Tuesday, September 18, 2018

There is a "Why" in All of Us-by Heidi McLaughlin

These past few months I’ve been teaching yung'ns how to blow Hubba Bubba bubbles. Firstly, how to chew the big wad of gum until it feels “just so” and ready for the blowing. Secondly, wrap it around your tongue so it’s firmly encased in your mouth and then gingerly blow air into said gum. But it hasn’t been that easy to explain and the results weren’t always that stellar. In fact, we finally resorted to watching live demonstrations on YouTube, printing off instructions from Google and then watching ourselves perform the awkwardness of these steps in the mirror. 

Why do I succumb to these senseless, time wasting and unproductive activities?  Because I love children and get a thrill out of watching people succeed at anything. I love laughter, zany conversations and the simple things in life that give me good stories and memories.  There are other “whys” in me. Why do I spend so much time and money going to writer and speaker conferences? Why am I such a ferocious reader and love to golf three to four times a week? Why do I mentor, prayer counselling, teach Bible studies and then for relaxation, watch foreign movies? Because that is how God has wired me and how I’ve found fulfillment and pleasure in life.  
Why do we do what we do?

The “why” is also a good way to get into a person’s heart and find out why they are they way they is. It’s a beautiful way to connect. For example: Last week while golfing with a woman I’ve never met, we have lovely conversations about what brought both of us to Kelowna at this time in our life.  At one point I started to say: “I love to have a full life and I don’t like being alone for long periods of time because….” Then my new friend finished it for me, “Because you don’t like the emptiness.”  Wow that response blew my mind.  After a few more golf shots, I finally had the courage to ask her, 

“Why do you know about emptiness?”

You can probably guess that for the next four holes our conversation got real, honest and even gritty. A few times I couldn’t even hit the ball because of the tears in my eyes. The “why” question opened her heart and her story, and at the end of the game I knew I made a new and authentic friend. 

It’s good to find answers to our personal “whys” and those honest and life-changing answers are found in Jesus Christ. Listen: “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.”(Ephesians 1:11 MSG).  So if life is confusing and you need answers, run to Jesus and ask Him.
  • Why do I feel so anxious and tired all the time?
  • Why do I get so defensive and takes things so personally?
  • Why is my life out of balance?
  • Why do I not love my husband the way I know I should?
  • Why do I spend the way I do?
Certainly we can ask these questions to a friend or come up with our own assumptions. But our real answers will come from the One who created us and knows every detail of our lives. Jesus is the One who will give you the answers that can transform you and help you to live your very best life.

What is one question you need to ask Jesus?  Be brave, and ask Him today.

Heidi McLaughlin lives in the beautiful vineyards of the Okanagan Valley in Kelowna, British Columbia. Heidi has been widowed twice. She is a mom and step mom of a wonderful, eclectic blended family of 5 children and 12 grandchildren. When Heidi is not working, she loves to curl up with a great book, or golf and laugh with her family and special friends. 
Her latest book RESTLESS FOR MORE: Fulfillment in Unexpected Places (Including a FREE downloadable Study Guide) is now available at Amazon.ca; Amazon.com, Goodreads.com or her website: www.heartconnection.ca

Monday, September 17, 2018

Praying in Jesus' Name by Susan Harris

At one of the schools I taught at in Trinidad the VP asked if I’d open the staff meeting in prayer. I was happy to do so. At the end of the meeting, a fellow teacher commented that I ought not to mention "In the name of Jesus" because it was a staff of mixed beliefs. I thanked him for his observation and reaffirmed that's it the way I always pray. If people do not want to hear it, then don’t ask me to pray. 
I am bold, and not ashamed of my faith.
Later in the day another teacher asked me for a copy of the prayer. She thought I had read one and was astonished that it was spontaneous. 
I pray in Jesus’ name because I stand on His authority. Praying in Jesus' name is essentially praying according to the will of God. Some verses that support praying in Jesus' name are:
•                John 14:13-14, And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
•                1 John 5:14 - And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us
•                Mark 16: 17-18 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;  They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
•                John 14:6 - Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

The “secret” to effective prayer lies in praying in the Name of Jesus.

Susan Harris  is bold and unstoppable in her faith. www.susanharris.ca. Join her page 1 Minute Prayer for a daily listing of God’s Direct Words as spoken in the Old Testament https://www.facebook.com/1-Minute-Prayer-368981386624849/

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Writing--a Grafting Tool by Ruth Smith Meyer

A grape vine is an interesting plant to observe.  It will use any support it can find in order to grow as far as possible.  On his farm, my husband, Paul,  planted a cedar hedge for a windbreak.  Several feet in front of the small cedars, he also planted a grape vine. By the time I married him, those cedars were at least 30 feet tall and considerably larger in girth than when the seedlings were planted.  The fall of 2006 was a good year for grapes.  It made me smile as we used extension ladders to pick bushels of luscious and plentiful bunches of grapes that put a blue tinge on the cedars. A person not familiar with the shape of a grape plant would have marveled at how tall grape vines grow. I wish I would have taken a picture.

A week ago the message I presented to our church was Abiding—a loving invitation.  Jesus asked us to abide in him and he promised he would abide in us.  In order for that to happen though, we need to be attached to the vine.  You could take as many grape branches as you want and twist them around those cedars, but unless they were firmly attached to the true vine, they would wither and die.

I used Romans 10: 10 TLB  to explain the process of being grafted into the vine: “ For it is by believing in the heart that a person becomes right with God; and with his mouth he tells others of his faith, confirming his salvation. The word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest. It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master” —embracing it, body and soul. God’s work will do in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead.”

This week while getting caught up on a few writing assignments, I ruminated on what I had talked about on Sunday.  I came to believe that the pen, or typewriter or computer can be an instrument of grafting as well as the tongue. What persuades me thus is the way my faith is strengthened when I write something that confirms what God has been doing in my life.  I like to think that at least some readers also are encouraged to grow in their faith.

Then I’m a little like that grape vine. Firmly fixed to and abiding in the true vine, I am free to climb whatever seems like obstacles before me. Those impediments can even make it possible for me to grow higher than I otherwise would or could. Still attached to my vine, drawing up nutrients from it, I can transform the cedars on which I climb, and colour them with the fruit the vine produces through me. All while just abiding in my Vine.

Ruth Smith Meyer finds delight in many things around her as she abides in the vine. She enjoys speaking to different groups, writing, reading and drawing or painting.  She wonders how she ever found time to work at a day job. You can find her books on line if you'd like to read her novels, memoir or anthologies in which she's had a part. www.ruthsmithmeyer.com 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Reflections on a Get-Away

silent auction table 

Yesterday I arrived at the Guelph Bible Conference Centre for the Refocus writers’ retreat. What a treat to see fellow writers I’ve met at previous conferences whom I’ve not seen in several years. And what fun to catch up on news of what's happening in their life and how their writing is going. It was equally good to meet new writers and those who’d been writing awhile who are new to us.

Guelph Bible Conference Centre

Coming back to this place was refreshing in itself, where I started on my first writer’s conference experience when it was called God Uses Ink and where I felt comfortable among people who thought like I did. I held their skills in awe, especially those who had multiple books published or credits in magazines. That was huge for me as a new writer with two publishing credits to my name. I held them as positive models in whose tracks I hoped to follow and writers I hoped to learn from. I was not yet ready for the critiquing (at my first conference) that I would someday learn to do and to teach others.
 the chapel

What’s different now is meeting in the new chapel and staying in the comfortable inn rooms. Instead of coming with two published articles, I come with two completed, published books of my own, credits in magazines and anthologies, attributing my success to what I’ve learned from others in those conference, inspiration of other writers, and the persistence to keep going.
 our meeting room in the chapel

 Remembering those whom I have learned from in conference sessions, personal and online discussions and the Word Guild online forums, I observe what’s changed in the organization since then, such as moving to Facebook for discussions and virtual book launches, and having one of our original founders taking part in the retreat.

There was a change in leadership at one point from our co-founders, Nancy and Wendy, who set us on a good path. We mourn the death of Wendy this summer and acknowledge that there comes a time for changes in leadership and that others with leadership capacity are stepping forward, such as Sara and Donna Lee who organized this retreat. We thank them for their efforts and time.

 Sara Davison

Yesterday afternoon, fellow writer, Donna, and I took the opportunity to work on our book project together. We looked at what we’d already written and plotted how to move ahead and get the next content written. We’ll try it out on our memoir classes this fall and get some preliminary feedback before taking our project to completion.

Donna Lee Sisson

Brian Austin, with some bargains at the book table

Therefore we look at refocusing, and as Donna Lee so aptly put it in her message at worship this morning, refreshing ourselves for writing in the coming days wherever we find ourselves and where God is leading us to write. She shared with us two verses in Proverbs, chapters 4 and 11, to inspire us. And I share them with you too, to perhaps inspire you as well.

Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Proverbs 4:25 (NIV)
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. Proverbs 11:24 (NIV)

 Kathleen and others hard at work   

Sunday, September 09, 2018

John Newton in Africa

John Newton in Africa
By the Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird

A violent storm was the turning point in John Newton's life. His godly mother prayerfully taught him the scriptures and loved him very much.  Motherless at age 6 and sent to sea on his 11th birthday, he soon became a teenage rebel. He was press-ganged into the Navy and flogged for desertion. His captain was very unhappy that Newton kept running off to visit his future wife Mary Catlett. Stripped to the waist and tied to the grating, he was flogged with ninety lashes and demoted to being a common seaman.
Alcohol addiction devastated his young life. He even ended up for a short time as a slave himself, coming close to starvation. What he was most enslaved to, however, was a violent temper and cursing everyone and everything . John was so blasphemous that once even his hardened shipmates threatened to throw him overboard in order to calm a dangerous storm. Newton  later became involved with the African Slave Trade. You name the corruption ... he both saw it and lived it during his wealthy slave trading days. 
He was in such despair that he decided to kill himself. His desire to marry his future wife kept him alive. Throughout his blasphemy and rebellion, John had family members who never stopped praying for him.  Secretly he began to read the "Good Book:' but somehow it never made sense. One night in March 1748, at the age of 23, he was on board a cargo ship which was fighting for its life against heavy seas and rough weather. Worn out with pumping water  and almost frozen, he called out for God's mercy at the height of the storm, and was amazed to be saved from almost certain death.

Newton's life had many twists and turns. Eventually he renounced his involvement with slave trading, married his childhood sweetheart, and, at age 39, became an Anglican Priest. He persuaded the young William Wilberforce to stay in politics, and joined him in his fight to abolish the slave trade. Being an ex-slave trader, he was able to prove how brutal and degrading that slavery really was. 
Some wealthy business people defended the slave trade as both harmless to the slaves and essential to economic stability. They even argued that the African slaves preferred being slaves. After 40 years of prayer and hard work, Wilberforce, through Newton's influence, finally had slavery abolished in 1833.

John Newton is a parable of what the Christian faith  is all about: moving from death to life, from slavery to freedom. Newton celebrated his new life in Christ  by writing one of the world's most famous songs.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet
the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now
am found,
Was blind but now I see."
May Amazing Grace touch your heart.

We are writing this article while in Africa teaching on marriage in Rwanda. The African couples we taught were moved to hear about how Jesus showed such amazing grace to a slave trader. If Jesus can transform Newton, there is hope for each of us, no matter how lost.

Rev Dr Ed & Janice Hird 
  • Co-authors of For Better, For Worse: discovering the keys to a Lasting Relationship

Friday, September 07, 2018

Do you know a smartphone addict? Is it you? - Denyse O'Leary

Here's a piece from a new blog I write for, Mind Matters Today:

Sherry Turkle, an MIT social scientist who has spent thirty years studying people’s relationships with technology, finds that the immediacy of the digital culture is exacting a steep toll:
At home, families sit in silence at the dinner table. We text (and shop and tweet) during class and while on dates. At work, executives email during meetings. We’re connected more than ever; not necessarily to one another, but to our keyboards and touch screens. We seek and find ways around real, face-to-face-conversation.
Or, as a reviewer of her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015), put it,
You’re at the dinner table, or in a meeting, or at a baseball game, or in the classroom, or in your bedroom, or at a bar or, yes, in the bathroom — and you’re on your phone. You might be talking, but more likely you’re texting, posting, swiping, liking, tweeting, buying, browsing or, in my favorite metaphor of digital existence, “refreshing,” as though life’s staleness can be washed away with every new, fully realized screen. Carlos Lozada, "The book that will have everyone talking about how we never talk anymore" at Washington Post
None of this activity requires us to listen to the voices or study the faces of people sitting right in front of us. It is an escape from doing so.

Here are some bon mots from her book:
“In 1979 Susan Sontag wrote, “Today, everything exists to end in a photograph.” Today, does everything exist to end online?”
Well, maybe both. It could end online and inhabit cyberspace forever as a selfie. The term selfitis, which started out as ingroup humour among psychiatrists was officially recognized as the name for an obsession with selfies in 2017.
“Every time you check your phone in company, what you gain is a hit of stimulation, a neurochemical shot, and what you lose is what a friend, teacher, parent, lover, or co-worker just said, meant, felt.”
What they are getting is not a relationship but a hit of the stimulating neurotransmitter dopamine:
Dopamine can create a false sense of accomplishment. The Qualtrics study found that when Millennials are awake, they rarely go more than five hours without checking their phone, which is a sign of addictive behavior. Seventy-nine percent keep a phone nearby when they sleep, and half check their phone in the middle of the night. Scientists know what's happening--it's a sense of euphoria you feel when someone comments on your Instagram photo, but that's not quite the same thing as landing a new job or getting a raise. John Brandon, "The Surprising Reason Millennials Check Their Phones 150 Times a Day" at Inc.
“It used to be that we imagined our mobile phones were there so that we could talk to each other. Now we want our mobile phones to talk to us.”
That’s characteristic of an addiction. Life revolves around an object or substance that erodes relationships:
About 48% of those who spent five or more hours a day on their phones—a lot of time by any measure—had thought about suicide or made plans for it, vs. 28% of those who spent only one hour per day on their phones. No other variables—like household financial issues, homework, or school pressure—could account for the rise in mental health issues over that time.
"Although we can't say for sure that the growing use of smartphones caused the increase in mental health issues, that was by far the biggest change in teens' lives between 2010 and 2015,” study author Jean Twenge said in a statement. Alice G. Walton, "Phone Addiction Is Real -- And So Are Its Mental Health Risks" at Forbes
Phones don’t drive people to contemplate suicide but addictions do.

We need to be more honest about the addictive nature of the device, for some.

A guy on a date is not checking his phone three times in ten minutes because the world outside the restaurant is changing that fast. He is in the grip of an addiction.

At FiveThirtyEight, Katherine Hobson offers tips to break the addiction, including “just keeping the thing around less often.”

If we can’t do that, for sure, we are addicted.

There are lots of good stories about things we need to know about the new digital world at Mind Matters Today. Don't fall for hype. See also:

AI (artificial intelligence) is indeed a threat to democracy But not in quite the way historian Yuval Noah Harari thinks (by Christian neurosurgeon Michael Egnor)

The brain is not a “meat computer”Dramatic recoveries from brain injury highlight the difference (by  Christian neurosurgeon Michael Egnor)

AI That Can Read Minds? Deconstructing AI Hype The source for the claims seems to be a 2018 journal paper, "Real-time classification of auditory sentences using evoked cortical activity in humans." The carefully described results are indeed significant but what the Daily Mail article didn't tell you sheds a rather different light on the AI mind reader. (by a well-known Christian computer prof, Robert J.Marks)

Karl Marx’s eerie AI prediction He felt that capitalism would fall when machines replaced human labor Because Marx held that the value of goods resided in the labor required to produce them, if goods were produced by automatons, without human labor, the economy would fall apart and capitalism would fail.

Why machines can't think as we do As philosopher Michael Polanyi noted, much that we know is hard to codify or automate

Claim: Yes, you can upload your brain Fine print: They might have to kill you first AI has a wonderful plan for your life Tech-savvy religion scholars play with reshaping society The scholars are pessimistic about getting politicians on side and hopes to persuade policy analysts to convince the politicians to adopt their policies instead. Wildman predicts, “We’re going to get them in the end.”

Neurosurgeon outlines why machines can’t think The hallmark of human thought is meaning, and the hallmark of computation is indifference to meaning. (Christian neurosurgeon Michael Egnor)

Monday, September 03, 2018

A Time to Plant by Rose McCormick Brandon

 But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. Psalm 52:8
Four years after we moved to Sault Ste. Marie, we added another son to our family of four. To give thanks for Peter John’s birth I ordered a Crimson King from a nursery and had it planted in the front yard. A tree was exactly what our barren corner lot needed. 
The birth of a baby and the planting of the tree seemed symbols of our decision to put down roots. (We stayed in the city for 31 years.) Like our son the tree flourished and grew to manhood. Today, I can open google earth and see it standing tall, all forty feet of it, covered in rich red leaves, watching over the old neighbourhood. 
When we lived in that house situated at the entrance to the sub-division, I prayed often for the families who lived there. The tree stands, not only to remind me how God blessed us with another son, but as a testament to the many prayers that went up from that location. 
There is a time to plant, to put down roots and settle in for the duration. After the flood, Noah cultivated the ground; he planted a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). Abraham planted a tree at Beersheba (Genesis 21:33). Isaac planted crops (Genesis 26:12). Trees, crops and gardens are evidence of God’s blessings, in the present and in the future. 
Those who delight in God are likened to trees by a river bank (Psalm 1:3), strong and lush with growth. Wherever God puts you, be productive there. Grow in God's truth and grace. And plant a garden, a tree, or even an inside plant, to signify you’re serious about blooming where you're planted.
Prayer: Lord, I may not be 100% happy with my present living circumstances. Nevertheless, I commit to growing roots and thriving for You in this place. 
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of four books, including Promises of Home – Stories of Canada's British Home Children, plus dozens of personal experience pieces, devotionals, short stories and essays. Rose’s work has won awards in the personal experience and short essay categories. A member of The Word Guild and The Manitoulin Writers Circle, Rose and husband, Doug, summer on Manitoulin Island where her pioneer ancestors settled and the home of his favourite fishing holes. The rest of the year, they live in Caledonia, Ontario, near their three children and three grandchildren. 

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