Loreena Thiessen: What Can You Do?

Has someone said to you, “You have to wait until you’re older or bigger or taller”?

You may not be old enough to ride as far on your bike as you want, or strong enough to swim across the lake. You may have to wait to play on your dream team. You may have to wait to wear those dream shoes because they look so grown up.

So what can you do?

For now you can ride or swim a safe distance. You can wear the shoes that are right for today. You can finish out with the team you are on and then consider what comes next. You will grow into what your dream is.

Many young animals do the same. Fox and wolf cubs learn to hunt from their parents and how to hide in long grasses to be safe. Bird parents dutifully feed their chicks until one day they flap their wings vigorously on the edge of a nearby branch eager to fly. They grow into their skills.

Insects are different. They develop in stages. At each stage they must

do the right thing to survive on their own. They hatch, find food, grow, and eat some more. Their parents leave them to survive alone.

The ladybug hatches on a leaf. At first it looks like a tiny black alligator. As it eats and develops it grows to become the red spotted bug we know and like. It turns out to be a helpful bug too, eating up to fifty aphids, another bug that destroys garden plants, each day. Gardeners like them too.

The Monarch butterfly hatches on a leaf as a colourful striped worm. It immediately eats this leaf and many more. At the right time it spins a cocoon and within it changes miraculously to be the butterfly we know, ready to fly. Insects are born knowing what to do. This knowledge is called instinct.

You must learn skills and knowledge from your parents and teachers. And you must be wise. To be wise is to know when and how to use your skills and knowledge. You have the skills to swim but knowing how far and where to swim safely is to be wise.

How do you get wisdom?

Wisdom comes from thinking carefully about outcomes, about what might happen when you act. Wisdom comes through experience. Both your parents and teachers have more experience. They will teach you rules to guide you, how to judge what is safe and right for you as you grow.

loreena-thiessen
Loreena Thiessen

God says a lot about wisdom too. God says you must follow laws and judge a situation carefully to be safe and do well. Read Deuteronomy 4:6.

You can’t buy wisdom He says in Job 28:12. Wisdom is better than gold (Proverbs 16:16). He says listen to the instruction or teaching of your mother and father in Proverbs 1:8. And He says getting wisdom will make you happy (Proverbs 3:13).

Activity: Bible Quiz: A Very Wise King

Do: Read 1 Chronicles 29: 23-24 and 2 Chronicles 1:7–12.

As you read find the answers for the quiz below.

  1. Who was a very wise King?
  2. Who was the king’s father?
  3. What was the promise God made to this king’s father?
  4. What made this King wise?
  5. Why did this King need wisdom?
  6. What did God do?

The Reconciling Wonder of Our Faith

by Terry M. Smith

Recently EMC, CMC, and EMMC representatives were asked at an SBC chapel panel discussion: why be part of a denomination? They responded.

What they did not ask, as I later reflected, was this: Before there were denominations, what was there? There was the Church. When early Christians wanted to learn, they did not have TV, the Internet, or a Bible. They gathered, even at odd times, whether slaves or masters (Acts 20:7-12, Heb. 10:25).

There was one Church. Then there were two churches, Eastern and Western. After that, the Protestant Reformation occurred in the West. Then came liberal and conservative movements, a fragmented Evangelicalism, and, amid them, scores of Anabaptist groups. This is an over-simplification, but you get the point.

Today there are many independent churches. Some Christians decide not to join any church or say, wrongly, that they don’t need a church. With that, the trend toward division and individualism reaches its logical, if sad, conclusion.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Yes, we can defend identifying, participation, accountability, togetherness, and working together. It’s harder to defend individualism as people or churches. Each independent Christian, each independent Church, and each denomination teaches that Jesus came into the world to bring us together, yet, by our separateness, we partly contradict this.

When, though, a Christian joins a church, a church joins a denomination, or denominations merge, each step better represents the reconciling wonder of our faith: Jesus Christ.

 

Jeff Plett: Restoring a Sorrowful Disciple

by Pastor Jeff Plett

Every once in a while the disciple Peter must have felt intense pangs of guilt. He was still living under a cloud; the denial of Jesus still echoed in his mind. “No, I’m not one of His disciples,” he had said (John 18:25). “No, that wasn’t me you saw in the garden with Him.” “No, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even know Him” (John 18:26-27).

Immediately the rooster crowed. He had denied the very Son of God not only once, but three times! It was good to see Jesus again, but His appearance must have caused pain and shame to resurface.

Jesus knows Peter’s heart and wants to restore Peter’s confidence and joy in the Lord. After they finished eating breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside and asks him a question, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” (John 21:15). The sense of the question probably is, “Peter, do you love me more than these disciples love me?”(Leon Morris).

After all, Peter had stressed in the most vehement terms that he was prepared to die for Jesus. He had boldly proclaimed, “Even though they all fall away, I will not. If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14:29,31). Of course, Peter had badly overestimated his courage and oneness with Christ. His confidence had quickly wilted in the face of pressure.

Also, Peter’s strong objection to Jesus being crucified showed that Peter had not wanted a crucified Lord. He preferred a powerful ruler who would crush any who would challenge Him. But Jesus had in fact been crucified. How did Peter’s devotion now stand in the light of this? Was he ready to love Christ as He was, and not how Peter wished him to be? That was an important question, and Peter must answer it (Leon Morris).

Peter Appeals to Jesus’ Knowledge

Jesus’ question probes Peter to the depth of his being. “Peter, do you truly love me more than these?” Peter doesn’t answer the question in terms of comparing his love with that of the other disciples. What does he do? He appeals to the Lord’s intimate knowledge of him: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (John 21:15).

Now that answer could be contested. Peter’s actions of late had been the opposite of love. His three-fold denial stood in blatant contradiction to his confession of love! How do you put the two together?

Yet he is appealing to Jesus’ full understanding of the situation. He is asking Jesus to look beyond his actions and into his heart. “Yes, you know I was wrong. I was weak. I denied you. But you know that deep in my heart I still love you!”

Haven’t we uttered that same plea of repentance? “Oh, Lord. You know I have failed you, disappointed you, sinned against you. But you know that deep inside I still love you.”

Jesus accepts Peter’s statement and then commissions him, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15).

The question comes a second time, again using Peter’s formal name: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” Peter replies exactly as he did the first time, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you” (John 21:16). Jesus responds, “Take care of my sheep.”

Jesus asks the same question a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:17). Peter is hurt that Jesus asks him three times whether he loves him. But Jesus is not about to quickly gloss over this fundamental question. Just as Peter disowned Jesus three times, so Jesus requires this simple yet profound confession three times.

There is not an ounce of self-righteousness in Peter’s response. He can only appeal to the fact that Jesus knows everything and therefore knows his heart: “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:17) (D. A. Carson).

Lest there be any doubt that Peter is fully restored to future service, Jesus again commands, “Feed my sheep.” We notice that the sheep are Christ’s sheep, not Peter’s. He will be tending to and feeding Christ’s sheep (people), which means in the end Peter will be accountable to Christ as to how well he has carried out that work. In the same way, you and I are accountable to Jesus for the ministry that we do or don’t do.

Reflections

On reflecting on these events, I’d like to highlight a few things. First, Jesus knew about the uncertainty and doubts that Peter and the disciples had towards Him. He is compassionate and caring and desires to strengthen their faith in Him.

I believe Jesus is concerned about our uncertainties and doubts as well. In various ways He works in our lives so that our faith in Him is strengthened. Sometimes He does it by enabling us to do a task that we could never have done without His help.

He helps us by answering our prayer requests. At times we are afraid and alone, and He quietly assures us of His presence. His desire is for us to put our trust in Him and to be at peace knowing He has our best in view.

Second, we see that many times the disciples should have been disqualified from the Lord’s service. At times they were selfish, wanting high positions of power and authority. When they encountered opposition, they suggested Jesus should call down fire from heaven to destroy the people. The disciples abandoned Jesus when He was facing trial and finally denied they ever knew Him. Jesus would have had every reason to kick them out of His band of followers.

We, too, have disappointed our Lord Jesus many times. We too, have been selfish, wanting the biggest and best for ourselves. At times we’ve been lax in our prayer life. We’ve said and done things that hurt other people. We’ve even denied that we know Jesus, by keeping quiet when we should have spoken out.

Peter was forgiven, reinstated as a disciple, and told to feed Jesus’ lambs. I’m glad that Jesus gives second chances even when we’ve failed him. Like He did Peter, He forgives us and reinstates us into service for Him.

Third, the one thing which Jesus questions Peter about is his love for Him. “Peter, do you truly love me?” It’s a probing question that Jesus asks of each one of us. Truly loving Jesus is the bottom line when it comes to being a Christian. And, it is the basic qualification for Christian service. Other qualities are desirable; having a true love for Jesus Christ is indispensable, absolutely necessary.

Thus, it is important that we humbly ask Jesus to fill us with His deep love that far surpasses our own. Then, having been reinstated into His service, filled with His love, we are ready to serve Him.

Jeff Plett, BRS, MDiv, is pastor of Hillside Christian Fellowship, Buffalo Head Prairie, near La Crete, Alta. He and his wife Laural Ann previously served for many years as the pastoral couple at the Evangelical Fellowship Church (Fort Frances, Ont.) and earlier served as part of a church planting team in Germany.

 

Dr. David Murray: Eight Ways Preachers Can Harm the Depressed

 

by Dr. David Murray

In a church of 100 people, 20 people will likely experience an episode of depression at some stage in their life. If you are in a church of that size, there are probably five to 10 people struggling with anxiety or depression right now. But instead of finding comfort and consolation in the preaching of God’s Word, these suffering souls often find themselves battered and bruised by insensitive preaching.

What kind of sermons harm depressed and anxious Christians?

  1. Sermons that over-stress the moral evils of the day. They are anxious enough through hearing the daily news without every church service ramping up the “we’re doomed” rhetoric. A steady diet of gloomy sermons is not going to lift up the head or heart of the cast down.
  2. Sermons that include graphic descriptions of violence. They are deeply traumatized by preachers reciting the gory details of shooting massacres, abortion procedures, persecution of Christians, and child murders.
  3. Sermons that extol constant happiness as the only valid and virtuous Christian experience. The deep pain of depression is multiplied when a depressed person is repeatedly told that sadness is a sin.
  4. Sermons that question the faith of anyone who doubts. A lack of assurance is not necessarily a lack of faith. Believers who hang on to God despite feeling no assurance sometimes have the greatest faith.
  5. Sermons that demand, demand, and demand. The depressed person already feels like an inadequate failure. To be regularly berated for not doing this ministry, or failing to engage in that Christian service, only crushes what’s left of their spirit.
  6. Sermons that are too loud for too long. When a preacher pours out high-decibel words with hardly a breath between them for 45 minutes, it’s not just the nerves of the depressed that are frayed.
  7. Sermons that condemn anyone for using meds to treat depression or anxiety. These are often preached by pastors whose medicine cabinets are overflowing with pills and potions for every other condition under the sun!
  8. Sermons that overdo the subjective side of Christian experience. Depressed people need to focus most on the objective facts of Christianity, the historic doctrines of the faith. Facts first and feelings follow. There’s a place for careful self-examination, but remember Robert Murray McCheyne’s rule: “For every look inside, take ten looks to Christ.”

And that really brings me to the best way to preach to the depressed, and that’s to preach Christ. Preach His suffering and sympathizing humanity. Preach His gentle and tender dealings with trembling and timid sinners. Preach His gracious and merciful words.

Preach His beautiful meekness. Preach His miracles to demonstrate His power to heal. Preach His finished work on Calvary. Preach His offer of rest to the weary. Preach the power of His resurrection-life. Preach His precious promises: ”A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Matt. 12:20).

David-Murray
Dr. David Murray

Preach Christ! Preach Him winningly and winsomely. Preach Him near and ready to help. Preach Him from the heart to the heart. Preach Him again, and again, and again. Until the day dawn and the shadows flee away.

Dr. David Murray is professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary and pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. With his wife Shona and their five children, Murray enjoys life in the Lake Michigan area. This article is reprinted with his permission.

 

 

 

‘Shining Light’ School: Where Miracles Happen

by Daniel Rivera, director, Brillante School

BOLIVIA – The three initiatives of the MEM Mission in Bolivia are evangelism, economic development, and education.

When you ask me about education, and more specifically about the Shining Light (Brillante) school at Hacienda Verde (Green Farm), what automatically come to mind are my most important memories of the decisions that were made along the way in the school’s development.

The school was born at a time when there was strong crisis and adversity in a very traditional Mennonite community before Hacienda Verde was started. The first 12 to 15 students were very brave to accept the challenge of attending a school and to receive an education other than what they knew.

The first two years of the school, with more than 30 children in attendance, saw the children gradually overcome the language barrier, criticism, insults, and even the spiritual condemnation from the religious ministers and the surrounding community. In all this, there were many times that there was sadness and tears in each family.

Thank you to each one of the dads and moms and their children, and the Hacienda Verde Church; and for each one who participates in one way or another to have this school function as it is.

It was and is a reality that each student can begin to dream, plan, and to think about a future and better opportunities.

The Brillante school is privileged to have children that, despite their parents’ limited economic resources and different limitations to give academic support, emerge and improve every day in their intellectual and spiritual life. If you don’t believe in miracles, I encourage you to think about this.

The school children who attend the Brillante school are Mennonites who only speak Low German and who do not read or write. Their parents are the same, and, therefore, the children are alone in this new challenge: studying in a school with teaching in Spanish and, not only studying, but also understanding sufficiently so that they can write exams. The marvellous truth is that each student has succeeded in doing this. This is a supernatural miracle of God in that each student is completing the standards according to the Bolivian education requirements.

We thank God for EMC Missions and its churches that give different types of support to the school. We also thank God for the missionaries who are a blessing to the children and their families of the Brillante School.

Note by Ken Zacharias, EMC Foreign Secretary and translator: The school is growing and currently has 51 children in attendance. Henry and Caroline Krahn (Picture Butte) serve on the School Board and are a strong support to the school staff.

 

 

 

 

 

Giving as Protest

by Dori Zerbe Cornelsen

Does the headline for this article pique your curiosity or does it irritate you? The word protest often evokes strong positive or negative emotions. Like it or not, we seem to be in a time marked by protests of one kind or another.

Beyond giving as duty, the Bible offers us an array of metaphors for giving that can move us to live more generously. The story of the widow’s offering told in the Gospels of Mark and Luke offers us one.

When you think of this familiar story (often called The Widow’s Mite), have you ever imagined what the widow looks like? How old is she? How does she carry herself? What is her facial expression?

I had always imagined this widow was an older woman who showed signs of a very hard life. In my mind, she was embarrassed to be in the temple, shyly approached the treasury hoping not to be noticed and apologetically put her two lowly coins in the box.

An illustration of this story from the Jesus Mafa community of Cameroon completely changed my mind. Their illustrator sees a young woman with a baby on her hip and a basket on her head. She is dressed shabbily but confidently approaches the treasury, boldly giving her offering among the high status men who are also contributing.

In both texts, just before this story, Jesus was teaching in the temple and said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

What if our widow heard Jesus’ teaching and decided to stage a protest at the treasury? Had her house been devoured by an upstanding community leader? Was she reacting to those “upright” citizens who accumulated wealth for themselves at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable?

Widows and orphans were supposed to be cared for, not taken advantage of! Throwing all that she has in the offering, the widow throws herself on God and the community creating an obligation on both to make things right.

This idea is summarized in an offering prayer adapted from the book Be Our Freedom Lord, edited by Terry Falla:

“God of extravagant mercy, with hands outstretched you have poured out wonder and pleasure and delight, goodness and beauty and bounty. Take our offerings, we pray, as our protest against all that is evil and ugly and impoverished, trivial and wretched and tyrannical in our world and in ourselves–that we too may be poured out for the world.”

Yes, the widow’s story might express that no matter how small the gift, it matters. Or no matter what the gift, it’s the attitude that counts. But Jesus tells his disciples that the widow, “out of her poverty, put in everything she had.”

She gave her whole life. It foreshadows that in just a short time after this incident, He too will give his whole life in order for new life to emerge. In the same way, our financial giving can demonstrate that we desire to participate in Jesus’ love poured out for the world.

Dori Zerbe Cornelsen
Dori Zerbe Cornelsen

There are different types of protests. Some are peaceful and others are splashier and more extreme. Not everyone has an appetite for marching, demonstrations or even boycotting. Our giving can be our protest against the “ugly” that we see around us and around the globe.

Any good protest requires planning to have the greatest effect. Perhaps it is time to look at how your giving plan is set up for new possibilities to emerge. Abundance Canada can help!

Ken Zacharias: God Gets the Glory for 50 Years of Church Growth in Nicaragua!

by Ken Zacharias, BOM Foreign Secretary

A half-century of ministry in Nicaragua was celebrated on April 6-10, 2017, as our sister conference, the FIEMN, and representatives from EMC Missions joined together at Camp Maranatha, 40 minutes from Managua, the capital city.

For the celebrations, a one-day conference event was held with 900 people in attendance. In addition, there were four regional gatherings. Lester and Darlene Olfert, former workers in the country, assisted the FIEMN’s national leadership in planning these special events.

EMC missionaries initiated the work in 1966 and were present in Nicaragua for 25 years. Since 1992 the FIEMN has ministered without an active EMC missionary presence.

In attendance was one half of the EMC’s first missionary couple to Nicaragua, Doris Friesen (1966-1974), and her four adult children, spouses and two grandchildren. Others missionaries who returned were Lester and Darlene Olfert (1970-1989), Ron Olfert (1971), John and Connie Reimer ((1975-1982), and Ernie and Diane Koop (1983-1992). Several former missionaries were not able to be present.

Doris Friesen

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Doris Friesen speaks at a regional gathering in Managua. She and her husband Fred were the EMC’s first church planters in Nicaragua.

Doris Friesen testified of how she and her husband Fred, who has passed away, left Canada to travel to a country they had not visited before and where they didn’t personally know anyone. God led them one step at a time. They found a place to live and identified a new housing development to begin house visitation in Managua.

A couple, Juan and Argentina Reyes, opened their home to Bible studies and soon there was a group studying and turning their lives over to Jesus. They were the first baptized believers. The Reyes’ daughters, Marisol and Carolina, and their children are all active in the same church today. Josefa Argueda and other founding members were also present at the gatherings. The church continues today. To God be the glory!

Now 42 years after leaving Nicaragua, Doris said she was overwhelmed with the growth of the FIEMN, hearing how many churches and outreaches there are.

John and Connie Reimer

John and Connie Reimer reflected that, “For us as former EMC missionaries and the present church in Nicaragua there was and is a cost in sowing the precious seed of the gospel. For us as missionaries there were tears of farewell, the tears of distance, the tears of loss of health and life, the tears of not being understood, the tears associated with fears of earthquakes and wars.

“For the present church, there are the same realities, tears of poverty, tears of shortage, tears of rejection by family. But together we celebrated with shouts of joy, as we saw the fruit of 50 years of ministry and the exponential growth in all of the original church plants. There was a strong sense of “exceedingly more than we could have asked for or imagined” (Psalm 126:5-6).

Although the celebrations emphasized and focused on the first 25 years of ministry and missionary involvement, it is noted that the FIEMN has a clear vision today. John and Connie wrote, “We participated in the FIEMN Pastoral Retreat a few days before the celebrations began and saw and we heard the cry for souls, the tears for the further coming of Christ’s Kingdom. To see the seasoned pastors together with the younger ones casting a vision for the next season was encouraging.”

In addition to former missionaries being present, Sid Reimer, Janice Kroeker, Brad Brandt, and Ken Zacharias (Board of Missions representatives) were also in attendance to witness and celebrate.

50th-3
A parade of missionaries was led by FIEMN president Gerardo Chavarria.

Janice Kroeker

Janice Kroeker is the widow of Dennis Kroeker who passed away while serving on a short-term missions team in 2007. She wrote, “After the first regional gathering held in the First Mennonite church in Managua, I felt like my heart was already filled to overflowing. How could I take in more? But the blessings kept on coming!

“Thanks to our capable interpreters, I enjoyed every service immensely. The authenticity, the joy, the love, and the energy of the people! The song, Hay Una Senda (There is a Way), still keeps ringing through my mind, together with the memory of the smiles and warm hugs during this song from all these people who did not know me at all!

“One thing that was really impressed on my mind is the way God took the obedience of the very first missionaries, Fred and Doris Friesen, and multiplied it to the 22 churches and 14 church outreaches we have in Nicaragua today. Of course, that includes every missionary and local pastor since then that also obeyed God’s calling.

“What I took home from this is the importance of obeying whatever it is God is asking of me. It may seem insignificant to me, like befriending my neighbour, baking cookies for kids club, giving to charity or praying, God can multiply that and accomplish more than I could ever imagine! Not everyone is called to begin a work in a new country.”

Sid Reimer

Sid Reimer, a former BOM board member who was visiting Nicaragua for the second time, observed, “A personal observation was touching for me: there were tears and repeated abrazos (hugs) as the former missionaries and nationals renewed acquaintances. They were reconnecting, sharing heartaches and victories of the past, along with successes of the present. Many a Gloria a Dios (Glory to God) was uttered!

“With the celebrations being broken down into regional events it was very gratifying to attend and visit as many churches and church plants as we did. These churches oozed with passion for outreach. So many of the churches are actively parenting a new church plant! It seems as if that’s a natural expectation. Almost as fundamental and basic as having Sunday School, it was a basic ministry of the church.

“It was common for outreach leaders to travel up to two hours each way by public transit from their home to the new location, very often including weekend stays. Foreign missions appeared to mean in the ciudad (city) or pueblo (town) down the road—and they were committed to it!”

Lester Olfert

Ken Zacharias
Ken Zacharias

Lester Olfert summarized the 50th anniversary with these words: “Growth had come by working with our Nicaraguan believers as co-workers in God’s service and that it was God that made things grow. By 1992 when the last missionaries left there were eight organized churches. Only five had been directly pastored by missionaries. Today there are 22 churches and 14 outreaches.”

Ken Zacharias is Foreign Secretary to the EMC Board of Missions.