Thursday, 6 July 2017

Book Review: The Tech Wise Family

Fully Disclosure: I signed up to do a review in exchange for the book. While I appreciate Baker Books' offer to review this book, I do not believe this has affected how I view the book.

The Tech Wise Family by Andy Crouch is a quick and thought-provoking read about the some of the pitfalls parents face when it comes to the presence of technology in everyday family living, and ways parents can make conscious efforts to avoid these pitfalls. The book makes excellent use of the artfully designed infographics about technology and family developed by the Barna group, and helps drive the point that the author is making, namely, that direction has to be put in place in the family when it comes to the proper use of technology.

I have seen all-too-often how technology, tools designed to make life easier, ends up making life harder and more complicated. In fact, I actually ordered this book while I was mindlessly surfing through emails and promotions, so it was perhaps a much needed wake-up call to my tech-saturated life.

The book is broken into 10 chapters, with each chapter being a principle and exposition for how to view technology in the family. While each of the 10 principles has merit, some are more self-evident and important than others. Crouch starts the list off with I think the most important principle to guiding a family in a tech-saturated world: choosing character over comfort. Technology makes life easier but the repercussions of an easier life are not often talked about. Ease takes the fun out of life, leading to boredom, and a general lack of drive. By choosing character, Crouch makes a compelling case for centering family life around tasks that require work: focusing on musical instruments instead of streaming music, preparing dinner instead of ordering it, tending to a fire instead of relying on central heating. While some of his advise can be impractical, the general idea makes sense. When we order our lives around things that take work and require skill, we are enriched, energized, and engaged in family life.

Overall, the Tech Wise Family was an edifying read for anyone, parent or not, that desires to implement some order in a culture saturated with one-click everything. Recommended reading.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Monday, 23 March 2015

An Open Letter to Christian Youth Across North America

After taking the high school students of my church to a crisis pregnancy center last month, I felt somewhat unsatisfied that the vast majority of Christians in youth groups across North America will never be challenged to stand up against the atrocity of abortion. I firmly believe that as a Christian, and a Reformed Christian at that, we have a responsibility to preserve this world as salt (Matthew 5:13), and emanate God’s righteousness in every sphere of life (Matthew 6:33). Tragically, I have seen a pervasive unwillingness among churchgoers to take a vocal stand in our culture against the most heinous perversion of law in history – the legality of abortion. I wrote the message below for the high school students of Harvest Bible Chapel, York Region, but never had the opportunity to present it. By posting it here, I hope that my friends at Harvest and even some from beyond would see why this is such an important issue to God, and hopefully be eager to take the steps needed to restore justice and bring peace to the oppressed.

Abortion is not just some political issue that divides conservatives and liberals, as some of your friends at school might think. Hundreds of millions of human beings have been murdered with the permission of those entrusted to care for them the most – their parents. I want to spend some time thinking through and talking about why this is perhaps the most important social issue that we as Christians face right now.

To start with, let’s look at what God has to say about the pre-born and work our response from there:

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Psalm 139:13 says: For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

The Lord has known us before he created the world and fashioned every one of us as we grew up in our mother’s wombs; Who we would be, our physical features, our sense of humor, our passions, our weakness, our aspirations in life, our failures – all of who are was known in the mind of God beforehand and he was bringing into being that wonderful work of art as he fashioned us in the workshop of our mother’s womb.

Remember that every life that begins in the mother’s womb is created in the image of God, and since we are all created in God’s divine image, none of us has the right to take anyone else’s life. One of the commandments God gave Noah as he left the ark was that no one shall take another person’s life because, and God provides a specific reason here, man is created in the image of God (Genesis 9:6).

Where mankind makes idols with their hands which have eyes that don’t see and ears that don’t hear, God has fashioned us with eyes to see the world he created, ears to hear the beautiful sounds he had composed, hearts to love with, and minds to think God’s thoughts after Him. No one has a right to destroy the wonderful work of God, both in the womb and outside the womb!

We know that those waiting to be born are accounted to God as equals deserving of the same rights and protections that we enjoy. We must then know that this poses a responsibility on us as Christians. I want to compare two sections in the Law of Moses to illustrate how high a view God has for the pre-born.

Exodus 21:22-24  “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."

Exodus 21:12-13 “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. 

What happens when an adult is killed by accident compared to what happens when a pre-born baby is killed? The person who killed the adult by accident is allowed to live and is given a place of refuge whereas the person who killed the pre-born baby by accident however is killed.

Why is this? In God’s created order, those among us who are the most secure are given the responsibility to care for and protect those who are the most vulnerable among us because where much is given, much is required. Compare this to what Jesus has said when he spoke about His triumphant return. He says in Matthew 25:40 "And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" Who in society is more vulnerable and neglected than the preborn? They have no voices to yell ‘injustice’; no visible presence to stir sympathy; and worst of all, what is done to them is done behind closed doors.

When we care about the preborn, we are demonstrating the love that we have for the Lord because like us, He entered the world as a defenseless foetus.  But even then the righteous knew in whose presence they were in. John the Baptist jumped for joy in his mother’s womb when he came near to the preborn Jesus because he knew in his spirit that it was this child's path that he was destined to prepare the way for. There is ample evidence in God’s word to show you how valuable the pre-born are to God. The next step for you, young Christian is what to do about it.

You might be thinking to yourself, I’m just in high school, what could I possibly do to stop the murder of children? Remember what Paul said to Timothy in 1 Tim 4: 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
My advice to you is the same. Don’t give anyone any ammunition to shoot you down for holding the pro-life position - not your friends, not your teachers, not even the media. Remember what you learned today and take it with you as you continue to walk by faith, trusting that God will bring justice for every wrong. That’s my first exhortation.

Secondly, understand the root causes for this sin. In ancient times, the Canaanites worshiped the god Molech by sacrificing their children. They would burn their babies alive and drown out their screams with loud drums in order to move their god to bring blessing to the land. They did this because they believed that their god would help their crops grow if they gave up what was precious to them. Today, we sacrifice children on a different altar and for an even worse purpose. We do it on the altar of sexual liberation. In return for the life of the innocent, people are promised pleasure without payment and the value of the child is not even a consideration as it was in Molech worship. Sex was created as a ceremony of love between two people who give themselves to each other in love for life, and the fruit of which is a child of that love. The child IS the blessing. It is not the unforeseen consequence of a harmless pastime. At the root of abortion is a perversion of sex and its intended purpose. Exasperated by pornography, this and previous generations have been duped into believing that sex is harmless and merely recreational. Sexual liberation requires the death of these millions of human beings to sustain itself and it will continue to grow in the heart of this generation until we realize that sex is so much more than pleasure.

Lastly, be public with what you've learned. Evil prevails when people do nothing. Stand up when you can by finding opportunities to speak the truth. Create or join a club, learn ways you can defend the truth to your friends, seek to eradicate sexual sin in your life and in the community of the church, and let your peers know that you will be part of the generation that ends infanticide (murdering babies) by ruthlessly going after its sinful root causes. Be strong and courageous, and do not let anyone use your age as a way to discredit you.

Your Brother in Christ,


Saturday, 1 February 2014

Citizenship and Discipleship

As I finish up my education in politics and ethics, I notice that I have had ample opportunity to muse upon the question of citizenship and justice, but I haven't taken the time to place it properly within the realm of discipleship. In this era of game-theory ethics, radical individualism, and postmodern morality, I see more and more just how much the connection between citizenship and justice is deteriorating, which presents new challenges for our country but also new opportunities to glorify Christ if we remain faithful. As we delve into the topic of citizenship let me just state that it is my prayer that you “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8)

So, as we look to Christ, there four passages of scripture that I want to point you to:

Matthew 5:13-14 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden

Luke 17: 21 “nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Romans 13: 10-11 “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.”

Matthew 25:40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

There is a clear connection between the passages cited in Matthew 5 and Luke 17. The passage in Matthew emphasizes the character of God’s people. Salt is that substance we add to our food, both for the purposes of health (in moderation) and taste. Light is always used in juxtaposition to darkness in order to expose the truth of a matter. Jesus had a lot to say about how dark this world is, but here He pointedly states that any light which exists in this world is to be found though His people. Great; what does that mean for us? You, my friend, are called to enrich this world with the truth that has been given to you in the gospel. The verse in Luke 17 elaborates on the meaning of the verse in Matthew 5 to show the divine purpose of His covenant people. The kingdom of God was no longer a distant dream for God’s prophets. The Kingdom of God is both already here and on its way with the second coming of our Lord, and we are citizens of this present kingdom

How then shall we live? I often cite this phrase, coined by Schaeffer, to stress the church’s need for action. The verses I cited in Romans and Matthew 25, I think, naturally flows from the information of the previous verses in a succinct way. Here we have our law, economy, and the motive for our faithfulness. Our law is love, our economy is the debt of love we owe to each person, and our purpose is to worship Christ by caring for those we CAN care about. How do we do this? By being the community which enlightens and changes the world around us, whether we are persecuted or not. Where there is people to feed, protect, and care for, the church must be present, and in all places we are to preach the good news of our Lord.

This is not a call to be a social gospel church, which sees its mandate fulfilled only in the positive social effects it brings. This is not a call to be a raving conservative critic of all the moral ails we encounter. This is not a call to worship in isolation from the depravity we see around us. This call to ‘do church’ is a call to be Christ centered, and simply to “observe all that [He] has commanded us.” (Matthew 28: 20). To be a good citizen is to be a disciple of Christ because, as Paul put it, "our citizenship is in Heaven" (Philippians 3:20)

So why should we as Christians care for our countrymen, our communities, and our neighbours (especially the weak)? The answer is simple: “If you love [Jesus], you will keep [His] commandments” (John 14: 15). Reader, do you love Jesus? If so, then it is my prayer that you and I will see these words and be encouraged, empowered, and captivated by the majesty of our Lord to see His Kingdom “come on earth as it is in heaven.”

Maranatha (Come, O Lord)

Friday, 30 August 2013

The Cost of Discipleship Book Review

If you asked me a year ago who Dietrich Bonhoeffer was and what I thought about him, I probably would have said he was a modern theologian who veered off into the heresy of neo-orthodoxy. While his reputation as a Barthian is well known, it is a bad habit for any well-meaning student to presume to know a person's personal convictions without first hearing that person lay them out. Thanks to a friend’s aptly chosen Christmas gift I was opened up to the contemplations of a theologian par-excellence, and I believe that the lessons he has to teach are more relevant today than ever before.

Before I dive into the crux of the review, allow me to explain what sparked this sudden interest in Bonhoeffer’s works. In a coffee shop sometime before Christmas a friend asked me if I was interested in any books. Gullibly, I believed this was just nice conversation and blurted out some books on theology and a biography on Bonhoeffer, written by Eric Metaxas, mostly because of another friend’s recommendation. Naturally, my friend bought me the only book I listed that would actually make a decent gift. I was not at all interested in the man as much as I was interested in the history surrounding the man. I mean really, who can resist the intrigue of a man described as a pastor, martyr, prophet, and spy. With book in hand and plenty of winter-break reading time, I was elated to see the Bonhoeffer of history.

After getting through the first few chapters, I was taken aback at how well Metaxas was able to bring the character of Bonhoeffer to life and present his thoughts as something genuinely worthy of deeper examination. From his disciplined school life to his courageous martyrdom at the Flossenburg concentration camp, there was a clear progression in Bonhoeffer’s thought as the notion of discipleship emerged at the cornerstone of his theology. His focus on discipleship was not merely some theological principle he drummed up. It was clearly taught throughout scripture and demanded the adherence of Christians, including Bonhoeffer. In fact it was Bonhoeffer’s willingness to obey Christ, at the cost of his life, that made his work feel much more like pastoral instruction than theological discourse. He endured through the many costs involved discipleship. He responded with courage and perseverance in the light of grave losses and glorified Christ all the more. By the end of the book and after dwelling on the life of Bonhoeffer, I wanted to live as he had lived (and I know how corny that sounds). I wanted to have the courage to stake my whole life on the message of the gospel. I wanted to be like this modern-day Paul.

I jumped on the opportunity to write on Bonhoeffer in a class I was taking and started to research his thought from an academic perspective. Sure I encountered some articles and monographs describing Bonhoeffer as a situational ethicist, possible apostate, and Gandhi-esque humanist, but reading the actual words of Bonhoeffer in his letters from prison and his book, The Cost of Discipleship, I saw more of what he had hoped to demonstrate though his life.

The cost of discipleship to my new friend Bonhoeffer was simply to live according to God’s grace. Not a revealing statement to anyone who has read the New Testament, but oh how profound that truth is when we understand grace. Bonhoeffer separated grace into two categories: cheap grace and costly grace. Cheap grace is a grace we know all-to-well. It is that grace we impart to ourselves to be as God’s people, but to live as if we still belonged to the world. It is ‘justification of sin without justification of the sinner.’ Costly grace by comparison, is “the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pear of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.” It is a grace that justifies only when the person who receives it leaves everything else behind to follow Christ.

To Bonhoeffer this cheap grace was a pervasive disease which had rotted the Lutheran Church from the inside, of which he was a pastor for, as well as many other denominations alike. Like many today in the Evangelical Church, we pay honors to the pure doctrine of grace. We often repeat the well-known formulas spoken by the apostles, early church and church reformers. Yet we pervert the truths we utter when we fail to take the gospel seriously enough to apply it to our own lives. Not much has changed since the days of Bonhoeffer. Vast swaths of evangelical Christians espouse belief in Christ, but deny the very one they supposedly follow when they betray him with their cultural attitudes and lifestyles. It is sad to say but today we look more like the world than the church. Granted, we may not be the cloistered German audience that Bonhoeffer was referring to, but when we hold to a view of divorce that the Woodstock generation held and see part of out biblical mandate as claiming a piece of the American Dream, I have difficulty believing that the ‘transformation by the renewing of one’s mind’ which Paul spoke about is actually taking place.

“How should we then live?” This remarkably accurate book by the late Christian philosopher, Francis Shaeffer, traces the rise of Western thought and how it has begun to fall, with many eerie predictions being validated since its 1976 publishing. As the title of book suggests, we may be living in a culture that has begun to deteriorate into absurdity, but how should we then live? Bonhoeffer simply stated that conscious obedience to Christ is the only way to engage one's faith. Our obedience must be conscious precisely because it is our conscious and unconscious sin that leads to unbelief and disobedience. When we neglect to search the scriptures and believe what has been lucidly taught, we are prevented from listening to Christ and believing his grace. For as John says in his gospel: “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free”. This sort of detachment from the world is rightly asserted by Bonhoeffer not to be through one’s attempts at forcibly believing, but solely in the work of the Holy Spirit in you, if indeed He is in you.

When we individually begin to see that our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, motivations, and actions belong to Christ, we are faced with the dilemma given only to the Christian: obedience or disobedience? The Christian must ask: Does my belief align with the lucid teaching of scripture? In faith, do I trust that what God has said to me is in fact true? Is knowing God worth facing possible alienation from the world? We are bombarded daily with all sorts of variations comprised within the dilemma to obey or disobey, but when an honest survey is conducted on the church it is evident that there are instances of disobedience that have either been ignored or supported.

The cover of my copy of The Cost of Discipleship has a painting of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, by Fra Angelico; a picture that begins to make sense as the reader progresses far enough into the book to see Christ’s counter-intuitive words on the mount as the only way to live life. For the sake of brevity I will not explore the entirety of Bonhoeffer’s thought regarding the Sermon on the Mount, but I will attempt to play the part of the prophet and emphasize the main point that must be stressed for the hoped repentance of Christ’s beloved church.

Bonhoeffer quotes the words of Jesus in Matthew 5: 16-20 to illustrate an important point to the disciple of Christ. Namely that Christ did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. More to the point though, those who teach others not to obey the law of God will be considered among the least in the kingdom of God. How is this to be understood? Bonhoeffer explains that Christ himself had no law that acted as a barrier to his fellowship with his disciples. Discipleship meant ‘adherence to Jesus Christ alone, and immediately. The surprise is that the disciples are bound to the OT law! This means both that adherence to the law is something quite different from following Christ, and that adherence to anything which violates the law hinders our primary motivation of discipleship under Christ. We are inextricably bound to acknowledge the righteous law of God if we are to continue in earnest with our desire to follow Christ.

Bonhoeffer does not believe the law must be fulfilled in some legalistic sense. Far from it! Bonhoeffer makes the point that it is Christ who ultimately fulfilled the law for us and it is only in personal communion with Him that the law can actually be fulfilled. Jesus, when at once we are justified by him, comes between His disciples and the law. Jesus becomes the righteousness of his disciples. This however presupposes that we acknowledge the law and seek to adhere to it. To do otherwise is only to accept Christ’s work on the cross as an unnecessary impediment to some vain goal.

If I have accomplished my task of unpacking Bonhoeffer’s thought effectively, you should see by now that Christians cannot hold God’s grace under the judgment of a law which condemned Christ and justified man (remember cheap grace vs. costly grace). As Paul has said in his epistle to the church in Galatia “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If you have been crucified with Christ, then so should the desire to rationalize a law, be it prevailing opinion or personal preference, which contradicts the lucid teachings of scripture, while at the same time not overstepping the boundary of God’s law so as to seek its fulfillment apart from fellowship with Christ. When these worldly elements of untransformed notions are purged, the simple believer in Christ does away with libertinism and legalism at once, leaving only the disciple and his Lord on a road that leads to everlasting joy.

You might be wondering by now how this specifically relates to a Christian testimony in a post-postmodern Canadian context. This is the first book review in the series and I believe it was a well selected one for the reason that it identifies our identity as Christians, both in relation to the world and to many flawed elements in the church. As I venture to review more great works in the months to come, I hope to build on this foundation and use it to remind us that we as Christians have a special calling in life. The restlessness, protesting, sadness and lunacy we see around us are most certainly grounds for deep concern, and I empathize with you if you feel this way, but it is vital that we understand what it means to follow Christ before we beckon our lost friends to heed the words of Christ "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Monday, 22 July 2013

Seek God, See Transformation Book Review Series

Ever since becoming a Christian at the age of sixteen, I have felt and experienced a looming conflict between the Church and the many forces, particularly cultural, that have most recently been making a concerted effort at eliminating Christian thought from the public discourse.

For the past four years at university, I have continually experienced a discontentment in my soul towards the prevailing attitudes and cultural forces expressed by my peers. I am not going to lie. There was a sense of self-righteousness during the earlier years of my faith, but this feeling of ‘something array’ persists with a more righteous indignation as I have come to know more of my own sin. It was frustrating and disheartening at what I noticed around me in the culture. I was secure in my faith. My love for Jesus has increased since the day he plucked me from the fire of my hatred towards Him and others. Why was it that this generation, my generation, was veering away at an increasing pace from the truth, hope, and love that I found in Christ?

I began my informal investigation in the works of political and moral philosophy, hoping to find some hidden truth that would reveal where the Church had failed to show the world the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. I studied such beautiful theology that has benefited me immensely in my walk with Christ, and believed it possible to retreat from the world in the blissful contemplation of God. This has proven to be an alluring mistake. A couple of glaring truths have shown themselves in these years of study: Our society is indeed moving in the direction of advanced hostility and possible persecution, and many who have called themselves the people of God are fleeing from the life that Christ has called them to live in some way or another.

In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer says, ‘when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die’. Let me ask you reader: Are you willing to die with Christ in the fellowship of crucified believers? Are you prepared to live a life totally given over to the direction of Him who called you out of death? If you are of like-mind, please join with me in prayer for our friends, leaders, relatives, and ourselves as we seek to give our whole lives in faithful obedience to Christ.

Throughout the next year, I will be reviewing a number of classical and contemporary Christian works that will hopefully inspire and encourage you to walk with Christ in this culture of death. In the next couple of days I will upload my review and thoughts on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. I hope you will join me in thoughtful discussion these next twelve months.