Winter Moon – Reflected Glory

When the winter moon rises over a snowy countryside it casts a magical spell unequalled by any creation of Hollywood. Its soft light highlights every tree. It illumines the tracks of coyotes and turkeys and even the lowly vole.

And yet the moon creates no light of its own. It reflects the brilliance of the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA In a similar way we are to reflect through our lives the grandeur of God. God created us in His image to reflect His glory.

By writing in Psalm 84 that “The Lord God is a sun,” the psalmist means God is the ultimate source of all light and life. He is the infinite, eternal, unchangeable fount of all goodness, grace, mercy, compassion, holiness, justice, wisdom, and truth. All creative genius flows from Him, as does the impetus for moral and ethical well-being. (See also James 1:17)

As His image bearers we should reflect into the world around us the moral attributes of God. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for [to reflect] the glory of God”(1 Cor. 10:31). Tragically, we have “all sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23) by yielding to our fallen nature. What can we do?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is only through fleeing to Jesus Christ to confess our sins that the dark cloud of our sinful selfishness that obscures God’s glory can be overcome. Once we have been cleansed through the work of the Holy Spirit, then we can become reflectors of God’s glory. “We who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”(2 Cor. 3:18).

How does this work in practice? “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise [glorify] your Father in heaven”(Matt. 5:14,16). As we give generously to others, we reflect God’s goodness. As we forgive others, we display the undeserved grace God bestows on us. As we have compassion on the poor, on refugees, motherless children, and widows we manifest the Lord’s tender heart. When we refuse to exaggerate, deceive, or lie we shed abroad the light of Truth. When we make wise decisions about our purchases and refusing to embrace debt, we shine light into theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA confusing world of modern finance. Transformed people shine God’s glory into the darkness of our decadent world.

Lord, like the moon which reflects the sun’s light, help us to reflect your glory through how we live. May we be honest, generous, compassionate, forgiving, creative, and wise–all through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Seeing Green Instead of Winter White

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen cold deepens and snow spreads a thick white blanket over the land, I sometimes see green. No, not the hopeful green of spring but the fetid green of jealousy. The howling of frigid winds make it harder than usual to fight off feelings of envy for those who have flown south to warmer climes or boarded some cruise headed for sunny seas.

What’s the matter with a little envy, you say? For one thing, it sullies the beautiful white blanket that the Snow Maker on High has thrown over the countryside. The sparkle of sunshine on a million snowflakes grates rather than makes glad. In my future I see shoveling and slush and mud and mess. But why should we allow today’s enjoyment of life to be soured by thoughts of what others have escaped?

This green monster troubles us in many ways besides urging us to envy those who have fled the frost. It provokes us into longing for another’s fine house, classy car, prestige, vibrant health, flush bank account, athletic prowess, musical ability, apparently perfect husband, or even spiritual depth.

Envy and its Siamese twin, jealousy kill gratitude. We fail to be grateful for a warm house, three meals a day, Internet connections, one’s fa??????????mily and friends, the birds that visit the bird feeder, the squirrels that scamper in the trees, the snowplough that clears the road, the soup simmering on the stove, a cup of coffee and a good book.

Envy and jealousy destroy our ability to savor life today. “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones”(Prov.14:30). Instead of enjoying what life brings we live in a perpetual state of discontent. “Godliness with contentment is great gain”(1 Tim. 6:6). When contentment settles into our bones, we are enabled to relish all that God gives us richly to enjoy.

Envy and jealousy foster friction, controversy, and quarrels. James reminds us that fights and quarrels arise from our covetous desires for what another has. “You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures”(James 4:2,3). Our prayers may even be tainted by wrong motives.

Envy and jealousy distort reality. If we were omniscient we would realize sunshine does not create utopia. Many of the warmest cities have high crime rates. Many equatorial countries rate far down on scales that measure democracy, drug use, violence, and poverty. And we must remember that vacationing people take their problems with them. Grouchy people grumble even on the beach where they lounge. Critical people find lots to fault in Miami or Jamaica.

Our home on a winter's dayMore to the point, envy and jealousy are sin. The tenth commandment prohibits covetousness. There is great danger here! Covetousness, jealousy and envy start wars, destroy families, separate friends. (See 1 Cor 3:3) Indeed, envy led the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to deliver him up for crucifixion. (Matt. 27:18) If we discover jealousy or envy corroding our attitudes, the first thing we need to do is confess our sin to God and ask Him to forgive us for Jesus’ sake—and show how to purge it from our life.

On an ongoing basis what should we do? Look around for what we may be missing in our own neighborhood. Is there someone or some ministry that we could help? Watching the world news on TV may give us a more reasonable perspective on how fortunate we are and that should spur feelings of gratitude. Enjoy each day as a day of grace from the hand of God Himself. Spend time in prayer and Bible reading. Ask the Holy Spirit to develop within us a feeling of contentment. And take someone out for coffee or a meal.

Disguising Our Problems

Twice in the last week or so, snowstorms have covered everything with a glistening white blanket. Before the snow came, the landscape was dingy. Every Snowstormdiscarded beer can along the roadway was visible; today all is hidden.

Snow hides ugliness whether it be a rusting tractor, garbage along a country road, an abandoned factory, or the toxic tailings from an old mine. Then the temperature rises. The snow melts. Ugliness again becomes visible.

As humans we are adept at disguising reality. We decorate the surface of our persons with facelifts, hair transplants, and designer clothing. Companies fund research facilities to find new ways to improve our appearance. We borrow to buy upscale cars and upscale homes so we can pretend to be one of the upper crust.

Our societies value camouflaging reality. We disguise our frightening debt beneath a mumbo-jumbo of economic terminology. We blame others for our own choices— our parents or our government. We order research studies and Royal Commissions. We demonize other cultures while ignoring our own flaws. Hide. Disguise. Pretend. Camouflage. Cloak. Masquerade.

But the root problems remain: selfishness, pride, arrogance, addiction, irresponsibility, dishonesty—the pervasive sinfulness of the human heart.

Jeremiah knew that you can’t paper over a national problem with platitudes, byOur home on a winter's day crying, ” peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (See Jer. 6:14) Ezekiel realized that humans cannot be mended until God does radical surgery. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 36:26).

As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “You must be born again”(John 3:7). Only the redeeming influence of the Holy Spirit who applies the blood of Christ to the inner fountains of our motivation can make us new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”(2 Cor.5:17)! New men and women gradually become kind, thoughtful, loving, forgiving, patient and creative citizens. Transformed individuals contribute to renewed and honest societies where truth matters.

I’m not saying that Christian conversion solves all problems. But expecting honest politicians and athletes and business people to just morph from the raw material of humanity is wishful thinking. The main problems of societies are moral and motivational. Convincing people about the transfo??????????rming power of the gospel is the best way to contribute to good communities.

Revivals have demonstrated this fact down through history. Witness the effect of the Reformation on Europe and the Evangelical Revivals on England and America. Toward that end let us live as true followers of Christ and pray for revival.

What Leads to Good or Evil Conduct; Nature or Nurture?

Why do some people display compassion and kindness while others act out a selfish, even evil agenda? Is the good a result of the natural temperament of the person or the nurture they received from their parents or community?

Let me give an example. Two young Canadians from the Ottawa Valley, both ending up in uniform in the Middle East, illustrate this conundrum. One, John??????????????????????????????? Maguire under his new name, Abu Anwar al-Canadi, travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State’s (ISIS) war on the west. The other, Dillon Hillier after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, has voluntarily paid his own way to Iraq to join the Kurdish Peshmerga militia in their fight against ISIS.

John Maguire, aka Abu Anwar, joined the Islamic State to spread terror in Syria and Iraq. He praised the two attacks on soldiers in Canada and urged more acts of terror. Dillon Hillier joined the Kurdish militia to stop the Islamic State’s advance and atrocities. Both grew up in similar communities, went to similar schools, and both seem to have had normal childhoods. Abu Anwar’s high school friends saw nothing to indicate an affinity for Islam or extremism.

Why the difference in these two? The only clue might be found in the divorce of John Maguire’s parents and his move to live with his grandparents. Did the breakup of his family push him into bitterness toward the west? Was it a failure of nurture? It’s hard to say.

Certainly, the influence of parents constitutes a crucial element in a person’s moral upbringing. “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged”(Col. 3:21). “Children…’honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’”(Eph. 6:1,2). A balance of loving nurture and wise parental training generally produces successful and moral adults.

And yet, Cain, who murdered his brother Abel, came from the same family. Arguably, being the first children after Eden, they grew up in a nurturing environment and even shared the same DNA. Why then the difference?

SunriseClearly, the space-time fall of Adam and Eve from innocence led to the twisting and distortion of all their progeny. “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”(Rom 5:12; 3:23). One of the most basic facts of humanity is that every one of us has been born with a sinful nature. Our nature is twisted so that “all of us [live to gratify] the cravings of our sinful nature and [follow] its desires and thoughts”(Eph. 2:3).

Four things contribute to helping us curb our sinful and selfish propensities. The first is parental nurture. The second brake on our sinfulness is the community in which we live—the values our community teaches and the deterrent that our society’s police provide. If brought up in North America we will have a strong entrepreneurial bent, a revulsion against cruelty, a desire for social justice, and an expectation of personal freedom. If however, we grow up in the North West Frontier of Pakistan and Afghanistan we will be shaped by that society’s view of hospitality—a good quality—but also by an honor system which would require us to exact revenge for slights to family or community. If we imbibe Islamist rhetoric such as found in Syria, Iraq or Yemen we might tend to feel the need to destroy non-Muslims.

The third brake on our sinful tendencies is conscience. If it has not been distorted by contrary cultural or family training, conscience will innately arouse a sense of what is right and wrong. Paul explains that even non-Jews who don’t have training in the law of God “show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them”(Rom. 2:15). This is why many Muslims know in their hearts that killing infidels or raping women is evil. Conversely, we in the west also know, when we listen to our consciences, that indiscriminate bombing or polluting the environment or using prostitutes or exploiting cheap labour is wrong.

The Fourth, and most powerful brake. Since neither parental nurture, nor community values, nor conscience can totally conquer our sinful natures, we need something more powerful. We need God to change our hearts and minds. As Jesus said, “You must be born again…of the Spirit.” (See John 3:5-21). Jesus Christ died upon the cross to conquer our sinful natures and deliver us from the judgment our sins deserve. That conquest occurs when we are converted, born again. How does this happen?

New Sugar Maple leaves unfurlingIf we would be born again, we must pray to Jesus Christ, confessing our sins, asking him forgive us, to cleanse us from sins’ pollution, to change our propensities, and to give us new hearts of love and devotion to Him and His will. From that point on we will give ourselves to follow the guidance he gives us in the Scriptures.

Fortunately, many people around the world, including Muslims, are hearing this call and responding to its good news. Has this been your experience?

Conquering Winter Gloom

SnowstormIn northern climes, darkness comes early. And when clouds obscure the sun, the gloominess of this period of the year can be depressing. Some of us succumb to SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder and become seriously depressed.

How can we fight off gloom? Some of us can head south to a sunshine coast or board a cruise or fly to Figi. What if we can’t?

When I was a boy, I remember my mother varying our usual diet of white bread by giving us raison bread. The scattering of raisons made each bite a delight. In a similar way we can scatter special treats through our winter days to take our mind off the cold weather.

Keep busy. This is not the time of year to mope around the house lamenting the season. Of course, if you have a steady job or young children, much of your time will be occupied. But then there’s the weekend. Plan something fun for the whole family. And if retired, one has many other choices.

Plan a project or take a course. Winter is an ideal time to embrace that project we’ve put off. The more fun it is, the more it will distract us from weak sunshine. Take a course on photography, computers, memoir writing, or painting. Take action to do something you’ve always wanted to do. Before you know it, you’ll be wishing you had more time.

Volunteer. Every community needs volunteers; to visit seniors, deliver meals on wheels, drive people to appointments, taking shut-ins to the grocery store, the list is endless. Churches never have enough volunteers for their various ministries.

Plan fun things to do. Go to a movie, watch a hockey game, or take in a play. Play Scrabble. Set up a difficult crossword puzzle on a card table. Plan to have dinner or lunch in a special restaurant.

Encourage others. Call someone who needs a chat or prayer. Surprise people with a note or letter. Receiving real hand-written mail in this era of Facebook Raod closed during ice storm and email has become rare.

Plan a special tea or meal with some friends, family, or even new acquaintances. It may spice up your life.

Read books. People who love books find that winter passes quickly. Join Goodreads (goodreads.com) where you can find what others are saying about books, keep a record of your own reading, and write short reviews.

Keep up your exercise. If you can, get out of the house regularly. Visit a mall, not to shop, but to get some exercise and have a coffee with a friend or spouse. Many places have community centres with a walking track and exercise machines. And take your vitamins, especially the sunshine ones.

Take a short-term missions trip. The needs in places like Haiti or Uganda and many other countries are unending. As a side benefit, these countries usually are warm and sunny while northern climes freeze.

Most important, adjust your attitude. Albert Camus wrote, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” How is that possible? Some will say all we need is positive thinking. But Christians rely on more than will-power. They trust in God to transform their attitudes—to everything, even winter. In Christian hearts, spring and summer can continually bloom when we allow the Holy Spirit full sway. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, …self-control”(Gal. 5:22,23).

The Apostle Paul, who lived a life surrendered to the Holy Spirit could write, while shackled in prison, “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…content in any and Mini-daffodilsevery situation”(Phil. 4:4,11,12).

Beyond doing whatever we can practically to add spice to our winter lives, we need to be much in prayer that the Holy Spirit would so work in us that we radiate joy and contentment in a winter environment.

A Blessing for the New Year

Some words have more power than others to touch us our hearts. “I love you grandpa,” not just from a young child but a grownup granddaughter or grandson. “I forgive you,” from someone we have hurt badly. “I’ll love you forever and ever,” from a spouse of 50 years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Bible is full of powerful words, life-changing verses, comforting thoughts, soaring phrases, and liberating concepts. “The Lord is my shepherd.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” “Come unto me.” “You must be born again.” “There is therefore now no condemnation.” “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God.”

Tucked into an obscure chapter in Numbers we find a wonderful benediction. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give peace”(Numbers 6:24-26). These words were to be used by the priests of Israel to bless the people.

The inimitable commentator Matthew Henry, from whom I gathered much that follows, makes application to our lives today. First, he urges us to individually prepare ourselves to receive God’s blessing. Without some heart preparation we may not be able to recognize God’s blessing nor enjoy to the fullest the happiness God wishes for each of us.

Winter Moon

Winter Moon

The three-fold repetition of the name, LORD, or JEHOVAH—each of which—in the original, has a different accent, reflects a mystery solved only by the New Testament. This directs us to the blessing; “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God [the Father, KJV] and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”(2 Cor. 13:14). Each of the persons of the godhead is LORD, and each is bent on blessing us.

Just think, all the resources of the triune God are focused on blessing us. And yet we must not forget that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen. Only Jehovah can wrest good from bad.

These are powerful promises—not just words—promises of God acting for our actual blessing. While we may speak good words to one another and mean well, we don’t have the resources of heaven to effectually change things for each other. God’s words, however, express His intentional actions toward us. The fruits of God’s favor mean protection from evil through His keeping power; pardon for our sins through His grace and mercy; and peace through His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Snow scene

Snow scene

This benediction also promises that the Lord’s face will shine upon us and his countenance will be turned toward us. As the sun shines on the earth to warm and renew it, so the Lord causes us to know that he loves us. He smiles on us as a Father smiles upon his child. Such knowledge puts gladness into our hearts.

May 2015 be a year full of the blessings of God.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.