Encouragement From The Word

Resolutions or Rule?

Happy new year!  I hope your Christmas and New Year celebrations were deep and rich.

When it comes to the new year, there seem to be two kinds of people:  folks who make resolutions, and folks who don’t.  Fitness facilities everywhere rely on the former, at least for the first few weeks of the year!

It’s one thing to make a resolution, but it’s another thing to create a habit.  This is why I prefer to consider a rule of life rather than resolutions.

What do I mean by a rule of life?

In one sense, you can think of a rule of life as a series of new year’s resolutions that you actually keep, that are integrated into your lifestyle.  A rule of life is a plan that you set out for yourself, prayerfully, that you can achieve, that will enhance your life and your walk with God.

It can involve things you will undertake daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.  So, for example, you might want to make reading the Bible and praying for half an hour, and going for a 2 kilometre walk while listening to an edifying podcast, part of your rule for each day.  A regular day of rest and a date with your spouse or significant other could be part of your weekly rule.  Monthly, you could vow to read a solid work of theology and take a long hike (though perhaps not at the same time!).  Yearly, you could set out to make a retreat, guided or alone, to build your relationship with the Lord, and ensure you take at least two weeks of vacation.

These are just examples, but if you set your mind to them, and seek the grace of God to fulfill them, these are achievable goals.  And if, for example, you miss a day in your Bible reading and prayer, instead of abandoning the idea altogether, you get up and carry on the next day, because you know it’s the right thing to do.

A rule of life can also be shared with fellow Christians who are close to you, as they can help you evaluate the achievability and appropriateness of your chosen rule.

And the good news is that it’s never too late to create a rule of life.  We may be a few days into the new year, but you can start prayerfully discerning your rule of life today!

Here’s more good news:  when you keep a rule of life that strengthens your walk with God, you’re not the only beneficiary: your small group is enriched, your church is enriched, and the Kingdom of God is enriched, because you are growing as a disciple of Jesus.

Give it a try!

To encourage you, here’s a rule of life that the apostle Paul gave to the church in Rome (even though he didn’t call it that):

 Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good.  Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself.  Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord.  Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.  Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home.

 Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them.  When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad.  Be friendly with everyone. Don’t be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people.  Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others,  and do your best to live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12.9-18, CEV).

 

Biblical Messages

Stay the Course

I’m beginning a two-month Sabbatical, called an Inter-Mission, this week coming, so today at worship, I preached a message from Romans 12.6-13 that encouraged the congregation to stay the course, and how to do that.  Have a look!  The message itself starts at 31:40.

Encouragement From The Word

Let God transform you

I have spent part of this week with a group of students from Presbyterian seminaries in Canada.  They are required to attend what’s called a Guidance Conference at some point in their theological education in order to be assessed in terms of their understanding of their faith journey, call to ministry and gifting.

It was 25 years ago now that I went through one of these conferences as a candidate for ministry, and I remember how nerve-wracking and grueling it was to be watchedat all times, so I’ve done my best when participating in these conferences to be friendly and not to appear like Big Brother.

What these conferences remind me of, writ large, is that the Christian life is not just about being informed.  It’s also about being formed.

It’s possible to shovel all manner of knowledge into people’s minds, and it may make them smart, but unchanged.  There must be an aspect of formation, whether in theological education for pastors or ongoing discipleship for congregants.  After all, you could get an axe murderer to memorize the Psalms and the Westminster Confession of Faith and that person, without the involvement of the Holy Spirit, would still be an axe murderer.

The Bible tells us, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12.2, NLT).

It is God who does the transforming, not us.  We do well to position ourselves for transformation, but the work of transforming belongs to God.

When God works to transform us, it changes our way of thinking, and therefore our way of living.  Faith not just about knowledge, but about character development.

We don’t send congregants to things like Guidance Conferences, but there are all kinds of opportunities that exist for God’s people to develop their character in the Lord:  conferences, podcasts, videos, online sources like RightNowMedia, as well as small groups and Bible studies at church, along with regular participation in worship.

September starts tomorrow.  It’s a time for fresh starts.  Why not determine that you will make time to prioritize your spiritual formation this fall?

Encouragement From The Word

Celebrating by giving

In some cultures, I’ve learned that when an individual is celebrating a milestone of some sort, the individual gives gifts to those who have helped him or her to achieve the milestone, rather than the common North American tradition of others bringing gifts to the individual.  I’ve come to appreciate that.

This year, our church decided to try that approach.  We are celebrating our 60th ICG14anniversary of ministry and service to our community, so last Wednesday evening, we borrowed an idea from a friend of mine, and hired an ice cream truck to roam the streets of town for an evening.  We stopped at a seniors’ residence, a soccer pitch, and a community park – and for any passersby as we journeyed along.  People were expecting to have to pay for the ice cream.

But they didn’t.  We did.

Why? We did it to invite our community to celebrate with us, and to get the word out that serving Jesus and having fun can be compatible.

We weren’t preaching to anyone.  We told them St. Paul’s was celebrating its 60th anniversary by giving away ice cream cones.  The driver/server of the ice cream truck was so thrilled at what we were doing that he told everybody he gave a cone to where the church is and what time worship begins!

Will this result in higher attendance?  Possibly, but not likely.  That’s not really why we did it.  But if our act of kindness to our community planted a seed or two, it will have been successful. You never know what opportunities may come about down the road because we offered an ice cream cone on a warm evening, in Jesus’ name.

Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” (Romans 12.11, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The value of encouragement

Some folks just have a perfect, God-ordained sense of timing. Have you ever received a card or a phone call or a hug at just the right time? I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me over the course of my life and ministry. Even this week, after a particularly distressing few moments that had a more profound impact on my psyche than they should have, the Lord used two friends to encourage me: one with an “out of the blue” phone call that communicated just the right words, and another with a card that said exactly what I needed to read.

There is great power in the use of the spiritual gift of encouragement. Nobody gets too much encouragement, right? The Bible mentions this gift in Romans 12: “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well….If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging” (vv. 6 & 8, NLT). People who have this gift find it very easy to seek out the positive and reinforce it. And they are responsive to God’s little nudges, and his overall sense of timing.

George Barna recently reported that more American Christians report having the spiritual gift of encouragement, which – if they use it – should be really good news for churches. Hopefully, this is true for Canadian Christians, too! Encouragement, as I see it, is the fuel for ministry.

Is your church running on empty? Suggest to your church leadership that they engage in a survey of the congregation’s spiritual gifts (I can help you with that, by the way…). A spiritual gift discovery is often a real revelation for people, as they learn what God has equipped them to do in the life of the church. You can be sure that at least one person in your fellowship has been gifted with encouragement. Once you know who that person is (or who those people are), draw them into a nurturing of their gift. Help them understand that their encouragement will strengthen the leaders of the church, and will bring a positive spirit to the life of the congregation. Never underestimate the value of encouragement.

Just ask me. I know.

This edition of Encouragement From The Word was first published on February 13, 2009.

Biblical Messages

ALTAR EGO: That ‘F’ Word (Again)

Many people carry a burden of unforgiveness.  In this message, we’re encouraged to lay on the altar of God’s grace our right to be offended.  It’s based on Proverbs 19.11 and Romans 12.1-5.  In the middle of the message, I showed this video.  You can listen to the message here: