by Dan Parker
picture taken from toptenpack.com
A man alone is in no way, shape or form an island. More familiarly put, no man is an island. Often times we may feel as though we are alone. We will never be truly alone. I took a long deserving walk with my best friend a few weekends ago, and while we were out I happened to admire something. A regular, nondescript, little bench on the side of the walking trail. I’m sure that many walk past without observing the little details, but I try to take notice of the little things. If you ever stop to read the small, faded memory in the center of most benches they have typical dedications or names and dates. This emotional footnote I couldn’t help to admire. “A man for all seasons”. If one were to break form their daily grind at that spot you would be serenaded by the ambience of creation. The sound of a small stream babbling off into the distance not far off. Seeing the invisible wisps of crisp autumn air brushing away the remaining foliage from the low hanging boughs and branches. Most notably however, would be that it was set a fork in the trail system, in whichever path you found yourself continued on would take you over a humble, aged wood bridge. How often do we neglect the time we are given to do something as simple as to just stop and think. To contemplate our surroundings, priorities or our seasons. To reflect and just be still.
A Season For Pain
That sounds strange though, doesn’t it? Why would anyone want that. I mean it though to be synonymous with change in every form. Our thoughts can become our realities. If you wrestle with the pain of the death or loss of a loved one, mourn them for a season but celebrate the rest. Remember the seasons of love they gave and shared. How you loved them. If commit to something and fail, remember that it is in our failings that we can see our successes. Edison found hundreds of ways of how “not” to build a working light bulb before finding one that worked. Don’t give up, after all… no pain no gain.
A Season of Compromise
Too often that is a word that we feel benches us in times we think we have game. We think that it weakens our resolve. When we put the care and needs of others, healthily, before us we can create a greater positive. What comes around, goes around. The more we give, the more we receive. If we do things purely, then stronger our relationships become. It’s simple, yet hard. At times, it goes against our judgements, but if compromise builds someone up without cutting ourselves down, then at some point it will be returned.
A Season of Tolerance
When do we draw a line in the sand declaring who is right and who is wrong. Whose beliefs, lifestyles or political allegiances are right. Which are truths? If what’s true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me than what if my truth says yours is a lie, is it still true? Does it matter? Start viewing opinions as days; good or bad, we all have them. Tolerance can be debated or compromised, but should never be indifferent. Or indecisive. Be meaningful with your intentions. Accept people’s differences. You don’t have to agree with their decisions, but you should treat them with respect.
A Season of Inflection
How we carry ourselves has a lot of weight, but more so do our words. How we say things. The emphasis of the inflection. We can severe ties by emphasising the wrong aspect of our sentiments. We can change good humour into cutting remarks of pure cynicism. Speak with love. Exude it even in the pain.
There are so many things that we could give a season to, but sometimes by recognizing that even when the light-hearted moments are overshadowed, we slide into a new season of life. But be in your season, and let it build into you.
by Charlotte O
picture take from static.pexels.com
I’ve lived in Taiwan for over 10 years. And during that time I’ve learned Mandarin Chinese. As a second-language learner, I often have to find a workaround to try and communicate what I want to say. If I don’t know a specific word, I may describe it until someone gets my meaning. I have a memory from my first Christmas season; a mere 2 months into the journey, when I really wanted to try to tell people something about the significance of the holiday. All I could really manage was a line from the Chinese Christmas song I’d been memorizing, which found me telling people like the cashiers at the 7-11 that I frequented in (my very broken) Chinese: Merry Christmas! Jesus came to the earth! I don’t know what I was hoping to accomplish, but I doubt much was achieved from that. Since then, I’ve had many, many opportunities to share my testimony and the Gospel in both Chinese and English. But even when you are speaking the same language as someone, it can be hard to clearly communicate when it comes to telling others about God.
Do you ever stop and listen to yourself when you’re talking to Christian friends? Are you fluent in ‘Christianese”? Since I tend to spend a lot of time in church circles, I’m pretty familiar with the Chinese version of ‘Christianese’ though it was quite frustrating to me initially to learn that there was a specific term for “serving” that is ONLY used in the context of a church (perhaps roughly translated as serving in ministry). I soon discovered that if I tried to use these words in everyday conversation that I’d get strange looks. Why is it that we need to spiritualize things we do like service, fellowship, offering? And is it actually taking us away from the heart and spirit of it when we remove it so far from every-day language? Maybe it would be helpful to us to rethink what we mean when we use the word fellowship? Does it mean eating food at a church potluck? Is it restricted to spiritual conversations and locations? Or is it simply life-giving friendship?
How can we be careful to use language that won’t alienate ‘seekers’ (oops there I go again)? Maybe it starts with the problem that we so rarely even talk to people outside of our Christian bubble, that we’ve gotten used to the lingo. Unfortunately, it really does make it seem like we belong to an exclusive social club. So how do I communicate that knowing Jesus has changed my life without the person I’m talking to getting lost in medium? If the medium is the message, how can we share deeper truths in an accessible way?
Part of my work involves writing English Bible study materials that can be used for a diverse group of people. The content should be relatable for those of all ages, educational backgrounds, and familiarity with Christianity. It should avoid leading questions, and slowly ease into critical thinking questions, made for those who came through an educational system where critical thinking is not typically taught. It must somehow cause these people to engage with the scriptures on a deeper level, while mostly asking surface-level questions. Is this an impossible task? It can certainly feel like it sometimes. And I’m thankful to work with a team of people who can speak to different areas of this. Writing these lessons has caused me to question my own assumptions about Christianity and realize just how much my worldview is tied to my upbringing in a western, Christian family. It also reminds me that things that are obvious to me as someone who has been studying the bible for over two decades might be completely foreign to others.
As I’ve adopted the language and culture here, I’ve come to (slowly) understand a different worldview too. There are things that I don’t know how to perfectly express in English now, even though I understand what they mean here. Moreover, there are cultural faux pas I’m aware of in sharing the Gospel here. One example is the fact that the Chinese word for “sin” and “crime” are the same, which affects the way you explain sin to someone. This is also colored by the predominantly Buddhist mindset that humans are basically good and just need to realize it, though I’ve also heard people suggest that some people are born good, while others are born bad. Maybe it’s like the yin and yang balance of the universe. In any case, The Four Spiritual Laws may not make sense to people here.
I recently read the book about another Jesus-follower who crossed cultures to share the story of God. The book, In the Land of Blue Burqas shares the way Kate McCord used stories to relate biblical principles to her Muslim friends and neighbors. I found it to be so inspiring, and definitely put it on the recommended reading list. She used teacups, wells, and backpacks as illustrations, basically whatever was around her. And she could see the message being communicated. The amazing thing was how people who were fundamentally opposed to Christianity could still recognize truths about forgiveness, generosity, and even God when they heard it. In a way, any time you’re talking to someone with no background or interest in Christianity, you are reaching across cultures. If you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, many of the things you have to say will sound like foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). But people respond to sincerity, relate to deeper truths (you can just feel in your soul when something is true, can’t you?), and look for hope. Let’s be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have. (1 Peter 3:15)
Above all, when communicating the good news, we look to the example of Jesus. He very often spoke in stories, using examples that were simple (from cooking, eating, cleaning), relatable to the culture (farming, fishing), sometimes humorous (like a camel through the eye of a needle), and often poignant (like the lost son returning home). So what stories do I have from my own life that I can share? What examples can I use that relate to the culture I’m in? Before I can figure this out, I need to know the culture and people, and find a way to get in touch with what they think about and care about. I also need to continually be living the story of God in my life. It’s great to be able to talk about the blessings he has given you and the lessons he has taught you. But you can only do that if you’re in the regular habit of learning lessons and counting blessings! People are not necessarily interested in being preached at, but in my context, as a foreigner in an Asian country, people are VERY curious about why I’m here and what my experiences have been that may be different from theirs. My white skin is a conversation starter, whether I like it or not.
This is the second article in a 3-part series I’m writing about missions. You can read part 1 here.
picture taken from freeuse.io
by David Ritz
HOW CAN I TALK TO MY NON-CHRISTIAN FRIENDS/ROOMMATES ABOUT JESUS WITHOUT SCARING THEM OFF?
What a fantastic question! I love talking about my faith with non-believers, it used to scare me a lot. I didn’t know any tools, or techniques or anything (still don’t actually). But as my faith began to become part of who I am, I come to relish opportunities to talk about the most important thing in my life. I don't have any programmatic, 5 guaranteed ways to talk to your friends about Jesus without scaring them, but I do have some things we need to consider.
The first thing that you need is to just know why and what you believe. It’s not enough to just know facts about something, but why do you actually believe it. Why do you believe it? How does it change you, or does it change you? These are important questions to sit with.
The other major part is you need Holy Spirit help. A close relationship with the Holy Spirit (it’s His work anyhow), is important. He is the one who opens up doors, He plants seeds, He waters, we just get to join in on the work. When you wake up, pray for an opportunity. Look for them, be vigilant, in a non-creepy way.
We need to love our neighbours (family, friends, roommates) unconditionally and with a lot of grace. Especially your roommates. Your roommates are going to get to know you in ways that no one else will. Be quick to forgive, quick to serve, find ways to love, and bless them, often. Could be that you know they are coming home late and won’t have energy to cook supper, leave them a plate from what you have made. Even if they aren’t thankful.
Be sure that you do not put on airs. Be open and honest with your questions, difficulties, but show how you work through them. Being a follower of Jesus is not going to guarantee that you have no problems like no financial problems. But leaning into who God is (a good Dad who takes care of His children), trusting in His provision, and watching how He provides is proof! It is how we go through difficulty, how we deal with life situations as they come up firm in our identity in Christ, is what will make people ask questions.
I think also, listen to their stories. We use a term called “Gospel fluency” which is essentially, listening to other people’s stories and learning to hear how people are already seeking God. Then the next step would be to connect it to how the gospel answers how they are seeking God. In other words, what do people seek to provide them comfort, security, peace, and identity.
I don’t think there is any “method” that works necessarily. But to summarize, pray and fast often for opportunities, listen to the Holy Spirit, bless often, and listen to their stories. Hold back their hair when they puke, clean up after them, and expect no thanks in return.
by Dan Parker
picture taken from www.the-peak.ca
Growing up is a very strange concept in there of itself. I am not sure how else to phrase that sentiment. If you were to ask a kid what it is that they aspire to be when they reach adulthood, chances are that you would in all likelihood receive a response that all be in a similar chord. They might tell you something that would be a noble endeavour such as an educator, medical professional, maybe someone with an athletic aptitude. Or more notably someone heroic. Someone who saves people from buildings. Someone who serves and protects. Someone who works for justice and lady liberty. A role model. A super hero. When I was a kid, I just wanted to grow up. Be a man. My own kind of man. To bee responsible for my own fate. To be in control of my own destiny. How things change.
I, like most nowadays, am prone to frequent binge watching shows that pander to my humanistic conflict. Epics sagas of heroism. It’s become undauntedly clear that what started out as child’s play is now a huge societal genre. We still dream in Technicolor. We still identify with the protagonist more often than not. We want to both fit in, and yet change the shape of the world around us. The world in which we live.
With great power comes great responsibility. Relatable, even without feeling as though we are at odds with the overwhelming guilt of stumbling over the original sin. We all have power. And responsibility. Any cognitive man, woman, even child should be able to attest to that. There is always a price to pay for our actions. For every action, a reaction. Every word we speak has the power to hurt or help. The tongue is a double edged sword. Do we use it to build up or to tear down? We are responsible. Our conscious perception aides to the governing of ourselves. Do we extend our hand? Or do we clench our fists?
I’m the best there is at what I do. What is it exactly that I am the best at, or what I do? Well, that I am still trying to figure out myself, but I do know this; what I do, if I do it right, is easier to explain then if I do it wrong. Mistakes will be made, but through such, learning will occur. It is a process, to without ego, to picture things as if we were ordained to do them. That we are created to be the best. Taking each day and giving it our all, would we not positively affect our environments? It wont always be easy, but seldom are the things worth doing.
Let the devil out. Its said that the devil is in the details. How true is that. We spend or waste precious breath by skirting our demons. Our problems will confront us. Key word being front. By passing the buck, point fingers and placing blame we lose our identity. We get lost in the translation. Make the choice to own up to things. Take accountability, especially should something go sideways. We allow ourselves to wind up painting into a corner by negativity and fears. Fear of unknowns. Of False Evidence Appearing Real. Shortcomings are not shortcuts, but when we identify them they can become building blocks of character.
Truth, justice and the American way. When we can be honest with ourselves, we inherently become honest with those around us. When we pursue the valiance of integrity, than justice is equal for all. Our morals and the standings thereof are consummately upheld. Leading to last of the three. It is given to the previous virtues. It becomes second nature and the by-product of freedom is formed. Freedom of speech. Freedom of choice. Of individualism, and the gift of religious freedom.
Its not how we hit the mat, but how we get up. We emit our inner beings by outward displays of love, courage and compassion. Our truths defined by our actions. Even when we struggle, stumble and fall. it is the characteristic of change. Next time you feel, or see someone who is down and out, think that maybe the change needed isn’t always monetary.
“I said yep. What a concept. I could use a little fuel myself, and we could all use a little change.” - Smashmouth
picture taken from ltottawa.files.wordpress.com
by David Ritz
Remembering. It is what we are supposed to do every November 11. We remember sacrifices our grandfathers (great grandfathers in some cases) made in WWI, and by extension other military conflicts. People who gave up their lives so that others may experience life.
I have stood as a soldier in many November 11th ceremonies, at times part of the firing party in the 21 gun salute, other times just part of the crowd. It was always amazing to me to go back to the legion to sit with the vets as they recounted their stories. Sometimes they were extremely hard to understand, so instead we would just raise our glasses and drink when they did. Young soldiers would stand in awe of the veterans with long lines of medals on their chest. Now it is a time when we even have friends that were lost in conflicts in Afghanistan and other modern conflicts. As a person who has served, you are quietly contemplative of those who have gone before you.
Remembering is an important thing. “Lest we forget” is the slogan of Remembrance Day here in Canada. As a 16 year old when I was in Germany as a high school exchange student, we visited Sachsenhausen in Berlin. A smaller, lesser known death camp. It shook me to the core. Even 50+ years later it was a hauntingly, heavy place to go. I wept when I watched the episode on Band of Brothers when they discovered the death camp. It still gets me.
Why is it important to remember? What role does remembering serve for a believer? The act of remembering is something important to believers. The Scriptures are rife with exhortations to “remember”. In Exodus, before Israel is released from Egypt, just prior to the angel of the Lord slaying the firstborn, the Israelites were told to prepare for the passover. They were given a specific set of instructions for the feast, the function of this feast was to “observe this even as an ordinance for you and your children…And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians but spared our homes.’” (Exodus 12:24,26-27)(All Scripture citations are New American Standard unless otherwise indicated).
After crossing the Jordan river in Joshua 5, they were instructed to take up stones and make a memorial to remember that God dried up the land before them. There are many other narratives, and accounts in the Old Testament of setting up stones, to remember what God had done. Psalms are also filled with remembering many of the accounts to remind Israel how much God pursued them and pulled them out of captivity. Why is this important?
Remembering is important because our memories are so very short. Not soon after witnessing the complete devastation of Egypt, seeing God Himself walk among them (Exodus 24), Israel was worshiping a golden calf. Biblically speaking, it is important for Christians to remember what God has done. It is easy to forget the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12), sometimes it is good to sit with what God has rescued us out of, and be joyfully grateful. We can look in our current situation and sit in awe of what God may do to rescue and redeem us currently.
Christians are quick to bemoan the commercialism of Christmas, and Easter, or downplay their importance because of “evil” roots, or perhaps sometimes those of us who come from a Protestant, evangelical background may not appreciate the richness of a church calendar, which was designed to remind us about the story of God. But if we think of these events to help remember and contemplate the birth of Jesus, and the most incredible act of love with Jesus’ death on the cross, they become so much more then just another commercialized holiday.
So November 11th. Whatever your leanings are towards pacifism or “grab the shotgun ma!” Take the time to remember and thank God that there were those who were willing (in some cases conscripted), to go and answer the call to stand up to tyrannical forces. Thank God for this time of peace here in North America.
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