Even though December may get a little cold, the Christmas season warms our hearts. This time of the year is special to me because since I was small, no matter where my sister and I were going to school, we always spent Christmas at home with family. We ate together, unwrapped gifts (on Christmas Eve, as most Europeans do) and just spent time together as a family. I’m sure that many of you are busy winding down your work and or school, but I do hope you have a great Christmas holiday to look forward to – whatever your tradition is. Tomorrow morning, our members have prepared a very special program about the Christmas story. Even though we don’t believe Jesus was actually born on December 25th, it is a time of year when we can remember that Jesus came as a baby, lived here among us, and became the greatest gift of all, and my hope is that we learn something new that will inspire and challenge us. Many blessings and we can’t wait to give a big welcome to all.”
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One of the news headlines I was following this week was the fires that are raging in California. As of writing this post, there are still 563 people unaccounted for and 83 confirmed deaths as a result of these fires. Some things that struck me was, first, this is the weekend Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. Second, many of the people that lost their homes are the Hollywood superstar actors and actresses with multi-million dollar homes. Third, this is also Black Friday weekend where people rush and sometimes step over others to get the best deals at their favourite stores. Isn’t it interesting that while some Americans will be running to the stores this weekend to get that flat screen TV, others are running for their lives from the fires? What an ironic picture. We have so much to be thankful for, but what if everything you owned burned to the ground, could you still be thankful in a time like that? A devotional thought came to my mind as I was thinking about this. In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus reminds us not to focus on creating wealth and comfort for ourselves here on earth where things corrode and break down, but to focus on the glory that’s to come. Let’s make sure we have a grateful attitude all year round not just one day a year, after all, everything can be taken away in the blink of an eye, but that doesn’t compare to the riches in store for those that love the Lord.
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Earlier this week was a short-lived white carpet. One person said, “Ole man winter is coming!” To which someone else grumbled, “it’s too soon,” and another pipped up, “I’m not ready!” Negative attitude from others affects our own approach to thinking. Do we know people who criticize, complain, murmur, or whine? When we boil it down, negativity is just discontentment and (in some cases) envy. But underneath that discontentment and envy is an even deeper issue – we’ve got a problem with God. We’re mad at God because we think He was better to someone else than He was to us. Jesus told a parable about a story of a farmer in Matthew 20 who was hiring workers. We may think, when we look at our life, that we are getting justice while someone else is getting all the grace. But before we start any negativity, first let’s thank God for our blessings. The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in every circumstance… for this is the will of God…” How much better to say, “I don’t like this situation I am in, but I thank you God for the good things that will come out of it. I will praise you through it, in it, and ever after it!”
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Have you ever considered how we are all so very different from other, as a congregation? We have different backgrounds, are different colours, have different shapes, study different subjects or do different jobs, and have different behaviours! Or, considering this on a smaller scale, have you ever met a couple that is vastly different from one another – two people from different countries, with different cultures, having different personalities, being of different sizes, and even speaking different languages! Have you ever thought to yourself, what do commonalities, compatibilities, and culture have to do with our life, who we interact with, and how we become “friends” with others? Sometimes what we see on the surface – our initial perception of “unlikely” – may be skewed by our own bias. But if we contemplate what it would be like if we were all the same (a carbon copy of each other), we would soon realize how incredibly boring would that be! The truth is we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and we are uniquely created so marvellously (Psalm 139:13-14). Perhaps one of our tasks in life is seeing the unique and special gifts, qualities, and characteristics in each other, and appreciating and affirming them… doing so would not only help us get along, but it might even be the remedy for a healthy relationship! Our differences do not mean things cannot work out or won’t be a good thing… for it is usually those differences that make all the difference!
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After some cooler weather earlier this month, we’ve been blessed with a few warm days this past week, but this summer-like weather is almost over. We had a lot of rain this last while, and there is more we are expecting. I often think, what would the earth be like if there was only sunshine and no rain? We all wish for sunshine all the days of our lives, but sometimes the dark clouds, overcast canopies, fog-enshrouded days, and rain drenches us. Why do we need such storms and unpleasant weather in our lives? Why not keep it all sunny and bright? Well, the changing weather helps us to adjust our perspective. God allows the rain, the sun, the snow, and the droughts to teach us about ourselves, about life, and about Him. A Chinese proverb that states, “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a person perfected without trials.” Whatever we go through, are going through, and will go through, God promises that He will be with us (Matthew 28:20) and that all things “work together for our good, to those that love God…” (Romans 8:28). God has a purpose for every problem, a blessing in every burden, and an opportunity in every obstacle. We should attempt to appreciate and discover the beauty, blessing, and lesson in each weather pattern, season, or changing forecast. The good news is that God has the best forecast of our future, to give us success, to prosper us, and to do us no harm (Jeremiah 29:13). God keeps us in His care, sovereign will, and arms of safety and love. Live, learn, laugh, and love and go with God as He goes with you!
How thankful are you right now in your life? We may not be able to measure our gratitude on a scale, but thankfulness is not just a moment… it’s a way of thinking, attitude, and even lifestyle. One pastor even refers to it as, “Thanksliving!” We are reminded in God’s word: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Written over a century ago, Professor James Denney of Scotland called these three commands “the standing orders of the gospel.” They are “standing orders” because they always apply to everyChristian in all situations. The Greek makes this very clear because these imperatives are all in the present tense, translating as “continually rejoice, continually pray, and continually give thanks.” A great challenge, isn’t it? After all, we would have no problem if the text said, “Rejoice sometimes” or “Pray occasionally” or “Give thanks when you feel like it.” About this text, R. Pritchard writes, “This suggests that the real impact of the gospel will be seen when we don’t feel joyful, when we don’t want to pray, and when we can’t think of a reason to be thankful.” We have come to the point where when we see things, go through challenges of life, and encounter changes of life, but our attitude and approach should move from complaining to contentment and from grumbling to gratefulness. Where are you on the gratitude scale? If you can find at least one thing to be thankful for every day, that will be one less thing to worry about, and one more reason to live life with resonance!
Just this past week, we officially transitioned into autumn! Are you ready for change? Recently, Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on the Eastern USA coast, in States such as North and South Carolina. Residents there have been through many a storm and storm warnings. Storms are a part of life. Someone has said that we are either coming out of a storm, currently in a storm, or will be going into a storm shortly. The question is: where are we right now? No one is exempt from the storms of life. But just as the disciples who initially feared the storm later came to revere Christ more, so the storms we face can bring us to a deeper knowledge of God. “’Who is this,’ the disciples pondered, ‘even the wind and the waves obey him!’” (Matthew 8:27). Through our trials we can learn that no storm is big enough to prevent God from accomplishing His will (Mark 5:1). Big storms can roll in fast, suddenly turning blue sky days dark with worry. It can happen with one brief conversation, a diagnosis, an accident, or some other life-altering occurrence. And we’re left, with swirling thoughts, wondering how we didn’t even see it coming. It often hits us hard, leaving us flat. We can’t stop the storms from happening, but we can know where to run… for cover. While we may not understand why God allows trials to enter our lives, we can thank Him that through them we can come to know who He is. We live to serve Him because He has preserved our lives. The storms of life prove the strength of our Anchor.
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