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.

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Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

The lost connection

We never realize how much we rely on our technology until something goes wrong with it.  I spent a good chunk of yesterday morning trying to figure out why my computer would work perfectly well at home, but would not connect to the Internet at the church.  A good friend tried to help, to no avail.  Our Internet Service Provider tried to help, to no avail.  And the maker of my computer tried to help…and we’re not sure yet if that worked.  We’ll see what happens next.

The experience was both frustrating and time-consuming, but that sometimes happens. But it made me wonder:  when I pray, and I don’t necessarily feel like my ‘connection’ with God is happening, how hard do I work to restore it.

Many people of faith have these periodic ‘connection problems’ in their prayer lives.  Some of them occur for lengthy periods of time – even years.  And though we attempt to resolve them, when that doesn’t work on the first or second try, sometimes we are inclined to walk away.  However, when we do that, nobody wins.  Why?  Because God longs to have fellowship with us, and we need to have fellowship with God.  Walking away from the ‘connection’ – the relationship – means that both we and God lose out.

Even in what is deemed “the dark night of the soul” (to coin a phrase from the mediaeval Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross), we can continue to pray in faith.  Though we may not hear from God, God still hears from us, and our faith is practised – even when we think it may be doing no good at all.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced decades of silence in her relationship with God, yet she continued to pray, continued to serve, because she knew it was making a difference.  You and I can do the same.  Though our conversations with God may seem one sided, as though there were nobody on the other end of the line, our faith enables us to carry on because we believe that God hears us, God sees us, God knows that we are engaging with him.

Even when my Internet connection fails, I can keep working on documents and planning and writing and leading, because I believe my connection will be restored.  Even when I feel as though my prayers may be going no farther than the ceiling of my study, I believe the Lord hears them and continues to act.

Do you sometimes feel like your prayers aren’t going anywhere?  Trust that God hears them, and cry out to him that he will make himself known to you again.  God is faithful.

I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.  Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” (Psalm 116.1-2, NLT)

Biblical Messages

REBUILDING A PEOPLE: 2. You Know You’re Doing Something Right

Chances are, if you’ve got critics, you’re doing something right.  Last week, our intern introduced a series on the book of Nehemiah, which we are entitling, “Rebuilding A People”.  It is taking a brief look through this most interesting book of history and faith in the Old Testament.  Today, we looked at Nehemiah 4.1-23, a story of opposition to the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem.  Nehemiah’s response to his critics provides us with a vital lesson for ourselves and our churches today.  Have a listen here:

The photos referenced in the message were taken by my wife in Jerusalem in November 2013:

Neh wallis0902 Middle section - Nehemiah

Biblical Messages

LOVE ONE ANOTHER: The Son of God Has Come!

In the concluding message of this series, based on 1 John 5.13-21, we learn that the real purpose of Christmas is to celebrate that God has come in the flesh.  This gives us certain assurances about faith and prayer and forgiveness of sin, about which you can learn if you listen here:

There is a section of the passage that deserved more attention than I could give it in this short message.  Verse 16 talks about “a sin that does not lead to death” and “a sin that leads to death”.  What is John talking about here?  In the message, I allude to Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of venial and mortal sins, but is that what is being referred to here?  And, in verse 18, John writes that anyone born of God does not continue to sin.  How does that square with reality?

The Old Testament knew of sins that were deliberate – open rebellion against God, and punishable by death – and sins that were inadvertent and could be atoned for.  (For example, look at Leviticus 4 or Numbers 15.22-29.)  Judaism in the time of the writing of 1 John will have retained this understanding, and perhaps it was thus delineated in John’s community of faith.  That would help us understand the notion of the sin that leads to death.  Trying to guess what that is, on the other hand, is a pointless and fruitless venture.  Mark 3.29 refers to the sin against the Holy Spirit; could that be the sin that leads to death?  Because John’s context is all about false teaching in this letter, it’s more likely that he is thinking of that:  leading people astray in their belief is an unforgivable sin.  And then, are we enjoined not to pray about those sins?  It’s not clear that John is discouraging praying under any circumstance, but it does seem clear that he thinks there is no hope in prayer for someone who has committed such a sin; such a person would be denying God’s mercy, and the only effective prayer for such a person is to call for repentance and conversion (so says the Expositor’s Bible Commentary).

As to not continuing in sin (v. 18), it has been John’s premise throughout the letter that those who truly are ‘in Christ’ are not going to fall victim to a sinful life.  Do we still sin, even though we belong to the Lord?  Yes.  John’s point is that followers of Jesus should not make sin a pattern, a lifestyle choice, since that would be incompatible with the life to which we have been called.

Hopefully, that will tie up some of the loose ends left by the message.  Merry Christmas!

Book Reviews

Book Review: “Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer” by Rowan Williams

On a Facebook recommendation, I pre-ordered, and received quickly from Amazon.ca, the latest publication by Rowan Williams, entitled,  Being Christian:  41YEga+-9rL._SL500_AA300_Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans, 2014).  It is a surprisingly small book, at under ninety pages.  And it is a quick read; it arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, and I had it completed before going to sleep (with several other needful things done in between).

I recommend this book for those looking for a basic refresher on some of these fundamental aspects of what it means to follow Jesus.  As the subtitle suggests, he writes (about twenty pages on each) about the meaning and implications of the sacrament of Baptism, how we read (or hear) the Bible, what it means to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and then gives a brief summary of three views on the Lord’s Prayer (from Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Cassian, all classic Christian writers from early [pre-AD 600] Christianity).

Williams is clear, concise, and accessible in his writing style.  He writes with a modest Anglican bias, which the reader would only expect coming from the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury!  But even with that ‘filter’, Williams could be read quite satisfactorily by an inquirer, or by a believer from any branch of the church.

There were six especially helpful learning points that I noted for myself in the book:

  • In the Eastern Christian tradition, some icons for the baptism of Jesus depict Jesus up to his neck in water, with river gods, representing chaos being overcome, beneath the water.  The old ways are always trying to claim us back.
  • The Bible is, in a way, our own story, so history matters when reading Scripture.
  • In the Eucharist, Jesus is telling us he wants our company.
  • Prayer is about changing your attitude.
  • Prayer is a promise to God.
  • This one deserves to be quoted:  “[Prayer] is opening our minds and hearts and saying to the Father, ‘Here is your Son, praying in me through the Holy Spirit.  Please listen to him, because I want him to be working, acting and loving in me'” (p. 80).

Reflection and discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter for use by individuals or groups.  This is a short and helpful read, and I recommend it.