Update on the Way family and their mission in Zimbabwe

After spending the last eight months living and working at Eden Children’s Village in Zimbabwe, Jeff and Carole Way remain as convinced as ever of their call to serve God among the orphans and villagers there. They have been doing tremendous work serving, building, re-building (when fires destroyed several buildings), teaching, and simply being powerful Christian witnesses. Carole, now trained as a midwife, assists at the birth of many babies in the area. Their two young daughters live and go to the school with the locals.

Early this year, the family returned to Canada as part of their continuing attempts to satisfy the Zimbabwean authorities’ demands for acquiring long-term visas. The only one available is a Business Investor Visa, so on their last stay in Zimbabwe and with the help of their  Dutch and Shona partners, they worked hard and successfully to have their business licensed and approved by the various government authorities. 
 
They now need to prove they have US$100,000 in assets.  That amount can be in funds or goods for their business and home and are their own—not a fee to be given to the Zimbabwean government.  

Can you help by providing any of the following? Needs range from large vehicles to office, shop and home supplies. Once these are collected, an American charity has pledged to send a shipping container for them. When they reach their goal, the Ways will apply for the visa from here and, once granted , will return to Eden Children's Village

Pickup truck; dump truck; tractor; backhoe; ATV/four-wheeler, six-wheeler
Gas-powered cement mixer, gas-powered compactor, gas-powered cement saw, gas-powered cement floor finisher, table saw, mitre saw
Chisels, hand saws, hammers, socket sets, pouches, screwdrivers, cordless tools, angle grinders, scaffolding, ladders, trowels, wheel barrows, tool boxes, auger drill bits, wood lathe and chisels, spoke shaves, wood planes, metric tape measures, levels, squares, mallets, air nailers and nails, plumbing tools, shovels, picks, rebar bender, pipe bender, hydraulic jacks, chain, wrenches, vises, woodworking vises, carving chisels, sand paper, chain saw, drill bits, router bits, paint brushes
Welder and equipment
Generator
Office furniture: chairs, computer, printer, white board and markers, filing cabinet, 
Propane fridge, stove, freezer
Solar-power equipment, solar hot water heater
Sofas, dining room set, bed frames, dressers, rugs, desks, curtain material, duvets, blankets.

You can read our original story on the Way family here: Love in action: the Way family's adventures at Eden Children's Village, Zimbabwe.

A life filled with Life and song: that’s our Bill!

This year, Bill Gliddon marks his 55th anniversary as St. George’s celebrated organist. But anyone who knows Bill knows there’s far more to the man than organ playing.

Composer, teacher, radio show host, all-round good guy, Bill has played and continues to play a significant role in many lives and community events in the area. What’s not to love?

Born and raised in Haliburton, he became the assistant organist at Haliburton United Church when only 12. After graduating from the University of Toronto specializing in musical composition, he taught music in Haliburton County schools for 35 years.

Over the years, Bill has provided music for literally all of the churches in the Haliburton Highlands. In addition to preparing and hosting his weekly radio show, he’s involved in many concerts and stage productions. In the summertime, he tends a large vegetable garden on his property, giving most of the produce away.

Last year, the Reverend Colin R. Johnson (Archbishop of Toronto) officially recognized him as someone “whose light shines, whose works glorify” in awarding him membership in the Order of the Diocese of Toronto. The Order recognizes and honours those laypersons who have given outstanding service over a significant period of time in volunteer ministry.

“There are, I guess, three things in my life that I love so much, and they’ve motivated me and inspired me,” he recently told the Haliburton Echo.

“My Christian faith is the big thing, and my love of music and my love of this community—this community where I was born, grew up and love. If the Lord has afforded me to live here and bring happiness and joy through music, that’s my dream come true.” 

And that’s our Bill.

[You can read an excellent profile of Bill Gliddon by The Echo's Chad Ingram here.]

A revolution in New Year’s resolutions

Few of us would disagree with the idea of New Year’s resolutions. They do seem to work for some people, sometimes. Did you make any? Break any yet?

Perhaps it’s the perfect time to remember that, for many of us, a major reason we decided to become Christian, to accept the help and spirit invasion of Jesus, was because we knew we couldn’t do it on our own.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find admonishments to  'strive and make every effort’ to start and keep an exercise or eating program, begin a stringent daily Bible reading series, or whatever. We are told over and over, however, to ‘strive’ and ‘make every effort’ to be faithful followers of Jesus.  As we accept Christ and the realization we cannot do much of anything worthwhile on our own, he provides all the help we need to persevere, discipline ourselves, and so vastly increase the likelihood of successful resolutions.

As Mark Galli explains so well in Christianity Today:

“It also has to do with what enables people to do the very thing they fail to do when they strive to do it: freedom. You cannot enjoy freedom when you feel you have to do such-and-such to be good. That's not freedom but oppression. Only when you realize that you do not have to do or be anything can you know freedom, and only when you know freedom can you really choose the good.”

Paul in a number of his letters does seem to advise many personal resolutions for better, stronger lives. We’re to "put on the new self" (Col. 3:10), "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 13:14), "put on the whole armour of God" (Eph. 6:11), put on "the breastplate of righteousness" (Eph. 6:14), "put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" (Col. 3:12), and above all, to "put on love" (Col. 3:14). Sounds like an awful lot of effort, no?

Galli helps mitigate that by comparing it to how a store clerk gets us to try on something or other in the store.

“Why not try on the blue one?” he or she suggests, taking it off the rack and holding it open for you to slip your arms into. You button it up and have a look in the mirror. You’ve put it on, but really the clerk has put it on you.

“Work out your salvation,” says Paul, and in the next breath, adds, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12–13).

The Clerk approaches us daily. "Why don't you put on love," he says. "Here, let me get it for you. Just hold out your arms."

To read Mark Galli's entire article, please click here.

Christmas trees, presents, stockings, Santa Claus: the traditions of Christmas sanctified

How on earth did a decorated evergreen became a universal symbol of the Christmas season? Does it really have anything to do with Christ, his birth, the real 'reason for the season'? What about the presents, the stockings, Santa Claus himself?

The evergreen tree had long been an ancient symbol of life in the midst of winter. Romans decorated their houses with evergreen branches during the New Year, and ancient inhabitants of northern Europe cut evergreen trees and planted them in boxes inside their homes in wintertime.

Since the practices were rooted in pagan celebrations or even emperor worship, many early Christians were hostile to them. The second-century theologian Tertullian condemned Christians who celebrated the winter festivals or decorated their homes with laurel boughs (to honour the emperor) with these fiery words:

"Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple."

By the early Middle Ages, the legend had grown that when Christ was born in the dead of winter, every tree throughout the world miraculously shook off its ice and snow and produced new shoots of green. Meanwhile, Christian missionaries preaching to Germanic and Slavic people were taking a more lenient approach to cultural practices—such as evergreen trees as winter decorations. 

These missionaries believed that the Incarnation proclaimed Christ's lordship over those natural symbols previously used for the worship of pagan gods. Not only individual human beings, but cultures, symbols, and traditions could be converted. That of course relates to the actual timing of Christmas as well—a 'take-over' of the pagan celebrations of saturnalia and the winter solstice.

As with all ‘traditions’, the idea of the Christmas tree evolved through the centuries and by the time of the Renaissance we can find clear records of trees being used as an actual symbol of Christmas.

As for the presents under the tree, of course they remind us of the gifts brought to baby Jesus by the magi. But what about the stockings full of gifts, and Santa Claus himself?

Most agree both traditions grew from stories about St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra (in modern-day Turkey) who as a youngster had received a huge inheritance at the death of his parents.  Throughout his ministry, Bishop Nicholas selflessly poured out his life and fortune as he served the people in and around his home.

One famous story has him hearing about the misfortunes of a local businessman, recently pillaged by pirates and unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marrying age. In those days, a young woman without a dowry had few options for survival; many were forced into slavery or prostitution.

The father prayed ceaselessly, and young Bishop Nicholas eventually heard of his plight. In the middle of one night, the bishop secretly slipped a sack of gold into the merchant’s house. Legend has it he dropped it into a stocking hung by the fire to dry. The gift provided the needed funds to save the virtue of the oldest daughter, and two more gifts for the two other sisters followed. Anticipating that third gift of gold, the father waited at night until he was able to finally apprehend the bishop. When he tried to thank him, the humble minister deflected the praise. "No, all thanks go to God, not to me." 

"I need to let everybody know you did this!" the man exclaimed.

"No, you must promise me that not until I'm dead will you let anyone know how you received the gold." This compassionate bishop believed literally Jesus’ injunction that when we give, we should do so in secret, sacrificially, in Christ’s name, not our own.

When honour and reverence for St. Nicholas spread to Holland, he became Sint Nicolaas, which as Christmas traditions morphed, eventually contracted to Sinterklaas. From him of course we get our beloved Santa Claus. 

A challenge for your Christmas letter

By the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

For a while I used to receive Christmas letters from various friends; sometimes I sent my own news. I am sure you have received some of these and, possibly, written some before e-mails and high postage costs. Basically they are good news—bragging of all that the children have been doing, trips you have taken, the year’s activities and achievements. I hear that that is what Facebook is about: putting your best face forward.

Rarely do I read a letter that describes a family’s witness, or outreach, or ministries—even when I know they are involved in them. Is that being politically correct?

“Oh, the letter goes to all my friends so I don’t include my church involvement. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone.” But aren’t we supposed to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world? How can we create a thirst for Jesus among our friends ifIf we have accepted Christ as Lord; if we are allowing the Holy Spirit to live through us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, why are we reluctant to let others know? Maybe if we reminded ourselves that God receives all our out-going mail, we might edit the boastful bits and add the ‘loving the less fortunate’ bits, or ‘how God helped me this year’ bits.

If Jesus wrote a Christmas letter to us, it might sound like this:

“Beloved, I pray this season finds you well. I just want to share some of the highlights from this year. Thanks to many of your brothers and sisters, thousands of people have come to faith in me. Please pray for those who have gone astray, that they might find their way back. Many of your brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere have lost their lives because they chose to follow me. Rest assured, they will be with me in Paradise. Many more of your siblings have reached out to those who are poor, homeless, hungry, sick and in prison. I am sure next year will be equally busy.
With all my love,
Your Saviour and Lord, 
Jesus”
(This idea comes from Faith Writers Magazine)

I wonder if it’s time that Christmas letters from us got some attention for Him, along with our other, personal, good news. I wonder if that could be another way of sharing the real meaning of Christ’s birth on earth.

May you have a blessed Christmas season.

Need help feeding yourself or your family?

Once a year, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, in partnership with Haliburton County Foodnet, updates the Food for All pamphlet, an inventory of local programs and services that promote access to sufficient, safe, nutritious and personally-acceptable food for people in the community who could benefit from knowing where to get free and low-cost food. For more information, please call the Health Unit at 705-457-1391, ext. 3238. You can find a list of nearby food banks and how they operate  here.

Another look at Joseph: the non-speaker who speaks volumes

As our guest writer Jeeva Sam points out below, Mary’s husband Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, gets short shrift in our yearly Christmas songs and stories. Even scripture doesn’t provide much about him. Yet he did play a crucial role, and as Jeeva elaborates so well, we can learn from his restrained manner. Enjoy and be edified.

By Jeeva Edward Sam

Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:19)

Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:19)

Quick, now, name one well-known carol that mentions Joseph. Better still, take your time, search on Google, Yahoo, MSN, Bing and Ask—the result is the same!  Not one, nada, nil.

Contrast this with repeated references to Mary, as in: “Mary’s boy child”, “Gentle Mary laid her child”, “On Mary’s lap is sleeping”, “Round yon virgin, MOTHER and child”, “For Christ is born of Mary”, “Mary was that mother mild”, and so forth. Even cattle, sheep and assorted members of the animal kingdom get more press at Christmas!

Point me to one word of dialogue Joseph is permitted to utter in the script of the Nativity as found in Holy Scripture, or in most traditional Christmas pageants for that matter. Need I say more?

Yet, it would seem that this unheralded man is undeniably part of God’s plan for the early part of Jesus’ earthly life. I find it instructive to examine the brief exposure to his character in Matthew 1:19 (Amplified Version): “… Joseph, being a just and upright man and not willing to expose her publicly and to shame and disgrace her, decided to repudiate and dismiss (divorce) her quietly and secretly.”

When Mary is found to be with child without an assist from her betrothed, a “just and upright man” could have ensured that justice was done by having her put to death or at least by issuing a certificate of divorce. Either action would have been kosher, but Joseph adds mercy to justice as he opts for a divorce with dignity.

Years later, when Jesus was asked by some what he would do with a woman who was caught in adultery (as if it is possible to catch only one partner in the act of adultery, hello?) he would stonewall their bid to stone her to death with the words: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Like father, like son, perhaps?

I cannot help but contrast Joseph’s choice with the way I am tempted to respond when someone hurts me. Ever hear the expression: ‘Hurt people hurt people?’ Out of my hurt, I want to make sure that justice is done and you’re hurt too—at least as much as you hurt me.

I could use any platform available to me—Facebook, newspaper columns, TV, blog, pulpit—to at least shame, if not disgrace or downright destroy you. Or it could be a family gathering over the holidays where amid the toasts, treats, eats and greets, some dormant hostility, buried bruise or interred insult rears its ugly head again, or a fresh missile calls for a decidedly unchristian strike-back.

I could opt to leave lash-marks on the offender, or leave quietly with bite-marks on my tongue instead.

May I, like Joseph, be glad to let my non-speaking role speak volumes.

_______________________

Ordained by the United Church of Canada in 1982, Pastor Jeeva has been serving the Morgan's Point & Forks Road East Congregations in Wainfleet, Ontario since 2007.  The Sams equip entrepreneurial believers to experience exponential success in their endeavours and offer an intensive mentorship process that takes married couples in stress or distress from breakdown to breakthrough. He welcomes your feedback at jeevasam@gmail.com

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett launch new faith-based television network

romamarkdowney

Acclaimed actress Roma Downey and her husband, producer Mark Burnett, are set to launch a new family entertainment and faith TV network in December. 

"This is the beginning of our new, multi-platform faith and family network, where the demand is greater than ever for family-friendly entertainment," Downey explained.

"As we have already seen from the success of 'The Bible' series and our 20 million social followers, this audience is looking for inspiring and uplifting programming that they can watch in a trusted and safe environment on any platform."

Burnett added that the new network will aim to become the "ideal platform to reach the enormously under-served family audience."

Downey starred in the popular 'Touched by an Angel' TV series (and appeared in many other shows and movies); Burnett, also President of MGM Television and Digital, has produced several hit TV shows. Together the power couple have created many well-received feature films and television series.

Light TV will broadcast on more than a dozen major networks, including in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. 

Advent and the End: Preparing for Jesus’ coming

The time of preparation for Christmas we call 'Advent'. 'The End', according to apocalyptic literature, secular writings and the Bible—well, we all know what that means. Anne Moore recently presented a fascinating look at how interconnected the two concepts really are, basing her talk on Jesus' warnings to his wary disciples in Luke 21:5-19.

Signs of the End

(5) Some of Jesus' disciples were talking about the temple. They spoke about how it was decorated with beautiful stones and with gifts that honored God. But Jesus asked, (6) "Do you see all this? The time will come when not one stone will be left on top of another. Every stone will be thrown down." (7) "Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?"(8) Jesus replied, "Keep watch! Be careful that you are not fooled. Many will come in my name. They will claim, 'I am he!' And they will say, 'The time is near!' Do not follow them. (9) Do not be afraid when you hear about wars and about fighting against rulers. Those things must happen first. But the end will not come right away." (10)Then Jesus said to them, "Nation will fight against nation. Kingdom will fight against kingdom. (11) In many places there will be powerful earthquakes. People will go hungry. There will be terrible sicknesses. Things will happen that will make people afraid. There will be great and miraculous signs from heaven. (12) "But before all this, people will arrest you and treat you badly. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons. You will be brought to kings and governors. All this will happen to you because of my name. (13) In that way you will be witnesses to them. (14) But make up your mind not to worry ahead of time about how to stand up for yourselves. (15) I will give you words of wisdom. None of your enemies will be able to withstand them or oppose them. (16) "Even your parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends will hand you over to the authorities. They will put some of you to death. (17) Everyone will hate you because of me. (18) But not a hair on your head will be harmed. (19) If you stand firm, you will gain life.

By the Reverend Canon Anne Moore  

When I read the newspapers, I usually sense hopelessness: a horrible election season, unemployment, violence, abuse, racism, natural disasters. disease. The world no longer seems secure or stable. Look at Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan. It never seems to end. We’re kind of separated and protected here in the Haliburton Highlands, but Jesus tells us it won’t always be so. Apocalyptic literature reads much like this.

How could the temple be possibly thrown down, the disciples wondered in the reading above. As Jesus gives what to look for, he speaks not only to his first-century disciples but to us, about our modern-day ‘temples’.

We all have differing reactions to unsettling news.

(1)    Fear:  Build bunkers, install alarm systems, arm yourself, turn off the news! Does that help?

(2)    Who cares?  Eat drink and be merry!  ‘I’m going to get the most of this life while I can.’ Yet this attitude still tends to lead to depression, discouragement, loneliness and resentment.

(3)    Watch and pray (Jesus’ advice), secure in the face of insecurity. We cannot know when the end will come. As we read in Mark 13:32, “But about that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Canon Andrew White (once known as the Vicar of Baghdad), in his book Faith Under Fire: What the Middle East Conflict has taught me about God, writes that the verse most important to him is 1 John 4:18: "Perfect love drives out fear." What he especially appreciates is that before the verse even mentions fear, it speaks of LOVE. It presents the solution before the problem.

“I do not fear much, but I talk constantly about love. When my people are afraid, I tell them that they are loved—loved by God and loved by everyone in our community. It is simply love that sustains us and keeps us going. So often in books and sermons we are told about the importance of love in our faith, but to us in Iraq love is a matter of life or death.”

He also quotes 2 Timothy 1:7: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

So power and strength co-mingle with love, “the power to persevere through the heat of the fire and the power to do what others may consider impossible. It is this kind of love that can enable all Christians to deal with the difficulties they encounter, even in the safety of the West. It is a love that will always prevent fear from taking control of us. At times, things may seem impossible: how will we accomplish the tasks that we need to, which are often so immense? Jesus gave us the answer: “What is impossible with men is possible with God’ (Luke 18:27).”

Are we ready, this very moment, to meet God? That’s what these scriptures talk about.

To quote an unknown author, “Christians are those who have been let in on an open secret. In the end, when all is said and done, when the last tick-tock of time has sounded, GOD WINS.” Yes! Amen.

Syrian woman had dream for six nights of men coming with Good News; on the seventh day they arrived

By Mark Ellis, Godreports

Syrian refugee woman and child from Aleppo, Syria at a makeshift tent camp in Turkey (Christian Aid Mission)

Syrian refugee woman and child from Aleppo, Syria at a makeshift tent camp in Turkey (Christian Aid Mission)

As the Syrian civil war continues after a failed cease-fire, many Muslims are encountering God, including a mother with confounding dreams that left her in a state of anticipation.

“The woman dreamt repeatedly of a man who told her that three people would come and bring her good news,” according to a ministry director for Christian Aid Mission (CAM).

“She continued to have this dream for six nights in a row,” the director told CAM. “On the seventh day, one of our teams was doing home visits and decided to visit a new house.”

The three men approached her door, not knowing that God had already prepared the way. The woman’s eyes widened when she opened to see the three, and she quickly ushered them inside.

“When they opened their Bible, she instantly fell to her knees,” the director told CAM.

As her husband and children walked in, she could not contain herself. “These are the people that the man in my dream told me to meet!” she told them excitedly.

The followers of Jesus spoke to her about His saving death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Then they prayed with the family.

“They all put their faith in Him,” the ministry leader recounted. The entire household was saved!

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”  (Acts 16:30-31)

“We have continued to disciple them since then, and they are like sponges – eager to learn and know everything they can,” the ministry director said.

Poking holes in the darkness

By The Reverend Canon Anne Moore

There is a lovely story told of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson who, as a child, was found kneeling at his bedroom window one evening as darkness descended. When his nanny entered the room and asked what he was watching with such intent, he replied, “I’m watching the man who pokes holes in the darkness”. What young Robert was referring to was the man who lit the gas street lamps in their neighbourhood of Edinburgh, Scotland. With care and patience, the lamplighter would first light, and then raise the flickering wick on a long pole, to the streetlight, and the tiny flame would give birth to the glow that dispelled the darkness.

I am guessing you have noticed that the long evenings of summer are daily growing shorter. I have always had problems at this time of year: I sleep too much; I eat too much and the wrong stuff; I get down emotionally. When I was first ordained 26 years ago, my rector noticed it right away and also pronounced the diagnosis: Seasonal Affective Disorder. I bought a book about it and discovered I did have a mild case and could think of lots of times going right back to my childhood where I was bothered by it. Now I have strategies in place to counteract it, and I can function quite well. And I know enough to go easy on myself when those long, dark, rainy days descend. I am not the only one in this parish who suffers in a similar way.

The images of light and darkness are powerful ones in Scripture. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” How do we bring light into the world? How do we make a difference here at home and further afield? A year ago Ian McBride of the Anglican United Refugee Alliance told us of the plight of some 60 million people ‘on the move’, fleeing war, poverty, terrorism, disease and hunger, in search of a better life. How desperate must their situation be to feel safer on the open seas in a rubber raft, than in the place they once called home? We responded to Ian’s talk with the result that ‘our’ family, the Wisos, now make their home in our rectory.

Another way to bring light into our world is by our daily and weekly worship, praying for the needs of the world, acknowledging God’s place in our lives, supporting programmes of outreach locally and internationally, and taking up the challenge of living as active followers of Jesus.

This season of Thanksgiving is a reminder of how blessed we are despite the many challenges we may face. It also reminds us to live out of a spirit of thankfulness. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Or as Robert Louis Stevenson would call it, “Poking holes in the darkness.”

May you all have a blessed and thank-full Thanksgiving.

Creative Corner: the Call of Truth and Life

Take a few deep breaths, and moments, to savour a tremendous ancient poem by Welsh-born English poet, orator and priest, George Herbert. 

Herbert spoke and wrote in the English of his contemporaries, among whom were Shakespeare and King James 1.

In fact, when King James ordered a new, more readable translation of the bible, one of his main stipulations to the scholars—besides that it be true to the original Hebrew and Greek—was that it be written in the vernacular of the day. Could it be the clever king understood something a few of today's 'old-style' preachers and church goers—insisting as they do on sticking to that same ancient translation—do not?

___________________

Thanks to Allan Halton for bringing this poem to my attention. Creator of The Mending Feast, Allan credits this poem as the inspiration for the title of his blog (and also sticks to the old KJV in his scriptural references) . 

The beginnings of answers for a yearning young woman

Dynamic young Sonya Flatman has been an important part of the St. George’s community since a toddler. She just spent a life-changing summer at Circle Square Ranch in Arden, Ontario and shares her experiences with us here. Sonya went into a four-week Leadership in Training program to become closer to God, she explains, not knowing exactly how that might happen.  We can all learn from her longings for more, and her discoveries on the myriad ways God moves and speaks.

By Sonya Flatman

Staff members at the ranch are amazing people, and so connected to God. I wanted what they had; I was jealous of how holy they were and how they seemed to always have Jesus with them.

Two weeks into the Leadership in Training program, I finally felt I came close to Jesus. I would go on walks after worship and would feel as though God was at my right, Jesus at my left, and the Holy Spirit all around me. Now feeling confident in my relationship with Jesus, I decided to begin praying about what God wanted me to be after I graduate from high school. 

A few days into praying about my future career, I felt God abandon me. I would pray for the Holy Spirit to be around me and comfort me, and I would feel nothing.

My frustration increased since around the time I felt Jesus leave me, some awesome stuff started happening at the ranch. Friends of mine began speaking in tongues, and miracles of healing were occurring. All of these wonders made me even more frustrated.  I felt annoyed that God was healing and talking to people in a secret language, and yet I couldn’t even feel His presence.  

One night at worship, the frustration built in me so intensely that, after everyone left, I burst into tears. I cried out to Jesus, asking why he had abandoned me. I’m not a big crier, and haven’t balled that hard in three years, so it was an emotional night. Before going to bed, I opened my Bible and asked God in a sassy voice, “If You don’t talk to me through my soul, well, please talk to me through Your Word!”

I then opened to the title page of Zechariah, and over the next few days, read through the entire book. Two verses really stood out to me: 

Therefore, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:  Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’ Don’t be like your ancestors who would not listen or pay attention when the earlier prophets said to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Turn from your evil ways, and stop all your evil practices.’ (Zechariah 1:3-4, NLT)

 I realized that I had to cut out all of the wrongness in my life and turn completely to Jesus. I prayed forgiveness for all the grudges I had held, and deleted music from my phone that I didn’t believe was good, among other things. I started reading my Bible a lot more, trying to find verses that stood out to me, and hoping that God would speak to me more through His Word.

After about a week, I was searching for a verse for one of my campers, when God hit me with the right hook.  John 5:39 popped right off the page: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” I sort of laughed when I read the verse, feeling that God was giving back the sass I’d given Him just a week ago. I realized I’d been reading the Bible religiously, yet not praying about what I read.

I continued to read, but not as much, and began to pray more often. During the last week of camp, at worship on Wednesday night, I got down on my knees and prayed , asking God to reveal Himself to me. I saw visions in my head, but wasn’t sure if they were from Jesus or my own imagination. I prayed, but received no answer.

The next night, on my knees again, I asked God if the images were from Him.  I said I knew He wouldn’t answer until the right time, but I prayed anyway. A phrase came into my head: “I am preparing you for something great.” Shocked, I asked God to repeat the phrase if it was truly from Him. It thumped in my chest, and I knew it was from Jesus.

For the second time that summer, I wept … but now with tears of pure joy. I had never felt such peace and happiness in my life. I now knew the wonder of God, and the joy I felt could only come from Jesus. I decided right then that I wanted to give my whole life to Christ, and walk in his footsteps.

God hasn’t yet answered my prayer about what He wants me to do after high school, but I know that whatever happens is meant to happen, and that I am meant to jump at any opportunity that comes because God wants me to be there. I no longer have fear of my future, because I know that God will prepare me.

Circle Square Ranches operate across Canada, and are part of the Canadian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s camping ministry.

                                                                                          Sonya, front row left, with her whole LEADERSHIP in TRAINING GROUP

                                                                                          Sonya, front row left, with her whole LEADERSHIP in TRAINING GROUP

FAMILY FIRST? Yes and no

[based on a sermon by Anne Moore]

Tough scriptures: to be glossed over or gleaned from?

I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12:49-53) 

How is a listener or reader to handle this one? What happened to the Christmas ‘Peace on Earth’ proclamations?

No one doubts the importance of families. Within and from them we learn right and wrong, the importance of relationships, social skills, handling conflict, and much more. So why this talk, by Jesus, promoting actual family division, not reconciliation? It seems to make no sense, especially coming from our loving saviour.

We do tend to gloss over the tough scriptures. Yet knowing they exist within our Bible, we should instead try to glean wisdom and truth from them.

As Anne pointed out in a recent sermon on the reading, these words of Jesus do not deal with internal family issues but, instead, with the division often caused by following him. Other scriptures back this up, as does history and current news reports. We need only look at the horrific outcomes in the Middle East for so many who choose to follow Jesus, right now.

In Luke, we have Simeon’s words to Mary when she and Joseph were presenting their new infant at the temple for his dedication:

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35)

And how about when Jesus' own hometown folk tried to toss him off a cliff right after his first recorded sermon (Luke 4:14-30)?

Later in his ministry, when Jesus’ mother and siblings waited outside after requesting he come out and speak with them,  Jesus redefined family:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matt. 12:46-50)

The family of God has no political, racial, socio-economic, gender, or whatever barriers.  In calling us to be his disciples, Jesus cares only that we trust in and follow him, even if it means persecution and messes. The call of Christ overrules all other commitments, relationships, and even logic. Joy overrides any fear, and this divine connection proves itself over and over to be infinitely better and more delightful than any personal relationship. 

Killing Christians: Living the Faith where it's not safe to believe

Book review by Anne Moore

 I recently read another gripping book which challenged and educated me: Killing ChristiansLiving the Faith Where It's Not Safe to Believe (2015) by Tom Doyle. The book describes the lives of eight believers living in various Muslim countries, all converts to Christianity. They are our brothers and sisters, our family. Their lives are brutal but represent what goes on, daily, in other parts of our world.

The stories tell how the individuals came to be followers of Jesus, what happened to them immediately after their commitment, and what they are doing now. All look forward to the day when their persecution will end and they will enjoy life in heaven. For some, that may already have happened.

The book challenges my pitiful, little faith, and leaves me questioning if I am even a real follower. 

Some quotes from the book:

“What I thought was sacrifice was actually just inconvenience.”

“There is remarkable freedom in having no expectations, no plans for tomorrow [because I might die before then].”

“How could I leave the religion I had so faithfully studied and taught with passion all those years? .... I followed Jesus because he is the only one who could fill my empty soul. I may have been a religious zealot, but I ached to know God and could not find Him even though I had searched all my life.”

Bless you as you read this demanding volume.

Could YOU retain your faith even if it meant losing your life? Your family’s lives?  [Further insight from the book’s introduction--Ed,]

To many Christians in the Middle East today, a 'momentary, light affliction' means enduring only torture instead of martyrdom. The depth of oppression Jesus' followers suffer is unimaginable to most Western Christians. Yet, it is an everyday reality for those who choose faith over survival in Syria, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and other countries hostile to the Gospel of Christ. In Killing Christians, Tom Doyle takes readers to the secret meetings, the torture rooms, the grim prisons, and even the executions that are the 'calling' of countless Muslims-turned-Christians.

Each survivor longs to share with brothers and sisters ‘on the outside’ what Christ has taught them. Killing Christians is their message to readers who still enjoy freedom to practice their faith. None would wish their pain and suffering on those who do not have to brave such misery, but the richness gained through their remarkable trials are delivered—often in their own words—through this book. The stories are breathtaking, the lessons soul-stirring and renewing. Killing Christians presents the dead serious work of expanding and maintaining the Faith.

Sizzling Summer Service 9: Hallelujah Haliburton!

Since beginning to work on her message for the annual Service in the Park, Anne confessed to having had an old song scrolling around her brain. “I’m a stranger here” by the Five-Man Electrical Band, first appeared on their album  ‘Sweet Paradise’.

lakeside baptist church musicians and singers

lakeside baptist church musicians and singers

She read its first verse:

“Well, I'm a stranger here in this place called Earth
And I was sent down here to discover the worth
Of your little blue planet, third from the sun
Come on and show me what you've done.”

The song goes on to lament how earth’s residents had roundly messed up their ‘paradise’. The words led perfectly into an elaboration on the verses from Ephesians read earlier in the service (Eph. 2:1-22) by David Lloyd of the Lighthouse Church.

There, the apostle Paul points out to the church in Ephesus their once messy, sinful lives. Then, including himself, he wrote:  “We tried to satisfy what our sinful nature wanted to do. We followed its longings and thoughts” (v.3).

In fact, the whole Bible tells the story, over and over, of humanity tending to pull back when God reaches out. We do our own thing, run away, miss the mark.  “But God loves us deeply. He is full of mercy. So He gave us new life because of what Christ has done” (v. 4-5).

 "One way!"   bev hicks and anne moore lead the kids in their charge to the crowd

 "One way!"   bev hicks and anne moore lead the kids in their charge to the crowd

As Bev Hicks of Northland Faith Church had the children remind us earlier, “God's grace has saved you because of your faith in Christ. Your salvation doesn't come from anything you do. It is God's gift” (v. 8). 

 “So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are members of God’s family,” verse 19 goes on to triumphantly remind us.

This brought to mind for many of us the family of Syrian refugees we’re ready and waiting for. Will we be able to help them feel like members of our community, help them heal from the hurts and fears of feeling unwanted and alien in their own country? We all pray we can share the love of Christ effectively with them.

lakeside Baptist church holds several baptisms in the lake after the service!

lakeside Baptist church holds several baptisms in the lake after the service!

The ‘I’m a stranger here’ song ends with these words:

"We got the rivers and the mountains and the valleys and the trees
We got the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea
We got the ―
Oh, you crazy fools!
Don't you know you had it made?
You were living in paradise
                                                          [photo credit: Elaine Figueroa]

                                                          [photo credit: Elaine Figueroa]

But take it from one who knows
Who knows the gates of Heaven can close
I only pray that you take my advice
'Cause paradise won't come twice"

Finding peace with God, only possible by becoming a friend and follower of Jesus, is beyond remarkably easy. Have  a simple conversation with God (that’s prayer). First, tell Him you’re sorry for the things you’ve thought and done wrong. Ask for His forgiveness. Then thank Him, and ask that His Holy Spirit would live in you forever.

Welcome to the family!

Lacking power? How long will you go limping with two different opinions?

[inspired by a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore and the OT reading for the day]

 “Elijah came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word." (1 Kings 18:21)

Could Elijah’s challenge to the ancient Israelites back in the 9th century BC be at all relevant to us today? While the Hebrews responded with silence, I can hear you, me, all of us, arguing how nonsensical that would be with respect to our lives. “I believe in God!” we respond.

The Israelites could say that too, and often did. The 'one true God’ was theirs. But as they acclimatized to the lands they had moved into, they gradually adopted the lifestyle and customs, social and religious, of the native Canaanites. 

What could be wrong with ‘adding on’ the gods of our neighbours? Isn’t that being inclusive, open-minded, and neighbourly?

In her sermon on the reading, Anne mentioned many of these other idols: status, wealth, career, power, popularity, appearance, possessions, ‘bragging rights’ (could even be for our good deeds!), celebrities, pro athletes, New Age practices, buildings, ‘up-to-date’ morality and so forth. Yet, cherishing and idolizing them diminishes our reliance on and reverence for God. We distance ourselves from our heavenly Father, and so are deprived of the power, love, joy and security to be found only in an exclusive relationship with Him.

In the case of the Hebrews, adapting Baal worship entailed all manner of spiritual and moral debauchery, totally against everything God had been trying to instill in them since the time of Abraham. Rampant sexual sin in fact was a ‘hallowed’ part of venerating Baal.

“I don’t need to follow biblical teachings to the letter to be a good Christian,” many believe. “What’s the harm in adding a bit of astrology, exercise and meditation classes rooted in Hinduism, or in sleeping with my boyfriend/girlfriend?”

Elijah’s subsequent dramatic challenge to the prophets of Baal, and the outcome, left no doubt in any of the onlookers’ minds or spirits who the 'one true God' was. If they were to stop limping painfully and aimlessly, they would have to get both feet in HIS camp. (I Kings 18:30-39 tells the dramatic story.)

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider where you are and where you would rather be, now and for eternity. Our merciful and loving God does have standards, and as we choose to ignore them, we choose a twisted, crippling path.

Could it be God is talking to you? Trying to love you back to Life before you, yourself, make it too late? He loves you, and wants only the best for you.  Renounce the ‘idols’. Some may be more entrenched than you realize. The deep interconnectivity of our society means all manner of profound bonds have been forged, and it may take some ‘spiritual surgery’ to break free of the wrong ones.

For an excellent short article on how to liberate yourself and others from all and any of those wrong ties that bind, please read, Soul ties, and how to be free of the unhealthy ones.

In their darkest hour, Jesus appeared to light these refugees’ way to shore, and to a relationship with God

“I want to share an amazing account that recently came to me,” writes Erick Schenkel, Executive Director of the Jesus Film Project.

A group of refugees fleeing the fighting in the Middle East were jammed into several pontoon boats. They were trying to make it across the Aegean Sea to Greece.

“The seas were very rough and dangerous. Some of their boats capsized. But the people in one boat cried out to God. Suddenly, a ‘shining heavenly figure’ appeared in the boat, and they all immediately knew it was Jesus. From that point the sea became calm and peaceful, and they finally landed safely on shore.

“Convinced that the heavenly figure was truly God, they all wanted to become followers of Jesus.

“Many weeks later, the refugees were together in a discipleship group, sharing what happened with their Bible teacher—himself a former jihadist and now a vibrant Christian. He is the one who passed their testimony onto us," Schenkel reports.

“God has a heart for all people. He desires that they come to faith in the Light of the World, Jesus.”

Find out more about the Jesus Film Project here.

How are Christian churches like hospitals? With help from James, Eugene Peterson offers an answer

Introduction to the book of James, by Eugene Peterson (The Message)

"When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude that there is nothing to the religion business except, perhaps, business—and dishonest business at that.

"Insiders see it differently. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It’s similar with sinners outside the church.

"So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open, faced, and dealt with.

"The letter of James shows one of the church’s early leaders skillfully going about his work of confronting, diagnosing, and dealing with areas of misbelief and misbehavior that had turned up in congregations committed to his care. Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential. Wisdom is not primarily knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is skill in living. For, what good is a truth if we don’t know how to live it? What good is an intention if we can’t sustain it?

"According to church traditions, James carried the nickname of “Old Camel Knees” because of thick calluses built up on his knees from many years of determined prayer. Prayer is foundational to wisdom. The prayer is always foundational to the wisdom."

As usual, Peterson presents a thoughtful, caring approach and analysis. But as churches and believers mature, we know there is so much more! The 'hospital' will always be an important wing of the church, but as people heal and grow, they will learn to fly. And hopefully, become part of the true purpose of Christ's Church on earth, That's a whole other story that has already been writtenthe rest of the Bible.