All posts by FT Staff

Advent is a robust and demanding spiritual season

By Steve Bell

He came with love to Bethlehem; He comes with grace into our souls; He will come with justice at the end of the world. —Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene

Advent simply means to come, (Latin: advenire, from ad-‘to’ venire-‘come’) and it is the forty-day liturgical season Christians have traditionally set aside to anticipate the coming of Christ at Christmas, experienced as a season of attentive waiting. Of course, as with all waiting comes the inevitable agony of anticipation; so much so, that we are inclined to want to do something to make the waiting itself bearable and meaningful.

In this regard, Advent is an active season of mindful preparation as well.

Singer Songwriter Steve Bell helps us consider the spiritual rigour of Advent.

When a young couple discovers they are expecting a child, it is not enough for them to simply wait out the nine months and hope for the best. There will be necessary preparation. Perhaps they will clear out a spare room to create a nursery. Tough decisions will be made about what stays and what has to go. They will collect and purchase appropriate furnishings. They will seek advice. They will endlessly brood over a name; about the kind of birth-experience they hope for; about the joy, fears, and future of this new reality. And the preparation will not be meaningless because it’s about getting ready to fully receive the gift of the child who is coming.

So when we consider the Christian season of Advent, what is the content of our waiting? How are we to prepare? What makes this time more than just a season to endure before the fun starts? How do we ready our lives to receive the gift of Christ fully, and do so with meaning—with the deepest joy and reverential awe that we suspect ought to accompany such an astonishing event?
Continue reading Advent is a robust and demanding spiritual season

Today at the Supreme Court of Canada

There is a “Caution! Risk of falling ice and snow” sign outside the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, even though we’re not quite there yet in terms of pending danger. Any snow that has fallen hasn’t stayed for long, and there are no sharp icicles ready to fall from the roof of this beautiful, impressive building in the Nation’s capital, yet.

Today, at the Supreme Court of Canada. TWU appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada in its religious freedom case.

But, on the other side of those heavy wooden doors the media stand and wait and overflow observers sit on folding chairs outside of a packed court room and in side rooms. Head pieces are handed out by court staff for translation and to better hear the proceedings projected over the large screen TVs set up for this purpose. Trinity Western students cheerily handed out hot chocolate this morning to attendees, in a show of youth and good will.

It is inside that main, packed courtroom where the real action is happening today and tomorrow. These are Trinity Western University (TWU) days at the Supreme Court, where the Christian university is appealing the legal challenges that have been put in its way to opening a law school.

At the heart of this case is the place of religion in public life in Canada. Can regulatory bodies refuse to accredit or recognize Christian or other religious institutions that meet all other required standards? Is it discrimination for TWU to require students — who could attend any number of other law schools of their choice — to sign a community covenant that restricts their personal behaviour?

An overflow crowd watches the proceedings at the Supreme Court of Canada today. Canadians are watching and care deeply about the outcome of this case.

Much is at stake: The accreditation and recognition of religious institutions in Canada; the freedom of religious institutions (churches, schools, camps, missions, etc.) to maintain their religious character and purposes; the future of professional training programs run by Christian institutions.

First up today was Trinity Western and the various law societies. Next up are the interveners who care about the outcome of the case, including the EFC. If you are praying, please continue to do so.

Faith Today has covered the TWU case extensively in the past (e.g., Jul/Aug 2016) and there is lots of information on the EFC website

Maybe the Church should make a spectacle of itself more often

By Judy Paulsen

We arrived at the appointed place and time. We’d been told there would be someone at the front gate to let us in.  Sure enough a man approached the gate from the other side of the high fence and we made our way over to him.  “Your purpose?”, he asked; waiting for the secret password.  “We’re here for worship”, my friend and I replied in perfect unison.  He quickly opened the wrought iron gate and directed us to the side entrance where we should enter.  The gate was then firmly shut behind us. Gradually more people trickled in and took seats in the dimply lit, silent space.

Judy Paulsen runs the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

We weren’t in a house church in Communist China, Saudi Arabia or North Korea.  We had just entered Westminster Abbey on a typical Sunday morning in London.  The apparent threat was not watch-dogs of an atheistic government, religious police, or ISIS militants.  The threat was tourists; and there were hundreds of them milling around outside the Abby. Westminster Abbey is closed to tourists on Sunday mornings.

Tourists there to see and take photos of the magnificent arches, masonry, and carvings; the tombs embedded in the floors and walls; the coronation chair in which English kings and queens have been crowned throughout the centuries.  Tourists there to experience and record the extraordinary beauty and history of this place of worship without participating in worship.

I got it. I understood the reasoning behind our cloistered state.

Who wants people milling about taking videos and selfies, when you’re trying to worship God? Shouldn’t there be a space and time when Christians are free to sing praises, lift prayers, hear the Scriptures, offer confession and receive Holy Communion, without the whole thing being viewed as some kind of religious spectacle by hoards of people with mobile phones?  Indeed, the amazing music of the boys and men’s choir lifted us all in our praise of God that morning.  The Scriptures were read beautifully and were solidly unpacked during the sermon. What a joy to belt out ancient Christian hymns and lift our prayers to God in that magnificent space!  All of it offered without the distracting presence of tourists. Shouldn’t we Christians be able to worship God in peace and dignity? The longer I sat there the more sure I was the answer was ‘no’.

The image I couldn’t get out of my head that morning was the New Testament woman who made such a spectacle of herself at the home of Simon the Pharisee.  She offered worship of a most extraordinary sort. It was full-bodied passionate worship; aromatic oil, sobs, tears, kisses, and undone hair. She made a spectacle of herself before what were most assuredly astonished, curious, incredulous, or even highly offended dinner guests. There is no evidence from the story that any of them joined in her audacious act of worship.  Were there a few smirks? It sounds like at least Simon displayed a few.

Yet, Jesus pointed to the offering of this nameless woman as an act that will be remembered across the ages. He said she had been forgiven greatly and so loved him greatly.  What a simple and beautifully motivation for worship. Maybe it’s time for the Church to again be willing to make a spectacle of herself.

What would it be like for the Abbey to open her doors every Sunday?  What would it be like for the rest of us to take our worship outside the safe enclosures we have constructed?  Perhaps even into settings in which no one expects worship to occur. Would we be willing to offer audacious worship in a context in which we’d likely receive more than a few smirks?  For the love of Christ, perhaps in this age, in which we are surrounded by so many non-Christians, it is time again for the Church to be willing to make a spectacle of herself.

Judy serves as Professor of Evangelism and Director of the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, a theological college associated with the University of Toronto.  She teaches courses at the graduate and post-graduate level on evangelism, the intersection of gospel, church & culture, and leading organizational change.

 

A prayer for South Sudan. A prayer for all of us.

By Dorothy de Vuyst

As my flight began its decent into Juba, South Sudan, and I once again saw the vast, dry, desolate land below me, my heart ached.  “God, help this land,” I prayed.  “Intervene in a way only You can. Bring peace and healing to this country that so needs You.”

I was travelling to South Sudan to visit a couple of humanitarian aid programs Samaritan’s Purse was implementing in the country.  This was not my first trip to what still remains the world’s newest country, which only a year and half into its independence from Sudan, erupted into a bloody, tribal conflict in December 2013.

South Sudanese women who are refugees in Uganda sort out their food allotment. You can read a story about the remarkable, difficult work happening in Uganda in the Sep/Oct Faith Today.

Now, four years later, the country which at one time had so much hope, was on the brink of imploding.  Four million South Sudanese people are displaced, with over two million of those seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, most of those in Uganda.  Millions more lack sufficient food with the recent harvest doing little to ease the hunger so many faced.  Tropical disease and cholera outbreaks continue to claim lives.

As disturbing as those statistics are, perhaps the most heartbreaking are the stories of violence.  Women and young girls raped and beaten.  Young children forced to carry weapons and kill.  Villages pillaged and burnt because they belong to a different tribe.  Infants being drowned as their mothers hold them under water for fear of being seen by the enemy seeking to kill them.  Such anguish, injustice, and brokenness that at times is so overwhelming.

Earlier in the year I had visited the refugee settlements in Uganda, a country that had opened their doors to over a million South Sudanese refugees.  As I sat with women who shared their stories of trauma and loss, I desperately wanted justice and even revenge. I thought of the political leaders in South Sudan whose self-serving agendas have made life so difficult and painful for so many people. The hatred and anger of militant groups that rape and pillage innocent women and turn children into killers.

But as I reflected further I realized that being close to suffering and death and injustice doesn’t just reveal the brokenness of others, it also exposes my own brokenness.  My own need for mercy because of choices I have made, the people I have hurt.

This is the world that Jesus came into.  This is the world for which Jesus had so much compassion.  This is the brokenness that broke the heart of God. And not only the brokenness I see in countries like South Sudan and Uganda. Jesus has compassion on my brokenness as well. And knowing that in turn allows me to extend grace and compassion.

So I continue to pray.  I pray for a stop to the conflict.  I pray for courage and resiliency for those suffering.  I pray for tenacity in the midst of this fragile and complicated country.

But most of all I pray for God’s healing touch in the hearts and minds of this beautiful nation; that they will experience His mercy and forgiveness.  Because only when that happens will this country begin to see genuine and lasting change.

Dorothy de Vuyst is the Regional Director, Africa, for Samaritan’s Purse Canada. The Sep/Oct Faith Today has a story about this refugee crisis. 

Why giving Faith Today for Christmas is such a great idea

by Karen Stiller

Last night I ordered a very unusual and cute thing online for my sister for Christmas. I can’t say any more, Miriam might read this. But it did remind me how convenient it can be to shop online, and how fun it is to give meaningful, unique gifts to show our love.

You can do that with Faith Today this year with our two-for-one subscription deal. Here’s why giving a subscription to Faith Today to two people on your gift list (or one to yourself and one to a friend for a total of $29.99), is such a great idea.

We like that you read it. We love when you subscribe to it. www.faithtoday.ca
  • Faith Today fills a unique place in the world of Canadian journalism so that is increasingly rare and important. We cover stories other people don’t. We ask questions other people won’t.
  • Your friend will have an ongoing source of challenging essays on the spiritual life, news about issues of interest to Canadian Christians, interviews with Canadian leaders and change-makers and inspiring ideas for their own lives and the shared life of their congregation.
  • Your friend will be able to read things like reviews of the latest Canadian Christian literature and see the beautiful art created by faith-based artists in our popular Canadian Creatives department.
  • The faith of your friend will be encouraged as they read about the vital and creative work being done by congregations of many denominations across Canada. The Church is relevant, and your friend will be reminded how and why, and be encouraged.
  • It’s easy to order and an inexpensive and beautiful gift that builds up the Church and supports excellent Christian journalism in Canada.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the articles and topics your friend (and you!) will be able to read in the new year:

Thoughtful and practical essays on reconciliation to help us move further along on this journey. How small churches in Canada can increase their impact and value the unique contribution they are able to make in their communities. Why you never retire from your calling. Why and how we switch from one Christian tradition to another so easily.

Join the Faith Today family today, in one easy step, and share the blessing of Canada’s Christian magazine with people you care about.

 

Read it. Enjoy it. And subscribe to it too!

The Nov/Dec issue of Faith Today is finding its way to you, if you subscribe. And hopefully you do! This issue includes an interview with Christian broadcaster and Crossroads CEO Lorna Dueck who tackles that very issue head on – Why should we bother to subscribe or donate to the production of Christian TV, magazines or books? Especially when so much is available for free online.

We like that you read it. We love when you subscribe to it. www.faithtoday.ca

Lorna was quick with a thoughtful answer. “Just like we’ve built leadership for our churches, we need to build up leadership for media. You have scores of young people going off to study journalism. We need places for them to serve. Faithful Christians subsidize Christian media in Canada.”

No one would ever argue, “We don’t need to worry about building up future Christian leaders. We can just recruit anyone with any kind of secular education, and they can learn on the job.” We all know the years of learning, mentoring and spiritual formation that go into developing future pastors and urban missionaries. We all sacrifice to ensure our seminaries and other ministry training programs continue. We love it when a young adult comes to minister in our community, and we invest in them as best we can.

We know our future leaders need godly communities where they can practise, develop their skills and learn to integrate their faith and work. Let’s not overlook the truth that Christian media ministries are also those kinds of places.

It’s never been simply about paying for what we consume. It’s about supporting institutions – or in fact teams of Christian communicators– that help sustain our shared Christian values into the future and help connect the Canadian Church.

Supporting Christian TV, magazines, authors and other creative producers ensures we have healthy material to feed our souls, rather than assuming we’ll always be able to find something worthwhile in whatever the mainstream media happens to produce based on whatever values are commercially profitable at the moment.

Christian journalism from our own country is especially valuable. We tell stories others don’t. We ask questions others won’t.

As you enjoy the next issue of Faith Today magazine and celebrate Advent and Christmas, and look ahead to the new year, we ask for your prayers and other support for our work on your behalf. As we remember to care for our pastors, let’s also care for our local Christian journalists, editors, broadcasters and artists as well. After all, we’re all on the same team, serving the same Lord, seeking to advance His Kingdom. May it come soon.

Give thanks continually … to the people you work with

by Rick Franklin

When was the last time someone went out of their way to thank you? Do you remember what they did? What they said? How you felt?

Check out the current issue of Faith Today for this story by Rick Franklin and more.

Last week I was in the Netherlands training ministry leaders. After the training finished, I caught up with some friends my wife and I have known for years. It was a wonderful reunion of deep friendship spent swapping stories of life and faith, growing older and seeing God’s faithfulness. A highlight of our visit was witnessing the 73rd commemoration of the Airborne landings on Ginkel Heath in Ede.

I doubt you’ve heard of it, but here we were with thousands of people young and old gathered in the Dutch countryside to commemorate and thank the hundreds of paratroopers, soldiers and resistance fighters from England, the United States, Poland and the Netherlands who fought and lost the Battle of Arnhem.

Yes, you read that correctly—the commemoration celebrated a lost battle, a military failure. But for the Dutch under German occupation, it signaled an important turning point and actually provided a reason for hope at a time when hope was in short supply. It indicated help was coming even if the first wave was unsuccessful. So the Dutch continue to celebrate and thank the soldiers today, 73 years after the doomed battle.

There’s an important leadership lesson for us here. In my article from the current edition of Faith Today, I highlight 5 critical skills church leaders should nurture—leading from a strong spiritual foundation, knowing where you’re headed, serving sacrificially, communicating clearly and thanking continually.

I’d like to expand on the point of thanking continually. First, we have a biblical example and mandate to thank. For example, Paul tells us to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18; see also Eph. 5:20) and he expresses thanks to God often for his co-workers in ministry. In Philippians 1:3, Colossians 1:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 1:2 and other passages, Paul models explicitly and specifically thanking fellow believers for their part in ministry.

Second, on a practical level, expressing gratitude and thankfulness is powerful. We see this in the Dutch celebration of the Battle of Arnhem, as it continues to impact people today, 73 years later.

Showing appreciation motivates and enlivens. Thanking people empowers them and provides encouragement, which is often in short supply.

Think about when someone went out of their way to thank you for something you did. Maybe it was a kind word or leaving a note of thanks on your desk or giving you a small gift for going above and beyond what was expected. How’d you feel? In a word, it feels good.

But I bet it did more. My guess is it helped provide additional motivation to lean in, to step up, to go the extra mile.

That’s what gratitude does in the people we have the privilege of leading and serving. It breathes life into people to know they matter, hearing that their efforts and contributions are valued and appreciated.

So as a leader—an influencer—in your church (or in your home, workplace, neighbourhood, etc.), let me encourage you to frequently express gratitude by incorporating these few simple ideas to show your appreciation and thankfulness.

Simply say “thank you.” I’ve heard from many church volunteers, who shared they’ve never been thanked for serving. Thanks goes a long way especially for those who donate their time and talent at church. So say thanks often and see what happens!

Write a note to express appreciation. It can be a sticky note or in a beautiful card. What matters are the words of appreciation you choose and taking the time to personally express your gratitude.

Give a small gift. Often times it’s appropriate to give a gift to share appreciation and thanks. Think creatively and have fun. You can give flowers, food, something from your local Christian bookstore or anything that conveys gratitude.

Thank publicly. Take opportunities to recognize people’s efforts and contributions publicly. Even though some may shy away from the attention, folks deeply value being honoured and valued in a public way. It says, “I noticed what you did and greatly value you and what you’ve done.”

Thank in the midst of failure. One of the most powerful ways to express gratitude is in the midst of failure, as the Dutch did. It’s easy to recognize success. It’s more meaningful to find the good when someone fails.

In a word, be creative! There are thousands of different ways to say “thank you.” Just try to find ways of expressing your gratitude that are meaningful to the person you’re thanking. Not everyone is like you or likes to be thanked the same way you do. If you need some help, take a look at Gary Chapman and Paul White’s book, The Five Languages of Appreciation.

Thank often and you’ll breath life, encouragement and motivation into the people you lead and serve. Frequently express gratitude and appreciation and then watch the impact unfold! Who knows, maybe your influence will be far greater than you could imagine… influencing people 73 years later.

Dr. Rick Franklin is vice president, Arrow Leadership Ministries. For over 25 years, Arrow Leadership has developed thousands of Christian leaders around the world to be led more by Jesus, lead more Like Jesus and lead more people to Jesus. You can read the current issue of Faith Today online, but even better than that subscribe today to access one of our most popular subscription deals.

The awful legacy of Hugh Hefner

by Sheila Wray-Gregoire

Yesterday I was Skyping with Ashley Easter, who is doing great work helping survivors of abuse within the church, and promoting healing. And we were talking about how being married to someone with a porn addiction can give a wife PTSD, and can be abusive, in and of itself, especially if he’s dehumanizing her and asking her to act out things that he sees. He’s not treating her like a person; he’s treating her like an object. That’s what abuse does, too. They have that in common. They say: You are a body to use.

So I’d just like to write today about some of the thoughts that have been running through my head about the recently deceased Hugh Hefner’s influence on our society.

Sheila Wray-Gregoire is an author and speaker. In this blog she considers the awful legacy left by Hugh Hefner, and the impact of pornography use.

When I was about 8, my best friend Christine showed me a stack of Playboys in her shed that her dad had stashed there. I’m thankful that we didn’t look too hard at them, but I know she and her older brother looked at them a bunch.
Continue reading The awful legacy of Hugh Hefner

Every hour counts: a call to create beauty and other great things well

Prof. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. delivered the following message in the academic chapel of Crandall University this September. We thought Faith Today readers, who know Stackhouse from his books and our pages, would appreciate this encouragement to use our time right to create lasting beauty and recognize the “daily-ness” of life.

“The lif so short, the craft so long to lerne.” In his famous poem “The Parliament of Fowls,” Geoffrey Chaucer quotes the ancient Greek sage Hippocrates to tell us something not only about literature, but about life. Life is indeed short when one considers how long it takes to learn how to—

How to what?

Prof. John G. Stackhouse, Jr., a columnist in Faith Today, shares a vision for using our time very well.

How to do anything truly important and worthwhile. To compose a poem, yes, which is what Chaucer initially means. But also to do anything else in life that is of lasting significance.

To build a bridge that will stand strong and look beautiful for generations. To run a business—a business that provides useful and dignified work as it contributes something beneficial to the world. To form and maintain a marriage—a relationship of mutual care and perpetual stability within which children can grow up secure, confident, and wholesome.

Ryan Holiday in a recent book (Perennial Seller) provides some examples of what it takes to produce something special:

  • The Sistine Chapel took four years to paint. Four years. The planning and the building took even longer.

To be sure, that was back in the Renaissance. We move much faster nowadays, right?

Continue reading Every hour counts: a call to create beauty and other great things well

Be kind to those in your church living with mental illness and mental health challenges

by Chris Summerville

I write as a person with lived experience, as a former pastor who has struggled with dark periods of depression, suicidal ideation and the misuse of alcohol. Mental health problems are generational in the Summerville family. I grew up in rural Alabama with a father who also struggled with all three and more, before he took his life by suicide, even after he experienced a genuine and authentic spiritual salvation.

While accepting the forgiveness of God and his family, he could not forgive himself for the horrors he had created for his wife and seven children.

Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada and a national leader across Canada within the mental health recovery movement.

As an evangelical pastor I addressed issues of social justice, environmental (creation) care, and mental health problems even back in the 80s and 90s. So after working the last 22 years in the mental health recovery movement, what wisdom would I share with pastors?

1) Christians, just as they are not immune to physical health problems, are not immune to mental illness and mental health problems in this fallen world. One in five Canadians presently live with a mental illness. Obviously, many of these Canadians are followers of Christ. Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Mental health problems can also be caused by adverse childhood experiences (trauma) which I experienced. All Christians have mental health concerns from time to time. Mental illnesses generally create a disorder in your life, and for that reason are called mental disorders by psychiatry. They can be mild, moderate or severe. They can be temporary, intermittent, or enduring. But they are treatable.
Continue reading Be kind to those in your church living with mental illness and mental health challenges