Friday, December 31, 2010

The Light Yoke

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." - Matthew 11:28-30 (New International Version)

In an article entitled The Light Yoke, Jedd Medefind speaks of how easy it is for us to exchange the light burden offered by Jesus for the heavy burdens of this world. While the article is brilliant and I encourage you to read it in its entirety one part spoke particularly clearly to me.
For me, the yoke of choice has always centred on the desire to be respected. Although perhaps a perfectly fine objective in its proper place, wanting to be admired can so quickly grow into a weight that bites down into my shoulders. It can turn a moment of appropriate celebration into puffed-up pride, or a small setback into insecurity. It can remake God-honouring work into a self-centred and onerous burden.*
I have always said that I would rather be "famous" than "rich" and so I can relate just a little too well to Mr. Medefind's yoke of choice. The article refers to other burdens of choice to which readers will relate. Perhaps today is a day for each of us to again lay down the yoke of this world and put on the yoke of Jesus.

*Medefind, Jedd. "The Light Yoke." Comment: Equipping and Connecting the Next Generation of Christian Leaders, 12 31, 2010.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Showing Up

I have always appreciated Woody Allen's humour and movies. I probably disagree with him on just about everything. Yet, Allen is very good at communicating great philosophical ideas in his movies. I recall trying to get my head around Existentialism in college and finding that Woody Allen could explain it perfectly with Stardust Memories. Many of his other movies seem odd on the surface but are actually well-written explanations of how people view our world. Woody Allen once said,
Eighty percent of success is showing up.*
This is one area in which I agree with Woody Allen. There is a lot to be said for showing up. There is a lot to be said for going to work each day and doing what is expected of me; getting out of bed and going for a run when I would rather pull the covers over my head; taking the time to "show up" with God; spending time in spiritual disciplines. Certainly, in the world of blogging, success is showing up and blogging. As we start the new year, I am well aware that there are many things over which I will have little or no control. One thing I can do is show up.

*Woody Allen, US movie actor, comedian, & director (1935 - ). As quoted in "The Quotations Page."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nativity

A fun video for the season. Click on the title to watch it on YouTube.



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas

CHRISTMAS SONG FOR ALL YEAR 'ROUND*

I wonder if this Christmas they'll begin to
understand / The Jesus that they celebrate
is much more than a man / 'Cause the way
the world is I don't see How people can
deny / The only way to save us was for
Jesus Christ to die

And I know that if Saint Nicholas was here
he would agree / The Jesus gave the
greatest gift of all to you and me / They led
Him to the slaughter on a hill called
Calvary / And mankind was forgiven when
they nailed Him to the tree

But most of all the children they're the
ones I hope will learn / The Jesus is our
Saviour and He's going to return / And
Christmas isn't just a day / And all days
aren't the same / Perhaps they'll think
about the word and see it spells His name

And I know that if Saint Nicholas was here
he would agree / The Jesus gave the
greatest gift of all to you and me / They led
Him to the slaughter on a hill called
Calvary / And mankind was forgiven
Mankind was forgiven We were all
forgiven when they nailed Him to the tree

So Merry Christmas Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas

I wonder if this Christmas they'll begin to
understand

*Randy Stonehill © 1976 KING OF HEARTS PUBLISHING
Nifty-Music.com

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Puppet Strings

PUPPET STRINGS:
I can't keep from mourning for this topsy-
turvy world / With all its strife and pain /
Mourning for the lost and the desperate
children / Who can't remember their
names

And I can feel it in my soul / Now the end
is getting near / I can hear the devil
laughing / And its ringing in my ears

Long ago He chose us to inherit all His
kingdom / And we were blessed with light
/ But wandering away we disobeyed Him
in the garden / And stumbled into night

And I can feel it in my soul / Now the end
is getting near / I can hear the angels
weeping / And it's ringing in my ears

We are all like foolish puppets who
desiring to be kings / Now lie pitifully
crippled after cutting our own strings

But God said I'll forgive you I will face you
Man to man / And win your love again /
Oh how could there be possibly a greater
gift of love / Than dying for a friend

And I can feel it in my soul / Now the end
is getting near / I can hear the devil
laughing / And it's ringing in my ears

We are all like foolish puppets who
desiring to be kings / Now lie pitifully
crippled after cutting our own strings

Cutting our own strings / Cutting our own
strings / Cutting our own strings*
REDEMPTION:
Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited and redeemed his people.
He has sent us a mighty Savior
from the royal line of his servant David,
just as he promised
through his holy prophets long ago.
Now we will be saved from our enemies
and from all who hate us.
He has been merciful to our ancestors
by remembering his sacred covenant—
the covenant he swore with an oath
to our ancestor Abraham.
We have been rescued from our enemies
so we can serve God without fear,
in holiness and righteousness
for as long as we live.

And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.” - Luke 1:67-79 (New Living Translation)

*Randy Stonehill © 1976 KING OF HEARTS PUBLISHING
Nifty-Music.com

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Role Models

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12 (New International Version)
One of my favourite parts of the Bible has always been 1 Timothy chapter four. When I was a young man I incorporated verse twelve into a valedictory speech and challenged my class-mates to be role models for others despite their youth. At this point in life I am no longer considered young but I have the same desire to see people who will model a life that is an example for others. More than ever our world needs people, young and old, who will be good role models in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in integrity.
Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don't let anyone put you down because you're young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use. 1 Timothy 4:11-14 (The Message)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why?

A friend and regular blogger (4 Minute Writer) directed me to a blog which asked some questions about why humans exist. She knew this would catch my attention.
Nrhatch wrote: "On an individual basis, I have no problem seeing the meaning for life since I agree with the Dalai Lama: We are here to be happy and to make others happy. But having something to do WHILE we are here is NOT the same thing as having a REASON for being here in the first place. It’s that larger question, the “why?” of it all ~ the raison d’etre for mankind ~ that eludes me." - Spirit Lights the Way, December 19, 2010 http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/the-why-of-it-all/

It seems to me we need to think through the distinction between "the meaning of life" and "the why of life." Is there really any distinction at all? If I find myself at a triathlon, I know the meaning of a triathlon is an event in which people swim, cycle, and run for fun, fitness, and competition. Why I am at the triathlon? I am at the triathlon to swim, cycle, and run for fun, fitness, and competition. There may be other reasons for being at a triathlon. One might be a spectator, a volunteer, an organizer, or a merchant promoting their product. As we add in these other possible "whys," we also add to the "meanings." A triathlon is indeed an event in which people spectate, volunteer, organize, and promote. These are part of the why and the meaning.

Now, let us go back to the question of the existence of humans. If the meaning of life is "to be happy and to make others happy" (a premise with which I disagree but about which I will not argue for the moment), then could it be that the reason why humans exist is "to be happy and to make others happy?" The problem does not lie in the distinction between "meaning" and "why." The problem lies with needing a place to which to ascribe the "meaning" and the "why." We can ascribe the meaning to the universe as Nrhatch has done by saying that "Maybe the Universe wanted an audience to applaud its creation?" (note the capital U and the question mark in the original text). But this is problematic. With a triathlon, we can trace the meaning and the why back to an event organizer or the person or persons who chose to have a triathlon. By establishing the triathlon they gave it meanings and whys. A triathlon cannot give itself meanings or whys just as a universe cannot give itself meanings and whys.

We may not know all of the meanings and whys of our existence. There will always be mystery with regard to the existence of humans and indeed the existence of the universe. For this I am thankful. I like some mystery in my life. For me, the bigger question is, "To what or Who will I ascribe this mystery, these meanings and these whys?" (note the capital W and the question mark in the text).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Peace on Earth, Goodwill . . .

I decided to meditate upon peace today. It seemed like an appropriate focus as we approach Christmas. When the angels announced the birth of Jesus they proclaimed, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” - Luke 2:14 (NLT). I wondered what peace looks like in this world about two thousand years later. I thought about several things Jesus said about peace. He said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." - John 14:27 (NIV). He also said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." - John 16:33 (NIV).

These statements were spoken before His death and resurrection. Then I remembered these words spoken at one of His appearances to the disciples after His triumphant resurrection.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"
After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
- John 20:19-21 (NIV).
I have learned that it is important to watch for "book-end statements." Places where Jesus says something, something happens, and then He says it again. The statements bookend the events and are important teachings connected to the events. Here these teachings about peace bookend Jesus' arrest, unjust trial, flogging, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus lived through these horrific events with peace. Now He offers peace to His followers and all followers who come after these. In John chapter 20 these words of peace bookend something else as well. Jesus shows the disciples the scars He has received in carrying out the will of His Father, God. Then, He calls His disciples, and all disciples who will follow after Him, to a mission. "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

From this we can learn the way to peace! In this world we will have trouble. Storms may rage around us. But the way to peace is doing the will of the Father. As we are sent into this world, to do the things that Jesus was sent to do, we will have peace. How can we not have peace? If we are doing what God wants us to do, then all hell may oppose us but we will be at peace.

This Christmas, I pray that you will find peace as you do the will of Him who has sent you into this world. As Jesus was sent so we are sent to do the will of the Father. This is true peace.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Immigrants

In an article in The Globe and Mail, Michael Valpy and Joe Friesen propose that it is largely the religious traditions of immigrants that are keeping our places of worship from closing. They point to the increasing secularization of native-born Canadians and contrast this with the steady faith of new immigrants to Canada.
In 1985, only 12 per cent of those born in Canada said they had no religious affiliation, compared with 21 per cent of immigrants who arrived in the previous 20 years. The 2009 data show "no religious affiliation" among the Canadian born jumped to 28 per cent, while the rate among recent immigrants held steady at 19 per cent.*

The article also quotes sociologist David Seljak of St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario as saying that
What attracts native-born Canadians to church these days is the availability of parking, quality of preaching and children's programs, in that order.*
Yes, that is what he said, parking, preaching, and programs. Sounds a bit shallow doesn't it? I would wish that sociologists would look at Canadians and see that they are looking for churches that care for the poor, churches that break the chains of those caught in the oppression of the sex-trade, churches that care for the immigrant, churches that care for the environment, and churches that create a community of faith that rights the wrongs of prejudice. Perhaps those of us who have been born in Canada have taken this life for granted. We have never learned what it means to be poor or to be an immigrant or to be oppressed. But God calls both recent immigrants and Canadian-born persons to care for the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 (New International Version)
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.


*Valpy, Michael, and Joe Friesen. "A Twist of Faith." The Globe and Mail, December 11, 2010: A12, A13.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Feelings

Feelings are, with a few exceptions, good servants. But they are disastrous masters.*
It is easy to be controlled by our feelings. We get up in the morning, look in the mirror to ensure that our face is still in the right place and then we check our feelings. We might also look out the window and see what the weather is like before determining how we feel. For many of us, this mood check becomes a guiding factor for the rest of the day. People ask us, "How are you?" We answer with some variant of the feelings we detected while staring at our face in the bathroom mirror. But allowing ourselves to be mastered by our feelings is unhealthy and unnecessary.

Dallas Willard notes that
Addiction is a feeling phenomenon. The addict is one who, in one way or another, has given in to feeling of one kind or another and has placed it in the position of ultimate value in his or her life.#
By contrast, the person who happily lets God be God does have a place to stand in dealing with feelings - even in extreme cases such as despair over loved ones or excruciating pain or voluptuous pleasure. They have the resources to do what they don't want to do and to not do what they want. They know and deeply accept the fact that their feelings, of whatever kind, do not have to be fulfilled. They spend little time grieving over non-fulfillment. And with respect to feelings that are inherently injurious and wrong, their strategy is not one of resisting them in the moment of choice but of living in such a way that they do not have such feelings at all, or at least do not have them in a degree that makes it hard to decide against them when appropriate.^
We dare not deny our feelings and we dare not be ruled by them. If we identify the underlying condition that gives rise to the feeling we can assign feelings their appropriate place. Then our actions will be guided by "insight, understanding, and conviction of truth" rather than the feelings of the moment. For further understanding of these principles I highly recommend Renovation of the Heart.

*Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002, p. 122.
#Willard, 2002, p. 125.
^Willard, 2002, p. 119.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Incarnation

The incarnation of God is a concept that is difficult for many to understand and believe. The word simply means to take on flesh. One who is incarnate is embodied in flesh. Thus we speak of Jesus as being "God embodied in flesh" or taking on human form. It is a mysterious and difficult concept to grasp. This poem/song by Wayne Watson expresses why it was necessary for God to put on flesh and walk among us.
One Christmas Eve
(Words and music by Wayne Watson; 1994 Material Music/Word Music)

He was a loving father
Gentle master of his home
But all alone against their love for God
No Savior of his own
Unmoved and softly cynical
Of those he thought naive
God come to earth? A virgin birth?
No, how could anybody believe?

His Christmas evening solitaire
Beside the fire’s glow.
Out of the window tiny sparrows
In the spell of a chilling snow.
And moved with deep compassion
With a redeeming plan, he rose
He tried in vain to gather them
To a shelter from the killing winter cold.

Oh, but simple creatures seldom
Comprehend the ways of man.
Sometimes love expressed is met with doubt and fear.
He thought, “If I could only fly among you,
I know I could make you understand. Just for a moment walk beside you
I know it would all be clear.
It would all be clear.”

And even before the thought had left his mind
Christmas bells from far away
Reminded him of simple truth
He’d denied until that very day,
How Jesus born the Savior
Walked this earth with mortal man.
Another soul brought safely home
And Christmas would never be the same again.
It would never be the same.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Virtue

In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky sets up two antagonistic theories of the way in which mankind seeks virtue and social order. The first is related by Pyotr Alexandrovich Miusov (a wealthy landowner) as he explains that Ivan Karamazov gave an address in which he stated that
there exists no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that if there is and has been any love on earth up to now, it has not come from natural law but solely from people's belief in their immortality. . . . Were mankind's belief in their immortality to be destroyed, not only love but also any living power to continue the life of the world would at once dry up in it. Not only that, but then nothing would be immoral any longer, everything would be permitted, even anthropophagy. And even that is not all: he ended with the assertion that for every separate person . . . who believes neither in God nor his own immortality, the moral law of nature ought to change immediately into the exact opposite of the former religious law, and that egoism, even to the point of evil-doing, should not only be permitted to man but should be acknowledged as the necessary, the most reasonable, and all but the noblest result of his situation. . . . Evildoing should not only be permitted but even should be acknowledged as the most necessary and most intelligent solution for the situation of every godless person!*

The second theory, as expressed by Mikhail Osipovich Rakitin, a young liberal seminary student, is that
mankind will find strength in itself to live for virtue, even without believing in the immortality of the soul! Find it in love of liberty, equality, fraternity, . . .#

This book was written in 1880 and it seems to me that we have spent much of the intervening years arguing back and forth about these two theories. Can one have love of mankind, virtue, morality, and social order without a belief in God and the immortality of the soul? Or, are such qualities impossible without the concept of final consequences for our actions? This argument is particularly strong today as one considers the long history of world religions and the voices of militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

I have found it helpful to listen to atheists, agnostics, and God followers. I read books by Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and balance them with ones by Alistair McGrath and Francis Collins. I talk to my atheist friends and ask them how they live. And then I keep quiet - and listen. I do the same with my friends who follow Jesus. You could try it yourself. If you are a follower of a religion, try inviting an atheist over for dinner. If you are an atheist or agnostic try listening to a follower of one of the world religions as you eat dinner together some time. I highly recommend it.

*Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamozov. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002 edition, p 69.

#Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamozov. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002 edition, p 82.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Existence of God

To a woman who had a lack of faith in life after death:
"No doubt it is devastating. One cannot prove anything here, but it is possible to be convinced."
"How? By What?"
"By the experience of active love. Try to love your neighbors actively and tirelessly. The more you succeed in loving, the more you'll be convinced of the existence of God and the immortality of your soul. And if you reach complete selflessness in the love of your neighbor, then undoubtedly you will believe, and no doubt will even be able to enter your soul. This has been tested. It is certain."*

*Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamozov. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002 edition, p 56.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Lady of Little Faith

I have been reading The Brother's Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.* It is a brilliant book that will generously reward any reader. You can expect to read a few blog entries dealing with insights from this book.

Dostoevsky demonstrates remarkable knowledge of the human psyche in the chapter entitled "A Lady of Little Faith." An elder in the church is probing into motivations and false humility with a woman who claims to love all of mankind and yet wonders if she has the perseverance to continue to love mankind in difficult circumstances.
"I heard the exact same thing, a long time ago to be sure, from a doctor," the elder remarked. "He was then an old man, and unquestionably intelligent. He spoke just as frankly as you, humorously, but with a sorrowful humor. 'I love mankind,' he said, 'but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons. In my dreams,' he said, 'I often went so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me,' he said. 'On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.'"
The elder goes on to say that,
. . . active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving even of one's life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on a stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science.#
Too well I see myself in these remarks. Could it be that I am just like that doctor or the woman of little faith?

*Note, there are multiple spellings of this Russian name owing to the fact that it has been translated from Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский. The two most common spellings are Dostoevsky and Dostoyevsky.

#Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamozov. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002 edition, p 56-58.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Am I Here?

Each of us... at some time in our lives, turns to someone - a father, a brother, a God... and asks..."Why am I here? What was I meant to be?" -Commander Spock "Star Trek - The Motion Picture," 1979.
"Star Trek - The Motion Picture" was on television recently and I recorded it to watch at my leisure. This movie was an attempt by the Star Trek franchise to explore ultimate realities. It asks questions about the existence of logic, consciousness, creativity, friendship, love, and imagination. You will have to decide for yourself how well the movie stimulates your own thinking in these areas.
The quote from Commander Spock is certainly true. At some point, we all ask the questions, "Why am I here?" and, "What was I meant to be?" The way we answer these questions shape our life and how we respond to the world.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New Law

I have been watching the comments on the blog of Professor John Stackhouse regarding Mark Driscoll. Some of the comments made me think of this song by Derek Webb.
New Law
(Lyrics and Music by Derek Webb)

don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

i want a new law
i want a new law
gimme that new law

don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice

don’t teach me about loving my enemies

don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
just give me a new law

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

i want a new law
i want a new law
gimme that new law

what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid


You can listen to the song here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Power

If God is God and He is running the universe. He has first claim on my life. There is no room for wrestling power away from God or taking on power ourselves. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous recognized that the most important hurdle for the addicted person is to admit that they are not God.* Yet, so often, I make me the centre of the universe. I think my projects, my life, my comfort are the most important. I want people to follow my leadership and I am not against the use of power to get them to follow. Henri Nouwen said,

One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power—political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power—even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to power but emptied himself and became as we are. The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all. . . . What makes this temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life (In the Name of Jesus, p. 58-59).

The temptation to power can be as small as wanting my own way and my own comfort while I ignoring the needs of others. The temptation to power can be about building my career, my ministry, my kingdom. The temptation to power can be as big as politics, economics, and military might.
I need to get some things right in my mind. I want to bow the knee to the One who is truly running the universe and live my life the way He planned. I will let me be me; I will let God be God.

*Some of these words are influenced by my reading of Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002, p. 52.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tremble

(Lyrics and music by Nichole Nordeman)
(Listen here)
Have I come too casually?
Because it seems to me
There's something I've neglected
How does one approach a deity with informality
And still protect the sacred?
'Cause you came and chose to wear the skin of all of us
And it's easy to forget You left a throne
And the line gets blurry all the time
Between daily and divine
And it's hard to know the difference

Oh, let me not forget to tremble
Oh, let me not forget to tremble
Face down on the ground do I dare
To take the liberty to stare at you
Oh, let me not,
Oh, let me not forget to tremble

What a shame to think that I'd appear
Even slightly cavalier
In the matter of salvation
Do I claim this gift You freely gave
As if it were mine to take
With such little hesitation?
'Cause you came and stood among the very least of us
And it's easy to forget you left a throne

Oh, let me not forget to tremble
Oh, let me not forget to tremble
Face down on the ground do I dare
To take the liberty to stare at you
Oh, let me not,
Oh, let me not forget to tremble

The cradle and the grave could not contain Your divinity
Neither can I oversimplify this love

Oh, let me not forget to tremble
Face down on the ground do I dare
To take the liberty to stare at you
Oh, let me
Oh, let me not forget to tremble.

Listen to it here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thirsty

Eveyone has a spiritual thirst. We may try to ignore the thirst but deep down inside we know we are thirsty. We thirst for something more. Chris Rice captures the concept of spiritual thirst in his song Thirsty.
I’m so thirsty, I can feel it
Burning through the furthest corners of my soul
Deep desire, can’t describe this
Nameless urge that drives me somewhere
Though I don’t know where to go

Seems I’ve heard about a River from someone who’s been
And they tell me once you reach it, oh, you’ll never thirst again
So I have to find the River, somehow my life depends on the River
Holy River, I’m so thirsty

Other waters I’ve been drinkin’
But they always leave me empty like before
Satisfaction, all I’m askin’
Could I really feel this thirsty if there weren’t something more?

And I’ve heard about a River from someone who’s been
And they tell me once you reach it, oh, you’ll never thirst again
So I have to find the River, somehow my life depends on the River
Holy River, I’m so thirsty

I’m on the shore now of the wildest River
And I kneel and beg for mercy from the sky
But no one answers, I’ve gotta take my chances
‘Cause something deep inside me’s cryin’
"This is why you are alive!"

So I plunge into the River with all that I am
Praying this will be the River where I’ll never thirst again
I’m abandoned to the River
And now my life depends on the River
Holy River, I’m so thirsty

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Search Me

Even as I speak of others who tickle itching ears I am aware of the subtleties of the devil. How might I fall into the mistake of saying the things that people around me want to hear rather than the life giving words of Jesus?
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23, 24 (New Living Translation)
Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I'm about;
See for yourself whether I've done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life. Psalm 139:23, 24
(The Message)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No One Believes In Me Anymore

No One Believes In Me Anymore (Satan's Boast)(Keith and Melody Green)

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As time keeps slipping away
I can imitate the brightest light
And make your night look just like day
I put some truth in every lie
To tickle itching ears
You know I'm drawing people just like flies
'Cause they like what they hear

I'm gaining power by the hour
they're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very simple now
Since no one believes in me anymore

Oh, heaven's just a state of mind
My books read on your shelf
And have you heard that God is dead
I made that one up myself
They dabble in magic spells
They get their fortunes read
You know they heard the truth
But turned away and they followed me instead

I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one's watching for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore

Everyone likes a winner
With my help, you're guaranteed to win
And hey man, you ain't no sinner
No, you've got the truth within
And as your life slips by
You believe the lie that you did it on your own
But don't worry
I'll be there to help you share our dark eternal home

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As day slips into day
The magazines, the newspapers
Print every word I say
This world is just my spinning top
It's all like child's-play
You know, I dream that it will never stop
But I know it's not that way

Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I'm gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well now I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one's watching for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore

Well I'm gaining power by the hour
They're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore

Yesterday's blog about "Itching Ears" brought to mind the words of this song. The first verse talks about itching ears and being drawn to what we like to hear. Written about 34 years ago, it still has relevance today. You can listen to the song here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Itching Ears

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.
2 Timothy 4:3 (New Living Translation).
I have had a week where I have experienced itching ears and teachers who say what itching ears want to hear. The teachers come in all sorts of clothing. Approaching one end of the continuum are movie-makers who fashion feel-good spiritual stories that give us the kind of comfort we want to hear while assuring us that we don't need to change anything about our lives. And towards the other end are preachers who use poor exegetical techniques to wrestle passages of the Bible out of their historical context and teach a message that attracts people to their church.

2 Timothy 4 goes on to say that people will reject the truth and chase after myths; and there are a lot of myths that people are willing to chase. As for me, I need to recommit myself to proclaim the truth. I must be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not to patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage people with good teaching and not be afraid of suffering for the Lord.
"But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you." 2 Timothy 4:5 (NLT)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hereafter

The latest film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood is a mystifying film called "Hereafter." The script was written by Peter Morgan who may be appealing to a cultural sense of curiosity about life after death. The story suggests that there are certain attributes present in all near death experiences: a bright light, calm serenity, lack of a sense of time or motion, and weightlessness. In the movie, persons already in the "hereafter" sometimes communicate with those left behind through a psychic played by Matt Damon. These messages consistently express remorse, forgiveness, and the sense that everything is "alright now" in the hereafter. We are led to believe that there is a world-wide conspiracy aimed at keeping the details of the hereafter from discussion in mainstream books and other media. Religious explanations of the hereafter are belittled and those espousing Christian, Sikh, and Muslim faith are made to look ridiculous.

We are reminded at several turns that one never knows when death might arrive. We find ourselves wondering when the next tragedy might occur for someone in the movie and just when we think everyone is safe more deaths occur. The thing that drives the main characters of the movie is their desire for an explanation of the hereafter. The viewer is readily drawn into the pathos of the lives of those who search for explanation and redemption. Yet, no real answers are ever given. We are simply led to believe that there is a hereafter out there somewhere and perhaps it is good for everyone.

This movie will generate discussion of what is beyond death. It suggests that there is something more than the "light bulb on/light bulb off" approach to life that is espoused by many in Canada. Yet, it provides little real meat for the discussion and will leave many movie-goers with an unsatisfied hunger for more. Perhaps that is the value of a film such as this.

“Begin to be now what you will be hereafter.”
William James (American Philosopher and Psychologist, leader of the philosophical movement of Pragmatism, 1842-1910)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Faith Enough

My musical friend Mike Charko reminded me of the amazing words of this song by "Jars of Clay."
"Faith Enough" by Jars of Clay
The ice is thin enough for walkin'
The rope is worn enough to climb
My throat is dry enough for talkin'
The world is crumblin' but I know why
The world is crumblin' but I know why

The storm is wild enough for sailing
The bridge is weak enough to cross
This body frail enough for fighting
I'm home enough to know I'm lost
Home enough to know I'm lost

It's just enough to be strong
In the broken places, in the broken places
It's just enough to be strong
Should the world rely on faith tonight

The land unfit enough for planting
Barren enough to conceive
Poor enough to gain the treasure
Enough a cynic to believe
Enough a cynic to believe

Confused enough to know direction
The sun eclipsed enough to shine
Be still enough to finally tremble
And see enough to know I'm blind
And see enough to know I'm blind

It's just enough to be strong
In the broken places, in the broken places
It's just enough to be strong
Should the world rely on faith tonight

Should the world rely on faith tonight
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
This is a remarkable song that describes this tenuous life between hope and fear, power and weakness, strength and brokenness. I'm home enough to know I am lost. I'm enough a cynic to believe. Should the world rely on faith tonight?

Listen to the song here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bodily Resurrection

Romans 8:11 (NIV)
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
I don't often write about theological concepts for I am not an academic theologian and cannot make definitive statements. Today I want to introduce a concept and encourage the reader to investigate further. I have been reading about what theologians say about resurrection. There is a myth that has been widely circulated that says that as followers of Jesus we do not need to concern ourselves with our bodies or any of the things of this world for one day Jesus will return, yank us out of these evil and broken bodies on this evil and polluted planet and take us far away from it all.

But what if there is continuity between what we have done in this world and the world to come?# Romans 8:11 makes it clear that it is our mortal bodies which will be given life just as Jesus' mortal body was raised from the dead. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 says that some of what we build in this life will survive beyond the "Day of the Resurrection" and some will not.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (NIV)
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Some time ago I had a dream in which I could see beyond the exterior of people.* In this dream I could see people walking about in a church building and I could see an inner core of their being. The inner core was made of gold. Some had a very slender rod of gold at their centre. Others had a thicker rod. These rods represented the work that each individual had done to build upon the foundation of Jesus. Some had done more and some had done less. The golden rod in each person was capable of going through fire and surviving. This helped me to understand how it might be that as we live out our lives here on earth there are things that contribute to who we are as beings before God and there are things that do not contribute. A friend of mine speaks of kindnesses shown to other human beings versus watching four hours of sit-coms on television. It seems to both of us that one of these would contribute to what will survive a fire while one would not.

These are difficult concepts which require more thought. For the reader who would like to investigate these things further I recommend the book Surprised by Hope.#


#NT Wright expands upon this theme in his theological writings. See Wright, N.T. (2008). Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

*I do not claim that a dream such as this has any truth value but simply represents how my mind is trying to process a difficult concept. I explain the dream here in the hope that it may also help others to wrestle with these concepts.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

God Never Changes

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing alarm you.
Everything passes;
God does not change.
All things are
Accomplished with patience.
He who has God
Is lacking in nothing.
God is enough.
St. Teresa of Avila (Spanish Nun, Mystic and Writer, 1515-1582)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hunger and Thirst

Matthew 5:6 Matthew 5:6 (New International Version)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
I have given this passage much thought and meditated upon it many times and still have not plumbed the depths of it. The usual way we hear the passage is that it is saying to us that we should deeply desire to be righteous people. We hear it saying that we will be blessed if we long to be righteous. This sends us down an internal pathway of, “How can I do a better job of cleaning up my life and removing the sin from the crevasses of my soul?” We focus on spiritual disciplines and try to be more righteous in Bible reading, prayer, fasting, meditation, etc. This is all good and is perhaps one message we are to receive from Matthew 5:6. It is not the whole message nor is it the main message of Matthew 5:6.

The major message of this passage is that we are to hunger and thirst (long for, seek as though our lives depended upon it) for righteousness/shalom/justice in the world. Righteousness (dikaiosuna) has the sense of whatever conforms to the revealed will of God and things that are “just, equitable, and fair.”* Thus, when we see things that are not righteous in the world, when we see things that are not just, equitable, and fair, our hearts should long to see justice. When we see aboriginal women standing on the corner offering themselves for prostitution in the downtown eastside (DTES) of Vancouver our hearts should say this is not right, this is not just, this is not fair, this is not equitable, this is not shalom, this does not conform to the revealed will of God. Such things should make us long for righteousness in this situation. We should hunger and thirst that this thing should be made right. It should move us to action. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be filled/satisfied/saturated.” We cannot rest until we have filled our hunger and thirst for righteousness.

This morning, I was reading an article by Meera Bai and John Stackhouse called "Why I Help Addicts Shoot Up." I have never been a supporter of InSite (the Vancouver safe injection site) and I still am not sure I can support it despite the reduction in harm it may accomplish. But when I read the article it made me hunger and thirst for righteousness in the drug culture of the DTES. Reading this article one can readily see that this is not right, this is not just, this is not shalom. Even InSite does not seem right, just, or equitable even though much grace, love, and care is being extended. The answer lies in hungering and thirsting for righteousness. We need to hunger and thirst for things that will stop the cycle. The authors say
Having witnessed three generations of the same family shoot up in the same room, I have come to understand that injection drug use is far from being the result of one bad decision. It is the outcome of a complex of systemic, familial and individual influences that must not be oversimplified to "It's their fault. They should just quit and get a job." I am still shocked by the stories of abuse that I hear at InSite.
This is not right. My heart hungers and thirsts for righteousness that will prevent the abuse that will prevent the need to dull the pain of the abuse. I hunger and thirst for other solutions to the pain. I hunger and thirst for something other than InSite. I hunger and thirst for the Kingdom of God.


*Take a look at the word meaning in W.E. Vine’s, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words or Harold K. Moulton’s, The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Images

It occurred to me that my blog has been pretty serious lately. Perhaps it is time to inject a bit of fun and beauty. Here are a few images from downtown Vancouver. Click on the photos to enlarge.
















This picture says so much about Vancouver: condos, new construction, mountains, SkyTrain tracks, East Van Cross.







Construction of the new retractable roof on BC Place. A close-up.










Construction in the distance.



Rainy night in Vancouver.

video

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Consumers

"Consumerism, is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods or services in ever greater amounts."# Most of us know what consumerism has done to our western world; and by now we are probably familiar with what the North American culture of consumerism has done to the church. It has created churches which try to out-do each other in providing services, programs, and goods. It has led to pastors who feel they must provide a congregation with a multitude of things that meet the felt needs of those who attend. It causes pastors to worry that if they don't meet all these needs someone else will come along who will meet these needs and the people will trade them in for a better church experience.

I recently spoke with a pastor who told me that he really wanted the people in his church to get into small groups to serve their neighbours and their neighbourhoods. He dreamed of the day when people would come to see this as the priority and be less focussed on the kind of music in the Sunday morning worship service. With just a bit of irony in my voice, I told him that our church had developed a simple system for solving the perpetual problem of people attending the Sunday morning gathering and not attending small groups - we got rid of the the Sunday morning gathering.

Hugh Halter says,
There's only one way to overcome the problem of consumerism. Not two or three ways, not a program, not a sermon for you to preach or a class for you to teach. Just one way to break the pattern:
You have to remove what they are consuming.
. . . if what we give to people isn't appreciated, doesn't inspire them toward the life of Christ, or doesn't lead them to real growth, your only option is to provide less . . . .*
We think Halter has it right. LifeHouse Christian Church is seeking to be a place where we limit our consumerism and seek to care for and lead each other toward Christ. May God guide us and give us wisdom as we stumble toward this goal.

#http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumerism
*Halter, H., & Smay, M. (2010). And: The Gathered and Scattered Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Transformation

Recently, I had the privilege of being the "best man" at a wedding. I met the groom, whom I now count as a friend, seven years ago. We met through an organization called COSA# on the day that he was released from a federal penitentiary. This friend has been through many challenges and ups and downs but yesterday was a great day of celebration as he and his bride said "I do" and committed themselves to each other.

As about thirty of us gathered around this couple and celebrated with them, it was great to see the transformation that had taken place in this man's life. And it was great to see that these thirty people had become a family to this couple. People can change. Many times people do not change because they do not have a family. For many of us, a family is what offers us the support and accountability that we need. A family provides respect and encourages growth. Very few of the thirty people in the room were actually biologically related to the couple but we were all family. I am thankful to have had a part in the transformation of this man's life. I am thankful for the community that is standing with this couple as they move forward in commitment together.



#COSA is a highly effective organization that makes a difference in criminal recidivism. I encourage all readers to consider volunteering as a COSA circle member. For information about your local COSA click here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Think on These Things

I have been pondering these verses from the book of Jeremiah.
This is what the LORD says:
"Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.

He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.

He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:5-8 (New International Version - NIV)
Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed;
save me and I will be saved,
for you are the one I praise. Jeremiah 17:14 (NIV)
We can be like a tree planted by the water. We will bear fruit for our Lord.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Run With The Horses

Jeremiah 12:1-5 (New Living Translation)
1 Lord, you always give me justice
when I bring a case before you.
So let me bring you this complaint:
Why are the wicked so prosperous?
Why are evil people so happy?
2 You have planted them,
and they have taken root and prospered.
Your name is on their lips,
but you are far from their hearts.
3 But as for me, Lord, you know my heart.
You see me and test my thoughts.
Drag these people away like sheep to be butchered!
Set them aside to be slaughtered!
4 How long must this land mourn?
Even the grass in the fields has withered.
The wild animals and birds have disappeared
because of the evil in the land.
For the people have said,
“The Lord doesn’t see what’s ahead for us!”
(The Lord’s Reply to Jeremiah:)
5 “If racing against mere men makes you tired,
how will you race against horses?
If you stumble and fall on open ground,
what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?

Eugene Peterson says that God's answer to Jeremiah was this:
Life is difficult, Jeremiah. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to retreat when you find that there is more to life than finding three meals a day and a dry place to sleep at night? Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know, to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average. Easier, but not better. Easier, but not more significant. Easier, but not more fulfilling. I called you to live a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny. Now at the first sign of difficulty you are ready to quit. If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic mediocrities, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence? What is it you really want, Jeremiah? Do you want to shuffle along with the crowd, or run with the horses?

It is understandable that there are retreats from excellence, veerings away from risk, withdrawals from faith. It is easier to define oneself minimally (“a featherless biped”) and live securely within that definition than to be defined maximally (“a little less than God”) and live adventurously in that reality. It is unlikely, I think, that Jeremiah was spontaneous or quick in his reply to God’s question. The ecstatic ideals for a new life had been splattered with the world’s cynicism. The euphoric impetus of youthful enthusiasm no longer carried him. He weighed the options. He counted the cost. He tossed and turned in hesitation. The response when it came was not verbal but biographical. His life became his answer. “I’ll run with the horses.”*

The thing I note about God's answer is that God challenges Jeremiah to look at things differently. Jeremiah complains to God and, rather that hearing soft words of comfort, Jeremiah hears a rebuke. God says, "This is not about you Jeremiah! Get over yourself. I have plans for this world that you cannot comprehend. You are not yet living up to the potential I see in you. Stop complaining about how hard this task is. I am calling you to something harder!"

I too have a choice before me today. Will I complain to God about how hard it is to run a footrace with men? Or, will I get up and run with horses?

*Peterson, E. H. (2009). Run With The Horses. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 21, 22.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vancouver Triathlon

Yesterday I raced in the Vancouver Triathlon in Stanley Park. This is the main race that keeps me training all year long. I look forward to the 1.5 km swim in the ocean, the 40 km bike ride through the Stanley Park roadways with no car traffic, and the 10 km run on the paths of Stanley Park. There was a moment as I pedalled hard up a hill toward Prospect Point when I looked at the moss covered trees and the ferns around me and thought, "Wow, what a beautiful place to race."

Of course, yesterday, I was doing all of this in the rain. Everyone gets wet in the swim but usually you dry off on the bike. Not yesterday, the puddles, and spray and constant rain kept us wet and cool. Then came the run - in soggy shoes.

I learned some things from this race. I learned that you can train all year for an event but there is always the possibility of unforeseen challenges. Who would have thought that the biggest struggle of the day would have been taking off my bike helmet? My hands, cold and numb from my handle-bars, did not have the manual dexterity or strength to pinch the clasp to release my helmet.

I learned that the race is very much a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge. My brain tried to convince me several times that I was doing poorly. Reminding myself that I was in one of the most beautiful parks in Canada, enjoying a day of swimming, cycling and running, gave me the perspective I needed to enjoy the race and ultimately succeed in a personal best time.

I learned that it is fun to encourage each other to do well at a triathlon. Everyone has the jitters before a race like this. As we stood on the beach about to plunge into the cold Pacific ocean, the good natured joking and bantor helped us all to relax. Toward the end of the third event, the 10 km run, we were all dragging a bit. I started singing, "We are the champions, my friend, and we'll keep on fighting to the end." I saw a few smiles, heard a few out-right laughs and a few who turned it up a notch because of the prod. On the next time around the course the volunteers were making requests, "How about 'Eye of the Tiger.'" To which I dutifully responded with "It's the eye of the tiger; it's the thrill of the fight, rising up to the challenge of our rival . . ." We all had a better day as we laughed at the incongruity of it all.

Triathlons have become a metaphor of life for me. I train my body and my mind. I am thankful for the chance to be a part of the race in this beautiful world. I learn to deal with the unexpected difficulties. I keep a right perspective. I encourage others. I enjoy the moment. I laugh.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Maslow and Human Happiness

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun (August 27, 2010) is causing debate about American psychologist Abraham Maslow's famous "pyramid of needs." Many of us have taken a psych course somewhere along the line that introduced us to Maslow's pyramid of needs which has held sway since 1943. Maslow's theory suggests that the search for "self-actualization" is the top of the pyramid. This is a person's highest goal.

But recent research printed in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Sciences by UBC researcher Prof. Mark Schaller and colleagues suggests that "the pursuit of self-realization, and the self-absorption that can often go with it, are not nearly as important to humans as the need to find and keep a supportive partner and raise healthy children." The "researchers are suggesting humans are much more likely to find well-being by giving to others -- including kids, partners and other loved ones -- than by narrowly focusing on their own happiness."

The Vancouver Sun article goes on to point out that, even as the research is debated and questioned, these researchers have done a great service by challenging the idea that the way to human happiness lies in seeking self-actualization. After all, the search for self-actualization often becomes nothing more than an addiction to consumption, fleeting pleasure and narcissism. What might happen if a new generation of psych students were taught that the way to human happiness lies in loving a spouse, caring for children, and having empathy for others?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Till We Have Faces

I just finished re-reading Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. What an amazing book! It is hard to descibe what an effect this book has on a person but let me leave you with three quotes.
The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from . . . . my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. - p. 83, 84
"Are the gods not just?" "Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?" - p. 308
When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the centre of your soul for years, which you have, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces? - p. 305

Lewis, C.S. Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. Glasgow: William Collons Sons and Co. Ltd, 1985.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Character

I had a dream last night that prompted me to think about the word "character." More specifically, I have been thinking about "good character." What does it mean to be a person of good character? In this dream I was asked for my opinion of a definition of character. The definition I was given was, "the ability to ask good questions." I considered the definition and said, "yes, it is the ability to ask good questions but also the ability to make good choices." Good character is about asking good questions and making good choices whether or not anyone will ever see our good questions and good choices. J. C. Watts said,
Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught.
May each of us seek to be a person who lives in such a way that our secret choices might be shouted from the roof-tops without fear or fault.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Certainty

Persuasive speech is very much in vogue. One person pronounces that they have the final answer on a subject and three others refute what has just been said and state that they have the truth on that subject. Politicians, philosophers, cosmologists, scientists, and theologians all tend to get caught up in the shouting.

As a leader in a community of faith, it can be tempting to jump into the fray and make bold pronouncements myself. After all, the church down the road has made some bold statements about gender issues; and the one beside it suggests that they have the final answer on community and caring for the poor; the creation scientist church and the evolutionary theist church may be arguing it out but neither one lacks any confidence in the truth of which they speak. Maybe I should come out with some bold statements and put them up on our website to separate truth from error. But then I realize that it is alright to say, "I don't understand it all . . . but I am trying to."

Last Sunday evening our church community studied a difficult passage in the Gospel of John (John 6: 35-71). This passage follows soon after Jesus has demonstrated his power by feeding 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish and by walking on water. In verses 35 to 71 Jesus says some very difficult things. In John 6:37 (NIV*), Jesus says, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." These words and others like them have kept John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and their followers busy for hundreds of years of debate. Not too surprisingly, our community of faith did not come up with a final explanation of these words either.

Jesus follows these words with other difficult words such as those found in John 6:53-58. After Jesus said such shocking words several of his followers left him and would no longer follow his teachings. Jesus asked his closest followers if they were going to leave as well. Their answer was "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69; NIV). These close disciples did not have all of the answers. They could not understand these difficult words any better than the others who heard them or we who hear them today. Yet, they knew enough about this Jesus to keep following him. They knew that he had "words of eternal life."

John Stackhouse has said, "I think the Christian religion, the Christian Church and, especially, the Christian God help me to know things much better than I ever would on my own. But they don’t make me other than human or lift me out of my humanness. They don’t make me certain."#

Living in faith without certainty is possible. In fact, it is necessary.

*NIV = New International Version of the Bible
#www.stackblog.wordpress.com/2008/04/11/im-certain-that-there-are-two-kinds-of-certainty/

Saturday, July 31, 2010

We Need a Little Mystery

Sometimes I am frustrated by all of the things I don't understand. Why is there evil, pain and suffering in the world? How does God answer prayer and which ones will He answer with a "yes?" Why does God not make Himself more plain? These are some of my greatest mysteries. Dreamers and poets have always had more questions than answers. Perhaps I need to listen to these dreamers and poets.
Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand. –Neil Armstrong
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
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
We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. –Annie Dillard

Monday, July 26, 2010

Spiritual Experiences and Reason

As I work on a graduate course at Regent College I have been reading the works of Teresa of Avila. She was a remarkable person and one who always analyzed her experiences to see if they could be from God or from her own mind. This quote is from her and speaks to using all of our faculties for God.
God gave us faculties for our use; each of them will receive its proper reward. Then do not let us try to charm them to sleep, but permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher.* - Teresa of Avila


*Fourth Mansions, Ch. 3: Prayer of Quiet, as translated by the Benedictines of Stanbrook (1911), revised and edited by Fr. Benedict Zimmerman

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Friendship

Sometimes we have a friend with whom we are comfortable. We can call them up and talk about nothing. We can sit with them and not have any words at all. I want to be the kind of friend that others would call at the end of the day just to talk about nothing. I want that kind of friendship with Jesus. Wouldn't that be something.
Wouldn’t That Be Something
(Words and music by Wayne Watson)

I had this dream and You were in it
There was this party and You were there
Simple evening with just a few close friends
People were pressing for Your attention
You were patient, everybody could see
But all the time You were lookin' round the room for me
But hey, after all, it's my dream

I wanna be the kind of friend that Jesus would call
Yeah, you know if He had a telephone
At the end of the day
Just to talk about nothin', nothing'
Yeah, I wanna be the kind of friend He'd wanna be around
You know without a word, without a sound
Wouldn't that be somethin', somethin', yeah


Is that so hard to imagine
The Lord Jesus as a friend like that
Spending time in the pleasure of your company
True companion like no other
You never had a friend like this
If you're havin' a little trouble believing
Come on, put yourself in my dream

I wanna be the kind of friend that Jesus would call
Yeah, you know if He had a telephone
At the end of the day
Just to talk about nothin', nothing'
Yeah, I wanna be the kind of friend He'd wanna be around
You know without a word, without a sound
Wouldn't that be somethin', somethin', yeah

Wouldn't that be somethin', somethin', yeah*
John 15:15 (NLT)
I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.


*Copyright 1998 Material Music (Admin. by WORD MUSIC) / Word Music (A div. of WORD MUSIC) / ASCAP

Friday, July 23, 2010

Scripture and Reason

Augustine (354 – 430 AD) had this to say regarding truth and our understanding of the Bible.
If it happens that the authority of Sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who interprets Scripture does not understand it correctly. It is not the meaning of Scripture which is opposed to the truth but the meaning which he has wanted to give to it. That which is opposed to Scripture is not what is in Scripture but what he has placed there himself, believing that this is what Scripture meant. – Saint Augustine, Espitula 143, n. 7 PL33, col. 588.*

*Pojman, Louis P. and Rea, Michael. Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. Belmont: Thomson Higher Education, 2008, p. 442.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Science and Reason

As someone who holds a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology and a Bachelor of Religious Education as well as several years of seminary training, I appreciate people who recognize the importance of both fields of study. I like this quote from Karol Jozef Wojtyla (also known as Pope John Paul II).
It is a duty for theologians to keep themselves regularly informed of scientific advances in order to examine if such be necessary, whether or not there are reasons for taking them into account in their reflection or for introducing changes in their teaching.*
- Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)
I still find myself reading widely in the areas of science and philosophy of religion. It keeps my life in balance and reminds me that "all truth is God's truth."

*Pojman, Louis P. and Rea, Michael. Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. Belmont: Thomson Higher Education, 2008, p. 439, 440.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Little

"Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly." - Plato

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mull of Kintyre

(Words and Lyrics by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine)

Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre

Far have I travelled and much have I seen
Dark distant mountains with valleys of green
Past painted deserts, the sun sets on fire
As he carries me home to the Mull of Kintyre

Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre

Sweep through the heather like deer in the glen
Carry me back to the days I knew then
Nights when we sang like a heavenly choir
Of the life and the times of the Mull of Kintyre

Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre

Smiles in the sunshine and tears in the rain
Still take me back where my mem'ries remain
Flickering embers grow higher and high'r
As they carry me back to the Mull of Kintyre

Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre

Friday, June 25, 2010

God of This City

I find it easy to sense God on a mountain top, in a forest, under a blanket of stars, or on a beach. It is sometimes harder to sense God in the city. Cars roaring over asphalt and concrete, buildings towering to the sky, and lights blotting out our ability to see the stars make me think of man and the ways we have damaged creation. Yet, God is in the city. He is in those of us who choose to follow Him and make Him known. He is in the struggle for justice, peace, and love which goes on in the city. He cannot be removed, He is here whether or not we acknowledge His presence. Jesus is here in the city. He is here in the people who are His hands and feet to this place. Greater things are yet to come. Greater things are yet to be done in this city.
God of This City

You're the God of this City
You're the King of these people
You're the Lord of this nation
You are

You're the Light in this darkness
You're the Hope to the hopeless
You're the Peace to the restless
You are

There is no one like our God
There is no one like our God

For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater thing have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City

There is no one like our God
There is no one like our God

For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done here

There is no one like our god
There is no one like our God

Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done here*

*"God of this City", written by Northern Irish band Bluetree and performed by Chris Tomlin and many others all over the world.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hummingbirds and Giraffes


Last weekend we enjoyed the hospitality of some friends at their cabin. They have many hummingbirds coming to drink from their feeder. Sadly, while we were there, one of these beautiful birds flew into the window and lay stunned on the deck. We were able to get a good look at this amazing creature. They are one of the wonders of animal life on this planet. This hummingbird had iridescent feathers at its throat that changed colour at different angles, a preposterous looking beak, a miniscule tongue (forked at the end) which laps up the nectar, and powerful wings. The wings beat between 10 and 100 times per second, the tongue laps 13 times per second, and their hearts beat at up to 1200 beats per second. The world in which we live is truly awe inspiring. Annie Dillard says it well in her marvellous book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
Certainly nature seems to exult in abounding radicality, extremism, anarchy. If we were to judge nature by its common sense or likelihood, we wouldn't believe the world existed. In nature, improbabilities are the one stock in trade. The whole creation is one lunatic fringe. If creation had been left up to me, I'm sure I wouldn't have had the imagination or courage to do more than shape a single, reasonably sized atom, smooth as a snowball, and let it go at that. No claims of any and all revelations could be so far-fetched as a single giraffe.*

*Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Perennial Classics, 1998), p. 146

Friday, June 11, 2010

Uprooted

In Beyond Homelessness, Walsh and Bouma-Prediger speak of the writings of Barbara Kingsolver.
In Speaking of our contemporary patterns of uprootedness, Kingsolver says that the urban "exodus from the land makes me unspeakably sad. I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant's way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in. . . . I wonder how they will imagine the infinite when they have never seen how the stars fill a dark night sky. I wonder how I can explain why a wood-thrush song makes my chest hurt to a populace for whom wood is a construction material and thrush is a tongue disease."*


*Bouma-Prediger, Steven and Walsh, Brian J. Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), p. 188.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Homeless

As I watch new stories of the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, it is sad to realize that my own hunger for things made from oil is part of the problem. Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger (in their book Beyond Homelessness) speak of ecological homelessness and its causes. They describe ten such causes.
The tenth (and last) reason for ecological homelessness is anthropocentrism. The belief that we humans are at the center of the universe contributes both to the degradation of our home planet and to our own sense of homelessness on earth. Many now recognize that the so-called developed world’s worldview is overly human centered. Norman Wirzba puts it this way:
The eclipse of divine transcendence, once understood to be the source and goal of the world, created a hole that would be filled by human beings who now position themselves as the center or source of meaning and value. No longer microcosms of the creation, people are the autonomous beings who, in an expression of rational freedom, chart and direct the fate of themselves and the world. Again, the history of this development toward autonomy is complex. But what emerges is a self cut off from the world of which it is a part and a world shorn of all remnants of final causality. Nature, a self-regulating mechanism, stands as the arena on which reason and technique can be exercised.

Having banished or pacified God, we enthroned ourselves at the center of things. Following Protagoras, we believe that we humans are the measure of all things. With ourselves at the center and the world a machine, nature gets reduced to the status of an object – merely a resource to be used and, if necessary, abused. It is not difficult to see how such a perspective on the world and one’s place in it sanctions the despoliation of the earth. Viewing ourselves as autonomous creatures, fundamentally unrelated to either God or the rest of creation, we have shaped a culture, an economy, and a built environment subject to no principles beyond our own self-aggrandizing aspirations and with no sense of kinship with other creatures or their habitats.*

Your appetite and my appetite for oil leads drilling companies to dig it out of the ground many meters below the ocean surface without regard for the danger this process poses for a multitude of God's creatures who rely upon a clean ocean for their food and well-being. We rationalize that we need this oil and we gamble with the lives of the other species who have no need of oil but also share this fragile planet.

*Bouma-Prediger, Steven and Walsh, Brian J. Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), p. 182, 183.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Saint Columba Day

Saint Columba Day
St. Columba 521-597, Born probably in Donegal Ireland of royal descent he studied at Moville under St. Finnian then in Leinster at the monastery of Clonard under another St. Finnian. He was ordained before he was twenty-five and spent the next fifteen years preaching and setting up foundations at Derry, Durrow, and Kells. Possibly because of a family feud which resulted in the death of 3000 and for which he considered himself partly responsible he left Ireland at 42 and landed on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland. There he built the monastery which was to become world famous. With SS Canice and Comgall he spread the gospel to the Picts; he also developed a monastic rule which many followed until the introduction of St. Benedict's. He died on Iona and is also known as Colm, Colum and Columcille. Feast day is June 9.*
Columba was a missionary who, like Saint Patrick, took the message of Jesus to a wild and dangerous group of people. He trusted that God would care for him.
He was not only a great missionary saint who won a whole kingdom to Christ, but he was a statesman, a scholar, a poet, and the founder of numerous churches and monasteries. His name is dear to Scotsmen and Irishmen alike. And because of his great and noble work even non-Catholics hold his memory in veneration.#


*Catholic Online
#New Advent

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Power of a Moment

In our family we often ask the question, "Which would you rather have: fame, or fortune?" My answer is always fame. A weakness of mine is that I want to be known as someone who accomplished great things. Chris Rice, in his song "The Power of a Moment," helps me keep things in perspective.
The Power of a Moment
(Lyrics and music by Chris Rice)

What am I gonna be when I grow up?
How am I gonna make my mark in history?
And what are they gonna write about me when I’m gone?
These are the questions that shape the way I think about what matters
But I have no guarantee of my next heartbeat
And my world’s too big to make a name for myself
And what if no one wants to read about me when I’m gone?
Seems to me that right now’s the only moment that matters

You know the number of my days
So come paint Your pictures on the canvas in my head
And come write Your wisdom on my heart
And teach me the power of a moment
The power of a moment, the power of a moment

In Your kingdom where the least is greatest
The weak are given strength and fools confound the wise
And forever brushes up against a moment’s time
Leaving impressions and drawing me into what really matters

You know the number of my days
So come paint Your pictures on the canvas in my head
And come write Your wisdom on my heart
And teach me the power of a moment
The power of a moment, the power of a moment

I get so distracted by my bigger schemes
Show me the importance of the simple things
Like a word, a seed, a thorn, a nail
And a cup of cold water

You know the number of my days
So come paint Your pictures on the canvas in my head
And come write Your wisdom on my heart
And teach me the power of a moment
The power of a moment, the power of, the power of, the power of a moment.*
God, come paint Your pictures on the canvas in my head!

*Chris Rice, "The Power of a Moment," from the album, Past the Edges, 1998; Copyright Clumsy Fly Music (ASCAP).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Weddings


Click on the picture to enlarge the image.
Having two daughters get married within six months of each other will either make you feel old or will cause you to think about love and your own marriage.
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
1 John 4:16, 17.
My prayer is that each day my own love for God, my wife and my children might grow more perfect. Love one another for love is from God.

Click on the picture to enlarge the image.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Filled With Love

I have again been reading from Walsh and Keesmaat's excellent book: Colossians Remixed. Here is a quote.
As we sat on a dock with a group of students late one night, the conversation turned to the question of why God made the world. We listened as the students went around and around on this one. Did God need the world? Was God lonely? Was there some preexisting force that God had to tame and direct toward creation? None of these answers were satisfying, until at last one student suggested that God made the world because God is love.

A reverent silence came over the group, and for a few minutes we all lay out on the dock looking at the stars, hearing loons call across the lake and feeling the air chill as we entered deeper into the night. Then someone quoted from Psalm 33: "For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord" (vv.4-5). The earth is full of the steadfast love of God! Even in the face of our ecological hate, our contemptuous rape of this creation of delight, the creation in its very being radiates the love of God.*
Weigh these words and see if they ring true. "The whole earth is full of the love of God." "God created this world because He is love." Talk about these things with trusted friends and people with whom you are in community.

*Walsh, Brian J. and Keesmaat, Sylvia C., Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 196.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Aliens, Strangers, and Mutants

I am a stranger and an alien; I am not of this world. I may try to fit in to this world; but, I am a mutant. My DNA has been changed. I have a new Father and new brothers and sisters. I have a new identity in a new people. The objectives of this people are foreign and alien to this world. I am in this world but no longer of this world.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. - 1 Peter 2:9-11.

Not of this World
Words and music by Bob Hartman
Based on 2 Peter 2:11, John 15:18-19, John 16:33, Matthew 16:18, John 14:3

We are pilgrims in a strange land
We are so far from our homeland
With each passing day it seems so clear
This world will never want us here
We're not welcome in this world of wrong
We are foreigners who don't belong

We are strangers, we are aliens
We are not of this world

We are envoys, we must tarry
With this message we must carry
There's so much to do before we leave
With so many more who may believe
Our mission here can never fail
And the gates of hell will not prevail

We are strangers, we are aliens
We are not of this world

Jesus told us men would hate us
But we must be of good cheer
He has overcome this world of darkness
And soon we will depart from here

We are strangers, we are aliens
We are not of this world

Petra sings "Not of This World"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thankful

I want to live a thankful life. Mary Jo Leddy says that "we are held captive by dissatisfaction." I see this around me. People living in one of the greatest places on the planet are dissatisfied and want more. I must confess that often I want more. Ingratitude oppresses and binds us. But I will reject this ingratitude as it rises up in me. Gratitude releases and makes us free. Gratitude brings peace. I will be grateful. I will be grateful for my wife and my daughter with whom I live. I will be grateful for my other daughters living in Calgary and Port Dover. I will be grateful for parents and friends, for nature, for food in my belly, for a roof over my head, and for so many other rich gifts in my life. And to whom will I be thankful? I will be thankful to God.

"Always be thankful." Colossians 3:15b, The Bible.