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Monday, 30 December 2013

Theme for 2014: Hope/Esperanza


   A blog that I follow, called The Peaceful Mom, included a post last week about how one word really defined the year 2013 for her.  She later added a second post where she shared the word “align” as a guiding theme for 2014, to indicate that certain areas of her life need to be restored to their proper balance.  This discussion led me to consider if there might be a word or phrase that I can foresee being important for me in 2014.  The one I'd like to share is hope.  I include the Spanish equivalent for good reason, as I will explain later.

   Hope is a word that carries over from the advent season, where each candle lit represents a quality that is important in the Christmas story.  Without hope it is hard to get out of bed each morning.  Without hope a gray sky can dictate our moods.  Without hope life is a form of drudgery.  But where does this hope come from?  Ultimately it comes from knowing that God is in control and that he made a way for us to know him through his Son Jesus Christ. 
  
When I attended a chapel service at a local prison on the first Sunday of advent the chaplain gave each inmate and guest a symbol of hope.  When she first introduced this symbol I did not grasp its significance.  The symbol she chose was an eraser.  An eraser gets rid of the mistakes we’ve made.  How does this relate to hope? When we are stuck in the guilt and regret of the shortcomings and offenses that we have committed our sense of hope is stolen.  But with forgiveness, the erasing of our sins, hope is restored.  Our outlook can look forwards instead of backwards.
   With hope I anticipate the relief that will come to family members when ownership of a property is transferred in the coming year. 
The front gate to the school
   Lord willing, in January I will spend ten days helping at Colegio Cristiano La Esperanza, a school for needy children in the outskirts of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  This Hope Collegiate is a place where youngsters can overcome the poverty they have been born into.  It is a place where they encounter the Lord of all hopefulness in a unique way that I will be privileged to share in.  Since it is my first cross-cultural service trip, I anticipate that the experience is going to change me.  I fully hope that as I work in this remote location I will learn things that will stay with me and mark me for the coming year.  

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  Letter to the Hebrews 6:19a

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Share your story

   This past year I introduced the idea of guest posts to the providenceplace blog.  In 2014 I would like to include more stories written by others who recognize God's providence in their lives or those of their loved ones.
   If you have a story you'd like to share, please send it to me at the following email address: harriette.edit@gmail.com.  Please indicate how you wish to be named in the guest post.  If you have a suitable photo to go with your story, please include it also.

Share your story on providenceplace!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Sounds of Christmas

A gift from one of my students
One of the essentials of Christmas for me is its music.  Many early memories are bound up with that, such as performing “The Friendly Beasts” with my third grade class,  hearing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” from a Bing Crosby LP at my childhood home and the background music of Dutch children singing carols on the cassette player in the humble dwelling of my Opa and Oma.
   Two songs are especially meaningful to me because they were sung at Christmas church services by amateur vocalists, everyday people who had a musical talent they were willing to share.  The first was sung by a youth leader and carpenter who later took up urban ministry in Amsterdam.  He introduced me to the words of the Scott Wesley Brown piece called “This Little Child.”  I was struck by its ability to draw together the child in the manger with the life he lived and expectation of his return to our broken world.
            “Who would have thought this little child
            Was who the prophets said
            Who will return to judge the word, the living and the dead.
Oh, can’t you see that long ago, so very far away, this little child was born a King
            that day?” [1]
   The second singer was a retired dairy farmer with a booming tenor voice.  I’ll never forget his rendition of “O Holy Night.”  After a long period of being unable to speak or sing due to a stroke, this man is now with the Lord, no doubt praising him once more.
“Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.”[2]

Would you leave a comment sharing a Christmas song that has a special meaning for you?






[1] “This Little Child” by Scott Wesley Brown © 1981
[2] “O Holy Night” was originally a French poem by Placide Cappeau and set to music by Adolphe Charles Adams in 1847.  American John Sullivan Dwight is responsible for the English translation commonly used today.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Reflections on "12 Days for Good"

   From December 9 until today I have taken part in a local campaign called “12 Days for Good” in partnership with the charity House of Friendship.  Of course, the “12 Days” alludes to the popular seasonal song in which a “true love” gives unusual gifts, but it also parallels the number of days that volunteers are engaged in preparing Christmas hampers for the needy in the community.
   I have some mixed reactions to my involvement in this campaign.
Positives:
  • I was inspired to spend a day volunteering when I otherwise might not have put it into my schedule.
  • Knowing that over 280 others were committed to making a positive difference in their community was also encouraging, along with the daily profiles of “do-gooders” I didn’t know before.
Reservations:
  • I found myself counting my good deeds in the same way a miser counts up his money.  This is the opposite of not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3).
  • The campaign encouraged participants to share what they were doing on social media.  Again, this smacks of seeking our own glory.  “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).

 Conclusions

   I wonder if we’re at a point in our culture where the word “good” needs to be defined.  Originally pointing at moral excellence, “good” today has become mediocre.  The kinds of things that some people consider “good deeds” make me give my head a shake.  I read last month of a woman with a website about the good deeds she does.  She, among other things, lifts her skirt to flash men in wheelchairs.  Can we call this “good”?  If our motivation is to be noticed or to receive kick-backs of any kind, is our act truly unselfish?  Actually, this is not a new question.  The writers of a 16th century tool for teaching truths to young people also asked, “What do we do that is good?”  The answer is:
“Only that which arises out of true faith,
   conforms to God’s law, and is done for his glory;
and not that which is based on what we think is right
   or on established human tradition.”[1]
   Another healthy perspective about good deeds comes from the classic devotional book entitled “My Utmost for His Highest.” The author states: “The right thing to do with godly habits is to immerse them in the life of the Lord until they become such a spontaneous expression of our lives that we are no longer aware of them.”[2]  Helping others and seeking opportunities to serve as a way of life 365 days a year comes from surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, not from checklists or whims.







[1] Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 91, first published in 1563; this English translation approved in 1975.
[2] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost forHis Highest, entry from May 12, edited by James Reimann, 1992

Monday, 16 December 2013

Walk-in Cooler Stories

When this knob is pushed from the inside, the door opens.
Last Friday I spent the first part of my day volunteering at a food hamper program where my husband is employed full-time.  The first job I was assigned was sorting donations of yogurt by their “best before” dates.  The idea is to hand out yogurt that is getting close to this date and save the freshest yogurt for later.  Since these dairy products are perishable, my work space was a walk-in cooler.  Wearing my coat, hat and gloves, I went through numerous plastic totes to organize every brand, flavour and container size of yogurt imaginable.
   Being inside the walk-in cooler with the door latched did not bother me at all because there was an inside-release knob that I could press to exit whenever I needed a break.  It reminded me of a time my father had a similar experience, except without the inside-release knob.
   It was a late December afternoon at our mink farm.  Our walk-in cooler was used to refrigerate the meaty feed which was given to our animals, but in December the thermostat was set to freezing to store pelts that needed processing at a later date.  This particular Sunday my dad went out to check something inside the cooler/freezer when a gust of wind slammed the door shut.  Fortunately there was a light switch inside, but to his dismay the (removable) inside-release knob was hanging somewhere OUTSIDE of the cooler.  My dad was stuck inside with no way to get out.
   He gathered his wits and immediately turned the thermostat up from the freezing mark.  He assured himself that after the family had finished watching the hour-long program “The Wonderful World of Disney,” they would come looking for him. 

   Warm inside our house my sister, mother and I were oblivious to what was going on.  I was the one sent out to look for Dad, no doubt complaining about all the gear I needed to put on.  As I approached various outbuildings I must have called out his name, until I heard a muffled voice from inside the well-insulated cooler.  When I opened the heavy door, he was so glad to see me.  He was hoarse from yelling but otherwise unharmed.  From that day forward, the inside-release knob was kept where it belonged.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Readings for a Holy Holiday, Week Three

December 15: The Good Shepherd

What kind of person would use this tool to do his or her work?  A shepherd.  What do shepherds take care of?  Do you think sheep are easy to take care of?  It may surprise you that they are not!  They are easily scared, and they need food and water nearby all the time.  Sheep also like to explore and find any hole in the fence to escape.  Then they might also get lost.

   A shepherd with many sheep needs to watch them carefully so that they will not wander away and so that no wolves or other wild animals will attack them.  He risks his life to chase away any animal that would hurt his sheep.  He needs to lead the sheep to clean water and green grass.  He comes to know each sheep by name.
   Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  He never took care of actual sheep, but He is talking about taking care of us.  He knows each of us by name too.  He gave his life to save us from our enemies of sin and Satan.

Prayer:
Dear Jesus,
You are my shepherd, I have everything that I need.  You lead me.  Protect me in times of danger.  I am as helpless as a sheep without you.
Amen.

Other Readings for this week include:

December 16 The Door

December 17 The Redeemer

December 18 Lamb of God

December 19 Lion of Judah

December 20 The Amen

December 21 Immanuel


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Guest Post by Janessa: Kindergarten Connection

This is the true story my daughter penned for a school assignment. Enjoy.

In 1949, schools in Holland would put candles on the desks to decorate for Christmas.  Although this was a fire hazard, it was still a common practice for all ages.
My Oma, Jannie, was in kindergarten and it was Christmas time.  Even in kindergarten, there were candles on top of each desk.  She had leaned back into the candle on the desk behind her.  Jannie’s hair caught on fire and it was frightening for everyone present.  Luckily, they got the fire out in time and her hair was only slightly singed.  My Opa, Rinus, was in the same kindergarten class and felt bad for the girl whose hair caught on fire.
When Rinus was 12 years old, he immigrated to Canada with his parents, four sisters and three brothers.  Some family members occasionally returned to Holland for visits.
About 20 years later, Rinus’ sister, Ann, was spending a year in Holland.  Ann and Rinus were close in age and close in their relationship as well.  While Ann was in Holland, she met up with Jannie.  They spent much of their free time together.  The more Ann got to know Jannie, the more she thought her brother, Rinus, should meet her.  
Ann came back to Canada and when Rinus was going to visit Holland a few months later, she purchased a present for Jannie and asked Rinus to deliver it.  Ann was hoping that the two of them would get along well.

Rinus went to Holland and then he realized that he should deliver the present as his sister had asked.  So he went to visit Jannie and she invited him in for tea, joining her friends and relatives who were also at the house.  As their gathering came to a close, Rinus asked Jannie if she wanted to go sightseeing with him the next Saturday.  She accepted and they got together on the Saturday.  Rinus noticed her kindness and realized how she was much different than other girls who he considered to be “arrogant”.  After their sightseeing date was over, Rinus proposed to Jannie since he was leaving to visit another province of Holland.  That gave her some time to think about it while he was away for a bit.  When Rinus came back from the other province, Jannie accepted his proposal;  they got married in Canada on December 19, 1969.

It wasn’t until after they were married that Rinus realized Jannie was the girl whose hair caught on fire in kindergarten.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Harrison's Story

This story affected me a great deal when I first heard it.  Two of my uncles have worked on the dangerous seas, in various roles from deckhand, captain, engineer, logistics and consulting.  I am grateful that their lives were preserved during their career days.

  The survival story of Harrison Odjegba Okene has taken some time to be noticed.  His miraculous rescue took place in May of 2013, but when the video taken by a camera attached to the head of the rescue diver was released publicly this month it became unstoppable.
   The Nigerian cook and eleven others were on board a tugboat, the Jascon 4, off the coast of Nigeria.  A wave caused the boat to capsize while Harrison was in the bathroom.  He opened a series of doors until he found a cabin where there was an air pocket.  He was submerged from the waist down in frigid salt water and remained this way for 60 hours with only coca-cola to drink and nothing to eat.
   We have a series of miracles here: 
  • he did not succumb to hypothermia
  • he remained conscious
  • there was enough oxygen for him to continue breathing
  • no predatory fish broke through the walls of the cabin
  • a diver from DCN (a Dutch salvage company) was able to locate him in time.
   Harrison himself acknowledges that it was God who sustained him during this Jonah-like experience:  “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me…But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God” (Jonah 2: 5-6).  He reportedly recited psalms during his ordeal, crying out to God for deliverance with the words of Psalm 54.
   All of Harrison’s crew-mates lost their lives, and he mourns for them.  Nevertheless, he has a testimony to give and a life of gratitude to live while he has breath.
   If you would like to read the detailed news report, click on the underlined words.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Readings for a Holy Holiday, Week Two

Here are another seven days worth of readings.  Each one is a link that you can click on to open up the reading and its accompanying photograph.

December 8:  Root of Jesse

December 9:  True Vine

December 10: Balm of Gilead

December 11: Bread of Life

December 12:  The Word

December 13:  Strong Rock

December 14:  Cornerstone

Feedback is always welcome!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Three Quotations Worth Pondering

1)  From a hymn:

Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
      All his boasted pomp and show;
      Solid joys and lasting treasures
      None but Zion’s children know.
~ “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” by John Newton (1779)

   This reflects how I feel about some of the spectacles the world puts on.  The Academy Awards, the Olympics, The Super Bowl and so on contain so much hype and such little substance when you get right down to it.
   John Newton’s words were set to the tune of Haydn’s “Austrian Hymn” in 1889.  This was the same tune as the German national anthem.  I was told that when post-war immigrants from the Netherlands came to Canada they had a difficult time singing this hymn because of the association with the nation that had invaded their land.  However, those who looked closely at its message were able to overcome this negative link.

2)      From an epic novel:

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
~Haldir, an elf in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring (1966)

   One thing I am enjoying so much about re-reading this 1,000-page tale (after twenty years) is the number of wise and good characters.  Some novels have only one hero, who singlehandedly overcomes obstacles and odds.  More true-to-life is the hero who has a support system of people with names and even allies he may not know about.  It’s true in our own lives.  The people in the background of the story of our lives are more important than we know through such things as their prayers and their faithfulness to God. 
  

3)      From a statesman:

“Sin lives solely by plagiarizing the ideas of God”
~Abraham Kuyper in a speech entitled “Uniformity” (1869)

   It is good to be reminded that creativity rests with God.  All that sin can do is degrade or corrupt that which was created “good.”



Friday, 29 November 2013

Readings for a Holy Holiday, Week One

   Yesterday I was sent an online survey asking my feelings or impressions of the upcoming holiday season.  At the end, it informed me that, according to my answers, I value a "Holy Holiday".  Apparently over 50% of Americans and over 30% of Canadians feel the same way.  For that reason I'd like to share (again) some daily readings and photos for a Holy Holiday.

December 1 The Alpha and Omega

December 2 The Creator

December 3 The Potter

December 4 The Son of God

December 5 The King

December 6 The Prince of Peace

December 7 The Sun of Righteousness

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Myth Busters: Bible edition

   I find it quite remarkable that although we in the English-speaking world have had the Bible in the common speech for over 400 years and have so many copies of it in circulation yet so many myths about it continue to persist.  In my Kindergarten class at a Christian school I also find myself debunking misconceptions and correcting details that my students have picked up.  Here are just a few examples so that you will understand where I am coming from:
  • Adam and Eve’s forbidden fruit is never specified to be an apple.  This persistent myth comes John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.”
  • Almost every illustration of Noah’s ark in children’s books makes it look like a puny vessel with giraffe heads sticking out of the top.  The figures given in Genesis (measured in cubits but with metric or imperial equivalents in the footnotes) indicate that this massive triple decked boat may not have looked much like our modern idea of a ship.
  • The Magi or “wise men” were not kings.  A Christmas song is to blame here.  And although they appear in Nativity scenes, it is almost certain that they arrived weeks or even months after Jesus’ birthday.
   Some readers may wonder why this is such a big deal to me.  If we have the Bible, we ought to read and know what it says.  There are many languages and cultures without access to this sacred text, so how can we justify being sloppy with it?
   A related concern I have is about video versions of the Bible made for children.  Since these youngsters do not have the biblical narrative internalized yet, they are easily deceived into thinking, “It happened this way because I saw it in the movie.”  Film makers, who try to jazz up the stories by adding chocolate bunnies, sheep that tip over and nicknames for biblical characters, actually do a disservice to biblical literacy for the youngest viewers.  While older children and adults can understand the divergence from the main story line, four and five-year-olds cannot.
   Sharing Bible stories accurately is a responsibility I take seriously.  I don’t want to add to mythology!

   

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Dating Advice from Yesteryear

I am not posting this excerpt from my maternal grandmother’s memoirs (dated 1997) as a way of deriding her way of thinking.  On the contrary, I see that so much misery can be avoided when men and women place genuine commitment ahead of sexual intimacy.  She and my grandfather loved each other and reached the milestone of 50 years of marriage.   


  I was married in Maassluis on May 19, 1932, and the pastor who led the church service was named Rev. Rieberg.  Our wedding text was John 2:2, “And Jesus was also a guest [at the wedding].”  It is a beautiful wedding text when we can also invite the Lord Jesus to our wedding.  We can certainly have wonderful celebrations and also a wedding, but everything we do needs to be done with the spirit that Jesus will be present there.  We can be joyful, but we must remember that not just “anything goes.”
   Mrs. VanLien, for whom I had previously worked, gave me the right kind of advice in the area of relationships.  She would say, “Child, when you are going out with a man, there are some things you should set boundaries around.”  She also said that if you want to get married properly and with purity and you grow closer together, you still need to say, “No” to certain activities.
   “Child, it is much better to get married in purity, even if all you have is a table and four chairs.  Later on, that young man will be so grateful that you did not compromise,” she continued.
   That is really how we were raised and instructed, if we were going out with someone and we wanted a church wedding.  Then it is wonderful to get married.  Marriage is a big step.  You need to really get to know each other and each other's personalities.  There will be times when you think to yourself, I didn't think you were like that.  A wife will have these thoughts about her husband, and a husband about his wife.  But where there is genuine love, then you will grow towards one another.  Then it just gets better and better.  Then you have not unwrapped the gift before you get married.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Slow Cooker Granola/Muesli

I thank my sister-in-law for introducing me to this easy way of making granola.  The oven method I had used previously deterred me from making it often.



Slow Cooker Granola/Muesli
7 cups of large flake rolled oats (if you have other flakes on hand, you can use them too)
2 cups of mixed seeds and chopped nuts (includes almonds, coconut, sunflower seeds, etc)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup liquid sweetener (honey, maple syrup or brown sugar with 2 Tbsp of water to liquefy)
salt to taste (I don't usually add any)

Mix all together into ungreased slow cooker and turn on HIGH for 45 minutes.  Stir.  Reduce to LOW power for 30 minutes (or less if you see the edges turning more than golden brown).

Add chopped apricots, raisins or other dried fruits to taste and stir in.  Once cooled, store in an air tight container and enjoy.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Stone that Grew: A Cautionary Tale

This is based on a true story, which brought home to me as a child the difference between fiction and falsehood.  

   It all started with a pebble I found in the grass at school.  I was bored, so I kept throwing the stone into the air and catching it.
   All of a sudden a younger student named Sally walked over and asked me what I had in my hand.  Before I knew it, I started a story.  “It is a seed,” I said to her.
   “I don’t believe you,” countered Sally.
   “Well, I was just on my way to plant the seed.  You can watch me if you like.”  I dug a small hole at the edge of the schoolyard.  As Sally looked on, I gently lowered the seed into it and packed the dirt tightly.
   “Well, it still isn’t a seed,” Sally insisted.
   My story had to expand.  “We will see tomorrow--” I said mysteriously, “a tree will grow.”
   After supper that night, I went to my backyard to cut a branch from one of the tall trees.  Then I rushed off to place it in the correct spot.
   At recess the next day it was Sally who ran to me full of excitement.  “You were right!  It did grow,” she said breathlessly.  “I thought trees grow very slowly,” Sally added.
  “Oh, but this is no ordinary tree,” I said under compulsion.  “It is a magic tree that grants wishes.  Why don’t you make a wish?”
   “O.K., I’ll wish for money,” said Sally.
   “Close your eyes and wait for the tree to get ready,” I said.
   Meanwhile I searched my pockets for coins.  None.  All I had were some licorice candies (Dutch dropjes) in the shape of pennies.  I arranged them on the tree and told Sally to open her eyes.
Original art by author

Sally eagerly searched the small tree and found only the black discs I had placed there.  “What are these?  Where is the money?”
   “This is money, but it is candy money,” I replied.  “Try one,” I suggested.
   But the tasted was strong, and Sally did not like it.  Growing heartless, I told Sally that she had to eat one or else the tree would not grant any more of her wishes.
   After she had finished the candy, she said, “What about real money?”
   “Well, the tree is very young.  It can only grant one wish per day.  You can ask for real money tomorrow…. Oh, and don’t tell your mom or dad about the tree because something bad might happen.”  My tall tale was getting taller.
   To get ready for the next day, I gathered dimes and nickels so that the tree could give them to Sally.  I also cut a bigger branch to replace the original “tree” because the leaves were beginning to droop.
   The next morning I arrived at school early, but Sally and her mother were there waiting for me. 
   With a stern look, Mrs. Lambert called out my name, “Harriette.”  The way she accented the first part of the name made me feel she was calling a boy.  “I need to talk to you.  Sally could not sleep last night and would not tell me why.  She said she could not tell about a wish-tree.  Why did you make up such a thing?  It scared her.”  Her fierce eyes awaited my response.
   Instead of saying that it all started with a pebble, I lied again, “I wanted to give Sally things, and this was the only way I could.”
Original art by author
   Mrs. Lambert’s face told me she did not believe me; I turned away ashamed.
   My stone that grew could grow no more, and my story had come to an end.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Shopping as Investing

If you know me at all, you know I don’t particularly enjoy shopping.  I’d rather give money away than spend it on myself.  When I need something (and my definition of need is rather Spartan), I look at my shopping trip as a type of investment.  Let me explain:

1)      Shopping as an investment in my community.  I try to shop close to home, supporting businesses that are more likely to employ fellow residents of my city.  I try to purchase items that are made in Canada whenever possible, even if that means the price is higher or if it takes more effort.  I was shopping for winter boots on Monday night but went home empty-handed because all I could find was “Made in China.”  (For the full story of my last pair of winter boots, see my post from last March.)  Two days later I tried a different store and was successful in finding a pair made for the Canadian climate by a Canadian manufacturer.
2)      Shopping as an investment in people.  Shopping can easily become an impersonal transaction.  Consider the trend towards shopping in which there is no face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact with another human being.  I recall hearing that my grandfather used to do all the shopping for his family at the general store.  He presented his list and the proprietor would gather the items for him and have a chat at the same time.  When the general store in the village closed down and he was forced to shop at a self-serve grocery store in town, he literally could not cope with the impersonal nature of the experience.  My grandmother, who did not know how to drive, was chauffeured to the supermarket and began making the purchases from then on.  To invest in people, I do not shop online.  I try to have conversations with the salespeople and show appreciation for their work.
3)      Shopping as an investment in a product.  I am not at all interested in disposable things.  Rather, I am looking for things that will last a long time whether it is footwear, a furnace or furniture.  By purchasing things that will last, not just for me but for others who might use the item after me, I am trying to avoid waste of resources both monetary and material.

Please leave a comment if any of these types of “investment” are part of your shopping experiences.


Monday, 4 November 2013

Why the Arts Matter

   In the past few days three things came together for me regarding "the arts."  First, I finished reading a book entitled Simply Christian in which author and theologian Tom Wright introduces the subject of faith by sharing some universal longings and experiences that point to something beyond themselves.  One of these is the experience of beauty, whether in the world of nature or in music, visual art or photography.
   Secondly, the night I finished reading this book I was seated in the balcony of a concert hall awaiting the performance of a symphony orchestra.  When the lights dimmed and I set the book aside, I experienced the beauty of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion working together to make meaningful sounds.  The modern composer John Williams, whose work is featured in the soundtracks of well-known films since the mid 1970’s, had his signature on all of the music played that night.  In particular,  the pieces were taken from films in which Williams collaborated with director Steven Spielberg.  I have never heard a clarinet played with such grace and energy as in “Victor’s Tale” from the movie The Terminal.  In spite of myself, I closed my eyes for the “Theme” from Jurassic Park.  Although I had not previously watched many of the films that were presented musically it was nevertheless a rich experience of beauty.  Regardless of what Williams may believe about God, I sensed the glory of God as I listened to this music.
   Third, my family and I watched (in two segments) the film Mr. Holland’s Opus.  What struck me about this production was that when cuts had to be made to a high school’s program because of limited funds, music and arts programs were slashed.  The way in which the music teacher, Glenn Holland, is honoured at the end of the story shows that music and art are not “frills” that an academic education can do without.  By helping them become proficient in playing an instrument or teaching them to appreciate different styles of music, he was teaching them about life. 
   Coming back to author Tom Wright, he likewise sees a place for the arts within Christian belief and living.  He says,
“They [the arts] are highways into the centre of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way.”[1]
While people need to specialize today to get jobs in engineering, IT, management, finance, and medicine, let them continue to nourish themselves with the things that remind us we are human: good literature, art, music, film, drama, and worship.



[1] Tom Wright, Simply Christian, London: SPCK, 2006, page 201

Friday, 1 November 2013

Beyond Random Acts of Kindness

This is a re-post of something I wrote in January about counter-cultural giving.  Since today is Random Act of Kindness Day where I reside, I thought it may be worth a second look.

Sometimes giving becomes a fad in our culture.  The phrases “pay it forward” and “random acts of kindness” are jazzy and capture the public’s imagination to do something nice for people they do not know.  Because these forms of giving are considered random they appear to be easy to tack onto your already busy life.  Excitement is created as we celebrate Pay it Forward Day on April 25 and Random Act of Kindness Day (today where I live).  The irony, of course, is that what had been called random is now planned or expected.
   Counter-cultural giving is more than a fad.  It needs to be present every day of the year and is motivated not by a cool concept but a loving heart.  To be consistent and sustainable, our giving needs to be rooted in God, whose generosity to us is beyond measure. 
   One of my nieces in Alberta felt led to organize a Random Acts of Kindness Party to celebrate her birthday last fall.  She and her friends gave out oranges, chocolates, gift cards and cash to community workers as well as to unsuspecting strangers.  This outpouring of giving did not come about because it was trendy but because God had first given love and the capacity for caring to my niece and her friends.  When her party ended, it was neither the beginning nor the end of her lifestyle of giving.  

Monday, 28 October 2013

Guest Post by Darren: The Doors at Wittenberg Still Cry Out

   Almost five hundred years ago on October 31 something happened that means more to me than Hallowe'en.  In order to draw attention to Reformation Day, I asked my pastor* for permission to share a slightly shortened version of his Sunday evening message.

   It happens every once in a while, when the simple truth is brought back to God's people like a stone being tossed into the middle of a pond...creating ripples for a generation to come for a people negatively affected by their culture around them telling them half- truths, or dismissing the truth, or not pursuing any truth at all.
    Such was the case for a young man born to peasant parents in the Saxony region of Germany. He would become a poor monk and yet also the spiritual and moral conscience of an entire nation and the continent of Europe.  His name was Martin Luther. He rediscovered a truth - Romans 3:23,24 - and spoke about it so passionately that it upset entire governments.  It reads: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

   At the Castle Church at the centre of Wittenberg people would be gathering on All Saints Day to pray for dead relatives, paying large sums of money to supposedly spring them out of purgatory, an invention of the church of the day.  On this door, Martin Luther tacked his 95 sentences, statements to lead the common people back to what the Bible taught about salvation.  These written words caused a stir and eventually led to a wide Reformation of the church through other leaders of courage.
   Sometimes, it happens, every once in a while, when a common person gets back to the simple truth that changes generations.  Such was the case hundreds and hundreds of years earlier. We go all the way back to a simple leader named Joshua.  In Joshua chapters 23 and 24, we understand that the broader culture had led the common person astray.  Joshua had seen it when the Israelites had formed a golden calf to worship instead of their God, the complaints about food and water in the wilderness, the constant doubt.
   In the speech he gives in these two chapters Joshua still had to tell the people to put away their idol gods, which they had still left over from their days in Egypt! Were they in their handbags? Back in their tents?  And Joshua knew the consequences- they would be driven out and remembered no more in the promised land.  So easily were they swayed from the truth and bought into the lies and half-truths of the people around them.  But Joshua called them back - Grace alone, by God alone, through faith alone.  He challenged them to make a clear commitment, to renew the covenant.  They responded, “We will serve the LORD.”
   It happens every now and again.  A simple man...with a simple message creating ripples in generations of people and influencing nations.  Around the first century, Greek philosophy was dominant in the remnants of the Greek empire.  To protect the Jewish faith some its leaders became hyper-legalistic so as not to lose their people to the culture’s reliance on human truth and persuasion. The Romans brought their might and dozens of personal gods to a morally empty culture.  There were half-truths and no truth at all.
   Into that world a simple Messiah came to proclaim "by Grace alone, through faith alone. Jesus died to bring the simple message of salvation, and its impact has continued for a thousand generations. We are its recipients.
   A simple message, a simple call. Sometimes things happen that way. Is our own culture due for such a reformation? We are living on half-truths and no truth at all. Who will it be and how big a ripple will it produce?
   Maybe we don't need one person as influential as Joshua or Martin Luther. Perhaps we simply need a clear message spoken in the middle of a family, or in a neighbourhood, or a workplace. Perhaps that is simple enough and big enough to begin calling our culture back to the Reformational truth of Grace alone, by Faith Alone, In Christ Alone.  Maybe it just needs you and me living in the spirit of renewal and reminding the people around us of the simple, clear message we cherish.
   It does happen every now and again.

*Rev. Dr. Darren Roorda gave this message on Sunday, October 27th, 2013.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Seeing the Sacred at Home and School

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.  The whole earth is full of his glory"
Isaiah 6:3

   As a teacher, I spent this day in professional development at a conference for Christian educators in Ontario, Canada organized by the organization edifide (spell-check doesn’t like this name, but I do).  During one of the workshops I attended we were given time to slow down and reflect about the metaphors we use in our teaching.  That is, how do we see the spaces where we are teaching? 
   Our leader introduced us to a song by Michigan folk singer, Carrie Newcomer entitled “Holy As a Day  is Spent.”  You can hear it sung here. In her song, she looks at the everyday things in our homes and sees them as hints of God’s presence in our lives.  In one verse, she writes,

 Holy is the place I stand
To give whatever small good I can
The empty page, the open book
Redemption everywhere I look
Unknowingly we slow our pace
In the shade of unexpected grace
With grateful smiles and sad lament
As holy as a day is spent

The leader challenged us as participants to write our own stanza to this song, using images from the classroom.  When we open our eyes to see in a new way, we can detect holy ground before us.  In just a few moments of reflection, the following lines came together for me:   
This book makes me cry every time I read it for young children.

Holy is the girl struggling to write
And the buzz of the fluorescent light;
The storybook that moves me to tears
And the boy who overcomes his fears;
The delight of learning something new,
Connecting with whatever’s true.
The note that’s to a parent sent
As holy as a day is spent




Thursday, 17 October 2013

Things We Wonder About

   After they read or hear something explained, I hear people say, “Oh, I always wondered about that.”  Some of the things are simple enough to find the answer ourselves, but the wondering doesn’t last long enough to prompt that kind of action.  Here are just a few trivial examples some of you might be able to relate to:

If whole grains are better for you, why did people ever start making “white flour” and “white rice” in the first place? 
   This answer came to me via one of my sisters.  She was motivated enough to find out that whole grains are more subject to spoilage.  In order to preserve grains, especially in times when refrigeration was not yet common, people came up with a way of removing the bran and germ of the wheat or rice.  It could be stored much longer that way with less risk of going bad before it could be eaten.
   Especially during the summer time, it is still recommended to store larger quantities of brown rice and whole wheat flour in the freezer!

Why does a hamburger not have ham on it?
   It seems that “burger” is a word in its own right, since cheeseburgers and chicken burgers have appeared in the fast food world.  But when we go back to the origin of the word hamburger, we find that the root word is “Hamburg”, a city in Germany.  This type of minced beef was served on the Hamburg-Amerika line of ships, which traveled between Germany and New York City.  Eventually, the classic beef sandwich took on its present form and was named after a European port.

Why is a Christmas plant, the poinsettia, so sensitive to cold?
   First of all, the poinsettia is a tropical plant brought north about 150 years ago.  Its bright colour and star-like design seemed to be built-in marketing for Christmas in the northlands, but it is native to Mexico.  Another reason it is associated with Christmas is that it flowers when the days become shorter.  The Christmas cactus is so-named for the same reason, but it is obviously a tropical plant as well.


The things we wonder about can be trivial like the examples above, but they can also be  about more serious things, like questions of faith.  For these wonderings, it is very important to wonder long enough to seek out the answers.  Yes, there are many mysteries in the realm of faith, but having a heart that seeks after the truth will bring a person closer to God.  It is not all about academics and what you know; it involves knowing God personally.  Don’t settle for less.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

This Thanksgiving was particularly memorable with special things to be grateful for on the weekend itself:

  • A gorgeous autumn hike with my husband, children and parents on Saturday afternoon.  This combination of fisherman’s path and marked trail allowed us to see beechnuts, purple forget-me-nots, chestnuts, assorted pine trees and fall foliage.  My dad’s dog Skippy wanted to lead the way through his familiar territory.
  • A Sunday morning worship service.  Being among the people where I was raised is always a highlight, but a Sunday church service is easily taken for granted.  There was electricity, a pastor to lead, instruments to guide our singing and a Bible to open and read.  The elder’s prayer was very moving.  The pastor’s message about the healing of ten lepers in Luke 17 gave new insights.
  • A broken relationship took a first step in being restored through forgiveness.
  • Holding the music while my son played trumpet for his grandparents; cutting vegetables while my daughter practiced the flute.
  • A visit with my sister and her husband and two nieces.  The older niece enjoyed our company so much that she tried to stop us from leaving by two different methods!
  • Thanksgiving dinner of local produce:  roast beef raised by my uncle, green beans planted by my dad and my daughter at the end of July, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, and squash-apple bake (see previous post for recipe).  For dessert, we had custard pudding molded in the shape of a bunny and a fish with a fruit sauce made of red currants, a traditional Dutch treat.






  • Driving home along a scenic road on Sunday night to the sound of my three children singing along with the WOW Hits 2013 CD, including “The Hurt & The Healer” by Mercy Me, “Forgiveness” by Matthew West and “Live Like That” by Sidewalk Prophets.  Sometimes they complain if a sibling sings along, so when they have this kind of unity it’s wonderful.










    Thursday, 10 October 2013

    Thanksgiving Side Dish: Squash Apple Bake

    Squash-Apple Bake
    This recipe comes from Simply in Season cookbook (page 201), in the “Autumn” section.  Since both squash and apples are plentiful, it is a good choice for Thanksgiving dinner.  It's simple and delicious.  My dad, who was never previously a fan of squash, requests it.  

    2 pounds / 1 kg butternut squash (buttercup squash is also acceptable), peeled, seeded and with fibres removed.  Cut into ½ inch or 1 cm slices.  Place in ungreased baking dish.

    2-3 apples (cored and cut into ½ inch or 1 cm slices), peeled or unpeeled.  Arrange on top of squash


    Mix in a small bowl: 3 T melted butter or margarine, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 T flour, 1/2 tsp. salt and a dash of nutmeg or mace.  Sprinkle on top of squash and apples.  Cover and bake about 40-50 minutes at 350° F or until squash is tender.  Serve warm.

    Monday, 7 October 2013

    Willi-who?

    This image was taken from www.vultus.stblogs.org 
    On Saturday I became acquainted with someone from church history I knew little about, all because of a visit to a credit union.  My husband and I were looking for information about how a credit union might meet our banking needs.  During our meeting we found out that the original name of this particular financial group was “St. Willibrord Credit Union.”  Even more surprising to us was that it had been started by Dutch immigrants in Southwestern Ontario (Canada) in 1951.
       I thought I knew all the big names in Dutch history: Dr. Abraham Kuyper, William of Orange, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Rembrandt van Rijn, Guido De Brès.  Now I had to go back much further to understand why people of my ethnic origin would choose an unpronounceable name for an institution they were founding. 
       St. Willibrord was actually born in England during the 7th century A.D.  After being trained at a monastery in Ireland, he came to the Low Countries as a missionary.  Earlier the Dutch and Frisians had resisted the missionary efforts of the Franks, and they remained worshippers of Wodan[1] (our day of the week “Wednesday” comes from this god).  Through great courage and perseverance, Willibrord showed the people of the Netherlands that Jesus Christ is greater than their images of stone.  Without Willibrord as the one to lead the people out of paganism, I wonder if any of the other names would have made it into a history book. 
       While his name is hard to say, Willibrord is a link in the chain of God’s providence towards my people.  For that I am grateful.


    [1] This information comes out of a book entitled God’s Care and Continuance of His Church, Volume 1 by John Vreugdenhil, translated from Dutch by John Van Grouw, ©1991.

    Wednesday, 2 October 2013

    Believing Lies

       The Scriptures are clear that as believers we are involved in a battle with an invisible enemy and his envoys.  When there is discord, hatred, envy, rage, and any other harmful forces pulling people apart we need to be aware that a demonic reality is seeking to gain ground.  Jesus warned even believers that letting “the sun go down while you are still angry” can “give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27).
       Holding onto anger is very destructive, but so is holding onto a lie.  This can be more subtle and unconscious but equally harmful.  When a person believes something that is untrue the devil has power over that individual.  Here are some lies we humans sometimes believe:
    • “If I tell others about the abuse I am suffering or have suffered, they will not listen to me.”  Believing this lie keeps the victim of abuse from seeking or finding help and healing.
    • “I am ugly.”  Degrading our person and not recognizing the beauty and wonder God has put into each human being can lead to depression, obsession with body image, or self-harm.
    • “Everything is fine.”  Denying problems is a trap.  We do nothing to address them and then they snowball.  Admitting we need help, first to ourselves and to God, is the first step to overcoming a problem, including an addiction.
    • “This difficulty I am in will never end.”  Difficulties can overwhelm us, but when we believe things will never improve we may lose sleep, become despairing, and worse.  The devil wants to rob people of hope, but God wants us to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13b).
    • “I can’t trust anyone but myself.”  This lie often results from being hurt by trusted individuals in the past as a way to try to protect oneself from further hurt.  The problem is that by being suspicious of everyone, we miss out on the blessings of true love and closeness that are wonderful and possible.  We become hard-hearted.
    • “This is mine!”  When we say this we are putting high value on a material thing.  As portrayed in The Hobbit, the character Gollum makes a ring into his everything and calls it “My precious.” Holding tightly to this possession destroys his personhood and makes him loathsome to himself and others.  Everything we have belongs ultimately to God who entrusts it to us for a relatively short period of time.  

       The messages we allow to settle in our heads as we live our daily lives are very powerful, for good or for ill.  Be conscious today of the things you are saying to yourself and test them against the perfect standard of truth in the Scriptures.  After all, the greatest weapon we have against our enemy is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17b).


    Friday, 27 September 2013

    Chinese Tree Stories

       I’ve long been fascinated by the Chinese writing system, where each character represents one or more words.  Different characters can be minimized in order to blend together into new words.  A book entitled Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve by Ethel R. Nelson and Richard E. Broadberry has opened my eyes to some of the stories embedded into certain Chinese characters.
       By looking in particular at the base-word “tree” in Chinese, we can see a progression from an actual picture of a tree to an ancient etching on a bone fragment to the modern symbol for tree. 
    The symbol for tree appears in a number of Chinese words; for example “stop, rest” has a “person” symbol beside a tree.  This makes sense because resting in the shade of a tree is a common experience that the original “readers” of the Chinese language could all relate to. 
       However, there are some puzzling combinations as well.  “Law” is composed of a single tree with a human mouth superimposed on it above the symbol for God.  Why would law be associated with a tree?  Furthermore a pair of tree symbols side-by- side also appear in the words  “sorrow” and “desire/covet.” In “sorrow” there are two trees with a person between them.  In the oldest versions of this character, the person is represented by a mouth (eating) and a foot (standing/staying there) or by a figure of a hand reaching up.  Why would eating between two trees mean “sorrow”?  Could there be a story of someone who ate something at the site of two significant trees that led to great sorrow?   Likewise, “desire” and “covet” have a female figure with a prominent eye standing between two trees and gazing at one of them. 
    What does she want from the tree?  Did it have something to do with a “law” God had decreed? 
       If we believe that all human cultures had access to the first stories of history (creation, fall, flood) prior to the dispersal of nations and the confusing of languages in Genesis 11, it should not be surprising when creation and flood myths abound in ancient oral and written cultures.  This small sampling of tree-words in Chinese gives a glimpse of a story where coveting a piece of fruit from a certain tree led to the greatest sorrow imaginable.

       The tree of life (one of the two trees in the centre of Eden’s garden) resurfaces in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.  A future hope is given to Ezekiel and to the Apostle John that the tree of life will be available to humans once again that they may live forever in God’s presence.  How can the way to this tree become accessible again?  Only by the One “who bore our sins in his body on the tree”  (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis mine).

    Monday, 23 September 2013

    Prayer for the Persecuted

       Dear Father in heaven,
       My brothers and sisters around the world are suffering so greatly for the sake of your name.  Today the situation in Kenya made the mainstream news but so many are afflicted in obscurity, with nobody to empathize or advocate for justice.  And yet they entrust themselves to you.  Strengthen the believers who feel all alone, who have been removed from family members or who live in hiding.  Enable them to know your presence, through Your Holy Spirit.  Let your word hidden in their hearts guide and sustain them.
       Let the persecutors no longer think that by their actions they are doing a service to God.  Soften their hearts so that they will see Christians no longer as the enemy but as human beings like themselves.  Confuse the communications of those who conspire for evil against your people.
       Lord Jesus, hold each one close to yourself.  Give them courage to face death, if that should be required of them.  Be the great provider for those families whose breadwinner has been killed or imprisoned.  Be the comforter that they need in times of trouble.
      In Jesus name,  Amen

    Friday, 20 September 2013

    Harmony and Oil?

    There’s a description of unity and harmony in Scripture that is hard for the modern mind to appreciate.  The psalmist says that when people get along it is as valuable as the following:
       “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes” (Psalm 133:2).
       I would guess that the image of oil running down a man’s head and face, saturating his beard would lead to thoughts of disgust to most readers today.  When a person tends towards oily hair, specific shampoo is chosen to combat it.  Imagining such a quantity of oil, say a bottle of Italian dressing, being poured on someone does not have any positive association.
       Let me help you understand this image a little more.  The value of olive oil in ancient times was huge.  As the only type of oil available, it was used not only for daily cooking and baking but also as medicine, cosmetics and soap.  Add to this the Hebrew custom of saving oil of finest quality for the religious practice of anointing—setting apart a person (Aaron, and those who succeeded him) for service to God by pouring oil on his head.
    Panathenic amphora,
    from the British Museum website.
       While chaperoning at a field trip to the Royal Ontario Museum, the value of oil was underscored in a new way.  The guide referred to a large amphora vase from Ancient Greece that was given as a prize to the winning athletes at the ancient Panathenic Games.  With a capacity was 10 gallons (or 37.85 litres) of oil, it represented a lifetime supply of oil!
       In monetary terms pouring something this valuable on a person seems like an incredible waste.  But, in fact, it was saying that the relationship between God and his people is more precious than the most valuable commodity the culture knew.  Now, if this is the comparison for the value of unity between fellow human beings, we had better take notice.

       What are the most valuable commodities in our culture?  Let’s begin with property, net worth, pension plans, retirement dreams.  Pride, three square meals a day, standing up for your rights quickly follow.  If we really grasped the value of relationships, would we not swallow our pride and even spend time in fasting and prayer in order to restore a broken relationship?  Wouldn’t it be worth giving up some of our rights to win over a brother or sister?  In God’s economy, the most opulent thing is harmony and the love that makes it possible.

    Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    Remarkable

    Polish First Aid Kit
       I’ve made several trips to the emergency department with my children, but two weeks ago I went there for myself.  I’ve been embarrassed to talk about it because I felt so foolish that a careless encounter with a tin can required four stitches on my left ring finger.  Even though healthcare seems free in Canada, I try to live such that I will not need emergency care until I’m quite a bit older.  I didn’t mind having to wait several hours before the doctor and his student came to attend to my cut.  Gratitude for living a short distance from medical care also came to my mind.  I was well aware that there were more urgent cases than mine; I just hoped I would be able to teach the next morning.     As the doctor explained things to the intern I became aware that I could have damaged nerves or tendons but graciously this had not occurred.
       As the healing process went on I was amazed anew at God’s design for the healing of cuts and broken bones.  After some cleaning up, in most cases all that’s needed is to put the two ends of the severed skin or bone together and wait.  With time the skin grows back together or the bone repairs itself stronger than before.  We take it for granted, but it should be remarkable in our eyes.
       Everyday wonders should be duly noted.  When they are we can see a providential God caring for us down to the small details of our bodies.

       

    Friday, 13 September 2013

    Good Question

      Even when he’s sleeping my teenage son carries around a question.  It is printed on a plain bracelet—IS IT HOLY.  This challenging query was given to him at a Youth Convention last May.  The speaker, Justin Lookadoo pointed out that as humans we like to justify our actions by saying something like, “Well, what’s wrong with it?” or “What’s so bad about that?”  As Christian believers we are called to the much higher standard of holiness, which is etched over 550 times in Scripture’s Hebrew and Greek pages.

       Holy has its origin in the triune God who created heaven and earth, ransomed sinners, and gives them a new life.  Time after time in the Bible, God calls his people to be holy, set apart, unpolluted, motivated by truth and goodness, marked by obedience. 
       The book of Ezekiel, which I just finished in my “Bible-in-One-Year” marathon, is especially interested in the concept of holiness.  One obscure verse in particular caught my eye this week:  “When they placed their threshold next to my threshold and their doorposts next to my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them, they defiled my holy name by their detestable practices.” (Ezekiel 43:8).  This description of two buildings (God’s holy temple and one of Solomon’s other edifices) shows a duality of heart.  The entrance to human enterprise was set right next to the entrance to God’s presence, but that human enterprise gave no consideration to God’s laws and directions.  This kind of hypocrisy is offensive to God, not to mention loathsome to those who are looking from the outside.

       What we do from Monday to Saturday needs to be infused with holiness just as much as Sunday worship.  Keep asking IS IT HOLY, even if it makes you stand out.  Holiness does not trumpet itself, but it sure gets noticed.  To God be the glory.

    Thursday, 5 September 2013

    Learning from a J.W.

    Over ten years ago when my husband still worked at a family greenhouse business he had a regular customer who had an interesting perspective about celebrations.  As a Jehovah’s Witness he did not celebrate birthdays.[1]  He explained that as a result of this he gave special honour to anniversaries instead.  He bought roses not only for his wife but for couples that were his friends who had a special day.
       He pointed out that while birthdays celebrate staying alive, an anniversary involves something extra—the effort of staying together and working at a relationship.  So, not only the milestone anniversaries deserve to be marked.  Every anniversary is an achievement of love and cannot be taken for granted.
       Sticking with your spouse is not as common today as it once was.  It stands out and ought to be celebrated by those who are close to the couple.  It’s hurtful when this day is ignored.  A friend recently shared that on her anniversary she especially misses her deceased parents who always made a point of holding such a day in honour.  In contrast, her parents-in-law do not even phone and acknowledge the day.
       Many readers have witnessed dozens of weddings.  These events are full of excitement and joy, but they also involve a duty to track with these couples, encourage them as we have opportunity, and to celebrate their anniversaries one by one.  Maybe it’s time to take a second look at how much value we place on those special days that celebrate commitment.




    [1] The only two mentions of birthdays in the Bible have highly negative associations.  The birthday of Pharaoh in Genesis 40 was the occasion of executing his chief baker and a day of feasting.  On the birthday of Herod the Tetrarch in Matthew 14 & Mark 6 there was drunkenness, provocative dancing and a call for the head of John the Baptizer.  This is the main reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays.