Another Year

Tonight is the last night of 2010.  Some places in the world are already in the new year.  I wonder what it was like in biblical times when a year drew to a close.  What did the people do?  Did they celebrate the new year?

My family and I are thankful to God for bringing us safely through another year.  Lots of changes have taken place this year.  The biggest is that we have a new place.  Our toddler turned two in the spring.  My mother celebrated her eightieth birthday today.  80 years old!  Wow.  I am thankful to God that He blessed her with her one and only grandson.  A few minutes ago we called her and he sang “Happy birthday” to her which I knew thrilled her.  On Sunday we will be having a special supper to celebrate her birthday.  It’s a surprise.

We have seen tragedies here in Canada and around the world.  We have seen people work together to help the people in Haiti who are still struggling to get back on their feet.  I have seen the dedication and generosity of people who created mountains of toys for sick children so that they too could have a happy Christmas.  A co-worker of mine welcomed her first child last month.

Another year has come and is about to go in order to make way for the new one.  It is my hope and prayer and that of others that 2011 will bring better things.  Let your New Year’s resolutions be to spend more time in fellowship with God and mediation of His Word and with your loved ones.  Don’t let life past you by.  Enjoy one day at a time.  Take time to appreciate God’s handiwork.  Count your blessings one by one.  And as always, give God thanks.

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Words

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words (names) will never harm me.” This could not be further from the truth. Words harm. They hurt. They sting. They destroy. They can build up or tear down. They can encourage or discourage. They can heal or they can hurt.

The Bible has many things to say about words. They can be positive. “A wise teacher’s words spur students to action and emphasize important truths” (Proverbs 12:11). They wound. “What dainty morsels rumours are but they sink deep into one’s heart” (Proverbs 26:22). They stir up wrath. “A gentle answer turns away wrath but harsh words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Words can sustain you. “The sovereign Lord has given me His words of wisdom, so that I know what to say to all these weary ones” (Isaiah 50:4). They can determine destiny. Jesus said to those who discredited His power, “And I tell you this, that you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak. The words that you say now reflect your fate then; either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36, 37).

What we say reveals who we are inside. “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good words from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil words from an evil heart” (Matthew 12:35).

Jesus used His words wisely. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin went to see Him one evening. When Jesus explained to him that unless a person is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God, Nicodemus thought He was talking about physical birth. He exclaimed, “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus was talking about a different type of birth–a spiritual birth. He was talking of being born again but in the spirit. Jesus explained further but Nicodemus still didn’t get it. Jesus said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10). He did not embarrass Nicodemus by saying to him, “You call yourself a teacher and yet you cannot grasp what I am saying to you?” He chose His words carefully.

Later Jesus was talking to the woman at the well and when she admitted that she wasn’t married, He commended her saying, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” He did not put her down by saying, “You have been married five times. Now you are living with a man out of wedlock. Have you no shame?”

In both conversations, Jesus was gracious. His words were honest but tempered with love and tact. He brought things to light. He taught them about spiritual matters–being born again and the proper way to worship God.

When all is said and done, Jesus’ words had a positive effect on both of these people. Nicodemus defended Jesus to the chief priests and Pharisees. He said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” They turned on him and demanded, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.”

Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body, bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where He was crucified they laid Him in a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid (John 19:40-42).

“Now, the Jews were trying to destroy the infant church, Nicodemus came forward in its defense. No longer cautious and questioning he encouraged the faith of the disciples and used his wealth in helping to sustain the church at Jerusalem and in advancing the work of the gospel. Those who in other days had paid him reverence now scorned and persecuted him, and he became poor in this world’s goods; yet he faltered not in the defense of his faith” – Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, page 105.

After learning that Jesus was the Messiah, The Samaritan woman went and told her community “Come and meet a Man who told me everything I ever did! Can this be the Messiah?” The people went with her to see Jesus and as a result many believed in Him.

We are advised not to use foul or abusive language. Everything we say must be good and helpful, so that our words will encourage those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29). Our words should bring honor and glory to God and blessings to others.

The Nativity

On Christmas Eve there were a few movies following the birth of Christ.   As we watched them, I couldn’t help thinking about how difficult it must have been for Mary when she became pregnant while she was betrothed to Joseph at a time when a woman was stoned to death for committing adultery.  No one seemed to believe her when she told them the truth.  I wondered how they could think that someone as devout as Mary would go with another man and disgrace her family, Joseph and herself like that.  And what about what she had said about her barren cousin Elizabeth?  How could she have known that Elizabeth would have a son?

In each movie, I watched the devastation that came over Joseph when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy and assumed that she had betrayed him.  I saw the struggle he went through between doing what was required of the law and his love for her.  I watched Mary’s helplessness as she failed to convince them of her innocence.  What a terrible time for her having to deal with the reaction of her family and the neighbors to her unexplained pregnancy.  It shows that sometimes obedience to God can bring its own difficulties.

However, because of her love, devotion and obedience to God, Mary was soon exonerated–in Joseph’s eyes.  An angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20, 21).

What a relief this must have been for poor Joseph, a good and just man who did not want to disgrace Mary publicly.  He had planned to quietly break off his engagement to her.  However, God interceded and everything went according to plan.  Jesus was born and Joseph raised Him as his own.  Just as it took a special woman to give birth to the Savior, it had to take a special man to raise him.

God never said that obedience is easy or that it doesn’t bring problems.  Sometimes it does but we must trust God who always sees the big picture.  Joseph obeyed God and did not commit adultery but ended up in jail.  Things looked grim for a while but God had great plans for Joseph.  Things looked grim for Mary for a while but her situation soon improved.

I am thankful that Mary said yes to God’s plan for her life and I am thankful that Joseph did as the angel told him and took Mary as his wife.  Most of all, I am thankful that Jesus was born and is alive and well and watching over us now until the day that He will come to take us home.  AMEN.

What’s Your Gift?

A few evenings ago our toddler and I were singing Christmas songs.  The one he liked the best was “The Little Drummer Boy”, especially the “pa rum pum pum pum” part.

I never really paid attention to the lyrics until then and what stood out for me was when the little drummer boy said,

Baby Jesus, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King, pa rum pum pum pum

I didn’t realize until that moment that the song was about a poor young boy who, unable to afford a gift for the infant Jesus, plays his drum for the newborn with the Virgin Mary’s approval. The newborn seems to understand and smiles at the boy in gratitude (Wikipedia).

The little boy played his drum and the infant smiled.  Sometimes, the most precious gifts we can give God are not the expensive  or extravagant ones.  Our talents are gifts too.  The little boy used the talent God had blessed him with to glorify and honor His Son.  And it was much appreciated.

What’s your gift for Jesus this season?  Is it your talent?  Is it your time?  Is it your obedience?  Is it your love?  Give Him the gift that will put a smile on His face.


Up and About

There are two stories I read where I noticed that when Jesus healed the sick, they did one of two things–they served Him and they followed Him.  Once Jesus changed their lives, they could be held down.   They couldn’t stay still.  They had to do something.  They had to show their gratitude and indebtedness to Him for restoring them to health.

The first person who comes to mind is Peter’s mother in law.  She was suffering from a very high fever.  Just recently our toddler had a fever.  His hands were hot and he looked so listless.  He was not at all himself.  Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever left her bedridden.  Matthew wrote that she was lying sick with the fever.

I don’t know what kind of fever this was but it was very serious.  It needed the Master’s touch.  All He did was touch her hand and the fever went away.  She felt better–in fact, so much so, that she got up from the bed and served Jesus and His disciples.  She didn’t remain in bed.  Once she felt better, she was up and about taking care of the guests.  It must have given her pleasure to serve the One who made it possible for her to be active again.    When Jesus restores us the least we can do is to serve Him.  He is worthy of so much more.

When the blind beggar received his sight from Jesus he left the gate where he  used to beg for a living and followed Jesus, glorifying God.  When Jesus changes our situations and helps us to get on our feet, our automatic response should be to follow Him and glorify God.  We give up the old life, past sins and old ways for Jesus who has given us a second chance. 

When Jesus comes into your life and changes it for the better, make the choice to serve and follow Him.  It will be a choice you will never regret.

Believe in Jesus

Today I was reading about Jairus who went to Jesus to plead with Him to heal his gravely ill daughter.  Jesus was on His way to Synagogue ruler’s home when an ill woman touched the hem of His robe.   Jesus stopped to inquire who touched Him and the woman came forward.  While Jesus spoke to her, someone from Jairus’ house came and gave him the bad news.  His daughter was dead.  There was no need for Jesus to go to the house now.

Jairus’ heart must have sunk when he heard the news.  He must have thought to himself that Jesus had wasted so much time on the woman when He should have hurried home with him to help his daughter whose situation was more of an emergency.  He failed to realize that Jesus knew what He was doing and that the situation with his daughter was not hopeless because of the delay.  Perhaps Jesus used this opportunity with the woman to show what faith can accomplish.  She believed in His healing power and so she touched His robe.  And was immediately healed.  Jesus wanted her to come forward and share her testimony with those who were there.  It helps to see and hear what God has done for others because it encourages us and increases our faith.  “If He can do it for that person, He can do it for me, if I believe.”  This was a lesson for Jairus and us.  And it is when the Lord seems to be delayed, that we need to hold on more to our faith and believe with all of our hearts and might.  It is during this time that it is difficult but Jesus calls for us to hold on.

Jesus said to Jairus, “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.”  Then He went with Jairus to his home.  Jesus, Peter, James and John went inside where there were professional mourners.  Apparently this was a customary thing.  It added to the atmosphere of grief.

The weeping of these mourners soon turned into something else when Jesus said to them, “Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.”  They laughed at Him because as far as they were concerned, the little girl was dead.  They actually ridiculed Jesus.  What did Jesus do?  He chased them out of the room.  They didn’t belong there because of their unbelief.  Jairus did not need to have people like that around him when he was clinging to faith and hope.

Jesus was right.  This girl was not dead.  Her state was not like that of Lazarus who had been dead for four days.  She was in her state for a very short time.  It was a state of sleep not death.  However, only Jesus had the power and authority to wake her from this kind of sleep.  And He did.

Jairus believed in Jesus and his daughter was restored.  As the hymn says, “Only believe, only believe; All things are possible, only believe, Only believe…”  Believe in Jesus and you and your loved ones will be saved, healed and restored.  Believe in Jesus because He is able and willing to help you.  Believe in His promises because they stand.

Misusing God’s Name

“Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (Exodus 20:7).

Not only are we supposed to respect God but His name too.  When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, the prayer began with the words, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).

Too often we hear God’s name being misused.  It precedes the words “damn” or “damn it or damned.”  It is used in the same sentence as swear words.  People constantly take His name in vain.  Misusing God’s name shows lack of respect.  People call His name not because they need Him or are seeking His help.  They call His name out of frustration, shock and in conversation.   Countless times, I have heard people exclaim, “Oh my God, I love your hair.”  Or “Oh my God, this chicken tastes so good.”

Jesus taught His disciples and us that we are to hallow God’s name.  We are to make it holy.  We are to bless His name.  In his psalms, David encouraged us to do the same.  “Sing to the Lord, praise his name; ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (Psalm 96:2, 8); “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!” (Psalm 103:1);  “My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh shall bless His holy name forever and ever” (Psalm 145:21).

We should praise, bless and glorify God’s name.  The only time we use His name is when we are offering up praises, thanksgiving, petitions or when we are telling others about Him.  We should always refrain from calling the Lord’s name in vain.

A Gentile Shows Her Faith

Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

But He answered her not a word.

And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”

But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour (Matthew 15:21-28; Isaiah 49:6).

This is an interesting story.  The woman of Canaan believed that Jesus could heal her daughter and that was why she came to Him for help.  At first Jesus doesn’t answer her, which seems quite uncharacteristic for Him.  The disciples wanted him to send her away because she was pestering them with her cries.  Jesus said to them, that He was sent to help the Jews.  The woman, persistent, was crying out to Him again.  This time Jesus answered her.  He told her that it was not good to take bread from children and give it to the dogs.  In other words, it was not good to take what belonged to the Jews and give it to an non-Jew.  This remark didn’t phase the woman.  She told Jesus that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.  So, He could spare her a little of what the people of Israel had.

Her persistence paid off.  Jesus commended her on her faith and granted her the desire of her heart.  He healed her daughter.

Jesus wasn’t being unkind to the woman.  He was illustrating how wrong it was to ignore a person’s cries for help because they were different.  The woman was a gentile, whom the Jews had low regard for—they referred to Gentiles as dogs, which is why Jesus used the term.  He wanted to show how salvation should be everyone not just for the Jews even though it given to them first.  It was not exclusive to them.  The children referred to the Jews and the dogs referred to the Gentiles.  The salvation that goes to the Jews should go to the Gentiles, hence the crumbs falling from the plate and going to the dogs.  Jesus went to heal the sick.  Here He was fulfilling these words, “And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.'”

Like the disciples, it is not up to us who should be saved and who should not be.  God’s grace is for everyone.  Jesus wanted to teach the disciples and us this very important lesson.  So, when someone who doesn’t look right comes into our church and cries out to Jesus, we are not to say to the elders or deacons, “Send her away.  She’s disrupting the service.”  Instead, we should allow her to receive what we have—God’s grace.  Don’t be selfish, share what’s on your plate with somebody who desperately needs it like the mother who kept behind Jesus until she got what she wanted.

God’s Mercies

Some time ago this hymn kept playing in my mind:

I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever:
I will sing, I will sing
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever:
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD.

With my mouth will I make known
Thy faithfulness, Thy faithfulness
With my mouth will I make known
Thy faithfulness to all generations.

I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever:
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD.

I think God wants us to reflect on His many mercies.  We should sing of His mercies.  God has been so merciful to us.  Each day we see new mercies.  Each day we wake up feeling well, that’s God blessing us with good health.  Each day we get up to go to work that’s God blessing us with employment so that we can have food on our tables and roofs over our heads.  Each time we arrive at our destination safely that’s God watching over us.

God’s faithfulness and mercy go hand in hand.  He had mercy on Hannah.  Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord.  And she made this vow: “O Lord Almighty, if you will look down upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”

The Bible says the Lord remembered her request, and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I asked the Lord for him” (1 Samuel 1:10, 11, 19, 20).

Whenever we are hurting, God is faithful.  He comforts us every time.  It’s His nature.  He cannot stand by and watch us suffer.  His mercy is great.  It is everlasting.  For this reason, we can say to Him, But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; For You have been my defense And refuge in the day of my trouble.  To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises; For God is my defense, My God of mercy” (Psalm 59:16, 17).

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