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Archive for May, 2010

Extreme Christianity

May 31, 2010 1 comment

By Karen Gross

I recently posted an article on the web about Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who has been labeled a religious extremist by members of the press for his support of the Harper government’s stance against funding abortions in the developing world. When a reporter asked specifically about rape and abortion, he stated “Why should we push a woman who has been the victim of a crime to commit one of her own?”

He later told reporters: “I understand very well that a woman who’s been raped is dealing with trauma and that she needs to be helped. But she needs to do so with respect for the being that is in her womb. It is not responsible for what happened. It’s the rapist who is responsible. But there’s already a victim. Do we need to have another one?” He said taking a human life “is always a moral crime” and, he added, “A fetus is a human life.”

The public outcry over this remark has been swift and brutal. Montreal’s La Presse columnist Patrick Lagace compared the cardinal to the Iranian imam Kazem Sedighi, who recently suggested scantily clad women were to blame for natural disasters.

Mr. Lagace went on to say: “Cardinal Ouellet will die someday. I hope he dies from a long and painful illness…Yes; the paragraph I’ve just written is vicious. But Marc Ouellet is an extremist. And in the debate against religious extremists, every shot is fair game.”

It is a sad commentary on our society that most people are not outraged at this malicious and libellous attack on a member of the clergy. We have come to expect this disrespect of all things sacred from the secular press. What I find especially disturbing is the ever expanding definition of what constitutes “religious extremism.”

Last week I got into an online conversation with a few atheists about religious extremists. One fellow told me that I definitely qualified. I asked what they defined as extreme religion. The general consensus is that anyone who believes that the Bible is the word of God and tries to convince others that there is only one way to eternal life is an extremist.

What I find rather appalling is the venomous outcry against any public declaration of Christian belief. Saying that ‘abortion is murder’ is an attack on women’s rights. Saying that’ homosexual behaviour is a sin’ is a violation of human rights. ‘Quoting the Bible’ is inciting hatred. ‘Teaching children that God is real’ is child abuse. ‘Teaching children that hell is real’ is child endangerment.

By this definition, I will gladly accept the label of religious extremist. I hope that you will accept it as well. Christians are the counter-culture revolutionists now.

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God’s Perfect Timing

By Betty Madsen

I am a Bible collector. I like to have a lot of Bibles on hand in different versions of English, just in case I find someone who needs one. I like to keep them and I like to give them away.

One day at MCC I found a version of the Living Bible. It was in beautiful shape with illustrations and when I checked inside the front, I discovered it had been given to a young boy named James by his parents in 1981. I just happened to know his mother, (I will call her Irena) as we were co-workers for many years, and I even called her my “work-mom.” As I purchased the Bible, I wondered about how it got there. Would I mention it to Irena the next time we crossed paths?

I like the Living Bible translation. It is easy to read and I spend some time in this Bible. I also left a couple of ‘bookmarks’ inside – a Bible tract on salvation that I picked up from MCC as well as a PAC copy of “Who I am in Christ” with Bible references. In time, this Bible made its way into my growing Bible collection.

Not so long ago, my friend Irena’s son, James, passed away in a tragic accident. He left behind a wife and two young children. I remembered immediately that I had James’ Bible and wondered what I should do with it. Would this be the right time to give the family his childhood Bible, or would they be angry at God for “letting” something so awful happen to their son? I prayed about this and felt God nudging me to give Irena and her family James’ Bible.

My former co-workers and I paid a visit to Irena and her family. I found an opportunity to meet with her alone and I pulled out the Bible. I explained that what I was about to do might seem a bit eerie, but  I knew that God wanted them to have this. She opened up the bible to discover it was James’, and at first she was speechless. I went on to say I was a Bible collector and that I had picked it up at the MCC. Regardless of how it got there it was meant to be given back. She hugged me and finally said that this meant more to her than I could ever know. She was comforted, overwhelmed, and thankful. She had no idea how it could have ended up there. After some thought, she said it was possible that James’ took it with him to Bible camp when he was young and it got left behind, so perhaps in different hands it had been passed on to MCC. It is a mystery that only God can unravel. I told Irena that I was only a vessel that God used, and it was His Divine intention all along.  Irena could not wait to tell her family.

At James’ funeral, Irena had something more she needed to share. James’ wife, Jessica, was struggling with grief and had prayed for a sign from God that James was alright. The day after I had given Irena the Bible, Irena went to visit Jessica and her grandchildren. Jessica was upset and disclosed that she was angry at God because she had prayed for a sign and there was no response. When Irena gave her James’ Bible and explained the story behind it, Jessica was convinced this was the sign God had sent in answer to her heartfelt  prayer. James’ girls and Jessica experienced a reprieve from the intensity of their grief to know the peace from God that surpasses all understanding.

At the funeral I asked Irena if I should approach Jessica and her girls because I had never met them before. She insisted I do just that. She thought Jessica would want to know who I was. As I told Jessica my name, she hugged me before I had a chance to say anything else. I met her daughters and encouraged all of them to spend time in God’s Word in the days ahead as  He would be taking care of them.

Irena shared with me a couple of months later that Jessica and her girls were going to be baptized in faith. Regardless of her personal indifference to God while growing up, Jessica was sought out and moved by the Spirit of God. She and her children are responding in faith. Out of sorrow came blessing.

I have to admit I get goose bumps ever time I think about how this all worked out. Anyone who is willing to follow God can and will be used b Him to accomplish His purposes, in His timing and in the most mysterious ways. That’s how god uses ordinary people to do some extraordinary things.

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Living in the Present

By Corey Willms

It is such a neat experience to be a parent, because I have never been on this side of unconditional love in quite the same way.  I would do anything for my son.  I have often marveled at how kind and generous my parents have been to me, and how kind and generous my wife’s parents have been to us.  They have made such tremendous sacrifices for us, and now I can see why they would want to do that.  My father-in-law and mother-in-law just spent the long weekend at our place helping us with yard work, or watching Kaj so that my wife and I could be free to do yard work.  We got a pile of stuff done.  As we watched them drive off of our yard, we talked about how grateful we were for their help.  My wife suggested that we would enjoy doing the same thing for our child(ren) someday too.  I agreed.  We looked forward to the time that we would have grandchildren.

Later that evening, my wife and I were talking about how much we love our son just the way that he is right now.  We reminisced about some of our favourite experiences from the first eight months of parenting:  when we discovered how much he liked music, when he learned to clap, the different games that we played with him which got him laughing straight from his belly, and many more memories that we had.  We were both a bit nostalgic about some of the stages of life that Kaj will never experience again, but we were mostly excited about watching his present stage and enjoying that.  My wife reiterated how important it is to live in the moment and not wish it away for the next stage.

We have caught ourselves thinking like this before, when we think that things will be better when this week is over, or when this month is done, or when we have our mortgage paid off, or whatever.  That sort of thinking robs us of enjoying the things that are right in front of us.   It also prevents us in some ways from looking for the opportunities that God is giving us in the present.  While it is good to anticipate exciting things in the future, it is important to appreciate and live in the present as completely as we can; to serve God wholeheartedly and obey Him right now.  One of my brothers-in-law challenged me once about giving.  I had said something to the effect that it would be nice to have a lot of money so that I could give more away.  Without hesitation, he asked me how I was taking steps to be generous with what I had right now.  I saw his point.  We have every opportunity to develop our character in the present by choosing to obey God.  We can become the type of people that we would be proud of by doing this.

I want to encourage you to avoid wishing your life away; but rather, to look for the things that you can appreciate, to look for the opportunities to learn, and to look for the ways that you can obey God in the present.

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Who Says I’m Entitled?

By Alison Lehman

Pain! Nobody likes it. I sure don’t. Once in awhile I get to thinking that because I am a Christian, I should be able to follow x,y, z and have a relatively simple, comfortable existence. The occasional cold or flu is expected, sure, but other than that I get to thinking I should be free from the tough stuff.  Says who?

The last few years of my life I have gotten a rude awakening… that I am NOT in control of my health and never will be. I try my best to eat the right things, with some treats thrown in there of course, and exercise (when I actually feel motivated) but either I’m not trying hard enough or God is thwarting my plans. (Sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it?)

I have not been feeling well the last couple of weeks, and I don’t mean that I have the flu or a head cold. I have complicated stomach issues that rear their ugly heads once in awhile. Lately I’ve had periods of time, (hours), when my stomach has been on fire. This is extremely uncomfortable.  I get frustrated because I think I should be able to fix this by doing and eating the right things. “If I only take the right pills, and stay away from milk, and not eat fibre, etc…then I’ll be okay.” I wish I had control, but I don’t. This condition I have is not predictable.

I was driving home from Winnipeg today after a treatment that was supposed to give me relief but it didn’t and my stomach continued to burn all the way home. I was listening to a praise and worship CD at the time and the one thing that kept me going as I drove was the thought that no matter how much pain I am ever in, God loves me. I cried a few tears from the burning but I was at peace and decided that no matter how bad it ever gets it’ll be okay, because I am secure in God’s love for me and I will trust Him in all things. No matter how much I suffer physically, I will always know that God is with me and cares for me, even in the pain.

I am not entitled to good health. When I have it, it is a gift from my Father and I will cherish it.  I need to be reminded once in awhile, also, that I am not in control. I can do my best in all things, but ultimately God calls the shots. If I am to suffer from chronic pain and discomfort, then so be it. I will try to do it with a good attitude and with gratitude for the things that God has blessed me with. Which is much!!!

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Summer Series

Surfacing

This Summer at PAC!

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Lessons From Children

By Corey Willms

Last Friday, I led the devotion time for the early years students.  We sang praise songs and did actions that corresponded to the lyrics.  It gave me goosebumps to look at all of those young faces worshipping God together.  I was filled with a renewed appreciation for how precious these young ones are in the eyes of God, and how important it is to treat them well.  It is fun for me to imagine who they will become.  Hopefully, they will be people of great integrity, great spouses and parents and great employees or employers, people who do their best to honour God in every situation and bring glory to Him.

We had the privilege of having the Watoto Children’s Choir come to our school last week, and that was a great encouragement to me as well.  I loved the high energy singing and dancing.  More remarkable, however, was the fact that these children had the odds stacked against them at such a young age as they dealt with being orphaned or abandoned, and now they had hope because someone cared for them and shared the love of Christ with them.  I will never forget those children singing the song “I am not Forgotten.”  What a testimony to how much God cares for people, as well as to the amazing things that can result when we are compassionate to those who need help.

This week, we were also fortunate to have Jenny Reitz from the House of Hope in Haiti speak to our students.  She shared many moving stories about how the House of Hope is helping young people in the aftermath of the earthquake.  She shared a powerful story about two teenage boys who were best friends and how they were reunited at the House of Hope after they both lost their families.  It was amazing to see a video clip of the children singing “Count Your Blessings.”  That was definitely a challenge for me to be thankful for the provisions that God has given to me.

I have had several reminders in the past few days of the importance of treating children well.  At Westpark, we are committed to treating our students with dignity, respect, and love.  Matthew 10:42 teaches that God cherishes even small acts of kindness to little ones, like giving them a cup of cold water when they need it.  Along the same lines, Mark 9:42 is pretty clear that mistreating young ones is a serious wrongdoing in God’s eyes.  I want to encourage you to be compassionate towards the young ones that God has placed in your life, and to use your sphere of influence to invest into their lives in positive ways.

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Arguing with Atheists – My New Ministry

May 19, 2010 1 comment

By Karen Gross

I joined a web publishing/ writers’ community about two years ago. This community has a very active, unmoderated forum; which is infamous for the uncensored, disgusting, anything-goes topics and conversations. The language used on this forum would make a sailor blush, and one of the favourite activities is Christian bashing. I spend at least an hour every day in this forum.

You may ask why I would subject myself to this environment. Go ahead and ask. It’s a good question, one that I ask myself frequently. Derek asks me even more often. It is either some masochistic force that drags me in, or a mission field to which God has sent me.

Most of the “forum dwellers” are atheists. A few are Wiccan, and others have self-made belief systems drawn from various sources. Almost all of them hate Christians, especially Christians who believe in a literal heaven and hell, and insist that Jesus is the only ticket into heaven. The Christians who draw the most wrath are those who dare to proselytize in the forum.

I had never really spent much time with atheists before. It took awhile to get accepted into their community, and there are still quite a few members who intensely dislike me and my God. My first few forays into this environment left me feeling emotionally and spiritually wounded. One of my first conversations was with three Wiccans who accused me of insulting their gods, and I was told that I should watch out, because the spirits on their side have ways of dealing with people like me. That scared me. I called the church prayer chain, and emailed many Christian friends to bathe me in prayer. Then I felt ready to go back in.

Why would I go back in? I have been called the vilest names imaginable. Fortunately I don’t know what some of them mean. But I do feel that God has uniquely prepared me for this mission. I grew up with an alcoholic father who called me vicious names, and I think that I have somewhat thicker skin than I would have had. Also, I have gained a sense of perspective about pain. I know that the worst that anyone could do to me from cyberspace is to throw words at me.

In addition to my thick skin, I am also insanely stubborn. That is similar to the godly character of perseverance. I am working on changing my stubborn behavior into perseverance. I also have a quick wit, self-deprecating humour, and a rather twisted sense of humour. I  have a bachelor degree from Providence College (back when it was called Winnipeg Bible College). I have a personal library of resource material, plus access to more online resources than I know what to do with. The benefit of communicating on a forum is that I have time to look stuff up before I answer. I am sure that I have learned more about God and the Bible during these two years of presenting and defending the faith through online witnessing than I could ever have learned if I was still healthy and still working.

I am not the only Christian in this forum. We back each other up, and we also encourage each other through personal messages. I have made some great friends. There are also many Christian writers at Triond who stay out of the forums, and we have established a unique fellowship, with Christians of many denominations from all over the world.

I have had the privilege of counseling people who are suicidal, some who have lost loved ones, and several who thought they had committed the unpardonable sin. So far, I have not led anyone to a decision to accept Christ, but there are many who grew up in the church who have been discussing their questions and the reasons that they left the church. There are also curious people who are confused between catholic traditions and Christian beliefs.

I have made friends among the atheists as well. The conversations are not always about faith. My warped sense of humour has been an asset in making friends. A few days ago, I got a personal message from an atheist who said that I was his favourite Bible basher. I’ll take that as a sign that I am where I God can use me.

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