Atheists are right: Christianity sounds absurd

By Darren Wilson*

Think about it. Christians believe in a man who lived more than 2,000 years ago in a series of backwater towns in the Middle East, was killed by some religious zealots, magically rose from the dead three days later, after which he floated up into the sky and disappeared, thus becoming the invisible man we now believe in and pin all our hopes on. On top of that, we believe in other unseen beings—angels and demons—who are all around, helping or hindering. Meanwhile, another invisible spirit (the Holy Spirit) is constantly at work behind the scenes around the earth, keeping the whole thing straight and intervening whenever possible.

WHAT smaller not bold with red T.jpg

When put that way, even I think it sounds crazy. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person. I’m a former university professor, an author of two books, and I’ve become something of a spokesperson not just for the existence of God through my films but for the idea that this invisible God is alive and well and doing amazing things in our world today. How then can I, as a rational, intelligent human being, actually believe in an invisible man and spirits?

I ask this question because it seems that lately a good number of people have been coming out and saying that no, they don’t believe this nonsense anymore. Former Christians seem to be taking a long hard look at what they once believed, and are finding the courage to step forward and voice their opinion: that they think it’s all nuts. I have a feeling they aren’t alone in their struggles with belief, and the reasons for this crisis of faith are surely varied and compelling. But like everyone, at the end of the day I am only truly responsible for myself, and I wanted to step forward and try to explain why I will continue to believe in an invisible God-man, no matter what.

For a good portion of my life, I lived a kind of Christianity that I have a sneaking suspicion most people do as well. It was built around a set of pre-informed beliefs and its orbit was made up almost exclusively with well-meaning principles—all of which were gleaned from the Bible and were designed to both make my life better and make me into a relatively nice person. Jesus was the centerpiece, of course, but He was more of a benevolent, distant brother figure. God was relatively silent on most things—and always loomed large in my ‘Be good or else!’ mentality. The Holy Spirit was like smoke, a guiding force if you will, but one that was totally unknowable.

This was Christianity, for sure, but it was a neutered one. I simply had to believe the right things, be a good person, and not do too much bad stuff. If I did make mistakes, I had to make sure I said I was sorry, otherwise a kind of logjam of sin would start to build up, which was not good.

When your life revolves around trying to ‘be good,’ there comes a point when it all just feels fake and forced. I mean, if Jesus is real, shouldn’t my life be different? Shouldn’t I have this peace He kept talking about inside me? Should I really have to try this hard to change my behavior? And after a while, when principles are all that generally guide you, it just becomes too much and you wind up doing the Christian thing simply because you think you should and because that’s what you’ve always done.

Darren Wilson on location in Jerusalem

Darren Wilson on location in Jerusalem

But then something happened, and this is where everything changed for me. I experienced God. I am a rational person and not prone to manic episodes, hallucinations, or strange behavior. I’ve never done drugs a day in my life. I don’t ‘feel’ things spiritually, have never been ‘slain in the spirit,’ and I’ve never even spoken in tongues. But while making these films of mine, I experienced the reality and presence of God. I felt Him inside me and around me. My behavior changed, I felt peace for the first time, and my Christian walk was no longer about following principles, but about following a Person. And yes, that Person was invisible.

How do you explain experiencing God to someone who has never experienced Him themselves? It’s a lot like trying to explain love to someone who has never been in love. They can be surrounded by people in love, can see how strange it makes people behave, can understand the concept of love. They can even see the dangers of falling in love with that person over this person, but unless you’ve actually fallen in love with someone, you’ll never be able to understand the feeling it gives you or the certainty that you are, in fact, in love, and that it is very, very real.

So it is no surprise to me that, for example, a pastor who decides to ‘take a year off from God’ comes out the other side as an atheist. Honestly, it would be impossible for me to take even a week off from God, because I have experienced Him firsthand. I know He’s there, I can’t ignore Him. No one who actually experiences God will ever deny His existence. For instance, for my new film, Holy Ghost Reborn, I filmed a ministry in Colorado that provides prayer and teaching almost exclusively to military personnel. Most of the participants go into this 3 day intensive as either atheists or nominal believers at best. All of them—a full 100%—come out of these 3 days believing in Jesus. Why? Because they just experienced Him for themselves. And you can’t deny something that you have actually experienced. My guess is that the vast majority of people who have turned their hearts from God never actually experienced Him in the first place. They may have heard and believed, but the reality of His presence never took root because believing something logically is not the same as experiencing it relationally.

Yes, believing in someone who is invisible seems, on the surface, a little crazy. But just as Billy Graham once pointed out, we believe in the wind not because we can see it, but because we can see the effects of it. We can feel it on our faces, see it whipping through tree branches. I believe in an invisible God not because I can see Him, but because I can see the effect of Him on my life, and on countless lives around the world. I can feel Him inside me, around me, even working through me.

I’m not sure people leaving the faith is an assault on Christianity as much as it is simply showing the danger of building faith on principles instead of relationship. As good and as important as principles are, nothing will ever compare to the vibrant, healthy, Biblical relationship that we were all created for with a God who is more real and more alive than many of us realize.

________________________
*Darren Wilson is the Founder and CEO of WP Films, a media company with the mission to ask questions about God that no one else will. He has traveled the world since 2006 creating various feature-length documentaries, including Finger of God, Furious Love, Father of Lights, Holy Ghost and Holy Ghost Reborn. He has also written several books, including Filming God and Finding God in the Bible. The company now also has an online channel called WP TV.

Journey with Jesus begins as Middle Eastern women visit London

Perhaps you’ve heard of the highly effective Jesus Film, first released in 1979. Those behind the project explain they have always and ever been about one thing: everyone seeing Jesus. Teams visit areas all over the world, sharing the ‘greatest story ever told’ in more than 1,400 languages. They report that more than 490 million people have come to Jesus after watching their films.

LR London Bridge story of Muslim women new pic.jpg

A project team member recently shared a wonderful story that began on a recent Jesus Film mission trip to London. 

While walking through a beautiful rose garden in Hyde Park, this fellow and his team talked and prayed about whom they should approach. Who was waiting to hear the good news?

As they prepared to sit down on the grass, a group of young Middle Eastern women not far away suddenly motioned to them to come and share their park bench. As if that weren’t surprising enough, it turned out the women were visiting from the very country the team had just been talking about ... a country the team ‘reporter’ had never ever met anyone from in England.

God was so clearly guiding and working through all of them. You can read the whole story here … a story which continues months later when the team member visits the Middle Eastern country and re-encounters one of the young woman. God's ways never cease to amaze!

A miracle meeting with Middle-Eastern Muslim women in London — The Jesus Film Project

Thanksgiving: great when it’s easy, an awesome antidote when it’s not

By the Rev. Canon Anne Moore
Always-Be-Joyful-Never-Stop-Praying more color.jpg

The writer of Psalm 34 wrote, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” Billy Graham once wrote, “If I were to list all the things for which I’m thankful, I’d never have time to eat my turkey dinner!”

Can you say the same? Sometimes when I am the leader for a ‘quiet day’, I will hand participants a sheet of foolscap and ask them to write down as many thanksgivings that they can think of. The thoughts often start quite quickly but then begin to slow. Then, after more thought, the list becomes easier and easier and longer and longer. And that is the way it ought to be: what a wonderful world God has given us to share.

If you are feeling blue, give thanks. If you are feeling overwhelmed, give thanks. If you are on top of the world, give thanks. If you can’t sleep, don’t start worrying about your present situation or worrying that you will be tired in the morning. Instead, give thanks.

At all times and in all places, giving thanks is the way to change our mind-set, and then our behavior.

Billy Graham also said, “We live in a confused and chaotic world, and at times we might be tempted to give in to despair. But God loves us, and only Christ can transform our hearts and turn our despair into hope. Is He the foundation of your life? If not, make this a day of true thanksgiving, as you invite Christ to come into your life and save you.”

If you have done that, you will know true joy. You will hardly be able to stop praising God, especially for sending Jesus to save us by His death on a cross. Please don’t expect that your troubles will suddenly leave, but, with God’s Holy Spirit working through you, you will discover that you have clearer direction and an expanded capacity to deal with them.

Giving thanks for all of you.

The Way family heading back to Zimbabwe!

This is exciting news from Jeff and Carole Way, missionaries to Zimbabwe who recently returned to Canada due to difficulties fullfilling visa requirements. You can read our earlier stories here: Love in action: the Way family's adventures at Eden Children's Village, Zimbabwe and Update on the Way family and their mission in Zimbabwe.
Special report by Jeff and Carole Way

Here’s our plan

We are aiming to be back at Eden Children’s Village by January 2018. We had been living there over the past two years on temporary visas; to live there long term the government requires that we bring US$100k in assets with us. Our plan over the next six months is to raise these funds (in the form of a truck (that we desperately need there anyway), plus our regular monthly living expenses.

Why we are going back

Zimbabwe has just been declared the poorest country in Africa (it was one of the richest in 2000!) and this is having an impact on Eden as more and more children are abandoned by parents who are unable to care for them.  The need for more homes is urgent. Eden really needs Jeff’s help to build them. As a licensed practical nurse, Carole plays a vital role at the medical clinic, especially helping with baby delivery. More and more people arrive daily at the clinic looking for medical attention. Eden is desperate for Carole to return.

Not only is the need great, we just can't wait to get back! The goal to serve at Eden hasn't changed: God has called us to be there, so we will do everything we can to return. God is so much bigger than the many issues plaguing Zimbabwe and we are trusting that He will work on our behalf to get us back there, where we will work on your behalf to serve the poorest of the poor, the abandoned and orphaned children. If the situation is too dangerous for us to return in January we will pursue a partnership with Eden and other orphanages outside of Zimbabwe until it is safe to return.

Get a glimpse of daily life in the bush

Have you wondered what life must be like in rural Africa? We’d like to show you! We want you to feel connected to us and our life in Africa so we’re going to tell you some true stories, African style.  Every other day over the next few months we’ll be offering one-minute snapshots of real-life living in the poorest country in the world.

You can check out our first installment, A Noseful of Goat, on our brand new blog on our brand new website: zimbabways.org

Be part of changing the lives of the poorest of the poor in Zimbabwe

Over the next few weeks we’d love to invite you to join with us as we make our way back to Zimbabwe. Perhaps you have heard the African proverb, 'If you want to walk fast, walk alone.  If you want to walk far, walk together.' We want to walk far with YOU. We want to share this experience with our friends in North America.

  • Sign up to get our one-minute snapshot stories in your inbox here.
  • To find out what Lia and Naomi think about going back, click here.
  • To get more information about our fundraising goals and how you can help, click here.

True worship as true hope

A few months ago, I sent out a query to many of you regarding worship. As I wrote then, it's a word we Christians bandy about, and too often without much thought or—God forbid—much heart. Could that be the problem, I wondered? Just what do we, you, mean by it anyway?

The post I hoped you would click on and consider was What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘worship’? And so many of you did!

One reply, from a brilliant friend and dentist who for years has gone way beyond the call of duty with her many charitable and yes, worshipful activities, is worth sharing more widely. Her concern and passion over the fact so many of us ‘bandy about’ the word without even beginning to grasp, let alone practice it, is palpable.

My brother, my sister in Christ, our true Hope in your area of the world: WORSHIP

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?

A little Muslim boy + a friend’s invitation to church + a Christmas box = a new Christian family

“I just had to meet these people who gave him this box,” Mary said. “And I had to find out who would send a box full of gifts from another continent and not know where it is going to show love to people they would never meet. This kind of love does not exist in Islam. I knew these must be God’s people.” —Mary Mutumba

Clinton Mutumba didn’t like it when his Koran instructors at the nearby mosque caned his legs when he mispronounced the Arabic words.  So one day he announced to his mother Mary he no longer wanted to go.

“Where will you go?” she asked him.

“I want to go to church,” he told her. “The Lord will tell me where.”

Mary recounts being surprised by his response, but agreed to let him go.

Shortly afterwards, one of Clinton’s friends was told by his pastor to invite a friend to a special event at their church. So he invited his buddy Clinton who of course said yes, figuring that had to be God telling him where to go.

Clinton stands at the gates of the church where he received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox

Clinton stands at the gates of the church where he received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox

When he got there, he received a free gift-filled shoebox from Operation Christmas Child, a present that had traveled by sea all the way from the United States to Kenya—a fact he would later learn and tell his mother.

A Journey from Islam to Christ

When single mom Mary and her son Clinton moved to the town they now live in, all the people in the neighbourhood were Muslim. Hoping for a community that would help her, they became Muslim too. It turned out to be different than she’d expected.

After the shoebox distribution, mother and son attended their separate places of worship for months. Clinton began weekly classes of The Greatest Journey, a 12-lesson discipleship program designed by Samaritan’s Purse for shoebox recipients. The Jesus he learned about there wasn’t just the prophet Muslims call ‘Isa”, the one he’d been taught about by the imam and in the Koran. Each week he’d return home and tell his mother what he’d learned during class, and each week she became more curious. 

“Who are these people who didn’t even know him who gave him a gift and are taking time to teach him?”  she wondered. More important, she became curious about the Jesus who compelled them to do this.

First Clinton, then his mother, came to know and trust Jesus as God’s Son, and their Lord and Saviour.

“I decided since that time that I would serve the Lord,” Mary said. “That love I received, I want to express that same love to other people.”

(Clinton’s story appeared originally here)

The lambs of God: paschal and Paschal

Easter Sunday is, of course, the pivotal and most triumphant day in the calendar of the Christian Church. Interestingly however, no trace of an Easter celebration as we know it exists in the New Testament.

The celebration of Easter actually began with the early Jewish Christians who continued to celebrate the Passover, regarding Christ as the true Paschal Lamb. The original and prophetic sacrificial lamb had been the one eaten by Hebrew families their last night in captivity in Egypt.

An examination of rabbinic evidence from those days suggests that the paschal lamb, which had to be a perfect specimen, was arranged in the form of a cross before roasting. One spit went through the lower parts up to the head, and another across the back, to which the legs were attached. Furthermore, none of the bones were to be broken.

Sound familiar? To see the remarkable resonance here, compare the reading in Exodus 12:46b (“Do not break any of the bones”) with that from John 19:31-33:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

For early Christians then, the Passover event naturally passed over into a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You can read an excellent related story by Rabbi Evan Moffic here: How Lent started with Passover.

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)

Miracles from Heaven: extraordinary true story now a movie

The remarkable true story of a young girl’s faith, hope and healing, this movie may well be the first faith-based film finding critical acclaim and a mainstream audience beyond church-goers.

Little Annabel Beam had not been well for most of her early years. At five, doctors finally diagnosed her with two rare life-threatening digestive disorders.* 

“She would pretty much live on the sofa, with a heating pad on her stomach,” her mother Christy explains. As Annabel’s health continued to deteriorate, she lived with chronic pain and spent far too much time in hospitals. The darkest moment came one day as Christy sat by her nine-year-old daughter's hospital bed. The little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy I just want to die. And I want to go to heaven and live with Jesus where there's no more pain.”

actual movie poster.jpg

Annabel had stopped fighting, and Christy felt she had nothing left to give.

“However much my faith had been tested and I'd questioned Him,” she says, “at that point I just turned it over to God.”

They needed a miracle. One week later, on December 30, 2011, they got one.

While the majorly crazy miracle of Annabel's healing drives the story, the everyday miracles—and the stellar performances and direction revealing them—transports viewers raptly along to the faith-affirming conclusion of death bringing capital-L Life. Perhaps especially if you, like Christy, find your faith wavers in the dark gorges of our journeys.

Master’s Book Store in Haliburton carries both the movie and book, as does Amazon and other retailers.  
_____________________________________
*pseudo-obstruction motility disorder and antral hypomotility disorder

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.
____________________________________________________
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.

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.

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

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.

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]

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