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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


    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).