Encouragement From The Word

Longing and Praying

Around the world, governments are starting to loosen restrictions from the Coronavirus pandemic.  I find this encouraging, and I view it with guarded optimism.

“Guarded”, I say, because we need to be careful.  We’ve never been down this road before, so just because we may have more freedom, for example, to go to the hardware store, doesn’t mean that the virus is dead and gone and will never return.  We will still need to practise procedures that will keep everyone healthy.

Like me, you may be longing – deeply! – to return to holding public worship gatherings, where we can praise the Lord together, instead of uniting by faith, separately, in our homes, watching modified services broadcast over the Internet.  We don’t know when the green light will be given for that.  And we will need to be wise in our roll-out of new practices and procedures that will allow us to be together safely.

In the midst of all that, let me encourage you to pray for the leaders of your church.  At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, where I serve, our elders have begun thinking about what will be permitted once gatherings are allowed once again.  We don’t know how the government of Ontario will roll out permission together, so we will have to abide by those guidelines, but as a witness to the goodness of God, we will err on the side of caution, because doing so demonstrates our love, and God’s love, for the community.

Let me also encourage you to pray for the people of your community.  Pray that they will be released from fear, while not being released from caution.  Pray that they will be given wisdom to retain the important habits and practices they have learned through this time of restriction.  And pray that people will see that only the gracious hand of God has permitted us all to get through this, and that they will want to respond in worship and praise, gathering with the church in celebration of God’s grace.

Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Brightness in dark days

Today’s Encouragement From the Word is a guest post from a long-time friend of mine, Dawn Champagne, with whom I went to high school.  Her poetry has shown up here before. The prayer in the image at the end is hers, too.  Thanks for the inspiration, Dawn!  – Jeff+

That second day between the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus must have been the darkest day ever experienced by the 11 remaining disciples. When Jesus had called each one of them to “follow Me,” they did so without hesitation. They readily left their careers, and eagerly listened to His teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven and how it was at hand.

How could they make sense of what they had just witnessed the day before as Jesus hung on that cross, and now dead in the tomb. While we know what occurred on the third day, they did not: all of their ambitions, hopes, and dreams were buried in that tomb as well.

The crisis was now over, and they were left alone. How could they make any sense of what happened, with no hope for the future that they had been taught about? 

When the third day dawned, their grief was changed from sorrow to rejoicing when they found the tomb empty. What a wonderful day of rejoicing that must have been as Jesus began to present Himself to them! A pondering inexpressible joy that cannot be put into words! 

We live in a world of what now seems to be in a season of dark days and turmoil with COVID-19 adding to the tears that flow from those who are suffering. Unlike what the disciples experienced on that second day, praise God, the Christian has been given the ultimate hope at the opposite end of the spectrum as we go through these difficult times. Jesus is alive! 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ whom having not seen you love” 1 Peter 1.3, 6, 8a (NKJV).

Below are words given to me as the Holy Spirit ministered to me in a time of need following a difficult season in the fall of 2016. Praying they will minister to you as well through these uncertain times, and May Jesus be the Brightest Ray on your darkest of days! 

Wishing you all a blessed Easter!

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Encouragement From The Word

Praying together when we can’t be together

When our church’s leaders met on Tuesday (electronically, of course), one of them shared a good idea that I want to share with you.

It’s hard for us to pray in each other’s presence right now.  In times of crisis, one of the church’s greatest and most powerful and encouraging tools is corporate prayer.  But we can’t get together to pray in these days.  It’s just not safe.

It’s possible to have online prayer meetings, and they can be valuable.  But we can also pray, on our own, in our homes (or at work, if we are deemed essential services).

The elder I mentioned above shared with me an email from the Yonge Street Mission that expressed ways that the church can pray.  I’m going to adapt its suggestions as ways that we can pray together, even though we are apart:

  • Pray for peace to reign in our communities. In place of panic and fear, ask the Lord to fill our villages, towns and cities with compassion and grace.
  • Pray for people who will be most impacted by service interruptions, such as access to meals, food banks, fellowship groups, and those who cannot connect with community online because they do not use the Internet.
  • Pray for people whose employment is affected by this crisis – those who have lost their jobs permanently or temporarily, those who are deep in debt, as well as those whose work demands have ramped up or become more dangerous because of Coronavirus. Pray especially for those on the front lines of medical care, and those in essential services.
  • Pray for people who struggle with isolation, especially those who live alone and those who depend on regular visits from friends or loved ones.

As you pray, ask the Lord how he can use you to make someone’s situation better, whether through a phone call or an email, leaving a few needed groceries on their front porch, or sending a card of encouragement.

And pray in faith.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).

By the way, if you don’t have an online church home in these days, you are welcome to join the online community with St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on Facebook Live, or for replay anytime on our YouTube channel.

Biblical Messages

A snapshot of the church

This worship gathering was primarily led by young people, and their theme was the Holy Spirit; my job was to integrate with their theme, so I chose to bring a message from Acts 2.42-47 that shows a picture of the early church as it responded to the giving of the Holy Spirit.  The message itself starts at 39:37, or you can watch the whole service below.

Bonus: an audio recording of the message is below, if that suits you better…

Encouragement From The Word

The Sound of Silence

The sound of silence.

For some, it is a reference to Simon and Garfunkel.

For others, it is the noise made by the refrigerator or the HVAC system.

For some, it is deafening.

For others, it is the most beautiful sound on earth.

Whatever it may mean to us, the sound of silence is a gift, whether we acknowledge it or not.  For it is in silence that we are most clearly able to commune with God as friend to Friend, as servant to Master, as disciple to Lord.  Think about it:  when you are having an intentional conversation with a close friend, you’re probably not having to shout over a loud racket, right?  When it’s a serious conversation, there’s probably no discernible noise in the background.

So why not do this with the Lord?

At times, we may wonder why we don’t hear from God; it’s less likely that God is silent, and more likely that we are not making space to listen.

As you read the Bible, as you pray – whatever shape that takes – consider doing it accompanied by the sound of silence.  You may be surprised how much you hear.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 62.5-6, NRSV).

Encouragement From The Word

Religious Respectability

In his book Prayer:  Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster writes about various facets of the gemstone of the Christian life that is prayer.  Among them is “authoritative prayer”, in which Foster suggests that God’s people are too often too timid about exercising their God-given abilities in prayer.

He cites all kinds of times when Jesus spoke authoritatively in prayer, and then he writes,

“Certainly I should not be expected to do those kinds of things.  But then I came upon Jesus’ shocking words:  ‘Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14:12)….In my concern over falling off the deep end, I realized that I just might fall off the shallow end.  My desire to maintain religious respectability could easily result in a domesticated faith”  (pp. 234-235, emphases mine).

Re-reading this book always challenges me, and on this go-round, it was this section that slapped me ‘upside the head.’  Am I more interested in religious respectability than I am about doing the work God has intended for me to do?

It’s as if I would sooner sit in the cold than get up and turn on the furnace.

Now, what might be running through your mind certainly courses through mine, and that’s this:  What about the sovereignty of God?

Foster would remind us that any prayer we offer authoritatively must come not from any authority of our own, but from the authority of the Holy Spirit working in and through us – and the Holy Spirit, as the third Person of the Trinity, is sovereign and ultimately decides whether a prayer should be granted or not.

Yet, I want to suggest, too often we don’t even bother.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying, “There’s nothing we can do,” what if we were to speak to the sickness in our loved one, in Jesus’ name?

Many of us are reluctant to do such things because we don’t own a white polyester suit, or a personal jet; we don’t want to be lumped in with those Christians.  To be sure, any authoritative ministry we exercise does not happen for our own self-aggrandizement, but for the glory of God.  But if God were willing to heal, willing to cast out, willing to aid – if we were simply to ask – would that not be worth the risk of losing religious respectability?