Encouragement From The Word

The church scattered

I was getting my hair cut yesterday.  (Some of you will think I am living dangerously by admitting that, but some things need to be done, and every precaution was taken.)  Steph is part of our church family at St. Paul’s, and she said something quite important as part of our conversation – much of which centred around the current pandemic.

She said, “Maybe this will help us all slow down.”

Granted, this is not the way any of us hoped the call away from busyness would come.  But the Coronavirus pandemic has forced us to simplify our lives, at least in terms of what we do outside of work and being at home.  We may still want to go out with our friends, or play particular sports, or take our kids away for this extended March Break, but we can’t.  It’s a danger to public health if we do.

The current crisis, though, is not going to end soon.  Even when we are permitted to gather in groups again – for conversation, sports, family and worship – we will do so with a new normal in place, and it probably isn’t going to look like what we were doing a couple of weeks ago.

For followers of Jesus, this season of challenge provides us with a unique opportunity: we can express the love of Jesus in new and highly practical ways.

I participated in a webinar yesterday in which one of the speakers said that the power of the church is not in its ability to gather, but its ability to scatter.

Think about that: for a long time, being the church has mostly been about Sunday.  Everything we do leads up to the Sunday experience.  Right now, though, the typical Sunday experience has been taken away from us.  As a result, pastors like me are looking for ways to engage our people in powerful ways that don’t involve getting together on the weekend.

Some have been thinking about this for a long time, irrespective of crises of this magnitude.  There are 168 hours in each week; they’ve been encouraging us to think about what we do with the other 167 hours that are in the week beyond the worship gathering.  The power of the church is in what we do with those 167 hours we’re scattered.

We could dive into any number of rabbit holes around this, but I won’t do that today.  Let me simply encourage you to be thinking about ways you can make faith in Jesus practical with your neighbours in this time.  Think about ways that you can serve others in Jesus’ name while we have this ‘bonus’ time that we’re not doing other things.

And maybe…just maybe…you might not want to go back to the steady diet of those other activities once you figure out the joy of serving others in the power of the gospel.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another….Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen” (1 Peter 4.10-11, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The spiritual value of walking

I am grateful that I have the opportunity, quite often, that I can walk to work.  It’s a privilege not everybody receives.  I don’t have to fight traffic, losing hours from family time just trying to get to and from work.  Being able to walk to work enriches my life, both for the physical activity and for the enhancement of family life.

But it has another side benefit, too, that I experienced recently.

I was walking to work, taking my usual route, and a young neighbour, to whom I would wave when I’d see him, called me over to where he was sitting outside his front door.

Perceiving that I worked “at that church over there”, he proceeded to start a most interesting conversation about the life of faith.  We chatted for perhaps 10 minutes about similarities and differences between denominations, and he seemed genuinely intrigued with my subtle presentation of the good news of Jesus.

I invited him to our “Bring A Friend” Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on September 22, and he gladly accepted; I will pray for him, and hope that he comes!  (If you’re in the area and don’t  have a church family to call your own, please come as my guest – that Sunday, or any Sunday at 10:00 a.m.!)

Even if you don’t have the opportunity to walk to work, you do have the opportunity to take walks through your neighbourhood.  Consider whether the Lord is inviting you to do so – for exercise, yes, but also for sowing seeds of new relationships with important conversations that can lead to spiritual discussions…and possibly spiritual transformation.

We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord” (Romans 15.2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Being ‘neighbourly’

This is one of those months that has five Sundays in it.   Any church treasurer I’ve known wishes that every month had five Sundays!  While it doesn’t happen every month, I’ve often wondered whether the unusual nature of the rhythm-breaking fifth Sunday could be harnessed in some way. While we like the idea of an extra Sunday of offerings, perhaps that fifth Sunday could also benefit those outside the church.

A couple of years ago, one of our Encouragement subscribers, Sharon, told me a story (which she gave me permission to share) about what happens in her church on the fifth Sunday of the month. In her congregation, they gather for a short worship time, and then go into the community to help their neighbours.

Sign-up sheets are provided so that activities and helpers can be coordinated. The first time the church did it, one group went to a nursing home to visit residents who never get visitors. Another group planted a vegetable garden on church property so that fresh vegetables could be provided for their local food bank.  Another group helped neighbours with physical challenges tend their gardens.  And yet another group picked up trash near a railroad right-of-way.

“The response from the congregants and the community was amazing,” Sharon told me.  “Great bonding, lots of laughter, many community members really impressed that we would leave church to come ‘out’ and help others.  It was a most powerful experience.”

If the church of Jesus is going to grow as God intends, one thing we know for sure is that reaching our neighbours is key.  I encourage you to consider this tangible way to reach out, whether on a fifth Sunday or some other time.  God knows the difference you could make by being ‘neighbourly’.

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith” (Galatians 6.10, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Consider the ant!

This morning, traversing my driveway on my walk to work, I noticed a misplaced little pile of dirt on the approach.  As I got closer to it, I discovered that this little pile of dirt was moving.  It wasn’t dirt at all; it was an unfathomable number of very small ants.

I’ve had my share of run-ins with ants over the years, but I will say this for them:  they are industrious little creatures.  When I commented to my neighbour about this little pop-up colony, he said, “Darned critters are going to take over the world one day!”

While that might be an exaggeration – I hope it is! – the truth is that we have something to learn from those ants as the church.  God calls us to be active.

As one old preacher once put it, while we are called to be standing on the promises, we are too often found sitting in the premises.  The holy huddle just won’t do anymore; we need to be in our neighbourhoods, engaging with people who are not yet in a relationship with Jesus, modelling for them what it means to love God and love others.

That means being active, though not necessarily busy.  Busyness, says Eugene Peterson, is an illness of spirit.  Most of us are addicted to being busy.  But if we’re busy, that may not leave us time to engage with others as the Lord calls us to.  We do well to find a balance, and to maintain it.

How can you be active, but not busy?  Present a non-anxious presence to your friends and neighbours.  Exude confidence in the God who made you, redeemed you and sustains you.  Don’t be afraid to share the good news that Jesus can do for them what he has done for you.  And be helpful.

Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.

    Learn from their ways and become wise!

Though they have no prince

    or governor or ruler to make them work,

they labor hard all summer,

    gathering food for the winter” (Proverbs 6.6-8, NLT).

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

PRACTICAL LOVE: Like A Good Neighbour

The question I wanted us to consider in this message is, “How can we, as a church, be a good neighbour?”  With thanks to Brad Bridges, I adapted some ideas he came up with as concrete ways that our congregation – and yours, too! – can be good neighbours to the community.  Based on Jonah 4 and Acts 1.1-11, you can listen to this message here:

Encouragement From The Word

Building bridges with the community

Every day is a good day, as far as I’m concerned, but yesterday was an especially good day.  Let me tell you why.

I had two unexpected opportunities to spend time with people in my community, particularly in my neighbourhood.  Both were what you might call serendipitous (happy accidents, one could say).

The first occasion was at a local print shop.  I had stumbled across a lovely photograph that had been taken by Andrea Kollo of our church’s tower, with the tree in front in bloom.  It was a terrific picture, so I asked her if I could use it on the front cover of our Anniversary Sunday bulletin – to which she happily agreed.  It is such a nice photo, I thought it would be nice to print the bulletin cover in colour.  Having checked big-box store pricing, I thought I’d get a quotation from a local print shop.  So I got in touch with Lucy at King Print and Design, who came in with a great price.  I took the bulletin to the shop on a jump drive, and in the course of conversation, we realized that we are near-neighbours.  What’s more, she is a friend of a delightful individual in our congregation, who speaks well of our church – so Lucy, too, has a positive view of our church.  (She even printed the inside of the cover for me, as a favour.  I was really impressed.)  I look forward to more great conversations with her!

The second occasion came as I was walking home from the church in the evening, having called a meeting at which, apparently, none of those invited were able to attend – so I had an unexpected evening free.  On the way home, another near-neighbour, with whom I have had many chats, invited me up the driveway for a chat.  He and his wife and I shot the breeze for a while, getting to know each other even more than we did before.  Even though I would love to have had the meeting with the folks with whom it was set, I am convinced that God orchestrated it so that I could spend time with these neighbours!

For pastors, it can be hard to engage with the community, because we are notoriously busy serving the people among whom God has called us to minister.  So when those occasions arise to chat with folks who are currently outside the congregation, it’s great to be able to take the time with them.  It builds bridges.

The apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4.7, NIV).  Make an effort to make friends with people in your community.  God can use you to build bridges!