Getting Ready for Advent – Its Time to Start Preparing.

Let Us Come As Children

Let Us Come As Children

Advent this year begins late on December 2nd. It is still over 2 months away but I already have people asking me what the theme will be for blog posts so thought that I would get an early start in focusing all of us on this important season of waiting and preparation. This year’s theme will be: Let Us Wait As Children Wait. If you want to contribute you can sign up to receive ongoing information in the Godspace Writing Community on Facebook or email me at christine@msaimagine.org for more details.

In Luke 18: 16, 17 (NLT) Jesus tells his disciples: “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (from Biblegateway.com)

I have been thinking a lot about this recently. What does it mean to come as children come? What are the attributes of children that make it possible for them to enter the Kingdom of God when those of us that are adults cannot? Last year, in a post entitled God Created the World By Imagination I wrote:

Childhood is filled with creativity and imagination, a place of mystery and wonder in which kids discover themselves, the world and the God who created it.  For a child every moment is filled with looking, listening and learning.

I love to watch children explore the world. Everything is new. Everything is exciting. Everything is worth noticing. Everything is worth questioning and every smallest pain ache and pain that others experience draws forth compassion and a desire to help. But something happens to squelch all that. Just as our excitement in waiting for the coming of our Saviour is drained by the world around us, so is the excitement and creativity of children. In my previous post I went on to say:

Schools and universities squelch creativity and imagination forcing kids to live in a world of science and technology where we convince then that flowers are made of molecules and rainbows are caused by the refraction of light. Childhood’s vivid purple clouds and yellow skies give way to the real world where clouds are always white and skies are always blue.  In this world of head knowledge compassion gives way to competition and life, we teach them, revolves around buying goods we don’t need and holding jobs we don’t enjoy.

So how do we regain the excitement, imagination and expectation of childhood? How do we regain the ability to wait for the coming of our Saviour with an anticipation that has us standing on tiptoes, asking continually Is it time yet? and maybe even more importantly, how do we maintain that same excitement and expectation in children? One of my most popular posts during Advent is this one on Celebrating Advent With Kids. People are looking for resources – and I think not just to celebrate with their kids but because many of us want to find again that childlike enthusiasm and excitement we once experienced in our faith.

There has been a lot of controversy flying around lately on how we educate our children – Tony Jones’ article Death to HomeschoolingAs he suspected and documented, homeschoolers turned out in force. My concern is that in the heat of the argument we miss the point. Children need to be allowed to be children no matter how they are schooled. And Jesus tells us to become like them.

So once again I am offering an invitation to join me during Advent and the weeks preceding it. If you would like to contribute a post for this series leave a comment here or sign up to receive ongoing information in the Godspace Writing Community on Facebook or email me at christine@msaimagine.org for more details. If you know of others who might be interested please send them the link. I hope that this series will provide us with a rich array of viewpoints from around the world so that together we grow in our faith and rediscover some of the wonder and awe of waiting for Christ as children wait.

f you want to contribute you can

How God Changes Your Brain

While I was in Canada recently I started to read a fascinating book entitled How God Changes Your Brain. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered a copy and am thoroughly enjoying reading it and reflecting on its relevance. Interestingly, the authors Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman are not writing from a Christian perspective. Andrew is a neuroscientist, Mark is a therapist. They are more interested in the impact that spiritual practices have on our physical and emotional health than on our spiritual development.

That does not reduce its importance however. I think they say some wonderful things for all people of faith to think about. They provide some very practical exercises for all of us to consider.

So here is some of what they say (quoted from the back cover of the book):

Prayer and spiritual practice don’t just reduce stress, but meditation for as little as 12 minutes a day can slow down the aging process.

Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety and depression and increases feelings of security, compassion and love.

Intense prayer and meditation lastingly change numerous structures and functions in the brain, altering your values and the way you perceive reality.

Fundamentalism can be personally beneficial, but the prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.

I know that some people find books like this threatening because they interpret them to say that God is just a chemical reaction going on in our brain. For me however they are exciting because they confirm the activity of God in my life – if God is truly at work in our lives then we should expect that his activity in our brains should create discernable changes. What do you think,

 

Ten Books That Changed My Faith

Sarah Bessey - books that changed my faith

Sarah Bessey – books that changed my faith

Sarah Bessey is currently running a series of posts on Ten Books A Day for a Week. I particularly enjoyed her Sunday post Ten Books That Changed my FaithSarah and I have obviously been influenced by some of the same books but I thought that I would put together my own list. To be honest it would be easier to list 10 authors that have influenced me because choosing one book from people such as Wlater Brueggemann, C.S. Lewis, John Stott and Henri Nouwen is impossible. However I have done my best.

Living Towards a Vision: Biblical reflections on Shalom. Walter Brueggemann. I love all of Bruggemann’s books but this was the one that started me grappling with a faith that not only embraced all of life for me as an individual but also God’s concern for the renewal and restoration of all creation.

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. As for so many other evangelical Christians, this was the first book that opened my eyes to a rich array of spiritual disciplines that i had never encountered before.

Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger by Ron Sider. I read the original version of this book just after I had worked in the refugee camps on the Thai Cambodian border in 1985. I had been exposed to depths of poverty I never realized existed. it turned my faith upside down. This book helped turn it right side up again challenging me to put concern for others and particularly the marginalized at the centre of my faith.

Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill and Douglas Morrison. This was the first Nouwen book that I read, this time after working with Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic. It is not always easy to act compassionately we we work with people in need. This book helped shape my responses.

One Thousand Gifts: by Ann Voskamp. The power of gratitude is a revolutionary discovery that has transformed my life over the last few of years and this is the book that has most helped me learn that perspective.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This is a Christian classic that was very influential in shaping my faith in my early days as a Christian.

Basic Christianity by John Stott. This was another of the classic books that shaped my early faith giving me a solid foundation in scripture and the principles of faith.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. This may seem like a strange book to have shaped my Christian faith but I read it in the mid 1960s not long after I became a Christian and the concerns it raised about pesticides and pollution radically impacted me and initiated my concerns for the environment which gradually became an important part of my Christian world view and advocacy.

What’s Right with Feminism by Elaine Storkey. This was the first book I read that made me feel that being a Christian woman did not make me a second class citizen. It gave me the confidence to pursue what God had called me to be and to do.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright. Again here is an author who has deeply influenced my life and it is hard to choose which book has influenced me the most, but I think this one is at the top of the list. So I thought that I would end with a quote from the book

Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion… 

April Synchroblog – What If Jesus Did Not Rise

resurrection of Jesus

Resurrection of Jesus

For the April 2012 Synchroblog, we are exploring the question,“What if the resurrection is a lie?”

Make no mistake, we are not challenging the historical fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. We firmly believe in the historical reality of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus.

But we also know that soon after the resurrection of Jesus, Christians were accused of inventing this story. Some critics claimed that Jesus never died. Others said that the apostles stole the body of Jesus from the grave. Today, there are countless millions of people who still believe that the resurrection is a hoax.

Here is a list of bloggers who contributed to this month’s Synchroblog. If you participated, please include this list of links on your blog!

A Prayer by Thomas A Kempis

Thomas A Kempis

Thomas A Kempis

The following prayer was written by Thomas A Kempis (1380-1471) the author of Imitation of Christ. Prayers like this are truly timeless.

Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know,

to ove what I ought to love,

to praise what delights Thee most,

to value what is precious in Thy sight,

to hate what is offensive to Thee.

Do not suffer me to judge accordig to the sight of my eyes,

nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men;

but to discern with a true judgement between things visible and spiritual,

and above all things always to inquire what is the good pleasure of Thy will.

Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus – A YouTube Phenomenon

This video that was posted just a week ago on Youtube has taken the world by storm with over 15 million viewings in just over a week. It certainly made me think and has obviously made others think too. I found the responses that I looked at as thought provoking as the original video and have chosen some of those I thought the most interesting, especially as they made me grapple with the video from diverse perspectives.

It has also provoked a number of responses from a variety of viewpoints. Here are some of the responses that I thought were the best or the most challenging at least.

This from a catholic perspective:

And here is a very compelling response from a Muslim

This a rather angry response from someone who does not seem to be too sure what he believes

So what do you think?

Giving Up For God – What Does It Cost?

The following post is written as a contribution to a monthly synchroblog.  This month it is hosted by Kathy Escobar.  The topic is Have you found more life by letting go of something? Tomorrow I will post a list of all the contributions for reflection.

Giving up without regret

When I first heard the topic my mind went into high gear remembering all that I have given up – a home in New Zealand that I wept over before leaving to join the mercy ship Anastasis; the secure and comfortable life of a general practitioner with all the accompanying advantages of a good salary; dear friends I will never see again who live scattered around the world; the opportunity to to live close to my brothers and watch my niece and nephew grow up; even the possibility of having children myself.  All of these I have given up at some point in my life .

But then I stopped to think – have I really given up anything that has not been replaced tenfold with something deeper and more fulfilling?  My momentary regrets gave way to amazingly fulfilling images: cleft lips and palates healed, eyes opened, starving children nourished, the opportunity to provide medical care for thousands in Africa, Asia and Central America; a worldwide network of friends and colleagues who offer hospitality to Tom and I wherever and whenever we travel; involvement in a very special and fulfilling ministry and life in Seattle; and stretching far beyond anything else an incredible opportunity to grow in my faith and constantly be surprised by the wonder of a God whose love and care I experience every day.

The giving up has always resulted in a more intimate and richer relationship to God.  When I look back over the years I cannot think of one thing I really regret giving up.  This does not mean that the giving up was easy.  It was often done with much struggle and tears, sometimes with heartache that seemed to leave a wrenching void in my soul, at least for a season, until I started to catch glimpses of the new seeds that God had planted in the darkened recesses of my being.

Giving up for God costs us everything, at least it costs us everything that seems familiar and secure but it also burst the realms of our imagination with new possibilities for life and faith that we have never thought possible before.  I am constantly humbled by the the paradoxical ways in which God works.  I have often thought that I was giving up life but in actual fact I was finding life – God’s life.

I cannot imagine a life that is more fulfilling than the one I live now.  In my wildest dreams as a young adult I never imagined God could use my life to impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.  Sometimes I have felt that I was giving up faith too but I realize now that what I was giving up was my narrow culture bound vision of God to plunge into an ever expanding understanding of the love of God.  And yet I know that no matter how much I learn I will always only scratch the surface of what there is to know about God.

In the future I suspect there will be many more times that God will ask me to give up something I am hold onto tightly and I know that the giving up will never be easy.  My prayer is that I will always be able to trust that in the giving up I will learn more about God and become more of the person God intends me to be.


You Do Not Need to Go to Seminary to Follow Jesus

Today’s post comes from Jon Stevens who together with his wife Elaine runs The Open Gate Farm on Camano Island an hour north of Seattle.  Jon says: A little bridge brings friends, family, and customers to our farmgate produce stand where crisp lettuce, crunchy radishes, and beautiful beets share space with bread and cinnamon rolls and colorful plants.  We have lived here 10 years, and are entering our 6th year with the produce stand.  All of our activities are rooted in, are centered around, and are driven by our family mission statement, “To live so that others may know the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
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It comes as a jolt to some folks, but it is true.  You do not need to go to seminary to follow Jesus, to draw close to Him.  If you can read, or know someone who can, you can do it.  It starts with reading the Book, the big one.  Then just do what it says.
It’s that simple.  Really.  Just do what it says in the Bible, remembering that the New Testament trumps the old if there is any conflict.  Of course, you have to take it at face value.  That is, after all, how Jesus takes you.  He does not “contextualize” you. He doesn’t form a committee to consider you, or gather some friends together to talk about you.  He just takes you.  So likewise, we should “take” Him.  Read the Bible and take Him by doing what it tells you to.
And therein is the jolt.  The more seminary training, the bigger the jolt.  And if you want a lesson in ducking and dodging, in denial and doubting, get someone with a Phd in religion and ask them why we can’t take the Bible at face value.  You’ll see a lot of fancy footwork, but they won’t be dancing with Jesus.  You’ll see them dancing with doubt.
I’m not sure we can draw close to Jesus.  I’m thinking since He is the one who chooses us, He’s the one who does the drawing close.  Sends His Holy Spirit ahead to clear out our cobwebs and check our shoe size, then He shows up with the band and refreshments and when the music starts, asks us to dance with Him.
When we do finally shuck off our shyness, we step out on the perfect floor and so long as our eyes are on Him, we don’t feel like fools, and we begin the dance.  And you know, it goes on and on and we never get tired and our feet never hurt.  Not until we take our eyes off Him so we can get a diploma that says we know lots about religion.  Then suddenly the shoes start to shrink and we meet real pain.
But when we listen closely to the song in the Bible, the love song of the New Testament, we can always step out again and He’ll be waiting for us on His dance floor.  The band will strike up and we can once more celebrate the real.  For none of this around us now is real, you know.  Only what is around Him is real.  At least, that’s what I read in the Bible.
And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
May you start reading the Bible soon, and discover yourself dancing with Him.

From Anywhere to Everywhere – The Future of Missions is Global

The January 2011 MSA Seed Sampler is out.

The future of missions is global! Not global in the sense of the old bastions of Christian power and missionary efforts from the Western Church, but rather global in the sense that it is now “from anywhere, to everywhere”. In 2010 the Seed Sampler explored several global trends providing the church with “New Challenges and New Opportunities 2010-2020”. All of these global trends impact the future of missions. Whether we’re talking about global power and economic shifts from the North and West to the South and East, the ever-growing global youth culture, turbulent economic times and issues swirling around food and water security and an environment in crisis, or ethnic shifts to a new majority future which, in turn, propels us deeper into issues of pluralism and multiculturalism, there is one clear fact: the mission of God through the church cannot go on as if nothing has changed.

In this edition we look at just a few of these areas and what they mean for missions into the future.

Andy Wade
Seed Sampler editor


January Articles

Poem | Neon Nights – Andy Wade
Reflection| We Have Come, We Have Seen, Now We Must Follow – Christine Sine
Lead Seed | The Changing Paradigm of Missions – Eldon Porter
Seed Share | Still Waiting – Global Disciples
Seed Share | Globalization: The Challenge – Os Guinness
Seed Share | Media’s Influence – Joseph Vijayam
Resources | Resources

 

A New Year’s prayer to welcome 2011

i am sitting at home on a beautiful frosty winter’s morning looking out at the snow covered, sun drenched mountains.  it is already New year’s day in Australia and my thoughts and prayers are still with my family in Sydney.  However I am also ready to welcome in this new year with a sense of God’s eternal presence and thought that I would share yet another prayer with you that came to me while we were travelling

God is the eternal rock

From year’s beginning to its end

God is faithful

In each day God is present

In each action God comes close

Through all eternity

God is trustworthy

Yesterday, today and forever

Sustaining, enlivening, making all things new

God is the eternal rock