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.

 

 

Biblical Messages

Off to Faith we go…

We commonly see #blessed on our social media feeds, but what does that really mean?  That’s part of what we’ll learn in our time together in Romans 4.1-8.  The big idea here is that we are blessed not because we have earned righteousness, but because it is given to us.  Abraham is used as the example by the apostle Paul in this passage.

We can’t earn our salvation.  It has to be given to us.  And when we receive that which is given, we are truly #blessed!

Watch the whole broadcast below, or just the message portion below that.

 

 

Encouragement From The Word

Being Somebody

Regular readers of Encouragement From the Word know that I ordinarily end my thought with Scripture.  This week, though, I’m going to start there instead.  Read this through a couple of times, slowly.

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

“Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.  And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.  There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3.23-29, NLT).

The context around the letter to the Galatians is that doctrinal troubles had arisen in churches there, due to the influence of what were called “Judaizers” – followers of Jesus who believed that in order to become Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike had to follow Jewish rituals.  The apostle Paul wrote this letter to disabuse the churches of Galatia of the notion that they had to follow certain rituals in order to be welcomed into the family of faith in Jesus.

In our context, it has any number of applications that I won’t bother to list here.  But I will say this:  so often, we find ourselves wanting to be significant, wanting to be ‘somebody’, and we uplift ourselves at the expense of others.  We’ve seen examples of this at both opposite extremes in the news recently.

Ultimately, though, if you want to be somebody, live by faith in Jesus.

Now, read that passage one more time.

Biblical Messages

Not Ashamed

This online worship gathering focused on Romans 1.8-17, in which the apostle Paul states that he is not ashamed of God’s good news – and neither should we be!  The message is quite near the beginning, starting at 6:15, so you can run from the start if you wish, or if you just want to watch the message, you can click here.

I’m a little ashamed of the technology, though!  My Mevo camera quit part-way through the message, but thankfully, I was also broadcasting it on a phone, so I have it as a backup – so I have spliced in Valerie’s excellent Scripture reading, Paul’s great piano postlude, and the part of the message that was unceremoniously cut off by the better camera.  So I apologize for the variations in audio and video quality.  Everything is there, however!

I still have a lot of learning to do in the tech department.

 

Biblical Messages

Believe and Obey

In this brief worship time, we hear a message from Romans 1.1-7 entitled, “Believe and Obey”, an introduction to a series we’re starting on the book of Romans. (You may notice a reference in the message to an apology for the Scripture reader; when this was live, the audio for the reading did not work, but we spliced in the reading so you could see and hear her read it.) Next week, we hope to be able to live-stream directly to YouTube! Lots of tech to learn….

The message begins at the 10:00 mark.  The introduction to Romans that I mention in the message can be found here.

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

Toilet paper fear

Okay, what’s with the run on toilet paper, people?

Honestly, I can’t wrap my head around this one.  Apparently, scientists are not suggesting that ‘the runs’ are part of Coronavirus.  Perhaps people are afraid of being quarantined in their homes, and fear running out of essentials.  (The good news for me is that most people, apparently, do not consider bacon an essential.)  And besides, when one can’t get out of the house, there are online vendors who will cheerfully drop necessities on your doorstep!

The sense of fear among many people around Coronavirus is unprecedented.  Almost 20 years ago, when SARS was running rampant, there wasn’t this kind of trouble finding things like toilet paper.

The SARS phenomenon occurred a long time ago, and social media as we know it today didn’t exist.  I suspect that it may be playing a role.

Until the last few days, I was <ahem> poo-pooing the whole matter.  But then the World Health Organization declared that Coronavirus is a pandemic.  Flights are being cancelled.  School is being delayed in some places.  Professional sports are postponing their seasons indefinitely.

This is a serious matter – more serious than I was initially prepared to believe.  People are getting very sick, and some are dying from Coronavirus.  And it’s important to take precautions, but for most of us, these precautions are normal precautions:  handwashing, for example…and staying home if you are sick with any communicable illness.

Coronavirus is not the end of the world.  In my opinion, we should not be cancelling our worship gatherings, nor most of our regular activities, because of this concern, provided we take careful precautions.  We should expect people to be responsible adults and avoid public interaction if they are ill, and to wash their hands often to avoid communicating any kind of illness to others.  I’ll admit that this may be unusually optimistic, and I’ll certainly be monitoring the matter in my own congregation and life.

It’s wise to avoid hoarding things like soap and hand sanitizer, since we all need such substances in order to maintain public health.

And we should trust the Lord to be our Protector.  This does not absolve us of our responsibilities, but it should free us from captivity to fear.  And I think fear is a big deal right now…maybe even a bigger deal than Coronavirus.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1.7, NLT).

Musings

My Favourite Centenarian

I received word this evening of the death of my favourite centenarian.  She was a friend, a counsellor, and a true Barnabas, a real encourager.  And she was my honorary grandmother.

I met Eleanor when she was but a young thing, aged 77.  She was a member of the search team that called me to a congregation I served.  At the time I was being interviewed, she was simply another member of that team.  But when my call was processed, she was part of the group that came to support the call.  After the call was sustained, I escorted the group out of the church where we were meeting, and she said to me, “I’d like to be a grandma to you if that’s okay.”

I readily accepted.

Little did I know how much I would come to appreciate her wisdom, her faith and faithfulness, and even just her presence.  She had a spiritual gift of hospitality that manifested itself in countless ways, not least of which were leading and hosting two small groups for the church, and welcoming her Pastor at anytime of the day or night, with the promise of being able to put up my feet, sip on a wee dram, and share what was going on – good or bad.

She was a faithful member of the Session (the elders’ board) during my entire tenure, and always had a wise word to offer to whatever issue was being deliberated.

When the Lord led my wife and me to serve another church, and our house sold and closed the day before my last Sunday, Eleanor put us up for the night before my final service.  We have kept in touch ever since.  In more recent years, our keeping in touch has been limited to telephone calls, usually on her birthday or mine, since they are a day apart (plus a few years!).

I spoke with her on my birthday, not quite two months ago.  I was not surprised I could not reach her on her birthday, since I expected she was being well feted by her caring family, for one who turns one hundred years old ought to be celebrated!  And she wisely went to bed early that night.

I have always wished that the Lord would bless every church I served with an Eleanor.  In fact, I wish that every church ‘period’ would have an Eleanor, for every pastor and every church need people who will provide calm wisdom, a loving smile, and an open door.

Eleanor provided all that, and more.  I will miss her.

I am teary for me, and for her close family and friends.  But I am not sad for her.  For though she has seen ‘through a glass darkly’ as the old King James put it, now she sees ‘face to face’.  The Lord Jesus, whom she served so well, has welcomed her to her eternal home.

As they say good-bye to Eleanor, her family will sing a song that probably is not often sung at funerals.  It is a song that I introduced to the church in which we were co-labourers, and one that she so loved that I remember her saying, perhaps 20 years ago or more, “I want this sung at my funeral.”

It’s not a song about being sad.

It’s not about gardens or flowers.

It’s about Jesus.

The Eleanor I knew centred her life on Jesus.  So it’s very appropriate that her send-off should include something that turns the attention of those present to the Lord she loved and served.

I’ll append a YouTube video below that plays you the song and displays the Jesus-centred lyrics.  It was written by Graham Kendrick, a British Christian musician.  It’s called “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”

Jesus shone through Eleanor in a way to which I can merely aspire.

I pray that her family and friends will take comfort in the grace of the Lord Jesus that shone through Eleanor.

Encouragement From The Word

Sowing seeds

One day, Jesus told his friends a story.  “A farmer went out to plant some seeds.  As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.  Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow.  But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died.  Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Matthew 13.3-8, NLT).

When I was in Bible Society work, I often preached on this passage, because, as Jesus notes later in that passage, the seed is the Word of God, and I was in the business of promoting the reading, promotion and distribution of God’s Word.

It has another layer of meaning, though, too.

When we sow seeds of faith, we can’t always see immediate results.  It might take years for those seeds to take root and grow.

I’ve heard a few stories this week of people in whom much has been invested spiritually who are starting to bear fruit.  It’s exciting to watch, and exciting to hear these stories.

Here’s another example.  A few weeks ago, I was called to oversee a ‘celebration of life’ service for someone who had died.  I knew no one in the family at all.  In the conversation, I learned that the reason I was called is that a young person in their family has attended our summer Vacation Bible Camp.

Because our volunteers helped a child learn about Jesus while having fun, I now have an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with a group of grieving family and friends.

We have no idea what may happen when we sow seeds of the Word, seeds of faith.  Ultimately, that’s up to the Lord.  We may benefit in our own part of God’s vineyard, or some other congregation may benefit.  Either way, the Kingdom wins when we share faith.

Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15.58b, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Bring A Friend!

Every year, on or about the fourth Sunday of September, St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton celebrates “Bring A Friend” Day. While any Sunday is a good Sunday to bring a friend to church, we make a special effort on that weekend: invitations are issued, lunch is shared, guests are ‘expected’.

It’s become challenging for many people to issue the invitation, to make the ask. As I’ll say on Sunday, we’ve been taught for a few generations now not to talk about politics or faith in polite company, and the result, especially in our polarized society, is that we are no longer able to dialogue in a civil manner about the Lord Jesus.

The key is to build relationships.

When we are engaged in healthy relationships with our neighbours, our friends, our family members, and when faith is an integral part of our lives, those with whom we share those relationships will naturally want to know why faith is part of who we are.

And that opens the door to inviting them to join you for worship.

I’ve occasionally shared a vlog done by Penn Jillette some years ago about how, despite his avowed atheism, he admired a man who gave him a Bible after a show.  His point was this:  If we believe we know the way to eternal life, how much do we have to hate someone else to be unwilling to share it?

It’s a good question.  And a haunting one, if we’re honest.

Whatever congregation you’re part of as you read this, I hope you’re not waiting for an excuse to invite someone to worship with you.  If you’re looking to understand why this is important, I will be talking about our role as ambassadors this Sunday.  I’m inviting you!

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5.20, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Marking an anniversary

Australian Christian singer-songwriter, Darlene Zschech, famously sang these lyrics some years ago, written by Hillsong worship pastor, Geoff Bullock:

     I will never be the same again.

     I can never return, I’ve closed the door;

     I will walk the path, I’ll run the race,

     And I will never be the same again.

I have long resonated with these words, for they reflect two stories in my life: my conversion, and my call to ministry.  (You can read the rest of the lyrics to the song here.)  When Jesus calls us to faith in him, we cannot ever be the same again.  We have turned away from sin, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says, which is our nature, to grace and salvation in Jesus. Such a radical change means we can never return!

Likewise with a call to ministry – which we all have, though for a few, it is to full-time Christian service.  Once we are called, finding our niche in ministry, whatever that is, puts us on a path. It might be leading worship, or keeping spaces clean, or organizing events, or teaching children, or leading a small group, or praying fervently.  There are countless areas of ministry where God can call us to serve, and when we find the one or ones for which we are spiritually gifted, we find ourselves walking a path, running a race, and never being the same again.

Is your discipleship walk such that people who knew you before you were a Christian would say that you are not the same person you once were?  In whatever ministry you serve, would you yourself say that you are not the same because of the ministry you undertake?  I encourage you to consider those questions, and if need be, dig deeper with Jesus, because he calls us to be different in and because of him.

I reflect on the words of that song today, as I mark the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacraments.  Since God got hold of me, I have never been the same.  And since God called me to full-time Christian service, it’s been a wonderful adventure that I’m grateful to be on. Whatever avenue of service you undertake for Jesus, I pray that it is a life-changing adventure for you!

[A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5.17, 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.)

Encouragement From The Word

The gift of motherhood

This Sunday in the Christian calendar is called Christian Family Sunday.  It’s an effort to make Mother’s Day as inclusive as possible, since, it seems, Father’s Day doesn’t get much press (and some people struggle with the day, either because they did not have children or their mothers are deceased).  Whichever way you look at it, this is an opportunity to remember your mom, or to make your mom feel special.

Though it was written in a patriarchal period in human history, the Bible highlights many great mothers.  Two examples that come to mind are Hannah, the mother of Samuel, who prayed earnestly to bear a son (1 Samuel 1), and Mary, the mother of Jesus, who at a very young age agreed to fulfill the Lord’s will and give birth to the Son of God.

One greatly desired a child from the Lord, and the other had her maternity thrust upon her by the Lord.  What they have in common is that both of these women lived out of a deep relationship with God.

If you’re a mom, your relationship with God will be the greatest inheritance your children will receive.  Talk about it with them, and model it for them; they will see how you walk with the Lord, and no matter how far they may stray, they will remember it as they age. God may use that memory to draw them back to him.

If you’re not a mom, perhaps your mom planted a seed of faith in you; use this weekend as an opportunity to thank her, if she is living, or to thank God for her, if she is not.  If your mom is not a follower of Jesus, maybe this weekend will provide you with an opportunity to witness to God’s grace at work in her!

One way or another, this weekend can be a time of celebrating God’s goodness toward us all in Jesus Christ.  Whether or not your church makes a big deal out of Mother’s Day, you can praise God for the gift of motherhood.

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 3.4, NLT).