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Personal Reflections

July 31, 2006

The Pacific Campaign of the Second World War has always fascinated me. In many ways, it seemed like a nonsensical series of battles between the United States and Japan. As the Americans sought revenge for the devastation of Pearl Harbor, and as they sought to curtail Japanese aggression in the East, they fought their way across the Pacific Ocean, moving slowly and deliberately from island to island. Tiny, seemingly insignificant pieces of rock, jutting from the midst of a boundless ocean, hundreds of miles, thousands even, from the nearest mainland, became fierce battlegrounds. Tens of thousands of lives were lost in conquering little islands. And yet these islands were far more important than their size may have indicated, for they were able to serve as air bases from which strikes could be launched against other islands, and eventually against Japan itself. The insignificant islands were crucial stepping stones across the vast Pacific Ocean.

There are many lessons we can learn from the Pacific Campaign. Some apply to warfare, but others apply far beyond. One of the most important is this: little things lead to big things. This is as true in warfare as it is in the hearts of men and women.

The Spirit has been challenging me lately to deal with little sins. As with so many other believers, I often tend to feel that I’m a pretty good guy. I have never committed any of the really “bad” sins. I’ve never killed anyone, I’ve never committed adultery and I’ve never stolen anything big enough for anyone to notice that it’s missing. I pay my taxes, stick near the speed limit, and try not to hate people. But while I have not committed those big sins, I’ve come to realize just how open I have become to the little sins. To use our military metaphor, while the mainland has not yet been conquered, I can see how I’ve gleefully allowed island after island to fall to Satan. Surely concentrated attacks on the mainland cannot be far behind. Surely big sins will follow these little ones.

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, likens Satan’s attacks to bridging a gulf. “If it be desired to bridge a gulf, it is often the custom to shoot an arrow, and cross it with a line almost as thin as film. That line passes over and a string is drawn after it, and after that some small rope, and after that a cable, and after that the swinging suspension bridge, that makes a way for thousands.” Not too long ago, the Toronto press reported on a local man who had committed a horrifying murder. A bit of a loner, this man began to use his home computer to look at pornography. Soon light pornography was not enough to satisfy him and he began to look at things that were increasingly perverse. Before long he was seeking after child pornography. And one day, as he was looking at these horrible acts played out on his computer screen, he looked out his window and saw a young child walking by. Without planning, without having seriously considered that he might do this, he snatched her from the street. A couple of days later, the police found her body. The man turned himself in and confessed to the crime, insisting that he had not meant to do something so horrifying, so evil. It is likely true that this was not an act that had been planned for a long time. Satan had conquered island after island in this man’s heart until he finally reached the mainland. A series of small beginnings led to a horrible end. Spurgeon warns against allowing these little sins. “Oh! take heed of those small beginnings of sin. Beginnings of sin are like the letting out of water: first, there is an ooze; then a drip; then a slender stream; then a vein of water; and then, at last, a flood: and a rampart is swept before it, a continent is drowned. Take heed of small beginnings, for they lead to worse.”

Stories like that of the man who murdered the little girl terrify me. It’s not that I enjoy pornography or have ever considered seeking out child pornography. Rather, it is the lesson behind the story—the lesson that little things lead to big things. Thomas Brooks, the Puritan, wrote, “Greater sins do sooner startle the soul, and awaken and rouse up the soul to repentance, than lesser sins do. Little sins often slide into the soul, and breed, and work secretly and undiscernibly in the soul, till they come to be so strong as to trample upon the soul, and to cut the throat of the soul.” If this is true in the life of an average guy who murdered a little child, could it not be true in my life?

in God’s Way of Holiness, Horatius Bonar wrote, “The avoidance of little evils, little sins, little inconsistencies, little weaknesses, little follies, little indiscretions and imprudences, little foibles, little indulgences of self and of the flesh, little acts of indolence or indecision or slovenliness or cowardice, little equivocations or aberrations from high integrity, little touches of shabbiness and meanness, little indifferences to the feelings or wishes of others, little outbreaks of temper, or crossness, or selfishness, or vanity—the avoidance of such little things as these goes far to make up at least the negative beauty of a holy life.” Jerry Bridges is astute in pointing out that “it is in the minutiae of life where most of us live day after day.” Few of us are regularly faced with the outright decision of whether or not to commit adultery, but each of us is faced each day with the temptation of stealing a single lustful look or allowing a single lustful fantasy to play out in our minds.

We may think we avoid evil by fleeing the sins we perceive to be greater. But Jesus dealt harshly with such thoughts. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Jesus gave no quarter to sin. He knew that sin begins in the heart and it begins not with a great act of sin, but with many small acts. Surely Cain first grumbled against Abel, and then plotted against him before finally murdering him. Surely David allowed himself to think lustful thoughts and surely he went to the roof of his palace knowing what he might see. Those little sins led to breathtakingly horrifying, ungodly acts of lust and anger.

The truth is, that every sin, whether large or small, is a declaration of war against God. In the current Israeli-Lebanon crisis, we see this principle played out. The Hezbollah sent a few troops across the border into Israel. They did not send an entire army, but only a small squad of soldiers. Still, this was as much a declaration of war as if they had sent every solider under their command. Israel perceived this for the statement it was and reacted accordingly. In the same way even a small sin is a declaration of war against God. After all, Adam and Eve did not commit adultery and did not murder—they merely ate a piece of fruit that God had told them not to eat. This may seem only a small sin, but it is a sin that has made all the difference.

I have been challenged in my life to guard against the small sins—those sins that seem so small, so insignificant. I have come to see through Scripture and through human experience how those sins soon lead to others. They are but the beginnings of much greater sins. Each and every one, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is a declaration of war and an act of war against the Creator. And if I do not guard against these sins, soon island after island will be conquered and only the mainland will remain, weak and unprotected. Thanks be to God that He provides the strength and the power to reconquer and reclaim islands that have already fallen to the enemy. He has won battles, but by the grace of God he will be pushed back, further and further from the mainland, and will not win the war.

July 27, 2006

This is my 1000th consecutive day of blogging. This occasion has given me the opportunity to reflect on what blogging has meant to me over the past years and what I expect to see and do in the future. I hate writing about myself. It seems so prideful. So arrogant. So empty. I’ve long been inspired by the words of the great British preacher and philanthropist Andrew Reed who, when asked by his sons to help them prepare a memoir of his life replied, “I was born yesterday, I shall die tomorrow. I must not spend today in telling what I have done, but in doing what I can for Him who has done all for me.” But let me reflect briefly on what God has done for me in the past 1000 days.

On October 31, 2003 this site was languishing for lack of attention. I had begun the site almost a year before but had been sporadic at best in adding content. I often went weeks or even a month at a time without posting. In fact, the site resembled most other hobbies I had attempted to that point in my life—what I had begun with enthusiasm was soon mere annoyance. I was a pretty sorry excuse for a blogger and decided that I would either need to shape up and dedicate myself to blogging or give up and find something else to do with my time. And so, I decided that I would attempt to commit to blogging every day for an entire year. While I am an undisciplined person, I am also stubborn and, to my great surprise, I managed to make it through the year without missing a day. I recommitted and worked my way through a second year. And now the end of the third year is drawing near and I’m still at it. In the meantime, I’ve reached this silly little milestone.

Through the years I’ve often had to ask myself if blogging is a servant or a master. Am I so committed to blogging because it has a hold over me? Or does blogging serve a better, more noble end? There have been a few times that concerned believers have asked these questions of me, wondering if my commitment to blogging owes more to stubbornness or arrogance than true desire or spiritual benefit. My reply has always been, and as I foresee it, will continue to be, that blogging is so entwined with my spiritual disciplines that to cease would be a great loss to me. There are some who suggest that I should at least stop writing while I am on vacation. To these people I reply that, just as it would not be noble to cease times of private worship when on vacation, in the same way it would not be virtuous for me to cease writing, even while on holiday. Of course it was not always this way. When I began my one-year commitment, writing was often drudgery and I stuck with it more out of stubbornness than desire. But as time went on God, through His grace, allowed blogging to become a joy and a privilege. Just a few days ago, reflecting on Jerry Bridges’ book The Discipline of Grace I summarized one of his points in this way: “Discipline, commitment, conviction and Godly habits are closely related. It is important that we are disciplined, but only after we have been convicted and have set a direction towards godliness.” I have seen this proven true in my life, for God has been so gracious in granting me a measure of His grace so that my commitment and discipline, which followed conviction, have led me closer to Him.

The truth is that I am an undisciplined person and blogging provides the structure and accountability I need to continue to grow in godly habits. Lying behind the decision to keep blogging is the conviction that I need to grow in grace and that I need assistance in maintaining the commitment to do so. Blogging provides this accountability, for when I stop following hard after God, I soon have nothing to say; nothing to write. It is during the times of greatest spiritual growth that I find myself expressing my newfound joy and faith through my writing. In moments of great honesty I may even be willing to admit that I am almost scared to stop blogging, for I do not know how I would react to having this discipline disappear.

A couple of days ago Francisco, a reader of this site, posted a quote by Keith Green in the comments section of an article I wrote dealing with influence. The words, which I have often read before, hit me hard. “I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music, and more importantly, my life has not provoked you into godly jealousy or to sell out more completely to Jesus!” I hope I can say that I repent of ever having written a single word, of having posted an article, if my writing, and more importantly, my life has not provoked you into godly jealousy or to trust more completely in Jesus (I de-hippied the language a little bit). While it somehow strikes me as nearly impossible to do and almost breathtakingly arrogant to say, this is the kind of person I wish to be. I’m sure this is the kind of man God wants me to be. I believe it is His expectation for all of us.

When I look back at what I have written over the past couple of years, I am often ashamed by my lack of grace or my lack of godliness. There are many times where I know that what I have written could not possibly lead to godliness or to any type of godly jealousy. I hope and trust that I see less of this now than in the earlier days of this site. I believe that God has been teaching me grace and teaching me about the wideness of His love and mercy. I trust that He has been leading me to imitate Him in this area. And so I take this opportunity to repent of the times that I have written words which destroyed rather than edified, or which discouraged instead of encouraged. I repent of the times that I have allowed my sinful hates and fears to make their way onto this site and onto your computer screen. I ask your forgiveness.

At the same time I beg your continued patience and forgiveness, for I know that God still has much to teach me. And yet, I am excited to see what happens in the coming weeks, months or years. I have no idea how long this site will continue. I kind of hope it continues for many more thousands of days. But perhaps God has other plans. He has been good to me to this point and I’m sure He will continue to bless me in the future. I am but His servant.

Blogging has been an inestimable privilege. I have had the privilege of receiving, reading and reviewing so many books. I have been blessed by being invited to attend and liveblog several wonderful conferences and look forward to serving at many more. But perhaps the greatest benefit has been in the way God has used the site to allow me to meet so many godly men and women, followers of Christ whose words, lives and examples have provoked me to godly jealousy and have encouraged me to trust more completely in the Savior. I have been blessed by meeting you, perhaps face-to-face or perhaps only online, and receiving just a foretaste of the love and joy we will share together before the King.

Truly God has been good to me.

Incidentally, I noticed this today at the ESV Blog. Several months ago I sent through a button and suggested they provide it to bloggers who would like to maintain the ESV as their “default” translation, much as Christian books usually announce the default translation in the opening pages. I guess the ESV folks decided to use today as the occasion to make the button public.

July 14, 2006

A couple of months ago I wrote about Tiazzi’s last day. Tiazzi was our dog and, unfortunately, she began to lose her mind. Because her behavior was becoming increasingly erratic, we conferred with her veterinarian and decided that it would be best to put her down. It was a very difficult decision, but we are confident that we made the right choice. In order to help the children deal with the loss of the dog (whom they didn’t really like, but who had been in the family as long as they had been alive) we bought a small aquarium and some fish. They have gotten a great deal of pleasure out of taking care of these fish and going with me to Big Al’s, the absolutely superb fish store near our home. They chose a variety of colorful fish and even a couple of shrimp to live in their aquarium. They love to feed their fish and to show them off to anyone who comes to the house.

We have quickly learned that the average lifespan of a fish is significantly shorter than that of a dog. Fish, and tropical fish in particular, are not the hardiest animals and are prone to suffer from fluctuations in water quality and temperature and even from plain old stress. This morning I went downstairs to see one of the little blue guppies lying on the gravel at the bottom of the tank. Just yesterday he had been zipping around looking lively, but by this morning he was dead. Quite dead.

I stuck my hand in the tank and fished around (no pun intended) until I managed to get ahold of the slippery little thing. I hauled him out of the water and took a quick look at him. I was struck by how different he looked. The night before he had been brilliantly-colored with shimmering silver scales and beautiful streaks of blue through his tail. But this morning the blue was dull, the tail had collapsed and his body was pale and grey. He looked dead. Really dead.

It struck me just how much something that is dead looks dead. There is no disguising it. If you have been to a funeral that had an open casket you will know what I mean. A dead body looks dead. People usually insist that the person in the coffin looks just like he did when he was alive, but he doesn’t really. No matter what we do, no matter how much makeup we apply or how much we try to fool ourselves, a dead person looks dead just like a dead fish looks dead.

Children are born dead. I was reflecting on this just a short time ago when I came across a well-known excerpt from Augustine’s Confessions. Naturally, being the father of three young children, the subject of children and their sin has been much on my mind lately. Just this morning I had one of those experiences where one of my children proved her sin. “Eat your breakfast,” I said. “But I’m full,” she replied. This is a routine we go through at every meal (except for those occasional meals where we eat some type of junk food). She always eats half of her meal and then insists that she cannot eat another bite. “You’ve only eaten half a plum. You’re going to eat the whole thing. You can and you will.” Without missing a beat my little three year-old bundle of joy replied, “I can’t and I won’t!” She’s a little sinner, that child, just like her father and mother were until we grew up to become big sinners.

Here is what Augustine had to say about himself as an infant:

At that time I knew only how to suck and be deliciously comforted, and how to cry when anything hurt my body, but no more.

After this I began to smile, at first only in my sleep and then when I was awake. So I have been told, and I believe it on the strength of what we see other babies doing, for I do not remember doing it myself. Little by little I began to notice where I was, and I would try to make my wishes known to those who might satisfy them; but I was frustrated in this, because my desires were inside me, while other people were outside and could by no effort of understanding enter my mind. So I tossed about and screamed, sending signals meant to indicate what I wanted, those few signs that were the best I could manage, though they did not really express my desires. Often I did not get my way, either because people did not understand or because what I demanded might have harmed me, and then I would throw a tantrum because my elders were not subject to me, nor free people willing to be my slaves; so I would take revenge on them by bursting into tears. I have learned that babies behave like this from those I have been able to watch, and they without knowing it have taught me more surely what I was like myself than did my nurses who knew me well.

Augustine goes on to make a penetrating observation about human nature. “The weakness then of an infant’s limbs, not its will, is its innocence.” An infant is innocent only because it is incapable of acting out the sin and the rage that lives within. Were an infant able, she would surely lash out and cause pain and harm. And, as all parents soon realize, this is precisely what children do as soon as they are able. Children are dead.

I assume my children are dead. They say they love God and, to some extent at least, I’m sure they do. They love to hear stories from the Bible and love to learn the truths that lie beneath those stories. They even love to pray and to sing to God. And yet in so many ways they look dead. None of them has claimed thus far to have been given new life. It has been my prayer, since before any of them were born, that God would grant them this new life. I am confident He will do so, but only when the time is right. While some children turn to Him at a very young age, so many wait until they are a little bit older. So my wife and I continue to pray and continue to teach the children. We continue to trust that the obvious signs of death will begin to fade and that new life will course through their veins; through their souls.

I guess that’s what the Christian life is all about. It is about being delivered from this body of death. It is about relying upon and yet working with with the Spirit to make what we know to be true positionally become true practically. It is about preaching the gospel to all men, but first and always, to ourselves. For if we are to be men and women that claim to be alive, we must look alive.

July 11, 2006

I continued in my reading of Jerry Bridge’s The Discipline of Grace this morning. I am only a few chapters into the book and have already learned a great deal from it. Though it was written in 1994, it seems that I missed its first publishing and am glad to have discovered it after the second. The book flows logically from the groundwork laid in Bridge’s classic The Pursuit of Holiness. In this book he attempts to differentiate and reconcile God’s role and our role in the pursuit of holiness.

The third chapter of The Discipline of Grace is an exhortation to Christians to preach the gospel to themselves. Bridges draws upon a survey R.C. Sproul has often mentioned which asked people attending a large Christian convention to define the gospel. Tragically, of the many questioned, only one was able to provide a definition that could be considered accurate. While we cannot conclude that the people who were unable to give an adequate answer were not Christians, it does show that many believers have been poorly taught and have only a minimal knowledge of the gospel. “These observations constitute a serious indictment of our evangelical discipling process. The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it.” Bridges believes, as do I, that churches are guilty of too often giving unbelievers just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive Christ as Savior. At that point we put the gospel aside and focus instead on the duties of discipleship such as personal holiness, Christian service and spiritual disciplines.

But the gospel is not just about a moment of salvation. The gospel is a message that saves, but also a message that sustains. It is a message we all need to hear all the time. Bridges spends the rest of the third chapter examining and defining the gospel and encouraging believers to preach this gospel to themselves on a daily basis. He applies the gospel to daily life, showing how it needs to be central to the Christian walk.

As I read this chapter I was suddenly struck by how little the recounting of the gospel story was affecting me. I was ashamed that reading of such good news could leave me so unaffected. I read of the absolute best news a man could ever hear: “The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed or credited to us forever. From the day we trust in Christ as our Savior, on throughout eternity, we stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” I read about redemption: “Justice has been satisfied: the penalty has been fully paid by the Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense, to justify is to declare that the claims of justice have been fully met.” I read about the turning away of God’s wrath. “The Lord Jesus Christ by His sacrifice on the cross appeased and turned aside God’s just and holy wrath, the wrath we should have borne.” It isn’t that I was bored or uninterested - just unmoved. And after reading a few pages more I realized that I had to stop and repent. How is it that I could read of what Christ has done for me and not be filled with praise and thanksgiving? As I stopped to think about this I began to think about heaven and how incredible it will be to sit constantly in God’s presence and to always be filled with awe and praise. The cherubim are always before God’s throne and are always crying out about His holiness. They never grow tired of this, nor could they, for they dwell in the fullness of His presence. And, I trust, this is the way it will be when I stand before God. Never more will the gospel leave me unaffected. Never again will I hear or read or learn of what God has done with ambivalence.

But that may be a long time off. For now, I will have to continue to strive after holiness, to preach that gospel message to myself, and to repent when even news so joyous leaves me unmoved.

July 03, 2006

I was thrilled several years ago to hear that the book The Lord of the Rings was going to be made into a series of epic films. With production budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars and the bulk of the work being done outside of Hollywood, I knew this series was going to be good! But more than being able to watch a great series of films, I was thrilled to know that a book I had read several times and for which I had great respect would be brought into the mainstream. Not too long ago people who read The Lord of the Rings were considered just a bit weird. When we brought the book up in conversation it would often earn us a look that said “you’re not one of those Dungeons and Dragons people, are you?” I am not. I simply enjoy a good story and J.R.R. Tolkien was a master storyteller.

Now that The Lord of the Rings has entered the mainstream, we who have known and loved the story for many years can finally use its rich depths for purposes of illustration. It is that which I intend to do today.

Tolkien writes about a kingdom called Gondor which for many years has not had a king. While waiting for the rightful heir to come and claim his throne, a series of stewards has been placed in charge of the land. The steward in charge at the time of the events described in the book is named Denethor and he has two sons, Boromir and Faramir, both of whom figure prominently in the story (and subsequently, in the movie). As steward of the land, Denethor has the power of the king but without the title. He is able to make decisions and to pass judgment. He receives the respect and admiration of the people of the land. His primary task is to do whatever is best for the land in the absence of the rightful ruler. In all he does he is to remember his position - to remember that he is not the king. As a constant reminder of his temporary position he is forbidden to rule from the king’s throne.

“…awe fell upon him as he looked down that avenue of kings long dead. At the far end upon a dais of many steps was set a throne under a canopy of marble shaped like a crowned helm; behind it was carved upon the wall and set with gems an image of a tree in flower. But the throne was empty. At the foot of the dais, upon the lowest step which was broad and deep, there was a stone chair, black and unadorned, and on it sat an old man gazing at his lap.”

That man, of course, is the steward. Where the king was allowed the full honor of sitting upon the throne, surrounded by splendor, the steward is consigned to rule from a plain, unadorned chair that sat at the foot of the throne.

Denethor is not a very good steward. He dreads the day the king returns, for he knows that with the return of the king will come his own return to obscurity. He jealously guards the power that had been given him and does not look forward to the day when he will have to relinquish the kingdom to its rightful owner. This attitude affects his decisions, for he often makes decisions based on his own desire for preservation rather than based on what is best for the kingdom he has sworn to protect. We find him saying:

“…the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.” To this Gandalf replied “Unless the king should come again? Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom against that even, which few now look to see.”

The steward is failing in his duty to properly care for what has been entrusted to him. We learn later that he had been going beyond the care of his office and had become corrupted by the enemy. His abuse of what had been entrusted to him leads to his own corruption.

So why do I use this illustration? I use it because the concept of stewardship is largely foreign to our culture. We understand ownership, borrowing, leasing and mortgaging but have little knowledge of stewardship. Yet it is a crucial concept in the Bible and one that we ought to know well. And here in the mainstream is a wonderful example of stewardship gone wrong.

The Bible tells us that we are stewards of the talents, treasures and gifts God has given to us. Each of us is responsible to be a faithful steward with the gifts and talents with which God has blessed us. Where God has given richly, much is expected in return. At no time does God give us full and final ownership of what He has given us. We need to realize that we are but stewards.

Where God gives me treasure I need to ensure that I do not begin to believe that it is mine. I need to seek God’s wisdom on how He, as king, would have me use it. He has given me His instruction manual in The Bible which gives me the guidelines I need to understand what he would have me do. When God tells me to let go of the money He has entrusted to my care, I need to immediately and cheerfully open my hand and let it go.

God has blessed me with three beautiful children, yet I know that I have them only on trust. God has made me steward of those children. As such I need to dedicate myself to raising them in a way that would please Him, knowing that at any moment He could choose to take them back to Himself.

We will return briefly to our story.

Drunk with corruption and power and unwilling to hand over the kingdom, Denethor, steward of Gondor, takes his own life, ending his years of poor stewardship. His son, Faramir, takes his place. Soon the heir to the throne returns to Gondor and Faramir has an opportunity to prove his character.

“Faramir met Aragorn [the rightful king] in the midst of those there assembled, and he knelt, and said: “The last steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office.”…Then Faramir stood up and spoke in a clear voice: “Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this realm! Behold! One has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn…Shall he be king and enter into the city and dwell there?” And all the host and all the people cried yea with one voice.”

Moments later, when the new king has been crowned, it is Faramir who leads the cries of “Behold the king!”

Faramir was everything his father was not. He was a good steward who looked forward to the return of the king and was willing and ready to hand what had been entrusted to him to its rightful owner. Faramir proved his character.

When the King returns He will ask me if I have been a faithful steward. He will examine the evidence and where He gave me much He will expect much in return. It is my hope and my prayer that I will be faithful with what He has given me, so that I can hear Him say that I have been a good steward, faithfully doing the will of my King. When the King returns I pray that instead of grumbling, instead of holding on, I will be able to let go and lead the chorus of “Behold the king!” and watch with a glad heart as the King assumes the throne. For the throne is His.

July 01, 2006

It has become customary that on July 1, Canada, I reflect, if only briefly, on my nation. Two years ago I wrote “On Canada Day and Kissing The Mailman.” It was something of a mournful article in which I reflected on Canada’s decision to elect the still-corrupt Liberal Party, despite years of waste, corruption and mismanagement. “This year, as I reflect on my country, I feel a bit like a man who has caught his wife kissing the mailman the day before they were to celebrate their anniversary. I feel no real desire to celebrate my nation today and am both disappointed and disillusioned. So I will take the opportunity to thank God for providing me a nation where, for the time being, I am able to raise my family to know and love the Lord. I thank God for freedom and safety. Perhaps in a week or two I will take some time to celebrate my nation, but not for now. The pain is still too fresh in my mind.”

Last year I affirmed God’s sovereignty, despite Canada Day falling only a few days after the reading into law of a new bill that guaranteed the rights of homosexuals to marry. And since that day, multitudes of gay Canadian couples have tied the knot. Already Canadians are dealing with the first homosexual divorce cases. Despite this gross violation of God’s law, I took comfort in God. “I guess this year my confidence in God has increased and I know that all of these things merely point towards the truth of God’s Word. Nations will continue to stray farther and farther from God. The Laws will become increasingly ungodly. Yet through it all, God is ever in control. I can’t help but be reminded of Psalm 2. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed.” But what is God’s reaction to this? “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” In their burning desire to do evil, the nations only make God laugh. He holds them in derision, knowing that He is supreme and that His purposes will prevail. And that is my comfort on this day.”

Much has changed in the last year. Canada has elected a new government after the Liberal Party lost the confidence of parliament and was forced to call a new election. Canadians, finally reacting to the ongoing corruption of the Liberals, elected the Conservative Party and their leader, Stephen Harper, to a minority government. Harper claims to be a believer and the evidence seems to support his claim. To this point he has led the nation well. While he cannot roll back the clock on decades of the slow decline of Canadian morals and beliefs, he is making great strides in attempting to relieve some of the Canadian tax burden and in attempting to increase the accountability of governments. Should he be able to secure a stronger position in the future, it seems certain that he will continue to make good choices on behalf of this nation.

As I reflect this year, I realize again how important it is that I do not place my hope in men. It is foolish to grow too excited or too depressed when thinking about a country’s leaders. For, as I suggested last year, it is God who is in control. He was in control when the Liberal Party was elected time after time, and He is in control now that the Liberal Party has been set down in disgrace. And this is where my confidence needs to be. Not in the fact that a Christian has ascended to the highest position in the country, and not that there seems to be no obvious Christian presence among the nation’s rulers. Our confidence is that God rules even the mightiest of men, even if they do not submit to this rule. As we learn in the book of Daniel, the “Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.” For now he has given us Stephen Harper. May He extend His grace to this man.

June 24, 2006

It’s a beautiful day in Toronto. Though it’s a little bit overcast, it is still warm and bright. It’s an almost perfect day to take in a ballgame. And, in fact, that was my plan. Once or twice a season I like to take my son down to the Rogers Center to watch the Bluejays play and today seemed ideal. The weather is great, so the roof of the stadium should be open, and yet we won’t have to worry about baking and burning in the hot summer sun. The Jays’ ace, Roy Halladay, is on the hill so the game is almost guaranteed to move along quickly and there is a very good chance that Toronto will win. The game starts at 4:00 rather than the usual 1:00, allowing us time to do our Saturday chores before we head to the game.

Just as I was going to announce this plan to my son, I suddenly remembered that there is more than baseball happening downtown this weekend. This is the weekend of Toronto’s “Pride” week, a week long celebration of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and the like. The week culminates in a “Dyke March” today and the “Pride Parade” on Sunday. Official statistics proclaim that over a million people take in these events, though those in the know seem to indicate this is greatly over-stating the truth. Regardless, the fact is that this weekend parts of the downtown core of Toronto are dedicated to celebrating homosexuality. Whole blocks have been barricaded and celebrations are happening throughout the area.

It seems to me that it would be pretty irresponsible to take my son downtown this weekend. The stadium is a few blocks from the epicenter of the Pride celebrations, but there is sure to be revelry far beyond those boundaries. Just yesterday, my friend Ian went shopping and posted this on his blog: “I was first tipped off that something was different because there was a patio set-up in front of the store for eating, making it have the appearance of a restaurant. As of yet, I have no idea why that was set-up. There were a number of people milling about, and amongst the crowd was this man in full regalia. I really couldn’t say who he thought he was, but he sure didn’t think he was of the male gender! Fish-net stockings, a bright and shiny super-hero costume, more make-up than Tammy Faye, he was easy to pick out of the crowd. In particular because he was easy 6 ft. tall with a stocky build. With him was another man, this one less super-hero, more hooker. They made quite a pair, standing amidst a crowd of people who were trying to act as if nothing abnormal were going on.”

You see, I just don’t know that I’d like my six-year old to have to see this. And what’s more, I don’t think my son should have to see this. Like Ian, I don’t react with disgust to men like this. Nor do I respond with acceptance. I pity them, though, and hope that God extends His grace to them as He has seen fit to do with me. This exhibition of depravity is but a reminder of my own depravity. But a young boy does not need such vivid reminders. Not like this.

And so my son and I will stay home today and perhaps take in the game on television. And we’ll wait for another weekend when we can have our city back.

June 23, 2006

I believe in the Bible, that it is clear, complete, sufficient, true and without error. It says what it means. I do not demand that God speaks to me apart from it. I’m not waiting for still, small voices in my head or trying desperately to find God’s will through random circumstances. I read, He speaks, I obey. Or I try anyways.

I believe in the God of the Bible. I believe in a God who is one, yet three. I believe in a God who is loving, holy, just, kind and good. I believe in a God who knows all and has foreordained all that has come to pass or will come to pass.

I believe that God, from nothing, made the world and everything in it in six days. Not six ages or six phases or six million years, but six days. 144 hours. That’s what He said, so that’s what He did. And it was good.

I believe in sin. I believe that Eve actually did converse with a talking snake and that her act of rebellion and the sin of her husband was as simple as taking a bite of a really delightful piece of fruit. This is not metaphor or fable. This is just what happened. Because of that sin, I believe you and I are both worthy of God’s wrath. When Adam fell, we fell. And it was not good.

I believe that I am sinful. I delight in evil. I hate what is good. I am thoroughly, utterly depraved. Sin pervades every area of my life and turns me against my Creator. What is true of me is true of all men.

I believe in justice and in judgment. I believe that God, being just, demands just satisfaction for any all sinful deeds.

I believe in hell. A literal, tormentuous hell that is far worse than we can imagine. Nor should we want to imagine it. It is a place of justice. There are no devils with pitchforks and no sense of community where sinners sit around and discuss all the fun they had on earth. It is just the sinner and God, full of wrath, one-on-one forever. You don’t want to experience that and neither do I, though I believe that we both deserve to go there.

I believe in grace, the unmerited favor that God chooses to extend to all in some ways and to only some in other ways. God grants grace to all men that they may live and laugh and love and enjoy this world. I believe that God grants special grace to some so that they may love and enjoy and serve Him forever. God shows His grace in providing us with a way out of the horrifying mess we’ve made.

I believe in Jesus. Born of a virgin, the perfect, Holy Son of God. The God-man. He died, literally, was buried, literally, and rose, literally.

I believe in the atonement. Jesus died on the cross in place of His people. He suffered in place of His people. And through this act, my sin was imputed to Him and His righteousness was imputed to me. This was the greatest act of grace and kindness the world has ever known or ever will know. Nothing that can, will, or could happen is greater than this.

I believe there is no salvation outside of Jesus. God will not waive the requirements of righteousness at the final judgment. Not for anyone and not for everyone. Not for those who have never heard of Him. Not for children. Not even not for those who love Him.

I believe in the gospel, the message of the good news of Jesus’ perfect life, substitutionary death, and glorious resurrection.

I believe in repentance, for without turning away it is impossible to turn towards.

I believe that man’s chief purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. To glorify God by enjoying Him forever. I don’t need to undergo testing, fill out inventories or take a forty day journey to discover my gifting or purpose. Our purpose is as simple and as joyful as living to bring honor and joy and glory to God. Our purpose is a privilege.

I believe in the church - the true church - which is God’s community of the elect, anxiously awaiting the sound of the trumpet, dedicating themselves to carrying out God’s purposes while they wait. The church is the total number of God’s people living when they are where they are. It is the church’s honor and responsibility to take the good news to all the world.

I believe in families that honor God. I believe in families centered around marriage, an institution created by God and for God. Men are to lead their wives. Women are to submit to their husbands. Together, through their complementary roles, they are to provide a portrait of the love of God for His people.

I believe in perseverance; that God, by His grace, will never let go of those who have been saved.

I believe in heaven. A literal, beautiful, physical heaven that is far better than we can imagine. Heaven is the community of the redeemed together with God, full of love, all together for ever. It is a place of no pain, no sorrow. I long for this place. I hope I see it soon.

I believe in glorification; that someday God will return and will bring with him a new heaven and a new earth. Those who have been saved will live together forever, new body and perfected spirit united, in the presence of God. My heart aches for this day, for on this day I will believe perfectly and fully. And so will you.

June 20, 2006

We were blessed to have my parents spend this weekend at our home. They drove here from Atlanta on Friday and left again bright and early this morning. It was their first time seeing our new house and, more importantly, seeing their new grand-daughter. Because my dad is only truly resting when he is hard at work, I asked him to help me with several projects around the house. These were either projects that I had not had time to attend to, or projects for which I would have to rely upon his expertise. As always, dad was glad to pitch in and to do what needed to be done. So while my mother spent as much time as she could with Aileen and the kids, dad and I got to work. On Saturday we installed a new air conditioner, something that turned out to be far easier said than done and that quickly consumed much of the day. The end result, though, was just what we had hoped for and was just in time to carry us through a couple of days of uncomfortable heat and humidity. On Monday, after spending the Lord’s Day in worship and in fellowship, we decided to attack the lawns and gardens. We laid sod in the backyard and planted perennials in the flower beds. We transformed the outside of our home.

Dad is a career landscaper and has a great love for rocks, trees, plants and flowers. I have spent countless hours with my father, and used to work with him quite often when I was younger. He must have given up on me eventually because I would do a half-baked job of nearly everything he asked of me. When plants needed a soaking, I’d give them only a quick shower before finding something more interesting to do. When plants needed to be buried deep in the ground, I would leave their roots exposed to the elements. I am sure it was on a scalding hot Ontario summer day, when I was covered in dirt and dust and manure, that I resolved that I would work a desk job when I was older.

Though I had worked with dad so often, it was only yesterday that I realized something fundamental to his choice of vocation. We were driving along Highway 5, a highway that represents the northern border of the town of Oakville. On the south side of the highway is a bustling suburban environment. Houses reach almost to the side of the road and there are newly-built gas stations on almost every corner. There are enough restaurants, Wal-Marts and big box stores to support a thriving community. In true Canadian style, the neighborhoods are predominantly flat and boring. The trees have been torn down, the valleys have been filled in, and the houses are often so close that a person could easily leap from roof-to-roof. Sometimes a single majestic, lonely tree stands at the entrance to a neighborhood with a sign underneath reading “Oak Trails.”

That is the south side of Highway 5. The opposite side, the north side, is everything that the south is not. Fields of corn and wheat border the highway. Many fields that have long laid fallow, stretch as far as the eye can see, passing into the distance. There are rolling hills and small forests. The occasional valley, with a stream running through it, cuts across the landscape. Cows graze and horses run.

On one side of Highway 5 is progress. A city thrives there, a city filled with men and women who commute into Toronto, the nerve center of Canada. These people choose to live in Oakville, the wealthiest city in Canada. They run the banks and own the businesses that drive our economy. Their demand for more houses, bigger houses, push the borders of Oakville ever further north. They push the borders toward the other side of Highway 5, the side that is nothing. Or that is what most of us see. Where we see nothing, dad sees beauty.

As we were driving along the highway, making our way to an eclectic, disorganized but well-stocked garden center that you would not notice unless you where it was, I heard dad cry, “Oh, look at that beautiful chestnut! Wow! Look at it!” I turned my head and saw a tree, standing tall and proud, rising above a field of grass. I’d like to describe it in more detail, but that is all I saw. A tree. But where I saw only a tree, I knew that dad saw something so much more. A few minutes later he pointed towards the urban sprawl and said, “Right down that road there used to be the biggest poplar in all of Ontario. It was six feet across at its base. I bet it’s long gone by now.”

For dad this is a tragedy. For many of us, a huge poplar tree is an annoyance. Its roots lift our sidewalks, disturb our gardens and tear into our foundations. Its massive trunk and swaying branches block our review or shade too much of our backyard. And so we cut it down and tear it apart. After all, it’s only a tree. But to dad it is more. It is an object of tremendous beauty.

I wish that I could see beauty the way dad does. I wish that I could delight in the simple, natural beauty of a chestnut tree. But all I see, even when I look closely, is a tree. I can describe it using adjectives—big, thick, leafy, round—but not in any adjectives that really capture the essence of its beauty. And that’s because I see only a tree.

I think that when dad sees a tree, he must see the tree’s Creator. He must see something more than the color and the shape. Maybe he sees God’s providence in a tree that has stood for fifty years. A hundred years. A tree that has offered shelter to generation after generation. Or maybe that tree is simply a beautiful work of art. Maybe that tree is a manifestation of the Artist who sculpted it in such a way to tell us something about Himself. That tree stands as a reminder of the great Creator. I don’t really know what dad sees in those trees. I never thought to ask him. But I wish I could see whatever he sees.

Highway 5 seems almost a parable to me. On one side is progress and on the other is nature. On one side is ugliness and on the other is beauty. I tend towards what is ugly but progressive. I tend to see urban sprawl as a sign of Canada’s progress as our population grows and our economy strengthens. But dad prefers natural beauty, even at the expense of progress. He sees the tragedy of a great tree falling and the tragedy of beauty being torn away only to be replaced by ugliness.

There is a reason that many of the fields north of Highway 5 lie fallow. Many of those fields, perhaps even all of them, have been purchased by developers. Oakville will soon have reached the limits of its growth. With Lake Ontario removing the possibility of southward growth, and with other cities to the east and the west, there is only one way for the city to move. By 2008 the city will leap across the highway. Trees will be cut down and trucked away to nearby mills. Hills will be flattened and the soil will be poured into the valleys. Sewers will cut into the fields and roads will be laid. Houses, schools and stores will spring up.

That chestnut tree is going to be a casualty of progress. Perhaps it will be left standing at the entrance to a neighborhood of half-million dollar houses where it will languish in the hard clay. Eventually it will die. I’ll shrug my shoulders. Dad will lament the loss of such beauty. I’ll wish that I could too.

June 02, 2006

It is healthy, I think, to reflect at times upon the evil of my heart. This seems like a terribly negative thing to do, but I believe it is an important discipline of my spiritual life that I seek to discover where evil lurks within my heart. There are some areas in my heart where, through God’s grace, sin has been routed, pushed back. There are certain temptations that are no longer temptations and certain sins that no longer stir my soul. But there are others, always others, that like a volcano are sometimes dormant, sometimes active. It is in times of reflection and meditation upon God’s Word that I am able to see and understand those places that I have allowed sin to make its awful presence known.

I often see the evil of my heart most clearly when I become aware that I have begrudged another person a blessing. Perhaps another man has been given a salary increase or a generous bonus and now has money that I do not. Perhaps another man has been given a position of responsibility at work or at church. This man has been given a blessing and I resent it. I see that he has been blessed and I react with envy and resentment. If pride is the most common, insidious sin, surely envy follows soon after. In The Call, Os Guinness says this:

Traditionally envy was regarded as the second worst and second most prevalent of the seven deadly sins. Like pride, it is a sin of the spirit, not of the flesh, and thus a “cold” and highly “respectable” sin, in contrast to the “warm” and openly “disreputable” sins of the flesh, such as gluttony. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the one vice that its perpetrators never enjoy and rarely confess.

Without pride and without envy, many other sins would not exist. Would there be adultery without pride or envy? Would there be gluttony? It is for good reason that the Ten Commandments conclude with a prohibition against coveting, for it is the desire of our hearts that leads us into sin. Envy is a deeply private but destructive form of covetousness. It was Aquinas who provided a famous definition of envy when he suggested it is “sorrow at another’s good.” Guinness says:

Envy enters when, seeing someone else’s happiness or success, we feel ourselves called into question. Then, out of the hurt of our wounded self-esteem, we seek to bring the other person down to our level by word or deed. They belittle us by their success, we feel; we should bring them down to their deserved level, envy helps us feel. Full-blown envy, in short, is dejection plus disparagement plus destruction.

Dorothy Sayers said, “Envy begins by asking plausibly: ‘Why should I not enjoy what others enjoy?’ and it ends by demanding: ‘Why should others enjoy what I may not?’” Guinness provides a clear example of the truth of this statement, using the words of Sir John Gielgud, “When Sir Laurence Olivier played Hamlet in 1948, and the critics raved, I wept.” These are startling words but ones with which I can identify. While others have raved I have often wept or have often wanted to weep. While I should have been offering congratulations or encouragement, too often I have been muttering and grinding my teeth, begrudging another man a blessing.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis addresses the fact that pride is essentially competitive. “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”

And this envy, so dark and so evil, so competitive and so selfish, lives in my heart. It lives in yours. One of the most horrifying aspects of envy is that we are most likely to feel envious of those who are similarly called, equipped and gifted. Those people with whom we share the most, from whom we stand to learn most, are those we most resent. Guinness reminds his readers of Thomas Mann who showed that “we are always most vulnerable to envying those closest to our own gifts and callings. Musicians generally envy musicians, not politicians; politicians other politicians; sportspeople other sportspeople; professors other professors; ministers other ministers.”

Thankfully, there is a cure for envy. The cure comes in a contentment found in comparing ourselves not to mere men, but to Christ. It comes in setting our minds on heavenly matters. The task of each believer is to do all he can with what God has given him. He is not to resent what has been given to another and is not to feel he needs to accomplish the task of another. He is to be a faithful steward of the gifts, blessings and resources that have been provided to him. We are not all called to the same task and we will not all experience the same blessings on earth. And when it is time to receive our reward, each of us will be rewarded not on the basis of the quantity of the blessings we received, but on the quality of our response to these blessings, no matter how abundant.

I will close with the words of Charles Spurgeon.

The cure for envy lies in living under a constant sense of the divine presence, worshiping God and communing with Him all the day long, however long the day may seem. True religion lifts the soul into a higher region, where the judgment becomes more clear and the desires are more elevated. The more of heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we shall covet. The fear of God casts out envy of men.