Encouragement From The Word

Thoughts and prayers

The dreadful mass killing in a Texas church last Sunday once again brought forward a recent phenomenon creeping into social media, that is, the idea that we should abandon the notion of “thoughts and prayers” in favour of gun control in the United States.

This piece is not about gun control in the United States.  I am not an American; I am not entitled to an opinion about US domestic policy or constitutional law.  This piece is, instead, about “thoughts and prayers” – something with which I have some experience.

Is there a flippancy with which we toss out that we are offering “thoughts and prayers” when we see word of a tragedy?  Perhaps.  If we type something like that on a post about an unfortunate event on social media, without acting on it, then the gesture is as flippant as the all-too-common “How are you?” question, for which the interlocutor really doesn’t want an answer anyway.

For some people, perhaps “thoughts and prayers” has become a benign term of sympathy.  After all, in the face of adversity, many people don’t know what to say to others.  (Have you ever paid attention to what people say when they greet mourners at a funeral visitation?  Often, they fill the air with meaningless words in an attempt to cover up the fact that they don’t know what to say.  Perhaps the next trend we’ll see in the funeral home will be people walking up to grieving friends and greeting them with the words, “thoughts and prayers.”  It sounds preposterous, but I don’t think it’s a stretch.)

If typing “thoughts and prayers” is as phony as air-kissing, though, let’s abandon it.  But what if thinking about, and praying for, troubled individuals or grieving family members or challenging situations actually did some good?  Would we continue to do it?

Prayer is conversation with God, and conversation with God – for the faithful – is always comforting (or at least centring).  And those who are prayed for usually feel encouraged, knowing that they are being supported by others.  (It is a different, and rather more challenging, question as to whether or not prayer can change the mind of God, but we’re not going there today.)

So if we actually pray when we offer “thoughts and prayers”, then carry on!  I know how much it matters to me that others pray for me, and when I pray for others, I seek to let them know in some meaningful way.  Maybe there’s a way we can communicate that we are praying for those suffering in tragic situations that doesn’t sound flippant.

Then, the challenge for us who pray is this:  if God calls us to act as a result of our prayers, will we?  Perhaps it isn’t necessary to separate praying for people from acting to ameliorate their situations.

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him” (1 Chronicles 16.11, NLT).

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Encouragement From The Word

A lesson from Vegas

Welcome back to Encouragement From the Word!  It’s good to be back in the saddle.  My time off was, in part, a study in contrasts.  To mark our 25th wedding anniversary (which is actually next Tuesday), my wife and I embarked on a four-night trip to Las Vegas.  Following that, I went on retreat at a monastery for a few days.

Yep, that’s quite a difference.

I learned a lot about life during our visit to Sin City.  One of the most profound takeaways for me was the need some people have constantly to be stimulated.  If you’re one of those people, Vegas is your place.  Without exaggeration, the only places where we could escape from some sort of aural or visual stimulation were our hotel room, and the hallway that led to it.  Every other place we went in Las Vegas had lights flashing, music playing, bells ringing – always something stimulating the senses.

It seems to me that it’s not healthy for us to experience constant stimulation.  Sometimes, we need the silence, we need the stillness – for our own sanity, frankly – but also if we have any hope of hearing from God.

There’s a comic frame that has made its way around social media over the last several years, picturing a sheep in a chaise lounge wearing sunglasses, with a computer on his lap, a TV in front of him, a radio blaring behind him, and an iPod connected to his headphones.  He’s reading one from a pile of magazines that are stacked on top of his Bible, and he asks, “I wonder why I don’t hear from the shepherd anymore?”

The answer is obvious, and the comic challenges us.  We need time away from the noise, so we can hear from God.

What allowance do you make for quiet time?  A few days praying with monks was good for me, but it wasn’t enough; I need time daily, away from the noise.  So do you.

The Lord Jesus, during his ministry in Palestine, often found crowds of people drawn to him.  And he was compassionate toward the people and brought healing and life to many.  But the Bible also says this about him:  “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer” (Luke 5.16, NLT).  Even Jesus needed a quiet place and a quiet time.  So do you.  What will you do to make that happen in this season of trying new things?

Biblical Messages

Ask Anything?

In this new series, we’re looking at a few Scripture passages that get twisted from time to time.  The series is inspired by Craig Groeschel from LifeChurch.tv in Oklahoma, and I have adapted his outlines for my own voice.  This week, we look at the notion that when Jesus tells us we can ask anything in his name, he’ll do it.  So where’s my Cadillac?  We read John 14.12-14 and allude to Habakkuk 3.17-18.  Listen or watch below:

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Encouragement From The Word

Caught and taught

Recently, I received a bunch of papers from one of my favourite subscribers to Encouragement From The Word:  my mother.  Slowly but surely, she is starting to get rid of unnecessary things.  She has a difficult time throwing them away, so she gives to me things that she thinks might be of interest, because she knows that when I’m done with them, I can throw them away.

This bunch of papers came from my grandmother; they were notes in her handwriting.FullSizeRender 2

There were some that cited Bible verses, some were prayers, some were notions.

One of them was some advice from my grandmother on how to pray, particularly for me.  (Apparently, at that time, I wasn’t the easiest person in the world to deal with.)

I will throw out those papers, but having read them, the memory, which takes up no room in a box, will stay with me.  My grandmother’s legacy of faith remains in some of these little notes, simple means by which she could impart the wisdom of years of faith and faithfulness to my mother, and to me.

If you are a seasoned follower of Jesus, how are you leaving your legacy of faith?  And if you are a newer believer, are you inviting wiser Christians to build into your life?  Many don’t want to inflict themselves on you, but they are just waiting to be asked.

After all, faith is as much caught as it is taught.  Whose faith are you catching?

I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice.  And I know that same faith continues strong in you” (2 Timothy 1.5, NLT).

Biblical Messages

A praying church is a growing church

What makes churches grow, and what keeps them from growing?  There’s lots to learn in this field.  Today, we looked at the one commonality among all churches that grow:  they pray.

Based on Acts 4.23-31, listen to the message here:

Or watch the Facebook video feed, whether you belong to Facebook or not:

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Biblical Messages

ADVICE FROM A MENTOR: 2. Pray Indiscriminately

In this second part of our journey through 1 Timothy, we encounter what we might call a contemporary roadblock in the challenging part of chapter 2.  Because of that, I deal with it first in the message, discussing verses 8-15 before verses 1-7…a bit of a different approach, but hopefully it was helpful.

Based on all of 1 Timothy 2, you can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word

Pray for Canada

On this Canada Day, I encourage you to pray for the nation we treasure. It was founded on strong Christian principles, not least demonstrated by our coat of arms, with the phrase a mari usque ad mare – from sea to sea. Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley came up with the idea of calling Canada a “dominion”, and while that terminology is no longer frequently used, and we have wavered significantly from our Christian roots, we can know most assuredly that God still has a plan for Canada.
I took a course this week in Vancouver on cultural discipleship in a secular age, and one of the things that struck me early on is what Jeremiah wrote to the exiled people of God. In chapter 29, we’re used to hearing the comforting words that God has plans for us. But earlier in the chapter, the prophet said this to God’s people who had been carted away from their beloved land: “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare” (Jeremiah 29.4-7, NLT).
We might be inclined to say this world is not our home, but temporarily, it is. Pray for Canada this Canada Day, and ask the Lord to encourage his people to settle, and to be good neighbours to the many diverse people who inhabit our land, that they may catch a glimpse of Jesus in us.