Encouragement From The Word

Lessons from the Raptors’ parade

In case you’ve been otherwise occupied recently, I can tell you that the Toronto Raptors won the championship of the National Basketball Association last week, and that the city hosted a little party to celebrate the victory in downtown Toronto on Monday.

Oh, by the way: that little party had about two million people in attendance!

In some ways, the news about the victory parade from the Canadian National Exhibition grounds to Nathan Phillips Square (Toronto city hall) was a bigger story than the Raptors’ win itself.  Everybody expected a crowd, but nobody expected the size of crowd that appeared.

Sadly, there was some violence that marred the happy occasion, but thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I think there are a couple of lessons in this for the people of God.

One is that we should always be prepared.  In the wake of the parade and its many onlookers, the City of Toronto sought to learn from its mistakes and be ready for such a gathering if it ever were to happen again.

A maxim to which I’ve long subscribed is that the church will always receive as many guests as it is ready to receive.  So, for example, if a congregation is hosting a ‘big day’, such as Christmas, Easter, or an event to which the community is invited, it needs to be sure that it has sufficient priority parking spaces set aside for guests. It needs to have people prepared to be hospitable and welcoming to those who may be stepping inside the church building in fear and trepidation.  It needs to be prepared with the words that are used so that no ‘insider language’ is used, and people who may be unfamiliar with the church and its worship can fully understand what’s going on.

Another lesson for God’s people is to be aware that, as Jesus said, “The fields are already ripe for harvest” (John 4.35, NLT).  Many congregations struggle these days, but the aerial views of that parade last Monday were a reminder for churches everywhere – not just in Toronto – that there are still many people who have yet to be reached with the good news of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ.

That’s not to say that all the people attending that parade were not followers of Jesus; I know for a fact that some of them are!  But when we despair that the church is going to die for lack of attendance, we do well to be reminded that there are many people in our communities, large and small, who do not follow Jesus.  Our task from Jesus is to reach out to them in grace and humility with the truth of his love and mercy.

It’s God’s job to grow the church, but he yearns for willing partners in accomplishing that task.

So, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors!  And may the church of Jesus be ready to receive the many people who have holes in their souls and need the good news that only he can offer…through us.

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Encouragement From The Word

How and why

In a recent message, I cited a conversation that the great 19th century American evangelist, D.L. Moody, had with one of his critics.  His critic said to him, “I don’t like the way you share the gospel.”  So he inquired of his critic how she shared the gospel, and upon learning that she did not share her faith with anyone, Moody retorted, “I like the way I share the gospel better than the way you don’t share the gospel.”

It is our responsibility – indeed, our high calling – to share our faith in Jesus with other people.  How can you do that?  You can tell them what having a relationship with the Lord means to your life:

  • how it gives you strength when you are weak
  • how it gives you hope for the future
  • how it assures you of freedom from slavery to sin
  • how it promises you eternal life in the holy presence of God when you die
  • how it builds your character to be a better human being by God’s grace

And you need to say not only how, but why. In short, talk about John 3.16.

Live in such a way that people see the difference in you, and want to know more.  Then, be prepared to tell them more.

It has been widely believed that Francis Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”  There is no evidence that he actually said this, and frankly, I think he’d disavow it. If we are not prepared to use our words, how will our righteous living be understood?

If you don’t think you’d be very good at sharing the gospel ‘off the cuff’, then write it out.  Hold it before God as you do.  And share it with a Christian friend who can help you reflect on what you’ve written, and thereby help you learn what you’ve written, so you will be able to share it more freely in the future.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10.14, NLT).

 

Biblical Messages

Unbelievable!

When Jesus concluded his public ministry to the Jewish people (John 12.37-50), John remarked at how few people actually believed in Jesus, despite his presence, his words and his miracles.  This was to be expected, though, given the prophecy John noted at the beginning of the gospel (1.11) and that he quotes from Isaiah.  “Unbelievable” is what some people thought Jesus’ ministry was; but others knew better.  How can we share our faith story with others?  Learn that by watching below.  (The message itself starts at 30:53.)

Biblical Messages

Lessons from St. Patrick

Other than drinking green beer and going to parades, what’s the big deal about St. Patrick’s Day?  Traditionally, it’s a day for the Irish, and the Irish-for-a-day, to have a party.  But what did Patrick stand for?  What can followers of Jesus learn from him about their walk with the Lord?  Watch this video to find out.  Scriptures are Matthew 28.16-20 and Matthew 5.43-48.

In the message, I show a video that you can watch here.

Encouragement From The Word

Gentle influence

One of the delights of being on a pilgrimage that includes some people you don’t know is that you have the opportunity to get to know them while travelling. So one day, when someone I didn’t know was sitting across the aisle on the bus from me, I said, “Tell me a story.”

Among the things this young woman told me was how she got involved in the congregation in which she participates. Much to my delight, it was through the gentle influence of a mutual friend.

This friend would care for her children, and would invite the kids to sing Bible songs and learn Bible stories while in her care. And as time went on, and it seemed appropriate, she would make soft invitations – to church events, to fill Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, to come to Christmas services, then Easter services, and then, well, she got involved whole-hog!

A whole family came to know Jesus because of the kind words and simple invitations of a Christian who cared.

Think of the gentle influence you may have…and think of the people over whom you might have it!

…if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3.15b-16a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Return on investment

Because we get most of our bills sent electronically, and not many people share handwritten correspondence anymore, except on special occasions, we find that we don’t need to retrieve our mail from the post office more than once or twice a week.

Lately, though, our mailbox has been fuller than usual.  My wife is getting a lot of unsolicited mail – asking for money, of course – from unusual sources.

Yesterday, there was  a letter for her from an organization, and when she got home, she looked at it and said, “Someone is selling their mailing list.”

This happens to everybody who has a fixed address, though perhaps less often than usual, because direct mail campaigns seem to be less effective than they once were.

It got me thinking, though.  Because of privacy laws, fewer and fewer organizations are free to sell their mailing lists, but when they do, other groups will buy them because they hope, and maybe even expect, that they will recoup their investment through new donors. In other words, the cost involved in gaining more names will be exceeded by the results they will get from sending a campaign to those names.

When we share our faith, there is no money exchanged – I don’t think, anyway! – but there is a ‘return on investment’ side to it.  For many of us, talking about our relationship with God has a cost: uncomfortabliity.  Many of us find ourselves outside our comfort zones when we talk about Jesus with others. That’s why we don’t do it.

But consider the return on that investment: if we share our faith with others, and even one person says ‘yes’ to Jesus, what is gained from that act far exceeds the uncomfortability we may have had in sharing.

Think about that the next time you have the opportunity to open a door of faith for another person.  What you’re feeling is nothing when compared with the changed eternity for that person who may come to the Lord as a result.

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5.20, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Word of Mouth

If we don’t tell people about Jesus, how will they know?  That’s the thrust of this message, in which we look at why we don’t share our faith, and why we should.  You can watch or listen below to this message, based on John 4.39-42.  (The video shown near the beginning of the message can be viewed separately here.)