Biblical Messages

Strategic Withdrawal

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 12 that helps us understand the cryptic nature of John’s vision of the dragon and the pregnant woman – and how we shouldn’t read contemporary ideas into an ancient text. The story parallels the exodus from the Old Testament, and we look at the importance of retreat as part of our defence against the devil. You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.

Encouragement From The Word

A special day looms…

One of the most often overlooked days in the entire Christian year is sneaking up on us.  It happens next Thursday.  But unless you live in a land that treats it as a public holiday – there are still a few that do – it might slip under your radar. Yet, without the event marked by this day, the church could not have come into being as it did.

I’m talking about Ascension Day.

It often sneaks under the radar of most followers of Jesus because it always falls on a Thursday.  Some churches celebrate it the Sunday before or the Sunday after, but Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday.  Why?  Because it happened 40 days after the resurrection of Jesus, and when you add 40 days to a Sunday in the spring, you’re always going to land on a Thursday.

But what was “it”?

It’s the day Jesus ascended into heaven.

Why does it matter?

Well, among many other things, had Jesus not ascended into heaven, the promised Holy Spirit would not have come.  And the church as we know it would not have been born.

Ascension Day is a good day to celebrate!  It’s the day when Jesus gave his Great Commission.  And as the disciples followed that Great Commission, ten days later, the Holy Spirit fell on the believers at Pentecost, and the church came into being, spreading across the world, over time, into the vessel of God that brings the gospel to the nations.

The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about what happened in those 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus.  But it surely involved much preparation for the disciples to be ready to venture forth on their own, with the promised Holy Spirit’s guidance, to build the Kingdom of God.

When the ascension happened, it inaugurated a new era – an era in which we still participate today.  

So next Thursday, give a wink and a nod – or more! – to the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, and give thanks for his providential care.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.  As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

                                                                              – Acts 1.6-11, NLT

Biblical Messages

The Covenant of Grace: Why Infant Baptism is Biblical

Do you ever wonder if it is biblical to baptize children? In the Reformed tradition, we don’t believe it saves the child, but we do believe it places the child on the path toward profession of faith in Jesus, which does bring salvation. It’s based on Genesis 15, Genesis 17, Colossians 2 and Acts 2. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

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

Welcome home

In Ontario, it was announced this week that the mask mandate, put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, is being lifted as of March 21 in most settings.  This means that many people are thinking about resuming “normal” activities – things they did before the pandemic hit.

A lot of those activities will involve other people: being involved in community.

For those who walk with Jesus in faith, community is a significant part of our journey.  We engage in Christian fellowship through corporate worship; through participation in small groups for study, prayer and service; and through more casual means such as getting together for coffee with a friend or having people over for dinner.  

It will be nice to be able to resume these activities as we did before.

But did you know that community is also a spiritual discipline?

Very, very few Christians are called to be hermits.  They have existed over time, but they have been the exception to the rule.  In general, followers of Jesus are called to function in community.  This is true regardless of one’s state in life:  married or single, children or none; no matter our race or job or ability, we are called to function in community.

For some, this has meant living in intentional community, where believers live together under one roof, or in a commune-like setting, essentially becoming a church.  For many, though, functioning in community has meant living with one’s family, or alone, and engaging in community through the local church.

The word church, after all, literally means “those called out” – people called by God to faith in Christ, called to separate themselves for his Kingdom, called to do together what is either difficult or impossible to do alone.

It saddens me that these two years of restraint have, in a sense, cauterized some people: they have lost their sense of the value of community.  Church has become something they tune into on their computers, not people with whom they can ‘do life’ together.  They forget that the church is not the building, but the people.

If you follow Jesus, you are the church.  If you’ve been waiting for the “all clear” to be sounded, it looks like that signal is coming later this month.  See it as a call from God to be the church, to worship, study and serve with others who likewise are looking to Jesus as the Author and Finisher of their faith (Hebrews 12.1).

Welcome home.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Romans 12.5, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Your First Love

It’s amazing what the human memory can retain and what it can’t.  

Some days, I can barely remember why I got up to go to the kitchen.  But I can remember the strangest minutiae that don’t matter in the least.

I remember when I was in kindergarten – kindergarten, almost 50 years ago! – I decided there was a girl in my class that I liked…a lot.

At our school, the kindergarteners had their own designated, smaller yard set aside for recess.  And at recess one day, I decided I would express to my classmate how I felt about her.  So I started chasing her around the yard, with the express intent of kissing her.

It seems she wanted no part in this, and it also seems she could run faster than I could, because I don’t recall that my lips ever reached her cheek (which was all I would have aimed for at such an age)!

I guess you could say that was my first love, requited though it was.

In Revelation 2.4, John records the ascended Lord Jesus’ words to the Ephesian church when he accuses them:  “You have forsaken the love you had at first” (NIV).

Jesus wasn’t talking about a love like my kindergarten attempt at romance.  He was talking about love for him, as well as love for their brothers and sisters in the faith.

In our culture, which applauds busyness, we can get so tied up in an activity for which we have passion that we forget the whole reason we do it in the first place.

We get so busy studying doctrine or defending our faith that we fail to love others well.

We get so busy advocating for some issue – poverty, climate change, social justice – that we fail to spend time with the Lord who gave us that passion in the first place.

We forsake our first love.

Let’s remember, whether we are studying God’s Word or supporting a cause, to love the Lord and his people first and foremost.

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22.37-40, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Antagonists in the church

Again this week, we had challenges with our equipment (but different ones!). We apologize for the quality of the video and audio, but hope that you are encouraged by this service, which includes a message from 3 John on how to deal with people who want to take charge and be antagonists in the church. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Getting naked

Earlier this week, a Canadian Member of Parliament “showed up” (if you’ll pardon the expression) in the virtual House of Commons – an online meeting of our nation’s legislators – without clothing.

He claims it was accidental, and I’m not going to judge that one way or the other.  You can read the news articles for yourself.

But it got me thinking about how God sees us.

We in western culture tend to like to dress to impress, and sometimes dress for the role we play, even if that means, in this age of online meetings, wearing something formal on top while wearing track pants (or less) on the bottom, which will not be seen (apparently, unless you’re that Member of Parliament!).

There was a time when church-goers would wear their “Sunday best”.  Whether that was because of societal pressure, common tradition, or because they believed that giving God their best in worship included their dress code, one cannot be certain.

Nowadays, the garb worn to church tends to be a combination of what’s comfortable and what’s acceptable.  If you’re limiting your worship attendance to online, you might be going to church in your pajamas, or in The Altogether!  And that’s okay.  Because while people may judge (though they shouldn’t), God does not – or so we surmise.

I think if there is one reason why we should not be too concerned with what people wear to worship (or wear, generally), it’s that God knows what we look like naked.  He sees all of us:  our beauty, our flaws, our inside and our outside.  And he is still head-over-heels in love with us.

When it comes to “dress to impress”, we don’t need to do that with our Creator.  He knows exactly what we look like without our suit from Rosen, our blouse from Laura, or our t-shirt from Walmart.  And he loves us.

So if you’re going to clothe yourself to impress God or anybody else, try this:  “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Peter 3.3-4, NLT).

Biblical Messages

God Calling

If you follow Jesus, you’re a gifted person. The Bible tells us in a number of places that every follower of Jesus has at least one special ability, given by God, to serve him in the church. These are called “spiritual gifts”. And today’s message is about one of the passages that shows some of the spiritual gifts. Maybe one or more of those is yours! The message is based on Ephesians 4.1-16. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that. If you’d like to participate in the spiritual gift seminar on Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 7:00 p.m., on Zoom, you can comment on this post with your email address, and I’ll send you the Zoom link, and the link to the spiritual gift inventory you’ll want to complete before attending.

Encouragement From The Word

You’re Gifted!

Picture this:  you have a friend whose birthday is coming up.  You decide on the perfect gift to give him or her.  You purchase it, wrap it up, and on your friend’s birthday, you hand it to him or her with a greeting and a smile.

Your friend thanks you for the gift, sets it down…and never opens it.

How would you feel?

Did you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus, God has given you at least one special gift by the Holy Spirit?  Yet, in reality, most of us never open them.

Knowing our spiritual gifts is vital to our proper functioning as part of the body of Christ, the church.  By knowing our gifts, we know how most effectively to serve the Lord in the edification of his church.

Lots of people burn out serving Jesus.  Sometimes – oftentimes, I think – it’s because we’re serving outside of our gifting.

When we know and use our spiritual gifts, we are able to function harmoniously in the perfect role God has planned for us in his church.

Do you wonder what your gifts are?

This Sunday, I’ll be talking about the importance of service in the church as an expression of our faith in the Lord, and I’ll be inviting participants to join me in a seminar on Zoom for unwrapping our spiritual gifts.

The seminar will be held on Thursday, March 18 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.  If you’d like to join me in that seminar, I invite you to comment, with your email address.  I’ll send you the Zoom link, and also a link to an inventory of your spiritual gifts that you will fill out before the seminar.  It would be good to see your face – unmasked, even!

If you do know your gifts, use them to the glory of God, and the edification of his church.  But if you don’t know your gifts, please feel free to join me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children” (Ephesians 4.11-14, NLT).

Biblical Messages

The Mission

How does God’s mission get accomplished? The apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Rome in the first century, gave a clear picture of what that looked like for him, and there are things we can learn from his experience as we seek to undertake the work of God in our time. Based on Romans 15.14-22, you can watch the entire worship broadcast below, or just the message below that.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Canoeing the Mountains

If you’re a church leader, especially a pastor, hands up if you’ve muttered in the past year, “They didn’t teach me this in seminary”?

For me, it became a mantra as the reality of the pandemic set in, along with the first round of lockdown, back in March of 2020.  Not long after that, I was given a copy of Canoeing the Mountains, and I thought it sufficiently intriguing that I would read it, if for no other reason than to give me a break from watching YouTube videos telling me how to do some of the things that seminary didn’t teach me.

The title itself beckons the reader to pick up this book.  Whoever heard of canoeing the mountains?

Exactly.  That’s why this book needed to be written, and why it needs to be read by Christian leaders, especially in these days.

The book is premised on the expedition of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery.  For us Canadians, that has an almost solely academic meaning, but to the average American, especially those living west of the Mississippi, the heart skips a veritable beat when these names arise.  They are woven into the fabric of American history in the years after the Revolution.

But this is not a history text.  I will admit, however, that as a Canadian, I learned more about the Lewis and Clark expedition in this Christian leadership book than I ever knew before.  Illustratively, Tod Bolsinger, a minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, makes masterful use of Lewis and Clark to help church leaders realize that what seminary prepared them for is not what they’re navigating today.

When Bolsinger wrote this, he did not anticipate a global pandemic that would change the face of the world – and the church – forever.  By God’s grace, the principles he writes about, while entirely applicable to pre-pandemic leadership, are going to be doubly applicable in mid- and post-pandemic leadership.

Leaning heavily on the writing of Edwin Friedman, particularly in A Failure of Nerve, Bolsinger applies, and demonstrates through the relation of personal experience, family systems theories to the process of change in the church.  

He makes good use of the research of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, noting that “Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb” (124).  I remember sharing that quotation and getting a prickly reaction, but I think there is some wisdom in it.  As Bolsinger later states, those people whom you disappointed at a rate they could absorb will later be your strongest allies.

This book is both a comfortable read and (in a sense) an uncomfortable read, well worth the time for anyone in Christian leadership.  I’m glad I took a break from tech-ed YouTube to read it!

Canoeing the Mountains:  Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger

(Downers Grove:  Inter-Varsity Press, 2015).  ISBN #978-0-8308-4126-4.

Musings, Uncategorized

Open for (God’s) business

The Session at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton decided today to open this Sunday, June 21.  This is the (edited) content of an email sent to the congregation tonight.

The building has been sanitized.  All materials have been removed from the seats in the worship space.  The lobby has been emptied of all furnishings except the small table next to the worship space doors.  With the exception of the main doors, the lobby, the upstairs washrooms and the worship space, the building has been cordoned off.

Hand sanitizer will be provided and its use will be mandatory as you enter the building.  If you choose to come – remember, nobody’s twisting your arm here! – and you are more comfortable wearing a mask, please bring one with you. We will have a few extras available in case you forget.

Here’s what will happen if you choose to come this Sunday at 10:

  • As you enter the parking lot, please try to avoid parking adjacent to another vehicle.If you must, then please ensure the occupants of the nearby vehicle are not exiting their vehicle at the same time as you.
  • All entry and exit will take place via the main doors that face King Road.All other entrances will be locked.  Upon arriving at the main doors, if others are nearby, please maintain a two-metre distance from them as you wait your turn to come in.
  • At the door, a masked elder (this Sunday, it will be Erma, in case the mask fools you) will write your name on a sheet of paper so that we can notify Public Health if for some reason we find anyone present is later diagnosed with Coronavirus.
  • You will be instructed to use hand sanitizer at this time.Please do not wear gloves; you will be asked to remove them.
  • Someone will escort you to a place to sit in the worship space.Households will be seated not less than two metres apart, staggered throughout the worship space.  If you have a preference for where you wish to sit, you can express that, recognizing that priority will be given to those arriving first.  You will be asked not to get up and move from the time you are seated until you are called on to depart the building.  If you think you might need to get up and use the washroom after you’ve been seated, please be sure to wear a mask.
  • Children are welcome to come, too.Individually packed take-home resource packages will be provided for smaller children to keep busy during worship.  There will be no children’s ministry of any other sort provided at this time for health reasons.
  • The worship gathering will follow much the same format as we’ve seen online, with acknowledgement of the people in the room.There will be two songs sung near the end.  If you are not comfortable with having people singing around you, it is recommended that you sit nearer the back.  (The science on singing and the spread of Coronavirus is somewhat conflicting; some say it is problematic, while others say that at a safe physical distance, it poses no threat.)  Paul Mason will be joining me to lead the singing.
  • When the gathering is over, you will be asked to leave as a household, with safe gaps between households as they depart.
  • If you want to share fellowship at a safe distance, it is recommended that you wear a mask, bring your own beverage (if desired), and stand in the parking lot to do so.The lobby will not be made available for fellowship during this stage of re-opening.

The gathering will be limited to not more than 54 persons, inclusive of volunteers and worship leaders.  So we’re asking that you indicate your intention to attend this Sunday if you plan to do so, by commenting below.  That way, if guests appear, we will know how many we can welcome.  It’s not like us to turn away anyone at the door, but under the current emergency regulations, we have no choice but to limit physical attendance.

We ask that if you feel unwell or have symptoms of Coronavirus, please stay home and watch the live-stream.  And if you are in a vulnerable category, that is, elderly, or with a pre-existing health condition that compromises your immune system, likewise, please stay home and watch the live-stream.  Furthermore, if you are not quite ready, whether emotionally or physically, to gather with others in worship, don’t feel that you must come because the doors are open.  As much as we all would like to see one another in person, your health is your top priority.  The live-stream broadcast will continue irrespective of the restrictions that may or may not be placed on public gatherings, so a worship experience will always be available to you online, as it has been for the past few months (and many months before that).

By opening for public worship this Sunday, we are offering an option for those who are ready and well enough to come together.  I have no doubt it will feel a bit weird, coming into a familiar place that in some ways will seem unfamiliar because of the situation we’re in.  But if you are physically and emotionally ready to gather together in God’s praise, this Sunday, we’ll be ready for you.  The flag will be out at the road to welcome you…and if you come early enough, weather permitting, I might be out at the road to welcome you, too!

Again, if you plan to attend this Sunday, please comment below.  Thanks!

May the Lord be with us as we take this step of faith.

Encouragement From The Word

Longing and Praying

Around the world, governments are starting to loosen restrictions from the Coronavirus pandemic.  I find this encouraging, and I view it with guarded optimism.

“Guarded”, I say, because we need to be careful.  We’ve never been down this road before, so just because we may have more freedom, for example, to go to the hardware store, doesn’t mean that the virus is dead and gone and will never return.  We will still need to practise procedures that will keep everyone healthy.

Like me, you may be longing – deeply! – to return to holding public worship gatherings, where we can praise the Lord together, instead of uniting by faith, separately, in our homes, watching modified services broadcast over the Internet.  We don’t know when the green light will be given for that.  And we will need to be wise in our roll-out of new practices and procedures that will allow us to be together safely.

In the midst of all that, let me encourage you to pray for the leaders of your church.  At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, where I serve, our elders have begun thinking about what will be permitted once gatherings are allowed once again.  We don’t know how the government of Ontario will roll out permission together, so we will have to abide by those guidelines, but as a witness to the goodness of God, we will err on the side of caution, because doing so demonstrates our love, and God’s love, for the community.

Let me also encourage you to pray for the people of your community.  Pray that they will be released from fear, while not being released from caution.  Pray that they will be given wisdom to retain the important habits and practices they have learned through this time of restriction.  And pray that people will see that only the gracious hand of God has permitted us all to get through this, and that they will want to respond in worship and praise, gathering with the church in celebration of God’s grace.

Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Notre Dame and Dofasco

Normally, on Good Friday, I write about the crucifixion.  And make no mistake: the fact that Jesus died is an important fact on which to meditate, and for which to give thanks in worship today.  (You can do so at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, at 10:00 a.m. if you are able!)

But a big event from last Monday prompts me to go in a different direction.

Last Monday, a serious fire occurred within Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.

The outpouring of emotion on social media was palpable.  To be sure, it is profoundly sad that this icon of religious architecture would be nearly destroyed by fire.  It appears that the structure may be saved, and French leaders, with large donations from wealthy people, are vowing to rebuild what has been lost.  (That in itself has caused no small amount of controversy.)

What I’m left wanting to ponder with you, though, is the reality that though a building may be destroyed, the church is not.

The church is not a building: the church is people.

Every time I say or hear that, I am reminded of a very old radio ad I used to hear as a child for Dofasco, a steel fabrication company in Hamilton, Ontario. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the commercial itself, but the tagline has stuck with me for well more than forty years:  “Our product is steel.  Our strength is people.”

The company knew that while they would be known for producing steel products (among those with which I’m best acquainted are the side frames for Canadian-built locomotives), they could not produce those steel products without the employees who make it happen – everyone from the people who heat the molten material to the people who sweep the floors to the people who keep the books in the office.

The same is true of the church – almost.

When we think of the church as bricks-and-mortar, we have only an imagined product.  A church building in and of itself is only a tool.  The building does not preach the gospel.  The building does not care for the sick.  The building does not feed the hungry.  The building does not advocate for justice.

It’s the people who do that.  We are the church.

So yes, be sad for the significant damage done to a magnificent church building which has stood for almost nine centuries as a testament to the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  But be resolved to be  the church.  Some of the most effective gatherings of God’s people in the world do not worship in an architectural masterpiece; some of them don’t even have a building to call their own.  And while people may be inspired by the incredible architecture of great church buildings (and there are many), let your inspiration be channeled into a deep and abiding faith in Jesus, who died and rose again for us, that we would be his hands and feet in the world – preaching the good news, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and advocating for justice.

When the church loses these characteristics, we ought indeed to mourn.

But you and I aren’t going to let that happen, right?  It doesn’t matter if we have a building or not:  we are  the church.

Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18.20, NLT).