Encouragement From The Word

The elusive subway train

While on vacation in early August, my wife and I paid our first visit to New York City. It’s a fascinating place, great for people-watching, and I recommend that you go if you haven’t been before. (We found a place to camp in New Jersey that was very handy to the train that goes into Manhattan, so while not cheap, it was less expensive than taking a New York hotel room!)

Since the constant gridlock traffic that characterizes downtown Manhattan would drive any Canadian crazy, we relied on public transit to get us around New York. And we learned something fascinating: the New York City subway system is very confusing – even to locals.

We were in Fulton Street Station in lower Manhattan, and we wanted the Number 1, 2 or 3 train to head up to 42ndStreet.  It shouldn’t be too hard, we reasoned, since any one of those three trains would get us there.  But the platform we landed on did not have any of those trains; we weren’t interested in a trip to Brooklyn, so we started watching signs.  Every so often, as we walked along the platforms in the hot, sticky air, we would see a sign that pointed to the Number 1, 2 and 3 trains.

We went up stairs.  We went up elevators.  We went down stairs.  We walked across what felt like miles of platforms.  And this was all in the same station!  At one point, we encountered a lady who, in conversation, told us that she lives there, and she gets confused by the subway.  She wanted the same train we did, and she was as helpless in the process as we were!

Eventually, we found the right platform – no worries about getting my 10,000 steps in that day! – and made it uptown.  But oh, my, what a confusing episode.

Understand that for someone who is new to the church, who perhaps went as a child or has absolutely no faith background at all, walking into a church building on a Sunday morning can be a bit like my experience in the New York City subway.

It’s up to us to assume nothing, keep it simple, and be willing to help people navigate through a service that may be old hat to us, but not to our guests. This is true whether your worship gathering is simple and streamlined, or requires you to follow along in a book or a bulletin.  Whatever we do, it may be gibberish to someone who is new to the church.

Let’s do all we can to grease the path that leads to Jesus.  That way, our guests will be able to echo the Psalmist:  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Conflict in the Middle East…again…still

“Conflict in the Middle East” – it’s a headline once again…or still.  Somewhere in the Middle East, there always seems to be some sort of skirmish taking place – but when Israel is involved, it always garners more attention.

Curiously, this is not just political, but religious – even when it ostensibly involves Jewish extremists and Islamic extremists, some Christians still get involved in the fray.  Why?  Because, depending on how one interprets the Bible, some believe that the political state of Israel plays a major role in the end of time as we know it.

Yes, some believe that the existence and prosperity of the state of Israel today will make a difference in the timing of Jesus’ return.  Personally, I don’t read the Scriptures in this way, but some do.  I prefer to leave the matter of Jesus’ return and the final judgment up to Jesus to determine.  I will simply trust in him as I await that great and glorious day.

That said, there still is a desire on the part of many Christ-followers to see at least some parts of the Holy Land preserved, if for no other reason than to retain the opportunity to walk where Jesus walked, and to see some of the sites of biblical events.  There is a greater desire on the part of Jewish people to maintain the state of Israel, because they believe this is the land that was given to them by God in the time of Abraham.  They believe it is theirs by divine right.

There’s a whole political and theological Can Of Worms that I’m not going to open in that discussion, and frankly, there are many others who are better qualified to do so than I am.  But I will say this:  irrespective of the politics, and who’s firing on whom today, the Bible is unequivocal on one thing.  We are enjoined to seek the peace of Jerusalem.

Pray for peace in Jerusalem”, says the Psalmist.  “May all who love this city prosper.  O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces.  For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, ‘May you have peace.’  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem” (Psalm 122.6-9, NLT).

The people of God were often in conflict with other nations, usually because of their own disobedience.  There was always a desire, though, to maintain their nation, and particularly not to lose Jerusalem.  Major parts of the Old Testament are devoted to the building, or rebuilding, of a temple in praise of the Lord in Jerusalem.  It is no surprise, then, that the Psalmist would enjoin us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and to seek what is best for it.

In the conflict that has arisen in the past few days, I’m certain that there is fault on both sides.  Israel has long been oppressed, and it has oppressed the Palestinians – ironically, many of the Christians – in the occupied territories.  This sort of political stress can only last for so long without some kind of eruption.  Irrespective of blame, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  Whatever constitutes your devotional practice, add Psalm 122 to your readings in these days.

God’s best for your weekend.  At St. Paul’s, Nobleton this Sunday, we’re concluding a series on prayer, and folks are invited to write out a “cardboard testimony” – in this case, a few words about something God has done in their lives through prayer.  It will be an amazing time of encouragement about what God is doing through prayer.  (Don’t forget yours, St. Paul’s folks!  There is some extra cardboard at the church if you need it!)

Wherever you’ll be this Sunday, may your time of worship be blessed.