Thursday, 30 December 2010

Reflections of 2010

Another year has come and gone and I've been brought again to a time of reflection. When I started this year, I had no clue what it would hold, but I didn't think I would still be where I am right now. I still work at the same job as I did a year ago, only I have more hours now. I still haven't upgraded my education or pursued a different career, and that's not in my immediate plans either. I'm still single and will still likely be so for awhile, which I'm okay with. But at the same time, I must say I'm a different person.

This year has stretched me in incredible ways. At times, it's been so hard I feared I was near the point of breaking. I think it was this spring, that I for the first time experienced a real longing for heaven, for the trials of this life to be over. I have wrestled between my will and surrendering to God's will for my life. I have wondered what it is God would have me do with my life. I have wrestled with my faith and asked many questions. I have seen people I care about going through loss and heartache.

But amidst all the pain and tears, God has given me joy and hope. He has stood faithfully by my side, even when I haven't been so faithful. I have learned to delight in simple things. I'm learning to be open with who I am and what I believe, without being overly concerned about what people will think. God has given me new opportunities and I have seen him work great things in the lives of others. I have shed tears in hard times, but I have also shed tears when I've been overwhelmed with His goodness. He has carried me through and I'm thankful for that.

It's funny that I'm left once again pondering what the next year of my life will hold. I don't know. (I've heard that's the beginning of wisdom, to be able to say "I don't know.") I do know that God has called me to serve Him faithfully where I am and demonstrate His love to the people around me. Where there's new opportunities, I can jump and say "Ooh, pick me!" Whatever it holds, my desire is to grow, make a difference, and enjoy the life that God has given me.

As you embark on a new year, my prayer is that you would walk with the Lord, grow in love and faith, make a difference and delight in the life you have. God bless you!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

They'll Call Me Freedom

There are certain songs that somehow have a way of touching my heart and then I tend to want to write about them. I wrote an article like this last year on the song "Where is the Love?" and you can read that first if you so wish. Lately, the song that I've really been pondering is Wavin' Flag by K'naan. There has been different mixes of this song for the World Cup, but I'm talking about the original album version, which you can listen to in the previous link. And yes, I encourage you to listen to the song before you read this post.

Every time I hear this song, I can't help but feel that it was written out of experience. When I looked K'naan up, sure enough, he grew up in Somali during the Somali Civil War before he later moved to a Somali community in Toronto with his family. Although I couldn't find any solid information as to the story behind the song, I believe it is deeply rooted in personal experience.

The song starts off with the following lyrics:

"When I get older, I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom, just like a wavin' flag."

Right off, you catch sight of a dream. The dream of a child longing for strength and freedom. Somehow I can imagine a boy watching a flag blowing in the wind and longing to be free like it. He knows there's more in the world than his present state of weakness and longs for it. He has even put a new name to himself: Freedom.

"Born to a throne, stronger than Rome
A violent prone, poor people zone
But it's my home, all I have known
Where I got grown, streets we would roam

Out of the darkness, I came the farthest
Among the hardest survival
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak
Accept no defeat, surrender, retreat

So we're struggling, fighting to eat
And we're wondering when we'll be free
So we patiently wait for that faithful day
It's not far away, but for now we say"

What I absolutely love about this song is that even in the midst of their poverty and oppression, they're still holding on to hope. There's no indication that they're giving up or resigning themselves to this idea that this is the way life will always be for them. They know that freedom is possible. There are other songs that open to us the reality of suffering like James Blunt's "No Bravery" but they don't all offer hope like this one does. What is their hope? I believe to some extent, we are. We can help give them that freedom if we so choose.

"So many wars, settling scores
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
I hear them say "Love is the way"
"Love is the answer," that's what they say

But look how they treat us, make us believers
We fight their battles, then they deceive us
Try to control us, they couldn't hold us
'Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers."

In our comfortable North American society, we are pretty sheltered from the bondage so many people find themselves in. They live in poverty, are forced to fight in wars, struggle to eat to stay alive, fighting disease and so forth. Many of these stark realities don't make it to the top of Yahoo News. That spot is saved for the latest article of how bad a celebrity looked in the dress she wore to an event. When we do hear of these things though, we try to shut them out because it's quite uncomfortable.

The fact is, suffering is real and as Christians, we can't sit back and do nothing about it. I'm not even going to pretend to be the right person to talk about this issue. I don't know how to end the suffering in this world and thinking about it isn't going to do a thing. The further I go in life though, the more I know that I need to do something.

Sometimes I think I need to go somewhere else to make a difference. That simply isn't true. There are people that are going out that need our support in the form of prayers, finances and practical aid. In America, we can so easily waste so much money without a second thought. But add up some of those small expenditures and you will be surprised how much you're really spending.

In October I started a budgeting plan and began to record every dollar I spent. Yes, I wrote down every coffee, smoothie and pastry purchased as well as money spent eating out. In October, I spent about $43.00 on eating out and snack food combined. Close to $25 was spent on recreation. In November, I again spent close to $40 on snack food and eating out.

Now if you go to Thirst Relief, you discover that a donation of $5 can provide a long-term clean drinking water solution for one person. That means that because of your donation, somebody (likely a child) in a third-world country doesn't have to die because of a contaminated water related disease. I know that one life doesn't sound like much, but what if I take those $40 I carelessly spent over the course of a month and donated it for a year, I would have saved $480 and in turn impacted nearly 100 lives.

Now, $40 does sound like a lot of money, but say you only donated $10 a month. You have still saved 24 lives for just a small sacrifice. So what if you don't get your Timmies coffee, fancy Starbucks drink or go to see every latest movie? You can make that coffee at home for like 5 or 10 cents and rent the movie later for cheaper. The fact is, you have helped someone else in desperate need.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:42 "And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is my disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward." (ESV)

I may not be able to put an end to the suffering described in "Wavin' Flag." I may not be able to end modern-day slavery, feed every hungry child or care for every orphan. But by small sacrifices, that really aren't sacrifices at all, I can make a difference in the life of someone else. And if I can encourage others to do the same, we can multiply that impact.

"When I get older, I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom, just like a wavin' flag."

Let's go give somebody back their freedom!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Keeping Discussions Edifying

I'm a person that likes a good discussion. I think it's good when people can get together and share their different opinions, viewpoints and convictions on different issues. It challenges you to be sure of what you believe and stand for and it's also an opportunity to open up and let people see who you are.

However, sometimes these good discussions can easily turn into arguments and debates that are less than edifying. And often by the time that happens, the people involved are so focused on pushing their points they hardly notice or care that the conversation has taken a negative turn. I am one of those.

It's easy to "believe" something because somebody else said it. Saying "That sounds good to me so that's what I now believe too" is just too convenient, especially when you trust the person who said it. The problem is that you haven't actually looked into the matter yourself, never thought it through and don't know if it actually has any true scriptural basis. You just assume it is because so-and-so said it so it must be right. Then you get into these lively arguments and discover you have nothing to back up your ideas.

Back to my point. It's good to have discussions but it's also easy to become very defensive or to attack other people for what they believe. Instead of promoting unity and edification, it turns bad. So I guess what I'm trying to get at is how to have discussions, express our opinions and disagree in a proper manner. And just to be clear, I'm thinking this through because I've realized my own negative tendencies in this area.

For one, it's okay to disagree. I would almost go so far as to say that it's good to disagree. If you agree with everything everybody else says, that may be a good indication something is wrong in your way of thinking. You're not filtering what you're hearing and measuring it up against what you know to be right and true or what the Bible says.

Secondly, you can still love each other even when you disagree. You can still enjoy fellowship with each other as the body of Christ. Also remember that the Spirit of God works differently in people. He may not have convicted your friend of the same thing He has you. And you know what, maybe He never will. Some people think that God convicts people all of the same, but it's simply not true.

James 3:17
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (ESV)

When I read this verse awhile ago, I think the part that stuck out to me the most was "open to reason." A person who is truly wise is open to reason. But a lot of Christians are just the opposite. When questioned about what they believe or an area of their life, they instantly become defensive and often upset or angry. They're not open to the possibility that they might be wrong and the other right. In their minds, they're right, no questions asked, discussion closed. There's no reasoning with them.

I've found myself on both ends. I have a tendency to both attack and defend. It's not wrong to suggest someone else may not be right, but be careful in how you do that.

Like the above verse says, be gentle and peaceable. Attack the opinion, not the person. Try saying, "I disagree with that idea" or express your concern in the form of a question instead of flat out saying "That's wrong." When somebody makes a good point, say so. Make sure you understand what is said. When things warm up, it's easy to misunderstand people and get the totally wrong idea.

Most of all, hear people out. As much as you want to get your two cents in, listen to what others have to say. Don't hog the floor. And be open to reason. As much as it may hurt your pride, the truth is you're not always right. Be open to that possibility. And if you think people are shutting out everything you have to say, don't worry. They may not look like they care what you have to say and don't push it onto them. But chances are, what you have said will stay with them and they will think it over later. They won't show you it and it may take a long time, but they might just come around to your way of thinking.

2 Timothy 2:23
But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. (KJV)

Ephesians 4:29
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (ESV)

So remember, discussions are great but keep away from arguing. Sometimes it may be wiser to stay on safer subjects than diving into controversial conversations. Build up rather than tear down. If you disagree, that's okay. Just be willing to listen.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the beginning of our real Canadian winter.