Biblical Messages

Decluttering Christmas: Let Come!

This day marks the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Christian year, and the start of a season of preparation in anticipation of our celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Most of us, though, find that we are pretty cluttered at the best of times, and perhaps especially at this time of year.  Yet the world around us practically dictates that we acquire more stuff.  So how can we make room for what really matters?

In this series, entitled, “Decluttering Christmas”, we’re going to look at some ways the Bible suggests we can make room for the Lord.  This message is entitled, “Let Come”, and can be heard by clicking here.  It’s based on Revelation 3.14-22.

How do you declutter Christmas?  Feel free to comment.

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Encouragement From The Word

Hurry up and wait!

As far as the retail world is concerned, Christmas is “on”.  Today, after all, marks one month until Christmas, and this year is also “Black Friday”.  A term coined in the US for the day after American Thanksgiving, it’s deemed to be the day of brisk sales that moves a retail establishment from the ‘red’ to the ‘black’.  It’s sort of the American equivalent to our Boxing Day, but on the other side of Christmas.

Many radio stations are playing Christmas music, and though we have no snow on the ground (at least where I live), there is a sense that the season is upon us.

However, the waiting has just begun.

This Sunday commences the season in the Christian year known as “Advent”.  The word simply means “coming”, and it’s a four-week season wherein we await the birth – and the return – of Jesus the Messiah.  It’s a season of waiting.  There’s a song that is sung in Advent that goes like this:

All earth is waiting to see the Promised One,
And open furrows await the seed of God.
All the world, bound and struggling, seeks true liberty;
It cries out for justice and searches for the truth.

“All earth is waiting.”  It doesn’t seem like that, does it?  No, it seems as if nobody’s interested in waiting, only in getting on with it.  But if you’ve ever been a parent – especially a mom – you know that giving birth involves quite a lot of waiting…not less than nine months of it, normally.

Personally, I enjoy the waiting that’s involved in Advent.  There’s a sense of anticipation.  When I was a kid, the anticipation was trying to guess what was in the beautifully-wrapped gift boxes under the Christmas tree.  Now, though, the anticipation has more to do with, ‘What new thing will God do this year?’

Year after year, it never fails to amaze me that God does great and amazing things through this season, culminating on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  As God’s people gather to worship, bringing their friends along, the Spirit speaks in ways beyond what we can understand.  That never gets old.  And it’s what I wait for as I prepare for the birth of the Saviour.

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1.31-33, NLT).

What are you waiting for?

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Encouragement From The Word

Pay it forward!

I had lunch on Wednesday with a dear friend, Carey Nieuwhof.  We don’t get together all that often because of busy schedules, but when we do, it’s always a joy to catch up, picking up from where we left off.  Friends like that are a blessing indeed.  It’s just icing on the cake that Carey is a top-shelf leader in the Christian faith, and I get to learn from what God is doing in his life each time we get together.

We spent a couple of hours talking about life and faith and church, and when the waitress came with our bill, we kept on talking for a bit.  Before it was paid (Carey had grabbed it in his kind way), the waitress came back and said to us, “I have some good news for you.  A guy who was in here earlier saw you and paid your bill for you.  He said something about ‘Emmanuel’.”

Carey and I just smiled, and said, “Thank you!”  The waitress seemed a bit amazed at this pay-it-forward experience.  As it turns out, the guy who had paid the bill for us was one of the staff at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Barrie.  There are a few larger congregations in the south end of Barrie that support and encourage one another, and both Emmanuel and Carey’s congregation, Connexus Community Church, are among them.  This kindness serves both as an encouragement to the pastors, as well as a witness to the wait staff in the restaurant (and I’m guessing they do this in more restaurants than the little Thai place where we were).

We all understand the concept of paying back someone when we owe that person something.  But the pay-it-forward concept is a bit newer for many of us.  Occasionally, we’ll hear of someone who does this at a coffee shop drive-thru, for the person in the vehicle behind – even if the person is completely unknown to the first driver.  It gives us warm fuzzies, knowing that there is such generosity among our fellow human beings, even in a “medium double-double”-sized way.  But have you ever thought of paying it forward as a witness for your faith?

There’s a pathetic old joke that asks,  “What’s the difference between Christians and canoes?”  The answer?  “Canoes tip.”  God’s people don’t exactly have the best reputation for generosity in restaurants.  I’ve known wait staff who have hated working the Sunday afternoon shift for just that reason.  By being authentically generous, however, we can aid our witness.  That doesn’t mean we’re buying a positive view of the Christian faith, but it does mean doing all we can to destroy the concept that followers of Jesus are cheapskates!

Let me encourage you to pay it forward for someone else.  Who knows what seeds you may sow as a result?

It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20.36b, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Mission is giving!

The mission of God involves God’s people giving of their time, talent and treasure to make a difference in the world.  Christ followers are called not to be fundraisers, but growing stewards.   This message, which is partly instructional and partly formational, is based on 1 Corinthians 16.1-4.  You can listen to it by clicking here.

Encouragement From The Word

Murray’s enemies, Jackson’s friends?

As you may have heard, Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Conrad Murray, was convicted this week of administering a lethal amount of a medication that led to Jackson’s death.

While the story in itself is tragic enough, what I observed to be almost equally as tragic is the reaction of onlookers – principally fans of Michael Jackson’s music – who cheered and rejoiced at the downfall of another human being.

Dr. Murray was found guilty by a jury of his peers, and there are consequences to pay when one is found guilty of a crime, beyond a shadow of a doubt.  But he is still a human being, a person who, like those cheering onlookers and the rest of us, is in need of God’s grace.

Seeing this response reminded me of the reaction of the children of Palestine and other parts of the Middle East when they learned of the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  The children – people who often are the quickest to give the benefit of the doubt – were cheering in the streets at the news of the massive loss of American life.

Neither of these reactions is good, right, or helpful to the human cause.

Why do people find cause to rejoice in the suffering (just or unjust) of others?  Some are wont to say, There, but for the grace of God, go I.  That might be a reasonable reaction.  But cheering is not.

We can believe that something is wrong, that something is unjust.  That’s appropriate, even healthy, as a form of discernment.  How we react to that wrong, that injustice – that says more about us than about another.  Today, when we remember the hard work and the suffering of those who fought and died to maintain our country’s freedom, we do well to remember that those brave people fought and died to maintain our right to believe that others are wrong.  (That, folks, is what the real meaning of tolerance is.)  I don’t think these folks gave themselves in war so that we could cheer and rejoice over the suffering of those whom we believe to be wrong.

Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God.  For the Scriptures say,

‘I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,’
says the Lord.

Instead,

‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.’

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12.19-21, NLT).

Peace to you, as you give thanks for your freedom today.

Biblical Messages

Mission is ours

Mission work isn’t just something that takes place overseas.  We can do mission in our own back yard!  Sharing our faith is not always easy, but when we ask God to give us the courage, and the open doors to share, amazing things can happen.  This message is based on the Great Commission in Matthew 28.18-20 and Ephesians 4.11-16.  Listen to it by clicking here.

I’d love to have you comment with encouraging stories of when God opened doors for you to share your faith!

Encouragement From The Word

A lesson from an unseen, and unpaid, bill

I get sincerely frustrated at myself occasionally.  One of those occasions happened last week.  We received a credit card bill in our house, which was addressed to my wife.  When she opened it, I heard a loud exclamation from the other room.  When I inquired, she said, “We didn’t pay the last bill.”

Knowing what the bill was for, I said, “I wondered!  We never received the last bill!”  I am the bill-payer in the house, and I didn’t recall ever seeing the bill.

It was true:  the previous month’s bill for that card never came in the mail (it still hasn’t arrived).  So I asked her to call the credit card company, state the facts, and ask to have the interest removed from the bill.

She did, and after a bit of wrangling (and a short lecture), the company removed the interest from the bill, since she is a faithful customer, and the records show that the bill is always paid on time.  Immediately following this conversation, I paid the bill online and carried on with the day.  The lecture my wife received, though, reminded me that even though the bill doesn’t come in the mail, the cardholder is still responsible to pay up.

There are enough bills that come to our home over the course of a month that it’s not hard for one to get lost in the fray – particularly if it never arrives!  I know we’re duty-bound by the cardholder agreement to pay the bill, even if we never receive notice that it is due.  That doesn’t impress me much, in terms of the company’s responsibility to let us know that an amount is due, but it’s still our responsibility to pay.

This reminded me of the reality of God’s grace and love:  even though we may not see a reminder of it, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Quite the contrary:  we can be certain that, even if we see no evidence of it, God’s grace and love remain ever-present with us.

There are times in our lives when God’s grace and love seem notably absent.  But make no mistake:  if we don’t sense these traits of God, we can be sure, by faith, that they are still present.  God’s love continues to be ever-ready to enwrap us.  God’s grace continues to be completely ready to forgive us.

When the Lord seems distant, it is not God who has moved – it is us.  Know, by faith, that he is always with us, passionately pursuing the ongoing, deepening relationship we share together.  Reach out, in faith, and receive.  You’ll never be disappointed.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.  So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5.20-21, NLT).

And be sure of this:  God will never send you a bill for his love and grace!  The price for that was paid on the cross of Jesus Christ.  Believe, and know.