Thank God for heroes like Rod Hoople who remind us all what the point of life really is.

Thank God for heroes like Rod Hoople who remind us all what the point of life really is.

Rod’s life stands as a challenge to us all

I, like so many others, wanted a miracle. I wanted to hear from Cheryl that Rod had opened his eyes and confounded the doctors.

It had only been two weeks ago that Rod was with us on Sunday morning, helping prepare our team who would be travelling to Mexico in late July.

Rod and his wife Cheryl are heroes in our church. Rod had been a librarian for a few decades. Cheryl had been part of YWAM, and for her the idea of travel and engaging cross-culturally was normal.

It took a while for Rod to understand his wife’s heart. He shared with me the profound impact of his first trip to Mexico and what happened when he shared his story of faith with people. The experience changed his life, Cheryl’s life and our church.

Rod and Cheryl didn’t fit the normal mould of missionaries with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (our denomination). They didn’t want to spend four years studying, they knew God was calling them now… so they went. They found a small mission organization called YUGO based in northern Mexico. They sold their house. They packed up their little family, and they moved. This was not normal behaviour in our middle class, suburban church.

It was my job as the Pastor of Community Engagement and Mission, to help the people of our church find their place in what Jesus was calling them to. It didn’t take long for me to realise that Rod and Cheryl had been doing that in our church for more than a decade.

For the past 13 years Rod and Cheryl have trekked back to Canada once or twice a year to see friends, share news and invite people to join them on the adventure of mission. Their faithful and quiet persistence  began to have a big impact. By the time I turned up at St. Albert Alliance church, a number of people had already travelled to Mexico to see for themselves why a librarian would leave the comfort of St. Albert for the very different life of a missionary in Mexico.

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is the church the moral compass for the world? I hope not.

is the church the moral compass for the world? I hope not.

Last week I wrote about pornography and received a lot of feedback, some of which focussed the question of whether the church should be trying to be a moral compass.

In a world where we see different wings of the Christian church lining up against each other on  almost every issue you can name, it is an obvious question.

That question though, leads to another… what is “the church”?

I think what most people mean by “the church” is the organizational structures that are represented by personalities we see on the television or at events in out local communities. When we get most frustrated with the church, my guess is, it is that structure we are getting frustrated with… and often with good reason because the people we see representing that structure often seem to be out of touch with the reality that most of us experience on a day to day basis.

Would you trust someone who doesn’t seem to understand the reality of your life to be a moral compass?

This weekend I am preaching from the last couple of chapters of a pretty confronting book of the bible called Galatians. The author, Paul, was writing out of deep frustration because the little bunch of Jesus followers had started to focus on rules and regulations, and on systems and structures, rather than on the heart what he tried to teach them which was to live their life only in and through faith in Jesus. In fact he says “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” (Galatians 4:6)

My guess is that part of the reason people have pushed back against the organized expression of the church is that they have hit the kind of things Paul was hitting with that little church. Rather than experiencing a radical kind of faith expressed in real love, they experience systems and structures, rules and regulations.

One of the regulations that the religious people were trying to put in place was that followers of Jesus should have a painful operation where they cut off the foreskin of the penis off (called circumcision).  Out of complete exasperation he finishes his tirade by saying “I wish they would go the whole way and cut the whole lot off….” (Galatians 5:12) Who says there isn’t humour in the bible?

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You can have a whole life, or you can regularly watch porn. You can’t do both.

You can have a whole life, or you can regularly watch porn. You can’t do both.

I was reading Proverbs chapter 5 this week, which is mostly about sexual immorality, and it occurred to me that since I started this blog in 2010 I have never written about pornography, despite the fact that it has been something that I personally have had to wrestle with.

While I am pleased to be able to say that porn hasn’t had a hold over me for many years now, I am embarrassed to have to admit that I fell for something so stupid and directly opposed to my faith. I think that embarrassment, despite the fact that it was in my past, is why I have avoided writing about it.

I feel I need to apologize for not talking about this sooner both because I want my reflections on this site to be an expression of my real wrestle with seeking to follow Jesus, and also because I am more and more convinced that Pornography is a cancer that is having a huge impact on the Christian church.

An article in the 2016 July/August edition of Christianity today quoted a Barna study that showed that 41 percent of Christian men aged 13-24 and 23 percent of Christian men over 25 said they frequently used porn. (the figures were 5 percent and 13 percent for Christian women in those age groups).  While my experience as a Pastor indicates that these numbers may well be understated, they are numbers that are a real worry for the future of the church itself.

A recent study has found that  watching pornography significantly increases the likelihood that you will abandon your faith.  (2015 study by  Samuel Perry published in The Sociology of Religion 76:4, pages 436-458 ). Did you get that? 2 out of 5 young Christian men, and 1 out of 5 men and women generally, are actively engaged in behaviour that predisposes them to leaving the church!

While 3 U.S. states have declared pornography a health crisis, we in the church have been slow to talk about the impact it is having on us.  Porn has been around in different forms for hundreds of years, however online porn is having such a devastating effect because of its anonymity, accessibility and affordability according to this article.

Lets call a spade a spade. Porn does real damage and it really is wrong. Pornography is adultery, plan and simple. It might be adultery that you can get away with anonymously, affordably and accessibly, but it is still adultery.

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Too often we have preached a watered down, deformed kind of Christianity. Lets get back to the 6 core truths…

Too often we have preached a watered down, deformed kind of Christianity. Lets get back to the 6 core truths…

The American election revealed how significantly that country is divided, and as part of that, how significantly the Christian church is divided.

I have been left wondering whether we have had a major failure of Christian teaching and leadership… after all there must be a biblical worldview, mustn’t there?

Of course there is… it’s just that most people who call themselves Christian have a worldview shaped by all sorts of forces other than the bible.

Last November I gave a sermon called “How and Why do I read the bible?,” where I unpacked the 6 core elements of a Biblical worldview through which we could discern truth.

None of the six things were in any way controversial, and yet all of them are revolutionary in terms of our understanding of ourselves and the world.

I think part of the challenge is that as the Christian church, we have learned to give intellectual assent to these truths and not let them shape how we think and live.

The six truths of the bible basically chart the story of the bible from the start of Genesis through to the end of Revelation. They are:

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Self Sufficiency is the great lie of Alberta (and the Western World).

Self Sufficiency is the great lie of Alberta (and the Western World).

This is an article I wrote for todays St. Albert Gazette. You can see it here:

John Lennon wrote “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans” in the song Beautiful Boy. It is a lyric I don’t like because it is a little too close to home.

As Human beings we really want to believe we are in control of our own destinies. Here in Alberta we place a high premium on the idea of the “self made” man or woman. We put a lot of pressure on each other in Alberta, and particularly in St. Albert.

As the poet John Donne reminded us “No man is an island, Entire of itself.” As a pastor in this city, I believe the lie of self-sufficiency is one of the big reasons that we have so many mental health challenges.

Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book “Outliers” that no-one truly is self-made. We are all a product of our experiences and particularly, the community in which we grow up and now live.

For those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in Alberta, and more specifically, St. Albert, it is easier to maintain the illusion that we can control our own lives. Most of us grew up in families where money was not a big issue and our education equipped us to go even further than our parents did.

For a significant percentage of our lives we can pretend the steering wheel is in our hands, and we can look down on people who don’t have what we have, or who can’t make the decisions about their lives that we can. Too many of us living in St. Albert are living our lives in a way that is just setting us up for a painful fall.

Eventually, something will go wrong, and we will have to face the fact that our life is actually not our own. It can be a painful and disillusioning realization.

At the heart of Christianity is the understanding that we are not in control and that all of us have two fundamental needs: the need for a relationship with the God who actually is in control, and the need for relationship with others.

The bible’s version of John Lennon’s lyric is Proverbs 16:9: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Reading the bible regularly is a good recipe for humility, and humility is a good recipe for mental health.

Another good recipe for mental health is real community. In the same way we need to recognise that we are not God, we also need to recognise that we need others, and others need us.

In this remarkable city, that is continually in the top 10 places to live in Canada, we have two antidotes to the Albertan lie of self-sufficiency.

The first antidote is that every weekend local churches open their doors to anyone who has reached a point of realization that they are not God.

The second antidote is that our city leads the world in encouraging people to get to know and build relationship with their neighbours (see goodneighbourproject.org) through block parties and other initiatives.

You are not an island. Please consider engaging with a local church and getting to know your neighbours. I promise you won’t regret it

There are 6 choices you need to make if you don’t want to be sucked in by Trump (or anyone else).

There are 6 choices you need to make if you don’t want to be sucked in by Trump (or anyone else).

I have been grateful for the chance to be in North America at this time. It feels like there is a seismic shift underway in how the world looks at the United States, how the United States looks at itself and how everybody understands truth.

I used to teach people about Public Relations. I would teach that we have “media” because they “mediate” truth. These days, while that might be the origin of the word, the reality of the function is not so simple.

Yesterday I watched one of my favourite journalists, Chuck Todd, reach a point where he declared that he no longer had the words, quoting a sports commentator who once declared “I can’t believe what my eyes are seeing.”

It seems as though the biggest question facing us over the next decade will be “what is real?”

I wonder if part of the problem is that over the last 40 years we have been lulled into a dependence on media. We have allowed them to mediate, and therefore shape our reality.

In my Public Relations classes, I would teach that “those who know how to use the media have disproportionate power.” I don’t think anyone would doubt that Donald Trump knows how to use the media.

I don’t think that Trump is the problem. I think the problem is that we have all become lazy. We have allowed ourselves to have our understanding shaped by others, rather than doing the hard work of seeking truth ourselves.

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We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…. #TSEliot

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…. #TSEliot

T.S. Eliot penned the words of the title of this reflection as part of his poem, “The Little Gidding.”

The words have been running around my head lately because it they capture the trajectory of our next twelve months.

In 1992 my journey in ministry really started with a journey to the top of Mt. Wellington in Hobart. I was in the city on placement after finishing Fusion’s six month bible college intensive. A friend had challenged me to consider the possibility of “digging in” in Hobart and committing to Fusion’s work for the long haul.

I didn’t want to.

I was scared.

I knew I didn’t have the answers.

So for a couple of days I avoided the question, and then I went for a drive.

The view of Hobart from the summit of Mt. Wellington

I drove to the top of the mountain and after some minutes of staring at the lights of the city, and with some sense of dread, I uttered the words:

“OK God, you’ve got me; I’m willing to accept the challenge of this city.”

That sentence changed my life.

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