30.11.10

November Blog Reflections

How can time move so fast?  Yet another month come and gone.

Top 3 Most Visited Posts of November:

1. Mawwiage - The number one post didn't 'win' by quite as much of a margin as last month, but still nearly double the #2 spot.  I guess my readers really like personal stories.


2. Antidisencouragementarianism - The last of a three part series on encouragement; the other ones did well too.

3. Light in a Dark Tunnel - At this point several posts were very close, but I am encouraged that one of my more theological posts is in the top three.


Over the month of November I put up 20 posts (including this one).  Pretty much double my October posts.  And guess what? I didn't preach a single time this month, so my observation about preaching requiring a lot of my creative energy is holding true.  Which also means you probably shouldn't expect too much in December as I am preaching several times and in charge of the overall sermon series and advent season (which is both really fun and nerve racking).

I can't really think of much else I learned this month.  I did really enjoy being able to post so much.  I do like writing.


28.11.10

I Strongly Dislike Advertising





I strongly dislike advertising.  I really do. We all dislike ads disrupting our shows, but that is not what I mean. Advertising is blatantly manipulative and deceptive.  It approaches us all as consumers and actively promotes a consumer mindset in the viewer.  Some ads are funny, some are sexy, some are seductive, some are in your face, and on and on it goes, but they all share the same goal: to directly affect your behavior.  



Sadly, it seems the best way to do this is through directly linking material products with either (or both) highly emotional content (while at the same time pushing the idea that it is our emotions which are our masters) or some form of transcendence.



My own awakening to these things began in university, but really took hold when Kristina and I went to S.Korea.  While there we were bombarded with as much advertising as ever. Only one thing changed: it was all in Korean.  Suddenly robbed of context and content the ads looked ridiculous.  Kristina and I used to laugh away as we watched people dance and sing and whine and yell and on and on.  Juice shot through the street and both Kristina and I wondered how the Korean people could stand such ridiculous and silly ads.  I mean, how much nonsense could they tolerate? 

Then we came home... and the ads here are all the same. Not only that, but they became about 100 times as intrusive.  I had just lived a year without being advertised to.  Do you have any idea what that is like?  I bet you don't.  Let me tell you, it is amazing.  It is like a piece of your brain which had always been occupied fending off the vicious assaults of consumer research departments is unchained and set free to run along sunny beaches and green flowery meadows.  Like a soldier coming off duty that part of my brain relished it's furlough, temporary as it was. 


Things to Think About

The character of “The Consumer” is in many ways deeply anti-Christian.
  • Schooled in insatiability. 
  • Values freedom, as defined as a vast array of choices, above all else. 
  • Taught that a person is basically a bundle of unmet needs that can be requited by commodified goods and experiences. 
  • Highly individualistic and self-centred. 
  • Encouraged to change often, in effect nullifying long-term commitment and fidelity.
Add to this the constant promotion of vices (greed, pride, lust, envy, gluttony, and sloth; the only one of the 7 deadly sins not in abundance in advertising is anger.  I guess angry people don't buy enough stuff) as well as the disjointed nature of your experience of reality via TV (news, completely focused on terrible events, punctuated, or punctured, by advertisements). 


And what about these slogans:
  • Obey your thirst
  • It keeps going, and going, and going...
  • The real thing
  • I'm lovin' it
Think about those.  What are we commanded to obey? What is everlasting? What is real, ultimately? What does it mean to love and who do we love (NOT WHAT!!!)? Yet here are purely material products playing blatantly upon the transcendent.  


This has basically been a rant. If your wondering what set it off, it was a weekend outing yesterday.  We visited the Burnaby Village Museum Christmas display, which opened yesterday.  I took pictures of some of the ads that were there, which you saw above.  I didn't realize that ads had always appealed to the transcendent, to deception, to emotions.  They just used to be a lot more clumsy about it.  I guess that's what billions of dollars spent on market research gets you.  


If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money. If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty. If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless.
- Jaron Lanier

Buying is much more American than thinking.
- Andy Warhol 

We are no longer eating food or drinking drinks; we practice ‘body management’ and are buying convenience, escape, energy. 
- Marc Gobe 


Commercial television is ruthlessly secular.  Its emphasis on the immediate, the here-and-now, the accumulation of goods, and the denial that there is any higher experience than consuming and watching TV… ultimately, conventional religion is heretical to television’s very notion of itself.
- Stephen Stark  


We are threatened by a new and peculiarly American menace.  It is not the menace of class war, of ideology, of poverty, of disease, of illiteracy, of demagoguery, or of tyranny, though these plague most of the world.  It is the menace of unreality.
- Daniel Boorstin 

27.11.10

First Snowy Day

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --A. Einstein


How many miracles can you spot in these pictures?


 "Have you ever said some simple word over and over till it became umeaning, a scrap of unknown tongue, till you seem to be opening and shutting your mouth with a cry like an animal's? So it is with the great world in which we live: it begins familiar: it ends unfamiliar.  When first men began to think and talk and theorize and work the world over and over with phrases and associations, then it was inevitable and fated, as a psychological necessity, that some day a creature should be produced, corresponding to the twentieth pronunciation of the word, a new animal with eyes to see and ears to hear; with an intellect capable of performing a new funciton never before conceived truly; thanking God for his creation.  I tell you religion is in its infancy; dervish and anchorite, Crusader and Ironside, were not fanatical enough, or frantic enough, in their adoration."
- G.K. Chesterton, A Crazy Tale







I grew up in Regina and Calgary.  I went to university in Edmonton.  I know what a real winter is, I like snow, and I miss having distinct seasons.  That's not to say I don't like Vancouver; I like it very much.  But, I am also very glad that my parents live in Salmon Arm.  It means that at least once a year Hannah and Ethan get to see a real winter.  But, this week we were blessed even here in Vancouver! Thursday brought Hannah's first real snow, as you can see in these pictures. 

I love watching her experience new things.  She rotates between tentative and excited, exploring and holding back.  She learned that snow was soft, crunchy, and cold.  That when you throw it up in the air it floats down like bubbles. 

Having children is good in so many ways, but one definite advantage is that it is so much easier to be child-like when one has children.  

26.11.10

Light in a Dark Tunnel: Developments in the Justificaiton Debate?

This year, the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theology Society focused on the issue of justification.  Naturally, N.T. Wright was one of the speakers.  Sadly, I couldn't go to this particular event.  Instead, I have been devouring blog posts, clips, and whatever I can find about the conference.  Mostly, I had been very disappointed.  It seemed like no progress was made as I read again and again the same tired complaints based on misunderstandings.  Then I read THIS POST.  I don't know who Andrew Cowan is, but in my opinion he has a very clear grasp of what has been going on. 

So, let me share some of my thoughts.  For those of you who aren't into this debate I will try to make this somewhat readable. 


Me and N.T. Wright

I read N.T. Wright for the first time ten years ago.  A friend in university read What St. Paul Really Said and passed it on to me to read. Despite the book being a garbled mess which I would never recommend to anyone, both my friend and I understood enough to see that if what Wright was saying was correct then it was a big deal.  Afterwards I read and enjoyed Wright's books on the early church, the bible, Jesus, Christian living, and eschatology.  However, while enjoying these and learning a lot from them, my expectant waiting for some clarification on the whole Paul set of issues went unanswered.  Not that Wright didn't publish anything; just that none of it was much better than that first book.  

Meanwhile, as Wright became a more popular author in the evangelical community he also became a more scrutinized author.  Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere (why do things have to work this way in the evangelical theological community? It was the same with Waltke, except worse.  His views had been published for over a decade, but as soon as they went up on youtube he gets kicked out of institutions? Idiotic...) there was a large and loud opposition to N.T. Wright.  

Why? What was at issue? Supposedly the very core of reformation theology: Justification by Faith.  


The Issues

At this point I became disappointed in all sides of this debate.  Wright continued to seem unable to make his position clear.  His opponents, partly due to their own zeal and eisegesis and partly due to Wright's opaqueness, started focusing on issues which are both not central and not accurate.  

One fear has been that Wright's theology leads to pelagianism or semi-pelagianism.  A second fear is that Wright is denying the imputed righteousness of Christ.  In the first case, what we have is sheer nonsense.  In the second, Wright's critics are somewhat right, if still misunderstanding the point.  He does deny the imputed righteousness of Christ in the traditional moral sense of the word (that we are judged morally right because of Christ's blood).  However, imputed righteousness still has a place in Wright's theology (as it does in Paul's writing). 

If you want a more detailed exploration of these issues, that is what the article I linked at the top is for.  Here is the link again.

According to Andrew Cowan, N.T. Wright's remarks last week do clear up the first fear, that he is smuggling in some kind of pelagianism.  Though Wright's recent book, Justification, does not completely clear this up, it is Wright's clearest position on Paul yet.  Worth reading if you are in this debate.  

What Wright is actually saying does not destroy the core of reformation theology, it does alter and rename it.  So, there is still reason for debate.  Wright has a lot to say, far more than I can summarize here, but in terms of the issues at stake, here is my summary.  

The problem has been that after the reformation the term "justification by faith" came to refer to all of salvation.  This, says Wright, is a distortion of Pauline language.  When Paul uses the word 'justification' he is not referring to all that fits within soteriology, but one specific idea which straddles ecclesiology and soteriology without encompassing either.  To be justified by faith is to be declared a member of the people of God; it is a term of covenant membership.  It is also a lawcourt term which means to be declared 'in the right'.  Not morally perfect, but just that the court has sided in your favor in terms of covenant membership.  

With this basis in mind, as well as the redefinition of righteousness which Cowan explains in the article I have linked twice already, Wright sets about reinterpreting such great letters as Romans.  Along the way, he runs into this persistently biblical notion that somehow the life we have lived will matter in the end.  Therefore, Wright concludes, that we do need to live a good life.  Not perfect, but one filled with Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered, obedience to the word of Jesus.  These will be the sign of our faith (echoes of James much?). 


Some Light? Forward Motion?

 I hope Cowan is correct in his hope that the debate can now move forward. In that spirit, let me make a few comments. 

In the hubbub around the non-issue of works righteousness, and misunderstandings around imputed righteousness (though there is much to actually discuss here), I think that much has been left untouched in Wright's ideas. 

1. Wright's biblical theology is remarkably coincident with some very important developments by other scholars.  Such authors as Christopher Wright (especially in The Mission of God) and John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One and Ancient Near-Eastern Thought and the Old Testament) among others. 

2. Wright's interpretation of righteousness, justification, and Paul in general, allows for a reading of such letters as Romans, as well as Paul's letters in general, which are far more coherent and consistent than is normal.  This is a point Wright makes in Justification, especially in regards to Romans. 

3. What Wright is actually saying about good works is nothing more than what John Stott said long, long ago (in 1970; ok, not that long ago :) "Although we cannot be saved by good works, we also cannot be saved without them.  Good works are not the way of salvation, but its proper and necessary evidence.  A faith which does not express itself in works is dead." (John Stott, Christ the Controversialist. Tyndale, 1970. pg. 127). 

4.  While Wright is not saying anything new in regards to works, he has provided a biblical theology for reading Paul which actually makes sense of how this works.  It also meshes very well with such gospel passages as Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 7:21-23 (this is, perhaps, unsurprising when one remembers just how much work and writing Wright has done in the gospels before moving on to Paul).  One could add many more scriptures to this list (Romans 2:7 and James 2:14-26 come to mind first of all).  This is not to say that other interpretations of Paul, and the gospel, have had no way of dealing with such texts.  Of course they have had to.  However, it is to say that Wright does a far better job of it. 

5. I am not a Calvinist, but I am not an Arminian either.  Thankfully, you don't have to be on or the other.  Wright's theology is an example of an understanding of scripture that avoids the dead ends of both of those theologies.  


25.11.10

"Counterfeit Gods" By Timothy Keller



Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. Penguin Books, 2009. 240 pages. 

In this book Keller explores our societies common idols: money, sex, power, and success.  That fourth one didn't make it into the title, but thankfully it is in the book. The human heart, says Keller (as many have said before him), is an idol factories.  We continually enshrine things other than God.  But, because of recent events, Keller believes we are in a moment of cultural disillusionment which will allow us to see our idols for the dead things they are.  Thus, he goes on in chapter one to talk about how getting everything we want is actually terrible, if what we want is determined by our idols.  The next four chapters expose the seductive and destructive power of each of the idols mentioned above and how easy it is to fall for them in our society.  He concludes with one chapter on rooting out the hidden idols in our life and another on replacing them with God. 

This is the second Keller book I have reviewed (The Reason for God being the other).  Keller continues to be an excellent writer.  Counterfeit Gods is an engaging read, not too difficult but still challenging.  His introduction was a bit weak.  I disagree that our moment of cultural disillusionment really provides much of a window to expose idols; history seems to tell a story of idols being replaced by other idols.  The chapters on each idol were very good.  His exposition of the four idols draws from some of the best of Christian tradition in balanced combination with modern observations and stories.  His final chapters, on replacing idols with the one true God, were too brief for my taste.  If anything, he should have spent as much time on the positive vision as he did on the negative (something Hart's Atheist Delusions does very well).  Nonetheless, the final two chapters still contained quite a few gems worth reading. 

Conclusion: 4 of 5 stars. Recommended.  We need to think about the idols in our live, and we need to expose and remove them.  This book can be both an excellent starting point for that journey or a great help for those on the way.  

24.11.10

Kindle Review Part 2: Confessions of a Bookaholic

I have now owned the kindle for just over one month and I am going to share a few more thoughts about it.


First of all, it is still an amazing little device.  No question there.  I have not become disappointed nor disillusioned in this last month at all.  If anything I have become more impressed, which is a little bit frightening. With that said, let me share 4 sets of observations/reflections.

1. Ease of Use - "I can't believe it's not butter"  and I can't believe this isn't paper.  Everything about the kindle makes reading easier (I didn't even think that was possible).  For a while after e-readers became a reality I insisted that there was something about paper, about holding a book, which I would never give up.  Maybe there still is... but, if so, there is much less to it than I told myself before I actually owned the Kindle.  The Kindle is lighter than all but the smallest of books, making it easier to hold.  Turning pages becomes a click of a button, and while that is a fairly minor detail you would be surprised at the difference it makes. One-handed reading is now easy.  The 'ink on the page' is customizable; think about that.  Depending on your lighting conditions, sitting position, personal preferences, etc. you can change the size, spacing, and font of the text you are reading.  Taking notes and highlighting are easier on the Kindle.  Suddenly my notes are legible, searchable, changeable, and shareable (because we all need more status updates and tweets).  And they are not limited to the size of the margin! Frankly, the seductive power of this device is scary.  

2. Accessibility -  I can carry around one hundred books, or up to 3500, in one small package.  For me, that's a big deal; I like to pack book.  I can go on the internet, download samples, buy and begin a book within seconds. I can search all my books.  When I run across a word I don't know all I have to do is scroll to it and the dictionary definition appears on my screen.  I can actually read all that free material on the web. So much goodness, so little time.  

3. "Mine, all mine" - "I am rich! I am wealthy! I am independent! I am socially secure! I'm rich, I'm rich, I'm Rich!"  Not only does this device encourage hoarding (of both free and paid for books), but you really can't lend them out.  This is a big deal.  I want to lend out most of my books.  I am a pastor, and more often than not I am reading with other people in mind.  I have realized that out of the three categories of books I read, only two halves can be bought on my kindle.  Let me explain.  I have my relaxed reading, mostly science fiction and fantasy.  About half of those I can buy on my Kindle because no one else reads them anyway.  I also read academic works.  Again, about half of those I can buy on my kindle; no one else will read them either.  Thirdly, I read Christian non-fiction of a less academic sort.  I know, that is a broad category. It covers everything from devotional literature to apologetics to biblical studies and more.  I can't buy any of those on my kindle, as I want the option and opportunity to lend them all out.   This means I have to think about whether or not it is a good idea to buy any particular book on my Kindle or get a hardcopy.  Mistakes loom large on the horizon.

4. Batteries - Lastly, the batteries have lived up to the promises, but I learned a few things along the way.  I am now on my third charge of the Kindle, but it's only bee 5 weeks.  So, what happened?  Well, it turns out that leaving your wi-fi on lowers the battery life to about 2.5 weeks.  But what really sucks up the power is downloading new books.  Apparently there is some sort of inventory process which occurs every time you download something and it kills the batter fast.  I have exactly 100 books on my Kindle right now, almost entirely downloaded in the first 3 weeks. On top of that, I have a case with a built in light, and I like to use the MP3 player while I read, all of which use battery life (but are sweet and convenient, like so much else when it comes to the Kindle).  


The conclusions from my first review all stand.  These are just further thoughts and observations about the device.  

23.11.10

More Stuff Worth Reading

I know two things (and hopefully more, but two that are pertinent here). We all have limited time, and that time is not always best spent reading what I have to say.  So, in the spirit of encouraging you to have interesting thoughts and interact with a broader assortment of writers, and because I found these articles to be thought provoking in the extreme, may I recommend, strongly and, if necessary, in an incessantly whiny tone of voice, that you read these:

(read them, read them, READ THEM!)


"Generation Why" by Zadie Smith: An insightful commentary on facebook, the internet, and identity. 

Quote:  It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook, our new beloved interface with reality, was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.)... Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is. A Mark Zuckerberg Production indeed! We were going to live online. It was going to be extraordinary. Yet what kind of living is this? Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?


"Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted" By Malcolm Gladwell: Penetrating examination of what difference social networking is really (or NOT really) making. 

Quote: Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires....The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece.

20.11.10

Q18: Mawwiage

Question: What's it like being married?

"Mawwage. Mawwage is what bwings us togethew today. Mawwage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam... And wove, twue wove, wiww fowwow you fowevah...So tweasuwe youw wove..."
- Clergymen The Princess Bride
(Clip here)

When I put together this whole question game thing, I got two really weird questions. I thought about them and decided to replace them with my own two questions.  This is the first.

I don't really think I can talk about mawwi... marriage in general.  Instead I will talk about my marriage. As I do say, I want to begin by saying this.  I am going to be honest here; this isn't a puff piece.  So, when I tell you multiple times that being married to Kristina is amazing, I am not doing that (only) because she will read this; I am also doing it because it is true!





The Story (shorter version)

Pre-Marriage
I met Kristina during the summer after my first year of university, on "The Toronto Project" with Campus for Christ.  By the end of the summer we were very good friends, but neither of us knew how to handle the upcoming distance, so we didn't 'start dating' but waited.  

I was, and am, a bit naive when it comes to relationships, and made some silly assumptions, but we official started dating in mid-Dec. 2001.  We had a long distance relationship (Edmonton/Calgary to Vancouver) for the next 2.5 years.  In many ways, this was a very good thing.  It was definitely hard, and I have never ridden the bus so many times in my life, but it forced us to do a few very important things.  It forced us to get better at communicating, to intentionally include one another in our lives (because we weren't with each other for day to day stuff, mere presence didn't suffice), to build a relationship which was based on our faith, our values, the aforementioned communication, and our commitment to each other.  

I asked Kristina to marry me the during the fall of 2001.  That's another story, but obviously she said yes (as did her parents).  I did more stupid things here, mainly not introducing her to my father before getting engaged.  That is definitely something I regret, but my parents are both very gracious people and modeled that in this instance. 


After another year and a half, being engaged long distance, we were married on May 22nd 2004. So, if your doing the math, the rest of what you read in this post about marriage is coming from someone who has been married 6.5 years; not exactly a marathon yet, but certainly the start of a lifelong adventure. 

We did pre-marital counseling and though we had lots of sessions, the one thing that sticks out the most to me was the advice to spend at least as much time preparing for our married life as we did for our wedding day.  So we did; we read books together, talked, prayed, planned, and asked each other all kinds of questions about our future together.   

Marriage
We got married, spent two weeks in Nuevo Vallarta, four weeks travelling around Canada visiting family, and then we were off to S.Korea.  Before we were married I knew that Kristina was incredible.  The whole going to teach in S.Korea thing just amplified that for me.  Not only did she do extremely well in the transition/culture shock/new job (I relied on her SO MUCH in teaching), but listen to this part of the story.  

We worked with a recruiter who, though he seemed to be trying his hardest, couldn't find a job that met our requirements (which were not ridiculous or super picky).  Instead he got us into a three week camp job and told us that once we were in Korea we could probably find another job.  Meanwhile, Kristina took this as her cue to start looking.  She found us a job in less than  week, in the middle of packing up all our stuff and flying around the world.  We actually arrived at the camp (and that whole trip is another ridiculous story; 16 hours became 28... bad news) and the very next day Kristina was confirming our job via the camp computers.  

A typical travelling picture.  Me: Half-dead.  Kristina... (of course, she had her bad days too!)
Right, I said shorter version. I could go on for a while.  We spent a year in Korea, which was great.  It was our first year of marriage, and though difficult, it also turned out to be very good.  Just like having a long distance relationship, this experience forced us to do some things we probably would not have otherwise done.  We were, in terms of other human people, the only ones we had.  No family, no friends (initially), no support.  I don't know that I would recommend that for everyone, but it pushed us together in wonderful ways.  On top of that, going through culture shock, being soooo tired like that, and dealing with very unusual and unexpected situations all allowed us to see each other 'under duress.'  Even more importantly, because of how teaching English in S.Korea works in terms of schedules and free-time, we saw each other fully in all of our banal day-to-dayness.  I say that is even more important because that is us the majority of the time.

We went back to Korea a second time, two years later, and conflating those two trips together, here are some pictures. 

Kristina and I had to sleep on the floor because we went on a 'spontaneous' holiday...

Had fun birthdays together:

Got to ride the bullet train:

Went on tropical vacations together: 
And much more....
The time in-between those two trips, and the year afterwards, was me studying at Regent while Kristina taught English in order to support me through school.  Did I mention she is amazing?

Anyway, after we came back from the second trip Kristina was pregnant.  That started a whole new section of our lives, with one, and then two, wonderful children (the subject of another post).  After I graduated, I become a youth and young adults pastor at BAC, we moved to Surrey, and that brings us pretty much up to today; a year into the job, almost a year in our new home, and still going strong. 

And she still looks better than I do in all the pictures too!

Answering the Question

So, you read through that whole story, and you still don't have an answer to the question I posed at the beginning?  Yeah, marriage is like that.  The story is what it's like to be married, except even more so because I left out about 3000 pages of details (but if you have questions, ask away).  But, in the interest of good blogging, let me try to offer a few reflections. 

Marriage is an opportunity.  It is an opportunity to put someone else first and begin to understand both how painful and rewarding that can be.  It is an opportunity to love some one so much that you become ridiculously vulnerable and, if you stick with it, to understand that the pains of love are better than any pleasure (other than those of love, of course!).  And I am not talking about 'romantic love', though that has it's place in marriage.  I am talking about 1 Corinthians 13 love.  

Marriage is a blessing.  It is a safe harbor, being with a person who has committed to be with you for life, who forgives you (even through tears and heartache), and therefore allows you to not only 'be yourself' but to grow into being better than yourself (cause let's face it, most of us could use a lot of improvement).  It is knowing someone has your back.  But it is also a blessing because being this close to someone reveals just how unreliable we all are, and thus it pushes you towards God together.  

Marriage is a sacrament.  It is a place for holiness to be lived out; not dead, rules and lists, holiness but holiness and righteousness from God.  Married life is full of opportunities to follow Christ (as is single life).  It is a means for the presence of God to grow stronger in us.  My favorite image of marriage is two people both headed towards the cross, and the closer they get towards it the closer they get to each other.  

Marriage is hard.  It requires you to shift your habits, patterns you have developed for at least two decades, if not more.  It requires you to make sacrifices.  

Marriage is good.  It does not solve all of your problems; that wouldn't really be good.  But it does give you whole new exciting problems to work through a learn from.  It doesn't fulfill all of your dreams; that wouldn't be good.  But it does makes you consider a whole new set of dreams that include someone else and focus on Jesus.  It won't last a lifetime if it is based on you and your spouse.  But it will if it is based on God.  


I couldn't say any of this if it wasn't for my wife though.  On our wedding day we gave speeches to each other, and on that day I told Kristina, and everyone else present, that more than anything else Kristina was teaching me what real love is.  What it means to love someone so much it hurts, to give up things dear to your own heart for what seems like so little in return, and to keep on hoping, trusting, and being faithful.  She has continued to teach me that, but to that I would add all of the above and much more.  

Thank you so much Kristina for being such an example, for loving me so much, for teaching me, being patient with me, understanding me, and for being the best wife and mother in the whole world!

What I would do to make you smile :) 
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
- Proverbs 31:10-12
I'll tell you who can find one.  God! And He gave her to me!

19.11.10

Idol Worship



I met a friend for coffee the other day, and we got talking about Catholicism (among other things).  One of his chief complaints against Roman Catholics was that they condone idol worship in the form of both worshiping Mary and in how they use statues.  

(Note: Official Roman Catholic Doctrine, as confirmed on the Vatican's own site in several articles, teaches the veneration of Mary, not worship.  They also teach that all such veneration is ultimately worship of and glory to God.  It's complicated.  But, I understand why so many people get confused, both Protestants and Catholics, without even getting into things like "the assumption of Mary.")

Official Roman Catholic doctrine, while perhaps vulnerable to idolatry, is not teaching it.  Yet, here was a man, my friend, who grew up with this very real problem.  Then the words of yet another friend came to mind: Idolatry is at the center of  most of the problems in the church.  So, if Roman Catholics fall to worshiping Mary, how about my own denomination, or, more broadly, evangelicals? 



I thought to myself, who is worse off: Someone who is attempting to center their life on God which, according to the teaching they have received, means kissing the feet of a statue, praying to/with Mary, and believing in the assumption of Mary OR someone who knows all of our familiar terms and doctrines, like salvation by grace alone, talks a good game, so to speak, but who plainly makes all of their life decisions based on the priorities of career, children, and self?  

I don't know.  But, while that first person may be all too common in some churches around the world, the second person is all to common in evangelical churches right here in Vancouver.  

Christopher Wright writes this: "Therein lies the root of all other forms of idolatry: we deify our own capacities, and thereby make gods of ourselves and our choices and all their implications." 

If there has ever been a sin that western culture is guilty of, this is it.  We are practically committed to this view of the world, that our selves are god, that our choices are ultimate, that we are capable.  And even if we doubt these things for a moment, the actions required of us in our culture are such as to constantly reaffirm these beliefs.  Not only that, we have to act like we believe these things at all times or risk suffering. 



For me, these things become most evident when we try to sell Christianity.  Peterson talks about this on page three of the article I told you to read in this post.  As soon as we think about Christianity in terms of what it can do for us we are done.  "Become Christian and you will be awesome, life will be great, Jesus will fix all your problems!" But all this does is promote more self; placing Christianity in the context of a religion which actually worships an idol.  Perhaps this is why morally therapeutic deism is the actual majority religion in the states and, I would say, in Canada.  What we really want is not the radical call of Christ to sacrifice our lives for His sake, but someone to come along and make us feel better so we can get on with the rest of our lives which we had planned out and have complete control over.

Sacrifice (Temple) Demotivator

I understand the allure though.  To making self, or children, or career, or family, the center of my life.  I mean, in terms of time spent and shared, money spent and shared, and the sheer weight of presence in my life, all of those things outweigh God.  Not to mention the temptations of money, image, fame, power, sex, and so much else that is effectively worshiped in our culture. 


Let me finish with a quote and an exhortation:
"In contrast to the men and women of the scriptures many Christians sense only weakly the way God intervenes in the world and in each individual life; most Christians find it difficult to develop a daily awareness of God as Sovereign Lord, who holds the initiative in his dealing with us every day.  This difficulty of not being aware of the Lord is partly due to our immersion in the media view of the world, where there is absent awareness of God and his ability to work his will in every circumstance in life."

Saturate yourself in a God view of the world, take every thought captive, so that in terms of time spent and shared, money spent and shared, and the sheer weight of presence God can be the one who overwhelms.  Bring God with you to work, to your homes, with you families, friends, and children.  

17.11.10

"The Gospel According to Jesus" By Chris Seay



Chris Seay, The Gospel According to Jesus: A Faith That Restores All Things. Thomas Nelson, 2010. 211 pgs. 

Thanks again to Thomas Nelson for providing this book for review.  

So, I requested this book months ago but, because of some kind of warehouse glitch, I got this book first...  Anyway, I was very happy to recieve Chris Seay's book this week.  Not only that, but here is another book on what the gospel is really all about.  Before opening this book I wondered if I was a sucker for punishment. If you have read my other reviews, I think this is about my sixth book on the subject and the vast majority of them have been terrible. The Gospel According to Jesus was a blessed exception. 

In this book Seay takes the reader through his definition of the gospel and the various consequences of it, as well as some of the foundations of Christian life and belief.  The gospel is the full-orbed story of Jesus Christ, from creation to final judgement, centered on that fateful weekend 2000 years ago.  It is the story of God setting all things right, displaying his restorative justice.  The call for us is to take part in it, to be transformed by it's power, and live out lives of shalom. So says Seay and I agree.  

Overall this was an excellent book.  It is introductory, but in a good way.  Seay summarizes some of the excellent teaching that has been going around recently into a readable and interesting explanation of the gospel.  He has his gimmick, and as per usual the gimick bugged me,but that's my personal taste.  If your curious, the gimmick in this case was that each chapter was followed by a conversation about the subject of the chapter with a few other people.  It did get repetitive, but not overly so.  

Conclusion: 4 Stars.  Recommended.  If you haven't read a whole bunch of material on this topic then this book is a great place to start.  


16.11.10

Read This

This is kind of new for my blog, but read this article:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/march/26.42.html

Seriously.  Get off of my blog and read it.  I'm not joking. 

What's that?  You want to know what your getting in to?  ...

Well, if your still here, and you must know, it is a brilliant article by Eugene Peterson entitle "Spirituality for all the Wrong Reasons."  It is a short read, but necessary.  

So read it.  

15.11.10

Example of Encouragement


Kristina and I sometimes talk about whether or not an occasion is 'blog-worthy.'  More often than not the event is funny, or cute, but doesn't fit with what I blog about.

Today's event was different; it fits perfectly.  Not only do I get to blog about my kids, but I also get to blog about encouragement.  Couldn't ask for more!

Every night Hannah has a bedtime routine.  In the middle of it is bath time.  Lately, bath time has become much more fun with the addition of Ethan.  







--------------->






Hannah thinks that sharing a bath with her brother is the best thing in the world.  On top of that, Hannah has always loved the water.  Ethan, however, flip-flops like a bad politician on the whole bathing issue.  Some days he is ecstatic; kicking and laughing and giggling so hard that he floats around.  Other days he is enraged; screaming so loud that Hannah backs away from him in distress.  





    ?






Today was an 'enraged' day.  We put Ethan in the bath and he very slowly put out his lower lip, forming his pouty face.  Then the screams came.  Hannah quickly backed away and looked at me, asking me if he was 'Hungy?' or 'Poopy?' 

Once Ethan gets going you can't calm him down in the bath.  So, Kristina pulled him out and wrapped him in his towel and bounced him on her knee.  This is where things got interesting.  

Ethan didn't calm down quickly and Hannah saw her opportunity.  She stood up in front of Ethan and began to perform.  I mean that literally.  She talked to him, danced for him, splashed water for him, clapped for him, and sang for him.  All to make him smile. She fake laughed and giggled, and she did this until she was literally shivering from being out of the bath water.  All the while she was just waiting for a smile, even a small one.  When Ethan finally gave it to her she squealed with joy.  

Meanwhile, I am sitting there thinking, 'now that's encouragement.'  Hannah didn't know what was wrong with Ethan, but she knew he was upset.  So she did all that she knew how (she's only 19 months old after all) to cheer him up.  She did it to the point of creating discomfort for herself, and when she got even a small response from him she was genuinely happy about it. 

I know that the selfish years, the 'me', 'mine', and 'no' times, are just around the corner (or so I hear from more experienced parents than myself).  I also know that children are not perfect.  But for me this was a great example of thinking of others before yourself.  Would I have done the equivalent to what Hannah did for someone who was sad?  Hannah may not be very old, but she showed me a glimpse of what love looks like today, and I appreciate it.  Here I go learning from my kids again... I'm such a good parent! :) 






Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

- Philippians 2:3


14.11.10

Q17: Focus on Truth


Question: How would the world look if more people focused on truth rather than rejoicing at what's wrong?

I like this question in theory, but actually typing out an answer feels a little bit like writing a Sunday School lesson. So, let me tell you what I think about with this question.

First of all, it reminds of 1 Cor. 13; all of it.  I know, it's just one line "... It does not rejoice in wrongdoing..." but when I read that question I get this overlay of 1 Corinthians love with "All you need is Love".  


The next place my mind goes is to focus on that last phrase in it's own right.  "Rejoicing at what's wrong." Roll that around in your mind for a moment.  What images and thoughts come to you?  Mine run the spectrum; jumping from guys whose first impulse upon seeing a frog is stomp on it, to WWII (not that I am in any way comparing boys urges to destruction with Nazi's).  More commonly, we see it everyday on TV and Movies; people getting their entertainment (one of the most powerful Idols of our society) by enjoying watching wrongdoing.  I think about our Teen's camp, at which I was asked a very good question by a very smart friend who I respect: "When have we taken things to far?  We all like a good joke, and we know how guys are, but when are we crossing a line?"  ... Now that's  hard one to answer.  

So, it's kind of a loaded question, but it is a good one.  What if we did stop focusing so much on things that are wrong, wasteful, and meaningless?  What if the truth, and love (which, though not in the question, is, in my mind, implied.  My epistemology is such that love and truth are necessarily and eternally connected in the person of the Trinity who is the source and ground, and Himself, both of those things), were really our main concerns in life?  

Trinity Love Knot - Wood Carving - Variation of Irish Love Knot

Some day we will know, when we cease to dwell in the already-but-not-yet, when the kingdom of God fully comes to earth, when Jesus returns.  

12.11.10

"Captured by a Better Vision" Tim Chester



Tim Chester, Captured by a Better Vision: Living Porn Free. Intervarsity Press, 2010. 192 pgs. 

As most of my readers probably know, porn addiction was a struggle for me.  I wish this book had been written ten years ago.  As you can guess from the title, this is a book about being set free from pornography.  In it, Chester takes the reader through 5 steps, beginning with abhorring porn and moving towards embracing the glory and vision of God.  His idea is that in order for us to be free we need to not just leave the sin behind, but to grasp, and be grasped by, God's greater vision.  

He begins with 12 reasons to avoid porn, which is a necessary, if sad, starting point.  However, he moves on from there to discuss the deep spiritual needs around which porn addictions revolve, how these needs are never met through porn, but how they are truly and fully met through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Along the way, he discusses the nature of beauty and desire, the fight of faith, and much more. 

This book was excellent.  It deals very well with a sensitive and burgeoning (burgeoned?) issue.  It is scripturally and theologically sound and well-written too!  As a personal note, not only do I wish I had this years ago, but I am glad I have it now.  I am a youth pastor and know, only too well, the statistics about porn usage in teenagers lives.  This is a real, important, issue which we ignore at our peril.  I think, and I am fairly certain that I am not the first person to think this (it may have come up in Chester's book, I can't remember), that one common reason for men not being very active in living out the gospel is because of struggles with pornography. 

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

Indeed, it is for freedom we have been set free, so let us know allow porn to enslave us. 

Conclusion: 5 stars.  Conditionally, but highly, recommended.  Probably anyone can benefit from reading this at some point. Even if you do not share this struggle, I can pretty much guarantee that someone close to you does.  However, I say conditionally because we are not all at a place right now where this would be a good read.  

11.11.10

Antidisencouragementarianism



John was on his way home after a very long day. Work had been hard lately, and John was leaving most days feeling discouraged and thinking about quitting.  It just didn't seem like he did any good anymore. 

As he rounded the corner the most dreaded sight of his commute rose up to meet him: the bridge.  He wondered when they were ever going to fix the stupid thing? 

As he got closer, he realized that traffic was especially bad today.  He flipped on the radio to find out what was going on, but there was no word of any accidents. He quickly realized that he would have to phone Steph and tell her that he would be late for dinner.  

He was reaching the middle point of the bridge when he saw something unusual.  There was a man standing on the railing.  At first John just thought about how much of a hassle this was.  But then he realized that he had a chance to do some good here. 

He quickly jumped out of his car and ran towards the man. 

"What are you doing?"

"I got up here to jump, but it's higher than I thought."

"Nah, it's not that high.  Easy; just close your eyes and do it!"

"But I'm not sure..."

"Look, when you set your mind to something, you have to follow through. Go for it."

With that, the man on the bridge jumped.  John walked back to his car, glad he had encouraged at least one person today. He may be late for dinner, but he was coming home with a smile on his face.  


Encouragement, to what?

Clearly a ridiculous story.  Whatever we might say of John, I don't think 'encouraging' is the first word that springs to mind.  However, it illustrates a point.  Encouragement is all well and good, but likely the most important thing to ask is this: what are we encouraging people to?

This post is the third post on encouragement.  It goes with "Encouragement" and "Living Encouragement" from back in October. 


Appropriate Encouragement

From a Christian standpoint we do not blindly encourage people towards whatever they desire.  Nor is our end goal that others 'feel good' (though there is nothing wrong with this as a byproduct). What we ought to be encouraging people towards are God and life, which are one and the same.  This is a huge part of what it means to bless others, which is why we want to be encouraging. 

In terms of how this looks in the good times, see my other two posts.  However, many times what it ought to look like is admonishment and rebuke. Dictionary wise, these are the same action, but one (admonish) is done gently while the other (rebuke) is done sharply.  There is much wisdom needed in determining when to do which, but if in doubt err towards admonishment. 


Difficulties

Here's the thing; I think we all know, logically, how this fits into encouragement.  If someone is doing something hurtful, dangerous, stupid, etc. then it behooves us as someone who cares about them to encourage them to stop and replace those actions/thoughts with what is good and right.  This is both loving and encouraging.  The problem comes in actually doing it. 

Most of us are admonished, or rebuked, so rarely in any context (and if it happens, it is probably in one of two contexts: from parents, or from bosses) that we do not handle it well.  If someone in our life started to regularly encourage us in this fashion we would probably quickly take steps to avoid that person.  

The result is that none of us want to be the admonisher, for fear of losing our friends, and none of us want to be admonished, for fear of losing our pride/image/honor.  This system hurts everyone involved, and is not biblical, but there it is.   


A Challenge

The solution is to become a person who is open to admonishment and invite your close friends to help you in this.  In fact, I challenge you to work towards just this.  Here are some tips:

1. Create space to receive admonishment
- Invite a close friend to help you. Give them the freedom and commit to not turning this against them or avoiding them. 

2. Value friends who care enough about you to be honest.  Look up some of these scriptures for help. 
Prov 9:8, Prov 10:17,Prov 12:1, Prov 13:18, Prov 15:5, Prov 15:32,33, Prov 17:10, Prov 24:24,25, Prov 27:5,6, Prov 29:1, Eccles. 7:5 

3. Be suspicious of your own defensiveness
- It is our automatic response to rebuke, but it is unhelpful.  

4. Consider the encouragement you are getting
- think it through; if it is coming from a close friend, there is probably at least some truth to it, and almost definitely more truth than you are comfortable with.  


Giving Admonishment

One more thing.  If you are the friend asked to admonish another, you can also make it much easier just by being gracious.  Here are some other tips though:
- Be specific
- Be biblical
- Be private
- Be encouraging (both in admonishment, but also in positive things)
- Be patient
- Be prayerful


8.11.10

"The Power of a Whisper" by Bill Hybels



Bill Hybels, The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God. Having The Guts To Respond. Zondervan, 2010. 273 pgs. 

Thanks to the Willow Creek Association for sending me a free copy of this to review.  Doubly thank you as it had to be done outside the pre-set system (since it only allowed people from the U.S.A. to register). 

Whisper is a book about hearing the voice, or the whispers, of God and obeying.  The title really does say it all.  Hybels begins by encouraging the reader to believe that God does still speak to us and that we ought to listen and obey. He goes on to explain how you can know it is God's voice, what you can do to hear God's voice, and the different ways in which God whispers to us.  For this last point, Hybels has four chapters: Light for Dark Nights of the Soul, Promptings for Parenthood, When God Speaks Through Others, and Whispers that Change the World.  He concludes with a chapter exhorting obedience. 

Hybels offers a clear and compelling picture of what a life of obedience to God can look like.  He is absolutely right to point us to the fact that our God communicates, that He longs to affect our lives, to speak to us and be obeyed.  This is a topic we need to talk about more, that could be, and ought to be, a reality in the lives of many believers, but for some reason it is oft forgotten.  So, thank you for writing this book.  

However, for better or for worse, I ended up reading this book alongside of Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen.  As such, my opinion is somewhat jaded.  To be honest, I am more of a Nouwen kind of guy than a Hybels kind of guy. Firstly, the majority this book is stories.  On top of that, he has an entire chapter (#3) which is basically a collection of even more stories.  It got to be too much. I mean, I like encouraging stories, I  really do.  But when the message of each of the 10 chapters could be summarized in 3-5 pages (total 30-50), and the book is over 250 pages... too much.  Secondly, I found it all very simplistic.  In some places, this is good and necessary.  There is no point in making the simple complicated.  Still, in the middle of Hybels chapter on how to know when you are hearing the voice of God, I wanted to ask: What about Abraham? God whispered to him to sacrifice his only son... that command would never have made it through Hybels 'grid', and yet Abraham obeyed and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Thirdly, and lastly, there is too much focus on justification by success.  Hybels gives the nod, several times, to the difficulties of listening to God and the sacrifices that may be required, but for him the story always ends well.  And often, this 'ending well' is the ultimate proof Hybels needs, and holds up to the reader, to show that this whisper was indeed from God.  What about the whispers that lead to the cross?  The martyrdom after which others take up our work? Or the quiet life whose affect may never be fully appreciated because the fruit is generations away? I understand why Hybels chooses the stories he does; they are compelling, interesting, and who wouldn't want to have a story with that ending?  But, in so doing, Hybels subtly promotes our cultures values under the guise of blessings from God.  

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars.  Conditionally recommended.  Read with caution, in that you are getting mostly stories, and you are getting a very rosy picture of carrying your cross and dying to your self.