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. :)