Thursday, August 9, 2018

Grace and Truth

Grace and truth, effort or earning, works or faith, justice or mercy, these are the conundrums of my life. I know that Jesus came into this world full of grace and truth and ever since, we who follow his example have desired to be people of grace and truth. I can never seem to find the right balance nor live in the right place of tension between the two. The newspapers tell us that the elders of Willow Creek Church in Illinois know all too well that one can easily extend too much grace, demand too much truth, trust people too much, love people too little, and fail miserably at justice for all. There is no doubt in my mind that I would rather extend grace than mete out justice. I would rather love and forgive than hate and punish, but there is a part of me that realizes that when I forgive Sir John A. MacDonald for his part in “The Indian Act,” I am hurting those who were hurt by the ethnic cleansing brought about by the Indian Act. Some of my current friends are people whose culture and their very lives have been damaged by the Indian Act. How do I seek justice for all? How does God extend grace and justice to all? Could God ever forgive those who have hurt or killed huge populations of people? If God forgave Hitler, could the Jews ever forgive God?

Perhaps “the answers to these questions are more questions such as these.”[1] Perhaps we need to give up our obsession with getting what we deserve and take what we are given. Perhaps the answers are found in songs, poetry, stories, and parables. J.R.R. Tolkien once interpreted the actions of one of his characters in the following way.

“One tiny Hobbit against all the evil the world could muster. A sane being would have given up, but Samwise burned with a magnificent madness, a glowing obsession to surmount every obstacle, to find Frodo, destroy the Ring, and cleanse Middle Earth of its festering malignancy. He knew he would try again. Fail, perhaps. And try once more. A thousand, thousand times if need be, but he would not give up the quest.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Come, Mr. Frodo!' he cried. 'I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he'll go” ― J.R.R. TolkienThe Return of the King

Might all of us choose to be one tiny Hobbit, one cog in the massive mechanisms of the universe? What difference might we make by pursuing the one thing to which we are called? Do we desire to be a Hobbit or a powerful Lord of the Eldar? Each has their place and their work to be done. Can we be satisfied if God has made us the Hobbit type?

Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay by small acts of kindness and love. - J.R.R. Tolkien

I wish I had more answers and less questions. It seems that as I age, the questions multiply but the answers only subtract. I am learning more, but as I learn more, I find that I know less, because I have found more questions to ask. The stories begin to answer the questions. The parables hold the key, if only I could understand them better. The poetry of life contains the entire universe. May Jesus lead us ever closer to knowing him and his mission in the world.

[1] “Socrates” song written by Mac McAnaly on the album Live and Learn, 1992.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Once Upon A Time, Long, Long Ago

Once upon a time, in a land far away, a King awoke and surveyed his kingdom from the highest tower of his palace. He saw fields with green crops beginning to bear fruit. He saw a land of peace where neighbours cared for neighbours and disputes were settled with little struggle. He saw sheep and cattle grazing and young calves kicking up their heels in the dance of new life. He saw people carrying loads of goods that they had grown or made in their homes as they headed to the markets to sell their surplus. He saw children laughing and playing in safe streets. In short, he saw that all was well. It made his heart glad to see such a joyful kingdom for he knew that it had not always been so. Just a few years ago, this was a land of strife and people had grumbled in their homes and complained in the streets about the state of their country. People had starved for lack of food, the waters of the land were not fit to drink, and people had been quick to blame the king and one another for the sad state of this place.

The King had then gathered together all of his household and his staff and they had begun to work a plan. They taught the people how to care for the land and the wells, and they helped them manage their crops and plan for the future. They had held meetings to teach and to listen to the people of the land. They had poured many hours of labour and much of the king’s own treasury into making the kingdom a good place to live. And now that things were going well, people thronged from all of the adjacent communities to see this land and to learn from the collective wisdom of the people.

A celebratory thought crossed the king’s mind and he told his staff to prepare a banquet. He thought, “We should celebrate what we have accomplished.” They would celebrate the best successes of the land. They would feast and drink and dance and enjoy the crops of the land. The invitations were sent and the preparations were made. 

When all was ready, the king sent his criers out into the kingdom to call the people to the table. The message was sent, “All is ready come to the banquet.” But the criers came back with tears in their eyes. The people are not coming, they have busied themselves with other things. Some are doing business with their new-found wealth, some are working in the fields for even greater profit, and some are celebrating new marriages and new alliances.

The King was very sad for a moment. How could his people not see the importance of this banquet? Did they not see all that he and his staff had done for them? How did they become so fixated on the abundances of the land? Did they not see that there is a time for feasting and joyful banqueting?

The king’s sorrow lasted for just a moment and then he told his criers, “Go out into the new territories where the people have not yet been affected by the changes in the kingdom. Go to the places where the poor, the sick, the broken can be found. Invite them to join us. We will have a celebration greater than any seen before.” The criers said that they would do as he had said but there would still be room. The king said, “Make sure you look everywhere and ask everyone to attend. We do not want any to miss their invitation.”

So, the Great Banquet was held and all who came rejoiced and feasted. But, the king always knew it would have been a much better celebration if everyone had attended.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

God Rested

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.
So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.
Genesis 1:31-2:3 (NIV)

Take some time to read again the account of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 of the Bible. Most of us think that we already know what it says, but I find that each reading reveals new insights. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 each give the account of creation in different ways. Each offers rich insights into what God wants us to know about his creation, his place in the universe, our place in the universe, and the responsibility of each person, animal, and object in the story.

At one time, I thought that God was communicating to us that we are presently living in the seventh day. Genesis 2:2 says, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” At one level, it sounds like God is finished once and for all and that he is now resting from the work of creation. That is not the case at all. 

Creation is most certainly continuing to happen. As I write these words, KÄ«lauea volcanoe on the island of Hawaii is spewing lava into the sea and adding to the size of the island. In 2013, a new island was formed in the Pacific Ocean just off of the coast of Japan. Currently, new stars and planets are being formed in the far reaches of space. Furthermore, new species of plants and animals are being discovered at a rapid pace. Some of these discoveries are in fact new species that have recently come into being.

So, what are we to make of the “rest of God?” What are these words communicating to us? Perhaps it is as simple as telling us that there is a time for work and that there is a time for rest. The Creator does not always spell out all of the implications of how we are to live, but he gives us grand principles and asks us to work out how we might live this out in our time. Humans have been working out the concept of sabbath rest ever since creation. In times when Jewish law was supreme, Sabbath was highly codified and legalized. Specific rules of what could and could not be done on the seventh day of the week were built into the society. Under the rule of the Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans, and other cultures, it was necessary to adjust how Sabbath was lived out. In recent history, as Christianity has sought to codify Sabbath regulations, we saw Sunday shopping rules enshrined in law, encroached upon, struck down, and now meaningless. Christians today find themselves in a place in time and culture where we each must reinterpret how we will appropriately live out a life of work and rest. Yet, the grand principle still applies: God’s best plan for us is a day of rest and six days of work.

Creation goes on and God’s principles of what is best for his people also go on. May we rejoice in an ever-changing universe, ever-changing culture, and the constant principles which guide our lives.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Existential Cowboy Music

This week is Stampede week in Calgary. It is a time when everyone and every band gets cowboyed-up. Doc Walker is a band that gets played almost exclusively on Country Radio but they do have songs that deal with real philosophical concepts. "Raining on the Moon" is a case in point. The perspective of this song is quite existential: "where we are, is everything we know, all we've got is the love that we show." In a blog a few days ago, I quoted some of the lyrics. Here are the rest. They speak of fake news, unbelievable occurrences, technological advances, and how our minds cope with it all. Take a look at these lyrics composed by Jude Cole. (Listen to the song here.)

Have you heard the news?
It's raining on the moon
The man in the tv said
It's raining on the moon
Even the scientists
Can't believe it's true
They're showing diagrams
And little moon cartoons
Where we are is everything we know
All we've got is the love that we show
There was a man who knew
That none of this was true
He swore by God above
The end was coming soon
Now there's a rocket bus
Leaves every afternoon
And funny little cars
Racing on the dunes
Where we are is everything we know
All we've got is the love that we show
Everyone aboard
It's raining on the moon
What would you stay here for?
It's raining on the moon!
Everyone aboard
It's raining on the moon
No worries anymore
It's raining on the moon!
Songwriters: Jude Cole / Jude Anthony Cole
Raining On The Moon lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Monday, July 9, 2018

Exploring New Frontiers

Have you heard the news?
It’s raining on the moon.
Man in the T.V. said,
It’s raining on the moon.

Even the scientists
Can’t believe it’s true
They’re showing diagrams
And little moon cartoons

Where we are
Is everything we know
All we’ve got
Is the love we show[1]

We live in a time when it is almost possible to believe anything is possible. The lyrics of a song recorded by Doc Walker speak of the unbelievable times in which we live. Right now is a time of exploration unprecedented since 15th to 18th century European colonialism. Humans are preparing to investigate the solar system in ways never done before. Most will be done robotically; take for example the Europa Clipper ( that NASA plans to launch in 2022 to 2025. This mission will fly close to Jupiter’s moon Europa and take samples of its global ocean by flying through the geysers ejected from the moon surface. This will be an excellent opportunity to determine if microbial life exists below the moon’s icy surface or whether life could possibly exist there.

Lunar landers for Earth’s Moon are planned for 2019 through 2021 with the plan to use the Moon as a base of operations for trips to Mars and other parts of the solar system. Some of these trips will eventually include human flight as well.

Boeing and SpaceX are competing to be the first American companies to return to carrying crew for the International Space Station (ISS) and both anticipate crewed tests of their space-cabins by the end of 2018. This will prepare the United States for a return to leadership in human space exploration. At the same time, Russia is planning crewed flights in their new crew module for 2023 and lunar orbits for 2027.

Of course, Mars is the next big goal. SpaceX appears to be the present leader in the race with their development of the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) which is slated to begin testing in 2019. This is a complete redesign of launching systems and space flight modules capable of interplanetary flight.

SpaceX, Boeing, and NASA may be the biggest and most vocal players in the race for space, but a number of other companies are quietly working on their own plans for robotic and human launches. Blue Orbit, Virgin Galactic, Ariane Space, Stratolaunch Systems, Orbital ATK, and the People’s Republic of China are all developing systems to compete with various aspects of technological prowess in the space race. One of these slumbering giants may yet rise to the forefront.

What did we learn from the New World Race in the 15thto 18thcenturies that may be applicable to the current competition? Are there ways in which the countries and companies of the world could collaborate to assist the entire human race? Where is there potential for conflict? Each of us has a part to play in the conversations that will occur in the years to come. May we seek peace and unity in the midst of grand achievements.

[1]Jude Anthony Cole, Raining On The Moon lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Friday, June 29, 2018

Grace and Effort

As I prepare a sermon for this Sunday on New Wine, I know I need to meditate upon this quote by Dallas Willard.

“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”
― Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship, 2006, HarperOne.

The tensions of grace, effort, and earning are real. We must come to grips with how the three interact and are distinct. This conversation is essential to our spiritual health. May Jesus be gracious toward us as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My Next Thirty Years

I think I'll take a moment to celebrate my age
The ending of an era and the turning of a page
Now it's time to focus in on where I go from here
Lord have mercy on my next thirty years…[1]

In a few days I will turn 58. Perhaps it is the proximity to 60 that has got me thinking about what my big goals are for the next few years. Life goals are certainly different at 58 than they were at 18, 28, 38… There are some things that I now recognize will not be accomplished this side of heaven. I am hoping for better coordination in eternity so that I might finally learn to play the guitar. (I am also hoping that I don’t have to learn the harp – that is way too much tuning.)

I suppose this is how people get on to writing memoirs – thinking about one’s own life is a slippery slope that soon has the writer believing that others would be interested in reading about their childhood, first date, and, for that matter, goals of life. Many of us spend time considering how we will be viewed by posterity. The question is, will anyone be remembered by posterity? Our obsession with the celebrity of the moment has been accelerating for many years.

“Fame, notes Braudy, has become so immediate that it has lost its posterity. We have a growing sense of impermanence. ‘With the media you have the sense that our entire definition of true fame is visibility. We eat people up a lot faster’ he contends….
If our gods are no longer permanent, if our heroes are murderers, if our political leaders are exposed as compulsive adulterers or tax evaders, then we can no longer fill ourselves up on them in quite the same way. Instead, we drown in information, and use it to allay the anxiety of a godless and ever-shifting culture. Our endless lust for stories derives in part from the pure pleasure of it—but also to distract us from our deeper anxieties.”[2]

That quote is enough to scare me away from celebrity status, or at least temper my drive toward being known in the world. Perhaps the goals for my next thirty years should be less about how I will be viewed by others and more about helping others find their voice and bettering their world. Phil Vassar’s song goes on to suggest that for his next thirty years he will focus on his family. 

My next thirty years will be the best years of my life
Raise a little family and hang out with my wife
Spend precious moments with the ones that I hold dear
Make up for lost time here, in my next thirty years
In my next thirty years.[3]

This is certainly a noble goal for all, and it is the primary concern of one approaching 30. At 58 there are still many ways to help my family and encourage them in their growth; but now it is much more about modelling a lifestyle that reflects concern for the rest of the world. What if I spent the next thirty years of my life seeking freedom for those in prison, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for those who are oppressed? What effect might my small life have on the attitudes of my family, those around me, and the world in general? I will certainly continue to aim high, for as Longfellow has said, “If you would hit the mark, you must aim a little above it: Every arrow that flies feels the attraction of earth.”[4] But, at 58, I have a greater recognition of my small place in the universe. I will no longer seek celebrity status, but rather my place in the universe, the family of humanity, and the Body of Christ. Perhaps I can more readily accept my place among others. Emerson once said, “Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.”[5] This too is a goal worthy of one approaching 60. So, let us celebrate our age, wherever we find ourselves. May our good Lord give us the grace to see ourselves as others see us[6] and may others see us as those who care for others.

[1]Phil Vassar, My Next Thirty Years,” words and music by Phil Vassar “from the album Greatest Hits Also recorded by Tim McGraw.
[2]The Culture of Celebrity” in Psychology Today, By Jill Neimark, published May 1, 1995,
[3]Phil Vassar, My Next Thirty Years,” words and music by Phil Vassar “from the album Greatest Hits
[4]Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
[5]Ralph Waldo Emerson
[6]Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!
Robert Burns, “To A Louse,” 1786.