On M.A.G.A. and the Desire For a Better Country

Make America Great Again.

Donald Trump’s famous slogan is just as divisive today as it was when it first premiered almost four years ago. There are a lot of points to debate:

  • What does a great country look like?
  • Who is the one to get us there?
  • What steps need to be taken for improvement?
  • Was America ever great to begin with?
  • How do you define “great”?

Yet the genius of the slogan is that it speaks to a desire we all have: that things would be better than they are right now. Deep down we all know the world is not as it should be. We long for a brighter future and to leave a better world behind for our kids to inherit. This kind of desire for a better country is understandable, admirable, and good. I would even argue it is noble and godly.

Yet here is the catch: for those of us who are believers in Christ, what is the proper way for this longing to express itself? What is the appointed end of the better country we are looking for?

My fear is that many Christians have fallen into the trap of trusting in politics to bring us closer to the better country we all desire. I believe that Trump succeeded in tapping into that longing for a better country and used it for political means. To be clear, I am neither endorsing nor dismissing Trump as president. I really don’t care either way. But I am very much interested in the psychology behind the success of MAGA and how it plays into our spiritual lives.

In case you really don’t grasp what I’m getting at, consider it in the context of God’s people from the past and their own desire for a better country.

Hebrews 11:13-16

These all [the followers of God listed in chapter 11] died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. 

Notice the emboldened phrase. God’s people, both past and present, have always desired a better country. They have always longed for a homeland where God reigns over all and his just rule stretches from border to border. The difference, however, is that the saints of old understood that longing to be heavenward, and I think far too many present-day saints are looking merely to accomplish these things on earth. The desire is right, but the fulfillment is askew.

I’m not a political analyst. I don’t want to be. But I am a pastor and spiritual leader, and I can’t help but see more and more believers being drawn into politics in ways that seem unhealthy. Politics has its place in this world, and Christians have their role in it. But we simply cannot drift from engaging in politics to trusting in politics. There is a massive difference. The former is valuable and good, the latter is idolatrous and wrong. I cannot judge the human heart. Only God can do that. But I certainly have my concerns and I don’t think they are unfounded or exaggerated.

Here are a few questions to reflect on:

  • Do you get more fired up talking about politics than you do spiritual matters?
  • Do you feel defeated when the “wrong” politician is elected, or the “wrong” law put in place?
  • Do you think that you could fix the country if only people would adopt your ideas?
  • Do you find yourself looking up and saying, “come Lord Jesus”?

To some extent, we are all probably guilty of thinking of these matters in a worldly fashion. Yet we cannot allow this to happen, because what the world really needs is the gospel of peace and light of hope that comes from Jesus Christ. Sadly, we know that this world is broken beyond human repair. We can never fix it. Thus, we set our eyes on a heavenly country that will fulfill the longings of our hearts and we can finally be home.

Never forget that we are “exiles on earth”. We are strangers passing through a foreign country. Our passport may declare a physical nationality but our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). May we take the longing for a better country and cause it to fuel our faith in a future that is eternal and secure, a place where we will never again think “it shouldn’t be this way” but rather, “this is what it always should have been like”.

When Should Christians Engage in Civil Disobedience?

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly raised some interesting questions for churches and Christians. Not only are there obstacles to the mere survival of some churches (via financial loss or difficulty in maintaining an online presence), many congregations have struggled with how to obey Scripture’s command to gather together as believers in the midst of a government that is mandating social distancing protocols. Most local churches have largely taken one of three approaches: online services, modified gatherings (like drive-in church), or straight-up disobedience to the government and gathering as usual. A number of churches have made headlines for holding services when told not to and there have been charges laid and arrests made.

We could debate wether the government is overreaching in these orders or not. That’s not the point of this post. I do, however, want to ponder over the question, when should a believer willingly break the law? What does the Bible have to say about this?

The Default Mode

We should start by taking the stance that Scripture overall supports obedience to local government. A number of passages could be referenced, the most direct and thorough of which is Romans 13:1-7,

[1] Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. [3] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. [5] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. [6] For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. [7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

This passage is all-the-more powerful when one remembers that it is spoken of in the context of the tyrannical Roman Empire, which was known for corruption, a lack of accountability, and a general disdain for religion. Even in the midst of that, Christians are exhorted to obey the government, pay their taxes, and just generally be good citizens.

Jesus himself also refrained from challenging the government, even when baited to do so (Mark 12:13-17). The New Testament as a whole encourages a posture of obedience to the government, even going as far as to pray for those in power over them (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Examples of Civil Disobedience

Given all of this, one might assume that it is never ok for a believer to break the law. But such a position lacks nuance, as there are a number of incidents in Scripture where God’s people disobey civil authorities and are commended for it.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew midwives refused to follow through on Pharaoh’s orders to kill all the male children they deliver (Exodus 1:15-17). Daniel refuses to pray to the king and is thrown into the lion’s den for his disobedience (Daniel 6). The three Israelite servants will not bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue and are cast into the fiery furnace as a result (Daniel 3).

In the New Testament, the disciples on more than one occasion are told to stop preaching the Word of God and are jailed and beaten as punishment (Acts 4-5). They reject the orders of silence on the grounds that they ought to obey God rather than mere men and continue their public ministry anyways.

In Summary

Thus, there must be at least some instances when disobedience is warranted. Though relatively rare, these instances seem to be in the categories of (1) forced idolatry, (2) stopping evangelism, and (3) direct involvement in the murder of innocent people. I say “relatively rare” because these situations are rare in the Bible and for the most part in Western Society; however, they are not so rare in the wider scope of world history or even in current areas of the world today.

So let’s bring this home. Should churches disobey the government amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and more importantly, do they have biblical justification for doing so? My take is no and no. Although it does concern me that the government has the ability to shut down churches at will (since I fear that power being abused in the future), I do think there was a valid purpose for doing so. The government was not trying to stifle Christianity or the gospel, and Christians can still make use of other means to continue to share the message of Christ. Additionally, these lockdown orders are temporary, not permanent law. As far as I can tell, it is an unfortunate situation all around but not necessarily one that should call for Christians to break peace with the law and willfully disobey it. In short order, things will begin to return to some sense of normal and gathering as God’s people will once again be an available option. Until then, churches should continue to make wise use of technology and prepare for a future that is going to be full of all sorts of other pressing questions.

5 Tips for Families Stuck at Home

Many of us are stuck at home in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. This has made things pretty challenging for families with young kids. I’m in the throes of this too! How can we make the most of these weeks at home, without going completely insane? Here are a few ideas for you.

#1 Lower your expectations

Life is not as usual, so our expectations shouldn’t be either. When people are facing difficult times, we tend to be more lenient on them. Don’t forget that this is hard on your kids just as much as it is hard on you! Your younger children simply won’t be able to express it as clearly as you or I can. We know that our elevated tension is coming from being stuck at home too much, losing personal space, and just being at each other more than normal. But our children aren’t mature enough to understand or articulate that, so try to relax your expectations. If they spend more time than usual in front of a screen—oh well! It doesn’t make you a bad parent. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Be realistic about things.

#2 Get outside every day

A lot of fun places to go are no longer accessible, but just playing in the yard or going for a walk or a drive is still an option. Try to do at least one of these every day. You’ll be amazed how much some fresh air and change of scenery will do. Where I live, people are putting up Easter eggs in their front windows so families can drive around the city on a scavenger hunt. Great idea!

#3 Start thinking long term about school

It is likely that school is done for the year. It’s time for parents to start thinking about homeschool. You might have no experience with homeschool either as a teacher or student. That’s ok, just make an outline and then experiment with it. An idea is to create a daily schedule to follow from Monday to Friday, so that there is some consistency and learning still happening. Kids need structure, and so do we. Sketch out something that generally reflects a school day, but with more flexibility and less need for prep on your end. You can even post it up on the wall of your living room. Something like:

  • 9:00 – 9:30 Math sheets (google your child’s grade and print them out)
  • 9:30 – 10:00 Free time
  • 10:00 – 10:30 Reading
  • 10:30 – 11:00 Recess outside
  • 11:00 – 11:30 Colouring / drawing / painting / craft / music
  • 11:30 – 12:00 Free time
  • 12:00 – 12:30 Lunch
  • 12:30 – 1:00 Science (You can use Youtube videos like this or this.)
  • 1:00 – 2:00 In your room quiet hour (do whatever you want!)
  • 2:00 – 2:30 Phone a friend
  • 2:30 – 3:00 Life skills (bake something, do laundry, play “store” and count money etc)

Then just call it a day. Let them use the iPad or watch TV so that you can get some other stuff done. You can create any structure you want! Just try and see what works for your family and adjust as needed.

#4 Remember, your kids are watching you

Our children are paying more attention to us than we realize. This is a good chance for us to demonstrate to them that peace and hope come from the Lord. If our children see us obsess and panic, they will intuitively believe that they should too. But we can show them that even when things are difficult and scary, we can still know that God is in control. This is an important season to influence our children, because they will remember how we handled this. Our best teaching moments are how we act in the face of challenge.

#5 Have family church

Is it weird? It is awkward? Is it hard? Yes, yes, and yes! But having family church on Sunday morning is a great way to show our kids that church is important. If we wait until service resumes again at our church buildings (which could be weeks or months away), we imply that worship only happens in a location. We also imply that it’s basically an optional thing we do only if it is convenient. Commit to having church as a family on Sunday morning.

Here’s how we have tried it at our house. We start our “service” at a specific time. I assign a job to each child. My oldest daughter is our “worship leader”. She picks songs that we normally do in Sunday school and have a dance & worship party in our living room. The songs are available from Right Now Media or Youtube, so we play the video on the living room TV. Next I will read a passage of Scripture, something short and simple from a child-friendly translation of the Bible. I might ask one question about it and have a brief conversation for a minute or two. Then we bring up the Bible story videos from Orange that our church sends out each week. We watch the video and take another minute or two to discuss it. Then, my son takes up an offering. We donate the money to someone who can use it (this is separate from my own monthly offering to the church). Last, my wife will close in prayer. That’s it! As an added bonus, we open the “Cafe” (our church has one normally) and I’ll take orders from the kitchen for a drink and a snack. The whole thing lasts about 20-30 minutes. The adults can watch the online sermon video later on.

Again, you can tweak and experiment with things as needed. It will be pretty crazy the first few times you do it, but remember, we could be doing this for a while, so just start with something and modify as you go. You might just find a formula that works well for your family.

Good luck parents! We are all in this together!

The Super Easy Guide to Voting for Christians

We sure know how to complicate things, don’t we?

When it comes to politics these days, things are a big, hot mess. It is unfortunate that many Christians are being sucked into that mess without seeming to have any unique voice or perspective on the matter that differs from that of the secular world. Christians should engage in politics, yes, but we should do so differently than unbelievers.

The Bible has a lot to say about our engagement with secular government. Actually, check that—it really doesn’t have a lot to say, other than a few overarching principles. You could probably point out 10-15 direct passages that address the matter. And that is precisely the beauty of God’s word on this issue. It doesn’t overcomplicate things. The Bible doesn’t get super-political because it doesn’t need to, and neither do we. We can come at this from a different angle than everyone else.

Here are a few big-picture things the Bible has to say about this subject:

1. Pray for government officials…so you can chill out

I bet most people never pay much attention to the second part of that passage. Here it is in total:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

The Bible doesn’t just tell us to pray for those in authority, it also tells us why. It is so you can “lead a peaceful and quiet life”. When I look at the way the world handles politics, it is anything but peaceful and quiet. Unfortunately, Christians don’t often seem much different. I’d be willing to bet it is because we don’t actually pray about these things. We argue and fight about them instead, just like everyone else. That’s a shame, since God’s desire is for us to lead peaceful and quiet lives that come from trusting God in all things, including our governing officials. We seem to really be failing in this matter miserably.

2. Vote your conscience

I won’t quote the whole passage, but Romans 13-14 is where this principle is drawn from. There is no political party that perfectly embodies Christian values. Therefore, Christians should weigh the options against Scripture, pray about it, and then vote according to their conscience. This means that Christians will come to different conclusions regarding the same issues, and that is ok. That is literally the entire point of Romans 13-14. Where there are grey areas, we are to act according to our conscience, encourage others to do the same, and leave it to God to sort that out. We are not to judge or look down on a brother or sister because their conscience dictates they vote for the party you oppose. “It is before their own master that we stand or fall.”

Read. Educate yourself. Mull things over. Pray about it. Discuss with other thoughtful people. Then, vote what your conscience tells you to, and let other people do the same. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

3. Leave the results in the hands of God

We are ultimately not in control of human history. God is. We say that all the time as Christians, but we don’t always act like it. In the end, it is God who raises people to power and brings them down.

“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21)

And, he doesn’t always raise up the most “wholesome” people. It was God, after all, who said “I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people. They will march across the world and conquer other lands.” (Habakkuk 1:6) The point is that God has a plan in all that he does, and his plan is not always the same as ours. He uses both the godly and ungodly alike to achieve his purposes. So if the political leader you thought was a disaster gets into power, you can know that God did that, and he has his reasons for doing so.

4. Focus more on your own personal life and God’s church

It is valuable and worthwhile for Christians to be involved in politics. It is not, however, good for believers to think anything political is the answer. To accomplish his global mission, God did not establish a government, an army, or a politician. He established his Church. The Church, made up of believers across the globe, is God’s chosen vessel to bring his kingdom to earth. Therefore, we should be way less worried with what the government is doing than with what we are doing to share God’s love with the people around us. Do we love our neighbours? Do we give generously? Do we help those in need? Do we share the gospel? Do we participate and contribute to our local churches? Do we get involved in supporting global missions? We should focus on that more, because that’s where God is working. That’s where the power is. And no force on earth can stop God’s Church.

In the end, the one thing Christians should not be doing is freaking out and fighting over politics. I don’t believe Scripture gives us that option. It might be the natural thing to do, but we are called to be supernatural people. Our hope in God causes us to live different lives, the kind that demonstrate peace because of our trust in him. I hope that we can see more of that from our brothers and sisters moving forward.

Holiness is Love

In Christianity, we have our own set of words that no one else seems to really use in any other area of society. Sanctification, anointing, stewardship, and the like, are terms that we often throw around regularly. Another one is holiness. I think we have used that word so much that we have lost what it really means. When people think of holiness, they often think of Christians who never swear, watch Pureflix instead of Netflix, can cite the Bible on demand, and withdraw at length for prayer and solitude. They might picture a monk somewhere, dressed in simple garb and free of worldly distractions while staring into the sunset, meditating and praying.

While those things might be fine and well, they don’t necessarily equate to holiness. Holiness, at its core, is very simple. Holiness is love. Or, more specifically, holiness is pure and genuine love for God and others. That’s it! We don’t have to make it much more complicated than that.

If you’re not convinced, let me take you on a tour of the Bible and show you how this idea that “holiness is love” is all over the pages of the Word of God.

…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13)

Follow the logic of Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians. He prays that they would “increase and abound in love…so that [God] may establish your hearts blameless in holiness”. Think of it backwards. How does a Christian establish their hearts in holiness? Answer: increase in love for one another.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

Circumcision was a big deal to the Jews. It was the sign that they were God’s covenant people in the Old Testament. New Testament Christians are not required to undergo circumcision anymore, but the point is that you can have all the outward signs of being a follower of God, but if you don’t have love as the result of your faith, it counts for naught. All your external religious actions may garner the praise of others, but without love, it’s a waste.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)

A similar idea is shown here in 1 Corinthians 13. You can have a mighty impressive Christian resume—miraculous abilities, impressive Bible knowledge, incredible faith, generosity, and even martyrdom—but if love is not what is underneath it all, God isn’t impressed. Other people would look at such a person and be in awe of their holiness. God thinks it’s “nothing”.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

How do you show God that you love him? Is it by years of service, or passionate singing, or fervent witnessing? No—it’s a matter of obedience. Most people would consider obeying God’s commands as seeking “holiness”, and it is. But this verse shows that holiness/obedience is really just love for God in action.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Evil could be considered the opposite of holiness. And what is at the root of all kinds of unholiness? The love of money—or, put another way, a lack of love for God and others. Lack of love leads to unholiness.

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy 4:9–10)

Once again, a lack of love leads to unholiness. Demas sinned because he lacked love for God and others (in this case, Paul), and loved the things of this world instead.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34–40)

Most would say that obeying God’s commands is the pinnacle of holiness, and that just might be true. But what it is to obey God’s commands? According to Jesus, it really just means loving God and people. That’s the whole point of the Bible.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8–10)

Again, all of the commands are really just one command, to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Why not steal? Because that’s not loving the person you are stealing from. Why not commit adultery? Because that hurts people and isn’t loving. Every command from God is really another way of saying, “love God and people in all you do”. That’s holiness.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13–14)

And again, the whole point of the commands in the Bible are to say, “love people”. Obeying God (aka holiness) means loving people.

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

Paul gives Timothy a bunch of instructions in the book of 1 Timothy. What is the point of it all? What is Paul hoping to see as a result of Timothy’s obedience to these instructions? Love. The aim of every command of Scripture is love. That’s what Christianity is all about.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12–14)

As God’s “holy” people, we should try to grow in good character qualities like compassion, kindness, humility, and the like. But “above all these” we should grow in love, since that brings all these qualities together. So, when we try to grow in holiness and the various good qualities God desires for us, we are really only trying to do one thing: grow in love.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3)

The Thessalonians had two things happening: a growing faith and a growing love for each other. That’s because these two things are inseparable from each other! It’s impossible to grow in your faith but not in your love for others. These two things are inextricably linked together.

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (1 John 2:10)

How can a Christian avoid stumbling (aka live a holy life)? Love your brother. As long as you are loving others, sin is impossible.

Here’s the takeaway point. As Christians, we are called to walk in holiness. Don’t get too caught up in the details. It simply means we need to grow in love for God and others. And how can we do that? The very first passage we looked at was a prayer to grow in love. That seems like a great place to start. Pray that God would increase your love for him and others, then go out into your life and be holy. Let that love overflow.

My Favourite Verse About Heaven

My perspective about heaven has changed a lot over the years. When I was young, I pictured it mostly the ways cartoons do: up in the clouds, wearing white robes, flying around with wings. That seemed pleasant enough, albeit kinda boring to a young kid. Later, I began to discover more of what the Bible described heaven to be like. Scripture portrays heaven as a physical place adorned with great wealth. Streets of gold, pearly gates, a huge city and gorgeous garden to enjoy. At the centre of it all is Christ on his throne, engulfed in full glory. Even later, I read Randy Alcorn’s book on heaven and learned that heaven is a place bustling with life. There are things to do, and it will be more like going back to the garden of Eden—building, creating, cultivating a society—than just an eternal worship service.

This progression has helped me to fill out a better and more accurate view of heaven. But over the last year or so, I’ve discovered another dimension to heaven that excites me as much as any other. It is the concept that heaven will be the ultimate experience of perfect freedom.

Here’s one way the Bible puts it. In Malachi 4:2, it says “for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

The first image is that of a healing sunrise. Being from Canada, I am used to long, harsh winters. It can get bitter cold, and the sun is often not even up when you leave for work in the morning and has already set before you leave work to go home. It’s a lot of dark days for a solid 6 months. Like many people, I find this affects my mood. You get bored, lazy, grumpy, stir crazy. There is even a medical term to describe this phenomena: Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is basically a form of depression brought on by the long and gloomy days of winter.

But when spring comes…ah!! Spring! Suddenly you notice the sunrise coming up as you head out the door in the morning. Soon you are driving home before the sun has set. The snow starts to melt, the temperature rises, and the trees start to grow leaves. This experience of new life is so refreshing and encouraging that it almost has a healing element to it. Your mood, energy, and optimism all start to rise. Before long the snow is gone and God’s creation begins to fill with colour again and you can’t help but want to be outside all the time and enjoy the great weather.

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This is a tiny little picture of what heaven will be like. It will be like our entire life on earth was living through a dark, cold winter, and finally spring has sprung. Our spirit will discover new life and the sensation will be so utterly wonderful it can be described as nothing other than healing. Man, what a great analogy!

The second image from Malachi 4:2 is that of a calf leaping out of the stall.

I don’t have much experience with cows. I didn’t grow up on a farm. But I do know a little about dogs. I have a dog who is just 1 year old right now. He’s a little, fluffy furball that is bursting with energy. And, like most dogs, he loves being around people! However, he’s still at a point where we can’t trust him when we leave the house. So, whenever we head out, he has to get put into his kennel.

When we come back home, we always finding him standing in his crate, tail wagging, practically vibrating with anticipation. He wimpers and whines until we go over and open the crate door. And what does he do? He bolts out like a rocket! He tears around the house like a maniac and jumps all over us until we give him the attention he’s craving.

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Our experience of heaven will be like that. It will feel like all this time we had been caged up, and finally we are set free! We will go leaping like a calf let out of the stall! I find that to be an incredibly profound analogy. And honestly, it makes my heart leap a little with joy.

I’m not sure if you can relate, but there are times when life just frustrating. Actually, I feel like life is mainly frustration that is broken up with moments of joy. I always feel like there is more than what I’m experiencing. I feel like I can be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better friend. I get so annoyed with myself because I know I’m not fully being the person God has created me to be.

And not just that, but it’s like that everywhere you look. This world is not as it should be. Yes, there is beauty. There is happiness. There are meaningful experiences. But overall, you can’t help but just feel angered by the way things are. People all over this world are starving, dying of disease, suffering under oppression, straining and clawing to scratch out a meaningful existence. We fail, we falter, we make mistakes that have negative consequences for ourselves and others around us.

In other words, this world is broken. It’s broken beyond repair. And not only is this world broken, but so am I. And so are you.

The thought that one day all that could be changed—how amazing is that? That hate would be replaced with love, darkness with light, despair with hope. That struggle and suffering would be lifted and replaced with enjoyment and satisfaction. That I no longer would feel like things shouldn’t be this way, but instead feel like this is the way things were always meant to be! That is heaven!

It won’t just be our environment that changes. More importantly, it will be us. I will finally be free from myself. Free from my own sinfulness, my own stupidity, my own selfishness, my own disease, and made whole. I will be able to be who God created me to be. His glory will shine full strength in my life, because it will no longer be marred by my own sin. And we will be able to see that fully realized in each other, and then enjoy that forever together. And Christ will get all the glory. Wow!

I do feel like I’m living in a cage, like I’m trapped inside myself and inside this world where nothing is quite right. I see glimpses of what could be, but efforts to get there are futile. Then, when I’m with the Lord in heaven, all that will be gone and the fullness of life that God has planned for those who love him will be realized for the rest of eternity. It will feel like someone swung the cage door open and we are finally free.

The apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 7:24–25, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I can relate to this on a deep level. I feel the exact same way. Wretched man! Why do I keep doing these things? Why can’t I break free from my sin? Why can’t I be the person I want to be? This body of death, this sinful flesh of mine, keeps me down. It’s wasting away slowly and dragging me down into a pit of death both physically and spiritually. It has to go! And the greatest news ever is that Christ died to remove that part of me. He will remove completely the sin and death that clings to me and I’ll finally be free. Free to be happy, to love, to be loved, to laugh and live and know the fullness of life that Christ came to give.

For now, we get a taste of this future hope here and there. But one day it will be a reality. I hope you reach out and take hold of Christ, the only one who can offer you this gift, free of charge. He alone holds the keys to your freedom. Don’t delay another day!

How to Share Your Testimony

The following is a short, step-by-step process on how to share your testimony. I created this document for people in our church who are getting baptized. It is based off of original material I found on the websites of Living Waters and Cru.


 

In Acts 26:1-23, the apostle Paul shares his testimony and gives a general outline of what it might sound like. His format basically was a 3-step process:

  1. What his life was like before Jesus (v. 1-11)
  2. How he became a follower of Jesus (v. 12-18)
  3. How his life has changed because of Jesus (v. 19-23)

Using this basic outline, you can build your own testimony by considering some of the following questions.

1. Describe your life before you met Jesus

What was your religious upbringing? How did you view God, Christ, the Church, and Christians? What beliefs and values did you hold to? What sins and idols were you clinging to? How did these things ultimately let you down, or cause you to feel a void?

2. Describe how you became a follower of Jesus

What were the circumstances that led you to believe in Jesus as your Saviour? What caused you to have a change of mind and heart? Where and when did these events occur? Who influenced your decision? How did you come to realize you needed forgiveness from God, and that Jesus was your only hope? What made that decision easy or hard?

3. Describe how your life has changed because of Jesus

What has changed in your life? Even if circumstances haven’t changed, how have you changed personally? How has the love of God changed your outlook on life? On death? How do you hope to continue to grow in your faith moving forward?

A Few Other Tips

  • Your testimony is about God; it is not about you. Make sure that Christ is the centre of your story.
  • Write down your testimony in full, or by bullet points, if that will help you to remember or feel calm presenting it. It’s ok to read it verbatim if you need to.
  • Share a meaningful Scripture verse if you have one.
  • Share the gospel during your testimony.
  • Try to avoid too much “churchy” language. Share your story in a way that non-religious people, or even children, might understand.
  • Don’t exaggerate your story. Let the truth speak for itself.
  • Don’t worry if your testimony seems “boring” to you. What seems boring to you might be exactly what someone else needs to hear. God has saved you, and that’s a big deal!
  • You don’t have to pretend that you have all the answers or that your life is perfect now that you’re a believer.
  • Be faithful, share what God has done, and let Him be glorified!

One of These Days My Head’s Gonna Explode

There are just certain things that drive me crazy. Most of them are silly, little things that are of no consequence—pet peeve’s, if you know what I mean. But there are other things that are important that get under my skin. Yesterday I was reminded of one.

As I was casually scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across this post:

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Screenshot from my cell phone.

This was posted by a former student of mine from our youth group, one I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. I have seen this exact image before, and every time I do, it makes my head want to explode.

There’s so much wrong here I don’t know where to begin. For starters, I have no idea what it means to be “against gays”. I know a lot of Christians, and I don’t hardly know any of them that I would categorize as “against” gays. To be against someone, as far as I can tell, means to take a posture of hate towards them. It means you are not on their side, that you don’t want what is best for them, that you are unwilling to care about them in any way. If that is what it means to be “against gays”, then there really aren’t many Christians like that running around.

Now, if you want to say that Christians are against homosexuality, and believe that it is a sin, that’s a different story. Believing that homosexual acts are sinful is fairly standard Christian teaching in accordance with the Bible—along with a whole host of other sexual sins mentioned in the Good Book. But I would put forth this groundbreaking idea (*gasp*) that a person can be against something while still for the person who is doing it. We see this all the time in life. If your friend is strung out on drugs, you are against them taking drugs, but you are for them as a person. You want them to have a better life. That may not be a perfectly parallel example to being gay, but it serves this point: you can love someone while not agreeing with everything they do.

This is the Christian perspective on homosexuality, or any form of sin for that matter. We are called to love people, all people, everywhere, at all times, even our enemies. But that does not mean that we always agree with what they say or do. To me this seems so utterly basic and obvious, but I guess I should not necessarily expect this to be common sense.

Back to the original Facebook post. It says that if you are against gays, then you better not do X, Y, and Z because those things are also condemned in the Bible. The charge is one of hypocrisy, picking and choosing what commands from the Bible you will obey and which ones you will ignore. Now, that is actually a fairly decent argument. Hypocrisy is, in fact, a significant problem, and one called out in the Bible (1 John 4:20, Romans 2:3, Matthew 23). However, the specifics of the list reveal that they were put together by someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. Let’s briefly look at each one.

Masturbation. The Bible says nothing about masturbation. Literally nothing. I’ve read the book, cover to cover. Not one verse. So, we’re not off to a good start since this is supposed to be a list of things the Bible doesn’t support.

Pornography. Technically, the Bible doesn’t say anything about pornography either. It didn’t exist back then. But, the Bible does say a lot about sex outside of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2), which is a sin. It also condemns lust (Matthew 5:28). So, I’ll grant this is a valid one.

Eating bacon. Leviticus 11:7-8 says “the pig…is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh”. Here is where naiveté is shown. The Bible here condemns eating pork, to be sure. But condemns it for who? Who is the “you” in verse 7? The answer is: the Old Testament Israelites. They were forbidden from eating pork. However, I am not an Old Testament Israelite. Not to mention, pork is specifically allowed for Christians in the New Testament (Romans 14:14, 1 Timothy 4:3-5).

This is the fundamental problem with this list. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of what the Bible even is. The Bible isn’t a list of rules. Anyone who has actually read it for themselves can see this. The Bible is a big, continuous story. Along the way there are commands given, but they are given in context, to specific people at specific points in history. Some are meant to remain that way, and other commands are timeless. By reading the whole Bible we can tell which ones are which. Christian’s don’t pick and choose what to believe. They let the Bible dictate what is binding and what is not.

Having tattoos. Once again, this command is given in Leviticus 19:28 specifically to ancient Israel. I am not part of ancient Israel, so it does not apply to me.

Getting remarried. The Bible does say that people should not remarry under certain circumstances (1 Corinthians 7). But there are other circumstances where remarriage is permissible. It isn’t a blanket statement.

Gossip. Gossip is a sin (Proverbs 20:19, 16:28, 1 Timothy 5:13)—you got this one.

Play American football. Football did not exist during Bible times. Neither did America. I have no idea what to do with this one except laugh.

Have premarital sex. Another correct one. The Bible forbids sex outside of marriage.

Wear polyester. Another Leviticus one (19:19). Also Deuteronomy 22:11. Once again, this is for ancient Israel, so it doesn’t apply to today.

Work on Saturday. Once againnnnn….the Sabbath was a command in the 10 Commandments given to ancient Israel. Not. For. Us. Although, there are some Christians who observe some sort of Sabbath rest on Sunday’s.

It is frustrating that these kinds of things gain traction on the internet. They sound so clever—but only to people who don’t know what they are talking about. If you’re going to criticize the Bible, or Christians, or God, at least have a legitimate point. I’d be the first to admit that there are some decent criticisms one could levy against the faith I hold to, but silly stuff like this isn’t it. You can’t mischaracterize someone’s position in order to make a fool of it. In doing so, you make a fool of yourself.

I hope that we can educate young people to be good thinkers. Social media doesn’t do much to help this cause. Social media is a place for quick wit and catchy phrases, not careful and systematic inquiry. It’s a shame. I hope that young people manage to overcome the draw and simplicity of social media to be people who read up and learn about a subject before they feel the need to sound their opinion. If not, it’s for the worse.

Why I Haven’t Been Writing Lately

My last published blog post was over 7 months ago. Prior to that, I had published every month, usually more than once per month, for the previous 6 years. Why the sudden scaling back?

The main reason is that I have been focusing more on my health. I was fortunate to be born as a natural athlete and enjoyed sports up until age 19. At that time, life changed. I was out of high school, working, doing school full-time, in a long-term relationship that resulted in marriage and a bunch of kids pretty quickly. For a 10+ year stretch I virtually stopped doing most physical activities I used to enjoy out of sheer business from my stage of life. And because I have decent genetics, it seemed like no big deal. I ate whatever I wanted, didn’t exercise (except to play frisbee or dodgeball with the youth groups), and that worked out fine.

Well, turns out, it wasn’t really working out fine. I realized one day that my poor lifestyle was starting to catch up with me. I had put on 25 pounds since my wedding day, felt lousy, had regular back pain, and discovered through an asthma test that my lung function was terrible. I hadn’t medicated for asthma in years, and I thought I was doing ok. Turns out I had just gotten used to being short of breath and didn’t even notice it anymore.

It really hit me one day when a friend at church jokingly and without ill-intention said, “you’re starting to get a muffin top there, aren’t ya?” I laughed it off, but I was embarrassed. I knew that I was a bit out of shape, but I didn’t think it was really showing. It was then that I decided I had to actually start making some changes. If I just kept going the way I was, I would end up being a big, fat pastor who couldn’t play outside with his kids. Not to mention that my family has a history of heart attack and stroke, so even more serious health issues could be a concern.

For the last while, I have been dedicating myself more to taking care of my health. I started by making a few small changes in my eating habits: drinking diet Pepsi instead of regular (a sacrifice for me), and eating scrambled eggs and oatmeal for breakfast instead of Lucky Charms or Frosted Flakes. I also signed up for a gym membership and started going three times a week. Getting to the gym has been the hardest part of this process. As a busy husband, father, and pastor, it is hard to find a “convenient” time to make it happen. As a result, I’ve been working out mostly late in the evening (9pm) or early in the day (5:30am). But as I have developed the discipline to keep at it, the results are showing.

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Deadlifting at the gym. My current bests are 415 deadlift, 240 bench, and 375 squat.

I feel better than I have in years. My asthma is improved, and I’ve been taking a regular puffer which has made a world of difference. My back never hurts anymore. I lost the 25 pounds, then started to gain it back mostly in muscle. I feel good, look better, and have my confidence back. Honestly, working out is now one of the highlights of my day and eating healthier is getting easier. If I’m going to put in all that work in the gym, I don’t want to ruin it by putting garbage back in my body.

I do a little bit of cardio, but I have fallen in love with weightlifting. I’m hoping to eventually sign up for a powerlifting competition when the time is right and my numbers are respectable enough to do so. It’s been a welcome break to the routine of life that I had been living. While I love to write and still do, it never really gave me a mental break from the ministry work I was already engulfed in. Lifting has allowed me to have a true hobby apart from ministry work, and I’m better off for it.

I do plan to resume writing a bit more and not ignore it completely. However, I will probably not resume the pace that I was doing before for the reasons outlined above. Thank you to everyone who reads this blog. I hope that I have been an encouragement to your faith and can be so moving forward as well. Just don’t forget to take care of yourself too!

 

Interview With Ryan Arnold

Several months ago I sat down with Ryan Arnold, a friend of mine who is living with terminal illness, to film an interview to share with the youth group at my church. Unfortunately, the video is basically rendered not usable, but here is a transcript of our conversation.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m 35 years old, born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut. I am however, a permanent resident of Canada and my wife is Canadian also. Together we have a little girl (Brynn) who is 6 years old. It’s definitely been an interesting journey with immigration and coming to Canada but I love it here and it seems like the people are a lot friendlier [laughs].

When and how did you find out you had cancer?

For about a week I had some really bad headaches and two in particular that were really strong so that Tylenol didn’t do anything, along with nausea and vomiting. I just chalked it up to stress, stress at work and in my life. Finally, being a stubborn guy, it was my wife who told me to go to the doctor. The doctor looked me over and said, “Has anyone ever told you that, in your eyes, one pupil is larger than the other?” I said no, and he said he wanted to send me for a CT scan. I went, thinking it was nothing, and afterwards I was eating lunch at Quiznos and I got a phone call from my doctor—this is when I was living out west in Alberta—he said, “We are going to rush you to Calgary to have emergency brain surgery right now.” I didn’t know it yet, but they had already set up an ambulance to bring me down to Calgary which was about an hour and a half away. When I got to Calgary, everything happened so fast that it’s just really hard to comprehend.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

The hardest part as been, as a father, mourning the moments that I may not have, about not being able to raise my daughter, or be there for my wife. Living in a seniors home now is tough. I’ve already been stripped away from my family. The isolation and the loneliness that you feel is as if you’re on death row, just waiting. That’s when faith kicks in, you have hope, and you have to cling to the promises that are in Scripture. That’s going from fear, you feel like someone pulled the rug out from underneath you, to faith, knowing that Jesus promises he’ll never leave me or forsake me. And I have to cling to that. That transition from fear to faith has been the most challenging aspect of my journey.

Can you talk a bit more about how your faith has grown?

Growing up I had a knowledge of Christ and everything that he stood for but I didn’t put my full weight of faith on him until probably my 20’s, my college years. I think I had Jesus in my back pocket and sort-of compartmentalized him. I thought that was enough to sustain me. I was busy with life, school, girls, skateboarding, snowboarding and all the activities I was involved in, and I never really gave him much thought. Then once I got sick it really showed me the complete utter worthlessness of those trivial things, and how important it was to get real about my relationship with Jesus Christ. I had to make him a priority in my life instead of all these other things that slid in and forced me to put Jesus on the back burner. When they say you have 14 months to live (on average), what are you going to do with those 14 months? And thats just the average. You have people dropping off at 7 months or 9 months or who’s to say? So it really just made the promises of my faith significant. I had to get real with myself and say, I have to have this relationship with Jesus now and push everything else aide.

What do you hope other people would learn from what you’ve had to go through?

That my story is not unique. It’s unique in the sense that people my age typically don’t get diagnosed with stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiform (GBM) cancer. That’s the same cancer that Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip recently passed way from . I would hope that they take stock of their own lives and ask, where does Jesus fit into my life right now? What is my relationship with Jesus like? And what if I was the one who got that call? I pray that if they were to get that call, faith would be the leading attribute in their life facing it and not despair.

Lot’s of people struggle with the idea of a God that is powerful and loving but still allows suffering. How have you wrestled with that?

It’s certainly been a struggle. You have your questions, like “Why me?” and “Why did this happen?” I won’t deny it—I had those questions. But I read a book called Don’t Waste Your Cancer by John Piper. He basically said that people are going to be watching you seeing how you handle this, and it may be the best opportunity for you to show off your faith in Christ on a greater level than you’ve ever been able to before. That’s certainly been my case. I would never call cancer a blessing, but through it I have been able to grow my faith and my relationship with Christ to a level that I had never previously had. And through that, people seeing my heart and seeing my love for him, has really been great. I’ve been told I’m an inspiration to other people. For me to be called an inspiration to other people seems odd because I’m just a regular guy who got sick (in my mind at least). But I’ve really tried to reach out and touch other peoples lives, saying, “This could be you—what about this Jesus? You may want to get serious with him because he’s the answer.”

To the teenagers who might be watching this, what would you like to say to them?

You’re going to be going through a rough time, and it’s a confusing time. Theres so many distractions that you are faced with and, believe me, I know there are so many temptations thats come along too. Really fix your eyes on the Lord and make him a priority. I know there are things that will come along and tempt you, and there’s certainly years where you may fall off the path. But fix your eyes on the Lord and believe in him, have faith in him, and walk with him every day regardless of what’s in front of you, or what your friends are doing. Remember that there’s no better person to have as a friend than Jesus Christ.

With the time that you have left on this earth, what do you want to do with it?

I want to serve God to a greater degree than I ever did before. I want to live every day for him. I’ve learned that faith in action doesn’t look like following rules but it looks a lot like love. It looks like love in the sense that you love everyone you come across whether they are lovable or not. You make the choice to love them. Be thankful for each and every day that you have because it’s a gift. Simply find the people that may not know about the love that you have in your heart for Jesus Christ and share that with them. Be brave, be bold—you have nothing to lose. The truth is you’ll find that loving others, regardless of what you get back, will be more fulfilling than being the most popular person in the school, captain of the football team, or anything else. I can tell you with confidence that there’s nothing more fulfilling than leading someone to the Lord or bringing someone back who’s wandered away. When you see that happen it’s the greatest feeling in your heart and it’s truly a miracle.


To learn more about Ryan’s story and read his online journal entries, follow him on Facebook.