Encouragement From The Word

Give thanks

Some view Thanksgiving weekend as the last gasp of summer, the time to escape to some place other than home and chill.  Others see it as a time to gather family around a big dinner table (you might want to be careful about that one this year!).  Still others see it as a time for, well, giving thanks.  (And then there are those who view the weekend in all three ways!)

The apostle Paul told the church in Thessalonica, and the Lord tells us through him, to “be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.18, NLT).  So for the Christ follower, Thanksgiving isn’t the second Monday in October; it’s every day.

Still, on Thanksgiving weekend, our minds may be drawn to common Thanksgiving songs.  A common Thanksgiving hymn, coming from the 19th century, is “Come, ye thankful people, come”.  I enjoy singing it on Thanksgiving Sunday…or, honestly, any other Sunday.  Why?

It’s not because it reminds me to give thanks, as important as that is.

It’s because the author, Henry Alford, related the idea of giving thanks for the harvest to nothing less than the second coming of Jesus.

The verses tell one story, but consider this verse in particular:

For the Lord our God shall come and shall take his harvest home;
from the field shall in that day all offences purge away,
give the angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast,
but the fruitful ears to store in God’s storehouse evermore.

What if we gave thanks to God this weekend with an understanding that Jesus is coming again…soon?

Ponder that while you gnaw on your turkey, and be thankful.

Encouragement From The Word

All about family?

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day in the US.  Today is Black Friday.  This Sunday begins the season of Advent, as we count down the days to Christmas.

And we’re still in COVID.

Many people say – reinforced by countless television commercials aimed at selling you something neither you nor your loved ones need – that “The Holidays are about family.”

I’ve been saying for years that this statement misses the mark significantly.  And this is the year to find out if that’s true.

I’m astounded – nay, gobsmacked! – at the attitudes I see on social media with respect to the pandemic and family gatherings.  These days, I see photos of some of my American friends, gathered in large crowds for Thanksgiving, as if they are unaware of the risk that if even just one person in a gathering is carrying Coronavirus, the whole group could be infected.  Why are they taking this risk?  Because “the Holidays are about family.”

In other words, maintaining a tradition is more important than preserving life.

We are entering what is usually the most socially-packed month on the calendar.  This year, that may need to be handled differently.

This may be the year that you prove that the Holidays are not really all about family.

It is possible to be thankful without having The Whole Gang present in the room.

Christmas parties can take place virtually, or in physically distanced settings.

We can still celebrate the birth of Jesus when it’s just our own household.

I don’t want to pretend I’m anybody’s Medical Officer of Health, and I’m certainly not trying to engender fear in anyone.  We serve a God who is bigger than any virus!  But as Advent begins, I think this is the year we can demonstrate, once and for all, that the Holidays are not all about family.

In this year of craziness, let’s focus on the One (in the) Stable:  let’s remember the Reason for the Season.

Whatever shape your Advent and Christmas celebrations take, be safe.  And let Jesus be the Centre of it all.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Goodness

“Goodness.”  It’s a strange term in our culture, isn’t it?  It has so many uses.

Sometimes, it’s a substitute swear word:  “Oh, my goodness.”

Sometimes, it’s an exclamation:  “Goodness, me!”

Sometimes, it’s a character trait.

For a lot of people, “goodness” is what characterizes everybody:  “He’s such a good person”, or “We all have inherent goodness.”

And there is some truth to that:  all human beings are made in God’s image, and there is a certain goodness that comes with that.  The challenge with that is that our inherent goodness is badly stained by sin.

I once heard the late renowned theologian and apologist, R.C. Sproul, offer what I thought was the best answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” 

His response?  “There are no good people.”

Not very encouraging, eh?  But he was right.

The apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Rome in the first century, said, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3.23, NLT).

In other words, the goodness in us is tainted by the reality of our sin, our inability to measure up to God’s perfect standard.

Thankfully, God also gave a solution to our problem:  Jesus.  As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.21, NLT).

This means that when we place our faith in Jesus, receiving his death and resurrection as being for us, personally, we receive the righteousness of Jesus by faith.  So when God looks on people of faith, he sees only the righteousness – the goodness – of Jesus.

That’s why we can bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit – a fruit that includes goodness.  It’s not something that comes from within us; it’s something that is borne through us by God the Holy Spirit, who lives in all followers of Jesus.

And for that, on this Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, we can be thankful.

Biblical Messages

THE TALK: 3. Latitude in Gratitude

A hard talk about sex on Thanksgiving Sunday might seem difficult or awkward, so I opted today to talk about the biblical foundation on which we base our Christian sexual ethics.  Based on Psalm 119.97-112 and 2 Timothy 3.10-17, you can listen to the message here:

As a response to the message, everyone was invited to come forward with a ‘leaf’ each had been given at the beginning of the service, on which a treasured Scripture verse had been written.  Here is the result!  thumb_IMG_1871_1024

Encouragement From The Word

Stop. Rest. Now.

Most Canadian households will celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend in one fashion or another, whether it’s by inviting the extended family over to the house for a turkey dinner, or going north to close up the cottage before the frost gets at the water pipes.  And while I would often take this opportunity to encourage you to be thankful – and I do encourage you to be thankful! – I wish instead to encourage you to take a break.

Stop.

Rest.

Not just after the potato overdose kicks in from Thanksgiving dinner, but now.

Stop.

Rest.

The time from the day after Labour Day until Thanksgiving tends to be one of the more hectic times of year, with all sorts of activities restarting after their summer hiatus.  Many of you will already be in need of a break, and there’s still the Thanksgiving celebration to attend to.

Stop.

Rest.

Now.

Simply marvel in God’s goodness to you, and accept his invitation to come, and rest in him.  If you’d like some accompaniment for that rest, even for two minutes, feel free to listen to this setting of a text from the Song of Solomon by the English-Canadian composer, Healey Willan:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdEIYnQsSZQ

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come” (Song of Solomon 2.10b-12a, NRSV).  True, the winter is not past, it is on the doorstep!  But the beauty of autumn remains, and the invitation of the Lord to us, like the invitation of the love to the beloved, remains.

Stop.

Rest.

Now.

Before the rush of the weekend.

Biblical Messages

Living Thanks

The book of Jude, a small, obscure letter in the New Testament, might not seem like the go-to place for a Thanksgiving preaching text.  But I believe much of Scripture can enjoin us to give thanks to God – even Jude 1-16!  These words offer us what might be a surprising reason to be thankful.  Give this message a listen and see if you agree:  

Biblical Messages

Formula One Praying

Do you ever find your mind wandering while you pray – or while someone else leads you in prayer?  One of the things that can help us pray well is structure.  One helpful structure uses the acronym ACTS – adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.  Today’s message is about that structure, that formula, which can help us become better people of prayer.  It’s based on Psalm 145, Psalm 51, Psalm 136 and Psalm 55.  You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Choosing to be thankful

I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving has snuck up on me this year.  Because the first of the month was a Monday, the second Monday falls immediately after the first Sunday this year – meaning that it feels like Thanksgiving is a week early.  It also falls on World Communion Sunday, the day set aside by all Christian groups for the mutual celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  So I feel snuck up on!

But that’s okay.  In one sense, it shouldn’t really matter, since for followers of Jesus, every day is Thanksgiving.  (Thankfully, we don’t eat a big turkey dinner every day, or I’d be really fat.)  There are lots of catch phrases for it:  “an attitude of gratitude”, “thanksliving”, and so on.  We know that we’re called to a life of gratitude, but some days, it is really hard to live it fully.

Here’s a suggestion that might help:  consider keeping a journal of things for which you are thankful, and make a point to record at least one each day.  It doesn’t have to be complicated; it’s not a “Dear Diary” kind of journal.  It might be just a list – a list of things, people, places, and so on, for which you are thankful – and you can record one each day.

The apostle Paul wrote a great challenge to the Thessalonian church:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NIV).  It’s not easy to do any of these things.  Sometimes, it’s hard to find life joyful; it is difficult to pray continually; it is really hard to give thanks in all circumstances – but, as Paul says, it is God’s will for us.

So start small.  Examine your life in such a way that allows you to find even one tiny little thing that allows thanksgiving to flow from your heart.  (Remember, the Bible doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything, but in all circumstances.  We can be going through dreadful circumstances, but if we can find even one thing, one person, one phenomenon that allows us to be thankful, we have achieved God’s will in that sense.)

If you still find it difficult, pay attention to your surroundings.  Pay attention to the people in your life.  Look around.  At this time of year especially, it is possible to find something for which to be thankful – if nothing else, then at least the resplendent colour of the trees.  Even they are a gift from God that can spur our gratitude.

Try it every day – list one little thing.  Then, after a while, review your list.  Watch your heart overflow with gratitude as you take a look at all those little things that made you thankful, even if life was not happy for you at the time.

Is this a discipline?  You bet it is.  Growth in the Christian life is about discipline.  But we can do it.  And God will bless us as we make the choice to be thankful.