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Personal Reflections

February 01, 2006

We have had some fun the past couple of days discussing whether or not it is rude for a person to ask himself (or his family) to another person’s house. Opinion is divided but it seems that most people are siding with my wife and suggesting that I was rude to ask myself to a friend’s house. I continue to disagree.

But before I make this conversation serious, I wanted to point to a couple of comments that made me laugh. A commenter named Aaron posted some interesting biblical interpretation.

What we need here is some sound biblical eisegesis on the doctrine of the invitation system. For our text, we shall turn to the book of Hebrews:

Hebrews 10:25 - “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

First, we note that we must take care not to give up meeting together. So it is apparent that meeting together is good and should be continued. And how should we meet? “all the more.” If the onus of invitational responsibility lies always on the hosting party it is unlikely that meetings will increase all the more. Tim is being faithful to this passage by increasing the “meetings together” twofold by both inviting others over and inviting himself over to the abodes of others. If we all followed such a practice, think how much we could increase our meetings together! And we must not forget to encourage one another. This could mean that we should encourage others to have us over to their place. So I think this system of inviting oneself is not only biblical, but inevitable as we see the day approaching!

I appreciate Aaron’s eisegesis and feel that he builds a strong case, though one that does brutal violence to sound, accepted hermeneutical standards. Of course in this day and age, such eisegesis is accepted and even encouraged. So kudos to Aaron for his eisegetical masterpiece.

Another poster, Andrew, provided the following challenge: “If you can write a valid deductive syllogism from Scriptural assertions/deductions that shows that inviting oneself to someone else’s house is never rude, then she’s [Aileen’s] wrong.” He then said, “There may be a case where Jesus invited himself to someone’s house, perhaps Matthew or Peter’s mother-in-law?” And, of course, Andrew is right. Let’s turn to the nineteenth chapter of Luke.

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

There are two things that we must note in this passage. First, Zacchaeus did not extend an invitation to Jesus. Rather, Jesus simply stated that he would stay at Zacchaeus’ house that particular day. He apparently did so with no remorse and, in fact, suggested that he must stay. There was force behind his reverse invitation such that Zacchaeus felt compelled to obey. Second, note the reaction of this man. He received Jesus not with regret or reluctance, but with joy. Zacchaeus sets a pattern that we would do well to follow.

It is clear, then, that the Bible demands that we invite ourselves to other people’s houses. It also demands that, when asked, we receive other people with joy.

But in all seriousness, I thought the comment made by my mother was profound (and not just because she is my mother). She said, “I have found in life that most people are not interested in getting to know most people. When somebody does have a particular interest in me, I take that as being of the Lord. If they want to come and visit our home in order to get to know us, I feel I am doing God’s work in graciously serving them.” That is the example that was modelled to me when I was young. You may have noted that two of my sisters commented in the thread and both of them agreed with my perspective. Maryanne, who recently went door-to-door in her newly-built neighborhood canvassing for friends, said, “I think a self-extended invitation is a high compliment…and not rude at all, though perhaps unethical in our closed-door society…In suburbia, unless you force yourself kindly on people, they are going to be swallowed up by the garage every evening, and relationships will not happen. So, have at it.” Susanna offered the following advice: “I would say just make sure to offer to bring something if it is over a meal in order to relieve any pressure they may feel which would most likely be about having to make food.” I should have mentioned that my wife all brings a peacemaking salad whenever we go to someone else’s house. She may also bring her famous plagarized spinach dip with nachos.

So as my mother said, if people are interested in myself or my family enough that they ask if they can come over, I understand it to be an honor and privilege and will happily accept the invitation. After all, most people are not interested in getting to know most people. I love people and am always eager to get to know others. If that has to happen in my house and even at a moment’s notice, so be it!

And so I suppose the reverse is true. If I ask another person if he would like to have myself or my family into his house, I would hope the he would understand that I extend the invitation because of my admiration for him. I ask myself to his house because I am eager to get to know him. I would suggest that it is our culture that has taught us that it is an insult rather than a compliment to receive such an invitation.

January 30, 2006

It was just about a year ago that I first posted an article about my Aunt Nancy, a woman who was the subject of a popular, mysterious song written decades ago. Every few months I find myself reflecting once more on the life of my aunt. Despite having something else I had planned on writing for today, it just seemed right to me to spend some time editing an article I wrote last year. For those who have read this before, I’d encourage you to read it again as I made many changes and additions to it.

In 1969 Leonard Cohen released an album entitled Songs From A Room. The fifth song on that album is “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy.” The song has become one of Cohen’s more popular ones and has subsequently been recorded on one of his live albums and has also been covered by several other artists. If you have never heard the song, you can listen to a short clip here.

January 04, 2006

I don’t do memes. I have not (to my recollection) done a single one of them since the dawn of this site. I have often been tagged to do them but have always resisted because, quite frankly, I don’t care what character I most resemble, but it a character from Lord of the Rings, Narnia, or Napoleon Dynamite. I also don’t really care to know what theological system I most clearly adhere to, what type of flower I would be (if I were a flower), and, well, you get the idea.

This morning I got tagged by Dignan’s 75 Year Plan to answer a few questions about what I wanted to be when I grew up. These questions gave me pause and I thought it might be fun to answer some of the questions, even if I do not participate in the meme.

When I was a child I wanted to be all the things little boys dream of. Mostly I wanted to either kill or save people. If I couldn’t be a fireman who would carry pretty girls out of burning schoolhouses then I wanted to be a soldier who would protect those little girls. You know how it works, I’m sure. I had a vivid imagination but little common sense (and even less sense of reality). As I grew older reality began to infringe upon my dreams and I came to see that I would have to work within my talents. My talents and desires precluded me from carrying people down ladders or from toting a rifle (though I did briefly consider attending the Royal Military Academy in order to install myself with some type of personal discipline).

When I was in my first year of high school my parents decided I would benefit from some aptitude testing. I sat through I.Q. tests and page after page of questionnaires. and quite enjoyed this period of testing and introspection The results were interesting. The counsellor listed my top two aptitudes as: engineering and clergy. He suggested that I was a logical type and would do well in engineering. He also suggested that I had the skills and desire to enter some type of vocational ministry.

If this counsellor had been able to see my math scores he would have realized that engineering really was not an option. I guess a logical mind does not necessarily translate to procifiency in mathematics, something I understand to be important to those who wish to succeed in engineering. Looking at my family I can see that the proficiencies with which I was presented make some sense. On my father’s side I noted that my grandfather was a judge, my uncle is an architect and other relatives were engineers and politicians. On my mother’s side almost the entire family earns a living through either teaching or journalism. I guess the apple does not fall too far from the tree.

It was late in my high school years when I thought I might wish to become a pastor. I began to study Latin and Greek with a view to someday attending seminary. I graduated a year early with mediocre grades (I’m sure I could have done better but just didn’t like school) and headed to university where I graduated three years later with a degree in history. My grades were, once again, summa cum averaga, but I was the undisputed king of euchre in the Togo Salmon cafeteria.

So there I was: twenty years old, engaged and with a degree in history. I had become somewhat disillusioned with the church at that time and no longer felt any great pull to the ministry. While I tried to sort out what I was going to be now that I was growing up, I worked at the local Starbucks and quite enjoyed being able to basically turn off my brain for eight hours at a time. The store was immediately next door to a theatre and I watched far too many movies in that period of life. It was my dad who decided that I needed to get moving towards a real career. Shortly after I got married (it was brave of my in-laws to let me wife marry someone who was working at Starbucks for $9/hour) my dad enrolled me at a local technical college. I did not get a vote, so just shrugged my shoulders and agreed that it looked like it would be fun to study computers. I have no recollection of how we survived financially during the ensuing months while I studied, yet somehow we made it through. God was good to us, I’m sure. The course was supposed to take about a year but, since it was self-directed, I did it at my own pace and finished in about half the alloted time. I graduated with a degree or certificate in some subject, though I can’t quite remember anymore what it is. I believe it may have been Local Area Network Administration. I also earned quite a large pile of Microsoft, Novell and other certifications, all of which are now long-since obsolete. I was now ready to embark on a career as a LAN Administrator. I quickly found employment with a small mom and pop shop about a half hour away from home. During the interview process I forgot to ask how much I would be paid and had to wait until my first paycheque to see that it would be $28,500 per year. That isn’t much now and it wasn’t much more back then!

Once again God took good care of us and blessed us with our first child. I was a LAN Administrator for a few years. I enjoyed the job at first but began to grow tired of it, primarily because the companies I worked for were so poorly managed. Twice I began working for a company that was bought by an American firm who took our technology back to the U.S. and then closed the doors. After the second time I was laid off (which happened to be when my wife was expecting our second child) I decided I had had enough and opted to begin a web design company. I began with no money and no knowledge of how to design a web page, but, as has been the theme of our marriage, God blessed us. I continue to design web sites. On the whole I love web design. It is a nice fit for my personality as it allows me to split my time between work that is creative and work that is technical. I love working from home as it allows me a good deal of freedom and allows me to be my own boss (something else that fits well with my personality). It also provides me with the time and freedom to write, something that has become a passion of mine.

I am now twenty-nine years old and continue to gaze towards the future. I can only speculate on what my future includes. I hope it includes writing a book or two. I hope it includes working towards that Masters of Divinity degree I desired many years ago. I would be surprised to learn that it includes a call to ministry but I would not rule that out. I quite enjoy life as it is right now, yet I am by nature a restless person and tend to look to the future more often than is healthy. I’m getting older but I think I still have some time to learn what I’ll be when I really grow up. Whether I continue to be a web designer or whether I am called to some type of ministry, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will be just fine as long as God continues to travel this road with me, for He is both the theme and the author of my story.

December 29, 2005

Today I am going to post the blogging equivalent of a “state of the nation” address. We’ll call it a “state of the domain.” I wrote this post earlier and realized that I had not been entirely honest and forthcoming, so have added information to it. I realize that this information (discussing readership, privilege and so on) may be confused with boasting or some other ignoble desire, but I assure you it is nothing of the sort. Because at the end of the article I ask for your help, I feel it is only fair if I provide full disclosure (or close to it). If you know me, you understand how hard it is to post an article of this nature. So let’s discuss the past, present and future of this site with a view towards increasing its impact on the Kingdom of God.

As you may already know, this blog began quite by accident. I first reserved the domain challies.com in 2002 in order to create a family site. And indeed, that is exactly what the site was for the first several months. I would post irregular photographic updates of my children in order to let my family see how they were growing up. At some point I became interested in recording some of my thoughts and subsequently wrote several articles primarily for my own benefit. I posted them online to allow my family to read them and was surprised to see Google pick them up and even more surprised to find other people reading and enjoying them. Over the next months I posted articles only very irregularly and at some point the site became a bona fide blog, though at the time I had never heard that term. In November of 2003, when readership was beginning to increase, I decided that I would commit to daily blogging and have done so since.

The reason I provide this background information is to show that I never had any real strategy to grow or promote the blog. I don’t know that I’ve ever done much to deliberately promote the site. I did not set out to become a blogger and certainly never would have considered that people would care to read what I write. The point is that this site has just sort of happened to me. I sometimes feel that I have just been along for the ride and that I am little more than a spectator.

In recent months I have had the opportunity to meet with several readers of this site. They have been able to provide a unique perspective on what I do well and what I do poorly with Challies Dot Com. A question people tend to ask is what I foresee for this site in the coming months or years. I have to answer that, quite honestly, I have not thought a lot about it. I most often take this site just one day at a time. Most often when I have attempted to do any type of forecasting the results have been less than encouraging (some day I’ll have to see just how many series I have begun and not finished). I do think ahead to future articles and postings but rarely truly plan ahead more than a few days. In some ways that is a good thing, as it allows for spontaneity, but in some ways that is a liability as it encourages me to do less research and planning than I otherwise might.

So what is Challies Dot Com now? I am not entirely sure. I suppose it is, in large part, my brain and sometimes my heart placed on display for all to see. I write what I think about, and what I think about is formed largely from my time spent with the Lord and my time immersed in good books. The primary emphasis of the site, as I see it, is discussing and interpreting contemporary Evangelicalism through what I hope is a discerning, biblical lens. And if that is, indeed, the emphasis, I would like to keep that intact as I feel the topic is worthy of such prominence.

Since mid-2004 the site has grown dramatically in terms of traffic and inbound links, the two most common measures of Internet success. While I keep the numbers private (I’m not entirely sure why), I can post a graph that plots the growth of the site over the past 12 months. As you will see, the site continues to grow almost every month. As something of an aside, the growth in traffic has led to a great increase in the amount of bandwidth the site consumes. As of next month I may need to once again increase my hosting plan in order to accommodate the increase.


I make no money from the site other than a small amount from the Amazon affiliate program that is paid out in gift certificates (which I use to fund birthday presents for my American relatives). On the whole this does not bother me, though I occasionally consider adding some type of advertising to the site. I do, however, receive many tangible benefits: I get all the books I could ever hope to read (and, frankly, a lot which I would never want to read); I have been blessed with some wonderful gifts from readers of the site; I have become friends with people I would otherwise never had opportunity to meet; I receive encouraging emails from brothers and sisters from all over the globe; and I have been offered some wonderful opportunities, the most notable of which are live-blogging major conferences. Benefits that are less tangible but no less appreciated are: the prayer support of many believers; the privilege of introducing readers to new blogs through the A La Carte and King for a Week sections; and the responsibility of owning a popular web site.

That final benefit is an important one. As readership increases I feel a greater desire and responsibility to be a good steward. While it would be easy to see each visitor to the site as merely a “hit,” the fact is that each hit represents a person created in the image of God, who, like me, is most likely searching for answers and desiring to grow in faith.

All this has led me to wonder what the future of this site might be. I am ready, I feel, to invest more deliberate effort in the site. As I assume is obvious I already dedicate plenty of time to the site, but often the time does not necessarily correlate with effort. What I mean is that I am more ready to begin planning ahead and to dedicate effort to longer, more in-depth series. I am ready to serve the readership with articles that, having been more thoroughly researched and better-written, will be able to bless their hearts and minds. All the while I wish to ensure that the site maintains accessible to all believers, not just those with advanced knowledge of theology. And I would like to maintain the personal nature of the site, lest it become something less than a blog.

And so, as I gaze towards 2006, now only a few days off, I would like to ask for your input. I promise not to be offended and am honestly asking for honesty. If you know me, you know that I have any easier time dealing with criticism than praise! You can either post your feedback in the comments area or send me an email. While this site is and will remain my site (and I say that in as non-offensive a way as I can) I am eager to hear from readers what you feel is done well and what is done poorly. Here are some questions that my guide you (and do not feel that you need to answer any or all of them):

  • What do you feel the emphasis or emphases of this site are and should be?
  • Are there areas of the site that you feel merit more attention?
  • Are there areas that merit less attention?
  • Are there areas I should do away with altogether?
  • Should I increase or do away with the Community Blog?
  • Do you think I should consider video blogging or podcasting?
  • In short, what I can I do in 2006 and beyond to serve the church, to serve you, and ultimately to serve our Lord?

I look forward to your honest advice and input.

December 28, 2005

For the past week I have been basking in the warmth of the Atlanta sun. While I will grant that the Atlanta sun is only moderately warmer in December than the Toronto sun, it creates an atmosphere which is, at the very least, on the better side of the freezing mark. Just yesterday we enjoyed a tremendously nice day in which we hiked to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. This is the site of a Civil War battle which was fought on June 27, 1864. The battle pitted Union troops against the defensive positions the Rebels had dug into the Mountain. The American Battlefield Protection Program summarizes the battle as follows: “On the morning of June 27, [General Sherman] sent his troops forward after an artillery bombardment. At first, they made some headway overrunning Confederate pickets south of the Burnt Hickory Road, but attacking an enemy that was dug in was futile. The fighting ended by noon, and Sherman suffered high casualties.”

As we browsed the gift shop at the visitor’s center my son asked me some questions about the battle. As we talked I placed a reproduction of a Rebel soldier’s grey cap on his head. He immediately took it off and said just a little too loudly, “I don’t want to wear the bad guys’ hat!” I had to explain that people in Atlanta consider the grey guys the good ones. It was quite difficult to explain to my son a war in which there were no clear lines between the good guys and the bad! He ended up selecting some (blue) plastic soldiers to play with.

I do believe that hiking to the top of Kennesaw Mountain and watching Pride and Prejudice (see yesterday’s article) are the most significant things I’ve accomplished over the past several days (with the possible exception of meeting a few readers of this site - anyone else who cares to treat me to a coffee is certainly most welcome!).

One thing I have come to understand this week, as I’ve been nearly 1000 miles from home, is how closely blogging is tied into my routine. I found myself nearly unable to find time, energy or inclination to write throughout this week. There was a lot I wanted to say, but I had very little ability to actually say it.

At home, you see, I have a nice little routine. I wake up in the morning long before anyone else and spend some time reading the Bible and praying. I then post my daily “A La Carte” items and usually spend some time reading a book. At some point I begin writing and often spend an hour or so organizing my thoughts for the day. I may not finish writing but at least I have a good idea of what I would like to say and have done much of the necessary research. By the time the family begins to wander the house I have generally accomplished at least something. Yet here, in my parents’ house, I have been out of routine and have thus been able to accomplish very little. It has been a little bit frustrating but quite relaxing.

But this all ends, I trust, tomorrow. Today, and in fact at this very moment, I am heading home to Canada. I have a good fourteen or fifteen hours of driving ahead of me and will need to cover some 1500 kilometers before my day is through. If all goes well I hope to pull into my driveway at around 8:00 PM this evening.

So I’d ask that if you can spare a moment, please offer a prayer for travelling mercies. We have many miles of road to cover through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario. I enjoy driving and only rarely suffer from driving fatigue, but as always, it is the other drivers I fear more than myself!

December 27, 2005

Today I will make a horrifying admission, one that might just cast a shadow of doubt over my life, ministry and masculinity. Ready for it? I enjoy Jane Austen movies. I don’t just enjoy them, actually, but really, really enjoy them. I hate chick flicks as much as the next guy, but thoroughly enjoy Austen movies. And no, I do not consider those to be contradictory statements.

Last night my sister and brother-in-law suggested that my wife and I join them for dinner and a movie. The options were simple: King Kong (which was deemed to be too long), The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (which I have already seen) or Pride and Prejudice. I eventually convinced the rest of the group that we should see the chick flick. And so we caught a 7:30 showing of Pride and Prejudice.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie as I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility and Emma before it. I suppose you could just say that I’m a big fan of these films.

I don’t watch these movies because of the stories. Austen’s plots were adequate, I guess, but I find them quite unappealing. I care little for the love story that holds her plots together. Had the movie ended with Darby and Elizabeth standing before Judge Judy to contest ownership of an engagement ring (instead of the inevitable snuggling and spooning) it would not have made the movie much better or worse for me. You see, there are three things that especially appeal to me in Austen’s stories (and hence in the films): the characters, the setting and the dialogue.

It seems quite clear that Austen had a great and perhaps vicious sense of humor. She always includes at least a character or two in her stories that are pure comic relief. In Pride and Prejudice there is an Anglican rector who is just a pathetic specimen and Austen goes to great lengths to make him a laughing stock. There is also the mother of the main character, a woman who lives her life with only one goal: to see her daughters get married. She is a gossip and a busybody and will stop at nothing to secure relationships. But her mouth always runs away with her and she gets nowhere. These comical characters always leave me laughing.

I also love the Victorian setting. Most of the bigger-budget films are able to satisfactorily replicate the original setting. I enjoy seeing the interaction between the various strata of society. I enjoy the viciousness of the upper class and the disgust elicited by and towards the lower classes. I enjoy interpreting Austen’s own opinions towards those who were fortunate enough to rank higher than she did, and those unfortunate enough to rank lower. One need not look far to find some frank statements about Victorian British society.

And above all I love Austen’s dialogue. It is very difficult to do dialogue properly. I might go so far as to say that it is easier to create good characters and a good plot than it is to craft good dialogue. Yet Austen did dialogue very well. The quick back-and-forth, sarcastic, multi-levelled exchanges between characters is what makes the stories work. The strong female characters always manage to remain a step ahead of everyone else. They are rarely at a loss for words. I often find myself laughing out loud (to my wife’s chagrin) as the characters berate each other in a dignified, backhanded manner.

I suppose the reason I love Austen is that I love words. And Jane Austen was a bona fide master of the word. She was able to craft characters that were just believable enough and dialogue that said just enough but never too much. Learning from Austen is learning from a master.

And so I make this dreadful admission and look forward to the next big screen adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s novels.

December 25, 2005

There’s something a little bit silly about Christmas, isn’t there? After all, we have no real evidence that Jesus was born on December 25. Sure there have been plenty of people who have attempted to prove some link, but in the end we just have to accept that there is really only a small chance that Jesus was born this day.

Until recently I thought it was silly to remember Jesus in a special way on Christmas.

There’s something a little bit silly about Mother’s Day, too, isn’t there? My wife is no better or worse a wife and mother on Mother’s Day than she is any other day of the year. Yet I love to celebrate her for that day. It provides myself and the children an opportunity to set our thoughts on her and to focus our affections on her in a special way. While the holiday sometimes seems a little contrived, there is great benefit in remembering all she means to me and giving her at least one day of the year when we honor her just for being mom.

The fact is that I need very little incentive to set aside a special day for my wife. It is an honor and a joy for me to give honor to her.

And that is what I’ve come to realize about Christmas. It doesn’t matter if Jesus was born on December 25 or not. Even if Jesus was born in mid-July it benefits me and it benefits Him that I remember Him in a special way on this day. It is a joy and a privilege to bless Him in a special way and to pour out my thanksgiving to Him for assuming human flesh and beginning His life so that He might end His life for me.

And so today I pray that you and I will remember our Lord who, though He was God, became man that he could die for us. I hope and pray that God will extend His richest blessings to you and that you would know His presence this day. God bless you and Merry Christmas.

December 20, 2005

A short while ago I posted an article here with the tongue-in-cheek title of “A Desperate Jealousy.” In that article I expressed my desire to have a mentor. I said, “I am absolutely desperate to have someone who will invest in me. I am desperate to find a person, or have a person find me, who will play Paul to this Timothy.” That article seems to have struck a chord with other men, both young and old. I received many emails and there were plenty of comments posted beneath the article in which other men expressed the same desire. I had a chat with a friend who is a pastor who told me that he felt a similar desperation for a mentor but was never successful in finding one. Reading the article helped him understand that he could, at least, find a person or two in whom he could invest time and attention.

Since that time (and, to be honest, since long before then) I have been doing a lot of thinking about the nature of men’s relationships with each other. One of the more vivid examples I know of that illustrates the way men interact is found in Bill Perkins’ book When Good Men Are Tempted. I will include an excerpt from the book:

In his best-selling book Don’t Stand Too Close To A Naked Man, [Tim] Allen tells about an experience he had while in jail. The event occurred right after he was placed in a holding cell with ten other guys. The first thing he noticed about the cell was that the toilet was in the middle of the room. He probably noticed that because he had some business he needed to take care of. He said he looked at the can, then at the ceiling, then at the can, then at the ten guys in the cell. He wanted to leave. But the door was closed and locked.

He made up his mind that he would not use that can. No way! How could he take a dump with ten other guys watching? Finally, he wrote, “Digestion being as it is, things must emerge. I ambled tentatively to the can. I turned away and started back to my seat, but knew it was no good. I was committed. I sat down and suddenly all the men began moving toward me. I panicked.

“I didn’t have to. This still blows my mind.

“What they did was form a horseshoe around me with their backs in my direction.” Why had they done that? Allen said, “Because they’re men, too. It was a big revelation. These aren’t just losers like me, but they’re men. They do this so you can have some privacy and no one can see in from the outside.”

That last statement is profound because it describes what every man needs. We need friends who understand our fears and offer us protection, men who will stand guard around us during our times of vulnerability and shame.

It’s too bad Allen had to go to jail to discover the willingness of men to shelter each other, to stand guard for each other. Because most men aren’t forced into such close relationships, they never find that out. As I’ve talked with men, I’ve discovered most of them feel that their struggles…are personal. They’re private. They’re shameful. Like a trip to the can - it’s not the sort of thing they want other men to see.

It was a couple of years ago now that I first read this quote and it has often been on my mind since then. I absolutely agree with the author’s conclusion that men feel that their struggles, whether with lust or finances or marriage or anything else are shameful and deeply personal. From the time we are children men are taught to suppress the expression of pain, fear and helplessness. We are taught that such expression of vulnerability is weakness. Most of us would rather use a toilet in front of other men than confide in them our sin and struggles.

There is nothing feminine or emasculating in confiding our struggles to other men. There is nothing wrong with expressing fear and helplessness to other men. We do not need to do it with hugs and tears and sobbing, nor do we need to use the words “intimacy” or “feelings.” We can express love without using the word “love” and can maintain our pride, our dignity, but still allow ourselves to be transparent before others.

But how many men do this?

As I mentioned, in the days following the posting of my article I received a lot of comments, but perhaps the most interesting comment came from my mother. “Men are lonely,” she said. “Men just do not stick up for other men.” This is not mere pessimism on her part but is a lesson she has learned by watching my father and other men interact with each other. I wonder if she is right. Is it true that close relationships among men, mentoring relationships, are the exception rather than the rule?

Judging by what I have seen and experienced I suspect she may be right. It would be easy to moan about this and to spend my time wishing that some godly man would come along and begin a mentoring relationship with me. But I suspect that the true answer to the problem lies within. It lies with people like me who see the value of mentorship. We are the ones who can be used to make a difference in the lives of other men. And so I encourage men like myself to seek out and to find other men in whom you can invest - men in whose lives you can make a difference. While you may never have that mentor you desire, perhaps God will use you in just that role in the life of another person.

December 15, 2005

In April of 2002 I was bored. Not just a little bored either, but mind-numbingly, depressingly, discouragingly bored. Having recently been laid off from a job I had held for several years due to the company closing, I was working as a system administrator at a small company in downtown Oakville. The pay was decent and the office’s location was great but the job itself was terribly boring. It was repetitive and boring - there was little to stimulate an active mind. The quality of my work began to suffer as boredom prevailed. I found myself in the unenviable position of knowing that I was expendable to the company. I did not have enough to do, but knew that if I went to my boss and told him this, I would effectively be writing my own pink slip. I tried to keep busy but with little success. So I sat in my windowless basement office, dealing with terrible headaches from the noise of the forty computers I shared an office with, and waited for the day to end. And always I felt guilty for not putting in, and not being able to put in, an honest day’s work.

Around this time I began to wonder if I should begin my own business. I began to pray for clarity and wisdom as I considered the joys and trials of being a small business owner. I am an enterprising sort and knew that being my own boss would fit my personality very well. One day, during my lunch break, I went out walking along the shores of Lake Ontario. I had taught myself the basics of web design and had been doing a small amount of this type of work on the side. I enjoyed the creativity it required and the challenge it created. I had a couple of companies for which I was doing part-time work with their computers and networks. As the work increased I began to think about the prospects of starting my own company. I desperately wanted to do something that I liked and something that would keep my mind active. I looked forward to the prospect of working from home and being able to be my own boss. It was about these issues that I prayed that day, asking God to give me clarity. I remember praying “God, please just make it crystal clear what you want me to do.” I had a different view of God’s guidance at that time and I suspect that I was asking God to tie a note around a brick and to heave that brick through my kitchen window. “Start your own business!” the note would thunder to me. Still, I submitted myself to God’s will and returned to the office feeling encouraged.

Still uncertain of my future I returned to the office ready to finish out the day. No sooner had I walked in the door (five minutes early, as always) that I was told to see my manager immediately. I entered his office and found him sitting there with his boss who had apparently decided to fly up from headquarters in the States. I sat with a strange smirk on my face as I heard them say that my whole department was being closed down and that my manager was going to be the next to leave. As I heard their words I thought back to my prayer and I laughed. I even told them exactly what I was laughing about and how I had just prayed about my future. They smiled politely, wished me the best and had someone accompany me to my desk to pick up my things.

As I was cleaning up my desk I was dreading having to call my wife to tell her the news. She drove me to work each day and had the car, so I would have to share the news over the phone rather than telling her face-to-face where I knew I could comfort her. She was pregnant (and therefore emotional) and I did not want to have to share with her that I was out of work and then make her drive to get me.

As I fretted about this the phone rang. Answering it I discovered it was my close friend (and pastor of our church) calling. He had never called me at work before, but said that he was at the traffic light outside my building and had just remembered something he had to ask me. I told him to pull into the parking lot and I would be right there! I grabbed my things, walked upstairs into the fresh, spring air and left the corporate world behind. Mere minutes after returning home and sharing the news with Aileen the phone rang once more and this time it was a friend calling to say that their company needed a new web site and someone who could contract with them to manage their network. And just like that my company was born.

That was almost four years ago. I began the company without money and without loans. Since that time we have never lacked for anything important. There have been times where we have had to be frugal, and truthfully, we live very frugal lives (at least in comparison to the average person in our town). But God has always provided for us.

It is rare, I think, to receive such a dramatic and instantaneous answer to prayer. God had clearly orchestrated that day’s events, down to the finest details of my prayer to Him, the company’s decision to cut my department, and even my pastor’s schedule so that he just happened to be outside my building at the right moment. It was truly an amazing day.

In many ways I give this background information with an overwhelming sense of shame.

It was not long before I began to worry. Not the kind of worry where I would think the occasional thought about a dwindling bank account, but the kind of worry where I would wake up at night bathed in sweat, wondering how I was going to make ends meet. I would get ravaging headaches as I worried about how I would come up with another $400 by the end of the month. Every few days I would draw up a list of all the money we had in our accounts and all the bills we had owing and feel a flutter in my heart as I saw the potential discrepancy. I tried to forecast our finances over a week, month or year and continued to predict how we would fall short. And yet there was always enough.

What is perhaps worst of all is that there was never a time when we were a day or two away from needing rent money and did not have it. Never once did we have a check bounce and never once did we have to miss paying a bill (though, through lack of faith, I would sometimes allow bills to collect on my desk for a month or two before paying them). I cannot remember even having a close call.

And still I worried. It is only in more recent days that I came to see that I truly felt my worrying was somehow effectual. Effectual worrying: let me explain that term. Effectual means “Successful in bringing about a desired effect.” It means “Producing or capable of producing an intended result or having a striking effect.” I honestly believed that my worrying was somehow making the difference - that my worrying was bringing about the result of having enough money. If I were to stop worrying, I felt, the money would dry up. If I stopped making my little lists of assets and expenses, I would one day wake up to find out that our rent check had bounced. If I stopped worrying, God would surely stop providing. I truly believed that my worrying was effectual, bringing about what I desired.

Every now and then I would think back to the beginnings of my company and see how clearly God had answered prayer, and what was no doubt a faulty and selfish prayer at that, and I would feel guilty. And well I should have, for God had left me a pillar, a milestone that I could refer to that would show me just how obvious it was that He was in this with me. When I felt myself worrying I should have been able to look back to His answer to the first prayer and have confidence that He would provide.

But I didn’t. I continued to worry.

I am thankful to say that it was a losing battle. If there was one great benefit I received from working in that little office in the basement, it was the lunch breaks. Every day I would take a good book to the local library and read it for half an hour or forty-five minutes. I read several books by John MacArthur and a particularly brilliant one by James Boice. It was there, in the Oakville Public Library, that I really began reading and enjoying Christian books. It was there that I began my first book reviews. And it was through these books that I came to see the value of submitting my life to God. And I believe it was (and I foresee jaws dropping all over the world as I write this) a Bob George book that helped me the most in that time. He provided some biblical teaching on the nature of Christianity that spoke right to my heart. These books led me to the Bible and led me to a deeper relationship with the Author of the Bible.

As I continued to read in the years that followed, and to get more deeply into the Scriptures, I was able to surrender my worries to God. This is not to say that I now lead a worry-free life, but that I really no longer stress about finances. We continue to lead frugal lives (though we seek not to make frugality an idol) but lead full lives. We do not have a lot of extra money, yet when friends or family are in need, we have often felt blessed to be able to help them. Our prayer has been “just enough.” We ask God that He would give us “just enough” and allow Him to define “enough” as He sees fit.

Worrying is a dead end. There is no benefit to worrying. Worrying does bring about various effects, but never the desired ones. Worrying brings physical and emotional infirmity, it damages interpersonal relationships and, for more seriously, seperates us from the Lord. It brings about no benefit. I am thankful that God has helped me to see the wisdom of Job - the wisdom that opposes worry. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” I have surrendered to God’s control, to God’s providence, and trust that there is nothing to worry about.

December 12, 2005

By the midpoint of this article all those people who homeschool their children will probably be giving themselves a big pat on the back. The strange thing is that I might not blame them.

The following conversation took place over dinner a couple of nights ago. My five year old son had a few questions for my wife and myself.

Son: “Daddy, next year am I going to go to French school or English school?”

Dad: “Probably French school. We’re not sure yet but we think we’ll have you go to the French school.” *

Son: “How do French people say ‘Hello’?”

Dad: “They say ‘Bonjour!’ It means, ‘Good day!’ Sometimes they say, ‘Salut!’ instead.”

Son: “Bonjour! How do French people say “Goodbye?”

Dad: “Au revoir!”

Son: “Au revoir! How do French people say, ‘storm the castle?’”

Dad: “You know what? I don’t even know.”

Son: “Oh. How do French people kiss?”

Dad & Mom: “What!?”

Son: “How do French people kiss?”

Dad: “I don’t think you need to know that. You’re only five and there are some things that mommies and daddies can know but five year olds don’t really need to know. We’ll talk about that when you’re a little bit older.”

Son: “I think I know.”

Dad: “You do?”

Son: “I can’t believe they stick their tongues…”

Dad: “STOP!”

We had a little chat with him and found out that Jack, a little boy who goes to school with my son, decided to share this knowledge with him and some of the other children in the class. They are in a mixed junior/senior kindergarten class. In other words, they are all four or five years old.

Now obviously my wife and I know that in our role as parents we will have a few of these awkward moments throughout the years. They come with the territory. Every parent is caught unprepared at times. But we were quite unprepared to have one of these moments when he was only five. Thankfully he did not seem to think much more about it, believing it is just some silly thing that French people do. I hope his little mind just forgets all about it for at least another few years.

After discussing the situation, my wife and I decided that she ought to speak to my son’s teacher just to let her know what had happened. We were gratified to discover that the teacher was horrified and stated that in all her years of being a teacher (and she is retiring after this year so has been doing this for a while!) she has never heard a child that age use the term with knowledge of what it means. She said to my wife, “What on earth are parents telling their children these days?” My wife suggested that perhaps Jack has an older brother who has being a negative influence, but the teacher corrected her, pointing out that Jack has only one sibling and that he is younger. The teacher said that she will speak with Jack’s parents and will also have to make the situation known to the principal.

I suspect the real question is “what are parents allowing their children to watch these days?” I am sure that it is not entirely unusual for small children to have such knowledge. We live in a culture which is becoming increasingly sexualized and pornified (to borrow a term from Pamela Paul’s book). Knowledge that was once reserved for adults is now widely-available for children of any age. The question facing parents is just how hard do we work to preserve our children from acquiring this knowledge? Do we withdraw from the world in order to preserve their innocence, or do we just do our best to moderate the knowledge they acquire and seek to balance it with a God-centered focus? What is my responsibility to my children? What is my responsibility before God? What is a parent to do? As with a couple of nights ago when talking to my son, I have far more questions than answers.

* - In Canada there are several options for education. Public and Catholic schools are provided by the government and are paid for by taxes. Christian and private education is available but not subsidized by the government so is expensive ($8000/year for the local Christian school). Within the public system parents can choose between standard education or French immersion. We are likely to send our children to French immersion (half of classes are taught in English and the other half in French) because the schools tend to be a little more conservative and the standards of education are a little bit higher. Parents can also homeschool if they so desire.