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Monday, 29 September 2014

Publishing Doubts

   Over the past few decades a new genre of books has come to the forefront.  Not only are there personal accounts of high profile atheists who have turned to faith.  Seemingly trying to counter them are accounts of high profile Christian pastors and teachers, who have rejected their previous beliefs and embraced at least a departure of from the historic Christian faith or atheism.  Just a few examples of the latter are Charles Templeton's Farewell to God (1996), John W. Loftus' why i became an ATHEIST (2008) (this is how the title is actually written), and John Suk's Not Sure (2011).
   As a proponent of freedom of speech, I would defend the right of any of these people to share their thoughts and ideas with whomever wishes to read them.  However, I do wonder if our post-modern quest for authenticity and individual enlightenment has fueled something less than wise.  When a person holds a position of trust and authority, that influence is a powerful force for good or ill.  Long ago the psalm writer Asaph recognized this fact. [1]  He was an older man who experienced a period of time of doubt and oppression in which he recalled, "I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Psalm 73:3).  He points out that if he had given voice to these doubts and his sense that his obedience to God was a waste of time, he would have betrayed God's "children" (verse 15). The musicians in the former Christian RAP trio DC Talk, aware of their influence, asked in one of their songs, "What if I stumble, what if I fall, what if I lose my step and make fools of us all..." (1995).  They felt that responsibility to uphold the faith even when they may have had personal doubts from time to time.
   I think Asaph had it right.  He "entered the sanctuary of God" and began to look at life from a God-centred perspective.  He was able to overcame his doubts and fears.  After he escaped from the trap of faulty thinking, he could share the story with those around him and actually strengthen the faith of God's children in the process.
   While it is good to be honest with our children or those at an earlier stage in their faith walk, it would be wise to be selective in the things we share about our doubts.  Bring the doubts to someone mature in the faith who can walk through them with you, not those whose faith could be destroyed by your questions.  One drawback of online interactions, I think, is that some things better kept in a private journal are shared with "the world."  That includes some of the bumps in the road we face. Patiently trust God to work through these things and in the end you will have a story to tell that builds up rather than tearing down.

[1]Appreciation goes to Rev. B. De Jonge who eloquently spoke about Psalm 73 on the evening of September 28, 2014.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Product Assessments

   While I try to prepare most of my food from scratch, there are some things that are not realistic to produce in a home kitchen.  I'd like to share three prepared food products that make sense to me and end with a bit of a rant about one product that makes no sense.

Product Endorsements

    This relatively new product combines peanut butter with chocolate.  I will admit that one of my favourite combinations on two slices of bread is one side peanut butter and one side chocolate/hazelnut spread.  Two problems I was having with the most popular chocolate/hazelnut spread were that it was imported from Italy and that it contained palm oil, a type of oil that causes much harm to people and the natural environment as it is extracted from oil palm trees.  The good news about Kraft "Peanut Butter with Chocolate" is that it is free of palm oil and is made right here in Canada.  Its sugar and saturated fat content is about half that of the leading chocolate/hazelnut spread and it has twice the fibre.  I do not always have this product in the house, but when I do I feel good about eating it.

   For breakfast I'm inclined to eat oatmeal porridge prepared with pieces of dried apricot, as my husband has perfected the recipe over the years, but when I want a dry cereal only two of them meet my standards.  One is Post Shredded Wheat, original version, because of its short ingredient list--just Canadian whole grain wheat.  Most cereals are so sugar coated and artificial tasting, in my opinion. Surprisingly, the Post cereal company started out in the 1890's by manufacturing hand-operated machines they hoped to sell for household use. Only later did they begin to market their shredded wheat biscuit as a ready-made product to sell in stay-fresh packages. [1]

   The second type of dry cereal that qualifies as nutritious and worthwhile is Weetabix.  It used to be imported from Great Britain until it began to be produced in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada several decades ago.  Its short ingredient list (four items) and its judicious use of organic cane syrup are in its favour.  Furthermore, it sources its wheat from within 50 kilometres of its plant and thus shows a commitment to sustainable practices.


   One product that makes no sense to me is one I see regularly in student lunch boxes AND classroom trash bins.  Fruit in squeeze pouches smacks of over-packaging and waste.  The lids, when removed, are a choking hazard for young children and it's questionable whether they can be recycled at all.  A percentage of the contents of the squeeze package can never be eaten because it adheres to the sides of the package or the eater is lazy about emptying the pouch.  In the quest for designing "healthy" fast food snacks that do not need a spoon to eat, we have compromised too much.

[1] This information came from the following website http://postfoods.ca/our-brands/post-shredded-wheat/our-story/

Please leave a comment with a product you either particularly like or particularly dislike.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Not A Waste: The Short Life of Keith Green

Cover of songbook
   Keith Green was born in 1953 in New York City; from a very early age he showed much musical promise.  He had perfect pitch at the age of two, could play the ukulele at age five, played guitar and piano, wrote his own songs and signed a recording contract when he was just eleven years old.
   In those days record companies did not know how to market young musicians, and this led to some disappointment for Keith as a teenager.  He ran away from home and explored all kinds of spiritual avenues to make sense of life.
   In 1975, he embraced faith in Jesus Christ and began writing music to reflect this new beginning in his life.  His passionate plea to whomever was in the audience was to live for God wholeheartedly. In the years following his conversion, Keith Green released five albums.  He was not interested in making money but gave away his music and made his concerts free (a free will offering was taken). That attitude of ministry included opening his home to people trying to turn their lives around such that it was nicknamed "the Greenhouse," a protected place where growth could occur.  Along with his wife, they also produced literature and began an organization called Last Days Ministries.
   Keith Green's life on this earth was brought to a sudden halt by a plane crash in 1982, which also claimed the lives of two of his children.  He was only 28 years old at the time.
   Although he died over thirty years ago, his influence lives on and many of his words remain prophetic.  Even then, some of the music known as "Christian contemporary" did not seem to line up with Jesus' way of doing things.  I leave for your consideration a paragraph from a pamphlet he wrote entitled "Can God Use Rock Music?":

    It isn't the beat that offends me, nor the volume - It's the spirit. It's the "Look at me!" attitude I have seen in concert after concert, and the "Can't you see we're as good as the world?" syndrome I have heard on record after record. Jesus doesn't want us to be as good as the world, He wants us to be better! And that doesn't mean excelling them in sound, style, or talent - it means surpassing them in value - in our motives for being up there on stage, in our reasons for singing our songs, and especially in who we're singing for! If there's anything wrong or worldly at all about so-called "Christian rock," it's the self-exalting spirit and attitude that comes across so loud and clear in many of the records and concerts today.  [1]

   Keith Green's example of humility and the plainspoken message remains a model of what music ministry ought to be.  

Monday, 15 September 2014

"Do you see this woman?"

   The title question is just one of many penetrating questions Jesus asks in the gospels.  He is speaking to a prominent religious leader about a nameless woman who has caused a stir at a dinner party with her mixture of tears and perfume.  The religious leader sees the woman as an immoral interruption, but Jesus sees her as a human being, penitent and eager for a new life.  (See Luke 7:36 and following.)
   I was challenged by this story as it was presented by a friend at a Bible study based on Bad Girls of the Bible by Liz Curtis Higgs.  How often do I see my husband or my own children as an interruption when I'm in the middle of editing a paper, preparing dinner or checking my email?  I need to really see them, not just carry on with what I was doing.  They deserve much more acknowledgement than I have been giving them lately.
   I will turn off the screen or set down the potato peeler and look into their eyes.  Like Jesus, I want to value them above my agenda items.  So help me God.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Open Letter to an Inmate

   Each week I receive a lesson from a different Canadian inmate who is completing a Bible correspondence course.  After I mark the lesson, I write a personal letter to encourage him or her. There is a place in each lesson for questions to be asked.  This week, the question was asked "Is the New Testament more important than the Old Testament?"  Others may have wondered about this too.

Dear J_____,

   Thank you for the lessons you sent in this week.  They were well done.  It is great to see your good attitude regarding prayer: that no matter the physical place where you may be, you can close your eyes and go deep within to talk with God.
   You asked "Is the New Testament more important than the Old Testament?"  First of all, I should say that I am not an expert on everything biblical.  In university and to the present time I do study the Bible and try to learn as much as I can about God and his Word.  My short answer to your question is that we should not pick one at the expense of the other.  The New Testament is usually the place to begin when someone has no background in the Bible at all.  We share the life of Jesus because He is the Son of God who came to earth and spent his life of about 33 years among the people around the territory of Israel.  Everything in the Old Testament is leading up to the coming of Jesus, so that makes it very important as well.  Especially in the book of Matthew, there are so many quotations from the Old Testament because he wants to show the readers how Jesus' life fits with God's plans for humanity since the beginning in Genesis.  To fully understand Jesus' life and the culture of his time, the Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Psalms and Isaiah are key.
   In the same way, the Old Testament by itself might not make as much sense to the reader who has not read the New Testament.  They will be missing the sequel of God's plans, who is Jesus.  These two parts of the Bible belong together.
   Some people try to point out a big difference in these two parts of the Bible by saying the Old Testament is about "LAWS" and the New Testament is about "GRACE."  They say that God is harsh and judgmental in the Old Testament, but loving and merciful in the New Testament.  When you read the whole Bible you can see that God's character is consistent in both testaments.  For example, in the Old Testament we read (Psalm 103:8-9) "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever..."  In the New Testament, Jesus says in Matthew 12:36, "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken." God cannot tolerate wrongdoing, but he extends mercy to the wrongdoer.  Justice and grace can go together!
   You also asked if Cain and Abel were twins.  In Genesis 4, it says Cain was the firstborn.  "Later she [Eve] gave birth to his brother Abel" seems to put some distance between their births and indicates they were not twins.
   I hope you will continue to complete these lessons and grow in your understanding of Jesus.

Your sister in Christ

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Gaining Perspective

   When something new comes into our lives, our self-talk helps us to either cope well or cope poorly. Change is inevitable, but even changes we perceive to be positive, such as the job promotion, getting married, or purchasing a house bring with them a level of stress, according to psychologists. How much more so when change is deemed to be an intrusion to a well-ordered life.
   For myself, I have consciously sought a broad perspective when examining change in my life. Here are two examples I'd like to share:

First teaching job

   After I graduated from teacher's college in 1994, I was offered a job at a brand new school with an enrollment of just 27 students.  Knowing that one-room schools had been the norm in my dad's generation made me relieved that my assigned classroom would consist of only four grades, from Grade 5 to Grade 8.  Other people had done this, including one of my uncles.  He actually taught Grades 4-8 in one classroom for a number of years, so I decided to spend a few days with his class before school let out that June.  I gleaned classroom management tips to help me with a tough assignment for even a veteran teacher.  By the time school actually started that fall, class assignments shifted so that I had only Grade 6, 7 & 8.  About one month into the school year, the board of directors, which consisted of parents at this privately funded school, recognized the need for one of the teachers to take on the role of principal.  Yes, I was still a rookie teacher, but I was single and energetic and felt this was something God had called me to do.  At least a few people who heard what I was doing frowned upon it.  Because I chose to see my situation as being within the realm of things that ordinary people have dealt with, I was able to cope. (I don't mean to say it was sustainable because after getting married it really was too much for me, and I resigned at the end of the third school year.)

Short Notice   

   One time when I was on the "Welcome and Hospitality" Committee at a former church, I was given a couple days notice to find hosts for over a dozen choir members from India.  Through an oversight the pastor forgot to share this information with me until that late hour.  First, I was overwhelmed with the task.  The group was also expecting a catered dinner at the church when they arrived in the evening.
   I took a step back and broke the task down.  I began to focus on the needs of the people coming on this choir tour and found a way to create three sleeping spaces in my own house.  I called people from my committee, who I felt would be open to hospitality, and persisted beyond that list when some said they could not do it because they did not have enough notice.  I thought of the early church which provided hospitality so freely because hotels and inns had a reputation for immorality.  
   After I had made all the sleeping arrangements, I thought about which busy women would answer the call to cook a meal for those they considered strangers.  I looked in my More With Less Cookbook and found two simple stew recipes (one vegetarian) that I could double and make at home.  I informed the contact person that the choir should come to my residence instead of the church for dinner.  When I think about it now, it turned out to be such a blessing to be able to serve a meal to these people, even though all the bowls did not match.  I heard them perform later that night and was incredibly moved to help them in what I began to see was just a small way.

Questions that give me Perspective amid Change

  • How did people in Bible times deal with similar circumstances?
  • How do/did people manage (without a car, without mattresses, without a washing machine) in other places and times?
  • Where can I find support to help me?  How can I rely on God?
  • How can I find something positive in this situation?
  • How can I become more understanding of the struggles of others through this situation?
  • Is this a "first world problem"? (from the title of Craig Kielburger's pocket size book, Your Grandma Follows You on Twitter and other First World Problems We're Lucky to Have.) 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Amazing Grace

This post is based on a devotion I led with my staff on the first day of school.  The theme we are exploring this year as an entire school is "Amazing Grace," including the story behind the popular hymn.

Luke 4:22a: "All spoke well of [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips."

   We may be quite used to the combination of the words “amazing” and “grace.”  But when something is “amazing,” it is not just one more synonym for “good” that people use to indicate something they like.  Amazing means it’s something that takes us aback, something unexpected and startling.  Grace is truly like that because it’s not the typical way the world operates.  Merit is the criterion for bestowing honour, and when you mess up you have to pay the consequences in full.  But when God loves us despite our flaws and forgives us despite our insurmountable sin debt, we are amazed.  When it dawns on us that, as Blaise Pascal said, “God owes us nothing,” then we see everything around us as gift, as grace.

   This essential quality of the God we serve makes its way into the names parents in our community choose for their children.  Grace is a common first name and middle name for girls.  So is Hannah, the Hebrew word for grace and its variations that include Anna, Annita and Anica.  A pastor I heard about wanted to give each of his children a middle name that means “grace”; in addition to "Grace" he also chose "Karis" (Greek) and "Hesed" (a rich Hebrew word for grace something translated as "loving kindness") as names.

   But we must never separate grace from its Source—that’s what we learn from another common name, one that has an odd silent letter.  You would think the name John should be simply spelled J-O-N, but the "H" is right there in the middle.  The original Hebrew Yohannan means “God/Yahweh is gracious”, and over time it has been contracted with the "H" remaining as a kind of apostrophe and unexpected reminder of grace.  Some examples of variations of the name John are Ian, Sean, Ivan and Jean as well as the feminine forms of Yvonne, Jane, Janette and Juanita.  Whether our names reflect it or not, God’s grace is embedded in each one of us and in each one of our students.  When our eyes are open to the many-fold expressions of God’s grace, we will keep being surprised and amazed by it.