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Have a Wonder-filled Christmas

***the following is also published in the Vermilion Standard***

As we enter the Christmas season, we enter a season of wonder.  However, our busy lives too often
mask the precious gift of wonder and dull our curiosity to uncover it.  This Christmas, I want to challenge you to seek and discover wonder and, as a result, experience a wonder-filled Christmas.

The Christmas story in the Bible is filled with accounts of wonder.  Young Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, was filled with wonder when the angel of God came and told her she would be the mother of the Son of God.  Young Joseph, the carpenter betrothed to Mary, was filled with wonder when the angel met him, telling him to marry the virgin Mary who was with child.  The Shepherds were filled with wonder when a group of angels interrupted their normal evening outside of Bethlehem to sing and announce the birth of Christ and telling the Shepherds where they could find the new born King of the Jews.  The Wisemen, looking into the heavens, were so enveloped with wonder that they left everything to embark on a long and costly journey to follow the bright star in the East.

Consider each of these experiences of wonder in the Christmas story for a moment and one of the commonalities that pervades them all: wonder at ordinary times.  In each circumstance, the biblical characters in the Christmas story were interrupted by wonder-filled experiences in the midst of their ordinary.  Christmas reminds us that wonder isn’t so much hiding from us, but we are hiding from it.  Our preoccupied and dulled senses have become blinded to wonder in our God-created world through the intoxicating busyness of life and our self-centered lives.

This is part of the reason why we love Christmas through the eyes of a child, eyes that have yet to be clouded by skepticism and the discontent that dulls our senses to the wonder that surrounds us.

This Christmas, I would challenge you to see the God-created, incredibly beautiful and wonder-filled world around you.  A world in which God is working and a world filled with beauty on open display in the gallery of ordinary, testifying to the greatness and awesomeness of God.

Wonder is not hiding in a secret place with a secret lock solely reserved for the rich few who can afford to open it; rather, it is a gift that is found in the ordinary, available to ordinary people, in ordinary circumstances just like you.  This Christmas, open your eyes to God, open your eyes to Jesus, and see His wonder-filled creation where wonder is constantly on display in the gallery of the ordinary.  Don’t allow the dullness of skepticism, discontent and ignorance to blind you to God’s wonder proclaimed through creation and experienced through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Five Guidelines for Social Media

The following is also published in the Vermilion Standard.

We are spending more and more time online.  Although some of this time is filled with people posting and watching cat videos on YouTube or checking email, most people are spending countless hours on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), in an inherent desire to do part of what we were created to do, participate in relationship with others.

Social media is in its infancy and we are still trying to understand this new medium and vehicle.  Like anyone understanding a new vehicle, there is a training period where one learns its abilities and limitations.  Social media is no different.  As we live increasing amounts of our lives online, knowing how to do this well is becoming increasingly apparent.  The Bible has lots to say about how we engage this new world.

Using the Bible, I would like to suggest five guidelines for life in social media:

  1. Social media is NOT a place to confront someone.  The Bible teaches that if someone has done something wrong, you are to first go to him or her privately (Matthew 18) before making it public.  Humanity’s temptation is to bypass relationship and instantly cast judgment rather than seek understanding and, with humility and love, help the person that needs confronting (Matthew 7:1-6).  Thus, a public Facebook status or Twitter tweet is not a healthy way to confront someone about something they have said or done (or not said or done) because it does so outside of relationship, understanding, and love.
  2. Social media is social – keep it that way!  The tendency with social media is that it can become a convenient means to express our love of self.  If social media is simply a means of self-promotion, it ceases to be social and ends us isolating people further.  Jesus calls us to “love our neighbour as ourselves.” (Matthew 22:39)  Thus, we need to celebrate others and foster relationships rather than just use Facebook or Twitter as a place to celebrate our own lives, family, accomplishments, etc. 
  3. Social media is public – what goes online stays online.  The Bible calls us to live lives of integrity – for our private life to be consistent with our public life.  Thus, if you are not able to tell the world about something you have done (with photographic evidence perhaps), then maybe it is a caution to you doing it in the first place.  Proverbs 20:7 says, “The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!”
  4. Social media is powerful.  The Bible teaches that the tongue is extremely powerful and has the ability to be used for amazing good or tremendous evil (James 3).  Words are powerful.  They can be used to build someone up or they can be used to tear someone down.  Just as the tongue is powerful, the type or text is powerful and can extend the reach of our hatred, jealousy, selfishness, bullying, or unhealthy relationships.  Therefore, understand the power of social media and wield that power for your love of God and others, rather than for love of self at the expense of others.
  5. Social media expresses our thoughts.  Our thoughts should represent the renewed mind we are called to have in and through Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”   May what we post, view, and read, represent these qualities.  If we did this, imagine the kind of place the virtual world would be; imagine the kind of place the physical world would be.

Technology is not evil and wrong but technology does extend our reach and sometimes, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we reach for evil and wrong things.  

Gospel-Centered Confusion

In recent days, there has been a rise in rhetoric.  The use of the phrase “Gospel-Centered” has become ubiquitous.  People are arguing for Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Gospel-Centered Preaching, Gospel-Centered Evangelism, Gospel-Centered Children’s Ministry, Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry, etc.  On the surface, it is hard to argue against the use of the phrase.

The challenge I would make to this phenomena is not necessarily against the desire to be Gospel-Centered (although I think it is fair to ask: Should we be Gospel-Centered or Christ-Centered?  Have we lifted the message over the Messiah?) but I would challenge what one means by Gospel-Centered. If one believes that the Gospel is simply the message of reconciliation between God and the individual through Christ (in essence: an individual transaction of salvation paid for by the death of Christ) and nothing more, this means something very different than if one believes that the Gospel is the message of reconciliation of all things (Colossians 1:20) through Christ: between God and humanity, between humanity and humanity (reconciliation, justice, and compassion), and between humanity and creation (creation care).

If we simply understand the Gospel as a transaction between God and the individual, we have only understood the Gospel in one dimension and, in doing so, conveniently commodified it for a consumerist culture.  This is analogous to seeing the physical world around us through only one dimension (length), void of width or height.  By adding two more dimensions, we see breadth and depth of the world around us.  The same is true with the full Gospel message and, thus, the embrace of the full dimension of God’s love (Ephesians 3).

The church is called to proclaim the gospel not simply in its words, offering something for people to consume but also through its actions and communal presence.  The Church, as the people of God, are called to be a city on a hill, living in God’s Kingdom expressed through forgiveness, peace, justice, compassion, etc for the entire world.  The Church doesn’t simply have a mission, the Church is called to embody mission by its very existence, presence, and activities because its very existence is an invitation of reconciliation.  In an individualistic consumerist culture, this is extremely counter-cultural, explaining why the church’s role is so difficult but also why it is so important.

Thus, I would argue that the church can only be Gospel-Centered if it embodies and proclaims the message of reconciliation of all things through Christ; thus, is active in sharing how one’s reconciliation with God is only possible through Christ, is active in carrying for our planet, is involved in reconciliation ministries, is pursuing justice and compassion, is caring for the whole person, etc.  If the church is not doing these, pursuing these, etc., is it truly Gospel-Centered?  If the church simply communicates a one dimensional message of individual salvation (individual reconciliation with God) it is simply not communicating the whole gospel.

Echoing the mission of the Lausanne Movement the call of the church is for: The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.

Artificial Love

This post will also be published in The Vermilion Standard.

Scientists are currently working on Artificial Intelligence with an intensive curiosity.  The Mount Everest of robotics and computer programming, artificial life is the challenge of creating a machine that is self-aware, has emotions, and experiences love.  This sounds like an interesting and noble goal but it comes with profound ethical questions that must be reflected upon in advance of this exploration – at least that is what should happen and yet, like most scientific curiosities, ethics take a back shelf to the curiosity of possibility.

We, the potential creators, users, and consumers of technology and artificial intelligence, need to ask ourselves the following questions: “Is it ethical to create something to love if we have no intention, or follow through, to love it in return?  Is it okay to create something to feel the emotion of attachment, commitment, sacrifice and undying affection, if in return, we respond with consumer distance and perishable affection?”

This is an ethical question for our new emerging age.  The fact is, if we create a machine that could feel this way with some sort of self-aware consciousness and then abandon it with impunity once the novelty of the experience is over, it would be as cruel as it would be inevitable, given our human selfish tendencies.

Whether this technological advancement is a possibility or not is still up for debate but it does lead to another discussion.  It causes us to consider our creator and the fact that God created us with the ability to love in an expression of our free will.  In fact, we are created to love God, others, and creation and live in unbroken relationship between these three realities – a reality we are all guilty of falling short of.
Our creator created us to love but, unlike the potential creators of artificial life, God did so with the ability, intention, and follow-through to love us and stay committed to us – demonstrated by sending Jesus, His One and Only Son to save and rescue us.

John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God is not a consumer God who created us in disposable fashion.  Rather, God created us as free human beings to live forever with him, even entering our existence (Jesus Christ), demonstrating his love for us and rescuing humanity from sin and death.

I want you to know that God loves you.  I want you to know that God has not abandoned you.  I want you to know that in Jesus Christ, abundant and eternal life is possible.  In Jesus Christ, you can know real life…not just artificial life.

Infinite Complacency

This post will also be published in The Vermilion Standard.

I want to introduce two new phrases into your vocabulary.  The first is “infinite complexity.”  This phrase refers to the complexity of our natural world and its seemingly infinite complex nature.  Whether it is the complexity of the macro or the micro, our natural world is intricately complex.  It seems that the more we understand the universe in its immense size and structure, the more infinitely complex it appears.  Additionally, the more we understand about the micro nature of the human body, biology, DNA, etc., the more infinitely complex it appears.  Our world bears the traits of seemingly infinite complexity that heralds an infinitely complex creator.

The second phrase is “infinite complacency” referring to humanity’s seemingly infinite desire for complacency.   We don’t like change!  People who say they like change typically like change in areas they don’t mind changing, but when change strikes something they love or desire, they definitely do not welcome it.  Humanity, in different degrees, doesn’t like change.  The challenge with this universal trait is that we can become complacent.

Consider the act of buying a used vehicle.  There are things you will instantly notice that you will want to change.  For example, a knob that doesn’t work, a speaker that is intermittent, etc.  The very things that you, as the new vehicle owner, can’t stand and demand your immediate attention are the very things that someone else was comfortable with and grew complacent about.

This reality extends to all life.  It extends to our physical health, our emotional wellbeing, our marriages, our families, our careers, and, yes, even our spiritual lives.

We are all tempted to get stuck in the infinite complacency of life and the routines that, although they may be unhealthy, unfruitful, and unproductive, we continue nonetheless because we are inherently complacent.

I want to challenge you out of the infinite complacency of life that you have been drawn into.  I want to encourage you out of the ruts that years of regularity have formed and create healthy disturbances, rocking yourself out of unhealthy complacency.

Consider the unique skill of getting unstuck from the snow in a Canadian winter.   The skilled and controlled rocking of a vehicle creates the disturbance needed to help release it from snow’s icy grip.  The same is true of life, we need to take time and consider our situation, recognize we may be stuck and slowly and steadily rock ourselves out of that complacency.

To do this, I want to suggest that you consider reflecting on your life and asking the following questions:

  1. If you were to look at your family, marriage, health, emotional state, spiritual life, etc. from the perspective of an outsider, what would you see? 
  2. If you had a friend whose life looked exactly like yours, what advice would you give them?  Should you consider taking your own advice?
  3. If you were to change one thing about your family, health, emotional state, spiritual life, what would it be?
  4. Do you live life with purpose, meaning, and freedom?  Are you trapped by guilt, shame, or other people’s perceptions?

Then, consider one small thing that you can do to begin to rock yourself free.  Begin small and move yourself out of the grasp of complacency that may have you trapped.

This process is helpful in all areas of your life, but it is especially beneficial in your spiritual life.  When you consider your life’s purpose, your relationship with God, and your life, where are you?  Are you stuck in complacency or are you moving towards vibrancy?

There is a story in the Bible of Jesus meeting a woman at a well (where ancient people would go daily for water) who was stuck in complacency (John 4).  The woman’s life was a shameful mess and Jesus met her at a well and offered her a way out of her complacent shameful life.  Jesus offered the woman what he offers all who meet him, living water—forgiveness, freedom, and a relationship with God through Christ Jesus by faith.

Today, I want to challenge you out of your infinite complacency and into a vibrant relationship with an infinitely complex God through His Son Jesus Christ.  This is living water from a well that will never run dry.  This is the infinite vibrancy out of the infinite complacency that you may be stuck in.
This is Jesus’ invitation to you – vibrancy is possible!