Believing and Affirming the Superior Promises of God

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

Romans 8:5

I have found this verse to be helpful in evaluating my everyday actions. Is what I’m doing/watching/saying/listening to feeding my flesh or my spirit? Will proceeding in this direction lead me to obedience or rebellion, to righteousness or sin?

This is an important evaluative tool because “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Rom. 8:6)

We all want life and peace but we sometimes pursue and indulge in that which will ultimately lead to death. Enticements to sin are constant, opportunities abound, and the promise of a quick remedy to our sadness or anxiety or fear is powerful in its draw.

It is only by affirming and believing the superior promises of God, and then acting in faith according to those promises that will we ever find true freedom and peace.

(I was helped tremendously in this area of thought by a book by John Piper called “Battling Unbelief”.)

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The Cure For Selfish Ambition and Conceit

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others… Do all things without grumbling or disputing…”

The Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:3-4, 14

Nothing, do NOTHING that will benefit you alone. This means that you must meet a basic requirement before you decide to act in a certain way. You must ask yourself: Will what I’m about to do benefit me alone or will it also benefit the ones I am called to love, and perhaps even those I don’t?

Paul lists two ways we should not act, but as he often does he then proceeds to tell us how we should act. And his answer to how we should act, in one word, is humility. When we are humble we will count other people as more significant than ourselves. True humility means living with an awareness of our own shortcomings and weaknesses. We all have them, and we all like to deny that we have them. When we engage in this type of denial we begin to think of ourselves more highly than we think of others. And very quickly we add to admiring ourselves the despising of others. We so easily slip into Pharisee mode – ‘Thank you God for not making me like that person! Wow – have they got some SERIOUS ISSUES!”

Paul goes on to reinforce his point in instructing each of us to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” There is an assumption here that you will look to your own interests – that comes naturally to all of us. It’s not something Paul has to instruct us to do; it is something we will do without any prompting or instruction. But this goes awry when we lack humility and indulge in selfish ambition and conceit, looking out ONLY for our own interests.

Selfish ambition and conceit need no encouragement. At every moment they are willing to spring into action from their secret hiding places inside our desperately wicked hearts.

We are not to be so preoccupied with our own comfort and progress that we fail to see the noble traits in other people. Looking away from ourselves, refusing to be internally focused will assist in the cultivation of humility.

These words of Paul’s must constantly be brought forward in our minds. Selfish ambition and conceit need no encouragement. At every moment they are willing to spring into action from their secret hiding places inside our desperately wicked hearts. His instructions here are impossible to fulfill perfectly, but in relying on the Holy Spirit to empower our efforts, we make progress toward the perfect Christlikeness that will one day be fully ours.

Be Proud of Your Work For God

A man who boasts of all he has accomplished in his own strength is headed for a fall that will drag many down with him.

“In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…” (Rom. 15:17-18)

Pride and boasting do have a place in the life of a Christian but in an unusual way. When we boast we do not boast about our talents and strengths but about all that Christ has accomplished through us despite our weaknesses and flaws and our propensity to sin. When Christians boast, they are to boast in their brokenness and weakness, so that the power of Christ is magnified in the sight of all. 

The Christian life is an exercise in giving credit to others for the good accomplished through us. Seeing the opposite in a servant of Christ – especially in a Pastor – is a giant red flag. A man who boasts of all he has accomplished in his own strength is headed for a fall that will drag many down with him. We see this over and over again in churches, and yet we seem wired to admire brashness and boastfulness in Pastors. It should not be so.

To be clear, just like Paul, Pastors are to be bold and unafraid to stand for the truth of God’s word, but each one must keep this perspective in mind: that what is accomplished comes about in spite of his weaknesses, not because of his strengths.

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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

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.

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

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…

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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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