Monday, August 10, 2020

Romans 8

Romans 8:22-25

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.


“Christianity is the only identity which is received and not achieved.” – Tim Keller (interview with Carey Nieuwhof)


All creation groans with birth pangs, awaiting the new day. Help us to wait patiently for the new birth of Your church, Jesus. We believe in a better day. We believe that these birth pains will result in a beautiful child. May we not seek to achieve our identity but instead receive our identity from You. What is the identity you have for our church? We wait patiently for you to reveal it to us.

Sunday, August 9, 2020


Psalm 20:1-3 In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.

    May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
May he send you help from his sanctuary
    and strengthen you from Jerusalem. 
May he remember all your gifts
    and look favorably on your burnt offerings. Selah (interlude) (NLT)


Lord, these are very much times of trouble. Hear our cry. Remember the gifts you have given to your people. Remember the gifts you have given to me. They are indeed gifts we have received from your hand and each person, each community, each church has received a share to be used in accomplishing your will.


Psalm 20:4 May he grant your heart’s desires
    and make all your plans succeed.


May our heart’s desires be your heart’s desires. May we always keep our desires and your desires in line together.


Psalm 20:7 Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
    but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.


May we never trust in our clever techniques, our systems, and our structures to accomplish your will. We will trust in your power, your name, and your miracles, to give Holy Spirit life to our techniques. We will boast in you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Paul the Apostle and Theology


The first chapter of Galatians is a good explanation of the ministry of Paul the Apostle. He wants his readers to understand that his knowledge of Jesus comes directly from an encounter with the living Christ and then a continued friendship with Jesus. His teachings are both grounded in the words of Jesus for he has heard them from first-hand witnesses like Peter and James, and they are an interpretation and a theology of those words that have been worked out under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has shown that the accounts of the life of the Lord here on earth and the very words of Jesus are sufficient for all who follow him and that they must be understood and interpreted for each new situation and context within which the disciples of Jesus find themselves. The twelve apostles (eleven if we leave out Judas) and the early followers had not yet envisioned what it would mean for the life and words of Jesus to impact the Gentile people. They could interpret the life and words of Jesus for a Jewish context, of law, circumcision, diet, and special worship days, but their minds could not grasp how to help the Gentiles follow their Rabbi. That task was given to Paul by direct revelation and through the advanced theological training of the mind of Paul.


Too often we have pitted the words of Paul against the words of the Gospel writers. We have thought that Paul was too distant from Jesus and did not know enough of the very words of life spoken by him. Paul makes it clear that, like Peter and like James, he has been given his ministry by Jesus and has the words of life implanted deep within his theology. The very theology of the words of life has been imparted to him by Jesus. Paul shows us that it is not enough to simply read the words of Jesus, laid down for us by first-hand witnesses and then do what the first-hand witnesses did. Paul’s ministry was to deeply understand the words of Jesus and then interpret those words for a rapidly changing world while remaining true to the initial hearing and meaning of those words of Jesus. There is a recognition that the words of Jesus must be heard and then understood in a given context. There is a recognition that a poor fisherman on the shore of Galilee must understand the words of Jesus differently than a wealthy maker of purple clothes (such as Lydia from Thyatira) or middle-class tent-makers (such as Aquila and Priscilla) or a rich young ruler.


Certainly, there is a place for the call to be “Red-Letter Christians.” We must always heed the red letters, that is the words specifically ascribed to Jesus in the gospels, but this does not negate the other Holy Spirit inspired words of the Bible, the large part of which are written about the travels, life, work, evangelism, and theology of the Apostle Paul and his companions in the gospel - a gospel which was being worked out as it spread through the known world of the time.


In our present context, we too must be Red-Letter Christians who give special heed to the words of Jesus, and then interpret and understand those words for our time. What did it mean for a Jesus-follower in the first century when Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and unto God what belongs to God,” and what does it mean to a 21st century citizen of Canada? What principles will be the same and what principles will be different? How do Paul’s words in Romans 13 (which in part tell us to "obey the authorities,") help us to understand how to “render unto Caesar”? May those who have ears to hear, hear the implications of these words for a world rocked by protest, violence, and calls for defunding. Lord have mercy upon us all, this is our prayer for our souls, for the oppressed, and for our broken world.


As a footnote to this blog, may I call upon Christians everywhere to pray for one of the original Red-Letter Christians. Dr. Anthony Campolo is presently in the hospital having suffered a stroke on June 20th. His wife, Peggy, is as much by his side as she can be given the limitations due to the current coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Campolo’s son, Bart shared the news of the stroke in an email to those who follow the Campolo Center for Ministry. Please pray for this great preacher and theologian of the faith.



Tuesday, June 30, 2020

SARS-CoV-2 and Elite Responders

I have limited time to blog this week and so I will only write a few words about the latest developments in SARS-CoV-2 research. This week's NIH Director’s Blog offers hope for COVID-19 treatments using monoclonal antibodies. A team led by Michel Nussenzweig, Paul Bieniasz, and Charles Rice at The Rockefeller University, New York, and Pamela Bjorkman at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, has identified a subset of antibodies produced by “elite responders” that effectively neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus by binding to “three distinct sites on the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the coronavirus spike protein.”


When the human body is challenged by a novel virus in the system, a cascade of biochemical reactions occurs which leads to the production of many different antibody particles. The responsive immune system must generate a large number of possible antibodies because all will have some effect on the virus that has set the system in motion, but only some will be highly effective at binding up the virus particle so that it does not infect cells. What Nuzzenzweig and collaborators have done is identify which of the many antibodies generated are the most effective. This has the potential to inform scientists working on vaccines regarding which vaccines may be most effective in fighting the virus and the potentially deadly disease it causes. It also means that these elite antibodies could be reproduced in the lab and used as a form of treatment for those who have been infected and have a severe case of COVID-19.


There is much more to be said about how this research could also be leveraged to create better serological testing that would indicate who has been and who has not been infected with this novel coronavirus. In future blogs we will explore the ramifications further. For now, let’s pause for a moment and consider the hope this research brings as we pray for further developments.



Friday, June 26, 2020

Racism in My Heart

Dr. Charles Ringma

Two speakers, whom I highly respect, have recently had things to say about racism. In a recent video podcast, Dr. Anthony Campolo speaks of unconscious discrimination and reminds us that we do not see the hurtful things we do and say because we are so embedded in our systems. Tony Campolo goes on to tell the story of a time when Mahatma Gandhi walked into a Church of England (Anglican Church) cathedral in South Africa where Gandhi was raised. As Gandhi, who had been educated as a Hindu, sat down to experience Christian worship, a kind but firm usher told him that he was sorry but coloured people were not allowed to worship in that cathedral. Campolo and Gandhi both recognize that the usher was doing the job he had been given to do and that the usher did not understand the harm he was doing. Gandhi says that the usher thought that he was ushering a coloured man out of a cathedral when in fact he was “ushering India out of the British Empire.”


Campolo makes the obvious logical argument that the usher was so imbedded in his church culture that he did not understand what he was doing or saying. Dr. Campolo further states that the same is true of us, “We don’t understand the ramifications of what we are doing. Racism is embedded in our minds. We have to ask God to help us to be cleansed of it.” He quotes 1 John 1:8,9 as 

 “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all injustice[1].”


Charles Ringma, a distinguished theologian and Professor Emeritus of Regent College recently spoke at a Summer School Midday Event and said that “We are all racist at some level. We like our privilege and status. Self-confrontation is necessary because we don’t realize how arrogant we are. We need to consider how Christ came to us in humility, poverty, and an emptying of himself.” - Charles Ringma 2020-06-24


May Christ have mercy on our souls and cleanse us of all injustice.

Dr. Anthony (Tony) Campolo



[1] The King James Bible uses the word unrighteousness but Campolo says that it should be translated as injustice.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Of Ents and Hobbits

This week I am taking a summer course at Regent College. I had looked forward to spending time in Vancouver and sitting in a classroom with other students, but it is now a virtual course. I will interact with the professor and fellow classmates via Zoom like so many other meetings and courses. It is a reasonable facsimile, but still second best for a course, especially as I recall the beauty of the UBC campus in late June.


One of the textbooks for the course (The Cultivated Life, Susan S. Phillips, InterVarsity Press, 2015) purposely mixes metaphors and refers to spiritual growth as being both rooted like a plant in a garden and a journey in which we continue to progress and get closer to our distant destination. She speaks of needing to stop and put down roots, wait and listen, and to spend time in Sabbath; but she also speaks of needing to progress and take a next step. She uses the image of “a tree that walks” to convey her meaning.


One of her illustrations looks to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa in 1995 in which she says the country and the world paused in order to heal and seek forgiveness. The chair of the commission was Bishop Desmond Tutu and he allowed the process to take its full course.


“He brought people to a holy stop, lending compassion to the process and marking it with awe. He was the walking tree of Scripture, planted by streams of living water and walking the way of truth. He cooperated with the divine Logos that shelters and gathers as well as speaks…. Any morally or spiritually significant conversation must be preceded and followed by listening.”[1]


These words of being rooted, listening, conversing, and walking the way of truth are exceptionally valuable for me at this point in my life. Presently, I have wrapped up one job and have not yet settled into a next role. My usual tendency to “hurry” and “do,” is getting in the way, when I know that what is needed right now is to “slow down” and “be.” I am reminded of one of Tolkein’s tales (told within the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) in which two Hobbits, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, enlist the help of the Ents, (the Ents are themselves walking trees). The Ents convene an Entmoot, or meeting of the Ents, and Merry and Pippin are anxious for a response; but the Ents, known for their slow deliberations in which they may take several months to come to a decision, test the patience of the Hobbits who sense that a quick decision is necessary. The interplay between impatient Hobbits and deliberating Ents must be much like my own impatient pleading before God. In a time when I have been given space to rest and Sabbath, without worry of food on the table or roof over my head, I find my anxious mind whining about what the future holds, what my next role will be, and how I will survive. God, the ever patient, deliberate provider, hears my pleas and knows that there is yet time and encourages me to have patience and to use this time to be better rooted knowing that there will be plenty of time for moving on to the next thing.


Am I alone in this? I think not. This time in our culture has trained us to move with frenetic pace, as we are always on, always working, always responding, always seeking to enhance our image, and always looking for more. The deliberate, intentional, cultivated life is a necessity that is easily crowded out by the “tyranny of the urgent.”[2] As with most of the writing on this blog, this is first a call to myself to live an intentional life, and then secondly to you my reader to consider this need in your own life as well. Today can be a day for listening, waiting, and rooting in the deliberate, cultivated life. Let us commit to it together.

[1] The Cultivated Life, Susan S. Phillips, InterVarsity Press, 2015, chapter 4.

[2] Charles E. Hummel phrase.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Life is Fragile

Perhaps now is the time to remind ourselves that life is fragile. We have all experienced a greater measure of our own bodily fragility ever since our world declared a world-wide pandemic. We realized that there are viruses that not only make us sick but can even kill us. And the virus has killed young, old, and in between; healthy, sick, fit, and weak. We have all had to come to grips with mortality, sickness, and possible long-term health effects. We have also realized that civilization is fragile. This first showed up in the economy of the world but soon became obvious in our political systems, the way we interact with each other in our communities, and our divisions along many lines. 2 Corinthians 4:7 (New Living Translation, NLT) makes it clear that each of us has life within us and yet we carry this life around in a fragile vessel.


We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”


The distinction between life and not-life is significant, and yet it is a fine line. At one level, we see life in humans, animals, and plants and debate whether or not a virus contains life. Is a coronavirus truly life or is it just a biological machine that can take over our human biochemistry? We search to see if life exists on any other planet or moon in the universe, while recognizing how fragile all life is on this blue-green fragile planet.


Second Corinthians 5:1-5 (NLT) has some helpful teaching on how to live with the fragility of life here on earth.


For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.


The concepts this passage teaches are not readily brought to mind in our current predicament in the world and so we need to remind ourselves of them once again.

·       This fragile body in which we live is not our permanent residence; one day, our life essence will be housed in a new eternal body.

·       It is normal to grow weary of life on this earth and long for the eternal realms.

·       We are caught in the mystery of wanting to stay here in this body and this world, while also longing to put on our new eternal bodies.

·       God has prepared us for this longing and wants us to be ready to transition to a new realm.

·       To some, he has already given the guarantee of his Holy Spirit.


As we look at this fragile planet, these fragile systems, and our bodies as fragile entities like clay pots, we are reminded that God has a plan that begins now and continues into eternity. The purpose of this article is to remind us of the life we have beyond these fragile bodies, and yet it also reminds us that as we thirst for righteousness in this world, we need not fear what might happen to our earthly bodies. For Jesus said,

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

 (Matthew 16:25 NLT)

As we remind one another of a better life beyond this world, and as we prepare ourselves to breathe - with fresh lungs - the air of heaven, we will simultaneously seek to make this world a better place. May God show us his hope for the future and may it begin now on this fragile earth.