Monthly Archives: April 2017

Out of a Far Country

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This book combines two stories into one.

Chris (the son) — He is gay, that’s not cool by his Asian American parents. There is a nasty blow up. He moves out, gets into the gay club party scene, discovers drugs, excels at selling them. Life is perfect for him, money, power, drugs, gay sex and complete acceptance. All of that ends, with an arrest, incarceration and an HIV diagnosis. In prison he finds a Bible in a trash can, reads it, and accepts Jesus as his saviour.  He also finds a man to help him grow in his new found faith. The man tells Chris to become a minister when he gets out of prison. At first this idea sounds preposterous, but Chris’ prison ministry grows and he wonders if maybe…but what about the whole gay thing? The chaplain at the prison says “not a problem” and gives Chris a book teaching that Christianity was for gay love and not against it. However, the more Chris studied his Bible the more he discovered the opposite to be true. The chaplains book ended up in the trash can.

Chris did get out of prison and he did become an internationally respected conference speaker, and theology professor at a Christian university. In fact, I purchased his book at a conference he recently spoke at. From all points he seems to be doing well. He is reconciled to his family, he has joy and a transcendent purpose now. But what about his same sex attraction? Christopher will tell you that he remains gay, however, he has become content to resist those attractions and remain celibate. He believes that celibacy is a legitimate option for human beings and that he as a person is in no way incomplete, unfulfilled or somehow deficient just because he is not sexually active. His allegiance to Jesus and God’s Word have led him to deny himself in this area. Self denial, of course, is a major tenet of Christianity so he doesn’t feel as though he is different than any other Christian.  Chris thinks it’s unhelpful and unhealthy for humans to be identified primarily by their sexual orientation. Chris does not want his identity to be “homosexual” or “heterosexual” His identity is that he is a child of God. He is also emphatic that singleness is not a curse or a burden. There is only one thing Chris can’t live without, that is God. Everything else can go. For so many years, Chris was a prisoner to his need for popularity, dance music, sex and drugs. Liberation came when he tore those idols down and began to follow the God who is love. Ironically, true freedom came for Chris while he was in prison.

Angela (the mom) — She is Chinese, locked into an honour/shame culture. The ultimate shame was Chris’ coming out. That despair combined with a lifeless marriage brought Angela to the brink of suicide, but she did not go through with it. Instead, by means of a series of incredible providences she discovered Jesus. Her life changed. Now, because of Jesus she could forgive her husband, because of Jesus she could love her son regardless of his attractions or his actions. Before Jesus, Angela manipulated her husband and children through guilt, shame and “drama” now as she oriented her life around Jesus, she began to practice sacrificial love instead. Her husband was compelled by the change and became a Christian as well. With healing on the home front, Angela set to work in prayer and love for her son whose life was clearly spiralling out of control. Chris was very hard on his parents when he was doing and dealing drugs, but Angela relentlessly stuck to her plan of love and prayer. Eventually Chris came to the same faith that had changed her life so much. Now she serves as his travel and ministry partner.

What did I learn? 

  1. I think Chris is right on when he questions our cultures assumption that a healthy and fulfilled life must have sex in it.
  2. A lot about the gay clubbing/party lifestyle, drugs, and prison life. Probably more than I wanted to know.
  3. The power of a faithful passionate prayer life. Angela’s story helps us see that prayer is not a pointless exercise rather it’s a vital means through which God draws people to himself.
  4. Singleness is not a curse, it’s a gift.
  5. Even though, Chris enjoyed the power, popularity, and exhilaration of his pre-Christian lifestyle, it all came at an increasingly terrible cost. Life was solely focused on himself, his needs, his wants, his attractions. This self focus made it impossible for any real relationships to last. This natural turn inward that we all have actually shrivels up our lives. In the end Chris turned his allegiance from himself to Jesus. This shift in devotion liberated Chris to serve Jesus by loving and serving others above himself. The result for Chris has been the exponential growth of joy, peace, and purpose in his life, the abundance of which far exceeds any benefits his previous life afforded him.

The Subtle Sin of Selfish Ambition

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If you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. (James 3:14-17)

It sneaks in quietly through an unlocked back door. A tiny little thought, a tinge of resentment and a pinch of disgust.

He seems to be more successful than I. He is better than me at something, people are noticing him and not me.  I don’t like him for this fact.

I need to be number one. I need to be the one that people talk about. I need to be the one that people are the most impressed with. I need to restore my preeminence, but I need to do it in subtle ways or I might be unmasked and shamed.

What’s my plan? At first nearly imperceptible boasts about myself followed by subtle, soft & gentle lies about my competitor. I mask my demonic plans with humour and sarcasm. “Just kidding” is a favourite camouflage of mine.  Slowly I build myself up and tear him down. I am the champion again.

This is the devil’s wisdom that destroys our world. God’s wisdom pursues peace and rejoices in the successes of others with a pure heart.

God give me that pure heart.

 Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering

A workaholic, and sub par husband and father get’s an invitation to dinner.  The invitation is signed by Jesus. It must be some kind of a joke, but it intrigues Nick enough to go to the high end restaurant in search of dinner with Jesus. Sure enough Jesus is there.

I settled in for what I thought would be a humorous, intriguing and provocitive conversation. The whole idea seemed so creative to me. However, by the end of the book I was not sure if Nick had sat down with Jesus or Josh McDowell. Essentially, after that first chapter had set everything up so nicely, the booked devolved into an overly simple and straightforward apologetics textbook. Nothing wrong with that of course, I have loads of those kinds of books on my shelf, but I was hoping for something more, like a real story where I could be drawn into the characters lives, where genuine wrestling for faith could happen through a compelling story line.

Instead Jesus effortlessly slices and dices through all of Nicks objections to God and Christianity. In almost bullet point form Jesus solves all of Nicks struggles with faith. By the end of the night Nick has learned from Jesus that universalism is a bad idea, Buddhism and Islam are bogus, Christianity is not about keeping the rules, hell is a good idea, suffering has a purpose, and that Scripture is reliable.  The bullet point argumentation is only broken up by brief descriptions of the food and drink they are consuming as they chat.

It’s an ok book, if you want to learn basic ways of arguing apologetics with someone who might be easily convinced. Since that’s not what I was looking for, the book was more a disappointment than anything.

Laziness is not an insignificant flaw

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He hasn’t disciplined them I Samuel 3:13
I suspect that Eli’s problem was laziness. All through this narrative we are told of his problem with obesity. In this spot in the story it says that he failed to discipline his children. He couldn’t be bothered to shape their character, that would require too much effort, anyway “boys will be boys” right? Eli’s bulk made him a slow moving vehicle, unable and perhaps unwilling to lead his children. He let them go their own way. “They will figure it out” he thought to himself, as he remained seated, stuck to his chair, munching on yet another lamb chop.
Laziness is the passive form of selfishness. Those who possess it in large quantities will not be a part of God’s kingdom no matter how religious they are, or how nice they are. To be a dad and to be lazy or disinterested about that responsibility is truly one of the great tragedies of humanity.
In 20 years of pastoral work, I see this problem to be among the most damaging for human flourishing. God help me to not shirk my responsibility to be a loving, involved dad, who is absolutely committed to the hard but wonderful work of shaping my children’s character.
Amen.

Life is hard. Is trusting yourself really the best option?

The Lord gives both death and life; he brings some down to the grave but raises others up. The Lord makes some poor and others rich; he brings some down and lifts others up. (I Samuel 2:6-7)

This is life. Complete with success and failure, triumph and defeat, good and bad, struggle and ease, life and death. For the Christian the overriding thought is that God is behind it all. God is to be praised when we succeed and God is to be trusted when we fail.

Dispense with the idea of God and what do you have? The very same problems and struggles only now you have no one to praise but yourself (and perhaps others who helped make you into what you are, if you are inclined to share credit). And you have no one to trust but yourself.

Which is the better plan? Neither eliminates suffering. However the benefit of the first plan over the second to me is obvious. The second has a greater likelihood of leading people down a path of pride, arrogance & self-righteousness. If my success is solely because of me and your failure is solely because of you. What’s to stop me from thinking I’m better than you? Nothing! So goes the world without God. We need God to help us deflect glory so we don’t swell. We need God to help us rise above absolute despair when the bottom falls out of our lives.

“Lord I need you, how I need you, every hour I need you,  you’re my one defence my righteousness, oh God how I need you”