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.