Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rejoicing in the Present by Marcia Lee Laycock

It's almost the end of November, we have lots of snow on the ground and the temperatures are telling us it's definitely winter. Some of my neighbours turned on their Christmas lights this week and a friend emailed to say she had put her tree up. We're planning the Christmas program and dinner at our church and we've even starting singing the carols. It all makes me smile. It's a little early for me to turn the outdoor lights on or put the tree up, but I am looking forward to Christmas. Looking forward to the bright decorations, to having my family around a table laden with good food, to the laughter and perhaps even tears as we open presents.

Traditionally Christmas is a time to look back, far back, to a day over two thousand years ago, when a tiny baby was born in a village in the Middle East. But, because of who that child was, it is also a time to look forward and a time to ponder the present. That child, Jesus Christ, was God's present to us, a child who was to change the course of future history, not just for a space of time on this earth, but eternally in that mysterious place called heaven. Because of Jesus, heaven would be populated with humanity, those who would accept Him as their Saviour and the Son of God.

But I'm also trying to practise the 'present' of Christmas in another way - taking time to pause and enjoy all the moments, all that comes with this season - the music that tells the story in public places, the lights that proclaim His glory on the streets, the bustle of shoppers on a city street that speak of the spirit of giving and grace.

I'm also practising the 'present' of Christmas by taking time to pause and listen for the Saviour's voice, time to read His story from the Bible and get to know Him more. I know my present - every moment of the day - can be transcendent when I draw close to Him. I rejoice in each day He gives me, enjoying His creation, yes, even the snow and cold temperatures, His people, family, friends, even strangers, and most of all, His presence.

This Christmas I'll be looking back, looking forward and rejoicing in the present. All because of Jesus.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Home Movies and A Procession of Importance

Watching old home movies can be a hoot, especially if the amateur moviemaker was as technologically challenged as my father. We have reams of family memories on film, but you have to know the people well to figure out who they are. "Oh look, that's Mom's knee ... isn't it?" "And Ron's feet. I'm sure those are Ron's feet!"

When my parents made a trip to San Francisco, the camera went along. A few weeks later the rest of the family enjoyed seeing China Town - superimposed over an inverted Golden Gate Bridge. It was a little blurry, but no one seemed to mind.

On one occasion my father relinquished his camera to my eldest brother. He was somewhat better at capturing the significant events of our lives on film. In fact, the footage he took on the main street of our hometown, one day in the mid 1960's, could be called a classic. It's a bit bouncy, but that was because Ron was running as he filmed. It's a bit blurry, but that's because the vehicle he was filming wouldn't slow down. In spite of these disadvantages, my brother managed to capture a brief picture of Queen Elizabeth II, waving to a large crowd.

Well, okay, the film isn't really a classic, but somehow it does capture the wild enthusiasm of the people. We see them leaning forward, smiling, hands upraised, eager to dispense their praise as the procession flows by. Somehow that blurred, bouncy film makes you lean forward eagerly too, straining for a brief glimpse of that person of importance.

Such was the atmosphere surrounding the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The crowd leaned in, chanting their praise, waving their palm branches, laying them at the feet of their hero. "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they cried, "Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:1-11). If we had been among them, we would have been chanting and waving palm branches too. This was indeed a man of importance, they said, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

A few days later they crucified Him. When He rode into Jerusalem they thought He might take over the city, or set himself up as a King, or at the very least, lead a revolt. Instead, He allowed himself to be arrested. He allowed the hated Romans to beat Him and execute Him. And He did nothing to save Himself. So those who had leaned in close with praises on their lips now spat on Him and demanded his death.

If we had been among them, we probably would have done the same. But His mercy and grace is poured out on us anyway, as it was on those who were there that day. The procession Jesus led into the city looked like a triumph and His death looked like a defeat. In reality, His death was His victory. In reality, His death was our victory.

"Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Good Company

Both young men must have thought their lives were over. Taken into a country of foreigners where they were sold into slavery, they must have despaired of ever seeing their families and homelands again. They had to adapt to a new culture, learn a new language and suffer the humiliations of slavery. They must have believed God had abandoned them. But God does not abandon his people. These two young men, one who lived hundreds of years before Christ, the other hundreds of years after, would change the course of history. God gave their lives a purpose and meaning that could only have come through the struggles they endured.

Joseph, son of Jacob, father of the Hebrew nation, was responsible for saving not only the people of Egypt from starvation, but his own family, and therefore the Hebrew nation as well. And Patricius, a sixteen-year-old Briton who would become known as Patrick of Ireland, was the first to take the message of Christ to that nation, the very country where he had been enslaved.

There is another man whose life took a turn for the worse. He was in the prime of
his life. He had a huge following among common people and those of influence. It looked like he was going to take the nation by storm. But then he took his friends aside one day and told them he was going to die, and very soon. He told them be would suffer indignities and be treated like a criminal. He told them it would look like utter defeat. But God does not abandon His people. That young man’s name was Jesus.

As with the stories of Joseph and Patrick, God had a purpose for the suffering Jesus endured. It was a purpose that would change the history, not just of a nation, but of mankind. The suffering and death of Christ freed us all from slavery, slavery that was meant to separated us forever from our Father. But God’s purpose could not be thwarted. Through the death of Jesus, His will was accomplished. We were reunited with our true family, reinstated in our true country. What looked like defeat was in reality complete victory.

There are times in all our lives when it appears God has abandoned us. We see the horrors of wars and famines raging all over our world. We experience the loss of loved ones to the plagues of cancer and other diseases that seem to be out of control. We cry out at the injustices that happen every day.

But God has not abandoned us. He will bring all things to completion in His time and according to His purposes. Therefore we can stand in good company, with Joseph, Patrick and Jesus, and repeat the words of Paul, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him, for that day.” (2Timothy 1:12)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rooted in Love

The Bible college professor handed out the syllabus for the first term and I gulped as I read it. The course dealt with two books written by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians and it included choosing a chapter to memorize. A whole chapter! I started praying that God would give me the capacity to cram that much scripture into my brain and be able to get it all back out onto paper, verse numbers and punctuation included.

We had several weeks to do the assignment but I picked chapter 13 of First Corinthians and began right away. I picked it because I already knew a portion of it by heart and I figured memorizing the famous "love chapter" would be easier that some of the others. I had no idea what memorizing that portion of scripture would do to me.

At the time, I was in the middle of teaching a women's bible study on campus but after getting half way through the love chapter I seriously considered quitting. My motivation had been all wrong. I hadn't accepted the teaching assignment out of love, I had accepted it out of pride and my need for affirmation. I spoke with an older woman of God about my dilemma and she gave me wise counsel. She said that even though my motives may not have been the best, God was teaching me through the process. The challenge was to rise to the need for change, to pray for guidance and then obey.

I began to realize that the love God had poured into me the day I accepted Christ as my Saviour was not meant to stay buried in my heart. It was meant to be poured back out. That wasn't easy for me. Still isn't. Because of some of the damage that was done to my heart and soul as a young girl, I'm a bit afraid of love, afraid to receive it and to give it freely. I'm sometimes afraid it will cost too much, hurt too much.

But little by little God is helping me to trust Him enough to know that His love is patient and kind it is not easily angered. His love keeps no record of wrongs. His love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. His love never fails.

I take courage in the Apostle Paul's prayer in the book of Ephesians chapter 3, verses 17-18 -"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ."

Rooted and established in love. That's what being a Christian means because God is love. So we are rooted and established in Him. We may fail to show it, fail to do it, but that is the reality of who we are. My prayer is that as we write, as we speak, as we live our lives day to day, the love of God may not be a trickle that seeps out of us, but a torrent flowing through all we do.

Happy Valentines Day!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

No Answers - thoughts on Haiti

I’ve just finished reading this letter from a woman who was in Haiti when the earthquake hit and like many of the stories and images coming out of Haiti, it has left me stunned, weeping and asking questions.

Paramount among those crowding my mind is one thought – Why does God spare some and not others? Why did one man suddenly decided to leave his hotel for a “breath of fresh air” and stand on the other side of the street as the building collapsed, killing almost everyone inside?

Why was that bus load of Canadians held back in the airport so that they were not in the Hotel Montana when the earthquake hit?

Why was an eighteen year old girl and another man killed on a busy Canadian highway when her car suddenly flew across a median and hit another head-on, five minutes after my husband had been at that very spot?

There are no answers to those questions, nor are there answers to the many others that plague us when disasters hit, when some are slain and others saved. The lack of answers might lead some to say, “There is no God,” or “God has abandoned us all.”

But there are other voices to be heard and heeded - like the voice of the woman who was dragged from the rubble of a building singing. Singing! And telling her rescuers there is no need to fear death because God is there. God is there. And then there are the voices of the people who gathered outside the crushed ruins of their church and prayed and sang and praised. The power of such faith is mesmerizing and awe-inspiring. They silence the voices of doubt and despair. They make all the unanswerable questions moot. God is there. Faith sustains.

Yet we, as communicators of the Gospel, need to puzzle over all the unanswerable questions, we need to wrestle with them, not so that we may arrive at any wisdom from within us, but so that our wrestling might bring us to moments of faith that echo and resonate with those we are seeing on our television screens.

Tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti open doors of opportunity for those of us who have been gifted with words or music or art, because it is at these times that people look for meaning, for purpose and for beauty in the midst of the chaos. They look to us and, as the scripture says, we must be “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). We must be able to point them to Jesus, in spite of the pain.

So as we weep, as we mourn and struggle and wrestle with God, let us dig deep into the foundations of our faith and cry out, through our art, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”