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).

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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).

 

Encouragement From The Word

A muscle you use

Someone wise once said, “Faith is not a pill you swallow, but a muscle you use.”

It’s possible that we might go to church once in a while, perhaps to get a ‘dose of Jesus’ to keep us going for a little while, in much the same way we might take a couple of Tylenol® to keep us going and mitigate the throbbing pain of a headache.  But, of course, the medicine wears off, eventually, since it’s designed to deal with symptoms, but not root problems.  After all, if your headache is caused by having had a whittling knife stuck in your temple, Tylenol® isn’t going to solve that problem – it’s only going to take the pain away for a while.

Faith is not something designed to take the pain away for a while.  Faith is a gift given to us through God’s grace that enables us to deal with the root of the pain – and so much more.   If we just show up to worship once in a while, there might be a temporary ‘high’ we receive that encourages us for a short time, but that’s not what the Christian lifestyle is about.

Faith is, as the wise person once said, a muscle you use.

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that my muscle mass is declining.  I see it especially in my arms, which are not called upon to do a lot of heavy lifting.  Periodically, I look at the dumbbells that I have and think, “I ought to start using those.”  Even just a few minutes every day could make a significant difference.

The same is true with faith:  even just a few minutes every day could make a significant difference.  When we read the Bible and pray at home and in small groups, and when we gather regularly with the community for worship and fellowship, we’re using our faith muscle in ways that will strengthen it – something a periodic ‘dose of Jesus’ just can’t do.

Let me encourage you today to make your faith a lifestyle choice.  Engage daily with the basic disciplines of prayer, Bible study and worship.  Engage weekly with the basic disciplines of corporate worship and community.  Use that faith muscle.  As you exercise it, it grows.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.[a]
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation. – Psalm 100, NLT

 

Encouragement From The Word

Hope

Hope.

It’s one word that nearly everybody can identify with.  For many people, it’s what fuels their lives.  Hope is what makes people put one foot in front of the other, what makes people decide to get out of bed for the day.

I hope I will have a better day at work than I did yesterday.

I hope I will do well on this test. 

I hope my spouse will not get cancer.

Sometimes, hope is misdirected, though, isn’t it?  We can hope for something that we think might solve our problems.

I hope I will win the lottery.

I hope I will get a big inheritance so I’ll never have to work again.

I hope that nasty so-and-so falls into a pit and is never seen again.

Even hope can have its ugly side.  But that’s not what God intended.

Hope is invariably tied to faith.  What we hope for is often what we place our faith in.  If you re-read those “I hope” statements, they can all seem pretty vapid, even when the best of intentions are behind them.

There is a lovely little gospel hymn that reminds us where to direct our hope:

My hope is in the Lord

Who gave himself for me,

And paid the price for all my sin

At Calvary.

For me he died, for me he lives,

And everlasting life and light he freely gives.

Jesus is the one on whom we rightly place our hope, because it is in him that we rightly place our faith.  Is your hope in Jesus?

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11.1, NLT).