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?

All other religion and philosophy founders lie dead ... but Jesus is alive!

By the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

Easter is almost upon us and we begin to ponder that great mystery: when Jesus’ followers arrived at the tomb on that first Easter morning, they found that the stone had been rolled away. They couldn’t understand and looked for logical answers. Then two angels appeared, asking, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen!” This scene at the empty tomb expresses the uniqueness of Christianity among other religions. Jesus Christ is the only living, risen Saviour.

A conversation between a Christian missionary and a Muslim teacher illustrates the point. The Muslim wanted to impress the missionary with what he considered to be the superiority of Islam. So he said, “When we go to Mecca, we at least find a coffin, but when you Christians go to Jerusalem, your Mecca, you find nothing but an empty grave.”

To this the believer replied, “That is just the difference. Mohammed is dead and in his coffin. And all other systems of religion and philosophy are in their coffins. But Jesus is risen, and all power in Heaven and on earth is given to Him! He is alive forevermore!”

Yes, the empty tomb testifies of a risen Saviour. It assures us of our own salvation if we reach out to Him. I invite you to join in worship during Holy Week to prepare for the greatest event in the world, and on Easter, the Day of Resurrection, to celebrate with joy.

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)

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.

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?

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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.

Five Helps for the New Year by Bishop Michael Ramsey

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

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

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

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

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

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

The enduring mystery, wonder and JOY of Christmas

by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

May you experience real joy this Christmas and always.
 

Poetry praising the 'King of Praise'

THE KING OF PRAISE
by Eleanor Cooper 

Animated dove for site.gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Brian Stewart

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

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

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

Christianity in action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communism cracks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Anne Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the common characteristics of growing churches?

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

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

1. A kingdom road map

2. The children go up front

3. Sunday school still works

4. A culture of learning for adults

5. Hospitality that counts

6. Add a service, stir up the sound

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

Anne's Reflections on the Christmas Season

by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to pray when you don’t know how

A good question, no? How can one possibly pray if you don’t know how to pray?

A traditional Chasidic story speaks glowingly of the prayer of an uneducated Jew who wanted to pray, did not speak Hebrew, but thought Hebrew a necessity for prayers to be heard by God. So he began to recite the only Hebrew he knew: the alphabet. He recited it over and over again, until a rabbi asked what he was doing. The man told the rabbi, "The Holy One, Blessed is He, knows what is in my heart. I will give Him the letters, and He can put the words together."

A Prayer for Every Need, a book by old faithful Norman Vincent Peale, provides wording for prayers for many situations. If you’re one who finds a formula or model helpful, you can download a free copy of that book here.

Charismatics would answer that you pray in your ‘prayer language’, the mysterious gift of praying in tongues many of us have heard of or experienced.

Charisma magazine published an interesting article exploring many aspects of this, Tongues: Is It the Initial Sign of the Holy Spirit's Filling? by John Sherrill.

Personally, I’ve found ‘HELP!’ and ‘Thank-You’ two of the easiest and best.

Seeing, not seeing, and seeing differently: Blindness, physical and spiritual

Do you see what I see? Do I see what you see? The necessity of ‘eyes to see’ looms large in Christianity. While Jesus healed the physically blind, he simultaneously heaped criticism on pharisaic types suffering spiritual blindness. The problem was not they couldn’t see, but that as spiritual teachers, they were sure they could.

How can one possibly perceive the 'Light of the world' without spiritual eyes—without an ability to see beyond the physical? John 9 succinctly reveals these truths, and in likely the most memorable way in scripture.

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world", Jesus announces to those around him, including a fellow he’d just met who had been blind from birth. What follows may be the strangest of Jesus’ recorded miracles. He “spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the [blind] man's eyes. 'Go,' he told him, 'wash in the Pool of Siloam' (this word means "Sent"). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing" (vv. 6-7).

Preaching and reflecting on this on a recent Sunday, our rector Anne wondered how on earth a man born blind—and now with his eyes full of mud—could, as Jesus commanded him, make his way to the pool of Siloam to wash away the mess. We know he did of course, and perhaps some supernaturally endowed spiritual sight helped him to. After cleansing, he gained physical sight as well, sending the hyper-critical Pharisees into religious overload.

Jesus had worked a miracle on the Sabbath, and so violated the Sabbath ‘no work’ laws. But he really tangled up their taut tidiness with his next statement, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind" (John 9: 39). A better summation of Jesus’ ‘doing away with the Law’ may be hard to find.

"What? Are we blind too?" the incredulous Pharisees replied. To which Jesus answered, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9: 40-41).

Anne then illustrated the whole 'how do we see?' concept with a Sherlock Holmes story Conan Doyle may or may not have actually written. But her love of camping, and that it so lights up the topic, make it worth sharing.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of red, they lay down for the night and went to sleep.

Some hours later Holmes woke up, nudged his faithful friend and said, "Watson, I want you to look up at the sky and tell me what you see." Watson said, "I see millions and millions of stars." Sherlock said, "And what does that tell you?"

After a minute or so of pondering Watson said, "Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets, and I also observe that Saturn is in the constellation of Leo.

Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day today. What does it tell you?"

Holmes was silent for about 30 seconds and said, "Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!"