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Personal Reflections

November 09, 2008

It must have been a couple of months ago now that Aileen and I got rid of cable TV. We didn’t get rid of the television altogether—we kept it so we could watch DVDs and enjoy the Wii. But we got rid of cable and now have access to precisely 0 channels. Today I paused to reflect on all of the things I miss about having cable television.

Here they are in no particular order:

  •  
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The end.

November 05, 2008

You may have seen me mention Liam’s name in a previous blog post. Liam is the son of our friends Kim and Jason and a friend to Nick. Today he is having a major surgery to remove a tumor from his brain. Even if the surgery is 100% successful. he will be in the hospital for ten days and will see a period of recovery that may take up to a year. I’d just ask you to pray, as we are today, that God would bless Liam through this whole experience and use it to draw him closer to Himself. And of course pray that God would bless the doctors, giving them skill and wisdom that they would successfully complete this surgery.

You can receive updates from Kim’s blog Zoo-ology.

Here’s a shot of Liam and Jason. Liam needed to have his head shaved for the surgery, so dad and grandpa had their heads shaved as well!

liam.JPG

October 26, 2008

Earlier today I was thinking about my favorite hymn lyrics (not hymns overall-just particular lyrics). I think my all-time favorite is and remains the final stanza of “And Can it Be?” The last two lines just grip my soul every time I sing them:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

I’ve often reflected on the concept of boldness and this song reminds me of what a privilege it is to be able to approach God’s throne with confidence and boldness.

Running a close second is a hymn we sang just this afternoon during our Lord’s Supper service. Again, it is the final stanza of a hymn, this one “The Love of God.” I’ll provide all of the lyrics but would point you to that last verse.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Refrain

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

I just love that picture, that metaphor, of trying to measure or quantify the love of God and finding that even the vastness of creation, reduced to letters and words, would barely even begin to show just how great and how wide and how deep is God’s love. It’s amazingly powerful.

What are your favorite hymn lyrics?

October 18, 2008

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at Chinese Gospel Church in downtown Toronto. It’s a church right in the heart of the city in the area known (not so creatively) as Chinatown (if you ever go there you will quickly find out why it has this name). I told the people there that, when I was growing up in the suburbs, we used to go on class trips to Chinatown as a kind of foreign cultural experience. We’d go to the markets down there to look at strange fruits and vegetables and to buy chicken feet and other delicacies that we’d soon throw at each other. Good times.

I was speaking last night to a college and careers kind of group—people ranging from their late teens into their thirties (and maybe a bit beyond). It won’t surprise you to learn that I spoke on spiritual discernment and maturity. The evening began with a time of singing and then transitioned into prayer in small groups of four or five people. As we prayed I was struck immediately by what a privilege it is to be members of the body of Christ. Here I was sitting with people I had never met before, but here I was bound together with them in prayer. I was filled with gratitude that God has seen fit to build his Body through people in diverse places and from diverse backgrounds. It’s not that these people were so different from me—many of them were second or third generation Canadians—but more that they were at once strangers and family.

Who but God could conceive of something so incredible, so unique? Who but God could build a family of brothers and sisters that spans cities and countries and continents? Who but God? Last night I prayed with friends, family and strangers and experienced the communion of the saints in a new and powerful way.

October 13, 2008

If you’ve been reading this site for a few years, you may remember the time I wrote about my old van leaving me stranded on the side of the highway. My lease was nearly over and I had to drive across town (about one hour each way) to visit a car dealer and have him put a price on my van. This happened to be a rare occasion that I did not have my cell phone with me. The charger had disappeared, the battery was flat, and I just left the phone at home, setting off without it.

As I was making my way home, zipping along the area’s busiest highway, I heard a strange sound and thought, “I hope that’s not my car.” I looked around and couldn’t see any other vehicles close enough to me that it could be anything but my car. Within a couple of seconds the car began to shake and then it began to vibrate so strongly that it became a chore to hold it straight. It did not take long to realize that I had blown a tire at 100 kilometers per hour. It so happened that I was on a bridge at the time and one that offered no shoulder to pull onto. I threw on the hazard lights and crept along, driving as fast as I dared on three tires and one rim. Trucks, cars and buses were honking and swerving to avoid me on the slick, rainy pavement. But finally the bridge ended and I was able to pull over to the side and stop. While it was not exactly my choice, I could hardly have picked a worse place to stop. I ended up parked in the middle of a triangular area right where two major highways converged—between the inside lane of one highway and the merging outside lane of a second highway. Cars were tearing by on the right and the left, joining the flow of mid-afternoon traffic. I had no phone, it was pouring rain, and this was definitely no place to attempt to change the tire. I knew no passerby would stop, as there simply was not a good place to do so.

And so I did the obvious thing. I said, “God, I’m kind of stuck here. I’d really appreciate it if you’d send along a police car or a tow truck. It would be a long, dangerous, wet walk to a phone and really, the only building nearby is a Kingdom Hall and it doesn’t look like anyone is there, so I’m just going to stay here and wait for you to send help.” And that’s what I did. With cars hurtling by on both sides, I sat and looked expectantly out the back window. Sure enough, it took only ten or fifteen minutes for a tow truck to show up. Handily, it was a flat bed truck—it would have been very difficult for him to get behind my van to tow from the rear. Equally handily, it was a CAA truck (CAA is the Canadian chapter of the American Automobile Club) and, since I am a CAA member, the towing would cost me nothing. Within five minutes he had hoisted the van onto his truck, secured it, and pulled back into traffic. He had a good laugh at me, saying what I already knew—that I really could not have picked a worse spot to break down. He even took the opportunity to call his manager and laugh about it.

I asked him if someone had called him on my behalf or if he had just happened by. “No,” he said. “I just dropped someone off in Georgetown and had decided to take the side roads back. But then I changed my mind and figured I’d take the highway just to see if anyone out here needed a tow.” Imagine that.

This really isn’t much of a story. I was never in great danger and really only suffered a couple of hours of inconvenience while waiting for the tires to be changed. But as I was sitting in Wal-Mart, munching on a McDonald’s burger and wondering what the tires would cost, I thought back to my reaction when the tow truck showed up. I realized I had blurted out, naturally enough, “Thank you, God” as I saw the truck turn on his lights and pull in just ahead of me. I was not the least bit surprised that the truck had shown up and had shown up quickly. God knew I was in a tight spot and I had asked Him to provide for me. He seemed glad enough to do so. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

It occurred to me then that it is really only the privilege of the Christian to be thankful. I spoke about this a few days later with a friend of mine who is ambivalent about the possibility of God’s existence. I asked her how she would feel in a similar situation. Would she be thankful? And if so, to whom would she express thanks? Without God we can only believe in fate or karma. No one offers thanks to fate. Fate is nothing. It is impersonal, directionless. No one asks anything of fate and no one offers thanks to fate. I could be thankful to the driver of the tow truck, and I was of course, but who was it that so ordered things that he was returning from Georgetown just at that moment? And how was it that he changed his mind and decided to take the highway home rather than the faster back roads? Surely not fate, chance or karma. The God who knows the number of hairs on my head is the same God who took care of me that day. And I am thankful.

Today is Thanksgiving day up here in Canada. It is a day set aside specifically to offer thanks. It is sad to think of how many Canadians will sit with their loved ones around tables loaded with food and will be unable and unwilling to thank the One who has provided it for them. They may thank mothers for making food or fathers for providing it, but they will not be able to thank the God who has given them the talents, the abilities, and, well, everything else. My expression of thanks in the car that day was natural. It was really just an outpouring of the faith God that has given to me. It was an expression of worship to the God who proved again that day that He is in control. Where there was faith-based expectation, gratitude naturally followed. I was filled with thanksgiving for thanksgiving. I was filled with thanks for the ability and the privilege of giving thanks. God is good to provide and is good to allow us to thank Him for His provision.

September 17, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I went to watch the Toronto Blue Jays take on the Tampa Bay Rays (baseball, for those of you who may not follow professional sports). For the first time in recent memory I went to the game on back-to-back days, both Friday and Saturday. When they announced the group that would sing the national anthems for Saturday afternoon’s game, I knew I was where I needed to be that day. The singers were The Calvinist Cadets.

The reason I went to both games was that the Rays were in town and with them was Ben Zobrist, whom you may remember from this interview I did with him back before the season began. I met Ben while speaking at a conference down in Nashville and we had agreed that when he was in Toronto, we’d meet up for dinner after a game. Injuries and trips to the AAA team had kept him out of Toronto for the Rays’ previous two trips through Toronto, but this weekend he was here. On Friday my son wanted to go and see him play, so I took him to the game and we met up there with a friend. On Saturday Aileen and I went off to take in the game and we then enjoyed dinner with Ben and his wife (who travels with him through most of the season). I even bumped into a reader of this site at the game (Hi, David!).

As we were sitting out in the stands, I began to think what it would be like to have a job that provided instant feedback. When you’re a player in the Major Leagues, everything you do well is met with applause and everything you do poorly is met with icy silence or with loud boos. One day’s hero is so easily the next day’s goat. When B.J. Ryan, the Jays’ closer, charged onto the field in the ninth inning to try to nail down the save, the crowd went wild. When he struck a man out, there were loud cheers. But, when he gave up three runs to tie the game, he walked off the field to a chorus of boos. The crowd was fickle, expecting him to do his job and to do it right—and to do it all in front of their watching eyes. He had a bad day and the crowd let him know what they thought of that. One day he nailed the save and was loved; the next day he blew the save and was reviled.

Now maybe there is something to be said for the argument that when a guy’s weekly paycheck comes out at almost $200,000, as B.J. Ryan’s does, you expect him to do his job right (Can you imagine heading to the bank every Friday afternoon to deposit a check for $200,000?). But I still wonder what it would be like if we all received such instant feedback in our vocations. What would I do differently if I turned around to see a crowd sitting behind me, watching my every move? What would my day be like if every time I wrote a good sentence or created a good line of HTML code the crowd went wild; and what would it be like if every time I wrote something stupid or broke an otherwise good site layout, a chorus of boos arose behind me? It wouldn’t be much of a life.

I am grateful for grace. There is One who watches me at all times and who must sometimes shake His head in amazement as I blow yet another save or write yet another chunk of bad code or thoughtless prose. And though I deserve the jeers and the jabs, He extends grace. I am glad that, far more often than not, it is only He who sees my failings, for He is the source of all grace and comfort. He is no fickle fan, but the One who loves freely, who loves with a steadfast, gracious love.

September 13, 2008

A couple of months ago I received a rather unique invitation. Compassion International was considering sending a team of bloggers to Dominican Republic and wondered if I might be interested in tagging along. The purpose of the trip is for these bloggers to see what Compassion is doing in that place and to learn what the organization is all about. I thought about it for some time and have decided to go along. I have long wondered about Compassion, having a perhaps-unhealthy skepticism about such ministries. The more I learn about it, though, the more I am convinced it is a good and valuable organization and I hope that this trip will help allay any remaining fears.

Here is what Compassion says about the trip: “November 2-7, 2008 Compassion International will take a group of bloggers to see their ministry to over 40,000 children in the Dominican Republic. Known for its resort-speckled beaches, there’s another side to this Caribbean nation unknown to most vacationers. Our bloggers will visit a city dump where families scavenge for food and clothing. They’ll tour a neighborhood where drugs are trafficked and children live beside open sewers. And bloggers will also see firsthand how Compassion International and child sponsors are bringing hope to children living in these places by releasing them from poverty in Jesus’ name.”

And so, in early November, I will be heading to Dominican Republic. My one fear about the trip is being away from home for the better part of a week all by my lonesome—no friends and no family to go along. I spoke to my wife and children and spoke to Compassion and it now seems likely that my son Nicholas, who is eight, will be coming with me. If it works out (and again, I think it will), he will be starting his own blog for the trip and will be blogging from the perspective of an eight year-old. I’m hoping that his blog will be of interest to some of the children out there. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to spend the time and enjoy the experience with my boy.

So keep an eye on this blog from November 2-7 and you can read updates from Dominican. You may also like to tune in to read some other blogs as these people will also be going: Melanie from TheBigMamaBlog.com, Mary from OwlHaven.net, Marlboro Man (and his two daughters) from ThePioneerWoman.com, Jennifer from 5MinutesForMom.com. Shaun Groves and Brian Seay will co-lead the trip.

August 13, 2008

Last Saturday Aileen and I watched as some friends of ours were married. First was a beautiful ceremony at a historic Baptist church in the heart of the city and this was followed by a lengthy, enjoyable reception at a nearby reception hall. We enjoyed ourselves a lot and rejoice with our friends, praying for God’s blessing on their new marriage.

As I was sitting in the church and as I sat at the reception, eating great food, talking to friends, listening to speeches and just looking around and observing, I began to think back to other weddings I’ve been to. I saw that there have been phases in my life—different ways I’ve enjoyed wedding ceremonies.

Before I was married, I would attend wedding ceremonies and think about my own future wedding. Even before I knew Aileen and had a real ceremony in mind, I would look at the bride and groom and transport myself into the future, just wondering what it would be like to stand up there and to be the one marrying that beautiful bride. What does a groom feel? What would my bride look like? When would my time come?

After my own marriage, weddings became an occasion to reminisce about my own wedding ceremony, now an event in the past. I would sit with Aileen beside me and remember how I felt when I saw her standing in the back of the church and how I felt as I kissed her for the first time as husband and wife. I would feel again those swells of emotion as I remembered that momentous day. And what a day it was.

But now something has changed. Perhaps I am getting old; perhaps life has changed me; probably both. As I watched Alicia walk to the front of the church on the arm of her father and as I saw Nick’s face change as he gazed upon his bride (he later confessed, in a most unromantic way, that he was so excited he almost threw up when he saw her); as I heard Nick’s mother say, “It seems like only yesterday” and as Alicia’s father proclaimed his affection for his daughter and his regard for his new son; as Nick’s brother shared stories from Nick’s childhood and as Alicia’s sister shared memories from their younger years; as Nick and Alicia sang a first song (in place of dancing a first dance); as I observed all of these things, my mind was drawn to my own children, and to my daughters in particular.

My wedding is now ten years in the past. While it remains the best day of my life, already the memories are growing hazy. Once again I am gazing forward rather than backwards. I am gazing to the future and seeing myself not as the groom, but as the father, the man who will stand at the front proclaiming “I do,” not as the man receiving the bride but as the one giving her to another. And it’s almost too much to take. The words, “it seems like yesterday,” haunt me. My daughters are five and two, my son eight. There are so many wasted yesterdays that have already gone by and there are only so many tomorrows left. When it is my turn to give that speech, when I look at my daughter sitting beside her new husband or my son beside his new bride, will I think back to all those yesterdays with fondness, knowing that they were used to the fullest extent? Or will I, like so many fathers, look back with regret at day after wasted yesterday?

May God grant grace…

August 09, 2008

Yesterday Aileen and I celebrated our tenth anniversary; today we have the privilege of enjoying the wedding of some good friends. We are thrilled for them and are looking forward to spending the day with them and with their friends and family.

I thought about weddings this morning and was reminded of my cousin’s wedding I went to last year. It was a beautiful, classy, simple wedding. While the service was great from beginning to end, I particularly enjoyed the brief sermon which drew a startling contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God; between the love of the world and the love of God.

The pastor began by discussing a marriage contract drawn up by Albert Einstein. With his marriage disintegrating and already participating in extra-marital affairs, Einstein made a last-ditch effort to keep his marriage somewhat intact, even if only for the sake of the children. This is the contract he sent to his wife:

A. You will make sure

  1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
  2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
  3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, you will forego

  1. my sitting at home with you;
  2. my going out of traveling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

  1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
  2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;
  3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.

His wife eventually agreed to them terms. When he received her response, “Einstein insisted on writing to her again ‘so that you are completely clear about the situation.’ He was prepared to live together again ‘because I don’t want to lose the children and I don’t want them to lose me.’ It was out of the question that he would have a ‘friendly’ relationship with her, but he would aim for a ‘businesslike’ one. ‘The personal aspects much be reduced to a tiny remnant,’ he said. ‘In return, I assure you of proper comportment on my part, such as I would exercise to any woman as a stranger.”

This comes from the pen (and from the heart!) of one of the brightest men the world has ever known. It’s a contract just shocking for its boldness and its polite disgust; its undertones of anger. Just imagine the state of the heart that would write such a thing.

What a contrast to the wisdom of the Bible. What a contrast to Colossians 3:5-17:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What a contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God!


Much of this was posted about a year ago. So if you recognize it, that would be why!

August 08, 2008

This seemed a good day to post another brief memoir. Today, 08/08/08, marks the tenth anniversary of the day this happened.


It is going to be a scorcher. It is barely 10 in the morning and already the sun is hot. And this church, with no air conditioning, was never our “Plan A.” We had hoped to be married in a church just around the corner, a more modern church and one with modern amenities (though, trickily, one without a center aisle). But as the wedding day approached we saw that there was construction immediately in front of the building. They had warned us this might happen, but the reality is worse than we had imagined. The sidewalks are gone, replaced with deep mud pits covered with only some rough boards. The whole area looks like a mud pit. It is far from scenic. Somehow, despite the late date, we managed to secure St. John’s Anglican Church, among the oldest and most stately churches in the area and, not coincidentally, the church Aileen’s parents were married in many years before. We also managed to secure the services of a world-class organist. With such worries behind us, we are ready to be married.

It seems as if everything is proceeding just as it should. Friends and family are beginning to arrive at the church. All of my groomsmen are already here, decked out in their tuxedos. My friend Paul will serve as best man; my brother Andrew and my friends Nick and Rob will be ushers. The day before the wedding, the group of us spends some time just hanging out—sitting in a local restaurant eating wings and recounting old times. Nick and I go to my tennis club, playing two long sets in the hundred degree heat.

And now we stand together at the rear of the church waiting for some kind of cue—a word telling us what to do next. The minister tells us we should gather in the little room near the front of the church and there he prays with us. Someone tells us it is time and together we walk to the front of the church. As we take our places, the organ explodes into the wedding march. And then…nothing. We look to the rear of the church and see concerned expressions. We see Aileen’s bridesmaids and the flower girl looking a little confused. No one is moving down the aisle.

Well, it seems that for all the organization that went into the wedding day, we have forgotten one important component—we have forgotten to assign someone the task of coordinating the bride’s arrival with my entrance into the church. Though the car carrying Aileen to the church arrived moments ago, it had been determined that it was not yet time for her grand entrance and so the driver took one more spin around the block. And so I wait at the front of the church while the guests giggle, wondering if she has gotten cold feet and run away. But, of course, she has not. A few moments later we nudge the organist and he starts the march again, playing beautifully on the grand old organ at the front of the church. This time Aileen walks in, arm-in-arm with her father, and I can do little but weep. I weep for joy; I weep in gratitude. A few minutes later she and I are joined in marriage.

As we exit the church we feel the heat beating down. It is far warmer outside than in the sanctuary of the old stone church, insulated by the great blocks that have stood for so long. We greet our visitors, accepting their congratulations. We are the first to marry in either one of our extended families and friends and relatives have come from far and wide to celebrate with us. The reception is to be held next door in the old Town Hall, a beautiful building that is now used primarily as a meeting hall and as a dance studio. Its construction by far predates air conditioning. After the photographer snaps some pictures, we walk to the hall and begin the reception—a relatively informal luncheon. Aileen’s mother has been the hero, not just arranging the flowers, but growing them first; she has created a beautiful cake and cooked much of the food; she has even sewn Aileen’s dress. The hall looks beautiful.

As the reception continues with blessedly little formality, the temperature begins to rise. The tuxedo jackets are soon cast aside and, not long after, so too are the vests. Faces grow red and hair begins to go limp. But, of course, we are enjoying the day and so too, it seems, are our guests. I fulfill my duty by giving a short and no doubt unmemorable speech but am otherwise a spectator more than an actor in any of the formal proceedings. My father welcomes Aileen to the family and her father welcomes me.

Finally it is time for us to leave. No one has told us when or how to leave, so we do our best to attract most people’s attention and say our goodbyes. The location allows no confetti, so there will be no traditional departure. We walk to the parking lot and hop into the little Neon my father rented for us, having decided, correctly no doubt, that my old, beat-up and paint-covered pick-up truck is unsuitable. It is good to finally feel the cool blast of air conditioning. We pile into the back and Paul drives us back to my parents’ house so Aileen and I can change into something a bit cooler and more comfortable than tuxedo and wedding dress. And then with a hug and a handshake for Paul, Aileen and I are off, heading to a new life together.


And, of course, that was exactly ten years ago today. A lot has happened since then. I don’t think we would have predicted much of what has transpired in the past decade. But I’m often drawn to the words I heard from a wise old saint with whom we spent so much time when we were younger. He said, “As much as you love her now, you’ll find that marriage gets better and better; you’ll love her more in ten and twenty years than you do today.” And those words have proven true. Ten years is a good start and I’m grateful for them, but I’m looking forward, with great anticipation, to many more years together.

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