I grew up in Northern Ireland where in our area, there were not many trees.
Years later in my early 20’s, I immigrated to Ontario and was astonished by the vast amount of forests and trees.
At our farm in Arkona, we had about 16 acres of bush, and in my children’s early school years, they loved going back to see the various trees there.
The Bible speaks of trees and their uses in many ways. God calls us to be planted in the house of God, rooted in Christ and flourishing as part of the church.
Psalms 92:12, says, "But the godly will flourish like a palm tree, and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.”
When we talk about the righteous flourishing, we’re talking about spiritual health.
Spiritual flourishing means growing more and more into Christ-likeness, being a blessing, developing spiritual maturity, and being rooted deeply in God’s love.
So let’s put our roots down deep, and produce fruit for the glory of God.
Don’t Look Back
Have you ever run a race? When I was growing up, I loved to run as a sprinter.
From start to finish, I had to focus on one thing – running hard and finishing the race. You don’t look back, you don’t turn around, and most important of all, you don’t quit.
The Bible compares the Christian life to a race. Now there are different types of races, and the Christian life is best compared to a marathon.
I have two daughters in law who train for and run marathons, including Boston. The passion, effort and perseverance they put into running is unbelievable.
Paul says his focus is on what lies ahead rather than what’s behind.
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” When you’re in a race, the last thing you want to do is look back.
Anyone who has run track knows you aren’t supposed to look around at other runners . . . you’re instead to focus on pressing toward the finish line.
Not like a young guy I know, who was running way ahead of the pack, and then committed the biggest runner’s mistake.
He looked over his shoulder to see where the rest of the field was and went down in a heap while the rest of the field surged past him. I remember that well as I lay on the ground in tears.
Do you ever look back in such a way that keeps you from moving forward in your Christian life? You remember all the skeletons in your closet!
Paul says, “Forget those things that are behind.”
We need “holy amnesia."
The Leaves of Autumn
Driving through Lambton County, the signs of Autumn are everywhere. Farmers busy harvesting corn and soybeans, and leaves turning colour on the trees.
As the autumn leaves fall to the earth, they remind us of the showers of blessings that have fallen on us.
The yellow leaves of fall appear to represent the sunny and bright blessings of our daily lives, the simple pleasures, the things we often take for granted;
The bright morning sun, the smiles of our loved ones, the extended hand of a friend, the joy of our salvation, the laughter children, beautiful music that cheers our hearts, a church that loves us, and our walk with God.
The green leaves remind us of daily opportunities for growth, in body, mind and spirit, opportunities to study God’s Word and to gain spiritual insight and guidance for the day.
The red leaves remind us of the shed blood of Jesus and the privilege we have to serve Him, and the gift of eternal life.
The brown leaves, sometimes cracked and crumbling, remind us of watching friends or family suffering from depression, suffering from the ravages of disease, or family members mourning the passing of loved ones.
The leaves remind us there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1, and above all, time to seek the Lord and commit our lives to Him.
As a boy growing up in Northern Ireland I loved to climb trees. To be honest there weren’t many trees around to climb, so any big ones stood out.
My two favourite trees were the big oak on Trooperslane top road and the pine trees at the bottom of the Trooperslane road. The big oak was a landmark on the upper Trooperslane Road.
The pine trees were easy to climb and I used to see the pigeons nests and eggs waiting to hatch. However, acting Tarzan there one day brought me to the hospital with a broken left wrist.
The first tree mentioned in the Bible - the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” in the idyllic Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were told not to eat its fruit. They did, and sin entered the world.
In Luke 19 we see Zacchaeus climbing a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus.
This leads us to the most important story of all time concerning a tree. It took place at Calvary, when Jesus willingly went to the Cross to pay the penalty for our sin as written in 1 Peter 2:24, “…He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…”
We don’t have to climb a tree to find Jesus and forgiveness. Rather the promise of Scripture is “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The Four Soils
It has been a cold and wet Spring here in Sarnia-Lambton causing late planting of many crops as the soil was not ready for seed. Fortunately most of the crops are planted now with hopefully a bountiful harvest.
The wet season caused me to think of the parable of Jesus relating to four different kinds of soil at planting time. It’s a picture of how people respond differently to the gospel message?
Jesus lists four different kinds of response to the message of the gospel. They correspond to the four types of soil.
The Seed on the Rocky Ground - The Phony Hearer
These are people who receive the gospel message with enthusiasm. But that enthusiasm is short-lived. And then one day they lose interest and drift away
The Seed on the Road - The Hardened Hearer
There are some people who will "hear" the gospel message but they will have no response because their hearts are hard.
The Seed in the Thorns - The Distracted Hearer
The third group of people are attracted to the gospel message but they never get around to getting serious.
The Seed on the Fertile Soil - The responsive Hearer
The true believer is one that hears the truth and accepts it as truth. They show their faith by their changed lives. Which type of soil are you? July 2019
Prepared to Give an Answer
One of my first exposure to Christian ministry was being part of a Gospel Male Voice Choir in Northern Ireland.
As a teenager, recently come to faith in Christ, what an eye opener this was for me to learn from men not only to sing in harmony, but how to pray and give one’s testimony.
It was expected of every member, as we took church services, that every one of us from time to time would be expected to give a word of how the Lord brought us to saving faith.
I can’t imagine what my first stumbling words must have sounded like.
1 Peter 3:15, encourages believers to demonstrate their Christian faith to others in the way they live, and to be prepared to explain Christianity to them in a way that makes sense that they can understand.
He tells us to be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us the reason for our hope, to be ready to give a clear defence of the faith we profess.
Not pie in the sky hope that things will somehow work out for the best, but the ability to be able to explain what we believe.
I owe a lot to those men from the Carrickfergus Gospel Male Choir, for accepting me, and encouraging me, and allowing me to be a part of their ministry.
He’s Made Everything Beautiful In It’s Time
April in spring always reminds me of my childhood days in Co. Antrim Northern Ireland.
Riverbanks of nearby hedgerows and streams were a mass of bright yellow primroses and violets, which we often picked in large bunches and brought home.
One my favourite haunts was to climb the hills beside my home and watch the skipping of the new born lambs, and stroll through the thick carpets of bluebells which dotted the hillsides. How beautiful they were!
As I think of those days now as an adult, two things come to mind.
1. I thank God that He has opened my eyes to see from Ecclesiastes 3:11. “God has made everything beautiful in its time.”
2. But even more so, I thank God, that when I now see those sheep with their little lambs, I think of the Lamb of God of whom John the Baptist wrote in John 1:29, “behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
And praise God, He has taken away mine!
Don't Be a Nobody (Woodrow Kroll)
I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."
Once upon a time there were four men named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. But Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it. But Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about it, because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, and Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody and Nobody did the job that Anybody could have done in the first place.
Nobody is still alive and well in our churches. When the pastor pleads for someone to teach Sunday school, Nobody is the most likely one to respond. When clean-up day rolls around, Nobody reports for duty. When there is a need to provide housing for a visiting college chorale, Nobody is first in line.
How refreshing it must be for God to hear Somebody say, "Here am I! Send me."
When Isaiah envisioned the Holy God and the spiritual need of the unholy world, he was energized to respond to the Lord's calling (Isa. 6:1-8). When he was released from the burden of his sin, he found a new enthusiasm for serving God. And so will you.
When you hear the summons to duty, don't avoid the opportunity--or Nobody will end up doing it. Instead of a Nobody, be the Somebody who is willing to respond enthusiastically to the opportunities of service to God. Instead of making excuses and letting others do the work, find the joy of being God's instrument to accomplish His will in the world.
Be God's Somebody; don't let Nobody get all the credit.
What’s So Great about Jesus?
A grandmother wanted her granddaughter to attend Sunday school. So she arranged to pick her up and take her. She took her to her class and introduced her to her teacher. Following the class the grandmother picked her up and drove her home.
The grandmother was anxious to hear about her granddaughter's experience. She noticed that her granddaughter was in a rather thoughtful mood as she silently stared out of the car window.
Finally, the grandmother couldn’t stand the suspense any longer and asked her granddaughter, "Well, what did you think of Sunday school?" Thoughtfully, she replied, "Grandma, what's so great about Jesus?"
People ask that same question today. They wonder why Christians are making such a fuss about Jesus. Why all of the excitement, celebration, and festivity?
How would you answer that question? What is so great about Jesus is that he brought a new understanding of God into a world that didn’t have the slightest concept of a God as loving and considerate.
Jesus revealed a good and loving God. Jesus' central theme is "God so loved the world" -- a love that is for everyone and everything.
What kind of heavenly Father do we see in Jesus? We see one who was willing to socialize and eat with even the outcasts of society. He was accused of eating with drunkards and sinners.
He comes to the lonely and the forgotten, He reaches out to the prostitutes and the lepers. He gives sight to the blind and makes the lame to walk.
This is the kind of heavenly Father that Jesus has come to reveal to us. The one who “came to seek and to save that which was lost.” The one of whom the Bible says at his birth, “you shall call his name Jesus etc; the one who died for our sins. That's what is so great about Jesus!
God is not out there, or up there, but God is here with us. Immanuel!
Christ came in the midst of life, as expressed by the apostle Paul "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself."
This is absolutely remarkable; never has the world known God in such terms. That's what's so great about Jesus:
He draws us to himself, not by might nor by power, but this King draws us to himself by the cords of Calvary love.
The road that leads us to God's kingdom of love and grace does not pass through corporate boardrooms or political caucuses. It passes through the cross.
Pastor Alex Craig – December 2018
Wrongful Compromise and Allowable Concession
The leader of an Irish Gospel Male Voice Choir had a brother who was in advanced stages of Multiple Sclerosis. This brother needed care and assistance in just about every area of his life. Confined to a wheel chair, he had one of the brightest, radiant testimonies for Christ of anyone I have ever known.
A major fund raiser for MS was planned for their town, to be held in the town hall. Local musical talent was to highlight the evening, to present both sacred and secular music. A large crowd was expected.
An invitation was extended to the Gospel Choir conductor to participate on account of his brother, and he quickly accepted. This didn’t sit well with some of the choir members who thought he shouldn’t be involved in worldly events. A division occurred, but the choir leader went ahead and attended the concert.
I remember this event well, because I was one of the objectors, and I was wrong, dead wrong, o so very wrong!
I wasn’t being reasonable, and I didn’t know when we’re called to compromise, we need to know the difference between wrongful compromise and permissible concession. God taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten
Thoughts on 2018 VBS
Vacation Bible School (VBS) is a ministry outreach the churches of Petrolia provide to educate children about God. This year, First Baptist, St Paul’s United, St Andrews Presbyterian, and Christ Church Anglican, joined together to present Sonlight Island with the theme – the warmth of God’s love.
What is VBS?
The purpose of VBS is to incorporate themed activities that provide kids with the chance to learn about God in a laid back atmosphere.
Our VBS ran from July 16-20, Monday to Friday from 9:30-12:30.
A typical day at our Vacation Bible School included:
Vacation Bible School is a wonderful opportunity for kids to socialize and learn about God’s love for them in a relaxed setting. This was done in our teaching sessions.
While activities are centred around teaching kids about God, VBS also combines fun and learning without the formality of a Sunday service.
For me personally, the most memorable event was a young girl standing up and giving thanks before Snack time.
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything
A farmer was busy working fixing his farm machinery. His little daughter kept bothering him wanting to go get a treat at the village store which they often did. Finally, frustrated at her persistence at this particular time, he reached over and picked up a magazine and quickly thumbing through it found a picture of the world.
Taking his scissors, he cut the picture out, then cut it into a number of much smaller pieces. Handing the pieces to the little girl, along with a roll of scotch tape he said "put this together, and when you have it looking like the world again, I promise you we'll go get that candy bar.
Thinking he had pulled a good one, and could finish his repairs in peace, he got totally absorbed with his work. However, about seven or eight minutes his daughter came back holding up a picture of the world all taped back together nice and neatly. He couldn't believe it! (HOW did she do it? – he knew she couldn't have done it so quickly.)
"Well daddy, I noticed on the back of the picture when you were cutting it up, there was a picture of Jesus being put on the cross. And when I put Him in the right place, the world all came back together.
As he laid down his tools and he and his little girl headed out the shop door, he recalled his daughter’s words – “when you put Jesus in the right place, the world all comes back together."
How about you? Have you put Jesus in the "right place" as Lord of your life?
In my younger days, I always enjoyed competing as a sprinter though the fact I don’t have any ribbons or medals attests to my success.
I always remember one particular race where I was way out in front of the pack and committed the cardinal sin of sprinting. I looked back! Next moment I was on my face with the rest of the runners flying by. What a lesson!
Paul in this passage exhorts his readers “But one thing I do. Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal.”
Paul is employing an illustration from the realm of athletics. He pictures a Greek runner. As he runs along the prescribed course he banishes all thoughts of past failures, and he strains every nerve in an effort of tremendous concentration on reaching his goal; his one and only concern is to win the race. Likewise, if we are to succeed in the race of life we must very deliberately “forget“, and very deliberately “press on“.
Strangely enough, a good memory is not always a great asset! It’s not the things we forget which we should have remembered which cause the most trouble; it is the things we remember which we should have forgotten.
We must forget our past sins. If God has forgotten our sins we must do the same, otherwise the memory of them will hinder us.
We must forget our past failures. This is not easy. Some people are always filled with regret over what might have been. “Don’t cry over spilt milk!”
We must forget our past successes. Some Christians are living on a past experience and some Christian workers are living on a past reputation.
We must forget our past unhappy experiences. Have we lost a fortune? Forget it! - thinking of it cannot bring it back. Has someone let us down? Forget it!
We must forget the sins and the failures of others. This needs to be said, for we so easily remember the shortcomings of other people. In order to forget we must reverse the process of remembering. To remember one must revive the image and keep on reviving it.
Forget and press on!
Alex Craig February 2018
Light for the New Year
Maybe it is just nostalgia. Or perhaps it’s just being sentimental about the so-called “Good old days.” But, there did seem to be a simpler time when we could distinguish between right and wrong. Now, everything is complicated and complex. We have seemed to lose our way in moral confusion and swamped by ethical challenges.
The Good News of Christ’s Gospel stands against present darkness. The Bible teaches that in Christ we have light to help us maintain high standards. Today marks the traditional close of our Christmas season. Twelve days after Christmas Day-three wise men found their way to Bethlehem and Worshipped a New Born King. January 6 marks an Epiphany-or revelation of Light discovered in the Christ Child.
Each one of us like the Wise Men portrayed in scripture must discover our personal path to Jesus. Light shines and guides us on the road we must travel. We come before Jesus bearing precious gifts. Our time, talent, and energy are the greatest presents we can give to the Lord. The New Year will present new twists and bends in our highway to God. None of us knows exactly what lies ahead. We do know that Jesus promises to be with us in occasions of joy and sorrow.
We have sufficient Light, and unending Hope to guide us in living with a culture which is increasingly becoming secular and without any spiritual compass.
Epiphany is a good time to take hold of God’s Light and trust in the Lords promises for 2018. The refrain of We Three Kings speaks to us: star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.
Alex Craig January 2018
Don't Judge Too Quickly
E.G. There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn not to judge things too quickly, so he sent them each one on a quest, to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.
The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest son in the fall.
When they had all gone and come back, he called them together to describe what they had seen.
The first son said that the pear tree was ugly, bent, and twisted. The second son said no, it was covered with green buds and full of promise. The third son disagreed; he said it was laden with blossoms that smelled sweet and looked so beautiful; it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen. The last son disagreed with all of them; he said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment.
The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but only one season in the tree's life.
He told them that you cannot judge a tree, or a person’s life, by only one season, and that the essence of who they are and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life can only be measured at the end, when all the seasons have ran their course.
There’s a lesson here for Christian men and women that speaks to every generation. Don't let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest. Be faithful even when it's a winter season for you, don’t miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, the fulfillment of your fall.
Don't judge life by one difficult season. Persevere through the difficult patches and better times are sure to follow
Alex Craig November 2017
Christmas Or Xmas
I think C.S. Lewis identified our problem when he said, "We really celebrate two holidays on Dec. 25th. One we call 'Xmas' and the other we call 'Christmas.'"
Maybe we ought to separate the two and understand that they are actually different holidays.
On the Xmas side, we have a figure Santa Claus. And on the Christmas side we also have a figure Jesus.
On the Xmas side we have symbols, a Christmas tree, jingling bells, and reindeer. And on the Christmas side we also have symbols a manger, shepherds, and wise men.
On the Xmas side we have presents trinkets we buy that often cost too much money. On the Christmas side we have a priceless gift that will last forever and ever.
And it is important that we separate the two holidays in our minds because you see, Grinch’s can steal Xmas, but Grinch’s can't steal Christmas.
Circumstances can rob us of Xmas. If we can't buy the gifts, if we don't have the money, if we aren't invited to the right parties, if we feel left out, if the kids are gone, if we're suffering pain or hardship, all these can rob us of Xmas.
Xmas depends on circumstances, on presents and cards and people. And if they're not there then we'll not have a merry Xmas.
But Christmas comes anyway, whether there are cards or presents or trees or feasts or parties. Christmas comes anyway. It is important to realize that nothing can rob us of the real joy of Christmas.
The people who get the most out of it are those celebrating the joy and wonder and grandeur of Christmas, and nothing can take that away from us.
So which will you be celebrating, Xmas or Christmas?
Alex Craig December 2017
There once was an old shoe cobbler who dreamed one Christmas Eve that Jesus would come to visit him the next day. The dream was so real that he was convinced it would come true.
So the next morning he got up and went out and cut green branches and decorated his little cobbler shop and got all ready for Jesus to come and visit. He was so sure that Jesus was going to come that he just sat down and waited for Him.
The hours passed and Jesus didn't come. But an old man came. He came inside for a moment to get warm out of the winter cold.
As the cobbler talked with him he noticed the holes in the old man's shoes, so he reached up on the shelf and got him a new pair of shoes. He made sure they fit and that his socks were dry and then sent him on his way.
Still he waited. But Jesus didn't come. An old woman came. A woman who hadn't had a decent meal in two days. They sat and visited for a while, and he prepared some food. He gave her a nourishing meal and sent her on her way.
Then he sat down again to wait for Jesus. But Jesus still didn't come.
Then he heard a little boy crying out in front of his shop. He went out and talked with the boy, and discovered that the boy had become separated from his parents and didn't know how to get home. So he put on his coat, took the boy by the hand and led him home.
When he came back to his little shoe shop it was almost dark and the streets were emptied of people. And then, in a moment of despair, he lifted his voice to heaven and said, "Oh Lord Jesus, why didn't you come?"
Then in a moment of silence he seemed to hear a voice saying, "Oh shoe cobbler, lift up your heart. I kept my word. Three times I knocked at your friendly door. Three times my shadow fell across your floor. I was the man with the bruised feet. I was the woman you gave to eat. I was the boy on the homeless street."
Jesus had come. The cobbler just didn't realize it.
It happens all the time, doesn't it? He is always there and we are eyewitnesses of His majesty. We just don't focus in very often. We just don't hear clearly.
Peter said, "We saw Him. We saw with our eyes. We heard with our own ears. We're not giving you fairy tales. We're not telling you something we heard from somebody else. We saw it. We heard it, and we want to pass it on to you."
That is my prayer for you and for me this Christmas season. That we'll not just celebrate Xmas but that we will really celebrate Christmas. That we will be able to see Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and as our Saviour too.
Alex Craig December 2017