Don’t Worry About Getting Old!

Two elderly men were venting their frustrations about the woes of modern technology. “I just can’t ever seem to remember my darn passwords,” grumbled one of them. The other one smiled. “Oh really? I can never forget mine!” “How do you manage it?” asked the first guy curiously. “Well, I simply set all my passwords to ‘Incorrect’ so that whenever I’m told that my password is incorrect, I’ll remember it!” It’s always been easy to make fun of ‘old people’ and the aging process. These days I find my definition of ‘old’ is shifting a lot. I’m beginning to realize my own mortality. My body has started letting me know that things are changing. As we age, we are forced to remember that our bodies will someday decay and waste away. Our body is a vessel that carries us through this lifetime. As believers, we aren’t to be morbid about this. God created us for eternity. Writing on this very topic, the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) The aging process is inevitable, but each passing day is another opportunity to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. God’s spirit is transforming us and preparing us for eternity and becoming more like Jesus. Rather than looking backward in life, becoming cynical or bitter, we are to grow into the person that God has called us to be. Each day becomes an opportunity for renewal and growth – no matter how old we get.

Don’t Miss The Point

Sometimes, even the smartest and most spiritual among us can be a little bit dense. We just don’t understand what Jesus is trying to tell us. For example, how would you feel if you were in the boat on the day of this exchange? “But the disciples had forgotten to bring any food. They had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, ‘Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.’ At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, ‘Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear? Don’t you remember anything at all? When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?’ ‘Twelve,’ they said. ‘And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?’ ‘Seven,’ they said. ‘Don’t you understand yet?’ he asked them.” (Mark 8:14-21) Jesus channels his frustration with the disciples into these nine pointed questions. They have travelled with him, seen his miracles, heard his teaching and still don’t understand what he is saying. I’m sure they felt somewhat embarrassed. When Jesus warned them about the “yeast of the Pharisees”, he wasn’t talking about bread. Jesus was warning them about the evil designs that the Pharisees were planning: the plot to kill him. The disciples had missed the whole point. They were thinking about their stomachs. I wonder how often I read a passage of scripture and do just that: miss the whole point because I’m thinking about something else. I’m preoccupied with my needs, my situation, or my empty stomach and I totally miss out on what God is trying to say to me. After all this time with Jesus, knowing him, his teaching and his miracles, we can still miss the most basic of messages. As you read your Bible this week, slow down and take your time. Listen to what Jesus is really saying. See you Sunday,

People Of The Resurrection

Poor Milan Shipper. A high school student from the Netherlands who just wanted an exciting vacation before heading off to university. His dream is to visit Australia for a few weeks, so he was excited to find an amazing deal online to Sydney. Seeing the offer, he booked it on the spot. However, when he boarded his second flight, from Toronto to Sydney, he was surprised at how small the plane was. After the flight had taken off, he discovered he was going to another city called Sydney: the one in Nova Scotia, Canada. Sydney, the Canadian one, is a lovely place on the East Coast, but it wasn’t where Milan wanted to go. The folks at the airline, being good Canadians, apologized to him. They got him on a return flight back to Amsterdam and were able to help him get a ticket to his dream location: Sydney, the Australian one. Such mistakes are not uncommon. Sometimes, despite our best attempts, our plans go wrong. We take a path that doesn’t get us where we want to go. Some mistakes are easily corrected and leave no marks. Other mistakes can go far deeper and carry far more lasting implications. That’s why we need Easter and the power of the resurrection. The resurrection is about hope. Sin and death don’t have the final word over life. The resurrection affirms that the price of our sins has been paid. God’s love has overcome. We can have confidence that we are headed in the right direction towards the right destination. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:18-21 Christians are ‘people of the resurrection’. It impacts our outlook on life and our hope in death. It assures us that God is in control and he can work with our sins and mistakes. It’s our guarantee that we are on the right path and will reach our heavenly destiny. “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!” See you Sunday,

Work/Life Balance

When I was growing up, we lived in a house on my grandmother’s farm. My father and I had an annual spring ritual which was to go ‘fencing’. That meant taking a trip around the perimeter of the farm to check the condition of the fences. It was essential to ensure that animals, mostly cattle, wouldn’t be able to get out into someone else’s property. “Good fences make good neighbours” is a favourite saying of farmers. In our physical world, it is easy to observe barriers or boundaries. There are fences, walls or signs that inform us that we are moving from one place to the other. Healthy living involves knowing and observing boundaries in the emotional and spiritual areas of life. For many people finding the boundaries between work life and personal life can be very difficult. People want a sense of fulfillment in their work and desire a rich and fulfilling private life. Finding balance can be a challenge. The teacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes seemed to understand this dilemma.  “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me…So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun…There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw is from the hand of God.” (Eccl 2:18-25) The teacher sees both good and bad in work and recognizes that work and life enjoyment are both from God. And yet, there can be a lot of frustration in sorting out that interaction. He goes on to write that to “everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Eccl 3:1) To me, it sounds like he is helping us to think about boundaries in life. We are not what we do. Our value and worth comes from God. He has given us talents and skills to be used to bless others and provide purpose. We should not conclude that work is all there is in life. We need to enjoy family, good food and fun times. The teacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us that life is short and our work will not be finished but left for someone else. We need to hear this perspective today. It’s not easy in the modern world to find the right work-life balance. But then, it wasn’t easy when Ecclesiastes was written. The point is, that wrestling with finding the boundaries and balancing the good things God has provided is a part of life. There is wisdom in thinking about these things and letting God guide us to the answers.

Little Foxes

Sue Markham really wanted a dog. Her husband wasn’t so keen on the idea. He finally relented and agreed that they could get a dog if it was a small one that wouldn’t take up too much space in their home. Sue began looking for a puppy at animal shelters and when she saw little Yogi she just had to have him.  She brought Yogi home and told her husband that he was a Jack Russell Terrier and would not likely ever be over twenty pounds. Then Yogi started to grow and Mr. Markham became concerned over the amount of food that Yogi was eating. Mrs. Markham had to confess that Yogi wasn’t really a Jack Russell. She was hoping that her husband wouldn’t notice her little “white lie” until it was too late to change his mind. She hoped he, too, would love their new pet. In reality, Yogi is a Great Dane. And not just any Great Dane but a Boston Great Dane, which just also happens to be one of the single largest breeds on the planet! A news reporter writes: “Today, Yogi is weighing in at about 200 pounds, and is around six feet, ten inches from tip to tail.  Much bigger than your everyday Jack Russell, that’s for sure.  He’s a neighbourhood favourite as well, gaining tons of attention for his very large size and gentle giant manner.” Mr. Markham must be the forgiving type because he and his wife are still living together and he has come to love the small pony that now lives in his home. The story has a happy ending but not all little white lies end so well. King Solomon offers advice to all of us in the Song of Songs: “Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines.” (2:15) Solomon tells us that it is the little foxes that spoil the vines – the little things that can have a big impact. This appears to be a warning to you and me. We need to watch out for subtle dangers of so-called “little sins”. It is often the “little sins” that grow into larger problems if they go unchecked. God’s word is clear that sin is sin. We try to excuse these “little sins” by saying something like, “It was just a little white lie. It won’t hurt anyone. No one will really notice. It’s not like I murdered anyone.” Indeed, the consequences of certain sins may be more serious than others. What we need to guard is the attitude of our heart. We don’t want little things growing into big problems. It’s better not to start with any “little sins” but rather to stop them from starting. Most of us don’t have room for a Great Dane in our lives.See you Sunday,  Pastor David

Gracious

It was a difficult meeting. I was right and the other person was wrong. They were explaining what they felt and I was defending myself. I got in some really good points. But after the meeting, I felt embarrassed. To defend myself and get in my side of the story I had been rude and condescending. If there was video evidence, it wouldn’t show me in a very good light. When I look back over my life, the times that embarrass me the most are occasions when I wasn’t very gracious or even a little bit gracious. These are events, conversations or behaviours that I am ashamed of. I could have responded differently but I didn’t. At the time I felt justified. I was being attacked or treated unfairly. The other person was being a jerk. I had a right to be annoyed. But now when I look back all I see is my poor conduct.Jesus faced a lot of criticism and questions. A certain group of people sought to find something wrong with him or his teaching. He was never a pushover and on occasion, he had harsh words. But he was very gracious, patient and never rude, sarcastic or demeaning to others. In the face of outright opposition and attack, Jesus remained true to his character. Colossians 4:6 in The Message reads: Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. Sometimes it’s easy to view other people as the enemy or competition. We try to score points and stick it to them. That’s evidence of a heart that hasn’t yet been transformed, it’s simply un-Christlike. There are dozens of conversations I would like to go back and do-over. But I can’t. So, I need to make sure my interactions with people are gracious and kind. I pray that God will put a guard over my mouth so that what I say encourages and builds others rather than tearing them down. It’s important to remember – “be gracious in your speech.” See you Sunday,  Pastor David 

Getting Out Of The Desert

Driving between the cities of Baku and Ganji in Azerbaijan requires crossing a desert. We managed the trip once; it was an incredibly hot day. I was happy we didn’t have any car trouble out in the middle of nowhere. Visiting a desert is kind of fun. It’s such a different landscape from the rocks and woods that I grew up in. But I wouldn’t want to live in a desert – it’s too barren, too empty and too dry. We often use the image of a desert to describe those periods of spiritual drought in our lives. Those times when we feel that we are stumbling around without direction and drying up from thirst. Our first reaction, our impulse really, is just to find a way out of that place; we simply want the suffering to end. Israel spent 40 years wandering around in the wilderness, the desert of Sinai. I can’t image the hardships and discomfort that must have brought. The only way out was to let God guide them. And the only way out of our desert times is to let God guide us.  When we find ourselves in the wilderness, our priority shouldn’t be to get out but rather to draw near to God. If we can draw closer to God then he will lead us out. In Numbers 9 God gave Israel a sign “the cloud covered it (the tabernacle) by day and the appearance of fire by night” (9:16). Whenever the cloud moved, the people packed up and followed. They were following the presence of God. Often in our desert experiences, we long to be rescued and delivered. Our cry is simply, “Get me out of here”. God had a plan and purpose for taking Israel through the desert. Ultimately our Christian life is about following God, our journey with him, through the deserts and the forests. Israel did not wander in the wilderness alone; God was there. The Bible says there is no place where God cannot be found. I think that includes our desert times. You are not lost; God knows exactly where you are. Look for his presence and wait for him to guide you out.

Fast or Feast?

In an unusual occurrence, today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. So what should you do? Start fasting or go out and celebrate? Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of 40 days known as Lent. In more traditional churches the branches from last year’s Palm Sunday service are burned and their ashes applied to the forehead of worshippers. Lent is a time for prayer, reflection, fasting and giving to the poor. The season points back to Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. It calls people to repent of their sins and set themselves apart to God. Valentine’s Day, on the other hand, is associated more with fun and celebration. The origins and history of this saint are unclear and somewhat mysterious. The most popular assumption has to do with a priest who helped young soldiers in the Roman army find a wife. Whatever the true story about Valentine is, his day is now associated with romance and, in some places, a wider sense of friendship. It’s a celebration involving candies, chocolates and fancy dinners. These two days aren’t really at odds with each other. They each represent elements of our lives that we need. One focuses more on our relationship and devotion to God while the other highlights our loved ones. Today helps to focus our thoughts on both. Remember Jesus’ words when asked about the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) So as you move through today, remember your creator and those he has given you to love. Your whole day will be richer for it.

The Most Important Question

I was once asked to visit a lady in her early forties who was dying of cancer. She was the neighbour to one of our church members. She had no church connection but was interested in having me do her funeral as she only had weeks to live. I knew her Christian neighbour had shared Jesus with her over the years. During our first visit together, I asked how she was preparing for death. She shared her version of heaven and what she believed it would be like. During our conversation, I asked what she thought about Jesus.  “Please don’t talk to me about Jesus,” she said. “I believe in God or something like him but Jesus, I don’t think I can believe in him. I have my own beliefs. I have been a good person and I plan to be in heaven.”  During her last few weeks, she remained closed to hearing anything about Jesus. It was a hard funeral to lead. Luke tells us that one day Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18) There were a variety of answers like John the Baptist or Elijah. Then Jesus asked them a more pointed question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20) That’s the question the dying lady refused to answer. Ignoring the question doesn’t make it irrelevant or less important. It is the key question every one of us must answer. Who do we think Jesus really is? What do we believe about him? Eternity depends on our answer and how we act on that. Some people refuse to consider Jesus. Others decide he was only a teacher or a good person and appreciate his wisdom but don’t become followers. Many wrestle with the gospel stories and New Testament teaching and decide that Jesus is the “Christ of God,” the saviour of humanity. If we believe that, then we must put our faith in him for our life here and the life to come. Some individuals have concluded that Christianity is about a lifestyle, a series of moral choices and behaviours that make someone acceptable before God. If they live a good enough life, they will go to heaven. But the real question, the first question, is about Jesus. Who do you believe him to be? If we believe he is the saviour, God in the flesh, and he came to save us from our sins, then we need to accept this truth. This is what makes us acceptable in God’s sight. No amount of good works or moral living will get us into heaven. Instead, as a result of being accepted and loved by God, we choose to live a life that is pleasing to him. Don’t find yourself on your deathbed wondering if you lived a ‘good enough’ life. Jesus did that for us. The important consideration will be whether or not you answered one question correctly and then responded to it. Who do you say Jesus is?

Dreams

When do we stop dreaming? As children, it was natural to dream about the future and what we might be when we grow up. We could dream and imagine a better future, excitement, and adventure. But life has a way of beating you down and your dreams grow less and less powerful. There is no lack of dream killers around us: All these things can shut us down. On the other side, there are plenty of motivational speakers in the world today who see themselves as ‘dream releasers’ helping people follow their dreams. “If you can dream it, you can do it” is their motto. If only it was that easy. As Christians, we sometimes get caught between wanting to dream and achieve things and wanting to do what God has planned for us. Those two things often feel like they are different and how can we tell the difference between them? I don’t think God is a killjoy, preventing us from having dreams. He wants us to have a sense of purpose and fulfillment in life. And I don’t think every dream or desire for the future I have is necessarily from him. My dreams can often be selfish. He wants me to use my gifts and talents not just for myself but to be a blessing to others. I’m never sure to what extent God is the source of my dreams. The need for discernment is always necessary. Above all, God desires we love him and those around us. There are many ways to live this out, and each one of us has a unique path. But the ultimate goal is the same. If we are pursuing those two commands, then we can have some confidence we are on the right track. If we are just pursuing our own agenda, we might be off course. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:13 “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” The context of this verse is important, as it follows the description of Jesus emptying himself to come and serve us. He is our example of being obedient to the father. When we are centered on loving God and loving others, submitting our dreams and desires to him, I think we can trust him to direct our paths. We can prayerfully invite him into our situation and share our dreams. We can trust him to keep us from danger or warn us about what might lie ahead. We can trust him to shape our dreams in a way that pleases him rather than just our fleshly desires. Don’t stop dreaming about what God can do through your life to be a blessing to others. He wants you to use those creative abilities and desires to impact the world we live in. Our dreams don’t always come to pass as we plan. There are setbacks and struggles. Not every plan of man is the right one. But that doesn’t mean we should sit around and do nothing. It’s a big world and there’s room yet for your dreams.