Category Archives: Good Stories
A good story helps
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?
- I think Chris is right on when he questions our cultures assumption that a healthy and fulfilled life must have sex in it.
- A lot about the gay clubbing/party lifestyle, drugs, and prison life. Probably more than I wanted to know.
- 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.
- Singleness is not a curse, it’s a gift.
- 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.
25 Sisera asked for water,
and she gave him milk. In a bowl fit for nobles, she brought him yogurt.
26 Then with her left hand she reached for a tent peg,
and with her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera with the hammer, crushing his head. With a shattering blow, she pierced his temples.
27 He sank, he fell,
he lay still at her feet. And where he sank, there he died.” (Judges 5:24-27)
Why is she blessed? She betrayed Middle Eastern hospitality, she went against the peace treaty that her husband had with King Jabin. She used deception and more than likely her sex appeal to gain his trust all so she could end his life. Why is she blessed? The writer blesses her because she was an administer of God’s Justice.
In the brutality of tribal conflict, where there was no real “system” of governance, in a world that was less about law and more about dominance, aggression & control, she fought back fear, summoned up her courage & did what she had to do to end the “ruthless oppression”. In her mind the plundering, the rape and the murder, had to stop and God had given Jael the opportunity to stop it. In todays western world with the rule of law firmly in place and with my Christian perspective colouring my view of everything, does this passage have any bearing on me? Is there anything to be learned?
Well, I’m pretty sure the lesson is not “grab a tent peg and violently stamp out injustice.” But it is right for us to hate injustice, it is right for us to become active to try to do what we can to put an end to abuse, to fight against “ruthless oppression” where ever we find it. To sit back and do nothing brings a curse from God. (See Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p 117-118)
Several people from hell climb aboard a bus destined for the valley of the shadow of life. It is the land on the fringes of heaven. All who want to stay and go further up into heaven can. The solid people of heaven (mostly relatives and former friends of the travellers) come down from the mountains to invite them in. The shock of the book, is that in the end, very few choose to stay. These travellers view the fringes of heaven, as a damnable place. Their ever shrinking, translucent, slowly disappearing bodies don’t like the light and the grass is much to hard to walk on, heaven can only be worse they think.
Make no mistake, the inhabitants of hell are absolutely miserable and getting more so every day. There is no peace in hell, only fights and separation, darkness and loneliness, but they cling on to their misery. You see, all the inhabitants of hell are self absorbed. They are the centre of their own ever shrinking, ever disappearing, ever solitary universe — but in the end, they want themselves more than joy itself. When confronted, they lash out, blaming others for the fix they are in. Some are interested in God, but only as a means to an end, God is a useful tool to better ones on reputation, or to gain someone or something. For others heaven is seen as a place to become a shining star, in every case, when the people of hell realize that they can’t get what they want out of God and heaven, they become disgusted with it. Disgust for the heavenly spirits grows even more when the ghosts of hell realize the earthly failings of some of the heavenly people they get re-aquainted with. Self righteous hatred tries to spew itself on the people of heaven, but darkness cannot over take the light of heaven, not even on it’s fringes, so instead there is only laughter, light, joy, and the call for the ghosts to repent and start up the mountain where they will experience painful but purifying cleansing. They won’t have it, back to the bus they go.
Many religious people find themselves in the town called hell in this book. Lewis offers a poignant warning:
“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself…There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ… it is the subtlest of all the snares'”
When self-exaltation is the driving force of ones life, when “me” is at the centre, it doesn’t matter whether the life pursuit is noble or not, heaven and eternal joy itself will actually become inhospitable and undesirable.
Lewis’ ability to capture the true darkness of a human heart, is quite unsettling. The hell in all of us is revealed with convicting accuracy. The foolish choices we make in order to hang on to ourselves, at the expense of true joy hit really close to home for the honest reader.
Mistin was chatting with a business minded non-religious friend in the neighbourhood
“Is there such a thing as a five year funk in business?”
“Absolutely, it’s about the time you start asking the question, ‘Am I going to be doing this forever?’”
“Well my husband and I talked about it, and we feel like there isn’t anything else we’d rather do with our lives, it’s just that we feel like we are in a bit of a funk, maybe because we don’t feel very successful with our church.”
“Well, how do you define success for your church? How do you measure it?”
“I suppose one way we would measure it, would be to help people love and follow Jesus to such a point that they are willing to be publicly baptized.”
“Ok, well then, we need to figure out a workable pipeline that leads people from attending your mothers day parties to becoming devoted enough to Jesus that they want to be baptized.”
“Business works like this, you do free stuff at the beginning, people get interested, then you call people to sign on for small packages, then medium packages, then the large package which in your case is fully devoted followers of Jesus who want to be baptized. It seems to me that you and Dennis are excellent at giving away the free stuff — you are good at the entry level, your mothers day parties and BBQ’s are tremendous, everybody loves them, but then where do you take the people from there?”
“Well, we just kind of wait, and pray, we believe the Spirit of God works in people to where they will start asking questions, and when they do we are ready to talk about Jesus with them.”
“Hmm, yeah, the spirit thing, I suppose that’s important, but what about small and medium packages? Take me for example, I don’t know enough about Jesus and baptism to know if I want the big package, but, knowing you guys, I’d probably be interested in a small or medium package, well anyway, happy to talk more about this if you like, we really want to help you.”
Thus concluded business 101 for the Wilkinsons. Does she have a point? What small and medium packages could we as a church offer? Is the church like Costco? Experience free samples of sausages, so that you can buy a package of sausages, so that you will eventually buy a pallet of them? Is the flow of Christian discipleship about smooth up-sell? I don’t think so.
Even still at what point does the walk of faith meet with a business model that works? Are there strategies that can be employed to help along the process of discipleship? The great evangelist Billy Sunday of the late 19th century bragged that he could personally guarantee a soul for every dollar donated to his business model of evangelism. Does success really come down to business models and marketing?
The only pipeline I know of is love. We must love people well, that means being present and available, that means being generous and hospitable. That means being a good friend and one who sees the needs of a neighbourhood and meet’s them. The Spirit of God acts through these tangible expressions of love, this inevitably creates conversations, which create opportunities for people to grow in their knowledge and love for the Lord and for the Lord’s people. If every Christian practiced the above as their pipeline towards success. I suspect there would be a lot more baptisms.
I confided to Jane that another person in my life had been extremely mean to me and I kept playing in my mind how I would talk to her if I ever got the chance. Jane told me I absolutely must “take those thoughts captive”. Don’t allow the mind to run like that. Simply stop it! Let it go. Move on. Yea, yea, I got the message. . . and it felt rather unsympathetic.
The next week I was vacuuming my floor and playing my favourite “tell-her-off-in-my-mind” game when the vacuum cord popped up out of no where and smacked me in the face! No kidding! I stopped, looked up to the heavens and said, “I get it!! I’ll stop it! I’ll let it go!”
And I’ve tried. But more people keep being mean to me. (Can you hear the childish whine in my voice?) They say harsh things that are unfounded. I don’t get the chance to clarify what is truth. They just tell me off and walk away and I’m too shocked to answer in the moment so I keep answering in my head over and over again for months!
What does this do for my mental state? Everything opposite of my favourite Bible verse. . . “He has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind”. I’m the one becoming mentally unstable!!!!! Where’s the justice in this? Those people were mean to me! They falsely accused me out loud to many other people!! This is not fair! I need to let them know. . . some day! I better keep preparing my speeches.
I’ve begun to notice when I work on my speeches interesting things happen. Mighty rushing winds while running, sudden cloud bursts of rain, stubbing my toe, forgetting something on the stove, random door-knocker, large truck interrupts train of thought, phone dings. . . etc. It’s almost as if something is trying to stop my internal rants. . . . nah – that’s just too supernatural and spooky. . . .
And besides these people who’ve hurt my feelings so badly and then just gone on w their lives really need to know the damage they’ve done! They’ve ripped out bits of my heart, my will, my stamina, my joy. They’ve stolen whole weeks worth of sleep from me!! They’ve altered my enthusiasm and even my personality! They’ve taken an upbeat extrovert and made me into a hiding hermit! If I could only tell them how they’ve wounded me so deeply, perhaps then I could get back to my old happy self!
At this point in a conversation I would naturally say, “What do you think?” to get some affirmation. But I’m not asking this time. I don’t want to know what you think or anyone else. I’m busy ranting. Don’t interrupt.
Then this week I woke up with the following thought.
I keep waiting for sincere apologies and I keep planning my responses and people keep saying and doing “mean things” to me so how long will this cycle continue? I need to figure out how to “let it go” for my own sake! The book of Hebrews mentions a root of bitterness that can spring up in the heart and destroy us. I need to not let that happen! If I continue on this path, I could let my own thoughts destroy me!
These offenders have likely forgotten their offences and moved on with their lives (maybe even to go on offending others or repeat offending me)! They never knew and likely never will understand the depth of the wounds they have inflicted on my heart.
I need to release them.
When I release them, the natural consequence will be that I cut my own bonds of bitterness and free myself.
So today I attempt to release them to the hands of the Almighty God who desperately loves them and wants to restore them. He loves them in equal measure to His love for me. How I must come to grips w the Father’s love for all humans!
Father God, I ask for your blessing on my offenders. I ask you for my release from the grip bitterness has gained on my heart. Please free me from the memories of their harsh words and actions. Help me to treat them as forgiven by YOU and loved images of your divine presence in our world!
A child of mine and I were walking the sea wall. Talk shifted to swear words.
“Do you know any?” I asked
“Yes I think so” she said.
“Which swear word do you know?”
“You know the F-Bomb? What is it, tell me?”
“Yes, go ahead tell me”
Haltingly, with a rather British tone she says to me
I correct her pronunciation and remind her that the F-word is not an appropriate word choice for her.
As I finish coaching her up, I notice a wave of relief washing over her face.
“What?” I ask.
“Whew” she says “There is a place on the map called the Falkland Islands and all this time I thought they were really really bad islands.
They had finally arrived. No more war, no more wandering and wondering what might happen to them. The Syrians were safe in Canada now and in our neighbourhood. We wanted to welcome them in and so a tour of our school seemed appropriate. The Vice Principal, accompanied by a translator, and a few local parents gave these families the full tour. At the end of the tour, the Vice Principal asked the Syrian children for feed back. One of the older boys whose head had been on a swivel for the entire tour remarked that he thought it odd that he had seen no children being beaten.
There was a pause, as the shocking contrast of culture & worldview was realized in this simple observation. Finally the Vice Principal sputtered out a response “You are safe here, if I or any of the teachers beat you we go to jail.”
The boy might need more convincing then that, but it was good enough to coax a smile out of him. Canada is going to be all right after all.
Some paper, some pencil crayons and a chance to give some refugee kids a bit of fun. That was the plan. The drive down to southern Turkey was uneventful, and upon arrival at the camp there was no shortage of kids. After John* had distributed his stockpile he began to make the rounds to see what everyone had drawn. One set of pictures left John and his colleagues stunned.
A small boy produced his first picture. It was his family together in their house, everyone was smiling and the sun was shining, but in the top left there was something ominous. A plane has been sketched in, with a bomb dropping out of it.
In the next picture, the smiles have turned to frowns and tears can be seen on the faces of the children. The mom is no where to be seen, the house is on fire and an army tank approaches. This was the boys story, the same tragic story of millions.
But that wasn’t the last of the pictures. The little boy produced a third picture. A picture of a man hanging on the cross.
John, a follower of Jesus, asked the little muslim boy who the man on the cross was. The boy, stared back at John and stated matter of factly; “This is the man who is going to stop the war.” The boy however, had no idea who the man on the cross actually was. Somehow in those dark moments of terror, death, and destruction, Jesus had revealed himself to this little muslim boy, and given him great comfort and hope. John explained that the man to stop the war was Jesus and for the first time the boy heard the name of the person he was already hoping in.
*I’ve changed the name
Jeffrey Lang grew up in an abusive home, his nominal Catholic faith provided him no solace for the suffering he endured. By his mid teen age years he had become a convinced atheist. In his 20’s a friend handed him a Quran, he started reading, over time he left atheism and embraced the way of Islam. Why?
According to Lang, Islam is better because unlike Christianity, human suffering is not a result of God’s angry judgement. In the beginning according to Lang’s interpretation of the Quran, there is no great sin that brought condemnation to the human race. There was only a little “slip up”. God didn’t get angry or feel threatened by this inconsequential eating of unauthorized fruit.
The big idea of the ancient Adam and Eve narrative is not one of divine judgment and human brokeness, rather divine mercy and human preparation. God does not punish Adam and Eve, rather he blesses them and tells them not to be afraid or sad. The “slip up” was part of their training. Now they must use their reason to choose God in the midst of suffering.
The choice between right and wrong is always a struggle (Jihad), but by using the facility of reason & intellect the right choices can be made and the relationship with God strengthened. Salvation comes through the work of the mind. Lang confesses that the greatest problem with unbelievers (non-muslims) is their inability to think properly “Unbelief in Islam, is an infirmity of the mind” Lang says.
The point of Islam is to have a close relationship with God. Since God is transcendent how is that even possible? The Quran describes God as compassionate, merciful, forgiving, just, protective, wise, generous, truthful, and peaceful. All of these attributes are the seeds of God that reside in every human. When we love God by living out these attributes in the everyday God loves us back. These seeds of divinity grow into full flower as we yield to the will of God and this is how we find ourselves in close relationship with him.
Suffering is good because with out it, we could never learn to use our reason and make the right choices to live out the attributes of God. When we fail to water the seeds of divinity in us, we destroy ourselves, thus sin is simply self destruction. Hell then is not so much a punishment from God, as it is the ultimate self destruction
I’m happy for Lang, in that he certainly seems to have found the solace he was looking for. I think he misunderstands the Christian story and I am not entirely sure he’s got the Muslim story right either. But lets assume for the sake of this article he has the Islamic story correct. What are the big differences?
- Christianity emphasizes human brokeness, Lang’s Islam does not. At first, this dismissal of sin and all of it’s attendant guilt and shame might seem to be a great idea. But for me, it does not ring true. We all swim in oceans of guilt and to shrug off our bad choices as insignificant “slip ups” doesn’t actually help us understand justice or even address what is wrong in our lives. Through the cross we understand clearly both the justice and mercy of God.
- I appreciate Lang’s emphasis on the need for human reason and choice, however, as a Christian I know that even the deep thoughts of my heart are often corrupted. Even my virtue in the blink of an eye can become vice. I need a Saviour to redeem me. In the Christian story it’s not the long hard climb upwards towards God through rational thought that’s beautiful, It’s God’s condescension to me. In my blindness he gives me sight, In my sickness he makes me whole, in my weakness and inability he empowers me. I love the idea of God coming to the rescue, and that’s what happens in the story of Jesus.
A curious observation: I agree with Lang about the need for the human to choose. Islam is the better story to him and he has chosen it, it makes the most sense to his mathematical mind. I respect that choice, even though I don’t agree with it. I wish all Muslim’s would be so generous when it comes to the matter of religious choice. Let’s turn the story around a little bit. Is there any doubt as to what would have happened to Jeffrey Lang, if he had been born Mohammed Al Ghamdi in Saudi Arabia? Let’s imagine, for a moment, that someone gave him a Bible in his mid twenties and through secret study he decided that Christianity was the better story. In his enthusiasm for his new religion he begins to speak out in his home town of Medina that Jesus is his Saviour. I am certain we wouldn’t be listening to his speeches for long, we would be visiting his grave site instead. In our pluralistic world of today, something is wrong when a religion forces it’s adherence to believe on pain of death. I hope Lang’s message of free choice goes a long way in the house of Islam.