Behind closed, locked doors: does Jesus need permission to enter?

[extrapolations on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore]

Our weekday service started late on Monday as we waited for an elderly saint who, another parishioner reported, had locked herself out of her car at the grocery store. We all hoped and prayed the CAA would come with their usual quickness to rescue dear Doreen.

Beginning the service about ten minutes before she arrived, we all paused to give her a cheer when she strolled through the sanctuary door. Anne soon got to the same Gospel reading that would have been heard at Sunday service the day before.

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” (John 20:19)

Reading on through verse 31, Anne then launched into a few funny stories of her own experiences with needing, or lacking, protection.

Few of us in our mostly safe Highlands really need to bolt ourselves, our possessions or our cars from intruders, but we all do. Why? Each of us has fears requiring locks to keep the perceived threat from getting in. As John 20:19 explains, that’s why the disciples had tightly secured the doors of the home they were in. They were sure that those who had killed Jesus would hunt down and murder them as well.

But Jesus being Jesus needed no key to get in. He simply appeared in their midst—likely walking through the walls as easily as he once walked on water.

Our English bibles translate Jesus’ first words to the panicky disciples as “Peace to you”. While he spoke Aramaic, Jesus would have used the far more comprehensive Hebrew word ‘shalom’ here. Vastly more than the simple absence of war or discord, ‘shalom’ encompasses all the following and probably more: completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, fullness, rest and harmony.

We lock our home doors, our car doors, our safety deposit boxes, and some of us attempt to bolt up our hearts. We may even try to lock Jesus out of some or all parts of our lives. But as he moved through the defenses the frightened disciples had in place, he can break through ours.

Perhaps you’re one of those people who has always felt close to Jesus, so getting to know him was straightforward. Most of us, however, likely sensed him knocking at the doors of our lives, our hearts, for years before we let him in. We understand well the scripture, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If any of you hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with you. And you will eat with me.” (Rev. 3:20). There’s no getting away from the fact that, right there, the implication is he needs our permission.

But then there are the remarkable stories of times he miraculously ‘appears’, ostensibly uninvited. He powerfully visits Paul on the road to Damascus, knocking him to the ground, admonishing and then re-directing him. A recent post on this site showed how Jesus appeared to a Syrian Muslim family, telling them he’d be sending a man to tell them more about him (you can read that here).  

This past week’s Gospel reading likewise showed how easily Jesus got through to the disciples gathered in fright behind locked doors a few days after his crucifixion.

So which is it? We have to open the door for him, or he’ll walk through our walls? As with all things Jesus, either or both seems to be the answer.  Every situation and every person being unique, he'll do what he knows is best. If we pray according to God’s will, I truly believe we can hasten/empower/work with God to accomplish that. But as these stories make clear, sometimes Jesus will just float or blast his way in anyway, without our or any other earthly permission!

Jesus appears to Syrian Muslim family, tells them he is sending a man to tell them more

Early this year, Haliburton began planning to welcome a refugee family. Plans and prayers for the family—who will likely be frightened Muslims from Syria—progress wonderfully. (See our original story here: Open arms and hearts in Haliburton Highlands join in Canada’s welcome to refugees).

Around the same time, an astounding story began circulating of a fellow who had been a missionary in Syria to Muslims. Tyler Connell with the Ekballo Project toured American college campuses sharing stories and videos from his most recent trip to Middle East, where he documented a dramatic move of God among Muslims, particularly with refugees.

“At every stop we saw the presence of Jesus break in to these college campuses and touch students, with bodies healed, people saved, and people giving their lives to serve in the mission field,” Connell exclaims.

His first film chronicles a young missionary named Daniel*, 24, originally from Vermont. Two years ago Daniel moved to the Middle East to work with Syrian refugees.

“They go house to house and visit these Muslim families and sit with them and talk with them and find out their names, their stories, and love them. As trust is built, they begin to open up about the Gospel.”

“Jesus is moving in these Middle East nations,” he says. “Many there are disillusioned and broken and just want to know the truth. Now more than ever there is a harvest among Muslims that has not been seen in history.”

One afternoon Daniel walked into a white tent with a family of eight people inside. “Hi, I’m Daniel and I’m here to tell you about Jesus,” he announced.

He wasn’t quite prepared for their reaction. “The family freaked out, they looked at each other, almost turned white. The father was excited, yelling.”

What’s going on? Daniel wondered.

The interpreter explained that the night before Daniel’s visit, the whole family was sitting in their tent having tea together when a man in white opened the door to their tent and stood at the entrance. The man was glowing.

“Hello, my name is Jesus and I am sending a man tomorrow named Daniel to tell you more about me.” Then he disappeared.

So when Daniel arrived at their doorway and told them his name, they were completely undone. “They asked him to tell them more about Jesus and he gave then the Gospel and the whole family gave their lives to Jesus,” Connell reports.

*Name changed for security reasons

[from Assist News. You can read more at Godreports here]

Wisdom from the judge: Each has their special celebration days—Christians, Jews and atheists alike

In Florida, an atheist became incensed over the preparations for Easter and Passover. He decided to contact his lawyer about the discrimination inflicted on atheists by the constant celebrations afforded to Christians and Jews, while atheists had no day of their own to celebrate.

The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the long, passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel and declared, “Case dismissed!”

The lawyer immediately stood and objected to the ruling, saying: “Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and many other observances. Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. Yet my client and all other atheists have no such day!”

The judge leaned forward in his chair and simply said, “Obviously your client is too confused to even know about, much less celebrate, his own atheists’ day!”

“Your Honor,” the lawyer pompously pronounced, “we are unaware of any such day for atheists. Just when might that be?”

“Well it comes every year on exactly the same date,” the judge replied. “April 1st! Our calendar sets April 1st as April Fools’ Day, and consider that Psalm 14:1 states, 'Fools say in their hearts, There is no God. '

So, in my opinion, if your client says there is no God, then by scripture he is a fool, and April 1st is his own special day to celebrate! Now have a good day and get out of my courtroom!”

[Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 both attest to this tendency of fools. We cannot, however, attest with certainty to the veracity of this story]

What does it mean to be transfigured?

How can we ever figure out what it is to be transfigured? Transform, metamorphose, convert—all those words, considered synonyms and heady enough, somehow don’t go far or high enough. “Her face was transfigured by the sight of the triple rainbow” may come close.

Possibly the only way to understand the word is to climb the mountain with Jesus for a prayer meeting [Luke 9:28-36; Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10].

[The following is based on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore]

Have you ever, as a child, been outside on a warm summer night and caught sight of fireflies, or lightening bugs? You run to their flashings, and then perhaps think, “I’m going to catch them and put them in a bottle!”  Freeze the moment and make it last. But does it?

The movie Chariots of Fire tells the mostly true story of two British athletes at the 1920 Paris Olympics. Harold Abrahams struggles with himself as well as other runners, but wins in the 100-yard dash. Eric Liddell, a devout Christian, refuses to run on Sunday so switches to the 440, and wins gold.

After the games are over, the movie shows the athletes returning to London, and then rushing off excitedly at the station.  All except Harold Abrahams, who keeps to himself. His girlfriend waits for him, the crowds thin out, and when the station finally empties, Harold slowly emerges. He has achieved what he set out to do: he has been to the summit. Down from the giddy heights, he must face reality. Nothing will ever compare to that mountain-top moment, now unfrozen and never to be recaptured. *

Peter, James and John all got their own mountain top experience with Jesus in what we recall and celebrate as Transfiguration Sunday. Jesus took the men up the mountain to pray with him. While they fought off sleep, Jesus prayed.

 “The appearance of his face changed. His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in shining glory. Jesus and the two of them talked together. They spoke about his coming death,” which would happen soon on a wooden cross outside of Jerusalem. 

The tired disciples suddenly woke up to the brilliant sight.  Peter blurted out, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters. One will be for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

The tired disciples suddenly woke up to the brilliant sight.  Peter blurted out, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters. One will be for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

As often seemed the case with Peter, the Bible tells us, “he didn't really know what he was saying.” All Peter knew is that he wanted to capture the moment, make time stand still, stay and have it all right there forever. None of this nonsense about suffering, rejection and death!

A cloud then descended and surrounded them, terrifying the three followers. The Voice and words heard at Jesus’ baptism thundered out again, "This is my Son, and I have chosen him. Listen to him."

On the way down, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until he had risen from the dead. As usual, they had no idea what he meant. But they did keep it to themselves until after the resurrection, when so many of Jesus’ teachings finally began making some sense.

Just after they came down from the mountain, their behaviour reverts back to normal and we read later in Luke 9:46 about an argument. “The disciples began to argue about which one of them would be the most important person.” The disciples have seen the glory of the Lord but they didn’t allow his glory to transform them. Eventually it will.

After Jesus death and resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter wrote to his friends as a changed and strengthened man. He explained how he had been an eyewitness to Jesus’ majesty.

“We told you about the time our Lord Jesus Christ came with power. But we didn't make up stories when we told you about it. With our own eyes we saw him in all his majesty. God the Father gave him honour and glory. The voice of the Majestic Glory came to him. It said, ‘This is my Son, and I love him. I am very pleased with him.’ We ourselves heard the voice that came from heaven. We were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Unless our search for God produces a new person, there is no reason to continue searching. Commitment to Christ is commitment to the CHOSEN Son of God and his mission on earth, not to a memorial where people can glory in what they have experienced; not the three tents. Commitment to Jesus is not commitment to a sacred place with its sacred memories, but commitment to a mission.

Visions and holy moments in God’s glorious presence are not the essence of religion, or the goal, or the norm. Walking to the cross after Jesus is. God said “Listen to him.” We listen in order to believe, to commit, to learn and to follow.

Prayer:   Ever-living, ever-loving God, grant us grace to worship you as you are rather than as we would have you to be. Give us the courage to see you as you would appear to us, rather than as we would like you to look. Guide us into the depths of your mystery. Help us to scale the heights of your glory. In all things, help us to love you as our God, our Guide, and our Saviour.  Amen.     (William Willimon)
* Chariots of Fire illustration thanks to N.T. Wright

Five Helps for the New Year by Bishop Michael Ramsey

1.  Thank God. Often and always. Thank Him carefully and wonderingly for your continuing privileges and for every experience of His goodness. Thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.

2.  Take care about confession of your sins. As time passes the habit of being critical about people and things grows more than each of us realize

3 Be ready to accept humiliations. They can hurt terribly but they can help to keep you humble. [Whether trivial or big, accept them, he says.]  All these can be so many chances to be a little nearer to our Lord. There is nothing to fear, if you are near to the Lord and in His hands.

4.  Do not worry about status. There is only one status that our Lord bids us be concerned with, and that is our proximity to Him. "If a man serve me, let him follow me, and where I am there also shall my servant be". (John 12:26) That is our status; to be near our Lord wherever He may ask us to go with him.

5.  Use your sense of humour. Laugh at things, laugh at the absurdities of life, laugh at yourself. Through the year people will thank God for you. And let the reason for their thankfulness be not just that you were a person whom they liked or loved, but because you made God real to them.

Michael Ramsey, an influential Anglican theologian and writer, served as the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury (from 1961-1974). He gave the "Five Helps" as a talk to his clergy one year. Ramsey died in 1988 in Oxford, England, at 83. He had a particular regard for the Eastern Orthodox concept of 'glory', and his favourite book he had written was his 1949 work The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ

The enduring mystery, wonder and JOY of Christmas

by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

I came across this quotation recently. So many of my senses are involved in reading it that I found it quite delightful.

"Late on a sleepy, star-spangled night, those angels peeled back the sky just like you would tear open a sparkling Christmas present. Then, with light and joy pouring out of Heaven like water through a broken dam, they began to shout and sing the message that baby Jesus had been born. The world had a Saviour! The angels called it ‘Good News,’ and it was.”  (Larry Libby, "The Angels Called it Good News" in Christmas Stories for the Heart)

I think I like it because it reminds me of the King James Version of the Christmas story as Luke records it:

"And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:9-11)

Our little human brains can’t describe that night in the kind of precise adjectives that our computer-obsessed society is comfortable with. This is mysterious stuff! So we have to resort to pictures that aren’t as well defined. That shouldn’t be so surprising. After all we are dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime event—the birth of the Saviour of a world gone wrong. Those unschooled, illiterate shepherds did a fine job of getting their story across. I think it was more in the joy on their faces than in the communication through their words. Each time they told the story, to their families, to their friends, to anyone who would listen, that joy must have looked like a bonfire, rays of hope radiating from their whole beings. Good News! Sing it out!

The story hasn’t changed. When we tell it, do we express that same joy, wonder, certainty? Remember this joy doesn’t have to be limited to just Christmastime. The overflowing joy of knowing Christ’s presence in our lives was one of the themes of Jesus’ final teaching with his disciples the night before he died on the cross. He told them of his extravagant love for them—that he loved them as the Father loved Him (John 15:9). After sharing what this eternal relationship looks like, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (v.11). What a promise! Through Jesus Christ our hearts can be filled with joy—real joy!

May you experience real joy this Christmas and always.
 

Love in action: the Way family's adventures at Eden Children's Village, Zimbabwe

UPDATE (Jan. 2017): The Way family have returned to Canada, hopefully briefly, to raise more funds to be able to return to Zimbabwe. Please visit their sites and consider a generous gift to help them continue their amazing work.

Jeff and Carole Way spoke recently at St. George’s on their ministry to orphans in Zimbabwe. With their house, car and most of their belongings sold, they plan to live and serve at Eden Children’s Village in Doma, Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe.

To learn more about the ministry of Eden Children's Village, please click here. To get updates on Jeff and Carole's work, adventures, ministries, and needs in Zimbabwe, please visit their Facebook site, The ZimbabWays

."Right now we are receiving about $800 Canadian a month and we budget for $1200 American," Jeff explains. "With the exchange rate as it is now, we are quite a bit short of what we need.  So whatever you can do to help is great."

You may donate online, or mail a cheque (payable to St. Croix Vineyard) to St. Croix Vineyard, 8 Main St, St. Stephen, NB. E3L 3E2, c/o Lorna Jones. To arrange for a pre-approved debit, contact Lorna at lornajones@ssu.ca. Jeff and Carol may be contacted at thezimbabways@gmail.com.

Open arms and hearts in Haliburton Highlands join in Canada’s welcome to refugees

A refugee sponsorship committee has been put together from members of our community and parish, with plans to sponsor a refugee family some time in the spring.

It is amazing to hear of all the volunteers offering such diverse gifts as driving, advertising, fund-raising, providing help with finding health services, and teaching English. Donations are already coming in.

Justin w refugees.jpg

Outfitted in new winter coats and clutching their yawning 16-month-old daughter in the wee hours of Friday morning, a Syrian refugee family on the first large government flight began their new life in Canada—or, as they call it, ‘paradise.’

"We really would like to thank you for all this hospitality and the warm welcome and all the staff—we felt ourselves at home and we felt ourselves highly respected," Kevork Jamkossian told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "You are home," Trudeau said. "Welcome home."

from Allison Jones of The Canadian Press

If you would like to donate (eligible for a tax receipt), you can do so online at Canada Helps, or with a cheque made out to St. George’s. Please include “refugee sponsorship” on the memo line.

.To learn more about The Haliburton Refugee Sponsorship Committee’s goals, ways to donate, and upcoming meetings, click on the link above, or here for their Facebook site.

OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHILD: Haliburton Highlands does it again

Needy children from around the world thank you, Highlands individuals and churches! You filled 600 shoe-boxes, soon on their way to children in Africa, Central America, South America, needy Caribbean countries, and the Ukraine.

               Some of the 600 shoe boxes collected in the highlands, with brenda watson and chief coordinator, kathy burk

               Some of the 600 shoe boxes collected in the highlands, with brenda watson and chief coordinator, kathy burk

A hands-on project of Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Christmas Child has been bringing help, hope and joy to children in the developing world and areas of conflict for years. Each shoe box communicates the simple message of God’s love to the child who receives it. Operation Christmas Child also opens doors for Samaritan’s Purse to provide further assistance to children, their families, and communities.

Here's but one amazing story of how a shoe box gift had a powerful and lasting impact on Lejla, one of the first children ever to receive an Operation Christmas Child gift box:

Poetry praising the 'King of Praise'

The King of Praise
by Eleanor Cooper

                      Blaze of the sky in the morning sun,
            Shine of the moon at night,
Glow of the stars in the heavenly vault,
animated dove photo: dove dove.gif Bespeak Thy glorious might
O King of the light!

Sweep of the ocean in mighty roar,
Calm of the water at rest,
Blast of wind over tidal wave,
Height of the foaming crest,
  Bespeak Thy glorious might
      O King of the sea!

         Gold of the autumn foliage,
             Green of the springing turf
                            Chill of the ice on a snowy road,
                                           Tide of the summer’s surf,
               Bespeak Thy glorious might
                            O King of the seasons!

                                                             Quiet of sky on a summer’s night,
                                                              Still of a sunrise below,
Shine of the moonlight over the land,
Light of the starry glow
           Bespeak Thy glorious might
O King of all heaven!

Eleanor Cooper, a multi-talented long-time member of St. George's, is active in the church choir, other musical groups, and  many other community goings-on. She also writes a column for The Haliburton County Echo.

The people on the front lines of EVERY world tragedy before the media, according to renowned journalist

by Brian Stewart

I'M NO THEOLOGIAN, forgive any blunders on that ground; but what has truly surprised me over many years is not the triumph of trends, which flicker and fade like shadows at summer twilight, but rather the survival of spiritual hunger. This spiritual hunger, and a religious 'force-field' that springs from it, is the human drive to serve, and to help others. It's so very much greater than I had imagined, and I've seen it blaze forth in places far darker, more threatening, than I could have imagined.

The surprise, I suppose, was my surprise. For this 'force' has been there, after all, from the very beginning of Christianity ­ and mysteriously, seems never to weaken nor grow weary. But I do wish to tell you something of what I have observed as a reporter, and [have] finally come to believe very deeply.

For years I've been struck by the rather blithe notion ­spread in many circles, including the media and taken up by a rather large section of our younger population, that organized, mainstream Christianity has been reduced to a musty, dimly-lit backwater of contemporary life, a fading force. Well, I'm here to tell you, from what I've seen from my 'ring-side seat' at events over decades, that there is nothing further from the truth.

Christianity in action

I've found there is no movement, or force, closer to the raw truth of war, famines, crises and the vast human predicament, than organized Christianity in action. And there is no alliance more determined and dogged in action than church workers, ordained and lay members, when mobilized for a common good. It is these Christians who are right 'on the front lines' of committed humanity today ­ and when I want to find that front, I follow their trail.

It is a vast front, stretching from the most impoverished reaches of the developing world to the hectic struggle to preserve caring values in our own towns and cities. I have never been able to reach these front lines without finding Christian volunteers already in the thick of it, mobilizing congregations that care, and being a faithful witness to truth, ­ the primary light in the darkness, and so often the only light.

Now this is something the media and government officials rarely acknowledge, for religion confuses many ­ and anyway, we all like to blow our own horns. So front line efforts of Christianity do not usually produce headlines, and unfortunately this feeds the myth that the church just follows along, to do its modest bit.

Let me repeat, I've never reached a war zone, or famine group or crisis anywhere where some church organization was not there long before me: ­ sturdy, remarkable souls, usually too kind to ask 'What took you so long?'

I don't slight any of the hard work done by other religions or those wonderful secular NGOs I've dealt with so much over the years. They work closely with church efforts, they are noble allies. But no, so often in desperate areas it is Christian groups there first, that labour heroically during the crisis and continue on long after all the media ­ and the visiting celebrities ­ have left.

Now I came to this admiring view slowly and reluctantly. At the start of my career, I'd largely abandoned religion ­ for I, too, regarded the church as a rather tiresome irrelevance. What ultimately persuaded me otherwise ­ and I took a lot of persuading ­ was the reality of Christianity's mission, physically and in spirit, before my very eyes. It wasn't the attraction of great moments of grandeur, ­ although I admit covering this pope [then Pope John Paul II] on six of his early trips abroad, including his first one to Mexico and then epic returns to Poland, certainly shook any assumptions I had of Christianity as a fading force.

No, the millions upon millions gathered was impressive; but I was more moved by quiet individual moments of character and courage that seem to be anchored to some deep core within Christianity.

Communism cracks

I remember a dim stairwell in Gdansk, Poland. As many of you remember, the first unbelievable crack in the mighty Communist empire, which had so often proclaimed triumph over religion, occurred in Poland in the early 1980s ­ when the Solidarity Movement, supported by the church, rose to challenge tyranny under the leadership of a most unlikely little shipyard electrician, Lech Walesa.

Later he'd win the Nobel Prize and become president of Poland; but when I met Walesa he was isolated, had been jailed, and his life was so often threatened I thought he was a dead man walking. We all assumed security forces were arranging one of those convenient 'accidents,' that really did happen in that frightening climate of oppression ­ just like the movies.

A few of us met him alone on this stairwell, as he slipped out to Mass. "Are you frightened?" one of us asked. He stopped, looked surprised at the thought, then answered in a voice of steel: "No, I am afraid of no one, and nothing ­ only God." And he walked out alone into the night.

It was a transcendent moment. Here in this dingy stairwell was the purest courage and conscience ­ backed by Christian faith that I suddenly realized no force of empire or terror could ever extinguish [full article here].

Former CBC TV journalist Brian Stewart covered many international crises as a foreign correspondent, reported from ten war zones, and has won countless awards. He is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. He gave this as a convocation address at Knox College, University of Toronto, in 2004. 

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown: a great help in your journey

If you’re a thinking, feeling, relational human being, you’re sure to be nourished by the book Sensible Shoes. Part fiction, part spiritual direction, part Bible study, it sensitively and delicately weaves the stories of four seekers into an expanding tapestry of healing and discovery: for themselves as individuals, and as parts of something bigger.

Author Sharon Garlough Brown’s roles as pastor, spiritual director and retreat leader all guide and intricately colour the book. She takes us deeply inside each traveller, helping us see and hear as they do, and often glimpse and perceive aspects of ourselves in their impressions and discoveries.

By following along, you may well find encouragement to likewise step out of comfort zones or away from fear and isolation, towards the journey that ‘fits’ best, lifts above the humdrum, and moves you toward a beginning sense of rightness and fulfilled destiny.

Sharon Garlough Brown (MDiv, Princeton Theological Seminary) and her husband Jack have served congregations in Scotland, Oklahoma and England, and currently co-pastor Redeemer Covenant Church in Caledonia, Michigan. The second book in the Sensible Shoes series is Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope and more are promised.

Hallelujah Haliburton! Sizzling Summer Service 2015

Heavens opened over Haliburton and the rain held off for another glorious ecumenical service in the park. We joined in lively choruses, kids enjoyed a meaningful presentation by Youth Unlimited's Dana McMahon, and Baptist Church Pastor Paul Graham spoke, appropriately, of our unity in Christ and the need to reach beyond the boxes of our church buildings. 

          Paul preaches to the multitudes

A look at the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity

by Anne Moore

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is the first-person account of a young man growing up an American Muslim, and his slow conversion to Christianity. Nabeel Qureshi starts right off in his introduction by listing his three purposes for writing the book. In brief, they are to:

(1) tear down walls by giving non-Muslim readers an insider's perspective into a Muslim's heart and mind;

(2) equip readers with facts and knowledge, showing the strength for the Gospel’s case in contrast to that for Islam; and

(3) portray the immense inner struggle of a Muslim grappling with the Gospel, including the doubts and sacrifices.

This is a wonderful story of the ways God drew Qureshi to Himself, in particular by sending a close friend to slowly walk with him through an eight-year struggle with scripture, history, and studies of the Quran and other Muslim writings. Qureshi meticulously works his way through each of his obstacles to the Christian faith while facing up to the untruths he had been taught.

The book reads like Lee Strobel's books—logical, methodical, and, sometimes, a bit dry. However it is well worth the time to read.

__________________________________

Nabeel Qureshi is an itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries as well as bestselling author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Since completing his medical degree in 2009, he has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel through teaching, preaching, writing, and debating. You can read more about his book, and view an astonishing number of positive reviews, at Christianity Today published Qureshi's story in an article entitled Christ Called Me Off the Minaret.

What are the common characteristics of growing churches?

A recent report on church growth and decline could prove to be a treasure trove for leaders seeking both facts and ideas.

Kirk Hadaway, chief statistician and researcher with the Episcopal Church, compiles dozens of contributing factors in the piece, and Victoria Heard, head of church planting and congregational development for the Diocese of Dallas, has
done an excellent job crystallizing his work down to what she considers the essentials. Heard assumes first a “robust proclamation” of the Nicene Creed,  and then presents a six-pack of fundamentals. 

1. A kingdom road map

2. The children go up front

3. Sunday school still works

4. A culture of learning for adults

5. Hospitality that counts

6. Add a service, stir up the sound

You can link to her excellent and challenging full article here.

Anne's Reflections on the Christmas Season

by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

What happened to autumn? It’s really beginning to look, and feel, a lot like Christmas. Snow, cold, blustery winds, early darkness, pretty-coloured lights—all together remind us of our need to prepare for Christmas

For some, this is a wonderful time of year. It brings a lot of happiness to decorate, bake, buy gifts, entertain family and friends, and continue the yearly rituals we have known for decades.

For many others, this Christmastime may not be so wonderful. It could be a painful reminder of a loss in our lives. The loss may be of a loved one, so that one wonders how joy could ever return; but the loss may be of something else: a job, a home, a marriage, one’s health, or independence. We discover that life can sometimes interfere with our traditions, and that discovery is not a pleasant one.

All of us need to be reminded of the Christmas angel’s message: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” The angel goes on to tell of the Saviour who has been born. You might be tempted to ask, “So what? What does that have to do with my pain or happiness?

The answer requires knowing the whole story—not just the birth of a baby, but a life lived. This life had much pain that included: hurrying into exile in another country as a young child, settling in an area far from close relatives, living in obscurity for 30 years in spite of several prophecies seeming to indicate just the opposite would happen, and finally, being rejected for no reason by the authorities, abandoned by his closest friends, and then dying a cruel death on a cross without the benefit of a legal trial

Where is the “good news” in that life? Where is the hope? Christianity is the only religion that worships a God who knows, from human experience, the depths of the pain we suffer. Jesus chose to leave life with the Father in heaven to live a human life with all its physical, emotional, and social pain. And He did it because He is love, because He knows and loves each one of us

It never ceases to amaze me that God loves even me. Christmas reminds us that, regardless of our circumstances this year, our ‘sure and certain’ hope is in Jesus, and that is enough

May each one of you have a hopeful and blessed Christmas.

The power and lasting effect of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child honestly does bring hope and joy to children in desperate situations around the world through gift-filled shoe boxes as well as the Good News of God's love. It's such a simple way to be part of a hands-on missions project while focusing on the true meaning of Christmas—Jesus Christ.

If you have the slightest doubt that such a small gift helps or has much if any effect on a child receiving one, please take a few minutes to watch Damaris’ story:



As Damaris explains, you cannot impact one child without impacting her or his family and wider community: the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.

Boxes from Eastern Ontario go to children in Africa, Central America, South America, needy Caribbean countries, and the Ukraine.

You can find more information on Samaritan’s Purse and its Operation Christmas Child here.

A divinely-orchestrated day for the Archbishop to visit

On a perfectly beautiful recent fall Sunday, St. George’s choir and congregation gathered at the Haliburton docks to greet Archbishop Colin Johnson. They sang out a special 150th anniversary song written by organist-extraordinaire, Bill Gliddon, as the bishop arrived by boat.

Accomplished actor and St. George’s member Curtis Eastmure—playing the role of Charles Stewart—spoke eloquently, welcoming the bishop. Stewart had been a manager for the Canadian Land Emigration Company who, after first spying the land from the lake, later oversaw the building of the small wooden 16-by-24-foot building which would become the first church.

After the speech, choir, clergy, parishioners and visitors filed across the street and up the scenic stairs to St. George's for the anniversary service. The choir sang out Te Deum Laudamus (We praise you O God)—an anthem also written by Bill Gliddon.

Colin Johnson’s sermon on ecumenism fit and sat well with the attendants and atmosphere. Members of the various Haliburton churches came forward as the service wrapped up, with greetings and congratulations from their congregations.

“What a marvellous time we had!” reported rector Anne Moore in her Thanksgiving letter. “The weather was perfect; the colours at their prime; the food tasty; the choir and Highland Brass in splendid form; and good friends gathered to celebrate our history and our future. Thanks to the anniversary committee for a well-planned and very enjoyable day. Thank You, Lord, for Your mercy is everlasting.

“Giving thanks is good for the soul. It gets our minds off ourselves and our personal worries and onto the One who created each one of us, on purpose, and Who loves us constantly and unconditionally. Praise You, Lord. May we all have thankful hearts.”

(Photos by Darren Lum)