Facebook & Twitter vs TV & Gaming

On August 1, I wrote a post explaining my decision to give up Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bejeweled, and Television for one month. If you would like to know why, I encourage you to read that post. If you’re interested in some of the things I learned during this technology fast, keep reading.

Lesson #1 Learned: I’m not very good at giving up things

My draw to all things technical was stronger than I imagined. I could start listing excuses for why I caved a little bit, but let me instead cut straight to the results…giving up the video game Bejeweled was easy. Never played a game. Never missed it.

Giving up TV was fairly easy. Since my family didn’t give up the same, I was often in the vicinity of television, but I assure you there’s nothing they watch which interests me.

Giving up Google+ was just my covering an anticipated loophole so I wouldn’t give up Facebook & Twitter for Google+. Now for the cave…I did post a few things remotely via Stumbleupon, but what felt like the bigger cave was not changing my browser homepage, and not closing the Facebook tab when it automatically loaded. I sometimes read what was on that opening news feed. I also took a hiatus from my tech fast during Hurricane Irene. Like I said, it appears I’m not great at giving up things.

Lesson #2 Learned: Facebook & Twitter are a better use of my time than TV and Video games

Quite simply, nobody but me benefits when I play video games. Please understand, I LOVE video games—always have. I find they keep my mind sharp, help with hand-eye coordination, and help me to decompress after a stressful day. For these reasons, I plan to keep playing video games, but in much greater moderation. I concede that playing video games is an anti-social activity and, as such should be limited.

TV is not far behind on my list of “Useless Activities I Enjoy”. This is not a rant about the quality of television shows. I would say this even if I only watched the news and professional sports. No one in my household but me benefits when I watch TV (unless the members of my household want a break from me!).

Facebook and Twitter are in a different category altogether. They are interactive–they truly are social. Within the first 24 hrs of my tech fast a friend from the Kirk sent a message to me challenging me to rethink this. His argument was that my online presence was an encouragement to those who track with me on Facebook and Twitter. To the extent which that is true, I am humbled. My friend’s point lingered with me, but from the other side—I hugely missed reading the online updates of my friends and family.

Lesson #3 Learned: Face time with family, and prayer time with God is the best use of my time

Did I not know that before August 1? Sure I did. But, somehow, the portioning of my time did not accurately reflect my true priorities. Having coffee with Allie on the front porch massively benefits our family. Getting 3 stars on every Angry Birds level does not. Investing 2 hours poolside watching my daughter swim massively benefits our family. Investing 2 hours watching Major League Baseball does not.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m now anti-video games or anti-television. I’m not. I’ve simply been reminded of the helpful phrase, “Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1Cor. 6:12).

I’ve also been reminded that Facebook and Twitter are merely social tools. These tools can be used, or they can be ignored. These tools that can be used to tear people down, or they can be used to build people up.

I’m grateful to know that, in some small way, people have found encouragement from my online commentary. The writer of Hebrews exhorts me in this regard: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). I’m eager to do this. And Facebook and Twitter are going to help me.

The Blessing Of Friendship

LtoR: Cliff Cline, Duncan Macgregor Jr., Bryn MacPhail, Matt Pomeroy, Dave Terry, Ric Jacka

The popular proverb states that “You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.”

I think this cliche is meant to console those of us who have to cope with challenging family dynamics. Our family—our parents, our siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins—may cause us stress, but we have an opportunity to surround ourselves with individuals who impart energy to us by the manner of their friendship.

I don’t mean for this post to sound anti-family—I deeply love my imperfect, idiosyncratic, family of which I am a part. My aim here, rather, is to highlight the blessing of friendship. I say “blessing” as a way of qualifying the notion that we “choose our friends”. Of course we choose our friends, but I also strongly believe that God has positioned certain people in our life in order to facilitate the fostering of friendships that bring us encouragement and draw us closer to Him.

I’ve just returned from 28 days in Ontario, Canada (where I was born and raised), and the theme which continues to linger in my mind is the theme of friendship. Having been away (living in Nassau, Bahamas) for 13 months, there were many that I was eager to reconnect with. While it proved impossible to see all of our friends, we did get some meaningful time with some of our best friends.

In Proverbs we read, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). I feel so blessed to say that there are men in my life who, by every appearance “stick closer than a brother”.

One friend, whom I met as a 12 year-old at camp (Muskoka Woods), along with his wife Sandee, hosted us for three nights and treated us to gourmet food and poolside fun. Twenty-six years later, Duncan Macgregor continues to stick closer than a brother.

My former clerk of Session from St. Giles Kingsway, Don Taylor, and his wife, Lois, hosted a dinner party for us. When I was Don’s pastor, he was my always-supportive colleague and wise friend. Seeing Don again reminded me how blessed I was, and am, to have such a loyal and generous friend.

After some time at our our cottage in Eastern Ontario we returned to the Greater Toronto Area where we would spend a night at the home of Dave & MaryAnne Terry. Dave was my “best man” from my wedding day, 17 years ago, and has been among my very best friends for two decades now. Our friendship overflowed into ministry support when David served as an elder at St. Giles Kingsway during my time as Senior Pastor there.

The next evening took us to Ric & Andrea Jacka’s home. Andrea, a dental hygienist, kindly cleaned all of the MacPhail’s teeth—a luxury for us since we have yet to procure a dental plan in The Bahamas. Ric & Andrea have been one of our closest “couple” friends since we connected at the church of my student ministry (Good Shepherd Community Church) 17 years ago.

Our final night was spent in Beeton, ON–the town where I began ordained ministry 14 years ago. We stayed at the home of Jim & Fiona Allan. Jim was one of my elders from Fraser Presbyterian Church in Tottenham, ON, and in that ministry season there was no one I leaned on more than Jim (outside of my wife, Allie, of course!). I remember reading in 1Samuel how Jonathan made an oath to David “because he loved him as he loved himself” (1Sam. 20:17) and thinking that Jim and I had a friendship like that. No, we still have a friendship like that!

I missed seeing one of my closest friends, BK Smith, who now lives in Victoria, BC, where he was recently called to pastor. BK’s Christian integrity has inspired and challenged me for two decades. Time with BK, reminds me of the Proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).

I could go on—as there are other men that God has used over the years to provide me with profound encouragement (Heb. 10:24,25) and comfort (2Cor. 7:5,6). There are also the new friends I have made since transitioning to Nassau, Bahamas. God appears to be repeating His gracious pattern of surrounding me with loyal, God-fearing, friends.

As I consider the blessing of friendship I have received, I am immensely grateful. I am also challenged by the generosity of these friends. I don’t know that I can ever match, or repay, their kindness to me. But I am nonetheless inspired to attempt, in my own small way, to give myself to others so that they too may know the blessing of friendship.

Prayer and Pain

It has been said, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is and no more” (Robert McCheyne).

By this standard I submit to you that Hannah was a great woman. Hannah was a great woman, and her pattern for praise and prayer is an inspiration for present day followers of Jesus Christ.

But before Hannah’s praise, before Hannah’s prayer, is Hannah’s PAIN.

We read in 1Samuel 1:2ff, “(Elkanah) had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” Hannah’s predicament is made worse by the fact that her rival kept provoking her (1:6).

If Hannah ever fought back with harsh words, we’ll never know. If Hannah ever considered leaving her husband, and this polygamous arrangement, we’ll never know. I’m guessing that the temptation was there. Still, another option would have been to do nothing. Hannah could have simply shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘It is what it is.’

What Hannah ultimately chooses to do, however, provides us with an excellent example for responding to pain: Hannah prays.

Hannah was feeling broken. She had stopped eating. She was visibly downcast. She was often found to be weeping. But she prays.

I long for that to be the instinct for the follower of Christ in seasons of pain and suffering. Instead of fighting back, instead of running away, instead of giving up, we pray. I long for our instinct to be that we pour out our soul to the One who has the power to alter our circumstances, and the power to change us.

Hannah’s circumstances do change. She eventually conceives and gives birth to a son, Samuel (1:20). We know from experience, and we know from looking at other biblical texts, that God does not always change our circumstances when we pray. Jesus prayed repeatedly in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Take this cup from Me“, but it was never taken away (Mt. 26:39). Paul prayed three times for the removal of his thorn, but it was never removed (2Cor. 12:8).

Our circumstances might not change when we pray, but something else surely will: We will change. Our perspective will change. Our faith and trust in God will strengthen. Our affection for God will increase. We will change when we pray.

Looking at Hannah’s approach, we observe first that Hannah prayed passionately. We are told, “Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord” (1:10). According to the biblical example, emotion is a good thing when praying. Hannah does not make her case to God the way a lawyer reasons a case before a judge. Hannah makes her case with tears streaming down her face. She weeps before the throne of God. Hannah prays passionately.

The second thing we observe is that Hannah prays sincerely. We read, “Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard” (1:13). Eli the priest saw this and thought Hannah was drunk (1:13), and so he confronts her. Hannah must have been quite animated for Eli to draw such a conclusion.

I love Hannah’s explanation: “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord” (1:15). You see, there is a big difference between saying a prayer and praying. We see in Hannah that prayer has less to do with spoken words than it does with the trajectory and orientation of our heart. The example here is that we pour out our soul to God when we pray. The example Hannah gives is to pray sincerely.

The third element which marks Hannah’s approach to prayer is that she prays persistently. We read, “As (Hannah) kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth” (1:12). We are given the impression that part of the reason Hannah got Eli’s attention was because she had been there a while!

I have heard followers of Christ express a concern that repeating our prayers demonstrates a lack of faith. We remember Jesus telling us that our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him, and so we limit our words accordingly (Mt. 6:8). And yet, at the same time, we note that the biblical example also points us to persistence. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prays repeatedly about His impending death. The patriarch Jacob is said to have wrestled all night with God saying: “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). We are told that Hannah “kept on praying” to the Lord. Her example to us is to pray persistently.

I marvel at this woman of faith who prayed out of a context of profound pain. Inevitably, there will come seasons in your life when pain and suffering will challenge you. Whether it be physical illness, relationship turmoil, or financial pressures–I want to commend to you Hannah’s example:

She did not fight back. She did not run away. She did not give up. Hannah prayed.

Hannah did not ‘say a prayer’, but rather she prayed passionately, sincerely, and persistently to the God she worshiped and adored. May Hannah’s example inspire each of us to do the same.


Still Overwhelmed.

I communicate for a living, but recently I’ve had great difficulty communicating.

God is so good. Friends are so kind. We feel so loved in this emotional transition from life and ministry in Toronto to life and ministry in Nassau, Bahamas. I blogged on May 16 about the send-off we received that day from the people of St. Giles Kingsway and The Well. The encouragement continued with a plethora of emails, facebook posts, comments, and messages from well wishing friends. In our final days in Toronto, we celebrated and said “good-bye” with numerous meals with dear friends.

We’re now Day 4 in Nassau. Today I was inducted as the minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk and its mission charge in Abaco.  I was also received as a minister within the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (USA). The Kirk in Nassau/Abaco is grateful for the support of the EPC as a denominational harbour while we plan and pray about the formation of a new denomination, The Presbyterian Church in The Bahamas (our long term goal).

It has been an emotional transition—it was extremely hard to say good-bye, and yet, the welcome we have received here has exceeded all expectations…

Day 1: Landing day. Met at the airport by three elders who helped transport our family, luggage, and pets to our new home (the manse). We arrived at the manse to a small army of people who were putting the finishing touches on the yard and house. Welcome baskets for each member of our family, including a basket of goodies for our dog and two cats! From there, the phone rang repeatedly—members of the Kirk wanting to bring words of welcome.

Day 2: Recovery day. Lots more phone calls, and then an invite to enjoy a swim and a BBQ at the home of one of the Kirk elders.

Day 3: Settling in day. Never have I filled 2 grocery carts before. One of the Kirk elders provided so generously for us, helping us to set up our kitchen. In the evening, we had a lovely reception at the home of another one of the elders. It was a fantastic night with great food and inspiring speeches, but for us the highlight was the surprise arrival of three friends from St. Giles Kingsway! It is unbelievable to me that these three flew down to Nassau to support our family during this transition. We are so touched, so thankful, so overwhelmed by all this kindness.

Day 4: Induction day. Today is my first day as the minister here. Members of the Presbytery of Florida (from the EPC) officiated much of the service, but it was my delight to lead the Kirk Session through the reaffirmation of their vows and to officiate Communion. After an hour and a half service, we were treated to what was perhaps the most impressive church brunch I have ever witnessed (I think I’m really going to enjoy the food here!). I hope to soon post some photos of the cakes which were especially made for today’s celebration (we even got to take one home!). Tonight, we’re heading out for dinner with our three friends from Toronto.

Day 5: Not sure what lies ahead, but I do expect I’ll be able to say, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

We feel so affirmed in this call. We feel so welcomed in this transition. We feel so loved by a congregation that is just getting to know us.

I marvel at the kindness of so many. I am still overwhelmed.

I recognize that, very soon, I’ll need to push through the emotions of this transition and settle in as the minister here. There is much to do. There is seemingly limitless opportunity for the Kirk to increase its influence and impact upon the surrounding community. I feel so privileged to be a part of that.

On this, my first day as minister here, I’d like to offer a passage to my new congregation. May it inspire you to soar!

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:28-31).