Prepare for the Guest of Honour

Photo from Thinkstock / iStockphotos

By Katherine Walden

“Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys,
level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
and everyone will see it.
Yes. Just as God has said.”
Isaiah 40:1-11 (The Message)

I HAVE HAD THE BLESSING of being an invited dinner guest in family homes all across North America and in South America and Asia. I have dined on bamboo mats carefully placed over compacted dirt floors; I have eaten in formal dining rooms whose walls were graced with fine and expensive artwork. I have sat at kitchen tables, and at picnic tables and I’ve stood at many campfires, carefully balancing a paper plate and a Styrofoam cup of juice. I have eaten prime rib with all the accompaniments and I have shared a hard-boiled egg with a small bowl of rice between two people. More than once, I ate local delicacies that were foreign to my tongue in many ways. I have been both humbled and blessed by the kind hospitality offered, I have received with a very grateful heart each gift of friendship and fellowship offered me.

PREPARATION
Although my hosts’ circumstances greatly varied, my hosts shared two commonalities: preparation and a desire to bless me as their guest. In Northern Ontario, they literally ploughed a road to their door and had snowmobiles ready, in case their Christmas guests needed alternative transport. In Thailand, my hostess rolled up her family bedding, storing it carefully in a corner then used the sleeping mats to form a makeshift table, carefully positioned under a single red paper streamer that was left over from a neighbour’s wedding. Year after year, I have marvelled at the charming and festive decor of a dear friend who truly loves the Christmas season and loves her friends and family even more.

ANTICIPATION
One of my more memorable dining hosts was my own brother, who invited my best friend and me to his bachelor suite for a gourmet meal of boxed macaroni and cheese, with an exotic touch of a can of tuna and frozen mixed vegetables mixed in. My brother was not known for his housekeeping skills and my friend and I braced ourselves for the worst! We were happily surprised that he made room for three people to sit around his table and he had actually washed the plates and cutlery with soap and water, rather than his usual quick rinse under the tap. Our beverages were served in fast-food cups but at least they were plastic cups and had been washed. We closed our eyes to the rest of the clutter; it was the thought that counted. No matter how simple or lavish the meal; each host carefully planned the meal and prepared their homes in anticipation of my arrival.
Although my own circumstances have made it difficult for me to prepare meals for my guests, I do what I can in order to bless them, even if it as simple as heading down to the local store to buy their favourite soft drink. I dust and tidy up, scrub the bathroom as best I can and select music that I hope will be a blessing to play in the background. I make sure I am well rested in order that I can be an attentive and cheerful host and I greet them with open arms.

ADVENT
The month before Christmas is called Advent in churches that follow the liturgical year. The word “advent” is derived from the Latin adventus and means “a coming” or “arrival”. Advent might be defined as a season of preparatory anticipation. At the time of the Roman Empire adventus referred to the arrival of a person of dignity and great power and importance, such as a king. The season of advent provides the perfect opportunity for Christians to stop and consider what their lives were like before they became followers of Jesus, and what their lives are like now because of all his blessings.
In the same manner in which we clean and prepare our homes in the anticipation of welcomed guests and family members, let us also prepare our hearts in anticipation of the Lord’s coming. Christ, our most honoured and eagerly anticipated guest, desires to meet with us in a heart prepared for his arrival. So eager is he to meet with us that he offers to help us with our spiritual housecleaning, working with us, creating a resting place for himself within our hearts.

© Katherine Walden. Used by permission.
Katherine hails from Alberta, Canada from where she heads up I Lift My Eyes Ministries  (www.psalm121.ca).

This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of FIRST!

Stepping out of the Picture

By David Holdaway.

Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera

Stanley Jones, the great Methodist missionary doctor to India gave the following insight to help us capture the heart and meaning of the Christmas message. He describes a small child, standing before a picture of his absent father, who, turning to his mother, wistfully said, “I wish dad would step out of the picture!”  This little boy, said Jones, was expressing the deepest yearning of the human heart. We who have gazed upon pictures of God in nature are grateful, but not satisfied. We want our Father to step out of the impersonal picture and meet us as a person. What we long for is a personal relationship with God not just a religious understanding. No philosophy or principle is able to meet the deepest needs of the human heart.

God has revealed Himself through His creation, the psalmist could look up into the clear night sky with awesome wonder proclaiming: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim His handiwork’ (Psalm 191). Yet it is still just a picture, an insight to what God may be like, His greatness and majesty, but not enough to know Him personally.
The Jewish people had the Tabernacle and the Temple, the sacrifices and offerings, but they were still only a picture, a shadow, a type of who was to come. They had the Word of God, the Law and the Prophets, the principles of God enshrined in the Scriptures, but still they longed for a Messiah, someone to come and step out of the picture. Over 2000 years ago in the small town of Bethlehem, in moments words cannot adequately describe, God stepped out of the picture.

When the space craft Apollo 11 landed on the moon and man took his first steps, the world looked on and held its breath. The impossible was actually happening. Just seventy years before, man could not even fly. Commander Neil Armstrong took those first historic steps with the famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was Jim Irwin, however, another Apollo astronaut and moon-walker, who made a far more significant statement: “God walking on earth is infinitely greater than man walking on the moon.”

This article is reused from FIRST! Magazine 2009

David Holdaway is a pastor and author. He has written over 20 books, including No more Fear and The Burning Heart.This is an extract from The Wonder of Christmas, and is used with permission. You can buy this delightful little book, and other publications of David’s, from his website, www.lifepublications.org.

Leaking, blocked, or flowing?

By John Townend, General Director of The Faith Mission

Leaking tap

Photo iStockphoto

When I was a young teenager, one summer morning I set off with a petrol can in hand and cycled three miles to the nearest garage. There I paid the carefully saved six shillings and tuppence (31p!) for a gallon of petrol, strapped the full can to the back of my bike and made the return journey. I was impatient to have some fun on the old motorcycle we used in the field behind our home. Unfortunately, I failed to notice that there was a small hole in the bottom of the can and on arriving home was terribly disappointed to find that most of the fuel had seeped away.

Leaking Vessels
It is my experience that we tend to be a little bit like that in our every-day walk with God. It is not that we deliberately reject God’s Word, but we often neglect to put it into action in our lives and over a period of time the blessing and benefit which God intended us to enjoy simply seep away. I understand that Hebrews 2:1 can be accurately translated:
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest over a period of time we should let them ebb away.”
The pressures of every-day life take their toll upon us. If we fail to keep close to God, hide his Word in our hearts and daily seek the fresh anointing of his Holy Spirit upon our lives, we soon find that we are “running on empty”. Instead of knowing “the peace, the joy, the thrill of walking in his will” we become bowed down with care or weary in well-doing; we fail to be the blessing that he intends us to be.

Blocked Channels
Of course, sometimes the cause of our emptiness is not leakage but blockage. Over thirty years ago, when I was a student at the Bible College, I was deeply challenged while reading the book by S D Gordon entitled Quiet Talks on Power. Using the illustration of a conduit channelling mighty torrents of water from the reservoir to a mill or power station below, he spoke of our lives as being channels through which the Holy Spirit seeks to flow in power, to touch the lives of those around about us. If the conduit is blocked by debris, the water soon ceases to flow and the turbines fail to turn. Likewise, if our lives are tainted with the debris of unforgiven sin, disobedience or an unyielded will, the channel is blocked and the Holy Spirit cannot flow in power and blessing through our lives. That afternoon I quietly bowed to yield my life afresh to God and ask him to forgive me for the blockages that I knew had been preventing the Holy Spirit from flowing through me.

Rivers of Living Water
It is tragic that our natural tendency is to be leaking vessels and blocked channels, when God actually intends that we be rivers of living water to the thirsty men and women around us. In John 7:37–39 Jesus reminds us that to know the fountain of living water we must:

  • Thirst for Him
  • Come (and keep coming) to Him
  • Believe in Him
  • Be surrendered to Him
  • Be (being) filled with the Holy Spirit
  • Lucy J Rider summarized this perfectly. In the third verse and chorus of her hymn based on Isaiah 55:1 she penned these words:

    Child of the Kingdom be filled with the Spirit!
    Nothing but fullness thy longing can meet.
    ‘Tis the enduement for life and for service;
    thine is the promise, so certain, so sweet,
    I will pour water on him that is thirsty,
    I will pour floods upon the dry ground;
    open your heart to the gift I am bringing;
    while you are seeking Me, I will be found.

    My prayer for The Faith Mission and those who work in it is that God would enable us to be “vessels unto honour” and channels through whom he can flow; that he would bring to our lives those rivers of living water which satisfy our deepest longings and flow out to touch the lives of those we seek to reach.

    What I learned from a Kitchen Timer

    By Virginia Kremer

    Kitchen timer

    Had the call of God been frustrated? Image by Hemera

    WHILE waiting for something to finish cooking, my eyes absently came to rest on my kitchen timer. The last time I had really looked at it, it was shiny new. That was 30 years ago! I picked it up thinking how old and worn it was. Its imitation wood sides were scratched and there were a couple of marks left in haste by buttered fingers. Nicks on the plastic rim were the results of falls, and its face had become cloudy. As I turned it over, the decorative gold-coloured cap in the middle slipped off as usual, reminding me that although I had planned many times to glue it back in place, once the timer’s work was done, I had not thought of it again. Who thinks about an old kitchen timer as long as it works? And why not replace it by a new, modern version?

    Looking at it in amazement and wondering where the time had gone since I’d received it as a wedding gift, I thought of the person who had given it to me: Anna. Tears came to my eyes. I had never really mourned her death a few years ago. Her passing away had happened when I, myself, was facing the desperate situation of my husband’s serious illness.

    Ardent witness
    I pictured her jolly, smiling face, twinkling eyes, ruddy cheeks, and grey hair, once black and curly, pulled back in a bun. Anna was from a large farming family of Mennonites in Alsace. She had wanted to play the saxophone as a young person, but her very strict father considered that a sin. She had rebelled and gone out into the “world” but early on realized that without God, life had no meaning. She came back to the faith of her fathers and opened her heart to the love of God and to salvation in His Son Jesus Christ. Her life was turned around and she became an ardent witness to His grace and saving power. Her great desire was to serve Him as a missionary all the days of her life and she made known her calling to the elders of her church. Anna was a farm girl with minimum schooling and no qualifications. She was sent to work in the home of a prominent Christian family whose vocation was to send out missionaries. There, she was to clean and cook, and in other words, be their servant. She had her little room up under the eaves on the third floor and was on call twenty-four hours a day!

    A call frustrated?
    She never made it to the mission field. She spent her life up to her retirement doing what she did best: cooking, cleaning and working in the garden. There may have been times when she was a little frustrated; she had had such a clear calling. But wherever Anna went, be it in a shop or at the market or on the train or talking to someone at the door, everyone remarked her beaming face and cheery presence. She always spoke a word for the Lord. She had the gift of evangelism. Even the most defiant or disinterested could not resist her words of wisdom and truth. Not only did she believe, but she also put what she believed in practice. The children in the Sunday School loved to hear her tell Bible stories and several generations called her “Aunt Anna”. Some of them went on to serve the Lord.

    Taken for granted
    When I was in the home where Anna served, she was such a joy and encouragement to me. Somehow, she made life easier, smoothed out the rough places and made me feel at home. Yet, Anna was only a servant. Everyone took her for granted. She was always there. No one seemed to notice that the years were passing, that time and work were taking their toll. Who cares about an old servant? When she can’t work anymore, she will be replaced.

    Faithful and fruitful
    Anna has gone home to be with the Lord she loved and served so faithfully. She didn’t get to be a missionary and go to a foreign field as she had dreamed, but she didn’t let that stop her from being a true witness to Christ where she was. Anna served a number of God’s servants. Some of them may not have even taken much notice of her, but it wouldn’t surprise me that when we all stand before God’s throne and the rewards are passed out, Anna might just be up in the front row among the most faithful!

    Lessons learned
    Now when I pick up my timer, I always think of Anna, and thankfully remember that God is not like us. He doesn’t use people and then replace them when they are old or no longer physically useful. He sees and knows the hidden motives of the heart. He does not stop at the outward appearance, the superficial spirituality, the ‘importance’ of the person in men’s eyes, the apparent usefulness or success or education. He looks at the heart, the love there for Him and for others, the humble service where there is no place for self-glory.
    I’ve learned so much from my old kitchen timer and from Anna! ■

    Virginia lives in France, where she worked for many years with her late husband, Etienne, as members of the Mission-Foi- Evangile.
    This article was first printed in Life Indeed, November/December 2004

    The best cure for bad temper

    This man is really angry!

    Is there a remedy for a bad temper? Image by Bananastock

    Three remedies for a bad temper

    Which do you think is best?

    Julius Caesar was troubled with a bad temper and we read of him repeating the Roman alphabet backwards when he felt his temper rising.

    Matthew Henry gives an instance of a married couple who were both [given to extreme feelings], but happily lived together because they observed the rule never to be angry at the same time.

    JESUS…he shall save his people from their sins.”

    “He is able to save to the uttermost.”

    “From all your filthiness will I cleanse you.”

    From the magazine of The Faith Mission, Bright Words, July 1892.


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    About First! Again

    This blog is a digest of past articles from the Faith Mission magazine, FIRST!

    We feature articles on christian living, humour, material suitable for sermon illustrations, news and reports from Faith Mission workers...and more.