Jelly Beans and Fog

Having grown up in the Maritimes and spending most of my teens years around boats and ships of one description or another I am fairly familiar with fog, especially when you consider my formative years were spent in Saint John or as we fondly remember it CFBC, Canada’s Fog Bound City.  And some fog was thick and permanent, you felt like you were inside a room full of cotton batten, it was dreary and imprisoned you in its damp embrace.  But there was also a light hazy fog that often times the sun was shining above it and you knew that it had no future, that before the day was very old the fog would be gone and its memory would be as nebulous as the fog itself.

And it was that type of fog that James, the brother of Christ, used as an analogy for our lives in the letter that he wrote two thousand years.  That letter has been preserved as a part of our New Testament and it was read earlier in particular we are looking at   James 4:14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

Shakespeare obviously felt the same about the fleeting nature of life because he wrote:  Life… It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.  And if that wasn’t enough in  another of the Bard’s plays he penned, Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.

Most of us don’t dwell on how short life might be, in fact most of us we view our lives with more permanence and very seldom even think about our future demise.  And according to the Social Security Actuarial Period Life Table, it seems the longer you live, the longer you live.

At my present age it is projected that my life expectancy will be an additional 24 years.  If I actually make it to 81 years old the actuarial table projects that my life expectancy will be an additional 7.76 years, which means there is a pretty good chance I will die Sept 21 2049 at around 2 in the afternoon.  But if I live to be 89 years old, my life expectancy is projected to be 4 additional years. If I live to be 93, I may then live to be 96 years of age where I am granted the possibility of an additional 2.66 years. At almost 100 they give me another 2.27years which will get me up over the hundred mark and at that point I am given an even chance of living until I am 103 and from there they give me another 1.83 years.   Even if I live to be 119 years old, I am granted an additional .57 year of life expectancy.

However, eventually the actuarial table runs out of years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds of life expectancy. In other words, I am terminal. We are all terminal. Apart from the Second Coming of Christ in one’s lifetime, the death rate is 100%.  (Actuarial table illustration courtesy of Monty Newton, Heritage Community Bible Church) I saw a sign in a doctor’s office years ago that said and I quote “Don’t take life too serious, you’ll never get out of it alive.”

But what if you knew that your death was imminent?  What if you were told for sure that you had X amount of years, months or days left?  Would your behaviour change?

The story is told that once while St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden, he was asked, ”What would you do it you were suddenly to learn that you were to die at sunset today?” He replied, ”I would finish hoeing my garden.”

I wish I could say that, even though I personally hate gardening.  Realistically speaking though I probably have things to do, apologies to make and things to say.

This video really puts it in perspective.  (Jelly Bean Video)

So on this last Sunday of 2017I thought I would reflect on some things that I would do if I knew that I only had 365 jelly beans left.

1) I Would Enjoy Each Day More

I am probably like a lot of you in that there are things I would like to do, but for whatever reasons, time, finances, family responsibilities they have gotten put on the back burner for the time being.

I would like to finish my private pilot’s licence.  I would like to visit the Holy Land and walk where Jesus walked, I would like to visit my Great Grand Father’s home land of Estonia.  And some of those things are on hold for financial reasons.  But there are other things that I have been putting off simply because I am a procrastinator.

 

I had never heard the term “Bucket List” until the movie came out in 2007.

If you haven’t see it, the premise of course is two men who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer set out to fulfil their “Bucket list” that is the list of things that wanted to do before they kicked the bucket.

If you were to make a list of things that you wanted to do before you kicked the bucket what would be on that list.  Are there some of those that need to be done now?  I am sure you have all heard the poem attributed to 85-year-old Nadine Stairs

If I had my life to live over, I’d try to make more mistakes next time.

I would relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have on this trip.
I would be crazier. I would be less hygienic. I would take more chances, I would take more trips.
I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers, and watch more sunsets.
I would burn more gasoline. I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I am one of those people who lives prophylactically
and sensibly and sanely, Hour after hour, day after day.

Oh, I have had my moments
And if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another.
Instead of living so many years ahead each day.

I have been one of those people who never go anywhere without a thermometer,
a hot water bottle, a gargle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I had to do it over again, I would go places and do things.

I’d travel lighter than I have.  If I had my life to live over,
I would start barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.
I would play hooky more. I wouldn’t make such good grades except by accident.
I would ride on merry-go-rounds.
I’d pick more daisies!

What would you do if you could do it again?

2)  I Would Express My Love More.  I would let those in my life know that I love them, in word and in deed.  I don’t want to leave with those who mean the most to me wondering how I felt about them.  Kind of like the old couple she said, “You never tell me you love me.”  To which he replied, “I told you that on our wedding day and if I change my mind I will let you know.”

If you are a Christ follower than your faith itself is defined by “Love”.  Jesus told his followers in John 13:35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  But that love has to be visible and verbalized.  In other words, they discover our love through what we say and what we do.  And so I will treat those I love with Love and I will not let my love go unsaid.  And it’s not just what you say, if you’ve never read the book The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, you should.

We each receive love in our own unique way, and the way you need to speak love into your spouse’s life may be different than how you would like to receive it in your life.

If ‘n you died tomorrow, would those you care the most about know exactly how you felt about them?

3) I Would Be Careful of My Words  I think we underestimate what we say and how we say it.  Angela often reminds me, “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.”

Jesus’ brother James warned us in the book he wrote James 3:5-10 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!  Wow, I wonder how James really felt?

More damage is done to those around us by our words than by our actions, and while most of us pride ourselves in not resorting to physical violence we commit verbal assaults almost without thinking about it, and that is being charitable because a lot of times those words are well thought out.  Robert Burton was a British clergy man who lived in the late 1500’s and he said “A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword.”

The story is told of a lady who spread some rumours about the towns Rabi which she later found out were false.  She came and apologized to the man and asked what she could do to make it right.  So, he told her to take a feather pillow to the town square and cut it open and shake it and them come back to him.  Well she did as she was asked and returned and wanted to know if that was all she had to do and he said “No, now go back and collect the feathers”  to wish she replied “that is impossible.”

The Roman Poet Horace said “A word once uttered can never be recalled.”

4) I Wouldn’t Hold Grudges.  In other words I would be more forgiving.  Jesus took a pretty strong stand on forgiveness.  And that makes sense, his forgiving you your sins cost him a lot.  And so he simply ask that you forgive others.  And it won’t cost you nearly as much; as a matter of fact it will probably just cost you your pride.

And Jesus didn’t just say it would be a good idea if we forgave other people, he made it mandatory.  Matthew 6:12-15 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.  And that is scary.  But it is for the good of others and for our own good.

Ever talk to someone who is holding onto a grudge against somebody else. They relive that hurt or slight over and over again, sometimes something that is a misunderstanding.  Understand this; forgiving someone is a conscious decision that you have to make.  I can’t forgive someone for what they did to you, you have to do it.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me as a Pastor “How do I forgive that person?”  And I think the answer is in the old Nike ad that says “Just do it.”  Let go of the hurt, stop taking it out of the secret place you keep it, stop looking at it and thinking about it.

I didn’t think I was a grudge holder but a few years ago I happened to run into a woman who had said some pretty nasty things to me and about me and this church 20 years ago and I was finding it hard to stand and talk to her.  There are some who are thinking “Well then Denn, you need to go and tell her that you forgive her.”

Probably not, she doesn’t know there is a problem, what I do need to do is simply forgive her and get on with life.

Actress Marlene Dietrich once said “Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.”  The Apostle Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 13:5 Love keeps no record of being wronged. And that goes for all of us, forgive and get on with life or understand that your lack of forgiveness will colour how you live in this life and the next.

5)  I Would Keep Short Accounts  This kind of goes with the last one.  I would allow myself to be forgiven.  If I have done wrong to someone I would make it right, if I have disappointed God with my behaviour I will apologize and ask for forgiveness.  That by that way if what repentance is.

I would not want anyone sitting in my funeral fuming over something I had done to them that I had not tried to make right.  I may not have been able to make it right in their eyes but I will have tried.

6) I Would Be the Spouse I Promised to Be.  Think back to your wedding day.  Do you remember what you promised in front of God and everybody?  It probably went something like this first the Preacher asked you:  Will you have this person to be your wedded spouse, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony?  Will you love them, comfort them, honor and keep them, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others keep yourself only unto them, so long as you both shall live?  And you promised that you would do that.  Do you remember that?  And then you were asked to repeat after the preacher and you would have said something like this, I , take you, to be my wedded husband or wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy law and thereto I pledge you my love.  And then if it was like a lot of weddings they would have read a particular passage of scripture, can you remember what it was?  Sure you can, it was probably 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.  Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered.  It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.   Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil.   Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.  Love never fails!

 

I would think that if all we did was what we promised we would do, and if we loved like we vowed we would love that the divorce rate would be a whole lot lower than it is.  And you are thinking “Well sure if I wasn’t married to a jerk.”  That would be the jerk you married, that you promised to love, comfort, honour and keep, so long as you both shall live.

 

7) I Would Spend More Time With God   I saw a cartoon a long time ago that showed an old woman, sitting on a porch, reading the Bible. Two kids were walking by. One said to the other, “That’s my grandma. She’s cramming for her finals.”  If I am going to spend eternity with God then I think it would be fitting to get to know Him.  How do we do that?  Two ways, the time we spend in prayer that is talking to God and the time we spend reading His word, that is Him talking to us.

You know that you cannot maintain a relationship with friends or family without communicating with them, so why do we assume that our relationship with God will just happen? David’s prayer to God in Psalm 16:11 says You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.  But that won’t happen unless we work at making it happen.  When Jesus taught His followers about prayer he used the phrase “when you pray” not “if you pray”.

Now most of us pray, at least sometimes, we are like that annoying friend who only calls us when they need something.  The kids are sick so we pray, the roads are bad so we pray, the economy is sinking so we pray.  But really don’t you think God would like to hear from you once in a while when you just want to thank Him for the great day you are having and let Him know about some of your plans and dreams for the future?  Maybe it’s just a matter of being proactive, instead of praying to get out of trouble maybe our prayers should be to not get into trouble.

Do you read your bible much?   It’s not just a devotional tool that you pick up and read a verse here and there to help you feel better.

Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

In other words if I had to sum up the previous 7 points 8) I Would Live Without Regrets  On my death bed I don’t want to have to utter the words “If only” or “I wished I had”   I want to die with my wife and kids and friends knowing I loved them and with my God knowing that I did and gave my very best for the Kingdom.

The first words I want to hear as I step through into eternity are Matthew 25:23 “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

And so I close today asking this question James 4:14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

 

Reflections on a Saviour

If I was to ask you to name a story that began on Christmas Eve (without the obvious spiritual answer), some people would answer with “A Visit from Saint Nick”, and that would be a good answer.  “T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.”  And that is a favourite for many folks.

But I kind of like the story that begins with the words.  “Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”  Which of course is the opening lines of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.   And we are going to come back to that in a bit.

This Advent season the staff has been reflecting on the Christmas Story as told in Matthew 1:18-25.  And in week one I spoke about a reflection of change how that first Christmas changed the world for Mary and Joseph.   Week two Marilyn reflected on the Gift that was given through Jesus on that first Christmas.

Last week Stefan focused on Reflections on Time and looked back 700 years before Jesus’ birth and the prophecy that Isaiah had made to King Ahaz.  And then this morning Deborah spoke on “A Reflection of Roles”.

And here we are, Christmas Eve and Marley was dead.  If you are familiar with the Christmas Carol then you know that the protagonist is Ebenezer Scrooge who was described in the book as “A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

And Scrooge hated Christmas, he once said “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

But by the end of the story Scrooge has become a changed person and a committed fan of Christmas.  And the transformation came about through the intervention of four ghostly visitors.

Scrooge was first visited by the ghost of his former partner Marley and then by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas present and the Ghost of Christmas yet to come.

But the reality is that the Ghosts simply represented his past, his present and his possible future.

In the middle of the scripture that we’ve been focusing on this season we see this promise to Joseph Matthew 1:20-21  As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

And for a few minutes tonight I want to focus on the last part of that promise,

Matthew 1:21  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Now in Canada in 2017 we think of Jesus as a pretty special name.  If we hear of someone with that name we just assume that they are from a different culture.  But when Joseph and Mary were told that their son’s name would be Jesus it wasn’t all that strange.

2000 years ago in Israel Jesus was a common name, it was simply the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua.

And maybe you remember Joshua from the Old Testament, we have an entire book that carries his name. He was the leader who led the people of Israel into the promised land.

Joshua was an everyday name, a name that Jesus probably shared with other kids he went to school with.  It would be the same if Jesus was born in the late seventies and early eighties and had been named Matthew.

But it wasn’t the name it was what the name meant and Joshua means “Jehovah, or God, is salvation.” Or simply “God Saves”

And in most cases, it was just a name, but the angel tells Joseph that in this case, the name would be indicative of Jesus’ purpose. He would be called Jesus because he would literally save his people from their sins.

So, what does that have to do with A Christmas Carol?  Well actually that’s just the way my mind works.

As I was thinking about where I was going with my Christmas Eve message we went and saw the movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas”, which is a great movie about Dickens writing the novel “A Christmas Carol”.  Which prompted me to actually read the novel.

You’ll remember from the story, or the movie that Ebenezer was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas yet to come and it was what the three spirits revealed that changed the trajectory of Scrooge’s life.

And I realized that Jesus didn’t just come to save us from today’s sins but yesterday’s sins as well.

We don’t have to go very far into the story of Jesus before we hear him utter the words “Your sins are forgiven.”  And it was that statement that upset the religious leaders so much.  Their response was “Only God can forgive sins”.  And Jesus agreed.

So the first thing we need to acknowledge is because Jesus Saves Us We Have Freedom from the Past

 We all understand that we all sin.  We don’t need the preacher or the bible to tell us that.  It is a reality of life.  If sinning is simply disappointing God with our actions then we understand that reality.

And it is our nature, we are born with a sinful nature, I go back to this time and time again.  Just look at children, you don’t have to teach them to be disobedient, to throw tantrums and talk back.

The question is asked, “Is a dog a dog because he barks or does he bark because he is a dog?”  And the follow-up question then is “Are we sinners because we sin or do we sin because we are sinners?”

 

If you need something definitive then we are told in Romans 3:23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

 

But that isn’t all of the story.  You see Jesus came to save us from our sins, and so we are told in the very next verse  Romans 3:24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

 

And he freed us from the penalty of our sins by forgiving us from our sins.   When Peter is preaching one of his first sermons after Jesus had been crucified buried and then rose from the dead he tells the people of Jerusalem.  Acts 3:19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.

So that your sins may be wiped away.  That is forgiveness and that is God’s promise to you.  God can and will forgive the sins of yesterday.

But it isn’t just the sins of yesterday that Jesus came to save us from Because Jesus Saves We Have a Promise for the Present

 Scrooge couldn’t change the past, what was done was done, but he had the power to change the present and ultimately change his future.

You can’t start over in your life but you can start again, and forgiveness gives us that opportunity, the opportunity to begin anew with God.

 If Jesus simply forgave us our sins and then left us it would simply be the start of a vicious circle.   We would continue to live and do wrong, and when the list got long enough we’d tap into Jesus’ grace ask for forgiveness to clear the record and start over.

And it would appear that is how some people view their Christian experience, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

Paul writes in Romans 6:1  Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?   And that is a rhetorical question which he immediately follows with his answer.  NO!  Actually, he expands a little bit when he says, Romans 6:2  Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

So how do we not live in sin?  By claiming the promise.  We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:13  The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

When we accept Jesus as our saviour and accept his grace and forgiveness we are beginning a personal relationship with him, he doesn’t want you to sin, he won’t allow you to be tempted beyond what you can stand and when you are tempted to sin, ask and he will show you a way out.

You may choose not to ask or not to take that way out, but it will always be provided for you.  That is the promise.

 And that leads us to the fact that  Because Jesus Saves Us We Have An Assurance for the Future

 

Remember a few minutes ago I mentioned Romans 3:23, the fact that we are all sinners?  And then spoke about the solution, grace and forgiveness which are found in the next verse?

Later in the same book there is a statement of what happens when we have verse 23 but we don’t take the opportunity to embrace vs 24.  And again it is a two-part verse.  Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death,  and ending right there is the reality.  The consequence of sin is an eternal separation from God.  Do you remember why Jesus came?  To save us.  But what did he come to save us from?  From our sins?  But why?  Because the consequences of our sinful nature is spiritual death, eternal separation from God and all that is good.

But the verse doesn’t end with the wages of sin, it continues to say,  but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

One of Jesus’ best friends, John, who spent three years listening to Jesus preach, watching Jesus perform miracles, who was there when Jesus died and was one of the first at the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead would write to the early church telling them, 1 John 5:13  I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

And what is the name of the Son of God?  Jesus.  God Saves.

In the Christmas Carol, Scrooge became a different person, this Christmas by accepting the gift of Salvation you can become a new person, with forgiveness over the sins of the past, power over the sins of the present and the promise of an eternity with God.

Jesus came to save his people from their sins.  That is the gift of Christmas and like any other gift, it’s up to you to accept it.

 

 

 

Maybe this is the year

Well, a new year is upon us.  2017 is now nothing but a memory and 2018 is stretched out ready for us to make our mark.  Got any plans for the new year?   Are you planning on starting some new habits or ditching some old ones?   2018 could be the year to do it.

As we come to the end of the year, the thought came to me, “This could be the year the Lord returns.”

There was a time that event was seen as imminent, the thought and hope in believer’s hearts and minds was “perhaps today.”  I wonder if we’ve gotten too comfortable in this old world?   I wonder if we’ve lost the desire to dance on streets that are golden and are content to trudge along on streets that are asphalt?

I am in no way advocating that believers not prepare and plan for the future.  I’m just saying, He said He would be back, and He will be back.

His return is not a myth or a maybe, it is a promise and it is a certainty.

I trust that 2018 will be a great year for each of you.  And may you be able to say as did the early Christians, “Maranatha”.  Which means “Come O Lord”!

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

 

 

Come on Ring those Bells

I guess I’ve done it enough now that it’s become a tradition. This week I volunteered with the Salvation Army to tend a kettle in the mall.

I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get a bell, so I downloaded an app for my smart phone. What says Christmas like a bearded fat man, wearing a Santa hat, shaking a phone next to a kettle?

And it was an interesting evening. I was surprised at those who wouldn’t meet my eyes, although maybe that had to do with the phone and Santa hat.

I noticed that the majority of those who gave were over forty or under fourteen. Interesting. The gifts ranged from a few cents to a twenty-dollar bill and for a number of people it wasn’t the first time this year they had put money in a kettle.

And there were a couple of highlights: The little girl who called me Santa, (her mother wasn’t sure if she should be embarrassed or not), and then there was an obviously Muslim couple, (she wore a hajib), who wished me a Happy Christmas and a number of people thanked me for the work that the Salvation Army does in the community.

Overall a good evening and a tradition that I hope to keep in Christmas. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Happy Birthday

Is it my imagination or are there more Christmas lights up this year then there were last year? Angela and I were commenting on it the other night and it seems like every street is trying to out-do the other, at least in Kingswood. The displays range from the understated and tasteful to the “oh my goodness, how do they pay their power bill?”

Everywhere we go there are lights: red lights, green lights, blue lights and clear lights. And then there are all the inflatable Santas and Penguins. (Seriously, I get Santa but what’s with the penguins?)

Now I don’t know all the reasons people decorate their homes for Christmas, other than the obvious one that has to do with wives and children asking, “When are you putting the lights up, huh?”

But the other night as I was driving down Kingwood in awe of the work that people had put into decorating their homes, it dawned on me that whatever the reasons for the lights, the result was that my neighbours had decorated for Jesus’ birthday.

It’s like candles on a cake or banners from the ceilings. The people of Kingswood and beyond are shouting out “Happy Birthday Jesus” with their displays of Christmas lights.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

Chance or Choice

This year is the hundredth anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, but I’m sure most of you knew that.  And you probably knew that it was the largest man-made explosion until the explosion of the atomic bomb.  The Halifax explosion has defined our city for the past century.  And I knew all those things but what I didn’t know, until just recently, was that my great-grandfather was here when it happened.

My mother’s grandfather was a young sailor from Estonia who jumped ship in Halifax to start a new life, but he wasn’t counting on being a part of history.  Family folklore says that he was behind Citadel Hill when the two ships collided and because of that he escaped the force of the blast.

More than 1900 people died that day, but Pritu Rahnell did not, and because of that, I’m writing this today.

It was by choice that Pritu jumped ship in Halifax and it was by chance he was protected from the blast of the explosion.

Each of our lives will be shaped by choice and by chance.  We really can’t do much about the chance, but we are the author of our choices. So instead of complaining about chance, we need to do our best with our choices. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

A Reflection of Change

I’m really not fond of change, I don’t like carrying it around in my pockets, I find it bulky an d uncomfortable, so I have a jar on my dresser that I dump all my change in so I don’t have to carry it.  And come vacation time I will roll it and take it to the bank and turn it into real money.

But that isn’t the only type of change I’m uncomfortable with, I sometimes push back when things in my life change.  It seemed to be easier when I was younger, but the older I get the more entrenched I seem to get, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

It was 1991 and I was reading Robert Kregel’s book “If It Ain’t Broke, Break it” and I came across a quote that explained a lot about human nature, Kregle writes,  “The only people who like change are busy cashiers and babies with wet diapers.”

And most of us can identify with that, change can be tough. And while some embrace change, most people aren’t completely comfortable with change, that’ why the status quo is so . . . status quo.

But it was Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister of England said “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”

Two thousand years ago an event happened that changed everything.    And that event was the birth of Jesus.

Ultimately It would change time, It would change nations and It would change history.

I’ve spoken of this before, as a matter of fact a few years ago I did an entire series on the difference that Jesus made in the world.

Think about it, when we speak of any event in the course of history in any nation we define it with the letter B.C. before the birth of Christ, or A. D.  Anno Domini, or in English In the Year of the Lord.

It wasn’t always that way, time was usually divided by who the ruler was at the time.

If we had of read the Christmas story from the book of Luke it begins with these words: Luke 2:1  At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.

So we are told that the birth of Jesus was originally dated by the fact that most of the known world was ruled by Caesar Augustus and today we know that Augustus died in 14.

14 What?  14, the Year of the Lord.  We are told that 33 years later Jesus was crucified under the authority of Caesar Tiberius.

Tiberius died in 37, the year of our Lord.   And so, for the past 2000 years history has been divided into two sections those things that happened before Jesus was born and those things that happened after Jesus was born.

The birth of Jesus would change the way society thought and treated the sick, the poor, the orphans and women.  And while today it seems it cool and hip to criticize the church remember it was His church that would be the catalyst to start hospitals and universities, orphanages and schools.  His church was at the forefront of stopping slavery and fighting for women’s rights.

And yet it had the humblest of beginnings.  There wasn’t one person who was there that first Christmas that could have imagined the changes that event would have on the world.

But before the world was changed, 2 individual lives were changed.

This is week one of our Christmas series “Reflections of Christmas” and each week a different staff member is going to take a look at these 7 verses of the Christmas story, and reflect on what it means to them.

The main players that day were a young lady named Mary and her husband Joseph, and long before the birth of Christ changed the world, it changed their world.

And we know the story, we’ve heard it told over and over again until the wonder has gone and it has become as mundane as a Christmas card.  But it was anything but ordinary.  Listen again to how the story begins:  Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Did you catch that “While she was still a virgin, she became pregnant. . .”  That’s not the way it normally happens, and in Luke’s account when the angel Gabriel visits Mary with the news that she is going to have a son she makes this statement Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”  There was no hesitation, she knew there was only one way to make a baby and she knew that that hadn’t happened.  “Hold on guy, there’s a small problem here and that is that I have never been with a man.”  She was saying that she was a virgin.

And there are those out there who this time of year would say that the virgin birth is impossible, and there are even preachers who would say that the virgin birth isn’t important.

But while it might be impossible, and I don’t try to argue that, even the angel Gabriel didn’t argue that point, he simply put it to rest in Luke 1:37 when he said Luke 1:37 For nothing is impossible with God.”

So while it is impossible, at least in the natural scheme of things, it is of the utmost importance.  This is the human birth of God’s son, shouldn’t it be special.  He was conceived outside the laws of nature, not because the ordinary way was wrong but because it was ordinary.

It’s amazing how many people can accept the resurrection but have problems with the virgin birth.  You know, if you can accept the resurrection of Christ, you should be able to accept the virgin birth of Christ.

And ultimately if you don’t believe in the resurrection, then it really doesn’t matter if you accept the virgin birth or not. After all, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.  In other words, if there was no resurrection you are backing the wrong horse.

And if she wasn’t a virgin then who was Jesus father?  Joseph?  I don’t think so after all Joseph was a wee bit upset when he found out that his fiancé was pregnant. And if it wasn’t Joseph, do you really think that God would send his son to be born through immorality, conceived through adultery and betrayal.

You have to understand the entire Jewish tradition of engagement; Mary and Joseph were in what was called the Betrothal period of their relationship.  In that particular culture, most marriages were arranged by the families back when the participants were only children.  The philosophy was that marriage was far too serious of an endeavour to be left to the dictates of the human heart.

And the last part of the engagement was the Betrothal, and it lasted for one year and was absolutely binding, the participants were considered husband and wife in all matters except they didn’t live together and the marriage hadn’t been consummated.  The betrothal could only be broken through the formal proceedings of divorce and then only if one of the parties had been unfaithful.  Which is what Joseph planned on doing in Matthew 1:19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

Now that may seem a little harsh but at this point in Mary and Joseph’s relationship, Mary would have been legally committing adultery.  The other option under Jewish law was that he could have had her stoned.

I’m sure that Joseph felt more than a little betrayed at this point.  But he too was visited by an Angel, and you thought your Christmas was busy.  Listen to what happened in Matthew 1:20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Just think about it, one day life was normal for Mary and Joseph and then everything changed.  They were happily planning a wedding and a life together, and then it was almost as if someone had thrown a switch that changed everything.

So, how was that first Christmas a defining moment for Mary and Joseph?  Besides the obvious, that they had become parents.  And I think most of us who are parents would agree that becoming parents is life-changing, especially when it wasn’t expected.  And this definitely wasn’t expected.

So let’s go back to the beginning of the story: Matthew 1:18  This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think the first way that things Changed for Mary and Joseph was that Christmas Changed How Other’s Saw Them  If you are familiar with the story of Christmas you know that it begins not in Bethlehem but over a hundred km away in an obscure village called Nazareth.  And by obscure I mean it really wasn’t much.

Frank Zindler, editor of American Atheist Magazine claims that  Nazareth didn’t exist when Jesus was born, that evidence suggests that it was established 40 years after the death of Jesus.  Seriously?  I think that maybe the editor of the American Atheist may have an agenda here.

Even if archaeologists only discovered newspapers dated from July 3, 74 it wouldn’t offer empirical proof that there weren’t earlier newspapers that no longer existed.  If at some future date archaeologists studying Hammonds Plains only discovered dated material from the early 1800’s would that mean that Hammonds Plains didn’t exist in 1789, or would it mean that they missed something?

A few years ago, CTV News at Five did a fascinating special called “A Road Less Travelled” and it looked at villages that had once been thriving communities in the Maritimes that no longer exist.  Even some folks who live in proximity to the ghost towns were unfamiliar with them.

Nazareth is mentioned time and time again in the New Testament and Jesus is referred to numerous times as “Jesus of Nazareth”.   But it seems to have been a small village, with little or nothing to call attention to itself, until a young couple became parents to the one who would change the world.

Even Jesus’ contemporaries weren’t that impressed with the community.  Let’s eavesdrop in on a conversation recorded in the Gospel of John:  John 1:45-46 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.   Nazareth certainly hadn’t seemed to make much of an impression on Nathanael.

Now I’ve said all that to say this, Mary and Joseph came from a small community and there are no secrets in small communities.  When the Angel came to Mary he told her in Luke 1:30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God!”  Mary was probably known in the community as a “Good Girl”.  And she was engaged, not married but engaged to Joseph who is described in the bible as a good man.

And good people are annoying to bad people, because they are good because their goodness is a reminder of what others could be if they wanted to.

And then all of a sudden, the good girl was pregnant, and she was still engaged but not married.  And you can imagine how people’s opinions of Mary and Joseph changed, and what was said about them behind their backs.  And even if they tried to explain who would believe them?

There will be times in your life when doing the right thing and following God’s will for your life will change the perception people have of you.  And Jesus knew that, he doesn’t sugar coat it, in fact he was pretty upfront about it.  In Matthew 5:11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.”

Jesus didn’t say “. . .If people lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.”  He said  “. . .when people lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.”

When you choose to follow the one who was born on that first Christmas, people’s perceptions about you will change.  And not always in a bad way.  Even though popular opinion in Nazareth may have cast Joseph in an unfavourable light for a while that opinion ultimately changed.

For millions of people, over the next two thousand years, Joseph the Carpenter would be thought of as Saint Joseph and would have hospitals, universities and cities named after him.

According to The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that’s a mouthful, the Spanish version of his name, San Jose, is the most common place name in the world.   And Joseph’s wife would be known as Saint Mary, the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Mother and would cause countless debates through the years.

And because we serve Jesus, people will form opinions about us, sometimes for the good and sometimes not.  And either way, understand that your purpose in life is not to conform to the opinions of others.

Author Lawana Blackwell writes “Patterning your life around other’s opinions is nothing more than slavery.”

Ultimately you need to remember that you play to an audience of One.  And that One is God.  You may not be able to avoid the negative perceptions of others but you don’t have to accept them, you don’t need to make them a reality.

The second thing that happened for Mary and Joseph was the first Christmas Changed How They Saw Themselves This often happens when the first child is born, suddenly Mary and Joseph became Mommy and Daddy and they began thinking of themselves differently than they had.  And that’s not uncommon.  A part of you is a part of them and the other way around.

But more than that was the affirmation that Mary and Joseph received from God.  We need people to speak good into our lives, people who will tell us that they believe in us and that we are awesome.  And often the people who have the most influence with that are our parents and ourselves.  And you can’t control one but you can most certainly control the other.   Self-talk can be incredibly helpful or incredibly dangerous.  Depends on what we are saying to ourselves.

Sidney Madwed was spot on when he wrote “Our subconscious minds have no sense of humour, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives.”

But what we tell ourselves about ourselves is usually defined by what others tell us about ourselves.  It takes someone special who can rise above being constantly put down and belittled.  You can do it, but it is tough.  It’s a lot easier when those you love speak encouragement into your life.

So you can imagine the positive impact on Mary and Joseph’s life to hear the angel talk about how they had found favour with God.  That’s pretty special.  We are talking God, God who spoke everything into being, God who created the universe, God who shaped and moulded us into what and who we are.

But more than that, they had been affirmed not just through words but through action, God not only spoke into their lives declaring them righteous but he said “I believe in you so much I’m going to entrust my one and only son to you.

You understand that the same God who spoke favour into the lives of Mary and Joseph speaks favour into our lives every day.  He loves you so much he sacrificed his one and only son for you.  Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people.

Four years ago, I had a chance to meet with our sponsored child in Peru and Arianna’s Grandmother told me several times “Thank you for choosing my granddaughter”.

God chose you.  You aren’t a mistake or an accident or an oops, you are a wonderful beautiful chosen one.  Do you believe that?  Can you believe that?  Galatians 4:5 God sent him (Jesus) to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law so that he could adopt us as his very own children.

When we realize just how much God loves us it will change the perception we have of ourselves.  Think of the words that are used in the bible to describe you, Chosen, Loved, Adopted, Redeemed, favoured, special.  That’s what God Almighty thinks of you.

The third thing that happened for Mary and Joseph was the first Christmas Changed Their Priorities This is the reality for most of us when we have children.  It changes how we socialize and it changes how we budget, or at least it should.  Our purpose goes from being “Me” centred to being “We” centred.

It’s amazing how things that were so important before you become parents take a back seat after you become parents, things like a full night’s sleep or eating the last slice of pizza.

But it really had to go beyond that, Mary didn’t find out she was pregnant by a pregnancy test she bought at Dollarama, an Angel came and told her.  And then he outlined who the child was that she was carrying and what he would accomplish, Listen again to the announcement of the angel in Luke 1:30-33 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

A very similar announcement came to Joseph,  Matthew 1:20-21 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Gabriel should have ended his announcement by saying, “No pressure.”  Kind of like someone handing you a package and saying “This contains an ancient and incredibly valuable Ming Dynasty vase.  It is very fragile and worth well over a million dollars.  Oh, by the way, don’t drop it.”

And so, God entrusted his son to this young couple to raise as their own.  In a time when the childhood mortality rates would have been very high, in a land occupied by a foreign army, ruled by ruthless men, they were to keep Jesus safe and healthy.  And they were to raise him in a Godly home to know and love his heavenly father, no pressure.  Don’t drop it.

And they didn’t.  We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ childhood, but we get a snippet in Luke 2:40 There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was on him.

And then the next time we see them, they have their son at the Temple.  You see their responsibility with the son of God is the same as our responsibility when we are given children.  They were to keep him safe and bring him up in the ways of God

As children of God, our priorities need to be different than they were before we became children of God. Christmas should help define who we are, children of God, chosen and adopted.

Our priorities should no longer be “me” centred but instead should be “we” centred, embracing God and what his will is for our lives, being a part of God’s family and loving the world the way that God loves the world.

If Christmas hasn’t changed your life, it can.