Encouragement From The Word

Needy People

            When I was a youth – from about Grade VIII until my first year of university, I wanted to be a meteorologist.  While God’s call on my life turned out to be somewhat different, I have retained an interest in all things related to the weather.


            Today, where I am, it’s raining. 


            Thanks for that, you’re thinking.  But there’s a point.  Trust me.


            The kind of cold, driving rain we’re experiencing today isn’t really all that pleasant.  In fact, I might call it miserable.


            I don’t really enjoy rain.  It impedes my morning walk.  It leaves me cold and wet.  It soaks my shoes.  But I tolerate, even accept rain, because I know we need it.


            When we talk to God, we generally pray for things that we want.  “Lord, please give me a:

  • cute boyfriend/girlfriend
  • nice car
  • comfortable home
  • etc., etc.”


            As we mature in faith, and begin to find our wills shaped after God’s, our prayers change.  Why is that?  Because we appreciate that God does not always give us what we want, but always gives us what we need.


            Right before he shares the Bible’s most famous dangerous prayer, Jesus enjoins his friends:  When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do.  They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.   Don’t be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6.7-8, NLT – emphasis mine).


The fact that God knows what we need even before we ask shouldn’t stop us from praying; in fact, it should encourage us all the more in our prayers, knowing that we have a relationship with a God who knows us intimately and recognizes our needs.  Some great theologian (!) once wrote that “April showers bring May flowers”.  We need rain – even rain like we’re getting this morning – to make the trees bud and the grass grow and the flowers blossom.


I don’t have to enjoy the rain.  But the miracle of the changing seasons and the emerging verdancy sends me to my knees in thanksgiving and praise.  May it do the same for you!

Defending the faith

Ontario the Lemming?

While watching the news this evening, I learned that the panel that is discerning “what to do” about the exclusive use of the Lord’s Prayer in the Ontario Legislative Assembly is seeking public input.  Just because I could, I decided to offer my 2.08 cents (including provincial sales tax) on the matter.  Here’s what I wrote:


This appears not to be an issue about pluralism or multiculturalism for the Premier, but a matter (as with so many others) of “Other provinces are…”.  Perhaps you might respectfully ask the Premier, “If other provinces were going to jump off a cliff, would you want Ontario to do likewise?”


The simple reality is that if members knew what they were praying, they might be reluctant to pray it every day.  That being said, it is important that we not water down to the lowest common denominator – that is, nothing – as a replacement for the Lord’s Prayer.  Consult with people from every religious sect for prayers.  Don’t just talk to “Muslims”, talk to Shiite and Sunni Muslims; don’t just talk to “Jews”, talk to Orthodox and Reform Jews; don’t just talk to “Christians”, talk to Mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical Christians, and all other sorts of faith groups.


If you want to be pluralistic, be pluralistic.  But if you want to honour the heritage on which Ontario was built, and respect the faith that forms the foundation for what we deign to call “democracy”, do not neglect the Christian roots of everything that brought Ontario into being – and what continues to make Ontario open to multiculturalism.


Thank you.  And may the God whom I worship – the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – fill you with wisdom by the power of the Holy Spirit as you consider this important matter.


I don’t like to think of Ontario being governed according to the tradition of lemmings.  My prayer is that the panel considering the matter will do what needs to be done for Ontario’s best interests (not just for the sake of political correctness).  The Lord’s Prayer as depicted in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 is a dangerous prayer, if we take it seriously.  Personally, I’d be delighted if we all took it seriously – Your Humble Scribe included.

If you’d like to have your say, and you are a resident of Ontario, Canada, click on www.ontla.on.ca and follow the link labelled “Consultation on Prayer in the Legislative Assembly”.



Language: ever-changing

One of my jobs as a communicator is to, well, communicate. 

Now, there’s a deep statement, you’re thinking.  But it gets better:  read on.

The one constant fact about the English language is that it is always changing.  “Language is always in a state of flux,” I keep saying.  It’s not original to me, but some days I feel like I might own the record for most-frequently-used.

It used to be that language was the purview of etymologists (that’s word freaks, to us lay folk).  And most etymologists, like most other “-ologists”, were academics.  Nowadays, however, language is both no one’s and everyone’s purview.

It’s no one’s purview in the sense that no one has control over the evolution, or erosion, of language.  It’s everyone’s purview in the sense that, thanks to mass-media communications (not least of which is this here Internet thing) everyone contributes toward the addition of terms to the common dictionary, as well as toward the disuse of terms or even the re-definition of words.  (Remember when “gay” strictly meant “happy”?  When “man” meant “humanity”?  Not so today!)

A couple of years ago, I had a protracted online debate with a member of the editorial staff of Our Local Tabloid That Holds The Canadian Tire Flyer.  We were discussing the uses and abuses of the adjective, “The Reverend”.  The newspaper had written quite a favourable column that involved some members of the clergy.  (If I recall, it was about a Habitat for Humanity project in Scarborough.)  I wrote, not for publication in the newspaper, that the editors had chosen to misuse the aforementioned adjective. 

What was interesting about the debate is that the person from the paper conceded that I was correct, but at the same time stated that the paper was not going to change how it used the term.  That, friends, is power over the English language.  Granted, it’s not over some life-changing issue, but that’s just an example from my own experience.

(If you’re curious about the uses and abuses of the adjective, “The Reverend”, comment on this piece and I’ll give you the right – er, my – take on it.)

The Internet gives us all power to change the language.  In fact, the Internet itself is changing the language just by the use of some common terms.  One of the most interesting thinkers in the blogosphere today is a guy named Seth Godin.  In one of his pieces earlier this week, he discusses how the Internet is changing language.  (I might suggest that the term “blogosphere” could soon find its way into the OED.  But I digress.)

You can read Seth’s piece here.  He talks about the phenomenon of Facebook and how it has turned the word “friend” into a verb, e.g., “I’ll friend you on that.”

Words are powerful.  As a communicator, I try to use words in ways that will express what I need to say in relevant and meaningful ways.  Sometimes, that means using English words in ways I haven’t been used to.

That being said, it is unlikely that u wl evr c me rite lk ths.  Frankly, it took me longer to write that than the whole previous paragraph, because it’s not a language – a dialect? – with which I’m conversant.  I guess that’s because I’m not a big text messaging user, where characters count and vowels are often disposable.

When I lead groups in seminars on discovering the Bible, I show them a political cartoon from The Globe and Mail from some years back that depicts a couple of children speaking in terms largely foreign to adults under the caption, “English Language In Flux”.  Most of the participants turn up their noses at this, but when I remind them that their grandchildren probably talk this way, they are reminded of the need for relevant communication.

That’s why there are so many English versions of the Bible, for example.  Because language is ever-changing, and God speaks every language under the sun, versions must continue to be translated and published. 

And we who communicate for a living must, therefore, be culture analysts.  It’s not always easy, but it’s, like, necessary, you know?

Book Reviews

The Inevitable Stress

In my work, I get to talk to a lot of pastors.  I try to encourage them by reminding them, and anybody else who will hear me, that one of the hardest jobs in today’s world is to be the pastor of the local church.  I know this, because I’ve been one.  One of the inevitabilities of being pastor of the local church is stress, usually in copious quantities.

Tony Pappas wrote a little book back in 1995 that I wish I had read back in 1995.  It’s entitled Pastoral Stress:  Sources of Tension, Resources For Transformation (Alban Institute).  In just over 140 pages, he writes helpfully and with personal anecdote about how to recognize and deal with stress in ministry, and where much of that stress comes from, in terms of family systems.  The role of the pastor in the system or systems that make up the church can be major stressors. 

Stress can be a gift if we recognize it for what it is and seek God in the midst of it.  Anxiety, on the other hand, is purely optional.  Anxiety is often our natural response to stress, yet God invites us to look beyond the immediate moment to the bigger picture of what his Body in that particular place is, and can be.

It would take too long to delineate the examples and the sources that Pappas offers in his book.  Suffice it to say that, had I read this book back when it was published, I might not have made some of the mistakes I’ve made.  (Alternatively, I might have made them with at least a greater sense of conviction!) 

Much of the book may make more sense to American readers, since he writes from within that culture and context, but Canadian pastors and church leaders will strongly identify with much of what is in this book.

Toward the end, Pappas points out that the culture around the church is changing, and the church (and its culture[s]) have a responsibility before God to grapple with that.  When this book was published, some of those cultural shifts which we consider normative today were just poking above the surface of the landscape (to mix my metaphors).  This is one of the greatest challenges that faces the church of Jesus Christ today, and while Pappas did not deal with it at length, his work gives the reader several tools for discernment.

I recommend this book.

Encouragement From The Word

Sleeping through

I awoke this morning at approximately 0815.  When I staggered out to the living room, my wife asked me if I had heard all the sirens.

“What sirens?” I asked, knowing nothing of which she spoke.

“The sirens out on the 401,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “I heard them when I woke up at twenty to seven.”

Now, my wife is a light sleeper.  “How light?” you ask?  Most mornings, she hears her clock radio go click before the alarm comes on, and shuts it off, rising.  Not me.  Not only did I miss those sirens, only a few hundred metres from my ear, I have been known to miss – back in my undergraduate, pre-CPAP days – university dorm fire alarms.

I’m fairly sure I’d hear the smoke detector go off, but sirens on the 401?  Not today.

It got me thinking:  What kinds of things do we sleep through?  The parable of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25.1-13 is a good reminder.  What are our priorities?  What matters to us?

Was I going to be able to do anything about those sirens on the 401?  Nope.  Could I do anything if my smoke detector went off?  You bet.  There’s the difference.

When it comes to waiting for the Bridegroom to reappear, there is something we can do:  “So you, too, must keep watch!  For you do not know the day or hour of my return” (Matthew 25.13, NLT).



Last-Chance Buffoonery

Can somebody tell me why carefully-choreographed dancing, otherwise known as fighting in hockey, is permitted?

I was watching the final regular-season game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens this evening.  I was enjoying it, because the Habs were outskating, outshooting, and outscoring the Leafs.  But the “cheap shots” and fights in the last few minutes of the game ruined it for me.  If these guys can’t manage their anger on the ice (if indeed it’s about anger as opposed to grandstanding for viewers), what’s to say they won’t haul off and slug someone walking down the street who happens to look askance at them, accidentally?

Okay, I know this is rambling, and not even especially spiritual or edifying.  I just want to know what, other than ratings from half-brained people, is the reason behind such last-chance buffoonery on the part of these guys.  There was nothing significant to be accomplished by it.

Am I wrong?  Battle back!

Encouragement From The Word

A Random Act of Kindness, or…?

            A good friend and I were talking yesterday, and she told me about a video clip that a church in Los Angeles had made for its Easter worship gatherings.  I looked at it this morning, and was absolutely struck by it.  Before you read any further, click here to watch it on YouTube.


            I suppose there are several ways one could interpret the video, and not having been at the services where it was used, I’m not sure exactly what that congregation’s leaders intended.  But here’s one thing I get from it:  Jesus didn’t pay the price of his life for perfect people.

             Do you see what I mean?  The man who gave the girl his money took the flowers that had been knocked onto the road and run over by a car.  He didn’t want the perfect ones; he wanted the damaged ones.  He knew that by paying for the damaged ones, their value would be greater in the seller’s eyes.  If we were “good people”, Jesus gave up his life for no purpose (unless you believe those who say he died as a political revolutionary – NOT!).  The Bible is pretty clear, really:  God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5.8, NLT).             I suppose one could view the video and see a “random act of kindness” or a “senseless act of beauty” – which it definitely was.  But I choose to see more.  As the apostle John wrote, “This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4.9-10, NIV).             Who of us has not felt like our very own soul has been run over by a car – perhaps several times?!  Jesus wants to redeem it anyway.  In fact, Jesus has redeemed it already.  Perhaps on days like today – it’s raining where I am – we need a reminder of God’s greater purpose for us.  On days when we feel irredeemable, it’s good to know that we have been redeemed.  Even on days when we feel like everything we are and have has come from the sweat of our own brow, it’s important to remember that we have been redeemed.               In response, God calls us to live out our redemption – to bring colour and life – to a world longing for something more.