Under Siege: how and why I authored this book

This is a shorter version of the blog Under Siege: What it’s About originally published March 22, 2017 at Word Alive Press.           UNDER SIEGE: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867-2017) is my first book.

Writing and publishing Under Siege was intimate and personal, and also not possible without intentional interaction with others in the Body of Christ.

under siege HR

In April 2016 I was invited to speak at a pastors and spouses conference taking place in October 2016. The request was for two keynote talks on religious freedom, a subject that has been woven into my adult life through education and experience. One talk would be about religious freedom in Canada and other about the global persecuted church.

Somewhat uncharacteristically, I started work on the project early. Long before the deadline was even on the horizon, I was praying, outlining, researching and capturing thoughts—I sleep with a notepad on the nightstand. Waking early one morning with the idea of turning the Canada talk into a book, I scribbled out three section heading ideas and many of the chapter titles before going back to sleep. Beginning that morning in May, work on the talk was combined with work on the book.

At the same time, I was finishing teaching a course on living a public faith; part of the apologetics training year at Ottawa School of the Bible—OSB is a practical understanding and application Bible school that is an initiative of the Lifecentre, and is accessed by students and pastors from across the city. I was teaching those in or interested in Christian leadership, and in October I would be speaking to pastors and their spouses. As a result, I found myself writing for Christian leaders, pastors and their spouses.

There are well written books on religious freedom in Canada for lawyers and academics. Distinct from those who engage the courts and in universities, missing was something designed to equip the troops who are engaged in the daily frontline spiritual warfare of 21st century Canada. Christian leaders minister in a human rights minefield, both real and imagined. They are the people who will primarily benefit from an accurate understanding of the Canadian situation. Under Siege is written for them, for us.

It wasn’t until late August or early September that I convinced myself I was actually writing a book for publication and willing to accept the responsibility to finish the task. I’ve written blogs, opinion pieces for newspapers, and had a regular column in Faith Today. But I hadn’t written a book until Under Siege. As a result, I started seeking advice from people who had written, edited, published and marketed books.

When I was about seventy percent of the way through the writing process (and thinking I was ninety percent done) I invited input into the process from members of my target audience, pastors and Christian leaders, and some constitutional law lawyers. The lawyers were qualified to review my comments in the specialized constitutional law area of religious freedom. The pastors and Christian leaders gave me feedback on how to better communicate various concepts I was writing about.

Finally, when the draft was complete, I invited a couple of dozen people to read and comment on the full unedited text, including most of those who had input at the earlier stage. They had a four week deadline, which coincided with the deadline for approving the final edit of the text. I am exceedingly grateful for all who accepted, including those who ran out of time.

As each one was also invited to consider writing an endorsement, I ended up with seventeen endorsements from a good cross-section of Christian expressions and experience. I was excited— I cried when I read them all together at the deadline.

For editing, it was a privilege to work with an experienced, young Christian author/editor who was interested in the topic of my book. He held me to task on improving my footnoting, strengthened grammar and made good suggestions for adjustments in the text. Cover design and layout were done with similar thoughtfulness and professionalism.

Throughout the process I asked for advice from both the Word Alive Press team and a small group of personal-friend advisors—people praying for me while I was writing—who shared their thoughts on what they read, and were also invited to comment on cover design and layout.

In the end, Under Siege is available in offset and print-on-demand paperback, and a variety of electronic formats.

I applied for and received a license to use the Canada 150 logo based on the theme of the book, which only allows printing with the logo until the end of 2017. Extra fees would be required to remove the logo from print-on-demand and electronic formats effective January 1, 2018, so the offset press paperbacks printed by Word Alive Press are a kind of special edition Canada 150 cover. Get ‘em while they’re here!

 

Condiment Christians in the hands of a Bar-B-Que God

Mmm, those mouth-watering, appetite inducing commercials. “Have it your way.” “Special orders don’t upset us.” How about the Canadian chain that promoted selecting our condiments and then naming our burger after ourself! That didn’t work. The second time back, I had to describe “the Don burger” all over again.

Don Hutchinson

In Ottawa, we have a burger chain that made its reputation on its vast selection of condiments, from avocado and sliced beets to sundried tomatoes, or kraft dinner (yes, it’s KD) and peanut butter. The menu boasts “over 14 million topping combinations.”

We live in a fast food world. The instant gratification of placing an order and receiving it before sitting down isn’t just about burger toppings. It drives a lot of our twenty first century decision making, even in the Church.

We’re condiment Christians. We want what we want. We want it fast. And, we want it our way.

The choice between double pickles or hold the lettuce might work in the hamburger world but it doesn’t work as well when we’re trying to structure the Living God into our own quick response, made the way I like him, personal god.

We grow impatient with a god who doesn’t deliver what we consider success. Deliver it the way we want it. And deliver it fast.

We question a god who doesn’t free us from temptation, at least the temptations we want to be freed from. The Good Book says God redeems us from our confessed sin, not from living in a world that surrounds with distractions that challenge us to focus on Him or fall because of having it our way.

In an instant gratification, fast food, choice of condiments world, God chooses to invest His time – Himself – in the main part of the meal, not the garnishes.

I have a friend who is seriously into bar-b-que. He makes his own rubs (seasoning for items to be bar-b-qued) and he has a smoker, a kind of slow bar-b-que. There are no quick meals when seasoned meat needs several hours to cook to perfection.

Another friend worked at a smokehouse restaurant. He talked, with a twinkle in his eye, about the planning that went into smoking their main menu items for up to half a day before final preparation and serving.

In the Old Testament we read detailed exposition about the effort required to prepare sacrifices for God – burnt offerings. Page after page, the Bible gives the impression our God is more interested in getting things cut, sized and seasoned properly so that, when placed over fire, the fragrance of the offering would be sweet.

Matthew’s gospel records Jesus saying to those who thought He was a reprobate for dining with sinners, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)  He was quoting the prophet Hosea who wrote these words spoken by God, “For I desire steadfast love(the Hebrew word may also be translated “mercy”) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)

Jesus was saying that when we consider the intricacies of preparing a sacrifice for God, we need to step back and focus on the fact that God is even more concerned with us demonstrating our love for Him, a process of learning and growing in loving Him with all our “heart and soul and mind and strength,” by loving our neighbours as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39; Luke 10:27-28)

The offering God now asks of us is… us.

When I was younger, having read the Bible a few times and studied it a bit, I was certain I knew God and what He wanted. I had the burger god I desired, with my personal selection of condiments. I had the meat of it right, but was fairly impatient with others’ difference of opinion on secondary matters. You might call it a divergent preference in condiments.

But, it’s not about the pickles or the lettuce.

It’s about whether my life is an offering.

The old joke says the problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps climbing off the altar.

My friend Ken Norberg has written and recorded what he calls a “little ditty celebrating the sometimes painful process of walking out our sanctification” (sanctification is us becoming more like Jesus in the way we think and live). In Burnt P.H.L.E.S.C.H., Ken captures the essence of living our lives as an offering to God. The chorus says of my life being lived for Him,

You gotta put it on the altar, let it roast, burning with the fire of the Holy Ghost.

Shake it and bake it, let the smoke arise, let the Lord smell that sweet sacrifice.

Ken concludes with an expressed expectation that serving the Lord “with a heart that is fervent” will receive the Lord’s commendation, “Good and faithful, thou well done servant.”

That’s how life feels at times, a little on the well done side of God’s bar-b-que. The perfect grill marks but a little crispy at the edge from me needing more time to learn a particular lesson, perhaps burnt at spots because, well, because I did it my way instead of His.

Here’s a hint about how to avoid a few of the singe marks I’ve acquired. When you hear the words “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you,” reflect on Jesus’ words, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” (John 5:19) Following can be more challenging than taking the lead.

Our bar-b-queing God is a coals and wood Guy. Our God is a slow smoker Who custom spices each and every life for its perfect fragrance. And, our slow smoker God gives every one of us time to decide whether we really want to know Him; and, whether we truly want to follow Him.

Hope lost. Can hope be found?

It was my privilege to share this message with the staff and students of Redeemer Christian High School in Ottawa on May 18, 2016.

Hope.

News media report that hope lost has led to a continuing epidemic of teen suicide in Atawapiskat, Ontario.

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"

This same concept of lost hope has been identified as the cause of teen suicide across Canada, not just in one remote community.

In reporting this phenomenon, an assumption has been made. It is assumed that we know what hope is; and how to lose it.

When I was 15 years old, I lost hope – at least, I thought I did.

My parents had divorced ten years earlier, but I was just a little kid at the time so I didn’t really know that it was unusual for a child to spend the summer with his Dad and the school year with his Mum. My Dad remarried when I was 9. Still, I had this idea that my parents might get back together. After all, my Dad had left my Mum, my two older sisters and me, right? He could leave his new wife and little girl, right?

But when I was 15, Mum remarried. A few months later, I left to spend my summer with Dad. Shortly after I got home I was struck with the awareness that my parents were not going to get back together. I was also awakening to the fact that my family was different from my friends’ families. And, I lost hope. Or, at least I think I did.

What is hope? How is it lost? And, perhaps more importantly, how can hope be found again?

First, what hope is not.

German theologian Jürgen Moltmann recently celebrated his 90th birthday. (I know that seems a lot older to some of you than it does to me.)

In his book Theology of Hope, Moltmann suggests that, in the 21st century, we have confused optimism with hope. And, as a result, many people no longer understand hope.

Another theologian, Miroslav Volf from Yale University’s Center for Faith and Culture, saves us all a bit of reading by summarizing Moltmann’s key concepts in the book A Public Faith. Volf writes:

In Theology of Hope Jürgen Moltmann famously distinguishes between hope and optimism. Both have to do with positive expectation, and yet the two are very different. Optimism has to do with good things in the future that are latent in the past and the present; the future associated with optimism – Moltmann calls it futurum – is an unfolding of what is already there. We survey the past and the present, extrapolate about what is likely to happen in the future, and if the prospects are good, become optimistic.

Optimism, then, is the positive expectation that our past and our present will likely result in our good future.

So, what is hope?

Volf continues:

Hope, on the other hand, has to do with good things in the future that come to us from “outside,” from God; the future associated with hope – Moltman calls it adventus – is a gift of something new. We hear the word of divine promise, and because God is love we trust in God’s faithfulness. God then brings about “a new thing”: aged Sarah, barren of womb, gives birth to a son (Gen. 21:1-2; Rom. 4:18-21); the crucified Christ is raised from the dead (Acts 2:22-36); a mighty Babylon falls and a new Jerusalem comes down from heaven (Rev. 18:1-24; 21:1-5); more generally, the good that seemed impossible becomes not just possible but real.

The expectation of good things that come from God – that is hope.

Perhaps, what I lost at 15 wasn’t hope after all; but, optimism. I had let go of the idea that my family could be like my friends’ families if… if my parents could only re-find the love that had gone missing in their relationship. Clearly they now loved other people.

I had also come to the realization that I could not make it happen. I could not fix my broken and altogether different family.

That may suggest the best summary for lost optimism, “I cannot.” My past and present tell me “I cannot.”

Lost hope is more than that. Lost hope is more than “I can’t.”

Lost hope is a belief and feeling of being disconnected. Disconnected from friends. Disconnected from family. Disconnected from the world around me. Coupled with a sense that I don’t know how to re-connect and thoughts that maybe I should just disconnect permanently. Yes, I’ve been there too, at times.

When we can’t look back at the past or look at our today and believe, or feel, that something good will come from that, we need something more.

I like Moltman’s choice of adventus to describe that “something more” we need. We need something from outside of ourselves to reconnect.

When I hear the Latin word adventus, my first thoughts turn to Advent – the celebration of the coming of Jesus into the world. The season of waiting for the celebration of His birth. Even if we are unable to capture all of the anticipation in waiting for the baby to be born, we can get pretty excited thinking about what gifts we’ll rip into on Christmas, or the looks on the faces of those to whom we give gifts.

Adventus is that something that has to come from outside our own expectations and abilities, then meets us at our point of need. That’s what the true story of Jesus is all about. God giving His all to meet us at our point of need.

The people of Israel had been waiting. Waiting expectantly. Waiting for their Messiah, the Anointed One of God, to come. They had endured defeat at the hands of their enemies. They had endured being shipped off to other countries as refugees, and then gradually filtering back home to a land their Roman conquerors renamed Palestine.

Then came Jesus – breaking in from outside. They wanted a superhero Deliverer, but he was more like a friend who comes alongside to comfort and encourage.

History has shown that Jesus was, and is, the Anointed One. In the Hebrew language, “Anointed One” is translated “Messiah.” In Greek, “Anointed One” is translated “Christ.”

Jesus was, and is, the Christ.

After His death, Jesus’ followers waited in Jerusalem until God’s Holy Spirit was released upon them – that’s the Pentecost the Church celebrated worldwide a few Sundays ago, God’s Spirit being poured out on all who believe in Jesus. And some time after Pentecost, at Antioch, the Jesus followers were first called “Christians.” “Christians” actually means “little Anointed Ones.” A friend of mine says we Christians are “anointlings,” little anointed ones; not to be confused with “annoyings.” Although, we probably all know some annoying Christians.

As anointlings we have something unique to offer the world, including those who may have lost hope, even our friends who may need something from outside of them to help them reconnect in life. As anointlings, we are like “Jesus with skin on.”

We know that God is a spiritual Being. We know that He came into the world as a baby, lived, was crucified and raised to life again on the third day before ascending into heaven. But sometimes we need more than what we know. Sometimes, we need Jesus with skin on.

When, as a teenager, I became depressed – wallowing in my music, television and thoughts of my own uselessness – God blessed me with friends who would work their way past my mother at the door, down the steps to my room at the back of the basement and drag me out of the house to play ball hockey, baseball, football or RISK. Sometimes it was annoying! But, they didn’t put me down. They pulled me up.

I think our world needs more of that. Our world needs Christians who know they are anointlings, Jesus with skin on. If you think you’ve lost hope, remember you are surrounded by anointlings. Invite them into your world.

Maybe, you know someone who needs a little anointling – maybe even some annoying anointling. I encourage you, be the anointling you are. Be kind. In Jesus’ name.

21st century pastors, Jesus followers and The Book

A commentary comparing contemporary Church expectations with 3 letters from The Bible – (an assignment for a class at church)

Ever wonder what exactly are the key characteristics of a healthy pastor, a Christian leader, in the twenty-first century?

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"

To get an idea about what people expect from a modern pastor, one might consider the questions asked when you tell someone you’ve got a great pastor.

How big is his – and sometimes her – church? This request is not for building measurements, but attendance figures.

How did he score on the Modified Houts Spiritual Gift Analysis? What’s his Birkman? DISC? Does he embrace Maxwell’s 21 irrefutable laws of leadership? Or (more controversial for some) Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people? Collins’ characteristics of a Level 5 leader? And, what about the results from his Purpose Driven Life workbook?

How many books has he published? If he doesn’t have any books out, does he at least have a popular blog? How many subscribers? Facebook friends? Twitter followers?

Which authors does he cite? Recommend?

What seems clear is that none of this, even embracing the enquiry for written materials, is about evaluating sound biblical basis for great pastoral ministry. It may, for some, even be about looking for an alternative to engaging directly with The Book, biblos in Greek. You know, the 1300 page volume that many mistakenly think requires a personal library to understand; and, too much time, effort and attention to get through on your own. It’s less effort to accept the illuminating pronouncements of a favourite pastor-author, especially if his stories are way more 2016.

It’s not common coffee-shop-talk to ask if a pastor exhibits traits written about in The Book, twenty centuries ago.

Still, here are a few thoughts written by the mentor Paul in letters to his mentees Timothy and Titus that might be relevant. The letters are in The Book.

A pastor is an overseer who must be living a life above reproach – sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach; not given to addictions, violence, quarreling or greed. This kind of person is well thought of by family, friends and acquaintances who are not as close.[1]

Other key requirements?

Hold faith in God, with sound doctrine, and a good conscience. Be faithful to the prophecies, guidance and direction received from trustworthy people. Train for living a godly life through study of the Scriptures, good service and following the example of faithful mentors and Christian friends. And, set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity – evidence of the pursuit of righteousness. Pay attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Do not show partiality.[2]

Pray. Pray prayers of requests that require God’s participation for answer, prayers of mediation for the needs of others, and prayers of thanksgiving. Pray for all people, especially political leaders and those in government.[3]

From this place of personal integrity in relationship with God and people, publicly share the Scriptures, exhort and teach. Equip other faithful followers of Jesus to teach. Do the work of an evangelist, sharing the full gospel.[4]

Be prepared for the hard stuff of lovingly correcting others when they drift away from sound doctrine into false teachings, myths and repetitive recounting of their personal qualifications to lead. Rebuke those who persist in sin, publicly within the congregation if necessary. Encourage godly contentment with an awareness that greed and sinful behaviour will have to be challenged.[5]

Do not be ashamed of the true testimony about Jesus, the Son of God risen from the dead, and be prepared to share in suffering as a result, patiently enduring evil.[6]

And the pastor’s followers? They would simply listen to the pastor and read the pastor’s stuff, right? Especially those who follow, like and share his stuff on social media.

But do the followers have any responsibility beyond that? Does Paul have anything to say about that? He does. And, it’s in The Book.

Having experienced the grace of God, Jesus’ followers are called to be sincere in faith, continuing in spiritual growth through relationship with God and other Christians.[7]

There’s more.

Adhere to sound teaching. The way to assess its soundness is to know not only the messenger but the Source of the message – able to affirm it with a knowledge of The Book – as part of our stewardship of the faith.[8]

Pray. Prayer is not confined to being actioned by leaders; and, the same kinds of prayers are to be offered up by all people – both privately and in conjunction with others, without anger or quarreling.[9]

Christians are to care and contribute. Care for family members in need. Care for widows and orphans as a community of believers. Make sure pastors and leaders are properly compensated for the service they are providing on behalf of Jesus.[10]

The mature are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, love, and steadfastness, teaching what is good to younger Christians.[11]

Followers of Jesus are to accept training that enables renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions in order to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the culture in which we find ourselves. And, to patiently wait for the promised return of Jesus to this world. While waiting, Christians are to be submissive and respectful of government authorities, ready to do good works, gentle, courteous, avoiding quarreling, speaking evil of no one, guarding the deposit of faith given by God and prepared to suffer for it.[12]

So, according to Paul, church-types are actually followers of Jesus; not followers of the pastor. In fact, it appears from what Paul wrote that even the pastor is to be first and foremost a follower of Jesus! And, if he – or sometimes she – is getting the job done properly, the great pastor is directing the congregation entrusted to his care away from following him and toward following Him, all the while providing a positive example of what following Jesus is.

Who knew first century standards might be considered trustworthy Church constants, still relevant in the twenty-first? It turns out, they are.

There’s more. It’s in The Book.

                                                          

[1] 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9

[2] 1 Timothy 1:18-19; 4:6-10; 5:21; 2 Timothy 1:6, 13-14; 2:15, 22; 3:10, 14; Titus 2:7-8

[3] 1 Timothy 2:1-2

[4] 1 Timothy 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 2:2; 4:2, 5

[5] 1 Timothy 1:3-4; 5:20; 6:2-10; 2 Timothy 2:16, 25; 4:2; Titus 1:10-15; Titus 2:1; 3:9-11

[6] 2 Timothy 1:8; 2:3, 24; 3:12

[7] The base of who Paul, Timothy and Titus are as Christians and implication of whom the pastor is to lead that is contained in all three letters, and more particularly: 1 Timothy 1:5, 12-16; 2 Timothy 1:5; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-6

[8] 1 Timothy 1:4

[9] 1 Timothy 2:8

[10] 1 Timothy 5:1-18

[11] Titus 2:2-6

[12] 2 Timothy 1:8, 14; 2:3, 11-14; 3:12; Titus 2:11-15; 3:1-3, 8, 14