Yesterday we attended Evan’s graduation and celebrated this milestone in his life. Young people from a variety of backgrounds were all full of hope and plans for the future. It’s usually a time preceded by searching as students try to choose a path. The choices they make will shape a large part of their future. But students aren’t the only ones who have to make important decisions. How do you make decisions about where you’ll live, what car you’ll buy, or how you’ll spend your summer? Some decisions are easy; other far more difficult. Over the years, four questions have guided my decision making and helped me to try to discern what to do when I’ve felt stuck. But the questions need to be asked and considered in order because different issues are more important and more clear than others.
Today I had two, very different experiences – I prepared for our church members’ meeting coming up on Sunday and I spoke with a young man who wasn’t convinced that the organized church was relevant anymore. It made me think about church and fellowship and why we do what we do. Does church membership make any difference? Is there a need for Christians to gather in an organized way? As long as I have a Bible and Jesus, can’t I improvise the rest? Those questions led me to a quote of Max Lucado’s that I’ve read before and found insightful and encouraging. In the book Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear he writes, Questions can make hermits out of us, driving us into hiding. Yet the cave has no answers. Christ distributes courage through community; he dissipates doubts through fellowship. He never deposits all knowledge in one person but distributes pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to many. When you interlock your understanding with mine, and we share our discoveries, when we mix, mingle, confess and pray, Christ speaks. Lucado highlights for me 3 critical perspectives on church and fellowship.
I’m up this week in beautiful Huntsville, learning and growing with other leaders in The Fellowship from across Ontario. This morning, Heritage professor, Dr. Stan Fowler led a discussion of the current challenges to biblical faith and morality in our society today. We looked at the Scriptural foundations of various Christian convictions and considered ways that they are being attacked in new legal rulings and cultural movements. There was much discussion as people shared stories of the problems they are facing in their local communities. It was Dr. Fowler’s final words that were, for me, the most important however. “Don’t forget,” he said, “spiritual and moral change isn’t always downward.” I'll try and explain why I found this helpful.
It’s easy to expect too much of Christian athletes. We love to idolize our sports heroes so when Christians find out that one of their favourites is a believer, they can make more out of it than they ought. But with the NBA finals in full swing and the Golden State Warriors still undefeated in the post-season, Steph Curry may be someone we can all learn from. I say that because of the way that both Christians and non-Christians speak of his character and his faith. In case you’ve been living under a basketball rock and haven’t heard of Steph Curry, he’s been called the greatest shooter in NBA history for his amazing 3-point accuracy and speed in ball handling. But his character is equally remarkable. Warriors forward Harrison Barnes says of Curry: “He’s probably one of the most humble superstars I’ve ever met. A lot of that is based on his faith. He’s a guy who not only talks it; he lives it. I think he garners a lot of respect in this locker room because of that.” So people who see him up close recognize a difference in his life, but what can we learn from him? To me, four distinctively Christian aspects of his faith-work integration stand out.
One of the biggest challenges of the Christian life is the struggle to believe. If we really believed that God answers prayer, then we'd pray more. If we really believed that God wants what's best for us, then we'd be more obedient. And if we really believed that God's Word changes us, then we'd be more faithful in reading it. One of the ways that God seems to grow our faith is through amazing demonstrations of His power. By showing us that cataclysmic change is possible, He encourages us to keep pursuing incremental change in our lives. This week God encouraged me through the incredible transformation of a Japanese murderer, named Tokichi Ishii.
One of my summer projects is a review of first year Greek in preparation for a second year Greek course I need to take in the fall. The problem with the ‘review’ is that the first time I studied Greek was close to twenty years ago and so it pretty much feels like I’m starting from scratch. The textbook I’m using was written by John Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Seminary, and originally published in 1923. Reading about Machen’s life recently, I was moved by the profound impact that his mother had on him, and the crucial parenting principles she embodies.
On Saturday morning, Andy Lundy spoke at our Men’s Breakfast on the theme of moral purity. He dealt with the topic from a number of different perspectives but just as he got started someone asked an insightful question, “Could you give us a definition of pornography, because I’m not sure everyone in the room will otherwise understand what you’re talking about?” It was a helpful reminder to me that our culture keeps moving the line when it comes to morality, and no more so than in the area of sexuality. Andy shared that what used to be considered soft core pornography is now mainstream and what used to be considered hard core pornography is now entry-level soft-core pornography, with modern hard core pornography stretching boundaries of violence and degradation that were previously unthinkable. Anything that is sexually stimulating regardless of whether it’s in a novel, music video, store front advertisement, or movie is pornographic and has an impact on a Christian’s morality.
There’s something refreshing about a business executive who is completely honest. Even so I was a little taken aback by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ honesty in describing his business plan. I first read of his comments in an article by Tim Challies, but many others are discussing it. Like many CEOs, Hastings is often questioned about the competition. And Netflix’s video streaming service is now facing direct competition from a similar service from Amazon. Hastings downplays the competition from Amazon however. He sees sleep as his main competition. That’s right, I said sleep! Listen to how he responds to the ‘threat’ of competition from Amazon.
Yesterday, I had my ordination council. It’s kind of like a bar exam for a pastor. It doesn’t make me a pastor but it licences me as one. Thankfully, after three hours of gruelling questions from a room full of visiting pastors, I was recommended for ordination and am now taking care of some of the paperwork toward finalizing everything. There will be an ordination service at Grace in the coming weeks. I was asked many questions about all kinds of areas of theology and pastoral ministry. There was one question that is often asked of candidates that didn’t come up though, “What is a baptist?” Could you answer that question?
We watched some home videos last week as a family. They reminded me of the dizzying, early years of our parenting. There were lots of smiles and laughter but it looked exhausting as well. Where did we find the energy? Dangers to watch out for, behaviours to correct, attention to be given, warriors to wrestle – parenting can be an all-consuming task. It made me think back on the many years of parenting that has passed since that time. If I could pick two words that have made the most difference for me as a parent, I’d choose the words “resolve” and “heart.” Let me explain.