My Story Part 11: My Dark Night of the Stomach

Here’s the simple, honest, no-holds barred truth: I have been overweight pretty much all of my life.

I also have lost weight several times over the course of my life. I did this first when I was in Junior High (or middle school, for those of you born well after me!). Actually, my Mom and I did it together through a program called “U-Can.” We did the whole thing. Weigh-ins, tracking our food, special healthier recipes, encouraging group meetings, etc. I was actually slim to skinny for a short time.

Then once I began university and had a more consistently sedentary lifestyle, the weight slowly went back on. Though even during this period of my life I still did a fair bit of walking, so that helped stave it off somewhat. But I remember well the frustration of trying to put on a pair of jeans and hating myself because I couldn’t.

When I was a student at McMaster University I actually joined and went to (because joining and going aren’t the same thing!) a gym. Once again, I managed to lose weight and get into a little bit of shape. I was also still walking a lot. Poor students don’t have cars.

But then once I was married and we had kids and I had been a pastor for a few years, I began putting on weight again. Since then I have gone back and forth. I’ve been on Weight Watchers, Beach Body, used apps like iTrackbites, and even now I have an app called Carb Manager which tracks calories, carbs, fat, etc. I’ve recently checked out The Fit Father Project.

In the nearly seven years we have lived in NS, I have probaby lost more than 50 or 60 lbs altogether. Unfortunately, it has tended to happen in 20lb increments, after which I get off track and the weight goes back on. That’s where I am now.

And yes it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s discouraging. Yes, it’s maddening.

I suppose you know this already, but I’ll just put it out there. People who are overweight know they’re overweight. We don’t need someone to tell us. We feel badly enough and self-conscious enough without other people drawing our attention to it. If you’re looking at me and thinking, “Pastor Derek really should lose some weight,” believe me when I say that I am very aware of this and have been for as long as I can remember.

The truth is, I personally don’t “see” myself as a fat person. What I mean is that the picture I have of myself in my mind is much more flattering than an image I’ll see in a mirror or a picture. Here’s the thing, however: when I find myself not really wanting to be photographed, or at least not wanting to look at pictures of myself, it’s because I know I won’t be happy with what I see. What I really see.

So why get into all of this here? Well, it is a profoundly important part of my story, and short of my experiences with mental health issues (either mine of those of loved ones), issues surrounding food, eating, and weight are the most challenging ones I have faced in my life.

So without trying to add guilt to the obvious struggles a lot of us have with weight, I want to suggest that it is also a spiritual issue in part. Taking care of our physical bodies–bodies that are gifts from God–is part of our discipleship to Jesus. At a practical level, think about how your physical health impacts your mood, energy level, and ability to accomplish certain tasks. I have felt this, for example, when my church clothes don’t fit as well as they once did and I feel a little embarrassed and frustrated as a pastor. Actually, I hate it. How can that not affect my mood and perspective on a Sunday morning?

So, yes, I know from experience that eating healthier leads to having more energy and feeling better–even if I struggle mightily with doing it consistently and over the long term. I know it can affect my prayer life. It impacts how I see myself in relation to others. It makes a difference with how much I can get done sometimes.

You see, when it comes to Jesus, everything matters. Everything about us matters. Even our bodies. Those of us who are pastors can sometimes be especially guilty about ignoring our physical well-being because our vocation isn’t one that intrinsically requires physical activity. It’s a lot of sitting at a computer, sitting in people’s homes, sitting in meetings, sitting in a hospital room. You get the point.

Not only that, but perception, while not everything, isn’t irrelevant. That is, when someone sees an overweight person they can rightly or wrongly perceive that person as lazier and lacking in personal discipline and for that reason maybe as less reliable or trustworthy or worthy of admiration. Basically, they perceive the person more negatively.

But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Clearly, I have made many attempts to lose weight. And I have been partially successful at times. And while the physical discipline of eating healthier is part of the solution, another important thing to realize is that eating healthier involves a lot more than sheer self-control.

My wife has a theory about my struggles with overeating. From learning from my Mom about what it was like when she was pregnant with me, she thinks there’s a strong chance I was undernourished. My Mom smoked all through her pregnancy. So when I entered the world I did so with this fear of not having enough to eat. Plus, once I was born my Mom lacked the necessary knowledge to feed me properly, either severely over or under-feeding me as a result. On top of that I also learned poor eating habits from my Mom, who also struggled weight issues for much of her life. She both struggled with anorexia when younger and with being overweight later in life.

So, yeah, there’s all that. But the point is that even something basic like our eating habits are formed profoundly by factors outside of our control. There are others for whom specific genetic factors play a huge role in our weight. It’s not necessarily all because of someone’s lack of self-control.

In one way or another, food became an emotional issue for me. I would use it to feel better. I would also indulge when celebrating. All with this underlying fear of not getting what I want or need that lay beneath my conscious behaviour.

Peter Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, talks about how we need to go back in order to move forward towards spiritual maturity. That is, to grow into who Christ invites us to be we need to come to terms and work through issues we face in the present because of our family of origin. Like Scazzero likes to say, “Jesus may be in your heart but Grandpa is in your bones.”

That’s why for me eating habits are also a spiritual matter, an issue of discipleship, which means I have to do more than simply exercise personal willpower to eat healthier and lose weight. I get that for some it’s less complicated. I also don’t want to over complicate my situation. Still, in addition to learning about nutrition and healthier eating, I also have to change my feelings and attitude about food have to change. And, frankly, given that my current feelings have been forming in me since before I was born, that is the hardest part.

Naturally, the question is: what am I going to do about it? The thought of trying to lose weight again feels exhausting. I feel preemptively discouraged. Christmas is coming. I like—really like—carbs. It feels like it’s impossible, a mountain I have no hope of climbing. Do I want it badly enough?

I think I’m going to try and do some journaling about all of this. Pray about it. I need to do better when grocery shopping and preparing meals. Avoid unhealthy food items that when home are tempting! I can’t eat what isn’t in in the house.

Maybe I’ll get it right, maybe I won’t. What I do know is that it requires much more than a surface level and behavioural change. I need changing deep within. It’s the kind of change I pray God will effect within me. I pray that I can rewrite this part of my story.

A Prayer of Confession

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and apart from your grace, there is no health in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us. Spare all those who confess their faults. Restore all those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to all people in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may now live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of your holy Name. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer

One of the reasons I love the daily office is because of prayers like the one above.

Morning Prayer

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“The Collect,” The Daily Office

Many church traditions follow what is called “The Daily Office,” a series of set times for prayers, psalms, and other Sciptures. At the very least you can find beautiful prayers which you may find both helpful and inspiring, especially when you cannot find your own words. What’s wonderful about this Daily Office website is that you can follow either the regular, longer daily office or a shorter, family version. My wife has used the latter with our kids a number of times. It’s also available as an app for smartphones and tablets. Both allow you to adjust the settings to your own specifications. For example, you can turn on a feature that takes you through all 150 Psalms in 60 days.

Using The Daily Office takes some getting used to, but in the most basic sense it can be a spiritual resource. Along with Scripture readings and prayers from the tradition of the church, it includes a daily recitation of The Apostles’ Creed and The Lord’s Prayer.

One caveat is that it includes readings from what are called the Apocrypha or deuterocanonical books. This I find a little odd since this version of The Daily Office is from the 2019 Book of Common prayer, produced by the Church of England. Normally, I associate the Apocrypha with Roman Catholicism. I personally refrain from reading these selections.

So, may our Lord bless you and keep you throughout this day and forevermore as you seek him, adore him, and serve him.

A Genuine Sabbath Rest

Yesterday morning (Saturday) I first got up just before 8am. I felt really tired. My body felt achy. I don’t think I had the greatest sleep. So, not long after I got up I lay back down and slept for a couple more hours. I really needed it.

Sometimes we just need to stop. Our bodies, minds, and hearts need a break, a rest from the usual ways we spend our energy and time. That’s why as a family, we observe Sabbath.

We always start Friday evening. We have a special meal that includes dessert. We begin with prayers, blessings, and Scripture. We break bread and pass the cup.

Biblically, Sabbath is a 24 hour period of rest. Observed by Jews for millennia, Christians have had a mixed approach and a variety of views on Sabbath observance. I’m not interested in parsing these views here, other than to say that if God saw fit to embed in the very rhythm of creation a time for human beings to stop and rest that perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it to avoid being legalistic.

After my nap on Saturday, I watched some TV, did some reading, spent time with family, and did absolutely nothing. Well, I confess to doing a little laundry to ensure that I had done clean underwear!

At the end of the week, after we had enjoyed Sabbath supper, I felt exhausted. I went to bed relatively early and, as I mentioned already, had a nap the next day because I still felt really tired. Clearly, I needed rest.

On Saturday evening my wife and I had plans to spend time friends, and just before leaving to visit them I went to No Frills to get stuff for the kids’ supper. As I began driving, there was still a bit of a sunset, a beautiful stretch of pink and orange at the horizon line. And as I drove, I had a realization. I felt rested. I felt peaceful. I felt content. It was wonderful.

It made me realize that it took me nearly 24 hours to feel rested. A whole day of not working, of not being preoccupied with the responsibilities of ministry, of not having to give as much as receive in order to become recalibrated, was what I needed.

Put simply, God was right! In creating the Sabbath, God provides a gracious means for us to return to him and therefore to ourselves. It’s freeing to take the time simply to be. So much of life is what we do. So much so that we can lose who we are. God obviously knows better than us how to balance our lives.

When we first began observing Sabbath as a family, it never even occurred to me that I’d be able to manage to go 24 hours without working. If I could manage the Friday evening and Saturday morning, I should be grateful. I’m not always done my sermon before Saturday. And so there have been weeks when it’s hard to rest because of this. My weekend ends up feeling as tiring as the rest of the week.

But now I want more Sabbath. That feeling of rest was so life giving and freeing that I want more of it. For me this means doing my utmost during the week to use my time so that I don’t need to work on Saturdays. I need to get the work-rhythm more deeply into my system.

I don’t know if you resonate with any of this or not. But even if right now you’re not prepared for a 24 hour period of rest, how about taking an entire morning, afternoon, or evening and setting it aside for quiet, rest, prayer, Scripture, a pleasurable hobby or pastime, a extra long walk, a much needed nap, or a good book? Allow yourself space and time to step away from all of the doing for which you feel responsible. Instead, let God pour his grace and love into through taking a rest. Allow his gift of Sabbath to bless you.

A Christmas Rant

My last several posts have been about my own personal story, and how God has been at work in my life, but I thought I’d take a break from that and address a very serious concern. Something has been weighing on me for the last several days. Honestly, it’s kept me up nights!

Maybe it’s been on your mind too. Maybe it’s been bothering you like it’s been bothering me.

So better to get it all out in the open.

Ok. So here we go. Brace yourself.

Apparently, Christmas is coming.


Judging by the calendar, it’s just over a month away. If you include the season of Advent, then it’s only 10 days away.

Already, there are people in our neighborhood with their Christmas trees up and lights strung up inside and outside their homes.

Sadly, most years I’ve never really managed to get up outside lights. My indoor lights, admittedly, are less than professionally hung. Duct tape is involved. Last year it was black duct tape.

Oh, and my kids love me for this.

But, seriously, doesn’t it seem like more and more people are putting up their Christmas decorations earlier and earlier?

I mean, I’m a Christian and I still don’t get it. So I confess that it all makes me feel inadequate and like kind of a Scrooge. Or like the Grinch.

Bah, humbug!

I think maybe I feel this way because so much of Christmas has been hijacked and coopted by our culture’s consumerism. How many of the people who have already put up their decorations for a holiday more than a month away actually reflect on, much less believe in, the real meaning of Christmas?

Sure, we could say that early-decorators are merely making sure they’re ready before Advent begins, but that assumes they observe Advent. Or perhaps they do, because even Advent has been coopted by commercialized and de-Christianized versions of the Advent calendar. You can now celebrate Advent without acknowleding Jesus thanks to Lindor, Hershey, and other candy companies!

See what I mean about being a Grinch and a Scrooge? Don’t I sound like someone you want around for the holidays?

Of course, we can talk about the over-commercialization of Christmas and how it’s become more about materialism and over-indulgence ad nauseum. It’s not an original complaint. But in a culture that is increasingly post-Christian I often find decorations, lights, and Christmas trees to be more and more hollow. As expressions of a holiday (which comes from “holy day”), they don’t point to anything deeper. They merely signal a change in our calendars and the time kids have off from school. It’s all surface and no substance. Lights are just lights unless we see Christ as the light of the world.

Rather than remind me of what we have gained with the coming of Jesus into the world, the outward trappings of Christmas instead remind me what we’ve lost when we forget that he ought to be at the center.

I’ve actually wondered if we’ll ever get to a point in our culture when even the outward trappings of Christmas–the lights and decorations and the gift giving–will slip away into the mists of history.

The truth is, I don’t think that would bother me.

You see, when an occasion that is meant to remind us of our need for a Messiah and God’s gracious act in sending One is wrapped in pretty paper and bows, there is a part of me that desperately longs for the scandalous and unique message of the Scriptures. When people treat the holy day meant to acknowlege and honor the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity by having inflatable Santas and assorted cartoon characters on their lawns, something inside me wants nothing to do with the way most celebrate it.

It’s almost enough to make me, as a believer, wish I could change the date of the Christian celebration of the incarnation. Let everyone else have their holiday lights, trees, and decorations that these days serve to obscure the gospel message and give me Jesus, the Son of God come in the flesh for the salvation of the world.

It’s frustrating to have the most important message in all of history–the coming of God into the world as one of us–set alongside and mixed up with all of the cultural trappings and messaging endemic to Hallmark Christmas movies. For the sake of retaining something of meaning while ignoring or watering down the biblical story, we’ve made Christmas lifeless and listless, empty of power. Or worse, dependent on human power and devoid of divine presence.

One of the Christmas DVDs we watch (or I watch) every year is the original Charlie Brown Christmas special. You probably know it well. One of the wonderful facts about this special is that the TV network, upon reviewing the initial script for the story, wanted Charles Schulz (the creator of Peanuts) to take out the scene where Linus quotes from The Gospel of Luke’s infancy narrative. No doubt the scene that turns the special from good to great, Schulz refused. He apparently told them that if that scene goes, so does the whole special. He insisted on keeping the scene in. And let’s face it, without that scene, would we even remember that special today?

I think those of us who are Christians need to practice Christmas as an act of cultural resistance. I think we need to resist the pressures that come along with this season that threaten, should they have their way with us, to squeeze the life and joy and meaning out of it. I think we need to resist the anxiety we feel when we’re worried we won’t be able to buy all the things we’d like to buy or do all the things we think we’re supposed to do.

Don’t worry, I’m preaching to myself too.

All this is why I do observe Advent. Advent is resistance, because it has the power to ground Christmas in healthy, firm gospel soil. Advent gives Christmas strong roots that are deep and that can provide us with spiritual perspective. It gives us a chance to slow down when everyone and everything else wants to hurry up. It focuses us when we get distracted by cultural noise. It reminds us that, whatever else happens, God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

So whatever you make of the early-decorators, or all of the visible signs that Christmas is coming, my advice is to resist the pressure (and perhaps even the desire) to focus on the surface stuff all around you. Instead, pay attention–much more attention–to the God who in the person of Jesus chose to come to you.

My Story Part 10: On Becoming an Amateur Theologian

“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

― Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1995)

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 

— 1 Peter 3:15

Johannes Kepler, a key figure in the scientific revolution of the 17th century, once wrote that through his scientific research and theories he “was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him.” He also wrote: “Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”

What Kepler said of astronomy can perhaps also be said of theology, that it consists in “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Properly speaking, “theo-logy” is about the study (logos) of God (Theos). Call it “God-talk” if you like. And the goal of theology ultimately ought to be doxological, oriented to the praise and worship of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Knowing about God and actually knowing God should never be separated.

And trust me, theology is, perhaps despite initial appearances, the most practical discipline or subject there is.

I know. You’re skeptical.

Let me add to that and say this. Every Christian–every single follower of Jesus–is a theologian. Not because every Christian is responsible for writing tome after tome of dense theological prose. Rather, because, as A.W. Tozer once insightfully wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

And we all think about God. Certainly some moreso than others. And some–or maybe most–just not very well. Maybe I can put it this way. Each person is at least an unintentional theologian. They don’t intentionally seek to learn more about God. But they have thoughts all the same, however informed or uninformed they may be.

And our thoughts about God have consequences. This is true whether I deny God’s existence or I think he’s some sort of distant, uncaring, uninvolved Deistic deity or the God of the Christian Scriptures. Each view, and there are more, impacts how we approach everything from politics, science, sexuality, entertainment, and relationships.

Think of it this way: Am I and the other human beings around me the result of the blind, pitiless indifference of evolutionary processes or instead are we made lovingly and purposefully in the image of God?

Theology touches upon the most fundamental questions of human existence.

Here’s the thing. I know that there will be people who balk at the idea of some being more informed than others about God. Because God is ineffable and mysterious, it’s sheer hubris to think that one person can know more about God than another person. Kepler aside, we certainly can’t examine God or claims about him like an astronomer examines the orbits of moons and planets. All “God-talk,” therefore is, at best, speculation and, at worst, mere superstition.

Or so some think.

Obviously, this isn’t my view. As a character in The X-Files (a sci-fi show from the 90s) once said, “There are more worlds than the one you can hold in your hand.” Indeed. Reality is about much more than what we experience with our senses and can measure.

Beside, even the claim that only scientific truth counts as truth is itself not demonstrable using the scientific method. It’s an unscientific assumption. Technically, it’s what has been called “scientism.” The notion that only science can tell us what’s true about the world is itself not a conclusion drawn from empirical observation and testing.

All this to say, that it is possible to make theological truth claims. There are plenty of sound, powerful, and persuasive arguments for the existence of God and for the veracity of Christian truth claims. We’re not only talking about subjective experiences or mere opinions and preferences.

Of course, I didn’t always realize or understand this.

My real introduction to theology took place in the same year I got involved with IVCF. I began to take classes in biblical studies and in Christian thought. It was a gradual introduction. I cringe to think of what my first papers were like. Filled with assumptions and unclear thinking, no doubt.

But this process was just as important as the process of getting involved with IVCF. I was still wrestling with a lot of questions. I was working out my beliefs. I was reading the Bible in many ways for the very first time.

And what studying theology did was help me to anchor my wrestling in the history of Christian thinking, from ancient theologians like Augustine to modern theologians like Karl Barth. Christianity has a profoundly rich theological tradition that stretches from the first to the twenty-first century.

I remember professors such as Dr. Charles Scobie, who introduced me to biblical studies, and Dr. Colin Grant, who introduced me to theology and critical thinking. Being in their classrooms, even when I didn’t agree with them, pushed me and challenged me to articulate my positions and arguments. We all need people who push us like this.

Here’s the thing: learning how to think is as important in some ways as learning what to think. Sadly, we live in a culture where a lot of people are simply not able to think critically. Our thoughts barely extend past the most recent Tweet or meme or Facebook post. I heard recently someone say that in our internet culture more and more people “think with their feelings.”

Yikes. How is this not a dangerous thing?

Unfortunately, sometimes this is even true in some church traditions. More, there are people in churches who look down on deeper thinking and being intellectual. Being educated is seen as a negative. Like historian Mark Noll commented when examining the history of American evangelism, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

How many Christians, for instance, base their faith on the next spiritual high? On a particular sort of “worship experience”? That many even refer to worship services as “experiences” is itself troubling. Not only does it focus worship on how it makes us feel, so we equate our feelings with the work and presence of the Holy Spirit, it’s at risk of misunderstanding and of miscommunicating to others the nature of worship and therefore the Christian faith. It’s the sort of thing a more robust theology–a theology of worship, specifically–would address.

Ramble, ramble, ramble . . .

But this is why theology is important. It matters. It’s immensely practical because it informs and shapes how we live. And, besides, we all do theology. Each of us thinks about God. What we think about God matters. It’s what matters most.

And I certainly wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t learned that years ago.

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Farewell, Facebook (Forever)!

So, today is the day.

When I finally hit delete on my Facebook account settings a month ago, I was told that I had until today to reactivate my Facebook account or I would lose everything and need to open a new account altogether.

I don’t plan on doing either.

I do wonder, though. Does it really take a full month for Facebook to delete an account? Or is they just giving people a huge window of time to reconsider their decision?

All the relevant stuff from my Facebook account is now saved on my hard drive. Actually, Facebook kindly creates a file for those deleting their accounts that has everything–and I mean everything–that you’ve done on their platform. Including all of my Messenger chats.

Sincerely, I have not missed Facebook.

Though I will say, it has meant keeping in touch with some people more challenging. I have missed some people, but not the platform.

Still, for me the benefits of leaving far outweigh the costs of staying on Facebook.

Sure, I probably still spend too much time in front of a screen. Don’t we all? But I certainly spend less time than I did.

And some of what I do on a screen–like this blog–feels much more productive and creative.

So that’s it. No turning back now.

My Story Part 9: Discovering Community Through IVCF

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

Whatever you make of that aphorism, at the very least it reminds us of the importance of community with respect to individual and personal formation.

So if I were to put this into a Christian context, I could say that it takes a church to raise a follower of Jesus. Almost every letter Paul writes includes a greeting to believers in that city. He usually calls them “brothers and sisters.” In other words, the church is, if nothing else, a community and a family. And that’s what I want to talk about this time.

It was during my university years that I became a (more intentional and committed?) Christian. It was a time of growing intellectually and spiritually. My faith was becoming my own. I began to become more me, a new creation in Christ. Those years were formative and even to this day I look back with gratitude and fondness (and, if I’m not careful, a little romanticized nostalgia!).

One of the more profoundly important elements of my time at Mount A was getting involved with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). This was not the only significant aspect of my university years, but it was foundational. IVCF, in case you don’t know, is a student-led Christian ministry organization found on many university and college campuses. And God would use my experiences with IVCF to shape me considerably at this stage of my life. In this post, I want to talk a little bit about why IVCF was so valuable an experience.

With IVCF, I found myself in a group of peers who shared my faith and who were also seeking to grow in their walk with Jesus. Not only that, since it was an evangelical but still non-denominational group, people came from a variety of backgrounds. Some had lots of church experience. Others had almost none. Plus, there were Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, and so on and so forth.

For me, this was amazing! I mean, in all of my years growing up in the Roman Catholic Church I had never had any experience like this. I discovered community. And even though I had gone to a youth group at a Baptist church while I was in high school, this experience was different because it was largely run by students for students. IVCF did and does have staff that serve different universities and colleges but their role was largely one of mentoring the student leaders and not to lead the various campus chapters.

Now, the main reason this was all so important is because I wasn’t part of a local church of any kind at the start of this. In a lot of ways, IVCF was my church. Indeed, through IVCF I experienced the teaching and studying of Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship, and evangelism.

I learned to pray not only for others but with others.

The pages of Scripture came alive in fresh ways.

I had my first real experiences of worship.

I went on my first spiritual retreats.

For the first time I had spiritual mentors.

And through all of this, God was growing me, shaping me, changing me.

It was such an incredible gift, because I was still not ready to commit myself to a local congregation. I was still struggling with the whole issue of church affiliation because of the Catholic-Protestant divide. Thankfully, IVCF was there to provide Christian community!

Here’s one particular story. In my firstyear of being involved with IVCF our chapter president was a guy named Adam. Now, at the end of that year I joined the executive to help with adverstising our activities on campus the following year. Keep in mind, I was still a pretty introverted guy. It was a significant step for me to take. And I believe that it was God leading me to take it.

The year I was on the exec for the first time Adam went away as an exchange student to France. So for a whole year or so we didn’t see each other.

Then the year after that when he came back to Mount A, I was not only still on the exec but was VP. Sounds more important than it was. But at our first large group meeting in the fall, when there were a big number of new students there, both the president (my friend Todd) and I talked and shared about what IVCF was all about. Adam was also there.

Sometime later Adam spoke to me and told me that he couldn’t believe the Derek he saw share in front of the group was the same guy from two years before. The Derek from two years before would barely speak up with a few people in the room, much less in front of a larger group of people. All I could say is, “That’s God’s doing, not mine.”

And the truth is, I had changed. God had changed me. He led. I trusted and followed. I grew.

And here’s a thought: I might not be a pastor today if it had not been for IVCF! Because I had my first experiences in Christian leadership through IVCF. Like I said, I was on the Mount A student executive for a couple of years, and I eventually spent time as a part-time volunteer staff worker while I was working on my MA (Theology) at Acadia. That gave me opportunities in leading Bible studies, public speaking, and mentoring younger students.

You might ask: what’s the take-away? What’s the moral of the story, the lesson, the application?

I would say this. There is an clear but not altogether definable relationship between God’s leading us and our willingness to take a step of faith, between blessing and obedience. If we seek, we will find. But it is God who has given us the impulse and desire to seek.

And the other thing I would say is this. We don’t–perhaps can’t–experience this in isolation. Followers of Jesus don’t follow Jesus alone. We are members of one another, Scripture says.

See what God can do? See how important it is to be a part of the body of Christ? And how important it is to take a step of faith even if you’re uncertain and it’s in a new direction?

There are more things to learn about being in a community of faith, but the first lesson is realizing we can’t be a Christian without one.

My Story Part 8: Truth

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For everything was created by him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and by him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15–17

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created . . . [and] The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1–3, 14

In our current culture, we hear people in the media say things such as “I need to speak my truth.”

Very little is said of the truth.

Yet as far back as I can remember, knowing and living according to the truth is what has been most important to me.

“Why am I here?” “How did we get here?” “What’s the purpose of life?” “If God exists, what is God like and what does God want from me?”

Are there any questions more fundamental than these? I hardly think so.

I’ve always believed that there had to be some underlying narrative in which we all have a role. True, we all have our individual, personal stories. But all of our stories, I think, need to fit into and be understood in the light of, a larger, more comprehensive story. The story.

My own desire to know the truth is why my life seemed to begin crumbling when I began questioning the faith of my upbringing. Catholicism was central to my narrative. It was where I fit. When that truth began shaking, I found myself disoriented and anxious.

It’s also why I kept persisting in looking for satisfying answers. Because to me it mattered. I wanted my life to align with reality, with what is true about the world, with the way things actually are and not how I imagine or want them to be. Even before being able to turn these longings into words, they drove me one way or another.

One of the most profound aspects of being a Christian for me comes from the Colossians passage above. Speaking of Christ, Paul writes that all things have been created through him and for him. Christ is the origin of my existence. I am because he is, because through him God the Father brought me into being.

Not only that, Christ is the purpose of my life. I exist not only through him but for him. I am not here for myself. I receive my reason for existing from outside of myself. Put another way, story is part of the larger story God is telling in history and creation.

And of course this Christ through whom and for whom I have been created is the Word, the very logos and creative principle of the cosmos. Remarkably, this Word, as John tells us, became flesh and dwelt among us. And he did this to reveal the truth of who God is and who we are.

There’s more to it than that, obviously. But that’s one way of expressing it.

Discovering Jesus as the way and the truth and the life is what began to transform me all those years ago. It is what continues to transform me in the present.

Knowing Christ has given my life a foundation and a direction, a meaning and a purpose.

Knowing Christ as the truth has meant coming to know the truth about myself.

And Christ is not only my truth; he is the truth. Which means he is and therefore can be your truth is well.

My Story Part 7: Turning Point

I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 

Philippians 1:6

Do not despise the Lord’s instruction, my son,
and do not loathe his discipline;
for the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.

Proverbs 3:11–13

During the year I took off following my first year of university (1991–1992), one of my friends went to Mount Allison University. This was the same friend who had become a Christian in high school and with whom I had had plenty of theological conversations. At Mount Allison, he began taking Religious Studies courses (ones that focused on the Bible and Christian theology) and became involved with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). As it happens, that he did so led to a significant turning point in my own faith journey.

You see, most weekends he came home because he hated living in the dorm. And when he did come home for the weekend, he would talk about the courses he was taking. He would share his experiences with IVCF. For me, as someone who was struggling with religious questions and who longed to have a more personal faith, I found it all very attractive sounding. Classes where you learned about the Bible? A student group that got together to pray, worship, hang out, and have Bible studies? Wow.

So, needless to say, I went back to Mount Allison the next fall.

Let me also note that I went back for the most impractical of reasons.

I didn’t go back because I had a clear vocational direction.

I didn’t go back because I had chosen my career and only needed the education to go with it.

Nope. I went back because I wanted the space and time to figure myself out. I wanted what my friend was experiencing. It was not something I could get while living at home.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach to higher education to my own kids. Or anyone else.

So there I was. Taking classes on the Bible. Spending time with people my age learning what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.

God by his Spirit was moving.

He was drawing me to himself.

Now, here’s the thing. I can’t say that I have a clear, put on the calendar moment of conversion. Mine wasn’t a dramatic conversion. It was the slow gradual opening of the eyes of my heart. My coming to Christ was more of a Emmaus road (Luke 24) rather than a Damascus road (Acts 9) experience.

It happened this way. All of my life I had been an insecure person. Profoundly insecure. Lacking in confidence. Self-conscious. Often I didn’t like myself. I was constantly comparing myself–unfavourably–to other people. And it was through all of this that God touched my life.

I remember going for a walk. I went for walks a lot in those days to think and reflect. And I remember crying out to God for help. I don’t even know if I completely understood what kind of help I needed. But all I knew in the moment was that I wanted God to change my life–to change me.

And he did. Boy, did he ever. Since that moment God has been at work in me answering that prayer of mine.

He entered my life. He entered my heart. He entered my mind. He began a process of renewing and healing and making me new.

What was amazing is that I started to become more myself than I had ever been.

Until then, all of those negative thought patterns, all of the insecurity, all of the ways I hid from pain and questions, were all obstacles to me being who God had designed me to be. Those things weren’t me. They kept me from being me.

It’s as though I was hidden in a block of sculpter’s stone and in that moment God began chipping away at the block to unveil my true identity.

He chips away still.

It’s glorious and wonderful.

Sometimes the chipping away hurts. But it’s always worth it. Always.

Finally I was beginning to know the Father I had been seeking all of my life. A Father who would never leave me nor forsake me. A Father who would unconditionally love me. Who would embrace me. And a Father who would lead me, guide me, and train me.

Have you had such a turning point? What was that moment for you? Is God our Father chipping away at the granite that hides who you truly are?

Or are you reticent to let him in? Afraid of what it might mean? Of how painful or difficult it might be?

Trust me when I say, like I said last time, what God wants to give us–and what he wants to make us–is infinitely better than what we think we have or who we think we are.

So cry out to him. You won’t ever regret you did.

My Story Part 6: False Starts and Detours

I wasn’t yet 18 years old and still I felt like my life was supposed to have some sort of direction. I was supposed to know what I wanted to do with my life. And when I was that age, that meant going to university. Everyone went to university. It’s what you did. And even though I applied to university, I really didn’t have a clear view of why.

So off I went to Mount Allison University. I had applied to their Fine Arts program, mostly because I liked doodling and drawing. Truth be told, I had no business applying for that program and there was really no chance I would get in. Not at my level of “skill.” Instead, I was admitted to the General Arts program, a direction reserved for the undecided and unfocused, where philosophy and literature majors abound.

To make a long story short, my first year of university, while not an altogether negative experience, was pretty much a wash. I was a mediocre student. I didn’t know who I was or who I was supposed to be. I got through it but that’s about it. What I knew for certain was that I didn’t want to go back the next fall. Other than that, I had very little idea what my future would hold.

What this meant for the next fall was that I was living at home, working at a local grocery store, and doing very little else. My closest friends were at university. It was kind of depressing, really. I was by myself a lot. My mind and heart ventured in unhealthy directions. Spiritually, I was sort of in a holding pattern or limbo. My first year of university was a false start of sorts. And my year of living at home was definitely a detour.

For me, unfortunately, I wasn’t in a spiritually experienced or mature enough place to listen to God. At the very least, my relationship with God was still in flux. I was still in that period of questioning. I was still struggling with church and with what I believed. And at the time I didn’t have anyone around me who could play the role of spiritual mentor.

Thankfully, God would eventually find a way of reaching even me. That’s a story for a different post. All I will say is that, thankfully, God is not limited by our limitations.

But here’s the thing: life includes false starts and detours, seasons when we feel like our lives are on hold or when we feel like we’re drifting and unclear about where we’re going. It can feel pointless. We can feel pointless. We can ask, “What am I doing here? What’s ahead of me?”

Having such an experience doesn’t mean there isn’t more ahead. We just might not see it yet. And it doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. It just might mean we don’t see or understand what he’s doing. It might just mean that he’s readying us by emptying us, by ridding us of false expectations about what our life should be. If life takes a detour, maybe God is protecting you from one thing and preparing you for something else.

So if you find yourself in such a place and time, and you don’t feel like your life has direction, open yourself to what God might be doing in that detour. Or if you the direction you thought you had, the plans you thought were secure, evaporate, know that it might very well mean that God does indeed have something else in store. Experiencing a false start or a detour might simply be God’s means of crucifying one thing in you in order to bring life to something better, more full, where you are more able to acknowledge your need for him. It can suck at the time, but believe me when I say that what God wants to give you will always be better than what you thought you already had.

Got Questions?

So, got questions? That is, do you have questions about God, church, Jesus, the Bible, spirituality, religion, and life as we know it? Chances are, if you have a pulse, you do.

But do you feel free to ask them out loud?

Are your questions a barrier or doorway to a deeper faith?

Or maybe your questions are inarticulate, more like feelings of unease or dissatisfaction. Maybe you go home after a church service and wonder if that’s all there is to being a Christian. Maybe it feels like your faith doesn’t “work” like it once did.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. All kinds of people find themselves going through such times. Lots of people end up in spiritual valleys. Prayer seems like a dry, monotonous monologue. You’re not motivated to read the Bible. Church seems routine, and not in a good way. Uncomfortable and difficult questions lurk on the periphery. And underlying all of this is either fear of being found out or a feeling of resignation. Perhaps you wonder: Where is God in all of this?

Are you just going through the motions when it comes to your faith? And do you find that you have less and less energy to do even that?

Here’s my advice. First, don’t hide from your questions and your uncomfortable feelings. Don’t push them away or pretend they’re not real. That won’t help. Your questions are real and are a part of who you are.

Second, don’t feel guilty about your questions and feelings either. Consider them an invitation to further reflection and spiritual growth. God doesn’t condemn you for having questions or for struggling with your faith.

Third, express your feelings and questions. Write them down. Articulate them. What’s going on in your heart and mind? Why do you have this question or that feeling? Did something trigger your questions? What has made you feel this way?

Fourth, and this is the part that many avoid doing, bring your questions into community. That is, ask someone else. Share your feelings and questions. Surely, there’s someone you can trust with what’s going on in your heart. Ask your pastor. Ask a Christian that you know has some experience and wisdom.

Fifth, depending on your questions, there are lots of resources out there for Christians who are struggling and wrestling with their faith. There are answers to our questions. Or at least ways of getting perspective on our questions so that perhaps they don’t feel so overwhelming. If you don’t know of such resources, ask your pastor or someone, again, that you trust. By that, I don’t mean Google. Not everything on the internet is reliable and helpful.

I can speak from personal experience that having serious spiritual questions can be disorienting. If we’ve believed something our whole life and we find that we’re questioning it, we can feel unmoored, without a secure anchor, and that can feel a little unsettling.

But I also know from experience that when you keep seeking and searching, asking your honest questions, that there are answers. And God can handle our hard questions. The Bible can handle our questions. The Christian faith can handle our questions.

So, got questions? Don’t be afraid, go ahead and ask them.

Below are some resources that might help you out.

One of the podcasts that I’ve been listening for years is the Unbelievable? podcast out of England. Host Justin Brierly does a masterful job of handling conversations between believers and unbelievers on a whole host of issues.

I would also recommend Apologetics Canada‘s podcast and their other resources. Often focusing on contemporary cultural issues from a Christian perspective, it helps Christians to have a thinking faith.

You might find the Ask N.T. Wright Anything podcast helpful too. Wright is one of the most important New Testament scholars around. Hosted by Justin Brierly of the Unbelievable? podcast.

I also recommend the Mid-Faith Crisis podcast. Hosted by one liberal Christian and one more conservative Christian, it really models how to have winsome, irenic conversations about deep theological and spiritual topics. The hosts are friends, play very well off of one another, and are very witty (in a dry, British way).

My Story Part 5: Letters to (and from) Michael

Even before I began asking more serious questions about Roman Catholic teaching, I was already theologically curious. Like lots of other kids, I would ask religious and spiritual questions. For example, I would ask my Mom things like, “Why can’t priests get married?” My inquiries were very much of the “why do we do it this way?” and “what does this mean?” sort. I would have been in Junior High at the time. My Mom, who didn’t always know how to answer my questions, asked a couple of my aunts, her sisters, what to do. Apparently, I kept asking questions they didn’t know how to answer! And to make a long story short, I eventually was put in touch with a cousin from Ontario who had recently chosen to study for the priesthood. At that point, I believe he had begun undergraduate studies.

Now, here’s where my story really shows my age. My cousin Michael and I began writing letters back and forth. I mean real letters, handwritten and everything. Stamped and sent through Canada Post! Our correspondence lasted years. And while we saw in each other in person a few times over those years, our letters formed the heart of our relationship.

Being able to ask my cousin Mike questions was a huge blessing at that point in my journey. His thoughtful answers steadied me when the questions became more serious and I found myself questioning Catholicism as a whole. Our letters gave me the space to search and ask and taught me that doing so isn’t the abandoning of faith but a deepening of it.

While it’s true that eventually I walked away from Catholicism, I never walked away from Christianity. Even Mike, who did his very best to defend and explain Catholicism, respected my decision even though he disagreed with it. Because he had been such a thoughtful and patient theological conversation partner over the years, I take those kinds of questions and struggles, and the need to discuss them openly and honestly, very seriously.

Imagine if my Mom hadn’t asked my aunts what she should do. Imagine if my family had simply told me to stop asking questions. Imagine if the only feedback I’d gotten was to believe what I had been taught. Imagine if I hadn’t been able to write my cousin Mike all of those letters over the years. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian of any persuasion right now.

As a pastor, I hope I communicate the fact that questions are welcome. I want anyone with doubts and spiritual struggles and theological questions to feel free to talk to me. Or at least to someone. I want this for the people in my church. I want this for my kids. We all need a safe space to wrestle with what we believe and why we believe it. The church ought to be such a space even though in many cases it isn’t.

Here’s the thing: we all need a cousin Mike. We all need someone who is willing to enter the fray with us, to push us intellectually, to challenge us personally, when it comes to what we believe. And someone who, all the while, continues pointing us to Christ as the way, the truth, and the light.

What questions do you have about church, about God, and about the Bible? Do you feel safe in asking those questions? Or do such questions feel off limits?

It’s not a sign of weakness to ask such questions, but of honesty and strength and humility. It takes courage to ask questions. And even greater courage to keep pressing for satisfying answers. Because the kinds of questions we’re talking about are the ones that are eternal, that matter the most, that define us and how we live in this world.

So find your cousin Mike and write him a letter. I think you’ll be glad you did.

My Story Part 4: Questions

You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:13

I remember it well. I was in high school when it happened. I found myself seriously questioning–doubting, even–much of what I had been raised to believe. The firm footing I thought I had seemed to be disappearing out from under me. Little did I know at the time that it would be the beginning of the process by which I would come to know Christ.

You see, one of my closest friends had become a Christian around that time and began going to a Baptist church. Once he learned about the differences between Protestants and Catholics, we ended up having several conversations. We had theological chats about the role of the Pope, the nature of the Lord’s Supper, praying to saints, and Catholic dogma about Mary the mother of Jesus.

Needless to say, I hadn’t thought about this stuff particularly deeply before. I had just accepted what I was told. I was asking for the first time: What do I really think about the faith that was part and parcel of my family upbringing? What do I really believe?

It was actually a little scary. Because not only did I have a bunch of serious theological questions about the Catholic faith and the Roman Catholic Church, I was also really worried about what my family would think if they knew I was asking them. And by family, I mean not only my mother, but also my aunts, uncles, cousins, and, perhaps most significantly, my grandmother. The last thing I wanted to do was to rock the boat and disappoint relatives.

Around this time I had been going to a church youth group with friends from school, the same Baptist church my friend and theological interlocutor attended (and still does!). Being a part of this youth group in a Baptist church–because that’s where my friends went–turned out to be an early and formative experience for me. Even though I kept a lot of my questions to myself, what really made the difference was the way I was made to feel so welcome as someone who clearly wasn’t a Baptist.

Years later my mother let me know that at the time she wondered whether or not she should encourage me to go to the youth group at our Catholic church instead. She decided not to mention it because, as she said, “My son and his friends aren’t out drinking and getting into trouble and are going to a church youth group on Friday nights. I certainly could have more to worry about!” Motherly wisdom at work.

At the same time, I had a relative who, knowing that I went to this youth group, informed me that Baptists were a cult–with the clear and obvious implication that Baptist churches were theologically questionable at best and spiritually dangerous at worst. While at the time I didn’t really have an answer or know how to respond, thankfully I ignored her warnings.

But this attitude was the reason I kept my most probing theological questions to myself. My extended family didn’t seem like a place that welcomed such conversation and criticism. You were simply supposed to accept what you were taught (or what you “caught”) and not really talk about it. Right or wrong, I associated this mentality with Catholicism specifically. Along with other difficult subjects, questioning what you were raised to believed was out of bounds. The result? I kept a lot of my spiritual struggles and questions inside. And I felt guilty and anxious about it for a long time.

All that to say that questions are important. There’s nothing wrong with asking hard theological and spiritual questions. I might even say it’s essential, especially since we’re talking about the things that matter most: identity, existence, and meaning. Even if you were raised going to church you should feel free to asak questions. For me, it was the process of asking these questions that opened me up to the reality and presence of Jesus. It was my struggle with what I believed that actually led me into a deeper faith. I’m still someone who asks questions, who seeks and searches out answers. It’s my experience that the Christian faith–that God, Jesus, and the Scriptures–bear up extraordinarily well under intellectual and existential scrutiny.

I often tell my kids that they can ask me anything. I want them to feel like our home–our family–is a safe place to wrestle with who God is, what we believe about him, what the Bible says, and what it means to follow Jesus. Now, to be sure, I will also teach them what I believe the Bible says. I will share with them why I am convinced that being a Christian means living in accordance with the very nature of reality. But my ultimate desire for them is that they would each become individual people of faith in Christ, not by avoiding hard and awkward questions but by growing more spiritually resilient and theologically secure in the act of asking them.

My Story Part 3: Father Figures

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15–16

Way back in 2001 I was living in Hamilton, Ontario, and studying at McMaster University. I was also going through a season of anxiety and depression. And while on the phone one day with my Mother, I ended up talking about how when I was in Junior High I decided not to go through with meeting my biological father. I had never met him in person, had no relationship with him, and had only had minimal contact on the phone. Anyway, I don’t recall how the topic came up between my Mom and I, but my recollection was that I had begun to make arrangements to meet my biological father in person but had changed my mind. I remember saying something along the lines of, “Well, Mom, I’ve got a mother who loves me, and I’ve come this far without a father.” Or something like that.

I was sure that’s how things went.

But when I said this while on the phone with my Mom, there was quiet on the other end of the conversation. Then she said, “Derek, that’s not how it went.”

Let’s just say that things can happen to us that are so painful and difficult to process that our minds hide the truth to protect us. It’s like we have this internal psychological and emotional defensive mechanism. For me, this meant replacing the truth of what had happened with a much less painful, but false version of a profound moment in my life.

“You went to meet him, and he never showed up.”

I was speechless. My Mom’s words hit me hard and reopened a wound I didn’t even know was there.

The truth is this: I’ve been living out the pain of having been abandoned by my biological father for decades. Although I haven’t always realized it. But this reality has shaped me, how I see myself, and how I relate to other people, especially other men. It’s also affected my relationship with God. Only in recent years have I really begun to reckon with this wound and been able to let God in to begin healing it.

Let me be clear, when I say that I have been living out of the pain of this experience of a father not showing up, I don’t mean that I have been daily lamenting this sad fact of my existence. I don’t even mean that I been conscious of the pain as pain. Or at least not as pain about having been abandoned by this person who is partly responsible for bringing me into the world but who I’ve never met.

No, I mean the pain of having become someone who has often felt insecure as a man and has felt like a boy who’s never quite grown past adolescence, a child trying to make his way in an adult world and feeling out of place the whole time. I mean feeling like I don’t belong. I mean not being able to accept that there is a God who loves and accepts me–who actually desires to be my Father.

It’s funny that I didn’t even remember an experience that has had such far-reaching consequences for my life.

So why do I share all of this?

While it’s taken years, I have come to know and experience an infinitely better, more loving, ever-present Father. God the Father will never abandon me and reject me. Because through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit I have been adopted by God the Father as a son. I am his.

Lots of people have “daddy” issues. It’s a narrative woven even into pop-culture, in the lives of TV and movie characters we know and love. I am hardly unique. I am not alone in being hurt by a parent figure. Heck, even those of us parents who love our children might still hurt them in one way or another!

The point is people–including those closest to us, family, those who are supposed to care for us–will disappoint us. They will let us down. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the man who is my biological father is (was?) a good man, a decent guy, who went on to have a family who he loved and who loved him. Indeed, really, he’s more of an abstraction to me, a symbol. That he chose on that day not to show up and meet me doesn’t neccessarily make him especially evil or malicious. It does, however, mean that he’s simply another sinful human being capable of making poor choices because of fear and selfishness.

All the more reason to be grateful that I have a God, a Father, to whom I belong. Sure, I don’t trust him perfectly, but I am learning to do so. I will be for the rest of my life. But for that process to move ahead, for me to grow to trust my heavenly Father more and more, I have had to contend with what happened all those years ago.

Maybe you have been wounded too. Surely you have somehow. No doubt someone has hurt you. And perhaps you’ve chosen to push it down and push it away, believing that this is how to move on. I understand. But the problem is, by ignoring our pain it has its way with us: with how we relate to others, ourselves, and to God. Just like a physical wound left untreated can become infected and cause more damage, so with emotional wounds. Though beginning treatment can often be painful (because it’s scary and difficult!), it is a pain that actually leads to healing and freedom, bit by bit, step by step. God the Father is a precise and tender physician. You can learn to trust him with your deepest hurts, just as I did and continue to do.

My Story Part 2: “Think about how that makes God feel”

I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.

2 Timothy 1:5

On one Sunday morning when I was a little kid, I guess I informed my Mom that I didn’t want to go to church.

Now, understand, I came from a Roman Catholic family–the kind that did go to church regularly when regularly meant weekly. I was indoctrinated into the beliefs and practices of faith from a very young age. You didn’t miss Mass unless absolutely necessary. In fact, there were other scheduled times for Mass at the church of my upbringing just in case you couldn’t make it at your usual time. There were no excuses for not parking yourself in a pew once every 7 days.

So when I said to my Mom that I didn’t want to go to church one bright, Sunday morning, she replied, “Ok. But just think about how that makes God feel.”

Wow. Way to turn on the guilt, Mom.

As it turns out, I went.

Truthfully, even though I am no longer a Roman Catholic, I have a lot of fond memories of growing up in the church. I remember crawling around as a toddler under chairs while grown ups had their Bible study or prayer meeting. I remember one week when I had brought a ton of loose change to put in the offering, and when the guy came round to my pew and I dumped all that change into that offering sack on a pole, I don’t know if it was dismay or gratitude on his face.

I also remember Catechism classes. I remember receiving my first Communion and going through my Confirmation. I remember getting a Good News New Testament with slightly more sophisticated than stick figure illustrations. I had it for years, but looking back I also remember that no one from my church helped me read and understand it. I’ll come back to my church upbringing more in future posts, yet suffice it to say the absence of solid biblical instruction would turn out to be a reason for my eventually leaving the Catholic tradition behind. Put another way, I learned much more about Catholicism than I did Christianity.

Anyone who knows me, of course, knows that I did not leave faith behind when I left Catholicism. Not only am I still a practicing, committed Christian, I am a full time Baptist pastor and have been for the better part of 20 years!

People who are raised going to church can sometimes have a complicated relationship with faith. Where does their parents’ faith end and theirs begin? Do they think they’re going to heaven because they’re sitting in the same pew as their mother and grandmother? What should kids think when only one parent attends? I know plenty of people who were raised to go to church but no longer go. Some people are truly C & E Christians–those who attend on Christmas Eve and Easter morning. I suspect, however, that even that demographic is nearly gone from our culture.

I know of so many families where involvement with church and faith has skipped one or two generations, where, strangely, grandparents and great grandparents bring their grand-children and great grand-children to church. No matter how faithful a parent has been, you can’t guarantee the faith of your children.

That’s why I have always loved the above verse from 2 Timothy. It’s such a parenthetical comment for Paul to make, incidental to his teaching on doctrine and practice, a simple biographical note made in passing. Yet it speaks volumes for how God was at work in Timothy’s family, specifically his mother and grandmother. I have this image of these two women of faith obediently and lovingly reading to Timothy from Scripture, teaching him to pray, sharing with him their trust in the Lord Jesus.

I feel a bit like Timothy. Not altogether, mind you, but enough to be thankful for what I have been given from my very earliest years.

Let me speak for a moment to those who perhaps were raised in church but have long since abandoned church and Christianity. Maybe something about your church upbringing left you hurt or cold. Perhaps life has gotten so much more complicated and you feel like you can’t go back. It’s been too long. You feel too guilty. Made too many mistakes. Church isn’t relevant. You can believe in Jesus or God (and decide what that really means) all on your own.

As much as my mother’s response to my declaration about not going to church wasn’t the most pastorally sound one, I did go that Sunday. I sat in that pew, heard and learned prayers, listened to hymns, and watched as my mother went forward to receive Communion. And I can say this: eventually faith clicked, really clicked. A handed-down faith became my own. Faith came to live in me as it did in young Timothy. Since those days all those years ago my faith journey has had some less than stellar moments, low points, and times when I wasn’t sure what I believed. But I am still here. And I still am a Christian–more so than I have ever been.

In asking me to think how not going to church would make God feel I believe my Mom showed a kind of wisdom. How? Well, because God does care about my life and whether or not I know him, love him, and trust him. It grieves God when we make choices that creates greater distance between ourselves and him.

My suggestion to you if you are one of those who have given up on church is this: go back. Sit in that chair or pew. Listen. Let the prayers, the music, and the preaching pour over you. Let your heart be quiet. Ask God to speak to you. It may take time, but God will respond to you if you seek him.

He did that for me, and I trust he can do it for you.

My Story Part 1: Unplanned?

From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.

Acts 17:26–28

For it was you who created my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will praise you
because I have been remarkably and wondrously made.
Your works are wondrous,
and I know this very well.
My bones were not hidden from you
when I was made in secret,
when I was formed in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me when I was formless;
all my days were written in your book and planned
before a single one of them began.

Psalm 139:13–16

So God created man
in his own image;
he created him in the image of God;
he created them male and female.

Genesis 1:27

I was unexpected when my mother learned she was expecting. I am the result of what people call an “unplanned” pregnancy. The relationship between my Mom and my biological father was far from serious, and I remember being told later that it was a mutual decision on their part that he would not be involved in my life.

So, a single Mom. An absent father. An unplanned baby boy. That’s how it all got started. That’s how I got started!

Sometimes unplanned pregnancies are called “accidental” pregnancies. Isn’t it strange to think of yourself in those terms–as an accident? But here’s the thing: I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself that way. Being the result of an “unplanned” pregnancy isn’t the same as being an unwanted pregnancy. And as far back as I can remember, I felt welcomed into the world, and was made to feel wanted. Whatever else was going on in my Mom’s life when I arrived, and however difficult it was for her to become a mother at that point and under those circumstances, I was loved.

Here’s the thing: somehow in the mysterious providence of God, I was planned. And God had plans for me. He had designs on my life from not only conception but from all eternity. That’s quite a thought to chew on! Imagine that! Imagine that whatever the circumstances surrounding your conception and birth that there is holy purpose in your arrival into this world.

Looking back, that’s definitely how I feel about my life. And the truth is God’s purpose for me somehow incorporates all of the circumstances surrounding my conception. Even though my journey of faith has had many ups, downs, detours, and turns, I can’t think of a moment when I didn’t believe God was not only real but somehow involved in my life. It’s as though I’ve always been seeking him, knowing that only in him could I have a sense of genuine purpose, direction, and meaning.

What about you? No doubt you have had questions about the meaning of your life. Perhaps because of your circumstances you’ve sometimes questioned your personal worth. Maybe you don’t think your life is significant. Not true: you too have holy purpose. You too were created by God to seek him. And you too were not an accident.

My Story: An Introduction

“I am the only child of a single mother.”

This reality has profoundly shaped me. It’s how my personal narrative began. It’s at the core of my story. That one sentence contains nearly 48 years of history and experience. It’s me.

But there’s more to me than this.

Because while being the only child of a single mother has indeed shaped me in profoundly significant ways, it is not the defining reality of my life.

And we all have a story. We all can point to events, circumstances, and people that have made us who we are—for better or worse!

When it comes to the more painful parts of our stories—those people, events, and circumstances that have left us wounded—they do not have to define us. That is, we don’t have to live according to the script we were handed. To put it another way, we can, by God’s grace, gradually learn to colour outside those lines.

Maybe this doesn’t make sense. Maybe you’re wondering what I’m talking about. So over the next few posts I’m going to share my story and how God in his grace has thus far made it possible for me to begin living according to his story.

I do hope you’ll come with me, and I pray you see how God can do the same for you.

Because I know he can.

Share and Comment!

If you read this blog and find it encouraging and helpful, let me know and also feel free to share it with someone else or on social media. I also appreciate comments that engage with the content. What do you think of what I’ve written? Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

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