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Personal Reflections

August 11, 2007

Chaos reigns. I’m down here just a little ways out of Chattanooga where, in just a few hours, my little sister Grace is going to get married. It is hot. Deathly hot. Even the Atlantans seem to be reeling from it. People have gathered from far and wide. Members of our family have travelled in from Ottawa, Toronto and even as far afield as Vancouver. Many of us have rented a series of cabins in Cloudland Canyon National Park—a stunningly beautiful area of north-western Georgia just a few minutes from the Tennessee border. So this is a family reunion of sorts and it is just wonderful to see family members I haven’t seen for a year or two. Grace will be married in a church about a half hour from here and the reception will be held at Covenant College where she and my other sisters went to school.

Aileen was put in charge of making up the bridesmaids bouquets along with the bouquets for the flower girls. With two flower girls and ten bridesmaids it was no small task. She finished that just a few minutes ago and, for the first time today, we have just a few moments of downtime. In ten minutes we’ll have to call the kids in and get them dressed up. My son is the ringbearer and my daughter is one of the bridesmaids, so they have to dressed and ready to go on time for photos which will take place before the ceremony.

And now duty is calling and I have to get going. In just a couple of hours my third (and final!) sister will be married.

August 09, 2007

The value of inviting and pursuing correction.

A couple of days ago I wrote a short article called Her Good or Mine. The purpose of the article was simple: to ask whether I really try to help my wife seek after godliness or whether instead I try to help her seek after my own selfish goals. Do I try to help her become ever more conformed to the image of Christ or do I selfishly try to help her become conformed to some standard I have set. I must not have made this point very clear because a few people used the article to accuse me of being a domineering husband who scolds my wife like a naughty child.

Now I’m certainly not the husband I could be and am not the husband I’d like to be, but I don’t treat my wife like a child (and checked with her to make sure I’m not blinded to my own faults in this way). However, I do take sin seriously not only in my own life but in the life of those who are near to me. I seek to help my wife grow in godliness and sometimes this can only be done by occasional loving confrontation—I confront her with evidence of sin in her life and, if necessary, seek to show her why this is sin and why she should address it. I try hard not to play the role of the Holy Spirit, the one who convicts us of sin, but only the one who makes her aware of a sin and potentially its outworkings and effects on those of us who are closest to her. I agree with those who said that it is the role of God to bring about change. I agree entirely. Yet I also know that God often uses people as the agent of change or, at the very least, to be the one who makes another person aware of a sin.

I’ve often heard C.J. Mahaney share a story about being in a restaurant and spotting a well-dressed businessman heading out of the store. He was wearing a suit and tie and was dressed to make the big sale. But he walked into the business world with a big splotch of cream cheese on the side of his face. C.J. uses this as a metaphor for sin in a person’s life, showing that sometimes a certain sin may be apparent to everyone but the person who commits it. And from there he teaches on the need for inviting and pursuing correction. It is not enough to desire to be corrected when there is sin in your life. Sometimes you need to deliberately seek correction.

After I read some of the comments about my first article both on this site and on other sites, I spoke to Aileen and said, “You do know that it is always open season on my life, right?” And what I mean by that is that I am always open to her coming to me to confront me with sin. Again, this is not shouting, screaming, accusing, vindictive confrontation, but loving, compassionate, biblical confrontation that seeks to draw the other person closer to Christ. I want to reaffirm to her that if there is sin in my life, she is uniquely placed to see it before anyone else and I want her to address it before anyone else. I would far rather have her address my sin than to head out into life with a big old chunk of cream cheese hanging from my beard. I know that she feels the same. My close friends will attest that I also seek correction from them. They know me well and I want them to make me aware of sin they see in my life. I try not to be only reactive when it comes to sin, but to invite correction. And I don’t think anyone has taught me more about this than Mahaney. In his books and blogs and sermons and sessions at conferences I’ve often been challenged with his understanding of the need and value of this kind of correction. And in my own life I’ve seen its value.

And this is what I was discussing the other day. I was simply suggesting that I have had to be careful when addressing sin in the life of my wife that I am addressing sin from God’s perspective and not from my own—that I am addressing behavior that offends God and not just me.

Let me end with some valuable advice I’ve heard C.J. dispense a few times. Gentlemen: set aside two or three hours when you can be alone with your wife and free from interruption (if you are not married, do the same with a close friend or your pastor and ask questions that will probe deeply into your behavior). Then ask her two very specific questions. Where do I need to grow in serving and leading you? Where do I need to grow in serving and leading the children? And without anger or defensiveness, allow her to speak to you about your sin and about your life. Invite correction, pursue correction, and let the Spirit convict you of sin, knowing that He will provide the power to overcome it.

August 08, 2007

Nine years ago, on this very day, my best friend got married. It was one of the first weddings I had ever been to and I remember it well. It was a beautiful wedding, I thought, exactly the kind I might have planned. It was simple but dignified, homespun but not cheap. The mother of the bride had not only arranged all of the arrangements and bouquets, but had even grown the flowers, having planned for this day since the spring. A small greenhouse in the backyard, specially constructed by the bride’s father, had made it possible to grow some beautiful flowers. The cake was wonderful and also a creation of the mother of the bride.

The bride was beautiful, of course, and was glowing with joy from the moment we first saw her as she walked into the church. Not one to want to be the center of attention, she was shy but happy to have her turn being the bride. It was her day more than anyone else’s.

The day was hot. In fact, talking to people who had been at my best friend’s wedding, the heat is one of the things they remember most. The ceremony had taken place in a beautiful, historic Anglican church with a grand pipe organ that had been played by a very skillful organist. The wedding began in the morning so it was not too hot in shelter of the great stones that made up the church. The couple was married in a traditional Christian ceremony and then moved to a nearby old town hall, another historic building, though one without air conditioning. The photos for the day show the groomsmen wearing tuxedos to begin the reception, and then only vests, and then only shirts. Faces got redder and redder as morning turned into afternoon. But no one seemed to mind. The speeches were fun and dignified, the reception short but meaningful. And then the bride and groom were gone, off to begin their new lives together. It truly was a great day.

It’s been nine years and my best friend is still happy, and in fact, happier than on that day. Life has thrown that couple a few curves but they love each other more today than they did even on a day as memorable as that one. God has been good to them. God has blessed my best friend and, in fact, has blessed me through my best friend. He has been at the very center of that relationship since the first day, binding the two together.

I remember my best friend’s wedding like it was yesterday. And really it sometimes almost seems that it was just a few days ago that they walked up that aisle; that we walked up the aisle and into a new life. Because on this day, nine short years ago, my best friend married me.

Happy nine, my love.

August 06, 2007

Asking myself why I want her to change…

I have been thinking about this subject for a while now. I’ve even tried to write about it once or twice with decidedly poor results, causing me to give up and put it aside for another day. I’m going to give it another shot today and hope it works out better.

It was probably a month ago, or sometime around then, that I found myself faced with what should be a simple question. I had been talking to Aileen about some things in her life and character just the way husbands and wives do. I was trying to be a good husband, helping her work through a couple of areas where I thought she should examine her heart to see if she needed to make some changes. She would be the first to admit that there are areas where she can and should change to better reflect the Christ-like character she wants to have. And, as her husband, I have a better view than anyone else. And so I occasionally raise such issues. But it turns out that I’m sinful too. There are many areas in my life where I know I need to commit to change—areas that still have not been brought under the Lordship of Christ. As I spoke to her I began to ask myself, “Why do I want her to change?” Again, this should be a simple question, but as I began to unravel my heart, and as I began to try to get to the bottom of my motives, I was rather surprised at what I found.

Yesterday our pastor opened his sermon by talking about the many young men who have come to him of the course of his pastoral ministry asking him, “How do I know if I really love a girl?” He suggested this as a useful response: You know you love someone when you feel profoundly committed to them and to their good. And it does seem like a good response. This response helped me tie together some of the thoughts that have been trying to coalesce in my mind these past weeks.

I am committed to Aileen. There is no doubt about it. She is the one for me and there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to make her happy. I love her to death. This Wednesday we’ll celebrate our ninth anniversary and I love her now more than ever. I am committed to her good as well. But this is where things get tricky; this is where the lines seem to blur. What is her good? It seems clear to me that what is best for her is to have her character conformed more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. Her good is Christ-likeness. And thus when I challenge her on areas in her life, when I seek after her good, the ultimate goal should be to help her see where she is falling short of the example of Christ and to help her strive towards the character of a Christian. I hope she holds this out as the goal as well when she feels that she needs to challenge or confront me.

The problem is that often I confuse her good with my good. And this is what I’ve been thinking about and trying to write about all this time: how often do my concerns for change in her life really center around me? How often, when I address an area in her life am I really just trying to make my own life easier? How often do my exhortations, which I strive to make gentle and loving, revolve around how she has fallen short of my standards rather than God’s?

It turns out, I think, that my motives are often far from pure. Far too often I hold out my needs, my desires, myself as the standard. I’m trying to invoke change, not to lead her closer to the Savior, but to conform her to standards I’ve set for her. It turns out that in supposedly seeking her good, I’m actually seeking my own. How utterly self-centered of me.

So this has been my challenge. Am I really committed to my wife being a more godly woman, or am I content with trying to just make her a better wife (with better being defined by me)? It’s been an interesting process and I think and I hope that I am beginning to see it all through new eyes.

(I don’t often add this kind of note to the end of my posts, but I want to clarify that I don’t scold my wife constantly. Neither does she have an abnormal number of areas in her life where she is in desperate need of change. I think I’m discussing here the kind of conversations that happen in any marriage and between any husband and wife…)

July 11, 2007

Here’s something a little bit different. I’ve been asked to guest on a radio program for today, so rather than typing out an article today, I’ll simply refer you to the program. It will go out live this afternoon from 1-2 PM EST. If you’re in the area of Greenville, South Carolina, you should be able to listen on your radio. Everyone else can pick it up over the Net through the audio stream. We’ll be talking about the book, the blog, Discerning Reader and whatever else comes up. I believe the phones will be open for at least some of the time, so if you feel the need to make fun of a Canadian today, here’s your chance.

You can read details of the program, “Calling For Truth,” right here.

Calling for Truth

June 17, 2007

Today is Father’s Day and I thought I’d share something I posted here before—an article I wrote for my dad three years ago on this day.

Like most boys I idolized my father. When I was a child you would have had a difficult time convincing me that there was anyone smarter, faster or stronger than my dad. I really did believe it when I told my friends that “my dad can beat up your dad!” And it may well have been true. Dad was a landscaper, and for eight months of every year he spent just about every waking hour hauling loads of soil from his truck to the gardens and manipulating enormous rocks to make sure they looked just right. Though this took a physical toll on him, it left him stronger than an ox. When he and I used to wrestle, I could make absolutely no headway against him. I would run at him and hit him with all that I had, but even with a full head of steam I could not knock him off-balance. He would just grab me with his rough, leathery hands and toss me aside like I was barely even there.

Dad had working man hands. I’ll never forget those hands; they were hard as rock. Holding dad’s hand was like holding a sanding block and just about as uncomfortable. As he labored day-in and day-out, his hands built up so many rough calluses that they soon became as hard as dried leather. They were scarred with the evidence of so many bumps and bruises inflicted on job sites. I saw in his hands an ideal, for to me they represented a hard-working man who labored diligently to support his family. I felt pride when I compared his hands to those of men who spent their lives at desks - there really was no comparison - and looked forward to the day when my hands would be hard and callused like dads’. I believe there is something inside each of us that really wants nothing more than to carry out God’s original command to humans which was to till the soil and to care for the earth. Dad had the privilege of doing that every day and the even greater privilege of loving nothing more.

Yet behind his love for working with plants and rocks and soil, I think dad always felt a twinge of shame and regret. He grew up in an affluent family, one which had a long history of politicians and lawyers. My grandfather was a Supreme Court judge, and dad’s uncles were members of parliament. Surely, dad felt deep inside, landscaping was not a profession suitable for a man from such lineage. Finally succumbing to the pressure he had created in himself, he returned to school, upgrading his two Bachelor’s degrees to a Master’s. For several years he worked diligently, studying languages, history and theology. A strange thing happened. As the months turned into years I noticed that his hands no longer felt like leather. The longer he labored in school, the softer his hands became. Before long his hands were much like mine - soft and free from calluses.

Dad graduated with a Master’s degree and tried so hard to be happy in an office job. He tried his hand at a few things and it wasn’t so much that he wasn’t good at them as that he just did not enjoy what he was doing. He found himself thinking nostalgically of burying his hands in fresh topsoil and sculpting beautiful gardens where there had been nothing but weeds and chaos. Finally it became too much and one day dad went and bought himself a great, big pickup truck. He returned to sculpting the soil he had left behind.

Now whenever I see dad he has dirt under his fingernails. His hands are once again as hard as dried leather and I can’t imagine my son feels any more comfortable holding his hand than I did so many years ago. As he returns shamelessly to the task for which God created Him, his hands again bear evidence of his labor.

It occurs to me as I write this that one day we are all going to stand before God and it’s as if He is going to reach down to each of us and feel our hands. He has assigned to all of His children the same task, and it is a difficult one. We need to take His message into all the world, diligently and shamelessly proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. If our hands are not as rough as sandpaper and do not feel like old leather, perhaps we are not being diligent in that labor. If our hands bear no scars, perhaps we have not received the cuts and bruises that are bound to come to those who go forth on His behalf. Our hands must bear the evidence of our labor.

June 13, 2007

Discerning Reader

As you probably know, I run not only this blog but also Discerning Reader, a site that, until now has focused entirely on book reviews. Just last week I relaunched the site with a whole new design and a bunch of new features. Most notably, we will now add new reviews every week (on Tuesdays) and will add other information on a near-daily basis. I expect to update the site at least three to four times a week. It will become (and, I hope, is already becoming) a place where you can keep up with what is new and exciting in the world of Christians books. If you visit the RSS page you can subscribe (via RSS or email) to receive update notifications for either articles or reviews.

You’ll see that the subscription-based features I mentioned a few weeks ago are in place, even though the content is not there yet. I continue to gauge interest in that aspect of the site and, for the time being, am preparing to launch the first subscriber content next month.

Now, for some reason that remains unknown to me, Google has been hesitant to add Discerning Reader to its index. The primary way Google finds out about sites and gauges their importance is through links from other sites. And so I’m going to ask you, if you have a site of any kind, to link to Discerning Reader. Just to entice you a little more, I’ll sweeten the deal. I’ve got a few copies of some great Steve Lawson books around here that I’d love to give away (because they are so good and because they are taking up a lot of space). So here’s the deal. If you add a link from your site to Discerning Reader and send me an email proving you’ve done so, I’ll enter you in a draw. If you are a blogger, don’t feel obliged to mention us in an article or post. A simple link in your blogroll or on the main page of your site will be fine. A week from today I’ll select three winners, each of whom will be sent a copy of Foundations of Grace, the first in the A Long Line of Godly Men series, along with a copy of The Expository Genius of John Calvin. This will get you a good start with this series that will build over the next few years. Even if you don’t anticipate enjoying the books, I guarantee that you know someone who will. Hold on to them until Christmas and give them away then!

You can link to the site however you see fit. It would probably be most helpful if you would link something like this:

Christian Book Reviews or Discerning Reader. The search engines pay great attention to the actual content of your link text (which in the two examples I’ve given are “Christian Book Reviews” and “Discerning Reader”). If you prefer to link with a graphic, here is the logo in a few different sizes:

Discerning Reader

Discerning Reader

Discerning Reader

Discerning Reader

June 07, 2007

I am a Web designer and as such I have to be creative on an on-going basis. Every time a client calls and asks me to design a site I have to be creative and come up with a new design—something that will look attractive, that will be original and will fit the “feel” of the company or ministry or person. This is often quite difficult to do. I find it especially so when I’ve got 8 or 10 projects on the go, much like I do now. I’m not always convinced that I’ve got 8 or 10 new designs in me. Design is certainly not something that can always be done easily and quickly. I find that I can’t force design; I can’t force the creativity it takes to make a design. I sometimes try and the results are always underwhelming. So I have to wait, chipping away until finally, in a burst of creativity, I design something that is worth sharing. Something I can stand behind and be proud of. The muse has to speak, so to speak.

I enjoy writing a great deal and look forward to it almost every day. Like web design, though, writing requires creativity on a daily basis if I am to attempt to produce something that is at least somewhat interesting and somewhat well-written. Like web design, writing is a process of creating something from nothing—of forcing myself to produce something I can consider good. An aspect of what I love about writing on a daily basis is forcing myself to think, to ponder, and to jot down something. Some days I know exactly what I am going to write before I set down at my computer. Other days I have no idea and just kind of let things flow.

Lately I don’t think I have done very well on either account. Several years ago, shortly after I began doing both blogging and web design, I coined the term “creativity cramp” to describe what I had been experiencing at the time—a general failure to be creative; an inability to create. And I’m at that place again. I do not suffer from a lack of ideas. I can see Web sites in my mind but when I try to create them they just don’t work out. They end up as clumsy, unformed, uninteresting messes. They are nowhere near the quality I demand of myself. I can see articles and posts in my mind, understand what I could say. But when I try to actually write them out they lack clarity, cohesiveness and quality. They are sad, pathetic little efforts.

This is creativity cramp! It’s much like writer’s block, I’m sure, but it extends to all areas of creativity. Any attempt at creativity just seems to fall flat.

This has happened before. It eventually resolves itself in a burst of creativity as I finally churn out the words and images that have been escaping me for the last week or two. So bear with me. I’m not looking for sympathy: just a bit of patience from clients and readers alike. This shouldn’t last long.

June 06, 2007

When I was a teenager, there was a boy in my class who was not quite normal. I don’t know if he suffered from a type of mental disorder or if he was just a bit “different”—never completely accustomizing to the culture he lived in. I suspect the latter. Somehow he did not quite fit in. He had funny mannerisms, would sometimes say strange things and often seemed oblivious to social propriety. One of my enduring memories of him is watching him sit in the front pew at church and proceed to give his ears a really good cleaning, sprinkling what he dug out on the carpet below. He was oblivious to this being odd behavior. While clearly bright in some ways, he was hopeless in others. Something of a loner, probably less by choice and more by lack of interest from his classmates, he would spend lunch and breaks by himself, though this never appeared to bother him too much. I don’t think he got teased too much simply because he was quite confident in who and what he was and in who and what he was not. Now that I think about it, I don’t know that he would really have known or cared even if he had been teased.

Every now and then my parents would tell me I had to have him over on a Sunday afternoon between the two worship services. The church we attended at the time met for morning worship at 9:30 or 10:00 and for a second worship service in the middle of the afternoon. This was ideal for visiting, as a person or family could come over between services and enjoy a nice visit, but not one that grew too long. And so I would sometimes find him in my company on Sunday afternoons. I really didn’t mind having him over, despite his eccentricities. I suppose I probably worried that being spied with him would somehow lower my social status (humble though this status may have been) but I’m sure my friends knew that I had been forced to invite him over and that I spent time with him more out of imposition than desire. I never really got to know him too well. A couple of times he reciprocated the invitation and, with trepidation lest anyone spot me, I would go to his house and spend the afternoon with his family. I don’t remember what we did on these afternoons together. My memories have faded.

When the afternoon service was over and I had the evening to myself, I was proud of what I had done. I had taken this simple guy who had no friends and had been a friend to him for a few hours. I had allowed him to feel what I thought was acceptance and to feel that he was not entirely alone. But come Monday morning I would not stand by his side and talk to him. I would allow him to walk endless circuits around the school or to sit quietly with a book. When pity was taken out of the equation, I had nothing to offer. I had no desire to give of myself. It was almost as if I would spend those Sunday afternoons clearing my throat to the sky and whispering under my breath, “God! Do You see what I’m doing here, right? I’m being a friend to this guy! And it’s not much fun!”

I wasn’t a true friend, of course. I didn’t really care about my classmate. If my parents decided he needed to have some companionship for a day I would take him under my wing, but I did it for them or for me or maybe somehow for God. But not for him. My true friends are those people I enjoy spending time with just for the joy of being with them. This guy was someone I spent time with out of obligation or out of a desire to put a notch in my belt of sanctification.

A short time ago I reviewed a marvelous little book called Same Kind of Different as Me. The book has touched many people and I think it has done so because it is the story of two people who seem to be so unequal and yet find true equality. One is a successful businessman while the other is a homeless drifter; one is married with a loving family while the other is single and alone; one is normal and the other is decidedly not. The relationship starts as one of pity but ends as one of true fraternal love and acceptance. The one who seems to have everything already is the one who receives untold blessings.

My pastor has spent a couple of days blogging about considering special needs in church. He says, quite rightly I think, that “only the Christian Church is really set up to joyfully co-exist with families of all different types of needs. For a large measure of the tension we feel is bound up in our own sin, and only Christians have a means to genuinely deal with that sin. Because God has given us the Holy Spirit, we can be humble. And large doses of humility are what is needed in order to walk through all this tension and awkwardness.” He quotes his friend Justin Reimer who says, “What these families [of disabled children] need is help, not pity.”

Pity isn’t necessarily a bad emotion, but I’ve found that it does not tend to be the foundation of good, noble and godly ends. I pitied my classmate and did what I felt was best for him. I extended some kind of companionship, but my pity led me to focus on myself more than on him. What I did, I did for others and not for him. Looking inward or upward I was unable to see past myself to see this boy for who he was. I found pleasure not in anything he was or anything he offered, but in what I thought I might gain through the gratitude of my parents, the gratefulness of his parents, or the blessing of God. Looking back I can see that I really knew nothing about him. I never made any kind of effort to get to know him. I never made the effort to let him touch my life or to show me who he really was. I thought I already knew. I was arrogant, believing in the innate superiority of my normalcy while assuming that his eccentricity necessarily meant he had nothing to offer and that he needed my help. He was pitied, but not accepted; tolerated but never loved.

I’ve known other people like this. I know some today. They do not need pity. The parents of those who are disabled do not want you to pity them or to accept them as a project—as a means to your own sanctification. They want you to see these people for who they are and what they can offer and to love and embrace and accept them on that basis. This was a point I never got to with my classmate. He was, at best, a project; an inconvenience I grudgingly accepted at times; someone who was somehow less than a full person. When I think of him and I think of the other people in my life who were never quite normal, never quite adhering to the norms of society or never quite able to adhere to them, I wonder what I’ve missed in forsaking such friendship. I wonder what I’ve missed in pitying rather than accepting—in seeking myself rather than the other person. I wonder what they’ve lost and what I’ve lost because I could not realign my expectations for friendship and companionship. I never learned to appreciate these people, to look beyond their eccentricities and disabilities, and to see the people beyond. I never learned to enjoy their presence, their friendship and all that they offer.

I’m confident that Paul is right and that the church is the best and most natural place for these people and their families to joyfully co-exist with others. But I’m confident that I’ve done a lousy job of proving him right.

June 02, 2007

I’m a bit late posting today. I had arranged weeks ago for my son and me to head to the Rogers Center today to see the Blue Jays take on the White Sox. We were going to meet a new friend (and reader of this site who just so happens to have served as chaplain to the Blue Jays for decades) at the stadium and take in the game with him.

Early in the day I got a call from this friend and he told me that he had arranged passes for us to go down to the field during pre-game. So we hurried off and met up with him at the Rogers Center. And sure enough, we made our way through the dark recesses of the stadium and emerged in the Jays’ dugout. Now I’m too old to be too overly impressed by such things, but it was as if my son had touched the moon. He was thrilled. And I know I would have been too at his age.

Best of all, John Gibbons (the coach) came over, chatted with him for a bit, and gave him a couple of balls. Then we headed towards the Jays’ clubhouse and met up with Alex Rios, one of Nick’s favorite players. We got a photo with him and he signed one of those balls. And then, late in the game, he smashed a three run homer that put the final nail in the coffin for the Sox. We also met Jerry Howarth who calls the games on the radio. I listened to Jerry every night on the radio when I grew up and my son listens to him most nights now. It was great to finally meet the guy after hearing him talk for so many years.

So all-in-all it was a pretty good day. I’ve been to a lot of ball games in my time, but this one, well, it stands out.