During September and October I wrote and published a series of articles on transition. I said that this year, i.e., from September 2012 to August 2013, is a year of transition. Often change is not what we expected and feels more like it is thrust upon us than we have chosen the path of change.
At the beginning of September Bonnie’s parents had a serious health scare, which required Bonnie’s intervention and care. Bonnie flew to Canada to care for her parents on September 8th with the blessing of the leadership team and the church. I, Jim, joined Bonnie on October 23. We felt it was the right thing to do.
During our time in Canada we cared for Bonnie’s parents and connected with people – some old friends and some new. We also spent two weeks in Parksville helping Christian Fellowship Centre through a difficult period following the discovery that their senior pastor, Brian Robertson, had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Over the first two months of our time there together we simply followed the flow of the Holy Spirit all the while asking: ‘what next, Lord?’ Just before Christmas we felt that we were to continue to live in Kelowna caring for Bonnie’s parents.
We were booked to return to the UK for mid-January. On the first Sunday of February we shared this decision with our church, Grace Vineyard. We had not had any plans to re-locate to Canada. The situation with Mom and Dad thrust it upon us. Did we have a sense of change coming? Most definitely! We had been talking about the impending change as a leadership team from the beginning of May. Did we have any idea what it would look like? None! We simply knew that nothing would look the same a year from May 2012.
Our hope has always been to have Joel and Katie Inkster lead the church. In the beginning we started the church together with both couples having a vision for a church plant. I had expressed a sense of two years for Bonnie and I as principal leaders with the third year being a transition to Joel and Katie. The procedure we thought would have been mutually worked out step by step over the year. Unfortunately that was not to be the case. Our family situation simply plunged Joel and Katie right into full on leadership. (Phil and Margaret Bristow for whom we have the greatest admiration have very ably been assisting them.)
The baton of leadership passed to Joel and Katie on the 3rd of February. We have the strongest confidence in their ability to lead and in their character, gifts and callings that they possess. We can see the blessing of the Lord upon their leadership and the complete transition of authority from us to them. We are very pleased and blessed to have a wonderful couple like them to entrust the leadership of our friends and family to.
We hope with all our heart that Grace Vineyard will know how much we love them and that we are not rejecting them. Bonnie and I are simply trying to be faithful servants following the Master’s voice.
It is a new season and a new day for the church. Let us be like Paul who said: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Phil. 3:12) What He has for all of us will surpass all that we have known. Amen.
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The Foolish Thing
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are. (I Corinthians 1:27) From a human point of view to have the King of Kings being born to young inexperienced parents is not wise. To have her conceive out of wedlock – shameful – then to have her travel on the back of a donkey from the security and comfort of her own home – just ridiculous!
But God’s ways are not our ways and in His perfect plan He had Mary in the final stages of pregnancy when Caesar Augustus called for a census. This meant a 70 - 80 mile trek for Joseph and Mary to the town of Bethlehem. If it had been me, I am sure the question in my mind would have been “why now?”
There are so many events or timings of God that we might consider coincidental but the Great Conductor is ordering our footsteps aright. Jesus needed to be born in Bethlehem to fulfil prophecy. The Lord just uses man and natural events to fulfil his purposes. He does the same in our lives. At just the right time He brings people into our lives that can speak a word in season or have us at a place that will touch our lives forever.
For Mary and Joseph to make the journey to Bethlehem is one thing but then to find nowhere to stay must have been heartbreaking and frustrating. These people are known for their hospitality. It wasn’t unusual to welcome a stranger into their home. To be rejected or turned away from where they expected a welcome was a prophetic sign of what the Saviour would encounter later. The very people that He comes to will often turn Him away at the door of their heart.
Fortunately there was a barn that had room to welcome the tired couple. Not exactly the sterile and clean environment that we like to have our babies born into. But this too is a prophetic statement as to where the Saviour would come. It is right in the midst of life’s situations, problems, sickness, addictions and needs that God loves to come. Jesus is not waiting for us to “clean up our acts” before He comes in. If that were the case we would have no need for a Saviour. He wants us to welcome Him into the midst of whatever is happening in our lives so that His power in us can work in and through us.
If I had been Mary I would have had many questions about the timing of the birth and the place. But God in His wisdom was proclaiming to the world a profound statement. “I have chosen the foolish things, the shameful things, the despised things, the lowly things to confound the wise and nullify the things that are so that no one may boost before Him.”
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“Mary’s Song” as it is referred to is a delight to read. She is full of the joy of the Lord and her mouth is the overflowing expression of her heart. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, and her mouth was filled with reverence and gratitude for the Lord.
There is a word that is used twice in this song and that is humble. In verse 48 Mary says the Lord remembers her humble or lowly state and again in verse 52 that he has lifted up the humble. This word, humble, refers to the condition of having no or little money also a place of being unpretentious and unassuming. Jesus himself chose to be born to a humble or lowly family. Why would that be? Peter and James say that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. This is not referring to the circumstances of life but to the heart.
Jesus himself teaches us that if we humble ourselves or change and become like a child then we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact we will be considered the greatest in the Kingdom. Matt 23 says that whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus did not choose to be born into a wealthy family or a family of position. Isaiah 57:14 -15 says to build a road and remove the obstacles for the people. Why? Even though the Lord lives on a high and holy place He also abides with him who is contrite (that is repentant) and humble in Spirit.
Jesus wants to live in us. He wants us to have the Kingdom of God express itself through us. He was a living example of how we do that. We do that by being humble in heart. He will revive the spirit of the humble – He will pour out His grace upon your life if you stay in that position that says I need you Lord.
John the Baptist kept saying repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. We need to change our way of thinking. That is what repent is – a changing of the mind. He was removing the obstacles out of the way, that is our pride. God wants to come to a humble and contrite people and revive us and lift us up.
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After Mary’s encounter with Gabriel she hurried off to compare notes with her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Mary are decades apart in age and yet they have each experienced a supernatural event.
It is worth noting that to experience the awesomeness of God is not restricted to age. The Lord says to Jeremiah not to despise his youth and don’t say “but I am only a child”. On the other hand Moses was 80 when the call of God came to him and he led the largest congregation of people in history. We are never too young or too old to allow His kingdom to come and work in and through us.
Notice as well that these two were women. God’s call on your life is not hindered by your gender. Jeremiah 1 says that before you were formed in the womb I knew you. God was not surprised when you were born by your gender, colour, nationality or the place you live! Our times are in His Hands and He has called each of us to fulfil a unique destiny for His purpose.
Elizabeth confirmed the call of God on Mary’s life when she walked in the door for even John leapt in her womb at just the sound of her voice. I can see Mary and Elizabeth jumping around, holding hands and excitedly proclaiming the wonders of their great God! What an exciting time it would have been seeing Elizabeth six months pregnant just like the angel said!
The call of God was on these women and on the offspring they were carrying. Elizabeth would give birth to John who would be the last prophet of the Old Testament. Mary being the younger would be the woman to give birth to the One that would bring the New Covenant into being.
Both John and Jesus had a purpose. John came to prepare the way of the Lord. The hearts of the people were hard and he was preparing them – turning the soil of their hearts to receive the One to come. Jesus also had a purpose and that was to destroy the works of the evil one. He did that by bringing the Kingdom of God to the people.
Each of us has a call and a destiny to fulfil. You won’t be the mother of Jesus – the Saviour of the world. But you could be the mother or teacher, Sunday school teacher, friend or pastor of someone who through knowing you has a supernatural encounter with God and goes on to do great exploits. We all have a purpose and a destiny to fulfil.
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“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said”. What a fantastic response from such a young woman. Mary didn’t hesitate to say “Yes, Lord”. I am sure she didn’t have it all worked out in her head but what she and Abraham, the father of the faith, have in common is that they believed God without knowing details.
There are two attributes required to be the Lord’s servant that we can glean from Mary, willingness and faith.
Willingness: Mary says yes to the call of God for her life. She has no idea what that is going to look like, where it will take her or the sorrow that she would encounter because of it. However, she is willing to trust that her God knows what He is doing and that He is able to keep her. In I Chronicles 28:9 David is saying to Solomon to acknowledge God, serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind. This word, willing, means to be acquiescent, to incline, or to volunteer. Acquiescent means to agree by not objecting, to yield and submit. How many times do you hear children arguing with their parents instead of being willing to do what has been asked? How may times have I not been willing? David asks in Psalm 5 that the Lord would grant him a willing spirit to sustain him.
Abraham like Mary was told to leave his country, his people and his father’s household and go to a land that the Lord would show him. And so Abram left. He was willing to go, willing to respond to the voice of God. Abram also had …
Faith: God told Abram that he would become a great nation and be blessed. That he would have offspring as many as the stars. In Genesis 15:6 it says that Abram believed the Lord and He credited it to him as righteousness. In the same way Mary believed what the angel said. Mary was not just willing but responded in faith, believing that if God said it, then He can and will do it. You can be willing but you must have faith to believe that God can do all things.
Faith is a key ingredient in being the Lord’s servant. Faith is the currency of heaven! Without it Hebrews 11 says it is impossible to please Him! With faith you can conquer kingdoms, administer justice and gain what is promised!
Mary believed the promise brought to her by Gabriel. But, she was also willing to submit to whatever that would look like in her life. In being the Lord’s servant she became the woman to give birth to the Son of God. From that point on all generations have called her blessed!
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Mary was a young woman who was in the waiting stage between betrothal and the actual wedding celebration. She would have had all the anticipation, expectation and dreams of any one of us looking forward to that “special” day.
Right in the midst of the waiting Mary had an unexpected visitor – an angel! His first words to Mary were: “Greetings, you who are highly favoured? The Lord is with you.” This greatly troubled her, as it would you! That’s like picking up the phone and someone saying you have been chosen for a prize or your name has been picked for jury duty. But favour sounds good - promising! Who wouldn’t want to be favoured by God?
The angel goes on to inform her what the favour of God will mean to her. She would be the mother of a son, not just any son, but the Son of the Most High. Mary’s question at this time is a very human question. I remember getting prophetic words and thinking this very thing. “How can this be?” It is a human response to a super natural God. We think on one plane - the natural one. The angel, Gabriel, makes this statement: “Nothing is impossible with God!”
What a great statement! How easy it is for us to forget that God is in control of ALL THINGS. Our tendency is to look at things with our natural eye and say it can’t happen. How easy it is for us to loose perspective. I love flying; jet travel makes the globe so accessible. But at one time the thought of flying was beyond man’s thinking – now it is normal.
One thing flying does is change perspective. Up in the sky looking down on the world things below look so small. For God to intervene in our lives is a small thing for him. What seems like a mountain is nothing from His heavenly perspective. He is interested in all the details of our lives and nothing is impossible for Him to do.
The question is: do we believe it? Do we believe that He will use us to change the world? Do we believe that He is watching over His word to perform it? Isaiah 55 says: Do we believe that there is really nothing - that is no thing, God cannot do? Have we put Him in a box and confined Him to our thinking?
The challenge is this. If Gabriel came to you or if God asked you to do something would your mind stay “greatly troubled”, or would you take hold of the Spirit of God and allow Him to work His work in you? You never know how the unexpected will come into the midst of your normal day.
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Matthew 2:1-12 relates the visit of the magi or wise men. They had seen His star and followed it to find the future king. Herod was not happy with their appearance for their good news threatened him. To find where the Christ or Messiah would be born Herod went to the Pharisees and the scribes. Having queried when they first would have seen the star, he sent the wise men off to Bethlehem.
It is amazing to think that these men from the East could read the heavens well enough to travel all the way to Judea to visit the saviour of all mankind. The book of Romans tells us that creation declares the reality of our creator. These men found him through creation. The reference material thinks that the Jews who were dispersed throughout the Roman world would have shared their expectation of a Messiah predisposing the Gentile world to look for this coming king. It sounds plausible but, if you notice, neither the Pharisees nor their scribes were curious enough to go with these men to investigate what they had travelled so far to see. The Jews were disinclined to talk to Gentiles if they could help it. If the Jews were that strongly sharing their faith in a Messiah, why didn’t they go with them? Why didn’t Herod?
The religious community, the very people He was coming to, weren’t that tuned in. Herod is another case. He was threatened by the thought of another king arising in Judea. His kingdom was at stake. This is the very crux of the coming of Jesus. It isn’t simply saving us from our sins but it is the kingdom of God overthrowing the kingdom of the prince of the air. The kingdom of darkness cannot prevail against this coming kingdom. It still can’t if we walk in the kingdom of God.
Herod was not a righteous man. He was evil and dangerous. Matthew tells us that in verse 16 when Herod realized that the Magi had outwitted him, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. What evil lingered in his heart that he would do such a heinous thing? How can anyone in his or her right mind commit such an act? They can’t, and he wasn’t. His inspiration was from the same source that drove Judas to betray Jesus. Kingdom against kingdom! Jesus came to destroy the works of the evil one.
Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for all mankind. He came to the Jew but also to the Gentile. The angels announced his birth to the simple and humble shepherds. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. The rich Pharisees did not see the introduction to the kingdom of God. The poor did! Simeon and Anna as well as the shepherds! The Gentiles too saw the coming kingdom. They came and worshipped him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Verse 10 says they were overjoyed, extremely happy. They gave richly by faith to a baby - seeing the king who would save not only Jew but Gentile too.
Then, being warned in a dream, verse 12, they went home another way. Somehow and in some way the church has come to think that God doesn’t talk to non-Christians. He certainly does when it comes to the way of salvation. If He didn’t, who would be saved? These men were very aware of the presence of the Almighty.
What a great reminder to all of us to be aware of the goodness of our God and not to forget what great things He has done for us, starting with the birth of His son!
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“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
It is important to note the most significant characteristic of the people involved in the most important event in human history. Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright in the sight of God, Mary was highly favoured of God and Joseph was a righteous man. These were godly people who were blessed with the Lord’s favour. Little did they know what that favour would do to their lives and place in the community.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had lived with the shame of barrenness for years. Now in their old age they were to have a baby. Elizabeth kept it secret for 6 months. She had faced the scorn and the whispering for years. Now, that which they had prayed for had happened, and she wasn’t about to let people mock God’s answer to their prayers. Zechariah had lost hope and so lacked faith when he met Gabriel. It seems almost severe to think God muted him for the entire pregnancy.
But our words are so powerful. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:1) Our words can produce life and hope or death and despair. Both Elizabeth and Zechariah had to listen to the words of well meaning but thoughtless family and friends for years. They probably defended themselves by saying God would honour them with a child for He hears our prayers. The word says children are a gift from God and surely He would not withhold any good thing to those who love Him. Now Zachariah was unable to say one word of unbelief to his wife. She wisely did not expose herself to anyone else’s words until the baby was well along. By this age both of them would be well aware of the power of others’ words and the full effect of them on spirit, soul and body. Their shame would be lifted but they would still be the source of much gossip and speculation.
Mary, as I said previously, would not have thought that Joseph would have been so hurt. Joseph made the only decision that seemed reasonable to him under the circumstances. He did not want Mary to suffer any more public disgrace if he divorced her. He wanted to spare her as much of the shame as possible. But his life and hers would be the fodder for many an after dinner discussion. God’s favour and plans for our life are sometimes contrary to the accepted wisdom and common sense of the world. People look at you like you are out of your mind when you are wholeheartedly following the Lord. These situations reveal what’s in our heart. Not to God as He already knows but to us.
The text tells us that after Joseph considered this an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Consider’ means to think carefully about something. It comes from a Latin root to examine. This gives us an idea that Joseph was contemplative, possibly analytical in his thinking. It also means he hadn’t yet talked to Mary or anyone else. It is true that God knows our thoughts. What Joseph was considering was radical enough for God to take significant action to prevent the divorce. He sent an angel who told Joseph that the baby truly was conceived of the Holy Spirit. He told Joseph that it was a boy and what his name was to be.
Joseph, then, took her to his home as his wife. His obedience fulfilled prophecy and showed how right his heart was before God. In fact throughout Jesus early years his father’s obedience was crucial for the preservation of Jesus’ life and the fulfilment of his destiny.
Joseph by his actions would have born the shame of Mary’s pregnancy as well. In the eyes of the people in Nazareth his righteousness would have been questionable. But he feared God more than man and took the shame for the sake of a greater purpose. Sometimes when you are serving the Lord you can’t explain to people what is happening. Obedience often creates an acceptable sacrifice that is only pleasing in our Lord’s nostrils.
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The historic account, for it is not a fabrication of someone’s imagination, starts in Matthew chapter one with 17 verses devoted to Jesus’ genealogy. I mentioned previously how God takes insignificant people, calls up their potential and through faith they do the impossible. How wonderful is that? It is amazing to think I can impact my world for His sake.
I used to skip the genealogy because I found a list of names boring. But God is not into wasting space. There is a truth of His redemption story buried even within a genealogy. Jesus has significant figures in His family line: Abraham, Judah, David and Solomon. The father of our faith through to two of the best-known kings in history isn’t a bad line-up. But if you look a little closer, you can find some people whose reputations you would not expect to find in the Saviour’s family tree.
How about Judah? The tribe that bears the hallmark of praise is fathered by a man who did not think it unwise to avail himself of the services of a prostitute along the side of the highway. Little did he know that she was his daughter-in-law? When it came to his attention that she was pregnant, he was ready to kill her. The problem was she had taken some of his personal effects, which she sent to him with the word that the owner of these is the father of my child. Judah admitted that she was more righteous than he in her actions. How would you like to have this situation occur in your church? One of your elders has impregnated his widowed daughter-in-law. How do you explain that?
Then there’s Rahab, the prostitute, from Jericho. A prostitute? What’s up with that? All our religious hackles go up with that thought. Her actions saved her and her whole family from destruction but also honoured her with a descendant that redeems all who are evil. Then there’s David, the murderer and adulterer. A great king who lived passionately in all that he did. Having lingered in Jerusalem when the army went to war, he used his position and authority abusively. Impregnating Bathsheeba, he then connives to have it appear that the child really is Uriah’s by bringing him back from the front. Uriah out of concern for his fellow soldiers doesn’t go to his wife. David arranges through Joab to have Uriah ambushed by the enemy. After Uriah is dead he takes Bathsheeba as his wife and acts like nothing unusual has happened. Wow! This is a man whose heart is after God. It shows the deceptiveness of sin and the downward spiral of death it releases. The difference that set David apart from King Saul was his heart. When confronted by Nathan with his sin, he repented in fasting, sackcloth and ashes. He didn’t care that the palace servants saw him. All he cared about was the mercy of God.
All these people are family to our Lord. The church would like to sanitize this story. Would we hire someone with his family background to be our new pastor? The key to Jesus’ family is the mercy and forgiveness of God. He was setting the backdrop for His redemption story. God forgives. He is not looking for vengeance upon us. He wants to have fellowship with us. Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:15 'I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you'. We are not only friends of God; we are sons of God through the work of Jesus’ sacrifice.
The Christmas story is one of redemption. 'Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!' (Phil. 2: 6-8) Christmas is about gifts – the gift of life – so precious that only God himself could fulfil the part. This is what his genealogy is pointing to. See; see the hope and the future that only God can give. Our hope is sealed in His forgiveness, our future settled in His son. Thank you Lord for His birth.
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This Christmas Bonnie and I thought we would publish our thoughts about the story. Traditionally we read it every year on the 25th from Luke. Why? Well, Luke is the gospel that seems to have all the elements in keeping with our modern celebration of that event. As we looked into the first three chapters of Luke I thought I’d check out Matthew. The impression that grabbed me was Luke seems to be written from Mary’s perspective and Matthew seems to be written from Joseph’s perspective. In keeping with that impression Bonnie will write on Luke and I will write on Matthew. We hope that you will enjoy our thoughts on the Christmas story.
As I read through the accounts I was impressed with how much the whole event of Jesus’ conception and birth does not resemble our celebrations. We have sanitized and fantasized what was really a time fraught with danger and shame but amazingly great courage. Over the years of reading the gospels Joseph has gone from being almost a nonentity in the whole situation to being one of my heroes of faith. I will expand on that as we go through the events surrounding the birth of the Son of God.
Keep in mind that scriptures tell us in Galatians 4:4 “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law”. This was the culmination of prophecy and long awaited expectation. The fullness of time is key. There is no mistake about the point in the history of man when He appeared. The people involved were not randomly chosen but vital personalities in the completion of redemption. This was not a cool, frost laden evening that was fantasised. This was a culmination of time – fullness - when everything was complete.
It happened over a period of at least three years. Elizabeth was pregnant for 6 months before Mary. The wise men arrived possibly up to 2 years after Christ’s birth. The events were so spaced out that one would easily miss the significance of this birth. Bethlehem did not have a strip like Las Vegas all lit up in neon with signs pointing to the stable. The inn was not inundated with shepherds, wise men, town’s people and little drummer boys on the evening of His birth. The shepherds, who had a visitation of angels, came to the inn, saw the baby as they were told, and did tell people in the hill country what they had experienced. No one else seemed to venture to the stable at that time. Neither Herod, the king, nor the people’s chief priest nor the teachers of the law were aware of any unusual event. Only the enquiries of the wise men drew any further attention at a national level to the blessed event.
How significant is the pattern we see here? God seems to enjoy changing the world through small beginnings. He starts with an insignificant person, infuses them with His love, His spirit, and they leave a mark that indelibly stamps the history of mankind forever. Look at the men of God and their meagre beginnings. Abraham was one of three sons, not even the first born, with a barren wife. God made him into a Father of many. David was the youngest of his family, not even fit by his father’s estimation to be brought before the prophet, Samuel. Joseph, a carpenter, became the legal guardian of Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus, born in a stable, a simple carpenter from Nazareth, a town of no reputation, brought us the greatest gift the world will ever experience.
As we ponder the goodness of God to mankind this Christmas ask yourself the question ‘what about me?’ What could He do with me? What would He ask of me? Would it be anything more than ‘be obedient’ to the call He has placed on your life? Come follow me.
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