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December 22, 2008

On Saturday night, Aileen and I joined some friends to take in a performance of Handel’s Messiah. And what a performance it was. It featured the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. It was, in a word, sublime. Conductor Noel Edison clearly understood the piece (I guess I should say “the oratorio”) and wonderfully separated gravitas from joy. As the piece moved from prophecy, to the life of Christ, to his death and to his impending return, the music rose and fell, swelled and crept back in all the right places. If the world has ever seen a more powerful piece of music than Messiah, I don’t know what it would be.

As much as I love the “Hallelujah” chorus, it is merely the beginning of Messiah’s most beautiful part. It is in the third part that the soprano declares “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” It is here that the chorus and the soloists combine to share the gospel message. “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” It is here that we hear the promise of new life to those who are found in Christ. “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” And it is here that Handel puts to music the words of the elders and the living creatures and the angels as they sing “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” It is here that we, those who have been redeemed by Jesus, look to the future with hope, waiting anxiously for the day when Christ returns.

The year 2008 is drawing to a close. Last week the Boston Globe’s feature “The Big Picture” told the story of the year 2008 in photos (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Warning: some of the more violent photos are quite graphic). With three galleries each containing 40 photos, they pointed back to the year’s most important moments. And what a year it was. As with every year since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, it was a year of both triumph and terror. Looking at the Globe’s photos, it seems that terror has prevailed. In one photo a boy and girl, a brother and sister hug one another at the funeral of their father, a police officer who was gunned down in the line of duty; in another, the foot of a suicide bomber lies close to the camera, with carnage in the background; in another still, a young Kenyan boy screams as a baton-wielding police officer approaches his ramshackle home, seeking his father. While some photos share moments of joy, far more share moments of pain and death.

It was not always this way. It will not always be this way. On Saturday night we partook in the strange cultural experience of hearing the gospel proclaimed far outside the walls of the church. We heard the message that assures us, even as we see such evidence of sin, that better times are coming. Indeed, better times must come. Death has been defeated. It will not be long now before the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. And, oh, don’t we look forward to that day.

December 17, 2008

You’ll have to excuse me for re-posting today. It was a tough night dealing with a sick kid and then this morning I had to take the kids to school and then shovel out after a pretty good snowfall. As I was shoveling this morning I thought of a post from last winter and thought I’d post it again. I hope you don’t mind.

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

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

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

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

Since that day we had several snowstorms and learned that we were in the midst of the snowiest winter in years. At that point we had seen 142 centimeters and that was three storms ago. We were in the midst of another one that day. The schools were canceled and it was as good a day as any to just stay off the roads.

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

March 5th of 2008 was my son’s eighth birthday. Eight years ago we had brought him home from the hospital and we were wearing shorts and t-shirts. But this day it was well below 0, we had already seen 15 centimeters of snow, and it continued to fall. “In like a lion, out like a lamb” is what they say about March. I was hoping that old adage proved true that month. The last thing I wanted to do was shovel out a long driveway covered in 15 centimeters of heavy snow. I grumbled to Aileen, saying “I picked quite the year to start helping Elizabeth, didn’t I?” She lovingly scolded me and I went on my way. Though it was his birthday, I told Nick to come along and to help me out. He did so quite willingly, despite having some new toys and games to play with and Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii demanding his attention. And off I went, perhaps a bit resigned to my fate.

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

November 29, 2008

Yesterday I swung by Chapters, Canada’s answer to Barnes & Noble. It was actually the first time in a long while that I had been inside a real brick and mortar bookstore. Though I browse books on a near-daily basis through the internet, rarely do I actually go into a store. I had almost forgotten what a different experience it is and what a good experience it is. Aileen and I found a few books we wanted to buy as Christmas gifts for the kids. Then, as we were heading to the checkout, one of the store’s employees handed us a gift card. The card had a value of anywhere between $5 and $2500—they would tell us as we completed our purchase. We took the card and went to the cash. I was not the least bit surprised to find that the card was worth $5, the absolute minimum it could have been worth. I was not going to complain, of course, as it was still $5 back in my pocket. But there was just a little part of me that was disappointed that there were to be no grand prizes yesterday!

I say that I wasn’t surprised because I’m quite sure I’ve never won anything in my life. It’s not like I compulsively enter contests, but I do enter or participate when it makes sense to do so. And I never, ever win. Not to my recollection, anyways. I’ve heard of people who have won some great and unexpected prizes and know of a few friends who have walked away with some pretty amazing ones. But I’ve never been so lucky (lucky says the Calvinist?).

It occurs that I’m probably not the only one. Have you ever won anything exciting?

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!


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 04, 2008

I receive a lot of books in the mail. A lot of books. Choosing which ones I am going to read and review is always a bit of a chore. This morning I tidying up the disaster area that is my office floor and was trying to figure out which of the books would be added to my “to-read” bookcase and which would be filed in the other bookcases unread and forlorn. I jotted down the list of books that have shown up just this week and thought I’d share it with you (maybe so you can sympathize with the difficult task of choosing the two or three I’ll actually be able to make time for). So here is a breakdown of the books I received this week along with a brief assessment of whether or not I am likely to read and review each one.

In the Beginning: The Art of Genesis: A Pop-Up Book. Likely. Undoubtedly the most unique book I’ve received in a long time, this is a pop-up book with art based on the book of Genesis. It’s beautifully done; however, there is a good bit of text that accompanies the art. Obviously my assessment of the book will have to depend on whether that text is consistent with Scripture or if the author has taken a lot of liberties. My two year-old will undoubtedly destroy the book the first opportunity she gets. Has a pop-up book ever survived a toddler?

Zion’s Christian Soldiers?: The Bible, Israel and the Church by Stephen Sizer. Very unlikely. I know very little about the topic and am just not all that interested in it.

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller. Near 100%. This is an advance copy of the manuscript since the book isn’t due for release until October 30. I’ll almost definitely read and review this one.

Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance by Al Mohler. Near 100%. I admire Mohler a lot and a quick skim through this book was enough for it to grab my attention. I’ve read his other three books, so why stop now?

Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God by Mark Batterson. Not likely. I read the first chapter and found it slow-going. He seems to want to write like Mark Buchanan but can’t pull it off. Plus, it’s part two of another book I haven’t read, so I don’t have the proper context for it.

Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience by Thomas Williams. My conscience probably wouldn’t allow me to read a book about conscience written by a theology teacher at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel Beeke. Probable. It’s longer than I had expected and, since it’s from Beeke, it’s going to be dense. And while it’s not like I’m itching to read another introduction to Calvinism, this one does look very good.

Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Very likely. This is Michael Horton’s forthcoming book and it looks excellent. This is only in manuscript form but at least it’s bound and not just a stack of 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper.

Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World by C.J. Mahaney. 50/50 at best. I want to read it but may not be able to squeeze it in. It has already been reviewed at Discerning Reader so that means I may need to prioritize other books.

Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow by R.C. Sproul. Probable. It’s a small book and looks very readable. The more I read of Sproul the more I come to respect him as a teacher and I’m eager to check out what looks like a good introductory book.

Embryo: A Defense of Human Life by Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen. Probable if it doesn’t get too technical. I recently tried reading a book called The Cell’s Design that was interesting but obviously written for people way smarter than I am. Hopefully this one is for normal guys like me.

The Prince’s Poison Cup by R. C. Sproul and Justin Gerard. Definitely. Actually, I have already read it to the kids. I have it in PDF format and sat them down in front of my computer to read it to them. It’s an excellent book and wonderfully illustrated. The kids loved it.

The Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships by Anthony Selvaggio. Probable. I’ve yet to find a Shepherd Press book that hasn’t been worth my time.

Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley. 50/50. I really like Carolyn and am eager to read the book. However, another person will be reviewing it for Discerning Reader so that may make it fall off my list (just like Worldliness).

Family Worship for the Reformation Season by Ray Rhodes. Very likely. Ray’s a nice guy and even let me preach at his church once. So I’ll give the book a shot.

Pope John Paul II: An Intimate Life by Caroline Pigozzi. Unlikely. It looks like a somewhat less-than-balanced life of John Paul II. I’m not too interested in reading a life of the Pope and even more so when the cover says “The Pope I Knew So Well.”

Invitation: Billy Graham and the Lives God Touched by Basyle and Aram Tchividjian. Unlikely. It’s a nice-looking book but I’ve only got so much time.

One Year of Dinner Table Devotions by Nancy Guthrie. No chance. I do not use devotionals and do not often review them.

Simple Small Groups by Bill Search. Unlikely. I am participating in a small group this year but I don’t think I’ll read a book about them.

Under God’s Smile: The Trinitarian Blessing of 2 Corinthians 13:14 by Derek Prime. Unlikely. Too niche to be of much interest to me.

Look After Your Voice: Taking Care of the Preacher’s Greatest Asset by Mike Mellor. No chance, but I will be passing it along to my pastor who has expressed interest in it and may just review it on his blog. I’m sure he’ll find it a valuable read. It does look like a good book for its niche audience.

Israel: Land of Promise, Faith and Beauty by Paul Williams and Clive Anderson. No chance, unless I find myself traveling to Israel this year. I do like these travel guides from DayOne, but I won’t review them unless I’m actually using the guide. (Note to DayOne—send me to any of these places and I’ll review your guide!)

Discipline with Care: Applying Biblical Correction in Your Church by Stephen McQuoid. Not likely. Once again, it’s a bit too niche. Plus, there are a couple of other DayOne titles that are higher on my list.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell and Don Golden. Likely. I can’t stand Rob Bell’s books as his writing style really offends me. But I’ll probably plow through the book regardless. It may be burdensome, but at least it’s not long. Plus, I’ve already read two chapters.

If you do the math, you’ll see that I can’t possibly read all of the ones I’ve marked as likely or very likely. What to do…

September 26, 2008

It’s Friday and that’s a good day to ramble. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share just a couple of items of “miscellania.”

Personal Updates

I’ve had a couple of people ask for updates as to what I’m up to these days. So here goes. My fall travel schedule is very light, for which I’m grateful. In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading to Chicago to blog the True Woman conference. Yes, feel free to make fun of me for it. It is going to be a huge conference with over 6000 women in attendance. Speakers include John Piper, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Joni Eareckson Tada, Janet Parshall, Mary Kassian, Fern Nichols and Karen Loritts. It’s hardly my usual live-blogging gig, but it should be fun nonetheless. The week after that I’ll be speaking at Chinese Gospel Church here in Toronto. Beyond that, I don’t have a lot on my schedule. And, of course, in early November I’ll be heading to Dominican Republic with Compassion International to see what they are up to over there.

I’m currently putting my spring schedule together. I’ll be teaching at a youth retreat in Michigan for a weekend in February. When conference season begins (typically March, April and May) I’ll be heading to The Gospel Coalition and, in all probability, the Moody Pastors Conference (in both cases to blog about them). In March I’ll be reading a paper at the Toronto Pastors Fellowship. And I’m evaluating a few other opportunities.

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment continues to sell, I guess. It has just gone to a third printing which is a great encouragement. To be honest, I do not have much of a sense of what that translates to in numbers, so don’t ask! I am not yet working on my next book, at least beyond the “gathering ideas” stage. I just haven’t quite found that idea yet—the one I can spend a year writing about.


It’s not like we really need proof of the increasing prevalence of pornography in our society, but if we did we could look to the newest crop of web browsers. The browser that has made the greatest splash in recent days is Google’s Chrome; it overshadowed the release of a beta version of Internet Explorer 8. And, of course, a new version of Firefox is coming soon (a minor update—3.1). One feature of all of these new browsers (and a feature Safari has had for some time) is what is known as “private browsing” or, more commonly, “porn mode.”

Porn mode allows a user to browse the internet without the browser maintaining a history. Google describes it this way when you open an “incognito window:” “You’ve gone incognito. Pages you view in this window won’t appear in your browser history or search history, and they won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close the incognito window. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be preserved, however.” In other words, you can browse the web without leaving on your computer any trace of what you’ve done or where you’ve been. I’ll grant that there are useful applications of this technology beyond pornography—it may be useful if you are using a computer in a public library or if you have logged onto a friend’s computer to do some quick banking. But the most obvious application and the one it will undoubtedly be used for most, is finding and viewing pornography. I’m quite convinced that this is yet another example of pornography driving technology. This presents a bit of a conundrum to parents who may be accustomed to keeping tabs on their children’s browsing habits. So parents, be warned; your kids may be going incognito.

The Solas

The SolasA little while ago I was asked to collaborate on an interesting project—writing a curriculum on the five solas appropriate for teens. So I worked with InQuest Ministries and together we came up with The Solas. “When only the best will do, then the best is all you need. The 5 Solas of the reformation that make up this study are the best means for understanding the basic theological foundation on which our faith rests. By engaging with and applying the principles covered in this 5 session study we will gain an understanding of the uniqueness of our faith and why it is the best to build our life on.” In five sessions it leads students through each of the five solas. It is available online as a downloadable product. You can find information about it at InQuest Ministries.

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.