In this message, we learn how the law of Moses exists to convict us of our sin, and how we can respond to this through the spiritual disciplines of confession and thanksgiving. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that. It’s based on Matthew 19.16-22 and Romans 7.7-13.
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.
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.
Our congregation’s LifeConnect Groups have all stumbled on one verse that’s giving us a challenge this week. It’s John 20.23, which was part of our Scripture focus last Sunday: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (NLT). Jesus said this to the disciples immediately after breathing on them and giving them the Holy Spirit.
It kind of sounds like it could be a power trip, doesn’t it? If Jesus has given his followers the power to forgive or not forgive anyone’s sins, that suggests that we could decide who’s in and who’s out. But I don’t think that’s where Jesus was going with it. There are a couple of levels of understanding this verse that may be encouraging to us.
First, it can be seen as an approach to personal peace. By that, I mean that when we forgive others for their sins against us, we are set free from bondage to the transgression. But when we don’t forgive, it’s another story. Somebody once said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Seems silly when it’s put that way, right? But a lot of people refuse to forgive even when the other party seeks it, and that is the poison.
But did you know you can forgive the other person even when she or he doesn’t ask for it? I’ve had to do that a few times in my life, where someone has not acknowledged wrongdoing against me, but in order to move on with life, I’ve had to forgive that person in my mind and in my spirit. Even though there may be a sense of injustice about that, it sets you free, and that’s what matters.
The other approach to John 20.23 is to be reminded that Jesus invites us to be partners in forgiveness as we proclaim the gospel to others. Jesus offers forgiveness of sin that lasts for eternity, and when we share our relationship with him, that opens a door for those people to receive forgiveness of sin.
Of course, a literal reading of the verse suggests that the disciples – and perhaps through them, we – have the power to forgive others’ sins. While I believe we are empowered to do that in terms of our sins against each other, I can’t see any biblical evidence that suggests we are empowered to offer eternal forgiveness of sin. That’s Jesus’ job, since he paid the price for our sin at Calvary.
But it’s still through our faith-sharing efforts that doors open for Jesus’ forgiveness to be received. And that’s why it’s so important for us to talk about our relationship with the Lord. As the apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church, “Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others….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 5.11, 20, NLT).
Who knows whose life you may affect by your faithfulness in speaking about God’s love?
The kids will be finished school today.
Maybe, you’ll be finished work today.
Christmas is coming. Are you ready?
Well, I still have baking to do, and a turkey to buy, and presents to pick up for…
No, are you ready?
Despite what the culture teaches us, being ready for Christmas has less to do with making sure the tree is decorated and the table is set for dinner than with making sure your heart is prepared. That’s what the season of Advent has been all about.
This coming week, we will celebrate the birth of the Son of God in a hewn-out cave behind a Bethlehem motel. But it’s not just about an historical commemoration.
The nod to the newborn Jesus lying in a manger is vested with its deepest meaning when his birth in Bethlehem is replicated in our lives. As we plead in one of the old Christmas carols:
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.
When Jesus is born in us, that’s when his birth in Bethlehem’s stall becomes most meaningful, and when we are truly ready.
Let Christmas be significant for you this year. You still have a few days to get ready! Invite Jesus to be born in you. It’ll be like being born again.
Wait a minute, I’ve heard that somewhere before…oh, right:
“I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3.3, NLT).
Christmas has the most meaning when Jesus is alive in our hearts.
If you’re looking for a place to worship the newborn King this Christmas, I invite you to join me at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton. It would be awesome to see you.
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.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1.1-3, NLT