Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Becoming A Tech-Wise Family

Today’s techno-saturated culture has given rise to challenges that a decade ago would have been difficult to even imagine. It’s now possible for a family to live together under one roof while simultaneously experience disconnection as they perpetually attend to their mobile glowing rectangles. This threat of living ever-connected while experiencing deeper isolation is something our family is increasingly challenged with as more of our kids eager (and able!) to secure a device to call their own.

Heather and I have experienced the growth of technology’s ubiquity alongside the growth of our family. With each passing year and each stage of our family’s expansion, technology advanced rapidly, becoming cheaper to acquire, easier to use, and offering more options for distraction, numbing, and entertainment. Observing the encroachment of technology in our family’s life, it’s been a challenge to find a response that is realistic and ambitious when it comes to using technology instead of being used by it. Like money, technology makes a wonderful slave but a terrible master.  We’ve lived serving it and having it serve us. The latter is much more preferable than the former.

Granted, we haven’t always fought as diligently as we could/should have, but we continue to fight. Even when we fail, we fail forward. It’s important to us that we model healthy uses of technology to our kids, and craft a family culture that wisely incorporates technology without becoming defined by it. I know that’s an ideal that many parents strive to realize as well, so I’d like to share a few ideas, principles, and practices that we have found to be helpful for us and our family of six.

Becoming a Tech-Wise Family

One of the most helpful resources in forming our thinking around all of the attendant issues technology raises/exposes was The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. Crouch’s book aims to help the reader put technology in its proper place.  To that end, both the promises and perils connected to technology are explored in an accessible and thoughtful way. In reading the book, it quickly became clear that we tend to live into technology’s perils more than its promises. That’s because technology offers us easy everywhere results that most of us find irresistible. As a consequence, we “slouch” towards pervasive tech-use until we find ourselves unable to move through our daily lives without continually seeking counsel and direction from the devices at our fingertips.

Pervasive tech-use leads to a profound sense of disconnection across four dimensions of personhood: our relationship with God, others, ourselves and creation (and our role within it).  Ironically, as we slip into habits that promise “connectivity,” we become bound to tech-habits of heart, soul, mind, and strength that keep us from the connections that matters most.

To resist the pull of technology’s siren call of easy everywhere, Crouch offers a Rule of Life for technology use within families.  He begins by framing our struggle as one that involves three central commitments:

  1. Priority of Character. Our family rejects the easy everywhere lifestyle. We will do hard things that challenge us to cultivate the virtues of wisdom and courage.
  2. Intentional Space. We will structure our home so that  we are nudged towards meaningful creativity and interaction, and away from passive, isolating consumption.
  3. Quality Time.  We will intentionally buildrhythms into our lives that help us get to know one another, God, and our world in deeper and richer ways.

Crouch then shares several principles that he and his family used to live into this mission to become tech-wise:

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family. This means we support each other in growing and developing all of our God-given gifts and capacities.
  2. We want to create more than we consume.  So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement (e.g. musical instruments, art tables, board games, books, etc.)
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest.  So one hour a day, one day a week and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do. This means no technology the first hour upon rising, and no technology the final hour before bed.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home. If this means struggling with boredom at times, so be it. We will create a habit of non-use during the early and formative stages of our children’s brain and social development.
  6. When we do use screens, we will use them for a purpose.  We we will them together whenever possible in order to stimulate conversation and create shared experiences.
  7. Car time is conversation time. We do not isolate ourselves during times of extended travel. Instead we take advantage of these rare opportunities for conversation and connection.
  8. We show up in person for the big events of life.  We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability.  We hope to die in one another’s arms.

Our Family’s Approach

While our family has not committed itself to all of these practices, we’ve sought to understand the principles upon which they’re based and adapt them to our family’s unique context and value system.  Specifically, we’ve embraced the three framing commitments around Character, Space, and Time, and we’ve found great success in reinforcing the following principles as often as we can:

  • We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  • We want to create more than we consume.
  • Car time is conversation time.
  • We show up in person for the big events of life.

We’ve also landed on the following family rules to govern daily life together:

  • No devices in bedrooms.
  • Children (Ages 3-12) have access to 2 hours per day screen time, on weekends only (Friday 3pm-Sunday dinner). There is no screen time at home on school nights. “You are responsible to make your own fun” has become a mantra in our home.
  • Teens (Age 13+) have access to 1 hour per day, at an agreed upon time, in a public space in our home. This increases to 2 hours/day on weekends.
  • Parents have full access to all devices, apps, and emails. We are able to scan or search any of our children’s devices at any time without justification beyond, “I’d like to see your phone for a bit.”
  • Ownership doors not equal autonomy. Regardless of whether our children own the device in question, any use of technology that routinely interferes with family priorities and relationships gets removed for a period of re-calibration to healthy practices.
  • We do not permit “roaming” through the house with music via earbuds. Ages 13+ can listen to their own music when doing homework, but only for an agreed upon amount of time and in a public space.
  • In order to purchase and use a device, each of our kids must agree to the Qustudio Family Digital Agreement.

Some Words of Encouragement

Navigating the turbulent waters of technology as an individual within our society is challenging enough. When families attempt to work out a wise, helpful, and healthy approach to tech use, the challenges quickly multiply and often feel insurmountable. But they aren’t. Addressing the challenges is not easy, but it is possible. And necessary. Our children need our support through modeling and enforcing life-enhancing tech practices.

I know that many parents feel as though technology has irreversibly taken over their family’s home culture. My encouragement to you would be that it’s never too late to help your family (re)start a healthy relationship with technology.  And my promise to you is that you will never regret challenging yourselves to resist easy everywhere disconnection so you can connect with those you’ve been given to love.


“Excommunicate me from the church of Social Justice”

This article, published by CBC Radio, is probably the saddest thing I read last week.

The contemporary “Social Justice” movement is a thinly disguised self-salvation project. Rooted in noble (but naive) intentions, it’s been co-opted by an ideology that cannot be sustained without demonizing “the other” and viewing all of life as an oppression matrix.

Worst of all, the ideology of Social Justice offers no propitiation for sin, and no mechanism for atonement and/or cleansing. It offers a strict, suffocating moralism that grinds people down through shame and guilt, and seeks to control them through the pursuit of ideological purity to the cause.

I believe that only justice initiatives grounded in the gospel of Jesus can save us from the exhaustion, joylessness, and shame that comes from seeking the fruit of the kingdom of God without surrender to the King and cooperating with him–on his terms.

Without Jesus’ gospel, even our highest moral ambitions can quickly become idolatrous. And as Andy Crouch wisely observes, every idol follows the same pattern: it demands more and more while giving less and less. Until the idol demands human sacrifices be made.


Learn to Write. Write to Learn.

“Why am I writing this paper?”
“You’re writing in order to learn to think.”

I wish someone would have impressed this perspective on me decades ago.

From a young age I was rewarded for good grades. The result was that I learned how to game the system and secure grades without securing an education. I fell into the trap of seeing assignments as little more than “to-do’s” on the way to course completion. I prided myself on being able to figure out the most efficient way to complete a written assignment in exchange for an acceptable grade. As a result, I squandered a lot of opportunities to grow and learn. And at 40 I’m having to double-back on coursework and ideas that I insufficiently grappled with during my years of formal study.

TL;DR: Learn to write. Write to learn.

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The Path to Greatness

On Sunday I preached on Mark 10:32-45.  The passage is a series of conversations through which Jesus reveals the path to greatness.

James and John approach Jesus and petition him: ““Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (v. 37).  They believe Jesus is destined for great things.  Power. Glory. Fame.  When Jesus establishes his kingdom rule, they want places of prominence within the coming government.  They are hungry for power and the attending privileges that come with it.

Jesus uses their request to subvert their entire worldview.

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)

Jesus offers a contrasting vision of authority, power, greatness, and glory.  James and John, who desire power OVER others, must learn that those who follow Jesus are to use power FOR others.  Power and authority are gifts that must be stewarded for the benefit of those under the power and authority.

Jesus makes it clear that authority and greatness in God’s kingdom is defined by one’s ability to use their power to serve others.  Tightening the screws on this upside-down paradigm, Jesus even insists that “whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

The path to greatness Jesus holds out looks very different in a world that values power over others.  He calls his followers to the pattern of leadership that he embodied; a self-sacrificing use of power that leads to life and flourishing for others.

Walking the Path to Greatness

Even if it is meager, each of us holds a certain measure of power and influence.  What might it look like to move into our marriages, workplaces, schools, sports teams, relationships, etc., with a view to use that power to serve and bless others?

In his book The Servant as Leader, Robert Greenleaf defines those who live out of this Jesus inspired paradigm as servant-leaders.

“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Regardless of whether we occupy formal positions of authority, the characteristics that define servant leaders are ones that each of us can integrate in our lives.

Like James and John, our hearts crave greatness.  But too often we seek to satisfying this craving by putting ourselves in positions of power over others.  We desire to be on top and in control; masters but never mastered.  Jesus declares this path to “greatness” to be an anti-God and anti-human path to walk.

Embracing the heart of a servant, Jesus says, is the path to true greatness.  And it’s a glorious and world-transforming path to walk.


Six Great Quotes from “The Courage to Teach”

I recently finished Park Palmer’s The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life.  It’s a powerful reflection born out of a lifetime seeking to understand the craft of teaching.

This isn’t a how-to manual filled with tips and tricks on how to teach effectively.  Those hoping to plunder Parlmer’s decades of teaching experience for practical nuggets will find themselves disappointed.  Instead, The Courage to Teach is offered as spiritual direction more than professional development.  It’s a rich work that attempts to give voice to the nuanced, mysterious, complex dimensions of teaching that those who care about communicating ideas to others often struggle to articulate.  It was a very satisfying and inspiring read.  I highly recommend it to teachers of all stripes and expressions.

Here are the six quotes from The Courage to Teach that I found particularly powerful:

1. “This book builds on a simple premise: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. The premise is simple, but its implications are not. It will take time to unfold what I do and do not mean by those words. But here is one way to put it: in every class I teach, my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject, depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood—and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning.”

2. “The behaviors generated by fear—silence, withdrawal, cynicism—often mimic those that come with ignorance, so it is not always easy for me to keep believing, when I look at some of my students, that anxiety rather than banality is what I am looking at. I need to keep renewing my insight into my students’ true condition in spite of misleading appearances.”

3. “The way we diagnose our students’ condition will determine the kind of remedy we offer.”

4. “If we embrace the promise of diversity, of creative conflict, and of “losing” in order to “win,” we still face one final fear—the fear that a live encounter with otherness will challenge or even compel us to change our lives. This is not paranoia: the world really is out to get us! Otherness, taken seriously, always invites transformation, calling us not only to new facts and theories and values but also to new ways of living our lives—and that is the most daunting threat of all.”

5. “Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul.”

6. “Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.”


Does Your Coat Have Two Pockets?

“We need a coat with two pockets.  In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold.  We need a coat with two pockets to remind us of who we are.” (Hasidic tale)

Does your coat have two pockets?  I ask because many of us wear a coat with only one.

If we only carry around dust, we will live with the crushing awareness that we are fragile, vulnerable, small, dependent, and broken.  Self-loathing will inevitably set in.

If we only carry around gold, we will live with the crushing delusion that we are grand, glorious, and precious without qualification.  Narcissistic self-aggrandizement will inevitably set in.

Where can we find a coat with both pockets?  The gospel.

Only the message of Jesus’ incarnation, atonement, and resurrection provides us with such a coat.  In the gospel’s simple message we discover, as Timothy Keller notes:

“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”


We are broken, unworthy, lost, fragile and feeble creatures.  Dust.

We are loved, dignified, justified, redeemed, beautified, and glorious in Christ.  Gold.

Does your coat have two pockets?

Who Defines Your Spirituality?

Spirituality is a buzzword that has settled comfortably within the cultural ether.  Many (most?) are comfortable using it, because the word has become highly customizable.  Once tethered to some formal religious tradition or ideology, “spirituality” (and what it means to be “spiritual”) has  morphed into an incredibly broad, and thoroughly personal concept.

Who defines your spirituality?  That is, whom do you empower to frame your understanding of one of the most important ideas within your life?  Our highest values and priorities are often connected to our ideas around what it means to live an authentic and vibrant spiritual life, and therefore it’s important to consider who we’ve given the keys to that kingdom over to.

A celebrity?  A spiritual guru?  Ourselves?

I believe that Jesus—because of who he is—should be the one defining what an authentic and healthy spirituality looks like.  And he does, but in a refreshing and challenging way.  One of the things that I’ve come to value about Jesus’ definition of spirituality is how much sharper it is when compared to contemporary definitions.  For Jesus, genuine spirituality is framed by the concept of discipleship; the process of learning how to align one’s life to what God values and prioritizes.

Jesus defined discipleship in its most basic form when he responded to a question posed by a religious scholar of the day:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Jesus framed spirituality around two foundational principles: loving God thoroughly and intensely, and loving our neighbours as ourselves.  There are a few things I appreciate about this definition:

1. We are not the centre.  Most modern definitions of spirituality place us at the centre.  The self is understood to be the supreme source of truth, hope, and power.  There is a kernel of truth here.  Yes, human beings hold tremendous capacities due to the fact that they are image-bearers of God.  However, to localize the source of truth and hope within ourselves is, for Jesus, a magnificent error.   God and his kingdom are central to Jesus’ definition of spirituality.

2. One’spirituality has to find its place within a larger story.  By invoking the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…”), Jesus is implicitly teaching that spirituality that is healthy and hopeful must be grounded in a larger story.  The Bible reveals the larger story of Creation, Fall, Redemption to be the one that provides us with the cosmic narrative within which our individual expressions of spirituality can be located and established in meaning beyond, “this seems right/helpful to me.”

3. Scripture is our Foundation and Guide.  When asked, Jesus doesn’t turn the question around and ask the religious leader to search his own heart.  Instead, Jesus drives him back into Scripture.  It’s incredibly tempting to listen to spiritual gurus who would encourage us to look within and trust ourselves in the formation of a fulfilling and meaningful spirituality.  Jesus does the exact opposite.  He places our focus on the revealed Word of God, and challenges us to draw out its implications within our lives as individuals and communities.

4. There is/not a “one size fits all” spirituality that leads to life and wholeness.  To modern ears the idea that there could be one–and only one–valid expression of spirituality seems beyond ridiculous.  Could anything be more myopic and even irrational?

But Jesus consistently answers these questions the same way in the gospels, turning people’s attention back to this Great Commandment.  Why?  If it’s just one choice among many, why not switch it up once in a while and highlight some alternatives? But Jesus never does.  Whenever he’s asked what the priorities of one’s spirituality should be, his answer is always the same: Love God and love people.

Which seems incredibly restrictive and exclusive.  Until you realize just how vague that centre is.  Love God and people.  Ok, but how?  That is for us to experiment with and discover.  There are clearly boundaries to that exploration in the Bible (i.e. no need to experiment with whether loving your neighbour might include adultery), but Jesus’ definition of spirituality is (almost) alarmingly vague.  There is a dynamic and inexhaustible breadth and depth to one’s ability to express these two priorities.  These aren’t rules that you can easily check-off and complete.  They are principles and priorities that require continued practice, imagination, right intention, and humility before God and others.

The older I get the more I see the genius behind Jesus’ definition of–dare I say it–true spirituality.  It is accessible to everyone, and yet it rescues us from the self-centred (and therefore self-serving) definitions of spirituality that call out to us.


Can a Five-Year-Old Become a Christian?

Last week I led my  five-year-old through a prayer to become a Christian.

The prayer was simple.  I explained to him that it was an “ABC” prayer.

  • Admit that he is a sinner who needs God’s forgiveness and grace.
  • Believe (trust) that Jesus died for his sins, and was raised from the dead to overcome sin’s power.
  • Commit to live for Jesus, serve his kingdom, and grow as a Christian every day.

This moment of prayer/decision hadn’t arisen from out of the blue.  For several months Brayden had been asking questions about Jesus/God/faith/Bible, and what it means to be a Christian.  Our talks usually occurred in his bed at night while we reflected on our day.

A few Fridays ago, among talk about Star Wars and Christmas, Brayden asked me if he was a Christian.

I told him that he was not.

“But you and mommy are Christians,” he replied, puzzled.

I explained that no one is automatically a Christian, because a Christian is someone who has personally decided to devote their life to Jesus.

He seemed confused.

“But I go to church” he said.

“Yes, you do, but you can go to church and not be devoted to Jesus.  Becoming a Christian only happens when we make Jesus our King and decide to live for him instead of ourselves.”

“I want to become a Christian.  When can I become a Christian?”

That was/is a good question!  Personally and pastorally, I hold the conviction that becoming a Christian is a serious, life-altering decision.  Like marriage, it should not be entered into “lightly or hastily.”  That’s why, regardless of what age one is considering embracing Christ as King and Saviour, I think it’s appropriate to provide some resistance so that we prevent people from making a rash or impulsive decision.  Jesus said “follow me” (Matthew 4:19), but we should do what we can to help people think through what that commitment will mean for them, both now and into the future.  As Brayden’s father, I felt it was important for him to wrestle for a while with the potential consequences of becoming a Christian before saying the prayer that could change his life forever.  That’s why, for several months I’d consistently pushed the decision (but not the conversation!) off to an undetermined point in the future.

It wasn’t just for Brayden’s sake that I was providing some push-back to his request: had a lot of questions that I felt needed to be answered before I could be confident that his decision to embrace Christ was legitimate:

  • Why did Brayden want to become a Christian?
  • Did Brayden know “enough” about what his commitment to Christ would cost him?
  • Did his age invariably mean that the decision was born out of complete naiveté?  He’s watched his older sisters talk about their Christian faith and grow in it; is it just “monkey see; monkey do” mimicry?
  • Is there any depth to his motivation?  Does he show a desire for discipleship?  When his definition of discipleship is “making good decisions,” does that show a sufficient or insufficient understanding of the foundation of a Christian worldview?
  • How much theology does he need to know before he’s ready to make a commitment of this nature?  If he can (barely) articulate the Gospel (Manger, Cross, Crown), can he legitimately embrace it?

These were some of the questions I was mulling over during the months I was pushing Brayden to think about becoming a Christian until a later time, when I could better determine if he was ready.

But a few weeks ago, Brayden wouldn’t let it go.  I went into my usual, “that’s great, let’s keep talking about it…” mode, but he kept pressing me.

“Why can’t I become a Christian now?”

A Scripture that God had used to rebuke me in the past came to mind once again:

“Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:17


Brayden had shown a persistent desire to become a Christian for almost half a year.  We had talked about Jesus, God, the Bible, salvation, love, grace, and sin, all while snuggling in the warm blue glow of the nightlight beside his bed.  For months I had put a (necessary) speed bump in front of him, wanting to make sure any conversion would be from the heart, and not mere mimicry.

And here he was, resolute in the conviction that he was ready to give his life to Jesus.

Was I going to stand in God’s way?

Nope.  In that exchange what became very clear was that my little boy genuinely desired to give his life to Jesus.

Did he know “enough”?  Well, he knew the gospel.  That’s enough, isn’t it?

Did he understand what he was getting into?  Did I when I said my own unpolished and imperfect prayer at age 14?

Were his motivations and intentions pure?  Can I point to even one decision I’ve made that has been made with pure and right motives—even my decision to embrace Christ?

When God’s grace-filled invitation to new life intersects with a person’s humble and heartfelt response, we may find ourselves harboring lots of questions regarding what is “actually” happening.  That’s ok.  We’re entitled to our questions.  Those questions and hesitations are important and often valid and should be identified and addressed.

But, we must be careful to never allow our questions and hesitations to stand in God’s way.  None of us (however well intended) have the right to delay another’s response to the gospel until we’ve figured things out and are sure they “get it.”

Besides, you can never really “get” grace anyways.  That’s kind of why it’s grace.  It can’t be grasped.  It can only be received.

That night, Brayden didn’t fully understand God’s grace, but he “got” it.  Or more precisely, God’s grace “got” him.  He may not have grasped it in its totality, but it grasped him.

Can a five year old become a Christian?  Yes, a five year old can.

And that night, my five year old did. By God’s grace and for His glory.



6 Spiritual Lessons I Learned from a 21 Day Nutrition Challenge

Last spring I blogged about the spiritual lessons I learned during my first three months at Nelson’s VO2 Performance Training gym. Recently our trainer invited us to complete a 21 day nutrition challenge.  I completed the challenge a few weeks ago.  Here’s what I learned.

1. In order to grow I need a plan.

I learned very quickly that a major reason the 21 day nutrition plan worked was simply because it was a plan.  It was a strategy for eating.  For years I’ve had the intention to eat healthier, but intentions without a plan are about as helpful as a car without an engine.  It’s been said that “a failure to plan is a plan to fail,” and that truism came into greater clarity for me through this challenge.

Spiritually speaking, we may have lofty and noble intentions to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), but if we don’t create some kind of growth plan, we shouldn’t expect to see much progress.  It’s tempting to “wing it” when it comes to spiritual growth, but without a plan we all drift towards reflexive living (which reinforces the status quo).  Our moment-by-moment moods and cravings set the agenda instead of a pre-determined strategy that has been decided upon in advance.

Intentions are very important, but without a plan even the most basic disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, and serving others will be driven by our moods rather than our will.  As Christians, however, we are not called to glorify and honour God when we feel like it or when the mood strikes us.  Discipleship to Jesus requires a strategy and disciplined course of action.

What would such a course of action look like?  I create a plan each month that is based on Jesus’ command to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbour as yourself.  You can read about it here.  Try it or adopt another plan, but don’t think that a casual approach to spiritual growth will get you very far.

2. Structure seems limiting (at first).

Initially, the nutrition challenge and the structure it imposed on my eating felt very restrictive.  This was due to the fact that I had become accustomed to a “go with the flow” approach to eating.  I valued the freedom that came from basing what I would eat on what I was craving at any given moment.  This freedom, of course, had led me down a deeply unhealthy path.  The new eating plan brought that negative momentum to a screeching halt.

The plan we were given was precise and strict.  It outlined what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat.  While there were some options regarding food choices, most of the decision points around food were removed.  A new liturgy of consumption was introduced.  Every week Heather and I bought exactly what we needed, spent a few hours Sunday prepping our meals for the week, and then organized them in the fridge.  This meant that every day we simply had to eat according to what had been prepared.

Within a few days the structure that initially felt so constraining became liberating.  Without having to troubleshoot what I would eat for lunch or a snack, I could simply grab my prepared meals from the fridge and get on with my day.  I spent $0 on lunches out and $0 on impulse snack purchases.  As a result I ate cleaner then I had during any other three-week period of my life.

At first glance, the prohibitions within the Bible (i.e. “thou shalt not’s”) seem restrictive.  Because our culture tends to define freedom as the absence of restrictions, we can miss that fact that a total lack of restrictions doesn’t result in freedom, but chaos.  Basketball is enjoyable to play and watch, because of the rules (i.e. restrictions).  A gourmet recipe can only be enjoyed if the chef has adhered to specific restrictions during its preparation.  Likewise, God’s commands and instructions are the very things that—rather than restricting us from the life that is truly life—open that life up to us.

Timothy Keller has it right: “True freedom lies not in absence of restrictions, but the presence of the right restrictions.”

3. Gluttony slows and weakens.

Another insight the nutrition challenge gave me was just how gluttonous I was.  There was a huge gap between my perceived caloric needs and my actual needs.  On paper, the amount of food the plan indicated I was supposed to eat (while working out at VO2!) seemed ludicrously small.  There was no way this was enough food for me to sustain basic energy for my day!

But even by the end of day one, it was clear that I would be ok.  The plan provided more than enough food.  I felt fine—better than fine.  I felt energized and experience increased mental alertness.  This caused me to cringe at how gluttonous my food intake must have become over the years, that I was finding this kind of physical vitality and mental acuity to be a novel thing.

Gluttony is condemned throughout the Bible, both because a. it is an abuse of the body, and b. it is an unjust pattern of consumption (I am consuming more than I need at the expense of another who doesn’t have enough food).  I guess I’d always recognized that this was an area of struggle for me, but I hadn’t really seen it as that much of a problem until my nutritional intake was realigned to what my body actually needed.  Once that realignment took place I was surprised and shocked by my previous levels of over-consumption.

This has given me pause to consider how gluttonous patterns have infiltrated other dimensions of my life. I believe following Jesus means a commitment to a life of simplicity, because such a life intentionally fights against the impulses of greed and gluttony.  Over-consumption slows and weakens, not just in my ability to be physically healthy, but spiritual healthy as well.  What other patterns of over-consumption need reform in my life?

4. The body resists change.

Adopting the tenants of the nutrition challenge was straightforward enough, behaviourally speaking.  Do X and Y.  Repeat.  However, physiologically, my body put up a fight.  Day five was rough.  Four straight days of eating clean while avoiding my regularly scheduled high carbohydrate intake led to the low-carb flu.  Like a two-year old that wasn’t getting what it wanted, my body was throwing a tantrum.

As we seek to follow Jesus faithfully, our “flesh” (the word the Bible uses to refer to our innate sinful impulses and desires) resists transformation.  We may put together the perfect plan, even one that is tremendously spiritually healthy, but we will likely find our flesh in revolt.  It prefers the status quo, so when we seek to effect change in our lives, we will encounter resistance.

To grow as a disciple of Jesus is to invite change and profound growth, and my nutrition challenge helped me to understand that all change is a war against the status quo.  It also helped me to anticipate that the first enemy I should expect to face in that war is myself, or rather, forces within my own flesh that will revolt once it becomes clear I’m heading down a new and healthier path.

5. Garbage in, garbage out.

I’ve read many studies and heard lots of anecdotal evidence underscoring the effect of the food we consume on our moods and physical vibrancy.  This challenged showed me just how dramatically my food intake shapes my emotional and psychological outlook throughout each day.  With each successive day of clean eating, I had more sustained physical and mental energy.  I had greater self-control, and I experienced greater optimism and better moods overall.  This was such a radically divergent experience from my previous modus operandi, where I slammed back lots of crappy food, reaping inconsistent energy, poor mental focus, weakened self-control, and increased pessimism as a result.

The 21 day challenge helped me to see again the importance of what I choose to put into my body.  Over the course of the challenge Philippians 4:8 came to mind often.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Physically, we cannot ingest crappy food and expect to reap vibrancy and health.  Spiritually, we cannot ingest crappy food (that which is false, ignoble, wrong, impure, ugly, shameful, degrading, etc.) and expect to reap spiritual vibrancy and health.  Garbage in, garbage out as they say.

6. Just because a craving exists doesn’t mean you should satisfy it.

Cravings are inevitable.  Sometimes they are good.  The can be the body’s way of indicating the deficiency of a key nutrient.  Often, however, cravings do not lead us into greater health.

It would have been disastrous if I had sought to satisfy the many cravings my body presented to me during the 21 day challenge.  Eating clean and eating often went a long way to ensuring I felt satiated most of the day, but cravings still came unbidden and unwanted.  When they did, I had to actively resist them in order to usher in greater health and strength.  I could not have grown healthier while simultaneously satisfying my cravings for sugary treats.

We live in a culture that encourages us to pursue the satiation of our desires at every turn.  Whether the desire is rooted in food, sex, or another arena, the desires at work within our hearts are seen as natural, good, and to be embraced.  But like our physical health, our spiritual health cannot be strengthened while we seek to respond to many of the cravings that exist within us.  In order to gain spiritual health and strength we must actively resist many of the cravings that we face.

In Galatians 5 Paul writes:

“live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17)

Just because a craving exists doesn’t mean you should satisfy it.


Jesus is the True and Greater Shambhala

Note: This brief reflection first appeared in the August 12th edition of the Nelson Star.

It has come and gone.  Shambhala, a music festival that drew thousands of revelers to our neck of the woods has been dismantled for another year.  In its wake, our city experienced an influx of post-Shambhala pilgrims recuperating from four days of sensory overload.

Shambhala is a Sanskrit term meaning “place of peace/tranquility/happiness.”  In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala is a mystical kingdom hidden within the Himalayas, accessible only to those with sufficiently good karma.  Many fusions of New Age and Buddhist spirituality also view Shambhala as a spiritual reality that can be taken hold of through a combination of proper meditation, mindfulness, and right living.

The Shambhala festival’s popularity reveals a longing every human has for “bliss”; a state of harmony, inner coherence, and joy.  In naming this music festival Shambhala, a not-so-subtle invitation was voiced by the festival’s founders: we are providing a place of peace, happiness, and bliss.  What we observe in the yearly pilgrimage to Shambhala is the quest to secure peace and life in a world of violence and death.

And yet each year that sought after peace and security slips through the fingers of every attendee.  The weekend is euphoric, but it is also fleeting.  Life eventually returns to normalcy.  As it does, I wonder how many of those who clamoured to gain access to the festival are haunted by the question of whether or not they are chasing shadows?

In the Bible Jesus is titled “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  The gospels (the historical records of Jesus’ life and ministry) present Jesus as a kind of embodied Shambhala.  In Jesus peace, tranquility, and happiness (“blessedness”) is offered and found.  Jesus said, “’Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28).  Jesus offers peace and life in a world of violence and death.

To further that good news, in Jesus the “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) is available–not just to those with sufficiently good karma–but even to sinners; spiritual “losers” who don’t have any self-righteousness to stand on.

And the peace Jesus gives isn’t fleeting.  It is established in the heart now and continues forever.  Jesus is the true and greater Shambhala.  There’s no need to chase shadows and substitutes.