Thursday, December 30, 2004

Fresh Starts

As we approach the end of 2004, there will be many who will try to make "New Year's Resolutions." Such resolutions to me are funny things, since they can be considered tacit admissions of failure. For some, the drive to do something differently than last year, or to do something we did not last year stems from a sense that what we did this past year just did not work, or did not work satisfactorily.

Funny, but I don't often hear people reflecting on why things did not work. Maybe they do, but I don't hear about it, and that leads me to wonder whether folks actually engage in that kind of reflection. I have to wonder at the value of resolutions that don't have a reflective foundation; motives may be more at fault for the past year's failures than we realize.

God certainly seems to think that motives matter. In James 4:3 we are told that wrong motives are the reason we don't get what we pray for. In fact, that verse is very enlightening for us: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."

When we make New Year's resolutions I think we are implicitly asking for things to go better this coming year than in the year just ending. But are we asking for that with the right motives? Are we looking for a better year just so we can please ourselves, or are we looking to have a better year so that we can please people other than ourselves?

If we really want a fresh start for the year, we probably need to decide first who we want to please. We are going to be pleasing someone, maybe several someones, throughout the year, so we may as well be intentional about it. We really should be out to please God. As Rick Warren says in his book "The Purpose Driven Life", this life isn't about us. Jesus tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all the things which we usually think will make us happy be given to us (Matt. 6:33).

It seems to me that one of the first resolutions we need to make is to seek first what God wants, to live for Him and not ourselves. That isn't easy, and don't let anyone tell you it is. The pleasures of this world can easily entice us to please ourselves first, and they are often more immediate in our lives than God. No, we need God's help for that. Thankfully He really wants to give us that help. Paul writes in 1Co. 10:13: "You are tempted in the same way that everyone else is tempted. But God can be trusted not to let you be tempted too much, and he will show you how to escape from your temptations."

Get a fresh start with God now, and I guarantee that next New Year you'll be trying to figure out how to build on the previous year's successes rather than lamenting its failures.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Tidal Wave of Theology

The recent catastrophe of earthquake and tsunami activity cannot help but dominate one's thoughts. Any event that has killed so many that every report of the death toll is obsolete by the time it is reported is surely worthy of one's attention.

With that in mind, I want to point all to the following link:

I want to encourage people to donate to the disaster relief efforts of the Mennonite Central Committee.

I also want to take a moment to encourage people, particularly Christians, to allow the gravity and magnitude of the loss and suffering to really reach their hearts. It is too easy to shrug off the event as happening "over there" for some. For Christians there is the additional temptation to fluff it off as being part of "God's plan."

Now, in no way do I wish to deny that God has a plan in all of this. Yet this affirmation is not, and ought not be, a hedge against allowing the poignancy of the tragedy to penetrate our hearts. If anything, the fact that we believe in God as we do should cause us to feel more, not less, and react faster and with more passion, not less.

I have no doubt that God has a plan that incorporates, in some mysterious way, the events that are currently taking place in Asia. I also have no doubt that God feels deeply for everyone affected by those events. God is not indifferent to suffering. Neither should we be, especially not while invoking His Name and Will.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Back From The Holidays

I have returned from my holidays, and am genuinely glad to be so.

Don't misunderstand, I actually had a good time. My wife and I enjoyed a couple fo days doing little more than play with the kids, and they thanked us by sleeping in past 8 each morning. It was a good family time all around.

No, the reason I am glad to be back has eerythign to do with family. I love my family, but there are good reasons that we don't visit often or for long. Those reasons often surround church, and attitudes towards it.

These folks complain about church, chronically. They complain about the style of worship, the length of the sermon, the volume of the music , what people are wearing, and the list goes on. To make matters worse, they voice their criticisms loudly. What galls me is that they seem to think they have the right, by mere dint of age, to be so. They are not the least embarrassed by their own behaviour.

Myself, I am well past being embarrassed. I am outright offended. I know about 2/3 of the church I serve would never qualify as "christian" in their world. They don't dress right. They have tatoos and piercings. They like rock and roll worship songs.

I am also offended because I recognize that I don't qualify as Christian in their world either.

More to the point though that same 2/3 of my congregation would not have become Christian in thier world. Nor would I.

I praise God that there were and are people who are willing to let mercy triumph over judgment. I am His child because of them. I just wish there were more of them.

Friday, December 24, 2004

What The Fuss Is All About

It would be very easy to say that the fuss over Christmas is Jesus. It would be true and accurate to say so as well. But it would also be insufficient.

Once upon a time the name of Jesus carried a lot more meaning than it does today. Cheapened by disrespect, irreverence, and mere ignorance, saying Jesus is he reason for the season doesn't communicate all that it once did to the masses.

When Christians, serious ones, speak the name of Jesus, they are referring not only to the baby born in Bethlehem who, according to the Faith, would one day die on a Cross and rise from the grave. Those are but the bare bone historical events. No, when Christians refer to Jesus we also have in mind all that Jesus meant and continues to mean both for daily life and for life after death. Christmas is not just about the birth of a person but the birth of hope and forgiveness, and a life really worth living.

In short, for Christians the name of Jesus is shorthand, carrying within it meanings that are far more complex and significant than the name itself commonly carries today. As the meaning of Jesus has faded in society so too has the importance of Christmas.

This Christmas may Christians move beyond simplistic slogans about the significance of the season, and boldly explain what the season means; not only the birth of a baby, or even a very special baby, but the birth of the only real reason to live in the world; hope for the present and a future we could otherwise only dream of.

Merry Christmas, and may you experience the day as God Himself intends it.

Oddball Pastor

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I can't win...

The Christmas pageant is over, and somehow my youngest son managed to be a focus of things once again. Last year he did so by playing his sword like an air guitar (complete with appropriate grimaces) and almost starting a fight on stage during closing prayer. He has a flair for dramatic style comedy. Who knew?

This year we parents resolved to not have a repeat. We spent six weeks trying to convince this lad not to act up on stage. You might think that's excessive. If you do, let me say this: You don't know my youngest son.

Let me explain. He is cute. I am not being biased here. Everyone tells me his is cute. Big eyes. Long eyelashes. People stop me in the street, the mall, anywhere, just to tell me how cute he is.

Let no one think that this has escaped his notice. It most assuredly has not.

He was a reader at his school Christmas cantata. He was chosen from his class for that role. He emphasized often that he was chosen. Sounded like a 5 pt Calvinist. Anyway, he did his part very well. If you can picture the scene, he had to get a box to step on just so he could reach the microphone. He had to stretch across the pulpit to read his lines. He spoke in tones that emphasized that he is an innocent child. The sweet and cute factor is off, I repeat, off, the chart. He completes his reading, and the church erupts in applause, preceded, of course, by 150 girls under the age of 14 all saying "awwwwwwwwwwwwwww...."

Again, do not be mislead into thinking that as a 6 year old that this would escape his notice.

That night, as he was being put to bed, he said to his mother: "Did you hear the way they went "awww"? They thought I was cute. "

This was only 5 days ago.

Yes, he is cute. And he knows it.

He also knows he likes the spotlight.

He is also a smart alec.

Today, as I waved to him from behind the counter where I work (the other job), he called to me. I was rather expecting "Bye Daddy, I love you." My hopes were, however, to remain unfulfilled.

He called out: "Daddy! Shouldn't you be getting to work?"

This in front of the store General Manager, and the Company District Manager.

From all reports he was indecently pleased with himself, telling anyone who would listen what he said.

All I can say is "revenge is a dish best served cold."

Anyway, he was the spotlight again this year for the most part. He did not act outrageous or pull any stunts. He just sang.

Did I mention he is tone deaf? No? Well I had no idea myself. Until tonight.

How I wish I had an audio recording to play at his eventual wedding reception.

A Funny Thing About Christmas Services

The church has its Christmas Eve service coming up, like so many others do. I've been paying attention to the planning, and its been interesting to note a certain tension that is involved. I am not referring to tension between people, but tension between philosophies or approaches.

There are some folks who approach Christmas, which is particularly steeped in tradition, as an opportunity to get connected with the past. These individuals appreciate doing things in the same way year after year, as has been done since time immemorial. For them, absent these traditional trappings, it just doesn't "feel like Christmas."

There is something distinctly Jewish about this way of thinking. The Jewish Feasts that are recorded in the OT are supposed to be carried out the same way year after year. The idea is to take the past and make it present, so that people in the now can feel a kind of solidarity with the people of way back when. In part, that is what the Lord's Supper (Communion, Eucharist) is supposed to accomplish.

So when people complain that non-traditional celebrations of Christmas don't "feel" right, I think they are probably missing that sense of solidarity with the past.

By contrast, others feel that it is the Christmas story itself that provides the connection with the past, and want to see it expressed in new ways. They like to get involved in the creative process of expressing the impact of Christmas. Perhaps they feel that it is in the effort to express Christmas that they find solidarity with the people of the past; by doing what they did, expressing Christmas to their own time and place.

So when these folks complain, however tactfully and quietly, that Christmas services are always the same, maybe they are expressing frustration with their inability to experience solidarity with the past.

I think the common element is that desire to feel solidarity with the past. I think to some extent we all feel the need to be connected to something beyond ourselves, and that includes being rooted in history. By placing ourselves in continuity with the past we feel a part of it, and the present, and part of the future as well. I think that's why genealogy is as popular now as it is.

But we all express that need differently. Some feel the need to bring the past into the present, and others feel the need to re-express the past in the present. Its a shame that we can't seem to find a way to accommodate both of these.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Few Little Things

First, I thought I'd share a website:

Its about the best personality test I have found on the web, and it doesn't ask for money or anything. For those who may wonder, it turns out I do have a personality, and my type is Sanguine-Choleric, with Melancholy so close behind, it makes no difference. The definitions of those terms are found here:

Give it a shot and surprise yourself.

Short Takes
  1. What I really want for Christmas is a new CBA for the NHL.
  2. Watching my kids fight makes me think being an only child wasn't so bad after all.
  3. Thank God for baby sitters.
  4. Studying the Second Coming of Christ as part of celebrating the First Coming has been a real blessing.
  5. I anticipate a lot of gift certificates this year for Christmas. I don't mind that as long as I am reasonably sure that its being given because of concern for me getting what I want/need rather than laziness.

Recommended Reading For (Others For) The New Year

  • The Cross of Christ by John Stott
  • Christ, Our Righteousness, by Mark Seifrid
  • As The Crow Flies, by Jeffrey Archer

Things I Hope to Do In The New Year

  • Teach a class on evangelism.
  • Establish a Sunday school class with the theme of "ask anything."
  • Travel East to the Maritimes.
  • Start classes towards a PhD
  • Become F/T in the church.

I'll have to check back in a year's time to see which of these things has been accomplished.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Responsibility in Management

Some goings on at my other place of employment (yes I am bi-vocational) have prompted me to consider what leadership is in terms of management. Perhaps the best biblical passage to reflect on is the Parable of the Talents in Matt. 25:14-30(
There is a lot to like about the parable in terms of understanding management. Each of the slaves was "entrusted" with money. Being entrusted like that means basically being made a steward or a manager of the money.

Regarding management as a trust though is very different from how a lot of people see it. I know people who regard management as a chance to flex some authority muscles. They don't tend to make great managers in my opinion. They remind me of the type of person that we hear about in the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matt. 18:23-35 ( You may know the type: they forget how they were once in no better a position than you, are in fact no better than you, just blessed, but have no appreciation for the blessing they've received. The way they treat you is not all that pleasant.

There are other people who see management as an excuse to avoid doing work; all they have to do is make sure someone else does the work. That is so not how Jesus did things. If you read the gospels you can see that Jesus demonstrated by his actions first, and never asked his disciples to do anything he had not already done. Jesus said that he came to serve, not to be served (see Mark 10:35-45). That turns the idea of management from one based on authority to one based on responsibility.

That however is exactly how I think management needs to be understood. Leadership, stewardship, management... It all starts with the idea of responsibility, seeing your work as an opportunity for service. As the manager, you are the servant of all the people who are ostensibly beneath you. You are responsible to your master, but for your employees. A good manager keeps both those responsibilities in mind.

That leads me to the next thing about the parable of the talents that I like. It describes the responsibility given as being doled out according to each person's ability to handle it. That means that being given the role of steward or manager is a recognition of your ability. How does one respond to that? Well recognition is hard to come by, so we had better respond positively. Two of the slaves in the parable did that. They went out and did something with what they were given, and they were rewarded for it. It takes a lot of work to double your money, so you can imagine that these managers did not look at their roles as allowing them to just let others do the work. Indeed, there is no provision in what the master said to even delegate! The responsibility was theirs, and theirs alone. They were given an opportunity and they rose to the occasion.

The other manager though did not. He just kept things to the bare minimum standard, or so he thought. He actually did nothing. The slave probably figured that while he wasn't gaining any money, at least he wasn't losing any. But management is not the same thing as maintenance, and the master saw things differently. The master scolded this slave for not at least getting some interest on what he had been given. The master thought that the slave had indeed lost him money, money that he could have made by just depositing what he had been given with the banks. It seems that God sees lost opportunities, not just lost money, as being an issue.

The opportunity that gets wasted in the parable though is not just the opportunity to build wealth, but the opportunity to build character. Remember, the money given to that slave was according to his ability to handle it. But he did not live up to his own ability. That speaks to character. The lazy slave lacked it. That's why, when it comes to choosing managers or leaders, I look for character, intangibles, things you can't teach but will enable a person to succeed in executing responsibility. Things like technical knowledge and familiarity with systems and procedures can be taught. Character cannot be taught.

Character can however be developed. But you can't be lazy and develop character. More to the point, you can't be lazy about character development. You can be hard working in a lot of areas, but if you are lazy in that area, you will never grow into being a good or great manager. Great management seeks personal improvement, not just professional development.

If anyone wonders what I worry about, or who I worry about, in the management team I work under at my other job, now you know why.

Monday, December 13, 2004

It Must Be Seen To Be Believed

Whomever did this I am sure has a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder, to say nothing of an unhealthy attachment to her cat.

Can you imagine spending all that time building such a thing only to let your cat play in it???

Don't get me wrong, it is a real work, and I respect the tenacity and skill required to construct such a thing. I just can't imagine why a person with that much time and skill woudl use it for this purpose.

But then I don't "get" modern art either.

Two things That Have Been Minor Annoyances

This has been a very busy weekend. Eventful would not begin to voer it. Neeverhteless, a couple fo things have managed to stick out in my ind that are annoyances. The are annoying as much because of they represent as much as anything else. Let me explain.

The first has to do with my last post. The Alberta government has stated publicly its deisre for a national referendum on the issue of same-sex marriage. The Federal government scoffed at the idea (as it seems to about anything that would produce more "direct democracy") with the Federal Justice Minister essentially accusing Alberta of sour grapes. The Justice Minister said that the Alberta government, having already admitted it had no way to deny same sex marriages should the federal government pass such legislation, was just trying to do an end run around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The problem with that is that the Alberta government, techically, trying to do an end run around the Constitution, not the Charter. Alberta is tryng to figure out how to avoid same sex marriages since they have no constitutional right to overrule the Federal Government. Of course contitutional jurisiction wrangling is a more arcane issue. Once again the cry is "discrimination" without any real thought as to what that actually means. The trend towards being inflammatory in politics is not fun to listen to.

The other thing that has stuck out is Christmas. Specifically Christmas cards. I see snowmen everywhere. I see Dickensian images. I don't see a lot of Christ. So far I have received one card with an explicitly Christian theme. One. Maybe I am being too picky. Maybe I shoudl check to see what I am sending too. I dunno, I just noticed this and I hope it isn't a trend. How can we call to keep Christ in Christmas if He isn't on the cards we Christians send?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

It Was Perhaps Inevitable

It was perhaps inevitable that this day should come. Today the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Federal Government has the right, if not the obligation, to redefine the instituion of marriage through legislation. The story can be found here:

One of the more interesting points that arises is that no province can use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to opt out of any such redefning legislation, as the Supreme Court granted Ottawa sole jurisdiction in the matter.

The tide on this issue, which has been cast by its proponents in terms of human rights, has been rising for some time, and all efforts to stem it have met with very little success.

I am experiencing a certain ambivalence about the ruling. On the one hand I am offended that the judiciary would, on the basis of a current, recent, and far from unanious sentiment, overturn what by its own admission is a definition with an ancient pedigree.

On the other hand I am grateful that the Court affirmed the rights of pastors to not perform such ceremonies, though I am sure that the way we go about exercising that right will be subject to much scrutiny. I expect that we will have to be very careful to decline on the basis of a positive affirmation of a traditional understnding of marriage, and not on the basis of a negative appraisal of homosexuality.

My personal preference would be the creation of a parallel institution, one which gurantees the same rights for homosexual partnerships as are currently enjoyed by heterosexual marriages, while maintaining the insitution of marriage, as such, as it has traditionally existed.

In my opinion, the redefinition of marriage would be an act of discrimination on the part of the government towards Christians and other groups who share Christianity's view of marriage, almost all of which I imagine are faith based. For the government to redefine marriage then, and foist that upon us would be to discriminate against us.

Some might be outraged at the suggestion that Christians can be discriminated against. That would be, I think, because many associate discrimination with groups who have been, traditionally and historically, disenfranchised. Under such a vision, it is a priori impossible for a group that has been historically and traditionally privielged and empowered to be subject to discrimination.

To those people I offer two thoughts. The first is this: wake up! You cannot claim on the one hand that the definition of marriage needs to be changed based on a current state of cultural consensus while denying that the definition of privileged and empowered needs also to be changed.

If Christians were truly privileged and empowered, this ruling would never have been made, the quesions would never have gotten to the court, and this would not be an issue. That we are where we are indicates that there has been a certain amount of role reversal that has taken place. Homosexuals are no longer so disenfranchised, and Christians are no longer so privileged. Our understanding of discrimination needs to reflect that.

The second thought I offer is more philosophical. In my opinion discrimination occurs in two situations. First, it occurs when we treat things that are manifestly similar in dissimilar ways in situations where the similarity is of greater importance than the dissimilarity. Second, and this is what is pertinent to us at the moment, discrimination occurs when we treat things that are manifestly dissimilar in similar ways in situations where the dissimilarity is of greater importance than the similarity.

With that in mind, we can see how re-defining marriage is discrminatory; it treats two groups, heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, the same way based on a similarity (both are couples, conjugally) while ingoring the far more relevant differences (one is same -sex, the other opposite sex).

Creating a parallel institution with the same legal standing, by contrast, is not discrimantory. It acknowledges the similarities while paying resepct to the differences.

It might be argued that we Christians ought not be concerned about the Court's ruling at all, that since Canada is not a Chrisitan country anyway we ought not be surprised, and not worry. We don't have to recognise same sex relationships in the churches after all.

For the moment let me suggest two good reasons we should be concerned. One is the slippery slope argument. Some might scoff at this, but I think it is relevant. When one is at the peak of a hill, arguing for the slippery slope is difficult since you have only speculation to go by. We are nowhere near the summit of the mountain as regards this issue however. We are far enough down the mountain that we can see how far we have come, and how fast. In short, we can observe and measure just how steep and slippery the slope has been, and that leaves us in a good position to judge how momentum will impact us in the near future.

And where might that momentum take us? While the Court ruled that churches and clergy have the right to opt out of performing same sex ceremonies, we ned to ask how difficult it will be (how difficult it will be made?) for us to exercise that right. We need to consider how narrowly that right will be defined, and how closely monitored its exercise will be. Some might consider me an alarmist, but I would again point to the slope, and ask how many times have people been certain we were at the bottom? How many times have people said: "it will never go that far" referring to points on the slope that are now far behind us? Can we be so sure we have hit bottom now? Are there no points farther down where the existing momentum can take us?

The second reason is very simple: Marriage is God's. It is not for man to define it or redefine it. What God has defined let no man or Court redefine. As a Christian I am zealous for God, His ways, His things. I am protective of that which is His. That includes marriage. It is simply a matter of stewarship. As with all things that God has given to us, we will be held accountable for how we have taken care of marriage.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Negative Images

Last time I posted, I mentioned, briefly, the power that experience has in forming our perceptions of Christianity. At the time I had thought simply to mention that lack of experience often has a lot do with whether we view something as Christian. That is, if we have never experienced something as part of our Christian walk, then we are more likely to eye it with suspicion than we otehrwise would. For whatever reason, we seem to think that if it were Christian, then of course would have done it or would be doing it. This thinking has a grat impact on our openness to new things in the future.

However my lone commentor, Jord, has aksed a good question: "What about the power of negative experience in determing our views of Christianity?".

The impact of negative experience is very similar to that of a lack of experience. The big diference though is in the power of the experience. A lack of experience will make one distrustful, hesitant, but not necessarily entrenched opposition. A negative experience will entrench opposition, and actually induce hostility to anything that is related to that prior negative experience.

This isn't healthy. The reason that it is unhelathy is that it is evidence that your past, your pain, controls your present, and your judgment. What needs to happen is healing. Forgiveness needs to happen. That is, we need to firgive the people involved in our negative experiences, since often we end up prjuecting negativity on an idea, not becuase it is bad, but because the people who presented it were bad to us. In giving and receving forgiveness we become free to look at the views or ideas those people repesented with fresh eyes.

We may not in the end be able to reconcile ourselves to the ideas, but we will at least havea fair chance to do so and we will certainly be reconciled to the people who present and represent them. That reconciliation is most important.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Is It Healthy?

At heart, I think we are all religious skeptics. That is, if we are presented with something we consider strange and have never heard of or disagree with, then we need to be convinced that its true.

To a point, I think this is a healthy state of affairs. Despite all efforts of our society to make us otherwise, Christians are not, and ought not be, so braod-minded that everything that gets in finds a permamnent home in our thought process. In the chuches we like to speak fo this as "discernment." It is based on Paul's appeal to us to hold fast to that which is good and to flee from that which is evil (I'll let you look up the biblical reference for yourself). It is a good thing, in that context, to be at least a bit suspicious of things that are new and claim to be Christian. That isn't because there is somethign wrong with "new." Its an outgrowth of the fact that Christianity is a religion which is rooted in history, historical events, and so not open to historical revisionism under the guise of historical re-evaluation which typifies the "new" in theology. The lynchpin of Christianity is the complex of hisorical events surrounding Jesus, and it is for that reason that the Bible speaks of the faith that was once and for all time handed down to the saints.

That said, there is a sense in which skepticism is not healthy. Too often our skepticism is rooted in an emotional reaction to something that is not necessarily new, but simply new to us and our experience. In that case the faith that was once and for all handed down gets defined in terms of our own experience of Christian traditions rather than the core complex of historical events surrounding Jesus. Our skepticism is born out of fear of change, rather than faith in that which is unchanging.

Those who would use skpeticism as a hedge must remember that it is the faith which is unchanging, and not our understanding and means of application of the faith to our lives
which is to be unchanging. Being open to experienceing the one faith in different ways is not a compromise of that same faith.

At last, it doesn't have to be.

Te key is to be idscerning, and be actively Christian in our thinking. It takes no effort whatever to treat the faith like a museum piece, and ourselves as curators of it. But that is not what it means to be skeptical, nor to be discerning. Both of these take effort.

Dsicernment, like discipleship, is harder than we perhaps would like to think.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Problem With Theology

The problem with theology is that it is too theological at times. Seriously. I am not kidding.

You think: "Well duh!" I know. It seems ludicrous to say that theology is too theological.

The reason anyone would think I am being dense in saying "theology is too theological" is due to the fact that the two words rather obviosly share the same root. The conclusion then is that I am basically defining something in terms of itself, and complainig tha a thing is too much itself. Sort of like lamenting that blue is just too blue.

But that isn't what I am doing.

My point is that theology, as a discipline, an area of study, uses way too much jargon; technical code words. Theology isn't unique in that repsect for sure; most if not all disciplines that require specialisation are like that. Scuh diverse discplines as medicine, art, and auto mechanics all use terms that have unique meanings that only make sense to those within those disciplines. Theology may use more techincal terms than most.

What makes that a problem is that there is not a single discipline that has more significance for the daily lives of people now and for eternity than theology. If there is a discpline that is more important to the everyday person than theology, I don't know what it is. To me, theology absolutely must be accessible to the everyday person so that the everyday person can make use of theology and apply it everyday.

It strikes me that while we have a plethora of bible versions available that strive to make the Bible more accessible, we have very few or no books that do the same for theology. To me that is not only a shame, its a crime. We have a lot of practical, how to live preaching, but it seems largely disconnected from theology. Orthopraxis (right behaviour) is taught without provindig a basis for it in orthodoxy (right belief). What we are developing then is a lot of people who may do the right things for bad reasons, no good reaons, or, perhaps worst of all, for no reason at all other than that their pastor said it, or they happen to think it sounds good.

Paul spent at least as much time teaching theology as he did teaching how to apply that theology. For hin it worked. Why? I think its because Paul described doctrine in ways that were understandable to the average person. He had to do that since his letters were pretty well all written to or for the benefit of, the average believer.

These days people write theology for other theologians. That means PhDs writing to and for other PhDs. What a waste. Academics must serve the church, or else it has lost touch not only with the church, but also with its function in the Body of Christ. Theolgy has become ingrown, failing to look beyond itself, serving only itsefl and its own interests.

That is what I mean by "theology has become too theological."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

A Bittersweet Season(?)

I have never been a big fan of Christmas. Yet today, I helped put up the family Christmas tree.

I'd like to say that my engaging in the festicity has to do withthe victory of theology over psychology, of God's power over my past's pain, but I can't.

I know that God has redeemed me, all of me. My past no longer controls me, and my present and future belong to God. My past is even a tool for God; it is part of what he has used to make me who I am; the person He wants to minister for Him.

I also know that in Christ there is healing for all the hurts that I have experienced. There is nothign that has happened to me that God cannot overcome, no ilness of the heart that he cannot cure.

I know all of this, and I believe all of this. I even experience all of this.

So why is this a bittersweet time of year?


I remember all the misery of Christmases past, when my dad would stumble drunk into the tree, destroying several presents, and trampling hopes for a different Chirstmas from years gone by.

I remember some very lean Christmases after the folks split.

I remember Christmas as the date around which the one who would haver been my first child was to have been born. We never did meet Morgan.

I remember also the many people who are not here for Christmas. There are people whom I have loved, and some whom I continue to love far too deeply for words, whose absence is felt far too much. I wish I could be with them.

Is then a denial of the reality of what Christ has done? Does it make a mockery of what I claim to believe?

I don't think so. I have indeed experienced healing. I am indeed free from my past. That is, I am not longer controlled by it. I remain, however, aware of it.

I believe that one day I will not be so aware any longer; my attention be consumed by the awesome beauty of the presence of God. That day is not today however.

What I am talking about, in technical terms, is the tension betwen realised and futurist eschatology. In human terms, it is the tension between knowing what is to come, and waiting for it. It is the middle state of living in the certain expectation of a known future while still feeling the sting of the fact that it is still in the future.

That I live in certain expectation of a known future speaks to my faith, and it is something I can speak of only from my faith.

But the Lord has not given me only a future to hope for. He has also given me a present to enjoy. For all that I miss certain people, I have others around me, by God's grace, whom I can enjoy. I have two wonderful boys. I have an amazingly steadfast spouse. Even among those people I miss there are those who are no farther from me than the telephone.

You know, the more I think about it, the season is really not so bittersweet as all that. I begin to think I will really enjoy this Christmas.

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

God Gives a Good Day

After the difficulties yesterday, God decided to gie me something I could handle; a chance to witness. I am bi-vocational, and I occasionally have a chance to witness to my co-workers. Recently I have been able to give out a couple of Bibles, and you always hold on to the promise that the Word of God will not return void when you do that. At least I do.

Well today, one of those people asked me point blank: Am I going to Hell because I am not baptized?

I answered in a way that I don't think my evangelism profs would have appreciated. I said "No. And yes."

When I was quizzed about that, I replied, "From what I know of you, yes you are going to Hell, but not for that reason."

(I suppose I should interject at this point that I have a mouth that tends to shoot first and ask questions later. Given the preceeding, it is probably unnecessary. Those who might have been wondering should consider their suspicions on that front confirmed.)

Anyway, the beauty of having relationships built up over time is that I can get away with that kind of statement. Far from being offended, my co-worker was inspired (if not outraged) to ask more questions. In the end I was able to give a full presentation of the gospel, and within hearing of all my co-workers. The one who started the whole thing I think will come to the Church's Christmas outreach banquet. Maybe even to Alpha. Who knows? I do know that my co-worker is searching and open, and has no heard the gospel.

Whatever happens I feel overjoyed at the chance to present God openly after a year of trying to represent him primarily through actions. Its nice to know that I have earned the right to preach Christ having tried my best to live like Him in my place of employment.

I am going to have to think about this more... I'll get back to you with any insights that may occur. If you have any, drop me a line.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Reality Bites

Sometyimes it really does. Reality dictates that we have only limited resources to help people. We have people who are limited in their ability to receive help. We are not limited in thenumber of people we can help. The needs themselves seem limitless, unending.

Jesus said: "the poor you will always have with you." The truth of that really strikes me today. Having to weigh needs feels too much like having to weigh people sometimes. Trying to have a rationale for acting or not acting feels too much like raionalising away people. I know I am making sense; it is simply impossible, if not irrresponsible, to try to meet every need. But I can't help but feel like I am being heartless.

It is such a responsibility. It is a privilege, but it is not without its cost. My very own heart of love and desire to help others cuts me because I cannot do all I would want. And my reponsibility, my corner of the Lord's vineyard, is very very small in the scheme of things.
I cannnot for the life of me imagine why ayone would want to even contemplate being responsible for the whole of it, even having God's resources. I lack the wisdom to handle what I have; I cannot begin to consider having more.

Lord, help us.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

A Bad (if Pious) Poem

Many are the leaches
Sucking marrow from life,
The hope from dreams,
the light from the guiding star.

There is too much that teaches
the steely keenness of the knife,
the logical implausibility of dreams,
that we'll ever only be what we are.

The god of this age is dark,
and he makes his minions' lives stark.
He makes life a matter of unrelenting pain.
It is a struggle simply to stay sane.

Where can be found a saviour,
who can save us from our sad behaviour?
We need an atoning sacrifice, propitiation,
to salvage for us our sorry situation.

There is too little that reminds us,
of the God who loves us as He finds us,
of the Lord who lovingly designs us,
who shapes us for the life He assigns us.

In truth there is only One,
who is called God the Son.
From His love we need never run,
Shown the work that He has done.

There is only One who loves us right,
And we are so precious in His sight.
He takes us from darkness into His light,
Let Him take you and hold you tight.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

A polite nod to our American Neighbours

who seem to have gotten it all wrong about when Thanksgiving actually is.

If we Canadians only spoke of thanksgiving on our holday, Americans would never get a chance to see a Canadian perspective on the issue.

Some American Christians are fixated on how the Act that instituted Thanksgiving makes it a religious holiday. This, to me, is a nice bit of historical trivia, but not very usefu in any kind of public or political discourse about the role of God in society. The judges in both North American countries have pretty well abandoned the notion that the ideas and ideals of the framers of constitutions have any bearing on how those documents should be applied now. That being the case, the historic roots of Thanksgiving, while they may be true, are for all practical purposes irrelevant.

Other American Christians focus on simply the notion of being thankful. Have an attitude of gratitude. That's sweet. Too sweet. It pretty well amounts to a kind of view of life that has more to do with prozac than it does any real recognition of what being thankful really means.

What does it mean? Well it doesn't just mean being thankful for things. Any one and everyone can be thankful for anything and everything. But being thankful is really about being thankful to someone. God. The LORD.

Thanksgiving is really a recognition of God's providence, how He provides for us. We tend to make it more about how we have a lot of stuff. We celebrate the gifts and all but ingore the giver. Maybe we need to focus a bit more on the Lord's Prayer for Thanksgiving. That prayer asks God for His providence, to give us the bread that we need for the day, but before that there is a reminder that God stands in a particular relationship to us (He is our Heavenly Father), and that His Name is to be exalted.

I don't think we can really be thankful for God's providence if we fail to keep those two things in mind.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

About being human.

I have been studying Hebrews the last week, and I am in that part of the letter that deals heavily with Jesus' humanity.

One of the things that the author of Hebrews (my money is on Apollos for those who care about such technical things as identifying the author of what is in any event an anonymous letter) stresses is that Jesus is not just ttruly human, but a true human. Its like (if you'll pardon me a moment of platonic philosophical reflection) Jesus is the archetypal human being, the ideal human. The implications of that are kind of neat.

I think it means that we are not, as of right now, truly human. We are lacking something. Or maybe more correctly we have something we shouldn't if we want to be true humans. We have not only fallen short of the glory of God then, but we have also fallen short of being human. We have fallen, through that Fall, away from humanness as well as godliness.

It also means that as much as Jesus reveals the Father to us, he also reveals, in some sense, Adam (in his pre-fall state) to us. As we see Jesus act and react as a human being, we know how we are to act and react as human beings.

Maybe that isn't a revelation for some folks, but I think the angle I am approaching it from is a bit different. Most people would easily affirm that Jesus came to teach us how to live as people, but its almost like we think of that in terms of Jesus' deity only. We look at Jesus and see God teaching us how to be human. But ought we not to also see the man Jesus Christ also teaching us how to be human? I am not trying to deny that Jesus is God, but this seems to be one fo those areas where we just ignore the human aspect of Jesus a bit.

Maybe what I am trying to say is that Jesus teaches how to be godly people as people, not as God made flesh (though he is). I think the author of Hebrews has that in mind when he refers to Jesus being able to relate to our sufferings.

In fact, as much as the author of Hebrews has an exalted view of Jesus, I think he spends at least as much time on Jesus' humanity. I think its beause he thinks there is practical for our daily lives significance to both aspects of Jesus' being.

How? Well, I don't want to say too much. I am supposed to be preaching a series out of Hebrews in the new year; I don't want to give it all away.

Hey if you're interested, check out the church:

Just so ya know I am not the guy in the picture. I have ( a bit) more hair.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

What's Love Got To Do With It? Plenty!

How much of a person's life is consumed by love? We soend our early lives being bathed in it (hopefully) by our parents and fmailies. We spend our pre-teen years trying to figure out what it is. Our teen years are spent pursuing love obssessively, often confusing it with sex. As adults we wonder what happened to it.

As seniors? I am not sure yet. I am not there yet!

I guess it really makes sense that so much of literature, art, music, etc. is focussed on the topic. It really seems to be part of the human condition to consider love in as many ways as possible.

So what kind of love is the most powerful when it comes to motivation? I am not sure. I think it depends on the person, what your personality responds to. Me, I think the kind of love that motivates me is the one I don't have. Unrequited love gets to me. Of course that same love, when returned, is also very powerful, but for some reason the "Spock Rule" applies. Maybe its human nature, but it seems that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical but it is often true.

Maybe I should go around asking others about what kind of lvoe gets them going. Maybe.

Oh, before I go, I thought I'd give a flashback. I was listening to the radio this morning and was reminded of the classic WKRP episode where Mr. Carlson drops dozens of turkeys on Cincinnati.

The classic line: "As God is my witness... I thought turkeys could fly!"

Or something like that.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Zero Sum Theology

I've been thinking about how many issues in life are really zero sum matters. That is, if you add to one thing you necessarily take away from another.

The main example that I've been considering is theat of independence. Many folks like to think that independence is a good thing; but as my senior pastor noted, the dark side of independence is loneliness. He didn't say so, but I think the reason is that relationships are essentially zero sum; they are a mixture of autonomy or independence and connectedness or intimacy. To the extent that you are independent or autonomous, you are not connected or intimate. RTo put it another way, to the extent that you claim to have independence i a relationship, to that same extent you actually don't have a relationship.

People seem to thrive on the idea of beinf independenc, but that jsut means the are disconnected from other people, out of relationship. Think about it; the ultimate in indpendence is hermitage. Can you imagine really wanting to live that way? I can't.

I think the reason why people speak of independence so highly is that it is luxury. In our affluent society we can accomplish so much without other people that we can tout independence as a virtue. Back it he day (whenever that was) when we really needed each other to accomplish anythig important ( like survival) I don't think anyone really talked about the virtue opf independence. They probably talked more about the value of community, of interdependence, of relationship.

I don't have a shred of real evidence to back this thinking up really, no sociological reports or studies. It just makes sense to me. Of course, to the extent that it does make sense to me the converse doesn't.

Sense too is zero sum. Go figure.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

And so it begins.

I am one of those people wo says "I can't believe they say all that stuff in public!" I mean, what makes poeple share some stuff over the web eh? I don't get it.

That said, I have come to the conclusion that there is courage and merit in being willing to share. The question of course is just what you want to share. Could it be that I might create a blog that will accomplish something constructive by sharing? After much consideration, the answer is "probably not." But I figure, why not give it a shot anyway? The web exists for any oddball out there to say whatever they want. I, of course, am not just any oddball; I am THE Oddball Pastor!

So what will I share here? Well, I'll post some theological reflections ( I am utterly pathological about that, so better I guess to save some of them - you never know some of it might be profound or even useful), some thoughts on miscellaneous issues of great importance (that means sports), offer a few book reviews (on theology of course), and even the odd poem.

Will anyone ever read this stuff? Maybe, maybe not. God does work in wild and wonderful ways though. I look forward to finding out what if anything God has in store for this little venture.