2012 Review In Pictures

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Looking Back At 2012

So much has happened for us in this past year.  There just are not enough words to tell all the stories and to convey our joy over what God has been doing in our lives as a family and through our lives in this work of Bible translation.  Let me share a few pictures with you then to try to capture the highlights of 2012.

Translation Checking in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea

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Working with a team of national men from Papua New Guinea in January along with their missionary translator, a good friend of ours who is also a Canadian.

Glen Graduating From Basic Training With Canadian Army

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After four months of Army Boot Camp, Glen graduated in February 2012.  He was one of three recruits chosen to march in the flags, and he had the honor of carrying in the Canadian flag.

Translation Checking in the Lowlands of Papua New Guinea

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Most of March and April, Norm worked in Madang where our field office is for Pioneer Bible Translators.  He worked with national men from two language groups and checked the books of the Gospel of John and the book of Daniel.

Home in Calgary Enjoying a Canadian Summer

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In June, our family celebrated Jill’s birthday (with Glen’s picture in the background); Norm enjoying freedom on his electric scooter; and visiting the Calgary Stampede in July.

Visiting and Preaching in Prince Edward Island

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After being away for three years, we visited three churches in PEI and Nova Scotia to tell about the great things God is doing through the work of Bible translation.  On an off day, we would go spend a day together on the red sandy beaches and cold Atlantic waters.

Together Again

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We were thrilled when Glen was able to come home for two weeks in September.  We had our family together, including a special meal time with my mother, and my brother and his wife.

Time in Dallas and Illinois

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For the benefit of my health, and to work on translation projects, I was going to be in Dallas for two months away from Jill.  We were able to have a short holiday of fun before I headed south to work at the center where our International office is for PBT.  In the middle of this, a trip came together to visit four of our supporting churches in Illinois.

Home For Christmas

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Christmas with family.

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Happy Birthday Jesus!

Celebrating Christmas With Family

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Family Christmas 2012

It is quite natural for family members to get together and celebrate Christmas together.  And yet, we hear of so many families that are not able to do this either because of certain family dynamics, or simply because so many people are mobile and spread out to live in places that are far away from each other.

Less than two weeks ago, our family was spread out between Alberta, Ontario and Texas.  So I realize what a blessing it has been for all of us to be able to come together here in Calgary to be with each other.  It was so wonderful to come home on the 18th and be with my family after being away for two months.  And seeing the decorated tree encouraged my heart to know we had entered into the Christmas season.

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This particular Christmas tree has special meaning for us. When we were in Papua New Guinea years ago, a church in America sent this artificial tree to us so that we could have a Christmas tree in the village way out in the jungles of PNG.  We decorated up the tree in the front lobby area of our house so children in the village could see it, and it became quite the center piece for many discussions with the people and the children.

We had kept many of our special ornaments with us that reminded us of previous Christmas times together.  What a treat though, for us to have a tree from back home to be able to hang all our special decorations.  And of course, as many parents do, we stayed up late on Christmas Eve to wrap up presents to surprise our boys the next morning.

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Even with all the gifts that seemed to multiply around the tree each year, we still made sure we had taught our boys the true message of Christmas, of Jesus who was born as a baby, but who would one day die for us and be raised as our Lord and Savior.  We always tried to have special gifts for each other which we names as our “gold, frankincense and myrrh” gifts.

Now that our boys are young men (one is married and one is in the Canadian Army), we tend to buy less and less gifts and put the emphasis more on the message of Christmas and just being together.  It was still nice to give gifts to each other, (for the very spirit of Christmas is that of giving), and it’s amazing to see how creative we can all be after we said, “Let’s not spend much on gifts this year.”

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One thing we got this year to add to our Christmas tree was a special ornament.  We had found this beautiful ornament of the nativity scene, placed within a small hand-crafted gourd.  It has the family scene of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus, who are surrounded by the shepherds and the stable animals.

Just about any nativity scene touches my heart.  But when we saw this scene carved and placed within the little painted gourd, it reminded us of the fact that Jesus came to earth for men and women of every culture.  And gourds are something that we would associate with tropical countries, like that of Papua New Guinea, where this Christmas story needs to be shared with all the people who live on that tropical jungle island.

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And that brings me back to my first thought, of how special it is to celebrate Christmas with one’s family.  I am so thankful that I was able to return from my time down in Texas, and that our son in the military was able to get three weeks off for the Christmas break to come home to be with us.

We never know in this life when we will all be able to be together like this, now that we are all adults and leading very diverse lives.  We have a very short time together, but we are trying to make the very most of these few weeks.  It is my prayer that you too have been able to be reunited with family members this Christmas.  And I pray that Jesus is the center of your family, just as He is the center of ours.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS, AND MAY YOU HAVE A BLESSED AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The Christmas Story Is Needed In Africa

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Light of the World

Do you ever imagine what it would have been like to be there when Jesus was born? What would it have been like to hear Gabriel explain to Mary what was going to happen to her; to hear Joseph explain what the angel told him in his dreams; to be with the shepherds in the field? What would it have been like to know that the Messiah was coming, but not know how or when? It’s hard for us to imagine since most of us were born into a world where Jesus came a long time ago.

It is not nearly as hard to imagine if you live where we live in Africa. The “world” our neighbors live in is essentially a pre-Jesus world. One could say the Light of the World has not been seen here yet. The evidence is everywhere…

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I just talked to a neighbor on my porch. He came with his toddler son. I could see amulets on the child, to protect him from the spirits or jinn. All the children here wear them. A “powerful” one can cost as much as enough rice to feed a family for a month. But because they are afraid, they find the money somehow. I wonder what they think when they see our children not wearing them.

I have another friend who lives in a village nearby. One day he told me the story of how his village was founded by his great-grandfather, a man said to have the ability to see and talk to jinn. When he first came to the area and recognized its agricultural potential, he could also see the many spirits all around.

They did not want to leave, but he was able to negotiate a deal with them specific to his family and not others – a covenant sealed with the sacrifice of nine rams. As he told me the stories, I couldn’t help compare his covenant, made by his grandfather and sealed with ram’s blood, with our covenant, made by Jesus and sealed with His own blood.

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And then there is Mariama. Her father brought her to us several months ago. She was suffering from all sorts of physical ailments and couldn’t sleep due to scary voices she attributed to jinn. We prayed for her and gave her a copy of Matthew in her language. We heard no more until her father sought me out again.

He doesn’t know what to think about us Jesus-followers, but he does know the spirits don’t bother us. He had taken her to various healers, but nothing helped. She looked much worse than when we’d last seen her, utterly dominated by unclean and evil forces quite beyond her ability to resist. Her face was the picture of absolute hopelessness. I’ll never forget it.

I wonder how many like Mariama lived in Palestine before Jesus came. The Scriptures say that people were astonished to see evil spirits obey Jesus and His disciples. In their “pre-Jesus” world, did they have any idea that someday they would be delivered from darkness through the blood of the Lamb of God?

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As you celebrate Jesus coming to Bethlehem this Christmas, remember those whose eyes are not yet opened to the Light of the World and pray they come to know Him! On behalf of Pioneer Bible Translators, we thank you for your prayers and financial support.

Come quickly, Lord.

Used by permission from Pioneer Bible Translator’s monthly eNewsletter.  If you would like to receive this monthly newsletter, click on this link “PBT eNewsletter” and subscribe to it.

God Loves Ordinary People – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt 1

It has not been too long since we all enjoyed celebrating Christmas.  For many people, Christmas is a time of presents, good food and visiting with family members and relatives.  For Christians, we too enjoy all of these wonderful things, but we also celebrate Christmas as the time we remember when God came down and entered the world of men as a little baby boy in Bethlehem.

When we go to church during the Christmas season, we often wonder what new perspective the preacher may present in his “Christmas Message”.  We look forward to new musical arrangements and choir presentations at this time of year.  But one thing that we hardly ever get tired of is seeing the children of the church present once again the Christmas Story.

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In Max Lucado’s new book, “GOD’S STORY, your story”, he opens Chapter One with a wonderful description of the joy we all experience as we watch the children in their bathrobes and angel outfits tell us the story about the birth of Jesus.  But it is not just because the kids are so cute that we remain captivated by the same story we have seen year after year.

Lucado puts it this way:

They love the song, the kids, and they cherish the story.  But most of all, they cling to the hope.  The Christmas hope that God indwells the everydayness of our world.    (page 31)

When we watch the Christmas play, part of us will always be astounded by the fact that when God entered the world as a human, He did not do it with a grand fanfare.  In fact, that goes against our very nature of wanting to be recognized and to think that we are important.  And so we think, “If God was going to make an entrance, wouldn’t He do it in such a way that people would have to recognize who He was, and then be treated accordingly, like royalty?”

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But that is the very point I believe that God wanted to make by allowing Jesus to enter into humanity in such a humble way.  Jesus was born of a simple town girl in a smelly old barn and first greeted by lowly sheep herders to emphasize that Jesus is one of us.  He put aside His claims to royalty and lived a pretty ordinary life until He began His public ministry at the age of thirty.

What this means for the majority of us who live such common, ordinary lives, is that Jesus can understand us well and what we deal with in life, because that is the same kind of world that He grew up in – ordinary.  Lucado puts our hearts’ cry into these words:

Had Jesus come with such whoop-de-do, we world have read the story and thought, “My, look how Jesus entered their world.”  But since he didn’t, we can read the story and dream: “My, might Jesus be born in my world?  My everyday world?”     (page 33)

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Consider for a minute what greatness Jesus had before He became a human.  In Colossians 1:15 – 17 it says:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

In the opening words of the Gospel of John, it tells us that not only was Jesus with God, but He is God.  WOW!!  And yet He left all that to live as the son of a carpenter.  Then when He was 30 years old, He walked the dusty roads all over Palestine, hung out with outcasts and known sinners, and taught twelve of the most unlikely candidates to be His successors and the foundation of the early church.

It shames me to think that Jesus was willing to go to these lengths to share the Good News about the love of God and then to lay down his life by dying on a cross in order to make the way open for people to come back to God.  First He gave up Heaven to live among us, and then He gave up His life to save us from our sin.

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This makes me think back over all the years that I have been active in ministry myself, either as a pastor in North America, or a missionary overseas.  I do believe that I was serving the Lord out of an honest desire to help others know God and come to Him.  But I also know that my motives have not always been pure.  There have been many times when I was seeking to be noticed and to get the approval of men.

I remember what one pastor with whom I worked as an intern said to me, “What is it you are trying to prove?”   He was right.  I was not satisfied with just doing what God was asking me to do.  I wanted others to notice me.  What I forget many times is that God is not so concerns with our abilities as He is with our availability to serve Him.

In these past few years I have become much more content to simply be used by God and let Him be the one to get the glory.  Consider what Mary said when the angel announced to her that she would give birth to the Son of God.  She simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant.”  May we all be like her, and certainly like Jesus.  It is God’s domain to do the extraordinary.  That allows us to be ordinary, and still see great things be done in and through our lives by the power and the grace of the Almighty God.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

Christmas Traditions

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We Wish You a Merry Christmas…

Life seems to constantly be changing.  That is why having and keeping some traditions is important.  It helps keep a continuity and meaning to life, and certainly this is important at Christmas.  Compared to some people, we don’t have a lot of traditions.  But there are a few that we have kept that are meaningful.  And of course there is always room to start a new tradition.

It is harder now that we are all adults to coordinate our schedules to be able to complete some of our traditional activities.  We didn’t all pile into the car and drive around the neighborhood to ooh and aah at Christmas lights on houses.  It doesn’t look like we will get time to bake and decorate our sugar cookies this year.  And we haven’t watched Christmas movies each night for the week leading up to Christmas.

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There is one more tradition that we did not do this year that I want to tell you about.  It has been a very important tradition for most of the growing up years of the boys.  It’s a wonderful tradition, and I hope some of you who read this article might adopt this idea.  After I explain it, I will also tell you why we did not do it this year.

So here is what we did for many years to help make Christmas special and meaningful for our boys.  Like many others, we often found that Christmas morning would arrive and there would be a very large number of presents under the tree.  But everyone in our family knew that though there were many presents, most of which did not cost much, there would always be three specific special presents for each person.

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Following the example of the Christmas story in the Bible, we would mark three gifts to be the “gold” gift, the “frankincense” gift, and the “myrrh” gift.  Like many other children, our boys would make a “wish list” of things they hoped they might get for Christmas.  Of course there was no way we could ever buy them all the things they wanted.  But they always knew each year that they would receive one present from their list, and being as it was so special to them, it became their gold gift.

Frankincense in the Bible was a special incense that was burnt as part of the regular worship of the True God in Heaven above.  Therefore, we would give our boys some form of a spiritual present, like a Christian music CD, a devotional book, or a calendar with Scripture verses on it.  The myrrh, which was a special ointment for the body, was used as a symbol for us that it is okay to “treat” yourself at times.  So we would buy some funny toy or the latest movie DVD that they liked.

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The point for us as we traditionally sat around the Christmas tree opening presents, was to remember the first Christmas, when three wise men from the east visited baby Jesus and gave these three special gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant who is the King of Kings.  In this way, we were able to keep our Christmas from being overcome with all the pizzazz and commercialism that we face in today’s world.

But this year, we did not hold to this tradition.  Not because we no longer like it, and certainly not that we have outgrown making Christmas meaningful.  Actually, it was just the opposite for us this year.  In fact, we all had said to one another this year, “Let’s try to not have presents, and just enjoy being together for Christmas.”  (You know we almost did it, but we still snuck a few presents under the tree.)

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What we did do though I think was even more special.  And it was the first time to do this as completely as we did this year.  After we had all enjoyed our yummy Christmas dinner, we all gathered in the living room to have a sharing and praying worship time together.  Each of us would take a turn and tell what were the highlights of 2011 and what God had done for that person.  And then the person would share ideas and hopes and prayer needs regarding the upcoming year.

After the person had shared, then whoever was on the right would pray for all the things mentioned.  Following that, the person who shared would pick out a Christmas carol or two and we joined our voices in praise to God who is the Author behind the Christmas Story.  It was truly a wonderful, spirit filled evening that the six of us shared together.

This is not to say that we haven’t had similar Christmases where we ate, and sang and worshiped God together.  But this year, we were all fully adult people.  And yet like little children we opened our hearts to each other and before God as we shared, and cared and prayed and worshiped.

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I don’t think we will ever get to the point that we don’t have some presents at Christmas time.  That is so much a part of the tradition of Christmas.  But with the decrease of presents, we had to let one tradition slip away, the giving of the three special gifts.

In its place, we may have just started a brand new tradition, to focus even more on worshiping our Great God, and caring for each other in our family.  May you too also find your own way to make each and every Christmas special and have Jesus be in the center of whatever you do.

Merry Christmas!  And God bless you in the coming New Year!

Being A Follower Of Jesus

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There Is a Cost To Following Jesus

When we look in the New Testament at the topic of people becoming disciples of Jesus, He almost always talks about the cost of being a true follower.  Take a look at some of the first men whom He called to be His disciples.  Peter and Andrew, as well as James and John, were all professional fishermen who lived hard, simple lives by the shores of Lake Galilee.  Then Jesus came and asked them to follow Him.

Notice that Jesus did not say, “Put down your nets for a short time while I ask you to come and be my disciples.  Then you can go back and continue your lives as fishermen.”  No!  He was expecting them to turn their backs completely on their old ways of living and adopt a whole new vocation.  Jesus said, “Come follow Me and I will cause you to become fishers of men.”

James and John were shown how costly it would be to follow Jesus, for in that moment of decision, they left not only their nets and their boats, but they even left their father sitting in the boat.  So much for passing on the family business.

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What is very unusual is that when someone wanted to be attached  to a famous Jewish teacher (called a Rabbi), then they would humbly approach the Rabbi and ask to become a follower.  In the case of Jesus’ disciples, it was Jesus Himself who invited them to become His students and learn everything they could from Him about God the Father and about the coming Kingdom of Heaven.

In Luke 9:57 – 62 we see Jesus interacting with three potential disciples.  One man approached Jesus and said, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Looking in Matthew’s account, we find out that the man was a “teacher of the Law”, commonly known as a Scribe.  He would have been a young member of the religious group called the Pharisees.  He probably thought that if he got himself attached to Jesus, then his own fame and importance would also rise in the eyes of the people.

That would explain Jesus’ response, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no place to rest my head.”  To follow Jesus meant a person had to be willing to give up the comforts of life, and to do Kingdom work even in the most difficult social and physical environments.

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The next two inquirers did not fare any better.  One said, “Please let me go back and bury my father.  Then I will come and follow you.”  The third man simply said, “Let me go home and say goodbye.”  Look first at Jesus’ response to the third man, “No one who puts his hand to a plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.”

The picture here is that if relationships with others in this world are more important than following Jesus, then it will be hard for that person to truly make Jesus the Lord of their lives.  It is not that we should not love our families, but our love and devotion for Him must be greater than that towards our own family.

Now Jesus’ response to the second man can be difficult to understand, and some people accuse Jesus of not being very sympathetic in not letting him go and bury his father.  Jesus said, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own physical dead, but you go proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

You see, the culture then was that if a father was sick (and we have grounds to think the father was not dead), then the sons were to take care of the property and business work of their father.  So the second man was not willing to release his role on the materialism and the finances of the family inheritance.

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So what has all this to do with me and my family?  I believe that Jill, my sons and I have realized the importance of obeying Jesus, no matter what the immediate cost might be to ourselves.  These last four months have not been easy for Jill and me as we have been apart from each other, except for a few days in the middle.  But we knew God was asking me to serve Him here in Dallas, and that God was also asking Jill to “hold down the fort” and manage things at home.

For our boys, Eric was led to meet a lovely young Christian girl.  When they knew they shared the same spiritual beliefs and principles, then rather than “test it out” as so many common-law people do today, they followed the biblical injunction to leave their parents and get married and to reserve their sexuality for the marriage bed.

And finally, Glen followed the leading of God to enter into the Canadian Armed Forces (Army).  This has taken him out of our family, and placed him with some rough men, doing a tough job.  But in his words, “God wants me to be a light for Christ to the other men, and God wants to use me to help defend the defenseless people of the world.”

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But on December 15th of 2011, our schedules have worked out for all five of us to be back in Calgary for at least two weeks to celebrate the Christmas season together.  Being follower of Jesus has recently meant splitting up the family to do what we are called to do.  But the fulfillment we have in doing this work, and knowing God is always with us, makes being apart possible.  It also makes it so much sweeter when we do get to return home and share our stories of what God is doing in our lives.  I can hardly wait for December 15th to arrive.

The Blessing of Sharing

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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Active in Sharing Your Faith

Paul prayed for Philemon: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Philemon 1:6).

What in the world was the connection between being active in sharing his faith (the context of this passage is sharing faith with believers—not witnessing to unbelievers) and Philemon understanding all he had in Christ? When we share with others what Christ is doing in our lives (or when we hear others share the same with us) three things happen:

1. Our faith grows. We gain a deeper desire to love and serve the One who is doing all these powerful things. We gain more faith and experience more of Jesus Christ’s reality. We also keep our eyes open for things to share.

2. We discover more about who God is. The more we share or hear others share, the more we learn about God’s attributes. We come to know Him as our Provider, our Rock, our Comforter, our Peace-Giver, our Protector, our Strong Tower, our Deliverer. We learn exactly what Paul wanted Philemon to learn—what he had in Christ.

3. God’s blessings continue to flow. When we regularly share, thus giving glory to Jesus Christ, I believe that God works overtime in our lives. He wants to give us more to share, so we give more glory and fame to His Son. So it is a cycle. See God work; learn something about God; share it; see God work more; understand more of God’s nature.

[In light of what we have just read from this devotional thought above, take the prayer offered below and think of a fellow Christian whom you would want to be bold in their faith and so share the same knowledge and blessings that Paul wanted Philemon to experience.]

Father, please work mightily in ____________________’s situation. Reveal more of Your nature and character to her (or him). Father, I pray that ____________________ would understand all she has in Jesus Christ: the depth of His love; the comfort, power, and enablement of Your Holy Spirit. Let Your Spirit bubble up in her so it would overflow into others. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

–Taken from Praying like Paul (Learning to Pray the Kingdom for Those You Love) by Jonathan Graf

Posted 22 Aug 2011

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One of the wonderful paradoxes of the Christian faith is that the more you give it away, the more you have to give away.  Just talk to the person who prepares a Sunday sermon, or a Bible study, or a special song to be sung at church, and you will often hear them say, “I got so much more out of that myself as I studied/prepared to share what God had given to me.”  The simple fact is that when we seek to bless others, we in turn are also blessed by God, and in an abundant measure.

The Scriptures say this in Luke 6:38:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Let me put this in a way that I’m sure all of us can identify.  You know how when you buy popcorn at the theater, you bounce the bag on the counter to make it settle into the bag and there is room to put more in the bag?  Well, that is what “pressed down, shaken together and running over is all about.  God will put more back into our “generosity bag” every time we give from the heart to bless someone else.

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I know that I can testify to this biblical principle.  Perhaps one of the best examples I can think of was when I offered to hold a kind of “Bible School” in our village.  There is a long story behind this and I will share that on another post one day.  But suffice it to say that there was a spiritual crisis in our village after one of their leaders from the local Catholic Church died.

I had just been blessed in the previous summer to lead a 6-week Bible survey course in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.  So while I was saddened at the loss of a friend, I was eager to share the Bible knowledge I had with the people.  They enthusiastically agreed to let me hold a Bible training week once each month for six months to teach them what the Bible was all about.

It is hard to express in words the joy I experienced in sharing my knowledge of Scripture with the local people there.  And I was so blessed to see the spiritual vitality in so many of them come alive.  The translation work got a real boost as my national co-translators really dug into getting some Scriptures translated.  And I believe that the foundation for the current church revival that is happening may have come out of our Bible school program.

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So as we enter December and approach the Christmas season, let me ask you this question: is sharing your faith in some form a part of the presents you will be giving away this year?  But let’s not limit this just to Christmas.  Have you considered ways that you might be able to share of the blessings you have by being in Christ to be part of what you do in 2012?  For your sake, as well as for others, I hope that it will be so.

God Will Bring Us Through

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The year 2010 is almost over.  I can almost hear some people saying, “Well, we made it through another year!”  Have you heard this being spoken?  Have you perhaps said something like this?  But what is really being said in an expression like this?  I want to briefly look at this saying, and then take a look into my own life.

By saying, “Well, we made it through another year!” it makes me wonder if the people who say it doubted that it would actually happen.  It even makes it sound like they were surprised.  And I suppose in some instances, this may be a fact.  Given the bad economy that we still have around us, I believe that there are some people who do get to the end of the year and are surprised that they did survive financially.  And medically, I know there are people who thank God that they have survived physically to see the end of the year.

But what concerns me is not the people who have experienced or are experiencing a genuine crisis, be that physical, emotional, financial, or what have you.  My concern is for people who are simply trudging through life, who see the world constantly through the lens of negativity, who appear to be joylessly enduring life rather than seeing the positive and rejoicing in life, regardless of what circumstances they may be finding themselves in.

This is especially true for Christians.  Five days ago, we celebrated a Day that changed all of human history, the fact that Jesus, the very Son of God, took on flesh and was born among us.  And with that miraculous birth came the announcement of Good News for all the world.  This event of Christmas Day, coupled together by the astounding event of Easter, when Christ rose back from the dead and showed he had conquered death, and Hell, and the Devil himself, has given to us who believe a reason to hope and grounds to live each day in victory.  Upon us, the Son is always shining.  (Pun intended.)

Now let’s get practical about all this.  It would be my hope that all Christians would be filled with joy knowing that Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that one day He would die as a man and through this means offer new life to all who believe in His name.  And I’m sure all Christians all yearning for the day when Christ shall come again and make all things new, and we will live with Him forever in the new Heaven and the new Earth.  But what about all the days between, when we live our lives here on earth as mortal men and women.

I think that it is a fact of life that while we are mortal, we will worry for our lives, such as: what will we eat, where will we live, how will we live, etc.  Even though Jesus tells us through very picturesque stories that we have no need to worry.  God, he says, will take care of us and our daily needs if we will trust Him to do so.  Read Matthew 6:25-34 to see what Jesus said.  And Paul puts it this way in Philippians 4:19:

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

In principle this sounds great.  But I still hear some people saying that this kind of faith does not match the reality of life.  There is still sickness and death.  There is still poverty.  There is still emotional pain and disappointments in life that beat down this faith, and condemn us to just accept things as they are and to continue our weary trudge through life.

No my friend!  Do not accept this message which the world would preach at us.  Scripture tells us that we are “more than conquerors“.  Read Romans 8:28-39, which begins with the love of God for us, and ends with the love of God we have through Christ our Lord.  And the key verse here for me has to be in verse 28 which says that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”  The real truth is that not all things are good, as mentioned above, but rather that in everything that happens to us in live, God can bring good out of the situation.

Now believe me when I say that this is not some intellectual truth I am holding on to, but in fact, I am seeing this to be true in my own life daily.  Not everyone who reads this will know that I have been hit with a muscle disease that runs in our family genetics that severely restricts my ability to walk and causes me to experience significant pain on a daily basis.  So how do I handle this?  I take life at a much slower pace, and I look for what is positive in each situation, and trust that God will bring good out of this experience, for me and for those with whom I come in contact with.

So no matter what life gives us, and no matter what others may say about that, I want to encourage all of us to believe ultimately in the goodness of God.  Our life story is not over until it is over.  In the meantime, hold on to the belief that God has not abandoned us, even if we are in a “valley of the shadow of death.”  Live by the words of this chorus from an old song written and sung  by The Imperials:

He didn’t bring us this far to leave us.
He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown.
He didn’t build His home in us to move away.
He didn’t lift us up to let us down.

Favorite Holiday Movie

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The Plinky Question for this week is:  “What is Your Favorite Holiday Movie?”

This question may look easy, but it’s not.  Where would a person start?  With the traditional classics?  Would I pick “It’s a Wonderful Life“, “White Christmas“,  or “Miracle on 34th Street“?  (Of course there would be a problem if I picked “Miracle on 34th Street” as I would then have to chose The Original, or The Remake.)

I’d really be in trouble if I said my favorite holiday movie is “A Christmas Carol“, as there have been four releases of this story, going back as far as 1938 for its first debut, and coming all the way up to as recent as 2009 starring Jim Carrey.  Oh, and of course I would have to include in this group the special Jim Henson version in 1992 “The Muppet Christmas Carol” starring Michael Caine as Mr. Scrooge, and Kermit the Frog who played the ever loyal assistant Bob Cratchit.

Perhaps I should stick to more family-centered movies, like “A Christmas Story“, or “Home Alone (#1 or #2?)” or perhaps a mighty belly laugher, gut-splitting anti-Christmas comedy movie like “Christmas With the Kranks“.  And speaking of Tim Allen, who plays Jolly ol’ Nick three times in the blockbusters “Santa Clause 1“, then “Santa Clause 2: the Mrs. Clause“, and finally “Santa Clause 3:  The Escape Clause.”   Aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!  Too many choices.

And let’s not forget the animated movies that we all love, like “Mickey’s Christmas Carol“, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie“, “Frosty the Snowman” and let us never forget”The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”  All of these terrific movies cannot be simply brushed away if I were to pick one and only one and claim that this is my most favorite holiday movie.

So what is the answer?  Well, we decided there must be some happy middle ground, and this is what we finally came up with.  As much as possible over the years, we have saved up money and collected these various movies so that we have a whole section of one binder dedicated to “Christmas Movies”.  And each year, for the most part, we start watching the first movie about 2 weeks before Christmas, and each night from that point on, we will try to watch another Christmas movie.

And what is the final Christmas movie that we watch on the evening of the 24th, the night before Christmas?  Inevitably, it is “The Muppet Christmas Carol”  So now I guess you have caught me in my words.  If we had to choose one above all the others, this wold be the one.  We laugh, we cry, we sing along.  And in the end, we raise our voices and say along with Tiny Tim (who does not die), “God bless us, one and all.”

The End

Final P.S.:  So what is your favorite holiday movie, and why?  Come on, you can tell us.

Where is Baby Jesus?

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Our First Village Christmas

Our family has had the privilege of having Christmas in many different countries, provinces, states, cities and villages around the world over the years.  In fact, since Jill and I were married 26 years ago, this year will be very unique, for this will be the first time we have had Christmas in the same home in the same city two years in a row.

But of all the Christmases that we have had, I think we would both say that our most memorable one was in 1997, the year we had our fist Christmas in our village in Papua New Guinea.  We had been living only 6 months in the village by the time Christmas came around.  Everything was still fresh and exciting.  But we also felt so cut off from the outside world, which made sense, seeing as we were living by an airstrip cut right out of the jungle, many miles from any other town.

And it certainly didn’t feel like the “Christmas season” as we sweltered in the 30+ Celsius weather.  There were no stores to go Christmas shopping in our village, no lights being put up on other houses in our neighborhood.  There was a church in our village, a Catholic sponsored village meeting-house made from bush material.  There was not much to look at in our village, not even our own western-style house with its corrugated tin roof, but bush material siding was that attractive.

So we decided that we would go all out, as much as possible, to make Christmas come alive for us, and for the people of the village.  We had brought over with us quite a few strings of lights with us, so we hung up our Christmas lights on the edge of our roof and covered most of the front and side with the lights.  And because we had solar panels and deep-cell batteries, we could turn on our lights at night.  Wow!!  You should have seen the curiosity and the excitement of the people in the village.  They were so fascinated by these blinking lights, that some of them sat on the airstrip and just stared at them for hours on end.

Well, the next important item for us was to set up a Christmas tree and our little nativity scene.  A church had sent us a Christmas tree to use while we lived in PNG.  What a special present that was for us to get.  And so, in the little entry way at the front of our house we put up all our inside decorations, the tree, and our nativity scene.  (The picture below is actually from 2000).

Now the tree and nativity scene were close enough to the front screen door that when children from the village would come up our outside stairs, they would see them while sitting on the platform.  And Jill would come and explain to the children what Christmas was about, and especially would point out the manger scene where Jesus was born.  But one bright young boy said to her one day, “But where is Baby Jesus?  I see Mary, and Joseph, and the Shepherds, but I don’t see Baby Jesus!”

It was very hard not to smile at the question, because it was a good one.  We had kept the little figure in the box.  And Jill’s answer was, “It’s not the 25th yet.  He wasn’t born until Christmas Day.  But if you come back on the 25th, I’m sure he will be here.”  And for the next week up until Christmas, the kids would run up the stairs to see if, just in case, the Baby Jesus figure had arrived.

Now what do you think happened on Christmas morning?  Just as dawn was breaking (about 6 a.m.), we heard some noise at our front door.  I looked out the window, and crowded on our platform was over a dozen little kids from the village, and just as many down below.  When we opened the door, the kids looked in directly at the nativity scene, and there was the little figurine in the manger.  And with a squeal of excitement the kids all broke out, “Baby Jesus!  Baby Jesus!  He did come!”

Well, I must say that made our day, that Christmas morning 13 years ago.  To see such excitement among the children as they ran back through the village telling everyone to come to our house to see Baby Jesus.  It made me feel like we were back there at the Manger 2000 years ago and witnessing the first burst of joy of the angels, and then of the shepherds, as they announced the birth of the Messiah, the Emmanuel, God with us.

May you too rejoice on this Christmas Day, and celebrate the Good News, that in the town of Bethlehem, a Saviour has been born for us.  Hallelujah.

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