Monday, December 31, 2007

First Semester Reflection

My first semester was incredible. For the past 3 months I have lived out of a suitcase, traveling around Winnipeg to Calgary, Banff, Shushwap Lake, Mission, Abbotsford, Hope, Vancouver, Canmore, back to Calgary and then Home. I have experienced God in ways I couldn't have imagined, with a community of 31 people that I would now call a Church, because we strive to know God together. We seek his answers, pray together, worship together, experience the Holy Spirit's presence, reflecting on His involvement in our lives and the growth He has influenced in our community. Through these experiences I have learned that a community is very important for Christians so we can hold each other accountable, learn and grow together and through each other, and help each other when we are struggling spiritually.

The reason I first took this program was because I was looking for the direction God had for me. If people asked me what I pictured myself doing in 5-10 years I would have replied, "Some sort of evangelic missions in far away countries that need to know Jesus." But now if I were to be asked the same question I am not so sure I would have the same answer. Throughout this semester, I have experienced such a need, such a thirst for Christ's love, here in our cities, in our towns, in the Church in North America. I have been a part of this society all my life but blind to what I was a part of. I would walk down the streets or in malls with my eyes forward, on a mission because I have a busy life and things to do, not knowing or thinking of what God might want me to do.

My eyes were opened walking through East Hastings in Vancouver, the poorest postal code in Canada, with human beings shooting up all around you while sitting beside piles of their own excrement, then walking to the richest postal code in Canada, West Hastings (the same street), where a sky- scraper was being built with a pent house worth a few billion dollars. West Hastings looked much like the streets of any city; people, busily walking by each other, the world flying by all around them. The strange thing is that I experienced more love on East Hastings. If I smiled at someone on East Hastings, homeless or not, they would give me an overly-enthusiastic grin and probably start a conversation, whereas if I happened to catch a busy-body's eye and smiled on West Hastings and Robson St. they would either look confused, give me a dirty look, or look straight ahead and ignore me. How many times have I done that? These experiences have shed light on our society and how some of my actions have been molded by it more than by Jesus. It also made me think about how the little things can make such a difference because the Spirit is working all the time.

One statement has stuck with me. Rudy, a first nations woman who used to be a prostitute told us her story. She would be standing on the street corner on Sunday morning watching the people drive to church. None of them would look at her. She felt shamed, like she didn't deserve to be there, like they were too good for her. She screamed to those in the cars going by, she screamed to God wanting them to just look at her, to acknowledge her existence. She tried to commit suicide that morning. How many times could that have been me in the car, oblivious to the real world around me, in my comfort bubble?
Rudy used to be invited to church but she said, "What's the point? I feel bad enough about myself already." What is wrong with the church that it gives off that kind of an impression? I am a part of the Church. Am I accurately expressing God's love to I can always do it better. Somehow the North American Church has given off the vibe of the bad judgment instead of the loving accountability of Jesus. It gives off the judgment that is not meant to help but to hinder. How do we reverse this? How do we show the world otherwise?

This is why a strong Christian community is crucial. It’s a place where there is enough of God's love, compassion, and forgiveness so that we can address our brothers and sisters and where we can share with others our own struggles. If we let the world know that we know we are not perfect, would that change their views?

I have learned that being a Christian is really, really hard. Jesus asked us to do really hard things. I heard about this man that was on a late night Christian show. People called in and asked questions about Christianity and he would answer them on the air most of the time with quotes of Jesus from the Gospels. But soon he was told that Jesus' words were too harsh and he had to stop quoting Jesus on the air. This misses the entire point. Yes, Jesus asks a lot from us, and we are supposed to love him. And if we truly loved God wouldn't we want to please him? We are actually called to be like Jesus, use him as an example. I used to think that this would be impossible. But why would such a loving God ask us for something that is impossible? And the amazing thing about it is that God loves us no matter what. No matter how many times we fall, we are saved by Grace. We just have to sincerely ask for forgiveness.

So how can I give back to God? How can I possibly thank Him for what He has given me? Worship. I am discovering how I can worship God in my day to day life; how to do everything for His glory. A loving relationship takes work. God doesn't just want me to sing praises to Him, He wants me to live for Him. Walk with Him and include Him in all aspects of my live. He wants me to be a worshiper in spirit and in truth. It was CS Lewis who said, "It is in the process of being worshiped that God communicates His presence to us."

One of our speakers, Garreth Goosen, told us a story about a pastor who noticed a change in the post-service conversation at his church. Instead of walking out of church talking about how they experienced God they would be talking about how their professional worship band sounded. He was very disturbed by this and decided to take music out of his church all together. This caused the church to shrink by half. For a few months the people who continued to worship there would meet in a circle, pray, talk and discuss God and the Bible. The focal point of their worship time changed from the music to the glory of God.
And during this time of fasting from singing the Pastor wrote the song: "It's all about you."
“When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come
Longing just to bring something that's of worth, that'll bless your heart.
I bring you more than a song for a song in itself is not what you have required.
You search much deeper within than the way things appear.
You’re looking into my heart.
I'm coming back to the heart of worship, cause it's all about you, it's all about you Jesus.”

I am now learning what it means to lay down my desires and life for Christ. Part of this is being able to accept everything with open hands; all gifts and talents, everything I am blessed with, taking nothing for granted. Be willing to give it all away, back to God. Another speaker, Nathan Regher, talked to us about idols and he said that any thing at all that gives me value, status, power or pleasure that only God is supposed to give me is an idol. When I look to something other than God for my identity, it is an idol because I am allowing it to take the place of God in my life, making it bigger and more important than God. I found this very hard to think about and am still reflecting on what it means in my life.

Another thing that I have learned during my first semester is the importance of prayer, reading the word, being silent, and having conversation with God. We should always question and look for the answers in the word of God. And when I pray, God answers me, a lot of times I am just too busy to notice. That is why it’s important to build silence into my relationship with God.

The mission statement of Outtaown is, "Knowing Yourself, Knowing God, Knowing the World." I have learned so much about myself, God and the world around me. Not solely from my classes, but from applying the classroom lectures to my everyday experiences. I have learned so much that I don't think I can even comprehend what most of it is or how it has affected me yet. I have been challenged beyond what I thought was possible. But everything that I have learned has been intertwined with God's love and grace, something that I do not deserve and yet am required to share with others.

By: Rachel Kamps

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Part of the Solution

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The king will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
~ Jesus ~

I just got back from 3 months of traveling around Central/Western Canada, and it was an experience that can't simply be put into words. Slowly unpacking the things I've learned will take more than just one month at home, but there are some things that have stuck out more than anything else.
Learning to become globally aware of what's happening all over the world is becoming increasingly more important to me.

There is opportunity all over this planet for us, the wealthy MINORITY, to be working towards creating some sort of equality amongst people; food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, warmth from the cold, and love for the neglected. Everyone sees these needs.
I know we do. It's plastered all over the news.
Yet, we live in ignorance. Some think that if they don't acknowledge it then it might go away, or they pretend it's not even there. Others think, 'it’s not my problem, someone else will deal with it'.

The news. It shows one horrific scene after another, and we're numb to it: We've all heard stories like "20,000 people died today in flash flooding that swept the city," or "5000 people died as police opened fire on a group of protesters in the streets," and even organizations like World Vision continually plaster the faces of starving children all over our television screens as we sit on the couch, channel surfing, wondering what we can gorge on as we try to find something to entertain our deteriorating bodies and minds. Day after day its a struggle deciding what we want to eat; we don’t take the time to truly realize how amazing our life is, for we never have to ask ourselves where we'll have to search to find our food, or whether food will even be an option for the day let alone the week.

We may not realize it, but we are all a part of the problems that this world is facing. Every action, decision and lifestyle has an effect on our environment and those around us. Take a look at all the major cities just in North America. Every day, each individual uses vast amounts of electricity, creates trash, contributes to the ever increasing pollution problem, uses disposable cleaning supplies, washes loads of laundry which uses soap that harms the environment, wastes food, and so much more! Think about how you yourself justify your wasteful habits, and then multiply that by the number of people in North America, and we have an equation that only ends with frustration and a world being sucked down the sewage drains. I feel as though as North Americans, we have become numb towards the needs of this world. Kids these days are growing up having their lives handed to them. We are all brats, demanding to have more and get more.

Buy Buy Buy Buy Buy. (I actually saw a credit card ad put up downtown that simply had these words splattered row after row all over a white background.)
That's what we're being sold on. That is what we are all being fed, and the public responds. We may acknowledge what media is doing to us, yet we still give in. We spend and spend and spend, and then wonder why we're not happy. There is a huge emptiness in the lives of North Americans, and people think it's filled with money, success, education and so many other short-term things.

People say it over and over, but we really must learn to change the way we spend money. We are wasteful in so many ways, and the money we spend on a $4 coffee everyday, a $12 movie every couple weeks, that $100 "good quality" sweater (even though its made by the same children who made that $25 sweater the next store down), or the countless shows, concerts, shopping trips and personal pleasures, are simply ways we seek to fulfill our lives.
This money could be put to use for so many other things. We live in riches, complain about our lives trying to satisfy our own emptiness with more 'things', and don’t bother to look at how we can help others.
Money is such a problem.
It's a challenge to myself more than anything else, and I also just want people to think. Think about where you're spending your money and why. Is it really necessary to spend that much?

Even if we all did little things to curb our spending, it would make a difference. I truly believe it. We just need to recognize how wasteful our society and culture has become. If everyone contributes a little to try and make a change, it will add so much more.

There are many organizations and committees working toward changing this world, but there is also a majority of people who simply live in ignorance.
If you are one of these people, I challenge you to make even a small effort. Every small effort will make a difference, even if it may feel like nothing. Don’t just live in ignorance to the problems this world is facing.
Don't justify the things you know need to change.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I'd rather be a part of the solution than adding to the problem.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
~ Jesus ~

By: Jen Nickel

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Unpacking First Semester

The mission statement of Outtatown is: knowing God, knowing yourself, and knowing the world”. This is something that I’ve been in the process of learning and since coming home for Christmas, I’ve been able to slowly unpack all the lessons and experiences I’ve had this past semester. I’m gaining a greater understanding of God’s will in my life and what that means.
Coming into this year I had been struggling with a few things; one being confidence in myself, another being my relationship with God, and a third being to find God’s direction in my life for when this year is over.

Confidence: This year has been helping me identify my God given gifts and talents, which has been amazing. What I’m finding more and more valuable is the realization that these gifts aren’t meant for how much I can do for myself, they are meant to be used in the world and the community around me.

My gifts are not something I should hold onto with a closed fist, they are something I need to hold with my palms up and open. It’s amazing then how my confidence has been growing since I’ve started using my gifts to honour those around me, and not for the purpose of them liking me, but just because there’s a need and God has enabled me to fill it. My confidence is not found in how much I know or the things I can do that others can’t, it’s in the realization that God made each of us extremely different and yet extremely beautiful. My gifts are needed in certain areas, but there are also times when I need to step back and allow others to utilize the gifts they have to fill the gaps. Identifying my responsibility in a group or community and as well as what is not my responsibility has done wonders for my confidence. The fact is that I don’t have feel responsible for taking every issue onto my own shoulders.

This translates into knowing the world: once we know our gifts and talents, we can explore the world (be it South Africa or just our home church) and identify areas that we can use these gifts to make a difference. I have the opportunity to go to South Africa in a few weeks and gain a whole new insight into a different culture and world. I’m realizing that with increased knowledge, comes increased responsibility and although I’m still unsure of what that means for me at this point, I know God is going to reveal amazing things to me and my group.

Relationship with God: I’ve always struggled immensely with devotions and reading my Bible. I’ve always to some degree had a heart after God and have found it easy to have faith in Him. I’ve mentored and counseled many kids and friends through the last 5-6 years, and God’s always seemed to give me the words to say despite my lack of biblical knowledge. I often feel His nudges here and there and try to follow them as best I can, but there still seems to be a gap some days. The more I look at it, the more I realize just how much of this problem is because of me being stubborn and wanting to be in control of my life and not living by faith and trusting God with it.

Going back to the things I’ve learned about confidence, I’ve held my gifts and talents so close to my own heart in attempts to make a name for myself in this world and as a result I’ve taken my gifts and have tried to run a lot of my life without God’s input; making myself likeable, holding on to money and spending it on myself and only myself in further attempts to push me up the rating system of this world. A few years ago, I choose engineering as a career choice, because it was something I’d be good at and it would bring “me” what I wanted in life. The money, the job security, the title, and at one point I even believed the type of wife I was looking for. Wow, is God ever changing my views on this!

Although I’ve completed a year of engineering, I came into this year thinking that I would never go back to it. I realized that the reasons I went into engineering were severely flawed, but throughout this semester, as I’ve sought out God’s will for my life and discovered and used some of the gifts He’s given me (leadership, encouragement, my knowledge of computers and technology, solving problems, working with my hands, dealing with different personality types) I see that maybe engineering is a good choice for me. I can see how all of my gifts can be utilized in this profession and even how I can use both my gifts and the profession to do God’s work not just my own.

I’ve learned a lot and I’m sure the learning will continue. Please continue to pray for me in this upcoming semester as I continue to realize God’s presence and direction in my life, and that he continues to work in my heart so I may make my life as a service to him.

By: Stephen Foord