Represent!

August 25, 2016

Two recent events have made me think a bit about how we represent our ideals or our beliefs or ultimately our God in the world around us.

Ryan Lochte’s recent fabrication of a robbery while in Rio for the Olympics put a black mark not only on his corporate sponsors (many of which have dropped supporting him) but on the nation he represents; the United States of America. A certain decorum and behavior is expected of America’s athletes. So, when a late night party with great consumption of alcohol leads you to accuse your host nation of robbery, you don’t just make yourself look bad, you make your home nation of America look bad. 

Closer to home for us Christians, Tony Perkins, director of the Family Research Council, presumed to speak for God in the past that natural disaster in the US was judgment of God for our acceptance of the LGBTQ agenda. Unfortunately, he recently found his home flooded in Louisiana and had to escape by boat. Now, I know God can judge using natural disaster, but unless God tells me He’s doing it, I have no idea. Tony Perkins doesn’t just make himself look dumb for assuming He knows the mind of God, but he makes us Christians look pretty stupid too. 

We all at times make ourselves look stupid. If you don’t think you do, then your denial makes you look pretty dumb. Sometimes though our behavior and actions go beyond making us look stupid and it hurts the One we represent. Christians are not immune to say and do damaging things both to their own testimony and to God, whom they represent. While some people do terrible things like ministry leaders getting caught in gross sin, all of us defame our God by the things we say or do.

  • Pretending like we’re perfect and not needing of receiving and giving of grace
  • Saying words that tear down instead of build up
  • Not being supportive through resources to the work of the Gospel 
  • Loving worldly things more than spiritual things
  • Harboring bitterness and unforgiveness

This is just a small list of things we say and do that malign our God. God has called us to repent of our sin, love our neighbor, and be holy. While we might not lie about a robbery or have our house flood and have our prognostications called into question, every day we are waking up and finding ourselves in a battle against the flesh for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. And while we can look down upon these big things, our little areas of poor representation of our Savior are just as damaging. 

And let’s not pretend we’re not guilty of these things. All of us are guilty because all of us are sinners. So, tomorrow morning, when you wake up, remind yourself about the fight of the flesh, pray for strength for the battle of the day, trust in the saving work of Christ that covers over your sins, and represent your God. It won’t be perfect. It won’t be pretty. But, when others see how every time you fail and fall that you get back up and keep at it for the sake of the Gospel, you’ll be representing our great gracious and forgiving God in a pleasing way!


Nationalism, the Olympics, and the Gospel

August 10, 2016

I just told my wife last night that one day we should write a book together about her thoughts of being an American who lived in Canada (when we were first married) and mine as a Canadian living in America. Despite jokes about Canada being the 51st state or “America Jr.”, there is a vast difference between both countries originating back through history to both of their foundings. She noted that no matter how long she lived in Canada, she would always be an American, and I noted that no matter how long I lived in America, I would always be a Canadian. 

That’s one of the major differences between the two nations. The two formative ideological events in Canada demonstrate who we are today. The War of 1812, where Canadians, pre-Canada, decided it was better to side with Great Britain rather than an invading force from the south (I jokingly call it the “War of Southern Aggression”) helped to begin to cement an identity that Canadians were not Americans. That cemented during Confederation in 1867 when Canada, wary of Great Britain’s pulling out of North America, and wary of the growing republican influence from the United States (what Canadians considered a “radical democracy”), decided it was in their best interest to unite a disparate group of colonies into one nation. So, if you ask a Canadian what makes a Canadian, the clearest answer is, “we’re not Americans.” 

Now, that’s not to say we don’t appreciate many wonderful things about the United States, but ideologically Canadians will always be different. And we find, when in the US (as any ex pat finds in a new country) that we become more patriotic in order to defend what makes us unique. This has been the hallmark of Canadianism from the beginning in emphasizing a mosaic of a culture which sees the value of everyone’s differences rather than the American melting pot which sees being American, above all else, the priority. 

Some of these things come out when the Olympics are on. While Canada is much stronger in the winter Olympics (I mean, we all know it snows 100% of the time in Canada) I certainly feel the need to cheer on my Canadian athletes even in the summer Olympics. I am glad when my adopted country does well too, but I secretly (and not so secretly), want Canada to do better. It’s again, part of our mosaic understanding of culture that sees our identifying difference as a Canadian as being different from everyone else. And the Olympics feeds on that. What was designed as being an event which would unite different nations together ultimately is the biggest expression of how nations are different, and the resulting competition often fosters disharmony rather than unity.

My current reading on the two formative historical events of the development of Canadian culture and watching the Olympics in the evening has made me ruminate on our nationalities, patriotism, and the Gospel.

There’s nothing wrong with being patriotic or loving your country. Americans are naturally patriotic, so much so that they sometimes find patriotism for other countries odd (I’ve been told I can go back home if I want on more than one occasion). I love my home country AND love my adopted country. But nationalism and patriotism can go too far (think Nazi Germany). Some of the current rhetoric about closing borders that we’re hearing in the political arena also is a little concerning. Here’s the thing, as Christians, we all need to remember that these countries that we live in or are from are not our homes. I’m not really Canadian. You’re not really American. We’re actually citizens of heaven, and simply sojourners here on earth. 

Our nationalism and patriotism can blind us from the needs of those around us that are different from us. We can forget that the Gospel is for everyone, and as Christians we are obligated to reach everyone, those who look and sound like us and those that don’t. And yet we continue to emphasize these things in our churches. We have black churches, white churches, Asian churches, etc. While there’s nothing wrong with appreciating our cultures, there’s everything wrong with elevating our cultures over the Gospel. If Galatians 3:28 is true, then we need to remember that in the Kingdom of God and in the Church, there is no Jew or Greek, Male or Female, Slave or Free, American or Canadian, Black or White, etc. There is just those who have been redeemed and are now standard bearers of the Kingdom of God.

So, cheer on your Olympians. Fly your flag. Honor and teach what you find great about your culture and nation. But remember, in Christ Jesus, all those other things disappear. We are then ONE; servants of the King of the Universe.  


When God Gives You an Orange

August 4, 2016
I mentioned recently that God providentially prompted me to buy a book on parenting special needs kids a month or so ago. I really hadn’t intended on reading it right away but assumed it would make for a good resource for pastoral ministry. You never know when you might come into contact with people who have special needs kids and want to minister to them. Who knew I would meet the parent of a special need kid so quickly after my twins were born. It turned out it was going to be me.

God gave us beautiful little children in Christina and William. William turned out completely normal and healthy while Christina turned out to have something called Apert Syndrome, which we had never heard of. It will require a number of surgeries over a number of years to address to correct her skull and fingers and toes, and she may end up having cognitive limitations (a 50% chance). We don’t know. What we do know of course is that God is in control. Which brings me to the title of this post, “When God Gives us an Orange.”

The book I bought, The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children with Special Needs by Andrew and Rachel Wilson, at the beginning of the book uses the idea of having a special needs child is a bit like getting an orange at the end of a fancy dinner. Imagine you’re at a fancy dinner and everyone receives one of those wonderful, segmented chocolate oranges you see at Christmas (if you’ve never had one, look for them and enjoy them this Christmas). Instead of that delicious flavorful chocolate, you receive a plain ordinary orange: difficult to peel, seeds to spit out, and juice dripping off your chin. It’s not that oranges aren’t good. In fact, they are tasty and they’re probably better for you in the long run, but they’re not what you expected, and it’s disappointing. I thought this was a very apt analogy.

We we’re reminded recently, that a special need child is mourned for just like a child who dies. Just as we grieved the loss of our child who died in the womb last year, we mourn for what could be for Christina a well. This is natural. We weep before the Lord over the effects of sin and the curse in the world. We don’t know what life will be like for us and for Christina, but it won’t be easy. Now, we also look at this frowning providence and consider that God is completely good and completely sovereign and that He makes no mistakes. So Christina is supposed to have Apert Syndrome. It means God wants us to love her and care for her, and learn some great truths of relying on His grace and mercy for our day-to-day strength. When things go well, it’s easy to coast. When daily you are pressed in difficulty and trouble, you are much more focused on relying on the grace of Christ for every moment. In the end, the orange is better for us than the chocolate, just like Christina with Apert Syndrome, is better for us than Christina without.

It’s tough to come to these conclusions, but it is what God’s Word reveals to us. He doesn’t tell us why, but He does tell us to trust Him. So, while I do not know what life will be like with little Christina, I do know that God is good and God is kind and God is in control. He gave me an orange because He knew I needed an orange. And boy, is that orange wonderful. :)


The “Earth” Without “Art” is Just “Eh”

July 27, 2016

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always appreciated good art. The lowest grade I ever received in school was in art. I’m not very creative nor adept in the world of art. Art also wasn’t taught in a way to make me really appreciate the beauty of the world and how it manifests itself in the creativity of the artist. I’ve been growing and expanding in appreciating art that is a reflection of the reality of the world and gives expression to the longings of our hearts. My former college philosophy professor posted “Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate)” by Vincent van Gogh (1890) on his Facebook today. The painting, shows the inner turmoil that many of us experience regarding all of the sad news we experience each day and are unable to articulate with words. 

Van Gogh, a troubled artist himself, captures perfectly the anguish and sorrow that people feel as they age and are closer to death. Even Christians can struggle with the knowledge of our impending end on this mortal coil. Yet, most of us struggle with an inability to communicate the deepest fears and longings in our hearts with mere words. 

While words are the primary means by which God has communicated to us His revelation (Jesus Himself is “The Word”), the language of God’s revelation includes the artistic beauty of the world around us. It informs us, and serves as a means for communicating what is at the center of our being, when we cannot formulate words. 

Art is that expression of the human soul to put into a visible form something we cannot utter in words. One of the clearest expressions of the inner turmoil of my soul over the pain and suffering of this world and yet the hope of Christ is the hauntingly beautiful “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Ennio Morricone from the movie The Mission. In the movie, a Jesuit priest is attempting to build a relationship with natives in South America. His oboe becomes the means by which the natives become interested in the priest and the message he is seeking to communicate. It is beautiful and expressive of hope and joy, and haunting in its minor tones because of the struggle and strife that end the movie (I heartily recommend the movie but be prepared to have your emotions tugged back and forth). Another piece that expresses that same struggle is “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber which is the main theme of the movie Platoon. And when it comes to the general feeling of hopelessness, consider Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time“, written while a German prisoner in WWII. And it need not just be modern music. Find me someone who isn’t moved by Mozart’s “Requiem Mass in D Minor“. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” (1495) represents that sadness on the part of our own Savior following the announcement that one of the disciples would betray Him. The look of sorrow on His face is striking. We too are the disciple that betrayed our Lord. It invokes feelings in our core that are hard to speak aloud. 

It is not just sadness or inner turmoil that art speaks to, but joy and rapture as well. Holst’s “Jupiter” lifts your heart and spirit as it progresses through movements of joy! What about the old fashioned sound of happiness in Copand’s “Hoe Down” from his larger “Rodeo”. Or, what is more joyous in all of music than the overture to Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” And Monet’s “The Cliff Walk at Pourville” (1882) just makes your heart feel warm. 

Claude Monet - Cliff Walk at Pourville - Google Art Project.jpg
 Painting, music, movies, can help to put words to the inner feelings of our soul. We are creative beings because our God is a creator. We yearn to give expression to what we feel, and what emerges is art. There is good art, and bad art, just as there is good expression of the longings of our souls, and bad expressions (on that note, everyone must watch this excellent video about beauty by my favorite modern philosopher, Roger Scruton). 

Christians at one time were at the forefront of art and beauty as a manifestation of the goodness of God in making us creative beings with impulses to express the vast expanse of human experience to the glory of God. More Christians should be involved in this same movement today. If we hope to see better art, we need to learn to appreciate better art, and to encourage people to use their talents to express the inexpressible to honor God and educate our souls. 

For a critical look at how art has tended to denigrate itself over time, see Nancy Pearcy’s excellent, Saving Leonardo. On how we as Christians should be doing art, see the classic Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer and Phillip Ryken’s, Art for God’s Sake


Knowing Your Limitations

July 21, 2016

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N.B. Let me start with an introductory statement: “I told you sos” are not allowed as responses.

I have always been very interested in politics, government, and the news. I was raised in a home where what was going on in the world was discussed and opinions shared. Opinions could range widely, and in our home, we had, and have varying opinions. And they are held strongly, and often shared vociferously. 

I think rigorous and vigorous debate and discussion is good. We are called to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3) and that means addressing falsehood as well. Christians should be people who know the truth, love the truth, share the truth, and shun falsehood. But every man has to know his limitations. And I am constantly learning mine. My sinful struggles are with pride and arrogance. My joke often is, “they think they know everything, while I know I know everything.” It’s meant as a joke, but the Lord continues to work in me to show me it’s more of an accurate reflection of my heart attitude rather than a sarcastically amusing statement.

I keep well-informed of happenings around the world. I read the paper and listen to the news daily. I read widely in philosophy, ethics, and theology. I follow current events in religion, theology, and politics. I think that it is important for pastors (and Christians) to be aware of what God is doing around the world, and for us to train our thoughts to think biblically about what we see, read, and hear. Being well-informed though, is no defense for seeking to constantly correct people or win the debate. While being a teacher means correcting false thinking, there is a humble way and a proud way to do that. More often than not, especially in the political realm but in other areas too, I’m seeing that attitude grow in me.

So, for that I need to repent. I need to confess my pride and arrogance and remember God is in control and I am not. I am His servant, and a servant to His flock. I am to be boasting in the work of Christ alone and not in my knowledge or my acumen. I am not to be seeking to have the winning blow in the debate, or to police what I see on the internet.

I repent of my pride and arrogance which may have caused me to defame Christ or His church by my actions. If I have sinned against anyone reading this, please accept my apology. I am going to work, by the power of the Holy Spirit to continue to battle pride and arrogance in my life. I cannot do it alone. I hope and pray you will all pray for me for success in this area of sinful weakness. If I sin in my actions or words, I hope you’ll say something.

I know my limitations. My limitations are me. I am my biggest problem. At the core, I wrestle to make myself king rather than to submit myself to King Jesus. That’s really all of our problem. And the solution is more of Jesus and less of me.


Book Review – Biblical Counseling and the Church

April 26, 2016

51ulwfhk9xl-_sx329_bo1204203200_If there is one area that I wish I had stronger training in, it would be in counseling. No one tells you in seminary that you’d do so much counseling on the local church level. Perhaps part of the problem of pastors seeing so many counselees is that the church has lost it’s obligation and privilege to counsel one another? Bob Kellemen and Kevin Carson and others helpfully renew the church’s responsibility to do just that.

In Biblical Counseling and the Church, we are reminded that each of us in the church of Jesus Christ are empowered to speak the truth of the Gospel to each other. Counseling then becomes a natural expression of the “one anothers” of the New Testament and the process of discipleship. The book begins with chapters highlighting the need to see counseling as the vision of the entire church. Then, this is followed by chapters focusing on small groups as an advantageous medium for doing biblical counseling within the church. The book moves on to consider the relationship between counseling and church discipline, the process to equip biblical counselors in your church, how counseling can be used as a means of outreach, and finally the history of biblical counseling.

While a multi-author book will have stronger and weaker chapters, overall the book did an excellent job of presenting the case and providing the means for seeing counseling be an every-member ministry of the local church. If you want to take some of the burden off your pastor, pick up this book and pass it on to others in your church. Each of us, gifted with the Gospel, can pass it on to others who are hurting and suffering and therefore counsel one another.


Common Grace and Secular Entertainment

January 20, 2016
It seems that celebrities tend to die in 3’s. For instance, June 23, 2009, Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett, all died. The phenomenon goes all the way back to deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison who all died (incidentally at the age of 27) in late 1970 and early 1971. To this day, when a celebrity dies, pop culture fans follow the news to find out who will go next. It certainly is a superstition, but when favorite pop celebrities die, it makes us think about our relationship to them, especially as Christians.

Recently, we’ve had another slate of them passing. It’s hard to determine the correct triad of deaths, but Lemmy, founding member of British metal band, Motorhead, David Bowie, influential musician and actor, and well-known British actor Alan Rickman all died relatively near each other, all from cancer. The outpouring of sympathy and remembrances and reflections on the online community was great for all three members. If you followed hard rock or metal, you knew Lemmy as a talented bassist and vocalist. Even if it’s not your style of music, you can see there exists talent. Bowie, in his various incarnations over the years, has been a greatly influential musician and actor. Many of us probably know “Space Oddity”, “Under Pressure” (with other legendary musician Freddie Mercury), “Fame,” and others. My generation first was introduced to him as the Goblin King in the movie The Labyrinth. Alan Rickman, a stage actor, who our first memory from the movies is as Hans Gruber from Die Hard, is best known for his beloved adaptation of Severus Snape from the Harry Potter novels put to screen. The movement of what we thought of as an evil character in the first few books moves forward to a tragically heroic man who did what was necessary in a world gone mad, because of love. Even if you don’t know who any of these people are, there is no denying their talent.

And therein lies the conundrum for Christians. How do we handle talent, that we know to be God-given, that isn’t offered back to God? None of these three we’re friends to the church.Heavy Metal music is known for its dark and depressing themes. Bowie has flirted with sexual ambiguity and his songs haven’t lent us to believe that he sees much hope in Christianity, and Rickman’s appearance in the sacrilegious Dogma, should show us he also doesn’t see much good in the church. So, why should Christians care about pop culture, and how can we learn to appreciate God-given talent, even if not redirected back to God?

Culture isn’t ever neutral. It’s a reflection of the worldview of the culture-makers themselves. And we’re all culture-makers. God is a creating God, and He has made us to be like Him. It’s impossible to escape the desire inborn in us, to create. So, Christians and non-Christians seek to do just that. In fact, some of the most beautiful art, poetry, literature, and architecture have come from the hands of non-Christians. We can revel in talent and ability simply because it does in fact come from God, and it is beautiful. Even non-Christians struggle to divorce themselves from the beautiful because that talent they possess, comes from God who alone is beautiful.

So, I’m not saying get into Motorhead, or buy Bowie’s latest album, Blackstar, or run out to Rickman’s movie, Dark Harbor. But know this, we live in this world of pop culture, whether we try to hide ourselves in monasteries or not. We are products of it, and are still immersed in it. Our children are in it. Our neighbors are in it. Our co-workers are in it. It behooves us not to throw babies out with the bathwater when a talented pop culture persona does something out of sync with God’s Word. It means we pray for them, we challenge people to investigate and understand the worldviews behind what they do, but we also laud the beauty of the creative work they produce. 

Let me leave you with a scene from Bowie’s latest song, “Lazarus.” He had been battling cancer for 18 months before the new album was released the same weekend as his death. He was obviously exploring death, and while he couldn’t see that Jesus offered the only hope, he was grasping and searching. He sings, ” This way or no way, You know, I’ll be free, Just like that bluebird, Now ain’t that just like me.” Clever lyrics, a haunting song reflecting the searching of the world for hope. We know the our only hope of freedom from death and the curse is Jesus Christ. Yet, we can still appreciate how non-Christians are reflecting the image of God in their art, even when they don’t realize it. We should appreciate that talent, and pray for the ones who produce it to give it back to God.