Encouragement From The Word

Hopes and fears

One of the most beloved Christmas carols is “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  In that carol, New England preacher Phillips Brooks wrote, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Well, let’s say that 2021 has brought with it its own share of hopes and fears, intermingled.  And Brooks’ words have never been more true:  even the hopes and fears of 2021 are met in Bethlehem’s manger.  No matter what the world may throw at us, Jesus is able to meet it head on.

And this is not just warm, fuzzy romanticism: if we will believe it, it is true.  Of course, there are those for whom the truth proclaimed in Christmas carols remains mere romanticism, because they lack faith in the One those carols exalts.  But when we believe that Jesus came into this world to save sinners like us, we realize in a most profound way that “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

The late theologian, J. I. Packer, once said, “Faith is not just believing Christian truth, but forsaking self-confidence and man-made hopes to trust wholly in Christ.”

We might look back on the year and be pretty proud of ourselves – for surviving, if nothing else.  But faith in Christ means realizing that even that comes solely by God’s grace.

So bring your hopes and your fears, and lay them at the foot of the manger in Bethlehem.  It’s a move you won’t regret.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
    He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy
” (Psalm 34.4-5a, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Why worry?

Are you a worrier?

One of the strange little things I remember from my childhood is the “worry stone”.  It was a piece of polished white stone that had a concave indentation in it, that, I was told, one could rub one’s thumb in as a means of passing the time while worrying.  (And Protestants complained about prayer beads?!)  I’m sure it was just a gimmick someone created to make money selling to people who easily give in at knick-knack stores, but the fact that people bought these things suggests to me that worry may be a bigger part of life than we care to admit.

It always astounds me when I find people who love and serve Jesus who also worry.  Jesus himself told us that worrying wouldn’t add a single day to our lives, or a single cubit to our height (depending on the translation you read).  He was right.  I’ve never seen anything significant accomplished through worry.

But what do we do instead?  After all, if I tell someone not to worry, what is that person going to do in place of worry?  King David had some good advice:  “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.  He freed me from all my fears” (Psalm 34.4, NLT).

We are disinclined to unleash our burdens entirely.  We can give our concerns to the Lord, and then almost immediately take them back…as if God can’t handle them.  Cognitively, we know he can, but practically, we think we need to deal with them on our own.  But when we give our concerns to God, we can leave them in his care, and not worry one bit.

The Canadian hymn writer, Joseph Scriven, had the idea right when he wrote

Have we trials and temptations?  Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged: take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness: take it to the Lord in prayer.

There is a better way to deal with concerns than to worry.  Give them to the Lord.

Encouragement From The Word will return on July 7.

Encouragement From The Word

Let your light shine…through a pumpkin?

There are varying opinions among followers of Jesus regarding what to do about Hallowe’en. Some say we should steer clear of it because God’s people shouldn’t be celebrating the devil’s holiday. Others say we should engage, either because it’s just dressing up for fun or because it’s a way to witness to the community.

I have some sympathy with each side, I must admit.

Hallowe’en is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, the day marked in the liturgical calendar ahead of All Hallows’ Day, or All Saints’ Day, which is November 1. Its origins, my wife reminds me, are Christian: poor children would go door-to-door in search of food. Prayers would be said over homes. The needy would be cared for. God’s work would be done. Only later did a more sinister element come into the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve.

The devilish twist that has come to Hallowe’en is yet another mark of the depravity of humanity. The idea that anyone would throw eggs at the homes of those who do not give out candy is not part of the original plan. Rolling large pumpkins down hills and having them splat into whatever got in their way is not what the poor children of small English towns were seeking to have happen. Putting poison in apples or razor blades in candies is not what was intended for marking All Hallows’ Eve.

Can Hallowe’en be redeemed? For a while, one would see ‘alternative’ gatherings, where kids were asked to dress up as their favourite Bible character and come to the church. But it just wasn’t the same for anybody. There are still alternative activities that are offered, and they can be fun.

Taking your kids around to neighbours’ homes can be a way to build bridges with your neighbours, perhaps leading to relationships that could help you share God’s love. Opening your home to kids who come seeking goodies can be valuable, too. Carve a cross into your pumpkin (to ‘let your light shine’!). Don’t wear a scary costume. Engage the kids in real conversation. On top of that, opening your door to trick-or-treaters can be a way to get Scripture into their, and their parents’, hands and hearts. I especially recommend Scripture selections – little snippets from the Bible on pertinent topics – from the Canadian Bible Society. They aren’t doctrinal in nature – just offering pure Scripture in an easy-to-read translation that will give the kids who come to your door something to think about…something to chew on as they chew on the goodies you’ve given them!

But if you’re going to mark Hallowe’en as a form of Christian witness, make sure the candy you put in beside the Scripture selection is really good stuff. After all, the Bible tells us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34.8a, NIV)!

By the way, more important than Hallowe’en, today is Reformation Day. It was on this day in 1517 that Augustinian monk Martin Luther made public 95 ideas for reforming the church from the inside. In today’s terms, it “went viral”, and began the Protestant Reformation. Happy Reformation Day! May the Lord bless you in whatever way you celebrate.