November 2010


Christ calls us to be agents of change in the world. We should be salt: preserving and adding spiritual flavour, and light: leading the way through our own example. But how are we to be agents of change for the world if we do not change ourselves?

Certainly God is involved in this process of change, for it is He that brought about the greatest change in our lives when we invited Him into our hearts and He “made us a new creature in Christ.” However, like all things with God, He is unwilling to do for us what we need to do for ourselves (He is, after all, the wisest of parents). So He leaves the rest of the changes we need to make in our hands.

Some of those changes are pretty clear-cut. I can still remember the first time I read the scripture about my body being the temple of the Holy Spirit. My immediate thought was “Then God doesn’t want me to smoke.” After a dozen years of being a one pack a day smoker, I quit that day without any further struggle. But other changes are more subtle.

When I hit fifty I began to run into all kinds of trouble with my back. I spent more time with it going out then I did with being fit. I had two choices: spending the rest of my life in some kind of pain, leading to increasing incapacitation, or getting fit. I went to a physiotherapist who laid out a program of exercises that I have been following ever since. I started a program of losing weight and went from 165 pounds down to around 140 over a period of a couple of years and have maintained it ever since. When I hit sixty I noticed that I went through another slide physiologically. My routine was no longer keeping up with my age. Time to up the ante. I bought a bike and started cycling, and recently have changed my morning routine to include a warm-up on a striding machine and thirty laps in the pool.

By no means do I intend you to think by this that change has to be all physiological. I am just using that as an example; something that is near at hand and not too personal to talk about the change process. As someone who has gone through a lot of change I would say that these are the factors to consider:

  • Willingness. In order to change there has to be a recognition that you (no one) is perfect, and that you are willing to change in order to be better.
  • Listening. Listening to your body, to God, to your spouse, to your friends, to circumstances. An ability to listen to what is going on is a fundamental necessity to change.
  • Wisdom. You need to decide what needs to be changed and what needs to be left alone. Your friends could be suggesting changes that you know would be harmful. You need to decide on a course of action for change to occur without damage to yourselves and others. Change requires planning, and planning takes wisdom.
  • Flexibility. Not everything you try is going to work. You may need to adapt your plans, tailor them to unforeseen circumstances, move your schedule around, and miss out on certain things. Your daily and weekly planner may look like a mess for while until you get it sorted out.
  • Perseverance. Change is work; in point of fact change is just about the hardest work there is. You are going to encounter resistance, not only from others, but most especially from yourself. No lasting change will ever come about without perseverance. Change is not for the weak-spirited or the lazy-minded.
  • Commitment. This is not the same as perseverance. Perseverance happens inside yourself; commitment comes from outside yourself. You will not succeed unless you are committed to a higher ideal than just yourself. It has to be for others; it has to be most particularly for God. You must get a sense of His purpose for your life and commit yourself to accomplish that purpose or you will never succeed at the change that is needed to get there.
  • Love. This may seem like an odd one, but I would hold that this one is the key. You need to see that you are the object of God’s love, that His purpose for you is kind, that His desire is to bless. Once you get a hold of that, it does in fact become easier to change. This is what worked for me all those years ago when I gave up smoking: I realized that God loved me too much to want me to be enslaved by that thing. His love made it easy.

This list is not exhaustive, and there may be other lists out there that are more useful. This is just some personal reflection on a lifetime of change. God isn’t through with me yet either, so that means that more changes are ahead. I would be disappointed if it were any other way.

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I am not what anyone would call a fashion plate. Fashion costs money, so basically I’m agin’ it. Education, travel, mortgage reduction, yep, they are legitimate expenses. Fashion not so much. But with a wedding on the horizon, only a fool would stand between his wife and her need for a gown for the occasion, and my mother didn’t raise no fools.

So here we are off on just about every other weekend looking for wedding gowns. And let me tell you, it has not been easy! First off, there is no such thing as a ‘mother-of-the-bride’ dress. I don’t know what they wear, but they don’t make any dresses for them. The sweet little girls in the wedding shops all look at you with their eyes wide as if they are going to cry because they have no idea what you are talking about, and they hate to disappoint a customer over here. So we have stopped asking. Instead we ask, ‘do you have any evening gowns?’ Well of course they do, dozens of them in all sorts of colours and fabrics, from Chinese and Indian traditional outfits, to classic Western gowns; a truly dizzying array of choice in style.

However there is no choice when it comes to size. Everything we have looked at is a size 2. Now there was a time when Pam was a size 2, but that was many years and several kids ago. Pam is not overweight by any stretch, but neither is she Asian. Everyone over here is a size 2; young, old and in-between, all the women are size 2. That is how the dress shops can get away with carrying just one size. If you are no longer a size 2, then you have a seamstress to make your clothes. It is all very simple, very cut-and-dried, and impossible to get around. So we have given up looking.

                                                        

Instead we have gone looking on the internet. I don’t know why we didn’t just start there, it would have been a whole lot easier on my feet. Pam, with help from her sister-in-law Syl, found some excellent options.  So now the plan is to print off the pictures (yeah I guess you could say that is a kind of plagiarism, you got me there), buy the fabric locally and find a first-rate seamstress to make the dress to fit. Any of our local readers know of a good seamstress?  The beauty of that is that she can then chose the colour and adjust the designs as needed.

Local or not you are all invited to weigh in on your choice. No prizes for the winner, and Pam is not bound by your choice – she IS the mother-of-the-bride, after all – but it would be kind of fun to see what you think. Personally I would like to see Pam wear something Asian. It is where we now live, and there are some gorgeous saris out there, but I know I am going to lose that argument, and that is fine. What am I going to wear? I think my daughter would like me to wear something really shiny, I’m not sure why, so I am looking for that. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Lindie-Ann Taylor is the Caribbean’s first missionary to Asia. Pam met her as part of her outreach and training in Cambodia. She was in Kuala Lumpur recently on her way to Singapore for a conference with her mission board, Operation Mobilization (www.om.org), and we had the pleasure of her company for a couple of days.

Lindie-Ann has an amazing testimony. She is very bright young lady with a degree in Agriculture and a fine Christian family behind her. She also had a very bright and comfortable future in front of her, as her pastor and had already singled her for a unique role at home. He was not pleased when she announced she was going to the mission field instead. This is just not something that everyone does.

But Lindie-Ann is not everyone. She was living happily in Trinidad when she began having very vivid dreams of living in a tribal village. She did not know where it was at first, just that she was meant to live there, and that they needed her. After six months of this, all the while praying that God would make sense of what she was dreaming, she began to hear the name ‘Cambodia’ spoken as if someone were talking in the next room. Often she would go around the corner expecting to meet someone in conversation, but never did. But she did start doing some research into what she came to understand as her target mission country.

This led to a conversation with the leadership in her denomination. After some prayer they decided to invite her to speak at an upcoming conference. Having never spoken in a public setting before, Lindie-Ann was concerned; all the more when she found out the she was the only scheduled speaker! She left the conference with her entire support pledged, dazed and amazed at what God had done for her and through her in such a short period of time.

Her dream became reality as she entered a tribal village in Cambodia and began to live among the people, as the people there do; in a thatched hut mostly open to the elements, wading through ankle-deep sewage water in the street when it rained, eating what was available in the meager markets. Through all of this Lindie-Ann presevered, believing that God had called her there for His purpose. After a year of this she earned a visit from her mission board who undertook a necessary upgrade in her accommodations that included space for teaching the local children.

Lindie-Ann’s smile could power a small village all by itself as she talks about the children she teaches and the friends she has made. After just 14 months in Cambodia she is already fluent enough enough to preach in Khmer once a week. She admits it is pretty simple Khmer, but then these are pretty simple people. But it doesn’t take fluency to see Lindie-Ann’s passion for Christ, and it doesn’t take an advanced education to see her committment to the poor of Cambodia and her willingness to share in their struggles and their hardships. This is the sacrifice it takes to win the lost for Christ.

This week I became aware of a poem written by Martha Snell Nicholson.  Diagnosed with four incurable illnesses, for more than thirty-five years she was an invalid, confined to her bed.  However her spirit was so triumphant through those many painful years, that she wrote some amazing Christian poetry that continues to challenge and comfort hearts today.

                                              The Thorn

I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne

And begged Him for one priceless gift which I could call my own.

I took the gift from out of His hand but as I would depart

I cried “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.

This is a strange a hurtful gift which Thou has given me”

He said “My child I give good gifts and gave My best to thee”

I took it home and though at first the cruel thorns hurt sore

As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more

I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace

He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

The very talented and opinionated Mark Steyn has made himself something of a local celebrity in Canada recently by his Muslim-baiting approach to some sensitive issues, such as freedom of speech and the question of what constitutes hate-speech. Mr. Steyn may have some cultural and ethnic axes to grind in his view of Islam; he does come from a Jewish background, a group not known to be particularly fond of their religious and ethnic half-brothers. But there is no denying that Steyn has touched a chord, especially among those who feel that Muslims generally, and fundamental Muslims in particular have been responsible for more than their fair share of the world’s problems of late.

I would like to suggest that Islam is not the problem, but there is something more fundamental as a root cause of much of the world’s unhappiness. The very real and very distressing outcome of this problem manifests itself as Muslim violence in many parts of the world. But that is only one part of the problem. The rape of the planet’s resources, the degradation of the environment, the plight of the poor in Haiti, Africa and many parts of Asia, the mind-numbing commercialization of every aspect of our lives, the deterioration of our families, the exploitation of women and children as sexual objects, and the obscene accumulation of wealth by a tiny percentage of the world’s population resulting in the grinding poverty of millions all arise from the same root: a loss of awe and wonder in the majesty of an Almighty God who created the universe by simply speaking it into existence, before whom every creature on earth will one day stand in judgment.

Our view of ourselves has degraded in exact measure as we have degraded God in our thoughts, words and deeds. To the extent that we no longer see ourselves as being made in the image of a holy God, to that same extent we pour scorn our husbands and wives, children and parents, friends and relations. To the extent that we will no longer be ruled by an Almighty God, in that same measure we will not be ruled by any earthly authority, resulting in chaos and anarchy, the breakdown of functioning democracies and the rise of totalitarian regimes. To the extent that we despise God’s moral law, to that same extent do we indulge in our own financial rapaciousness, and wink at those we do likewise in our societies.

To the extent that we scorn at any notion of final judgement, to that same extent do we commit all manner interpersonal atrocities, from the genital mutilation and honour killings of girls and young women in Hindu and Muslim societies to the sodomy of boys in Catholic churches by ordained ministers. To the extent that we do not see ourselves as male and female creations of God, to that very extent does half the world force their women to be covered black canvas bags while the other half forces them to expose themselves indecently at every possible opportunity and venue.

If God walked among us, He would weep. But there’s the rub: He did walk among us, and He did weep. And we have forgotten that essential fact; we will no longer be governed by its truth and its beauty. As a result we have become truly ungovernable. So we thrash about, looking to blame each other for the mess we have made of things, when the solution lies plainly before us. We simply must return to God, before we truly lose all that our civilization has brought us. I think at some fundamental level Muslims understand this better than we in the West do. They are seeking to get right with God in the best way they know how, and they are fighting hard against all the impediments they see in their way. And there is no doubt that the West in all in crass commercialism and godless pursuit of wealth even if it means the destruction of society itself stands in the way.

This is not to say that Islam is right. Clearly as a committed Christian I think they are misguided in some very basic fundamentals, such as the need for forgiveness. To imagine that forgiveness from a holy God is possible by any human action, no matter how well motivated or intended is a notion that either thinks too highly of man or too lowly of God. Jesus said the benchmark for entrance into heaven is “perfection” (Matthew 5:48). The Buddhists seem to understand this better than anyone, including Christians. They teach that our debt of wrong deeds, karma, is so great that it will take us many lifetimes to pay off even the smallest amount. What both faiths seem to recognize at some level and yet what they both lack is a Saviour. Only God can pay the debt we owe. That is why He came to earth. That is why He died.

The West used to know this. They no longer do. That is why the West is in decline. Look at history. God does not favour nations that do not uphold His name. Islam for all its faults is at least trying to recover that ground. Buddhists in Cambodia and Myanmar are beginning to recognize their social responsibility. These faiths are not our enemies; they are our natural allies in the struggle against all that is vile in human nature. So long as Mark Steyn and others counsel the West to fear Muslims, then all the greedy forces of the West will use this fear to maintain their grip on society and drive it further along the road towards its own destruction.

The Hebrew prophets when describing the reason for the destruction of their own people would simply say “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” That is the problem with the present age and the reason for all the woes that have befallen this truly wicked time. Seen in this light the Hindus, the Buddhists and even Islam is not the enemy of mankind; rather it is our own perverse and self-destructive lack of holy fear of all all-righteous and all-powerful God who will one day judge us for how we treat those whom He has made – male and female – in His own image.

However America sees itself today, the global view is much different, and may I suggest a good deal more accurate. I’m sure the view in some quarters on that side of the world is three cheers for democracy, or something like it. On this side of the world it is more like, there goes the (economic) neighbourhood. At least over here we have the Chinese, whose economy shows no sign of cooling, to keep things afloat. You guys in North America aren’t going to be so lucky. Gridlock in Washington is a prelude to economic disaster.

America began its slide with Reagan and his deregulation of the economy from trucking and airlines to Wall Street and the banks. There has not been one good thing to come out of ‘Reaganomics’ unless you are Warren Buffet and have made a gazillion bucks from it. The rest of the country has just gotten poorer. I saw a report on what has happened to the airline industry in America, and I am glad I fly Asian carriers. But what Reagan did to destroy the airline industry is just the tip of the iceburg. The middle class – and by extension that means the Canadian middle class – have been deliberately squeezed into the upper lower class, and the lower class have been squeezed even lower. Every economic indicator of real income among the middle and lower classes shows this trend.

I say that this is deliberate in the sense that democracy springs from the middle class. Eliminate the middle class and the rich don’t have to worry about legislation depriving them of an even more obscene share of the world’s wealth. Meanwhile the squeeze goes on and the poor are going deeper into debt from which the only escape in suicide (read the rates from India, it is shocking). How do the rich get away with this wholesale slaughter of the innocents? By duping good hearted people into thinking this has something to do with preserving religious and civil liberties. Rally round the flag boys, and vote America. The rich laugh at such simple-mindedness.

Some of the rich have enough of a conscience to be embarrassed by this. Warren Buffet is ashamed that the cleaners in his office pay more in taxes than he does and would like to see the tax break for the very very rich eliminated. The very very rich have just bought America’s compliance with their very very slick propaganda and now it will be made permanent. The death of the middle class in America will shortly follow, joined in rapid succession by any pretence of democracy. Perhaps, eventually the Christian church in America will wake up to this fraud, at which point the full weight of the law – now unstoppable, since the middle class has been destroyed – will be brought to bear on their cherished religious freedoms. And Christians, who by and large have bought into the whole greedy fraud, will have been complicit in its demise.

Millions of North Americans are actively voting away their rights with every election, duped by pretty pundits who know which side of the bread their butter is on. I see a new Babylonian captivity for America on the horizon, but my faith is in the Lord, and He has a purpose in allowing America to drive itself eagerly into the hands of its capitalist captors. I will wait and see the hand of the Lord. He is working it out even now in China as that country embraces Christ, even as America abandons its founding principles. That that doesn’t mean I won’t grieve for the loss of a country that once stood for something, and now falls for anything. And Mr. Obama, as good a man as he is, won’t be able to stop America’s self-deluded destruction.