So, terror remains on everyone’s minds. Paris, of course. But also Beirut, Baghdad, Kenya, and the countless other less glamorous places in the world, places deemed unworthy of inspiring memes and hashtags or temporary profile pictures or any of the other ways that we express our compassion and outrage and brand ourselves appropriately during dark and fearful times.
This is the world we live in. Read more
We are bargain hunters, all of us. We make bargains with God, with reality or the cosmos or karma or whatever. We are convinced someone or something out there is keeping score, that our lives are like a bet we are daily making that the things we do are somehow a reliable indicator of the things we will get. Read more
I spent part of today listening to good stories. Our church hosted the AGM of MCC Alberta and, not surprisingly, much of the conversation throughout the day centered around the work that MCC is presently doing with the Syrian refugee crisis.
But we also heard stories of what MCC has done for other groups of people in other parts of the world. Saulo Padilla, an immigration educator with MCC USA shared of his own refugee journey from Guatemala to Canada, and the many twists and turns that his story has taken along the way. And he made one comment that has stuck with me throughout the day. Read more
I have a bone to pick with Christians this morning. Not all Christians. Not even the majority of Christians in my (limited) circles. Not by a long shot. No, my concern is with a smaller subset of Christians that tend to make a disproportionate amount of noise. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of conversations with Christian people about the Syrian refugee crisis. I’ve observed a lot of reaction and response from Christian people online. And I’ve noticed some of these Christian brothers and sisters buying into the fear and the hysteria that attempts to convince us that we need to keep our nation’s doors resolutely closed to refugees from this part of the world. Read more
Yesterday’s worship service at our church was based on the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11. It’s one of my favourite passages in all of Scripture (I reflected on it recently here). It’s one of those texts where you feel like the main task of preaching is to simply say as little as possible by way of “explanation,” to simply get out of the way and let Mercy do its work. The story is the sermon. It is a concrete embodiment of Jesus’ words elsewhere in the gospels (borrowed from the prophet Hosea), “Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).
So, yesterday my words about the passage itself were relatively few. I did, however, attempt something of a remix of the story as an invitation to the communion table later in the service. A number of people have since asked about this, so I thought I would throw it up a lightly edited version of it here. Read more
Faith can be a hard road, sometimes. Earlier today, Richard Beck published a short piece on his blog in response to the question, “What keeps me holding on to faith?” His answer reflects the response that many of us would give, I suspect. We are drawn to Jesus. Not necessarily to theological doctrines about Jesus or official explanations about what he did and what it accomplished or will accomplish or whatever, but to the person of Jesus, to stories about how he lived and loved in and for the world. However we might have come to faith, and whatever the reason(s) we cling to it in the teeth of so many doubts, behind all of it on some level is the simple truth that the person of Jesus is enormously attractive for many, many people. Read more
My friend and I spent the last two and half days or so meandering through the inferno that is the Las Vegas strip in early July while our spouses sat in the conference that brought us down there. Big city streets are fascinating to wander in general, but Las Vegas, of course, takes things to a different level entirely. Maybe the heat had fried my neural circuitry, but after about a day or so of wandering, I found that I had lost the ability to be amazed. Floating flower balls in hotel lobbies? Ho hum. Fake replicas of ancient Greece… and Paris… and Venice… and New York? Obviously. Artificial thunderstorms with rainfall in a shopping mall? Yawn. Ok, who wants to impress me next? Read more
The headline grabbed me right off the bat: Alberta couple blindsided after adopted girls turn out to have fetal alcohol disorder. The story was heartbreaking in the way that only stories about wounds inflicted from close proximity can be. A couple took on two foster kids but one of them quickly proved to be quite a bit more than they could handle, There were repeated assaults of her sister, there were angry words and abuse, there were doors locked from the outside and alarm systems set up, there were desperate calls to social services. There was the shrapnel of toxic rage flying around shredding everyone in the vicinity. Read more
I’ve been thinking often over the last few days and weeks about the last three verses of the magnificent eight chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Unlike animals that live in the moment and merely cope with the world (however smoothly), we are… drawn out of our present selves toward some more skilled future self that we emulate…. [W]e are never fully at home in the world. We are always “on our way.” Or perhaps we should say that this state of being on our way to somewhere else is our peculiar human way of being here in the world.
— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head
Most therapists will say that a key to finding any kind of viable and lasting happiness in the world requires coming to peace with who you are. Not some future self that you wish you could be, not the person that you imagine yourself to be in your best moments, not the person that you will undoubtedly be 2, 5, 10 years from now. No, the person staring back at you in the mirror. Unless you can believe that you are enough as you are—that you matter and have value even prior to all of the well-intentioned character modifications that inevitably loom over the next ridge of your life—you will never be at peace. Your striving will always be borne out of restlessness and dissatisfaction, rather than a desire for goodness. Read more
I heard an advertisement on the radio while driving around today. A restaurant was offering one free glass of wine per person for every visit over a certain period of time. After
frantically altering my lunch plans and stampeding down to this restaurant for an 11:00 lunch snorting derisively at the moral decay and transparent desperation evident in such a marketing campaign, I got to making a few (mostly unflattering) comparisons in my head between restaurants and churches as I meandered along the errand trail for the rest of the morning. Read more
Of all the stories that Jesus tells, there are few that break and remake us, that lay our souls bare, that fire our hearts us with the hope of mercy like the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). It is a story for broken sons and weary daughters, for love-sick fathers and grumbling exemplars of grim-faced duty. It is a story that describes the homecoming we all, I suspect, hunger for, even when we are only dimly aware of it. It is the story of what God looks like and how God loves, no matter what we look like, no matter how poorly we love. Read more
It’s a bit of a dreary Friday afternoon on a number of levels. There’s a screaming southern Alberta wind outside my window which makes my head hurt just to listen to it. I’m fighting some kind of a cold or flu or something that has been a most unwelcome and miserable companion since Wednesday or Thursday. And then there is the steady trickle of bad news on the church front. A combative email from a church in our conference that has decided to leave because of supposedly incompatible views on the authority of Scripture (and the ever-present threat of others joining them). A notification from the school I obtained my graduate degree from of a 30% reduction in staffing (coming on the heels of the closing of another institution that I am connected to). And, of course, the omnipresent reality of the state of the church in the postmodern, post-Christian West, with many shrinking, aging, and dying churches. Of course there is good news out there as well—stories of vibrancy and creativity in the church, stories of new life and growth. But some days… I don’t know. Some days it’s easy to feel as if the gates of hell are on the fast track toward prevailing… Read more
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
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
I’m in the middle of a pretty busy stretch right now, so the posts will probably be a bit thinner than usual over the next little while. I did, however, want to throw up a brief reflection on fear and love. This past weekend I spoke at a young adults retreat out in the mountains. In the sessions, I reflected on what it means to be “set apart” for Jesus and, more specifically, what it is that ought to set us apart as Christians. I tried to make the case that it is not the correctness of our theology or the devotion we have for Scripture or our ethics or any of the other things that we scramble to do or think to secure our own salvation, but our capacity for and willingness to give and receive love. Read more
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
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