Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

What if…?

Last night, I caught part of the Players’ Championship curling bonspiel on television.  (It’s one of the last “cash spiels” of the season, held this year in Toronto.)  I was astounded to see a game between Rachel Homan’s team and Chelsea Carey’s team that ended with a 10-to-nothing score after only four ends played.  In this tournament, games normally are completed in 8 ends.

What was particularly surprising about this scenario is that both teams are outstanding competitors, and Carey was the winner of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Canadian women’s curling championship, this year.  Rarely, at this level of play, does a team get “skunked” – but that’s what happened to the Scotties champion!

I suppose Carey’s team exercised its option to concede the game after 4 ends because the players had lost their momentum and had the wind knocked out of them, so to speak.  But might they not be wondering what would have happened had they chosen to play the rest of the game?  “What if…?”

Many of us have asked ourselves that question from time to time in our lives, haven’t we?

What if I had married Y instead of X?

What if I had taken that job?

What if I had finished that degree?

And so on.  You get the idea.

Our decisions impact us, and others, every day.  What sort of discernment process to we undertake when we make decisions?  I’m not necessarily suggesting we need to overthink which sock to put on first in the morning, but I am suggesting that we should involve God in significant decisions.

See, often we make decisions based on what we think will make us, or another, happy.  “If it feels good, do it”, as the old saying goes, or, “If it’s not hurting anybody…”.  If we are followers of Jesus, though, our first goal shouldn’t be our own happiness, but God’s.  I fear we can lean toward making decisions based on feeling, or sentimentality, rather than on the clear decrees of God.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that our chief end in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

When we make our decisions with a desire to glorify and enjoy God, there is no need for “what ifs” in the future.

It’s rare for a team to come back from a ten-point deficit in four ends, so it may be that Chelsea Carey’s team decided to throw in the towel for good reason.  In fact, that team is out of the running in the spiel, now, with an 0-4 record.  But if I’d been skip of that team, I think I would have seen that game through. Then I’d never have to ask, “What if?”

It’s not like decisions about a game are necessarily life-changing decisions, but we all are faced with life-changing decisions, and we who follow Jesus should know that the name of the game is the glory of God, not the glory of self.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10.31, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Predicting the outcome

I was pretty sure last Tuesday’s curling matchup was not going to be a good one. By the fifth end, it was 7-2 for the opposition. Our skip figured we’d play the sixth end, and call it a game.

But suddenly, there was a significant turnaround. We took three in the sixth, and stole four in the seventh. In the end, we won the game. Halfway through, that would not have been anything I’d have predicted; neither would anyone else on the team. But we held on, played our best, and won.

Forrest Gump famously said that life is like a box of chocolates, but I (much less famously) say that life can be like a curling game: you can’t predict the outcome based on what it’s like partway through.

For example, I know people who genuinely feel that God would never accept them because of sins they’ve committed in their lives. I can try to convince them otherwise, but ultimately, it needs to be the Holy Spirit who does that. God must be the one who shows them the way of grace and truth, a way that may surprise them, a way that they may not have predicted would be possible.

I know people who genuinely feel that they have no need of God, because they have it made; they’re living the dream. I can try to convince them otherwise, but ultimately, it needs to be the Holy Spirit who does that. God must be the one who shows them the way of salvation, a way that may surprise them, a way that they may not have predicted would be necessary.

And for followers of Christ, when we come to that place in life where all we really want is for God to do his work in and through us, that’s when the adventure really begins. We might get halfway through life and wonder what more could possibly go wrong – but the outcome will most assuredly be different. The trick is to hold on tight to the Lord and let him lead. It’s not ours to predict what it will be like; it’s ours to follow in obedience. We may not be able to predict what the final outcome will be like, but we do know that God will be with us, and that is enough for victory.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15.57, NRSV).

Encouragement From The Word

Let God surprise you!

Most of us know the story of David and Goliath. Young David, who can’t even walk in a suit of armour at his age and strength, volunteers to take on the mammoth Philistine, Goliath, who has been the poster boy for the enemy of God’s people in that time. With God on his side and five smooth stones in his satchel, he takes aim with his slingshot and beans Goliath in such a way that he is felled like a giant redwood tree, and slain.

The unlikeliest of heroes, David the youngster slew Goliath the giant. And for that reason, among others, David lives on in infamy.

This week, at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, there has been some outstanding women’s curling going on. Perhaps most remarkable, at least as of this writing, has been a David-and-Goliath story: the Nova Scotia team, with a losing record, beat both Manitoba and Team Canada – two of the three top contenders – on Wednesday. Nobody expected it, which is what made it particularly remarkable. Even though Nova Scotia isn’t going to win the Scotties, that team will be remembered for its surprising victories.

There are times that we aren’t convinced we have what it takes to undertake a task. We might question our gifting, our ability; or we might think that someone else – maybe anyone else – would be better suited to the job. When that happens, let me encourage you to step back from the situation for a few moments, and prayerfully consider whether God has drawn you, maybe even called you to the task. And if God has called you to it, you can be sure God will give you the requisite tools to accomplish it.

Don’t think, “I’m too young,” or “I’m too small,” or “Jane would be better at this than I would.” If you’ve been asked to take something on, the individual who has asked surely believes you have what it takes; do you believe it? Believing that you and God together can make it happen can be all the encouragement you need. Remember David; remember Team Nova Scotia. Remember your gifts! Let God surprise you.

The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” (1 Samuel 17.37, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Pride goes before destruction

I’ve been a recreational curler for about 16 years. While I don’t think I’d be God’s gift to any team going to the Brier, I think my skills have improved a bit over the years. It took me a long time to be able to deliver a stone in a satisfactory (to me) manner, but most of the time, I find I can now hit my groove and probably get a better “do what the skip asks for” average than many million-dollar baseball players can do in their game. I’d call myself a pretty confident, though humble, curler. What’s more, I hadn’t fallen on the ice in a long time.

Then came last Tuesday.

The coin had been tossed and our team got choice of colour (translation: we lost the toss). The lead went to throw his first stone, and I followed it diligently 8262059down the sheet. All of a sudden, about eight feet from the far hog line, I found myself flat out on the ice. It took less than a second for gravity to do its number on my whole body.

Thankfully, I didn’t hit my head, and I got up right away. But the first thing I noticed was that my left knee didn’t feel exactly right. I continued sweeping, and thought everything was okay. Then, when it was my turn to throw, I crouched down in the hack, and my left knee rather forcefully intimated that this was not a good idea.

I tried to ignore it. I kicked out of the hack and found myself leaning on the rock. (You’re not supposed to lean on the rock, especially when your gravitational pull is as, ahem, significant as mine.) Writhing in pain, I tossed the rock out of my hand and stood up as quickly as I could. I felt fine. I tried again with my second stone. Same result.

Last Tuesday, I learned how to be a “stick curler” – I used my brush to throw the stone so I didn’t have to crouch down. Who knew there was a learning curve to ice-bound shuffleboard?! While my injury may not have been the only contributing factor, we lost the game…the first game I’ve lost all season.

Oddly, I had just said to my wife, before I left for the rink, that I had not been on a team that lost a game yet this year. Some people would say that was “karma” at work, that I shouldn’t have “jinxed” my game by making such a comment. But I didn’t say it with great hubris – at least, I don’t think I did; it was just a remark on the stats. I’d like to think this was mere coincidence; I certainly don’t believe that God caused my collision with the ice, nor the resulting injury! Nevertheless, as I picked myself up off the ice and realized my (minor) injury, I found myself quoting Proverbs 16.18: “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (NLT).

(In case you’re wondering, my physician poked and yanked around my knee and said it was just a strain, and I shouldn’t have to become a chronic stick curler for a few more years yet!)

Be careful out there!

Encouragement From The Word

Christians learning from Olympians

Yesterday was a pretty patriotic day for Canadians.  I dare say, even for those who are not sport or Olympic fans, there was a certain boasting in 1609980_755418451136857_509748926_nnational pride when Canada’s Olympic Women’s Curling and Hockey teams earned gold medals in their respective disciplines.  The men have a chance to follow suit in the coming days, and they have, no doubt, received inspiration from their hard-working female colleagues.

While I wasn’t able to watch either game because of ministry commitments, seeing the looks on the athletes’ faces in photos posted after the games told the story.  These competitors – including those who do not medal – work very hard to excel in their chosen sport.   They go with a desire to win, and an intention to represent their country well.  And, I dare say, every athlete wearing the Canadian flag has upheld the good name and the good reputation of their Home And Native Land.   Those who win gold demonstrate by their faces just how much a dream-come-true it is for them to win.  It’s a wonderful thing to witness in the middle of a long, hard winter back home.

In interview after interview, Olympians articulate what a privilege and honour it is to represent Canada on the world stage.  From competitors to coaches, those witnessing the games develop, or retain, a very favourable view of Canada.  After all, when you live in such a great country, it’s easy to want to represent it well, as ambassadors.

We followers of Jesus can learn something from our nation’s Olympians.  Every day, from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep, we represent Jesus and his church.  We represent Jesus when we speak to our spouses and children, our co-workers and bosses, our neighbours and friends, the strangers we encounter on the street and the clerks in the stores where we shop.  Whether we wear an emblem of our faith commitment or not, we are God’s ambassadors in the world.

When you serve such an amazing God, it’s easy to want to represent him well, as ambassadors.

But because we are called to this important role every day, and not just for a couple of weeks out of four years, it can be hard for us to remember that we represent Jesus.  Sometimes, we don’t represent him well.  This is an area where we all can grow.  It’s one of the many graces of being a disciple of Christ:  we do not achieve perfection upon our profession of faith.  We grow into our calling as faithful followers, looking more like Jesus every day.  It’s a process whereby we are shaped and molded day after day, year after year, until we die (or Jesus returns).  We are being formed as ambassadors for the Lord.

Can we, like our Olympians, show on our faces, and by our actions, how amazing is our God?   It needs to be an intentional act; it won’t happen on its own.  And it can make a real difference:  the atheistic philosopher of the 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche, famously said to Christians that he would believe in their Redeemer when his people looked more redeemed!  Sometimes, countenance makes all the difference.

It’s about more than “Smile, God loves you”, though.  It’s about actions that back up the claim that God loves people – the world – so much that he gave his only Son.

Be intentional.  We can do it!

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5.20, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The next generation

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  So says the song about Christmas.  A big-box stationery chain uses it for back-to-school.  And I use it for competitive curling season!  The Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier, and the Worlds are annual standbys, but every four years, we are blessed with the Olympics, and the trials that choose the men’s and women’s teams that will compete on Canada’s behalf in the Olympics.  It’s a wonderful time to see some outstanding curling.

I know, I know – some of you think that watching curling is akin to watching paint dry.  But some of us find it pretty exciting both to watch and to play!  My point is not to try to convert you to being a curling fan; the Lord will do that in good time!

Here’s something I noticed, though, watching the curling trials from Winnipeg last weekend:  there are a lot of familiar names with slightly different 20081206_change_of_seasons_winter_8_25faces.

So what? you might ask.

When I see the same surname on a different face, I’m usually looking at the next generation.  Take John Morris, skipping a BC team, whose father was a competitive curler, and who now coaches a women’s team; or Scott Howard, playing for his father, Glenn, in Ontario.  The passion for curling is strong enough that the next generation wants to take it on.

I think the church can learn something from competitive curling.

In Deuteronomy 6.4-9, we read:  “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.  Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (NLT).

Way back in the time of Moses, God’s people were enjoined to make their faith-sharing organic:  they were called to make their walk with God a family affair.  It’s no different today.  What is different, though, is the circumstances around which we seek to follow this command.  There are so many influences on our kids’ lives nowadays that the task of being a Christian parent is about the hardest job known to humanity; I salute every man and woman who seeks to follow Jesus and encourage their children to do so.  And I pray for parents who seek to raise their children to be followers of Jesus.  One of the things I pray for parents is that they will have such joy and enthusiasm for their faith that their kids will want a taste of that joy and enthusiasm for themselves.

If you’re trying to help your kids love Jesus, show them how much you love him!  I’m in your corner; you’ve got a tough job.  But more importantly, God is with you.

Encouragement From The Word

It’s a great time to be alive!

It’s a great time to be alive.

Well, I say that every year around this time, because my favourite sports are on television in massive quantity:  hockey season continues (it may not be our year, Habs fans…), and there’s plenty of curling on.  The Scotties Tournament of Hearts has been underway all week, and the playoffs begin today.  In a week or so, the Brier begins.  Then the women’s and men’s worlds are on.  Indeed, it’s a great time to be alive.

I started watching curling in the early 1990s, and watching it sparked an interest for me to learn how to play.  In the little town we lived in at the time, we had a curling club, but I didn’t know anybody who played, so I didn’t learn how.  The next community in which we lived was much larger, but its curling club was about the same size.  There, however, I knew someone who played – and he invited me to learn.  And I have been playing ever since.

There are a couple of encouraging words for us here.  First, watching isn’t the same as playing.  One can learn a lot of strategy and the basic rules of the game by watching it, but you’ll never learn how to deliver a stone or sweep if you don’t put on two different shoes and get on the ice.  Second, an invitation is sometimes all it takes to get someone in the game.  Most people won’t just walk in to the rink and say, “Teach me to play.”  Someone needs to extend the invitation.

But because this is Encouragement From The Word and not Encouragement From The Curling Club, you know there’s got to be an application for our faith life here.

Watching isn’t the same as playing.  Going to church is not always the same as being the church.  We can attend church services, and that’s good, but to be the church takes faith, and action.  Being the church takes what forms us and informs us by going to church and putting it to work to make a difference for the Lord in the world – not to appease God, but to please him.

An invitation is sometimes all it takes to get someone in the game.  While churches do get “walk-ins” – people who just show up for worship – the vast majority of people who come to a church and stay have come at the invitation of a friend.  We can’t keep our faith life to ourselves if we want our loved ones to experience the same relationship with God that we have.  Sticking your neck out and offering the invitation to church, or to a small group, could make an eternal difference in a friend’s life.

It’s a great time to be alive.  We who follow Jesus have so much to share by being the church, and inviting others along!