“Satan”

March 3rd

I don’t talk about Satan very much; in fact, I don’t really give the devil much thought at all, but lately some comments from an acquaintance have put him in my mind, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on Jesus’ chief enemy.
The comments shared by my acquaintance are of the “Satan’s running rampant” genre. According to him, people are falling to the devil’s temptations left, right and centre, which is why the world is the way it is. Well, I disagree, totally and completely. The reason things are the way they are have nothing to do with Satan and everything to do with us. That’s it, that’s all. We humans are the only ones responsible for the current state of affairs, good or bad.
Sure, Satan appears in the Bible, so there is some justification for blaming him for bad things. But here’s the thing: the Israelites didn’t grumble against Moses when they were wandering in the desert because of Satan. That was completely on them. Nor did David do the stupid things he did in order to get Bathsheba for himself thanks to Satan’s suggestion. David came up with his foul plan all on himself. Ok, Jesus exorcised demons that caused people grief, but that grief did not consist of those unfortunate people doing bad things; the demonic influence threw them into fits and convulsions, not into acts of disobedience or fulfilling their lustful desires.
But Satan tempted Jesus, you say, and he caused Job great pain. Yes, and yes. But notice that Satan only tempted Jesus and did not force our Saviour to do anything bad. And as far as poor Job was concerned, again, Satan caused great suffering but he did not cause Job do evil things. Then, once he turned Job’s life upside down, we never hear from Satan again, nor is he ever mentioned again. In fact, the book of Job doesn’t fit easily into the greater history of God, Israel and Jesus. So, taking it as a good source of information about Satan’s work and influence is the wrong way to read it. Job is really a story about character rather than how the devil works.
The bottom line regarding Satan’s influence? The world as it is today is not due to angels or demons; it’s all on us. Our pain is caused by our ignorance and hatred. Our joy and good things are thanks to God’s provision for Creation; God made the world good and beautiful. We humans contribute to that beauty by honouring God and living the way Jesus taught us to. When we choose our own way over God’s, things go sour. When we live together in love, the world is a beautiful place. It’s that simple.

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“Seasons”

February 24th

It happens twice a year, once in summer and once in winter, without fail. There is one day in summer and one in winter that I’m taking a walk, look around at the snow or a freshly mown lawn, and think to myself: “Wow! How can all this possibly become winter/summer one day?” After all, we settle into those seasons like a pair of warm, comfortable socks, or cool, funky sandals, depending on the need. The entire world, or at least what we know of it in our locale, seems utterly and totally one or the other. Snowmobiles patrol the trails, skiers seek the freshest powder, hot-chocolate sales go through the roof and everyone is rosy-cheeked and decked out as if they’re headed for a trek to Antarctica. Or, kayaks patrol the rivers, campers are seeking the most scenic spot, lemonade sales go through the roof and everyone is tanned and decked out as if it’s the hottest day in Hawaii.
On those two days, the world seems set and firmly fixed in place. Winter is here to stay and summer is just a dream. Or summer is here to stay and winter is just a dream. A few moments later, the sensation passes and I come to my senses. I know that despite the apparent impossibility of experiencing such a seasonal shift, it is a relentless reality. Winter will give way to Spring which will be followed by Summer, Fall and then Winter again. But just as we can count on the regularity of the weather patterns, I know that there will be a day in summer when winter seems impossible followed by its seasonal opposite in winter.
As we grow accustomed to the way things are, change seems impossible, unimaginable and even maybe unlikely. It’s the way things are and we adapt to the situation as it is, settling into its rhythms and nuances, putting down roots and equipping ourselves with the right gear for the occasion. But just as summer sandals and beach umbrellas disappear from store shelves after Labour Day (if not sooner…) nothing ever lasts forever. Things will not be as they were even a day or a moment before.
I wonder, sometimes, if God feels this way about us. No matter how hard we try not to, we make mistakes. We hurt one another. We insult our heavenly Creator. We cause ourselves pain. I wonder if God ever has a moment of “Well, this is it. They’re stuck in their sin forever, they will never change.” Yet even as I wonder I know that God makes sure that we don’t stay in that place forever. Through kind friends, mentors, teachers and the Holy Spirit, God has given us the tools to break out of our folly and step away from our faux-pas. What’s more, God forgives us every time we blow it and frees us to try again.
Of course, I hope that the wintry seasons of folly and faux pas don’t last too long, and that our summery times of moving forward and honouring God seem to go on forever.

“Character”

February 17th

Numbers matter. They tell us how much a thing costs, how much there is of a certain product, our age, how far we have to travel and even how well we have performed in school. When we want to quantify things with cold, hard facts, number are our friends. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. They tell us how much a pair of shoes costs, but not if they are comfortable. They tell us how many viewers watched a show, but not if the show was worth watching. They tell us how many years we have lived but not if we have spent them well. They tell us how far we have to go but not what we will encounter along the journey. Numbers may tell us how we have performed in school but they offer no clue about our character.
Character is difficult to put in numbers but it is not difficult to measure. Laird Vanni, my friend and mentor, was not a stellar student when he went to school to become a Funeral Director, but the teachers recognized in him both the ability and the character his chosen vocation required. His grades might not have been what they expected, but they realized that grades only told part of his story. The full story was that of a person more than capable of dealing with the challenges faced when helping others deal with the most trying times of their lives.
Because character matters, especially when dealing with people in delicate, challenging situations, Laird’s teachers enabled him to reveal his talents in other, more practical ways. Thanks to their recognition of his gifts, and Laird’s character, he succeeded and has made a profound, positive impact on many people. And it wasn’t just the character required to be a Funeral Director that helped him succeed. It was his personal strength and his own understanding of what the measure of a person truly is.
When God looks over we Human Beings, it is not a numbers game. God doesn’t measure us numerically; we are measured by the way we love, practice justice, show mercy and generally treat each other. What’s more, God doesn’t compare us to anybody, not even Jesus. As God’s children we are each valued according to who we were made to be, the gifts we have been given, and the way it all comes together in our character.
Numbers are useful. They help us quantify and understand the world in which we live. But when it comes to measuring we human thingies, the only thing that counts is our character.

“Communication”

February 10th

First there was a text message from a friend. Then a brief conversation via Facebook messenger with a colleague for a church related matter. A few minutes later, a brief email exchange with a parishioner. Almost immediately after that, had a phone conversation with a family member. Within the span of 10 minutes, I had communicated in four different ways! 4. Quatre! Quattro! Oh, wait, five, I suppose, because all the while I was engaged in chatting with Lois and Anna (although not while on the phone…) So, in the course of 10 minutes, I had communicated in five different ways! 5! Cinq! Cinque!
What an amazing world we live in. To think that we can keep in touch in so many different ways, immediately letting one another know what we need, or how we’re feeling, or simply passing the time of day. (And, yes, I am equally amazed that I have at least 5 people to talk to…)
Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses. Talking on the phone can be scary to introverts, especially if it’s someone we don’t know very well or it’s a “cold call” to a person we don’t know. But, the immediacy of the conversation and a familiar voice coming through the earpiece can have a wonderful soothing effect when we’re down and need a little boost. The other techniques are better for introverts, as they don’t involve actually talking to people, but they lack the direct contact of talking and listening. Of course, one big advantage over a conversation is that you can take as much time as you need to formulate each comment, question or answer, ensuring that your communication is effective, clear, and maybe even has a certain beauty to it.
Whatever method we choose for a particular conversation isn’t nearly as important as the conversation itself. God did not create us in isolation or to live completely independently. Even introverts need other people. And being made in God’s image means that our communication can be a glimpse into God’s own heart, or perhaps even a direct word from our Creator. While prayer offers us a direct, one-to-one channel to God, God can also use a loving, caring conversation to reach out to us for guidance, to steer us back on course when we veer away, or simply to let us know we are loved.
We have many ways to communicate. Each one can be a gift and a blessing that lets us connect to others; each one can be a gift and a blessing that lets us hear God’s own voice in a loving connection with a fellow child of God.

“Thoughtfulness”

February 3rd

Gas was truly cheap one morning, so I couldn’t resist filling up the tank even though it wasn’t completely empty. I pulled up to what I thought would be the only vacant pump, just behind another vehicle. There are always two pumps, and the guy was about to fill up at the nearest one, leaving the furthest one empty. I was hoping the driver be willing to move ahead to the next pump so, I honked my horn and gestured to him that he pull forward. Success! John, from Essa painting, put the hose back in the holder and quickly, happily, complied. Once I was in position at my pump, I thanked him profusely, asked his name (and for permission to mention him in these “Thoughts”) and we chatted briefly about how nice it is to be nice.
It’s just one tiny episode, but it still makes me smile over a week later. John’s thoughtfulness in moving ahead willingly wasn’t much, but it was a kind thing to do. It didn’t really speed things up for me tremendously, but it made a pretty good day even better. Just knowing that someone is ready and willing to be nice should be enough to make anyone smile.
Jesus modelled that kind of thoughtfulness all the time. When someone asked for something, he usually gave them what they needed. Of course, the request had to be reasonable; something that fell within the needs of that person and what God expected of them. So Jesus healed and helped those who were broken in body or mind. But when folks asked for something out of selfish motives, they weren’t so lucky. When a rich young man wanted to get into God’s good books without making or doing anything for others, Jesus turned him down flat.
The gentleman that moved his vehicle forward for me didn’t know my motives, but I did make my request with a smile and as kindly as possible. I tried to be as thoughtful as I could, knowing that I was asking him to inconvenience himself for a moment. His thoughtfulness, I hope, was at least in part due to my thoughtfulness.
It’s not a hard thing to do. To be thoughtful in the way we ask for something or in response to someone’s request should be as natural and as easy as breathing. It’s a kindness to others that reflects Jesus’ kindness towards us. It might even be said that being thoughtful is a way of loving our neighbour just as we would ask to be loved, in direct response to Jesus’ thoughtful request (and example…) that we love one another.

“Grumps”

January 27th

To hear some folks talking, you’d think it’s the end of the world. Nothing is right. Taxes are too high, pensions are too low, Millenials are too lazy and self-absorbed, kids don’t appreciate their elders, the devil is running amok and not only is the glass half-empty, it has a leak in the bottom and the water is dirty. And that’s just before the coffee is served. Once the conversation gets started, the grumps get grumpier and the picture gets even more gloomy.
No, I’m not making this up or exaggerating. This is the reality I often run into with some folks. Call ‘em grumpy old men (and women…) or negative Nellies,  nothing is right and everything is wrong and getting worse. The worst part of this? These are all too often people of faith who profess to believe in the Good News of the Gospel.
I don’t get it. Sure, every once in a while there might be reason to complain. There are certainly reasons to wonder about our world and maybe even worry about it a little bit, but, for the most part, there are more reasons to have hope than there are to despair, especially if you’re living in this part of the world, and even more so if you believe in a living, loving God and the amazing Son that was the best news we could ever imagine.
We’re told that faith, hope and love matter. For someone following Jesus, those three things encapsulate our faith and what He brings to the party. God is faithful, never giving up on us, even sending Jesus to help us when we are at our lowest. God gives us hope; again, through Jesus, that we can be the best that we were made to be. God reveals a love that is beyond anything we can imagine, yet well within our reach. When we love others as Jesus loves us, and we do so simply for the sake of love itself, we act in faith and make our hope for a better world come to life.
When we’re grumpy, none of this happens. In fact, when we’re grumpy, we deny and defy all that God has done for us. Only when we have hope for a better outcome are we willing to at least try and help. Only when we have faith that God is working for and through us can we believe we’ll make a difference. Only when we love joyfully and unsparingly can we claim to be God’s children, earthly reflections of God’s heavenly image.
I’m not a big fan of grumpy people. Maybe you aren’t either. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be loved and encouraged and heard. Sometimes that grumpiness hides a pain or sorrow that can only be loved away. And maybe you’re one of those grumpy people for whom the leaking glass is half-empty with dirty water. But if you let Jesus really love you as only He can, then you might realize that His Good News is all you need to turn that frown upside-down.

“Little Things”

January 20th

The renovation of our new home required the purchase of baseboard and trim for the floors and windows. In order to make the installation as seamless as possible, we bought fairly long lengths of material, which meant they had to hang out of our minivan.
When things are too long for your vehicle and they jut out past the bumper, the law asks for a bright red flag to be placed on the end of the offending item so that it can be seen. The folks at the lumber supply company were kind enough to provide just such a thing, and Lois and I managed to arrive home safely with our ungainly, but well marked, load.
When it came time to unpack the trim and baseboard, I noticed that the wee red flag (well, actually, simply a piece of heavy cardstock…) had the supplier’s logo stamped on it. Clever. The good folks running the company thought to advertise themselves through even something as small and insignificant as a red safety flag. Clearly, they know the old adage that there is no such thing as bad advertising. It might even be said that there is no such thing as too small an ad.
Branding, which is what was done by this companies placement of their logo, is an important form of advertisement. You know instantly who made that cool t-shirt or that brand of stereo sound so great. Companies do it with fancy graphics and unique colour schemes. Movie stars and sports celebrities do it with a particular look or hair style. Christians? Well, some choose to wear crosses or little fish jewellery, but most of us don’t think to advertise our faith quite so visibly.
Despite the lack of obvious branding, we can still be known as Jesus’ followers by the little (and big) things we do. When we love folks as a rule, or seek justice in all that we do, (even if it’s just yielding our place in the checkout line to the person with just one item as opposed to our overflowing cartload) or try to be kind and gentle even with the most stressful person, we are marketing ourselves in a positive way.
And marketing, or branding, or advertising, matters even for we Christians. Of course, that’s not what we call it. We call it spreading the Good News, or sharing the Gospel, or letting it be known that Jesus is alive and well. However we reveal Jesus’ love, everything we do and say matters. Even the little things.