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Posts from the ‘Hope’ Category

A Soul and a Bad Bargain

Have you ever had the experience while reading of one sentence almost literally leaping off the page? Amidst all the little black marks on white pages arranged in neat little rows, one collection of markings sets itself apart from the herd, towering above the others, reaching out, grabbing you by the throat, forcing you to reckon with it. Have you ever observed as all the other words on the page, the chapter, the book, recede into the background, as this one sentence burrows into your brain. Have you ever noticed that not all words are created equal. That some matter more, are bigger, deeper, more terrifying than others. That some words drag us into the ring and force us to face foes we would prefer to ignore. That we have even, perhaps, spent long years determinedly ignoring. Read more

“The Devil Lost One of His Best Soldiers”

I realize that I tell a lot of stories like the one that follows here on this blog. I even realize that a lot of them probably sound very similar to each other. At least my retelling of them does. I sometimes hesitate to throw up another “post like this” for these reasons among others.

In the end, though, despite whatever misgivings I might have, I think that I tell stories like this because there are so many people whose stories are treated as disposable, unreliable, or somehow unworthy of being told. If nothing else, perhaps “posts like this” can be a space to hear them, to encounter people who often find themselves on the wrong side of life’s ledgers. Read more

Impossible Stories

There was this radio program I was listening to today… They were interviewing some guy who was the executive director of a Christian relief organization who had spent decades in war zones and poverty and famine and disease… Some guy who had traveled around the world doing good in the name of God.

I was half paying attention when he told two stories. The first was about driving down the road in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, and seeing a four-year-old boy stagger out of the bush, malnourished, barely alive, having been without water for nearly two days. His parents and other family members had died. There was nobody with him. He was all alone.  Four years old. Read more

The Last Shall Be First

There is much that we hope for, we who have cast our lot with Jesus of Nazareth. We hope for mercy, forgiveness, new life, eternal life. We hope for the promise of a new heart that—against  all odds!—beats in sync with our Maker, as promised by the prophet Ezekiel. We hope for the relief from pain, for relational wholeness, for freedom from the burden of crippling doubts and unmanageable burdens. We hope for heaven, whatever that might mean. We hope for justice and peace, shalom for all of creation, for lions with lambs, for swords into plowshares, for a new heaven and a new earth. We hope that we will be loved and healed and restored, despite all that we have contributed to the brokenness of a broken world. We hope for no more tears.  We hope to be with God. And to be able to stand it. Read more

A Meeting at the Well

This morning, I attended an ecumenical worship service in celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian unity. Truth be told, this service wasn’t high on my list of things to do on a Saturday morning in the midst of a weekend where I am single parenting (my wife is away at a conference), where I spent five hours Friday night working at a bingo to raise funds for my daughter’s swim club, where I am weary from a full and demanding week, and where to say that Sunday’s sermon is “unfinished” would be the height of understatement. To top it all off, I usually feel a little out-of-place at these ecumenical services, standing amidst all of my more impressive-looking clergypersons with their beautiful robes and vestments. I can only imagine how it looks from the pew. Who’s that guy with the scruffy sports coat who forgot to shave?  What’s he doing up there? Who let him sit amongst the real pastors and priests? Read more

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

We often like to speak, in Christian circles, about the God who descends, who comes down, who is somehow nearest to those on the bottom, those who find themselves on the wrong side of the score. The words roll off our churchy tongues almost too easily. Friend of sinners… Blessed are the poor, those who mourn… A bruised reed he will not break… Man of sorrows, familiar with suffering… I have not come for the healthy but for the sick… The list could go on and on. We are well acquainted with the idea that Jesus seemed far more comfortable with the “losers” than he did with the “winners.”

I wonder if we really appreciate what this means. I wonder if we ever really grasp the significance of the way in which God conducted himself when he showed up as Jesus.  Read more

Little Hope

2015 came in with a bit of a whimper for me. Or, maybe a sigh. Or an uncomfortable grunt. Whatever the metaphor, it wasn’t really an exuberant cry of celebration. It wasn’t even the half-hearted smile toward the shallow madness that attends the New Years spectacles on television that I am usually just able to muster. Oh look, it’s 2015 in Sydney… and Tokyo… and Moscow… and New York! They’re still ___ hours ahead of us, eh? Who would have thought? Oh look, all kinds of fireworks and celebrities and sugary pop music that is—against all odds!— even worse live than on the radio and breathless declarations about dreams coming true and about what the coming year will (probably not) hold.

Sigh.

In the end, 2015 arrived in precisely the manner that a bunch of other years arrived. And we raised our glasses and wished each other a Happy New Year! And I yawned and went to bed. Read more

Burn

I got a nice little note today from someone. It was about yesterday’s sermon. It had, apparently, “made sense of a few things.” I appreciated the note. Very much. God knows there are enough Sundays where it feels like one’s words are scattered to the wind. Who knows if or where or how they land? It is nice to hear that a sermon has helped. Read more

Be My Brother

Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness. Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave. Be my brother, Thou Holy God. Be my brother in the kingdom of evil and suffering and death. 

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon for Advent Sunday, December 2, 1928

——

Each of the last three Advents I have been spending time with God is in the Manger, a collection of Advent and Christmas-themed writings by the great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And each of the last three years I have been stopped dead in my tracks by the quote above. The following are a few reflections taken from a journal entry after encountering these words again this morning. Read more

A Child Has Our Life in His Hands

A few scraps and fragments after a morning spent the morning at the seniors home…

A woman sits, staring vacantly at the television in front of her.  I look at the TV.  It is a road report, outlining the wintry conditions that we might expect on this or that Alberta road.  I ponder the abundant ironies and incongruities contained in the image of this woman sitting, alone, watching the road report.  She will likely never travel a winter road again… 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

“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

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

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

Three Girls (And an Orangey-Brown Dress)

Among the gleanings of my morning tour through Facebook land was the discovery that Tuesday, September 30 has been designated “Orange Shirt Day” by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) here in Canada. Intrigued, I did a bit of snooping around and found the following explanation for the origin of the idea in an article at NationTalk:

Orange Shirt Day is an outcome of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC in May 2013.  It stems from a story told by former residential school student, Phyllis Webstad, who had her new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, taken from her as a six-year old girl.  She spoke powerfully of how it seemed to her that nobody cared and, in this personal way, it speaks to the many harms experienced by children in the residential schools.

I have no orange shirt, alas, but the initiative has me thinking of a few recent experiences, and about three girls. Read more

Give, Forgive, Lead, Deliver

I’ve reflected many times here on the mystery of prayer and what often seems like the abject silence of God. We so often struggle to know how prayer works and how it influences God’s activity in the world.  We don’t know what the point of prayer is if God already knows everything.  Sometimes it all seems like a bit of a strange charade that has precious little influence on either God or each other. Read more