Occasional reflections on the journey - from wherever we might be...
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December 29, 2011
Jack Moerman: I want to celebrate the life and friendship today of a cousin and friend who went "home for Christmas" to rise with Christ. Jack and I became friends as toddlers after our parents immigrated to Ontario from the Netherlands. (Please click here or on the image to left to enlarge; I am on right, Jack to the left of his sister Anne. For other pictures of that era, please click here).
When I visited Jack and Ruth a month before he passed from death to life (John 5:24), he'd given me a photo of a summer we shared in our teens including evenings in a hobby we both enjoyed. (The second photo, left, is of us in his father's shop nearly ready to install an engine we'd worked on after days in the field.)
On Christmas Day Jack was home with his family, sharing in the celebration of Christ's incarnation, coming to earth that we might be with him in heaven. That afternoon his daughter was reading to her father from Jesus Calling when he entered into the more immediate presence of the Lord, providentially as a tape played Fernando Ortega singing "Give Me Jesus." (YouTube)
December 25, 2011
A friend emailed a card which speaks both of the joy and hope of Christmas and of the painful realities of Christ's incarnation into our fallen world. God brought love and redemption at the expense of pain, shame and the cross. Our engagement with the world - with one foot in heaven - will bring exposure to both experiences and realities also. May we never shy from the cost for the sake of the lost even as we celebrate the joy of eternal hope and grace in Him!
December 20, 2011
Introducing Avi Sophia! Today is Carol and my 36th anniversary and the day the Lord blessed our family with a gift of great joy for God's glory. We're delighted to announce the birth of the second child of Matt and Chantalle, their first daughter and our first grand-daughter. Avi Sophia was born at 6:45 am, weighing in at 7 lbs. 11 oz, blinking at the lights in her new world! Avi Sophia and mom are well.
Our prayer is that Avi (from Hebrew meaning "my Father") will grow to be a woman of Godly wisdom (the meaning of "Sophia"), rooted and centred in Christ.
For a larger image of her first picture (below), please click on it. You can find more pictures and details here.
December 1, 2011
Christmas: Here are two great videos, one focusing on the challenge, the other on the joy of Christmas!
The first depicts a call which came to William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, to engage in the mission for which Jesus came to earth, i.e. in His own words "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).
The second focuses on the joy of His coming, introducing us to a northern cultural context with which some may not yet be familiar:
May the joy and call of His Coming fill you with refreshment, love and focused resolve in the New Year!
November 11, 2011
Remembrance Day: Today is a Canadian holiday, known by other names in other countries, when we remember those who died, particularly in the two World Wars, but in other wars against totalitarianism as well. My father and uncle were two who paid a high price for their resistance to the occupying forces of the Nazi army in the Netherlands during that time.
It's amazing to me therefore that many of this generation don't know who Adolf Hitler was, or the danger of arbitrary philosophies devaluing the lives of millions. The video below graphically illustrates the drift of Western culture.
The post-modern worldview tends towards the subjective, devaluing the lessons of history and placing the opinions of one's peers as the highest authority. However, they are open to changing their minds...
For more, please click here.
October 31, 2011
Halloween: Many Christians wish it wasn't coming around again. This may help: http://americanvision.org/3671/concerning-halloween. What is interesting in James Jordan's historical perspective is that All Hallows' Eve first belonged to Christians celebrating the victory of believers over the powers of darkness. This is the reason Martin Luther took courage to post his "95 Theses" on the Eve of All Saints Day, the date which subsequently marked the Reformation. You may not agree at every point, but I believe you will be encouraged and stimulated to set the record right. (Should the link fail, I've posted this historical review here.)
October 9, 2011
Thanksgiving: You may be aware today is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada, coming about 7 weeks before Thanksgiving Day in the USA. Yet many North Americans are unaware how few nations set a day aside to give thanks to God. Even in England, a nation closely related to Canada and the USA (the only two countries in the world to place Thanksgiving Day officially on their calendars), there is no Thanksgiving Day. Carol and I sense the difference as we live in a culture which is not encouraged to give thanks to the Lord.
It is true of course that many Christians in countries outside North America express a personal Thanksgiving celebration when their Christian brothers and sister in North America do and that agricultural communities in many countries celebrate when the harvest is in the barn. Yet there is little doubt that national holidays come to reflect or perhaps help shape the values of that nation. And citizens of nations which neglect the opportunity to make a national statement of gratitude to the Lord tend to look to government rather than to the Lord for their needs.
Thanksgiving is not only refreshment to our hearts individually, but nations encouraged to open hearts filled with gratitude to the Lord as the giver of every good gift are refreshed also. May refreshment roll across the nations!
October 6, 2011
Pilgrims and Wanderers: We are on a journey, of that there is little doubt. Whether we are "pilgrims" or merely "wanderers" however is of significant importance.
A pilgrim has a goal and seeks always to make progress towards it, though often through hardship, difficulty and opposition.
A wanderer has an easier life, may feel little if any opposition, may even be happy in his or her aimlessness. A wonderer may be a seeker without knowing for what he or she seeks, or may live day to day seeking nothing. Some wanderers are even proud of being seekers for what they know not.
A third kind of person is of the three the most miserable, a pilgrim who knows the goal but has given up the effort, has become a wanderer, but knows better and is dissatisfied.
I invite you to be a pilgrim, seeking and following hard after Christ. Far better to be a pilgrim reaching his or her goal in Christ than to be a wanderer, expending life's energy to reach no goal.
Should you have not read it, I commend to you John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (written from prison, London, 1678) who understood well the journey and it's obstacles, but preferred the call of God and remained faithful to the end.
September 22, 2011
Israel and Palestine: With little fresh water, arable land (16.39%) or natural resources one might wonder why this land would be fought over for millennia. The bid to have the UN declare a Palestinian state, which is scheduled to come to a vote this week, is but one step in a long process, albeit one of the more crucial steps in recent history. There are many challenges including:
The legal basis of the League of Nations' decision to divide the land in 1948. For more on this, and other legal agreements of the past 100 years impacting the debate, please click here (or for greater detail, here).
The challenge of "negotiating" with those openly committed to one's extermination: http://youtu.be/QAuBc_cbXo0 (My September 19, 2011 entry [below] is but one example of this difficulty.)
Background to UN condemnations of Israel for it's efforts to defend itself in this context: http://youtu.be/j7Mupoo1At8
Jerusalem in Islam and in Judaism historically: http://youtu.be/xU9CauJP4Pg
There is of course more points made by those on every side. The resources above are admittedly those in favor of two states, Palestine and Israel, co-existing side by side, a position rejected by the aspiring state of Palestine in its insistence Israel has no right to exist. Other Arab states have been willing to cede no land to form a state of Palestine, insisting only Israel do so.
The conflict has the potential of igniting a regional or world war. Please pray that Jesus, the Prince of Peace will do what humans cannot.
September 19, 2011
To the Unsung: During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a plumbing/sewer specialist. She had an 'ulterior motive'. She, being German, knew Nazi's plans for the Jews. Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of her tool box and she carried larger children in a burlap sack to her truck. She kept a dog in her truck that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises. During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants. She was caught, and the Nazi's broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely. Irena kept a record of the names of the children she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it and reunited the family. Most had been gassed. Most children she helped escape were placed into foster family homes or adopted.
Irena Sendler died 12 May 2008 in Warsaw, Poland
It is now more than 65 years after the Second World War in Europe ended. Some cannot see faces when they hear numbers. However six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated. New voices rise claiming this holocaust to be 'a myth,' dangerous because there are in every generation those who would repeat history.
Shortly after Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as a community organizer for ACORN and Al Gore for his work promoting global warming, Irena was nominated also. She was not selected.
August 27, 2011
Psalm 69:6: Psalm 69 is one of the most quoted Psalms in the New Testament. I don't generally share the way the Lord speaks to me from the Scriptures in this blog but would comment on one verse today. David asks in verse 6 that he not be a stumbling block to those who seek the Lord.
"May those who wait for You not be ashamed though me, O Lord GOD of hosts; may those who seek You not be dishonoured through me, O God of Israel." (Psalm 69:6 NAS)
David knows his sin and knows that the Lord knows it (v. 5). He confesses his sin freely and frequently asks forgiveness in the Psalms (e.g. 51). Yet David's primary concern in this verse is not his forgiveness but that those who seek the Lord and wait on Him not be ashamed, discouraged or held back because of dishonour that he, a follower of the Lord, could bring.
How deep is that desire in my heart. How important it is that the Lord keep that desire near the surface as I seek to 'finish well" and encourage others to do the same. How easy it is to discourage a brother or sister, or even more seriously, a seeker, by a careless word, selfish act or loveless attitude. How many have turned aside because of it. How deep the wound when I sin without immediately asking forgiveness.
"Father, keep me from sin which holds others back from You. In Jesus, Amen.
(Observations on other passages here.)
August 12, 2011
Riots in the Streets: England has had riots before and sometimes with good cause but what has the media justifiably scratching their collective heads this week is that there is no apparent reason for the four nights of burning and looting across London and other major cities in the UK.
At first the media suggested the cause was race or poverty or hostility towards police - easy targets because the camera can always find someone who claims this to be the case. However the facts didn't back the theory because there were no banners displayed, causes espoused, and confrontations with authorities were avoided where possible. What then was it?
It was the Jerusalem Post who was first to suggest it: "rioters are stealing ... simply because they can." The Washington Post took up the phrase "shopping riots" to depict the anarchy without a cause. Other media took up the question, what can we do to prevent causeless violent theft from spreading across national borders?
Few asked, "why are young people doing this?" and fewer wandered into the political mine-fields of where the answers lie. The UK Prime Minister Cameron suggested poor parenting. While poor parenting also has causes he was courageous to suggest a moral root, from which the liberal media predictably herded the discussion quickly away from personal responsibility and back to respectable social causes such as increased spending etc.
But I admire Cameron for daring to touch a moral question. Ultimately the effort to roll back "shopping riots" or the more subtle stealing "because I can" must face the gaping loss of moral foundations demanded by secularism; personal moral foundations which underlie basic respect, parenting and ultimately civilization. Aspects of this point are being recognized by some.
The Gospel continues to offer the best comprehensive answer but as far as I can tell so far few are yet ready to listen.
July 28, 2011
Learning from those who have gone before: It is perhaps the characteristic of every age to believe the products of it's age make those of previous ages unworthy of serious consideration. While the technology of this generation generally surpasses that of previous generations I find myself however constantly amazed at how previous generations conceived of and made what they did with the tools and materials of their time. The same point could be suggested to those who believe only movies released in the last 90 days are worth watching or books printed in the last year worth reading.
This especially true of the spiritual disciplines which underlie the Christian life. Prayer, in response to reflection on scripture, is the most foundational of spiritual disciplines. Some modern Christians have written on how to pray quickly but few surpass the reflections of older Christians on how to pray well.
One such spiritual classic on prayer is The Kneelling Christian. It is by an anonymous British believer 100 or more years ago. Like most spiritual classics, it is not to be read at one sitting. For many weeks I've read a page or two at the time, finding ample inspiration each day to seek new heights in prayer or depths of repentance in my own heart. I commend the book and practice to you also and invite you click here (PDF).
July 18, 2011
The End of Our Ability: Last week I had opportunity to look through the June and July issues of Scientific American which included:
an article suggesting the human brain exists in such an amazing form that it couldn't be more efficient even if it were larger because it is already operating near the very limits of the laws of physics
an article on the current status of the search for a unifying theory between classical physics and quantum mechanics suggesting "time and space" to be only a sidebar of a universe so complex and with so many possible configurations that the options approach infinity, and
an interview in which the unpopular suggestion is made that the complexity of the universe and the limits of the human brain are such that humans may need to acknowledge we will never be able to understand it.
These articles relate largely to the study of the smallest units of reality.
Looking the other direction, Rick Heupel asked "If God wanted to create something big enough to reveal His majesty, how big would it have to be?" BBC reported earlier this year that so far technology enables us to "look" out 4 billion light years in each direction - yet that is at minimum only 1/1,000th the breadth of the universe science suspects to be present and there is no reason to believe it has any limits at all.
It seems to me that whether science looks at the immensity of largeness of astronomy or the immense smallness of quantum mechanics, or the amazing human brain which physically cannot take in the fullness of either, humans come - at the end of either spectrum - face to face, whether looking at the macro or the micro, with infinity, eternity, mystery, majesty, and the essential spirituality of the universe which caused David to worship in Psalm 8, declaring, "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens..."
June 28, 2011
The Third Reformation: Much of the world has recognized the significance of the first major reformation which which broke through with Luther's 95 Theses nailed to the door at Wittenberg. It was a necessary reformation of theology. The second reformation began over 200 years later with William Carey's attempt to research the 'harvest field' for the greatest remaining needs for the Gospel and investing the remainder of his life in India. It was a necessary reformation of mission. (See progress here.) The third reformation, as some are coming to recognize it, is one of ecclesiology, or essentially the question of how the church is best organized to fulfill it's mission.
The video, "This is Discipling" from The Foursquare Church captures well the fundamental changes underway in many places. Some Christians in the west, as we know, are walking away from the church as a whole but tend to weaken or lose worship and mission in the process. Others are forming smaller, simpler structures to better accomplish Jesus's command to make disciples. I've attempted to briefly address the relationship of the Church to the Kingdom here.
June 23, 2011
Africa: Did you know Africa is now home to more evangelicals than any other continent? The Pacific region is now home to 6 million evangelical Christians, Europe to 18 million, North and Latin America to about 95 million each, Asia to 150 million and Africa to 180 million evangelicals (download PP).
Not that life in Africa is easy; Africa is home to innumerable difficulties, tragedies, dictatorships - and corruption which makes solving every problem more difficult. Yet the Lord is bringing the courage to hope to many in Africa through the Gospel. During a recent gathering of church planting leaders, Carol and I had opportunity to meet members of a team which has planted 6 million churches in Sierra Leone during decades which included civil war and widespread atrocities, bringing great hope and healing to the land, which now has a Christian president. We also learned a new song out of Africa - simple but profound - composed of only two lines: "Jesus is my driver. It's a bumpy road." (Picture a person holding on to the shirttails of the person in front of him or her and each person behind grabbing the shirttails of the person ahead, dancing and singing these simple lyrics with energy and laughter.) I love it because it encapsulates two of the most foundational realities of the Christian life: the Lordship of Christ and the cost of discipleship - never to be lost in any culture.
June 7, 2011
Embracing the Master: I recently came across a book recounting the experience of Colton Burpo, a young boy taken into heaven briefly during surgery for a ruptured appendix. It is a remarkable testimony and I commend the short book to you: Todd Burpo, Heaven is For Real, Thomas Nelson, 2010.
The reason I mention it in the midst of many similar experiences of visitations of the Risen Christ (including these), is that another child, Akiane Kramarik, also claiming to have met Jesus in heaven, painted the image from her memory. Colton Burpo, entirely unknown to her or her to him, recognized the painting immediately as the same Person he had met in heaven, having earlier rejected all the other images of Christ painted by others which he had been shown. Added to this is the claim that the image is in line with that of the Shroud of Turin. (For a picture of the painting and some further detail, please click here).
But I confess also a mystery. While the boy continues to speak of the importance of knowing Jesus to enter heaven and other vital Biblical truths, the girl now speaks generally of God, love and spirituality in somewhat 'new age' terms and e.g. speaks of Easter in less than Biblical terms (cf. her. Why the difference?
As a college student the I AM (Yahweh) of Scripture (Ex. 3:6) encountered me powerfully (involving His voice but no image) transforming my life. The experience confirmed the truth of scripture - and the truth of scripture reveals Him to me continually. I recognise that I speak today of subjective experiences in a way I don't often do, but an anguished mystery remains as I wrestle with the question of how can one see the Master and not embrace Him forever? "Lord, by Your grace, keep me faithful!"
May 28, 2011
Desperate Dependence: A friend recently forwarded colleagues in our mission a pastoral reminder of the danger of pursuing fruitfulness in ministry ahead of purity of heart and life (here). The entry on John Piper's blog rightly urges a "properly desperate dependence upon Jesus Christ" for moral purity. What is a "properly desperate dependence upon Jesus Christ?"
A "properly desperate dependence upon Jesus Christ" is the only kind of dependence we can and must have - nothing else will do. As I meditated (during a jet lagged period of wakefulness last night) the Lord reminded me that this is true not only for moral purity but for every aspect of the Christian life. Without Christ we are nothing.
This desperate dependence on Jesus Christ begins with our utter dependence on Him for justification, forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. But I am desperately dependent on Christ if I am to learn to love, to control my pride and impulsive tongue, to put to death the carnality of my flesh which seeks continually to reassert it's previous rule.
Apparent fruitfulness in ministry or any other realm is nothing without my properly desperate dependence on Christ which alone gives victory. And unless I depend on Christ desperately and entirely, I depend on Him not at all.
Saturday May 21, 2011
Keeping Our Heads: The current speculations of Mr. Camping, magnified unnecessarily by the media, regarding Christ's supposed return today have done the Christian community, nor those who are not of it, any service - as have like speculations previously (II Thessalonians 2:2) or those which will come.
During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy often closed his speeches with the story of Colonel Davenport, the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives...
On May 19th, 1780 the sky of Hartford darkened ominously, and some of the representatives, glancing out the windows, feared the end was at hand. Quelling a clamor for immediate adjournment, Davenport rose and said, "The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore, I wish that candles be brought."
Kennedy and Colonel Davenport had it right. We have much vital work to do amid many distractions. May we honor the Lord as we do so with love and faithfulness, unshaken and bringing peace to those around us, in all circumstances.
Friday May 13, 2011
The Big Day: Carol and I were delighted to share news of Melanie's engagement to Ryan Cocks last summer. Several months ago I watched Father of the Bride with her in anticipation, just Melanie and I. Yes, I'm a bit sentimental and happy to admit it! Then today I was privileged to accompany Melanie down the aisle to respond to that question that changes almost everything, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" Yet it was easier then I expected it to be largely because I think so highly of Ryan. (This is how I expressed my heart to Ryan and Melanie during the reception as Carol and I, along with Ryan's parents, welcomed them into our families.) During the ceremony I had reflected with Melanie and Ryan on the covenant love of the Lord expressed in Hosea 2:19-20 as the basis of their vows here.
Friday April 29, 2001
Democracy: Democracy, or at least the desire to have some say in the decisions most fundamentally affecting one's life, is much of the drive behind the unrest which continues across North Africa and the Middle East. At the same time, in the West, democracy has been weakened in my lifetime due to the fact that voters are permitted to vote less often on matters of substance and voter cynicism over broken promises. Given there is reason for concern, we don't nevertheless want democracy to slip further into oligarchy. For that reason, partly occasioned by Canada's election in three days, but more fundamentally to encourage you to vote whenever you can - in politics, labour unions, and even polls - please remember the foundation of democracy is your vote, yes, even one. Your vote is your voice.
Remember how history has been swayed by one vote (from mycanada):
In 1649, one vote literally cost King Charles I of England his head.
The vote to behead him was 67 against and 68.
In 1653 the English Parliament voted for Oliver Cromwell to be the
Lord Protector of England - by one vote.
In 1776 the founders of the United States of America decided that
their official language would be English (not German) - by one vote.
In 1875 France changed from a monarchy to a republic - by one vote.
In 1920: One vote made the difference to grant women the right to vote.
In 1923 Adolf Hitler became Leader of the National Socialist Party of Germany - by one vote.
Thursday April 14, 2011
The Cape Town Commitment: In a blog entry of October 25, 2011 I commended a strong and helpful confessional document, introduced during the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. This commitment is now available in its final form and I invite you to download it here.
Wednesday April 13, 2011
Are You Praying? I know of no more systematic or helpful way to be guided in prayer for the nations of the world to come to Christ than, each morning, to click on www.operationworld.org/today2 and pray for needs of the nation featured there. Each day you will find your knowledge increasing, your passion for the lost growing and God working in and through your changed heart and prayers to reach the lost.
Thursday April 7, 2011
Stiff Upper Lip? Yes, some say Brits are a bit reserved - and some are - but definitely not all! Carol and I enjoy a lively congregational life with many friends who share a great passion for worship and vision for mission. Here's a picture of Elim Worthing at worship!
Saturday April 2, 2011
Confronting Our Friends: On occasion I've asked Muslims with whom I've had the privilege of conversation whether they oppose violence perpetrated in the name of Islam against Christians and others. The most common response is, "Violence is not a part of Islam. Those who use it do not represent Islam." At times my follow-up question is, "Have you challenged those espousing violence to cease harming the image of Islam with their violence." To date, none have indicated that they have done so.
On March 20 Dr. Terry Jones led his congregation in burning a copy of the Qur'an following a 'trial.' To date 20 persons are dead in revenge and protest (external link). My heart is grieved by professing Christians publicly speaking harshly in the name of Christ, in fact harming the cause of the Gospel. For this reason I wrote Dr. and Mrs. Jones asking them to cease harming the image of Christianity with their public behaviour against Muslims (letter in PDF). It is exactly what I've asked my Muslim friends to do in regard to the behaviour of those who represent Islam with their public behaviour against Christians.
May we together challenge violent behaviour and speech while continuing to speak the truth in love. Father, give us grace and wisdom in Jesus' name.
Monday March 13, 2011
Compassionate Communication: You may have a friend, perhaps even a spouse or family member, who expresses feelings truthfully, yet sharply and leaves hurts behind unaware. Such a person is generally well-intended in truth-telling and surprised to find their words have wounded. Sometimes they are also puzzled as to the reason for their shrinking circle of friends. I've often winced in the company of such friends and wondered about a helpful, non-confrontational way of helping such persons see themselves with new insight and others with greater grace. Carol and I were recently commended a book and short-course which we believe is such a resource. A friend attributed to the book, which has been used in her church as short course on several occasions, the fact her marriage is intact and growing today. You may want to check with your library or on-line for Marshall B. Rosenberg's
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Japan: The world has been stunned as Japan struggles to cope in shock following Friday's 8.9 earthquake and tsunami in which thousands have died. The quake cut power needed to operate cooling systems in atomic generation plants and the tsunami swept away entire villages and immobilized atomic generation back-up diesel generators and battery systems with further portable generators in some cases being unable to restore cooling. Recovery costs are estimated in excess of $300 billion where Japan's national debt already equals 200% of gross national product.
On the heels of the Christchurch, NZ earthquake and the flooding and typhoon in Australia just weeks before that, many are beginning to use apocalyptic language, however prematurely. There remains much to do that the Gospel might be known.
An ironic comment appears following an on-line report on the developing Japanese crisis: "I don't believe in gods but I hope a miracle happens and helps this nation under siege."
Those of us who DO believe in "gods" however - indeed the only One True Living God, who continues to hold the world together (Col 1:15-17) - know He holds us all in His hands. We who have faith in Him pray that such tragedies as we are witnessing around the world will open people's hearts to him. Such world crises shock us into realising here is actually very little in life we have control over, that the world is indeed "under siege" by God's supreme enemy; but the Lord has promised to be with us, and redeem us and the world, until the day He brings about his Kingdom again on earth and his perfect will is done here as it is in heaven. We pray and work to that end.
While the world's focus is on Japan turmoil and violence in North Africa and Middle East (NAME) area continues producing new refugee movements, for the time being barely noticed by mainstream media.
Why does such shaking occur? So that the Kingdom "which cannot be shaken may remain" (Hebrews 12)
February 21, 2011
North Africa and the Middle East: Three months ago a Nigerian brother visiting the Middle East shared a prophetic word with friends working in the region. The exact words were not transcribed but were to the effect that the Lord of the Harvest would bring an unprecedented responsiveness to the Gospel in the Arab World in the coming 2-3 years and that many Muslims would turn to follow Christ.
In addition, this brother indicated the Lord had directed him to say further that early in 2011 this would begin with a great shaking, both in the seen and unseen realms. As most will be aware, flooding and a huge typhoon struck north-eastern Australia and January and now unprecedented tumult has swept the North Africa and Middle East (NAME) region. For a brief, country by country summary, please click here.
Please pray with us also that additional labourers called to the harvest would obey and take steps such as Arabic study without delay. Please pray also that repressive governments in the region would drop the requirement for inclusion of religious identity on national identity cards so that applications to change religious affiliation would no longer need to go to government officials in those countries.
February 16, 2011
Moving Beyond Me: The church in the west faces many challenges, some of its own making, and is now often in decline in relation to population growth. Many seek better alternatives. Earnest responses range from a defensive "circling the wagons," to becoming more "seeker friendly," to redefining the Gospel to include everyone regardless of response to Christ's claims.
But there are better ways. Let me commend two rich resources of which may not yet be aware:
Friend and colleague Dave de Vries has recently published Discover Missional Living in the "Six Word Lesson" series available on Kindle etc. His 100 lesson primer - six words each - in missional living is all the more powerful because it eliminates so much of the verbiage we've become so good at debating and hiding behind, and helps move the "me-centered" in all of us to make root changes.
What Dave de Vries does for individuals, Dwight Marble does for the church. Movements that Move is a recent study comparing effective Church Planting Movements in two challenging non-western settings. Dwight shows key elements in disciple-making movements which are not culturally conditional but scriptural, though not always seen in the common experience of the Constantinian model of the church. You can download the report by clicking here.
February 13, 2011
Orthodoxy: Carol and I bought each other a Kindle for Christmas and I've just completed an older volume which played a significant role in bringing C.S. Lewis to faith in Christ. C.K. Chesterton's reflections are striking for his humour, breadth of knowledge, sharp logic and economy of language. I will read it again. Delightfully, the book is now in the public domain and I've been able to make it available here.
February 12, 2011
Private and Public Life: I'm hopeful the western liberal media will cease promoting the myth that a leader's personal life should not viewed as relevant to his or her public life. Many tyrants over developing nations amass personal fortunes from foreign aid intended for the public good. As Mubarak stepped down yesterday and Egypt celebrates his departure, other Arab dictators eye those they should serve warily for fear the public will back with street demonstrations their expectations of righteousness from them also.
Comparatively quietly, the implications of the question of private and public life plays out in Italy where a weapon different from that used by Arab dictators is being brandished. For context, I should mention the USA law requires those in high office to divest themselves of business interests when sworn in. Apparently this is not the case in Italy. The NY Times however gives a good reason why Italy should follow suit as Berlusconi uses private business interests invested in media to make his case that private life is irrelevant to public service and make political gain.
The holistic view of scripture is that the distinction between private and public life is imaginary. God sees all and holds the whole of us all accountable. Integrity is evident transparency. One outcome of the Christian worldview is that beggar and mogul are equally valuable and accountable before God and man. May all the nations know and worship Him (Psalm 66:4)!
February 6, 2011
A Modest Proposal to Encourage Communication Between Those Who Disagree: I'm concerned about the general acceptance, particularly used by the media, of what I believe are strategies employed to reduce authentic communication. I'm thinking specifically of the manipulation of the concepts of phobia and hate in recent years. The effect has been a gradual extinguishing of understanding that comes through caring communication, thereby increasing polarization between those who differ: The redefinition of words for political or social agendas is not new. However the practice should be challenged in proportion to the damage done.
The Chilling of Dialogue: Many will remember when a phobia - the irrational fear of spiders or heights or instance - was accepted for what it was without disparagement. Most will remember also when the word was first linked in a new way to produce a word tinged with disparagement: "homophobia" (defined by homosexuals as "fear of or contempt for lesbians and gay men," early 1990's). "Islamophobia" (defined by Muslims as "hatred or fear of Muslims or of their politics or culture," 1997) and others followed. As with all effective propaganda the concept was often repeated until generally accepted, or at least not publicly challenged. (Some have pointed out the same technique could be used for almost any word, e.g. "cannibalophobic," "murderophobic," "sexual-offender-ophobic," "thiefophobic" etc. The technique must be recognized for what it is, a means of vilifying those who hold another view. The same, in a softer way, is the case with adding an adjective to "orientation" as in "sexual orientation" to make it appear objectively neutral. The technique can likewise be used for other words making the desire to steal one's "economic orientation" or control one's "relational orientation." But I digress...)
What was the effect? The effective result was to remove the subject - homosexual behavior, Islamic beliefs, or whatever was being defended - from acceptable conversation. The very attempt to discuss the subject was thereby defined as illegitimate, and one who disagreed was defined as "phobic," i.e. a person with irrational fears not to be taken seriously.
A second development, closely related, was in my view more chilling than the first - i.e. the assumption that if one disagreed with the views or behavior of another, that person should be assumed to hate the person with whom they disagreed. The first step (labelling people as "phobic") implied there was something wrong with the person who questioned an aspect of homosexuality or Islam for instance, i.e. an irrational fear. The second (labelling persons as "haters") implied that the person who questioned or disagreed was dangerous and should not be engaged in conversation. Persons who disagreed with a given view where further labelled with terms like "judgemental," "bigot" and the like for the same purpose and with the same effect.
Is it So? The creation of the word "homophobe" was a political strategy intended to communicate that the person so labelled was irrational, and that there was no reason to fear the role of homosexual behaviour in society. Let's examine the premise by comparing it with an actual phobia, the fear of heights. Is such a fear irrational? Only partially. One can of course fall from a height and be harmed, but it is not the norm. What about spiders? A spider may harm a person, but not usually. In the case of real phobias, like the fear of heights or spiders, society considers the fear out of proportion with the threat, and so not "normal," but doesn't turn on the person with hate. In the case of manipulating language for propaganda, the intention in accusing one of having a phobia is to cause society to reject or even hate the person so accused.
What about the insistence on open homosexual behavior, actively working to increase the percentage of those who view themselves as homosexual, the redefinition of "marriage," "family," "normal," etc.?
Remember that in genuine phobias there is just enough truth in the thing feared, e.g. heights or enclosed places etc. that the fear is not totally irrational. What is irrational in the fear of heights is the degree to which the fear controls one's behavior. Likewise one may legitimately be concerned about the success of efforts to 'redefine' words like "marriage," "family" and "normal," without the concern entirely controlling one's behavior. The courage to discuss such questions in today's culture is greatly needed if civil society is to continue. The insistence that 'tolerance' must include the embracing and affirming of the thing tolerated disallows open respectful discussion and disagreement.
The Greater Cost: The strategy of labelling those who disagree as "phobic" and "hateful" is designed to move the subject of disagreement outside of the realm of public and private discourse and ensure the subject remains there. Both the intention and effect are unhelpful in several ways:
1. These strategies remove the possibility of dialogue and greater understanding. Discourse can already be difficult when a subject is controversial. But now a wall is erected where a bridge should be - the bridge for conversation and understanding between views has in fact been removed. Neither party can then be enriched by hearing or taking steps to come to understand the other. People on both sides of a question may continue to think they understand the other's position, but polarization remains and in fact is more likely to increase without the possibly of relationship and communication.
2. Intellectual freedom is lost. In my student days (late 60s and early 70s), students and professors exercised the right to think and discuss ideas, however controversial, broadly and freely without fear of reprisal. Western society has moved to a place where intellectual freedom is undercut, and the possibility of exploration of ideas and respectful dialogue between those who hold divergent views is no longer tolerated (ironic in a culture where tolerance is touted as the ultimate value).. Holding minority views on the sanctity of life or intelligent design, homosexuality or Islam are not only removed from legitimate debate but become increasingly subject to dismissal, law suit or even violence in a drift towards totalitarian society.
Where To Now? Given this powerful weapon against dialogue what should we do? We may not win the restoration of respect required for dialogue between those with divergent views but we should, in my view, try the following:
· Don't give up on the importance of dialogue. Remember couples divorce and nations go to war only after they stop talking.
· Maintain respect for the person who disagrees with you, or with whom you disagree. Respect is to be earned, it's true, but I'm speaking of a more fundamental respect based on a person's identity as one created in the image of God.
· When you hear someone labelled as "phobic," "hateful," "judgemental" or "bigoted" for the purpose of closing off the subject of conversation at hand, respectfully challenge not only the charge but the underlying technique designed to ensure polarization, guaranteed to harm all involved, and truncate human community.
· Ask permission to dialogue. A Christian worldview assumes each person's value as a human being created in God's image, and therefore each person's right to be heard. Sometimes we assume that everyone shares this respect, required for meaningful dialogue. When we ask for permission to engage in a controversial topic we are asking for the respect necessary for dialogue.
· If the person refuses, try asking: "Why do you assume I hate or fear you? Do you know what that assumption is costing us? Are you open to examining that assumption?"
· If the person agrees, suggest the active listening approach - to take turns speaking, allowing each person to complete their thought, and asking the other to repeat what he/she thinks he/she heard, before giving a rebuttal. Our desire is to address the questions or concerns of those who oppose us in a way that increases understanding of and respect for the other, even if we continue to disagree.
This may not restore dialogue in every or even many cases but at minimum we must not passively accept the squelching of open discussion. Our courage to continue the debate is foundational to the possibility of civil society.
January 27, 2011
Ezekiel: A Message of Hope: Not everyone looks to Ezekiel, the exilic prophet, for a message of hope.
Carol however did and her two weeks of brief devotional thoughts encouraging prayer for Europe were published by Words of Hope in paper booklet form last summer. Please consider taking some moments to be refreshed and grow in your confidence in God's redemptive purposes, clicking here.
January 13, 2011
Birthday Review: Yes, I've been known to be introspective. But hopefully not overly so. Yet Socrates was right in saying "The unexamined life is not worth living" (Apology 38a). On and around my birthday I've developed the habit of allowing introspection, review and planning a little extra time. Sometimes I've set apart a morning, earlier in my life I would frequently try to schedule a one or two day retreat for prayer and listening.
Whether you take a day at home, or a smaller amount of time to start, allow me to share a little of the steps and elements of an annual process I've come to find invaluable...specific foci, goals and priorities for the year. The prayer of the child Samuel is ever in my heart: "Speak Lord, your servant hears" (I Samuel 3:10). Each year I feel challenged and stretched by how I sense the Lord directing. Each year I can only say, "Yes, Lord, and any steps towards fruitfulness or success in what You've called me to can come only from Your strength, provision and grace. Without You I fail."
God's Goodness: First I want to reflect on God's goodness in the year past. Whether the year has been a triumph or a challenge there is much for which to give thanks, and the discipline of itemizing these mentally, or better, putting them to paper, is a heart-expanding exercise. To avoid limiting thanksgiving to special days, I would commend writing a list of "100 things for which I am thankful." Even if you only get to 10 today, come back to it from time to time to add a few more. Then on difficult days you can read it, add a few more, and be refreshed.
Life's Purpose: On my birthday, I also like to reflect on the larger context of my life's purpose. Life is a gift with a purpose. I commend to you taking the time on your birthday, or some other occasion, to write or revise a personal expression of your life mission statement. At one level of course all who have given their lives in abandonment to Christ have a common life's purpose. Yet each of us has different education, personality strengths, life experience leading to specific learnings that makes reflection on how we fit into God's redemptive purpose for the world eminently worthwhile.
Character Goals: Another area of reflection regards my character within that larger context. Where do I need to grow? All of us have character weaknesses and want to address them under God's grace. During my season of review I confess to God those areas, and identify where I believe God most wants me to grow. I'm speaking here not of specific behaviours to confess (though there is a place for that) but themes. The list should not be long if it is to be useful. For example this year I want particularly to focus on:
1. Not taking rejection of my convictions or wishes personally or withdrawing emotionally when rejected,
2. Being careful to be accurate in descriptions, not overstating things I believe to be important, and
3. Looking for opportunities to serve in interruptions, even when the interruption is, in my view, undesirable.
Ministry Goals: By reflecting on ministry goals for the year ahead I don't just mean goals in vocational ministry, though I'm grateful for that privilege, but more broadly that which we do for others in the name of Christ regardless of vocation. Here's how I go about this part of my birthday review:
First, I find a place to be still, perhaps in an extended quiet time, and ask the Lord a question based on full surrender: "Father, what is the most You can envision doing with the package of strengths and weaknesses that is me for the Your Kingdom this year?" It's the same question I've asked for many years and I put no limits on any answer the Lord may give. He is God and can do anything He chooses through me if I remain surrendered and obedient.
Then I listen to what the Lord puts into my heart and mind regarding
Thirdly - and this step is never complete on the day of my birthday review, I begin to write out steps which will need to be taken in the direction I believe the Lord has called me to in the next year of my life. Elsewhere on this site I've written something of the process I've found useful in this regard, which includes a regular review of focus on the goal and the steps to be taken today towards it.
I recognize some may feel all this is "a little much" for one's birthday! It is, true, but it's true also that it's the only life we have.
January 2, 2011
A Case for Resolutions: Is it just me or are people generally avoiding making New Year resolutions? It's disappointing to me that people seem younger now when they begin to respond: "What's the point? I'll fail anyway." Let me invite you to reconsider for reasons like these:
Room for Improvement: Resolutions acknowledge room for improvement in our lives. Hopefully that includes us all if we want to make the world a better place as most of us say we do.
Strength and Courage through Dependence on the Lord: It's certainly easier to "float down the river and see where the New Year takes us". More strength and courage however is needed to put our shoulder to the harness and help shape the future in a dark and needy world. Both tend to increase our dependence upon the Lord, again a desire expressed by those who follow Christ.
There are two primary directions in committing ourselves to seek a better world: one is to become a better person, the other is to pursue goals to make a better world.
An example of the first direction might be to read a chapter of the Bible daily, reign in a sharp tongue, or take a course which will help get a raise or better job.
Examples of the second might be to take the missional challenge, invest in the life of a boy or young man without a father in his life, adopt a needy family or village in a developing nation or start a new disciple-making community.
There are of course countless examples and the point isn't to prioritize the above but to hear and respond to the guidance of God's Holy Spirit. As I've sought to do so over the years I've asked the Lord, "Father, how do You want to use the unique bundle of gifts, strengths and weaknesses that I am, next year for Your glory?" Then I listen, think, and write down what I believe the Lord would have me focus on the next year. I also jot down the steps I expect will be involved in those goals or activities.
The value of focusing on the target: Writing all this down is important to me because I forget and fail. But a lapse or failure is not the end of the goal or resolution for two reasons. Let's use a simple example in which I want to loose 10 lbs but break the resolution by eating two desserts one day. Should I give up and declare my failure and never try again? No, because the goal is still a worthy one and because I can still choose not to eat two desserts tomorrow, or the next day.
The same is true of all goals and resolutions. If we aim for the bull's-eye on a target (e.g. lose 10 lbs or read a new book a month) but place the arrow in the 2nd or 3rd ring outside the bull's-eye (e.g. lose 7 lbs or read 7 instead of 12 books next year), it is still far better than missing the target altogether (e.g. losing no weight or reading nothing) or shooting the opposite direction (e.g. gaining 10 lbs. or watching more television).
Pursuing multiple goals for the year: Let me suggest also that you consider goals in several important arenas of life. You may want to set a goal or two in areas such as the following:
your spiritual life (more)
your marriage (or significant other)
investing in the lives of your children (if any)
educational goals (formal schooling or informal reading)
financial goals (more)
mission or ministry goals
When Carol and I led marriage enrichment weekends, we invited couples to use a simple tool like this "goal wheel" (in PDF).
Resolutions for Life: To this point we've been focusing on resolutions towards goals for the New Year. Let me invite us to go a step further. Resolutions don't need to be written on New Year's Day or to end a year later. You can write resolutions and add to them any day of your life. What do I mean?
You may resolve today to encourage others and not criticise them. An excellent resolution. (Might you fail? Of course. Will God forgive? Of course. Will the resolution still be valid the day after you do? Of course.) Tomorrow or next week you may have an experience that prompts you to add a resolution to read the daily reading of a devotional book. Mark your addition with the date. Later you may add the resolution to read your resolutions the first of each month or each January 1. Mark that addition also with the date and continue until you feel you've shaped the most important contours of your life. (For a remarkable example click here.)
Only one thing more ... to give a context and guidance to narrow your goals or resolutions you may want to consider writing a life-mission statement.
January 1, 2011
Happy New Year? Global and personal developments occur at such a rate that people are increasingly less certain that the euphoria of New Year's Eve party will last very far into the New Year. In fact circumstances in recent years are such that it's all too easy to succumb to the temptation of cocooning in a self-protective stance that is understandable but not reflective of our calling in Christ. Living with Confidence in a Chaotic World: What on Earth should we do Now? by Dr. David Jeremiah speaks to this challenge and encourages believers to: Stay Calm, Stay Compassionate, Stay Constructive, Stay Challenged, Stay Connected, Stay Centered, Stay Confident, Stay Consistent, Stay Committed, and Stay Convinced. I commend it because it goes well beyond the hopeful but rootless invitation to 'stay positive' - helpful as that is in a Biblical context - from branches of the human potential movement not rooted in the only fully-human and incarnate Son of God.
In the "real world" in which we live and serve, it is necessary that we tend to our roots in Him and point those around us to the Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28).
When we "accept Christ" - that is, accept the wonderful fact that God pursued us in the incarnation and cross of Christ - we are in a position to begin our pursuit of God and life in that Kingdom with unshakeable foundations.
Wonderfully we can join in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ which overcomes evil and changes the destiny of the planet - as we "work and pray" towards the day of the passionately anticipated "new heaven and new earth" (Rev.21:1)!