The Ecumenism of Beauty

Ecumenism. Does the idea of another well-intentioned interfaith event or mostly-ignored theological commission on the topic excite, annoy, or put you to sleep? Does the very concept seem improbable? Whatever you think or believe about ecumenism, we can’t ignore the fact Jesus wanted this, prayed for this, for all of us who call ourselves believers.  Eugene Peterson's The Message puts it well:

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The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
—John 17:21-23

A new book on the topic, The Ecumenism of Beauty (edited by revered art historian Timothy Verdon), presents it from an entirely more broachable and beautiful angle: the arts. Published to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther attaching those 95 reformational theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, the book brings together artists and thinkers from Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant traditions. With accessible writing and gorgeous full-colour images, it does do some wrestling with the historic tension between art as icon or idol. Mostly it simply shows how art, like genuine faith, entails an encounter, not an intellectual discussion or argument.

The book’s contributors—artists, scholars, and clergy—share the belief that beauty and art can bridge differences, unite people in 'shared admiration’ and possibly become an instrument of communion among separated Christians. They will also take part in a symposium organized to commemorate the Reformation’s 500th anniversary later this year, with sessions to be held in  Paris, Strasburg, Florence, New Haven (CT), and Orleans (MA).

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.”

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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.  
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*pseudo-obstruction motility disorder and antral hypomotility disorder

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.

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.

Giving thanks as an antidote to pride

By the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

I am told that Alex Haley, the author of Roots, had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post.

When asked, “Why is that there?” he answered, “Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think that they are wonderful, and begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post and remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help.”

Perhaps Haley could then let go of his pride, and with a little humility say, “Thank you.”

We often fall into the trap of thinking pretty highly of ourselves: we can do this, we did that. Oh what a good person am I! Aren’t I great? Hopefully, we can correct ourselves immediately, reminding ourselves (and the devil who gives us these sinful ideas) that without God we can’t do anything. 
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thess. 5:16-18
Before you eat that great, big Thanksgiving turkey or ham, why not ask each person present to say what they are thankful for. Last year I was at a large family gathering (not my family) where all 20 did just that. It was amazing to listen to and I am quite sure very pleasing to God, to whom it was addressed.

May you all have a very happy giving-thanks day.

The Sword of the Lord and the Rest of the Lord

Biblical accounts of the moment of Christ’s death on the cross tell of a tearing, from top to bottom, of the curtain in the temple isolating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the synagogue. None but the High Priest could enter that most sacred space, and only once a year on Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement, the holiest on the Jewish calendar) to make amends for the people’s sins. This tremendous curtain-cleaving event signalled an end to the separation of God from humanity. People now had and have access to God Himself.

So we can now, if we choose, freely access the Kingdom of heaven. The caveat of course is that entry is possible only through the door Christ has flung open, the door he himself is (John 4:16; 10:7). As we do, we can find the proverbial ‘rest for our souls’.

Yet even Christians have trouble with the concept, let alone reality, of rest. What, really, does rest mean? How can we rest when so much needs to be done? When the world around us seems to be falling apart?

A recent book and CD set by Kevin Basconi rends all of this wider open to understanding. In The Sword of the Lord and the Rest of the Lord, Kevin recounts what he calls a parabolic vision he had a few years ago. His dramatic encounter, on the Day of Atonement in 2011, resembles Paul’s being transported to the third heaven in its intensity and revelation.

Kevin describes precisely what he saw, felt, heard and sensed, and then proceeds to provide the interpretation the Lord gave him of the experience. He witnesses, with all his senses, encroaching and terrifying darkness beginning to engulf humanity.

He then sees the Lord flashing his sword, with the words “Rest of the Lord” ornately engraved on it. Kevin discovers the levels of meaning behind, within and beyond those words. He hears the Lord admonish: “Be diligent to enter in to my rest,” as he points the sword to the Heavenly Hosts behind him. “When you learn to enter into my rest, you can enter into the REST of the Lord.”

What he learns about ‘end times’ and ‘the rest of the Lord’ from this experience differ considerably from how the Church has traditionally boxed up those concepts. His matter-of-fact presentation, combined with scriptural support, makes what would otherwise seem a flakey outta-this-world incident completely solid and credible.

Kevin learns and shares with us how yes, ‘rest’ can imply just that: resting from works, as in a Sabbath rest. It can also mean the meditative resting prayer we enter into after praying all the necessary prayers. But he also discovers another interesting aspect: ‘the rest of the Lord’s Body’—those saints who have preceded us to heaven. And so much more!

Here is the acronym for REST the Lord gave Kevin after his experience:
R:   Return to me and cease from your works
E:  Expect me to move and work on your behalf
S:  Stop doing things I did not initiate
T:  Trust me to enable you and empower you to fulfill your destiny and your calling"

Holy Chutzpah! Viewing Israel from the inside with the movie 'Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference'

As we approach the most important time of the Christian year—the death and resurrection of our founder/friend Jesus—it may be good time to also honour and celebrate the roots of our Jewish Jesus, as well as his own Jewish brothers and sisters in the land of his birth and elsewhere.

First the bad news: A BBC poll spanning 22 countries suggests people view North Korea and Israel equally negatively. The utterly cool movie Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference (link below) may change some naysayers’ minds … then again, maybe not. Closed minds are just that.

Narrated by New York Times bestselling author and former Harvard lecturer, Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, the film uncovers how despite incredible challenges, Israeli creativity, innovation and chutzpah have triumphed over adversities ranging from geographic to unspeakable.

Israeli-born and American-raised, Dr. Tal taught Harvard’s most popular course ever, 'Positive Psychology', and his international best sellers Being Happy and Happier have been translated into 25 languages.

Hundreds of TV networks and programs have profiled the brilliant, personable PhD and family man, including 60 Minutes and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Tal now consults and lectures around the world to executives in multinational corporations, Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and for the general public. His topics include leadership, education, ethics, happiness, self-esteem, resilience, goal-setting, and mindfulness.

You can view a ten-minute version of the movie here: Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference.

Revival: Is simple desperation enough?

So many of us pray for, talk about and hope for revival … but what does the concept mean to you, or for you or your community?

We hear stories from history of the great Welsh revival with Evan Roberts, or the Great Awakening with Wesley, Whitefield and Edwards. Modern-day missionaries tell of amazing moves of God in otherwise miserable places such as, for example, Mozambique.

Obviously a key ingredient is to have a felt need to be revived. If we’re comfortable where we are, who or what needs reviving?

The first time this idea whacked me was while listening to the stories of a friend working with Open Doors with Brother Andrew. In visiting difficult areas of the world, he had been struck by the fact of capital-L Christian Life thriving in areas where Christians live (and often die) under severe persecution.

Kevin Turner has me agonizing again over my—our—comfortable little worlds with a powerful article in this month's Charisma Magazine (see below for link*). An evangelist ministering primarily in regions of the globe where the gospel is restricted, Turner reminds us with first-person authority and passion of the too-prevalent sad fact of lack of Life in the Christian comfort zone.

While he addresses the American Church in particular, his points and questions obviously apply for most western churches.

"How is it that God can visit a mud hut in the middle of Africa yet bypass the comfortable sanctuaries we created for Him in our country? ...  Why are other nations experiencing revival and we aren't? Could it be that calamity clarifies while comfort confuses? Calamity is an excellent teacher. It shows us in an instant what is truly important. Our materialism leaves us content without God.”

Turner sees real life and growth in the churches of devastated areas of the world, and like my friend and many others, identifies desperation as the key to revival.

Certainly it is of critical importance, but who among us would invite calamity even with the promise of a magnificent move of God? We can feel desperate for many reasons, and any one of them can be enough to have us begging God for relief. For the affluent westerner it may well be an anguished cry of: “Is that all there is?”

Still, turning to God in desperation, alone, isn’t enough for genuine growth (a by-product of revival, after all) to happen. After Jesus tells us that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, he says, in what we’ve come to call The Great Commission:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 18-20)

They not only help identify felt needs and so ‘catch the fish’, but help clean them up, train them, and release them—revived—into their own spheres of influence to do the same. Neither comfortable Christians nor simple converts can create or even enable revival, but desperate disciples can and do. So to my mind, the 'equation' might become:
Desperation + Discipleship = Revival

* Why Isn't the American Church Experiencing Revival? by Kevin Turner, in Charisma

Powerful and Free: Confronting the invisible ceiling in the Church

We live on a beautiful blue planet suspended in sparkly darkness, lit up half the time by our glorious sun and the other half (sort of) by our reflective moon. Life should be good—for all of us. It is good for many, but not for too many more ... and atrociously horrific for all the rest.

Wherever you stand in your belief system, you know this is not right. Whether something good went wrong, or really wherever and however infection set in, we are infected. The planet and its people are infected. If you’re not infected personally, you are at least affected. And infection always spreads. With nearly as many permutations and combinations as beauty, it keeps us ever seeking new antidotes.

Mysteriously however, a huge infection being slowly well-treated in most of society continues to infect, primarily, people of faith. As much as we Christians in particular proclaim freedom for all, an oppressed people group remains in our midst: women.

“Nonsense,” church men reply. “I let my wife do whatever she wants.” You let your wife?

What's worse is many otherwise powerful Christian women, in ministry themselves, confess to traces of misogyny. When you’re in the culture, absorbing, for example, all the scriptural references to men, how can you not feel at best ‘less than’, at worst, invisible?

Once upon a time I dated a black fellow who would proclaim he was not ‘black’, but ‘brown’. Well yeah ... and I’m not white, I’m pink. But I didn't feel any need to make that point. Obscure analogy I admit, but perhaps it begins to at least partially, racially, illustrate the gender issue.

Recently I listened to, and was gobsmacked and hugely healed while listening to, a talk by Danny Silk which inspired all these ruminations. As Danny says, the message is for "anyone who knows a woman.” 

Preview: did Jesus—this Friend of humanity/brother/prophet—come only to break the curse over men … and not women?

You can download Danny's talk here: The Invisible Ceiling.  He has also written a book on the topic: Powerful and Free: Confronting the Glass Ceiling for Women in the Church.