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Personal Reflections

March 05, 2008

Elizabeth is a public nuisance. Her status is not official yet, but it will be soon. The local police have encouraged the families in this neighborhood to fill out the paperwork that will fulfill the legal requirements. It’s probably the best thing to do. When that paperwork is complete the police will no longer be forced to respond to her every call. And she calls a lot. When a car parks a little too far into the road, she calls the police. When she believes someone has trespassed on her property, she calls the police. When the children are playing outdoors and a ball rolls into her yard, she calls the police. She has the reputation of a person who must sit by the window with phone in hand. Nine and one are already pushed and she’s just waiting for a reason to hit the one again. She was one of the first people we were told about when we moved to this neighborhood. “You’re going to have to watch out for Elizabeth…”

Everyone in the neighborhood knows who she is. Her yard is easy to spot as it’s the one that is completely overgrown. In most cases people who do not care for their yards have it cut by city hall and receive a bill in the mail. In her case she’s managed to convince them that this chaos is a gardening style. Her house is over an aquifier she says, one of the few in the area, and that is why the trees grow so well and why they remain so dense. She’s the one who hands out apples or oranges on Halloween. She’s the one who has lived in the neighborhood since before many of the rest of us were even born and long before the other houses were built.

A few weeks ago Aileen came into the house and told me that Elizabeth was out shoveling her own driveway. She is definitely too old to be doing this. So I put my coat on, grabbed my shovel, and walked up the street to her home. She had propped herself up with a crutch under her one arm and was holding a broom in the other, trying to sweep the snow away. We had seen a good ten centimeters fall and it was wet, heavy snow. A broom wasn’t going to cut it, and particularly so along the edge of the driveway where the plows had pushed it into hard piles at least a couple of feet high. I asked if I could help her and she hesitatingly agreed. She gave me a few pointers on how to best shovel and told me she’d be pleased if I’d just deal with the big piles close to the road. She asked if I would like to be paid and I said, “Absolutely not.”

I got to work while she headed indoors. I cleaned up the piles and then got to work on the rest of the drive. A few minutes later she emerged from the house to chat. She told me that the driveway had been widened many years before and they were able to fit at least eight cars in it. That explained why I was winded. She told me about her broken leg and then about her sons, both of whom live in the area, I believe, and both of whom seem quite well-to-do. She seemed perfectly pleasant, even for a public nuisance. She was grateful that she was going to be able to get out of her driveway that day, because she had a schedule with a physical therapist. When the job was done I told her to get in touch with me anytime and headed home.

Since that day we’ve had several snowstorms and we’re in the midst of the snowiest winter in years. Last I heard we had seen 142 centimeters and that was three storms ago. We’re in the midst of another one today. The schools are canceled and it’s as good a day as any to just stay off the roads.

Whenever the snow begins to accumulate, I cross the ditch and shovel her out. There was one time that I somehow forgot but she called a neighbor (she didn’t have my phone number) and asked him to come and knock on the door. He passed along the message and I hurried right over. By my count there are at least twelve or fifteen neighbors who are closer to her home than I am. They drive by while I’m shoveling or they use snow blowers to get the snow off their drives at the same time. But none of them help her. I don’t know if she has burned all of those bridges or if this is just a symptom of the times we live in. Even the neighbor who came to knock on my door didn’t offer to help.

Today is my son’s eighth birthday. Eight years ago we brought him home from the hospital and we were wearing shorts and t-shirts. Today it is well below 0, we have already seen 15 centimeters of snow, and it continues to fall. “In like a lion, out like a lamb” is what they say about March. I hope that old adage proves true this year. The last thing I wanted to do today was shovel out a long driveway covered in 15 centimeters of heavy snow. I grumbled to Aileen this morning, saying “I picked quite the year to start helping Elizabeth, didn’t I?” She lovingly scolded me and I went on my way. Though it’s his birthday, I told Nick to come along and to help me out. He did so quite willingly, despite having some new toys and games to play with and Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii demanding his attention. And off I went, perhaps a bit resigned to my fate.

We got to work, chipping away at the driveway. After a few minutes of hard work Nick piped up. “Daddy, this is what the Bible says, isn’t it? That anyone who has a need is our neighbor?” And he was right—that’s exactly what the Bible says. But Scripture also makes it clear that any good things I do are utterly worthless when I do them with a grumbling spirit. In that moment I saw that I had been going about this all wrong. My little boy (who really isn’t so little anymore) ministered to me this morning as we cleared the driveway of our neighborhood’s public nuisance. My boy is a blessing to me in more ways than he knows.

February 10, 2008

The Nashville Conference on the Church & Theology wrapped up last night with Dr. Carson speaking on “Preaching Christ Crucified.” It was, I think, a very useful conference and one that seems to have touched many of those who attended. The staff and the team of volunteers were very kind and very eager to serve. I always love the conferences that are held at local churches as they give such great opportunities for service. It was a joy to see so many people serving and to be able to meet so many brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you live in the Nashville area (or even if you don’t) and you’d like to get out to a conference next year, NCCT ‘09 will be featuring John MacArthur and Bruce Ware (and probably at least one more speaker). It will be another great one, I’m sure, and will be worth adding to your calendar even now.

My parents drove up from the Chattanooga area to spend some time with me, so this morning we’ll head over to Community Bible Church for the morning worship service (where D.A. Carson will be preaching once more) and then we’ll go out for lunch before I begin my journey back to Toronto. If all goes well I should be home for dinner!

Thanks for those who took the time to pray for me and for the other speakers. My first conference plenary session went about as well as I could have hoped, I suppose. I’m still far more confident behind a pen than behind a pulpit, but over time that may well change.

I do apologize for the shortness of the posts over the past couple of days. Because I have not been blogging this conference, I’ve been leaving my computer at the hotel and have been doing just little snatches of writing here and there. Hopefully by tomorrow we’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming around here.

February 09, 2008

It’s day two of the Nashville Conference on the Church & Theology. Things kicked off last night with a session from Dr. D.A. Carson in which he introduced the Emergent Church and Emerging theology. He also dipped into postmodernism and a variety of related topics. For those unfamiliar with the whole movement, I’m sure this proved a useful introduction. You will be able to download audio from the conference site after things have wrapped up. I’ll post a link when it’s available. When his session was complete he fielded some questions which allowed him to clarify a few matters. It was a helpful session, I think.

Today will begin with Dr. Steve Lawson speaking on the Power of the Gospel and he’ll be followed by Carson who will speak on The Gospel and Postmodern Minds. Later this afternoon, after Dr. Lawson’s second session, I’ll take a kick at things and discuss Loving God with your Mind. I continue to covet your prayers on my behalf and on behalf of the other speakers today. Nashville, it seems, represents a rather unique church setting.

Speaking of which, I am going to go through my notes one more time before heading over to the church. I pray you have a great and relaxing Saturday. I may check in a little bit later if I have time or opportunity!

February 08, 2008

I’m a little bit later than usual in updating this site, but I’m also a timezone removed from where I usually update it. Yesterday, after spending over a hour shoveling out the car, the house, and a neighbor’s driveway, I left behind the cold and the snow and caught a flight to Nashville (where it’s merely cold—there doesn’t seem to be any snow). I am here for the Nashville Conference on the Church & Theology where I’ll be speaking tomorrow afternoon. We’ll also be hearing messages from D.A. Carson and Steve Lawson. I’ll be spending much of the day preparing for my message tomorrow. The conference kicks off this evening with Dr. Carson giving a message on “Keeping Up with the Conversation”—an overview of the Emergent Movement and the Emerging Church.

Whenever I travel I tend to buy myself a book at the airport and it’s usually something popular and easy to read. I love to just veg out on the plane by reading something enjoyable but not too serious. I typically spend just about every moment between the time I get onto the plane and the time I get off reading. I’m so boring. Yesterday I browsed around the airport bookstore and couldn’t find the right book. Nothing really leaped out at me. Eventually I settled on a book called Sugar. It is a 400+ page history of sugar. Needless to say, it is quite fascinating. No, really! The author shows just how great an impact sugar has had on the world and through the first couple hundred pages I’ve learned a lot. Honest. I’ll write a review when I’ve finished it.

Yesterday’s flight was interesting. Because it was Air Canada, it was an hour late leaving the ground. They compensated for their tardiness by offering free alcohol—something I’ve never seen before (and a deal I’m not interested in taking advantage of!). I was sitting next to a guy who staked his claim to all neutral ground and to about 30% of my space. He wasn’t a particularly big guy, but somehow he seemed to overflow. The seats on this plane were particularly narrow so perhaps that didn’t help. Before we even left the ground he had already fallen asleep and was continually moaning rather than snoring. He’d take a deep breath and then go “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Again and again. It was kind of funny, really. He didn’t say a word the whole time but did take the time to scowl at me when a little corner of the packet of the snack we had been given blew over into his area. You never know who you’re going to be rubbing shoulders with (quite literally) when you fly. I’m never sure if a prefer the surly, quiet types or the happy, chatty types. I’m always hoping for the opportunity to have some good conversation, but so far that has usually eluded me.

And that’s all I’ve got for you today. I will check in with some conference updates over the weekend. Meanwhile, if you would be willing to pray for me, that God would bless me as I seek to share His Word tomorrow, I’d be grateful!

And by way of P.S., since I did not have opportunity to write an A La Carte today, I thought I’d make you aware of this. Boundless Magazine has just published an article I wrote called Involuntary Community. It is based on an article I first wrote here but has been extended, tidied up, and I hope, made better.

February 01, 2008

It’s a snow day today. We woke up to a pretty good blanket of the stuff on the ground and it’s supposed to keep up all day. It’s an absolute mess on the roads which makes me doubly glad that I am able to work from home. It’s a good day to stay in. The kids saw their schools canceled today, so I expect they’ll be heading outdoors soon to have some fun. It’s a good day for that, at least!

I am going to use this Friday, as I sometimes do, to post a few short notes that have been accumulating in my inbox or my favorites folder.

Reformation Trust

At long last and after much encouragement Reformation Trust (the publishing arm of Ligonier Ministries) has given in to the inevitable and has begun listing their books on Amazon. This is good news for those of us who have grown strangely reliant upon Amazon. Most of their catalog is now listed there:

The Elisha Foundation

In the past weeks you may have seen advertising on my site for The Elisha Foundation. Over at his unpronounceable blog, Paul (my pastor) has written about the Foundation and why he does all he can to endorse and serve it. “TEF exists to serve parents of kids with special needs – and it does so in the best of ways. Every year, they hold one or two family retreats. These parents are invited to bring their families for a few days of peace as a team of volunteers cares for their special needs child and the rest of their kids. While the kids are being ably cared for, mom and dad are being ministered to. The TEF folks bring in volunteers to lead worship (imagine half an hour of uninterrupted corporate singing!), preach, provide meals, consult on educational, governmental and financial issues and even things like a relaxing manicure for mom! Three days of respite. For some parents, the first such break in many years. Yes, years.”

If you have someone in your family who has special needs, or you know a family that does, why not point them towards The Elisha Foundation? It will be a blessing to them.

Soli Deo Gloria Publications

At Reformation Heritage “Book Talk”, the blog for Reformation Heritage Books, they’ve announced that they have acquired Soli Deo Gloria Publications. “For the past few years, Soli Deo Gloria books have been produced by Ligonier Ministries in Orlando, Florida. In 2007, Ligonier asked Reformation Heritage Books for guidance on managing Soli Deo Gloria Publications and later invited Reformation Heritage Books to publish and distribute the Soli Deo Gloria titles.” This is great news to those who have enjoyed reading the resurgence of Puritan literature.

Reformation Heritage Books has received nearly 50,000 Soli Deo Gloria books that are currently in print… Plans are under way to publish numerous additional Puritan titles. Reformation Heritage Books has agreed to continue publishing a select number of titles under the Soli Deo Gloria imprint, which Ligonier will continue to advertise in its catalogs; meanwhile, most Soli Deo Gloria titles will now be reprinted with the Reformation Heritage Books imprint. Reformation Heritage Books and Ligonier Ministries look forward to collaborating in order to promote Puritan literature around the world.”

You can read more here.

Prayer for Kenya

Jon has shared an article and prayer request for a ministry in Kenya: “My uncle helped found an orphanage in Kenya on an island in Lake Victoria. There are more than 300 kids, many of which were orphaned by the HIV epidemic. Some of the kids are HIV positive. It is without a doubt the most visceral representation I know of what it means to share God’s love. And tonight it might be burned down.”

He shares an article from the director of the orphanage:

Thanks to you and to all our fellow-servants who are in USA for lifting us and our bleeding country to the Lord. After receiving perhaps the most direct and serious threats from the mainlands, to the effect that we the only operating school in our region, I decided to call off my trip to Nairobi by the MAF plane which was coming to pick me. I called all staff and told them about the threats of those who were demanding that we close down or be burnt. I then gave each one room to say what in their view we needed to do and only two people were in favor of closure, with everyone else feeling strongly that we cannot release the children to all the dangers awaiting them outside of the orphanage. We will stay with the children.

Deep inside I am reminded once more that this place is the true home many of these precious jewels of the Lord have. I asked myself, ‘Should I send them out there in the wild, or should I continue God’s work even when it is risky?’ I chose the latter and all I ask for is not sympathy but prayer that God would put his arms around these tender lives. This evening our plea to be allowed to continue serving the orphans for the sake of Christ was aired on the radio. Mention was made of us by name that we should be spared the ordeals going on throughout our country by now.

Tonight the men will be working as guards of children, women and property as a response to the night attacks. We have no weapons but wholly rely on the Lord and the guarding angels of light. May the Lord bless and keep you.

Read more here

January 27, 2008

Yesterday I posted a prayer for the Lord’s Day eve and said that I had made that prayer my own. Unfortunately that venerable Puritan neglected to pray for health and good sleep and, as it happens, I enjoyed neither last night. The kids were hacking and coughing and I woke up in the wee hours with a ridiculous sinus headache, runny nose, and all the rest. Rather than infecting others in the church I figured it was best if I stayed home today.

I’ve been asked to complete a meme. I generally decline such invitations, but since I’m sick today and since my head isn’t working enough to come up with anything more interesting, I thought it would be fun. So this is the “Self-Disclosure Meme” which means that I’m supposed to tell you seven things you probably don’t know about me. So here goes.


Despite my Canadian heritage, I have never been a big fan of hockey. And not just because the Maple Leafs, my hometown team, have not won the Stanley Cup (or even had a respectable record) since long before I was born. When I was a kid I played plenty of street hockey (a near-daily activity at Canadian schools) but only ever played ice hockey a handful of times. It never appealed. I consider baseball the finest sport in the world and the one I like to watch, play and follow more than any other. I played several seasons of little league baseball when I was a kid. My idea of a perfect Saturday afternoon involves a couch, a Coke, a good biography, and a ballgame on television. I’ve been a Blue Jays fan since the day I got my first radio and began to tune in to listen to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth calling the games. When it’s the off-season, I also enjoy watching football (NFL-only. The CFL is just too weird with their three downs and huge end zones). I consider basketball an utter waste of time and the most ridiculous waste of time this side of Sudoku.


I’ve never eaten Chinese food. Nor do I intend to. At first I thought I would just hate it. Now it’s sheer stubbornness.

I do not drink alcohol. It’s not that I’m convicted that the Bible prohibits it, but rather that I just can’t stand the taste of it. The mere taste makes me feel sick, so I abstain. It’s probably better that way. I also can’t stand the taste of coffee or tea or most other grown-up drinks. I do, however, love the taste of Coke, though never more than twice a day. It was a dark day when Coke discontinued producing Coke with Lime. When I am traveling in the U.S. I tend to drink less Coke since American Coke, sweetened with corn syrup, has an inferior taste to Canadian (and Mexican) Coke, which is sweetened with sugar.


I have lived in quite a few different towns, most of which are in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. I was born in Toronto-proper but moved to Unionville (on the east side of the city) when in grade school. After spending a year in Edinburgh, Scotland (where my dad studied) we moved to Hamilton (on the west side of Toronto). Since we got married, Aileen and I have lived in Brantford, Dundas and Oakville, all on the west side of Toronto. We have no plans to leave Oakville anytime soon.


When I was a kid I did all of the usual kid hobbies—baseball cards, gerbils, plastic models, and so on. As an adult I tend to spend most of my spare time reading. Reading pays, by far, the biggest dividends. But I do have a 60 gallon freshwater aquarium that consumes some of my time and interest. It’s a big show tank that sits in the living room, so I try to keep it looking its best. It is a constant battle to keep the plants growing (but not the algae) and the fish happy (but not devouring each other). We have an amazing fish store near us where I can buy just about any kind of fish I could want for it. I like to find strange and interesting fish like ghost knives and glass catfish.

As a child I read voraciously. I stopped reading for several years after completing college but got back into it after accepting a job that proved very boring. I would escape to the local library for an hour at lunch time after first stopping at the Christian bookstore. It was here that I found the first of the Christian Living and theology books I ever really read—John MacArthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel and James Boice’s Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? I had never heard of either man before. These books changed my life and I haven’t stopped reading since.


Aileen was the only girl I ever dated (or that I ever seriously wanted to date). The first words she ever said to me were, “I’m going to kill you.” But that’s probably more a subject for her meme than for mine. I can’t quite say it was love at first sight, but it was close to it. We dated for about three years before getting married. When we married I was twenty one and she was twenty two (she is seven months older than I am). Like many couples, we intended to wait a few years before beginning a family. Our resolve lasted less than a year and our first child arrived eighteen months after our wedding. In August of this year, we’ll celebrate our tenth anniversary.


If you were to go back and trace the occupations of my forebears you’d find that, in many cases, they are educators or writers. There are journalists, teachers, preachers and politicians. I am not the first author in my family. My grandfather, who was a Supreme Court judge in Quebec, wrote a couple of enthralling volumes entitled The law of expropriation and * The Doctrine of Unjustified Enrichment in the Law of the Province of Quebec. Meanwhile, my great (or great great) uncle wrote one called *Water Powers of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta - Commission of Conservation Canada: Committee on Waters and Water-Powers. I have a copy of the last one and it is every bit as fascinating as it sounds.


I have an awful memory and am extremely adept at forgetting names, places, dates and other important matters. I rely on my wife to file away family memories. A few days ago she asked if I remembered when Abby (who was about two years old at the time, I believe) developed a bladder infection and we had to take her to the hospital for a long and ugly series of tests. I have absolutely no memory of this. None. But it sounds like it was a pretty important deal and she assures me that I was there. If I can remember my own name I generally figure I’m having a good day. Aileen is pretty sure I’ll be completely senile by the time I’m fifty.

January 25, 2008

Since my book was released I’ve had a few requests to share what I’ve learned about the book-writing process. Friday seemed like a good day to do that. On the whole I found writing the book to be an overwhelmingly positive experience and one I hope to enjoy again. There are currently no plans for a second book but I do hope to begin again before too long.

What I’d like to do today is share just a few entirely subjective thoughts on my experience in the hope that it will prove useful or interesting to you.

Writing the Proposal

I was blessed to be able to avoid much of the thankless chore of submitting the book (unsolicited) to all kinds of different publishers and just hoping against hope that it would stand out above some of the rest. But usually there is no way of avoiding this. I do not have much wisdom to share when it comes to actually finding a publisher. One thing I can attest to, though, is the value of having a blog. More and more I think we’re going to see the blogosphere serving as a kind of minor leagues where writers can establish first that they can write well and second that other people will be interested in reading what they write. It is a proving ground, of sorts. In the coming months and years you are going to see more and more books written by people who came to the attention of publishers through their blogs. Get used to it.

Publishers differ on how much input they wish to have when it comes to the actual writing process. Some involve themselves in each word of each sentence while others prefer that you simply submit a manuscript to them when it is complete. In either case, it is usually best not to write a complete book before shopping it to publishers. Instead, write a complete outline and submit that with two very good sample chapters. Make these your two best, strongest, most complete, most biblical, most amazing chapters. Edit and proof-read them thoroughly and get others to do the same. Here are the areas you’ll likely wish to cover in a proposal: A Brief Introduction to the Book, The Need for This Book, Competition or Similar Books, The Audience for This Book, Biography, Promotion (ways you will be able to promote your book), and Endorsements (people who are likely to endorse the book).

In your proposal outline every single way you may be able to sell the book through your own channels. As the publishing industry changes, it is becoming increasingly important that you prove able to assist in selling the books. This is particularly true with smaller publishers.

If all goes well, your proposal will be accepted and you’ll be offered a contract. This contract will help you understand that, unless you end up selling books like Don Miller or John Eldredge, you won’t be wanting to quit your day job anytime soon!

Writing the Manuscript

When you begin to write the book you’ll probably learn how silly your initial proposal was. The outline will morph and evolve until it’s scarcely recognizable. It’s all part of the game, I guess. Just yesterday I had a friend, who is also writing a book, remark on the strange nature of writing. You hole yourself up for days researching a subject and writing down what you need to communicate about it. And then you emerge into the sun again, asking people to read it over and critique it. You’ll do this time and again as you move through the book. Because I’ve only written one book I haven’t really established a system, but I did find it best to try to set aside at least one or two days for writing. I got more accomplished this way than if I only worked for an hour or two at a time. As the book grew in length, it took longer and longer to find my context. I would often have to read the entire book before I could continue from where I left off writing. And as the book grew, this would take several hours out of my first day of writing.

I had intended to write the book in order from chapter 1 to chapter 10, but soon found this wasn’t as easy or as logical as it at first seemed. Instead I wrote the book thematically. As I searched the Bible and other resources I would find topics that seemed to fit well under a particular category. I would then try to write about those topics, regardless of the chapter they fit into. This system (or lack thereof) may not work for everyone, but it worked well for me. It also made things less rigid, I think, as it meant I could hold off writing about subjects that I had not adequately researched. It meant that I did not have to write chapter six if there was still research to do on that chapter.

Prayer support was indispensable at this time. I had asked many friends to pray for me as I wrote the book, and particularly on Fridays which I tried to set aside for research and writing. This prayers, I am convinced, made all the difference.

Your contract will specify how long you will have to write the book. In all likelihood you’ll require six months or a year to complete it. From the time you submit a proposal to the time the book actually hits store shelves can easily be two years. Patience will prove a virtue.

A Published Author

Seeing the book in print was not nearly the experience I had thought it might be. No angels sang and no trumpets blew. It was, of course, good to see the book in print, but I don’t think it registers up there with marriage and the birth of my children. Nor should it, I guess. Since the book’s release I’ve done all kinds of interviews (both radio and print) with many more to come. If you write a book you’ll want to prepare yourself to talk about it. This can be a little more difficult than it sounds since it will probably be at least six months between the time you complete the book and the time everyone wants to talk about it. So you’ll want to spend some time re-reading the book to make sure that all of its content is fresh in your mind. Make sure you write out a good list of “Questions about the Book” and be prepared with good answers to them. Your publisher will probably help you with this.

And then prepare for the unexpected. Lots of strange and interesting and uncomfortable opportunities are likely to arise as the book begins to make its way into the world. Pray a lot and ask others to pray for you during this time. You’ll need it.

Top 40

Top 40I thought you might get a laugh out of this and figured I’d just add it in here. In the most recent issue of Christian Retailing magazine is the first half of an article called “40 Under 40” (the second half will be published in the next issue). It is a listing of people they consider influential future leaders in the publishing industry. “The future direction and health of the Christian retail channel depends much on the next generation of leaders emerging to shape the publishing and selling of Christian resources in a world very different from its formative years. Christian Retailing identified 40 individuals under the age of 40 who are widely considered to be influential figures for the days ahead. Young leaders in eight categories are profiled, beginning in this issue, by Natalie Nichols Gillespie.” The list includes lots of people I haven’t heard of (primarily industry insiders) and a few I have (e.g. Rob Bell, Matt Bronleewe, David Crowder, Kirk Franklin, etc). Somehow they saw fit to include me in this list. It’s an honor of course. But just in case it was going to give me a big head, they declared me the least recognizable on the list. Those who know me will know that I’m just fine with that status. Click on the picture to see an excerpt from the article.

January 18, 2008

I grew up in a Christian culture in which very little evangelism took place. How little? Well, the first adult I ever witnessed getting baptized was my wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) and that was when we were eighteen or nineteen. It was the first time our church had ever baptized an adult. And what’s more, it was the first time most of the people who attended that church had ever seen an adult get baptized. While it is not necessarily so, it seems that there is usually something amiss with the evangelistic focus of churches that never, ever see any outside converts through their ministry.

A few years after my wife’s baptism we moved away from the town we had grown up in so we could be closer to my place of business. In the past decade we have been members of two different churches that place much greater emphasis on reaching the lost. We have seen many, many people come to faith, including several who are now close friends. We have seen lives be altered dramatically and have seen more baptisms than we can count - baptisms in churches, rivers, pools, hot tubs and a really big, ugly aluminum tank. We have shared in the joy of seeing people profess their faith by being baptized. It truly is one of the greatest events on any church’s calendar!

Over the years I’ve had to reflect on what made the churches I attended as a child and teenager so ineffective at evangelism. I have to be careful here because I know several people from the churches of my youth who read this site and I want to be careful that I accurately characterize these churches. While there are several reasons I could provide, and they are of varying importance, there is one that I believe stands at the foundation of the rest: These churches often regarded the unbeliever as the enemy. Of course the church would never have articulated that belief, but it seemed to be deeply rooted.

This attitude manifested itself in many ways. One of the clearest ways was among the children of church members. They would rarely, if ever, be allowed or encouraged to play with the unsaved children in the neighborhood. I knew a man who was an “urban missionary” whose children were confined to their backyard and were never, ever allowed to play with the other children in the area. The churched children were not allowed to play with other children lest they become corrupted by their worldliness.

My observation was that this approach failed badly. First, the church was not faithful to its calling to take the gospel throughout the world (the world that begins just outside the front door). They preferred to exist in an enclave, safe from outside influences. Second, the children developed a fascination with the world simply because any access to the outside world had been denied to them and they had never seen the pain and heartbreak that are the inevitable result of forsaking God. The world looks awfully attractive until a person sees the results of giving himself over to it. Third, the parents were prone to ignoring worldliness in their own children. I know that I saw more drugs, more drinking, more disrespect and more awful behavior in the Christian schools I attended than I did in the public schools. This isolation simply did not work. We do not need the world to teach us worldliness. Rather, worldliness arises from within.

The attitude that was modeled by my parents was far different. My family took the opposite approach and we were always encouraged to make friends with the children in the neighborhoods we lived in. We saw many children and parents come to faith in this way. Many others may not have become believers, but they received a clear presentation of the gospel so that they are now without excuse. And regardless of whether or not these people came to faith, we gained many good and valuable friendships. Mom and dad did not do this because they regarded the folks in the neighborhood as a project, but out of a genuine love, concern and appreciation for these people. The person next door was not an enemy, but a person who was just as unsaved as my parents were not too many years before, and was thus someone in desperate need of a Savior. And they intended to give everyone the opportunity to meet the Savior through them.

Sometimes worlds clashed. There were a couple of times when my sisters brought friends to church, friends who were unsaved but were showing interest in the gospel, only to have them mocked or scorned. One little girl was scolded and had her ear “flicked” by the woman in the pew behind her because she was not able to sit still throughout the service. A friend my sister brought to church was openly mocked by the children in the church because he had dyed-blond hair and an earing. He never returned, and as far as I know, never expressed any openness to the gospel after that time.

I truly believe, after many years of reflection, that the real problem in these churches was in their attitude towards the unbeliever. The person next door was the enemy, a person to be feared for what he might do to the family, and the children in particular, and thus someone to be regarded with distrust and suspicion rather than with love.

Sometimes I think it is little wonder that many people in the Emergent camp rail against evangelism metaphors that make the unbeliever sound like an enemy. Perhaps these metaphors do cause us to regard unbelievers as a rebel army that we need to fear. It occurs to me that when we sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” we are not singing a battle cry that will lead us out to battle against the unbeliever next door. No, we are not waging war “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The real enemy is not next door. The real enemy is our own sinfulness and the worldliness that continues to try to manifest itself in our lives. The enemy is within, not without.