Encouragement From The Word

Love

Love.

It’s what makes the world go around, some say.

It’s what will keep us together, according to a song from my youth.

It’s rooted in God, according to the Bible.

So why is it so complicated?

The short answer is we make it complicated.  The longer answer is that our predisposition toward sin affects how we love, and how we view love.

But as God loves us unconditionally, so he calls his people to love others unconditionally.

This is especially difficult with people we find hard to love.  They may be people with whom we disagree on an important matter, or people whose personal hygiene makes us uncomfortable, or people who have hurt us in some way.

We may think that we can’t love these people on our own.  And that’s true.  We can’t love them on our own.

But as followers of Jesus – recipients of this love of the Father that sent his Son to the cross for our sins – we have the Holy Spirit living in and through us, and that is why we can love those we find hard to love.

Here’s a challenge for you and for me:  think of someone you know whom you consider hard to love.  Pray for that person to know the Lord and to serve him.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you love him or her.  And, amid physical distancing requirements, act in some way to show love to that person in the coming week.

Then, focus on another person, and do it again.  And again.  And again.  You get the idea.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.  No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4.11-12, NLT).

Biblical Messages

The Secret Ingredient

In this pre-recorded worship broadcast, we look at the first part of Romans 8 to learn that the Holy Spirit is our Helper when it comes to trying to wage war against sin. We also learn about our standing as forgiven followers of Jesus: we are not condemned! You can watch the whole broadcast below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Everything we need

Today’s Encouragement is a guest post from my friend, Adelle Lauchlan, who serves on staff at Uxbridge Baptist Church.  Enjoy! – Jeff+

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3a, NLT).

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most people want to be useful, want to live a productive life, and that Christians want to live a life worthy of Christ’s call. So I find these words of Paul’s very reassuring.

But what are these things that we have been given that allow us to live a godly life?

Well, I think this is what they are:

  • We have the love of Christ, a love so great that he willingly died that we would be saved – it is a love that drew us to him, and it remains with us always.
  • We have the power of the Holy Spirit – we received it, as promised, when we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
  • We have the gifts of the Spirit – those attributes that we share with other believers and which mark us as Christians.
  • We have the Word of God – left to us so that we would know his will for us.
  • We have the model of Christ and how he lived so that we would know how to live out God’s will.
  • We have the company of each other to encourage us in our walk and to help us when we stray.

And we have all these things because God is glory and excellence, and in his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. We live under the new covenant, sealed on the cross. Grace, God’s love and forgiveness, freely given.

Truly, everything we need! A precious promise!

And what are we asked to do in return? Respond in faith. Respond with faith. Faith is the foundation of this great promise. It is everything we need!

Thanks, Adelle!

Encouragement From The Word

Conquering Fear

Nelson Mandela once said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Well, I assume he said it, because, you know, I read it on the Internet.  If he didn’t say it, I’d be surprised, because it sounds like something he would have said.  (And don’t worry, I’m sure he meant it to apply to women, too.)

There is wisdom in those words.

Each of us has fear over something – maybe even every day.  But whatever the subject matter is, we all, from time to time, feel afraid.

To be sure, the current global pandemic has placed fear in a lot of people.  In some ways, I don’t blame them; the Coronavirus is an Unknown Entity in so many ways, and none of us – not even the experts – have been down this road before.  And as parts of the world and parts of our world begin to open, that may strike even more fear into some.

The good news for followers of Jesus is that conquering fear – that to which South Africa’s great freedom fighter commended us – is eminently doable, because we have the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.

In 1 John 4.16b-18, we read, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (NLT).

More often than not, I hear that read as the second-most-favourite Bible passage used at weddings.  But, like its first-place neighbour, 1 Corinthians 13, the context for the passage is not a wedding, even though each passage applies in that kind of setting.  Of course, its context also was not a global pandemic (unless you count sin as a global pandemic, and that’s certainly legit!).  But the principle fits.

Focus with me on one phrase:  “perfect love expels all fear.”  Perfect love is the love with which God loves us, the love that sent his only Son to the cross for us, the love that brought him back from the dead, the love that sent the Holy Spirit on his followers with tongues of fire.  That love, Christian friend, lives in you and me.  And that love expels all fear.

It’s easier to say than it is to live out, however.  Our minds easily get caught up in fear over any number of life situations.  But when we remind ourselves of God’s great love for us, and our desire to follow and serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit, he will cast out all fear.

Being rid of fear certainly shouldn’t rid us of caution.  Just because we’re called to live in love and not in fear doesn’t mean we should be stupid.  But it does mean we can rest in the confidence that God goes ahead of us in solving whatever dilemma causes us fear.

I have no idea if Mandela knew the Lord.  But the best way to conquer fear is to let him do it through the Holy Spirit.

Encouragement From The Word

Pay Attention

“Pay attention.”  We’re told that from the time our parents start talking to us.

We’re told it by teachers in school, by police officers who approach us at traffic stops, by spouses who think we’re not listening, by nurses who want us to take our pills.

Our whole lives, we hear, “Pay attention.”

Yet, so often in life, we fail to do so – especially around truly important matters that might not seem so at the time.

Yesterday, an elder in my congregation was travelling just outside town, when she saw an ambulance turn down a familiar sideroad.  And something told her she should follow it.

Now, this elder is not given to following ambulances; she’d have nothing to gain by doing so, and didn’t have medical training to be able to help.  But there was this nudge inside her, and she paid attention.

As it turns out, the ambulance was going to the home of a fellow congregant.

She followed the ambulance into the driveway, and got out to comfort the spouse of the person who was being treated.

To say the least, this would have been an awkward thing to have done had she not had a relationship with the people involved, and she had no idea where the ambulance was going when she started following it.  But there was this nudge…so she did, and was able to minister to the spouse.

The good news is that the individual was taken to hospital, was treated, released, and is recovering at home.

If you’ve ever had to call 911 for a member of your household and seen that person carted away in an ambulance, you know how helpless you feel.  This would only be compounded by being alone, waiting for information about your loved one.

So imagine how wonderful it must have been for the person comforted by the woman who followed the ambulance, because of this nudge to which she paid attention.

Most often, when we are driving somewhere, we have someplace to go, and usually on a schedule.  Even if we feel a nudge, we tend to ignore it because we have someplace to go and a timetable to follow.

What if we were to make room in our schedules – some margin, if you will – so that when we feel those nudges, we can pay attention to them and act?

It may not be something so dramatic as following an ambulance.  It could be something as simple as making a phone call, or writing a card, or saying the right words at the right time to a loved one.  The scenarios are endless, and the opportunities are endless, if we will only pay attention.

After all, that nudge could well be from the Holy Spirit.

Will you pay attention today?

My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands.  Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding” (Proverbs 2.1-2, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Divine Advocacy

Jesus introduces the coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples in John 14.15-31 by referring to the “Advocate”, a translation of the Greek term transliterated ‘paraclete’, which means ‘one who comes alongside’, usually in a legal sense.  What’s involved in all this?  Why does it matter?  That’s what I address in this Sunday’s worship gathering, which you can watch below.  The message itself begins at 29:17.

Encouragement From The Word

Staid Brightness and Reckless Abandon

This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’ll be talking about a passage of Scripture that includes these verses:

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.  You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.  Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14.12-14, NLT)

Now, your reaction to these few verses may be heavily dependent on the tradition from which you come.  If you come from a skeptical tradition, you’ll likely doubt that anything miraculous was ever undertaken.  If you come from a charismatic tradition, you may believe this is a name-it-and-claim-it kind of proof text.  And if you come from a more mainline tradition, it probably either scares you or baffles you.

When Jesus said these words to his disciples in the context of the beginning of his farewell discourse, he was encouraging his disciples to embrace the power that would be theirs by the Holy Spirit.  See, after Jesus died and rose again, he hung around his disciples for 40 days, and then ascended into heaven.  And 10 days later, God sent the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name so that his followers could experience the same power that he had – and, if you read that passage carefully, even greater works could be done than Jesus did!

But what does it mean to “ask me for anything in my name”?  Doesn’t that just make Jesus seem like a genie in a bottle?

Well, it can if you don’t read with understanding. When we ask for anything “in Jesus’ name”, what’s implied there is a desire that his will be fulfilled. Praying in Jesus’ name is not some sort of guarantee our prayer will be answered our way; if anything, it’s a humble request that it be answered Jesus’ way.

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit and submit ourselves to God’s will for us in Christ, we will have power to do great things in his name.  Two contrasting images come to mind here:  plugging in a lamp, and letting a dog off the leash.  One is stationary, one is free; but each is doing what it’s designed to do – one with staid brightness, the other with reckless abandon.

Spend a few minutes today, holding that passage before the Lord, asking how he wants it fulfilled in your life.

Biblical Messages

A snapshot of the church

This worship gathering was primarily led by young people, and their theme was the Holy Spirit; my job was to integrate with their theme, so I chose to bring a message from Acts 2.42-47 that shows a picture of the early church as it responded to the giving of the Holy Spirit.  The message itself starts at 39:37, or you can watch the whole service below.

Bonus: an audio recording of the message is below, if that suits you better…

Encouragement From The Word

The importance of listening

I had a conversation the other day with a pastor friend who told me a story that he has given me permission to share.  He was driving home from a conference he had been attending when another driver, not looking properly, sideswiped his car on a busy street.

Both my friend and the other driver were shaken up, as can happen even with a minor fender-bender, but neither of them was hurt.  As is common in such difficult situations, they exchanged information.  The other driver, who had admitted to it being her fault, wanted to attempt to get the repairs to my friend’s car made without going through insurance (and possibly pushing her rates up).

My friend told her he was a pastor, and that he had a Christian friend who is a mechanic who deals with people fairly and honestly, and that he might be able to give her a decent quotation on the cost of repairs to my friend’s car.  (As it turned out, the quotation was higher than expected, and the lady opted to go through her insurance.  Happily, she had a clause in her policy that had accident forgiveness!)

As my friend and the other driver were exchanging information and conversing, she was asking him about his church, and seemed interested in the Christian faith.  All the while, my friend sensed the Holy Spirit saying to him, “You need to pray with her.”

He resisted, understandably, because it just seemed an odd time and an odd circumstance to pray with a stranger.  But the more he resisted, the more clear the Holy Spirit’s prompting became:  “You need to pray with her.”

So he said to her, “I know this sounds kind of weird, but can I pray for you?”

She consented.  He prayed for her.  And over the course of the next few days as they spoke on the telephone to get repairs looked after, she mentioned how she has a teenaged son that she wants to get engaged in a youth group.

She lives closer to a different church than my friend’s, and so she may end up taking her son there.  Either way, it’s a win for God’s Kingdom.

But what if my friend had not been listening for the Holy Spirit to speak into his life, even in such an unusual situation as a car accident?  Or what if he had continued to ignore the prompting of the Spirit to pray with the woman?  Would she still be interested in the things of God?

It’s vital for all followers of Jesus – not just pastors, of course – to listen for the Spirit of God all the time.  It’s a muscle that we need to exercise.  After all, if we want to lift weights, we need to exercise the muscles that lift the weights.  And if we want to hear from God, we need to exercise those spiritual muscles, too.

Read the Scriptures daily.  When you pray, don’t do all the talking; sit in silence and let the Lord speak to you, through his Word and by his Spirit.  Then, when you are out in the world, engaged in normal, everyday activities, who knows what God may say to you by his Spirit that could change someone’s life forever?

Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given —and you will receive even more.  To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given” (Mark 4.24-25a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

We can ‘be’ change

The mass shooting in Las Vegas last weekend is a terrible tragedy.  Many lives were lost, many more people were injured, and emotionally, a lot of people are going to need help to resume some semblance of normality – not just the injured and the families of those who died, but also the bystanders and the people who work at the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooting took place.  Long after the news stops talking about it (news channels always find something new and shiny on which to focus), people will still be struggling.

Of course, in this era of social media where everyone seeks to share an opinion, lots of folks are talking about the need for greater gun control, tighter immigration policies, or tougher screening to weed out terrorists.  But there is something else that can be done.

Parents can raise their children.

That might sound like an incongruous non sequitur, but think about it:  if parents raise their children – not just give birth to them, not just feed them, not just provide for their wants and needs, but raise them – we will have a generation of people who become adults who don’t have a hankering to kill people.  That sounds simplistic, but I know too many moms and dads who have engaged in the hard work of raising their kids whose children turn out to be kind, loving adults to believe it can’t be done.

To be sure, there are countless outside influences that work against what conscientious parents are doing, but that only raises the level of the challenge.

It seems like an insurmountable job, and it is.  Parents can’t do it on their own.

Parents need God’s help, and they need God’s agents to help them: the church.

When parents acknowledge that the job is too difficult for them to do alone, and they submit themselves to the Lord who knew their children before they were formed in the womb (Psalm 139.16), they give their children to God, recognizing that even parenthood is a form of stewardship; children are ours to raise on God’s behalf.

Then, the community of faith can partner with the parents to help kids grow up to be good, law-abiding citizens, yes, but also to love and serve the Lord.  When we introduce God into the lives of children, the Holy Spirit becomes an invisible player in the game of child-rearing – that unpredictable, love-engendering, tongues-of-fire-giving Spirit supports the work of diligent parents and churches.  And the result is a generation of adults who in turn raise their children the same way.

Will this work perfectly?  Undoubtedly not; because of sin, there will always be challenges to God’s plan for families.  But while we pray for those affected, while we work to bring change where change is needed in society, let’s start with our own families.  We can bring change; we can be change.

If you love me, obey my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth” (Jesus, John 15.16, NLT).

spiritual formation

Fear Not: Spiritual Direction For Protestants

Here’s a talk I gave at a gathering of The Renewal Fellowship Within The Presbyterian Church in Canada about understanding spiritual direction, something that is new to many contemporary Protestants.  It’s a half-hour talk that hopefully will help you understand it better.  Feel free to comment with any questions you may have.

Biblical Messages

Living In and Through

Following up on last week’s message, this one is intended to help us understand the importance of living in and through the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, the church is dead.  With the Spirit, the church has joy and power.  Based on Galatians 5.16-26, you can listen to the message here:

Biblical Messages

Supernatural Church

With this message, we wrapped up the series on the Holy Spirit, based on Francis Chan’s book, Forgotten God.  It’s based on Acts 2.42-47.   At a pause near the end, you can stop and watch this video; there’s only a bit of the message that follows it.  You’ll notice in about the last five minutes, the sound changes; that’s because I had a technical glitch during worship this morning (the memory got filled up on my digital voice recorder), so I had to re-record the last few minutes at home!

Listen to “Supernatural Church” here:  

Biblical Messages

Why Do I Need The Holy Spirit?

Many mainline churches have a different idea of the Trinity.  Instead of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, they have “Father, Son and Holy Bible.”  The Spirit doesn’t come into play, and there are varieties of reasons for this – none of them legitimate!

The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to the church, and today’s message highlights that the Spirit should not be the “Forgotten God”.  Based on John 14.15-31, you can listen to this message here: