A Big Mac For Thanksgiving

McDonald's Big MacMy Canadian friends celebrated Thanksgiving more than a month ago. My American friends celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. In The Bahamas, Thanksgiving is not an official holiday, but many here recognized and celebrated the day.

I was among those who celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, but I did not celebrate in the traditional manner.  I didn’t watch NFL football. I didn’t travel to visit family. I didn’t eat a big turkey dinner. I had a Big Mac for dinner.

I had a Big Mac for Thanksgiving dinner and it closed off one of the most special Thanksgiving celebrations I’ve ever been a part of.

The day began packing a massive amount of canned and boxed food items into 42 large bags.

The food was donated by members and adherents at St. Andrew’s Kirk as a part of an initiative to distribute groceries to the neediest of families who live in one of the more impoverished communities in Nassau, Bain & Grant’s Town.

Because of the strong partnership that the Kirk has with the Bain & Grant’s Town Urban Renewal Centre, myself, along with another Kirk member, were driven through the neighbourhood to homes that were selected by the URC staff as housing particularly vulnerable individuals. Most were senior citizens; many were disabled persons; all were appreciative recipients of our offering of groceries.

I don’t feel comfortable describing in print some of the conditions that we came across. But I can tell you that it is a heart-wrenching experience. And while it is a delight to us, and an encouragement to those we visited, to deliver some food items, I’m acutely aware of the fact that the ongoing need massively exceeds what a bag of groceries can supply.

Once the grocery delivery was done, I traveled back to the Kirk to prepare to receive 100 children from the Bain & Grant’s Town and Farm Road Urban Renewal Centres. We were hosting Thanksgiving Dinner—McDonald’s—thanks to a generous donor.

In a few short minutes our Kirk Hall filled with 100 excited children. A few minutes later, an additional bus load arrived. McDonald’s quickly adapted and ordered 50 more meals to be delivered to accommodate a crowd that was now close to 140. McDonald’s didn’t simply drop the food off—they sent along staff to serve each child their meal. McDonald’s even provided an entertainer—an energetic man, along with his sidekick, “Charlie”, and a few hundred pieces of candy to delight the hearts of these beautiful children.

There are few sights more precious than seeing 100+ smiling children. This was a dinner I won’t soon forget. And I suspect it will be for these children a Thanksgiving to be remembered.

As I reflected this morning on the day, a verse immediately came to mind: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

First, let me say that I don’t regard my “works” to have been all that special. I did not supply the dinner for the children. The groceries came from several dozen donors. My role was little more than delivery boy during the day and custodian during the evening.

The reason why I think this verse is relevant is because I’m not sure the command to “let your let shine” is aimed at individual behaviour. In this passage, Jesus is speaking amid a very large crowd. Matthew makes a point of telling us that Jesus spoke directly to His disciples…”Let your (plural) light shine…that they may see your (plural) good works and glorify your (plural) Father who is in heaven.

Yesterday, in a community just over the hill, beyond downtown Nassau, St. Andrew’s Kirk shone a light. The good works of a particular community of people who follow Jesus made an impact.

And do you know what was the most gratifying part for me? Not too many of the recipients said, “Thank you”. Instead, what we more commonly heard was “God is good” and “To God be the glory”.

I was reminded yesterday—by the Scriptures, and by the people of Bain & Grant’s Town—that we don’t serve others in order to be thanked. We do good deeds, we serve others, with the hope that those we serve might turn and glorify their Father who is in heaven.

I was privileged to witness that happen yesterday.

I had a Big Mac for Thanksgiving dinner and it closed off one of the most special Thanksgiving celebrations I’ve ever been a part of.

Becoming Agents Of Transformation

The leaders at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas recently developed a mission statement to better direct our focus and activity: Pursuing Christ-likeness and community transformation according to the Word of God. The launch and promotion of this new mission statement included a 10-week sermon series from The Book of Nehemiah, changes to our signage, changes to our website and, most recently, this promotional video.

The footage for this video was shot by the very talented Tim Aylen. The editing for this video was executed beautifully by his daughter, Julia. My role was simply that of the narrator and cheerleader for my tech experts.

I’ll let this 2 minute video tell most of the story, but if I had to add a point it would be this: Our growth in Christ-likeness should benefit other people. As we experience transformation by Christ’s Spirit, we also become agents of transformation by Christ’s Spirit—we become God’s difference-makers in our local communities.

Sacrificing For The Mission?

SacrificeThere is a cost for freedom.

On November 11, we set aside time to remember that many gave their lives in order to preserve our national freedom.

Whenever Christians gather at the Lord’s Table we remember that Jesus gave up His life in order to obtain our eternal freedom.

There is a cost for freedom.

You could say that anything worth having, or keeping, comes at a price. There are times when the cost is so high that we term the payment as a sacrifice.

I recently delivered a message, based on Nehemiah 5:1-19, entitled “Sacrificing For The Vision” (audio below). In this message I identify the “sacrifices” made by those charged with rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. I note the sacrifices that Nehemiah makes, giving up certain allowances and privileges and sharing his resources with those in need.

The pattern we see throughout Scripture is that faithfulness to God takes work. We have to give up things. I think it is noteworthy that the Gospels don’t simply say that the first disciples followed Jesus, but we’re told that Simon Peter and Andrew “left their nets and followed (Jesus)” (Mt. 4:20). James and John are said to have “left the boat and their father and followed (Jesus)” (Mt. 4:22).

Indeed, there is a cost to discipleship.

Our role models in this regard are many—Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Nehemiah, the early apostles, are just the first that come to mind when I think of those who gave up much in their effort to honour the Lord.

My encouragement to the people of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk was to prepare themselves to similarly sacrifice for the kingdom of God. I urged them to give time, energy, and resources to help further the Gospel of Christ. In a word, there was a call to sacrifice for the mission.

And yet, part of me blushes to use the word sacrifice. Yes, discipleship is costly, but I think David Livingstone ‘s response to Cambridge University students in 1857 sheds appropriate light for us:

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

It takes considerable commitment and effort to walk the narrow road and to promote the Gospel in the face of persecution, but perhaps we need to choose a word other than sacrifice.

What I can safely say is that we need to move beyond half-measures. Or to quote the great hymn writer, Isaac Watts:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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“Sacrificing For The Vision”, based on Nehemiah 5:1-19, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, October 30, 2011.

How To Fight Discouragement

despair and depressionI know what it is like to be discouraged. I know what it is like to feel as if I’m being pushed to the brink. Thankfully, I also know what it is like to be rescued by a God who promises, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will rescue you, and you will honour Me” (Ps. 50:15).

I delight in the reality that we worship a God who helps the helpless. I rejoice that when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, there also walks my God, an ever present help in times of trouble (Ps. 23:4; Ps. 46:1).

If you’ve ever battled the giant named Discouragement, I want you to know that this is a common war. As you survey the Scriptures you’ll see that many fought this same giant.

Discouragement emerges when certain conditions exist. Recently, I’ve been leading the worshippers at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk through the Book of Nehemiah. Here we discovered that discouragement emerges when we focus on what is lacking rather than on what has been accomplished.

Those attempting to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem were singing a sorrowful song: “So much rubble for us to haul! Worn out and weary, will we ever finish the wall?” (Neh. 4:10).

At this point in the story the wall was already halfway built. But instead of celebrating their progress, the builders were focused on the work which remained. They began the work with a “glass half full” optimism, but it had been replaced with a “glass half empty” pessimism. The rubble which once inspired their efforts to rebuild had now become the thing which inspired their complaints.

The second condition which invites discouragement is when our strength fails.

Think about it. When your energy tank is full, discouragement struggles to take hold of us. “Rolling with the punches” is much easier to do at the beginning of the round than it is at the end of the round.

It was said of those rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall that they had become “worn out and weary“.

It’s not as if we like being discouraged. Most of us don’t mean to be pessimists, it’s just that when we’re exhausted—when our strength fails us—the natural drift is towards discouragement.

Along similar lines, the third condition which invites discouragement is when our confidence fails.

The lament being sounded by Nehemiah’s countrymen was, “Will we ever finish the wall?

Again, this is a shift from a former way of thinking. Surely the work would have never begun unless they believed the wall could be rebuilt. Having set out on what they once thought was an obtainable vision, they now found themselves doubting whether the job could even get done. Moreover, the builders were aware of the opposition—they were mindful of those who not only wanted to hinder the work, but wanted to also inflict harm on them. With a growing number of factors working against them, the builders began losing their confidence.

A focus on what is lacking, failed strength, and a loss of confidence—add those components together and you have a recipe for profound discouragement.

How do we fight this giant? What is the remedy?

Quite simply, the remedy is GOD.

I agree with John Calvin who has said, “Whatever we need, whatever we lack, is in God.”

Focusing on God changes our perspective, and calling upon God brings increased strength and confidence.

I think of David, the shepherd boy, who did not consider the size of the giant before him, but the size of the God behind him. Similarly, Nehemiah counters the discouragement of his workers with a call to “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Neh. 4:14).

If God is the remedy, then prayer is the means to applying that remedy.

Consider the words of the prophet Isaiah, “(God) gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Even the young grow weary and tired and vigourous young men stumble badly, but those who wait upon the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:29-31).

If you are exhausted, if you are doubtful, if you are afraid, I want you to know that a sufficient remedy is within your reach.

The Lord, “who is great and awesome” stands ready to help you.

Fight discouragement with constant prayer. “Call upon the Lord in the day of trouble and He will rescue you, and you will honour Him.