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.)
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).