P A S T O R ‘ S   B L O G

In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. – Proverbs 3:6

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I learned a new word a few days ago: specious. I was reading an article, and they talked about a particular worldview as being specious. At first, I thought perhaps that the author meant that the worldview was special or unique, but I began to sense, as I read further, that the word meant something entirely different. I had to look it up, and I discovered that specious means, “superficially plausible, but actually wrong.” In other words, something that is specious looks like it could be right but upon further study, it comes evident that it is wrong.

In the insect world we sometimes find specious species. There are a number of insects that look remarkably like leaves, so much so that we probably wouldn’t see them as insects even if we looked right at them. Of course, it only takes a second to discover that the insect is not a leaf at all. It is a specious insect because it appears to be something that it is not, and the truth can be revealed through further examination.

Examples of specious things in creation are quite wonderful, but when it comes to ideas, they can be quite dangerous. Take, for example, the idea that working seven days a week is advantageous. By working that extra day, it is argued, we can get more done, and when we get more done, we get paid more, and when we get paid more, that is to our advantage. This argument is specious on so many levels, but, from a biblical perspective, it becomes completely false. We well know that all that we have is provided to us by God. If we dispute that, consider where we live. Farmers in Canada, for example, generally are reasonably prosperous. Farmers in many places in the world are among the poorest in their countries. The reason that any of the farmers among us are doing so well is because God has placed them here in Canada and has given us the conditions favourable to good crops, markets that will buy them and prices which allow us to live and even live well. Any one of us could have been born in a different country, worked as hard or even harder than we do now and yet live on the brink of poverty. In this and many more examples, we discover that God is the one who provides for us. Thus, while we are called to work, we do not expect that it is our efforts that make us rich, but, rather, God’s blessings on those efforts. It is specious, therefore, to say that working seven days per week will be to our advantage. We could try it, but unless God provides, we could find ourselves more worn out, grumpier and even poorer than when we took a day off.

We hear all sorts of ideas that seem plausible at first but prove to be completely erroneous upon closer examination. A former prime minister (Pierre, the father of Justin) said that in matters of sexual activity what goes on in the bedroom should not be our concern. That sounds plausible. How can we say that someone’s moral decision that leads to activities that are completely hidden be our concern? Their acts don’t affect us, do they? Sounds plausible, even logical. But consider the devastating effects of the sexual revolution that has been gaining ground for the last 60 years. It is a proven fact that repeated sexual encounters without commitment result in people who cannot keep commitments. What went on in the bedroom now affects the lives of children in their living rooms and kitchens. Mr. Trudeau’s reasoning proves to be specious.

One other example: there are many parents who would say that if their teenagers are going to drink, they would prefer that they do so at home perhaps even with their friends. Thus, they provide opportunities for their underage youth to drink, sometimes heavily, and often fairly regularly. It sounds like the parents are protecting their children from harm. Isn’t it better to create a safe environment in which to drink rather than have them run the roads under the influence of alcohol? Creating a safe environment sounds like the right thing to do. But that argument, too, is specious. Many studies have shown that the undeveloped brain (brains of humans are not fully developed until the individual reaches the age of 22 or 23) is very negatively affected by alcohol, especially if the person engages in binge drinking, which is defined as 3-4 drinks per evening. Memory loss, loss of ability to make sound decisions, and a general reduction in the ability to think are seen, to one degree or another, in every person who binge drinks before their brains are fully developed. Studies show that the effects seem to last about a month, but it is uncertain if the undeveloped brain is permanently disabled when exposed to alcohol before it is fully developed. An argument that seems plausible (we are protecting our children) turns out to be false as those same children are given the opportunity to inflict temporary or perhaps permanent brain damage on themselves. This reasoning by parents is a specious as well.

What we discover is that God’s commands counteract specious reasoning. While it is not always evident how God’s ways are right, we can be assured that they are not specious. In other words, God guides us toward a particular way of living because it is good for us. Sometimes we discover why through good scientific study, but sometimes the reasoning behind those laws is unknown to us. Someday we might understand but until we do, it is better if we simply obey. But we had better make sure that if we make an argument for something that while it might sound plausible, it cannot be refuted. While we are special in God’s eyes, by his grace, we should never find ourselves to be specious.

~ Pastor Gary ~



Years ago, I didn’t keep a calendar of appointments. I could remember meetings and commitments that were weeks in advance, and I never forgot a single event. Today, if I don’t check my calendar in the morning (and then again, several times throughout the day), I am sure to miss my appointments. While I have more things on my calendar, that doesn’t account for my inability to remember. I do not attribute my inability to age either. I recall beginning to keep a calendar, and within weeks of doing so, I lost my ability to remember what I was supposed to do without looking it up. I attribute a great deal of loss of ability to remember to the fact that I was no longer required to remember. I could look it up.

The philosopher, Plato, who lived a couple of centuries before Jesus was born, said that when we record our thoughts (and appointments) in writing, we weaken our memory. Plato found that if he could look something up, he didn’t have to commit it to memory. If Plato also had that problem, I don’t feel quite so bad.

We do have the ability to look things up easily. Anyone who has a smart phone can find information almost immediately no matter where we live in this world as long as we have access to the Internet. We must wonder what Plato would think if he lived in our day and age. Perhaps he would lament our inability to remember. Because we are able to look things up, we are less likely to remember because we don’t have to remember. In fact, I choose to not remember certain things just because I don’t have to.

Yet, committing things to memory is more than just an exercise in keeping our brains from weakening. When we memorize something, perhaps a portion of Scripture, it becomes more familiar to us. A number of years ago, someone told me that it was not impossible to memorize an entire book of the Bible, and so I tried it. I started with Ephesians, and in a few weeks, I had committed the first two chapters completely to memory. Unfortunately, I stopped after two chapters, but when I do read them today, it’s almost like returning home. They are comfortably familiar, and I find my self reading them more deeply. In other words, it seems that when we commit something to memory, it tends to become part of who we are.

In the Christian grade school where my two children attended in Ontario, the students were required to memorize a portion of Scripture every two weeks. When they were in Grade 1, the verses were short, but as they progressed to the upper grades, the verses turned into paragraphs. Each year, at the end of the year, each student was asked to recite not only all the verses of that year but also all the verses of all the previous years. By grade 8, they had committed 1000s of words of Scripture to memory, and nearly all of them in last year’s graduating class earned the reward that stated that they had recited all the verses they had learned while in that school. I marvelled at that because, from what I knew of these students, some of them were not the most diligent in their studies.

I reflect on the impact that having that much Scripture committed to memory should have on them. I know that a number of students who attended that school have walked away from the faith (as is true of every Christian School and church), but they cannot walk away from what they have put in their memories. True, they may not be able to recite the verses word for word, but we can be sure that when they hear them again, perhaps at a wedding or a funeral, it will be bit like coming home. Those verses will strike a chord.

I believe that Plato might lament the current state of things if he were to be able to visit. He might say that the weakened state of our memories leaves us vulnerable. True, we can look up a verse in the Bible in a few seconds, and that is helpful, but just because we can look something up doesn’t mean that we should be satisfied with our ability. What we read will still seem a little foreign to us, for it hasn’t become part of us.

At one time copies of the Bible were so rare that they were chained to a table in a library. If someone wanted to take a verse of paragraph home with them, they either had to copy it or they had to commit it to memory. I don’t doubt that many decided that instead of taking a pen and paper to the library (if they even had access to such things), that they committed portions of the Bible to memory. That way they would always have those verses with them.

I know that memory work has fallen by the wayside, and we no longer require our children to memorize Scripture as part of their church education curriculum. Parents don’t want the hassle of making their children sit down and learn their memory work before Sunday School of Catechism. I don’t want the frustration of having to deal with students who come with their verses unmemorized. Besides, if I remember my church education days, the way I memorized the verse of the week seconds before I had to say it allowed it to escape my short-term memory almost as quickly as it had entered it. That kind of memorization serves no purpose.

I rather like the way that the Christian school did it: the students had to remember some verses, not for 8 minutes but for 8 years. If we do the same, perhaps we will be well served as Scripture becomes part of us. It is not impossible to memorize significant portions of Scripture, and if we commit those paragraphs to our long-term memory by returning to them time after time, we can be sure that they will become part of who we are. Reading them in church or personal devotions will be like returning home, and we will be blessed.

~ Pastor Gary ~


Grocery Stores and Churches

For a few years now I have been having discussions with colleagues about the way the church is perceived by those who regularly attend worship services. We have concluded that there is a parallel between where we choose to shop for groceries and what church we choose to attend.

In the years before cars, when walking and horses were the ready means of transportation, the local general store was the place where people gathered and shopped. It served as a kind of community centre. Churches also served the same purpose, providing the community with a place to gather, even while calling them to faith and faithfulness.

When cars became commonplace, the local general store lost its appeal. People would travel to a larger centre to shop at a larger store with more variety and better prices. By and large people remained committed to a particular store because it was familiar, and they still felt a personal connection. It would take something significant for someone to change stores. People began to treat their churches in the same way. Instead of attending the church down the street, they would be willing to drive a significant distance to attend one that was more to their liking. The churches tended to be larger but not so large that you couldn’t know everyone there. Community remained an important aspect of belonging to a church and, generally, people were committed to a particular church, and they would attend faithfully.

Small town grocery stores were replaced by big box stores where the shopper could find better prices and an even greater variety. People chose grocery stores because the store served their needs (and wants) the best. Commitment to a particular store waned because there was no personal connection. Churches soon followed with “big box” churches springing up in larger communities, and people would choose a church entirely on the basis of what it offered to them or (more often) their children and youth. Because of the size of the church, the feeling of it being a community disappeared sometimes almost entirely, and the connection that had been experienced before was weakened. People began to move more readily between churches.

But big box stores do not have the popularity they once had. On-line stores have taken a huge bite out of the market share of brick and mortar stores, for people can browse the selections and find the best price from the comfort of their own home. Already before COVID there was a movement toward people watching worship services on-line, often not really knowing anyone else who was “worshipping” with them. People today can and do choose what they watch based entirely on their preferences, and it is easy to switch out one worship service for another.

Churches and their leadership have responded to the changing culture. Realizing that many of those in attendance had become quite consumeristic, many churches developed methods by which they could attract the greatest number of attenders, or, to put it in business terms, the greatest market share. Getting the numbers up and keeping them high has been one of the main focuses of many churches, and they will do just about anything to keep them high, including adapting their message so that it become more likable to more people. In some churches, the Sunday morning sermon has become quite similar to a motivational talk, with the exception that sometimes there is reference to a passage of Scripture, more as a prooftext than as the foundation for the message.

I have wondered with my colleagues about what will happen next. There is a trend for people to “shop local,” being willing to pay a little more for the same product. People shop local for all kinds of reasons: they know the producer; they are concerned about the environment; they don’t like big businesses; they don’t trust that the product is safe. In other words, shopping local can be almost as self-seeking as trying to get the best bargain on-line. Without a doubt we will see churches positioning themselves as the “local option” to appeal to the kind of person that likes that option.

Where does the problem lie? We might identify the problem with the fact that people view churches as being a kind of business. We are taught to be consumers by almost everything we see, so it is understandable that we view the church as something that can provide something we can consume. “We want to be fed,” is what we hear so often, and that can be a good sentiment, to a certain extent. Perhaps the problem is with the people, but the solution lies elsewhere. Any time a church positions itself to be what people want, it is in danger of losing its understanding of being what people need. The church’s purpose is not to bring people through the doors, but, rather, to bring people to faith in Christ and faithfulness to him with the intent that those same people bring Christ to the world. People are always going to be influenced by their environment and our environment makes us consumers, but that does not mean that a church needs to meet their demands.

We do have a responsibility in this, and it is quite simple: we need to assess ourselves and ask the question, “Am I a consumer when it comes to my choice of church?” I should note when someone changes the church they attend, it may not be because they are acting like consumers. Perhaps there are other good reasons for the change, but if the change is motivated by consumeristic feelings, then the person has failed to understand the purpose of the church. More importantly, we should never expect a church to shape its practices so that it bends the knee to consumerism. As soon as a “greater market share” becomes what motivates a church, we can also expect to see compromise. The role of the church is to be a faith community wherein which its members are equipped to be Christ’s workers in his kingdom.

Perhaps it would be best to understand the church to be a kind of training centre where we learn the skill of following Jesus Christ rather than a grocery store where we seek what satisfies our wants.

~ Pastor Gary ~


Overcoming Original Sin

Some years ago, I had parked my car, and I was just about to leave it when I noticed a young man on the other side of the parking lot. It was apparent that he was just passing through, but suddenly, quite randomly, he kicked out, smashing a side mirror off the car he was passing. From the way he was walking, it did not seem that he had a reason to target this particular car. I was too distant from him to identify him, and he was long gone before I had a chance to confront him, but I did wonder what made him damage someone else’s property without provocation.

Augustine lived 1600 years ago, and he tells the story that when he was young, he and a friend decided to steal some pears from a neighbour’s orchard. They weren’t hungry and they didn’t eat the pears. They didn’t even like that particular variety of pear, but that didn’t stop them from stealing a significant quantity. Why did they do that?

Augustine, who became a Christian and a theologian, reflected on his actions and drew this conclusion: “I was foul to the core, yet I was pleased with my own condition and anxious to be pleasing in the eyes of men.” In other words, Augustine discovered that he was a sinful human being and he often sinned for no other reason except, perhaps, to impress others. It was from this reflection that Augustine articulated the doctrine of Original Sin. Original sin is defined at the tendency to sin, a tendency that we inherit from Adam. In other words, we are oriented toward sin from our very conception onward.

This idea does not play well with people when they look at little babies. We might hear someone say, “Look at how innocent she is,” when watching their daughter or granddaughter as she sleeps. Little infants do look quite innocent, and it seems offensive to think that that beautiful little child is inherently sinful. But if babies were inherently innocent and did not have the propensity toward sin, then why can they become so difficult after they have celebrated their second birthday? (“The terrible twos” is an oft-used expression, and for good reason.) Do parents teach their innocent children to be rebellious and disobedient? I haven’t met a parent who would admit it. Or maybe their sweet, innocent children learn it from other children, perhaps in the nursery at church? To say that would be to say that other parents taught their children to be sinful, and that would be a false accusation. Even if we could completely protect our children from negative outside influence, they still adopt sinful behaviour.

Of course, not all of us have stolen pears from an orchard or dropped kick a mirror off a random car, but we all do things that are wrong, and we do them for no good reason except that we feel like it, or, even worse, because our peers encourage us to. It may be that we do not really understand why we did what we did, but we did it anyway.

The concept of original sin, namely that we are inherently inclined to commit sin, has long been rejected by secularists in the West and is increasingly being rejected by Christians as well. Replacing original sin is the question which asks, “Is this behaviour caused by nature or by nurture?” If we say, “by nature,” we would say that we do what we do because we are built this way. Or, to use Christian speak, “God made us this way, and there is nothing we can do about it.” On the other hand, if we say, “by nurture,” we can blame our inclinations, even our sinful ones, on our upbringing or on our peer group or on our experiences. Without a doubt, we cannot discount either nature or nurture as being influencing factors on our behaviour, for they both play a role in who we are. A sexually abused child, for example, will more likely become abusive him/herself, and some people, because of the way they are built are far more likely to become alcoholics. (I know of several families where alcoholism is rampant.) Yet, we cannot lay our sinful behaviour either at the feet of nature (how we were brought up) or nurture (how we are built). Even the person with the best environment and the best genetics still sins, so nature and nurture do not explain or give reason for all of our sin.

The best explanation is Augustine’s who said that the root of our sin is found in the fact that we every part of life is affected by the sin that first entered the world through Adam. God did not create sinful human beings, nor did he create an environment which would teach us to sin. Adam did that for us, and we follow in his footsteps.

Thankfully, there is hope. When we speak of Jesus coming to this world to die for our sins, we can name some of the sins we have committed, although if Martin Luther is correct, we remember only a small fraction of them. We are thankful that all the sins we committed are forgiven by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, if we, through faith, ask him for forgiveness. But the death of Jesus on the cross did more than just provide forgiveness for each and every one of our particular sins; it also served to rid our lives of our sinfulness, thus removing even the tendency toward sin. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, the Holy Spirit makes us wholeheartedly ready and willing to serve the Lord. True, we all still fall back into the tendency toward sin, but we also know that as we seek to follow Jesus, the Spirit works in us to make us hate sin more and more, something that Paul alludes to in Romans 7.

The problem of original sin, therefore, which is the root of all our sins, is also dealt with at the cross, and we are set free. Our job, then, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to continually root out the individual sins from our lives so that we become more and more obedient to Jesus, becoming like him in all that we do. This process is called “sanctification” (becoming holy), and sanctification is only possible because Jesus also dealt with our original sin on the cross.

~ Pastor Gary ~