Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Magnifying the Lord

Suppose you had to pick a woman to be a part of God’s plan for changing the world. Who would you choose? What kind of women comes to mind? Perhaps someone with power and influence? Maybe beauty and talent? Or associated with royalty and has a bright future? God, however, chose a teenage farmhand girl.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to the-nativity-story-movie-poster-1020509334announce God’s stunning plan which involved her giving birth to and raising a son who would be called the Son of God. Frederick Buechner in his book Peculiar Treasures sketches an imaginary commentary when the angel Gabriel encounters Mary:

"She struck him as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child. But he had been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of Creation hung on the answer of a teenaged girl."

A few days later, Mary hurried to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also expecting a very special child. As soon as they saw each other they were both filled with joy. Mary bursts into song, known as the Magnificat, saying “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.  For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

The next chapter in God’s redemptive mission is under way - he is sending the Christ! A long period of silence is ending; something new is beginning. His birth is still months away; his appearance in the synagogue to announce his ministry is still decades away, but it is beginning.

Hope is now more tangible…longing is becoming more intense…other pastimes, interests, and concerns are now mere distractions…We are starting to feel joy again!!

The intent of Scripture is to portray Jesus (John 5:39; 20:31) rather than Mary. Yet, in the course of revelation a small glimpse of Mary’s character is given. One dominant trait stands out: her humble faith in God, which shows in her willing obedience, joyous praise, and familiarity with God’s ways known through the OT.

She is overjoyed that God has noticed her and included her, even though she's insignificant from a worldly perspective. T.S. Eliot wrote, "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who strive to be important. They don't mean to do harm, but the harm does not interest them … or they do not see it, or they justify it … because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

Although our role in God’s mission is to do good in this world, we will actually do harm if our deeper mission is to feel important and "think well of ourselves." Eliot's words forced us to ask, How much harm could I do to my family, my friends, the people I am supposed to lead, all because I want to think well of myself?

Mary was sure that God had remembered "to be merciful ... even as he said to our fathers." God never forgets, he cannot forget! We may pass through wilderness experiences (dryness, loss, insignificance) but the Magnificat is a powerful reminder not to despair. God keeps his word; he never abandons his people. He surely takes down the proud and lifts up the humble.

In this Advent time we remember and agree to this day that Mary is indeed blessed. We marvel at her willingness to take on God’s plan for her even though it would include a sword piercing her soul (Luke 2:35). We also thank God for being mindful of the state of those who are without power or influence; for acting on their behalf; for overthrowing the self-sufficient and proud; for keeping us in a needy state that we can also say "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Missional moments in unconventional places

It has been said that success is where preparation and opportunity meet. In the case of living in a missional way, opportunities to minister can come in some unconventional places and we must be ready to participate regardless of what others may think. Peter wrote in first letter, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).

I once knew a pastor who was a bit unconventional. At one point in his ministry he felt God compelling him to reach out to people who rarely, if ever, talked to a pastor. As he prayed about this he felt he was to go into some unusual places and strike up some conversations with people. He reasoned that the most unconventional place to go would be the local pub. So he donned a clerical collar, went in and began talking to others. Of course this was quite awkward at first but he was generally well received which inspired him to go back. As he established some good relationships and ministered to people, he eventually became a regular figure in the pub. The owner even set up a table for him where patrons could come see him for confession and prayer.

Missional moments

Sometimes we can miss some important opportunities for ministry because of a dualistic view of mission. This happens when we believe that legitimate ministry is supposed to occur in traditional places only, like a church building or a foreign country, not in unconventional places such as the local pub.

But when we relate to the world in way similar to the life of Jesus (who was called a friend of sinners), our approach is neither confusing the world with God nor failing to find Him there, even in some pretty irregular places.


While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10–13 TNIV)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Idolatry 3: Test yourself

Diagnostic criteria or questions can be applied to a variety of contexts in order to determine the presence of disease, disorder, quality assurance or just a different perspective.


The following questions will help you check if there are any deep idols lurking in your heart:

  • Do I feel like I have enough money and possessions that reflect my worth or do I feel I need more?
  • Do I think I have enough of the power and control I feel I deserve or do I want more?
  • Do I need any specific relationship attachment for my life to be truly meaningful or successful?
  • How often do I fantasize about being admired, envied, feared, or respected?
  • Do I often feel I am the only one who truly understands right doctrine and the heart of God? Do I feel anger and hold grudges toward others who don’t think just like me?
  • Are there any activities or desires I am following that have made me more defensive, rationalizing, justifying, and secretive?
  • Has anyone tried to point these issues out to me before resulting in distancing myself from them relationally?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Idolatry 2: We do the same things

What’s confusing with idolatry is when our relationship to something good distorts into worship rather than an interest, a value, or a commitment. For example:

  • It’s good to have a career
  • It’s good to have a romantic relationship in your life
  • It’s good to have a hobby
  • It’s good to love your family and have a house
  • It’s good to be a part of a vibrant church; to have a respected and fruitful ministry
  • It’s good to value your spiritual tradition

But any of these become idolatrous. One criterion for evaluating if you are drifting into idolatry is to experience a deep loss or threat to any of these areas then see how it affects you. Does it sadden you but you are able to recover or does it devastate your sense of meaning, hope, significance, success, or security?

You may be thinking about now “Oh yeah, I see those worldly people and their idols.” But Christians do the same things (cf. Rom. 2:1)

  • We like to point to our possessions with pride and say “Look what God has blessed me with.”
  • Or point to our ministry giftings and say “Look what God has anointed me with.”
  • We have our celebrity pastors, leaders and authors. We love and follow their every conference, book, blog post, Facebook status update and Twitter message.
  • We become full greed, hate, envy, quarrelling, insults, and gossip whenever someone threatens our idols of doctrinal positions, worship styles, and other spiritual loyalties.
  • We sit and long for the day “If only my church was like that…if only we could experience a move of God like that…then I would know my life and ministry was significant, successful, and secure.”

There are so many ways to describe those kinds of attitudes, relationships, or longings but perhaps the best word is worship.

“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
(1 John 5:20-21)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The NIV 2011 version of the Holy Bible

My first Bible was a 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation. This version remains my favourite but not because of its particular wording.  Because of hours spent in Bible study almost all scripture I have memorized is from the NIV. As a result, whenever the Holy Spirit speaks to me through scripture, the NIV’s version of the phrase comes to mind. I feel I have forever linked the memory capacities of my mind with the spiritual capacities of my heart through the NIV.  There’s an investment there that has eternal value.

So it’s with keen interest that I pay attention to any updates to this translation.  I studied the quality of the TNIV in seminary I found it to a fine translation but I was aware that version was controversial to some and the processes involved in its production bothered others.

Here’s a chart that summarizes the changes in the NIV 2011  (courtesy of John Dyer):


You can read the newest version of the NIV here.  Below is an introduction by Dr. Douglas Moo, Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation, the body of scholars who look after the text of the NIV.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


In Romans 1-2, Paul describes the object of God’s wrath as twofold—“against all the godlessness and wickedness of mankind.”  Together these serve to represent the failure of humankind in terms of the requirements of God commandments.

Idolatry was the recurring problem in the OT and the NT.  Now, despite what Paul says was plainly evident about God’s qualities, people “… became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired.

In Romans 2:1-4. Paul writes as though he is in dialogue with a Jewish audience who has up to this point agreed with Paul’s evaluation – about the Gentiles. Then he drops this: “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you [also] have no excuse! … for you who judge others do these very same things.

I can imagine their response to Paul: “OH YEAH, WHERE ARE MY IDOLS!?” Apparently, the Roman Jews had been taking idols from pagan temples to have their materials. By doing so, they showed their own idolatry, which was a love of wealth. So rather than avoiding what they claimed to detest, they secretly horded it.

It becomes apparent that idolatry moves beyond the material and the concrete into matters of the heart. Tim Keller in his book Counterfeit Gods differentiates these as “surface idols” and “deep idols.” He writes, “An idol is whatever you look at and say in your heart ‘If only I had that, then I’ll feel like my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant, and secure. There are so many ways to describe that kind of relationship…but perhaps the best word is worship” (2009, p. xviii).

Through Scripture we discover that idols are not just material; they are attitudes, longings, and even teachings.  The Bible uses three concepts to describe how people relate to their idols: they love them, they trust them, and they follow them. Others suggest that ultimately, to worship an idol is to worship ourselves. After all, every idol is of our own making! Somewhere, somehow, there’s something in there we can take credit for.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stages of discipleship growth?

If you have studied developmental psychology, at some point you would likely have read about various stage theories. These are theories based on the assumption that personal growth/development is a process that involves distinct stages that can be characterized by qualitative changes in behaviour. As a result, various researchers have developed these theories into patterns that characterize areas such as moral, cognitive, psychosocial, and faith development.

Certain presumptions are involved when thinking about stages of development:

1. A ground plan: A pre-existent structure through which persons move.

2. Invariable sequence: One stage leading to the next; no stage can be skipped.

3. Integration of increasingly complex elements: Remains stable until challenged by something that doesn’t fit.

4. Interaction with the environment: Assumes that persons are engaged in the process.

5. A goal or end in mind: Moves toward a final level of integration.

As for strengths, stage theories offer an insightful approach to understanding the process of growth and its goals. Some weaknesses include suggesting that the stages are invariant or sequential.

Greg Ogden (2003) offers some stages for how Jesus prepared his disciples to take on the role of apostles.  It is an especially interesting way to visualize the journey and key questions people might wrestle with as they grow in greater levels of faith and ministry.

Ogden stages

Ogden, Greg. (2003). Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples A Few At A Time. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, 82.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Learning to repent…again

“From that time on, Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)

Repentance involves a deep-seated transformation of attitudes, values, behaviours, etc.; a fundamental turnaround involving attitudes, values, and actions. Moreover, it is a recurring signpost on the Christian spiritual journey. Unfortunately, repentance can be communicated as tantamount to our initial confession of faith in Christ – as though repentance is a one-time event resulting in a sharp change of life direction. The figure below represents such an understanding:

Worldview 1

Perhaps though, repentance is better thought of as something we face repeatedly as we journey the path of maturing in Christ. As the Spirit continues to remind us of Jesus’ ways (cf. John 14:26) we continually find new areas of our heart (and perhaps old areas again!) that need a course correction. The following figure represents this:
worldview 2

Genuine repentance always involves a sense of grief, earnestness, and desire to clear oneself (cf. 2 Cor. 7:11) that leaves no sense of regret. Such is the way of following Christ, again and again.

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mission 2: Old Testament observations

Last week I wrote about the mission of God and how the church finds its mission within that agenda. To form a mission apart from that agenda is to form a different mission. Moreover, any mission apart from God’s mission is likely to contain a different gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6).

Wright (2000) points out two reasons to learn about mission from the Old Testament: “First, it presents the mission and purpose of God with great power and clarity and with universal implication for all humanity. Second, the Old Testament shaped the very nature of the mission of the New Testament church, which indeed felt compelled to justify its mission practice from the Scripture we now call the Old Testament.”

The following table present the main Old Testament eras in which Israel’s history is depicted:

OT table

After being created in God’s image for fellowship, humankind is deceived by the serpent and they face judgment. In essence, this is where mission begins; it is the story of God pursuing humankind in order to redeem them. God’s call of Abraham and the promise made to him in Genesis 12:1-3, come as a major new chapter of God’s mission.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob become known as the Patriarchs - the the physical and spiritual ancestors of Judaism. As we see, the nation of Israel was not physically sent out to the nations as missionaries. But, it can be said they were, beginning with Abraham, sent into the idolatry and polytheism of Canaan for the purpose of attracting others to the light of God’s presence among God’s people.

In some ways it seems the mission for regular OT saints was the simple witness of their way of life in the middle of an idolatrous culture surrounding them on every side. In the same way, perhaps clear quality of simple godliness you display in your life in the middle of a worldly culture is critical to the mission God has for you.

In many ways, mission in the Old Testament involves learning God’s ways that we may walk in his paths (Isa. 2:3).

“The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isa. 26:7-8 TNIV).


Wright, Christopher. (2000). “Old Testament Theology of Mission,” in Scott Moreau, ed. The Evangelical Dictionary of World Mission, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mission 1: What is God up to?

Perhaps certain words or images come to mind when thinking about the mission of the church:


We could say that a mission is basically the reason for one’s presence and the difference one hopes to make. For much the same reason the Canadian government created the Afghanistan360 exhibit seen around the country, there are important times when Christians must revisit the reason why we’re here and what difference we are hoping to make.

The mission frontier is no longer neatly divided between “Christian” parts of the world and non-Christian. Nowadays, the missionary frontier runs round the world. It crosses barriers which separate belief from unbelief, maturity from immaturity, justice from injustice, mercy from cruelty, and community from isolation. Mission takes place from and to all continents and within each nation, city, and town.

Still, it’s crucial to start with the assumption that God’s mission is greater than the activities of His church. Borrowing from Grenz’s (1994, p. 114) definition, “We may summarize God’s intention for the world by employing the term ‘community.’” Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share this, so also God’s mission is to bring the world to participation in “community.”

One of the most notable Greek words in the Bible is koinonia, which is often translated as “fellowship” or “community” in English Bibles. This term is generally thought to accompany the idea of participation in mutual, caring relationships. In the New Testament however, koinonia is also seen in the company of another important concept – partnership, specifically, “participation with another in some enterprise or matter of joint concern” (Louw and Nida, 1989).

Therefore, it appears that God’s ultimate intention or mission is to establish an eternal social reality for humankind. Currently, he is about this work by gathering people into and through the Church. God invites us to become involved with Him in this work – that’s koinonia, otherwise known as partnership!


Grenz, S. (1994). Theology for the community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Broadman and Holman.

Louw, J. P. and Nida, E. A. (1989). Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. Vol. 1, New York, NY: United Bible Societies.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Learning to listen to God

1 Samuel 3:1-10 introduces Samuel, the beginning of the leadership of prophets, and the judgment of God on the house of Eli. But my fascination with this passage has more to do with a moment of discernment seen in this story. I am so drawn to the fact that it was Eli who recognized what God was doing – that God was speaking to Samuel. Moreover, he doesn’t step in to take over the situation (after all, he was the priest), rather he directs Samuel on how to cooperate with what God was saying.

God Samuel

The writer of this story says “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” and excuses Samuel’s ignorance by saying that he did not yet know the LORD. Which most people believe to mean he did not know God experientially - that he had not received any revelation. But it seems as though Eli did know God, or at least he knew how to recognize Him and direct another to do so. In today’s terminology, this is known as spiritual direction or spiritual friendships.

Throughout church history and several traditions, groups of people would come together to exhort each other in godliness and devotion to the LORD, often seeking to hear from the Holy Spirit together. However, Holmes (2002, p. 136) points out that these groups “did not prevail in the general order of things, and one finds in evangelical Christianity to this date a kind of “do-it-yourself Christianity.”

I wonder, is the word of the Lord rare for you these days? I bet some of you know how precious it is. If God is up to some kind of transformation that you are having difficulty making sense of, I would encourage you to seek a friend to help you recognize his presence and listen for his voice.


Holmes, Urban T. (2002) A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Approach, Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Place your trust well

I suppose we tend to be most thankful for the things we most trust in. This has caused a dilemma for Christians to know what to trust or have confidence in – the resources God provides or God himself? Or both??

There’s an irony in that the older I get as a follower of Christ, the more I become aware of new temptations. In specific, a temptation to trust in things God gives rather than God himself! Put another way, moving from a thanksgiving for resources to a misplaced trust in resources.

The life of King Asa, the third king of Judah, is recorded in 2 Chronicles 14-16. In short, Asa appears first in the strength of reliance on his relationship with God and the Lord’s resources, then later in the weaknesses of reliance on his relationships with others and their resources. In fact, the writer goes so far as to point out Asa’s drifting away from trusting God by stating: “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa developed a serious foot disease. Yet even with the severity of his disease, he did not seek the Lord’s help but turned only to his physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12).


WHAT WENT WRONG WITH ASA?! Why would he break his own covenant (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:12-16)? I believe a key insight appears at an earlier challenge Asa faced when he cried out to God, “O Lord, no one but you can help the powerless against the mighty! Help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in you alone” (14:11). You see, I don’t think King Asa thought of himself as all that powerless after a while.

Power and resources are important features highlighted throughout the narrative of Asa’s life. Power is created when someone controls a resource another person desires or depends on. In verse 14:11, it was God who had the power; he had the resources to meet King Asa’s need. But ironically, King Asa gets resources, then over time I think the resources he gained for trusting God later become a snare for him. He trusted in the resources (plunder, alliances, etc.) instead.

Questions for self reflection: Are there any resources I am thankful for and trusting in instead of God lately? Am I keeping an appropriate, humble attitude toward my resources, power and dependency on God?

King Asa’s life reminds us that a person can start well but finish poorly. As you get older in your faith, and the more resources you accumulate, make sure your trust stays with God!

16No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.

17A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.

18But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

20We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

21In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

22May your unfailing love  be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (Ps. 33:16-22)

Picture courtesy of TheBrickTestament.com

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More waiting…

"So, be silent, my child, and in time you will see, that the greatest of gifts is to truly know me. And though oft My answers seem terribly late, my most precious answer of all is still . . . Wait."


Waiting is a common experience for God’s people but the virtue of waiting is less common. Although the modern world often characterizes waiting as tedious, the biblical image of waiting for God is a strongly positive image.

Throughout the Bible we see important clusters of passages that address waiting. Some associate waiting with patience, acceptance, and contentment with unwanted circumstances. Other passages show that waiting for God to act requires withholding of human action. Some scriptures join the virtue of waiting on God with hope and expectancy. Finally, certain verses cast waiting for God into an eschatological light, such as when we read about waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (Chamberlain and Opperwall, 2002).

Overall, waiting on God requires faith in his working in unseen ways. Thus we read: “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him” (Isa 64:4 NRSV).

What kind of waiting does God require of you in right now? How will you respond to it? Is it producing in you a capacity to tolerate something unfair or forgive someone? Is it testing you to withhold human means or action? Or does it require you to trust even more and wait for the time when God will bring his plans to completion?


G. Chamberlain and N. J. Opperwall. (2002).“Wait” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Ed., vol. 4, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, p. 1003.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Enduring the discipline of God

What images come to your mind when you hear the word “discipline”? Perhaps being talked down to, or scolding a strong-willed child, or even the berating of a drill sergeant-type figure. Recently I discovered this image of discipline that has stuck in my mind:

Discipline bridge2

Clearly, the notion of discipline as both saving and corrective in nature or even as training squares well with the character and ways of God – to say the least! So perhaps we can look at discipline as the bridge between where we are and where God plans for us to be (cf. Jer. 29:11).

The writer of Hebrews reminds his readers not to make light of the Lord’s discipline as it indicates God’s love for them. Moreover, believers need to submit to such correction and training because “God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10 NLT). So the big question appears to be how much are we willing to endure to cross that bridge of training?

In Heb. 12:3–11, the analogy of a father’s method of training his son is used to help us understand and have confidence in God’s program of moral and religious education for His people. Author and speaker Jim Elliff captures the learning value of these times in his hymn “The Discipline of God is Strong”:

The discipline of God is strong
To make the sinning Christian bend,
Until affection, thoughts, and ways
Are each conformed to God's own end.
The selfish child must not forget
The Father's love is sometimes found
In troubles and hard circumstance,
And in the rough uneven ground.

Do not lose heart when you're reproved,
No matter how extreme the flame.
He turns the ground and burns the roots
Of suffocating weeds of shame.
We must not faint, nor are we free
To treat His love without concern,
When God takes love's severest course,
For lessons to be soundly learned.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Great truths that have been learned

1) No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.. 
2) When your Mom is mad at your Dad, don't let her brush your hair.
3) If your sister hits you, don't hit her back. They always catch the second person.. 
4) Never ask your 3-year old brother to hold a tomato.
5) You can't trust dogs to watch your food..
6) Don't sneeze when someone is cutting your hair..
7) Never hold a Dust-Buster and a cat at the same time. 
8) You can't hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk. 
9) Don't wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.
10) The best place to be when you're sad is Grandma's lap.

1) Raising teenagers is like nailing jelly to a tree.
2) Wrinkles don't hurt.
3) Families are like fudge...mostly sweet, with a few nuts 
4) Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground... 
5) Laughing is good exercise. It's like jogging on the inside.
6) Middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fibre, not the toy.. 

1) Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.... 
2) Forget the health food. I need all the preservatives I can get. 
3) When you fall down, you wonder what else you can do while you're down there.
4) You're getting old when you get the same sensation from a rocking chair that you once got from a roller coaster. 
5) It's frustrating when you know all the answers but nobody bothers to ask you the questions... 
6) Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician
7) Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Learning to be mature 3

Francois Fenelon (d. 1715), a French Roman Catholic theologian, poet and writer, says "When we suffer aridity and desolation with equanimity, we testify our love to God; but when He visits us with the sweetness of his presence, He testifies his love to us."

To persist in trusting God when no reward seems imminent is a test of mature faith. In those times, the believer can struggle with envy, futility, and weariness (c.f. Psalm 73). Moreover, one wonders if the Lord has rejected us, vanished, or forgotten to be merciful (Psalm 77:7-9).

The mature understand, albeit with difficulty, that the immediate payoff to trust in the world’s resources cannot substitute for the resources that God can give (cf. James 1:16-17). Oh, what a challenge these times can be!

“Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.
There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.”
(Proverbs 23:17-18)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Learning biblical generosity

“But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Cor 8:7).

One of the major ministries of Paul’s third missionary journey was the taking up of a special relief offering for the poor Christians in Judea. Besides the material assistance such an offering would provide, Paul also so this as an opportunity to strengthen the unity of the church by teaching the kind of equality all believers share.

In urging the Corinthians to follow through in their pledge, Paul points out that generosity can be extended to them as well: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality…” (2 Cor 8:14). But what plenty did the believers in Judea have to share? I believe that answer is found the letter to the Romans, written shortly after 2 Corinthians. In it, Paul refers to the Gentiles sharing in the Jew’s spiritual blessings which obliges them to share their material blessings in return (Rom. 15:27).

It seems that God has arranged things in his church such that some have more material blessings to give and others have more spiritual blessings to give. This mutuality in sharing seems to be the equality Paul has in mind.

One example of such equality can be seen in Saskatoon, SK. The Bridge on 20th Street is a street mission which partners with various churches in Saskatoon. Together, they serve the hungry people bowls of soup, provide clothing through a give-away corner, and minister weekly Bible studies and Sunday services. The pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church says this about his church’s involvement: “Emmanuel’s relationship with The Bridge on 20th Street has been one of our most exciting partnerships.  It has allowed our congregation to express obedience to our Lord’s command “to bring good news to the poor.” We love the holistic vision of The Bridge to address the physical, emotional and spiritual hunger of people in the community.  Our involvement has blessed us in return, helping us realize our common spiritual poverty and the joy of learning to share.”

Whether we are need of material blessings or have some to give, it seems generosity is a grace that both the rich and poor can experience. Now that’s what excelling in the grace of giving can look like!


Monday, September 6, 2010

You are what you eat

What come to your mind when you hear the phrase “You are what you eat”? Perhaps an image like this: Laughing out loud


I guess that expression is primarily rooted in concerns about health. But eating also has some roots in concerns about spirituality according to the Bible.

For example, during the exile, the Jews found it practically impossible to avoid eating ritually unclean food. In that situation, the Jews were subject to a pagan authority that dismissed their concerns over preparing food according to their own laws. Imagine the physical, psychological, and spiritual experience of eating ritually unclean food and then sitting with it inside you digesting! So the idea of “you are what you eat” in these contexts underscored notions of purity, intimacy, and devotion to God.

But another perspective worth knowing involves a social custom from ancient Jewish culture. Ray Vander Laan writes here about first century betrothal practices. He notes that:

…when a young Jewish man reached marrying age and his family selected an appropriate wife for him, the young man and his father would meet the young woman and her father to negotiate the “bride price,” the figurative cost of replacing a daughter. The price was usually very high.

With negotiations complete, the custom was for the young man’s father to pour a cup of wine and hand it to his son. His son would turn to the young woman, lift the cup and hold it out to her, saying, “This cup is a new covenant in my blood, which I offer to you.” In other words, “I love you, and I’ll give you my life. Will you marry me?”

At this point, the young woman had a choice. She could take the cup and return it and say no. Or she could answer by drinking the cup - her way of saying, “I accept your offer, and I take your life into mine (perhaps an allusion to “the life is in the blood” cf. Lev. 17:11) and will follow you.”

With Holy Communion, the concrete experience of eating the bread and drinking the wine/juice can be further enriched by such symbolism and imagery. It is as though we respond to Christ by saying, “Yes, I accept your pledge and your sacrifice. I take your life into mine and choose to follow you all the days of my life.”


Ray Vander Laan, “His Body, His Blood”, Retrieved September 6, 2010 from http://www.metrovoice.net/www.metrovoice.net/2004/0404_stlweb/0404_articles/his_body.html. See more at Vander Laan’s website, http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=2092

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Same type of school; different type of religion

Roger Shank over at Education Outrage posted a reflection on modern approaches to public education that basically mirror what he says are the tenets of historical religious education:

  1. there is a truth that cannot be questioned
  2. there is no real choice in what a student learns about
  3. you can be punished for failure to attend school
  4. you will learn by being told
  5. there are official sacred books that everyone must know

What are the sacred books of our schools? Shakespeare, Dickens, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby, are some of them.

What truths cannot be questioned? Algebra teaches you to think. You must know science to have a job in the 21st century. All of U.S. history as depicted in textbooks.

Educators call this an indoctrination approach to education, which is often phrased as “teaching students what to think” – an approach Shank clearly loathes. However, he is correct in describing some aspects of religious or confessional education in that way. But it is an overstatement to characterize all confessional education as indocrinational. In the Bible college milieu, we preferred a doctrinal formation approach to education – something more akin to the phrase, “teaching students how to think.” As a result, our curriculum included biblical studies, liberal arts, and social sciences – all deeply guided by principles and practices of critical thinking. Our teaching strategies also included dialogue, group work, constructivist approaches, and lecture.

So my point is that confessional education does demonstrate learning through questioning, choice, openness to other perspectives and learning how to think. Could secular educationIndoctrination ever find a way to express such openness to the perspectives of religion (i.e. the confessional worldview), especially when studying sciences and literature? Will secular education ever realize its own practices of indoctrination of students? Perhaps if they take Shank’s advice:

School ought to be a place where open minds can explore. This doesn't happen because schools are simply the places where modern day religious instruction can be found. (It is a very odd religion -- one in which Shakespeare, Archimedes, Fermat, Descartes, Millville, and George Washington are gods.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Three virtues for a good reputation

I’ve always been fascinated by reputations, especially those that stand firm over time and even grow stronger. In the context of organizations and their reputations, a concept most often considered is branding.

A brand is an identity that stimulates precise, meaningful perceptions in its audience about the values and qualities that organization stands for. Reputation is a big part of branding. In order for a brand to stick it must be consistently displayed, constantly adhered to and refined over several years. Few things are more valued than a respected brand. A biblical comparison is seen in this verse: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1 NIV).

Former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner in his book Work in Progress (1998) says a brand “is a living entity, and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures” (p. 171). In fact, undermining a good name can happen faster than it’s built. Consider how this brand name has changed in just the last several months:


The church in Thessalonica made quite an impression on the Apostle Paul. In his first letter to them he writes:

2We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ…As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia…8 And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. (1 Thess. 1:2-8)

Three qualities stood out to Paul when he commended this church. Thomas (1978) comments on them: “These three Christian virtues—faith, love, and hope—occupied a large place in early analyses of Christian responsibility. The expectation was that in every life faith would work (Gal 5:6; James 2:18), love would labour (Rev 2:2, 4), and hope would endure (Rom 5:2–4; 8:24, 25). This threefold balance probably arose even before Paul’s doctrinal stance had matured and perhaps came from the teachings of Christ himself.”

I’m often concerned about how churches are holding up under trials, like what the Thessalonian church faced. Some key areas affected include morale and relationships, which are related to the work done by human resources management departments in many organizations. In Fast Company magazine, Tischler (2004) writes about Kenny Moore, a former monk who went on to work in HRM related roles in the corporate sector. Moore makes some relevant comments: “For years, I worked on employee surveys, and I noticed three trends: 1) nobody trusts, 2) nobody believes in top management, and 3) people are too stressed to care. In the monastery, we called that a crisis of faith, hope, and charity. So corporate America not only has financial problems, it has spiritual problems.”

Isn’t it interesting (and concerning) that a lack of trust, suspicion toward our leaders, and distancing ourselves because we’re too stressed to stay engaged could be called a crisis of faith, hope and love?

So to confront or hinder such as crisis, the big questions are:

  • How will our faith work?
  • How will our love labour?
  • How will our hope endure?

These are timeless biblical virtues, so it would help to identify the timely relevant issues that require us to exercise faith, love, and hope. Perhaps exploring these questions will help:

  • Keep caring (faith working): Where do we need to develop an appreciation for engagement that exceeds a love for pleasure, leisure, or avoidance?
  • Believe in people (love labouring): What do we need to stop doing (like meddling, being disruptive, etc. – see 1 Thess. 5:12-15 ) and start embracing that we’ve been hesitant to do?
  • Keep trusting (hope enduring): What do we need to trust God with and wait patiently for? Something that we cannot do for ourselves?

From the believers in Thessalonica, we see that every church draws on three spiritual resources for building the praiseworthy Christian community – the life that sets a good example and wins a good name. Amazingly, we continue to find these three virtues – faith, love, and hope - are enough to make God proud.

faith hope love


Eisner, M. & Schwartz, T. (1998) Work in Progress. New York, NY: Random House.

Thomas, R. L. (1978). “1 Thessalonians.” In Ephesians—Philemon. Vol. 11 of Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by F. E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Tischler, L. (2004). Kenny Moore Held a Funeral and Everyone Came, FastCompany.com. Retrieved August 30, 2010 from  http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/79/firstperson.html

Monday, August 23, 2010

On rewards and faithfulness

Have you received any awards or medals? There’s something deeply affirming about those, isn’t there? On the other hand, I once heard someone comment how ironic it is that actors who receive Oscars at the Academy Awards are rewarded and admired for portraying a character they are not in real life.

Contrast that notion with these images from the 2010 Winter Olympics:


This is Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette receiving her bronze medal. Just two days before the beginning of competition, her mother, Thérèse Rochette, died suddenly of a heart attack at Vancouver General Hospital just hours after arriving to watch her compete. Despite tremendous grief, Rochette chose to continue the competition in her mother’s honour.

While her skating performance won her the bronze, her inspiring courage and determination in the face of such circumstances won her far more than a mere medal. Unlike an actor’s award, Rochette won respect and admiration for the character she displayed in real life. In that medal ceremony, it was as though she was wearing her mom’s pride around her neck - and the pride of a nation too.

The return of Christ and the notion of all appearing before his judgment seat is a critical New Testament teaching. It reminds believers that Jesus Christ has “rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment” (1 Thess. 1:10 NLT) and to expect rewards from him for faithful service. This appears to be in Paul’s mind when he referred to the Thessalonian church as his hope and joy and crown of boasting (1 Thess. 2:19-20).

The expression “crown of boasting” probably stems the athletic contests in which the victor received a wreath. The closest equivalent image for us today would be like an Olympic medal ceremony. Paul frequently uses the metaphor of athletics to portray the Christian life in general and his ministry in particular. 

Gerig (1997) points out that “rewards will not be given necessarily for successful service as the world so often evaluates it. Paul notes that “it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Note that he does not say “successful” as one might consider success here on earth. What is rewarded is not primarily the visible accomplishments of the individual, but the faithful labour expended (1 Cor. 15:58).”

From 1Co 4:5 we know that Christ will illuminate what has been hidden by darkness and expose our secret aims and motives. You see, unlike the Oscars, these rewards are handed out for your actual character.


W. L. Gerig (1997). “Reward” in W. A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Grand Rapids: MI, Baker Book House.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vantage points on forgiveness

Vantage Point is a 2008 American political-action thriller filmVantage Point BR with a unique plot development: the film replays a series of events taking place within a period of about 25 minutes. Each time the clock rewinds and the episode unfolds from a new vantage point, gradually revealing additional details until the complete story of what really occurred and who was really involved is unveiled at the film's climax.

When we take a look at something from a variety of vantage points or perspectives, something remarkable happens - we begin to realize there’s important details and a legitimate story happening beyond our initial understanding. In fact, I believe seeking multiple perspectives is related to the maxim in Proverbs 15:22: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (TNIV).

In thinking about forgiveness, I see three important vantage points to consider:

  • Biblical: the principal worldview that shapes our thinking and values; rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ, specifically, Matt. 6:14-15: “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (TNIV).
  • Social: relating to human welfare and the ways people in groups behave and interact.
  • Psychological: that which affects the mind and mental processes thus shaping the characteristic disposition/temperament of a person or group.

Together, these areas seem to function like interlocking perspectives of our lives:


In doing so, we could say that one area affects the other; i.e., when one moves the other is affected too. Conversely when one doesn’t move the others are impaired as well.

What is forgiveness?

Webster’s (1983) dictionary defines forgiving as “to give up resentment against or the desire to punish.” It seems the essence of forgiveness is a change in motives that promote social wellbeing. McCullough (2002) describes this as Prosocial motivations. In other words, the forgiver becomes less motivated to harm the reputation or future opportunities of another, instead becoming more motivated to promote whatever benefits the offender. If taken from the prosocial vantage point, could unforgiveness then be antisocial in nature? Hmm.

Who is the forgiving person?

McCullough points to research that suggests the ability to forgive is related to dimensions from the Big Five / Five Factor personality traits. Two of these areas are especially identified as influential to promoting forgiveness: agreeableness and emotional stability. But McCullough also mentions research that identifies spirituality as an important characteristic in a forgiving disposition. These studies suggest that people who identify themselves with a religious or spiritual tradition that highly values forgiveness tend to see themselves as more forgiving than those who do not identify themselves that way.

What specific things do people do that foster forgiveness?

McCullough describes three processes that have been studied and found to influence forgiveness:

  • Empathy: the ability to identify with and understand somebody else’s feelings or difficulties.
  • Generosity: a willingness to appraise the offender as more likable and accept their explanations for the situation as honest and adequate.
  • Rumination: the extent to which the forgiver replays thoughts, feelings and images about the offence. The more people brood about a transgression, the more they are likely to seek revenge or distance themselves from the offender.


Yeah but…

A nagging question comes to mind here: What if I love God but struggle with agreeableness and emotional stability as part of my personality? Perhaps these areas are the weaknesses that hinder the person struggling to forgive rather than religious commitment. One way to find out is to take a Five Factor/Big Five personality inventory to measure those areas of temperament (see here). Another thing a person could consider is if they struggle with an emotional style that hinders forgiveness (see here).

In conclusion

No matter how often we have been forgiven by God, no matter how often we have forgiven or have been forgiven by other people, we are still learning to forgive and learning a little more about ourselves in the process. Forgiveness is not a skill that is mastered and then becomes second nature to us. The ability to forgive must be rediscovered in every painful situation.

Let the words of Paul especially motivate us: “Because of this, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect harmony.” (Col 3:12-14 TNIV)


Article on “Understanding Your Emotional Style.” Click here.

Five Factor / Big Five Personality Inventory. Click here.

McCullough, M. E. (2001). Forgiveness: Who does it and how do they do it? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 194-197. PDF

Monday, August 9, 2010

Forgiving environments

The question of safety in church is crucial. I've been reading about a similar issue in some parallel contexts lately and I think the insights there have some great application for thisBosk
discussion. In 1979, Charles Bosk wrote about managing medical incident reports in a book titled Forgive and Remember. The title indicates the message that internships are occasions win which errors must be made. They would be forgiven because they could be reflected upon and become a source of learning.

Sutton (2003) reports on the research of Amy Edmondson’s study on how leadership and co-worker relationships influence drug treatment errors in nursing units. Edmondson, along with fellow researchers were quite surprised when questionnaires completed by these nurses showed that the units with superior leadership and relationships between coworkers reported making far more mistakes. The best units appeared to be making more than ten times more errors than the worst!

Sutton writes that when Edmondson investigated further she realized that the better units reported more errors because people felt “psychologically safe” to do so. In the units that reported the most mistakes, nurses said “mistakes were natural and normal to document” and that “mistakes are serious because of the toxicity of the drugs, so you are never afraid to tell the nurse manager.”

On the other hand, in the the units where errors were hardly ever reported the story was completely different. Nurses said things like, “The environment is unforgiving, heads will roll,” “you get put on trial,” and that the nurse manager “treats you as guilty if you make a mistake” and “treats you like a two-year-old.”

Interestingly, after seeing this research physicians no longer viewed error data as objective evidence but as something driven in part by whether people are trying to learn from mistakes (so they confess and report it) or trying to avoid getting blamed for them (so they stay quiet and don’t report it).

One of the most crucial lessons from these studies is that groups that focus on how and why the system, community or culture contributes to mistakes (rather than which people and groups are to blame) not only encourage people to talk more openly about mistakes, they result in changes that actually reduce errors.


Imagine if a similar research project revealed that churches with
superior relationships actually reported more sin! And it revealed this simply because people felt safe to talk about it. Put another way, what if churches that focus on how and why the community contributes to mistakes or sin (rather than which people to blame) not only encourage people to talk more openly about sin, they result in changes that actually reduce sinful behaviour or attitudes.

I suppose this is shaped by our assumptions about what’s most important. So what’s the bottom line in the church? Is discipleship mostly about controlling sin? Imagine tracking the “number of sin free days” at church!


Bob George (1989) addresses this unfortunate focus in his book Classic Christianity: “The Christian world is obsessed with sin...Most of our preaching and teaching is directed toward getting people to quit sinning. Are you ready for a really shocking statement: The goal of the Christian life is not to stop sinning – it is to know Jesus Christ” (p. 109).

Let’s look at this through 1 John 1:5 – 2:2 with some helpful annotations:

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (no sin, no secrets). 6If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth (dysfunction). 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (safety, openness), and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (forgiveness).

8If we claim to be without sin (hiding it), we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins (talk openly), he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned (hiding it, blame others), we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin (normal for now), we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.


George, Bob. (1989). Classic Christianity. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.

Bosk, Charles L. (1979). Forgive and Remember: Managing Medical Failure. Chicago, ILL: University of Chicago.

Sutton, Robert I. (2003). “Organizational Behavior: Forgive and Remember”, Cioinsight.com, (Retrieved August 9, 2010 from http://www.cioinsight.com/c/a/Past-News/Organizational-Behavior-Forgive-and-Remember/)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Learning to discern the body


Have you ever felt that you didn’t fit in? Perhaps at work, at school, in your family, or at church? Or maybe the feeling of being unfairly excluded?

Communion has a great deal to do with reinforcing belonging together in the church (i.e., sharing in the body of Christ) and preventing attitudes of exclusion and discrimination.

The key verse often used during communion in evangelical churches is 1 Cor. 11:27-30: “So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without discerning the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died” (TNIV).

Paul is writing to a Christian community torn apart by various divisions with some considering themselves superior to others (i.e. discrimination): e.g., more wise, more spiritually gifted, more anointed, more socially acceptable, more economically successful, etc. Rather than practicing authentic communion, some of the rich Corinthians’ used the Lord’s Supper as a basis to exercise their privileges and segregate the poor in the process: “So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s
Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat
and drink in?” (11:20-22 TNIV)

Listen to his sarcasm and indignation: “But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized…do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor?...I have no praise for this!” – (11:19-22 NLT).

Paul’s instruction to correct to this situation involved the Corinthians examining themselves before participating in communion. But what were they to examine? How were they to “discern the body?” What is a worthy manner to eat this bread and drink this cup?

Paul goes to great lengths to remind the Corinthians that the basis of their unity is not their social status (a worldly perspective), but rather, their belonging together in the body of Christ. Their divisions betray this fact. This was their failure to discern the body.

There have been several suggested applications of examining one’s self before taking communion including unconfessed sin, spiritual apathy, moral purity, whether or not you are saved, and even if you are in any conflict with another believer. These are all fine to question but they are not at the center of what Paul teaches here, which is attitudes and actions of discrimination. The former suggestions are good to examine, biblically speaking, but they are off-centered to the teaching of this passage.

Another interpretation I’ve heard to discerning the body teaches that communion is a means to receiving physical healing (see here), therefore failing to discern this is why “many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.” This is more than an off-centered teaching; it is erroneous.

Here’s a figure that depicts the various suggestions for examining one’s self:


The examination Paul teaches here is about discriminating any other members of the body of Christ (in this case, the poor). John Kirkley captures the central idea of examining yourself before taking communion: “The only requirement for reception of this Holy Sacrament is a willingness to be united with the body of Christ, a willingness to refuse participation in the dynamic of exclusion that makes our salvation dependent upon someone else’s condemnation.”


John Kirkley, “Discerning the Body: A Maundy Thursday Homily” Retrieved from http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/dojustice/j337.html

On Being Under Authority


I'll never forget those astonishing words: “Your employment with this church will end as of…” Although I knew that my leaders were making restructuring plans, I came into that meeting expecting to review the budget for my department. Yet with that stunning announcement, my whole world came to a stand-still. Suddenly, I was facing the prospect of being unemployed for the first time in years. I remember thinking, “How are you working for my good in this one Lord” (cf. Rom. 8:28).

Often, we face transitions that are not personally chosen. In reality, they are chosen for us by someone else and we’re left to handle it. The purpose of this article is to share my story of processing this unexpected shift and the special transformation it brought into my life. My hope is that the reader will be encouraged to manage an imposed transition well and in doing so, bring glory to God.

A solemn word of foresight was given to Peter near the end of the gospel of John. Jesus said to him: “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:18-19 NIV)

In light of this, let me propose two hard questions that I dealt with in processing my situation. First, what are your true feelings about imposed change and/or loss? In these moments it’s difficult to submit to losing power and control, especially when it happens through no fault of your own (cf. 1 Pet. 2:18-21).

John Piper urges Christian leaders to prepare people for times of distress by enlarging their ideas of contentment: “If God is most glorified in our people when they are most satisfied in him… [then] we must build into our people’s minds and hearts a vision of God and his ways that helps them see suffering not merely as a threat to their satisfaction in God (which it is), but also as a means to their satisfaction in God (which it is).”

My second question is how do you truly feel about being under another person’s authority? I’ll admit that more than once I’ve meditated on the prospect of never again allowing myself to be vulnerable to the decisions of others. Yet this is almost impossible to avoid because working relationships constantly involve some deference, but also mutuality. The writer of Hebrews addresses this by saying, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17 TNIV). Consequently, I had to weigh how much trust I would have toward those in leadership over me.

Duane Elmer defines trust as, “the ability to build confidence in a relationship so that both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.” In the leader-follower relationship, both parties contribute to the level of trust that exists between them. Consequently, if a person inherently lacks trust in his or her leaders without just cause, that relationship will be quickly deteriorate and eventually everyone loses.

When I sat in that meeting with my supervisors, after some initial shock subsided, I asked them, “What should I do now?” They immediately recommended that I go to seminary and further invest in my gifts and knowledge for greater future ministry. They believed in me. 

Sometimes in an unexpected and imposed change, we can emerge better off than if the transition had never happened. But this usually comes by surrendering the power to control and finding greater satisfaction in trusting God to work on your behalf. In doing so, you may find that you’ve developed more faith in him, and maybe even in others, than you had ever conceived before. I’m sure Paul knew this when he wrote, “My life, an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running” (2 Tim. 4:7, The Message).


Duane Elmer, Cross-cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christ-like Humility (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 77.

John Piper, “Preparing People to Suffer,” eds. Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson, The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 627.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Customers not so satisfied with social media

This recent story sheds some surprising data on the public's satisfaction with social media sites like Facebook. Here's some quotes:

  • "A new poll says the site scored 64 on a 100-point scale, which “puts Facebook in the bottom 5 percent” of private sector companies “and in the same range as airlines and cable companies, two perennially low-scoring industries with terrible customer satisfaction.”
  • “Facebook is a phenomenal success, so we were not expecting to see it score so poorly with consumers,” said Larry Freed, president of ForeSee Results. “At the same time, our research shows that privacy concerns, frequent changes to the website and commercialization and advertising adversely affect the consumer experience.”  
  • “Social media has become too big to ignore, so we added it to our list of e-business measures,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and professor of business at the University of Michigan. “We are quite surprised to find that satisfaction with the category defies its popularity.”
  • Facebook has been under fire much of this year for everything from the ways it shares data to changing the site around so frequently that regular users are confused and frustrated, especially when it comes to privacy settings.
  • Other prominent social media sites had relatively high rankings. At the top, with a score of 77 was Wikipedia, the encyclopedia site where just about anyone and everyone can and does contribute information."

  • Wikipedia is more satisfying than most of the ACSI-measured news and information websites," Fornell wrote. "Like Google, Wikipedia’s user interface has remained very consistent over the years, and its nonprofit standing means that it has not been impacted by commercialization and marketing unlike many other social media sites."

Cyberculture needs to get out more often

More thoughts on Q. J. Schultze (2002) Habits of the High-Tech Heart. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI.

In chapter six, Schultze addresses the limited vision of those whoschultze chart our information futures. The key problem he sees is the narrow inputs of informationism and its instrumental practices spare little room for virtue and diversity. Schultze proposes a more diverse notion of "knowledge workers" that need to be invited into the discussion. Most of all, of course, is the input of religiously derived moral wisdom.

Overall, Schultze posits a "cosmic diversity" that embraces uniqueness while at the same affirms our common humanity. Here's a key quote that sums up his thesis: "Our informational endeavors will be more morally fruitful when they are shaped by respect for more non-informational ways of knowing...Information technology without cosmic diversity is likely to be monotonous, uncreative, and even oppressive, whereas with cosmic diversity it will always be more interesting, rich, and liberating (pp. 162-163). If I can paraphrase, Schultze feels those who shape cyberculture need to get out more often to see other perspectives and then allow those perspectives to shape cyberculture with more diverse and holistic values.

It's crucial to examine whose voices are influencing our views on technology. It's fascinating to watch celebrity tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple finding themselves on the receiving end of criticism instead of the acclaim they've been used to for some time. It's as though a different perspective is finally being allowed that points out that some of their actions are in their own interests instead of their claims of innovation and progress. Ironically, it is through technology like blogs and YouTube videos where other voices have caused a firestorm that helps force a response to infringing on people's privacy (e.g. Google's data storage practices), unilateral decisions (e.g. Facebook's privacy settings) and faulty products (e.g. iPhone 4's antenna). I think these companies have found themselves in the bind Schultze describes as celebrity and virtue not mixing well (p. 149).

Recently, Microsoft released an ad campaign in response to the influential yet narrow message of the Mac vs PC ads from Apple. I think it captures the essence of Schultze's message in portraying the delightful diversity yet commonality found though technology when a wider vision and diverse voices are brought into the discussion.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Authenticity: Bearing true witness 2

I would like to offer a recent example of exposed inauthenticity in Christian higher education. My purpose is to illustrate relevance to this discussion and offer a sobering example within the Christian community. Riley (2010) reports on a statement issued June 25, 2010 by Liberty University (LU), based in Lynchburg, VA, explaining that an investigative committee concluded that Dr. Ergun Caner, dean of the seminary, made “factual statements that are self-contradictory.” For months several bloggers outlined discrepancies in Dr. Caner’s public sermons and speeches. Caner had risen to prominence since the 2001 terrorist attacks, presenting himself as a former militant Muslim who had converted to Christianity, an expert on Islam, and the first former Muslim to become a seminary dean in the U.S. Among the details under criticism included Caner’s embellishments over just how devout his Muslim family really was, where he was raised, when he converted, his expertise on the Quran, and his claims of being involved in Islamic jihad as well as engaging in apologetic debates with prominent Muslims.

In their official statement, LU said they found “no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager, but, instead, found discrepancies related to matters such as dates, names and places of residence. Dr. Caner has cooperated with the board committee and has apologized for the discrepancies and misstatements that led to this review” (Liberty Student News, 2010). As a result of this inquiry, the school decided that Caner will be removed as dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary on June 30, when his contract expires, although he will stay on as a faculty member.

In my opinion, this case has distinct connections to concepts from Schultze and George (see previous post). Some online respondents have voiced their opinions in cyberspace in ways that I feel demonstrate these connections. On the Liberty Student News website, one commenter on the story named Dan (2010) writes:

The issue here is the heart... As you look at the false claims made by this man over and over again for years, the reason for these claims becomes quite clear - to expand his own personal influence and reputation among Christians. He clearly recognized early on the power of a testimony like this - a man with Muslim roots converting to Christianity - and allowed his depravity to lead him to embellishing his story for personal fame and personal gain. It is so easy for the heart to deceive us in these matters... I can almost hear the self-rationalizations can’t you? He might have thought, “Well, I do have Muslim roots (somewhat) and if I tweak this story just a touch here and a touch there it will allow me even greater influence for the Gospel of Christ...” But at the end of the day, this is just dishonesty plain and simple, no matter how noble the reason. Old Dr. Bob Jones Sr. once said, “It is never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right.”

In addition, one blogger known as Bene Diction (2010) posted this comment on his site:

Caner has a truth problem. For months Christian and Muslim bloggers outlined discrepancies in Dr. Caner’s sermons and speeches before traditional media picked up this story, necessitating the review by Liberty University administration… Caner being Muslim was not in dispute. Nor is this statement clarifying on any level what Dr. Caner apologized for; the lack of clarity in this brief statement indicates an integrity problem. Liberty U originally declined to review Dr. Caners background, but changed direction when media paid attention, and launched its review May 12th…Liberty U has an integrity problem.

My purpose in including this case, and especially the comments, is to illustrate how people perceive inauthenticity. These writers specify their concerns with both Caner and the university as a lack of truthfulness, integrity, and failing to provide full disclosure. Moreover, I think this case also demonstrates the symbol brokering that Schultze criticizes – namely, disingenuous self-promoting.

The importance of authenticity is clearly underscored – it is a moral issue and those under a person’s leadership expect it from them. The failure to be authentic before others is a disservice to them but also a sin before the Lord and it will surely find a person out.


Ergun Caner Guilty: Removed As Dean From Seminary. Liberty Student News (2010, June 25). Retrieved July 2, 2010 from Liberty Student News: http://www.libertystudentnews.com/?p=520

Bene Diction. (2010, June 25). Ergun Caner, Liberty University President demoted. Message posted to http://www.benedictionblogson.com/2010/06/25/ergun-caner-liberty-university-president-demoted/

Riley, J. (2010, June 29). Liberty Univ. Demotes Ergun Caner After Investigation. The Christian Post, Retrieved July 2, 1010 from http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100629/liberty-univ-demotes-ergun-caner-after-investigation/

Authenticity: Bearing true witness 1

More thoughts on Q. J. Schultze (2002) Habits of the High-Tech Heart. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI.

In chapter five, Schultze discusses authenticity by focusing on theschultze[3] key problem of symbol brokers, whom he defines as “professional communicators who broker mass-mediated messages between different audiences.” (Schultze, 2002, p. 122). In sum, his main criticism is of communication that is too often focused on selling a willing public the optimistic messages it wants to hear. Schultze calls these people disingenuous self-promoters who are more successful at brokering an ethos than building a quality or needed product.

In response, Schultze calls cyberculture to turn from deceitful posturing toward authenticity which requires us “to know who we are, to present that known self to others, and to avoid persona-building activities” (p. 131). In short, he believes authenticity in cyberculture must be marked by:

  • Truthfulness: this consists of more than but never less than factuality or correctness.
  • Empathy: admitting our own limitation; learning from another's perspective
  • Integrity: a unifying center instead of a smorgasbord of consumer options.

Let’s compare some ideas on authenticity with an article by well-known leadership author Bill George (Winter 2004). For George, an authentic leadership style shows that success is not only for here and now, but the true measure of leadership is when success is attained years after your time in power. This endurance stands in contrast to Schultze's reference to a criticism that many Silicon Valley companies were founded by mercenaries not interested in building something of lasting value, but rather something they could easily flip (2002, p. 35).

George describes several dimensions of authenticity but for the sake of brevity, I will comment on just three: clear purpose, accepting your weaknesses, and solid values. The first quality he posits is that authentic leaders understand their purpose – they have a clear and moral direction of leading. He feels without a real sense of purpose, leaders are at the mercy of their egos and vulnerable to narcissistic impulses. In this state, George says people are driven by an attraction to power, prestige, and the lure of financial rewards. This reminds me of what Schultze calls persona building and is reflected in his comments on the corporate culture of Oracle under the leadership of Larry Ellison, who failed to establish a common ethical direction for the company (2002, p. 130). It seems Schultze suggests that inauthenticity will lead to expediency – that is, striving to win by any means necessary.

Next, George states that strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin and accepting your “shadow side” is an essential part of being authentic. For George, the problem comes when people are so eager to win the approval of others or appear invulnerable that they try to cover their shortcomings. Such efforts diminish authenticity because people know our weaknesses anyway. Schultze remarks that symbol brokers frequently simplify and even distort technological reality, often reformulating these myths for each new technological innovation (2002, p. 126). Few examples illustrate this better than the famed reality distortion field associated with Apple, Inc. CEO, Steve Jobs. The term refers to his seeming ability to warp the public’s powers of judgment concerning Apple’s newest products.

Lastly, George feels solid values define the holder’s moral compass, so they do not end up like high profile executives now facing prison sentences. One crucial value required for every authentic leader is integrity, which means telling the whole truth as agonizing or even unexciting it may be. I see continuity here with Schultze’s comments on how symbol brokers were able to convince the public that technology companies were far more solvent and better positioned in the market than they actually were (2002, p. 128). The infamous AOL Time Warner merger in 2000 is a good example of such brokering.


George, B. (Winter 2004). The Journey to Authenticity. Leader to Leader 31, 29-35. Retrieved July 2, 2010 from http://www.leadertoleader.org/knowledgecenter/journal.aspx?ArticleID=75

Schultze, Q. J. (2002). Habits of the high-tech heart. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.