Ten years of blogging!

Ten years ago today I published my very first blog post! It was also the shortest post I’ve ever written and the message was very simple:

Richard and I have just accepted positions teaching conversational English in Japan. This is a one year commitment and we’ll be leaving in mid March. The main purpose of this blog is to share our adventure with friends, family and anyone else who’s interested.

Little did I expect to still be blogging ten years later! I anticipated that Following Augustine would only exist for the year that we would be in Asia. In fact, that’s why I chose the title. Augustine BeArce, a Romany Gypsy, was the first of my ancestors to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and make his home in North America. 370 years later when I crossed the Pacific Ocean and settled for a time on the far side of the sea, it only seemed right to give credit to Augustine and the Gypsy blood that I inherited from him!

I’ve always been passionate about writing though and by the time our year in Japan came to an end, I knew that blogging was something I would continue to do indefinitely. What I didn’t know was what it would look like once I was no longer living in a foreign land. For lack of a better definition, I now refer to Following Augustine as a lifestyle, travel, and fashion blog, but one of my readers once called it a great advertisement for retirement!

Over the past decade, life has taken many unusual turns, some delightful and others deeply distressing. Following Augustine has been there through all the ups and downs.

We love to travel and the blog has recorded trips across Canada, into the United States, and to numerous other countries. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to live in the People’s Republic of China though, but our five months there gave me plenty to write about. China’s internet censorship made it a bit more challenging to post from there, but thankfully, with the help of WordPress, I discovered a way to successfully break through or over the “Great Firewall” and continue blogging.

Cancer was never part of my plan either, but when it struck, the blog became a good way to process what was happening and to share it with friends and family. I’ve also used it as a way to raise awareness of NETS (neuroendocrine tumours), the little-known and often misdiagnosed cancer that I continue to deal with. My life is not all about my health, however, so neither is the blog. It’s about living life to the fullest in spite of all its challenges.

A couple of years ago, I became interested in fashion blogging and so the weekly Fashion Friday feature was born, not as a “look what I’m wearing today” narcissistic sort of thing, but as a way to connect with other women and to explore how the ways in which we present ourselves affect our lives. It has had the added benefit of ensuring that I write something at least once a week.

I am a Christ follower and I have fairly strong and not always popular or politically correct opinions on certain issues. I haven’t shied away from sharing those on the blog, but I’m committed to doing so with as much wisdom as God allows me, with integrity and with respect for those whose opinions differ from mine.

When I published that first post ten years ago, our daughter was expecting our first grandchild, so over the years five little people have appeared on the blog from time to time. I’m off to visit three of them this weekend and the other two for Christmas, so it’s possible that they might show up again soon!

What does the future hold for Following Augustine? I have no idea, but I’ve now written 882 posts and I don’t see them coming to an end anytime soon!

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Pray for the persecuted church

As President of our local church’s Missions Council, one of the things that I do is present a short Missions Moment during the worship service every Sunday morning. These 3 or 4 minute messages are meant to give our congregation a global perspective and a feeling of connection to what’s happening on the mission field around the world. Though the response to these messages is always positive, one occasionally resonates particularly strongly with my listeners. This morning’s message was one of those and so I decided that perhaps I should share it more widely.

This seems especially timely considering the fact that as we joined Christians around the world in praying for the persecuted church this morning, 27 of our brothers and sisters lost their lives and more than two dozen others were injured in a horrific church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

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November 5 and 12 have been set aside as International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

At least 200 million Christians worldwide are being persecuted for their faith. Christian persecution is any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification as a Christian. From verbal harassment to hostile feelings, attitudes and actions, Christians in areas with severe religious restrictions pay a heavy price for their faith. Beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment, and even death are just a few examples of the persecution they experience on a daily basis.

Every month an average of 322 Christians are killed for their faith and 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed.

The number one thing that persecuted Christians ask for is prayer.

The Bible calls us to be a voice for the voiceless. Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

As Christians, we are called to take a stand for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Praying for Christians who are being persecuted for their faith may be the easy part of what I’m asking of you today. I also want to suggest that we pray for the perpetrators; the ones who are doing the persecuting. The Bible tells us to pray for our enemies. They need to experience the unconditional love of Jesus every bit as much as we do. Remember that the apostle Paul was once the greatest persecutor of Christians. He was on his way to bring violence against believers when Jesus showed up on the Damascus Road. God used this man, known for his hatred of Christians, in mighty ways to spread His gospel and plant His church. He can still do that today, so let’s pray and ask Him to radically show up in the lives and hearts of the persecutors. Pray against the evil but for those who commit it. Pray that they would come to know God and His forgiveness.

Throughout this week, let’s focus on praying for both those who are persecuted and those who persecute them. 

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For more information and resources pertaining to the persecuted church, visit https://www.opendoorsusa.org/.

 

I want to be a love letter!

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

During my devotions one morning last week, this passage, written by the apostle Paul to the early church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 3:2-3), stood out to me as never before. In fact, it practically jumped off the page and I’ve been pondering it ever since.

What does it mean to be a letter from Christ, known and read by everyone? Am I such a letter and, if so, what does that letter say to those who read it?

I want to be a love letter from Christ! 

Writing letters is rapidly becoming a dying art, but imagine days gone by when handwritten letters carried words of love to distant sweethearts. People took time to put pen to paper and pour out their thoughts. Letters were treasured, read time and again, tied up in ribbons and kept for decades. Why? Because they made the recipient feel cherished, valued, loved.

How can I be a love letter from Christ?

How can my life have that kind of impact? How can it demonstrate God’s love for those I encounter?

Colossians 3:12 comes to mind. It’s been my theme verse for the past few years.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Perhaps those characteristics are the ink with which to write my life, my love letter from Christ. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

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Another photo challenge

I get very irritated by a lot of stuff that floats around the internet and lands on my Facebook page, especially the “pass it on” posts that are simply a newer version of the age old chain letter. Once in awhile, however, something more interesting comes along.

A couple of years ago, a friend and former student nominated me to take part in a Facebook nature photo challenge which I enjoyed very much. Over the past week, I participated in second photo challenge that was a little more difficult. The idea was to post one black and white photograph every day for seven days and to nominate one other person on each of those days to take up the challenge. The instructions were “Seven black and white photos that describe your life. No humans. No explanations.”

I found the “no humans” part of the exercise more challenging than I would have anticipated, especially given that the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and my “Still alive at 65!” birthday party fell in the middle of it. People and relationships are really what life is all about! I was surrounded by friends and family, but I couldn’t include them in any of the photos.

I also discovered how much colour adds to my life. I rarely convert my photos to black and white. I found that some looked good while others completely lost their impact. For example, here are a couple of photos of the heavily laden Mountain Ash tree in our backyard.

Take away the vibrant green and the brilliant red of the berries and the photos are just plain drab. Needless to say, I didn’t use them in the Facebook photo challenge.

Here are the photos that I did use and since this isn’t part of the challenge, I can even add some explanation!

#1   I love this one… open Bible, laptop, a library book, a steaming cup of green tea, and sunshine streaming through the window. This is where I can typically be found in the morning.

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#2  I love the texture of the grass in this one taken during my last round of golf before the course closed for the season.    

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#3   I spend part of every day in the kitchen where there’s usually a bowl of fruit on the counter and often a fresh loaf of multigrain bread cooling.    

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#4   No, that’s not my house. That’s the view from our front window; the huge, unfinished house across the street. Construction started in the fall of 2008 and almost nothing has been done to it in the past five years or more. The inside is still completely unfinished and no one lives in it.  😦 

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#5   This is the view from our back door with the Mountain Ash on the left. Notice that you really can’t see the berries at all in a black and white photo.    

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#6   When my daughter saw this one, her comment was, “Yes! This is you!” I’m what’s known as an arctophile, a person who collects or is very fond of teddy bears. These are just a few of mine who spend every day sitting on our bed. I’ve had the biggest one since I worked in a toy department one Christmas season while I was a university student in the early 1970s.    

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#7   Travel is very much a part of our life, so this morning our suitcases were packed again!    

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All of these photos were taken with my easy to use Canon point and shoot camera.

A new, updated look

Yes, you’re in the right place! I decided awhile ago that it was time to give Following Augustine a new, updated look and I’ve been tinkering with it for awhile to get it just right. Thankfully, WordPress made it easy.

The first and most important step was choosing a new theme which is the overall design. That might sound simple, but WordPress has hundreds, perhaps thousands, to choose from! After looking at quite a few of them, I settled on this one called “Hemingway Rewritten.” Of course, as an English major, that led my mind down a rabbit trail! I knew who Hemingway was, of course, and had read his work many years ago, but what was it about his style that prompted Swedish designer, Anders Norén, to use his name for a blog theme?

Hemingway’s writing style is simple, direct, and unadorned, probably influenced by his early career in journalism. I believe that it was this minimalistic style that inspired Norén to use his name for a blog theme with a clean, uncluttered look; a look that was exactly what I wanted for Following Augustine.

It was very important to me to choose a look that was not only visually appealing, but easy for you to read. I chose a font and a background colour that are meant to be easy on the eye. I refuse to read blogs with white print on black backgrounds. They’re simply too hard on my eyes. I didn’t want a stark white page either, and so I chose a subtle blue.

Have you ever noticed how many major social media platforms use various shades of blue? Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype all use blue, a calming, relaxing colour. As a background, it tends to disappear rather than distracting the eye. Blue also represents communication which definitely makes sense for a blog!

And now, I want your opinion. Do you think I was successful in coming up with a simple, attractive, and easy to read format? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? After all, the blog is for you, the reader!

Reflections

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I’ve been reflecting a lot on last week’s post about what it means to be an evangelical Christian; a teller of good news.

Why? Why do we, as evangelical Christians, believe that it is our responsibility to share our faith with others? Not every faith does this. So why do we?

Well, first of all, as I mentioned last week, the Bible very clearly instructs us to. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) 

But why? Why does the Bible tell us to do that?

Is it to earn Brownie points with God? To earn our way into heaven? Sadly, there are faiths that take that approach, but that is not true Christianity.

Is it to grow our churches? To put more butts in our pews? To add dollars to our offering plates? I certainly hope not for that is not true Christianity either!

Is it to attempt to make the rest of the world more like us? Again, I hope not! Sadly, some early Christian missionaries equated evangelizing with Westernizing, but that was never God’s intent nor should it be ours.

It all comes down to that Greek word, euangelion, which means good news.

After all, if you have good news, aren’t you eager to tell someone? If you found the cure to cancer, wouldn’t you want to share it?

We believe that we have found something even better, the key to living an abundant life now and forever! Jesus said it himself. ” I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Isn’t that news worth sharing?

Is it arrogant to believe that we have found the one true way? It might seem that way, but if there is really one true God, doesn’t it make sense that he might offer one true way? Isn’t it at least worth considering? The opportunity to do that is what the true evangelical Christian is offering.

Jesus also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

 

What is an Evangelical Christian anyway?

Christian terminology can be confusing even to Christians. We have a tendency to use words that aren’t part of the everyday vernacular of most people and sometimes we don’t even agree on what they mean!

When the word evangelical entered the conversation at our dinner table recently, a non-Christian guest asked what it meant. I was embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t readily come up with a clear and concise definition off the top of my head.

Then came the media reports of unprecedented flooding when Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas forcing more than 30 000 people from their homes and leaving the area in a devastating state of emergency. When it came to light that Lakewood Church, one of the largest churches in the United States, pastored by televangelist Joel Osteen, allegedly refused to open their doors to hurricane victims seeking shelter, the media had a heyday. Mainstream and social media immediately began to paint all evangelical Christians with the same brush. Ignoring the fact that hundreds of them were, in fact, slogging through the mud and water striving to bring help and hope where it was so badly needed, evangelicals everywhere were suddenly uncaring hypocrites.

Please don’t get me wrong! If Lakewood Church did, in fact, turn a blind eye to those in dire need, they acted in a most unChristlike manner and deserve no one’s sympathy. Personally, due to conflicting news reports, I have no idea what really happened at Lakewood or why. I do know that I have problems with Joel Osteen’s theology as he preaches what is often referred to as the “prosperity gospel” or “health and wellness gospel” which teaches that that financial blessing and physical well-being will always come to those who have enough faith. This could not be further from the message of the Bible. Rather than guaranteeing them a life of ease, Christ told his followers that “In this life you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) If wealth was a legitimate goal for the Christian, Jesus would have pursued it himself. Instead, he was a poor itinerant teacher with “no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) In fact, the only disciple who concerned himself with financial wealth was Judas Iscariot.

I am not here, however, to defend or attack Lakewood Church or their pastor. I simply want to correct my own shortcoming and ensure that from now on when I use a term like evangelical, I know for sure what I’m talking about and can clearly communicate it to someone else!

So what exactly is an evangelical Christian?

Christian is the easy part. The term, first used in Acts 11:26, simply means a follower of Jesus Christ. But what makes us evangelicals?

That term comes from the Greek “euangelion” which means good news. An evangelical Christian, then, is simply a follower of Christ who believes that it is important to tell others the good news that through his death on the cross, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins and that by his resurrection, he conquered death and provides everlasting life to all who follow him. It is a message of divine intervention; a message of hope for mankind who, no matter how hard we try, cannot save ourselves.

In the public arena, however, the phrase evangelical Christian is used in different ways, some of them derogatory. For some, it is simply a title used to differentiate between Christian denominations. Generally speaking, evangelical denominations are those that believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and that individual believers must accept Christ’s gift of salvation for themselves and enter into a personal relationship with God. For others, the term is equivalent to “wing nut”, “intolerant extremist”, or “right-wing, fundamentalist Republican”. There is no doubt that holding to the fundamentals of the Bible will result in a certain worldview, but being an evangelical Christian most definitely does not demand allegiance to a specific political party!

In reality, all Christians should be evangelical Christians; tellers of good news! The Bible very clearly instructs us “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)