December 03, 2016

The Gift of Family by Steph Beth Nickel

This month's theme is "the gift." I can't help but think of my mother-in-law, who recently went to be with the Lord. Here are the thoughts I shared at her funeral:

On Friday, November 11, 2016, we celebrated by mother-in-law’s home-going. She had gone to be with the Lord the previous Tuesday while her granddaughter read to her from the Bible.

Although Dave’s mom could no longer speak, she could make her wishes understood. She wanted us to read from God’s Word, pray, and give her frequent hugs. What a precious way to exit this world and enter eternity!

These memories will be with me for years to come—as will the legacy she left behind.
What did I learn from my mother-in-law over the years?

You don’t have to wait until it’s official to welcome someone into your family.

Among many other things, “love is patient and kind,” as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:4.

I remember the first Christmas Dave and I were together, December 1981. Dave’s mom knit me the first of many sweaters and welcomed me into her home and into her heart. I knew then, seven and a half months before I officially became a Nickel, that I was already one of the family.

It’s an expression of love to step outside your comfort zone for the sake of others.

Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Although Dad and Mom traveled extensively, Mom wasn’t comfortable in the big city. I could tell this the first time they came to take Dave and I out to supper. We were both attending Ontario Bible College, now Tyndale, in Willowdale. I can still remember the two of them in the doorway of the school. They looked uncomfortable, but still, they were there to reach out in love—something they both did countless times over the years.

Little expressions of love make a lasting impact.

First Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Many years later, a simple act of kindness was destined to make a lasting impression on me. After Dad suffered his first aneurysm, Mom stepped up and cared for him in many areas he hadn’t previously needed help. By removing his shoes and socks and placing his slippers on his feet, I clearly saw her loving, selfless servant’s heart and I was challenged to love in even the most seemingly menial of ways.

Being appreciative is a lovely way to live.

The apostle Paul often gave thanks for his brothers and sisters in Christ. In Ephesians 1:16, it says, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

I have to thank my sister-in-law and her husband for taking care of Mom’s needs for the last number of years. They were there for her and it didn’t go unnoticed. Although Dave and I only live 40 minutes away, too many months went by between visits. Still, Mom was always happy to see us and let us know how much our visits meant to her. She was such a gracious lady.

It’s people that matter—not things.

In Matthew 6:20, we are instructed to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

It blew me away to learn what Mom said the last time Mavis took her through the house she had lived in for years. Mom was getting ready to put it on the market and we wanted to make sure she had everything she wanted before her belongings were packed up and given to those who wanted them. Mom said that there was no longer anything for her in the house. Oh to hold onto material possessions with such a light grip!

The only things she wanted in the nursing home were her knitting supplies, some of her books, and pictures of family and friends. It was those photographs that surrounded her at the care centre, pictures of those she loved and prayed for faithfully.

Deep, genuine faith can be quiet and strong.

Colossians 2:6-7 says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

While those who knew my mother-in-law would not have referred to her as pushy or preachy, it didn’t take long to learn that her faith was genuine and deep. Her response when I read to her from the book of Psalms and her folded hands asking us to pray with her when her words could no longer do so were proof of that.

Mom prayed for family, friends, her church family, and many others around the globe. She knew her Bible and through hand gestures, indicated what passages she wanted read to her, showing just how well she knew the Scriptures.

This dear lady has left a legacy for us—and I pray that many of us will learn the lessons her life exemplified so clearly.

Have you lost someone close to you? How do you remember them? What legacy did they leave?

How do you want to be remembered? Are you living in such a way as to make it a reality? What changes are you willing to make to ensure that you will be remembered for your deep faith and selfless love?

Family members who point us to Jesus are, indeed, a priceless gift.

December 02, 2016

Just the Right Gift by Marcia Lee Laycock

The Right Gift

My family starts thinking about Christmas at Thanksgiving because that's when we are usually all together and can "pick names," selecting the person we will buy for that year. We started using the wish list method a few years ago, to make the buying easier. Everyone sends their lists to me and I send them out to the rest of the family.

I always enjoy reading the lists - it's quite interesting how everyone's personality comes out in the things they ask for. For instance, one of my sons-in-law is usually quite specific about his requests - it's not just a pair of socks, it's a pair of black socks made of a certain blend of material and patterned in a certain way. This year item number one was a series of baseball trading cards - very specific cards of certain players from certain years. I shook my head when I read it. Where on earth would we ever find such a thing?

About two weeks after receiving his list I participated in a fund-raiser for a local group. They had a silent auction as well as a number of booths set up with all kinds of Christmas gift ideas. I sighed as I wandered among them, wishing I could get some of my shopping done, but not too hopeful about finding what was on those lists. Then I saw it - a small sign - "Baseball Trading Cards." I blinked and stepped closer.

There were a few packs of cards along with a book. Not knowing anything about baseball, I hesitated. What if these weren't the cards he wanted? What if I had to make a high bid and it was a disappointment to him? Then I felt that little nudge in my spirit. "This is a gift. Just accept it." I took a step closer. I wrote down my name and put a dollar amount beside it. When I won the item, I smiled. Even if the dates on the cards were wrong, at least my son-in-law would know I tried to get him what he wanted.

When I got home later that day I immediately went to my computer and looked at the Christmas lists. I sat back in stunned wonder when I read that number one item from my son-in-law. Not only were the cards of the players he wanted, the dates on the cards I had won were exactly the dates he specified! Then I smiled again. I couldn't stop thinking about the look on his face when he opened that present. I knew he would be "over-the-moon" happy.

Then I thought about that nudge when I hesitated to put a bid on the auction sheet. "This is a gift. Just accept it."

That's what God the Father says to the world every year at Christmas time. He presents His Son, the one who died for the sins of this sad weary world, and says, this is my gift to you, accept Him. All we have to do is admit we need the sacrifice that happened over 2000 years ago, because we all have sinned and continue to "fall short" as Romans 3:23 says. 

Because Jesus gives us the wondrous gift of His righteousness we are able to sign our names into the book of life and accept what He offers - eternal life with Him. It's why we celebrate His birth - the birth of Jesus who was sent to die for us all.

This is a gift. Just accept it. 

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6).


Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was short listed in The Word Awards. Marcia also has four devotional books in print and has contributed to several anthologies. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. 
Marcia's latest release is Christmas, a small book of short stories that will take you from the outer reaches of the galaxy to the streets of an inner city and the cold landscape of the far north. In each unusual setting the Christmas Spirit is alive and well. Available now on Amazon

Visit Marcia's website

December 01, 2016

Gifts of Christmas by Sandi Somers

Our theme this month centres around gifts at Christmas. We shop for family and friends. We donate to charities in lieu of gifts to friends and family. We give to the needy and homeless. We give and receive gifts of Christmas music, warm hospitality, family times.

Going back to the beginning, we think of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child. And we are awed by the mystery of God’s greatest gift—Jesus who came to earth to bring us salvation.

The Gift of Bible Translation

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela

A few days ago I received a Christmas card from Wycliffe Bible Translators. It tells the story of the Bambalang people of Cameroon receiving the newly-translated book of Luke. When the people read it together in church, they burst out laughing.

The translator was shocked. “Oh, man,” he thought. “We’ve messed up…something’s wrong.”

He asked the pastor what happened. The pastor assured him that the laughter wasn’t from incorrect translation. Rather, in the verse where Joseph and Mary put baby Jesus in a manger, the translators now used the Bambalang word to describe a feeding trough for sheep.

“They laughed because they understood it,” said the translator. For years they had been hearing the equivalent of the word manger and didn’t know what it was.

“For the first time, really, the Scripture was theirs.”

They now own the words that give them life.

The Bible is the life-changing Word of God and is a cause for celebration as this language group and many others are now receiving it in their heart language.

Sometimes the heart language is a specific dialect of a major language and needs its own translation.

Take the First Nations Version (FNV). It is for the 90% of native peoples on Turtle Island (their word for North America) whose first language is now English, but who retain much of their vocabulary and unique world view. An English translation is being drafted for them.

Here is part of their Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. (The traditional First Nations names for Biblical characters and places are adapted from the original Hebrew and Greek.)[i]

1-2 When the time drew close for Bitter Tears (Mary) to have her child the government of the People of Iron ordered that the people be numbered and put on government rolls. 3 All the tribal members were required to travel to their ancestral homeland to register. 4-5 He Gives Sons (Joseph) and Bitter Tears (Mary) set out on a long journey to House of Bread (Bethlehem), the village of their ancestor the great chief Much Loved One (David)… 6 The time for Bitter Tears (Mary) to have her child was upon her! 7 But no place could be found in the lodging house, so He Gives Sons (Joseph) found a sheep cave where it was warm and dry. There she gave birth to her son. They wrapped him in a warm soft blanket and laid him on a baby board. Then they placed him on a bed of straw in a feeding trough.

     The translation goes on to tell how spirit-messenger from the Creator came to the shepherds and told them about the baby, the Chosen One, who would set his people free.

13 Suddenly, next to the messenger, a great number of spirit warriors from the world above appeared giving thanks to Creator saying, 14 “All honor to the One Above Us All, and let peace and good will follow all who walk upon the earth.”

Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life…The words I have spoken to you--they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63 NIV).

Bibles in major languages, dialects, Braille Bibles, even Bibles in sign languages are now available to many of the world’s peoples.

And still more peoples are waiting for their own Bibles. So desirous of God’s Word that years ago Chinese Christians created a prayer song.

Lord, send a Bible for that’s your gracious light.
True love and teaching and the bread of life.
I know for sure that your Word will lead me on,
Brighten the way all through my journey home.[ii]

Pray this Christmas that through this gift—this present of translation—God’s presence would become present to all the world’s people.

[i]Adapted from Larry and Sharon Fjeldstrom
[ii] Paul Estabrooks and Jim Cunningham, Compilers. Standing Strong through the Storm. Santa Ana, CA: Open Doors International. 2004. P.127.

November 30, 2016

Writer's Hiatus by Susan Barclay

October 2014-December 2015 were pretty dry writing months for me. It wasn’t so much that the brain juices weren’t flowing, but that my life became busier. My mom was living with us, and my daughter’s friend, Karen, also lived with us during the summer, leaving me with little time to myself. I’m one of those writers who need to work in complete silence. My mom and Karen don’t know what silence is.

So… time goes by. Karen moves into an apartment with friends in September 2015; my mom moves back home in January 2016. I feel like a newbie writer again, or as my kids might say, a noob. How and where do I begin?
Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. -St. Francis of Assisi
These words mean a lot to me. “Start by doing what’s necessary.” What’s necessary is for me to begin writing – something, anything. I begin by creating a new blog and posting regularly. That seems small and fairly non-threatening. I share the news with my old blog readers and my Facebook friends. That’s as much exposure as I want during this time of “sprouting new leaves again.”

Next, I "do what's possible." I pick up my novel, which if not on the computer would be gathering dust on a shelf. I go back to the beginning and start editing as a way to remind myself of the story and to do the nurturing that begins after a gestation period. No matter how many times I return to page one, I always find ways to make the work better. My brain cylinders have been firing even if my fingers have been resting.

Suddenly I am "doing the impossible." I’m writing new material – new sentences, paragraphs, chapters. I never stopped attending my writers’ groups, but now I’m participating more fully and feeling more engaged. There’s work to be done, additional changes to make, a challenge to be embraced. It’s exhilarating. Would I have been open to all of this had my earlier work not come to a halt?

I’m not sure. And so I am grateful for the respite and repose. It’s not as if nothing was happening with my writing during this period; it was all just happening behind the scenes, and I was unaware of it.

Recently I came across two very affirming thoughts I’d like to leave you with: 
The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are. -J. Pierpont Morgan
You don’t want to break forever. Sometimes, as in my case, you don’t have a choice as to the length of time you take off. Other times, you do. When you do, take the proverbial bull by the horns. Decide to move forward, then act.

Remember this also:
Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity. -Louis Pasteur
It takes tenacity to be a writer. Don’t let a little thing like a hiatus deter or discourage you. Use the time to let thoughts and ideas percolate. Then return and take the world by storm.

November 29, 2016

Showing Up Says It All by Bob Jones

Our mile long procession neared the cemetery. Riding shotgun in the lead car was my vantage point on a cold November afternoon. I had time to observe the trees lining the rural road, bereft of all greenery. Their lifeless branches matched the sombre mood of those traveling to a graveside to lay a nine-year old boy to rest. His twin brother proudly served as a pallbearer, helping to carry his sibling.

My mind was stripped bare by the sudden and tragic passing of a child I had never met but now could not forget. Family, friends and children huddled together against the chill under a grey sky. All ears were on this minister listening for words that could somehow make sense out of the senseless.

That’s when I am laid bare.
Words fail and the ones that do come sound hollow in my mind.
But speak I must.
With the words come tears.
We bow in prayer.
“Our Father in heaven…”
The casket is lowered into the earth.
Classmates of the boy have written loving words on strips of paper that they attach to ribbons tethering green balloons – his favorite color.
Together the students count down from 3 and set their balloons free.
We return to our vehicles, faces and hearts numbed by the cold.

Afterwards, a reception graciously hosted by the family, offers hot drinks, homemade sandwiches and baked goods – comfort food. “Thank you for your help. You were comforting.”

When words fail, showing up says it all. Laid bare of adjectives, nouns and verbs presence is a gift that speaks clearly.

To write with presence is the outcome of vulnerability.

Brene Brown observes, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (Daring Greatly)

There is more than a little comfort knowing that showing up gives opportunity for new leaves to sprout again.

Trees, barren of leaves in November are not without hope. Springtime will come. Sprouts will green up.  Life will come.

Writers, barren of words in the Novembers of our souls, are not without hope.

Write on.

Robert (Bob) W. Jones is a recovering perfectionist, who collects Coca-Cola memorabilia and drinks Iced Tea. His office walls are adorned with his sons’ framed football jerseys, and his library shelves, with soul food. He writes to inspire people to be real, grow an authentic faith in Jesus, enjoy healthy relationships and discover their life purpose.