Points of Interest (2020-05-20)

The Map Is Not the Territory / Pastor, You Were Made for This / Beyond ‘Plandemic’: A Christian Response to Conspiracies / No, COVID-19 Is Not a ‘Disaster for Feminism’

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The Map Is Not the Territory (Farnam Street Blog)

This blog is quickly becoming a favourite of mine. I have not yet looked deeply into its background, but I like what I’m seeing. For example…

“Maps are necessary, but flawed. (By maps, we mean any abstraction of reality, including descriptions, theories, models, etc.) The problem with a map is not simply that it is an abstraction; we need abstraction… To solve this problem, the mind creates maps of reality in order to understand it, because the only way we can process the complexity of reality is through abstraction. But frequently, we don’t understand our maps or their limits. In fact, we are so reliant on abstraction that we will frequently use an incorrect model simply because we feel any model is preferable to no model.”

Jared C. Wilson – Pastor, You Were Made for This (The Gospel Coalition)

“Christianity was not launched in a world of comfort, and it was not designed to flourish in a world of comfort. If the Lord is doing anything in overseeing this season, perhaps it is a refining, a sifting. Things are going to get weirder, more difficult, more trying. Maybe the true church will rise to the surface. And with her, the true pastors.”

Deborah Haarsma, Jim Stump and David Buller – Beyond ‘Plandemic’: A Christian Response to Conspiracies – (BioLogos)

“Christians seem disproportionately susceptible to misinformation and conspiracies about COVID-19. That is due, undoubtedly, to the way ideas are packaged in the culture wars in our country. Scientists and their expertise have been lumped together with other academics and left-leaning causes. And all of us are hard-wired to find affinity with the groups we identify with.”

“As we steward the power of our influence through every Facebook post and every retweet, we should remember that we’re not following Jesus’ command to be “wise as serpents” if we’re swayed by the emotional manipulation of a conspiracy theory or a slickly-produced video. And we’re not “harmless as doves” if we spread misinformation or sow confusion in the midst of a global health emergency.”

Marilyn Simon – No, COVID-19 Is Not a ‘Disaster for Feminism’ (Quillette)

“Why would anyone find a family unit taking care of its members a “disaster” for feminism? How childish—and frankly un-feminine—has feminism become that it must see childrearing and nurturing a family unit as a step down during a time of crisis? A step down from what? It often seems like it’s mostly feminists who disparage female work and praise so highly the world of corporate and professional success.”

Making Financial Sacrifices For the Sake of the Gospel

If you are regularly making and spending money and not investing in gospel partnerships, then you’re really not participating in gospel partnerships and you may need to conclude that the gospel is not actually all that precious to you.

Extreme Poverty Overflowing in a Wealth of Generosity

Paul writes to the church in Corinth describing the Philippian church’s passion for the gospel and their eagerness to be in a gospel partnership with him:

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favour of taking part in the relief of the saints…” (2 Cor. 8:1-4)

The people in Philippi didn’t have a lot of extra money lying around. There weren’t surplus funds they were looking to give away as a blessing to the less fortunate. They were the less fortunate, and yet they still possessed a desire and a compulsion to joyfully give to others. Of this ethos among the Philippian Christians, Ralph Martin says this:  “We today might take the lesson to heart that the sign of our professed love for the gospel is the measure of sacrifice we are prepared to make in order to help it progress.

Get Specific

Let’s press ourselves on that idea. What sacrifices – specifically, financial sacrifices – are we willing to make because of our love for the gospel and our desire to see it go out into all the world? 

Now, you should never feel an obligation to give to any ministry that doesn’t have the progress of the gospel as its core mission. With that said, let me ask you this: Should you find a ministry worthy of your financial contributions, especially if those contributions would come as a considerable sacrifice to you, what is the measure of the sacrifice you’re prepared to make? In concrete financial terms, what is the sacrifice?

Let’s go beyond the theoretical. If I ask you this as a statement with a blank space at the end, what goes in the blank?

“You know, if I didn’t give so much to gospel ministry partnerships, I could __________________.” What is it?

Take one more resort vacation each year? 

Afford a bigger house? 

Drive a much newer vehicle? 

What is it for you?

The Last Can in the Cupboard

And then once you’ve done that calculation, realize that for most of us we’re still only talking about how much we give out of our excess, not out of our poverty as the church in Philippi was doing. For most of us, we’re still talking about skimming some of the extra cream, where they were giving of the last cans in the cupboard. 

But once you’ve done the calculation, once you see on paper how much more money you could have for yourself, how much you could have had over the last 10-15-20+ years that you’ve been faithfully giving, I hope that you can say this: “I will gladly go without these luxuries in order to support the progress of the gospel!”

Now, on the other hand, if your statement goes something like this: “You know, if we didn’t give so much to gospel ministry partnerships, we could… buy an extra bag of chips…” In other words, if you are regularly making and spending money and not investing in gospel partnerships, then you’re really not participating in gospel partnerships and you may need to conclude that the gospel is not actually all that precious to you. 

Remember: where your treasure is, that’s where you’ll find your heart. What you most value is where you’ll most heavily invest. Where you invest determines what you value. Give that some thought.

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Is COVID-19 an Obstacle to Overcome or an Opportunity to Embrace?

In this time of suffering and uncertainty, are we primarily concerned with the preservation of our lives or the proliferation of the gospel?

You’ve never seen a river that runs in a perfectly strait line from beginning to end – not a naturally occurring river anyway. Why is that? It’s because as it flows it meets obstacles, and at every obstacle it collects until it either goes over the obstacle or finds another low spot to the left or the right and then it continues its journey. If one avenue is blocked, it will find another.

In Phil. 1:12 Paul writes,I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…” What had happened to him? We read of what Paul knew would, and did actually, happen to him in Acts 20:22-23: “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” He went to Jerusalem, got arrested, stood before the council, and evaded an assassination plot. He eventually ended up in prison in Rome, which is where he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi. 

Paul knows that it is God’s will for him to go and to suffer, and one of the clearest points of Paul’s beautiful testimony to the church then and today is this: He is not primarily concerned with the preservation of his life, but with the proliferation of the gospel.

The Persistence of the Gospel

You might assume, as some did, that what happened to Paul would delay or even stop the spread of the gospel. But no, Paul says, quite the opposite. Despite what seem to be intimidating obstacles, the gospel is making unexpected progress! What has happened to him has actually, by God’s providence and grace, created a new avenue by which the gospel could advance.

Rivers make winding progress. They flow, they go around obstacles. Rivers are persistent, and the gospel is persistent in the same way. If you put a barrier in the pathway of the gospel it always finds a way to go over or around.

The chief obstacle for Paul was his imprisonment, but he saw this as no obstacle at all. In fact, he saw this as opportunity. By way of this opportunity the gospel is advancing in new areas. The message of the gospel cannot be stopped because it is the message of a God who cannot be stopped. It is futile to try to contain it; it cannot be contained. So Paul says, ”You might think this has set me back. But actually, it has put the gospel forward.”

Not An Obstacle to Overcome But An Opportunity to Embrace

Paul knew that many types of affliction would come, but he was confident that God would be at work in it all. He sees it as his assignment to be a willing vessel of affliction and to see that God’s plan is accomplished not despite his affliction – this wasn’t an obstacle to overcome – but because of his affliction – this was an opportunity to embrace.

As Paul writes this letter he sits in prison. He is suffering, and by way of his suffering the gospel is advancing. Long after Paul’s letter was written, Elisabeth Elliot said something that I’m sure Paul would have agreed with: “The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.”

It’s safe to say we’re in the “much worse” phase of God’s will right now. But we can look forward with hope and trust that in the end this will work out for our good and God’s glory. And the gospel will advance by way of this affliction if we see COVID-19 not as an obstacle to overcome but an opportunity to embrace.

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600Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Is the Gospel Under Assault in Aylmer, Ontario?

Is the gospel under assault right now in Aylmer, Ontario? Are we Christians being persecuted? Should we be doing something different than we’re doing right now? What does it look like for us to “speak the word without fear”?

Related post: Should This Aylmer Pastor Be Breaking the Law?

One result of Paul’s frequent imprisonments was that other Christians were emboldened, they were energized by his witness of suffering for the sake of Christ (Phil. 1:14). That’s the exact opposite result some would expect. Paul was being punished for speaking the truth of the gospel and the intent on the part of those punishing him was to make clear to others what they could expect if they tried the same thing.

But this doesn’t reduce gospel preaching, it increases it. People who are committed to God and captivated by his word are stirred to speak whenever the gospel is under assault. When you tell Christians not to speak of Christ, as the apostles were in Acts 6, you can be assured that they will speak of Christ at the next opportunity.

Types of Boldness

Bold Christians inspire and energize other Christians, but there are two types of boldness. One leads to good results and the other does not. Bold confident Christians who are wise can inspire other Christians to step out boldly in wisdom. But bold confident Christians who are foolish can inspire other Christians to step out boldly in foolishness.

The small town where I live and pastor a church has been in the national news these last weeks because of a local church that has been disobeying the police by meeting in their cars in their parking lot for worship services on Sunday mornings. The pastor of this church is bold and is attempting to energize his flock to step out boldly. 

Making the Case

What should we think of this? We are Christians who count ourselves as people who are bold and confident in the gospel, just as Paul was, just as those who were inspired by Paul were. And we would certainly defend the gospel if it was under assault. 

The issue in this case, in our town is being framed by this pastor with three biblical stories: David and Goliath, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, and the Apostles before the Council

So, is the gospel under assault right now in Aylmer, Ontario? Are we Christians being persecuted? Should we be doing something different than we’re doing right now? What does it look like for us to “speak the word without fear”? 

Is the Gospel Under Assault?

The first thing we need to understand clearly from scripture is that we may not like or agree with decisions that are made, but unless the authorities are compelling us to sin then we are not free to disobey. We are free to challenge but we are not free to disobey.

The questions we must answer, then, are these: 

  • Is the government, in prohibiting us from meeting together – even if we stay in our cars – compelling us to sin?
  • Are they mocking us as the Philistines mocked Israel before David slew Goliath?
  • Are they commanding us not to pray, as Nebuchadnezzar did Daniel? 
  • Are they commanding us, even metaphorically, to bow down to an idol, to pledge our sole allegiance to a false God?
  • Are they commanding us not to speak the name of Jesus, as the council did to the apostles?

The answer to all those questions is no. To mock us in this situation would be to allow other large groups to gather in this way for corporate events but not Christians. That’s not happening. We have not been commanded to stop preaching or praying or worshiping. In fact, we are still doing all those things. We have not been asked to bow to any sort of idol that would cause us to betray our allegiance to God. We have not been forbidden to speak the name of Jesus. We’re free to do that all we want. 

The Conditions For Disobedience 

The conditions for disobedience have not been met, so to disobey the authorities at this point would be for us to sin.

One more possibility that might justify disobedience: Are they compelling us to sin by causing us to ignore the command to meet together that we find in the book of Hebrews? Again, no, because there is a greater command, which is to love God and love your neighbour. And to love our neighbours in this time is to abide by the the rules of those who have been placed in authority over us.

We will continue to obey these orders unless it becomes obvious that Christians are being specifically targeted by them. Until that time, we will obey and we will advocate for a reasonable way forward, as we are doing here.

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Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

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COVID-19: The Limits of Control and Civil Disobedience

If we begin to see overreach – that is, if reasonable social distancing rules are used as a platform to exercise unwarranted control over the lives of citizens – we should all be concerned.

The daily glut of information on offer is a challenge to sift through, much less deeply engage with. I’ve been trying to stay tuned-in, to read as widely as possible, and process my thoughts here, publicly, to see if I can move the conversations we need to have in a positive direction. Here’s what I’m pondering today.

The Limits of Control

When it comes to the enforcement of recently enacted laws, if we begin to see overreach – that is, if reasonable social distancing rules are used as a platform to exercise unwarranted control over the lives of citizens – we should all be concerned. 

And what we seem to be seeing is a growing number of examples of over-enforcement of rules that aren’t exactly clear in the first place. People are being fined or threatened with fines for shooting hoops alone in a public park, having a social-distancing birthday parties from their cars, and a host of other examples. 

This is concerning because of its downstream consequences. If you ticket people for “creative compliance” there will be a cratering of morale in the population, and this will have widespread negative impacts. In addition you run the risk of angry citizens throwing their hands in the air in frustration and pushing back. We are beginning to see this happen and, obviously, it is not a good development.

Civil Disobedience

While in my previous post I stated that as Christians it is our desire and duty to obey, respect, and comply with those in authority over us, civil disobedience cannot be taken off the table of options. At the same time, the bar for civil disobedience must be set very high. Kyle Borg, in a post at Gentle Reformation, explains:

“There are times when as Christians we need to disobey our governing authorities (see Acts 5:29). But it is only when they require us to be disobedient to God — when the only way we can obey them is to be unfaithful to God. For the Christian, civil disobedience doesn’t arise out of patriotic flag waving while holding the Bill of Rights; it doesn’t arise out of anti-government sentiment or political leanings; it doesn’t arise because we’re inconvenienced by the law or draconian measures; it doesn’t arise out of some macho sense of being able to stick it to the man. For the Christian the only motivation for civil disobedience is a deep biblical conviction that obedience to man would be disobedience to God.”

Case Study

The in-progress case of civil disobedience  by a local church in my hometown – and the town where I currently pastor – is an interesting case study. The pastor of this church, Henry Hildebrandt, has determined that the threshold has been met and has decided to hold services in defiance of the authorities.

Anyone is free to comment, but if you are a Christian – and especially if you are a church leader reading this – where are you at in weighing the evidence for and against the justification for civil disobedience at this time? I’d love to discuss this with you. Leave a comment or send an email below or comment below the article on Facebook or send me a private message there.

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(Header photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash)

COVID-19: Should This Aylmer Pastor Be Breaking the Law?

If we are truly concerned that people in their cars with their windows rolled up are a threat to stopping the spread of COVID-19, how are we not horrified that 300m down the road many people are mingling out in the open with no barriers between them whatsoever, except the one sheet of plexiglass at the checkout? – Michael Krahn (About page)

Here is what’s happening right now in my hometown of Aylmer, Ontario. (Pictured above: Pastor Henry Hildebrandt of The Church of God)

An infectious disease is spreading through the world. It is highly contagious and there is no cure. It is so serious, in fact, that we are taking extreme measures to reduce the spread. As a result, many new restrictions are in place.

Creative Compliance
Last weekend, a local church gathered for worship in an unusual way. They drove into the parking lot just as they normally would on any other week, but this week they stayed in their cars the whole time with the windows rolled up so there was no chance of spreading the disease. While they were gathered they listened to a live sermon preached onsite via FM radio. This sounds like what we might call “creative compliance”: the goal of the restrictions is met and the church is still able to have some semblance of a gathering.

But in a demonstration of just how serious we are about stopping the spread of this disease, the police showed up to let these people know that this was a dangerous and illegal activity they should not engage in. (This is no knock on the police, who are simply doing their best to enforce the laws that have been made.)

[UPDATE/CORRECTION: In speaking to a church representative I was informed that the police did not show up at the actual service. According to this church leader, the church had been working in cooperation with the local police and had permission to meet in this way. Then on Monday they received notice that they were in violation and if they met the same way again this coming Sunday action would be taken.]

Fair enough – it seems a bit extreme, but we have all accepted that it’s just the world we live in right now.

Meanwhile…
Another world entirely, apparently, exists about 300m away from this church parking lot. The local grocery store also has a parking lot and many people park there every day. But nobody shows up to warn them not to do so.

But wait, there’s more! These people don’t even stay in their cars. They open their doors and get out of their cars. They then grab a shopping cart and enter the building. Inside the building they grab the groceries they need, together with plenty of other people who are doing the same.

But wait, everyone is wearing masks and being careful to stay six feet apart, right? On staying six feet apart, yes, people seem to be doing their best, but the last time I visited this store I didn’t see a single mask.

Is This Disease Serious or Not?
And all of this begs some questions: Is this disease serious or is it not? And should the pastor of this church, Henry Hildebrandt, break the law and encourage his congregation to meet again the same way next Sunday?

But wait – you say – the grocery store has been designated an essential service and the church has not. Ok, but does that mean there is blanket immunity available on location at these essential businesses? It’s like we’re being told not to gather in groups of more than five – unless you’re at an establishment that has been deemed an essential service. Then it’s free range! Like a city under a protective bubble.

In other words, if we are truly concerned that people in their cars with their windows rolled up are a threat to stopping the spread of COVID-19, how are we not horrified that 300m down the road many people are mingling out in the open with no barriers between them whatsoever, except the one sheet of plexiglass at the checkout?

The incongruence is a little too stark for us to ignore.

The Nature of Church
As Christians we believe that the Bible calls us to regularly meet together in person (Hebrews 10:25).  A church family is like an extended biological family. It requires the presence of others to maintain its vitality.

Because of COVID-19 we’ve been asked not to meet and an overwhelming majority of churches have complied with that order. We believe that God is pleased with our compliance as we seek to love our neighbours by taking reasonable precautions to not do them harm. And we will continue to do so unless it becomes apparent that the orders are actually being used to prevent our gatherings in a targeted way. It seems Pastor Henry Hildebrand believes that’s what’s already happening, which is why his church is defying the order.

To be clear, it is our desire as followers of Jesus to respect and submit to those in authority over us because we believe they have been placed in authority over us by God (Romans 13:1). But we also believe that this authority is delegated to them by God and it is therefore not absolute in their hands. God’s authority is absolute, and when human leaders use their delegated authority to unjustifiably discourage what God commands, Christians are obligated to speak up. 

Most Christians I know do not believe that faith communities are being intentionally targeted with these laws, but with a few more incidences like this one that is bound to change.

We must find ways to allow for this kind of creative compliance. If we don’t, we run the risk of giving the appearance that these laws and their enforcement are both targeted and arbitrary. So let’s have this conversation before we get to that point.

Feel free to get in touch…

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