Encouragement From The Word

Standing at the gate

Part of Minnie Louise Haskins’ poem, made famous by King George VI in his address to the Commonwealth in December 1939, reads thus:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ 
And he replied: 
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’ 
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

Here we stand at the gate of the year once again.  By God’s grace, we survived 2021.

We had higher hopes for it than were produced, in terms of the pandemic, though each of us surely had some highlight that made the year worth living.  Personally, I could make a list of things that made 2021 worth living!

That said, we are, shall we say, cautious about our entry through the gate of the year.

There’s been a cartoon floating around social media lately, showing a group of people hiding around a corner while one of them reaches with a broom handle and gently pushes open a door labelled “2022”.  It’s pretty apt; most of us are wondering what could possibly come next.  (The next letter in the Greek alphabet is pi, though they’ve skipped over a few before…if there’s a pi variant, I hope it’s blueberry.)

But seriously, many of us are crossing the threshold of the new year with caution.  But Haskins’ poem is an apt reminder for us:  we must go out into the darkness, and put our hand into the hand of God.  We are, after all, a people of faith.

Our faith is a specific faith, a faith that believes Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, and rose from the dead to pave the way to eternal life for all believers.  But it is also a more general faith, in which simply lying down to sleep at night is an act of faith that we will rise the next day.  That is more than placing our hand in the hand of God: it is placing our entire being in the care of God.  And at that each of us is well-rehearsed.

So walk boldly into the surprise that will be 2022, knowing that for the One in whose hand we place ours, it will be no surprise at all.

because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan” (Ephesians 1.11, NLT).

Happy new year!

Encouragement From The Word returns on January 14.

Encouragement From The Word

Learning from the pandemic

As more and more people receive vaccinations against COVID-19, people are starting to sense that the end of the pandemic is in sight.  I hope that’s true!  And it prompts me to ask a question:  What have we learned from all this?

I’m sure the answer to that question would be a list as long as my arm, but I want to focus on the spiritual end of it.  Perhaps I might frame the question this way:

How has my walk with God been affected by the pandemic, and what have I learned as a result?

The answer to that, too, can and perhaps is long and complicated.  But let me focus on one particular area:  rest.

For the last number of years, “busy” is a badge that people have worn with honour.  And there has been a cost involved.

Early in the pandemic, when everything was shut down and (let’s face it) many people lived in fear, there was a sense of equilibrium returning to nature:  the air got cleaner, the dolphins returned to the canals of Venice, the traffic was manageable.

People were slowing down.

But as the first wave ebbed, and a limited reopening took place, we seemed to forget the serenity and peace that came with that first shutdown.  The pace picked up.  While people worked from home, the boundaries were blurred.

Where I live in Ontario, the economy begins reopening today.  Stores will be open with a limited capacity.  Outdoor patios will be open, within limits.  And our church will be open to 15% capacity!  It’s a start!  

But before we try to “get back to normal” – whatever that’s going to look like – let me encourage you to take a step back and look at what you’ve learned about your spiritual rhythms from the experience of the pandemic.  Spend some time in conversation with the Lord over that in the coming days.

Then – and this is the difficult part – apply what you’ve learned to the “new normal.”

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God.  So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted: 

‘Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 4.6-7, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Valuing life

When I’m scrolling through my social media feeds, it takes something significant for me to “stop the scroll”.  Reading a post a couple of weeks ago by an acquaintance, whom I met while on a mission trip to India several years ago, made me stop.

As you may know, India is having severe challenges with the virulent spread of the Coronavirus.  Thousands of people each day are dying.

He said that the problem wasn’t that India didn’t have the resources to stop the spread of COVID-19; the problem is that there is a lack of value for human life.

Now, that’s just one man’s opinion, but this is his nation and his culture he’s talking about.  He understands it far better than I ever could.  And this is a sad assessment indeed.

I fear it is not limited to India, nor to the issue of the pandemic.

It’s a deep pond we’d be wading into, filled with quicksand, were we to begin the journey; this is not the forum for such conversation.  But you know the issues as well as I do:  once-civilized societies are demonstrating a lack of value for human life, whether at its beginning, its end, or its middle.

How do we turn that around?

One simple step is for all of us – starting with followers of Jesus, but spreading to all of society – to treat every other person as Jesus would treat him or her.    This doesn’t mean agreeing on everything; it doesn’t mean approving of everything; what it does mean is that each person has value because each person is made in God’s image.

Not every cultural or religious tradition grasps this, but as Christians, we do.

Let’s set the example.

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27, NLT).