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David And Goliath

November 8, 2013

David & Goliath

My sons favorite story in the Bible thus far is David and Goliath. So in honor of his third birthday, I thought I would post a reflection on this famous biblical narrative. You may remember the story. David the small, shepherd boy fights and kills the giant Goliath (1st Samuel, chapter 17). The Israelites army is fighting the Philistines. Goliath challenges the Israelite army to send out a warrior to battle him and the winner of the fight will determine the outcome of the war. If Goliath wins the Israelite army will surrender and vice versa.

The problem: Goliath is a giant and all the Israelites are afraid of him, including their King Saul.

That is, until David shows up on the battlefield to visit his brothers. David overhears Goliaths’ challenge and volunteers to fight. King Saul tries to dissuade him, ‘you are not a fighting man and Goliath has been fighting since his youth’.

Goliath is like the kids in districts 1,2 and 3 that have been preparing for the Hunger games their whole lives whereas David is like Katniss; he hunts with a sling and knows the woods, but he is not a trained fighter.

Yet, David emerges victorious.

The Direction of Your Gaze

What was the difference between David and the rest of the Israelite army? I want to suggest it was the direction of David’s gaze. Everyone else is staring at the size of Goliath and the strength of his armor. David’s eyes, however, weren’t on the giant; his focus was on the Lord. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the law and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1st Sam 17:37).

Our Goliaths

Isn’t it true that we often focus solely on our problems instead of the God who can solve them? Our thoughts can act like a magnifying glass; they make issues seem bigger than they appear in reality. As a result, if I meditate on my problems I magnify their significance in my life and the end result can be a paralyzing fear.

It is almost like we choose to maximize our problems while simultaneously minimizing the God who is larger than our difficulties. Our focus is directed toward the ‘giants’ instead of the Lord.

We can learn from David. Who is his gaze fixed upon? The Lord! For us, our gaze shouldn’t rest on David’s example, or the ‘giants’ in our lives, but rather on the Lord Jesus.

Jesus Is Our Greater David

Jesus is our greater David. Think back to the story of David and Goliath. David goes out as a representative of Israel to fight the giant Goliath. David wins a victory and all of Israel benefits greatly from David’s victory won on their behalf.

What did the Israelites do to earn this victory? Nothing. The army simply basked in the glow of David’s victory.

In a similar way, in the New Testament we witness Jesus taking the field of battle, as our representative, to slay the giants of Satan, sin and death. Jesus overcomes our deepest, most perennial problem – sin and its affects, thereby providing salvation for us. What did we do to earn this gift?

Nothing. We produced our sin. God provided our savior. We provided a problem; God provided the solution. Yet we can, through faith, celebrate the victory that Jesus won on our behalf.

Look Past the Giants to Jesus

When we look to Jesus we are confident that God is for us, so who can ultimately be against us? When the direction of our gaze is pointed towards the cross where Jesus died and the empty tomb from which Jesus rose we are given courage to face the many ‘giants’ in our lives.

Genuine, Christ centered worship is the true antidote to worry. The more you worship the less you worry. Worship doesn’t make God bigger but it makes the ‘giants’ seem smaller.

Pay attention to the direction of your gaze!

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The Faith of Science?

October 30, 2013

Faith is belief without evidence; faith is belief even in the face of contrary evidence; faith is believing what you know is not true. Is that faith?

I’ve heard it defined in this manner. It would appear that the various scientific methodologies don’t embody faith in the manner described above. Science, after all, is supposed to be evidence driven, constantly changing, empirically verifiable, falsifiable etc – faith has no place in this prestigious human enterprise.

Does religious belief fall under the condemnation of the above definitions?  I can’t speak for all religious believers, but I certainly don’t know any thoughtful people of faith that would ascribe to the above descriptions of faith. Rather, faith is trust based on reasons.

So here is my thesis for this short article: science is supported by several unprovable assumptions that require the faith of the scientist. I will give you two arguments:

Argument # 1

Firstly, scientists have faith that are cognitive faculties are reliable and can produce true beliefs about the external world, including the history of our world. Yet, we can’t prove our reasoning is reliable without assuming the very thing we are trying to prove i.e. the reliability of our thought processes. Therefore, we require faith to believe that our beliefs about the world can be true. This faith commitment is even more striking if we affirm that our thought processes are the result of irrational forces that didn’t intend us, or see us coming.

Thomas Nagel, a well-known modern, atheistic philosopher writes:

“There is a real problem about how such a thing as reason is possible. How is it possible that creatures like ourselves, supplied with the cognitive capacities of a biological species whose very existence appears to be radically accidental, should have access to universally valid methods of objective thought”?

Another well-known thinker wrote this:

“The whole picture [scientific picture] professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless we can be sure that reality in the remotest nebula or the remotest part obeys the thought laws of the human scientist here and now in his laboratory – in other words, unless Reason is an absolute – all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is a flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based. The difficulty is to me a fatal one…”

It is worth reading those quotes again. Can our cognitive capabilities be trusted to produce true beliefs about our world? If not, what becomes of science? It is, after all, our rational convictions that inform the popular scientific picture, yet it is the popular scientific picture that has opened the door for this radical skepticism. Does this imply a deep conflict between naturalism (atheism) and, say, evolutionary theory? Prominent Philosopher Alvin Plantinga, and others, seem to think so.

On the other hand, if our cognitive capabilities can be relied upon to produce true beliefs about our world and we can, therefore, trust what science tells us about our origins, what reasons do we have to support this faith?

Either way, faith of some kind is required. To even respond to this argument requires it.

Argument # 2

Scientists assume the regularity of nature to make valid inductive inferences. This regularity cannot be proven, as the famous skeptic David Hume, pointed out centuries ago. This is sometimes called the problem of induction.

Here are two reasons for Hume’s skepticism: The regularity of nature is not logically necessary so we can’t, therefore, prove its truth in the strict sense of the word. We could easily conceive of a different kind of world where the sun cannot be trusted to appear daily, despite its past predictability. In other words, the uniformity of nature is not logically necessary in the manner of 2 plus 2 equaling 4 is logically necessary.

But surely, we protest, even though we cannot prove the uniformity of nature and the validity of inductive inferences drawn from it, we seem to have good empirical evidence for its truth. Every time we have heated water to one hundred degrees it has boiled in the past. Shouldn’t our past experience give us confidence about future attempts at making Macaroni and Cheese?

Hume would point out that this type of reasoning begs the question. It is, in itself, an inductive argument that depends on the uniformity of nature being true. Philosopher of Science Samir Okasha writes, “To put the point another way, it is certainly an established fact that nature has behaved largely uniformly up to now. But we cannot appeal to this fact to argue that nature will continue to be uniform, because this assumes that what has happened in the past is a reliable guide to what will happen in the future – which is the uniformity of nature assumption.”

Again, we may counter, ‘induction works really well. Those who have reasoned inductively have split the Atom, built rocket ships, and created computers. Those who have ignored induction have died horrible deaths. Survival relies on making good inductive inferences.’

But, again, this would not convince the skeptic because to argue that induction is true because it has worked well is to reason inductively, therefore, begging the question again. As Okasha writes, “Such an argument would carry no weight with somehow who doesn’t already trust induction. That is Hume’s fundamental point.”

Moreover, our sample size may be to small to be overly confident about nature’s uniformity. Philosopher of scientist Del Ratzsch reiterates:

“It is also a presupposition of science that nature is uniform, that processes and patterns that we see only a limited scale (since we have not examined all of creation, nor have we seen it during its entire existence) hold universally. Were that regularity not assumed, we would have no reason to think that laboratory events observed here and now could tell us about processes in the interior of distant stars far in the past. Nor would there be any grounds for believing that casual connections discovered yesterday would still hold true tomorrow, or for believing that nature is predictable or that scientific results should be reproducible. This faith (italics mine) in the universality and stability of the basic rules of nature goes back at least to the ancient Greeks.”

In conclusion, we can’t prove the reliability of reason, or the regularity of nature, without arguing in a circle, or begging the question. We need to take it on faith; faith based on reasons perhaps, but faith none-the-less. I personally think this faith is justified and reasonable and, I would think, so must every scientist (who ascribes to scientific realism, which I think most do when discussing observable entities).

The next question, if we dare to ask it, is what world picture provides better justification for the leap of faith embodied in the scientific enterprise?

The answer is Christianity.

– Chris Price

See. Samir Okasha Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction

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Worth the Risk: Reflections on Cross-Cultural Parenting

September 20, 2013

This situation happens to me nearly daily: Ada and I enter a random store. About five female employees that I’ve never met before surround Ada squealing, “Oh, cute foreigner baby! Look at her eyelashes! She’s so chubby!” One of said employees grabs her and picks her up. Ada screams and squirms, desperately trying to get out of the strangers’ grasp. The employee scowls, “Baby, you’re such a mean baby, you won’t let anyone touch you!” I pick Ada up and politely say, “Ada, it’s time to go shopping now. Say bye bye to Auntie!” We continue shopping, ignoring the girls who follow us around the store pinching Ada’s feet.

 

I love learning about different cultures and worldviews. I believe that, like humans, every culture is created by God and bears his beautiful image, but because of sin, there are aspects of every culture that are broken and in need of redemption. As I try to do with humans, I try to always assume the best about Cambodian culture, even when it differs so far from my own. I know that these sales girls just think that Ada is cute and want to touch her and love her. I know that they do the same thing to their own nieces and nephews and they just want her to reciprocate their affection. I know that ‘personal boundaries’ aren’t the same here. Unfortunately, I still see the world through my own Canadian worldview glasses, and in these situations I invariably think to myself, “Why can’t they respect her space? Isn’t it obvious that she doesn’t like what they’re doing? And they’re strangers! Why are they calling her names? If I made a kid cry, I would apologize for my own inappropriate actions, not blame her for being mean.”

 

In theory, I love the idea of incarnational cross-cultural living. In theory, I would love it if Ada grew up to speak fluent Khmer, have tons of Khmer friends, and eat rice instead of pizza. There are so many beautiful things about this nation that I hope she holds in her heart and uses to inform her understanding of the world.

 

But sometimes I get scared and want to protect her from it all. I want to boycott all stores with baby-obsessed employees. I want to plug her ears when they call her names. I want to run home from the neighbour’s house when all the kids are offered unhealthy snacks. Some of these things are value-neutral and simply reflect my own upbringing and preferences. However, some of the things she is exposed to might be antithetical to BOTH my Western upbringing AND the kingdom of God.

 

We feel fortunate that by moving overseas, Ada is removed from some of the vices of Western culture, particularly certain forms of materialism, consumerism, advertising, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could raise her to experience only the best parts of Western culture and the best parts of Khmer culture, while avoiding all the bad stuff of both??


But there’s a risk in bringing children into the world, and it’s the same risk that God made when he created humans with free will. Cambodia is not our ‘home’, as much as Canada is not our home, as much as the earth is not our home. While I might run the risk of baby-pinching and name-calling every time I leave the house, you run risks when letting kids watch movies or go to the mall. In creating humanity, God ran the risk of people rejecting him so completely that he would have to send his son to die for them. Yet for some crazy reason, God thought it was worth the risk .

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For Your Benefit

August 23, 2013

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“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor [Comforter/Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” – Jesus (John 16:7)

Kaeden is scared of Hyenas. He is terrified that there is a Hyena in his room at night, waiting stealthily in the shadows to pounce on him when he lays down to bed. His fear is real and so are his tears. I told him that Hyena’s live in Africa. Africa is far away and you have to cross an ocean to get there. This rational explanation doesn’t seem to help. As far as he is concerned, Africa may well be the backyard.

His geography is a tad underdeveloped.

I came into his room last night because he was screaming that he was afraid. I lay down beside him. I explained to him that Hyena’s live in Africa. He is safe in his bedroom. Then I told him, ‘Jesus will protect you.’ He was still crying at this point and he asked through his tears, ‘Can Jesus come sit on my bed?’

I said, ‘You can’t see Jesus, but He is present with you.’

Through sobs, ‘But can Jesus come back from church and be with me?’

‘We didn’t leave Jesus at church. Jesus is with us through His Spirit wherever we go.’

If I had thought Kaeden could receive it here is what I would have added: ‘You see, if Jesus were physically present with us in this bed then he couldn’t be present with all of the other children who need him too. And you know what, adults get afraid too, some of them are really scared right now and they need Jesus to be with them too. Through His Spirit (the Holy Spirit) He can be present with all of us.’

What I did say in that moment was, ‘Do you want me to ask Jesus to come be with you?’ The tears stopped and Kaeden replied, ‘He is already here.’

I turned on the light in more ways than one and he went soundly to sleep.

And so did I.

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Dead Head

August 21, 2013

Dead-heading

My husband and I live in an apartment, so my “garden” consists of small containers and a hanging basket on our patio. Still, in spite of it’s small size, I enjoy seeing it grow and flourish. I enjoy tending to it and watering it. Part of my job, is to “dead-head” spent blossoms so that new ones can grow. It’s not that the blossoms are bad…they are not weeds or anything harmful, but they are spent. There time has come and gone. Were I too leave them on the plant, no more new blooms would come.

In our journey with infertility, there have been some blooms that have come and gone. We hoped we could conceive naturally, but after a year and a half no baby came. Before I could move on, I had to pinch off the dead blossom. I came to accept the title “infertile” and went to the doctor. Then when drugs caused crazy side effects, my hope of having a baby through doctor’s means died. Snip went another blossom. We decided to try a naturopath who cut so many things out of our diet I joked that we’d soon be able to only have water! Still no baby after 9 months, another hope snipped off.

Now, I realize that having a child from my own body is another spent blossom to be dead-headed. It was a beautiful flower of a hope, and it was hard to let it go. But I have a choice. I can leave that dead blossom on the vine and mourn my loss continually. I can shout that it’s not fair that such a good and beautiful blossom died. Or I can accept that this blossom is spent, snip it off, and see what new blossom grows in it’s place. I have chosen the latter. I’m not sure what will come of it. But I am reminded of the words of Habakkuk…

“Though the fig tree does not bud…yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18

I don’t know what blossoms may be spent on your vine. It might be a job lost, it might be a relationship that cannot be repaired, it might be a chronic health problem. I pray that the Lord comfort and guide you as you see what blooms need to be snipped off. It’s okay to grieve over them. God grieves with you and will comfort you. But He is also the God of new hope to replace the old.

Alison Wagler

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I Want to Grow Up

August 16, 2013

Over the summer I spent a lot of time at the water park with my son. Occasionally, my youngest sister would meet up with us and bring her two-year old daughter to play with Kaeden. On one outting a child had left a toy Excavator at the water park (one of the side benefits of having young children is that you gain a better understanding of farm equipment and what things are called – excavator, tractor, combine harvester etc). Anyways, Kaeden and his cousin Sophia spent a lot of time fighting over the Excavator that didn’t even belong to them. They were both prone to shouting out ‘mine’ as they attempted to wrench the toy from the other person’s hands.

The Excavator didn’t even belong to them, but they were willing to fight over it. As adults we think this type of behavior is kind of silly. We assume they will grow out of it, but will they? Will we?

You see, from a biblical perspective everything belongs to God. The earth is the Lord and everything it contains (Psalm 24).  The universe and our earth, the air we breathe, our very existence is reliant on the creating and sustaining power of God.

We are not here without God. God gives us minds to think, strength to work, and raw materials to cultivate.

If this is true, the ultimate arrogance is to stubbornly point at the stuff that litters our lives and say, ‘mine’! Then, as a race, to fight and kill and war over that which wasn’t even ours in the first place. One wonders, are we still children, just with more destructive toys?

To grow up is to realize that I am a steward, not an owner.

To grow up is to realize that this is God’s universe and I am not at the center.

To grow up is to realize that ‘mine’ is a poor, shadowy, idolatrous substitute for ‘thine’.

To grow up is to realize that my treasure is in heaven.

To grow up is to reason like an adult, but trust God like a child.

I hope to grow up soon.

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Planting New Churches

August 11, 2013

Church Planting

Part of our vision for Calvary continues to be that we would embrace the challenge of multiplying through church planting. This is a scary idea that is becoming more of a reality since Peter and Amanda Helm have stepped forward as strong candidates for our church planting couple. We’ve never seriously flirted with the idea of birthing another church in the Tri-cities[1]. Yet listen to the importance that church planting expert, Timothy Keller, places on it:

“The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city.  Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.”[2]

Church planting is the single most effective strategy for growing the body of Christ in the city and renewing and reviving the existing mother church. In addition, new residents, of which Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam will be receiving many of, are better reached by church plants as are the younger generations.[3] Moreover, as we will find out in greater detail below, church plants are more effective at reaching unbelievers. To quote Timothy Keller again:

“Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10- 15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.2  This means that the average new congregation will bring 6-8 times more new people into the life of the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.”

Why might this be? The answer is fairly obvious when you give it some serious thought. The focus of a church plant often must be radically different than many established churches where internal pressures often require a lot of resources to be allocated for members in the church rather than those outside of the church. A church plant is different. Let’s quote Tim Keller one last time:

“New congregations, in general, are forced to focus on the needs of its non-members, simply in order to get off the ground.  So many of its leaders have come very recently from the ranks of the un-churched, that the congregation is far more sensitive to the concerns of the non-believer.  Also, in the first two years of our Christian walk, we have far more close, face-to- face relationships with non-Christians than we do later.  Thus a congregation filled with people fresh from the ranks of the un-churched will have the power to invite and attract many more non-believers into the events and life of the church than will the members of the typical established body.”

If all of the above is true why don’t more churches plant churches? There are likely many reasons why established churches don’t plant new churches, but in what follows I will walk through some common objections to church planting.

Objection # 1 There Are Enough Churches

Answer: This is simply not true. Even if all the churches in the Tri-City were filled to overflowing there wouldn’t be enough churches to fit all the people. Secondly, it pains me to say that not all of these churches preach the Gospel or are faithfully reaching out to the culture. Thirdly, the Tri-Cities continue to grow exponentially so more churches are needed.

Objection # 2 Calvary Is Not Overflowing with People

Answer: This is true, but it is no barrier to church planting. In reality we need less than one hundred people to multiply through church planting. All we need is the willingness to plant and a desire to be obedient to Jesus’ command to fulfill the great commission. And the fact of the matter is, church planting revitalizes the mother church. Often the best thing you can do for the growth of the mother church is to church plant because people are drawn to vision and mission. Also, let’s not forget that God blesses the giving away, not just of resources, but of people. All this objection might imply is that we plant a church that is a bit different than Calvary, which is what we intend to do.

Objection # 3 We don’t have the financial resources.

Answer: Yes, we do. The conference is supporting us financially and there is money in our pockets that can be given to this adventure.

Objections # 4 Many churches in the community used to be more full than they are now. The church going public is shrinking. A new church here will just take people from churches already hurting and weaken everyone.[4]  

Firstly, we have already seen that new churches are generally the most affective in reaching new people for Christ rather than stealing people from other churches. Secondly, this assumes that older churches will be hurt by newer churches when, often, established churches can be challenged and revived by the birthing of new churches. Thirdly, this objection may wrongly assume that church plants only work where the population is growing, but church plants are also needed when the population is changing. In the Tri-cities the population is both growing and changing.

Objection # 5 What about Calvary?

Answer: Church planting often revitalizes the mother church through 1) Bringing new ideas to the whole body 2) Attracting and raising up strong, creative leaders who are drawn to a compelling mission and vision 3) Planting a new church, and developing the vision for a new church, forces the more established church to engage in some healthy self-examination. 4) The new church can actually feed new believers into the established church. People can be converted through the ministry of the plant, realize they need more stability and find there way to the mother plant.[5] And, again, “vigorous church planting is one of the best ways to renew the existing churches of a city, as well as the best single way to grow the whole Body of Christ in a city.”

Objection # 6 We will lose good leaders and friends.

Answer: Yes, and this is both happy and sad. God will bring more people and more leaders. We will still pray for our friends and they will still be serving Jesus in the Tri-cities. The Advancement of God’s kingdom is still worth these relational sacrifices.

Now, that we have responded to many of the common objections or misunderstandings that people have about church planting on my next blog post we will examine overiding biblical considerations in favor of planting.

* This material will be republished in Calvary’s upcoming Missional Manifesto.


[1] The Persian ministry while being a significant step in that direction would not fit the category of an actual church plant in my thinking.

[2] Timothy Keller. Why Plant Churches? Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Feb 2002. (Accessed July 5, 2013)

[3] Ibbid. Pg. 3

[4] This objection is taken from Timothy Keller’s paper on ‘Why Plant Churches’?

[5] All of these points are from Timothy Keller’s paper. I have simply reworded a few. I am relying heavily on Keller because he is like a church planting guru for evangelical Christians in urban areas.