Monday, December 30, 2013

Finishing Well

I spent over fifteen years attending this church in southern Ontario. I was baptized here as a teenager. Wendy and I spent six years as youth leaders with the incomparable George Mercado. Our daughter Jordan was dedicated to God in this building.
But as always, it's the people that met inside the building that were the difference-makers; the ones who truly made it a "church" and not simply a building with a cross on top.
Scripture encourages us to "Take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you" (Philippians 3:17). And a man named Dennis King is one of the Godly examples I was blessed to have in my life.

Dennis and his wife Ericka exude encouragement, cheerfulness, and an incredibly welcoming gift of hospitality. Even if you simply bumped into them in the church foyer, during the post-service crowd, their faces would light up with warm smiles. Their ability to make people feel included and welcomed made you feel like you'd just been invited into their home, even in the crowded foyer.

I received word just an hour or so ago that Dennis passed away. I knew he had cancer, and I knew it was inoperable. We all knew that 2013 would likely be his last.

Dennis and I had a great time hanging out at my parents' place in May; we were in town for my niece's wedding, and Dennis and Ericka came over for coffee. Dennis' physical body was much frailer than I remembered, but his eyes still had their trademark mischievous twinkle, and his sense of humour was evident as always.

We talked about his cancer. Dennis was quite candid in his comments -- although not in a despairing or self-pitying way -- that he was really glad we were able to spend time together, because it would probably be that last time I would ever see him.

It also gave me a golden opportunity to thank him for his influence in my life as a teenager/young adult. I reminded him of what might have seemed to him (at the time) as "just little things" that he & Erika said and did: their friendliness, their generosity, their steadfast faith no matter what life threw at them, the time Dennis invested in reaching out to a bunch of young teenagers on a weekly basis, and their obvious love and care for a couple of young newlyweds named Rob & Wendy.

Dennis listened very intently, never breaking eye contact (which is just how Dennis listens). Afterwards, he simply and quietly thanked me. You wonder sometimes, he said, whether you've had an impact, whether you've really made a difference. He seemed genuinely touched to hear from me that he had most definitely made an impact. A positive, encouraging, Christ-like impact.

I'm so grateful that I had that opportunity to thank Dennis. Even in the last few months of his life, he continued to be an example. An example of finishing well. I know Dennis has just recently heard: "well done, good and faithful servant".
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8)."



Addendum:

My best friend since high school, Pat Prowse, gave me permission to re-post his thoughts about Dennis:
There I was: an angry young man, and the last place I wanted to be was Church. Dennis was one of the first people to reach out to me, inviting me to be on the Church softball team. He and Ericka laughed and smiled easily, listened and encouraged me immediately. Youth Leaders, Sunday School Teachers and no one to this day has been a better example to me of Godly character. I had a little sticker on my Bible for years that said, "I'm a Kings Kid!". If I can be half the man Dennis was, I believe I would have finished well.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Public House Band: 2013

A year ago, this band was only an idea.

Long-time musical compadre Andrew Smith, with whom I have touring memories from coast-to-coast across Canada, contacted me with his latest brainchild and an invitation to team up again.

And since the beginning of January, it's been an extremely full and musically satisfying year. Possibly the finest collection of musicians and singers I've ever had the privilege to take the stage with. (That's difficult to write, because I've been blessed to play with a LOT of incredibly talented musicians over the years.)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Going Against the Flow

This image is a blast from the past -- I used to have a t-shirt with this "go against the flow" graphic on it.

Even then, I had begun to move away from wearing my faith "on my sleeve", so to speak. I was hoping instead that my life might proclaim my faith without the aid of a t-shirt. (Ie., if the only way people knew I was a Christian was of slogans on my clothing, maybe I was going about it the wrong way.)

But this was one of the t-shirts that I wore regularly in the early 1990's. Brings back memories!

One of the memories/stories from the era of that t-shirt dovetails with the idea of "going against the flow": "They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you." (1 Peter 4:4)

One of the young women who attended our youth group every now and then (she had her own group at her own church, as well) sat down to chat with me after a meeting, because she had something on her mind.

Turns out she had been quite a party animal, until about two months previous, when she decided that she needed to live a life consistent with her faith. She felt convicted about the gap between her lifestyle and her faith, so she made a decision to stop partying it up with her friends all the time.

Now, this young woman's personality and character was not the judgmental, holier-than-thou type. That's just not who she was.

She didn't stop attending her friends' parties, because she valued her relationships. She just quit smoking and didn't get drunk with them like she used to.

That didn't last very long.

Her friends started treating her differently, and it wasn't long afterwards that a couple of them sat down with her to "confront" her for "judging" them. She was informed that she was no longer welcome to come to any of their parties. She suddenly found herself ostracized and excluded from a group of friends she'd known all her life.

Aye, and here's the rub: these were her Christian friends.

She wasn't a judgmental person. She didn't put on a holier-than-thou attitude. She never lectured. She didn't treat her friends any differently. All she did was quit smoking and getting drunk. And that alone drove her friends crazy. You see, you can maintain the illusion that nothing is wrong with your lifestyle as long as all the other Christians around you do the same thing. But if just one person begins to put their lifestyle in sync with their faith, it upsets the status quo faster than tossing a live shark into a crowded swimming pool.
"They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you."
There are times in life where you have to take a public stand. And when those times come, you'll take some lumps for doing it. We get that; it makes sense.

But sometimes we don't have to say anything. All we have to do, as this young woman found out the hard way, is just not join in.

"Going against the flow" may not always resemble the t-shirt or the painting at left (which kinda reminds me of the events of Daniel 3). Sometimes, all it takes is just quietly living your faith.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Clan


As we all celebrate the miracle of the birth of Jesus, and enjoy family & the friendship of those close to us, may we each feel an extra measure of gratitude for all the gifts we have received. Family, friends, good times (yes, and even difficult times), and especially for the gift of the Incarnation, which literally changed everything.

From our house to yours, Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Caution: Prickly Cactus Ahead

While I was appalled at some of the things that the Bearded Wonder said recently -- everyone seems focused on one element, but there were numerous items that were face-palm-worthy -- at the same time, many are reacting against something the Bible actually says:



Note: you'd think this would be obvious...
"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)


Before anyone jumps to any hasty conclusions (hasn't there been enough of that already?), let's break this biblical passage down a bit.

Those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God include:
  1. Sexually immoral
    • anyone who is sexually active but not married (may encompass more than "going all the way")
  2. Idolaters
    • anyone who worships, depends on, or offers sacrifices to an idol; potentially the only item most of us may be innocent of, unless money, power, and prestige count as idols
  3. Adulterers
    • anyone having sex with somebody when one or both of you is married to somebody else
  4. Men who have sex with men
    • pretty self-explanatory
  5. Thieves
    • people in general who steal stuff, pirated DVD's, copies of CD's that you didn't actually pay for, "cracked" software downloaded from internet, etc.
  6. Greedy
    • "I'm trapped using a mere cell-phone! I need a new the latest smartphone! My flat-screen is embarrassing: only 72 inches wide! Black Friday RULES!" (etc.)
  7. Drunkards
    • TGIF! Let's get hammered pie-faced (insert favorite metaphor for complete intoxication here). It's our weekend tradition!
  8. Slanderers
    • misrepresenting others in order to mock or discredit them, spreading gossip for the same reason, cyber-bullying, & the average heat-of-the-moment reactionary facebook/blog comment
  9. Swindlers
    • ponzi schemes, cheating on taxes, televangelists, etc.
Okay,  I'm going to go waa-a-aay out on a limb here, and assume that everyone reading this got busted by at least one item on this list. Spiritually, righteously, ethically speaking -- we epitomize fail.

But isn't that the point? That none of us "deserves" the Kingdom? That we might need an intervention or something, or Somebody -- a Savior, perhaps?

That's why the rest of this brief passage of Scripture, following such a devastating list of who won't inherit the Kingdom, is so important:
"And that is what some of you were. But...
  • you were washed,
  • you were sanctified,
  • you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
Were the original readers of Paul's letter offended by the list? We have no way of knowing; there were no eye-witness reports of their reaction. Were they relieved, encouraged, and built up in their faith to hear that Jesus had dealt with their (our) epic fail? That because of Jesus, everyone can be forgiven and inherit the Kingdom?

I'm guessing "yes".

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mantra

The video below was brought to my attention again recently. Taylor Mali is a gifted communicator, using slam poetry, and he's passionate about teaching (being a former teacher), the use of words, and communication. And as this video brilliantly demonstrates, being passionate about your convictions.

If I could somehow have this video clip attached to my bathroom mirror, to inspire/challenge me on a daily basis, I would.



Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Sisters

I have been blessed with two beautiful and talented daughters. They both share their mother's quirky and endearing sense of humor, and are both gifted and enthusiastic dancers.

And despite being eight years apart in age, they get along famously and are a delight to have around.
This video is from a "flash mob" that they participated in, which took over a library here in town for a few short minutes. The video opens with my oldest daughter Jordan starting the dance, before having her younger sister Renee join in (and eventually a lot of other dancers).

They're easy to spot throughout the video. They dance near each other, and they're the only two wearing bright pink.

Yes, our family does tend towards the artsy-fartsy side of things.



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fathers, Sons, and the Bond of the Band


Caleb McAlpine - "I Am Not My Own" from Erik Wuesthoff on Vimeo.

I am so very proud of my son. He plays incredibly well, sings beautifully, and writes songs with a sense of poetry, honesty, and passion that is simply amazing for a guy who just turned 20.

I remember him playing E-minor for almost an entire year during our worship jams. He was drowned out by the many other instruments, but he certainly learned rhythm. Once he learned a few chords, it wasn't long before he was jamming along with people twice his age (and more) in church bands with me. Not long after, he was leading bands on his own. I used to show him stuff on guitar; later he showed me. These days, I just nod in appreciation of the talents and skills that he continues to hone.

I am grateful at all times for the gift of music, and even more so that I can share it with my son. And even more still that I can cheer him from this side of The Pond as he continues to grow and mature as an artist, a songwriter, and a follower of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Self-Deception is a Heck of a Blind Spot


self-de·cep·tion [self-di-sep-shuhn]; noun
1. the act or fact of deceiving oneself.

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22)

In many ways, we have it easier than those who first heard the Epistle of James. They had no choice but to "listen to the word", because they only had access to a single hand-written letter, and photocopiers & papyrus didn't mix all that well in those days.

They had to listen. And then not forget what they'd heard. And one of the best ways of not forgetting something is to go out and immediately put it into practice.

Nowadays, we have it easier. We can listen at church, or in home group, and even in conversation over lunch. And when it's convenient, we can also read it as many times as we'd like, whenever we'd like, and access Bible study helps, commentaries, and download apps to aid us.

But I suspect that self-deception may be a bigger problem than we realize. In my case, anyway.

I had barely pushed "publish" on my previous blog post (you know, the one about social media outrage and how it doesn't equate with Christ-like character?) and I came across an incendiary comment on a friend's page that blew me away.

After typing several scorching replies that never got sent (thankfully), I realized that I was being tested by the very words I had just written.

I was, according to the definition given by James 1:22, teetering on the edge of self-deception.
"But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do." (James 1:25)

parakyptō; verb
1. to look carefully into, inspect curiously

The Greek word parakyptō is translated "looks intently" in our language. It's more deliberate, more intentional than "casually glancing over", or perhaps "skimmed quickly in between sips of coffee". It's more of a stop and look carefully moment. And there's plenty in the book of James to stop and look carefully at: taming the tongue, not showing favoritism, faith and works, etc.
We "look intently" because we are fascinated by the prospect of living life as God intended us to.
To read through James quickly and rush off to do something else, thinking that we've done our bit, is actually the very form of self-deception that James warns us against.

That is a sobering, and yet inspirational thought, depending on what we do with it. (Personally, I would recommend the "look intently" and "put into practice" option.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Outrage is All the Rage

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

(James 1:19-20)

Outrage is hot right now. Especially on social media. Everybody wants to get in on the adrenaline train of self-righteous indignation. Videos, photos, links to news websites of questionable bias, petitions, fear-mongering end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it prophecies and environmental doomsday predictions, etc.
"You never see that on Facebook."
Said nobody ever.
And I'm not just talking about those posts -- you've all seen them -- where people say something about an issue near and dear to their hearts, and then, OUCH, the dagger goes in: they contemptuously suggest that only people who really care will forward their post to the entire world.


You know, the ones that say "99% won't care enough to forward this because you are heartless/don't love Jesus".

Followed by some passive agressive snarky threat (maybe the dreaded "block" or the ultimate weapon: "unfriend").

There is a weird subculture of outrage growing within social media. The attitude has been around far longer than the internet has existed -- there really is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9) -- but social media makes it so immediate, that sometimes it seems more prevalent. This passive-aggressive tendency, coupled with a sense of unaccountability (and anonymity) online, can feed the beast culture of outrage without even stopping to think about it.

Remember that little verse from James at the beginning of this post?
"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires."
There's a big difference between being passionate, and being passionately angry.

One means that you care, deeply care, about issues and people.

The other is a self-righteous counterfeit of outrage that negates the very righteousness that God calls us to walk in, and is trying to form within us.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Post-Charismatic 2.0: Book Release

There's a long saga behind this book's original release, and now into it's Second Edition, but I suspect the details might be interesting only to yours truly...

What I should probably emphasize is the "Why?" behind writing Post-Charismatic 2.0: Rekindle the Smoldering Wick in the first place:
My motivation for writing is the same today as when I wrote the first edition: I have many brothers and sisters who have been victims of some or all of these damaging teachings and practices. I don’t want to see people give up on their faith, nor settle for a ‘safe’ but ultimately sterile Christian life.

“Ideas have consequences,” wrote Richard Weaver. As Christians, our beliefs influence our actions, whether we realize it or not. Toxic practices (spiritual abuse) are always rooted in toxic beliefs (false or misused teaching). People often protest that they aren’t interested in “doing theology”. What they don’t realize is that our thoughts and beliefs about God and how He works are theology.


Including bad or toxic theology.
It is the difficulty in the sorting process that tempts many charismatics to throw up their hands in frustration, and give up. Many will simply skip being post-charismatic (weeding out the chaff to hold to the wheat), and jump straight into being non-charismatic.

And in the extreme, non-Christian. (Note: We want to avoid this.)

(We want to avoid this, too.)

After an overview of the historical roots, we will dig deeper into three areas of teaching that have contributed heavily to the current problems. Problems that have caused outsiders to mock, insiders to be used and abused, and many refugees to flee for their spiritual lives. These three areas are:
  1. Latter Rain (aka Kingdom Now, Dominion, New Apostolic Reformation)
  2. Word of Faith (aka Prosperity, Name It & Claim It)
  3. Shepherding Movement (being under 'authority/cover', aka Culture of Honor)
My hope is that Post-Charismatic 2.0: Rekindle the Smoldering Wick will prove to be a redemptive starting point for current charismatics, post-charismatics, and anyone who desires more of the Spirit but wants to avoid the errors that led to the excesses that led to the exodus.

"I don't want to be post-Spirit,
but I wouldn't mind being post-hype."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stark Raving Artistic: Kelsie Balehowsky

"Alone Together"

I am a big fan of Kelsie Balehowsky.

I'm also a big fan of her creative works. (Look carefully at both pix: Kelsie is not only the photographer who set up the shot, she is every single character in each shot as well. Love it!)

And I love how she integrates artistic talent, social commentary, and her faith in Jesus. (And her husband James is pretty cool too, as is his band Joyful Door.)

Lemme 'splain:

First of all, it's tough being a Christian in the arts. Always has been. Kelsie has to put up with ridicule and disdain regularly in her art classes at university.



"Narcissism"
She'll be the first to admit that it'd be easier to be an artist first and a Christian second, but she won't. She's a Christian, and she's an artist. Period. (One of the reasons I admire her.)

When Kelsie spoke to a photography class in a local high school (my beautiful & talented wife Wendy is the teacher), she was in-your-face-but-not-obnoxious about how serious she is about her faith in Jesus, and really challenged/encouraged Wendy's students as budding young artists with cameras.

Like a lot of people, I have a love/hate relationship with all things technological and social media. Kelsie's photographic art on this topic -- aside from its clever creativity (did I mention Kelsie plays all the parts in each scene?) -- is spot on. Narcissism and alienation are some seriously negative side-effects. (Although I have also re-connected with long-lost friends and keep up with distant relatives through social media -- hence the "love/hate" piece.)


And last but not least, I admire Kelsie and her husband James for their involvement at Metro Community (downtown street church), as well as being part of the wacky and wonderful home group that my daughter Jordan loves so dearly. They all attend different churches, but these guys are "community" with a capital "C".

We had the whole crew over for Thanksgiving once, and as the host of the feast, I toasted the lot of them. We are thankful to have them in our daughter's life, and our own.

Kelsie, her husband James, and my daughter Jo are all buried in here somewhere

We need more young Christian artists like Kelsie. Artists with her commitment to Jesus, her creativity and social conscience, and who also invest time with "the least of these".

As I said, I am a big fan.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Let's Get Uncomfortable, Shall We?

 How would you caption this?
 
The Apostle Paul, that tireless and fearless missionary of the first century, who wrote the majority of the New Testament (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), once wrote a letter to his young protegé, Timothy. In describing himself, Paul says:
This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NLT)
The picture above is startling when you first see it. Jesus and a Nazi walking down the road together. And Jesus appears to be doing what He instructed people to do in the Sermon on the Mount:
"If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles." (Matthew 5:41)
Worse yet, they're obviously having a conversation, and it doesn't appear as if Jesus is calling down fire and brimstone on the young neo-fascist. (He actually looks concerned for the young man.)

Of course, it's just a picture. Not photographic evidence. This didn't really happen.

No need to get uncomfortable. Jesus wouldn't ask the same of us, would He?

Why are you looking at me like that?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

W.O.W.

This has got to be the best response to the Strange Fire conference that I've come across.

This pastor was there. Shane Idleman attended the Strange Fire conference. He is not reacting to a few isolated video clips or soundbytes. He gives an incredible (and respectful) response that makes me want to yell "Amen!". :)

Well done, Pastor Shane!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lest We Forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Foreshadowing: Post-Charismatic 2.0


It all started innocently enough.

A few requests for a Kindle version of Post-Charismatic. Emails wondering if I had any more copies hidden in my basement somewhere (because the original book was now out of print). I was flattered, but didn't give it any serious thought.

And then an unexpected royalty cheque arrived a week later from the UK, long after the print run was over. And suddenly it hit me -- (yes, after three strong hints, eventually robby wakes up and smells the java) -- people are still tracking down copies (or trying to), even though it's out of print.

I had already regained legal rights to my original book from the publisher a year before. There was no reason why I couldn't re-release Post-Charismatic. Kindle-izing it would take some time and effort, but the book could be made available within a few weeks.

But abruptly -- nay, catastrophically -- all that changed, when I opened my original copy and began reading it with fresh eyes.

And I realized that if I was going to do this, it couldn't be just a simple re-release (hokus pick, no!).

And that meant re-writing. More research. Ruthless axing of extraneous details and rabbit trails. Less verbosity and more plain-speaking.
In short, a proper Second Edition. Post-Charismatic 2.0.
And the finish line is just around the corner.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween, Judgement & Contempt... Oh My!

It's been interesting to catch the undercurrents (via the wonder of BookFace) of the Great Halloween Debate raising its contentious head once again. On the one hand, you might be tempted to think: AGAIN?!? ¿En serio? (seriously?)

When will (depending on your point of view):
  1. Christians get over their silly superstitious paranoia?
  2. Christians start taking spiritual warfare seriously?
But on the other hand, it's always healthy to pause, reflect, think, puzzle, and discuss (even debate) how we as Christians are to engage the culture around us. So, seeing this debate making the rounds once again is not necessarily a bad thing.

And I found several blog posts that suggested that the church alternative of "Harvest Parties" is fooling no-one. As one writer cleverly put it: "Unless you're a farmer or have a grow-op in your basement, this isn't harvest time." It was a funny line, even if I don't buy his/her argument.

Here is a line that I think should be enforced:
"Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
"One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God." (Romans 14:1-6)
By all means, be fully convinced in your own mind about your participation or non-participation or alternative to Halloween. Think long and hard about it. Know why you believe what you believe. Hold your convictions firmly.

But leave contempt and a judgmental attitude at the door. And please, don't give either of these attitudes away to any of the children.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Once Per Year, Perchance?

(originally published here in 2003, my very first year of blogging...)

John Fischer writes in Fearless Faith (Living Beyond the Safe Walls of Christianity):
"The more acceptable Christian thing to do now on Halloween is to close up the house and have an alternative party for our kids at church. The party usually has a harvest or biblical character theme -- no ghosts or goblins allowed. Though I understand how this safer alternative came to be, I wonder whether a blanket boycott is the only way to handle this controversial holiday. Is this just one more time when we as Christians isolate ourselves from the rest of our culture for religious reasons apparent only to us? Have we really thought through what our dark houses are saying to the rest of the block while we're off having our alternative party? I can hear the neighbourhood kids shuffling by our house, saying, "Don't go there, they don't give anything." Is this what we want to be known for in the community -- a dark house on the one night you can be guaranteed neighbors will visit?

"If Satan comes out on Halloween, he doesn't go back into hiding the next morning. Regardless of the origins of Halloween (and there appears to be little agreement about this, even among historians), what we have today is a culture-wide event that is more concerned with pretending than it is with the underworld... If Satan wins anything on this day, he may win more through the darkened homes of Christians than through anything else."
When we were pastoring in Victoria BC, Christians didn't do anything to celebrate Halloween -- there were lots of "Harvest Parties" in various church buildings instead. Of course, the police were guarding the Ross Bay Cemetary so no bodies would be stolen that night, nor to forget the animal sacrifice that was done on our front yard in the hey-day of GodRock, or a local shaman dressing up in his ceremonial garb to personally curse me -- you can understand why particpating in Halloween wasn't even a debatable question in Christian circles in Victoria during the 1990's.

Now that we're in Winnipeg, we take our kids out trick-or-treating every year, for the same reasons that John Fischer illustrates above. It's like being part of the community here to join in the fun. We don't let our kids dress up in death-inspired outfits (our son went as a box of Cheerios one year, and our daughter once went as a potted plant -- WAY more creative than a Freddie Kreuger mask!). But we go with them and mingle with our community. I even (unknowing at the time) had a joking conversation with the premier of Manitoba -- I didn't recognize him in a yellow rain slicker.

Even more fun are our Anglican neighbours across the street -- every year, they have hot chocolate, coffee, tea, and penny candy for everyone who stops by their outdoor bonfire. They play jazz or blues music on a ghetto blaster, and it becomes the gathering place for tons of people -- and the many Christians who live on our street have a great opportunity to mix and mingle with our non-Christian neighbours and give a cup of hot chocolate in Jesus' name. It rocks!

Two different approaches to Halloween. Definite reasons behind each. Whether you choose to participate or not, at least think through what you're communicating to the community you're trying to impact for Jesus.

And you can always give me your candy!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Strange Fire Three: Speak Up, Already


I want YOU to speak up!
Two obervations arising out of the recent Strange Fire conference:
  1. As I suggested in Strange Fire Two: No True Scotsman, John MacArthur is definitely not the right person to critique the charismatic movement.
  2. On the other hand, has anyone heard insiders to the charismatic movement speaking up about the excesses, abuses, and unbiblical teachings and practices that everybody knows plague the movement?
    • 2b. Does silence imply consent?
    • 2c. Or something worse?

Of course, some voices have spoken up over the years. Individuals have written articles and books, and denominational leaders have taken stands against wacky theology and damaging practices. One example is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the USA, the Assemblies of God, which has published many position papers on controversial issues over the years (available as PDF's on their website).

For example:
  • The "Jesus Only" teaching (there is no Trinity)
  • the Shepherding Movement (being "under covering/authority" aka "Culture of Honor")
  • the Word of Faith teaching (Health & Wealth, Prosperity)
  • The Latter Rain (Kingdom Now, Dominionism, New Apostolic Reformation, IHOP), etc.
I'm not Pentecostal myself, but I do appreciate that the Assemblies of God have at least tried to do something. (Whether people are listening or not is a whole 'nuther question.)

And during the rise of the Shepherding Movement, there were a lot of voices loudly condemning it, long before its own leaders recognized their error and repented. For example: Demos Shakarian (founder/leader of Full Gospel Businessmen's Association) and Pat Robertson (700 Club television show) who refused to allow any of the Shepherding leaders to speak at any of their functions or broadcasts; Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, Jack Hayford of Church on the Way, and even controversial healing evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman.

The Kansas City Prophets (Bob Jones, John Paul Jackson, Paul Cain) were confronted by other charismatics during their heyday as well (early 1990s).

And some of Lakeland/Todd Bentley's loudest critics in 2008 were other charismatics and Pentecostals. So it's not like nobody has spoken up.

But apparently the need to continue speaking up continues unabated to this day.

Shout Down 101
Many charismatics feel like their mouths have been taped shut. Nobody wants to be called a "heresy hunter", or mocked as the "doctrine police", or dismissed as "quenching the Spirit". That's why so many have chosen the (illusion of) safety in becoming a Possum of Discernment. It's not easy/comfortable/safe to be the voice expressing the unpopular question.

But even if somebody has tried to tape your mouth shut, what's stopping you from ripping the tape off?

Ultimately, I don't believe MacArthur's book or conference will do any good. The hyperbole, arrogance, caricatures, misrepresentations, and logical fallacies thoroughly discredited any redemptive value that the conference might have had.

But that's not the real travesty, is it?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Strange Fire Two: No True Scotsman


Logical Fallacies Poster
Via Logical Fallacies comes this definition of a logical fallacy:
No True Scotsman: No matter how compelling the evidence is, one simply shifts the goalposts so that it wouldn't apply to a supposedly 'true' example.
Example: Angus declares that Scotsmen do not put sugar on their porridge, to which Lachlan points out that he is a Scotsman and puts sugar on his porridge. Furious, like a true Scot, Angus yells that no true Scotsman sugars his porridge.

Many continuationists have expressed dismay at how MacArthur lumped them in with the worst extremes of charismania during the recent Strange Fire conference. Tim Challies blogged a summation of MacArthur's last conference address, given in rebuttal/challenge to his "friends" who are continuationists, and I couldn't help but think of the No True Scotsman fallacy. No matter how many times thoughtful, theologically-astute continuationists said that they do not embrace the lunatic fringe of charismania, MacArthur pulled a No True Scotsman on them.Cessationist = charismatic gifts have ceased to exist.

Continuationist = charismatic gifts have continued to exist.

Dismissing MacArthur because of Scotsman, however, would ultimately be glib and intellectually lazy. There are actually quite a number of logical fallacies that MacArthur utilizes in his eight-point address. Let's look at what the fallacies are, and then compare them to MacArthur's appeal.

Strawman: Misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.
By exaggerating, misrepresenting, or just completely fabricating someone's argument, it's much easier to present your own position as being reasonable.
False Cause: Presuming that a real or perceived relationship between things means that one is the cause of the other.
Many people confuse correlation for causation.
False Dichotomy: Where two alternative states are presented as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.
Also known as the false dilemma, this insidious tactic has the appearance of forming a logical argument, but under closer scrutiny it becomes evident that there are more possibilities than the either/or choice that is presented.
Slippery Slope: Asserting that if we allow A to happen, then Z will consequently happen too, therefore A should not happen.
The problem with this reasoning is that it avoids engaging with the issue at hand, and instead shifts attention to baseless extreme hypotheticals.
Composition: Assuming that what’s true about one part of something has to be applied to all parts of it.
Often when something is true for the part it does also apply to the whole, but because this isn’t always the case it can’t be presumed to be true. We must show evidence for why a consistency will exist.
Loaded Question: Asking a question that has an assumption built into it so that it can’t be answered without appearing guilty.
Loaded question fallacies are particularly effective at derailing rational debates because of their inflammatory nature.
(Source: Logical Fallacies)


With these definitions in mind, let's look at MacArthur's eight-point appeal to continuationists to stop being continuationists and join the war against charismatics:


MacArthur's StatementLogical Fallacy
1. Continuationists give legitimacy to the contemporary charismatic movement. When theologically conservative men give credibility to this movement the whole movement gains credibility.False Cause & Slippery Slope
2. Continuationists degrade the miraculous nature of true gifts given by God to the 1st Century Church. God gave special revelatory gifts, signs and miracles to validate His revelation. Hebrews 2:3 expounds on this. This text becomes meaningless if these gifts are given to everyone today.False Dichotomy
3. Continuationists severely limit how people can be responsive to charismatic confusion. MacArthur has heard from friends some of the most bizarre stories that should assuredly be denounced. However, [they] cannot speak against these stories because they have bought into continuationism.Strawman, Composition & False Dichotomy
4. Continuationists who insist that God gives special revelation today gives way to people being led by confusion and error. ...  These new forms of special revelation such as words of prophecy are theological train wrecks. When you go beyond the Word of God you cannot contain the error.False Cause, Slippery Slope, Strawman & Composition
5. Continuationists tacitly deny the reformed tenet of Sola Scriptura. People who would not normally deny the closing of the canon, Scripture’s authority or sufficiency, do so by defaulting towards a belief in extra-revelation. This extra-revelation is widely abused by people in power.Slippery Slope, Composition
6. Continuationists open the door to speaking in tongues which is the mindless ecstasy of the charismatic expression. [It's] not a language but is gibberish.Strawman
7. Continuationists assert the gift of healing and in turn affirm the fraudulent ministry of healers. Who would want to do that? These people are the lowest of the low. They prey on the ill, destitute, and poorest people and tell them lies in order to get rich. Who would want to do anything to aid and abet them?False Cause, Loaded Question & Strawman
8. Continuationists distract from the Holy Spirit’s true ministry by enticing people to buy into a false ministry. What deficiency are they compensating for? Are not the Holy Spirit’s many works of regeneration, conviction, filling, sealing and more sufficient? You entice people to counterfeits...
(Source: Tim Challies)
Slippery Slope & Loaded Question

So what can we conclude from this over-abundant use of logical fallacies (and that's not even considering the theological problems behind MacArthur's assumptions)?
  • That John MacArthur doesn't have a clue what he's talking about?
  • That MacArthur's concerns and critique of charismatics are therefore invalidated?
  • That continuationists receive a "get out of jail free" card on the issues that Strange Fire (imperfectly) raised?

Stay tuned for part Three.