Encouragement From The Word

Lessons from the Raptors’ parade

In case you’ve been otherwise occupied recently, I can tell you that the Toronto Raptors won the championship of the National Basketball Association last week, and that the city hosted a little party to celebrate the victory in downtown Toronto on Monday.

Oh, by the way: that little party had about two million people in attendance!

In some ways, the news about the victory parade from the Canadian National Exhibition grounds to Nathan Phillips Square (Toronto city hall) was a bigger story than the Raptors’ win itself.  Everybody expected a crowd, but nobody expected the size of crowd that appeared.

Sadly, there was some violence that marred the happy occasion, but thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I think there are a couple of lessons in this for the people of God.

One is that we should always be prepared.  In the wake of the parade and its many onlookers, the City of Toronto sought to learn from its mistakes and be ready for such a gathering if it ever were to happen again.

A maxim to which I’ve long subscribed is that the church will always receive as many guests as it is ready to receive.  So, for example, if a congregation is hosting a ‘big day’, such as Christmas, Easter, or an event to which the community is invited, it needs to be sure that it has sufficient priority parking spaces set aside for guests. It needs to have people prepared to be hospitable and welcoming to those who may be stepping inside the church building in fear and trepidation.  It needs to be prepared with the words that are used so that no ‘insider language’ is used, and people who may be unfamiliar with the church and its worship can fully understand what’s going on.

Another lesson for God’s people is to be aware that, as Jesus said, “The fields are already ripe for harvest” (John 4.35, NLT).  Many congregations struggle these days, but the aerial views of that parade last Monday were a reminder for churches everywhere – not just in Toronto – that there are still many people who have yet to be reached with the good news of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ.

That’s not to say that all the people attending that parade were not followers of Jesus; I know for a fact that some of them are!  But when we despair that the church is going to die for lack of attendance, we do well to be reminded that there are many people in our communities, large and small, who do not follow Jesus.  Our task from Jesus is to reach out to them in grace and humility with the truth of his love and mercy.

It’s God’s job to grow the church, but he yearns for willing partners in accomplishing that task.

So, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors!  And may the church of Jesus be ready to receive the many people who have holes in their souls and need the good news that only he can offer…through us.

Biblical Messages

Unless You See…

God is at work, even when we cannot see:  Leave it to God, and labour on.  That’s the big idea in this final message on John 4, from verses 43-54, which we looked at this Canada Day.  Listen or watch below…

 

Biblical Messages

Word of Mouth

If we don’t tell people about Jesus, how will they know?  That’s the thrust of this message, in which we look at why we don’t share our faith, and why we should.  You can watch or listen below to this message, based on John 4.39-42.  (The video shown near the beginning of the message can be viewed separately here.)

 

Biblical Messages

Resistance

One of the realities of human existence that is taught to us in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.16-20 is that when confronted with uncomfortable questions, we often put up resistance. How can we avoid that, and be truthful with ourselves and others? Watch or listen here:

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Biblical Messages

Encountering the Word

One of the things we learn from Jesus in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is that he was good at finding ways to introduce spiritual conversations.  In this message, based on John 4.10-15, we learn that if we want to help people put Jesus first, we need to know their thirst.  Watch or listen below:

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Biblical Messages

Crossing the Line

It seems that our differences have become greater today, that the gap between us in varying opinions has grown wider.  But as followers of Jesus, we are called to bridge that gap, to cross the line, so that we can reach people with the gospel.

As you listen to or watch this message, make sure you do so to the end, for if you stop part-way through, you will miss the most important part.  It’s based on the beginning of the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well, from John 4.1-9 (with a nod to 2 Kings 17.21-24).

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Encouragement From The Word

The iPhone 5, our wants, and our needs

In case you missed it, Apple announced the release of the iPhone 5 on Wednesday.  Though the die-hard fans will have begun to salivate as soon as the press conference began, most of the rest of the world just uttered a collective, “Yup.”  So much information had been leaked out ahead of time that nothing in the announcement was a great surprise.

There has been talk about how the new plug will require users of the new device to purchase a $30 adapter (on which the margin will be huge) to make it work with other Apple products, but otherwise, there hasn’t been the hype that came with earlier iPhone announcements.  In spite of the general ennui over this unveiling, millions of the iPhone 5 smartphones are expected to sell, and quickly.

I will admit to being the happy owner of an iPhone 4.  And as one friend of mine tweeted the other day, Apple’s most recent announcement means that the phones he and I use will now be the “freebies” given away by the cell phone companies to entice users to sign up for a new contract.  Does that discourage me?  Hardly.  For something the phone company will give away for “free” (notice the quotation marks there), what I use is still a pretty fantastic and eminently useful device that makes my day-to-day working life easier.

So, am I “encouraging” you to get an iPhone?  Not really, though if you need a flag-waver for it, count me in.  No, I’m just using this to illustrate that even hyped up technology can be met with a ho-hum response.  The announcement of the iPhone 4, and even the 4S, brought more media and ground-level buzz than this proclamation did.  And frankly, Apple probably isn’t disappointed, because they know that their loyal fan base will still be putting megadollars into Apple’s bank account once the phone releases in Canada next week.  They’re not worried.

There was a lot of initial ‘buzz’ when Jesus showed up on the scene in first-century Palestine.  People saw his miracles and heard his teaching and asked each other, “Could this be the Christ?” (John 4.29b [NIV], e.g.).  But later, these same excited people crucified him, in part, because he did not meet their expectations of what the Messiah should be.

It’s not likely that people are going to try out their new iPhones and then run over them with their cars because it doesn’t meet their expectations.  Why?  Because Apple understands what its consumers want, and it delivers.  The difference is that while God knew what the people needed in giving his only Son, the people didn’t necessarily see it that way.

God is not a “give ‘em what they want” kind of deity.  God is a “give ‘em what they need” God.  And Jesus is not a consumer commodity.  There are landfills around the world that testify to the throwaway nature of consumer commodities.  Jesus, on the other hand, was crucified at the Jerusalem landfill site because what the people needed what not what the people wanted.

Thank the Lord that God has given us not what we want, but what we need.