Success through the Eyes of Faith

Public Domain via Pixabay

My apologies for not blogging for the last four to five months! Major transitions have happened in my life. It has been pretty busy, not to mention stressful, these past months! I am no longer a campus minister serving at York University, a role I served in for the past 15 years. Since August 2016, I am serving as the Editor in Chief of The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Hence, a new chapter has begun in my life of following Jesus and serving his church and the world.

I wish to make it clear here that my transition was more about following Christ’s calling rather than finding greener pastures. This “career move” can easily be made to fit into the world’s narrative of success, as in constantly moving on to bigger and better. But I had always said that I go to (and stay) where I believe God is calling me. Success, in my understanding of Scripture, means, above all, faithfulness to Christ’s call, along with the missional kingdom fruitfulness (which includes, but not exclusive to the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22-23) born of that. Continue reading “Success through the Eyes of Faith”

Counterfeit Faith 2 – Experientialism

No Experience Necessary

In my previous post, I warned against dogmatism as a counterfeit faith. In this post, I want to warn about falling into the opposite extreme. This post was actually published in The Banner (April 2014 print edition) as “The Idolatry of Experience“.

In addition to simply giving equal time, I also think this post helps to avoid some misunderstandings from my previous post and also to clarify some concepts. I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not against theology or dogma or doctrines. I love theology. I think it is important. Neither am I suggesting that we get rid or do without theology or dogma. A previous post suggests that theology matters deeply. I was merely warning us from turning good, necessary and important things like beliefs, doctrines and theology into an idol.

Theology is an aid that helps us to love God. In fact, it is a necessary aid, without which we cannot know God. Everybody has a theology, which can be as simple as a rudimentary form of knowing what one believes to the more sophisticated academic style theology that you find in systematic theology textbooks, or even to more articulated ones like we find in church confessions and creeds. But precisely because it is so good and necessary and so helpful that we can be tempted to trust it or to love it more than we ought.

Hence, this article on the idolatry of experience also nicely illuminates how idolatry works – how we can be tempted to turn something good and necessary, even a gift from God, into an idol. And also explains why idolatry is bad for us. Although applied to experience, you can also see how to apply it back to dogma/theology/intellectual ideas.

Continue reading “Counterfeit Faith 2 – Experientialism”

Thanksgiving (Canadian) Devotion 2014

Thanksgiving grace 1942 Public Domain
Thanksgiving grace 1942 Public Domain

Last night at Theology over Pizza (our weekly gathering for York students), I asked everyone to name one specific thing that they were thankful for. A variety of things were mentioned: people were thankful for siblings, spouses, children, parents and pets. One was thankful for being at York. Another was even thankful for public transit!

It is a good exercise to be thankful because we so often take things for granted. Sometimes, it takes tragic loss to shock us back into realizing how important certain things are to us, and how we should be grateful that they were in our lives.

I wonder sometimes if we take God for granted. I think this is a temptation for Christians because we always emphasize God’s love and grace to us undeserving sinners. We have never needed to earn God’s love. God loved us before we loved him.

Continue reading “Thanksgiving (Canadian) Devotion 2014”

Talking with Jews and Muslims

Religious symbols of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
By Szczepan1990 19:14, 22 July 2006 (UTC) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
(Another blast from my past. This article was originally published in The Banner, September 14, 1998. I graduated from my MA at the U of Alberta, Edmonton the previous year and just started work as an Admissions Counselor at Redeemer University College back then.)

A few years ago the University of Alberta held an interfaith forum on faith and learning. The panel consisted of three students, each representing one of three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As the Christian representative, I was pleasantly surprised at the almost unanimous agreement between the three faiths as to what hinders our faith from integrating with our studies. However, we disagreed as to a possible solution. This experience seems like a metaphor for the relationship between the three faiths. There are agreements and disagreements, continuities and discontinuities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In this age of religious pluralism we need to consider our attitude to other religions. Judaism and Islam have more in common with Christianity than other faiths. We can each trace our spiritual roots back to Abraham and the God of Abraham (via Isaac for Jews and Christians, via Ishmael for Muslims). Yet, do we all mean the same thing when we say “the God of Abraham”?

Are the Jewish Yahweh and the Muslim Allah the same as the Christian God? Is “God” a continuity or discontinuity between the three religions? I believe the answer is both yes and no. On the one hand, we are all responding to and groping after the same God. But on the other hand, our conceptions of God are radically different.

To explore these questions, we need a biblical framework for thinking about the religious impulse in humanity. Secondly, we need to consider Judaism and Islam within this framework. Finally, we also need to consider how and why we should dialogue with other faiths. Continue reading “Talking with Jews and Muslims”

Spirituality is NOT an Adrenalin Rush

Copyright: bokica / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: bokica / 123RF Stock Photo

Lately, for my daily devotions, I am reading the devotions in my NIV Men’s Devotional Bible (Zondervan 1993). Last Friday’s reading, an excerpt by Archibald Hart, really rang true for me and I just had to share this with the world.

In sum, Hart cautions Christians not to confuse being spiritual with having adrenalin arousal. Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

Continue reading “Spirituality is NOT an Adrenalin Rush”

Is Your Church Extroverted?

Children at a Gospel presentation
Children at a Gospel presentation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was alerted to this blog containing an infographic on The Extroverted Church (reproduced below with permission). It’s an interesting piece and worth pondering about. It connects with a chat I had recently with a student who voiced her discomfort at sharing her faith. And what she means by sharing her faith is the “going up to strangers and telling them about Jesus type” of sharing. It was not quite her comfort zone. I reminded her that there are more than one way to evangelize, so to speak, and that every one needs to break out of their comfort zones in one form or another. For extroverts who naturally enjoys talking to people, even strangers, and for whom the gift of the gab might come easily for them, this form of evangelism might actually be their comfort zone, and requires little effort. Maybe they need to be challenged to more introspective activities?

This infographic suggests that North American evangelicalism tends to be dominated by an extroverted ethos, which makes introverts a little uncomfortable. I suspect it used to be the reverse in ages past, in the days of the stoic and rigid worship styles of most mainline churches. The sentence that jumps out at me is this: “The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extroversion.” This is another example of why I hate the cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all approach to Christian spirituality. I have written about that before here.

But take a look for yourself and let me know what you think: is your church extroverted? Are you an extrovert yourself? Or are you an introvert? Do you see this as a problem? Or are we making too much out of nothing?

Continue reading “Is Your Church Extroverted?”

Relationship, Religion or Both?

Wedding ring, Byzantium, 7th c. AD, nielloed gold.
Wedding ring, Byzantium, 7th c. AD, nielloed gold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This was published as a guest editorial in Christian Courier, Jan. 28, 2013 issue, p.4.)

As a young Christian, I grew up with the ever popular mantra that Christianity is not a religion but rather a personal relationship with God. But I am now strongly opposed to this dichotomy. Why?

It’s a False Dichotomy. To say that Christianity is only a relationship and not a religion is like saying marriage is only a relationship and not an institution! It’s simply false. Yes, I understand the desire to get back to the authentic love for God rather than simply religious ritualism. But a marriage based only on a loving relationship without the rings, legalities or blessings of families and friends that mark it a social institution would be called “living in sin”! At least, we used to call it that. It was God’s idea in the Old Testament to set up the priesthood with its offerings and sacrifices, as well as the covenant laws and the ritual of circumcision as more formal (yes, religious) ways of expressing His relationship with Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus came not to abolish these OT Laws or the Prophets but to more deeply fulfill them. (Matt. 5:17) And Jesus also gave us at least two rituals – the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. And the apostle James did not throw out religion but defined what true religion is all about: “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

Continue reading “Relationship, Religion or Both?”