Jesus, Then Canada

As far as kingdoms go, my primary loyalty is to Jesus and his kingdom. Canada is a distant second, but second nonetheless.

I celebrate my country today the way I hope people celebrate me when the time comes for those reflections. I hope they acknowledge that I have flaws and imperfections, that I fail at times to do what I know is best, and that I occasionally delay right actions for fear of the consequences. 

And then I hope they are able to say “but”… 

But he works hard to address his imperfections, apologizes when apologies are needed, and takes action – even if sometimes later than he could have. I hope they are able to say they have helped me in my journey, intervened when necessary, and encouraged me to do the right thing even when I am reluctant. 

And then I hope they say, “I really love that guy! Despite his imperfections, I love him.”

This is how I think of Canada – a nation I love so much it brings me to tears. A nation that is respected around the world for many good reasons. Many of us take this for granted. We focus constantly on Canada’s failures and imperfections and seem to suppress the many good words that could be said. We should seek to say all the words – the words of criticism and the words of appreciation. 

Some Canadians seem to enjoy indulging in self-hatred (and not the kind that Jesus advocated). Self-reflection is healthy. Doing the hard work of change is too. But self-hatred leads only to more hurt – for yourself and for others. 

It is most certainly time for us to face, address, and correct our historical failures. I hope we can do that in the same we would face, address, and correct our personal failures. Not by hating who we are and writing ourselves off, but by acknowledging the lump in our throat and knot in our stomachs and saying, “Something needs to change – and by God’s grace, I will do better.” 

In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God says this: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  This was a promise made to Israel as a nation, not to Canada as a nation. Canada as a nation is not “God’s chosen people.” But within this nation are people who belong to the Kingdom of God. And if those of us who claim to belong to that Kingdom will humble ourselves, pray and seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways, God will hear from heaven and forgive our sins. Inevitably, healing would follow. 

The path forward is not self-hatred; it is repentance. 

Celebrate Canada today the way you would celebrate a good friend. Pray for blessing as you acknowledge failures and celebrate accomplishments. Encourage by kind words and correct with harsh but loving words when necessary. Take action where it is within your power to do so. Take everything else to prayer.

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Not by Angry Tirades

We seem to be at the tail end of this worldwide event called COVID-19, and yet if the Lord sees fit to allow this affliction a bit longer, we will strive to do as he commands and rejoice in all things. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes. 5:16-18)

As the crisis seems to be abating I have begun to reflect on what we’ve had the opportunity to learn over the last 15 months. I have probably not grieved anything more than the disunity that has been brought upon churches and their leaders not so much by the pandemic itself, but by agents of disruption within the churches.

The foundation of our unity is the glory of God

The unity of God’s people is of monumental importance to God. In John 17:22 Jesus, in the course of his prayer for his disciples, says, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…” The foundation of our unity is the glory of God. 

Over the last year, we have seen fractures and disunity among Christians and one reason for this is that we have not been as focused as we should on God’s glory. We have instead been focused on secondary matters. And rather than naming these secondary matters, it will suffice to say that ALL matters are secondary to God’s glory. And many matters secondary to God’s glory have occupied our minds and this, unsurprisingly, has not led to unity.

As a blessing in the midst of what seems to be a curse, we have had clearly illustrated for us various ways that are not effective in bringing glory to God. These double as very effective ways to foster disunity among Christians. God – as he always does – has made these negative examples lessons for our benefit and refinement. 

How can we best bring glory to God and magnify his glory to those who do not yet know him? 

Not by angry tirades. 

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” – James 1:19-20

Not by disrespectfully belittling those in authority. 

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” – 1 Tim. 2:1-2

Not by clinging to teachers who tell us the sweet mistruths we desire to hear.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” – 2 Tim 4:3-4

Not by raising awareness for those of whom God says to beware.

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” Rom. 16:17-18

Not by promoting those who twist scripture.

“There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:16-18

Not by praising those who claim they can add words to scripture.

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” – Rev. 22:18-19

Not by allying ourselves with false teachers.

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain”. – 1 Tim. 6:3-5

But by Humility, Gentleness, and Patience  

There are good and godly ways to oppose, expose, and resist, but there has been an obvious and fundamental lack of humility in those who have placed themselves at centre stage and demanded the spotlight. This will never foster unity and it will not bring glory to God. Instead, we are urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3)

May the post-pandemic days, months, and years be filled with generous, courageous, and humble men and women who are servants of God and interested in His glory and not their own.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col. 4:5-6)

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My Encounter With the Aylmer Police

The Incident

Yesterday afternoon I dropped my daughter off at work in town. Near the place she works I saw two Aylmer police cruisers behind the vehicle of an elderly women who looked to be in some distress. Recognizing the woman as a friend I felt it was my place to help, so after driving by I turned around and parked a hundred or so meters back, donned my mask, and set out on foot to see if I could be of assistance. 

There had been a very mild fender bender and the other vehicle had already left. However, there was some unfinished business with my elderly friend. I said hello to my friend and introduced myself to the officers. 

The Encounter

What happened next? I’ll tell you, but first allow me to admit something I’m a little embarrassed about in hindsight.  As I was turning around, I paused as I considered getting out of my vehicle. I second guessed whether I should try to offer assistance. Why? Well, I discovered I was worried about how my offer of assistance might be received. How would the officers respond, in these tense times, in the middle of a state of emergency and a stay-at-home order, to me entering this situation? I wondered if they’d be angry and if their response would be hostile.  

I actually thought these things, and I’d like to say I’m not sure why, but the reason is kind of obvious to me. If you start a sentence with “It’s been a hard year for…” there is no end to the options for how to finish the sentence. But it really has been a hard year for police officers in North America. Closer to home, I haven’t heard much good about the local police in the past year either. Some even believe they are so awful that they’re worthy of intimidation and mistreatment. And so I discovered that my view of police officers has been tainted not by my personal experience, but by the events reported in the news over the last year.

What Happened Next?

But I got out anyway. I offered to help anyway. And I was immediately welcomed with open arms (I say that figuratively, of course). There was not a single negative note in their reception of my assistance. In fact, it was all gratitude and eager cooperation. 

As I continued to enquire about what had happened, I discovered that these two officers had been models of leniency and decency and compassion throughout the encounter. For the sake of my friend’s privacy I won’t mention specifics, but I will say this: the officers, rather than ticketing her hundreds of dollars as they rightfully could have, instead issued three summonses for a court appearance where she will be able to explain her mistake and probably come away with no financial penalty.

Are You Still With Me?

I titled this post in such a way that your assumptions would be tested, as mine were yesterday. Be honest, you probably clicked here expecting a negative report, didn’t you? Because that’s almost exclusively what gets reported. That’s what is deemed newsworthy. 

After the encounter I began to reflect on the other interactions I’ve had with police officers in my lifetime. There haven’t been many but there have been a few: an interview when I was 10 or 11 after it was suspected that a friend of mine had committed arson; a couple of speeding tickets over the years; more recently, being pulled over due to a misunderstanding. Every encounter I’ve had with police officers has been positive. 

Now, I know other people have different experiences – experiences that would lead them to an appropriate skepticism and even legitimate fears in the same circumstances I encountered. I don’t fault them for that, but I should not discount my positive experiences on the basis of their negative experiences. Someday perhaps I will have a negative encounter with the police, and then I’ll write about that.

Are there bad-apple police officers? Yes.

And there are bad-apple massage therapists and bad-apple doctors and bad-apple pastors? Yes. 

And I hate to tell you this, but there is even a “bad-apple-whatever-you-are” too.

The problem is that at this point we’ve heard so much bad news about so many people that we’ve exchanged the benefit of the doubt for the assumption of hostility… and that’s not good. 

Let’s make it a good news day! In the comments below, feel free to share a positive experience you’ve had with law enforcement. 

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A Humble Retraction

I had a phone conversation with John Hueston yesterday. John is the president and editor of our local paper, the Aylmer Express, a paper I mentioned in a recent post on my site. John took issue with my words, and so he reached out to express his thoughts and feelings. It was a lively conversation that included segments of disagreement, explanation, and common ground.

The post in which the offending words appear was not an open letter like the previous post I had written. It was more of a journal entry documenting my emotional state and my reactions to the events of the past months as I experienced them at the time. As a result, I didn’t make the effort I should have to review the sources of my dismay and verify whether my impressions at the time held firm still today, when the dust of those events has somewhat settled.

The offending words in my post read as follows: “Our local paper, in addition to some straightforward reporting, also publishes editorials that are barely less incendiary than Pastor Hildebrandt’s speeches. This also escalates tension.”

My intention with these sentences and the surrounding paragraphs was to shine a light on the sources of escalation in our community. In November, when John published his editorials and I read them, they struck me as harsh, mean, and unhelpful. Having gone back and read those same editorials, with the advantage of hindsight and recent history, they strike me today as appropriately blunt and properly confrontational. They are the words of someone who cares passionately for his community.

What started in my mind as, “Well, that doesn’t seem very helpful…” grew into the aforementioned paragraph. The intention of my words was certainly not to equate John’s life’s work and impact on Aylmer and community with anyone else’s, but I can see how they could be taken that way. And so I owe John an apology. In retrospect, my words were unwarranted.

As a result of this reflection on my part I offer an apology to Mr. Hueston and have retracted the words from my original post, with a link to this explanation.

An Appeal to Pastor Friends (and others) – guest post by Dr. Stan Fowler

Some of you have led your church to disobey governmental restrictions that suspend your public gatherings, and others of you are thinking about it. Some of you have suggested that those of us who accept the temporary restrictions just don’t understand the nature of the church. As a friend and brother in Christ, I appeal to you to dial back the rhetoric and reconsider your choice.

Dr. Stan Fowler is Professor Emeritus of Theology at Heritage College & Seminary. He is an elder at Grandview Baptist Church in Kitchener, and has been in pastoral ministry since 1972 and theological education since 1980. He is the husband of one wife, the father of four, and the grandfather of six. (Facebook/Twitter)

Below are Dr. Fowler’s thoughts on the current restrictions and a word of caution and encouragement to fellow pastors and church leaders.

Some of you have led your church to disobey governmental restrictions that suspend your public gatherings, and others of you are thinking about it. Some of you have suggested that those of us who accept the temporary restrictions just don’t understand the nature of the church. As a friend and brother in Christ, I appeal to you to dial back the rhetoric and reconsider your choice.

Many thoughtful people have argued that the lockdowns are not really the best way to balance all the legitimate interests during the pandemic, and that is a debate that needs to occur, but good people differ on that question. If you accept the idea of a declared emergency, then you should admit that whether the current governmental choices are right or not, it is not a case of tyranny. The governing officials have to decide which “experts” to listen to, and they may have picked the wrong group, but let’s admit that we don’t have a word from God that identifies the right “experts” on this complex question.

The temporary inability to gather is a frustration to all of us. We all understand the good reasons why Scripture instructs us to gather, but the normative practices can’t all happen in their normal way in abnormal times. We are the body of Christ in the world whether we are able to gather in the same room or not. My pastor’s sermon livestreamed to my computer is still his faithful word for this time and place, no matter how it is transmitted. Baptisms do not have to occur in the gathered church, and in fact, there is no such example in the NT. Individuals can be counselled and encouraged via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or telephone.

We all recognize that none of this is the norm or the ideal, but perhaps we can just be grateful that technology enables us to carry on with most of our ministries in unusual ways. I recognize that there is animosity toward traditional Christian values in various forms in our cultural setting. Various judicial and legislative actions have challenged our teaching of the truth as we understand it and our practice of our faith.

This is not the place to list all of the particulars, but I agree that there are current threats that may well lead us to civil disobedience. There are culture wars that are worth fighting, but temporary restrictions in the interest of public health are not persecution of the church. Giving up our right to gather as usual to serve the common good looks like one example of the good deeds that we should be known for as opposed to being known as rebels (1 Pet 2:13-16).

We may not make the same choices on this point, but you are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and this is my small contribution to the family discussion.

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An invitation to read together…

This is an invitation to you – church-goer or not, Christian or not – to read through the New Testament with me over the course of the next year. I’m starting on January 1 with a plan that includes short readings, opportunities for dialog, and helpful videos like this one:

In the New Testament, in Hebrews chapter 4, verse 12 (NLT) it says that, “the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

Because I believe that to be true, and because I have seen the difference it has made in my own life, I keep reading. I am inviting you into that experience, believing that the same can happen for you. There are no strings attached to this. I am only interested in reading the New Testament together with you and having conversations that include your questions, objections, struggles, and insights. 

How to join:

  1. Go to https://my.bible.com and register for a free account
  2. Use on your desktop of download the app
  3. Use this link to join the group plan

See you over at Bible.com!

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Aylmer on the Verge of Violence: A Plea for Civility

I have found the last 24 hours quite difficult. Aylmer is the town I grew up and went to school in. It’s the town I returned to as a pastor a dozen years ago now. Ours has always been a pleasant and friendly town, and not particularly newsworthy. But now we are newsworthy, receiving local, regional, and national coverage regularly. It is safe to say that the events of 2020 have done (likely irreparable) damage to the reputation of our community. And we seem to be reaching a new threshold of concern.

It grieves me to see our town on the verge of violence, but that is where we’re at. You could see hints of this at the rally/march in November. There were several heated moments that almost boiled over. Things have been tense ever since, and the events of this past Sunday morning should raise the alarm for all residents of Aylmer. It’s only a matter of time before we see real violence break out in our town if this is not addressed. 

Why is the tension in our town escalating?

  1. The church north of town has clearly been spoiling for a fight for some time. While I am sympathetic to some of their principles, their practice of drowning these principles in waves of incendiary rhetoric is something I detest. This escalates tension.
  1. The police, early on at least, seem to have handled the church’s provocations with inconsistency at best, leading to more opportunities for publicity for the church. This escalates tension. (It should be noted that in the video evidence that exists of Sunday’s events, the officers seem to be a model of courtesy and restraint under very trying conditions.) 
  1. Paragraph retracted. See explanation here.
  1. We have the counter-protesters who are equally angry, equally outraged and in some cases, equally willing to take the confrontation to the next level. Included with this lot is the creepy, mysterious, and anonymous “Plague Pastor” video star, who decries the church’s condemnable actions while promoting his/her own xenophobic biases and implicit calls for violence. This certainly escalates tension.
  1. The protesters – a combination of locals and out-of-town “protest tourists” – lack focus but not anger, outrage or disrespect. So many varied grievances gathered under one tent is like so much dry grass around a shortening candle. This escalates tension.

Where does all this tension go?

All this escalated tension is on full display every minute of the day on social media, where every conversation seems to end in conflict, where the benefit of the doubt is never given, and where judgments are made before both sides of the story are heard. From there this tension works its way into our stores and restaurants, where people are short on patience, often assuming the worst about each other, and sometimes openly serving up abusive insults about the ethnic heritage of some of their fellow citizens.

These are not normal or acceptable boundaries for civil disagreement, least of all among those who claim to be followers of Jesus. We have what seems to be a cult of protest on one side and a cult of counter-protest on the other. Neither one represents the majority while both scream at the top of their lungs, staking their claim to be, apparently without irony, the silent (or silenced) majority. I suspect neither one would win an open vote with the townspeople if given a third choice somewhere – anywhere – between the two. 

What a mess. 

More Than a Mess

But now it is more than a mess; now it’s a public danger. What has come to be a weekly circus north of town is quickly evolving into something far more serious. There is a real potential for open physical conflict.

Back to the events that unfolded this past Sunday, some of which you can see here or below.

The “protest tourists” are the main accelerants of this fire. I want to draw your attention to one moment that should cause us all grave concern. After the ticket was issued and the officer returned to his vehicle, the agitated crowd of angry men were instructed to not allow the officer to leave. One of the protestors shouted at the officer asking, among other things, where he lives and where his kids go to sleep. I would certainly feel threatened to have those words screamed at me, wouldn’t you?

Others stood behind his vehicle blocking his way. When the officer gets out his vehicle to ask those blocking his vehicle to move, someone near the camera seems to say these words around the 2:40 mark of the video: 

“There’s more of us than them…” That’s a lit fuse right there.

Warning

Listen, anyone who would say such a thing needs to be uninvited from future protests. And if they come uninvited they should be notified that they are not welcome. They should certainly not be encouraged in any way. If this is not addressed this will turn from local to national to international news. That might be good business for the news outlets of our region, but it will be no good for the people of Aylmer.

We need to be reminded that we can disagree and still be friends. All but a few seem to have forgotten this fact. Friends can speak to each other bluntly but with care and respect, even when they disagree. It’s time we all start practicing this. There has been enough trauma to go around in 2020. If we don’t take quick action 2021 will be even more traumatic. 

Is that what we want?

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For Arthur (July 16, 1939 – December 14, 2020)

Words for my friend, Arthur Cairncross, who is now in the GLORIOUS presence of the Lord.

I am a pastor, a husband and a father.  And I am a better pastor, husband and father because Arthur made time to mentor me over the last decade.

It’s been such a year of loss for us all. We’ve lost various freedoms to a virus called COVID-19. And these are not insignificant losses, but they seem insignificant to me this week when I compare them to the loss of our dear friend, brother and father, Arthur.

When I heard of Arthur’s passing from my dad by a text message on Monday, I sat in the parking lot of No Frills in Aylmer and wept. My heart felt like it was in a vice. My throat thickened with sorrow. Arthur was not a young man but I thought we’d have him for many more years. He seemed, indeed, like a permanent fixture in our lives.

We will, hopefully soon, regain our freedoms, but this loss, the loss of Arthur Cairncross, is permanent (with an asterisk of course – we WILL meet him again), while all these other losses are temporary. As I’ve been reminiscing this week I have repeatedly come upon memories of Arthur and enjoyed those memories for a moment, and then the crushing weight of the fact that there will be no new memories lands like a cannon ball to my chest right below my heart.

God’s word says that the sorrows we experience in this life are but light momentary afflictions, and we believe that by faith, but in these moments we find that hard to believe, even with faith, and it must be impossible to believe without faith.

The Restaurant Table

For the remainder of my life on earth I will never again sit across the table from Arthur at The Country Charm restaurant. This is where most of my best memories were made….

The beloved idiosyncrasies:

  • The long, eyes-closed pauses as he looked for the next thought.
  • Those classy Hilfiger sweaters and the newest iPhone – he was always ahead of me in the phone game. 
  • The way he would use the salt and pepper shakers as props in something he was explaining.
  • The every-breakfast comment about whatever shirt I was wearing that would serve as an illustration for something related to church leadership. “Let’s say for whatever reason I didn’t like your burgundy shirt with yellow buttons…” And then at the next breakfast, “Let’s say for whatever reason I didn’t like the [whatever shirt I was wearing]…” I think he may have just disliked my entire wardrobe…

And the deeply rooted care and correction:

  • I will never again receive another direct and very helpful sermon critique. ‘Things, Michael, you keep saying things,” he would state emphatically, “What are THINGS?! It it an emotion you’re speaking of? A list, an event? Not things – be specific!” 
  • When a passage was too hard, it was a long phone call. The one time I was really stuck. It was late in the week and I could not get my head around the passage. And, not coincidentally, that passage from Colossians was my scripture reading on the morning he passed away, and so I thought of him fondly then and had no idea he was already gone.

Deep Impact

Arthur preached in our church, spoke at my ordination, helped me through a full burnout, and provided counsel and training to my church elders. He ministered to our deacons at their retreat one year and this was greatly appreciated. He taught a session on time management to our denominational leaders during our convention. Not many men in the 70s could effectively lead a session called “Time Stewardship: Learning to Manage Technology Before it Manages You!” 

At the very beginning of our mentoring relationship, Arthur made it clear that our meetings would include hard questions. How is your relationship with your sweetheart? How about your girls? Questions about financial integrity, sexual integrity, and my daily disciplines of prayer and reading. At the outset he wrote to me that, “Relationship building is a process which takes time; when that time is invested, trust and vulnerability grow. When these questions are used in love and wisdom, they will help men open their hearts to each other.” And then a few years into our relationship he took time to write, “Thanks Michael: Our times are so fruitful for me. I trust you gain something from them as well. Blessings as you press on for Him. Peace and hope fill you.  Arthur

He cared deeply for many people and he had quick access to genuine emotions. Sorrow for me when I was experiencing some loss, but also great joy with my victories and accomplishments. He was the epitome of someone who weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice, of bearing one another’s burdens, of speaking the truth in love.

And if fills me with sadness to think that I’ll never again experience the joining of our hands across that breakfast table as he prayed for me before I left.

Godly Ambition

As I’ve been collecting my thoughts and memories of Arthur this week and as I’ve watched and read others do the same, it has caused me to reflect deeply on how I will be remembered when I have finished my time on this earth. If in the end I am not remembered as warmly, as kindly, as admiringly as Arthur is remembered, it will not be because Arthur didn’t leave me an example of how to be both remembered as a great man and yet be secondary in people’s minds to the one who really matters, the one to whom Arthur constantly pointed, Jesus Christ. 

In Titus 2 we are instructed as follows: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”

Applying this to Arthur – to be regarded highly not only by those who know you well, but by those who barely knew you is a high honour that can be won only by a vast, faithful, and consistent love for people over a long period of time. And so my mother remarked to me the following this week as a condolence to me:  “Even though I didn’t know Arthur that well, I loved him for the way he helped you!” That sentiment has been expressed by many around me this week, and is surely felt by multitudes more.

Arthur ran the race with all his effort and finished well.  Because of his love and care, many others will have a chance to do the same. I am determined to be one of them.

An Honour and a Challenge

I haven’t wept this way in 27 years, when my grandfather passed away just as suddenly. But now that I feel I am through the early, brutal stages of grieving this loss, the bottom of that chasm of grief is already beginning to fill with gratitude. What a privilege to know a man like Arthur. What an honour to have access to him. What a joy to be in his presence so many times.  What a benefit to be the recipient of his love and concern and his corrections. What a ministry to all our wives to have a man so interested in the integrity of their husbands. 

And then to know that I was by far not the only one to have this access to his care fills me with a desire to be the same kind of man, to pick up the work where Arthur left it off. Many men are needed to continue this one man’s work – and that is about as high a praise as one could hope to receive at the end of his days. 

So, to the many men that Arthur mentored, let us honour his legacy by carrying on his work. Look around you for other hurting men, lost men, broken men, and men who are not yet hurting, lost or broken (but will be eventually). They are all around you, yearning for connection, longing to be loved, desperate for kind, caring, biblical guidance.

And to Beth and the rest of the family, you already know but let me say again: Arthur was not just a good man; he was a great man. This was a man who was small in stature but a giant of faith. He was a man who, without a large platform, had a wider, deeper influence than many of us on a platform have. May we all seek to live as devoted followers of Jesus Christ. And may we all give thanks to God for faithful servants whose examples we can follow. 

And as Arthur was so fond of saying/yelling: GLORY! and amen. 

****

P.S. – below are some of the helpful and edifying words Arthur wrote to me by email over the years. I trust you will find them both helpful and edifying as well. 

“The key is faithfulness. Love for God and love for those you meet on a daily basis. This world is so shallow and empty.”

“Our definition of an authentic man: one who rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, loves and leads responsibly, accepts social responsibility and looks only to God for the greater reward.”

“Spiritual maturity is moving along the continuum toward total dependence on God. It is saying to God, ‘I’ll take all the help I can get.’ It is learning to live in daily dependence upon God. And sometimes it takes a shipwreck or a snakebite to get us there.”

“A prayer, ‘Lord, thank You that You want us to get where You want us to go more than we want to get where You want us to go.’”

“Col.1:24-29 – ‘Rejoicing in suffering’ The idea seems strange. How can affliction lead to joy? Problems bringing happiness? Paul is not masochistic or stoical towards pain. He is stating a spiritual principle… he was suffering for others – ‘for your sake.’ This puts a different complexion on hardship. His missionary travels were filled with danger. Yet he rejoiced over those who were reached with the Gospel… Paul was charged with the responsibility to make known God’s Word. He sees this as a divine office NO MATTER whatever hardships were involved in it.”   

“The way to avoid being deluded by the false is to be thoroughly saturated, acquainted with the genuine, the authentic, the real.” 

“The knitting together of Christians in love is a safeguard. Note love here is coupled with understanding. Also the understanding must be assured. Mutual understanding is a necessary part of Christian stability… God’s mystery is a treasure. (WOW – what we do not see clearly is so precious… I’m learning this issue slowly). In Christ are the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Christians possess the key. That KEY is Christ Himself.  GLORY !! what a passage.”

“There is a certain type of evangelism that has much to answer for. It says, ‘Come to Jesus and you will find rest and peace and joy.’ That is a dangerous half-truth. Through Jesus, God is our friend, and the fear of God is banished by the love of Christ and God. But it is also true that when a person accepts Jesus Christ then the struggle begins.”

“When the superfluous is stripped away we find the essential – and the essential is God. It is hard to believe but trouble is good for us. May The LORD give you strength to remain under the pressure as He refines you for His Kingdom work. Some men walk through life and leave only footprints – others leave a legacy!!! Love you greatly. Best to Anne Marie and family. Arthur”

A Local Pastor’s Open Letter to the Town of Aylmer (and those looking in)

I live in Aylmer, Ontario. I’m a resident, a father, a youth soccer coach, and a pastor here. I have been saddened this week to see my town in the national news with our squabbles on display. I would be happier if this was not what we are becoming notorious for. 

I am fully “awake” AND I wear my mask regularly. I am not afraid of my government. In fact, I’m thankful for and I pray for my government, as I am instructed to do in 1 Tim. 2:1-2. I don’t agree with all of the decisions my government makes, but I also don’t have to make decisions for 14 million people, and I don’t have all the information I need to make decisions of that magnitude. 

There’s a protest planned for Saturday. It is legal to protest and express your opinions, and that’s a good thing. We need greater diversity of opinion on how to navigate our way through this difficult time. I won’t be attending, but that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with some of the points that will be made. 

It seems likely at this point that many from outside our town are coming to join this protest. Our mayor wants everyone to be safe and has taken appropriate action to ensure that’s the case. That’s also a good thing, but because she has done this, she has reportedly received threats to her safety. This is evil and cowardly. 

Defiance and Obedience

Over the last months as I have prayed, pondered, observed, and lived through this time of upheaval and uncertainty, a number of thoughts and commitments have become clear to me. 

  1. Defiance is sometimes necessary, but blind defiance is no better than blind obedience. Blind defiance and blind obedience are both unhealthy, knee-jerk reactions. Informed defiance and informed obedience can have a conversation; blind defiance and blind obedience can only have conflict. I will stay informed, enter many conversations, and  follow the laws of my province while at the same time making it known that I think there are better ways. This is how a healthy democracy works. 
  1. Of all the things Canadian Christians could be at this point, I think grateful ranks near the top. We have more freedoms than people in most other countries do, our governments, while imperfect, are responsive as they adapt to a situation that is still developing, and our worship spaces have fewer restrictions than almost all other similar spaces. (Thank you, Premier Ford)
  1. I do not believe that freedom means I don’t have to submit to anyone’s authority. God has placed people in places of authority (Romans 13:1-7) and it is my privilege and duty to submit to their authority (1 Peter 2:13-17) unless they compel me to do something that God considers sin (Acts 5:27-32). If I was convinced that this is what’s happening right now, I would be the one organizing and leading the protests. (I am, after all, a PROTESTant pastor.)
  1. I will not use my platform as a pastor to grandstand, collect followers, encourage rebellion, or make myself feel important. I will not confuse my calling as a pastor for an unexpressed but obvious aspiration to enter politics. I have no desire to be Aylmer’s most influential unelected politician. If I want to be a politician, I should run for office in the next election. 
  1. I will look first to the Bible to guide my thought and behaviour, not to the constitution of the great country in which I live. As I use the words of scripture, I will use them responsibly and according to their context. Parachuting out-of-context biblical passages into a speech doesn’t make the speech stronger. All it does is bring dishonour and disrepute to the scriptures. 
  1. I will not use the language of peace while hinting at insurrection. Inferring that those who abide by the mask mandate would have been Nazi supporters in earlier times is a dangerous and disgusting tactic. And after all, if your enemies are Nazis then violence is warranted, isn’t it? If anything, forcing a derogatory label on other community members – as if it were a visible badge – is the behaviour that needs to be called out. (I know that protest organizers can’t control every element of a public protest, but I do hope they will publicly rebuke this element of the protest if it is again on display, as it was at the last protest. See picture below.)
  1. I will continue to do what I can to love and remain in conversation with the people in my community, regardless of what they believe about masks or vaccines or any other hot topic.

P.S.

If you’ve been monitoring the situation for long, you might assume that the one Aylmer pastor you see constantly in the limelight represents the other pastors and churches in our community. As far as I am aware, he represents no other church except his own. In his many speeches and broadcasts, he frequently attempts to goad other pastors into joining his crusade. So far, no pastor that I know of has taken the bait. And that’s because the gospel is STILL not under assault in Aylmer, Ontario.

All the pastors I know in my community are working hard to care for people both inside and outside their churches. 

Like me, they are not afraid. Like me, if they were convinced that the government was trying to pressure us to sin against God, they would speak out.

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COVID-19: Let’s Talk About This Supposed “Second Wave”

COVID-19 is not a hoax. I personally know and have spoken to several people who have had it. It is an experience similar to but worse than the flu, seems to last longer, and may have permanent effects. Please continue to be careful and follow all reasonable directives from the government and public health officials.

All my graphs are based on data found here. Feel free to browse that data and confirm the below information for yourself.

Graphic 1 – Daily Tests (top) and Daily Confirmed Cases (bottom)

Looking at the bottom graph, it certainly seems like we’re having a second wave! And it’s true, there are a lot more confirmed cases of late. That seems to be the big news we hear on repeat. But that number should always be paired with the total number of tests being done. We are testing more and finding more, and that makes sense. And this needs to be mentioned as often as the “second wave” terminology.

How many people in Canada have COVID-19? The answer is: nobody knows. The only way we could know is if all 38 million of us take a test everyday and get the results immediately. The “confirmed cases” number is related in some way to the absolute number of cases, but we’re not exactly sure how.

This is why the “confirmed cases” number alone is insufficient to make the case that’s we’re having a second wave that looks exactly like (or worse) than the first one. This number tells us how many cases have been discovered but not how many cases there actually are right now. Are there more or fewer people with COVID-19 now than at the spring peak? Again, we don’t actually know.

Graphic 2 – Positive Tests (as a percentage of daily tests)

There has been a slight increase in positive cases as a percentage of daily tests. Currently, just under 2% of tests yield a positive result. That number peaked in April with over 10% positives. Keep in mind that this is not random sampling. The government is providing the following guidance on who should get tested:

“Contact your local health authority for advice about testing if you:

  • think you may have COVID-19
  • have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19”

Summary: Even among people who suspect they might already have COVID-19, the positive test percentage is currently under 2%.

Graphic 3: Daily Confirmed Cases (top) and Daily Deaths (bottom)

There are many more tests being done and more positive cases being found. What about the number of daily deaths? You can see that this number has barely moved and has been in the same range (below 10 per day) since around mid-July. This fact should be pointed out far more often than it is.

Graphic 4: Daily Deaths as a Percentage of Daily Confirmed Cases

Daily test rates are up and as a result the confirmed case rate is up, but the daily death rate is is not ruling parallel to the confirmed case rate like it did during the first wave. As you can see, the “second wave” terminology alone is unhelpful. There certainly appears to be a second wave of confirmed cases, but we’re looking harder now and doing a lot more testing. There is not yet a second wave of deaths – and here’s hoping there never is. Please notice that while the “Daily Confirmed Cases” peak is nearing the previous peak, at the same time the “Daily Deaths” average is down by 95% (177 on June 5 vs. 8 on Sept. 29). 

Summary: Every death from an (at this point) incurable disease is a tragedy. But as I stated in my last update, hysteria and the possible ensuing mandated lockdowns based on inflated and incomplete information is going to do more harm than good. 

Being constantly angry about all this isn’t helping either. I’ve been angry and frustrated at times. I choose to look at the data, make sense of it, and show what I’ve found to others. I believe that if enough people do that we can have a positive impact on our elected officials, who seem to (at times) make decisions based on media narratives instead of hard data.

So go forth and share what you’ve learned. Be a reasonable and calm presence in the lives of those who are drowning in a second wave of fear.