It happened again the other day. That predictable conversation that begins with, “So what do you do?”, traverses through the awkward terrain where it is discovered that I belong to that most bizarre and incomprehensible of categories—“pastor”—thus placing myself outside the boundaries of ordinary humanity, and ends, inevitably, with a tortured query about what kind of creature, exactly, a Mennonite might be. I can almost write the script by now: “You’re a what?” “Why would you want to do that?” “Don’t Mennonites drive horses and buggies and wear only black?” “How many kinds of Mennonites are there?” “You’re a what?! Add a few variations here and there, for colour and variety. Rinse and repeat. Read more
Posts from the ‘Jesus’ Category
Here in southern Alberta, we find ourselves in the grip of quite the blizzard. It’s been snowing for about a day and a half and there’s more on the way. With the wind chill factored in, it’s -26 degrees out there. My wife and I woke up early today to check on the status of the roads and the schools and to peer curiously out our window. Surely no one would try to get out today, would they?! Well, it’s 8:30 am, and we have already pushed/shoveled out two neighbours who were determined to head out into the wintry wonderland, despite all the warnings to stay home and wait out the storm. Not everyone can wait, it seems. Read more
I have an interesting relationship with silence. I like the idea of silence very much. I am easily persuaded that our culture is terminally noisy and distracted and that the church’s worship should offer a respite and an antidote to this dis-ease. I am convinced that ten minutes of silent prayer and meditation would be a far better way to greet my days than the wordy, techy ways that I default to. But I am well and truly lousy at silence. It makes me uncomfortable, restless, bored, annoyed, and a whole host of other unflattering adjectives. I like silence very much and am convinced of its necessity for spiritual, emotional, even physical health. Except when I have to be silent. Read more
Jesus stands at the door knocking. In total reality, he comes in the form of a beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbour, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us. Do you want to close the door or open it?
It may strike us as strange to see Christ in such a near face, but he said it, and those who withdraw from the serious reality of the Advent message cannot talk of the coming of Christ in their heart, either…
Christ is knocking. It’s still not Christmas, but it’s also still not the last great Advent, the last coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate runs the longing for the last Advent, when the word will be: “See, I am making all things new.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger
I spent part of this morning catching up on some reading on “leadership” for a conference call later in the day. I have a tough enough time convincing myself that I am a leader at the best of times, but the task is made even more difficult when I spend even a minimal amount of time reading articles peppered with words like “visionary” and “outcome analysis” and “dynamic action strategies.” But good leaders use (and understand) words like these, apparently. Leaders look and sound a certain way. That’s the way things work. Read more
What is the gospel?
You would think that a room full of pastors would be able to offer a pretty concise and comprehensive answer to so basic a query, but when the question was posed at a gathering I was a part of yesterday, the silence was deafening. Maybe we thought it was a kind of trick question, that it was too easy. Maybe we were afraid that we would omit some important detail and look foolish in front of respected peers. Maybe we were mentally sifting and sorting between all the competing answers out there. Maybe we just didn’t want to be the first to speak. Or, maybe it was a genuine struggle to articulate somethings so basic to our identity. I don’t know. Read more
It struck me, as I was standing at the graveside of a family friend last week, what a truly staggering thing it is to proclaim the resurrection of the dead.
I was staring at the wet, squishy ground, wiggling my toes, trying to stay warm in the typical British Columbia November drizzle, listening to the pastor reciting familiar words from the Psalms, from the Gospels, words about how death is a beginning not an end, words about how this person is with Jesus now, about how we have a living hope. I looked at the coffin and thought about the person we all knew and loved who was about to be lowered into the ground. I stared back at my shoes. More words from the pastor. I remember thinking, “God, I’m glad I’m not in his shoes today. I’m glad I am not faced with the task of speaking these wildly counterintuitive resurrection words into the yawning chasm of death today.” Read more
“There are no atheists in foxholes,” goes the famous aphorism. It’s meant, I suppose, to get at the idea that when you’re face to face with darkness and death and horror and suffering, atheism suddenly becomes a less credible option. The reality of death makes believers, or at least desperate hopers out of us all. When our lives are under threat, God seems more palatable. That’s the idea, as I understand it at least. Read more
For dear friends on the passing of a father and friend… Dear friends whose steps must today begin to beat the well-worn path through the valley of the shadow…
But if death is the end in Christianity, it is not the final end; it is the end of an act only, not the end of the drama. Once before out of the abyss of the unborn, the uncreated, the not-yet, you and I who from all eternity had been nothing became something. Out of nonbeing we emerged into being. And what Jesus promises is resurrection, which means that once again this miracle will happen, and out of death will come another realm of life. Not because by our nature there is part of us that does not die, but because by God’s nature he will not let even death separate us from him finally.
Because he loves us. In love he made us and in love he will mend us. In love he will have us his true children before he is through, and in order to do that, one life is not enough, God knows.
Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark
I was talking to a boy the other day who was trying to put together an intramural team at school. The team had to have a mixture of both boys and girls on the roster, regardless of whether or not they actually played. “I went and asked a few girls that I knew would never play if I could use their names for my team,” the boy said. “Why did you do that?” I asked. He looked at me with a kind of resigned look on this face. “Well, what girl would ever want to play with a loser like me?”
A loser like me. Read more
A wise friend and mentor once told me to be very careful to cultivate what he called a “theology of holy interruptions.” “Sometimes God speaks in the unplanned, unexpected, even apparently annoying human interjections in our days,” he said. “Make sure you don’t allow your other ‘important work’ to trump the divinely appointed conversations that might cross your path when you least expect or want them.” While this is obviously a maxim that can be (and is) abused, the wisdom of my friend’s words has been borne out on numerous occasions in my relatively brief time in pastoral ministry. Read more
Jesus is hard to find.
The words came from my son as I collapsed into my seat after delivering the sermon yesterday morning. It was about the last thing I wanted to hear near the end of a worship service that came at the end of an exhausting week. I’d been single parenting for the past few days (my wife was on Vancouver Island running a half-marathon), while trying to finish preparations for the Sunday service and dealing with a bunch of other issues that were taking far more time and energy than I had to give. About the last thing I wanted at this point in the week was a crisis of faith from my son. All I wanted to do was finish the service and stumble home to bed. Read more
As an adoptive parent, you sort of get used to hearing little phrases flying around about kids that are mildly irritating. Usually, you give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they didn’t mean anything by their careless usage of language, but some days… well, some days, it just bugs you. Today, for example, I encountered these words: They wanted a child of their own.
Yesterday was World Communion Sunday, a day when all kinds of churches from all kinds of places celebrate the sacrifice of love that unites us rather than the myriad petty walls that we are so determined to erect between us. Walls like, oh I don’t know, who gets to participate in the Lord’s Supper? To pick one random example. Read more
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14)
I remember sitting in church listening to missionary reports as a kid. I remember all kinds of stories and images of people and places that my young small town prairie brain could barely get his head around. It all sounded so exotic. Barely comprehensible, even. I remember reading stories from one of our missionaries in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Stories of snakes and crude village huts and people who looked and sounded nothing like any people I had ever seen or heard—people with strange and (probably evil) beliefs that we were, thankfully, sending (white) people to correct. I doubt any of these missionary presentations and stories passed by without some reference to the passage in Romans quoted above. Read more
There was an unpleasant episode in our house this week. It was a predictable enough story: kids getting used to the back to school routine and coping with new demands, new classmates, new courses, etc. after a long, lazy, largely obligation-free summer, parents attempting to manage the suddenly frantic pace of life with school and sports and the demands of work and church, and unexpected expenses popping up everywhere… In short, life… And into this maelstrom of exhaustion and frenetic activity and inattentiveness/insensitivity to the needs of one another, it doesn’t take much of a spark to light a big, ugly fire, replete with misunderstanding, yelling, name-calling, slammed doors, stunned silence, and tears. Read more
Every human society is, in the last resort, men banded together in the face of death. The power of religion depends, in the last resort, upon the credibility of the banners it puts in the hands of men as they stand before death, or more accurately, as they walk, inevitably, toward it.
Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy
I’ve written a lot of posts about death here over the years. Usually these are reflections upon the pain and the longing that accompany death, or about what the existence of death and our reaction to its inevitability might say about what it means to be human or about the nature of God and God’s promise. Or these posts represent a personal encounter with death—they are reflections about what it’s like to walk with people through death, or the experience of grief, or whatever. Read more
Occasionally, I get accused of being a glass-half-empty kind of guy. I don’t know where this comes from, but I will have to take others’ word for it :).
So, in an attempt to combat this persistent myth, and because it’s early September and everyone is just staggering into fall schedules and routines, and because there is the usual anxiety and apprehension about what the upcoming (academic) year will hold, and because I’ve noticed that pastors (myself included) tend to feel a bit of pressure around this time of year to “start with a bang” and make a good impression on newcomers when secretly we’re just hoping we can keep it all together with what we’re already doing, and because—well, yes, it’s true, because it’s way easier for me to focus on negatives than positives—I thought I would do something completely out of character and do a bit of bragging about the little church that I am a part of. Read more