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).