Stepping into a new life

By Jon Walker, author of Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer's 'The Cost of Discipleship'

'Come!' answered Jesus. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus.   [Matthew 14:29 (TEV)]

When Peter stepped out of the storm-tossed boat and onto the water, where was the safest place to be? In the boat or in the arms of Jesus?

The answer, of course, is to be with Jesus, and for a brief time, Peter saw that. Right then he got a glimpse of what it is like to TRUST in Jesus and what it is like to operate within the realm of costly grace as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

And we get a glimpse of that too. We see that following Jesus requires us to step into apparent insecurity in order to find true security.

It's a paradox of faith: Our first step of faith places us in a position where faith becomes possible. By our obedience, we learn to be faithful. If we refuse to follow, we never learn how to believe. We stay stuck in the shallow end of faith, trusting in ourselves, living by sight and not by faith.

The essence of discipleship is Jesus constantly pushing us into new situations where it is possible for us to trust him even more. He pushes us toward "the impossible situation in which everything is staked solely on the word of Jesus," says the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Influential thoughts

While this is long-standing biblical wisdom, many secular sources now agree on the huge influence our thinking has on our lives. The following is adapted from a recent Daily Hope reflection posted by Rick Warren.

"Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts." (Prov. 4:23)

My interpretation influences my situation. It's not what happens to me that matters as much as how I choose to see it. The way I react will determine whether the circumstance makes me better or bitter. I can view everything as an obstacle or an opportunity for growth — a stumbling block or a stepping stone.

My beliefs influence my behavior. We always act according to our beliefs, even when those ideas are false. For instance, as a child, if you believed a shadow in your bedroom at night was a monster, your body reacted in fear (adrenaline and jitters) even though it wasn't true. That's why it's so important to make sure you are operating on true information! Your convictions about yourself, about life, and about God influence your conduct.

My self-talk influences my self-esteem. We constantly talk to ourselves. Do you run yourself down with your self-talk? Stop doing that: "As you think in your heart, so are you" (Prov. 23:7).

Don't be reluctant to show mercy

by Rick Warren

We all need mercy, because we all stumble and fall and require help getting back on track. We need to offer mercy to each other and be willing to receive it from each other.

You can’t have fellowship without forgiveness because bitterness and resentment always destroy fellowship. Sometimes we hurt each other intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but either way, it takes massive amounts of mercy and grace to create and maintain fellowship.

The Bible says, “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT).

The mercy God shows to us is the motivation for us to show mercy to others. Whenever you’re hurt by someone, you have a choice to make: Will I use my energy and emotions for retaliation or for resolution? You can’t do both.

Many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don’t understand the difference between trust and forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past. Trust has to do with future behavior.

Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time.

Trust requires a track record. If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you. They must prove they have changed over time.

The best place to restore trust is within the supportive context of a small group that offers both encouragement and accountability.

(from Rick Warren's Purpose Driven daily devotional site, Daily Hope)

A warm welcome to Margaret Rodrigues!

Margaret Rodrigues recently joined the Anglican Parish of Haliburton as a summer Lay Pastoral Assistant. Newly graduated from Trinity College (University of Toronto) with her Masters of Divinity degree, she has also been accepted as a candidate for ordination in the Diocese of Toronto, potentially in May 2011. She is very pleased, she says, to be gaining more experience by helping out at both St. Margaret's and St. George's from June through August.

Margaret's public sector career in corporate services included positions with the Ontario provincial government, the cities of Mississauga and Toronto, as well as consulting to the non-profit sector. Following her early retirement ten years ago, she has volunteered with several organizations, including at the Diocese and at LOFT Community Services. She was also on the Board of the Diocesan ACW where she served as Social Concern and Action Chair.

Margaret has one daughter, two sons, and four granddaughters. She and her family love the Haliburton area, and have a trailer at Northern Eagle Park on Lake Kashagawigamog, which she calls ‘home’ for the summer. Born in the UK – and with a lovely British accent to prove it – she has been a Canadian citizen for many years.

Cease striving and know that I am God

By Francis Frangipane

Among the many complex and sublime faculties of the human soul, one attribute functions as a servant to all: the nature of the soul is porous. This means that in addition to latent strengths and talents, the soul is also shaped and developed by external stimuli: we learn customs and language, habits, virtues and vices largely by importing reality as it surrounds us. Indeed, the marrow of life itself, as we subjectively know it, is created by the inward flow of these outward realities.

Thus, the soul, while it is born with innate powers, it is also the product of its times and circumstances. Because we live in unprecedented, prophetic times, individuals born during the last five or six decades are impacted, not only by the common struggles and joys of life, but also by the unspeakable disasters as they occur around the world. As a result of live media coverage, we vicariously experience repeated participation with human suffering. We see the actual faces of those traumatized by earthquakes and tsunamis, famines and wars. Again, because of the porous nature of the soul, when we view life’s terrors, we are repeatedly absorbing these fearful realities into our consciousness. We cannot help but be affected.

How do we erase from our minds the faces of earthquake and tsunami victims? How is it possible to forget the horrific memory of people leaping to their deaths from flaming windows high on the Twin Towers on 9/11? What happens to our souls when we view news reports of Iraqis and Israelis being blown apart by terrorists’ bombs?

If you are an intercessor, or even one who possesses just basic, human compassion, the flood of sorrow and terror rising from terrible disasters cannot be stopped by a levee of human intellect. Life’s pains, even when they aren’t our own, are still absorbed at some level into our soul, and more so if we know the one suffering.

To cope with our vulnerabilities, we have created some positive remedies: hospitals, relief agencies, first responders and charitable giving all are relatively new means of dealing with human sorrow. We are compelled, not only to help the victims, but to help ourselves digest and respond to the emotional overload of our times.

(Read this insightful article in its entirety at the Ministries of Francis Frangipane

Clinically-dead boy who miraculously survived drowning, saw his great-grandmother in Heaven

"I knew I was in Heaven. But Grandma said I had to come home. She said that I should go back very quickly. Heaven looked nice. But I am glad I am back with Mummy and Daddy now."

(Lychen, Germany)—After a drowning mishap, three-year-old Paul Eicke has made news in Europe, saying he spoke with a family member in Heaven before miraculously coming back to life.

According to a report in The Daily Mail, the boy had fallen into a pond for several minutes at his grandparent's house in Great Britain before being found. Doctors had just given up on resuscitation efforts when—three hours and 18 minutes after he had been brought in—his heart started beating independently.

Professor Lothar Schweigerer, director of the Helios Clinic where Paul was treated, said: "I have never experienced anything like it...this is a most extraordinary case. My doctors were close to saying 'we can do no more' after two hours of thorax compression. This was because the chances of survival had gone and the little lad must have been brain dead. But then suddenly his heart started to beat again...it was a fantastic miracle."

"I've been doing this job for 30 years," he added, "and have never seen anything like this. It goes to show the human body is a very resilient organism and you should never give up."

Even more remarkable, Paul is quoted as saying that while he was unconscious, he saw his great-grandmother Emmi, "who had turned him back from a gate and urged him to go back to his parents."

Said Paul: "There was a lot of light and I was floating. I came to a gate and I saw Grandma Emmi on the other side. She said to me, 'What are you doing here Paul? You must go back to Mummy and Daddy. I will wait for you here.'"

"I knew I was in Heaven," he continued. "But Grandma said I had to come home. She said that I should go back very quickly. Heaven looked nice. But I am glad I am back with Mummy and Daddy now."

Back home in Germany, Paul reportedly has no sign of brain damage from his ordeal.

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Listening to the Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd Sunday, three weeks after Easter, derives its name from the gospel readings across the Anglican and Catholic Communions assigned for that day. Taken from the 10th chapter of John, we hear again the story of Jesus described as the Good Shepherd who, by dying on the cross, laid down his life for his sheep.

In Pastor Anne’s thought- and heart-provoking sermon for the day, she reminded us of how well sheep know their own shepherd’s voice; how they will follow none other’s. In some ways sheep may be famously dumb, but they excel at being good listeners and followers.

How does that connect to us as believers in our one true heavenly shepherd? We, as human beings, too often prove ourselves poor followers and listeners to that Divine Voice. Anne provided many pointers to help us learn better to listen to, and know when we are hearing from, God. The first major point being simply that: LISTEN! How often do we spend time being quiet, waiting for that ‘still, small voice’, in our prayer times? Yet how else will we hear?

In a recent devotional by Rick Warren, he makes a similar point in describing how difficult it can be for us—this idea of yielding, of surrendering. We instead have been so often taught to conquer, speak our minds, to overcome, expect our will to be done. While Warren writes more in terms of worship, that also is prayer. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches us that rather than trying to win, succeed, overcome, and conquer, we should instead yield, submit, obey, and surrender. How else can we do this but to listen first?

“When we completely surrender ourselves to Jesus,” Warren concludes, “we discover that he is not a tyrant but a savior; not a boss, but a brother; not a dictator, but a friend.”

Be yourself with God

"When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long. Do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him." (Matt. 6:5-15 TEV)

(the following reflection by Rick Warren)

God created you and so he wants you to be the real you. By being authentic when you speak to God, you worship him as your Creator.

For years I copied the prayers of other people. I noticed they used certain words and even a special tone of voice. I imitated all the religious clichés: "Lead, guide and direct us, O Lord." "Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies." "Bless the gift and the giver."

In New Testament times, prayers were wordy, meaningless rituals. There was no spontaneity, no genuineness. But Jesus says don't get caught up in ritual prayer. You don't have to use fancy language. You can't impress God with fancy language, and you shouldn't be trying to impress other people either.

I love to hear new Christians pray―no pious pomposity. They haven't learned the clichés yet. They just say, "Hi, God. It's me." That's how you make contact with God. You just talk with your Heavenly Father about what's on your mind. Just pray your heart. Reveal yourself.

Imagine I walked in the door one evening and my kids said: "O, almighty procreator of our family. How wonderful thou art, who sovereignly deposits our allowance to us. Oh, the majesty of thy wonderful self! We beseech thee to come eat dinner with us." I'd check their temperatures to see if they were sick! I don't want to hear that. I want them to say, "Hey! Dad's home. Good to see you, Pop!"

I'm not saying to be flippant in prayer, but that's how you make contact with God. You just talk with Him in a genuine and heartfelt way.

(from Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Connection devotional)

The Resurrection Changes Everything

by Collin Hansen with Adrian Warnock

There is no historical doubt whatsoever that a man called Jesus lived and was crucified 2,000 years ago. It is also without dispute that a group arose quickly after his death claiming he was risen.

Despite the apparent absurdity of such a claim, and vigorous attempts to persecute them off the face of the earth, this group grew quicker than any other before or since. Soon the whole Roman Empire became a Christian state without a sword being raised by the all-conquering new faith. This remarkable growth is impossible to explain without the Resurrection.

For a full transcript of the Hansen's interview with Warnock (author of the book Raised With Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything), please visit ChristianityToday.com.

Joy in Easter Week: Celebrate this phenomenal week with deep appreciation!

by JoHannah Reardon

A cartoon appearing in Leadership journal showed a couple leaving church and shaking hands with the pastor. The man says to the pastor, "You're in a rut, Reverend. Every time I come here, you preach about the Resurrection."

We chuckle at that, but sometimes those of us who faithfully come to church more regularly than on Easter have a similar attitude. We want to have a devoted attitude. Instead we fall into, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. I know all that." It's tempting to turn the most fantastic event of human history into routine.

Each year, I find I need to slow down and reflect on the events of Easter week so that I can absorb its wonder. Sometimes just walking through those familiar events stirs my heart to remember all that Christ did for me.

You can read this in its entirety at Christianity Today's sister publication, ChristianBibleStudies.com.

A thankful heart in all seasons

by Francis Frangipane

The very quality of your life, whether you love it or hate it, is based upon how thankful you are toward God. It is one's attitude that determines whether life unfolds into a place of blessedness or wretchedness. Indeed, looking at the same rose bush, some people complain that the roses have thorns while others rejoice that some thorns come with roses. It all depends on your perspective.

This is the only life you will have before you enter eternity. If you want to find joy, you must first find thankfulness. Indeed, the one who is thankful for even a little enjoys much. But the unappreciative soul is always miserable, always complaining. He or she lives outside the shelter of the Most High God.

Perhaps the worst enemy we have is not the devil but our own tongue. James tells us, "The tongue is set among our members as that which . . . sets on fire the course of our life" (James 3:6). He goes on to say this fire is ignited by hell. Consider: with our own words we can enter the spirit of heaven or the agonies of hell!

It is hell with its punishments, torments and misery that controls the life of the grumbler and complainer! Paul expands this thought in 1 Corinthians 10:10, where he reminds us of the Jews who "grumble[d] . . . and were destroyed by the destroyer." The fact is, every time we open up to grumbling and complaining, the quality of our life is reduced proportionally—a destroyer is bringing our life to ruin!

People often ask me, "What is the ruling demon over our church or city?" They expect me to answer with the ancient Aramaic or Phoenician name of a fallen angel. What I usually tell them is a lot more practical: one of the most pervasive evil influences over our nation is ingratitude!

Do not minimize the strength and cunning of this enemy! Paul said that the Jews who grumbled and complained during their difficult circumstances were "destroyed by the destroyer." Who was this destroyer? If you insist on discerning an ancient world ruler, one of the most powerful spirits mentioned in the Bible is Abaddon, whose Greek name is Apollyon. It means ‘destroyer’ (Rev. 9:11). Paul said the Jews were destroyed by this spirit. In other words, when we are complaining or unthankful, we open the door to the destroyer, Abaddon, the demon king over the abyss of hell!

In the Presence of God
Multitudes in our nation have become specialists in the "science of misery." They are experts—moral accountants who can, in a moment, tally all the wrongs society has ever done to them or their group. I have never talked with one of these people who was happy, blessed or content about anything. They expect an imperfect world to treat them perfectly.

Truly, there are people in this wounded country of ours who need special attention. However, most of us simply need to repent of ingratitude, for it is ingratitude itself that is keeping wounds alive! We simply need to forgive the wrongs of the past and become thankful for what we have in the present.

The moment we become grateful, we actually begin to ascend spiritually into the presence of God. The psalmist wrote,

"Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing. . . . Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations" (Psalm 100:2, 4-5).

It does not matter what your circumstances are; the instant you begin to thank God, even though your situation has not changed, you begin to change. The key that unlocks the gates of heaven is a thankful heart. Entrance into the courts of God comes as you simply begin to praise the Lord.”

Surrender: a secret to success in life, and Life

by Rick Warren (lifted from his Purpose Driven site)

"...Give yourselves to God, .... surrender your whole being to Him to be used for righteous purposes." Romans 6:13 (TEV)

Surrender is an unpopular word, disliked almost as much as the word submission. It implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser.

Surrender evokes the unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game, or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context. Captured criminals surrender to the authorities.

In our competitive world we're taught to never quit trying, never give up, and never give inso we don't hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, surrendering is unthinkable.

Yet, the Bible teaches us that rather than trying to win, succeed, overcome, and conquer, we should instead yield, submit, obey, and surrender.

And by surrendering to God, we enter into the heart of worship. This is true worship: bringing pleasure to God as we give ourselves completely to Him.

Surrendering is best demonstrated in obedience, cooperating with your Creator. You say, "Yes Lord" to whatever He asks of you.

In fact, "No, Lord" is a contradiction. You can't claim Jesus as your Lord when you refuse to obey him. Peter modeled surrender when, after a night of failed fishing, Jesus told him to try again: "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." Surrendered people obey God's word, even when it doesn't make sense.

God is not a cruel slave driver, or a bully who uses brute force to coerce us into submission. He doesn't try to break our will, but woos us to Himself, so that we might offer it freely to Him. God is a Lover and a Liberator, and surrendering brings freedom, not bondage.

When we completely surrender ourselves to Jesus, we discover that he is not a tyrant but a savior; not a boss, but a brother; not a dictator, but a friend.

Blocking pride by worship

by Rick Warren (lifted from his Purpose Driven site)

"The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become because He made us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to his personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own." 
—C.S. Lewis "It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God." [2 Corinthians 3:5 (NLT)]

Life is a struggle, but what most people don't realize is that our struggle, like Jacob's, is really with God! We want to be God, and there's no way we're going to win that struggle, but we try anyway.

A.W. Tozer said, "The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't yet come to the end of themselves. We're still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us."

We aren't God, and we never will be. We're humans, and the times when we try to be God are the times we end up most like Satan, who tried to be equal with God, too.

We accept our humanity intellectually, but not emotionally. We give mental assent to the idea, but when faced with our own limitations, we react with irritation, anger, and resentment. We want to be taller (or shorter), smarter, stronger, more talented, beautiful, and wealthy.

We want to have it all and do it all, and become upset when it doesn't happen. Then, when we notice God gave others characteristics we don't have, we respond with envy, jealousy, and self-pity.

What it means to surrender

Surrendering to God is not passive resignation, fatalism, or an excuse for laziness. It is not accepting the status quo. It may mean the exact opposite: sacrificing your life in resistance to evil and injustice, or suffering in order to change what needs to be changed. God often calls surrendered people to do battle on His behalf. It not for cowards or doormats.

Surrendering is not putting your brain in neutral and giving up rational thinking. God would not waste the mind He gave you! God does not want robots to serve Him. Surrendering is not repressing your personality. God wants to use your unique personality. Rather than being diminished, surrendering enhances your uniqueness.

Family aboard "Christmas Terror Flight" leaned on prayer and faith

(Wisconsin, USA)—Charlie and Scotti Keepman, with 24-year-old daughter Richelle, had just traveled to Ethiopia, Africa, where they'd adopted two orphans and were bringing them back to their home in Wisconsin on Christmas day.

Sitting toward the back of NW Flight 253, the Keepmans had no idea of the drama about to unfold rows ahead of them when terror suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted a suicide bombing in his seat.

"We heard a pop and then smelled the fumes," recalled Charlie about the moment Abdulmatallab tried to ignite his explosives. "It smelled like burning wire actually. And I thought that's what it was."

But when flight attendants came running back for the fire extinguishers, Keepman noticed the horror in their eyes and knew something more was happening on their plane.

Trying to remain calm, the Keepmans joined hands with their daughter and newly-adopted children and began to bring the matter before the Lord in prayer, and to sing Jesus Loves Me.

Abdulmatallab's explosive device failed to do more than start a fire, and thanks to one quick-thinking passenger who jumped over seats, apprehending him and preventing him from doing any further damage, a possibly fatal situation was avoided.

The Nigerian Abdulmatallab (23) was later charged with trying to blow up NW Airlines Flight 253.

Charlie Keepman (l)  withYtbarek, 8;  Richelle KeepmanwithArsema, 6;  and Scotti Keepmanwith grandson Harrison Keepmanat their home in Oconomowoc, Wis.   (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Tom Lynn)

Charlie Keepman (l)  withYtbarek, 8;  Richelle KeepmanwithArsema, 6;  and Scotti Keepmanwith grandson Harrison Keepmanat their home in Oconomowoc, Wis.   (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Tom Lynn)

One New Year's Resolution: Sensing pain in others? Reach out!

by Aimee Herd (editor, BCN

According to a Reuters Health report, some people really do vicariously feel another's pain when they see them hurt in some way.

The research was led by Dr. Stuart W. G. Derbyshire of the University of Birmingham, who—first—had 108 college students view images of "painful situations," such as injections or sports injuries. About a third of the students said they not only experienced emotional reactions, but also "fleeting pain" in that same area while viewing at least one of the images.

Next, Derbyshire used a "functional MRI" (which measures the stimuli in certain parts of the brain) to scan 10 students in both the "responders" and "non-responders" groups. The study found that while both experienced emotional reactions to the "painful" images; the "responders" also showed greater stimulus of the "pain-related" areas in their brains.

Derbyshire explained, "We think this confirms that at least some people have an actual physical reaction when observing others being injured or expressing pain."

Using an imaging technique called functional MRI, UK researchers found evidence that people who say they feel vicarious pain do, in fact, have heightened activity in pain-sensing brain regions upon witnessing another person being hurt.

The findings, published in the journal Pain, could have implications for understanding, and possibly treating, cases of unexplained "functional" pain.

"Patients with functional pain experience pain in the absence of an obvious disease or injury to explain their pain," explained Dr. Stuart W. G. Derbyshire of the University of Birmingham, one of the researchers on the new study.

"Consequently," he told Reuters Health in an email, "there is considerable effort to uncover other ways in which the pain might be generated."

Derbyshire said he now wants to study whether the brains of patients with functional pain respond to images of injury in the same way that the current study participants' did.

For the study, Derbyshire and colleague Jody Osborn first had 108 college students view several images of painful situationsincluding athletes suffering sports injuries and patients receiving an injection. Close to one-third of the students said that, for at least one image, they not only had an emotional reaction, but also fleetingly felt pain in the same site as the injury in the image.

Derbyshire and Osborn then took functional MRI scans of ten of these "responders," along with ten "non-responders" who reported no pain while viewing the images.

Functional MRI charts changes in brain blood flow, allowing researchers to see which brain areas become more active in response to a particular stimulus. Here, the researchers scanned participants' brains as they viewed either images of people in pain, images that were emotional but not painful, or neutral images.

The investigators found that while viewing the painful images, both responders and non-responders showed activity in the emotional centers of the brain. But responders showed greater activity in pain-related brain regions compared with non-responders, and as compared with their own brain responses to the emotional images.

"We think this confirms that at least some people have an actual physical reaction when observing others being injured or expressing pain," Derbyshire said.

He noted that the responders also tended to say that they avoided horror movies and disturbing images on the news "so as to avoid being in pain"which, the researcher said, is more than just an empathetic response.

As far as the potential practical implications of the findings, Derbyshire said it would be a "reach" to think that such brain mechanisms might be behind all functional pain. But, he added, "they might explain some of it."

Aimee's note: While I find this research very interesting, I am not surprised by it. First as a mother—and I know most other moms would agree (perhaps fathers too)—I think we can certainly "feel" the pain our children might be going through at times. Also, as a Believer, sometimes in deep intercession and prayer on someone else's behalf, you can actually experience a degree of that person's pain or heartache. And then, although this research doesn't mention it, I know studies and testimonies have found that twins will often experience their other twin's pain. Clearly, this is confirmation that our brains and our "hearts" or emotions are entwined and not separate; a beautiful design by God that facilitates deep compassion. It's maybe when we try to separate them that we can become numb.

Love is a Habit

by Rick Warren (lifted from his Purpose Driven site)

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them." Luke 6:32 (NIV)

If you only love on and off like a light switch, you do not love others like God wants you to love. Jesus said, "If you only love those who love you what credit is that to you?" (Luke 6:32 NIV).

His point is this: anybody can love those who love them. Becoming a master lover means you learn to love the unlovable. It's when you love people who don't love you, when you love people who irritate you, when you love people who stab you in the back or gossip about you.

This may seem like an impossible task and it is. That's why we need God's love in us, so we can then love others: "We know and rely on the love God has for us" (1 John 4:16 NIV).

When you realize how much God loves you - with an extravagant, irresistible, unconditional love - then His love will change your entire focus on life. If we don't receive God's love for us, we'll have a hard time loving other people. I'm talking about loving the unlovely, loving the difficult, loving the irritable, loving people who are different or demanding.

You can't do that until you have God's love coming through you. You need to know God's love so it can overflow out of your life into others.

Love must become your lifestyle, the habit of your life. But it starts with a decision. Are you ready?

Your life is worth far more than you think, and by learning to love others with the love God gives you, you will have an influence far greater than you could ever imagine. If you will commit to this, you will experience love as God means it to be, filled with hope, energy, and joy.

My prayer for you is "that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love ..." (Philippians 1:9 NCV).

Remember this, especially at Christmas

by Sam O'Neale, Managing Editor, SmallGroups.com

I was hunting around on the internet for a quotation about rest this morning, and I came across a Spanish Proverb that goes something like this: "It is a beautiful thing to do nothing, and to rest afterwards." At first I thought that was exactly what I was looking for. It's kind of catchy, huh? But the more I think about it, the more I don't like it.

That's because the proverb gives me the impression that rest is a luxury. Something nice to experience every now and again. But I think it's pretty clear from Scripture that rest is a necessary element of human life, and especially of the Christian life. "It is a vital thing to do nothing, and to rest afterwards" is more like it. "It is a commanded thing."

So let me ask you: when was the last time you had a legitimately restful day?

(from Christianity Today daughter publication Small Groups Newsletter)

The joy-driven life: good news for the earnest

Death to deadly earnest discipleship!

"Do not be afraid," the angel tells the quaking shepherds. "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." The church's angelic mission to the world is no different. "Do not be afraid," we announce to a world shivering in the dark. "We bring good news of a great joy—for everyone!"

"It is astonishing," wrote Karl Barth, "how many references there are in the Old and New Testaments to delight, joy, bliss, exultation, merry-making, and rejoicing, and how emphatically these are demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Epistle to the Philippians."

Indeed, from "Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!" (Ps. 100:1) to "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil. 4:4)—and dozens of places before and after and in between—we are urged to lead joy-filled lives.

When believers do a little self-reflection, not many of us point to joylessness as the thing that needs attention. Mostly we flagellate ourselves for our undisciplined discipleship. We issue calls to repent of our consumerism, sign ecumenical concords to heal our divisions, and issue manifestos to care for the poor and the planet. No one has yet issued a joint ecumenical statement on the need for Christians to be more joyful. Yet it's right there in the Bible, over and over: "I say it again: Rejoice!"

We come by our earnestness honestly. One of our classic texts is William Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. While Law devoted one chapter to happiness, the rest of the book presents a long admonition "to take up our daily cross, deny ourselves, profess the blessedness of mourning, seek the blessedness of poverty of spirit …." This bracing, prophetic book deeply influenced the theology of John and Charles Wesley.

It is no surprise that one of the best-selling nonfiction books of all time is The Purpose Driven Life.  We long to have meaning. And we are willing to be driven—something we don't normally want—if it will make a difference.

One reason we are perennially attracted to a serious call to a purpose-driven life is the state of the planet. According to a recent report from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, world hunger is only worsening. Nuclear threats grow daily in the Middle East. Human trafficking is expanding. Billions are mired not just in poverty of material needs but also poverty of spirit. Who in their right mind can talk about joy? Empathy, yes. But to put on joy when so many are dressed in the rags of anxiety, grief, and despair—well, it would be scandalous. There will be time for rejoicing once we make some headway on the human catastrophe.

Good news for the earnest

But is it not truer to say that we will not make progress on the human catastrophe until we first rediscover joy? The gospel remains a scandal, indeed, because it announces joy right when everything is falling apart, just when today's experts offer "sober assessments of the current situation," and in their euphoric moments can only say they remain "cautiously optimistic."

(Please read this article in its entirety at Christianity Today)

What times are these?

by Anne Elmer

What times are these? Difficult times, a time of recession, times of change, times of transition, the end times? So much is being said at the moment about the times we are living in that I felt nudged to read once more that beautiful passage from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot.
A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build.
A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them; a time to embrace and a time to refrain.
A time to search and a time to give up; a time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend; a time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.”

If you have time, I recommend that you look into the Hebrew meanings of some of those comparisons. But the general message is that the God who lives outside time (that concept is too big for my imagination) wants us to understand that everything has its time.

At any moment in our time, there are individuals, families, communities and even countries experiencing some or all of these things mentioned above.

What time is it for you at the moment? If you are living in good times personally and spiritually, then be strengthened and prepared for the next season, because surely it will come. If you are going through a difficult time, then be encouraged because it will have its season and its close. God uses the times and seasons in our lives to test us, train us, and prepare us for what is coming next.

One thing you can be sure of, whatever time you think it is for you, the Lord has a plan for your life, and you are alive today because God wants it that way (read Psalm 139 to be reassured). He knows where you are living, what you are doing or not doing, who is around you, and it is more than probable that God has put you right there.

You are Living in Your Time

What time are you living in? I want to say, you are living in your time; the time for you. God's plan is that you are alive now to help fulfill His purposes on the earth. Yes, our seasons of life change, but Jesus' Words don't. He still says to his followers, "Go in My name and make disciples" (see Matt. 28:19). He still tells us to heal the sick, cast out demons and speak in other tongues (see Mark 16:16-18). He still invites us, as he did Peter, to get out of the boat (see Matt. 14:29).

Maybe you don't agree; maybe you are thinking: "The Lord says, 'Be still and know that I am God,'" and of course you are right, but that time of being still will pass as well. And even if we are being still, then we must still pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), for those who treat us poorly (Luke 6:28), for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:2), and many, many more.

Maybe your argument is that you are a nobody who can do nothing worthwhile. Maybe the circumstances of your birth are nothing to be proud of. Please understand that the God who is outside time as we know it does not sit and scratch His head and say, "Oh dear, another baby! What are we going to do with that one; we need to rewrite the plan for humanity!"

My friend, you are not a nobody, you are not an accident. You are important in God's Kingdom. God wants you here, now, today. You are not here because somewhere in your family line a contraceptive pill was forgotten or someone drank too much, or someone was abused. You are not here because way back in the generations something secret happened in a hidden place. No! You are here today because God has a plan for your life. Just look back through two or three generations, and see what lengths God went to to secure your birth.

In my own life here in western Europe, my parents and grandparents survived two world wars. My paternal grandfather, in the first year of his marriage, had a very serious accident in a stone quarry blast. This took his sight, but his life was preserved. By chance? No, the will of God for a future generation. My maternal grandfather survived many accidents working in a coal mine. Was he just very lucky? No. God wanted him to give life to my mother, so that I and my children and my grandchildren would be born. I haven't mentioned plane crashes, road accidents, natural disasters, and all the other dangers God protects us from in order to fulfill His purposes.

What times are these? They are your times, they are my times. It is time for us to be the people God is calling us to be. Let's do it in His strength, in His name, and in His time.

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Anne Elmer wrote the Elijah List best-seller, Transported by the Lion of Judah. She lives in France with her husband, Malgwyn.

Farewell but not goodbye to Louise Cooper

by Bill Gliddon, St. George’s organist and choirmaster

Louise Cooper’s arrival in Haliburton and her association with both the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) and St. George’s began 40 years ago, in 1969. A terrific math teacher and Guidance Counselor at the high school, she also began a long and much appreciated term as organizer and secretary of the HHSS Scholarship Fun. Deserving graduates received bursaries, awards and scholarships thanks in large part to Louise’s work.

Joining St. George’s choir that same year, she became a valuable addition to our small alto section. The next year she brought in her son Paul as a new member of the Junior Choir, and in later years her wonderful husband Sid joined the bass section.

With her organizational skills, Louise quickly became ‘choir mother,’ responsible for gowns, books and supplies. Those same skills proved valuable when she also took on the role of church treasurer. Louise assisted in so many facets of our choir and church life and will be greatly missed.

We pray God’s blessings on her as she goes to live nearer her son Paul and his family.

Bill Gliddon thanks Louise Cooper for her years of dedicated service while choir joins congregation in standing ovation (photo by Krystyna Stanton)