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Monday, 20 February 2017

Faith and Insurance

   To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with insurance.  On the one hand, I purchased a life insurance policy when I was 21 years old, long before I had any dependents.  My cousin was the sales rep, who pointed out the benefits of purchasing early in life, and he convinced me.  On the other hand, I question some forms of insurance because they seem improper for me as a Christian believer, who claims to trust in God to protect and provide.
   The Psalmist in Psalm 20 (NIV) shares a counter-cultural adage:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
Time after time, the Old Testament people of God were rescued by divine intervention that defied the wisdom of military generals.  Consider the taking of Jericho by marching around it, blowing trumpets and shouting or the defeat of the Midianites in Judges 7 by an army reduced to 300 men carrying trumpets and water pitchers.
   Insurance can be one manifestation of a lack of trust, but the phenomena of trusting in "back-up plans" is really nothing new. King David faced the intense wrath of God for counting his fighting men because it demonstrated publicly that he did not trust in God for victory over enemies (2 Samuel 24).  Certain forms of insurance, such as automobile insurance and employment insurance, are required by law.  At which point is purchasing insurance an act of prudence?  When does it become an idol that soothes our fear of the unknown.  I don't claim to know the answer, but it's something a wrestle with from time to time.  
   Most recently, I purchased airline tickets and somehow missed the prompt to buy cancellation insurance.  By the time I realized my mistake, the 72 hour window had closed.  If the passengers, due to health or some other crisis, would not be able to take their trip, there would be no refund.  At this point I had no choice but to rely on God concerning this situation.  My prayers leading up to the trip were regular and asking for the plans to be allowed to come to fruition--that nothing would stand in the way of my mother and son going overseas to spend time with relatives, one of whom has terminal cancer.
Free range stock photo
   Five days before the airplane trip, family devotions came to a parallel event in the book of Ezra 8:21-23. Here the leader of a convoy of Jews returning to Jerusalem from exile calls for a fast to pray to God for a safe journey.  Ezra had made a conscious decision not to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen because he would be ashamed after testifying to the king that "The gracious hand of God is on everyone who looks to him."  I wonder if we are ever ashamed of creating elaborate back-up plans to give us security that ought to reside in God alone.
   The day before the airplane trip, I had a personal bread-and-water fast during which I asked the LORD to allow this voyage to come to pass.  And God answered this prayer.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Inspired Word for 2017: KIN

   Over the past couple of weeks I was pondering which word I thought would give some shape to my experience of 2017, I kept coming back to this three-letter word.
   First of all, I was drawn to its meaning.  Kin is a word that means close relatives, people we are bound to by our family heritage.  The four-letter word "kind" is connected because we naturally tend to deal "kindly" with our "kin."  One of my daughters asked me during our rather quiet Christmas break why we don't have many gatherings with extended family anymore.  She wondered if by not connecting with these kin we were missing out on something good that we were meant to have: closer ties, family stories, a better sense of connectedness.
   Something else that drew me to the word "kin" is that it is a beautiful English word.  What I mean by English is that it comes from the Germanic branch of languages. These words are quite plain and ordinary; they may be short and sound a bit harsh with their combination of letters.  Besides "kin", some other original English words are "cow-like," "bed," "knife," "hat," and "good."
   Why would I call it beautiful?  Perhaps most people would not.  In fact, there is a Facebook picture I saw in the past month which named "100 Beautiful English words," but every one of them was a more recent addition to English as a loanword from French or Latin.  For the words I listed above, the so-called beautiful versions would be "bovine," "chamber," "stiletto," "fedora," and "excellent."  A beautiful word for me is not so much how poetic it sounds but what it communicates.  For me "kin" makes me think of the beautiful reality that we are born into close relationships in which we are to show kindness.
   How I hope this word will give shape to my experience of 2017 is that I will be more intentional about forging ties with and appreciating my kin, also for the sake of my children.  I want to plan more visits with them and enjoy their company.  Next month, Lord willing,  my son and my mother will travel to Europe to be with kin. Through their visit, I hope to also feel renewed in my connection to aunts, uncles and cousins living so far away.  Other kin live nearby, but the busyness of life often conspires against getting together with them.  I want to make greater effort to resist those excuses.
   Over this calendar year I hope to share some stories about my kinfolk and what makes cultivating these ties so valuable for my family and me.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Guest Post by Carolyn: A Pregnant Opportunity

With a vision to having our students intentionally engage God’s world, locally and globally, every class at LHCS participates in a service project during the school year.  This opportunity is meaningful to the students and encourages them to selflessly think of the needs of others.
In November our Grade 6B class learned about an organization called Salama SHIELD Foundation.  Begun by Mrs. Fehderau’s brother, they operate in Uganda and Malawi, building relationships and learning the stories of those in deep need, in order to search for appropriate solutions.  The foundation has been able to improve the lives of tens of thousands through its programs in food security, micro-credit revolving loans, water, education, and health.  And goats!
The students were challenged to change a behaviour or attempt a new one that would educate them about living with less.  Some examples given were sleeping on the floor, wearing clothes that didn’t fit properly, or only using a bar of soap to wash everything with.  The students could choose the length of time during the month that they would perform their act.
In addition, Mrs. Mostert and Mrs. Fehderau encouraged the class to think of unique ways that they could fundraise for SALAMA Shield, in order to buy pregnant goats to be given to families in need of the milk and the potential income generated by selling the kids.  Each goat costs $75, and that amount became a goal for many of the children.
The grade sixes took to the challenges with enthusiasm!  “We are privileged to have so much”, one of the students said, so they sold some of their toys to raise money.  “We have it a lot easier”, noted another student, who chose to wash everything, even their hair, with a bar of soap for a few days.
“It was hard to wear clothes that didn’t fit properly, and I felt bad for people who have to all the time”, said one girl who wore her Dad’s shirt for a week.  Another student commented: “It hurt my back to sleep on the floor, and I learned that we are really blessed”.  “It was kind of annoying to drink only water for a week”, was an understandable observation made.  One of the teachers and one of the students wore the same clothes for a month!
Through selling chips, the sale of their own baked goods, extra jobs for parents, selling jewelry they made, and more, the class raised enough money to buy 28 goats!  It was a herculean effort that will richly reward those that Salama SHIELD will be able to help.  The month ended with a class party that included goat cheese and a thought provoking story called A Country Far Away, a book that ingeniously examines the differences between life in North America and life in Africa for a child.
One student’s comment sums up the experience well: “I didn’t realize how much a goat could help”.  These grade six students didn’t realize how much they could help either, but the Lord has blessed their efforts through this learning opportunity.

Looking Back upon "Jubilee"


One year ago I chose the word "Jubilee" to give shape to my experiences for 2016.  I wanted to be more conscious of issues related to justice and to celebrate things worthy of jubilation.  Looking back on 2016, the following items connect to the theme of Jubilee:
  • In 2016 I celebrated with three loved ones as they graduated from one level of schooling to another.  Two earned their high school diplomas, and one her Grade 8 diploma.
  • Jubilee was experienced through music.  In 2016 I had the opportunity to experience the 40th anniversary concert for the Ontario Christian Highschool Choir Festival in the spring and a rousing orchestral and choral rendition of Handel's Messiah just before Christmas.
  • Musical theatre was also a cause for jubilation.  Each of the five live plays I was privileged to experience combined story telling with song: The Pirates of Penzance; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Our Town; Charles Dickens Writes A Christmas Carol; and Christmas in Reverse.
  • I learned more about global justice initiatives through reading The Locust Effect by Gary Hausen and Clay Water Brick by Jessica Jackley.  My husband and I were able to support new charities that are focused on bringing justice to the marginalized.
  • The schools I am affiliated with began celebrating milestones in 2016: the high school marked 40 years of God's faithfulness and the elementary school is commemorating 50 years, a true jubilee.
  • My father had successful surgery to improve his mobility and reduce back and neck pain.  My mother had a cataract removed and can see more clearly. The support both my parents received from the medical community and their church family has also been cause for jubilee.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Surprising Contrasts in the Nativity Story

   The well-known details of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem are repeated in the carols that are played through sound systems in shopping malls and sung in churches during Advent.  We know of mangers, and shepherds and wise men and a star they followed.  It's familiar and comfortable to many of us. I'd like to point out some surprising contrasts in the nativity story that might help make it fresh and new for you this Christmas.
1)  The first contrast is the sign the shepherds were given.
   When the shepherds were told to look for a child, they were given two things to look for: the babe would be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.  We imagine Jesus' birth taking place at a cold time of year if we live in the West, so it would be obvious to us that a newborn be clothed.  However, what we know of Mary and Joseph is that they were poor.  Not all Hebrew parents could afford clothing for their babies. Yet somehow, clothing was provided for their son so that he could "wrapped snugly in strips of cloth," as the New Living Translation puts it.  The shepherds would have heard these two descriptions of the baby and wondered at the contrast.  If the child was clothed (indicating a level of wealth), why would he also be in the feeding trough for animals?  When the shepherds found baby Jesus, the story they spread about a newborn well dressed but kept in an animal's feeding box would have caused their listeners to marvel as well.  What would become of a child like this? One who had attributes of wealth and humility at once?
2) The second contrast is in the reactions of King Herod and the Magi
   King Herod's palace was not far from Bethlehem, about 3 miles away.  In fact, Bible teacher Ray VanderLaan points out that Bethlehem was literally in the shadow of the sizable building called the Herodian, one of Herod's palaces [1].  The child Jesus was born close to the man who ruled as king, but went unnoticed by him until "Magi from the East" came to Jerusalem asking for one born "King of the Jews." Some Christmas songs have led us to think that these men were "kings," but they were educated people (sages, familiar with the stars).  The Chinese word used for the Magi is the same word that is used for "professors."  These learned men from the East probably came from Persia or modern-day Iran.  The sheer distance they were willing to travel in order to honour a royal child contrasts sharply with the short distance Herod sent his soldiers to try to destroy a royal child.
3)  The third contrast lies in the three gifts the Magi brought
   The gospel writer Matthew tells that the gifts the Magi brought were gold, frankincense and myrrh. In our modern day, the value of just one of these gifts is readily apparent.  We know that gold is a commodity of great worth and that it does not deteriorate the way some other metals do.  But what of frankincense and myrrh? Incense was used in the Jewish temple as a form of worship; its aroma represented the prayers of the people rising up to God; however, the Magi may not have known of this specific aspect of Judaism.  Myrrh was an oil used in embalming the bodies of those who died. Could it be that this gift of myrrh hints at the final purpose of Jesus' birth: that he would die for the sins of the world?  These distinct gifts were all high in value, yet the gift of myrrh seems to highlight something of Jesus' mission in a way that the other gifts do not.

I encourage you to look deeper into the Nativity story yourself and look for other surprising elements and contrasts.  Imagine you are reading it for the very first time, and it will never get old.

[1] Article by Ray Vanderlaan https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/in-the-shadow-of-herod-article

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Tribute to a Man of God named Adrian

   Last month I took time off to attend a memorial service for a church planter I met 13 years ago.  At that time I had no idea how much he would influence the direction of my life.  It's not that he led me to faith in Jesus, but he had a contagious vision for community engagement that had not been a key part of my life to that point.  We were moving to his city from a smaller town and were intrigued to join the launch team of a brand new church poised to reach out to the community.
   He invited us to his home, where my husband and I met with him over coffee and told him the story of why we felt called to move 150 kilometres away from our existing home.  The day we moved into our rental house, he was there to help unload boxes from the moving van.  This man walked the talk.
   He shared with us the vision that Christians could reach out to their neighbours through existing community groups.  One of those was the YMCA Host Program. We signed up to be a Canadian mentor to a family new to Canada and met a wonderful couple and their son from Iran.  For almost a year we met with the family regularly to walk alongside them and help them with the cultural transition.  The program was brilliant and had been running in the community for years.  When we were finished our "term" with this couple, we connected with two other families.  One was from Sudan and the other from China. These people continue to have a place in our hearts.
   He told us about a small scale ministry to refugees that needed volunteers, and I volunteered there for two years.  That exposure to the needs of real people behind the news reports grew compassion in me, culminating in opening my home to a person fleeing oppression in the Middle East.
   In the handout I received at Pastor Adrian's memorial service it said of him that he was "an accidental and intentional mentor to many."  The description "accidental mentor" resonates with me; this man was probably unaware of the influence he had on my life because circumstances and providence led us not to join the church he was planting. We did not have regular contact with each other, but whenever he came as a guest preacher he demonstrated enthusiasm for caring for other people, especially those on the fringes of society.  He taught me what it can look like if ordinary believers get involved in their communities and not simply attend functions where they will meet people of the same ethnic or socio-economic group we are part of.  His influence lives on, even as he lives on in the arms of his Saviour.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A Trailer of Blessing

Vintage photo of "the Trailer"
When I was growing up I never associated a trailer with poverty or with camping.  My grandparents lived in a mobile home/trailer from the time my parents got married in 1969 until my grandmother moved into a nursing home in the late 1990's.  It was parked on a secluded lot just under a kilometer from my childhood home.
   When we went there on Sundays after church it felt like a cozy home.  In some ways it even seemed luxurious. Nobody else in my rural neighborhood had an air conditioner like they had in the trailer! The kitchen had a propane stove, an almond refrigerator and a dining table. The living room was carpeted and held a couch, a rocking chair, two armchairs and an old shortwave radio. There was a spare room with a single bed, a three piece bathroom, my grandparents' bedroom and a little shed attached to the side for the chest freezer and assorted tools. My grandmother kept it tidy, and there were fun things we could do there as kids: coloring books, a few picture books and sitting with the adults.
   How my grandparents came to live in the trailer I learned later.  You see, the house where I grew up used to be their house.  When my parents got engaged, my grandparents were willing to sell the house to them.  However, my grandfather had another idea that was less appealing.  He wanted to put a mobile home for himself and his wife along the end of their lane way!  My grandfather had a controlling personality, and he also felt a measure of responsibility towards my dad who had some challenges managing stress.  He was going to have difficulty letting his son be an independent adult.
   Fortunately, one of my uncles saw the problems inherent in having in-laws living so close to a young couples starting out.  He did some research about the 100 acre farm in hopes of finding a different corner to locate the mobile home.  He discovered that part of the 100 acre farm became separated from the rest of the parcel when the township changed the path of the road decades before because the original steep incline was a winter hazard.  Historically, this little slice of a lot belonged to the farm's holdings and was the perfect spot for my grandparents' trailer home.
   The relationship between my mom and her in-laws was strong.  Visits were common.  It was the perfect distance for a walk with the baby carriage when my sister and I were born.  It was the perfect outing for us when we were 10 and 11 years old and my mom needed some time to herself.  "Why don't you walk to Oma's house and pick her some wildflowers along the way?" she would suggest. Once when our house was full of overseas guests, I slept in her guest room for three weeks and biked back to the farm in the morning for breakfast.
   When I drive past trailer parks, I don't think to myself that the people who live there are underprivileged.  My grandparents were always content with the space they had, and they took good care of it.  When I go camping and see similar trailers serving as summer homes, I can imagine them being year-round homes.
   After my grandfather passed away and my grandmother moved to nursing care, the trailer continued to serve others.  A local pastor used the space for a retreat.  A single man made it his home for a period of time.  Today, the trailer is unoccupied and the roof has rusted through.  It has lost its former glory.  But I still think of the blessing that trailer was to my relatives and how its location served my parents by giving them space to start a life of their own.