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.”

 

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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) 

We aren’t what we wear

logoI recently had an interesting conversation with two young women that I tutor. Members of the Old Colony Mennonites who have been relocating to Canada from Mexico in recent years, they wear traditional dresses and kerchiefs. I’ve been teaching them to read, a skill they didn’t have the opportunity to learn as children. One of their many reasons for wanting to learn to read  is so that they can read the Bible, so we’ve been using a children’s Bible story book as one of our texts.

“Do we have different Bibles or do we just understand it differently?” M asked me after one of our recent sessions. “Our Bible says that we should wear dresses and cover our heads,” she continued. She was clearly referring to the fact that I don’t dress that way.

So what does the Bible actually say?

“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.” Deuteronomy 22:5

We talked about what that might mean and M was quick to point out that though we might both wear blue jeans, her husband would never wear a top like I was wearing. No one would confuse me with a man because of the way I was dressed!

There was a time, not too long ago, when regardless of what they wore during the week, everyone dressed up to go to church on Sunday morning. Heaven forbid that a woman should wear pants or a man show up without shirt and tie! Thankfully, for many of us, that has changed.

Several years ago, before it became commonplace, I made the very intentional decision to begin wearing blue jeans to church. I don’t wear them every Sunday, but I do make a habit of wearing them quite often.

Why?

There were several young families in our church at the time who were struggling to get their teens to come to church on Sunday mornings. One of the issues of contention was what they wore. The kids rebelled at the idea of having to dress up. It always boggled my mind that anyone would consider one fabric (blue denim) less holy than another and rebel that I am, I felt that if I, sometimes considered a leader in the church, wore jeans, the younger parents might feel more comfortable allowing their kids to do the same.

Who knows? Maybe someday my young Mennonite friends might feel comfortable dressing more casually too. In the meantime, they wear their dresses and I wear my jeans and we have a wonderful time together! After all,

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Blessings in the ordinary and mundane

What are some of the most ordinary, mundane tasks that you perform on a regular basis? Have you ever thought about the fact that there are blessings hidden in every one of them?

I hadn’t either until I was doing my Bible study homework yesterday. Our ladies group has recently started doing Priscilla Shirer’s study, Gideon: Your Weakness, God’s Strength. In yesterday’s lesson, she asked us to list five ordinary tasks that we perform every day. That was the easy part. Later in the lesson she had us look back at the list and beside each task, write down what it indicates about God’s faithfulness and kindness to us.

Referring to the fact that Gideon had wheat to thresh despite the hardships and oppression that he and his people were facing (Judges 6:1-11), she wrote:

“Gideon’s story reveals that even your most mundane duty has a twinkle in the favour of God, for if He removed His blessings completely from you – taking away your home, your family, your work, your possessions – the need for many of your daily tasks would disappear. Don’t despise the very things that signify your seat under the umbrella of God’s goodness each day.”

What an eye opener this simple exercise was for me! One of the tasks that I wrote down was brushing my teeth. Is there anything more ordinary or mundane than that? What could possibly be the hidden blessing? Then I thought about the fact that I have access to unlimited clean, healthy water. I am not in danger of contracting a water borne disease every time I brush my teeth! Globally, approximately twice the population of the United States, or some 6.63 million people, do not have access to clean, safe water! 1.6 million people die every year from diarrheal diseases, including cholera, due to their lack of safe water and basic sanitation. Many more are plagued by tropical diseases and intestinal parasites.

Getting dressed is another routine task that we all engage in, so what’s the hidden blessing? I have a closet full of clothes to choose from and the financial resources to buy more if I ‘need’ them, while there are many who have nothing but the rags on their back. I can even blog about my wardrobe! (Come back tomorrow for the second instalment of my new Fashion Friday! feature.)

Cleaning the bathrooms is one of my least favourite household tasks, but when I consider that approximately 1/3 of the world’s population doesn’t even have a toilet to clean, I know how blessed I am! Astonishingly, more people worldwide have a cell phone than a toilet! Almost one billion people still defecate in the open, a practice that leads to the spread of disease and the contamination of drinking water sources. I don’t mind using an outhouse when I’m camping, but after living and travelling in parts of the world where I rejoiced when I found a western toilet to use instead of a “squatty potty”, I’m pretty thankful to be blessed with toilets to clean!

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. There are hidden blessings in all our humdrum, routine tasks if only we have the eyes to see them!

What are some of your least favourite tasks? What are the blessings hidden in them?

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Pilgrimage

If you know me personally or have been reading my blog for very long, you know that my husband and I love to travel and you may not be surprised to learn that we’re busy preparing for another trip. I included a hint to our destination in my last post, but no one guessed where we’re going. Since I’m bursting at the seams with excitement and can hold it in no longer…

Richard and I are leaving Canada on January 21st for a ten day tour of Israel! Although we’ve explored a number of fascinating places over the years, I don’t know if I’ve ever been as excited about a trip as I am about this one. When someone asked me recently if it was a mission trip or a vacation, I wasn’t sure how to answer. It’s definitely not a mission trip, but I hadn’t really been thinking of it as a vacation either. So what is it? Our pastor came up with the perfect term. We’re going on a pilgrimage!

Pilgrimage, a journey undertaken for a religious motive. Although some pilgrims have wandered continuously with no fixed destination, pilgrims more commonly seek a specific place that has been sanctified by association with a divinity or other holy personage. (www.britannica.com)

Knowing that I’m going to stand on Mount Carmel where the prophet Elijah called down the fire of God and the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus Christ delivered his Sermon on the Mount; enjoy a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus calmed the storm and walked on water; float in the Dead Sea; visit Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, and Nazareth where he spent his childhood; pray in the Garden of Gethsemane and view the modern city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives almost takes my breath away. These are just a few of the highlights of our very busy itinerary!

I’ve prepared differently for this trip than for any other. For me, doing lots of research before a trip is part of the fun of traveling, but this time I’ve done less of that and a lot more spiritual preparation. On Christmas Eve, I started reading through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in my NKJV Chronological Study Bible. Frequently referring to the maps at the back of the book, I jotted down the various locations and what happened at each of them. I’ve read all these accounts many times before, but this is the first time I’ve specifically focused on where things happened and it has really helped tie everything together. I finished that today and will spend the next few days looking at some Old Testament references.

As always, God’s timing is impeccable. My ladies Bible study group recently started doing Beth Moore’s study, Stepping Up, on the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120 to 134). In ancient times, Israelite pilgrims sang these psalms as they made their way up to the holy city of Jerusalem for the three great festivals of the Jewish calendar: Passover, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. What fitting preparation for my own pilgrimage which will culminate in that very city!

Of course, when people hear where we’re going, some of them think we’re crazy. “Aren’t you afraid?” they ask. No, I can honestly say that I’m not. I’m not naive; I know what’s been happening in that part of the world, but afraid? Not in the slightest. I feel a deep sense of peace knowing that we’ll be as much in the palm of God’s hand in Israel as we are anywhere else on the planet. We are going on a guided tour though. We’ve wandered some pretty sketchy parts of Asia on our own, but I do draw the line at the Middle East. There, I want the safety of a group and a reputable tour company that has sent hundreds of people and brought them all home safely.

We’ll be staying in some pretty nice hotels where Wifi will be available, but this is the trip of a lifetime and I don’t plan to spend it sitting at a keyboard. The blog will be silent while I’m away, but I will have lots to share when we return!

Why the rainbow?

What I’m about to say will probably be offensive to some, but I’m going to say it anyway because I am also offended. I understand that there are those who are celebrating the US Supreme Court’s historic decision to legalize same sex marriage across that nation, but I am offended by the rainbows that are cropping up everywhere. I was offended when I came to WordPress to write this post and found a rainbow banner plastered across the top of the page. I was offended when I went to Facebook today and encountered numerous rainbowed profile pictures.

Don’t get me wrong. Am I offended because people are using Facebook’s rainbow filter to express their sexual orientation or to show support for gay friends and/or loved ones? No! I am offended in the same way that I take offence to non Christians taking Christ out of Christmas and Easter. I am offended because the LGBT community chose as their symbol something that God used to symbolize something entirely different. Personally, I think there’s significance in that.

So, how did the rainbow become a symbol of gay pride? For some, it’s many colours simply represent diversity within the LGBT community. The rainbow flag was originally designed by San Francisco artist, Gilbert Baker, in the 1970s and had eight stripes: hot pink to represent sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for serenity in nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit. The pink stripe was eliminated first when Baker approached a company to mass produce the flags and discovered that hot pink fabric was not available commercially. Given what the flag stands for, I find it quite hilarious that he simply chose to eliminate the stripe representing sex! Indigo was later removed to give the flag an even number of stripes. Again, I find it a bit odd that the stripe representing harmony was removed. If there is anything that’s needed where this topic is concerned, it’s harmony!

But, why am I offended by this use of the rainbow? Christian or not, you are probably familiar with the biblical story of Noah’s ark. According to Genesis 6, a time came when “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Perhaps, a time not so different from our own! We are told that God “was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.” As a result, He decided to send a flood to wipe out mankind, but He chose to preserve one family, the family of a righteous man named Noah, to begin again. When the flood waters finally receded and Noah’s family, as well as the animals that had been preserved with them, were able to leave the ark, Genesis 9 tells us that God made a covenant with them that never again would flood waters destroy all life on earth. Then, He set a rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise.

“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”  Genesis 9:16 NIV

That’s the rainbow I’m thankful for; a symbol of hope in a world that often seems devoid of hope! We live in a time of moral decay and depravity, but our God has promised not to send the flood waters to swallow us up! I take offence to the symbol of that promise being used for anything else, most especially something that I do not believe my God would celebrate.

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As always, I invite you to leave a comment. Given the controversial nature of this topic, however, I urge you to do as I have tried to do and express your views without attacking anyone.

Five at a time!

I love books and I’m an avid reader but with the exception of my Bible, I rarely read more than one book at a time. Though it probably happened back in my university days when textbooks and research papers were the bane of my life, I don’t ever remember reading five at a time before or since! Such an occasion seemed worthy of a blog post especially since I’ve been thinking about following the lead of fellow blogger, Kari Ann, who posted “Five Things Friday” on her Outside Air blog last week.

So what am I reading and why so many books at once?

Bible

In addition to using a daily devotional booklet that takes me all over the Bible, I’m almost always somewhere in the middle of reading the scriptures from Genesis through to Revelation. For this purpose, I like to use a chronological Bible, one that puts the stories of scripture into the actual order that they happened. I find it so much easier to understand the big picture that way. I’ve read through my New International Version chronological text several times, but this time I chose the New King James Version Chronological Study Bible. I’m not a fan of daily reading plans that take you through the Bible in one year. To me, reading the Bible is not a ritual or a race. I like to immerse myself in the scriptures, seeking to understand what they’re saying to me about how I ought to live my life. I’ve read the entire Bible in less than a year, but most often it takes me considerably longer. With its illustrations, fascinating background and daily life notes, timelines, maps and charts to help bring the cultures and people of biblical times alive, this one could take me two years and that’s okay.

7 ways

I’m not going to air our dirty laundry here, but Richard and I have hit a rough patch in our marriage. To be entirely honest, it’s actually more like we’ve fallen into a sinkhole or gone careening off a cliff, but long term marriages are like that sometimes and we’re working on it. Since we’re both academically minded, we tend to turn to books for help at times like this. He went to a Promise Keepers conference last weekend and came home with this one, 7 Ways to Be Her Hero by Doug Fields. He read it in a couple of sittings so I thought it must be worth looking at. It’s written for men by a man, but Fields acknowledges that “some women will sneak around and read it (and will most definitely get something out of it).” The book, which he originally wanted to call How Not to Suck as a Husband, is written in colloquial man-speak that is fun and easy to read. It’s definitely not a textbook! I read eight of its ten chapters in one sitting last night and all I can say is that I’d like to give it back to my husband and tell him to read it again, memorize it and put it into practice. It’s that good!

Love & Respect

This is another one that I’m hoping might help us through the rough patch. Based on more than three decades of counselling, as well as scientific and biblical research, Love & Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerich is based on the premise that a wife’s greatest need is to feel loved while a husband needs to feel respected. We’ve decided to go through this one together, reading and discussing one chapter a day. It definitely isn’t as fun and engaging as 7 Ways and we’ve only read the first two chapters so it’s a bit too early to pass judgment but I think it does make some good points and it’s already provided a good jumping off spot for discussion.

Outlaw

This is another one that we’re reading together along with two other couples that we meet with for a weekly time of prayer and Bible study. Sadly, it’s been a huge disappointment. John Eldredge is probably best known for his first book, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. I have to wonder if he wrote Beautiful Outlaw simply hoping to cash in on the success of the earlier book. He attempts to introduce the reader to the real Jesus by squashing typical stereotypes and focusing on what he calls Jesus’ playful, disruptive, and extravagant personality. He spends most of the first three chapters dwelling on Jesus’ playfulness. While I expect that our Lord did have a playful, exuberant side, I don’t think that a single one of the scriptures that Eldredge uses points to that. In addition, as one of our group so aptly put it, he could have said everything in the first three chapters in three sentences. As a group, we’ve decided to read and discuss two or three chapters a week instead of just one so that we can get through it sooner and move onto something else. My assessment of this one is that it’s just fluff!

Rainbow

And finally, book #5, the novel that I’m reading for sheer enjoyment. When our small town librarian saw me looking over the shelf of recently acquired books, she pointed to The Dark Side of the Rainbow by Caren Powell and told me to try that one. “I thought of you when I bar coded it,” she said. “It looked like an Elaine book.” She knows what I like to read and hasn’t steered me wrong yet. According to editor, Ann Westlake, “The Dark Side of the Rainbow tells of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa – a country struggling with racism, fear and determination.” She calls it “a wonderful, endearing blend of characters, scenery and history.” I’m still in the early pages so I’m just getting to know those characters but I can hardly wait to dig deeper. Caren Powell lived in South Africa for 38 years during the apartheid era and the changeover to democracy. She and her husband owned a farm there and much of the detail in the book was drawn from her personal experiences.

It’s unusual for me to have so many books on the go at once but tonight’s choice is easy. I’m going to read the last two chapters of 7 Ways and then escape to The Dark Side of the Rainbow!