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This year, where I live in Canada, we have been longing for Spring, but it is seems so slow in arriving. Everyone around me is tired of the cold, the snow and the grey days. We long for sunshine and warm temperatures. It is interesting how the weather and other circumstances in our life can affect our moods. That wasn’t the case for the Apostle Paul; if anyone had reason to be discouraged, he did. Among other things he was beaten, shipwrecked and imprisoned. (II Corinthians 11:24-33) He endured hardship after hardship; yet he continued to rejoice, and to exhort others to rejoice also.

Philippians 4:4 is not the first time in this letter that Paul encourages the people of Philippi, and by extension us, to rejoice. (Philippians 3:1) The entire emphasis of this letter is joy. For Paul, joy was not the result of circumstances, but found in his relationship with the Lord. Paul was also able to see the blessings that surrounded him. Not only had he been brought through all the trials mentioned above, but in Philippians 4:3 he recalled the names of his fellow workers and that their names were written in the book of life. He focused on the great rewards of their service, not on the hardships they would encounter along the way. Although he knew first-hand what kind of hardships there could be, and that they would encounter more of them, he continued to remind the Philippians to rejoice. It was not a natural reaction to circumstances, but a discipline, an intentional act of devotion to God. Joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and a sign of true faith. If we really believe that we have given control of our lives over to a sovereign God, and we believe that He only wants what is best for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Luke 11:9-13), that His grace is sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9) and that there is a purpose for our trials (James 1:2-4), we will be able to have joy even in the most trying of circumstances.

I have heard people say on numerous occasions that the best way to cheer up your spirit is to read the book of Philippians, Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi, every day for a month. So I challenge you, for the month of May, in an attempt to bring the encouragement for which you would usually depend on Spring, to read Philippians once a day. Sign up to “attend” our Facebook event for a daily, gentle reminder. In the next several posts, to prepare for our month of rejoicing, I will focus on some of the other memos from God found in Philippians 4.

Do you ever feel lonely? I spend a lot of time alone, but that is not necessarily when I feel the loneliest. Sometimes I feel the most lonely when I am in a crowd--when I am surrounded by people, but none of them are talking to me or seem to care about me at all. Do you ever feel that way? Jesus knows how you feel. He was surrounded by people who mocked and tortured Him, and He had no one on His side.

When Jesus was arrested and then sentenced to death, His disciples all fled from Him or denied Him; the people, the Pharisees and the experts in the law were all against Him, but as He hung on that cross, nothing hurt so much as being separated from His Father. (Mark 15:34) God had to turn His back on Jesus, His Son, even though they had lived in communion with each other since before the world began. Because God is holy, He could not accept us who are unholy into His presence. Only the life of His perfect Son could be an acceptable sacrifice to atone for the sins that have been inbred in us since Adam and Eve fell to the temptation of Satan in the Garden of Eden. While our sin was on Christ, He was separated from His Father. That was the greatest rejection in history, and yet Christ chose to endure it so that all people since then could have a personal relationship with God. We can be adopted into God’s family, and Jesus can become our brother and our friend. Even when we do not have any other person around us that we can talk to, when it seems like no one understands us, we still have Jesus. We will never be put into the position that Jesus was put in. Because of Him, we will always have someone to turn to. Hebrews 4:14-16 tells that Jesus understands everything we have ever been through or will ever go through, and the invitation is extended to come to Him boldly when we need help. We are invited to cast all our burdens on Him because He cares for us. (I Peter 5:6-7)

The next time you are feeling lonely, take time to talk to Jesus. Ask Him to help you through your time of sadness, and to know that you are not alone. Lay all your cares at His feet. He understands.

Friends of mine recently had a blessing party for their sixteen year old daughter. I have heard of people blessing their children before, at certain milestones in their lives, but this is the first I’ve heard of a blessing party. I think it’s great. At this party, friends and family came prepared with a letter of blessing that was read aloud and then given to the person being blessed, so that she could re-read them in the days to come. The letters would include words of acknowledgement, encouragement, wisdom, advice and the Word of God.

In Numbers 6:22-27, God instructed the priests to bless the people, and God provided the words of the blessing, so that the people would know that it was from Him. This passage follows a description of Nazirite laws and dedication which involved adherence to several rules that they would follow in order to separate themselves from the world and devote themselves to God. But the blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 was not only given to the Nazirites as a reward for their sacrifice; it was given to all of the people. The word “you” is singular in the Hebrew indicating that it applied to each individual. God wants to bless each of His people, not because of their devotion to Him, but because of His great mercy and love.

Many people seem to think that people lived under the law in the Old Testament, and grace was not given until the time of the New Testament. Although laws were given to the people to live by in Old Testament times, this did not indicate a lack of God’s love. This passage tells us that God wanted His people to be blessed, protected and recipients of His acceptance, grace and peace. In that time, it was not usual for a monarch to give audience to just anyone, but by shining His face upon you, the King of Kings welcomes you into His presence. He wants to bless you, so that you may be a blessing to others. Freely you have received; freely give. (Genesis 12:1-3, Matthew 10:8b) Take the time to bless your children, your grandchildren, your friends and your family.

Where is your heart? What do you rely upon to feel fulfilled, successful? For some it is their high-powered job, their talented or academically gifted children or their luxury home. Many feel successful as long as they are doing better than their neighbours. What is it that is the most important thing in your life?

Mark 10:17-27 tells the story of the rich young ruler. This wealthy young man enthusiastically approached Jesus to ask Him how he could receive eternal life. I expect that he was used to getting whatever he wanted, because he had seemingly endless financial resources. Jews at that time believed that monetary wealth was an indication of God’s blessing. This is not what Jesus said. Jesus recounted several of the ten commandments, which the young man declared that he had always wholeheartedly obeyed. He apparently missed the first commandment though (Exodus 20:3), because he chose to keep his money and to rely on that instead of God. How much he must have loved his money! Remember that his conversation with Jesus started with his asking how he could have eternal life. Jesus gave him the answer, and yet he chose to give it up in order to keep his money.

You will notice that as the young man walked away, Jesus did not run after him. Even though Mark 10:21 tells us that Jesus felt love for him, Jesus let him make his own choice. We can all make our own choice about what or whom we will rely upon.

It is also interesting to note that Jesus did not tell all wealthy people that they must give away their wealth in order to be saved. It is not the having of wealth that is the problem, and it is not the giving away of it that results in salvation. The issue is who we give our allegiance to, and whom we rely upon in our time of need. It is difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:25) not because God’s grace is not available to them, but because they have so much more to give up. We cannot buy our way into heaven, nor earn our way by giving to the poor. We cannot save ourselves; we can only accept God’s gift of salvation which we are offered because Christ was willing to give up everything for us.

I think many of us, when we pray, give up too soon. If we don’t get the answer we are looking for right away, we assume that we won’t get an answer. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. (I Thessalonians 5:17)

In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus tells the parable of a persistent widow. Jesus didn’t always give an explanation for His parables, but He tells us the purpose of this one right up front: You should always pray and not lose heart. In the days when Jesus walked on earth, a widow was about as unfortunate a position as one could be in. In that male-dominated society, a woman depended on a man for her livelihood. The widow in this story obviously had no one to care for her, or that person would have also been the one to plead her case before the judge. It is likely that this woman was destitute and desperate. But she did not give up. When did she stop asking the unrighteous judge for justice? After she received justice.

Jesus used the example of an unrighteous judge because if a poor widow could get justice from him, how much more likely we are to get justice from our Heavenly Father. We are not widows; we are children of God, co-heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:16-17) And our God is a just Father who wants to give good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:11) He not only invites us to ask Him, but He wants us to ask Him. Matt Chandler emphasizes this in his discussion of prayer.

James 4:2-3 says that we do not have because we do not ask. Perhaps we ask with the wrong motives, or perhaps we do not ask with enough passion and persistence. Perhaps we give up too easily. Galatians 6:9 tells us that we will reap if we do not give up. Don’t give up on God. Trust in His answers, trust in His timing, and trust Him to do what is best.

I am constantly amazed at the love that God has for us. You may feel love from your family or friends, but nothing on this earth compares to how much your Heavenly Father loves you. Of course, there will be some of you who don’t feel that from anyone, and so it will be even harder for you to fathom, but I hope that today’s verses will help.

In Luke 15:3-7 Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, which is actually just the first part of the three part parable told in Luke 15. It was in response to an accusation from the Pharisees and experts in the law who were accusing Jesus of socializing with “sinners” (Luke 15:1-2), something that just wasn’t done by upstanding Jewish men. Talk about bullying. You can’t associate with her because she’s from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s not cool enough; what are you talking to him for? To be honest, it was more like he is not noble enough so he is not worthy of your attention, but it made me think of a schoolyard bully. Jesus, however, gave His attention to the most despised of society, and He called the Pharisees hypocrites. (Matthew 23:13) In reality, the Pharisees were just as lost as the rest of the “sinners”, but they were in denial, and refused to see their need for Jesus.

The shepherd in the parable believes that one sheep out of a hundred, one per cent of the flock, is worth searching for. What did he have to go through to find that sheep? Did he have to cross streams, climb rocky crags, crawl through thick brush? When he finds the sheep, it is obviously too weak or tired or hurt or confused to find its way home on its own. He picks it up and carries it home on his shoulders. Was one sheep out of a hundred worth that effort? Yes. Jesus feels that way about us. Every one of us is worth enough that Jesus gave up His life for us. His search for us took Him to the cross. There is no greater love than that.

My heart is still heavy for the family of Al and Rita Chretien who have been missing for just over two weeks. From every indication I have, which comes from their Facebook page (Missing – Al and Rita Chretien), the family has a strong faith in God. Other people have gone through equally devastating situations—earthquakes, floods, fire, criminal acts; does faith really help when we are put in such trying situations? I believe it does. Sometimes, in tragic circumstances people will say that this proves that there is no God, but people of true faith trust God, not because of their own comfort and blessed circumstances, but because of who God is.

God has promised to be faithful. Hebrews 10:23 tells us that we can hold on tight to the hope that we have, because God is trustworthy and will keep His promises to us. In the previous verses (Hebrews 10:19-22), we see that we are invited to draw near to God, and that we can have confidence to do so. We are confident because we know that Christ gave His life so that we could have this privilege. In Old Testament times, the people needed to have a priest to approach God on their behalf. They would sacrifice the animals that were required for atonement, and they alone could go beyond the curtain into the inner sanctuary to meet with God. Now because Christ has shed His own blood for us, He has drawn back that curtain and has become our priest so that we are welcomed into God’s presence. We can draw near, because we have the assurance that faith brings. (Hebrews 10:22)

And this faith is not based on what we know, or on what we can see or figure out. Faith is being convinced that God is control, that everything is under His command, and we can believe Him even when we don’t have all the answers. (Hebrews 11:1-3, 1 Corinthians 2:5)

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Al and Rita Chretien are parents, grandparents, business owners and much loved members of their community. They were last seen on March 19, 2011 in Baker City, Oregon on their way to Las Vegas. They were driving a brown 2000 Chevrolet Astro mini van with British Columbia plate number 212 CAV. If you have any information about this couple, please contact your local police department and cite Penticton RCMP case file 2011-3395, or call the toll free tip line in Canada or the U.S.: 1-877-987-8477. And please keep this family in your prayers.

Al and Rita Chretien left their home in British Columbia on March 19, 2011 to drive to a trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was not until March 30, 2011 when they hadn’t arrived home as expected that their family realized they were missing. Family, friends and police have all joined in the search, but no one knows where they are. Perhaps Al and Rita don’t even know where they are. But God knows. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:5)

I can only imagine the anguish that this family is going through. They have a grueling and emotionally draining task ahead of them as they search for their parents. Joshua also faced daunting challenges. In Joshua 1:9, he had just become the leader of the Israelites. It was his task to take them across the Jordan River and into the land that God had promised them. Like the Chretien family, Joshua did not choose this role; he was chosen by God to complete it. God had been preparing Him for it, and God would enable him to do it. Joshua’s requirement was to obey the laws of Moses, to meditate on the word of God, and to be strong and courageous. Three times in Joshua 1:6-9, Joshua is told to be strong and brave, but it is not in his own strength that Joshua was to do this. By obeying the law of Moses, therefore being right with God, and by meditating on God’s word, therefore remembering His commands and promises, Joshua would draw his strength from God. Success would not depend on Joshua’s abilities, but on his obedience. God would keep His promise to Joshua and the Israelites, but they had to do their part too.

The fulfillment of God’s promise to the Israelites took a lot longer than they would have liked. In today’s society, we have become accustomed to instantaneous results, and we become frustrated when things happen slowly. God sees things from a different perspective, and His timing is often much slower than we would prefer. He has never promised to give us immediate results, and if we had them, we would surely risk believing that we had succeeded in our own strength and be vulnerable to pride. When the challenges we face are harder than we can imagine, such that we need to be repeatedly reminded to be strong and brave in order to face them, we will know that any positive results we achieve are because of God’s goodness. May all the glory go to Him.

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Al and Rita Chretien are parents, grandparents, business owners and much loved members of their community. They were last seen on March 19, 2011 in Baker City, Oregon on their way to Las Vegas. They were driving a brown 2000 Chevrolet Astro mini van with British Columbia plate number 212 CAV. If you have any information about this couple, please contact your local police department and cite Penticton RCMP case file 2011-3395. And please keep this family in your prayers.

More information can be obtained from the family’s Facebook page:
Missing – Al and Rita Chretien
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Update:
On September 29, 2012, Albert Chretien's body was found by elk hunters, 11 kilometres from where the van had been stranded. He had been going in the right direction to find help, but the terrain was steep and wooded, and the snow was up to ten feet deep at the time. His body was found intact with identification still in his pocket.

Do you ever have days when you just don’t feel like doing anything? I think that’s okay as long as they are balanced with days where you are all fired up to do something great too. I know that I always feel better at the end of a day when I’ve accomplished something, and preferably several things. Just like the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9, we are meant to be productive.

The fig tree in this parable was planted in a vineyard. That means that it was in a place where it would be tended by a viticulturist—the gardener. It received better care than most fig trees, so one would expect it to be healthy and fruitful. In the same way, we are cared for by God, given His grace, blessings and power. Philippians 4:13 tells us that we can do all things through Christ’s strength. We, however, have to act; we need to make use of that power.

When the owner of the fig tree saw that the tree was still not providing any fruit after three years, he decided it was time to get rid of it. The gardener asked for a reprieve, for one more chance, and he would work even harder to help that fig tree. We serve a God of second chances, a God of mercy. We often get another chance just as that fig tree did. In the same way that the gardener interceded for that tree, Christ and the Holy Spirit (and often friends and family) are interceding for us. (Romans 8:34, Romans 8:26) But the chances won’t last forever. At some point we need to make a decision about whom we will serve; if we choose not to serve God, we will be cut off from Him.

And it will be God who decides. The gardener was the one who asked for the reprieve, and he was the one who would do the extra work to try to make the tree more fruitful, but in the end it would be the owner of the tree who would cut it down. We are not the judges who will determine each other’s fate; God is.

I decided years ago that people don’t compliment each other enough, so when I think something nice about someone, I like to tell them. This is very often greeted with, “Okay, what do you want?” It’s sad, but people don’t seem to trust someone who says something nice. Perhaps that’s a good thing, because that is also one of the tactics used by people who are trying to pressure you to do something or get something from you. That’s what the satraps (government officials) did to king Darius in Daniel 6, (March 28, 2011) which resulted in Daniel being thrown in the lion’s den and Darius spending the night in anguish and regret. It also resulted in the gruesome death of the flatterers and their families.

Proverbs 29:5 tells us that the flatterer spreads a net—sets a trap—for his steps. There is some ambiguity about whose steps the trap is set for, the one being flattered or the one doing the flattering. Perhaps it is both. In the story of Daniel, there were consequences for both the satraps and the king. The satraps set the trap for king Darius, but in the end, the consequences were much worse for themselves.

You need to be careful to discern whether or not someone is being honest with you, especially if you are in a position of authority over them. Employees, children, students, anyone who is in a subordinate position may not be completely honest with you, either out of fear, or because they are trying to further their own personal agenda. Likewise, you need to be vigilant that you are being honest with others. Any gain that comes from being dishonest with others will not last. The righteous will win in the end. (Proverbs 11:8, Proverbs 13:9)

There is a difference between compliments and flattery. Compliments are sincere and unselfish, while flattery is exaggerated, sometimes a complete lie, told with the intention of selfish gain. The flatterer is seeking a favour of some kind; he has only his own desires in mind. If the person is deceptive enough, it may be difficult to tell the difference, but a good clue would be what request is made thereafter. If they actually do want something from you, perhaps it is not really a compliment.