Encouragement From The Word

The legacy of Gordon Fee

Earlier this week, Gordon Fee died.  That name may not mean anything to you, but if you’re a follower of Jesus, there’s a good possibility that you’ve read something that he was involved with.

Fee was a Christian who pastored a church for a little while, but ultimately felt called to the academy.  He taught New Testament studies at Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and at Regent College in Vancouver, from which he retired some years ago.

But you probably don’t know him from his teaching appointments.

His greatest legacy, other than the students he taught, was threefold.  First, he was active on the translation team for the original New International Version of the Bible, so if you’ve read the NIV at all in the past, you’ve probably read some of his contributions to Bible translation.  Second, he wrote commentaries, principally on the letters of Paul (so if you’ve heard me preach on, say, 1 Corinthians, Gordon Fee touched your life that way!).  And third, he co-wrote a book called How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth (a copy of which I gave away just yesterday!).

Fee was Pentecostal and a scholar, and he believed that the Holy Spirit plays a role in our study of the Bible as well as in our living out of the Christian life.  He wasn’t the first person to assert this, of course, but he was used by God to promote the spiritual life in the midst of learning and growing in Christ.

I recommend that you read anything he wrote.  And I also recommend that you read what he would have recommended, and that’s the Word of God.  Read your Bible – for all its worth.  Notice that as I just used it and in the title of Fee’s book, there is no apostrophe:  we don’t read the Bible for all it’s worth, but for all its worth.  We want to get the most out of the Bible, which has great worth to us as followers of Jesus.  It is how the Lord communicates most clearly to us.  It’s how we learn the Christian life.  It’s how we gain comfort and are challenged in our walk with God.  

So I don’t encourage you to read the Bible as a tribute to Gordon Fee; he wouldn’t ask you for that.  But I do encourage you to read the Bible because of what it is:  God’s Word to us.  The Word of Life.  The Truth. 

Take even five minutes today, if you haven’t already, and read a portion of Scripture.  Let the Lord speak to you.

Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear” (Jesus, Mark 13.31, NLT).

Biblical Messages

A Cryptic Picture of Discipleship

While many people wonder about the 144,000 figure noted in Revelation 14.1-5, what this passage demonstrates to us is a description of the Christian disciple – cryptic though it be. It shows us 3 things that characterize a follower of Jesus. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Biblical Messages

How Do I Witness?

In this worship gathering, we hear a message on the importance of sharing our faith as followers of Jesus, recognizing that there are many anxieties that build up in us as we think about the process. This message helps us overcome those anxieties and gives us suggestions on how to share our walk with the Lord. The message is based on John 1.29-42. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Biblical Messages

How do I grow?

In this worship gathering, we hear a message about the importance of growing in our faith. There are many ways and many tips that could be shared, but what we hear in this message are some foundational notions that help us understand the importance of not remaining static in our faith journey. It’s based on Galatians 5.13-26, and you can watch the message below, or the entire gathering below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Choose growth!

I have known a number of people who used the early period of the pandemic to take up a new hobby.  My wife, for example, took up paper flower making, and what she has created is one of the best examples of art imitating life that I’ve ever seen!  (You can see for yourself if you like.)  

People made the best of a difficult situation by stretching themselves to try something new.  It’s a healthy part of human existence:  it’s growth.

Like plants – the real ones, not the ones my wife makes – we have two choices:  we can grow, or we can die.  There is no in-between.  True, our skeletons stop growing when we are young, but our skin never stops (if you’re not sure about that, consider how dusty your house gets!).  And our minds never stop growing either.

The same should be true of our faith-walk with God.  When we make a public profession of faith in Jesus, that is not the end of the journey; it’s just the beginning.

Challenge yourself to grow in Christ, while there’s still some time this summer!  Borrow a book from your church library.  Watch a video series on RightNowMedia (hit me up if you need an invitation).  Read your Bible daily.  Talk to God in prayer.  These are all ways you can grow your faith.

Doing this will increase your faith, increase your discernment skills, and strengthen your witness for the gospel.  It’s worth the investment.

So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us.  We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ” (Colossians 1.28, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Praying over your eggs

I was chatting with a friend yesterday who visited the southern United States while on a recent vacation.  One of the things on which she remarked was how she and her husband observed a young man purchasing a meal – a plate of eggs – and when he sat down with it, he bowed his head and prayed.

“That’s not something I see here,” she said, remarking about Canada, her homeland.  “I wish we saw more of that here.”

Pausing to ponder this idea, I suggested to her, “If you want to see more of that here, why not begin by praying over your own eggs?”

By that I wasn’t intimating that table graces might spark revival in our country.  But maybe it’s a place to start!

Michael Green was an Anglican pastor who had a great heart for evangelism.  He was known to say that too often, Christians are like people going through customs in the airport:  nothing to declare.

And yet we have much to declare, don’t we?

One of the challenges faced by followers of Jesus in our time is that our friends and neighbours look at us and see very little difference between us and them.  In one sense, that’s not bad – we don’t want to be seen as freaks, which would take away any opportunity for witness – but it’s also kind of sad, because followers of Jesus have something that our non-Christian friends and neighbours lack:  the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul, a onetime Jewish Pharisee whom Jesus supernaturally brought to himself, was commissioned to bring the good news of salvation to the non-Jewish population of the known world at the time.  One of his passions was to remind God’s people that they are ambassadors for Jesus wherever they go, 24/7.

And he likened the saving grace we have received in Christ to a precious treasure, contained in jars of clay, fragile vessels.  Sometimes, to reach that treasure, the fragile jars must be broken.

By that I mean that when we pray over our eggs, when we bear witness to God’s love in Jesus, we are taking a risk.  It’s said that one never speaks about religion or politics in polite conversation, and the big problem with this is that we have lost the ability to have polite conversations about matters of religion and politics, each of which is an important part of being a citizen of this world.  

One way our witness can be strengthened is through having such conversations, with grace and truth, possibly opening doors to encourage others to love and serve Jesus.

And maybe – just maybe – it will all start by praying over your eggs.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4.7, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Safe and secure

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 11 that helps us understand that God’s faithful people are kept safe by him, have power, and will win the final victory despite suffering. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that. We apologize that there are no song lyrics this week; our projection program was not working properly. Message slides were added in post-production.

Encouragement From The Word

Choose life.

Earlier this week, we received the horrific news of a school shooting in Texas.  The school was for 7- to 10-year-olds.  Nineteen children and two adults were killed, and many others were wounded.  This was the 27th school shooting in the United States this year.

The shooter was just 18 years old.

He is also suspected of killing his grandmother before the rampage began.

To be sure, the young man must have been deeply, deeply troubled.

Many people think that guns are to blame for such events.  And while American culture is fond of its second amendment right to bear arms, rarely are these tragedies caused by law-abiding, legal firearms owners.

The problem is that our society has been taught not to value human life.

Of course, the deeper problem is that of innate human sinfulness, something that society at large, and sometimes even the church, fails to acknowledge and deal with.

But the lack of respect for human life is the main symptom of sinfulness that rears its ugly head in situations like this, and countless others – and they don’t all involve weapons.

Parents, school curricula, even churches fail to stand up for the innate value that each human being, from conception, has in the eyes of God – and should, therefore, have in our own eyes.

But between an emphasis on rights over responsibilities, and profits over people, western society continues to collapse before us.  (Honestly, the rest of the world is not much better off in that regard; the war in Ukraine is a good example.)

Please join me in praying for the grieving families of the deceased in the Texas shooting, and for parents, teachers, educational bureaucrats, and churches, that we will see how important it is choose life when there is so much violence going around.  Maybe if we can get people to think more properly about life, we can get people to act respectfully toward life.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life” (Deuteronomy 30.19-20a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

A special day looms…

One of the most often overlooked days in the entire Christian year is sneaking up on us.  It happens next Thursday.  But unless you live in a land that treats it as a public holiday – there are still a few that do – it might slip under your radar. Yet, without the event marked by this day, the church could not have come into being as it did.

I’m talking about Ascension Day.

It often sneaks under the radar of most followers of Jesus because it always falls on a Thursday.  Some churches celebrate it the Sunday before or the Sunday after, but Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday.  Why?  Because it happened 40 days after the resurrection of Jesus, and when you add 40 days to a Sunday in the spring, you’re always going to land on a Thursday.

But what was “it”?

It’s the day Jesus ascended into heaven.

Why does it matter?

Well, among many other things, had Jesus not ascended into heaven, the promised Holy Spirit would not have come.  And the church as we know it would not have been born.

Ascension Day is a good day to celebrate!  It’s the day when Jesus gave his Great Commission.  And as the disciples followed that Great Commission, ten days later, the Holy Spirit fell on the believers at Pentecost, and the church came into being, spreading across the world, over time, into the vessel of God that brings the gospel to the nations.

The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about what happened in those 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus.  But it surely involved much preparation for the disciples to be ready to venture forth on their own, with the promised Holy Spirit’s guidance, to build the Kingdom of God.

When the ascension happened, it inaugurated a new era – an era in which we still participate today.  

So next Thursday, give a wink and a nod – or more! – to the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, and give thanks for his providential care.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.  As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

                                                                              – Acts 1.6-11, NLT

Encouragement From The Word

Ya gotta have faith!

One of the latest investment trends is the NFT, which stands for non-fungible token.  (If you’re like me, you want to know what “fungible” means, too:  it means “mutually interchangeable”.)  In other words, these items are not mutually interchangeable, but they can be owned.

The thing is, these items don’t actually exist.  They’re not actually things.

You can own them, you can buy them, you can sell them – but they are digital; they’re not real.  And NFTs can be anything from a piece of digital art to a picture of a non-existent cigar, and everything in between.  I don’t understand either the concept or the craze, but it’s a thing (about non-things) these days.

It seems to me that dabbling in NFTs (or cryptocurrency, for that matter, which is another booming trend) takes a lot of faith.

It takes faith in the person who creates (and sells) the NFT.  It takes faith on the part of the person who might then buy it from you.  You have to believe that this non-existent thing actually exists, by mutual understanding.

I suppose, in one sense, it’s a bit like trading stocks. As long as everybody’s on the same page about the value, and your ability to be able to convert that to hard currency, I can understand the allure.

But it still takes a lot of faith.

This is why I am puzzled when people are unwilling to place their faith in God.  For eons, the Hebrew people placed their faith in a God whom they could not (and would not) see.  When God became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, aspects of God became visible.  He taught as one with authority.  He performed mighty and inexplicable miracles.  Yet many people refused to believe.

Even with hard evidence in the person of Jesus, and in his mighty acts, people would not believe.

I think if I were into the NFT and cryptocurrency trend, I would want to be a person of faith in God.  After all, there’s a lot more hard evidence for the good news of his love for us in Jesus than for the value of a digital image!

We have consistent records of the value of faith in the Lord.  Trust in him today!

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11.6, NLT).

Biblical Messages

The Covenant of Grace: Why Infant Baptism is Biblical

Do you ever wonder if it is biblical to baptize children? In the Reformed tradition, we don’t believe it saves the child, but we do believe it places the child on the path toward profession of faith in Jesus, which does bring salvation. It’s based on Genesis 15, Genesis 17, Colossians 2 and Acts 2. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Action, in the afterglow of Easter

We have been through Holy Week, witnessing Jesus sharing the last supper with his disciples, humbly washing their feet, subtly being betrayed, helplessly hanging on the cross.  We have waited through those long hours in anticipation of finding the tomb empty.  And it was empty!  Jesus was raised from the dead!

In the afterglow of Easter, though, the party might be over, but the work is not done.

Churches that follow lectionaries for their preaching often spend time in the season of Easter – the Great Fifty Days between the resurrection and Pentecost – studying the book of Acts.  Theologian J.B. Phillips, when translating the New Testament for ease of reading in the 1960s, called it “The Young Church in Action”. 

It’s an accurate title for the book of Acts, because that was the early church’s response to the resurrection of Jesus:  action.

And it should be the response of the church of today, too.

If we remain content to give mere mental assent to the resurrection of Jesus, but then do nothing with it, our faith doesn’t mean much, does it?  Just ‘pie in the sky when you die’.

But Jesus’ victory over death calls us to action, and specifically to grow the church.

Granted, that’s a tough task these days, with secularization on the rise, and sundry scandals among church leaders dotting the news.  In the midst of all that, though, Jesus is alive, and he longs to build his church.

Despite society’s best efforts, the church of Jesus will never die.  If you read statistics, you might not believe that, but maybe you’ll believe Jesus when he said to his disciples that on the bedrock of their faith, “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16.18b, NLT).

The church is, literally, unstoppable.

If you’re in leadership, you’re probably tired right now.  (Join the club!)

If you’re not in leadership, pray for your leaders.  They’ve been praying for you!

Pray that all of us, together, will be the church in action, responding to the grace of God at work in the resurrection of Jesus in this season of such growth potential.

The risen Lord Jesus has not given up on the church, so why should we?

Two thousand years on, we are still called to be the young church in action.

Encouragement From The Word

Keep your Alleluias!

This week marked Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  I saw a post on social media about the tradition that some have during this period of the year where they put away, or “bury”, their “Alleluias” – they do not use this term to praise the Lord throughout the season of Lent, as a sign of penitence.

I think this is a wrong and misguided tradition.  Let me tell you why.

Sometimes, little words make a big difference.  For example, the church marks the Sundays in Lent, not the Sundays of Lent.  What’s the difference?  Well, Lent is marked for forty days, that being a biblically significant number (think flood, exodus, temptation, etc.).  But if you count the number of days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Day, you will find more than forty.  Why?

Because the Sundays aren’t included.  Every Sunday, no matter the season, is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  So yes, you might hide your Alleluias from Monday to Saturday, but on Sunday, you are enjoined to haul them back out, because even though we trace the route to the cross in Lent, each Sunday remains a celebration of the resurrection, a “little Easter”.  

Whatever you may choose to do to mark the season of Lent, set it aside as you enter public worship, because every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection.  It is a break from the fast.  It is a relief from the penitence.  

And we can count it all joy.

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
    praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
    praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
    praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
    praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!  (Psalm 150, NLT)