Biblical Messages

Christmas eve services 2019

Here are our Christmas eve services for 2019.  The early one is tailored to kids, with a message entitled “The Why of Christmas” (starting at 20:21) is based on Titus 2.11-14.  The later service had a message entitled, “The Old, Old Story” (starting at 19:23 with the text), based on Luke 2.1-20.  Merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

Encouragement From The Word

Are you ready?

The kids will be finished school today.

Maybe, you’ll be finished work today.

Christmas is coming.  Are you ready?

Well, I still have baking to do, and a turkey to buy, and presents to pick up for…

No, are you ready?

Despite what the culture teaches us, being ready for Christmas has less to do with making sure the tree is decorated and the table is set for dinner than with making sure your heart is prepared.  That’s what the season of Advent has been all about.

This coming week, we will celebrate the birth of the Son of God in a hewn-out cave behind a Bethlehem motel.  But it’s not just about an historical commemoration.

The nod to the newborn Jesus lying in a manger is vested with its deepest meaning when his birth in Bethlehem is replicated in our lives.  As we plead in one of the old Christmas carols:

          O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

          Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.

When Jesus is born in us, that’s when his birth in Bethlehem’s stall becomes most meaningful, and when we are truly ready.

Let Christmas be significant for you this year.  You still have a few days to get ready!  Invite Jesus to be born in you.  It’ll be like being born again.

Wait a minute, I’ve heard that somewhere before…oh, right:

I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3.3, NLT).

Christmas has the most meaning when Jesus is alive in our hearts.

If you’re looking for a place to worship the newborn King this Christmas, I invite you to join me at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton.  It would be awesome to see you.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas in Nobleton 2019

Biblical Messages

Arrive Alive

“Arrive Alive” has been used as a tagline to discourage impaired driving for many years, but it’s a good word for God’s people to proclaim to the world, too!  This message starts at 30:37, and is based on 1 Corinthians 15.21-25.  I chose this message title because it was Civic Services Appreciation Sunday, when we welcomed Police, Fire, EMS and politicians from the area who serve our community to come and be recognized and thanked for their work.

The video from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – the audio for which did not work for us in this gathering – can be found here.

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).

Encouragement From The Word

The Saviour…all year

I hope you enjoyed a blessed Christmas!  This week between Christmas and the new year is always a nebulous week for me.  For pastors, it’s a time of recovery from what is often a lot of worship celebrations in a short period of time (five in three days for me…but I knew that when I signed up!).  For families, it’s a balancing act between visiting relatives and keeping kids from being bored or fighting with their siblings; now that Christmas is over, “naughty or nice” has gone out the window for some children!  For some people, it’s a heavy travel time, with highways busy and airports crowded. And for some of us, the week gets clouded even more because our birthdays fall during that week.  (Mine happens to be today.)

Too often, amid all that, the Reason For The Season gets left behind.  Christmas helps us to focus on Jesus as our Saviour.  But if we’re not too careful, as time goes on, Jesus gets relegated to a lesser place than he deserves.

In my message this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m going to say something I think bears repeating more widely.  I’ll quote Old Testament scholar John Oswalt, who said, “When we think the solution to our problems is to be found within ourselves, we are liable to think of God as an assistant or a fall-back device.” And in this state, we think we do not need a Saviour. We may need a teacher or a friend, but we do not need a Saviour.  That’s why, in part, Christmas has become this strange combination of consumerism and romanticism.

Jesus has become ancillary to the celebration of Christmas, because the concept of a Saviour seems unnecessary.  We, as the church, will be used by God to turn that around, because humanity is in deep need of a Saviour, in deep need of the Saviour, the one who is called Jesus the Christ, who came to save us from our sins.  We may be saved by grace, but we still sin (well, at least, I do).

So, as the memory of Christmas services fades into the past for another year, and a new year stands on the horizon, let me encourage you to keep Jesus’ place as Saviour in the forefront.  Remember that you need him as Saviour.  Remember that your loved ones who are far from God need him as Saviour.  Remember that “this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, NLT).

I wish you a happy and blessed new year.  And may you know the delight of Jesus as your Saviour all year.

Encouragement From The Word returns on January 11.

Biblical Messages

Father Abraham

Remember how Dana Carvey, the American comedian, used to have a character called “the Church Lady”?  Everything bad was Satan’s fault, in her eyes.  But did you know that Satan can even use God’s people to accomplish his ends?  Jesus demonstrated that to his Jewish interlocutors in John 8.42-59, and we learn how to apply it in the message, which you can listen to or watch below.

Will you do me a favour?  Let me know if you actually prefer to listen to the message rather than watch it on YouTube, because I’m considering no longer making a special audio recording of the message, now that we are videoing it.  Thanks.

 

Biblical Messages

Christmas morning: Differs not by one iota

Merry Christmas!  At our Christmas morning service, I did a very short review of our journey (so far) in the Gospel of John (by reading 1.1-14) and reviewed an important theological point that was posted on this blog a few weeks ago.  Listen to, or watch, this brief message below.

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Biblical Messages

What Child?

The message for our late Christmas eve service this year focused on answering the question posed by the famous Christmas carol by William Chatterton Dix:  What Child Is This?

Listen, or watch, below.  Merry Christmas!

 

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Biblical Messages

Glory! (What’s that?)

We toss words around a lot without knowing their meanings, and that happens especially when we sing Christmas songs.  In this message, I explore the meaning of the word “Glory”, and how it can apply to our lives as followers of Jesus.  Listen, or watch, below.  Merry Christmas.

 

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Encouragement From The Word

Merry Christmas!

At this notoriously busy time of year, let me encourage you simply to stop for a few minutes, amid all that’s going on around you, and spend some time chewing on this passage of Scripture.

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.
 His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!
  (Isaiah 9.6-7, NLT)

Let each name for Jesus in this prophecy wash over you, comfort you, and encourage you as we celebrate the most miraculous birth of all time.

Merry Christmas!  I invite you to worship at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on this special weekend.  Service times are printed below.  God’s best!

ChristmasInNobleton2017

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

CAROLS BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Joy to the world!

On this Christmas Day, we celebrate the joy that Jesus brings to us.  Isaac Watts’ familiar carol, “Joy to the world”, was never intended as a Christmas carol, but as a paraphrase of Psalm 98.  Either way, it extols the Lord Jesus, as we learned in today’s message, based on Titus 2.11-14.

Uncategorized

Breathe and Pray

When I talk to folks around this time of year, I discover one fairly common trait: stress.

Whether it’s preparing for guests at home, or preparing to go and be guests in someone’s home; whether it’s fearing poor driving conditions or flight delays; whether it’s trying to get all the work done or trying to make peace with the fact that it won’t be all done, people are stressed.

It’s a sad irony, really.

Jesus’ followers read Isaiah 9.6 as Messianic prophecy, and it says that he would be “the Prince of Peace” – yet even his followers struggle to find peace at this time of year.

What can be done?

I think the answer is to be intentional about honouring the Prince of Peace with our own sense of peace.  That can, sometimes, mean making difficult decisions.  At other times, it simply involves choosing to have peace.

A very basic way to make that happen is – and this may sound overly simplistic – to breathe.  Pay attention to your breathing.  Take deep breaths.  Decide that a challenging situation will not stress you out.

The latest update to the operating system for the Apple Watch includes a reminder to stop and breathe.  Some call it ‘mindfulness’, but you and I can call it prayerfulness.  Breathe in the grace of God; he’s got this, whatever it is.  Breathe out your stress.

So, amid the kitchen prep and the house cleaning, breathe and pray.  If you’re sitting in traffic or waiting on a late flight, breathe and pray.  While trying to get all your work done before the weekend, breathe and pray.  God’s got it.

And have a merrier Christmas.

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

The Light of the World

It’s a week before Christmas, and four days before the first day of winter here in the northern hemisphere. That means the days are short and the nights are long. Where I live, there have been many cloudy days lately, too, which have left some of us feeling like it might get dark by noon!

Perhaps this is one reason why many people – even irreligious people – put up beautiful displays of lights at this time of year. For example, there is someone who lives near me who does not go to church at all (despite repeated invitations!), but who has a gorgeous light display outside his home, to which he adds week by week. Is it for Christmas? Probably. Is it to bring some light in the darkness? Almost certainly.

Maybe these lights are symbols of Jesus himself, who came to be the Light in our darkness. That’s how I’m going to take it, anyway.

This may be a dark time of year for you, for one reason or another; look at the Christmas lights you see out in your neighbourhood, and give thanks that God saw fit to break into history in the form of Jesus, the Light of the world.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life’” (John 8.12, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Always Christmas, never winter

Last week, I wrote about waiting. We all find it hard, being used to getting what we want when we want it. But waiting, along with being a reality of life (and of Advent!), is a spiritual discipline. Among the fruit of the Spirit, according to the apostle Paul in Galatians 5.22-23, is patience. And it takes patience to wait.

Where I live, the only hints of the season are decorations and sales at the malls. There is no snow to remind us that Christmas is coming. We want to “get into the season”, so we sing carols and hope that will make us sufficiently festive. But maybe – just maybe – waiting even to sing carols is not a bad thing.

Advent is not only a season of waiting, but of preparation, even penitence. What, we can ask ourselves, have we done to make ourselves spiritually ready for Christmas? We’ve learned how to be ready by other standards, after all: shopping for all the right people, arranging our calendars to fit in all the necessary gatherings, etc. But are we ready spiritually?

I’ve always been fascinated by C.S. Lewis’ statement in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe about what it’s like in Narnia under the evil witch: “Always winter, never Christmas.” I can’t remember where I read it, but not long ago, I read a twist on that quotation that I think applies to our culture at this time of year: “Always Christmas, never winter.”

Breathe for a moment, and ponder that: “Always Christmas, never winter.”

For those who find Christmas an especially difficult time because of the death of a loved one, that saying may make more sense than to others, for they experience a greater degree of ‘winter’ as they process the reality of a special time of year bereft of someone who mattered deeply to them. But to much of society, there is an innate desire to skip the ‘winter’ part and move directly to Christmas. (This same desire transports people immediately from Palm Sunday to Easter, skipping over the ‘winter’ of Good Friday, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I think Christmas becomes more meaningful when we endure a bit of ‘winter’, whether with snow or not. And Advent can help us do that. It doesn’t mean we have to endure profound suffering, but a ‘winter’ experience can help us look at our spirits in the mirror and see what we need to do to be spiritually ready for Christmas.

Will you take some time to experience ‘winter’ before Christmas?

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139.23-24, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

The desires of your heart

We are only marking the beginning of the season of Advent this weekend, but the commercials advertising everything we should want for Christmas have been bombarding us for a few weeks now. I’m reminded of the reality of desire.

A verse I long ago committed to memory was Psalm 37.4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It sounds kind of formulaic, doesn’t it? “If” I delight myself in the Lord, “the result” will be to gain the desires of my heart. But it’s not so simple, is it?

Context is everything. Consider what that verse looks like in context, in verses 3-6: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Considering the immediate context of the verse, and the wider context of the Bible as a whole, verse 4 doesn’t seem so formulaic, does it? We are called, in the context of delighting in the Lord, to trust in him and commit our way to him. And doesn’t it follow, then, that if we trust in, delight in, and commit our way to the Lord, that the desires of our hearts will begin to look a lot like the desires of God’s heart?

My prayer is always that my will will be so knit into the will of God that mine will be indistinguishable from his. It’s a daily discipline, but there is much peace, and much joy, in finding our desires resembling the Lord’s.

As the ads bombard your eyes, telling you what a truly loving person would give another (or oneself) for Christmas, keep in mind that the Lord will give us the desires of our hearts, when we truly delight in him.

Those desires won’t sell much advertising, but they’ll make a difference for eternity.

Encouragement From The Word

God in the flesh

Christmas wasn’t always a given. The world marks it as a game-saving, end-of-year commercial venture. The church marks it as the celebration of God, having come in the flesh. But even in the first century, not everybody was willing to believe that God could possibly have come in the flesh.

I’ve been preaching through John’s first letter for the past nine weeks. It was intentional that I would conclude it at the end of the season of Advent, because the letter is all about emphasizing that God did take on human flesh; as the prophet foretold, Jesus came as Immanuel: God with us.

John had to emphasize the incarnation because there were people in the first century church he led who were trying to convince the believers that God couldn’t possibly have come in the flesh; they believed that God was 100% spiritual and 100% not physical. But John had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, lived with Jesus – he knew God had come in human form.

The church needs to celebrate this truth publicly and loudly! And the great irony of Christmas is that people who might not otherwise engage with anything theological, or have a conversation about Jesus, will gleefully sing excellent theology at this time of year. Consider the words of this ancient carol, which streamed over my computer while I was writing this:

Hark! the herald angels sing,


”Glory to the newborn King;


Peace on earth and mercy mild,


God and sinners reconciled!”


Joyful all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With the angelic host proclaim:


“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”


Hark! the herald angels sing,


“Glory to the newborn King.”

 

Christ, by highest heav’n adored;

Christ, the everlasting Lord;

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of a Virgin’s womb:


Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with man to dwell;

Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing,


”Glory to the newborn King.”



 

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!


Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!


Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings,

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.


Hark! the herald angels sing,


”Glory to the newborn King.”

 

These words of Charles Wesley, altered by George Whitefield (that’s another story!), proclaim the truth of Christmas, and the heart of the message of 1 John: God has come in the flesh. God! No less than the Creator of the world has broken into history to be one with us, born of a Virgin, laying aside his glory…for what reason? “Born that man no more may die,” said Wesley. Jesus came to break the cycle of sin and faithlessness, opening the door of heaven to all who will believe.

Jesus is God in the flesh – and even in the malls this is proclaimed for a twelfth of a year! Let’s rejoice – and pray that these words so much of humanity joins in singing will reach the hearts of all.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Jesus is worth the wait

Though the radio stations are already playing Christmas music, and Wal-Mart has gifts and tinsel up for sale (heck, Costco had decorations up in October!), it’s not Christmas yet. That doesn’t start until December 25.

This Sunday, we begin the Christian year with the season of Advent. It’s a season of waiting, of anticipation. In years gone by, it has been a season of penitence, though that seems to have gone by the wayside. But I think there’s great value in celebrating Advent, in waiting for Christmas.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a household where, if you wanted something, you saved up for it until you could afford to buy it. Credit was unheard of in my parents’ home, unless you count the mortgage. And there was a certain satisfaction in that, wasn’t there? You saved up to buy something you wanted, and there was anticipation in it. If you really needed (or wanted) it, the anticipation only made the acquisition all the more sweet. If it was just an impulse, and you didn’t really want or need it, saving up for it saved you from buyer’s remorse, because the interest waned while you saved.

Nowadays, saving up for something seems like a quaint custom of a bygone era. And I think that has cost us – not only in terms of interest paid on credit cards and lines of credit, but also in terms of the value of waiting.

For many people, what the world calls the Christmas Season is a frenetic time. Celebrating Advent can actually slow us down a little bit. When we focus each Sunday, and perhaps the surrounding week, on hope, peace, joy and love (or whatever other themes your church might want to use beyond the traditional), we are able to savour all the more fully the amazing gift that is the birth of Jesus.

Followers of Jesus know that the birth of the Saviour was no ordinary birth. This was God’s entrance into history in a tangible way, unlike no other time before – a gift beyond measure…a gift worth waiting for.

Let me encourage you, this year, to celebrate Advent. Even if your church doesn’t mark it in any significant way, you can celebrate at home. There are Advent calendars (though most involve chocolate and only recognize the month of December, it can still be a useful tool); you can make and light an Advent wreath in your home; you can (and this is radical!) even consciously decide not to sing Christmas carols until Christmas! If you can’t handle that, you might consider saving one special Christmas carol for Christmas Eve. (I do this with “O come, all ye faithful”.)

Jesus is worth the wait!

Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous.   Yes, wait patiently for the Lord” (Psalm 27.14, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Take time to ponder

We often complain about how busy we get around Christmas time, but if you read the biblical account in Luke 2, you’ll notice that it wasn’t a whole lot less busy that first Christmas:  there were crowds making their way to their various towns for the census; the nearby shepherds came along at the angel’s announcement; there was “a great company of the heavenly host” (v. 13 – probably a large army of angels) shouting God’s praise; and there were all the people who were amazed at what the shepherds said (v. 18), many of whom probably went to the cave to see what all the fuss was about.

And we think it’s busy when we go shopping!

In the midst of all that was going on, though, what did Mary do?  Jesus’ mother took in everything that was going on around her, and she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (v. 19).

Yes, there’s a lot going on at this time of year.  And we can learn from one of those who was at the centre of it all to step back and ponder.

Manger Square, Bethlehem, Dec. 2, 2013
Manger Square, Bethlehem, Dec. 2, 2013

It’s not easy, but we can do it if we make a conscious choice to do so.

Even if you’re not done your shopping yet, take a few minutes away from the crowd.  Grab a coffee, sit down, take in everything going on around you, and pray.  Tell God what’s on your mind, on your heart.  Share with him your deepest yearnings and desires.  Commit to God that you will make this crazy-busy season about him, first and foremost.

After all, Mary did.

Why not take some time right now?  Go ahead!  Instead of writing more for you to read, I’ll give you time to rest amid this busy time.  You won’t regret it.

Merry Christmas.