Encouragement From The Word

A 100% certainty

Earlier this week, I saw a tweet from a fellow named Dustin Benge that put a lot of wisdom in a few words.  He said:

There is a 0.0296% chance that your child will become a professional athlete.

There is a 0.0086% chance that your child will become a famous celebrity.

There is a 100% certainty that your child will stand before Jesus.

What are you teaching your children?

Even if you’re past the stage of parenting, or are not a parent, there is still helpful instruction in that short tweet.

Each of us has a measure of influence over some children, whether of our own family, our church family, or our neighbourhood.  We have an opportunity in each interaction to have an influence.  Are we taking advantage of that opportunity?

It can be through our use of words, our actions, even our gestures.  What are we saying to the kids with whom we have contact?

No matter what or who they become as adults, there is a 100% certainty that they will stand before Jesus one day.  And you might be the conduit through whom they come to know him as Lord and Saviour.

Think about that as you engage with kids of any age.

Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127.3a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Stropping your faith

I spent part of Labour Day learning something new.  I love learning new things.

This week, it was learning how to strop.

Not “stop” – it wasn’t a typo – “strop”.

In recent years, I have amassed a modest collection of pocket knives.  Having a knife in my pocket is a handy thing, especially with the uncanny number of Amazon boxes that have shown up on my doorstep during the pandemic.

It’s also handy when there’s cheesecake.  You never know when that might present itself.

But if one is going to have a pocket knife or two, one must also learn how to maintain them, and part of knife maintenance involves sharpening.

However, if I sharpened my knife every time I used it, before long, there’d be no steel left to cut with. 

That’s why I’m learning how to strop.  It involves infusing a piece of leather with a compound that I then rub my knife on.  (If you were ever in a barber shop when you were young, and saw a chunk of leather hanging from the barber’s chair, that’s what he used to keep his straight razor keen between uses.)

Stropping a knife allows me to hone the edge without sharpening it.  It’s sort of like a mini-sharpening between sharpenings.  It keeps the knife useful, and safe…because a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, whether you’re cutting packing boxes or chicken legs.

This has parallels with our faith life.  Let’s say that coming to worship, confessing your sin, hearing the Word, and listening to the preaching is like sharpening your walk with the Lord.

But between Sundays, you can keep your walk with God ‘on edge’, as it were, by ‘stropping’ your faith.  You do this through participation in a small group, through the daily reading of Scripture, through prayer, through acts of justice and kindness done in Jesus’ name and power.

If ever your faith feels dull, you can strop your faith between sharpenings, and find that your faith is quickened, built up, and ready for engagement.  If you’re not doing that now, give it a try in the coming days.  You won’t regret it.

Using a dull ax requires great strength,
    so sharpen the blade.
That’s the value of wisdom;
    it helps you succeed” (Ecclesiastes 10.10, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Don’t give up

The western pull-out from Afghanistan has been heart-wrenching to watch on television.  As I mentioned last week, the resurgence of the Taliban has placed many people at risk, especially women and Christians.  For the Americans, the way this is playing out is very reminiscent of their time in Vietnam.

Canadian forces are saying that they wish they could have stayed.  But the Big Fish in the Pond has decided that the multinational effort is over.  It’s like they have given up, in some ways, though I’m certain this is an oversimplification.

Have you ever put effort into something – say, a friendship – and found it an uphill battle?  It’s common for us to give up when we’re not making any progress.

This is especially true when we are seeking to encourage someone to embrace faith in Christ.

We might find ourselves getting blocked every time we try to “go there” in terms of spiritual conversation.  But let me encourage you not to give up.

To use another battle image, consider the speech given by Prime Minister Churchill to the British Parliament in 1940, in the midst of the ugliness of World War 2.  It is one of the most inspiring speeches ever given!  Quite near the end, Churchill tells his fellow parliamentarians, and the world:  “…we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”.

When you’re sharing your faith, like on the battle fields, it’s a matter of life and death. Don’t give up.  Never surrender.  Even when you get pushback, be loving and respectful, but continue to witness to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in your life.  

For your friend, eternity is in the balance.

But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke.’  We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.  All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4.13-18, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Healing In His Wings

As we conclude our series on the Old Testament book of the prophet Malachi, we learn that there is a reference that will remind us, of all things, of Christmas! You’ll find that the message from Malachi 3.16-4.6 is both a challenge to those who are far from God and an encouragement to those who follow and obey the Lord. You can watch the message alone below, or the whole worship gathering below that.

Biblical Messages

No Respect

In this worship gathering, we begin a series on the book of Malachi. (There is an introductory video I’ve put on YouTube that you can check out for an overview.) In chapter 1, we learn about how the people of God have let their passion for him wane. In the message, we learn how to avoid that in our time. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

No pockets

A friend of mine relayed a story recently about Ray Stedman, a well-known American pastor from the 20th century.  He had flown to a speaking engagement (remember the good old days, when people actually flew places?), and the airline lost his luggage (we don’t miss that part!).  In that culture, preachers didn’t get up to speak without wearing a suit – and he didn’t have one, thanks to the airline.

Stedman asked his host what could be done, and the host pastor said he would arrange to get Stedman a suit in which to preach the next morning, making note of his measurements.

When the suit was delivered to the hotel, Stedman dressed, and tried to put his wallet in a pocket.  Much to his amazement, he realized the suit had no pockets in the jacket or even in the pants!

He mentioned this to his host pastor, who quickly admitted that the suit had been acquired from a local funeral home!

This was a suitable reminder for Stedman, as for us, that ‘you can’t take it with you.’

I’m often amazed at the stories I hear – and sometimes witness – about people wanting to be buried with some sort of treasure that mattered to them, whether money or things.  But they will do us no good in the afterlife. The only thing we can bring with us when we die, that will do any good, is faith.

As we are reminded when we sing the old hymn by Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling!”

So rather than filling our proverbial barns and buying more when they are full, we can invest in opportunities that will enable more people to carry faith into the afterlife.  The dividends paid by that will last for eternity.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6.19-21, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Faith: Habit or Hobby?

Many people in the world – even some church-going people, even some people who have professed faith in Jesus – treat their faith as an add-on, an option among many other options. Yet to be disciples of Jesus, we need to treat our faith as a habit, not a hobby. That’s the theme of today’s message, based on Colossians 3.1-17. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to use the comment section below!

Encouragement From The Word

Remembering to lament

Perhaps, like me, you are finding the restrictions of the pandemic, at least here in Ontario, wearying.  Even with the promise that vaccines are rolling out, we get the sense that the process is slow.  Even with the entertainment we have received over the past days, weeks and months from our neighbours south of the border, there is a feeling that so much of life has become elegiac – lamentable, in a sense.

And we have a problem:  our culture has largely lost the ability to lament.

Most of the music we hear nowadays, at least popularly, is meant to be positive, even to hype us up.  But there are occasions when we need artistic expression of other emotions to help us induce the feelings that need to be manifested.

As I write this, I am listening to a piece of music that, for me, evokes lament – the Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, arranged for organ.  Not exactly a top 40 hit. 

But I find listening to certain pieces of music will conjure the emotion that is pent up inside.

So do the Scriptures.

Not all Bible passages, in or out of context, are meant to be “keep your chin up” texts; in both the stories and the songs of the Bible, there are laments.  We find few, if any, of them paraphrased in the CCLI Top 150.

Of course, there is a whole book seemingly devoted to lament; we call it “Lamentations.”  But there are many other examples in Scripture.  Several of them are in the Psalms – and there are even different types of laments found there.

When we think of the Psalms, our minds likely move toward “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23) or “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121), since these are words of comfort.  Yet the beloved Psalter contains numerous laments; feel free to look them up after you’re done reading this.

But for now, consider Psalm 38.  Read it over a few times, slowly, paying attention to your breathing as you do.  Perhaps the Lord will highlight a particular word or phrase, as he did for me.  Yours may be different from mine, as mine is different from another’s; God uses his Word to speak to our hearts and minister to us where we have need.

O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.

13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
    or rejoice at my downfall.”

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
    facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
    I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
    they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
    and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
    Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
    O Lord my savior.  (NLT)

When David first wrote, or sang, this, he was acknowledging the pain in his heart.  You can do the same as you read it.  And as you acknowledge your pain, remember that the Lord is your Saviour; he will come to help you.  He came to help David, and he has come to help me.

Biblical Messages

But Some Shut It

We had some audio issues with our live-stream this morning, so when I learned this, I went back to the church to re-record today’s message, which I think needs to be heard (and I address this at the beginning). It’s based on Romans 10.16-21, and it looks at why some people say ‘no’ to Jesus when we seek to share our faith with them. (Apologies that the whole service broadcast is not available today.)

Biblical Messages

Not Chosen

In this service (the first part of which is, unfortunately, cut off due to an audio issue), we hear a message from Romans 9.17-29 that is a difficult word about the corollary of being chosen by God. If God chooses whom he will save, can he also choose whom he will not save? That’s what we explore in the message in this gathering. The message by itself can be viewed in the video below this one.

This aspect of the sovereignty of God can be hard for us to understand. If you have questions, please post a comment, and I’ll do my best to reply.

Biblical Messages

Chosen

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Romans 9.1-16 entitled “Chosen”, where we explore what it means that we are chosen by God, and how that affects our efforts at sharing our faith with others, including people of other faiths. We see the passion with which the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome, and us, about the people of his own ethnic heritage. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Embrace and Nurture

Earlier this month, my wife and I did some camping in northern Ontario.  On the first evening, we were late arriving because we were detoured away from an accident on Highway 400.  (Unlike Highway 11, some of the interchanges on the 400 extension are just for dead-end cottage roads, so we ended up adding about 3 hours to our trip.)

I was setting up the camper van, plugging into the electricity and water, and the chap at the adjoining campsite was inspecting the front of his trailer.  Just trying to be a friendly camper, I made a compliment about his trailer, and he started telling me quite a bit of his life story.

I’ll spare you the details, but one part of his story struck me.  He was telling me about the business he is going to start when he moves, and said, “I was raised an evangelical Christian…” and proceeded to disparage his upbringing.

My heart ached as I completed that conversation so I could cook supper, not only for him, but because I know there are others who have a similar story to tell.

In some ways, in recent years, it has become trendy to walk away from one’s spiritual roots, but it is especially poignant when those spiritual roots are in the historic, apostolic, biblically-based expressions of Christianity.

The reality is that no church is perfect, and most churches have made assumptions about how well-equipped parents are to raise their children to know and love and serve Jesus.  They’ve let down their families.  But every church that roots itself in the basics of Christian faith seeks to do its best to see its children grow in Christ.  And when that doesn’t happen, the church mourns.  It should mourn.  And God’s heart breaks.

My fellow camper ideally would have held on to his faith roots, but he didn’t.  I don’t know the reasons.  But whatever your role in your local church, do all you can to disciple the children in your midst, starting with your own.  Equip them, and their parents, to embrace and nurture faith in Jesus in a world that is doing its best to do the opposite.  And leave the rest to God.

[Y]ou must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6.6-7, 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.