Thursday, February 24, 2011


I have committed myself to living a grateful life. I want to remember how fortunate I am to have my family, my home, and to live in Canada. I have asked God to keep reminding me how fortunate I am. Every once in a while He does. Today was one of those days. Our dishwasher began to fail and we had to buy a new one. This morning, Mike installed the new dishwasher and took away the old one. As he worked I detected an accent and asked him about his home country. He said he originally lived in the Soviet Republic of Czechoslovakia but had escaped from communist rule in 1985. One day, he and some other men grabbed a few possessions, put them in water-proof bags, and wrapped them around their waists. They jumped into the Danube river by night, avoiding the guards who patrolled the border, and swam across to Austria. They turned themselves in to the Austrian police and he was surprised when the police officer allowed him to walk on his own to the police station a few blocks over. He had expected hand-cuffs.

They spent six months in a political refugee camp while they tried to determine where he should go. He asked to go to Canada without knowing much about the country; but he knew he would be free. He was told that he would be sent to Vancouver as the city prepared for the world fair. He had never heard of this place and could not even pronounce the name. He arrived in Vancouver and went down to the Expo 86 construction site. He had enough English to talk to the boss and say, "I am Mike. How much?" When they answered "four," he agreed to work for four dollars an hour. Once the construction was done he worked during Expo in the kitchen of the Ukrainian Pavilion. He worked hard and went home smelling like cabbage and turkey; but the food was good and occasionally he would get some German beer. After three years he managed to get his Canadian citizenship. Soon after that the Berlin Wall came down and he could go back to Slovakia to visit family.

This is the second time in a few weeks that someone has told me their story of escaping from a country so that they could live in Canada. Those of us who grew up in this country seldom reflect on the lottery we won when we found ourselves born as Canadian citizens. It is easy to complain about things or wish for a different life. Ethan Baron, a columnist in The Province on February 23, 2011, commented on how many in Vancouver appear to be "Miserable in Paradise." He says that
The qualities that make Vancouver so "livable" are certainly impressive. Our economy is stable, we can get into a good health-care clinic or emergency room any time, we have excellent roads and schools, we're surrounded by world-class natural beauty. Yet everywhere you go in Vancouver, people are frowning. Rarely do strangers talk to each other in public. When two solitary people pass on a sidewalk, they avert their eyes and say nothing.*
Hmmm, Mike, thank-you for reminding me how fortunate I am. I think I will go outside and smile at some people.

*Ethan Baron, "Miserable in Paradise;" February 23, 2011; © Copyright (c) The Province.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Live What We Talk

"We must live what we talk, even in places where we cannot talk what we live." - Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002, p. 231.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


According to one of the greatest mathematicians of our time, “there is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality.”* What Stephen Hawking means by this is that we are all limited in our perception of reality. He compares all of us to a goldfish living in a bowl with curved sides. Gazing out, the fish has a distorted view of reality. He points out that if the goldfish had sufficient time and brain-power, it might be able to work out a series of laws that describe the way things appear from inside of a fish bowl. We, on the outside of the bowl would find these goldfish descriptions of the world overly complicated and would simply point out that the fish lives in a bowl and cannot see reality in its true form. Hawking says, “might not we ourselves also be inside some big goldfish bowl and have our vision distorted by an enormous lens. The goldfish’s picture of reality is different from ours, but can we be sure it is less real?” Hawking then suggests that we might be living unknowingly inside a virtual reality created by intelligent computers as described in the science fiction film, The Matrix. He adopts a view which he calls “model-dependent realism: the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations.”

Now I suppose it is not surprising that a mathematician would come up with a mathematical way of describing the universe. But that is just it, it is a mathematical description of the universe. The greatest strength of his argument ultimately makes it weak in explaining the hows and whys of the universe. For, his is just one way of seeing the universe as is the goldfish way of seeing the universe. He certainly can develop such a model and use it to describe the universe as he sees it. Where he strays too far is in saying that his is the only way to view the universe and that philosophers and theologians have nothing to add to the story. His mathematical models have great predictive value for describing how electrons, protons, neutrons, and quarks function in the universe. He would like this same model to predict how the universe came into existence and why the universe came into existence. Here his model is less helpful. Just as the goldfish in the fish bowl cannot be sure of the reality of her world-view (even if she could create models that described her observations), neither can Hawking be sure of the reality of his world-view. It is equally as possible that his model works inside of the universe (or even inside the multi-verse that Hawking goes on to describe) and also inside a greater, over-arching, plan of a creator God. Here is precisely where philosophy, theology, and epistemology come into the discussion. Despite what physicists and mathematicians might think, mathematics is not the only valid tool of inquiry or description that we can use to understand our universe.

*This and other quotes in this article are from Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam Books, 2010, p. 39-43.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hearing from All Canadians

Many of us believe that a "true north strong and free" includes the ability to speak freely and listen carefully to others. I want to be one who listens to other voices, other perspectives, and other world-views. I want to understand what others see as the future of Canada and work together for a great country. This can be challenging when we will most certainly disagree on major issues and it is challenging in a climate of rhetoric which generates strong emotions.

I appreciate an article written by Don Hutchinson on the Activate CFPL blog site. He quotes government house leader John Baird who says that
We think it is tremendously important in a pluralistic society like Canada to always reach out to people of different backgrounds, and we make no apologies for it.
It is a good reminder that we all need to take seriously our responsibility to speak to the issues of our country. Religious, atheistic, and agnostic viewpoints should be spoken and heard.

The article goes on to speak of another occurence in Ottawa last week. Mr. Hutchinson calls it a "wacky week" in Ottawa but that is perhaps just an unfortunate choice of words. He goes on to speak of Liberal Member of Parliament Carolyn Bennett who has chosen to sing her own version of the national anthem. I will leave it to others to decide if this is an appropriate way to make her position known or if it is impolite to sing different words when we have all previously agreed on the way we will sing a song together. It does bring to mind questions of unity and manners.

What I will say is this MP deserves to have her opinion heard. She would like to suggest that our national anthem should be free of gender and religious bias. I am also free to disagree with her but I want to listen to her concerns. It is important to have rational debate and rational debate requires listening as well as talking.

Oh Canada, our home and native land, may you truly be our true north, strong and free. We stand on guard for thee.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


John Robert Wilson (June 10, 1953 to February 4, 2011).
The words I spoke at the funeral of my friend, John Wilson.
2 Timothy 2:11 and 12 says, "If we die with Jesus, we will also live with Jesus. If we endure hardship, we will reign with Jesus."

For the last couple of weeks, all of us have been coming to grips with living in a world without John Wilson. It is never easy to figure out when someone will leave this life; but it has been even more difficult with a man like John. In these last few weeks when most people thought he was approaching the end of his life, John was making plans for the future. He was planning trips, he had projects he wanted to complete, and he had new projects he wanted to start. We began to wonder if he might actually accomplish several of these things yet. He seemed so positive, so hopeful. But it was not to be.

Selfishly, I wonder what my world will be like without John. John is one of my closest friends. For about ten years while I lived in Calgary we met together with another friend, Warren Horricks, once a week to pray with and for each other. It was an anchor point for my spiritual disciplines. We prayed for others; we sometimes confessed our failings as husbands, parents, and church leaders to each other. And we kept each other on track so that there were fewer failings than there might have been. We prayed for healing in people's lives and saw some miraculous answers to prayer. And then came the day when John told us that he had cancer and our prayer times became a real laboratory of prayer. We worked hard to figure out what we could ask of God and what prayers God would answer and we struggled when God said no. For about ten years we prayed that God would take away John's cancer. And although God gave John strength through all of the procedures, and extended his life several times, God never completely healed him here on earth.

John was always suggesting books for me to read. I have often quoted John's statement that "Leaders are readers!" He challenged me to take on tasks that were bigger than I could accomplish on my own. He was my biggest supporter when Maureen and I planted a church in Calgary and when we decided to move to Vancouver and do it again. We still connected by phone and continued to pray for each other. Every Wednesday at 1:00 pm an alarm goes off on my phone and I remember to pray for my friend John and a few other people. That alarm will mean something different now. Even two weeks ago, John was still challenging me and offering me support in some of the things I was tackling. He still had plans. He wanted to write a book, he wanted to contribute to a website we were starting, he planned to attend our daughter's wedding in March. He had other trips he wanted to take.

I imagine that John did accomplish quite a few things in the last two weeks of his life. John had a rich prayer life. In the last couple of years we would often catch John talking to someone when no one appeared to be around. When he knew we had seen him talking to himself he would joke and say, "I'm on drugs." But I think there was more to it. The spiritual realm was getting more real to John as his physical body failed and his prayer life grew. In the last two weeks, John slept a lot but I imagine he and God were doing quite a bit of talking in those times. As his body was getting weaker, his spirit was getting stronger and was getting more prepared for entering eternity. John and his Lord probably had some good conversations in those last days and hours. I suspect John prayed for his family, his church, and many of you here in this room today.

I am just one person who has been touched by the life of John Wilson. There are many more who were affected in a similar manner. Many of you were challenged and supported as you took on things bigger than you could accomplish on your own. John's ministry at Alberta Bible College was about teaching and mentoring the next generation. For more than 30 years he had a particular passion for church planting. He planted a church himself, participated on Church planting teams, boards, and agencies including Partners in Atlantic Canada Evangelism; Alberta Church Planting Association; the Calgary Church Planting Network; and Genesis Canada. John generally encouraged church planting teams and church planters. Because of these efforts, a number of new congregations exist today.

I have had lots of heroes in my life and I have often been disappointed by heroes who have failed in their mission. But John was one who was faithful to his mission. He was faithful to the end. He worked hard to be a good husband, a good father, a good elder, a good leader, a good teacher. He taught others how to deal with adversity. He taught us to pray for more opportunities to serve God and he taught us to keep on going and planning for the future. John challenged us all to rely upon God and pray for His strength.

We will all have to carry on in this world without John Wilson. But I know that John would want us to take up the task for him. He would want us to be the next ones to plant churches, lead others, teach others, support others, challenge others, bring hope to others, and pray for others.

There are some words in 2 Timothy 2: 2 that speak to the kind of ministry that John had and that we can now have in his place. "You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chicken Soup

When our daughters were little we found lots of great kids' music at the library. Joe Scruggs, Charlotte Diamond, Fred Penner, and Alan Root were some of our favourites. We spent many hours listening to and singing along with these great songs. Many of them were quite educational and certainly contributed to our girls' present love for music.

One of the songs on an Alan Root recording caused a great deal of discussion around the dinner table. Alan Root is a Christian minister and children's performer and subscribes to a young earth, seven day understanding of the creation of the universe. Here are the lyrics to his song, "Chicken Soup."

Chicken Soup (words and music by Alan Root)*

In the beginning so the scientists say
The planet was covered with soup
According unto them it started up when
The seas were sort of like slimy green goop
That became DNA so the storybooks say
Nobody really knows how
Single cell creatures kept finding new features
Til your great-grandfather climbed out

But you can't make a chicken from soup
Chickens didn't come from any slimy green goop
You can make soup from any chicken in the coop
But you cannot make a chicken from soup

Atheists say long ago and far away
Everybody used to be fish
Then we landed on the land and - ala ka zaam
Promoted to potatoes with a satellite dish
The Bible says the foolish man doesn't fear God
Time to look around and get a clue
It takes more resolution to believe in evolution
Than the seven day story that's true

But you can't make a chicken from soup
Chickens didn't come from any slimy green goop
You can make soup from any chicken in the coop
But you cannot make a chicken from soup

In the history of science and a civilized world
No new critters have advanced
No matter what you think we're missing missing links
Chromosomal language couldn't happen by chance
Einstein said God doesn't role dice
Your future is determined by your past
Either you're the masterpiece of a master-mind
Or the accident of hydrogen gas

But you can't make a chicken from soup
Chickens didn't come from any slimy green goop
You can make soup from any chicken in the coop
But you cannot make a chicken from soup

In our household, I was a proponent of theistic evolution as a means of creation. In other words, I believe that God did create the universe and He used evolution to accomplish this. I agree with many scientists who would say that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old and that the universe is about 13.75 billion years old. So we had conversations at the dinner table which discussed why this song was written, what it was talking about, and various theories and ideas of how our universe came to be. The statement with which we would often conclude was, "How the world was created is not as important as the fact that the Bible tells us who created the world. In the beginning, God created."

I like much of the song-writing of Alan Root and even his "Chicken Soup" song is clever and humorous. It was a great discussion starter in our family. However, I would encourage us all to look at the songs we are singing with our kids and investigate what they are really teaching. Are they encouraging our kids to think for themselves and search after the truth of God? We want children to grow into adults who are self-feeders who will search for truth themselves rather than simply agree with whatever the person at the front of the church, university class, concert-hall, or the person on the You-Tube video says to them.

*Lyrics transcribed from audio. Listen to it here.