Sunday, August 31, 2008

Only One Way?

"If man has in fact committed cosmic treason against God, what reason could we possibly have that God should provide any way of redemption? In light of the universal rebellion against God, the issue is not why is there only one way, but WHY IS THERE ANY WAY AT ALL?"

R.C. Sproul
Reason To Believe

My Testimony (Part Two)

Fast forward a few more years. Two of my cousins had become Christians. There was a split in the Finnish Lutheran church, with the Evangelicals leaving. They, along with the Pastor, began to meet in homes. This soon led to rumours among the Finnish community that it was a cult. Although I was only 13 at the time, I never saw any indications of that. I do think, though, that they started out well and went into a steady decline.
After a while, the adults would meet separately from the teens. The adults were continuing to be taught, but the teens were left to themselves. At the beginning, we would read the Bible, discuss things, and pray. After a while, we didn't even do that. We were good friends and had a lot of fun together. We didn't do anything worldly, but neither did we do anything Christian. Soon we were believers in name only, thinking we didn't need to be taught by anyone. We were arrogant in our ignorance. A dangerous combination.
As the years went on, some of the former teens married other Christians, but most married un-believers. They would no doubt tell you they are still Christians, but for most, it's an experience in the past, rather than a present lifestyle. If you try to talk about spiritual issues with all but a few, you get a wall. Not the typical response of someone who loves the Saviour.
Anyway, I must say that those teen years were both good and bad. They were good because I got serious about my commitment to Christ. I faced opposition about it, at home, but I knew I had found the pearl of great price. Jesus was the Lover of my Soul.
In spite of the lack of teaching I received, I read the Bible and learned through the powerful Word of God. By that time, I had a complete Bible, though it was only a paraphrase, called The Way. I had many questions about Baptism, which seemed to me to be commanded in Scripture, and about whether or not I could lose my salvation. I received conflicting answers. The focus on any teaching we did get was on the Rapture. The eschatalogical view they held was dispensational Pre-millenialism. I've since been convinced of Amillenialism, but I'm not sure how much of that is just a backlash against the unbalanced teaching I received.
Also, during that time, I knew that part of living as a Christian was not dating unbelievers. I was determined to wait for a Christian husband.
The bad side of those teen years was related to that lack of teaching. I didn't realize how much I didn't know. They were wasted years and I had a lot of catching up to do. But God was gracious.
When I moved to Toronto to get a job after my second year of nursing school, I met my husband. I was thrilled to learn he was a believer, since I was attracted to him, but disappointed, when I learned he attended church. I had been convinced only hypocrites attended church.
Eventually, I went with him. After the first sermon, I still didn't see what I was missing. To me, all I heard was the basic gospel message. I was totally oblivious to the depth of the sermon because my understanding was so rudimentary. I began to ask questions, and this time, I got answers. I was baptized at age twenty and became a member.
About that time, our Pastor began to compare Calvinism with Arminianism. The lights went on. I compared the Scripture verses, asked more questions and read several books. I began to see that I couldn't lose my salvation BECAUSE I had been chosen before the foundation of the world. The doctrine of election became precious to me. The Sovereignty of God was a truth that gave God all the glory for my salvation. I knew that I didn't deserve to be saved, yet He set His love on me. Amazing Grace!
As I was playing catch up, I had a hunger to learn. I began to read, mostly books from the church library since we couldn't afford much back then. I wanted to know the Christian view toward social issues, like abortion, war, captial punishment, and euthanasia. I wanted to learn church history, apologetics, systematic theology. I read biographies, missionary stories and Bible studies. I took notes during sermons, and I loved to talk about the Saviour. I actually preferred to sit with the men, because they would talk about things of substance. The women, unfortunately, only spoke about babies, and recipes, and household stuff. I wasn't trying to be snobbish, I just wanted to learn. I was a late bloomer, and didn't feel I had time for trivial pursuits.
I read books on my role as a Christian wife, and then, when we had children, on my role as a parent.
I had gone from being an anti-intellectual, to someone hungry to learn. I began to see that what I DIDN'T know could fill a library, or two, or three.
My favourite hyumn became, And Can It Be? by Charles Wesley, because it said,
"And can it be, that I should gain an interest in the Saviour's blood?"
That's how I felt. There was no one more surprised than me that God had taken this unteachable teen and turned her into a teachable woman...with miles to go.
Yet, it was not the deep theology that saved me all those years ago. It was the simple gospel message. Simple enough for a child to understand, yet with a depth that cannot be plumbed in a lifetime of study. The great inexhaustible subject is God Himself, the Lover of my soul.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Testimony (Part One)

I've heard many amazing conversion stories; people who were former alcoholics, drug addicts, bank robbers (I actually know of two), atheists (too many to count), and all-around rebels against God, who are stopped in their tracks and completely turned around. It is the grace of God that does that. He takes someone who owes a great debt that can never be re-paid or worked off, and forgives that debt, and in a sense, gives him a billion dollars.
Well, if you came here expecting one of those stories, sorry to disappoint you.
But my conversion was no less an act of the grace of God to an undeserving sinner, even though I was only a child.
I was born in Finland, and was brought to Canada a month later. My parents were unbelievers; Lutherans in name only. I was christened in the Lutheran church as a baby.
My father died in a car accident when I was three and my sister was five. My mother never remarried. I was a cute kid, according to my pictures, with platinum blonde hair. I was very shy and quiet and well-behaved. I was very much an introvert.
Once, when we were visiting some relatives, and all of us kids were playing outside, a boy from the neighbourhood who was mentally challenged came around to play with us. I was surprised when my older cousins picked up stones and began to throw them at him. They told him to get lost, and called him cruel names. I still remember the fear in his eyes, and yet, I picked up stones and did the same thing. I felt bad for him, but I did it anyway.
You could say, "you were just a kid, going with the crowd," and that would be true. I was only 4 or 5 years old. Yet,the next time we visited and the same boy came around, I knew what to do. This time I threw the stones because I liked to see the fear in his eyes. (I say this to my shame).
Around the same time, a seemingly insignificant thing happened. One summer day I was in our backyard with a friend. Our lawn had these little orange flowers; maybe they were even weeds. My friend told me they were called the Devil's Paintbrush. I don't know if they are or not. My friend told me that if you picked one, you'd go to hell. Of course, it's absurd, like stepping on a crack and breaking your mother's back. An old wives' tale, nothing but superstitious nonsense. But they hadn't taken the word gullible out of the dictionary yet, so I believed it, and left it alone, because I didn't want to go to hell.
Yet, when I was alone, I went back, looked both ways, took a breath, and yanked it out. Nothing happened. The earth didn't swallow me up. But I felt so guilty. Maybe I wouldn't go to hell that day, but I had done what I wasn't supposed to do, and I was afraid of the inevitable punishment I knew I deserved. Of course, I know that it wasn't the act in and of itself that was wrong, but what it represented: my desire to do what I wanted to.
Perhaps a year later, our neighbours were hosting some childhood evangelism meetings in their home. This was common in the 1970's. This was to reach those kids who were not likely to go to church. They used flannelgraphs (the power point of the 1970's), and told the story of Adam and Eve. It was the first time I had ever heard the story. As the teacher told us how they had been forbidden to eat the fruit and Eve ate it anyway, I could see how she would do it, because I did the same thing. In fact, I did it because she did it, since I had inherited her sinful nature. I didn't know that at the time. But I knew I had broken God's law, even though I was just a cute, shy, well-behaved little girl. I was a sinner, by nature and practice. I picked up stones to hurt someone because I wanted to.
I recognized there was a problem between me and God (that's the bad news), and I felt guilty. Rightly so. Then the teacher told me that God didn't leave us without hope. He provided a way for us to get right with Him. He sent His Son from heaven as a sacrifice. He was punished so I could go free. I could be relieved of this burden of sin and be given eternal life (that was the good news). Gospel means good news.
I prayed with the teacher and asked God to forgive my sins and live in my heart and help me serve Him. He did, and I went home rejoicing. As my sister and I were walking home, I said, "I'm a child of God!" She just gave me a funny look. Why was I saved and she wasn't? We heard the same message. The difference is the grace of God. I didn't deserve the grace of God any more than she did. We were equally lost. She is still unsaved, but the story of this life isn't over yet.
I wish I could say that from that moment on, I grew spiritually by leaps and bounds, but I didn't. For most of my childhood, I didn't go to church. I didn't own a Bible. I had no Christian teaching or support. You could say I fell through the cracks, in a sense. Yet, I still felt close to God. I often grappled with deep theological questions, like how God could never have a beginning. When I couldn't wrap my mind about it, I'd go out and play. I started my own Bible studies in the neighbourhood and would teach my friends what little I knew.
As I said, I didn't have a Bible. But I did have a book of Christmas carols. I used to spend time singing and reading every verse to every song. I didn't like the ones about Santa Claus, but I liked the ones about Jesus Christ. There is actually alot of theology in those Christmas hymns. I still know them by heart to this day.
Fast forward a few more years, to about age ten. We were visiting relatives in another part of town. An elderly lady across the street from them was holding childhood evangelism meetings. I know, deja-vu all over again. I went the first day and she taught us a memory verse and said that if we had it memorized by the end of the week, we could have a Bible. I begged my Mom to let me go back at the end of the week, even though it was across town. I did, recited the verse, and received a New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, like the Gideons distribute. I still remember that verse to this day.
I ran to my cousin's and began reading in the same chapter, John 14. I read Jesus' words in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
Powerful words! Radical words! Exclusive claims! Authoritative. No one else ever spoke like that. They had the ring of truth. This was no ordinary book and Jesus was no ordinary man!
I wasn't much farther along, but having a New Testament was a good beginning, because God began to teach me through His Word.

Friday, August 29, 2008

My Mother's Sacrifice

After my Father died at the age of 28, my mother had a big decision to make. Should she stay in Canada, or go "back home" to Finland? At that point, they had been in Canada for only three years.
Why would this have been a difficult decision? Several reasons: First, the reasons for staying in Canada. The 1960's saw the greatest number of Finnish immigrants. This was mainly for economic reasons. Canada had many jobs in forestry, mining, construction and other trades. These were jobs that Finns were trained for. Canada was low on workers and was making it easy to make the move. Those who had already emigrated were settling in and socializing with other ex-pats. My mother thought it would be better for us to grow up in Canada, instead of being uprooted at a difficult time.
The reasons to return to Finland were greater: My mother was 27, recently widowed, with two young daughters, 3 and 5. She didn't speak English, did not have a job outside the home, or any education in a profession. She was currently living on a farm that she couldn't manage alone. The meager life insurance paid for my Father's funeral and a downpayment on a small house. She gave half of the money to her Father to bail out his business back in Finland.
A year after my Father died, the three of us took a trip to Finland. I had no idea that her parents were trying to encourage her to come "back home". It would have been easier, for her. But she thought of us, and decided to make our home in Canada, even though she was alone.
When we got back to Canada, she took English lessons, and got a job as a waitress. We bought our tiny 1-1/2 story house for $10,500.00 We moved in the summer before I started kindergarten.
We were poor growing up, but we had food and shelter. It's only now, as an adult, that I appreciate how difficult and lonely her life has been.
When my husband had cancer 10 years ago, I feared becoming a widow, like my mom. But even then, I knew that if he hadn't survived, I would've been better off than she was. I was educated, employed, and well-looked after, financially. I would not have had to suffer as she had.
My mother sacrificed her comfort and security for my sister and I. As a new immigrant, she worked hard, and lived vicariously through us; proud when we both graduated from college. She's an amazing woman and I love her very much.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Canadian Carey Family Conference

This past week was the 30th annual Canadian Carey Family Conference. It was our families' fifteenth. Our kids have grown up there. Every year we renew acquaintances and make new friends. It is organized by the Sovereign Grace Fellowship of Churches of Canada, but welcomes people from other churches as well. Approximately 20 churches are represented. We've been at this current location, near Paris, Ontario for three years. The accommodations are much better. Some people camp, while others stay in cottages or the on-site motel. We have a lovely one bedroom cottage that is ours for the week, as payment for handling the finances and administration for the conference. Our kids tent with their friends.
There are classes for all ages, team sports, a pool, campfires, or free time to visit with friends. There is the option of having some or all meals in the dining hall.
It is a conference, first and foremost, however, and the highlight is always the preaching sessions. There are two per day, or twelve for the week. The kids are in their own classes in the morning, and everyone is together for the evening. Coming from a small church, I really appreciate the singing. Some hymns are sung with harmonies, and it gives me goosebumps, especially when we sing the last verse accapella. You'd think you were in heaven, already. There is a ministry to the deaf and it's interesting to watch the sermon being signed as it's being preached. Some of the signs are beautiful.
Our local pastors each take a morning session on a previously planned theme. This year it was on the miracles of Jesus in the book of John. The evening sessions where done by our main speaker. This year it was Bill Bygroves, from Bridge Chapel, in Liverpool, England. He spoke on Sacred Songs, and preached from the Psalms.
I am never disappointed in the preaching. The feedback from the teens was that this was the best Carey ever, and they couldn't wait to hear him preach each evening. The Carey is always a great time to recharge your spiritual batteries. There's a book table by Sola Scriptura and we bought 15 new books. This way we continue to be taught long after the conference is over.
Wednesday night is talent night, which is always a highlight. Our Pastor usually produces a funny poem about the week, and this year was no exception. Some years he's been upstaged by another Pastor, who has "rapped" a better poem, or has even sung opera to put him in his place. It's hilarious.
One thing we've always enjoyed doing, is hosting the speaker for a meal. We've met some great men of God over the years. This years' speaker is also a coach and chaplain for the Liverpool soccer team in England. They are my husband's favourite team. Imagine our surprise when he said, "You must come to England, stay with us in Liverpool, come to Anfield for a game, and meet the guys." My husband was nearly hyperventilating! If the windows of heaven should open, could such a thing be?
He also held two soccer clinics for the kids. He learned the names of all forty of them and was very encouraging. It was fun to watch.
It was another great conference and such a blessing to our lives.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


"Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement. He is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor--that is the only way out of a hole. This process of surrender--this movement full speed astern--is repentence."
C.S. Lewis


"The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can't help it."
Leo Rosten


"The heart knows not its' own sorrow, until the moment of separation."


"A book is to the mind what exercise is to the body."
Gwen Herscrof

Monday, August 4, 2008

Amazing Grace

This movie was released to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in England. It is about William Wilberforce, a politician who became a Christian. He wondered whether or not to stay in politics, but was persuaded to by his friend, John Newton. Newton was a former Captain of a slave ship, who was graciously converted by God. He wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace, among others. It is his best known hymn. When you read his biography, you see what he means when he says, "Amazing grace...that saved a wretch like me." He wasn't exaggerating.
The real William Wilberforce was a small, diminutive man, but of course, for the movie they chose a tall, handsome actor to play him.
Although I love to see movies done about famous Christians, I find they don't always stick to the real story.
First, though, some things that were accurate. Wilberforce was a Calvinist. When he was converted and someone mentioned that he had found God, he remarked, "I believe God found me."
He was good friends with John Newton and was much encouraged by him. His good friend, William Pitt, became Prime Minister. He worked most of his life to rid England of slavery, against much opposition and apathy. He did this because of his beliefs. He did suffer from bowel disease and had great pain. He did see slavery abolished before he died, although I think he was close to death at the time.
However, many facts were misrepresented. When his friend, William Pitt lay dying, and said to him, "William, I wish I had your faith," I doubt he would have just stared mutely at him, as he did in the movie. Wilberforce was a strong Christian and he would have shared his faith.
Most surprisingly in the movie, was the portrayal of John Newton. If there was ever a man who loved to prclaim the joy he found in the assurance of forgiven sins, it was Newton. If ever a man knew he could do nothing to earn his salvation and that it was all due to the grace of God, it was Newton. Read his biography, his hymns, or his sermons. He is nothing like the way he was portrayed in the movie. He was happily married to Mary. He wore regular clothes and a powdered wig and lived with his family.
In the movie, they show him barefoot, without a wig, wearing rags, mopping the floor of the church, giving the impression that he lived there and was trying to atone for his sins. He talks in the movie about being "a monk" and living with thousands of "ghosts" who continued to haunt him. When Wilberforce reminds him of his hymn, he asks, "Did I write that?" Again, such a Roman Catholic view from a cheerful Protestant, I could not believe. And finally, when in the movie, he writes about his days on a slave ship, he feels exorcised of his ghosts, as if this work freed him. Nonesense! John Newton was a wretch. True. He was a wicked man. But once he was converted, he did not try to add to the work of Christ with his own works.
The best line in the movie was by Newton, when he said, "I don't know much. But I know two things: I am a very great sinner, but Christ is a very great Saviour."
In the movie theatre, someone said, "Amen!"

Friday, August 1, 2008

Fathers and Daughters

I've often wondered what my father would have been like, if he had lived longer than his twenty-eight years. I take clues from what little I know about him.
He was the eighth of nine children. His father was a chimneysweep. He was born in Vaasa, as I was. It's a city on the west coast of Finland, about half way up. Officially that means we're Ostrobothnians, although I never really learned what that meant. I gather it's the region and is reflected in the dialect of Finnish we speak.
He was a good student, apparently, and decided to further his education, rather than follow in his father's footsteps. His oldest brother died when he was 19 or 20, and the remaining brother took over the chimneysweep business.
My father did his required military service and was headed to officer's school based on the recommendations of his seniors, when he begged someone to give a poor review of him to the man who would be making the decision. He did, surprising the man, and my father left the military after doing only the minimum required service of eight months.
He studied political science in college and had aspirations for local politics in his new country once he learned the language. He was working as a painter while he was learning English. It was then that he had the workplace accident that claimed his life. He was on contract with the Steel Plant and was on plant property in the back of a flatbed truck with some other men. The driver was being reckless and hit a pole. My father was thrown from the truck. He had massive internal injuries, had to have surgery four times in a month, finally went into a coma, and died of an overwhelming infection. The accident occurred on July 4th and he died on August 31st. I think my mom still has the newspaper clippings from the accident.
Regarding his political aspirations, I think we would have landed on opposite ends of the spectrum. He probably would have been NDP (socialist), while I am conservative. That would've been interesting.
I'm told he had an interest in history and politics, so in that way I'm my father's daughter. He also had a sense of humour and my mom said he'd stand on a chair to recite poetry to her, especially when she was angry, and he wanted to diffuse her anger. We also have a watercolour painting he did. I have no artistic talent whatsoever.
I wonder how he would have been about my husband being Jamaican. My mom says he would have been fine; that he had once written a paper against racism. I hope that's true.
I wish I had something he had written, so I could get a sense of his opinions and his writing style.
We had a family tree that he had started, and on it, he left a blank next to me, I guess, expecting a third child one day; a son, perhaps?
I grew up in a house of women. We cut the grass and shovelled snow.
But I miss not having a father. I don't think I even know how much I missed. At key times, though, like my graduation, or wedding day, the births of our children, or what would have been his 50th birthday or my parents' anniversary, I think of how our lives would have been different if he had lived.
Any time I see a movie that has a touching moment between a father and daughter, I lose it. Even that super-sappy song, Butterfly Kisses, that was popular a few years ago, made me cry on the part about her wedding day. Every time.
The modern thinking is to call any permutation of the nuclear family, a family. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I think of the old way of referring to it as a broken family, to be more accurate. We were a complete family, but we were broken by death. My husband's family was broken by divorce. And while our Moms did the best they could for us, one parent just cannot be all that two parents are. We both missed so much without a father.
When I was growing up, I loved being at friends' homes, especially ones that had both parents. I remember thinking, "This is what I want." I've been blessed to have that.
When my husband had cancer ten years ago, our girls were young. I was afraid history was repeating itself and I was going to be a young widow with two girls, like my mom. I didn't want that for my girls.
But God spared him, and us, and life has been good.
When my daughter was away at camp, another kid asked her, "Do you live with your mom or your dad?" She said, "My parents are still married." Most of them came from single-parent families.
Although they pretend to be grossed out if they see us kissing, I know that deep down they appreciate that they have parents who love each other, and who are here for them.