Encouragement From The Word

Resolving, Together!

What does the changing of the year mean for you?  For some, it means going to a party, and counting down the clock to the stroke of midnight, toasting the year that was and the year that will be.  For others, being with loved ones, with or without the party, is what matters.  Still others are resolution-makers.

There’s a lot of money tied up in New Year’s Resolutions.  Take a look at the commercials on television after Christmas:  gyms, weight loss programs, and stop-smoking-regimens all promise to make the you of 2011 better in 2012…even if the old you was just fine, thank you very much, as far as you were concerned.

There can be great value in making resolutions, whether at the turn of the year or otherwise, particularly when we share our resolutions with others.  That way, those with whom we share our resolutions can help to make us accountable to keep them.

This is one of the reasons for the existence of the church.

God knows us inside-out, and he knows that we aren’t strong enough to grow as disciples of Jesus  on our own.  We need community.   We need support.  We need each other.  That’s why we need the church.

We’ve tended to think of the church as a building – “Oh, look at the pretty church!” we might say as we drive by an historic old edifice.  But that’s not really the church; that’s just the church building, the place where the church meets.  The church itself, by definition, is the people – “those called out” is what the Greek word (ecclesia) means.  The church comprises those called out from a life that leads to death to a life that leads to new life (and their children).

The church, and particularly a small group in which you participate within the church, can be a great place to share your burdens, and to declare your resolutions.  These sisters and brothers can help you be all that you can be in the Lord.

If you’re going to resolve to do anything this year, I’d suggest you resolve to be the church.  Going to church is great, but being the church is amazing.  It’s part of God’s plan for you and me as followers of Jesus.  The church is Jesus’ bride, so let’s resolve to be the church in 2012, and beyond!

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10.25, NLT).

God’s best for your year!


Why is Christmas a ‘downer’ for so many?

In reading a sermon for Christmas by William Willimon this morning, I was reminded of the real reason why Christmas can be such a ‘downer’ for so many people:  they’re emphasizing that which will pass away, that which will disappoint, in one way or another, eventually.

When we emphasize gifts, it’s obvious enough that they’ll break or wear out or cease to be sufficiently interesting.  But even when we emphasize children or family, which so many do today to avoid being too ‘religious’ about Christmas (!), these things can disappoint, too, because people are people; they sin, they get sick, they move, they disappoint, they die.  There is a let-down when we emphasize family and children because these don’t line up to the fairy-tale TV special standards, or at least, not for very long.

Family disappoints when we no longer hang a stocking or set a place at dinner for them.

No, the key is to emphasize that which is eternal and eternally faithful and eternally significant:  when we emphasize the birth of Jesus, and his great qualities, instead of emphasizing anything human, we will be less apt to be disappointed at Christmas. When Jesus – God-become-human – is what really matters, Christmas is never a ‘downer’.

Something to think about.

Encouragement From The Word

Welcome our new Neighbour, Jesus!

This weekend, Christ-followers everywhere will celebrate the birth of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus.  This is nothing new; the church has been marking this celebration for almost 2,000 years.  This was no ordinary birthday, of course:  this birthday, unlike any other, changed the course of history.

There have been many people who, for good or ill, have changed the course of history through their life’s actions, but no one, before or since, has changed history by virtue of being born.

Some pretty important babies have been born over time; heirs-apparent to thrones, children of religious leaders, and the like, have been born with the potential for greatness.  Sometimes that has been realized, and sometimes not.  But Jesus, when he was born, changed history not just from that starry night forth, but from eternity.

Do you see the difference?  Our friends in the United States mark the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., but no one imagined on that chilly January day in 1929 that this little preacher’s kid would change not only the course of American history, but the destiny of Black people everywhere.  His life, and his untimely death, resulted in a revolution of thought and action that led to the celebration of his birthday each year by our American cousins.

But Jesus was recognized for the change he would make to history from the point of his birth, and even before.  As we read the Old Testament prophets, we see how the foretelling of his birth also predicted the change that would occur in the world hundreds of years before the Babe of Bethlehem took his first breath.

This wasn’t just a man who was going to make the world a better place.  This was God, in human flesh, who had come to save the world.  His name itself – Jesus – is a variant of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “the Lord saves”.

What we celebrate at Christmas is God coming into the world in a whole new way.  After the fall of humanity, God spoke only through prophets.  But by becoming incarnate – having skin on him – God became one of us, and changed the course of the world he made by living, teaching, and ultimately dying and rising again.

We can’t  look at the manger without also looking at the cross and the empty tomb.  But the thirty-three years of Jesus’ earthly life are not the end of the story, for in that time Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, which he sent at Pentecost, so that he could live in and with his people forever, until he comes again to receive his own to himself.

From that night on, God has lived among his people.  Our celebration of Christmas stands as an annual reminder that God is with us.   Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us.  And he is with us still today.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1.14, The Message).  And the great news is that Jesus isn’t just our neighbour; he lives in us by faith, through his Spirit.

See you at the manger.


Encouragement From The Word

An Everyday God

Take a look at this painting, called, “The Numbering at Bethlehem”.

Looks odd, doesn’t it?  I mean, it doesn’t look much like Bethlehem.  It doesn’t even look particularly religious.  In fact, it looks quite a lot like an old European town.  That is what it’s intended to look like!  It was painted by Peter Bruegel, a 15th century Flemish painter.  In this little snow-covered community, the streets are filled with activities of the season.  There’s a wreath over the door of one shop, where folks meet, haggling over prices.  There’s a young man flirting with a young woman.  A farmer and his wife are butchering a pig in the foreground, probably for someone’s Christmas feast.  (That, if nothing else, gives away that this is no Jewish town!)  There’s a worker struggling with a cart of firewood.  Children are playing and skating on a frozen little pond.  A crowd meets at the census office, preparing to be counted for tax purposes.

It looks like a typical winter’s day in mediaeval western Europe.  It doesn’t look much like Bethlehem at all – just Christmassy, in a muted kind of way.

But look a little closer.  Zoom in, if you have to.  You’ll see, in the middle of the road, “unnoticed by passersby, a humble, stooped-shouldered man carries a bag of tools, and leads a small donkey who is trudging through the snow.  And on the donkey, shivering from the cold, an old blanket thrown over her shoulders, is an unassuming young maiden.  It is Joseph the carpenter and his young wife, Mary, come from Nazareth to pay taxes.


“Is this not the way that Christ comes to us, not just on Christmas day, but every day?  Moving in, silently, without fanfare or burst of trumpet, coming into the midst of life in all of its everydayness and clutter and workaday concerns, arriving, as Paul said, ‘like a thief in the night.‘  Here is God, touching and loving earth in the form of a baby, born to lowly parents in a stable.

“Look again at the Bethlehem scene.  Look with eyes of expectancy and faith.  Can you feel the throb of joy underneath this everyday scene?  As John the Baptizer told us at Christ’s first advent, ‘There now stands among you, often unknown to you, the one who is your salvation’ (John 1.6-18, 19-28).  Rejoice, for even now God is moving silently across the canvas of our lives to deliver us.”  (William Willimon, Between Two Advents, 1977).

Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2.11, NIV).


I won the Liebster Blog Award!

My friend, Marta LoFranco, has blessed me with the Liebster Blog Award!  She won it for her blog, Marta’s Ponderings.

One of the conditions of my receiving this award is that I present it to other bloggers of my choosing. The Criteria: The Liebster Blog Award is meant to showcase bloggers who have fewer than 200 subscribers. This is all done in the spirit of pay-it-forward. The Rules: You must mention in your blog and link to the person who awarded you the Liebster and mention 2 to 5 other blogs with fewer than 200 followers you think worthy of the Liebster.

I can heartily recommend two friends’ blogs. Chuck Quail blogs at Faithfully His, and Bryn MacPhail blogs at Thinking Big: The Reflections of Bryn MacPhail in the Bahamas. Check these guys out, and be blessed.  I follow other good blogs, which you can find on my blogroll, but most of them have more than 200 followers!

Let’s build the Christian traffic, folks.  God is at work on the Internet.



A Microferroequinologist’s Night Before Christmas

As “That Time Of Year” approaches, I am reminded of this piece of classic poetry, especially aimed at the model railroader…

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through my pike,

Not a steamer was stirring, not even a Mike.

My yard tracks invitingly empty and bare,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.


The diesels were nestled all snug in their sheds,

While visions of DCC danced in their heads.

While I, in my blue-and-white engineer’s cap,

Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.


When down in the train room, there rose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the basement I flew like an ace,

Tripped over the cat and fell flat on my face.


I stifled a curse meant for Chessie (the cat),

And I muttered to no one, “I meant to do that,”

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But an HO-scale sleigh and eight Preiser reindeer,


With an engineer driving, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than GG-1’s, onward they came,

And he blew a steam whistle and called them by name:


“On Athearn! On Lionel, Kato and Walthers!

On Kadee and Micro-Trains, Atlas and others!

To the top of the mountains of Hydrocal plaster,

Now dash away, dash away, dash away faster!”


As dry leaves that behind a new Genesis fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So in through the window the coursers they flew

With the sleigh full of trains, and St. Nicholas too.


And then, on my roundhouse, I saw on the roof

The prints in the dust of each HO-scale hoof.

As I drew a deep breath, and was turning around,

From beneath the benchwork, St. Nick came with a bound.


He was dressed like an engineer from head to foot,

And his clothes had that fine smell of ashes and soot;

A bundle of trains he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.


His eyes – just like marker lights! Dimples, how merry!

His cheeks like a Warbonnet, nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And his beard was so white, it would please Phoebe Snow.


He puffed on a pipe as he refilled its bowl,

And the smoke, it smelled just like bituminous coal.

He had a broad face and a belly (I found)

That shook like a tank car with wheels out-of-round.


He was chubby and plump, and I wanted to shout,

“Yes! The man’s got a route the UP can’t buy out!”

A wink of his eye as he passed near the door

Soon gave me to know I’d have freight cars galore.


He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work.

He filled all my yard tracks; then turned with a jerk,

And leaving an airbrush he’d found on eBay,

And giving a nod, he returned to his sleigh.


He pumped up the brakes, blew two blasts on his whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,


Encouragement From The Word

Receiving gifts

When you receive a gift, what is your response?  Hopefully, you say, “Thank you,” but beyond that, how do you respond?  Most of us, if we are honest, quickly think of some form of reciprocation.  We think, What will I give this person in return for this gift?

Sometimes, people give expecting something in return.  But hopefully, most of us give without any expectation of reciprocation.  Still, we end up feeling obliged to do something.  It’s the ‘catch’.

Some advertisers have trained us to think this way, haven’t they?  We’re offered some great bargain on a gadget that we “just can’t do without”, and then offered a second gadget ‘free*’…where the asterisk means, “just pay additional shipping and handling” – conveniently approximating the cost of an additional gadget.  Hmmmm…

It’s hardly a surprise, then, that many folks look at God’s gift of salvation in Jesus and ask, “What’s the catch?”

Part of the grace God gives us to believe involves the grace to receive.  The only way we can accept that Jesus came to earth for us, died for us, and rose again for us, is to be able to accept that it’s a gift…a gift we can’t repay.

The only reciprocation we can offer God is the gift of ourselves – lives willing to live for him.  But even that isn’t reciprocation.  It’s discipleship.

When you receive a gift, receive it!  Be thankful!  And recognize that God, the greatest Giver, has given us his Son without expectation of reciprocation.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, NIV).

Biblical Messages

Decluttering Christmas: Let go!

Letting go of some things is integral to decluttering our lives.  When it comes to our spiritual lives, decluttering involves letting go of control.  But to whom do we give it up?  The Holy Spirit, living within us as believers!  Based on John 14.15-31a, you can listen to this message by clicking here.  Near the end of the message, there is a video clip shown, which you can watch at this link.

Giving up control of anything isn’t easy.  But God invites us to give him, who made us, control over the lives he gives us.  Imagine the difference you and I can make!

By the way, I think you’ll find the sound quality of this message better than past recordings.  I’m using a new digital voice recorder and different software on a different computer to produce and edit the recording.

Encouragement From The Word

Control Issues?

This Sunday at  St. Paul’s, Nobleton, I’m going to be talking about control – specifically, about letting go of control.  It’s not an easy subject for any of us to consider, because we live our lives around issues of control.

At first, we have no control – we’re helpless and vulnerable.  Then, our parents teach us to be in control – how to get dressed, how to read and write, how to act appropriately.  When we come to faith in Christ, however, we hear the Lord telling us that it’s better if we’re not in control, that we let him be in control.  By that time, however, we tend to be in a pretty well-set control rut.  It’s hard to give it up.

In this Advent season, I can think of no better example of someone who gave up control than Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here is this young teenager, betrothed to an older man but not yet married, who encounters an angel.  The angel says that she’s highly favoured, because God has chosen her to become pregnant with his Son.

For any ordinary Jewish girl of the day, being found to be pregnant but not yet married would bring her life crashing down around her.  Her beloved would send her packing, and her community (including her family) would probably line up to stone her to death.  One can imagine that Mary may not, then, have found the idea of becoming pregnant – even by supernatural means – to leave her feeling “highly favoured”.

But Mary was no ordinary Jewish girl, it seems, if her response is any indication.  What was Mary’s response?  Did she run away screaming?  (That might be the natural response of anyone standing before a representative of the Lord; remember that the shepherds who were told the news of Jesus’ birth by an angel were terrified!)  No.  Mary simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1.38a, NLT).

Mary gave up control.  She served a God whom she trusted to take control.  And because of that selfless act of submission, she became the mother of the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the incarnation (putting skin on) of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Because Mary gave up control to God, the world is not the same.

What if you and I were to give up control to God?  Many of us say we have, but we have a habit of holding little bits back.  What if we gave it up, whole-hog?  Think of the power that would exist in your church and mine.  Think of what God could do with an entire kingdom full of his servants willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill the divine will.  That’s enough power to change the world.

Mary’s willingness to give up power over herself changed the world.  And so can ours.