Archive for December, 2018

Thirty years ago, when dating a charming young man, I was introduced to the film, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Donna Reed and James Stewart.

I was captivated by the story of George Bailey’s life. A simple, relatable, regular and seemingly boring life, George encounters something he cannot fix or undo (something that was not even his fault, yet, because he was a man of integrity, he took personal responsibility for). It seems there is only one option … to end his life.

For fear of ruining the story for anyone who has not experienced this movie, I will cease my retelling.

In 1992, at a formal function, Queen Elizabeth II referred to that year, for her personally, as an annus horribilis, which is Latin for horrible year. As I have reflected on the past year (for each of the members of my family), I (we) might be inclined to echo the words of Her Majesty.

Then, I was reminded of the ending scene of the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey is standing in his living room, surrounded by family and friends, and the well-wishes of friends that could not be physically present.

It is then that George sees a book … when he opens it up, inscribed on the inside cover is the following:

Those words of Clarence, “remember no man is a failure who has friends” are the words that can turn an annus mirabilis to a annus mirabilis … a wonderful year.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

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Though cheesecake is heavenly, and creamy mochas divine, I had no idea that I would be dining with God yesterday.

After purchasing a promised Christmas gift, my daughter and I wandered the streets, enjoying the sights of the downtown of the city. At eleven o’clock on Boxing Day, the streets were quiet, yet still festive.

As we crossed a street to walk through an artfully painted alley, a woman met us, telling her tale of woe … a poor sleep due to fear of a lady neighbour … and imploring us to buy her a coffee …

As my eyes looked behind the woman, dressed in dirty clothes, long sleeves under an aqua-colored men’s polo top, hair pulled back into a not-so trendy-looking ponytail, I noticed the more upscale cheesecake restaurant … one for date night, for trendy people looking for organic fare.

Immediately I said that of course we could buy her a coffee.

What followed was two of the sweetest hours, that rushed by in what seemed like seconds.

We encouraged her to choose whatever she wanted.

It would seem our new friend has a sweet tooth, so not just a coffee, but a mocha, topped with decadent whipping cream. Not just a savoury scone (what we shared), but a slice of mocha cheesecake.

She was careful to remember her manners (she mentioned this a couple of time).

Our conversation had to do with how it is what is on the inside of a person that matters. We laughed. We just chatted … like three old friends.

She told us about how she got from her small hometown of Sault Ste. Marie to Vancouver, with a boyfriend (now long gone). Of how she had never been beat up … until she got out of jail. How she had been clean for two days straight.

She told us about how she used to do competitions at her childhood church. That someone had stolen her Bible. Then she recited verses, long ago imprinted on her mind, her soul.

“Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:19

I started to say, “I bet I know one that you know …”

before I finished the sentence she was reciting John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him, will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

We continued our chatting, went to pick up some toiletries for her (my daughter jumped in to pay this time), then walked her back to her place.

How do I describe her ‘home’? There was table of clean needles in the entry, the dirt, the clientele with heads hanging (life wiped from their memory) … but it was warm, the manager at the desk seemed sincere, the lady across the hall who had crawled into her bed the night before when fear overtook her mind.

We exchanged hugs, and thanks for the chance to get to know each other.

As we walked the sidewalk to our vehicle, we wondered how she, any of them, might ever get clean in such a place, such a life. The problems are so much more complex than we like to think when we sit in our warm, and safe and color-co-ordinated homes.

I shared with my daughter something that I had once heard.

I am only responsible for the opportunities that God gives me to share in His care for his people. If I am asked for money, or food and if I give it, my gift might be wasted … but it also might not, and that is not my worry. My concern is simply will I respond? Will I give as the hands and feet of God?

As Mother Teresa was known to say, “we cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”

I may never know if our friend makes it to three days clean, or if she slept safely that night, or if she will ever remember us … but we will never forget her, she has changed us, for we sat across a table from a beautiful soul, and we saw God in her eyes.

Gotta go … I have to mail a Bible to a friend.

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Merry Christmas!

As this day dawns, our souls sing Joy to the World, as the Silent Night has birthed a new day with the angels singing, Glory to the new born King.

This is the day that advent prepares us for, the day that love came down.

God sent his son, to give us hope that we might know of his kingdom, that we might have our sins forgiven (and forgotten), that we might have his Spirit to guide us, that we might return to the beauty of Eden, where we can walk and talk with God himself.

There is no message more important, more practical, more true than this:

“For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son, 
that whoever believes in him shall not perish
but have eternal life. 
For God did not send his Son into the world 
to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him.”

John 3:16

For redemption is the best theme of any story, for it is the theme of our story … we are reminded today of that offering of redemption … we just have to choose to receive it, hands and heart open.

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Do Not Be Afraid

Whenever I read the four words, “do not be afraid” in the Christmas story, I have the instantaneous thought, “ya, right!”

Some heavenly being, shining bright like a diamond, is standing in front of me and let me tell you, I would be shaking in my boots.

I think, though, that when angels appeared and said those words, they were actually not speaking of themselves, the messenger, but the message that they were delivering.

Their news was good news, but even good news can cause inner quaking. Ask any woman who discovers she is pregnant, student who discovers they are accepted at their desired university, person who is approved for a house purchase and they will tell you that fear is one of the emotions they are feeling.

The news of the angels was news that was life-changing.

Zachariah, the father of John (the Baptist) was told that his wife would have a baby boy, and that he would prepare people for the arrival of the Messiah.

Mary was told that she (a virgin) would be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, and her child would be the long-anticipated Messiah.

Joseph was told that he could still wed pregnant Mary, who was still a virgin, and that this son would save his people.

Then, the angels came to the shepherds:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 1This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

In an article called Do Not Be Afraid Fighting Fear With Faith, Bill Dodds says that faith and fear are not exclusive, but fear is easy. Isn’t that the truth?! It is so easy to allow our fears to dominate our thoughts, then they lead our actions.

We all experience fear, that is why we are reminded over and over in the scriptures to cast our anxiety on him.

This is where faith comes into the mix, for faith is a perfect elixir for fear. Faith that God is with us in our muck, Faith is that act of keeping our eyes on God, even as our boots gets sucked into it.

When the angels said, “do not be afraid” they were not saying that things would go smoothly, they were reminding the people that what was coming was coming in conjunction with God’s Good News, and that, as said by St. Gregory, “We do not render true service to God so long as we obey from fear and not from love.” 

 “F-E-A-R has two meanings:
‘Forget Everything and Run,’
‘Face Everything and Rise.'”

Zig Ziglar

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That said, unfair seems a rather over-used word, for those of us who are Christ-followers, in today’s vernacular.

I have rolled my eyes, shook my head, furrowed my brow and even written letters to government leaders, when I have seen and heard of unreasonable actions and inactions.

Everything from antagonism over saying Merry Christmas, seasonal light displays and whatever other acts of political correctness that get our Christian knickers in a knot.

“In this world you will have trouble.”

 Jesus had different expectations on what it was to live a life as a follower of … him. He knew that those who followed him would be following a dead man walking.

His days were numbered, he knew that full well. Soon he would be praying in the Garden of Gethsemane for God to take the cup from his hands.

The long-expected Messiah was expected to be the king who would undo the injustices of the political leaders of the day. He would put everything in order … ensuring that his people would be able to take their right places in society (aka, on top).

Yet, if we look at the prophesies, we see clearly that the arrival of the Messiah was not going to be a love-fest:

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
Isaiah 53:3

Not only was Jesus not creating an army, but he was actually asking something intimate of people. He was asking those who had been anticipating his arrival, who were looking for an earthly saviour, the ones who had lived a life of being unfairly treated in their society, to be humble, to confess their sins:

” … the kingdom of God is at hand:
repent you, and believe the gospel.

Mark 1:15

Jesus’ reign, as king, had little to do with power and a crown and a throne … he reigned wearing a crown of thorns, from a wooden cross, from an empty tomb. The inequity of his reign is that we sin (not just back-in-the-garden-of-Eden past tense, but today, every day in the very real present), and he died, so that we get to live an eternity.

“In this world you will have trouble.”

When Jesus said those words (above), he didn’t stop there … with a message of doom and gloom. 

In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

His reign is in our hearts, something that those who came before Jesus never had available to them. We are not victims, we are overcomers, through the blood of Jesus. We have so much! And that which is a struggle, we do not struggle with alone.

Yes, there are things that should sadden and even outrage us. We should write, call, email and text our government officials, for we are citizens here and that is both our right and responsibility. 

But, we are not victims!

We are children of the king, “and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned 

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

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Relief … a word as much as an emotion, as much as a guttural moan.

When hubby responded to my questioning text, about our son’s road test result, with “he just gave me the thumbs up,” I felt great relief. When each of us in the family got the news, we all felt relief. We all just needed a little good news, a break in the seemingly endless line of news that was not good.

Christmas, as much about the season of waiting, is one about relief … relief had come, and was felt through it’s good news.

This is why the wise men left their safe and warm observatories to find the newly born king (Jesus). It is why a host of angels came to tell shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem of the new born king. It is why the shepherds left their flocks after being told of the birth of the Saviour (Jesus). It is why Herod, when he heard that the wise men were searching for a king, told them to report back (and why they returned home a different route).

The Saviour, Redeemer and King had finally come. This is why we sing hymns and carols like “Come thou Long Expected Jesus”, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Joy to the World”. The anticipation and expectation of the coming of one to bring long awaited good news was great.

And what was the news that Christ was bringing?

The good news that Christ brought
was that we would not longer have to live
apart from God.

His virgin arrival as a vulnerable babe, he grew up as the word incarnate, fulfilling the prophesies that foretold of the Messiah, who would come to bring light to the world dominated by darkness. Then he died, a cruel and deliberate death, separating him from his Father. But on the third day, he toppled the darkness of death, left his grave, then walked and talked with his closest people.

 … and this good news just keeps bringing relief.

“The Son of God became a man 
to enable men to become sons of God.”
CS Lewis

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Walking through the door of the sanctuary we were greeted warmly by people who know us, and I realized in my heart what I had known weeks before, when we decided that this would be our church …

we were no longer just visiting,
we were home.

Later, as we worshiped in singing, together, I felt like God was whispering in my ears, 

“Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling”

A new church, the reminder of community.
A messy, imperfect, it’s-gonna-take-effort and a sincere heart,
but it’s so worth it

As we continue in this advent season, we might forget that there is new life, fresh starts found in this season. If advent is about expectation and waiting, Christmas is about a new start, fresh opportunities, a chance to have our sins erased, and a new future to move towards. 

The waiting for the Messiah results in his birth, full of love, hope, peace, joy and wonder. 

To be part of the love, hope, peace, joy and wonder we need to respond to the gifts of Christmas, as Christina Rossetti said,

“What can I give Him, poor as I am? … I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”

To be in community with God is to have given Him our heart, our lives … everything before this moment, and everything that is to come. This is the receiving of the gift of Christmas.

Like hubby and I in our new church community, we could go there forever, and only take what we need. To be part of a community, a relationship, though, is to reciprocate … to “do our part … give our heart”. 

“O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus ChristOh what a savior
Isn’t He wonderful?
Sing hallelujah, …”

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