identified and he has since retained counsel and contacted police.

Those who know the man say that it would be most uncharacteristic of him to do such a thing as toss a beer can onto the playing field.  The photo that was released, interestingly, shows him drinking from a plastic glass.  Ultimately, the evidence will be produced in court and the accused individual will be found guilty or not guilty.  At this point, the evidence released to the public seems particularly sketchy.

When I learn of situations like this, I’m often reminded of our responsibility as followers of Jesus to live out our faith and to take the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations, seriously.  Over the years, though, I’ve known enough Christians who have kept their faith completely private, save for Sunday morning, and found that even some of their friends were surprised to learn they were Christians.

Faith must be personal, yes – it’s the only way truly to experience the grace of God.  But while it must be personal, faith must not be private.  After all, someone else removed the veil of privacy from her or his faith in order that you could become a follower of Jesus.

If you were charged and tried with being a Christian, would there be enough public evidence to convict you?

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1.22, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

A whole world to be won

Last week, the Toronto Blue Jays clinched Major League Baseball’s American League East Division title for the first time in 22 years. There was, as you might imagine, much rejoicing at this, from both players and fans alike.

But did you notice what happened immediately after the game they won that clinched the title? They lost the next couple of games – games that, arguably, they should have been able to win (especially the first one). Granted, that first one saw a number of second-string players getting field time, but one might have thought they’d play better than they did.

It was as if the Blue Jays had gained a title, and then let their guard down, forgetting what was at stake (which, in this case, was home field advantage). There are more series yet to play!

Sometimes, we can be like that in the life of faith, can’t we? We come to faith in Christ, with all the excitement that comes with that, and maybe we serve for a season, but then we decide it’s time for someone else to take over. We let our guard down.

Yet there’s a whole world to be won.

Trusting Jesus for our eternal salvation is important, but it’s not the end of the road. We don’t believe and then start spraying the proverbial champagne. No – when we come to faith, that’s when the real work of being followers of Jesus begins. Jesus told us to pray that God’s Kingdom would come on earth, just as it is in heaven. And for that to happen, Christ-followers have to work.

So celebrate your faith, but don’t rest on your laurels. There’s a whole world to be won!

The harvest is great, but the workers are few.  So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Matthew 9.37b-38, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Victory is assured!

It’s a great time to be a Blue Jays fan!

On Wednesday night, with a victory over Oakland, and a loss by the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays ascended into first place in the American League East. It came with the Jays’ second 10-game winning streak this season.

Pennant fever has struck Toronto in a way not seen since the early 1990s.

When this happens, people who otherwise pay almost no attention to baseball become rabid fans. We, O human race, are a bunch of bandwagoners.

Jesus had his share of fair-weather fans, too. When he was teaching about peace and love and justice, they were right there beside him. But when Jesus would teach about discipleship and holiness and taking up your cross, folks backed off faster than Blue Jays fans in a slump.

See, here’s the deal: Jesus does not call us to be fans, but to be followers…not to be showgoers, but to be students. Following Jesus isn’t always about being comfortable. Sometimes, the Lord’s call to us is decidedly uncomfortable, but the role of the disciple is to follow and learn, even when the going gets tough.

My wife’s aunt was a huge Blue Jays fan. She kept records and statistics for every game. She taught me – back in the day – that the best way to watch a Jays’ game on TV was to watch it with the sound muted, turn on the radio, and listen to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth call the game. And she cheered for the Jays even when they weren’t winning.

It can be difficult for us “cheer” for Jesus when the church seemingly is in a slump. But, unlike the Blue Jays, we know for certain that Jesus will win the final victory. Stand fast! Follow Jesus even when it’s not the ‘in’ thing to do. Victory is assured!

After all, the Blue Jays might win the World Series, but Jesus has overcome the world!

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16.32-33, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The Blue Jays’ trials…and ours

I grew up in northern Ontario, where winter sports were always more emphasized than summer ones.  In the days before the Blue Jays, I remember having a Montreal Expos cap, though I can’t recall ever having watched a baseball game on television when I was a kid.  It wasn’t until I got to know my wife’s aunt that I got any interest in baseball.  She was a Blue Jays fanatic from the team’s very beginning.

For a time, I stayed with her, and she taught me everything I know (and a lot that I’ve forgotten) about the sport of baseball.  She would watch the games on TV, but would mute the sound, and listen to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth on the radio.  I learned to do the same – though I’ll admit I’m still more of a winter sports kind of guy.

If you pay attention to the Blue Jays, you’ll have noticed that on Wednesday evening this week, they sustained a huge loss, and their worst shut-out in team history:  Oakland beat the Jays 16 to nothing.  Die-hard Jays fans everywhere were doubled over in pain – more pain, it would seem, than J.P. Arincibia had when he completed an inning after having his hand broken!  It was a tough loss.

The placement of the team’s star catcher on the disabled list just adds salt to a festering wound of injuries that the Blue Jays have sustained this season.  It’s been a tough year for the team, yet many believe they are still in contention for a wild-card spot in the American League East.  (On Thursday, they did come back to beat Oakland by scoring 10 runs, so there seems to be hope for them!)

The Jays are facing a tough remainder to the season, but one thing you’re not seeing them do is give up:  the team is not throwing in the proverbial towel!  Each player not sidelined with injury will continue to suit up for each game, and each will continue to give his all for the best interests of the team.

At times in our lives, we face trial after trial.  Sometimes, they even seem to pile up on top of each other.  We wonder whether we can continue to function with these myriad difficulties.  And some people will respond by saying that God will never give us more than we can handle.

But I don’t believe that.  I don’t believe it’s true that God will never give us more than we can handle.

What I do believe is that God will never give us more than God and us together can handle, by his grace.  Do you see the difference?

When we think that God won’t give us more than we can handle, that’s about us, and how “good” at handling things we may have become.  But when we believe that God won’t give us more than God and us together can handle, that’s about God.

God has not set the world ticking, given each of us a capacity for trouble, and walked away.  No, God continues to be active in the world every moment of every day.  And God draws nearer us when we call on him in our times of difficulty.

Some think it’s biblical to believe that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  But there’s only one verse in the whole Bible that even comes close to this idea, and it’s 1 Corinthians 10.13:  “No temptation has seized you except what is common to (humanity).  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (NIV).  That verse isn’t talking about trials and troubles, but about temptations – and it is not God who tempts us, but the Tempter himself, the devil!

No, that verse won’t stand up to scrutiny when it comes to the difficulties we face in our lives.  I contend that God will not place us in any situation or time of trial in which his grace will not be enough to sustain us.  The same writer who wrote the quotation about temptation, above, also wrote candidly about his own sustained trial – what Paul the apostle called a “thorn in the flesh” – about which the Lord Jesus himself spoke to Paul:  “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12.9-10, NIV).

Let the Lord Jesus be strong through you.  He will enable you to sustain whatever trials may befall you.