Encouragement From The Word

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

That’s the question the Lord asked Elijah in 1 Kings 19 – twice:  in verses 9 and 13.

The prophet had just defeated the prophets of Baal and brought rain to a land of drought, and for his trouble, the king’s wife, Jezebel, wanted his head on a platter. He was sick of the race.  So he ran away, and this was God’s response:  “What are you doing here?”

It’s a good question for each of us to ask ourselves – perhaps not about the room we’re sitting in at this very moment, but about our stage in life.  And there are different ways we can ask it.

We can ask ourselves, “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

Notice the different emphasis each time the question is asked.  There is an ancient Christian practice called the examen, where typically at the end of the day, we review the day in God’s presence and examine our conscience and consciousness.  Perhaps God’s question to Elijah, with these different emphases, might be one way to frame a review of the day.

Besides asking important questions about life, this practice also forces us to pause, which is not easy for all of us.  Give it a try today.

Elijah was sick of the race, but he knew he needed more of God.  So the Lord revealed himself to Elijah – not in the windstorm, not in the earthquake, not in the fire – but with the sound of a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19.12).

Pause long enough to hear that gentle whisper, be renewed, and know what you are doing here!

Encouragement From The Word returns on September 2.

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Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

From Judgment to Rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary…and I will give you rest.”  Many are familiar with these words of Jesus, but do we realize what their context is?  The section right before Jesus utters these words unique to the Gospel of Matthew finds him condemning entire communities where he and his miracles were well known, but the response was underwhelming.  The key question in this message is, “How will you witness for Jesus?”

Based on Matthew 11.20-30 in The Message, you can listen to the message here:

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

Songs in the Key of Life: 5. God Is Gone Up

On this Ascension Sunday, we looked at 2 Samuel 6.1-15 and Psalm 47.  The Samuel passage gives the original-context background for the Psalm, and the Psalm is also one commonly associated with Jesus’ ascension.  (I’ve had this anthem by Gerald Finzi running through my head all week.)

Have a listen to the message (and my muted rant on political correctness therein!):

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

The older you get…

I used to hear people say this years ago when I was a child, and I never quite understood it.  Now, I think I do.

The older you get, the faster time seems to move.

I am astounded that tomorrow is the last day of April, 2016.  That will bring to completion the first third of the year.  Last Christmas seems like yesterday – but it wasn’t!  Perhaps it comes with busyness, perhaps with age, but either way, the clock seems to tick faster these days.

So I’m led to ask myself, and you:  What are you doing with this time?

We all know each day is a gift; this is especially true for those who have lost loved ones.  The value of keeping short accounts is magnified when we come to realize that the time we have with others may be limited.

Likewise, we do well to be good stewards of our time.  Often, when we think about stewardship as followers of Jesus, it’s in the context of the wise use of the material wealth with which the Lord has blessed us, or maybe the care and conservation of the environment, the world God made.

But time?  That’s a gift to be stewarded as well.  Think about the number of hours we have in each week:  168.  If we spend 56 of them sleeping, 10 of them eating, 7 of them in the Necessary Room, 45 of them working, and 10 of them driving to and from work, that leaves us with 40 waking hours to do other things.  How can we be good stewards of those 40 hours?  Here are a few ideas.

Build your spiritual life.  As has been famously said, in 100 years, the only thing that’s going to matter is what you did with Jesus, so prioritize those 40 hours (and maybe some of the others, while you’re at it) building your spiritual life.  Make worship with the church and personal or family worship a priority.  Take time each Sunday to worship in community and spend time in fellowship with other followers of Jesus.  Be part of a small group of some sort that deepens that fellowship and involves some less formal study time.  Read Scripture, pray, and engage in other spiritual disciplines daily.  Use the time you’ve been given to enrich your relationship with the Giver of time.

Build your family life.  If you’re married and/or have children, prioritizing your spiritual life is the biggest favour you can do for your family, but the next thing you should do is deepen the relationships you share with those closest to you.  If you’re single, that can involve spending time with close friends.  Do things together.  Talk together, without competition from technology or television.

Rest.  In a world where the addiction to work (or even play) is not yet seen as a problem, rest is often frowned upon, but we all need it.  God set the example in creation where he looked at all he had made in 6 days, pronounced it good, and set aside the other day for rest.  Rest isn’t something we do just when we’re sleeping.  Remember, the word ‘recreation’ can be hyphenated to ‘re-creation’.  When we rest, we are re-created, rejuvenated, made ready for the week that is ahead of us; that’s why having a day of rest at the beginning of the week is so wise.  (Ever wonder why Sunday is on the left side of most calendars?)  Work from your rest, not toward it.

Of course, there can be overlap in all of these, can’t there?  We can build our spiritual lives and our family lives as part of our rest – but we should set aside some of that rest for personal renewal.  There’s no single formula for all this, so I encourage you pray about how the Lord would have you be a good steward of the time he has given you.  Hold your calendar before God as an offering.  Let the Lord speak to you as you seek to make priorities in your life.  After all, we think our time is our own, but in reality, time is in his hands.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3.1, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Be Still

I’ll bet you’ve had a busy week.  So have I.  So here’s what I’ve prescribed for myself, and I hope it’s of encouragement to you, too.

Just take five minutes – five whole minutes – to sit in God’s presence.  Pay attention to your breathing, and read these two small verses several times:

Be still, and know that I am God!

I will be honoured by every nation.

I will be honoured throughout the world.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;

The God is Israel is our fortress.

   – Psalm 46.10-11, NLT

Just let that sink in.  It’s worth your time.

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Rest Matters

Where I live, we’re on the cusp of March Break.  School children everywhere (to say nothing of the teachers) are giddy with excitement at at week without having to rise early and sit in classrooms for a whole week.

Why does this matter?  Because rest matters.

God did not design us to go at it hard every day, world without end.  He established a rhythm of work and rest in creation:  one day in seven would be a day of rest.

There’s been a lot written over the years of what constitutes “rest”, of what one is “allowed” to do on a day set aside for Sabbath.  I remember being chastised, as a student, for buying and reading a newspaper one Sunday afternoon.  I’ve known others who were not allowed to play outside as children, others who were forbidden from watching television.

Sadly, less has been written and said about what should be celebrated on Sabbath than what is prohibited.  As a result, what God intended as a gift to his people became just another law to abide.  Dare I say it?  I wonder if some families’ rigorous attempts to honour God with a day of rest actually may have driven some people from the church.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are some people who feel that they are sufficiently indispensable that they feel they must work on a day of rest.  There is an illness of spirit in that mind set, and among the worst offenders are clergy.  I have some colleagues who boast that they can’t remember the last time they took a day off.  That doesn’t honour God.  Working well honours God, yes, but so too does rest.

God invites us to work from our Sabbath rest – on whatever day we are able to take it (heaven knows pastors can’t take it on Sunday!) – not to work so hard that we collapse into a heap one day and find ourselves physically sick because we have failed to pace ourselves at a rate that enables our bodies and souls to keep in sync with each other.

So if March Break affords you the opportunity to find time to carve out some rest, take it!  If not, be sure to take some other time in the year, as well as in the week, to enjoy the gift of time away from your daily labours.  Take time to rest, take time to worship, take time to enjoy recreation in its literal sense, where you find re-creation taking place through the abandonment of work for a few days.

So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested[a] from all his work” (Genesis 2.1-2, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Rest

As a musician, I have always found it important to pay attention to rest. Why? Because if I’m playing in an ensemble, and the Quarter-Restcomposer has given me a symbol for rest, there’s a good possibility that if I play something, it’s going to sound dissonant. Even if I’m itching to keep playing, rest symbols urge me not to, for the good of the ensemble (to say nothing of those listening).

Rest is also important in life generally. As a human being made in the image of God, I know that God designed me to have rest. My body requires sleep, and without aid of unnatural stimulants, my body will even tell me when it’s time to go to bed at night. But sleep is not all there is to rest.

God’s design for the rhythm of the earth is to have a day off in seven. God set this pattern out at creation, when the world was made in six days, and on the seventh, God rested. Fields were to go fallow one year in seven. Debts were to be forgiven after seven years. There is a rhythm of rest in all of creation.

Vacation time, no matter how much or how little our jobs allow us to have, is equally sacred time. I would argue that times for retreat, where it’s just you and God, are also very important in the rhythm of work and rest in life.

Yet we humans sometimes think that, by one means or another, we can go without rest. And do you know who can be some of the worst offenders in this area? Pastors. Because some pastors can be cursed with a people-pleasing gene, they have a hard time saying no, even at their own peril. Recently I found myself saying to a colleague, whom I love, that when we have perforated boundaries around vacation, we demonstrate to our congregations that rest is not an important part of Christian discipleship.

We – all of us – are human, not super-human. Each of us needs rest – weekly, annually. We should not deny it of ourselves, and we should not allow anyone else to attempt to deny it of us.

The writer to the Hebrews hints at an aspect of rest that we are inclined to miss, and that is that Sabbath is, in a real sense, a rehearsal for eternity. “So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God.  So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today” (Hebrews 4.6-7a, NLT).

Do you take rest seriously?