Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Portadown Station


Sandra McCracken is one of my favourite song-writers. She has a great ability to write haunting songs that stir our emotions. “Portadown Station” is but one example. It is a simple story of someone on the road, loving the experience but missing someone at home. The lyrics, “I hear your voice in my head, but I miss the sound,” express the loneliness well. Here are the rest of the lyrics.

Portadown Station
(Words and music by Sandra McCracken from the album Gravity Love)

Sunset view from the train
Across these Irish plains
Rolling like the songs that are in my head
Portadown Station and another hotel bed

We pass through another town
the people swell in and out
I search the crowd for a face that I know
A thousand tales of a thousand years long ago

Just get on board, take that last train out
I hear your voice in my head, but I miss the sound
Here at the station outside Portadown

looking for something real
matches, knives and steel
with open wide eyes, the sun goes dark
you can't touch or feel a broken heart

Just get on board, take that last train out
I hear your voice in my head, but I miss the sound
Here at the station outside Portadown

so drain the light from the sky
and drain the tears from my eyes
I'm waiting like the shadows stretching thin
Could you hide me here 'till the morning comes again

Just get on board, take that last train out
I hear your voice in my head, but I miss the sound
Here at the station outside Portadown
Outside Portadown
Outside the station
Outside of Portadown 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Heart, Integrity, Respect, and Team at the Olympics



Sunday morning was a great day for Canadian Athletes as the Olympic Games came to a close. As I went about getting ready for my day, I found myself strangely transfixed by the Marathon. Then, as the screen split into two and CBC began broadcasting the closing press conference of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), I found the words of the President of the COC, Tricia Smith, almost as engaging. Smith has been a strong spokesperson for sport in Canada and her words from Rio were effusive and inspiring. She had praise for the many podium appearances of Canadian athletes and noted how successful Team Canada had been; but her praise was not just for those who won medals. Her speech made note of the many athletes who had shown great determination and integrity. She highlighted athletes such as Evan Dunfee, the Racewalker who came in tenth in the 20 km Walk and fourth in the 50 km Walk. Dunfee showed great respect for his fellow-athletes as, in one case, he encouraged the French Racewalker who struggled to complete the race. Then, in an act of sportsmanship, Dunfee did not challenge the 50 km Walk, results after the Japanese athlete bumped Dunfee and officials considered disqualifying the Bronze Medalist, Hirooki Arai. Later, Arai and Dunfee happily posed for a photo together.

Meanwhile, Eric Gillis, in a race dominated by Kenyan and Ethiopian Athletes, came in tenth in the grueling Olympic Marathon. Top ten showings in international competitions are one measurement of an athlete’s success and are rightly considered a mark of excellence. This was an amazing success for a Canadian marathoner, and coupled with an American Bronze medal in this sport, bodes well for western marathoners in a sport that has largely been about the competition between African athletes.

As the Marathon reached the 42 km mark, Tricia Smith also spoke of the values that have led to a successful Olympics for the Canadian team. She spelled it out in four points that would make a preacher proud.

Heart – as a synonym for determination, Canadian Olympic athletes show great “heart” in both training for, and competing in, the games.

Integrity – Evan Dunfee spoke of his team-mates and other international race-walkers with whom he trains who choose to compete clean in a sport that is sometimes marred by doping. He challenges the entire Olympic community with his commitment to integrity.

Respect – Canadian athletes made us proud with their respect for world-class athletes from around the world. They cheered for each other and cheered for the best qualities of athletes from other countries. They behaved themselves in Rio and made us all proud.

Team – Smith also gave a strong affirmation to teamwork as she noted the strength that is apparent as one person rises to the challenge when another is having an off day. She emphasised that sport is about being a team in every sense of the word.

Both the athletic competitions and Smith’s words give Canadians a sense of pride as we seek to be a country where great results and great humility are celebrated. Smith continues to show her commitment to the ideals of sport which she addressed on the day she was chosen as the President of the Canadian Olympic Committee. Her words on that day are a bookend to her words on August 21, 2016.

“I feel enormously privileged and grateful that our sport community has entrusted me today with the leadership of the COC. It’s an honour I accept with pride and gratitude at a time when the eyes of the country are upon us. Based on my platform, this endorsement sends a clear message that our members embrace the values of sport and expect integrity. I will be a champion for creating a safe and inclusive environment for our employees and all those involved in the Olympic Movement in this country. I will be a tireless advocate for unity, inclusiveness and collaboration with our many partners. We now enter an Olympic year with great excitement and anticipation. We must be at our best. We will do everything in our power to ensure we create an optimal environment for Rio 2016, so our athletes and coaches can be the very best they can be.” – Tricia Smith, President of the Canadian Olympic Committee (November 22, 2015)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made



 A friend of mine is in the hospital right now and is undergoing chemo-therapy and a bone marrow transplant to rescue him from cancer. In the midst of it, they did an MRI of his brain and discovered a tumour outside of the brain but inside of the head. You might ask, “Why would one person have to go through so much?” Of course my friend and his wife will ask questions such as this, but I also see them exemplifying a life of hope in the midst of great difficulties. Despite what they are going through, they are trusting God to lead them through it. They do not know where this journey will lead but they know that God will go with them in it. This afternoon we read part of Psalm 139 together and prayed. Psalm 139:13-18 says,

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!

God knows all about our bodies. He knows how all of the blood vessels in our body are connected. He knows about blood/brain barriers. He knows how many hairs are on our heads or, in my friend’s case, how many hairs are not on his head right now. He made us and He cares for us. He knows how many days we have on this earth. Both God and we know that the number of days we have on this earth are indeed finite. Yet, we pray that my friend has many more sweet days of life with his wife here on this earth. Regardless of how many days we have on this earth, may we all seek to live those days with God. In all that we do, may we agree with the psalmist, and say God, “you are still with me.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bernard Ramm on Science and Fear




Out of the many people with whom I would like to spend some time, I think I would have enjoyed sitting down for an afternoon of conversation with Bernard Ramm. Ramm, the Baptist theologian who wrote much on such topics as hermeneutics, and apologetics, would have been an interesting person with whom to have a visit, for he was well versed in the discussion of religion and science. His first love was science and he studied chemistry at the University of Washington before turning to the Philosophy of Science. The following two quotes from his prolific writings give us an insight into his mind and how he saw faith, theology, science, and philosophy.

Contemporary philosophy, contemporary theology, and contemporary science may be very unfriendly to evangelical theology. They seem to be opening all sorts of doors and windows to let in soul-chilling drafts of air. But … the Word of God in our hearts should drive out fear—fear of an unexpected discovery in science or archeology or psychology or sociology. Not that in each instance evangelicals should rise up and refute the distressing charge. Christians are in this for the long haul, and vexing problems of today may well be resolved by tomorrow.[1]

Might we sometimes feel a cold chill in the air of contemporary science? Certainly there are some who would believe that they can destroy the Word of God in our hearts with words of solid or dubious science. But Bernard Ramm is quick to point out that such disturbing questions may only be problems for which we have not yet found a solution.

In theological studies one should not prematurely judge that a disturbing question or problem has no solution. Granted, there is a fine line between dodging an issue and patiently waiting for a solution. Aware of this, nevertheless I have maintained that a problem that at the present seems impossible to resolve may yet be resolved in the future. And in many instances this has been my own experience.[2]

Despite the fact that these words were written in 1954, I find them amazingly resilient and fresh. They stand well against the test of time and give me further confidence in the words of the Bible. For it is in 1 John 4:17-18a that we read, “And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” (NLT)

Works Cited

Ramm, Bernard. The Christian View of Science and Scripture. 1954.


[1] Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1954), 64.
[2] Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1954), 2.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Agency and Prayer

 

We know that we can act and that our actions produce results. Everyone who believes in God must therefore admit (quite apart from the question of prayer) that God has not chosen to write the whole of history with His own hand. Most of the events that go on in the universe are indeed out of our control, but not all. It is like a play in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise. It may be a mystery why He should have allowed us to cause real events at all, but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method.
Pascal says that God “instituted prayer in order to allow His creatures the dignity of causality.” It would perhaps be truer to say that He invented both prayer and physical action for that purpose. He gave us small creatures the dignity of being able to contribute to the course of events in two different ways. He made the matter of the universe such that we can (in those limits) do things to it; that is why we can wash our own hands and feed or murder our fellow creatures. Similarly, He made His own plan or plot of history such that it admits a certain amount of free play and can be modified in response to our prayers.
- C.S. Lewis in “Work and Prayer” and republished in God in the Dock, 1970.

C.S. Lewis has a way of saying things that helps me to “get it.” Here he helps me to understand the agency God has given us. We truly are “small creatures” in a very large universe, and yet God has given us the ability to change our neighbourhood, our city, or even our world. We can do physical actions to flour, water, and yeast, making bread that did not exist before we started. With that bread we can feed a family who needs a loaf of bread. We can change the course of history with our actions.

Perhaps equally surprising is that God has given us the agency of prayer. Lewis says there is “free play” in God’s plan of history that can be modified by God in response to our prayers. God’s Kingdom will come and His will, will be done; but there is “free play” in the will of God that can be affected. We have an opportunity to influence the Kingdom and will of God. We can change the course of history with our prayers.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Tale of Florin


Sometimes when I read passages of the Bible that I have read many times, they lose their horror for me. I am not shocked by them anymore. I suspect that this is true for many of us. That is the way I feel about 2 Samuel 11. It has lost its power to shake up my world. The actions of King David of Israel should really cause me to ask questions about this “man after God’s own heart.” But I have heard the story told since I was a child. So allow me to introduce a thought experiment. Imagine for a moment that I am reading a news item that tells the following story about an imaginary country in Europe know as Florin. (You may notice that I have borrowed a few names from well-known movies and a television series.) I feel like I need to say, “The places and names are fictional and any resemblance to King David is intentional.”

Sources close to the Prime Minister of Florin have begun to reveal a shocking tale of lust, adultery, betrayal, murder, and cover up. The tiny European republic of Florin is nestled between Guilder and Genovia, and the head of state is Prime Minister John Archer. Archer, a former general in the military of Florin, has had an outstanding career and was highly decorated for his acts of bravery and military prowess before becoming the country’s leading politician. But his image has been tarnished and he is at risk of criminal charges after it was revealed that he may have been involved in an inappropriate sexual relationship. The concern relates to the former wife of a platoon leader engaged in Florin’s military action against the country’s rival republic of Guilder.

It is alleged that while Platoon Leader, Lieutenant Wesley Roberts, was away from home at the eastern frontlines of battle, Mr. Archer invited Lt. Roberts’ wife, Cecilia Roberts, over to his home. We do know that a few weeks later Lt. Roberts was killed in battle under mysterious circumstances. Roberts somehow ended up cut off from the rest of his platoon deep in enemy territory and was cut down by enemy sniper fire and died in battle. Prime Minister Archer ordered a full military funeral and sent condolences to the widow. A few weeks later, Cecilia Roberts and Mr. Archer entered into a romantic relationship that culminated with their marriage late last year.

In early 2016, Cecilia Archer announced that she was pregnant and the world embraced the storybook romance as two lonely people who found love. But, there were soon a few whispered questions about the timing of the pregnancy and who the true father of this baby might be. Then, even more disturbing rumors began to surface. It was alleged that the Prime Minister used his secret service agents to deliver a message to one of his Generals at the front lines of battle the day before Lt. Roberts was killed. It is thought that the message had something to do with military strategy.

It has been suggested that John Archer arranged for an “accidental” military death to cover up the fact that he had gotten Lt. Roberts’ wife pregnant. Neither the police nor the office of the Chief Magistrate would comment on this story saying that an investigation is underway and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. Many in Florin are asking if the country is being led by someone who has committed murder. We await the outcome of further investigations.

Isn’t that the true nature of David’s crimes? If a world leader did such things today, we would charge them with murder, abuse of power, unlawful influence, and a number of other charges. Yet this is exactly what King David of Israel did around 900 BC. The 2 Samuel 11 story goes on and finds redemption in the 12th chapter, and we find further evidence of David’s penitence in Psalm 51. David’s story is one of the best at explaining what true repentance can look like. Yet, before we can understand his contrition, we must first understand the true horror of his actions. Perhaps framing it in this contemporary setting will help to set the stage for such a transformation.

This blog is an excerpt from a sermon delivered at Bow Valley Christian Church on August 7, 2016. The full sermon can be heard on the BVCC website.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Time to Think

We live in a time in which sound bites are designed to express a world of emotion and perspective in the fewest possible words. Social media, news tickers, media scrums, question periods, and press releases are expressions that have become shorter and denser in recent years. We seldom slow down sufficiently to read long articles or multi-volume books. Our attention-span is considerably shorter than that of previous generations. While our ancestors may have sat around a fire for hours at a time listening to well-told stories, we get our information, wisdom, and emotional direction from 90 second news updates covering multiple stories. The incessant speed with which information is presenting itself to us does not allow for much consideration. Most often our reactions are highly influenced by the emotions and intensity of the person who gives us the news. Alternatively, our reactions and emotions default to well-worn channels of our thought processes that take us in the directions that we have always taken before.

Recently, I was struck by the words of a person who was very good at slowing down and thinking through concepts with which he was presented. This author, thinker, and teacher seemed much more able to slow his thoughts sufficiently to get to the heart of a concept. I found myself desiring to be more like C.S. Lewis. The following example may help to show you what I mean.

Many of us struggle with the words “hate the sin, but not the sinner.” This phrase has been much maligned, and both those who use it and those toward whom it points feel uneasy in the use of the expression. In the early seventies, C.S. Lewis found himself struggling with this terminology and so he thought about it long enough to come up with a solution. He had this to say about it in his extremely insightful book, Mere Christianity.

“I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. ...I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life -- namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I know that this will not solve the struggle in using this terminology for every person; C.S. Lewis’ opinion will not be the last word on any subject. Yet, his thoughts are helpful precisely because they show that he did not reject a concept quickly. One can tell that he was uncomfortable with the concept and so he meditated upon it until he could get at why he was uncomfortable and how he might resolve his discomfort with a concept that was accepted by others whom he respected. There is a great deal of humility and a search for unity in the process that Lewis uses.

It seems to me that I might use a similar technique when it comes to phrases that do not sit well with me. Rather than using stock answers to sound bites, could I seek a similar humility and search for the common ground of unity. Might I try this with phrases like, “Black lives matter,” and “All lives matter”? Could I seek greater respect toward those whose foundation for truth, morality, or love is different than mine?

It takes a great deal of strength and considerable time to truly listen to another’s argument and feel it in our bones rather than simply rejecting it outright. It is much easier to counter one argument with another argument without truly hearing the other person. In this way, many a debate between opposing positions has fallen short as we watch the speakers talk past each other’s understanding and over each other’s heads.

I want to learn to slow down and listen before formulating my response. I do not want to be guilty of responding with a half-formulated answer to a concept, rather than thinking upon the words that have been spoken to me. May God grant me greater peace, greater patience, greater understanding, greater love, a greater desire to walk a mile in another’s shoes. Perhaps I might be able to contribute to a better and more unified world.

Works Cited:
Lewis, C. (1978). Mere Christianity. Glasgow: William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd.