Biblical Messages

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In this message from Romans 3.1-8, we see that some of the Jewish Christians in the Roman church had a whopper of an excuse for their sin!  Do you ever make excuses for sin?  Watch this to find out why that’s not such a great idea.

The first video is the entire worship broadcast, and the second is just the message.

 

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).