Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009

I have always enjoyed cheesy sitcoms when they have created an episode out of some of their greatest moments and blended them all together in a flash-back or dream mode. So, in honour of this idea, I thought I would look back on 2009 through the window of 80 blogs and choose some of my favourite high-lights. Truly, I have learned from the process and there is a part of me that hopes that others may also have learned. Going back to the first blog of 2009 I find that I am still wrestling with the same issues but I have learned a greater measure of trust. I still cannot see how God will provide for my needs, but with eyes of faith I trust that He will.

This has been a year where I learned of the moral failure of a friend and fellow church planter and prayed to God that He would protect me from my own weaknesses and tendencies toward sin. It was also a year when I retold stories of answered prayer; partly for the sake of others but largely to remember the grace of Jesus in my own life. I read about Columba (or Colum Cille) the first missionary to Scotland and marvelled at the life and prayers of this leader. I thought long and hard about the relationship between my faith and my love of science. And I found strength in God through His creation at times when God's message was being drowned out by the world. I also questioned why it is that God sometimes seems so distant. In all of this, I continue to recognize the great mystery of this life of following Jesus, studying the Bible, and living life in the 21st century.

As one blogs, it is hard to know who the audience might be. If you have read this blog even once or twice I thank you. Blogging is a public forum where the writer learns far more than the reader. As you read my blog, you are helping me to mature in my faith, my understanding of the world, and my craft as a writer. I look forward to 2010 and hope that you might read along with me in this new year and might even send me a comment or two. Thanks for reading along on this cheesy backward glance at 2009. May we all continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Beat

Past the derelict mattress
and the overgrown pavement
over the tracks
and through the hole in the fence
Past graffiti-bright buildings
and the junkyard alarm bell
and the screaming police cars
and it's all present tense
It's my beat
In my new town
Past the drunk woman reeling
with her bag of provisions
Down through the tunnel
with the stink-fuming bus
On to the bike path
where it's something like freedom
and the wind in my earring whispers
Trust what you must
It's my beat
In my new town
Ancient and always
The wheel's ever whirling
Today I'm riding
Tomorrow I walk
Step through forever
into this very moment
The heart is pumping
and the heart rocks
It's my beat
In my new town
Bruce Cockburn: For the most part it’s pretty literal. I moved to Montreal last March and it’s about me riding around Montreal on my bike. On another level it’s about being in the moment, appreciating the here and now. - from "Ready For "Anything" From Bruce Cockburn", Gavin, 11 December 2001.

Written about a town 5000 km away it still feels like "my beat" in Vancouver. I think I will go out and check my beat.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Earth Crammed With Heaven

“Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mystery

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed. –Albert Einstein
I love to read of scientists with a sense of wonder; those who recognize the mystery of our universe. They inspire me to be moved by mystery and by this amazing universe that is so far beyond our comprehension. Scientists, after all, are dedicated to learning as much as they possibly can about the universe. They make it their daily mission to know more today than they knew yesterday; and yet, there is always more to know. I appreciate scientists who recognize their limitations and acknowledge that there will always be mystery.

The same is true of theologians and those of us who take the Bible seriously. Each day we seek to know more than we did yesterday while recognizing that there is always more to know. We must recognize our limitations and acknowledge that there will always be mystery. May we continue to have a sense of wonder and awe of this universe and of our God.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Serious Education

In Comment Magazine published by Cardus, Greg Veltman has written a review of the movie A Serious Man. I will quote a portion of it here. You can also see the entire review in its context here.
Joel and Ethan Coen's latest film, A Serious Man, feels like a loose adaptation of the story of Job to the American Midwest in 1967. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a university physics professor, married with two children, and up for tenure. Larry has lived the life expected of him by society; he has not deviated from the script. Unfortunately, his sickly and bungling brother has taken up residence on the couch; his wife is seeking a divorce so she can move in with Sy Ableman (a much more exciting family friend); and a disgruntled foreign student is threatening his chances for tenure. And that is just the beginning.

Larry's life is going downhill fast. What is a good Jewish man to do? He seeks the advice of three local rabbis. But wisdom cannot simply be gained by consulting the experts. . . . Larry is seeking meaning beyond merely passing the test and memorizing the rules. Larry's quest illuminates the need for education to be an active engagement with the world, not merely a passive acceptance of the status quo. Throughout the film, Larry insists that he hasn't done anything to deserve his suffering. The three rabbis' advice turns out to be too ambiguous and cryptic, and so Larry remains in a fog of confusion about why he is suffering.

The Coen brothers have a rare gift for making films that are serious enough to be tragic, yet absurd enough to be comedic. And while at times you want to laugh at Larry's existential crisis and the cliché and aphoristic words of advice offered to him by the rabbis, the film also has a tragic side. Larry has lost his ability to learn. He is educated, but has become an unreflective and uncritical man. He is unable to see that the life he has been chasing is an illusion, and now it may be too late to change course. While the film is wise not to attempt to offer a trite answer to the meaning of suffering, it seems to suggest that it is our response to suffering that matters most of all. The film illustrates that true education is our ability to think about meaning and critically question the way we have shaped society. To become a mensch (a human being or a serious man), Larry would have to see himself as a person with decisions to make, rather than simply going through the motions of life as others have selfishly recommended.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Humility

I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone. - Francis of Assisi

Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self. - Francis of Assisi

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Contextual and Missional

"Church must be contextual and missional! Some church plants are in danger of disappearing into the culture. We must listen to the culture and listen to God. What are the signs that God is at work?" - Stuart Murray at Renov8 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Houston, We've Had A Problem

In an article by Rich Schlentz entitled “Engage ‘Em or Lose ‘Em—It’s That Simple,” the author speaks of corporate America.
April 14, 1970. Apollo 13 was two days into its mission when an explosion caused the spacecraft to lose oxygen and electrical power. At that point, John L. Swigert, the command module pilot, uttered the now famous quote, “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” Although the crew on that Apollo 13 flight were some of the most highly trained astronauts in the world, it didn’t take much skill or education to recognize the problem at hand. Thanks to a loud explosion, their dire straights were simple to recognize.

So it is today within corporate America. There has been a large “explosion.” Only this time it has gone virtually unnoticed! When it became clear to the Apollo 13 crew that there was a serious threat to their lives, they sprang into action. They quickly responded by working collaboratively and with purpose to achieve a clear objective: make it home alive! The same cannot be said for a large portion of American companies who have decided to ignore the explosion of employee disengagement. There is no response, no springing to action. Rather there is the status quo of employees remaining isolated in corporate silos, receiving emails from their supervisor’s mandating that they do more, better, faster, with less. How can it be that in the middle of national crisis, it’s so difficult to recognize our own dire straights?*


I would like to extend this analogy. Not only has corporate America “had a problem,” but American and Canadian culture in general has a problem and the Canadian church in specific has a problem. We are sitting in the midst of it, we have heard the explosive loss of oxygen and energy in the church but it has not rallied our churches to action. The average person in the church sits disengaged; unwilling or unable to respond to the dire straits of our situation. We keep waiting for things to "get back to normal." When "the trouble with normal is it always gets worse."^

As Darrell Guder has said.
This is a time for a dramatically new vision. The current predicament of churches in North America requires more than a mere tinkering with long-assumed notions about the identity and mission of the church. Instead, as many knowledgeable observers have noted, there is a need for reinventing or rediscovering the church in this new kind of world.#
Let us pray that God will build His church and that the gates of hell shall not stand against it.


*Copyright © 2010 Christian Coaching. All rights reserved. http://www.christiancoachingmag.com

^The Trouble With Normal, 1983, words and music by Bruce Cockburn. Published by Golden Mountain Corp. (BMI)

#Darrell E. Guder, editor, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Beetles and Churches

Stuart Murray spoke at the Renov8 Congress in Calgary. One of the interesting things he said was this.
If we serve a God who loves beetles enough to create 350,000 different kinds, can't we have a few more types of churches? Stuart Murray, Director of Urban Expression, UK: http://www.urbanexpression.org.uk

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Inuksuk


The inuksuk (also spelled inukshuk and plural inuksuit) is one of the symbols of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. In the Canadian north inuksuit have been used for many purposes. They are used to show directions to travellers, to warn of impending danger, to mark a place of respect, to mark a cache of food, or to look like a person and help in the hunting of caribou. They are a quiet message given to those on a journey.

We are all on a spiritual journey; and like the Inuit of the north, this journey is through a harsh land. We need an inuksuk along the way to guide us in this spiritually barren place.

The billboard message of our culture today is shouted to us from every store, every television commercial, and every news story. The predominent message says, "There is no God; there is no meaning to this world; the best that you can do is simply enjoy life." But might there be another message spoken softly in the inuksuit of life? If we listen carefully we might hear God's quiet whispers from the sign-posts along the road, "I Am; I am not silent. The universe is not meaningless. I have a plan for you."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Postcard from a Friend

My friend and pastor Rick Scruggs wrote a great blog post a few weeks ago. I thought I would share it with you here.
Not all learning comes from books. I’ve been learning some things from my granddaughters. As a parent I soon came to realize that God teaches up plenty from our kids and as a husband it didn’t take me too long to realize that God had plenty to teach me through my wife and the journey of marriage. But grandkids have caught me a bit off guard. I guess I presumed that because we had raised our own children and arrived at the point where they had left the nest and were soaring well on their own that our days of learning much from children was over. But then came Kaiya and more recently Rylee and a whole new era of learning has commenced!

The learning I’m referring to isn’t about new toys or the most recent kid’s TV programs or how to employ an improved diapering system. It isn’t even about mastering the technology of “skype” so we can see them while we talk with them. No…the real learning, the important learning is about how they affect our hearts.

During these “sabbatical days” I’ve had more time to spend with them which means of course that I have gotten more attached to them. In the days leading up to their move to Vancouver they lived with us for a week and as a result saying “goodbye” became that much harder. The house is now so much quieter…the toys are never underfoot and the tupperware cupboard stays neat and organized behind the door instead of all over the floor…I can actually get things done without interruption…when I leave to go somewhere no one cries because they can’t come with me and I can actually read the paper instead of The Barnyard Dance when I sit down. But…there are no squeals of joy…no cries of “Bampa”…no lifted arms…no one crawling into bed with us in the morning or peeking out from around the corner while playing a game of “boo”.

So as I sit in my quiet and well ordered room and write this blog I’m reminded of a few things that this “refresher course” is teaching me. I’m reminded of how important children were to Jesus and of his warning that unless we become like these little ones…these vulnerable, dependant, exuberant kids…we cannot get into his Father’s Kingdom. How is that when we are so smart, so savvy, so well experienced, so cosmopolitan? I’m reminded of how they love to be held and cuddled and played with and how much we grandparents love those moments and I think about how much God longs to take our hand during a walk, have us sit on his lap while he reads us some story that is far below his IQ level. That closeness that develops between grandparent and grandchild is a reflection of the closeness that God desires with us! And the joy at watching them learn to walk and talk and master all kinds of new skills…I’m sure that God has those same moments of joy as he watches you and I make progress in our efforts to become just like him.

More painful insights came when Kelly and Sarrah moved to Vancouver a couple weeks ago. And while they moved for good reasons, to work with a new church plant there, the geographical distance reminds me of another painful reality. What must it be like for God when his kids move away from him? How does he feel when the ones he has loved, the ones who have professed their love and commitment to him choose to put distance between themselves and him? Perhaps we would like to believe that God is somehow devoid of such trivial emotions but if he indeed created us in his own image I think he must feel some of the pain that such separation inevitably brings…a similar sadness and longing to that which we have felt these last few days since our granddaughters moved away.

These “grandkid lessons” have also taught me more about empathy. I resonate with those grandparents who have experienced these exact same feelings. I hurt more deeply for parents who have lost custody of their children or even more dramatically those who have lost a child or children to death in some manner. Compared to these “tearings” my lessons have been slight and temporary but non-the-less my empathy has been sharpened.

So we look forward to a few more trips to Vancouver and becoming much more proficient at skyping and God willing, perhaps even a few more grandchildren in the years ahead! And I’ll try to remember that God is always willing to teach me new lessons, even in the midst of disappointment and painful separations.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

If I Were You

(Wayne Watson, © 1995 Material Music/Word ASCAP)

If I were You . . . if I ran this place
There wouldn’t be no mercy
There wouldn’t be no grace
And people that wander off and go astray
I’d make real sure that they would pay
Yeh, that’s what I’d do
If I were You

And if I were You . . . if I ran this town
The righteous would be sitting pretty
And the rotten would come tumbling down
They’d beg and they’d wrangle for a second chance
I’d say, "Sorry boys, but I just can’t"
Yeh, that’s what I’d do
If I were you

But You know me, I’m just a man
Of unclean lips and unclean hands
Some of the thoughts I have
Make me want to run and hide
I don’t know much but I’ve observed
You’ve never treated me like I deserved
Your loving arms are always open wide

If I were You . . . a catastrophe
What in the world kind of world would this world be
I guess I’ll take my place
Wrapped in amazing grace
Let You be You
That’s what I’ll do

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Seals and A Serious Man

I went to see the Coen brothers' latest movie last Saturday night. It is called A Serious Man and is a dark comedy about how we understand our existence and the meaning of life. As the directors are Jewish they have drawn heavily from their understanding of Jewish faith, customs, and the nominal Jewish culture of the 1960s. It has a message like many Hollywood movies which can be summed up in the words of a Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane song played incessantly throughout the movie: "When the truth is found to be lies and all the joy within you dies, don't you want somebody to love?" The main character gets hit by Job-like catastrophes, has a King David moment on the roof of his house, and finds himself questioning all he has ever believed. The Coens seem to insist upon an absence of meaning in the universe and that the only answers lie in having a good hedonistic time with sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll.

Now I am not a film critic or a philosopher, but as I walked home I found myself considering the message of this movie. If God is unknowable and the universe is meaningless then we truly are in a difficult predicament. I found myself talking to God and seeking to take every thought captive to the faith I profess. It occurred to me that the Coen brothers start at the presupposition that there is no God who communicates with us. I start from a place where I believe there is a God who communicates and so as I walked I prayed.

As I walked along the seawall of False Creek a seal popped its head out of the water and began swimming at the pace of my walk. A second seal raised its head and swam beside it. The two swam along beside me for a while before diving below the surface and disappearing. I commented to God that it seemed like He had given me a sign to reassure me but that it was so brief that it would be hard to know. As I continued to walk, the two seals appeared and kept pace with me again before diving and disappearing below the surface. I said to God, "If I were a man like Gideon I might ask for a third time." As if on cue, the two seals appeared beside me a third time, swam beside me for a few more meters, swam out into the middle of the bay, disappeared below the waves, and did not return.

I shared this story with a few trusted friends in my faith community. One friend said, "It made me chuckle, because it's not some miraculous display or even a small voice in your head, just this cute little show God put on for you to make you smile and give you a bit of reassurance."

Now skeptics will say that was all a coincidence and I cannot say it wasn't. There was no one around to witness this and even if there was what would that prove? Yet, I walked away from that moment amused and reassured. I felt that the Coen brothers were missing something in their understanding of life. Next time, I'm going to ask God to make the seals do tricks! :>)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Imagination

. . . we agree with Walter Brueggemann’s contention that one of the greatest dangers in our time is the “monopoly of our imagination.” Bowing before an idol, Brueggemann argues, is fundamentally a matter of “yielding the imagination” so that the world is experienced and interpreted in terms established by the idol. Consequently, “the key pathology of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of our imagination so that we are too numbed, satiated, and co-opted to do serious imaginative work.”*
What might be possible if we cultivated imagination? I don't mean the kind of imagination that dreams up the next reality TV show. I am not talking about imaginative ways to do what everyone else is doing. Imagination ought to lead to one-of-a-kind insights and creative new ways of thinking. Set aside some time to do some serious imaginative work.

*Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2004), 141.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Forgiving The Church

Henry Nouwen on forgiving the church:
When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, "I love Jesus, but I hate the Church," we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness. It is important to think about the Church not as "over there" but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.*
*Henry Nouwen, www.henrinouwen.org

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mud Pies

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.*
*C.S. Lewis – The Weight of Glory, 1949.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The God Who Woos

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis spoke of why it is that God does not make it clearer that He exists and is involved with our lives.
You must have often wondered why [God] does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.*
I have often thought of this quote when I consider the nature of miracles and prayer. Can we ever say that something was truly a miracle? And by miracle in this context I mean a "perceptible interruption of the laws of nature."#

Many times we are left wondering. We pray for pain to go away and it does but would the pain have gone away even if we had not prayed. We ask God to do something about a stripper bar that is a particular blight on a community and an offence to women and it suddenly closes down. Was it just a coincidence? We pray about a mass seen on a CT scan and the next imaging with MRI shows no evidence of the mass. The doctor asserts that the first imaging must have been wrong. Or was it? We pray for a terminal disease to progress slowly and it does. Is it the medicine or is it a miracle? We have ample evidence that God sometimes works behind the scenes in ways not apparent to the average observer. Take a look again at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Jesus turns water to wine and yet the chief steward of the banquet is not aware that a miracle has occurred.

I often think that miracles could be explained away by coincidence, delusion, or fakery. Yet, what if God does His miracles such that He does not over-ride our human will? Lewis says that God's felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated manner would indeed over-ride our will and cause us to have no other response but to bow before the One who had limitless power over our lives. Instead, God leaves the results ambiguous. He woos us with the possibility that He might be out there working behind the scenes to hear and answer our prayers.

*Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc, 1980, p. 38, 39.
#http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fifteen Books I Really Like

1. Til We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis
2. Perelandra – C.S. Lewis
3. The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis
4. Night - Elie Wiesel
5. Going to Church in the First Century – Robert Banks
6. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
7. Teaching a Stone to Talk – Annie Dillard
8. The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
9. Highlander’s Last Song – George MacDonald
10. Phantastes – George MacDonald
11. Lilith – George MacDonald
12. The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell
13. Children of God - Mary Doria Russell
14. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
15. Flatland – Edwin A. Abbott
16. Girlfriend in a Coma – Douglas Coupland
17. The Celtic Way of Evangelism – George G. Hunter III
18. Exiles – Michael Frost
19. Forgotten Ways – Alan Hirsch
20. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Okay, twenty.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Starlings

Written By Randy Stonehill
© 1989 Stonehillian Music/Word Music (a div. of Word, Inc.)/ASCAP

Riding with my family in the '58 Buick
I can still recall
How we'd drive through the valley
To my Grandmother's house
Every summer vacation
When I was small
And I'd gaze out the window
At the farms and the orchards
Counting the telephone poles passing by
And the sound of our motor
Would frighten the starlings
And they'd rise from the fields to fly

My mother would grumble
"Those birds are a curse
They're a thorn in the farmers" side
But I couldn't help feeling sad and inspired
By their desperate ballet in the sky

Say a prayer for the starlings
A hot, dry wind beats their ragged wings
Have a thought for the starlings
No one ever listens to the songs they sing
Say a prayer for the starlings
There's no welcome for them anywhere
Leave some crumbs for the starlings
They say that winter will be cold this year

She was sitting on a curb by the Seven Eleven®
She asked if I had some spare change
Her skin wore that leathered and windburned look
And the light in her blue eyes was wild and strange
I sat down beside her and asked her her name
She said, "pick one you like, I need something to eat"
And her life made me think
Of the dead leaves in Autumn
Drifting like ghosts down the street

Is the life that we celebrate only a dream
A lie that we serve like a god made of stone
And our hearts are the hunter
Birds with no nesting place
Weary and aching for home

Say a prayer for the starlings
A hot, dry wind beats their ragged wings
Have a thought for the starlings
No one ever listens to the songs they sing
Say a prayer for the starlings
There's no welcome for them anywhere
Leave some crumbs for the starlings
They say that winter will be cold this year
There seem to be a lot of "starlings" in my neighbourhood. They say that winter will be cold this year.

Friday, September 25, 2009

String Theory

In the early years of the 20th century, the atom - long believed to be the smallest building-block of matter - was proven to consist of even smaller components called protons, neutrons, and electrons, which are known as subatomic particles. Beginning in the 1960s, other subatomic particles were discovered. In the 1980s, it was discovered that protons and neutrons (and other hadrons) are themselves made up of smaller particles called quarks. Quantum theory is the set of rules that describes the interactions of these particles.

In the 1980s, a new mathematical model of theoretical physics called string theory emerged. It showed how all the particles, and all of the forms of energy in the universe, could be constructed by hypothetical one-dimensional "strings," infinitely small building-blocks that have only the dimension of length, but not height or width. Further, string theory suggested that the universe is made up of multiple dimensions. We are familiar with height, width, and length as three dimensional space, and time gives a total of four observable dimensions. However, string theories supported the possibility of ten [now eleven] dimensions--the remaining 6 [now 7] of which we can't detect directly. These "strings" vibrate in multiple dimensions, and depending on how they vibrate, they might be seen in 3-dimensional space as matter, light, or gravity. It is the vibration of the string which determines whether it appears to be matter or energy, and every form of matter or energy is the result of the vibration of strings.*
I am continually awestruck at the complexity of the visible, detectable, knowable, universe. And yet, what is detectable and observable from a physicist's perspective is only 4/11ths or 36% of the now known universe. I am humbled by a Creator God who has made a creation that is beyond our comprehension. As scientists unravel mysteries there continue to be greater mysteries to unravel. I like the approach of continually digging deeper into these mysterious subjects while humbly recognizing that we will never achieve complete knowledge. For now, "we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror"
(1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT).

*Wikipedia: Introduction to M-theory

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wedding At Cana

In the past Jesus' first miracle at the wedding in Cana has puzzled me and I have blogged about it here before. Earlier this week I was re-reading sections of Michael Frost's excellent book Exiles and was reminded that Frost asked some of the same questions about this event. He also goes on to make a great comparison to the Communion table.
The table at Cana is an affront to us at many levels. Simply the presence of alcohol disturbs many Christians, but at another level the miracle is a disconcerting one. We later see Jesus heal incurable diseases, cast out legions of demons, and alter natural elements-feeding thousands from a few small portions, calming a raging storm at sea-with authority and power. His decision to dramatically and conspicuously raise Lazarus from the dead right under the noses of his detractors was the final straw for those who saw him as a religious and political threat to Israel. These miracles all seem necessary and important. But to inaugurate his public ministry with a party trick in Galilee does seem frivolous, even indulgent. But that's only to us Westerners, who have never been embedded in Jesus' culture. The table at Cana reminds us that Jesus is as much interested in our social embarrassment as our infected bodies or our empty stomachs. The miracle is a perfect one to begin with, really. It shatters the age-old partition between the sacred and the profane. It sacralizes the everyday wonder of being part of a community that celebrates and eats and drinks together. It includes hardworking, nonreligious "sinners" in the circle of God's care and protection. Is it any wonder that the one accused of being a glutton and a drunkard should give his followers something remarkable to do to celebrate his ongoing presence with them even after his death and resurrection? He tells them to eat and drink in remembrance. Now that's cheeky.

The Christian communion table, then, is not a holy, untouchable artifice, but rather a feasting place, a place to enjoy the presence of the one who eats with us. Today, however, we have turned it into something like the jars used for ceremonial purification rites that Jesus found in Cana. The communion table now represents the separation between the holy and the unholy rather than a place where everyone can share in the bounty offered by the falsely accused drunkard and glutton. Just as Jesus filled those jars with rich, full-blooded red wine, likewise he dares to fill the communion table with a satisfying, nourishing, luscious feast of love and hospitality.*
May the gatherings of our faith communities around the communion table of our Lord reflect the holy abundance found in Jesus. May the extravagance of the feast be seen as we invite others to share along side us and eat in the presence of Jesus.

*Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 45.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Order and Chaos

ALAN SANDAGE, 1926- (Cosmologist who studied the expansion of the universe.)
I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God, to me, is the explanation of the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing.
—J. N. Willford, “Sizing up the Cosmos: An Astronomer’s Quest,” New York Times, March 12, 1991.*
I may be in a minority but I love to explore and discuss the big questions of life. I am not content to go about my life eating and sleeping, being entertained and being bored, making money and spending money without considering why I am here, the significance of life, and the nature of the universe. Science and faith are simply two ways of looking at the world. I have never found them to be in conflict and find each supports the other.

*http://67.199.69.61/origins/downloads/Origins_chap02_art01_scientist.pdf

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Food and Cheer and Song

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." J. R. R. Tolkien, English novelist.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

People of God

Shamon Haretz: Merciful God, we commit our friends - Ben Zion and Krensky - to You. We have no more prayers, no more tears; we have run out of blood. Choose another people. We have paid for each of Your commandments; we have covered every stone and field with ashes. Sanctify another land. Choose another people. Teach them the deeds and the prophesies. Grant us but one more blessing: take back the gift of our holiness. Amen. – Jewish teacher presiding over a funeral for two men killed by Nazi patrols. From the movie "Defiance," 2008, Director: Edward Zwick.
God, I confess that, like this teacher, I want the blessings without the pain. I want to be part of the people of God without the sacrifice. How could it be otherwise? Yet, I pray that I might always accept every gift from your hand and walk on as your child.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Prayer

The Rule of Benedict has this to say about prayer.
When we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station, we do not presume to do so except with humility and reverence. How much the more, then, are complete humility and pure devotion necessary in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe! And let us be assured that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matt 6:7), but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction. Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure, unless it happens to be prolonged by an inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, let prayer be very short, and when the Superior gives the signal let all rise together.*
These are helpful words. I too easily forget God's holiness and power when I address Him. I too easily babble on with many words. I will seek this day to make my prayers short and pure.

He's more than the laughter or the stars in the heavens
as close a heartbeat or a song on our lips
someday we'll trust Him and learn how to see Him
someday He'll call us and we will come running
and fall in his arms and the tears will fall down and we'll pray

i want to fall in love with You

it seems too easy to call You "Savior"
not close enough to call You "God"
so as i sit and think of words i can mention
to show my devotion

i want to fall in love with You#

*http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbefjo3.html#20

#Love Song for a Savior; Jars of Clay, Brentwood Music, Inc.; Written By: Dan Haseltine, Matt Bronleewe, Charlie Lowell and Stephen Mason.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stop What?


It is time for a little Friday photo fun. This is a shot I took along the seawall in Vancouver. The obvious question is "What?"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Perelandra

"And you had nothing to say about it and yet made the nothing up into words."
—The Lady, to Ransom, in Perelandra by C.S. Lewis.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Connecting to the Material World

Ian Barns notes that our technologies are not spiritually neutral tools. Rather,
as we use them (either for good or for ill) we are drawn more deeply into a particular way of being in the world which shapes the kinds of people we are, the sorts of relationships we have, and also the way we conceive of and experience God.*

As we are drawn into a world of technological devices which offer us greater power, mobility, security, and convenience and their associated ‘mentality’ of instrumentalism, we become more and more disconnected from the ‘eloquence’ of the material world around us. Eloquent ‘things’ become disposable commodities. The example [Borgmann] gives is that of the hearth being replaced by the gas heater. A gas heater ‘disburdens’ us from the labour of collecting the wood, etc. and disconnects us from those practises through which we engage with the reality of nature, place and community.#

The consumerism of our world constantly works against the eloquence of the material world. Walking, bicycling, and public transit bring us closer to nature and relationships than driving by car. Walking to the market, buying fresh, locally grown produce, cooking it in our own kitchen, eating off of real dishes and cutlery, and washing them up in the sink connects us to the land, nature, and community in ways that a quick burger at the local fast food place never could do. I have many possibilities before me. Some of the choices take sacrifice. What will I choose?

*Ian Barns, “Living Christianly in a Technological World,” research paper (photocopy), p. 2, Photocopy Collections, INDS 582, Connecting and Relating, David Lyon, Regent College Library, Regent College, Vancouver.
#Ibid, p. 11.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Sparrow

Mary Doriah Russell is a Jewish author who has written The Sparrow and Children of God. The two books are very enjoyable reading that I would classify as philosophical science fiction. The stories are set in the future and deal with first contact between humans and intelligent beings from another planet but the main themes have to do with faith and world-views. They ask questions about what happens when two different cultures meet for the first time; which culture prevails; and does the other culture get subjugated. In the reader's guide to The Sparrow she says something interesting about "religion."
Writing The Sparrow allowed me to look at the place of religion in the lives of many people and to weigh the risks and the beauties of religious belief from the comfort of my own home. . . . The beauty of religion is the way in which it enriches your understanding of what your senses tell you. . . . The risks have to do with believing that God micromanages the world, and with seeing what may be simply coincidences as significant and indicative of divine providence. It’s very easy then to go out on a limb spiritually, expect more from God than you have a right to expect, and set yourself up for bitter disappointment in his silence and lack of action.*
Russell has indeed hit upon an important tension with which we must struggle. How much does God intervene in the day-to-day lives of people? How much does His divine providence affect an individual's life? I would agree that we dare not "expect more from God than [we] have a right to expect." But how much can we expect from God? In the passage we studied at our house-church gathering Sunday night, "Jesus said to the disciples, 'Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, 'May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and it will happen'" (Mark 11:22-23 NLT). That passage assumes a good and divine reason for the mountain to be moved into the sea. Jesus was not suggesting that God will remodel His creation simply because a mountain is blocking our view. But it does suggest that the bounds of what we can expect from God in situations that serve His divine providence are much more than we might first expect. As I struggle with this tension and seek to be realistic in what I see as miracles in our world, I choose to live with high expectancy of what God can and will do through the prayers of his people.

*Mary Doriah Russell, The Sparrow. (New York, Fawcett Books, 1996), 412 (Reader’s Guide).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Science and Evolution

Having a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology and a Bachelor of Religious Education, I am always interested in the relationship between science and faith. Thus I found these words by Mark Noll interesting and worth our consideration.
Some evangelical Christians have trouble reconciling evolution and a traditional belief in God as creator and sustainer of the world, but I do not. Within the evangelical tribe, I belong to the Calvinist wing, where a long history exists of accepting that God speaks to humans through "two books" (Scripture and nature), and since there is but one author of the two books, there is in principle no real conflict possible between what humans learn from solidly grounded science and solidly grounded study of the Bible. Of course, if "evolution" is taken to mean a grand philosophical Explanation of Everything based upon Pure Chance, then I don't believe it at all. But as a scientific proposal for how species develop through natural selection, I say let the scientists who know what they are doing use their expertise and whatever theories help to find out as much as they can. On the Bible side, I do not think it is necessary to read everything in early Genesis as if it were written by a fact-checker at the New York Times. But as a persuasive basis for believing 1) that God made the original world stuff, 2) that he providentially sustains all natural processes, and 3) that he used a special act of creation (perhaps out of nothing, perhaps from apelike ancestors) to make humans in his own image, the Bible is not threatened by responsible scientific investigations.
As a historian I am impressed by words of 19th-century conservative Presbyterian, Benjamin B. Warfield: "if we condition the theory [of evolution] by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force ... we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense." These words still hold true today.*
Other than his classification of himself as a Calvinist, I can agree with everything else in this quote. It is encouraging to find others who express a strong faith in Jesus and also see the value of scientific investigation.

*http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/religion/faith/statement_02.html; Mark Noll is professor of Christian thought in the History Department at Wheaton College, Illinois. He is the author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1995) and of A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (1994).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reflections on a Triathlon

Last Sunday morning I participated in the Lake Chaparral Triathlon in Calgary, AB. A friend named Kent and I were a team in this relay style event (Team K2). I swam the 1.5 km swim portion and then jumped on a bike and rode the 40 km cycling section before passing my timing chip to Kent who finished up with a 10 km run. We finished in 2 hours, 53 minutes which achieved our goal of completing it in less than 3 hours. Simon Whitfield, Canada's best tri-athlete, won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics doing these same distances in 1 hour, 49 minutes. But who's comparing?
This event was a warm-up for me. On September 7 I plan to do the Vancouver Triathlon as a solo competitor and I think I can still finish in under 3 hours. We will see.
I do not compete in triathlons to beat other people and win a prize but I do compete. I compete against myself. I compete against my previous time, and I compete against my stubborn lazy will.
Physical fitness takes serious discipline. When I started training I did not have the ability to propel myself 51.5 km by swimming, biking, and running. Running 3.5 km made my side ache and my lungs burn. But 5 or 6 days a week I got up out of bed in enough time to do just a little bit more than I had the day before. Muscles began to grow and get stronger. Soon I was able to run 5 km without too much pain and then 10 km.
I am competing against my stubborn lazy will in other ways as well. I seek to have mental, emotional and spiritual discipline in my life. These also require serious training. I wasn't born with all the knowledge of the world. I don't always have the right emotional temperament. I can't start as a spiritual giant. I will not achieve Olympic status in any of these. But I can get up and do just a little bit more than I did the day before. I can compete against myself.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dreams and Empire

Lasn likens life in what he calls America™ to life in a cult in which "we have been recruited into roles and behavior patterns we did not consciously choose.” Does the child who sits in front of a television set for three to four hours a day, shops at the mall with her parents, goes to school and recites the Pledge of Allegiance, plays computer games, listens to her president encouraging everyone to go out shopping in order to defeat terrorism, wears clothes from the Gap, and plays with the toys created out of the imagination of Disney and Hollywood, ever actually choose the American way of life? Did she go through a ritual of initiation beyond getting her first Barbie? Was there a moment of conversion in her life when the American dream became her dream? No. She imbibed this mono culture consumerist dream in the fast food she ate, the polluted air she breathed and the visual culture she inhabited. And so she was converted, made into a cult member, before she ever knew what was happening. Lasn points out that "dreams, by definition, are supposed to be unique and imaginative. Yet the bulk of the population is dreaming the same dream. It's a dream of wealth, power, fame, plenty of sex and exciting recreational opportunities." When a whole population dreams the same dream, empire is triumphant.*

*Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2004), 171.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Atheism

"A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." - C. S. Lewis.

"A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading." - C. S. Lewis.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Verdict in Spite of the Evidence

More brilliant insight from Alister McGrath.
There is no doubt that the debate over how we generate and justify our beliefs is immensely important . . . . In recent years, considerable attention has been paid to the way in which people sustain their belief systems. The evidence is disturbing, especially for those who continue to believe in the Enlightenment vision of complete objectivity of judgment in all things. Yet there is growing evidence that belief systems - whether theistic or atheistic - are neither generated nor sustained in this way.
Cognitive psychological research has demonstrated repeatedly that people "tend to seek out, recall, and interpret evidence in a manner that sustains beliefs." The interpretation of data is often deeply shaped by the beliefs of the researcher. These implicit beliefs are often so deeply held that they affect the way in which people process information and arrive at judgements. Both religious and anti-religious belief systems are often resistant to anything that threatens to undermine, challenge qualify, or disconfirm them. Deeply held assumptions often render these implicit theories "almost impervious to data."
Some Christian and Islamic writers seem unwilling to examine their deeply held beliefs, presumably because they are afraid that this kind of thing is bad news for faith. Well, maybe it is - for intellectually deficient and half-baked ideas. But it doesn't need to be like this. There are intellectually robust forms of faith - the kind of thing we find in writers such as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, and C. S. Lewis. They weren't afraid to think about their faith, and ask hard questions about its evidential basis, its internal consistency, or the adequacy of its theories.*

*Alister McGrath, Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007, p. 82, 83; with quotes from Richard E. Nisbett and Lee D. Ross, Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1980, p. 192, 169.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Science and Faith

I am again reading and writing on the interactions of science and faith. I have been reading Alister McGrath's book, Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. Maybe one day I will write a book about my own journey relative to science and faith. It is an important topic and one that has always been part of the human story.

We must continually reassess our faith in light of the science of the day. Augustine of Hippo (354 to 430) discussed this in his Commentary on Genesis more than fifteen hundred years ago.
In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it. We should not battle for our own interpretation but for the teaching of Holy Scripture. We should not wish to conform the meaning of Holy Scripture to our interpretation, but our interpretation to the meaning of Holy Scripture.
God created a world too marvelous for us to fully comprehend. It should not surprise us that His ways of doing this are beyond our comprehension. Many words have been spoken, written, and argued regarding creation, science, design, evolution, and faith. Perhaps we must again hear the words of an ancient theologian and "not rush headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Humour

We all need to have more laughter in our lives.

"When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him." - Thomas Szasz, "The Second Sin"

"The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans are suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you." - Rita Mae Brown.

"What can you say about a society that says that God is dead and Elvis is alive?" - Irv Kupcinet

"I have an existential map. It has 'You are here' written all over it." - Steven Wright, US comedian and actor (1955 - ).

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." - Mark Twain, US humorist, novelist, short story author, & wit (1835 - 1910).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Training a New Generation of Planters

On July 13-15, 2009 Church Planting Canada (http://www.churchplantingcanada.ca/) presented a Church Planter Summit for church planters in Alberta and British Columbia. A summit (sometimes called a boot-camp) is training for those who are in the process of planting a church or are about to plant a church. Ideally it fits in soon after a planter has been assessed and has a vision in mind for where they would like to plant a church.

Gord Fleming (Director of Church Planting for the BC Conference of Mennonite Brethren) and Keith Shields (Lead Minister of LifeHouse Christian Church) were the primary facilitators and presenters to 20 planters representing 11 plants in various stages of development in Calgary, Edmonton, Chilliwack, Surrey, Langley, Sechelt, and Vancouver. These planters were from Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Free, Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, Apostolic Churches of Pentecost, and Brethren fellowships.

Other presenters included Mark Anderson (Marineview Chapel), Jerry Conner (The Bridge Church), Cam Roxburgh (Southside Community Church, Forge Canada, Church Planting Canada), Bindu Sidhu (Lead Planter of The Life Centre in Abbotsford), Ray Woodard (National Advocate for Church Starting, Canadian National Baptist Convention) and John Caplin (John F Caplin Coaching and Consulting, Church Planting Canada).

This summit was designed to lead planters through a process whereby they walk away with a coachable strategy for planting their church. The planters came with their visions, their ideas, their models, the beginnings of core values and the summit helped them sharpen these into a coachable plan. Topics covered included “Counting the Cost,” “Core Values,” “Vision,” “Mission,” “Assembling a Prayer Team,” “Fund Raising,” “Transforming the Neighbourhood,” “Servant Leadership,” and “Guarding the Heart.” At the end, each planter made a presentation to the rest of the summit showing their strategy for planting a church in their target area.

God is raising up a new crop of labourers who are willing to plant churches and bring the Kingdom of God to our country. Many of these planters and potential planters will continue to educate themselves and prepare for planting churches. We too need to continually educate ourselves and pray that God might give us the abilities to reach this nation for Christ. This fall we have an opportunity to participate in a national event focussed solely on renovating our country with the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Plan now to take in Renov8, the national congress on church planting presented by Church Planting Canada. It will be held in Calgary on November 17-20, 2009 (http://www.thecongress.ca/). Pray to the Lord of the Harvest that we might see many new churches planted.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Immortality

"Be sure that it is not you that is mortal, but only your body. For that man whom your outward form reveals is not yourself; the spirit is the true self, not that physical figure which can be pointed out by your finger." Cicero Roman author, orator, & politician 106 BC - 43 BC.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Communitas

I recently came upon this blog post at "The Forgotten Ways Blog." You can read the whole post here: http://www.theforgottenways.org/blog/2008/12/07/the-bible-and-communitas/

The part that caught my attention was his further explanation of communitas and liminality, concepts he develops in the book The Forgotten Ways and also addresses in his blog. A short definition of communitas is "the belonging which develops while being on a difficult mission with a community of friends." A short definition of liminality is "working from the margins as opposed to working from within the power structures."
This claim that communitas and liminality are normative for God’s people recently stirred up a bit of a storm in a recent speaking tour. Some people in the audience responded with real vehemence when Michael Frost and I proposed this way of understanding of Christian community. This negative response forced a deep reflection on the validity of these ideas but after much searching I have to say that I have not fundamentally changed my mind. On the contrary, this clash in conceptions in relation to the purpose of the church has forced me to conclude that for many of our critics, Christian community has become little more than a quiet and reflective soul-space (as in Alt Worship circles) or a spiritual buzz (as in Charismatic circles) for people trying to recuperate from an overly busy, consumerist, lifestyle. But is this really what the church is meant to be on about? Is this our grand purpose, to be a sort of refuge for recovering work addicts and experience junkies? A sort of spiritual hospital? I believe that the reason for the strong response in our critics is that they actually did ‘get the message’ about missional church but didn’t like it because, in this case, it called them out of a religion of quiet moments in quiet places and into liminality and engagement.
Lord, help us to take on the difficult missions into which You call us knowing that You are our strength and salvation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Room for the Poor

Recently I had a great visit with Claudia Launhardt and her husband Nasser. They are doing some great work in the Downtown East Side (DTES) of Vancouver. In 2001 they purchased the Ivanhoe Hotel, a low income single room occupancy (SRO) building in the DTES. They are people of faith who have a great story to tell. It is evident that God is at work through them.
When the Launhardts bought the 125-room hotel, it was receiving up to 600 police visits a month. They worked hard to redeem it from its infamous reputation as the 'devil's playground.' They renovated extensively, replacing the roof, the elevator, and the heater. With the help of TWU [Trinity Western University] students, they also painted and recarpeted to make the place more appealing for residents. "We want people to feel at home here and take pride in where they live," Launhardt says.

Soon, the new owners found residents were as eager as they were to eliminate crack dealers and violent criminals from the hotel roster. "People came to us and said, 'Don't rent a room to this guy, he's dealing drugs,'" Launhardt says. Slowly, with prayer and prudent management, the hotel was purged of its undesirable tenants.*
Today, the Ivanhoe requires no government subsidies and pays for itself as it cares for some of the most vulnerable of Vancouver's residents. It is great to see people of faith making a difference. We need more brave followers of Jesus who will help transform the lives of the people of the DTES.

*"Room at the inn for Vancouver's poor," by Louise Rousseau, CanadianChristianity.com, reprinted from Trinity Western magazine, http://www.canadianchristianity.com/cgi-bin/na.cgi?nationalupdates/031204room

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Benevolence

Today I am wrestling with what it means to be benevolent. Allow me to tell you of things I have seen. I have spent time in the Down Town East Side (DTES) of Vancouver. I have talked to people on the streets. I have seen the destructive power of addiction. I have seen how sick, addicted, mentally ill persons are exploited by pimps, drug dealers, gang members, and slum lords. I have seen "harm-reduction" that leads to safe-injection sites, attempts to decriminalize prostitution, soup kitchens, free hot-dogs on the streets, homeless shelters, and police services handing out free beauty supplies to exploited women.

I have seen many community service organizations and Christian ministries working in the DTES trying to make a difference. I have seen many people who have given their lives and much money, time and effort to making life better for people in the DTES. I have seen lobby groups that block the demolition of buildings to prevent the "hard to house" from being put out on the streets but allow the slum lords to continue to charge for rooms that are not fit for the mice that also live in the rooms. I have heard social agencies referred to as "poverty pimps" because the directors of these agencies earn a living as they serve the poor and perpetuate a system of government funding with little to show for it. I have seen many volunteers who are tired and calloused from years of serving with little hope of change and little appreciation from those they serve.

The positive stories of change and renewal of dignity are few. I must look for ways to bring the light of justice and God's Kingdom to these dark places. I must look for ways to truly do good to people without perpetuating injustices and without encouraging the bad choices that lead people to need benevolence.

In his novel, The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill speaks of the slave trade in Africa and those who tried to put an end to it by setting up a colony of former slaves in Sierra Leone. One of the characters has this to say about the efforts of well-intentioned Christian philanthropists.
"There is no profit in benevolence," Armstrong said. "None. The colony in Freetown is child's play, financed by the deep pockets of rich abolitionists who don't know a thing about Africa."
The DTES has certainly seen its share of people with deep pockets and no understanding of Vancouver. And yet, this does not negate the fact that lives have been saved and good has been done.

Deuteronomy 15:11 says, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Today, I am wrestling with how I can be "openhanded toward my brothers and toward the poor and needy in this land."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Poets and Truth

Sometimes we learn a lot from our detractors. Don Henley is an outspoken critic of those who call themselves Christian. In "Frail Grasp on the Big Picture" he and Glenn Frey lambast the "American way" and the "God is on our side" mentality that is so prevalent in both America and Canada. Has North American culture lost its way? Are we headed for a new "dark age?" Is there truth in the words of these prophets?

Frail Grasp on the Big Picture
Written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey; published by Pivet Songs/Red Cloud Music (BMI)
Well ain't it a shame 'bout our short little memory
We never seem to learn the lessons of history
We keep making the same mistakes - over and over and over and over again
And then we wonder why we're in the shape we're in

Good ol' boys down at the bar
Peanuts and politics
They think they know it all
They don't know much of nothin'
Even if one of 'em was to read a newspaper, cover to cover
That ain't what's going on
Journalism dead and gone

Frail grasp on the big picture
Light fading and the fog is getting thicker
Frail grasp on the big picture
Dark ages

And you, my love-drunk friend
All that red wine and candlelight
Soulful conversations that go on until the dawn
How many times can you tell your story
How many hangovers can you endure - just to get some snogging done
You're living in a hormone dream
You don't have the slightest notion what long-term love is all about
All your romantic liaisons don't deal with eternal questions like:
"Who left the cap off the freakin' toothpaste?" "Whose turn to take the garbage out?"

Frail grasp on the big picture
You keep on rubbing that, you're gonna get a blister
Frail grasp on the big picture
I've seen it all before

And we pray to our Lord, who we know is American
He reigns from on high
He speaks to us through middlemen
And He shepherds his flock
We sing out and we praise His name
He supports us in war
He presides over football games
And the right will prevail
All our troubles shall be resolved
We hold faith above all
Unless there's money or sex involved

Frail grasp on the big picture
Nobody's calling them for roughing up the kicker
It's a frail grasp on the big picture
Heaven help us

Frail grasp on the big picture
All waiting for that miracle elixir
Frail grasp on the big picture
I don't wonder anymore

Frail grasp on the big picture
You brought her here, so go ahead and kiss her
It's a frail grasp on the big picture

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Colum Cille

In honour of Saint Columba day (June 9):
O Lord, grant us that love which can never die, which will enkindle our lamps but not extinguish them, so that they may shine in us and bring light to others. Most dear Savior, enkindle our lamps that they may shine forever in your temple. May we receive unquenchable light from you so that our darkness will be illuminated and the darkness of the world will be made less. Amen. --Saint Columba

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Roof Tile Syndrome

Mark Buchanan, pastor of New Life Church in Duncan, BC, speaks of roof-tile syndrome.
Roof-tile Syndrome is when we are so caught up in the preaching of Jesus, we turn our backs to the needs of those still outside the building. We become barriers and not gateways. It's when we care more about keeping things intact than about restoring lives that are shattered. It's when we're more upset when stuff gets broken than excited when the broken are mended. It's when church gets reduced to the preaching of Jesus so that we fail to notice that we're seeing very little of the forgiveness and healing of Jesus. It is when we are so fearful about upsetting the religious folk (or homeowners) in our midst that we stop taking risks to get people to Jesus.
It's when my program, my office, my title, my privilege, my influence, my comfort takes precedence over others' needs.
It's when the church exists for itself; to hell with the rest of you.*
Are we willing to wreck the roof to bring the Kingdom of God to people? If this Jesus is the wild and untamed Lion of Judah who wants us to follow Him and bring others to Him, then our answer must be yes! Unfortunately, we sometimes let things get in the way of bringing justice and truth to people. We let our comfort or our leisure, or something else get in the way of helping people and bringing them to Jesus. I must ask myself, "What is the roof I am trying to protect?" "What is preventing me from providing for the needs of others?"

Today, I choose to wreck the roof.

*Mark Buchanan, “Wreck the Roof,”
http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/001/13.52.html

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Meditations on Clothing

Galatians 3:26-28 (NIV)
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

TWO COATS
(Traditional, Arranged By: Emory Gordy, Jr. and Patty Loveless)
Two coats were before me, the old and the new
I asked my sweet Master, what must I do
The first coat was ugly, so tattered and torn
The other a new coat, had never been worn

(Chorus)
I tell you the best thing I ever did do
I took off the old coat and put on the new
I tell you the best thing I ever did do
I took off the old coat and put on the new
[ Gospel Lyrics are found on www.songlyrics.com ]

The first man was earthly, and raised from the ground
We bore on his image, the whole world around
The next was my Savior from Heaven so fair
He gave me this new coat you now see me wear

Now this coat, it suits me, it keeps me so warm
It's good in the winter and it's good in the storm
My Savior has blessed me with a garment so rare
He gave me this new coat you now see me wear

(Chorus)

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (NIV)
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fish Symbols and Crosses

Is it time to stop using the "fish symbol" to identify our faith? In the first century church when Christians were being persecuted by Romans and other groups, the symbol was a secret message that allowed followers of Jesus to identify each other and mark locations where the church met. Presumably this was a very helpful symbol at the time. The Greek word for fish, "ICTHUS," was a simple acrostic reminding early Christians of the nature of this Jesus whom they followed: "Jesus, Christ, God's Son, Saviour." It could be very helpful to have a symbol that only the faithful recognized.

Today, that symbol is anything but secret. It is commonly recognized as something which followers of Christ use to identify themselves and make a statement. Numerous parodies of the symbol exist in popular culture. The darwinian fish with legs being the most recognizable. Christians sometimes even engage in "fish wars" by using symbols depicting the christian fish swallowing the darwinian fish.

Friday night Maureen and I saw the movie "The Soloist." For the most part, it is a great movie with beautiful cinematography, interesting foley, a great score, impressive acting and a wonderful story.

At one point in the movie we are introduced to a cello instructor who offers to give lessons to Nathaniel, a gifted player who lives on the streets of Los Angeles. It was at this point that I noticed the instructor had a fish symbol on his cello case and I wondered where the writers were taking us. The movie then goes on to portray the instructor as an insensitive, blundering, idiot who only wants to help Nathaniel as a project that will earn him Christian brownie points. The fish symbol here was code for simple-minded, fool who thinks the world's problems can be solved with prayer and pats on the back. The movie did show Christian ministries serving on the streets of LA and making a difference; but the viewer would have a hard time making the connection between the work of social justice and the Jesus of the Bible. The motivations of those serving were not made explicit.

So, what am I saying about symbols? I guess I am saying that those of us who follow Jesus need to be seen as those who are willing to live out our faith in sacrificial ways that show that we too are committed to the poor and are willing to come out of our clean homes and safe church buildings to sit down beside a street person and find out their story. Our symbols should show that we understand that following Jesus is costly. Perhaps we need to meditate less on the symbol of the fish and more on the symbol of the cross.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Some stories are worth telling again!

I know that God is good and that He is involved in my life. I also need constant reminders that He is good and that He is involved in my life. Spring of 2007 was one time where we saw God at work in answering the prayers of His people.

Around the middle of March I began having some pain in the right side of my head. It was consistent with something called trigeminal neuralgia. Basically a nerve gets inflamed for some reason and sends pain signals to the brain. This may be caused by a tumour pressing on a nerve, it may be caused by a virus, or some other less obvious cause. As my doctor investigated, a CT scan indicated a possible mass on the pons of my brain. No one wants to hear the words “possible mass” on any portion of the brain. Was this a cancerous lesion? Was this something that might grow? Could we be looking at the thing that would usher me out of this world? Many questions and fears went through our minds as we did our best to trust God with the future.

This brought us to a period of waiting for an MRI which would be a better form of imaging for structures inside of the head. During this period of waiting we asked many people to pray that God would take away the pain and take away anything that might be causing the pain. Many people did pray for healing. On about April 10th the pain began to subside and within four weeks the pain was completely gone, never to return again.

On Monday, May 7th I had an MRI. The next day, my doctor gave me the results. The MRI results were absolutely normal. There was no evidence of a mass of any sort. There was nothing abnormal in my brain.

Whatever the CT scan showed, it was no longer there. Had there been something there and God removed it? Was there an artefact on the CT results? We will never know for sure. However, if God chose to miraculously heal someone, this is likely what it would look like from a medical, scientific, perspective.

What we do know for sure is that God has told us “prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make them well. . . . and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results” (James 5:15 -16). He has not promised that He will heal in every circumstance, but today I will say, “Praise God, I'm healed!” (Luke 17:15).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Can Hell Burn Hot Enough?

Randy Stonehill is one of the great songwriters of our time. He is known for many of his humorous songs like "Lung Cancer," "Great Big Stupid World," and "Baby Hates Clowns." But allow these lyrics to soak into your mind. Sometimes I look at the darkness of our world and I ask myself, "Can Hell Burn Hot Enough?"
POSTCARDS FROM BANGKOK
HUB OF THE EASTERN WORLD
WHERE ALL THE TOURISTS COME
TO PARTY WITH THE PRETTY GIRLS
THEY DANCE LIKE SLEEPWALKERS
UNDER THE DISCO LIGHTS
UP ON THE AUCTION BLOCK
HATING ALL THE HUNGRY EYES

AND I'VE SEEN THE WOODEN SHACKS
ROW AFTER ENDLESS ROW
WHERE OPEN SEWAGE FLOWS
IN THE SHADOW OF THE FACTORY
I'VE SEEN THE CHILDREN'S FACES
HOPE BURNING IN THEIR EYES
TOO YOUNG TO REALIZE
THEY FACE A LIFE OF MISERY

Chorus
CAN HELL BURN HOT ENOUGH
TO PAY FOR ALL THIS SUFFERING
THE MURDER OF THE INNOCENT
CAN HELL BURN HOT ENOUGH
TO BALANCE OUT THESE SCALES
CAN HELL BURN HOT ENOUGH

I'VE SEEN THE CORPORATIONS
BUILT UPON HUMAN BLOOD
THE NAMELESS, FACELESS WORKERS
CRUSHED LIKE DIAMONDS IN THE MUD
EXPAND YOUR OPERATION
THE LABOR COMES DIRT CHEAP
NO ONE COMPLAINS WHEN THERE'S
A MILLION JOBLESS ON THE STREET

AND I'VE SEEN THE SICK AND BROKEN
TOO WEAK FOR STANDING UP
HOLD UP THEIR BEGGAR'S CUP
JUST HOPING FOR ENOUGH TO EAT
WHEN JUST AROUND THE CORNER
AT THE SHANGRI-LA HOTEL
THE WEALTHY TAKE THEIR LUNCH
AT POOLSIDE TO ESCAPE THE HEAT

Chorus
CAN HELL BURN HOT ENOUGH
TO PAY FOR ALL THIS SUFFERING
THE MURDER OF THE INNOCENT
CAN HELL BURN HOT ENOUGH
TO BALANCE OUT THESE SCALES
CAN HELL BURN HOT ENOUGH

Bridge
O GOD OF JUSTICE
MY GOD OF EQUITY
I KNOW YOUR HEART BREAKS
FOR THE SINS OF THIS WICKED WORLD
I KNOW THAT JUDGEMENT WILL BE SWIFT AND IRREVERSIBLE
TILL THEN YOUR TEARS RAIN
ON THE EVIL AND THE GOOD

I KNOW THAT GOD IS HOLY
I KNOW THAT STATE I'M IN
I KNOW THAT SIN IS SIN
AND IT'S NOT MEASURED BY DEGREE
HERE IN THE LAND OF DARKNESS
WE ALL ARE GUILTY MEN
I KNOW I'D STAND CONDEMNED
WITHOUT THE BLOOD OF JESUS

Chorus
CAN HELL BURN HOT ENOUGH
TO PAY FOR ALL THIS SUFFERING
THE MURDER OF THE INNOCENT
CAN HELL BURN HOT ENOUGH
TO BALANCE OUT THESE SCALES
CAN HELL BURN HOT ENOUGH

Written by Randy Stonehill
© 1990 Stonehillian Music/Word Music (a div. of Word, Inc.)/ASCAP

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teach Me to Be Generous

Prayer of St Ignatius
O Lord,
teach me to be generous,
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost
to fight and not to heed the wounds
to toil and not to seek for rest
to labour and not to seek reward
save that of knowing
I do Your most holy will.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Heal Me of My Disease

God, heal me of my disease. I want to surpass others. I want to be put on a pedestal higher than others. I want others to see me and give me praise. In my dreams of heaven, I see myself more highly honoured than others. This is a sickness.

God, allow me to be someone who cheers others on. Help me to be one who helps others to be successful. May I work to see others increase. Heal me of my disease for there is truly only One who is worthy of praise and honour and accolades.
Rev. 4:9-11
Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne, the one who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one who lives forever and ever. And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

"You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created everything,
and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Question Marks and Exclamation Points

We were sitting in our living room with some friends discussing Beluga whales at the Vancouver Aquarium and the fact that one of them was pregnant. Someone asked, “What is the gestation period for a Beluga?” Not having a marine biologist in the group, no one knew. However, a quick Google search gave us the answer. We live in a world that offers almost limitless information at our finger-tips. Yet, we have more questions than any other time in history.

I just watched a television debate on the question, “Does Satan Exist?”* Everyone in the debate claimed to believe in God. Only two of the panellists believed in Satan. It was a popular debate showing that people are interested in this and other such questions. We question the meaning of life and why we are on this planet. We can observe and quantify brain waves and neural chemical processes but we question consciousness, love, and altruism. Science can’t give adequate answers regarding why or how such things exist.

Maybe it is time we consult God rather than Google. God Himself is a mystery too big for us to fully comprehend. Yet He has partially revealed Himself to us and we now understand God and our world as if we were looking at them through a bad mirror. In his song, “Naïve,” Chris Rice says “I believe You hold an exclamation point for every question mark.” We may not have the answers, but the answers exist. God holds them in His hands.

By the way, for those who are still wondering, the gestation period for a Beluga whale is 14-15 months. I thought I would save you having to Google it yourself.

Naïve – Chris Rice; Past the Edges (1998).
How long until You defend Your name and set the record right
And how far will You allow the human race to run and hide
And how much can You tolerate our weaknesses
Before You step into our sky blue and say "That’s quite enough!"

Am I naive to want a remedy for every bitter heart
Can I believe You hold an exclamation point for every question mark
And can I leave the timing of this universe in bigger hands
And may I be so bold to ask You to please hurry?

I hear that a God who’s good would never let the evil run so long
But I say it’s because You’re good You’re giving us more time, yeah
‘Cause I believe that You love to show us mercy
But when will You step into our sky blue
And say "That’s quite enough, and your time is up!"

Am I naive to want a remedy for every bitter heart
Can I believe You hold an exclamation point for every question mark
And can I leave the timing of this universe in bigger hands
And may I be so bold to ask You to please hurry?

Am I naive...
Can I believe...
And can I leave...in bigger hands
And may I be so bold to ask You, to ask You, to ask You

How long?

*You can watch the debate here. Unfortunately, the debate is a Hollywood debate with little substance and does not help anyone come to any conclusions.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Freedom


A few weeks ago this picture caught my attention. It was part of a news article about Afghan women protesting a new law set to go into effect in Afghanistan. “One provision [of the law] makes it illegal for a woman to resist her husband’s sexual advances. A second provision requires a husband’s permission for a woman to work outside the home or go to school. And a third makes it illegal for a woman to refuse to “make herself up” or “dress up” if that is what her husband wants.”*

The irony of the photo is that while the women are protesting their treatment as property in Afghan law, they are also submitting to one of the rather arbitrary laws of the land which states that women must not show their wrists or ankles in public. Each fist raised in defiance contains a tiny finger which grips the sleeve of their garment to ensure that the wrist is not bared in public. These women have been deeply affected by a restrictive culture. It is hard to extract themselves from the chains of their culture. I pray that they will find true freedom.

Galatians 3:24-29 says,
Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came. So now, through faith in Christ, we are made right with God. [25] But now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. [26] So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. [27] And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him. [28] There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians—you are one in Christ Jesus. [29] And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and now all the promises God gave to him belong to you.

In this photo, one truly bold protestor releases the sleeve and allows her wrist to be seen.



*http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/world/asia/16afghan.html
NYTimes article.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Who We Are

Trouble Is
Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Stephen Mason, Matt Odmark, Aaron Sands - 2003 Bridge Building Music, Inc.

My wings don't sail me to the sky
On my own these wings won't fly
Jesus told me so
Still I'm not so sure that I know

Can't find no rest for my soul
Can't find no rest on my own
Jesus told me so
Still I'm not so sure that I know

Man, the trouble is
We don't know who we are instead
Man, the trouble is
We don't know who we are instead

I'll keep runnin' the other way
My heart ain't built to stay
My heart ain't built to stay
And the world just ain't that way

Man, the trouble is
We don't know who we are instead
Man, the trouble is
We don't know who we are instead
We don't know who we are instead

My heart ain't built to stay
My heart ain't built to stay
Jesus told me so

Praise God for poets. I know my limitations. I know I can't fly. On my own, I know I can't find rest for my soul. I keep going the other way. My heart is fickle. I know all of this. Who am I instead? That is what I need to ponder.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Trust

1 Samuel 13:7-14 Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and his men were trembling with fear. Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn't come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away. So he demanded, "Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!" And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself. Just as Saul was finishing with the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet and welcome him, but Samuel said, "What is this you have done?"
Saul replied, "I saw my men scattering from me, and you didn't arrive when you said you would, and the Philistines are at Micmash ready for battle. So I said, 'The Philistines are ready to march against us, and I haven't even asked for the Lord's help!' So I felt obliged to offer the burnt offering myself before you came."
"How foolish!" Samuel exclaimed. "You have disobeyed the command of the Lord your God. Had you obeyed, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your dynasty must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.
As I read this passage September 26th of 2008 I thought, “Why was Saul disciplined for this? It seems like such a reasonable thing to do. Samuel did not show up when he said he would and so Saul took things into his own hands.” But then I realized this passage is about trust. It did not matter that Saul’s army was fleeing. God could have saved all of Israel with Saul’s one sword. Saul was to be “a man after God’s own heart.” This meant he was to trust and keep on waiting for Samuel to show up.

I confess it is hard to live with the kind of trust God asked of Saul. At that point in our lives we had been waiting for the sale of our house in Calgary. We had already purchased the right place in Vancouver and already taken possession of that place. In one sense, it seemed like God wasn’t showing up on time. I wanted to take things into my own hands. That Friday morning it dawned on me that this experience was about trust. God could take care of us whether our house sold or didn’t sell. If God wanted us to plant missional communities in Vancouver He would make a way.

Later that morning I had the opportunity to pray with about eight new friends in a training session that I had been leading all week. I told them that over one hundred people were praying for the sale of our house. I didn’t want these 8 people to pray for the sale of our house. I wanted them to pray that God would allow us to do His Kingdom work in Vancouver and that I would be able to continue to wait upon God and trust Him whether our house sold or not. And they did pray this with me.

A few hours later, a family fell in love with our house, made an offer, and our house was conditionally sold by 10:00 pm Friday night. On that same day Maureen was offered a position with a company in Vancouver. The job for which she had interviewed had been made even better by some changes to the duties and salary. Maureen accepted the offer.

Today, as I sit in Vancouver very much in the midst of planting a new community of faith (www.LifeHouseCC.ca) I realize that it is once again about trust. Sometimes I find it hard to trust that God is going to provide all that we need to plant a network of simple churches in Vancouver. But I will keep on doing what the Lord has asked us to do and I will keep on trusting. He has shown time and time again that He can be trusted.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's Not About Me

On Sunday, I preached on 1 Corinthians 7 at West Coast Christian Church (http://www.westcoastchurch.info). It was a great chance for me to learn from this passage. I came upon this paragraph in a commentary.
The ideal of the Corinthian was the reckless development of the individual. The merchant who made his gain by all and every means, the man of pleasure surrendering himself to every lust, the athlete steeled to every bodily exercise and proud in his physical strength, are the true Corinthian types: in a word the man who recognized no superior and no law but his own desires.*

Corinth was known as:
• A major port city
• A wealthy city
• A sexually immoral city (prostitutes were welcomed and honoured at civic functions)
• A place of ruthless business dealings
• A place focussed on the development of the individual
• An athletic city – they hosted the Isthmian Games in both the year before and the year after the Olympic Games and their patron goddess was the goddess with “buns of steel” (she was known as Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks).
• A rebellious place – their first law was to pursue their own happiness; other laws were just good suggestions.

I thought how much the ancient Corinthians and modern Vancouverites had in common.
1 Corinthians 7:30-32 says,
Happiness or sadness or wealth should not keep anyone from doing God's work. Those in frequent contact with the things of the world should make good use of them without becoming attached to them, for this world and all it contains will pass away. In everything you do, I want you to be free from the concerns of this life.

God inspired these words and is reminding us even today that our first concerns must not be about ourselves, our wealth, whether we should or should not marry, or sadness or happiness. Our first concern must always be about doing God’s work. It’s not about me.

*R. St John Parry, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Cambridge University Press, 1926; The Cambridge Greek Testament). As quoted in Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Intervarsity Press, 1985), 19.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Path to Holiness

Let us strive and pray that the love of holiness may be created within our hearts; and then acts will follow, such as befit us and our circumstances, in due time, without our distressing ourselves to find what they should be. You need not attempt to draw any precise line between what is sinful and what is only allowable; look up to Christ, and deny yourselves everything, whatever its character, which you think He would have you relinquish. You need not calculate and measure, if you love much; you need not perplex yourselves with points of curiosity, if you have a heart to venture after Him. True, difficulties will sometimes arise, but they will be seldom. He bids you take up your cross; therefore accept the daily opportunities which occur of yielding to others, when you need not yield, and of doing unpleasant services which you might avoid. He bids those who would be highest, live as the lowest: therefore, turn from ambitious thoughts and (as far as you religiously may) make resolves against taking on your authority. He bids you sell and give alms, therefore, hate to spend money on yourself. Shut your ears to praise, when it grows loud: set your face like a flint, when the world ridicules, and smile at its threats. Learn to master your heart, when it would burst form into vehemence, or prolong a barren sorrow, or dissolve into unseasonable tenderness. Curb your tongue and turn away your eye, lest you fall into temptation. Avoid the dangerous air which relaxes you, and brace yourself upon the heights. Be up at prayer “a great while before day” and seek the true, your only Bridegroom, “by night on your bed”. So shall self-denial become natural to you, and a change to come over you, gently and imperceptibly; and like Jacob, you will lie down in the waste, and soon see Angels, and a way opened for you into heaven.*
*Excerpt from Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling, by James Sire.