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I Don’t Understand

I didn’t really understand what you were talking about the other night.

The comment was simple, innocent, straightforwardly honest. It was an utterly unremarkable event in the life the church. Indeed, it was a gracious invitation for further clarification and conversation. And the comment wasn’t even in response to a sermon or lecture that I had poured hours of time and energy and emotional investment into, but a rather light-hearted devotional at a social function. But for some reason, this simple statement came crashing over me like a tidal wave.  Read more

God is a Lover

What is God like?

The question sounds simple enough, but the ways in which we explicitly and, more often, implicitly answer this question in our daily lives has profound effects upon nearly all that we are and all that we do. In many ways it is the question.  And anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in churchy circles (and beyond) will know that there a truly bewildering array of toxic conceptions of God that people daily walk around with in their heads. Read more

Rough Ground

A photographer friend of mine often reminds me of the importance of paying attention to the world around us, of capturing ordinary moments in ordinary places on ordinary days. I’m not much of a photographer, but I would like to be a better payer-of-attention. Lately, I often find myself just sitting and staring, recording images and impressions in my head, trying to remember, trying to write them down…

One of the places I sit and stare is the downtown library.  I spend a decent amount of time here. I read while my daughter is at swim club, while my son is at guitar lessons, when I have an hour to kill between supper and a meeting, when I need to get out of the office.  The library is a very interesting place to sit and stare…  Read more

Come to Jesus

I was part of a conference call yesterday with a number of young-ish pastors in our denomination where we were talking about Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that the his followers would be “one.” Anyone with even the most cursory understanding of church history will know that, well, we haven’t exactly done so well with this little ideal of Jesus’. Read more

Look On Us, We Pray

As I write these words, my kids and my wife are putting the finishing touches on the Christmas decorations around the house. There are giggles and lights, there is colour and warmth on a brutally cold day. There are happy sounds. And the happy sounds make me happy, too.

But it’s impossible for my thoughts not to drift in darker directions, too, even amidst the giggles and the lights.  For whatever reason, this has been a need-filled fall season. So many people struggling. So many people limping along from crisis to crisis. So many people desperate for love, for acceptance, for belonging. So many people for whom God’s peace and God’s plan seem utterly hidden. So many people needing so much help.  The need is always there, I know. But for whatever reason, it has felt more acute this fall. Read more

Hunger

Rocky is third in line for lunch at the soup kitchen. He has a big red face, crooked aviator sunglasses, and a navy blue tracksuit. His jacket is opened wide to reveal a gaudy silver dog chain that hangs down to the middle of his chest. He’s got a bunch of faded tattoos peeking out from the bottom of his sleeves, and the word “Elvis” tattooed across the side his neck. Read more

“A Shard of Glass in Your Gut”

For most of this fall, our church’s worship has spent time dwelling in a handful of chapters from the back-end of Matthew’s gospel.  This stretch of the first gospel (ch. 22-25) contains long, at times unbroken stretches of words out of the mouth of Jesus.  Words to the religious leaders of Israel, words to his disciples, words to the hovering crowds.  Words of clarification and confrontation, words of offence and judgment.  Words that jolt and alarm and cause the scratching of heads.  Words about vineyards and virgins and landlords and kings, and screwed up systems where the punishment rarely seems to fit the crime.  Words about wasting opportunities, about not paying attention, and suffering the ultimate consequence.  Words about weeping and gnashing of teeth, words about darkness and the eternal fires prepared for the devil.  Words that sometimes draw us to and sometimes repel us from the One who speaks them.  I have been struck throughout our trip through this portion of Matthew at what an enigma Jesus can be, at times.  At how hard his words can sometimes be. Read more

(Un)righteous Anger

I got a phone call this morning, and it made me angry. It was a follow-up call from a local agency that helps people in trouble in our community. I had phoned them a while back, hoping for some context, some background on a particular couple who was asking our church for material assistance. But they hadn’t had time to respond and a decision had to be made. The people I was talking to were desperate. They couldn’t wait.  Read more

On Contamination

We do a lot of driving in our family. Driving to volleyball, guitar, swim club, band rehearsal, grandma and grandpa’s, and on and on it goes. Many days it is in the car that some of the best, most important, and sometimes only conversations with our kids happen. Today my daughter and I were off to the doctor’s office for a routine visit and the talk turned to the trials and tribulations of teenage life. We talked about cyber-bullying, peer pressure, romantic dramas, sports, classroom dynamics, terrible teachers, and a whole host of other things.

We also talked about racism.

Read more

Personal Best

Swim meet, wintry November morning… My daughter and I dutifully bundle up and are out the door and on the road by 7 am. One and a half hours down the prairie highway… The pool is packed, the swim teams assemble with all their coloured caps and logo’d hoodies and impressive looking warm up gear… The top 40 pop music leaks drearily out of the speakers… The parents yawn and clutch their coffees and stare at their phones, waiting, waiting for the first race…

Read more

A Day in the Life

To be a pastor is to periodically find oneself on the receiving end of sorts of bemused and confused sentiments. Many people in post-Christian Canada have few categories for something as inexplicably odd as a “pastor.” Understandably, they have questions. So what do you actually do all day? Do you like just hang out with people for a living? Do you read the Bible all day? 

My personal favourite from the “things people say to/about pastors” file came earlier today (third time in the last week or so): Must be nice to just work for twenty minutes on Sunday! Read more

Night Visitor

 So you’re coming to Winnipeg? Would you have time to get together while you’re here? I don’t live far from the city…

 So came a message from a reader of this blog and a fellow pilgrim on the way. And so came a delightful evening last week at a restaurant not far from the university where I was spending the week. Read more

You Have Been Our Dwelling Place

This morning, I’m shaking out the cobwebs after a delightful week spent out in Winnipeg with the students, staff, and faculty at Canadian Mennonite University as pastor in residence.  It was a week full of chapel talks and forums and lunchtime discussions and devotionals and informal conversations with students in the campus cafe and a whole host of other interactions and opportunities that have gotten all jumbled together in my weary brain.  I feel a bit like a wrung-out rag, but in a contented, satisfied, grateful sort of way.  It’s good to spend oneself in good ways with good people.

During my last chapel talk, I reflected a bit on the experience of being back on a university campus, about the memories it triggered, and about what advice, if any, I might give my younger university self from the vantage point that I now occupy a few years down the road.  The following is a lightly edited version of some of what I said yesterday morning. Read more

Where Do We Choose to See?

There hasn’t been much of time for blogging this week, alas. I’ve been scrambling to get a few book reviews out the door, along with sermon work for Sunday worship and prepping for a series of talks for next week when I am in Winnipeg as the pastor-in residence at Canadian Mennonite University. So many words to assemble and rearrange and package in such a short amount of time… Maybe if I had, oh, I don’t know, planned ahead a bit better? Sigh. Read more

What Love Looks Like

Most Sunday mornings, I’m the first person to arrive at our church building. There is often last-minute printing to do (I have learned that our church printer can be a temperamental beast, and it’s best to leave enough time to properly engage the hostilities), last-minute prepping for the high school Sunday school class I lead, and a handful of other odds and ends to ensure are in place before things get rolling around 9:45. Today, though, my wife and daughter were at a swim meet, and it turns out that my teenage son’s heart is not quickened by the prospect of getting up early to arrive at his dad’s customary time. So the lights were on when I arrived at church today. Which was unusual. Read more

Kingdom Conspiracy: Book Review

Scot McKnight has a bee in his bonnet.  He’s been observing how the word “kingdom” has been used by Christians over the last few decades and he doesn’t particularly like what he sees.  The word has become a kind of vaguely Christian (or not) catch-all term to describe generically good deeds that have a connection—sometimes strong, sometimes tenuous—to the ethical vision of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather than pointing directly to the biblical vision of a specific King and a kingdom with a specific people, it often devolves into little more than the baptizing of a liberal, western, democratic ethic from which Jesus could quite comfortably be subtracted. Read more

Broken Down

I look out my office window this morning and see a rusty, mud-streaked old pick up truck with a creaky-looking camper on the back stagger and wheeze its way into the church parking lot. Such sights in the church parking lot rarely portent good news, and this particular appearance will prove no different.

 A broad-shouldered middle-aged man ambles up to the path and into the church. I greet him at the front door. He’s wearing a black cowboy hat, a dirty denim jacket, and a big pair of grubby riding boots. The smell of manure is almost overpowering. He has a grizzled salt and pepper beard and when the smiles he directs my way is full of gaping holes where teeth ought to be. “Hi there, my name’s Sam,” he says. “I’m in a bit of trouble, and I’m wondering if you might help me out….”

I sigh, inwardly. Someone’s always in a bit of trouble.… Read more

Charlie Sheen is a Winner and So Am I!

The sun is shining, it’s currently 25 degrees Celsius here in southern Alberta (in late October!), and I am feeling very warm and fully of sunny goodness. It’s not just the glorious weather, mind you. I’ve been feeling particularly grateful for the flood of affirmation that has been pouring into my WordPress dashboard from the innumerable thoughtful, considerate spammers out there (I mentioned these lovely folks in a recent post) who evidently spend long hours toiling to come up with just the right words to keep me feeling encouraged, motivated, and appreciative.

What follows is a sampling of the many sincere, warm-hearted tokens of affection and admiration that these dear people have personally delivered to me, which I have carefully preserved over the past few weeks. My heart swells with pride and hope for the human race just reading them: Read more