Vol 8 No. 52 A New Year Reflection …And a Blessing

 

“MAY YOU DO AND SAY THINGS THIS YEAR THAT ARE TOTALLY UNEXPECTED” – JRR TOLKIEN, THE HOBBIT

Dear Folks,

 

Even as the carols are on our lips and the music echoes in our hearts, we wade through the debris of the season toward New Year’s.  Let me be clear, the beginning of the Christmas Season was the first Sunday in Advent. That was the New Year, not January 1st.  Don’t worry, we’ve got a second chance but make no mistake, the January 1st New Year is pagan, not Christian, which despite all our good intentions and retro-fits, makes January 1st a poor replacement. Since we don’t usually teach this amongst our congregations, and today I am priming us for a January 1st new beginning, let’s drop that subject for now.

There are many who go into the New Year with the uncertainty of life hanging over them. There are others who have a genuine trust in the Lord’s companioning. There are some for which both are true.

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’
         – The Gate of the Year, Minnie Louise Haskins
                     
Quoted by King George VI in the first months of World War II

 

Others remember the faithfulness of God.

Psalm 40:2

New International Version (NIV)

 

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

 

Psalm 116

New International Version (NIV)

 

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.

 

Psalm 103:1-2 (Psalm read by my family at Christmas for 7 generations)

New International Version (NIV)

 

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—

 

Romans 8:38-39

New International Version (NIV)

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Still others know and have experienced an excitement and anticipation about what God will do; in us and through us.

Many of us are not consistently any of the above. Many of us are rather like Tolkien’s description of Bilbo Baggins (a Hobbit of recent film fame); respectable, well-off, never had any adventures or did anything unexpected…in a word boring, predictable, a mediocrity that must seem like acrid smoke in the nostrils of God.

I knew these words as a teenager. My father would often quote them on a Sunday morning…his paraphrase (I’m imaging this, I know) of the passage from Revelation – (sure you were neither hot nor cold). I know this passage for another reason. As a loutish teenager sleeping in on a Saturday morning, my father would come to my bedroom door and knock, and knock and knock more and more  loudly saying (rather humorously I must admit even now), “Come out Bilbo Baggins, come out.”

Remember the description from Tolkien.

This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses have lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most o them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained – well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.

I’m sure some of us can see ourselves in this, or someone else (easier).

My longing, prayer and desire is to be the kind Christian described in every stage of this newsletter, but especially a Baggins/Christian, that in the power of the Holy Spirit risks and lives the fullness of God’s calling.

So may they say of each of us that which was said of Bilbo, “This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained – well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end”.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

 

Vol 8 No. 51 A Christmas Blessing …May You Burn Your Dinner

 

Dear Folks,

 

The Christmas story is rife with those who in the course of life’s ordinary activity found themselves
overcome by the presence, power and story of God.

Joseph the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, was struck speechless.

Luke 1:5-24
New International Version (NIV)

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to

the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of
them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees
blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they
were both very old.

8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he

was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of
the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the
assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of

incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the
angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife
Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight
to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of
the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the
Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the
Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to
turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the
righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is

well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent
to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to
speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come

true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long

in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen
a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife

Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.

John’s mother, Elizabeth, greeting her cousin Mary (a rather ordinary event) only to find herself in the
power of the Spirit breaking into a spontaneous burst of joy and song.

Luke 1:41-45
New International Version (NIV)

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was

filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my
Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the
baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would
fulfill his promises to her!”

Joseph went to sleep one night determined to break his betrothal to Mary and woke up after a
dream (and a visit from an angel) quite determined to do the opposite and marry her.

The shepherds are minding their own business one night doing what shepherd do and the angel of
the Lord appeared to them and they were terrified.

These are but four examples of the drama of Christmas; never mind the persistently curious Wise
Men and Mary who “Treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”

Luke 2:18-20
New International Version (NIV)

18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary
treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as
they had been told.

These are stories about others.

What about each one of us?

What about me?

Can the awesomeness of Christ’s birth “overwhelm my ordinary”; distract me from the common-place
to the Holy.

I was greatly met and re-claimed by the Spirit this year as I listened to the Children’s Pageant at church
this year. It was entitled “What Can This Mean” written by Jennifer Milley; it was, like Jennifer and other
writers before her like Susan Ferguson at the church, brilliant, funny and instructive.

There was a scene that depicted the plainness of our tasks and lives (all quite worthy) that are
contrasted with the wonder, awesomeness and radical reality of the birth of Jesus. The phrase that
struck me, literally spiritually struck me was, these things are so awesome that they are enough to
“make you burn your dinner”. Here is a section from the play written from the point of view of the
gospel writer Luke’s aunt:

“Not a word of a lie. Elizabeth, an old woman, pregnant, and Mary, a young maid,
pregnant, too! Well I never! But, as I’ve just said, there was more to it even than that.
“Mother of my Lord!” Was that really what Elizabeth said to Mary? Lukey, let me tell you, I
burnt your uncle’s lunch that day, I was so startled and surprised by what I had overheard.
“Mother of my Lord?” “Mother of my Lord?” What could it mean? Could there really be a
Messiah coming, I wondered? But, a child? Wasn’t the Messiah supposed to be our king?
These are the kind of thoughts, I warn you, Luke, that make you burn a dinner.”

May we in the midst of our self-created clutter and business forget the ordinary. May we forget the
ordinary in order to have it displaced by the Holy person and presence of the Lord Jesus.

Two Christmas blessings:

So from Mary, who treasured and pondered the words of Christmas in her heart.

From “Luke’s aunt” this Christmas in Holy forgetfulness may you burn a dinner….and be the better for it.

 

Warmly,

In Christ and Merry Christmas,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

Grieving for the Children

It is with soul shaking, and spirit scouring sadness, that we, as a family of churches in the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, grieve with the parents, siblings, relatives, and friends of those who died and were injured in the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

In the midst of a season which anticipates the birth of a child, the Christ child, the Morning Star who signals the dawn of a new day in His person, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and inevitable return, we are stilled by the young and other lives cut short. We remember violence done to others everywhere. We stand with the Baptist pastor from Brooklyn, who was offering to reclaim guns last Saturday, so as to get them out of circulation… we stand with him when he remarked that as a pastor in Chicago, dozens of people had been killed in a 36 hour period during his ministry there. Gun violence is prevalent in many parts of the world. The circumstances and age of the children simply change shape.

The children of Newtown have been adopted by us all. It begs the question, however, about suffering elsewhere. There are no equivalencies in the killing of children. But their deaths remain the same. A blot on adult policy, practice, and behaviour. We kill them; they rarely kill each other.

I look forward to a day when our horror, sympathy, tears, and compassion does two simple things. First, that it is extended to all of God’s children, young and old. And secondly, we are so driven from the empty watering hole of our own complacency to ensure that we find ways of protecting children by creating a society that is fit to live in, and allows them to enter adulthood.

I urge you to pray for those we mentioned at the beginning of this commentary, and that we become ennobled and emboldened to reflect on the society that we live in, our own communities, our own nation, and ask the Lord and each other “what can we do? How can we be different than we have been before? Changed.”

The result of 9/11 was hundreds of thousands dead. May the result of Newtown be hundreds of thousands shielded from dying.

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

Vol 8 No. 50 Emmanuel…God With Us

 

Dear Folks,

 

Matthew 1:23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him
Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”

I’ve always embraced and felt comfortable with this particular verse and in seeing the fullness
of Jesus in this passage. I am also often reminded about how some individuals “come to us as Christ
does”…reminders of the presence, power and faithfulness of God himself. There are several people in
my life for whom that is true. One of them is my experience with Emmanuel Ndabarushimana, an ironic
and priceless name to be sure in this season.

Emmanuel reminded me that in the great gift of Christ in this season Christ’s gift is not just for me
but is also for others. My character, my behaviour, my generosity must all be influenced, subject and
congruent with the gift of generosity of the Christ child. Emmanuel helped me with one part of the
mystery of generosity; after I tell you the story of our lunch I hope that you will understand how he
helped me to see that “saving something we’ve been given so someone else who does not have might
receive”, is the essence of Advent.

Emmanuel and I decided to go for lunch. I asked him where he wanted to go and he made a
suggestion. We talked about food and culture as we walked over to the restaurant. I should add that
Emmanuel comes from Burundi. A conversation about food and the richness of African culture is an
interesting and intense conversation. A conversation about British culture and food, until recently, has
been a conversation that is both boring and short. Emmanuel talked about the importance of meat in
his culture and we both talked about how expensive meat has become for the average dinner table. Out
of that discussion, when we arrived at the restaurant (happened to be Greek), I encouraged Emmanuel
to order the lamb and so we ordered, received our meal, gave thanks, and engaged in conversation.
About 20 minutes into the meal I noticed that Emmanuel had left his food virtually untouched. This
reluctance given his enthusiasm around our anticipated meal puzzled me. At this point in the story,
I want to tell you that Emmanuel has given me permission to tell this story; partly because I keep
reminding him how helpful and instructive the example of his generosity has been for me. I also need to
tell you that Emmanuel, while he has gone back to Burundi to minister, had two preteen children with

him in Vancouver; a girl and a boy. As his food remained untouched, my mind raced to figure out why he
wasn’t eating and finally I just said to him:

“Emmanuel, you haven’t touched your food”

He looked startled, embarrassed, awkward, and gave the impression that he did not have words
to respond. I felt awkward too. So I let the other shoe drop… “Emmanuel, you are not eating because
you are saving your meal for you and the children to have supper tonight.”…he looked relieved. I said
“Emmanuel, we are going to order another dinner for tonight, let’s eat lunch”…and we did.

Emmanuel reminded me of many things that day. To be sure, there is the gift of the Christ child
at Christmas and the urging within us that we have to share the gift we have been given but more
importantly, Emmanuel gave me the most simple and basic introduction to the person and work of
Christ and that is to inconvenience myself (the essential story of the incarnation) and secondly, that
unless we are willing to give of self and selflessly we are not giving much at all.

Immanuel, which means God with us, Immanuel, God through Emmanuel Ndabarushimana, vividly
or present with me.

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

 

Thanks to all of you who attended the Banff Pastors and Spouses Conference this year and have given us
feedback.

If you have not had a chance to send us your feedback, please do so before 15 December 2012 (the
original email with the survey link was sent to you on 8 November from Shelby Gregg).

If you did not receive this email and link, please contact Shelby (sgregg@cbwc.ca) and request it, as we
appreciate hearing from all of you, as we look to plan the 2013 conference.

Vol 8 No. 49 God With Us

 

Dear Folks,

 

I had completed all the appropriate duties that I loved to participate in on Christmas Eve and our
children were in bed, my wife, Kerry, was content to be at home with a book and I found myself at a
midnight carol service on Christmas Eve at St. John’s Shaughnessy Anglican Church in Vancouver. Some
of you remember this story but I will repeat it for those who are not familiar. Part way through the
service came the time to repeat the Apostle’s Creed and in the dim candle lit sanctuary we began to
raise our voices in declaration of an orthodox faith. As I stood there, repeating those wonderful and
powerful words, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty…” I heard a voice much louder, stronger and
more emphatic above all the rest. It had an enthusiasm and urgency about it, a deep baritone rumbling.
Somewhere in the middle of the darkness behind me, there was such an urgency to the speaker, such a
need to declare, such a longing to join the throngs on angels and others at the manger that the voice in
the darkness picked up each phrase just a half beat before the congregation itself spoke in unison.

I recognized the voice. I took me three or four more lines to recall who it was. It was a pastor friend
of mine who was no longer ministering to a congregation. The transition and terms in which he had
left his previous church had not been easy. He was in pain, you could hear that in his voice but despite
the pain, the hurt and the sense of an unknown future, here he was in the candle lit, semi-darkness of
a community, not his own, yet because it was a community of faith, still his family, declaring the clear
good news that he could holdfast to. How much his wonderful declaration of the creed that day was
an act of worship to God and how much it was an anxious need to hear his own voice seemingly lead a
congregation once again in worship I will never know…I don’t think he knows either but it reminded me
how at Christmas I often have trouble differentiating as to whether Christmas is about me or whether
Christmas is about the Christ child. That story and many others lead me to write the devotional that is
now before you.

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had
been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from
the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to
public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this,

an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be
afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She
will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their
sins.”22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the
Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until
she had borne a son;[b] and he named him Jesus. (NRSV)

deep, joyous and boisterous happy Christmas to each of us as we celebrate the birth of the child
who is Jesus the Christ. G.K. Chesterton once wrote “A stable once contained someone who is bigger
than the whole world” and so Jesus is exactly that, someone who is “bigger than the whole world”,
larger than anyone we can long for or imagine. He is the Lord and Redeemer known as Wonderful
Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. These words are only the beginning of
how many of us wish to express the glory of this day.

Childhood habits however are hard to break. At Christmas time, despite the wonderful Christ
centered focus in my parents home and in the church we attended, the Christ part never quite worked
out that way for me. As a child, Christmas was not about Jesus. Christmas was about me. Much of that
self-centeredness has travelled long into my adult life. I love the gifts of Jesus, his life, passion, death,
resurrection, and promise to return yet I relentlessly forget that in order to be fully present with us,
he needed to leave his place beside and before God the Father, in order to be the Christ of Christmas.
This ‘coming amongst us” variously described as tumbling down, condescending or lowering himself
never quite captured the amazing truth of him setting aside so much to be so much part of us. Fully
human, fully divine.

The challenge of the incarnation is simply this: If Emmanuel means God with us and Jesus was
willing to set aside so much to be “God with us”, then to what degree am I willing to inconvenience
myself, give up my own comfort, privilege and insularity to imitate this incarnation for others.
Emmanuel, God with us…God with me…God through me, with others.

Merry Christmas.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

Banff 2012 Speakers Online

The CBWC has audio files of the keynote addresses and Bible studies from the Banff Pastors and Spouses Conference 2012.

We have all four talks by Myra Blyth:  God in the Desert, God in the Storm, God in the Tears and God in the Bread and Wine.  Chaplain and Tutor in Pastoral Studies at Regent’s Park College, in the University of Oxford, Oxford.  Editor of Gathering for Worship.

We also have two of Cal Malena’s Bible studies on intimacy with God. Cal is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist, Prince George, BC.

To hear these audio files, go to our Audio Blogs Page.

Vol 8 No. 48 Lift Up Your Voice

 

Dear Folks,

 

I wrote a brief devotional for my church’s Advent Reader. It was helpful to me as part of my
preparation, anticipation and entering the season before Christmas.

Isaiah 40:1-11

1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s
hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every
mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places
a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for
the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All
people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower
fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass
withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high
mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald
of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See,
the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his
recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in
his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. (NRSV)

We hear so many voices raised up in this Advent season…So many competing voices vying for our
attention that we are unable to hear any of them. We cannot hear our own voice let alone the voice of
God. Advent is supposed to be a time of anticipation, hope, faith, and a longing for joy. I want to echo
Nehemiah’s words in 8:10b that the “Joy of the Lord is my Strength” but my strength fails and my voice
fades. It is such an irony that Isaiah asks me in verse 9 to “lift up my voice with strength”. Does Isaiah
know what he is asking? Isaiah may not, but God does for in the midst of personal turmoil of any kind,
seasonal or otherwise, this passage begins with the soothing, deeply felt balm of verse 1 “Comfort,
O comfort my people, says your God”. Ah, yes, comfort. I soak up these words like finding water in a
desert, peace in the midst of chaos.

While the passage reminds us of the awesome nature of God and our own finiteness (verse 6), the
passage also gives us two of the most treasured gifts of Christmas. The first gift is this: that amidst the
many voices and insistent obligations that come with life: the Lord brings comfort. He asks us to receive
that comfort for ourselves and for us to be comforters of others. The second gift is the declaration of the
reality of the Advent season and its culmination on Christmas Day; “Here is your God” (verse 9) indeed,
here he is in Jesus, the Christ child.

“Lift up your voice with strength…here is your God”…even now, come Lord, into our lives.

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca