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Recently, a youth leader shared a conversation she had with a camper.

A few weeks ago, this camper confided that she was bullied in the last few months because of a recent neurological diagnosis. The camper felt she was pigeon-holed because of that diagnosis. The leader shared her own experience with some of her own struggles and the hope Jesus presented to her during that time.

Fast forward a few weeks later, this camper met up with the leader. The camper expressed her desire to want to be baptized because, “she wants to have Jesus as her label, not that diagnosis”.

It was a powerful reminder for me to recognize how I’m defined. What or who do I want to be defined by? Would others identify by the label of Jesus or something else? Questions that dig to the root of who I am.

So excited that this camper, through this leader, knows who she wants to identify with.

Do you?

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A few years ago, my kids bought me a pair of noise-reducing earmuffs. I’ve felt there’s been a lot of noise lately. Partially volume (live sporting events aren’t as exciting as I used to think), partially lots of white noise (whether in my household or outside).

Earlier today, I took 5 minutes to sit quietly with these on. While they don’t remove all noise, it does muffle a significant amount. Two things I noticed:

  • I was much more conscious of my breathing. As such, I could pace myself based on the rate of my breathing.
  • I was left to my own thoughts which I prayed through.

Afterwards, I felt refreshed and able to better connect with my family.

Over the next while, I’m looking at the state of my soul. Tonight, this was a moment to at least give me some quiet to reset myself with God.

Ah, the gift of silence.

The State of My Soul

Since Labour Day, I’ve lost almost 30 lbs. It’s been noticeable. Some others have noticed as well. While I appreciate the encouragement people have given in resetting my physical health, I’ve realized any changes in my spiritual health isn’t as evident (for better or for worse). What’s the state of my soul?

Grant it, I don’t care for my soul primarily to be noticed by others. (Just as I didn’t go on this physical health journey for the approval of others.) But if no change is evident, then I need to ask what change (if any) is happening, and why.

Jesus challenges the Pharisees with these words (Matthew 23:25-28): Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

These words weren’t just for the Pharisees. They are also a challenge to his followers, whom I count myself as one. While my outer side may seem like it’s getting better, what is my inner side like? What is the state of my soul?

I recently came across John Ortberg’s sermon on Soul Keeping. I don’t fully understand or comprehend what it means to care for my soul, but it’s pushing me to consider how does God want me to care for all of me for the sake of his kingdom.

While I don’t have many answers for this one yet, it’s driven me to seriously consider how God might continue to restore my soul so that I might be transformed more and more each day for his glory.

Let’s see where God takes this.

Who’s Redeemable?

Both before and after the US election, there has been a lot of talk about Donald Trump and whether he can be an effective president. Part of that dialogue is this premise that, while they don’t condone the behaviours and attitudes of Trump, they still claim that God can use someone like him to still change the world for the better.

Let me begin with this: the grace and salvation God offers is available to ALL, regardless of what their past is. This includes Donald Trump. Scripture reminds us that Jesus’ foundational and primary challenge to everyone, regardless of ethnicity, history or philosophy is “Come follow me”. In that submission to Jesus as Lord, we can be redeemed by Christ and transformed by the Holy Spirit.

This is available to everyone, including Donald Trump. So from that perspective, yes, God can use someone like Trump to still change the world.

What I find interesting (or maybe I’m not looking in the right place) is that premise was rarely extended to Clinton. I’ve heard many people state that they couldn’t support Clinton because of the opaqueness of her political life which included the misuse of emails as well as inappropriate relationships between her foundation and her political work. They also point to her views on LGBTQ, same-sex  marriage, abortion, etc. which they can’t support. They look at Trump and rationalize that, in spite of his misogynistic, racist and bigoted expressions, because he made statements that seemed to align with their political (and moral?) view, God can still use him.

(BTW, my cynicism suggests that, while Trump may have made promises that align with the religious right, his track record of truth telling suggests otherwise.)

The fact remains, if you’re going to extend that hope of grace and redemption to Trump, it should also be extended to Clinton as well. God is willing to redeem ANYONE who is willing to follow Jesus.

Since Wednesday, my cynical side looks at what Trump and especially some of his surrogates (like Gingrich, Giuliani, etc.) have said, and I gotta say, I have huge doubts that they’ll change. But it is still possible with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, our hope of glory.

I’ll be honest, I have not faced the adversity and oppression that many around me have faced in their lifetime and in their shared experience. So I cannot truly feel the depths of emotion that many have endured in the last 12+ hours after the US presidential election. I’ve also realized I have not such a disturbing dissonance within me for a long time.

As I’ve been trying to process where my thoughts and feelings are on all this, I’ve recognized a couple of things.

First, “Is this what God wanted?” With so many evangelical leaders, and with a segment of Christians who vocally proclaimed that “God wants Trump to be president” (as a YouTube search will verify), I adamantly couldn’t come to that conclusion. And yet here we are. Which makes me start wondering, am I not understanding the will of God? Are my understandings of who God is and his desires really that far off? At this point, I don’t think my understanding of God’s intention for life or for his creation is completely wrong. (But I did get pushed to that at one point.)

Secondly, the word that’s recently been popping in my mind is “injustice”. There’s that part of me that still clings on to the idea that you “reap what you sow”. Recently, I heard some news-talk callers state that late-night TV shows (like Seth Meyers, SNL, Stephen Colbert) were bullies to Trump. Part of that was because (sounding like a 3-year old), he started it! The arrogance that exhumed from him seemed unmatched. (To be honest, part of the reason why I watched those clips was as a defense against that arrogance.) As Van Jones stated recently (and I’ll paraphrase), we tell our kids not to be bullies, not to be bigots and to study and be prepared, and yet this guy succeeds in spite of contradicting all of that. Even with that arrogance, all that hatred and seemingly lack of respect for anyone except himself, he still managed to win the White House. It seems as though he didn’t reap what he sowed, that someone can win while so explicitly disregarding others in such a profound manner.

A sermon I preached a few weeks ago on moments when God seems far, far away came flooding back to my mind (always interesting how God reminds me of those). This feels like one of those moments when what my head knows and what my heart experiences are two different things. On the one hand, yes, I do believe and cling to the truth that God is still sovereign (because he’s been sovereign through so many other reprehensible moments in history before). On the other hand, my heart looks around and asks, Where are you God in all this?

On this side of eternity, I don’t know. That dissonance I don’t believe will cause me to throw away my faith in Jesus. It’s definitely not a state I want to remain in forever. Somehow, may God continue to reveal how all this unfolds. In the meantime, I must continue to seek him and his will not just on this subject, but for everything else that’s coming.

Matt Mikalatos retells the story of Acts in a contemporary setting (e.g. what would be Dr. Lucas’ conversations with the various characters in Acts if it happened today). He doesn’t just retell the story; he delves into some of the historical and cultural nuances to add flavour and a clearer understanding of key passages. The book can be used as a  study with the discussion guide at the back.

I found Matt’s take to be refreshing. He paints a picture of the life of the 1st century church, but in its original context and how it could have been like today. His argument is the primary character in Acts is the Holy Spirit (in which the book could have been called “Acts of the Holy Spirit” vs “Acts of the Apostles”). I would recommend this book for others consideration.

Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-MartinCommunications and BakerBooks in exchange for an honest review.

 

Recently, a new story broke about how a group called Voice of the Nations wanted to host a Christian concert at Yonge-Dundas Square and have for  the last several years, but now were banned for doing so because they were proselytizing. Apparently, the manager was recorded saying that VON’s songs which made statements like “Either way, if you’re praising Jesus or praising the lord, and there’s no God like Jehova, that type of thing, that’s proselytizing.” (To be fair, I haven’t heard the entire clip, so this statement may not completely represent what the manager was getting at. Apparently, one of the participants has been involved before in preaching for conversions at such an event.)

The notion of proselytizing is interesting. Merriam-Webster defines “proselytize” as “to induce someone to convert to one’s faith; to recruit someone to join one’s party, institution, or cause“. Oxford Dictionary defines it as “Convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another“. We typically associate proselytizing to religious beliefs. However, based on these definitions, it’s not limited to religious beliefs; it’s towards an opinion or cause of another. (You could make the argument that advertising is essentially a form of proselytizing.)

Some may challenge that there’s a different between education or awareness or proselytism. However, rarely is information given without some kind call to action. e.g. The entire petitioning system like change.org is meant to not just relay information, but to provoke some kind of change towards an “opinion or cause”.

It’s one thing when a person is forced towards an opinion/belief/cause (which is a common perception of what proselytism is considered). The fact is, we’re always being challenged to change our opinion towards one opinion / belief / cause through conversations, advertising and other forms of media. Every person has the right to accept it or not on their own volition, not another.

Contingencies in my life

What’s your backup?

IT specialists talk about redundancies, systems that are meant to backup the current system if it goes down. Sometimes, you need backup for your backup.

Contingencies are necessary because things don’t always go according to plan. In my life, there are several times when that happens:
– forgot my phone at home: I can access at least some stuff via Rogers One Number.
– laptop breaks down: Most of my files are accessible either via online clouds or remote desktop access.
– streetcar is late (again): Either get a cab or get a rental car/car share.

A note of caution: Some things are not worth having completely accessible. e.g. I’m very weary of having my entire house controlled by a smartphone (like door locks, heating, etc.). While that may be a good backup plan for some, I’m cautious of having too many things controlled externally. (Everyone has their own level of comfort.)

Grant it, you can’t anticipate or cover every situation. But at least having some kind of alternate ready at least ensures you’re not solely dependent on one system.

Little Upgrades

Sometimes, it takes big changes in order to move forward. A major renovation. A residential move. Lately though, I’ve found that the little upgrades give a sense of progress. Not huge steps. But small changes. At our church, we’ve just modified our projection system so that we’ve got a monitor for the front platform to see the screen (vs having to always turn around). A small change, but it gives us a sense that things are moving forward. At home, I just changed our toilet seat (the one that came with house was GROSS!). Not a big change, but gives a sense that we’re settling and making it home.

Big changes will come inevitably. But they usually happen few and far between (at least that’s been my experience so far). But the little changes, the small modifications help us to feel like we keep moving forward.

Let me rephrase the question: would you do something if there were no direct punishment for you? (You can extend this to any illegal/immoral activity, whether it’s stealing, harming, raping, etc.).

What deters many people is the resulting punishment/consequences if one of those acts is done by one person against another. Many times, this is how some churches present their understanding of the Christian life i.e. God will punish you if you do that. So, for many, living a moral life is really about punishment-avoidance.

What this question suggests is whether you are changed fundamentally, especially from a Christian faith perspective? Because if you would do it because you can get away with it, what does that speak to who we really are?

John Wooden said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” To shift the angle: do I try to stay away from doing bad things (you define what those are) primarily because I’m afraid I’ll get caught or because I believe those acts are fundamentally wrong in and of themselves? After all, in the hypothetical scenario that I wouldn’t be punished for that act, there are still consequences because it impacts the other person negatively. Sometimes, I ask myself that question:

  • Would I steal (embezzle, etc.) just to get what I want?
  • Would I get back at another person through some sort of violence (physical, material, psychological, social) if I felt wronged or because I had contempt?
  • Would I treat women essentially as objects for my own pleasure?

It challenges me to address a deeper issue within me i.e. is God shaping that fundamental desire to seek the betterment of the person around me vs exploiting them for my own selfish desires, which in turn shapes my behaviour? This is beyond punishment-avoidance behaviour modification. This is what the Holy Spirit wants to pursue in my life and everyone else’s.

At times, facing that question forces me to consider where am I at really with God. (To be honest, there are dark spots in my soul I don’t want to acknowledge sometimes.) Yet, it’s God’s desire that the very depths of my soul be transformed so that I might be like Christ. God help me in that process.

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