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…

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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?

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).

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).