YES, Jesus was born to die…but that’s not the only reason He came

reasonThe Following views are my own and do not reflect those of MennoNerds, its associates or its  affiliates. 

Merry Christmas to all of my faithful readers.  It is now approaching midnight where I live and my stomach is full from a lovely turkey dinner and my heart overflowing from laughter and good conversations.  I hope that like me, you also had a marvellous celebration of Christ’s birth along with some good company during all your festivities!

Christmas season started for me near the beginning of December.  I, like many of you, had a million and one things to do during this past month.  From hosting and attending numerous parties to worshipping at two Christmas Eve services to buying, selecting, and wrapping all my Christmas presents, to trying to bake some delicious cookies – there was no shortage of things to do.  While some lament that Christmas has become increasingly secularized and materialistic, others have posted blogs and Facebook statuses reminding us of the REAL meaning of Christmas.

Recently one of my fellow MennoNerds, Benjamin L. Corey published a very thought-provoking, well-articulated, and convincing article entitled “No, Jesus Wasn’t Born to Die (The Part of the Christmas Story We Mess Up).”  You can read that article here.  In this article, Corey suggests that Christ’s birth was not primarily meant to end in death, but rather took place in order to show us how to live.  Corey’s premise is intriguing and helpful in allowing an Anabaptist Christian space to wrestle with some of the key points of our theology.  For many of us who claim Anabaptism as our faith tradition, we recognize the importance of social justice and peacemaking in a variety of settings.  This means that we live out our faith in an active and engaging way, rather than as passive observers.  We dismantle the idea of God simply appeasing His wrath and replace it with a theology of love and service.  Corey definitely has earned my respect in this regard, however, I disagree with the main theme of his blog.  I would like to argue that Yes, Jesus WAS born to die, but that’s not the only reason He came. 

Over the past several years, I have noticed a shift in church theology whereby words like “sin” and “judgement” are considered archaic and even abusive.  Some Christians wonder how God could possibly have killed His own son (isn’t that divine child abuse?).  Others suggest that Jesus willingly went through His suffering and consequent death in order to espouse a theology of social justice.  Many claim that Jesus’s death and resurrection were symbolic of the breaking down of oppressive systems and that Christ’s sacrifice was nothing more than a moral example to the rest of us.

Being a theologian myself, I have studied many of the atonement theories in-depth and I have come to see the merits and shortfalls in almost all of them.  I believe there are definite pieces each one contributes to the puzzle and that there are reasons to agree with one over the other.  Although I grew up in a church that believed solely in penal substitution (meaning Christ NEEDED to die in order to transfer our own punishment on Himself) I also agree heartily with the moral example theory.  I believe that in many ways, Christ DID come to show us the right way of living.  I believe He did many radical things in His life that caused people to wonder, He pushed back on issues that were restrictive, and He repeatedly stood up for those who were not able to claim their own voice.  Furthermore, Christ taught many moral and ethical lessons, He healed people with debilitating diseases in order to give them back their life and social status, and He ultimately showed through His death the height of what it means to a non-resister in the face of oppression and extreme violence.

All these things are very good and important for us to take note of, however, at the core of who Jesus is – He was not a moral teacher, He was (and is) the Son of God!  Our churches have a tendency to downplay the seriousness of our own human depravity.  Instead of focussing on individual ills and wrong-doings, we tend to pour our efforts into seeing the entire creation and systemic structure as lopsided.  Thus, we promote economic and environmental stability, we protest poverty and violations of human rights, and we practice civil disobedience when need be.  Yet to relegate Christ to merely the status of “the greatest moral teacher who ever lived” is to strip Him entirely of His rightful status as Son of God and Saviour of the World.  The very word “Saviour” implies that there is something we need to be SAVED FROM.  Not only do we need to be saved from the impact of violence and the ravages of war, but we ultimately, and of primary importance, first need to be saved from the mess we have created for ourselves which stems from our own wrongful view of ourselves, the overall creation, and God.  This is best described in one word: SIN.

In his groundbreaking book, “If You Will Ask” Oswald Chambers poses the following question: “are we merely devotees of a social cause or are we disciples of Christ?”  Don’t get me wrong, it is entirely possible to be BOTH.  And in fact, I think God calls all Christians to be BOTH.  However, at the core of our worship and our theology lies the fact that we must acknowledge that Christ Himself is capable of doing something far greater than any other moral teacher was ever able to accomplish.  He died in order to set us free and to enable us to share an eternity in heaven with Him.

So why did Jesus have to come?  When we look at the Bible, we see a divine drama playing out starting in the very first chapter of Genesis and then swiftly moving towards Revelation (from the origins of our humanity to the full-culmination of the New Humanity).  God’s original design for this world was perfection.  Yet, because of free-will, humanity chose to go the wrong way.  We chose our own direction in our pride, rather than God’s direction in our humility.  This resulted in sin entering this world within the very first generation.  And the Bible tells us that with sin came death, destruction, and disease.  Yet, there was good news.  Really, good news.  God is far more than a mean master with a rod in His hand.  He is Holy and thus not able to look upon imperfections (thus the reason for all the sacrifices in the Old Testament), but He is also merciful extending His mercy to generations upon generations of those who will only call out to Him to receive them into Himself.  As soon as sin enters the world, God gives a solution.  The solution doesn’t happen right away, in fact, we will read later that it will not happen for thousands of years, however God promises it will eventually take place.  Whereas humans chose death over life, God the Father chose life over death.  God proclaims that One will come who will have the power to crush the very one (Satan) responsible for this mishap.  The rest of the Bible follows the premise of Christ eventually becoming the victor over death.

Repeatedly we read prophetic utterances that point to Christ’s appearance.  Particularly in Isaiah 53 we read that we will be healed by Christ’s sacrifice.  The Bible shows us that Christ is able to do what we as individuals are unable to do.  We needed someone pure and perfect to erase our own impurity and imperfection.

Eventually we wind up in the New Testament which is where the story of Jesus really takes off.  We read that Jesus enters into this world through a Virgin who has never had sex with a man.  Mary submits to God’s will for her and gives birth to Christ who the angels then praise from the highest heights and urge Shepherds and other villagers to see.  The fact that Christ came into this world through a Virgin is significant.  It shows that His entrance was not tainted by what others could perceive as “mere physical means.”  Rather, He was set apart by God right from the start and appointed to a specific task.

Corey interestingly poses the question “if it were all about dying, why couldn’t the baby in the manger just have died?  It would have done the trick.”  I submit that this question really lacks the theological depth of all Jesus came to do and all He was.  The whole point of Jesus’s atoning death resulted from His ability to say YES to it.  His willingness to submit to the Father which ultimately showed His love.  For God, it wasn’t merely about the sacrifice, but about the method and reason behind the sacrifice.  God is not a merciless baby-slayer, but He IS a patient sin-slayer.  Once again the book of Isaiah points to this when it mentions that “He took our punishments upon us, by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Corey also challenges the reason for the sacrifice.  He states that God (YHWH) abhorred human sacrifices and thus why would He demand this very thing from His own beloved son?  Corey is correct in the first part – God did explicitly state He didn’t want His children to act like neighbouring villages who willingly killed their kids off in order to appease a fake god.  However, because Jesus Christ was not simply a human, but God Himself, this makes the whole premise much more difficult.  I don’t think it’s something our finite human minds can grasp.  How could God be dead and still living at the same time?  And it is because of this confusing passage that I know a few believers who really struggle with the concept of the Trinity.  While I cannot give a clear answer on this, all I can say is that it entirely shows the depths of the Father’s love for us.  He could have completely held us under when we messed up, but instead He chose to do the most devastating thing in order to show us true life.  If this isn’t the height of love, mercy, and forgiveness, I don’t know what is.  And this is where I appreciate what Corey said – because at the core of what this message is about – it’s about HOW TO LIVE….but also WHY CHRIST DIED.

So we celebrate Christ’s birth and it is important to spend time relishing the arrival of a perfect babe.  We then spend the year going through the rest of His life.  We should not negate His miracles, His teachings, His compassion, and His wisdom.  We shouldn’t rush to Good Friday, but should take time to pause and reflect upon His life itself.  To simply say Christ came to die, is not enough, but to simply say Christ came only in order to show us how to live is also to miss the point entirely.  It’s sort of like attending a funeral.  When a eulogy is given, we don’t dwell on the fact the person is dead – we recount their life.  And that’s what we do with Christ.  But we also don’t dismiss His death lightly.

In a way, all of us are born to die.  C.S. Lewis recognized this when he wrote that we are born for something far greater.  When we live in the here-and-now it can be easy to forget that there is a heaven.  C.S. Lewis referred to us as being little children content to play with mudcakes all the while forgetting that there is a greater vacation about to take place.  We cannot spend our lives too focussed on death, though, or else we’d never do anything for the common good of humanity.  On the other hand, we also cannot forget that death will embrace all of us or we will only focus on the earthly and forget the eternal.

I really respect Corey’s article since it covers a topic that few of us are wiling to venture into.  I appreciate Corey’s cutting-edge ideas and his overall concern with moral welfare.  I relate to Corey’s questions concerning some of the more troubling passages of Scripture and his wrestling with how we, as Anabaptist pacifists deal with them.  I support Corey’s conclusion that Jesus’s life has many moral and ethical lessons to teach us which we should more readily become aware of rather than just reaching for a simple “Sunday school answer.”  However, I fundamentally disagree with His premise.  Jesus did not JUST come to die, but His atoning sacrifical death was a LARGE part (and perhaps the most important part) of why He came.  Jesus was born in order to die and by that death to ultimately show us how to live.


Sunday Challenge #10: Make a Joyful Noise

make_a_joyful_noise_christmas_card-rb583142b95cc4a089b00f12e4039059e_xvuat_8byvr_512Today is week 10 and the last week for our Sunday challenge.  It also just so happens to be Christmas Day.  I want to thank all of you who have joined me these past 10 weeks and I truly hope and pray that these acts have encouraged and inspired you.  Maybe you have begun thinking about issues in a different way or began seeing the world from a new angle. Maybe you’ve even made some big decisions like changing your diet or moving into a more life-giving career path.  Wherever your journey has taken you, I’d like to say thanks for joining me on the journey and I hope your path does not end here, but only continues in ways that promote your wholeness and well-being.

In seminary we often say that the two most difficult days to come up with a new sermon are Christmas and Easter.  But today I’d like to word that a little differently.  You see, often it isn’t about saying something completely new, but rather saying the same old thing in a brand-new way.

Christmas is one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.  It is not only a day of family get-togethers, gift giving, parties, and lots of food, but it is first and foremost a celebration of a wonderful Saviour, a God-King who came down to this world to redeem us all.

For many people, the Christmas holidays can be occasions of joy and happiness, but for many others they may evoke a sense of sadness, of grief, and of loss.  Regardless of where your emotions line today, know that you are loved and held completely by Christ, embraced in His never-ending and ever-flowing love.  His gift to you and to me.

My challenge for you this week is to find ways to continue to share in this celebration.  What are some ways that you can be a light-bearer and a joy-giver to all those around you?  What can you do to spread some Christmas cheer to someone who might otherwise not get any?  Who can you invite to join you at your table who might not have a home or might be away from home?

When I lived abroad, I got at least 4 or 5 invitations to join Christmas dinners.  One family in particular opened their house up to anyone who needed a place to go – to any internationals they could think of.  It ended up that I was working on Christmas day and so I spent the time with my L’Arche family and we had an incredible meal together followed by some Sherlock Holmes.  BUT the sheer act of being invited greatly lifted my spirits.  It reminded me that as far from home as I geographically was, there is always that extra piece of home you take with you wherever you go.

I pray that this Christmas you experience that sense of home – right there in your heart.  Merry Christmas one and all, and to all a good night!

Some Last Minute Late-Night Christmas Musings

028-028-angel-gabriel-appears-to-mary-full Today I went to a Christmas Eve service at a local Mennonite Church. I, like most people who grew up in the Christian tradition, have heard the Christmas story countless times in my life. Thus, it is very easy to “tune-out” since we already know how the story is going to end. Mary is going to get married to Joseph, give birth to a pretty amazing baby boy – Jesus, and all will be right with the world. Everything seems calm and bright, doesn’t it?

Not entirely. Today when I was listening to the Biblical narrative a few things stuck out to me that I hadn’t noticed before. Firstly, the angel appeared to Mary (who traditionally we have assumed was a young woman, pretty much “clueless” about all that is physically involved in making a baby) and the angel gave these words “FEAR NOT, you have found favour with God.”

Okay, so I have heard the words FEAR NOT a lot, but let’s unpack this a bit. Mary had every reason to fear. Her life was about to collapse. She was not ready to be a mother, yet. She was still engaged, she was still trying to figure out what marriage even meant. Additionally, at this time period being a single mother was the furthest thing from easy. There were cultural norms and expectations in that day and age which saw such a choice as radical (in a not-so-nice type of way). We can only imagine the shaming that some people must have wrongly treated her with. She might have been charged with adultery which at that time often included the death penalty. So how could she not have feared?

Secondly, we are told that she found favour with God. While carrying the Christ-life inside of you would have been an amazing privilege that only one woman in the entire world was ever able to receive – I still think Mary must have been thinking “Me? Are you kidding?” Her idea of having favour (since Scripture explicitly mentions Mary’s virginity) would likely have been to do the honourable thing by having a child through the union of marriage.

She seems from her song to be a woman that others respected and that she had dignity – so I’m sure breaking the moral and ethical laws of her day were not something she entirely had in mind.

And yet, she went through with it. The Scripture speaks to Mary’s incredible character in that she consented to the will of God. Did she know what she was getting herself into? Did she know how brutal those 9 months had the potential of being? Was she prepared for stares, awkward questions, and people looking the other way? (I think watching The Nativity Story really brought this part home to me – how terrifying it must have been). Yet in her own words she describes herself as “blessed.” She states that from now on her name will be historically associated with a blessing. She calls herself “the Lord’s handmaiden” (signifying a sense of deep respect and submission to her task). The Scripture also says that rather than questioning or asking for details, she simply “pondered all these things in her heart.” She internalized it, and I cannot even begin to fathom how difficult that must have been, because other than Joseph and possibly her own parents, almost everyone else would likely have disbelieved her and maybe even shunned her. She had no professional counsellor to hash this out with. No therapist to walk her through the process. When it came time to give birth, we are not even sure if there was a midwife to coach her through her first experience of labour. And we have no record of prenatal classes.

What do we do with a story that is this messy and complicated? I think the answer lies in Mary’s attitude and subsequentially in our own attitudes towards God’s calling upon our lives. Although few (if any of us) will experience an angelic visitation, all of us have been called out by God for a special task only we are capable of achieving. God has given each one of us a reason to be on this earth at this time – something that no other person in history was able to attain. Oftentimes, when God calls us we have every reason to fear. We fear the unknown. We fear being used to dismantle oppressive systems that have long been in place. We fear going against societal norms that demand that we present ourselves in a certain way. And yet we are told FEAR NOT. We are told not to concern ourselves with the opinions of others, but only with the opinion of God who demands a life of rigorous honesty filled with justice.

Speaking out on behalf of the innocent, demonstrating for and with love, fully living into all that God has called us to be (whether single or married), promoting understanding of difficult topics, or daring to confront systems, churches or religious leaders who seek to hold others down may seem like the furthest thing from finding favour with others for us. In fact, it may feel like the exact opposite. While holding our picket signs in protest we may feel more alienated and disillusioned than ever. But somehow, there is a promise embedded in all of this that something greater might happen because of it. That something more significant is going to be achieved because of our willingness to say “YES.”

What is your YES this Christmas? What is God calling you to do that you are finding hard to surrender? What is the impossible task you feel led to but don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry about all these things. Don’t worry about the next nine months. Don’t worry quite yet about the proverbial baby that is going to spring out of your womb. Just focus on today. Just focus on how you are receiving that call. Trust God and say “yes” however timid you may be. After all, even though God never promised it would be easy, He did leave you with these words “FEAR NOT.”

Sunday Challenge #9: Give Something Away in Order to Take Something Up

download  The truth is that we only have 24 hours in a day, but we still have 24 hours.  We live in a fast-paced, technologically advanced age.  Even though Smartphones and Ipads are meant to add convenience, they often increase the expectations and demands we place on ourselves.  We feel like because we can do things faster now that we should also increase our productivity.  Soon we treat our bodies like the machines they aren’t instead of like the fascinating God-ordained creations they are.  This is when we crash and burn.

If you are in a state of burn-out or if you are trying to prevent the burn-out you feel might be inevitable, here are two questions I really want to urge you to consider:

What am I doing that is life-giving?

What could I be doing less of to make space for what I really want to do?

First think about all the activities you are a part of that really feed your passions and your desires.  Those are the things you definitely want to keep.  You don’t see them as a burden, but as a blessing.  Think about the people who give you energy, the kind of individuals that when you are done talking with them you think “wow, I’m so blessed to have a friend like that.”  Those are the friends you need to keep.  They are the friends who keep you well.

Now think about all the things in your life that are not life-giving.  Maybe you are a chronic timewaster.  I know I am.  I constantly waste hours on Facebook.  If I were to give up some of that mindless scrolling time, I would then have more time to do what I really want to do: to engage in face-to-face contact, to write, to sing, to pray and to reflect.

My challenge for you this week is to put an end to mind-numbing activities, but more than that, put an end to anything that is dragging you down.  Anything that is causing you to stumble, to needlessly compare yourself to others, or to think of yourself as less than the wonderful creation God intends for you to be.  Once you have located those areas, think about what you’d like to replace them with.  Replace your anxiety and endless running with peace and stillness.  Replace your cell phone addiction with healthy ways to use technology that actually enhance and enrich relationships.  Replace fake friendships with real ones.  A dead-end job with a life-giving career change.  It won’t always be easy, but it will always be so worth it.  Godspeed on your journey.

Sunday Challenge #8: It’s for Your Health

part1  With the onset of some pretty serious Canadian weather (bring on the snowstorms), now seems like the perfect opportunity to talk about something many of us face during this season: the winter blues.  Think about it.  You want to go outside and build a snowman or ride your bikes across the hall, but it’s minus 40 and no one in their right mind would even think about doing that.  How do we motivate ourselves to get out, not just to shovel snow, but to actually have a really good time?

Winter is not the only time we make excuses to live a sedentary life or to pack on more pounds in hopes of being more comfortable while hibernating like a polar bear.  The truth is that many of us constantly come up with reasons why we aren’t move active, eating healthier, or living a more health conscious life-style.

A few months ago I was sitting at a table with some members of my International Fellowship Group in Edinburgh when all of a sudden our topic turned to healthy living.  Being in Scotland means that virtually everyone I have met has a sweet tooth.  There are a few internationals who don’t crave confectionaries, but like I always say to Canadians “being in Scotland ruined me.”  Previously I could go to a café and just order a tea.  Now when I go I always want a hot chocolate AND a biscuit or cake to go with it.  It’s just what’s expected of you in British culture.  Good thing dentists over there are much cheaper than on this side of the pond!

Anyways, the truth is that God created our bodies to glorify Him.  In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 we read “don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.  Therefore, glorify God with your bodies.” (

Of course, a lot of this refers to our spiritual state.  To the fact that we should live Godly lives, not shoot ourselves up with needless drugs, abuse our livers with alcohol, or put ourselves at risk of STDs.  However, it also refers to the day to day operations of God’s house.  When we become Christians, each one of us becomes a mini-temple.  Church doesn’t just mean that old building down the road with a cross on it, God takes up residence inside each one of us.  We all act as His personal mini-church.

Think about the last time you had a friend over.  Most of us hate for other people to see our mess.  So when an important guest is coming, we clean our house from top to bottom.  We dust those places we’ve avoided for weeks.  We clean and put away all the dishes.  We vacuum the floor.  We might even shampoo the carpet.  We do this so that visitor will feel welcomed.  They might only be staying for a few hours, but we want them to feel like royalty during that time.  We offer them a glass of water and a handful of biscuits.  We make sure the house is at a nice temperature, and we don’t hurry them off.

Now think about God who isn’t just visiting your body, but who has taken up permanent residence there.  This is where God lives – this is His address, this is where His mail gets delivered.  Do you want the postman to see a broken down letter box and a boarded up shed, or do you want him to see a freshly painted door with the sun gleaming off the recently washed windows?

It can be difficult to eat healthy in our world, but it doesn’t have to be.  I get it.  I’ve done it all myself.  I’ve skipped breakfast when I’ve woken up late and had to rush to a meeting.  I’ve forgotten to pack a lunch and ended up in the middle of downtown Edinburgh and thought to myself “I’ll just grab a Big Mac at McDonald’s.”  I’ve pumped my body full of toxins just to satisfy a sugar craving.  I’ve asked for seconds or even thirds even though I was already full because I liked the way something tasted.  I can speak from experience, I am no great example of healthy eating.  I’m probably the furthest thing from that.

But this week, I’d like to challenge you to think of one way in which you can glorify God’s temple through your personal lifestyle choices.  This will likely take some discipline on your part.  You might have to say no to that craving for a KitKat you’ve had all morning.  You might have to limit yourself to one drink instead of two.  You might need to ditch the car and walk to work.  But if you can think of one sacrifice that is going to benefit you for the long run, I recommend doing it.  Our spiritual life is about so much more than how much we read the Bible or pray, it encompasses our entire being including our physical state.  Ditch that bag of chips for an apple this week, then think about how much of an investment you are making not just to keep God’s Temple Holy, but also to give yourself a better quality of life in the long run.

Discovering Dr. Daniel Wong

13765788_10157173260280291_300483733406473490_o Tyndale’s Dr. Daniel Wong has held the record for being my favourite professor for the past 7 years.  Let me tell you why!


The year is 2009. I have just graduated from a very small Christian high school and moved to the metropolis of Toronto. Hard to believe, but due to my past rural life, Tyndale seems like a massive mini-city to me! Like most 18 year olds I have many questions about my major, my calling, and this foreign concept of what exactly a university education consists of. I wonder how I will connect and befriend students from so many diverse backgrounds and denominations.

Many of these questions were readily answered once I started getting into the rhythm of community life. From the start, the different experiences Tyndale offers on and off the campus provide excellent grounds for connecting with likeminded peers and fostering friendships.

Academically speaking, I originally entered Tyndale through the Leading Edge program. This one year certificate allows students to take classes in an intentional cohort without declaring their major. There are opportunities to engage with guest speakers, mission’s organizations, and mentors which all benefit recent high school grads. At the end of the year, students choose their program and receive credit for all courses already completed. This is where I first met Dr. Daniel Wong who coordinates and facilitates this program.

From the outset, Dr. Wong evidenced a high passion for education and interest in his students. For Dr. Wong, school is not merely about academics, but rather focussed on creating well-rounded leaders who can engage with the church and world. In Leading Edge, Dr. Wong constantly supports his students through their various struggles and transitions. He also strives to bring classroom rhetoric into practical ministry arenas such as volunteering with inner-city youth and local churches.

Part-way through the year, I joined the Bachelor of Religious Education (BRE) program which Dr. Wong also oversees. This meant I was able to become the student who took the most amount of courses with him.

Dr. Wong is a multi-faceted man which makes it difficult to choose only a few characteristics. However, I will highlight three areas that have profoundly impacted my own personal and professional growth and development.

#1: Dr. Wong has a heart for his students.

During a recent visit to Tyndale, I noticed some admission’s brochures. One of them read, “At Tyndale, you are a person, not a number. In fact, I don’t even think my professors know what my student number is.” This statement accurately sums up my experience at Tyndale, but in particular with Dr. Wong – a man who truly cares about his students both inside and out of the classroom.

One moment that I treasure happened during my second year of university when I became very ill. I had a very unusual disorder (which the Lord has thankfully healed me from) and this caused me to miss many classes. During that time, Dr. Wong prayed over me and completely understood all of my needs. He was very accommodating and tried to put good supports in place. When I missed classes, he sent emails and called to make sure everything was okay. Although all my professors were very respectful of my condition, Dr. Wong had a lasting impact both pre and post recovery. I will always appreciate his servant heart and extending his pastoral role to all his students.

#2: Dr. Wong believes in field trips.

Being a very academic institution with a good reputation, it can be easy to neglect the diverse learning styles of our students. In Dr. Wong’s classes the idea isn’t about getting straight A’s, but allowing each student to reach and exceed their potential. This means experiencing ministry first-hand through guest speakers and trips. We visited the local Buddhist Temple, local coffee shops, and ethnic churches which gave us fresh insights and challenged our assumptions. Our classwork was also heavily project based providing sustainable ministry research. Dr. Wong’s courses are always practical in nature which helps ensure longevity in a pastorate, on the mission field, or in a para-church placement.

#3: Dr. Wong pushes his students to get out of their comfort zone.

For many people, public speaking is a great fear. Dr. Wong realizes this, which makes taking a preaching class with him a wonderful investment (even if you aren’t considering a pastorate). Dr. Wong pushes his students to do things that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but in a lovingly gentle way. Whether it’s preaching a 15 minute sermon (and believe me, he will ensure it’s only 15 minutes!) or volunteering with those on the margins, Dr. Wong sees ministry as being inseparable to Christian faith and life. He prays over his students and supports them regardless of which ministry direction they are pursuing.

In my very first course with Dr. Wong, I was amazed that he opened the class with a prayer and asked us to fill out a questionnaire. Along with questions about ministry background and experience, he asked us what we wanted out of the class so he could best meet our needs. At the very end he wrote six profound words “how can I pray for you?” This is the type of personal and spiritual investment Tyndale professors have in us. For Dr. Wong, it’s not just a question to get out of the way, it’s an honest question that he truly wants an answer to because he cares.

If you are able to take a course with Dr. Wong, do so. You won’t regret it. Years later when you are sitting in your church office or working with street youth you will think back to the lessons learned in his classes. But more than that, you will remember the person himself – the great giant of faith who has his heart on his sleeve and the Bible in his heart – Tyndale’s very own, Dr. Daniel Wong!


13 Steps for Having a Good Dialogue With Someone

td_3_figures_250  1) Listen to understand rather than listening to speak
2) Ask good open-ended questions (avoid leading questions that make the person feel they are only “allowed” to answer in a certain way)
3) Ask with genuine interest.
4) If it’s a topic you don’t know anything about, state that up front. “I have never met a Mennonite before, so I’m really curious.” (HAHA! I just use it as an example since it’s the one I get most frequently)
5) If you do know something about the topic, don’t overinduldge about what you already know or argue with the person who represents the particular people group that you are asking about (assuming you are not part of the group yourself). The point of the dialogue is to learn from others, not to be a know-it-all-show-off.
6) Pay attention to the other person’s body language to gauge if any question is making them feel uneasy. If so, don’t assume, but rather ask. “I sense that this may be a difficult conversation for you. Would you like to change the topic?” Sometimes you may feel the other person’s awkwardness but to them sharing might actually be rather therapeutic. So ask first. Don’t press them if they answer part way, but don’t want to give any more details than what is already shared.
7) Monitor your own body language – what we say without ever opening our mouths is what typically speaks the loudest.
8) Try not to give into stereotypes. Each person is different.
9) If you don’t understand what the other person is saying, tell them you don’t understand. Don’t nod and pretend like you do. When they say, “you know what I mean?” You can respond, “Sorry, I’m not really sure what you are getting at, but I’d really like to know. I’m trying hard to understand. Could you try explaining it a different way?”
10) Seek to dialogue rather than to DEBATE. Dialogue is an exchange of ideas, debate generally is trying to prove that your view is correct, right, or superior over the other person’s. Sometimes in life and in theology there is actually no ONE correct answer – try as we might to make it so.
11) Avoid proof-texting at all costs. Don’t needlessly bring in a random Scripture verse that shows the person as being in error or sin. If you truly believe the other person is in the wrong, you will win that person over by your love and encouragement, not by ripping them to shreds.
12) Intentionally seek to have your ideas stretched. It is easy for us to stick with what we know, but good theologians read books from a variety of sources. As an academician, I read ultra-conservative and super-liberal books both and I challenge myself daily to be able to articulate the view that I don’t espouse in the most convincing way. Learning where other people stand and what they think helps makes you just a much more rounded person.           13) Unless otherwise explicitly mentioned, always assume confidentiality.  Don’t get into the trap of sharing personal information in the guise of “prayer requests.”  If unsure, ask the other person for permission.

I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and I know that I need to work on all of these areas myself, but I put this out here as an encouragement to you. I think if we all strove for peace and building one another up, less violence and less conflicts would erupt.

Sunday Challenge #7: Don’t Walk Past

download  There is something in our human condition that makes it easy for us to walk past or ignore people and situations that make us feel uncomfortable.  Many of us have an internal defence mechanism.  We have conditioned ourselves to think poverty, illness, or homelessness could never touch ourselves or those closest to us.  As a result, we become defensive and can easily judge those who find themselves in those very situations we’ve been trying all our lives to avoid.  The truth is that every time I take that extra moment to talk to a rough sleeper or one of my friends who works in a homeless ministry, I am deeply humbled.  I am humbled because I realize that every single one of us is really only one job loss, one mental illness, or one addiction away from poverty and plight.  Everyone on the street has a name, a face, and a story.  Many of them have families.  Yet when they are outside on a cold, windy, rainy day they become reduced to a mere blob.  Someone we hurriedly walk past without glancing up and mumble “get a job” to under our breaths.

The truth of the matter is that I am really no better than anyone else when it comes to this reality.  I also find rough sleepers uncannily uncomfortable.  I sometimes try to force myself to at least look these individuals in the eyes and nod or smile, but even then I fail most of the time.  I try to do better, but it seems there is always this invisible barrier I am unable to cross.

When I first moved to Edinburgh I saw rough sleepers on every corner.  I thought to myself “wow, the homeless problem here is really bad.  It’s much worse than in Canada.”  That is until one of my friends pointed out a hard truth.  It’s not that there are more rough sleepers in Scotland, it’s that I never noticed the ones we had in Toronto.  Going to school and working full time in Toronto for the past 8 years caused these individuals to become a blur.  I walked past them every day and we had an unspoken agreement – I’ll ignore you and in exchange you won’t trouble me by asking for change.  I saw the same people day in and day out, but I never once paused to ask any of them for a name or for a story.

Going to Edinburgh did not entirely solve this problem for me, either, but at least it forced me to start thinking about the issue of homelessness in a different way.  Sometimes we have to move somewhere completely different geographically in order to better understand this worldwide phenomenon.  I still can’t say that I’ve ever made much of an effort to get to know a street person, but a few things in my attitude have shifted.

For one, I now see these people as people.  Last Christmas I began thinking of what it must be like to be on the street without any Christmas cheer.  Since I was living away from my own family at that time and felt a pang of homesickness and a wave of loneliness, I felt that these individuals must feel even worse.  At least I had friends and a L’Arche family to share a ham dinner with.  Some of these men and women had no one.  So I decided the least I could do was give out Christmas cards and chocolates.  I’m not sure how many could read, but I can tell you that the sheer look of joy on their faces when they received these parcels is something I will not soon forget.

Secondly, I started buying the “Big Issue” (a local UK magazine that shares social justice news).  What at first began as disinterested annoyance at the vendor trying to hawk them to me, soon turned into an unspoken expectation.  Every week I would be back.  Every week I would hand over $2.50.  Every week I would get a great read and give the vendor a sense of ownership and autonomy.  Since I’ve been home, I’ve been a bit discouraged that I don’t get to see these vendors as much anymore.  But you can guarantee that whenever I head over to the UK next, I’ll come back with a few issues tucked into my suitcase.

Lastly, I have this unsettled feeling in my soul that there is something more I can do. Before I left Edinburgh I heard of this great opportunity at my church to serve breakfast to rough sleepers.  I am sorry to say I never took them up on this offer.  I only had a few short weeks left and felt it would take too long to train.  But this idea has stuck with me for the past 6 months (including the past 3 that I’ve been back).  I don’t think God is calling me to full time ministry with rough sleepers, but I think Edinburgh stirred something in my soul.  A desire I never knew existed.  A passion to not just live with those who are marginalized during my time at L’Arche, but to embrace all marginalized people even during non-working hours.

This week, I want to challenge you – don’t walk past the people who make you feel awkward or shy.  If you live in a big city, I’m sure you’ll encounter plenty of rough sleepers this week.  You don’t necessarily have to give them money (unless you really want to), but you can at least offer a smile and a wave.  You can validate that man as a person, that woman as a potential mother.  If you live in an area that sells homeless magazines or newspapers, you could consider buying one this week – if for no other reason than to see what social justice issues are facing your community.  If you live in a rural town, poverty might be more hidden, but I can guarantee you that there are still plenty of people feeling miserable and invisible.  Perhaps this week a friend will unexpectedly reveal to you that she is struggling with an addiction or that he is struggling with a mental health issue.  Don’t walk past them (metaphorically speaking).  You don’t need to be a trained counselor, but you can still offer a listening ear and your support. People are not so much looking for answers as they are looking for acceptance, inclusion, and love.

May God guide you on this journey of walking with each other whether on the busy city street or the dusty county lane.