Encouragement From The Word

The best things in life…

The devastation left in the more northerly islands of the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian this week has been unspeakable.  The images that have been flooding social media (perhaps an unfortunate, yet apt, choice of verb) have torn at our hearts.

People take different lessons from natural disasters.  Some will say a deity is angry (a strange notion and a stranger way for said deity to express it) and that we need to appease it.  Others will say it’s a side-effect of climate change (which would be difficult to prove) and that we should take better care of the planet (which is always a good idea).  There may be countless other lessons people will take from the hurricane.

But here’s one to consider: life is fragile.

I remember a number of years ago being given a tour of the beautiful home of some friends.  In their daughter’s bedroom there was a small plaque that simply said, “The best things in life aren’t things.”

How true that is!

In recent years, as I have reflected on vacation times, I’ve discerned that my favourite part of vacation has been conversations with people; that’s a big deal for an introvert!  But more than bringing Stuff home, more than seeing great sights, what has been most impactful is encounters with people.

When someone is in a tragic accident, or when a loved one has died, we often read social media posts to the effect of, “Hug the people you love.”

For those folks in the Bahamas, and in other places severely affected by this hurricane, that phrase may have more meaning than many of us will ever know.

Stuff is helpful.  Things are meaningful.  But none of it matters as much as people.  Life is fragile.

O Lord, what are human beings that you should notice them,
    mere mortals that you should think about them?
For they are like a breath of air;
    their days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144.3-4, NLT).

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Biblical Messages

“Raising the Bar” Revisited

As I mentioned last week, I thought I came up short on my conversation about John 13.31-38, and especially Jesus’ new command to love one another as he has loved us.  So I’m taking a second crack at it here.  The message begins at 36:48.  [Edit:  message upload fixed!]

Biblical Messages

Raising the Bar

Sometimes, as a pastor, I prepare with a particular goal in mind and when I’ve finished preaching my message, I have found it does not come out quite as I had hoped.  Today was one of those days.  It was not a bad message at all; but I’m not sure it said all that I hoped it would say.  I may tackle the same passage next Sunday and see where that goes. But for now, here is the worship gathering from June 23, 2019 with a message, “Raising the Bar”, from John 13.31-38.  The message itself starts at 32:28.

Encouragement From The Word

Hollow Love

Earlier this week, I met with my spiritual director, as is my monthly custom.  As she was praying for me at the conclusion of our meeting, a thought came to my mind which I have been holding before the Lord ever since.  It is this: “For a Christian to elevate love over holiness renders love hollow.”

As I’ve spent time pondering this – and even asking a few friends to reflect on it – I’m convinced that it is true.  Secular society, and even some of the church visible, makes love the ultimate virtue. Of course, we would expect nothing more of secular society, since in not knowing God, it cannot grasp the concept of holiness.  But God’s people are called, first, to make him exclusively our God (Exodus 20.3), and in response, to be holy because God is holy (Leviticus 11.45).  It is only then that we can love fully, because his love is made perfect in us (1 John 4.12), only then that we can fulfill Jesus’ commandment that disciples love each other as he has loved us (John 13.34).

For Christians, to prize love over holiness cheapens both.  However, we likewise can’t prize holiness without love, since that would make us legalistic.  Love is best expressed through holiness, and in a sense, we can communicate a sense of the holiness of God through our expressions of love – but only if we are first committed to growing in holiness ourselves.

I know some people have come from or are in traditions where the call to holiness is accompanied by guilt and shame.  But that’s not the biblical call to holiness.  Jesus doesn’t say “straighten up”, he says, “Come here!”  The Lord’s call to holiness is a call to follow him in every way, recognizing that there is grace to help us in the ebb and flow of our walk with him.

So my encouragement to you today is to pursue holiness, for only as we grow to become more like the Lord will we be able to love others with the “agape” love with which he loves us.

13 So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.16 For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1.13-16, NLT, citing Leviticus 11.45).

Encouragement From The Word

To love and serve

I was doing some research for a message this week, and I encountered a prayer-hymn. It struck me to the point I thought it would be worth sharing with you.

It was written by Richard Baxter, a 17th-century Puritan clergyman who wrote widely and deeply about Christian faith.  His seminal work is called The Reformed Pastor, which is worth reading even if you’re neither Reformed nor a pastor!  (Truth be told, he wrote it in response to The Country Parson, Anglican cleric George Herbert’s work on pastoral care.)

Background aside, I think you will find this a prayer worthy of your lips.  If you’d prefer to sing it, it’s set in Common Meter (8.6.8.6).

Lord, it belongs not to my care
whether I die or live:
to love and serve thee is my share,
and this thy grace must give.

Christ leads me through no darker rooms
than he went through before;
he that into God’s kingdom comes
must enter by this door.

Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
thy blessed face to see;
for if thy work on earth be sweet,
what will thy glory be!

Then shall I end my sad complaints
and weary, sinful days,
and join with the triumphant saints
that sing my Saviour’s praise.

My knowledge of that life is small,
the eye of faith is dim;
but ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
and I shall be with him.

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90.12, NRSV).

Encouragement From The Word

Love extravagantly

Having written about the tragedy in Humboldt, Saskatchewan a few weeks ago, I was going to write today about the Southwest Airlines Pilot who successfully landed a plane with a non-working engine, a fan blade from which killed a passenger. Her testimony is remarkable.

But then someone decided to drive a van on a busy Toronto sidewalk on Monday.

Ten people were killed, and half again as many were injured.  What was most notable about this tragedy, if one can find any good in it, is the fact that one lone police officer managed to arrest the van driver, within minutes of the whole episode beginning, and without firing a single shot.

On Wednesday, I wrote to the congregation I serve to encourage us not to be afraid in the wake of this event, that the best thing to do is to trust in the Lord and push on.  Perhaps another point to emphasize as we continue to reel from this catastrophe is that it’s imperative for God’s people to be engaged in the lives of others, especially those who might seem unlovable.

The man who drove the van that killed ten innocent victims last Monday, according to research revealed online, was a troubled soul, and frustrated (for lack of a more sombre term) that he couldn’t get any dates with women.  It was this, apparently, that led him to run over that crowd of pedestrians – mostly women – and to want the police to kill him.

To be sure, there will be those who think that he should have been killed, but that was not the arresting officer’s mandate.  His mandate was de-escalation, which he performed in textbook fashion: weapon drawn, but not fired.  Now, hopefully, the driver can receive both justice and the help he needs.

What could have prevented this man from evenwantingto do something like run over people?  We may never know for sure, but I think it’s fair to say that experiencing more love would have helped.  We don’t know what his relationship is like with his parents or his wider family, and we don’t know if he has any kind of relationship with a church or with the Lord.

The lesson for us is to love our kids, and all people we encounter, with the love of Jesus. Who knows what difference our care could make in the life of another person?  Could our care save lives?

Possibly. What have we got to lose?

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love” (1 Corinthians 13.13b, The Message).

Encouragement From The Word

No Greater Love

For Christians in many traditions, this coming Wednesday marks a special day:  it will be Ash Wednesday.  And if you notice the calendar, it falls this year on February 14, which is also widely celebrated in western culture at Valentine’s Day.

When you were a kid, maybe your experience was a bit like mine.  My mother had me write out Valentines for each of my classmates.  After all, it was the right thing to do.  But did you feel, well, awkward about some of them?  Like they were going to be received as pregnant with meaning when they weren’t?

Love, as they say, is a many-splendoured thing.  And it is multi-faceted, like a beautiful diamond.  It can be possible to read too much – or too little – into an expression of human love.  A Valentine can be an expression of single-minded devotion, or it can be simply conforming to a cultural tradition.

Ash Wednesday inaugurates the season of Lent, a 40-day (note that Sundays are not included, since each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection!) period of penitence and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is a whole season that prepares us to receive the greatest gift of love – the greatest Valentine – ever offered.  There is nothing ambiguous about this Valentine.  Jesus only has one meaning for it – selfless, life-giving love.

You don’t need to celebrate Lent to value what Jesus has done for us.  But many people find it a helpful time to awaken their awareness of what God is doing in their lives.

This coming Wednesday, whether you receive the imposition of ashes or not, understand that the greatest Valentine you will ever receive has paid the price for your sins, has paved the way for eternal life to be yours.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command” (Jesus, John 15.14-15a, NLT).