True worship as true hope

By Karla Iyonmahan, DDS

It is a word that should bring to mind a kind of lifestyle, a way we go about handling our affairs, our relationships with people and with Him. Without question it must be undefiled, pure, and give glory, honour and reverence to our most merciful, adoring (of us) God.

You know, the God who went out of His way to sacrifice living in His heavenly realm, to enter ours, in order to set us (‘the captives’) free. The One who, no matter what, keeps us as ‘the apple of His eye’.  The One who has stated, repeatedly, in His Love Letter to us, that He will provide for us, will never leave us stranded, never forsake us.

If it is still not clear, He is the same One Who stated that He will deliver us in times of trouble, because we have set our love on Him. (Psalms 91: 14, 15). You DO remember Him now, right?

So there is no reason to be callous. No reason to not give Him your whole-hearted worship; a humbleness, a grateful, ‘bowing down in the heart’ kind of unwavering adoration that exhibits your utter amazement and awe for all that He has done, and for the Love He held for you even when your back was turned toward His outstretched hands.

One should never attempt to simply ‘bandy about’ when it comes to the worship of a God that has given literally everything, including Himself, to YOU.  

Is there an ounce of pure worship in you?

Jesus sings

By the Rev. Canon Anne Moore

Among the words:

“The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.  There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: ‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly; the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’ I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

The words must have comforted Jesus as he knew the cross lay just ahead. The final Hallel Psalm (Ps. 118) contains these meaningful words:

“Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”

Jesus was about to enter gates only the righteous could enter. We thank him that he has become our salvation—the chief cornerstone, the building block for all time and all people.

In the years following Jesus’ death, those words must have also been a comfort to the disciples when they sang the same songs, remembering singing them with Jesus but also now knowing what a comfort they must have been for Jesus that night. And how appropriate. Perhaps they sang them to themselves as they prepared for their own horrible martyrdoms.

Singing is now an essential part of Christian worship. James wrote: “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” Singing is spontaneous for those who are cheerful; and Christians, in spite of their circumstances, are to be cheerful people! Even John in his vision of heaven recorded in the Book of Revelation sees the saints, the martyrs, constantly singing praises to God before the throne.

Of course we don’t know what the tunes would have been for these songs. But it was important for early Christian writers to record the words. Scholars have listed various of these early Christian songs from scripture, although they would not really be recognizable to us as songs. One example given is from 2 Timothy 2:11-13:

 “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” That doesn’t sound like a song to me!

Or how about Philippians 2:5-11:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Or 1 Timothy 3:16: “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”

I see these as more like a creed, a statement of belief. If we compare these Scripture passages to the words of some of our songs, we come up short. Much as I detest the tunes of some of our old standard hymns and their old-fashioned language, they taught good, solid theology. I love modern Christian music. I listen to it a lot. I came to faith in Jesus because of the singing of what some people like to call ‘happy clappy’ music.

If our music is to proclaim God’s glory and be of benefit to unbelieving listeners, we must be careful what we choose to sing in our worship. We also need to make sure the music does not distract from the message conveyed. This isn’t the easiest thing to do. If you want to have a conflict in the church, just try changing the music!

The question needing to be asked regularly is: “Why are we singing?” Many times the answers may be: ‘because it is so pleasing to me’, ‘because I like the tune, it reminds me of…’, ‘the words are meaningful to me.’ Underlying those answers but difficult to articulate may be the idea that the music gives me a particular emotion. However, these are all wrong answers because each puts ourselves at the centre. In effect,  it’s all about me, my tastes, my life.

So let’s try again. Why are we singing? Why did Jesus sing? What did he sing? The Psalms are songs given to King David and others, had stood the test of time, recognized all the emotions humans have, but lifted up God in praise, proclaimed God’s laws, and always had God as the focus.

As Paul wrote to his friends in Colossae:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:16, 17)

We know what psalms are. While we can’t be certain what Paul meant by hymns, they may well be expressions of praise written by early Christians. Spiritual songs are probably more about testimony. They would have expressed in song what God has done for us.

An example may be in the Book of Revelation where the redeemed gather in heaven before the throne of God.

They sing a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood, you ransomed for God, saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.’ Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!’  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!’” (Rev. 5: 9-14)

Spiritual songs bursting forth from Spirit-filled, joy-filled believers: what beautiful praise of God. Are we doing the same?

Jesus was a singer. Those who know him will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. As the psalmist wrote: “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day.” (Psalm 96:1,2)

Angst or peace: it's your choice

Based on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

“We live in a culture where snipers live behind laptops and smart phones. Fewer people are interested in debate and more are looking for enemies to eviscerate. Some have become unhinged and others are on the ledge.”

Anne quoted these words from a blogger (whose name she hadn’t taken note of) in a recent sermon. Do you feel you are among the ‘unhinged’? She confessed to the same feelings she sees affecting so many others these days: anxiety, despair, anger, fear, disgust, frustration, embarrassment, hostility, and panic. Perhaps angst best sums it up.

Upsetting and unsettling information bombards us from all directions, and as Christians we know we really can't, really shouldn’t, simply turn off the news. We need to be aware of what’s going on firstly, to pray, but also to be able to engage others in conversation.  

While we can never understand ‘what in the world is going on’ or how to fix it, we must refuse to be bent out of our Christian shape by it. None of the mess is of God, who is still in control and who alone has the solutions. Earthly governments can only put band-aids on people’s problems, Anne reminded the congregation. But the gospel can bring healing to souls.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.... Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” (Psalm 146:3,5)

“We want and need hope here,” she made clear after reading the above scripture. “Hope is not dreaming or a vague aspiration. It’s not simply wanting things to turn out well while remaining uncertain whether they actually will. Hope is the absolute certainty we have that God is good and that God’s promises are true.”

Further, we can use the hope we cultivate in ourselves to help the troubled around us. “The despair, anxiety and fear we see in people around us is the very opportunity we have to share the hope and good news of Jesus with them.”

The Almighty will accomplish His purposes, no matter the political leaders and disasters cramming our newscasts. We see in scripture how God has been able to use some exceptionally evil rulers such as Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar and Nero to fulfill His will. He has worked out His purposes under every condition imaginable, from Egypt through Babylon and onto Rome and beyond. We must keep the hope, and cultivate peace.

“We don’t need to pray for peace, we have it,” she concluded. “It is in us. We have that peace but must use it and share it.” 

Seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter: 3b)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Jesus rescues Christians AND Muslims: an astonishing tale from the Middle East straight from the book of Acts

Little did the Bibles for Mideast organization know of all the coming connected miracles when they published a story on the Arabian Sea baptism of 24 new believers early last October (you can read that here).  

The fact 24 Muslims had converted to Christianity at the risk of their and their families’ lives alone attests to a miracle-working God. As the baptismal service ended, the new converts and workers—50 in all—boarded a bus to return to their house church for worship and communion. 

A small convoy of militants suddenly appeared behind them and opened fire. All they knew to do was pray to the Lord for protection as they sped away, the gunmen in hot pursuit.

When a massive dust storm formed behind them, they now feared being trapped in the dark, churning grime and becoming easy prey for their pursuers. 

Then, just as suddenly, Jesus materialized in the storm clouds and dust.

“He appeared as a mighty and wonderful man showing his protecting and lovely hands towards us with a sweet smile,’ exulted newly-baptized Rizwan. “Jesus saved us! He himself blocked the road of militants in the form of a dust storm.”

The gunfire slowed and stopped, enabling the bus to drive safely back to the church.

Two months later, the same mission organization released a story of how an Arab woman from a prominent Muslim family (her father a top religious authority in the region) found herself near death after being bitten by a highly poisonous Saharan snake. While her sharp-shooting brother Haroon (not his real name) managed to kill the viper, it nearly killed her (that story in full here).

Hajira (not her real name) spent the next four days near death in a coma. In a few minutes of wakefulness, she heard doctors discussing the renal failure and increasing fibrinolysis certain to take her life. Losing hope, she turned to the wall, weeping, and tried to prepare herself for death.  She fell asleep hoping to never wake up.

As she slept, an angel appeared before her. “Call on Jesus, the son of the Most High, who was crucified for you, died and rose from the dead.”

“Prophet Jesus, the son of Mary?” she asked with irritation. “He was not crucified; and he was not greater than my prophet.”

“You are wrong,” the angel replied.  “Jesus is the Lord of the prophets. He is the true saviour. He can heal you from all sickness and save you from sin and death. Call on him with your heart and mouth.”

The angel disappeared. She awoke to see her brother Haroon standing beside her. “Were you dreaming?” he inquired. “I heard you say something about the prophet Jesus.”

She dreaded his anger as she told him about the angel and what he’d said. To her amazement, Haroon then related his own experience in a dust storm several months earlier. Yes, THAT dust storm!

He’d received information at dawn one morning that a Christian group planned a baptismal service in the Arabian Sea that day. Alerting his wing of 18 armed militants, the gang rushed to the seashore. Planning to kill everyone in the sea during the service, they aimed to terrify the world into realizing death awaited any Christians attempting to evangelize in their region.

But the service had already ended when they arrived.  Seeing a bus leaving the scene, they opened fire and the chase began. As they fired away, he explained that within seconds a giant dust storm formed directly in front of their vehicles. Unable to see or move forward, they climbed from their cars and kept shooting into the dust.

To their astonishment, the angry face of Jesus appeared in the swirling sand, eyes ablaze. “Why are you persecuting me?” his voice thundered. “It’s hard for you to kick against the pricks.” Jesus’ voice literally blew the fighters over and sent their guns flying.  Haroon explained they somehow managed to get themselves back on their feet, but couldn’t utter a word. 

[Note the similarities to the story from Acts 26:14, where Jesus appears to murderous Saul—equally intent on killing Christians and eventually to be the Apostle Paul—with the same plea and the same results.]

Jesus' voice thundered again. “I came to the world not to destroy anyone, but to save you. Go in peace.” He then vanished, the dust storm disappearing with him.

Haroon tried to explain the dreadful fear, yet abundant peace, they all felt simultaneously—nothing like anything he or they had ever known.

When their voices returned, all but two of the men praised and thanked God. The two argued it couldn’t have been from God, and all left the place confounded.

Haroon shared the story with their father, who warned him not to tell others. His own band of militants, however, laid down their arms. "This all happened a few days before you were bitten!" he shared with Hajira. Overwhelmed and overjoyed, brother and sister joined hands in prayer. 

“Lord Jesus, if you are the true saviour, show us the way,” prayed Haroon. “Jesus, if you are the true saviour, forgive our sins. Jesus, if you are the true saviour, heal both our physical and mental sickness. Jesus, if you are the true saviour, send someone to us for further guidance. Amen”.

The siblings wept in joy and gratitude. A couple of hours later, Hajira still at his sister’s side, two strangers arrived in her room unexpectedly. While neither had seen them before, the elder man addressed each by name. 

“The Lord Jesus heard your prayers which you both prayed together,” he began. “The angel who visited you appeared before me also, and asked me to visit you, guide you to salvation, and pray for you. So I left my house at once to come see you.”

He introduced himself as Pastor Paul of the Bibles for Mideast organization, and then explained to them who Jesus is, and why he was crucified and died. 

Hajira and Haroom repented of their sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and saviour. As Pastor Paul put his hands on Hajira’s head and prayed for her deliverance and healing, tremendous power flowed through her body. She rose, completely healed.

Hospital tests proved her healing, and doctors could not help but acknowledge a miracle had happened. Neither could the siblings’ family, who soon all came to Christ. They now ask our prayers for protection and strength to survive the persecution sure to come.
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You can visit Bibles for Mideast here and read more remarkable stories of rescue and salvation. They work secretly in highly restrictive areas, evangelizing, distributing bibles (free of charge), and establishing house churches. Many on their teams have converted from Islam.

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.

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 Rev. 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.

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

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.