Thursday, April 27, 2006

will it ever stop?

every morning, i wake up to the sound of the news on the radio, and usually within a minute or two, they tell us what the exchange rate is for the canadian dollar vs. the american dollar. for two years, the news has gone in one direction, and it's not helping us.

i work for inter-varsity canada, but most of our support is given in american dollars. what this means in practical terms is that our support falls along with the american dollar. and boy, has it fallen. here is a two-year graph of the american dollar compared to the canadian dollar (courtesy of yahoo finance):

as you can see, it's a steady downward trend — a decline of about 17% — with no end in sight. experts say that the u.s. balance of payments deficit and budget deficit (both at record levels) are creating an extreme downward pressure on the amercian dollar; whatever the causes, the results are clear enough.

what does that mean for us? i don't really know. God is the provider, and money is no problem for him. i simply have to admit that i never anticipated these circumstances, and that it's easy for me to fret if i'm not careful.

when we came to montreal, i felt that God was calling me to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). and here i am again, unable to see what is ahead. i've told God that i don't mean to complain, but i just walk so much better by sight! but this, apparently, is not his plan for me (or for any of us, really). so i don't know if the downward trend of the american dollar will continue or not, but this i do know — the need to walk by faith will not stop.

i know myself well enough to know that i will continue to walk. but you can pray that i will walk, not by fatalism, but by faith — actively trusting and putting my hope in God. if i'm not careful, i can too easily neglect that part.

Monday, April 24, 2006

proclaiming good news

this weekend, m will be one of the featured speakers at a conference on purity. and for the first time in over two decades, our roles are reversed. she's been praying, studying, and preparing for what God would have her say; i've been interceding for her, and will hold down the fort at home.

this has actually been a long-held desire… of mine. m has been invited to preach before, but she's never accepted an invitation. i don't think she was afraid; she just didn't seem to have much interest in doing it, which always seemed a little strange to me — both because she has so many good things to say and because there are few things that i enjoy more. even when i was very ill a number of years ago (and there was some uncertainty about whether i'd live or die), i continued to preach as i was able. i figured if i was going to die soon, i wanted to make sure that every day counted!

so i'm excited that she's doing this. as with any good preacher, God has not only given her a message but proven it repeatedly in her life. i think she's already been learning a lot in the process of preparation (generally a time of heightened spiritual warfare). please join me in praying that the spirit of God will anoint her, both with his words and his heart, and that this time will be a turning point for many — setting the captives free, restoring hope, calling people to a deeper walk with Jesus.

for more information on the mwmn's conference on the journey in purity, click here.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


i still remember discovering that there were people who believed that Jesus literally came back from the dead and was still alive. i was shocked. i knew some of these people, and they seemed rational and even intelligent otherwise. i wanted to be respectful of their beliefs, but i was sure they were out to lunch on this one.

the whole story seemed preposturous. if God did come as a human being, why come as the son of an unwed teenager? why grow up in obscurity in the backwater of what was a tiny, insignificant nation? why come without position or money — as a man who worked with his hands — and as part of a powerless, despised minority?

it's true that Jesus did eventually rise to prominence, first in his local area, then on israel's national stage. as a teacher and worker of miracles, he attracted large crowds — and the attention of the religious and political power brokers of his time. to his followers at least, he looked like he could be the messiah.

but the good times didn't last long. after being betrayed by one of his closest friends (a man who had traveled and ministered with him for most of his public ministry — how bad would that be?), he was abandoned by his 'loyal' disciples and then beaten severely and finally executed in the manner of the worst criminals, condemned by the very people he came to save.

his disciples were, understandably, demoralized and fearful for their own lives. they stayed out of sight for the most part, though apparently, one of them dared to join a small group of faithful women followers (including Jesus' mother) at the actual execution. afterward, another disciple (not one of the twelve) went to ask for the body, and they were able to put it in a tomb until the final preparations for burial could be made.

if the story had ended there, i wonder if any of us would even know a thing about Jesus. maybe some of his teachings would have survived to the present day, though given that much of it had to do with himself, it seems doubtful anyone would've bothered to preserve it. at best, he would've been a historical footnote.

it didn't take long for me to realize that the resurrection wasn't an optional part of christian faith. in its essence, christianity isn't a set of timeless truths or principles by which people should live — it's a reliance on someone who is really there, a relationship with someone who is still alive and active in the world. without him in the present, there is no powerful one to rescue us. 'faith' is just pretending.
if christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. then those also who have fallen asleep in christ have perished. if we have hoped in christ in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:17-19
but when the women went, on the day after the sabbath, to complete the preparation for the burial, they were shocked to find that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. eventually, they went back to the disciples to explain, only to find that none of them would believe. later, they were all convinced, both by examining the tomb for themselves (they found only grave clothes, but no body) and by appearances of Jesus himself, in which he cooked and ate fish with them and invited them to examine his resurrected body.

the verdict of history is that, in spite of his humble beginnings and the brevity of his public ministry, Jesus is one of the most influential human beings who ever lived. most of the world still organizes its calendar around his life. the teachings of this humble man (who never wrote a book himself) have been translated into thousands of languages, and his influence has expanded across the globe. hundreds of millions of people claim to experience his presence, his guidance, and his power in an ongoing way.

even as a believer, i think it's a strange story — too strange, in fact. no one would concoct such a story and put it at the center of their belief structure, much less tout it as the universal key to life and eternity. and given the way those original disciples were subsequently transformed and their willingness to die rather than to recant… well, at the very least, they believed they were telling the truth. and if they didn't fabricate the story, who would?

the hope of the world is not a system of doctrines (even a true one), but a person — God in human flesh — who has conquered sin and death. Jesus lives and in him, we also can live — now and forevermore.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

the foolishness of God

passion. it's a word that carries a mostly positive connotation these days, either of a deep and abiding enthusiasm or even of the powerful attraction and desire between a man and a woman. to be passionate is to be alive; to be passionless is… sad.

before i became a christian, i never would have guessed that the latin root for the word actually means 'to suffer.' i was shocked to discover (now years ago) that passion week was the week leading up to Jesus' crucifixion — and the suffering that went with it. after watching mel gibson's controversial the passion of the christ for the first time this past week, 'passion' carries a fresh intensity for me.

i wanted to like the film. it was clear that there were people in the audience who were deeply moved, even having a spiritual experience. but i just felt numb. a small group of us — nearly all believers of one sort or another — stayed afterward to discuss our reactions to what we had seen. a few waxed eloquently about the tremendous love of God, while another asserted that this is what Jesus came to do. i wanted to be amazed or grateful or worshipful, or at least to be able to be articulate about the sufferings of Jesus. but i was mostly dazed. i mumbled rather weakly about needing time to process the experience, and after our brief discussion, headed out for a long walk to the bus stop.

i was troubled in my spirit, probably for more than one reason. the story was not as true to the biblical version as i would've preferred; gibson drew on a variety of sources for the film, including the traditional stations of the cross and the visions of a stigmatic nun. that, in itself, wouldn't bother me, except that the folks in the discussion largely agreed that it was biblical. but is that what was really eating at me? the comment about this being what Jesus came to do was closer to the mark. i told God that i thought it was clear from his word that this was not all that Jesus came to do. yes, he came to suffer and die, but he also came to live — to reveal who God really is and what he's like in a form that we could relate to and begin to fathom. the film partly troubled me because it seemed out of proportion: so much emphasis on Jesus' suffering and death, so little on his life.

but for all of my analysis, there was something visceral about the film that nagged at me. how could all of that violence, all of that pain, be for me, for all of us? i'll admit that i'm puzzled by the mechanics of the whole transaction; is it really as simple as Jesus taking the beating that we deserved, or is there a deeper logic at work?

surely our griefs he himself bore,
and our sorrows he carried;
yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.
but he was pierced through for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the chastening for our well-being fell upon him,
and by his scourging we are healed.

isaiah 53:4-5

there is a mystery here that is beyond my power to explain and even to comprehend, really. nevertheless, some things are clear: the awfulness of sin and evil, the terrible price of our deliverance, and the wonder of a God who didn't abandon the world, but entered it as one of us, making himself vulnerable to evil's worst so that he could eradicate it while embracing us.

for now, i am content with my limited understanding and a God who is so committed to relationship with us and the redemption of the world that he came in person to ensure that it came to pass.

for the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. for it is written, “i will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever i will set aside.” where is the wise man? where is the scribe? where is the debater of this age? has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? for since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. for indeed jews ask for signs and greeks search for wisdom; but we preach christ crucified, to jews a stumbling block and to gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both jews and greeks, christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 corinthians 1:18-25

Monday, April 10, 2006

people i love

Jesus said, “truly i say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for my sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” mark 10:29-30

it is a difficult, painful thing to leave one's home and family — this we know from experience. the calling of God to uproot and 'go to the land which i will show you' is a costly one, especially if you love the people and the life that you left behind. the wrestling with God and with one another has filled many a conversation, and we've shed more than a few tears in the process.

but God is ever faithful. he has promised that, along with persecutions, we would receive back a hundred times as much, now in the present age (not to mention eternal life), and this year, he's made a big down payment. the international student bible study was more than a ministry; it was really like a family. and it's been a privilege to be a part of that family, to be in the lives of so many people from so many places, here in this crossroads of the world. we've eaten meals together, played together, and sought God in his word together — people who don't yet believe as full participants alongside people who believe firmly, more recent converts challenging and sharpening
the old-timers (and vice-versa). what a delight it's been to gather together around the table in the name of Jesus, every week over the course of this year! these are people whom i love.

of course, all of that makes the thought of parting a tearful one. when the group gave us a photo scrapbook commemorating our time together, we were thrilled — what a beautiful gift — and yet i wasn't ready to read the notes they had written. what i really didn't want to do was say 'goodbye.' sometimes, i'm comforted by the thought that we're going to have family all over the world. but what lifts my spirits even more is the prospect of a family reunion in eternity!

now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. and many peoples will come and say, "come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of jacob; that he may teach us concerning his ways and that we may walk in His paths." isaiah 2:2-3

Saturday, April 08, 2006

why i'm proud of my kids

i can't say that our family is the easiest one to grow up in. hopefully, it's not the hardest either — there's plenty of love and lots of help available — but the expectations are high, and we are pretty demanding (and even critical) as parents go. and it's all well and good to be in a family that's committed to following Jesus, but costly when it means you have to leave everything and start over in a new country, with a new culture and language.

and i have to say that, given all of that, our daughters are pretty amazing. they're bright, top students. they're pretty considerate; they are aware of the needs of the people around them, and do more to meet those needs than i ever did when i was their age. they're wrestling with meaty questions about their relationship with God and what it means to trust him in real life, with their real lives. even if i weren't their father, i'd be impressed — and i'd probably want my kids to be like them.

none of this is said to set our already high expectations even higher. but i do think it's worth saying that i couldn't be any prouder of them. i see them growing up into hardworking, productive, compassionate young women of God, which is quite dizzying, given that i can still remember when their little hands could comfortably grip a single finger more easily than my (then) comparatively gigantic hand.

so here's to b and n — your mom and i salute you! :-)