The lambs of God: paschal and Paschal

Easter Sunday is, of course, the pivotal and most triumphant day in the calendar of the Christian Church. Interestingly however, no trace of an Easter celebration as we know it exists in the New Testament.

The celebration of Easter actually began with the early Jewish Christians who continued to celebrate the Passover, regarding Christ as the true Paschal Lamb. The original and prophetic sacrificial lamb had been the one eaten by Hebrew families their last night in captivity in Egypt.

An examination of rabbinic evidence from those days suggests that the paschal lamb, which had to be a perfect specimen, was arranged in the form of a cross before roasting. One spit went through the lower parts up to the head, and another across the back, to which the legs were attached. Furthermore, none of the bones were to be broken.

Sound familiar? To see the remarkable resonance here, compare the reading in Exodus 12:46b (“Do not break any of the bones”) with that from John 19:31-33:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

For early Christians then, the Passover event naturally passed over into a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You can read an excellent related story by Rabbi Evan Moffic here: How Lent started with Passover.

Parish NEWS

Anyone interested in being involved in planning an Earth Day Vigil may attend a meeting in Anne's office on Thursday, March 30, 3:30 p.m.

Shout Sister Choir Haliburton presents a benefit concert for Haliburton Emergency Rural SafeSpace (HERS) on Thursday, March 30 at 7:00 pm at Minden United Church.  Admission by donation to HERS.

The next meeting of Conversations about Multi-Church Activities will be held at Haliburton United Church on Tuesday, April 4 at 7:00 p.m. Please speak to Anne for more information about this meeting.

LENTEN BIBLE STUDY: Readings and discussion on the book No Wonder They Call Him the Savior by Max Lucado. Louise Sisson leads discussions on the first few chapters of the book, written in a format to be used as a Bible Study. No need to buy the book, just bring your bible. 
When: 11-noon Mondays until April 10.

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A Cinematic Journey through Lent, a series of inspiring movies, continues Thursday evenings until April 6th at 7:00 p.m. at St. James, Fenelon Falls. See the poster to the right for movie titles.  For more information call 705-887-2537.

A Lenten Quiet Day takes place Saturday, March 18 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. by Balsam Lake, 1148 North Bay Drive, Kirkfield.  Leader will be trained spiritual director Sharon Bradimore.  Suggested freewill offering of $12 includes lunch. See the poster on the bulletin board for more information. To register call 905-431-1014.

Stories of Faith in Adversity, a Lenten Series led by the Reverend Bob Hartley, continues Wednesday evenings until April 5 at 7:00 p.m. at St. Paul's, Lindsay. Inspiring stories with practical biblical principles for modern living will be presented on the following topics:
March 29 ― Stories of Faith in Grief
April 5 ― Stories of Faith and Eternal Life
Cost is $2 a night.  Call 705-324-4666 for more information.

St. George's Pastoral Care Committee meets Monday, March 20 after the 1 p.m. service.

Spring concert with St. George’s Choir and Highlands Little Theatre
In addition to the featured comic opera, the choir will open with a wide variety of selections, including sacred, popular and Bill Gliddon’s own music to honour Dysart’s 150th anniversary. Please see poster to the left. 

St. George's new Compassion Canada child, three-year-old Yafreisy Delgado De La Rosa, lives in Los Montacitos in  the Dominican Republic with her father. A photo of Yafreisy is posted on the bulletin board. If you would like to write to Yafreisy, please contact Kathy Burk at 705-457-2357. Please keep this family in your prayers. 

AWARE women's conference, May 5-7 at Elim Lodge, with keynote speaker Marty Smith.  Information and application forms available on the table in St. George's Church hall.

St. Margaret’s Yard Sale happens in May, so begin putting aside those give-aways. It’s never too early to purge!

Bring in your dead AA batteries and help save a life!  Students at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, joining with the Zinc Saves Lives campaign, want to help you super-recycle your batteries.  More than 450,000 children die every year from complications associated with zinc deficiency. A tiny AA battery contains enough zinc to save the lives of six malnourished children. Your recycling will reduce the amount of electronic waste going to landfills and save lives. You may bring your double-A batteries to the Source and Home Hardware in Haliburton, or place them in the yellow container on the table in the St. George’s church hall. For more information on the campaign, please click here.

Open to all seniors: The VON SMART exercise program helps with balance, strength and flexibility Classes held in Haliburton at Echo Hills 1 p.m.Thursdays; in Minden in the Hyland Crest auditorium 11 a.m. Wednesdays.

The Pregnancy Care & Family Support Centre needs additional volunteers as they move forward in their newly-expanded space,. The centre would not be able to operate effectively without the dedicated service of volunteer staff. They require an 8-hour-per-month commitment and provide comprehensive training.  To begin the application process or to find out more, please call Executive Director Julie at 705-457-4673. As Julie says, "If you have a passion for life, let's talk."

GOD SIGHTINGS!

God is at work in all of our lives and in our community. We just need to pay more attention. Here's the challenge: look for God at work, in your home, out in the community. When you see God's work or feel God's presence, write it down. Think on these amazing things and when you feel ready, try to share with your church family. Anne will offer an opportunity at the end of the service to share. We are God's witnesses and have an opportunity to help one another grow in our faith and draw closer to our Lord.

Primate's World Relief and Development Fund’s emergency response to famine in South Sudan

There are growing signs of hunger in South Sudan, the world’s newest country to gain independence. On February 20, the United Nations declared a state of famine in the north central part of the country. More than 40% of the population – 4.9 million people – are unsure where their next meal will come from. These already-shocking numbers may increase to 5.5 million if nothing is done to improve access to food.

In 2016, to respond to the needs of South Sudanese fleeing violence, PWRDF began working with the Sudanese Development and Relief Agency of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan. Through a grant to the ACT Alliance, PWRDF was able to improve conditions at overstrained refugee camps in Uganda. In addition, PWRDF partners continue to attend to the South Sudanese in Kenya and Egypt.

In the months to come, PWRDF will increase its support for the people of South Sudan, both inside the country and for those fleeing to Uganda. PWRDF is accepting donations for South Sudan and South Sudanese refugees and will continue to update Anglicans across Canada on the tragedy of this situation, as well as our response and impact.  Thank you for your prayers and support.

Donations can be made in the following ways

On-line please go to Emergency Response.

By credit card
For credit card donations contact: Jennifer Brown, 416-924-9192 ext. 355; 1-866-308-7973. Please do not send your credit card number by email or fax.

By snail mail
Please make cheques payable to:
PWRDF Emergency Response: South Sudan, and send to:
The Primate's World Relief and Development Fund
The Anglican Church of Canada, 80 Hayden Street
Toronto, Ontario M4Y 3G2

Anglicans in Canada are praying, acting and giving to those affected by this crisis. Please watch for updates on PWRDF’s response to the situation here (it takes a few moments for the information to load). Thank you for supporting PWRDF’s continuing relief to the people of South Sudan.

PWRDF Humanitarian Response Coordinator Naba Gurung can be contacted at ngurung@pwrdf.org or 416-924-9192 ext. 321.

Angst or peace: it's your choice

Based on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

“We live in a culture where snipers live behind laptops and smart phones. Fewer people are interested in debate and more are looking for enemies to eviscerate. Some have become unhinged and others are on the ledge.”

Anne quoted these words from a blogger (whose name she hadn’t taken note of) in a recent sermon. Do you feel you are among the ‘unhinged’? She confessed to the same feelings she sees affecting so many others these days: anxiety, despair, anger, fear, disgust, frustration, embarrassment, hostility, and panic. Perhaps angst best sums it up.

Upsetting and unsettling information bombards us from all directions, and as Christians we know we really can't, really shouldn’t, simply turn off the news. We need to be aware of what’s going on firstly, to pray, but also to be able to engage others in conversation.  

While we can never understand ‘what in the world is going on’ or how to fix it, we must refuse to be bent out of our Christian shape by it. None of the mess is of God, who is still in control and who alone has the solutions. Earthly governments can only put band-aids on people’s problems, Anne reminded the congregation. But the gospel can bring healing to souls.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.... Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” (Psalm 146:3,5)

“We want and need hope here,” she made clear after reading the above scripture. “Hope is not dreaming or a vague aspiration. It’s not simply wanting things to turn out well while remaining uncertain whether they actually will. Hope is the absolute certainty we have that God is good and that God’s promises are true.”

Further, we can use the hope we cultivate in ourselves to help the troubled around us. “The despair, anxiety and fear we see in people around us is the very opportunity we have to share the hope and good news of Jesus with them.”

The Almighty will accomplish His purposes, no matter the political leaders and disasters cramming our newscasts. We see in scripture how God has been able to use some exceptionally evil rulers such as Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar and Nero to fulfill His will. He has worked out His purposes under every condition imaginable, from Egypt through Babylon and onto Rome and beyond. We must keep the hope, and cultivate peace.

“We don’t need to pray for peace, we have it,” she concluded. “It is in us. We have that peace but must use it and share it.” 

Seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter: 3b)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘worship’?

Worship: Is it the service you go to Sundays, the music played and sung in Sunday ‘worship services’, the Christian music you may listen to at home or in your car? The kind of thing David did in Old Testament times alone with God and his harp? What you make an effort to do as part of those ‘quiet times’ you aim to have regularly with the Lord? All of the above?

Using words to describe spiritual concepts may be the thorniest use of them possible. But then as a Christian writer, I recall how God of course inspired all the words in our Bible, including the pivotal ‘in the beginning was the Word’ (John 1:1). So He clearly places high value on wrapping up the concepts He wants us to learn and digest in small-w words ... including to describe his own Son, the Word incarnate. 

With the word ‘worship’, however, we the church—individually and corporately—toss it about so lightly it may be time to mull over the meaning lying beneath and within more carefully.

In the context of considering Christian music as ‘worship’, British songwriter and, yes, ‘worship leader’ Matt Redman gives a great illustrated sermon. 

Back in the 1990s, Redman and his church in England were gaining acclaim as they moved into the vanguard of this concept of modern worship: excellence of craft combined with the best of sound systems, projectors, lights, the whole production. But his preaching pastor had begun noticing a flatness creeping in. While everyone went through the motions and to outward appearances all seemed 'fine', the heart connection had loosened and slipped away.

So the pastor did a radical thing.

“He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season,” explains Redman. “His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.”

The pastor challenged the congregation to be participants in worship, not consumers: to engage with God for themselves, from the heart, with their own voices. When the first few awkward gatherings passed, the church eventually launched into a whole new season of authentic adoration and praise.  

Redman’s now-famous song “The Heart of Worship” describes what happened: 

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When the music fades,
All is stripped away.
And I simply come;
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth,
That will bless Your heart.

. . . .

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
and it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
when it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

“After a while, the worship band and the sound system reappeared, but now it was different,” Redman explains in his book The Unquenchable Worshipper. “The songs of our hearts had caught up with the songs of our lips.”  

You can hear Matt Redman singing The Heart of Worship by clicking here:  Matt Redman - The Heart Of Worship (Lyrics and Chords)

Miracles from Heaven: extraordinary true story now a movie

The remarkable true story of a young girl’s faith, hope and healing, this movie may well be the first faith-based film finding critical acclaim and a mainstream audience beyond church-goers.

Little Annabel Beam had not been well for most of her early years. At five, doctors finally diagnosed her with two rare life-threatening digestive disorders.* 

“She would pretty much live on the sofa, with a heating pad on her stomach,” her mother Christy explains. As Annabel’s health continued to deteriorate, she lived with chronic pain and spent far too much time in hospitals. The darkest moment came one day as Christy sat by her nine-year-old daughter's hospital bed. The little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy I just want to die. And I want to go to heaven and live with Jesus where there's no more pain.”

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Annabel had stopped fighting, and Christy felt she had nothing left to give.

“However much my faith had been tested and I'd questioned Him,” she says, “at that point I just turned it over to God.”

They needed a miracle. One week later, on December 30, 2011, they got one.

While the majorly crazy miracle of Annabel's healing drives the story, the everyday miracles—and the stellar performances and direction revealing them—transports viewers raptly along to the faith-affirming conclusion of death bringing capital-L Life. Perhaps especially if you, like Christy, find your faith wavers in the dark gorges of our journeys.

Master’s Book Store in Haliburton carries both the movie and book, as does Amazon and other retailers.  
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*pseudo-obstruction motility disorder and antral hypomotility disorder

With sympathy for and solidarity with Quebec City Muslims

By Fred Hiltz

In a Québec CIty mosque full of devout muslims gathered for prayer Sunday evening, their chanting was shattered by the crack of gunfire, leaving six people dead, scores of others injured, a neighbourhood traumatized, and a nation horrified.

My heart, indeed the hearts of all people of good will, goes out to all Muslims across Canada as they struggle with this terrible attack. We hold in our prayers those who have died, for their families and for their imams who care for them in their grief. We also pray for those who have been injured and for those tending them. We remember too the police, and all others whose daily work is to "serve and protect".

At moments like this, people of faith must stand together in solidarity for those values common to our respective religious traditions: the adoration of God, the respect we owe one another as fellow human beings, and the care with which we tend the earth, our common home.

In the Readings for Sunday past we heard the call of the prophet Micah – "what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?” (6:6-8).  We also heard Jesus teaching in the Beatitudes, that we are called to be merciful, to hunger and thirst for right relations with one another, to do what makes for peace among all.

These are the values that make us children of God, friends in faith, and citizens of the world. Please join me in praying for the people of Ste-Foye and especially for our Muslim friends in this very difficult time.

Fred Hiltz is the Archbishop and Primate of The Anglican Church of Canada.

Update on the Way family and their mission in Zimbabwe

After spending the last eight months living and working at Eden Children’s Village in Zimbabwe, Jeff and Carole Way remain as convinced as ever of their call to serve God among the orphans and villagers there. They have been doing tremendous work serving, building, re-building (when fires destroyed several buildings), teaching, and simply being powerful Christian witnesses. Carole, now trained as a midwife, assists at the birth of many babies in the area. Their two young daughters live and go to the school with the locals.

Early this year, the family returned to Canada as part of their continuing attempts to satisfy the Zimbabwean authorities’ demands for acquiring long-term visas. The only one available is a Business Investor Visa, so on their last stay in Zimbabwe and with the help of their  Dutch and Shona partners, they worked hard and successfully to have their business licensed and approved by the various government authorities. 
 
They now need to prove they have US$100,000 in assets.  That amount can be in funds or goods for their business and home and are their own—not a fee to be given to the Zimbabwean government.  

Can you help by providing any of the following? Needs range from large vehicles to office, shop and home supplies. Once these are collected, an American charity has pledged to send a shipping container for them. When they reach their goal, the Ways will apply for the visa from here and, once granted , will return to Eden Children's Village

Pickup truck; dump truck; tractor; backhoe; ATV/four-wheeler, six-wheeler
Gas-powered cement mixer, gas-powered compactor, gas-powered cement saw, gas-powered cement floor finisher, table saw, mitre saw
Chisels, hand saws, hammers, socket sets, pouches, screwdrivers, cordless tools, angle grinders, scaffolding, ladders, trowels, wheel barrows, tool boxes, auger drill bits, wood lathe and chisels, spoke shaves, wood planes, metric tape measures, levels, squares, mallets, air nailers and nails, plumbing tools, shovels, picks, rebar bender, pipe bender, hydraulic jacks, chain, wrenches, vises, woodworking vises, carving chisels, sand paper, chain saw, drill bits, router bits, paint brushes
Welder and equipment
Generator
Office furniture: chairs, computer, printer, white board and markers, filing cabinet, 
Propane fridge, stove, freezer
Solar-power equipment, solar hot water heater
Sofas, dining room set, bed frames, dressers, rugs, desks, curtain material, duvets, blankets.

You can read our original story on the Way family here: Love in action: the Way family's adventures at Eden Children's Village, Zimbabwe.

A life filled with Life and song: that’s our Bill!

This year, Bill Gliddon marks his 55th anniversary as St. George’s celebrated organist. But anyone who knows Bill knows there’s far more to the man than organ playing.

Composer, teacher, radio show host, all-round good guy, Bill has played and continues to play a significant role in many lives and community events in the area. What’s not to love?

Born and raised in Haliburton, he became the assistant organist at Haliburton United Church when only 12. After graduating from the University of Toronto specializing in musical composition, he taught music in Haliburton County schools for 35 years.

Over the years, Bill has provided music for literally all of the churches in the Haliburton Highlands. In addition to preparing and hosting his weekly radio show, he’s involved in many concerts and stage productions. In the summertime, he tends a large vegetable garden on his property, giving most of the produce away.

Last year, the Reverend Colin R. Johnson (Archbishop of Toronto) officially recognized him as someone “whose light shines, whose works glorify” in awarding him membership in the Order of the Diocese of Toronto. The Order recognizes and honours those laypersons who have given outstanding service over a significant period of time in volunteer ministry.

“There are, I guess, three things in my life that I love so much, and they’ve motivated me and inspired me,” he recently told the Haliburton Echo.

“My Christian faith is the big thing, and my love of music and my love of this community—this community where I was born, grew up and love. If the Lord has afforded me to live here and bring happiness and joy through music, that’s my dream come true.” 

And that’s our Bill.

[You can read an excellent profile of Bill Gliddon by The Echo's Chad Ingram here.]

Jesus rescues Christians AND Muslims: an astonishing tale from the Middle East straight from the book of Acts

Little did the Bibles for Mideast organization know of all the coming connected miracles when they published a story on the Arabian Sea baptism of 24 new believers early last October (you can read that here).  

The fact 24 Muslims had converted to Christianity at the risk of their and their families’ lives alone attests to a miracle-working God. As the baptismal service ended, the new converts and workers—50 in all—boarded a bus to return to their house church for worship and communion. 

A small convoy of militants suddenly appeared behind them and opened fire. All they knew to do was pray to the Lord for protection as they sped away, the gunmen in hot pursuit.

When a massive dust storm formed behind them, they now feared being trapped in the dark, churning grime and becoming easy prey for their pursuers. 

Then, just as suddenly, Jesus materialized in the storm clouds and dust.

“He appeared as a mighty and wonderful man showing his protecting and lovely hands towards us with a sweet smile,’ exulted newly-baptized Rizwan. “Jesus saved us! He himself blocked the road of militants in the form of a dust storm.”

The gunfire slowed and stopped, enabling the bus to drive safely back to the church.

Two months later, the same mission organization released a story of how an Arab woman from a prominent Muslim family (her father a top religious authority in the region) found herself near death after being bitten by a highly poisonous Saharan snake. While her sharp-shooting brother Haroon (not his real name) managed to kill the viper, it nearly killed her (that story in full here).

Hajira (not her real name) spent the next four days near death in a coma. In a few minutes of wakefulness, she heard doctors discussing the renal failure and increasing fibrinolysis certain to take her life. Losing hope, she turned to the wall, weeping, and tried to prepare herself for death.  She fell asleep hoping to never wake up.

As she slept, an angel appeared before her. “Call on Jesus, the son of the Most High, who was crucified for you, died and rose from the dead.”

“Prophet Jesus, the son of Mary?” she asked with irritation. “He was not crucified; and he was not greater than my prophet.”

“You are wrong,” the angel replied.  “Jesus is the Lord of the prophets. He is the true saviour. He can heal you from all sickness and save you from sin and death. Call on him with your heart and mouth.”

The angel disappeared. She awoke to see her brother Haroon standing beside her. “Were you dreaming?” he inquired. “I heard you say something about the prophet Jesus.”

She dreaded his anger as she told him about the angel and what he’d said. To her amazement, Haroon then related his own experience in a dust storm several months earlier. Yes, THAT dust storm!

He’d received information at dawn one morning that a Christian group planned a baptismal service in the Arabian Sea that day. Alerting his wing of 18 armed militants, the gang rushed to the seashore. Planning to kill everyone in the sea during the service, they aimed to terrify the world into realizing death awaited any Christians attempting to evangelize in their region.

But the service had already ended when they arrived.  Seeing a bus leaving the scene, they opened fire and the chase began. As they fired away, he explained that within seconds a giant dust storm formed directly in front of their vehicles. Unable to see or move forward, they climbed from their cars and kept shooting into the dust.

To their astonishment, the angry face of Jesus appeared in the swirling sand, eyes ablaze. “Why are you persecuting me?” his voice thundered. “It’s hard for you to kick against the pricks.” Jesus’ voice literally blew the fighters over and sent their guns flying.  Haroon explained they somehow managed to get themselves back on their feet, but couldn’t utter a word. 

[Note the similarities to the story from Acts 26:14, where Jesus appears to murderous Saul—equally intent on killing Christians and eventually to be the Apostle Paul—with the same plea and the same results.]

Jesus' voice thundered again. “I came to the world not to destroy anyone, but to save you. Go in peace.” He then vanished, the dust storm disappearing with him.

Haroon tried to explain the dreadful fear, yet abundant peace, they all felt simultaneously—nothing like anything he or they had ever known.

When their voices returned, all but two of the men praised and thanked God. The two argued it couldn’t have been from God, and all left the place confounded.

Haroon shared the story with their father, who warned him not to tell others. His own band of militants, however, laid down their arms. "This all happened a few days before you were bitten!" he shared with Hajira. Overwhelmed and overjoyed, brother and sister joined hands in prayer. 

“Lord Jesus, if you are the true saviour, show us the way,” prayed Haroon. “Jesus, if you are the true saviour, forgive our sins. Jesus, if you are the true saviour, heal both our physical and mental sickness. Jesus, if you are the true saviour, send someone to us for further guidance. Amen”.

The siblings wept in joy and gratitude. A couple of hours later, Hajira still at his sister’s side, two strangers arrived in her room unexpectedly. While neither had seen them before, the elder man addressed each by name. 

“The Lord Jesus heard your prayers which you both prayed together,” he began. “The angel who visited you appeared before me also, and asked me to visit you, guide you to salvation, and pray for you. So I left my house at once to come see you.”

He introduced himself as Pastor Paul of the Bibles for Mideast organization, and then explained to them who Jesus is, and why he was crucified and died. 

Hajira and Haroom repented of their sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and saviour. As Pastor Paul put his hands on Hajira’s head and prayed for her deliverance and healing, tremendous power flowed through her body. She rose, completely healed.

Hospital tests proved her healing, and doctors could not help but acknowledge a miracle had happened. Neither could the siblings’ family, who soon all came to Christ. They now ask our prayers for protection and strength to survive the persecution sure to come.
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You can visit Bibles for Mideast here and read more remarkable stories of rescue and salvation. They work secretly in highly restrictive areas, evangelizing, distributing bibles (free of charge), and establishing house churches. Many on their teams have converted from Islam.

A revolution in New Year’s resolutions

Few of us would disagree with the idea of New Year’s resolutions. They do seem to work for some people, sometimes. Did you make any? Break any yet?

Perhaps it’s the perfect time to remember that, for many of us, a major reason we decided to become Christian, to accept the help and spirit invasion of Jesus, was because we knew we couldn’t do it on our own.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find admonishments to  'strive and make every effort’ to start and keep an exercise or eating program, begin a stringent daily Bible reading series, or whatever. We are told over and over, however, to ‘strive’ and ‘make every effort’ to be faithful followers of Jesus.  As we accept Christ and the realization we cannot do much of anything worthwhile on our own, he provides all the help we need to persevere, discipline ourselves, and so vastly increase the likelihood of successful resolutions.

As Mark Galli explains so well in Christianity Today:

“It also has to do with what enables people to do the very thing they fail to do when they strive to do it: freedom. You cannot enjoy freedom when you feel you have to do such-and-such to be good. That's not freedom but oppression. Only when you realize that you do not have to do or be anything can you know freedom, and only when you know freedom can you really choose the good.”

Paul in a number of his letters does seem to advise many personal resolutions for better, stronger lives. We’re to "put on the new self" (Col. 3:10), "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 13:14), "put on the whole armour of God" (Eph. 6:11), put on "the breastplate of righteousness" (Eph. 6:14), "put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" (Col. 3:12), and above all, to "put on love" (Col. 3:14). Sounds like an awful lot of effort, no?

Galli helps mitigate that by comparing it to how a store clerk gets us to try on something or other in the store.

“Why not try on the blue one?” he or she suggests, taking it off the rack and holding it open for you to slip your arms into. You button it up and have a look in the mirror. You’ve put it on, but really the clerk has put it on you.

“Work out your salvation,” says Paul, and in the next breath, adds, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12–13).

The Clerk approaches us daily. "Why don't you put on love," he says. "Here, let me get it for you. Just hold out your arms."

To read Mark Galli's entire article, please click here.

Christmas trees, presents, stockings, Santa Claus: the traditions of Christmas sanctified

How on earth did a decorated evergreen became a universal symbol of the Christmas season? Does it really have anything to do with Christ, his birth, the real 'reason for the season'? What about the presents, the stockings, Santa Claus himself?

The evergreen tree had long been an ancient symbol of life in the midst of winter. Romans decorated their houses with evergreen branches during the New Year, and ancient inhabitants of northern Europe cut evergreen trees and planted them in boxes inside their homes in wintertime.

Since the practices were rooted in pagan celebrations or even emperor worship, many early Christians were hostile to them. The second-century theologian Tertullian condemned Christians who celebrated the winter festivals or decorated their homes with laurel boughs (to honour the emperor) with these fiery words:

"Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple."

By the early Middle Ages, the legend had grown that when Christ was born in the dead of winter, every tree throughout the world miraculously shook off its ice and snow and produced new shoots of green. Meanwhile, Christian missionaries preaching to Germanic and Slavic people were taking a more lenient approach to cultural practices—such as evergreen trees as winter decorations. 

These missionaries believed that the Incarnation proclaimed Christ's lordship over those natural symbols previously used for the worship of pagan gods. Not only individual human beings, but cultures, symbols, and traditions could be converted. That of course relates to the actual timing of Christmas as well—a 'take-over' of the pagan celebrations of saturnalia and the winter solstice.

As with all ‘traditions’, the idea of the Christmas tree evolved through the centuries and by the time of the Renaissance we can find clear records of trees being used as an actual symbol of Christmas.

As for the presents under the tree, of course they remind us of the gifts brought to baby Jesus by the magi. But what about the stockings full of gifts, and Santa Claus himself?

Most agree both traditions grew from stories about St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra (in modern-day Turkey) who as a youngster had received a huge inheritance at the death of his parents.  Throughout his ministry, Bishop Nicholas selflessly poured out his life and fortune as he served the people in and around his home.

One famous story has him hearing about the misfortunes of a local businessman, recently pillaged by pirates and unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marrying age. In those days, a young woman without a dowry had few options for survival; many were forced into slavery or prostitution.

The father prayed ceaselessly, and young Bishop Nicholas eventually heard of his plight. In the middle of one night, the bishop secretly slipped a sack of gold into the merchant’s house. Legend has it he dropped it into a stocking hung by the fire to dry. The gift provided the needed funds to save the virtue of the oldest daughter, and two more gifts for the two other sisters followed. Anticipating that third gift of gold, the father waited at night until he was able to finally apprehend the bishop. When he tried to thank him, the humble minister deflected the praise. "No, all thanks go to God, not to me." 

"I need to let everybody know you did this!" the man exclaimed.

"No, you must promise me that not until I'm dead will you let anyone know how you received the gold." This compassionate bishop believed literally Jesus’ injunction that when we give, we should do so in secret, sacrificially, in Christ’s name, not our own.

When honour and reverence for St. Nicholas spread to Holland, he became Sint Nicolaas, which as Christmas traditions morphed, eventually contracted to Sinterklaas. From him of course we get our beloved Santa Claus. 

A challenge for your Christmas letter

By the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

For a while I used to receive Christmas letters from various friends; sometimes I sent my own news. I am sure you have received some of these and, possibly, written some before e-mails and high postage costs. Basically they are good news—bragging of all that the children have been doing, trips you have taken, the year’s activities and achievements. I hear that that is what Facebook is about: putting your best face forward.

Rarely do I read a letter that describes a family’s witness, or outreach, or ministries—even when I know they are involved in them. Is that being politically correct?

“Oh, the letter goes to all my friends so I don’t include my church involvement. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone.” But aren’t we supposed to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world? How can we create a thirst for Jesus among our friends ifIf we have accepted Christ as Lord; if we are allowing the Holy Spirit to live through us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, why are we reluctant to let others know? Maybe if we reminded ourselves that God receives all our out-going mail, we might edit the boastful bits and add the ‘loving the less fortunate’ bits, or ‘how God helped me this year’ bits.

If Jesus wrote a Christmas letter to us, it might sound like this:

“Beloved, I pray this season finds you well. I just want to share some of the highlights from this year. Thanks to many of your brothers and sisters, thousands of people have come to faith in me. Please pray for those who have gone astray, that they might find their way back. Many of your brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere have lost their lives because they chose to follow me. Rest assured, they will be with me in Paradise. Many more of your siblings have reached out to those who are poor, homeless, hungry, sick and in prison. I am sure next year will be equally busy.
With all my love,
Your Saviour and Lord, 
Jesus”
(This idea comes from Faith Writers Magazine)

I wonder if it’s time that Christmas letters from us got some attention for Him, along with our other, personal, good news. I wonder if that could be another way of sharing the real meaning of Christ’s birth on earth.

May you have a blessed Christmas season.

Need help feeding yourself or your family?

Once a year, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, in partnership with Haliburton County Foodnet, updates the Food for All pamphlet, an inventory of local programs and services that promote access to sufficient, safe, nutritious and personally-acceptable food for people in the community who could benefit from knowing where to get free and low-cost food. For more information, please call the Health Unit at 705-457-1391, ext. 3238. You can find a list of nearby food banks and how they operate  here.

Another look at Joseph: the non-speaker who speaks volumes

As our guest writer Jeeva Sam points out below, Mary’s husband Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, gets short shrift in our yearly Christmas songs and stories. Even scripture doesn’t provide much about him. Yet he did play a crucial role, and as Jeeva elaborates so well, we can learn from his restrained manner. Enjoy and be edified.

By Jeeva Edward Sam

Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:19)

Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:19)

Quick, now, name one well-known carol that mentions Joseph. Better still, take your time, search on Google, Yahoo, MSN, Bing and Ask—the result is the same!  Not one, nada, nil.

Contrast this with repeated references to Mary, as in: “Mary’s boy child”, “Gentle Mary laid her child”, “On Mary’s lap is sleeping”, “Round yon virgin, MOTHER and child”, “For Christ is born of Mary”, “Mary was that mother mild”, and so forth. Even cattle, sheep and assorted members of the animal kingdom get more press at Christmas!

Point me to one word of dialogue Joseph is permitted to utter in the script of the Nativity as found in Holy Scripture, or in most traditional Christmas pageants for that matter. Need I say more?

Yet, it would seem that this unheralded man is undeniably part of God’s plan for the early part of Jesus’ earthly life. I find it instructive to examine the brief exposure to his character in Matthew 1:19 (Amplified Version): “… Joseph, being a just and upright man and not willing to expose her publicly and to shame and disgrace her, decided to repudiate and dismiss (divorce) her quietly and secretly.”

When Mary is found to be with child without an assist from her betrothed, a “just and upright man” could have ensured that justice was done by having her put to death or at least by issuing a certificate of divorce. Either action would have been kosher, but Joseph adds mercy to justice as he opts for a divorce with dignity.

Years later, when Jesus was asked by some what he would do with a woman who was caught in adultery (as if it is possible to catch only one partner in the act of adultery, hello?) he would stonewall their bid to stone her to death with the words: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Like father, like son, perhaps?

I cannot help but contrast Joseph’s choice with the way I am tempted to respond when someone hurts me. Ever hear the expression: ‘Hurt people hurt people?’ Out of my hurt, I want to make sure that justice is done and you’re hurt too—at least as much as you hurt me.

I could use any platform available to me—Facebook, newspaper columns, TV, blog, pulpit—to at least shame, if not disgrace or downright destroy you. Or it could be a family gathering over the holidays where amid the toasts, treats, eats and greets, some dormant hostility, buried bruise or interred insult rears its ugly head again, or a fresh missile calls for a decidedly unchristian strike-back.

I could opt to leave lash-marks on the offender, or leave quietly with bite-marks on my tongue instead.

May I, like Joseph, be glad to let my non-speaking role speak volumes.

_______________________

Ordained by the United Church of Canada in 1982, Pastor Jeeva has been serving the Morgan's Point & Forks Road East Congregations in Wainfleet, Ontario since 2007.  The Sams equip entrepreneurial believers to experience exponential success in their endeavours and offer an intensive mentorship process that takes married couples in stress or distress from breakdown to breakthrough. He welcomes your feedback at jeevasam@gmail.com

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett launch new faith-based television network

romamarkdowney

Acclaimed actress Roma Downey and her husband, producer Mark Burnett, are set to launch a new family entertainment and faith TV network in December. 

"This is the beginning of our new, multi-platform faith and family network, where the demand is greater than ever for family-friendly entertainment," Downey explained.

"As we have already seen from the success of 'The Bible' series and our 20 million social followers, this audience is looking for inspiring and uplifting programming that they can watch in a trusted and safe environment on any platform."

Burnett added that the new network will aim to become the "ideal platform to reach the enormously under-served family audience."

Downey starred in the popular 'Touched by an Angel' TV series (and appeared in many other shows and movies); Burnett, also President of MGM Television and Digital, has produced several hit TV shows. Together the power couple have created many well-received feature films and television series.

Light TV will broadcast on more than a dozen major networks, including in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. 

Advent and the End: Preparing for Jesus’ coming

The time of preparation for Christmas we call 'Advent'. 'The End', according to apocalyptic literature, secular writings and the Bible—well, we all know what that means. Anne Moore recently presented a fascinating look at how interconnected the two concepts really are, basing her talk on Jesus' warnings to his wary disciples in Luke 21:5-19.

Signs of the End

(5) Some of Jesus' disciples were talking about the temple. They spoke about how it was decorated with beautiful stones and with gifts that honored God. But Jesus asked, (6) "Do you see all this? The time will come when not one stone will be left on top of another. Every stone will be thrown down." (7) "Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?"(8) Jesus replied, "Keep watch! Be careful that you are not fooled. Many will come in my name. They will claim, 'I am he!' And they will say, 'The time is near!' Do not follow them. (9) Do not be afraid when you hear about wars and about fighting against rulers. Those things must happen first. But the end will not come right away." (10)Then Jesus said to them, "Nation will fight against nation. Kingdom will fight against kingdom. (11) In many places there will be powerful earthquakes. People will go hungry. There will be terrible sicknesses. Things will happen that will make people afraid. There will be great and miraculous signs from heaven. (12) "But before all this, people will arrest you and treat you badly. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons. You will be brought to kings and governors. All this will happen to you because of my name. (13) In that way you will be witnesses to them. (14) But make up your mind not to worry ahead of time about how to stand up for yourselves. (15) I will give you words of wisdom. None of your enemies will be able to withstand them or oppose them. (16) "Even your parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends will hand you over to the authorities. They will put some of you to death. (17) Everyone will hate you because of me. (18) But not a hair on your head will be harmed. (19) If you stand firm, you will gain life.

By the Reverend Canon Anne Moore  

When I read the newspapers, I usually sense hopelessness: a horrible election season, unemployment, violence, abuse, racism, natural disasters. disease. The world no longer seems secure or stable. Look at Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan. It never seems to end. We’re kind of separated and protected here in the Haliburton Highlands, but Jesus tells us it won’t always be so. Apocalyptic literature reads much like this.

How could the temple be possibly thrown down, the disciples wondered in the reading above. As Jesus gives what to look for, he speaks not only to his first-century disciples but to us, about our modern-day ‘temples’.

We all have differing reactions to unsettling news.

(1)    Fear:  Build bunkers, install alarm systems, arm yourself, turn off the news! Does that help?

(2)    Who cares?  Eat drink and be merry!  ‘I’m going to get the most of this life while I can.’ Yet this attitude still tends to lead to depression, discouragement, loneliness and resentment.

(3)    Watch and pray (Jesus’ advice), secure in the face of insecurity. We cannot know when the end will come. As we read in Mark 13:32, “But about that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Canon Andrew White (once known as the Vicar of Baghdad), in his book Faith Under Fire: What the Middle East Conflict has taught me about God, writes that the verse most important to him is 1 John 4:18: "Perfect love drives out fear." What he especially appreciates is that before the verse even mentions fear, it speaks of LOVE. It presents the solution before the problem.

“I do not fear much, but I talk constantly about love. When my people are afraid, I tell them that they are loved—loved by God and loved by everyone in our community. It is simply love that sustains us and keeps us going. So often in books and sermons we are told about the importance of love in our faith, but to us in Iraq love is a matter of life or death.”

He also quotes 2 Timothy 1:7: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

So power and strength co-mingle with love, “the power to persevere through the heat of the fire and the power to do what others may consider impossible. It is this kind of love that can enable all Christians to deal with the difficulties they encounter, even in the safety of the West. It is a love that will always prevent fear from taking control of us. At times, things may seem impossible: how will we accomplish the tasks that we need to, which are often so immense? Jesus gave us the answer: “What is impossible with men is possible with God’ (Luke 18:27).”

Are we ready, this very moment, to meet God? That’s what these scriptures talk about.

To quote an unknown author, “Christians are those who have been let in on an open secret. In the end, when all is said and done, when the last tick-tock of time has sounded, GOD WINS.” Yes! Amen.

Syrian woman had dream for six nights of men coming with Good News; on the seventh day they arrived

By Mark Ellis, Godreports

Syrian refugee woman and child from Aleppo, Syria at a makeshift tent camp in Turkey (Christian Aid Mission)

Syrian refugee woman and child from Aleppo, Syria at a makeshift tent camp in Turkey (Christian Aid Mission)

As the Syrian civil war continues after a failed cease-fire, many Muslims are encountering God, including a mother with confounding dreams that left her in a state of anticipation.

“The woman dreamt repeatedly of a man who told her that three people would come and bring her good news,” according to a ministry director for Christian Aid Mission (CAM).

“She continued to have this dream for six nights in a row,” the director told CAM. “On the seventh day, one of our teams was doing home visits and decided to visit a new house.”

The three men approached her door, not knowing that God had already prepared the way. The woman’s eyes widened when she opened to see the three, and she quickly ushered them inside.

“When they opened their Bible, she instantly fell to her knees,” the director told CAM.

As her husband and children walked in, she could not contain herself. “These are the people that the man in my dream told me to meet!” she told them excitedly.

The followers of Jesus spoke to her about His saving death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Then they prayed with the family.

“They all put their faith in Him,” the ministry leader recounted. The entire household was saved!

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”  (Acts 16:30-31)

“We have continued to disciple them since then, and they are like sponges – eager to learn and know everything they can,” the ministry director said.

Poking holes in the darkness

By The Reverend Canon Anne Moore

There is a lovely story told of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson who, as a child, was found kneeling at his bedroom window one evening as darkness descended. When his nanny entered the room and asked what he was watching with such intent, he replied, “I’m watching the man who pokes holes in the darkness”. What young Robert was referring to was the man who lit the gas street lamps in their neighbourhood of Edinburgh, Scotland. With care and patience, the lamplighter would first light, and then raise the flickering wick on a long pole, to the streetlight, and the tiny flame would give birth to the glow that dispelled the darkness.

I am guessing you have noticed that the long evenings of summer are daily growing shorter. I have always had problems at this time of year: I sleep too much; I eat too much and the wrong stuff; I get down emotionally. When I was first ordained 26 years ago, my rector noticed it right away and also pronounced the diagnosis: Seasonal Affective Disorder. I bought a book about it and discovered I did have a mild case and could think of lots of times going right back to my childhood where I was bothered by it. Now I have strategies in place to counteract it, and I can function quite well. And I know enough to go easy on myself when those long, dark, rainy days descend. I am not the only one in this parish who suffers in a similar way.

The images of light and darkness are powerful ones in Scripture. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” How do we bring light into the world? How do we make a difference here at home and further afield? A year ago Ian McBride of the Anglican United Refugee Alliance told us of the plight of some 60 million people ‘on the move’, fleeing war, poverty, terrorism, disease and hunger, in search of a better life. How desperate must their situation be to feel safer on the open seas in a rubber raft, than in the place they once called home? We responded to Ian’s talk with the result that ‘our’ family, the Wisos, now make their home in our rectory.

Another way to bring light into our world is by our daily and weekly worship, praying for the needs of the world, acknowledging God’s place in our lives, supporting programmes of outreach locally and internationally, and taking up the challenge of living as active followers of Jesus.

This season of Thanksgiving is a reminder of how blessed we are despite the many challenges we may face. It also reminds us to live out of a spirit of thankfulness. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Or as Robert Louis Stevenson would call it, “Poking holes in the darkness.”

May you all have a blessed and thank-full Thanksgiving.