Biblical Messages

Seal of Approval

In a consumer society, it can be hard to separate our consumer-ness from our faith, but landscape-1427235701-ghk-seal-indexit’s easy to follow the sizzle rather than the steak.  In this message, based on John 6.22-27, we look at the fact that the Giver is more important than the gift.  Listen, or watch, below.

 

Encouragement From The Word

Being the Joneses

The great preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse once told a story about seeing a cartoon that illustrated (then – over 50 years ago!) what North American society looked like.  The cartoon depicted a couple having an argument with each other.  The caption read, essentially, “You are not content with trying to keep up with the Joneses.  You want to be the Joneses with whom everyone else is trying to keep up.”

At this time of year, purveyors of everything from toys to vacations are attempting to convince you that you need more…that if you really loved your kids, you’d give them more…that if you want to show your appreciation to someone, you’ll give her or him more.

As Gary Chapman reminds us in The Five Love Languages, some people express their love through gift-giving.  But let’s remember that it’s not the only way to communicate our love for another.  Sometimes, the gift of time is what the other really wants, and needs.

Those same purveyors of everything will likewise attempt to convince you that, while buying for others, you should buy for yourself, too, because, after all, you deserve it.  You’ve fought the crowds in the malls; you’ve dodged several other cars and avoided accidents; you’ve attended every compulsory Christmas gathering.  You deserve something.

There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself once in a while, to be sure.  But don’t be sucked in by advertisers’ encouragements to accumulate more.

Followers of Jesus are enjoined throughout the Scriptures to be content, to be satisfied with what we have.  Those who want to keep up with the Joneses, or to be the Joneses, would say that enough is “just a little bit more.”  But we who have Jesus know that what we have in him is sufficient.

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you.    I will never abandon you’” (Hebrews 13.5, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The feast of St. Nicholas

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas among our high-church friends, a day when the church marks the remembrance of a church leader whose heart for giving has become legendary…so legendary that, like many stories, it has been warped and changed into something it was never intended to be.

Indeed, St. Nicholas, the ancient Christian bishop known for great benevolence, has, for so many, become Santa Claus, the Coca-Cola drinking poster-st_nicholas_myra_500boy for consumerism at its worst.

Think about it:  the figure of Santa Claus is not a Christian symbol of giving, but an icon of hope for commercial endeavour.  Had there been no St. Nicholas to morph, there would be no “Black Friday”, the day retail businesses begin to make a profit for the year.  It is no small irony that Black Friday occurs the day after American Thanksgiving, when over 300 million people set aside time to be grateful for all that they have, only to be enticed by sales to trample over people to get – what? – more.

St. Nicholas was not about more.  And St. Nicholas did not give only to “deserving girls and boys”.  No, Nicholas’ benevolence stretched beyond adding to the storehouses of the deserving to meeting the basic necessities of the truly needy.

For many in North American society, Jesus’ birthday celebration has become an opportunity to accumulate more rather than to extend grace and kindness to others, as Nicholas did.

I encourage you, today, to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas by treating Advent and Christmas as seasons not of spending money immoderately, but of extending grace lavishly.

Jesus said, “Take care!  Protect yourself against the least bit of greed.  Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot” (Luke 12.15, The Message).

By the way, thanks to everybody who prayed for my wife and me while we were in Israel.  We arrived home safely last night, and are still processing the trip!

Encouragement From The Word

Thank Goodness we don’t serve a Throwaway God!

While driving to Massachusetts last weekend, one of the guys with whom I was travelling remarked on the size of a large hill alongside Interstate 90.  “That’s an old landfill site,” remarked another.  “You can tell because there are pipes sticking up out of the ground all over the hill.”

Those pipes served two purposes:  to allow oxygen in and to let methane out.  Without that process, the breakdown that is intended to occur in a landfill site that’s been covered over with grass couldn’t take place.

Garbage is a big deal.  If you’re not sure about that, ask residents of Toronto, who are under the threat of another strike, which could impede the collection of their trash, and see it piled up in parking lots and outdoor rinks, as happened a couple of summers ago.

Anyone who drives on Highway 401 understands that garbage is a big deal.  Truck after truck of it is sent barreling down the 401 every day, to meet its final resting place in the state of Michigan.  We Ontarians produce an awful lot of waste.

I wonder, though, how much of that is really necessary?  It would be possible, but not altogether practical, to avoid putting garbage to the street at all.  But it would be quite impossible to avoid producing any garbage, period.  We are, after all, consumers.

Some people, I fear, may see their role as consumers as more of an holy calling than a necessary evil.  While I am neither a pack-rat nor a hoarder, I am a bit reluctant to throw something away if I think it will have some good use.  (The difference, I think, may happen at the purchasing end.)  And with organizations that collect used clothing and even used electronics for various noble purposes, not to mention the ubiquitous nature of yard sales (three seasons of the year), there is a great deal of recycling that can take place, even before the blue box gets used.

Part of the necessity for such organizations and sales comes about as a result of our society having transformed itself into a throwaway society.  Once something is no longer useful, or cool, we simply toss it aside.  There are some folks who even do that with friends – other people – who cease to be ‘useful’ to them.  Sad, isn’t it?

In my devotions the other day, I read a most interesting statement from author Yushi Nomura, who wrote this in his book Desert Wisdom:  Sayings From The Desert Fathers (p. 11):

Abba Mios was asked by a soldier whether God would forgive a sinner.  After instructing him at some length, the old man asked him:  Tell me, my dear, if your cloak were torn, would you throw it away?  Oh, no! he replied, I would mend it and wear it again.  The old man said to him:  Well, if you care for your cloak, will not God show mercy to his own creature?

I think this may hit the nail on the head when it comes to why our society has such a difficult time grasping God’s grace.  Because we are prone to tossing things (and, sometimes, people) aside, we create a picture of God that is rather like us, and we assume that God would toss us aside, too.

Abba Mios, one of the early Christians who lived austerely in the desert to be closer to God, had a good point when he asked if the soldier would throw away his cloak just because it was ripped.  The soldier rightly answered that he’d fix it and keep wearing it.  (After all, there was no Quartermaster Store to gain a replacement!)  That’s why it made so much sense for Abba Mios to remind the soldier that God cares for us more than we care for our stuff…much more.

Jesus said, “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens:  They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12.23-24, NIV).

Thank Goodness we don’t serve a Throwaway God!