Encouragement From The Word

Masks

Where you live, this may have already been a reality, but where I live, today, a ‘mask rule’ has come into effect.  In all indoor public spaces, people are expected to wear some sort of face covering as a means of slowing or preventing the spread of Coronavirus.

My wife has kindly made me a mask that properly covers my fat, hairy face in a way that does the job and feels almost comfortable.  (The disposable ones made my face look like…well, never mind about that.)  Those who like to sew are getting very creative with patterns and materials, so that all of us, perhaps especially children, can try to have a little fun with what is otherwise not a very fun undertaking.

This got me thinking, though:  masks are really nothing new in our society.  It’s just that now, we can see them.

You know what I mean: people wear masks that cover up any number of things, even if it isn’t oral germs.  Maybe it’s uncanny, heavy makeup to avoid looking too young, or too old, or too vulnerable.  Maybe it’s a permanent smile to cover up the pain we feel inside.  Maybe it’s a face that betrays nothing, to keep people at a distance.  There are all kinds of scenarios that might exist, but make no mistake: most human beings are used to wearing masks.

Interestingly, these same masks are often placed between our true self and the God who made us.

This is a profoundly sad reality, because what we tend to forget is that God sees us as we are, knows us as we are, loves us as we are, and longs for us to be more like him.  Yet we tend to put our best ‘face’ forward with God, for any number of reasons.

Sometimes, we think God won’t accept us if we feel a certain way.  (Usually, this is because someone else won’t accept us that way, and we universalize the principle.)  Sometimes, we think we’re not allowed to ‘be real’ in God’s presence.  This tends to be a matter of culture or conditioning.

If we have an image of God as being like Santa Claus, for whom “you’d better not cry”, it gets stuck in our heads that God won’t accept any emotion except happiness, or, at best, ennui.  And that’s too bad, because if you take even a cursory glance through the Psalms, you’ll see every emotion known to the human race expressed before God.  What’s more, the people of Israel believed all these emotions to be so important, they enshrined these songs in their Scriptures!

In the Psalms, you’ll find joy, sadness, anger, lament, even a desire to see others die.  There are no masks in the Psalms.

And we don’t need them, either.  Except in cloth form, in indoor public spaces, for a season.  The good news is that we can still weep or laugh or gnash our teeth with that kind of mask on.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem” (Psalm 137.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

St. Nick’s more famous accomplishment

In western Christianity, today is the commonly-celebrated day for the feast of St. Nicholas – the guy who brought you Santa Claus.

Well, sort of.  The Santa Claus we know today, visually at least, is said to be a creation of the Coca-Cola Company.  But the notion of a benevolent figure who brings gifts certainly conjures notions of Nicholas of Myra, a bishop whose fourth-century dealings with poor women’s dowries is the stuff of legend.

Believe it or not, though, that’s not what Nicholas was most famous for.

He lived through the time of the early church’s Council of Nicaea, which in AD 325 formulated the doctrine of the Trinity:  One God, Three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And Nicholas is said to have played a role in articulating a truth Christians hold dear today:  that God the Father and God the Son are of one substance.  (This same application was made to the role of the Holy Spirit later on.)

That might seem like a bunch of tiny theologians dancing on the head of a pin, but it’s actually really important for the historic Christian faith.  For if Jesus or the Holy Spirit were merely of a similar substance to the Father, Jesus could not be God, and could therefore not have been the final, perfect sacrifice for our sins.

In fact, without being of one substance with the Father, Jesus would just be another dude…a righteous dude, to be sure, but just another dude.

On St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6, some cultures celebrate their gift-giving in honour of St. Nick himself.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But let me encourage you likewise to remember the gift of St. Nicholas as a theologian, who helped shape the church’s understanding of the mystery of the Triune God, upholding Jesus as of one substance with the Father.

Small though it may seem, it makes a big difference.  For if Jesus were not God, there would be no reason for the season.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
– John 1.1-3, NLT

Biblical Messages

The Odyssey of Theodicy (or, It’s Okay to Ask God, ‘Why?’)

Theodicy:  not a common word in our language.  What it refers to is the study of the existence of evil and injustice in the world, amid the reality of God’s care and control over the world.  The odyssey of theodicy is the path on which the prophet Habakkuk found himself, living in the later 7th and earlier 6th centuries BC as God’s prophet to the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

The first in a short series of messages on asking God, “Why?”, this message is based on Habakkuk 1.1-11, and can be listened to by clicking the link below.  Just before the message, I showed this helpful introductory video found on YouTube.

My digital voice recorder’s batteries failed while I was preaching this message, so the recording found here is a re-recorded message in the home office.  I appreciate my wife listening and providing the necessary (but entirely too quiet) laugh track!  Listen here.