Tuesday, October 27, 2015

America's Continued Divide

Today, the other pastor I work with and I attended a large pastors conference out of town.

The speaker was a mega-church pastor, well known in evangelical Christian circles. His messages were excellent - very helpful and biblically sound.

The last session he took some questions and answers. One question was about how to minister in an age of terrorism and mass shootings. His answer was interesting. He went straight to a defense of police officers. He claimed that the situation is not helped when we demonize police officers. I agree.
I agreed with everything he said - police, firefighters, soldiers - these men and women stand between the rest of us and complete social breakdown. I hold great respect and admiration for these people who place their lives on the line daily, so that the rest of us can live lives of security.

Now, what I want to point out is what he did not say. I am still a relative newcomer to the USA - 2.5 years now. And so I have been able to observe a little of the racial divide in this country. I have always been interested in this part of American culture, but now I can see it close up.

What I have concluded is that most of my white friends do not dislike blacks. They are not racist. They would not discriminate against people of another color - as evidenced by the fact that they befriend me and my family.

Instead of racism, what exists is a benign ignorance, bred by a complete lack of social interaction between blacks and whites. Its not that my white friends don't like blacks, they simply don't know any at a deep level. This lack of interaction leads to stereotypes on both sides. I have to confess I have now fallen into this passive withdrawal as well - I do not have a friend who is African American - an african american couple have joined my church small group, and i am slowly becoming friend with them.

And so, when leaders say we need to support our police - I agree, but it displays an ignorance of the complex racial and historical factors that have led to the eruption of the "Black Lives Matter" protests of recent days.

I was saddened that this well respected Christian leader failed to display empathy and solidarity with African American brothers and sisters who have grown up in a much different world than he has. Today I read a New York Times article focused on the "driving while black" phenomena - that is black motorists are much more likely to be pulled over by police for minor infractions and then have their vehicles searched, than whites.

And today, the national news showed cel phone video of a black South Carolina high school student being ripped out of her desk and thrown across the room by a white officer. These are not isolated incidents - but the tip of an iceberg of many such similar incidents that we never hear of.

America was founded on, has existed upon and grown profitable on racial policies against the black race. This history of dehumanization will not be reversed by law. Only when we can hear each other stories can this sad history start to lose its power on our consciousness and hearts.

Support the police, yes - but listen to one another too.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Who Are You?

Last week I preached on identity.

The question of self identity is one of the key questions we need to answer in order to have a meaningful life.

When asked "who are you"?, most of us respond either vocationally or relationally.

Vocationally - I am a pastor, doctor, home-maker, etc.

Relationally - I am a Ninan - I am so and so's child, father, etc.

We now live in a time where gender and racial identity seems to be becoming more and more fluid.

In my sermon, I addressed that if we follow Christ, our identity gets re-defined in terms of our relationship with Christ. As followers of Christ, we are adopted into the family of God.

Thus, our primary identity is that as a child of God. A Christian is someone who has God as their father.

This understanding is incredibly transformational. We lose insecurity and fear as we enter into the truth of this reality.

Our attempts to secure self esteem through peer or societal approval, proves moot.

We are also liberated from basing our identity our performance - complete and total freedom.

The Christian becomes emancipated from the crazy making superficiality of our age, and finds him/herself at rest in the loving embrace of the Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Some Benefits

Yesterday, I was thinking about what the benefits of being a Christian are.
What difference does being a follower of Jesus Christ?
I came up with the following:

1. The ability to forgive others. Because Christ has forgiven the worst in me, I in turn can forgive the worst in others.

2. No stress. If God loves me and is caring for and  protecting and guiding me, I never have to worry about anything ever again.

3. Community. The most important human need we have is for a community of love and acceptance around us. The Church gives me this gift.

There are more - what would you add?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ravi Zacharias

I posted a pic. of me and world famous apologist Ravi Zacharias on Facebook. It garnered over 175 likes - far more than any other pic. I have ever posted online.

Zacharias is arguably one of the most prominent Christian leaders in the world. He is the head of a 22 million dollar/year ministry with offices all over the world. There are hundreds who work in the ministry with over 50 itinerant speakers. He is in high demand as a speaker and people regularly line up hours ahead in order to get seats.

He is an arresting speaker commingling natural charisma with a photographic memory of lengthy quotes.

My history with Ravi goes back to India. There was some interaction between my parent's families and his family. I am unsure of what that interaction actually was. I know my Dad's brother worked with Ravi's ministry in India, providing leadership development training for his staff there.

In the 70's and 80's Ravi spent part of his time as an itinerant evangelist with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He travelled globally and did outreach meetings in Alliance churches across North America.

In 1983 he did a series of meetings in my home church, Circle Drive Alliance in Saskatoon Saskatchewan. Our family attended the meetings. I sat in rapt attention. (I was 13). What struck me was 2 things:

1. Here was an Indian man preaching in a church. Up to that point I had never actually seen an Indian person preach. I guess I assumed only white people preach. As an Indo-Canadian, my job prospects were likely to be some white collar professional job such as medicine or law. I was leaning toward the latter. But, now Ravi broke my paradigms as to South Asians in ministry. We could preach. We do preach! Maybe I could preach.

2. I had never heard anyone speak with such powerful eloquence before. I can still remember illustrations he used.

We were fortunate enough to have Ravi over for a meal. We chatted a bit more about his ministry and his laugh. He was pretty down to earth.

And that was that. I would hear Ravi 3 more times live after that:
Louisville - 1994
Abbotsford BC (twice - 1995, 2008)

My path to the ministry was cemented in the years after hearing Ravi in '83. Seeing and hearing him, planted an initial seed of my future calling.

I had tried a couple of times unsuccessfully to connect with him - in Rochester NY and Atlanta. Both times, I received very courteous feed-back from his assistant. Rochester, he was barely in town - he literally flew in, spoke and then flew out. When I was in Atlanta, he was in India.

This year our family made our annual vacation plans to the Camp of the Woods resort in the Adirondacks. We chose the week Ravi would be speaking. My parents flew in from Canada to join us, as well.

I was shocked to hear that Ravi would be able to meet with me and my Dad. We met in the lobby of one of the residences at the resort. Ravi proved to be extremely warm and open as we spoke. I have met other "big name" Christian speakers and some big time celebrities (Bono!). And in some of those meetings, I have left disappointed at their arrogance, aloofness or coldness. Even some lesser known Christian speakers give off a vibe like they're doing you a favor by speaking with you. But, Ravi was different - he was genuinely interested in what I was doing. He shared some wise counsel about life and ministry.

At the end, he thanked us for our time(!) And we promised to stay in touch.

Why I like Ravi:

1. Cares for the individual. Ravi speaks to masses of people. But his messages are peppered with stories about how he took time to meet with needy individuals following his messages. I know one woman personally who came to faith because Ravi spent 4 hours with her, sharing the gospel and praying with her.

2. It's not about him. Ravi has intentionally added dozens of additional speakers to share the platform with him. He is not building a monument to self, but is building a movement that will be replicated long after he is gone - through the younger apologists he is personally mentoring.

3. Humility - Ravi heads a large organization. He criss=cross the globe to fulfill speaking invitations. He interacts with prominent political and business leaders. Celebrities even seek him out. Despite this, Ravi carved out time to meet with me. He gave off such a spirit of humility and graciousness.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Wanting the Fruit While Severing The Root

Contemporary America is attempting something amazing: the creation of an autonomous free floating value matrix, which can be traced directly back to Christianity, while simultaneously severing the taproot which provides said values. 

I posted this on Facebook - it elicited a very lengthy and eloquent response from my childhood friend, Andy Tait. You can read it on my Facebook page. Andy says that "the modern west began when ties to Christianity began to fray". He gives a lengthy explanation of a variety of advances that have taken place as church and state began to separate.

This has been of particular interest to me over the past 5 years. I have been studying a lot of the cultural changes happening in the West. The person who has helped me the most is Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor. He has written with the greatest insight and comprehension on the pivot, the West has taken from theism to secularity. See A Secular Age, Sources of Self and The Malaise of Modernity.

Andy gives very specific examples of human progress when severed by religion. But, what I want to address is the basic beliefs that the majority of people in the West carry within them subconsciously.

Here are just a couple:

1. Human Rights - the majority of people in the West believe in fundamental universal rights - right to education, food, clothing, shelter, security, etc. But, this belief is indefensible from a strictly atheistic, scientific worldview. Why would random products of time+chance+matter have rights to anything? Who gets to decide? The Christian worldview teaches that all human beings are created with inherent dignity as a result of being the conscious creation by God. Creatures that in fact reflect back the image of God.

2. Importance of Relationships - Every thinking person is cognizant that meaning in life is constructed primarily through the relationships of intimacy and love we have with others. Again - why is this so? If we are random acts of blind evolution - why in the world world does love become the ultimate good? Wouldn't it be power or brute survival? The Christian worldview teaches that Ultimate Reality is a triune community of relationships - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the Trinity. Out of this flows the primal desire for connection with others in relationship and community. It is hard wired in every human being.

There are a myriad of other trajectories that trace back to the Christian worldview: 
-Material world is good and important - which gave rise to physical science
-forward trajectory of history (history is not just cyclical or fated)
-human beings as free moral agents
-holistic understanding of human beings - human beings have interlocked systems - mind, emotion, physical - no longer Greek or Gnostic views of human body
-both political and legal systems can be traced back to the Magna Carta - it is inconceivable to envision England and America emerging into what they were without that primal document.

Western culture is living off the fruits of the Christian Worldview - but due to hyper-individualism, the belief in science and technology as savior, rampant relativism and a diluted Christian faith, she is jettisoning her roots. In place of the Christian world view, we are constructed a multi-faceted, dynamic secular narrative.

Time will tell how this will play out.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Seeds in Charleston

Other seed fell on good soil. 
It came up, grew and produced a crop, 
some multiplying thirty, 
some sixty,
some a hundred times.

On Wednesday June 17, Dylan Roof went to a Bible Study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston South Carolina. An hour into the study he pulled out a gun and shot and killed 9 of the people in the study, including the pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

The passage they were studying was the parable of the sower found in Mark 4. In this parable, Jesus teaches how the Word of God is like seed sown on a variety of soils. 
Some seed missed the soil, hit the path only to be eaten up by birds. 
Some fell on rocky soil and had no chance to set down roots. The sun burned them up. Some seed fell among thorns - the thorns killed the seed.

But other seed....
That seed fell on good soil - that seed did not die.
It came up
It grew.
It produced far beyond its humble beginnings.

The men and women felled by Roof's gun are like that seed. The reason I can say that is because EVER SINGLE family member of the 9 killed offered forgiveness to Dylan Roof. Forgiveness was extended a mere 2 days after the killings during Roof's initial hearing.

Good soil, seed coming up, growing, producing a hundred fold.

Roof meant to cause a new civil war. He picked the wrong tactic. Every time the church is pushed down, she finds a way of rising again because she follows a God who knows how to get out of graves.

I watched a video of the sermon given today at that same church. The preacher said by opening their doors today, they have sent a message to every demon on earth and in hell that evil does not win. The reason those families could offer forgiveness is because on this Father's Day, they chose to bear their Father's image.

The Bible study did not end with those 9 dead people. it continued on. The killer was even invited back through the vehicle of forgiveness.

The seed keeps growing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Let The Teachers, Teach

Last week, Felicia and I attended an orientation evening at the middle school that Adam will be attending next year. It's one of those nights where the staff and administrators do their best to assure you that your kids will learn something and not grow disillusioned or bitter in the process.

There are a certain type of parent who for some reason feel that they know more about kids education than the actual child educators who have both the training and experience to actually know what they are doing.

Despite, the fact that these qualified men and women are there to present to us some of the plans they have for our kids education, these spritely parents feel compelled to pop up and pontificate on their personal philosophies of education.

Most of these theories seem to be based on daydreams they have while dozing in their recliners while netflix plays in the background. Or (worse), they are a hodge podge of theories culled from day time talk shows and poorly written blog posts.

One energetic mom even stood up to address the crowd about what makes for a healthy lunch.

So here's my plea:

I don't argue with my dr. with the meds he prescribes.
I don't argue with my mechanic about what type of oil to use in my car.

And I don't feel compelled to prove and pontificate with my kids teachers on my personal theory of education.

Let the teachers teach - and once in awhile thank them, instead of trying to correct them.