Sunday, September 21, 2014

Another August "Unplugged"

This year I continued my tradition of 'unplugging' for the month of August.  This year I went about two months with no Facebook and just a little bit of email access.  It never fails that each year as I take the time away from those things, I notice other things.  Here are a few of my realizations from this year's hiatus from Facebook.

1.  Reintroducing listening to music on vinyl has become one of my favorite things to do in a very long time.

2.  Reconnecting with long-distance loved ones is never a bad idea.  In fact it's always a good idea.

3.  Disappointments will occur in life.  It's not the 'bad' that happens that's the most important thing.  It's how well you handle it that is the most important.

4.  As I read the Bible, God is usually building something good, and if something happens that ends up tearing down that good thing, for whatever reason, it's not surprising at some point that he starts rebuilding it again.

5.  My wife makes the best apple pies, strawberry rhubarb pies and apple crisps.

6.   My son is a great little hockey player.

7.  My daughter has a fantastic singing voice.

8.  Gene Simmons' attempt at a bass solo (as seen on YouTube) can't be unheard and doesn't qualify remotely as music.

(on a more serious note...)

9.  The world's problems that we see in the Middle East aren't political problems and they won't be solved with political solutions.  My Christian brothers and sisters being beheaded along with others cannot be ended at a UN summit.

10.  The nation's problems that we see on the news aren't political problems and they won't be solved with political solutions.  No government can sign a bill into law and put an end to injustice, poverty and hatred.

11.  It's been refreshing to not read people's words of name calling and vicious criticisms of their least favorite politician online. 

12.  It's been discouraging to get back online and read people's words of name calling and vicious criticisms of their least favorite politician.  Obviously the vicious name calling hasn't helped anything but the felt need to do so persists.

13.  My desires and inclinations will not always yield the positive result I'm looking for.  When they do, great.  Take it as an open door.  When they don't, great.  Take it as a closed door.

14.  All things in this life, whether good or bad, are temporary.  

So there you have it.  Some serious and some not so serious observations.  I encourage you to take the time to unplug and separate yourself from the distractions of life and breathe in some uncluttered silence.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Gospel of Jesus Christ in Paul's World

In the last installment of this blog, I delved into what the gospel is in terms of the origins of the word "gospel" in the Greek language during Roman times.  In light of what the gospel is and the intense meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I thought it was interesting to take a look at the first letter that Paul wrote that comprises part of what is now the New Testament.  The book of Galatians.

As we know, the Romans used the term "gospel" to signify the ascension of a new emperor to the throne or even the birth of an emperor to be.  The religious cult of emperor worship was alive and well and this earthly gospel of man was in direct contrast to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.  With this as the historical backdrop, it is interesting to note what the Galatian readers of Paul's letter would have understood when he wrote the letter to them. 

The letter to the Galatians is dated somewhere between 48 and 55 AD.  History tells us that between 14 and 68 AD, there were four emperors.  They were Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.  The living adults present at the time of Paul's letter to the Galatians literally could have heard "the gospel of man", the herald announcement of four different emperors assuming the throne in their lifetime, perhaps even more.  At least four times they heard that a king would bring peace.  At least four times they heard that their king would stay their enemies.  At least four times they were beckoned to worship the new king.

Enter the Apostle Paul as he writes to the Galatians in chapter 1, verse 1:

"Paul, an apostle - not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead - and all the brothers who are with me,.  To the churches of Galatia:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age..."

In this one short excerpt, Paul delivers a death blow to anything else that detracts from Jesus Christ being the centerpiece of the gospel.  There is nothing man-made about the gospel.  There is nothing that finds its beginning or end from the earth about the gospel.  The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ has him as its originator, deliverer and sustainer.  Reread Paul's opening line again and you'll find it all there.  It's not from man.  It is through Jesus Christ.  He was raised from the dead.  He delivers us.  He brings peace.

Enter the Judaizers.  Paul writes to the Galatians in astonishment that they have turned to what he refers to as 'another gospel'.  We may look at the Galatians with a critical eye but we should reserve our judgment.  They have been bombarded with  man's gospel.  They have been immersed in a culture of man's gospel for years and Paul even voices his concern in chapter 4 when he talks of their former enslavement to those that by nature were not gods and how they returned to observing days, months, seasons and years (all part of Roman pagan culture).  Paul does the work of converting pagans to Christ and within a few short years, people come behind him preaching another gospel, one that added to the simplistic "justified by faith" message of Paul and adding a "and by works" clause.  This news triggered a passionate, frank and in-your-face response from Paul and understandably so.

Why is this important for us today?  Like many of you who may read this, I have been a follower of Christ for several decades of my life.  During these years I've noticed that there is always something disguising itself as 'new'.  We live in a world that demands our worship.  We live in a culture that is constantly enticing us.  Not only that but there are religious enticements.  There are those that teach that faith is a force for us to control.  There are those that would have us believe that God isn't answering our prayers but he will if we write a check to their ministry.  There are those that teach that God is for us and because of that, well, if bad things happen we need to simply confess otherwise and turn the situation around.  There are those that preach that our faith is to be the object of our faith and this faith can manipulate God to change our circumstances and hosts of others that have their list of do's and don'ts in order to be a Christian. 

None of this is new.  All of this is, what Paul would say is, another gospel.  To Paul, the gospel was a was Jesus Christ.  So if anything takes away from the person of Jesus Christ, it is another gospel.  If anything is attempted to add to the work of Jesus Christ, it is another gospel.  If anyone asks of you or me anything more than, like what Abraham had, faith alone in Jesus Christ, it is just that...another gospel.

So in the walking out of your faith according to the gospel, may the words of Paul to the Galatians ring in your heart.  "For neither (outward works of flesh) count for anything, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them..."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why We May Not In Fact Really Heard the Gospel

Christianity.  The answering of the call of Jesus to, "Follow me".  The turning away from the old and living the new.  The changing of allegiance to the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God.  The no longer living by one's own expectations in life, but the living by the indwelling life of Christ.  These statements embody, in our lived out lives, the essence of being a Christian.

In the times of Christ, during the reign of the Roman Empire, to be affiliated with Christ and his followers was dangerous.  To be baptized and be a follower of Christ meant to take your life into your own hands for to do so was not just a statement about your religious affiliation, but a proclamation that the government, the system, the ruling authorities and even the emperor himself and all that came with them, were no longer what you were loyal to.  You were dead to all of it.

So what's the big deal?

Rome was huge.  During the time of Christ she was drunk with her own power and wealth.  Her emperors were considered gods.  Julius Cesar was the first to be deified as 'god' and then along comes Augustus.  Julius was deified after his death.  Augustus was deified while he was still alive.  One was god and the other referred to as the son of god.  The succession of Roman emperors as gods was a continued tradition as New Testament scholar N.T. Wright concludes in "Paul: In Fresh Perspective".

To add to all of this earthly claims to divinity, the very proclamation that was used for the emperor righting all the wrongs, bringing the peace to the empire and providing for its subjects was heralded throughout the land.  As Kurt Willems writes in his Pangea Blog, "Whenever the great deeds of Augustus were proclaimed, they were presented with the Greek term euangelion, which is translated, “good news” or, “gospel”. "  Now add to that what Frank Viola said in an interview with Jamal Jivanjee, "In the first-century Roman world, “gospel” was used to describe the announcement that a new emperor had taken the throne. “Heralds” would be “sent” throughout the Roman Empire to announce this “good news.” Interestingly, the Roman emperor was also called “Savior” and “Lord” and was regarded as the one who would establish “peace” in the Empire."  (

Fast forward a few years and you have John the Baptist, the disciples and the apostle Paul with countless others, in the face of the Roman Empire with the same message.....but about another king.  The herald announcement that there was a new king rang throughout the empire.  There was a new king, with new authority.  He brought a new peace and this good news was not referring to Caesar, but to Jesus Christ.  When a person was baptized in public as a follower of Jesus Christ, he was saying to everyone, I died to the old empire - I rise into a new kingdom.  I died to the old emperor - I rise to follow a new Lord.  I died to the old system of false peace and earthly prosperity - I rise to follow the Prince of Peace.  Political allegiances are dead.  Imperial ties are broken.  Kingdom loyalties are reassigned to a new one.

This, to the Roman Empire, was a declaration of war.  This was an affront to Roman rule.

There is a price tag associated with the gospel.  It's more than Four Spiritual Laws.  It's more than The Romans Road.  It's far more than saying a prayer in Sunday School.  It's more than being on the correct side of the political aisle.  It's more than your patriotism.  It's more than being a member of the right church in the right denomination.  The gospel of Jesus Christ demands, by its very nature, that all socio-political and national allegiances die at the feet of Jesus Christ.  There is no other allegiance to be had.

The gospel of Jesus Christ demands, by it's very nature, that all socio-political and national allegiances die at the feet of Jesus Christ.

We are part of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  To cloud the gospel with celebrations of our own earthly kingdoms does injustice to the cross of Christ.  To proclaim an incomplete gospel does a disservice to those that hear it and may want to respond to it.  To associate our national interests on days of celebration with the gospel of Christ is to taint the message of its purity.  To relegate the gospel to a preacher's plea to "just pray these words" in the closing seconds of a broadcast isn't the gospel.  To preach a topical sermon on a Sunday morning and close with a 'sinners prayer' is not the gospel.

The centerpiece and implications of the gospel have not changed.  We would all be wise to examine what they are and ask ourselves, have we really heard the gospel?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Religion of Being Non-Religious

Recently I was dialoguing online with an old friend. The conversation took on a context of speaking about 'the religious' people and how they are sometimes offended by the 'non-traditional' people. There were a couple of things written that made me think. One comment was about a 'religious spirit'. Another comment was 'being religious about not being religious'.  What needs to be addressed is what religion is thought to be, what religion really is in God's perspective and what we as believers really need to be concerned with regarding religion.

The fact is that there are many religions in the world. So really, what is religion? A definition of 'religion' is "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.' The second part of the definition of 'religion' is critical as it contains the phrase 'as agreed upon by a number of persons or sects...". In reality, when the 'non-traditional' people all get together and agree to either practice or not practice certain 'traditional religious' activities, then they, in essence are being just as religious as the 'religious' people. Get it? While the religious and non-traditionals fight over what their preferences are in style, they forget how much they have in common in their devotion to the God they love. Westernized Christianity has not helped this schism as it has caused 'brands' of Christianity that taste good to some and not so good to others. This leads to what one of my former college mates feciciously reffered to as the church 'franchise'.

So what does God think about religion? Surely he has weighed in on the subject.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:27

There are really two types of religion or religious activity. Religion is either pure and undefiled before God and religion that is impure and defiled before God. James explicitly and simply explains it. The kind of religious activity that is pure and undefiled before God involves caring for those who cannot necessarily care for themselves and to keep oneself unstained from the world. This religion that pleases God isn't simply a liberal theological position that teaches us to tolerate, reach out and care for all, nor is a religion of spiritual segregation. It's a 'salt and light' religion. It's a religion of touching human needs with our hands while God touches our impure hearts with his grace. It's a religion where we don't help people in need to feel good, rather we help them because our hearts have been made right by God.

So whether you brand yourself as 'religious' or 'non-traditional' be aware of one thing for sure...God doesn't give a rip about what you do in the name of (insert your church name here).  He cares that you care about what he cares about.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Within a matter of hours I watched a creek turn into a river and cause millions of dollars of damage to homes and infrastructure.  Even worse is the suffering of the displaced families.  People I know, business owners I patronized, families we've fellowshipped with, my own brother, sister-in-law and neices; locked down, unable to leave their own neighborhood.  My children's school friends are living in a shelter the last couple of days.  This is only one town affected by the Alberta flood of 2013.

I write this post from a time of crisis.  Currently the city I live in for the last two months is under water.  Almost 100,000 people have been displaced.  The town I left to move here is completely under water with major damage to infrastructure.  I'm very blessed because for some reason the home I reside in in the city is high, dry and life is as normal.  The property we own in the flooded mountain town is also high, dry and unaffected.  The feeling of blessed assurance however, is clashing with the feeling of frustration as I am personally unable to rush to anyone's aid, unable to give tangible help with my own two hands.  I pray.  I will give.  I will help somehow.

It would be easy to assume a patronizing air and begin to tell everyone that God is at work in people's hearts through suffering.  I mean, this is the time right?  Right smack in the middle of someone watching their $800,000 house flow down a creek with their wife and kids likely homeless, now's the time I tell them that God uses suffering to speak to people.  I could get myself to the middle of the most affected and damaged areas and declare at the top of my lungs that God is using this for his glory.

I think I will refrain.

This morning in church we sang a hymn.  "Great is Thy Faithfulness" seemed so appropriate.  One verse in particular struck a chord in my heart, and one part of it in particular:

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.....

This is what I want to leave with people. 

Do I believe that God allows and uses suffering?  I do (Read Ravi Zacharias' "Jesus Among Other Gods" for a great explanation of suffering).  Do I believe it can and is redemptive?  Most certainly.  But is this the message for right here, right now?  I'm not sure.  I think it's supposed to be 'strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow'.  Why?  Because this is what people need, right here and right now.

In the coming days we will see people coming to grips with their losses.  Those that have lost loved ones will be left asking 'why'.  Those that have lost all of their earthly possesions will be trying to figure out where to go from here.  In the middle of all of this there will be people, just like them, giving and offering the only thing  And from this come the seeds that will grow into strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

The very last words of the hymn 'Great is Thy Faithfulness' are found when the chorus is sung.  It's not a song about God using suffering to teach us a lesson.  It's a song about the reminder of the fact that no matter what happens, God is faithful to bring us through.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How You Should Speak to a King

What is the expectation that Jesus has of his followers when it comes to a person's response to undesireable political circumstances and leaders?  Rebellion? Sarcasm? Hatred?  Love? Tollerance?  How are we to speak of and to political leaders?  We should all know how to speak to a king.

By reading Facebook feeds or watching national news, it is evident that not everyone is in agreement as to what is acceptable.  The Bible instructs us to 'Let no corrupt communication come from our mouths.'  What is corrupt communication?  It's not merely profanity nor simply coarse speech.  It goes to what comes from the heart.  From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Perhaps you've heard or read Facebook quotes concerning a certain prominent U.S. politician.  If your experience has been like mine, you may have noticed something.  I noticed that the hateful, malicious words of Christians sound just like some of the hateful, malicious words of unbelievers.  Where is the difference?  Where is the divine life of Christ displayed?  Can Christians oppose values and differing political ideologies and remain Christ-like while doing so?  The answer should be 'yes'.  But sometimes I wonder.

We cannot model unkindness. We cannot be consumed with disgust and hatred toward a person we don't agree with. We cannot separate our political rhetoric from our Christian conversation.

What is the biblical basis?  The Old Testament has great examples of how people spoke to kings.  Read Daniel 6 and listen to Daniel's response to Darius whom, after being deceived, had Daniel thrown into the lions den to face certain death.  When Darius checked to see the fate of Daniel, he was greeted with "Oh King live forever!"  The result was Darius decreeing the power and grace of the Hebrews God to his kingdom.

Earlier in Daniel's account we learn of the three Hebrew 'children'.  As the story goes, they refuse to worship Nebuchadnezzar at the appointed time and they now face the fiery furnace.  When brought before the king and questioned, their response wasn't to denigrate the political establishment.  They said, ' we don't need to defend ourselves before you in this matter...even if God doesn't deliver us, we refuse to worship (you).'  Of course the refuse, God delivers them and Nebuchadnezzar declared the majesty of their God throughout his kingdom and even promoted the three young men.

The account of Esther has the Jews oppressed under Xerxes.  Esther, taking her life into her own hands attempts to save the Jews, her countrymen, by seeking an audience with the king.  As she opens her dialogue with the man that, while deceived, authorized the destruction of the Jews, she begins with, "If it pleases the king..."

In the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested, a disciple takes a sword and goes for the head of one of the guards, missing and taking his ear off.  Jesus' response was to chastise the assailing disciple and heal the man's ear.

John the Baptist was opposed to King Herod for his immorality.  He preached the good news and rebuked evil.  In doing so he never stooped to name-calling and insults.  he stuck to the gospel and represented Christ.  John the Baptist was put to death.  He was not delivered like our previous examples.

So while living under undesirable political circumstances, facing and dealing with political entities with unacceptable policies, how is a Christian to respond if and when they have to?  Look at Daniel.  Remember the three Hebrew young men and above all remember Jesus.  To them the political opponent wasn't the enemy.  To them it was always about their God to love, and when the goal is to love and please God in everything, the biblical testimony is that God gets far more accomplished for his purposes.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Search for the Body

Last June I was personally informed by the company president that the branch where I had made my current career and earthly living was closing...for 30 days. In that same meeting I was offered a position at the main branch in another city, an hour and fifteen minutes away. To make a long story short, I accepted the offer, packed up my family and moved from the middle of the Canadian Rocky Mountains to a city of over a million people. Big change. I'm sure there are many out there that can identify with job loss, job change, moving etc. It can be a trying yet exhilarating time. We trusted God's leading and away we went.

One of the first things we had to do after being settled was to begin our search for a gathering of the Body of Christ where we could fellowship. That search is all but complete but to be honest, it was a bit pain staking. So the 'search for the body' was on. What local church fellowship would we associate ourselves with? For fifteen years when I was the pastor, I didn't have to ask that question. I never had to look for a 'new church'. I was never faced with the decision of where to go. By going online and weeding out several choices and attending others, I found out that finding 'a church' to go to isn't as easy a task as I thought it might be. I found that several churches out there focus on a doctrine or a teaching. It was evident in their online presence as they listed what they believed in, sought after in their gatherings and expected from their adherents. Without actually saying it, my impression was that if you didn't agree, well, don't bother. Some churches were very traditional 'high church' experiences. Some churches were of the smaller, home group type of experience. Some churches were of the emergent bent where, after listening to an online sermon, I found it to be intentionally making things 'grey' instead of what I firmly believe to be more 'black and white' when it came to some things. Some churches, after listening to online sermons as well as attending one Sunday morning service, were very seeker-focussed. This was disheartening to me as the gospel of Jesus Christ wasn't even mentioned. These were the churches where, in the delivery of the message, the scripture wasn't cracked open and expounded upon, but rather, used as backdrop stories to make a topical point.

But there's one church we've frequented on a number of occasions. It's different. The Bible is opened, taught, explained and delivered to people. Christ and his gospel are the core, the center, the main thing. The people go out of their way and lend a hand, help and assist with needs if they know of any. There's something that feels familiar about that. The word "familiar" means "acquainted with". But it can also mean "closely intimate or personal". How could I be a stranger somewhere among people I do not know yet feel acquainted? The answer to that is simple. We are all part of the Body of Christ. It is his divine life that runs through all of us. When we run into a group of people that share the same DNA, the same life, the same Father, well, we all know what that is. It's called "family".