Uncategorized

No Boundaries

In this service of worship, we look at the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is found in Christ Jesus our Lord. It has many implications – watch and learn! It’s based on Romans 8.31-39. The whole service is below, and the message alone is below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Hype

I had a good conversation this week with a friend.  As happens in so many conversations these days, talk turned to the pandemic.  He told me about an acquaintance of his who lives his life in fear of the pandemic because of everything he has read on the Internet.

While there is no doubt that we should be vigilant and careful in these interesting times, I think embracing fear is not part of our mandate.  When we live paralyzed by fear, we are not really living.

This is why I encourage you to choose your information sources wisely, and even broadly.  It’s a natural human tendency to gravitate toward news sources that affirm what we already believe to be true.  In a time like this (pandemic or not), getting a broad spectrum of views helps widen our perspective on the situation, and helps loosen any grip that fear may have on us.

The reality is that even the health experts are flying in the dark without instruments right now, because none of us has ever faced this sort of pandemic before.  The fact that a global crisis has been made political in many places does not help.  It can be wildly confusing.

But all this is not confusing to God.  He has it all figured out; our job is to follow.  Don’t let yourself start walking in front of the One who holds all time and space in his hand.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
  Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3.5-6, NLT).

 

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

Masks

Where you live, this may have already been a reality, but where I live, today, a ‘mask rule’ has come into effect.  In all indoor public spaces, people are expected to wear some sort of face covering as a means of slowing or preventing the spread of Coronavirus.

My wife has kindly made me a mask that properly covers my fat, hairy face in a way that does the job and feels almost comfortable.  (The disposable ones made my face look like…well, never mind about that.)  Those who like to sew are getting very creative with patterns and materials, so that all of us, perhaps especially children, can try to have a little fun with what is otherwise not a very fun undertaking.

This got me thinking, though:  masks are really nothing new in our society.  It’s just that now, we can see them.

You know what I mean: people wear masks that cover up any number of things, even if it isn’t oral germs.  Maybe it’s uncanny, heavy makeup to avoid looking too young, or too old, or too vulnerable.  Maybe it’s a permanent smile to cover up the pain we feel inside.  Maybe it’s a face that betrays nothing, to keep people at a distance.  There are all kinds of scenarios that might exist, but make no mistake: most human beings are used to wearing masks.

Interestingly, these same masks are often placed between our true self and the God who made us.

This is a profoundly sad reality, because what we tend to forget is that God sees us as we are, knows us as we are, loves us as we are, and longs for us to be more like him.  Yet we tend to put our best ‘face’ forward with God, for any number of reasons.

Sometimes, we think God won’t accept us if we feel a certain way.  (Usually, this is because someone else won’t accept us that way, and we universalize the principle.)  Sometimes, we think we’re not allowed to ‘be real’ in God’s presence.  This tends to be a matter of culture or conditioning.

If we have an image of God as being like Santa Claus, for whom “you’d better not cry”, it gets stuck in our heads that God won’t accept any emotion except happiness, or, at best, ennui.  And that’s too bad, because if you take even a cursory glance through the Psalms, you’ll see every emotion known to the human race expressed before God.  What’s more, the people of Israel believed all these emotions to be so important, they enshrined these songs in their Scriptures!

In the Psalms, you’ll find joy, sadness, anger, lament, even a desire to see others die.  There are no masks in the Psalms.

And we don’t need them, either.  Except in cloth form, in indoor public spaces, for a season.  The good news is that we can still weep or laugh or gnash our teeth with that kind of mask on.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem” (Psalm 137.1, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Bumper Sticker Theology

In this worship gathering, we hear from Psalm 4 and Romans 5.1-11, as well as a moving testimony of God’s faithfulness in the life of one of our church members who has endured cancer in recent years and found God faithful. She was healed, too! If you want to know peace, you need to know God. That’s the thrust of this message. You can watch the whole service below, or just the message below that.

Apologies for the audio and editing troubles – there were a number of gaffes in today’s live-stream that we attempted to overcome in the editing suite, but to little avail. Thanks for your patience.

 

Encouragement From The Word

Purveyors of hope

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, even in the Old Testament, has always been big on hope.

A lot of people think that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is not the same God as the God portrayed in the New Testament, but even a cursory reading of the Bible suggests otherwise: the gracious, merciful God of the New Testament is also gracious and merciful in the Old Testament.  And he is the great purveyor of hope.

Consider the story of Abraham and Sarah.  When God promised that Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness, would become the father of many nations, it was hard to believe, but as far as he was concerned, a promise was a promise, and so he held out hope, because he believed in the God of hope.  And at age 90, Sarah became pregnant with her centenarian husband’s son – Isaac.

For what do you hope in these days?

A child, like Abraham and Sarah?

The healing of a loved one?

An end to the Coronavirus pandemic?

Put your hope in the God of miracles.  And remember, the church of Jesus is God’s instrument, today, in dispensing hope.

What are you doing to bring hope to the lives of others?

Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, ‘That’s how many descendants you will have!’  And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4.18-19, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Conquering Fear

Nelson Mandela once said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Well, I assume he said it, because, you know, I read it on the Internet.  If he didn’t say it, I’d be surprised, because it sounds like something he would have said.  (And don’t worry, I’m sure he meant it to apply to women, too.)

There is wisdom in those words.

Each of us has fear over something – maybe even every day.  But whatever the subject matter is, we all, from time to time, feel afraid.

To be sure, the current global pandemic has placed fear in a lot of people.  In some ways, I don’t blame them; the Coronavirus is an Unknown Entity in so many ways, and none of us – not even the experts – have been down this road before.  And as parts of the world and parts of our world begin to open, that may strike even more fear into some.

The good news for followers of Jesus is that conquering fear – that to which South Africa’s great freedom fighter commended us – is eminently doable, because we have the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.

In 1 John 4.16b-18, we read, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (NLT).

More often than not, I hear that read as the second-most-favourite Bible passage used at weddings.  But, like its first-place neighbour, 1 Corinthians 13, the context for the passage is not a wedding, even though each passage applies in that kind of setting.  Of course, its context also was not a global pandemic (unless you count sin as a global pandemic, and that’s certainly legit!).  But the principle fits.

Focus with me on one phrase:  “perfect love expels all fear.”  Perfect love is the love with which God loves us, the love that sent his only Son to the cross for us, the love that brought him back from the dead, the love that sent the Holy Spirit on his followers with tongues of fire.  That love, Christian friend, lives in you and me.  And that love expels all fear.

It’s easier to say than it is to live out, however.  Our minds easily get caught up in fear over any number of life situations.  But when we remind ourselves of God’s great love for us, and our desire to follow and serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit, he will cast out all fear.

Being rid of fear certainly shouldn’t rid us of caution.  Just because we’re called to live in love and not in fear doesn’t mean we should be stupid.  But it does mean we can rest in the confidence that God goes ahead of us in solving whatever dilemma causes us fear.

I have no idea if Mandela knew the Lord.  But the best way to conquer fear is to let him do it through the Holy Spirit.

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

Leisure: not what you think!

One of the things the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us is that our society, indeed the whole world that is influenced in any way by western culture, has been too busy.  Chances are, I don’t need to tell you that: it is more than likely evidenced in your own life, as it is in mine.

I read an article yesterday that was sent to me by a friend who is a monk in Pennsylvania.  It is entitled “Leisure in the Life of the Christian”, and appeared in The Catechetical Review, Issue No. 6.2.  In that article, the author, Simone Rizkallah, a Roman Catholic lay worker, wrote about the meaning of leisure.  She quotes Josef Pieper’s book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, wherein he writes that leisure is a “mental and spiritual attitude, a condition of the soul, an inward calm, of silence, of not being ‘busy’ and letting things happen.”

Since we tend to define leisure as the things we do when we are not working, this might seem like an apt definition by our standards.  But, if you dig deeper, there is far more to it than that.  Rizkallah suggests, echoing Pieper, that leisure is not the ancillary activity we undertake when we’re not doing the ‘main thing’ of life – working – but is intended to be the centre of life.

Talk about countercultural!

That doesn’t mean that our work is unimportant; quite the opposite.  But our work does not, and should not, define us.  (By implication, therefore, our lack of work ought not to define us, either – a word of grace for those who are currently unemployed!)  But we have tended, in our culture, to see leisure as entirely secondary to our work.  Indeed, as followers of Jesus, our true work is actually the practice of prayer and faith.  As Rizkallah writes, “without the silence, space, and time for the cultivation of leisure, I cannot pray well.  I cannot wait well.  And then I may not be in a prime position to recognize ‘when and how’ [God] arrives.”

I’m a big fan of etymology, the study of word meanings.  I’ve been fascinated by it for a long time.  The article I read noted that sloth is actually quite contrary to leisure:  “Slothful people are idle, restless, agitated, and often workaholics.  They are spiritually lazy and easily bored.”

Yikes.  Not quite the same definition as we have given it over time, eh?

Again, echoing Pieper, Rizkallah notes that the word ‘leisure’ in its Greek and Latin roots actually translates – virtually transliterates – to the word ‘school’.  Now, I don’t know many students who think school is leisurely, at least by our culture’s definition of leisure, but it’s where the notion of the liberal arts came from:  “[e]ducation was for the sake of (human) freedom, perfection, and salvation; not for the sake of work.  It seems while the West has largely forgotten this connection, its enemies have not forgotten.  For example, the terrorist group of Nigeria, Boko Haram (which means “Western Education is forbidden”), is one such example.

One more etymological gem:  the root of the word ‘culture’ is ‘cult’, which refers to worship.  Cult doesn’t have the same meaning in North America, where we see it as a hardline religious or ideological group that expects abject obedience from its adherents.  (There is an exception:  French-speaking churches in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada will still refer to their worship gatherings as la culte.)

So if leisure is the basis of culture, then leisure is the basis of worship, at least in one sense.  But what do we worship?  Money?  That breeds materialism, which focuses on the economy rather than on human dignity.  Power?  That leads to a culture that political and even violent, says Rizkallah.  Honour?  We’ll be centred on vanity.  Pleasure?  We’re headed for hedonism.  But if our culture centres on the worship of God, that’s revolutionary.

I say all this to suggest that perhaps this season wherein we have far fewer options to entertain us might be an invitation from the Lord to reframe how we see our lives, and how we contribute to the culture around us.

Are you spending more time in worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, even though we can’t yet gather together to do so?  Are you spending more time in service to others in Jesus’ name, aiding the vulnerable and the needy?

Or are you hankering for things to get back to ‘normal’, so you can crowd out the opportunity to face these challenging questions with more busyness?

Spend some time pondering that today, while you still have the opportunity.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4.21-24, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Hope and service

One of the things that our world’s current situation has shown us is that the church can still be the church, even when we cannot gather.

Chances are, we don’t like it – I know I would rather worship God with the people I love each Lord’s Day – but that doesn’t mean we cease to be the church through this time.

As I’ve heard and often repeated over the last couple of months, we may not be able to be the church gathered right now, but we can be the church scattered.

Each of us, individually and as households, can praise God together each Sunday (with whatever online connections we have with our church families) and every day (through personal and family devotional times).  And we can act on what we read and hear from God’s Word in the various ways for which the Lord may open doors, whether that be helping the needy; continuing to work in an essential service; praying for the sick, the lonely and the unemployed; getting groceries and needful things for vulnerable people who should not be going out in public right now; or keeping an eye on our neighbours.

We can also share our hope in Jesus with anyone with whom we might have the opportunity to converse.

Our witness is made even more strong when we couple some act of service with sharing our hope.

What can you do in these days that will bear witness to our hope in Jesus?

[I]f someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3.15b, NLT).

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

Optimism, Hope, Opportunity

I’ve always thought of May as a month of optimism.  “April showers bring May flowers,” the saying goes, and though that’s not in the Bible, it’s a pretty accurate reflection of reality, at least in Canada.

I haven’t checked the meteorological statistics for April, but even if it wasn’t as rainy as some Aprils have been, it certainly carried a cloudy atmosphere, didn’t it?  None of us has marked down the days of April as we all did this year.  And we are all hopeful that as the rainfall of April brings May’s promised verdancy, so too will April’s air of gloom from the Coronavirus pandemic will bring some hope of emancipation in May.

We live in hope.  That’s good for followers of Jesus, because hope is our commodity.

Buds on the trees and bright yellow flowers on the forsythia bushes signify our hope that summer is coming.  Being meticulous about avoiding the spread of germs, and seeing “the curve” slowly flatten, signify our hope that freedom to congregate again is coming.

While I’ve always thought of May as a month of optimism, I’m not sure I’ve paid quite the same degree of attention to the signs of spring before; perhaps it indicates that I am more eagerly waiting in anticipation of what God may do with our world in the coming weeks.

Each spring brings change to the landscape.  This spring has brought change to the way we live our lives, whether we like it or not.  And with change comes opportunity.

We can choose to find good in this season of restraint that will benefit our lives when we approach the “new normal”, for there will be no going back to the “old normal”.  We can choose new, edifying habits; intentional rest; even loving people we might have taken for granted.

May is a month of optimism, hope, and opportunity – perhaps no more so than this year.  The choice is ours.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” – Ecclesiastes 3.11, NLT.

Encouragement From The Word

Cauterized emotions

Perhaps, like me, you are finding that some people are equating physical distancing with emotional distancing.  And that’s a pity.

While it’s true that we need to keep our distance except among those with whom we live, that doesn’t mean we can’t exchange pleasantries with people we pass.

I live in a small community that has grown exponentially since we moved here almost 12 years ago.  I don’t mind growth; I think it can be good for a town to experience growth, and I certainly think it can be both a blessing and a challenge to the church when it does.  But since moving here, I have always spoken to, or at least smiled at, every person I’ve walked past on the sidewalk or on the streets where I walk.  I think it’s the neighbourly thing to do.

One of the things I’ve noticed in the past few weeks is that people are so concerned about Coronavirus that some are even avoiding eye contact, as if that somehow communicates the virus.

We can’t let the need for physical distancing cauterize our emotions.

Sure, we can’t hug people who don’t live under our roof right now, and as a hugger, that pains me.  But we can still be nice.

My wife was waiting, briefly, to go into a store earlier this week, and at the appropriate distance, she struck up a conversation with the attendant who was controlling the entrance.  This is an uncomfortable time for all of us, but why not remain human, and pleasant, in the process?

It may be a small and simple way you can communicate Jesus’ love in a season where there just might be more openness to it.

Praise the Lord, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love.  He has kept me safe when my city was under attack” (Psalm 31.21, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Brightness in dark days

Today’s Encouragement From the Word is a guest post from a long-time friend of mine, Dawn Champagne, with whom I went to high school.  Her poetry has shown up here before. The prayer in the image at the end is hers, too.  Thanks for the inspiration, Dawn!  – Jeff+

That second day between the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus must have been the darkest day ever experienced by the 11 remaining disciples. When Jesus had called each one of them to “follow Me,” they did so without hesitation. They readily left their careers, and eagerly listened to His teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven and how it was at hand.

How could they make sense of what they had just witnessed the day before as Jesus hung on that cross, and now dead in the tomb. While we know what occurred on the third day, they did not: all of their ambitions, hopes, and dreams were buried in that tomb as well.

The crisis was now over, and they were left alone. How could they make any sense of what happened, with no hope for the future that they had been taught about? 

When the third day dawned, their grief was changed from sorrow to rejoicing when they found the tomb empty. What a wonderful day of rejoicing that must have been as Jesus began to present Himself to them! A pondering inexpressible joy that cannot be put into words! 

We live in a world of what now seems to be in a season of dark days and turmoil with COVID-19 adding to the tears that flow from those who are suffering. Unlike what the disciples experienced on that second day, praise God, the Christian has been given the ultimate hope at the opposite end of the spectrum as we go through these difficult times. Jesus is alive! 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ whom having not seen you love” 1 Peter 1.3, 6, 8a (NKJV).

Below are words given to me as the Holy Spirit ministered to me in a time of need following a difficult season in the fall of 2016. Praying they will minister to you as well through these uncertain times, and May Jesus be the Brightest Ray on your darkest of days! 

Wishing you all a blessed Easter!

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Encouragement From The Word

Symbols of hope

Perhaps you’ve been walking in your neighbourhood more often lately.  I know I have.  And if so, you’ve probably seen various neighbours’ windows decorated with rainbows.

I went to the all-knowing Google the other day and typed in, “Why are people putting rainbows in their windows”, only to discover mid-search that I’m not the first person to ‘Google’ that question.

It turns out that this trend started in Italy, accompanied by the phrase, andra tutto benne – everything will be alright – when the Coronavirus problem got serious in that country.  And it spread across many countries in the western world, including here in Canada.

Some Christians may be uncomfortable placing rainbows in their windows these days, because of the fear of misunderstanding: a certain demographic some time ago decided to appropriate a variant of the rainbow as its primary symbol, and not everybody understands the difference.

For followers of Jesus, of course, the rainbow is a sign of God’s promise never to destroy the earth again by flood.  It’s a sign of hope.  Indeed, ultimately, everything will be alright.

But if you want to try something different, why not do so?  Some of my social media friends decided to create stained glass Christian images in their windows using masking tape and paint that can later be removed.

With today being Good Friday, and Easter being around the corner, we could use images like the empty cross, or the heart, or even the anchor.  We can even use words, provided they are painted (or printed out) large enough for passersby to see.

Many of our neighbours are hurting and lonely.  A lot of people are looking for hope, looking for something stable to which they may cling in this season of uncertainty.  Consider using your front window as a witness.  When this is all over, who knows what seeds God may have planted in people, through our silent witness, to draw them to him who is unchanging?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13.8, NLT).

By the way, if you don’t have an online church ‘home’, feel free to watch our live-streaming of worship on Good Friday, and on Easter Sunday, at 10:00 a.m.  You don’t need an account to watch at http://www.facebook.com/stpaulsnobleton.  You can watch later at http://www.stpaulsnobleton.ca/sermons.

Encouragement From The Word

Praying together when we can’t be together

When our church’s leaders met on Tuesday (electronically, of course), one of them shared a good idea that I want to share with you.

It’s hard for us to pray in each other’s presence right now.  In times of crisis, one of the church’s greatest and most powerful and encouraging tools is corporate prayer.  But we can’t get together to pray in these days.  It’s just not safe.

It’s possible to have online prayer meetings, and they can be valuable.  But we can also pray, on our own, in our homes (or at work, if we are deemed essential services).

The elder I mentioned above shared with me an email from the Yonge Street Mission that expressed ways that the church can pray.  I’m going to adapt its suggestions as ways that we can pray together, even though we are apart:

  • Pray for peace to reign in our communities. In place of panic and fear, ask the Lord to fill our villages, towns and cities with compassion and grace.
  • Pray for people who will be most impacted by service interruptions, such as access to meals, food banks, fellowship groups, and those who cannot connect with community online because they do not use the Internet.
  • Pray for people whose employment is affected by this crisis – those who have lost their jobs permanently or temporarily, those who are deep in debt, as well as those whose work demands have ramped up or become more dangerous because of Coronavirus. Pray especially for those on the front lines of medical care, and those in essential services.
  • Pray for people who struggle with isolation, especially those who live alone and those who depend on regular visits from friends or loved ones.

As you pray, ask the Lord how he can use you to make someone’s situation better, whether through a phone call or an email, leaving a few needed groceries on their front porch, or sending a card of encouragement.

And pray in faith.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).

By the way, if you don’t have an online church home in these days, you are welcome to join the online community with St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on Facebook Live, or for replay anytime on our YouTube channel.

Encouragement From The Word

The gift of Sabbath

That our current social situation has occurred in the season of Lent is no small irony to me.  For many, though not all, Christians, Lent is a season for sacrifice and penitence, often symbolized by “giving something up” for these forty days.

And globally, we’ve been forced to give up quite a lot!

While many are still working, either from home or as those engaged in what are deemed essential services, one thing that has been taken from us is ordinary social engagement.

We who are introverts may be saying, “I was made for this!”, but with perhaps a few exceptions, even we who gain energy by being alone are finding this time particularly trying.  It’s as if being told we can’t do something makes us want to do it anyway.

I haven’t left town for a week now, but as I look at photos online, the streets and highways are nearly empty.  Malls are closed.  Restaurants, save for take-out and delivery, are abandoned.  Sports and concert venues are now echo chambers.  It’s kind of eerie.

Amid all this, though, we are hearing reports that air quality in many densely populated cities is improving.  Water quality is changing for the better.  The world appears to be healing in ways it never would have without the spread of Coronavirus.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that Coronavirus is a good thing; not at all!  But if there can be any good seen coming from it, the environment may be it.  But there’s more.

When God made the world, the Genesis account says that he made it in six days, and rested on the seventh.  Even in creation, there was Sabbath.

But our society, especially over the past 75 years, has been on a steep trajectory away from Sabbath.  Businesses flourished, stores opened on Sunday, and busyness was considered a badge of honour.

Now, we’ve been placed in a position where, for the most part, Sabbath is not optional.  We can’t go out with others.  We can’t go to concerts.  We can’t take our kids to their hockey practices.  We’re stuck…with the people with whom we live, be it family or friends or even strangers.

It’s like we’re being forced to stop and breathe.  And that’s a good thing.

We don’t know how long this season of restraint will continue, but perhaps a good question for us to consider is this:  will we learn something from it?

Certainly, this time is a gift to our immediate families (however they may be defined economically – that is, by household) as we are given the gift of time to reconnect with them.  It’s also a gift of time wherein we may reconnect with God.

In times like this, people who might otherwise have not given any thought to the Divine are turning the thoughts and hearts toward God – the God who made the world and rested.

This is a time of Sabbath.  Embrace it.  Rest with your family, rest in the Lord.

And carry that into your future, whatever it may hold, when we are free to resume whatever may be called ‘normal’.  Let it be a new normal – if not for others, at least for you.

…enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day” (Isaiah 58.13b, NLT).

By the way, if you don’t have an online church home in these days, you are welcome to join the online community with St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on Facebook Live, or for replay anytime on our YouTube channel.