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Friday, 23 December 2016

What do you See at CHRISTMAS?

What do you See at CHRISTMAS?

The light shone around them. The shepherds were terrified Luke 2:9
                What did the shepherds see in this moment of terror?
Bright lights against the darkness of night. One angel who spoke and then a large group who were singing to them as they shared the story of the birth of the Saviour in Bethlehem not too far from where they were.
                What else did the shepherds see? When they ran into Bethlehem they went to where the baby and his parents were- a stable out behind an inn. When they went into the stable they saw Him- Jesus. A baby wrapped up and kept warm in the hay found in the feed trough. Around the baby were animals of different kinds- cows, donkeys, and sheep. They watched and were seen by the shepherds.
What did Mary and Joseph see that night? They met innkeepers who had no room for them even though Mary was obviously in labour and needing to rest. One innkeeper did empathize with them and enabled them to make a place of rest in their stable. This young couple saw animals who did not mind their presence with them. They also saw and experienced the miracle and wonder of a baby being born.  They experienced God’s love in their arms and their love growing for each other and for God.
What else did Mary and Joseph see that night? Eager and excited shepherds who came into the manger and wanting to see their baby. They talked about angels and singing and how they were urged to go and see this baby. They were excited and filled with wonder. They stayed and saw the baby for a little while. The shepherds then left and were rejoicing in having seen the baby.

Today our Christmas celebrations remember the baby being born and we experience the sights of Christmas in different ways- the lights on houses, the Christmas tree decorated, poinsettias of different colours placed in homes and sanctuaries adding colour to the dull dark days of early winter. We also see the busyness of roads as people try to purchase the special gifts to give to other people. And we see packages wrapped up in bright colourful paper sometimes wrapped in bows and ribbons. We see children of all ages laughing and playing and people just sitting and resting and remembering. We see people of all backgrounds and experiences marveling at the Gift of God for all God’s people and we rejoice.
But what do you see this Christmas? What you see as we celebrate Christmas makes a difference in how you see the world.  Do you see the world potentially ready for peace or a world filled with sadness and depression? Do you see the world filled with divisions and hurtful people or do you see your world with hope in your eyes that next year will be better? Do you see sadness all around you with so many losses of people whom you loved or do you see the love that brings you closer together?  Where do you see the joy in Christ’s birth? The shepherds left the stable filled with joy.  Are you filled with joy because of Jesus’ birth or are you waiting for another Saviour? Jesus is the One promised by God to save us. There is no other required. He is the One whom we remember—let us see Jesus as he is at Christmas—a baby in a manger; the saviour of the world..
Let us pray:

 Holy God of grace and love, we praise you that through Jesus we do receive the gift of hope.  Open our hearts to know you and to love you as you love us- unconditionally. Enable us to believe that the baby the shepherds saw is your Son who fulfilled your promise to bring new life and new hope to all who would believe. Hear us we pray in the name of the Christ child, Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

CHRISTMAS HOPE?

CHRISTMAS HOPE?

And she laid Him in a manger for there was no
room at the inn. Luke 2:7
                How many times have we read this passage and wondered why Joseph and Mary had not planned ahead and reserved a hotel room or at least a bed and breakfast accommodation for one night? The census was a decree known through the land and Mary and Joseph knew that at some point they had to go to the town in which Joseph was born. This young couple had made a covenant to be together even though the baby she carried was not Joseph’s and she was nearing her delivery time. What a stressful situation they both faced! An unknown destination, a pending birth of their child and no clear plan as to where to stay.  No doubt they were feeling the stress of the journey with each movement of the donkey as they rode and walked towards Bethlehem.
                Night came as they were arriving in the village and there was no place to stay. Joseph was getting desperate for a place to stay. Mary had been having contractions and was in labour. Her time was soon to deliver. How could she under the circumstances be comfortable? Where would her baby be born? Her own family was far away and Joseph’s family were in the area but they could hardly receive them under the circumstances. Yet God provided a warm clean space- a barn outside of an inn full of animals of different kinds and from different places.
                What does Mary do with the newborn baby? She wraps him up in warm blankets and gently places him in a make shift crib. This crib was used only hours before to feed all the animals and now it is filled with a baby boy new to the world. Mary places this baby into the world where animals eat, and yet as she does this, the hope she has for this baby has just begun to be shared with the world.
                As we come to the time when we celebrate Jesus’ birth as a human baby boy to what extent have we placed our hope?  The Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is a favourite hymn of this wonderful season which celebrates the gifts of God to us in Jesus- hope, peace, joy and love. One of the lines we sing states, “the hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.” Do we really believe that Christ came to give us hope not just for Christmas but for all the moments of our lives when we need to have something to look at beyond ourselves? Are we finding this hope when we remember Mary who gave birth and then placed this baby in a feeding trough?  Would you have done this when there were hungry animals around? Where do you place your hope?
                Without hope what are we? Without trusting in God’s gift to us in Jesus, do we have hope beyond ourselves?  Just what do you pray for and hope for as we continue to prepare for Christ’s birth in our lives?
Let us pray:

 Holy God of grace and love, we praise you that through Jesus we do receive the gift of hope. We pray O God that you would open our hearts to know you and to love you as you love us- unconditionally. Enable us to believe that the baby Mary placed in the manger is your Son who alone fulfilled your promise to bring new life and new hope to all who would believe. Hear us we pray in the name of the Christ child, Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Life, Death and Eternal Life

Life, Death and Eternal Life

                First, I apologize for not having a reflection for the
last few weeks. Our church has experienced the deaths of three people and with their deaths, there has been the need to comfort each other and to learn together about what this involves and means to those who are grieving.
                Secondly with one of the recently deceased being a family member I realized the impact of words which are shared as someone grieves and what really is helpful or not.
                Third, I am grateful for my strong foundation of faith. I have wondered sometimes, if you did not have faith in God, in the hope of the resurrection of Christ and the promise of eternal life, how do you cope with the death of loved ones?  How do you understand their impact on their lives and what do people hold on to as they grieve?
                The words of Psalm 23 have meaning for many people with its phrases of comfort and God leading them beside quiet waters. It is God who will restore our soul, our hope, our spirit when we experience the death of loved ones. Because of Christ’s resurrection there is life beyond what we experience here and we need to praise God for this. But do we?
                Sometimes when we celebrate a person’s life we speak only of their earthly existence but are we willing to talk about their faith- out loud and where by faith they are now? Why is it we shy away from admitting we are God’s children in life and in death? What are we afraid of?
                As we continue to grieve our loved one, I believe the words of the Psalmist which describes the banquet table being prepared for us so that we might feast on Gods blessings. We will also share this feasting table with those who don’t believe but God will anoint us and bless us even more. All because we believe and live for him.
                What to say to those who grieve? Hug, or say nothing. Words with no meaning are shallow and a waste of time. Listen to those who grieve they need to tell their story. They need to share about the one who has died whether you met them or not. The funeral is not about you nor is it for the deceased. It is to assist the family members of the deceased to cope with a new normal. A new life without the physical presence of their loved one takes time and hard work.
                May God bless you as you support those who grieve and you who are grieving the death of your loved ones- even after several years. God listens and knows where you are and what you do.
READING: Psalm 23

Prayer:  God of grace and love be with those who are grieving, lonely and afraid of beginning a new life with hope. Enable us to care and share our love as Christ also shared his love. In the name of our Saviour, we pray. Amen. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Who is Elijah?

Who is Elijah?
I Kings 19:1-18

                Elijah is considered one of the key persons of faith in
the Old Testament and is regarded as a man of faith and integrity. In the new Testament (Matthew 16:13 ) Jesus asks the question, “who do people say that I am?” to his disciples. The response from the disciples  is “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Those who witnessed Jesus were not sure who he was but they likened him to Elijah. A regular guy who had a strong faith.
                Another New Testament story which involves Elijah is when Jesus takes, Peter, James and John up to the side of the mountain to pray. (Matthew 17) Jesus transfigures before them shining brightly and revealing his glory along with Moses and Elijah. So caught up in the moment, Peter wants to preserve it and to build shelters for all three. The purpose of this story is that Jesus is revealed to the disciples as God’s Son.  Elijah is recognized by the disciples for they would have known these stories of faith and testing and trial which he had endured. Elijah was a good faithful man who had served God well.  Even though we know that he had much despair in his life.
                God still had a plan for Elijah and even though Elijah wanted to die God brought him food and kept him alive so that he could travel and experience God in new ways. Elijah travelled to Horeb and when asked by God why he was there Elijah responded, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left and they seek to take my life.” This is not the same Elijah who spoke boldly with God. And then God passed by as a strong wind, earthquake or in the fire. God’s still small voice was heard by Elijah and Elijah hid his face. Elijah was reminded of God’s power, of God’s character and of God’s love, mercy and peace.
                And so God rebuilt Elijah’s life out of despair and enabled him to reach out to others again. What do we learn from this?
We too may become discouraged or in despair even though we are dedicated to Christ
We too need to invest our energies in others instead of in self-pity
Communion with God is the only way to maintain the spiritual strength necessary for the battles of life
                God chose an average man Elijah who prayed to God and he became God’s instrument to an entire generation. He struggled just as we do but from him we learn that it is ok because God needs us and uses us to tell others. It is never too late to come to Christ and follow him. Remember that Jesus came to die and rise again so that we might have eternal life.  Amen.   

Reflection
Elijah was an ordinary may who believed in God and was able to do amazing things and have great experiences. There were times when he felt down, when he was alone and lonely, and when he was hurt. But then God spoke to him as he speaks to us today. Go and serve the Lord. Wherever you are know that you are never alone. You just need to pray.





PRAYER
God we thank you for Elijah and the life he lived following you. He questioned his relationship with you and experienced despair in his tasks. You lifted him up and renewed his strength just as you lift us up too. Enable us O God to remember Elijah and his love for you and how you spoke to him in that still small voice. We are listening God. And we thank you always Amen

Resource: Bill Crowder, Trusting God in Hard Times Lessons from the Life of Elijah Discovery Series, 2016


Watch for a new series beginning next week!


Monday, 10 October 2016

Who is Elijah? A man who faces conflict I Kings 18

Who is Elijah?
A man who faces conflict   I Kings 18
               
                In Elijah’s time the people had rejected God for the lies of
the gods of the land. Truth had been lost in a culture of idolatry and it was upon Elijah to bring about change. Elijah left Zarephath and met with King Ahab. Ahab knew Elijah and the prophet told the king to order a meeting on Mount Carmel.
Elijah came to all the people and questioned them on who they believed and that they were trying to live in two worlds. They were worshiping Baal while also professing a belief in Yahweh. Elijah wanted them to choose.
Elijah proposed bringing the matter to a test and sets the rules for this test: Select an animal, prepare a sacrifice, pray. The prophets of Baal were divided into 2 segments—no answer, Elijah mocked them  and no fire was sent. Then it was Elijah’s turn. He summoned the people, repaired the broken altar, dug a trench, water was put over the altar. Then Elijah prayed (36-37) Identified God; vindicated God- of Israel,  at your word, explanation hear me ; did not ask “send fire”
God responded- fire fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice; people fell, prophets of Baal fell, and Elijah fell to God and then the rain fell. The drought was over.

Reflection
This is a story of Elijah showing the mercy and greatness of God to the people who had fallen away from Him.
What may we learn from this?
Matters of truth are not settled by majority vote but by God’s Word
Sincere and even passionate commitment to the wrong things can be self-destructive
Matters of truth and error need powerful and often uncomfortable moments of confrontation
Discovering the truth about God requires us to make decisions about our faith and the gods of our own culture.
What do you believe? In whom do you believe? Does God still act like He did in Elijah’s time- how?

PRAYER
Wonderful of love we thank you for Elijah’s story of strong courageous faith. He believed wholeheartedly in you and your ability to bring about change in the lives of others.
We pray O God that you would show us your truth as we sort through the many lies of today. Lies of real people, circumstances, death and destruction which seem to fill our media. Help us to know you and love you; to trust you and to follow your teachings like Elijah did.
We ask this in the name of the Christ who came to teach us about truth and to live in love, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Resource: Bill Crowder, Trusting God in Hard Times Lessons from the Life of Elijah Discovery Series, 2016


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Who is Elijah? A man who trusted

Who is Elijah?
A man who trusted
               
                Elijah is moved from the wilderness where ravens
provided his meat and bread and the brook his water as God tells him to go to Zarephath. Elijah set aside his own agenda, feelings and concerns to do God’s bidding and he did so without hesitating.
                At Zarephath’s gate he meets a woman gathering sticks. He speaks to the woman and asks her to bring him some water in a cup. Then as she walks away to get the water, Elijah then asks for bread. For some reason, the woman who Elijah meets responds by saying, “As the Lord your god lives.” And at that moment Elijah knew that this would was a kindred spirit, a faithful woman of God.  This woman welcomes Elijah into her home and he realizes how poor she is but because they both trust and believe in God to provide their needs there is no fear.
                The woman has very little- a handful of flour and a little oil in the jar. The reason she was gathering sticks was in order to make a fire so that she could make a little loaf for her and her son. So instead of two people in need, there are really three. Elijah asks to be fed first which seems odd knowing that she had so little. Yet when he ate, he also made a promise.
                If you feed me first, then make some food for yourself and your son, you will not run out of food. The bin of flour and the oil will not dry up until God sends rain to the earth.
                What would the woman do? Feed a stranger first of all that she had or herself and child?
                Yet she was a woman of God. And so she went away and did according to the word of Elijah. As a result all ate for many days. God’s constant supply of flour and oil for this woman was a miracle. It is similar to Jesus’ promise in Matthew 6:33” Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. “  She put God’s purposes first, and God graciously provided.    
                Another crisis then comes to this woman. Her son becomes very sick and he had ‘no breath.’ The widow’s only joy is her son and now with his illness he would probably die.
                Yet she trusted God even though she believed she questioned Elijah and blamed him for her son’s illness. She has many concerns within: anger, guilt, blame But Elijah has compassion and takes the boy outside the house up the stairs and to the roof where he placed the boy on his own bed.. He prays to God and stretches himself out on the child and asks God to let the child live. And the boy breathed again. He took the child and took him back into his mother’s house and they were happy.
                The woman tells Elijah, “I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth. She fully trusted in God.

Reflection
In times of crisis do we run to God’s presence and care or do we run away?
In times of crisis are we learning to face anything that might weaken our trust in God?
In times of crisis are we learning to trust in God’s will, not only for the future but also the present?
In times of crisis do we remember the power of Christ’s resurrection?




PRAYER
God of grace and love, through Elijah’s story with the widow and her son we learn how she comes to believe that Elijah is faithful to you. She also builds up her faith and grows stronger because she comes to realize that Elijah is your faithful servant through the miracles of the flour and oil and raising her boy to life.  Somehow however, we do not see ourselves as in this story because we do believe, we do not see how the woman questioned her faith and God when she needed him most. Yet there are times when we think we can do it all and better than you. But we cannot. Help us O God to trust, fully trust you in all of what matters in this life. Let us be reminded of how important it is to trust you as we read the story of Elijah. Amen.

Resource: Bill Crowder, Trusting God in Hard Times Lessons from the Life of Elijah Discovery Series, 2016

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Who is Elijah? A man whom God Trained

Who is Elijah?
A man whom God Trained


                What are you preparing or training for? This is a question
for life and of faith. But are you willing to answer it?
                After Elijah spoke with Ahab about the trouble to come, Elijah renewed his willingness to obey God. Elijah is ordered to go out of the normal realm of life and into the wilderness. There he shall drink from the brook and the ravens will feed him. (I Kings 17:2-4)
                Gilead was east of the Jordan River so God was sending him back home to a brook that carries water only the winter rains. And Elijah had told the king that there would be a 3 year drought so why would God send him there. This area however is in the wilderness where life is hard and it is harder even to learn.
                Elijah is also told to get away and hide. Was he safe from King Ahab and                Queen Jezebel?
                Elijah soon left via a route given to him by God. How much pressure was he under not even knowing whether Ahab’s men might be hunting him down. He traveled 15-20 miles through barren land to get to where God had wanted him to go. Elijah had much to learn and in solitude he would have many moments for learning and reflection.
                Elijah obeyed God’s word, believed God’s promise and went to the Wadi Cherith (brook) God would therefore fulfil his promise to meet his physical needs. Elijah trusted and obeyed God.
                One can only imagine what Elijah was thinking? Would the birds show up with food? Where would he sit, sleep, and what would God teach him? He was alone in the desert yet God had assured him of care and provision.
                God did provide food- bread and meat in the morning and evening by the ravens.
                Ravens—would never relinquish their food naturally; yet they give Elijah food;
-are scavengers and considered unclean (Lev.11:13-19) they eat carrion and Elijah trusted God for the food
                Bread and meat twice a day—more than the manna and quail in the wilderness
Water from the brook where other streams had dried up; was also dependent upon rain to continue during the 3 year drought—yet Elijah trusted God to provide.

Elijah’s training—what did he do while he waited for food to come? He prayed, pined, remembered, tried to survive,-- yet in all of it he learned more and more each day trusting God.

What did Elijah think and feel when he saw that the brook had dried up? God then told him to go to Zarephath (Ikings 17:7-10)
·         would he have panicked—he knew where the Jordan River was- he could have left
·         did he want to give up and died
·         did he want to reverse God’s judgment as he was so personally affected

He needed to learn that:
God knew all along that the brook would dry up
God’s care was not hampered when the brook dried up
God was still in control even when the brook dried up
God would tell him his next steps—v. 9 to Zarephath
Zarephath—was 80-90 miles northwest of Cherith in Gentile land
-was in the heart of the land dominated by Baal worship
-homeland of Queen Jezebel, priestess of Baal, the god Elijah had challenged
-Queen Jezebel- wife of King Ahab

Yet God told him that:
A widow would care for him—a poor woman, vulnerable and unprotected, no food—was this an upgrade?  He was also going into hostile territory so he could find someone who would have no means for taking care of him.--- God is training Elijah to walk by faith, not sight

REFLECTION
What lessons can we learn from Elijah’s experience at the brook?
What does suffering involve? Do all people suffer in some way? Even believers?
How ready are you for this kind of training? Would you fully trust God as Elijah did?
God is still teaching you as you continue to minister to others. Are you willing to go and do where he leads you?

PRAYER
God we thank you for Elijah’s story of faithful service. We thank you also that God truly loves us and will not lead us into situations and leave us alone. He was with Elijah and as he trained him for more work he was tested. We too are tested as we continue to discern what it is you would have us do. Help us o God to understand and to act in faith. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Resource: Bill Crowder, Trusting God in Hard Times Lessons from the Life of Elijah Discovery Series, 2016

Monday, 26 September 2016

Who is Elijah? A man who is Courageous

Who is Elijah?
A man who is Courageous


                During the time of Elijah, Ahab was king and under
his direction, Israel had fallen into Baal worship. Ahab build a temple to Baal in Samaria and had set up an Asherah pole which was an object associated with pagan worship. Ahab worshiped before false gods and so when Elijah stated, ”As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word, ” Elijah was very courageous. Israel depended upon the agricultural industry to sustain them. Baal was considered the fertility god- or rainmaker god. God was then going to demonstrate to the people to whom they should trust.
It is then Elijah who steps in to the palace of King Ahab and tells him what is going to happen. Ahab was evil- more than all who were before him (I Kings 16:30) He copied and multiplied the sinful practices of the first king Jeroboam. Ahab also introduced Baal worship and raised it to the same level of importance as God.
Idol worship was not only something that occurred in the past. Idolatry is putting something else, anything else in the place of God and this occurs today if we consider the following gods:
Humanistic- people- sports stars, musicians, leaders
Materialistic- money and what it buys
Sensual- no fornicator, unclean person, no covetous man
Relational- Jesus first—then parents, children   (Mt10:37)

Elijah courageously shares his message that there would be 3 years of drought and then is gone from King Ahab’s palace.   Then to find out more about Elijah we turn to James 5 where Elijah is proclaimed as ‘a man just like us.’ Elijah was righteous but when he prayed he confessed his sin and been forgiven. He was in good standing with God. He also prayed earnestly for the rain  to be withheld and it was, for 3 years. He prayed specifically that there would be no dew or rain and the drought followed in order that the people would come to know God. Elijah prayed.
               
REFLECTION      
Elijah understood the power of prayer and he practised it. How well/ often do you pray?
Do you think that your effectiveness for God is dependent on your talents or position? Or are you dependent on God Himself?
Do we see the true God as the one and only object of our worship? Or are yoru hearts and minds clouded by other gods?
Are you living in the reality of the resource of prayer through which God can do amazing things?




PRAYER
Wonderful God we thank you for the courage that Elijah had as he stood in the palace and proclaimed that there would be no rain until changes came to the people. Changes that involved serving and following you. O how we could ask this today and have the people to turn you! We have the courage to ask but are we willing to share our story of faith and bring others into the knowledge of your love in Jesus? Help us O God to be courageous in all that we say and do. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Resource: Bill Crowder, Trusting God in Hard Times Lessons from the Life of Elijah Discovery Series, 2016

Who is Elijah? A man who Trusts God I Kings 17

Who is Elijah?
A man who Trusts God  I Kings 17

                September has come with all of its busyness as this academic
year begins. The Back to School sales will soon end and then we will start the fall clearance even though in this area we are finally at a reasonable, seasonable temperature. We still have the desire to wear shorts as we get ready to pick apples from the orchards.
                We begin the early fall season with a look at the prophet Elijah. Just how much do we know about this man who trusted God, and who is mentioned a great deal in the New Testament and even appears in the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus with James, John and Moses! Just who is this man who appears to be so much like us that we often forget he was on that high mountain. James lived in that era and reminded his readers that Elijah was just a man with a nature like ours. This meant that Elijah had the same weaknesses and failures that tell the story of our lives. And prayer worked for him just as prayer works for us.
                Many people in Jesus’ day thought Elijah would soon return to the people as the prophet Malachi indicated. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Malachi 4:5-6)  It must be remembered that the day of Christ’s return was thought to be imminent.
                Some people though that John the Baptist was Elijah when Jesus asked his disciples about who he was. Elijah’s name was known by many people in Jesus’ day because he had engaged in so many amazing events in his own time. People could relate to him because he had experienced discouragement, fear, doubt just like we do. Elijah was human and shared his frailty, his spiritual dependence upon God and his great need for prayer as he walked with God.
                Who is Elijah? I Kings 17:1 states—Elijah the Tishbite of the inhabitants of Gilead seems to just show up. There is some discussion about where he came from or even whether he lived as a wanderer. His background is somewhat of a mystery including his name which means “Jehovah is God’ is a testament of his life. Elijah and his protégé Elisha shared in what appeared to be supernatural events because at some point Elijah though he was the only person who still believe in the God of Israel. And it is then that God showed Himself as to who he was and that God was in control. God then uses Elijah an ordinary man to intervene in a time of ungodliness and Baal worship.
REFLECTION      
Are you ‘an ordinary man/woman?  Do you feel ordinary when you serve Christ or are you just being faithful to God in doing the tasks which need to be done? What about Elijah? Was he an ordinary man with a special task?



PRAYER
Loving God, as we learn about Elijah from both the OT and NT we pray that we will witness in him that he was an ordinary person called by God to serve and share his faith. We pray that you would help us to discern our calling and show us what to do for the sake of Jesus and his church. Be with us we pray always and forever. Amen.

Resource: Bill Crowder, Trusting God in Hard Times Lessons from the Life of Elijah Discovery Series, 2016

Thursday, 21 July 2016

“Fighting the Good Fight” 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Summer Thoughts Abound 1
“Fighting the Good Fight”  2 Timothy 4:7-8


                This past week while I was on vacation I attended a
memorial service celebrating the life of one of my cousins. She is the first of my twenty cousins to die and she was just 65 years old. Sitting in the sanctuary of her church home brought many thoughts about life and death and the gift and promise of eternal life made possible in Jesus.  As I listened to her pastor speak about the joy of life she shared with her family I could not help but think about what we as a family have lost in her death. Yet in the weeks leading to her death she had much pain due to cancer and her vibrant smile was not present as she wanted to sleep and rest. But it was the expression of words that my aunt shared with me that remains. “I’m supposed to die first. It’s not right.”
                These words have resonated with me. One generation dies before the next grows older. This is the natural order of life. Yet what are we experiencing now in Canada? Different generations living longer than ever. But also people choosing death over life because pain management and palliative care is not available as they enter the final months of life. How do we justify this? Do we need to? Of what are we afraid? 
                In Hebrews 2 we read,” Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death- that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  
                Jesus was born and raised as a human boy and became an adult man. He had flesh and blood and he knew what it meant to grieve the death of those whom he loved. He also knew that his purpose as God’s Son was to come to earth and live and die and rise again. Because Jesus had the power to break death and live again. Through him, we have nothing to fear by death; we just need to be ready to die as the children of God. 
                When a person dies we mourn the death of their physical presence with us. But for the one whose faith is in Christ- there is joy for they are received by Christ.  Yet with our understanding of life to be celebrated whose decision should it be for death? God’s, a family member, a physician or the individual who seeks help to leave this world?  Up until now we would say their life and death is in God’s hands but is this the case today?
                For my cousin, her fight against cancer was fought. She kept her faith and God called her home to rest. She believed in Christ Jesus and she is in His presence. We grieve and mourn her death as a family and comfort each other as best as we can and we pray. ( 2 Timothy 4:7-8)
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
Do you fear death? Are you afraid of dying or what comes after? For many people until we get to that time in our lives (nearing death) we cannot really answer except from our thoughts. Emotionally we often don’t want to talk about the fact that we will die for it is really the dying that causes us to be afraid. Or it could be that we are unsure of what happens afterwards. Whose face shall you meet? As faithful believers in Jesus, will you see Christ and receive the ‘crown of righteousness’ or are you not sure? What does fighting the good fight in life mean to you? How will your life’s race finish? 
PRAYER

God of hope, of life and death and new life we praise you. Thank you for the gift and wonder of life itself and the faith we have in Jesus who will call us home to him after dying is completed. Be with us each step of our life’s journey and lead us always we pray. Amen.

Friday, 24 June 2016

courage that many Christians today are upholding

I am “N” ---Stories of Courage
                The second section of the book “I Am N” focuses on the
courage that many Christians today are upholding in light of their faith being challenged. We realize however that there have been martyrs in history whose courage led them to prison or death or both. One such individual is Wang Ming Dao whose lifespan was 1900-1991 in China.
Wang Ming Dao became a Christian at 14 while attending the London Missionary Society’s primary school. He was an outspoken Christian and remained such a problem for the Communist Party in the 1950s and 1960s that he spent 22 years in prison.
During the 1920s Ming-Dao founded a church called the Christian Tabernacle- non-denominational and not dependent on foreign funds. His idea was that he wanted the church to remain independent so that the people could worship more freely. Yet during the time when Japan occupied northern China (1937-1945) a Chinese federation was organized to which every church was required to join. However, Mind-Dao refused and put his life on the line. He believed it was wrong to form an alliance which included nonbelievers.
After attaining power in 1949 the Communists instituted a state sponsored, state controlled church which of course Ming Dao would have nothing to do with. He was continuously threatened and refused to join. In 1955 he was imprisoned. During his time in prison he was threatened with torture and execution. He was abused and mentally broken and even confessed to crimes he knew he had not committed only to promise to support the state controlled church. He was released and after regaining his health he again refused to join the state controlled church. He was put in prison again for 22 years. He was offered release but refused because he believed the government owed him an apology. At age 91 he died in Shanghai. With his refusal to compromise the house church movement began which were considered illegal and could have been interrupted at any time.
Ming-Dao wrote extensively about Jesus and he learned that threats should not instill fear in believers. But instead should be catalysts for proclaiming God with greater courage and boldness.
REFLECTION
Ming-Dao’s story is filled with moments of courage when stands up for his faith not being associated with non- believers. Do you think his action was correct? When state controlled churches were introduced in China do you think that he was wrong in not joining these?  Why/why not?
We may or may not think that the church, a visible symbol is important to the growth of Christians. Yet many who believed in Christ met in unsafe church houses and were arrested, tried and imprisoned for doing so. Which do you think is best? To be in hiding and worshiping or open and safe in community?
Wang Ming Dao did not want to have outside non believers influencing his teachings. Do you think this approach would/could work today?
Wang Ming-Dao highlighted Peter and Johns refusal to be shaken by threats from jewish leaders resulting from the rapid spread of the gospel.  The Jews threatened them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Acts 4:18  Peter and John did not stop speaking, but di so more boldly. Ming Dao learned that threats should not instill fear in believers. Instead they should be catalysts for proclaiming God with greater courage and boldness.
PRAYER
Thank you for the courage of Wang Ming-Dao and his ability to influence the movement of Christians in China. We pray that we might have the courage we need to tell others about Christ Jesus so that we might continue to build Christ’s church in faith. We pray for courage to share the words we need.  Amen.
               

The Voice of the Martyrs    I am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists. Colorado Springs, CO:  David C. Cook Publishing 2016.  (p. 109-111))

I am “N” ---Stories of Faithfulness

I am “N” ---Stories of Faithfulness

                The book “I Am N” contains many stories of people from
around the world who came to fully understand the meaning of the cost of discipleship. Their stories of courage, sacrifice, joy, perseverance and forgiveness enable us to question our faith and give us reason to pray about whether our faith is strong enough to move us forward. Or would we give in and give up.
Habila Adamu and his family lived in Nigeria and were awakened at night by intruders wearing robes and masks and carrying an AK47. They were there to do the work of Allah but Habila knew that soon his faith would be asked and tested and so he prayed silently. He was asked his name, where he worked and whether he was police or military. He was then asked the important question Are you a Christian or Muslim? He answered, “I am a Christian.”  The man stated that we are offering you a better life if you will only say the shahada which is the Islamic profession of faith. But he did not. He was asked again. Habila did not say anything. The one holding the gun raised the barrel of the rifle to Habila’s head. Habila told his wife, “The death of a Christian is a great gain, not a loss.”
The intruders asked for all the money and because they had hardly anything the gunman lowered the barrel to Habil’a mouth. The bullet passed through his mouth; he fell to the floor. The wife screamed and the boy burst into tears. The intruders left thinking the man was dead.But Habila was still alive when his wife bent over him and whispered, I am still alive. Please get help.  No police would come; but the neighbours took the man to the hospital by 6 a.m. Habila was scheduled to have a bone graft to repair his cheekbone. However they were stunned to see that his cheekbone had healed. He was all right; He recovered and began to share his story. And when he does, Habila speaks of forgiveness.
Habila prays—God, forgive them. God, forgive them.  How does say this? Because Christ is love and the God he serves is love and he commands us to do the same.
REFLECTION
In North America we have the gift and hope and promise of living with religious freedom. We pray for peace for our brothers and sisters who believe in Christ and who seek forgiveness for those who have wronged them. It is difficult for us to understand. But they do this so that they might live and know that Christ is looking after them.
Habila speaks with conviction when his faith is tested. Habila speaks with courage as he shot in front of his wife and son. And being left for dead, he seeks help. His life was spared and now he is able to tell his story and how he forgives the one who shot him.
I wonder would we—forgive that man who shot us in front of our family members? Would we speak the words of forgiveness when we are so tested about whether we live or die?
How does Habila’s story inspire you to forgive others? Why?
PRAYER
Thank you for Habila’s story and his active forgiveness for others who seek to follow Christ. Enable us to grow in faith like his and show us what it means to live for you in our every day lives.   Show us what it means to forgive. Amen.

The Voice of the Martyrs    I am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists. Colorado Springs, CO:  David C. Cook Publishing 2016.  (p. 202-204)  Next week we will conclude this series on this book of modern martyrs who live for Christ.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go

I am “N” ---Stories of Courage
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”  Joshua 1:9

                The second section of the book “I Am N” focuses
on the courage that many Christians today are upholding in light of their faith being challenged.
                One story is of a young woman who at a young age came to know Jesus through shortwave Christian programs from Europe. She listened, wrote down Bible verses, hid them in her clothes or pillow until she could memorise them. She was locked in her bedroom for almost two years because her family called her infidel and she was not allowed to talk or eat with her family. Eventually she was able to get out and meet people and through Christian connections she met her husband a Christian. This young man saved money and with her permission asked her parents to marry her. They presumed he was Muslim and consented thinking that the infidel daughter would be out of their home and care. This young couple had a difficult time securing a home, work and yet they lived with the courage of Christ. They had a son and despite the uncertainties of their life in Egypt, they remain faithful to their calling. They continue to tell others of Jesus and live knowing that ‘hope, contentment and peace can be found only in Jesus.” They truly have the courage to trust God for whatever lies ahead and they are committed to do his will not theirs.
                Another story is a Saul/ Paul story where a young man whose specialty was in car bombs riot planning and infiltrating Christian organizations came to know Christ. In order to advance his killing of Christians he posed as an impostor and asked how he could become a Christian. He became a part of this community but at the same time he returned to the mosque to pray and fast. He lived this double life for six years. Until he heard the question asked of him and his double life. He repented for real and came to be a true follower of Jesus. And in this, he had to find courage for by coming to Jesus, his life was now in danger. But he pursued and grew in faith, with the Christian community’s support.
                REFLECTION
When we think of courage in our context we wonder about something that may seem so important yet when compared to these stories—courage means life or death and truly facing up to their faith in Christ.
Have you ever been challenged by your faith belief? Have you found the courage to say whose you are and what this means? Sometimes when we think about loving God we are facing life and death due to age and illness. Yet these people were courageous in their faith because they wanted to live life as young people. These are conversion stories and each of these people took a step of courage that makes a powerful impact. As Paul wrote in Galatians 1:23-24 “they only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us in now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. And they glorified God because of me.” What does this mean for you and your relationship with God?


PRAYER
Wonderful God I pray for the courage I need to tell others my faith not only in times of uncertainty but when I am able to talk to others about Christ. Give me the words I need. Show me your love I pray. Amen.
               

The Voice of the Martyrs    I am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists. Colorado Springs, CO:  David C. Cook Publishing 2016.  (p. 63-78)

Thursday, 2 June 2016

I am “N” ---Stories of Sacrifice

I am “N” ---Stories of Sacrifice
Luke 9:23
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself ad take up
his cross daily and follow me.
                Would you sacrifice yourself for your faith in God? This is not something that Christians in the West are forced to think about. So that when and if we hear about ISIS soldiers questioning people who believe in Jesus and are willing to pay a tax or even face death, it is difficult for us to understand.
                Families are being torn apart when asked ‘who are you?” If they answer Christian they are not permitted to stay in Muslim land controlled by ISIS. Their homes are confiscated, they are removed under force and often the ISIS soldier will paint an Arabic ‘n’ for Nazarene indicating that this was a Christian home and now the property becomes a part of the Islamic State. One such family is Abu Fadi in Iraq who fled Mosul and were able to reach Erbil. After undergoing search and questioning they were able to flee to this city overpopulated with Syrian war refugees.  Yet they remembered that God was with them no matter what they faced and wherever they went.
                God does not care where we live but is concerned about where our hearts are. He cares about where we place our trust what we value and whether the desire of our hearts is to focus our eyes on him. He is pleased when we are so focused that we can affirm our hope and trust God.
REFLECTION
How much are you willing to sacrifice for your faith in God? Thousands of people leave their countries, homes and everything that matters to escape terrorism and destruction. Many people who have left Iraq are living in refugee camps and existing with very little. But what keeps them going is hope in God. God will provide.
While working in the fields, a Pakistani mother of two girls named Asia was sent to prison for taking a drink form the same spigot as a Muslim woman. She was Christian and in order to be released from prison she needed to convert to Islam. She refused. For two years her daughters did not see her yet she continued to have faith in Christ. Her family members were also persecuted. Her husband and children were harassed so much that they moved five times in seventeen months.  A reward for killing this woman was also offered but no one did. Two Pakistani politicians publicly supported her and they were murdered.
REFLECTION:
Christian families are being persecuted, incarcerated and suffering terrible fates. Yet they continue to glorify God knowing and demonstrating that they hope lies in heaven, in eternity with Jesus.
How do you respond to hearing these stories? Do you take extra time in trying to find out who you are in relationship with God? When you say you are a Christian what does this mean?


PRAYER
Wonderful God, you love us and call to us serve you as your faithful children. Bless us and guide and protect those who sacrificing their lives for their faith in Jesus as Saviour. Help us to understand what this means when often we take our faith for granted. Amen.
               

The Voice of the Martyrs    I am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists. Colorado Springs, CO:  David C. Cook Publishing 2016.  (Ch. 1-2, p.21-34)

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Hear My Voice when I Call to You

Psalm141
Hear My Voice when I Call to You


                Do you sometimes feel that no one is listening to you?
That is, no one wants to hear your point of view? Or maybe you have said something in the past which has hurt another person so much that they do not wish to talk with you again. God understands. In Psalm 141 we read about the urgency of the writer to have God come and listen to their pleading voice as their prayer is in need of God’s response. It is also a psalm of regret because of words stated and later realizing their impact on another person.
“Hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense.”  Incense we know rises quickly like smoke and call does hear all our prayers, we need only to wait upon God to respond but often we do not; we are impatient and want help or support right away..
The Psalmist then explains why there is urgent action needed on God’s part—they said something which they regretted and now they ask God to watch over the door of my lips. They are repentant of the spoken words and now they wish to be forgiven not only by the other person but by God.
“My prayer is ever against the deeds of evildoers.”  The psalmist then gives reasons for this- rulers will be overthrown, and the wicked will learn to speak words of good intention yet they will not be so. The psalmist then states—but my eyes are fixed on you.
How amazing this is—no matter what they have said and done, they will focus on God for He receives them and they are able to take refuge in them. They are kept safe and protected by God as they continue to live life.
What a wonderful Psalm of transformation and change! There is almost a demanding tone in the voice of the psalmist who has hurt their friends through their words and actions and yet in the end, God will help them as they seek forgiveness for their wrongdoing. God will keep them safe and protect them.
This is comforting reassurance and as we read these words we may come to realize that God is with us always. We need not fear! We just need to trust Him.
REFLECTION:
Have you ever almost demanded God to listen to your prayers for yourself and others? What do you think God does when he hears these demanding words? Just reflect on this if someone were to demand you to do something as an adult- do you do it? Or do you rebel and try something totally different. But what if God tells us to do something that you don’t think is quite right will you do it? Trusting God to call you to do something involves a relationship of trust but this trust is not just from you with God; it is also with God and you. We live in an independent age where the hope is to be on one’s own and make our own decisions. What does this mean when we read this Psalm and it says that God will look after us and protect all we need to do is listen?
God will keep you safe if you put your trust in him. God will protect you—but you need to be in a good relationship with him. Do you trust Him? Can God call upon you to live as He teaches?
PRAYER

Wonderful God we thank you that as we invest our lives in you, you never stop loving us. Thank you God for keeping us safe and protecting us. Help us to be careful in what we say and do and enable us all to live loving you. Hear our voices as we call out to you.  And enable us to be patient as you respond through love. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Weeping may Remain for a Night, but rejoicing Comes in the morning.

Weeping may Remain for a Night, but rejoicing Comes in the morning.
Psalm 30

                If our days are filled with situations which lead to nights of
crying and despair how wonderful it is to think and know and believe that joy comes with God in the morning! Just how is this possible? And what causes one to say thank you forever to God? It is because God has changed that person’s life through helping them when they needed God the most.
                Out of the depths God lifted up this psalmist and no one gloated over them. The one who was suffering called to God and he healed them. God brought them up from the grave and spared them from going down into the pit. From the lowest moments of their lives God lifted them up and kept them from going back down because God brought healing and wholeness.
                Because God has brought healing the psalmist is filled with joy and when we are filled with joy we are to sing and praise His name  Anger may last only a moment but God’s favour is forever; weeping comes in the night but joy comes in the morning.
                The psalmist continues to state “I will never be shaken.” Yet when God seemed to hide away there was despair and uncertainty. But then the psalmist called and cried out for mercy and for God’s help. And God heard this cry and enabled the one who was wailing to dance, the one who was in mourning to be filled with joy so much so that their hearts may sing to God and cannot be silent any more. They must give God thanks forever.
REFLECTION:
What a wonderful Psalm of praise! God helps those who are in need even in the depths o sadness, hurt, pain and questioning. All we need to do is to call for help and there will be healing.  Through this healing there will also be songs of joy, and they will feel compelled to praise God. Weeping if it occurs will be short term as joy comes with the morning. God will turn your life around. All you need to do is call for his help his mercy, and grace!
If you are in need of healing or find yourself in a time of despair, this Psalm tells us what to do- seek God’s help and healing and God will respond. God will lift us up from despair so much that we will want to dance and sing and praise God forever. And God just asks us to thank him.
God loves you and wants you to understand Him and how much he loves you. If you are in need of help and healing call upon him. Pray and ask for healing and help and God will lift you up, turn you around as you open your heart to believe and have faith.
PRAYER

Loving God hear my prayer as I call out to you. I believe you will help and heal me and this is what I ask at this time. Lift me up from where I am in despair and raise me up so that I will praise you forever. Enable me to believe and follow you always for you are my God and I am seeking you. I cry now to you with the hope and promise that I will have joy in the morning. In your name God, Thank you and all praise be to you. Amen.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Let the Redeemed .. Say so!

Let the Redeemed .. Say so!
  Psalm 107


                Let the redeemed of the Lord say that God is good
and that His love endures forever.
                This Psalm is a listing of those who were changed by God and through their redemption in faith, they can now say that God is good. This Psalm tells the before and after of people whose lives changed with God. From east, west, north and south—God’s people have been redeemed, transformed and changed!
                Some people wandered in desert wastelands. They cried out to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress.  Some people sat in darkness and the deepest gloom prisoners suffering in iron chains. They too cried to the Lord in their trouble they he saved them from their distress. Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. They cried to the Lord in their trouble and he saved them from their distress.  And still others went out on the sea in ships saw the works of the Lord but they reeled and staggered away. They too cried out to the Lord in their trouble and he brought them out of their distress.  God heard their cries and he brought calmness, and led them to new life. God changed the circumstances of where each was and brought forth life through his great love.
                What a glorious and wonderful Psalm- God changed the lives of these people who were in various situations of distress and who had cried out for help. He brought changes to what was happening around them and they were changed. They were saved from their heartaches and distress. They were redeemed through God’s love. 
                But do the ‘redeemed’ tell the story? How extensive and wonderful this story may be if we could hear those people tell their stories of what happened to them. Yet this is the same today. What faith stories could be shared as we look to what God is doing today. People’s lives change with God but are we willing to tell our stories so that others may hear?
                God’s love endures forever. People of God tell your story of redemption!
REFLECTION:
Have you ever told your story of coming to know God, Christ the Spirit to another person? If yes, how did the other person(s) respond? What did you do next? If no why not or maybe you are still searching for God.

If you are searching for God, this Psalm takes in about almost every kind of situation people have found themselves throughout their lives and offers hope that is so wonderful we just have to share it. When you realize that you are in trouble and need help, God hears you. No matter what you are facing right now, cry out to God for help. He will respond to your need.  This response might be someone who comes to talk with you or even to listen to your story, and pray with you. Do not send them away—be with them and know that God is caring for you! And answer God’s call. If you do, you will be ready to give thanks to God!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Overflowing Gratitude

Overflowing Gratitude
Psalm 9
                Have you ever felt the need to praise God? Not just on Easter
morning when you realize the joy of Christ’s resurrection for yourself but on an ordinary day. What has prompted this need, this urge to praise God?
                Psalm 9 begins “I will praise you O Lord, with all my heart, I will tell of all your wonders.” (NIV). Leslie Brandt puts it this way: “I feel so exuberant I simply must express or explode” What an option—express praise to God or explode from within. But why the need to praise God?
                The Psalmist responds because God was with them and judged righteously against enemies. God destroyed the wicked, rebuked the nations and blotted out their names for ever. Enemies have faced endless ruin and God reigned forever. God reigns and so all who believe must praise God. God is the one who will judge the world in righteousness and justice. And those who know Him with trust in him because God will never forsake them.
                Therefore because God will always be with us we are to sing the praises of God; to proclaim loudly His deeds to the people. God doesn’t ignore his people but lifts us up and reminds us of His love.
                But do we know how much God loves us? God lifts us up in order that we might praise Him. God makes it possible to sing praise because He is with us always. There will be people who hurt themselves by forgetting God. And there are those whose needs will not be forgotten nor will hope be lost. “Is it any wonder my heart overflows with gratitude to God?”
REFLECTION:
How often do you consciously praise God? That is you offer your voice to sing about how God has touched your heart and life. Do you sing of your love for God and God’s love for you?  You might respond well it depends; It depends upon what you have been experiencing and what you are going through at the moment. It depends upon what you feel you need you should do when we praise God.
For some people praising God is not only singing or playing music; it is using the gifts and talents and skills and learning they have been given or acquired to praise and do the work necessary for the church and for the furtherance of God’s kingdom. One who does the finances may not be able to sing well but they are still praising God in what they are doing. And sometimes we limit ourselves in how we praise God. For many singing is how praise is done; standing up arms high to the sky and singing to uplifting music. For others it is simply saying quietly in one’s heart—“I love you God and I lift my voice.”
But no matter how you do it—do it! Praising God is worshiping God, and God likes receiving our praise. And when we do so, we are blessed through the Spirit which comes to us.
 PRAYER:

Wonderful God we praise you name and we rejoice in all that you do for us. We may not always feel the need to express or explode our joy to you but we praise you any ways. Give us reasons again and again to offer you praise so that we might feel the joy of your love forever. Amen.