The Best Type of Gifts

I think the best gifts are often the most unexpected.
Do you know what I mean?
The small and unexpected things that a friend might give, a family member or something like that? We all expect gifts to show up on our birthday and around Christmas, but some of the best gifts are the ones that come out of the blue because someone was thinking about you.
IMG_3203This week I went over to my mom’s house and I found this from one of my Aunts – a T-shirt for pastors. She had seen this shirt and not only thought of me, but acted on it and bought it for me.
It’s often these type of small but incredibly meaningful gifts that leave an impact. It’s showing up with a coffee for a friend when they least expected it. It’s having a book delivered to their house that you thought they’d enjoy. It’s a T-Shirt about ministers that reminds you of them.
The point is we should be showing our care in creative ways. It doesn’t have to be expensive or large ways; it has to be intentional and thoughtful ways.
And that’s what this shirt means to me – an intentional and thoughtful gift – which are always the best kind.
So why not take a second and think about someone you could surprise with a gift this week. And then actually make it happen, and spread some love and hope.
Of course there is one thing small error with my gift and with this shirt…I can’t hold a tune to save my life 🙂

Long Days…And Gifts of Grace

1249444_83938048This week I had a long day…I mean a really long day. Sometimes this happens. The day started out with nothing planned. But by the end of it I had met with upwards of 15 people, with 5 groups of people being in major crisis or really important decisions being made. Also, I’m an introvert which means I had really hit my quota of conversations for the day. I didn’t get home till it was well after dark and supper, and even then had a pile of emails and critical phone calls to return.

Have you ever had a day like this? A day that jumps out of nowhere. A day you didn’t plan for, and a day that just seems to keep going? Have you ever had God show up on a day like this? Were you looking for him in the midst of it?

Because here is the thing – this day was important. Every one of the meetings, prayers, and conversations was critical. There was nothing wasted in it, but it was long, it was tiring, and as I drove into my driveway, knowing it wasn’t even close to being finished, I was drained. On top of that I know that my wife had a long difficult day with the boys.

And as I get out of the car in the rain, and feeling drained, my neighbour walks up to me and says, “I hear you’ve had a really tough and long day. I’m here to watch your kids so your wife can have a break, and you can finish what you need to.”

How beautiful and amazing is that?

And I know the question you’re all asking, and the answer is “no”. No I’m not moving and you can’t have my neighbours. But it just reminded me of the beauty of community, of friends, of family. This is the type of community we dream of having, neighbourhoods we want to live in, and friends we want to have. So rather than dreaming about it, why not start to create it? Why not be the neighbour who shows up with help. The friend who gives when the day has been long.

Because I can tell you – it changed my night. It was still a long day, but I saw God all through it, especially in the help from my neighbour. So why not be that type of neighbour, the one who blesses and changes lives. Because I can tell you from personal experience – those types of neighbours matter.

Les Miserables and the Gift of Grace

Les_Miserables_poster_CNA_US_Catholic_News_1_10_13I went and saw Les Miserables last night. The movie was as fantastic as people have been saying.

There is so much depth, truth, and brilliance in it. In fact, it has one of my favorite scenes of all time in a movie. What happens is this. Jean Valjean steals a bunch of silver from a bishop. He is caught and brought before the bishop, and the priest tells the policeman that he didn’t steal these items they were his gift to Jean. The beautiful part is when he says, “But in your haste, you left behind the best, the silver candlesticks”. He then gives them to Jean val Jean.

And this little interaction changes the whole course of the movie, and most of all Jean Valjean’s life.

The point is that grace and gift can do this. Grace and gift can change the course of someone’s life. They can alter the direction and pattern of a life. And that scene is a wonderful picture of God’s grace. God’s grace doesn’t simply cover up wrongs, by saying the stolen goods were given to Jean Valjean, it overwhelms the wrongs with abundance (giving him the candlesticks). God’s grace always goes the extra mile. And it changes people.

The problem is that giving grace like this is so hard that it is so rare. People often say but I can’t give grace to…them…they don’t deserve it. That is precisely the point. They don’t deserve but sometimes getting something you don’t deserve is what actually changes you.

The truth is people often live up to your expectations of them. The priest changed Jean Valjean because he expected something different of him. Javert, the main policeman believed he would always be a thief. The priest saw Jean Valjean as a gift from God and that makes all the difference.

So today why not give grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it, why not expect differently from them, why not see them as a gift from God. Who knows one little gift could change their life…because isn’t that how all Christian lives have been changed? One gift from God above, sending his son to us below?

And if you get a chance go see the movie it’s worth it, because stories about grace are always worth it…

Learning from Leviticus

On Sunday we are looking at one of my favorite books. Leviticus. My guess is that it isn’t one of your favorite books. But on Sunday was are going to be learning something unique about God, and giving thanks. My guess is that you know how important giving thanks is. On Sunday we will discover how it can not only change your life but change your community.

But before we get there why don’t you take a moment, get a coffee or a good drink, slow down, and ask yourself what can I be thankful for? Take a moment and think of all that God has given you? At first it might not seem like a lot.  Maybe it might be tough but it is important. We all know people who seem overcome with bitterness and anger, being stuck in an unhealthy space. The way though to prevent bitterness from taking root is to give thanks.

So today slow down and give thanks and then share why you are thankful with someone else. And as we’ll see on Sunday, that’s the start of changing communities…

Where I Saw Jesus This Week…

A little while ago I was at a party and I discovered Jesus was already there.

One of the biggest guiding beliefs in my life is that Jesus is active in the world already. He is a person, he is risen, and he is already active in places before I get there. So my goal is to find out where Jesus is active and to partner with him there. I just want to join in with what he is doing and where he is.

This happened at a party I was at. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Jesus was already working there because some of his best work happens in parties in the New Testament. But as I mingled and listened, I realized how Jesus was working in people’s lives and I just sought to affirm what he was doing in their lives.

One conversation started with this, “I’m not really religious, and I don’t know if you believe in God or anything. But here is what God did in my life…” We went on to talk about how this person found a prayer answered. After a while of talking they stopped and said “enough about me, what do you do?”  I said “I’m a pastor.”  They responded with “So you probably do believe in God then eh?” Great stuff right. God was already active in their life, I just got to affirm Jesus’ part of their lives and encourage them to keep on seeking God.

A second conversation began with simple confession, that a few followers of Jesus restored this person’s hope in humanity. A few different Christians had given them grace through practical expressions of love. They shared with me that these small gifts restored their hope in humanity, and an opening to God. That’s Jesus actively working in their hearts.

So my challenge for you this week is simple. Watch for Jesus and expect that he is working in people’s lives already. And when you see him active, encourage, affirm, and bless. Partner with Jesus in the lives around you and my guess is that you’ll start seeing some beautiful change and transformation…

Where I Saw Jesus This Week…

This week I was sitting in my office writing a sermon.I heard a faint knock on my door and in walked a youth from our church. She had made this for me.

She gave it to me as a gift to say thank you for being her pastor. We chatted briefly and she left. As I was reflecting on this small and simple gift ~ it struck me how profound it was. Here was someone thanking me for being their pastor. But all  I could think of is how thankful I am that I get to be her pastor.

So this week I found Jesus in a small and simple act. But those are the acts that are often the most meaningful. Mother Theresa said famously “Do small things with great love”. And this is what this youth did. A small act, but an incredibly meaningful and encouraging act.

So this week don’t focus on doing something huge for someone. Do something small, meaningful, but make it full of great love and demonstrate Jesus to others.

This picture is now hanging in my office. Luckily I have a huge empty space on my wall where I could put it up. And this picture makes that space feel a bit fuller. And the amazing thing is that it did the same for me in my life. It made my life feel a lot fuller…

Giving from the Grave

This week I got a gift from my grandpa and grandma, who we call “Nanny and Poppy”. The odd thing is that both of them passed many years ago.

So how did they give me a gift? Well it happened in a round about way, but also because giving lasts.

Hudson came downstairs with my favorite book as a little boy. It’s “Little Squirt the Fire Engine”. This was a book that I loved growing up. Inside the book was a card given to me from my Nanny and Poppy for my 1st birthday. Inside of that card was a crisp $2 bill and a $5 bill that I had never seen before. We don’t know why it was there, but it was a fun surprise because what was a gift for me, became a gift for their great-grandson.

So even though they never met their great-grandson they did impact him. Krista and I used the money for something special that my Nanny and Poppy would have loved. We took our little boy skating for the very first time. We donated the $5, strapped on some bob skates, and took him out on the ice for an hour. He loved it, and I know in heaven Nanny and Poppy love it too. My Poppy loved hockey, loved skating, and even tied the skates for the leafs way back in the day. So here he was passing along his love to his great-grandson years after he had passed. Here was my Nanny passing along her love for me, to her grandson. They both somehow, 27 years ago, gave a simple gift of a book, a card, and $7 that lasted.

That’s the amazing thing about gifts – they have the potential to change not only people but generations. Gifts can last and linger long after they have been given. My Nanny and Poppy never thought their $7 gift would change a great-grandson, but it did. They had no idea how long their gift would last, or how far the impact would reach. But that is the beauty of giving ~ we never know how far or how long the impact will last.

So today why don’t you think of someone special and give to them. Who knows who it might impact, and how the gift might last and change someone. I surely didn’t expect this gift from my Nanny and Poppy. But aren’t those the best gifts? The unexpected ones that shape you. So do that for someone else today, give a meaningful gift that lasts.

And in case you’re wondering…we kept the $2 bill to give to Hudson when he’s older, so my Nanny and Poppy’s gift continues to last and linger just like them…

There are Two Ways Through Life – the Way of Grace and of Nature

On Sunday we talked about a parable of Jesus found in Matthew 20 – “The parable of the vineyard workers”. You can download the sermon here. In this sermon we also saw and talked about  a clip from the movie the Tree of Life, discussed the danger of earning rewards from relationships, and talked a lot about grace.

Yet after the sermon there were two thoughts that really lingered for me. We discussed how you can actually “use” relationships and people. That if you love what you get from someone – you don’t love them, instead you love what you get. So if you love how God gives you eternal life – you love eternal life, not God. The point was that there is a danger in letting the rewards or results of a relationship becoming the reason for a realtionship.

So as I was driving home on Sunday I asked myself: Is there any part of my relationship with God – where the focus has shifted from loving God to loving what he does for me? Have I at all gotten caught up with the benefits of my relationship with God without appreciating being in a relationship with God?

That was the first thought that I found challenging, and worth reflecting on. The second was how we ended on Sunday, focusing on the fact that there are two ways through life – the way of grace or the way of nature. While there are two ways through life, there is only one way into the Kingdom and that’s through grace. So the question then is am I living in the way of grace or nature?

Neither of these questions are easy: are we using relationships or appreciating them? Are we living according to what is fair, or by grace? Are we giving or focusing on what we get?

Sometimes though the most difficult questions are the most worthwhile…

Discussion Questions:

  • Adult Questions:
  • What excites you about God’s grace?
  • Who in your life needs to be given God’s grace – without expectations – as an example of the Kingdom? How can you give them grace?
  • How can you make “giving grace” a regular part of your life?
  • Questions for Young Families:
  • Share with them what grace is. Use an example from their lives. For example when you let them do something even if they didn’t deserve to because of their behaviour. Ask them in what times might they might need to show grace to others (i.e. when playing and sharing, when someone calls them a name, etc)?
  • Weekly Challenge:  Give grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it…free them and yourself

What are you Hoping for?

This Sunday starts the season of Advent, and we’re focusing on hope. Hope is so prevelant in Christmas. Kids are hoping for a special gift, parents might be hoping to just get through Chrismas. We look forward to Jesus’ birth and how he brings us hope. All of these things are true and good.

But what I want to focus on today is – what are you hoping for?

Not in terms of material gifts, but in terms of you’re life. Is there a need in your life you’re hoping to be filled? Is there a desire that lingers, a prayer that needs to be answered, is there a darkness that needs to be lifted?

Advent is about anticipating, waiting and hoping for Jesus’ birth. Because with his birth comes new hope and new life. This Sunday were going to be focusing not on what hope is, but how Jesus wants to give you and me a hope that overflows.

So today what is it your hoping for this Christmas?

Spend sometime honestly sharing it with God. It can be hard to whisper those deep needs, for fear of being disappointed. But if the Christmas story is true, then it means that hope gets birthed in the most unexpected places and ways.

And it can happen to you today…