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

Parish NEWS

Men's Breakfast: Saturday, December 10, 8:00 a.m.  All men of the community welcome. 

Highlands Male Chorus and the Highlands Concert Band annual visitWed., Dec. 14.

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! Place your AA batteries in the yellow container on the table in the St. George’s church hall. For more information on the campaign, please click here.

530 gift-filled shoe boxes sent from our area!  Many thanks to all who participated in the annual Samaritans Purse campaign, and especially to chief organizer Kathy Burk who coordinated so cheerfully and competently yet again. 105 shoe box gifts headed out from St. George's alone.

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

The Highlands Community Pregnancy Care Centre needs additional volunteers as they move forward in their newly-expanded space,. The HCPCC 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."

Ongoing outreach to the Ways (Jeff, Carol, Naomi and Leah), a Canadian missionary family living and working in Eden Children's Village, Zimbabwe. Your loonie or toonie, on the second Sunday of each month, will help them care for children orphaned by parents with AIDS. We first did a story on them here:  Love in action: the Way family now living and serving at Eden Children's Village, Zimbabwe. Several buildings in the village have burned to the ground in recent months, so they are in special need now to rebuild and recover. You can visit Eden's website here and their Facebook page here

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.

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.

Creative Corner: the Call of Truth and Life

Take a few deep breaths, and moments, to savour a tremendous ancient poem by Welsh-born English poet, orator and priest, George Herbert. 

Herbert spoke and wrote in the English of his contemporaries, among whom were Shakespeare and King James 1.

In fact, when King James ordered a new, more readable translation of the bible, one of his main stipulations to the scholars—besides that it be true to the original Hebrew and Greek—was that it be written in the vernacular of the day. Could it be the clever king understood something a few of today's 'old-style' preachers and church goers—insisting as they do on sticking to that same ancient translation—do not?

___________________

Thanks to Allan Halton for bringing this poem to my attention. Creator of The Mending Feast, Allan credits this poem as the inspiration for the title of his blog (and also sticks to the old KJV in his scriptural references) . 

The beginnings of answers for a yearning young woman

Dynamic young Sonya Flatman has been an important part of the St. George’s community since a toddler. She just spent a life-changing summer at Circle Square Ranch in Arden, Ontario and shares her experiences with us here. Sonya went into a four-week Leadership in Training program to become closer to God, she explains, not knowing exactly how that might happen.  We can all learn from her longings for more, and her discoveries on the myriad ways God moves and speaks.

By Sonya Flatman

Staff members at the ranch are amazing people, and so connected to God. I wanted what they had; I was jealous of how holy they were and how they seemed to always have Jesus with them.

Two weeks into the Leadership in Training program, I finally felt I came close to Jesus. I would go on walks after worship and would feel as though God was at my right, Jesus at my left, and the Holy Spirit all around me. Now feeling confident in my relationship with Jesus, I decided to begin praying about what God wanted me to be after I graduate from high school. 

A few days into praying about my future career, I felt God abandon me. I would pray for the Holy Spirit to be around me and comfort me, and I would feel nothing.

My frustration increased since around the time I felt Jesus leave me, some awesome stuff started happening at the ranch. Friends of mine began speaking in tongues, and miracles of healing were occurring. All of these wonders made me even more frustrated.  I felt annoyed that God was healing and talking to people in a secret language, and yet I couldn’t even feel His presence.  

One night at worship, the frustration built in me so intensely that, after everyone left, I burst into tears. I cried out to Jesus, asking why he had abandoned me. I’m not a big crier, and haven’t balled that hard in three years, so it was an emotional night. Before going to bed, I opened my Bible and asked God in a sassy voice, “If You don’t talk to me through my soul, well, please talk to me through Your Word!”

I then opened to the title page of Zechariah, and over the next few days, read through the entire book. Two verses really stood out to me: 

Therefore, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:  Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’ Don’t be like your ancestors who would not listen or pay attention when the earlier prophets said to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Turn from your evil ways, and stop all your evil practices.’ (Zechariah 1:3-4, NLT)

 I realized that I had to cut out all of the wrongness in my life and turn completely to Jesus. I prayed forgiveness for all the grudges I had held, and deleted music from my phone that I didn’t believe was good, among other things. I started reading my Bible a lot more, trying to find verses that stood out to me, and hoping that God would speak to me more through His Word.

After about a week, I was searching for a verse for one of my campers, when God hit me with the right hook.  John 5:39 popped right off the page: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” I sort of laughed when I read the verse, feeling that God was giving back the sass I’d given Him just a week ago. I realized I’d been reading the Bible religiously, yet not praying about what I read.

I continued to read, but not as much, and began to pray more often. During the last week of camp, at worship on Wednesday night, I got down on my knees and prayed , asking God to reveal Himself to me. I saw visions in my head, but wasn’t sure if they were from Jesus or my own imagination. I prayed, but received no answer.

The next night, on my knees again, I asked God if the images were from Him.  I said I knew He wouldn’t answer until the right time, but I prayed anyway. A phrase came into my head: “I am preparing you for something great.” Shocked, I asked God to repeat the phrase if it was truly from Him. It thumped in my chest, and I knew it was from Jesus.

For the second time that summer, I wept … but now with tears of pure joy. I had never felt such peace and happiness in my life. I now knew the wonder of God, and the joy I felt could only come from Jesus. I decided right then that I wanted to give my whole life to Christ, and walk in his footsteps.

God hasn’t yet answered my prayer about what He wants me to do after high school, but I know that whatever happens is meant to happen, and that I am meant to jump at any opportunity that comes because God wants me to be there. I no longer have fear of my future, because I know that God will prepare me.

Circle Square Ranches operate across Canada, and are part of the Canadian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s camping ministry.

                                                                                          Sonya, front row left, with her whole LEADERSHIP in TRAINING GROUP

                                                                                          Sonya, front row left, with her whole LEADERSHIP in TRAINING GROUP

FAMILY FIRST? Yes and no

[based on a sermon by Anne Moore]

Tough scriptures: to be glossed over or gleaned from?

I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12:49-53) 

How is a listener or reader to handle this one? What happened to the Christmas ‘Peace on Earth’ proclamations?

No one doubts the importance of families. Within and from them we learn right and wrong, the importance of relationships, social skills, handling conflict, and much more. So why this talk, by Jesus, promoting actual family division, not reconciliation? It seems to make no sense, especially coming from our loving saviour.

We do tend to gloss over the tough scriptures. Yet knowing they exist within our Bible, we should instead try to glean wisdom and truth from them.

As Anne pointed out in a recent sermon on the reading, these words of Jesus do not deal with internal family issues but, instead, with the division often caused by following him. Other scriptures back this up, as does history and current news reports. We need only look at the horrific outcomes in the Middle East for so many who choose to follow Jesus, right now.

In Luke, we have Simeon’s words to Mary when she and Joseph were presenting their new infant at the temple for his dedication:

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35)

And how about when Jesus' own hometown folk tried to toss him off a cliff right after his first recorded sermon (Luke 4:14-30)?

Later in his ministry, when Jesus’ mother and siblings waited outside after requesting he come out and speak with them,  Jesus redefined family:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matt. 12:46-50)

The family of God has no political, racial, socio-economic, gender, or whatever barriers.  In calling us to be his disciples, Jesus cares only that we trust in and follow him, even if it means persecution and messes. The call of Christ overrules all other commitments, relationships, and even logic. Joy overrides any fear, and this divine connection proves itself over and over to be infinitely better and more delightful than any personal relationship. 

Killing Christians: the dead serious work of expanding and maintaining the Faith

Book review by Anne Moore

 I read another gripping book Sunday night which I had just picked up from our library that morning: Killing ChristiansLiving the Faith Where It's Not Safe to Believe (2015) by Tom Doyle. The book describes the lives of eight believers living in various Muslim countries, all converts to Christianity. They are our brothers and sisters, our family. Their lives are brutal but represent what goes on, daily, in other parts of our world.

The stories tell how the individuals came to be followers of Jesus, what happened to them immediately after their commitment, and what they are doing now. All look forward to the day when their persecution will end and they will enjoy life in heaven. For some, that may already have happened.

The book challenges my pitiful, little faith, and leaves me questioning if I am even a follower. 

Some quotes from the book:

“What I thought was sacrifice was actually just inconvenience.”

“There is remarkable freedom in having no expectations, no plans for tomorrow [because I might die before then].”

“How could I leave the religion I had so faithfully studied and taught with passion all those years? .... I followed Jesus because he is the only one who could fill my empty soul. I may have been a religious zealot, but I ached to know God and could not find Him even though I had searched all my life.”

Bless you as you read this demanding volume.

 [Editor] More insight from the book’s introduction:  Could you retain your faith even if it meant losing your life? Your family’s lives?

To many Christians in the Middle East today, a “momentary, light affliction” means enduring only torture instead of martyrdom. The depth of oppression Jesus' followers suffer is unimaginable to most Western Christians. Yet, it is an everyday reality for those who choose faith over survival in Syria, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and other countries hostile to the Gospel of Christ. In Killing Christians, Tom Doyle takes readers to the secret meetings, the torture rooms, the grim prisons, and even the executions that are the 'calling' of countless Muslims-turned-Christians.

Each survivor longs to share with brothers and sisters ‘on the outside’ what Christ has taught them. Killing Christians is their message to readers who still enjoy freedom to practice their faith. None would wish their pain and suffering on those who do not have to brave such misery, but the richness gained through their remarkable trials are delivered—often in their own words—through this book. The stories are breathtaking, the lessons soul-stirring and renewing. Killing Christians presents the dead serious work of expanding and maintaining the Faith.

Sizzling Summer Service 9: Hallelujah Haliburton!

Since beginning to work on her message for the annual Service in the Park, Anne confessed to having had an old song scrolling around her brain. “I’m a stranger here” by the Five-Man Electrical Band, first appeared on their album  ‘Sweet Paradise’.

lakeside baptist church musicians and singers

lakeside baptist church musicians and singers

She read its first verse:

“Well, I'm a stranger here in this place called Earth
And I was sent down here to discover the worth
Of your little blue planet, third from the sun
Come on and show me what you've done.”

The song goes on to lament how earth’s residents had roundly messed up their ‘paradise’. The words led perfectly into an elaboration on the verses from Ephesians read earlier in the service (Eph. 2:1-22) by David Lloyd of the Lighthouse Church.

There, the apostle Paul points out to the church in Ephesus their once messy, sinful lives. Then, including himself, he wrote:  “We tried to satisfy what our sinful nature wanted to do. We followed its longings and thoughts” (v.3).

In fact, the whole Bible tells the story, over and over, of humanity tending to pull back when God reaches out. We do our own thing, run away, miss the mark.  “But God loves us deeply. He is full of mercy. So He gave us new life because of what Christ has done” (v. 4-5).

 "One way!"   bev hicks and anne moore lead the kids in their charge to the crowd

 "One way!"   bev hicks and anne moore lead the kids in their charge to the crowd

As Bev Hicks of Northland Faith Church had the children remind us earlier, “God's grace has saved you because of your faith in Christ. Your salvation doesn't come from anything you do. It is God's gift” (v. 8). 

 “So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are members of God’s family,” verse 19 goes on to triumphantly remind us.

This brought to mind for many of us the family of Syrian refugees we’re ready and waiting for. Will we be able to help them feel like members of our community, help them heal from the hurts and fears of feeling unwanted and alien in their own country? We all pray we can share the love of Christ effectively with them.

lakeside Baptist church holds several baptisms in the lake after the service!

lakeside Baptist church holds several baptisms in the lake after the service!

The ‘I’m a stranger here’ song ends with these words:

"We got the rivers and the mountains and the valleys and the trees
We got the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea
We got the ―
Oh, you crazy fools!
Don't you know you had it made?
You were living in paradise
                                                          [photo credit: Elaine Figueroa]

                                                          [photo credit: Elaine Figueroa]

But take it from one who knows
Who knows the gates of Heaven can close
I only pray that you take my advice
'Cause paradise won't come twice"

Finding peace with God, only possible by becoming a friend and follower of Jesus, is beyond remarkably easy. Have  a simple conversation with God (that’s prayer). First, tell Him you’re sorry for the things you’ve thought and done wrong. Ask for His forgiveness. Then thank Him, and ask that His Holy Spirit would live in you forever.

Welcome to the family!

Lacking power? How long will you go limping with two different opinions?

[inspired by a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore and the OT reading for the day]

 “Elijah came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word." (1 Kings 18:21)

Could Elijah’s challenge to the ancient Israelites back in the 9th century BC be at all relevant to us today? While the Hebrews responded with silence, I can hear you, me, all of us, arguing how nonsensical that would be with respect to our lives. “I believe in God!” we respond.

The Israelites could say that too, and often did. The 'one true God’ was theirs. But as they acclimatized to the lands they had moved into, they gradually adopted the lifestyle and customs, social and religious, of the native Canaanites. 

What could be wrong with ‘adding on’ the gods of our neighbours? Isn’t that being inclusive, open-minded, and neighbourly?

In her sermon on the reading, Anne mentioned many of these other idols: status, wealth, career, power, popularity, appearance, possessions, ‘bragging rights’ (could even be for our good deeds!), celebrities, pro athletes, New Age practices, buildings, ‘up-to-date’ morality and so forth. Yet, cherishing and idolizing them diminishes our reliance on and reverence for God. We distance ourselves from our heavenly Father, and so are deprived of the power, love, joy and security to be found only in an exclusive relationship with Him.

In the case of the Hebrews, adapting Baal worship entailed all manner of spiritual and moral debauchery, totally against everything God had been trying to instill in them since the time of Abraham. Rampant sexual sin in fact was a ‘hallowed’ part of venerating Baal.

“I don’t need to follow biblical teachings to the letter to be a good Christian,” many believe. “What’s the harm in adding a bit of astrology, exercise and meditation classes rooted in Hinduism, or in sleeping with my boyfriend/girlfriend?”

Elijah’s subsequent dramatic challenge to the prophets of Baal, and the outcome, left no doubt in any of the onlookers’ minds or spirits who the 'one true God' was. If they were to stop limping painfully and aimlessly, they would have to get both feet in HIS camp. (I Kings 18:30-39 tells the dramatic story.)

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider where you are and where you would rather be, now and for eternity. Our merciful and loving God does have standards, and as we choose to ignore them, we choose a twisted, crippling path.

Could it be God is talking to you? Trying to love you back to Life before you, yourself, make it too late? He loves you, and wants only the best for you.  Renounce the ‘idols’. Some may be more entrenched than you realize. The deep interconnectivity of our society means all manner of profound bonds have been forged, and it may take some ‘spiritual surgery’ to break free of the wrong ones.

For an excellent short article on how to liberate yourself and others from all and any of those wrong ties that bind, please read, Soul ties, and how to be free of the unhealthy ones.

In their darkest hour, Jesus appeared to light these refugees’ way to shore, and to a relationship with God

“I want to share an amazing account that recently came to me,” writes Erick Schenkel, Executive Director of the Jesus Film Project.

A group of refugees fleeing the fighting in the Middle East were jammed into several pontoon boats. They were trying to make it across the Aegean Sea to Greece.

“The seas were very rough and dangerous. Some of their boats capsized. But the people in one boat cried out to God. Suddenly, a ‘shining heavenly figure’ appeared in the boat, and they all immediately knew it was Jesus. From that point the sea became calm and peaceful, and they finally landed safely on shore.

“Convinced that the heavenly figure was truly God, they all wanted to become followers of Jesus.

“Many weeks later, the refugees were together in a discipleship group, sharing what happened with their Bible teacher—himself a former jihadist and now a vibrant Christian. He is the one who passed their testimony onto us," Schenkel reports.

“God has a heart for all people. He desires that they come to faith in the Light of the World, Jesus.”

Find out more about the Jesus Film Project here.

How are Christian churches like hospitals? With help from James, Eugene Peterson offers an answer

Introduction to the book of James, by Eugene Peterson (The Message)

"When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude that there is nothing to the religion business except, perhaps, business—and dishonest business at that.

"Insiders see it differently. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It’s similar with sinners outside the church.

"So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open, faced, and dealt with.

"The letter of James shows one of the church’s early leaders skillfully going about his work of confronting, diagnosing, and dealing with areas of misbelief and misbehavior that had turned up in congregations committed to his care. Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential. Wisdom is not primarily knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is skill in living. For, what good is a truth if we don’t know how to live it? What good is an intention if we can’t sustain it?

"According to church traditions, James carried the nickname of “Old Camel Knees” because of thick calluses built up on his knees from many years of determined prayer. Prayer is foundational to wisdom. The prayer is always foundational to the wisdom."

As usual, Peterson presents a thoughtful, caring approach and analysis. But as churches and believers mature, we know there is so much more! The 'hospital' will always be an important wing of the church, but as people heal and grow, they will learn to fly. And hopefully, become part of the true purpose of Christ's Church on earth, That's a whole other story that has already been writtenthe rest of the Bible.

Behind closed, locked doors: does Jesus need permission to enter?

[extrapolations on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore]

Our weekday service started late on Monday as we waited for an elderly saint who, another parishioner reported, had locked herself out of her car at the grocery store. We all hoped and prayed the CAA would come with their usual quickness to rescue dear Doreen.

Beginning the service about ten minutes before she arrived, we all paused to give her a cheer when she strolled through the sanctuary door. Anne soon got to the same Gospel reading that would have been heard at Sunday service the day before.

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” (John 20:19)

Reading on through verse 31, Anne then launched into a few funny stories of her own experiences with needing, or lacking, protection.

Few of us in our mostly safe Highlands really need to bolt ourselves, our possessions or our cars from intruders, but we all do. Why? Each of us has fears requiring locks to keep the perceived threat from getting in. As John 20:19 explains, that’s why the disciples had tightly secured the doors of the home they were in. They were sure that those who had killed Jesus would hunt down and murder them as well.

But Jesus being Jesus needed no key to get in. He simply appeared in their midst—likely walking through the walls as easily as he once walked on water.

Our English bibles translate Jesus’ first words to the panicky disciples as “Peace to you”. While he spoke Aramaic, Jesus would have used the far more comprehensive Hebrew word ‘shalom’ here. Vastly more than the simple absence of war or discord, ‘shalom’ encompasses all the following and probably more: completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, fullness, rest and harmony.

We lock our home doors, our car doors, our safety deposit boxes, and some of us attempt to bolt up our hearts. We may even try to lock Jesus out of some or all parts of our lives. But as he moved through the defenses the frightened disciples had in place, he can break through ours.

Perhaps you’re one of those people who has always felt close to Jesus, so getting to know him was straightforward. Most of us, however, likely sensed him knocking at the doors of our lives, our hearts, for years before we let him in. We understand well the scripture, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If any of you hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with you. And you will eat with me.” (Rev. 3:20). There’s no getting away from the fact that, right there, the implication is he needs our permission.

But then there are the remarkable stories of times he miraculously ‘appears’, ostensibly uninvited. He powerfully visits Paul on the road to Damascus, knocking him to the ground, admonishing and then re-directing him. A recent post on this site showed how Jesus appeared to a Syrian Muslim family, telling them he’d be sending a man to tell them more about him (you can read that here).  

This past week’s Gospel reading likewise showed how easily Jesus got through to the disciples gathered in fright behind locked doors a few days after his crucifixion.

So which is it? We have to open the door for him, or he’ll walk through our walls? As with all things Jesus, either or both seems to be the answer.  Every situation and every person being unique, he'll do what he knows is best. If we pray according to God’s will, I truly believe we can hasten/empower/work with God to accomplish that. But as these stories make clear, sometimes Jesus will just float or blast his way in anyway, without our or any other earthly permission!

The Road to Emmaus

By the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

The Road to Emmaus is a much-loved Easter story recorded in Luke’s gospel. Two followers of Jesus had thought all was lost after they watched Jesus die on the cross. Heading home two days later, they thought ‘it was finished.’ A man caught up with them as they walked, and asked what they were talking about. They seemed incredulous that he didn’t seem to know anything about what had happened in Jerusalem over the weekend. The stranger asked, “What things?” The two began to tell him all about Jesus. In the middle of their explanation, they used these words, “But we had hoped….”

We had hoped …

→ that our friend would be healed

→ that the business would survive

→ that there was some other reason for this sudden change

→ that there would be forgiveness and reconciliation

→ that all would be well after all

→ that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel

But … the two walkers had had their hopes dashed. Jesus was dead, a criminal on a cross, buried in someone else’s tomb. Done. Finished. The end. Let’s go home and get on with our lives.

But … “some women went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body.” That has proven to be the biggest ‘but’ ever uttered! Jesus was alive and appeared to numerous people at different times, in different places, in differing circumstances, all recorded in the four gospels. These are reliable and true accounts of resurrection. The definition of resurrection is: “The return of Christ to bodily life on the earth on the third day after his death.” (The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary)

The whole world changed that first Easter. Now we can cancel all the ‘buts’ in our lives. The same stuff may happen. However, because Jesus lives, we can put him in charge of our lives. When we do that we know that he will keep us in his love and equip us to face each difficulty with his power.

The situation may not change but we will be changed. We will have complete peace and be able to sit back, wait, and watch what God will do. We can be restored to a full and wonderful relationship with Jesus. God’s power and promises turn everything we know upside down. 

No longer will we say, “But we had hoped.” Instead, we say, “It is in God’s hands so all will be well.”

May you experience the power and certainty of the risen Jesus this Easter and always, no buts required.

Jesus appears to Syrian Muslim family, tells them he is sending a man to tell them more

Early this year, Haliburton began planning to welcome a refugee family. Plans and prayers for the family—who will likely be frightened Muslims from Syria—progress wonderfully. (See our original story here: Open arms and hearts in Haliburton Highlands join in Canada’s welcome to refugees).

Around the same time, an astounding story began circulating of a fellow who had been a missionary in Syria to Muslims. Tyler Connell with the Ekballo Project toured American college campuses sharing stories and videos from his most recent trip to Middle East, where he documented a dramatic move of God among Muslims, particularly with refugees.

“At every stop we saw the presence of Jesus break in to these college campuses and touch students, with bodies healed, people saved, and people giving their lives to serve in the mission field,” Connell exclaims.

His first film chronicles a young missionary named Daniel*, 24, originally from Vermont. Two years ago Daniel moved to the Middle East to work with Syrian refugees.

“They go house to house and visit these Muslim families and sit with them and talk with them and find out their names, their stories, and love them. As trust is built, they begin to open up about the Gospel.”

“Jesus is moving in these Middle East nations,” he says. “Many there are disillusioned and broken and just want to know the truth. Now more than ever there is a harvest among Muslims that has not been seen in history.”

One afternoon Daniel walked into a white tent with a family of eight people inside. “Hi, I’m Daniel and I’m here to tell you about Jesus,” he announced.

He wasn’t quite prepared for their reaction. “The family freaked out, they looked at each other, almost turned white. The father was excited, yelling.”

What’s going on? Daniel wondered.

The interpreter explained that the night before Daniel’s visit, the whole family was sitting in their tent having tea together when a man in white opened the door to their tent and stood at the entrance. The man was glowing.

“Hello, my name is Jesus and I am sending a man tomorrow named Daniel to tell you more about me.” Then he disappeared.

So when Daniel arrived at their doorway and told them his name, they were completely undone. “They asked him to tell them more about Jesus and he gave then the Gospel and the whole family gave their lives to Jesus,” Connell reports.

*Name changed for security reasons

[from Assist News. You can read more at Godreports here]

Wisdom from the judge: Each has their special celebration days—Christians, Jews and atheists alike

In Florida, an atheist became incensed over the preparations for Easter and Passover. He decided to contact his lawyer about the discrimination inflicted on atheists by the constant celebrations afforded to Christians and Jews, while atheists had no day of their own to celebrate.

The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the long, passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel and declared, “Case dismissed!”

The lawyer immediately stood and objected to the ruling, saying: “Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and many other observances. Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. Yet my client and all other atheists have no such day!”

The judge leaned forward in his chair and simply said, “Obviously your client is too confused to even know about, much less celebrate, his own atheists’ day!”

“Your Honor,” the lawyer pompously pronounced, “we are unaware of any such day for atheists. Just when might that be?”

“Well it comes every year on exactly the same date,” the judge replied. “April 1st! Our calendar sets April 1st as April Fools’ Day, and consider that Psalm 14:1 states, 'Fools say in their hearts, There is no God. '

So, in my opinion, if your client says there is no God, then by scripture he is a fool, and April 1st is his own special day to celebrate! Now have a good day and get out of my courtroom!”

[Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 both attest to this tendency of fools. We cannot, however, attest with certainty to the veracity of this story]