Encouragement From The Word

The Saviour…all year

I hope you enjoyed a blessed Christmas!  This week between Christmas and the new year is always a nebulous week for me.  For pastors, it’s a time of recovery from what is often a lot of worship celebrations in a short period of time (five in three days for me…but I knew that when I signed up!).  For families, it’s a balancing act between visiting relatives and keeping kids from being bored or fighting with their siblings; now that Christmas is over, “naughty or nice” has gone out the window for some children!  For some people, it’s a heavy travel time, with highways busy and airports crowded. And for some of us, the week gets clouded even more because our birthdays fall during that week.  (Mine happens to be today.)

Too often, amid all that, the Reason For The Season gets left behind.  Christmas helps us to focus on Jesus as our Saviour.  But if we’re not too careful, as time goes on, Jesus gets relegated to a lesser place than he deserves.

In my message this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’m going to say something I think bears repeating more widely.  I’ll quote Old Testament scholar John Oswalt, who said, “When we think the solution to our problems is to be found within ourselves, we are liable to think of God as an assistant or a fall-back device.” And in this state, we think we do not need a Saviour. We may need a teacher or a friend, but we do not need a Saviour.  That’s why, in part, Christmas has become this strange combination of consumerism and romanticism.

Jesus has become ancillary to the celebration of Christmas, because the concept of a Saviour seems unnecessary.  We, as the church, will be used by God to turn that around, because humanity is in deep need of a Saviour, in deep need of the Saviour, the one who is called Jesus the Christ, who came to save us from our sins.  We may be saved by grace, but we still sin (well, at least, I do).

So, as the memory of Christmas services fades into the past for another year, and a new year stands on the horizon, let me encourage you to keep Jesus’ place as Saviour in the forefront.  Remember that you need him as Saviour.  Remember that your loved ones who are far from God need him as Saviour.  Remember that “this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, NLT).

I wish you a happy and blessed new year.  And may you know the delight of Jesus as your Saviour all year.

Encouragement From The Word returns on January 11.

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Encouragement From The Word

Victory is assured!

It’s a great time to be a Blue Jays fan!

On Wednesday night, with a victory over Oakland, and a loss by the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays ascended into first place in the American League East. It came with the Jays’ second 10-game winning streak this season.

Pennant fever has struck Toronto in a way not seen since the early 1990s.

When this happens, people who otherwise pay almost no attention to baseball become rabid fans. We, O human race, are a bunch of bandwagoners.

Jesus had his share of fair-weather fans, too. When he was teaching about peace and love and justice, they were right there beside him. But when Jesus would teach about discipleship and holiness and taking up your cross, folks backed off faster than Blue Jays fans in a slump.

See, here’s the deal: Jesus does not call us to be fans, but to be followers…not to be showgoers, but to be students. Following Jesus isn’t always about being comfortable. Sometimes, the Lord’s call to us is decidedly uncomfortable, but the role of the disciple is to follow and learn, even when the going gets tough.

My wife’s aunt was a huge Blue Jays fan. She kept records and statistics for every game. She taught me – back in the day – that the best way to watch a Jays’ game on TV was to watch it with the sound muted, turn on the radio, and listen to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth call the game. And she cheered for the Jays even when they weren’t winning.

It can be difficult for us “cheer” for Jesus when the church seemingly is in a slump. But, unlike the Blue Jays, we know for certain that Jesus will win the final victory. Stand fast! Follow Jesus even when it’s not the ‘in’ thing to do. Victory is assured!

After all, the Blue Jays might win the World Series, but Jesus has overcome the world!

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16.32-33, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Seeing others through God’s eyes

You never know what burdens people are carrying.

Last Monday, my wife and I were out for a drive, and we stopped at a big-box plaza to allow her to pick up some needful things.  I waited outside, and watched people – a fun avocation that I recommend everyone try.  One woman came out of a store with a toddler in tow, very obviously doing everything she could do to hold back tears.  As she loaded the child into her vehicle and prepared to get into the driver’s seat, I could see that the dam was breaking and she began to weep.

Being a perfect stranger and from another community, it didn’t seem the appropriate thing to inquire as to how I might have helped her.  Instead, from the isolation of my vehicle, I took a moment to pray for her, not knowing her plight, but realizing that it seemed to be taking a toll on her.

This experience illustrated for me the value of trying to see the best in people.  I have not always found this easy; in fact, I still find it a real challenge.  Once we’ve been ‘jaded’, we find it hard to bounce back to that place where we can see the best in others.

Here’s a thought:  instead of trying to see the best in people on your own, why not look at people through God’s eyes?  I’ve used this video a couple of times in the past to illustrate this idea.

To be sure, this isn’t easy, either.  It’s far easier to take someone’s grumpiness personally, and assume the person has a hate on for us or is just naturally of a poor disposition.  We have a tendency to think of ourselves first.  But if we can think of the other person first, and her or his predicament, it may help us to see the person as God sees him or her, and to realize that the problem isn’t natural grumpiness or anger at us.  There is a deeper struggle that shows itself in a mood.

When we see others as God does, it helps us love them as God does.  After all, God does not just love us; Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, NIV).

Who knows?  Maybe our attempts to love others as God loves them will result in some people accepting that love from God, and becoming disciples of Jesus.  Even if that doesn’t happen, though, God calls us to love people.  And Jesus is the perfect model, the perfect embodiment of God’s love.

Keep on loving!  You’re making a difference.