Friday, June 29, 2012

Delicious Things and Wonderful Places

Nora Ephron (May 19, 1941 – June 26, 2012) was an American filmmaker, director, producer, screenwriter, novelist, playwright, journalist, author, and blogger.1 She passed away earlier this week. Many news feeds have been running quotes from her blog and Twitter feeds. This one surfaced in the Guardian newspaper: "You should eat delicious things while you can still eat them, go to wonderful places while you still can ... and not have evenings where you say to yourself, 'What am I doing here? Why am I here? I am bored witless!'"2

That is good advice. We are meant to enjoy life here on earth. Jesus, while he was on earth, participated in several feasts and celebrations and it seems he had a pretty good time. John 12:1-8 tells of a time when he and many friends, including Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, were celebrating and sparing no expense. But there is one additional thing which Jesus teaches. When we do celebrate, eat delicious things, and go to wonderful places we should take others less fortunate than ourselves along with us. His words are quite explicit: ". . . when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."3 Perhaps we might seek to live by the advice of both Nora Ephron and Jesus of Nazareth.

2 Nora Ephron; Nora Ephron Dies Aged 71
3 Luke 14:12-14 New International Version of the Bible.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Transforming Our Social Dimensions

I have been reading Dallas Willard's book Renovation of the Heart again. This time I am reading it with a small group of men who have decided to read it and talk together about it once a week. This week's chapter has to do with our social dimension. The chapter is full of great concepts about the nature of our social relationships. In a world that is more and more connected and at the same time individualistic and isolated, these words make a great deal of sense to those of us who are reading them together. Early in the chapter he sets the tone when he says, "Spiritual formation, good or bad, is always profoundly social. . . . For all that is between me and God affects who I am; and that, in turn, modifies my relationship to everyone around me."1

Willard suggests that "Love is deeply rooted in human nature."2 But, as one of the men with whom I am reading this book suggested, this is not immediately apparent. Human beings are very prone to bad behaviour when the constrictions of law or social constructs are removed. We all too easily return to the laws of the jungle, selfishness, and looting in desperate situations. To clarify, Willard adds,
But to make a start where we are, we must recognize that this our world is not normal, but it is only usual at present. We must try to see it for what it is and then begin to think of specific ways grace and truth can begin to change it. And above all, we who follow Jesus must understand that a couple of hours per week of carefully calibrated distance in a church setting will be of little help, and may only enforce the patterns of withdrawal that permeate out fallen world. What could we do in our fellowships that would really help make a difference?3

The book points out that Aristotle once said, "The individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing, and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But whoever is unable to live in society, or who has no need of it because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god."4 Lest we think we might fall into the "god" category, Willard is quick to point out how much of our individualism is not working. He takes marriage as a case in point.
Individual desire has come to be the standard and rule of everything. How are we to serve one another in intimate relations if individual desire is the standard for everything and if what we desire can be acquired from many competing providers?
The ways in which man and wife, or parents and children, would "naturally" serve one another - and traditionally have done so - are increasingly viewed as available (usually less expensively and perhaps with "better quality") from various sources. This is true all the way from food, clothing, entertainment, and attractiveness, to romance, sexual gratification, and surrogate "motherhood" and "fatherhood." The perilous condition of laborers competing with others to sell their labor is now the condition of everyone in current society. Individual desire is accepted as a principle governing everything.
What, then, does devotion to another mean when one or both parties are constantly shopping for a "better deal" or constantly appraising one another in light of convenient alternatives?5

Dallas Willard goes on to conclude the chapter with hope for a better future. He suggests that God does indeed have a plan for each of us.
Our life in him is whole and it is blessed, no matter what has or has not been done to us, no matter how shamefully our human circles of sufficiency have been violated. It is God's sufficiency to us that secures everything else. . . . (2 Corinthians 3:5 and 2 Corinthians 9:8).
He suggests that we abandon all defensiveness and embrace a
willingness to be known in our most intimate relationships for who we really are. It would include abandonment of all practices of self-justification, evasiveness, and deceit, as well as manipulation. That is not to say we should impose all the facts about ourselves upon those close to us, much less on others at large. Of course we shouldn't. But it does mean that we do not hide and we do not follow strategies for 'looking good.'
Jesus teachings about not performing for public approval, about letting our 'yes' be a 'yes' and nothing more, and about not being a hypocrite - having a face that differs from our reality - all find application here (Matthew 5-6).6

All of this sounds like a high goal to which we might set our eyes. In fact, it is infinitely challenging and will take a lifetime to perfect. But we can make forward progress on a daily basis. We do not need to be stuck in the "usual" way that others around us function. We can take this higher path if we embrace a life of following Jesus. It is an infinite task yet we have eternity, starting now, to complete the task in the power of God. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

1 (Willard 2002, 182)
2 (Willard 2002, 183)
3 (Willard 2002, 189)
4 (Willard 2002, 184)
5 (Willard 2002, 191)
6 (Willard 2002, 194-197)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Spiritual Inertia

"It is easier to do what you have done than what you have not, and especially than what goes contrary to what you have done. You tend to keep on doing what you have done; and the more so, the more you have done it. That is spiritual inertia."
(Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting On theCharacter of Christ. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002, p. 154.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Waiting On the World to Change

I wanted to use the lyrics of the song "Waiting On the World to Change" in a sermon I was giving. I felt like these words expressed well the response I was seeking to get from my audience. I felt that too many of us are sitting around waiting for the world to change and not seeking to be active, constructive, participants in the needed change. Before I used the words I felt I should ask a younger generation what they thought the words meant. At face value, there is not much challenge in the words of this song. Rather, the words seem to say, "We can't change the world and so we are waiting for it to change." John Mayer is a different generation than I am (he is 34 and I am 51) and he is much closer to the age of my own daughters (27, 25, and 22). So, I sent my daughters an email to ask them about the meaning of the song and they contributed their thoughts to this blog post.

Twila had this to say.
My question for this song has always been, "why is he just waiting? Why isn't he doing something to change the world?" If one day our generation is going to "rule the population" then why don't we try to work toward a better future now? I have been thinking a lot lately about [how] . . . what I do today will impact my future. Then I also have a new perspective, and that is that I'm bringing a child into this world, and I want it to be a good place for my child to grow up! I have to raise this baby the best way I know, and not allow it to just sit and wait for change, but to make change happen! . . . It makes me really think about the gift I've been given in this child I'm carrying. I want so much to change the world I'm in so that my baby will learn from my example.

Lauren added.
I guess I have similar views as Twila in that you can't sit around and wait for the world to change. However, the way I always heard that song is that we need to come together to change the world; whether as two people or one million. I think there is power in numbers not only in the deeds, but the support. . . . PS I do love the sound of the song and singing along to it.

On the phone Lauren told me that she had seen John Mayer perform this song in concert and his introduction before the song proved that he wanted the song to challenge others to stop "waiting" and get busy "changing" the world.

With this encouragement I was able to press forward and challenge those who listened to my sermon. I spoke of how the words of this song are similar to how Jesus spoke to a man beside the pool called Bethesda (John 5:1-15). He challenged the man to stop sinning by waiting around for things to happen. Jesus calls on all people "to proclaim good news to the poor, . . . to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free. . ." (Luke 4:18). Yet, all too often we are waiting for the world to change. We say that we are just putting it off until it is our generation's turn, or until our kids are older, or until our kids are launched, or until our career is established, or until our business is stable, or until we retire, or until we win the lottery, or . . . . The reality is we have not yet lifted a finger to care for the poor, the prisoner, the blind, or the oppressed. Are we "waiting on" or are we an "agent for" change?
Waiting On The World to Change
(Listen while you read the lyrics)
(John Mayer - 2006 album, Continuum)

Me and all my friends
We're all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There's no way we ever could

Now we see everything that's going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above and beat it

So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

It's hard to beat the system
When we're standing at a distance
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change

Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on their door

And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want

That's why we're waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

It's not that we don't care,
We just know that the fight ain't fair

So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change
And we're still waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting waiting on the world to change

One day our generation
Is gonna rule the population
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Don't Miss Your Life

The perfect Father's Day song.

Don't Miss Your Life
(Phil Vassar and Charlie Black - Listen to it at

On a plane to the west coast
Laptop on my tray
Papers spread across my seat
A big deadline to make
An older man next to me said,
"Sorry to intrude
Thirty years ago, my busy friend
I was you
I made a ton of money
And I climbed up the ladder
Yeah, I was Superman
Now, what does it matter"

"I missed the first steps my daughter took
The time my son played Captain Hook
In Peter Pan, I was in New York
Said, 'Sorry, son, Dad has to work'
I missed the father-daughter dance
The first home run, no second chance
To be there when he crossed the plate
The moment's gone, now it's too late
Fame and fortune come with a heavy price
Son, don't miss your life"

Funny you should say that, I was
Sittin' at the gate
My daughter called, she made straight As
And they're off to celebrate
Scrollin' through the pictures of my little family
My daughter with her mom and friends
Not a single one with me
They know I love 'em, I know they know I care
The truth is half the time, I'm not even there

I missed our fourth and fifth anniversary
Our girl was early by a week
Her sister had to hold her hand
I was in L.A, she said, "I understand"
I missed her first day of school
Man, what kind of crazy fool
Lets such a precious moment pass
We all know time goes way too fast
Hold on tight 'cause it don't happen twice
Don't miss your life

When I get off this plane
I'll buy a turnaround ticket
Saturday's her eighth birthday
And I'm not gonna miss it

There'll be balloons and birthday cake
And I'll clean up the mess they make
My mom and dad are drivin' in
I haven't seen them in God knows when
My wife will proudly say to me,
"I thought you were supposed to be
In Portland for a few more days"
I'll take her in my arms and say,
Heard some words that hit me hard last night
A man said, "Don't miss your life."

Watch the video here.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.
"Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing"

Recently, I was singing with a group of men at a men's retreat and someone led us in an old hymn called "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." The words sounded odd to my ear and I found myself questioning the meaning of the words. What is an "Ebenezer?" "Hither by thy help I'm come?" I knew there was a Bible verse related to this concept and so I went looking for it and found 1 Samuel 7:12.

Samuel took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer—"the stone of help"—for he said, "Up to this point the Lord has helped us!"
1 Samuel 7:12, NLT

In 1 Samuel 7 we read that the people of Israel won a great victory against the Philistine army. The Israelites had humbled themselves before God, repented of their sin and God had intervened to protect them from the invading army. Samuel, the prophet, raises up a stone and declares that it is a reminder of this event. It is a reminder of God's help and a reminder of the repentance of the people which put them in right relationship with God.

This made me think of events in my own life worthy of a memorial stone. If I were to raise up stones to remind myself of significant events in my spiritual life, what moments would be memorialized? There might be a stone at the place of my repentance and baptism before God; another at the place at which I married my wife with whom I have learned to follow Jesus; there would stones at the place where we saw God call us into various careers along the journey; a stone raised up at the sale of a house in Calgary; there would be stones at places where we saw great answers to prayer: the way God has healed Maureen's body relative to neurological tremors she had experienced; the way God took away pain and a mass in my brain; and a stone raised up at places where God chose to reject our prayer for healing in the life of a friend who went on to be healed in heaven. There would be many more stones as well. Stones raised up at the birth of each of three healthy daughters. Stones raised up at the marriage of three healthy daughters to three great son-in-laws; and stones raised up at many other events that I have forgotten because I did not raise up stones at the time.

It occurred to me that this blog has become a contemporary "Ebenezer" for my life. It is a place where I memorialize significant events in the journey of my life. I encourage you this day to take some time to look at your own life and ask yourself, "Where would I raise the stones of remembrance and the stones of God's help in my life?"

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Marilynne Summers Robinson is an American writer who won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction for her 2004 novel, Gilead. The story is told through the voice of a man named John Ames who has been a preacher in Gilead, Iowa all of his life just like his father and grandfather before him. He is a man who processes thoughts by writing and he writes letters to his young son so that his son will know something about him. Throughout the book John Ames is dying of a heart condition and knows he will leave behind his much younger wife and the son who is only seven years old.

As he wrestles with questions of theology and practice, trust and conviction, joy and discipline, among other things, we are drawn into his internal arguments and find his questions to be our questions. He wonders how his young wife and son will survive after he is gone, even as he fears some of the solutions that present themselves. He struggles with forgiving a man he knows he should and we feel his angst as he tries to figure out how to do this without resorting to cheap grace.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story relates to how John Ames watches faith come and go in the lives of others. We watch faith gently grow in the woman he eventually marries. We see faith fade in his father and faith completely rejected in his brother. Through it all, John Ames is a man who keeps on searching, keeps on asking questions, and keeps on learning. He reads widely reading both theological books and books which challenge orthodox theological thinking. Ames reads the writings of a famous atheist as one way in which he processes his own understanding of faith. He sees both flaws and merit in the words of the atheist, Feurbach. He has this to say about him.
Feuerbach is a famous atheist, but he is about as good on the joyful aspects of religion as anybody, and he loves the world. Of course he thinks religion could just stand out of the way and let joy exist pure and undisguised. That is one error, and it is significant. But he is marvelous on the subject of joy, and also on its religious expressions.
Boughton takes a very dim view of him, because he unsettled the faith of many people, but I take issue as much with those people as with Feurbach. It seems to me some people just go around looking to get their faith unsettled.*
We could learn much from the fictional John Ames. It seems he has learned the skill of opening up his mind to the arguments of others, considering them critically, and coming to conclusions that still allow room for faith. He suggests that those whose faith gets unsettled by the atheists of the day are not all that solid in their faith to start with. Truly, we can seek to ignore the writings and arguments of those with whom we disagree and hope that our faith will stay intact; or we can choose to carefully read and weigh the arguments of our detractors while holding on to our faith in God. Gilead is a good read for those who wish to uncover some of their own deepest, most cherished understandings of life. It may help us hold these understandings up to the light of day and find that they still have substance and life beyond the subconscious places where they normally dwell.

*Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead. Harper Perennial, 2004, p. 24.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Sigmund Brouwer wrote the book Who Made the Moon* with a few purposes in mind. One stated purpose is found at location 1394 of the Kindle version of the book:
Many scientists do, . . . . serve in their churches as well as in their laboratories . . . . I hope this book makes their lives easier as more believers learn how faith and science can find harmony in explaining our origins.
But a greater pupose of the book is found in how he introduces the book to his two daughters, Olivia and Savannah. He tells them,
Your questions about where the moon, the dinosaurs, and people came from are good, important questions. Your curiosity is one of the special things about you. I'm proud of you for wanting to know and understand God's world better. Only a really courageous person asks the big questions and dares to seek honest answers. I'm proud of you for being so brave, and I'm glad that you told me about your questions. These big questions are ones that people throughout history have been asking. (Loc 19)
When Brouwer wrote this book his daughters were not yet old enough to read it but he wrote it to encourage them to keep on asking questions. It struck me that there are not enough people asking these big questions. Perhaps we have tired of the arguments that are sometimes generated, particularly in church circles. Perhaps we feel we don't have sufficient information to weigh the evidence. Perhaps we feel that we just don't have the mental strength to deal with the honest answers.

But courageous questions and honest answers are the only way that humans have made forward progress. Where would we be today if William Wilberforce had not questioned the practise of slavery? What would have happened if people like Thomas Edison had not asked questions about how we might develop safer ways to light our homes?

What is your level of curiosity? What questions are you asking today? What questions are your children asking? Are you seeking with them to find truly honest answers? Or are you giving them the answers you have always heard without checking to see if those answers still make sense? Are we encouraging our children to keep on asking good questions or do we wish that they would just trust others with the answers that have been given so that we can go back to watching "Dancing With The Stars?" It is a truly human trait to continue to ask questions throughout our lives. I encourage you to keep learning and asking more and more questions.

*Brouwer, Sigmund. Who Made the Moon? Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.